North of Algonac there is a lonely stretch of two-lane road running along Michigan’s thumb. On maps, both paper and digital, this road is called M25. It begins in Port Huron, traces the edge and tip of the thumb, and unravels outside of Bay City. Most people in the area refer to it as the Sunday Drive. It stays busy for the small towns from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Day trippers travel it for color tours, summer festivals, or crossing the Blue Water Bridge into Canada. Some like to go freighter-spotting or do some shore fishing or go out on their boats.
Just outside of Port Sanilac, Lake Huron looks as infinite as the oceans, there is a roadside park on a bluff three hundred feet over a sandy shore. Three tall pine trees rise in the center of the park lending their name to it. Beneath the trees are several picnic tables, now chained to concrete patios as the tables kept disappearing. Sometimes local teens pitched them over the bluff in the middle of the night after setting them on fire.
And so it was that Sheriff Connor Finch found himself going down the wooden steps zigzagging to the beach to investigate another picnic table released from its chains. This time the culprit had used bolt cutters to snap through the links.
The metal base of the table faced the sky. Finch could see there was very little fire damage to the wooden seats or benches. He could also see there was a new aspect to the crime. Lengths of yellow, nylon cords stretched from the curved legs to something tied to the table planks.
Half of the table lay in the dry, powdery sand. The other half lay in the wet surf. Finch squatted down in the dry sand and saw the exposed heel of a bare foot. Wildlife had already started feeding on the corpse.
He turned to the radio on his shoulder.
The voice on the other end sounded half a world away.
“That you, Sheriff Finch?”
“Yeah. I’m on the beach below Three Pines Park.”
“Someone toss a table?”
“Little more complicated this time. Better call Huron County General to send an ambulance. Then call Doc Lively at the coroner’s office.”
“That doesn’t sound good.”
Finch ended the communication. He took out his phone and began the somewhat gruesome job of photographing the crime scene. Seagulls, sensing carrion, hovered overhead or walked the beach. He shooed the beach-walkers away from the exposed portions of the corpse. He was a little angry for not bringing his crime scene kit down with him but he hadn’t expected a routine act of vandalism to involve murder.
He looked up at the bluff. From his angle on the beach he could see the top rail of the wood, split-rail fence meant to keep people from falling over the edge. Granted, it was a sandy faced bluff that sloped outwards towards the beach but a fall from great heights was still a fall. Finch had seen plenty of busted legs and ankles and hips. No fall had been fatal.
The person under the table hadn’t fallen. He or she had been pushed. Finch had yet to determine gender as he didn’t want to disturb any of the crime scene before Doc Lively arrived.
Besides, it would take at least two men to dump a table like this one over the top of the fence.
Twenty minutes later a pair of EMTs made their way down the steps. Finch recognized the man. His name was Edgar Monty. Around town everyone called him Edge. A coil of blue, polyethylene, cord hung over Edgar’s shoulder. Behind him followed a young woman. Blonde. Short, wavy hair. Finch had never seen her before.
“What’s the rush, Sheriff?” Edgar asked. “I think the table is DOA.”
“I didn’t call you here about the table, Edge.”
Edge stopped. “You mean a table actually hit someone? I think that gives me a bingo on the Gruesome Death card.”
The woman behind Edgar shook her head. “Sick.”
“Hey, I keep telling ya, Tanya. You can’t let this job get to you. Just ask the sheriff here. He’s seen it all until the next day then he sees something new. Like this. Ain’t that right, Finch?”
Finch rolled his eyes. “I have seen some off the wall things.” He held out his hand to the woman. “Connor Finch. Port Lex sheriff.”
“First day, Miss Edwards?”
“No. I’ve been working midnights. Made it hard to get a sitter.”