Sheriff Ron Tammen arrived shortly after Evie had walked out of Officer Horst’s home. She couldn’t believe what she was seeing. Every single resident, as far as she knew, had been executed. They looked to have been shot as they slept in their beds, entirely unaware. Everyone agreed that silencers had to have been used on account of the echo in the area. At least four people had to be involved in the killings. Evie’s head was reeling.
Only three people had not been killed in their beds. A boy named Erico Lee Smith (according to the handmade sign on his door) had been shot at the foot of his bed. A young pretty teenage girl was shot in her basement. According to Bowman, the doctor had been shot in his office.
Evie hated admitting that she felt like the cavalry was there when Ron’s caravan drove up, kicking dust. With him were three vans full of crime scene investigators, a lab truck, and a large freezer truck with the body bags she had requested. Ron lurched out of his cruiser wearing the same damn cowboy hat and mustache, though the latter had been given a trim.
“Evie,” Ron said as she greeted him front of the gas station. “I gotta say, I was half hoping you were right so I didn’t have to kill you for dragging my best people all the way down here for nothing. How long were we on the road, Hattie? Oh. Evie, this is Forensics Investigator, Hattie Jackson. She’ll be the supervisor.”
“Three hours on the road, Ron,” Hattie said before showing her perfectly white teeth and shaking Evie’s hand. “It’s nice to meet you. I need to know everything.”
“There are four of us from Joliet,” Evie said. “We’ve been trying to find a living person in town but everyone has been shot dead. I’m talking dozens. Most in their beds. We’ve cleared all of the homes. There are 28 houses in all and multiple casualties in most of them.”
Hattie was no-nonsense, just the way Evie liked it. The woman was probably in her forties with dark black skin and blue eyeshadow over her almond-shaped eyes. Her hair was short and swept up like most no-nonsense women Evie knew. Hattie scribbled notes furiously as Evie spoke and behind her, her crew of professionals impressed Evie as they soaked in every word with an expected horror and became very focused on the equipment they were pulling out and labeling. They had a map and were already discussing their plans.
“No one calls anyone about anything! No calls out!” Ron boomed. “I wanna to make that clear. We don’t go to the press. We don’t call the rest of our people. We’re going to manage the scene and figure out where to go from there.”
“I’m sorry. Did you say you have all been in and out of the crime scenes?” Hattie suddenly lost all of her goodwill towards Evie. “You’ve all been trampling through the houses? Have you been touching anything?”
“Yes, but we had our reasons.” Evie’s didn’t want Hattie thinking she was a Joliet rube cop. “We’ve been pulling some sheets and opening doors but in our defense, we had to make sure that no one was in need of medical attention. Given the circumstances, I believe this is to be expected. I would hope any of you would do the same.”
“Fine.” Hattie pulled on a lab coat and gloves. “I need you and the other three to go in that van and have your fingerprints, palm prints, and shoes printed by Jill. We need to rule you out.”
Evie was slightly embarrassed, even more so because she had to say, “A mailman who picks up and delivers from Joliet is here, too. You’ll need to do him. He’s the one who called us when he found the Calliope officer dead. He’s at the substation right now.”
Annoyed, Hattie didn’t say a word. She didn’t have to. Evie and her men were processed and led out of the crime scene van where Evie gave Sheriff Tammen a rundown of what she and her officers had witnessed. As she sent Yoli and Bowman out with more instructions, Hattie nudged Ron and whispered,
“Is Sheriff Hartley the one with the dead child?”
“She looks like she doesn’t wash her hair.”
“She’s always looked like that. Hey, Evie, come on! Let’s move it on out!”
Ron thought to himself that Sheriff Hartley didn’t look that bad. She was petite and never lost her cool, like most of the women he knew who always pretended to be like Hartley but would eventually evolve into a psycho. She still had that ponytail and that soft twang in her voice. Ron preferred a buxom blonde but Hartley would do in a pinch. He was positive she had to be a tiger in the sack.
