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"Fountain of Lies," 2021. Oil on linen on panel in oak frame by Rae Klein. Courtesy Arch Enemy Arts

Issue 118, Fall 2022

Undetermined Circumstances

Disappearance and discovery in American waters

Oh! ye whose dead lay buried beneath the green grass; who standing among flowers can say—here, here lies my beloved; ye know not the desolation that broods in bosoms like these.

—Herman Melville, Moby-Dick

It was a late spring morning when I set out driving to the small unnamed creek in southeast Alabama where Kyle Clinkscales had been found. I wanted to decide for myself what seemed more likely: that he’d crashed his car and died, or, as most people in the area believed, had been killed and put there. The creek was in Chambers County, about a fivehour drive from my home near Nashville. Back in December of 2021, someone had spotted the hatchback of his 1974 Pinto Roundabout sticking above the muddy water and reported it to the police. Later that day, after removing the car from the creek, police found human remains inside, along with Clinkscales’s ID. He’d been missing for forty-five years.

There hadn’t been any updates since the discovery. My route to the creek was similar to the one I would’ve taken to visit my father: south on I-65, east on I-20, exit onto Highway 431 through the Talladega National Forest. My father still lives in the same place where I grew up—an unincorporated community in east Alabama called Delta. Now I’m forty-two, though, and I don’t visit as often as I once did. After leaving the National Forest, I watched the passing scenery, once so familiar, with an outsider’s gaze. A junkyard. A lonesome gas station. Kudzu. I’d just moved back to Nashville after living three years in London and wondered how these scenes would strike the friends I’d made there.

Around noon I pulled off the side of the road to take a picture of the Dixie General Store, which sells Confederate flags and MAGA memorabilia and so on, and sent it to a friend who shares my loathing of such things. I was in too much of a hurry to stop at the Haunted Chickenhouse, with its display of stacked and overturned antique hearses, then came within ten minutes of my father’s house but kept heading south, then crossed the Tallapoosa River—the same river where my mother had crashed and died when I was fourteen.

It was because of my mother’s death that I was so drawn to the Clinkscales case. She’d become a missing person back in 1994 and stayed missing for two years. During that time I never once stopped believing she was alive and would one day return home or be found. But then, late summer of 1996, a scuba diver who was inspecting the supports at Foster Bridge came across her car. Some of her remains were inside. The rest had washed out into the Tallapoosa.

South of LaFayette the dirt roads and embankments become a garish red, heavy with oxidized iron. The sight of red dirt always makes me melancholy. I spent the first fifteen years of my life in the Piedmont region of the state and have always thought of it as a transition zone from the mountains to the coastal plains, a place people drive through without noticing much except poverty and red dirt.

It was mid-afternoon when I passed Cusseta without realizing it. I met several logging trucks loaded with timber, then saw the sprawling cutover where the logs were coming from. Past the cutover, I crossed a small bridge over a muddy creek. A couple of miles later, when I reached Interstate 85, it hit me: that must have been the creek. I’d looked at it on Google Earth. I knew the creek was small, but this one hadn’t seemed anywhere near big enough to conceal a car for forty-five years.

I turned around and headed back. The prospect of seeing the spot where a kid had vanished made me feel a little sick. It reminded me of the agony of not knowing where someone you love has gone and why they won’t come back. 

One June afternoon in 1994, my mother told my father and me she was going to the Piggly Wiggly about six miles away in Lineville. I had just turned fourteen. When the store closed at nine o’clock that night, she still hadn’t returned. Around an hour later, my father and I went looking for her. When we returned home, we called the hospital, then the police, then every other person we could think of.

A county investigator visited early the next morning to tell us that my mother had been scheduled the day before to come in for an interview about some money that had disappeared from a neighbor’s trailer. My father had no idea about this. The investigator told us he believed my mother was now hiding to avoid prosecution for this theft.

