Chapter 36 – Further Investigation – Modern Day
The next morning Chuck climbed aboard Jason’s boat and he motored the boat out of the marina into the channel and throttled back to a steady 8 knots towards the State Marina. The topic of conversation was Bill’s health as Chuck had never known him to go for a check-up in his entire life. But Chuck hadn’t noticed much of a difference in him of late, so he was hoping the problem was not serious.
As they neared the State Marina they could clearly see the huge floating derrick that had been brought in to clear the obstructions in the entrance, but there didn’t appear to be any activity happening on the vessel itself. As they got closer the explanation for the inactivity became apparent. A marquee had been erected over the portion of the wall where Jason had found the head and the sound of jack-hammers could clearly be heard emanating from inside the tent. It was obvious that the wall was now a crime scene and all work on the entrance had been curtailed until that investigation had been completed. But before they could make any further conjectures about what they could see a small Coast Guard vessel appeared from beside the floating crane. One of the Coast Guard personnel on the boat was hailing them with a bull-horn, telling them to move away and that they were in a restricted area. Jason was happy to oblige as he turned away to rejoin the river between the channel markers. He didn’t want to be caught snooping in the area and he was certain the Coast Guard crew wasn’t aware of his involvement nor would they have recognized his boat. As far as the Coast Guard crew was concerned the boat contained inquisitive onlookers and they did their job and told them to go away, nevertheless, it provided a talking point for their return trip.
“You called it son.” Chuck said, “the F.B.I. is looking for bodies under that canvas. You can bet they will find three bodies there and no one will ever know anything about it.” He added, sounding very frustrated.
“Remember, we are making assumptions, we don’t know that for sure.” Jason offered.
“Your assumptions have been correct up until now, I think you have nailed this. They wouldn’t be throwing this many resources at it for you to be wrong.” Chuck said with some weight. Then Chuck began to shake his head in disgust before adding, “to think, that lovely boat was sunk because of a cover-up.”
“I wonder what they will do with the boats when they salvage them.” Jason mused out loud.
“I expect once they have removed the bodies they will just dump them,” Chuck said.
“Could the boats be restored?” Jason asked.
“Unlikely, obviously the engine and electricals would all have to be replaced. As for the wood, don’t know, would have to look at it.” Chuck replied distantly, as he reminisced about that boat he had seen all those years ago.
“Do you think they will rip out all the docks and piles as well?” Jason asked.
“Who knows?” Chuck replied, coming out of his reverie, “I should imagine they would want to destroy anything that could possibly link the government to the marina, maybe they will restore it to its original state.”
“What was that?” Jason asked.
“Not exactly sure,” Chuck replied, “the marina had been built at about the same time I was being born so this is all I have ever known about the area. My father never brought me here, but I should imagine the inlet was natural, probably would have been a nice place to build a retreat, right there on the river.”
Nothing much else was said for the remainder of the trip back to Chuck’s marina and as Jason pulled into his assigned slip, young Charlie was there to take a line and help moor the boat. Chuck went off with Charlie to discuss some marina related questions while Jason was left to kill some time before going to lunch at the pub, so he pottered about his boat, cleaning up and checking his emails. While he was carrying out these mindless activities he began to think about what he was going to do, when, he managed to locate any of Lady Ashdene’s descendants. Jason felt that after the trip to St. Louis he would give his investigations another couple of days before taking his boat out of the water and returning home to Cleveland. Perhaps, the following year he would plan a longer boat trip down to the Gulf, he had to admit, the experience gained from this trip had been a great one and he had met many kind people in the process.
By the time Jason got to the pub, all the others were in attendance and Dexter immediately poured him a beer. Chuck had been explaining what they had discovered that morning to the others. In a slight lull in the conversation, Jason dropped his bombshell and informed the others of his intentions to leave in a couple of days. The others were all a little crestfallen, he had brought a little excitement to their mundane lives, but they too realized his visit was temporary and it couldn’t last forever.
As it was a Saturday, Jason decided he was going to take a ride around the area, to do a little sight-seeing and maybe stay in a hotel for a couple of nights. They all supplied him with a few suggestions, Jason returned to his boat, packed a few things, locked up then took off for a couple of nights to luxuriate in a bath instead of a cramped shower and enjoy some really, tasty, cooked meals instead of the packaged fare he had been preparing for himself.
On Monday Jason returned to the marina and went straight to his boat to unpack his things. By then it was time to meet the others in the pub, he walked in and everyone was there. They all asked about his trip and he told them it was a nice little getaway, some time to forget about the quest and the F.B.I.
