row2k Features
Body of Water - Chapter Fifteen: A Shot in the Dark
February 22, 2021
Dan Boyne

A lone figure stood on the parapet of the Eliot Bridge, gazing down at the river below. It was nighttime, and the video was grainy and blurred. A few streetlights barely helped the visibility, along with the headlights from a few passing cars.

Suddenly, the man turned, as if he heard something. It was difficult to see what happened next. He appeared to be talking to someone, gesturing at them with both hands. Then he lost his balance and fell backwards, dropping twenty feet into the water below.

There was a splash, followed by some bubbles. The camera zoomed in, hovering. After several seconds, when the surface of the river was smooth again, it quickly panned left and right but found nothing.

After that, there was only darkness.

*

"OKAY, DO YOU MIND TELLING ME WHY WE'RE IN HERE?" asked Brant Stillman, glaring at Sean Delaney and Marsh McDonald. They were sitting in the interview room of the state police barracks. All four men had hot coffee in front of them, steaming out of Styrofoam cups.

"Well, first off, we just found a piece of Finley's crew jacket and his DNA stuck in the prop of a Harvard launch," Delaney explained, watching closely to see how the ex-oarsmen would react.

"So?" Stillman said, glancing over at Kyle Higgins, his business partner. Higgins was studying the coffee in front of him with quiet disdain.

"So, according to your old coach, Ed Masterson, you guys 'borrowed' a Harvard launch to paint graffiti on the Eliot Bridge on the same night of Finley's death."

Stillman was silent for a moment.

"And we're wondering if it's the same launch," Marsh clarified.

Stillman shrugged. Higgins opened his mouth as if he was about to speak, then adjusted his manbun instead.

"Look, if you guys know something, it's better that you tell us now," Delaney said. "If we find out later, it won't go well for you with the district attorney."

"Okay," Stillman said. "We did see Finley that night, but we didn't kill him."

"Tell me exactly what happened," Delaney said. He tried to take a sip of his coffee and quickly put it down when it burned the roof of his mouth.

"Some of the guys from our Head of the Charles reunion boat were out drinking at the Owl Club after the race. We had a few beers and then Higgins and I got the brilliant idea to paint the bridge with a crimson H."

"Was Finley with you?"

Higgins shook his head. "He's not a member of the Owl," he sniffed.

"Then why did he have an owl tattoo?" Marsh cut in.

"Beats me," Stillman said. "Maybe he was trying to impress his new girlfriend; he'd been bragging about her all weekend."

"Okay. What time did you leave the club?" Delaney resumed.

"About 9 pm."

"Wait. Who was the girlfriend?" Marsh interrupted.

"He wouldn't give us any details," Higgins said.

"Okay, continue," Delaney prompted, looking askance at his partner.

"On the way over to the boathouse, Kyle and I started reminiscing about our graduation night, when we'd jumped off the Weeks Footbridge with the rest of the team."

"Seriously?" Marsh said.

"It's kind of a Harvard crew thing," Higgins explained.

Delaney just shook his head.

"Anyway, we suddenly realized that Finley had never jumped, so we called him up started giving him a hard time about it."

"And?"

"And he agreed to meet us at Newell and jump off the Eliot Bridge, since we were going up there to paint it anyway."

"So then you broke into the boathouse," Delaney said.

"We snuck in," Stillman corrected. "We used to row there, remember? It's like our second home."

"Except it's not," Marsh said.

"Anyway, Masterson had told us where to find the key to the launch in the workshop, and we grabbed a can of red spray paint while we were in there."

"Then what?" Delaney pressed.

"We motored up to Eliot, to paint the arch. And we dropped Finley off along the shore so he could take the plunge."

"Near the Cambridge Boat Club?"

Stillman nodded.

"Is that when you took the Harvard oars that were lying on the grass?" Delaney asked

"How did you know about that?" Higgins cut in.

"Just a lucky guess," Delaney said. "Why did you steal them?

Stillman shook his head, flustered.

"Look, we didn't steal anything," he said. "We were just returning the oars to Newell where they belonged. They'd been loaned out for the regatta to a visiting crew that weekend."

"That's right," Higgins agreed. "We thought we'd be doing the regatta committee a favor, bringing the oars back to Harvard where they belonged."

"So how come the oars never got returned?" Marsh said, smirking.

Stillman shrugged. "There may have been some souvenir taking. Look, if you're going to treat us like criminals, maybe we need to call our lawyer."

