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Open Features: Sherillanne - The Sequel

In the previous episode of John Merchant’s story http://www.openwriting.com/archives/2008/07/sherillanne_1.php Sherillanne had disappeared under sinister circumstances after giving her friend Trisha a sealed letter to be handed to the police in the event of her death. Skip Bowman, the man Sherillanne had been living with was seen driving away from his empty apartment, alone.

Fearfully, Trisha handed over the letter to the sergeant on duty at the small, village police station, and haltingly explained the circumstances. With a sigh, the sergeant put on a pair of cotton gloves and painstakingly opened the envelope, holding it by its edges. After scanning the single page it contained, he asked Trisha when she had last seen Sherillanne. “Two days ago she said. What does the letter say?”

“I’m sorry ma’am, I can’t reveal that. It may be required as evidence.”

“Evidence of what? Aren’t you going to start a search for her body and arrest that goddamned jerk who killed her?” She knew she was starting to get hysterical.

The sergeant took off his glasses and slowly rubbed his eyes. “I understand your concerns ma’am, but well, you see ma’am, a lot of people disappear, every day, and most of ‘em don’t want to get found. We don’t issue a missing person report for at least a week, and this letter seems to indicate that such action might be inappropriate anyway.”

“How can you say that? She was my best friend and we were very close. Now she’s dead, and you need to stop her murderer.”

“Like I said, I understand your feelings ma’am, but I have to follow procedures, and I think you’ll see that in the end it’s for the best. What I suggest is that you try to be patient and let us take care of things. In the meantime I’ll need to get some details from you.”

At that, Trisha dissolved into gasping sobs. She desperately wanted justice for her friend, but felt she was dealing with a brick wall. After she had provided a statement she angrily dismissed the sergeant’s offer of a coffee and left the station, heading for her apartment. She felt distraught and helpless. Later that day, she turned to Rick, Sherillanne’s brief boyfriend, for help, but he was still recovering from the beating he had taken at the hands of Skip’s crew, and was too fearful to get involved.

That evening she worked her usual shift at Cap’n Bill’s. The locals were not in a mood to trade their usual badinage, and a mixture of guilt and fear hung over the place. The M.V. Gresham’s crew was in a surly mood. They reckoned that they’d been let down by Skip’s sudden departure for Louisiana, and as yet his replacement had not been hired. So the crew had only their basic pay, with no supplement from their cut of the clam harvest.

Trisha was encouraged to hear them complain about being interviewed by the police, and intrigued by a rumor that someone from the FBI office in Portsmouth was coming to the village. The evening dragged on, and the customers started to leave early. By ten o’clock the place was empty, so the manager decided to close, much to Trisha’s relief.

She felt tired and emotionally drained by the terrible events of the past week. The place she’d always thought of as a safe and peaceful haven had suddenly shown its violent side, and she knew she’d never feel the same way about it again. All the time, there was an image in her head of Sherillanne’s battered and abused body lying buried in some remote spot, or more likely at the bottom of the ocean, weighted down with rusty anchor chains.

Walking back to her apartment, she began to cry quietly, racked with guilt at having been responsible for Sherillanne getting hired at the Bar. Were it not for that, she would probably never have met Skip Bowman, or Rick, and would be still be alive. It was a comfort to undress and climb into bed. Perhaps she’d feel better tomorrow. But sleep was impossible. She tried to read a magazine, then turned on the TV, but neither distracted her from her dark thoughts.

In the early hours of the morning she thought she heard a faint knocking at her door. Fearfully, she peered through the security peephole in the door. In the cold, blue light of a full moon, Sherillanne stood there like an apparition. Trisha came close to collapsing at the sight, and her hands trembled so much she could barely unfasten the security lock and chain. Sherillanne fell into her arms and they both sobbed and clung to one another.

Sherillanne, her hair matted, was pale, dirty and bruised, and smelled as though she hadn’t showered in a few days. The cast on her arm was stained and starting to fray. She was clutching a plastic trash bag, that at first she wouldn’t let go. She waved away Trisha’s questions. All she wanted was to be clean and given some nourishment. She’d answer questions tomorrow. Her voice was little more than a croak.

