Archive for June, 2020

Chapter Two

Chapter Two


The flashes of the ME’s camera felt intrusive in the cold, dark environment, almost like they were disturbing some secret tomb, which was somewhat fitting.

“Well, that must have been a rude awakening,” DCI Agent Evan Wyatt remarked as he took stock of the crime scene a few paces away. “Is the driver able to be questioned?”

County Investigator Jenny Greebler was barely recognizable as a woman in her Carhart snowsuit. She held up her smart phone with her gloved hand. “The driver’s name is Ian Bacwell. He’s a minor, sixteen. His father is with him at the hospital.”

Evan grimaced. “Is he hurt bad?”

Jenny shrugged. “He broke his arm, and he’s pretty shook up.”

“I’ll head over there after we’re done here.” He looked over to the medical examiner. Because she was a multiple county medical examiner with a higher pay grade, Dr. Melonie Hildigaard’s outdoor gear was more North Face and less Carharts. Of course, that just made her look like a pricier well-dressed snowball, especially as she bent over the corpse to take numerous photos. Evan couldn’t help but observe the quilted expanse of insulated fabric and ponder the preferential proclivities of men referred to as “chubby chasers.” Bernice was certainly no waif, but he would never consider her size described as more than “curvy.”

Dr. Hildigaard stood up with her camera and trudged over to the investigators. “There’s probably going to be some damage to the body, once the sled blades are extracted. And the body is too frozen to probe for an internal body temp. I did observe, however, that she was suffering quite the nasty gut wound when she ended up here.”

“It’s a woman then?” Jenny confirmed.

“The body fell in such a way as to expose a bra strap, and her shape would re-enforce my conclusion. I won’t swear by it until the actual autopsy, but I’d say it’s a fair bet.” Melonie relayed this information as she thumbed through the shots on her digital camera, and leaving them to analyze the information.

“Well, whatever the gender, it doesn’t explain how the body ended up here.” Evan looked around them. “Other than the snowmobile tracks and the driver’s movements in the snow, I see no other signs of vehicle or human.”

“Could she have been dumped here from a snowmobile? Maybe the kid uses this field enough to leave a path?” Jenny suggested.

“Quite unlikely, or the body would have been found sooner,” Evan pointed out, scowling at the desolate landscape. “Besides, this would be a very weird place to dump a body to begin with, all out in the open like this. The question of discovery is too random for a dump. No, I think somehow the victim ended up here on her own steam.” He shook his head as he drew the conclusion. “There’s just no way to determine it in this dark. Maybe we can hunt down some tracks in the morning.”

“When do you want me here?” Jenny asked automatically.

Evan looked to the younger officer. She seemed a bit too eager for his taste, but he detected none of the infatuation that he usually dreaded when working with female co-workers. Perhaps he was finally reaching an age where that wasn’t going to be such a problem anymore. The thought made him more irritated than it should have. Nevertheless, “My CA will be here in the morning. That way I don’t have to drain your county’s budget running up your overtime. However, I’d be happy to meet up with you at Mel’s office when she calls.”

Jenny nodded, and her demeanor stayed the same. Evan released a breath of relief. Then he thought of something. “Would you mind going with me to talk to the driver? He might be more responsive with local law enforcement.”

Jenny nodded again. “Are we done here? I can meet you over there.”

“Yeah, we’re done.” He whistled to the ME and waved. She managed a quick wave back, but she was busy dictating to the two young deputies kneeling around the front of the snowmobile. It looked like they were in the process of removing the blades from the sled, rather than the blades from the body. Evan guessed the ME felt more comfortable with that particular process in the well-lit and heated environment of her morgue.

Oops, Forgot the Prologue

Read this first, then go back to the beginning.


“God, Dad can be such an asshole!” Ian Bacwell grumbled into his helmet. He took his frustration out on the machine, gunning the snowmobile through the rough, family trail. It almost bogged out on a turn that was harboring a gully of deep snow. But Ian compensated quickly. His sled gutted the gully, sending a spray of ice crystals that obscured his headlights for a moment before he broke through the cloud and left the scrubby tree line to hit the open landscape of the pasture.

