High in the Chugach Mountains east of Anchorage, after the snow melts and fills the thaw ponds and lakes, Ship Creek plunges down fast, carving a jagged course through green hillsides, exposing water-worn rock scattered like bones left behind by long-dead glaciers. Leveling off on the valley floor, it cuts under a highway, trespasses through an air base then back out again, cascades over a spillway before straightening out between leaf-littered banks that gradually turn into the dusty warehouses lining Post Road. From there, it continues on through an urban wasteland, flowing through the jagged-edged junkyards, rail yards, and freight yards, around a dam, under a brooding steel bridge, beneath floating flocks of deadbeat mallards, before curving lazily through a muddy black estuary and merging with the tidal waters of the upper Cook Inlet; a frigid silty sea renamed in honor of a frustrated English mariner who came up looking for the Northwest Passage, but found only two dead ends before turning back around and sailing away in disgust.
Above the estuary, the dam sits like an insult to the wild little creek, made worse by recently added decorative iron railings, flower stem light poles, and signs for tourists outlining the mating habits of various species of salmon.
On this early morning in late July, the stark light of the midnight sun colors the concrete and lightens the dark sucking low tide riverbank mud yawning below rails running away toward the station. Native grasses, covered with city grime, rise beneath elegant fireweed blooming scarlet-pink. A few cars pass in early morning haste and disappear.
To the east, on the wild side of the dam where the creek meets concrete and is channeled around it, an eddy forms, trapping in its swirling clockwise flow objects carried downstream by the force of the water. It’s a gloomy tangled vortex of dark branches, beer cans, glass, and fastfood styrofoam abraded by the power and patience of this determined stream.
In this eddy, a dark haired woman lies just below the surface. She is on her back and her right leg is caught on a log that holds her in place above the edge of the dam. The creek has not been graceful in carrying her to this place and what’s left of her face is bloated in defeat. She is wearing blue-jeans, sneakers, and a gray T-shirt with faded blue letters that spell Hawaii. In the current, her hair sways out from her head like kelp, and her right arm is moving from side to side as if she were waving, although the fingers are unnaturally curled and locked into a claw. Her last expression is the death grin, a hideous leering rictus mocking whatever beauty she may have had in life.
A middle-aged, male tourist is briskly walking across the dam now, eagerly searching the water for a bright trace of salmon.
Lewis Bocarde was facing the morning of his fortieth birthday with a breakfast of grilled strips of salted pig flesh. It was backlash. The hell with cholesterol. He wasn’t very happy about turning forty.
He was in the White Spot Cafe, sitting at the end of the counter that zigzagged around the open grill, face buried in the newspaper, his mind wandering, absently forking the flesh into his mouth, trying his best to avoid the recriminating stare of the two Tabasco-streaked over-easy eyes splayed out next to the potatoes on his five-dollar breakfast platter.
Stocks were up, stocks were down, catastrophes mounted, the human machine marched on, the Sturm und Drang clang of American commercialism resounded everywhere, wars broke out, riots quelled, children were born princes and princesses and raised by rabble, you groped through life like a blind horse at a fast gallop, years slipping by without amounting to much, dreams collided and turned to dust, dust to ashes, ashes in your mouth, but dammit, throughout it all there was one simple thing in this world you could always count on: BACON.
Some cave man somewhere dropped his meat in the ocean once, set it aside to dry out and when he ate it his eyes went wide and he knew at that moment he had invented something that would comfort his fellow man for eons to come.
And here he was facing his forties without ever having invented bacon.
He closed the front section of the paper with a snap without having read it, picked up the business section, frowned, put it back down and reached for the features section. Escape. Bring on the factoids and news nuggets and the gushing interviews with celebrities, but steer clear of the comics page; they had become so unfunny it was almost depressing.
