In advance of the publication of The Devious Kind at the end of the month, I will be publishing a few excerpts online. What follows is the second chapter of the novel:
Half an hour later, a police car drove slowly up the driveway into the main yard, pulling to a stop in front of the ranch house, where Diane stood on the porch, a dog at her feet and a hood thrown over her head to keep off the snow.
“Hello, Diane,” Constable Martin Tomas said as he stepped out of the car.
She just nodded. “It’s down there by the coulee,” she said, pointing. “You can take your car if you think it can make it through the mud.”
“I’ll be all right.”
She paused, and then said, “We called him. Wayne said I probably shouldn’t, but I had to.”
He nodded. “He’s down there now?”
Martin got back into his car and drove slowly down the laneway that led to the far pens that edged onto the coulee. He went past pens filled with cattle still heavy with their winter coats, but he paid them no mind. Even six months ago he might have, but now, a year and a half into his term here, a cow was just a cow.
He arrived at the gate to the far corral, and could see Wayne’s truck, a brand new 2003 Dodge Ram, parked by the fence and, on the other side, two figures staring down at the ground. Martin knew what they were looking at. He debated driving his car through the pen, but decided it was a poor idea. The ground would be soft in there, and the last thing he needed on a day like this was to get stuck in a corral.
It would have been easier, he realized, peering through the snow, if he had gone out to the highway and parked there, coming down through the ditch to the coulee. That was likely what had happened with whoever had killed Kristi Taid. With that thought, he reversed course and went out to the highway, parking his car on the shoulder and putting his hazards on, hoping that anyone who happened down the road would be able to see enough to spot them.
He stepped and slid his way from the road down into the ditch and from there made his way gingerly down the incline toward the coulee. A fence ran along the highway, ending at the coulee’s edge, and Martin found himself wondering why Wayne hadn’t bothered to extend it further. The coulee was part of his land and there was a pasture down below, but likely there was a fence somewhere there to keep the cattle from it.
Not that the cattle would be likely to ever make there way from the ravine’s bottom up the highway. Even from its edge, Martin could not make out the coulee’s bottom, could not see the creek that twisted and wound its way through its narrow passes. Trees, short and narrow-trunked, like all prairie trees, lined either side, obscuring what lay within.
The two men, both with lean rancher’s frames made bulky by the winter clothes they were wearing, were watching as he approached. Martin could not make out their expressions through the swirl of the snow falling, for which he was oddly glad. He set his shoulders and nodded at them.
“Hello, Martin. Thanks for coming,” Wayne said. He was a tall man, and would have been gangly in his youth. Age had thickened him somewhat and now, in his early sixties, he appeared as a solid presence beside the more sleight Leonard, still powerful, in spite of his age.
“No problem,” Martin said, an automatic reply, which sounded stupid, given the situation.
The other man, hood up on his jacket, hunched over to better keep his face clear of snow, did not say anything. His eyes had not strayed from the ground where the body lay. Martin looked at him carefully, now that he was up close, but his expression was blank. He seemed not to even realize that someone else had arrived on the scene. Well, it was his wife on the ground, after all.
Wayne moved aside so that Martin could get near the body. Martin stepped in, smiling his thanks and crouched over the body. The face was mostly blown away. He could see the outline of one eye socket and most of the jaw, bits of brain and skull. Her neck and chest were perforated with pellet blasts. The blood was that curdled dark color, clumping against her skin and the earth below. He sighed and stood up, turning to Leonard.
“It’s her, all right,” Leonard said. “That’s her jacket and shoes.”
Martin looked at Wayne. “Anybody else been down here but you two?”
Wayne shook his head.
“All right. Why don’t you and Leonard head back to the house and wait for me? I want to look around a bit. Cory should be here pretty quick.”
“What’ll they do with the body?” Leonard asked, his tone odd.
“He’ll have to take it into town. Botha will have to look at it. We’ll take care of it.”
He turned and knelt again by the body. The two others remained where they were, as though unsure of whether they should in fact leave, before Wayne reached out and put an arm on Leonard’s shoulder and led him back to the pen. Martin looked up from the body, not leaving his crouch, and watched them get into Wayne’s truck and drive back through the corral, the tires leaving clear tracks in the snow.
An eerie quiet descended around him, a product of the stillness that seemed to always come with a snowfall. The only sounds that intruded on his study of the body were the wind cutting through the coulee and the odd cow calling out to a calf in the pen beside him. He could hear his own breathing, which sounded hushed, as if even he did not want to disturb this scene.
It had already been disturbed, though; the snow had seen to that. The body had been dragged here, likely from the highway, given the lack of blood surrounding her and the severity of the gunshot wounds. The snow had already obscured any evidence of that passage, as well as the footprints of whoever had carried her here. There was also the matter of the remainder of her head, which was no doubt in pieces wherever she had been shot.
