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Police floodlights lit the backyard, insects flew crazy squiggles in the faux daylight, and I followed a lackluster cop down to Christmas Lake.
We stepped onto a dock of fiberglass planks. It jiggled underfoot. A red rowing shell lay at the end, overturned and chained to a galvanized post. It was 4:30 A.M. The eastern sky had lightened to gray with a breath of purple. I looked down. Todd Rabinowitz’s body lay on the sandy lake bottom under a couple feet of water. It wore khaki pants and a white T-shirt. He looked like he’d lived to about fifty. Fish nibbled on dead Todd’s face and fingertips.
I said, “You’re leaving him in the water?”
Detective Mike Norton said, “There’s a complication.” Norton was midfifties, tall, white, and doughy. He had light brown hair and a forehead so big he could rent it out as a billboard. Dress pants and a dress shirt but without jacket and tie. A badge hung on his belt. He said, “When Mrs. Rabinowitz found her husband, she wasn’t sure he was dead. She was using her phone as a flashlight. That’s how she spotted him. So she ran into the water and tried to pull him up on shore. She moved him a couple of feet then the body stopped. It was hung up on something. She was freaking out, which hey, you can’t blame her for. She wanted to see what he was caught on but didn’t want to look too close. Most people don’t spend a lot of time around dead bodies.”
“I thought you said she didn’t know if her husband was dead.”
“Yeah, well. I’m just telling you what she told me. So, Mrs. Rabinowitz walks out closer to the body and sees there’s a cord underwater that leads to the dock.”
I looked at the dock. A red nylon cord was tied to a post.
Norton said, “Only it’s not exactly a cord.”
“Looks like a fish stringer.”
“Yep. But instead of the spike running into a fish’s mouth and out its gill, it runs it into the vic’s mouth, under his tongue, and out his lower jaw. The killer then ran the spike through the ring-end and tied the cord to the dock.”
“Like a caught fish.”
“But Mrs. Rabinowitz didn’t untie him?”
“Nope,” said Norton. “She said she was too upset. And by then she was pretty sure her husband was dead. That’s when she called nine-one-one.”
I wiped the back of my hand across my face. The August air was so humid I couldn’t tell if I was sweating or moisture had condensed on my skin like I was a hunk of cheese. I said, “Get him out of the lake.”
“We’re holding off, Mr. Shapiro. CSU is unloading now. We’re waiting for them so it’s done right. We don’t want to mess up any evidence.”
I watched the fish feeding on Todd Rabinowitz’s body. Sunfish, crappies, perch, and pike. Might have been a few small trout in there. Then the body rolled faceup.
“Shit!” said Norton. He jumped back. “Sorry. Just surprised me.”
“Like you said: most people don’t spend a lot of time around dead bodies.” I glanced without favor at the country club cop. Then I returned my attention to the water. Todd Rabinowitz stared at the starry sky. The fish had eaten away his eyelids.
* * *
My day started at 3:27 A.M. with Anders Ellegaard’s phone call. He was my best friend and business partner, although “partner” is a misleading term. Ellegaard ran our private investigative firm. He assumed the important responsibilities like paying bills, bringing in new business, and purchasing our health insurance. I assumed other tasks like, during one of our slower weeks, making a catapult out of coffee stir sticks and a rubber band.
Ellegaard told me his wife, Molly, had just received a call from a friend named Robin Rabinowitz. Robin found her husband dead in their lake, and she requested I go out to see her. Not anyone from the firm. Me. Robin insisted it be me.
When Ellegaard called, I was sleeping next to my ex-wife. We had a bad habit of falling into bed together. For her, it seemed just that. Bed. But for me, Micaela was a spring trap—I’d have to chew my heart out to get away. I’d tried cutting off all contact. That lasted a year and did nothing to help me move on. So, for the past six months, I woke in her bed as often as my own. We had both just turned forty. I’d heard women hit their sexual peak in their forties. Based on our recent frequency, that appeared to be true. Happy birthday to us.
Everything you need to know about Micaela Stahl you could tell by looking at her side of the bed. It looked more sat-on than slept-in. No strewn sheets. No twisted duvet. No mangled pillows. Micaela slept rock-still, her dreams and worries never creating enough turmoil to toss or turn her. When she told me about a dream, even a bad one, even right after waking, she’d already analyzed it. It was as if she’d not experienced the dream but had seen it like a movie and had written the review before it ended.
Her low stress level helped Micaela succeed at whatever she set her mind to. Or maybe it was the other way around. The companies she ran. Her foundation providing apartments for homeless women and children. And she was a black belt in yoga, or whatever the hell they call a person who’s really good at yoga.
Micaela’s one failure was her marriage to me, but perhaps failure was my definition. To her the marriage was a house she never quite felt comfortable in or a pair of eyeglasses her eyes never adjusted to. It made perfect sense to move on. Except we didn’t move on, not at night, anyway.
I put on my jeans, entered Micaela’s master bathroom, brushed my teeth, and pushed my hair around. The face in the mirror did not care for what it saw. Forty Minnesota summers and winters had taken their toll. On my way back through the bedroom, I stopped to look at my ex-wife. She’d get up soon for an early flight to New York. Meetings with money people, she said. I did not kiss her good-bye. There was no point.
Christmas Lake sits across the road from St. Alban’s Bay. One of dozens of bays that make up Lake Minnetonka. Unlike its gigantic neighbor, Christmas Lake is small and cold. Trout breathe in its oxygen-rich depths. Wealthy people live around it and commute half an hour to work. Or their money works for them, and they commute nowhere at all.
The Greater Lake Minnetonka Police Department protected and served a handful of municipalities near the lake. They had secured the area. Yellow police tape crossed the narrow street. A GLMPD uniform stood next to it with a clipboard.
I rolled down my window. “Nils Shapiro. I’m a private.”
“Got you at the top of my list, Mr. Shapiro. Mrs. Rabinowitz and the detectives are expecting you.”
No argument. No attitude. Just welcome aboard. Once in a lifetime it goes like that. She moved the yellow tape, and I drove the half mile to the Rabinowitz house. It was low, long, modern, and sided with white stucco. Big windows revealed an interior of wooden antiques and overstuffed white couches and artsy chandeliers, the kind with a lot of glass balls filled with vintage-style filament bulbs. It looked homey and happy, but if that were true, I wouldn’t be there. A flashlight with an orange cone told me where to park. I did, and walked around back to the lake side of the house. That’s where I met Detective Norton, who led me down to the dock and showed me the body.
Copyright © 2019 by Matt Goldman