What happened at Devil's Cape no longer surprised anyone. At least once a year, a body washed ashore. Most arrived severely decomposed and swollen beyond recognition, delivered on currents no one could track.
I shouldn't have been on this dangerous stretch of beach in the dim light of morning either. It's when I discovered the body. And this body hadn't washed ashore; it had been delivered, posed, and turned into a shrine. Flowers, seashells, ornamental driftwood, and red strands of dulse adorned the site. Every token had been carefully arranged as if to pay homage to a rite. While my mind was trying to make sense of what it saw on the sand, reason argued with suspicion. Logic told me it couldn't be, but doubt suggested it was — a dead person.
I stared, holding my breath, looking for movement. From watching too many detective episodes, I knew not to disturb the scene. Instead, I snapped pictures with each step toward the lifeless body. The only prints leading to the corpse were the ones I was making on the wet sand. I made a note of that too. Whoever had delivered the body made use of the tide.
Next to me, Sandpipers waded on stilt legs as the receding tide ensnared them with its lullaby and edibles. They weren't disturbed by my visit or the corpse.
It was a woman. There was no mistaking the shape, and her pose suggested she was dancing too. One elegant foot ahead of the other, toes pointed, and her arms akimbo as if she were a nymph dancing on the shore. Her gauze gown clung indecently to her winsome shape, see-through in all the wrong areas. What was almost beautiful, even in death, was her flowing hair.
I snapped a series of pictures, then glanced over my shoulder. A suspicious feeling that I was being watched invaded every fiber of my body. But there was only the stark cliff behind me, and dark clouds paraded on the horizon. I gasped and ducked when a gull screeched in flight.
Of course, I recognized the deceased.
Devil's Cape lies in a small hamlet on the north shore. It isn't as well known as its twin beyond the series of steep crags that pen the slopes from escaping and where nature fabricates wind off its shore. A tranquil beach town lies beyond the peaks, away from the dangerous swell. But here, on this side, untamable forces formed Scarsdale Strand into an idyllic inlet, too. That's if you can stand the wind and the dead bodies. I fished out my phone and made the call.
"There's a body," I said to the operator. "On the beach at Devil's Cape."
The wind picked up and ran ashore, bringing with it bone-chilling dampness. I slipped my camera beneath the useless windbreaker, rubbing my stiff fingers, and regretted that I stormed from the house on impulse. I wished I had worn something warm.
While I waited for the operator, I noticed something unusual about the corpse.
"Did you check for a pulse?"
"Yes. But it's obvious. Her throat's been slit."
"Can you stay? Until we get there."
I was about to say no. But I knew the woman on the other end, both of us trying to remain professional. And when I glanced toward the body, I couldn't leave it to the elements alone.
"Sure. Please hurry. It's bitter."
While I waited, I sought shelter up against the cliff. It wasn't much warmer, but at least the wind didn't have access to me. I had a good view; I didn't expect anyone out on a miserable morning like today. Then again, the foul weather matched my mood.
Ms. Willard never stirred as the tide crept farther away and daylight landed. Alive, she was the sort of woman who could entrance a man. Limber willows, the kind you bend in any direction, came to mind as I thought of her. Her slender figure and long limbs resembled that of a staged mannequin. In life, her fragility was her drawing card. And men fell like trees in a forest.
In the distance, I heard sirens. Devil's Cape was challenging to access with a vehicle. But five minutes later, Detective Linden maneuvered his car onto the dunes. He didn't care that he was damaging a fragile ecosystem.
The wind flailed his long coat like a cape–a man about to take flight. The familiar strands of his blond hair went airborne and would curl like an angel's within minutes. Intimate details I should have forgotten.
I waited next to the corpse; he was surprised when he recognized the body. And while waiting, I became protective of my discovery. He wouldn't look me in the eye.
"What a shame." He moved the red dulse draped across her throat aside with his pen.
"What time did you discover the body?" He glanced in my direction, but his eyes shied away as he poised his pen and noted my answer.
"Shortly after six."
"Tell me exactly what you saw."
"I took pictures." I held out my camera.