It wasn’t that he was vain about his age or worried about looking older. The years had been taking away something with regularity ever since his middle thirties. First some of his dark hair, then some muscle tone, then diminishing skin elasticity began etching his habitual expressions deep into his face, some loss of memory—though his theory on that was the more you saw the less you wanted to remember—the increasing frequency of his need to visit that descendant of Marquis de Sade who called himself a dentist, the vague pains from old forgotten wounds along with the embarrassing snap-crackle-pop in all the major moving parts in his six foot, three inch frame, and now—ah yes the prostate, he was having to get up in the middle of the night to urinate. But it was more than all that.
It was about: TIME
Time slipping away.
Time: going, Going, GONE.
The time-train built up speed after forty, blasted through the fifties, hit the downgrade in the sixties and balled-the-jack all the way down to the last stop on the line: Oblivion. He was hearing the wailing lament for lost time. He had been a criminal defense investigator for twelve years now. Twelve years of somebody else’s problems. Twelve years of sifting through the mud. Twelve years of investigating homicides, witnessing the wreckage each left in its wake, too many ghosts floating through his head like smoke across a battlefield after the front has moved on.
He loved his job, he hated his job. But he had gotten to see life up close, to work to support an ideal, a belief that every accused person was entitled to a good defense. He didn’t want to live in a world where the police pronounced someone guilty and that was the end of it. They were human, they made mistakes. A good prosecutor could make anyone look guilty. A Grand Jury only heard one side of the story. Indictments almost always followed. Trials were not about truth or justice, they were about winning. Period. Justice was like anemic blood pumped by a weak heart through the clogged arteries of an overweight court system.
It wasn’t that all of his clients were innocent, either. But it was important to make the prosecutors prove their cases because without resistance they would pursue more marginal cases where there was no surety, where there was plenty of room for abuses to occur. There was fear in the country now, he understood it, but he also knew that this fear could not be incarcerated.
And that was just it. Lately, he had been feeling it was all a meaningless game, with a predetermined outcome, everyone gravely going through the motions and reciting their well-rehearsed lines. Judges made rulings during trials that were guaranteed to be reversed on appeal, but it kept the case moving, got the expected guilty verdict, the public was satisfied, the case was off the court’s calendar and everything was kept spinning round. That was the important thing, movement.
He wondered whether he just needed a break or if it was time to get out. A forty-year-old man didn’t have much time left to waste. Maybe he should try something else. But what could he do? What career was there for someone whose qualifications included stubbornness. Skepticism. The ability to dissect a murder case for exploitable weaknesses. The capacity to look at graphic crime scene photos without vomiting. An encyclopedic knowledge of the dark side of human nature. A con man’s affability. A constitution capable of drinking ample amounts of alcohol. The blood of a rogue with a bleeding heart. The keen eye of a myopic hawk. The linguistic faculty to comprehend the arcane speech patterns of attorneys. And a blustery nature capable of holding his own in a cell with a convicted felon or on a planeload of politicians. Didn’t add up to much. The only job he was qualified for was that of a bartender. Maybe a—
Lewis buried his nose deeper in the paper. He knew who it was: Jed Appalook. Aleut native activist. The living example of what Nietzsche meant by he who fights too long against the dragon becomes himself a dragon. He was in no mood for Jed.
“BO-cardi. You DEAF?”
He put the paper down and swung his eyes around smiling slightly, but not with his eyes. Everything about Jed was long. Long hair, long arms, long fingers, long legs, his scraggly fu-Manchu mustache was long, he stayed around too long, used for too long the tired old joke linking Lewis’ last name with a popular brand of rum. Yes, he was a very endearing fellow.
“Jed, I’m about half-pissed off as it is. Make it short.”
“All white people are crabby. Because they have a guilty conscience. Look at this. Right on the front page. ‘Native woman found in Ship Creek.’ ” He held up the newspaper for Lewis to see. “You believe that? They never say—White woman found in Ship Creek, or Polish or Jewish. If they said Black woman the N double A’s and a P would be gettin’ after ‘em. Nobody even blinks when they say Native.”
