Hal Olson stared at the wet rocks that lined the steep riverbank,
oblivious to the beads of water that collected on his cap
and trickled down the back of his neck. Occasionally he
would sneak a glance in Mac’s direction. When he did,
a jumble of emotions would flood his consciousness. Guilt
was not among them, though. The betrayal had been too great,
too personal, to allow for guilt.
Mac stood under the open hatchback of the Ford Explorer,
out of the weather, fussing with his equipment. He examined
some caddis flies, checked his double-taper line, organized
a tan canvas vest with flapped and zippered pockets that
held the small tools of a fly fisherman’s trade.
Drizzle continued to ooze from a sky that was the color
of old pewter and hung so low an artful backcast would tickle
its soft underbelly. Hal inhaled the aroma of the dripping
jack pines that surrounded the small clearing where they
were parked, and found it difficult to tear his eyes from
the slick, glistening rocks. The Ice Age’s gift to
“Maybe we should wait for a while,” Mac called. “See
if this crap blows through.”
Hal heard the words, but they sounded far away, like some
unpleasant noise he was subconsciously determined to filter
out. He didn’t want to wait. Not when everything was
going according to plan. Better even. They were alone at
the place where they always accessed the river on their
fishing trips, and he’d gotten lucky with the wet
conditions. It was almost too perfect.
“Well, what do you think?” Mac asked.
Hal was ready and hated the thought of delay. Finally he
looked away from the rocks and toward Mac. “You’re
probably right,” he said.
“How many opening days does this make for us?” Mac
asked after they’d settled into the front seat of
the Explorer. “Fifteen?”
Hal wasn’t in the mood for small talk, but tried to
act normal, casual even. “I was thinking about it
earlier,” he forced himself to say. “I believe
“Seventeen years.” Mac gazed through the windshield
at the soggy landscape and shook his head. “We’ve
had some times, haven’t we?”
“Yeah, a lot of memories,” Hal said, looking
out the window on his side so Mac wouldn’t see the
expression on his face. The phony sentimentality made him
want to puke.
Mac wiped some dust from the dash and fiddled with the radio
dial, stopping at an oldies station. After a few minutes
he said, “You know, sometimes I regret leaving the
Hal rolled his eyes and grunted. “It’s the first
time I’ve heard you say that. Why the second thoughts
now, three years later?”
“I don’t know,” Mac said. “It was
our baby and all, and the people are still like family to
paused for a minute and then continued. “Remember
back in our fraternity days when we decided to go to law
school and then set up our own shop after getting some training
at one of the big firms?”
Yeah, Hal remembered all right. Cameron MacNeill with his
privileged background and family contacts had gotten into
a top-national law school while Hal wound up working his
way through a no-name place that was firmly buried in a
lower tier. Guess who had the pizzazz at cocktail parties?
Now the hypocrite was talking about partnership and family.
What would come next? Another lecture about Hal’s
drinking? More hollow promises of legal business from his
company? The damn jerk had no conscience, which was going
to make this a lot easier for him. Maybe they’d shared
some good days in the past, but things had changed, and
the changing had been Mac’s doing, not his. Hal squeezed
out a snicker. “Hey, you took the money and ran,” he
“That’s not fair,” Mac shot back, looking
Hal shrugged. “You’re not going to tell me you
haven’t done well at L-Tech, are you?”
“No,” Mac said, “I’m not saying
that at all. I’ve done very well, but that’s
not the reason I left. I just needed a change.”
Hal’s mind flashed back to when Mac had announced
he was leaving the law firm, just as things had begun to
slide downhill. “Whatever,” Hal said. “It’s
After a couple of minutes of silence, Mac asked, “Is
the firm going to make it?”
Hal’s head snapped toward Mac. “What are you
getting at?” he asked. “You want me to say things
would be different if Cameron MacNeill were still at the
firm? That Cameron MacNeill had been the main guy all along.
That what you want me to say? Well maybe what our firm has
been going through lately has nothing to do with you leaving.
Losing a growing client to a big law firm happens these
days. And as I recall, you’re the one who hired that
dogcrap young associate who got us sued last year.”
“Jesus, Hal, you’re taking my question the wrong
way. I’m just concerned, that’s all. Is something
wrong? You seem edgy.”
“No,” Hal said, trying to rein in his churning
just this damned weather.”
Mac removed his slouch hat and pulled a leather-covered
journal from the center console. He shifted his position
so he was leaning against the driver-side door and began
to write. Hal glanced over, but the pages were shielded
from his view. A Johnny Cash classic drifted from the radio.
The one about going to Jackson to mess around.
Mac looked up. “You know, when the Man in Black passed
on, that was really the day the music died.”
Hall nodded. “Yeah, he was the best.” What he
really wanted to do, though, was give the radio a hard kick.
Those lyrics were the last thing he wanted to hear. But
maybe it was good to be reminded about the messing around.
Helped him maintain his edge.
Hal snuck another glance at Mac. He didn’t see him
regularly these days, but the guy seemed to be aging awfully
fast. His hair was thin and his skin didn’t have the
same healthy glow. He was rich as hell, though. Women liked
that. If a man had money, the other stuff didn’t seem
to matter much.
Mac finished writing and slipped the journal back into the
console. “How much longer should we give it?” he
Hal turned to him, his brow furled. “You’re
not thinking about bailing out, are you?”
“No, it’s just that … ”
“You got a hot date tonight?” Hal asked. “You
divorced guys, always on the hunt.” He fought to keep
the edge out of his voice as he thought about Mac and his
wife Karen. “You’ve found someone, right?”
