Crime writer and fellow blogger D.S. Nelson has once again offered an inspiring story prompt: this map of Stinking Cove. I don’t know for sure how it got its name, but that’s the beauty of this prompt. There are all sorts of possibilities. Here’s the possibility I invented. Thanks, D.S., for the prompt. Folks, do visit her excellent site, and try her Blake Heatherington mysteries if you haven’t. You won’t regret it.
The One That Didn’t Get Away
Colin unpacked the last of his luggage and looked around the small rental cottage. It wasn’t fancy, but he didn’t care. He’d come for a quiet weekend of fishing.
There were still a few hours of light left, so Colin decided to get out on the lake right away. He packed his tackle box, left the cottage and walked the three blocks to the little collection of lakeside businesses. It wasn’t gentrified, which pleased Colin. He hated touristy places. After a few minutes, he saw what he was looking for: a bait and tackle shop.
The white-haired, gnome-like shop owner looked up when Colin went inside.
‘What can I do for you?’ he asked.
‘I’m looking for some bait. I think I’m all right on the rest of my gear.’
The old man nodded. ‘Whatcha fishin’ for?’ He and Colin talked for a minute about the different kinds of fish in the lake, and finally settled on a couple of kinds of bait.
As Colin was about to complete his purchase, he asked, ‘Where’s the best place to start?’
‘That’d be Stinking Cove, about a half mile around the lake.’
‘Really? That’s its name?’
‘Sure is. Crazy name, but they always bite there.’
‘How’d it get that name?’
‘I been living here the past fifty years, and I don’t know. There’s supposed to be some kind of story about it, though. But don’t worry, it don’t actually stink.’
The old man shrugged, and Colin paid for his bait. Strange old man, and an even weirder name for that cove. It almost made it worth it to explore it, just because of the name.
Twenty minutes later, Colin arrived at the cove. He’d decided to walk, so he could get a look at the little town. It was a typical small fishing community: small houses, a diner or two, a grocery store, and one or two working people’s bars. He might have a beer in one of them after he got a chance to see what the fishing was like.
Stinking Cove might have a strange name, but it looked like a good spot to fish. There were ledges to stand or sit on, and the water was just right for the kind of fishing Colin wanted to do. And there wasn’t any smell. He put down his tackle box and the bait he’d just bought, and settled in. It wasn’t long before he’d cast his line in the water. It was still a little muddied up from a storm two days earlier, but that didn’t bother him.
Suddenly, Colin felt his fishing line go taut. So soon! This was going to be great! He handled his fishing line as carefully as he could, not wanting to lose whatever he’d caught. When he’d gotten his prey close enough to lift it up, he saw what it was. His face went white as he stared at the skull floating at the end of his line. He slowly put his rod down, pulled his telephone out of his pocket, and called the police.
An hour later, Colin sat down on one of the worn and patched stools at Larry’s Place, the closest dive bar to Stinking Cove. He’d told the police what happened, and they’d said they would let him know if they needed anything else from him. For now, he was glad of the chance to have a beer and process it all.
‘Getcha something?’ asked the bartender. He was in his seventies, with a weather-beaten face and a slight paunch.
‘Yeah, gimme a Coors,’ Colin mumbled.
The bartender nodded and pulled the beer. He pushed it towards Colin, and started to turn away, picking up another glass as he did. Then, he turned back and said, ‘None of my business, but you look godawful. You all right?’
‘I will be,’ Colin answered. ‘You’re not going to believe this. I’m not sure I do. But I was fishing, and pulled up a skull. A human skull.’
The glass the bartender had been holding clattered on the ground. He bent to pick it up, and said, in a too-casual tone, ‘That so? Where’d you find it?’
‘Right over at the cove. Must have been there for a while, too. I’m no scientist, but I didn’t see hair or anything. If it were recent, wouldn’t there be skin and hair?’
The bartender glanced around and waved towards the corner of the bar. Colin picked up his beer and moved. Once they were out of earshot of anyone else, the bartender said, ‘If it’s what I think it is, they’re all dead anyway, so it doesn’t matter.’
‘The guy at the bait shop told me there was a story, but he didn’t know what it was.’
Colin took a sip of his beer and waited. After a moment, the bartender went on. ‘My grandparents moved here about a hundred years ago. Got themselves a little place, and Grandad fished. Like a lot of people here do. Had kids, the whole thing. Then, so I’m told – I was just a kid – my Nana went off. Nobody told me what happened, but I listened to people. I figured it out.’
The bar’s dim lighting accentuated the wrinkles on the bartender’s face, and his dark eyes looked like deep pits of tar. ‘It wasn’t easy for a woman back then, especially with Grandad away fishing so much. Nana hired a man to do the heavy work. But it got so he was more than her hired hand.’ The bartender paused to make sure that Colin understood the inference. ‘When Grandad found out, Ned – that was the guy’s name – got out of town. Coward!’
Colin finally spoke. ‘And your grandmother?’
‘Aunt Margie used to say she heard Grandad and Nana arguing – a lot – after Ned left. One night it got real bad. I always thought Nana left town. Guess she didn’t get very far. And that smell people used to talk about wasn’t no dead fish.’