Lewis had missed it himself but he blamed it more on his preoccupation with time. “You have a point,” he said. “It was wrong.”
“Hey, I know it’s wrong. But lookit this. Says they don’t know how she died. Right here—‘unexplained circumstances regarding her death.’ I know how she died. Somebody put her in that creek there. But they won’t do nothin’. Another drunk native. If it was one of you—they’d be out detecting all over that creek. You should do the detecting. Find how that girl died.”
“Jed, I don’t do that kind of work. The police—”
“Aren’t you some kinda bullshit investigator? Well, you lookit this. Find out why native’s always dyin’. Find out why they sell ‘em so much booze they can’t walk, then let ‘em freeze to death. Find out how come so many native girls get raped and they never catch the one’s that did it. Find OUT why they can take our LAND, our FISH, find OUT why there are more natives in jail than any other people—”
“Hey. Give it a rest. I’m tryin’ to eat here.”
This came from the bigger of two guys sitting further down the counter. They had been sending disgusted looks toward Jed in between gulps of coffee. Even though Lewis didn’t want to listen either, there was something about the look on the man's face he liked even less.
“He’s got the right to speak,” he said, motioning towards Jed who was already off toward the man, angrily jabbing the article with his finger. “You think this is right,” he said, shoving the paper up into the man’s face.
The man batted the paper away and when Jed shoved it back the man got up and planted a spread palm into Jed’s chest and pushed, hard. Jed flew back, banged his hip against a table, turned rigid and his eyes narrowed into angry slits.
When Jed went for the man, Lewis was on his feet to get in between them. Jed was behind him, pointing accusingly over Lewis’ shoulder saying over and over, “You shitty FUCK, you SHITTY fuck.” The man was trying to reach around Lewis to get at Jed. The woman who ran the place was screaming at all of them, eggs were burning on the grill, other patrons were moving back in horror. Time had come to a stop and Lewis was no longer thinking about birthdays or bacon or even his potential as a future bartender. He caught blasts of coffee breath coming from the man, felt spit on his ear every time Jed hissed the word shitty and determined that this was the only adjective he could use to capture the essence of this unpromising morning.
The man had grown tired of trying to reach around Lewis to get at Jed and made an attempt to push him aside. Lewis stepped inside, balled his fist and shot a short sharp left at the man’s liver. The man made a face like he was choking on something groaned and went straight down to the floor. His friend started forward and Jed picked up a coffee cup and hurled it, striking the man in the shoulder. Lewis grabbed Jed, spun him around and pushed him out the door. He came back in with his palms held up and said, “This has already gone way too far. I apologize to everyone. We’re leaving now.” He pulled out some money, tossed it on the counter and left as Jed was coming back in the door. Lewis grabbed him and pulled him down Fourth Avenue.
“Not bad white man. You shut him down good.”
“Jed just . . . shut up.”
“People always tryin’ to stop me from stickin’ up for my people. Like that man in there. Hates natives. Don’t like hearin’ the truth. Thinks we should all stay drunk and keep quiet. Hey, BO-cardi. Why’d you get in between?”
Lewis moved to get around a group of tourists, all wearing new shoes and carrying bags from souvenir shops. He was leading the obstinate native away from the White Spot so he wouldn’t go back and get into more trouble. Jed caught up with him and asked again.
“Why’d you do it?”
“Because my mother always taught me you had to watch out for the feeble-minded.”
“HA. Good one BO-cardi. Hey. Could you teach me how to do that? Knock a guy down like that?”
“When you’re eighty.”
“Natives in this town don’t live that long, white man.”
“Try to lead a peaceful life then.”
“No peace for me or my people. It’s war, man. A war between the good and the evil.”
Lewis felt Jed getting revved up again and he had led him far enough away to keep him out of trouble for a while. “Okay, Jed.
I’ve had enough fun for one morning. I just want to go someplace quiet and think my own thoughts. Try to stay away from grumpy rednecks, will ya.”
