Death Lives In The Water – Snippet 13

He finished dressing and locked the door on his way out. He walked the two blocks to the Rectory, since he figured he would have a lot of standing and sitting to do today. This might be his only chance to stretch out. Breakfast arrived just as he got through the front door. Arthur had set the long table in the front dining room with china plates, cloth napkins, large mugs for coffee, and pitchers of orange juice. Morey and Jen had brought enough food to feed a small army, and Deputy Randle was helping set things up, while constantly sipping from his mug of coffee. His eyes were drooping.

“Who’s watching the crime scene?” demanded Jim.

“A couple of state fellas drove in about an hour ago,” said Harry. “They had IDs and all the diving equipment. I was glad to get out of there. Damn quacking like to drive me nuts, but at least it kept me awake. Can I go now and get some sleep?”

“Sure,” said Jim. “But before you go, where was the quacking coming from?”

“Not entirely sure. Sometimes it sounded like out in the middle of the pool, but when I shone my flashlight there wasn’t anything there. Other times, it sounded like it was on the other side of the river. Of course, that wouldn’t be possible to hear, seeing how it’s about forty, maybe fifty yards across. And once, scared the life out of me. Damn thing sounded like it was right behind me in the parking area. And then there was the singing.”

“Singing?” asked Jim, incredulously.

“Yah. I figured I was hallucinating by then, I was so damn tired. Might have been some young’uns at the turnout down river. Beautiful voice though. Just heard it once.”

“You’d better get some sleep. You’re going soft in the head,” said Jim.

Harry left, but not before snagging one of the giant warm cinnamon rolls Maggie had just set out on the table.

The others straggled in, taking a seat at the long table.

“Holy cow, those must be the biggest cinnamon rolls I’ve ever seen,” said Helen, grabbing one for herself. She also dug into the fluffy scrambled eggs and heaped her plate with bacon.

Meadows eyeballed Zak, who had arrived promptly at 6:30 a.m. The CSIs had taken possession of his boots before he left the night before, and he now wore running shoes. He looked like he hadn’t gotten much sleep.

“Now,” said Meadows. “What’s this I heard about missing pets?”

Zak took a long sip of coffee and snared one of the cinnamon rolls. He shook his head at Arthur’s offer of eggs. He sighed deeply, and then began to speak.

“About a week after the mill turned on the restored water wheel, people started losing pets up on Jackson Hill. The Millers lost both their cats. Like to break their kids’ hearts. They had signs up and everything. Gene Herbst and his partner, Lloyd, had two of those big German shepherd dogs–Malinois, I think they’re called. They just disappeared one day, right out of their backyard. And Elsie Mix lost her four pet rabbits from her back yard. This was about a month ago.”

Zak paused, staring at them all.

“What I’m about to tell you, I don’t want it to get back to Grossman and his pals that it was me who told you. I need that job. I have two young ones and another on the way.”

“Don’t you worry, son,” said Jim. “Unless it’s needed in a court of law, what you say for now stays right here.”

“All those people – the Millers, Gene and Lloyd, and Elsie – they had wells, old wells in their backyards that had pumps on them. They used the pumps to water their yards, their flower gardens, and such. The mill owns the properties. We pay rent to them. It’s quite reasonable and part of our pay package. Anyway, they came in and closed those wells–put metal caps over them and told folks they would have to use city water for their gardens. There are lots of other people up there with pets, but only the ones with those closed up wells lost theirs.”

He stared at his feet for a few moments.

“I’m scared,” he said softly. “We have one of those wells in our backyard, and Mollie–that’s my wife–thinks I’m being silly. But I won’t let my boys play back there anymore. I have Mollie take them to the park over by the library.”

He paused and looked as if he might cry.

“I worry every day that Mollie will decide I’m being a nervous Nellie and let the kids out back. Or the kids will wake up during the night and wander out there. You know how kids are.”

“I take it you haven’t been sleeping much,” said Arthur.

Jim realized this explained the young man’s apparently ill appearance.

“No sir, and neither would you if you’d heard what I did,” he blurted out.

Everyone in the room was paying full attention now.

“Just what did you hear?” asked Meadows.

“It was shortly after the water wheel started up. I was out one night, looking at the stars. Suddenly I heard what sounded like a tapping or knocking. It was coming from the well. I let out a holler, thinking maybe someone got stuck down there, but there was no answer. So I figured I was wrong about where it came from. But then the knocking got louder, almost like banging. So I went over to see if I could spot anything. As I got closer I heard a–don’t know–like a chuckle. Only there wasn’t anything funny about it. Made my hair stand on end.”

Zak was pale and shaking, and Jim shoved the plate with his cinnamon roll in front of him.

“Eat!” he instructed, and Zak took a bite or two. He swallowed, then resumed his story.

“I got Mollie out of bed and brought her out there. And of course by then there was no noise at all. She accused me of drinking one too many beers and went back to bed. I stayed and listened for a while longer. When I didn’t hear anything more I went to bed too.”

He took another bite of roll.

“But then, right after the pets started going missing, one night I was out in my yard–this was when Lloyd and Gene lost Buster and Beepers. I could hear them calling for their dogs, and then I heard howling and yelping from my well. And then I heard screaming. If you’ve never heard a dog screaming, count yourself lucky. It was bad. And suddenly it stopped. I heard the guys still calling for their dogs, but I couldn’t bring myself to go tell them what I’d heard. Instead I went to bed, praying I was wrong and that the dogs had just wandered off. But they never came back, and now I’m just–I don’t know. If they were down there, considering what I heard, there’s no way they would have come out alive. But I feel guilty anyway.”

He put his face in his hands for a moment, and then sat up straight.

“What the hell is going on?”

“That’s what we’re here to find out,” responded Meadows. “First, let’s get a good breakfast under our belts. I know you don’t feel much like eating, son, but it’s going to be a long day for all of us. Try to eat as much as you can.”

Zak accepted a plate with hash browns, scrambled eggs, and two slices of bacon. Surprised, he discovered that he was quite hungry and easily managed to eat it all. He took a cinnamon roll, wrapped it in a paper napkin, and tucked it away in his jacket pocket for later.

For a while, everyone was silent, wolfing down the wonderful spread prepared by Morey and Maggie. Too soon, it was time to saddle up and get to work. Their first destination would be Big Bass Pool, to be certain they hadn’t missed anything yesterday. There they planned to meet up with the state divers. The two CSIs in the van had called in earlier to announce the arrival of three divers and two more CSIs. Jim called over to Morey’s to see if there were any more cinnamon rolls. Jen appeared soon thereafter with three large thermoses of coffee and Styrofoam cups, along with three large containers full of cinnamon rolls. Immediately after her came Morey carrying a big metal box which, when he opened it, revealed a large quantity of fried chicken. He loaded it into the back of the Explorer, along with china plates, silverware, and a tub of potato salad, all carried over by Jen’s daughter, Bridgette. Jim had learned by now never to question how this family seemed to know exactly what was needed without asking. Apparently, Meadows and Murdoch were of the same opinion. The three CSIs looked startled but didn’t comment.