The Fourth Partner

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Mystery and Crime  |  House: Rodney Page Books

Billy Howell's last boat ride

Chapter 1 (v.1) - Chapter 1

Submitted: September 01, 2016

Reads: 172

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Submitted: September 01, 2016

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Chapter 1

August, 1991

It was hot, a sultry humid heat made more unbearable by the lack of a breeze.

Billy Howell sat on the small deck atop his dock on the marsh creek a few miles north of Shellman Bluff. Sweat soaked his Atlanta Braves baseball cap. He was shirtless and perspiration streamed down his broad chest, drenching his canvas shorts. Billy never built a house or cabin on the lot, just the floating boat dock and deck; there wasn’t a need.

He was alone, but the dock had buzzed with activity many nights the last couple of years. Now it was just a place of solitude where Billy tried to relax, a refuge from what had become an increasingly maddening and stressful life.

Jill Howell never visited the lot he’d bought in 1988; neither had his son. Billy relished his wife’s absence; the couple seldom spent time together anyway. His estranged son, B.J., hated him, and Billy knew why. It was a shame, but it was what it was. Laura loved the lot, and Billy recalled fond memories of the cookouts and boat rides with his daughter.

There was no telephone. Billy’s clients wouldn’t bounce their way over McIntosh County’s washboard dirt roads to hassle him. They’d have to wait until he returned to his office to bitch or file law suits or contact the police or do whatever the hell they decided to do.

But pissed-off clients were the least of Billy’s worries. During happier times Billy spent hours on the deck with those he considered friends. They argued goodnaturedly about upcoming football games, hockey matches, basketball games, boxing matches or damn near anything else on which a bet could be placed.

But no longer. And he reflected on the late night rendezvous at the dock.

My God, was it worth it?

Billy flung the empty beer can into the creek. He reached into the cooler for another but stopped. His father was a drunk, and Billy feared addictive tendencies floated somewhere in his genes. Dulling his senses wouldn’t help, and he tossed the Styrofoam cooler into the creek; the remaining beers sank. Oddly, the tide was turning, and the cooler bobbed in place, floating neither northerly nor southerly.

Just like my life…going no damn where.

The searing sun turned the deck’s tin roof into a heating element, not unlike that of a toaster oven. Billy considered a cooling swim but saw a solitary alligator lurking near the dock.

No breeze stirred. Billy slipped on his deck shoes and climbed down from the deck to the dock. A boat ride would offer relief from the heat; no matter how hot the air, at least it would move.

The jon boat’s small motor cranked to life, and Billy mindlessly guided the small boat through the meandering labyrinth of creeks, streams and inlets. He found solace in the marsh. The receding tide revealed jagged oyster beds on the muddy banks. They reminded him of his youth when he clamored in the muck to harvest a few dozen for roasting.

Trout jumped, and a pair of porpoises frolicked in the main creek channel. For an hour Billy forgot his worries.

He guided the boat to his dock. The sun was low, and Jill would react savagely if he was late, but no more so than usual. B.J. wouldn’t be there and couldn’t care less if his father was home or not. However, Laura would give him a hug.

The jon boat rounded the bend in the creek, and Billy saw two men standing on his dock. He recognized both. Billy shrugged his shoulders and braced for another unpleasant conversation.

Billy lived his life on the edge … his finances, business dealings and personal affairs always on the precipice, poised to plunge into chaos. But his disarming charm and bullshitting skills saved him. Now his verbosity and boyish grin wouldn’t help.

He climbed out of boat and secured it to the dock. The accusations were more intense than last time. Billy offered the same answers and assurances he had for weeks. Yes, he’d keep his mouth shut. There was nothing more Billy could say or do.

He tired of the threats, turned and walked off the dock onto the wooden pier. The two men followed; one screamed at Billy. He ignored the verbal assault and climbed the steep stairs leading to his lot on the bluff overlooking the creek.

He walked toward his Infiniti Q45, reached into his pocket and pushed the unlock button on the keyless device. Billy saw the Infiniti’s lights blink and heard the click of the door lock mechanism…the last sight and sound he ever saw or heard.

One of the men was remorseful, the other relieved. With considerable effort the two men stuffed Billy’s body into the trunk of their car. They unmoored the jon boat and set it adrift.

Billy left the property’s solitude for the last time.

 


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