Sunday, September 14, 2008

Powder Burn Flash # 108 - James C. Clar

Fish Food

All one hundred and forty-two acres of the freshwater lagoon pool at the Sheraton Maui Resort were crawling with Hawaii State Police and F.B.I. agents. Not one square foot of the facility – including the tropical gardens, quaint wooden bridges and numerous cascading waterfalls – had been neglected. Scuba divers and Coast Guard launches from Ma’alea swept the pristine waters that bordered the wide, sandy stretch of Ka’anapali Beach that nestled in the shadow of the famed lava formation known as Black Rock.

“I assure you, Mrs. Kennedy, we’ll do everything in our power to find your little boy,” FBI Special Agent Müller told the distraught mother. “Speaking bluntly, you understand,” the tall man with the lantern jaw and de rigueur dark sunglasses continued, “the good news is that we didn’t find him hurt, unconscious … or worse … anywhere in the pool.”

With that, Mary Kennedy began sobbing uncontrollably. She tried to respond but, in the place of coherent words, all that emerged was an inarticulate, almost animal-like keening. Her husband, more or less successfully fighting back tears of his own, put his arm around his wife and pulled her in close. The family’s dream vacation had become a nightmare.

“Billy was swimming, just like we said,” Mr. Kennedy offered for the hundredth time, “we looked away for a moment or two, no more, to order lunch from the waitress who was assigned poolside. The next thing you know, he was gone! We spent the next forty-five minutes in the water and scouring the grounds. By then, hotel security insisted that we notify the police. I can’t understand it. Billy was never anymore than fifteen feet away from us. There’s no way anyone could have taken him. And there just wasn’t enough time for him to climb out of the pool and make his way across the grass and then over all that sand to the ocean.”

Mr. Kennedy pointed weakly toward the waters of the Pailolo Channel that shimmered one hundred or one hundred-fifty yards in front of where he stood. The islands of Lana’i and Moloka’i were visible in the distance like emeralds strewn carelessly on a swatch of cerulean corduroy. Brightly colored para-sails floated in the cloudless sky, their operators surely becoming increasingly aware that some tense drama was playing itself out soundlessly beneath them. “Please,” Kennedy continued, “you have to bring our son back to us. He’s only five years old.”

“First of all,” Müller replied, shifting his weight from one foot to the other. Not even the tropical heat could soften the crease in his trousers or dampen his starched white dress shirt. “I know it’s difficult, but you have to calm down. Whether it was your idea or not, calling the authorities as quickly as you did renders our job that much easier and increases our chances of finding Billy. I’ve been investigating this kind of thing now for nearly twenty years. Chances are very good that your son heard or saw something interesting and simply wandered off to check it out and got lost. You told me earlier that he was entranced by the koi in the pond over near the hotel restaurant and would spend hours feeding them if you allowed him to. This is a very spacious place with lots of lush vegetation and all kinds of things to capture the attention and spark the imagination of a little boy. He’s probably hiding somewhere now as we speak, afraid that he’s going to get in trouble. You certainly know how children think. In any case, and sooner rather than later, we’ll find someone who saw or remembers something that points us in the right direction.”

Müller spoke briefly into his phone and then turned back toward the anguished parents. “Mrs. Kennedy, I’d like you to stay here and work the area near the pool with Agent Benning. Mr. Kennedy, it would be best if you came with us while we searched the parking lots, tennis courts and areas in front of the hotel along Ka’anapali Parkway . I want both of you to call out Billy’s name and try to convince him that everything’s OK, that he’s not going to be punished.” The sounds of search and rescue helicopters could be heard overhead along with the static-laced strains of official radio traffic borne on the trade winds.

Agent Bennning, an attractive and fit young woman with stylishly short blonde hair, led Mrs. Kennedy gently toward the little hut where a small group of pool attendants had gathered to watch all the activity and to gossip about the most exciting thing that had happened on the beach since any of them had begun working at the Sheraton. Folding tables and chairs had been set up so that local police and FBI personnel could interview hotel guests and staff. Mr. Kennedy, for his part, accompanied Müller and the rest of the search party across the manicured lawn and out toward the parking structure that fronted the sumptuously landscaped hotel property. Before disappearing from view he glanced back over his shoulder and gave his wife what he hoped was a reassuring wave. She seemed barely to notice.

Meanwhile, the late afternoon Hawaiian sunshine turned the water of the pool that meandered over the grounds of the resort a scintillating, eye-straining blue. Little Billy’s inflatable shark, completely neglected in the hullabaloo that attended the boy’s disappearance, bobbed with a gentle poignancy on the ripples that spread outward from the base of a meticulously designed waterslide. If anyone had thought to examine the black, grey and white carcharian float more closely, however, they might have detected an especially contented and well-fed look playing across the exaggerated features of its toothy, smiling face.

The End

BIO: James C. Clar is a teacher and writer living in upstate New York. His short fiction has been published both in print as well as on the Internet. Most recently he has placed stories in publications as diverse as Taj Mahal Review, Orchard Press Mysteries, Everyday Fiction, Antipodean Sci-Fi, Long Story, Short, Shine: A Journal of Flash, the Magazine of Crime & Suspense, Flashshot and Word Catalyst. His criminal tendencies are sublimated in his writing. There's no money in that to speak of but it keeps him out of trouble.

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