We followed railroad tracks by the forest, and the tracks followed the river. A white moon hung full and bright to our right, fluorescent on the water. To our left, dense black trees grew close to the tracks. Chalk-white stones glowed with the moon, piled loosely around heavy wooden ties. I grabbed one of the stones and gauged its weight, its feel. Then, with all I had, I flung it into the river. We were silent for a moment. Then, the stone thumped into the soggy riverbank and rolled into the brush grass beside the water.
I searched for a smaller stone.
“How much further?” David asked. He threw a stone. There was a pause, and we listened.
“A quarter-mile, probably,” I said.
I skipped a stone side-arm up the tracks. “Parties don’t get busted out here.”
We walked a while and, to our left, thick forest gave way to a wide-open, rolling hills that I knew to be the Viebrock property. The yard smelled freshly mowed. At the top of the hill, where the ground was level, a cabin sat black in silhouette. The yard ran down and down some forty yards before meeting the river. A two-person paddle boat bobbed rhythmically with the river, thumping against a wooden dock.
“You sure they aren’t home?” David asked.
“No campfire,” I said. “No lights. There’s nobody there.”
“How do you know they’re not sleeping?” he asked.
I balanced on one of the rails and jumped down on the rocks. “I don’t.”
We slid down to the dock and climbed into the paddle boat. I freed the tether from a post and, side by side, we pedaled. We pedaled for a long time. Then I pointed.
“That’s the island?” David asked.
I nodded. “That’s it.”
The island was a small circle of land with a sandy beach around its perimeter. Further inland, the ground climbed and turned rocky, and there were scraggly pines and sticker bushes. Large, gray formations jutted out between the trees and the island above the beach was littered with boulders.
“Nobody’s there,” David said.
“They’re in the cave.”
He gave me a look.
“Really,” I said. “It’s safer there.”
“I don’t hear anything.”
“You don’t hear parties in the cave, dummy. That’s the point.”
We pedaled, and he was quiet for a while. Finally, he asked: “What about their boats?”
I scanned the island. “They must have come in from the other side.”
“How do you get here from the other side?”
“How the hell do I know? I’ve never done it.”
We pulled the paddle boat onto the sand and dried our hands on our shorts. “Over here,” I said. Sandburs stuck our clothes and got in our sandals, sharp as tacks. We picked our way up through the rocks.
At a high clearing, I stopped. The moon was shining brightly off the black rippling surface of the water.
“Do you remember Maynard?” I asked.
“Maynard, your dog?”
“Yeah, my beagle.”
“Why wouldn’t I?”
We continued crawling up the hillside, doubled over, using our hands to feel for hidden boulders in the dark. “It was weird how he died,” I said.
“Yeah, that sucked.”
“I can’t believe someone would do that.”
“What a douche.”
We stopped again. I breathed deeply in the cool breeze. “The vet said the shot went right through his heart,” I said. “That’s a tough shot.”
David nodded, looked at me, said nothing.
I asked: “How many guys do you know who could make that shot?”
David opened his mouth, closed it again, and said: “Probably not many. What are you asking?”
I shrugged again. “I’m just saying it’s weird. You never liked Maynard. He howled, woke the neighborhood. I can’t count the times you told me about it.”
His eyes narrowed. “It sucks you think I shot your dog.”
“I didn’t say that.”
“Dude!” David said.
“Quiet!” I hissed. “Did you hear that?”
We listened to the breeze and the water sloshing against the island.
“I don’t hear anything.”
“All right.” I pointed. “The cave is right up there.”
David stood frozen, willing himself to see. I cuffed the back of his head, and the heavy, white stone in my palm made a sick cracking sound when it met his skull, like a dry twig being snapped in two. His eyes rolled white. His legs buckled and he collapsed. He let out a long wheeze, twitched twice, and lay still.
I pushed at him with my sandal and, when he didn’t grab my leg and pull me down, I found the courage to feel around on his neck for a pulse. It was faint but steady. I dragged him back down towards the beach, tripping over rocks, bloodying my knuckles, smashing my shins, bruising my tailbone.
David never stirred, not when I dropped him in the rocks and picked him back up only to drop him again and again. He did not wake when his heels dug ditches through the sand or when I dumped him unceremoniously into one of the seats of the paddle boat. He slept, as I wrapped the anchor rope around his right ankle and when I pushed us from shore.
When the water was deep enough, I turned and pushed David out with both feet. There was a great splash and the rope fed into the water. The boat drifted a ways and suddenly halted, straining against the rope.
I dove out, swam back to the island, found the kayak I had hidden, and paddled for home.