Camp Keller – By BJ Bourg
The man squinted against the pelting rain. His head bobbed violently as the front of the Boston Whaler collided with the rough waves. It jarred him to the bone. He wiped the water from his face and strained to see through the sheets of water. Thunder rumbled and lightning struck nearby. His head swiveled in all directions. Everything looked the same. The woman who sat beside him gripped his arm, her face ashen. “Didn’t you check the weather? I knew this was a bad idea!”
He forced a smile. “It did get you back in my arms.”
“We’re gonna die and you’re cracking jokes?”
“I couldn’t sink this boat if I tried. It’s indestructible”
“Newsflash, Einstein, this is Lake Pontchartrain. Your little boat is barely longer than Shaq.” The woman’s voice shook as she spoke. “You need to get me back to dry land. You know I can’t swim. And why won’t you give me a lifejacket?”
“I told you; I forgot them.”
“God, you’re irresponsible. I didn’t even want to be here in the first place.”
“Calm down. Everything’s going to be–”
Suddenly, the front of the boat dipped. Water sprayed the couple and the woman screamed. Her nails dug into the man’s bicep. When he felt the sharp burn, he jerked his arm away. His heart raced. Before he could stop himself, he blurted, “Get off me! Can’t you see I’m trying to steer this thing?”
Crushing waves rocked the boat. The man fought to keep it from capsizing, but the woman made it difficult. She tugged on his arm and wailed, “I want to go home now!”
The hair on the back of his neck bristled. “Where do you think I’m going? Grocery shopping? You’re such a stupid bitch sometimes.”
Tears mixed with the rain on the woman’s cheeks. Her lower jaw trembled. When she spoke, her voice was barely audible above Mother Nature’s violent bowl movement. “I was a fool to even consider taking you back.”
“You didn’t consider nothing. You were just dragging me along, hoping I’d sign your little divorce papers. Well, I ain’t signing crap.”
“You don’t have to. My lawyer already told me I get half of everything; and that includes this sorry-excuse for a Boston Whaler.” She nodded, more to herself. “I hope you enjoy this boat ride, because it’s your last. And your guns, you might as well kiss them–”
With a grunt, the man lifted his left hand and shoved the woman against the edge of the boat. Her eyes widened. She clutched at his sleeve and tried to regain her seat on the wet bench. He leaned over, punched her right in the face. Her grip loosened on his shirt. A final shove sent her tumbling over the port side of the boat and into the angry jowls of Lake Pontchartrain. Her voice was shrill as she thrashed about. Her arms flailed, her legs kicked. It was no use. Her body quickly disappeared beneath the active surface, the dark water silencing her screams.
The man’s heart thumped against his sternum as he scanned the area. Visibility was less than ten feet. Even if there were people out on the lake, they couldn’t have seen or heard anything. Waves slapped the sides of the boat. Rain punished his body. I need to get the hell out of here!
A buoy jostled in the water several feet ahead of him. He sighed and pointed the bow toward it. If that was the marker he thought it was, he was only fifteen minutes from shore. His hands trembled on the wet steering wheel, his stomach turned. Every now and then he thought he heard a woman’s terrified cries amidst the pushing wind and roaring thunder. He shook his head to clear it. You gotta keep it together, man!
After what seemed like hours, a dark, widespread shadow loomed ahead and drew nearer. The man revved the engine and the boat shot forward. A pattern of bright lights flickered through the vertical torrent. They represented the cluster of luxurious beach houses that squatted on a stretch of North Shore Beach in Slidell. He was only minutes away from his home. A shivering sigh escaped his lips. Now to make the phone call…
* * *
Reggie Keller slipped a dollar in Zachary’s black, mesh schoolbag. “Here’s your treat-sale money.”
“Thank you, Daddy.”
“You’re very welcome.” Reggie ruffled his son’s red hair and looked into his sky-colored eyes. “You know I’d do anything for you.”
Zachary smiled, his tongue pushing through the space where his front tooth had previously been. “Will I still get money from the Tooth Fairy?”
“Yep. You have to put it under your pillow tonight.”
Zachary shoved a hand deep into his jean pocket and pulled out the baby tooth. “I’m gonna keep it safe all day!”
“Maybe you should leave it here.”
