Written by Joseph D. Stirling
Outside, the wind screamed against the mountains. It roared through the pine trees. It howled as it threw rain against the windows of the small house set against the foothills. The music of the storm was sporadic; jumping, spinning, and wailing. Yet, inside, the three occupants slept peacefully, unaffected by the torrent.
Slowly, a man in the living room stirred. He kicked his legs off the couch, stretching as he stood. He sluggishly scratched his belly as he walked into the kitchen and flipped on the light and coffee maker. As he took a seat at the worn table against the wall, it creaked quietly.
As the coffee maker finished its only job in the world, another of the three men staggered into the small kitchen. He knuckled his eyes and pulled three mugs from the cupboard, splashing hot coffee into them. He carried two carefully to the table, leaving the third by the machine.
Outside it was still dark. The clock on the wall above the stove read a few minutes past two in the morning. The last man found his way into the kitchen and opened the fridge. He left the door hanging out and poured a bit of milk into the mug on the counter. With the fridge open and the milk by the coffee pot, he plopped into the last chair at the table. The three drank their coffee in silence.
With coffee finished and fridge still open, the three left the kitchen and dressed. They stumbled into the garage and piled into the faded, black Lincoln Town Car. As the garage door squealed open, not one man noticed the raging wind or sheeting rain.
They drove down the rain slick roads, navigating the switchbacks as they did every morning, silent as they had been in the kitchen. The man in the backseat absently played with the neatly folded towels that were placed there the night before. It was a short drive to Lake Aedin where they parked the car and left it running.
The men climbed out and walked, fully clothed, into the cold, dark water. The wind did its best to get their attention, moaning and shrieking. They would have none of it and continued into the lake. One by one they slipped below the surface.
When the storm broke later that morning, the sun beating the clouds from the sky as it climbed over the mountains, the car sat idling with open doors and lights on. The towels were left untouched. Three bodies drifted in lazy circles face down in the water.
* * * * *
“I just don’t understand it,” the sheriff said, pulling on his ear. “Why in God’s name would they go swimming in the middle of a storm?”
“Could be drugs involved, Al.” One of the Deputies, Lester, always thought it was drugs. Car accident? It was drugs. Bar fight? It was drugs. “Maybe it was drugs, Al?”
“Yeah, Lester, sure. And maybe they were so goofed up that they drove their car all the way down the hill, with forty mile an hour winds and heavy rain, and never once swerved or slammed on the brakes. And they were so goofed up they brought towels they had no intention of using. Okay, that part sounds like drugs.” Al pulled his glasses from his face and rubbed the bridge of his nose, a short shake of his head. “Law of averages says you’ll be right one of these days, Lester. It just ain’t today. Drag the lake and see if anybody else is down there.”
Sheriff Al Todd slid into the seat of his cruiser and yanked the radio free. He could see the lines in his face in the rear-view mirror; they looked a little deeper today. He thumbed the button and cleared his throat.
“Dolores, this is Al, come back.”
The speaker crackled, the voice of forty years spent smoking filter-less cigarettes responded. If you closed your eyes, she sounded like a gravel throated man. “What do you got, Al? Over.”
“I need you to send the coroner out her to Aedin Lake. Tell Don to bring the van. I’m looking at three bodies. Possible drowning. Over.” Al slid a cigar from the leather case on the seat next to him and bit the tip off. He chewed the nub for a moment before spitting it onto the ground and flicking his lighter.
“Jesus, Al. Who is it? Over.”
“It’s them Murphy boys, from up the hill. Just send Don up here to get ‘em. Over and out.”
Al puffed on his cigar, it was descent enough. Shipped in from all the way out in Honduras, the label said so. He climbed out and stood by the open door. “Hey, Lester. Take Charlie and fish them out of the water. Wait till Don gets here and help him load the bodies. I got to run back to the station and start this damn paperwork, give their Mother a call.”
“You got it, Al.” Lester gave a hasty thumbs-up and turned back to the other Deputies.
Al slid himself back into the car and started the engine. He reached out and pulled the door shut with a groan.
As he pulled into the Sheriff’s Station, Al Todd wished he was someplace else. It looked like damn near the whole town was waiting for him. He just knew that each one had questions he didn’t want to answer. He’d watched plenty of movies where the phrase ‘no comment’ worked just fine to sate the masses. But this was a small town; ‘no comment’ wasn’t going to fly here.