“Hey, if I had, you’d be the first to know.”
“Would I?” Hal asked.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
Hal forced a grin. “Who’s being touchy now?
All I meant was that sometimes things change, people change.”
“We’ve known each other too long to change.
Shared too much.”
Hal’s fingernails dug into his palms. That was the
problem, the sharing. It had become so obvious lately. The
lingering hugs whenever Mac and Karen saw each other, the
tender glances. Then there was the long lunch they’d
had at Rizzo’s the day he’d had Karen followed
two months ago. He had pictures of them sitting at a back
table, for crissakes, looking at each other like a couple
of moonstruck teenagers, her hand on his. How many other
lunches had there been? How many hotel rooms?
Mac lowered the window on his side and stuck out a hand. “You
know, I think it’s stopping.”
Hal stepped out of the Explorer; Mac was right. His pulse
quickened again at the sight of the rocks. Things were back
“We’ll kill ourselves if we try to get down
to the river from here today,” Mac said, staring at
the river bank. “Maybe we should go upstream where
not as steep.”
Hal knew he couldn’t let this opportunity slip away. “And
fish elbow to elbow with a hundred other guys?” he
said. “C’mon. We’ve always gone down this
“But not in these conditions.”
Hal played his hole card. “Look, if you want to be
a wuss about it, go ahead. I’m fishing here.” He
looked at Mac and snickered. “Just don’t forget
to pick me up later, Millie.”
Mac gave him a long look. “Okay. You’re nuts,
but I’ll stay and bail you out as usual.”
Hal hefted his new Orvis split bamboo fly rod and admired
the feel. The rod he couldn’t afford but had bought
with the new credit card he’d managed to get a few
weeks ago. He was tired of sacrifice. Besides, when he turned
his law practice around, fifteen hundred bucks for a fly
rod would be chickenscratch. He slipped the rod back into
its case and slung it over his shoulder. Might as well protect
it; he wouldn’t be using it today anyway.
“Okay, Rambo, lead off,” Mac said.
Hal looked at him. “That’s a change. What happened
to Mac the troop leader? The take charge guy?”
Mac just shrugged and waved his hand for Hal to proceed.
Hal had counted on Mac taking the lead as usual, but now
he’d have to adjust. He forced a chuckle and started
down the bank, moving gingerly, and immediately lost his
footing. “Whoa!” he cried, trying to sound as
though he were having the time of his life.
Slowly they picked their way down the treacherous slope,
slipping on a rock here, stopping to regain their balance
there. Hal led the way, keeping an eye peeled for the right
place. He knew he had to make it happen now. It would be
dry later, and his advantage would be gone. The slick rocks
were his friends. Hal selected a route that would take them
over a large crowned boulder that looked as smooth as glass.
And slippery from the rain. When he reached the boulder,
he stepped up and faked a slip as he started across.
“Damn!” he muttered as one knee cracked against
Mac came up behind him and placed a hand on his shoulder. “You
Hal squatted and rubbed his knee for a moment. “Yeah,
just a little bump.”
“Well, be careful,” Mac said.
Do it now, Hal told himself. As he rose, he deliberately
let one foot slide off the rock, and then lurched backward
as though trying to break his fall. When his hand touched
Mac’s leg, he grabbed and yanked hard as though reflexively
trying to break his fall. Everything turned to slow motion.
Hal’s back hit the rock, causing pain to shoot through
his body, and he saw one of Mac’s legs fly into the
air. Then he heard a heavy thud as flesh and bone slammed
against the rocks. A thud that would be sickening to most,
but rang in Hal’s ears like the lyrics from a favorite
Hal looked back at the twisted body lying among the rocks. “Mac,
you okay?” he asked. “Mac?” Cameron McNeill’s
glassy eyes stared at the sky and blood seeped from a gash
in the back of his head. Hal saw the jagged point of a nearby
rock coated with blood. He’d done it! Don’t
panic now, he told himself, everything had to look natural.
Was the head injury fatal? Hal didn’t dare hit him
again; the medical examiner surely would notice that. He
had to trust that the rocks had done their job. Think. Should
he call for help? Yes, that’s what he needed to do.
He punched at the numbers on his cell phone, misdialing
on the first attempt.
Now show concern, Hal told himself. Get something to cover
the body. He scrambled up the steep bank, slipping and banging
his knees on the rocks. His heart pounded and sweat soaked
his clothes. He found an old blanket in the back of the
Explorer, and had begun to pick his way down the rocky incline
again when he remembered the journal. Could Mac have become
suspicious and written something about him? Hal raced back
to the vehicle and wrenched open the front door. He snatched
the journal from the console and fumbled through the pages,
hands trembling. Karen’s name appeared in one entry,
and a recent one, too. The sonofabitch! Sweat stung Hal’s
eyes as he began to read:
Saturday will be my last opening day. The doctors leveled
with me. The cancer is too far advanced. I told Karen two
months ago after she’d noticed my hair. She’s
been wonderfully supportive. Maybe I should have asked Hal
to join us at Rizzo’s that day when we met to talk
about my condition, but we decided not to tell him until
after Saturday. It wouldn’t help. So much has gone
wrong for him lately, and there was just no use spoiling
his opening day. Karen’s so devoted to him. They’re
so lucky to have each other and...
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Chicago lawyer Robert Wangard recently began writing fiction and
his first short story has been accepted for publication in Futures
Mystery Anthology Magazine. He has other mystery short stories in
the mill and is working on his first novel, a legal thriller. Bob
splits his time between Chicago and a second home in northern Michigan.
Those locations form the venues for most of his stories.
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