To get back to my story about finding a skeleton in the basement of my office, I need to flesh out the list of suspects as if the victim had been me instead of some yet to be revealed personage.
As detailed earlier, Solon was and is a great town filled with wonderful people, but it is a small town nevertheless. As the owner and operator of the newspaper for some 20 years, it was inevitable that I angered at least a few people along the way, and more than once I saw murder in their eyes.
One such citizen was Dick the insurance agent.
I knew Dick to be a good man. Our offices were in the same building for a couple of years, and we had our differences about matters of how things should be run, the temperature to set the thermostat and things of that nature. But no hatchets were thrown that couldn’t be retrieved and buried. We also differed in politics, Dick being conservative and Republican in nature and me, liberal and Democrat. Over the years, we bandied over our positions but it was politics as it should be, disagreeing without being disagreeable.
Because he was a good man, he did what good men do: offered a hand of friendship. In this particular case the offer was in the form of an invite to be his partner in the annual canoe races put on by the Optimist Club, of which we were both members.
This was no small gesture as Dick was a skilled canoeist, who regularly plied waters far and wide in pursuit of sport and recreation. He was also a competitor in spirit, and on his wall he had several first-place trophies from the aforementioned races.
Myself, on the other hand, had been in canoes only a handful of times and until that date had never managed to not capsize the vessel for one reason or another. To me, canoeing was a way of beginning a good swim. I told Dick as much, and again to his credit he offered to partner with me anyway.
So one warm summer evening I joined Dick and 30 or so other club members at Lake Macbride for the event.
The lake and the state park around it are great assets to the area. The Iowa City Chamber of Commerce spearheaded the move to dam the Mill and Jordan creeks and make the lake. Money was raised by selling lots around the park and with the free labor of the Civilian Conservation Corps, the park opened to the public in 1937. It’s named after Thomas Macbride, who had a distinguished 40-year career as professor of botany and president of the University of Iowa.
“You sit in front and try to do only what I tell you to do,” Dick advised on our strategy on the way down to the water and out onto the dock. Dick was dressed as if for the office in Oxford shoes, khaki slacks, button down shirt with logo and pen in pocket and a wristwatch. I wore my bathing suit. When we got to our vessel I noticed that some wag had christened it the Pequod. Dick adroitly got in first, reached out a hand to steady the boat and then instructed me to get in, keeping my feet in the center. I did as told, rather adroitly I thought, and looked Dick in the eye and asked, “What next, Captain?”
The up-to-now ease in Dick’s manner abated slightly as he replied, “You have to face the front of the boat; you’ll have to turn around.” It never occurred to me that you don’t face each other in a boat; one man would have to have his back to the beer cooler.
In my defense I must point out that what I did next was simply following orders. I lifted my legs up in the air and began to “turn around.” It was a maneuver I’ve executed a thousand times while sitting at the bar in a tavern, and I wasn’t even drinking. Just as my body reached perpendicular to the centerline I realized that a canoe is not a stool and while I was perfectly balanced the craft was not.
Things were going to go south quickly on this fine summer eve.
Time slowed. As Gordon Lightfoot asked in “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald:” “Does anyone now where the love of God goes when the waves turn the minutes to hours?” As we teetered on the precipice I looked over at Dick. There in his face I watched as the sunny countenance of a good man doing a good deed turned dark as a realization washed over that his good deed was not going to go unpunished. And in the trice before we flipped into the drink I saw murder in Dick’s eye.