Authors: Glenda Carroll
Tags: #Retail, #Suspense, #Thriller, #Fiction
Copyright 2013 by Glenda Carroll
All rights reserved.
Dead in the Water is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination of are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
eBook ISBN: 978-1-63002-810-7
Cover Design: Richard Burns
Beachbreak Press, Marin County, California
To Eddie and Ricky
DEAD IN THE WATER
began with a simple question, “what if?” It took me more than a year to answer that question and I didn’t do it alone. No writer does.
Editorial analyst Martha Engber and proofreader Iwonka Kelly gave the manuscript a professional polish.
Many thanks to D.P. Lyle, MD, forensic specialist, and to Rebecca Salazar, MD, Tucson, AZ, for their medical expertise. Officer Wilson Ng, San Francisco Police Department; Doug Farley, firefighter, EMT, City of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, David Robinson, Aquatic Specialist, Sonoma County Parks, Sonoma, Ca and Frank Oliveto, hot rod aficionado, Mill Valley, Ca answered my many questions.
Kudos to Steve Munatones, international open water swimming guru, for sharing meaningful statistics and to Nancy Ridout for her thoughtful comments.
Authors and cousins, Charlee Ganny and Joan Ganny, need acknowledgement for their virtual handholding.
This mystery is about open water swimming. I want to thank Pacific Masters Swimming, the open water event hosts and the swimmers that I’ve met over the years. A special thanks to Tamalpais Aquatic Masters, head coach Marie McSweeney and my teammates, especially the women in the locker room who kept asking, ‘when do I get to read your book?’
I was sitting on
the shore of Lake Joseph, a startling green lake in the California Sierra foothills, far enough in the shade to be protected from the bone-melting sun but still feel its warmth. The toasted scent of dry pine needles filtered through the air. On the radio was a San Francisco Giants game. They were winning. I was dozing. But, the shouts from a man across the beach kept drowning out the announcer’s take on a lead-off double. Very annoying. I wished he’d shut up—the shouter—not the announcer.
I opened my eyes. Lake Joe, as it’s called, was stretched out in front of me, bordered by tall pines working their way up neighboring small mountains. Spray, like glitter thrown into the air, bounced off the river of swimmers—maybe two hundred in all—making a beeline toward the beach. My thirty-eight year-old sister, Lena, was out there somewhere. This was her fourth open water swim of the season.
I sat up a little straighter and leaned forward. One swimmer near the front of the pack had turned left while the others kept moving straight toward the finish line. He was swimming the wrong way. He paused for a minute, treading water. Then he swam calmly, stroke after stroke, toward a nearby dock anchored on the edge of the course.
When he was within five feet of the wooden dock, he turned over on his back and floated. His body slowly began to rotate until he was face down in the water, arms and legs spread out. He never moved again.
Standing in the hot sun at the side of the course closest to the floating swimmer, was the shouter. He waved his hands wildly. His voice cracked as he yelled.
“Here…help. He needs help. Get a lifeguard. Now. Quick! Damn it, hurry!”
Jumping up and down, he pointed at the face down figure in the water. He continued loudly, frantically. “Hey, over here… hurry…hurry.”
My corner of the beach erupted. Sunbathers ran down to the water’s edge. Sand was kicked everywhere. I ran with them, tripping over my own feet. Two lifeguards on stand-up paddleboards moved quickly through the water to the unconscious man. One guard jumped off his board, swam a few short strokes, tucked a thick red rescue tube under his arms to keep his head afloat. He pushed him onto the other board. Then, side-by-side, the paddlers stroked in unison, their long paddles flashing in the sun. Even three hundred yards away, I saw the determined look on their sunburned faces.
Moving into the shallows close to where the shouter stood, one guard jumped into knee-deep water. He pulled the body onto the beach.
Two women dashed past me, legs pumping, arms flying. They reached the limp swimmer at the same time he was pulled across the sand into the shade. They were a doctor and a nurse from the event’s safety team. Still breathing hard from the sprint, they bent over the body.
The shouter, a tall man in a striped polo shirt, stood there, nervously running his hands through his cropped brown hair. His eyes were hidden behind reflective sunglasses. He took a step back when an ambulance pulled up and the paramedics brought out resuscitation equipment.
“There’s Cody Stephenson,” said a thirty-something swimmer standing next to me. He pointed at a man with a clipboard jogging toward the growing group of people surrounding the swimmer. “Bet that’s the guy’s coach.”
