Death Lives In The Water – Snippet 06


Time to get to work, Jim thought. First, I’d better get Ben settled back at home.

Not for the first time he wondered if he should try to get Ben some help. He didn’t even know if help would be accepted, but he’d never tried. He was pretty sure Ben knew that he could confide in him if he so desired. But the man could hardly bring himself to look at Jim, let alone bare his soul. Jim wondered if Ben was religious. Perhaps Arthur could talk to him.

The church in Harper’s Landing had been there since 1854, according to the date carved in the cornerstone. The building was made of carefully carved granite stones, laid smooth and level. About every twenty years or so, the church members held a grouting party and repaired or replaced any damaged areas. The roof was made of timbers, carefully laid on top of the solid rock walls. No one was sure when the roof had last been replaced, but Jim knew it was due for it soon.

Arthur Willingham III, D.D., was a cheerful, pudgy man with a penchant for loud ties and comfortable shoes. Harvard educated, he, like Jim, had stumbled onto Harper’s Landing shortly before the demise of one John Buford Harper in a boating accident on the Martins Way River. Rev. JB had been the preacher for thirty-two years, and everyone agreed that only a damn fool would go out fishing during the spring floods at age seventy-two. A damn fool or someone like Rev. JB, who always seemed certain that he and the Almighty had a special friendship that bestowed extra protection upon him. It was too bad no one knew what Rev. JB thought of that protection now. Arthur had no such pretenses regarding his relationship with the Divine Being. He had left the large Congregational Church in Boston after the horrible bombing at the Marathon had taken the life of two of his dearest friends and driven west, not knowing where he would end up.

Like Jim, Arthur had fallen prey to the charms of apple pie with cheese and the three-a-day plan. He too had stayed at Mary and Bull Harper’s place. And when Rev. JB met his watery demise, Arthur had blurted out, “I would like to be your preacher.”

Five years later he still did not regret his choice. The townsfolk loved his gentle approach to the gospels. They had grown quite weary of the fire and brimstone sermons of Rev. JB, which seemed to have become more fear laden in the final months of his life. Arthur was educated, well spoken, and given to compassion and caring. He also was a master woodcarver and delighted in holding classes in the church social room. He persuaded Linda Collier to start a reading group, and Harve Sanders to start a large community garden on the empty land behind the stone building.

His newest project involved restoring the Rectory, a large wood structure behind the church that Arthur purchased about two years ago. It had formerly been a hotel, so all that was required was new carpets, new paint, and some modernization of the bathrooms. He and Bull Harper had managed to get the two large rooms into shape, where Mary held her summer quilters’ retreats. The goal this year was to complete all twenty bedrooms, four more bathrooms, a larger dormitory, and a cheerful kitchen.

Jim pulled to a stop in front of the church. He could hear the sounds of carpentry going on from the building out back.

“Why we stopping here?” muttered Ben.

“I want you to see something,” said Jim. “Come on.”

The two men walked to the back of the building, where they found Arthur diligently weeding one of the plots in the garden. There were four raised beds and eight large ground plots. Jim could see beans, peas, carrots, tomatoes, young corn plants, and onions. These were just the plants he could identify. There were two smaller plots of what he guessed were herbs.

“Hello. Are you here to help? This is the garden for the Rectory.”

“Finally named it, did you?” asked Jim.

“Yup. The Hotel Rectory. Seemed appropriate.”

Jim introduced the two men. Arthur exuded his usual good cheer and that special something he had that seemed to charm everyone. Even Ben was captivated with the man.

“You look like a fellow who could grow just about anything,” said Arthur, taking Ben’s hands in his. “You’re a farmer, aren’t you?”

“Used to be. But the land won’t grow anything anymore. It got all salty or something.”

“Well, maybe you can help me solve the bug problem with these carrots.”

The two men became engrossed in examining the carrots and digging around in the soil looking for the culprits.

“All right then,” said Jim. “I’m going to check out a situation. You be okay here, Ben?”

“Sure. Maybe Arthur here can take me home later?”

Jim was elated, though careful not to show it. This was the most involved he had seen Ben since the incident last year that seemed to propel him into the bottle and rob him of all dignity and social connection. Arthur had indeed been the right person to take custody of Ben.

The road out to Jenkins’ Farm had once been a poorly maintained county road. The state had obtained funds for rural infrastructure improvements, and the road was one of their first projects. It was now blacktop and allowed him to make good time. He arrived at the dirt road to the Jenkins’ pump house in about fifteen minutes. He was surprised to see Harve Sanders’ truck still parked beside the structure and pulled out his cell phone. Harve answered on the second ring.

“Hi, Jim. Been expecting you to call.”

“How come your truck’s still out here?”

“Well, it’s my old one, and I don’t use it much anymore. And considering what I saw inside the pump house I thought you might appreciate my leaving things alone until you got there.”

“Can you come down here and join me? Tell me what I’m looking for?” asked Jim.

“Sure,” said Harve. “We were about to take lunch break anyway. You want me to bring you something?”

“Nope. Had a late breakfast.”

“I’ll be there in about fifteen minutes or so.”

Jim walked around the truck, examining the ground. He was looking for footprints, tire tracks, anything that might suggest someone else other than Rory had been there. He found boot prints that looked like combat boots and another set of prints leading from the dirt track to the truck that looked like the rubber boots Harve wore to work in. Both prints led to the building, where the door stood open, and back out again several times. He knew that the door was usually padlocked shut, but he found the padlock hanging from the hasp, key still in it. He opened his cell and took multiple pictures of the boot prints and the lock. He re-examined the prints and determined that the wearer of the combat style boots had made one more trip into the pump house than the rubber boot wearer. He made note of the patterns in the small notebook he carried in his breast pocket.

Harve’s work truck came rattling up the hill, tools and lunch buckets banging around in the back. He came to a stop, hopped out, and handed Jim a bottle of water.

“Didn’t know if you had any. It’s warm for springtime, too warm you ask me.”

The two men walked toward the pump house.

“Was the door open yesterday when you came up here?” asked Jim.

“Yah. I left everything just like I found it, even the thermos and half a peanut butter and jelly sandwich next to the bucket I’m betting he was sitting on.”

“Peanut butter and jelly? Did you pick it up?”

“Nope. That’s all Rory ever ate for lunch. Sometimes I wonder if he ate anything else. But since he’s healthy, he probably eats dinner. Though Mary’s cooking . . .” He shook his head.