Frankie was always late. Knowing this, Lucy still pulled into the park at 5:30 pm. A half an hour of walking would be good for her. Unlike Frankie who spent every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday at the gym, Lucy spent Friday and Saturday nights going out to dinner, out to the movies, or just out. Working out had taken a low seat on the priority list of Lucy’s life. She and a girl from work had been taking a yoga class twice a month though. They had been to five classes already. That had to count for something…
Getting out of the car, Lucy switched her well-worn flats for her sneakers. It had been a while. They felt almost new. Tightened up from a few seasons of closet life. At least she looked the part. Leggings, sneakers, a baggy thin sweatshirt. The giveaway was her car keys. With no pockets, she had no choice but to hold on to them. It’s not like she was going running. She hadn’t been hiking at the reservation in almost a year. The last time she ran was well before that.
She had loved it though, running. Once she got past the part where breathing felt like icy cold breaths of death. Lucy loved the rush. Pushing out each stride after the next. Picking up speed. Having control over her footing – her destiny. Lucy’s phone vibrated pulling her back to reality. A text from Frankie, how unexpected, Lucy laughed to herself. Her green eyes rolled as she read her incoming message: What do you mean your already there? I get out at 6:15… call you when I am on my way”
Lucy might have gotten the time wrong, but even her calendar said 6 pm. Frankie sounded so sure though. Perhaps she had entered it incorrectly. She shrugged her shoulders, letting the confusion roll off of her. She had plenty of time to kill. She started walking toward the various paths. She would do a leisurely stroll to the top, once around the lake if there was time, and then come back down.
As it turned out there had been time. Lucy had started out slowly, getting back into putting her best foot forward and feeling as the compacted dirt and small rocks shifted slightly under her feet. She picked up her pace before truly making it to the lake. The main path was busy with local college kids swarming toward the trails together. The mostly flat, simple path, about a mile in total, was pretty empty. Except for Lucy. Up ahead on the right someone was having a picnic. Or an early evening tryst. At least that’s how it appeared. A large, bright blue comforter looking blanket was laid out, off on the grassy patch between the stream and the wide set dirt path. Something about it gave Lucy the chills, willing herself not to look, she continued ahead, picking up her speed.
About halfway around the lake, she hit the muddiest section. The clearing after was where she had made Frankie run with her eons ago. Frankie hated running but would do the small section with Lucy when pushed. Before she could think, Lucy’s legs kicked it it up a notch, and another, and by the time she reached the clearing she was covered in mud spatter and pushing herself toward full speed. Her breath caught, but Lucy forced herself to focus. In through the nose. Pump, pump. Out through the mouth. Keep pumping, keep breathing. She reached the end of the clearing and instead of returning to a walk, she kept going. One foot pounding in front of the other. Now directly across the lake from where she had started running, she was starting to hurt.
So. Breath in. Close. Breath out. Lucy slowed from running, to a quick jog. Up ahead was a puppy, a big, fluffy, beautiful puppy that on his hind legs, was probably taller than she was. The puppy was emptying his bowels. His owner already pulling out a to-go bowl of water and a plastic bag. She kept her eyes locked on him. Setting short goals, little milestones, helped. She reached them, thinking to herself, “next lap I’ll stop and say hi.” She was back to the mud, or almost there. Her body recognized the familiar ground. Already, she felt her body preparing itself for speed. She flew. The woods breezed past her. A person, maybe a bear, Lucy felt her feet skimming across the ground. The mud, the dog, the picnic, all behind her. This time as she approached the end, she slowed down to a jog, then to a walk. By the time she reached the intersection, where last time she made a left and continued to run around the lake, now she made a right and headed up the hill that would eventually bring her to the second lake.
Focusing on the woods, the trees, the leaves, each detail Lucy lost herself. Her feet took her to the top, and around the lake. Her brain was quiet. It had been too long. She moved as the main path took her. Letting go, and just being present. She had been startled to see Frankie walking down the path toward her as she made her way back to her car.
“Are you heading back to your car? Or did you know I was here?”
“I don’t know. I wasn’t really paying attention. Did you call me?”
“No, I got stuck on the phone with my brother the whole way here,” Frankie said, turning and walking with Lucy back toward the parking lot.
“You know,” Lucy said, “I don’t think I have my phone.”
Frankie burst out laughing. “Let’s go check your car then.”
