Read Dead Guilty Online

Authors: Beverly Connor

Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Horror, #Suspense, #Mystery & Detective, #Women Sleuths, #Mystery, #Police Procedural, #Detective, #Fiction - Mystery, #Mystery & Detective - General, #Mystery & Detective - Police Procedural, #Fallon, #Women forensic anthropologists, #Georgia, #Diane (Fictitious character)

Dead Guilty (2 page)

Chapter
2

‘‘The
one that got away? Or is it waiting to be filled?’’
said Dr. Webber, squinting up at the piece of hemp
hanging in the tree. ‘‘It’s not exactly a noose, is it?
It’s just a rope tied to a limb.’’

Diane
had been studying the rope. It hung from a
branch high off the ground like the others. Whoever
put it there hadn’t tied the familiar hangman’s knot
with tight coils above the loop. The noose was formed
by a portion of the rope pulled back through a small
loop tied on the end of the rope, creating a slip noose.
Were it not for the small leafy branch that stuck its
woody fingers through the loop, the noose would have
slipped and vanished, leaving only an enigmatic piece
of rope.

Diane
looked
carefully at
the other
ropes, paying
particular attention to the one from which the body
had fallen.

‘‘It’s
like
the
others.’’
Diane
started
to
explain,
when their attention was drawn to a rustling of the
bushes, and her forensic team filed into the clearing.

‘‘Well,
this is weird.’’ Deven Jin set down his case
and stared at the two bodies in the trees and the one
on the ground.
Neva Hurley stopped abruptly, her mouth agape.
‘‘One
of
those
flies
is
going
to
light
on
your

tongue,’’
said Jin, shoving her gently.
Neva snapped her mouth closed.
David Goldstein used a small set of binoculars to

focus
in on the bodies, then shifted to the leafy can
opy. ‘‘I suppose you’ve seen the other rope,’’ he said.
‘‘Just now.’’ Diane introduced her team to Dr. Web
ber and the sheriff. ‘‘Neva came to us from the Rose
wood Police. Jin’s from New York, where he worked
crime
scenes,
and
David
worked
with
me
at
World
Accord International as a human rights investigator.’’
They shook hands, muttered hellos and commented
briefly on the strange state of the corpses.

Her
team was anxious to get started. Jin, the youn
gest, was in hyperactive mode, his body moving even
though he was standing in one spot, looking as if he
was about to break into dance to some music only he
heard. Diane envied his youthful energy. He snapped
opened
his
case
and
began
pulling
out
the
marker
flags,
rope,
wire
stakes
and
drawing
supplies.
He
shoved his straight black hair out of his eyes, pulled
it back into a ponytail and donned the plastic cap that
Diane required.

‘‘David
doesn’t
need
a
cap,’’
Jin
said.
‘‘He
just
wears one so people will think that fringe around the
edges is a full head of hair.’’ Laughing, he handed a
cap to Neva.

