Death Lives In The Water – Snippet 12
Meadows yawned hugely.
“Where can we stay for the night? I didn’t see anything that looked like a hotel.”
“Arthur here, has a bed and breakfast,” said Jim. “Used to be the town hotel. He bought it and called it the Hotel Rectory. There’s plenty of rooms for all of you if you want to stay in one place.”
“I think we’ll do that,” said Meadows. “That way we can get an early start. You reckon you could get Morey and Maggie to send us over breakfast there? Would help avoid a lot of gossip. The fewer people who know we are here the better.”
Jim heartily agreed with that sentiment. He called Morey, who was quite happy to provide breakfast for all of them, including Jim and young Zak, at the Rectory early in the morning.
“How’s 6:30?” he asked. “That’ll get you out of there before most folks get into town to get their breakfast.”
Jim agreed. He reluctantly allowed Zak to go home to his wife and kids. First, the young man had to remove his boots and surrender them to the CSIs for examination and print comparison. Jim extracted a promise that Zak would join them for breakfast at the Rectory at 6:30 the following morning and promised to square things for him with the mill. He dropped him at home and headed to the Rectory.
It was going on 7:00 p.m. when they arrived. The state law folks were tired, dirty, and hungry. Arthur showed them to their rooms, each with its own attached bath, and happily provided soap and towels. He offered to let Jim stay also, but the big man wanted nothing more than to be in the peace and quiet of his own home, surrounded by his and Beth’s things. His stomach, however, had other ideas. He started for the door to walk over to Morey’s, when it flew open and in marched Maggie, Jen, and two of the high school football team members, loaded down with baskets emitting glorious smells.
Helen Green was the first to arrive after her shower, freshly dressed, hair damp and curling.
“My god, if that tastes even half as good as it smells, I may never leave this town.”
“Wait until you taste the pie,” said Jim. “You’ll be buying land tomorrow.”
Meadows and Murdoch arrived next, agreeing with Jim. They had eaten Maggie Farmington’s pie on more than one occasion, and Murdoch, a lifelong bachelor, had promised Morey that if anything ever happened to him it would be Clay Murdoch’s pleasure to care for Maggie until her dying days.
Moriarty and Whiteman were last to arrive and were treated with the sight of everyone, including Arthur and Ben, chowing down on ribs, mashed potatoes, buttered corn on the cob, fresh rolls, and hot coffee. Ben kept eyeing the last basket, which he knew held at least two apple pies. He had seen Jen put vanilla ice cream in the freezer but was hoping for cheese with his slice of pie.
When dinner was over, Jim rose to leave but Ben stopped him.
“Jim, I reckon it’s time I told these folks what I told you’n Arthur and the lawyer yesterday. Especially if they’re going to go out to the pump house tomorrow after whatever else they’re doing.”
Jim sighed. He had hoped to get home soon, turn on some jazz, and just relax. But Ben was right. They all needed the rest of the story.
“You’d best not make me lose my supper,” growled Helen. “Or there’ll be hell to pay.”
“Oh, it’s me who gets upset,” said Ben. “And not so much now that I’m seeing things clearer. But I doubt you’re gonna be more inclined to believe me than this one was,” nodding his head toward Jim.
They all helped clean up the dishes, put away the ample leftovers, which did not, of course, include pie, and packed up the baskets for Morey to pick up in the morning when he arrived with breakfast. A couple of them eyed the clock over the mantel in the spacious sitting room, knowing that six-thirty was going to get there all too soon.
Ben was brief but thorough in his retelling. He told them the exact same story he had related in Martin Rutledge’s office, though it took less time because he didn’t need to leave or to pause. When he finished, the state police folk looked bemused and incredulous. Jim could hardly blame them, what with eyes, and teeth, and giant mouths.
After a moment of quiet, Murdoch said, “I think we have to treat this all of a piece. But like Helen or one of you said, let’s deal with people stuff first. That means a more thorough daylight look at where Rory’s head and foot were found, then on to the rest of the Martins Way River. The divers can do that, along with the forensic guys who stayed down at Big Bass. And the rest of us can take the camera and equipment out to that pump house. We had the chopper take the head and foot down to the State Medical Examiner in Jefferson City. We should know by afternoon tomorrow if we are dealing with just one body. Jim, are you willing to make a formal identification of the head as that of Rory O’Connor?”
He set his cell phone to record.
Jim nodded and then remembered to say yes for the official recording. Although the neck was badly torn, or chewed, from where it had once joined the body, the face was pretty much untouched, and decomposition had not yet set in. Even without the eyes, which were always the first thing to go, it was obvious to Jim that the head was Rory O’Connor’s. Jim wiped away a tear. He had been in cop mode since Zak first rushed into the diner, but now that he had eaten and had a chance to relax a bit, the loss of his friend was hitting him hard. He stood up and without speaking strode out the door and got into his SUV. He needed to be home, now!
Early morning is the best time of day. Everything is fresh and dewy and ready to go. Even if coffee is the fuel of humans, for morning people dawn is the kindling and anticipation is the match. Those who stay up late and sleep through the awakening of the day never get to know the splendid promise that each dawn holds, whether blue-skied or cloudy. This is why night owls hate morning people: they are so perky and excited and ready to go.
Jim Burch was one of those morning people. He was a hard, deep sleeper, rarely remembered his dreams, and always woke promptly at 5:00 a.m., clear-headed and refreshed. This was not one of those mornings. He had gone home the night before, tossed back a shot of quality bourbon, neat, and fallen into bed at 10:00 p.m. He dreamed on and off all night, with Rory chasing dogs and rabbits and cats with frogs nipping at his heels. He remembered his nightmares vividly and wanted nothing more than to knock back some more bourbon, enough to send him deep into slumber, and stay in bed until it all went away. Of course, he also knew this was nonsense. And there was work to do.
“Dammit, Beth,” he said out loud as he showered. “This was supposed to be my quiet place, my solace. It’s mornings like these, ones I thought I’d never have again, that I miss you the most.”
He leaned against the shower wall, letting the hot water wash the ache from his joints, and cried until there were no more tears to shed. He hadn’t cried like this for Beth in two years, but today he ached from the absence of her.
“Are you happy where you are?” he asked, as he put on his work clothes and slid his feet into his heavy boots. “Are you anywhere? Or did you just stop?”
This was a conversation he had nearly every morning. He thoroughly expected someday to get an answer, though by what means he wasn’t certain. But he just couldn’t bring himself to accept that Beth wasn’t somewhere waiting for him. He knew it was wishful thinking, but it kept him going each day. He wasn’t sure why it felt so real that day nor why he had completely lost it in the shower.