Smith is an eccentric genius when it comes to solving crime. Early draft.
Smith finally found what he was looking for in the third cave he searched. It took twenty minutes to cross the lake once they finally found a boat and another forty to search the first two caves. Both spots were marked with mementos of long ago parties and whispers of secret trysts, but no sign of death in either.
The third cave was set high off the lake among a recess of craggy, jagged limestone. The combined height and rough terrain made it harder to access, scaring away the curious and inebriated. Climbing up its rocky face, Smith presumed, correctly he later learned, that the woman’s body would show cuts, bruises and possibly even embedded rock if she had been forced into the cave.
The confirmation that the cave had been used for murder came as Smith stood in its mouth searching for a sign. Scattered across the floor at the base of the cave were bones and ragged tufts of fur. Most people would assume scavengers had strewn about the remains, but Smith found his eyes drawn to a two-inch tawny tuft of fur stuck on the wall, approximately seventy inches off the ground. Below it laid more bones in a jumbled heap. If the dismembered bodies of raccoons and possums hadn’t stopped people from entering the cave, the mangled deer carcass hanging on the wall at eye level would have scared them off.
Smith, without turning away from the wall, spoke. “Your murderer was probably around six feet tall,” he said, his voice vacant as his energy was focused upon thinking. “He killed some animals and spread the bodies across the entrance. The viscera, and not to mention smell, would have been enough to deter people. They probably thought a bear lived here.
“He also killed a deer and hung it here as a warning.”
“How do you know he’s six-feet tall?” asked one of the accompanying police officers, a reedy redhead named Clemons.
“People tend to hang things at their own eye level,” Smith said, condescension tingeing his voice.
Finished speaking for the moment, Smith walked deeper into the cave. His steps were methodical, measured and made after Smith had carefully scoured where his foot would land. Smith’s eyes darted about, taking in every detail, memorizing the layout and position of everything. Grant, Clemons and a third officer followed, and while Grant was used to Smith’s quirks, the others stared, their brows twisted with confusion.
Smith continued walking along the interior of the cave. The somewhat narrow corridor twisted several times before opening into a large, open room. The quartet could immediately see they were in the right cave. Grant believed Smith when he said the caves held secrets of the woman’s murder, but the other officers had doubted Smith, believing him to be an eccentric nutcase bent on wasting everyone’s time. The appearance of the room made them instant believers.
Four large hoops had been struck into the limestone in the center of the cave floor. Large chains had been looped through each hoop, all ending in rusted shackles. The rock was stained a murky burnt brown in the ragged rectangle formed between the shackles.
Before walking toward the center of the room, Smith walked a cautious perimeter, scouring the edges to make sure no evidence would be lost or damaged by their investigation. The walk paid off, as in the far corner, he found the charred remains of a fire. Removing a pen from his pocket, Smith pushed at the ash, revealing its contents. First, a scrap of fabric, charred gray, stuck to the pen. Smith shook it free and continued sifting through the burnt bits and pieces. His pen then caught a larger object, creating a screech against the limestone. He bent closer and did his best to clear the object of debris without actually touching it. The metal had been charred clear of its natural shine and its edge brittle and jagged, but Smith still recognized the broken knife blade.
The remainder of Smith’s circuit of the space yielded no more clues, but with the fabric, knife, shackles and bloodstains, Smith had a good amount of evidence to work with. He did not yet have all of the answers, but he could make progress once the crime scene investigators had a look at this place.
“Grant, go ahead and call this in to the crime lab,” Smith said, finally turning toward the men.
Nodding, Grant pulled his radio free. Before he could hoist it to his mouth, a frantic female voice burst into the room. “Smith! I need you, Smith!”
Everyone in the cave jumped. Smith dropped his pen, where it clattered off the rock. “Kath?” he whispered.
“Smith! I found another body!”