A pout fell across Zachary’s face.
“Okay, just don’t lose it.” A distant rumble signaled the school bus’ approach. “Get to the road before you miss the bus.”
Zachary shouldered his school bag and bounded down the steps. Celeste moved beside Reggie. They watched from the doorway as the Galliano Elementary School bus groaned to a stop and the door squeaked open. Zachary took one last look over his shoulder and then labored up the steep steps.
Reggie put an arm around his wife’s neck. “Seems like we just brought him home from the hospital.”
“Yeah. We blinked twice and he’s already a little man.”
“We’d better enjoy the time we have with him. Before long, he’ll be graduating and–”
“Oh! Speaking of graduating, will you be able to make his Kindergarten graduation?”
“When is it?”
Reggie pulled a miniature calendar from his back pocket. When his eyes found May 25th, he grimaced. “I have a meeting with a client that morning.”
Celeste frowned. “It’s okay; I’ll take plenty pictures.”
“Don’t think for a second that I’m missing Zack’s graduation. I’ll have to do some rearranging, but I guarantee you I’ll be there.”
“That would mean so much to him.”
“You know I’d do anything for Zack–and you.”
Celeste’s blue eyes became moist. She nestled her head against Reggie’s thick chest. “I know. You’re such a good man. I’m lucky to have found you.”
“I don’t know about all that.” Reggie kissed Celeste’s forehead and reached for his briefcase. “I have to get to the office.”
“Don’t forget; tonight’s the season finale of 24.”
* * *
The day dragged by like a baby snail pulling a Samoan up Mt. Rushmore. Reggie thought he’d never see five o’clock. When the wall clock finally signaled lunchtime, he called Celeste. No answer. A call to her cell phone met with the same results. She must be stocking up for tonight, he thought. The family’s Monday night ritual was to team-cook a batch of tacos and burritos and gather in front of the 42″ plasma screen TV to watch Jack Bauer figure a way out of his latest predicament.
Reggie smiled as he stared unseeing at his computer screen and compared himself to Kiefer Sutherland’s character. “I’m just like Jack Bauer,” he said. “A man of action. A man who can resolve any problem that arises.”
Reggie jerked his head around to see Elizabeth standing in the doorway with a stack of papers in her hand. The color drained from his face. “How long have you been standing there?”
His secretary smiled and crossed her arms in front of a chest that begged for a boob job. “Long enough to know you think you’re Jack Bauer.”
Reggie rubbed the pad of his thumb against his index and ring fingers. “How much to keep this between us?”
“Just sign these invoices for now; I’ll think of a worthy bribe later.”
Reggie attached his signature to the invoices and then handed them to Elizabeth. “You think Jack will be able to take down President Logan in two hours? I bet they leave us hanging until next season.”
Elizabeth shrugged. “You know I don’t care what happens on 24. Now that Prison Break is over, there’s nothing worth watching on TV.”
Reggie grunted and turned back to his computer. He stroked the keys with idle hands, his mind far from where he sat. He was still typing and correcting when Elizabeth’s voice cut through his thoughts like a Cold Steel slicing butter. His face was blank when he looked up. “What did you say?”
“I’m leaving. Do you want me to lock up?”
Reggie glanced at the time stamp on his screen. Five o’clock! He flipped open his cell phone to check for missed calls. None. That’s odd. “Did Celeste call today?”
“You know I would’ve told you.”
Reggie nodded and grabbed his briefcase. “Have a good night, Liz.”
On the drive home, Reggie called Celeste’s cell phone several times, but there was no answer. He called home. No answer. His mind raced. She had always been just a phone call away. He’d never had trouble finding her and she had never gone a whole day without calling. “Something’s wrong!”
Fear pushed Reggie’s foot down on the gas pedal. He gripped the steering wheel with white-knuckled determination. Trees blurred by and he blindly straightened out the curves. His only thought was getting home. He made the fifteen-minute drive is eight. When he screeched into the driveway, his heart sank. Celeste’s Lincoln Navigator was gone.
