Copyright 2011 by Al Lamanda
Somewhere between midnight and one AM, the ice began to fall. It was a fine mist at first, followed by pea size pellets. It quickly covered the ground and trees in a layer of frozen ice. By one thirty AM, the pellets swelled to golf ball size and anybody who was awake knew they were witnessing something special. A once in a lifetime, winter weather phenomenon, people on the news would later observe and report. Earlier that night, on the weather forecast, those same people called for precipitation, maybe some freezing rain. They couldn’t have been more wrong.
What followed was the storm of the century. From as far south as the Jersey shore, it stretched in an isolated band to
. It was nature at its most beautiful and most deadly form. Montreal, Canada
It would be the topic of conversation for weeks. On television, on talk radio and in the newspapers, people could not get enough of the ice storm. They were stunned that the contemporary world in which they lived shut down so quickly and with such ease by a source they could not control. Nature, they seemed to have forgotten, controls the planet in spite of the ego of those who dwell upon it.
Most who experienced it learned a valuable lesion in life. Others never seem to learn anything.
Most people were fortunate and survived just fine. Others did not. Some were not aware the storm even occurred at all.
When Sheriff David Peck opened his eyes, he was not conscious of what woke him from a deep and sound sleep. He lay still for a minute, listening to his own breathing, fine-tuning his senses. He rolled over in his bed to check the time on the alarm clock on the nightstand. It was just a bit past two thirty in the morning. As he lay there in darkness, he slowly became mindful of the sound, which woke him. His eyes moved to the window on the left side of his dresser. There was a soft, plinking noise as if someone on the outside was tossing rice against the glass. It took a moment before he realized the noise was caused by ice crashing against the bedroom window.
Tossing off the covers, Peck stood up and crossed the bedroom to the window to look out. A layer of ice frosted the glass making it impossible to see anything on the other side. Turning away from the window, he clicked on a light and grabbed his robe, then went downstairs to the first floor.
In the living room, Peck picked up his cigarettes from the art deco style coffee table, lit one and walked to the front door where he switched on the outside, floodlight. He was unprepared and totally surprised by the sight that greeted him when he opened the front door.
Hail the size of golf balls crashed to the ground at a furious pace. In the driveway of his small home, Peck’s 1955 police cruiser was already under an inch thick layer of growing ice. The six inches of snow on the ground glistened from its new, frozen blanket as it reflected light from the floodlight. Small trees such as White Birch bent halfway to the ground under the stress of their added, unrelenting, ice-covered burden.
Remarkably, there was little if any wind and the ice fell in a straight line to the ground, which caused it to pile up even more quickly. He did a quick check on his memory, searching for storm bulletins. The best he could remember was a snow warning from the south that was heading north.
Chilled and getting wet, Peck closed the door and entered the kitchen where he turned on a large radio, which rested on the counter near the sink. Being as far north as he was, there was little reception except for emergency, weather broadcasts out of
. He twisted the massive dial until a local station, filled with static, finally came in. An update from the monitoring station in the town of Augusta gave details of the pending, winter storm. An advisory was in affect until morning. A thirty-six hour window before the storm actually passed was in effect, but road and travel conditions would make any chance of a normal commute next to impossible. Advice was to stay indoors until the governor lifted the advisory and road crews had the chance to clean up the roads. Gray
Peck turned off the radio, poured a glass of milk from the refrigerator and smoked another cigarette at his green and yellow, kitchen table. Like most committed bachelors, Peck knew how to cook, but spared himself the unpleasant task. He survived mostly on cold cuts and by eating out. Such a lifestyle kept his needs to a minimum and the kitchen was barren of most, domesticated appliances.
He sat for a while, smoked and thought about the storm. If it followed the predicted path, conditions would be harsh and the situation would present his first real challenge as sheriff.
By three fifteen, he was back under the covers. He wasn’t tired, having gotten that second wind which comes from getting out of bed. He listened to his breathing and could feel his heartbeat begin to slow. Then his eyes grew heavy, as he was lulled to sleep by the continuous, rhythmic sound of ice plinking against the window.
Peck awoke for the second time that morning at just before seven AM. He rolled out of bed and glanced at the radio alarm clock on the nightstand. The time had stopped at four ten AM. He clicked on the lamp and nothing happened. Power lines were down from the storm, probably. Not a good way to start the day.
Wearing his robe, Peck went downstairs to the living room where he loaded the woodstove centered in the room with logs and old newspapers and lit a fire. His coffeepot was electric so he filled a pan with ice from the refrigerator and boiled it on the woodstove to make instant coffee. Filling a second pot with ice cubes, Peck used the water to wash his face and brush his teeth.
As he sipped the instant brew, Peck tried to call his office from the kitchen, wall phone, but the phone lines were down as well as the power. Entering the living room, he sat before the warmth of the woodstove, smoked a cigarette and thought for a moment. On his desk in the corner of the room was a large, battery powered civil air defense radio, which was on the same frequency as the radio in his office.
Peck went to the desk, sat down and cranked the handle of the radio. “This is Sheriff David Peck. Is anyone there? Over,” he said into the base held microphone.
There were a few moments of static before Jay Bender, Peck’s lone deputy answered.
“Dave, this is Jay. Over.”
“Jay, what did you do, walk? Over.”
“A tenth of a mile, it took me almost an hour. Over.”
“What does it look like out there? Over.”
in the wintertime, what did you think? Over.” Alaska
Peck lit a cigarette, took a sip of coffee and thought for a moment. “How does it look for driving? Over.”
“Driving? Only a fool or a native of
would attempt it. Wait, isn’t that the same thing. I was you I would stay put. Over.” Maine
“I’d like to make it in and keep an eye on things. I can always sleep in the office. Over.”
“Good luck. I’ll keep a fire burning and the coffee hot. Over.”
“Just don’t burn the office down before I get there. Over.”
“I was a boy scout, remember? Over.”
“Maybe you could scout us up some breakfast. Out.”
Wearing a yellow slicker over his winter, uniform jacket, Peck carried a pot of boiling water to his black and white patrol car where he used it to melt enough ice to open the driver’s side door. He returned to the house for another pot of hit water to melt the thick layer of ice on the windshield and rear window. He started the engine, and then let it run for fifteen minutes. He used the time to boil more water to fill a thermos with instant coffee. Returning to the cruiser, he inspected the heavy chains around the snow tires before entering and putting the car into gear.
Even with the chains, the heavy car skidded along the ice-covered road as he turned out of the driveway. Within minutes, a coverlet of ice blocked the rear window making rear visibility impossible. The front windshield fared only slightly better. Peck had to run the defroster and wiper blades on high to maintain any visibility at all. Then, cautiously, he crept along.
One hour and five minutes later, Peck drove the cruiser across the lone paved road, which led to the center of town. A sign the size of a stop sign and mounted on the curb off Maine Street, read, WELCOME TO DUNSTON FALLS, MAINE, est.1889. Pop.311. Stretched across Main Street, a large banner read, Happy New Year 1959. The banner was rigid and covered in a sheet of ice.
As Peck approached the municipal building, he passed the town’s only drugstore, library, church, diner, gas station and hospital. As he expected, nothing was open for business. The place was a ghost town.
Parking nearly on the curb, Peck exited the cruiser and dashed into the municipal building. The building was the only two-story, red brick structure that was not a private home within the boundaries of the forty-seven square mile town. The first floor contained his office, a small holding cell and a tiny office for the part time, tax assessor. The second floor housed the office of the town manager, Ed Kranston. Void of working light bulbs, the hallway was dark and cast in shadows.
Removing his ice soaked, yellow slicker, Peck entered his office. There were two green metal desks, his and the one belonging to his deputy, Jay Bender, who was stroking the fire in the woodstove when Peck walked in. Otherwise, furnishing were sparse, just the bare necessities to run the office.
“I see you made it,” Bender said as he shoved a log into the woodstove.
Peck removed his jacket and tossed it on the chair behind his desk. “Is there any news out of Augusta?”
Bender stood up, closed the door to the woodstove and stretched his back. He was a young man of thirty, tall and lanky, with a baby face that appeared never to need shaving. “The report out of Gray says the storm might go a week. I can’t reach Augusta.”
“A week of this and we’ll all be living in igloos.”
“It’s not just us. All of New England, parts of Canada.”
Peck sat behind his desk, feeling the wet from ice residue behind his shirt collar. “We need to get in touch with Ed and…”
“He’s here, in his office.”
Peck was surprised. “He walked?”
Bender reached for the stainless steel camp style coffeepot, which was boiling on top of the woodstove and poured himself a cup. “Just because we are in the sticks doesn’t mean we have to live in the sticks, Dave.”
Peck picked up the mug on his desk and held it out for Bender to fill.
“Sorry, Dave, no donuts,” Bender said.
Peck lit a cigarette with a match, blew smoke and looked at Bender. “The phone lines are down. I thought they were on separate power lines.”
Bender grinned as he carried a mug of coffee to his desk. “Amazing how a few million tons of ice fucks up the works, isn’t it.”
“What does the governor’s office have to say?”
“Officially, that they’re doing all they can. Unofficially, pretty much that we’re fucked until otherwise notified.”
Peck and Bender turned their heads as the office door opened and Ed Kranston stepped in. He paused to look around. “Well, this is cozy. A nice fire, hot coffee.”
Bender grinned. “Want some?”
“You have donuts?”
Ed Kranston was a large man of sixty, who never wore anything but a well-tailored suit. He had thinning, brown hair and wore rimless glasses His blue eyes were piercing when angry and aimed in your direction. His smile was equally as powerful and could charm the scales off a snake. As was his custom, he was chewing a stick of gum.
“Got a Hershey bar,” Bender said, opening his desk drawer. “And a stale pack of cookies.”
Peck set the cigarette in an ashtray as he sipped from his mug. “Is there anything new out of Augusta, Ed?”
Kranston lowered his bulk onto the chair opposite Peck’s desk. It creaked under his weight. “I reached the state police on the shortwave in my office. Power is out as far south as Rhode Island, as far north as Canada. They figure at least a week, maybe ten days. Phone lines, too.”
Peck picked up his cigarette and took a puff. He blew a smoke ring as he mulled over the situation in his mind. “What do we got, three hundred plus living in town?”
“Three eleven, according to last years tax assessment,” Kranston said. “Probably a couple more now. Hard to say.”
“Every home has at least a woodstove for heat and possibly cooking, but people won’t be able to last ten days without fresh food and hygiene,” Peck said.
“Or medicine,” Bender added.
“Especially medicine,” Peck said as he crushed the cigarette in a tin ashtray on his desk.
“What are you suggesting?” Kranston asked.
“An emergency alert is out unless power is restored,” Peck said. “Right?”
“No chance of that,” Kranston said. “Not for at least a week. And even if we could broadcast on the emergency alert system, how many radios would pick it up?”
“What do they have for rooms in the hospital?” Peck said.
“Twenty six,” Kranston said. His eyes brightened. “But the basement can hold another fifty, not to mention the waiting room and lobby. That’s at least a hundred people, maybe more.”
“What about the church?” Bender said. “There’s plenty of room in the basement and halls.”
Kranston turned around in his chair to look at Bender. “That’s at least another hundred. That’s very good thinking, Jay.”
Bender nodded and said, “But without the shortwave or television, how do we reach anybody? Forty seven square miles is a lot of…”
“Door to door,” Peck said. “We go door to door.”
“In what?” Bender said. “The cruiser? It took you an hour just to drive here in that piece of junk. We’ll never make…...”
“We have two snowmobiles sitting in the basement garage not doing much of anything,” Peck said. “We can use them.”
“That’s right,” Bender said. “And extra gas cans we keep for the cruiser. We can use them.”
Peck looked at Kranston. “Talk to Doctor McCoy and Father Regan. Tell them we want to use the church and hospital as emergency shelters. We will need blankets, cots, water and food. Also, ask Deb at the diner if she can run a generator for hot food.”
Kranston nodded. “Tell people to bring whatever they can carry of their own food. The diner will run out pretty damn quick otherwise.”
Bender stood up from his desk and walked to the door. “Meet me in the basement in ten minutes, Dave. I should have them running by then.”
Kranston also stood up. “I’ll try the shortwave again before I talk to McCoy and the priest.”
“Remind me to hit you up for two new snowmobiles in next year’s budget,” Peck said.
“I thought you wanted a second deputy?”
“I’ll settle for one of each.”
After Kranston exited the office, Peck opened his bottom desk drawer and removed two large walkie-talkie radios. Power came from four large batteries, which he inserted into each unit.
Satisfied the radios were working properly; Peck spun his chair around and looked at the large map of Dunston Falls, which hung on the wall behind his desk. The borders of the forty-seven square mile town were marked in red. Most of the land, undeveloped, was property of the Great Northern Paper Company. Sprinkled throughout the interior were several hundred homes where paper company employees lived. The lone paved road that ran north to south cut directly through the heart of the small town square and looped around in a circle.
