Authors: John J. Lamb
The two morgue techs swiftly manhandled the cadaver into the vinyl body bag, but the protruding arrow prevented them from zipping the bag shut. Then Dr. Grice came up with the clever idea of using the arrow as a support pole and draping a second body bag over Rawlins. The final result was grotesquely suggestive of a pup tent. It was a good thing I remembered the victim had been one of Ash’s childhood friends before I wisecracked that Rawlins sure didn’t look like a happy camper.
The attendants shifted the body onto a gurney and then lugged the stretcher to the van. Meanwhile, Dolly consulted her PDA and then told Tina the autopsy would be at 10:30 the following morning. Tina jotted the information down in her notebook.
Dr. Grice said, “Do we have contact info on next of kin?”
“Mr. Rawlins had a son named Kurt, who I think lives in northern Virginia. I want to say in Fairfax, but I can’t be sure,” said Tina.
“There was an address book near the phone. You want me to go in and look?” Ash suggested. Tina nodded, and Ash jogged inside, then returned a minute later. Tearing a sheet from her notebook, she said, “Kurt lives in Merrifield.”
Dr. Grice took the sheet from Ash. “That should be everything I need for now. We’ll see you tomorrow, Sheriff.”
As the ME van departed, Tina looked toward the expanse of blackness where the hill stood. “So we can’t say for sure if we actually have a murder here.”
“That’s true, but we have to process the scene as if it were,” I said.
“I know, but if the arrow was fired from a long way off, the hunter might not even have been aware he hit Mr. Rawlins.” Tina turned to face us. “Maybe this
“But that doesn’t explain why the Saab was here and then took off,” said Ash.
“Or what made him go out into his front yard at the precise moment some supposedly booze-soaked bow hunter let an arrow rip,” I added. “Bottom line: It’s too early for any conclusions. There’s just way too much we don’t know yet.”
A cell phone began to trill, and Tina pulled the device from her coat pocket. She squinted at the tiny screen and then shyly said, “Let me take this call. I’ll only be a second.”
She took several steps toward the barn and quietly answered the phone. I glanced at my watch. It was slightly after nine, which meant Sergei had probably just arrived home after closing his restaurant for the night. She snapped the phone shut about a half minute later and rejoined us, looking pleased.
“That was Sergei,” said Tina.
“From that happy look on your face, I’d have never guessed. So . . . what did you guys talk about?” I said teasingly.
“None of your business.” Tina cheerfully replied. “But he wanted me to pass along a message to you, Ash. He needs a final count by tomorrow afternoon on the number of box lunches you’re going to want for the teddy bear show.”
It was Ash’s idea to provide lunches for the artists participating in Saturday’s Massanutten Mountain Teddy Jubilee, which was going to be held in her hometown of Remmelkemp Mill. It had been tough luring well-known bear makers to a newly established teddy bear festival, especially when travel expenses were so high. So Ash had offered incentives such as low table fees and a free meal. It was a good plan, but I believe that most of the artists who’d decided to participate did so just because they liked Ash. Whatever their reasons for coming, the Teddy Jubilee was going to feature an impressive roster of attendees, including the award-winning Martha Burch, Donna Nielsen, Pam Kisner, and Darlene Allen.
Ash gently popped her forehead with her palm. “I meant to go by the restaurant and talk to Sergei earlier this evening.”
“I told him that you’d been a
busy tonight,” said Tina. “So, when do our out-of-state bear artists begin to arrive?”
Ash said, “I’m picking up Martha Burch at Dulles in the morning at eleven-thirty. That means I can only work a couple of hours tomorrow before I have to go.”
“I’m assuming I’ll have Brad, so it isn’t a problem. Besides, I can’t wait to meet Martha. The Ice King is just amazing.”
Tina was referring to one of the stuffed animals in our collection. The Ice King was an exquisitely handsome polar bear dressed in blue regal clothing and wearing a sparkling crown made from faux ice crystals. We’d always loved and admired Martha’s work, so I’d asked her to create the Ice King as a Christmas present for Ash. The bear instantly became one of the most cherished pieces in our collection, and it grew even more precious in the following months, when the Ice King had been nominated for both major American awards for teddy bear artists: the TOBY (Teddy Bear of the Year) and the Golden Teddy.