He climbed out and was showered with everything he knew was coming. “Listen up; I got nothing to say yet. Save all your whatever you got till I find out what happened.” Al worked the cigar around with his lips, rolling it from one corner of his mouth to the other.
“Sheriff! Was it really the Murphy brothers? All three of them?”
“Why’d they do it, Al?”
“Was it murder?”
“Yeah, was it murder?”
Al slammed the car door and spit the chewed cigar onto the ground. “Damn it, what’d I just say folks? I don’t know. You know just as much as I do right now. Go home, go to work. I got nothing to tell you.”
Al pushed his way through amid shouts and pleas for more answers. There were no answers yet, plain and simple.
Hours later Al was leaning over his desk cradling his head in hands. He had called the Widow Murphy nine times with no answer. Al couldn’t bring himself to leave a message; it just felt like a cheap shot to get this kind of information from an answering machine. He thought about driving the three hours to her house, talking to her face to face, but that would have to wait until tomorrow.
A knock at his office door drew his attentions away from staring at the phone. Al looked up to see Don, the town’s Medical Examiner, Coroner, and Doctor, standing in the doorway. Don stepped in and eased himself into a chair.
“What is it, Don?” Al leaned forward in his seat, expecting to hear blood alcohol levels from the Murphy brothers.
“Tox-screens came up negative.” Don pulled at the fabric of his jeans, unable to meet Al’s eye. “I opened up Jake and his body started convulsing.”
“What? How does that work? They’re dead, right?”
“Jake is for sure now. Mike and Dale, damn I don’t know. They have no pulse, but their brain activity is off the charts. I had to put them in a room; hook them up to ventilators and heart machines. Jesus, Al, I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Al stood and faced the wall rubbing his jaw; the sound of his rough stubble was almost comforting. What the hell was going on here? “Those boys were in the water for hours, Don. What am I supposed to do about this? Should we call in some kind of Specialist Doctor? I mean, for Gods’ sake, they weren’t breathing when we found them!”
“Take the ventilator away, Al, and they still aren’t breathing. By all accounts they should be dead.”
By all accounts they should be dead. The words rolled around Al’s head for a moment. That was usually the kind of thing you heard about accident victims and bar fights. Al absently rubbed his ring finger; the old and worn ring had been on his finger since the divorce ten years ago. Like the drowned Murphy boys, he couldn’t let go.
“This makes no sense to me, Don. What are we supposed to do with them? Is this one of those moments where we should call the CDC, or some other kind of medical experts?”
“I just don’t know. This isn’t the kind of thing they teach you in Med. School. I’m stumped, Al.” Don leaned back in the chair massaging his temples. “For now, I think we should just wait and see what happens. They might just, I don’t know, wake up or stop being dead? I just don’t know.”
Don stood with a sigh, he sounded just as tired as Al felt. They shook hands and Don left the office. Al slipped back into his chair and flipped through the report before tossing it back onto the desk. He took off his glasses and knuckled his eyes. As he stood, he cleaned the lenses with a handkerchief from his pocket and set his glasses back on his face.
Al slowly made his way to the door and clicked the lights off, shutting the door behind him. There was nothing more to do today. Dolores waved him over from the front desk with a slip of paper. He smiled, taking a cigar from the case in his shirt pocket.
“Hey, Sheriff, Deputy Lester called over from the lake. He says the drag line got snagged up something awful; says they need divers to see about getting it free.”
“Divers? Shoot, that boy must never been fishing in his life. Tell him I’m coming. Thanks, Dolores. I’ll see you in the morning, heading home after I fix Lester’s blunder.”
Ten minutes in the car brought Sheriff Al Todd back to Aedin Lake. Lester waved from one of the two boats floating out in the middle. Al shook his head as he climbed out of the cruiser with the radio in his hand.
The radio crackled, “We got all stuck out here, Al. This drag line won’t free up for nothing. Over.”
“Dammit, Lester, did you think to back up? You might be hung up on a ledge. Over.”
“We tried everything, Al. We fought with it for about an hour before I called you at the Station. I really think we need divers for this. Over.”
Al looked down at the shoreline for a moment, thinking. “Alright, Lester, you boys secure the ends of the line with floats and leave it for the night. I’ll get a hold of Bristol County and see if they have any divers or equipment. Over and out.”
