Authors: Jeff Carson
Tags: #Mystery, #Thriller, #Suspense, #Serial Killer, #Crime, #Police Procedural
In what seemed like a split second, Wolf’s rope yanked back incredibly hard. Too hard, almost sending him off the saddle as the Mustang twisted back. At that second he saw the calf was in the air, both hind legs securely roped and pulled back, the calf poised to land on its side.
“Whoa!” Wolf pulled up on the reins, but too late, the calf was stretched inhumanely thin, and just when Wolf thought he had ripped the animal in half, the Mustang stopped and backed up a few steps.
MacLean wasted no time turning and dragging the calf backwards towards the men with the branding iron.
Wolf followed, keeping total slack in his rope, more than a little relieved the calf was struggling against the tow, rather than dangling lifeless due to a broken neck.
As the men branded the calf, Wolf noticed the self-satisfied grin on MacLean’s face, as if a plan of his had come to fruition without a single hitch.
Once again, Wolf felt bested by this man, in an arena he was unfamiliar with. Being appointed the job as Sheriff of Sluice County, just like Hal Burton before him, and just like Wolf’s father before Burton, Wolf had never had to pander to the masses. He’d never had to act a part, he’d simply shown up for work and done the best job he could have.
Now that the smaller Sluice County was merging with its neighbor to the south, Byron County, things were changing. Big time. Down in Rocky Points, just a block –and-a-half from the station, a three-story monstrosity of a Municipal building and new Sheriff’s office, complete with state of the art jail cells in the basement, was going up in record time. And with the new structure came something even bigger. An election. And a campaign.
campaigns, because not only were the people of the newly formed Sluice-Byron County voting for a Sheriff, but for other seats in the new county government.
It was now Spring and the election was to be held in mid-summer by special order of the Governor of Colorado. With the political atmosphere like a mosh pit at a thrash metal concert, Sheriff Will MacLean seemed to be at home amid the chaos.
Wolf wondered just how MacLean planned on cutting and pasting all this video footage. What exactly he was going to do with all these photos.
No doubt something awe-inspiring, just like the rest of the man’s campaign for sheriff had been thus far.
Wolf felt no awkwardness when it came to mountain living. But the pixels captured through those lenses said otherwise. That’s all that mattered. The airtime on television that MacLean’s campaign could buy would undoubtedly show the people otherwise.
“And that,” Margaret Hitchens yelled, “Is Sheriff Wolf’s attitude towards his job in action. Never give up! Never give up!”
A smattering of applause. A lone whistle.
MacLean nodded respectfully.
Wolf felt his face go red. He jumped down and handed over the reins, then walked to Travis Chapman, eager to disappear back into the action as another calf was dragged in.
“Wolf!” A male voice called.
Wolf pretended not to hear.
He realized it was Rachette, so he looked up.
Rachette had his cowboy hat off, waving it in the air with one hand and a radio in the other. Deputy Patterson stood next to him with excitement painted on her face, and not because of the recent action. She held her radio, too.
“What is it?” He asked as he reached them.
“We’ve got a…”
“What?” Wolf asked, not catching Patterson’s last word.
Patterson was a head shorter than Rachette, so she climbed two slats of the fence to be heard.
“We have a dead body,” she said. “Correction: almost a dead body.”
Wolf stood on the dock, listening to the squeak of boat fenders and bumps of fiberglass boats colliding with weathered wood. With his head high he felt the sun warm his skin for an instant before the breeze sucked away the heat. He knew the lake was named for a temperature inversion found at roughly fifty feet beneath the surface of the water, but as he zipped his jacket up he thought that Cold Lake was living up to its namesake.
Taking a deep inhale through his nose, he whiffed gasoline, vinyl seats, and dead fish, a combination that brought back memories of bass fishing with his father.
Lime green in color, the boat in front of him was nothing flashy, just a middle of the line family model with a powerful outboard motor—a set-up that five to ten grand could buy.
The hypnotic movement of the sphere in the black plastic bag slowed as the wake of a passing boat dissipated. Then a combination of waves lifted the back end and rolled the bag over for an instant, revealing a mouth and nose through a tear in the plastic.
