Smith is an eccentric genius when it comes to solving crime. Early draft.
People often ask Smith why he didn’t become a cop yet still solved crimes. He would ignore the question, for once withholding his blunt demeanor. He did so, not to save the person’s feelings, but to save the feelings of anyone in law enforcement. Smith enjoyed solving crimes but loathed the system by which one had to go to become a detective. Being a patrol officer would force him to do what he saw as menial tasks that did not challenge him. Not to mention, he preferred to work his own way. So, as in all other aspects of his life, he chose to forge his own path instead. That system worked, especially as he could boss around police officers.
After discovering the evidence that pointed him in the direction of the murder site, Smith turned and took charge.
“Dr. Mitiri, the body is all yours, but I’d really like to sit in on the autopsy. Would you mind waiting until I finish out here before you start?”
I didn’t think it was possible, but I blanched further.
The middle-aged man nodded. “Of course,” he said, his Nigerian accent softened by the body before him.
Smith then stood and faced the diving team leader, Ford Kaufman. “The work on this body seems fairly skilled, so I can’t believe this is a first. Could your team search the lake for other bodies? I’m thinking there has to be at least one more down there that has decomposed much further than this body. I just hope it’s in good enough condition to give us more information on who committed this murder.”
Ford replied,” I’ll call out everyone.”
The diver stepped away to call in reinforcements. Finally, Smith turned to Grant. “Does the parks department have a boat we can use? We’re going to the far side of the lake and it would be faster than walking.”
My stomach plummeted. Smith would want me to come along. The shaking returned, and I longed for something other than the ground to sit on and hide my jittering legs and hands.
“Where are you thinking this happened?” Grant asked, snapping open his phone and dialing a number.
“The caves to the southeast of here. The ones where those kids were trapped during the flooding back in the nineties.”
Knowing the caves Smith had referenced, Grant began speaking to the person he had called. We had a few minutes as Grant worked, so I called my husband over.
Smith stepped away from the body that Dr. Mitiri and his assistant were loading into a body bag. His lips pulled back in a grimace that magnified the struggle in his eyes. I turned and walked a few steps toward our car to allow us a bit more privacy. Smith slid his arm across my shoulders as he arrived and pulled me tight.
“Kath, you don’t have to come with us,” he said, his voice low. “You could go with a couple of officers around the lake to look for evidence.”
Smith had a point. I appreciated the fact that he was giving me a task of my own. I did not have as extensive knowledge as Smith, or his exacting eye for detail. Often, I would just lend a slight hand or go undercover to help solve a situation. By helping look for evidence, I would do something, instead of cowering on the deck of a boat, hyperventilating from terror.
“Okay, yeah.” I looked at Smith, finally feeling something other than horror. “I’ll do it. Thanks.”
“You’re welcome. I’ll go get you some help.”
I nodded at Smith. I would have kissed him if he were open to publicly displaying affection. Instead, I reached up, squeezing the hand resting on my shoulder, a slight move that went unnoticed by others, just as Smith preferred. He squeezed back then turned away, his fingertips drawing their goodbye down my shoulder blade. I followed Smith as he approached Grant and requested an evidence-scouting detail.
Not only did Smith procure someone to accompany me around the lake, but he got us a couple of four-wheelers to make the task easier. I hadn’t ridden one in years but figured it wasn’t too different from riding a bike. And the knowledge did come back to me somewhat, but to be on the safe side, I moved at a crawl using the excuse that I was looking carefully at my surroundings.
My companion, a newer addition to the park ranger staff, rode his ATV like a pro. He stood to meet small jumps in the rocky shoreline, knees bending with the force of the impact. His youth, along with his skill on the machine, likened him more to a teen looking for adventure than a man on the hunt for any clues that might help solve a murder investigation. His cornflower eyes sparkled within his deeply tan brow, illuminated by the spiky blonde forest on his head. I hadn’t caught his name; hopefully, I wouldn’t need it.
We moved along at a slight jog, my companion looking among the moss-covered rocks on the shore while I watched the wavering waist-high grasses to my left. Even in late April, the temperature was pushing ninety. Combined with the humidity, I felt swollen and sticky. Sweat gathered at my brow then began cascading down in sheets. The curls at the back of my neck dampened, leaving me longing for a rubber band and a free hand to scratch away the tickling sensation. I rode on, knowing that, the sooner we circumnavigated the lake, the sooner I could cower in the car with the air conditioner on high.
Westview Lake is one of the smaller in a series of lakes in the hills, but even so, it took an hour and a half to travel around to the system of caves where Smith and Grant were investigating as we bounced our way across the rugged terrain. Live oak trees, sparse near the dock, had begun to thicken until they formed a barrier between our vehicles and the water. Rounding a bend, a break in the trees showed a boat moored at the shore. Only another mile or so to go before we all met up.
My companion had slipped about thirty feet ahead of me, so I thought I would rev up the throttle just enough to catch up. In my inexperience, I jerked back the throttle, the ATV behaving exactly like an overexcited motorcycle. As the front wheels lifted off the ground, my sweat-soaked hands lost their grip on the handlebars, and I rolled off the back.
I lay on the ground, gasping like a fish in need of water. Panic coursed through me until I finally drew in a hulking breath, followed by several wheezing gasps. Nothing felt broken, so I rolled over onto all fours. My spaghetti arms and legs yearned to buckle but somehow held. My hair wrapped around my face, sticking to my lips and the few tears that rolled down my cheeks. Leaning back, I pulled my hair free then fell back onto all fours to calm my shaking nervous system.
My left hand caught on a round surface, throwing me down onto my stomach as whatever it was rolled. Dirt invaded my mouth and clouded my vision, making me question the object in front of my face. As my vision cleared, I scrabbled away to my right, ripping my radio from my waistband in one disjointed movement. I thumbed the button and screamed, “Smith! I need you, Smith!”