“Fish and chips” turned out to be a sort of code for heading back towards the coast to a little wind-blown beach town I won’t name. There’s a little fish and chips stand by the beach which they wouldn’t shut up about.
“Listen,” Neal said “You’ve never had fish and chips like this. Trust me. I don’t even like fish and chips at other places. We’re ruined. It’s this stuff or nothing.”
A thing I have noticed about Neal: he gets super melodramatic about things that don’t matter at all. Four days ago we were uncovering like thirty bodies and he barely batted an eye. Now he’s like willing to die for the crispiness of these fish and chips.
But k to be fair to him they were fucking awesome fish and chips.
It was Julian who saw the paper. It was stuck under the napkin dispenser on the outdoor table we were sitting at, a local newspaper flapping in the breeze. I was too deep in fried food paradise to take much notice of his grabbing the paper, or of the line that appeared between his eyebrows as he read the front page until he said, “have you seen this?”
He passed the page across the table to Neal, who was totally blissed out. I swear to god he eats like he’s never eaten before in his life.
He glanced down at the paper and groaned. “Can we get through one meal? Fish and chips man. You are violating the sacred communion of fish and chips.”
Julian rolled his eyes and seemed about ready to clap back, so I reached for the news paper.
TEN MEN DROWN OFF [redacted] CLIFF
I read on. Apparently in literally the last like four days TEN dudes have jumped off these cliffs into the ocean. No survivors. Ten dead ocean jumpers in four days.
I read relevant passages aloud.
“Seriously?” Neal said. “The suicide cult can’t wait twenty minutes while I finish my fries?”
But in the end even Neal had to put aside his food. It was too weird. According to the paper none of these men even know each other.
“Well that’s bullshit,” Neal said. “They always know each other.”
“No, look they can’t find a connection,” I said. “See?” I pointed at a quote. The police officer saying there was no evidence of the cases being connected. Below it, one of the dead guys girlfriends insisting her man would never have offed himself.
“We should look into it,” Julian said.
“The sanctity of fish and chips,” Neal whined, but Julian ignored him until he finally, grumbling, got out his phone to start making calls.
Within an hour we were parked outside a big blue beach house. The front door had a big arch over the door and from what I could tell the back door opened right out onto beach grass.
It was one of the dead guys, Jerry Sherman’s house. Inside his girlfriend was waiting for us.
We were pretending to be reporters and she was weirdly eager to be interviewed. I thought it seemed suspicious, but Neal and Julian weren’t particular surprised.
“Most likely she’s unhappy with how the police are handling the case,” Julian explained straightening his collar in the sun flap mirror. “She probably thinks they’re ignoring pertinent evidence.”
Neal scoffed. “They probably are ignoring pertinent evidence,” he said. “But they don’t know what we know.”
The woman who answered the door was probably in her late twenties, with a perfect blond balayage. Her sweats probably cost more than my entire outfit. That’s not really saying much tho lmao I really need to go shopping tbh.
“Hi, we’re with the Harold, we spoke on the phone?” Julian said. I will never get over hearing his deal with people voice. He sounded so safe and kind and the girl visibly relaxed. I get it. He talks to everyone like they’re a skiddish horse and it totally works hahaha.
“Come in,” the girl said. Her name was Jill. Her eyes were red-rimmed and swollen. Her house was beautiful, clean with tall ceilings, muted sand tones and lots of natural light, but the signs of disaster had appeared on the surfaces. Tissues, meals abandoned and left out on random surfaces.
We sat down across from her in their living room. They had an unbelievable view of the ocean out of their living room window.
“We have the official police report,” Neal said. “We just want to know anything you’d like to add.”
The woman scoffed. “The police report,” she snapped. “Those fucking bastards. Took one look at his medical history and decided it was a cut and dry suicide.”
“Medical history?” Neal asked.
“He tried to kill himself once,” Jill admitted.
Neal glanced at Julian and I could see the told-you-so all over his face. Jill must have seen it too because she snapped, “Twenty years ago. He was thirteen.”
“Was he under any significant amount of stress?”Julian asked.
“No more than usual,” she said.
Julian leaned forward and gave her the kindest smile. “Sometimes suicide attempts are a symptom. Was he giving any signs of depression or mania?”
Jill rolled her eyes. “For fucks sake,” she said. “He took our dog with him. He went out for a run with Bandit and neither of them ever came home. He loved that dog. Why on earth would he take the dog with him if he was planning on jumping off a cliff?”
“She’s right you know,” Julian said as we ducked back into the car ten minutes later. “Those aren’t the behaviors of a man who’s planning on killing himself.”
“Maybe he didn’t want to abandon his dog,” Neal said.
“So he decided to throw him off a cliff?” Julian said.
“Maybe it wasn’t planned,” Neal said.
“Ten unplanned suicides? On the same cliff? In four days?” Julian replied.
“Alright, so we’ll stake out the cliff,” Neal sighed.
Break out the donuts and binoculars fam it’s time for a stakeout.