They chatted about it for a while until Jason realized he hadn’t heard how Bill had got on at the doctor’s office.
“How did the check-up go Bill?” Jason asked.
“Oh, I have to see a specialist.” Bill reluctantly replied.
“Why, what’s wrong with you?” Archie asked, suddenly concerned.
“Oh, it’s nothing,” Bill said waving with his hand to emphasize the point. “Doctor just wants to make sure it is nothing, that’s all. He hasn’t got a clue if you ask me.” Then trying to deflect the subject, “So, what time are we heading out for the River City tomorrow?”
“I figure it will take us at least an hour to get there and find a parking spot,” Dexter replied. “Last time Helen and I went to St. Louis the traffic was horrendous on the I270, creating jams all over the place.”
“Why don’t we leave about 9:30 then.” Archie suggested, “that way we will miss the better part of the rush-hour and we will still have a couple of hours before lunch to do some research.”
“Sounds good,” Chuck agreed, and the others were nodding their heads in agreement.
“I’ll drive, I know the best route,” Dexter said.
“You cheeky young whipper-snapper, I’ve been taking that trip since before you walked the face of this earth!” Chuck admonished Dexter.
“Yes, but your horse and cart are gone now.” Dexter quipped.
“Aaah.” Chuck responded and smiled.
The next morning Dexter was at the marina with his Lexus SUV to greet the others.
“Someone is going to have to ride shotgun on the hump in the middle of the back-seat,” Dexter said, and Jason immediately volunteered, noting that there were no objections from the others. Jason got in, stowed his backpack over the back seat of the car and fastened his seat-belt before the others got in. Once everyone was settled with their seat-belts on, Dexter began the drive to St. Louis.
“I expect it will take us about 45 minutes before we get there,” Dexter told the others as he turned on a Classic Rock radio station transmitting out of St. Louis, which was greeted with many murmurings from the older passengers in the vehicle. That notwithstanding, Dexter had hardly driven out of the marina before there was a request for a stop.
“Aren’t you going to stop in at Lorla’s for a coffee to go?” Archie asked quite concerned.
“I hadn’t planned on it,” Dexter replied.
“Well, do you think you could fit it into your schedule?” Bill asked.
“Jeeeez, it’s like taking a bunch of kids out on a day trip!” Dexter replied frustrated, as he made a bee-line for the Blue Moon Café. It was about twenty minutes later by the time everyone had gotten their beverages of choice as well as a donut. But then they had to repeat the belt-buckling performance, except, this time the two elderly gentlemen in the back were now attempting contortionist movements with their hands full and required Jason’s assistance to complete the seat-belt clicking.
Eventually, they were back on the road and there was very little traffic congestion, so the 45-minute estimate turned out to be reasonably accurate. The next hurdle was to find somewhere to park which was hampered by a new complication, Bill desperately needed a washroom.
“That coffee has gone straight through me I’m afraid!” Bill said sheepishly.
“I could go straight through the city and go back home,” Dexter replied which gave everyone else a smile.
“Look, here we are right outside the library, they’re sure to have a washroom in there. Why don’t I drop you all off, I will go park and catch up with you?” Dexter said, solving the immediate problem. Grateful murmurs were heard as Dexter stopped. Chuck, who was in the front seat and Bill, who was on the driver’s side at the back both evacuated the vehicle, closely followed by Jason. Bill then slid across the seat to join the others on the sidewalk. As Jason was about to shut the car door he made eye contact with Dexter who was just shaking his head.
“We’ll be old one day Dexter, I doubt if we will be any better.” Jason smiled.
“Well, I hope I die before I get old,” Dexter replied and as soon as Jason shut the door Dexter drove off to find a parking spot. Jason shepherded the three men from the vehicle and led them to the front doors of the St. Louis library.
As Dexter went to park, the others entered the building, Jason asked the first person he saw who looked liked they worked in the building for directions to a washroom. The three old men followed the man’s directions and went off while Jason remained by the front doors for their return and Dexter’s appearance. He didn’t have to wait long for either, both parties turned up at much the same time.
Jason approached an information desk and they were subsequently directed to a department where they were met by a kind, elderly, African-American lady. She appeared to have a permanent smile on her face and enjoyed the flirting comments she was receiving from the elderly gentlemen. Once Jason explained what they were looking for the lady, whose name was Kobe, led them each to a desk and told them all she would be back presently. While they waited for Kobe’s return they took the opportunity to browse through some magazines that were on the desks. The magazines were in plastic, protective coverings to provide a little longevity from clumsy fingers, like the ones who were handling them right then.
