Water. Necessary for life. Part of many summer celebrations, whether it’s an ocean, a lake, a river, a creek, a pond. Or a Caribbean island surrounded by water.
Our short stories for July show that water can also be deadly and dangerous. A sneaker wave snatches someone off a shore or a sudden, sodden rainstorm pushes water out of the banks that confine it and floods ensue. Sometimes water leaves tantalizing clues of nefarious things lurking under its deceptively placid surface.
The river meandered.
Ducks sheltered in reeds near the shore. Egrets stood sentinel in the shallows, intent on the hunt. Shallow pools on this side were perfect for wading on this summer day.
I turned to the table. Sam opened the cooler and reached for the beer, tucked in next to containers of fried chicken and salad. He opened both bottles and handed one to me.
The park, a few tables scattered in the woods between a creek and the river, seemed deserted. We’d seen two other vehicles since we left the highway for the county road—a blue pickup speeding toward us from the park and a white hatchback in the lot.
I sipped beer, then set down the bottle. When I opened the picnic basket, a breeze lofted a napkin into the air. I grabbed it, before it could blow into the water.
I saw the raft, drifting slowly. Bright yellow, small, with room for just two or three people. No markings and no oars. An arm over the side, fingers trailing in the water.
“Hello?” No answer. Was someone asleep? I called again. No response. “Sam, I think something’s wrong.”
We splashed into the river, wading toward the raft. Water up to my knees and then my hips. I reached for the raft and missed. Sam grabbed, connected, and pulled it toward us.
She was blond, dressed in bright pink shorts and matching tank top, wearing pink earrings and a watch with a pink plastic band. Eyes closed, she lay on her back in the raft’s well, awash with a couple of inches of water. She looked like she was asleep. But her position was too perfect, as though she’d been posed.
“She’s dead.” I reached for her wrist and found no pulse. The body was cold, but that could be the river water.
Together we hauled the raft to the shore. I’d left my phone on the picnic table and now I called 9-1-1. “Sheriff’s office is on the way.”
Sam knelt by the raft, peering at the woman. Then he looked up at me. “There’s something in her pocket. Car keys, maybe? That hatchback in the lot? I’m not touching anything, of course.” He shook his head. “I don’t think she drowned. How did she wind up in the raft instead of floating down the river or getting tangled in the reeds?”
I knelt beside him. “Attacked? Hit her head? I don’t see blood, unless it washed away. Someone put her here. That car in the lot must be hers.”
“The pickup truck,” he said. “The driver was in a hurry.”
I stood. “You stay with the body. I’ll investigate.”
I headed up the path to the lot. When Sam and I had arrived, I was pleased to see that we had the park to ourselves. Now I was conscious of being alone, feeling vulnerable, wondering if someone was lurking nearby.
I glanced inside the parked hatchback. A pink sweater on the passenger seat, a small pink backpack visible on the floor. I walked down the nearest path, hearing running water as I approached the creek. A sunny patch of ground near the bank held a clump of yarrow, white flowers on green stalks. Was that blood? Yes, drops staining white petals and dark spots on the ground. And what looked like drag marks on the dirt leading to the creek. I took photos, taking pains not to disturb a crime scene.
When I returned to the lot, two sheriff’s cars were there. One pair of deputies headed for the river. I told the second pair what I’d found near the creek, showing the photos. One started down the path. The other asked a question. “Did you see a blue pickup truck?”
“We did. It passed us, heading toward the highway. Going too fast.”
He grinned. “Sure was. He went off the road at that curve near the highway. Had oars in the truck bed, but no raft. Blood on the oars. And a cell phone in a pink case that I doubt belonged to the driver.”
He turned and walked in the direction of the running water.
In The Reeds
Gloria and her friend Jacquie stood in their swimming suits with towels around their necks, staring at a body tangled in the cattails near their favorite swimming hole. It was a girl, about thirteen, their age, with brown hair, her eyes an odd opaque blue. Torn blue shorts and what had been a camp shirt clung to the half-submerged body.
Gloria motioned for Jacquie to stay, then waded, her toes dipping into the muddy lake bottom, to the body. She knew all the families on the small lake, even the summer people. She pulled the reeds aside, the girl was a boy, it didn’t matter, she didn’t know him. She yelled for Jacquie to call the cops, wading to shore as Jacquie ran to her nearby house.
The boy had bruises on one arm, and blue gills and crappie had nibbled on his fingers and nose. They were great nibblers, even on flakes of dead skin when you swam. By his eyes, Gloria guessed the boy had been in the water for days. And if the cops weren’t already searching for him, he hadn’t drowned.