Linden knew my name. He didn't need to ask for it for the record. Though seeing me took him off guard, he was professional in handling the murder. Linden and I had a past neither wanted to surface; I realized I wasn't completely over him.
Linden took the camera and ejected the chip.
"I'll get these back to you." The chip vanished into his pocket. "Are you okay? It's quite traumatic finding a dead body."
"I'm fine. I think."
"Talk to someone. There were no footprints?" He spoke as if there were a limit to the words we were allowed to share.
Linden spun around on the sand and assessed the situation. I had retraced my steps to avoid spoiling the scene and left only one track.
"No. The tide went out at five. I checked the schedule." By that, I meant I knew the ins and outs of the planet's complicated sea levels as others know the days of a week.
He would confirm it, but he also trusted what I said.
"Sit in the car. You must be freezing. I'll drive you home."
While we stood on the sand, the ambulance arrived, and a crew of CSI unpacked their gear and cordoned off the scene.
"If you don't need me." I wasn't going to sit in his car.
"Sure." Linden waved me off and stomped toward his team.
Linden knew where I lived; there was no point pretending he wouldn't turn up later. For now, he needed to secure the crime scene. While I ducked into the wind and made my ascent, I dreaded facing what lay ahead. My husband would be angry. Not only had I wandered off to a stretch of beach he asked me a hundred times not to visit, but there was Linden. In our marriage, there was no room for intruders.
Onlookers from town were pulling up. I walked on the far side toward the cottage nestled on the gentle lawn sweeping down from the crags. I couldn't abide another interrogation from my nosy neighbors. Inside and out of the wind, I stripped off my damp jacket and reached for the wool cardigan I left on the chair. On the kitchen table was proof that Ian had been home. The note said I'm sorry. Please call me. I put the kettle on and stared out the window — the enormity of what I discovered settled over me.
Poor Ms. Willard. Irene. I knew her only well enough to wave. And since Ian and I didn't have children, I never needed to learn more. Until the rumors circled, then I went out of my way to avoid meeting her.
Ian and I lived on the Devil's side of the cove; we didn't mingle with the Scarsdale crowd often. We tended to be solitary people like our predecessors. The cottage belonged to Aunt Rose, who left everything to me. Even the generous investments that allowed me to live unencumbered.
When the kettle whistled, I pulled out from my revere. I poured the scalding water into the pot and reached for a box of biscuits. I texted Ian. I'm home. Where are you?
Suddenly, I didn't want to be alone.
Ian and I weren't a good match. Yet, we had found each other and made a home within the pieces of our personalities that fit together. But it was a constant struggle to keep the pieces upright. My attraction to Ian was simple. He was everything I wasn't. Boisterous and amiable when he chose to turn it on, he knew everyone by name. Switching on his charm, he could tell a joke and make a room full of people turn their attention on him. It helped that he was handsome.
I was a wallflower. Ian chose me after gathering a bouquet of Lillys, Marigolds, and Daisys, who all wilted from his neglect. I remained standing, albeit in the corner. And Ian caught me in a weak moment, and our romance started with innocent intentions. We should have left it at that. But something within me wanted more than empty promises. I talked myself into believing that Ian could change. It was never easy.
Ian made a living the hard way. He raised a rare breed of sheep on the cliffs surrounding our land and became a sought-after stonemason when there was work in the nearby villages. He could sculpt roses from stone while I sold art through a friend from college. She commissioned pieces that weren't often to my taste but paid a handsome price. Word of mouth was an industry in art circles; I did well.
I finished my tea, which warmed me from the inside. If Ian were with the sheep, he would be out of cell range. But from the hut he erected on the hill, he undoubtedly saw the scene unfolding on the beach. For a moment, I wanted him to rush home, thinking that I was dead on the beach. It was selfish and unreasonable but also the truth. I wanted him to worry.
Ducked beneath the eaves upstairs, I could see that the murder had become a spectator sport from the bedroom's dormer window. Busybodies parked haphazardly on the sloping meadow. So much for conservation efforts that the town council harped on about. I watched as the ambulance flashed its light, then vanished among the gentle hillside. Irene Willard was no longer in a hurry to get anywhere.
