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Authors: Tammy Cheatham

Caching Out

BOOK: Caching Out
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Prologue

 

July
1980

 

“No,
Mama, I ain’t seen that old dog anywhere today. I’ll go look for him before
Daddy gets home.”  Clutching a purple Popsicle in one hand, the boy looked up
at his mother. Smiling at her with chocolate eyes, the dark haired boy walked
out of the sunny yellow kitchen letting the screen door slam behind him.

He’d
seen the dog. In fact he knew just where to find the mangy mutt. Bay was his
daddy’s favorite hunting dog, a blue tick hound with big feet and long silky
ears scarred by the raccoon and bobcats that he’d hunted over the years. He
licked the last of the sticky purple syrup off the wooden stick, and stuck it
into his back pocket.

 “Well,
he ain’t gonna hunt no more, Daddy.” Walking through the backyard, the boy
slipped into a copse of pine trees that he was sure could touch the sun on a
cloudless day. He worked his way through the trees, and skipped to where he’d
left the dog hours before. Sliding down on a cushioned bed of pine needles that
smelled like his mother’s kitchen on mopping day, he crossed his legs Indian
style and reached over to stroke the dog’s head, softly rubbing between his
soulful eyes; eyes already turning cloudy with death. “I had to do it boy, I
just had to. Don’t worry none, you won’t be lonely ‘cause I got a nice place
for you right by the others.” 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 1

 

Present
Day

 

From
the shadow of an old, red brick building, the man watched. Watching was
almost
his favorite part.

Across
the street sat a neat one story house with window boxes overflowing with red
and yellow spring blossoms. A dark blue police cruiser bearing the Pine Ridge
Police Department emblem on its side was parked in front. The blinking lights
pulsed sending ribbons of red and blue shooting across the lawn and onto the
stark whiteness of the house. Parked behind the car was an ambulance. He could
have told them that they wouldn’t need it, not for this one, but instead he slid
further into the shroud of darkness. Even though all the lights in the house
were on, he still saw the flashing of crime scene cameras as they photographed
his latest masterpiece.

Too
bad you didn’t get to record it too.
A uniformed cop stepped out of the house
and over to the railing that surrounded a small wrap-around porch. The muted
light from a fixture near the front door of the house illuminated the young cop’s
face, pale and grim. Pushing past a planter of ferns suspended over the porch and
bracing himself on the railing, the officer bent with his head over the side of
the porch.

 “Come
on cop, let it go. You’ll feel so much better if you just puke and get it over
with,” the man in the shadows muttered. A hint of humor pushed one corner of
the man’s mouth upward. He really wanted to see the cop puke.

Minutes
turned into hours and still he waited. The need to see her body being brought
out twisted inside him, forcing him to rock back and forth on his heels. Softly
chanting, the man declared, “It won’t be long now Mama….just wait for it…” 

Placing
his hands over his ears, the man rocked back on his heels and closed his eyes,
hoping to shut out the voices that taunted him. Seconds later, words echoing
from across the street stopped his rocking. He opened his eyes, smiled and
watched as paramedics appeared in the doorway pushing a loaded gurney out to
the porch. Like ice melting in the spring sun, the tension inside him
evaporated and the voices in his mind faded into white noise. Already the
euphoric sensation that drove his need to watch filled him, replacing his pain.
This was his high and he craved it every bit as much as a street junkie craved
the needle.

Running
a hand through his dark, short-cropped hair he watched the paramedics maneuver the
gurney down three short steps to the sidewalk below. Sturdy green straps pulled
tightly against the corpse held the black body bag in place. The wheeled
death-cart interrupted the splay of cruiser lights on the side of the house
creating its own grim show of red and blue bouncing off the black plastic. They
wouldn’t need lights and sirens for this ride. Trips to the morgue were as
silent as the bodies that were carried and stored there. He watched as the
ambulance drove away with their still and silent passenger.

Saralyn
Parker. Saralyn hadn’t been so still hours before.

The
memories were so fresh that he grew hard thinking about it. He’d entered the
house moments after she’d stepped out of the shower. She’d stood head down
toweling her long, sun-bleached blonde hair. He watched a good ten seconds
before she raised her head and saw him, her mouth forming an “oh” of surprise.

Before
she uttered a single word, he reached her, his fist cracking against her jaw
sending the breath whooshing out of her lungs. He saw the pain twist her face
as she dropped to her knees, a moan escaping her lips. Pushing her down to the
bathroom floor, he pressed his body against her naked flesh. The warmth of her
still wet skin seeped through his clothes. She’d fought…twisting, bucking and
turning in a futile attempt to loosen his grip. He watched as fear leached the
color from her face turning it a mask of ash grey. Sitting astride her, his
erection strained against the fabric of his pants. As fear widened her big blue
eyes he smiled, pressing himself deeper against her taut abdomen.  He leaned close
so that his forehead rested against hers, then smiled and whispered, “Don’t
worry it will be over soon. Much too soon.” 

And
it was.

The
man stood, stepped back, and stared at the lifeless body of Saralyn Parker, as
the blood drain from her body. A flowing river of red ran across her breasts
where it dripped from one nipple to pool on a shaggy blue rug beneath her.

Squatting
down to stare at the woman, he lifted his chin a notch and with child-like
defiance chirped, “I didn’t make a mess. I did it just like Daddy and no one
will ever know. You can’t tell.”  Dropping his voice to a whisper he continued,
“Mama says that we can never tell…it’s a secret.”