He took the cell phone out of the cup-holder and fumbled with the small buttons before finding the number for Sheriff Carlson in Bristol County. Paul Carlson was married to Al’s ex-wife’s sister; made for a small world.
The line rang for a moment and Al got his voicemail. He left a quick message about the drownings and the request for assistance with divers. It may have been a long shot, but Bristol County had a big lake and just might have the equipment and people for such a thing. He shook his head at the thought of his small town needing to send people swimming around to the bottom of his lake, it almost seemed preposterous.
Al climbed back into the car and clipped the radio mic on the dash. He spent a few minutes on the road as he wound his way through town to his home. The air was filled with the tangy, yet crisp scent of pine trees and mountain air, one of the main reasons he had moved here in the first place. As he shut off the engine his eyes trailed over the chipping paint and loose cedar shakes on the roof. Al stretched in the driveway as he closed the car door, thinking that he should slap another coat of paint on the house when the weather turned warmer over the summer. When he was younger he’d have thought about doing the roof as well, but now it was a job for someone with a better back.
He pushed through the creaky door and flipped on a light. It was always quiet inside, his two kids were grown and living their lives at opposite ends of the country, and his ex-wife was down in Texas with her mother. Al sighed quietly and unclipped his gun holster from his belt, setting it on the console table with his keys and wallet.
After a quick meal of microwaved Salisbury steak and a beer, he kicked his feet up on the coffee table and flipped through channels with no real intention of watching anything.
He started awake when his phone rang. Al looked around his living room, he was still in the recliner wearing his unbuttoned uniform. The phone was still ringing as he searched for his glasses. He found them still on his face and shook his head, laughing at himself. He shuffled across the room and pulled the phone off the cradle. No LCD screen, no caller ID; he liked things simple and had used this same phone for nearly thirty years.
“This is Sheriff Todd. How can I help you?” He squinted at the clock on the wall, it was just before six in the morning.
“Morning, Al. This is Paul Carlson. Sorry about the hour, but I just found your message. I had to have my granddaughter show how to listen to it. Damn new phones.”
Al felt the same frustration with the direction cell phones had gone. So many little buttons and “interwebs” and cameras… “Morning, Paul. Yeah, we have a hell of a thing over here. Any help you can send us would be great.”
“Sorry to hear about Jake, Mike, and Dale. They were hard working boys and did their Mom proud. Listen, she’s not doing so well herself out here. I can pass on word if you like; you probably found you can’t get her on the phone. But, anyway, I’m sending two of my Deputies up the mountain today with some gear. They should be able to help you out. Let me know if there’s anything else I can do.”
“Thanks, Paul. I appreciate it. Tell Wilma and the kids “Hello” from Uncle Al. Talk to you later, Paul. Goodbye.”
* * * * *
The noon sun was high overhead as Sheriff Al Todd stood on the shore near the boat launch at Aedin Lake. Deputy Lester was out in one of the boats while the two Deputies from Bristol County worked below the surface in their diving gear. It had been nearly an hour since they went under.
Al worked a cigar around in his mouth, gnawing gently on the tip as he smoked. He checked his watch again and set back to pacing in front of his cruiser. How long does it take to free up a drag line?
Al watched as one of the divers broke the surface and started passing his gear into the boat. He was helped aboard as the second diver surfaced. Al sighed with relief; finally the job could get finished. He was fairly sure there was no one else down there; no one in town had been reported missing. It felt to him like case closed. Al just had to figure out what to do about the dead, but not dead, bodies of Mike and Dale Murphy.
Al’s attention was pulled back to the boats when his radio crackled to life.
“Al, we got a situation out here. Come back.”
What’s Lester going on about now? “This is Al, Lester. What are you talking about? Over.”
“We’re coming in, Al. You need to hear this face to face. You’re not going to believe this. Over and out.”
Al watched as the one of the boats sped towards shore. He chewed the end of his cigar, taking one final puff, then dropped it to the ground as the aluminum frame boat slid onto the bank. Lester jumped out and waited for Deputy Collins to join him as Al approached.
“So what’s this thing I have to see?” Al said, looking to the diver.
Deputy Collins held out a rusted piece of tin with barely recognizable prints stamped into its flat surface.
“A license plate? I don’t get it,” said Al with a shake of his head.