The open expanse would have been more impressive, but it was pitch black out. In January it wasn’t the time of day that dictated the beginning of the night, rather the tilt of the earth above the 45th parallel. It got dark before supper time. So it was perfectly acceptable for a young man to be driving his sled to his friend’s house to work on a school project, or more importantly, let off some steam.

Ian knew this pasture well… too well. He remembered his father foolishly thinking years ago how this land would make a useful crop field for hay, maybe oats. So the man had set to work plowing up the rough, raw ground only to be thwarted by all the stubborn aggregate the last glacier had left behind. Not to be outwitted by something as frivolous as geology, Ian’s dad used manual labor to deal with the problem, namely Ian and his brothers and sisters.

“Now that you’re not haying anymore,” his father had reasoned, “you can get this field picked clean in a season. I can sow clover in August.”

That spring the Bacwell children had silently rejoiced when their father and uncles had gone in together to buy a round bailer. Round bales were moved with machines, not men. There would be no more taking turns at the front of the hay wagon, waiting to catch the forty pound squares that shot out. No more gritting your teeth as bale twine dug into your fingers, encouraging you to stack the bale as soon as possible.

Instead, his father had replaced one chore with another. Picking rocks required them to be constantly bent over turned ground, gouging at the dirt with their hands, kicking with their feet, whatever it took. Then the glacial sediment was tossed into the recycled hay wagon to be hauled to a discrete corner of the field to sit for another millennium.

It was too dark for Ian to locate the rock pile from his present position. The headlights of his sled cut white stripes through the darkness onto the shallow snow drifts in front of him. The contrast of black and gray on the horizon vaguely revealed when he would approach the next tree line that separated the pastures.

The recollection of the summer of rock picking, only to be told, “Great Uncle Marvin’s retiring, so we can just use his hay field,” spurned Ian to give his sled more gas. He could feel the blades hitting the wind-driven drifts and bucking somewhat in response, sometimes even taking air. He didn’t care.

It was just so typical of his father. The man’s agenda was always more important than what anyone else in the family might want or need.

“It was just one time!” he yelled into his helmet again, recalling the fight he had with his dad right before he left the house. He missed one evening milking to watch his friend play basketball in regionals, and his father wouldn’t let him forget it. “You earn your keep,” was always the go-to with the old man, usually followed by some systematic confiscation of something valuable to Ian. This time it was his phone, the one he’d paid for by spending the previous year working a part-time job on top of his farm chores.

As far as Ian was concerned, that made it HIS phone. Fortunately, he managed to convince his mother that he needed it for this school project. His dad was not happy about his mom giving in, but Dad knew better than to argue with Mom. Dad was so mad that he didn’t even tell Ian goodbye. He just stormed back out to the barn.

So, here Ian was, the only place he felt truly free lately from the world’s responsibilities. He daydreamed about what it would be like to just keep going, skip his friend’s house and ride out the trails until there weren’t any. Would he end up at the border with Minnesota? Maybe he could find a bar and sell his sled for enough money to travel to the Cities. His sister lived there now. He could always sleep on her couch and get his diploma online. He could work construction.

Whether it was the daydreaming or the sheer confidence Ian had in this pasture’s terrain, he hadn’t been paying attention. He would later admit to seeing the large drift in front of him and looking forward to busting through it like that gully he’d left back in the previous tree line.

But the drift didn’t give. It didn’t burst into a cloudy mass of icy snow crystals. What it did do was stop Ian’s snowmobile in an instant.

Before Ian could register the passage of time, he found himself lying on the hard ground, looking up at the darkness of the inside of his helmet.

The rush of cold air passed over his bare hand and up the small gap in his sleeve. It forced him out of his stupor. He became aware of his limbs, and his first thought was, Shit! Am I paralyzed?! He moved his arms instinctively in response, and the arm that still had a glove seared with burning pain.

