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It was the flies that made these crime scenes unbearable.
Detective Trish Redding rubbed the back of her wrist against her forehead, attempting, not for the first time, to wipe away the sweat. Her delicate silk camisole stuck to her lower back because, yeah, ladies didn’t sparkle out in Death Valley, they sweat like pigs.
The deputies had set up a makeshift tent over this latest body, but all that did was keep the sun out. The air around them was stagnant and stunk like charred meat. The flies, the flies, were everywhere.
Trish let out a breath and tried not to breathe through her nostrils.
The medical examiner arrived twenty minutes ago. He was only now squatting down by the decaying pieces of the body.
“Yep, just like the other ones,” he said to no one in particular.
Trish closed her eyes and swore under her breath.
“Dismembered. Flayed. Skull cracked open here, here, and here,” he paused, then looked up at the young man he’d brought with him. “You want to start taking pictures?”
The flash of the camera taking in all this carnage allowed Trish to turn away a moment. Her hands were slick with sweat and it was difficult to get her surgical gloves off. But she did it, then flung them into the garbage a deputy had set up. Better him doing that than losing his lunch like the other deputy.
Trish brought her hand up and squeezed the bridge of her nose, then turned back to the medical examiner. “Doc, what’ve you got?”
“Same as before. My man will take pictures, but this crime scene is almost identical to the other two.” The medical examiner, a man whose name escaped Trish at the moment, stood now, his polo shirt sticking to him. “The victim appears to be a young male. Head, torso, arms, and legs all severed and left in a pile—“
“Is the pile significant? Are they piled the same as the others?” She interrupted.
The ME glanced down. “Well…”
“It’s hard to tell,” his co-worker muttered, still snapping away with his camera. “This is some sick shit.”
The ME’s brow furrowed, but he didn’t correct the other man. “Detective? Can we talk?” He gestured away from the body.
Trish didn’t like when MEs wanted to talk. “Sure.” She folded her arms across her chest and stalked a good way off from the tent. When she stopped and turned, the ME was right behind her. “What is it?”
He cleared his throat. Trish happened to like this particular ME, but she knew she wouldn’t like what he had to say. She watched as he stripped off a glove, then pushed his glasses up. They promptly slid back down his nose. His bald head was beaded with sweat and he wouldn’t meet her eyes.
When he said no more, she prompted him. “You said the first one might have been coyotes.”
Trish brought her hands to her sides, attempting to give this man welcoming body language. Attempting. Hadn’t her superiors told her to be more welcoming? More approachable? She tried to gentle her tone. “The second one was murder, but the body could have been torn apart by coyotes.”
He shook his head slowly. “No…”
“That’s what you said,” she accused.
“I was wrong.”
“But you said…” Trish trailed off and closed her eyes. She attempted to count out her temper, and the ME took the opportunity to speak.
“The first one looked an awful lot like coyotes had gotten a wayward hiker. But the autopsy showed that there was more damage done to that body, more than what a coyote would do. The second one was murder, but I don’t think coyotes got to it after it was dumped.”
“You said there were teeth marks,” she retorted accusingly. “On both bodies.”
“And there are teeth marks on this body.”
Trish again squeezed the bridge of her nose, irritated. “So if there are teeth marks it stands to reason that the coyotes could have—“
“They aren’t coyote teeth marks.”
Trish sucked in a breath. Mistake. Even upwind she could smell the decomposition. “Not coyote teeth marks,” she echoed.
The unspoken question hung between them, almost tangible in the heat of the day. The sounds of a crime scene went on around them, but neither of them moved.
A trickle of sweat fell between Trish’s breasts. She didn’t want to ask. Didn’t want to ask. Didn’t want to ask…
“If they aren’t coyote teeth marks,” she said slowly. “What kind of teeth marks are they?”
The ME cleared his throat. “Detective…Trish,” he corrected. “This is bad.”
She closed her eyes. The heat of the day was maybe getting to her. Surely he wasn’t suggesting…? “Human?” She whispered
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