the restless night watch
last crickets usher the dark
rustle, then silence
[Catch up with Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3]
Detective Tom Sandberg sips his coffee and checks his watch—ten o’clock. Two more hours until a uniformed officer takes the second shift. He huddles deeper into his fleece jacket. The night air is seasonably crisp, but he keeps the window down. Not that anyone will show up at this burial site. He won’t know until tomorrow if this is even a crime scene.
Let it be a hundred years old, he hopes. I’ve already got two arson cases and a jewelry store robbery on my plate. I don’t need a murder.
Sandberg’s car is parked on the jogging trail, near a break in the tall shrubs. He flips on the headlights for a minute to view the taped-off scene. A pair of yellow-reflecting eyes stares back before disappearing in the underbrush. Probably a raccoon, he thinks.
In a bigger city, he wouldn’t be here. Hell, three years ago in this job he wouldn’t be here. But massive budget cuts in his town of twenty thousand mean fewer bodies to share the load. Becky wants him to apply for a job in one of the big suburbs. Maybe he should. Then he wouldn’t have needed to drive more than an hour to see Dr. Bode. He’d have the crime scene unit she expected.
He shakes his head and reaches for a power bar. Shouldn’t a university professor know real life is nothing like TV? Small towns can’t afford those specialists. Uniformed officers and detectives do most of the work, relying on basic training, occasional seminars, and well-worn manuals from the Justice Department.
To be fair, he expected Bode to look like a Hollywood archaeologist, maybe a female Indiana Jones, or else an absent-minded professor. But she was an average-looking blonde, about five-foot-five, with stylish glasses framing her brown eyes. Her lab was clean and organized. And while her truck needed a wash, all the equipment and supplies in it were neatly stacked.
Rustling sounds near the scene rouse Sandberg from his thoughts. He turns on his spotlight this time. But it’s only a few deer, three does and two fawns that he can see. He turns off the light, and a few moments later the crunch of leaves fades as the deer move off.
He decides to inspect the tape and grabs a flashlight. The deer might have pulled it down, and the walk will warm him up and loosen his stiff legs.
Everything’s as it should be. Returning to his car, he checks his watch. Ten-thirty. Another ninety minutes before he can head home for a few hours of sleep before coming back to meet Dr. Bode. He takes another sip of coffee and huddles back into his jacket.
Meghan sits in the family room with her husband, Rick. Their ten-year-old son, John, is tucked in bed upstairs, no doubt reading a comic book with a flashlight.
“So what did this guy really find?” Rick asks. “You never go look at ‘a possible site’ with some farmer on the spur of the moment.”
“It wasn’t a farmer. I didn’t want John to know it was a detective. He brought in a bone some dog dug up in the county park.”
“Wow. Was it human?”
Meghan nods. “He asked me to check out the area. I found more of the lower arm. That’s why I’m leaving early in the morning. I have to excavate it for him. God, don’t let me say anything stupid. He must think I’m an idiot already.”
“You? No way. Why?”
“I kept talking about crime scene units, even after he said this isn’t TV and his town doesn’t have anything like that. But I’ve never worked on a possible forensic case before. I don’t want to mess anything up if it is.”
“So that’s what you were doing online after dinner?”
“Yeah, I was looking for excavation tips. But I guess I handle it like any burial. Take it slow and careful and document the heck out of it. I’m hoping it’s some old settler, but we’ll see. Based on the condition of the humerus, it’s too well-preserved to be any older than that.”
“But if it’s a murder, they’ll call in someone else, right? You wouldn’t have to do the forensic work, would you?”
“God, no. I’m not qualified for that. I don’t even feel qualified for the excavation. But I guess I am.”
“Good. I don’t want it turning into one of those TV shows where the investigator gets targeted by the killer.”
Meghan shivers. “Oh, thanks. The nightmares are already taking shape. We’re sleeping with a night light tonight. Did you lock the doors?”
Rick pulls her close and laughs. “Yes, I locked the doors. Want to watch a scary movie?”
Meghan reaches for a throw pillow and smacks her husband on the arm.
I hope you’ll stay tuned for the next installment of Meghan’s brush with forensic archaeology. At the office again today, so I’ll be back this evening.
[Author’s note — Meghan also photographed the area in Part 2. Posting these in near “real time” leads to glitches I would normally catch in editing.]