Once the incidents, as the papers called them, started ramping up to a degree I could no longer ignore, I set out on an investigation of the whole freakish history of Shoeshine Drop. I figured I could do worse than to have all the details - the real ones – if I was going to have to address the latest death. It's just one of the crazy things about stuff like this. The more folks have a tangible threat to their mortality and something in their own back yard, the more likely they'll find a reason to test it out for themselves. That's a nightmare for a man in my position and I'd hoped to get enough of the facts to maybe put together something more pedestrian to tell the public than a ghost story. Something that might even finally put an end to the whole ridiculous business.
The most logical place I could think of to get started was the police report from the original accident. It was confusing to begin with, so much so that when I finally got my hands on the file, – it had been buried at the very back of the drawer labeled 1987, which was a full ten years later than the wreck occurred – I found a faded scrap of paper taped to it with a single thought scribbled across it in the bad penmanship that belongs to exhausted investigators. Makes no sense, the noted stated simply. Inside the folder was a stack of papers with feathered edges from scores of fingers flipping through them and on top of the stack, a short newspaper clipping from the next town over, reporting their version of the details.
June 6, 1977
Tragedy struck during the early hours of Saturday morning in nearby Waterman as authorities reported an abandoned vehicle hanging half over the cliff edge of Priddis Mill Rd. Below the cliff lies a calmer section of the Asginadisdi River.
Deputy Arnold Soseby of the Waterman Sheriff's Department reported noticing the vehicle after having nearly passed it due to a thick cover of fog. Upon inspecting the scene, Deputy Soseby noted the make of the vehicle as being a red 1969 Ford Mustang. He recognized the vehicle as belonging to one of Waterman's locals, a Thomas Renault of Renault Way, and radioed the Sheriff's office with the license plates to verify. A search along the river below the cliff revealed the bodies of Mr. Renault and sixteen year old Regina St.Claire, also of Waterman.
At this time, not much further is known about the details surrounding this mysterious incident. Deputy Soseby was unavailable for comment, but a source suggests he may have suffered an injury of his own at the scene.
Next behind the newspaper blurb was a summary of Deputy Soseby's report.
Incident Report: Renault/St.Claire
Deputy Arnold Soseby reported pulling over to investigate a red 1969 Ford Mustang hanging perilously half on/half off of the cliff at Priddis Mill Rd. The vehicle was spotted at approximately o2:00 am on the morning of Saturday, 4 June, 1977. Deputy Soseby reports heavy fog at that time. Upon inspection of the scene, the deputy noted that both doors of the vehicle were fully open. Skid marks trailed from the right hand lane, across the oncoming lane, and to the resting place of the vehicle, measuring approximately 30 feet from beginning to end.
Deputy Soseby was taken to Waterman Memorial Hospital for examination after being found by responders, having passed out and then waking inside the ambulance only to begin muttering incoherently. According to EMTs, the only word they could make out was: "Shoeshine."
Deputy Soseby was cleared and released from Waterman Memorial the following day. He appears to remember nothing after fainting, including his incoherent speech on the way to the hospital.
"I remember everything up to a point," retired deputy Soseby, now forty years older and looking every bit of it, told me over his cup of coffee at Clem's Diner. "I lied. I lied through my teeth on that case. Lied a lot and I reckon I'd lie again if I had it to do over. Go ahead and arrest me if'n ya have to. I don't care no more."
"I'm not here to arrest anybody" I told him and reached across the table to steady his hand before he spilled hot coffee all over himself. "Jail's too crowded as it is. I'm not gonna add to that by arresting a good cop."
"But still good."
Maybe he had a touch of the palsy and maybe he didn't. I'd seen it in younger, stronger men than Soseby. It sometimes dug into a place with age beside forgetfulness and that condition they made the little blue pill for, but I had my reservations about that. He'd been pretty dang steady when I watched him walk through the door of the diner. That was until I mentioned Shoeshine Drop and then everything seemed to go to hell. His face drooped like someone who'd just had a stroke. The smile he'd been wearing turned downward and his shoulders fell. He looked like a man who'd had hope for a moment, but was forced to face the reality that comes with four decades of horror.
Now he could barely control the weight of a diner mug and I was afraid that if I had the guts to look under the table, I might see a wet spot spreading between his legs. I hated myself for doing that to another man, but things had gotten worse over at the Drop and I needed to have the truth. All of it.
"Wouldn't matter if'n ya did take me in. I'd feel safer in the jailhouse anyhow."
"What does that mean?"
"I seen it happen, sheriff." He took a sip from his mug and a splash of it rattled over the side. "I never told nobody I seen the accident happen, but I did. I seen the whole thing happen right there in front of me and I was too scared to do anything about it at first. They fell over. Well, he helped her go, but he fell all by hisself. I coulda stopped it if'n I'd been man enough, only I wasn't. I reckon maybe that's how come she still haunts me. 'Cause I wasn't man enough. I was just froze. Then they was over the cliff. I reckon you know I quit the force after that."
I wrote everything he said down in my pad, but it still didn't tell me much more than the report had.
"Arnold, I know this is hard and I'm sorry, but I need you to tell me everything that happened that night – every tiny detail."
"Gonna take a lot of this brown stuff if'n ya got the nickels."
"I got plenty. I told Rita to keep it brewed and keep it coming."
He smiled and drained his cup. It wasn't a happy smile, but it told me he was willing, as painful as it would be, to rehash it. I waved a hand in the air and pointed at Arnold's cup when Rita spotted me. She winked and in a few seconds had refilled his mug. His hand was a little steadier now, so I got to it.
"None of the reports in the file mention that you actually witnessed the event."
"I told you, I lied."
"They woulda sent my redneck butt down to Milledgeville."
"This will all be off the record, Arnold. You don't have to worry about any of that with me, but I need it all. From the beginning."
I sat in silence while retired deputy Soseby told his story.