The Tri-Cities boardwalk had always been a miserable place, except for maybe the first thirty minutes of its official opening, some hundred years ago. In an infamous historical moment at the ribbon cutting ceremony, then Mayor Caleb Waldorp had taken a misstep from the celebratory platform which had been constructed for the event, and tumbled end over end off the side. A horrified crowd watched his neck snap as he hit the lower deck, bouncing like a toy thrown by a petulant child into the water below. The section of boardwalk jutting out over the water where he’d fallen to his demise was renamed Waldorp’s Drop, and the whole endeavor had never really recovered.
Now, fat seagulls squawked lazily at one another as they picked through the trash lapping up daily on the storm walls, floating down from the drowned villages farther north. Sections of the boardwalk had long since gone to ruin, and there were days when the water surged up over the storm walls, flooding into the streets and nearby businesses, and threatening to reclaim even the boardwalk itself.
It was on such a day that Sandro picked his way carefully along the flooding boardwalk, searching for interesting scraps of junk washed up and caught in the bars supporting the handrail. There was one particular promontory of boardwalk platform which acted like a giant sieve and from which Sandro had collected many interesting things in the past. Waterlogged toys and electronics. Medical waste. Sealed packages of food from presumably grocery store shelves up the coast. Some of what he found still seemed good and usable, and anything he didn’t keep he would bring to trade with the sellers at the van market in the old Tri-Cities Shopping Plaza parking lot on the weekends. He was hoping for a score.
Sandro picked his way carefully out further and further toward Waldorp’s Drop, avoiding by muscle memory places where the wood had gone soft, and a wrong step could send a foot through, and twist an ankle. Salt water lapped up over the surface of the boardwalk, soaking his shoes. He would have taken them off, but found it was better with them on to protect his feet from splinters, errant nail heads poking out of the wood, and random unseen objects caught out of sight. So he suffered through wet shoes now and would take them off, tying the laces together and slinging them over his shoulder later when he came back to dry land.
At the end of the pier two enormously fat seagulls were fighting for the right to sit on the rail and survey the floating debris. Sandro could hear glass bottles clanking somewhere dully against wood. He saw a length of two by four bobbing up and down, but didn’t bother to try and fish it out. He couldn’t get much of anything for it at the market. Some clothes, or fabric or something. It looked soiled and torn. He left it, scanning as he walked further out. The gull which had won squawked loudly once at him and lifted off with a pained expression as he came to the edge of Waldorp’s Drop.
A flash of red bobbing up and down. A gasoline container? Judging by the weight of it sitting in the water, it looked like it might be partially full. He slipped the rope out of his pocket, assuring the hook looped through the end was firmly attached and tossed it over. Once, twice, three times and hooked the handle, pulling it up to where he could stick a hand through and grab it, raising it hand over hand up over the rail. He set it down in front him, fighting with the cap, and sniffed. A whuff of gasoline vapor. This would be worth a few dollars. With a second piece of cord, he tied the handle off inside the railing as an added measure of security for his find, as he peered round all sides of the structure.
More cloth. He chucked his hook at it out of now bored curiosity. There was not much out here today. He began reeling it in. It was heavier than expected, and as the object floated into range, he stuck an arm through the bars of the railing to see what it was. A jacket. But it was caught on something, wrapped around a…
Sandro slipped backwards as he let go, landing with a splash onto the watery deck. A body. Hair floated to the surface. An arm, a hand. Bloated. Sandro nearly vomited from the stench. No wonder the gulls had been staking out their territory here. He scrambled to his feet, abandoned his hook and line which was still embedded in the cloth of the jacketed corpse, hastily untied the prize of his red partly full fuel container and got the hell out of there.