Authors: Rayven T. Hill
The already narrow road was constricted to one tight lane, with police cars parked on either side of the now busy thoroughfare. Hank pulled in behind a cruiser fifty feet from the center of attention and shut down the engine. In his rearview mirror he saw the forensics van pull in behind him and lead crime scene investigator, Rod Jameson, swing from the passenger seat.
Hank stepped out and greeted him. “Morning, Rod.”
Jameson grunted. “You’d think these perps would at least wait until a decent hour.”
“Yeah, well, you know how it is,” Hank said. “Crime waits for no man.”
Jameson took another sip of the take-out coffee he was holding. “I guess we best see what this is all about.”
Hank approached the scene carefully and stopped at the edge of the path adjacent to the body. He pointed to the grass and weeds that lined the shoulder of the road and down into the ditch. “The body was rolled down the grade,” he said. “The grass has been flattened.”
Jameson nodded and made a note on the clipboard he was carrying.
A police photographer came over, adjusting the lens of his camera. He got it set up to his satisfaction and began taking shots along the edge of the road. Other investigators had stepped up, combing the ground and bagging potential evidence.
To avoid disturbing the scene, Hank stepped down the incline at one side, circled around behind the body and crouched down. It was a woman, with dark, medium length hair and dressed in a business suit. She was missing one shoe; it was halfway up the incline and he assumed it had fallen off as the body rolled down the grade. He couldn’t see her face as it was turned partly downwards, but from the description, he was sure it was Mrs. Gould.
The photographer moved down the incline and approached the body from the side. His camera continued to click.
Hank leaned over, rolled the body back slightly and examined the gray face. It was Mrs. Gould. No doubt about it.
Hank stood and looked up the incline. The medical examiner, Nancy Pietek had just arrived and was stepping gingerly down the bank. Hank gave her a grim nod.
“Hello, Hank,” Nancy said, as she approached, pulling on a pair of surgical gloves. She crouched down beside the body and made a preliminary examination.
“Livor mortis shows she wasn’t likely killed here.” She pointed to a purplish discoloration of the skin on the back of the body. “See how the blood has settled. The body is lying on its side, but the pooling is present on the back. That indicates she was killed elsewhere and then dropped here at a later time, or . . . if she was killed here, then the body was recently moved.”
“I’m guessing she was killed elsewhere,” Hank said.
“And rigor mortis has set in,” Nancy continued. “I’d put the approximate time of death at about ten to twelve hours ago.”
Hank frowned. Twelve hours ago would mean she’d been killed shortly after Jake had delivered the ransom money.
Nancy pulled back the collar of Mrs. Gould’s jacket revealing strangulation marks dug into the flesh. “Looks like she was strangled with a garrote.” She leaned in a little closer. “Probably wire.”
“Any identification on her?” Hank asked.
“Not that I can find,” Nancy said. “But there is this.” She pulled the collar back a little, exposing a thin gold necklace with a small diamond in a gold ball pendant.
Hank pulled out his cell phone and snapped a close-up photo of the pendant. If Dr. Gould recognized that, it would be an almost positive ID. The doctor would have to identify the body later of course, but that would do for now. He wasn’t looking forward to the uncomfortable task of breaking the news.
Hank would get a full autopsy report as soon as Nancy could get it done, likely later today. He stood, went back up the bank and approached Jameson.
“Who called this in, do you know?”
Jameson consulted his clipboard. “A farmer on his way to town. Trenton Scott.”
Hank glanced around. “Where is he now?”
“At home. He doesn’t have a cell, so he went home to make the call.” Jameson pointed up the road. “He lives that way with his wife. About three or four miles.” He scribbled on a blank sheet of paper and handed it to Hank. “Here’s his phone number, but I suspect his name’ll be on the mailbox.”
Hank took the paper, glanced at it and then folded it and tucked it in his pocket. “Any other witnesses?”
“Nope. Not that we know of.”
“I’d better go see him. Do you have anything else for me before I go?”
Jameson shook his head. “Doesn’t look like it. I’ll give you a call if we find anything that appears real important.”
“All right,” Hank said, as he turned to leave. “And get that forensics report to me ASAP.”
