Except for the rippled wake of the rowboat and the swirling eddies spinning away when the paddles, the lake was still. The fish had feasted and the mosquitoes had drank their fill and the water reflected the full moon hanging in the clear night better than any man-made mirror, stars scattered like white dust on black velvet, each taking turns winking in the humid summer night.
Ralph opened his mouth to comment about how quiet it was when a loon’s mournful call drifted across the water. He paused and decided against saying something inane, something a city boy who had never been to the north woodlands before might say. Besides, the call of the loon unnerved him with its eerie note and he mostly forgot how to speak until he closed his mouth again. Instead, he continued to row.
“Keep to the right a bit, kid. We won’t go anywhere if you steer us into the reeds.” William O’Shaughnessy wasn’t more than a year or two older than Ralph, but kept calling him kid. Ralph hated it, but knew better than to say anything. They had warned him about Bill’s volatile nature and Ralph was content in not being the spark to set it aflame.
He started to row harder with his right hand to correct their course based on those instructions when Bill spoke up. “Yer other right, idjit.”
Ralph reminded himself that his right was Bill’s left and quickly corrected. They hadn’t told him he needed to row boats when he joined the gang. He imagined he would be dodging the G-man in Chicago or living it up with the boss in Saint Paul. Not disposing of bodies in some hide-a-way lake north of Brainard.
The whisper of reeds on both sides of the boat told Ralph they had finally reached the narrow channel Bill had mentioned would be their first destination. The reed tangled up the oars and made rowing difficult, but not impossible, so Ralph decided it was best to keep his mouth shut. Bill sounded edgy and he didn’t want to find out if the rumors were true by complaining about the cattails. He looked over the edge and the water seemed impossibly shallow; it was a surprise they hadn’t run aground already.
“Almost there, kid. Almost there.” Bill encouraged. “Shit, kid, I wouldn’t look into the water, that shit will give you nightmares.”
The warning came too late, of course. Ralph doubted he would sleep until they left the area. It had probably been a trick of the shadows or his mind working overtime because of their task, but he could have sworn he saw faces below the surface of the water in the light of the moon. Faces and hands reaching out to —
“Keep going till we get to the middle, see. That’s where the hole is.”
The reeds had parted away as Ralph fought the urge to quicken his stroke. How the hell was he going to get back though that channel? What if it wasn’t his imagination playing tricks on him?
“‘Kay, Oars up, kid.”
Ralph did as he was told and turned around. The bay they had rowed was almost pond-like in the distance across and might have been a lake unto itself had the lake bottom had risen higher on either side of the channel Ralph had rowed through.
“See, that kid?” Bill said, pointing over the edge of the boat. For some reason, this water was a poor mirror compared to the other side of the channel. It almost seemed brown in comparison to the lake they had crossed to get to this place.
“That there is the deepest part of Straw Lake. We’ve tried to measure the depth and sometimes we get eighty feet before we bottom out. Other times, we run out of string. Weird as shit.”
Ralph nodded, not sure he needed or wanted to know the details.
“Well, let’s get rid of the trash, kid.”
Ralph wrapped one of the chains they had brought to the cinder block and then secured the other end to the legs poking out of the burlap sack covering Jim, another recent recruit. Apparently, Jim had snitched on the gang and the boss had caught wind of the tattletale. That was that. They had a long talk in the cabin while Ralph was told to take a long walk.
The two of them lifted up the body formerly known as Jim and dumped him over the side. The body floated, which surprised Ralph a bit.
Bill pointed to the cinder block.
“Chuck it, kid.”
Ralph hefted up the block and threw over the edge. Jim’s body sank quickly, bubbled trapped in the sack streaming up as he disappeared into the dark waters and Ralph watched. It was a lot of bubbles.
He felt something tap him firmly in the head and everything went dark.
When he came to, Ralph couldn’t move. His hands were cuffed behind him and his legs were wrapped in chains.
“Wakey, wakey, kid.”
“Whaaa —” his voice sounded like it was moving through mud.
“Boss found out about your little side gig. If there’s anything he hates more than snitches, it he hates people ripping him off.”
“But I –“
“No. You don’t get to say nuthin’ about it. Y’should have stayed out of that offer he set you up for to check your loyalty. The boss was disappointed when you accepted. He thought you was smarter than that.”
“Hey, but –“
“Bye bye, kid.” With that, Bill tossed the cinder block over the edge of the aluminum rowboat and, at first Ralph thought it was all a bad joke because he was still in the boat when boat tilted his feet banged against the rim. And then he very slowly got pulled over the edge and into the water.
It was down, down and his lungs screamed as he tried not to breath, but he hadn’t had much of a chance to take a breath before he went under and…
Except for the ripples circling outward where the kid had plunged downward and the other ripples flowing outward as the boat stopped rocking, the lake was still. The fish had feasted and the mosquitoes had drank their fill and the water reflected the full moon hanging in the clear night better than any man-made mirror, stars scattered like white dust on black velvet, each taking turns winking in the humid summer night.