Bash knelt in the sand fifty yards upstream from the Cub Scouts’ van, studying a large crisscross pattern of indentations. He scooped up a handful of sand, held it up, let it drift out slowly. He pulled his phone, fell to his knees, and took several closeups of the ground. He’d done the same thing at what had been Candi’s “crime scene” and behind the Jeep when she’d parked.
“I’m guessing Thursday… Wednesday and they’d be gone. Friday, ehhh…” he waggled his hand.
To Candi, he looked like an extra playing scout in a western movie. Only his clothes and hat were all wrong. He had the hair, but needed a breechcloth, headband and a wide, beaded bicep wrap. Except he was only an inch shorter than she was and fit, not a little skinny spray-tanned Italian Hollywood extra holding the reins of a saddle-less pinto pony. She was trying to think of a way to ask what the hell he was doing without it sounding like she was making fun of him.
“But,” Bash said, saving her and wiping his hand on his pants, “it would never stand up in court.”
“Tracks. You know,” he made a panoramic gesture with his hands, turned his voice into breathy life coach pudding. “Footprints… In the sands… Of our crime…”
“Is this a genetic urge, or…”
“Could be. I’ve been doing this since I was a kid. C’mon.” He headed for the Jeep, stopped behind it. “See, the sand starts filling in right off the bat.”
“Is that a baseball analogy?”
“You want that story, too?”
“When there’s time.” She opened her hand toward the ground. “Go on.”
“It’s simple. The more time from impression, the less impression remains. At first, there’s a landslide into the trough. Then it slows to almost, but not quite a stop. There’s never much detail, only slow closure.”
“Subject to weather I presume?”
“Yep. A dry front blew through last Wednesday night. If you look around where there hasn’t been any recent traffic, the sand’s smooth or wind rippled.”
“Which is why you said ‘Thursday’. Let me get this straight. The tracks over there are what you saw on your extra drone time I knew nothing about, thank you very much, and why there’s now a long metal tube and God’s own fish finder for evidence hunting, both devices I’m taking on faith and why a huge Jeep with a conveniently attached canoe just happened to be in the parking lot this morning. Are you sure your sister’s in China?”
“Jesus, you actually do believe you’re the center of the universe.”
“I do not. But three incredibly convenient coincidences? Give me some credit.”
“Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous.”
“Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times is enemy action. And the last thing I need from you right now is ancient Indian wisdom.”
“It wasn’t. Unless Einstein was an Apache.”
“Mine was Ian Fleming. And that right there proves my point.” Her voice took a theatrical turn. “Everybody knows Deputy Reed is smarter than she is. He’ll make up some magical dimension inverter toy for her to play with, placate her, let her look for evidence where we all know there isn’t any. Then he’ll find a fucking Jeep that dwarfs hers…” Her voice dropped back to hot normal. “It’s the same old ‘tell her lies and feed her candy’ good-ol’-boy bullshit to get me out of the office on some vapor chase while the boys’ club solves a slam dunk case without me. Then they can call ahead next time and tell Merton I’m a pain in the ass, don’t ever send me back.”
Bash hooked the winch to the Jeep’s front tow bar, let it out level with the ground. “You finished?” He bounced the tow bar to check the winch tension, walked to the Jeep and pulled out the six-foot metal detector.
“Are you really going to continue this farce?”
“Look,” he dropped the bar in the sand, got in her face until she backed up, had to sit on the front tire. “I don’t know how much research you did on me, or where you found out about my very short baseball career, or how you figured out I was the resident boy genius when I’m not, or how I learned to shit a monster Jeep on demand just to embarrass you, but you’re wayyyyy off base. You wanna know somethin’? Yeah, the Chief did say thanks for not bein’ an asshole about the Cub Scouts and to tell you I thought your map was righteous work because it was. The fuckin’ scouts collectin’ evidence? That was one of those ‘none of us knows everything’ observations. You had a body site and a secondary site, both almost totally devoid of physical evidence. You were never a Cub Scout, so you didn’t put it together. Your standin’ in the river routine was nothin’ but you not havin’ any other ideas, and instead of askin’ one of us Barney Fifes for input, you go on and stand knee deep in red runnin’ silt and wavin’ a pool skimmer so it looks like you’re workin’.”