“See, you admit it. It’s a redneck world. Everywhere you go in this town it’s the same—”
“See you later, Jed.” Lewis walked away and Jed continued shouting after him.
“I know the truth, man. You look into that creek thing. You’ll see I’m right. You can’t just walk away, BO-cardi. HEY . . . Let’s have breakfast again . . . soon.”
Lewis continued down the avenue lined with cars and hanging spheres of Lobelia with their purple star-like petals, past the monolithic courthouse where he greeted attorneys he had been fortunate/unfortunate enough to have worked with, before crossing over to Fifth Avenue and down the hill into Bootlegger’s Cove, where he picked up the Coastal Trail and wandered along the water.
Across the sun-mottled Inlet, the recumbent form of the Sleeping Lady, known more formally as Mt. Susitna, stretched out on a blanket of low tin-colored clouds. Jets roared off Point Woranzoff and salmon moved through the water like dollar bills on their way to the drainages up North.
During the Arctic summer, everything grew furiously. There was no time to waste. It was grow or die, grow or die, as all the plants seemed to be saying. Grow-flower-reproduce quick. Everything was alive and hungry and greedy for light. The sun arced and dimmed only for a few hours this time of year and bestowed a manic energy on all living things. Joggers, bicyclists, and inline- skaters zipped by him on the trail locked into the same frenzied rhythm of summer. It was almost too much. As if he could feel the dizzying spin of the earth.
He left the trail and walked the driftwood-edged tide line until he found a secluded spot where the rocks piled up on a muddy beach. He sat down and took off his socks and shoes, pressing the soles of his feet into the cool, cool earth. The waters of the Inlet lapped against the shore, sounding like the wet slap of sex and bringing recurring whiffs of brine. He gazed out over the water to the mountains beyond, though in his mind he went even further, down the far slopes on the other side, where the tundra rolled away in gentle bulges all the way to the Bering Sea. A place more water than land, dotted with thaw ponds and cut by rivers and creeks that flowed in impossible sigmoid curves and loops that seemed to threaten to turn back on themselves and head in the opposite direction. A land of immense bounty in the summer and fierce desolation in the winter. A land he had heard referred to as ‘the place where the winds are born.’
He had been to the native villages out there, working cases in the early days. All up and down the Kuskokwim drainage. He had seen first-hand the struggle against the disintegration of their culture. Had heard them tell stories about a time when money was unimportant and everyone lived off the land. Had enjoyed the laughter of the old ones when he asked a dumb, city-boy question. Had benefited from their careful instruction when they realized he really wanted to know about their ways. Remembered the fear in their eyes when as a white man he dropped out of the sky and first walked into their villages. Whenever a white man came, he was told, they always took something away.
He had also seen the young ones. Caught between the stories of the elders and the blizzard of tantalizing images on satellite T.V. Had seen them mimic clothing fads and spice their speech with slang all slightly out of date. Had seen their shyness and knew it was considered an act of aggression to look someone too long in the eye. And had wondered how they could ever survive the aggression of modern American culture. When he returned and saw the ones who had come up hard on the streets of Anchorage he felt he at least knew partly why.
He also knew he knew nothing.
Jed had gotten to him. This was all about the woman in the creek. But what the hell was he supposed to do about it? She was just another sad curiosity on a long list of many. He didn’t make the world, he couldn’t make it right. This day was going nowhere but down.
He decided the only sane thing to do was to go the gym, sweat some toxins out of his body in the steam bath, do a few laps in the pool, then get a full body massage, finish it all off with some fresh grilled salmon with a ginger soy and garlic marinade and a couple of bottles of medium-priced champagne. Let the world take care of itself. It would still be there bright and early tomorrow burning through his hangover, tormenting him with seriousness and accusatory insinuations. But that was tomorrow. The rest of today was still his birthday.
