Home > Water's Edge

Water's Edge
Author: Gregg Olsen

One

 

 

The streetlights on the corners were dim. Young men—teenagers, mostly—stood in the yards or between houses in small groups, smoking, laughing, staring at her small car as she passed as if challenging her to encroach on their territory. She had heard all the talk about this part of the city. She’d read the newspaper accounts and seen the raw footage on television. And still she came. His invitation had been so shy, embarrassed, charming.

She had rushed home from her shift at the tavern, showered, and tried on several different outfits before she decided on the one that would highlight her figure and accentuate the red of her hair.

Green.

That was her go-to color. She studied herself in the mirror.

She’d been called pretty, even beautiful a time or two.

Yet never by the sober.

Or the especially handsome.

That evening he’d called her beautiful.

She had been working in a coffee shop downtown and just started taking shifts at the tavern. Tips were better at the Sandpiper, but the clientele had bottomed out on the disgusting scale. The coffee shop had been full of New Age creeps and wannabe writers. The Old Whiskey Mill had drunks and more drunks, and it was a cop hangout. Drunks were more generous than coffee sippers.

She ran her fingers through her hair and thought about him.

He looked familiar. Not overly so. Just enough to make her lean in when he spoke. He ordered a Jack Daniel’s, straight up, and smiled at her. She’d said something like: “Do I know you from somewhere? Are you famous?”

The moment it passed from her lips she felt schoolgirl silly.

“Afraid not. I’m sure I would remember a beautiful woman like you.”

It was a very old, very worn-out pickup line, but he’d blushed.

And yet, there it was: a real, honest-to-God blush.

She remembered asking if he worked in town, and he answered with a straight face.

“I work for the CIA.”

She blinked and was about to say something, but he laughed and said CIA stood for the Culinary Institute of America. CIA. He was a chef in search of employment. A recent graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in Napa Valley, California. He said he was going to prepare something special for her.

He sheepishly explained he still lived at home with his father and would she mind if his dad ate with them?

That made her mind up. She had felt silly that she had almost turned him down. She hadn’t gone out with anyone for a long time. Especially someone she’d just met. She’d said yes much too quickly. She regretted that now. She didn’t want him to get the wrong idea.

Or maybe she did?

She knew what her mother would have said if she were still in her life. “Leann Truitt, just what were you thinking?” It was one of her mother’s favorite lines; a dart meant to hurt. It was true that sometimes she hadn’t been thinking, but she was a grown woman now.

“Shut up, Mom,” she said to herself. “We’ll find out soon enough what I was thinking.”

The house was on the corner and faced north. It was badly in need of a makeover and was exactly as he’d described it. But her stomach dropped as she drove around the corner. The house was dark except for a flickering light behind thick yellowish curtains. It looked empty. She looked at the clock on the dash, thinking she was early, but she was actually a few minutes late.

She parked and walked across the cracked cement of the sidewalk to the side gate. She lifted a black latch and pushed the gate open. A walk of original brickwork led to the door. The bricks were covered in green moss, and she had to step carefully to keep her high heels from slipping. If she twisted an ankle, she wouldn’t be able to work—and, even worse, would miss this wonderful evening.

And yet something niggled at her; a little doubt crept in.

She looked for a doorbell but there wasn’t one; there wasn’t even a knocker. She raised her hand to knock and hesitated. What if his father disapproved of her coming for dinner? This place was older than old. It smelled of mildew and rot. It reminded her of one of her father’s rental dumps.

“I’ll get it, Dad,” a voice said from inside.

She heard footsteps. A shadow appeared behind the glass and the door opened.

He took her hand and led her inside the darkened foyer.

Her eyes adjusted and she could see that both walls of the wide hallway were lined with boxes and stacks of clothing and dolls and appliances and lampshades. There was a narrow path and he was leading her through the clutter. Then she stepped in something sticky. Adrenaline coursed through her. Something was wrong.

“Maybe I should…” she managed to say, before he turned and slammed a fist into her face.

 

 

Two

 

 

I sit at my desk at the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office with posters of the craggy Olympic Range on the wall behind me. I can see into Sheriff Gray’s office to my left. His door is open and he’s leaning back, too far back, in his roll-around chair, the springs squeaking whenever he shifts his weight.

So annoying.

I swear, the chair could be used by the CIA to get confessions from the most hardened terrorist. I want to take a full can of WD-40 and douse the springs.

But I don’t.

I turn to the disheveled woman sitting in a chair beside my desk. She is holding a toddler with one arm and attempting to corral her eight-year-old serial-killer-in-training with the other.

“Miss Gamble, let’s move to an interview room,” I say, partly because I don’t want to cause her more embarrassment and partly because her kid can bounce off the walls in there. Literally. In the kids’ interview room are soft toys, carpeting, soundproof walls, posters of breaching orcas, the PAW Patrol, lighthouses.

Miss Gamble gladly gets up. Her ears are bleeding also. Whether it’s from the squealing made by the chair, the squalling toddler, or the whining, nasal, nasty mouth of her son is unclear. If I thought a can of WD-40 would work on the eight-year-old, I’d use it. But it’s not Miss Gamble or her kids that are getting to me. It’s her situation. It sparks memories. I try to set it aside. Sparks can be bonfires.

Miss Gamble is unmarried, trying to raise three children by three different fathers, and trying to do it alone. She is on public assistance, living in public housing, using food stamps in an unwise manner—for example, trading them for illegal substances—and I deduce from her belly bump she might have another baby on the way.

She leads the ones she already has into the children’s interview room. The interview room for adults is not like this space. Not even close. This one is meant to soothe and mollify. The adult side is designed to irritate and get them to confess just to get out of the room. I can testify that it works. At least, some of the time.

I take a seat, pick up the paperwork provided to me by the Port Hadlock Fire Department, and look at Miss Gamble, then at the eight-year-old.

She remains silent.

“Did you know your son was setting things on fire?”

It’s a straightforward question. Yes or no. She doesn’t answer. Just gives me those big brown eyes. I can’t sympathize. I don’t know enough about the family dynamics. Maybe the kid’s been abused?

When I ask the question, her little firebug’s eyes light up and a half smile plays at his lips. The sheriff is in the next room. I want to continue the questions, but I get up, go into the outer office, shut the door behind me, and return to my desk to clear my head. I wonder if he’s a bedwetter. If so, I know how the textbooks would classify him, and it stings me. I know from experience that while bedwetting often indicates a child’s future behavior, the trajectory is somewhat changeable.

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