I considered the rest of my day as I cleaned up from my lunch.
I had four major things I needed to do: Take care of Kevin. Try to contact the rest of my family. Go back into town and try the police radio one more time. Plan my trip to Pennsylvania. It was only four things, but there were lots of steps involved in each task. I had pretty much decided what I was going to do with Kevin. I couldn’t bring myself to think of him as just a body. He was still my son. I smiled briefly at the idea of burying him at sea, such as it were. Kevin had always been a fan of the How To Train Your Dragon movies, and thought that the flaming arrow into the boat had been a tremendously cool funeral. And I suppose, if I had the time and resources, it would’ve been a nice idea. He certainly would’ve appreciated that kind of a sendoff. But that would’ve involved designing the raft, getting supplies, and then actually building the stupid thing. I wasn’t sure my construction skills would be up to the job—plus that would push my trip to Pennsylvania back by at least a couple of days.
There were several marinas scattered around the lake, and a couple of them were fairly close to me. I figured what I wanted was a pontoon boat. There would be enough room on the front deck that I wouldn’t have to worry about accidentally tipping the boat when it came time to actually burying him. It was strange to realize how on my own I really was at this point. There was no one out there to help me.
I decided to get the boat this afternoon. We were already a week into April, and the days were getting longer, but I didn’t want to try to drive a boat anywhere on the lake at night. The more light I had while I was puttering around, the better. I headed to my bedroom, changed my shorts for jeans, and strapped on my pistol. I’d bought this .45 from a friend of mine as a favor several years ago when he was short on cash and starting to sell things. He never got around to asking to buy it back, so I’d kept it and really enjoyed shooting it. I had never bothered getting my concealed carry permit though.
Snapping the holster to my belt only added to the surrealism of the day. This would be the first time I’d ever gone armed out in public.
Minion was waiting at the garage door, as though he sensed that I was getting ready to leave again. I debated just for second about leaving him behind but realized that I was going to have to get used to having him everywhere with me. I couldn’t leave him behind when I went to get Hannah, so he was going to need to learn about the new reality right alongside me. I took his leash with me but decided I was going to try letting him roam a little bit without it. We took Kevin’s beater of an old Toyota. I figured I was going to need the cargo space in my car as I got ready to go to Pennsylvania.
Lakeside Marina was just a mile or so north of me, so I started there. We spent half an hour or so walking the docks until I realized the folly of my idea. Every single boat I’d looked at needed a key to start the engine. That, and I couldn’t find any pontoon boats.
Minion and I made our way back to the pro shop in the Marina, hoping to find a rack of keys in the building. I doubted marinas worked like car dealerships, though, so I wasn’t really holding out any hope. My next option was checking the several bodies that I had seen in the building and in cars in the parking lot, to see if any of them had boat keys with them. The obvious problem there was that I didn’t know what a boat key would look like, and I doubted many boat owners kept any identifying information on their key ring to say what boat it went to.
I looked over at Minion. He alternated between watching me and watching the lake. I’d never heard the lake so quiet. Rayburn was huge, covering almost 180 square miles. Somebody was always out on a boat. But today, there was nothing. “What you think, buddy? Want to head over to Twin Dikes, and see if they’ve got something there we could borrow?” He stood up and shook himself off then head up the walkway.
Twenty minutes later, I was kicking myself for not starting here in the first place. The place rented pontoon boats and jet skis, so it stood to reason that they would have the keys organized and marked. I picked out a blue-and-white pontoon boat and, after fifteen or so minutes of screwing around with knots and a stubborn engine, I headed back east toward my place. Out here on the water, I could make out a few other boats toward the middle of the lake, but none of them were moving, so I didn’t bother checking them out. I had seen enough dead bodies today to last a lifetime.
Minion enjoyed the boat ride tremendously. I couldn’t remember if I’d ever taken him out on a boat. He spent the entire trip running laps around the deck interspersed with pauses to put his feet up on the top rail to sniff the air and look around. When I grounded the boat at a landing fairly close to my house, he jumped over the side rail to the foredeck and then into the water to splash around for a minute. Naturally, he had to stand very close to me when he shook off the water.
This spot was about two hundred yards from my place, but I’d be able to drive my car pretty close. I’d probably only have to carry Kevin twenty yards or so. That wasn’t going to be fun at all.
By now it was close to five, so I figured I had about half an hour before I needed to head back into the police station and make some more radio calls. I settled on the couch and grabbed my phone. I tried calling Karen first, Hannah’s mother. It rang until her voicemail picked up. “Hey, Karen. I’m just checking on you to see if you’re okay. I’ve talked to Hannah, and other than being weirded out, she’s okay. I’m heading up to get her the day after tomorrow.” I took a deep breath. This would be the second time I had to say it out loud about Kevin. “Kevin. . . Kevin didn’t make it. I don’t know what’s going on, or what’s causing this. I haven’t tried to reach Sarah or Taylor yet, or my brother or sister. But no one else has tried to call me except Hannah.” I sighed. “I’ll try to call you again tomorrow, and when I’m on the road to get Hannah. Let us know if you’re okay.”
