by Baloney Bill
Vacation - at last their time to relax and get away from it all, but will they come back?
A Murderous Vacation
It had been a pretty rotten year all in all, but they had survived it all, and felt like this vacation would put them back on the right path, to shake off the muck and get a clean start. The marriage counselor had been a great help, and it was her suggestion which got Ben of all people to volunteer to find a spot they would both like as well as afford.
He had come up with Webley Island, an uninhabited place which was fairly close to them down the Mississippi River, very primitive, set back in the woods, and accessible only by boat. There were stories of young people partying there during the summertime, and the chaos that sometimes results from unbridled and unbottled enthusiasm. Katy wondered if it was safe, and Ben gave her one of his looks, but didn't blow up or anything.
He just said he wasn't scared of anything, and they would be fine. Besides, summer was over. They had just flipped the calendar to October, and he reckoned they would have the place to themselves, especially since they would be going in the middle of the week and not the weekend.
The price was right, too, and money was definitely an issue. It didn't cost anything to stay there. It was just a sand bar with a scattering of bushes and trees here and there. The land was no good for anything except tying up your boat and swimming or fishing. Which almost eliminated their chance for staying there. They didn't have a boat. They were lucky to have a car, although it was so old and giving them so many troubles they wondered if they would be luckier not having the old piece of crap.
But then a minor miracle happened.
Katy's dad, who couldn't stand the sight of Ben, who considered Ben a beer-swilling loafer who was not worthy of his beloved daughter, out of the blue offered them the use of his pickup truck, fishing boat and camping supplies. Suddenly, they were all set. An affordable vacation during a beautiful time of the year on a secluded island just the two of them. A chance to get their lives back in order. A chance to renew the feelings that had been so strong just a year ago before everything hit the fan and then ended up with the two of them separating for a while. That's the way Katy put it, but Ben was not ashamed to say he was in jail. He did time. It happened. He got through it. He wasn't ashamed of it.
They left early, well, early for them - 8:30 - on Monday morning driving south then east on the interstate highways and then getting off onto state highways and then county roads, the last of them gravel. Neither of them had been so far out in the boondocks before. There was a little town called Bedford some fifteen miles from the county boat launch, and that's were they stopped to gas up the truck and boat, shop for some groceries and drinks, and had some lunch at a nice little hole-in-the-wall cafe. Everybody looked at them off and on from the time they walked in. They found a table right by the window an old couple had just vacated.
A lady who looked like she had been in the waitressing game for a good while came from behind the counter with glasses of water and a couple of menus. They turned down her offer of coffee; neither of them drank the stuff. Yuck.
"The special today is beef stroganoff," she said. "And we've got apple and peach pie for dessert. Do you want some time to look over the menu?"
"I just want a couple of burgers and fries and beer if you've got it."
"No beer. Don't have a liquor license."
"Coke is fine then. How 'bout you, Kate?"
"Do you have anything vegetarian?"
"Can make you a salad or grilled cheese, I guess. Don't have many vegetarians around here. Most farmers like their pork, chicken, and beef."
"C'mon, Kate, a burger ain't gonna kill you just once."
Kate continued to look at the menu, flipped it over, but the back was blank. "Sure, a salad sounds good and maybe some iced tea," she said, and the lady took their menus and left without a smile or another word.
They looked at each other, but neither of them came up with anything to say before a cop came strolling over to their table. He looked at Ben's long hair and tattoos.
"You kids headin' to the island?" he asked them.
Ben could see he was not a cop but a sheriff's deputy.
"That's right," Katy answered with a smile. "We've got a few days off work and my dad's boat and we're going to camp over there for a couple of nights."
"You do a lot of camping?"
"Used to when we were younger," Kate answered. "Not lately, though."
Ben's face was turning red and he was clenching his teeth.
"Not much over there, you know, just sand and weeds. Couple of trees. Bats and snakes. There isn't anybody around to help you if you run into trouble."
"We'll be fine," Ben blurted out.
The deputy looked at him and then at Katy. He touched the brim of his hat and went back to the counter where the lady had just brought him his coffee.
Ben wolfed down his food like he hadn't eaten in a week, but Katy knew it was because he was pissed off. She didn't eat much. Her salad was just iceberg lettuce, a couple of wedges of a tomato, and some Italian dressing. She drank all the tea, though, which was pretty good, while she waited for Ben to finish.
"What business is it of his where we're going?" Ben exploded as they headed out of town. "Trouble. What? He thinks we're scared of bats and snakes? Candy ass."