“It came from the bottom of your lake, Sir. The drag line was wrapped up on a light post and an old Ford. We’re talking like 1920’s or 30’s.”
“At the bottom of our lake?”
“Yes, Sir. But there’s more. It’s not just one car. We found a whole town, Sheriff Todd! Church, houses, shops. It’s amazing. The cars were all parked on the streets and in driveways. Everything’s covered over in silt and mud, but holy damn, Sir, it’s a whole town!”
A whole town; how is that possible? There would be some record of a town at the bottom of the lake. Al remembered hearing stories about the damn that formed the lake, but there was nothing about a town being relocated.
* * * * *
Sheriff Al Todd sat in his kitchen, slurping cold coffee and watching the smoke from his cigar curl above the ashtray. How had his little mountain town come to this? Three men, brothers, drowned themselves on purpose; and somehow didn’t die? A entire town with no record lost to the bottom of Lake Aedin; cars and trucks still parked, and the remains of people still in their beds!
The sun cast long shadows through the trees. Al only watched the smoke twist and curl. His reflection in the cold coffee looked ashen and grey. He could see the lines in his face; they did look deeper than usual. He set the cigar into the ashtray and resigned himself to bed; a good nights’ sleep was all he needed.
The phone woke him in the morning. The standing around from the day before burned in his legs as he climbed out of bed. He huffed into the hallway, hoping he could get to the phone before the caller hung up. In his exhaustion he almost hoped he wouldn’t make it. No luck.
The sun barely shone above the rim of the mountains; Al knew it was close to seven in the morning.
“Hello? Sheriff Al Todd, what can I do for you?” He grumbled into the phone.
“Al, it’s Lester. We need you at the Lake now. There’s more people drowned. Oh God, AL, please hurry.”
Al hung up the phone, leaning his head against the wall. His chest felt heavy, like it was being pushed and pulled at the same time. He pulled himself up and walked into the kitchen, pouring a small glass of Jack Daniels. He slugged it back and stood by the counter just breathing.
He made his way back to the bedroom and dressed, grabbing his gun and keys on the way out. There was urgency in the air, yet Al couldn’t bring himself to face it. The last few days had brought far too much activity to such a small town. As he wove through the hilly streets, around the large oak on the corner of Ash and Brisbane where he broke his arm as a child, past the Village Grocer, where he had his first summer job, he noticed how quiet the morning was. There should have been some traffic, nothing like a large city, but at least a few other cars on the road.
As he pulled into the Lake parking he knew why. Dozens of vehicles sat still running with open doors. His Deputies were taking pictures and scribbling notes as he stopped the car. Lester ran towards him, his eyes looked red like he had been crying.
Al climbed out of the cruiser; the lake came into view above the idling cars. Bodies, nearly three dozen; all floating and fully clothed.
“Jesus Christ.” Al had never been very religious, yet he was filled with the sudden urge to pray at that moment. “Jesus Christ, Lester.” Al could feel the breeze off the lake chilling the tears rolling down his cheeks. He hadn’t realized he had started crying.
“Al, what’s happening? Why is this happening? My dad’s out there, Al, my dad!” Lester started sobbing again. “Oh God, everyone that lives on Ash is out there.”
Al could only stare. But, they might still be alive, he thought. The Murphy brothers still had some brain stuff going on, whatever Don called it. They might still be alive somehow. “We need to get them out of the water.” Al felt his heart quicken. “Lester, pull it together. Round up everybody and get those people out of the lake. We need to get them all to the hospital, Don found something with the Murphy boys; they’re not dead. Get moving, Lester.”
“Not dead? They drowned, Al!”
“Dammit, Lester, you’ve got to trust me! Get them out of the water, now!”
Lester stumbled off, gathering the other Deputies and moving to the lake. Al slid into his cruiser and grabbed the radio.
“Dolores, this is Al. Come back.” Nothing. “Dolores, come in. This is Al.”
“This is Deputy Walt, Dolores hasn’t gotten in yet, Al. It’s only quarter to seven. What do you need? Over.”
“Walt, get Don down to Aedin Lake now. I need vans, trucks, anything. Send ambulances, anything. Over and out.”
It took most of the morning to deliver the bodies of the drowned to the hospital. By the second trip the whole town knew and volunteers showed up with pick-up trucks to help bring them to the small medical facility. The un-living were placed three and four to a room and most had to go without the proper equipment; there simply wasn’t enough ventilators and such to go around.