Ron shook his head. Unfortunately, there were more important things to focus on.
His group then scattered to the wind in small teams as if they knew what they were doing. Evie was less sure. She and Ron put on gloves and grabbed some police print shoe covers.
“So where do you want me to start?” Ron asked Evie with his arms wide open.
She pointed to the right side of The Square. “The closest body is right here. Bowman said they found one victim in the doctor’s office. In the back.”
“I thought you said the murders happened overnight.”
“Then this person just happened to be visiting the good doc on an evening stroll?”
“Just come with me and bring someone.”
An older investigator followed to secure the scene. He had three heavy bags over his shoulders and carried a camera over his arm.
“You didn’t tell me Butler was African American,” Ron said to Evie as he held open the office door with a brick.
“Where did you hear that he was?”
“I saw him standing in front of the door at the substation.”
“Is he a Muslim?”
“So there are no white Muslims. Right?”
“Just answer me.”
“Sorry, Ron. In between 81 dead bodies, I didn’t have time to have a religious conversation with the mailman.”
“Just saying. He’s the only outsider with an in….”
“I know, I know. I get it. He looks good. I just don’t see it. I thought he was going to wet himself in the back of Bowman’s cruiser. Not exactly someone I could see pulling off a mass murder.”
After putting on their shoe covers, they all walked into the silence and the first thing Evie noticed were the items hanging on the pine wood walls.
“This used to be a dentist’s office. Before everyone started going to Joliet,” she said as she motioned towards the corn husk wreath. “I think he had these exact pictures on the wall. Farmers plowing fields. Cats playing with yarn. Look at them. They’re faded now.”
A few newer looking chairs were in the waiting room and the booth that would have held a receptionist had been out of use for some time. The receptionist window was in need of a good Windex cleaning. Fitness and farming magazines were displayed nicely on end tables alongside fliers for medical insurance.
Evie and the others looked over everything before heading to the back room, past two patient rooms filled with what you would expect at a doctor’s office: patient tables, medical cabinets, and blood pressure readers. Posters for heart attack prevention and the food pyramid. Evie opened a supply closet and saw packages of needles, samples of YAZ, and a bag of lollipops as well as a bag of stickers. Boxes of gloves filled one entire shelf. After finding nothing to note, Evie closed the door thinking about the children who had come through there, getting the choice of a lollipop or sticker when they were good.
The office smelled like burnt fur and gases. It just smelled hot, something Evie recognized from hundreds of DOA’s. There was no blood trail but the threesome watched where they stepped, trying to walk along the wall so they could get footprints later. The office was small but well utilized. Color-coded patient files were on a bookshelf, opposite of the large desk. Evie noticed that the area didn’t look very clean, aside from the dead body on the floor. There were dust balls in the corners, light and airy. A few dead flies were on the windowsill.
The doctor was laying on his back to the right side of his desk which sat next to a large window. His hands were slightly raised, with loose fists. His pink brain matter decorated the wall and framed certificates behind him, along with pieces of skull. His hair was a darker red than Evie’s and it looks like it was spiked with too much mousse.
“Window locked,” Ron observed.
“Front door was unlocked. Dr. Joseph Peel.” Evie read the plaques on the wall. “Graduate of Greater Massachusetts Medical School. Well, he wasn’t here when I lived here. We didn’t even have a doctor when I was here. Hmm. Graduated three years ago. Young for a doctor.”
“Who moves to butt fuck nowhere to be a doctor? Couldn’t have been any money in it.”
“Someone obsessed with health. Outdoors.” Evie pointed to open vegan snack wrapping on his desk. She poked in the trash, with a pen as the investigator took photos. “I have receipts from Outside Shack in Great Prairie. Bought a yoga ball. Nike shirt. Jogger’s Help Heart Monitor.”
“Millennials. Must be the new thing. Country livin’.” The investigator shrugged as he took photos of the walls.
