Spruce County Coroner, Boyce Williams, was a small, bird-like man with an enlarged sense of confidence. He followed Detective Harry Harp and Constable Terry Becker behind the Calvert place where the ground dropped sharply down to the water. Becker stopped and pointed at a length of birch firewood, its bark smeared with a dark red substance. After kneeling down and sniffing, Williams wriggled his nose then pronounced the substance to be, indeed, blood.
“How long to get it tested?” Harp asked, gazing down the slope. He could hear the sound of outboard engines and laughter in the distance. The lake was waking up.
“Three days to a week.” Williams thrust out his chin. “But in 37 years on the job, I have never been wrong.” He marched back to the cottage. “Now, to see if the bloody log and the deceased fit together.” Harp knew they would. He had been wrong before, but he felt sure about this.
“Looks like we’ve got ourselves a murder weapon. Good work, Terry,” Harp said then started down the slope with Becker trailing behind him. After a few steps, the detective peered past a clump of scrawny maples.
“Looks like a path–.” He noticed some broken branches, like someone had grabbed at them. “Grace said she walked around the lake …”
“Think she did this?” Becker asked. “Her–or the killer.”
“You’re ruling her out?”
“No–everyone’s a suspect.”
Harp felt his face suddenly redden. Just then, Frank Gill appeared, ghost-like, from behind a tree.
“That’s the shore path,” he said like he’d been listening in on their conversation. “Goes right around the lake but it’s not used on account of the shore’s private. Cottagers don’t like people walking on their property.”
Harp said, “Does the path cross your property?”
Gill nodded. “Right past my front window.”
“Did you see anyone using it last night? Did you see Grace?”
“Like I said,” The old man folded his arms across his chest. “It’s not used anymore.”
Harp frowned. “You got a spare boat we can borrow?”
Twenty minutes later, Becker rowed and Harp sat in the stern of a beat-up tin boat. On his left, Harp watched the Calvert cottage pass behind a veil of foliage.
“What do you think of Grace Calvert?” Harp said over the splash of oars.
Becker shrugged. “She seems bushed. Like she’s been in that cabin playing ‘pioneer’ too long. Enough to make anyone crazy.”
Just then, the coroner appeared through the trees, waving. He yelled, “I had a gander at your victim. Time of murder’s between 10:00 and midnight. And remember …”
Harp shouted, “You’re never wrong?” The little man nodded sagely then disappeared behind the trees. Harp and Becker tied up at the cottage in the bay. A neat garden banked the property and in the middle of it, a woman in yellow pants and a long-sleeved shirt was bent over, blond curls hiding her face. Her gloved hands attacked a spiky weed, fiercely pulling at its root.
Harp introduced himself. After recovering from her surprise at seeing two strangers on her property, the woman said her name was Heather Mackenzie-Wilson and led them into the cottage. The Mackenzie-Wilsons’ living room was the size of the entire Calvert home. A flat screen TV hung over a fireplace and next to it, a set of shelves held players, consoles, cords and stacks of DVDs and in front of the TV, a U-shaped sectional wrapped around a glass coffee table. The table was bare except for a spray bottle of hand sanitizer and a row of remotes.
“Bob? We have guests,” Heather said to a man walking into the room holding two beach towels.
“Huh?” Then he noticed Harp and Becker. “Who are you?”
“They’re detectives,” she said crossing to the kitchen and washing her hands.
“Detectives?” He peered at them. “You guys want to sit down?” His black hair was shoveled straight back off his forehead mobster-style and he was wearing orange swim trunks under a tanned and oiled belly. On the floor, two 6-year-olds played with toy cars. Bob Mackenzie-Wilson glanced at Harp’s suit jacket.
“You must be hot,” he said, smirking. “Say, you want coffee? A drink?”
“No thanks,” Harp said pulling at his damp collar. Heather sat down near Bob.
“I can handle this,” he snapped. “You’re supposed to be taking the boys swimming, anyway, not messing around in that garden.” He pushed the towels at her. “Go put on your bikini.”
“I don’t feel like swimming.”
“And I don’t feel like seeing you in pants! Go change. This is a cottage, for Christ’s sake. Show some skin.”
Harp said quickly, “Actually, I’d like to speak to both of you.” Becker opened his notebook. All eyes turned to Harp.
He said, “We’re investigating Ida Calvert’s murder.”
Bob’s head fell back against his seat. “Are you frickin’ serious?”
“Oh my god–.” Heather’s trembling hands covered her mouth.
The boys looked up, eyes wide.
“Scram, you two. The deck. NOW–,” Bob pointed at a glass door. Reluctantly, the pair left the room.
Harp rubbed his temples and sighed.
“Where were you both last night?”
“Right here,” Bob Mackenzie-Wilson barked. “We had dinner then everyone came over for fireworks like they always do.”
Becker said, “And what time was that?”
The man shrugged. “Finished dinner about when–?”
“Eight-thirty,” Heather said quietly.
“Yeah. That’s right. The kids watched a movie, the wife cleaned up and I got the fireworks ready. We always start the show bang on eleven.”
Harp frowned. “That seems late. Aren’t people sleeping?”
Bob’s face stretched into a toothy grin. “Nobody’s sleeping because everyone is right here enjoying the show.”
Becker looked up from his notebook.
“Except the Calverts.”
“Look–those two broads wouldn’t come to an afternoon tea party if they were invited. They don’t like anyone on the lake and quite frankly, nobody likes them.”
Heather said, “But you love their spot on the point, don’t you, Bob? You always say how much you love–.”
Bob’s face turned purple. “Jesus Heather– everyone loves that goddamn point–.”
He drove his hands through his hair then muttered, “Sorry fellas.” Heather picked at her nails. Popping the button on his collar, Harp flapped it for air.
“Heather, tell me how long have you had your cottage?”
She glanced at Bob, then at the floor, then back to Harp.
“We bought here three years ago–with the help of my mother and, I mean, this is all we could afford even with her gift. It’s not perfect, not like the point–.”
Bob Mackenzie-Wilson cut in.
“Her old woman wouldn’t give us the cash unless we hyphenated our names. Can you believe it? Said it would remind me that the wife and I are in an ‘equal partnership’. Now I gotta wear this surname like a goddamn cross.” He grinned at the men. Harp ignored him and turned to Heather.
“When did the fireworks end?”
“Midnight on the dot. Right after ‘The Fireball.’ Bob always sets it off last because it’s the loudest. He says that one day, it’ll scare Ida to death. Isn’t that right, Bob?”
Editor’s note: This is the second installment of a series entitled Harp on the Water. It’s written by Hope Thompson, who lives in Algonquin Highlands.