Hero Worship

A crime scene at a beach. i i
iStockphoto.com
A crime scene at a beach.
iStockphoto.com

For Round 7 of our contest, we asked you to send us original works of fiction that have a character come to town and someone leave town.

When dad and me came over the dunes, we saw the clot of boys down near the water, their naked suntanned legs blocking the guy who washed up on the beach overnight.

Dad pushed his way in, and they let him since he's on the force even when he's not dressed like it. I pushed in, too, since he's my dad, and I deserved a place beside him. The guy on the sand was skinny, and his stomach puffed out unnatural. The white skin stretched tight and round. His nose wasn't there, just the red, gummy part near the bone where the fish and crabs worked at him. His long arms scratched in tattoos, his ankles white and brittle and there was black gunk under his ridged toenails.

The ambulance came and the rest of the officers said, "Break it up, everyone," and me and dad shoved off.

"Who is he?" I asked when we walked home.

"Drug dealer, reckon." Dad looked at me hard and then back at the dunes.

"Did you know him?"

Dad rubbed the sides of his bare arms like he'd got cold all of a sudden. "Yeah, I knew him."

We sat at dinner that night and dad was quiet, which isn't anything unusual, but his quiet had a heaviness to it that kept mom and me from saying much either. Mom made me clean up the dishes and put the lasagna in separate Tupperware for our lunches, and dad took his hat and said he was going to step out. It was on account of that guy's body, I knew, but I just keep loading the dishwasher with my back to him.

My dad was working extra hard, getting raises. Mom bought paintings at the coastal gallery, colored her hair blond. Dad had a new car. There was a new TV and refrigerator and cherry bedroom set and cement poured in the driveway and a basketball net affixed to the garage.

None of the other guys whose dads were on the force had new stuff. Just us.

The second body came to shore the week I started seventh grade and all the kids were asking me about it, about leads and suspects. I didn't dare ask my dad if he knew the second guy—I didn't have to. And in the cafeteria, I let the guys gather around me, and I nodded knowingly at their wild speculations. I shook my head.

"Drugs," I said.

Cops at our door wasn't a big deal. They were over all the time and my mom gave them coffee or iced tea and sliced-up cheese for Triscuits. She'd throw her head back and laugh when they made jokes about the job, and she asked after their wives. But that last time was different. Dad held the Sunday newspaper in fists and pulled it close.

The eggs felt cold in my throat. My mom went to the door.

"Dad," I said, "did you do something wrong?"

He told me to finish my eggs.

In the hallway, I heard them apologizing and mom begging, "No Andy, please," and, "Bill, you just can't."

Finally dad stood up and went to the kitchen door.

"Stop it, Joan."

He didn't say anything to me, and I didn't say anything either.

Maybe they cuffed him, maybe not. I pushed at eggs on my plate, and they drove him away.

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