About a month later, in the waning days of summer, a grizzled veteran of the street wars was making his way along Ship Creek, searching for aluminum cans, half in the bag from frequent hits off a ruby red bottle of Wild Irish Rose. In the tangled underbrush near a thicket of bent birch saplings, he spotted a pair of boots hidden by freshly cut branches. A good score, he thought, and bad luck to whoever had hidden them here. He eagerly stooped to pick them up, but when he pulled he realized they were attached to legs. That’s when the first wave of stench hit him. Followed by a thick swarm of flying bugs disturbed by his presence. He threw his arms up and jumped back in clench-mouthed panic before scrambling back up to the road in search of someone to tell.
The August 24, 1997, issue of the Anchorage Post didn’t lead off with the headline—‘Native woman found’—but she was and Lewis caught it this time. It was further reported that the advanced state of decomposition obliterated any traces of how she met her death. Due to this fact, her death was being ruled as accidental.
Jesus, Lewis thought that was just about as good as issuing someone a license to kill.
One of the first rules in Lewis’ book was: There are no coincidences. Two native women found dead in the same area one month apart equals—predator. He was standing on the walkway above the dam, looking at a plastic wreath someone had affixed to the dull green metal railing. He said a silent prayer, for whatever good it might do, stepped over to the rail and watched the patient creek engaged in the eternal work of carrying the mountains back down to the sea. The fireweed, a plant that dropped its stacked pink petals progressively upward as the summer wore on, was showing only the reddish stalks where the bright flowers had once been.
As he stood watching the water and thinking winter thoughts, a vision of such clarity and instinctive sureness came to him that his eyes grew fierce with focus as it played out inside his head. He’s coming to water, trying to cleanse himself. The rushing waters washing away his sins. Even though this creek is in a valley surrounded by a commercial zone, he feels safe here. He knows this area well. This is his shrine. He’ll keep coming back . . .
That was all that came, but it was enough. It was the beginning of understanding. He had trained himself to listen to his instincts and they rarely let him down. Through countless interviews, he had developed this internal voice, an intuitive empathy that led him to phrase a question a certain way and ask it at exactly the right moment, a broad leap over the rational and systematic processes to arrive at a seeming invasion of the person’s consciousness. And here, at this quiet place along the creek, it almost seemed as though the women were talking to him. Whatever it was, he was paying attention.
It was time to call his only real friend on the police force, a rangy mutt of a detective named, Mason Ricks. He walked back to his black, four-wheel drive Chevy Blazer, got in and picked up his cellphone. Ricks was tied up at court testifying in a case. He brought the Blazer to life with a throaty roar and spun gravel on the way to the courthouse.
He knew testifying was an endless wait. The attorneys always summoned more witnesses than they would need on a given day, thinking it better to have more waiting than to come up short and be the object of the judge’s ire for wasting the court’s time with an empty witness chair. For the witness, however, it was a torturous mixture of boredom and angst provoked by the innate apprehension of going into a room filled with complete strangers and being questioned at length by two professionals trained in the art of making you look completely foolish.
When Lewis got off the elevator on the fourth floor, he immediately spotted Ricks talking to a small knot of other cops all waiting to testify. As he approached the group, Ricks brightened in greeting and offered his hand. The other cops looked Lewis over carefully as if they were fitting him for a prison jumpsuit.
“Got a minute?” Lewis asked.
The two left the group and walked down the quiet corridor.
“I was wondering,” Lewis continued, “if I could buy you a cup of coffee and pick your brain about something?”
“What’s the something?”
“The Native women that were found on Ship Creek.”
The detective’s eyes narrowed. “What’s your interest in that?”
“Not professional,” Lewis said. “Let’s just say it’s the same affliction that killed that famous cat.”
Ricks appraised this information, searching out of a cop’s habit Lewis’ face for contradictory facial expressions. “Sure,” he said. “We’re about up on a break if you wanna hang around we could take a walk then.”