Peck took a sip of coffee as he studied the map. After eighteen months of living in Dunston Falls, he knew he was still a novice when it came to knowing the cut of the land. Even a native could easily lose his way in a storm, much less a city boy like himself.
Before he left the office, Peck used the tiny bathroom in the hallway. He stood in the dim light and inspected his face in the mirror. The fifty three year old man who looked back at him appeared surprisingly unaffected at having spent twenty-seven years as a Baltimore cop. The bags under his eyes were hardly noticeable, as were the creases in his forehead. His chest was firm, his stomach was flat, and the muscles in his arms bulged with the strength of his youth.
Turning away from the mirror, Peck slipped the yellow slicker over his jacket and left the bathroom.
In the basement garage of the municipal building, Peck and Bender stood before the two, late forties model snowmobiles. They were massive machines and their engines roared loudly in idle gear. Dark smoke filled the enclosed garage making it hard to see and breathe.
Peck waved a hand at the smoke. “Jesus.”
Bender said. “We picked them up from the warden service a few years back when they got approved to buy news ones. They run better in cold air.
“I’m amazed they run at all. What are they, ten years old?” Peck handed Bender a walkie-talkie. “Call every thirty minutes, if possible.”
Bender nodded. “I know the layout better than you, Dave. I’ll take the south and west where the homes are deeper in the woods. If you stay on the north fire roads, you should hit maybe thirty homes. Most of them are trailers without woodstoves.”
Peck agreed. “With a little luck, I’ll meet you back at Deb’s for dinner.”
Bender mounted a snowmobile, put it in gear, gunned it and raced up the exit ramp to the street.
Peck waited a moment, the older bull in not so much a hurry as the younger one, then climbed aboard his snowmobile. He put the machine in gear, and then gently guided it up the exit ramp to the street.
Peck accepted the hospitality of the Johnson family and stepped inside to warm himself by the fireplace and sip the hot chocolate Mrs. Johnson prepared by boiling milk in a pan over the fire.
Mr. Johnson’s first name was William and he went by Bill. He and his wife had two small children, which he supported by driving a truck for the paper company. Their home was a three bedroom, Tudor that was set back a hundred yards off a fire road. Bender was right, if you didn’t know the layout of the land, homes like the Johnson’s could be easily missed.
Peck said, “It would be better if you could get the kids to the church or hospital for a few days. Bring food, blankets and whatever water you can manage.”
Mrs. Johnson shook her head. “We don’t have a portable radio, sheriff. How much longer is the storm expected to last?”
“The weather service said another week, but power could be down for several weeks to a month,” Peck said in between sips of hot chocolate.
“Weeks to a month?” Bill said. “We don’t have enough food to last that long.”
“Nobody does, but the hospital has a freezer and so does the diner,” Peck said. “We’ll manage.”
“I’ll start packing,” Mrs. Johnson said.
Bill turned to his wife. “Don’t forget that case of Coca Cola in the basement. At seven cents a bottle, we might as well drink it.”
Peck handed Bill his cup. “Thanks for the coco. I’ll see you in town.”
Peck drove the snowmobile down a long, ice-covered dirt road on his way to his tenth stop of the morning. By the time he reached the driveway of Deb Robertson’s home, his slicker was encased in a frozen layer of ice. He shook it off, feeling like a wet dog as he walked up the two flights of steps to the front door.
Deb Robertson opened the door before Peck knocked. “I heard the snowmobile,” she said. She was a slim and very attractive woman of forty-five, with shoulder length, dark hair and gray eyes that were positively haunting.
Peck pulled the hood of the slicker off his face and stomped his feet to get some feeling going.
“What are you doing out in weather like this, sheriff?” Deb said.
“This storm. We have a statewide emergency. People need to be notified.”
Deb held the door open for Peck and stepped out of the way. “For God’s sake, come inside before you freeze to death.”
Logs crackled in the stone fireplace as Deb poured Peck a cup of coffee in the living room, where he sat on the sofa. Although rustic in design, the home contained every modern appliance and convenience of the day. Somehow, Deb managed to bring together the old and the new and make it fit so her home had an engaging and comfortable feel to it, like an old style bed and breakfast.
“I have a generator.” Deb explained. “I’ve been running it every two hours for fifteen minutes.” She poured a cup for herself and sat down next to Peck on the sofa.
“I have enough firewood out back to last until spring, so I’m not worried about myself.”
Peck sipped the hot coffee, felt it warm his stomach. “Can you run the diner by generator?”
“For as long as the gas holds out, maybe a week.”
“We’ll need it,” Peck said. “We’re setting up the hospital and church as shelters. We could have as much as two hundred people living in town by tonight. What do you have for food in storage?”
“I just had a delivery. Several weeks of frozen, a month of canned goods, but there is no way I can make it there in this.”
“I’ll stop back before dark and give you a lift.”
“Wait. Don’t go just yet. It’s so… creepy without the radio or TV. Just that ice hitting the roof. Not even a wind.” She nodded her head toward the massive, color television against the wall, which was more a piece of furniture than anything else was in the room. A large screen, color probably, encased in a walnut cabinet with doors that were presently closed and polished to a high shine.
Peck followed her eyes to the television cabinet, which looked like an RCA, then he looked at Deb and she smiled at him. “I still need to reach a lot of people before dark,” he said.
Deb reached for the coffeepot, which rested on a coaster on the coffee table. “Five minutes won’t make a bit of difference.” She refilled Peck’s cup and her own.
“Okay to smoke?”
Peck removed his cigarettes from an inside pocket and lit one.
“I quit,” Deb said. “Ten years ago, but I could pick one up like it was five minutes ago.”
“So did I, but I started back up again.”
Peck thought for a moment. “I don’t know,” he admitted. “Old habits die hard, I guess.”
Deb nodded her head. “What time will you pick me up?”
Peck glanced at his watch. “Four okay?”
Deb nodded. “Don’t be late.”
The sun was low in the dark sky when Peck reached Fire road 99. The barrage of hail made it difficult enough to see in daylight. After dark, it would be impossible. He turned the snowmobile around and headed back to Deb Robertson’s home.
During the fifty-minute drive to her home, Peck’s mind began to wander a bit. Deb Robertson was a very attractive woman and the way she smiled at him led him to believe she might be interested in more than just a ride to town. He toyed with the idea and reached the conclusion that his imagination had taken a turn down the wrong way of a one-way street. This was a time of emergency and stress levels were on high, it was only natural she might appear overly responsive and more friendly than normal. As he neared her home, Peck dismissed the idea from his mind and concentrated on the task before him, ensuring the public’s safety.
When Peck arrived at her home, Deb was dressed and ready to go. She wore a full-length winter raincoat, snowmobile boots and a plastic scarf covering a winter hat. “It isn’t glamorous, but it’s dry,” she said of the scarf.
Deb hopped on back of the snowmobile and held Peck around the waist. “Hold on,” Peck said as he gunned the engine.
Driving along the slick, ice covered dirt roads, Peck was aware of Deb’s hands around his waist. Even through his heavy jacket, they had a warming affect. He was uncertain if she knew what he was feeling, but he decided to keep it to himself.
Forty-five minutes later, Peck slowed the snowmobile to a stop in front of Deb’s Diner. She climbed off and smiled at Peck. “My bones are rattling. Can you do me a favor and go around back and start the generator?”
Peck spun around to the rear of the diner where a large generator sat inside a wood hut against the building. He parked the snowmobile, used a log to smash through the ice, and opened the door of the hut. He primed the engine, put the generator on start and pulled the cord. It started on the third pull, smoked and sputtered a bit, then roared to life.
Satisfied the generator would run, Peck mounted the snowmobile and drove to Main Street where he parked in front of the hospital. Dim light from candles were noticeable from the street. Peck shook off ice and entered the hospital through the front entrance. Dozens of town residents were milling about, looking to settle in. Some knew him by name and greeted Peck as he walked through the lobby to the small, hospital lounge. Entering the lounge, Peck found Doctor Tom McCoy at the table. Two candles burned for reading light as McCoy scribbled notes on a pad. He took a sip of coffee from a mug and looked at Peck.
“It isn’t good, but it’s hot,” McCoy said.
Peck lifted the metal pot from the burner behind McCoy and filled a mug, then took a seat at the table opposite the doctor. “How many have showed up so far?” Peck said.
“Maybe thirty, but they’re still rolling in.”
“What can you squeeze out of your generator?”
McCoy glanced at his pad. “I was just figuring that. At two hour intervals, I have enough gas for three days.”
“And no woodstove for backup.”
McCoy shook his head. “This is a hospital, not a hunting lodge.” At thirty-five, McCoy was slim of build and average in height. His sandy hair was medium in length, his brown eyes soft in nature. His ears were a bit too large for his face, but not unappealing to look at. “It’s going to get cold in here when the gas runs dry.”
Peck removed his cigarettes and lit one. He mulled the situation around in his mind. “We have some gas cans in the basement garage, but it’s not enough to run the hospital and church for more than a day or so extra.”
McCoy stood up to refill his mug. “I could use it.”
Peck said, “I’ve been out all day. Is there any news on the storm?”
The lounge door opened and Father Regan walked in. “I just had my transistor radio on. It’s going to get worse before it gets better,” he said. “And by the way, does anybody have some extra 9 volt batteries?”
“I might have some,” Peck said. “I’ll check. If not, it might be a good idea to get the drugstore open.”
“I have an extra key around here someplace,” McCoy said. “I’ll take a look and give it to you, Dave.”
McCoy filled another mug with coffee and offered it to the priest. Regan took a sip and made a face. “That’s awful, Tom.”
“But hot,” McCoy said.
Regan took a chair next to Peck. The priest was a tall man of fifty, with broad shoulders and no fat on his waist. His thinning hair was brown and speckled with gray. A twinkle shown in his blue eyes that had a calming affect on his parishioners, as did his soothing voice.
“How are you doing, father?” Peck said.
“I’ve got three dozen families living in the church basement. I need cots, blankets, food and heat, but most of all heat.”
“How are you on gas?”
Regan shook his head at Peck. “Not nearly enough. Three days if I conserve.”
“Conserve,” Peck said.
McCoy sat down and looked at Peck. “We have to be able to do something other than conserve, Dave? Maybe we can send somebody to the paper company for help?”
“That’s a forty five mile trip,” Regan said. “Each way. No one will make that in this storm.”
“Yeah, but they have those trucks which could drive through anything. They could load up on supplies and be here in two days,” McCoy said.
“I could try to reach them by radio,” Peck said. “In the meantime, we have to do whatever we can to make sure people are safe. That means we do whatever it takes.”
Father Regan and McCoy looked at Peck. In unison, they nodded their heads.
A fire crackled in the woodstove in the corner of Peck’s office as he lit a cigarette and looked at Bender and Ed Kranston. Warmth radiated from the stove and spread throughout the room, raising the temperature to a comfortable level.
Bender sat behind his desk and doodled on a pad with a pencil. Kranston occupied the chair opposite Peck’s desk. Peck looked at the town manager and waited for him to speak.
“My bones,” Kranston complained. “Something happens to a man when he turns sixty. It seems impossible to get warm.” He removed a fresh stick of gum from his pack and placed it in his mouth.
Peck reached into the bottom desk drawer for an unopened, bottle of scotch. “Will this help?”
Kranston looked at the scotch. “That’s the bottle I gave you for Christmas.”
Peck removed the seal and twisted off the cap. “Got any glasses, Jay?”
Bender opened a desk drawer and removed a sleeve of plastic cups. “From the Christmas party,” he explained.
Peck poured two fingers of scotch into three cups, and then gave one cup to each man.
Kranston tossed his gum into a trashcan, then took a shallow sip of the liquor and grimaced. “Next year, remind me to get you the good stuff.”
“I wouldn’t know what the good stuff is on a cop’s pension.” Peck lit a cigarette and turned to Bender. “How many candles we have left?”
“A box of a dozen,” Bender said. “I can probably get more from the church if we need to.”
“I seem to remember a kerosene lantern around here somewhere,” Kranston said.
“I think it’s in the tax office. Want me to check?” Bender said.
Peck nodded and Bender stood up and left the room.
Kranston took another sip of scotch. “The batteries in my short wave went dead. I can’t contact Augusta or anybody else for an update.”
“Mine are low, but I got enough for a few more calls. I can always bring it to the hospital and run it off the generator.”
“Good idea. Speaking of the hospital, what’s the situation look like?” Kranston asked.
“By tomorrow, a hundred people in the hospital and church. It’s going to get crowded, but at least it will be warm and the food will be hot for a while.”
“Deb’s running the diner off a generator for as long as she can.”
Bender returned with a kerosene lantern. “Got it.” He struck a match and ignited the lantern, then blew out the burning candles.
Kranston shook his head. “Hygiene is going to be a mess. With just a few bathrooms and no running water, it’s going to get ugly quick.”
