Death Lives In The Water – Snippet 26


Meals at Morey’s for the next many days were a trying affair for Jim, Harry, any of the state troopers who might need sustenance, and poor Martin Rutledge. Most of the population of Harper’s Landing managed to drop in for at least one meal a day, and after being berated by nearly all of them, Jim and Harry took to eating their meals at the jail when Jen brought over Harve’s food. Jen was her usual cheerful self, dispensing food and conversation equally between prisoner and captors, deftly avoiding the elephant in the room.

Harve Sanders sat in his cell, a pile of misery clothed in jeans and plaid, trying desperately to maintain silence as Martin had instructed him. He wanted to talk to Jim, to Jen when she brought him his meals, to Charity when she brought a change of clothing. At least Jim had allowed him to wear his own clothes, and Linda Collier brought him copies of the Harper’s Landing Gazette. Ever since the bodies had been found and Harve had been tossed in a cell, she had been publishing daily updates.

Harve’s trucks and his Econoline with all his tools had been gone over thoroughly. The red truck, coincidentally the one Rory had taken to the pump house, was loaded onto a flatbed and towed to Jefferson City where the lab was going over it microscopically since finding what had proven to be human tissue caught in the tailgate hinge. The tissue did not match any they had on file: not Rory nor any of the boys. All four boys’ mutilated corpses had been identified by comparison to DNA samples provided by their parents: combs, toothbrushes, and mouth guards from their gym lockers.

The boys’ parents vacillated between wanting Harve strung up and doubting that the nice man who did such beautiful landscaping could have had anything to do with all this horror. Dan Miller was drinking more, often spending entire days at Happy Time Tavern, and Beth Miller hadn’t been seen since Gary was identified. Rumors abounded, the most common being that Dan, in a drunken rage, had beaten her badly enough to keep her from being seen in public.

Martin Rutledge was on his way to the Rectory to speak with Arthur Willingham about his strange note. The judge had driven down that morning for a preliminary hearing and bail hearing on Harve Sanders. Martin had tried his best to get Harve released on his own recognizance. He spoke of Harve’s strong ties to the community. He pointed out that the State had failed to provide anything other than circumstantial evidence that would connect Harve to the murders. He lost. Due to the seriousness of the charges, the judge also refused to set bail. Harve would have to remain in jail until the arraignment. Martin, after consulting with Harve, asked for a continuance until August 1st. The request was denied, and the arraignment was set for July 5th. Martin wanted all the evidence to have been processed by the state crime lab and to have time to speak in depth with Harve and all his relatives, employees, and customers. Now he had to hurry and hope that in his hurry mistakes were not made. Arthur was first on his list.

There were at least ten cars parked in the Rectory parking lot. Arthur had finished all the restorations, and the notoriety of five gruesome murders had drawn tourists like fleas to a random dog. Martin found no one in the dining room and assumed they were all at Morey’s, hoping to hear more juicy gossip. He shook his head at the morbid nature of so many people. He, for one, preferred the peace and quiet of pre-murder Harper’s Landing.

He found Arthur in the library, sitting at an ornate desk near the fireplace. It was early June, the temperature outside was in the mid-seventies, and the flowers in the beds around the Rectory were in full bloom. Harve had done an amazing job of landscaping. The windows in the library were open, and the sweet smell of roses drifted in on the soft spring breeze, mixed with the tangy spice of petunia and the succulent richness of mock orange. Calming music floated through the room. It might have been Deuter or Enigma, perhaps Kitaro or Bliss. It was exactly the kind of music Martin expected to hear.

Arthur rose, leaving the cover open on his laptop. He had been writing, probably Sunday’s sermon or perhaps an op-ed for the Gazette. Martin walked in, shook his hand, and sank into the overstuffed wing chair Arthur gestured at. Arthur took the matching chair on the opposite side of an exquisitely carved side table. He poured Martin a small glass of scotch in a crystal glass and the same for himself.

“I’ve asked Jen to bring us some lunch. I’m sure this morning’s court proceedings have left you hungry as well as dismayed.”

“As long as she brings some of that apple pie, too, I am grateful. The judge was fair, but I am still disappointed in his ruling. Harve is not handling his incarceration well.”