As if on cue, the doors to the courtroom swung open and people started filing out. Timing is everything, Lewis thought.
They left the courthouse and went to Side Street Espresso, where Lewis ordered a cappuccino to go and Ricks got the house blend, black.
Ricks watched the street as they walked the short distance to the town square through the late morning sunshine. The square was an area of manmade knolls, curving walkways, and grass interspersed and bordered with patches of exotic flowers, spreading out like a colorful doormat from the eastern base of the ponderous Performing Arts Center. Anchorage still possessed a frontier town mentality and the resulting Performing Arts Center was no different than those long gone mining towns that all felt it imperative to build with a kind of delusional grandeur an ostentatious, star-spangled- bannered, over-inflated Opera House that would announce to the world that even though they were a backwater and miners to boot, they were now making tons of money and therefore it was imperative to project and reasonable to assume that they had: Kulture.
Lewis and Ricks had a professional friendship. They had been adversaries on a dozen cases over the years and had each developed a grudging respect for the other which slid into cordiality over time and finally into friendship. But Lewis knew nothing of Rick’s life beyond the force except for the knowledge that he was divorced and had no kids. He reminded Lewis of a coyote: patient when it was necessary and restless otherwise, clever and resourceful, always on the prowl, his whole being alert, constantly sniffing the wind for hidden possibilities. His light brown hair thinned in a widow’s peak, brushed straight back and slicked down with what Lewis suspected was something as anachronistic as Brylcreem, and he sported a thick mustache that pushed out his upper lip and heightened the appearance of a perpetual frown as if the world was constantly in a state of not living up to his expectations.
They also had the bluntness of longtime friends, so when they sat down on a bench, Lewis got right down to it.
“Let’s just say I’m scratching an itch. Tell me about the woman by the creek. What killed her?”
“I know, I read the papers too. What do you think killed her?”
“Her lifestyle, maybe.”
“You’re telling me the pathologist doesn’t have a clue?”
“He won’t guess and neither will I. He either knows or he don’t know.”
“All right. I’ll give you some easy ones. How long was she dead?”
“At least three weeks, maybe more. It’s been unusually warm. Quickens the rot. All kinds of animals down there. They’re all a little fatter now.”
“Who found her?”
“A homeless guy, looking for cans.”
“You check him out?”
“You’d remember his name then.”
“Raymond Charles Booker.”
Lewis memorized the name. “Were her clothes on, buttons undone, anything like that?”
Ricks turned to look at him. “You know better than that. Any sign of rape, we would’a called it a homicide.”
“What do you know about her?”
“Worked at the Native Hospital in records. Had a sometimes boyfriend who’s out fishing somewhere. Liked to go out to the bars and dance. Has an eight-year-old son who’s living in Kotzebue with her mother. Nobody was pissed at her or had a reason to do her in. She died, Lewis. Who knows how? Happens all the time.”
“It doesn’t bother you that you don’t know how?”
“Life’s fulla mysteries, Lewis. I stick to what I can prove. There’s nothing here to hang your hat on.”
“When was she last seen?”
“Far as I can tell at a bar on Fourth Avenue. But we can’t be sure because we don’t know the exact time of death.”
A group of young skateboarders rattled by, oblivious to the NO SKATEBOARDING ALLOWED signs. Ricks looked anxiously after them as if he wanted to chase them down and arrest them.
“Okay,” Lewis said. “I just want you to explain one thing to me. What the hell was she doing down on the creek?”
“Don’t know, can’t tell you. I’ve seen stranger things. Things that would have you running around like a hound dog after a fur truck.”
Lewis saw Ricks’ mustache rise at the corners and he knew he was smiling. He also knew he wasn’t going to get any more out of Ricks until he had more facts. “Where you from originally?” he asked.
“Arkansas. Long time ago.”
“I knew it had to be somewhere in the Okie belt when you start making folksy comparisons between me and a hound. Is it still legal to marry your sister down there in Arkansas?”