David
rolled his eyes and quietly took out his cam
era equipment.
Dr. Webber watched as he loaded it with film. ‘‘He
doesn’t use a digital camera?’’ she asked Diane.
‘‘I use both, but I get greater depth of field and finer
detail
with
the
film,’’
said
David
over
his
shoulder.
‘‘David’s actually quite an artist,’’ said Diane.
David scowled. ‘‘Trying to be accurate isn’t artistry.’’
‘‘I’m talking about your bird photographs.’’
He cocked his head. ‘‘One might describe them as
artistic.’’
Neva put on her cap and stood glancing from David
and Jin to Diane, as if waiting for directions. Diane
was torn between giving her some reassuring gesture
or leaving her to manage whatever insecurities she was
dealing with. Neva was one of the gifts Diane had to
accept in her curious bargain with the Rosewood Po
lice. She wasn’t sure Neva really wanted to be here.
The
ropes
tied
around
the
branches
made
a
creaking sound as a breeze passing through the trees
caused the bodies to swing slowly. The stench of dead
flesh
washed
over
them.
Diane
watched
Neva
hold
her breath.
‘‘You’ll
get
used
to
the
smell,’’
Diane
told
her.
‘‘This
is
actually
mild.
Breathing
through
your
mouth helps.’’
Neva looked horrified. Probably thinking about the
flies and her open mouth.
‘‘You should work with a decaying body that’s in
an enclosed space,’’ said Jin. ‘‘I swear, the smell per
meates
your
eyeballs.
Your
tears
even
stink,’’
he
added, grinning.
‘‘The stench of adipocere formation is the worst,’’
said David, swinging his camera to his side and turning
toward
Neva.
‘‘Absolutely
the
worst.
One
time,
the
smell
just
wouldn’t
go
away.
I
had
to
have
steroid
shots in each nostril.’’
Neva looked miserable.
‘‘You
should
have
to
autopsy
those
bodies,’’
said
Dr.
Webber.
‘‘One
of
my
first
autopsies
was
on
a
bloated body found in an abandoned trailer. Like an
idiot, I stuck a scalpel in the thing and it exploded all
over
everyone.
I
thought
I
could
taste
the
stuff
for
a week.’’
That did it for Neva. She turned and headed for a
tree, heaving. Diane followed and handed her a bottle
of water.
‘‘They’re
making
fun
of
me,
aren’t
they?’’
Neva
pulled a tissue from her pocket and wiped her face.
‘‘A
little,’’ said
Diane. ‘‘You’re
the new
guy, and
they’re just breaking you in. They mean no disrespect.
We all had to have a period of adjustment to this kind
of work.’’
‘‘Did David really have to get shots in his nose?’’
‘‘No,
he
made
up
that
little
story.
And
the
odor
doesn’t make your tears smell either. But bodies do
blow
up with
gasses,
and if
you
puncture them
just
right—well, you can imagine. But the pathologist al
ways
wears
a
face
shield
when
autopsying
decayed
bodies.’’
Neva took several swigs of water and screwed the
cap back on. ‘‘I’m all right.’’
‘‘The trick is to focus on the work.’’
Neva
nodded and
walked back
to David,
Jin and
Lynn Webber’s good-natured smiles.
‘‘Chuck over here’’—the sheriff pointed to one of
his deputies—‘‘threw up so often when he was new,
we all started calling him Upchuck.’’
Jin handed her a template and a pad of graph paper.
‘‘You can help me with the sketches,’’ he said.
‘‘We’ll have the bodies ready for you as soon as we
can,’’ Diane told Lynn Webber.
Lynn nodded. ‘‘Do you want me to have the diener
clean the bones?’’
‘‘Please. Unless we find their driver’s licenses tucked
away in their clothes.’’
‘‘I’m not usually that lucky.’’ The sheriff looked up
at the two hanging corpses again. ‘‘Something tells me
these are going to be hard to identify. Judging from
the clothes they’re wearing, I’d guess they might be
some poor homeless people
who crossed paths with
a killer.’’
‘‘You
don’t
think
it’s
a
suicide
pact?’’
asked
the
other
sheriff’s
deputy,
a
hefty
man
who
had
been
studying the woods, looking almost anywhere but at
the bodies. ‘‘Ain’t most hangings suicide?’’
‘‘Yes,
most
are,’’
said
Diane,
‘‘but
how
did
they
manage it without anything to stand on?’’
‘‘I guess you’re right. But they could’ve climbed the
trees and jumped.’’
Lynn Webber and Diane winced at the thought.
‘‘Or maybe the fourth guy chickened out and, not
wanting to leave a good ladder, took it with him.’’
‘‘I’m sure the crime scene investigation and autopsy
will sort all that out,’’ said the sheriff.
‘‘I’ll leave you to it.’’ Dr. Webber dusted her hands
together, mentally washing them of the crime scene,
even though she hadn’t touched anything. ‘‘I need to
clear my calendar for these new clients.’’ She turned to
Diane. ‘‘If you’d like to attend the autopsy, you may.’’
‘‘Thanks. I’d like to collect the ropes and the insects
inside the corpses.’’
‘‘You’re
welcome
to
it.
I
hate
collecting
larvae.
Though Raymond, my diener, doesn’t seem to mind.’’
Dr. Webber left them and disappeared through the
undergrowth up the trail. The sheriff’s gaze followed
her until she was out of sight.
She was replaced by the two deputies coming back
from the road. It was apparent by their faces they had
something to tell the sheriff.
‘‘Edwards and Mayberry—that’s the timber guys—
