I sat tapping my pen lightly on the desk, waiting for the sweaty kid sitting across from me to gather his wits. The boy couldn’t have been more than 16 and didn’t look like he could afford my standard fee. Fortunately for the kid, nobody was beating the door down to throw money at private detectives these days, so I could spare a few minutes to at least hear him out.

“I don’t believe in monsters, Mr. Doverman,” the boy said, looking up from his lap to stare at me with big watery eyes. “They say one killed my brother. My mother hasn’t stopped crying since.”

It was a good start. I was interested. I believed in monsters. I had even met a few.

“They found him at the gravel pits,” the boy continued. “His head was almost torn off.”

“The gravel pits where those kids drowned a few months ago? What was he doing out there,” I asked, a little more interested.

“Nobody knows how he ended up there. He was supposed to be going out with some friends, but they said they hadn’t seen him the night he was killed.”

“Your brother have any enemies?”

“No. He had problems with pills, but he stopped all of that. He didn’t hang out with those people anymore.”

“What do the police have to say about it?”

“Nothing,” said the boy, shaking his head glumly. “They have no suspects. They aren’t even sure how he died. They found him in the bushes. They said he had been there for two days, but can’t say how he got there. All of the kids are saying he was killed by the Marsh Man.”

“What’s a Marsh Man?”

“Some stupid legend about a monster that haunts the woods around the gravel pits. It’s just something the owners of the quarry made up to scare off the kids. My brother was killed by a man, and I want you to find him. I can’t pay you now, but as soon as the insurance money for my brother comes in, I can pay you your fee plus a bonus.”

“Don’t worry about the bonus,” I said, getting up to open the door for him. “My standard fee will do.”

“Then you’ll take the case?” he asked hopefully, his voice squeaking like a rusty gate.

“I’ll be on it by the time you hit the stairs,” I replied, ushering him out the door. “Leave your contact information with my secretary, and tell your mom we’ll get some justice for her boy.”

I made some calls to my contacts on the force while making the hour drive to the gravel pits. The kid had been spot on in his estimate of the situation. The police were mystified. They had no clue as to how his brother had ended up dead in the bushes minus half of his head. The M.E. had said it looked like something metal had been used to tear into the deceased’s face, almost separating the head at the jawline. He had then apparently been flung into the bushes with enough force to shatter the bones in his right arm. What could have done this, or why, was a complete mystery. There were no foot prints or signs of a scuffle in the dirt road leading into the quarry. There was no foreign DNA or prints on the corpse.

“You from OSHA,” asked the big man rushing up to greet me as I climbed out of the Dodge. Despite having several days’ growth of stubble on his chin, the man reeked of cheap aftershave. The guy had probably splashed on whatever was handy, hoping to put that shower off one more day. I pegged him for a man without much of a social life. The little rectangular badge over his heart said his name was Brian Landry.

“Calm down, Mr. Landry. I’m not here to make sure your guys all have their hard hats on. I’m a P.I. You in charge here?”

“I’m the foreman,” he responded, fishing in his pockets for the lighter that wasn’t there. “I guess you’re here about that kid who got himself killed.”

“You guessed right. Any idea what he was doing out here,” I asked, offering him a book of matches. His hands trembled as he fumbled with the cigarette, burning through three matches before managing to get it lit. He didn’t strike me as the nervous sensitive type, so I assumed he needed a drink.

“Damn kids are always sneaking out here and playing around,” Landry snarled, spitting out the words between puffs. “We had two drown here a while back. We were working on putting up a fence, but we weren’t quick enough, apparently. We still have to put up the gate.”

I followed the foreman’s gaze to see two fairly new fence posts on either side of the road leading up to the site.

“I need the bolt cutters from the shed,” shouted a man in a cracked hard hat from across the yard. Landry scowled, and rolled his eyes, before dismissing the man with a wave.

“I have to keep the tools locked up, or they steal them all. It’s a damn shame. I have to treat them like babies.”

“You have my sympathy,” I told him. “Think you could show me where they found the body?”

“I got work to do, buddy. You can go look for yourself. Look in the woods off to the left of the road just past the fence posts. They probably still have crime scene tape up.” He started to walk off, but, I hadn’t had enough of his sparkling conversation. I stepped between him and the trailer.

