A Stranger’s Demise—Part 2
Read Part 1
At 8:30 p.m., Phil, Nadine, and Rose still stood in the kitchen. They stared at a map of Severna Park and the Magothy River displayed on Phil’s laptop and contemplated how to dispose of the dead man on the sofa.
Earlier, Phil canvassed the front street for unfamiliar cars, and Nadine walked to the pier to see if the man came to their house by boat. Rose pulled on her mother’s dishwashing gloves and searched the body for a wallet. When they reconvened in the kitchen, each reported their findings. The driver’s license in the wallet confirmed the man was Grant, the son of Nadine’s stepbrother Chase. Phil didn’t see any cars on the street, and Nadine reported an unknown powerboat docked at their pier.
“We need to dump him in the Magothy,” Phil said as he pointed to the large blue area on the right-hand side of the map. “I’m thinking around here, on the northwest side of Gibson Island. That area’s pretty isolated.”
“Can’t we just take his boat out there and leave him in it?” Rose asked.
Phil studied her, frowning. “It’ll be obvious he wasn’t killed in the boat. There won’t be any blood.”
“We could sink the boat with him in it. No one would ever know there wasn’t blood in the boat.” Rose turned to her mother. “What kind of boat was it, Mom?”
Nadine sagged and leaned on the kitchen counter. A soft whimper escaped from her lips. “I don’t know if I can do this.”
“Don’t worry mom, we’ll figure this out.” Rose hugged her mother’s shoulders. “Tell us about the powerboat you saw.”
Taking a deep breath, Nadine stood upright, her body straight. “It’s a fishing boat… a skiff… with an outboard motor. Not that big. I’d guess either sixteen or eighteen foot.”
Phil glanced at the laptop screen and growled. “Dammit, we’ll need Alex to help us. Can’t do it without him.”
It took Alex less than an hour to drive from Catonsville to Magothy Cove. He entered the kitchen through the garage and froze, transfixed on the family room.
“Holy shit,” he muttered. “Looks like he was shot.” Alex took a few steps forward, straining for a better view of the dead body.
“We need to get rid of him. Tonight.” Phil reviewed the initial plan with his son while they studied the map on the laptop screen. The two men left the kitchen and walked down the back slope to the pier at the water’s edge and boarded the fishing skiff. Alex used the flashlight on his phone to inspect the deck.
When Phil and Alex returned to the kitchen, Rose pulled three beers out of the fridge. She kept one for herself and handed the other two to Phil and Alex. For Nadine, who stood silent and pale at the kitchen counter, Rose retrieved a six-ounce bottle of cabernet from the pantry. She opened it and handed it to her mother. At 10 p.m., with drinks in hand, they finalized a plan to dispose of Grant’s body.
“Alex and I will carry the body down to his boat,” Phil said, nodding at Alex. “We’ll place him face up on the floor at the stern to make it look like he fell backward when he was shot. The skiff has a bench bolted down behind the console. We’ll wedge him under the bench so he doesn’t float out of the boat.”
Phil looked at Rose. “You’ll follow behind us in the Crestliner. You’ll have to run dark. You okay with that?”
She shuddered. “I’ll be fine.”
“Once you’re there, Alex and I will loosen the drain plugs in the skiff and open any hatches.”
“I’ll take the pails,” Rose said.
“Good. Alex and I can both dump water into the skiff. When it takes water on its own, we’ll climb into the Crestliner and wait for the skiff to go under.”
“Mom, we’re leaving our phones at home,” Alex added. “Don’t want to take any chances we’ll be traced to this.” He took her hands and looked into her eyes. “It could take a while for that boat to sink. Don’t worry about us.”
Nadine dropped her son’s hands and went into the pantry. She returned with three packages of rubber dishwashing gloves. “Wear these,” she mumbled as she handed each of them a package.
Phil hugged her as she gave him the gloves. “Nadine, you’ll be okay staying here?”
“I’ll be fine,” she assured him, wiping her eyes. “Just be careful.”
Rose hugged her mother next. “This was the only thing we could do.”
The night was clear. The moon, almost full, cast a long reflection on the water, so it was easy for Rose to follow her father and brother. Twenty minutes later, their boats crossed the middle of the river, and she spotted Gibson Island ahead. When Phil and Alex stopped the skiff, Rose pulled the Crestliner alongside them and handed her father and brother the buckets. The two men began dumping water into the stern of the skiff.
A half hour passed before the skiff began to sink. Relief swept through her body as Rose watched the boat’s transom disappear below the water’s surface. The plan was working; the one that she and Nadine had devised to keep Grandpa Shipley’s house.
* * *
A week earlier, Nadine called Rose and told her about Grant. He came to the house while Phil was at work and asked Nadine if she had heard from Grandpa Shipley. Rose knew the truth about her grandfather. Nadine had confessed the incident to Rose years ago.
“He wants to hire a private investigator to find Grandpa,” Nadine told Rose. “What are we going to do if he finds out the truth?”
