BASED ON A TRUE STORY
“The way it floats in the water so serenely in the moonlight and the sunlight you would have thought it was meant to be there. Pure and unyielding and as solid as silk. She floats there, a mystery as deep as the moon and the mind of God. What does it mean? A pregnant girl floating in the city’s drinking water?”
On an early spring morning in Richmond, Virginia, in the year 1885, a young woman is found floating in the city reservoir. It appears that she has committed suicide, but there are curious clues at the scene that suggest foul play. As the identity of the girl, Lillie, is revealed, her dark family history comes to light, and the investigation focuses on her tumultuous affair with a cousin, Tommie Cluverius. Tommie, an ambitious young lawyer, is the polar opposite of his brother Willie, a quiet, humble farmer. Willie must now decide how far to trust Tommie, and whether he ever understood him at all. Told through accumulating revelations, Tommie’s story hurtles toward a riveting courtroom climax with a shocking conclusion.
Excerpt from The Reservoir
On March 14, 1885, a body is floating in the old Marshall Reservoir, in a light snow, and then under a waxing moon.
In the morning the superintendent of the reservoir, Lysander Meade, discovers a furrowed place on the walkway that he does not remember seeing the night before. Someone has crawled through the fence again—early in the year for youngsters to be out cavorting at night. He glances down toward the water and sees what appears to be a dress. It’s floating along the edge of the water, where the embankment slopes down to a picket fence. He’s seen a lot of oddities in his years—rubber condoms and smutty books and the occasional sack of puppies—but never a dress. He tries to imagine the scene. Mighty cold last night for such carryings-on. Except now he sees it isn’t just a dress, but a whole person. A woman. And a dead one at that, or what appears to be. Never has he found a dead woman, nor man neither for that matter.
So down he goes for a better look. Who would not want to see a dead woman? Could she be something to look at? Could she be a fine looking lady, or might she be one of your more common sorts? Mr. Lucas comes up from the pump house where he has been repairing a stopcock, and helps Mr. Meade with his speculations. They stand there together, Lucas a head taller, loose-limbed and slack-jawed, with stick-out ears, while Meade, wearing thick eyeglasses, bends rigidly forward at the waist, his navy jacket stretching across his back, his neat mustaches crinkling as he sniffs the air. All they can make out at first is a gray wool dress with flounces at the bottom and hair hanging like dark weeds about her head. “The grappling hook’s the thing,” Mr. Meade says.
Mr. Lucas comes back presently, hook at the ready. But now Mr. Meade is not so sure. He nudges the body closer to the shore. Then he stops and yells. “Hello, ma’am? Hello, miss? Hello?”
“I expect you’ll have to yell louder than that,” Mr. Lucas suggests.