Chapter no 3 – Chase

Where the Crawdads Sing


The rotted legs of the old abandoned fire tower straddled the bog, which created its own tendrils of mist. Except for cawing

crows, the hushed forest seemed to hold an expectant mood as the two boys, Benji Mason and Steve Long, both ten, both blond, started up the damp staircase on the morning of October 30, 1969.

“Fall ain’t s’posed to be this hot,” Steve called back to Benji. “Yeah, and everythang quiet ’cept the crows.”

Glancing down between the steps, Steve said, “Whoa. What’s that?”


“See, there. Blue clothes, like somebody’s lyin’ in the mud.” Benji called out, “Hey, you! Whatchadoin’?

“I see a face, but it ain’t movin’.”

Arms pumping, they ran back to the ground and pushed their way to the other side of the tower’s base, greenish mud clinging to their boots. There lay a man, flat on his back, his left leg turned grotesquely forward from the knee. His eyes and mouth wide open.

“Jesus Christ!” Benji said. “My God, it’s Chase Andrews.” “We better git the sheriff.”

“But we ain’t s’posed to be out here.”

“That don’t matter now. And them crows’ll be snooping ’round anytime now.”

They swung their heads toward the cawing, as Steve said, “Maybe one of us oughta stay, keep them birds off him.”

“Ya’re crazy if you think I’m gonna stick ’round here by maself.

And I’m bettin’ a Injun-head you won’t either.”

With that, they grabbed their bikes, pedaled hard down the syrupy sand track back to Main, through town, and ran inside the low-slung building where Sheriff Ed Jackson sat at his desk in an office lit with single lightbulbs dangling on cords. Hefty and of medium height, he had reddish hair, his face and arms splotched with pale freckles, and sat thumbing through a Sports Afield.

Without knocking, the boys rushed through the open door. “Sheriff . . .”

“Hey, Steve, Benji. You boys been to a fire?”

“We seen Chase Andrews flat out in the swamp under the fire tower. He looks dead. Ain’t movin’ one bit.”

Ever since Barkley Cove had been settled in 1751, no lawman extended his jurisdiction beyond the saw grass. In the 1940s and ’50s, a few sheriffs set hounds on some mainland convicts who’d escaped into the marsh, and the office still kept dogs just in case. But Jackson mostly ignored crimes committed in the swamp. Why interrupt rats killing rats?

But this was Chase. The sheriff stood and took his hat from the rack. “Show me.”

Limbs of oak and wild holly screeched against the patrol truck as the sheriff maneuvered down the sandy track with Dr. Vern Murphy, lean and fit with graying hair, the town’s only physician, sitting beside him. Each man swayed to the tune of the deep ruts, Vern’s head almost banging against the window. Old friends about the same age, they fished together some and were often thrown onto the same case. Both silent now at the prospect of confirming whose body lay in the bog.

Steve and Benji sat in the truck bed with their bikes until the truck stopped.

“He’s over there, Mr. Jackson. Behind them bushes.”

Ed stepped from the truck. “You boys wait here.” Then he and Dr. Murphy waded the mud to where Chase lay. The crows had flown off when the truck came, but other birds and insects whirred above. Insolent life thrumming on.

“It’s Chase, all right. Sam and Patti Love won’t survive this.” The Andrewses had ordered every spark plug, balanced every

account, strung every price tag at the Western Auto for their only child, Chase.

Squatting next to the body, listening for a heartbeat with his stethoscope, Vern declared him dead.

“How long ya reckon?” Ed asked.

“I’d say at least ten hours. The coroner’ll know for sure.” “He must’ve climbed up last night, then. Fell from the top.”

Vern examined Chase briefly without moving him, then stood next to Ed. Both men stared at Chase’s eyes, still looking skyward from his bloated face, then glanced at his gaping mouth.

“How many times I’ve told folks in this town something like this was bound to happen,” the sheriff said.

They had known Chase since he was born. Had watched his life ease from charming child to cute teen; star quarterback and town hot shot to working for his parents. Finally, handsome man wedding the prettiest girl. Now, he sprawled alone, less dignified than the slough. Death’s crude pluck, as always, stealing the show.

Ed broke the silence. “Thing is, I can’t figure why the others didn’t run for help. They always come up here in a pack, or at least a couple of ’em, to make out.” The sheriff and doctor exchanged brief but knowing nods that even though he was married, Chase might bring another woman to the tower. “Let’s step back out of here. Get a good look at things,” Ed said, as he lifted his feet, stepping higher than necessary. “You boys stay where you are; don’t go making any more tracks.”

Pointing to some footprints that led from the staircase, across the bog, to within eight feet of Chase, Ed asked them, “These your prints from this morning?”

“Yessir, that’s as far as we went,” Benji said. “Soon as we seen it was Chase, we backed up. You can see there where we backed up.”

“Okay.” Ed turned. “Vern, something’s not right. There’s no footprints near the body. If he was with his friends or whoever, once he fell, they would’ve run down here and stepped all around him, knelt next to him. To see if he was alive. Look how deep our tracks are in this mud, but there’re no other fresh tracks. None going toward the stairs or away from the stairs, none around the body.”

“Maybe he was by himself, then. That would explain everything.”

“Well, I’ll tell you one thing that doesn’t explain. Where’re his footprints? How did Chase Andrews walk down the path, cross this muck to the stairs so he could climb to the top, and not leave any footprints himself?”

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