Chapter no 8 – Negative Data

Where the Crawdads Sing


After finishing their morning’s investigative work at the fire tower, Sheriff Ed Jackson and Deputy Joe Purdue escorted

Chase’s widow, Pearl, and his parents, Patti Love and Sam, to see him lying on a steel table under a sheet in a chilled lab at the clinic, which served as a morgue. To say good-bye. But it was too cold for any mother; unbearable for any wife. Both women had to be helped from the room.

Back at the sheriff’s office, Joe said, “Well, that was as bad as it gets . . .”

“Yeah. Don’t know how anybody gets through it.”

“Sam didn’t say a word. He never was a talker, but this’ll do him in.”

Saltwater marsh, some say, can eat a cement block for breakfast, and not even the sheriff’s bunker-style office could keep it at bay. Watermarks, outlined with salt crystals, waved across the lower walls, and black mildew spread like blood vessels toward the ceiling. Tiny dark mushrooms hunkered in the corners.

The sheriff pulled a bottle from the bottom drawer of his desk and poured them both a double in coffee mugs. They sipped until the sun, as golden and syrupy as the bourbon, slipped into the sea.



• • •

FOUR DAYS LATER, Joe, waving documents in the air, entered the sheriff’s office. “I got the first of the lab reports.”

“Let’s have a look.”

They sat on opposite sides of the sheriff’s desk, scanning. Joe, now and then, swatted at a single housefly.

Ed read out loud, “Time of death between midnight and two

A.M., October 29 to 30, 1969. Just what we thought.”

After a minute of reading, he continued. “What we have is negative data.”

“You got that right. There ain’t a thing here, Sheriff.” “Except for the two boys going up to the third switchback,

there’re no fresh fingerprints on the railing, the grates, nothing. None from Chase or anybody else.” Afternoon whiskers shadowed the sheriff’s otherwise ruddy complexion.

“So somebody wiped ’em clean. Everything. If nothing else, why aren’t his fingerprints on the railing, the grate?”

“Exactly. First we had no footprints—now no fingerprints.

There’s no evidence at all that he walked across the mud to the steps, walked up the steps, or opened the two grates at the top— the one above the stairs and the one he fell through. Or that anybody else did either. But negative data’s still data. Somebody cleaned up real good or killed him somewhere else and moved his body to the tower.”

“But if his body was hauled to the tower, there’d be tire tracks.” “Right, we need to go back out there, look for tread marks

besides ours and the ambulance. May have overlooked something.”



After a minute more of reading, Ed said, “Anyway, I’m confident now, this was no accident.”

Joe said, “I agree, and not just anybody can wipe up tracks this good.”

“I’m hungry. Let’s go by the diner on the way out there.” “Well, get ready for an ambush. Everybody in town’s pretty

riled up. Chase Andrews’s murder’s the biggest thing’s happened ’round here, maybe ever. Gossip’s goin’ up like smoke signals.”

“Well, keep an ear out. We might pick up a tidbit or two. Most ne’er-do-wells can’t keep their mouths shut.”

A full bank of windows, framed by hurricane shutters, covered the front of the Barkley Cove Diner, which overlooked the harbor. Only the narrow street stood between the building, constructed in 1889, and the soggy steps of the village pier. Discarded shrimp

baskets and wadded-up fishing nets lined the wall under the windows, and here and there, mollusk shells littered the sidewalk. Everywhere: seabird cries, seabird dung. The aroma of sausage and biscuits, boiled turnip greens, and fried chicken thankfully overtook the high smell of fish barrels lining the dock.

A mild bustle spilled out when the sheriff opened the door. Every booth—high-backed with red padded upholstery—was taken, as were most of the tables. Joe pointed to two empty stools at the soda fountain counter, and the two walked toward them.

On the way they heard Mr. Lane from the Sing Oil saying to his diesel mechanic, “I reckon it was Lamar Sands. Ya r’member, he caught his wife doin’ a number wif Chase right on the deck of his fancy ski boat. There’s motive, and Lamar’s had other run-ins wif tha law.”

“What run-ins?”

“He was wif that bunch that slit the sheriff’s tars.” “They were just kids back then.”

“Thar was sump’m else too, I just cain’t r’member.”



Behind the counter, owner-cook Jim Bo Sweeny darted from flipping crab cakes on the griddle to stirring a pot of creamed corn on the burner to poking chicken thighs in the deep fryer, then back again. Putting piled-high plates in front of customers in between.

People said he could mix biscuit dough with one hand while filleting a catfish with the other. He offered up his famous specialty—grilled flounder stuffed with shrimp served on pimento-cheese grits—only a few times a year. No advertising needed; word got out.

As the sheriff and deputy wove among the tables toward the counter, they heard Miss Pansy Price of Kress’s Five and Dime say to a friend, “It coulda been that woman lives out in the marsh.

Crazy ’nough for the loony bin. I jus’ bet she’d be up to this kinda thing . . .”

“What d’ya mean? What’d she have to do with anything?” “Well, for a while thar, she was got herself involved wif . . .” As the sheriff and deputy stepped up to the counter, Ed said,

“Let’s just order take-out po’boys and get out of here. We can’t get dragged into all this.”

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