On Fridays I’m going to share a chapter a week from one of my books. The first book is Souls Lost. If you wish to purchase it to read faster, you can find it at your favorite retailer. Find chapter 1 here.
It wasn’t just Taran’s forehead that was sweating several hours later. He’d called the county sheriffs, something that Frank, the former chief and his former boss, hadn’t done when he’d been in charge of the police department. Frank had believed that what happened in Corbin Meadow should stay there and be worked by the people who loved and cared for the citizens.
Taran believed in getting justice for the deceased. It was his own way of caring for them, never mind that Frank might have thought otherwise. Still, even when the sheriffs had come in with their criminal investigators and their forensic people and the coroner, Taran had stayed, watching and contributing what he could.
He was across the street, leaning against one of the dark blue SUVs that been the first to arrive at the scene. Mary Jo and Louella had given statements and had been released to go back to work, though Taran was aware neither woman would be getting much of anything done. Kids at the school just a few blocks down had stood at the edge of the fenced field and watched officers or tried to see the officers from their vantage point. The teachers had done their best to keep them away, which meant they had had little success.
Around him, Taran heard the buzz of voices, a few birds, and the low moan of a lawn mower. Whoever had been playing music earlier had turned it off or down so low he couldn’t hear any longer. It was beginning to cloud up but the humidity remained high and the temperature was going up from where it had been that morning. The storm was getting closer.
The sheriffs knew the storm was coming, too, hurrying here and there, running sometimes, to grab this or that from a trunk or a passenger seat. Each man talked quickly, walked even faster, and didn’t pause to take questions even from someone like Taran, who really was one of them though he worked for a department in a town they had probably only ever seen on a map.
Finally, Blake Fellows, the county sheriff, came up to Taran and looked him over, sizing him up. Blake was tall, heavily built, like the one time football player he probably was, and so blonde the sun hitting his hair would blind you. He was a man as solid as the Appalachian mountains where he’d lived his life, and he looked as worn with his pale eyes and lined and creased skin.
“Glad you called us this time,” Blake said.
Taran let the implied insult to him roll off him. Blake knew as well as Taran that the last calls hadn’t been his to make.
“I can get you the old files from the others,” Taran said.
“Four times, you might need the feds,” Blake said. “Just want to know before I go allocating man power if someone is coming in to take it off my hands.”
He was right, Taran knew. He ought to call the feds, but for the moment he was reluctant to do it. He’d been reluctant to call Blake, too, but what was he going to do? Try and solve the case himself? He’d have had to justify it when he called in the forensic techs anyway. He’d decided to call in the big guns, even if it did feel wrong somehow, like airing dirty laundry for everyone to see. At least the sheriffs would know him, a little, and maybe keep him in the loop, which was something he couldn’t be certain would happen with the FBI.
“Let’s start with you,” Taran said. “We can determine if this really is the same as the others or if it’s some copycat.”
Blake nodded. “Be a lot easier if y’all had called us in the first time.”
“Frank’s retired now,” Taran said. “Might want to take it up with him.”
Blake nodded, smiling now that he’d gotten in his digs.
Taran shifted his weight a little, his arms never uncrossing from his chest while he talked to the other man. He respected Blake, wanted to like him, but for some reason here and now he didn’t like him. Wasn’t the way he usually felt about people either. Taran knew he usually liked all the folks he ran into when he wasn’t arresting them, at least at first.
“You got people canvassing?” Blake asked.
“Your people don’t want that job?” Taran was surprised. He’d expected the sheriffs to take over everything.
“Half my folks hadn’t heard of Corbin Meadow. Three couldn’t get it to come up on their GPS. Had to direct them in via cell phone, which seems stupid considering you’re just off the highway. Town like this, bet they don’t get many outsiders. Probably less likely to talk to them,” Blake said, still smiling, looking ready to pat Taran on the shoulder like they were pals when they most explicitly were not.
“I’ll get on it,” Taran said. He’d do it himself. Had he known, he wouldn’t have wasted time. “You got an official from Louella and Mary Jo?”
“Two broads who found her?” Blake clarified, almost emphasizing the word ‘broad’ as if he wanted to see how much he could get under Taran’s skin by insulting the people of his town.
Taran just nodded. He didn’t want to play that game. It was getting away from warm and into hot. He was irritable. And maybe that was why Blake was rubbing him the wrong way when in real life, normal life, this guy wouldn’t have caused any problems for Taran at all.
Blake nodded easily, trying to be good-old-boy affable which didn’t help Taran’s mood at all. Taran had played pool with the sheriff once, down in Hickory, some gathering, and they’d shot the shit, back when Taren had been married and had some shit to shoot about his life. He’d thought Blake was nice. Now he wasn’t so certain.
Taran straightened from where he leaned against the SUV. He walked across the street to his car, which was parked a house away from Elaine Wilcox’s place. He opened the door of his dark blue cruiser and grabbed his notebook. He liked writing things down better than he liked typing them on the computer. Even the pen things that let him make his marks on the system like he was writing didn’t seem to work for him. They were always going on the fritz, crapping out. Finally he’d given up and gone back to a notebook and pen, which did work for him and were far less likely to have problems unless he got caught out in a storm somewhere and the paper got soaked.
The house on the right, where he’d parked his car, was similar to Elaine Wilcox’s in that it was brick with white trim. This one had a small white wood fence, split rail style, so as not to be a picket fence cliché. This driveway was still gravel and weeds, mostly weeds. The front was grass but for a large elm tree that grew in the yard.
It was less tidy than Elaine’s but in a lived in way, not an uncared for way, even with the weeds in the drive. Taran wasn’t sure who lived there, which surprised him. He wondered if he was getting old or if this was one of those houses that had changed hands every few years as people moved in and out as jobs brought them to Corbin Meadow and then pushed them away.
Bethany Shields had talked about that a lot. She was always pushing the mayor to add incentives to bring industry to Corbin Meadow for job growth. She’d convinced Taran they needed it for the tax base, and he’d been pleased when they’d landed a midsized financial tech firm that wanted cheaper overhead than they’d find down in Charlotte. Land in Corbin Meadow was cheaper and the cost to build was lower as well.
A lot of jobs had come out of that, and he’d been proud of Bethany for managing to get everyone on her side. She might have worked as the mayor’s secretary but she’d been a power behind the throne, listening to the people and trying to give them what they wanted. It had been a blow to the community when she’d died.
Through the gate and up the steps to the narrow concrete stoop, this house not having been updated with a porch, Taran rang the bell and waited. He left a card to have someone call him and started down the rest of the street. It’d be faster if he just went to the diner and found the people there, gossiping with the neighbors, but he knew that wouldn’t fly with procedure. He needed to follow the book on this one. That meant ringing a lot of bells and getting a lot of nothing.
Taran shook his head, carrying his notebook, trying not to look too dejected, wondering why he felt so out of sorts about bringing in the sheriffs when he’d done that on purpose, knowing it was the right thing. Yet all day he’d struggled with the feeling that it was all wrong and he’d done the worst possible thing he could.
Chapter 5 will be coming next Friday. Don’t want to wait? Find the book here.