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Murder at the Reservoir
By D. ERIC HORNER
Trafford PublishingCopyright © 2013 D. Eric Horner
All rights reserved.
As my partner Laura and I drove around patrolling the streets of Richland County in our sheriff's car, it seemed strangely quiet for this time of year. It was prom season for most of the local school districts (Lexington, Ontario, and the Mansfield schools), but we were not extremely busy. Laura had been the only partner that I have had since joining the team. I was coming up on my five-year anniversary with the department, but my achievement was overshadowed by Laura's pregnancy. We continued to cruise the streets in silence, mostly because I knew that this was her last night before taking maternity leave.
"All right, David. If you're trying to give me the silent treatment and make me feel bad, it's working," Laura said quietly from the passenger's seat.
"What? I'm not doing anything," I said sarcastically, knowing exactly what she meant.
"Come on, it won't be that bad. They'll give you another partner. Remember when they first paired you with me? You had to put up with a lot of shit."
"It was nowhere near what you had to deal with," I said. "You sure put an end to those rumors by getting pregnant."
"Yeah, but unfortunately, it set in motion a whole new bunch about you and I," answered Laura with a smile.
"I never liked any of those rumors," I replied.
"Why, because I went to Madison?"
"No, because Kevin is my best friend, and you guys were dating," I answered. "You should have heard some of the shit the guys were saying."
"I heard all of it. All the stuff about maybe it was yours, or his, or both of yours. It's like the other deputies' lives are so boring, they have nothing else to talk about. What about you?" she asked. "When are you going to settle down?"
"As soon as Kevin returns the favor," I snapped.
"What do you mean?"
"I set you guys up," I said as we pulled into the dairy mart. "The least he could do for me would be to set me up with one of his hygienists."
Laura got out of the car to buy her normal evening snack and then walked over to my window and said, "From what I hear, they're all pretty fun girls. I'll see what I can do. Now do you want anything?"
"I will have a brunette or a redhead," I said, smiling.
"I mean from inside, wiseass," Laura said, rolling her eyes.
"Yeah, get me a Coke," I answered, scanning the roadway for any mischief. There were no kids running around, but what I saw were a couple of limousines waiting at the only stoplight in Lexington. Seeing the limos brought back memories of my own prom—some very good, and others very disturbing.
Kevin and I did not have money for transportation like the kids do now, but each of us spent the entire Saturday morning cleaning our dads' car as best we could. The prom itself was not really the main event, it was the after prom. We did not double date, but we would be in the same place afterward. Our plan was probably not too far off of any other horny high school youngster's, but we went over it again at school, on Friday.
"Did Greg buy the beer for us?" I asked Kevin in between classes.
"No, the dick told me that no one was around to buy him beer when he was underage, so I would just have to wing it," Kevin said quietly so that no teachers would hear.
"What happened to him?" I asked. "He used to be pretty cool. Now he's an asshole!"
"I know. I think it has something to do with him screwing Peggy."
"Yeah, she's hot, but she's also nuts. What are we going to do now?" I asked.
"Don't worry about it. You just make sure the girls are ready to go to the lake afterwards."
"Okay, man. Call me before you go pick up Beth."
I remember knowing that Kevin would come through with the beer, so I made sure both of the girls were up me to go to our after prom and not the one put on by the school. I thought back to how silly—but hugely important at the time—everything was. The picture taking, making sure your tie matched your date's dress, going to Columbus for dinner ... it all seemed like such a big deal. Then I remembered actually entering the gym and seeing guys and girls both looking stupid and dancing way too hard in their rented tuxes and overpriced gowns. Kevin and I met up at the dance; he gave me the "thumbs-up" to indicate that he had the beverages. I gave it back to him, showing that the girls were on board for the lake.
The hour that we spent at the dance was about forty-five minutes too long for both Kevin and me, but we happily stuck it out. We followed each other to the lake and picked a secluded picnic area. It was a warm night, and it was dark, except for a couple of the picnic area light poles. Both girls looked great in their spaghetti strap long dresses, which clung beautifully to their sunburned bodies. Each of them had received a pass from school yesterday, from their parents, so they could get some sun and look better for the dance. I remember that they overdid it, but hell, they still looked great! The four of us sat on a picnic table talking and drinking, pretending we were grownups. The girls mostly talked about the people at the dance, my buddy and I mostly about what we hoped would happen. After a few drinks, the girls' inhibitions began to fade. Both Kevin's date, Beth, and mine, Dana, were very attractive, mature-looking high school girls who were not shy about their bodies.
I can still remember the look on Kevin's face when Dana giggled. "My mother will kill me if I get this dress dirty."
"Mine too," echoed Beth.
"Take them off then," I suggested wisely, never thinking it would happen.
