Sheriff Harden jumped.
“Keep your hands where I can see them and step away from the coffee machine.” Candi smiled when he turned around. “It’s not workplace gender stereotyping if I’m going to drink it.”
“You’re early,” Harden backed away from the coffeepot, left arm out in a be-my-guest gesture.
“So are you.”
“I had a talk with Brandy Green before things got rollin’ today.”
“She’s the ex of the deceased’s brother from another mother?”
“People like her, you have to let all the extra talk settle out, but she had a few things. Whether they amount to anything but a couple of kids lyin’ is up in the air. You got a little sun yesterday.”
“I forgot my nose icing. Evidence gathering isn’t something I usually do outdoors all day in a T-shirt, or less. This week I’ve managed two days in a row. She thumped the side of the coffee basket with her finger, slid it into the machine, carefully eyed the water level in the pot before pouring it in the reservoir. She gave the top of the machine a ‘good boy’ pat and flipped it on.
“I sent forensics the evidence logs and reports you emailed me. So they’d know a little more about what they were gettin’ into….” Harden couldn’t decide to go with you okay, how was it, or what happened yesterday when Candi said,
“Deputy Reed’s report reads like it was all me,” she bent, eyed the coffee drip. “That everything we found was because it was where I originally suggested it would be. I didn’t want to contradict him on paper, but you should know the evidence we found was three quarters of a mile upstream from my original target area and in his drone grid.”
“Why, do you suppose, he’d do somethin’ like that? Is there anything I should know about yesterday besides y’all findin’ a handful a phones and a smelly Wookie costume before knockin’ off at 3:30?”
“Yesterday,” she inspected the cup before loading it, “I screwed up. Big and often. My attitude embarrassed me at least three times. I buried the Jeep in the middle of the river, took part in several groundless but ultimately productive hunches. I got filthy, got sand in places fully dressed that used to only happen in a beach volleyball thong, laughed like a first-class idiot at bad jokes, cried when no one was looking, played Snot on a Ritz, ate half a stale cardboard sandwich from a truck stop and drank two beers. While on duty.” She handed Harden the freshly poured cup. “I don’t remember the last time I had as much fun, and never as a cop.”
“Fun? How was that… Snot on a what?”
“That’s what I said.” She poured herself a cup. “I saw your text about warrants and subpoenas. Any reason I should know about for splitting out the financials?”
“Small town. Three men that historically don’t have a pot to piss in are suddenly spending thousands and we need to see how that money comes and goes and did it factor into Jimmy Pierce turnin’ up dead. That request will leak before you’re out of the courthouse. The splits that go to your level are Peeping Tom subpoenas.”
“You think there’s corruption in the Courthouse?”
“I know there’s corruption in the Courthouse. It might only be nickel and dime milking, but I’d like to know who before tippin’ ‘em all off.”
“Nice of you to join us today, Deputy Reed.” The Sheriff dropped his reading glasses on a short stack of paper in the middle of his desk, sat back, rubbed his eyes.
“I drove Candi’s Crown Vic loaner in yesterday afternoon. Sounds like a loose hammer in the right front end so I dropped it at the County service center. They can deal with OSBI. Caught a ride in with a pothole crew.”
“Agent Cotton drove your sister’s Jeep in from the field and you drove her OSBI shitmobile?”
“She had a project.”
“Mmm… Well sir, in this report of yours you mention the bag of unusual ‘evidence’ was weighed down in the river by a Honda donut spare. As it happens I had a talk with Brandy Green this mornin’ an after siftin’ through a fifty-pound bag of talk I learned that accordin’ to her, Jimmy Pierce’s estate is missin’ a 2004 gold with one green fender Honda Civic Hatchback.”
“Wonder if it’s missin’ the spare?”
“Spoken like a true investigative genius. I need you to work on locatin’ that car for us till around eleven and then swing by an pick up Aiden Pierce and Ivy Green. They need to sit in an uncomfortable chair and feel an unfriendly door close behind them.”
“What about Virgil Green and Altus Murphy? Those two are part an parcel of whatever’s goin’ on.”
“Virgil’s spent his life playin’ just as dumb as he is. He’ll sit in an interview room like a wart on the chair for two days, shake his head an say ‘Ah dunno, wudn’t there’. Altus will fall out of the chair after about 90 seconds and start floppin’ around like a fish on the dock hollerin’ how he’s got some bullshit mental problem or other an needs fresh air an a ride to the emergency room. I’ll bring them in when we know what’s goin’ on with the money.”
“What if Aiden and Ivy really don’t know anything?”
“They know what’s goin’ on, or have an idea, an we gotta put some focus on this bucket a random shit for evidence we’ve collected. Evidence, I might add, of who the fuck knows what, if anything, and we’re about to have considerable more of it. Until we know if any of it’s even illegal, much less connected to death by design or misadventure, we’re just on a damn scavenger hunt.”
“Hell, Bash, I have Betty down at the Staples with Lisha Patrick copyin’ her Walmart notebook and I’ve subpoenaed their transaction videos. Candi’ll be pullin’ bank and phone records by the time you get back. Both of you’ll need to get up to speed on the forensics while Aiden an Ivy stew for a while. Your dance card’s full for a couple of days. No more fartin’ around at the river all day. By the way,” he tapped the paper stack, “in your report… Piss an lighter fluid?”