“What a little bitch.” Ron started to flip through the runner’s journal on the desk. “Sorry. I don’t trust a man who don’t eat meat.”
Evie gave Ron a raised eyebrow before kneeling down to inspect the body. She glanced over his hands and looked at the fingernails which were turning purple.
“No defensive wounds,” Evie commented in a low voice. “Soaked his shirt too. Must have seen what was coming.” She pointed to the yellowed stains in the armpit area of his sweatshirt.
The entire front of his face was gone in what must have been a single gunshot with a large caliber weapon. The nose bridge wasn’t even there. A cavern was left of where his teeth and forehead had been and only the edge of his right eye socket bone remained. The facial skin was torn like bloody, ripped fabric, back to the ears and up to the hairline. Evie lifted the back of his head, ever so slightly, and saw that there was an indentation. A large amount of blood had congealed so thick that she couldn’t lift the head completely or risk hurting the skin. She laid it back down.
“Shot while standing. Blew him back and hit his head on the floor. Wasn’t moved afterward.”
Dr. Peel was wearing black sweatpants and his muddy shoes were white and scuffed. He also had on a gray sweatshirt with a beer logo on it. It had a few specks of blood on the collar from the gun blast.
“I’m thinking he was probably an early morning runner?” Evie wrote a few lines in her notepad. “Maybe he was about to go out when they found him. I’ve heard of some people running all night. I know I couldn’t do it.”
“How do we know this is him? I don’t see a wallet,” asked the investigator as he pulled out a video camera.
“I’m not sure. Oh, just so you know, you might find my officer’s fingerprints,” Evie said. “Bowman said that he only checked his vitals.”
“Well, that was necessary,” Ron quipped before pointing. “Look. Photo. Right here. Looks like a damn Glamour Shot.”
In a framed photo on the desk was a headshot of Dr. Peel in a lab coat. He had a scruffy red beard that matched his hair and a stethoscope around his neck. His teeth had been a slight yellow and his eyes were bright green.
“What the hell are these?” Ron held up shoes that had been laying on his chair. They had weird toes and looked expensive, with fluorescent colors on the sides. Ron thought they looked like tiny flippers. “They’re like foot gloves.”
Evie smiled. “That’s what’s cool now, Ron. You’re from the big city and you don’t know that? People run in those.”
“This is the weirdest thing I think I’ve ever seen. Must be a Massachusetts thing.”
Evie didn’t respond. She eyed the medical charts and a large lock box next to the desk.
“We’ll need a warrant to go through those medical files. His datebook too.”
“I’ll call my prosecutor now. I’m sure it’s not the last one we’ll need.” Ron already had his phone out.
“Will that be a problem? That might bring too much attention. Relatives will start charging in and I don’t have enough back up….”
“Nah. It won’t be a problem. We have no other choice, anyway. You think too much, Evie.”
Someone has to.
She tried to stay out of the investigator’s way while still observing as much as possible. When Ron finally came back, he was about to say something but his radio crackled.
“Sheriff Tammen?" Hattie’s voice came over Ron’s radio. “I need you guys at…3 Red Bluff Road. Turn right east of town. We have something here. Stands out.”
“Ask her if that’s the purple house,” Evie told Ron.
“Is that the purple house, Jackson?”
“No. The white house up the hill from it.”
“I know where that is.” Evie nudged Ron. “Follow me. Is he okay here?”
She nodded at the man taking prints. He gave her a thumb’s up.
“Let’s move!” Ron waved her on and they left, stepping over Dr. Peel’s feet.
After Ken caught up, they became a threesome and as they walked down Main Street, Evie watched the action going in and out of the public buildings. The quickest way to the white farmhouse was to take go up the hill behind the doctor’s office.
“I’m finished here. Two bodies,” called out a detective as he walked out of a small dilapidated house right off The Square and two men in hazmat suits went in with stretchers.
The mailbox said “Maroney” in black stickers. Evie stopped and pointed at it. “Mary Maroney. She was my husband’s cousin, I think.”
