I plodded through the sand, closing the distance to the water's edge. Most likely, an unfortunate tuna or tarpon had met its demise. But based on the actions and behaviors of the children, and the concern of the mother, I quickly changed my mind. A fish washing ashore was too common an occurrence and wouldn't generate the reactions I'd just witnessed.
Then I remembered the epidemic affecting the green moray eels. For some reason, a strange parasite was attacking the green morays, causing the deaths of many. The occurrence was so rare that a group of marine biologists had recently arrived on the island, and with the help of local researchers, were studying the phenomenon. The situation was declared serious, possibly affecting the entire green moray population of the local reefs. When a dead eel washed ashore, the researchers wanted to be informed so they could harvest the carcass for study.
The teenagers moved back a few steps as I worked past them and stood over the object. It wasn't a tarpon or tuna. Or a diseased moray eel. I turned back toward the beach and scanned the area, noticing the increased crowd size. I admit, the word crowd is relative on a small island like Bonaire, but, even so, a small horde of lookie-loos had gathered. Some vied for a better view, meandering closer to the water's edge.
But not too close.
I sighed and shook my head. Few things draw a crowd to the beach faster than a human body part washing ashore.
And in this case, the human body part was a leg. Mostly, anyway.
It laid along the water's edge, backside facing up, and looked to be from a few inches below the hip down to and including what remained of the foot. Lots of pockmarks and nips from fish and other
scavengers. No toes remained, and the skin reminded me of a crinkled, wet paper bag pulled over the bone. Since the wind swept in from the sea, there was no avoiding the smell, which was, to say the least, invasive and barely tolerable.
Long ago, as a young detective, I learned that death had a particular smell and death mixed with seawater upped the ante to a whole new level. The stink seemed to coat my nasal passages. I bent over and gagged. Luckily, I hadn't eaten breakfast yet.
I straightened and took a couple of deep breaths.
As I studied the dismembered body part, an unexplainable horror clicked in the back of my brain. A passing thought turned unthinkable. I knelt beside the leg and let out a long, slow sigh, dread slashing through me. Sweat ran down my nose and dripped onto the sand, the cooling effect of my swim having already worn off.
Carefully, hands trembling, I used a stick to lift one side of the leg while using another stick to brush away wet sand sticking to the skin, an empty, fluttering feeling in my stomach. Ignoring the smell, heart pounding, I knelt further for a closer look.
Please be wrong.
My stomach went heavy as a cold shiver swam down my spine. The faint outline of Bonaire tattooed on the front side of the thigh caused my throat to go dry. My fears confirmed, I gently lowered the leg back to the sand. Realizing the teenagers and I had already disturbed the scene, I used care to minimize any further contamination.
However, something looked strange near the foot, a clump of seaweed entangled around the ankle. I tried using one of the sticks to clear the snag, but it was caught on something and wouldn't budge. After reverting to brute force and giving the strands of seaweed several good jerks with my hand, a clump pulled free and I saw the hang-up.
A piece of wire wrapped around the ankle.
Not barbed wire or chicken wire or electrical wire or telephone wire. A faded shade of green, it wasn't coated in rubber or plastic and appeared to be the type of wire used to wrap a crate or bind items together.
I slowly stood and scanned the sea, wondering if more body parts might wash ashore. Being a possible crime scene, the beach would soon be closed. Police divers would search the nearby waters for evidence or any additional human remains.
As I stared at the wire, a police siren whined behind me. Two police—or Polis in Papiamento—trucks skidded to a stop on the gravel shoulder above the beach. I walked in that direction.
A pair of officers jumped from one of the trucks and scurried down the beach. One struggled with a camera; the other held a roll of crime scene tape. They were young, and although Bonaire is a small island, I didn't recognize them. However, one knew me.
As they passed, she nodded and said, "Hello, R."
My full name is Roscoe Conklin; however, most folks refer to me as R.
I waved and returned her hello.