Authors: Carrie Stuart Parks
“Ron, get over here and help Gwen.” Dave's voice stopped my search. He pointed at the remaining deputies. “You four will do a grid search of the area. There's a metal detector in Dre's van. All set?”
Dre slipped a digital camera around his neck, picked up his forensic container, and moved to the house.
I placed a compass in my pocket, added an evidence scale, slung a camera over my shoulder, and tucked a clipboard under my arm.
Ron loped over, shoving his red hair off his forehead. A smear of dirt outlined his nose.
I sighed. Was it just me, or in the past year did they start hiring teenagers for the department? I stood and shoved a tape measure and a bag of stand-up evidence markers into his hands.
“What's this for?” Ron stared at the tape measure. “Don't you just take photos?”
I glanced at my camera. “I could take measurements off a picture if I had to, but, just for the record, all crime scenes are measured. It's not glamorous work, so it doesn't make it on the cop shows.”
Ron blushed. “I knew that.”
“Sure you did.”
“What about lasers? You know, I saw something on televisionâ”
“There's a reason we call it the CSI effect. Tape measure”âI held it upâ“$15.99. Ace Hardware. Laser scanning station, $200,000 plus.”
I followed the yellow tape until we reached the grave, a natural clearing surrounded by cedars and bracken fern, between the creek and the farmhouse. I nodded to the old house. “I did a
painting here once.”
“Plane air?” Ron asked.
It means outdoor or on location. It's a beautiful . . . ugh.” The breeze shifted and I revised my opinion. Downstream, a patch of reeking skunk cabbage made my nose twitch.
Ron gazed at the other deputies, then nodded toward Dre. “Isn't Andre Arceneaux the crime-scene guy for Ravalli County? I mean, uh, shouldn't I be helping him? Aren't you just the artist? Don't you just sketch stuff?”
I snapped some photographs, then studied the young man. “I don't think he wants you to call him Andre. It's Dre. This is small-town Montana's version of CSI. We're a lot closer to the
Andy Griffith Show
Ron wrinkled his forehead. “Andy who?”
“Never mind. If we lived in, say, San Francisco, I'd just draw composites and maybe dead people. Here, I record the scenes, prepare them for court, take the photographsâwhatever's needed.”
When they could afford me.
I quickly drew a rough map.
“What about computers?”
“Useful, but programs are obsolete almost before an agency can buy them, and the best computer programs still need someone with an understanding of forensic art.” I took the tape measure from Ron and handed him the stupid end. I got a reading from the compass and aimed him toward a cedar. Moving south, I let out the tape until I reached a second tree, this time a Douglas fir. I sketched the location and direction of the two trees. After taking a small hammer out of my case, I nailed a bottle cap into the base of the pine. I ambled over to Ron and did the same to the cedar.
“What are you doing?” he asked.
“Watch and learn. We don't have any fire hydrants, sidewalks, or streets to use as reference points. No GPS reception. I need to establish a north-south line, and I can't just say it was a cedar or Doug fir. There are lots of trees around here.”
“Why not use plastic ribbon like they do when they survey roads?”
“'Cause it's easy for someone to remove the tape. But bottle caps are hard to pry out, and difficult to find if you don't know where to look.” After taking a second tape measure from my
pocket, I measured the distance to the edge of the grave and wrote the number on the rough sketch. Strange. The killer wasted a lot of time digging a wide grave. He should've spent it excavating a deep hole if he didn't want anyone to discover the body.
“So where did you learn that?” Ron shifted his weight.
“What?” He looked like a little kid with a full bladder.
“About the bottle caps.”
“It's an old trick I learned from Ned.” I moved the tape measure over and recorded the number.
“Dave's dad. I'm surprised you haven't heard the story. He was murdered on duty. Dave left college to help out. Ended up with his dad's job.” And probably all before Ron's birth. He really was a child wearing a uniform and a Glock. Should I tell him about emptying a bladder before showing up at a crime scene? Maybe just point to a thick patch of bushes?
“Ned must've been smart.” He shuffled from foot to foot, then glanced toward the woods.
