Death Lives In The Water – Snippet 11
The Martin’s Way River was about thirty-five miles long. It started about ten miles above the mill as a tributary of the Mississippi. As it flowed down toward the mill, it gathered strength and expanded to about twenty feet wide and approximately eight feet deep. There were places here and there along the river where water swirled, and the undercurrents were powerful. It was in one of these places that the Rev. John Buford Harper had gone missing, presumed drowned while fishing. His boat was found, full of bass and crappie and various tackle, but JB and his fishing pole were never located.
The children of Harper’s Landing were forbidden to swim in the Martins Way, and after Gary Miller’s younger brother Sam drowned while on a family picnic they needed no further warning to stay away.
The river had several twists and turns, and at many of these turns pools had formed and been dug out larger by the town’s residents to create attractive bank fishing spots. Big Bass Pool was the most popular because it was large, deep, and quiet. Those who used this pool regularly had created a packed dirt path down from the parking area just off the county road. Harry Randle sat in his F150 blocking access to the parking area, just as Jim had requested. He moved his truck but before the other vehicles pulled in, Helen Green had jumped out with camera in hand and started photographing all tire tracks going in and out of the area. She also took multiple pictures of Zak’s tire tracks. She continued to photograph both sides of the access road for several minutes and then waved them all in.
Zak showed them where the path led down to the pool. On the steeper parts, railings had been installed, and at the bottom near the pool someone had placed a couple of picnic tables and a fire pit. There was a fish cleaning station built close to the edge of the pool, with a small grassy area around it where fishermen threw entrails and heads for the scavenging birds and forest critters. It was there, in the gut bucket as the guys called it, that Zak made his grizzly find. Helen doubted that any useful fingerprints could be obtained from the railings, but she nevertheless attempted to lift some starting at the top on one side while Mike Moriarty worked the other.
“I was about to clean the bass I caught. They’re still in the bucket back there,” he said pointing at his truck. “I saw the boot first and got curious. Then when I went over to look at it I saw the head.”
“I’m sorry,” he said, addressing Helen, “but I couldn’t help myself. I’m afraid my lunch is over there too.”
“Why did you move them?” asked Whiteman.
Helen and Michael were already busy roping off the area and setting up the spotlights. They discovered the generator in Jim’s truck and started it up.
“I don’t know,” said Zak. “I just didn’t want some animal coming along and chewing on it. I don’t have a cell when I come out here. I lost one worth near a grand once, and Mollie, my wife, makes me leave it at home now. Otherwise I would have called the sheriff to come out.”
Helen was quite obviously pissed.
“Now we gotta deal with puke, with two and three-day old fish guts, and footprints. And hunt for the rest of that poor bastard. Is this place always so clean? There’s no trash, and I don’t see any kind of trash barrel or burn barrel.”
“We like to keep things clean here,” said Zak. “Most of us take our trash out with us. Sometimes we’ll find a beer can or two, but mostly it’s always this clean.”
Meadows and Murdoch had their large flashlights out and were carefully examining the area between the gut bucket and the pool, looking for footprints. Whiteman was photographing everything, while Moriarty and Green began walking the grid, mapping everything. Green took multiple pictures with her cell and the digital camera, of everything from leaves to raccoon prints. At one point, Whiteman was bent down near the water, taking photo after photo of what he later called “strange footprints.”
Jim and Arthur arrived in Arthur’s old Chevy and parked upon the road. They walked in and stood next to Zak, watching the others at work. Helen Green walked over.
“Is the bank like this all the way downstream? Come to think of it, just how far is downstream?”
Jim was unfamiliar with this part of the Martin’s Way, but Zak appeared to know it well.
“I fish a lot,” he said. “Gives me time to think. The bank gets steep in between the picnic and fishing spots. It’s not a ‘walk beside it’ kind of river. We’re getting close to the end of the Martin’s Way here. It’s only about two miles to the Mississippi.”
Helen let out an oath.
“So if a body were to be carried on down river, are there places before it hits the big river where it might get washed ashore?” asked Green.
“No,” said Zak. “From here on down there’s no bank access. The river gets narrow and really fast as it flows into the Mississippi. If there’s more of poor Rory, we probably aren’t going to find it here.”
Jim had been wandering downstream a bit, avoiding the steeper parts, and continuing to look for footprints. As he probed some bushes close to the river’s edge he heard a duck quacking. Because he rarely came to the river, he couldn’t say that there were no ducks, but this one sounded strange even to his untutored ear. He listened for other ducks to respond, but there were no further quacks.
He returned to the crime scene to find everyone still busy photographing and documenting the entire area. He recommended taping off the head of the path at the park area, but Meadows wanted the entire parking area taped off and guarded.
“Can you keep your deputy down here overnight?”
“Yeah. Don’t know who will be unhappier, him or his new girl. But the promise of overtime pay should do it.”
Harry agreed to stay, though Jim noted he didn’t promise to be alone or to stay awake. He figured if someone was here, with all the police tape and all, things would be okay. Folks in Harper’s Landing tended not to be law breakers, even at their most curious. He would make sure, however, that no one in their present company mentioned Big Bass Pool where anyone else could hear it.
Jim walked over to Zak, who was sitting on the back end of the Explorer looking weary and shocked.
“Heard a duck quacking down there. I thought they swam in flocks.”
“They do. And it’s the wrong time of year for ducks this far up on the river. They shouldn’t be up here until early to mid-summer. And generally they prefer places like Harve’s pond to the river. Current is too strong for them.”
“Maybe it was a frog and I misheard,” said Jim. “Could have sworn it was quacking and thought it was strange not only because it was just one but because I can’t ever remember hearing a duck after dark.”
He shrugged and turned to helping the CSIs pack up the evidence they’d gathered so far.
“We’re going to need to send the divers,” said Helen, “just to see if anything caught on any snags or other possible protrusions between here and the Mississippi. But it can wait until the morning. Do you agree, Blake?”
The big man nodded. The called the State Headquarters and requested two divers for the following day.
Harry Randle had taped off the parking lot for Big Bass Pool. Meadows and Murdoch both were stressing the importance of preventing anyone from entering the area. They also told Randle he needed to stay awake until someone arrived in the morning. He held up a 6-pack of Red Bull.
“Reckon I can make it,” he chuckled.
“I’ll have someone bring you some food from Morey’s,” said Jim. “And don’t you be going down there snooping at the river. One person missing is enough for me.”
The two CSIs who had driven the crime lab truck up from St. Louis agreed to remain at the site and help secure the area for the night. They were used to sleeping in the van and had eaten dinner on the way up from St. Louis.