The story so far:
“She’s been dead since Monday,” Doc Ernie huffed. He was still winded from the hike in. Even though the morning air was close to freezing, the fat doctor was forced to wipe the sweat from his forehead. I was thankful to still be in condition enough to make it this far out.
I came up next to him, gazing into the teacher’s dark dead eyes. “Monday’s awful vague there, Doc. Probably gonna need you to do better than that.”
He jiggled his head back and forth. “Not gonna be able to do it out here. You’re gonna have to get her back into town for that.”
This was pretty rough country. If it weren’t for the Boyer Brothers looking for that rumored fifteen hundred pound Bull Moose, it could have been well into summer before anyone found her.
“May have to call the Troopers down here with their ‘copter. Don’t think dragging her out is gonna be an option,” I said turning to where the two brothers were sitting.
“Robbie, take your brother and the Doc back to the highway. Then get the radio out of my cruiser and get it back up here,” I ordered and then added, “Bring my damned camera too.”
The young man nodded, still visibly shaken from the gruesome find. The Doc stumbled forward through the deep woods and I grabbed Robbie by the shoulder. “I know he’s a tool, Rob, but you get him down to that road quick as you can. I still have two kids missing too. And tell that dumb **** brother of yours to keep his mouth shut. I don’t need the whole damn town going ape ****, right?”
He nodded towards me, slung his Remington over his shoulder and stepped in behind his brother and the doctor. Truth be told, they were both idiots, but Robbie could certainly follow directions and he was good in the outdoors. It would probably take him about two hours to get the Doc to his car and another hour or so to get back to me. I was in for a wait so I was going to have to hunker down.
I kicked over a bit or rotted log and sat down about 15 feet from where “Ms. B”, as she was affectionately called, hung. Someone had taken a strip of barbed wire and strung her up by her neck against a tree trunk. It was brutal. More so than anything I had seen before in my 25 years of enforcing the law.
Folks had taken to her real easily. She had a way that just pushed aside the small town wall that goes up automatically when dealing with strangers. She just had the skills that enabled her to fit in, which made the anger apparent in her murder all the more shocking.
She had been beaten before they killed her. If I hadn’t already been looking for her and the two kids, I would not have been certain as to who she was. Ms. B was also completely naked. Looking around, I didn’t see any trace of her clothing, which meant either I needed to search the area a bit more or they had drug the poor woman out here completely bare. Besides the trauma to her face, she had multiple cuts, slashes across her body. She had been tortured pretty good, partially shredded. I wondered how long her screams had echoed off the surrounding trees while the monsters that did this played with their prize.
Her eyes started blankly out at me from her distorted face and while I had spent half my life in these woods, I didn’t want to be out there a moment longer with her looking at me. I stood up and moved across to her.
“They certainly did a job on you, Ms. B.” I said as I reached over to lower her lids and give her a bit of peace.
She had come to town about a year ago, shortly after Old Lady Winston had passed on. Town had needed a teacher and Ms. B fit the bill. Didn’t know much about her past, but while everyone in town were horrible gossips, we also knew how to keep out of business that don’t concern us.
I looked down at her hands, which seemed free of defensive wounds. I didn’t fancy a drifter for this. Everything seemed too personal. No, whoever did this did this ‘cause of something personal.
Glancing down at my watch, I saw that I still had quite a bit of a wait till Robbie was going to show back up with my radio. I didn’t want to wander too far off, but I decided that a quick look-see for the clothes might be in order.
I started moving in a circle around the tree where the poor woman hung trying not to think about how much she resembled a cut of venison drying against a shed. Every time I completed a lap around the tree I moved four or five feet farther out keeping my eyes fixed to the ground, looking for anything that didn’t fit.
It had been a few years since I had ventured out into this area of the woods. About 15 miles north of town the woods grew extremely thick and an occasional moose would wander down. Deer hunting was good up these parts also. I suppose, it was also a good place for killing too.
I was about thirty minutes into a fruitless search when the sound of crying crows grabbed my attention. Crows are nasty bits of work. They get into everything and are too smart for their own good. They are also scavengers and the sounds they were making made it clear they were fighting over something. I am not sure if it was instinct or just curiosity that urged me towards the squawks, but I found myself entering a very small clearing. What appeared before me took my legs out from under me.
Amy Halstorm and Jake Hill. Just children.
My stomach lurched as my head spun and I realized what the crows were fighting over. I tried to focus but the image of their pale bodies staked to the soft ground and the crows’ red beaks were too much for me to grasp. I rolled on the damp carpet of vegetation trying to ignore the bile coming up my throat. There was nothing that ever had could have prepared me for something like this. Never.
Two minuets, two hours, or two days. I don’t know how long it took me before my brain worked itself clear of the chaos.
Do your job, damn it! It screamed to me. Get up and do you job.
Sitting up, I shook my head. Those poor babies didn’t need me rooting around in the mud. It would do them no good. I was going to have to get up and deal with it. Deal with them.
Wiping the vomit off my chin, I stood up and took a few steps towards them. Like Ms. B, their clothes were gone. They were not, however, brutalized like her. The damage seemed more ritualized. They were held to the ground by leather bindings hooked to tent stakes. Laid out in opposite directions, their feet pressed against each other joining them into one. Both chests had been opened; rib cages broken open and robbed. The hearts were gone.
Tears filled my eyes and I turned away. It made no sense. Nothing made sense. Why the teacher and why the kids?
My answer came in the form of a small glint of metal reflecting the sun as it poked its way through the gloom for a moment. I bent down and wrapped my hands around a gold chain hooked to a circular medallion. One glance at the half-open eye set against a rising sun sent me sprinting back towards Ms. B’s broken body.
Once standing in front of her gasping for air, I took her chin and pushed it to the side. Raising her hair, I exposed her neck. There, just below her hairline, was a very small puncture wound. It was almost invisible and I could see how the Doc missed it, as he wasn’t looking for it.
I let go of her head and stumbled backwards to my log chair.
If They were involved then I had already made a mistake by bringing the Doc out here. I didn’t know what Ms. B had done to anger Them, but I was not going to worry about her anymore. Her or the children. There were other concerns now. Concerns for my life and that of my family’s.
Turning in the direction of the road, I pulled out my service revolver. My watch told me that if I moved quick there was still a chance I could catch the trio. It was going to be an awful lot of work dragging them back into the woods, but with winter coming, I was pretty sure we’d be in the Spring thaw before anyone found Doc and the brothers. I’d have to clean up Ms. B and the kids too, but then, perhaps, I would catch some luck and They would leave me be. Perhaps.