A ping alerted me to a text. It was Nellie, my best friend.
Have you heard?
Living in a small town was never a private adventure. Before Ian and I became a couple, they were already hedging bets in the pub. There were winners and losers.
I thought about Linden. His list of suspects must be growing. Many had access to boats. Living near the sea made us experts at reading the currents; we could tango to the rhythm of the tides. The murderer's careful positioning of Irene's remains suggested remorse. I'd seen that much on the television shows Ian and I watched. And in no time, we'd have a theory too. Remorse applied to many aspects of Irene's life. But I had to admit I hadn't thought that knowing her would ever turn to feelings of regret such as this.
I imagined several women had good reason to breathe a sigh of relief now that Irene was dead. Not that I'd blame Irene for her death, but when Irene arrived, men noticed. And it was never Irene's fault that she was desirable, not merely because of looks. Irene had that way of looking at a man that turned them into hapless schmucks. She was the reason arguments surfaced with a frequency in our marriage too.
Serves her right!
Did it? Did Irene deserve death because she was beautiful? Whatever the motive, she didn't deserve murder. Wondering, I observed the parade of cars as they anchored to get a seat in the auditorium of crime. Was it possible that whoever killed Irene was watching too?
Nellie had good reason to hate Irene, as did a long list of others. Mrs. Baker, Julie Sampson, Dr. Harper, Lizzie, and Sally were at the forefront of my thoughts. But every man who had ever suffered an enchanting smile from the school teacher should be added to the list. Poor Irene, resting on a stainless steel table waiting to go under yet another knife, had many enemies.
Of course, I left out Ian. Despite his many flaws, I could never believe him capable of committing such a crime. Yet, I could believe it of the others. Linden had a tough job sorting through the evidence and the long list of motives that even I concocted in my head.
Don't say that!
I texted back. Nellie hadn't recovered, and I couldn't blame her. She had two children to care for. And because of Irene, she went from being happy and married to the brink of irretrievable divorce. Ron had been the first victim to succumb to Irene's charm. When Irene hired him to paint the cottage she rented, the friendship started with good intentions. Next, Nellie walked in on them, and the fallout became a contentious battle. Nellie wasn't one to let a wrong go unpunished. She hired the best divorce lawyer, and Ron was in trouble; his affair with Irene ended as abruptly as it started.
I struck both of them off my list. Ron, I couldn't see it. He fell for Irene because he was a man who had never before sampled what she was offering. Yes, he should have known better, said the fish at the end of the lure.
Nellie. I could see Nellie's plan for Irene unfold. Nellie would set trap after trap and dismantle Irene from the inside out. A plan of making Irene's life unpleasant in the village was already in the works. But murder? Never.
Dr. Harper. I never liked him. Ever since we were children in school, his hoity-toity attitude separated him — a gift he inherited from his mother. I also saw his dark side when I walked in on him abusing old Mrs. Miller. It wasn't the behavior I expected from a professional, but I saw what he was capable of and witnessed it. He and his mother thought Irene was a good match among the few choices that came their way. Most local women were not of the sort of calibre that they had in mind as a doctor's wife.
You're right. Did I hear that you found her?
News in town traveled like a rocket. Although many aspects of the village were antiquated, the internet made victims of us all.
I did. But I can't talk about it.
It was a lie. Linden never told me to keep quiet. I needed that protective blanket to spare me the inquisition.
Are you all right?
Linden suggested I speak with someone. The shock of discovering a dead body was slowly surfacing within me.
I am. For now.
Julie Sampson, aka Irene's best friend. Only the friendship didn't survive a month. Before Irene arrived, rumors about Julie's sexual orientation drifted on the mill. Julie was a decent person, and she was the driving force behind Irene succeeding in filling the vacancy. As the school's principal Julie pulled rank. What she interpreted as Irene's overtures left a wide berth difficult to pass, but Julie might have been so in love with Irene that she'd rather have her under her thumb than not at all.
Lizzie and Sally didn't mince words. They knew the reason Julie hired Irene.