During the next two years I believed all kinds of stories about my mother—stories that served to explain how the mother I thought I knew could leave me and stay hidden without even letting me know she was okay. I believed the police when they said that she would eventually get tired of hiding and come home, that she was probably staying in California with some distant relatives, that one day somebody would spot her and pick up the phone, or a police officer would pull her over and run her tag, or someone would crack and tell us where she was. Then, when she was found dead, I didn’t know what to believe. Mostly I just went numb. 

Fast-forward twenty-four years: I was doing my best to homeschool my two daughters through the first London lockdown and sneaking lots of quick YouTube breaks to decompress, when a video about scuba divers finding a car popped up in my suggestion list. I clicked it. The algorithms took notice. Over the next few months, I watched dozens of similar videos about scuba divers finding people who’d been missing for years, sometimes decades. Apparently, using scuba gear and high-end sonar technology to search for missing people underwater had become a hobby of sorts, and some of its devotees had their own YouTube channels. I’d never known that so many cars were scattered throughout America’s waterways—creeks, rivers, reservoirs, even retention ponds—with so many unmourned bodies inside them. I found it a little comforting to learn that what had happened to my family wasn’t as rare as I’d always thought.

By the summer of 2021, when I moved back to the Nashville area, I’d grown bored watching these videos, but some of them still appeared in my suggestions. In December, when the video about Kyle Clinkscales appeared, I only clicked it because he was from LaGrange, where my father and I had often gone fishing at West Point Lake, and because the creek where he’d been found was only an hour south of Foster Bridge, where my mother had died.

Kyle Clinkscales had last been seen on January 27, 1976, at the Moose Club in LaGrange, Georgia, where he worked part-time as a bartender when he wasn’t attending classes at Auburn University. When his shift ended at 11 P.M., he left, supposedly heading back to his apartment in Auburn, about forty miles away. His parents were expecting to see him again on Friday, but they didn’t think too much of it when he didn’t arrive. They figured he’d gotten tickets to a basketball game in Gainesville he’d mentioned wanting to watch. But by Tuesday they’d grown worried enough to notify the police.

Forty-five years, ten months, and twelve days after he left the Moose Club, Kyle Clinkscales’s remains were found. Maybe the water level in the creek had lowered over the years. Or maybe the metal latch on the hatchback had rusted and finally gave way, allowing the hatchback to pop open and rise above the water. The people who needed to know most that Kyle had been found—his parents—were both dead. His father John had died of a heart attack in 2007. His mother Louise had died in January of 2021, less than one year before her son was finally found.

After watching a couple of news stories about the case and reading every article I could find online, I dialed up my father. “It’s just a little creek,” I said. “I don’t even think it has a name.”

“Oh well.”

“Forty-five years. Can you imagine?”

“I don’t guess.” My father has a few short stock responses he rotates through when people talk to him. The phrases themselves mean little; it’s his tone that conveys his meaning. That day on the phone, his tone told me he was as intrigued by the case as I was.

“They both died without knowing,” I said. It was this detail that had most drawn me to the story.

“All-rightie then,” he said.

We talked about it awhile longer and then hung up without mentioning my mother once. I rarely mentioned my mother to him. It made me uncomfortable to say “Mommy,” which is what I’d still called her when she disappeared. And to say “my mother” felt like I was telling a stranger about her. So I just told him about Kyle Clinkscales, confident he knew what I wanted to convey: that, as bad as it had been for us, it could’ve been so much worse.

On the way back to the creek, I pulled into the empty gravel parking lot of a country restaurant called The Front Porch to see if anyone could confirm it was indeed the spot where Clinkscales’s car had been found. As I climbed the steps to the porch, I noticed the antique plates someone had placed in the flowerbeds as decoration. Some of the plates were broken. Inside I found two middle-aged women prepping for the evening shift. Before asking them any questions about Clinkscales, I complimented their restaurant. I was sincere, too. I’ve always liked the kind of family restaurant you sometimes find miles from the nearest town. 

Then I told them that my mother had been a missing person back in the ’90s and that I was interested in writing a story about the disappearance of Kyle Clinkscales, though I made sure to add I wasn’t “from the media.”