He didn't say anything else until they reached the boat launch and things lightened up as neither one of them knew the first thing about getting a boat in the water. After a couple of unsuccessful tries backing up, Ben, frustrated, gave the keys to Katy. She was able, by going slowly and turning the wheel gently, was able to get the trailer down the ramp. Ben figured out the winch and let the rope wind out, and then they both looked at each other and laughed. The boat was floating free, held only by the rope. It was drifting away from them towards the muddy shoreline over to their right. Ben pulled off his jeans and in his boxer shorts waded over to the boat and sloshing through the mud guided the boat over to the dock. Katy was laughing her ass off. Ben climbed onto the dock, mud up to his ankles, then with a sheepish grin sat down on the dock to wash off his legs and feet.
"Hilarious," he said with a straight face, but Katy could see he was okay.
Driving the boat was easy and fun. They headed away from the dock very slowly but once they were free Ben opened up the engine and they were really flying. The island was not far, and even though the Deputy said it was just sand, weeds, and trees, to Ben and Katy, it was beautiful. The midday sun sparkled on the sand and the trees and whatever was growing were a deep, rich green. It was nice to be away from the city, out in the fresh air and sunshine. Ben slowed down the engine as they approached and then handed the controls to Katy as he headed to the bow to jump out and tie the boat up to shore.
They left the supplies on the boat while they went exploring the island. There wasn't much to it, but it was just fine. They found a nice flat, cleared spot to pitch the tent. It looked as if it had been a campsite before. There were remnants of a campfire and a few cans and litter here and there. Ben pulled Katy tight and they kissed like the old times and went on from there. Katy finally stopped him, suggesting that at least they could set the tent up first. She wasn't going to get all full of sand with no place around to shower.
The tent went up fast. When Ben had a goal, he could work like a beaver. After their romp, the time went fast. They set up the rest of camp and went looking for firewood, got a fire going as the day was coming to a close. Katy got an apple out of the cooler while Ben skinned the bark off a green limb and started roasting a hot dog. He put it on a piece of bread and squirted some ketchup on it. Katy looked on. She was pretty hungry. A soup bowl of lettuce didn't go far. He looked at her looking at him. Surprise on his face. Then a big smile.
"Want one?" he grinned.
She shrugged then nodded, and when it was done and she took a bite, it was like the best thing she had eaten in a while. She figured she was just very hungry, and tried not to think of the animal parts that were sliding down her throat.
Ben and Katy had a beer, and Ben followed that up with six more, and then he was ready for bed. They were both ready for bed.
The night was quiet except for little noises of things in the brush and Ben's snoring, but Katy was having trouble sleeping. She had to go outside and relieve herself and was amazed at how dark it was here in the wilderness.
Ben woke up with dry mouth and a slight headache. He unzipped the tent and crawled out. It was pretty chilly. He crawled back in and found a sweatshirt. Crawled back out, looking around for Katy. She must have gone for a walk.
She would think she had to do forty laps of the island to walk off that hot dog. She hadn't started a fire or anything. He'd do that. She'd be cold when she got back.
The fire was going pretty good, and still no Katy. He went to look for her. She couldn't have gone far. There was no place to go on this little island, and the boat was still there. Not that she would take the boat anywhere without him. He circled the island a couple of times, the second time calling out, "KATY! KATY!" repeatedly. He was starting to get pretty worried and pretty mad. This was not funny. He went down to the boat and looked around, but there was no sign she had been there. He walked around the shore, all the way around, looking in the water and hoping not to find her there. Where else could she have gone?
He went back and kicked sand over the fire and then hurried down to the boat. He brought the engine to life and roared off to the dock. He was able to dock the boat almost effortlessly, not even thinking about it, and then ran up to the truck and headed back to Bedford and found the Deputy in the same cafe. Did this guy work? Was this his office?
Ben leaned on the stool next to him and got his attention right away.
"Katy's gone," he said.
"Well, if it isn't the islanders," the deputy said. "Gone? Whatdya mean she's gone? Where did she go?"
"I don't know. I've gotta find her."
"Just back up. When did you see her last?"
"Last night in the tent, maybe ten o'clock or so, I don't know. When I got up this morning she was gone."
"Well, how did you get here, then?"
"Well, the only way she could've left is in the boat, so how did you get from the island over here?"
"No, you don't get it. The boat was still there this morning. It hadn't been moved."
"That can't be. Did you hear anything last night? Any commotion? A boat motor, maybe?"
"Nothing. I didn't hear anything."
"How drunk were you?"
"Rosie said you asked for a beer with your burger at eleven in the morning yesterday. So I was just wondering how drunk you got last night?"
"I had some beers, but I wasn't drunk or anything. I would have sure heard if anybody came onto the island."
"Well, if nobody came and got her, how did she make her way off the island. She's got to be there."
"I've been around that island a dozen times. She's not there."
The deputy reached for his wallet and laid two dollars on the counter, then got off his stool. "Let's go," he said.
"Where are we going?"
"To the island, where do you think?" the deputy said. "No sense both of us driving. You can ride with me."