Along the whole beach, voices grew louder. Then softer. Then louder again, like the ebb and flow of a wave. Some words were clipped, the edges hard; others reduced to whispers. The beachgoers stared at the downed swimmer.
Off to one side, I saw my sister run through the yellow finish arch, pull off her goggles and cap. Shading her eyes with her hands, she looked out to the lake at the rest of the pack heading toward the finish line. I walked over to her.
“What’s going on?” she asked, nodding to the group at the side of the course.
“Not sure,” I said. We walked back up the beach to where I had been sitting. “They just pulled that man out of the water. I think he’s unconscious.”
Lena grabbed a towel, drying her face and mop of short strawberry blond corkscrew curls. A stocky dark-haired man as solid as a side of a mountain and wearing dark blue jammers, (a knee length swim suit) walked up to Lena.
“Mario, you know who it is?” she asked.
“It’s Dick Waddell. We’re on the same team.”
“The new guy, you know the one from Texas I told you about, burning up the course,” Lena said to me. Her first words were muffled from beneath the towel. “Glad there’s an ambulance here. Trish, this is Mario, a reformed body builder. Now an open water swimmer. Mario, this is my sister, Trisha, Trisha Carson. She’s my swim chauffeur and current roommate.”
We nodded, smiled briefly, and he continued walking to another picnic table nearby. Lena settled down on the splintery bench and began to peel off her suit under the towel.
“Think I’ll walk around and see what’s up,” I said.
“Trish, stay out of it.”
“I’m not going to bother anyone. I’m curious, that’s all.”
“That’s what you always say. Then you do something stupid. Don’t get involved.”
I’ve heard that from my sister since we were kids—and there have been times I’ve overstepped some boundaries. But, she likes to pretend that life is all blue sky and sunshine. I see the storm clouds and grey sky, so I need to be prepared.
I tiptoed across the hot sand in my bare feet to the edge of the lake. Swimmers were still racing down the last leg of the course, then high-stepping through the shallows before they crossed the finish line.
When I reached the shade, it was 10° cooler. As I walked by the ambulance, I glanced inside. There, on the driver’s seat, was a clipboard with some forms. I wondered if they had anything to do with the swimmer. A quick look, that’s all I needed. I rested my palm near the door handle and pretended to crane my neck to see around the other looky-lous. I slipped my hand down to the handle, ready to open the driver side door.
“Excuse me, ma’am, I need to get something.” said an EMT with short, trim black hair.
He pulled open the door, reached in for the clipboard and walked away. So much for more information. I joined a circle of onlookers a discreet distance away, but completely hypnotized by the scene. The yeller, the tall man in the polo shirt, was a few feet behind me.
“He’ll be okay?” the man asked quietly. No one answered him. No one seemed to hear him but me. Everyone’s focus was on the swimmer on the ground. I turned to reassure him, but he was walking quickly away through the pines toward the parking lot.
The man lying on his back was tall and muscular. But now his stomach was distended from the air pumped into him by the paramedics. He was pale and tinged with blue. He wore jammers, black with a green lightning bolt on the outside of each leg. One of the race directors who helped carry the man from the rescue surfboard to the shore was standing outside the circle of onlookers. He shook his head.
“This is terrible,” he said to himself. He picked up a cell phone, punched in some numbers and started to talk quickly as he walked closer to the ambulance.
“Awful…not sure what happened. He’s unconscious, but has a weak pulse. Great conditions here. Flat water, sunny, no wind. Water temp was about 68° at the start.”
The EMTs were talking about a thready pulse and a drop in blood pressure. Maybe this wasn’t as bad as it looked. One emergency worker tried reviving the swimmer by rubbing his knuckles on his sternum. It didn’t work. Then another opened an ammonia inhalant packet, crushed the ampoule and held it under his nose. I’d seen these inhalants waved under the nose of semi-conscious athletes before. They always worked. But, now, nothing.
Quickly but carefully, the medics placed the swimmer on a backboard, and loaded him into the ambulance. I stood to the side and watched as they inserted an IV drip filled with a clear solution into his arm. An oxygen mask was placed over his mouth and nose. He was hooked up to a heart monitor. As they closed the back door to the ambulance, one EMT spoke in a flat steady voice to a doctor at the Lake Joseph Hospital, alerting him to the patient’s condition and their arrival. Then they drove off the beach through the crowded parking lot, turning on the piercing siren when they reached the road out of the park.