Reggie rushed to the front door. It was locked. He opened it and stepped inside. Everything seemed to be in its place. “Celeste? Zachary?” Nothing. He made his way though the house, searching one room and then another, until he’d searched them all. They were gone. He leaned against the kitchen counter and rubbed his forehead. What to do? He picked up the phone with an uncertain hand. Should I call 911? What if they just went for a ride? What if–
Reggie’s attention was drawn to a piece of paper fastened to the refrigerator by a magnet. His eyebrows furrowed when he saw his name at the top of the page. He crossed the kitchen in three steps and snatched up the note. It was Celeste’s handwriting. “Reggie, I took Zachary to the camp. Meet us there when you get this message. Tonight is family first night…just the three of us. No television, no phone, no distractions. See you there! Love, C.”
Relief flooded Reggie. That explained why she hadn’t answered when he’d called. The cell phone reception was poor at their summer home on the island; and that was just the way Celeste liked it.
Reggie changed into shorts and a T-shirt. He walked into the living room strapping on his watch. As he looked down at his wrist, something caught his eye on the hardwood floor. It was small and white and contrasted with the deep mahogany. He picked it up and held it to the light. Zachary’s tooth. He smiled as he thought back to earlier that morning when he videotaped Celeste pulling–
“Crap!” Reggie slapped his forehead when he remembered the season finale of 24. Why couldn’t Celeste pull this stunt on Tuesday or Wednesday, or any day of the week other than the last two hours of the greatest television drama ever?
“Because big love requires big sacrifice,” Reggie said in his best Celeste impersonation. He glanced at his watch. 24 started in ninety minutes. No time to get to Grand Isle, spend time with Celeste and Zachary, and then make it home for the opening scene. He sighed and trudged out to his car. “I did say I’d do anything for Zack.”
* * *
Reggie turned into the shell drive of Camp Keller at quarter to seven. He parked beside Celeste’s Navigator. His muscles immediately relaxed when he tasted the salt on the cool wind that blew in from the Gulf. He made his way up the steep stairs to the front porch of his summer home. A subtle bounce appeared in his step. Suddenly, 24 didn’t seem so important anymore. The only thing that mattered was spending a relaxing night with his family. Besides, he thought, I can buy the whole season on DVD anytime; Zack won’t always be five.
“Zack, I found your tooth.” Reggie walked inside and let the screen door slam shut behind him. He glanced around the empty living room. “Celeste? Hello.” He shook his head and smiled when he saw a sheet of paper on the table. “What is this, hide and seek?” He walked over and turned the sheet so he could read it. “Reggie, meet us in the boat shed, where your surprise is waiting.”
“My surprise?” Reggie glanced out the kitchen window. The boat shed was at the end of a long catwalk that stretched out over the Gulf. The sun reflected off the windows of the large building that served as home to his most treasured possession. The brightness made it impossible to see inside. He let the paper drift to the table and he walked outside. When he reached the patch of soft, bleached sand separating his camp from the wharf, he broke into a laboring jog. His mind was curious. Celeste had never mentioned a surprise, and his birthday wasn’t for another seven months.
Reggie scaled the steps to the catwalk and padded along the splintered boards. Heat radiated off the faded planks. Waves lapped at the support pilings underfoot. Seagulls screamed overhead. He smiled as he took it all in. This was certainly the life. When he reached the door to the shed, he paused and took a deep breath to slow his heart rate from the earlier jog. I need to start working out again, he thought.
He grabbed the doorknob and turned. It was locked. Frowning, he dug the keys from his pocket, shoved it into the hole. He wondered what other hoops he’d have to jump through before he could enjoy his family’s company. A sweet and familiar fragrance greeted his nostrils when he shoved open the door and stepped into the dark room. He blinked to accelerate his night vision.
“Celeste? Where are y’all?” The sunlight from the doorway didn’t penetrate the far depths of the room. Reggie felt his way around the workbench to his right and moved to the window. He pulled the curtain back, allowing more light to shine through. When he turned around, he recoiled in horror and smashed his back against the corner of the workbench. He sank to his knees in pain and stared wide-eyed at Celeste. She was strapped to a wooden chair. Her eyes were red and swollen, her mouth bound with a dirty, red rag. “What the hell is going on?”
“Shut up, Reggie!”
Reggie jerked his gaze to the location of the voice. It was a woman’s and it had come from a dark corner of the room. He strained to make out the figure that stood hidden, but it was no use. “Who are you?”
