A ritualistic murder. An autistic child who saw more than he knows. Can one detective solve the riddle before a ruthless killer strikes again?
Check out Chapter 1 below.
Chapter 1 – Cal
The thought of crossing this line fills me with dread.
I feel rooted to the ground; I know that once I move, I will be changed forever and not for the better. Steeling myself—or am I just delaying the inevitable?—I look up at the trees. They are old growth, moss covered monsters who have stood here for centuries. The enmity with which they glare down at me, through the forbidding early light, seeks to warn me off; they know I am a member of the species which has just profaned their woods. Although the thought skips through my mind, I know I cannot turn back.
I lift the yellow tape and stoop under.
At twenty paces, facing away and clad, like me, in crime-scene clothing, heads tilted forward, they look like alien prisoners about to be executed by a bullet in the back. Five of them are standing in a semicircle looking down at the sixth, a man, crouching over something on the ground. Cops at a murder scene often indulge in gallows humor, a futile mechanism to try and erase the horror of the brutal theft of a human life, but as I approach, I note they are silent.
I take my place beside my minder, at the left-hand end of the group; the outsider. He doesn’t bother to acknowledge my presence but a distant peal of thunder announces my arrival. Or is it a warning of what this case might do to me? Nothing has prepared me for this, the crime scene every cop dreads, especially a cop with a child he once failed to protect. But it is also the crime every cop wants to solve, especially the outsider who wants back in.
In an effort to delay the inevitable, I exchange looks and nods with the others present. There are no smiles today. Glad of the excuse, they fix their eyes on me. Waiting for the reaction, I suppose.
With no other option, I force myself to look down.
The gray light filtering through the forest canopy is just enough to illuminate the body in the mud. He is wearing funky yellow and green sneakers and gray sweat pants bearing the red Nike swoosh. They are muddied and ripped. He is naked above the waist and is drenched in blood. He looks to be about nine or ten years old, forcing other unwanted images into my mind. I struggle to banish them… and only partly succeed.
There seem to be five wounds in an approximate circle with his belly button at its center. As if this were not enough, on his face there are two knife slashes forming an X. Each slash starts on one cheek and finishes on the opposite jaw line, with the center of the X over his mouth.
The eyes are bloody, damaged in some way. There is not a lot of blood on his face and I am praying that the facial wounds were inflicted after he was dead.
I look up. I survived but I was right. I know exactly how this crime has already changed me and, God help me, I embrace the change. The shiver that runs through me has nothing to do with the cold February morning and I can feel burning rage building inside. A good rage. A rage to consume me until I find the monster who did this.
“We’ll know more later but I estimate time of death at about eight or nine PM yesterday,” says a voice in a Québécois accent. I turn back and see that the coroner is on his feet and I am grateful that I do not have to look down again. “Cause is almost certainly the wound to ’is solar plexus. The facial wounds were post mortem and there is no obvious sign of sexual assault.” At this last, there is a sigh of relief from everyone but me. Not even that abomination could make me more determined to find this child’s killer. He nods toward Steve, my boss, “We should ’ave more for you later.”
I force my jaw to relax. “Was there any ID on the body?” I ask. He shakes his head.
It is time for the removal of the body and then the Forensic Services techs can take over. Before I clear the scene, I make myself take a good look around the area. About five feet from the body is what I guess to be the remains of a green t-shirt and a yellow winter jacket. It’s the exact shade of yellow that is my daughter Ellie’s favorite color. A part of me screams to call Ellie, just to hear her voice and know she’s OK, but right now I need to move heaven and earth to get my hands on the killer.
Nothing else on the forest floor seems to be out of place but, if anything is, Forensics will find it; unless the firemen, typically first at the scene, have trampled it out of existence.
I somehow bring myself to take a final look at the body. Three lone rain drops fall from the leaves above and I watch them spatter on the child’s bloody torso. Claudius’ words spring into my mind, Is there not rain enough in the sweet heavens to wash it white as snow?
No, Claudius. There isn’t.
I head down the trail, back to where the cars are parked, and the not-so-sweet heavens open, baptizing us all into the select cult of those who have looked upon the body of a murdered child.
As badly as this day has started, I know it is going to get worse. By the time it draws to its close, I pray the images of this particular morning will keep my rage alive and keep at bay the longing for the sweet release only heroin can bring.
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