Cole twitched in his seat and scratched at his arms as they took Highway 75 North, Omaha disappearing in the rearview mirror. He reached for the radio, desperate for something other than the hum of the road and the empty landscape and the hot sun and his father’s unbearable silence, but his hand was swatted away.

“Sit still and be quiet, okay?” Hands at ten and two, his father’s eyes didn’t leave the road.

Cole held his hand up to cover his eyes and look out the window. His father hadn’t even allowed him two seconds to grab his sunglasses. Hills rolled by. Private roads to campsites and homes and gun ranges. “Where are we going?”

“The Bend.”

“Oh.” Cole took a sharp breath. Bile filled his mouth. “I’m going to be sick.”

His father didn’t even look. “We’re almost to Blair.”
“Oh,” Cole said. “Okay.”

His stomach settled as they entered Blair. They passed a Runza and a Walgreens, then stopped at a red light. Cole imagined throwing open the door and running. Blair was a small town, the police station couldn’t be that far. But he knew it’d just make things worse. He closed his eyes until he felt the car moving again, ignoring the tears that fell down his face.

They turned onto a county road. He would have recognized it even if his father hadn’t already told him where they were going.

“I thought it’d be a good place for you to see,” his father said. He sat stiff in the drivers seat, sweating through his suitcoat. Cole couldn’t see his father’s eyes, but he thought he could see a line of tears falling from beneath the frames of his sunglasses. “I thought you might want to see it again.”

Cole nodded. “Been a long time since I was there.”

“It’s where you learned to fish, right? Where I taught you?”

“Yeah,” Cole said, his head hanging again with sudden wave of nausea. “I think that’s right.”
His father reached into his suit coat, past the gun. Took out a plastic baggie. “Go ahead.”

Cole took the baggie, hands trembling. He opened it, pushed the powder to the top. He looked to his father, but he’d already turned back to the road.

Cole snorted.

The drug took him somewhere else, somewhere so deep inside his body it didn’t matter where he was at. Where he was going. What he’d done. What was about to happen.

Hands on his shoulder, shaking him. “We’re here.”

Cole blinked his eyes open. They were stopped on the shoulder of a one lane road, trees and bright green grass and the pink glow of the descending sun to the left, the cold gray of the Missouri river to the right. He still felt disconnected from himself, still felt high, but he could taste the ionic fear in the back of his throat again, dull but present. He got out of the car. His father placed a hand on his shoulder, guided him towards the river.

“I was high when they grabbed me.” Cole’s voice broke. “They said they already knew everything. Just needed someone to say it on tape.”

“It’s okay,” his father said. He still wore his sunglasses though the day had somehow slipped to dusk. “I’m not mad.”

He gasped a ragged breath. “I don’t even remember what I told them.”

They were at the edge of the river now. The Bend. “This is where I taught you. Where you caught your first fish. I was so happy that day.”

“I remember,” Cole said.

His father smiled. Stepped back behind him. “You were in the water. Just a few feet in. Go in.”

Cole looked back to his father, then to the river. Slowly, shoulders and knees shaking, he stepped into the water. Felt the cold bite through his boots. Golden light danced at the edges of small waves. He watched. Became mesmerized. Cole  remembered it then, the feeling of the fish in his hands, his father smiling beside him.

“You were so happy,” his father said.

“I was.”

Cole heard the hammer of the gun pull back behind him.

He didn’t close his eyes. He waited, watching pink dusk dance across the silver water, remembering how proud his father had once been.

~ fin ~


Paul J. Garth is a Best American Mystery and Suspense distinguished story author who has been published in Thuglit, Tough, Needle: A Magazine of Noir, Plots with Guns, Crime Factory, Rock and a Hard Place, and several others magazines. He lives and writes in Nebraska with his family, where he eats too many tacos, listens to too much heavy metal, and enjoys just the right amount of bourbon. An editor at Rock and a Hard Place and Shotgun Honey, he is at work on his first novel, and can be found online by following @pauljgarth