“Who?” one woman said.

“The kid they found in that creek,” the other said.

“Ohhhhh. Yeah.”

“I’m trying to find the creek where they found him,” I said.

The two women discussed it for a while until one of them decided to call a man who lived nearby. “He knows all about it.” While we waited, we chatted. One woman said that after the car was found, “everybody on Facebook was talking about it. People were saying they’d seen the car before but just thought someone had dumped it there.”

I asked whether someone going from LaGrange to Auburn would drive this way.

“No,” the other woman said.

“Well,” the first said, “it depends on what part of Auburn they was headed to.”

“What if someone wanted to avoid main roads?” I said. “Like somebody who’d maybe been drinking?”

“Maybe.”

I wanted it to be so. I’d driven to Cusseta hoping to convince myself that Kyle’s death was accidental. I didn’t want to believe the rumor that most people in the area, even the authorities involved with the case, seemed to hold as fact: that Ray Hyde, a local man known to meddle in stolen cars and drugs, had killed him.

During the next two years I believed all kinds of stories about my mother—stories that served to explain how the mother I thought I knew could leave me and stay hidden without even letting me know she was okay.

In Kyle’s Story: Friday Never Came—a long-out-of-print volume published in 1981—Kyle’s father John Clinkscales tells the story of the few years after his son went missing. It’s not so much a memoir as something akin to self-help—a guide of sorts for people whose loved ones have disappeared. It opens with a series of case studies. For a second while reading it I got nervous: What if he mentions my mother? I was relieved to remember the book had been written over a decade before she died. 

Finally, about halfway through the book, Clinkscales gets around to a detailed chronology of Kyle’s story. John and his wife Louise did many of the same things my father and I had done after my mother disappeared. They handed out Missing Person flyers. Begged newspapers and TV networks to talk about the case. Chased down leads, no matter how absurd. Researched religious cults. Invented stories to explain why Kyle might’ve wanted to disappear.

At first, according to the book, John Clinkscales “thought the odds to be about nine to one” that Kyle was alive, even though his son had never struck him as the sort to just up and run off. As the weeks passed, his confidence actually grew: “I felt that if something had happened to him, the fact would soon surface. Each day that went by was an indication that nothing had happened.”

Yet the years wore John Clinkscales down. By the time he got around to writing his book, he felt there was “no more than a fifty-fifty chance” of ever seeing his son alive. And apparently this percentage continued to drop. In his obituary it is written that he was “preceded in death by his son.”

I wonder, if my mother were still missing to this day, would I have given up hope like John Clinkscales had? Would the stories I told myself have continued to evolve in her absence? Would they have turned darker, serving to suppress hope rather than bolster it?

I think so. I’m glad I didn’t have the chance to find out. 

John and Louise Clinkscales both died convinced that Ray Hyde had murdered their son.

Hyde had been a member of the Moose Club where Kyle tended bar. Maybe Kyle had seen or heard something at the Moose Club—a drug deal in the parking lot, or some loose talk about hot cars—that Ray Hyde didn’t want him to know about. 

The January 27, 1996, edition of the LaGrange Daily News reads, “Just recently, Sheriff Donny Turner and his investigators received information that Kyle was killed the night he disappeared from the Moose Club and his body was dumped in a hole behind a county home. His car was reportedly pushed into a lake in the southeast part of the county.” A judge signed a warrant for investigators to search Ray Hyde’s junkyard and drain a nearby pond. They found nothing, but still arrested Hyde for possession of a firearm as a felon. 

Later, Hyde told a reporter that, if he needed to get rid of a body, he wouldn’t dump it in a pond less than a mile from his house. “I’d dump it off the Georgia coast, weighted down with a couple of electrical transformers where the sharks could eat it.” When he died in 2001, most of the county assumed he’d gotten away with Kyle’s murder.

Four years following Hyde’s death, a man phoned the Clinkscales residence and said he knew what had happened to their son. When he was seven, he said, he watched two men put Kyle in a lake. Kyle’s body had been stuffed into a fifty-five-gallon drum and covered with concrete. When investigators drained the lake, they found no human remains, but they did find an indention that could have once held a barrel.

