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Authors: John Lawrence Reynolds

And Leave Her Lay Dying

BOOK: And Leave Her Lay Dying
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And Leave Her Lay Dying
A Joe McGuire Mystery
John Lawrence Reynolds

Dedication

For Jeffrey David and Courtney Lee
Laughter, laughter
All their shining days.

Chapter One

He made another perfect cast.

A gold and emerald jewel suspended between two blue worlds, the fly hung at the crest of a graceful arc before descending, with an accuracy born of skill and practice, to the surface of the water where it twitched once, then twice, and waited patiently to be devoured.

Ollie Schantz grunted approval, swaying with the motion of the flat-bottomed boat beneath his feet. His quick overhand sweep of the split-bamboo rod had deposited the lure on target, just beyond a granite outcropping where the river entered the lake.

He grunted again. Should be a mess of them there. That's where all the smart guys are. The clever old ones. Hiding out at the mouth of the river, knowing I can't reach them from the shore. Takes a boat to put you in the right place for big land-locked salmon. Especially those guys, smarter'n your average truck driver. Dumb youngsters stay in the river where you can practically wade in and scoop 'em up. Gotta come at these guys where they don't expect it. Surprise them when they're lying back, feeling safe. They see a fly over their heads and it's Good morning, breakfast.

His right hand held the rod delicately between fingers and thumb, like an artist's brush. Across his other hand he draped coils of double-tapered line, ready to provide slack when the salmon struck. His right wrist quivered for an instant and the lure twitched in response, spreading orbits of ripples across the glassy surface of the water.

The fly lived. It struggled and tempted.

“Must have their mouths watering by now.” Ollie spoke aloud for the first time, enjoying the sound of his voice sounding low and relaxed, free of tension and care. It felt good to hear it that way. “Gotta be prowling for food, tying on their bibs, reaching for the ketchup,” he said more loudly, an overweight middle-aged man talking to himself alone in a boat, far from home. He laughed at the image and his belly shook in agreement.

He sat gently down on the seat of the boat, a contented man on a remote, peaceful lake in the endless sunshine that floods the northland in autumn, his eyes shaded by a floppy cotton hat perched lightly on a basketball head: round, bald, large, red and leathery. Two woollen lumberjack shirts protected him from the lingering morning chill; wide crimson suspenders held up a pair of oversized army surplus pants whose pockets bulged with fishing gear. On his feet he wore a shiny pair of Timberland boots purchased directly from the factory door just a week earlier.

He shot another glance at the fly on the water before transferring the loose coils of line to his right hand and reaching for a plastic cooler on the seat of the dinghy. Flipping open the lid, he withdrew a sandwich loosely wrapped in waxed paper, set it at his feet, and returned to the cooler for a bottle of beer.

He slid the fishing rod under his arm and twisted the cap off the bottle with his free hand, covering the opening quickly with his mouth to capture the foam, still chilled from the cold air of the previous night. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and turned to sweep the New Brunswick scenery with his eyes.

From the near shoreline of the lake, pine trees stretched away to distant hills, their thick greenery broken only where a mud road ended in a turn-around at the water's edge where Ollie's station wagon was parked beneath the low-spreading branches of a shoreline tree. Inside the car were his sleeping bag, a portable radio, a change of clothing, extra fishing equipment, a cache of ham sandwiches, beer, coffee, butter, spices and cooking equipment. He would eat pan-fried fillets of salmon and drink cold beer each night for the next three days, watching the moon rise over the lake and wondering, like a young lover greeting the morning from his bed, how anyone could possibly be happier.

He smiled up at the cobalt sky. Three days of weather like this would be—

An explosion of silver, alive and thrashing, erupted from the water near the shore. On instinct, Ollie raised the fishing rod vertically and began paying out line, giving the fish room to run. He stood and leaned forward, squinting against the sun for a view of his prey. The boat rocked beneath him, protesting the abrupt shift of weight. He stumbled, regained his balance, and began reeling in excess line.

Too much excess line.

As suddenly as it had come to life, the line went slack and dead. The fly floated back to the surface, spat out by the salmon, and the fish gave Ollie a flaunting wave of its tail as it disappeared beneath the water.

Ollie shouted a curse of anger and frustration; the words echoed back from the shore, taunting him as the salmon had, while he wound in the line. He repeated the curse, softly this time, and once again smiled at the absurdity of the scene.

“One for you,” he said aloud, grinning even more broadly. “But that's all you get. That's all you get, my friend!”

He pulled the fly out of the water, inspected it for damage, and sat gently down in the boat, which continued to rock like a cradle beneath him. Gotta be more careful, he told himself. Just relax. Me and the fish, we've got all the time in the world.

In the excitement of the strike, he had dropped the bottle of beer. Now it rolled lazily amid islands of foam near his feet, back and forth with the sideways motion of the small craft. “Lots of time. Lots of beer,” Ollie muttered, nudging the bottle away with the toe of his boot.

The lure had survived the salmon's attack without injury. Ollie stood up carefully, dropped the bamboo rod over his right shoulder and with a single, smooth motion launched the lure back to the little cove beyond the granite point. Responding to his deft motions, the fly pirouetted a few times on the surface of the water. Ollie sat gently in the boat again and leaned back, resting his elbow on the gunwale. The sun bathed him in soft warmth and for a few moments he lay without moving, forgetting the fly and the fish, feeling the silence of the New Brunswick interior envelop him.