Al was surprised how well the citizens were taking the news of so many drowned neighbors. He half expected a panicked mob, yet most of the town found their way to the church to pray. Others donated time at the hospital to help in any way they could.
Sheriff Al Todd couldn’t seem to shake the heaviness in his chest. What the hell was happening? Al missed his children, he tried calling them but only had success in reaching their voice mails. He hadn’t bothered to leave a message; what do you say, how do you explain what was going on? Al couldn’t think of a way.
He sat in his office; puffing on a cigar with an apathetic appetite for the one thing that used to be so relaxing. Al slowly swirled a glass of whiskey, he had lost track of how many he had drank that afternoon. It didn’t really matter today. It seemed that everyone in town had lost a friend or loved one and the Sheriff Station had been empty all day. Al couldn’t bring himself to think about what he was going to do. Whether from the events of the past few days, or the Jack Daniels, he lost the will to concentrate or focus.
* * * * *
Al sat up, a string of drool refusing to let go from the small puddle on his desk. His back screamed from the bad posturing of passing out in his office. His light was still on but he could see it was still dark outside, a quick glance at his watch told him it was half past two in the morning. He wasn’t sure what it was, but something wasn’t right.
He cleaned his glasses on his untucked shirt as he stumbled from the office. The station was empty; the night shift nowhere to be seen. The hairs on Al’s arms and neck stood, goose flesh rippling across his skin, something was wrong. The night was far too still, even for his small town.
He walked out the front door into the cool early morning air. The crisp scent of pine trees was everywhere, and for a moment it was calming. But he could hear cars off in the distance, the quiet hum of motors running.
The tightness in his chest worked its way into his left arm and down to his fingertips. With a sinking feeling he climbed into his cruiser and slowly drove into the street. He knew what he was going to find as he made his way to the lake.
The glow of headlights shining over the water was unmistakable. Tears poured down his face as he parked, the weight in his chest beginning to ache. He climbed out and fell to his knees at the sight. It looked to be almost the entire town. The sweet smell of pine trees and mountain air was suddenly overwhelmed by spoiled eggs and burnt hair as a voice like cool silk called to him from the darkness.
“This isn’t the first time something like this has happened, Mr. Todd. This form of tragedy happens every hundred years or so, but kids will be kids. You have kids, you know how it goes. Some children never learn the art of subtly, am I right? It’s always forgotten, just as it will be here, no one will remember your town. The first time it happened, a man was asked to build a great boat. True story.”
Al slowly turned, despite the pain in his chest; dragging his knees through the coarse sand. There was a figure leaning against one of the abandoned cars. He wore a cheap polyester suit, fraying sleeves and trouser cuffs matching the missing button on the coat. The man’s hair was slicked back and held a greasy sheen. Though all of this was shadowed and forgotten with the polished black horns sprouting from his hairline and the glossy black hooves he stood upon. Even in the dim light of the early morning, the man’s red skin was clearly visible.
Al almost laughed. This was a trick of whiskey, lack of sleep, and what felt certain to be a heart attack. Nothing more.
“It would be so much easier for you if this were a mere hallucination. I can’t help you with that I’m afraid, Mr. Todd. This is unavoidable.” The horned man appeared to show genuine concern, his eyes softening and his voice tender. “I am sorry for the losses you have suffered in these past few days.”
“Who- what are you? I don’t believe this.”
“I think you know, Mr. Todd. Or do you prefer Sheriff Todd? No, I am exactly who you think I am. You wouldn’t be so disturbed if I had a better publicist, I assure you.”
Al clutched at his chest and dropped into the rough sand along the shoreline of Aedin Lake. The crunch of stone beneath those hooves drew closer and a gentle hand rolled him onto his back, the red smiling face coming into view.
“It’s been said to be rude to perish mid conversation, Mr. Todd. It was never said by me, but non-the-less it has been said.” The horned man touched Al’s chest with a single finger; the pain vanished.
“How did you do that?” Al asked as he tried to scramble away from the man. “You can’t do that. Only God has the power over life. Leave here, vile Devil.”
“Please, call me Luse. The Great Father of Lies is more of a business title. Have a cigar, we have much to talk about, you and I.”
