"Don't touch anything," Anna reminded her and left it at that.
"I know not to touch," Shelly said, slightly aggrieved. Everybody knew it and everybody, even seasoned professionals, had to be reminded. Other than on the body itself, maybe the patchwork coverlet and the tracked bit of floor, it didn't really matter. The unbroken veil of dust on planks and furniture made it clear there would be no recent fingerprints to be lifted.
"Maybe it was that auto-erotica thing or whatever you call it," Shelly suggested. "You know, where guys hang themselves while they jerk off."
"No ligature marks," Anna said. "And his underpants are still on."
"Oh. Where are his clothes? You'd think they'd be lying around somewhere."
"I doubt he was here alone. Whoever killed him or found him before we did probably took them."
Anna had no answer for that. It was too early for answers. She said nothing but traded Shelly the tape recorder for the camera and began taking photographs of the body and, as best as ambient light and mediocre equipment would allow, of the tracks in the dust on the floor.
When she finished and looked up, Shelly had moved away from the bed. No longer on the island of rug, she stood in front of Grandma Polly's writing desk. Anna felt a stab of annoyance that the younger woman had not obeyed her to the letter. Shelly's hands were clasped dutifully behind her back, carefully not touching anything, so Anna stifled her waspishness.
"What have you got?" she asked.
"Too weird. Come look."
On the writing table an old book lay open. On the right-hand page was a picture of Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane. The left side was covered in verse, and half of it had been circled in red felt-tip pen.
Sins against a holy god
Sins against His righteous laws
Sins against His love and blood
Sins against His name and cause
Great, Anna thought sourly.
"What do you figure?" Shelly asked. Either stress or proximity to religion was bringing out the park aide's drawl. Local girl, Anna remembered, from Vicksburg. First summer home from college after graduating from Ole Miss.
"Beats me," Anna said. "Could be a lot of things. Maybe means nothing. An impulse. Murderers are not the sort of folks known for controlling impulses."
"It'd of been night," Shelly said.
"Good point." Anna thought about that for a moment. Mt. Locust, true to its 1802 history, had no electricity. Whatever had transpired in Grandma Polly's room had been done by flashlight. The candles in the sconces had never been lit; the wicks were still white virgin cotton. The globe on the oil lamp was sheathed in a fine, unmarred layer of dust. It was unlikely, though not impossible, that whoever had been there had happened to see the verse. Maybe the picture. Only a religious person would know it was Christ in the Garden. Anna had needed to read the caption.
"Maybe the..." Shelly looked over her shoulder at the bed with its unsavory burden as if concerned its occupant would overhear them gossiping. "...The deceased," she continued self-consciously, "circled it himself. Like a suicide note."
"Nothing's impossible. Whoever did it had to have left a track in the dust. I missed it. Now it's been obliterated." Both women were standing on the bare wood.
"Oh, gosh, I know," Shelly said excitedly. "Baptists."
"Baptists?" Anna echoed stupidly.
"Yeah. It was done by Baptists. They're real serious about sins of the flesh. Not like Catholics or anything."
"Boy. You're sure not from around here. When you profile the killer are you going to make him Baptist?" Shelly asked hopefully.
"If I'm not mistaken, sixty percent of the state of Mississippi is Baptist," Anna said. She didn't want to go into the fact that garden-variety, one-corpse killers weren't profiled. "The sheriff should be getting here soon. Why don't you go down to the VC and wait for him."
From Hunting Season by Nevada Barr, Copyright © February 2002, The Putnam Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Putnam, Inc., used by permission.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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