Not intended for children.
Dead in the Water
The body washed gently against the shore, bumping up against the rocks and washing away, only to return with the next wave. The the blonde hair floated about the head like a halo. Marsha Harrigan, police detective, watched the corpse for a minute, and reflected that her peaceful lakeside vacation had just come to a crashing end. With great reluctance she pulled out her cell phone, looked up the number of the local police, and dialed.
She would have liked to just report the body and let the police take over, and go on vacationing. Except that Lilacs-on-Lakeshore was in her jurisdiction, and she knew the police chief. Alex Tormentino knew his limits, and he was very good at handling petty thievery, speeding, and excessively noisy parties. He had never, to her knowledge, handled a murder and he would want an expert at his side. Marsha was an expert, and she was on the spot. The boss would order her to cut short her vacation and take the case.
It worked about that way. Tormentino was on the spot within 15 minutes, studied the floating corpse for a few seconds, and turned to Marsha, who already had her orders.
“Pull her out, dry her off, and try for an ID.”
He gave the appropriate orders to his subordinates, then said, “Oh, I know who she is.” His tone said that there was a tale to be told. Marsha listened.
“Her name is Annalynda Smith.” Marsha raised an eyebrow, and Tormentino shrugged. “I know. Sounds like a fake. Probably was. She runs—ran—the local beauty salon.” His eyes drifted toward the dripping body that had been pulled from the lake.
“For how long?” Marsha distracted him. Tormentino was looking pale. She would have to examine the body, but there was no reason for the poor police chief to make himself sick.
“Maybe six months. I don’t know where she came from.”
“Do you know who she aggravated?”
Tormentino heaved a sigh. “Everyone.”
“The women complained that she flirted with all the men. The men complained that she flirted but didn’t mean anything by it. And the neighbors hated the smells from the salon she ran in her house.”
Marsha sent Tormentino off to see who had seen Ms. Smith last, and when, while she studied the body. The blonde wore an outfit that explained the complaints of men and women alike, and there were suspicious marks on her neck.
“Looks like she aggravated one person too many,” Marsha muttered to herself. Then, to the waiting deputies and EMT crew, “Take her down to the City and let the medical examiner get started.” No sense in being careless. You never knew what might be discovered with a proper autopsy. Meanwhile, she would do a close inspection of the shore to see what else might have washed up.
“Ah, Detective Harrigan. The Chief is waiting for you.”
Marsha walked into the Chief’s office and stopped. A collection of townspeople sat in folding chairs looking at her. “What’s this?”
“These,” Tormentino said sadly, “Are some of the people who had cause to wish Ms. Smith ill.”
“Look at us!” A middle-aged brunette with a bad haircut blurted, waving a hand at several similar women. “We all got our hair done yesterday and look what she did to us! I’m glad someone stabbed her! She deserved it!”
Marsha made a silent note that either the woman was misinformed or was being excessively clever, and looked at another citizen.
“Mr. Collins says she flirted with him right in front of his wife, and he had to sleep on the couch for a week. That gave him such a stiff neck he hasn’t been able to work.” Tormentino nodded at another man. “He lives next door to her. He’s had to move into the hotel because the chemicals from her salon trigger his allergies.” He went on, explaining why each of the persons present might wish the dead woman ill.
Then he said, “But they were all accounted for last night. Most of them saw her at the pub, where she ate a very late dinner of cheeseburger and fries, washed down with more beer than you’d believe. The bartender says Smith went out alone at about 1 a.m., and that’s the last anyone saw of her. She said she was going for a moonlight cruise. Most of these were home in bed by then, of course.”
“She didn’t go sailing alone. I heard the boat this morning, leaving after she was dumped in the water. Someone wasn’t home in bed.”
The townspeople looked at each other with new suspicion. “You mean someone took her out in a boat and shot her?” Another guess.
“No.” Marsha said. “She died of a heart attack. I suppose you could say the cook killed her, but the burger and fries were her own choice. But someone didn’t do right by her.”
A young man stood up, shaking. “I didn’t know what to do! I took her out in the boat. I was so sure—never mind. We headed out toward the Island, and suddenly she stood up and grabbed her throat. She was wearing one of those choker necklaces and she ripped it loose, like she couldn’t breathe.”
Marsha nodded. “She couldn’t.”
“I thought she was being dramatic, some silly game, and then she toppled over. Right overboard.” He was sweating. “I searched for hours. But I couldn’t find her in the dark, and when it started to get light, I panicked. I knew you’d all think I killed her! So I just—left. ” He began to cry, and Marsha let the others lead him out.
When they were gone, she turned to Tormentino. “You can decide if you want to press charges. I’m on vacation.” As she left, she fingered the broken necklace she’d found on the beach. No one could ever know who had broken it.
©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2015