This was the piece I submitted for the Paper Darts flash fiction contest. 800 words for a chance of $800. Obviously by posting it here, I did not win, but figured I could share here.
The Wait for the Dead
February 7, 8:23 a.m.
Flakes below the Bog of Allen fade.
The waves of the Liffey disappear for years
and wait as the descent of souls sit and pray.
As I step over the crime tape, my left boot sinks into the earthy ground. Third body discovered this month. Spring came early this year after an above average snow fall. The air was thick; mist and fog choking the windowsills of nearby flats. Moisture clings to my raincoat.
I squint past the lights of the Gardai. “What do we have this time?”
“Nineteen year old male, Jakob Beckett of Athy. Washed up along the bank. 174 centimeters, roughly 90 kilograms. By the looks of it, this lad washed up yesterday noon. Mud caked and dried on his trousers. Discovered by a warehouse worker. Colin, you gotta take a look at this one.”
A flask sticks out of this lad’s coat pocket, but that’s not what Detective Holly was intrigued by. I look at the victim. The gent’s face is bruised and scratched. His lips pursed closed. He wasn’t in the water that long. Holly holds up the evidence, a scrap of paper and a flip phone. The paper was folded, protected inside. Submerged in water, the phone’s dead and the ink smudged. But this note may be our jackpot. I had barely slipped it into the evidence bag when the heavens opened up.
“Jesus!” Rain pellets strike against my forehead. “Gotta love spring. Holly, Jack – let’s get this lad to the morgue. Hurry, before we lose any other evidence. Meet you at the lab in an hour.”
Number One, Daniel Walsh, was discovered January 11 floating in The Liffey. Lad went missing two months prior. Most of the evidence wasn’t salvageable and since he was the first, we assumed suicide. Number Two, discovered January 28, lodged at Ferns’ Lock. Male, 22, identified as John O’Malley who disappeared from Newbridge on December 14. Now number Three, washed up on the bank of the Shannon.
Police rafts are already patrolling the river, dogs sniffing the shorelines, but I can’t take my mind off the note. Whatever it is, it’s important — at least enough to hold on to. This gent was expecting to make or receive a phone call.
I stroll into lab. Holly is shuffling through papers, and Jack is on the phone while he pulls up the most recent missing persons reports.
“What do we have? Anything?” I fling my coat on the chair back.
Jack hangs up the phone. “Jakob Beckett is a student at the University of Dublin. He was last seen at Flanagan’s Pub five days ago. Mates said he was headed home to see his Nana in Athy. His pal William, an English man, drove him part way, to Newbridge. They stopped to have a couple of ales before parting ways — another friend was meeting up with Beckett. William was worried when he called about a return ride home and got no response. He called his home. That’s when his family reported him missing. Story seems to check out. I’m heading to Flanagan’s to speak with the staff at eleven.”
“My tech is pulling his phone records as we speak.” She nods toward the conference room. “Agent O’Connor broke the news to his family. While distraught, they are cooperating.”
“Any news about the note?”
“Not yet. We are running DNA, but with the water…it’s unlikely. Next we will analyze the ink stains. Not holding my breath. But anything is better than nothing.”
“Good work. Jack, call that William mate. Tell him to meet us at Flanagan’s at noon. Holly, keep me posted about the note. Call me as soon as the tests come back.” I grab my coat and walk out the door.
The mist hasn’t lifted. I get in my car and drive in silence to the first crime scene, near The Liffey. We never spent much time on that case. We didn’t find the body until much later — it was in the water for nearly two months. We assumed a suicide drowning. The second appeared to be an accident. A third makes me think we fucked up. Three young lads disappeared and found dead near water, all within 45 kilometers of each other. Anger flushes my face.
On the edge of Dublin, I arrive at Wellington Quay, step out my car and cross the HalfPenny Bridge by foot. Even with the hum of the city, there was an eerie silence — Walsh didn’t commit suicide; O’Malley didn’t die from a freakish accident. And Beckett was holding on to, protecting something.
A breath of death falls near.
But winter’s sweet passion
dissolves all fear.
Leaning against the railing, the heavens open up.
“Jesus!” I look up. “Gotta love spring.”