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Authors: Howard Owen

Oregon Hill

BOOK: Oregon Hill
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HOWARD OWEN

OREGON HILL

Copyright © 2012 by Howard Owen

All rights reserved. No part of this publication, or parts thereof, may be reproduced in any form, except for the inclusion of brief quotes in a review, without the written permission of the publisher.

For information, address:

The Permanent Press

4170 Noyac Road

Sag Harbor, NY 11963

www.thepermanentpress.com

Library of
Congress
Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Owen, Howard –

   Oregon Hill / Howard Owen.

        p. cm.

   ISBN 978-1-57962-208-4
   eISBN 1-57962-323-9

       1. Reporters and reporting—Fiction. 2. Murder—

   Investigation—Fiction. 3. Richmond (Va.)—Fiction. I. Title.

   PS3565.W552O74 2012

   813'.54—dc23                                                               2012013633

Printed in the United States of America

T
o Karen, who makes it all possible

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

M
any thanks to Patty Parks and Paula Glenn at the Grace Arents Library and Education Center for their invaluable assistance in researching
Oregon Hill
. Thanks also to a host of friends at the Prestwould for all the great stories.

CHAPTER ONE

Tuesday, October 6

T
he South Anna isn’t much of a river to begin with, and it had been a dry fall.

Her body had gotten hung up on a downed tree branch a couple of feet into the water.

I was there about half an hour after some deputy sheriff reported it, and nobody was that much into “protecting the scene” or any such shit. Not yet.

I actually beat the Richmond city cops there by a minute or two. The place wasn’t easy to find. A couple out canoeing, slipping away on that perfect fall afternoon, had come across it, beached the canoe next to the first cleared field they saw and got a somewhat frazzled housewife to call the sheriff.

I heard about it as soon as I got in. I’d wasted precious hours the night before covering a drug-deal-gone-bad fatality in the East End, then posting it on our Web site. The DDGB was too late for the metro city edition, what with our earlier deadlines, but we wanted our former faithful subscribers to be able to read it for free.

Sally Velez came up to me, walking fast, before I’d even gone for coffee.

“I think they found her,” she said, humming slightly with the kind of energy we achieve only when really horrific events interrupt our tedium. We’re ashamed of ourselves, but, God help us, we do love it so.

The GPS was worthless, as it often is, but by following a thin red line off a thin red line off U.S. 33 on my dog-eared state gazetteer, I finally got there about four o’clock, not dressed for a swamp but with no choice. The deputy was standing at the edge of the clearing, and another squad car was charging up, all blue lights and siren, ploughing up the farmer’s field.

The first deputy looked a little queasy. He led the others down to the South Anna, and they didn’t object when I followed. The mud was thick and gummy, almost sucking my shoes off my feet.

She’d gone missing four days before, and her body looked as if it had spent every bit of four days being ravaged by nature. Most of her clothes were still intact, but there was bloating, and what must have been damage by animals.

At first, I didn’t even notice, because of the way she was. Her body was pointed down, into the water, and her shoulders were bent over the tree branch that had caught her. Nobody was supposed to touch her until the medical examiner arrived, but one of the kid deputies in the second cop car waded in, unable to restrain himself, I guess.

Only when he moved her body a little, causing the torso to bob more upright, did I, and the kid, see it.

“Oh, shit,” he said, then turned around and threw up, mostly not on his shoes. The first deputy was standing next to me, just looking across the river. He never said anything the whole time I was there.

I see the dead and soon-to-be dead all the time, have witnessed often the damage that bullets do to soft tissue. This was different. This was like the two-year-old East End kid last year who was running toward her older sister inside their row house, when a bullet meant to scare some teenage drug dealer standing on the street outside tore through the flimsy walls and ruptured her heart.

This was the slaughter of an innocent.

“Why?” the kid deputy asked as he tried to wash vomit off his shoes. And he didn’t have to finish the sentence.

Everyone understood the question: Why would anyone abduct a young girl, kill her and pitch her body into the South Anna River, to be ravaged by the birds and rats?

And why, in the name of Christ, would he cut her head off?

When the Richmond city cops finally got there, I was chagrined to see in the fading light that Gillespie was one of the four who’d finally found the crime scene. He’d had it in for me since I tried to get his fat ass fired for causing a completely avoidable suicide in my presence the year before. They didn’t fire him, just suspended him—with pay, at that—for three months. And now, whenever our paths crossed, there was shit to take.

“Black,” he said, his lip curling into a sneer. “I better not hear that you’ve been tampering with evidence. Now get the fuck out of here. This is a crime scene.”

I congratulated him on finally finding it and asked if he had any more comments for me to pass on to our readers.

He blanched and then said, “You wouldn’t dare.”

One of the other cops looked familiar. When he passed in front of the squad car’s lights, I was sure. I called out.

“David Junior.”

David Shiflett looked at me for a couple of seconds. When he saw who it was, I had the feeling he wasn’t that pleased to see me.

“Willie,” he said, not even trying to smile. “Willie Black. Hey, Hill reunion, huh?”

He’d been a menacing presence as an older boy in Oregon Hill long ago, and the menace was still there, either sent out by him or imagined by me. He’s still on the Hill. I see him from a distance sometimes when I’m visiting Peggy, but I haven’t spoken to him in years.

I told him not to let Gillespie eat all the doughnuts, and Gillespie threatened to have me arrested if I didn’t—“right damn now”—get behind the crime scene tape they still were putting up.

Back at the paper, I told them that, no, I didn’t take the damn idiot camera, that our readers would have to be content with words this time.

Jackson was not pleased, not because he cared much for photojournalism either, but because he knew the new managing editor did.

I told Jackson what we were dealing with, but I didn’t really want to talk about what I’d seen. Somebody might try to turn it into some kind of dark humor, and I might have to hit them. I went to get some coffee, only to discover that, as was usually the case, some considerate individual had emptied the pot and hadn’t started a fresh one.

BOOK: Oregon Hill
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