I said, “Yeah, I’m available almost all day. The only thing we have pending is an appointment at four with the real estate agent to look at that house again.”
“God, I hope I’m back from the airport by then.” Ash was becoming stressed.
“It’s going be okay, honey.”
Tina knew of our interest in the Victorian home and said, “It would be the perfect location for your shop.”
I nodded. “We think so, too. But the price is still a little high. What’s more, the place is going to require a huge amount of refurbishing, and I’m not exactly a handyman.”
“Sergei and I will help.”
“Thanks, Tina. That’s good to know.”
“And Daddy will lend us any kind of power tools we need,” Ash added. Ash’s parents live on the farm just to the west of our house. Her dad is Laurence AKA “Lolly” Remmelkemp—yep, the town is named after my wife’s family—and he owns an amazing collection of power tools. Some are almost older than I am, but they all work.
“Since I’m not exactly a Tool Time sort of guy, I hope he hangs around to give me some pointers in their use,” I said.
“Daddy will be happy to help. We won’t need a stud finder, though.” Ash gave me a sweet and chaste smile. “I’m already pretty good at that.”
Usually, I’m the one delivering the double entendres, so it took a second or two for Ash’s comment to register. I gave her a look of mock disapproval. “
have been hanging around me way too much.”
“I’ll say.” Tina tried to sound scandalized, but the effect was spoiled by a giggle. “Now, I think we’d better get back to work. Is there evidence in the house that we need to collect?”
“Some, but nothing that looks really useful.”
“We’ll go get the evidence storage bags,” said Ash.
We went back inside the house and I began by offering Tina our interpretation of the scene, including the apparent inconsistency of Rawlins being unable to see the upper slope of the hill from inside the home. Tina couldn’t make any more sense of it than we could as she walked from window to window peering out. After that, we collected the shotgun and ammunition from the closet as well as Rawlins’s half-empty dinner bowl, the used paper napkin, and both beer bottles.
Ash said, “I realize why we want the shotgun, but does this other stuff have any evidentiary value?”
“Based on what we know right now, probably not. But it’s better to be safe than sorry,” I said.
We next went back to Everett Rawlins’s office. Feeling my leg beginning to stiffen up and ache in the cool damp weather, I asked Ash to go beneath the desk to unplug the computer and unhook all the cables. She agreed and suggested I sit in the office chair for a few minutes. It was wise advice, but my first reaction was to put on a brave face and insist that I was fine. I’m a vain man and hate feeling as if I’m being a wimp. However, I also knew that if I pushed my leg tonight, I’d be in no shape to tackle our search of the hill the following morning. I sat down, reflecting yet again that being crippled sucks.
Tina gestured toward the piles of paperwork. “What about all this stuff? Should we bother collecting it?”
I swiveled the chair to face her. “It’s your case and your call, but I think it’s obvious that Mr. Rawlins was searching for something. If this does turn out to be a murder, our motive might be hiding in one of those stacks.”
“Agreed. Let’s collect it.”
As Tina and Ash loaded the documents into a pair of cardboard boxes, I grabbed the computer and followed the two women as they lugged the boxes outside. The rain seemed to have all but stopped, and off to the west, a few glittering stars were visible through a gap in the clouds. It looked as if the modest storm was already clearing out.
Once we’d secured the evidence in the trunk of Tina’s patrol car, Ash turned to me and said, “Honey, there isn’t any point in you going up and down those stairs again. Why don’t you stay here and photograph the damage to my car, while Tina and I go upstairs and get the gun?”
“I don’t like admitting it, but that’s a good idea. My shin is really beginning to ache,” I said mournfully.
“I can tell. Sometimes you just push yourself too hard.”
“I know, but that doesn’t mean I have to be mature about it.”
Ash patted my arm. “That’s my Brad.”
Tina and Ash went back into the house, and I began taking orientation photographs of my wife’s patrol car. I moved to the right front fender and took some close-up shots of the comet-shaped dent. The police cruiser was predominantly white in color, which made it easy to see the dark blue paint transfers from the Saab. I decided to let the crime lab worry about collecting some of the tiny paint chips.
