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Murder On The Mind
Murder On The Mind 22
“You want to what?”
To say that Richard wasn’t enthusiastic about my plan was definitely an understatement.
“I’m pretty sure I know where to find the rest of Sumner’s remains, but I need your help.”
His eyebrows drew close in consternation.
“Think of it as archeology, Rich.”
“Do you realize how much it’s snowed in the past week?”
“It’s in the country. Snow blows away in an open field. I’ll bet we can find it easy.”
Skeptical doesn’t begin to describe the expression plastered across his features.
I awoke early the next morning. Too psyched to eat breakfast, I wandered around the house, waiting for Richard and Brenda to get up. I dressed in my oldest jeans and sneakers. The only pair of boots I owned were more suited for line dancing than foraging through deep snow. With no heavy jacket, I dressed in layers—cotton, flannel, and wool—and hoped I wouldn’t freeze to death. That was unacceptable to Richard, who, when he finally got up, loaned me one of his jackets—easily two sizes too big. I talked him out of cashmere and into flannel, but when he reappeared in his grungies, he still looked like a walking advertisement for Neiman Marcus.
By raiding Richard’s bar and the broom closet, I’d collected a plastic grocery bag filled with tools that might come in useful, and plunked them in the back of Brenda’s Ford Taurus. I figured Richard wouldn’t want the back seat of his beautiful Lincoln cluttered with broom, shovel, and the like, and Brenda was accommodating, as usual. She informed us she intended to read up on frostbite remedies while we were gone. She had no desire to spend the better part of the day in sub-freezing temperatures.
It was after eleven when we finally started out. The day was bright and sunny. As Maggie predicted, the snow was melting and the roads were clear and dry as we headed south. For the first time in what seemed like ages, I felt good. Useful. Richard drove the twenty-some miles in silence, making me glad to have the radio for company.
We passed naked trees, closed ice-cream stands, and mile after mile of snow-covered fields. One thing was apparent: the road was not well-traveled.
The perfect place for murder.
The Holland town line sped past. “Slow down, will you? I’m not exactly sure where we’re going.”
“Anything look familiar?” Richard asked.
I shook my head. “I’ve got no mental picture of our destination, just a funny feeling in my gut, which, I’ll admit seems pretty insubstantial.”
Richard slowed the car. Instead of looking at the countryside, I concentrated on the thrumming inside me.
“Here? It’s the middle of nowhere.”
“We’re getting close.”
Plow-piled mounds of dirty snow flanked the road. The shoulder was virtually nonexistent. Richard parked as close to the snow as possible before activating the hazard flashers.
“If this car gets hit, you’re going to explain it to Brenda. Not me.”
I closed my eyes and concentrated. That shaky feeling inside grew more pronounced.
“What is it you feel, anyway?”
“I don’t know how to describe it.” I frowned, thought about it for a moment. “It’s like being a Geiger counter. But instead of a noise, I have this tense feeling inside me. Like a guitar string tightened too much.” That didn’t come out exactly right, but he seemed to accept the explanation.
I got out of the Taurus, opened the rear door, and took out the grocery bag, shovel, and broom.
Richard surveyed the waist-high snow. “This isn’t going to work.”
“Of course it will. Beyond the road, the snow can only be a foot or so deep.” I knew I was being optimistic, but I didn’t want him to crap out on me before we even got started.
We struggled over the snowbank, and I took the lead. The shoulder sloped into a gully and, because of the drifted snow, it was hard to tell where the terrain became level again. After only a couple of feet, I realized that thanks to my bum arm, my center of gravity was off. My foot caught in the crusty snow and I went down. I rolled onto my right side, protecting my already-broken left arm. The air turned blue and I’m sure Richard learned a few new curses to add to his growing repertoire.
He crouched beside me. “You okay?”
I glared at him. “Great bedside manner.”
He frowned, helped me to my feet, then thrust the broom at me. “Here, use this as a walking stick.”
I jabbed the pole into the snow, taking a tentative step forward. I wished I’d thought to bring sunglasses; the glare was unrelenting. Shading my eyes, I looked around to get my bearings. “This way.”
We started off to the southwest, and it was anything but easy going. Traffic passed behind us on the road, but the winter landscape before us was absolutely desolate. It took almost ten minutes to walk some twenty yards; my feet were wet in less time than that. The ice-crusted snow broke around my toes in jagged hunks. I looked back and saw that, instead of a straight line, we’d made an uneven path. No wonder people get lost in the desert.
“Why I ever agreed to come along . . .” Richard muttered behind me.
“You won’t let me drive, remember.”