Rachette let out a soft whistle. “That’s definitely a human head in a bag.”
Stepping off the dock and onto the rear seat, Patterson snapped on her rubber gloves. At five-foot one inch, she was a year younger than Rachette and had a granite physique that was maintained with strict diet and exercise. Unlike Rachette’s stocky build, she was thin and wiry. As she moved with quick precision, the boat barely swayed under her negligible weight.
With wide blue eyes and bobbed dark hair, she was the definition of cute, and could lull the opposite sex into leering, but as Wolf watched her grip the plastic bag without hesitation and look inside the rip, he, just like everyone who met Heather Patterson, was reminded of the fearless fire within.
Wolf looked down at the head. The teeth were yellow, unnaturally large looking from receding gums. The lips were like mangled worms, and the nose was snow white and waxy, looking like it had melted flat against the face.
Rachette stepped into the boat after her, keeping his distance with his second step.
Wolf turned to the knock of boots coming down the dock.
Sheriff MacLean walked to Wolf and stopped. They both watched as Patterson gingerly rolled the head this way and that, revealing the whole face in the sunlight. A fishing hook was still attached to the eye-socket, which held no eye.
“Eye sockets look mutilated,” Patterson said. “Gouged with a knife.”
“Jesus.” Rachette kept what little distance he could, standing in the middle of the boat next to the driver’s seat.
“That’s interesting.” MacLean pushed his sunglasses up the bridge of his nose. “Sorry I can’t be any help. I’ve got a … thing tonight. Congressman. Attorney General. Commissioner. DA.” He turned to Wolf. “I can have Lancaster stay if you need, get another few deputies up here.”
Wolf bent sideways to look next to MacLean. Lancaster stood motionless, a head taller than MacLean, clearly staring down at Patterson’s backside and not the grotesque item she was prodding.
“No thanks.” Wolf looked past them to the crime scene tape across the dock entrance. The owner of the boat sat on a pylon talking to Deputy Wilson. “Now if you guys don’t mind.”
MacLean shrugged and then squinted one eye. “Deputy Patterson, right? And Rachette?”
“Yes sir.” Rachette nodded politely.
Patterson gave a curt nod and resumed her examination, snapping some photos with her Nikon DSLR camera.
“You two are going to be interviewing for the new Sheriff’s department next month, correct?”
“You two carry on.” Wolf stepped backwards and walked up the dock toward the marina. “MacLean, Lancaster, follow me, please.”
“I’ll see you later, deputies,” MacLean said, taking his time turning and walking after Wolf.
Lancaster trailed his eyes up and down Patterson one more time and walked after his boss.
Wolf escorted them under the tape and over to their SUV, which sat in the newly paved parking lot of the lake marina. He turned and faced MacLean.
“I’d appreciate it if you didn’t bully my deputies.”
MacLean frowned and took off his sunglasses. “Bully? I’m not bullying your deputies. I’m trying to open a discussion with them about the future. About their future. I would think you might be open to that.”
“Is that what you’re doing?” Wolf looked at Lancaster. “And you, Deputy Patterson is a fifth-degree black belt, so you keep letting those dead eyes of yours wander like that and I can’t guarantee your safety.”
Lancaster nodded with a sneer.
Wolf shrugged and looked back at MacLean. “And Sheriff, the election hasn’t happened yet. You’re not anyone’s boss in this county. The Sluice-Byron County Sheriff’s Department doesn’t exist yet. So, I appreciate you asking, but no thanks, I don’t need any help from your department, and please get in your vehicles, and you guys have a nice fundraiser tonight.”
Wolf patted him on the shoulder.
MacLean looked down at the spot Wolf had touched, smiled and put his sunglasses back on. “Oh, you heard about that?”
Wolf shook his head. “The fundraiser? The one you just told me about on the dock?” The lake they stood next to, though being the third largest in Colorado, could not contain Will MacLean’s ego.
“I was serious back there. I have congressman Blake coming. Commissioner Heller, the retiring commissioner of
county.” MacLean started ticking off fingers. “The DA. The ADA. Your old boss, Burton, he’s thinking about coming.”
