“Yeah, well,” I grumbled, “we’re not supposed to have snow down here!”
Scott let out a snort. “Would you rather have freezing rain?”
“I’d rather not have anything freezing, thank you very much.” I scowled and dug my hands deeper into my pockets. “I put up with hurricanes and the misery of Louisiana summer so that I don’t have to put up with snow or sleet or any other form of frozen wetness.”
“My god, you’re a weenie,” Scott said.
“I don’t like the cold!”
Scott turned to eye me, pursing his lips. “Well maybe you should try, oh, I don’t know, dressing for the weather?”
I hunched my shoulders in a vain attempt to keep the nasty little snow-bits from wiggling their evil way down my collar. “I didn’t know it was going to be this cold. Or snowy. ”I hissed the last word.
The stocky cop gave me a suitably withering look. “What, you don’t own a computer to check the forecast? A smart phone? A television? And is that really a Members Only jacket? I didn’t think anyone wore those anymore. Were you even born when that thing was made?”
I couldn’t exactly tell him that I’d been too busy putting a magical security system on the PD to check the weather, or that my other—warmer—jacket had been clawed by a demon. “Bite me,” I snarled instead.
His only reply was a laugh.
We were in the parking lot of the Beaulac Nature Center—which was a fancy name for a trail that wound through the woods and swamp. The “Center” part of it consisted of a shack not much bigger than a utility shed, and a Plexiglas-covered map of the immediate area. The lot was a mostly flat stretch of old gravel and sparse grass—barely big enough to hold the two Beaulac PD police cruisers, crime scene van, my unmarked and two other vehicles—an ancient and battered Peugeot, and a spanking new silver BMW.
The sight of the crime scene van pleased me. That meant that Crime Scene Technician Jill Faciane was already on the scene and doing her thing. A transplant from the New Orleans PD, who’d moved to Beaulac after Hurricane Katrina, she knew her shit, worked quickly and efficiently, and was my kind of smartass. Procedure dictated that crime scenes had to be processed before detectives could go tromping all over them, but if Jill was working I had solid hope that I wouldn’t have to stand out in the cold any longer than necessary.
I dug into the pockets of my jacket in the desperate hope that I’d left some gloves in them from last year, but all I found was an old wadded up Kleenex that probably had some ancient germs on it. I didn’t see any trash cans around, and I didn’t feel right casually littering out here, so I reluctantly stuffed the old tissue back down into my pocket, hoping that any germs it carried were long dead.
“So what’s the deal here, Sergeant?” I asked Scott. “Let me guess, I’m going to have to take a nature hike to get to the body.”
He gave me a sad shake of his head. “You really are a weenie, aren’t you?”
I grinned. “Go with your strengths!”
He lifted his chin toward an officer standing near the head of the trail. “I’ll let Gordon give you the rundown. He’ll be able to tell you a shitload more than I ever could.”
I slid a look toward Officer Tracy Gordon. If I didn’t have a rule against dating coworkers—and if my love life wasn’t already way too complicated—I’d have been all over him. Tall and dark-skinned, he had a smart-hunk look about him that pushed my buttons in all the right ways. “He still your trainee?”
“Nope. He finished up last week, and I pulled every string I had to get him permanently assigned to my shift.”
“Enjoy him while you can,” I said, clapping Scott on the shoulder. “We’ll be stealing him soon enough!”
He sighed. “I keep telling him that you detectives are joyless pricks and that going to investigations would be terrible for his career, but I’m not sure he’s buying it.”
“Imagine that!” I gave Scott a parting smile and then trotted over to where Tracy Gordon stood at the start of the trail. I knew it was the start of the trail because there was a deliberately crude sign that said “Start of Trail.” I glanced quickly around. There were no other trails or paths or anything else that could possibly be mistaken for the nature trail, but I was willing to bet that the sign existed because at some point someone decided to simply charge into the woods and then complained that it hadn’t been well marked.
Or maybe I was too quick to assume there were a large number of stupid people in the world.
“You need a better coat,” Tracy said with a frown as he held the crime scene log for me to sign. “Scarf and gloves too. You’re going to freeze your ass off dressed like that.”
“Yes, Mom,” I replied as I handed the pen back to him and stuffed my hands back into my pockets. Who was the stupid one now? “It wasn’t this cold when I left my house,” I added petulantly.
“Don’t you ever check the weather?” he chided. “Cold front moving through today. This morning was the high temp for the day.”
I scowled at the sky. Living in south Louisiana meant that snow was a rarity, but in the past few years there’d been a scattering of snow days—more than I’d ever remembered when I was a kid. Only two years ago we’d had a surprise dumping of nearly six inches—which had been awesome for everyone who didn’t actually have to go out in it. St. Long Parish didn’t have anything resembling a snowplow, and the best the parish officials had been able to do was spread salt and sand on the bridges and tell everyone to stay off the roads. As someone who usually did have to go out regardless of the weather, my dislike of driving in snow more than outweighed my inner six-year-old’s desire to make a snowman. “I shouldn’t have to put up with brutally hot summers and snow,” I whined.
He chuckled. A rich sound. “It’s not so bad if you actually dress for the weather.” To my surprise he pulled off his scarf and draped it around my neck, looping it with practiced ease. He gave me a grin before I could speak. “I’m from Colorado. I won’t freeze like you delicate southern flower types.”
I knew I should protest the offer and at least try to give the scarf back to him, but it was lovely and warm and it stopped the breeze from diving down the collar of my coat. Plus it smelled very faintly of whatever his cologne was, and I had to resist the very unseemly desire to bury my face in it and take a deep whiff. “Thanks,” I said instead. “I’ll give it back on my way out.”
“No hurry. So I take it you want the rundown?”
He pulled a small notebook from his front pocket and flipped it open.
I quickly held up my hand before he could start speaking. “Just the Cliff Notes version for right now,” I said. “I want to get through this before hypothermia sets in.”
He smiled. “Fair enough. About a hundred yards down the trail is a small picnic area, along with our victim, white male. ID in his pocket says that he’s Barry Landrieu, age thirty-seven. The Peugeot is his. No obvious sign of trauma on initial visual examination, though there appears to be blood around his nose. Coroner’s office is on the way, and crime scene is already doing their magic.”
Barry Landrieu. That name was maddeningly familiar, but my frozen brain didn’t want to tell me why.
“The witness who found the body is in the shack,” he continued before sliding the notebook back into his shirt pocket. “The BMW-Z4 belongs to him. I verified.”
This was why I adored Officer Gordon. He saw the loose threads and checked them out without being told to do so. One of these days he was going to be a fantastic detective. “I’ll deal with the witness after I see the body,” I said. At least this witness was willing to stick around, which would save me the trouble of having to hunt him down later for a statement. Detention of witnesses was one of those things that was legal only under certain circumstances. “I’m afraid that if I go inside now,” I continued, “I’ll never be able to convince myself to come out.”