CAUTION: SLIPPERY WHEN WET
by Ivanka Fear
“It was an accident waiting to happen,” Ivy Rose explained to Detective Reed. “There were just way too many people looking for the perfect spot. And then there was the heat.”
Alex Reed listened with interest as Ms. Rose gave her version of the events that occurred on that afternoon in late August. There were numerous other witnesses, but so far not one came forward with anything pertinent to the case. Alex suspected some didn’t want to get involved in a missing persons case, while others were simply too self-absorbed to notice anything at all. Ms. Rose, however, was a different story. A local resident, she came directly to the police station as soon as she heard a man was missing. When interviewed by Detective Reed, who had been brought in from the city to head up the case, she gave him a full description of what she had observed.
“So how is it that you remember so many details of the day?” the detective interrupted Ivy as she rambled on about what she had observed at the beach yesterday.
“Well, some people think I’m a bit nosy, but it’s just that I’m observant. Being a writer, I’m constantly on the lookout for ideas for my next story. I guess you could say my day at the beach was research,” Ivy explained.
“Exactly what type of story are you working on?” asked Detective Reed.
“I write mostly murder mysteries,” Ivy answered.
“I see. So you went to the beach yesterday to do research for a murder, and by some strange coincidence, a man goes missing,” Alex responded, not disguising his skepticism.
“It’s not like that. I don’t intentionally set out to do research, but I do use people and events from my life experiences in my writing,” Ivy told the detective.
Alex sat back in his chair and regarded Ms. Rose as objectively as he could. They had met once before when he worked a missing persons case in town which had turned into a murder investigation. Ivy Rose had been his prime suspect. Ms. Rose was a recently retired teacher who had turned her hobby of reading mysteries into a new career of writing. She had published numerous stories and was currently working on her second novel. Alex knew she was somewhere around his age, as he was close to retiring himself. His impression of Ivy Rose was that she was a typical middle-aged woman, not unattractive but also not remarkable at first glance. No one would be likely to notice her in a crowd. Alex looked down at the notes he had taken from their conversation so far.
Ivy Rose’s recollection of yesterday was a mixed jumble of seemingly unrelated events. Alex wondered if her writing was equally disjointed. He was having difficulty seeing how any of it connected to the missing 46 year old male. Yet Ms. Rose seemed convinced that somewhere in her observations lay the clue to Martin Reece’s disappearance at The Cove sometime late yesterday evening.
“So you say you only heard the collision, but saw nothing?” Alex asked, in an attempt to clarify if the minor fender bender had anything to do with Martin Reece.
All the parking spots had been filled and cars were lined up and down the sides of the only beach access road that Sunday. There were cars facing the wrong way, cars backed in, cars parked at an angle, cars everywhere. Added to the constant flow of traffic up and down the road were pedestrians and bicyclists weaving along and across the road. Ivy had been driving along the road looking for a parking spot when she heard the loud crunch a few car lengths behind her.
“Yes, that’s right. I looked in my rear view mirror and saw a red pickup and a darker vehicle behind it, but they didn’t seem to be involved. I had to keep my eyes on the road with all the kids running around, so I didn’t look too long in my rear view,” Ivy confirmed.
“And this was about 4pm? That’s five hours before Mr. Reece was missed by his friends. A preliminary police search was conducted when he was reported missing at 11:30, as there was a concern because of the water and the rocks,” Detective Reed said.
“I guess it was about 4. I didn’t hear anything about the missing man till sometime early this morning when I read about it online. After the fender bender, there was already a police cruiser on site by the time I reached the end of the beach road and circled back around to the spot where the accident had happened. Traffic was slow, with the two cars involved blocking half the road. The police officer was taking notes and some people were standing around watching. There was a smaller black car with considerable damage to the front and a very expensive black SUV with almost no damage. I guess one of the drivers must have been distracted. A young couple stood next to the small car talking to the officer, while a man of about 40 was inspecting his SUV,” Ivy said. “A while later I also noticed a paramedic van driving up and down the road, but I assumed they were keeping an eye out just in case, what with all the people around and the heat. You never know what might happen.”