Al’s attention was fixed on the Devil, as much as he wanted to turn away he couldn’t bear the thought of looking at the hundred or more bodies floating in the lake. The smell of sulfur had dissipated and was replaced by the penny-saver scent of generic brand cologne.
“Why should I call you anything? I don’t believe in you, you have no power here.” Al tried his best to put a brave face forward and add as much bravado as he could to his words.
“I believe in you, Al. And I do have power here. I have the power to make this all go away. All your friends alive and living the life they have lost. Isn’t that something you want? A way to take it all back and fix your small town, return it to the peaceful hamlet it was just days before?”
Al took hold of his cruiser and pulled himself to his feet. As he did, he could feel the small cross around his neck press against his chest. Al felt empowered and ripped his gun from its holster in a well-practiced motion. Five quick shots emptied his revolver.
Luse looked down at his ruined suit coat. “Really? I’ve had this jacket since 1974. It’s vintage, Al. You could have at least let me take it off before you destroyed it.” Luse pulled the coat off and dropped it to the ground. “If you’re quite finished?”
Al slid down the side of his car; all the exhaustion, all the hopelessness filling him again. “Why? Why would you do this? Why leave them alive in a drowned body?”
“It was a handful of my naughty children that enacted this event. Not me. I left them alive for one very pure reason, an act of love. If they were dead, you would have no hope. You see, Al, hope is the greatest achievement of mankind. What type of monster would I be, what kind of example would I set, if I were to take away hope?”
Al wiped away the tears that had begun rolling down his cheeks again. Luse knelt down in front of him, offering a handkerchief.
“Please, Al. Shed no more tears. My kids will be punished. But you, you Al, can still save your town. Wouldn’t that be a grand act? To be remembered, to save all these lives? I can make that happen. You just have to say yes. Can you do that, Al, can you say one little word to save them all?”
Al exhaled loudly and looked up into the star filled sky. It really was a lovely night.
“They’ll have no memory of drowning? Aedin’s Bluff, my town, will be as it was?” Al could see the truth in the Devil’s eyes as his horned head nodded solemnly. “I think I’ll have that cigar now.”
“I can promise this will be the finest cigar you’ve ever smoked, Al. It’s decades old, but just as fresh as the day the box was opened. A real Cuban cigar; given to me directly from the hands of Castro himself. True story.”
Al accepted and puffed gingerly as Luse struck a lighter that appeared from nowhere and was gone just as quickly.
“The books are right,” said Al. “You’re a real son of a bitch.” Al laughed as he drew a large mouthful of smooth yet peppery smoke. “Yes. You have my answer, yes. Save them.”
* * * * *
Outside, the wind screamed against the mountains. It roared through the pine trees. It howled as it threw rain against the windows of the small house set against the foothills. The music of the storm was sporadic; jumping, spinning, and wailing.
Inside, a man in the living room stirred. Mike kicked his legs off the couch, stretching as he stood. He sluggishly scratched his belly as he walked into the kitchen and flipped on the light and coffee maker. As he took a seat at the worn table against the wall, it creaked quietly.
As the coffee maker finished its only job in the world, another of the three men staggered into the small kitchen. Dale knuckled his eyes and pulled three mugs from the cupboard, splashing hot coffee into them. He carried two carefully to the table, leaving the third by the machine.
Outside it was still dark. The clock on the wall above the stove read a few minutes past two in the morning. The last man found his way into the kitchen and opened the fridge.
“Jesus, it’s loud out there,” said Jake. He poured a bit of milk into the mug on the counter. “I don’t know how you guys slept, but that wind had me up half the night.”
Jake put away the milk and shut the fridge. He dropped into the wooden chair at the table with his brothers and stared out the rain streaked window. Mike coughed loudly and popped his knuckles, leaning back in the chair with a sigh.
“Rain like this is going to make work miserable today. This much moisture makes the wood a pain in the ass to cut.” Dale said as he rose and set his mug by the sink.
“Money is money, man,” said Mike.
They all dressed and slowly walked into the garage, climbing into a faded black Lincoln Town Car. The garage door groaned open as the car slowly rolled out into the storm. They took a slow drive down the winding road and through town.
When the storm broke later that morning, the sun beating the clouds from the sky as it climbed over the mountains, a lone car sat idling with an open door and lights on. Sheriff Al Todd lay on the sandy shore, face down beside his cruiser with a half smoked cigar near his hand. It had come all the way from Cuba, the label said so.