The last name stung Wolf. But
thinking about coming
sounded like a bluff. Even if Burton was going, it was for the scotch and food, and not for support.
“If you’d like to join reality and come down to Ashland tonight, it’s going to be quite a party. I sent you an invitation.”
Wolf turned and walked away.
“See you Monday night,” MacLean called after him. “Hope you can prepare all those talking points with all this new action going on.”
Wolf kept his eyes forward.
“Here.” Oliver Chevelier pulled back the throttle.
The boat coasted, riding up as the wake passed underneath it and then bobbed in the water. Wolf’s ears rang in the relative silence of the idling motor and his skin tingled as the cold rushing air became warm and still.
“Right here.” Oliver tapped the electronic screen of his fish finder with a shaky finger. “You can see the depth change right there. Right here we’re at one hundred thirty feet, give or take, then it drops off to three hundred feet plus.” Oliver tipped the paper coffee cup vertical and sucked down the last drops, then poured another cup from his metal thermos.
Wolf stood looking at the screen and rubbed his face to get some blood into his cheeks.
Patterson stood up from her seat behind the glass and looked at Rachette. “I’ll give you shotgun on the way back.”
“Damn right you will,” he said.
“Should have felt it this morning,” Oliver said. “It was damn cold. Every year you forget how cold it still is, all the way into June.”
“Mr. Chevalier, the place where you pulled up the severed human head?”
Oliver Chevalier shivered and shut his eyes. “Yes. Sorry. We … we were trolling the deep parts with this downrigger. Looking to catch some Lake Trout. Caught one”—he raised his eyebrows—“big. Huge. And then later, I snagged something, and I realized I’d run too far. I knew I probably snagged the boulders where it turns shallow. Then I turned around and pulled up that bag. Billy was makin’ fun of me about it. He grabbed it and brought it in, and then he dropped it and started yelling. I still remember that sound. A head dropping into the boat.”
Oliver stopped talking and took another sip of coffee. He set it down, walked to the front of the boat, knelt down on the cushion and vomited over the side. The loud grunt of his expulsion echoed off the rock cliffs and pine- treed land to the west and came back to them a second later.
“Oooookay,” Patterson said, turning towards Wolf and Rachette.
Wolf studied the fish finder. “You come here a lot?”
Oliver wiped his mouth and looked up. “What?”
“Do you come here a lot?” Wolf repeated.
“Yeah, the boulders are a marker for me and Jed. We usually start here and troll north.”
The screen of the sonar device was split, with a multicolored image sliding by on the left, and a black and white image on the right. “Can you tell me what we’re looking at here, Oliver?”
Oliver looked over at him and wiped his chin. He wobbled over and leaned over the display.
Wolf caught a whiff of Oliver and held his breath.
“Bottom’s at one hundred thirty-four feet indicated by that number, you can see the boulders there, then the bottom drops out from under at that bright white patch. They say it goes down to four hundred plus feet. The Down Imaging won’t go that deep. This right here is the lowest point between that island,” Oliver pointed to the low-forested island to the east, “and the shore there.” He pointed to the west.
“So you thought you snagged one of those boulders?” Wolf tapped the screen.
Oliver stood up and nodded. “Well, yeah. Had to be. There’s nothin’ else down there. Of course, it wasn’t a boulder.” He lunged back to the front of the boat and bent over, his grunts echoing once again.
Wolf, Rachette, and Patterson huddled in the back of the boat and Wolf studied the surrounding landscape. To the east was a wooded island the size of a football field, opposite the island to the west was the western shore, a steep wooded embankment with a line of cliffs above that that stretched to the north and south. The granite cliff line varied in steepness, and the few people who had decided to build cabins on this rugged shore hugged the back of their properties up to the precipice, and then built wooden staircases that zigged and zagged down the rocks, teetering on stilts, down to the shore where docks jutted out into the water. Behind the whole scene lay thousands of acres of virgin forest, with snow-covered peaks as the distant backdrop.
Rachette tapped a finger on the screen, turned his back to Oliver, and lowered his voice. “Yeah. Those are dead bodies.”