Crime writers tend to have sinister imaginations. We have to. It goes with the gig. And sometimes, we teeter on the edge of paranoia, at the intersection of Malevolent Row and Completely Mad Drive. Evil lurks in the shadows, contempt lie in wait in the weeds.
When our inner crime writer takes over, the world is no longer a safe place. Everyone around us morphs into a psychopath, sociopath, thrill killer or victim. Waterways become perfect body dump locations. Even the lake bears silent witness to the secrets of the night.
For a crime writer, life in general might push us to the edge of insanity… but it’ll never catch us off-guard.
In New Hampshire, it’s brisk and rainy today, so let’s journey back to the warmth of summer…
The town’s been clearing dead branches that hang over power lines and chipping them into pulp. With all that racket I can’t concentrate. It’s enough to drive even the most patient author crazy.
Patience is not one of my strong suits.
Bob suggests we go to the lake. I’d been meaning to take a couple days off, anyway, so I agree.
On the drive over, I can’t help but wonder how much that chipper can hold, or how fast a body could disappear. Oh, don’t judge me! You know you do the same thing. We never stop there, though, do we? It’s usually followed by, how deep will the blood soak into sawdust? And what about sawdust? I bet it would make a great sponge to sop up “the mess” after I dispose of my victim. Better grab the soil underneath the corpse, too. In an article I read last week, scientists now use a forensic technique that tests microbes in dumpsite soil to pinpoint the exact location of where the murder took place.
What should I do with the sawdust, body chips, and soil? Perhaps I could dump them in the lake. Hmm… Speaking of, if I don’t throw the victim in the chipper, how much weight would I need to ensure a 200lb man won’t float to the surface? Putrefaction can rocket a corpse from the earth. In warm water, the remains would decompose even faster. Yeah, it’s probably best to dismember him first. How much time would I need? Is the lake desolate enough after dark? Probably not. Unless…
“Honey, did you hear me?” asks Bob.
“Huh? Oh, sorry. I was thinking about something else.”
“I said, we’re here.” He pulls curbside and kills the engine.
“Right. Super. Let’s rock ‘n roll.”
Strolling down the beach, Bob searches for the perfect tanning location while I study my fellow beachgoers. Shame we couldn’t use this time to scope out swamps and wetlands. I bet there’s several places to dump a body around here, especially if we trampled through the woods far enough.
“This looks good,” he says.
“Huh? Yeah. I agree. Perfect spot.”
We blow up our rafts, lay out the beach towels, stuff our cooler under a nearby tree so the sun doesn’t warm our bottled water. Bob cracks opens the latest Patterson thriller and kicks back while I survey the shoreline from behind my tinted-shades — observing, eavesdropping, familiarizing myself with the landscape, mapping out a quick escape in case things turn deadly. You never know.
A woman lets out a high-pitched scream. From where, isn’t clear.
Instantly my mind snaps into high alert. That was more of shriek than a scream of delight. Something’s up. Maybe a serial killer, clad in scuba gear, yanked a swimmer’s leg, then dragged her to his underwater lair for “playtime.”
Eyes slitted with precision focus, I scan the lake, searching for crimsoning water. The forty-something-year-old man to my left looks shady. Why is he here alone? Hmm… No book, no lunch, not even a towel. He’s just chilling in his beach chair, probably sizing up his next victim. What is his perfect type? Who on the beach reminds him of his controlling, abusive mother? Or the wife who packed up the kids and left? Was she blonde, brunette, or a redhead?
Bob gazes over the top of his paperback. “Q?” Over the years Suzi-Q was shortened. Hence, “Q.”
Blah, blah, blah just happened in the book he’s reading. No idea what. Because my focus is elsewhere, I only half-listen. A warm smile arches my lips as though I’m paying attention. Works every time, too. Shhh…let’s keep this between us.
Bob raises the paperback and settles into his beach chair. But now, my imagination kicks into overdrive. Everyone on the beach looks guilty of something. Maybe they haven’t gone through with their master plan yet, but they’re definitely weighing their options. No doubt about it.
Come noon, my husband suggests we grab a bite to eat at the seafood joint, which overlooks the lake. No one has to ask me twice. I never pass up seafood; I’m all over that idea like ants on a discarded apple core.
Strolling toward The Big Catch, I spot this guy with a magnifying glass and a chunk of wood. He’s using the sun as a wood-burner to create beautiful plaques. Fascinating idea. A line of vacationers form to his right, all eager to bring home a taste of the local flavor. One man in particular draws my attention. That’s the guy from the beach. Unlike the other folks in line, he seems uninterested. Is he waiting to make his move? Scoping out a new target? Why blend with this crowd? What sort of murderous intent runs through his mind?
As we meander by, I lock gazes with the guy so he knows I don’t buy his act for a second.
“Must be our lucky day,” Bob says, stepping up the stairs to the take-out window. “There’s hardly anyone on the deck.”
“Oh, yeah. Awesome.”
He orders for us. No need to tell him what I want. We’ve been together for so many years, he knows what I usually get, anyway.
Huh. What’s up with that? The cook smirked when Bob ordered the clams.
“Q, why don’t you snag us a table while I pay.”
“Great idea.” I hustle over to a table that overlooks the lake, yet has the building behind us so we don’t become the victims of a blitz attack. Perfect.
