The Marsh

The Marsh

by Bill Noel


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781936236879
Publisher: iUniverse, Incorporated
Publication date: 09/27/2011
Pages: 268
Sales rank: 907,246
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.58(d)

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The Marsh

A Folly Beach Mystery
By Bill Noel

iUniverse, Inc.

Copyright © 2011 Bill Noel
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4502-7837-9

Chapter One

"Found a gnawed-up, rottin' body out there, I hear," said Harley. He nodded toward the marsh fewer than a hundred feet from where we stood.

His whispered tone, slightly louder than a foghorn, turned eight heads toward the short, chunky gentleman standing to my left. It wouldn't have been nearly as distracting if we hadn't been absorbed in a silent prayer at the time.

I was standing in a semicircle with friends and acquaintances in a beautiful, grass-covered meadow surrounded by regal live oaks. I looked in the direction of Harley's nod toward the gently swaying, early-summer salt marsh cordgrass. A bright-blue South Carolina sky, dotted with low, white, puffy clouds, merged with the light green of the awakening grasses and blended with the new leaves on the trees and the lawn of the meadow.

The weather and scenery were perfect; only Mother Nature could provide such a grand vista. I would have savored the view more if I hadn't been staring at a newly dug grave—a grave that would be the final resting place for Mrs. Margaret Klein.

Reverend Vandergriff pointed a devilish stare at Harley—as devilish as permitted, since the good reverend was at work—and said, "Amen." The chords of "Just As I Am" left the well-traveled guitar of Calvin Ballew. The musician, known to most as Country Cal, had rested his right foot on a grave marker to the right of Mrs. Klein's coffin as he began his final tribute to the lady he had known for five years. Cal was six-foot-three, slim, and when decked out in his rhinestone stage coat and Stetson, was a live-ringer for Hank Williams Senior—or what ol' Hank would have looked like if he had managed to stay alive until retirement age.

Cal sang, "O Lamb of God, I come, I come." I leaned toward Harley and whispered, "Tell me later."

When I moved to the small South Carolina island of Folly Beach some four years ago, I would have told you how ludicrous it would be for me to be standing in a beautiful, peaceful corner of the world in a cemetery dotted with polished-stone grave markers and a dozen graves marked with crosses made from white, plastic plumbing pipe. I would have sworn I'd never be there listening to a person who was named Harley after his father's motorcycle, while listening to a washed-up country music singer named Country Cal, while attending the funeral of an eighty-six-year-old woman I had helped rescue from a hurricane and a calculating murderer. Then again, I had learned that something had to travel a long way from normal to be ludicrous on Folly Beach.

Cal strummed the last notes of the poignant hymn. The good reverend shared how Mrs. Klein had "moved on to a better place," how we should "celebrate her ascension to meet her maker," and some other never-to-be-understood-or-proven verbiage ministers preach at funerals. I had attended more of these events since arriving at Folly Beach than I could remember in the balance of my sixty-one years. My mind wandered. What did Harley mean about a body?

There was one thing I was certain of. My friend Charles, who was standing on the other side of me when Harley bellowed his "whisper," would corner Harley and not let him mount his motorcycle before extracting a full explanation—an explanation with photos and video if possible.

Reverend Vandergriff uttered the final "Amen," and the mourners silently reflected upon their memories of the deceased. Two nearby seagulls cackled over a piece of fish. Louise Carson, Mrs. Klein's oldest friend, slowly stood. She had been seated in a rickety, white wooden folding chair, the only seat provided by the funeral home.

A hand gripped my left elbow before I could offer condolences to Louise. "Chris, could I see you, Charles, and Harley a moment before we leave the cemetery?" asked Sean Aker, a partner in one of the two small law firms on Folly Beach.

Charles had already corralled Harley, no doubt asking about the body. "Give us a minute," I said.

