The Shroud

Dawn DeBraal

- Dawn DeBraal

Retired Detective Frank Lasater stared at the calendar. June 6, 2020. Had twenty years already passed? How could that have happened? It seemed like yesterday his granddaughter Lana went missing. Now it was twenty years ago, today. They found her boyfriend's van in the parking lot of a local gas station. Lana's purse still in the van. They never found Lana or her boyfriend, Bradley. There were no bodies ever found. The two had simply vanished. Frank poured himself a cup of coffee, walking into the sunroom. He watched the river behind his house. It slowly rolled along, moving time with it.

June 6, 2000

Lana's blond hair was drawn in a ponytail that swished side to side when she walked. Frank hugged his granddaughter as she climbed into the 1980 VW bus her boyfriend Bradley drove. It was bright green with a white roof. They loved that van. Frank, not so much. It had too many opportunities for a young man that he didn't trust to be alone with his granddaughter's virtue. Lana was a grown woman; at twenty, it seemed she had settled on Bradley as a life partner. He presented as a nice young man. His hair was a little too long for old Frank's liking. But Lana's parents, his son Mike, and daughter-in-law Claire welcomed Bradley into their home with open arms. Frank hoped Lana still had some selecting years for a mate ahead of her. He hoped this was just a thing, a young love that would run its course. Frank wanted someone who would be a better wage earner and, more successful, for his granddaughter.
Frank had tucked away a tidy sum for Lana and planned to give it to her on her wedding day. He wanted Lana to be independent with a college degree and a job under her belt before he spoiled her. Bradley didn't seem to be motivated, though Bradley was a far cry from Lenard, her high school boyfriend. Lenard had no ambition whatsoever. He was still living in his parent's basement after all these years.
Frank held back from giving his approval of Bradley. Someone in his family needed to observe the situation. Bradley attended state college with Lana. How fortunate they'd met for Bradley lived in the next town over and every time Lana came home, Bradley was there, too. He was invited and stayed for the holidays. Bradley would pick Lana up on the way to their school. They'd come home for the summer, and at Frank's invite, they came for dinner.
Lana visited Frank as she always did when she came home. She was his only grandchild, and he adored her. Now she came with Bradley. Lana looked at Bradley adoringly. Frank was grateful that his granddaughter had found love. Bradley was studying biology uncertain of what he wanted to do when he left school, and Lana wanted to be a grade schoolteacher, she had dreamed of being a teacher all her life. They came to have dinner with Frank before Bradley headed back to his hometown, and Lana went back to her parents house.
The three of them had a wonderful time at dinner. Frank was feeling pretty good when he walked them out to the van hugging Lana and then taking her arm to help her up the step. Lana winced. Frank pushed up her sleeve and saw the bruises on her arm. He looked at Bradley with fire in his eyes.
Lana pleaded with Frank with her eyes.  Her hand on his arm said to say nothing. So, he kept quiet. Frank knew he wouldn't be silenced for very long.  Watching the VW turn the corner, he grabbed a shovel. Frank jumped into his Crown Victoria. He would follow them, and he would scare the bejesus out of Bradley, ensuring Bradley would never touch his granddaughter like that again.
Bradley had a passenger-side taillight burned out, so Frank could tell the van from a distance. All the years he was a detective on the police force taught him how to tail without being detected.
Bradley turned down a deserted road. Frank kept going straight ahead. No sense in tipping Bradley off that he was being followed. Frank parked on the side of the road pulling the Crown Vic into a clump of trees. He trotted down the small dirt road that led to Look Out Hill, a local make-out place. There was no hill. The name was a joke because of the many children conceived there, look out.
Frank had gone there several times as a cop after a concerned parent called about a daughter that hadn't come home. He didn't need to go too far on the dirt road.
Frank could see the van even with the lights off in the moonlight. Bradley was probably romancing his granddaughter right now, and it was all he could do not to go up and pull the scumbag out of the van and beat him within an inch of his life. God, Frank hated to think of his granddaughter, in a scenario where Lana was a willing participant in Bradley's sordid ways. He'd seen bruises like that before in sadomasochistic relationships, and on the arms of dead hookers.
