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The April Editor's Pick Writer is Jeff Parsons
Please feel free to email Jeff at: email@example.com
River Bend Park
River bodies were the worst.
Mottled colors, dripping, bloated with decay, shredded by fish, smashed and torn by fierce currents against rocks…altogether unsettling, distinctly horrific, more so because you could still see the remnants of what they once were, human, alive. The touch of humanity, the mementos of a life are what ultimately got to him: their clothes, put on early in the day, with no idea that they’d die in them, and personal items, like a cell phone, a plastic keychain fob saying ‘Always look on the bright side of life’, a movie theatre ticket stub in a back pocket, a neon-purple plush dinosaur toy, still clutched in a little girl’s fingers, as if that would save her…
Damnitall, he thought, scowling.
The memories of the innocent often threatened to overwhelm him. No matter where or how or when they died, they were just people trying to get by day to day, enjoy their lives, think about the future, but…got snuffed out by inhuman monsters.
Detective Francis St. Claire, a.k.a. Frank, certainly wasn’t immune to the effect of his feelings, he just had to control them, redirect them, in order to function at his job. He forced himself to concentrate on the here-and-now, what he needed to do: answer the dispatch call, drive to the river, inspect the body of a possible drowning.
The car’s heater blasted against the windshield, keeping the wintry morning fog at bay, while the wipers slapped aside the continuous sheets of rain flowing across his view of the road ahead.
Some ‘effing drought. California was suffering from a long period of drought, but you couldn’t tell that from the recent onslaught of rainstorms thundering across the northern part of the state.
He pulled his unmarked police car into the River Bend Park entrance. Even in this monsoon-like weather, people were outside walking along the paved roadway. They reluctantly moved aside as if offended by his car, the presence of one of man’s creations in this pristine natural retreat, or, maybe they were just pretentious, selfish, passive-agressive idiots who believed they had more rights than anyone else. Maybe they knew about the drowning and had come to catch a glimpse of the body.
Despite the people dawdling in the car’s path and the fact that the road split several times, he easily found his way to the riverside.
He was surprised to see that the parking lot was almost full to capacity, mostly with news vehicles, all the local television networks and the newspapers too. He was acquainted with many of the news people and their crews, after all, he’d been on the force for twenty-plus years. Most of them were clustered under a canopy of trees at the far end of the parking lot, surrounding…
You’ve got to be kidding me.
He laughed out loud as he turned off the engine, shoved his wide-brimmed Fedora hat on his head and heaved his chunky body out of the car. The rain spattered off his hat and raincoat, the noise and pattern reminding him of taking a cold shower at home. His joints aching, he walked towards the crowd, no longer the tireless warrior he once was, decades ago, for the Army Rangers in Afghanistan.
It was him! Preston Tucker, his quote-unquote partner, assigned to him to supposedly be mentored, only several years out of the academy, career rocketing upward, promoted to detective already, undoubtedly getting a huge helping hand from his uncle, the mayor. Just the person to be assigned to a major Public Relations case: the recent murder of a prominent businessman who, it turned out, was discovered to have run a god-forsaken sex slave ring right in the heart of sunny California’s capitol. Tucker was sure to become famous even if he screwed up.
And now…here he was talking to the press! TV cameras recording, boom microphones extended, questions unleashed and answers given. He certainly did have a flair for the dramatic – they were enraptured by his every word and expression. “We’re looking into the matter and will keep you apprised of the situation,” he said as a closing statement, then nodded a greeting to Frank and stepped away from the press crowd and its limelight of fickle fame and quotable soundbytes.
What the hell did he tell them?
Frank almost laughed aloud again as he drew closer to Tucker. The Public Relations department were supposed to preapprove any talk to the media. It was doubtful that Tucker had followed protocol.
Let’s see your uncle save you this time.
“Hi Frank! Great day to be outside, huh?” Tucker showed his winning smile.
Frank motioned with his head towards the winding path that led to the riverside. The patter of rain grew distant as the rainfall was deflected by the cover of trees overhead. They continued walking down the sloping terrain of the vernal forest, past a cop guarding the trail, Bob Carlson. When they were well beyond the line-of-sight of any of the news crew's parabolic microphones,
Frank asked, “Is the coroner here? I didn’t see the van.”
“Not yet. Must be busy with I-80.”
Frank nodded. Not even an hour ago, he had heard over the scanner of a pileup, over a dozen cars had blocked off the five-lane highway that led into the heart of the city. There were fatalities, and additional secondary accidents from careless lookie-loo drivers.
He appreciated the additional time to examine the body without the impatient coroner’s office people breathing down his neck and asking him when he’d be done. There were always clues to be found on a body, even one that had been in the water. Looking closely was the key—and that took time.
“Who found it?” Frank asked.
“B&W.” Boating and Waterways. If they were lucky, they saved people from drowning, but mostly, they pulled bodies from the water. A difficult job to be sure.
Once the bodies were on land, his department had jurisdiction.
“You talk to them?”
“Uh…No. I waited for you.” Tucker smiled again but it looked like a smirk. “Based on what I heard so far, I think this drowning may be related to our case. That’s why I asked dispatch to contact you.”
Frank observed Tucker’s face—it was sincere, he didn’t even appear to know how obnoxious he was…
Lying weasel. How could you have heard something?