Mrs. Baker. Every small town has a Mrs. Baker, a busybody, and menace. She often appears in classic literature, sometimes known as the evil witch. Mrs. Baker hated everyone. End of story.
I made those accusations as quiet observations. And I should have added myself to the list. Because of Irene, Ian and I were on the brink of falling apart. Of all the men in town, my husband had a history and an incurable wandering eye. Maybe, because his eyes were so startlingly blue, it was difficult to hide their gaze. Stricken, I watched as Irene stirred Ian's desire, although he resented my accusations.
When I heard the gravel crunch in the drive, I knew it had to be Linden. I brushed my hair behind my ears and inhaled so that I could smile when I answered the door.
"Is now a good time?" Linden asked.
As predicted, his hair had revolted and curled. There wasn't a hat that could contain the mop of ringlets. Scissors were an option, but it was a shame when the barber sheared him like a lamb.
"Come in. Tea?"
Linden nodded. Outside in the wind, the temperature dropped to near freezing. His cheeks were ruddy, and cold air hung like a sheet over him.
"Ian not home?"
"No. Out with the sheep."
I lied. I had no idea where Ian was. Last night, he and I argued, and he stormed out, telling me that my fits of jealousy were unjustified and childish.
"Can you go over with me what you saw this morning? And why on god's earth were you out there? You know it isn't safe on that beach. Never has been."
Linden was referring to the death of Ben Ross. Ben liked walking on the beach at strange hours too. On his last foray, he broke his ankle, and before he could climb to higher ground, the tide came for him. A gruesome Ben Ross story kept many adults and children away.
"I know." I didn't need a lecture. From pages of our past, Linden knew something on that stretch of beach that called to me. "Like I said. I was out walking, hoping for a photo op. The light this morning had that quality I was looking for."
That was a lie too. I walked on the beach to worry Ian as I had agonized all night until I couldn't stand another minute. I was so angry; I wasn't reasonable. That I brought my camera came as a surprise to me too. I lost all track of all sanity while I talked myself into a stupor, convinced that Ian and Irene were having an affair. At two, three, and four o'clock in the morning, my fabricated truth blinded me, but suspicions are never reasonable.
"Do you know where your boat is?"
My boat was a small outboard. It wasn't worth anything, and I used it seldom.
"Yes. We did a count at the marina. Yours is missing."
"Missing?" I said incredulously. I hadn't used the old boat in months. On occasion, I lent it out. It bobbed on the swell that ducked under the swaying dock most days. Ian never went near it; he had a fear of water, which he couldn't face.
My boat. I tried to remember who used it last with my permission. But the statement landed like an accusation that somehow my boat was tied to Irene's death.
"I have no idea. I haven't used it since last summer."
"Old Standish says it was there a few days ago. He's sure since it's tied next to his."
"Are you suggesting something?"
"You know I'm not. But I have to ask. That's my job. Tell me what you remember about the last time you used it or lent it out."
Lending my boat out always came with payment in fish, lobster, or crab. The larger vessels which fished offshore used my old clunker. It became a useful tool when scaling barnacles off their hull.
"Wait. I might be able to give you a firm date."
Linden followed me to the back door. Inside the summer kitchen was a freezer. Because Ian raised sheep and sold lamb, we needed a deep freeze. I dived into the frozen bundles of meat and rummaged. Sullivan. That is who had used my boat last. He paid me with too many lobsters, which Ian and I processed; I made lobster bisque I would have dated. Frozen smoke emanated from the container marked in my writing 'December 10, 2018,' as it met the warmer temperature. Lobster bisque.
Linden wrote the information on his pad. "That's four months ago. No one else since?"
"Not that I know of. Occasionally someone takes it out, but you know old Standish and his buddies keep an eye out."
"What about Ian?"
Linden didn't phrase the accusation in words. He implied them with his eyes. Eyes, I had never forgotten. I turned away. How dare he accuse Ian and me of Irene's death. I could feel his gaze linger on my back, so I raised myself.
"Really? You're accusing Ian?"
"I have to ask."