Gloria didn’t like the family summering in the house two houses over. They were city people with a big speed boat, too many toys, and too many friends, a new set arrived every week. The family had a teen boy, he was nice enough looking but she’d watched him smack a snapping turtle with a stick until the turtle took hold. She interceded before the kid flung the turtle. They’d had words about it.
He whined that he was bored. With what? Swimming, boating, water-skiing, all the cute available girls, and hanging out? That was suspicious enough. What if the dead boy was one of his city friends, and he’d done to him what he did to his dog, thrown a stick farther and farther into the water until the exhausted dog barely made it back to shore. What if the dead boy hadn’t?
Someone would have noticed an entire thirteen-year-old boy missing. Wouldn’t they?
Jacquie’s mom joined Gloria, throwing an arm around her as though she needed comforting. She didn’t, any more than Jacquie wanted to watch through their screen door and miss the excitement. Gloria shrugged away and toward home, a big white clapboard her grandpa built forever ago, then backtracked to the cattails. She had never seen real police handle a dead body; she wasn’t going to miss this.
A police car eased into the wide lawn leading down to the rushes, a white SUV parked behind it. Two people in jumpsuits exited, pulled out a gurney, with a black bag tucked under the straps. One of the police stripped down to his bathing trunks, pulled on water shoes, and strapped on an oxygen tank. He walked out to the body as Gloria had, taking photos of it, its position, its entanglement, before he floated the boy ashore.
“I’d like to talk to the girls that found him,” he addressed Jacquie’s mother.
“I found him,” Gloria said, stepping from her hiding place. “I’m Gloria.” She pointed toward the big white house. “I was wondering about drownings on any of the other lakes?”
“Interesting question. A boy drowned in White Lake a week ago. That’s him by his clothes. Drowning is one thing but floating up five miles away in a different lake is another. We’ll need to open a criminal investigation, get homicide out here.”
“Maybe, but a few years ago, a man drowned in this lake and turned up in Bass Lake, the next lake down,” Gloria pointed to the south. “And after a horrid waterskiing accident in Leech Lake, they found two of the bodies in White Lake. Leech Lake is up there,” Gloria pointed to the northwest. “My grandpa claims an underground river flows through all these lakes, Leech to White, to Pine and finally to Bass.”
The cop studied her freckled face then called to his partner, “Call homicide.”
With a shrug, Gloria walked home planning to spy on the boy two doors down, wondering if he had been on White Lake last week. He would hurt someone or thing before the summer ended if he hadn’t already.
D. Z. Church
To Live or Die in Barbados
That isn’t a question. Barbados is one of the loveliest places on earth.
It is also a wonderful place to kill characters. I know; I did it in my first book, Perfidia.
Barbados, the last island in the lesser Antilles, is near the equator, so the days are twelve hours long, always. The sun just drops below the horizon. And the high temperature is usually roughly ten degrees warmer than the low 82 – 72 most of the year, though it does get nasty hot just before a lovely tropical squall roars through, cooling things off and lowering the humidity. An afternoon occurrence. And on a clear night in spring if you look in the right direction and squint, you can see the Southern Cross, then turn and likewise see the North Star.
The island has many wonderful features such as Welshman’s Hall Gully, full of flowers and monkeys. Gorgeous beaches that range from the perfect Caribbean vision in your head, including the blue of the water, to the wild, rough, beaches on the Atlantic side. Barbados is in the Atlantic and in the Caribbean, the waters of both shaped it like a pear.
The north of the island has highlands where shepherds graze sheep, the south has beaches where tourists laze. There are polo grounds, cricket grounds, a deep-water harbor, a careenage, and the original statue of Lord Nelson. The careenage always seemed the perfect place for a murder, a boat careened to have the barnacles scraped from its hull, a body found within, right there, at the very edge of the Bridgetown, the largest town, and the aorta of the island.
There are churches with moving sarcophagus, and flowers everywhere, in the trees, along the paths, up the walls. Flying fish, rice and plantain was a mainstay for dinner when my family was there. Mmm! But someone had to catch those fish and fishing is risky business. One of the fishermen would walk by our apartment each morning calling out “Mornin’, mornin’, mornin’,” in his lilting Bajan accent. What if one morning he didn’t, would that prick up your senses and sending you out to discover why not.
Sugar cane leaves are very sharp, the fields dense, and the smell hard to describe, someone could easily go for a walk and never return. Ever. And crabs, big, little, staring at you from walls. Then there is skinny dipping in the moonlight. I always wondered what the police do when they find a pile of clothes under a palm tree on the beach. Well? What do they do?
If you have never been to Barbados, plan a trip. Relish the warm breezes as you loll on a beach reading a great beach book, something with mystery and a little romance, something with modern pirates, something fun.