“Candi and I agreed that stale urine, and lighter fluid was how we’d write it up.”
“It still reads like piss an lighter fluid.”
“Did you ask Can— ”
“All she said that matters is her nose got sunburned because you’re an unrelenting and unrepentant slavedrivin’ asshole.”
“She said jerk, but we all know that’s lady for asshole. Now get outta here and go find our missin’ Honda.”
Bash rolled the Tahoe to a stop between the riverbank and the mess of fading tire tracks. He closed his eyes, tried to imagine who’d been there… How, did it play out? He’d been stupid yesterday in failing to document the land side of the recovery scene, more intent on not contaminating the evidence and isolating it with the tarp than looking for how it might have gotten in the water. He walked the perimeter where the tarp had been, but anything disturbed could be from anytime from last week to yesterday. Shit.
He squatted, spun slowly on his heels. One set of tire tracks… stopped in a fade, not far from the bank. The trash bag car, probably the spare tire car. They’d shed the costume, left it by the river, gone for the car. Came back, fed the costume and everything else into the bag. It was heavy, they weren’t going to throw it far… Were in too big a hurry to drag it out in the river… They dropped it and the weight went to the bottom, the big airy part with the costume kept the bag visible. Instead of rolling the air out of the bag or leaving it open to soak everything and gain weight or any other do-over they grabbed the spare, dropped it and flattened the bag… They were in a hurry, maybe a panic, weren’t thinking but reacting … The tire drop forced excess air out, kept river water out… Whoever they were, and whatever happened had surprised the shit out of them. But… did it have anything to do with Jimmy Pierce?
He rose, shaded his eyes, isolated what he’d decided were slightly offset tire tracks away from the scene. Whoever dropped the spare was most likely the last out. Maybe that was whoever tossed the phone, thinking anyone who found it would keep it, or it would stay lost. Why would they bag the other two phones, keep one, aside from it being a hell of a lot more expensive than the burners… Kept it long enough to make a call and then tossed it? He climbed in the Tahoe, the door open, and idled down the escape route to the washout where he studied the scrape scar in the sandstone. The car he was looking for had to be in bad shape. Back inside the Tahoe, he dropped a marker on his GPS location, zoomed out and stared at the screen.
“Good morning, Kelly. How’s that baby?”
“Um, Candi?” Shit. Candi freakin’ Cotton, in the courthouse, outta thin air… “Er, Agent… Uh, I didn’t see… Hear?” Kelly swept all of her DIY lash extension kit except for the magnifying mirror into her desk drawer. “It’s so nice… I mean, I didn’t know you were in town.” She glanced at the mirror that shot her stare back at ten times magnification. “The baby… Right! She’s…fine? Isn’t she?”
“Not my baby, Kelly. Is Connor in?”
“Connor? Uh… Oh, him. I…” She turned in her chair. “Well, he was. But…” she scanned her desk, the McDonald’s bag was gone, thank God, only the mirror. “He mighta brought… be eating, breakfast? Or…”
“Never mind, Kelly. I see him.”
The County Attorney had just slathered two strawberry jam packets on half a Mickey D’s biscuit, chose to ignore the noise in the outer office. He had his lips wrapped around half the biscuit when he looked up. His eyes went golfball, he ripped the napkin from his shirt collar, chomped and choked on the half biscuit, the remaining piece fell in his lap. He shot up out of his chair, reached in his top left desk drawer for his tied tie…
“Goomphawmin… Awndie… shooopht!” He frowned, brushed the stuck quarter biscuit off his crotch leaving strawberry trails in its wake. He held out his right hand covered in sticky goo while tilting his head in an attempt to drop the tie loop over it, caught the gooey hand extension, pulled it back.
“Good morning to you, too. Nice to see you haven’t changed, Yates. Still eating an egg and bacon biscuit on the bottom half, turning the top into a diabetic coma.”
He wiped his hand, flipped up his collar, gave up and dropped in his chair.
“Go ahead Yates. Get yourself together. I can wait.” She picked up a half empty plastic bottle of chocolate milk, raised her eyebrows. “Your wife doesn’t feed you in the morning?”
“Don’t,” he yanked the knot up on his tie, “have,” flipped his collar down, “one.”
“As a trained investigator that should have been obvious.” She reached across his desk, straightened his tie. “I thought you and what’s her name, the library assis—”
“Annie. Anne. Rosalas.” He held out both hands, wider, closer, like he was imagining someone’s width, gave up, dropped them to the desk.
“I thought you two were a sure-fire thing.”
“She, we… got, had to get… Divorced. After college, we didn’t see… eye to eye. On some things. More than some, things, actually. Like everything…” He wiped his mouth with a clean corner of his handwipe napkin, dropped it in his McDonald’s bag, situated himself in his chair. “Now. What can I do for you, Candi?”
“I heard being married to you turned her gay. And it’s Candi, now? Not the unjolly green amazon? Stick with zits for tits? If she had an ass she could sit down? Oh, she is sitting down?”
“That’s not true. About her, or you. I never meant—”
“Water under the bridge, Yates. Every time I come back home, I run into my past and have to bury some more ghosts.” She set the folder on his desk, right side up for him, opened it. “Subpoenas duces tecum. Document subpoenas in case you’re rusty. Do you have a stamp,” she pulled a pen out of a ‘Friend of the Forester’ polished cedar pen holder on his desk, “or do you need this?”