"True. But it sounds like you've already made up your mind."
"Not true. Where was Ian last night."
To divert attention away from the question, I reached for the dishcloth. Wiping imaginary stains, I said, "If Ian took the boat, the entire town would be abuzz with the news. He never goes near the water."
"I know about Ian's tragic past. But our past, anyone's past, doesn't rule them out."
"You'd better go. Ian's not home. As I told you, he's with the sheep. Lambing season."
I took his cup and turned away. My stupidity had turned my husband into a suspect, while my selfishness had turned my world upside down.
"Listen. Rosy. I'm sorry that I have to do this."
To hear my name spoken aloud by Linden made my eyes well. Rosy. Years ago, I was his Rosy, and he, my Sean. Everyone in town called Sean by his professional name now. Detective Linden. In this small community, nothing was a secret. Everyone was a cog in the wheel and belonged, whether they wanted that distinction or not.
"Go. I'll ask Ian to get in touch with you."
I heard Linden push the kitchen chair under the table. While I waited for him, I felt his hand hovering as if he wanted to reach out and touch me. I listened for him to leave.
Max barked to announce that he and his alpha had descended the mountain. Because the dog was faster, he was the first to arrive. I could see Ian a few hundred yards behind. His head tucked into the upturned collar of his slicker, and his walking stick firmly in hand.
Ian started farming Blue Texel sheep in his twenties. Texels are sturdy sheep that remind me of a calf and sheep mixture. I called them ottomans on legs. A joke that Ian can't appreciate. It's also what brought Ian and me together. He asked me to photograph his flock for his website and later a calendar.
We'd known each other in school but always kept our distance until I showed him the proofs in my darkroom.
I put the kettle on and rifled in the fridge for the makings of a meal.
"Rosalind?" Ian yelled in through the door.
"Thank god you're safe. Have you heard about what's going on at the beach?"
I could hear Ian strip off his coat, rough pants, and work shoes.
"Yes. I've heard."
Max snuck through the door as soon as Ian opened it. Ian's eyes met mine, and in that instant, all was forgiven. He pulled me into his embrace and buried his face in my hair. I heard his heart pound in my ear and smelled that musky odor from working with sheep. Max sat at our heel, expecting a pat too.
"What happened? Do you know?"
I extracted myself and silenced the kettle.
"Irene is dead."
I've never seen Ian stagger, but he caught himself on the chair. His pallor shifted from ruddy to ashen within a second.
"My god! Did she drown?"
I wasn't sure if I should have shared that crucial piece of evidence, but it was Ian, my husband.
Ian looked to his hands for answers as people often do at times of great grief.
"There was never anything between us."
"I believe you," I said and meant it.
He lifted his hand for me to take, and I reached to warm his fingers.
"What else have you heard?"
"I found her."
The statement exploded into the room. Even Max sensed that what I declared was a bombshell.
"My god! When?" He squeezed my fingers.
"I stormed from the house this morning. I was angry; I had no idea where you were. I wanted to hurt you."
"Tell me everything."
At that moment, I remembered a detail I noticed on Irene while I was talking to the operator. She had a tattoo on the flat upper part of her collar bone. Initials etched into a heart. The tattoo's color was a vibrant shade of red and teal. The outline was crisp. As if it came off the assembly line yesterday, minus the swelling and inflammation.
"I couldn't sleep because I worried." I didn't need to say that it was about the affair I imagined. "So I stormed out, hoping you'd come home and find me gone."
"Rosalind. You know, I love you. We might have our share of troubles, but all married couples do. If you must know, I'll repeat it. There was nothing between Irene and me, and I'm sorry. I shouldn't have run off either. It was the worst possible time, but I had to clear my head, and nothing I said to you got through. If sheep could talk, they'd tell you I was with them."
"I believe you. I found Irene on the beach. I called it in. Linden wants to talk to you."
"Shit! Are you okay? Finding a corpse can be unsettling."
"I'm okay. I haven't had a moment to really process. My mind has been somersaulting through all possible scenarios. Irene didn't deserve to die like that."