Based on other information from this caller, police arrested Jimmy Earl Jones and charged him with several crimes, including concealing a murder. Jones pled guilty to the lesser of the charges: giving false statements. His testimony in court would turn out to be the closest thing to an answer the Clinkscales would get.

According to Jones, after leaving the Moose Club, Kyle stopped by Hyde’s place to drop off some money he owed. Jones, who claims he was present at Hyde’s, said he “heard two shots, and I—when I turned around, I was in shock. And we carried him and put him in the shop.” Later Hyde told Jones that he’d put Kyle in the lake but that he’d eventually gone back and moved him to a place where he thought no one would ever find him.

I’d been standing in The Front Porch for about ten minutes, talking to the two women who worked there, when the man they’d called on the phone—who supposedly knew insider details of the Clinkscales case—finally walked in. The restaurant interior was dark and cool, and when the man opened the door I felt a rush of afternoon heat. He closed the door behind him and gave me a quick look and a nod. He didn’t smile or make any friendly gestures. One of the women told him I was looking for “the creek where that boy was found.” 

“What boy?” he said.

“You know—story of the month.”

“Oh.” He looked me over again in a way that seemed subtly disapproving. I was wearing a Penguin shirt and tapered pants and bright-colored sneakers—probably unusual attire for a white man in Chambers County, Alabama. He was wearing jeans and low-top boots. “It’s about a mile up the road,” he said. “If you hit the railroad tracks you went too far.”

I asked him which side of the road the car had been found on.

“The right side,” he said. He pointed north and said, “Going thataway.”

“I’m trying to figure out,” I said, “if the kid was driving from LaGrange to Auburn, how would the car have gone into the creek?”

“It didn’t go into the creek at all.”

I thought about what he’d said. “Oh. You mean someone put him there.”

“Yup.”

“What makes you think someone killed him?” I asked the man, hoping I didn’t sound confrontational.

“I don’t think,” he said. “I know it. Everybody knows.”

“But—” I said. I hate it when people think they know things they really don’t. I’m not sure if the South has a disproportionate number of such people. I just know that, growing up, I was surrounded by them. “How do you know?” I said, making sure to put emphasis on the how and not the you.

“I was in law enforcement. I got contacts. They know what happened.” I find nothing less persuasive than the I-got-a-buddy-who-told-me argument. I tried to imagine it: retrieving the barrel from the pond, separating the decomposing remains from the concrete, placing the remains back in the car, hauling the car thirty miles to a creek across the state line (presumably in the middle of the night), lifting the bed of the rollback so the Pinto rolled off the bridge and landed in just the right position for it to disappear for forty-five years.

“You know, my mother disappeared back when I was fourteen,” I said (the man’s eyes widened), “and the police told me and my father she’d stolen some money from a neighbor and then ran off to avoid getting in trouble for it. I mean, they acted like they knew it, too. But they were wrong. She was finally found in the river where she’d just crashed. She’d been dead the entire time.”

It felt damn good to see in the man’s face that I’d made him second-guess himself.

Photo of Louise Clinkscales © Renee Hannis/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP

Of course, I hadn’t been entirely honest when I told the man my mother had just crashed. It’s possible she drove herself into the river on purpose. 

For two years, my father and I thought she was avoiding prosecution for theft. We even came to believe she was hiding in California. The details that led us to believe this are too numerous and convoluted to list here. They were enough to convince a grand jury to indict her for felony flight, though. Yet the instant my father learned of her death, he let go of all the stories. She’d died in a car crash. Simple. Happens all the time. Take a long drive through the rural South and count the crosses. The evidence of my mother’s guilt was all “circumstantial,” as my father puts it, “and after the fact.”

My mother’s death certificate showed less certainty. It lists the date of her death as August 26, 1996, but following the typed date, the medical examiner wrote in the word found. A bureaucratic anomaly: the d in the word spills over into the next prompt. There wasn’t enough space on the form to say all that needed saying.