The next day, a prospective client visited Rose’s real estate office in Severna Park. He told the receptionist he wanted information on properties on Magothy Cove.
“I’m very familiar with those waterfront properties,” Rose said, rising from her nearby desk. “I’ll be glad to help you.” When the man introduced himself as Grant, Rose hid her astonishment.
Not knowing Rose was his step-cousin, Grant explained that he expected to inherit a home there and was looking for a realtor. “I don’t think the current occupants can buy me out,” he confided. “I expect we’ll sell and split the proceeds.”
The next day, over sandwiches at Nadine’s kitchen table, Rose recounted her encounter with Grant. Nadine grew pale and her expression turned grim.
“We can’t let that happen. This property has been in the Shipley family for generations. I won’t let it go.”
“What if he finds out Grandpa’s gone?” Rose continued. “Can you buy his half?”
Silence engulfed them as Nadine stared at her plate. “I’m sure this place would sell for more than a million dollars.”
“I pulled up the comps, Mom,” Rose murmured. “This place could list for 1.8 million.”
“Oh my God, Rose. Your dad and I don’t have that kind of money. What are we going to do?”
The two sat and sipped wine as Grant’s intention weighed on their minds. Then Rose turned to her mother.
“When are you and Dad going to Ocean City to get the rental ready for summer?”
“This weekend. Why?”
“I have an idea.”
On the Wednesday before Phil and Nadine drove to Sunset Island, Rose called Grant from her office and set up a breakfast meeting for Sunday morning at The Steaming Pot at River Point. The waterfront restaurant was next to a marina at the end of Magothy Cove.
“I contacted the occupants of the house you’ll inherit,” Rose explained. “Told them I have a client interested in seeing their home for renovation ideas for another waterfront property. Didn’t mention your name. They said it was fine and we can come on Sunday. You and I can look at the comps that morning, too, and get a feel for the selling price.”
“Will they be home?” Grant asked.
“They should be out. Is it a problem if they aren’t there?”
“No. Actually, that would be perfect.”
At the restaurant on Sunday, Rose suggested Grant rent a small boat from the marina so he could see the property from the water.
“I’ll meet you at the end of the pier so you know where to dock,” she said. “I can check out the main house first and then let you know if the occupants are home.”
He agreed and went to the marina while Rose drove to Grandpa Shipley’s house. Inside, she set her bag on the side table to the left of the sofa in the family room. Rose closed the family room drapes, then exited through the kitchen and walked down to the pier. At 11:30 a.m., she saw Grant on the water. After waving to him, she dialed Nadine’s cell phone and let it ring twice before disconnecting the call.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?” Rose commented as Grant moored the fishing skiff to the pier. She pointed out the property’s various selling points as they walked up to the house. When they reached the back porch, Rose led Grant inside through the kitchen.
“It appears they upgraded,” she commented as they walked into the family room. She set her cell phone on the side table to the right of the sofa and sat down. “This room has a lot of space. The bay window provides a wonderful view of the river.” She patted the left side of the couch. “Please, sit. We can look at the comps.”
Rose gazed around the room. While pointing out the open floor plan and hardwood floors, she kept track of the time from the clock in the kitchen. At 11:48 a.m., she sprang off the couch. “Oh, I left the comps in my bag.”
She walked over to the side table on Grant’s left. Her fingers shook as she picked up her bag. “They’re in here,” she said as she rummaged. “Honestly, sometimes my bag is such a mess.”
Instead of grabbing real estate comparables, Rose gripped a small revolver. A wave of nausea slammed her stomach as her fingertips touched the cold stainless steel. She breathed deeply, knowing what she must do to keep Grandpa Shipley’s house. When she peered at the kitchen clock, it was 11:50 a.m.
“Here they are,” she said brightly as she worked to swallow down the burning sensation in her throat.
At that moment, her cell phone rang.
Grant turned his head toward the sound, and Rose pulled the gun out of her bag. She fired a single shot at close range and hit him in the temple. She held her breath as Grant slumped over. He didn’t move.
Proceeding as if she were in a trance, Rose went to the kitchen and retrieved a pair of dishwashing gloves. She wiped the revolver with a paper towel, then washed it with hand soap. She looked back at Grant, who still hadn’t moved. Blood covered his left temple and cheek and dripped down his face. A splatter of small reddish-brown dots soiled the sofa back. A matching puddle formed on the seat cushion.
Resisting the urge to retch, Rose went over to Grant and folded the fingers of his left hand around the revolver. As she arranged the gun, his body fell against the armrest, giving him an awkward, folded look.
“I’m so sorry,” she whispered. She swiped her eyes as she walked to the kitchen and stuffed the paper towel and gloves in a plastic grocery bag she found under the sink. Without looking back, Rose left the house through the kitchen door and locked it behind her.
At home, Rose discarded the grocery bag, then went to the refrigerator and pulled out a beer. She twisted the cap, took a swig, and waited for her mother to call.