While examining the dented fender, I suddenly realized that I’d overlooked something. The angle of collision suggested that the left front part of the Saab had collided with Ash’s unit. If so, there was a good chance that the Saab’s headlight or running light might have been broken. Yet I hadn’t even bothered to look for glass shards in the road when I’d arrived, even though I knew a crash had occurred there. Irritated that I’d violated my own maxim of never underestimating the size of the crime scene, I smacked my palm with my cane.
I heard Ash and Tina come out onto the porch and noticed that they’d extinguished all the house’s interior lights. Tina locked the front door and came over to where I stood as Ash went to put the revolver in the other cruiser.
Tina said, “You noticed the paint transfers?”
“Yeah, but I’m not comfortable trying to recover them. Ash’s car needs to be sent to the crime lab.”
“That’s what I figured. I’ll get a flatbed wrecker to meet us at the station.”
“Good, but before we do that, we need to go back out and take a close look at Kobler Hollow Road.”
Ash rejoined us and asked, “Why?”
“There may still be some evidence out there. The paint can give us class characteristics, but it’s almost impossible to link that transfer to a specific vehicle. However, broken headlight glass . . .”
Ash’s eyes widened. “Oh! The Saab’s left front headlight might have been smashed when it hit me.”
“Exactly. If there’s broken glass and if we find the Saab, the crime lab might be able to match some of the pieces.”
“Then let’s get to work,” said Tina.
I walked back out to the road while Ash and Tina drove their patrol cars. The women parked their cars facing toward the general area where the collision occurred and then turned on their vehicles’ high beams and door-mounted spotlights. But even with that illumination, we still needed our flashlights. Dividing the road into three parallel search paths, we began our careful search for something I couldn’t state with certainty would even be there. Fortunately, we got lucky.
Tina’s search course ran down the middle of the road, and she was the first one to spot the constellation of broken glass pieces on the wet asphalt. She said, “Check this out. I’m pretty sure this is auto headlight glass.”
We gathered around the debris and I said, “I think you’re right.”
Ash glanced over to where the driveway met the road. “And this is about where the Saab hit me.”
“Great work, Tina. Now, let me get some photos and then we’ll collect this stuff.”
Once the glass fragments had been gathered up and packaged in an evidence envelope, Tina said, “So, what time do you want to come back out here tomorrow morning?”
“As early as possible. First light,” I replied.
“I agree. No later than six-thirty,” said Ash. “That way I’ll have time to clean up before I leave for Dulles.”
“Okay, then we’ll meet here at zero-six-thirty. Go ahead and wear grubbies. There’s no point in getting our uniforms filthy,” said Tina.
We made our way back to the sheriff’s department, where I helped the women carry all the stuff we’d seized into the evidence room. Ash then glumly informed me that she had reports to write and that I should go home. Once she was finished with the paperwork, she’d catch a ride to our house with the midnight-shift deputy.
However, Tina told her to go home. My wife resisted the idea at first, but there was no point in Ash staying up half the night to write a homicide report for a death we couldn’t say for sure was murder, especially when she was due back at work so early the following morning. Furthermore, Tina reminded Ash that we had the department’s report-writing program loaded into our personal computer, and if she really needed to, she could write her reports in the comfort of home anyway. We both thanked Tina and headed for the SUV.
It was nearly eleven P.M. when we got home. I took Kitch out into the yard for his final potty call while Ash went upstairs to change out of her uniform. Once Kitch was finished, we went back upstairs, where I found Ash in our craft room examining Bear-atio. Her blond hair was now free from the constraining bun and she was wearing a pink flannel nightshirt.
She said, “
is very good work. Do you think you’ll have him finished by tomorrow?”
done with him.” I knew Ash was referring to Bear-atio not wearing any trousers, but I feigned puzzlement.
“Doesn’t he need a pair of pants?”
“I don’t see why. You like detectives without pants.”
detective without pants.” She put Bear-atio down and came over to give me a long, slow kiss. “But that’s because I’m a stud finder. Now, let’s go to bed.”