Alex noted that Ms. Rose also thought it important to mention that while she was sitting on a bench enjoying an ice cream later on, she exchanged greetings with the parents of two young children on the playground.
“They seemed to be having a difficult time keeping track of them,” she said. “One would go in one direction, the other in another. While the mom was in the bathroom, the dad almost lost sight of his little girl when she ran off to the climbers and the boy wandered towards the parking lot. He didn’t seem to know which one to go after first.”
“How does that relate to the missing person?” interjected Alex, with a sigh of exasperation.
“I’m just saying it only takes a second for a child to get lost,” said Ivy.
“Mr. Reece is not a child. I’m sure he can take care of himself.”
“Child or not, it only takes a second for something to happen. You have to be watching all the time.”
There had been a lot of activity at The Cove yesterday. Volleyball nets, umbrellas, pop-up tents, and barbecues dotted the beach and grass along the lake. Life guards were on duty from 10am to 7pm at The Cove and they had already been interviewed. Their eyes had been on the water, and they reported there had been no sign of anyone in distress that day. In any case, Martin had last been seen by his friends at 8 o’clock.
Carey Reece, Martin’s wife, and another couple, Mark and Wendy Campbell, had placed a 911 call at 11:30 last night. After conducting a thorough search of the area and finding no sign of Martin, the police decided there was nothing further they could do until morning. They were currently checking the beaches and parks in the area, searching the lake, as well as conducting a door to door inquiry of nearby homes in the town of Richtown.
When Alex interviewed Martin’s wife and friends in the early hours, they were visibly distraught. According to Mark, Martin had been checking his phone fairly often during the late afternoon as he lay on the beach under the umbrella and read his novel. He seemed a bit on edge, Mark told the detective. Carey, Mark, and Wendy alternated between swimming in the water and sunning themselves on the sandy beach.
“He can’t swim. The water makes him nervous,” Carey told Detective Reed. “I’m not sure why he was so eager to go to the lake yesterday afternoon. It was all his idea for the four of us to drive out here and get away from the city for the day. Usually he just reluctantly comes along with me because he knows I love the beach. He won’t go in the water, at least not much past his knees.”
At about 8pm, Martin got up and said he needed to stretch his legs and was going for a walk, but should be back before dark. When Carey offered to go with him, he told her to stay and enjoy the last little bit of the sun. She watched him head down the boardwalk as she rejoined Mark and Wendy in the water for one last swim of the day.
By 9pm, he hadn’t returned. Carey had tried texting and calling him a few times, but he didn’t respond. She thought that was odd as he’d been checking his phone so frequently earlier. As the sky grew darker and the crowd grew thinner, she started to wonder why he wasn’t back yet.
“I wasn’t too worried at that point. He often takes long walks,” Carey said. “But it was getting dark quickly and I hadn’t heard from him, so naturally, I was concerned.”
“Had you noticed any change in Martin’s behaviour during the last few weeks?” Alex asked Carey.
“What do you mean?” Carey asked.
“Had he been depressed or did he have any problems?” Alex elaborated.
“You’re not thinking he intentionally did something to hurt himself?” Carey asked, appearing shocked. “He would never do that. And no, we don’t have any problems.”
“Um, what about…?” Wendy started but got cut off.
“Everything is fine,” Carey said.
“He did mention to me a couple of times that he was having some money problems,” Mark spoke up. “Sorry, Carey, but if it helps find Martin, then the police should know.”
Carey nodded her head and said, “Yes, of course, but it’s not that bad, really.”
“Martin told Mark he owed a lot of money to a private lender, that guy with the fancy black SUV I saw you sitting in last week,” Wendy said.
“We’re managing. It’s all under control,” Carey insisted. “And Martin would hardly jump in the lake because of a temporary cash flow problem.”
“Are the two of you having any other difficulties apart from the financial setback?” Alex asked.
“No, we’re good,” Carey said.