I sidled up to Charles and Harley and gently nudged them toward Louise. Tears ran down her cheeks, but she managed a slight smile when I gently touched her arm. Her eighty-plus years showed. Louise worked at Island Realty and was the aunt of Bob Howard, a Realtor friend of mine. Her office tasks were vague at best, but her passion for being the island's busybody was known by all. She regularly monitored the police radios and wasn't shy about expressing her opinions about law enforcement on Folly Beach. She thanked us for coming and said that she'd miss her friend. I knew not to mention "body" within her hard-of-hearing range.

"Let me show you something," I said as I herded Charles and Harley away from Louise and toward the edge of the marsh. It was high tide, and the salt water was only a foot or so below the edge of the cemetery. Our approach startled a heron from its peaceful rest, and I watched it gracefully take to the sky. Sean was still beside the grave.

"Okay," said Charles. He pointed his ever-present, handmade cane at Harley. "What body?"

"Put that weapon down," said Harley. His chubby right hand grabbed the tip of the cane and pushed it away. With his left hand, he took a pack of Camel cigarettes from the back pocket of his best dress jeans. Both Charles and I took a step back; experience had shown us that a cloud of white, nicotine-infused smoke would momentarily surround Harley.

The threat of Charles's cane had diminished, so Harley lit a cigarette and took a long draw. "Damn, I needed that," he said after he exhaled. Charles waited patiently—a skill that had come late in his life, maybe started today, truth be told. "Heard a body was found yesterday out in the marsh, nibbled all to hell by swamp critters." Harley pointed his cigarette toward the center of the marsh. "Surprised you two—being detectives and all—didn't hear about it."

"We're not detectives," I quickly said before Charles claimed otherwise. "We've just helped the police a time or two."

"More like four," said Charles, a stickler for details. "Back to the body, Harley."

"Don't know much," roared Harley. "Heard something at Bert's before heading here." He took another long draw and blew smoke in our faces. Charles had said it was Harley's way of bonding. I'd said it was rude but never shared that observation when Harley was close enough to hear.

"Who was it?" asked Charles, the "detective."

"No idea. Don't think the cops do either," replied Harley. "That's all I know."

Harley flung his cigarette to the ground and stomped on it with his work boot. I translated it as "end of conversation," and I mentioned that Sean was waiting for us at the grave.

I met Sean just after I had moved to Folly Beach. He performed the legal work when I opened a small photo gallery, and we had had several social and business contacts since then. He was always friendly and helpful. Charles had known him much longer. They had been in a skydiving club. Even my expanded, Folly Beach imagination couldn't see Charles jumping out of an airplane, and he hadn't demonstrated that idiotic feat since I had known him. Sean had confirmed that it was true, and after all, he's a lawyer, so it must be true.

Sean looked back toward the drive at a navy-blue Ford Crown Victoria parked behind his look-at-me red Porsche Boxster. Sun reflected off the windows of the Crown Vic, and I couldn't see inside.

"Guys," said Sean, "could you meet me in the office tomorrow?"

Charles and I were retired—me for the last three years; Charles for the last quarter of a century, even though he's three years younger than I. We could be there. Harley, a plumber with a spotty work record, hemmed and hawed and then reluctantly mumbled that he'd make it.

We agreed on a time and slowly headed toward our cars—and one Harley-Davidson.

"Mr. Aker, could I have a word with you?" said a middle-aged man wearing a wrinkled, cheap, gray suit and an equally wrinkled look on his face. He had stepped out of the Crown Vic and was hovering beside Sean's convertible.

I knew the intruder as Detective Brad Burton, Charleston County sheriff's office. There was nothing good that could come from his appearance at the cemetery.

Chapter Two

Detective Burton and I had become acquainted four years ago on my fifth day on Folly. I remembered because it was not easy to forget finding a still-warm body on the beach with a bullet hole through its left eye. Burton and his partner, Karen Lawson, the daughter of Folly Beach's director of public safety, were investigating the horrific event I had stumbled upon. Burton usually addressed me with a disdainful snarl, but as Detective Lawson had shared later, Burton didn't discriminate—"To him, everyone's guilty of something."

Detective Burton invited Sean to the front seat of his Crown Vic, and I had to shove Charles away from the unmarked car. If I hadn't stopped him, he would have squished in the seat between Burton and the lawyer. "Extraordinarily curious" would have been an extraordinarily kind way to describe my friend—nosy was the word often bandied around.