The two walked in mindless chitchat to the cars. Frankie’s brother had recently moved, and even though the two fought like rabid cats and dogs sometimes, they still spoke regularly. Apparently, Sally-boy was leaning heavily into the new guy in town and was being offered all kinds of hospitalities that came with it. Overall conversations seemed to be healthier now that neither lived in the same state as the other. They got to Lucy’s car before Frankie told her what, if anything, was in the upstair’s neighbor’s visiting son’s pocket. Having met Sal a few times, Lucy could use her imagination to figure it out.
“Aha,” Lucy said, as she opened her car, “my phone and my car keys!”
“You mean you left both of them in there?”
“I was sure I had them, but it seems that way. What I don’t have is water.”
“Come on,” Frankie said, gesturing toward the dumpsters, “there’s always extra in my car.”
They walked toward the dumpsters.
“Nice spot,” Lucy said with a smile.
“Only one that opened up. Otherwise, I would have had to head over to the auxiliary lot.”
“It got busy while I was running, I guess.”
“You ran,” Frankie mocked surprise. “Light blue or red? Oddly out of water, but I have Gatorade.”
“Light blue, please.” Lucy took the bottle, cracked it open and took a sip. “Very cold. Thank you. And yes, I ran. I also walked up to the lake and back.”
“Oh God,” Frankie said, this time more in earnest. “Are you done? or can you keep going, because we can always -”
“We are not going to Wendy’s. Not yet.”
“We all know the power the four for $4 holds over you,” Frankie nodded between Lucy’s legs.
Her eyes rolled heavily. “I am sure. Let’s at least make it up to the lake before the sun goes down. Then you can make all the fun of me you want. I won’t hear you over the heavenly sounds of those spicy little nuggets hitting my tongue.”
“You’re sick, you know this right?”
“Who’s the one hanging out with me? Alone? In the woods?”
“Come on then, Killer,” Frankie said, locking the car and heading back toward the trails.
They had made it up the hill, around the lake, and most of the way back down before the sun had set. By the time they were a half a mile or so from the parking lot it was pitch black. They laughed, each freaking themselves out more trying to get the other scared. Lucy had finally made them stop playing when she latched onto Frankie’s arms – her nails piercing the skin. An overactive imagination never mixed well with the dark. When they reached their cars, they made a plan: Wendy’s, drive-thru, and then Lucy’s house only 5 minutes away. Frankie waited in the car, headlights lighting the way, as Lucy threw the plastic bottle in tiny recycling bin next to the dumpster. Sticking out of the lid was a bright blue blanket. Similar to the one she had seen earlier. She could have sworn there was something globbed on it – something like ketchup or fear gripped Lucy’s spine as chills ran down her body. She ran back to her car, thankful and annoyed it had been locked this time. She couldn’t wait until they were back at her house. She called Frankie right away and relayed the entire scene from earlier on her walk to what she saw in the dumpster.
“So, two people having a picnic naturally equates to blood being shed on a blanket. How much true crime are you consuming these days?”
“Ugh, logic is silly. But I’m at the drive-up window. We can further discuss when we’re at my place.” Lucy ended the call and ordered her favorite meal in the world. Or at least one of them.
Lucy was just about to head back into the building when her phone rang. She had been enjoying a lovely walk outside. It was oddly warm, a little windy. That fake Spring teasing her. Unsure of who the caller was, Lucy surprised herself by answering the call.
“Hello is this, Miss Malloy?”
“This is me.”
“Hello Miss Malloy, this is Detective Bronson. I’m calling because we would like to ask you a few questions.”
“Myself and Ranger duPont, from the reservation out by the college.”
“Of course,” Lucy said, starting another lap around the building. “I love the reservation.”
“It’s certainly nice out there. Do you have time today to meet with us?”
“Sure,” Lucy said. “Where am I meeting you?”
“If it’s easier we can meet you at your place. It seems like you’re only 15 minutes from the reservation, is that correct?”
“Great. What time will you be home from work? We can meet you then, if that’s alright.”
“Sure, I’ll be home around 6 pm. If I had known, I would have taken a shorter lunch and left early.”
“No worries. See you tonight.”
Lucy hung up the phone, finishing her lap around the building. It was strange, a detective and a park ranger wanting to speak to her. She looked down at her phone as if the conversation just happened in her mind. The clock read 2:10. Shit, Lucy thought, I have a call in 5 minutes. Running back into the building Lucy forgot all about Detective Bonbon and Ranger Pointy.