They looked at each other, smiled, and to my surprise, did just that. I'm sure that my eyes were as big as Kevin's as we watched the two beauties prance around, bouncing and jiggling. I excitedly whispered to my buddy, "Hell with this beer, we're going for a walk!"
I corralled my date, and off we went. We walked down a path, getting closer to the lake, stopping to make out frequently along the way. I had long ago ditched my jacket, tie, and shirt, and was now trying to keep up with the scantily clad young, hard body in front of me in just my wife beater T-shirt and black tuxedo pants.
"Dana, slow down," I quietly shouted.
"You're the big track star. Can't you keep up?"
"I don't have on any shoes," I replied.
Thankfully, she stopped and came back toward me. To this day, it's hard for me to find something sexier than that memory of her walking back toward me in her high heels, pink underwear, and no bra. I walked toward her, and she jumped into my arms, wrapping her legs around my waist. We began a long, deep kiss that sent me to the ground, with her on top of me, while I fondled her ample breasts gently with my mouth. I could tell that the action was getting more desperate, and I reached into my pocket for some protection.
That's when Dana looked down at me, grabbed my hand, and whispered, "I've been planning for it tonight, and you don't need that."
Confused, I asked, "What do you mean?"
"I've been on the pill for two months."
I can still hear that phrase like it was said to me this morning. The memories of our sexual encounter, and my performance, have been enhanced and embellished over the years to resemble a letter written to Penthouse, but the details of what happened next still are crystal clear. On our walk back to rejoin Kevin and Beth, we took a different route, with intentions of interrupting their own tryst. It was on this dark, secluded path where we stumbled upon a clearing and made a gruesome discovery.
As Dana and I walked arm in arm, I looked down and, in the darkness, saw the remains of a teenage girl. Her throat was cut, her torso was slit, and her legs were spread apart. Chunks of flesh had been bitten off by some wild animal, and she was completely covered in blood.
Consumed by fear and disgust, we simultaneously shouted "Oh my god!" over and over while we ran back to meet our friends. Although I had no shoes and Dana was still in her heels, we negotiated the thick dark woods as quickly as we could. We were still able to interrupt Kevin and Beth and their sex, but it was not nearly as fun as when we had thought of it.
Shocked and angry, Kevin quickly dismounted from on top of his date and said, "Man, what is it with you two?"
"Sorry, but we just found a body, down by the lake," I exclaimed.
"What are you talking about? This better not be bullshit," he said in disbelief.
"It's not!" Dana shrieked. "It's right over there, and it was close to where we were doing it. It's disgusting, all cut up, and animals have been eating off of it, eeww! We have to get out of here," Dana explained breathlessly.
As Kevin got dressed, I held Dana and told her and Beth to get dressed and go to the police. The discovery had sobered everyone up, and while the girls were gone, Kevin and I took a flashlight from his car and walked back down to the body. It was hard to look at, and we were careful not to disturb anything.
Examining the body with the flashlight, Kevin said, "You know, that looks like Peggy."
"In the light, it does," I answered. "Wasn't your brother going to take her out tonight?" I asked.
"He was, but there is no fucking way that he did this!"
"I'm not saying that he did, I'm just asking," I said, noticing that Kevin was getting upset. "Let's go and wait for the cops. Sorry that we busted in on you," I apologized.
Still looking at the disfigured corpse, Kevin shut off the flashlight and said, "That's okay. It was our second time, and there are the police."
When the cops showed up, I remember that they were very official, very cordial, and very focused on the task in front of them, especially the sheriffs. They questioned all of us politely, even though they knew exactly why we were at the lake in the first place. It was the actions of one deputy in particular—an older guy, Deputy Henson—that made me want to join the force after high school. To this day, I don't know if it was the way he handled himself or the scene or the respect that he showed the four of us, but I just got the feeling that he believed in what he was doing and that it was more than a job, and I wanted that for myself.
After answering some more questions and being ruled out as suspects, he let us go. We went back to Kevin's parents, who lived close to the lake, and changed out of our prom costumes and just hung out for the rest of the night.
Laura interrupted my drive down memory lane by getting back into the cruiser and immediately having a conversation with herself before directing it toward me.
"What is it with you tonight, Dave?"
"Just reminiscing, I guess," I answered, opening my can of Coke.
"About prom," she whined. "I've heard this story about fifty times since Kevin and I got married. You guys were with two tramps, they both got naked in front of you, you each got laid, and you found Peggy Walters's body. That case has been solved. The guy has been in MANCI for eight years. Let it go!"
"I know, I know. But doesn't it bother you that he has always said he's innocent?" I asked.
Rolling her eyes, Laura snapped back, "Everyone in that prison says that they're innocent. Can we just continue our patrol, please?"