“I could’ve stayed in my nice, warm house. But, no—I’m trudging through snow—”
I listened to him gripe for the next five minutes. It took all my self-control not to turn around and clock him. As it was, if we found nothing, I was sure he’d start filling out the commitment papers for me when we returned home.
That funny feeling vibrated right through me. I stopped, gazed around us at the crystalline snow. “This is a good place to start digging.” I nodded toward the shovel.
“You want me to dig?”
I rubbed my broken arm. “Well, I can hardly do it.”
If looks could kill, I’d have been as dead as the object of our search. Grumbling, Richard thrust the shovel into the snow. I watched as he cleared a one-foot square patch. Nothing. He started shoveling around that small area, pushing aside the snow until there was only flattened grass underfoot. Nothing.
Minutes later, he’d cleared an area about the size of a back yard pool.
“Take a rest,” I said, and he gratefully leaned on the shovel. Although in good shape for his age, Richard was not used to physical labor. His flushed cheeks and labored breathing were accompanied by a thin film of sweat across his forehead.
“This is useless,” he puffed. “Like looking for a needle in a haystack. A wild goose chase. A complete and utter waste of time.”
“Can you come up with any other clichés?”
I took the shovel from him. We were close to finding it—very close. Awkwardly, I tried to scoop away the snow, but it was just too heavy.
“Don’t,” he told me, grabbing for the handle, which I held onto. “How’re your feet?”
“They’re wet. It’s below freezing. You’ll get frostbite. Let’s call it quits.”
“No.” Stubborn, I tried again. This time I managed to move some snow, but not enough to make a difference.
“Stop.” He took the shovel from me. “I’ll give you five more minutes, then we’re heading back to the car.” He meant it. But I didn’t have to wait five minutes.
Richard jabbed the snow and hit something solid. “What the hell?”
“That’s it!” I fell to my knees, scooping away snow with my good hand. Fumbling with the grocery bag, I brought out the hand brush and removed the last of the snow from the dark, icy mass. Richard paled as I handed him an ice pick. “You can have the honors.”
Richard knelt beside me in the snow, then carefully chipped away at the mound. He stopped after about a minute, studying it.
He pointed to an ice-encrusted protrusion. “See this, it’s a pancreas.”
“It sure looks like it to me.” He straightened, looking at me expectantly.
bsp; “I think I’m ready to warm up my feet now.”
We gathered our things, all but the shovel. I rubbed it down with my snowy glove to remove any stray fingerprints. We left it standing in the snow to mark the spot, and trudged back to the car.
I noted the odometer reading while Richard made a U-turn, then we headed back toward Holland. “Now what?” he asked.
“I guess we report it.”
“How do you report something like this?”
I hadn’t thought of that. “You have a lawyer in Buffalo?”
“Before we do anything, maybe you should call him. I don’t want to be interrogated by the cops without one. Hayden already warned me off. When he finds out what we’ve found—”
“We?” Richard echoed.
“You were there, too.”
His expression was grim. “What if we reported this anonymously?”
“Smart move. Otherwise how are we going to explain this? ‘Uh, hi, I’m a nut-case fresh from the Big Apple. I found these guts on the side of the road.’”
He was not amused.
“And I’ll tell you something else. Who do you think will be the prime suspect?”
Richard stared at me. “You, of course.”
I shook my head. “I’m not the expert on anatomy.”
It took a moment for that statement to sink in. He blanched. “Jesus.”
I consulted the atlas. “Take the next cutoff. We have to get out of the area fast. Someone might remember the car. ‘Course the California plates will confuse the cops for a while,” I said, thinking aloud.
“We are going to report it, aren’t we?”
“Sure, but I’d rather wait until we get back to Buffalo. From a pay phone. Then we’ll hide Brenda’s car in the garage.” I stopped myself. “Do I sound paranoid?”
“Just a little,” he said, and smiled. He was quiet for a while. “I owe you an apology.”
“You knew where to find. . . .” His words trailed off. “I didn’t want to believe you.”
“Yeah, but you humored me.”
“I was determined to prove you wrong once and for all. But this—this is creepy.”
“Tell me about it. You’re not the one it’s happening to. But if you want the truth, I didn’t know if we’d find them. On a gut level, I trust these feelings, yet I’m afraid to. I’m afraid to look like a fool. I keep hoping this blasted insight will just go away.”
It was after two when we returned to Amherst. I dialed 911 from a pay phone in the parking lot of a Jubilee grocery store. Disguising my voice with a lousy Texas accent, I told them where to look, and hoped like hell they’d take me seriously. If not . . . I suppose it wouldn’t matter; finding frozen viscera wasn’t going to solve the case. But it was a stepping stone for me. Time to start adding things together.