The trolling motor pushed the trim fishing boat up river towards the great concrete pylons that held the bridge aloft. A splash as loud as the one he heard meant something heavy had gone over the side. Something big. His vision fogged by cataracts, he switched between squinting and peeling his eyes wide, laboring at focus against the dark morning. The circle of light his torch cast on the black water revealed nothing as he wiped it from side to side, until finally the beam centered on a gleaming mass. He blinked, steadying himself on the gunwale. Bobbing along, face down in the current, hair and fabric wimpling, white skin throwing his white light back at him.


“Who called it in?”

“A local. Old guy. A fisherman.”

“How’d he find her?”

“Said he was out in his boat and heard the splash.”

“Who was the first on scene?”


“What’d he say?”

“He thinks she jumped. He’s pulling the bridge cameras to be sure.”

“What’s the deal with the hand?”

“No idea.”

“What’s McMaster think?”

“He thinks it’s fucked.”

“But he still thinks she jumped? With a hand freshly cut off? And no car left on the bridge? How the fuck does that square?”

“I guess it doesn’t.”

“Was there blood on the railing?”

“No blood anywhere.”

“McMaster’s right.”

“That she jumped?

“No, that it’s fucked.”


He sat with his cap in his hands, rolling the bill back and forth. A video camera on a tripod was pointed at him, but he didn’t think it was on. In the two-way mirror to his right, he saw his gray stubble, his baggy eyes, the little brown spots that dotted his balding head. Several water bottles waited in the center of the table. Reaching for one, his hand trembled, so he returned to rolling his hat. The door opened and a man in a brown suit stepped into the room. He closed the door behind him, and before sitting down across from the old fisherman, he fiddled with the switches on the video camera until it chimed and whirred.

“Mr. Ballard?”


“I’m Detective Sanderson.”


“I just need to ask you a few questions about the girl you found floating in the river this morning.”

“She jumped.”

The detective positioned himself in the empty chair next to the video camera. When he was confident the old man wasn’t going to offer anything more, he said, “Most likely she did. But we just need to make sure of that.”


“What time did you get on the river this morning?”


“You’re sure?”

“I was fishing for walleye. When I fish for walleye, I always set out at 3:30.”

“So you’re sure.”


“Then what happened?”

“I heard a splash.”

“At 3:30?”

“No, later. Maybe an hour later, if I had to guess.”

“Did you catch anything in that first hour?”

“No, sir.”

“Then you heard a splash?”


“What kind of splash?”

“Loud. Very loud. Louder than fish jumping, for sure.”

“Did you hear a scream?”

“No sir.”

“Did you hear an altercation of any kind?”

“No, sir.”

“Squealing tires? A motor revving?”

“No, sir.”

“Just a splash.”

“Yessir, just a splash.”

The detective sat back in his chair with his hands in front of his face, his fingers interlaced, save the pointers which were tapping each other just past the bridge of his nose. His eyes remained fixed on the fisherman who worked hard to hold the detective’s gaze, only to break it every few seconds to let his eyes flit about the room.

“Am I in trouble, sir?”

The detective sat forward resting his forearms on the table. “Why would you be in trouble?”

“I don’t know, sir.”

“Did you do something you should be in trouble for?”

“No sir. Just found the girl. Called it in as quick as I could.”

“And that was helpful. Thank you for that.”


“How was it you got her into your boat?”

“From the river?”

The detective didn’t answer. He didn’t even blink.

“I saw her floating there. Spotted her with my light after the splash. So I drove the boat over to her and grabbed her by the arm.”

“Right or left?”


“Her right arm or her left arm; which one did you grab?

The old man’s mouth twitched. He looked to the fluorescent light overhead and then back to the detective. “I’d say it was her left arm.”

“So you grabbed her by the left arm and then what?”

“I lifted her into the boat.”

“Was it hard, lifting her into the boat? An old man like yourself, lifting the dead weight of a wet corpse?”

“I guess it was. Took more than one pull. I got her in bit by bit.”

“What’d you make of the hand?”

“I’m not sure I understand your question.”

“You say you pulled her to the boat by her left arm. You must have noticed she was missing her hand.”

