The two men crouched in the shade staring at the body beside the river. The birds high above in the canopy had returned to their musical gossip, the men below deemed harmless. “This is like one of those movies,” Wes said. “Like the ones with the mob bosses and drug things.” Rodney was only half listening, but he said, “drug things? What drug things?” “You know, the gang things,” Wes said, getting frustrated as he struggled for the word. “Cartels?” Rodney asked. “Yeah—cartels; like one of those drug cartels.” “I don’t think there are any cartels in Georgia,” Rodney said flatly.
“What do you think is in it?” Wes asked. “Well there’s only so many things you handcuff to your arm,” the boat captain replied, standing up. He walked over to the body and looked at it. The dead man wasn’t dressed flashy—but not shabby either—wearing sneakers, blue jeans, and a button down shirt. The type of clothes that wouldn’t attract much attention—if that was your aim, Rodney mused. He looked at the muddy and dented case. There were two small combination lock hasps by the handle. It wouldn’t be hard to open—if he wanted to. But whatever was in the case was likely why this man ended up dead in the river. Someone would probably come looking for the case. They could be coming here now.
“Go to the boat-box and grab the two biggest screwdrivers you can find,” Rodney called over his shoulder. He needed to know what was inside. Wes came back a few minutes later and handed him the tools. He knelt down and picked up the handcuff chain, sliding the screwdrivers into a link at opposite angles. Grunting, he pried apart the link and the loose end of the chain slid to the mud. The men carried the case a short distance from the body and knelt down under the thick limb of an oak tree.
Rodney tried the latches but—as he had expected—they were locked. He placed the tip of the screwdriver under the hasp arm and pried up. At first the thin metal bar only bent upward, but then it popped free with a metallic clink. After doing the same to the other latch, he set the case on the ground. The men glanced nervously at one another before Rodney raised the lid. They both gasped when they saw inside, the noise piercing the silence of the woods.
The entire case was filled with stacks of hundred dollar bills. Yellow and white paper bands around each bundle read: “$10,000.00”. Rodney quickly closed the lid and looked around the forest—suddenly certain they were being watched. A short distance upstream, a fish splashed as it snatched a bug from the surface, but otherwise the only sounds were the birds high above. Wes reached over and opened the lid again. “Holy shit,” he exclaimed, “that has to be a million bucks!” “I don’t think it’s a million,” Rodney said, “but it’s a lot” He’d never seen so much money in his life—and he knew immediately that it could only lead to trouble.
“I think we should leave right now and tell the police,” Rodney said a few minutes later as they stood by the boat. “No way,” Wes replied in shocked horror, “this is our ticket—our big break. We take the money and we get the hell out of here, look around man—no one even knows this dude’s here!” he said waving around the woods with his arms. Rodney shook his head, “Think about it, man. Do you honestly believe whoever was supposed to get that briefcase is going to forget about it? No, they’re out there looking for it right now and eventually they’re going to figure out this guy went in the river. I don’t plan to be anywhere near here or that case when they do.”
“Think about Sadie; you owe her,” Wes continued, trying another tack. “You told her you’d buy her a house by two years after the wedding, right? What’s it been now, three and a half—four years?” “Five,” Rodney said evenly and spat into the water. “And what about the boat note,” the shorter man continued, “and the nets? How long until those are paid off?” There had been more expenses than just the boat and the nets of course, but Rodney had never wasted time explaining that type of stuff to Wesley; he wouldn’t understand half of it anyway.
He stood by the boat—one foot on shore and one in the water—thinking about his options. Not only was the money not his, whoever it did belong to was almost definitely a bad apple—one man was already dead. But Wes was also right; he had expected the fishing business to do a lot better than it had been. The river just didn’t harbor the same amount of fish anymore. Sadie would never leave him over money—she was a better woman than that—but, he did owe her more. He hated himself for being so weak.
“Ok,” he finally said, “but not because of the loan or the house… Sadie’s late.” It took a moment for Wes to understand, but then—dead body and money forgotten for the moment—his face beamed and he rushed over to hug his friend. “That’s great news, man! We have to celebrate!” Wesley’s celebrations were why Rodney had waited so long to tell him in the first place. Never quite outgrowing the bonfire-and-beer lifestyle from high school, Wes still liked to party until the sun chased him to bed—responsibilities be damned. “Absolutely man, but first we need to deal with this,” he said, jerking his head towards the dead man’s body on the water’s edge, now attracting fat black flies.
Wes walked over and grabbed the case before returning to the boat. “Wait, hold up—,” Rodney said stopping him just before the boat, “we can’t just leave him here.” Wes turned and looked at the body, “what do you want to do? We can’t bury him—we don’t even have any shovels.” Wes was right of course, but Rodney had other reasons for not wanting to bury him: he wanted to get away from there as fast as they could. “I have an idea,” he said, “why don’t we give him a sailor’s burial?” As usual, Wes had to chew on the words for a bit but then he understood Rodney’s thinking. “But what are we going to sink him with?” he asked.
Five minutes later the two fishermen had their spare boat anchor tied around the dead man’s legs. They each held a long stick in their hands, the ends of which were tucked under the man’s torso. Rodney began to count, “one… two…” On three, both men raised their sticks and the body rolled back into the water before quickly sinking out of sight in the muddy channel. “It wouldn’t take much to find him—but you’d have to know to look here in the first place,” the captain said, glancing around the woods.