Bender sat behind his desk, opened a drawer and removed a Hershey Bar. “Remember the state fair we had for the Fourth?”
Kranston turned to look at Bender.
“Those six portable toilets we rented,” Bender said. “Remember?”
“We can’t exactly rent them in…...”
“No,” Bender said. “We never returned them. They’re still sitting in the garage over at the landfill. Nobody ever came to pick them up after they were emptied and cleaned.”
Peck leaned forward in his seat. “That’s right.”
“I’ll see which good ole boys got their trucks next door and go pick a few up,” Bender said. “We could set two in back of the church and hospital. Maybe another out back of Deb’s.”
“Excellent,” Kranston said.
“Might as well get started,” Bender said.
“Bring your walkie-talkie,” Peck said. “I don’t need you getting lost out there in this.”
Bender picked up his walkie-talkie, stuck it in his jacket pocket, grinned at Peck and left the room.
“He’s turning out to be a fine deputy,” Kranston said. “I had my doubts at first, but not anymore.”
Peck nodded his agreement. “I hesitated to hire a man without experience, but Jay has proven to be a fast learner with a good feel for the job. We might want to consider a raise for him.”
“When this is over, maybe we’ll talk about that. First, and as soon as we’re able, I want to call a town meeting to talk about a revision to the budget,” Kranston said. “We need to be more proactive in our emergency planning, even if it means higher taxes.”
“Higher taxes?” Peck said. “Come on, Ed, gas is up to thirty cents a gallon as it is. Cigarettes are what, forty cents a pack?”
“I know it, but there is no other way to generate the income we…”
Peck held up his right hand. “Hold on, Ed. I just thought of something. We don’t need the generator at the church to run during the day, do we?”
“I suppose not. Why?”
“I can have it moved to the gas station to run the pumps and fill the gas cans. We can power the hospital, church and diner for weeks.”
“He just got a delivery the other day, didn’t he? Those tanks should be close to full. Good idea, Dave.”
“I have another good idea, Ed. Let’s find out what Deb has on the grill. You can finish telling me about higher taxes over Deb’s meatloaf.”
It was a full house at the diner. All twenty tables and the dozen counter stools sat occupied. The dishwasher, a Mexican named Paco Ramirez acted as a messenger to the church and hospital, informing town residents of empty tables. Father Regan and Doctor McCoy assigned seating arrangements to keep things orderly. Everybody, it seemed, did their part to make things as comfortable as possible while they rode out the storm.
Peck and Kranston shared a table near the window. There was nothing fancy about the diner. It could have been one of thousands anywhere in the country. Tabletops were green, the counter held a dozen backless stools. The order of the day was Deb’s prized meatloaf special with gravy and mashed potatoes. Peck resisted the temptation to ask her for seconds, opting to fill his stomach with bread and a slice of apple pie for dessert.
As Kranston sipped coffee, he studied Peck. “I knew it was the right move bringing you in, Dave. Remember our first meeting?”
Peck looked up from his apple pie. “Yes, I do.”
Eighteen months ago, Peck met Kranston in Cole Farms restaurant in the small town of Gray, some six hours south of Dunston Falls. Peck made the trip from Baltimore the previous day, stayed over in a small motel in the nearby town of Windham and then met Kranston for their planned, luncheon meeting. For a small restaurant in the middle of nowhere, the pot roast was excellent and Peck had seconds.
Kranston had a copy of Peck’s resume and cover letter. “I’ll be honest with you, Mr. Peck. I was surprised and pleased when thirty-five police captains and detectives like yourself answered my ad for sheriff. However, not a one of them was as honest and forthright as you were in your letter.”
“I appreciate that, Mr. Kranston,” Peck said.
“No, I do. It makes my choice rather easy.” Kranston picked up Peck’s resume and studied it briefly. “You spent fourteen years as a patrolman, thirteen years as a detective in vice and homicide. You retired as a lieutenant. Dozens of citations and awards, it is all very impressive. However, what struck me is what you said in your letter. That you were applying for the position simply because after two years in retirement you were bored.”
“That’s true and I am,” Peck said.
A waitress stopped by to refill their coffee cups.
“Where else can you get coffee for a nickel with unlimited refills?” Kranston said.
“Your ad said this is a new position, Mr. Kranston. Is that correct?’
“Yes. Dunston Falls is a very small town, Mr. Peck,” Kranston said. “However, it sits on a vast amount of land owned by the Great Northern Paper Company. Do you know anything about paper?”
“It’s good for writing,” Peck said.
Kranston smiled. “True, but in today’s modern era, it is used more and more for things like paper plates and party goods, frozen dinners and so on. That means expansion. That means Dunston Falls will grow and we need to grow along with it.”
“You want a police force in place before you need it, rather than need it and not have it,” Peck said.
“Exactly,” Kranston agreed. “But, it’s more than that. The wave of the future is upon us and it is in one hell of a hurry. Ten years ago, I did not own a television set. Today, I have a color one, even though ninety percent of the programs are in black and white. I need to modernize my town or it will be left behind, I’m afraid. Like you said, it’s better to have than need.”
“I can appreciate that,” Peck agreed. “Before I left the department, all kinds of new procedures and equipment were being tested. It used to take weeks for an FBI lab to match a set of fingerprints. Now, they can do it in a matter of days. By the mid sixties, who knows what they’ll be capable of?”
Kranston took a sip of his coffee and looked at Peck over the rim of the cup. “I notice that ring you wear isn’t police.”
“No, it’s Marine Corp,” Peck said.
“You served during the war?”
“Three years in the pacific.”
Kranston set his cup aside and folded his hands on the table. “Let me be honest, Mr. Peck. The position only has a budget of one hundred twenty five a week, but you get to live rent free in a completely furnished, very comfortable home.”
“The salary is fine, Mr. Kranston. I have a decent pension after twenty seven years,” Peck said. “And I’m glad the house is furnished because I don’t own much.”
“Good. Now, what do you know about Maine?”
“I can find it on a map.”
Peck’s recollection ended when Deb approached the table with a fresh pot of coffee.
“No more for me,” Kranston said. “I’ll have trouble sleeping as it is.”
Deb looked at Peck and he nodded his head. She filled the cup, and then slid onto a chair next to Peck. “I have to get off these feet.”
Kranston stood up. “I’m going home and get some sleep. I suggest you do the same, Dave.”
“Last cup,” Peck said. He suddenly became aware of Deb’s knee against his leg. Feeling like some stupid high school kid, he left his leg against her knee and it felt comfortable.
“You wouldn’t happen to have a helmet of some sort?” Kranston said.
Peck shook his head. “Put it on next year’s budget.”
“I can get you a spaghetti pot from the kitchen,” Deb said.
“I’m not walking down Main Street with a pot on my head.”
Peck grinned at Deb. “She’s right, Ed. That hail has a sting to it.”
Deb stood up. “I’ll make it a nice one without too many dents.”
Peck stifled a laugh when a minute later, Kranston left the diner with Deb’s spaghetti pot on his head. From behind the counter, Deb grinned, and then rejoined Peck at his table. “How long do you think it will take Ed to go deaf from the hail bouncing off that pot?” Peck said.
“My guess is about thirty seconds.”
Grinning, Peck said, “Are you going to run the place all night?”
“All night, or until everyone is fed, whichever comes first. Either way, I’m here for the duration.”
“I’m going to the office,” Peck said as he stood up. “If you need a ride home, come get me.”
“Paco has his truck, but maybe you could pick me up tomorrow?”
Peck nodded and walked to the door. “Save me another slice of apple pie for later. I may need it.”
After making a roaring fire in the office woodstove, Peck assembled a cot from storage near his desk. He had a lumpy pillow and a green, army type blanket. After stripping down to his underwear, Peck sat at his desk to smoke a cigarette, eat a second slice of apple pie and wash it down from a plastic cup with one finger of scotch in it.
He took his time, sipping the scotch, tasting its blend on his tongue. When his eyelids began to droop, Peck stripped off his uniform, tucked himself in, and fell asleep listening to the logs in the fire crackle.
Some time later, Peck opened his eyes when something woke him up. He did not know what that something was. In the background, the fire still crackled in the woodstove, so he could not have been asleep for very long, maybe an hour.
Peck shifted his weight in the uncomfortable cot, closed his eyes and was about to drift back to sleep when from the street came the loud crack of a rifle shot. He bolted up and out of the cot in a heartbeat and ran to the desk for his pants and shirt. As he was strapping on his sidearm, another rifle shot sounded. Stepping into his boots, half out of his jacket, Peck ran out of the office to the steps of the municipal building.. Removing the flashlight from his belt, he scanned the immediate area. The beam of light from the flashlight glistened in the falling ice.
Across the street in the hospital window the light of a candle suddenly appeared. With hail falling all around him and sticking to his hair, Peck walked down the steps and crossed the street. He was half way to the hospital as another booming rifle shot sounded, echoing loudly. Peck ran to the curb as another loud crash boomed in the distance.
A dozen town residents exited the hospital and stood under the protective awning, which extended, nearly to the curb. Doctor McCoy was out front of the group and spotted Peck.
“What the hell was that, Dave?” McCoy shouted.
“I don’t know,” Peck admitted.
“Sounded life a rifle,” somebody in the group said.
“A rifle shot?” McCoy said. “Who in the hell would be firing a rifle in the middle of the night in this weather?”
As dozens of town residents now occupied the street, Father Regan joined Peck and McCoy. “What’s happening?” the priest wanted to know.
At that moment, another loud crack sounded, followed by a thunderous boom.
Peck stepped forward. “It’s coming from the woods.”
“He’s right,” somebody said. “I think it’s the woods to our left.”
McCoy looked at Peck. “Somebody’s in the woods with a gun? In a storm like this, I find that hard to believe.”
An old man stepped forward and stood next to Peck. “Listen”
Peck looked at the old man. “Listen to what?”
The old man moved out to the street, away from the shelter of the awning. His eyes lifted upward, above the line of sight of the town and toward the woods. After a few moments, he turned and stared at Peck. “It’s the trees,” the old man said.
Another loud crack sounded, followed by an echoing crash.
“It’s the trees,” the old man said. “They’re falling.”
A hundred yards past the line of Main Street, a pine tree, covered in thousands of pounds of ice, brittle from its frozen burden, snapped in two and fell to the ground a hundred feet below. As it broke apart, its fragments produced the crisp sound of rifle fire. When several tons of frozen wood hit the Earth below, it shook the ground with a thunderous, echoing boom.
Peck turned his head to look at the old man. “He’s right. It is the trees.”
McCoy stepped forward. “I think this would be a good time to get back inside.”
Peck turned to the crowd. “Everybody, back inside where it’s safe. There’s no sense is freezing or getting hurt.”
The crowd dwindled until Peck was alone with Father Regan. “You, too, father. Inside, please.”
Regan smiled at Peck. “The power of nature is nothing more than the power of God.”
“No disrespect, father, but the power of God is going to drop something pretty damn heavy on your head if you don’t get inside.”
Regan nodded. “Goodnight, sheriff.”
For the second time that night, Peck sat at his desk with a finger of scotch in his plastic cup and smoked a cigarette. The woodstove crackled lightly in the background. The only light source in the room came from a single, thin candle on his desk. Suddenly, from outside came another loud crack, followed by a thunderous crash. Peck winced at the noise as if in pain.
Minutes passed without another tree falling. Peck lit another cigarette and as he smoked, his eyes went to the tiny flame of the candle. He followed the flame as it flickered and danced as hot air from the woodstove moved across the office.
A haunted, lifeless expression washed over Peck’s face as he stared at the flame. His eyes did not blink until the cigarette in his lips burned to the filter, then he snatched the singed butt and squashed it in an ashtray.
He took a final sip from the plastic cup, and then added another ounce from the bottle. In the distance, another tree cracked loudly and hit the ground with a thunderous crash.
He smoked another cigarette as he finished the scotch. The cot near the woodstove beckoned to him and he finally gave in to his exhaustion and returned to it for some much needed sleep.
Before his eyes closed and his mind set for some much needed rest, another tree cracked loudly outside. When it hit the Earth, Peck felt its vibrations in the cot. Then silence settled in and he fell asleep.
Peck woke at first light with a stiff back and aching knees from a bad night’s sleep in a cot too small to accommodate his large body. He tossed the army blanket around his shoulders and went to the window to look out. The ice was falling faster and heavier than the previous day. Main Street was a skating rink, a glistening sheet of smooth ice.
After loading the woodstove with logs and igniting a fire, Peck prepared the stainless steel coffeepot with water from the gravity fed cooler and set it on the flat surface of the stove to percolate. By the time he had dressed, the coffee was ready and Peck took a mug to his desk.
As Peck lit a cigarette, Kranston entered the office.
“Good morning, Dave. Did you hear that last night?”
“Only all night.”
“Must have been a hundred trees came down,” Kranston said as he poured himself a mug of coffee. “It will be a miracle if no one is hurt.”