“Yeah, I noticed it.”

“And what did you make of it?”

“I don’t recall makin’ anything of it. That I was dealin’ with a dead girl at all was enough to throw me out of alignment.”

“As well as the blood on your hands.”

The lines at the corners of his eyes and lips arced toward the floor. “Sir?”

“From pulling the girl into your boat by that left arm. It must have been losing a lot of blood.”

He looked into his lap. A red light on the video camera was blinking and he could see it out of the corner of his eye. Setting his hat down on the table in front of him he leaned forward and asked quietly, “Should I have a lawyer with me?”

“That shouldn’t be necessary, Mr. Ballard.” The detective stood with a jolt, sending his chair rolling backwards into the wall. Pacing with his hands at his hips, he watched his feet as he went, speaking loudly so he could be heard by both his witness and his camera as he moved back and forth in the room. “You a hunter, Mr. Ballard?”

He hesitated. “I’ve hunted.”

“My father was a hunter. White tail mostly, but elk when he could get a tag. As he got older, he gave up the bow, but as a younger man, that was his preference.”

“It’s a talent that wanes with age, I suppose.”

The detective faced him from the corner of the room. “When I was a boy, I went with my father a few times, up in the mountains. What struck me was how an animal runs after it’s been shot with an arrow. I don’t know why, but I always figured a deer shot clear through the lungs would just tip over dead.”

“They run on you.”

The detective stopped his pacing. “That’s right, they run. Their muscles pumping with adrenaline, they take off.” Whistling through his teeth, the detective clapped, shooting one hand outward to imitate a fleeing deer. He returned to pacing, his eyes on his feet as he spoke. “When I was 13, we spent two days following a blood trail through the forest, up and over a ridge, moving a few feet at a time as my father would squat and touch the leaves just so.” The detective was wafting his hand side to side, his fingers dangling. “You follow the blood trail. As that animal runs, it’s leaking the entire time. Drip, by drip, by drip.”

The red camera light blinked. Neither man spoke. The detective wandered back to his place across from the fisherman.

“When you got her in the boat, did you see her face?”

“No sir. It was dark.”

“I thought you said you had a light?”

“I did sir, but she was face down in the water, and face down when I got her into the boat.”

“Did you see her face when you got to shore?”

His jaw was chewing. The spit in the back of his mouth clicked. “I did.”

“And what went through your mind then, when you saw her face?”

“I guess…I guess I would say that I was sad, if I had to say somethin’ at all.”


Sunlight made the plate glass windows glow. The diner was busy during the breakfast rush. When he took a seat at the counter, there were people to his right and left. The young waitress flipped his mug and filled it with coffee. They were all friendly enough, and they all knew that he didn’t take cream or sugar, but he liked the young girl best. Sarah was her name, and he liked her because she smiled a real smile and always took a little time to chat.

“I think he’s creepy,” another one said to Sarah.

“He’s not! He’s just lonesome,” Sarah said in return.

“He smells,” another complained to Sarah.

“He likes to fish,” Sarah tried to explain.

The waitresses only ever had these conversations out of earshot, then they would flick on electric smiles to zip through the restaurant, filling coffee, laying out plates, dropping checks. He thought Sarah was sweeter than the others, that her energy was honest and delightful. She walked with her shoulders back and her chin high, always beginning or finishing a laugh. He presumed that unlike the older ones, she was genuinely happy. That she still had hope, or a dream, or something that inoculated her against bitterness. But those were guesses, constructions he built in his lonely mind over bacon and eggs.

After breakfast, he always had a piece of pie because it gave him an excuse to stay a little longer. To linger as the crowds filtered back out into the world. When no one was left on either side of him, Sarah would come over and talk to him about his life.

“Catch anything this morning?” she might ask.

“Just a few small-mouth.”

“Reading anything good?”

“Just the paper, so no.”

“Hear from your daughter lately?”

And when he’d shake his head and put on a brave grin, she’d meet it with her own sad smile and set her hand on his. Her warm, slender fingers would squeeze his cracked and calloused hand, and she’d say, “Don’t worry, she will. You’ll see. One day, she’ll come around.” Then he would nod, and she would let that soft hand of hers rest on his for the briefest moment before asking, “Can I take your plate?”


