Friday, November 16, 2007

Chapter 1 - August 31, 1954

Chapter 1

(August 31, 1954 _ Early Morning)

Sunshine glimmered across the top of the powerful waves that pounded the coastline. Storm clouds scattered across the rough sky. Lilah, my German shepherd and constant companion, accompanied me down my creaking steps which led to the beach. Patches of sea foam mingled with seaweed and crushed shells, collected along the surf line. Some broken branches littered the beach to the north and the south. Lilah raced along the ocean's edge and splashed in the churning water.

I jogged beside her, salt water soaking my legs. The stiff morning breeze was a contrast to the gale force winds from the night before. Hurricane Carol moved without hurry toward the North Carolina coast, then blasted past Cape Hatteras overnight. News reports earlier that morning stated the winds could top 100 miles per hour at the height of the storm when it reached New England.

Lilah stopped ahead of me and batted a sand crab with her paw. They danced along the water's edge and I lowered myself beside a piece of driftwood to watch them play. Lilah's tail whipped back and forth as she pranced in one direction and then the other. Her bark blended with the roar of the waves crashing onto the shore. The crab raced past her and disappeared into the sand. Terns and gulls performed their own dance overhead. The caw of the birds mixed with the pounding waves.

"Come on girl." I called to her, before I stood and resumed my jog.

Soon she splashed beside me and we journeyed closer to the Cape Hatteras lighthouse. A man stood in the distance, but I couldn't see who it was. As we got closer, he bent over and poked around the base of a sand dune.

Lilah barked and ran toward him. He straightened and turned away. When we got closer, I recognized Ben Mallory from the Park Service project. He was probably checking the sheet pile groins and the dunes behind the lighthouse. The area was prone to erosion even though his crews worked to get it under control.

"Mr. Mallory." I called out, but his stocky body moved further away.

Lilah ran toward him and reached his side. She nudged his hand with her nose, but he ignored her. Lilah barked and continued her attempts to play.

"Leave me alone." His voice was impatient.

"Lilah, come." Patting my leg, I called to her. "Come." She returned to me and rubbed her cool nose on my hand. I turned my attention to Ben. "Mr. Mallory, how are you this morning?"

His shoulders sank and he stood still. "Morning, Miss Connelly."

"Did you have any damage at your camp?"

He looked toward the work camp and shook his head. "Our main concern was flooding."

"Was that what brought you to the dunes?" I reached for the branch Lilah carried in her mouth and tossed it toward the water.

"You're mistaken." His tone was gruff.

Maybe I'd been too far away to see what he was doing. "I'm sorry. I thought you were checking the dunes."

"We all make mistakes." He started to walk away.

"Mr. Mallory, it was good to see you."

He lowered his head and mumbled. "Good_bye, Miss Connelly."

Sunshine shone through the remaining gray storm clouds. An early morning news report said the storm was moving toward New England at forty miles an hour and would make landfall that evening. Damage around Hatteras was minimal, but the report predicted New England would have more damage.

Lilah dug furiously in the sand. "Lilah, what are you after?"

I didn't see anything at first, but then something caught my eye and a scream escaped from my throat. I regained my composure and shooed Lilah away with my hand.

I tugged at her collar. "Lilah, sit." She usually obeyed me, but not that time.

It would be accurate to say she was like a dog with a bone, but that was too literal for me. She held a long bone between her teeth.

Lilah lay in the sand and played with it. It would be good to mark the spot where she found the bone and run home to call the deputy. I tried to get the bone from her, but she held fast to it and ran down the beach. Her tail wagged from side to side and she ran back toward me. Lilah dropped the bone at my feet and started to run along the water's edge.

I latched a finger under Lilah's collar. "We need to go home." She tilted her head at me and I patted her head. "We'll come back, but you will have to stay out of the deputy's way." She hung her head and her big brown eyes drooped. Did everyone talk to their dogs like they were human?

We raced to the house and ran up the rickety steps with care. Lilah climbed through her doggie door before I reached the screen door. I went straight to the phone. One ring, two rings, three rings. Where was the deputy when I needed him? He could be checking for damage around the island after the storm. Four rings.

"Hatteras deputy's office." A familiar voice said.

"Morning Zeb, is the Deputy Basnett there?" I grabbed orange juice from the fridge.

"Morning, Kristie. Deputy Raymond Basnett headed to the mainland for a couple of weeks. But, Deputy Tucker is having breakfast in the back." He enjoyed putting me off.

