“Hello,” McAllister said, his voice weak and raspy on the other end of the line.
“Mac, this is Matthew. Mac . . . ah . . . we have something to tell you. It’s about Rene, Mac. Ah . . . do you have anyone there with you now?”
“No. Why? Did she finally show up?”
“She’s dead, Mac. She drowned sometime last night. Shirley found her body this morning down by the Sherman dock.”
“Dead? You’re sure it’s her?”
“It’s her, Mac. No mistake. Do you want me to come get you?”
“At your place?”
“Yes. Well . . . no, actually . . . down next to Sherman’s dock. The police and EMS people are here right now. Do you want me to come get you?”
“Oh . . . no! My God . . . no. I’m OK. I’ll be right there.”
“Come to our house first.”
“Right. Your house. I will.”
Matthew heard McAllister pull up and went out to meet him. “Do you want to come into the house?” he asked.
“No. I want to see Rene.”
“She’s dead, Mac. There’s nothing to see. Nothing you’d want to see.”
“No. I want to see her.”
“You need to prepare yourself. She’s . . . she’s all covered with sand and wet and . . . well . . . she looks pretty bad.” McAllister peered over Matthew’s shoulder to catch a glimpse of what was going on at the lakeshore. “Come on then. I’ll go with you.”
The police cordoned off the area of the beach where Rene’s body was found with yellow and black ribbon. The crowd continued to collect and gawk at the EMS and police. Matthew and McAllister pushed their way through the people toward the beach. Matthew was surprised at the size of the area that the police isolated. The ribbon stretched from the Sherman dock, up into the yard to a folding chair, and then at an angle to a tree on the lot line between the Sherman property and Clay’s. Officer Fletcher was walking the length of the Sherman dock with the roll of ribbon closing the area at the end of the dock so that the water immediately in front of the body would be in the restricted zone. Detective Raker looked up as Matthew and McAllister approached.
“You need to respect that barrier,” Raker called out.
“That’s my wife.”
Raker rose to his feet immediately and walked over to confront McAllister. “You’re McAllister?” he asked.
“Yes. Alan McAllister. Can I see her?”
“At the moment, no, sir. I’m sorry. We need to make certain we can move her without disturbing the scene . . . so it will not be compromised. It won’t take long,” Raker explained. “I’m sorry. Your wife’s been dead for several hours, apparently from drowning. Why don’t you and your friend go back to the house. When we’re through here, we’ll let you know. You can view your wife’s body before we take it to the medical examiner.”
McAllister strained to see Rene’s body that lay more than 50 feet away in the sand. “This is an accident, isn’t it? Why the police?”
“Just routine,” Raker replied. “Please, the quicker we can get on with it, the better. I’ll want to talk to you in a few minutes.” Matthew put his hand on McAllister’s shoulder and nudged him to turn. Mac conceded reluctantly, and the two men trudged back to the deck where Shirley was standing. She had been joined by Joyce Sherman. “Have you had breakfast or anything?” Matthew asked.
“No. I’m not hungry.”
“Well, come sit down. A cup of coffee, maybe?”
“I’m so sorry,” Joyce whispered as he stepped onto the deck. “I’m so very sorry.” McAllister walked over to a chair and sat down. Moments later, Shirley reappeared on the deck with two steaming cups of coffee. The four sat silently for several minutes.
“So she wasn’t breathing or anything . . . when you found her?” McAllister asked.
“No,” Matthew replied.
“How did you find her?”
“I found her, Mac,” Shirley said. “I was up early taking a walk along the shore. At first, I didn’t know what I was seeing. She was lying face down in the water just a few feet out where it’s shallow. I thought it was a sail or something from a boat . . . something from all the traffic on the lake yesterday . . . but as I drew closer, I recognized Rene’s dress.” Shirley words were becoming more difficult. Tears welled up in her eyes. “My heart just stopped. But I had to see . . . and I walked right up to the water’s edge. Then . . . then I knew, and I called for Matthew right away.”
“We dragged her up on the beach,” Matthew said. “I could see that she was dead, Mac. Her lips were blue. She wasn’t breathing. He skin was all pasty . . . like it had been under water for a long time. We called 911 . . . and then I called you.”
“My God, who would’ve thought?” McAllister groaned. “I mean . . . I thought she’d gone off somewhere. That I’d find her at home . . . or near the house. I went out looking for her, but I never thought anything like this would . . .” Mac said as his voice trailed off.
“Everybody did everything they could to find her last night,” Joyce said. “We looked everywhere.”
McAllister waved off her remarks. “I just can’t bring myself to believe it. I know that’s her down there . . . but somehow . . . I don’t know . . . I just can’t quite get around it. What’s the matter with me?” he said looking up at Matthew.
“You need time is all,” Matthew responded. “More time.”
“You know . . . we didn’t get along well these last few years . . . but I never would’ve wished this on her. She was pretty drunk last night, wasn’t she?” Matthew, Shirley and Joyce looked at one another, surprised by Mac’s apparent indifference to what was happening.
“Very,” Matthew replied softly.
“I wonder if she suffered,” McAllister said.
From the deck the activities of the police and EMS team could be seen over the heads of the onlookers. Matthew noticed that the two EMS attendants had eased Rene’s body into a black body bag, zipped it shut, and lifted it onto a gurney.
“I’ve always heard drowning is a very peaceful death,” Joyce offered.
“Not one I’d choose,” McAllister growled. “What’s going on down there?” he asked and stood up to see for himself. Detective Raker was holding the black and yellow ribbon high above his head so that the EMS attendants could roll the gurney underneath it. They headed for the ambulance, pushing their way through the crowd toward the deck. When they reached the house, Raker had them stop, came up on the deck, walked over to McAllister, and asked him quietly if he still wanted to see the body.
“Yes,” McAllister said and followed Raker off of the deck to the gurney.
“God,” McAllister moaned. Sand still covered much of her face, and her hair remained plastered to her forehead. “God, it hardly looks like her.” He looked again. It was she. Rene. His wife. Dead.
He could not look at her any more. He stepped back and nodded to Detective Raker who, in turn, nodded to the EMS attendants. One of them stepped forward and pulled the zipper up the front of the bag and closing it over Rene’s face. McAllister felt Matthew’s hand on his shoulder.
“Come on, ol’ man,” Matthew said. “Let’s go sit down.” Back on the deck, they heard the ambulance doors slamming closed and the vehicle’s engine fire up. As they heard it accelerate down the street, they—Mac most of all—felt themselves surrendering Rene out of their care. A finality overtook them. McAllister drew a deep breath and slumped back into his chair.