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The Captive

The Captive

A Novel
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One Good and Deadly Deed

One Good and Deadly Deed

A Sheriff Luke McWhorter Mystery
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Excerpt

 

The fact that none of the body parts was covered told me no one from Dr. Konstantina Smyth’s office had arrived at the hangar yet.

Doc Konnie was adamant about not contaminating a victim’s remains. The fastest way to get on her bad side was to throw a plastic sheet or a tarp or a couple of towels over a corpse. Or over body parts.

And it wasn’t only our outspoken Greek-born medical examiner who was dyspeptic on the subject.

It was the law.

I memorized the statute word for word. This way, I could spell it out in no uncertain terms when people at a crime scene got careless, not keeping their hands off the deceased. Or, for that matter, off the dead person’s possessions. I’d point out that anyone who — quote, unquote —

willfully touches, removes, or disturbs the body, clothing, or any article upon or near the body . . . shall be guilty of a misdemeanor of the first degree.

So in West Texas’s Abbot County, at a crime scene involving loss of life, even we law enforcement types waited for the ME’s white van to show up before touching the body. Until then, we looked for clues elsewhere. Or else we stood around and waited.

When I entered the hangar, that’s what a half-dozen people were doing: standing a few steps inside the door. Gossiping, kibitzing, pointing.

Waiting.

All of them were dressed like I was — in protective gear. But they were acting like they’d just gotten out of church. Clustered in a group, they were enjoying a social moment before heading to the parking lot.

Or maybe I was thinking that because I’d stepped out of a church building a few minutes ago myself. A church building where I’d been the preacher.

I was quite certain there were other sheriffs in America who preached. Just about anyone can run for sheriff. That includes country preachers, many of them self-taught in theology. Some of them preached every Sunday morning.

But I wasn’t one of those. This was the first sermon I’d preached since becoming sheriff nearly seventeen years ago.

I had a copy of the church program jammed in my inside coat pocket. The cover offered the bare details of the morning’s activities.

Today’s sermon by

Sheriff Luther Stephens McWhorter,

B.A., M.A., Doctor of Divinity

“Sworn in, eyes up”

How heaven and your local sheriff view wearing a badge and carrying a gun . . .

But no one in this group was going to ask about any of that. They were too busy taking extreme care where they rested their eyes. I didn’t blame them. I’d never seen a crime scene like it.

Pools of crimson and body parts of all sizes littered the hangar floor.

In all directions.

But it was the plane that dominated the view.

I knew what kind it was. The twin-engine Beechcraft King Air 350i was an iconic plane from a lineup of aircraft with a distinguished pedigree. I knew all this because I’d always found the King Air 350i more princess than king.

Even at a moment like this, it looked like a resplendent metal sculpture as much as an aircraft. Walk around it, and the very nature of what you were looking at seemed to change before your eyes. This was a consequence of the craft’s exquisite, complicated design. I found the sight of one mesmerizing.

“You ever see anything like this?”

A woman’s voice came from behind me. One I knew well. It belonged to one of my deputies. A detective actually.

Detective Rashada Moody.

Detective Moody was my department’s only woman deputy. Only African-American deputy. Only left-handed deputy. Only deputy who’d been a beauty queen contestant. And the only one of us to have a four-year college degree in criminal justice. “Deputy Only,” we jokingly called her. But at the moment, there was no humor in Deputy Only’s voice. And I knew she wasn’t talking about the airplane.

“No,” I said after a moment.

“Somebody didn’t want these poor fellows viewable at their funerals,” she said casually before reverting into the professional I’d always admired. “I was the first officer here . . . if you’d like to know what I’ve noticed.”

Her tentativeness was more than a courtesy. It hadn’t been that long since I’d been the first one to roll up on another horrendous crime scene, a sickening scene near a remote, abandoned house thirty miles west of town.

The smell of rotting corpses and the sight of buzzards devouring them had made me ill. After several episodes of acute gastronomic distress, I’d managed to withdraw a short distance and summon help. Detective Moody was one of those who had responded. Now, here we both were again.

But before she could propose a place to start, I issued a directive to the others. “People, why don’t we vacate the hangar until the ME can get this sorted.”

Detective Moody turned to join the departures, but I caught her wrist. It felt warm. She seemed embarrassed, likely for not immediately recalling that I had seen this much ugly and more not long ago — and had been physically devastated by it. How could she ever forget the sight and smell of me and my vomit-drenched clothes and car.

I released her wrist and squeezed her shoulder reassuringly. “If we’re careful, you and I can walk through this.”

She nodded and pointed to the plane’s starboard engine — the right wing from the point-of-view of the pilot looking forward. “I think the poor guy hit by those propellers was shoved into them from the side.”

I looked from the propellers to the body parts and then back to her. “You’re going to have to show me why.”

“It isn’t pretty.”

“Ugly is all I’m expecting to see today.”

 

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