Where had she been shot and why had she been brought here? He stood up and found himself looking in the direction of the Taid’s ranch. It did not make sense that Leonard would bring her here if he wanted to direct attention away from himself, given his home was only a mile away. And if someone else were trying to point the finger in his direction, they would be more likely to make sure her body was found somewhere on his land.
This felt more like an idea that had occurred in passing as the killers rushed to hide the trail that led to them. Dump the body in the coulee and hope the storm, which everyone had known was coming, would hide the body. If they had gotten her farther down into the coulee it very well might have, Martin realized. And if the coyotes had gotten to the body, it might have been a very long time indeed before any trace was found of her.
Which led to another question: why here? Why not take the body down farther and deeper into the trees? The body lay between two short, shrub-like trees, but without their leaves the body was exposed to both the road and the pen. Whoever had done it was in a rush, working in the dark so that Wayne and Diane didn’t chance to see them, perhaps struggling with weight of the corpse. They had come this far and judged it far enough. What had led to that haste, and where had they been going initially before they changed their plans and chose this place to hide the body?
He paced from the body back to the road. The only tracks leading into the ditch were his own, and even they were rapidly disappearing. He climbed back up onto the highway, kicking at the damp blacktop. Soon it too would surrender to the snow, disappearing beneath it. The road curved just ahead along with the coulee, the two running nearly parallel briefly, before it curved again to wrap around the valley. The snow was coming down so heavily he could not see beyond that.
He went back to the body, snapping on the rubber gloves he had brought as he went, feeling faintly ridiculous as he did so. This was his first murder investigation, and he was very conscious of making a misstep and also of being found out for a fraud. That, as much as anything else, had been why he sent Wayne and Leonard away. Though obviously Leonard was very much a suspect, Martin could not have both of them around further contaminating the crime scene.
All he knew about conducting this sort of investigation he had learned at the academy in Regina, though the principles were the same as with any of the dozens of robberies and assaults he had been called in on while here or in Wetaskawin, where he had been stationed previously. It did not feel that way now that he was faced with a dead body. This felt of much greater import. A life had been lost, after all. And it fell to him to determine who had been responsible.
Wiping his eyes clear of water and snow, he knelt down and gingerly turned what was left of Kristi’s head toward him and pulled back her remaining eyelid. The eye beneath was cloudy and the body itself stiff with rigor mortis, no doubt helped by the temperature, which had hovered around the freezing mark for most of the night through to the morning.
Martin stood, clicking his tongue against the roof of his mouth thoughtfully, and started to pull his gloves off when he heard a vehicle approaching. He watched as the ambulance pulled up behind his car and Cory slid his bulk out from behind the wheel. The ambulance driver wandered over, his jeans tucked into unlaced work boots, his jacket open to the elements as well. He was unshaven and, as he came up alongside, Martin caught a whiff of booze.
“Oh,” Cory said with a wave of his hand. His eyes were bloodshot, but that was hardly surprising for Cory. In spite of the fact they were both in their early thirties, Martin always thought of Cory as being much younger. He certainly acted like it.
“You good to drive yet?”
“I made it here, didn’t I?”
“Don’t make me put the fucking Breathalyzer on you,” Martin said. “I’ve got enough shit to deal with without you cocking things up.”
Cory waved his hand again and turned his attention to the body. “Kristi Taid.”
“Yes,” Martin said.
“Cause of death shouldn’t be a problem, anyway.”
“Well, how you wanna do this? Bring the stretcher down from the highway, probably the easiest.”
Martin agreed, and they both made their way up the ditch to the back of the ambulance, where they offloaded the stretcher. Together they wheeled it down into the ditch and gingerly set Kristi’s body upon it. Beneath where her body had lain was only dormant grass and dead leaves. No doubt he was ruining all kinds of forensic evidence, but who knew how long it would take for the RCMP to send a forensics team out. The storm would only complicate things further, and Martin could not just leave the body here for all the world driving by to see.
Once the body was safely strapped to the stretcher, they wheeled it back up the ditch, both of them slipping and cursing on the slope. When they had the stretcher safely into the back of the ambulance, Cory turned to Martin.
“Take it in to Botha, then?”
“Yes,” Martin said. “And for fuck’s sake, Cory, don’t phone anyone, don’t let anyone know. This is an RCMP investigation now.”
Cory didn’t reply, giving him another wave, and was on his way. Martin sighed and swore again under his breath. He stood and watched until the ambulance had disappeared in the snow. He waited before getting into his own car, looking up at the vast wall of grey clouds above him, already thinking of the questions he would have to ask Leonard.
The Devious Kind will be available January 31, 2017.