There are no forms or files to account for how bad one person’s luck can run—how, of all the places, she crashed in a river, her car flipping upside down as it settled in the shadow of the bridge, shielding the white paint from the sun’s revealing rays. There are no forms stating whether she stole the money or not, or why she was driving across Foster Bridge at all. She’d told us she was going to the Piggly Wiggly; the police told us she was supposed to be coming to see them. Foster Bridge isn’t on the route to either place.

Prompt 49 on the certificate asks for the manner of death. The answer: Undetermined Circumstances

I left the restaurant and pulled off the side of Chambers County Road 83 right before the bridge. There wasn’t a house in sight. The sun was just beginning to drift low, but not low enough to cool the day. I stepped away from the road and cringed as a pulpwood truck roared past. Did the driver wonder why I’d stopped? Did he know what had been found in this creek?

The asphalt emanated tendrils of heat. The forest beside the road was thick and raucous with insects, birds, squirrels. As I crossed the bridge, I gazed down at the yellow water where the Pinto had been submerged. The creek seemed hardly wide enough to hold a car. I went to the place where, based on photos, the Pinto had been pulled out. In these photos, the front of the car is pointing south—the direction Kyle would’ve been driving if he’d decided, for whatever reason, to take this back road to Auburn. Then again, if the winch had been hooked to the bumper, the car would have ended up pointing this direction regardless of its position in the water. I thought back to how certain the man in the restaurant had seemed. God, I wanted him to be wrong.

The creek flowed over a flat concrete spillway and fell a few inches into an almost stagnant pool. The water was far too murky to see through. All that hideous red dirt probably kept it stained. Above the bridge the creek was small, and below the pool it narrowed again, but here it widened and seemed deep. It was an unusual feature. I thought about probing it with a branch to determine its depth but decided against it.

I’d stood below the bridge where my mother died, too, and talked to my father about whether she might’ve committed suicide. He says she didn’t, of course, and I don’t try to persuade him. If anything, I want him to convince me. I tell myself it shouldn’t matter how someone dies, only that they’re dead. I tell myself I’m strong enough to accept the unknowable. But these are lies. 

Another pulpwood truck thundered over the bridge, its wind ruffling the leaves. I’d driven five hours to look at this creek. Now what? I pulled out my phone and took a picture, thinking, It sure is an ugly damn creek. A horrible place to disappear

I walked back to my car and took another picture of the bridge. Then I climbed in and turned the ignition and plugged in my phone. As I headed north, the lecture I’d been listening to automatically picked up where I’d left off. It was Alan Watts, the popular ’60s philosopher, sharing the insights of Zen Buddhism with a crowd of California hippies. The title of the talk: “Not What Should Be.” 

After visiting the bridge in Cusseta, I headed toward Delta to stay the night in my old bedroom. My father and I were planning to go fishing the following morning. On the way, I stopped at a grocery store and bought some ribeyes, charcoal, and beer. Then I ignored Google Maps and took a slightly longer route to Delta: County Road 82, which crosses Foster Bridge.

There used to be a cross here, but it rotted away and my father hadn’t replaced it. The water was almost the same green as the steep hills lining the river—a much prettier spot than Kyle Clinkscales’s creek. Two and a half decades earlier, when the Alabama Marine Police and Sheriff’s Department had winched my mother’s car from the river, soda cans and shreds of upholstery poured from the shattered windshield. At one point, the men standing at the bridge’s edge looked down to watch a white tennis shoe bob atop the ripples and begin drifting slowly south.

An image in the August 29, 1996, edition of the Clay Times-Journal shows the car still half-submerged, the back bumper connected to a steel cable. Two men on a boat observe the progress. The man who discovered the car is wearing his diving gear. He stands on the bow, balancing himself with one hand on a pylon. Overhead I count nine faces peering down from the railing. In another photo, titled, Almost Over the Top, the car’s front tires have gotten hung on the bottom of the bridge. The weight has lifted the wrecker onto its rear wheels. The men seem ill-suited for the task. They are improvising, at risk of fouling everything up. 