The low rumble of Harley's cycle drowned out any chance of hearing what the detective was saying, so Charles reluctantly took his seat riding shotgun in my aging Lexis. The road to the cemetery was off Folly Road and only a couple of miles from the bridge to Folly Beach. The small barrier island was fewer than two handfuls of miles from beautiful Charleston, South Carolina, but was as different from the historic, stately city as environmentalists were from Republicans. The half-mile-wide, six-mile-long island had more character and characters per capita than any city in the United States, unquestionably more than any in Canada. The island had played a critical role in the Civil War and gained popularity after World War II, when wealthy business owners and industrialists from Charleston discovered the cool ocean breezes and relaxed atmosphere. Many of them built small cabins to serve as dressing rooms and places to hang out during a day at the beach. The cabins were eventually outfitted with furnaces and became year-round residences for the more bohemian friends and relatives of the wealthy. Less well-to-do Charlestonians lived in cramped, wooden houses and unsuccessfully fought the humidity of the summer before discovering the get-away beach at Folly.

Folly Beach was well past its heyday, when an amusement park, bowling alley, and large pavilion had provided entertainment for the locals and visitors from afar. Over the last forty years, a series of hurricanes, large and small, had changed the landscape of the island, but many of the small, and patently sturdy, cabins were still around. Many had additions larger than the original structures. And, like everywhere along the coast, McMansions were sprouting up and causing consternation among the residents who wanted Folly Beach to remain unchanged and battled those who wanted the right to spend their millions on as large a house as imaginable.

In a chain-everything world, there were only two establishments on Folly that can be found outside South Carolina: a small Kangaroo gas station/food mart and a micro-sized Subway. Both shared a small building along the main drag.

Charles, without mincing words, reminded me that it was past his lunch hour—"far, far, near starvation" past. I ignored his greatly exaggerated, self-proclaimed deteriorating condition and headed to the best breakfast and lunch spot on the island, the Lost Dog Café. The local landmark would feed my stomach, Charles's starvation, and his nosiness appetite. Rumors, facts, opinions, and bovine manure bounced around the dining room nearly as much as hot coffee and breakfast burritos. There was one additional, and very special, reason I frequented the colorful restaurant: Amber Lewis, five-foot-five, long brunette hair, trim in all the right places, attractive, funny, insightful, and in Charles's words, "Old Chris's main squeeze."

The Dog in an earlier life had been a Laundromat, but with the owner's creativity and love for canines, the restaurant had expanded, with two outdoor seating areas making it canine-friendly. Considering all the anti-discrimination laws in the country, I assumed that cats were welcome but had never seen one inside the dog-bone-shaped railings closing in the front porch. A concrete, life-size dog statue sporting a summer straw hat and a Hawaiian grass skirt greeted us at the front door; Amber provided a much more charming and attractive greeting inside. Most of the lunch crowd had headed back to the nearby beach or to their homes and condos for an afternoon siesta.

"Over here, boys," boomed Harley. He sat in a booth near the kitchen wall and waved as if we wouldn't have heard his voice over the handful of customers. Harley wasn't a regular at the Dog, so I felt obligated to share the booth with him. "So, what's that lawyer want with me?" he asked before Charles and I had reached the table.

"No clue," said Charles. "Any idea?" He set his canvas Tilley hat on the edge of table and leaned his cane against the wall.

"Not a one, pard. I've never even met the little guy."

Sean was much taller then Harley, so he was referring to the attorney's width, significantly narrower than our biker friend.

Harley slowly looked around the room and lowered his voice—lower for Harley. "I'm not a fan of lawyers. One almost sent me up the river a while back. Guy had a knife. Had to defend myself, didn't I?"

I was clueless; but since Harley looked like he could wrestle alligators for amusement, I wasn't going to press for an explanation. Besides, that's why Charles was along. He didn't disappoint.

"What happened?" asked Charles, on cue. "When?"

