Monday morning, the sun rose, the world turned, and my dog brought me a fleshy human hand from the creek. I contemplated it for a minute then looked toward the direction of the creek. Sun glinted like dancing diamonds through the leaves of the trees. The cicadas weren’t humming yet but the day would be hot. Bo’s tail wagged back and forth and he looked from me back toward the creek. He turned a few times in restrained excitement until I nodded down at him and said, ‘Show me.’
He let out an excited bark and trotted ahead of me toward the creek.
I hadn’t had my coffee yet and I already knew it was going to be a long day.
Bo bounded out of sight. When I reached the creek he was sitting obediently on the bank, below him, in the creek, lay the body of the woman. Overnight rain meant the creek was in full flow. Water rushed around her but not deep enough to submerge her. I called Bo over to me to remove him from the crime scene area. I tilted my head sideways to get a better look at the woman’s face. She’d been in the creek a while, her body puffed from being in the water too long but I still recognized her. Her other hand was shredded, gnawed at by some animal. I dug my phone out of my pocket and held it up, no service. I went back to the road and put Bo in the truck. I checked my phone again, now on higher ground, and saw two bars. I pressed the button and waited while it rang on the other end, ‘Chet, we got another body.’
I sat in the cab on the passenger’s side and fished out my spare notebook while I waited. Chet, the police chief, arrived first. He lumbered out of his cruiser toward the truck. ‘What’cha got, Oli?’
I pointed my notebook back toward the creek, ‘A little south of here at the creek.’ I paused and rubbed my face not wanting to speak the next words out loud because then it would all get real, fast. I was hoping for more time. ‘Chet, I think it’s Marianne, Lila’s sister.’
Chet’s expression changed from concerned about another murder in our town to sympathetic. ‘Oh, Oli, I’m sorry.’
I shrugged, ‘I didn’t know her very well.’
I nodded and sucked on my bottom lip trying not to think about it.
‘Do you want me to call in another detective?’
‘No, I’ll be fine. Billy can be lead.’
‘Do you want him to inform Lila…if it comes to that? I can do it, Oli.’
Another cruiser pulled up in front of Chet’s. Dust from the road billowed around us and slowly settled. Billy and a crime lab person got out.
Billy made a beeline for us. ‘Is it true? It is another body? Same MO? Where is it?’
Chet held up a hand, ‘Slow down.’
‘Coroner should be here in a minute.’ Billy looked at me, ‘Where is it? Is it another female? Is she missing her hand?’
I hauled myself out of the cab and headed back toward the creek.
We stood on the opposite bank looking over at the body. I turned my back and nodded toward the west, ‘Her hand is over in that direction. Bo brought it to me on our walk. I’ll go bag it.’
‘It looks like Marianne Knox, Oli, what do you want me to do?’ Chet asked holding onto my arm before I left.
‘Once she’s on her way to the coroner’s office I’ll go get Lila.’
‘I’ll do it, Oli.’
‘No, it’s something I need to do.’ I said as I took an evidence bag from the crime scene tech and headed back to where I knew the hand was.
I stopped the truck and looked at the small house. ‘Please let her be alone.’ I thought then wondered if I meant it. Would it be better if Chase were there? Chet’s words came back to me, ‘You go careful, Oli, this is the third body like this so try not to give away any information about it.’
I headed up to the porch and rang the doorbell. I remembered when I didn’t have to ring the bell, when my visits weren’t ever in a formal capacity.
Lila opened the door then paused in surprise at seeing me. She looked at me more closely which caused me to look down at the painted blue wood of the porch. I couldn’t look at her.
‘Why are you here?’ Lila finally asked. Her voice sounded bewildered.
I glanced up at her, ‘I need you to come with me.’
I knew she saw something in my look, something you just can’t hide from someone you love. ‘Has something happened to…Chase?’
‘Lila, it’s Marianne.’ I spoke knowing her life would unravel very quickly from this point, but I had to be the one to be there now, like I hadn’t been before.
I gave Kameko Murakami this prompt: Guilt