deadly tide

A jericho quinn Novel

A son charged with murder, a kidnapping, a cop haunted by the memories of his wife -- Jericho Quinn is in the fight of his life to save a missing child and prove his son's innocence. 

 

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“Are you dead?” The words stung me like a bee, and I was startled to find a young girl poking my leg with a stick. She was no more than six or seven and had blue button eyes and pigtails that bounced with a buttery shine. In the distance, I heard the whirring sound of a machine, a sand cleaner. The tourists would follow soon, taking to their places like actors to a stage. I began to sense where I was.

“The beach,” I muttered, shutting my eyes.

Just a few drinks, I remembered saying. Was it four? Five? There’s no knowing when a blackout is going to hit. A wave crashed, and a gull’s call went through me like electricity. Shit, not again.

“Mister? Did’ya hear me?”

“Am I dead?” I repeated her question as sunlight bled through my eyelids. A chill. I shook briefly. My head rocked and my gut was sour, forcing me to leave the memory of yesterday. I tried to roll over but felt something dig painfully into my side. I clutched the neck of a bottle—evidence. I peered into the new day, bleary-eyed, having no idea how I’d ended up here. I searched for my cigarettes, finding a crushed pack. I decided to leave them in my pocket.

“Well?” the girl asked, and briskly jabbed me again.

I brought my finger and thumb together in a pinching motion and answered, “Maybe a little bit.” My voice sounded scratchy, and I let out a hoarse cough.

“You’re not dead,” she countered, frowning and poking harder.

I shook my head, adding sharply, “You’re right, I’m not.” I wanted to yank the stick away from her, but couldn’t find the energy or the care. Lying through my teeth, I told her, “There’s a jellyfish over there. Washed ashore. Go poke the poor thing for a while and let me be.” She ignored me.

The sun hung just over the lip of the horizon, and I scanned the beach to see where I’d ended up. I’d made my way to the same place, the same spot as before. My heart sank. I dared a glance to where my wife’s body had been found, my eyes fixed in a stare until I heard the rushing sound of shuffling sand.

“Christina!” a woman’s voice shouted. I shut my eyes again, arresting a sudden spin. I listened to a woman muttering a reprimand and stayed in the safety of my darkness for another moment, not wanting to be bothered. “Christina, what are—”

Silence. I felt a stare fall on me.

“Ma’am,” I said, reluctantly peering upward and finding the silhouette of the girl’s mother. I thought I recognized the woman, a native to the Outer Banks maybe. She had salt and pepper hair, cropped short, and a face that narrowed to a thin point. I nodded as her slender fingers eased over her daughter’s shoulders like the legs of a crab. I tried to place her name, but couldn’t remember anything other than her face. It was my wife who knew everyone. I found that out during her funeral reception when handshakes and comforting smiles were the best I could muster. “No worries, she’s just saying hello.”

“Sheriff Quinn?” the woman began, sounding surprised. She stood between me and the sun, turning my body cold as if a ghost had blown me a kiss. I thought of the last kiss I’d shared with my wife. I thought of how I’d taken it for granted as though there was a treasure-trove of kisses waiting for me in a magical vault somewhere. “Sheriff?”

“Sorry, yes?” I noticed the woman’s posture and her gaze lingering on the whiskey bottle. I did my best to tuck it in behind me, but when it rolled into view, I could only shrug. Caked sand fell from the side of my face, and I brushed it away unconsciously. I ran my fingers clumsily through my hair next and tried to comb out the evening’s sandy grime. The woman’s expression turned sad and pathetic.

“Sheriff, can I call someone for you?”

“Jericho,” I answered, telling her my name. Correcting her. I hadn’t been sheriff in almost a year. A sheriff is an elected position in my small North Carolina county. Our town was just above Kill Devil Hills, where I lived in the armpit of Kitty Hawk Bay. I’m no longer the sheriff. I’d all but forfeited the job after my wife’s death and when I began living from drink to drink—or should I say, existing from one drink to the next. I told the girl’s mother, “You can call me Jericho.”

