"Uh-oh," Shelly said.
"No danger," Anna reassured her. "I'm just going to step inside."
"No. You got your dress all smeary." The genuine sympathy in the young woman's tone reminded Anna how pretty the dress was, and how expensive.
"It'll wash," she replied, hoping it was true. Stepping through the doorway, she shut Shelly, the spoiled dress and everything else from her mind and took in the sense of the room. Simplicity, the utilitarian nature of pioneer construction and furnishings, lent it a beauty that was rarely evident in late twentieth and early twenty-first century homes: four-poster bed beneath a sash window, a desk, a rocker, a bureau. Beneath the bed was a trunk. Two hooks on the wall above the bed served the needs of a closet for a way of life that required few changes of clothing. Candles in sconces and an oil lamp would provide the room with light. Had the body been an aged family member, laid out in burial garb by loving hands, Grandma Polly's bedroom would have retained its symmetry and peace. It was so steeped in history, death itself did not seem out of place. Nudity, modernity did.
Anna crossed the room and, standing on the bit of carpet so she wouldn't destroy the tracks in the dust nearer the bed, she looked over the body. "Moby Dick," she muttered irreverently as she stared down at the great white whale beached in her park. She clicked on the tape recorder, tested it, then began.
"White male, fifty to sixty years of age, maybe five-foot-ten inches tall, well over two hundred pounds. Hair gray and brown, thinning on top, cut short. Eyes blue." Eyes. Anna was not a big fan of the eyes of the dead. Never was it clearer that they were the windows of the soul than when, looking into them, one saw only emptiness, a place devoid of hope or humanity. Once she'd seen eyes like that on a living person, a boy of eleven in a psych ward she'd visited. He'd been mutilating the family pets. His parents finally brought him in when he'd tried the same thing on his little sister.
These dead eyes were rolled back slightly, as if their owner had been looking out the sash window above his head, trying to catch a last glimpse of the stars before he died. Flesh fell heavily in the bags beneath the eyes and in his jowls, pulling down his cheeks and lips till the tips of straight, white, clearly artificial crowns could be seen.
Her gaze moving methodically down the body, Anna continued her visual exploration. "No jewelry around his neck, no marks of strangulation. No visible wounds on head, shoulders or arms." Standing on tiptoe so she would see over the man's bulk, she checked his other side. "No defensive marks evident on hands or forearms." Her focus shifted down to the torso. Here things began to get interesting. She'd started at the top of the head because thoroughness in police work was worth a great deal more than inspiration. "Torso marked with bruise pattern," she said into the machine. "Bruising evident beneath the arms. Bruising and chafing in a band approximately four inches wide just below the sternum. Abdomen unmarked. Subject wearing white men's briefs. No blood or semen stains visible. On the inner thighs bruising and chafing, contusions having oozed blood."
"Major, major yuck," said a voice in Anna's ear. "Like, this is a sex crime! God. I think it'd be a crime for a guy like this to have sex at all."
"Spoken like a young, thin person," Anna said. Drawn by adventure and the macabre, Shelly had drifted in to stand behind Anna's left shoulder. Anna checked to see that she stood on the rug. During the busy season half a hundred visitors a day poked their heads in. Park aides had the run of the place. And soon the room would be populated with the sheriff's people, the coroner and whoever else got sent on the call. A few dark hairs or pale flecks of skin from Shelly Rabine weren't going to obfuscate any clues.
From Hunting Season by Nevada Barr, Copyright © February 2002, The Putnam Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Putnam, Inc., used by permission.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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