A Quick Dip – No. 84

The lock buckled with Leo’s next thrust, the crack making Darren’s insides shudder.

“Shhh,” he whispered.

“Don’t be such a baby.”

Pocketing the set of tweezers and paperclip, Leo wiped the latch and lock with his towel. He covered his hand with the terrycloth and depressed the handle, inching the door ajar. The smell of chlorine poured through the gap, riding a wave of steam.

Darren ran his hand along the length of his swim trunks, drying the sweat from his palm. “Are you sure about this?”

“Are you sure you want to look like an idiot?”

Sticking his head through the door, Leo glanced right and left, then vanished into the cloudy air. Rippling reflections licked the doorframe where he had stood, making the shadows quiver. The squish of his sneakers dwindled, leaving Darren with the rustle of leaves stirred by summer’s earliest winds, the gurgling from the club’s central fountain, and the buzz of electricity in the night lamps. He hoped the combination might obscure their escapade while keeping his ear out for the stomps of Mr. Neilson and the clink of his grounds keeping tools.

“You chicken?”

Darren jolted at the sound of Leo’s voice. “No.”

“Then get in here.”

Throttling his towel, Darren darted through and pushed the door closed behind him. He forced his heavy feet to tread across the tiles and to the pool where moonlight streamed through the opened roof, creating a mottled sheen of silver and black.

Rounding to the deep end, Leo tossed his towel onto one of the reclining chairs. He shook out his legs, swung his arms back and forth, and then dove. Water rippled away from him as he swam the length of the pool, each smooth stroke a soft slip submerging beneath the surface. He touched the wall, drew his legs beneath him, and began to tread.

“Don’t just stand there.”

“How…?” Darren winced when Leo smirked.

Kicking off the wall, Leo waved to the right. “There’s a ladder over there.”

With a gulp, Darren paced along the edge. Staring at the curving rungs disappearing into the water, he set his towel onto a nearby chair and stripped out of his sweatshirt. His tee shirt seemed to cling, whether by sweat or fear, but Leo’s snickering inspiring a hot wave of shame. Working free of his last layer, Darren pivoted from the pile of dry clothes and ran his fingertips across his bare middle, his skin pebbling over muscles tensed from his held breath.

“It’s not deep,” said Leo. He stood, proving the fact and spattered the water lapping at his waist.

“Deep’s not my problem,” whispered Darren as he gazed down the length of the pool.

The liquid yards seemed to stretch, making each surrounding solid object waver. Shifting his feet, Darren made certain the tiles beneath him remained intact.

“Then what is?” Leo bobbed beneath the surface and popped back up, his hair gleaming.”It’s only water.”

“It’s a lot of water.”

“So?”

Darren closed his eyes while the room seemed to swirl and the floor beneath him buckle like quicksand. Briny water encroached from his memory, nibbling at his toes, working up his legs, past his knees and hips, lassoing his waist and chest, yoking his shoulders and dragging him down until his mouth was smothered, while the sunlight and air loomed overhead, just out of reach. His heart thumped and he fumbled for the ladder’s rail.

“…arren….Darren?”

Water hitting his face more than his name brought Darren out of the images flooding through his mind. Relinquishing his grip on the ladder, he wiped the drops off his cheeks and pushed back his bangs.

Leo had waded closer, his head cocked. “You okay?”

Backpedaling, Darren let himself fall into the nearest chair. He sank onto the rubber straps, leaned his elbows on his knees, and wheezed at the tiles.

“I’m fine,” he whispered.

While he stared at the floor between his rigid toes, Leo emerged from the pool, the wet smack of his approach punctuated by a shower of drips. Darren flinched when Leo’s hand thumped onto his shoulder.

“You can’t just sit here.”

“Sure I can,” said Darren and he shrugged off Leo’s hand.

“Is that what you’re going to do tomorrow when this is open? When Ronnie and the rest are going to be here? Sit on your ass while we’re all swimming?”