“Oh, you know who I am.” The figure moved out of the shadows. It was then that Reggie noticed Zachary. The woman clutched him close to her. She had one hand over his mouth and she held a black, semi-automatic pistol in her other. The muzzle was pressed against his temple. Tears streamed down Zachary’s face.
Reggie crawled forward with his hand outstretched. “Please! Don’t hurt my son!”
“Come any closer and you’ll be wearing his brain!”
Reggie lurched to a stop. “Okay, okay. I’m not coming any closer. Please, just let him go.”
Reggie obeyed. As he backed away, his mind raced. He recognized the perfume, and that voice–very familiar. If he could figure out who she was, he could figure out what she wanted. He glanced at Celeste. Her eyes were wide and focused on him. She was relying on him to get them out of this predicament. He cleared his throat and slowly stood to his feet. “Ma’am, please just tell me what you want.”
The woman laughed. “What makes you think I want something?”
“You’re holding my family hostage, at gunpoint. Surely there’s something you want.”
“Actually, there is something I want. Open the top drawer of that workbench.”
Reggie turned a curious eye to the workbench behind him. He pointed to it. “In there?”
He backed toward the workbench, never taking his eyes off of the woman. Feeling with his hand, he found the handle and pulled it open. There was a silver revolver inside.
The woman shoved the muzzle deeper into Zachary’s temple. “I want you to slowly pick up that revolver. If you point it in my direction, I’m going to kill your kid.”
“Just do it!”
Reggie swallowed hard and slowly lifted the revolver by its handle.
“Now, I want you to shove the muzzle of that gun into the back of your throat.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Do I need to draw you a picture?” The woman’s eyes narrowed. “You’re going to kill yourself. If you refuse to do it, I’m going to kill your kid.”
Reggie’s eyes shifted from the woman to Celeste and then back. “Why are you doing this to us?”
“I’m doing this to you.”
“Not just me. You’ve taken my family hostage. You’re threatening them.”
“As long as you do what I tell you to do, they won’t be harmed.”
“Please, just let us go.” Reggie’s voice was shrill. “Look, I’ll forget everything. I won’t call the cops. I’ll even pay you. How much do you want?”
“Reggie, stop wasting my time. Kill yourself or your little boy dies.”
“But, I can’t kill myself. I’ll go to hell!”
“That’s where murderers are supposed to go.”
Reggie’s mouth slowly dropped open. That voice, that smell–it all came back to him. “Vickie! You’re supposed to be dead!”
“Thank God for buoys and good Samaritans.” Vickie Keller indicated with her head to the backdoor of the boatshed. It led to the overhang that housed Reggie’s 23’ Conquest. “I see you’ve put the life insurance money to good use. Nice home, too. It’s not Slidell, but I guess you couldn’t stay there, could you? Too many suspicious eyes looking at you. You had to move out here where nobody knew you.”
“But…where’ve you been?”
“I’ve been living in a rat hole far away from here, while you’ve been living the highlife. A new house, new boat, new family–even a summer camp. Camp Keller. I knew you were arrogant, but that tops it.” Vickie waved her gun hand around. “You can kiss it all goodbye, because your life is over.”
“Look, I’m not going to tell you again. Kill yourself or your son dies.”
Reggie stared down at the revolver in his hand. “I don’t understand why you’re doing this.”
“You pushed me into the lake and left me to drown–all because I wouldn’t stand for you screwing around on me. Now you have to pay.” Vickie smiled and lifted an eyebrow. “But since I’m such a nice person, I’m letting you choose your payment plan. You can either feel the pain of losing someone close to you, or you can simply die.”
“You can’t do this! You…you’ll go to jail for murder.”
“They can’t arrest a dead person.” Vickie cocked the hammer on her pistol. “I’m going to give you five seconds to choose your plan. One…”
Zachary’s eyes were squeezed shut and he was trembling. Celeste was struggling with the ropes that bound her. She jerked her head from side and side. The veins in her temples and neck protruded as she screamed into the rag that gagged her.
Vickie continued to count, her voice getting shriller and shriller. “Two…”
Reggie lifted the revolver to his face and stared into the muzzle. Light reflected off of the tips of the hollow-point bullets that rested in the chamber.