The
memory was crisp and fresh. Now, turning to leave his hiding spot in the
shadows of the building, the man slid his hand into his jacket pocket searching
for the token he’d placed there when he’d left the house across the street
hours before. He traced the etched design engraved on the coin, loving the feel
of its surface and the power that it held.

 

 

CHAPTER 2

 

Tate
Echo pulled his city-issued SUV into the courthouse parking lot, slipping the
dark vehicle into the slot reserved for the Chief of Police. He parked and
turned the engine off. Reaching over to the passenger seat for a well-worn
Minnesota Twins baseball cap, he pushed his dark brown hair back with one hand and
slid the hat into place. He took a deep breath, preparing for the onslaught of
questions he was sure to get this morning.

Already
the local news station had a van onsite with a home-grown celebrity standing on
the courthouse steps waiting to question him about last night’s murder. Only
problem was, he didn’t have any answers. Not yet. Stepping out of the SUV, Tate
made his way toward the gathering crowd, his long strides quickly eating up the
pavement.

A
thin and shaggy-haired cameraman made a sweep with his camera as the ‘dressed for
TV’ anchorman stepped forward, attempting to block Tate’s entry into the
building. “Chief Echo, what can you tell us about the murder of Saralyn Parker? 
Any suspects yet?  Where do you intend to focus your investigation?”

Tate
sighed as the newscaster pushed the microphone toward him. He stopped and
turned to face the camera, “No details can be released at this time. This is an
open case and the investigation is ongoing. My department is sharing details
only on a need to know basis for now.”  

Not
one to give up easily, the news anchor tried again, “Chief, can you confirm
that Parker was sexually assaulted during the attack?  Can you tell us ….”

Turning
away from the man, Tate took the courthouse steps two at a time leaving the
newsman behind, his words already fading.

 “This
is KCKY news anchor Wes Lively reporting on location at the Shannon County
Courthouse….” 

Reaching
his office, Tate flipped on the overhead lights and started his small coffee
maker. He moved to stare out a bank of windows on the north side of the room as
he waited for the coffee to brew. The Black Hills of South Dakota rose up in
the distance, their dark peaks matching his mood. As the coffee dripped, its
strong rich smell permeated the room. Tate noticed that the crowd below was
thinning, but there was still a group of ten or twelve locals who stood listening
to Wes as he continued his broadcast. Grabbing a chipped stoneware mug that
he’d pilfered from the courthouse cafeteria weeks ago, Tate filled it with the
dark brew and walked to his desk and the mess that waited for him there in a
closed manila folder. Glancing at his desk phone, Tate saw the blinking red
voicemail light pulsing on the side, demanding his attention. With one push of
the button he heard Gary Hooper, the mayor of Pine Ridge, leave his name and
number demanding an immediate call back.

“Not
yet, Mr. Mayor.” 

The
next three messages were more of the same. The mayor again, followed by two
city councilmen all wanting to know what he was doing to solve the tragic
murder of Ms. Parker. Delete, delete and delete.

“They
must think they hired a damn psychic as police chief,” he muttered.

Just
as Tate opened the waiting Parker file, his cell phone rang. Snatching the
phone from a brown leather holder clipped at his waist, he answered, “Echo
here.” 

 “Echo,
this is Mayor Hooper. Tell me what’s going on with the Parker case. Did you
catch the killer yet?”

Pushing
back his frustration Tate calmly explained, “The investigation is underway but
it has been less than 24 hours. We’ll have more to work with once we receive
the ME’s report.” 

Undeterred
the Mayor continued, “Echo, I know that you had some hot shot job with the FBI and
was some kind of hero in the Marines, but I took a real chance hiring you as
Chief. Hell, I worked my tail off to sway two councilmen to vote with me when
they really wanted Chad Green in your seat. My damn phone hasn’t stopped
ringing with concerned citizens reaming me out about this murder and pointing
out that I never should have hired you. For Christ’s sake Echo, this is an
election year and if you don’t nail this son of a bitch, it’s not going to look
good for either of us. You do understand what I’m saying here, right?” 

Tate
pinched the bridge of his nose and struggled to tamp down his rising temper. He
sucked in a deep breath and let it out slowly. Yeah, he understood a not so thinly
veiled threat when he heard one. Politics. Damn he hated this part of the job. With
a calmness that he didn’t feel, Tate reassured the Mayor that he would solve
this murder, promising to keep him better informed on the progress of the case.

Disconnecting
the call, Tate wondered what really concerned the mayor most, the murder of a
sweet local school teacher, or his upcoming run for reelection. It was
bureaucratic crap like this - and if he were being honest with himself, a
failed marriage - that prompted him to quit the bureau eight months ago and
move back to his home town. Having had too much from the job and too little
from the marriage he’d packed up his truck and driven home to Pine Ridge, South
Dakota, where he’d taken a job to serve and protect.
Great job protecting
this one Echo
, he thought.

Flipping
the manila case file open again, Tate starred at a digital print showing
Saralyn Parker’s naked and mutilated body lying in a bloody pool on her
bathroom floor. Placing the photo on top of a stack of similar pictures and
flipping the whole mess face down, Tate turned his attention to the report,
pulling a neatly typewritten page from where it was paper clipped to the inside
of the folder. Tate read, his mind absorbing details and compartmentalizing
them into manageable bits and pieces. Finishing the written report, he pushed
back from his desk and crossed his legs. He silently stared at the folder willing
it to talk.

BOOK: Caching Out
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