giving Emerald Point six months,” I told friends in Manhattan
the day I took my grandfather’s house off the market and
moved into it.
years later I was still there.
that time I’d cobbled together a new life. Step by step,
I renovated the rambling old Victorian I’d loved since
childhood, tempered my city-style political activism to an acceptable
small-town level and—in a move even more astounding to
me than to the local politicos—got myself elected mayor
of our village.
I suffered occasional misgivings, I refused to second guess myself.
For the most part I was satisfied, comfortable with my decision
and with my place in the world. And that place, for the time
being at least, was a corner of upstate New York, two hundred
fifty miles north of the city and light years away from everything
I’d once considered important.
thought of a new spot for your run,” my sixteen-year-old
friend Josie Donohue informed me one day when I stopped at her
mother’s restaurant. Josie scorned outdoor activities herself,
but she knew everything there was to know about the Point and
its environs. “Drive up 9N and turn off on – let’s
see—the third right after Beacon Hill Drive. Just your
ticket—a dirt road along the lake.”
a confirmed couch potato, the girl had good instincts. The next
morning a little before seven, I followed her directions, allowed
a few extra minutes for warm-up stretches and took off along
the rutted path she’d suggested. The June sun burned hot
on my back, but the air was fresh and cool, without the humidity
which would make running such a drag later in the summer. As
always, the beauty of Lake George dazzled me—thirty-two
miles of slate-blue water, surrounded by low green hills, under
a cloudless sky.
covered about half a mile when I caught sight of a boy hunkered
down in the grass ahead of me. I didn’t recognize him,
but that didn’t surprise me. I still didn’t know
all the local kids by name. This one looked to be somewhere in
his teens—shaggy black hair, jeans wet and crusted with
dirt. He watched me approach with the dazed expression of an
happened?” I glanced toward the water fifteen feet below
at the foot of a steep bank. I assumed he’d tumbled in
somehow and climbed back up.
He pointed at a bike, more accurately a bike minus its front wheel,
lying a few feet away.
fell over that?” I shuddered, picturing him tripping on
the unexpected obstacle and taking a nosedive down the rocky
Goddamn it. I was riding it.”
how did you get wet?”
boy shook his head, sending droplets of water flying around him.
He brushed at the muddy dirt on his scraped hands, then slid
them carefully along his pants legs. He winced as he touched
waited, hoping for a better explanation of what had happened
came off,” he muttered finally.
got up with difficulty and limped to the edge of the cliff. I
hung in close behind him. He pointed down the slope to where
a bike wheel was caught on an outcropping of rock just above
the water line. “Damn thing rolled there.”
looked much too shaky to go after the wheel himself, so I sat
down and began sliding on my butt from rock to rock. I’d
reached the midpoint of the embankment when I realized the boy
was trailing along behind me. Despite the steepness of the descent,
he kept one arm wrapped around his waist as if something hurt
Look over there.” He pointed toward a spot in the lake
a few yards off shore.
first, I couldn’t see anything but water. Then I focused
on a dark red mass just below the surface. My breath caught in
my throat as I realized I wasn’t looking at a rock or a
submerged tree. “That’s a car down there. Do you
think somebody could be in it?”
maybe. I swam out.” He stared past me at the lake.
shook his head. “See that wavy shadow. Driver’s side.
I thought that was somebody sitting there, but it isn’t.
The car’s empty.”
could a car be down there? This path’s too narrow to drive
if you were careful. Maybe somebody wanted to get rid of the
car. The windows are all open.”
felt a cold chill, a sense that I was hurtling pell-mell toward
something I didn’t want to confront. Emerald Point didn’t
have its own police force but, as mayor, I was kept informed
about the investigations the county sheriff’s department
handled in the village. I had a bad feeling about this car.
you tell the make?” I asked.
a dark red four-door. A Chevy.” The boy inched his way
back up the bank, still holding one arm across his midsection.
pulled my cell phone out of the pocket of my sweat pants and
handed it up to him. I made an effort to keep my voice steady. “We’ll
have to let the sheriff’s department know. Take this and
call 911. Tell ’em the mayor’s reporting a car in
the mayor?” He sucked in his lower lip as he considered
whether or not to believe me.
right. Loren Graham. What’s your name?”
Todd, tell ’em to send the rescue squad too. Your bike’s
wrecked and I don’t think you should try to walk. You could
have internal injuries.”
all right. I don’t want no rescue squad guys pokin’ at
don’t you let me take a look, see how banged up you really
are. Maybe we shouldn’t be wasting time here,” I
clutched his wet tee shirt more tightly around him. “I
looked. Just bruised a little. Don’t make a big deal of
it.” He scuttled one-handed over the top of the bank and
out of sight.
eased my body down the slope. Belatedly, I considered the possibility
that the boy would take off with my cell phone and disappear.
I’d certainly lost most of the survival skills I’d
honed during my years in New York.
my eyes fixed on the wheel, I slid along until I was close enough
to reach for it. After two or three tries I got a good grip on
the rim and yanked. The wheel came loose with a force that nearly
knocked me off balance. I steadied myself, then inched backward
up the slope, moving toward my left where I spotted what looked
like an easier way to climb to the top. Still hanging onto the
wheel, I sidled along until I reached a section of rocks where
I could turn around and pull myself up.
managed only a short distance when I saw something that stopped
me cold—first, sneaks, soggy, decomposing sneaks poking
out from under a scraggly bush, then, half buried by leaves and
dirt, rotted jeans with something mushy underneath that might
have once been legs. Even worse, I smelled the awful, sickening
odor of decaying flesh. I was smelling death and I knew it. I
flung both hands across my nose and mouth, fighting back nausea.
Bring the phone this way,” I gasped.
heard the boy shuffling along the bank above me. In less than
a minute he peered over the edge.
try to come down. I’ve found a body. Call 911 again. Tell ’em
to get here fast.” I turned away and vomited my morning
coffee over the rocks, retching time and time again, unable to
boy started down the embankment. “Hang on. I’m coming.
Are you sure it’s a body?”
911. Call right away.” I forced the words out between spasms
of dry heaves
couldn’t say anything more. Even after I calmed down and
started to creep back up the embankment, I couldn’t speak.
I concentrated on taking slow, deep breaths. My insides settled
a little, but the shakiness spread outward to my arms and legs.
I hung onto a rock, trembling, afraid if I loosened my grip,
I’d topple head first down the slope into the water. A
sick feeling built and crashed and rebuilt inside me, breaking
like the white-caps pounding against the rocks below. I knew
what I’d found. As much as I didn’t want to believe
it, I knew exactly what I’d found.