Reggie began to slowly pull the trigger with his thumb. His hand shook as the hammer inched back and the cylinder began to rotate. He squeezed his eyes shut, but it didn’t stop the tears from seeping through. His heart pounded in his ears. Suddenly, he was aware of a warm, wet sensation in his groin area. It spread down his legs.
“I can’t do it!” Reggie jerked the gun away from his face and tossed it to the floor in front of him.
Vickie pulled her hand away from Zachary’s mouth and grabbed a handful of his hair. “Pick up that gun and shoot yourself, or I swear to God, he’s dead!”
“No! I can’t do it!”
“Do it for your son!”
Zachary was bawling. “But…but…Daddy, I thought you said you’d do anything for me?”
Reggie collapsed to the ground in a heap of shame. Tears fell from his eyes like the rain that showered his Boston Whaler on that day so many years ago on Lake Pontchartrain. He buried his face in his urine-soaked legs and covered his ears to protect them from the explosion that was sure to follow. “I’m so sorry, Zack! I can’t do it!”
There was a long, tense moment of silence, when the only sounds were that of four hearts beating and the soft cries of a family in peril. The gunshot never came. Reggie slowly lifted his head and stared at Vickie with bloodshot eyes. She stared back, her face twisted with disgust. “You’re such a coward.” She released Zachary and strode over to where Reggie lay.
Zachary rushed to Celeste and threw his arms around her neck. He pressed his face against her shoulder and sobbed uncontrollably.
“You’d choose your own life over that of your child,” Vickie said in a hoarse whisper. “What kind of a man are you? I can’t believe I lived in fear all those years, worried that you would find out I was still alive.”
“I don’t want to die. Please…please…don’t kill me!”
“I’m no killer.” Vickie sighed. “I’m not even mad at you anymore. I actually feel sorry for you.”
Reggie’s teeth chattered. “You mean, you won’t tell anyone?”
“I have a new life now and I’m not looking for any distractions.” Vickie walked to Celeste and removed the gag from her mouth and the rope from her hands. She then rubbed Zachary’s face and tears came to her own eyes. She pulled the slide back on her black pistol and turned it so Celeste could see the chamber. “I didn’t even have bullets in my gun. I never intended to hurt your son. I only wanted Reggie to die. I know it was selfish of me and I’m so sorry…”
Celeste squeezed Zachary and stared up at Vickie. “Thank you for not hurting him.”
“If you ever think about divorcing Reggie, don’t get on a boat with him.” Vickie turned abruptly and disappeared out the door, tears streaming down her face.
Reggie scrambled to his feet and peered out the window. He watched as Vickie made her way along the catwalk. He rubbed the tears from his face and cleared his throat. “How’d she get y’all over here?”
Celeste’s voice was flat. “I heard a knock at the door. When I opened it, a woman claiming to be your ex-wife stuck a gun in my face. She tied me up and waited until Zack came home. Then she drove us over here.”
Reggie walked to the doorway and tried to see which direction Vickie would take once she stepped off the catwalk. “I don’t know what she told you, but they’re all lies.”
“I know one thing that wasn’t a lie.”
“What’s that?” Reggie asked over his shoulder.
“You chose your own life over Zack’s. You were going to let a good kid die, so your murdering butt could live. That’s not acceptable.”
Reggie heard a metallic click and turned slowly to find Celeste holding the revolver that he’d thrown to the ground. “What are you doing with that?”
“Zack,” Celeste said in a calm voice, “close your eyes, baby.”
Zachary squeezed his eyes shut and buried his face in Celeste’s jeans. Celeste lifted the cocked revolver.
Reggie smiled. “Come on, Celeste, you’re not going–”
Celeste closed her eyes and jerked the trigger.
The explosion was deafening in the confined space. Reggie tensed up briefly, but sighed. No pain. She’d missed. Ears ringing, he stepped forward. He glared at Celeste and opened his mouth to speak. Nothing came out. His eyebrows puckered with confusion. His leg suddenly gave out under him and he fell hard. Stunned, he glanced down. The front of his T-shirt was the color of sin. He looked up at Celeste. Her eyes were cold and the muzzle of the revolver was still trained on him. Without blinking, she pulled the trigger again…