By Jutta Kohl
"What are you talking about, Holly? Are you sure you are ok?"
"For heaven's sake, Woody. Of course I am alright! ... I am telling you, I think Flora is dead!! Come and see for yourself!" Holly exclaimed, unusually determined.
By the time they got close to the "Gorgeous Bass Gal" a small crowd was already gathered there. Some of the women were pointing to the water while others were talking hysterically at the same time.
Woody looked down and saw Flora's dirty pink shirt covered with blood and oily debris. But it was not only the shirt. Flora was inside it, face down, her hair gently floating in the water, a sickening trail of red-brownish matter oozing from her head. Flora's body was already beginning to acquire the whitish color of death.
At this sight, Woody felt sick to her stomach. She started to shake, while thinking that, although she never liked Flora very much, she could not help feeling sorry to watch her pitiful remains. Flora really must have hit something very hard, to end up in the water like that, Woody thought.
Knotty Edgewater, one of the first to arrive at the scene, was apparently not overly impressed by the chaotic talking and screaming going on around the dock. She calmly lit another cigarette and suggested that she call the ambulance and also the police right away, because, obviously, Flora was totally defunct .
Knotty dialed 911 on her cell phone. "Would you please send an ambulance to the Sloop Harbor Municipal Marina immediately. We found one of our sailing club members floating in the water. She appears to be dead, and there is blood all around her." Knotty coolly explained to the dispatcher.
She nodded and hung up. "They’ll send the ambulance right away and also notify the police."
Woody noticed that Lucas Bilge had joined the still gesticulating group of women. Lucas was a shy and friendly old man, who had lived on his dilapidated sailboat "The Little Minnow" at the marina for many years. He made a modest living doing odd jobs for boat owners and was well liked by all.
It was apparent that Lucas was trying to say something to the women, but nobody seemed to pay attention to him. Woody tried to calm the crowd. Finally she approached Lucas directly and asked him:
"What is it, Lucas? Did you see or hear anything that could help us with this mess?"
Lucas stared at her and started with a low voice: "Earlier, when you all were busy with your boats in the parking lot, I came to help, and when I came around the corner of the shed, I saw ..."
The rest of Lucas' words were drowned by the howling sounds of the ambulance and police sirens.
The Sloop Harbor Police Department, SHPD for short , was not known for swift actions. Because crime was not rampant in the town of Sloop Harbor, detectives and police officers usually went about their duties without extreme urgency. Everybody was therefore surprised to see the prompt arrival of the police cruiser.
Woody was the closest to the police car when a man in civilian clothes stepped out.
"I am Lieutenant Johnny Starboard with the SHPD. Who can tell me what happened here?"
"My name is Woody Kapok." Woody volunteered, stepping forward and gesturing toward the dock. "Let me show you where we found Flora's body, Flora Belcher's, that is."
Johnny Starboard was a tall, sturdy man of about forty. His full shock of hair was wavy and graying at the temples and he had the rough features some women find attractive.
Woody lead the Lieutenant to the dock, where Flora's body was still bobbing against the barnacles of the seawall. While they walked she described the morning's gruesome events including the mishap at the parking lot and her own frightening experience with Flora's runaway trailer. Most Windlasses followed them trying to help out with details.
Although Lieutenant Starboard had seen many dead bodies during his career, he was obviously somewhat revolted by the sight of Flora's corpse. He ordered the ambulance paramedics:
"Get her out of there quickly! Take her and have the medical examiner look at her right away!" He then turned to Woody and asked:
"Who first saw the body and who was around at that time?"
"Seems like most of us were here." said Woody.
"Well" Johnny said, "Let me find out what these people know. Do you keep a roster of the club membership that I might have? Maybe you could tell me which of them were here today."
"I'll get the roster for you." Woody said and added: "By the way, there was someone else who apparently had some information about all this. His name is Lucas Bilge. He lives on his boat, "The Little Minnow", right here in the Marina. He was here just minutes ago. I'll see whether I can find him."
After a while, Woody returned with the Windlasses roster and started looking for the Lieutenant.
Johnny Starboard was already busy interrogating some of the women.
"That's alright" Johnny said, "We need to take preliminary statements from everyone that was present this morning. No one leave.”
After the ambulance left, the crowd slowly started to disperse and pretty soon Woody and Knotty were the only ones left with Johnny Starboard and another police officer.
"I could not find Lucas," Woody said. "Maybe he went back to his boat."
“We’ll find him later,” Johnny said. “Right now I have to get back to the office. We might need more information. Could you ladies come back here tomorrow morning, about 9:00 am?”
He started walking towards his cruiser and, turning to Woody, said, "Can you tell me whether the dead woman has relatives who need to be notified?"
"Maybe this sounds terrible, but we do not know anything about her friends or family," Woody answered.
"Ok, the SHPD will take care of that. I presume her address and telephone number will be in your roster."
Before starting the car, Johnny looked at Woody and Knotty and said, “I will see you ladies tomorrow morning then."
At 9:00 am sharp the following morning, an unmarked police car drove up to the Marina parking lot, where Woody and Knotty had been waiting for the Lieutenant. The day was windy and rainy. Johnny Starboard stepped out of the car. He was wearing a somewhat beat up raincoat. Woody could not help but think of TV's Detective Colombo when she saw him.
"Here we are, ladies, let's go and talk to your friend Bilge. What was the name of his boat, you said?"
"It's "The Little Minnow" in slip # 37 over there" said Knotty.
When they arrived at Lucas Bilge's sailboat, they knocked on top of the cabin. No answer.
"Asking permission to come aboard" shouted Woody, half jokingly. Still no answer. They noticed that one of the boards of the companionway was lying in the cockpit. Peering through the opening, Woody saw what seemed to be Lucas' body on the port bunk.
"Hey, Lucas, time to get up!" Woody yelled. Lucas remained motionless.
Now Johnny Starboard took over. He opened the companionway completely and climbed down into the cabin. He felt something sticky under his shoes. "Looks like blood" he said. This is when he saw the big gash in Lucas' head and the rope tied around his wrists.
Peering down the hatch Woody and Knotty were horrified. One detail, however, caught their attention: the rope was tied with a bowline knot.