Chapter One, Sneak Peek – “Reach” – a Mystery

Breathe. Pull. Glide. Breathe. Breathe. Pull. Glide. I was getting into a groove, into a place where all I heard were the bubbles from my nose and mouth, and all I saw were the beams from the sun hitting the surface of the water. My heart rate was steady at 108 beats per minute, the water warm under my wetsuit.

Bump. Something hit me in the leg. What the hell?? The first scene from Jaws flashed through my mind, the shark heading back up to grab my leg a second time. I panicked, and flailed away, visions of the gaping mouth and teeth headed toward my poor, vulnerable body. I raced toward shore, and was bumped again. Whatever it was was stuck on my leg. I reached down, hoping to keep my fingers while I got rid of it, and I touched flesh. Oh, no. Not flesh. Not human flesh. I had to stop, and disentangle myself from whatever or whoever was following me. I looked down through my goggles to see none other than our not-so-reputable local real estate broker, disbarred lawyer, ex-coke dealer, and famous philanderer Charles “Chuck” Cortland. His open eyes were staring at me, and he was obviously dead.

Yikes! What happened to him? I couldn’t believe I was in this situation: going out for a nice, relaxing swim in the morning, and now having to lug Chuck back to shore, dead as a doornail, or a coffin nail, and Dickens liked to proclaim. I treaded water as I tried to figure out how to get him the 100 feet back into shore. Chuck had been a linebacker at Michigan State, and had only gotten beefier in the 25 years since graduation. I was a strong swimmer, but not that strong. I was praying I could get myself and his body in. I decided if it was a choice between good old Chuckie and I, he would be floating for a while longer.

After trying to grab him and get some purchase, I was finally able to get ahold of his hair and began to pull him in. It felt weird to drag him in by his hair. I kept expecting him to complain that I was hurting him, yelling, “Really, Leigh, do you have to pull my hair that hard, it really hurts,” I imagined him complaining, but then remembered that he was past any complaints. It seemed obvious that someone had killed him, since he had his clothes on, and I had to say that I was not surprised he turned up dead. I was surprised to bump into him dead, so to speak, but that someone had killed him – not so surprising.

Chuck had a checkered history since graduating from the University of Michigan undergrad program and gaining access to their law school. We could never figure out how he got into that esteemed law school. Chuck was not the sharpest tool in the shed. After graduation, he came back to New Jersey, and took the bar here; not to spread rumors, but it was said that he paid someone to take it for him. He got involved with real estate law, and then started buying and selling real estate for himself. Over the twenty years since his return, he became one of the biggest developers on the Jersey shore. Most of the condos and townhomes on Long Beach Island were built by his development group, and now he was in litigation with the Waterkeeper, John Brown, a humorless man whose job it was to protect the shore and the water. Chuck wanted to develop the end of the island, near a bird preserve, and John was having none of it. There was also the matter of Chuck’s little arrest for selling cocaine. He spent three years in the Big House, and lost his law license over that. He attracted big money and trouble, and it was only a matter of time before he crossed someone’s line.

After pulling and yanking and dragging, I got him up to the shore and onto the beach. I called 911, which was kind of pointless, I realized, but I wanted someone here quickly. Now that I was no longer panting and straining, I got the creeps being near his dead body.  I kept glancing at him, but his open stare looked angry, and confused, and made me feel guilty that I had not been there to help him.Within five minutes, four police cars pulled up. There was not much else happening on Long Beach Island in April, so Chuck was getting the full treatment. The first one to jump out was Sergeant Over. He didn’t actually jump out, as he tipped the scales at well over 300 pounds, but he tried to jump out. He was an obnoxious know-it-all who was smart, but thought he was smarter than he actually was. I began to debate the wisdom of my 911 call. I hoped I wouldn’t have to listen to the history of dead bodies washing up on the shores of our beloved Long Beach Island, from pre-Revolutionary times to the present.

To be continued…

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