Thursday, September 1st, 8:23 AM
JAKE SET HIS coffee cup down and picked up his ringing cell phone. The caller ID showed it was Hank.
“Jake, I have some disturbing news.” There was silence on the line a moment, then, “Mrs. Gould’s body was found along County Road 10 early this morning.”
Jake jumped to his feet and glanced at Annie. She was leaning with her back to the counter, watching him and frowning. “What is it?” she asked.
Jake put the phone on speaker. “It’s Mrs. Gould. Dead.”
Hank continued, “She was strangled with a garrote sometime last evening. A farmer discovered her body. I’m on my way to interview him now.”
Annie sat and stared open-mouthed at the phone.
“Then I need to break the news to Dr. Gould,” Hank said. “I’ll call you later, but I wanted to fill you in.”
Jake hung up the phone and sat at the table. He dropped his head into his hands, feeling physically sick, feeling responsible for her death. He’d recommended Dr. Gould call the police and now . . . He’d trusted the kidnapper and he was certain Linda Gould would’ve been set free as long as the money was delivered.
Matty clumped down the steps from upstairs and in a moment, appeared in the kitchen. He stopped short and looked at his mother, then his father. “Is something wrong?”
Jake looked up and forced a grin.
“Just . . . a setback on a case we’re working on,” Annie said.
Matty frowned slightly and cocked his head. “You guys look upset.”
Annie smiled tightly as she stood and retrieved a paper bag from the counter. “Here’s your lunch. You’d better be getting to school.”
Matty took his lunch and turned a cheek to receive his obligatory kiss. He took a worried look at his father before leaving the kitchen. “I hope everything turns out ok,” he called back over his shoulder.
Annie sat back down and dropped her hand onto Jake’s. “I know you’re blaming yourself, but it’s not your fault.”
Jake sat back and sighed. “I know . . . but there was no reason to kill her. He got his money.”
Annie nodded. “He didn’t need a reason. He’s a killer and that’s what killers do.”
HANK SQUINTED at the mailbox, touched the brake and swung the Chevy into the long drive leading to the farmhouse.
Split-rail fences lined either side of the drive, half a dozen cattle grazed contentedly off to his right, and as Hank drew closer, a rooster strutted his stuff behind a chicken wire enclosure.
Gravel crunched as he pulled his vehicle to a stop beside an old pickup truck. He climbed out, sniffed the faint scent of manure and made his way to the back door of the ancient dwelling.
His knock was answered by a pleasant looking woman, probably approaching seventy, but as robust as a middle-ager. Probably from fresh air and exercise, Hank thought. Something he could use a little more of.
The woman smiled, raised her brows and waited for Hank to speak.
“I’m Detective Hank Corning,” he said. “Is Trenton Scott available?”
“Sure is. Wipe your feet there and come on in to the kitchen. He’s waiting to see you.”
Hank did as he was told and stepped inside. The aroma of something newly baked was in the air, mingling with the scent of freshly picked flowers.
“The police are here to see you,” the woman said.
Hank glanced toward the focus of the woman’s words. A solid kitchen table took up one end of the large room. A breeze from an open window fluttered the checkered tablecloth, held in place by an array of baked goods.
An elderly man rose from a chair at the table as Hank glanced his way. A tattered baseball cap was perched high on his head, his teeth arrayed in a welcoming smile. He pointed to a chair. “Have a seat, friend. Maggie’ll rustle you up a cup of coffee and we can talk,” he said, as he extended his hand.
Hank introduced himself and shook the timeworn hand. It was unusually strong, made so by the years of hard work necessary to maintain a livelihood at this dying occupation.
Hank settled back in his chair and spoke. “Mr. Scott, I understand you were the one who discovered the body a little earlier.”
The old man nodded. “Yup. It were a shock, I’ll tell you that. Ain’t never seen anything like that in all my years. Maggie and me been running this place nigh on fifty years now and ain’t nothing like that ever sprung up. Least not as I can recall.”
Hank smiled at the man’s words. It brought back warm memories and reminded him of his own grandfather and of the many pleasant days he’d spent on a farm such as this.
He turned his head a moment as a kettle whistled on the stove. Maggie was fixing coffee.
