Chapter 1 of “Katelyn’s Killer,” Penny’s first case

CHAPTER ONE

The first day in my new pro­fes­sion would have been a joy if it hadn’t been for Lionel’s god-for­sak­en pond. Viewed with twen­ty-twen­ty hind­sight, I wished I’d been at my day job.

My elder­ly arthrit­ic friend, Stephanie, lived in a town­house on Queen Anne Street in the his­toric cen­ter of Annapo­lis. For six decades she’d tend­ed her delight­ful gar­den. Since lad­der-climb­ing was no longer in her reper­toire, she had hired me to prune her Japan­ese Maple.

I was up on my lad­der, reach­ing fur­ther than I should have, to lop a branch chaf­ing anoth­er when Steph called to me. “Pen­ny, could you come down a moment and meet my neigh­bor?” I per­formed the surgery and backed down the lad­der.

Her neigh­bor was Lionel Field­ing, lean­ing on an antique fence between the two yards. My first thought was that he might become anoth­er client. But when he asked for help with his gar­den pond, I balked. From where we stood, the pond looked worse than the most dis­mal day-old Navy cof­fee I’d ever seen: a mis­er­able col­lage of decayed leaves, twigs, and blup­ping bub­bles. If there were crit­ters in that swamp, they’d have need­ed sonar to find their way because they sure as sug­ar couldn’t see a thing. What­ev­er tal­ents Lionel had, pond-keep­ing wasn’t among them.

He point­ed to a small fat frog foun­tain sit­ting at the edge of the pond. “That thing has been spew­ing for years,” he said. “Until this morn­ing.”

I’m very sor­ry, Mr. Field­ing. I don’t do pond-work.”

Most land­scap­ers work with ponds,” he grum­bled. His ele­gant gray hair, but­ton-down col­lar, and rep tie marked him as a wealthy retiree. You had to have mon­ey to live in this part of Annapo­lis.

Miss Sum­mers,” Lionel implored in his cul­tured New Eng­land accent, “I appre­ci­ate that ponds aren’t a spe­cial­ty of yours, but it wouldn’t seem that find­ing the prob­lem would require a degree in hydraulic engi­neer­ing.” He wore the hint of a smirk. The minor mat­ter of a frog foun­tain on the sick list seemed to be a major incon­ve­nience.

In spite of my six years in the Navy, water and I don’t get along. Swim­ming pools are bad enough, but ponds that refuse to let you see into them? I couldn’t go there. There’s a good rea­son for my dis­com­fort around water. My lit­tle broth­er Ted drowned in a swim­ming pool when he was five while I was sup­posed to be watch­ing him instead of bury­ing my nose in The Secret Gar­den. Lakes and ponds and pools scare the jeans off me. At the Naval Acad­e­my, we had to swim, but for me, each time, it took every ounce of deter­mi­na­tion I could muster. For­tu­nate­ly, my ship was nev­er tor­pe­doed so I nev­er had to do the aban­don ship thing for real.

Could you at least have a look?”

Lionel, in spite of his irk­some per­sis­tence, remind­ed me of my late lament­ed Grand­pa Jack, for whom I’d have done any­thing. You could do it, he prod­ded from beyond the grave.

With that nudge, I knew I should just find the damn pump and get rid of what­ev­er blocked it. No big deal, right? Steph and I went to the alley and around into Lionel’s yard.

Okay, Mr. Field­ing. I’ll try to find your pump.” I took a deep breath and dredged up what lit­tle mox­ie I could.

See­ing into the pond was impos­si­ble, so I knelt at the edge and willed my hand below the sur­face. Like Nan­cy Drew in the sto­ries I’d read twen­ty years ago, I was in a very wet and very dark cel­lar with­out a lantern. I braved the slimy crit­ters that had to be in there and pushed dead branch­es aside. I swept my arm in a cir­cle through decay­ing leaves. Noth­ing. I moved to my left and reached deep­er, my tee shirt sop­ping, my arm and shoul­der now with­in reach of invis­i­ble jaws. More of noth­ing.

I shift­ed to the right, reached even deep­er, and swung my arm in a wider arc. My dread gauge moved from yel­low to red. More leaves—a sub­merged branch—then—cold flesh! Pan­ic came roar­ing. I yanked my arm out and scat­tered sog­gy leaves in every direc­tion. My heart pound­ed.

There’s some­body in your pond,” was all I could stam­mer. “Dead.”

 


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