Some time after midnight, the blindfolded man started to stir. Cilly roused herself off the boards of the dock and sat up to watch him struggle against the ropes. All around them, the woods were throbbing with life, and the smell coming off the lake was tinged with the stench of summer’s rot.
Cilly flicked on her flashlight. Nothing. She rapped it once against the dock and flicked it again. The putrid yellow beam played across the man’s face and cast a glow on Cilly’s, too. The light revealed a woman in her twenties, dressed in a straw hat and a plain cotton dress. Small purple flowers spattered across white fabric. A clutch and a pair of crumpled gloves at her side. A plain young woman, but not a lean one. A girl with some heft to her, who had plaits of dirty blond hair pinned tight to the back of her head.
“Oh,” the man moaned.
“Mmm-hmm,” Cilly said, slapping the fellow’s cheeks.
The only thing bigger than this man she’d ever seen on this dock was a catfish she plucked out those waters with her daddy, back when she was just a little thing. Daddy had taught her to work a line in these waters. Those critters were not so bad when you peeled the skin off them like a sock, and pan-fried them in butter and cornmeal. Brown butter hid the taste of Clingman Lake.
She missed those days. The lake was loud as life, but Daddy wasn’t.
Cilly slapped the fellow’s cheeks again. “Waylon,” she said. “You hear me? Time you was waking up. Go on—get yourself roused.”
Behind her she heard Bradley’s footsteps. She could smell him sneaking up on her. For a moment she got a chill, like when she crushed on him back in high school. She always knew when he was around, thanks to the cigarettes and hair oil he and his brothers used. Not that he ever paid her much mind back then.
“I won’t have you harming him,” Bradley said.
“Course not,” she hissed. “We just having a talk is all. Ain’t that right, Waylon?”
She felt Bradley’s boots retreat. She pulled the handkerchief out of Waylon’s mouth and peeled back the blindfold.
“Who that?” he said, wriggling. “Who that?”
He was a small but plump son of a gun, the smell of perspiration oozing through his damp suit and shirt. Nice suit, the kind he must have gotten off the rack at the Ivey’s on Haywood Street, and asked his tailor to let way out.
“Cilly? Lil’ Bit, is that you?”
She shook her head. “Nuh-uh. We’re not gonna play that way no more, Waylon. Lil’ Bit’s gone, understand? I’m grown up. Ain’t Lil’ Bit no more. It’s Priscilla now. Miss Priscilla Mae Gregson, just the way my mama would’ve wanted it.”
The term Lil’ Bit had always been an insult wrapped in a nickname, anyway. A way of mocking her size. She was happy to be rid of that name.
“Well, well, well, it is you. Old Lil’ Bit’s back in town. I thought that was you I saw in the bar, but I didn’t recognize you on account on how thin you’re looking. Did you slip me something? Something to lay me out?”
She didn’t answer.
Waylon’s face hardened. “I know it was you, girl!”
“And I know it was you, Waylon. That’s why we’re having ourselves a trial here tonight. Maybe, if we’re lucky, even an execution.”
“What you mean? Why, you got me trussed up like a hog here. You let me go and we’ll have ourselves that talk. Trial, huh? Come on, now.” He tried to pull himself up on his rear end but his stomach muscles were about as firm as jelly. “What’re you doing back here, anyway? I thought you were long gone. Got yourself a job in the big city. Gone long away from this old town.”
She stabbed his face with the flash. “I’m back. Back for my daddy’s funeral.”
Waylon’s jowls shook with piety. “Oh, oh. Yeah. Ain’t that a shame now? Got himself drunk and drowned. Damned, damned shame. Sad to see a man like that go in such way.”