In the background, there was the loud crack of another tree giving way to the ice and Kranston looked at Peck. “Make it a hundred and one. Well, at least the paper company will benefit from all this.”
“Maybe, but it isn’t safe anymore, Ed,” Peck said. “We have to reach as many people as possible today and get them into town.”
“I agree. If you and Bender could carry my short wave across the street to the hospital, I will run it off the generator and contact Augusta. Maybe we can get some supplies from the national guard.”
Peck glanced at his watch. “He should be here by now.”
The door opened and Bender walked in, carrying a paper bag. “I am here, Dave, and I brought breakfast. Compliments of Deb’s Diner.”
“She’s here already?” Peck said.
“Not already,” Bender said. “She never went home. She slept on a cot in the diner.”
“What have you got there?” Kranston said, looking at the paper bag.
“Egg and bacon sandwiches, corn muffins with jelly and some what not.” Bender set the bag on Peck’s desk and removed the contents. He looked at Kranston. “And she wants to know who’s picking up the tab for all the food the town is eating?”
“I’ll ask Augusta for emergency funds,” Kranston said, reaching for an egg sandwich.
“Which is what every town in the state will do,” Peck said.
“And they will get it from Washington,” Kranston said. “By the time the red tape is cut, it will be spring, but the money will be there.”
Peck looked at Bender. “Let me have one of the what not, then let’s hit the road.”
One hour after eating breakfast, Peck found himself at the junction of fire road 99. He turned onto the road and drove the snowmobile at a medium speed. According to the tax records, at least two homes were located on the long stretch of dirt road. The first home, a mobile trailer belonged to a widow named Doris White. She was forty-seven years old and worked in the payroll department of the paper company. She lived alone. Peck had never met her, or if he had, he didn’t recall the meeting.
Suddenly, a tree snapped in half directly over Peck’s head and he gunned the snowmobile as it fell to the ground with a loud crash. It was a tall, thick, White Birch, about a thousand pounds of frozen wood. It missed Peck by ten feet. He brought the snowmobile to a stop, dismounted, and stared at the fallen birch tree. The son of a bitch would have killed him instantly had it found its mark.
Turning around, Peck spotted the trailer home of Doris White thirty yards to his left. A giant, Pine Tree, brittle with ice had come down and crushed the tiny home under its enormous weight. Peck left the snowmobile and ran to the home. The massive tree was directly over the center of the aluminum roof, separating the home into two parts.”
An old Ford pickup, maybe a forty-seven, covered in an inch thick layer of ice sat just out of range of the tree. From the thickness of the ice on the windshield, he estimated the truck hadn’t been started in days. Peck went around the truck to the side of the mobile home and peered through an ice covered, dark window, but he couldn’t see inside. He removed the revolver from his holster and smashed the window with the butt. Carefully, Peck climbed through the broken glass and entered the trailer.
Inside the dark, small, living room, Peck used his flashlight to guide him through the debris and rubble to the bedroom. The brunt of the tree had hit the roof directly over the bedroom, making it impossible to pass around it and enter.
Peck crouched down on the floor and shinned the flashlight under a slab of collapsed wall toward the bed. At first, he wasn’t sure. Then it became clear. A woman’s leg dangled from the bed. The exposed toes of her left foot touched the floor.
“My God,” Peck whispered to himself..
Peck returned to the snowmobile where he tried for twenty minutes before reaching Bender on the walkie-talkie.
“Get back to the office and try to reach the paper company on the short wave. Tell them we need a logging rig at a mobile home on Fire Road 99. A tree came down last night. Over.”
“Dave, was anybody hurt? Over,” Bender said.
Peck hesitated for a moment, lowering the radio.
“Was anybody hurt? Over,” Bender said.
Peck raised the radio to his lips. “Yes.”
Peck, Bender, McCoy, Kranston and Father Regan stood under the safety of a large Pine Tree and watched the logging crew prepare a rig to remove the tree from the mobile home.
Peck lit a cigarette and watched a crew supervisor give orders to his men. “Does anybody know this woman? Peck said.
Kranston said, “Tax records show a Doris White. I can’t say I know or remember the woman.” He added a fresh stick of gum to the piece he was already chewing.
“Hospital records indicate she had a flu shot last November,” McCoy said. “But I administered so many shots that month; I can’t say I specifically remember a Doris White”
Peck looked at Regan. “Father?”
The priest nodded. “She was a standard at Sunday mass.” Regan turned to make eye contact with Peck. “Her husband died several years ago before you arrived. A logging accident. She was a good woman.”
Peck stared at the trailer as he puffed on the cigarette. The rig was in place and the supervisor approached him. “Sheriff, we’re ready. It will only take a minute.”
Peck nodded and the supervisor gave the order. The rig lifted the massive, Pine Tree and slowly set it on the bay of a logging truck. The supervisor looked at Peck and gave him the all clear sign. Peck tugged at Bender’s jacket.
Peck and Bender approached what was left of the front door. Cautiously, they entered the home with flashlights drawn. Peck entered the bedroom first and was completely unprepared for the horrific sight, which greeted him.
Tied spread eagle to the bed with rope, the plump, nude body of Doris White had at least a dozen knife wounds in her chest. Deep, red impressions were on both sides of her neck. Her lifeless eyes were open and stared blankly at the wall.
Peck staggered backward until he hit the wall. “Bender,” he shouted. “Jay, get in here.”
Bender rushed in and stood next to Peck. He looked at the body of Doris White and shook his head. “She never felt a thing when that tree fell on her.”
“Go get the doctor.”
Bender nodded and turned away.
“And only the doctor,” Peck added.
While Bender went for McCoy, Peck lit a cigarette. He heard McCoy enter the trailer and he called out. “In here.”
McCoy entered the bedroom and stood next to Peck. The doctor sighed loudly to himself. “My God, this poor woman.”
Peck inhaled on the cigarette and blew out smoke, looking at McCoy. “Examine her, and then tell me was she strangled first, or stabbed?” Peck said.
Peck, Bender, Kranston and Father Regan sat in the van provided by the logging company and waited for McCoy to finish his examination. It was four thirty in the afternoon and already dark when McCoy exited the trailer and slowly made his way to the van.
In the back seat, Bender slid the door open to allow McCoy to enter. The doctor shook ice from his hat before speaking. “I have to get her to the hospital for a more thorough examination, but my first impression is that she was stabbed to death before he strangled her.”
Kranston ran his fingers through his thinning hair. “Who would do such a thing and why?” His voice cracked with stress.
McCoy looked at Peck. “There’s more,” he said, softly. “She was raped.”
Father Regan sighed a deep, anguished sigh at McCoy’s words.
Kranston turned away. “I can’t listen to this.”
Regan leaned forward from the back seat and touched Peck’s arm. “I would like to administer last rites.”
Peck nodded. “I’ll go with you, father. It isn’t pretty.”
Peck and Regan left the van, walked to the trailer, and entered. The priest appeared hesitant to walk beyond the remains of the kitchen. Peck gently touched him on the shoulder. “It’s okay if you want to turn back,” Peck said.
The priest shook his head. “No, I just need a moment.”
Gathering his strength, Regan cautiously entered the bedroom where he gasped loudly at the sight of Doris White. “My God in heaven,” he whispered.
Peck stood behind the priest, waited and watched.
Regan removed a bible, rosary beads and a sacred vestment from his jacket pocket. He placed the vestment around his neck, opened the bible and began to pray.
While the priest administered last rites to the body of Doris White, Peck entered the kitchen and used his flashlight to look around. The room was a mess, an absolute disaster. Damage from the tree had crushed or thrown everything in it to the floor.
As Peck rummaged through the rubble, Regan appeared in the doorway.
“I’ve finished,” Regan said. “May God rest and keep her soul.”
“Ask Bender to step in here,” Peck said. “Then take the van back to town. People at the church will need you. And don’t say anything to anybody just yet.”
The priest nodded to Peck, turned and slowly exited the trailer.
Peck was turning the small, kitchen table right side up when Bender appeared in the doorway. “They’re leaving,” Bender said.
“We’ll take our snowmobiles back to town,” Peck said. “Right now, I want to search this place. Leave nothing unturned.”
“Leave nothing unturned? Dave, the whole fucking house fell down.”
Peck gave Bender an unsympathetic look and the deputy nodded his head.
“You take the kitchen,” Peck said.
“Right,” Bender said, shining his flashlight around the rubble.
Peck entered the bedroom and shown his flashlight on the floor and walls. The room was such a mess; it would be next to impossible to find any clues or evidence of use. He ran the flashlight across the body of Doris White, searching for something, anything that would provide a clue.
There was nothing.
He was not the FBI, not by a long shot, Peck admitted to himself. He could search the house for a month and not accomplish what an FBI forensics team could in a single day.
Then he noticed a set of pajamas on the floor, tucked under the bed. He reached for them. They were button top, flannels. There was not a tear or a drop of blood on them. In fact, there was not anything to indicate Doris White ever put them on. So why hide them under the bed?
Had she removed them willingly? That was a possibility, though remote.
He made her strip for him so he could watch was the more likely scenario.
From the kitchen, Bender called out to him. “Dave, found something.”
Peck rushed to the kitchen where Bender was squatting down over a pile of rubble. In Bender’s hand was a large, bloody, kitchen knife, part of a set.
“At least we know he didn’t bring his own knife to the party,” Bender said.
In the hospital lounge, Peck held a meeting with Kranston, McCoy and Bender. A fresh pot of coffee rested centered on the table. Peck poured a cup, lit a cigarette and spoke first.
“Tom, a body will last how in your freezer?
“Indefinitely. Even running the generator at intervals, it won’t thaw much. It will keep until the state police can move it for autopsy.”
Peck looked at Kranston. “Have you reached the state police?”
Kranston’s eyes shifted to McCoy before he settled on Peck and finally answered. “They said it would be at least a week before they can send a man. They’re stretched pretty thin.”
Peck nodded, understanding that the two hundred mile trip from Augusta was impossible until the storm finally broke.
“There’s something else,” Kranston said. He looked at McCoy. “The doctor and I have been talking and we agree that it’s best not to inform the town about this incident …...just yet.”
Peck was incredulous. “Not inform the town?”
“At least until the state police arrive.”
“We’re not talking about portable toilets here, Ed. We’re talking about a murdered woman.”
“No. We’re talking about preventing a wide spread panic by hundreds of people forced to live in close quarters as it is,” Kranston said.
“We don’t want people in the church or hospital thinking the guy next to them is a murderer,” McCoy said. “It could start a riot.”
“What if the guy next to them is a murderer?” Peck said. “Don’t they have the right to know that?”
Kranston folded his hands on the table and spoke softly to Peck. “I understand how you feel, Dave. All those years as a homicide cop, it is hard to sit back and do nothing. However, for all we know the man responsible is a drifter? A bum who could be two counties over by now.”
“You believe that?” Peck said.
“I don’t disbelieve it,” Kranston argued.
Peck took a sip of coffee and puffed on his cigarette before answering. “Look, Ed. We know from Tom’s examination that Doris White has only been dead less than eighteen hours. In this storm, how far do you think the murderer has gotten?”
“I don’t know, Dave,” Kranston said. “And neither do you.”
McCoy looked at Peck. “It benefits no one to cause a widespread panic.”
“It benefits the next victim,” Peck said.
“You don’t know that there will be a next victim,” Kranston said, raising his voice.
“And you don’t know that there won’t be,” Peck said, calmly.
Kranston sat back in his chair and the heat seemed to melt out of him. He paused to fish out a stick of gum and when he spoke, it was in a softer, less angry tone of voice. “Once the storm has broken and people are back in their homes, they will less likely panic at the news. A week is not going to matter much considering we do not have the equipment Augusta has. Will it?”
Peck turned to Bender. “You haven’t said anything, Jay. What do you think?”
Bender shrugged his shoulders at Peck. “I know these people a lot longer than you, Dave. Ed is right when he says they will panic. Seeing as how we don’t have anything to do anything with…...” Bender paused to shrug his shoulders again. “And it won’t matter much to Doris White one way or the other.”
Peck looked at Kranston. “We’ll do it your way, Ed. Just so long as you don’t object to me quietly poking around on my own.”
Kranston nodded. “Quietly.”
Peck stood up and left the lounge. Bender glanced at McCoy and Kranston, and then followed Peck outside.
Peck and Bender entered Deb’s Diner just after sunrise. There was just one free table by the window. They took a seat and were surprised when Deb arrived to pour them coffee.
“Don’t you two look like something the cat dragged in,” Deb commented.
“It was a long night,” Peck said. “You sleep over?”
I stayed over, but who could sleep with trees falling every fifteen minutes,” Deb said.
“Can I get some eggs?” Bender asked.
“Today, you can. Tomorrow, I would say probably not.”
“Are supplies that low?” Peck said.
“You’d be amazed at how much people can eat when they think it’s free.”
“What else you got?” Peck said.
