Chapter no 5 – Investigation

Where the Crawdads Sing


Overhead, cicadas squealed against a mean sun. All other life-forms cowered from the heat, emitting only a vacant hum

from the undergrowth.

Wiping his brow, Sheriff Jackson said, “Vern, there’s more to do here, but it doesn’t feel right. Chase’s wife and folks don’t know he’s passed.”

“I’ll go tell them, Ed,” Dr. Vern Murphy replied.

“I appreciate that. Take my truck. Send the ambulance back for Chase, and Joe with my truck. But don’t speak a word about this to anybody else. I don’t want everybody in this town out here, and that’s just what’ll happen if you mention it.”

Before moving, Vern stared for a long minute at Chase, as though he had overlooked something. As a doctor, he should fix this. Heavy swamp air stood behind them, waiting patiently for its turn.

Ed turned to the boys. “Y’all stay right here. I don’t need anybody yapping about this in town, and don’t put your hands on anything or make any more tracks in the mud.”

“Yessir,” Benji said. “Ya think somebody killed Chase, don’t ya? ’Cause there’s no footprints. Pushed him off, maybe?”

“I didn’t say any such thing. This is standard police work. Now, you boys just keep out of the way and don’t repeat anything you hear out here.”

Deputy Joe Purdue, a small man with thick sideburns, showed up in the patrol truck in less than fifteen minutes.

“Just can’t take it in. Chase dead. He was the best quarterback this town ever saw. This is plumb outta kilter.”

“You got that right. Well, let’s get to work.” “What ya got so far?”

Ed moved farther from the boys. “Well, obviously, on the surface, it looks like an accident: he fell from the tower and was killed. But so far I haven’t found any of his footprints walking toward the steps or prints from anybody else either. Let’s see if we can find any evidence that somebody covered ’em up.”

The two lawmen combed the area for a full ten minutes. “You’re right, not one print ’cept for the boys,” Joe said.

“Yeah, and no signs of somebody brushing them out. I just don’t get it. Let’s move on. I’ll work on this later,” Ed said.

They took pictures of the body, of its position relative to the steps, close-ups of head wounds, the leg bent wrong. Joe made notes as Ed dictated. As they measured the distance from the body to the trail, they heard the sides of the ambulance scratching the thick bushes along the lane. The driver, an old black man who’d taken the wounded, ill, dying, and dead under his charge for decades, bowed his head in respect and whispered suggestions: “A’right den, his’n arms ain’t gwine tuck in much, so cain’t roll ’im onta the gunny; hafta lift ’im and he’s gwine be heavy; Sheriff, sir, ya cradle Mr. Chase’s head. Dat’s good. My, my.” By late morning, they’d loaded him, complete with clinging sludge, into the back.

Since Dr. Murphy had by now informed Chase’s parents of his death, Ed told the boys they could go on home, and he and Joe started up the stairs, which switched to the top, narrowing at each level. As they climbed, the round corners of the world moved out farther and farther, the lush, rounded forests and watery marsh expanding to the very rims.

When they reached the last step, Jackson lifted his hands and pushed open an iron grate. After they climbed onto the platform, he eased it down again because it was part of the floor. Wooden planks, splintered and grayed with age, formed the center of the platform, but around the perimeter, the floor was a series of see-through square grates that could be opened and closed. As long as they were down you could walk on them safely, but if one was left open, you could fall to the earth sixty feet below.

“Hey, look at that.” Ed pointed to the far side of the platform, where one of the grates stood open.

“What the hell?” Joe said as they walked to it. Peering down, they saw the perfect outline of Chase’s misshapen form embedded in the mud. Yellowish goo and duckweed had splashed to the sides like a splatter painting.

“This doesn’t figure,” Ed said. “Sometimes folks forget to close the grate over the stairs. You know, on their way back down.

We’ve found it open a few times, but the others are almost never left open.”

“Why would Chase open this one in the first place? Why would anybody?”

“Unless somebody planned to push somebody else to their death,” Ed said.

“Then why didn’t they close it afterward?”

“Because if Chase had fallen through on his own, he couldn’t have closed it. Had to be left open to look like an accident.”

“Look at that support beam below the hole. It’s all bashed in and splintered.”

“Yeah, I see. Chase must’ve banged his head on it when he fell.” “I’ll climb out there, look for blood or hair samples. Collect

some splinters.”

“Thanks, Joe. And take some close-ups. I’ll go get a rope to spot you. We don’t need two bodies in this muck in one day. And we have to take fingerprints off this grate, the grate by the stairs, the railing, the banisters. Everything anybody would’ve touched. And collect any hair samples, threads.”


• • •


MORE THAN TWO HOURS LATER, they stretched their backs from the leaning and stooping. Ed said, “I’m not saying there was foul play. Way too early. But besides that, I can’t think of anyone who’d want to kill Chase.”

“Well, I’d say there’d be quite a list,” the deputy said. “Like who? What’re you talking about?”

“C’mon, Ed. Ya know how Chase was. Tom-cattin’, ruttin’ ’round like a penned bull let out. ’Fore he was married, after he

was married, with single girls, married women. I seen randy dogs at a bitch fest better behaved.”

“C’mon, he wasn’t that bad. Sure. He had a reputation as a ladies’ man. But I don’t see anybody in this town committin’ murder over it.”

“I’m just sayin’ there’s people didn’t like him. Some jealous husband. It’d have to be somebody he knew. Somebody we all know. Not likely Chase’d climb up here with some stranger,” Joe said.

“Unless he was up to his navel in debt with some out-of-towner.

Something like that we didn’t know about. And a man strong enough to push Chase Andrews. No small task.”

Joe said, “I can already think of a few guys up to it.”

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