The cheap aluminum screen door rattled in the frame under the heavy rapping of the detective’s knuckles. He pulled open the storm door. Behind the detective, a uniformed officer held a thick brown envelope, his eyes masked by sunglasses.

“May I come in?”

He unlatched the flimsy lock and pushed the screen door open. Without saying a word, he retreated back into the living room of the trailer, a compact space made all the smaller by the flotsam lining the walls. The detective stepped in first, panning his gaze, gathering details of the room. Faux wood-paneling. Stacks of angler magazines. Threadbare carpet. Rubber waders hanging from a hook next to the door. And Ballard in a white tank top, curly gray hair spiraling about his shoulders and back.

“Would you or your man like a cup of coffee?”

“No thank you.”

“Mind if I finish mine?”

“Go ahead, but please take a seat,” the detective answered, his hand gesturing to the sofa.

From the stained vinyl countertop, he grabbed the mug with an illustration of a catfish on its side and walked the three steps to his couch, where he sat on a permanently-grooved cushion. The uniformed officer stood wide shouldered in the doorframe, the whole of him in silhouette.

“Do you know why we’re here this morning, Mr. Ballard?”

“It’s about the girl, I imagine.”

“That’s right. Sarah Anderson was her name. You knew her, didn’t you?”

He nodded, then sipped his coffee.

“She was a waitress at a diner you like to frequent. Isn’t that true?”

Dust hung in the bands of light that snuck into the trailer around the outline of the uniformed officer. He ran his tongue along the front of his teeth and looked up. “Are you accusing me of something, detective?”

“We have videos from the cameras on the bridge.”

“I suppose you do.”

“We have watched the tapes from that night.”

“I suppose you did.”

“We thought that maybe she had been the victim of an assault. That maybe she had been thrown from the bridge.”

The officer standing sentinel in the doorway tilted his head and looked to the old man, who couldn’t make his expression for the shadows. The detective nodded to a brown plastic box on the floor near the waders. “I imagine you keep a knife in your tackle box.”


“A filet knife?”


“Keep it sharp?”

“Know anyone to prefer a dull knife?”

The detective smiled. “I suppose not.” The detective stepped in close to him, and squatted. Doing so parted his blazer, exposing the revolver holstered against his ribs. “She has family over in Eau Claire,” he whispered. “Grandparents. As you can imagine, they want the body apiece for burial. It’d help them to find closure in all of this if the mystery was put to rest.”

His jaw quivered. His hands shook. The catfish on his cup jockeyed about for the lure just beyond his lip. Salt burned his eyes and he pushed it away with the back of his wrist.

The detective stood, saying, “And so you’re aware, it is a felony to disturb a body in any macabre manner. Not to mention obstruction of justice to lie about it.”

His hand was slow in setting the coffee cup on the end table. The detective watched as it quaked the whole way, and he heard the base of it rattle as it found its place on the wood.

“Mr. Ballard. Where’s the hand?”

Tears fell from his pink eyes. Each drop had to navigate a maze of wrinkles and white whiskers before they were free to jump from his jawline onto the cotton shirt covering his protruding belly. He wiped the snot from his nose with the back of his freckled arm. His lower lip flicked and danced like a rubber worm yanked about on the end of a taut line.

Quieter this time, the detective said, “Please. Where’s Sarah’s hand, Mr. Ballard?”

He nodded towards the kitchen. The detective looked through the gap between the hanging cabinets and the counter to the green refrigerator, then looked back to the truth in the old man’s weepy eyes. Each step the detective took on the bowed floor creaked, and when he gripped the dull metal handle on the fridge door, he paused for a moment to breathe before pulling it open. Yellow light escaped from the hull of the old General Electric, and drifting upward into the back of the detective’s throat where it gagged him, the foul stink of blood and meat verging on decay. The officer in the doorway coughed and stuck his head out into the bright day light to suck clean air. Closing the refrigerator, the detective kept his back to the old man who whimpered, “She was the only one kind to me. The only one.”