Death Lives In The Water – Snippet 05

Death Lives In The Water – Snippet 05

“Has anyone been out to the farm?” asked Jim.

“Harve went out there this morning. The truck was there, all loaded up with the fertilizer bags, just waiting to be brought back to town.”

“So, what’s got you so spooked, Mary?” asked Jim.

She was trembling and near tears, not a normal reaction for this practical, tough woman.

“He saw scuff marks, Jim. Harve said he saw scuff marks when he opened the pump house doors.”

“Scuff marks?”

“Harve said he saw marks, like heels of boots would make if someone was being dragged across the ground. Not long, about two to three feet, going toward the center where the pump used to be. It’s covered up now, or it’s supposed to be.”

Her voice raised higher and the words came faster. Jim got up, put a hand on her shoulder and squeezed just a bit.

“You just sit here for a moment,” he said gently.

He walked back to his private office, dialed the phone, and waited.

“Yup,” grumbled Bull’s deep voice.

“This is Jim Burch. You’d better come down to my office. Mary’s here, and something’s got her in a state.”

“Be right there, Jim.”

Jim turned to the cabinet behind him and poured a small amount of bourbon into a clean glass. He topped it off with water from the cooler and carried the drink back to his office.

“Here,” he said, in his best sheriff voice. “Drink this. You’ll feel better.”

Mary grabbed the glass and tossed back the whole thing. She was seized with a small choking fit, but then sat back and said, “Can I have another, please?”

Jim went to his office and returned with a somewhat stiffer version of the first glass.

Mary sipped at it cautiously, and slowly began to relax. As she did, the tears began to roll down her cheeks. Jim handed her a box of tissues and waited for her to gather herself and for Bull to arrive.

Bull Harper lived up to his name. He was short, wide, muscular, and stubborn as a mule. What he lacked in stature he made up in swagger, and no one in their right mind would have ever allowed him in a china shop. He loved his job at the newly renovated mill. He liked people well enough, but in very small doses. He had been a great supervisor at the Harper’s Landing Textile Mill because he knew how to stay out of other people’s business unless it was necessary to intervene.

What he lacked in the social graces was more than made up for by his steadfast loyalty as a friend and his fanatical devotion to Mary. He quite literally worshipped the ground she walked on and defended her with every fiber of his being.

The door banged open with a force that would have jolted a lesser building as he stormed into the sheriff’s office.

“Jim, where is she?” he yelled, sweat beading on his red face. He had obviously run much of the way from the only available parking behind the building.

“Calm down, Bull. She’s right here with me and Ben, having a drink. You want one too?”

“Sure. What the hell, gotta be past noon somewhere.”

Bull lumbered into the chair next to Mary and took her tiny hand in his. His frown of concern turned into a slight smile when he saw that she seemed calm. However, the moment she felt his hand she burst into tears and leaned into his arms, sobbing and shaking.

Jim returned with a drink for Bull, which he sat carefully on a nearby table and waited patiently for the two of them to get composed. He leaned back and regarded his three guests with curiosity. Ben was still utterly and completely sober and seemed terrified. Mary was gathering her calm about her. And Bull was moving from concerned to pissed and back again.

“All right,” said Jim, leaning back in his chair. “Let’s see if I’ve got the facts straight. Mary, you said you never heard from Rory after Harve sent him out to the old pump house on Ben’s farm to pick up the fertilizer bags.”

Mary nodded, picking at the embroidery on her sweater. She tried to control her emotions and not look at Ben.

“And Harve said he found the truck with the sacks loaded, but no signs of Rory?”

Mary nodded again.

“And he said there were marks, like something or someone was dragged toward the well where the pump used to sit?”

Ben whimpered and started to shake uncontrollably. To Jim’s shock, a puddle of yellow liquid started to pool at his feet.

“Good God, Ben! You’re peeing yourself.”

Ben continued to whimper and shake uncontrollably, while Bull and Mary looked away. Jim led him back to his usual cell, handed him a pair of clean white prisoner pants, and gingerly took away the soiled old jeans. He then got the mop and bucket and cleaned up the puddle. Mary and Bull sat watching, distracted and appalled all at the same time.

After seeing Ben safely into the shower, Jim sat down and took a long pull at his cup of now cold coffee. He poured himself a fresh cup and thought longingly of the bottle in his back office. But he was still on duty.

“Sorry about that. I don’t know what got into him. I’ll find out later. But for now, has Rory ever gone off like this before?”

“Nope,” said Bull. “He doesn’t like to be alone, ‘cept when he goes fishing up at Big Bass Pool. Not that he’s particularly social; he just sticks close to home.”

Bull wiped his face. He was less red now, and some of Jim’s initial alarm faded as the big man got control of himself.

“Let me make some phone calls, investigate this. I’ll probably go up to the pump house myself, just to see what Harve thinks he saw. You two go home. Bull, can you get the rest of the day off? I don’t think Mary should be alone.”

“Nope,” said Bull. “But I can get someone to come down to the shop with her. Mary, will you be okay at the shop?”

Mary nodded. She gathered her things, looking forward to the familiar smells of textile and wool, the gentle clack of the sewing machines, and tried not to cry again when she realized that Rory would not be there to run the quilting machine.

“Where is he,” she wailed silently, trying not to let her imagination run wild.

-5-

He sat in the warm, well-lit studio of his small house, leaning forward over his work desk, contemplating the specimen on the board. He carefully placed the eyes in the head, turning them this way and then that. Finally, he sat back, satisfied. It was perfect. Fischer Supplies made the best eyes. It was the eyes that made them perfect. If you didn’t get them just right, then the specimen just looked “wrong.”

He sat back, contemplating where this one would go. It was quite large, as if some bear had inhabited the dog, pushing the bones of the head out to accommodate the larger ursine brain. He had sent a tooth to the lab, along with his usual fee. Their discretion came at a high price, but their work was impeccable. It was a dog, not a bear. A mix of Bernese Mountain Dog and hunting dog, mostly likely coonhound. As usual, the head had been intact if messily removed from the rest of the animal.

Yes, it was perfect. The eyes turned slightly to one side, as if hearing a beloved voice in another room. The mouth slightly open. The tongue had been difficult, but weren’t they all? Some taxidermists used jaw sets, but that was cheating. Molding and shaping the tongue just right was an art. And using silica gel to create the suggestion of saliva was imperative for dogs.

Now he had to decide where to mount it. He couldn’t just leave it sitting, even though mounting it would be displeasing to the eye until . . . how long would it take him to find another animal to fit between this large head and that perfectly matched pair of Malinois? Perhaps a fox? Yes, that would do. He would ask for a fox.

He carefully set the completed head on the back of his workbench. He then cleaned the bench thoroughly, waxing the wood until it shone. He lined up all his tools, smallest to largest, using a straightedge to make sure the tips were all perfectly aligned. Good work requires good work habits. Mother always told him that.

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