“Who found the body?”

“I did,” he responded, glaring at me like he wanted to knock my head off. “I saw a shoe by the side of the road, and stumbled on the mess when I got out to pick it up.”

I didn’t expect any major revelations—the men who made the initial investigation were a pretty thorough bunch—but I still needed to get a feel for the scene. Driving the short distance to the spot, I saw a spot of yellow off in the trees. The crime scene tape was indeed still up. I had to hop over a ditch full of stagnant water and shoes were about ten pounds heavier with all the mud they picked up, but I managed to reach the crime scene largely intact. Dodging a sticker bush, I saw the foliage was crushed where I guessed the body had rested, but I had come too late to the party to plot its course. I couldn’t tell how much of the surrounding damage been made by the cleanup crew when they hauled the kid off. I got why they said the kid had been thrown rather than dragged, though. There were broken branches up high where a person standing on the ground wouldn’t have been able to reach them.

A quick call to my secretary got me the names and addresses of the friends my client’s brother was supposed to be with on the night he died. I thanked her and gave her a few more names to check up on before hanging up to punch some numbers into my phone’s GPS. After striking out at the first two houses, I got lucky and found the third friend at home. The mailbox hanging by a screw and the big empty space in the door where a screen should have been told me it had been a while since a man had lived there. Either that or the man of the house just couldn’t be bothered with things like hammers and screwdrivers. I reached through the hole in the aluminum door and rapped on the wooden on, knocking off flakes of blue paint.

The eyes of the doughy-faced woman who opened the door inflated to the size of softballs and started popping out of her head when she saw a man in a suit on her porch. I suspected she didn’t get too many callers dressed like me who weren’t carrying trouble in their pockets. I held out my hands to show they weren’t hiding any late notices or subpoenas and tried to make my face look less scary with a smile. That seemed to just make her more suspicious.

“I’m a private investigator looking into the death of Robert Garcia,” I said quickly, before the door slammed in my face. “Nobody is in trouble. I just want to ask your son few questions.”

After a pause, she sighed and led me into a room that hadn’t been refurnished since Nixon was in office, and kicked at the leg of a sofa that was more duct tape than fabric to get the attention of the boy sprawled across it. He glanced up at me and grunted, but didn’t seem particularly interested.

“I’d like to ask you about a friend of yours,” I said, stepping in close to compete with the phone in his hands. I wondered if I would have gotten more from him if I had just called.

The boy nodded, but didn’t bother to look up from his cell phone. I got the impression he had been questioned before and was rather bored with it all. The mother, hovering behind the sofa, nervously fidgeting with the strings on her apron, seemed less composed.

“He didn’t see Bobby that night,” she said in a heavy Spanish accent. “They were supposed to go out, but Bobby never showed up.”

“Is that right,” I asked, getting another nod from the boy.

“They were supposed to go dirt bike riding,” added the mother.

Stepping even closer to the sofa, I took a peek at the phone to see what was so interesting. On the screen was a drawing of a monster, a shaggy man with fangs. Beneath the drawing was a headline, “Local Monster Strikes Again!” A tear splashed on it, and I noticed for the first time the boy’s cheeks were wet.

“He hasn’t done much else since it happened,” said the mother. He just sits and stares at these stories about monsters. He hardly even eats.” She too was crying.

Softening my voice a bit, I told them there was no monster, at least not the shaggy kind, and that I would get to the bottom of what had really happened, but they had to come clean. I asked them about the drugs. The mother started to protest, but I held up a hand to cut her off, and slid my other hand between the boy and the picture of the monster.

“Was Robert still using?” I asked.

The boy still didn’t look up. Staring at the back of my hand, he started to tremble as though something was fighting to get out of him. I asked again, and his head moved up and down briefly before he collapsed, burying his face in the dirty looking pillow beside him to muffle the sobs. I picked the phone up off the floor, swiped the monster off the screen, and handed it to his mother.

Scratching the kid off my list, I was already pretty sure I had it figured out, but I would have to make another trip out to the gravel pits to confirm my theory.