“Oatmeal, toast, juice, muffins and not much else.”
“I guess oatmeal it is,” Peck said, looking at Bender.
“I hate oatmeal,” Bender said, but sadly nodded his agreement.
Deb walked away and Bender shook his head. “We’re not going to make it. Not unless we get a delivery of food.”
“That isn’t going to happen. Not for at least another week.”
“Talk about a panic,” Bender said. “You ain’t seen nothing until you’ve seen a Maine hick with an empty stomach and no liquor to drink.”
“Hey,” Peck said. “I seem to remember you went deer hunting last November.”
“Oh, no,” Bender said. “I have twelve steaks left in my freezer and I ain’t parting with them unless…..”
“I don’t mean that,” Peck said.
“Half the men in this town just love to go shooting things in the woods. Talk to your hunting buddies and see who would be willing to go out hunting. Deer, wild turkey, whatever is around you can shoot. I’d bet they’d love the chance to do some poaching.”
Bender smiled. “Son of a bitch, I want to be just like Dave when I grow up.”
Deb returned with two large bowls of oatmeal. “I doubt you’ll ever grow up, Jay.” She set the bowls on the table. “It isn’t good, but it will fill your stomach.”
Bender shook his head, picked up the sugar bowl, and tossed several spoonfuls onto the oatmeal. He added four pats of butter, then stirred it up and took a quick taste. Not satisfied, he reached for the bottle of maple syrup and added an ounce to the mixture, then tried it again. “Better.”
“For God’s sake,” Deb said and turned away.
Bender looked at Peck. “What?”
Peck tried his oatmeal. It was bland, but as Deb said, it would fill his stomach.
“Are we going back out today?” Bender said as he spooned maple colored oatmeal into his mouth.
Peck shook his head. “People are sleeping in shifts as it is. The church and hospital can’t hold anymore.”
Bender ate some more, then looked at Peck and smiled. “They don’t have to.”
“They don’t have to what?”
“Sleep in shifts.”
“Before I became your deputy, you remember I worked for the paper company. They have an old logging camp about seven miles west of Main Street off a dirt road. It’s been abandoned since Korea.”
“A dozen cabins, a main hall, it will hold forty eight people.”
Bender shook his head. “No, but there’s a woodstove in each cabin and a large fireplace in the main hall.”
“It’s not on the map.”
“That map is new. It’s been closed seven years now.”
“Check it out. If it’s safe, we’ll use it.”
Deb returned with a fresh pot of coffee. “I sent Paco home to get some sleep.”
“You want a ride to your house?” Peck said.
“Later, maybe. Around six if I can get away.”
Peck nodded. “If I’m asleep, wake me up.”
Bender ate another spoonful of oatmeal and looked at Deb. “Maybe I can get some toast?”
Peck lay on the cot in his office and listened to the mixture of sounds of wind and the ice plinking against the window against the backdrop of a soft crackle from the woodstove. Except for the faint light escaping from the woodstove, the room was completely dark.
Exhausted, sleep came easy and he drifted off in a matter of minutes.
An hour or so later, Peck opened his eyes when a headache radiated across his forehead and settled between his eyes. He stood up from the cot and lit a candle on his desk for light. Opening a desk drawer, Peck found a bottle of aspirin and poured three tablets into his hand. He crossed the room to the water cooler, filled a paper cup and swallowed the three aspirins in one gulp.
Turning toward the cot, Peck took several steps when a bolt of lightning struck him between the eyes. Stunned, Peck froze in his tracks, and then dropped to one knee and gasped for air. Momentarily, his vision dimmed.
As quickly as the pain struck, it vanished.
Peck stood up, walked several more steps, dropped to the floor when the pain struck a second time, rolled to his side, and gasped for air. He ripped at his tee shirt as the searing; white heat inside his head all but blinded him.
Then, seconds later, the pain was completely gone. His vision returned to normal and his breathing was fine.
Slowly, Peck worked his way to one knee before he finally stood up and tested his legs. He went to his desk, opened the drawer, poured two fingers of scotch into a plastic cup, and downed it in two swallows. The liquor went down hard and radiated heat in his stomach.
As the lone candle flickered, casting an eerie, yellow light across the desk, Peck wiped sweat from his face and stared at the tiny flame. Never in his life had he experienced such a headache. Maybe it was the dry air from the constant use of the woodstove, which dried out his sinus’s and triggered the attack.
Whatever the cause, the pain was gone. Peck stood up and cracked the window to allow fresh air to circulate the room, and then returned to the cot. Before he fell asleep, he made a mental note to see Doctor McCoy for something stronger than aspirin.
When Peck woke for the second time that day, it was already dark outside the office window. He dressed quickly, went outside and crossed the street to the hospital. He found McCoy in the lounge where a fresh pot of coffee rested on a burner.
“I want a coffee, a cigarette and a hot shower,” Peck told McCoy.
“Sure,” McCoy said. “The generators on, the water’s hot.”
“And after that, I want a check up.”
“A checkup? What for?”
Peck filled a mug with coffee, and then looked at McCoy. “A headache.”
Shirtless after his first shower in days, Peck sat on the edge of an examination table and watched McCoy scribble notes on a chart. “And just like that the pain went away?” McCoy said, glancing at Peck.
“Just like that, gone. What do you think?”
“Your blood pressure is 120 over 70. It doesn’t get much better than that without being dead,” McCoy said. “Resting pulse is 80, lungs are clear, eyes are tip top.”
“I didn’t imagine being knocked on my ass, Tom.”
“I didn’t say you did,” McCoy said setting the chart aside. “Exhaustion, too much coffee, too much stress, lack of sleep, pick one, pick them all and you’ve got a migraine.”
Peck reached for his shirt and slipped it on. “I thought migraines lasted for hours.”
“Not necessarily. Not if it’s what is known as a cluster headache,” McCoy said. “They strike suddenly, knock you for a loop, and vanish just as suddenly. They come and go in bunches, or clusters. They can last seconds, minutes or hours. They can be brutal.”
“Why all of a sudden?”
“Who says that it is? They could have been brewing below the surface for years and decided now was the right time to take a peek at the world,” McCoy said. “Or it could just be an isolated incident from dry sinus passages. Either way, I can’t find a damn thing wrong with you.”
Peck tucked his shirt into his pants and looked at McCoy. “Anything you can give me? For next time, if there is a next time.”
McCoy looked at Peck and hesitated several seconds before he answered. “Sure, but only use it if you have another headache. Okay?”
Peck nodded. “What else would I do with it?”
“And get some moisture in the office,” McCoy said. “Put a pot of water on the woodstove like in the old days.”
Peck adjusted his utility belt, feeling the weight of his heavy revolver on his right hip. “Anything else?”
“Yeah, come into my office. I keep the good stuff locked up,” McCoy said. “Then, lets’ get something to eat. Sometimes, an empty stomach can cause severe headaches.”
Deb was behind the counter when Peck and McCoy entered the diner. It was another full house, but they managed to grab a table vacated by two of her waitresses returning from break.
Deb approached the table with a pot of coffee. “Paco’s working the night, sheriff. I’d appreciate that ride home and so do my feet.”
Peck held out his coffee cup while Deb poured. “The ice seems to be letting up a bit. It should be no problem.”
“Good. What will you have?”
“What are our choices?’ McCoy asked.
“Fried chicken with mashed potatoes.”
“Or?” McCoy said.
“Fried chicken with mashed potatoes.”
Peck took a sip of his coffee. “I guess I’ll have that.”
McCoy shrugged. “Me, too.”
Peck glided the snowmobile to a gentle stop directly in front of the stairs that lead to Deb Robertson’s front door. She climbed off and looked at her dark house. “It must be freezing in there,” she said. “Maybe you could help me build a fire?”
Peck looked at the pitch-black windows and immediately thought of Doris White. “Alright,” he said.
They climbed the stairs and Deb unlocked her door with a key. They stepped inside and the temperature wasn’t much warmer than outside, maybe in the low forties.
“Start on the fire,” Deb said. “I’m going to crank the generator before ice cycles start growing off the ceiling.”
Peck used his flashlight to guide them across the living room where Deb lit several candles on the coffee table. She took hold of Peck’s flashlight. “I’ll be right back,” she said.
There was a firewood box near the woodstove. Peck loaded the stove with kindling from the box and ignited it with a foot long match and old newspapers. As the kindling took hold, Peck heard the hum of the generator in the background.
Deb appeared in the doorway of the living room. “There. It will only take a few minutes for the heat to come on. Feel like some fresh coffee.”
“That sounds good,” Peck said as he toyed with the kindling.
Deb smiled at him and entered the kitchen. At fifty-three, the schoolboy jitters he felt at being alone with an attractive woman should have left him, long ago, but they hadn’t. In the back of his mind, Peck felt that something besides the woodstove was heating up inside the house.
When the kindling was burning hot enough, Peck added a few, heavy logs. In a matter of minutes, the fire was roaring, warming the entire room.
Deb entered with a serving tray of coffee and cups. She lowered the tray to the coffee table and poured two cups, then took a seat on the sofa. Peck walked to the sofa, sat down and picked up his cup. Deb looked at him.
“You’re a mysterious man, sheriff,” Deb said.
“In what way?”
“You’ve been here eighteen months and hardly anyone knows anything about you. Why is that?”
“There’s nothing to know,” Peck said, sipping from the cup. “I’m a pretty boring, middle aged guy with nothing to tell.”
“Then you won’t mind me being nosy and asking some questions.”
“What’s it like to live in a big city like Baltimore?”
Peck took another sip of coffee. “Like living anywhere else, I suppose. It’s just bigger with more people around to bother you and get in your way while you try to protect them.”
“No big city stories? No modern museums or theatres?” She raised an eyebrow at him that was very sexy to watch. “All those big plays and shows.”
Peck shrugged. “You don’t attend many theaters and shows on a cops pay. Besides, I never was the theatre going type.”
Deb smiled and shook her head. “Women, girlfriends, wives?”
Peck stared at her in such a way; Deb blushed along the base of her neck to her cheeks. Peck found that very sexy, too.
“I’m sorry, Dave. That was a terrible question,” Deb said.
Peck shook his head. “Not at all. It’s not the question, but the answer. I’ve never been married. Never even been close.”
“That is really surprising. You’re a very attractive man.”
Peck didn’t know what to make of that comment. Maybe there was nothing to make. She could be engaging in simple conversation based on what she said, being nosy. “Not really. I was a cop for twenty-seven years. There wasn’t a whole lot of time for dating and looking for the right woman. After a while, it didn’t seem to matter all that much.”
Deb nodded in such a way that it told him she understood. “I was married,” she confessed. “He died fifteen years ago when I was only thirty.”
“Don’t be. It was along time ago and I’m over it and moved on.”
There was an uncomfortable moment of silence and Peck used the time to sip coffee. Deb smiled at him and stood up. “I’ll be right back,” she said.
“I’m going to have to get going,” Peck said. I have things I need to do.”
Deb reached down to silence him with a finger to his lips. “I’ll be right back. Don’t move, okay? There’s nothing that important back at the office it can’t wait a few more minutes.”
Peck met her eyes and felt himself nod and she turned and left the living room. Peck looked at the fire in the woodstove and lit a cigarette. He wasn’t sure what the point was behind Deb’s line of questioning, other than curiosity. Maybe he had been a bit standoffish since he arrived, but old, city habits are hard to shake once they take root. When things settled down, after the storm broke and the state police arrived to investigate the murder, he would make a conscious effort to open up a bit more. In the meantime, he became aware of the sweat building up on the palms of his hands and a slight, queasiness in his stomach. He wiped them on his pants, feeling silly, like a nervous kid.
There was a noise and Peck turned his head to look at Deb who was standing in the doorway of the living room. She had changed into a white, full length, silk robe and nothing else. She took several steps forward and candle light behind her shown through the robe, exposing all the curves and mounds of her body. Not that it mattered because parted down the middle; the open robe did little to hide the tips of her breasts and triangle of pubic hair.
“I’ve tried everything to get your attention, sheriff. Nothing seems to work,” Deb said as she walked toward him. “What does it take?”
She stopped at the sofa and looked him with her grey, sensuous eyes.
Peck stared at her breasts and the triangular patch of dark hair. Her stomach was rigid and flat and showed no sign of her forty-five years. The nipples on her breasts were firm and defied her age as well. She was a remarkable looking woman. “That,” he whispered, not knowing why he said it or what else to say.
“Now be a good law enforcement agent and come over here,” Deb said and yanked him to his feet.
She kissed him full on the lips, and then broke apart when Peck didn’t respond. “What’s wrong?”
Peck smiled weakly. “Nothing is wrong. I just can’t remember the last time I kissed a woman.”
Deb’s face registered her surprise. “Sheriff, there is more to life than catching bad guys and writing parking tickets.”
She reached for Peck’s heavy utility belt, unhooked it and it fell to the floor. “Here is an example,” she said and opened his pants and pushed him to the sofa.
