SWORN TO SILENCE (Chapter 1)
The cruiser's strobes cast red and blue light onto winter dead trees. Officer T.J. Banks pulled the car onto the shoulder and flipped on the spotlight, running the beam along the edge of the field where corn stalks shivered in the cold. Twenty yards away, six Jersey cows stood in the bar ditch, chewing their cud.
"Stupid fuckin' cows," he muttered. Besides chickens, they had to be the dumbest animals on earth.
He hit the radio. "Dispatch, this is forty-seven."
"What's up, T.J.?" asked Mona, the night dispatcher.
"I got a 10-54. Stutz's damn cows are out again."
"That's the second time in a week."
"Always on my shift, too."
"So what are you going to do? He ain't got no phone out there."
A glance at the clock on the dash told him it was nearly two A.M. "Well, I'm not going to stand out here in the frickin' cold and round up these stupid shits."
"Maybe you ought to just shoot 'em."
"Don't tempt me." Looking around, he sighed. Livestock on the road at this hour was an accident waiting to happen. If someone came around the curve too fast it could be bad. He thought of all the paperwork an accident would entail and shook his head. "I'll set up some flares then go drag his Amish ass out of bed."
"Let me know if you need backup." She snickered.
Yanking the zipper of his coat up to his chin, he slid his flashlight from its nest beside the seat and got out of the cruiser. It was so cold he could feel his nose hairs freezing. His boots crunched through snow as he made his way to the bar ditch, his breaths puffing out in front of him. He hated the graveyard shift almost as much as he hated winter.
He ran the flashlight beam along the fence line. Sure enough, twenty feet away two strands of barbed wire had come loose from a gnarled locust-wood post. Hoofprints told him several head had discovered the opening and ventured onto the shoulder for some illicit grazing.
"Stupid fuckin' cows."
T.J. went back to the cruiser and popped the trunk. Removing two flares, he set them up on the centerline to warn traffic. He was on his way back to the cruiser when he spotted something in the snow on the opposite side of the road. Curious, he crossed to it. A solitary woman's shoe lay on the shoulder. Judging from its condition and lack of snow cover, it hadn't been there long. Teenagers, probably. This deserted stretch of road was a favorite place to smoke dope and have sex. They were almost as stupid as cows.
Frowning, T.J. nudged the shoe with his foot. That was when he noticed the drag marks, as if something heavy had been hauled through the snow. He traced the path with the flashlight beam, tracking it to the fence and into the field beyond. The hairs at the back of his neck prickled when he spotted blood. A lot of it.
"What the hell?"
He followed the trail into the ditch where yellow grass poked up through the snow. He climbed the fence and found more blood on the other side, stark and black against pristine white. It was enough to give a guy the willies.
The path took him to a stand of bare-branched hedge apple trees at the edge of a cornfield. He could hear himself breathing hard, the dead corn stalks whispering all around. T.J. set his hand on his revolver and swept the beam in a 360-degree circle. That was when he noticed the object in the snow.
At first he thought an animal had been hit and dragged itself there to die. But as he neared, the beam revealed something else. Pale flesh. A shock of darkish hair. A bare foot sticking out of the snow. Adrenaline kicked hard in his gut. "Holy shit."
For an instant he couldn't move. He couldn't stop looking at the dark circle of blood and colorless flesh. Giving himself a hard mental shake, T.J. dropped to his knees beside the body. His first thought was that she might still be alive. Brushing at the snow, he set his hand against a bare shoulder. Her skin was ice cold, but he rolled her over anyway. He saw more blood and pasty flesh and glazed eyes that seemed to stare right at him.
Shaken, he scrambled back. His hand trembled as he grappled for his lapel mike. "Dispatch! This is forty-seven!"
"What now, T.J? One of them cows chase you up a tree?"
"I got a fuckin' body here at Stutz's place."
They used the ten-code system in Painters Mill, but for the life of him he couldn't remember the number for a dead body. He'd never had to use it. "I said I got a dead body."
"I heard you the first time." But the words were followed by a stunned pause as realization hit her. "What's your twenty?"
"Dog Leg Road, just south of the covered bridge."
A beat of silence. "Who is it?"
Everyone knew everyone in Painters Mill, but he'd never seen this woman before. "I don't know. A woman. Naked as the day she came into this world and deader than Elvis."
"A wreck or what?"
"This was no accident." Setting his hand on the butt of his .38, T.J. scanned the shadows within the trees. He could feel his heart beating fast in his chest. "You'd better call the chief, Mona. I think we got us a murder."
SWORN TO SILENCE. Copyright © 2009 by Linda Castillo.