said they seen a place where it looks like a vehicle
mighta come through the bushes,’’ said the taller of
the
two,
waving
his
hand
to
shoo
away
flies
as
he
spoke.
‘‘Said
there’s
a
place
where
the
weeds
was
kinda beat down.’’
‘‘They’s supposed to be some old timber roads over
yonder.’’ The other deputy pointed northeast of the
bodies. ‘‘Right through there.’’
Diane motioned to the sheriff. ‘‘Let’s have a look.’’
She
turned
to
David.
‘‘After
the
photographs
and
sketches
are
done,
start
a
grid
search
under
the
corpses. We need to clear a work space so we can get
the bodies down. Go ahead and collect the insects.’’
The sheriff ordered his deputies to follow David’s
instructions and not get into trouble. He and Diane
walked to the edge of the clearing where the deputy
had
pointed.
A
large
fallen
pine
tree
covered
head
high in broken limbs, briars and loose brush blocked
the
path.
It
was
a
place
where
Brer
Rabbit
might
have hidden.
The sheriff stooped and looked through the bram
bles at the tree stump. ‘‘It was cut down with a chain
saw. And not long ago—I can still smell the pine.’’
‘‘Could the timber guys have done it?’’ asked Diane.
He shook his head. ‘‘We can ask, but I can’t see
why they would do it. They were counting trees, not
cutting them down. And why would they pile a bunch
of weeds and dead limbs on top of a fresh tree? A lot
of work for no purpose.’’
‘‘So the tree was cut and brush was piled on top
of it to hide the crime scene, or block access to it,’’
said Diane.
She took out her digital camera and snapped pic
tures of the blockade from different angles. The side
leading away from the woods was as the timber sur
veyors
had
described:
a
ghost
of
a
trail
where
tires
had crushed the dry weeds.
Seeing the direction from which the tire tracks had
come, Diane walked back through the brush, squatted
and examined the ground on the side leading to the
crime scene. She could see it now in the leaves cov
ering the hard ground beneath the trees—faint impres
sions where a vehicle had passed.
‘‘David,’’
she
called.
‘‘There’s
some
tire
marks
through here. Be careful to record it before you search
the ground.’’
A
thorough
ground
search
would
require
moving
the forest litter, and with it, all signs of a passing.
‘‘I knew they would have left some kind of trail,’’
he said. ‘‘We’ll take care of it.’’
Diane returned to the sheriff, who was studying the
tire impressions in the crushed grass.
‘‘From the width of the tracks, I’d say it was a truck
or SUV. I suppose your people will measure it.’’
‘‘We
will.
Where
did
the
timber
guys
park
their
vehicle?’’
‘‘They said down one of the dirt timber roads. Their
work’s
done
on
foot,
you
know.
About
like
land
surveyors.’’
Diane walked a hundred feet down the indeliberate
roadway, turned and looked at the makeshift barrier. The
crime scene was hidden. The barricade looked like an or
dinary brush pile from that distance. Not an uncommon
sight in this setting, but usually juxtaposed to a firebreak,
a roadway cut or a clearing. This pile was at the end of
a path through weeds and trees. These were the perpe
trator’s tracks and the perpetrator’s doing.
‘‘What you reckon this is about?’’ the sheriff asked
after
he
had
joined
her
on
the
trail.
He
shook
his
head. ‘‘I’ve seen hangings, but they were all suicides
in
the
victims’
houses.
Around
here,
if
people
kill
themselves in the woods, they do it with a rifle or a
shotgun. I’ve never seen multiple hangings like this.
It looks like a lynching. And why would they all be
dressed alike?’’
As the words were out of his mouth, a deputy ap
peared
from
the
bushes
and
trotted
toward
them.
‘‘Sheriff,
you
gotta
come
take
care
of
this.
Word’s
done got out about the hangings, and they’re saying
there’s been some lynchings. Elwood Jefferson from
the AME Church is here and wants to talk to you.’’
‘‘What
was
I
just
saying?
That’s
all
we
need.
At
least it’s Elwood. He’s not a guy who shoots from the
hip like some I could mention.’’
At that moment a tall lean black man in a charcoal
gray suit came through the brush and strode purpose
fully toward the sheriff.

Chapter
3

‘‘Elwood,
you know you’re not supposed to be here.’’
Sheriff Mick Braden regarded the man standing be
fore him.

Elwood
Jefferson
was
a
head
taller
than
any
of
them. Maybe in his sixties—his age was hard to tell—
his
smooth
dark
brown
skin
stretched
over
angular
bones. His gray suit was well made and his trousers
sharply creased. It was not a suit for tramping through
the woods.

‘‘We
heard
some
black
men
have
been
lynched
down here in Cobber’s Wood. You know, Sheriff, if I
hear a rumor like that, I’ve got to come see about it.’’

‘‘Would
you be here if . . .’’ the deputy began.
‘‘Leon, let’s not go there,’’ said the sheriff.
Elwood Jefferson didn’t look at the deputy, but at

the
sheriff.
‘‘You
know
when
those
black
teenagers
tore up the playground at the First Baptist Church, I
brought them in myself.’’

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