Heat was the only word that came to mind to describe the sensation he felt in his loins when Deb gently touched him. It made him uncomfortable, like a kid on his first date. He tried to stand, but she pushed him back against the sofa and removed his heavy boots,
“Deb, I don’t know…”
She covered his mouth with his hand. “Just be quiet,” she whispered as she stripped him of his pants. “I don’t often get the opportunity nor have the desire to do what I’m about to do.”
Peck gasped when she took him in her mouth. Her eyes looked up at him and seemed to smile at his near immediate response.
The first time they made love on the sofa, Peck was like a runaway freight train. It was quick and clumsy and over in a matter of minutes. She toyed with his hair and told him it was all right, that practice makes perfect.
The second time was in the bedroom. She aroused him slowly using her mouth and hands and he responded, much to his surprise, like a man twenty years younger. They came together and he knew that he pleased her because after thirty minutes, she dug her nails into his back and drew tiny beads of blood.
Afterward, they caught their breath, stretched out on the sofa. “See, practice is the key, Dave. Maybe you better come around more often.”
They fell asleep for several hours, curled up against each other.
Peck stirred and finally awoke. Deb had shifted in her sleep and her head rested against his chest. He gently lifted her and rolled out of the bed, careful not to disturb her. Then he went downstairs to find his cigarettes and lit one. Walking to the window, he looked out.
The storm had mostly passed; the hail was little more than a fine mist of ice particles. In the background, thunder rumbled low in the sky. Snow lightning flashed and for a split second, it was broad daylight outside the window. Then the sky darkened and thunder rumbled once again.
Seemingly captivated, Peck continued to stare out the window. Lightning flashed and bolted to the ground and thunder boomed, echoing for several seconds.
A thought entered into his mind. He honestly could not remember the name of the last woman he slept with, it was so long ago. He could see her face as a dim shadow. She had shoulder length, blond hair, with pale skin and blue eyes. Her name suited her looks, but nothing familiar popped into his mind no matter how hard he tried to place it.
Did it matter?
Deb was right; there was more to life than parking tickets. Much more.
The lightning flashed again, several times in quick succession. As thunder cracked loudly, Peck felt a tiny spec of pain between his eyes. He rubbed the spot with his fingers until it went away.
Peck returned to the bedroom, slipped between the covers, and felt the warmth of Deb’s body against his. Listening to her shallow breathing, he was lulled back to sleep. When they both awoke, it was early into the next morning. Wrapped in each other’s arms, they greeted the new day with a smile.
Driving the snowmobile back to the center of town, Peck relived the events of the morning in his mind. He made a fire while the generator heated the water hot enough for them to share a bath together. He shaved using one of her razors. In the tub, they made love for the third time in a span of twelve hours. To his surprise and her delight, arousal was almost instantaneous and the event lasted nearly thirty minutes.
Afterward, while he dressed, Deb fixed a hot breakfast. They parted with a kiss at the door. He told her he would see her later on if he could get away. She told him busy or not, a warm bed and a hot meal beat the hell out of a cold cot and a woodstove in the office. He had to admit that she was right.
Halfway to town, the hail finally let up. The sun shown for the first time in days and light glistened off the ice-covered branches of the trees like sparkling diamonds. He stopped along a trail to admire the shining star of nature and smoke a cigarette.
By the time he arrived at the office, it was just after ten AM. Bender and Kranston were huddled around the short wave, listening to a weather update from Augusta. The news was fairly good.
“Well, good morning, sheriff,” Kranston said when Peck entered the office.
Bender grinned at him as he removed his jacket and tossed it on the coat rack. “What?” Peck said to his deputy.
Kranston switched off the shortwave. “Ten days to two weeks before power is fully restored, so they say. We’d be lucky to see a month. But at least the ice has let up statewide.”
Peck lifted the coffee pot from the woodstove and poured a cup, then sat behind his desk. “How is our food supply?”
Kranston took the chair opposite Peck’s desk. “Genius, Dave. Bender and his hunting buddies bagged two deer, a half dozen wild turkeys and who knows how many snow shoe hares?”
“Fifteen,” Bender said.
“The deer have been stripped, a couple of turkeys are already in the oven and Deb has promised to make stew from the rabbits,” Kranston said.
“She did? When did you talk to her?”
Bender suddenly stood up from his desk. “I think it’s safe to the cruiser out for a drive. I’m going to take a spin around and see if we got any stragglers who need a ride.”
“Throw a gas can in the trunk,” Peck said. “And take your radio.”
Bender left the office and Peck looked at Kranston. “About the other day, I shouldn’t have lost my temper. We’re paying you to enforce the law and you were just doing your job.”
Peck accepted Kranston’s feeble attempt at an apology. “Any talk?”
Kranston shook his head. “Why would there be? Nobody except us knows of the incident.”
“What about the state police?”
Again, Kranston shook his head. “Not yet, maybe tomorrow.”
“You said, you spoke to Deb Robertson,” Peck said. “Did you mean this morning?”
Kranston looked at Peck and there was a brief pause before he answered. “I’m losing track of time, I suppose. It was probably yesterday.”
Peck stood up from his desk. “In that case, I think I’ll see if I can catch Jay.”
Kranston remained motionless as Peck reached for his coat and left the office. After he was gone, Kranston sat motionless for several minutes before he stood up and looked out the window. Removing a pack of gum from a pocket, he slipped a stick out of its wrapper and placed it in his mouth.
Bender was inspecting the heavy chains on the tires of the cruiser when Peck entered the underground garage. Bender didn’t look happy.
“We need a new car, Dave. This fifty three won’t last another winter,” Bender said.
“She’ll make it to summer when the sixty models come out.”
“Yeah, we got one in the budget?”
“Want to drive?”
Bender opened his door and got behind the wheel. Peck entered the passenger side. Bender started the engine and the heavy cruiser clanged loudly as he rolled it up the exit ramp.
“Tell Kranston we at least want it in the budget to get a radio like the big city cops have,” Bender said. “This hand held junk don’t cut it.”
Peck lit a cigarette and turned his head to look at Bender. “Who else do we have to call but each other?”
“There,” Bender said and pointed to a spot past the steering wheel of the cruiser.
Off in the distance about a hundred yards down the dirt road Bender had turned onto was the abandoned logging camp. Bender turned onto a plowed driveway and slowed the heavy cruiser to a stop in front of the main cabin. “I asked them to plow,” Bender said. “They must have come by yesterday.”
“Who, the paper company?” Peck said.
Bender nodded. “It’s still their property.” They exited and walked to the front door of the main facility, which was a log cabin about sixty by sixty in size. Peck tried the doorknob and looked at Bender.
“I told them we might want to use it.”
They entered the large, rustic hall, which looked more like a hunting lodge then a logging camp. The air smelled damp and musty. Peck scanned the interior, noting the two fireplaces, tables, chairs, sofas and pool tables, all generic in appearance and a decade out of date in style.
“It isn’t wired for electricity, but they got it set up for generators, lights and cooking,” Bender said.
“You stayed here?”
Bender nodded. “I was maybe twenty one, right before they closed it down. Logging is back breaking work.”
“It will do,” Peck said. “We’ll tell Ed when we get back to town.”
“Feel like looking for some stragglers now?” Bender said.
“Want to drive?”
It was after six PM when Peck and Bender returned to the center of town. Their first stop was Deb’s Diner where it was another full house. After a fifteen minute wait, one of Deb’s waitresses led them to a window table where Doctor McCoy and Father Regan joined them.
As the waitress poured coffee, Peck looked at her. “Is Deb around?”
“Not yet. Paco swung by her place on the way in earlier. She said she would drive herself now that the ice has stopped.”
Peck nodded and the waitress took their orders.
“I can’t say I like the idea of her driving herself,” Regan said.
“She has that big, ole truck,” Bender said, looking at Peck. “A brand new Ford with snow tires and chains.”
Peck ignored Bender’s comment and looked at McCoy. “Anybody get wind of Doris White?”
“Not that I could determine. If they have, nobody said anything to me.”
“Somebody must know her. You’re sure nobody’s asked or missed her?” Peck said.
McCoy shook his head. “Not to me.”
Regan said, “By my count, we have two hundred town residents staying at the church and hospital. That leaves a hundred or so still in their homes. People must figure she is one of those hundred, if they figure anything at all.”
“What about Sunday mass?” Peck said.
“What about it?” Regan sipped coffee, looking at Peck over the rim of the cup.
“You said she was a regular at Sunday mass,” Peck said. “Sunday is two days from now. Somebody might notice she isn’t there and ask around. Maybe take a ride out to her place to check on her. They come back and ask questions, then what?”
Regan’s surprise registered in his eyes. “I…….. hadn’t thought of that.”
Bender said, “We might have the state police here by then. I wouldn’t worry too much about it until we have to.”
Peck sipped coffee and looked at Bender. “Jay, rule number one in a homicide investigation is you never stop worrying until the jury says guilty.”
With a crackling fire for background noise, Bender twisted frequency knobs on the short wave radio. After several minutes of static, he shut it off and looked at Peck who was at his desk, making notes.
“Nothing,” Bender said. “You think somebody would be there. Anybody.”
Peck looked up from his notes. “A few hundred state cops scattered throughout a state the size of Maine, what makes you think they’re sitting around waiting for a distress call from us?”
Frustrated, Bender slapped the side of the short wave radio on his way to his desk. “And where the hell is Kranston?”
“Home and asleep in his own bed if he had any sense.”
Bender checked his watch and looked at Peck. “It’s after eleven. Maybe I think I’ll go home and try to get some sleep.”
Peck scribbled a note. “No reason for the both of us to lose a night’s sleep.” The truth was he could hardly wait to see Deb again and hoped Bender’s interest in the state police would wane and he would do what he said and go home.
Bender stood up and reached for his jacket on the coat hook when the door opened and one of Deb’s waitresses entered the office.
“Sheriff, Jay, can I see you for a minute.” she said.
Peck and Bender looked at her. She appeared nervous and her eyes darted back and forth between the two men.
“Yes?” Peck said. “Is there something we can help you with?”
“She didn’t come in. I thought I should tell you.”
“Who, you mean Deb?” Peck said.
The waitress nodded. “It’s probably nothing, but we asked Paco to take a run to her place on his way home and check on her. It’s silly, but……”
“No,” Peck said. “It isn’t.”
“So much for going home,” Bender said. He looked at Peck. “I’ll go warm up the car.”
Peck nodded to Bender, and then looked at the waitress. “Are you off work?”
“Can you get home?”
“I have a ride.”
“Go home. Stay there. Everything will be fine,” Peck said. “And don’t worry. Deb probably couldn’t get her truck started and there’s no phones to call.”
The waitress smiled at Peck. “You’re probably right. I’m probably worrying for nothing.”
“You did the right thing,” Peck said. As he stood up, he could feel the anxiety building up in his stomach. “I’ll walk you out.”
Bender had a steady hand behind the wheel of the heavy cruiser. The drive to Deb Robertson’s home took thirty minutes, as Bender had to hold speed to thirty-five miles an hour to avoid severe skid out on the ice-covered roads.
When they arrived at her home, Bender parked the cruiser close to Deb’s pickup. Peck exited the cruiser first and immediately knew something was wrong when he found the stalled pickup with the gearshift in park.
Bender exited the cruiser and stood next to Peck. “I don’t get it. She’s was warming up her truck and let it stall?”
Peck’s eyes went to the house. It was completely dark. Not even a candle was burning. Smoke was not visible from the chimney and the generator was quiet. “I don’t think so,” he said. A tight ball was forming in his gut.
“Then what?” Bender said, his eyes following Peck’s gaze.
“Let’s find out what,” Peck said.
They walked to the stairs and climbed to the top. Bender peered through a dark window, then shrugged at Peck. “Nothing,” Bender said. Peck looked at Bender, then knocked on the door and it slowly swung open.
“Shit,” Bender whispered.
Peck pulled the flashlight from his belt and Bender did the same. Peck stepped inside, followed by Bender.
“It’s freezing in here,” Bender whispered, able to see his own breath.
“Take the first floor,” Peck said. “Yell if you find anything.”
Bender nodded and moved toward the kitchen. Peck walked to the stairs and climbed to the second floor. “Deb, it’s Dave. Are you in here?”
Peck’s request went unanswered. He reached the second floor where he paused for a moment to scan the flashlight around the hallway. At the top of the landing, against the wall Peck remembered a small table where a second phone rested. The table was sideways on the floor. The phone was halfway across the hallway.
Peck shifted the flashlight to his left hand and drew his revolver. He approached the master bedroom where the door was halfway open. “Deb, are you in there?”
The silence was unsettling as Peck pushed the bedroom door completely open. Entering the bedroom, Peck swung the flashlight around the room, where end tables were overturned. A wood chair was broken and clothing littered the floor.
