mix ix: prologue
The suicide of Josh Tanner, 66 of Royersford PA, made no sense to anybody who knew him. He was a beloved husband, a father of three, married for 46 years, a retired aerospace engineer whose passion was Bonsai, an enthusiasm he shared with others through various clubs and societies. A sailing enthusiast as well, Josh had a sailboat docked down at the bay which he used at least every other day throughout the summer. A man described as cheerful and with a level head, there had been no talk of depression or distress.
The events as we know them leading up to his death are as follows.
Just like he had every year for the last decade, he arrived in Fowl’s Point on the evening of the first Friday of June to open his vacation house. His house was on Abattoir Street, several blocks in from the bay to the northeast and just as far from the more lively town center blocks south. His house was old, really old, early nineteenth century old and he liked to joke the only thing holding it up was the one next to it and the one next to that one. Just about every house on the block was on The National Register of Historic Places. Over the years Josh had put a lot into the house so the inside was convincingly modern while the outside maintained the shambling charm his type liked. His neighbors were for the most part friendly and often he attended meetings of the local historic commission where he felt more comfortable taking a backseat role since he wasn’t a year-round resident.
On the Friday night in question he spoke briefly to his neighbor Mrs. Denise Shawn about the noise emanating from the town center. Turned out it was a band-in-the-park event they were having more frequently at the big gazebo. The two retirees shared a silent head shake at the changing times and lack of respect for the town’s normal tranquil atmosphere. Mrs. Shawn later described Mr. Tanner as acting normally in every way.
He got a soft crab sandwich and fries from down the block at RJ’s Sandwiches, enjoying dinner with a beer at home in front of the TV watching an episode from a series on Netflix. He went to bed at around 11 p.m.
Mrs. Shawn was awakened at 2:36 by noise coming from the other side of the wall she shared with Mr. Tanner. She wasn’t trying to eavesdrop, couldn’t help but hear him through the thin wall, yet was not able to make out what he was saying. The racket subsided and she fell back asleep.
Her dog Woody started yipping around 5:30, an hour before she normally woke up. She found Woody at the back door, reacting to, but unable to see anything outside. When she looked out she saw Josh Tanner in a robe and bare feet digging in the backyard with a shovel. She opened the door and through the screen door asked what he was doing. His response didn’t make much sense to Mrs. Shawn, and given the hour and her just-awakened state, her memory of the odd incident is hazy.
“Something about archeology and radiocarbon dating and Captain Williams.”
The latter reference concerns a legendary local figure whose exploits have been documented, and it is suggested by some, elaborated on by those descendants that still inhabit the town. It is said the legendary Captain Williams sailed around the world numerous times, was a Civil War hero, and managed to show up at numerous other historic events, always making his way back home to the house that remains down on Bay Street with the historic plaque out front. Residents who take umbrage at the Williams family’s undue influence—based on bloated claims and vast real estate holdings—like to point out that just about every house in the town has a historic plaque perched out front.
Josh Tanner’s archaeological dig was abandoned and Josh was never seen again by Mrs. Shawn. Others spotted him in town that day. Dave Koricke who owns the ice cream place Nice Dreams across from the gazebo saw Josh walking about the park, talking and gesticulating to nobody in particular. Dave thought it likely he was drunk and chose to do nothing about the embarrassing situation.
Brianna Baumgardner saw him at some parking spaces carving curved lines into the accumulated gravel with a stick, going at it wholeheartedly for over an hour, at times pausing to talk aloud and in a declamatory fashion. She said when cars would try to pull into the spot where Josh worked he shooed them away. This made her think he was doing it as an artsy project for that weekend’s festivities and she paid no more attention to it.
The last time anybody saw him was the strangest incident. On Saturday night a local band called The Groovy McGreevys began jamming on the gazebo. They were just finishing their first song when Josh came barreling through the crowd, running at a speed greater than you would imagine given his age, his short legs and huge gut. He took the mic from the stand and, catching his breath, gestured with a raised hand for the attention of all. People in Fowl’s Point are a laid back, accepting and accommodating sort, so the Groovy McGreevys allowed this outburst with an equanimity you would expect from a band of that name. A recording by the bass player’s wife preserves Josh Tanner’s last pronouncement to the world.
“Listen to me. Listen. This is a matter of utmost importance. We all know this place will be underwater in fifty years. Polar ice caps are breaking off, visible with the naked eye from the space station. Captain Williams supposedly sailed far south and into the Pacific. He brought back coconuts.”
The crowd laughed.
“You have to see the metaphor, the model.”
An indistinct voice called from the crowd.
“No, just listen. We have the ability to relocate to another planet, we have electrostatic ion thrusters…”
That’s when somebody pulled the plug on his mic. His voice became a hollow background echo on the recording, then was drowned out by the queries and assertions of those close by. A minute later, with the mic plugged back in, the lead singer apologized for the interruption, made an ironic comment about it not being open-mic night, and soon they were jamming again.
Nobody saw Josh Tanner again that night or on Sunday.
On Monday morning the mast of his sunken boat was found fifty yards out in the bay by some boaters making an early departure. Hours later after divers were called in, they found it had been scuttled, a ragged hole torn in its bottom, and tied to the mast was the body of Josh Tanner. At his feet was a large stone removed from the wall of the local historic cemetery, presumably to be used to pierce the hull if the first proved unsuccessful.
There was no note, no clues left behind that would indicate a distraught state of mind, certainly none of the usual signs of a planned out suicide.
Given these facts, the series of strange behaviors witnessed throughout the town, Josh Tanner’s death was ruled a suicide precipitated by a psychotic episode.
Next Chapter: Chapter One: September