Struggling to juggle her keys, purse, backpack, and coffee mug, Lucy somehow managed to unlock the door. Her phone was stuffed somewhere, the ringing muffled, jingled in the background. She threw all of her items on the hallway table and ran to the bathroom. She wondered if she would ever remember to pee before she left the office. She had just finished washing her hands when there was a knock on the door. Lucy rushed over and answered it.
“Oh hi,” Lucy said, “you must be. . .”
“Detective Bronson, and”
“You are Lucy Malloy?”
“That’s me,” she smiled.
She opened the door and gestured for the two uniformed men into her apartment.
“Just as a point of reference,” Bronson, tall, brooding, and a little glean of goofy under the rugged looks, said turning back toward her as she closed the door “you really should check our badges and what not, before letting us into your home.”
“Oh,” Lucy said, her nose crinkled as she spoke, “I know better too. Or you think I would. I listen to a lot of true crime podcasts and read a lot of suspense books.” She smiled and pointed toward the long couch in the living room. “So, how can I help?”
“We’re hoping to talk to you about your time at the reservation?” It was the first time Ranger duPont had spoken a full sentence. He seemed upset. Lucy felt for him.
“More specifically,” Bronson cut in, “about the week before Thanksgiving.”
“Um. . .” Lucy looked at both of them sitting on her couch. Her nose crinkled again. “Well, based on those two questions I assume I was at the reservation? Can I check my calendar? If I could, I might be able to answer that better.” Lucy smiled. Bronson smiled and nodded.
Lucy stood confidently, while mentally tearing her living room apart. She had just peed, but she didn’t have her phone. It was ringing when she came in. “Should be over here somewhere,” she muttered to herself. After searching two pockets in her purse and her jean jacket she hadn’t worn in, she found it.
“Here it is!” Lucy sang out to herself. “Okay, the week before Thanksgiving.” Her thumb moved back and forth like it was stuck on repeat. “Yes! I was there. I went with Frankie. On the 22nd.”
“Yes,” Lucy said nodding her head.
“Is there anything else you can remember about that day?”
Her head nodded again.
“It was the first time I had been there in a while. I got there early, or Frankie got there late. It’s hard to tell with Frankie. Never on time,” her eyes widened, and she giggled. “And I’m always early, or at least most of the time. I’ve been known to work late, but when I have something on the calendar, I’m usually early. Anyway,” she continued her hands waiving her own interruptions away, “I had run just over a mile before Frankie got there. We talked about Sally-boy, Frankie’s brother and his new neighbors. Then we walked up to the top lake. Somehow, we ended up not making it back out to the parking lot before the sun went down all the way. I hate the dark, and it was creepy. Frankie and I both scared me so much that when I went to toss my recycling, I thought I saw a bloody blanket sticking out in the dumpster. But it was dark, the headlights from Frankie’s car weren’t really angled the right way for a ton of light, not to mention I had seen two people eating on a similar blanket earlier. Frankie said it was probably ketchup or something. Then we stopped by Wendy’s, came back here for a bit, and then I went to bed. Probably around 10:30. I had work the next morning – part time job.”
“Left around 10, I think. Definitely before I went to bed!”
“And the people you saw having a picnic earlier? What do you remember about that?”
“Hmm, just that something out it felt off. Like I definitely shouldn’t look over there. I’ve definitely done things in those woods that is considered indecent exposure at the least and -” Lucy stopped mid-sentence. Her jaw hung lightly in the air for a moment, “I just figured they wanted privacy or something. Either way, I kept walking.”
“Did you see them again?”
“I don’t think so, I can’t really remember. Like I said, I hadn’t run in the longest time, and it felt so good to stretch my legs.”
“Okay, I think that will do it for now,” Bronson said as he began to stand up. duPont followed his lead. “If you think of anything, something jogs your memory, give us a call?”
Lucy nodded, taking the detective’s card. “Of course.”
They men walked back toward the door.
“I do have one question though,” Lucy pipped up as they reached the end of the short hallway. “Did something happen?”
“Unfortunately, the body of a young man was found on the boarder of the town and the reservation land.” Bronson spoke in an even keeled voice. Somber, yet in a meaningful way. “He has been identified as Reynard Boyd.”
Lucy felt the color draining from her face as Bronson continued, “Last time the young man was seen alive was the week before Thanksgiving. He had been going to the reservation to meet – ”
“Frankie. . . but Frankie said,” she swallows trying to process her thoughts as she speaks them. “Frankie said he cancelled. Changed his mind about staying in the area after graduation. Frankie said it sounded like something I would do.”