Between the suspense of whether or not she would answer and having to say out loud that one of my kids was dead, that call had pretty much sucked. This next one was going to suck even worse, and I wasn’t sure if I wanted the call to go through or not. Sarah and I had separated about seven years ago, and had divorced just about a year after that. I’d tried several times over the years, but I could never really put my finger on a single causal incident. The final straw had seemed to be when I wanted to come down to Jasper to take care of my folks.
Dad had not been well for several years, and Mom was having trouble taking care of him. Between me, my brother, and my sister, I was in the best position to go down there and help them. But what had started out as just a couple of weeks had grown into several months’ worth of care, and then when Sarah’s parents got ill, we started arguing about who we had more of a responsibility to take care of. Once the arguments and fights started, I moved in with my parents and my aunt Linda. Kevin and Taylor had come down at the beginning of that summer for what was supposed to be a short visit. Kevin fell in love with the area and didn’t want to go back at the end of the summer. Taylor had wanted to go home just a few days after she’d arrived, but her mother and I made her stay for the entire week that she had promised.
We never really had a specific conversation about divorce. It just kind of happened. Things had stayed amicable with us. The kids split their summer breaks between Portsmouth and Jasper. They took turns with Christmas. Sarah and I had each flown up or down as needed for the kids birthdays.
It was an odd divorce, but given what I had seen some of my friends go through, I wasn’t complaining.
I pulled up Sarah’s contact information on my phone and pressed “Dial.” It rang fifteen times and then disconnected. I dialed her again, with the same result. Why isn’t her voicemail kicking in? I tried the call one more time, hoping that the third time would be the charm. It wasn’t. On a normal day, I could have come up with any number of reasons why she didn’t answer. This obviously was nowhere near a normal day, but for some reason, I wasn’t as upset or emotional about her not answering. I couldn’t explain it, but it just didn’t feel as ominous as all of the other calls that had gone unanswered.
I tried Taylor’s phone next. I assumed that, like any other fifteen-year-old girl, her phone would be glued to her hand, especially in a situation like this. But the same thing happened with her: fifteen rings and then the call disconnected. And again, I was strangely calm that I couldn’t reach them. I knew that it was potentially very bad that they weren’t answering. But I think it was the fact that their voicemail wasn’t kicking in that kept me from going over the edge. It felt like that was more indicative of a system problem than anything else.
I stepped into my office for the first time since waking up and fired up my laptop. My email listed forty or so new messages since last night, but it looked like just the automated stuff that I usually got overnight. I was much more interested in what I could find out on Facebook, the only social media site that I really used.
Facebook was surreally quiet. Jasper had a community group that wasn’t very active on a normal day. The best I could tell, there hadn’t been a post made in the group since about 11:30 last night. None of the local buy/sell/trade groups had any posts from today, either. My newsfeed looked like it hadn’t been updated in hours. I had about 600 friends on my Friends List, but I didn’t see that many of them had been active, perhaps six or eight of them. They had each posted some variation of, “What the heck is going on?” Only one of them, an Army buddy in Colorado, had gotten any responses. Hannah had a similar post up, asking any of her friends who are active to check in, but nobody had yet. I responded to that, saying, “I’m doing okay in Jasper. I’ll talk to you later tonight.” I knew if I wasn’t careful, I’d end up spending the rest of the night reading various posts here, so I logged off and headed for my car, Minion right at my heels.
Nothing seemed to have changed much in the countryside. The fire to the south of town seemed to be burning itself out because the smoke wasn’t nearly as thick as it had been earlier in the day. I made my way to the police department without any trouble. The detective in the lobby was still where I had found her, and the dispatchers were where I had left them, which both comforted and concerned me. On the one hand, it meant that no one had come in and disturbed the bodies. On the other hand, it meant that, whatever this was, it wasn’t going to be the zombie apocalypse. Minion stopped to sniff all three bodies. He was very tentative with the woman in the lobby, sniffing then backing away, then sniffing again a little closer. He didn’t seem to like this any more than I did.
I made the same radio transmissions that I had before on all the channels that I could see to access. Nobody responded.
I decided to check in on Deputy Desilva, but I stopped at a convenience store on the way over and picked up a few bottles of soda, along with some jerky and chips. It wasn’t the healthiest food around, but it didn’t depend on refrigeration either.
Everything was the same at the jail complex as it had been earlier. It didn’t take me quite as long to fiddle with the keys as it had before, although I wondered why Desilva hadn’t simply buzzed me through.
The control room was empty. I didn’t see any sign that Desilva was coming back, although I couldn’t remember if there had been a bag or any personal gear in the room when I had been here before. I watched several of the monitors for a few minutes to see if maybe he was just up in the cellblocks making rounds, but I never saw him. If he’s left the building, I’m not leaving those guys in here to die of starvation. I left the snacks on the counter and started making my way into the cellblocks. Minion stayed very close, and was much more alert than I had ever noticed him being. Usually when we took a walk, his tail was high and his nose was on the ground as he checked out all of the different smells wherever we were. Today, his tail was down and his head was up, his ears constantly swiveling. He was definitely spooked.