Even though Trisha’s mind was throbbing with curiosity, she slept heavily. When she awoke, Sherillanne was still in a deep sleep. Lying in Trisha’s bed she looked like a battered china doll. Trisha slipped quietly out of the apartment and shopped for breakfast things at the local convenience store. Once the coffee started to perk Sherillanne began to stir, uttering small moans in her half-awake state. When she was fully awake she confessed to being ravenous. Apparently all she’d had in three days was some chips, a candy bar and a couple of cokes.

After they had eaten the pancakes, bacon and eggs that Trisha had made, Sherillanne began to talk about her experiences. Although Skip had said he intended to take her with him to Louisiana, she knew he hadn’t forgiven her for the affair with Rick, and feared for her life. Even if he didn’t kill her, the thought of the violence she’d be subjected to if she stayed with him was more than she could bear. She decided that this was the best chance she’d have to break with him, and perhaps even save her life.

At the same time, she knew full well he wouldn’t just accept her decision; his ego wouldn’t allow him. He’d most likely use force to make her accompany him. So on the evening before their departure, while Skip was making his farewells at Cap’n Bill’s, she slipped out of the apartment and fled to a shed behind the Bar that was used to store glasses and napkins, and other supplies for the restaurant.

She made herself a small space behind the boxes, and crouched on the dirt floor. She knew she’d have to stay there at least two days to be sure Skip had left without her, and to be certain that Trisha had delivered her letter to the police. Trisha couldn’t contain her curiosity about what was in the plastic trash bag that Sherillanne was keeping so close. When she asked, Sherillanne opened the bag to reveal what looked like scores of bundles of $1000 bills, each one held by a rubber band.

Trisha was speechless. In answer to her unspoken question, Sherillanne said that the bag contained over a million dollars. Apparently she had noticed that when Skip went out alone in his own boat, ostensibly to tend the lobster pots he set as a sideline, he would often return with a package that he would immediately put at the back of the clothes closet in the bedroom. One day, when the Gresham was off on an extended clamming trip, she allowed her curiosity to get the better of her and opened one of the packages. It contained several large, clear plastic bags, each about the size of a novel, and filled with white powder. She’d spent enough time on the streets to know immediately it was cocaine.

She turned to another package and found that it was packed with bundles of $1000 bills. It was one of several. There was also a briefcase containing two hand guns Like everyone else in the community, she’d heard rumors that some of the commercial fishermen were trafficking in drugs. The big freighters from Asia would supposedly drop weighted packages overboard at a predetermined latitude and longitude, with a marker buoy attached.

Later, local fishermen would locate the buoy with their electronic navigation systems and bring it ashore. On the days Skip took her to Portsmouth, supposedly for her to shop, he’d ask her to wait in the car while he paid a visit to the offices where the M.V. Gresham’s owners were located. He’d often carry in one or more of the packages and come out with another. It became clear to her that he was picking up payment for the cocaine he was delivering.

In the misery of the beatings she took from Skip, she resolved a plan. Over the next several weeks she would remove some of the bills from each bundle, substituting pieces of newspaper cut to the same size. This would be her revenge. Trisha was aghast. “Weren’t you afraid he’d find out?”

“Yes I was, but I knew he wouldn’t spend the money locally, or put it in a bank, so I thought the risk was worth it. In any case, the only thing more he could do to me was kill me, so I didn’t care.”

“But what did you write in the letter? The police wouldn’t tell me.”

“I told them the whole story of what I knew, including where he planned to go, and told them to search his car. I can’t wait for them to catch him, and I won’t feel safe ‘til they do.”

“What will you do with the money?”

“I’ll wait a while and then go down to Mexico, I think. Probably open a little bar in some tourist place. You want to come? Maybe Rick will join me when he graduates.”

“Oh Sherillanne, you know I’d love to, but all my family’s in Maine, and I couldn’t bear to be away from my Mom.

“Well think about it. You’re my only friend.”

They didn’t have to wait long to hear about Skip’s fate. Late that night, as they watched CNN News Headlines, the crawler on the bottom of the screen announced breaking news of a major drug-related arrest. Later, came the details. “Louisiana State Police, in a routine car check this afternoon, arrested a man for possession of cocaine with a street value estimated at several million dollars. They also found in his car a number of bags filled with $1000 bills that have yet to be counted.

The suspect, said by the police be a Skip Bowman, had apparently driven from Shipstead, Maine, where he had been the Captain of a clam boat. CNN understands that the FBI is investigating the owners of the clam boat, Shipstead Seafood Inc. who have offices in Portsmouth, Maine.”

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