Fiction: Beach Body
Photo Source: Pixabay
Never open with the weather. Ordinarily, I’d follow this advice but that summer, you couldn’t not bring up the weather. It was the starter to every conversation. Of course, talking was all people did. Nobody dared to venture outside.
Waves lapped at a deserted beach as lifeguards played cards in their towers. Shops closed their shutters early, while bars and restaurants played host to empty tables. A once booming coastal playground for inner-city day trippers became a ghost town. Tourists and locals alike turned their backs on the summer sun.
The source of this unseasonal social shyness could be traced to a dumpster just by the entrance to Central Pier. It was a dog walker who made the discovery. He had been up at the break of dawn to avoid the worst of the heat when the smell hit him. The kind of smell that polluted not only the nostrils, but forced its way down the throat and turned your stomach inside out. The man’s gag reflex prevented him from getting any closer so he let the dog off its leash to investigate.
The dog sniffed out a body—or half a body, to be more accurate. A human torso; blue and bloated. The lower half of the same cadaver washed up a half mile further along the beach 24 hours later. By then, the police and coastguard were on high alert and thankfully, they got to it before another unsuspecting member of the public became traumatised for life.
Murders might be commonplace in big cities, but not in quiet seaside towns that rely on the summer season to keep the local economy afloat. An economy that was looking ever more precarious as news of the killing spread. A seaside stroll with an ice-cream in hand was not so appealing when there could be a killer hiding around the next corner.
Of course, between the parts of the torso that had been digested by maggots and the pieces of leg torn off by fish, it was impossible to determine an exact cause of death. Murder seemed obvious, but the means as to how, less so.
Was it drowning? Strangulation? Stabbing? Even the identity of the victim was a mystery. Without motive there was no way to know if it had been a crime of passion or the beginning of a serial killer’s spree.
Suddenly everyone was an expert on how to dispose of a body, taking great pleasure in explaining where the killer had gone wrong. Should’ve used an acid bath. Pigs will eat anything—even bones. It made for the most peculiar watercooler talk among office workers.
Over the days following the grim discovery, people hid themselves away, children had nightmares and parents struggled to sleep. Nobody felt safe. Then, almost a week after the murder, the police made an arrest.
The second Saturday of the season saw a return to prosperity for the many businesses lining the seafront. The beach was packed with sunbathers, laughing teenagers skated up and down the promenade and the ice-cream vendors sold out by lunchtime.
Things were not quite the same as before the murder. There was still a sizable police presence as officers on the beat mingled with holidaymakers and the coastguard continued to patrol the shoreline night and day. As word spread, more and more people flocked to this small beach resort.
On the following Sunday, the crowds were overwhelming. More bobbies were added to the beat and the number of coastguard boats on the water doubled. Tourists were happy and care free, but the authorities were nervous and tense.
As I sat on a bench, enjoying fish and chips while hungry gulls circled overhead, I stopped a passing policewoman to enquire as to why there was still such a large police presence given that the murderer had been apprehended.
‘We’re here for the same reason as you,’ she replied, with barely concealed contempt.
‘Fish and chips?’
‘You mean to say, you don’t know?’ The contempt turned to surprise. ‘You must be the only one. Look at the crowd—it’s like a circus. Not the fun kind with clowns. More the kind where they fed people to lions.’
‘You’ve lost me.’
‘I guess there’s no harm in telling you,’ she said. ‘Everyone else knows.’
‘Tell me what? What don’t I know?’
I looked at the crowds lining the beach. All smiling, happy faces. What was I missing?
‘When we apprehended the killer, he confessed to the crime, but refused to tell us the name of the victim. We don’t know whose body it was that we found.’
‘How’s that possible? Aren’t there tests you can do? Like matching dental records?’
‘Match the records with what? Like I said, the people are here for a spectacle. They’re waiting for the final piece of evidence to be uncovered.’
Before the policewoman could elaborate, her walkie-talkie crackled into life. Seconds later, there was a surge a little farther along the beach as a crowd gathered at the water’s edge, jostling for the best view.
The policewoman looked at me, gravely. ‘They found it.’
As she pushed her way through the crowd, I realised what was happening. The final piece in the puzzle. The reason the promenade was host to a record number of visitors that weekend.
The victim’s identity was at last revealed.
David Clarkson is a writer of novels and short stories based in the North of England. He has a BA in English Literature and has written ten novels (5 of which are self-published on Amazon) along with numerous short stories, which have been published online in the Woven Tale Press and Intrinsick Magazine as well as in print in local newspapers.