Damn, he grinned to himself. I can't stop smiling. Life has finally got so good, I can't stop smiling about it.

An hour later, the sun had climbed almost overhead and shrunk the shadows with its glare. Ollie removed his outer shirt and unbuttoned the one beneath it, exposing his pink stomach, round and jolly. He stood again, watching the lure play at his command on the water beyond the rocks. Empty beer bottles rolled on the bottom of the boat colliding with balls of waxed paper and bread crusts.

Two salmon, tethered through the gills, hung over the side of the boat on the end of a cotton rope. Ollie glanced down at the fish. Large enough for dinner. He would fillet them in the last light of the day. Or maybe split them along their backbones, nail them to a wooden plank, and slow-smoke them over a hardwood fire.

The beer and sun were making him drowsy. He turned to check his car, still waiting in the shady glade. A nap later. Another beer by the lake, a short sleep, then fish some more.

Boston was far away on a distant planet, grey and grimy. There, bodies lay waiting to be discovered at the top of tenement stairs. But no more for Ollie Schantz: never again for him some dead eye focused on eternity, not another hateful face to confront.

One more cast. He wound in the line, lay the rod behind his back and snapped it over his shoulder as he had done dozens of times that morning, watching the fly soar and sink lightly in the shadow near the shore. One twitch, another . . .

The water beneath the fly boiled and the lure vanished beneath the surface. The reel began to sing as the line stretched, throbbing and taut, into the water.

“You old son of a bitch!” Ollie shouted. A burnished gleam like prized old pewter flashed in the sun as the fish broke the surface. Alternately reeling in the line and releasing tension when the salmon turned back to shore, Ollie played the fish closer to the boat and whooped aloud when his prey swam past him barely an arm's length beneath the surface.

“Got a poor memory, huh?” Ollie shouted as the salmon darted by. “Too hungry for your own good, huh? You tough old bastard you!” He laughed aloud, and in the gleeful sound he made and the wide expression on his face he was no longer an overweight retired homicide detective but a twelve­year-old boy on summer vacation.

The fish was tiring as Ollie looked around for the landing net. Big old boy must be twenty, twenty-five pounds, he told himself as he watched it swim in circles near the boat. Bending at the knees, he kept his eye on the salmon and reached blindly with one hand for the net.

Damn, where the hell was it? The boat lurched suddenly with his shift in weight and he sat down quickly to stabilize it. There's the net, near the bow. He stretched his heavy body forward, lying prone across the middle seat, to retrieve it. Must look like a fat old fool, he grinned to himself. Then he eased himself back to a standing position.

And felt his heart sink.

There was too much slack in the line. It dropped vertically into the darkness of the water from the tip of his rod. He cursed the fish, cursed the net as he dropped it at his feet, cursed the boat that shuddered beneath him, cursed himself for his stupidity, all the while reeling in yards of line.

But the salmon had been resting in the shadow of the dinghy. As Ollie wound slack line onto the reel it darted away again with a last burst of energy before growing tired and disoriented. Ollie took back the line he had given the fish, telling himself to calm down, damn it.

With the fish within sight again, Ollie locked off the reel and stooped to seize the net, then stood up and yanked quickly on the line to summon his catch alongside the boat. Bending from the waist, he positioned the net ahead of the fish, jerked the line again and scooped the netting to ensnare the salmon.

He laughed and cursed again, hefting the fish upward with his left hand gripping the net handle. More weight than he expected. And his arms were more tired than he thought. With the salmon thrashing wildly, threatening to burst out of the netting, Ollie spread his feet apart for more stability. The boat protested with a sudden yawing motion. Instinctively, he shifted his weight in the other direction to counter the motion and lifted his left foot to retain his balance, bringing it down on something round, something rolling across the bottom of the dinghy.

His foot shot out from under him and he tried to lean forward, tried to prevent himself from falling. But the momentum of heaving the fish into the boat continued to propel him backwards. Now his other foot slipped forward too, and as he tumbled back, his arms outstretched, flinging net and rod away, he looked up at the clear New Brunswick sky and asked himself, What the hell's going to happen now?

When he opened his eyes again he was sprawled on his back, his neck across the gunwale of the boat. As he fell, he had heard the sound of someone breaking a twig just behind his right ear. He had heard it snap. A dry twig under a heavy foot snaps like that. But there was no one around. And there was nothing at his right ear. Only the hard edge of the gunwale. A hard unyielding edge he could no longer feel.

Something was flopping in the water beside him. Something else was thrashing at his feet. He heard the wind; when had the wind come up? How long had he lain there? He felt the sun on his face, smelled the freshness in the air.

He gathered his will and turned his head slowly to the right. The sound of footsteps on loose gravel scratched inside his skull. Twigs and loose gravel. What had snapped? What had splintered? He knew. With welling fear, he knew.

Now he could see his arm flopping in the water, the entire limb trembling like a hysterical child. Curious, he watched his hand dance its spastic dance; panic-stricken, he tried to feel the water, feel the chill of it. And felt nothing.

Get up, he told himself. Move, he instructed his body.

But only his hand moved, shaking in uncontrollable spasms, skipping in the water to frantic unheard music.

At his feet another rhythm was being played out, softer and sporadic. Another dancer, this one performing on the end of a double-tapered line, the lure through its mouth.

Tears came to his eyes.

Ollie Schantz lay paralyzed in the sunshine and listened to the salmon, tangled in the net near the bow, die in long convulsions through the rest of the perfect day.

BOOK: And Leave Her Lay Dying
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