Bailey stood barking on the bank of the Pecatonica River. A few feet away, Sally and Georgetta huddled beneath a canvas spread across the top of a row boat. Between the girls and their dog, two men stood looking along the river bank, toward where the woods ended and an apron of grass ran a few feet to the water.
“Maybe, the dog doesn’t have an owner,” the man called Bonner said, “Maybe the dog is just a stray.”
The other man, AJ, looked down at the ground and shook his head, as if Bonner were capable of saying things that were beyond stupid. “That dog has a collar,” AJ said, “and looks like it’s never missed a meal. It has an owner, and if they’re around here, we should know.”
“Maybe we should call out to them,” Bonner said.
“And maybe we should call the police and tell them to come and arrest us.”
“We’re not doing anything wrong,” Bonner said. “We’re just standing here being barked at.”
“How do we explain the row boat?”
“We don’t. We just say we don’t know how it got next to ours.”
“That’s not Meagher’s plan, is it? That’s not what he told us to do, is it?”
“He told us that we never should have stolen the boat in the first place and that we should cut it loose and let it drift downriver.”
AJ stared at the row boat that was covered with a tarp. “Why don’t you say that again a little louder,” he asked Bonner, “in case there’s anyone around who didn’t hear?”
“I don’t think there’s anyone around,” Bonner said. “I think there’s just this dog, and if he doesn’t stop barking, I am going to throw him in the river.”
“What you’re going to do, is what we came here to do–you’re going to help me set this boat loose.”
“But we still haven’t looked under the tarp. What if there’s something valuable hidden away?”
“Do you remember why we didn’t look under the tarp when we first stole the boat? Do you remember why we just towed it here without flipping the tarp back?”
“I do,” Bonner said. “I was worried that tied to the bank the way it was, snakes might have crawled in.”
“And how do you feel about snakes?”
“I don’t like them,” Bonner said. “But I thought you might pull the tarp back yourself now, and if there aren’t any snakes in there, we could check it out.”
Whether Bailey’s throat had gotten sore or he had become bored with barking, he stopped and sat down on the river bank and looked from where Bonner and AJ were standing to the row boat where Sally and Georgetta were hiding. Possibly, he recognized the word snakes and was wondering if there were snakes in the boat and, if there were, what Sally and Georgetta thought of that.
As a matter of fact, the two girls had not taken the overheard news regarding the possibility of snakes well. Up until that moment, the two sisters had split their concerns between being discovered in their hiding place and the way in which their hiding place–a metal row boat–seemed to have innumerable pop rivets and metal outcroppings which had no other purpose than to poke them. However, the moment snakes were mentioned, all thoughts of discovery and pop rivets disappeared; and the girls, who had so far not given in to the urge to cling to each other, abandoned all restraint and clung to each other as row-boat hiders never had before.
AJ and Bonner, having discussed snakes, fell into a short lull in their conversation that aligned with Bailey’s barking haitus; and in that brief silence, Georgetta whispered “Did you hear that?”
Instead of responding to her sister, Sally listened in the rowboat darkness for whatever sounds a slithering snake might make; but she only heard the hollow sound of the river current rippling against the metal frame of the boat. Then, even that seemed to stop, and the only thing she heard was the sound of silence.