That night, I parked about half a mile from the quarry site, and after sending a quick text to my secretary, headed down the dirt road on foot. Reaching the entrance, I paused to examine the fence posts on both sides, mentally checking off one box in the affirmative column. Seeing a light in the window of the foreman’s trailer, I checked another box. I only needed to find one more piece and the scorecard would be full. The most logical place to look would be under the waters of the manmade lake in the center of the quarry, but I quickly discounted this option. My suspect would have needed a boat to dispose of the evidence where the water was deep enough, and would have known there was a chance that water would eventually be drained. No, it had to still be here, hidden until it could be properly disposed of. If it were me, I would have waited until the press died down before dumping it in a junkyard, and I hoped my suspect had similar ideas.

Just behind the foreman’s trailer there was a small toolshed. It would have been a good spot, close enough to keep an eye on, but obvious enough not to raise suspicion. Trying to stay in the shadows, I crept up to the shed. As expected, there was a new padlock on the door. I was willing to bet the padlock, and the foreman’s policy of handing out the tools himself, dated to the day following the boy’s death. Feeling good about myself, I fumbled in my pocket for my lockpick.

Just as I was about to get to work on the lock, the shadows providing my cover were obliterated by a light from the doorway of the trailer. I turned to see Landry descending the stairs without bothering to close the door behind him. As I watched him lumber toward me, I noticed one of his arms looked longer than it should have. Squinting at the arm, I could see just enough to tell the extra length was due to the gun clutched in the hand at the end of it.

“Hands where I can see them,” he bellowed, the arm with the gun now extended before him. Even in the dark, and with a good distance still between us, I could see his hand was no longer shaking.

‘It’s alright, friend,” I shouted, raising my hands. “I just came to ask you a few more questions.”

Landry paused and cocked his head to the side, trying to make out the face that went with the voice.

“You’re that private snoop! What made you come back here?” His voice sounded relieved, but the gun didn’t go down.

“Your story didn’t quite gel,” I said deciding to play it straight. “You didn’t seem the type to stop and pick up shoes off the side of the road. Even if you were the tidy type, I didn’t buy that you saw the body from there when I hadn’t even been able to see the bright yellow crime scene tape from the same spot when I was looking for it.”

“The police bought it,” said the foreman, now close enough to blow whiskey fumes in my face. His breath was nasty, but I was more concerned with the revolver buried in my gut. “Now explain why you’re trying to break into my toolshed and why I shouldn’t just shoot you.”

“The first part’s easy,” I told him. “I’m looking for a dirt bike.”

“What about the second part, the part where I shoot you and tell the police I thought you were a robber?”

“You could do that, but then there is the problem of that dirt bike again. If you were to shoot me, the police might want to check to see what it was I was trying to steal.”

“I don’t know anything about any damn dirt bike,” he said, but the pressure from the gun against my belly said he did.

“I think you do,” I told him. “I’d imagine if you opened this door, we’d find it. We might even find it next to a bloody chain about the length of the space between those two fenceposts out there.”

“Go on,” said the foreman, “You have me interested.”

“You’d been sleeping here for the past few weeks. I checked and found you had been evicted from your apartment because the landlord suspected you of dealing, so I knew you hadn’t been sleeping there. You were here the night that boy hit the chain you had stretched across the road because you hadn’t managed to get the gate up yet. My guess is you were drunk and you panicked. Your job was already on the line because of your lackluster record on safety. Maybe you thought you would get canned for not having that fence finished or for not having any kind of reflector on the chain. Maybe you didn’t want your boss to know you were sleeping here and that you were drunk. Most of all, you probably didn’t want it coming out that he was coming here to buy pills. Hitting that chain had done a number on that kid, nearly taking his head off and knocking him into the bushes. There was no doubt he was dead, but I doubt you would have bothered to call an ambulance in any case. You covered the tracks and ditched the bike and whatever was left of the chain. Sound about right?”

“None of that is true!”

“You can tell that to them,” I replied, looking past him toward the road.

The foreman turned just as the lights of the approaching police cars I had had my secretary call flashed on. I had stalled him just long enough. He stared at the gun in his hand a second before throwing it off into the gravel and dropping to his knees. So much for the big bad Marsh Man.