Within thirty seconds, my mind wanders back to the take-out window. When Bob ordered the cook definitely smirked. Did he tamper with the batter? Maybe he injected the belly of the clams with succinylcholine. In the hopes of finding someone else who ordered the same thing, my gaze roams the deck. Two tables over a tattooed biker is inhaling clams faster than anyone I’ve ever seen, his cheeks puffed like a chipmunk with a mouthful of hazelnuts.
Hmm…he seems okay. Maybe I imagined the smirk. Is the danger all in my head? To be safe, I study him for signs of a heart attack.
Bob scoots in beside me. “Did you hear me?”
“What?” I shake the reverie from my mind. “Sorry. I was admiring the view.”
“I said, the clams smell delicious, don’tcha think?”
Eagle-eyes on the biker, my fake smile drops. “Maybe we should order the lobster instead.”
“Ooh, that sound good. But I already paid.”
Boisterous laughter breaks from the biker, his beer-belly jiggling like St. Nick. No outward signs of poisoning, though.
“You’re right,” I concede. “They do smell awesome.”
Fireworks boom overhead as the waitress sets our Styrofoam containers on the table.
Nonchalantly as possible, Bob steals an onion ring off my plate and turns his gaze to the heavens. “Wow. The colors are cool this year.”
“Yeah, they really are.” How many killers are using this opportunity to shoot their spouse, friend, or perfect stranger? We’d never hear the gunfire.
“Why so early, I wonder.” He sips his sweet tea, ice crackling against the straw. “They usually wait till dark.”
“That is odd.” I was right. This display is a diversion for something darker, something murderous, something sinister.
“You think this is a cover-up of some kind, don’tcha?”
“What?” I swat my hand. “Don’t be ridiculous.”
A smile broadens on his sun-kissed face. “Oh, come on. It’s me you’re talkin’ to.”
“Okay, fine. You caught me. But seriously, who sets off fireworks during the day?”
“But why not wait till dark?”
“Maybe they have young kids.”
I shrug one shoulder. “Maybe, maybe not.”
“What, you think it’s to cover for gunshots?”
A buttery clam slides down my throat. “Let’s just say I find it awfully convenient.”
“You must have the victim picked out too. So, tell me. Who’s the guy killing? I’m guessing the killer’s a man.”
Ignoring the sexist remark — crime writers know all too well that women can be just as vicious as men — I respond, “Someone close. Friend or spouse.”
As Bob claws through my subconscious, he studies my expression for what feels like twenty years. “Oh, my aching head. You’ve already planned what they’re gonna do with the body. That’s why you’ve been so quiet today.”
“C’mon. Lay it on me. Who’s the killer?”
I lean aside. Lower my voice and speak from the corner of my mouth. “See the guy to your leftt? Not the one with the clams. The next table up.”
“The dude that’s alone?”
“Yup. He’s got wicked Manson eyes. It’s not the first time I’ve seen him today, either.”
I slam down my cup. “He does. I swear.”
“I thought you were taking a couple days off.”
“Whaddaya mean? I am.”
“Really? This entire day you’ve been plotting.”
“I’m tellin’ you, there’s something off about that guy. Look at the way he watches everyone. He’s planning three moves ahead. Mark my words.”
“Uh-ha.” Bob pops another clam into his mouth.
“Fine. You don’t believe me? I’ll prove it.”
“While you were neck-deep in Patterson’s world, I was ensuring our safety. You can thank me later, by the way. That dude, the guy who obviously has murder on his mind, is the same man who was sitting two chairs over from us on the beach.”
Bob’s gaze travels over to his table, then returns. “Do you think he followed us?”
I lift both shoulders. “It’s possible.”
“What’re you planning?”
“Nothin’. I just, y’know, wanna make sure everything’s copasetic.”
“And when we go back to our towels I’ll strike up a conversation, feel him out. Then you’ll see.”
He stuffs another clam in his mouth. “You’re gonna get us thrown off the beach again, aren’tcha?”
“Whatever. You are so gonna owe me an apology.”
After our meal, which was fabulous by the way — admittedly, I might’ve judged the cook too harshly — we return to our spot on the beach. Bob nudges me with his elbow, dares me to go through with my plan.
“I was gonna digest for a little while first, but fine. Now’s as good o’ time as any.” I wrap the towel around my waist and approach the killer. “Excuse me. Do you have the time?”
The guy glimpses his watch. Probably stolen. It was way too nice. Any man who wears knee socks with sandals does not buy an expensive watch. “Two o’clock.”
“Thanks. So…” I delay to summon the courage to call him out. “Nice day, huh?”
Bob appears at my side, and I startle. “Do you live around here?” he asks.
“For now. I’m only here for a short time.”
“Short time, eh?” Just long enough to, say, kill your ex-wife and disappear? I toss Bob the I-told-you-so look.
“I’m transferring out of state to be closer to my family.”
Likely excuse. “Uh ha,” I say, glib.
“What kind of work do you do?” asks Bob.
“I’m a detective.”
“You don’t say?” He slips his arm around my waist and pulls me near, relishing over his win. “My wife’s a crime writer. You wouldn’t believe what she–”
I elbow him in the gut, stopping him mid-sentence.
“Ah, I see.” As if everything makes sense now, he gives my husband a knowing nod. “Okay, well, have a great day.” When he turns to leave, he pats Bob’s shoulder, hushes, “My ex-wife was a crime writer. Poor bastard. I feel for ya, buddy.”