“Your Dude’s Cool"

Fiction by David Kozatch

When the body of a beautiful young woman is found washed up against a jetty by an early morning surfer, and then promptly disappears after a photo of her goes viral, former New York journalist Paul Sandis stumbles into a career-making story.

 

Dylan’s house in Sagaponack was one of those super-sized English Country shingle-style cottages built in the last 10 years or so, its tall cedar gate equipped with the now customary high-tech security system wedged between a tall, perfectly trimmed privet hedge running the length of the property.

Paul parked Mellow against the high hedge, wiped the perspiration from his face, and walked around to the front.

Pushing the call button, he noticed the gate was open. 

He waited through two more pushes of the button. No response.

He slipped through the gate, strolled up to the massive oak door to the house and knocked. A second knock, louder this time. Summer. Lawn culture. People spend their time outside, right? He walked around the back and started searching the extensive property for some of that culture. Past a four-car garage, two bays open, and matching his-and-hers European ragtops. A luxury S.U.V. sat parked at an odd angle in the drive, windows open — clothes, towels, and other brightly colored stuff spread across the backseat. Fresh mud and sand marred the S.U.V.’s otherwise shiny lower body. 

Somebody’s home. 

He soon found another hedge, this one not quite as tall, and behind it an exquisite hardscaped swimming pool, with dual winding marble stairways leading parallel up a slight berm. Atop this raised area was a good-sized pool house shaded by a big Japanese maple, and between its verdant branches he spied a clue: a white satellite dish, its lollypop roundness forcing its way up from the red-tiled roof. Paul approached the pool house stealthily and rapped on the door. Again, there was no answer. A quick peek into a side window and he could see what looked like the aftermath of a pretty good party.

Despite a cool breeze blowing from the direction of the ocean, the sweat continued to pour off of him, staining the front of his buttoned-up dress shirt. Somebody was home and he wasn’t leaving without talking to that somebody. He drew a deep breath and turned the egg-shaped brass knob. The door pushed open easily. In the corner of the room he could see two bodies curled up under bright white sheets. They lay there motionless, their shapes forming a stylized letter “D.” The studio-sized room, which now appeared much tighter from the inside, was a mess of clothes, empty beer and soda cans, ashtrays, a large rainbow-streaked glass bong, plastic video game sleeves, take-out food containers, and other trash strewn about the floor, chairs, and tables. A huge surfboard with one of those yin/yang symbols hung over the bed with the words “WET DREAMS” in large capital letters painted vertically down one side. 

Once Paul figured out which of the two bodies belonged to Dylan, he tapped the bottom of the kid’s foot with his notebook.

“What the fah — dude, who are you?” 

Dylan sat up and tried to focus his eyes on the intruder who, despite being of average height and build, cast a considerable shadow.  

“Hey. I’m here to ask you some questions,” Paul blurted out.

“Are you some kind of cop or something? And, dude, why are you so . . . . sweaty?”  Dylan opened his eyes wider to get them adjusted to the light, a sharp angle streaming through the open door, making a slice right through the middle of his bed and up to the glossy surface of the surfboard above his head.  

“I’m not a cop — “

“— Then isn’t this breaking and entering?” Dylan gestured toward the open door, “I mean, at least entering? Dude, that’s not right — wait; you’re not a cop. I know all the cops in town.  But you do look familiar. Are you here to buy some weed? It’s kind of early.”

“I’m a reporter for the East End Times. We’re a local paper here in East Hampton,” Paul said. Then, as if this explained everything: “I rode my bicycle over here.”

“So?”

“So, I’m here to ask you about some pictures —”

“ — Yo, Woodstein Bernward is here for a scoop,” Dylan announced to no one in particular. He checked himself now, as if to ensure the three-hundred-plus thread-count sheet still covered his naked figure, at least from the waist down. The kid had a slinky, androgynous look, his long dirty-blonde hair twisted into Rasta braids, and intense green eyes that girls — and guys — his age probably couldn’t resist. Paul noted that Dylan didn’t even bother to look over at the slender mass curled up inches beside him as the two of them spoke.

“You mean Woodward and Bernstein, and I’m surprised you even know about those guys.”

“My dad used to publish books for one of them  — I forget which. He knew those guys personally, may they rest in peace.”

“But they’re not dead. You should know that if your father worked with them.”

“Ah, but they might as well be. No offense but investigative journalism is dead, haven’t you seen the papers?  Oh yeah, no one reads the papers, I forgot. Ha! So what can I do for you now that you’ve ruined any chances of me getting my required nine-hour sleep regimen? We young adults require lots of sleep, you know. Good for the serotonin levels.”