It was a little easier to get through the various doors here because several of the big brass keys were marked. The only problem I had was that I couldn’t tell from what I had seen before exactly where the live inmates were, so I had to make my way through the entire jail. Nobody in the first section was alive, and I could see what Desilva had meant about some of them trying to get out of their bunks.
I pulled up short about five cells into the second cellblock. An empty shell casing lay on the floor, almost obscene in its starkness.
My heart racing, my right hand went to my pistol. I stood frozen for a minute, straining to listen for movement. A second casing sat further down the hallway.
I took two careful steps and looked in the next cell. The inmate, a small black man, had been shot to death. The blood was still a wet puddle, the light reflecting oddly. The edges had begun to darken and dry. Minion sniffed at the cell door then whined. I shushed him, then continued down the hall to the next shell casing.
Another dead inmate, a white guy, bigger than the black man who had been shot. Judging from the haircut, this had been the guy I had watched on the monitor earlier when I first met Desilva. I stared at the cameras at either end of the corridor, a sharp, hot rage building. For all of his stoic bluster about not leaving his post, Desilva had turned out to be a murderer.
My heart pounding, I keyed the next door. There were two other cellblocks to check. I expected to find at least two more shooting victims, based on what Desilva had said in our previous conversation. I found four. Two of them looked to have been shot multiple times.
I was furious. The man had practically bragged that he was being so good about following orders, and he’d shot six people in cold blood.
And I couldn’t do a damned thing about it.
Minion and I headed back to my car slowly, and carefully. I didn’t just blindly walk around corners or open doors. Instead, I paused at each corner, listening carefully. I opened doors from the hinge side as quickly as I could jerk the heavy things open. I didn’t know if Desilva was going to be waiting to shoot me as well. I doubted that he would be, but I didn’t see any reason to not be careful.
We headed home, this time passing through the neighborhoods north of Houston and west of Wheeler. That was where most of the houses were, and where I expected to find more people alive. As I made the curve on College Street by the junior high, I saw a Jasper PD unit against the junior high building. He was eastbound like he had just made the turn off of Third Street. It didn’t look like a high-speed crash, but more like he’d bumped into the building when he was parking. I was pretty sure he was dead, but I still stopped to check him out. Minion bounded over my lap and out the door before I could stop him. “Dog, we’re going to have to work on that part.”
The officer was dead, which didn’t concern me as much as the fact that his pistol was missing along with the spare magazines. I stepped back from the SUV and looked around the neighborhood for a moment. I didn’t see anyone around, and I didn’t hear anything either. I called Minion back over from the yard across the street where he had been peeing and had him sit by the car while I searched the SUV.
I knew from writing a few articles about law enforcement agencies in the area that most cops carried what they called a “war bag” in their patrol units, and Officer Bell here was no different. His held some first-aid gear, some snacks, and ammunition for his duty gun, rifle, and shotgun. His long guns were still locked in place in their overhead rack. I wondered if whoever took his duty gun had bothered to try and unlock them. It didn’t take me long to decide to grab his war bag and toss it in my car. Even though his sidearm had been a nine-millimeter pistol and mine was a forty-five, I figured I could use the ammo for barter if I had to, and give it to Hannah if I still had it when I got up there to her.
I had to move Bell out of the SUV to get to the buttons to release the gun locks. I didn’t feel bad about taking the guns. Officer Bell obviously had no further use for them, and as cynical as it felt, I wasn’t sure that the person who took his pistol had completely altruistic motives. I’d covered several hurricanes over the years as a freelancer, and I had discovered that, more often than not, there was an overwhelming attitude of, “Screw you. I’m taking care of me first.”
I took another look around the neighborhood. It was about 6:45, and already starting to get dark, and I was suddenly nervous about driving around with stolen police gear in my car. Minion and I got back in the car and made as much of a beeline back to my place as we could.
Once we got home, I grabbed a spare five-gallon bucket that I had sitting in the garage, filled it with some fast-setting concrete that I had been saving, and let that start setting up. It would be one of my makeshift weights for the burial tomorrow. I had a couple of cinderblocks sitting around as well, and I figured I’d tie those to the bundle along with the bucket. Then I grabbed Kevin’s sleeping bag from the camping gear we had in the attic of the garage and headed into the house for the hard part. The rigor mortis had basically released. It was easier to move his limbs, making it a lot less difficult to roll him up in his blanket. Once I had him rolled up, I unrolled the sleeping bag and laid him in it then zipped him back up. Minion lay in the doorway to Kevin’s bedroom, watching me as I worked and cried, his head cocked this way and that. He came over as I zipped up the bag and pawed at it twice, whining just a little.
I’d been weeping just a little before. Now I was bawling my eyes out.
Copyright © 2019 Bob Mueller
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