“The small flock of ducks in the foreground,” reads the caption beneath a third photo, “is oblivious to the tragic scene unfolding behind them.” Over a decade later, in a workshop at Ohio State, I would write a short story about a murderer who uses a rollback to drop his victim’s car from a bridge. When he looks down from the bridge railing, he notices a couple of ducks floating cheerfully past. When I wrote this scene, I wasn’t consciously thinking of my mother. I’d forgotten all about the newspaper photo with the ducks. I just thought it was a cool image—something innocent to contrast the sinister man on the bridge.

I kept driving toward Delta without stopping at the bridge. I didn’t even know for sure why I’d decided to come this way. Some people visit cemeteries. Once every few years I drive across Foster Bridge. 

"I’m A Desperate Man," 2021. Oil on linen by Rae Klein. Courtesy the artist

I found my father seated on his front porch. He lit a cigarette as I pulled into the red clay driveway. As soon as I climbed out, I saw some of the broken arrowheads I’d started dropping in the driveway back during college once I’d gotten tired of collecting them in boxes. I stooped down to examine a few of them. I liked noticing how, over the years, they moved from place to place. I guess it was the wind and rain that moved them.

I set my bags on the edge of the porch and took a Miller Lite from the box.

“Hand me one of those,” said my father. It was late enough now that we could sit outside without sweating. I drank and looked around at the yard. The woods came right up to the house. He’d recently cut a few trees that had gotten so large they would’ve destroyed the house had they fallen. 

“Well,” I said, “I hate to say it, but I think somebody put that car there.”

He sounded disappointed when he said, “You think somebody killed him?” I was surprised he hadn’t used one of his stock responses.

I told him the whole story of Ray Hyde, of the man who’d called the Clinkscaleses in 2005 claiming he knew what had happened, and of Jimmy Earl Jones, who’d spent several years in jail for lying to police. I’d already told him most of these details over the phone, but now I was all but convinced of their veracity. “I don’t know, just looking at this creek—it’s a hole—it looks deep. Deep enough to hold some big catfish.” I pulled up the picture of the creek on my phone and handed it to him. “It’s the kind of place a person might know about, especially if they like to fish. I’m just thinking, if the man wanted to hide a car, it’s almost an ideal spot. You’d never think to look there.”

“But how’d he get the car there?”

“He had a rollback.”

“Oh.”

I walked over to my father’s bass boat and opened the rod locker and took out a few reels that needed new line. The rod handles had mildewed, so I went to my car and grabbed some disinfectant wipes and returned to my beer on the porch to clean them.

“But—” said my father. “It still don’t make sense. You’re telling me, this man—he killed this kid, buried him in the bottom of a pond, then went back and dug him out and hauled his car off to this creek and dumped it. Can you imagine someone doing something like that? ’Cause I can’t.”

“I can’t imagine killing someone over money in the first place,” I said. “So it’s irrelevant whether I can imagine doing all that other stuff.”

“I mean, this creek isn’t big enough to hide a car. You’d have to set everything up just right to dump a car there and have it disappear.”

“But that’s exactly what happened, whether someone did it on purpose or not. It went into that creek and stayed disappeared for forty-five years.”

At the sound of a carpenter bee, he jumped up and grabbed a tennis racket. The bee escaped before he had a chance to swing. He sat back down and said, “I bet I’ve killed a hundred of them things this year.” He wasn’t being cruel. They were burrowing into the rafters. “Still,” he said, “there’s West Point Lake right there outside LaGrange. The man could’ve rolled the car off a boat ramp. I don’t buy it. The kid just crashed and everybody made up a story to explain why they couldn’t find him.”

That’s when it hit me: We were having the same disagreement about Kyle Clinkscales that we’d had dozens of times about my mother. And just like in those previous conversations, I was rooting for him to be right, even as I found his version of events just short of persuasive.