He backed off, hand pointed at the Jeep. “I’ve been driving this off and on since June. Ask anybody. In fact, go ask the manager at Sonic. She’ll be happy to tell you it’s too damn tall for their awning, and it cost me four hundred bucks worth of trail lights to find that out. As far as your good-ol’-boy ‘get her ass outta the office’ bullshit, I figured the Sheriff had more important liaison work up his sleeve for you than sweatin’ out my guess work. Since you were a surprise, the fish finder was an on-the-way-out-the-door improvisation, so we’d have something to do when my cluster of tracks idea went south.”
“Well… Shit…” Candi pushed into her knees, slowly eased up from the tire, dusted her butt. “Where does my being stupid leave us?”
“Candi, I can think of a lot of words for you, but stupid’s not one of them.”
“About working with people, I am. I see what I think stinks and have to let everybody know. Sometimes it clears the air, but in most cases it’s exactly the shit I called out. Either way,” slight shoulder shrug, “you know? So…”
“Birds of a feather. Waiter, table for two, please.”
“Do you mean,” her eyes came back to life, “that we’re still on? Even after I shit talked your entire plan for the day?”
“You know what Custer said when somebody suggested he stop shit talkin’ Indians?” He waited, she shook her head. “So Sioux me. Get it? S-I-O—”
“Get out…” she smacked his arm with her safari hat. “That was beyond awful.”
“Don’t.” She held up her index finger. “Make the magic dimension inverter work. Then I’ll sign off on funny.”
Sheriff Harden parked as close as possible to Jimmy Pierce’s porch, killed the siren, left his cruiser’s light show on. Aiden Pierce, shirtless, was on the porch before the Sheriff got out of his car. A sullen, arms folded head down Ivy Green followed, parked herself on the opposite side of the door frame, away from Aiden.
“You kids might wanna take a seat in one a those chairs, there.”
“We’re fine standin’ for now… What’s goin’ on, Sheriff?” Aiden rubbed his arms even though the shady porch had to be ninety-five degrees. “You tryin’ to wake the dead?”
“Ain’t wakin’ your daddy. Trust me, we tried it yesterday. There any weapons in the house?”
“Dad had a pistol, but I ain’t seen it lately. I lost my rifle when I lost my phone an Ivy’s done turned all the knives into paperweights tryin’ to cut up some frozen barbecue your damn deputy bought her.”
“You weren’t here,” Ivy laser eyed him, “and I ain’t wastin’ good barbecue thawin and refreezin’ it a million times.”
“Sounds reasonable to me, ” Harden said, hands on hips. “Ivy, run inside an fetch up a shirt for Aiden, if you would, please.”
“I can get my own shirt.”
“I need you to stay out here with me, son. Ivy?”
“Yes, sir…” She rolled her eyes, rolled off the wall and through the door calling over her shoulder, “Clean, buttons or pullover?”
Candi idled the Jeep over two passes starting at the edge of the grid Bash had flown. Fifty yards in and back, twice, and they’d come up with a disintegrating picnic basket full of cheap metal eating utensils, a topless gimme coffee thermos from Delta Energy, three rusty coffee cans riddled with large caliber bullet holes and half a round grill grate.
“We know two things,” Candi said. “The magical dimension inverter works,”
“And we ain’t findin’ shit.” He lifted his hat, scratched his head, stared out the window. “You watched the drone footage. What are you thinkin’?”
“You’re the navigator. If you’re impatient for results, we can hit the spots you bookmarked on the video. If we’re still in the junk metal recycling business at that point, we can try the river.”
“Okay, then head straight down the middle of the track to the gulch. Stop when you get there.”
She stopped at the edge of a shallow, narrow gulch just deep and wide enough to be a serious road hazard for most vehicles. Bash jumped down, walked to the driver’s side.
“See that, on the other side?”
“Tell me what I’m looking at.”
“The scar on top of the ridge, straight across. Somebody bottomed out here. Hard.”
“I can’t do it either with the towbar out.”
“You can in reverse.”
Bash stood, hand on the rear quarter panel of the Jeep. “If you want to get rid of something and you’re driving, what do you do with it?”
“Throw it?” Candi, from her backside lean on the passenger door.
“Exactly. That’s where I’ve been wrong. We don’t need to be dragging the vehicle paths or the perimeter. We need to check the rollin’ throwing distance on either side of the tracks.”
“So,” She leaned upright. “What’s the new plan?”
He emerged from behind the back door of the Jeep with a cold can of beer, handed it to her. “Go back to where the tracks start, head this way right down the middle and about mid-way lefty sidearm this out your window.”
“If this is the only one of these?” She held up the can. “Screw you, and hell no.”