Rodney and Wes were still a mile from the marina when Rodney cut the motor off. Behind the treetops, the setting sun filled the early evening sky with brilliant orange light that reflected off the tiny wave caps, blanketing the river in a thousand tiny flames. “We can’t go to the marina—not with that,” Rodney said, nodding towards the big fish cooler they carried on the boat’s deck, now with the briefcase inside. “Why not?” Wes asked, his face glowing in the twilight. “Because, if someone thinks to look for that guy in the river, where’s the first place they’re going to check? They’re probably watching the docks right now just waiting for someone to come ashore with that thing,” Rodney explained, “I got a different idea.”
He yanked the motor to life and then turned the boat around, heading back upriver a short distance to the two men’s favorite spot. When they pulled into the small cove, Rodney steered the bow to the bank. Years ago, they had found the cove when they first started fishing the Drake river. They still dropped anchor every now and then when they wanted to take a break and cool off in the water or nap in the shade. Wes tied the boat off and turned to Rodney and asked, “so let me get this straight. You want to bury the case here… and then come and dig it up after dark?” “Yep,” Rodney replied, quickly carrying the briefcase to the shore. He stopped and studied the woods around them before spotting what he was looking for. “Here,” he said, “under that log back there. Help me roll it over.”
The ground under the mossy log was soft. They managed to quickly dig a large sized hole, scraping the ground with the big screwdrivers from the boat-box before scooping the loose dirt out by hand. Once the briefcase was completely buried they rolled the log back on top. “Now don’t forget which log it is,” Rodney joked as they caught their breath. “Oh, don’t worry—I won’t,” Wes replied, taking his gloves off.
Rodney went over his plan one more time as they packed their things back into the boat. “The old Perry Mill logging road is about half a mile through those woods—and it’s a shitty walk. Other than that, you can’t get into this cove except by boat. We’ll wait until it’s good and dark, then we’ll drive down the logging road, walk through the woods back here, and dig it up. Then we’re back home before the sun’s up—and nobody saw us with anything.” Like usual, Wes left the decisions to Rodney. To his credit, he knew he wasn’t very smart—as some people went out of their way to point out his entire life—but he knew how high the stakes were for both of them now and so he had no problem letting Rodney call the shots.
It was almost dark when their boat pulled into the slip at the small marina. Only a few other fishermen were still around along with a family loading a speedboat onto a trailer, a large inflatable inner-tube strapped on the back. Rodney went to get the truck and trailer as Wes began quickly piling their things on the dock. After loading the boat onto the trailer, they sat in the truck in the parking lot. Rodney was trying to casually look around before leaving and said, “you see anyone you don’t recognize around here?” “Recognize?” Wes asked incredulously, “I don’t know the whole damn town, Rod.” Rodney sighed, “I mean, do you see anyone that looks out of place—like they don’t belong here?”
Wes looked around the nearly deserted marina, “what about that truck over there, by that building; in the dark—see?” Rodney leaned over and followed Wes’ eyes to the building. “That’s the truck the marina uses for cleaning out the shitters,” he said before turning the key and pulling away. On the drive to the edge of town where Wes’ camper was parked both men watched the rearview mirrors to see if they were being followed, but no lights materialized from the darkness behind them.
The gravel in the driveway crunched under the truck’s tires as Rodney pulled to a stop. The dented little camper was the only thing Wes’ dad had left him—when he left him. Like his mother ten years prior, his dad had gotten into his car one night, left, and simply never came back. It had been right before graduation and—while he never said so—Rodney felt that it must have been especially hurtful for Wes. As hard as life could be for a boy growing up in a camper, it only got harder when he was left to fend on his own. Rodney’s parents had tried to help as much as they could—some groceries here, some hand-me-down clothes there—but the pride of young men is often not easily broken, and their lot can be unnecessarily difficult at times.
Rodney turned the truck off and said, “I’ll be back in a few hours. You got a backpack or a bag—something like that?” Wes nodded, “I have an old army duffel bag, if that’d work?” “Okay, yeah, bring it,” Rodney said, “we’ll put the money in that and then sink the briefcase to the bottom of the cove. Remember, don’t say a word about any of this to anybody. I’ll be back in a few hours to get you. And Wes, please, don’t get drunk—there’s plenty of time for that when we get this thing done.” Wes nodded again before getting out of the truck and walking to the camper sitting on the edge of the woods.
On the drive to his trailer, Rodney thought of different ways to tell Sadie what happened. He didn’t think she would say to get rid of the money, but she would probably not grasp the risk either. He wanted to make sure that she understood that they had to keep the money quiet for a while, but without terrifying her at the same time. He was prepared to leave everything here behind and run if strange people started showing up in town—now he wondered if Sadie would be as well; she would be leaving more behind than he would be.
Sadie was on the porch when he pulled into the driveway. Their trailer sat on quiet wooded lot just past the last gas station on the way out of town. You could see the orange sodium light by the gas pumps from their front lawn, but otherwise they had no neighbors nearby. “You’re back late—must have been up to your neck in fish,” she said with her wry smile. Together since the 10th grade, she had stuck with him through the hard times as the fish grew scarcer. She was no stranger to bad days on the river and assumed he’d stopped off for a drink after baking under the hot sun all day. “You could say that,” Rodney said, climbing the steps to kiss her. “Why don’t you come inside for a minute.”