For Jonathan K. Miller II
“He/she said WHAT?”
“It was a ‘she.'” Bob rubbed his nose nervously, scuffing his dirty boot against the curb and looking at the cruiser vaguely, and sighed as though unwilling to repeat the words.
“Fine, fine. I know that. But think harder, Bob. The salient point here is that I could not have heard what you just said correctly. Can you repeat it?” Chief Thompson seemed truly surprised, but like he was secretly trying not to laugh at Bob and Dean, men he’d known all their lives, as they unwillingly recounted their day to the officer of the law before them.
“I’d rather not repeat it.”
“I don’t want you to. I want you to tell me what she really said.” The officer looked pointedly down his hat at Bob, willing him to catch on. “Look, you’re not helping me make you sound any better in this report here, Bob. Think about what that good little wife of yours, sitting at home, wondering where you’ve been for the last 24 hours, is going to think when I show up and tell Allie what you just said to me. Now, think long and hard, and then tell me again what she said.”
This time, the words came out fast, mumbled in a singsong. “She said to bring her my King, in all his finery, so that she might bear his offspring and the offspring of his chosen friends.”
The chief took a deep breath and shifted his weight. “Well, damn, Bob. I tried. Allie’s gonna think you done gone nuts. And what happens when she tells Dean’s wife what you said and your stories don’t line up?”
Dean looked pleadingly over at Bob, who shrugged, and lit a cigarette. “There’s nothing I can do about it.” A puff of smoke and a shaking hand was all that could be seen of Bob for a moment. Dean’s hands were over his eyes. The Chief thought maybe he was crying. Poor guy.
The chief looked down at the cigarette in Bob’s hand, picked it casually away, and dropped it to the ground. “You quit last year, Bob. When you quit drinking. You know I helped you through that, and so did Allie. So did Dean here. I don’t like seeing you off the wagon.” He put his hand on his friend’s shoulder, while twisting a heel across the cigarette. “What’s really going on here, Bob. Did you start drinking again?”
Dean wiped his nose, came out from behind his hands, and unexpectedly piped in, “He didn’t. Neither of us did. We was drinking O’Douls in the back forty, Chief. And she just came bubbling up out of the creek. Honest.” Dean looked scared, then his eyes glazed over oddly. “She was so beautiful. But you don’t fuck with a water nymph. We listened; we ran.”
Bob stopped fidgeting, a look of determination coming over his face, “Come on, I’ll prove it.”
The chief thought about it. The only thing that was left to do this week before he sent the usually weekly paperwork up to state was to try to see what was wrong with the department’s coffee maker. So, if a trip to Dean’s back forty was needed to put this to rest, why not? “Fine. Sure. Don’t see how you could possibly prove it. Hop in the cruiser.”
The road out of town was empty, as usual, and the cows on McGarrity’s field watched the cruiser, and Bob and Dean grew quiet as they approached the road that ran along the back of Dean’s acreage.
“Better put on the lights in case you’re right and it’s an intruder.”
The chief obliged. As he pulled off the road into the mud puddles along the rusted fenced that ran the back of the property line, he left his lights running, and came around to let Bob and Dean out the back of the cruiser.
The running stream babbled steadily beside them. “C’mon boys, show me your proof.”
Bob hopped the fence in the usual spot, grabbed up his O’Douls empties off the ground and waved one at the Chief.
“Well, I see those empties, and I’m glad, but I’m hard pressed to believe you were sober when you saw the fairy princess. Did you smoke anything? Anyone give you any pills?” They tromped through the brush toward the stream, and the sound of water grew stronger.
“She wasn’t a fairy. She was a water nymph,” he said very quietly. “I’m sorry, Chief.” Bob came to a stop, staring at his friend.
“What?” The chief got a bad feeling when he saw the look in Dean’s eyes, looking behind his head. The back of his neck tingled and he was suddenly frozen in fear of turning to see what was making his hair stand on end. He realized he should have called this in with dispatch a little better.
Bob looked right at his friend and said, “I had to do it, you see. No choice.”
“What do you mean?”
“I’m sure gonna miss Allie. If any of us live, we tell the other’s wives goodbye. Deal?”
“Okay, you’re scaring me. What do you mean?”
Bob stared at his friend in the eyes, who realized they were stone cold sober, and sad.
Chief Thompson’s years of friendship with these two men spun past in a blur, looking for what had happened, as he suddenly realized what was happening.
The words he knew were coming poured from Dean’s mouth, softly, like a kiss of death. “The thing is, you’re the closest thing we have to a king around here, Chief.”
“At least you’ve got your friends with you, Chief,” Bob sighed. Then both men’s eyes grew hypnotically blank as they stared at the point behind the Chief where he knew a fearsome creature lay.
The sound of water behind him grew powerfully stronger as he turned to face his fate.