Frank could hear they were in the act of a session in the back of the van as he approached them. Lana was sighing. Frank's face burned red when he realized what they were doing. He seethed. That little prick Bradley, he always knew he was no good. Then he heard Lana tell Bradley to stop. It wasn't comfortable. She sounded panicky. And then it was quiet.
Frank opened the van and pulled Bradley off his granddaughter. He dragged Bradley away and soundly beat him. He was an in-country Vietnam veteran and a retired cop. Frank knew how to kill. He climbed into the van. Bradley and Lana had been playing games. He could see the silk scarf around Lana's neck. Bradley role played to the point of his granddaughter's death.
Frank slammed the door. He went back and finished Bradley off. He would never hurt another woman the way he did, Lana. Bradley had his hands around Frank's wrists trying to stave Frank off as he strangled the life out of him. The bastard had killed his granddaughter. Life slipped from Bradley's eyes.
Frank went back to his car, grabbing the shovel. Adrenalin flowed through his sixty-five-year-old body. He came back to the site and dug a hole. In the Florida sand, it went quickly. He pushed Bradley with his foot rolling him into the makeshift grave with a thud. Frank covered the body. He then dug out some local plantings and put those on top of the grave. In a few weeks, you wouldn't know anyone was buried there.
Frank went back to the van. He saw the silken scarf around Lana's neck. He felt for a pulse. Not finding one, he cried, rocking her body in his arms. He tried to soothe his little Lana, his love. Frank was devastated.
He pulled the scarf from around her throat and petted her hair. Poor Lana, she was a beautiful soul. He wondered who had initiated the game. Bradley, or Lana?
He counted twenty steps from Brad's grave and dug a second hole. He gently placed his granddaughter in it, wrapping the scarf around her face like a shroud. Frank didn't want dirt to get into her eyes. He would bury Lana because he didn't want news reporters to sensationalize the death of his granddaughter due to erotic sex games. Frank started up the van leaving both graves behind and drove to the gas station. He had been at the station the day before when Lenard, Lana's old boyfriend, complained about the surveillance cameras not working again, and wouldn't be repaired for another week.
Frank left the locked van at Express Way, walking three miles back to where his car was parked and drove home. It was one a.m. when he got back to his house. All the lights were off at his neighbor's houses.
Frank had been so preoccupied with covering up the mishap he didn't have time to mourn his granddaughter properly. He poured himself a couple of shots drinking one and then downing the other. Frank would wait for the van to be discovered and for the investigation to start. The couple was last seen at his house. He could testify to that fact they ate dinner here tonight; in fact, he still had the dishes in the sink. They left at nine-thirty. After that, Frank would tell the police he had no idea what happened. They would have no reason to question him any further, especially when he would lead the searches and try the hardest to find what happened to his granddaughter.
He received the call from his son the next day. "No, they left here about nine-thirty. Lana never came home? Oh my. Maybe she spent the night with him?" Mike said he would call Bradley's parents. Frank put down the phone. He looked at his hands, shaking violently. Frank needed to get it together if he wanted to survive this. He couldn't sleep because of his granddaughter's death, but he lost no sleep over Bradley. Nor would he ever let anyone else know what he had done.
He interviewed with his detective friends, letting them know he had worked on the VW with Bradley the day before. (It would explain why his fingerprints were in the van.) He told them they had dinner. He still had dirty dishes in the sink. The detective took Frank's statement and pictures leaving Frank to sit with his thoughts after he left. Poor Lana. How could she get involved with a guy like Bradley? When had Lana learned about this kind of sex?
Frank was shaken when the detectives left but felt he had done an excellent job in answering their questions and showing the proper concern for his granddaughter. Frank printed posters and posted them around town, offering a good portion of his nest egg for finding the whereabouts of Lana and Bradley.
He worked tirelessly with his son and the people who were out searching daily. The van was abandoned at the gas station where Lana's former boyfriend worked. Was that a clue?  Frank remembered he limped back to his car. He purposely limped so that if he were caught on someone's camera somewhere, they would be looking for a man with a distinct limp. He searched the longest and the hardest of anyone, the dedicated grandfather who could not accept the loss of his only grandchild.