They could see the pier now. Dock lines secured the B&W boat to cleats on the dock’s end point.
A cop was there, Bryan What’s-his-name…Bryan Holsted, that was it, some new guy, and he was talking to one of the B&W people. Frank didn’t know that department very well. There were two other B&W people on the thirty-foot rescue boat waiting at anchor on the river. He knew one of them, Renee Delacroix, the boat captain, an Armed Forces vet like himself, and also, like himself, of French-Canadian descent.
An oversized tarp on the far end of the pier covered the body which was lying on a transport stretcher. Rain and gusts of wind occasionally shifted the tarp’s edges, revealing a partial preview of the form beneath.
As Frank and his partner left the path, the deluge of incessant rainfall resumed falling on them. It sounded like cold chicken being dipped in a deep fryer filled with boiling peanut oil.
Holsted approached them as they stepped onto the pier. After a flash of badges, Holsted stepped aside and let them pass.
Frank hated this part. An awful sight awaited them at the end of the thirty-foot pier. The boat crew watched the two men approach. Renee hopped off onto the pier, causing the boat to rock slightly.
“What d’we have here, Renee?” Frank asked, hiding his revulsive distaste.
“White male, approximately thirty years old, found lodged under a log, near the shore, about two hundred yards upstream; been in the water for a while, all banged up…the rest…the rest is up to you, Monsieur Inspecteur, sir.”
“Okay to look?” Frank gestured to the body.
“Ha ha, very funny, just don’t make a mess or I’ll call your momma,” Renee snorted.
Frank lifted the tarp up to one side.
Tucker inhaled, a sharp inward hiss, despite the ripe stench rolling off the body.
It certainly wasn’t a sight anyone would want to see: flesh in advance stages of decay, bones snapped, sharp edges sticking out from the broken skin, jumbled limbs askew, not all turned the right way, chest crumpled inward and the head…the eyes were long gone, yet a bushy mustache remained beneath a missing nose, but, most graphic, the cranium had been cracked open, leaving a partially hollow shell with a direct view into what little remained of the brain.
Frank felt a freezing chill grip the back of his neck and spread like icy talons down his back. Something’s wrong. Perhaps being surrounded by death for so long had finally caught up to him, traumatizing him, making his heart thump now with a painful arrhythmic beat, but…damn. Something wasn’t right. He began to sweat despite the shivering chills.
Tucker crouched down on one knee near the body. Acrylo-nitrile rubber gloves already snapped on, he searched the corpse’s pockets, finding no wallet, no ID, nothing. He eased the shattered head gently to one side. The ragged flaps of scalp and bone shifted with a wet, grisly slap inside the gaping skull cavity.
Frank had the weirdest feeling. It was déjà vu, a sense that he’d already been here, or that he’d seen it before, the moment in time unraveling like some murky nightmare coming true. Something about the body’s mustache seemed familiar.
Tucker suddenly became excited. “See, Frank? Look at what I found.” He pointed to what remained in the back of the skull. A spider web of bone cracks radiated outward from some central point (fragments long gone, taken by the river). “This is a bullet hole in the Occipital area.”
Hmm... Occipital area, huh? Back of the head, you prancing peacock.
“This was an execution,” Tucker went on. “Just like the murder of that sex slave pervert. You remember, that creep also took a small caliber bullet to the back of the head. Just like what we have here. A police patrol found the body before the murderer could dispose of it. It didn’t have much for clues on it, but that’s all changed now. With this body, we have more to go on.” He glanced up at Frank. “The M.O. is similar. I bet the same person did these murders.”
Tucker continued to babble about his possible new leads while Frank thought’s drifted away, searching for the unspeakable truth in a fog of memory.
I remember that mustache. I knew him. Knew him well enough. He came a long way, from a forest hillside, floating down the river, through the lake, even over the dam spillway.
“…and another thing, Frank,” Tucker went on, practically hyperventilating with exuberance, “people have been disappearing lately. Way too many people. People of a less-than-reputable moral quality, you might say. I’m beginning to think there’s a connection. With the clues from this body, I might be able to tie it all together, or at least, get one step closer to nabbing our perp.”
Like hell you will. I’ll do everything I can to stop you, you arrogant prima donna. You’ll never find a damned thing on me.
While Tucker continued to chatter away, Frank felt his mind escaping to cheerful memories of weekend vacations. He’d have to go again, soon, far upstream into the remote and rugged High Sierra Mountains country, where he’d typically spend carefree days prospecting in dried river beds for placer gold, but this time, there was other work to do.
The flash floods had probably exposed more gold in the ancient riverbeds, as well as the bodies of worthless scum who once preyed upon the helpless.
All scum deserved to die. Time to make sure the other bodies were still buried.
Jeff Parsons is a professional engineer enjoying life in sunny California, USA. He has a long history of technical writing, which oddly enough, often reads like pure fiction. He was inspired to write by two wonderful teachers: William Forstchen and Gary Braver.
In addition to his book Algorithm of Nightmares, he is published in SNM Horror Magazine, Bonded by Blood IV/ V, The Horror Zine, Dark Gothic Resurrected Magazine, Chilling Ghost Short Stories, Dystopia Utopia Short Stories, Wax & Wane: A Coven of Witch Tales, The Moving Finger Writes, Golden Prose & Poetry, Our Dance With Words and The Voices Within.
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