Peck aimed the flashlight on the bed. He dropped the flashlight and revolver to the floor and grabbed his head in his hands. The room was suddenly spinning around him. “Oh God…..oh no…..oh God….oh no,” he screamed.
Bender was suddenly in the bedroom, breathing hard from running. “Dave, what is….Jesus Mary, mother of God.”
With the hum of the generator as background noise, Peck, Kranston, Bender and Father Regan sat at the kitchen table and drank coffee, while they waited for Doctor McCoy to complete his examination. McCoy had been at it for nearly thirty minutes and that span of time seemed an endless eternity. Every so often, they could hear a creak in a floorboard as McCoy walked around the master bedroom. The sound was unnerving.
Peck lit a cigarette, his fourth in a row, and then took a sip of coffee.
Kranston cleared his throat as he looked at Peck. “Dave, I…… don’t know what to say. You were right all along. I can’t believe this has happened. I’ve known Deb……I can’t believe this has happened.”
Peck remained silent and took another sip of coffee. Above his head, the floorboard creaked.
Regan removed rosary beads from a pocket and clutched them tightly between his fingers. Peck glanced at the priest and saw Regan’s lips move in silent prayer.
Peck turned to Bender. “When you went for McCoy, did you try the state police like I asked you to?”
“For a half hour,” Bender said. “All I could raise was static.”
“Try again when we get back.”
Bender nodded his head. “The roads are drivable. I could try making the trip.”
“If we get no response,” Peck agreed.
Kranston looked at Peck. “I take responsibility for this, Dave. If I hadn’t been so stubborn about making the news public, Deb would still be alive.”
Peck shook his head. “You don’t know that. Nobody does. The man who killed her is responsible and only that man.”
“If I listened to you, if we warned people of…...”
McCoy’s footsteps drew their attention and all heads turned to the staircase. McCoy descended and walked to the kitchen table. His face was ashen, drained of any color and appeared to have aged ten years. He quietly sat down next to Peck.
“Doctor?” Peck said when McCoy remained quiet.
“You were right, Dave. I’m sorry,” McCoy said. “This should not have happened. It was preventable.” He looked at Peck. “We should have listened to you.”
“It was the same man, wasn’t it?” Peck said.
“I’m a country doctor, Dave.”
“But you are a doctor.”
“Yes, I am a doctor, which doesn’t qualify me as a forensics expert.”
“But as a doctor,” Peck insisted.
McCoy looked at Peck. “There is little doubt that both women were killed by the same man. The angle of the stab wounds, the knots in the ropes.”
“Thank you,” Peck said. He looked at Father Regan. “If you’re ready, I’ll walk up with you, father.”
The priest looked at Peck through red eyes filled with pain, and then stood up.
Peck stood up and joined Regan. Together, they slowly ascended the stairs to the second floor. At the bedroom, Regan cautiously entered, then made a sound that could only be described as anguish at the sight of Deb Robertson’s body.
In a fashion similar to Doris White, Deb Robertson was spread eagle on the bed, bound to the bedposts with rope. A dozen knife wounds were visible in her chest. Red impressions on her neck were so deep finger markings were visible. Dried blood stained the sheets and the floor near the bed and appeared quite black.
Regan turned to Peck and tears filled the priest’s eyes. “How can people do this to other people? Why?”
Peck did not respond and watched Regan at the priest moved to the bed where he began to recite the sacrament of last rites.
Peck watched the priest for as long as he could stand it, then turned away and waited in the hallway. Regan began to pray, first in English and then in Latin. Peck closed his eyes and tried to drown out the priest’s voice.
Seated on the sofa in the living room, Regan openly wept into his hands. Peck placed a hand on his shoulder and gave him a reassuring, gentle squeeze before he went to the kitchen and looked at Jay. “Take everybody back, then put chains on the ambulance and return with the doctor.”
“That could take a while,” Bender said. “A couple of hours.”
Peck looked at Bender. “She isn’t going anywhere.”
Alone on the sofa, the house was cold and silent. The generator had run out of gas and candles burned for light. For something to do, Peck went around back, filled the generator from a gas can and pulled the start cord. The generator fired to life. He stood there for several minutes, staring at the generator, listening to its deafening, gas powered engine, delaying the enviable of reentering the house.
Finally returning to the living room, Peck clicked on the lights. On the sofa was a large, black carrying case. Picking up the case, Peck went upstairs to the master bedroom where he set the case aside and slipped on a pair of rubber gloves.
Walking slowly, Peck did a visual inspection of every item in the room. An upturned, rocking chair was on the floor near the foot of the bed. The night before, when he stayed over, the rocker had been in the corner of the room against the wall. A Teddy Bear rested on its seat. Peck found it under the bed, soaked in blood.
Someone, the killer, probably had moved the chair. With Deb tied up and helpless, the sick son of a bitch took a comfortable spot in the rocker where he had a bird’s eyes view of his demented handiwork.
Women’s pajamas and Deb’s robe lay tossed across the dresser. Peck inspected them and could find no traces of blood. Not even a small tear. Had the killer made her strip for him like he probably made Doris White?”
It was possible she knew him and even invited him unknowingly to her bedroom. Was her murderer another lover? It was a thought Peck did not want to face, though he knew that he had to as part of the investigation.
Peck stopped at the bed and stared for many long minutes at the lifeless body. The killer used everyday, common rope which was available anywhere. Did he bring his own or find it in the house?
The multiple stab wounds came from a kitchen, bread knife and were similar to the wounds in Doris White’s chest. Formed by a downward, striking motion, the wounds were deep, some penetrating the breastplate. The weapon was nowhere in the house. He probably took it with him and discarded it deep in the woods or kept it as a trophy, a sick reminder to relive the experience.
Peck noticed something on the fingertips of Deb’s right hand. Using a pocketknife, Peck cut the ropes and lifted the hand for a closer look. There were remnants of dried blood under the nails. He would bet the blood was not her own.
Deb had fought her assailant and she died hard.
From what little he knew of her, that seemed to fit her personality. She was not the type to lie down and go out without a fight. Maybe it was that fight which cost her, her life. Maybe Doris White, too. Maybe if they had been passive?
Peck righted the rocking chair, sat it in and lit a cigarette. He stared at the lifeless body on the bed as he smoked. If this were Baltimore, a team of detectives would jump on the murders the moment they made a connection between the two women with the idea of a serial killer/rapist case as a ticket to bigger and better things. Nothing motivated homicide detectives like a juicy story above the fold. More often than not, that motivation led to a quick and satisfactory conclusion.
If this were in Baltimore.
In Dunston nowhere Falls, Maine, you sit in a rocking chair and wait for the state police to dig their cars out of the snow and hope they have chains on their tires. Or you get around by decade old snowmobiles and hope they don’t break down.
In the meantime, three hundred innocent people were at the mercy of a very sick and violent man who murdered twice and probably won’t stop, not until he is either caught or killed.
Peck stood up and put his cigarette out in the toilet in the bathroom. He picked up the black case, opened it and removed a box camera. He inserted a bulb and took a picture from the foot of the bed. He took another from the left side, then the right. There were three bulbs left in the case. As he removed a spent bulb and reached into the case for a fresh one, the pain in his head struck so unexpectedly and so viciously, he was on the floor without realizing he had fallen.
Holding his head, Peck rolled onto his side into the fetal position. The pounding in his head grew even worse as the pressure behind his eyes amplified. Blood ran down his nose in tiny droplets. He could taste it as it touched his lips, sickly sweet and sticky.
Pushing himself to all fours, Peck attempted to stand, but a fit of dizziness overtook him and he fell, face first to the rug with the floor spinning around him.
He closed his eyes and attempted to steady his breathing to keep from passing out. Slowly the spinning sensation waned and his head began to steady. Then, in the darkness behind his eyes, a vision slowly began to form.
A fire burned in yellow and red flames, so vivid in color he felt as if he could reach out and touch them. In the background of Peck’s mind, there was an anguished cry for help, shouted barely above a whisper in a child’s voice. A small hand, the hand of a child reached out for him, desperate for contact.
On the floor, Peck felt himself reach out with his right hand to try to touch the child’s hand he saw in his mind’s image. Instinctively, Peck knew the child was in some kind of mortal danger.
As their fingers met, the fire suddenly burst into an uncontrolled, wall of searing hot flames. Peck felt a stabbing sensation of pain in his head. An explosion echoed somewhere in the background and the chaotic vision vanished into darkness, leaving Peck breathless and drenched in a cold sweat. He lay still for a minute, trying to breathe and regain control of his muscles.
Then, pushing himself to all fours, Peck slowly crawled toward the bathroom. Gasping for air, he reached the toilet where the bile in his stomach rose up and forced him to vomit until his stomach was empty and the muscles cramped.
Rolling onto his back, Peck looked at the ceiling. “Ah, Jesus, Deb,” he said aloud, and then began to weep openly.
Peck loaded the fireplace with wood and built a roaring fire to warm the house. He poured a drink of Deb’s expensive scotch at the corner bar, then took a seat on the sofa before the fire. As he smoked a cigarette, he replayed the episode from the bedroom in his mind. Whatever the hell that was, it was no headache and no amount of aspirin was going to fix it. After finishing the scotch, he stretched out on the sofa and exhaustion overtook him.
Peck was asleep on the sofa in the living room when Bender and McCoy entered the house. McCoy touched Peck’s shoulder and gently shook him. Peck opened his eyes, sat up and looked at his watch.
“It’s five in the morning,” Bender said.
“The chains took a while,” McCoy explained. “Sorry we were so late getting back.”
Bender handed Peck a mug of coffee from the kitchen. “I made it before we woke you up,” he said.
“I must have dozed off.” Peck took the mug, blew on it a few times and cautiously sipped the steaming hot coffee.
“The ambulance is outside,” McCoy said. “Jay and I will carry out the body, if you’d like?”
Peck nodded and took another sip from the mug.
McCoy and Bender went to the stairs where the doctor picked up a body bag.
Peck lit a cigarette and watched them ascend the stairs to the bedroom. He could hear Jay and McCoy lift the body of Deb Robertson and place her into the bag. There was a moment of silence, followed by the loud zip of the body bag.
As McCoy and Bender carried the lifeless body of Deb Robertson down the stairs and to the front door, Peck stared into the fire and choked back a tear.
In the hospital lounge, McCoy listened carefully as Peck described his nightmarish attack on the floor of Deb Robertson’s bedroom. Every few seconds, McCoy scribbled a note on a pad and nodded his head.
When Peck was finished, McCoy stood up. “Let’s go out back.”
Peck followed McCoy to an examination room. “Take you shirt off and have a seat,” McCoy said.
Peck removed his shirt and tee shirt and sat on the examination table. McCoy picked up a small flashlight. “Open your mouth, Dave.”
For fifteen minutes, McCoy examined Peck. Blood pressure, heart, pulse rate, ears, nose and throat, reflexes, he checked it all and even felt for tumors.
“Put your shirt on,” McCoy said when he was finished.
Peck reached for his tee shirt. “Well?”
“I don’t know,” McCoy confessed.
“You don’t know?”
“I’m a doctor, not a miracle worker, Dave.”
“But something must have caused that? I didn’t wind up with my head in the toilet for no reason.”
“There’s a reason,” McCoy confessed. “There always is. I just don’t know what it is at the moment.”
Peck slipped his shirt on and tucked it into his pants.
“Look,” McCoy said. “Other than your blood pressure being slightly elevated at the moment, and that’s understandable, you’re tip top. I see no cause for alarm, but I’m going to call Maine Medical Center and schedule an appointment with a neurologist.”
“A neurologist? Why, what do you think is wrong with me?”
“I don’t think anything is wrong with you,” McCoy said. “That’s the problem.”
“What about those pills you gave me?” Peck said.
“I’ve got something stronger, but I don’t want you to take it unless it’s absolutely necessary.”
Peck allowed himself a tiny smile. “Define necessary.”
McCoy responded with a smile of his own. “Your head in the toilet qualifies.”
Seated behind his desk, Peck looked at Kranston, who occupied the chair opposite him. Both men were silent, lost in thought. The only noise in the room it seamed was the sound of Kranston’s constant gum chewing.
“You look tired, Ed,” Peck finally said.
“I am, but not nearly as much as you.”
Peck glanced at his watch. “It’s four in the afternoon and there’s nothing more we can do right now. Why don’t you go home?”
“Why don’t you?”
Peck stood up from behind the desk, walked to the woodstove and fueled the fire with several heavy logs. He stirred things around with a poker until the logs caught fire.
Returning to his desk, Peck said, “This is home, for now. At least until the state police call us back.”
Kranston sighed to himself. “I could use a drink.”
Peck opened a desk drawer and produced the bottle of scotch. “One finger or two?”
“Better make it three.”
Peck opened the bottle and poured scotch into two plastic cups. “Three it is.”
Kranston tossed the gum into the trashcan, picked up his cup and took a sip. “I feel rather guilty, sitting here by a warm fire, drinking scotch. Safe, while two women are dead.”