Alex noted that Wendy and Mark exchanged a questioning look, but remained silent. After asking a few more questions, Alex learned that Carey and Martin had been married for 8 years and had no children. They lived in a condo in the city and both worked in real estate. Martin and Carey had met the Campbells when they moved into their building last year.
“So after you became worried about Martin, what did you do?” continued Alex.
“We waited a while longer, then decided we’d better go look for him before it got pitch dark,” explained Mark. “So, I got a flashlight out of the car and started down the boardwalk and Carey said she would drive down to the other end of the beach, where the pier is, while Wendy stayed behind in case he came back in the meantime. I walked along the boardwalk and swept my flashlight onto the beach and rocks as I went along, looking for any sign of Martin.”
“Did you see anyone else of interest?” the detective asked Mark.
“No, it was getting pretty deserted by then. A few people were still packing up. There were cars driving up and down the strip, but not many people on the boardwalk or along the water. I passed a couple of joggers,” Mark told him. “I stopped them to ask if they had seen a forty-something man walking on his own, but no luck.”
“I kept trying to call Martin every 5 minutes,” Wendy added. “There weren’t too many people left on the beach by this time and it was sort of creepy being on my own, even though the boardwalk is lit up.”
“What about you? What happened when you got to the pier?” asked Alex, turning to Carey.
“I drove slowly, and glanced in both directions in case he was heading back to The Cove, but I couldn’t really see that well. There were a couple of joggers on the boardwalk and a few people still packing up stuff in their cars, but no sign of Martin,” Carey told him. “I parked along the road in front of the beach shack and checked out the area. I walked all around the beach shack, which was closed by then and checked the washroom, which was also closed. Then I walked towards the pier a bit, but I couldn’t really see whether there was anyone out there. Although I honestly couldn’t imagine him going out there on his own with his fear of the water. That’s why I left the pier and started walking along the boardwalk back in the direction of The Cove, and that’s where I met up with Mark.”
“That’s right,” Mark said. “Carey told me to turn around and take another sweep of the boardwalk and beach on my way back to The Cove and she headed back along the boardwalk towards the car.”
“I took another look around the beach shack and the pier area. Then I drove back to The Cove and we all waited in the spot where we had last seen Martin,” Carey added.
“What time did you get back to The Cove?” Alex inquired.
“It must have been between 10 and 10:30,” Carey answered.
“No, it was way after 11. We waited for you to come back and then we called 911,” Wendy reminded her.
“Did you see anyone or anything out of the ordinary around the pier?” asked Alex.
“No,” said Carey.
“No one at all? Are you sure?”
“Well, um, there was a woman sitting at the gazebo by the pier. I saw her when I looked out towards the pier, and I called out and asked her if she had seen Martin, but she didn’t. She seemed to be busy doing something on her ipad, so I doubt she would have noticed anybody,” Carey said.
Alex Reed was getting rather weary listening to Ivy Rose’s account of her day at the beach, but he suspected that somewhere within her snippets of information there could be a vital clue as to Martin Reece’s whereabouts.
“I notice that you seemed to be aware of everything going on at that beach yesterday, from a child crying about getting the wrong flavour of ice cream to an older lady being helped down from the boardwalk by a passing stranger to a mother too busy on her phone to watch her toddler playing on the rocks,” Alex noted.
“Yes, you can never be too careful. Accidents happen all the time. Some parents just don’t realize you have to keep an eye on them constantly,” Ivy explained. “And don’t get me started on the teenagers! You should have seen them on the pier, climbing and jumping off the wall. One was even on the roof of the utility building, considering taking a leap. It made me nervous to even watch, so I didn’t spend a long time on the pier. The signs said: ‘No diving. Stay off the roof.’ One wrong calculation and you could hit the concrete or the rocks. Not that it was any safer on the other side of the pier.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, with the water levels so high, the lower section of the pier was submerged. I saw a couple of young girls walking there, wading through the water, which got deeper the further in they went. They lost their footing a few times and remarked how slippery it was, before they climbed the steps back to the upper walkway. They shouldn’t have been there at all. The signs on the barricade said: ‘Caution. Slippery when wet. Please stay on the pedestrian walkway.’ One misstep and you could quickly find yourself tripping over the submerged ledge and into the channel. But I guess young people think nothing bad will ever happen to them, don’t they?”
