Cash was missing. Once again, Aunt Kay and I went looking for my brother Scott. We found him at my parents, in the backyard where he was supposed to be redoing the patio while they were on vacation.
Scott wasn’t alone.
“Figures.” My disgust was boundless but Aunt Kay’s reaction was rage.
She charged towards Ryan, swinging her bag at his head and screaming, “Stay away from him with your poison!”
Ryan raised his arm to defend himself.
“Crazy old bitch.” He danced away from her. “Knock it off.”
She didn’t stop.
I laughed. My kind, gentle aunt, an overweight pensioner, was going after a drug dealer with her purse. And I laughed.
“No,” Scott shouted and slipped between Ryan and Aunt Kay. And then I heard Scott’s soft “Oh.”
We all froze in place, absorbing events that couldn’t be changed. Overhead a raven cried. Its shadow flew across the pavers.
Scott’s hand opened and a plastic baggie, with three pieces of crack cocaine looking like chunks of dirty plastic, fell to the ground. Aunt Kay caught him as he fell, wrapping her arms around his waist, trying to hold him up.
Ryan fled towards me. I picked up a shovel and swung, without thinking about what I was doing. Ryan fell at my feet and I ran for the kitchen to dial 911.
When I came back, Ryan lay face down and spread-eagled in the pool. Aunt Kay’s right arm was in the water, almost up to her shoulder, her hand on Ryan’s back. She looked up at me with a blank stare.
“Let him go.”
Frozen in place, still holding Ryan down, she didn’t respond.
“I’ll get him out.” I dragged her to her feet.
I rolled Ryan over the concrete surround of the pool, where he lay with vacant eyes staring up at the impossibly blue sky. I drew my sneaker carefully through the lines his heels made entering the pool, smoothing them over. Then I dragged Ryan off of the concrete to lie on top of the marks my sneakers had concealed in the dirt. I rolled him onto his stomach, just as I’d been taught when I was a good girl guide.
A siren wailed.
Aunt Kay cradled Scott in her arms, crooning to him softly, just as she did when we were little kids. When I took Scott’s body from her she tried to clutch him back. I grabbed her upper arms and shook her gently, forcing her to focus on what I was saying.
“It was an accident, wasn’t it?”
I brushed her hair back from her forehead. “After I hit him with the shovel, Ryan tried to get up. He was disoriented and stumbled into the pool, didn’t he?”
She didn’t answer.
“It was an accident. You tried to get him out of the water but he was too heavy for you.”
The sirens grew louder.
Awareness came into her eyes and then came panic.
I kissed her forehead. “It was an accident, Aunt Kay. An accidental death.”
Award winning author Phyllis Smallman’s Sherri Travis mystery series was chosen by Good Morning America for a summer read in 2010. Her fifth book, Highball Exit comes out in this fall. Before turning to a life of crime, Smallman was a potter.