“You gonna call your husband?” asked Ken.
“If you can find him. I couldn’t find him if I wanted to.” Evie looked up at a very uncomfortable Ken and forced a tight smile. “I think he might be in Alaska somewhere. Wasn’t ready to be a father.”
“Huh.” Ken was dying to ask his next question. “What if you wanted to divorce him?”
“Never thought about it.”
Ron’s own Deputy Kees ran to catch up with them as they were climbing the hill to their destination. He was out of breath and out of sorts.
“You won’t believe what I have to tell you.”
“On a day like today? Hit me,” Ron said.
Deputy Kees looked expectantly at Evie and Ron. “It looks like everybody’s livestock got fed. Their livestock’s been fed.”
“What?” Ron stopped in his tracks. Evie kept going.
“Come on, Ron. Deputy, how do you know that?”
“I’m serious. The feed is still on the bottom of some of the troughs.”
“Are you sure?” Ron seemed confused.
“Yes! Even the chickens don’t want anything to do with me. My grandparents had a farm. I know that in the mornings they are after you for food. No matter who you are. Tim and Greg helped me go from barn to barn when we had an inkling something was up.”
Evie finally stopped under a big oak tree next to three Red Bluff Road and squinted at Ron. “Now, why would the killers murder children…but feed the animals?”
“I’m not good with riddles.” Tammen chuckled.
“Door open back here. Swinging screen door.” Deputy Kees directed them to the back of the white house in front of them.
“Door was open here, too. No one else had an open back door,” Hattie called out from inside as her suited team went in, carefully.
The flash of cameras could be seen through the front screen door.
“I’m gonna go and check it out,” Ron said as he trotted to the back of the house and Evie tried to take everything in from the front. The family must have had some money considering how much land they had. She could see two older red barns from her vantage point.
“Phone lines are cut,” yelled an investigator from the side of the house.
Officer Bowman walked up to Evie. “Every house had their phone lines cut, Sheriff. The businesses on Main Street didn’t, though.”
“What are phone lines?” Ken asked Evie before quickly snorting. “I’m just kidding. I knew you’d think…never mind.”
“Leave it to this town to still be wrapped up in landlines.” Bowman sniffed.
Evie sighed. “I’m sure people here had cell phones, too. They weren’t living in the dark ages.”
Ron caught up with her, breathing heavily. “Back door was wide open. Not locked. It’s one of those hard to open doors too with the latches you put on when you have little kids.” He made small twisting motions with his hand.
“Not locked here either, according to Ms. Jackson.” Evie pulled out her notebook. “The front doors of the other homes were open or a front window was open but they haven’t found any with an open back door too. Well, Harold’s bar. But that was the work of our mailman. Look around. What do you see?”
As Evie wrote in her notebook, Ron knelt down in the grass.
“Footprints.” He pointed at yellow placards with numbers on them. “With my finely trained eyes, I can already tell you it’s a man’s shoe. Size ten.”
“I would prefer a professional’s opinion.”
“Already got ‘em. Stop stomping around my crime scene,” Hattie called out from inside of the house, her face up against the screen door
Evie looked up with a sense of admiration. The white paint wasn’t terribly old but it was flaking in some places. The roof was black and new. The porch still had its Victorian spindles and latticework wrapped around the bottom. Evie grabbed a spindle and looked out into the scraggly yard, desperate for a mow.
“When I was a girl, I remember this place being empty. It was a farmhouse for years but I don’t remember anyone living in it.”
She noticed the tire swing and kid’s bike over by a side yard tree and closed her eyes, counted to five, and opened them again.
Hattie hobbled down the porch stairs, trying not to slip in her shoe covers.
“I’ve got two adults in one bed. One shot each to the head.” Hattie held up a photo album. “Name is Fandel. Kip and Laura. Jim has their driver’s licenses.”
“And the kids?”