"No one does. How do you know she didn't drown?"
Ian pulled me onto his lap. His fingers caressed my arm and played with my hair. It's during moments like these that I loved Ian the most. He was tender, and kind-hearted, and we matched.
"Her throat was slit."
"Jesus! You saw that?"
"Yes. The murderer posed her body. Whoever did that to Irene posed her like a shrine. They cut her throat and draped a piece of dulse over the wound."
"I better call Linden. I don't want this on my shoulders."
Ian lifted me off his lap and kissed me. I reached for my phone and dialed Linden. I left the kitchen so Ian could make his statement in private.
Although I could hear Ian's voice, I couldn't hear the words. My gaze shifted from the scene of the crime toward the hut where Ian kept his sheep. There was only one way in and out, and sheep theft had become a problem in the country. Anyone would have to drive right past our cottage. In the distance, I saw the dark specks of sheep grazing on the solid green patch of land. To the west, the sky was clearing, and formed a blue-tinged and densely colored wall of clouds. My aunt loved this view. It was my escape hatch too.
"Rosalind! You can come down now."
"How'd it go?"
"Fine. He said your boat is missing."
"Yes. He mentioned that. But I doubt it has anything to do with Irene. Why would anyone use my boat to transport a body? It's unreliable."
"Whoever did might not know that. He asked if you were okay."
"I am. Now that you're home."
"Look. I should tell you this; you'll hear about it sooner or later."
The look on Ian's face disturbed me. I knew he left something out about Irene.
"It's nothing like you're thinking. Come here." Ian pulled me into his arms again and kissed the top of my head.
"I have been meeting with Irene. She knew someone who was in trouble. Someone looking to find a home for a child. And since you and I, well, I just wanted to explore the option."
"Yes. We've talked about adoption. I know you were disappointed when our tests led nowhere. And Irene once mentioned that she thought you and I would make good parents."
"When was that? And what would she know about it?"
"At the pub. You were talking with Mrs. Wilson, who was interrogating you about starting a family. Irene and I overheard. She joked about our lives being discussed so openly. I said it was the price to pay for living in a tight-knit community."
"Yes, Mrs. Wilson gave me the third degree. So what of this child?"
"Here." Ian showed me his cellphone. "This is Cindy, the mom. She's only sixteen. She's giving the baby up regardless. I admit I was interested but never found the right time to bring it up. It's still months away."
Out of nowhere, tears crested and trickled down my nose. The whispers, the rumored meetings I had suspicions over, were to bring a child into our lives. Ian and I avoided the subject as it was uncomfortable to bring into our marriage bed since the doctors found no evidence against Ian or my body. They recommended allowing time to do its thing. I never saw myself as the sort of woman who identified as a mother until last year. Then the ticking started.
"You did that for me?"
Ian pulled me closer. I had been wrong about this man and the depths of his soul that were still unexplored. Maybe once I pushed all my insecurities aside, Ian was the right man for me, after all. For the moment, I enjoyed the warmth wafting like whispers off his body. Leaning into him, I heard his stomach rumble and remembered my intention of putting the stew on the stove.
"You must be starving."
"It can wait. What's important is that you're okay."
I set the stew to simmer and carved wedges of yesterday's bread. Ian patted the dog and sifted through the mail that came that morning.
"Linden's stopping by sometime this afternoon. He wants us to sign formal statements. Said it was best to stay put."
It surprised me that Ian could say Linden's name without resentment in his tone. But there wasn't anything I could do but keep it professional. All morning, thoughts of Irene drifted in and out. I visualized her lifeless body. The detail of how her hair fanned out, the wet green gauze, and the private anatomy exposed to daylight flashed.
When I ladled the stew onto plates, I thought of the permanent letters of her tattoo again. Did I know anyone with those initials? And what would the coroner in the city make of them? Would Linden zero in on them as well?
Slurping the hot stew, Ian asked what he'd been waiting to ask. "So, tell me everything you saw."