“Yes, I know,” she said. I could hear the unease in her voice. But then she gave me a look I’d come to loathe—a profoundly sorrowful look reserved for stray dogs and other sorry sights. “I’m just so used to you being our sheriff.”

I signaled a thank you, feeling what she said was intended to be a compliment, but it left me feeling ashamed. I was better than this—I’d been a loving husband, a doting father, a scout leader, all of it. I am better than this. She took her daughter’s hand and moved on with her day. I offered a feeble parting wave. I wanted to be alone—strived to be alone. And a moment later, I was alone.

“Jessie,” I mumbled, speaking my wife’s name, gazing at the ocean, trying not to remember her as I’d last seen her. Images crept through the hazy fog in my head. A deadly tide had brought my wife to this beach. And I saw her face down in the surf. I saw the crabs and the sand fleas and what they’d done to her. “I’m sorry, Jessie.”

“An accidental drowning,” the medical examiner had said. The memory of our conversation was muddied like the vague impressions of a nightmare.

“What about the bruises?” I’d asked, demanding an answer. “And who goes into the ocean fully clothed?”

“The clothes and the bruises, these can be explained,” the medical examiner assured me.

A rough surf and the submerged pilings of an old pier where my wife had been found. The medical examiner believed Jessie had been caught in an undertow, maybe a powerful surf leftover from a passing storm. She could have struck one of the pilings which rendered her unconscious and caused her to drown.

As for her clothes? I already knew the answer, and I knew it was one of the reasons I loved her so. Jessie could have been trying to rescue an animal. She was always trying to save them. Maybe a sea turtle—a Hawksbill or a Loggerhead perhaps. Or maybe it was low tide and she’d rescued a baby dolphin caught in the sand. She’d briefly become a YouTube star last summer when I’d posted a video of her returning a beached baby great white shark to the sea; a rarity for our area. She worked tirelessly fostering and saving animals. She would have saved all of them if she could. But who was there to save her? A husband should protect his wife, but I’d failed her.

I remained in the sand, unmoving until I heard my name carried on a soft breeze. The sound was mixed and broken by the tumbling surf. I ignored it, believing it was my imagination, a gull calling for its mate or something. But then I heard my name again and saw the woman and her daughter talking to two patrol officers. They stood against a patch of swaying dune grass, the woman’s hands motioning up and down as though describing the scene of a crime. Was I the scene? My belly lurched when I saw her point in my direction. The officers were looking for me. I searched the blackness of the past evening and tried to recall anything that might have occurred. Empty. The last thing I remembered was chasing a drink with a sloppy toast to my dead wife.

I didn’t have much of a reputation anymore, but there was some pride still left in me, and I didn’t want to see anyone. And I didn’t want anyone to see me. A gull dipped down as if to confer and offer its approval. A sour taste hit the back of my throat and the remains of the late night came up in a warm gush.

“Hair of the dog,” I said, conceding and swigged the last drops in the bottle.

“Sheriff.” My name came again, carried stronger this time—only the woman didn’t call me Jericho like I’d asked, but again referred to me as sheriff. “What now?” I didn’t want to be bothered. Couldn’t be bothered. It was my day off, and I’d planned to drink it away.

The officers thanked the woman, bending briefly to thank the little girl too, and then trekked in the thick sand toward me. I couldn’t make out the faces, but from their gait and their shape, I could see they were two of my deputies, Barnes and Riddle. That is, deputies I’d hired during my last stint as the sheriff.

Deputy Barnes was tall and skinny and had a head that stayed shaven year-round. He was also the brighter of the two and made most of the decisions in this partnership. Riddle was shorter and round with an intentional scruffy look that bordered on shabby and broke with our regulations. And while he might not have been as bright as Barnes, he was three times the worker. Since losing the job as sheriff, I’d only interacted with the men during my wife’s funeral and maybe a few times after. I was drunk most of the time.

