Shaver Lake, Encounter With The Dead

This is Part I of a story I’m writing called “Shaver Lake.” It’s all in that messy, first-draft stage right now.

Part I

Tanya’s screaming drove Frank Shaver back to the lake where once upon a time another crime occurred.

Not the echo of her voice. That’s not what chased after him. Her shrieks he never heard. Frank had long ago taught himself how to turn down the volume inside his mind when Tanya reached her tiresome fever pitch of false emotion. No, not the sound of her at all, but the sudden flashes of light that hurt his eyes because he could not comprehend them.

“They call it kuhler, Frank,” Dr. Gettick said.

Through the plate glass window that dominated Gettick’s office on the fourteenth floor of the Merion Building in center city Philadelphia, Shaver caught glimpses of City Hall — Billy Penn’s statue standing tall and proud atop the dome — The Reading Railway Terminal and a Market Street string of shops that he knew to be sweaty pizza parlors, pornographic movie theatres, petty gambling joints and fronts for houses of prostitution. The stuff of life for a city dedicated to love.

“Did you hear what I just said to you, Mr. Shaver?”

“Yes, I heard you. Kuhler. But I won’t pretend to understand the word.”

“Would you care to discuss the argument between you and Tanya? Will you please tell me about that before the police arrive?”

“Which argument?”

“Please, Frank, let’s not be clever here. We may be talking about murder, after all.”

“Murder is my business. I’m a private dick. A shamus. A hero who charges twenty-five bucks a day plus expenses. And anyway, she was quite dead by the time I met her floating in Shaver Lake.”

“Take off your hat, and grab a seat. I’m not speaking about your fantasies regarding a mountaintop lake that you claim brings you comfort. I’m talking about your disease.”

“My hat belongs to me, Doctor Gettick. It’s an essential part of who I am, like that pencil-thin mustache you keep biting when you think you’re close to home with a patient, or that vest you think hides your soft gut. I’ll remove my hat when you agree to shave and lose weight. And by the way, doc, you can’t shake me down by telling me I suffer from an illness. We lonesome heroes who study the urban underbelly are no sicker than your average Joe who swallows weak coffee every day inside cheap diners that before the war served as box cars carrying patriotic weapons –“

“Please cut the soliloquy short, Mr. Shaver. I’ve read it all before in dime novels. And I said disease, not illness. In the world of psychiatry we recognize a distinct difference between the two.”

The year was 1946, and Dr. Charles Gettick felt free to be direct with his patients. He considered Frank Shaver a man who owned a hysterical mind, a dangerous human being, a person more than capable of killing someone in cold blood, a criminal unmotivated by anger.

Frank Shaver sat down, but he kept his hat on.

“Now who’s being clever, Doctor? I’m healthy, and you know that’s true. I simply needed time away from Tanya’s she-wolf impersonation, time to gather my sense of balance in a shady spot.”

“Yes, you’ve mentioned several times that you enjoy the shade. Why do you gain such pleasure from shadows?”

“I like — what was that word you used? — oh, yes, kuhler. I like the kuhler grey. Tanya has changed. She’s become someone different from the the girl I married. When she opens her mouth these days, there’s no more black or white or grey.”

“What’s there inside her now, Frank?”

“I can’t name it, not exactly, but it’s sticky, wet and overly dramatic.”

“Was her mouth filled with kuhler the night you stabbed her to death and then ran away to Shaver Lake?”

“Stabbed her?”

“All right, then, tell me about your encounter at the lake that night.”

“Well, like I already said, she was dead and floating in the water under the wooden bridge as I crossed it.”

“And why did you fire your gun? If she was already dead, then why the need to shoot her?”

“She came up from the water, and she tried to scream at me, like Tanya screams.”

“Was the inside of this lady’s mouth wet and sticky, too?”

“No. I don’t think so. I can’t remember. At first I hesitated. I wanted privacy, and I suspected that the sound of a shot would draw attention.”

“You fired all six rounds, Frank.”

“Well, she refused to die, or at least to back away and let me cross the bridge.”

Dr. Gettick thought it best at this point not to point out the contradictions in Frank’s story. Instead, he moved the narrative back and forth in time.

“Was it the floating apparition you murdered, or was it Tanya?”

“I didn’t kill Tanya. You’ve got to tell the cops that when they come for me. I would never dream of killing the woman I love most in this world. I adore Tanya in much the same way that I appreciate Philadelphia, PA.”

“How’s that, Mr. Shaver?”

“My family settled in Philly many years ago. Yes, it’s a city, but it’s a city made up of small towns. Did you know that old Ben Franklin drew the street grid where today your office building stands? So much order inside that man’s mind.”

“You relish a sense of order, do you, Frank?”

“Yes, of course. We all hold plans and grids inside our minds.”

Gettick realized, of course, that Frank Shaver had veered from answering his question about Tanya, but he decided it best for the moment to let the man’s mind wander and reveal the facts in a way he found comfortable.

“Plans. What were your plans that night?”

“At the lake? I’ve already told you. What you say they call kuhler frightens me. I wanted shade, and I found shade there all around the bridge, but she refused to allow me passage. So I guess I had to fire my gun. I wanted to light a fire inside the cabin’s hearth. The evening breeze felt chilly. I despise chilly temperatures.”

“Tell me about the cabin.”

“My dad — his name was Frank, too — built that cabin log by log. I helped him to saw and chop.”

“You loved your dad?”

“Don’t be ridiculous.” Frank yelled those words.

“Yes, we all love our fathers. Ben Franklin philandered his way through France, but I’m sure he loved his father.” Frank’s voice returned to an acceptable decibel level as he spoke, but Dr. Gettick noticed that Shaver’s face remained flushed red with blood.

The intercom box that sat on Dr. Gettick’s wide, mahogany desk buzzed. He jabbed at a button and both men listened to the feminine voice that squawked its way through the screen.

“They’re here, Dr. Gettick. Shall I send them in now?”

“Yes, Alicia.”

Frank turned around as two hefty men entered Dr. Gettick’s office. One of the two held out a pair of handcuffs.

“Will that be necessary?” Dr. Gettick asked the cop.

“You’re under arrest for the murder of Tanya Shaver. Now turn around and shut your trap.”

“Is there shade in the back seat of your patrol car, gentlemen?” asked Frank.

“Is this guy a looney or what?”

Dr. Gettick nodded at the two cops.

“Yeah, all right buddy. We’ll keep you out of the sun as much as we can. Where you’re going, you’ll have plenty of shade for the rest of your life.”

Frank Shaver smiled as the bulkier officer of the two snapped on the cuffs.

“Will you visit me soon, Dr. Gettick?” he asked.

“Yes, we have a lot to talk about.”

“I didn’t kill anyone.”

To be continued . . .