by Pam Sears
A body in the middle of nowhere and one set of tracks...
|“I dunno, Bob. This has got to be the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen.”
“Maybe, Don, but there *must* be a logical explanation for it.”
Bob and Don stood in the middle of the wide open snowy tundra of Alaska, about 12 miles south of a little bump in the road called Coldfoot. It served mostly as a truck stop between Fairbanks and Prudhoe Bay and had maybe 10 to 15 semi-permanent residents.
Now it was the site of a very strange death.
Don sighed and rubbed at the back of his head between his State Trooper hat and wool scarf. It was early December and while it wasn’t the coldest part of the year it was more than cold enough. The heavy winter gear could only do so much out here, especially after the sun went down. They’d need to hurry before they froze, but they needed to gather as much information as possible before they left.
He shook his head. Hurry up and slow down, he groused to himself.
“Well, let’s see what we can figure out.” Don moved cautiously around the body where it lay spread-eagle on the ground. Crouching he shone his high-powered flashlight around the immediate area, then pointed.
“There’s no crater like mark the way there would be if his body fell from a great height and, while we won’t know for sure until the coroner gets here to see him, it doesn’t look like any obviously broken bones. So, he didn’t fall from a plane.”
Bob nodded, holding a smaller light in his mouth as he scratched notes on a pad he held. He tried to talk around the light. “Wa’ abou’ bu?”
“Bu?” Don frowned, then nodded. “Oh, blood. Well, I don’t see any on the snow. Pretty pristine out here except for the footprints. If the man was shot or stabbed it wasn’t here so it could be a dump site, someone carried him in and left him.”
Bob looked skeptical as he took his penlight out of his mouth and flicked it around. “I don’t see any drag marks, Don. If he was dumped out here there’d have needed to be two of them to move him because that’s a pretty heavy dude.”
Don’s frown deepened as he glanced around, looking at the footprints leading up to the body. Other than his and Bob’s there was only one other set of prints leading to the area and none leading away.
“Maybe the guy came out here to look at the stars away from the lights and just dropped dead.” Bob offered. “Could have had a heart attack or stroke or something.”
“No gear packed in for looking at the stars, Bob. Or any kind of gear anywhere. Did he leave it somewhere? No one in Coldfoot has reported an unknown vehicle left unattended.”
Rising from his crouch Don stood contemplating the body, then the ground, one hand on his hip near his gun while the other aimed the flashlight slowly along the ground. There was a piece missing to this puzzle. Something just at the edge of his understanding that would reveal the whole story to him. He was nearly positive it was a murder, not a heart attack or stroke.
Still, he had to consider all possibilities. Moving around the body he crouched near the feet and shone his light along the body toward the face. Just under the chin was something that looked like it could be bruising.
“Hey, Bob. Lean over and use your light around his neck. Is that a bruise?”
Bob checked then shrugged. “Could be. He might have smacked his chin on a table from falling. Or gotten in a fight and took a punch.” Bob’s eyebrows rose. “That could be your answer right there. He was in a bar fight and took too hard a hit or hit his head weird when he fell after someone landed a punch and they decided to dump him here to hide it.”
Don’s frown returned. Maybe. Rising he moved up to the head and looked closer at the bruise. It ran along the underside of the jawbone from the chin. He’d seen those types of bruises on those who’d taken an uppercut. Maybe Bob had a good idea.
“Let’s check for any bumps or other bruises. Help me turn him on his side.” He told him.
“Sure you ought to move him before Dr. Whitmore gets here?” Bob looked concerned.
“No telling when that will be with the roads being what they are. We can take photos, first, to document how we found everything before we move him. Hold on.”
Don pulled out his cell phone and opened the camera app to shoot a number of pictures, including the bruising to the chin.
Putting his phone back in his pocket he nodded. “Okay, let’s turn him toward you. I want to check the back of his head and see if there’s a wallet in his pocket.”
“Hang on.” Bob had pulled off his gloves to write and took a moment to blow on his hands, trying to warm them.
Sticking the end of the penlight back in his mouth he bent over, reached for the arm and shoulder closest to Don and heaved back while Don lifted. They got the man on his side and Don began his search.
“Nothing under the body and no wallet that I can find.” He told Bob.
“Hope you don’t expect me to take notes. My hands are a little full at the moment.” Bob replied drily.