I swallowed and set my spoon down. Ian left the house at midnight. I was too angry, and he was too stubborn to continue the argument. He took his slicker and Max and stormed out. It wasn't the first time. While waiting for him to come back, I paced and rehearsed everything I should have used in the argument. I wasn't good at keeping to a logical debate; I admit emotion got the best of me. An hour passed; I went upstairs and peered into the darkness. A precise half of the moon stood on guard next to Venus. I tried to discern the light from Ian's hut since he hadn't returned. Because it was lambing season, it was the norm that he often wandered up to his refuge. I saw darkness hunker down on the land, and the stars studded the clear night sky.
By two o'clock, I was beyond angry. How dare he leave me hanging like that? I brushed the film from my teeth and the red from my nose. I looked like hell and thought, no wonder Ian's having a fling with Irene. At three o'clock, I took up my post by the window again — no sign of Ian.
I climbed into the corner of the sofa and brought my blanket in for comfort. I was hoping to cry myself to sleep and wake to brighter and clearer skies. When I looked at the digital clock, it was four o'clock, and I imagined Ian holding Irene. I pictured him getting out of her bed, his shirt off, the ripples of his muscles shaping his arms and chest. At five o'clock, I boiled over and stormed out. I figured if Ian were coming home, it would be any minute now. I turned away from the hill and headed for the beach. Waiting for the dawn to light the horizon, I sat on the bench mounted in memory of Ben Ross and kept vigil. I was cold, but pride wouldn't allow me to come back. I wanted Ian to suffer and worry.
I brought my knees up and sat shivering in the cold to keep warm. The rising sun captivates me, peering over the horizon's rim, about to light this half of the world. I waited for the first sliver of light to latch itself onto the dark waves and expand into a silver thread. It was too dark to take pictures, but I realized my camera was in the kangaroo pouch of my jacket by then. The skyline was an abused shade of mauve and dense. Slowly the long fingers of the sun peeled the darkness away and made room for light.
"I was drawn to the light. I took my time; I was careful on the path. Gulls squawked, and the wind rustled the shoregrass. I never suspected anything other than being cold once I got to the beach. I saw the tide noted on the calendar when I wrote down my hair appointment yesterday. I knew it was heading out; I'd be safe."
"Love. No one's ever safe down there. Please stop going alone. If you really want to take photographs, take me with you."
Ian buttered another slab of bread. It was an offer he had made to me on many occasions, but I never accepted his company. Art is private, and only artists understand that.
"When my eyes first saw the lump on the shore, I thought it was a tree stump. That side of the beach is too violent, and the ocean seldom deposits anything that it doesn't take back. But I was more interested in the skyline. The light was keeping pace with me, and the closer I got, the more it captivated me. Then I panicked when I thought it might be a body. It looked lifelike, but it didn't move."
"What time do you think it was?"
"Sixish. Guessing by the rising sun, I'd say six. When I reached the sand, I started to walk faster. At least two hundred yards separated me and that anomaly on the beach. I started to take pictures and noticed there were no other footprints on the sand. If it were a body, it wouldn't have walked there. The more obvious it became that it was a body, the faster my feet moved. Before I knew it, I recognized Irene."
"You didn't see anyone else on the beach or a boat in the water?"
"Nothing. I had a feeling I was being watched, but if there were eyes on me, I couldn't make them out. Irene was almost beautiful. There might have been a message in her position that I couldn't read. Her eyes were open and staring. She saw exactly who killed her."
"I can't think of anyone who might have done this? You?"
I shook my head. Ian didn't need to hear about my fabricated suspects. I'm sure he had his list in the works. I closed my eyes and inhaled.
"Let's get you to bed. You look worn out. Like it just hit you."
"You're right. I am. But what about Linden?"
"I'll wake you. I need to feed Max; I can take care of the dishes."
Ian led me upstairs and tucked the comforter up to my chin. "Sleep."
Although I fought drifting away from the unanswered questions, my eyes betrayed me and closed. When I woke, it was to Ian's kiss gently lifting from my brow. He was holding the hand that had escaped from under the cover. "Linden is here. Take your time."
I brushed my teeth, ran the brush through my hair, and twisted the thick coil into a clip. I thought about changing my clothes, but Ian might think I did so for Linden.
