Chapter 1- Hanging Dolls
Morning broke in Piper Woods in an unusual way, the birds were subdued in their daylight chatter and a putrid smell overrode the sweet scents of ripening autumn fruits. The white ghostly whisper of a morning mist still hid the dew damp ground from view. The sun, slow to rise in autumn, could only manage to send a few shards of weak, lemon tinged light through the towering pine and gnarly oak trees leaving everything still in partial shadow. It added a grotesque glimmer to the crimson leaves of the red maples that led to the name of the trail the bodies hung in.
Red Maple Road functioned as a trodden down over the years, walking trail in the forest. Despite the name the trail proved to be narrow and bumpy, impossible for vehicles to pass on and ill-suited for horses. Thirty minutes on foot from the Forest Park’s North Parking Lot, give or take for fitness, age and a desire to walk, it had meant a brief trek for the sheriff’s department from the parking lot to the bodies.
Sheriff Jack Tanner felt grateful for the heavy, navy coat he’d donned knowing that the morning was going to be a cold one. He looked to the bodies swinging from the branches, scanning them carefully with his electric blue gaze. There were three in total amongst six strung up dolls. They were all females somewhere in their teens, rigid with rigour mortise, their eyes dried up in the night and turned glassy with the cold, and their exposed flesh pallid as the blood had stopped pumping, there the resemblance to the dolls swinging with them ended. They had all died open mouthed and wide eyed, screaming terror in the night, something no doll could do.
Their cause of death could not be hanging.
The heavy smell of pine mingled with the sweetness of the maples could not detract from the odour of dead flesh and dried blood dampened with morning dew. It sent an unpleasant wrinkle through Jack’s nose as he appreciated the small mercy of it being a cool autumnal morning, knowing how much worse the smell would be if it were a sticky summer’s afternoon.
“What do you think?”
The question came from behind Jack, asked with intrigue by Jack’s son, the supervising Forest Park Ranger Matt Tanner. Matt had called the case in after a hysterical jogger had informed him about the bodies.
Jack glanced over his shoulder to the younger man and his blue gaze brightened with pride seeing the calm the man had mustered for the scene. He could sense Matt’s fear budding beneath the facade of placidness, observing the constant dipping of his head to keep the vision of bodies at bay, the continuous fidgeting of his hands with any object that came to them and detecting a sour odour of nervous sweat that hung faint in the air but not quite faded.
The ranger hung back, pleased to have it made it this close to the bodies without losing his breakfast. Like everyone else on the scene he hadn’t been expecting this. The jogger, a local by the name of Louie Jackson, had come crashing and wailing into the rangers’ hut making more noise than Matt had ever heard from him. All Matt had managed to catch from Louie was wild pointing in the direction of the trail he’d come up and screeching about dead bodies. Matt had figured he would be better investigating with an officer just in case so he’d put the call through to the local sheriff and waited for his arrival.
“I don’t know yet,” Jack replied. “I’ll need more officers, that’s for sure.”
Jack had shown the same healthy scepticism as Matt when the ranger had called to tell him about Louie in hysterics and shrieking about dead bodies. He had moved with haste as protocol dictated but brought only one officer with him and had envisioned some bear mangled deer until he’d heard the rattle of porcelain as the wind had rocked the dolls.
Jack looked back to the deceased trio, watching as Officer Rufus Quill started to take photos with hyped up movements. The cluster of dead red leaves pooling in the shade of the bodies created an unpleasant illusion of large bloodstains on the ground.
A frown crossed Jack’s fair face pulling down the grooves at his cheeks. He took a step forward towards the bodies causing dew damp leaves to crinkle under his boots. He halted before the central body.
The figure moved very slowly, turning slightly as changing currents in the air shifted the rope supporting it. Jack almost reached out a hand to stop the motion but he resisted knowing that he would be guilty of tampering with the evidence if he touched the body.
“Considering their wounds there should be more blood on the ground,” Jack remarked grimly.
“I don’t know them.” Matt made his gaze dart up to the three faces of the deceased and take them in.
The girl on the left hung upside down, strung up by rope knotted about both ankles, the girl on the right hung suspended by a rope about her waist leaving her partially doubled over like a broken marionette whilst the central girl had the rope about her neck with her half-spilled intestines making it clear that she had not died from the rope.
The ranger’s face filled with heat as his stomach hardened and for a moment he wondered if he might be treated to a mashup of porridge and orange juice coming up his oesophagus. He swallowed hard and leaned forward slightly.
Jack turned back to the younger man and gave him a look of sympathy. Matt’s face had tuned a chalky white and his pupils were a little out of focus.
“Breathe son,” Jack advised gently.
Matt frowned, he knew his father wanted to be empathetic but now the pangs of humiliation were washing over him with an urge to vomit. Matt made himself stand upright and forced his misty blue gaze back to the bodies. He couldn’t look at their faces again, keeping his stubborn stare on their torsos instead. Even that took effort, one girl had wide, bloody rips across her chest deep enough to expose the bones of her ribcage.