“Yeah, he was one of the big reasons I went into forensic art. He also taught me to ride a green broke horse, or at least stay on for the first few bucks. He collected things. Strays.”
“Dogs, cats . . . kids.” I swallowed hard. “He was quite a guy.”
The closest I'd ever had to a dad. And Dave the closest to a big brother.
I nodded left. “Do you want to check out that thicket of snowberries?”
He scampered off, moving faster as he approached the bushes.
The killer dug the grave a short distance from the creek,
but heavy runoff from melting snow flooded the stream, undercutting and collapsing the bank. The spring rains rinsed loose dirt from the slick plastic and into the rushing water.
“He didn't bury the body very deep,” Ron said.
I jumped. “Yeah. I was just pondering that. If Winston hadn't retrieved the skull, we wouldn't have found it. The coyotes, maybe a bear or two, or even those wolves we've been hearing so much about, would've finished carting off the bones in another month or two.” And Mattie would have joined the other body.
“Do you think there are wolves here? I mean, like, right now?” His hand touched the butt of his gun as he glanced around.
“I heard about an attack last night, though, and this morning. Someone's poodle was torn to bits. I think the ranchers are going to lynch the Forest Service for reintroducing wolves into the wilderness.”
“Fish, Wildlife, and Parks.”
“If there's going to be a lynching, they need to hang the right government agency. In Montana, it's Fish, Wildlife, and Parks.”
A high, warbling howl echoed off the mountains. Ron spun toward the sound, grabbing his firearm again. “So what's that?”
“A coyote. Where are you from, anyway?” Carefully circling the disturbed earth, I snapped several digitals. What looked like a femur lay partially covered at the edge of the grave.
“Jacksonville, Florida. That can't be a coyote. They don't come out in daylight.”
“They can and they do. Bring me those markers,” I said. No reply. “Ron?”
Ron slowly released the grip on his pistol. He handed me the
stack of fluorescent numbered tags. I placed one beside the bone. After taking a picture, I knelt and examined it. Interesting. I slipped a magnifying glass from my pocket and lay on my stomach to scrutinize. Pine needles, fresh earth, and old bone filled my nose. A rock jabbed into my rib. I shifted and squinted through the glass. That's weird. I knew I should've taken that class in college on forensic anthropology. It looked like something chewed the victim's leg while she was still alive, or started feeding on the body immediately after death. The edges of the bite marks on the bone were curling somewhat, rather than jagged and sharp.
The brush next to me moved and a branch snapped.
I dropped the glass.
Ron moved closer, stepping on another limb. “What else should I be doing?”
“You scared me to death! Why don't you go help Dre for a bit.”
He trotted off before I could finish speaking.
I changed the camera lens to a macro and photographed several more angles, then stood and worked my way into the forest to my right, following a thin game trail. The branches drooped behind me like a net curtain, veiling the grave and house. A good thinking spot.
Sitting cross-legged facing the clearing, I cleaned up my rough sketch, making sure all the measurements were complete, then attached a blank piece of paper to the clipboard. Drawing a line from top to bottom, I divided the paper. On the left side I wrote
on the right
Tapping my lip, I stared blankly at the ground before writing my thoughts.
I closed my eyes, then opened them. In front of me, an odd
pattern emerged from the ground cover. After tucking a pencil behind my ear, I reached forward and brushed aside some pine needles. Two rounded pebble shapes surfaced. I snapped a quick photo, then pulled on some latex gloves and carefully scratched away the dirt. A human mandible appeared, teeth intact, with several fillings.
“Yeesss,” I whispered as I continued to free the jaw. Once removed from the earth, I photographed it next to an evidence scale, a small white ruler with inches marked out on one side and metric on the other. I placed a marker beside the jaw and extended the tape measure through the brush to the grave. Snapping off the gloves, I flipped the paper over and recorded the location and measurements on my rough drawing before returning to the list of knowns and unknowns. I removed the pencil from behind my ear and added
animal activity scattering the bones
, then doodled a wolf head, teeth stretched into a snarl, eyes narrowed.