“Sheriff Quinn,” Barnes called to me. I dug out a cigarette and did my best to straighten it before putting a match to the tip. Riddle gave me a quizzical look and cast his eyes behind me. I turned briefly, finding the ‘Beach Rules’ sign. No Smoking was number six on the list.

“Jericho,” I answered forcefully, shading my eyes to look up at the two deputies. “It’s my day off. Thought I’d start early.” I tried to laugh, but Barnes had a stone cold look on his face, and Riddle’s eyes told me he wanted to be anywhere but here.

“Need you to come with us,” Barnes said. He began to clean up after me—a bottle in one hand, my pack of cigarettes in the other. “Sheriff, there’s been a murder.”

Annoyed, I snatched my cigarettes. Riddle flinched. “So why tell me? I’m not the sheriff anymore.”

“Sir,” Riddle finally spoke. He was a soft talker, and his voice was thin within the beach breeze and the sound of the breaking surf. I leaned forward, encouraging him to speak up. “Sir, it’s your son Ryan. He’s being held for murder.”

My heart stopped and seemed empty of life as the words sank in. I opened my mouth, but couldn’t speak. “Sheriff?” Barnes asked, lowering himself as if genuflecting—his knee plunking into the sand with a soft whoosh sound. “Did you hear what Deputy Riddle said?”

“Ryan?” I asked, my voice shaking. “Is . . . is my boy okay?”

Riddle’s radio squawked with the inquiring voice of Pamela Ewing, our township’s dispatcher. “We’ve found the sheriff,” Riddle told her.

“That’s good,” she answered. “The ferry is an hour out, and the ferry’s captain is holding Ryan.”

“Tell them not to touch anything,” I said instinctively. “Ferry? Who?”

Riddle clicked the button on his radio, swinging the microphone in front of his mouth. “Tell the ferry’s captain to leave the victim’s body untouched—leave the scene intact.”

The radio squawked again, Pamela adding, “Confirmed. Susan Boyd’s parents have not been notified.”

I tried to swallow, but couldn’t move. Susan was Ryan’s girlfriend, and a memory of her came to me. It was the first time Ryan brought her to our home. They were just in the ninth grade, but had known each other since grade school—on the Outer Banks, everyone knows everyone. It’s eventual. It’s part of island life. Susan was a cute girl with blue-green eyes and hair the color of autumn foliage. She was the girl next door, the kind you’d grow up to marry. Ryan loved Susan and would never hurt her. It was impossible.

“Get me up!” I demanded, taking hold of the deputy’s arms. My whole body shook, and I had to ease onto my knees and sip the air. Stars rushed into my view, and I held still a moment while trying desperately to remember when I’d last seen my son. When did I hear his voice? I swiped the blank screen on my phone and anxiously mashed the home button. Nothing. Dead battery.

“Sheriff, take my hand,” I heard one of the deputies say and then became acutely aware that I was on my feet and swaying.

“Wait! Work?” I shook my head and shamefully tried to recall if my son had been at his job. A disgraceful terror hit me when I realized I had no idea where my son worked. His mother knew those details. I glanced back to where Ryan’s mother had been found—the beach turned sideways, and my insides squeezed like a juicer. I felt Riddle’s hand on my back. I swallowed hard and took a deep breath while Barnes let me lean against him. “I think I got up a little fast.”

School. Ryan had been at school. It was their last day before summer break, and they’d been planning a ferry party. I wasn’t supposed to know about it, but I’d been young once as well. We all had. The Outer Banks doesn’t offer many places for teens to be teens, but ferry parties gave them a place to hang and do whatever it was teens wanted to do. I’d had my share when I was their age—a couple of cases, coolers and ice, and tunes on the radio. We’d pay the ferry’s captain a hundred or so to take us out and stay offshore for the night.

“Ferry?”

“It’s still about an hour out.”

“Take me to him.”.