“That’s what I called you up about, Ron. No kids, yet. We have two bedrooms where kids should be but nothing. Looks like,” She opened the album, “might be an Amy and Scott Fandel. There’s a genealogy chart in here. According to the dates, they would be four and eight. I don’t know. We’re looking for their bodies right now.”
Ken piped up, “Way to be an optimist. Maybe they’re alive.”
Ken had his hand on his gun and looked at the ready but his boss could tell that all of this death was getting to him. Sure, Joliet had murders and robberies and as Sheriff’s Deputy, he had to stick around courtrooms for horrible testimony but this felt different. Too much at once.
“Hey, Deputy,” Evie said gently as she walked up to the front door. “Why don’t you go to that vending machine at the gas station down there and grab us some drinks? There’s change in my car. The cup holder.”
He was eager and trotted back to The Square. Ron was just happy he was gone.
“What’s with Dudley Do Right? What is he, seven feet tall?” Ron moseyed over to Evie who had a good glare going. “Why does he call you ‘Chief’? He does know you’re a Sheriff, right?”
Evie ignored what he said as something strange caught her eye.
She waved her notebook over the wooden porch in front of the door. Seven circular holes were scattered over the painted wood in a strange line, ending in a sort of “c” as if the shooter was randomly wasting bullets. Evie pointed to it and looked at Ron.
“Is it a gang sign?” asked Bowman.
“Someone lost his load.” Ron laughed. “What? Seriously. Look at this mess. Trigger finger. He wasn’t aiming.”
“Actually, I agree,” Evie said as she held a small firearm down and then pretending to skulk up to the front door before pretending to lose control of the trigger. “It wouldn’t have been a handgun, though. Those holes are too small.”
“I have a casing.” Hattie knelt in the grass next to the porch stairs and photographed it multiple times before setting a place card. “Definitely assault rifle.”
“Easy to lose control with those.” Evie nodded. “Gracious. If they were using silencers what did they need with this kind of firepower?”
Ron spread his arms out,
“Well, no wonder the kids are gone. It probably sounded like a firework’s display up here. They hear it. Run out the back door which was open, remember? Sounds like this might have been the last house then, right?”
“Perhaps.” Evie put her hands on her hips and looked around at the isolated area. “Everyone within a mile radius would have woke up. Why were the parents killed in their beds, though? Wouldn’t they have heard it too? I don’t know. How about…someone was already in the house killing the parents. Maybe a lookout was here and…he lost control. Then that’s when the kids ran.”
“Listen to those wind chimes down at the purple house. They’re really going,” said an investigator taking prints at the door frame.
“Is it supposed to rain?” asked Evie who looked at a threatening sky in the west. “It’s that time of year.”
Hattie shuffled her way between the numbered placards next to the casings and shoe impressions on the ground.
“Yes. That’s great,” she snapped. “Rain all over my mile-wide crime scene. Go right ahead. That’s just what I need. That’s just what I live for.”
Ron checked his weather app. “It’s not supposed to rain for a couple of hours, Jackson. What cell tower does Calliope use?” he asked Evie who didn’t know.
“Speaking of,” Evie answered her ringing phone. “My homicide detective. Hey, Carl where are you?”
“Sheriff...oh. Can you hold for a second?” asked Carl.
No sooner has she agreed that she felt a tremble under her feet. She looked around and realized that everyone else felt it too, some even exclaiming that it was an earthquake.
Just then, two helicopters tore overhead from the direction of Great Prairie, heading towards Main Street.
“Is it the media?” Ken was suddenly standing next to Evie with Coke bottles in both of his hands.
Evie kept her phone up to her face and watched dust come up from The Square and a caravan of at least twenty black cars and vans tear up Red Bluff Road, most of them with government, BCI, or FBI plates. Evie was speechless.
“Hello? Sheriff?” Carl squawked in her ear. “I got your message. Sorry, it took so long, I’m at a scene downtown. A shooting but we’re almost wrapped up. What’s going on? You sounded serious.”
“False alarm,” Evie said with pursed lips. “I’ll call you back."