Death Lives In The Water – Snippet 10

“How long to drive do you think?”

“Oh, about two hours this time of day.”

“Then chopper up if you don’t mind. I have a feeling about this, an itch I can’t quite scratch. But I do know the sooner we have people working on it, the sooner I can keep this town under control. Something strange is going on up here. Can the CSI folks fit in the chopper too?”

“Oh yeah, those babies will carry six to eight people.”

“You got one of those snake cameras? You know, the ones you can stick under doors or down into dark places?”

“Yeah, sure,” replied Clay. “But seriously? You need one of those?”

“I’m thinking so, with about fifty foot of cable if they can manage it. And equipment for water analysis. And you’d better get the CSI lab van on the way asap, because . . . Oh hell, I don’t want to speculate. I’m just going with my gut.”

Jim tucked away his cell and told Zak to stay put.

He next called Mary and Bull Harper.

“I need you to come down to the office,” he said.

“You found Rory?” asked Bull.

“Kind of. Just come on down with Mary, and if you don’t mind, I’m going to get Arthur Willingham to come too.”

Bull sighed deeply. Bringing Arthur along could only mean one thing. He helped Mary into her jacket and held her close as they walked to their car. She held his hand the entire way to town and let go only to get out once they were parked in front of Burch’s office.

Arthur immediately agreed to come but asked if perhaps Deputy Randle could be called to stay with Ben. Jim agreed and called Harry, who was only too happy to get out of bingo night at the church. Tuesday seems to be church stuff everywhere, Jim thought. No church here, though. This is just going to be hell. He mentally went over what he was going to tell Arthur and decided he might as well tell him the whole thing.

Zak and Jim drove to the office, where Jim secured the truck and its contents behind the building in a locked garage. In his capacity as coroner as well as county sheriff, Jim bagged the head and shoe, zip tied the bag, and filled out the necessary forms. He then placed them into a freezer in the back of the garage. The two men then went into Jim’s office. Arthur was already there, waiting for the others. Mary and Bull arrived shortly after the rest of them and sat on the couch. Jim pulled out a chain of evidence form and filled in the details, except for the name of the forensic tech who would take possession. He waited to sign it in the presence of official witnesses. Zak sat across from Jim, on the end of the couch, trying to control his nerves.

Jim got himself a large mug of coffee. The rest declined anything to drink. He told them all they would have to wait a while, until the state folks arrived. He pulled Arthur aside under the pretense of needing him to look at a broken door. Once they were in the hall, Jim quietly filled him in on what had been found in Zak’s truck. Arthur sighed deeply as they both returned to the main room. Bull was just beginning to get really antsy when the state chopper set down on the lawn behind the courthouse. Of course, this immediately attracted a small crowd from Morey’s, but Jen hurriedly shooed them back inside with the promise of free apple pie for everyone.

Blake Meadows was first out, followed by Clay Murdoch. Behind them came a woman carrying a large CSI bag and two men, each carrying similar bags and wearing cameras around their necks. Jim met them out back, where he filled them in on what he knew about the body parts discovery and watched as the CSIs photographed and then bagged the head and boot and stored them in the refrigeration unit in the back of the helicopter. Since the CSIs were remaining to examine the location where the parts had been found, Jim had the pilot sign the chain of evidence form, and Jim signed off, both in the presence of Blake Meadows as witness. The pilot then took off with specific instructions to get the body bag to the lab as soon as he landed. The woman called ahead, and Jim overheard her telling them to move as quickly as possible to determine if they had one or two potential vics. Somehow, he didn’t think Rory was a “potential” vic. But he knew that even if the boot was the same as Rory wore, it was necessary to verify that the foot and the head were indeed from the same person.

“We have a van on the way up here too,” said one of the two men. He made a quick call on his cell, providing directions to Harper’s Landing and stressing the need for at least two more people, body bags, and a van with refrigeration.

The other man approached Jim, holding out his hand.

“I’m Bill Whiteman,” he said. “The spitfire there is Helen Green. And that other fella is, believe it or not, Michael Moriarty.”

Jim called Arthur and asked him to tell Zak to come out back. When Zak arrived, Jim asked him to tell everyone what he had found. Meadows and Murdoch both took notes while Zak talked, even though Jim had, with permission, turned on the recorder on his cell.

Zak was the project manager for the restoration project at the mill. He had moved to Harper’s Landing about six months ago and was renting one of the newer houses that had sprung up on Jackson Hill. He loved fishing, a passion his wife did not share, and got out to Big Bass Pool, where he had gone today, as often as he could. He preferred bank fishing to river fishing.

Meadows consulted his notes and started to ask a question, when Zak blurted out,

“We’ve had a lot of pets go missing up on Jackson Hill since they hooked up the water wheel again. Do the missing pets have anything to do with what happened to Rory?”

“We don’t know, son,” said Blake. “We’ll discuss that later. For now, let’s get you and these CSI folks out to where you found the head.”

The CSI team had wanted to take Zak and go immediately to the location where he found the body parts. Jim asked if they needed to process his truck first, and they nodded and began the process, while Zak watched and paced. Jim promised to send Harry Randle out to secure the scene at Big Bass Pool. He handed them the keys to the Explorer, and Greene and Moriarty left immediately, with Zak in tow.

Jim decided to ease into things gradually. He hoped Mary hadn’t noticed the blood spots on Zak’s arms and chest. He suspected it was Rory’s blood, since Zak had picked up the head and boot and put them in his truck. He slowly walked back to his office.

“What happened to Rory?” Mary demanded.

Jim cursed under his breath. There went his plans to make this easy, as if it ever could be easy. He nodded at Bull, who gently pulled Mary back down on the couch.

“Mary,” he said. “Zak? The young man who was here, well there’s no easy way to say it. Zak found Rory’s head and a boot with a foot in it that looks to be Rory’s also. Of course, we will start a search as soon as these folks say, for, you know, the rest of his . . . “

His voice trailed off.

Mary let out a small scream and collapsed into Bull’s arms, muttering “No, No, No,” as she sobbed and shuddered. Arthur moved into place next to her, while Jim sank into his desk chair. Everyone sat still, looking helpless and uncomfortable as Mary continued to sob uncontrollably. Finally, Bull and Arthur took Mary out of the office and gently put her in the car. Bull drove home with Arthur following, after Bull assured Jim and the state men that they would be available for questioning the following day.

The remaining group sat silently for a while. No one liked giving news like that. No matter how often he had to do it, Jim never got used to it. This was his first since moving to Harper’s Landing, and it was his worst, because he knew these people well. They were friends, close friends.