This is an excerpt from the winning nonfiction entry in the 2014 Oregon Writers Colony writing contest.
The Hope He Had
By Ryan Chin
Sometimes a walk with your dog is not always just a walk with your dog…
That’s what the detective told me when the case was closed.
It started when I took my dog to a river. Gnarled tree stumps carried from headwater streams shared the shoreline with plastic bottles, candy wrappers, and the occasional hypodermic needle. Cranes dotted the Willamette River’s banks, perched over the water like herons waiting for prey. The metal reverb of shipping containers echoed across the water. Ospreys and gulls traded calls. Vessels of all sizes sliced the surface of the river. Cormorants bobbed in their wakes, diving for long minutes in search of food. Cars raced east and west on the bridges, salmon charged upstream, and century-old sturgeon sifted through silt in the depths.
I roamed the river’s edge, pocketed pebbles, and wrestled large pieces of driftwood back to my van for my garden. My footprints were crisscrossed with the drag marks of my latest finds. Big Head, my yellow lab, pawed and chewed at the logs as we moved along, steady but unhurried, like the currents at our side.
I noticed the black briefcase first. Zippers open, sand sticking to the cloth areas. With warning thoughts about heroin needles, I searched the main compartment and pockets, never plunging my hand in blindly. No identification. Empty. Then I noticed the shoes, the shirts, and the pants nearby. I wondered if the contents had spilled out naturally, or if someone had dumped them looking for bounty. I knelt, reached for the nearest pants pocket and felt the unmistakable shape of a wad of money, rolled and bending slightly with each squeeze of my hand.
My gaze shot up and down the bank. Was there a body? Was someone watching me? Was I getting involved in something I should avoid? Not wanting to stand up with the wad of bills, I pretended to tie my shoes, slipped the money into my socks, and scurried away. Back in my van, I counted the money—ten one-hundred-dollar bills, cold and damp from the river.