Kobe returned with six telephone directories and an explanation.
“The census data is online, but it may be difficult to access and understand so I wondered if, because it is Ladue, you might be able to find what you are looking for in one of these old telephone directories,” Kobe suggested as she plonked the books on the table in front of them. “They appear to have been issued about the time period you are looking for.”
“Great idea,” Jason said and took one of the directories and began gently flipping the pages. All the others followed suit, except for Archie.
“Unusual name Kobe does that have some kind of meaning?” Archie inquired.
“It is African for born on a Tuesday,” Kobe patiently replied, knowing full well what Archie was doing.
“And today is Tuesday!” Archie said enthusiastically, “it’s fate Kobe, that’s what it is.”
“Oh, give it up Arch, she’s far too young for you,” Bill said.
“When you’ve finished, just leave the books on the desks.” Kobe instructed them and after a quick tap on Archie’s shoulder she walked away laughing. The others were smiling as they perused the directories for an entry for Lady Ashdene, it didn’t take long.
“Got it,” Dexter suddenly said. “Caroline Ashdene, 7845 Barnes Road, Ladue 4581.”
“Well, the telephone number has probably changed by now but let’s take note of the address,” Jason said. There were scraps of paper and pens lying on the desk just for such a purpose and Jason took a sheet and wrote down the address.
“O.K. let’s hit the road,” Jason said.
“Maybe I’d better hit the washroom before we leave, you know, just to be on the safe side.” Bill said nonchalantly, although Archie and Chuck groaned and rolled their eyes, they also went to the washroom with him.
While they were all in the washroom, Dexter decided to fetch the SUV, he thought that might save some time. As they went through the usual difficult procedures for putting on their seat-belts, Dexter keyed in the address into the vehicle’s GPS.
“Looks like we’ve got about a 10-minute drive, so, sit back and enjoy the sights,” Dexter said. It wasn’t long before they were out of the metropolitan area of St. Louis and into a more suburban area, and the further they drove the further apart the houses were as they entered the much more expensive area that was Ladue. They drove past an expensive looking golf club before joining onto Barnes road and they all began to search for number 7845.
“It’s an odd number so it’s going to be on this side of the street,” Chuck said, who was sitting behind Dexter.
“Which side is ‘this side of the street’ Chuck? I haven’t got eyes in the back of my head.” Dexter said with a little frustration.
“Your left,” Jason said. “How do you know that Chuck?”
“I was the postmaster for a while, odd numbers are on the east side.” Chuck calmly explained.
“There’s a sign on this driveway,” Dexter said as he began to slow the vehicle. There were no numerals to indicate what house number it was, but the elaborate sign read, ‘Denes of Ash’.
“This has got to be it,” Jason said excitedly.
Dexter pulled into the asphalt driveway that was on a tight curve, bordered by large trees and neatly manicured shrubbery which concealed the house from the main road. Dexter negotiated the turn through the driveway that prevented little light to penetrate through the myriad of leaves on the elegant trees. But as they came through the trees and into the bright sunlight they could see that the driveway led up to a beautiful mansion surrounded by what Jason could only describe as an old-fashioned English garden. Or at least, having never been to England, what he expected an English garden to look like. The driveway forked, one juncture changed from asphalt to gravel bordered by white brick that led up a circular driveway to the front door of the house. The other road remained asphalt and continued slightly downhill around to the back of the house, they assumed this would be the tradesmen’s entrance. Dexter slowly continued towards the front door, the noise of the tires on the gravel must have been evident to anyone inside the house. Dexter stopped parallel with the front double door of the house.
“Well, off you go Jason, good luck!” Dexter said, and the others murmured their best wishes but unfortunately, Archie and Chuck were too intent on admiring the house to realize one of them had to get out to let Jason out.
“Archie, maybe you can let me out?” Jason asked Archie as he was putting his spectacles back on for the second time.
“What?” Archie replied, wondering what Jason was asking until he suddenly realized. “Oh yes of course!” Archie undid his seat-belt, opened the door and got out. As Jason turned to walk towards the house, Archie also wished him ‘good luck’. Jason was beginning to think that if and when the door opened, corpses or something equally as ghoulish was going to appear as they did in his dream. So, it was with some trepidation that he rang the bell. He waited a few seconds and turned to smile at the quartet in the car who was looking at him more like expectant fathers. The door slowly opened and for the second time since he had been on this quest, he saw a sight that would be indelibly burnt in his memory for the rest of his life.