The mustache rose again. “Now you’re getting too personal,” he said and looked at his watch. “If you’re through grilling me, I gotta get back so I can wait around some more.”
They both stood.
“Through for now,” Lewis said with a smirk. He patted Ricks’ shoulder and walked away toward his Blazer.
He heard Ricks call after him, “Since when did I start working for you, anyway?”
Lewis waved and continued walking. If he hurried he could make it to Bean’s Cafe in time for lunch. He was employing the first rule in criminal defense work. No matter what the police tell you, no matter how sure they sound, never take anything for granted and verify, verify, verify.
Bean’s Cafe was a place where anyone could get a free lunch. All you had to do was show up, no questions asked. No sermons, either. A big room filled with rows of long tables. It was disconcerting upon entering because there in one room was a collection of individuals most citizens crossed the street to avoid. The chronically homeless, the just about homeless, the down on their luck, the never had any luck, alcoholics, the tired, the worn, the elderly, the lonely and those who simply came just because it was good, free food and who the hell cares anyway. But it was their place, and if you weren’t a regular or otherwise known, all eyes watched as you came in the door.
Lewis glanced around the room, nodding at a few faces he recognized as he made his way to the small office used by the social worker. A tall slender woman who had a slight air of defiance about her greeted him.
“Mary around?” Lewis asked.
“Mary’s gone. I’m the new Mary.”
“Then you’re the one I came to see. I need to locate a person named Ray Booker.”
“And you are . . . ?”
“Lewis Bocarde.” That was all he was planning on telling her, but her silence indicated that she was waiting for more. He wasn’t really here on official business, so he was reluctant to get into the real his reason for asking. “I was told that Ray could help me with a private matter.”
She looked long into his eyes, appraising him. “Tom,” she called out, still looking at Lewis.
A man appeared in the doorway and she said, “You know a Ray Booker?”
“Un-huh,” the man affirmed.
“He here?” she asked.
“Yeah, I seen him come in.”
“Could you ask him to come in here a minute please?”
The man left and she turned to Lewis. “You’re not a cop, but close. Tell me why you really want to see him.”
Lewis tried a joke. “I miss Mary already.” She smiled a worn grin and he decided to come clean. “I’m a criminal defense investigator, but I’m not here in an official capacity. Ray discovered a body of a native woman on Ship Creek. I just want to ask him what he saw.”
“That sounds official to me.”
“Yeah, but nobody’s hired me to do this. I’m here as a private citizen.”
“Why would you care?” she challenged.
He looked at her for a moment and said, “Probably the same reason you became a social worker.”
Just then Tom came back with Ray Booker in tow.
“Ray,” she said, “this man’s name is Lewis.” She paused as if deciding if she should say more. “He needs to talk to you.”
Lewis nodded at her, took out a business card and handed it to her. “If you ever get in trouble, give me a call.” It was his standard line.
The woman had looked at him oddly when he had said the word ‘trouble’ but he dismissed it and steered Ray back outside the cafe. He took a ten-dollar bill from his pocket and held it up for Ray to see.
“This is for disturbing your lunch,” he said and handed over the ten.
Ray pocketed it smoothly before this stranger could come to his senses and change his mind. He looked at Lewis expectantly.
“I understand you found a woman down on the creek.”
“Oh Jesus,” Ray said, doing a mock shudder for emphasis. “That screwed me all up.”
“Well, I need to know what you saw.”
“You a cop? Cause I told them all that.”
“No, I’m not a cop. Let’s just say I’m a friend of a friend.”
“Ahhh man that was the worse thing ever happened to me. All I was doing was looking for cans to sell, I saw this pair a boots hidden by leaves and branches and when I went to scoop ‘em up, Lord Jesus what a smell. Bugs too, flying everywhere. I got the hell outta there.”
“Branches? With leaves?”
“Yeah, it was like someone covered up the boots to hide ‘em. I didn’t know there’d be a dead person under there.”