The retrieval was unceremonious and without dignity. The woman’s body was winched from Dunball Wharf at 17.13, dripping with sluice-slime. The hip bones shone white against the sun and there were fish swimming in her belly.
It had been the hottest day that summer. The mountainous heaps of sand at the Dunball Wharf Aggregate Works had dried out so completely that a choking dust rose from them. The waters below had heated until their reek oozed into the nostrils. No one wanted to move fast, and sounds were muffled, as if the late afternoon sun had thickened the air.
The two detectives had arrived as the body was trundling on a gurney over to the white tent where the pathologist waited like an adjudicator at some macabre contest. The woman was found stripped of any clothing and the technician had thrown a green sheet over her poor mutilated and rotting body for that short journey, but the gurney jerked as its wheels stuck to the walkway, which was so burning hot it was melting the policemen’s thick soles, and the woman’s head slid to the edge, her heavy locks falling free, as if she’d just unpinned them. Despite the river weed and silt, her hair was still glorious; as black as a nighttime lake, not tampered by bleach or dye.
Detective Sergeant Gary Abbott had stepped forward, his hand outstretched, and touched the woman’s hair, crying out like a distressed relative. “Take care with her, for God’s sake!”
I know this, because Detective Inspector Reynard Buckley told me so, months later, in hisses and whispers directed at the black winter sky, his big, knuckled hands hiding most of his face. It hadn’t been the drip of sloughing skin that distressed him. It had been his sergeant’s reaction.
On the way to the wharf, Gary Abbott had been his usual cocky self. He’d put on the flashers and put down his foot, taking every obstruction as a personal challenge. “Body got trapped in the Dunball Clyce,” he’d joked. “Ve-ery nasty, that Dunball Clyce…whatever the fuck it is.” Of course Abbott knew it was the sluice at the Dunball Wharf, where the King’s Sedgemoor Drain fed into the River Parrett; every Bridgwatarian did. It was the sort of quip he’d make, trying to distance himself from any emotion on the job, which is why Rey had been puzzled by his reaction at the site.
And then, apparently, on first examination at the scene, the pathologist had stated that because the body had undergone prolonged scavenger predation, bacterial action and abrasion, it was impossible to estimate the date or the time of death, or even say if she had been dead before entering the water, which was the one thing the detectives really wanted to know. But she had said – and this was why I was able to recall every word Rey whispered – that freshwater specimens sometimes displayed abdominal protrusions; sections of gut that had burst through the skin, speeding aquatic decomposition. It reminded me of how unwanted spirit energy can intrude into a person’s ethereal body, demonstrating its existence as strange, projecting emanations, which a skilled shaman can sometimes observe.
Rey hadn’t quizzed Abbott until the body had left the site.
“What was all that about?”
“C’mon, Gary. Were you IDing her?”
“Really, no. She just reminded me…was all.”
Gary moved away. They had been planning to interview the boy who’d found her, a seventeen year-old lad that worked on the dredgers. He’d spotted bits of white tissue in among the silt sucked from the river bed. At first, apparently, he had thought it was a large, dead fish, but then an entire piece of intestine arrived and he had fallen to his knees on the deck and vomited. Abbott had strode off to get his story, but Rey told me that he’d never believed Abbott had meant “nothing”. He had meant, “wait until I’ve checked it out”.
Rey Buckley understood that line of thinking. Sometimes, he’d let a hunch brew for a while, in the same way. I understood too; you have to stay patient, but alert, until something drops down into the fermentation. Then suddenly, it all makes perfect sense. If Abbott needed time to brew his thoughts, that was fine.
Trouble was, Abbott never did let on. Not in his lifetime.
Nina Milton lives in west Wales with her husband and their hens (about whom she has blogged for WOA!), but she sets her Shaman Series, out from Midnight Ink, in the mystical county of Somerset in the UK. The First in the series, In the Moors is available now and the second book in the series, Unraveled Visions is due for release soon.I also write for children; Sweet’n’Sour, (HarperCollins) and Tough Luck, (Thornberry Publishing), and love writing short stories which regularly appear in British anthologies. Visit Nina’s page on Amazon, http://www.amazon.com/Nina-Milton/e/B00E748CT6 or join her on her vibrant blogsite, http://www.kitchentablewriters.blogspot.com.