I started this story for #BlogBattle: Surfer, but it’s going to end up wayyyyy too long, so I’ll just post it and write a bit of flash fiction for the battle. Seriously, I’m not sure I can write crime fiction anyway, but we’ll call this PART ONE
The waves crashed and whooshed outward in the ebbing flow of their angry assault.
The beauty and rhythmic lulling of their constant motion made me forget the intrinsic danger.
The sea was calling me back.
But I refused to go; I denied their power over me.
* * *
He stopped dead in his tracks and rolled his eyes while lifting his chin to the sky. Brodie found him. The surfer was like a bad penny that just kept showing up. He spun on one foot and faced the bronzed, sun-bleached blonde beach bum.
“It’s Detective, brah.”
“Detective Brah, I was just out catching a few with Steelhead McGee before the rays hit, but that last surf was mushy, and I decided to jet. It was Steelhead that saw the body first, ’cause he’s an old carp. Says he only craves the waves,” Brodie said and laughed as though he’d told the funniest joke ever.
Detective Stern stared on with one eyebrow cocked. He couldn’t remember how he’d thought having the beach beat would be the prime policing territory. Stern had been called to the beach twenty times in the last eighteen months to investigate deaths related to drowning. Four had proven to be homicide by one means or another. One more bloated body floating on to the popular and crowded San Daniella shores was not his cup of tea. He should have listened to his mother and studied acupuncture.
He tuned back in to Brodie’s rambling description of the waves before dawn after a storm and the lackluster results of their endeavor until the old surfer yelled about the body. Stern had just arrived on scene and hadn’t made it to where they’d cordoned off the beach. He was glad the tide was going out when they found it, because at the rate Brodie was yammering Stern wouldn’t make it to the body before the tide turned.
“Listen, Brodie, this officer here,” he motioned over a young man in standard blues, “Officer . . . Kiplicky–Kiplicky? Really?” Stern looked sideways at him, but the kid officer just shrugged. “Okayyy. Office Kiplicky is going to ask you a few questions.”
“Later, brah,” Brodie said and waved using the shaka, a hang loose hand gesture that was common along the beaches of California.
Detective Stern nodded and walked away, taking a relieved breath. He only felt a little sorry for sticking Officer Kiplicky with the task of taking down the talkative surfer’s statement. He’d made the mistake one too many times to do it again.
It seemed ironic that Brodie, the epitome of the stereotypical dumb blonde, always seemed to be around to discover these wash ups. He was a literal beach bum and spent all his time riding waves or repairing boards to pay for his surfer habit of . . . riding waves. As far as Stern could tell, without doing some digging on him, Brodie was a straight shooter, wasn’t a user, and just lived to surf.
Another thing Detective Stern hated about the beach cases was the sand that got in every nook and cranny of his body and clothes. By the time they were done gathering evidence and viewing the scene his feet had received an in-shoe pedicure and his other more sensitive regions were begging for a bath.
“We’ve got a mermaid here, boss,” Junior Detective Penn said, dusting the sticky, wet sand off his rubber gloves.
“Mermaid?” Stern asked and leaned to snag a peek at the body behind the other man.
The coroner was there, squatted down next to her. It took Stern a second to comprehend what Penn meant by mermaid, but then it struck him.
“Is this someone’s sick idea of a joke? Was she crazy?”
The coroner looked up at him from her stooped position as he moved closer. “No, Tim, not a joke and not crazy. She’s probably one of those mermaid girls from Sea Land’s restaurant.”
She stood to her full five-foot-four height and gave him a skeptical look. “You know, Sea Land’s themed restaurant? Mermaid Isle? Where they have a full wall aquarium with mermaids in it? Are you telling me you’ve never heard of it?”
Stern shook his head. He got enough sea time coming to these cases; he didn’t want to spend any more going to crowded theme parks to examine animals behind glass or jumping through hoops. He didn’t know he could see pretty ladies dressed up with fish tails, too.
“You’ve got to get out more, Tim,” Dr. Nina Lean said and squatted down again. “I hear they got the idea from some bar in Montana.”
Detective Tim Stern didn’t care one wit where they got the idea. The only thing he wanted to know was if this was an accidental death or a homicide, but he was distracted by the shimmery, tight fabric which covered the girl’s entire lower half. “Any ID on the mermaid–er–body?”
“No, but I did find this,” she said and pointed at the entanglement of fishing twine around her neck and shoulders. “It doesn’t look like this is accidental, Tim, so I’m calling it a homicide, but I won’t be able to tell you what cause of death is until we get her back to my office. There’s no injury that I can see right off that would have done it, though this petechial hemorrhaging might indicate strangulation or drowning. There’s no apparent bruising, though I’m sure under the right light we’ll see some, if not from attack then from being beaten about by the waves.”
“Thanks, Nina,” he said and turned his attention to Detective Penn. “Are we sure she’s a wash up? What about tracks on the beach? Anything?”
“Not in the close vicinity, but the tide was going out. If someone dumped her at high tide it’s possible the waves pulled her along.”
“Has anyone checked the upper beach?” Stern was getting impatient. He hated training new detectives because it meant asking a thousand questions.
“Uh, yeah, but there wasn’t anything up there that looked out of the ordinary.”
“If you’re saying the search wasn’t expanded southward then you’re going to have to get on it right now, before the wind or tide takes away any possible evidence. The water moves things north as it hits the beach.”
“I-uh . . . dang. Sorry. I’ll get right on that,” Penn said and dashed off toward the van to call for extra help to search the upper beach.
It wasn’t exactly that Penn had messed up. He was new to the beach beat. He wasn’t a surfer. In fact, Stern found out the kid was from Podunk, Idaho. He couldn’t remember the actual name of the town, but the closest thing to water the guy had ever got before was the local pool. The chief assured Stern that Penn may be young, but he was smart and had made an impressive fast-track to detective status. Somehow, Chief Bradley had also convinced Stern he was the only one worth having train the kid.
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