Ian sucked in a breath through his teeth. He used the cold arm to brace himself and carefully tried to sit up. He was able to do so with surprising ease. Encouraged, Ian pulled his legs up slowly until his knees were elevated. One boot scraped oddly. He bent forward and felt with his cold hand. The boot was twisted at a weird angle. Ian began to pant again with panic until he realized the boot had slipped partway off of his foot from the fall. He yanked it back on.

Slowly he drew himself up on his knees. Ian flipped up his helmet visor and proceeded to take stock. Considering, Ian knew he was lucky he had only hurt his arm. That didn’t make him any less angry, though. He got up, holding the bum arm to his chest and walked the ten paces back to his busted sled.

The sled was dead. Ian guessed the crash had caused the fail-safe to kill the engine. The impact probably knocked the connections off the battery too.

It was really dark now. Clouds had lain low all day and into the night. There were no heavens to behold, only empty black silence.

“See, this is why you need a phone, DAD!” Ian yelled into the darkness. He unzipped the inside of his suit and fished around. It was a struggle. His hurt arm smarted with all the commotion, but he finally was able to retrieve his phone. He left his cold hand inside his suit for a bit, letting it warm back up.

Understanding the irony of fighting to keep his phone only to drop it on the frozen ground, Ian gingerly cradled the phone in his palm while he used his thumb to power it on.

The light was comforting. The phone screen displayed a with a picture of Ian’s buddies doing a goofy pose. He smiled for a moment before he switched on his flashlight app. He turned the phone around to examine the damage. He figured he might be able to kick off whatever his blades hit. He knew it wasn’t a boulder. Perhaps a tree chunk had been blown in from one of the storms? Way out here? Unlikely.

Again, upon later reflection, Ian didn’t remember screaming, dropping his phone, or running then tripping several yards away. The pain in his arm brought him back to reality. He sat on his butt, holding the sore arm and staring back at the phone. It was upside down, but the app was still on, so the light was spilling out from its plastic edges. The light seemed so bright in the utter darkness. Even from this distance, he could see the face, the pale white forehead, the bridge of a nose, the sprig of graying hair.

Ian no longer wanted freedom. Now he wanted security. He wanted comfort. Ian was sitting in the middle of a frozen pasture in the dead of winter with a dead guy, and he was scared shitless.

At least, I think he’s dead. Oh, Christ! What if he’s not dead? For a few frantic moments, Ian’s debilitating fear did battle with his conscience. His conscience got reinforcements from common sense and won out. It was just too damn cold and dark to walk back home. If nothing else, Ian would at least have to retrieve his phone.

He got to his feet, but he felt like he was in slow motion. Step by tentative step, he approached the terrible scene. The person wasn’t moving, as far as he could tell. “Hey, you all right?” Ian spoke, but he felt like the cold night air sucked all the volume out of his request. He detected no response.

Oh God, I’m gonna have to touch him.  Ian shakily went down on a knee. He could hear his breathing increasing. Soon the vacuum of the night was replaced with the beating of his heart. With his bare hand, he reached out. It was shaking. His trembling pinky glanced the forehead. Even with the cold of the environment affecting his hand, he knew this person was much much colder. This person was frozen solid. This person was no longer a person. This was a meat popsicle

The situation was becoming overwhelming. Ian knew that was the case when he began to cry. So, he picked up his phone, grateful it wasn’t broken, and called the only person who could make it all better. His voice cracked when the line picked up.


Chapter One Part Two

Evan barely slowed his pace once they got back to Lollygagger’s Acres. He pulled his winter gear from the hall closet, threw it over his shoulder, said (and kissed) his goodbyes and walked back out with a promise to call if he wasn’t making it back home that night. Bernice looked at the vintage kitchen clock, noting that it was already pushing 8 p.m.

“He won’t be back,” Darlene echoed her thoughts as she walked in from the living room with her and Cameron’s supper plates. “There’s sausage and spinach quiche in the fridge.”