Alex was aware that the harbour had been closed as a result of the high water levels. The dock was under water. The concrete pier on the beach side of the harbour was also submerged and there was a barricade set up to direct people to the upper walkway along the left side. The right side of the pier was adjacent to the deep channel where ships came into the port. A few buoys marked the edge of the pier to guide boats away from the edge. A couple of tugboats and fishing vessels could be seen moored to the far side of the harbour.
“Getting back to your observations of yesterday, I’m wondering how you knew the titles of books people were reading, the fact that two seagulls were fighting over an empty french fry box, and the name of some young boy walking by, and yet you never mentioned a woman asking whether you had seen Martin,” Alex said, closely watching Ivy’s reaction.
“When was this?” Ivy asked.
“Sometime between 9 and 11. Were you still down by the lake at that time?” Alex asked.
“Yes, for some of that time I was. I wanted to watch the sunset over the lake, so I sat down in the gazebo by the pier. Then I guess I lost track of time while I was working a story on my iPad,” Ivy answered.
“Did a woman approach you and ask about Martin?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Either you saw this woman or you didn’t. Which is it?” Detective Reed persisted.
“Well, I got so caught up in writing my story once the sun had set that I wasn’t really paying much attention to anything else. It was rather deserted on the beach by that time, but a few joggers were on the boardwalk and some people were still packing up their stuff to go home,” Ivy explained. “There was a woman walking alone along the pier, though. She seemed to be waiting for someone. Maybe she called out to me and I didn’t hear her?”
“Did you notice anything else unusual after it became dark?” Alex pressed.
“Yes, it was that SUV. I saw it again. The one from the accident. That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you,” Ivy said.
“In the parking lot across the road from the beach shack. I was going back to my car to head home and I walked past it. There were two men sitting in the front seats, arguing,” Ivy went on.
“How do you know they were arguing? Did you hear what they were talking about?” Alex asked.
“Their voices were raised and their tone was confrontational. But no, I don’t know what they were saying. I don’t like to stick my nose in other people’s business, so I just kept walking to my car,” said Ivy.
Alex raised his eyebrows.
“I sat in the car for a while and added a few more paragraphs to the story I was writing, then started out of the lot. As I was leaving, I noticed the two men getting out of the SUV and heading towards the pier,” Ivy added.
“So, Ms. Rose, what do you think happened to Martin Reece?”
Someone, he thought to himself, isn’t telling the truth. Ivy Rose, he knew, from his past experience with her, didn’t always believe in honesty being the best policy.
“Well, it’s a dangerous place, the lake. Especially that flooded pier,” Ivy said.
“So you’re saying he may have slipped off the pier and no one noticed or tried to save him?” Alex asked her, leaning forward in his seat. “How is that possible?”
“It was dark, for one thing. There was hardly anyone around anywhere. And most people aren’t that observant, for another. Maybe no one was watching,” Ivy speculated.
“But you were?”
“Yes, yes, I was.”
“And you think Martin accidentally slipped off the side of the pier unnoticed?” Alex asked again.
“Oh no, not at all,” Ivy looked him straight in the eye. “Detective Reed, I suspect there’s a lot more to this story. I wonder, did Martin have a life insurance policy? In any case when you do locate Martin’s body off the pier, I think you’ll find there’s been a murder.”
About the Author:
Ivanka Fear is a retired teacher and a writer from Ontario, Canada. She holds a B.A. and B.Ed., majoring in English and French literature, from Western University. Her poems and short stories appear in or are forthcoming in Spadina Literary Review, Montreal Writes, Spillwords, Commuterlit, Canadian Stories, Adelaide Literary, October Hill, Scarlet Leaf Review, Polar Borealis, Lighten Up, Bewildering Stories, The Sirens Call, Utopia Science Fiction, The Literary Hatchet, Wellington Street Review, Aphelion, Sad Girl Review, and Tales From the Moonlit Path. She has recently completed her first novel.