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Body of Water - Chapter Two: Rules of the River
November 25, 2019
Dan Boyne

"So let me get this straight," the state trooper said. "You saw a body floating in the water, somewhere upstream of here; then you kept on rowing?"

"Um, yes." Masterson replied, knitting his oversized brows together. He looked down at the fallen leaves in the Magazine Beach parking lot as if studying the pieces of an incomprehensible puzzle, desperately trying to remember the detective's name. Was it Clancy? Figgins? The detective looked at him, waiting for a better reply.

"Well, I was right in the middle of a race piece-" Masterson started to explain, then realized this didn't sound very good, especially to a non-rower. "I guess I wasn't entirely sure what I saw," he added. He looked up and gave the younger man an unconvincing smile. Delaney. That was it!

"Okay," the detective said, adding some notes to the contact information he'd already written down.

Seamus Delaney was in his late thirties, with dark hair and an easygoing manner. He looked and acted nothing like what Masterson imagined a detective should. Admittedly, Masterson's knowledge was primarily based on TV shows and books like Inspector Poirot and Spencer for Hire, where the main character was generally a tortured soul with a substance abuse problem, at least one nervous tick, and an inability to hold long-term relationships.

The guy standing in front of him, however, seemed perfectly normal: clean- cut, and extremely polite. He had a handsome Irish face that looked remarkably similar to Masterson's favorite football quarterback, Tom Brady of the New England Patriots.

"But you think you may have recognized the deceased?" Delaney prompted, ignoring the last disclaimer.

"I think so. I mean, it looked a lot like a coxswain I used to coach."


"The guy who steers the boat."

"Right," Delaney nodded. "Do you remember his name?"

"Finley Sparks." I'll never forget that one, he thought to himself.

Delaney looked up and lifted his eyebrows, as if the same thought had just occurred to him.

"So what happens now?" Masterson asked, giving a nervous sigh of relief now that the brief interview was over.

As if on cue, a posse of Ford SUVs began to pile into the dirt parking lot behind them. In addition to a Cambridge police unit, there was a car from Suffolk County sheriff's office, followed by another from Middlesex County. Next came a squad car from the Harvard University Police. Far off in the distance, they could hear the siren of a fire truck, slowly making its way down Memorial Drive through rush hour traffic.

"Well, first we have to find the corpse and retrieve it from the river..." Delaney stated, glancing over his shoulder at the assembly of vehicles gathering behind him.

The way he said it made it seem like there might be a problem. The Harvard police officer had already gotten out of his car and was making his way toward them, walking with the slow, measured gate of an older guy who still knew how to take care of himself.

"...then the medical examiner will take the body to the morgue to do an autopsy and determine the cause of death." He nodded toward a jet-black medical examiner's truck, which had just pulled into the parking lot.

"Is it usually pretty obvious?" Masterson asked.

Delaney nodded. "Usually. Most of the time these things are accidental or self-inflicted."

Masterson noticed how he avoided the word suicide.

"Why all the different squad cars?" Masterson pressed.

Delaney gave him a quiet, patient look, without answering the question right away.

"It's a matter of sorting out jurisdiction," he finally said, just as the Harvard policeman closed the gap between them. "In general, the entire Charles River and the DCR parkland is considered state police territory, but we often have to work with either the Middlesex or Suffolk county DA's office - depending on which side of the river the body washes up on and if anything looks suspicious. I'm not sure why the Harvard campus police are here, but they may have gotten a courtesy call from the 911 dispatcher if you mentioned that a Harvard student was involved..."

"Nice to see you too, Seamus," said the Harvard cop, now standing beside them. He looked to be about fifty years old, with gray-white hair and a round grizzled face that had missed a day or two of shaving. Despite his age he was powerfully built, and when he shook hands with Masterson, nearly took his hand off. "Bob Devereux," he said. "Didn't we meet before at the Newell boathouse?"

"I think so," Masterson smiled, trying to remember exactly when.

"Lieutenant Devereux," Delaney nodded, acknowledging the other man's presence. He lifted a pair of binoculars up to his eyes, and began to scan the river in front of them.

"So, we have a missing Harvard student, possibly drowned?"

"Ex-Harvard student," Delaney corrected. It had been two years since Sparks had graduated.

"We're still interested," the Harvard cop said.

"And we have primary jurisdiction on DCR parkland," Delaney re-iterated, still scanning the Charles River with the field glasses. "You're a little far afield, Bob."

"Maybe," Devereaux replied, smiling. "Did you know that this was the site of the original Harvard Boathouse, built around 1898?"