"Relax," Delaney said. "Just tell us the rest of the story."

"Well, that's when things got crazy," Stillman said. "Finley was on the bridge, getting ready to jump. We were all set up."

"What do you mean, 'set up'?" Delaney said.

"Finley wanted us to livestream the jump on YouTube, so that everyone else on the team and his so-called girlfriend could see it."

"Naturally," Marsh said, looking at his cellphone.

"Please continue," Delaney said to Stillman.

"Well, Finley was standing there, on the edge of the bridge, but something wasn't right."

"How so?"

"Well, you're supposed to jump forwards, feet first, in order to break the impact of the water, and Finley knew that. But for some reason he turned around, hesitated, and then fell backwards."

"We tried to rescue him with the launch," Higgins said. "But it was pretty dark and we couldn't see anything. Then he was gone."

"What do you mean, 'gone'?"

"I mean, the body disappeared. He must have sank or something."

"Or got caught under the boat," Marsh suggested.

"So why didn't you just call 911?" Delaney asked.

"I don't know," Stillman said, shaking his head. "After a few minutes had passed we thought we heard voices on the shore, and we got worried that someone had seen us…we started thinking about how it might look…I don't know…we panicked and got the hell out of there!"

Delaney raised his eyebrows in disbelief, then frowned as he noticed Marsh still fooling around with his cellphone.

"Excuse me, but that doesn't seem like the response of two innocent men."

"We were really scared," Higgins admitted.

"I can understand that," Delaney said. "But why the hell didn't you tell me any of this before, when Detective McDonald and I came and questioned you the first time?"

Stillman shook his head. "I guess we were afraid of getting caught up in all of this, and falsely accused of something we didn't do."

Delaney unfolded his hands stretched them forward on the table. A wistful look came across his face, as if he was just noticing the wrinkles on them for the first time. Marsh was glued to his cellphone.

"Okay, tell me why I should believe any part of this story?" he said. "After all, you guys lied to me before, and withheld evidence."

"Because it's true," Stillman said.

Delaney chuckled. "Here's what I think happened. One of you followed Finley up onto shore and then onto the bridge. Then you pushed him off, when he chickened out and refused to jump."

"No way," Stillman said.

"Maybe you didn't mean to kill him," Delaney continued. "Maybe you just wanted to scare him a little and get even for how he'd treated you over the years. After all, you guys are used to throwing coxswains in the river, right?"

"That's bullshit!" Higgins shouted. The giant oarsman's face suddenly reddened. He looked like he might lunge forward at the detective, and Stillman put a steadying hand on his friend's shoulder.

"Look, it's true," Stillman said. "We didn't like Finley very much. But we had no intention of hurting him."

"You had means and motive," Delaney said. "That's how a jury will see it anyway, unless you can give me something else here."

"You said you took a video?" Marsh said casually, still looking at his phone.

"We deleted it," Stillman said. "It's not exactly something we wanted to see again or have anyone else see."

"Really?" Marsh said. "Well, that's funny, because I just found it on Finley's Facebook page…Looks like it just got put up recently."

"What?" Stillman said. "That's impossible!"

Marsh passed his phone over to Stillman and Higgins, and the two ex-oarsmen had a look.

"Well?" Delaney said.

"I don't know how it got there," Stillman replied. "We certainly didn't post it."

"Yeah. That would be sick," Higgins said.

"Who else could have done it?" Delaney said. "You two were the only ones who had the video, right?"

"Like I said, it was a YouTube livestream, so everyone on the team had access," Higgins explained. "We took it down as soon as we could." His voice suddenly sounded weak now, without all of the arrogance behind it.

"Not soon enough," Marsh pointed out.

Stillman bit one of his fingernails like a nervous chess player.

"Maybe that's not our film," he said. "Someone else could've been there, hidden from view…"

Delaney shook his head. "Nice try, but now you're grasping at straws. The video shows exactly what you described a moment ago, and it was taken from a position on the river just under the bridge. You were there."

"That doesn't prove anything," Higgins said.

"I disagree," Delaney said. "I think at the very least you guys are looking at doing time for manslaughter."

Delaney nodded and motioned to Marsh, who stood up to escort Stillman and Higgins from the room.

"Wait. Are you arresting us?" Stillman asked.

"I think you'd better call that lawyer," Delaney said, as Marsh began to read them their rights.

After they'd left, he jotted down a few notes. Then he took a sip of his coffee, which had finally cooled off enough. Surprisingly, it tasted pretty good.

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