Even in November, when the trees were skeletal and the ground covered in dead leaves and puddles, the jogging trail by the river was still Laurie Hale’s favorite place to run. Not that she was wild about physical fitness—it was just that something had to be done about an hourglass figure that had drooped into more of a pear shape. She simply could not go up to a size sixteen on her next trip to the mall, and that was final.
There are barriers in every woman’s life beyond which she will not go, and a size sixteen was Laurie’s.
Besides, jogging got her out of the house. Going to Curves would do the same, but she’d still be in a gym with people she knew from church and Anna’s and Tim’s schools. What Laurie liked best about jogging by the river was simply that she was alone. With a ten-year-old son and a fourteen-year-old daughter, who could blame her for taking extreme measures in order to get a little peace and quiet?
So what if her sweats were a shrunken pair of her husband Colin’s and her shoes were from the local discount store? No one was out here at seven thirty on a winter morning. The executive types had already come and gone, taking the commuter train from the Glendale station into Pittsburgh and leaving the trails to the winter birds, squirrels, and slightly chunky moms.
Laurie’s legs were beginning to ache at the end of her mile. She wasn’t much of a goal setter, but if she had to set one, it would be getting back to the parking lot without keeling over and dying of oxygen deprivation. She’d nearly reached the halfway point where she turned around—where the Susquanny River widened a little and a sandbar had built up. Often the herons would gather there to pick over what the river had tossed up, or to spear minnows on their way past in the shallows. The kids had loved to play there in the summer. Someone had tied a rope swing into a tree, and they’d drop off it into the deep pool scooped out close to the bank.
But now the swing was as frozen and lifeless as the tree that supported it, waiting for the sun and the return of the children.
There must have been some high water recently. A log had washed up onto the sandbar, and crows were walking around it like car salesmen sizing up a new deal. There were clothes draped over it, too. Good grief. Surely someone hasn’t been swimming? It had to be forty-five degrees out there.
Laurie jogged a little closer, taking one of the offshoot trails closer to the bank. Maybe it wasn’t a log, after all. Maybe someone had tossed a bag of old clothes off the bridge instead of taking them to the Salvation Army like normal people did. But weren’t those branches sticking out? And was that an animal trapped under it? With brown fur?
The river trail, though beautiful and scenic, didn’t change much. That was why Laurie liked it. She didn’t have to watch out for hazards because she knew where they all were, and she could pay attention to seasonal changes in the scenery without worrying about falling flat on her face.
So anything different meant a little investigation was in order. Maybe there would be identifying marks among the clothes to tell her who the litterbug was. She’d march right down to the Glendale sheriff’s office and wake up her cousin Nick or one of the other—
Laurie slid down the bank and landed upright by sheer luck. She squinted against the sparkle of the sun on the water and focused on the pile on the sandbar.
Not fur. Hair. Dark brown, short-cropped hair with a pink streak dyed into it, now drying and rimed with sand.
A green jacket. Jeans.
Bare feet. Slender, pale feet, so cold they were gray.
Laurie let out her breath with a whoosh and then couldn’t get it back again. Her lungs and heart felt as though they were being squeezed tight with sheer horror.
“Oh, no. No.” Crablike, she scrambled sideways up the bank, her gaze fixed on the sandbar. “It can’t be.”
Maybe it wasn’t. Maybe the life hadn’t yet left that pitiful, damp body on the sand. Maybe there was still something she could do.
She yanked her cell phone out of her pocket and dialed 911.
Excerpted from Over Her Head © Copyright 2012 by Shelley Bates. Reprinted with permission by Faithwords. All rights reserved.
Over Her Head
- paperback: 304 pages
- Publisher: FaithWords
- ISBN-10: 0446694932
- ISBN-13: 9780446694933