The rumble of an approaching vehicle rose above the rush of the stream. I peered through the tree branches as a tan Crown Vic pulled in next to Dave's truck. Following close behind was a settling-pond-green Forest Service pickup. I recognized the wiry shape of Detective Jeannie Thompson from the Missoula Police Department as the driver of the Crown Vic. The driver of the pickup had a familiar appearance. I squinted. Him! He'd shaved his mustache, but I knew that expression. Wes Bailor.
My face burned as my pencil gouged a trough through the paper. What was he doing here? Bottom-feeder.
Dave strolled to the pair standing outside of the taped-off perimeter. “Long way from the metropolis.” His voice carried clearly.
Jeannie put out her hand, and Dave shook it. “Hey there, Dave.”
“Well, now, what brings you city cops all the way out here?”
“We heard about the excitement. Seems your attempted homicide is our kidnap case. Mattie Banks, but calls herself Cherry on the streets. We're here following up.” Jeannie produced a small photo from her purse and handed it to Dave. “She's fourteen. Already has a record for robbery and hooking. Wears a copper bracelet for juvenile arthritis.”
Dave glanced at the picture, then handed it back. “It's her, but no bracelet. Maybe he took it as a trophy. That could be important.”
“We're hoping to work with you on this.”
“Sure.” Dave jerked his thumb at Wes. “But we won't need him. We have our own artist.”
That's telling them
. I wrote Wes's name under the wolf sketch.
Wes flushed slightly. “Of course. Gwen Marcey's the best. Everything I learned in forensic art came from her.”
I snapped the point off the pencil. In a pig's eye I'll teach him anything else. I jumped to my feet, startling a chipmunk that chattered his anger. I reached for the branches, but stopped and smoothed my hair. My jeans were beyond straightening, but I rolled Pyrenees fur off my shirt, bit my lips to bring some color to them, then pushed through the trees. “Hi, Jeannie.” Wes had disappeared by the time I emerged from the forest, so I didn't need to think of something nice to say.
“Gwen! I can't believe it!” Jeannie waved. “How are you feeling? We heard you wereâ”
“Dead?” I forced my smile to stay in place. “No. I'm doing
great. Working, as you can see. And ready to work any cases you have for me.”
Dre stepped from the house and handed Ron a bag sealed with red evidence tape. “Put this in my van. We might get something off that blanket. Working this crime scene is like trying to poke a cat from under a porch with a rope. Half the stray cattle in the county must've taken shelter in there. Hi, Jeannie.”
Wes joined us. He'd taken the time to put on blue nitrile gloves. “Hi, Gwen. I haven't seen you since your one-woman show. Still cranking out those landscapes?” His gaze drifted to my chest.
I contemplated stabbing him with a dull pencil, but that would be a waste of a perfectly good drawing tool. I turned to Dave. “I'm done with my measurements, so if you'd like to do some digging?”
“Good. Jeannie will need a copy of any reports, so remember to insert a carbon between the pages,” Dave said to Dre, winked, then turned to Jeannie. “We've got another body.” He nodded at the grave.
Jeannie's eyes widened as she turned in the direction he'd indicated. “A dump site?”
Yellow crime-scene tape fluttered in the slight wind, oddly resembling the cheerful streamers at a carnival. A thickset deputy holding a clipboard wrote the names of officers and the times they entered or left.
With Dre leading, we tramped single file to the grave where Dre shifted the loose soil to uncover more of the plastic tarp. No one spoke. The breeze chilled the air, the rushing of the icy
stream providing the only sound until the soft clicking of my camera joined in.
Ron and Dre exposed the plastic and then peeled it open, revealing the contents.
Two. In different stages of decomposition.
I felt light-headed and tried to breathe through my mouth.
Dave's face paled, his lips pressed in a thin line as he tapped his finger on his bushy mustache. “So, we have a serial killer.”
The bodies jumbled in the ground like carelessly tossed dolls. Both appeared to be women, if hair and clothing were any indication. The one nearest the stream lay facedown, the red hair sloughed in a tangle from the skull. Little flesh remained on the arm raised above the head. The top corpse was the most recent, minus the skull.