Death Lives In The Water – Snippet 03
“I don’t have any plans. But this town feels right for some reason. Like I’m supposed to stop here. So I suppose I might just stay for a while. Is there something like a boarding house? I hate hotels.”
“Not a boarding house. But let me call over to Mary and Bull Harper. They have a spare room in their house, and they’re good people.”
“But you don’t even know me,” protested Jim.
“Not really. But I know you’re a fellow cop and that’s good enough for me.”
“How do you know I wasn’t kicked out for something horrible, like police brutality?” asked Jim.
“Folks who do such things aren’t likely to confess to it,” said the sheriff. “And this town has a way of bringing folks to it that it needs.”
Jim’s eyebrows climbed toward his hairline.
John laughed heartily, and pulled up the cell, punching in a number. After a brief conversation, during which Jim ordered a cheeseburger, fries, and a strawberry shake, John hung up and said, “Gotcha a room for as long as you want it.”
Jim’s head swam just a bit. He had known the minute he drove in to Harper’s Landing that he wanted to stay there, at least for a while. But things seemed to be happening that were out of his control, and Big Jim Burch liked to be in control. He liked John Hartley from the moment he sat down, and he was not one to warm up to people quickly. And then there was the puzzle of Jen, the waitress. How had she known that pie was just what he needed? And that burger! It was cooked just the way he liked it, with a nice thick slice of sweet red onion, sharp cheddar, a bit of catsup, and a bun slathered in mayo. The fries were his favorite, thick cut and double fried. This was notable only because one table over he saw a family happily downing a large plate of the standard thin, single cooked fries, salted within an inch of their lives. His were lightly salted with a hint of paprika, the way Beth used to do it. He glanced over at the waitress, and she grinned and gave him a large wink.
Just then a tiny bald man came out of the kitchen, waving a towel to fan himself, and looking around to make sure there were no other customers waiting to be fed. He turned the sign on the door to closed and set the clock face beneath it to read “Will open again at 6 for dinner.”
John yelled, “Morey, come over here and meet your newest regular.”
Jim raised an eyebrow.
“Trust me, you will love Mary Harper, and Bull, her husband, is a great guy. But you really do want to eat here. And Morey’s got a meal plan thing that makes it as cheap as cooking for yourself.”
Morey sat down next to Jim, breathing more slowly now, and in almost one swallow downed the glass of ice water Jen set in front of him.
“John’s right,” said Jen. “Mom couldn’t cook her way out of a grocery sack with the bottom ripped out.”
“So if you’re staying at Mary and Bull’s, you’ll be wanting the three-a-day plan. That’s seventy-five dollars a week, seven days, three meals. We aren’t open on Sunday, so people pick up their Sunday meals at the Saturday night buffet and heat them at home on Sunday.”
Without hesitation Jim said, “Sign me up.”
Three days later John Hartley died of a massive heart attack. The coroner’s report showed he had three severely clogged arteries and that a massive chunk of plaque had broken loose and blocked blood flow to his heart. Death came instantly and without warning.
The funeral was held on Saturday, and the whole town was in attendance. John was loved by just about everyone, except for Gary Miller and his gang of ne’er-do-wells. But even those boys attended and behaved with proper solemnity throughout the service. Jim stood at the back, wondering at the strange melancholy he felt for a man he just barely knew.
Harper’s Landing was hardly a hotbed of crime or incivility. But the position of sheriff could not remain vacant for long, not the least reason being there was only one deputy. Jim sat on the back “patio” of Morey’s, which was just a flat area of ground with a little garden surrounding it. Jen and Maggie, Morey’s wife, had set up all the folding tables and chairs they could find, and “Morey’s Regulars” (Jim had no idea how he had become one of them so quickly) were sitting quietly, drinking beer or sweet tea, gobbling up Maggie’s giant chocolate chip cookies, and reminiscing about John.
“Remember that strange night at the fireworks show,” asked Harve Sanders. “Now that was never settled, was it? John never said, one way or the other.”
“You mean the pond that appeared over by Jenkins’ Farm?” Bull Harper took a long pull at his beer and eyed Harve.
“Yup. That thing must have been at least thirty feet wide and about ten feet deep.”
“Came right up out of the ground after the grand finale of the fireworks show,” said Linda Collier. “I wonder if all that ground shaking had anything to do with it?”
“I think it’s more likely someone was doing something up at the mill,” replied Bull. “Remember, it was just about that time that they closed operations.”
“Wasn’t that about the same time that Will Jenkins lost his prized bull?” asked Linda.
“Yup. He was certain Horatio had run off because of all the noise,” replied Bull Harper, chuckling. “More likely someone took advantage of everyone being away from home and hauled him off. That was one damn fine animal. As for the mill having anything to do with that flood, it’s more likely the shaking from the explosions jarred something loose in the underground waterways.”
“I don’t think it was the fireworks that caused it,” said Jen quietly.
They all stared at her. She looked down for a while, twisting her fingers, and then looked up at all of them, rather defiantly.
“I know you all think I’m a bit touched. But John and I went over to check out that pond, seeing as how we were watching the show together.”
She blushed a bit, causing several members of the group to wonder if there had been more than just friendship between the two. Her eyes were quite red from crying over John’s death.
“We arrived after the fireworks had ended. The pond was growing smaller, but we both saw a strange ‘something’ in the ground where the water was coming from. It might have been an animal, or just a trick of the eyes in the dim light. But the water was swirling.”
Jim sat in the back, listening intently, convinced of the sincerity of her tone and persuaded that there had been much more to her and the sheriff’s relationship than anyone in the town knew. He resolved to ask her later to show him where the pond had been, and then wondered why it seemed so important. He was just passing through, wasn’t he? He stretched and got up to walk around a bit, admiring Maggie’s thriving garden. He had only been here three days, but already he was considered a regular at the local diner and had seen a small tidy house for sale that he really liked.
Something else was niggling at the back of his mind.
That was it! They needed a lawman. And at his core Jim Burch was a lawman. He sensed that the need for political wrangling and butt kissing would not be required here, that he might find his niche in this delightful town, and that being sheriff of the county would mean there would be more to the job than just catching stray dogs or teenagers playing hooky. It also meant that there would not be a lot of stress, since John had intimated as much before his untimely death. He admitted he rarely even carried his gun, leaving it locked in a cabinet in his office. Jim could never bring himself to be that casual, but that was the big city still in him.
Suddenly he wanted the job more than anything.
“I’d like to be your new sheriff,” he blurted out, much to his own astonishment. “I was a detective up north, in the city. I know law enforcement, and I’ve got good references. I want to stay, and I want to be your sheriff.”
To his surprise, his announcement was met with cheers and applause.
“Tell you what,” said Morey. “Guess you didn’t know that I’m also the mayor of this burg, for whatever that means. Haven’t had a town meeting since forever. But you and I will go talk to Judge Cramer at the County Building tomorrow, after breakfast. If he says yes, well, you got the job. Pays twenty-five hundred dollars a month plus a fifteen hundred a year stipend for uniforms and travel. Everything else like gas, office supplies, ammo, that sort of thing, is paid for by budget requisitions to Mary here. She’s our county auditor. Come next November, you’ll have to run for election, just like me and all the other county officials, but at least for now if the judge agrees you can have the job as acting sheriff.”
The judge said yes.