Harley fidgeted with a clear plastic Bic lighter. "Few years back. Before I moved to Follyland, I was minding my own business in a dive in North Chicago, lining up the beer bottles on the bar. I'd emptied them all." Harley patted his stomach with his right hand to show where he'd emptied the bottles, and then tapped the lighter on the table. He paused and then looked at the ceiling.

"And?" asked Charles, who thought silence was the work of the devil.

Before Harley could expound, Amber arrived with a large chicken quesadilla and gracefully slid it under Harley's elbow that he had rested on the table. She handed Charles a plate with a large hot dog smothered with cheese. She gave me an endearing grin and a filet of broiled whitefish and some weedy-looking garnish on the side. Amber had paid much more attention to my weight than I had over the last two years. I didn't think one hundred eighty pounds was bad for my five-foot-ten altitude, but the misguided charts in the magazines said differently. I was in a constant battle with the anorexic chart-writers. I wanted to hear more of Harley's story, so I chose not to draw a line in the sand about my lunch un-selection.

Harley already had a huge chunk of quesadilla in his mouth but muttered, "And I had the ten bottles arranged on the bar just like those things in a bowling alley—"

"Pins?" interrupted Charles.

"That's it, pins," said Harley. "Where was I? Oh yeah, the bottles were sitting there all nice and pretty. And this big ol' tall-drink-of-water, Nazi-looking loser walked up and took his hairy arm and swept the bottles off the bar. Said I was in his space." Harley stuffed another bite in his mouth and grabbed the Bic and started to get up. He was on his way outside for a smoke.

Charles wasn't going to have that. "Whoa, big H! What happened?"

Harley glared at Charles but lowered his ample rear back into the booth and took a deep breath. "I politely told Adolf where he could put my ten beer bottles, offered to help him since he'd have a hard time reaching the spot, and then grinned." Harley demonstrated the grin. "Now, how much more hospitable could I have been?"

"And?" I said. Charles was a bit slow.

"And a big ol' switchblade appeared in the bugger's left hand. I didn't think he was going to use it to shell the tin bucket of peanuts parked beside his beer. I removed the blade from his hand, sent his left elbow in a direction it hadn't been before, and helped his nose get better acquainted with the top of the bar." Harley grinned. "Peanuts flew everywhere. Was one of my finer moments, if I say so myself." He paused as his grin morphed into a frown. "And then the police had the nerve to arrest me. Seems that Nazi boy's brother owned the bar. Nobody saw nothing except me attacking the poor, God-fearing Nazi boy."


Excerpted from The Marsh by Bill Noel Copyright © 2011 by Bill Noel. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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The Marsh 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
JTN80 More than 1 year ago
This is the fifth time that I have been to Folly Beach and never in person. Why go in person when Bill Noel, a professional photographer, takes you there with his photographic detailed descriptons of the area and of all the old and new characters. There is always a new way to murder some one and Bill Noel is an expert at incorporating this into the plot The 52 chapters are short with each one being a new adventure. Noel has sprinkled wit and humor thoughout so that his caracters are never boring. A way opens up for Chris Landrum to keep his photo gallery from having to close so we know that there will be a sixth novel since most of the plotting and planning takes place at this location. You won't be disappointed; The Marsh ranks right up there with the four previous mystery novels.
lovemynookgb More than 1 year ago
could not put this one down. I enjoy the mystery, quirky characters and the setting. I would recommend reading the series in order, as the characters and their relationship to each other develop through each book. The Marsh had a lot of action and surprises. It does not disappoint.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
He protects the marsh from Twolegs. I will be giving you quest to solve everyday.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
May i be your med cat?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
If i were leader, i would say yes, but its not my choise but Hazelstars. And i will help advertise, just not at the first few erin hunter books. I need a name for this clan though. Waterripple
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
"Yes. Map at result 2."
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Bill Noel does it again with his fourth Folly Beach murder mystery. Since I recently visited the Charleston/Folly Beach area, I can relate to the quirkiness of the fictitious characters he describes in the book. I also appreciate him mentioning some of the great Charleston restaurants (e.g. Slightly North of Broad (SNOB) as well.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago