Read Part One HERE.
Part Two of
by Jeani Rector
What happens when a rookie cop finds a dead body in the woods?
You can buy the complete novel HERE.
Part Two: Found
I should have contacted Foley immediately.
I knew this as I stood there in the bushes, staring at the dead body on the forest floor.
But Foley had been right that reality was so much different than the movies.
I stared at the foot. The toes appeared mummified, bone-thin and dark. I took a step closer, slowly and carefully, so I would not disturb the vegetation surrounding the body. I looked away for a second.
I had to force myself to again look at the scene in front of me. It was not merely the idea that there lay a dead person; it was the idea that just a few days ago, this had been a living and breathing human being just like myself. It was a demonstration that mortality was a very real concept. It was proof that a living being could suddenly cease to be. This person was no longer able to think, to feel, to love, to experience life. It was a reminder of the irrevocable fate that would eventually claim every living being.
Morbidly fascinated, I was unable to move. It was as though I was mesmerized by the grim nature of death. It was such a mystery; there were so many questions that would never receive answers. Was there really a God in Heaven to receive one’s soul? The remains of this person looked so ultimate, so final. Was there really another life after death?
I knew that, to keep my perspective as a police officer, I should not allow myself to personalize death as something that had more meaning for me than what it should be: an assignment, a case, a part of the job. I realized I should accept the fact that in the line of work I had chosen, this sort of thing was bound to happen. The body in front of me was the first dead person I had ever seen.
Knock it off, I thought to myself. Don’t act like the female that the men are always complaining about. You are just as strong as any man. You’re a cop. Be logical; this may be your first dead body, but it won’t be your last.
But I also understood that logic was not always the prevailing factor. Feelings mattered. It was not within human nature to accept death, and so I experienced a degree of bewilderment. My thoughts drifted. I was looking at the end. People were afraid of aging because it brought them closer to the inevitable end. They sought plastic surgery, wrinkle creams and vitamins; anything to give themselves the illusion that they had more time than fate had planned. People did not want to find out what lay in wait at the end. No one had ever returned from death to explain the process to others, so the fear of the unknown was the greatest fear.
And so I stared at the person on the ground, who had her time on earth shortened; probably stolen at the hands of another, and I forgot the idea that I was a police officer, man or woman. Feelings mattered indeed. First and foremost I was a human being, and I felt sad and empty to know that this dead person had once been someone’s child, maybe someone’s lover, and possibly someone who had brought special value to this world.
As I stood there contemplating the body in front of me, I wondered what had been the last thoughts as this unknown person had looked past the light of life and into the vastness of eternity. What secrets had this person discovered, what mysteries had she learned at the brink of death? Where was the soul now--in heaven or hell, or just stopped and now non-existent? Was there life after death, or was the end of time on this earth really the end of everything?
And then suddenly my radio cracked to life, startling me and jerking me back to reality. I blinked as I realized I had been foolishly standing in one spot, immobile, and wasting valuable time.
“Meyers, check in,” Foley barked.
“I found it,” I said, my voice sounding stronger to my ears than I felt.
“State your location.”
“About thirty feet into the perimeter, about ten feet to the right of where we left the trail.”
“Stay there,” Foley instructed.
“I’ll go back and tell Wilkins and Mendoza to set up the yellow tape. Then I’ll call the detective and the coroner. I’ll be back to get you in a couple of minutes. Remember, don’t touch anything. Over.” Foley’s final words made me grit my teeth as I placed the mike back into my belt. Of course I wouldn’t touch anything. I didn’t sleep through the Academy training. I had learned a thing or two.
But what good would it do to point that out? None. I was willing to bet he wouldn’t have said those things to a male partner. Or maybe I was being too defensive. Even I recognized that I tended to over-react sometimes.
So I let it go, but mainly because I was still mesmerized by the dead body in front of me. That had my full attention.
I took another step closer to the body. I wondered what had happened to this person that had led her to this lonely spot in the woods. I felt a stirring curiosity about who this person had been. I wanted to know what circumstances had led to this terrible end.
Yet another step closer revealed more details about the condition of the body. I could see what the boy, Miguel Cruz, had been talking about when he mentioned insect activity on the remains.
The eyes were dark, empty sockets, horrible because of their sunken nothingness. The nose had retained cartilage so it looked like a nose, but the teeth gleamed where lips should have been, because the bugs had eaten the soft tissues around the mouth. Without lips, the teeth appeared to be unusually large and protruding.
“Who are you?” I whispered out loud. “Who did this to you?”
Nobody deserved to come to this sort of end.
My portable radio cracked to life. “On my way back. Everything okay?”
“The body hasn’t run off, if that’s what you mean,” I told Foley.
“Ha ha. See you in a minute or two. Over.”
I stood at the edge of the small clearing in the forest, waiting for my partner. I realized that I had been clenching my teeth, and forced myself to relax my jaws.
Soon I heard rustling behind me and Foley reappeared. He stepped forward and studied the body, crossing his arms. “Doesn’t smell too bad. Must not have been here too long,” he said.
“What do you mean about smell?” I asked.
“Once you smell a decomp, it’s pretty putrid,” he said. “You never forget it. Really bad. Makes you want to hurl. And then you have to go home and wash your clothes, because the smell seems to stick to everything. You have to shower and then you swear you still get a whiff of the dead body perfume from time to time, even days later.”
“I think this was a murder,” I said.
“Guess that makes you a detective now, huh?” Foley said. “For one thing, people don’t walk naked through the woods to off themselves. Where are the clothes? Statistically, suicides are almost always dressed. A naked body sometimes means a sex crime. But this one is probably not that complicated.”
“I hope they find the killer,” I said.
Foley said, “It’s summer. It gets hot. People get more stressed and irritable in hot weather. Crime rate rises. People react. You’ll see--this’ll turn out to be this lady’s boyfriend or husband who did it. He probably reported her missing. This gal should be in the system as a missing person. A lot of the time, the person reporting a person missing knows exactly why that person is missing.”
“Still, it seems so sad,” I mused, still staring at the naked woman, dead in the woods.
“Get over it,” Foley told me. “Let’s get back. Our job is finished here.”
“Can’t we stick around?”
“Listen Meyers, you and I are patrol. Patrol. Get it? We are first in and first out. That’s all.”
“Well, I know that the investigative stuff is supposed to be the detective’s job,” I said, “but I’d like to know a little more about this poor woman.”
“She’s dead,” Foley told me. “That’s all you need to know. That and the time you found her so you can record the legal time of death. That’s all you care about, and nothing else.”
He turned around and I followed him back into the bushes. We made our way, slowly and carefully, back to the trail that led through the woods and into the parking lot.
The yellow police line tape was already strung across the entrance to the woods, draped across two trees bordering the trail. When I saw Mendoza talking to Miguel Cruz in the parking lot, I figured that Wilkins was at the other end of the trail, setting up the yellow tape on the other side so that no one would cross the crime scene boundaries from that direction, either.
I strolled over to where the boy was standing next to Mendoza, who was leaning on his squad car. Miguel asked, “You found her, huh?”
“It’s a girl, huh?”
“I believe so,” I told him, “but we can’t be sure until the coroner looks at the body.”
“You think someone killed her?”
I looked at Miguel, then decided to tell the truth of what I thought. “It’s my opinion, yes. But the coroner will find out for certain.”
A light brown van without windows in the back pulled slowly into the small parking lot. On the sides were the emblems that read Rancho Cordova County Coroner. With the addition of the coroner’s wagon, I realized that the parking lot was beginning to seem crowded. On the perimeters, people from neighboring houses were starting to gather and gawk.
I looked around, and noticed that John Barnett was still in the parking lot, standing near my own squad car. He seemed pleased to be in the center of the action, and not regulated to the outskirts like the other neighbors.
The coroner parked and exited his vehicle. I had never had the opportunity to meet the town coroner as of yet, so I was more than a little curious. After all, what kind of person would choose to autopsy dead bodies for a living? I excused myself to Mendoza and the boy, and started walking in the direction of the Rancho Cordova coroner.
When I reached him, he was talking to Foley. I stood silently next to the coroner and studied the man out of the corner of my eye. He was about five feet eleven, and solidly built. But the first thing I noticed was his eyes. They were outstanding; even though he wore glasses, his eyes were noticeable behind the lenses. It was the color of his eyes that made them so remarkable. The coroner’s eyes were sky-blue, a lighter shade than most, and piercing in their clarity.
The coroner looked in my direction and held out his hand. “Hi, I’m George Guidotti. So there’s a body in the woods?”
“Yes,” I told him.
Another car entered the parking lot, and I figured it was the homicide detective finally arriving. I had met him before, and knew his name was Johnson. I didn’t recognize the other man riding with Johnson, but when he got out of the car holding camera equipment, I realized he was there to photograph and sketch the dead body and the surrounding area.
“Good,” Guidotti said, “they’re here. I can’t touch the body until after those guys finish their photo shoot.”
He looked at me and added, “Once the detectives finish, I’ll take the body back with me to the lab. Then I’ll ask some questions. The body will answer. The person may be dead, but he or she still has plenty of stories to tell.”
I was interested. “I’d like to know what happened to her.”
“Meyers,” Foley reminded me, “that’s not part of your job. In fact, let’s take Miguel Cruz home, then we’ll leave too.”
Guidotti told Foley, “I don’t see how Meyers is out of line. There’s nothing wrong with a healthy curiosity.”
“Yeah, well,” Foley pointed out, “it may not be so healthy for her career if Meyers oversteps her boundaries.”
I was irritated, because I felt perfectly capable of speaking for myself. “I have no intention of trying to do the detective’s job. I just want to know what happened to her. She’s the first dead person I’ve ever come across.”
“Then look at the case file,” Foley said.
“Now, you know the case file won’t be available until the detectives get done with it.”
“Exactly,” Foley said. “The detectives will do their job, and then you can look at it. You’re low on the totem pole.”
“Children, behave yourselves,” Guidotti interrupted. Then he looked at me. “Here, take my business card and give me a call. See you later. I’m heading into the woods with Johnson.”
The coroner handed me a business card then strolled off. I stood there, watching him walk away, totally amazed. What kind of coroner was he, anyway? Certainly there was nothing macabre about him. He didn’t fit my preconceived notions of what someone who worked in a morgue would be like. But what had I been expecting? Some sort of Igor from the Frankenstein movie?
“I think that guy is hitting on you,” Foley commented. “You aren’t honestly thinking about dating a guy that spends all his time with dead bodies, are you?”
“He wasn’t hitting on me. And about his spending time with dead bodies--it’s his job.” I didn’t know why I felt the need to defend Guidotti’s profession, but I did. “He finds a lot of necessary answers to important questions. Somebody has to do that type of work, and Guidotti’s probably very good at it. And besides, he never asked me out.”
“Well,” Foley rolled his eyes, “when Guidotti tells you he wants to show you his body, you’d better make sure he’s really talking about his own. Same thing if he mentions being stiff.”
“Foley, don’t you ever notice that I always ignore you when you act stupid? Let’s take the kid home, and then we’ll get out of here.”
We walked to where Miguel Cruz was waiting, still standing by Mendoza next to the second squad car.
“Ready to go home?” I asked Miguel.
“I’ve been ready.”
“You’ll have to ride in the cage,” I told the kid. “Nothing personal. It’s just that there’s no room in the front seat for anyone but me and Foley.”
Foley stepped in along side us. “Regulations,” he said. “Can’t let anyone but cops in front where the guns are.”
“Oh, that’ll look just great,” Miguel grimaced. “Everyone’s gonna see the cops taking me home in the back seat, so they’ll think I got caught doing something wrong.”
“I guess it could appear that way to others,” I sympathized, “and for that I’m sorry. If you want me to explain to anybody, I’ll be glad to do it.”
“No, that’s okay,” Miguel said hastily. “Cops talkin’ to my friends is worse.”
I held the door open for Miguel and he climbed into the back seat. As I pushed the back door closed, I thought, How many suspected burglars and obvious drunks have I shut this door on? And here I am putting an eleven-year-old kid back there that didn’t do anything except inadvertently become a witness.
I needed to get a grip. I needed to stop being so sensitive to things that were out of my control.
Foley got behind the wheel and I rode passenger. Miguel gave us directions and we approached an apartment complex. We were lucky; because although it was summer and school wasn’t in session, it was not a weekend, so the parking lot appeared deserted. Maybe no one would see that the cops had just brought Miguel home.
An hour later, we finally wrapped it up. All of our notes would be forwarded to Detective Johnson to be inserted into the case file.
by Jeani Rector
Melissa is determined to succeed in her chosen profession, despite prejudice against her gender. And she does hold her own, going by the book... until the day she finds a dead body in the woods.
Buy the complete novel HERE.