Bernice smiled at the mention of food and pulled a plate from the cupboard.

“So,” Darlene prompted as she loitered in the doorway, “How’d it go?”

Bernice dished up a healthy portion from the glass baking pan. She stuck it in the microwave. “It didn’t. The pastor was late, and then Evan got called into work.” She was waiting for the barrage of questions about why her state investigator fiancé would be called out to work so late in the evening, but Darlene went a different way.

“Why was Pastor late?” Darlene questioned as she set the dishes in the kitchen sink.

The microwave dinged. Bernice retrieved her late supper. “He was visiting someone in hospice.”

And that’s what Darlene chose to interrogate Bernice about. “What? Who?”

Bernice was taken aback by the dramatic reaction. “I don’t know.”

“You didn’t ask?” Darlene pushed.

Bernice frowned. “No, it’s none of my business.”

Darlene frowned back. “Since when?”

Shaking her head, Bernice sighed. “Darlene, it’s been a long day. Kindly let me eat in peace.”

Darlene rolled her eyes. “Fine, I’ll just call Marsha. She’ll know who’s dying.”

Bernice waved the matter away with her fork. “Fine.”

Darlene took the cordless off of its charger on the wall. “By the way, your realtor called.”

Bernice swallowed and got up to get her purse. “Why didn’t he call my cell?”

Darlene gave a snotty answer. “I didn’t ask. It’s none of my business.” With that she returned to the living room.

“Go chew on Marsha’s ear, you smartass!” Bernice yelled after her and pulled out her cell phone.

“Oh, Bernice,” the realtor answered without saying hello. “I’ve got news on the place we looked at last week.”

“Good, I hope,” Bernice reacted evenly.

“The inspection came back. You were right. The sewer’s bad, but the well’s okay.”

“Well, that’s something, I guess,” Bernice decided and filled her fork. “So, they’ll come down in price to cover the cost of the new sewer.”

“Better than that. They’re knocking off twenty grand,” the realtor paused, “um, but they’re changing up the offering.”

Bernice chewed quickly. “What’s that mean?”

“Well, they decided to only sell you the acreage around the house and buildings. They’re keeping the rest to rent out to the neighbors. Apparently, with all the drought down South, the price of corn’s expected to go sky high.”

Suddenly, the quiche lost its appeal. Bernice set down her fork. “So, what you’re telling me is they want to knock twenty grand off the price, but sell me, say, seven acres worth of beat up buildings and a bad sewer in exchange.”

“Well, they figured since you’re only running a hobby farm, it would be a waste to sell you all that nice crop land.”

“And there’s nothing I like better than buying a dinky lot surrounded by someone else’s cornfield.”

“So, that’s a no?” the realtor clarified.

“That’s a get-me-my-earnest-money-back kind of a no, Jerry.”

There was an audible sigh in response. “Okay then, Bernice. The check’ll be in my office tomorrow.”

“Sure thing.”

There was another pause. “So we keep looking. Did you want to make an offer on the one we looked at this afternoon?”

“Not right now. Thanks.”

“Alright then. We’ll call it a night.”

“Yep, see ya.” Bernice killed the call. With her portion of quiche cold again, and Bernice not feeling like heating it back up, she chose instead to stick the plate in the fridge and pull out a bottle of wine. She spyed some lovely cheese hiding amongst the leftovers and pulled that out too. She cut up a few hunks of cheese, tore the end off a loaf of crusty bread, and took the plate with a glass of wine into the living room.

She was just in time to watch Darlene hang up the phone. Darlene looked confused. She faced Bernice. “Marsha says no one is in hospice right now that she knows of, and she would have been told, because she’s the head of the call chain for prayer when something like that happens.”

“Hmm,” Bernice grunted as she took her seat with her rations.

The grunt did not improve Darlene’s mood. It only made her scowl at Bernice with suspicion. “So, why’s the pastor lying?”