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Thursday, January 6
The body had been exposed to the elements for at least two or three days. And before last night's heavy rain had washed them away, the tracks of dozens of paws and claws must have crisscrossed the clearing.
It was shaping up to be a long, cold winter, and the animals were hungry.
Deputy Alex Mayse shivered as he picked his way gingerly past the town's single forensics "expert," a young doctor who'd been elected coroner because nobody else had wanted the job. The doctor was crawling around the clearing on his hands and knees, his nose inches from the wet ground as he found and flagged the scattered bones and other bits the animals had left.
"You don't have to hum to yourself, Doc," Alex muttered sourly. "We all know how happy you are."
Remaining in his crouched position, Dr. Peter Shepherd said cheerfully, "If a murdered teenager made me happy, Alex, I'd be worse than a ghoul. I'm just fascinated by the puzzle, that's all."
Waiting patiently just a few steps behind the doctor, camera in hand as he waited to take pictures of each flagged spot, Deputy Brady Shaw rolled his eyes at Alex.
Alex grimaced in sympathy, but all he said to Shepherd was, "Yeah, yeah. Just find something helpful this time, will you?"
"Do my best," the doctor replied, studying what appeared to be a bleached twig.
Alex walked to the area where most of the body had been found, noticing with a certain amount of sympathy that Sandy Lynch was over behind a tree puking her guts out. She was having a lousy introduction to the job, poor kid. Not that the old hands were handling it any better, really. Carl Tierney had had the misfortune to find Adam Ramsay's mortal remains, and the ten-year veteran of the Sheriff's Department had promptly lost his morning Egg McMuffin.
Alex himself had suffered through a few teeth-grittingly queasy moments during the last couple of hours.
In fact, the only member of the Cox County Sheriff's Department who had shown no signs of being sickened by the gory sight was the sheriff.
There was an irony there somewhere, Alex thought as he joined the sheriff, who was hunkered down several feet from what was left of Adam Ramsay, elbows on knees and fingers steepled. In its entire history, the small town of Gladstone had seldom been troubled by murder. A long line of sheriffs had grown old in their jobs, dealing with petty crime and little else of consequence, needing no more police training than how to to load a gun, which would in all likelihood never be fired except at targets or the occasional unlucky rabbit. It was a local saying that all the Cox County sheriff had to be good at was filling out the Santa suit for the annual Christmas parade down Main Street.
Until last year, anyway. The town finally elected a sheriff with an actual law degree and a minor in criminology--and what happened? Damned if they didn't start having real crimes.
But they were blessed in that this particular sheriff had very quickly displayed an almost uncanny ability to get to the bottom of things with a minimum of time wasted.
At least until recently.
"This makes two," Alex said, judging that the silence had gone on long enough.
"Same killer, d'you think?"
Startling blue eyes slanted him a look. "Hard to tell from the bones."
Alex started to reply that there was a bit of rotting flesh here and there, but kept his mouth shut. There was little remaining on the skeleton of Adam Ramsay, that was true enough, and what was there didn't immediately offer up any evidence as to who had killed him and how. Impossible to tell if the boy's body had borne the same bruises and cuts as they had found on Kerry Ingram. Still, it was a fair guess that two bodies turning up in less than a month had to be connected in some way.
With a sigh, Alex said, "We won't be able to quiet the gossip by suggesting this death was an accident. We might not know how he died yet, but it's a cinch a victim of an accident wouldn't have buried his own body. And you can bet that little fact won't stay out of circulation for long."
"So we have a problem. A big problem."
"Shit," the sheriff said quietly after a moment.
Alex wondered if that was guilt he heard. "Announcing that Kerry Ingram had been murdered wouldn't have saved this one," he reminded. "I may not be an expert, but my guess is that Adam died more than a couple of weeks ago."
"And his own mother didn't report him missing until just before Halloween, even though he'd already been gone for weeks by then."
"Because they'd had a big fight and he'd run off to live with his father in Florida just like he'd done at least twice before--or so she thought."
"My point," Alex said, "is that there's nothing we could have done to save Adam Ramsay."
"Maybe," the sheriff said, still quiet. "But maybe we could have saved Kerry Ingram."
Breaking the ensuing silence, Alex said, "Good thing he was wearing his class ring. And that he had that gold tooth. Otherwise we'd never have been able to identify him. But what kid his age has a gold tooth? I meant to ask before now, but--"
"Not a tooth, just a cap. He had a ring of his father's melted down, and a dentist in the city did the work."
"Why, for God's sake?"
"His mother didn't know or wouldn't say. And we can't ask him now." Still hunkered down, the sheriff added, "I doubt it's important, at least to the question of who killed him and why."
"Yeah, I guess. You have any ideas about that, by the way?"
Alex sighed. "Me either. The mayor isn't going to like this, Randy."
"Nobody's going to like it, Alex. Especially not Adam Ramsay's mother."
"You know what I mean."
"Yeah. I know." Sheriff Miranda Knight sighed and rose from the crouched position, absently stretching cramped muscles. "Shit," she said again, softly.
Deputy Sandy Lynch, still very pale, ventured a step toward them but kept her gaze studiously away from the remains. "I'm sorry, Sheriff," she said nervously, new enough at the job that she feared losing it.
Miranda looked at her. "Don't worry about it, Sandy. There's nothing you can do here anyway. Go on back to the office and help Grace deal with all the phone calls."
"Okay, Sheriff." She paused. "What should we tell people?"
"Tell them we have no information at this time."
As the young deputy retreated to her car in visible relief, Alex said, "That won't hold 'em for long."
"Long enough, with a little luck. I'd like a few more answers before I have to face John with a recommendation."
"Since that flap over in Concord spooked him, you know he'll overreact and declare we have a serial killer on our hands."
"Two murders don't make a serial killer."
"You know that and I know that. His Honor will prefer to err on the side of caution. He likes his job and he wants to keep it. Concord's mayor was practically run out of town for not insisting that task force be called in sooner. John MacBride is not going to make the same mistake."
Miranda nodded, frowning. "I know, I know."