“I just have a few questions for you, Mr. Scott. I know you’re busy and I won’t take up too much of your time.”
“Ain’t no worry. Things’ll wait. I know this is mighty important and all. That poor girl. Did you find out who she is?”
“We believe we know who she is,” Hank said. “However, we need to keep that quiet until we notify her husband.”
The old farmer shook his head. “This’ll be bound to rip a hole right through the man’s heart. It ain’t easy finding out your kin’s met with something like that.”
Maggie set two cups of coffee on the table along with cream and sugar. She bustled back to the counter and returned with two generous portions of some kind of loaf. Hank caught a whiff of the warm snack. Banana bread, covered with a slab of melting butter. “Try that,” she said. “It’s fresh baked. And you can fix up your own coffee and there’s fresh cream, skimmed off the top.”
Hank thanked her and fixed his coffee, lots of sugar and a generous portion of the thick cream.
“If you want more just holler,” Maggie said, as she wiped her hands on her apron and turned away.
Hank assured her he would and spoke again to the old man. “Mr. Scott, when you discovered the body, did you disturb it in any way?”
The farmer shook his head firmly. “No sir, I surely didn’t. I just raced for home and called you up right quick. I know enough to not touch nothing cause I didn’t want to be mixing with the evidence. I know you investigators can find out a lot of stuff these days just by looking at how things are. Me and Maggie watch that CSI on the TV and sometimes they just has to take one quick look and they got the whole thing figured out, just like that.”
Hank chuckled. “It’s not usually that easy, but we’ve come a long way.” He took a bite of the banana bread and turned to Mrs. Scott, who beamed as he said, “This is delicious.”
“Mr. Scott,” Hank continued. “Did you see anyone at all in the area?”
Scott shrugged. “Nope. Weren’t nobody around. Only people you see out here that time of day is just old farmers like me.”
“Would you happen to know an exact time when you saw the body?”
“Nope, but I calculate it weren’t more’n five minutes afore I was on the phone to the police.”
Hank took the final gulp of his coffee. “You’ve been a big help, Mr. Scott.”
The old man was looking at the ceiling, a frown creasing his forehead. “Come to think of it,” he said, as he faced Hank and leaned forward. “I did see a truck. It were coming at me mighty fast, maybe just a mile or so from where I seen the woman.”
Hank was about to pop the last bite of banana bread into his mouth. His hand stopped halfway and froze. “You saw the truck before you saw the body, or after?”
“So, you passed the truck, then saw the body a minute or two later?”
Hank sat back and pulled his notepad and pencil from an inner pocket. “Can you describe the truck?”
“It was white. A white van and had no windows in the side.”
“And it was going fast?”
“Yup. Way too fast for this road.”
Hank thought a moment. “Did you see the driver?”
“Not really. Like I said, it was going fast and I slowed a bit and moved to the side to be safe. I could tell there was a driver, but couldn’t see no features or nothing like that.”
“Was it a man?”
“Pretty darn sure it were a man.”
“What about a passenger?”
“Couldn’t say. Maybe, maybe not.”
“Was there any markings on the side of the van? Writing, or anything unusual?”
The farmer shook his head slowly. “Nope. Just plain and white. Nothing unusual as I could remember.”
“I suppose you didn’t see the license plate?”
“Nope. Didn’t suspect anything untoward was going on.”
Hank nodded. “Of course, why would you?” He scribbled a note and drummed the head of his pencil against the notepad before finally looking back to the old farmer. “Can you think of anything else? Anything at all?”
“That’s all I got, my friend. Wish I could help more, but I didn’t see anything else that were suspicious.”
“You’ve been a big help,” Hank said, as he shoved the rest of the banana bread into his mouth. He put his notepad and pencil away and stood, extending his hand. “Thank you very much, Mr. Scott.”
The old man stood and gave Hank another firm handshake. “Don’t mention it. But I sure would appreciate a favor.”
“Just let me and Maggie know if you find out what happened. It’s been kinda weighing on us and we sure would like to know when you get this wrapped up.”
“I will,” Hank promised.
Maggie bustled over and handed Hank a paper bag. “Seeing as you like my banana bread so much, here’s a portion you can take along with you.”