Summary (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
Four buddies—Stuart, the husband of the narrator, Claire; Gordon Johnson; Mel Dorn; and Vern Williams—encounter more “wilderness” than they bargain for on a backcountry fishing trip along the Naches River in western Washington. Carrying camping and fishing gear, food, playing cards, and whiskey, they hike five miles to where they want to fish. Before they finish setting up their camp, Mel finds the nude body of a young woman wedged in branches in the river. One of the men suggests that they start back immediately, but the others want to stay because they are tired, the distance is great, and it is getting dark.
Late that night they tether the woman’s body by the wrist to keep it from drifting off. Through the next day and night, they drink, fish, play cards, and clean their cooking utensils in the river near the woman’s body. On the second morning, they again fish and drink, finally leaving to hike out. On their way home, Stuart calls the sheriff and they wait for the authorities to arrive.
Most of the story occurs after Stuart returns home. Claire recounts his arrival late that same night after she is already asleep. She finds him in the kitchen drinking beer. Stuart seems upset, but he tells her nothing about his trip; instead, he has silent sex with his wife.
The next morning, after abusive phone calls begin, Stuart finally tells Claire the story that she recounts for the reader. Claire’s narrative outlines the deterioration in her relationship with Stuart and her anger at his involvement in such a sordid event—which she learns involved rape and mutilation. She grows angry and suspicious because the men stayed by the river for two days and did nothing about the dead woman.
Over the next two days, Claire cannot stop thinking about the dead woman. On her way to the woman’s funeral, a nameless man in a pickup follows and intimidates her. At the funeral Claire learns that a local man was arrested for the murder, and she returns home uneasy, clearly uncomfortable about Stuart’s role in these events. Despite her unspoken misgivings, Claire does not tell Stuart where she went or what she has heard. Despite her misgivings, Claire urges Stuart to make love to her quickly before their son comes back in the house.