Not saying a word, I put the cruiser in drive, knocked back the rest of my Coke, and pulled out of the parking lot. Maybe it was the time of year, but honestly, there is not a day that goes by that I don't see Peggy's corpse in my mind's eye. Deputy Henson, who retired before I joined on, ended up being the officer who made the arrest. The evidence was circumstantial, but through interrogation, Henson got a confession. The arrest actually came a year after we found the body. The case did not only affect me, but everyone in the community. At the time, the pressure to solve the crime was intense. Hell, Lexington even canceled their prom the next year, not to mention the memorials that were held in Peggy's honor keeping the story alive and the inevitable ghost stories that forever will haunt that reservoir.
I followed the case closely, and when they arrested Joe White, he fit everyone's description of a murderer. Physically, he was intimidating and had kind of a "street person" look to him. He had numerous arrests for solicitation, indecent exposure, and disorderly conduct. He was a hard drug user. He had few friends, numerous enemies, no alibi, and a large knife.
My problem was that the evidence showed that he did not know Peggy. He lived on Diamond Street in downtown Mansfield, and he claimed that he was doing a drug deal at the time of the murder. I had no reason to believe him since he was a career criminal, but for some reason, I just didn't think he did it.
Maybe Laura's right. Maybe I should just let it go. But every time that I see Joe on TV proclaiming his innocence and talking about his newfound religion, I can't help but wonder why some druggie from downtown would go fifteen miles away to kill someone he didn't even know. The more that I think about it, the more I just can't let it go.
We made a couple more stops, but it was obvious that the criminal activity tonight was pretty slow. Since it was her last day, I drove Laura back to her house. She and Kevin lived in a nice new subdivision called the Heights. All of the homes were at least $300,000 each. I had been over to their place many times. It's a great place—just not my style. My house is much more modest, but I don't have any neighbors either. Well, I do, but they are all about a mile away. Laura and Kevin's place was surrounded by other houses, and although they had some space, it just wasn't enough for me.
Their place is perfect for raising a family. When I look around at the big wheels, tricycles, and minivans parked in people's driveways (either because they had too much shit in their garage to park inside, or they just bought a van that was too big for the garage door), I could almost picture the ice cream man stopped for forty-five minutes because there were so many kids.
"The shift is over, and it looks like Kevin's still up. Would you like to come in?" invited Laura.
"Yes, I would, and I'm pretty sure that I won't be keeping you two from doing something," I answered.
"Not in my condition, you're not," snapped Laura. "I'm tired, anyway."
As I got out of the cruiser and shut the door, I joked, "So he won't try anything if I'm there?"
"That's my plan!"
We opened the door, and Laura allowed me to loudly exclaim, "We're home, honey!"
Kevin and I had been friends since kindergarten, and we're really as close as brothers. It's always been kind of strange because he has an older brother, Greg, but they never really seemed all that close.
Kevin came out to meet us and invited us in to join him in the family room. While talking, Laura explained all the details of her maternity leave paperwork, and I got a couple of beers for Kevin and me. I gave them some time alone to talk and started watching the news. The broadcast was nearly over, and they ran through the sports scores and the weather, then they replayed the top story.
I sat in disbelief as the anchorwoman showed a picture of Joe White and said that he was released today "after newfound DNA evidence proved that the knife used to kill Peggy Gertz did not belong to him."
I almost spilled my beer when I heard the news. All of the bad memories from my prom night discovery came flooding back into my head.
"If it wasn't him, who was it?" I said aloud to myself.
After the broadcast was over, Kevin and Laura both came into the family room. The look on my face must have shown them that I was shocked by something on the news.
"What's wrong, Dave? Did the Indians lose again?" Kevin asked sarcastically.
"No, that's not it," I replied. "Laura, do you remember what we were talking about just before coming here?"
"How could I forget? He was rehashing your old prom night story again," Laura answered.
"Did he talk about our dates getting naked?" Kevin said with a smile. "Honey, did I ever tell you that story?"
"Only all the time!"
Kevin walked over to toast to our prom night saying, "To prom 1985!"
"I agree," I said, raising my bottle toward him. "But that night has a whole new meaning now, brother."
"Why, did you start dating Dana again?" Kevin asked.
"No, but today, the man who was accused of killing Peggy was released," I stated while standing up from my chair.
They both gasped a little before Laura said, "You were just talking about him being innocent tonight."
"I didn't say that I thought he was innocent. I just said I wasn't sure about his guilt," I clarified.
"If that guy didn't do this murder, I'm sure that he did something else somewhere along the line," Kevin said, trying to calm me down.
"I'm sure that he did," I replied, "and I really don't give a damn about that guy."
"Then what's your problem?" Kevin asked, turning his palms up and shrugging his shoulders.
"Maybe you guys have been friends since you were five or two or whatever," Laura interrupted, "but I've been his partner for almost five years, and I know that his problem is the unsolved murder."
Excerpted from Murder at the Reservoir by D. ERIC HORNER. Copyright © 2013 by D. Eric Horner. Excerpted by permission of Trafford Publishing.
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