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Beneath the Surface

1- 59133- 123- 4HC
1- 59133- 124- 2TP

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P.O. Box 275
Boonsboro, MD 21713-0275

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Beneath the Surface
A Lake George Mystery

by Anne White

Chapter One

“I’m 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.

Four years later I was still there.

In 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.

Although 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.

“I’ve 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.”

For 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.

I’d 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 accident victim.

“What 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.

“Bike.” He pointed at a bike, more accurately a bike minus its front wheel, lying a few feet away.

“You fell over that?” I shuddered, picturing him tripping on the unexpected obstacle and taking a nosedive down the rocky incline.

“No. Goddamn it. I was riding it.”

“But how did you get wet?”

The 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 his knees.

I waited, hoping for a better explanation of what had happened to him.

“Wheel came off,” he muttered finally.

He 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.”

He 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 him.

“Wait. Look over there.” He pointed toward a spot in the lake a few yards off shore.

At 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?”

“Thought maybe. I swam out.” He stared past me at the lake.

“Well, is there?”

He 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.”

“How could a car be down there? This path’s too narrow to drive on.”

“Could, if you were careful. Maybe somebody wanted to get rid of the car. The windows are all open.”

I 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.

“Could you tell the make?” I asked.

“It’s a dark red four-door. A Chevy.” The boy inched his way back up the bank, still holding one arm across his midsection.

I 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 lake.”

“You the mayor?” He sucked in his lower lip as he considered whether or not to believe me.

“That’s right. Loren Graham. What’s your name?”

“Todd. Todd Lewis.”

“Well, 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.”

“I’m all right. I don’t want no rescue squad guys pokin’ at me.”

“Why don’t you let me take a look, see how banged up you really are. Maybe we shouldn’t be wasting time here,” I said.

He 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.

I 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.

With 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.

I’d 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.

“Hey. Bring the phone this way,” I gasped.

I heard the boy shuffling along the bank above me. In less than a minute he peered over the edge.

“What the hell?”

“Don’t 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 stop.

The boy started down the embankment. “Hang on. I’m coming. Are you sure it’s a body?”

“Call 911. Call right away.” I forced the words out between spasms of dry heaves

I 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.


©Copyright 2005-2012. Anne White. All Rights Reserved.
*Photos courtesy of Lake George Chamber of Commerce
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