From my boat I watch through binoculars as she strides down the gravel path. Her long legs, deeply tanned under purple running shorts, pump a strong and confident pace. It’s a steep mile to the lakefront from the cliff-top parking lot. She covers it as easily as a stroll around the block.
Last night I anchored off-shore in my J-30. I researched for a few months before picking this spot and made three trial runs. Once again, mine is the lone boat in the secluded inlet. Almost perfect. Sapphire Bay, one of the most beautiful sites on the enormous lake, is marred only by its sole building—the sprawling replica of a Rhine castle facing the beach. It’s there that she’s heading.
Donashaus was built in the 1920s by a widow from Kansas City with beefsteak money to burn and a fascination with Wagner. The widow left her property to the state of California when she died and the castle and grounds are now a state park. The building holds little appeal for me—a random assortment of stone turrets and Gothic arches—but it’s a major attraction in the summer months. Fortunately it’s too early in the morning for any tourists to descend, huffing and puffing, for a guided tour. Donashaus won’t open to the public today for at least a few more hours.
She reaches the deserted shoreline in just under fifteen minutes, stopping at one of the picnic tables in front of the castle. She cups one hand above her eyes, gazing out over the clear blue-green water toward my boat. I put down my binoculars to wave a friendly hello. I think she acknowledges me with a nod but I can’t be sure.
A young man emerges from a door on one side of the castle. I check my watch. 7:15 am. Right on time. Although I don’t know his name I know by now he’s the resident caretaker, a state park ranger assigned to the cushy, yet lonely job of guarding Mrs. Sirloin’s fantasy. Clad in a brown park service uniform, he drags a large plastic garbage bag. Prep for the morning run to the dump. He slings the bag into a pickup truck parked alongside the castle, stopping short when he sees her.
Did I mention how beautiful she is? He certainly seems to think so. I pick up my binoculars to focus on his face as he stares at her lithe body and long blonde hair. She ignores him and moves closer to the water, beginning a series of stretches on the sand as though she’s about to embark on a long run. He can’t take his eyes off her as she rocks lightly on her toes, her palms flat on the sand.
“Back to reality, kid,” I whisper. “Get back to reality.”
As if he hears me, the park ranger gives himself a little shake. He grabs a bucket and mop from the back of the truck, and walks off toward the public restrooms behind the castle.
She waits until he disappears and then whips off her white t-shirt and the rest of her clothes to stand naked on the beach. I put the binoculars away and go down below to mix up a pitcher of Mimosas.
“WOMAN VANISHES AT DONASHAUS!” scream the headlines a few days later. By now, I’m some two hundred miles from the lake and the J-30’s been hauled. The story is sexy enough to get coverage throughout the state and beyond. Sitting on my terrace with the San Francisco skyline spread out before me, I scroll through the news on my iPad.
According to the Chronicle, her name is Samantha Watson. Early thirties, a married real estate agent who competes in mini-triathlons. On the day she disappeared, Samantha told her husband she was going for an early morning run. He knew she took their Hyundai SUV—Samantha liked to work out in pretty scenery—but he didn’t know she headed for Sapphire Bay. The Watsons lived in a subdivision about forty minutes from the lake. When she didn’t return by noon he called her cell. When she didn’t answer he called her friends. At five he called the police. The search really didn’t get mobilized until the next day. They found the empty Hyundai half-hidden by the Ponderosa pines ringing the Sapphire Bay State Park parking lot.
Sipping my glass of Merlot, I reread the story. Samantha carried a hefty life insurance policy, listing her younger sister who struggled with MS, not her husband, as the beneficiary. Although an unnamed friend of the couple described the husband as controlling and the marriage as “rocky at best”, he didn’t seem to be a serious suspect. Apparently the neighbor directly across the street spent that morning overseeing a landscaping project on his front lawn. He saw Samantha drive away alone in the SUV and swore the husband never left the house.
The story doesn’t mention the young park ranger. I think long and hard, weighing the benefits and drawbacks of getting involved at this point. In the end I place an anonymous phone call to the police. And then I wait.
It pays off in less than a week. Jamie Thompson, the resident ranger at Donashaus, is arrested for the murder of Samantha Watson. It seems that the idiot was questioned initially, but denied ever seeing her. Too scared, I guess, or feeling too guilty about his lecherous thoughts. Thanks to my call, the police tracked down the garbage bags from Donashaus that morning. Buried in one of the bags, along with Samantha’s cellphone, was a pair of purple running shorts, a white t-shirt, flowered bikini panties and a jog bra.
After the police confronted him, poor Jamie finally admitted to seeing Samantha at Donashaus. He claimed he saw her standing at the edge of the lake while he was collecting bags of garbage for the dump trek. He said he went to clean the restrooms behind the castle and when he returned to his truck she was gone. It sounded so feeble it had to be true. It was true, of course; I saw it all. Unfortunately no one believed him, except maybe his public defender.
This morning I’m back on the terrace, waiting for my French roast, when I turn on my iPad. “DONAHAUS DISAPPEARANCE SOLVED!” proclaims the Chronicle. Although the police didn’t find a body—no surprise with the average depth of the lake at about a thousand feet—Jamie Thompson virtually confessed. The freaked out kid hanged himself in his cell while awaiting a preliminary hearing. It’s over.
I turn my head at the rattle of coffee mugs behind me. She gently kisses my cheek and hands me a steaming cup from the tray she’s holding. She’s as lovely as the day we first met at the road race my tech company sponsors, even with freshly dyed and permed brown curls.
“Thanks, Sam,” I say. I see the question in her eyes. I decide to tell her about Jamie later. I don’t feel a twinge of guilt but she might.
Instead I simply smile. “Don’t worry, honey, it’s going to be a beautiful day.”
About the author:
Christine Eskilson is an attorney living in Massachusetts. She loves Bruce Springsteen, the Chicago Cubs and Boston Terriers, not necessarily in that order.
Free flash fiction on the first and third weeks of the month.