As they were talking, Paul studied the body curled up next to Dylan. She was lying perfectly still, although every now and then he caught a slight rhythmic rise and fall of the sheet. This girl at least was still breathing.

“Look,” Paul said, “I saw the pictures you posted on Facebook last night of the dead girl.”

“What? Really? How did you get them?”

“It’s not important how I got them. But you have to know — “

“ — Damn, son! We were so blaszed last night. I almost forgot about that. Me and some of my friends were here talking and feeling really bad for that East Hampton cop who found the girl. Used to buy from me. He’s ’aight. Although I heard he didn’t treat his last girlfriend too well.” 

“You know about Will Clifford?” Even after his visit to Woo in Riverhead, Paul was told by Grace to keep the story about Clifford claiming to find a body on lockdown. 

“Yeah. Anyway, he never hassled me and I wanted to do him a favor in return, y’know?  I was getting sick of people making fun of him, saying he made the whole thing up. Although it was kinda funny.”

“Well, since you seem to know so much maybe you can give me a little information as to where you got the pictures. Did you take them?”

“Nah, I was asleep when those were taken, I’m pretty sure. Let’s just say they were taken by a friend. I guess you’ve seen my Facebook page. I have a lot of friends.”

“Who is your friend?”

“Ah, therein lies the rub. I don’t think I should answer that.”

“Shakespeare. Do you know the next line: ‘For in that sleep of death we know not what dreams may come?’ Anyway, why can’t you tell me? I’m not working with the cops. I’m only looking out for the girl and her family — if she has one.”

“Nice.”

Paul wasn’t sure if Dylan was saying it was “nice” that he could quote the next line of Hamlet or if the kid was just stalling.

“Well, if what you are saying is true then my friend is going to be in some serious trouble. When he took them he probably thought he was getting a souvenir, y’know what I mean?  Like bragging rights at being there first before the whole thing blew up. Who knew that a dead girl could get up and walk away?” 

“So you don’t think your friend had anything to do with the girl, beyond taking pictures I mean?”

“I’ll tell you this much: if he did, he didn’t tell me. But I doubt it. He’s like the chillest guy I know.”

“Chill huh? Is he a surfer?” Paul looked up at the board above Dylan’s head.

“Dude, you are good at this! Here I am protecting the innocent and you are asking some very specific questions. Very nice.”

“So he is a surfer. He surfs, like around Montauk, maybe that part of Wainscott where the girl was? That would make sense given the early hour when the girl was found.”

“Whatever, dude. This conversation is over.”

“Well, if I were you I’d be getting my story straight. In a few hours the whole world is going to know about this. About you. Consider my visit a friendly wake-up call,” Paul said.

“Sounds more like a threat,” Dylan said, without the slightest bit of malice in his voice.  Then, muttering under his breath, “I can handle those local cops, no worries.”

“You don’t seem to get this. Those pictures are all over the internet by now. Forget about the town cops. Within a few hours you’re going to have Peconic County guys here, maybe even the F.B.I. You are very likely about to be the center of a murder investigation. If I were you I would think about getting a lawyer.”

“Okay, okay. I get it. I messed up and should call my dad. Hey babe,” Dylan poked the girl next to him in the ribs. “Jes, c’mon girl, wake up! We gotta go.” The girl let out the slightest moan and turned over on her stomach without opening her eyes. The edge of the sheet slid down just below her waist, exposing the graceful slope of her spine and a large tattoo; angel’s wings etched into the part of her back where it met her dimpled buttocks. 

Paul started making his way toward the door. 

Dylan shouted out to Paul as he was making his exit. 

“Hey, reporter guy, what’s your name?”

“Paul. Paul Sandis.” 

“Paul Sandis. Huh. You sure you don’t want any weed?  Hold on.” Dylan leaned over and pulled out a large plastic bag from under the bed. He slid open the Ziploc closure and took out some of the clumped buds to put in his bong. 

“No thanks. It’s been a while.”

“Hey, I know where I know that name, ‘Sandis.’ Isn’t your kid the science fair nerd? He won first place for some state science award or something. Plants right?”

“Yeah, third place, but close. And yes, plants. That was a couple of years ago.”

“Your dude’s cool,” Dylan said, nodding his head.

“How do you know him?” Paul asked.

“Like I said, I’m friends with lots of people.” Paul stood motionless by the door, absorbing Dylan’s boast. Dylan held up his bong and flashed perfect white teeth. “You sure you don’t want any?” 

“Yeah.” 

“Peace then.” 

Paul’s last glance of Dylan was a right thumb resting on the flint wheel of a classic Zippo lighter as the kid moved his lips toward the bong’s wide mouthpiece.


David Kozatch’s recently published first novel is “Off the East End,” of which this is an excerpt. He lives and works full time in East Hampton.