WATER SPORTS - KATHERINE TOMLINSON
It started out as a joke.
Well, maybe not a joke exactly, maybe more like a prank.
They’d told Josh that the chain-wrapped cinder-blocks were makeshift anchors and his only reaction was to ask, “Why two of them?”
“One for each end of the canoe,” Conor had replied, and Josh had shrugged and chugged another beer.
It wasn’t until he noticed the handcuffs dangling on the ends of the chains that Josh went full metal spaz.
He was a skinny little fucker but fear gave him strength. It took both of us to pin him down so we could attach the cuffs—one to his right hand, one around his left ankle.
He thrashed and writhed and twisted and screamed, jerking at the chains with such force they bit into the soft cinder block and left grooves.
But there wasn’t enough play for the blocks to slip out.
He pissed himself as we pulled him into the canoe and started paddling for the island in the middle of the lake.
He threatened and cajoled and pleaded as we stroked the paddles through the dark water, our eyes on the island that was just a shadow in the dark.
We were only about 50 yards from shore when he started begging.
That’s when we knew he was broken and that’s where it was supposed to stop—our joke or prank or whatever.
But Conor, who had taken the seat in the bow, turned around so he could see Josh’s face and so he didn’t see the rock sticking out of the water.
The canoe tipped, and the cinderblocks fell out, pulling Josh with them.
He didn’t even have time to scream.
“Oh fuck,” Conor said as we fought to keep from going into the water ourselves.
“Fuck,” he said again. “Ryan, what are we going to do?”
“Shut up,” I said. “Let me think.”
“I can see bubbles, Ryan,” he said and there was an edge of hysteria in his voice. He nearly unbalanced the canoe leaning over to scan the water. “He’s still alive, Ryan.”
“There are no bubbles,” I said. And it was true. The lake was calm as bathwater.
“Turn the canoe around,” I ordered.
“But, Ryan,” Conor said, ready to argue.
“Don’t argue, Conor,” I said. “Turn the canoe around.”
I did most of the work paddling back to the boathouse. Conor didn’t say anything as we secured the canoe in its slip.
I cleaned up the piss and blood, and then wiped down every surface that we’d touched.
We’d hatched our plan in secret, so unless one of us started running off at the mouth, it was unlikely anyone would link us to Josh’s disappearance.
If anyone even noticed Josh’s disappearance.
If anyone actually cared.
Conor was convinced God was going to smite us any minute, and it took me awhile to explain to him how it was going to be.
“Just keep your mouth shut,” I said. “No one will ever know.”
“We were just joking around,” he said, trying to convince himself.
“It was an accident,” I assured him. “It wasn’t your fault.”
But of course it was his fault. If he’d been paying attention to what he was doing, we wouldn’t have hit that rock. We’d have gotten to the island and dragged Josh out of the canoe and explained to him that hitting on someone else’s girl was not cool.
And we would have taken pictures of his snot-stained face and his piss-stained pants and told him that if he ever so much as looked at Briana Lyons again, we’d take him for another midnight canoe ride.
We would have told him if he even thought about telling someone what we’d done, we’d post the pictures.
We knew how much social status meant to him.
He wouldn’t have blabbed.
And now he couldn’t.
It was a win/win situation all around.
His roommate reported him missing three days later, but nothing much came of the police investigation. Flyers were posted. A tip line was established. His brother put up a Facebook page where people could share thoughts and theories.
Most people figured Josh had just cracked under the stress of making the grade at an Ivy League college after going to a public high school.
His roommate kept telling the cops that Josh would never have left without his laptop but they were overworked and underpaid and didn’t really give a shit.
Nobody really gave a shit.
Except Conor. He couldn’t let it go.
He kept it together for a little over a month before he showed up in my room one night, so drunk he could hardly walk.
“I can’t stand it, dude,” he said, breathing beer in my face. “We’ve gotta go to the cops. We’ve gotta tell them what happened.”
“You’re right,” I said. “We should go down to the police station right now.”
He was so relieved he was almost sobbing. “Thanks, man,” he said.
“They’ll understand it was just an accident,” I said. “They’ll probably just send us for counseling or something.”
“You think?” he asked, his pink face slick with alcohol-sweat.
“We just wanted to teach him a lesson,” I said. “It was just a terrible, terrible accident.”
“Just an accident,” he repeated.
“You’re too drunk to drive,” I said. “Give me your car keys.”
He passed out in the passenger seat before I’d even pulled out of the dorm parking lot. He was still asleep when I pulled up next to the boathouse.
I left the key in the ignition and the motor running as I muscled his dead weight out of the car and more or less dragged him up the steps to the structure.
As we approached the door, he began to rouse so I slammed him face first into the sturdy wood and knocked him unconscious.
Once inside the boathouse, I simply tipped him into the water face first and watched until no more bubbles rose to the surface.
Whoever found him would think he’d stumbled into the boathouse, fallen into the water and been too drunk to climb out. There’d be a bruise on his forehead but no one would look too closely at it. Even if they did, it would look like he’d hit his face on the planking between the canoes.
I left his car running with the door open and the key still in the lock. It would probably still be there in the morning, the tank dry, the battery run down. The abandoned car would help sell the scenario. And if someone stole the car, so much the better.
I got a text from Briana as I was walking back to the dorm. She wanted to know if I’d seen Ryan.
Briana was a tasty little piece. She’d need someone to comfort her.
It was a win/win situation.