Drownings (part three)

Oil painting of river landscape and lock-like structure




(part three)



Faia strode next to him, both aware of the woman’s yelling.

They descended to the water, cleared a gap baffled by rolls of grey rubber—and they were afloat. Half of the walkway seemed forbidden; allowed parts doglegged segment to segment, cordoned with moveable fences painted yellow. The work area rose to the new bridge decking, a warren of metal scaffolding, from barges fixed below.

“They’ll learn for themselves we can’t tell them more than they can see with their eyes,” McAlley said. “Now, in that flotsam round Dustin…we shall name him so…what did you spot that might have carried along with him?”

“It was twigs, brown muck, cigarette ends, beverage cans—grape soda, one. I noticed that. Did he wake up one morning, a day or two past…or more, the weather’s been cold…dress lightly, walk out to where we are now…?” She gestured to the deceptive current, so swift a slice mid-river it seemed barely to run. “McAlley, he would know about the others. Recent jumpers are in a different frame of mind.”

“Fair angel-work. Divine another thing.”

The pontoons ended in a caged flight of metal stairs. City buildings clustered this avenue south of an unused factory, not successfully converted to apartments, sitting chain-linked and plywooded from sight of passersby.

The deadhouse was medium-new, a one-story affair, a color scheme of beige and green fronted with untinted swing doors, that showed interior tile and fluorescent lights. All this, and the single row of parking, and even (though they had died for the winter, which was something) the ill-planted mums lining the walk, frost-heaving stubborn disks of pot-shaped soil, felt belonging more to a public education scheme or a permit office.

They entered.

“I am missing one of my employees, sir. Or madam.”

McAlley spoke to a small, empty lobby. A voice came, over intercom. “Be a sec, sir.”

“Have you been to the police?” The attendant, in scrubs, came out to them.

“And so, is the director in?”

“May I have your name?”

“Bert Swan. Bitterroot Cooperative.”

He watched, and Faia watched, the man write on a notepad, B’root Coop.

“And then, is there a report on file, Mr. Swan?”

“He’s likely one of the drowned,” said Faia. “We’re curious about the clothing.”

Their helper showed surprise, as of someone’s putting her finger on a matter of his own curiosity. He parted lips, let a second tick by without remarking, said, “I’ll take you down to Mrs. Blaney’s office.”

Mrs. Blaney, hair in barrettes, not one to rise from her chair, gave McAlley the downturned mouth of prior knowledge, the expectation this Mr. Swan would possess his share of it…and that there was little to be done.

“There’s just been a call in, about another. Was that coincidence?”

McAlley took a seat. “You’ve only spoken over the phone…”

“With your Mr. Herbertson.” Strong nod.

“No one has looked at any of the photos.”

“If you’d like…there isn’t precisely…” This, moving papers around, wiggling a mouse to light her screen. “A line of separation. We have a dozen of these drownings.”

“Obviously, only what concerns Bitterroot,” Faia said. “Their clothes had no metal fasteners, that was the thing.”

“And why is that, for the sort of work you do?”

“Magnet.” McAlley spoke. Faia had divined, and this seemed the only logical thrust.

“Come round, then, you can view the photos here. But I warn you.”

“No need.”







Virtual cover for Short Story collectionDrownings (part four)















(2021, Stephanie Foster)




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