Short Story: "Darrow and Virginia on the Shoal Reef"


“It was late in September, off the coast of Lake Michigan. All my sister wanted was one ghastly member of the opposite sex to stay interested.

“Instead, my dear Darrow, she found you. But you were unaccountably stranded on board an expedition to a shoal reef when the others got out of it.

“And you know, that didn't sit too well. She was quite miffed you were so delayed getting back to the mainland.

“You see, Olivia’s had a bit of bad luck with romantic entanglements lately. Trouble is, working up here in vacationland, she sees oodles of celebrities who swing through for the sand and sun and fresh company. She goes on dates with them, but they don’t call back.

“Just last month, she bumped into Chris Pratt while she was driving visitors in a tour limo along 22 to see the sights. He recognized her and was quite embarrassed to remember how he’d left things. Pratt somehow managed to convince her by the end of the ride that they’d mutually agreed not to see each other anymore at the end of last summer. She didn’t contradict him, but they both knew she wasn’t buying it.

“Fresh off that encounter, when her self-confidence had really taken a hit, along you came – charming, and single.

“What exactly happened on the expedition?” I asked, leaning forward to look across the table at him.

Darrow shifted in his seat, adjusting his collar and tie.

“Well, as you said, it was late in September. It was rather less than optimal weather for a tour of the reef, but a fellow traveler by the name of Viriginia Warrick absolutely insisted on it.

“She said she wasn’t taking a vacation in this god-forsaken region unless she got to do what the brochures advertised.

“So, against his better judgment, I think, the tour boat operator adjusted his route to head toward the reef.

“Just as he’d feared, with the autumn rains come early, the lake weeds and lily pads had already blocked the channel entrance, so the route was impassable for motorized boats. There was simply too much risk of getting stuck.

“Far from taking ‘no’ for a sensible answer, Ms. Warrick demanded to be let out in the inflatable dinghy with the 10-horsepower engine.

“She said she’d return it to the docks before nightfall.

“I knew she wanted some alone time on the water, as I’d overheard her talking to another passenger. But I also knew I’d never be able to forgive myself if she got stranded trying to operate a skiff in the rain.

“So, I convinced her to let me go with her. That way, she’d have a second pair of eyes on the channel.

“We barely made it to the reef, because of the rains, plus it was getting dark. So we decided to head back almost as soon as we got there.”

Darrow trailed off, a faraway look creeping into his eyes.

“My sister says you both returned the skiff to the dock, but Ms. Warrick was never seen again after that,” I said.

“Really?” Darrow’s eyes refocused and he looked at me intently. “Surely the hotel clerk remembers seeing her check back in that night. I walked her to her door, for God’s sake.”

I rubbed my temple, feeling the familiar tightness of a budding headache.

“Can anyone vouch for that, Darrow?”

“Well yes, Ms. Warrick can, but if what you’re saying is true, that won’t be much use.” He cursed softly.

“We called you here because her body was found in the channel today," I said. "Coroner’s report said it’s been there weeks, which likely means she never made it back to her room that night.”

Darrow held his head in both hands, face to the table, fingers gripping his hair, which now stuck out wildly from root to tip.

“He got her then,” Darrow said. He sat up and resumed staring at the wall.

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