Next to me, watching the ambulance disappear was a man I’d seen before. His name was Mike Menton and he was always picking up awards. He held his reflective silver goggles first in one hand, then the other; back and forth, back and forth, the goggles went. He was staring after the ambulance, when his teenage daughter approached. “What happened, Dad?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” Mike said. “Wad…”
“Uh, Dick was right behind me…I thought. I passed him and I could swear he was right behind me. I’m sure it was him hitting my feet with each stroke. It was going to be a close race, like always. I wanted to win, but not like this.”
He shook his head and took the towel that his daughter held out. Then he moved slowly over to where the results of the swim would be posted. Swimmers walked by, patted him on the back and congratulated him on the win. He grimaced and shook his head again.
I watched his daughter, a skinny fifteen-year-old in a red and pink bikini, hop across the blistering pebbly sand until she came to her large striped towel. She sat down next to her boyfriend—some geeky kid, pale as can be. He doesn’t get outside much, I thought. I could see them talking, heads close together. He reached over to pat her hand.
Just running out of the water was a tiny curvaceous woman in a wetsuit. She couldn’t be more than five feet. Smiling, she glanced from side to side, scanning the crowd waiting at the finish line. Pulling off her cap, she tossed her thick black hair with one hand, waved to the crowd with the other. How she managed a fashion model jog across the timing mat, I don’t know. But she did. As the volunteers bent over to take off her timing chip, two women approached. Talking to her quietly, they led her away from the finish arch. She abruptly stopped walking, tilted her head and stared at both of them. The smile evaporated. She covered her mouth with her hands and her knees began to buckle. The two women held her arms and eased her down to the sand. Not good. Must be a relative. Maybe his wife.
I watched as the women helped her back up and then they disappeared into the shade.
Still floating at the water’s edge was a pair of green reflective goggles. The black straps had a lightning bolt on either side. They floated so easily on the water, the straps swaying with the movement of the tiniest of waves hitting the beach. I bent down to pick them up. Turning them over in my hands, I wondered if their owner would ever wear them again.
What happened to him? Was it a heart attack? Stroke? Ok, he was moving up the age ladder to be sure. I remember Lena telling me that he was in his early fifties. But…it didn’t make sense. Had he been sick? Was it just his time? Was it something else?
I was standing in the middle of a group of people. A little overweight, my baggy black shorts and even baggier Giants tee shirt, were a perfect camouflage. I was invisible. Sunglasses and a baseball cap completed the picture. I could move around, stop, look the opposite direction and tune in on conversations next to me. Not the most sought-after talent in the world, but I heard things people didn’t know I was hearing. And I have a unique ability. I never forget a face…never…ever.
Out in the water, the last few swimmers were stroking toward the water’s edge. Following them were two lifeguards aboard a small Zodiac. They had picked up the large orange and yellow course buoys and were dragging them to the shore where they would be deflated. I watched, but mostly I listened to the conversation behind me.
“He’s still alive,” a man said. “I know him. He swims with a good friend of mine. He is in great shape.”
“Weekend warrior. Aging boomers, you know,” said a female voice.
“No, not him.”
“Right,” she said. “I have a friend, a dispatcher for the Santa Miguel Sheriff’s department. She was telling me that every weekend, there are at least three or four boomers—mostly men—falling off their bikes. Heart attacks. Dead on the spot. They still think they’re twenty years old.”
“No, Dick was known for taking care of himself. I thought he was a hypochondriac, always running to the doctor’s with some kind of sport’s ailment. I told him, he was looking for the silver bullet, the one that would keep him young, strong and faster than not just the swimmers in his age group, but a few age groups below him. He would laugh, but he never denied it. He knew all his numbers—cholesterol, blood pressure, resting heart rate.”
The conversation grew fainter as the couple walked away.
The athletes, hungry after the long swim, surrounded some tables heavy with food. They descended like diving seagulls on deep trays full of juicy watermelon slices, sweet strawberries and yellow bananas. Close by, were bagels, three different kinds of cream cheese and plates of chocolate chip cookies. There was even a booth offering samples of a new neon orange rehydration drink.
I squeezed in, and grabbed a handful of strawberries. Mario, the body-builder turned swimmer, reached a thick arm in front of me for a bunch of grapes.