THE LAKE


By Cliff Young



The lake, it is said, never gives up her dead. The line is from "The Wreck of the Edmond Fitzgerald," and it's stuck in your brain. You can't get it out of your thoughts any more than you can get the vision of the body out of your sight.

It's your boss. Was your boss. He tried to kill you, but it's all your fault. There's no earthly reason why anyone would be at a lawnmower repair shop at 2:30 on a Saturday morning. Unless they were there to rip the place off.

That explains you, but not him.

You have no idea why he was there, swinging a tire iron at your head, as you knelt over his safe. He hesitated when he saw it was you, and you saw every expression clear from his face. Every expression except betrayal.

You knocked him back. He was old, it was easy. And that was that.

Now here you are, staring down at him. The tire iron is still in his hand. White heat envelopes you. It crushes in on your chest so you can't breath, and it causes your vision to tremble. All you can see is the old man on the floor, as if through an ever narrowing tunnel. Your heart pounds at your ears and you feel as though you're falling.

You kneel beside him, desperate to discover any sign of life; breath, heartbeat, pulse.

What have you done? You're not a murderer.

You are now.

Before today you weren't even a thief. But things were getting out of control. This was the only way you could figure to manage. Now things are really out of control.

You don't know what to do, so you do what you came to do. You open the safe. What you see shocks you to your senses. More money than you imagined. Ten times more. A hundred times more. You expected a couple hundred, a couple thousand at most. It's a lawnmower shop, for fuck's sake. What was the old man up to?

As you look down at him, the only thing in your head is that line from the song. The lake, it is said, never gives up her dead. It's the cold water that does it. You heard that somewhere. It keeps the gasses in the corpse from expanding, so the body never floats. In the song it's Lake Superior, but you figure any cold body of water will do.

You're an hour from Lake Tahoe, which is almost 2,000 feet deep. It's got to be cold as a witch's tit at the bottom, any time of year.

You'll need a boat.

There's a boat in the parking lot. It's Ralph's. The old man lets Ralph park it in the lot, because Ralph lives in a shitty apartment with no parking. You could take it and be back before morning.

You think it through.

You don't have a trailer hitch. You're fucked.

You call Ralph on the phone, and although it's 3:00 in the morning, he agrees to take you fishing. That's the thing about Ralph. You can count on him to have nothing better to do at 3:00 in the morning than to take you fishing. The thing about Ralph is, he's an idiot. But that's okay. The situation you find yourself in requires the company of idiots.

So you wrap the body in a tarp, stow it in the boat, and wait for Ralph.

You're on Highway 50 winding through the Sierra foothills, riding shotgun in Ralph's F-150. Behind you is your boss, riding in the boat. You told Ralph the rolled up tarp was your gear.

Ralph has been asking you a ton of questions. Why Tahoe? Why not someplace closer? Why not the delta, why not Comanche? Why were you working so late? But being an idiot, he doesn't seem to mind that you have 150 pounds of fishing gear all wrapped in canvas stowed on the floor of his boat.

You keep looking back at the boat, back to the old man. You barely hear Ralph. His voice is tin. The hills blur past like the walls of a tunnel. The sky is dark purple, almost black, with the faintest hint of dawn ahead.

As you ride, you realize that there will be an investigation. People will be questioned, including Ralph. Ralph's an idiot, but he's not stupid. He'll put something together.

Ralph must never return from the lake.

It takes a bit of convincing to get Ralph out to the middle, where it's deep. He says all the fish are near the shore. You tell him there's rainbow-bass out in the middle. Good fighters. Really, he asks. How the fuck should you know, but yes, you tell him. The idiot.

When Ralph cuts the engine, you take a pair of pliers from his tackle box. They're not much, but they're all you can find. You only have to knock him off balance, get him in the water, then run him down with his own boat. The lake will take care of the rest. The Lake, it is said, never gives up her dead.

But when you turn, he's already facing you. He's got an oar in his hands like a baseball bat, and a vicious smile on his face.

"Thank you for taking care of the old man," he says. He looks down at the roll of canvass on the deck. "God, you must take me for a fucking moron," he says. "That's okay, so did he."

You lunge at him, but he's too quick. As you raise your hand with the pliers, he brings the oar down on your forearm, cracking it above the elbow. Your arm bends where it shouldn't bend, a new hinge between elbow and wrist. The pain is unbearable, and you fall to the deck.

Ralph laughs. "You know how much meth I ran for this old motherfucker? Up and down the delta, in this very boat. Antioch to Sacramento. Twice a week. Fucking ton of money."

He looks down at you. "Oh, yeah, I know about the safe." His face is split by his grin as he brings the oar down on your head.

Your eyes are open as he rolls you into the lake. The boat is visible for a long time, longer than you would have expected. The boat dances in the ripples of the lake, and as it shrinks above you, the water gets colder.


Cliff Young lives with his wife and two children in a house with a picket fence in California, and hitch-hikes to work every day. His stories have been published or are forthcoming in Bartleby Snopes (winner, Story of the Month), Jersey Devil Press, Double Shiny, Pulp Empire and Tickled by Thunder. He has been nominated for Dzanc Best of the Web, 2011. More information about Cliff's writing can be found at www.unstoriable.com.


Copyright 2011 Cliff Young. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of the author is prohibited.


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