The skin around his eyes crinkled attractively as he smiled. “Probably a good strategy.”
I headed down the trail and, as described, in another hundred yards the trail opened out into a clearing that had been made into a picnic site. Beyond this area I could see that the trail continued on to a deck where one could look out over the marsh. A concrete barbecue pit held old ashes and a dusting of snow that was melting into slush. A pair of picnic tables had been there long enough to collect an assortment of carvings in their surfaces on the order of “Jenny wuz here” and “Buddy N Chelsea 4eva.” And in the scruffy grass between the tables and the barbecue pit was the dead man.
A gangly male officer wearing a jacket with Beaulac PD Crime Scene emblazoned across the back crouched by the body, snapping pictures. Brown curls peeked out from beneath a black Beaulac PD baseball cap, and when he turned I saw a scattering of freckles across a slightly crooked nose. I didn’t recognize him, but I sure as hell knew the slim, red-haired woman in a similar jacket standing beside him. This was Jill, one of my best friends and one of the very few who knew about the demon summoning. I had a feeling the crouching officer was a trainee of some sort—a guess that was somewhat confirmed when he straightened and looked to her for guidance.
His eyes shifted to me as I approached, and Jill turned, flashing me a smile. “Heya, darlin’,” she said. “Lovely day for a nature walk!”
I couldn’t help but note that she wore a dark blue knit hat, a black scarf wound around her neck and leather gloves. Apparently she had checked the weather before leaving her house this morning. And hadn’t been distracted by a demon attack. “Nature and walk should never be in a sentence together,” I retorted, grimacing as a burst of wind whipped through the trees and around us. I hunched my shoulders in an attempt to bury my ears in the borrowed scarf. “This sucks ass. Tell me what you’ve found so I can finish up and get the hell out of here.”
She laughed. “Okay, grumpypants. Tracy already gave you the gist?” At my nod she continued, “It looks to me like our vic has been here since maybe late yesterday, but the CO folks will have to give the word on that. He wasn’t dressed for cold weather. No flies, but the cold is probably keeping them away.”
I crouched by the body. He was lying on his stomach with one hand up near his face and the other down along his side. One leg was cocked awkwardly over the other in a way that made me think he might have stumbled and collapsed. I peered at what I could see of his face. Blond hair. A mustache stained red. “Looks like he had a nosebleed,” I said. “Not a whole lot of blood.” I skimmed my gaze over the rest of him, but there didn’t seem to be any obvious sign of trauma. No jacket, just a long-sleeved Henley-style shirt, jeans, and boots. “Maybe he overdosed, or had a stroke. Do those cause nosebleeds?”
Jill shrugged. “Ask Dr. Lanza,” she said, referring to the parish pathologist. “Who knows, maybe there’s a big knife that we can’t see sticking into his belly. We won’t know anything for sure until the CO dudes roll this guy over.”
I nodded. There’d be no touching the body until the coroner’s office personnel got here and everything was properly photographed and documented, which meant there wasn’t much I could do except interview whoever found him. “Does his name sound familiar to you?” I flicked a glance up at Jill.
She frowned in thought then shook her head. “I don’t think so. Why? Do you know him?”
“Not sure. The name Barry Landrieu rings a bell, and I kind of get the feeling I’ve seen him before, but…” I sighed and straightened. “Hell, I probably arrested him once or something.” Though even as I said it I knew that wasn’t it. Damn it, this was going to bug the ever-loving crap out of me until I figured it out.
I turned my attention to the gangly young man. “Hi. I’m Kara Gillian. I’d shake your hand but I don’t want to take it out of my pocket.”
He gave an awkward chuckle. “Drew Blackall. Nice to meet you.”
“Drew’s fresh out of the Academy,” Jill informed me. “He told me he wanted to be just like the CSI people on TV,” she added, face completely neutral.
He turned a bright shade of crimson, and I grinned. “And how long did it take for her to disabuse you of that notion?”
“About ten minutes,” he admitted.
I was almost surprised it had taken that long. Jill had several ready-made rants about the inaccurate ways her profession was portrayed on TV and how such portrayals were detrimental to law enforcement and forensic labs.
Jill gave a pleased sigh. “Ah, I do love shaping young minds.”
I snorted. “All right, I’m going to go talk to the witness. I’m freezing my tits off out here.”
“He’s a celebrity,” Drew blurted out, then flushed as we both looked at him. “The witness. I mean, um, not like a movie star, but he’s on TV and people around here know him.…” he trailed off, face coloring.
“Okay, I’ll bite,” I said. “Who is he?”
Drew gave an eager smile. “Roman Hatch!” he said. “He’s on ESPN and he used to play for—”
“I know who he is,” I interrupted, unable to completely hide the slight wince. “Roman Hatch. Former linebacker at LSU. They called him ‘Hatchet Man.’ Played for Green Bay and went to the Pro Bowl twice. Two years ago he had a career-ending knee injury, and now he’s a color commentator for ESPN.”
Jill cocked an eyebrow at me. “And here I thought you didn’t know anything about sports.”
I shrugged. “I don’t know anything about sports. But I know Roman.” I paused, shrugged. “I went to LSU. And I, uh, dated him for a couple of months during my senior year.”
The look of astonishment on her face was almost enough to make me not mind the cold. “I think this shocks me more than…um…your house,” she said. I was pretty sure she’d been about to say something about my summoning demons and had caught herself just in time. Luckily Drew didn’t seem to be aware that Jill had censored herself. He stared at me in awe as if I’d just announced I was the new quarterback for the New Orleans Saints.
Jill shook her head and let out a low whistle. “Wow. You just don’t strike me as the type who would ever date a football player.”
“Yes. Because I’m not,” I said emphatically. “Hence the reason we aren’t still together.”
Her eyes flashed with wicked humor, and I knew she was dying to say something obnoxious about the type of men I currently had in my life. Good thing—for my sake—that the tech was here, and she was forced to restrain herself.
Any further commentary was cut short by the arrival of Coroner’s Office personnel as they maneuvered their stretcher over bumps and debris in the trail.
The Coroner’s Investigator gave me a dour nod before stooping to peer at the body. Clearly he was just as thrilled to be out in the cold as I was. He pulled on latex gloves then gave a nod to his assistant. Together they rolled Mr. Landrieu onto his back while Drew dutifully snapped pictures, and I stood back and shivered. The Investigator crouched again and ran gloved hands over the victim’s skull and carefully examined the rest of the body.
“No obvious sign of injury or foul play,” he finally stated. “Looks like the blood is from a nosebleed. Doc’ll have to figure out if that had anything to do with the cause of death.” He stood. “You need a looksee?”
“Yes, thank you,” I replied. A shimmer of unease swept over me as I stepped toward the body and I shot a quick glance around, suddenly weirded out for absolutely no reason I could name. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. No animals or movement. Anything with any sort of common sense was surely holed up in its nest. I shifted into othersight, but it didn’t reveal anything sinister.