Several weeks after I’d made the drive to the bridge where Kyle had been found, I decided I could no longer put off calling Sheriff James Woodruff of Troup County, Georgia. He hadn’t been directly involved with the investigation of Ray Hyde or Jimmy Earl Jones. But he was the man in charge now. I’d been putting off the call out of fear, I guess—a habitual fear of talking to cops. I worried he’d be rude to me, or tell me something I didn’t want to hear, such as that they’d found a bullet hole in a fragment of skull. 

But he was friendly as could be—much friendlier than the “expert” I’d met in that Cusseta restaurant. He started out by asking about my mother. I’d mentioned in an email what had happened to her so he wouldn’t think I was just some busy-body looking for good gossip. I also told him I’d been to West Point Lake many times with my father. (We’d competed there in the West Georgia Bass Club.) He said he’d just recently been talking to someone about West Point Lake, saying how so many people would travel to their county to enjoy a body of water that the people who lived there just took for granted. Probably ten minutes passed before we got around to talking about Kyle Clinkscales.

I hadn’t expected the sheriff to tell me much I didn’t already know. I’d assumed he would say he couldn’t comment on an ongoing investigation. I was wrong again. He told me they’d found bones in the car but that they were waiting on a lab in Atlanta to return the DNA test results. He doubted whether they’d ever determine a cause of death. Then, even though I hadn’t yet asked about it, he told me some people do use this route to go to Auburn, even if it’s not the most obvious course. “So,” he said, “there’s that possibility.” 

“You mean it’s possible he just crashed there?”

He said he didn’t see why someone who’d killed and hidden him and gotten away with it for so long would then take the risk of digging him back up and moving him. “I think that would be stupid. If you got something hid so well, digging it up would not be a smart move.”

 I once learned in a magazine-writing course that, while conducting an interview, it’s best to use silence to your advantage. Let it linger. Perhaps the pressure of it will push your subject to reveal something. But on the phone with the sheriff, I just couldn’t wait to get to the question that mattered most—a question my father had specifically told me to ask: “Was the car in drive or neutral?”

I heard someone talking in the background and realized the sheriff had me on speaker phone. The sheriff said something, but I wasn’t sure if it was directed at me or at this other voice. After a few seconds of silence, I said, “I’m sorry, I couldn’t quite hear what you said.”

“It was in fourth gear,” he said. “Ignition was on.”

A few minutes later we hung up. Immediately I called my father.

“Can you hear me?” he said.

“Yeah.”

“I’m driving and got you on Bluetooth so I got to shout at the roof.”

I told him Kyle Clinkscales’s car was in fourth gear.

“All-rightie then,” he said with a tone of relief and maybe a little satisfaction. “Going highway speed on a back road.”

“I just wanted to tell you that you were right.”

“Oh well.”

I’ve never been so happy to lose an argument. 

As of the writing of this essay, there have been no further updates on the Kyle Clinkscales case. Maybe there never will be. Part of me thinks it shouldn’t matter how he died, but without knowing a cause of death, there’s no real sense of resolution. How a person’s story ends affects the meaning of the whole narrative.

That’s why I was so elated to learn that Kyle’s Pinto had been in fourth gear when it entered the creek. The likelihood that he hadn’t been killed but had just crashed and died and disappeared made me think that my father might be right after all about my mother. Maybe she didn’t commit suicide. I’m not saying I’m totally convinced—just that I’m giving him a much greater chance of being correct than I did before finding out how wrong everybody was about Kyle Clinkscales.

I knew he didn’t like talking on the phone while driving so I decided to end the call. “All along, the kid had just crashed,” I said. “All these stories people told and he’d just crashed. Forty-five years of stories.”

“All-rightie then. The unsolvable crime,” he said, “couldn’t be solved because it wasn’t a crime.”





D. T. Lumpkin

D. T. Lumpkin recently returned to his home near Nashville, Tennessee, with his wife and two daughters after living for three years in London. His recent work has appeared in the Sun and Five Points. He is working toward his PhD in creative writing at the University of Georgia.