“Give him some freedom to talk,” said Arthur. “He needs to talk. Just remind him not to talk about the case.”

“But that’s just the whole point,” replied Martin. “The case is all he wants to talk about. He keeps saying that he needs to explain, but then he won’t explain to me. And I’m afraid if he starts talking to Jim, or to Jen or Charity when Jim’s in earshot, he’ll say something horribly incriminating.”

“Tell you what,” said Arthur. “I’m going to invoke something I rarely do. We clergy also have some client privilege; not as much as if I were a Catholic priest, but some. At the very least, I can ask Jim to allow us some private conversation. He knows that if I ask a judge, I’ll get permission. He will let me. That will help. Also, I need to stress with Jim, and he the state police, that Harve’s property line stops at the far edge of the back garden. It doesn’t go all the way to the woods, and I wouldn’t want to see anything useful tossed because they went onto someone else’s property.”

“That would be a good thing for us,” replied Martin. “But it probably wouldn’t have any negative affect on whatever was found on Harve’s property. The arraignment is on July 5th. I had originally got an extension to August, but then the state attorney’s office intervened. The judge reversed his opinion, so now I have less than a month to prepare motions to dismiss and the like. The state is sending some hotshot from the state attorney general’s office to represent them. They want to get this over with as fast as possible, but I’m not going to let them ramrod this through. Right now, all they have is circumstantial evidence. Not that such evidence isn’t enough to convict in many cases, but I’m not going to allow for any pressure for plea agreements or the like until all the evidence is in. Lab work takes time. I want to know how the limbs were removed from those bodies, whose tissue that is that was found in his truck, everything. They haven’t met stubborn like me before.”

He stopped and sat back.

“Just why don’t you want them going back to the woods? Is it that cabin back there? Is there something I should know about?”

“Later,” said Arthur. “I promise, we will talk about that.”

Arthur grinned. Internally he sighed in relief. He hoped the rest of their conversation was going to go as well as this first part. He knew Martin had come to pick his brain about Harve. Unfortunately, he had little to tell. Harve had done the landscaping when the Rectory renovation was complete. He was a steady, reliable worker. His prices were fair. He was kind to his helpers and never gave Arthur a single reason to worry or be unhappy.

Just as they finished talking, Jen arrived with lunch. She had brought enough for four, and shortly after she emptied all her baskets and started setting up, Charity Farmington appeared at the door. Martin was delighted to see that Jen had indeed brought apple pie and cheddar cheese wedges. He was confused as to why the women were there but welcomed their presence at the table.

Lunch was an enjoyable affair, with fruit salad, large ham slices, potato salad, and pickled asparagus and green beans. Arthur produced a very fine vintage of rich red wine, and the pie as usual was ambrosia. They chattered on about the crops, the influx of tourists, the restoration of the mill, and the opening of the adjoining museum. Not once did they bring up the alleged murders or the impending trial. It was a welcome mental vacation for Martin.

After lunch they all cleaned up, packing dishes, plates, serving bowls, and glasses back into the baskets. Jen refused Arthur’s offer to wash them at the Rectory kitchen, murmuring something about state rules regarding dishwashers. The four then returned to the comfortable wing chairs that looked out on the blooming gardens. They sat in a semi-circle of sorts, comfortably warm in the afternoon sun. Jen spoke first.

“Martin, did you know that Harve is related to me and Charity?”

“No, I did not. Is everyone in this town related to each other?”

“It does seem that way sometimes, doesn’t it?” Jen laughed.

“I’m not sure exactly what the relationship is,” she continued. “But I do know that he and I and Linda Collier and all the Harpers and Farmingtons in the area are all the descendants of Yuri and Maria Harper. And indirectly of Maria’s parents, Maksym and Kateryna Molovna. Charity here is the descendant of four siblings who came from Ukraine and built the cottages where we now live. And at least one of those siblings married into the Harper/Molovna line.”

It was Charity’s turn to speak.

“Martin, we need to tell you some things. Things that probably don’t sit comfortably in your logically-trained mind.”

Martin laughed uncomfortably. “First you tell me you’re all sort of related. What’s next? You’re all witches?”

“Something like that,” said Arthur. “Except I’m not related to any of them. At least not that I know of.”

Martin sat staring, his mouth half open.