June 7, 2020

Frank put down the phone. It had been a terrible week. The call came from the police department. Mike and Claire were in a car crash last night. They didn't survive. He was stunned. He sat down. Monday, he received a call from his doctor. He had stage four brain cancer. He was not going to survive, but a few months.
Life had thrown so much at him this week. Frank hadn't even told his son about his cancer. And now he had outlived his son and his granddaughter, a double blow. Frank decided to turn himself in. He needed to go to the afterlife with a clean conscience.
Frank walked into the police station. They left him sitting in the waiting room for an hour before Detective Brownell came out and invited him into his office. Frank knew if he'd told them he killed someone, they would have express laned him to a back office. He wasn't ready to talk, he didn't want to, but he had to.
The detective asked if he'd like a drink of something. Frank shook his head no and blurted out.
"I committed a murder twenty years ago."
"Before you say anything further, do you want a lawyer?" Frank shook his head.
"I got the big "C" only have a couple of weeks to live. My son and his wife died in a car crash last night. I need to confess my sin to leave this world with a clean conscience."
"Who did you murder?"
"Bradley Demler, his van was found at the gas station on Park and Fifth. The missing person case was never solved." The detective scrolled through the cases on his computer, looking for the Demler file.
"The woman missing was your granddaughter. Did you kill her too?"
"Of course, I didn't kill my granddaughter, Bradley killed her. Then I killed him. I buried them both out on Look Out Hill, the make-out place on Highway 19.
"Can you take us to the graves?" Frank nodded. The two detectives rode with Frank out to Look Out Hill with another car behind them. Frank had not been to the site since the day it happened. The officers pulled down the well-worn road stopping where Frank indicated they should. Frank walked to the plantings he had marked the grave with, observing that the plants had grown a lot in twenty years. He pointed to the spot, and the officer handed him a shovel.
"Christ, I'm eighty-five with stage four brain cancer. Do you seriously think I can dig up a body?" He pushed the shovel back at the detective who got another cop to dig. It wasn't long before the man struck something. The officer fell to his knees and started to dig out the object by hand, exposing the femur of a male skeleton.
"Call the coroner!" Detective Brownell told another officer.
"Where's your granddaughter?" The detective asked. Frank counted twenty steps from Bradley's grave.
"She'd be right about here." Frank said. Tears were falling from his eyes. Lana would finally be put to rest with her parents, not sitting in a shallow grave three miles from town. Frank sat on the ground. The stress of the ordeal had raised his blood pressure and given him a severe headache.
The officer started digging. He got down quite far. There was no body.
"Are you sure she's here?" the officer had a good sweat going.
"I know she is. I counted twenty steps. It's been years; maybe I went the wrong direction." The detective who was digging went the other side of Bradley's grave, stepped off, and started to dig.
The coroner came to inspect Bradley's remains. Another officer arrived with a cadaver dog. The dog did not hit on anything other than Bradley's grave. Frank sat stunned. How could that be? He was sure Lana was dead. He checked her pulse. Had he buried her while she was still alive?  Many questions filled his mind. Where was Lana, why hadn't she returned to her parents? Frank was in a panic. What had he done? Had he killed a man for nothing? He was hyperventilating, unable to catch his breath.
"I found a piece of cloth; it's pretty rotted; it looks like a white scarf," called out the officer who was digging for Lana.
"That has to be where she is. I put the scarf around her face so she wouldn't get sand in her eyes." Frank clutched his heart. It was all too much.
The detective called an ambulance. He felt Frank probably was in the midst of a panic attack, but the guy looked ashen. Detective Brownell felt sorry for Frank. Watching the man crumble as they poked and prodded around. The cadaver dog walked the entire area, finding nothing.
Frank fell over from his seated position moaning in pain. The stress had produced a heart attack. He didn't have to wait for the brain cancer to get him. He was on his way out already. He couldn't live with the fact that his granddaughter thought Frank had buried her alive.
White foam filled his mouth as he gagged on saliva. The last thing he saw was the remnants of a white scarf coming out of the empty grave like a shroud. Where was Lana, and what had she been doing for the last twenty years? Frank would never know.

THE END

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