“Maybe.”

“Then why’d we come?”

“I….” Lowering his head in his hands, Darren plowed his fingers through his dry shag of hair. “I don’t know.”

“Bull.”

Darren sat upright when Leo locked onto his forearms.

“Wha—”

His question twisted into a panicked yelp when Leo pitched him into air. Flailing his arms and legs, Darren fought against his arching descent and the nearing water. The surface slammed into his left side, numbing his skin and sending an icy shudder along his spine. He drank in mouthfuls of chlorinated water as he gasped and thrashed. His hand thumped into a floating mass and he tightened his fingers, clutching with all his might. Dangling on his respite, he hacked and with his eyes pinched closed, sucked in fresh air until he had enough to shout.

“What the hell, Leo!”

“You asked for my help.”

“That doesn’t include drowning me.” Despite the chemical sting, Darren glared at Leo who sauntered along the pool’s edge. “I’ve done that already.”

Leo’s smirk faded into a shocked gasp.

“It wasn’t that bad,” said Darren. “When I was real little, the tide at the beach caught me and—.”

“No,” said Leo. His arm shook when he pointed. “Look at what you’re holding onto.”

Scowling, Darren peered at what lay under his draped arms.

The bloated face of Mr. Grant, the club supervisor, stared out with eyes as wide as the light bulbs he’d installed on the club’s walkways, his skin stretched like some of the poorer plastic surgeries in town, his fatted lips a bruised purple. Flinching back, Darren released Mr. Grant’s navy polo and the poking handle of a spade jutting from the man’s distended belly.

His instincts seemed to take over and Darren found his arms stroking back, his feet kicking. He slammed against the wall of the pool and nearly leapt from the water when Leo hooked his arm and dragged him over the edge.

“Who?” Leo gulped and dropped to a knee as shaky as his voice. “Who is it?”

“Mr. Grant,” whispered Darren.

He shuddered and smeared the water off his arms, seeking to purge the lingering touch on his skin. The sense of cold and bloated flesh remained, as unmoving as the body floating on the surface.

“We have to do something.”

“Yeah,” said Leo. His timber steadied and he trotted over and gathered the towel, shirt and, sweatshirt Darren had left. “We got to get out of here.”

Darren caught the flinging clothes and terrycloth and stared at the shoes Leo had overlooked. He worked to his feet as Leo hustled to pluck what he’d brought from the lawn chair.

“We have to call the police.”

Leo’s head popped through his shirt, his dark hair tiny spikes. “They’re going to know we broke in.”

“They’re going to know anyway.”

“They’re going find out why we were here.”

Darren frowned. “Why does that matter?”

Leo marched back over and lowered his voice as if the dead body might overhear.

“Everyone in town will find out you can’t swim.”

“Don’t you think a dead body’s going to be more interesting than the new kid’s ineptitude?”

“I’m just trying to cover your ass,” said Leo.

“And I’m trying to keep us out of jail.”

“Jail?”

“There’s a dead body in the pool, Leo, and I don’t think he got there by himself. If we don’t say anything and the cops find out we were here, that we knew, we could be suspects.”

“What!?”

“Haven’t you ever seen any of those cop shows?”

“Yeah, sure.”

“And who always gets found out?”

Leo’s eyes widened. “The two stupid kids who didn’t say anything.”

“Exactly.” Darren shoved his damp feet into his sneakers. “So we’re calling?”

“It’s your idea.”

“Fine,” said Darren.

Digging into his sweatshirt’s pocket, he brought out his phone.

“You…don’t think whoever did it is still here, do you?”

“You watch too many of those shows,” said Darren.

“But—”

Darren looked up from the illuminated screen in his hand, his fingers poised over the nine, and followed Leo’s stare. The darkened wall abutting the club’s main dining hall seemed to move, a shadow taking form out of the gloom. He wheeled with Leo, and as they raced for the door with the now broken lock, Darren dialed as fast as his fingers could tap.

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