"I wish Deputy Basnett was here, but I need to talk with Deputy Tucker." I gulped the juice, sat the glass in the sink and filled it with water.

"Hold on." That was all he said before the receiver hit the desk with a clatter.

Lilah stood by her bowl, tilted her head to one side and then the other. She made that familiar noise that was between a whimper and a growl to indicate she was hungry.

The phone cord kept me on the other side of the room. "In a minute, Lilah."

"What's important enough to disturb my breakfast, Kristie?" His words sounded abrupt, but his tone was playful.

"Sorry to interrupt, deputy. Lilah and I ran along the beach this morning and she found something."

"Was it something interesting?" He prompted.

"I'm not sure, but it may be a human femur." I twisted the phone cord around my finger.

"Are you sure it's a human femur?" He sounded intrigued but skeptical.

"That's what it looks like, but I'm not sure. I marked the spot where Lilah found the bone and called you."

"Where should I meet you?" The excitement in his voice was obvious.

"Meet me at the foot of the dunes behind the lighthouse."

"I'll be there. Don't let Lilah dig around the area." With that, the phone went dead and I placed the receiver in the cradle.

I grabbed Lilah's leash, walked behind her and attached it to her collar. She shook her head and clawed at the collar with her paw. "This is the only way you can go. You wear the leash or you stay home."

The struggling stopped and Lilah sat with her back straight and still. She craned her neck to peer out the door. People had started to mill around on the beach and she barked at them. Several neighbors glanced toward my door and waved.

"Come on, Lilah." I held my supply bag in one hand, shoved my floppy straw hat on my head and held her leash in the hand. I grabbed a small bag of dog food on my way out the door and shoved it into my bag along with a bowl.

We jogged up the beach until we reached the spot where Lilah found the bone. After we looked around, we might need to call Sheriff Frank Cahoon, but that was up to the deputy. Whenever Deputy Basnett took any time off, Deputy Tucker was sent to us. The Cape had very little crime so it wasn't a big deal, but I'm glad the deputy was around that morning.

While I waited for the deputy, I considered Lilah's discovery. The bone looked like a human femur. If I were right, a dead body might be buried in the sand. It could be the biggest news to hit Cape Hatteras and Buxton since the crews returned to finish the work they abandoned almost fifteen years ago.

It could be a victim from any of the 1,600 shipwrecks off the coast. The Graveyard of the Atlantic often washed parts of human skeletons onto our shores. It was more common up the coast in Salvo, but The Cape got some of the remains. But, I had a feeling this was different. What an exciting way to start my vacation.

There were also a lot of shallow graves on Hatteras Island. How many times had people found parts of skeletons in their garden or flower beds? It could be something totally innocent, or it could be a mystery. I'd read some books about identifying a person from their bones. This would be a wonderful chance to use that information. Was it a man or a woman? Was the person old or young when they died? The skeleton might be an Indian, or a foreigner. There were so many possibilities and hopefully we would know soon. But, first we had to find the skeleton _ if there was one.

The drone of the deputy's truck engine interrupted my thoughts. He drove along the sandy path that led to the lighthouse. His face reflected a determination born from years of driving along our horse and cart trails. These paths were usually no more than a set of ruts. People on the Outer Banks learned to drive with a purpose and not to slow down until you reached a safe spot. Deputy Tucker parked with his front tires on a grassy area near the lighthouse. He climbed down from the truck and sauntered toward us, the familiar weather_beaten hat perched atop his head.

"What do we have here?" He said in his no_nonsense way.

I lowered my voice because several people walked toward us when they saw Deputy Tucker arrive. "I think there's a body in the sand." Reaching into my satchel, I withdrew the bone. "This is what Lilah found."

At the sound of her name, my shepherd raised her head and barked. I smiled at her, but turned my attention back to the deputy.

He turned the bone over and rolled it between his hands. His brows furrowed. "Did you find anything else?"

I motioned to the marker. "This is the spot, but I wanted to wait for you." Should I mention that I wanted to help him? "I brought my supply kit to help you dig up the body, if there is one. I'm off from work at the restaurant this week and would like to help." I raised my eyes to his face. "Especially since Lilah and I found the body."

He chuckled and clapped my shoulder. "All right Kristie. We need to cordon off the area and start digging. Remember, that bone might be the only item we find."

I reminded him, "Or, there might be a body."

No comments:

Post a Comment