In the kitchen, Linden and Ian were speaking quietly. I heard another voice I didn't recognize; the kettle whistled; Ian was being hospitable and making tea.
"Rosalind, this is Special Crimes Officer Howard," Linden said, using my full name. A hand reached out to shake mine, and I complied.
"Officer Howard. I repeated the name, a trick I learned long ago.
"Mrs. MacIntyre. Sorry to meet under these circumstances."
I could tell that Howard was older by a few decades, and seasoned. Although he appeared amicable, he was already forming conclusions. Since I wasn't sure what was involved in making a statement, I remained standing.
"We prefer taking statements at the office, but as it happens, we have a bit of a problem. An infestation of lice."
My hand lifted, and I scratched my scalp. Ian pulled the chair out for me and whispered, "sit, dear."
My eyes fell to the tape recorder that Linden must have set on the table while I looked at Howard. My replies would be recorded, then analyzed. I was nervous, and although my hands didn't shake, they trembled beneath the skin.
"Mr. MacIntyre, may we ask you to step outside?" Howard smiled at Ian, albeit it wasn't a smile at all.
Scarsdale Strand didn't have its own investigative team. It relied on the department from the next village to supply experienced officers. Although this was Linden's third death, he had never been entrusted with investigating them. His superiors always brought in a team. Undoubtedly, members were already sifting through the forensic evidence. Irene's death wouldn't slip away quietly as the murderer had.
"In your own words, please write down what you saw, what time, and all pertinent information you can think of. Take your time. Linden slid a yellow pad and pen toward me.
I heard the door close behind Ian and Max; I saw their shadows as they made their way toward the front garden. Ian wasn't the sort of man who was ever idle. When his sheep didn't harvest his attention, it was the garden. One could never accuse Ian of being lazy.
With their eyes trained on me, I wrote for ten minutes without losing my train of thought. I didn't dress anything up, left off the spectacular shade of mauve, and focused on the facts. I underscored the initials of Irene's tattoo.
Linden read what I wrote down, and it complied with what I told him earlier. Howard took longer, but he seemed satisfied.
"You doing okay?" Linden asked.
"I am. Just tired. I guess it hit me this afternoon."
"Shock takes time in some people. It's normal. Most men couldn't handle what you witnessed today. So take it easy. By all means." Howard was authoritative.
After they left, I joined Ian in the garden. He was on his knees, thinning his row of thriving carrots. Max found a suntrap in the corner and slept the sleep of dogs, chasing imaginary rabbits, flicking his tail, jerking his legs. My hands dug into the dirt and pulled.
For weeks after, speculations and rumors mingled with every meal served in the village. We'd all become spectators in Irene's life. Although we didn't deserve a seat in the front row. Linden sent a courier with the camera chip, and the photos of Irene were deleted. Someone from thirty miles away called in about my boat. Linden returned it after it was thoroughly assessed and swabbed for evidence. It wasn't the vessel that deposited Irene on the beach. Ian had a great lambing season, and I joined him often in the hut, escaping the rumor mill that had everyone in the village feeling on edge.
Although Irene's life ended, Ian's life and mine carried on. Nellie and Ron reconciled after he made amends. Lizzie took over for Irene, and Julie fell in love with a woman she met on the internet while searching for clues to Irene's past life.
In the village, they were a camp divided. Everyone had an opinion and separated fact from fiction though they didn't have an accurate account of either. Speculation and opinion were regarded as truth; many discussions led to bitter arguments. Eggshells were broken.
Within a few months, Linden proved them wrong. Irene was a victim of circumstance. She caught the eye of a man who had a textbook taste for ending the lives of women that reminded him of his mother. There was only one thing Irene could have done differently. That was to be at a different place at the time. The man is now in jail.
What we learned as a village and community was that truth has a way of drifting. Eventually, like the tide, the truth will return the evidence that was out there in plain sight. Ian and I are expecting. It's not too late. We love each other, and even now, we still argue, sometimes over silly things, like what to name our child.
I still think of Irene often; and that she left without saying goodbye.