With a snort Don shook his head and, pulling off his own gloves, gently checked the back of the man’s head, looking for obvious bumps or soft spots that would indicate a cracked skull. His hands reddened quickly from the frosty air and he hurried to finish so he could get back into his gloves.
“Okay, let’s set him back down. Man, he’s stiff. Not sure if that’s from the cold or if he’s been dead long enough to have rigor mortis set in. Or both.” Don muttered. “Not sure how you’ve had your gloves off this long, Bob.”
“Eh, you’re a wimp.” Bob grinned. “Keep the blood flowing and it’s easier to go longer without them.”
“Blood flow. Right.” Don snorted again, glancing from his cold-reddened hands to Bob’s. There was a darker red along the knuckle ridge that raised Don’s eyebrow.
“Have to subdue a suspect recently?” He asked.
“What? Why would you ask that?” Bob paused in updating his notes to glance curiously at Don.
“You’ve got fight bruising on your knuckles.” Don nodded at Bob’s hands. “Our talk about this guy possibly being in a fight made me notice your hand.” He tugged his gloves on and rubbed them briskly together.
“What’s next?” He muttered to himself.
“I guess figuring out how he got out here.” Bob responded. “Any thoughts?”
“Not really. Had to have been dumped but, like you said, he’s a big guy and there’s only one set of footprints that lead out here. None leaving. I’m a little stumped.”
Crouching once more he lifted one of the man’s booted feet and studied the tread. He scowled at the cleanliness of the sole and checked the other. Equally clean. So the man definitely hadn’t walked out here. Now what?
“Getting an idea, Sarge?” Bob asked from next to him.
“Still confused, I’m afraid.” Do shook his head and rose. “His shoes are clean. No snow or dirt on the soles so he definitely didn’t walk out here. So he HAS to have been dumped here rather than walking out here and dying of natural causes.”
“I guess the next step is to find out who knew him or saw him talking to anyone.” Bob’s voice was calm as he scratched notes on his pad.
Don heard him mutter “shoes too clean” and stiffened. Not because he SAID the words but because of the WAY he said the words. As if castigating himself for forgetting something. He slowly turned his head.
Bob stood inches away a slight smile on his face, his eyes flat in the starlight. “I can actually help you with that. Finding out who he talked to last, I mean.”
“Oh?” Don tried to ease away, to put a little room between them. Bob moved with him, like dancers responding to the same steps.
He nodded. “Oh, yes. I’m afraid it was me.”
“So… you know him?” He tried to step away again only to have Bob follow. Again.
“Nope. Not a clue who he was. Wasn’t even mad at him, to be honest. But I’ve watched so many episodes of Forensic Files and Mystery ID that I wanted to see if I could pull off the perfect murder. I forgot the boot soles so I’d have to say, no, I didn’t. But now I get to see if I can cover it up. Kind of like a sequel.”
“Bob, you –“ and the air went out of his lungs in a rasping gasp as Bob’s arm moved. There was a fiery pain in his lower back and his legs buckled.
“Thank you for the point about the boots. I’ll fix his boots but, now, I’m going to have to find a way to explain that the two of you must have killed each other. It’s a good thing I’m a cop and have plenty of experience at dealing with weird situations. It will probably be a lot easier than trying to explain one death in the middle of nowhere.”
“H-how…” Don managed even as his lungs began to shut down.
“How what?” Bob cocked his head. “Oh, how did I move him? Well, he’s actually not as heavy as he looks. That’s mostly his gear. He’s from the lower half of the lower forty-eight and hates the cold but needed to be up here for some sort of research.” Bob shrugged as he watched in fascination as Don’s blood spread across the snow.
“Foot… pa.. pri…s” Don tried.
“Just walked backwards, very careful to step in the prints I made coming in. You can’t move too fast but it’s really deserted up here. Not a soul in sight. Especially this time of the year.” Bob chuckled hollowly.
Then he crouched next to him and patted his cheek. “Don’t worry, Don. I’ll make sure to tie it all up in a nice, neat, logical bow. You’ll go down as a hero, trying to save your partner from a lunatic. I won’t make you the bad guy. You were always good to me, helped me out, taught me all the tricks of the trade. I appreciate it quite a lot.”
His blank, empty smile was the last thing Don saw before the stars rushed in followed by nothing.