When Dan heard Mac transmitting on the short wave radio Dan turned the squad radio off. He quickly picked up the unit and listened.
“There’s a call from Felix Murphy on Oakdale Road,” Mac announced.
Dan laughed. “Yeah, I just passed his place. I suppose he’s pissed at the noise.”
“Never mind that. What’s his problem this time?”
“Says he wants to file a complaint about some hogs.”
Dan shook his head. “Did you tell him to call animal control?”
“You know we ain’t got no animal control officer,” Mac snapped, not catching Dan’s dry humor.
Dan looked at the radio receiver in his hand and then sighed. Mac was his dispatcher and jailhouse keeper. Under normal circumstances a man of Mac’s age should have retired five years ago, but with no one else wanting to step into that position, Dan was fortunate that Mac chose to stay. In addition, he was easy to get along with once you got past his idiosyncrasies.
“What’s the problem with the hogs?”
“Claims they killed a heifer of his.”
Dan laughed aloud. “That’s got to be some mighty big hog.”
“Says they’re razorbacks.”
Dan quickly turned onto a side road. The car fishtailed. Dan got back on the radio. “Has he been drinking that hooch of his again?”
Dan could tell by the silence on the other end that Mac was getting flustered. Mac always took it personally when Dan questioned the content of the messages.
“All’s I do is take the calls.”
“Christ, what’s the temperature. It’s only nine o’clock and I swear it’s already in the eighties.”
“You want me to check?”
“No, don’t bother.” Dan said while shaking his head. “Hey, if Felix calls again and I’m sure he will, tell him I’ll stop and talk to him on my way back into town. Over and out.”
Dan could tell it was going to be one of those days. Nothing was going right. It started out when he cut himself shaving that morning and then he had forgotten to pick up coffee grounds yesterday so he had to start the day without his caffeine fix and right now he was feeling its effect.
Dan pulled off onto a dirt trail that led to the tall pines in the distance. He knew the area well. The Maxwells owned a lot of the land in the county and this area in particular. In the distance Dan could see the squad car and one civilian vehicle. His only concern now was that they did not contaminate the crime scene. This was a lonely stretch and if anyone wanted to dump a body it was an ideal spot.
The squad came to a sliding halt on the swampy trail. Dan got out of the squad and walked over to Deputy Billy Bob Mason. Billy Bob reminded Dan of himself fifteen years ago. He was so eager to do things by the book and was always the first one on the scene. He loved being a cop and Dan knew he would be a rival for his job in the future. Dan walked up to him while the other man was bending over a clump of weeds heaving his guts out.
“Where’s the body?” Dan asked.
Billy Bob pointed beyond the other man. “Don’t look good, Sheriff.”
Dan glanced at Billy Bob, raised his eyebrows, and then walked past him toward where the other man was still heaving.
“Never does,” was all Dan could manage to say in agreement with Billy Bob.
The ground was swampy even though it had not rained in weeks. He could feel the wet coming through his shoes and heard the sloshing of mud with every step he took.
Billy Bob followed Dan. “Hank over here found the body.” Billy Bob pointed to Hank. “Says he knows nothing and wants to go fishing.”
Dan raised his hands in disbelief. “Real concerned.”
He walked past Hank. Behind the reeds of swamp grass he could see the silhouette of the nude body. The hands and legs were tied behind the back with the rope strung around the victim’s neck.
Dan turned to Billy Bob. “Do we know who he is?”
Billy Bob handed Dan a plastic bag that contained a wallet. “Richie Ames.”
Dan wiped the sweat from his brow. “At least we can put him to rest.”
Billy Bob continued. “Says here he was eighteen last December. Probably graduated this year.”
Dan shook his head. “He had his whole life ahead of him. It shouldn’t have to end like this.”
Dan glanced up at the two vehicles coming down the dusty road. The medical examiner’s men usually followed him in their van. Dan and Billy Bob just stared at the dusty trail. There wasn’t much they could do until these guys examined the area and collected any DNA. Until that was done they couldn’t go near the body for fear of contaminating the area.
“It’s going to be a blue moon in a few days? You know what they say?”
Dan turned to Billy Bob and frowned. “Don’t bring up that hocus-pocus crap.”
“Don’t believe everything Mac tells you.”
Dan glanced at the attractively dressed woman who got out of the county medical examiner’s car. He quickly turned to Billy Bob.
Billy Bob turned to look at who Dan was referring to. “Oh, the new medical examiner. Thought you knew.”
“She’s a woman.”
“I can see that! What’s her name?”
“Nancy Davie. Came from up north someplace.”
“What happened to Chambers?”
“Didn’t Mac tell you?”
“I wouldn’t be asking you if I knew. Besides, this is my first day back from vacation, remember?”
“Fired, from what we heard. The next day she was here. Go figure?”
It puzzled Dan. He had only been gone a week and in that time he had talked to Mac three times. Moreover, there was never a mention of trouble in the medical examiner’s office or the fact that there was a new one in town.
Dan watched as Nancy Davie looked the area over. She had to be in her mid-thirties. Her dark hair was pulled back in an attractive bun. She had doelike eyes that looked right through you. She had on a loose white medical coat, but underneath the finely tailored slacks fit her frame well. Nancy walked up to the group of men while putting on a pair of latex gloves. She glanced up at the men and then down at the victim.
“You haven’t touched anything, have you?” she asked, looking at each man individually.
Dan raised his hands while stepping back. “I didn’t touch a thing,” he said in his defense.
Nancy glanced at the area around the body. She stared at the rope around the neck and followed it to the boy’s feet. “Hum,” was all she managed to say.
“Do you see something?” Dan asked.
Nancy frowned as she turned to Dan. “The more the victim struggled the tighter the noose got. Not an easy death.”
“No death is,” was all Dan could muster up to say. It sounded stupid after the words came out.
Nancy glanced up at Dan. “It was a hard way to go.”
“Anything else?” Dan asked, stepping closer to the body.
Nancy held up her hand for him to stop. “Do you mind?”
Nancy bent down and examined the area around the body. She took a pocketknife out of her pocket and poked around the ground.
“What are you looking for?”
Nancy shook her head. “Do you mind?”
“No. But you sounded like maybe,” he started to say, then stopped.
Nancy stood up and glanced up at Dan. She then looked down and picked up something. She quickly put it in a plastic bag.
“What is it?” Dan asked.
“I won’t know for sure until I get to the lab.”
Nancy raised the camera that was around her neck and took pictures of the victim and the surrounding area. While Dan was not looking she turned toward him and snapped a few shots.