"Nice fun fact," Delaney said. "But it doesn't change anything. You're still out of bounds."

"Don't worry, Seamus," Devereaux said. "Your guys can collect the O.T."

"I'm with H division," Delaney shot back.

Devereaux was still grinning. "And how is F Division doing? Or should I say F Troop?"

"Still under investigation," Delaney said. "I have nothing to do with that."

"Of course," the Harvard policeman said.

While the two men were bantering, Masterson walked up onto the grassy hummock where the old armory stood, and studied the gray palate of the Charles River from a higher vantage point. The sun had just come up over the city skyline and the Prudential Center building, and it lit the grey water, turning it icy blue. Automatically, his eyes began to track along the point off of the small promontory, where any smart coxswain or crew in the Head of the Charles regatta would start to align themselves with the middle of the river. Short-range, his eyes sucked, but from a distance he could spot things that most people could not.

"Look. Right there!" he shouted.

Both of the cops came over and tried to see where he was pointing. Delaney used his of binoculars to get a better look, and then politely handed them over to Devereaux.

Even without the field glasses, Masterson could now see Finley's old Harvard Crew splash jacket, crimson-colored, like a red splotch on a grey- blue canvass. The wind had come up and it was occasionally billowing the jacket full of air, making it easier to spot, and blowing Finley's body straight toward them, on the Cambridge side. Floating face down, it made him look like a Portuguese man-of-war.

A BPD and a Cambridge cop both came up and stood beside them.

"Cordon this area off, " Delaney instructed them. "We don't want a fairground here."

"Looks like wind is blowing it over to Cambridge," said the cop from the Suffolk Country Sherriff's office, smiling.

"Maybe not," said the guy from Middlesex. "The current may pull it back the other direction."

"Relax, gentleman, I have a marine unit already on their way," Delaney said.

He turned away and spoke into a hand-held radio, and a crackly response came right back. Within seconds, a Boston Whaler with twin outboard engines came blasting through the Boston University Bridge, trailing a massive wake. The bridge was peppered with graffiti from college crews and townies alike.

Masterson had passed under it countless times, both out coaching and in his single scull, but today every detail around him was sharp, including the colors of the leaves under the surface of the shallow water. He felt his blood pumping through his veins and the way the cool October air had begun to freeze the exposed parts of his face and hands.

Within minutes, the marine unit had collected the body and towed it over to toward them, but closer to the bridge, where two guys in red jumpsuits and rubber gloves from the medical examiners office then retrieved the body and began to carefully placed it into a body bag. The operation was made more difficult because Finley's right arm was raised over his head, and it couldn't be brought back to his side because of rigor mortis.

The odd way the arm was positioned, and the gray pallor of the corpse's face made it look like a ghoulish Statue of Liberty. Finally, the two men just hauled it away on a gurney.

The entire procedure took several minutes, and after the body had been cleared away Masterson just stood there, frozen. He could hear the flock of white geese that lived on the other side of the bridge, honking loudly as if they knew that something had happened.

"Can you believe people used to swim here?" Devereaux said, sidling up next to him.

Masterson didn't respond. He felt a familiar, uncomfortable feeling well up inside him.

"I think I'm getting hypothermia," he said.

"C'mon, let's go. I'll give you a ride back to campus," Devereaux said.

"Okay if we leave, inspector?" he called out to Delaney, who waived back signaling that he'd call him later.

On the way to the car, Masterson paused briefly behind a bush to vomit. Devereaux said nothing until they got inside the car.

"Here, have some water," he said, passing him a bottle of Poland Springs. "It will help wash the bad taste out of your mouth."

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11/30/2019  10:22:37 PM
This is so much fun: A novel, serialized, as in the days of Charles Dickens.

11/27/2019  12:58:17 PM
Didn't know Harvard's boathouse was at Magazine Beach way back then. Interesting! However, you had one jarring note in this chapter. Spenser (in Robert Parker's books at least) is anything but tortured and has been in a VERY long term, solid relationship with one woman.

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11/29/2019  12:16:30 PM
That a fair point. On a side note, I had the pleasure of meeting Bob Parker and his wife, Joan. Great guy, and very generous with his advice about writing, etc. The two of them, as you may know, had a very interesting and non-standard living arrangement!

11/26/2019  1:46:56 PM
This is shaping up to be an interesting story, Dan. Jurisdictional / turf squabbles add to the fun. We learn a lot about the young detective from his opening question. What else would a sculler do other than to keep rowing?

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11/29/2019  12:17:09 PM
Exactly so.

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