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It was as if something had come along and simply erased it from the list. Which, of course, something had.
There was a star burned into his back. Above it, in the back of his head, was a bullet hole. The bullet wasn’t there. The bullet was embedded in the back seat of a car 50 miles downstream, where police were already swarming, and a winch was already en route. It would be hours, still, before the equipment was all in place, and the steel cables were secured around the chassis, and the car’s sodden husk was lifted out of the river, a dozen incidental spouts splashing gallons back into the cold water from which it was, then, finally, being reluctantly rebirthed. Meanwhile, tattered strands of eyeball hung from the socket, face down in the silt. Around him, reeds swayed in the current. He had not been discovered yet. No battalion of cops swarmed around him, licorice black pistols swinging in their holsters, hands staged against their torsos in postures of self-conscious concern, caffeinated scanner addicts rolling up to hastily established yellow-tape perimeters with lenses the weight of newborn babies, hoping something has happened, something which their telephoto children can reach into and snatch a saleable rectangle of restricted light. Instead, they would find nothing but an empty wreck across a county line, rising into the darkness of the night to the whining of heavy equipment. Nothing worth the cost of gasoline. Meanwhile, he would remain undiscovered, unknown, unguessed for that night, and the next, and the next. It wouldn’t be until the technicians in dust masks and nitrile gloves began to separate water damage from what they would slowly determine must have happened before the submersion, long enough before that it could be no accident, that questions would even begin to be asked. The questions would be that of flakes of skin, and of follicles of hair, and of the hit that they returned in the police database for a name that had just been released from prison, less than a month ago, and immediately fallen off the map; a name guilty of strange, petty crimes, with collaborators that had never been caught; a name that had not been reported missing, but had simply vanished, as if something had come along and simply erased it from the list. Which, of course, something had.
But that will be in the future. For now, he will lie here in the shallows by the shore, fish nibbling at lips and eyelids and spongy genitals, and then the tougher flesh, the gray skin and the rubbery sinew underneath, and bits of the flavorless muscles that make the living face something more than a cage for thoughts, and the nights will be long and cold, and his identity will slowly slough away into the water, until, when the men with flashlights and windbreakers finally come to stand at the river’s edge and talk into squawking radios, there will be nothing of it left, except the star burned into his back.
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