“Feeling guilty won’t help,” Peck said. “It only gets in the way and makes matters worse by fogging your judgment. It is best to keep your mind free of guilt, anger or anything else until he’s caught. There’s plenty of time afterwards for that.”
“That’s right,” Kranston said, respectfully. “I keep forgetting this isn’t your first murder case, is it?”
Peck took a sip of his drink as he looked at Kranston. “A homicide cop always hopes each murder is his last. It never is, though. There’s always another just around the bend, waiting to be discovered, hoping to be solved.”
Across the room, the short wave radio suddenly came to life. Static gave way to the voice of Sergeant Goodwin of the Maine State Police.
“This is Sergeant Goodwin of the Maine State Police in Augusta. I am responding to a distress call. Over,” Goodwin said.
Peck and Kranston looked at each other, and then ran to Bender’s desk where the short wave radio was located.
Peck picked up the heavy transmitter. “This is Sheriff David Peck of Dunston Falls. We placed the call. Over.”
“Sorry about the delay, sheriff. Power is out statewide and I’m on generator. What is the nature of your distress call? Over.”
“Sergeant, I need a forensics team and homicide. I have two murders committed several days apart. Over.”
There was a slight pause before Goodwin responded, incredulously. “Two? There was only thirteen in the entire state last year. Over.”
“Last year,” Peck said. “How soon can you send somebody? Over.”
“Sheriff, give me a day to get back to you,” Goodwin said. “I’ll have to make some calls. Over.”
“No more than a day,” Peck said. “I’ve got a situation here. Over.”
“I’ll see what I can do. Out.”
Peck set the transmitter on the desk and looked at Kranston. “He’ll see what he can do.”
Kranston returned to Peck’s desk, picked up his drink and finished it off in two large gulps. “I’m going home, Dave. I suggest you do the same and get some sleep. You won’t be of any use to the state boys if you’re a basket case.”
“I’ll stay here,” Peck insisted. “I’m getting used to the cot.”
“Suit yourself.” Kranston walked to the door, and then paused as if he suddenly remembered something. “I almost forgot. Father Regan is preparing a memorial service for this Sunday. I thought it would be the appropriate time to make an announcement.”
Peck stared at Kranston for several seconds. “Be prepared to answer the question why it took the second murder to announce the first.”
Kranston gave a slight nod of his head to acknowledge he understood, turned and left the office.
Peck sat at his desk and wrote reports for several hours after Kranston left. Experience taught him that no detail was too small or insignificant to overlook or ignore. Most cases come to successful conclusion by a second and third look at a detail detectives dismissed the first time. Once that missed detail became obvious, the detective usually beat himself up for not catching it sooner. Some day, police work would be a more advanced, highly technical science, but for now, it was keen eyes, instinct, experience and dedication. He hoped science and forensic labs didn’t replace those invaluable qualities.
Peck fueled the fire, heated the coffee, and continued to write. Especially in murder cases, the twenty-four hour period before and after the crime are the most important. Once a scene grows cold, the less of a chance there is in solving the crime. In this instance, both murders were outside the window of solvability. Even the FBI crime lab would have a difficult time analyzing clues and finding a suspect.
Peck was reluctant to admit it, but that meant a third murder would have to occur in order to obtain enough fresh evidence to solve the first two. That was a homicide detective’s nightmare, waiting out a fresh crime scene to solve a previous murder.
To the detective, a fresh crime scene meant new clues and a chance to close a case. To the victim, it meant they were dead.
It was as simple and as complicated as that.
Peck set his pen aside and gently rubbed a spot between his eyes just above his nose. He could not describe the feeling as pain, but pressure as if the area had suddenly swollen. As he sat there and rubbed, Peck’s attention turned to the open door on the woodstove. Red-hot flames danced as the logs crackled. He could not explain why, but the flames appeared nearly hypnotic in their rhythm.
Peck placed both hands on the desk as he continued to stare at the fire. A bead of sweat rolled down his face to his mouth. It tasted of salt. He could feel his heart beating inside his chest and a vein swell on the side of his neck.
Suddenly, Peck was somewhere else, as if he mind was no longer connected to him and left the room. It was impossible, he knew, but he felt as if his consciousness transported him to a place outside of his body and he was beside himself. He could see the flames of an out of control fire raging as if he were standing right before it. There were screams all around him, cries of pain ringing in his ears.
Peck jumped to his feet, but the hallucination stayed with him.
A tiny hand, a child’s hand reached out for him.
Peck felt himself raise his right hand to reach for the child.
On contact with the child’s hand, there was a sudden, thunderous explosion and the vision vanished like a puff of smoke. Drained, Peck fell backwards into his chair.
Sweat ran down his face as Peck tried to gather his thoughts and calm himself. He opened the desk drawer, removed the bottle of scotch and took a major league swallow. Setting the bottle aside, Peck sat and stared at his fingers. He wanted to get up and return to the cot, but his legs felt like lead. He lit a cigarette and felt the muscles in his legs slowly relax. Finally, when he could stand without getting dizzy, he walked to the cot and drifted off to sleep almost instantaneously.
Peck joined McCoy for breakfast at Deb’s diner. News of Deb’s death was unknown to her staff so the mood in the diner was cheerful, more so since the storm broke and the sky began to clear. Conversation was optimistic, almost festive. It was amazing how people came together in a time of emergency and could seemingly almost enjoy that emergency, then take pride that they survived it. Big city and small town people shared that quality across the country, Peck observed, remembering the nuclear bomb scares of the earlier fifties generation.
After they settled in at a table, Peck opened up to McCoy.
McCoy ate a spoon of oatmeal as he listened to Peck describe his nightmarish hallucination of the previous night. If McCoy was surprised at Peck’s descriptive recant, his face showed no emotion.
“I can’t really describe it, Tom,” Peck said. “It was as if I was having a dream and was wide awake at the same time.”
“They did a study after the war,” McCoy said.
“Which war, one or two?”
“Both, actually, but mostly from forty six to forty nine,” McCoy said. “The study was on combat stress. They called it combat fatigue, mostly because it sounded better.”
“I’ve been out of the Army thirteen years,” Peck said.
“That doesn’t matter. You were how old when you were drafted?”
“Thirty seven and I volunteered.”
McCoy spooned some more oatmeal into his mouth and thought for a moment. “The war was hard enough on the young men, a guy your age at the time, it must have been hell.”
“It was hell on everybody,” Peck said. “But, I’m not getting this. If combat stress was behind this… hallucination, why now? The war has been over more than a decade.”
“I’m not a shrink, Dave. I can only guess.”
McCoy nodded. “Subjugation would be my first inclination.”
“Come on, Tom, what the hell is that?”
“Long term repression.”
“Repression? You think I’ve been sitting on this for a decade and a half?”
“It’s possible,” McCoy shrugged. “You came out of the war and went right back to work. In many ways, being a cop is like being a soldier. It is a high stress job. There is no time or room for mistakes and certainly no time to reflect on the past. However, now you are retired and living in the middle of nowhere. All of a sudden, there are two very gruesome murders to contend with sandwiched between a crippling storm and the past catches up with you. Your mind starts to fatigue and you have post traumatic, combat stress syndrome.”
“Which is what exactly?” Peck said.
McCoy shrugged. “If I knew that, I’d be lecturing at the Surgeon General. Look, Army hospitals are full of men who suffered breakdowns from combat stress. They stare into space and see Germans under the bed and in the closets. They just don’t know enough at this time to fix these poor bastards.”
“Three times, I’ve dreamed of or hallucinated about fire,” Peck said. “That has nothing to do with my combat experience, so I’m not making the connection.”
“You aren’t, but your subconscious mind is,” McCoy said. “The man who dreams about falling or flying is actually dreaming about freedom, that kind of thing.”
“What does fire represent?”
McCoy shrugged his shoulders. “That I don’t know. I am not a psychiatrist. I will give the information to a doctor I know at Maine Med when I talk to him. I’m sure, when all is said and done that you’re fine.”
Bender entered the diner and spotted Peck and McCoy and approached their table.
“There’s a state police cruiser pulling up,” Bender said.
Peck stood up from the booth. “About time.”
Peck and Bender approached the state police car just as a tall; ramrod straight man of about fifty exited and stood on the curb. The man wore a dark suit and overcoat. He had the look of military about him, like a retired officer.
I’m Sheriff David Peck, this is my deputy Jay Bender,” Peck said.
“Lieutenant William Reese.”
Reese and Peck shook hands and Peck noted that Reese had a solid and firm grip.
“Sorry about the delay, this storm,” Reese said. “You have a place where we can talk?”
“The office,” Peck said.
Peck and Bender took Reese to their office where a fire crackled in the woodstove and fresh coffee rested in a pot on top of it. Reese tossed his coat on a coat hook and looked around. “Cozy,” he said.
“Coffee, Lieutenant?” Bender said, handing Reese a mug.
Reese sipped coffee from the chair opposite Peck’s desk. “It’s most unusual to have a double homicide in…...”
“Not a double homicide,” Peck corrected Reese. “Two homicides committed days apart in all likelihood by the same man.”
Reese nodded. “Who are the victims?”
“Two white females in their mid to late forties.”
“Is there any relationship between the two?”
Peck shrugged. “They both live in this town.”
“And they’re both dead,” Bender added.
Peck and Reese looked at Bender. “I saw in an episode of Perry Mason once, the only clue they had to go one was that all the victims were dead. I forget how it ended.”
“That may not be as far fetched as you think,” Reese said. “And I think I saw that episode.”
Peck lit a cigarette, looking at Reese. “Other than both victims are dead, I have no leads, no clues and no suspects at this point. I have one murder weapon, which is a bread knife from the kitchen of the first victim. The second knife was probably tossed in the woods and won’t be found until spring, if at all. This is a town in the middle of nowhere and cut off from the rest of the state until the roads are cleared, power is restored and phones are back on line. Where would you like to start?”
“Show me the victims?” Reese said. “That’s usually a good place.”
Peck and McCoy stood in the background while Reese inspected the body of Doris White, who was prone on a slab in the tiny, hospital morgue. Wearing rubber gloves, Reese inspected the stab wounds, red marks on her neck and rope burns on the wrists. He took his time and when he touched the body, he was gently, as if touching a baby.
“Had rigor set in when you found the body?” Reese said.
“Yes, by about twelve hours,” McCoy said.
“The broken bones in the arms, legs and rib cage, they were caused by the tree?”
McCoy nodded. “She was dead a good eight hours before the tree came down.”
“The second victim,” Reese said.
McCoy moved forward to close the slab containing Doris White and pull out the one with Deb Robertson.
Reese moved up and down the body of Deb Robertson, touching her neck and wrists. “You check for rape?”
“Yes,” McCoy said.
Peck turned away as Reese opened Deb’s legs for a closer examination. “And what did you find?”
“There are definite signs of forced entry,” McCoy said. “Irritation and swelling of the vaginal walls and membrane. Some minor bleeding.”
“Not when the body was found.”
“Time of death?”
“Between eleven and eleven thirty.”
Reese looked at Peck. “What time did you discover the body?”
“About twelve twenty,” Peck said.
“You just missed him then.”
“Too bad,” Reese said, shaking his head. It would have made things easy.”
Reese removed his gloves and tossed them into a trashcan. “Is there a place we can talk?”
Reese sat at the table in the hospital lounge and sipped coffee as he looked at Peck.
Peck and McCoy sat at the table opposite Reese.
Reese said, “What are your thoughts, sheriff?”
Peck lit a cigarette and took a sip of coffee before answering. “He’s fueled by rage and very powerful. The markings on the necks of both women are deep and the stab wounds go clear to the handle of the knife. He even cut bone, not easy to do.”
Reese nodded. “Anything else?”
“Tying the women to the bed was for pleasure, not necessity. He is easily strong enough to overpower both women if his goal was just rape and murder. There’s something else going on.”
McCoy stared at Peck, as did Reese. “You’ve worked homicide before?” Reese said.
“Baltimore. What’s your take?”
Reese took a sip of coffee and said, “Without the benefit of seeing the crime scenes, I would guess that both women were selected at random by a man who didn’t care who they were or what they looked like. To him they were just there.”
“I’m just a country doctor,” McCoy said. “So I’m a bit lost and a lot curious as to how you derived that.”
Reese looked at Peck. “Care to enlighten the doctor, sheriff?”
“One woman was beautiful, one was not,” Peck said. “Looks didn’t matter to him, only results.”
McCoy thought for a moment. “The results being the rape or the murder?”
“Probably neither,” Peck said. “In most cases like these, the killer has some inadequate feelings that need satisfying and uses his crimes to fulfill them.”
“Like mommy didn’t give him enough attention?” McCoy said. “That kind of thing.”
“Possibly. Nobody knows for sure except the killer himself.”
Reese looked at Peck. “We still have some daylight, sheriff, feel like taking a ride?”