“None of them should be here,” Matt muttered. “I got no record of them being in the area.”
“Well teenagers sneaking into the woods at night is nothing new,” Jack grumbled as he resumed staring at the bodies. “Especially these woods.”
The central figure dominated Jack’s focus- her long legs seemed grotesquely gangly as they dangled before him, smeared with patches of muck up to the knees and feet bare. She wore a grey tartan skirt, what appeared to have been a silk, white shirt before it had been torn and bloodstained, and a grey cardigan that hung thin and open, ill-suited for the autumnal chill. Jack almost figured it had to be a school uniform, private, but he knew of no private school in town and he’d no clue what the nearest one was. He could see no emblems and figured they might be on a missing blazer but then he had to wonder about the shirt and what kind of school would opt for silk over cotton and the skirt appeared inappropriately short for a uniform. Jack contemplated a seedy alternative as he looked up to her face. She seemed young, too young.
A light breeze slipped through the trees causing an echo of creaks as the ropes swayed in it and six strings shook sending their eerie porcelain burdens dancing through the branches.
“Aw shit,” Matt complained as he glanced to the dolls in revulsion.
Matt shuddered as some dolls had their heavy eyelids drooping up and down with the movement creating the illusion of them blinking on their own. They looked worn, one with faded features, another with tattered clothes and a third with thin, uneven hair.
“I signed on for rogue bears and confused campers not this.”
Jack looked to the ranger again and allowed an ill-suited smile to slip out, grateful for Matt bringing some unintentional relief to their grim surroundings.
“I don’t think anyone expected damn dolls this morning,” Jack murmured. “I’m going to radio for more support, you need to do the same, get the other rangers up here and searching the area, I doubt these girls came here barefoot or so poorly clothed, cold crept in fast last night. Hell, I doubt they died here, there’s not enough bloodstains.”
Matt nodded in agreement. “I’ll go back to the cabin and call them in.”
“Good, and will you help me tell your sister about it later?” Jack’s face tautened with worry. “These girls look around her age, she’ll need to be on guard and given where and when this has happened,” he gestured outwards with his hands, “well she ain’t going to take this well Matty and...” He bowed his head slightly and rubbed at his neck with one hand. “She’ll probably get herself upset and you’re better with the cryin’ stuff.”
Matt almost smiled at the awkwardness the sheriff displayed but the morbid topic kept him from showing any kind of mirth. The ‘Matty’ won him over even though he felt a shared reluctance with Jack at the thought of breeching the topic with his sister.
“Sure dad,” he consented. “You’re right though, she isn’t going to take this well. Who in the hell would murder three young girls and string them up like this?”
Jack turned back to the corpses with a frown. “Someone who wanted them found.”
It took until almost ten o’clock before any real action happened about the bodies. Most people just hadn’t believe the seriousness of the calls that went out from the ranger’s station and the sheriff’s radio.
The town of Angel Hollow did not lack crime nor had it immunity to sudden elements of violence but the last crime with such a high body count had been around a decade ago. For most Angel Hollow existed as a typical town of forgotten, it had its moment of glory during the fall when tourists came for the pagan pumpkin parties and fall festivals, and then it shifted back into just another pass through town barely noted on the map.
Piper Woods served as the main attraction of Angel Hollow- a forest of fables, well known for its natural beauty and its oddities which couldn’t be explained. Urban legends and unsolved mysteries seemed to attract rather than repel visitors. Talk of broken bridges and twisting trails to nowhere, stories of ruins with no known origin, and rumours of ghosts and goblins drifted through the town and the tourists drawing people to it. The exaggeration of its wonders expanded with each year that passed.
For Sheriff Tanner the ordinarily ignorable appeal of the town acted a double edged sword, for the moment it meant he could keep the bodies quiet from the public and the press but when the story blew up, and it would, it would be an explosion of media precisely because things like this just did not happen in Angel Hollow.
The sheriff, knowing the storm that was coming, had already prepared for it and called for assistance. He had dealt with many murders in his past life in a metropolis where murder had turned mundane from commonness. There he had had the resources that came from a city’s taxes behind him, out here in a town of Population equals less than anyone gives a shit about, resources weren’t a thing. A small population equalled small funding, which meant everything required right now was low and lacking for Jack- security, staff, supplies, the government didn’t think decent police resources were a necessity if the cash didn’t exist.
The crime scene tape had been put out, although Officer Jespen had struggled to find it. It fluttered awkwardly in the breeze, crinkled from being rolled up for so long appearing more like a Halloween prop than the genuine article. Jack figured that it functioned as a prop right now, no public were up here to be kept from the bodies and didn’t crime scene tape just attract the gawkers rather than repel them?
The local M.E had been rendered silent and pale at the sight of the deceased. Her smooth skinned face and stunned gaze gave her a young appearance. She was newly in just three months ago to replace the recently retired M.E Craig Redriver. Jack considered it a pity, Craig at least had dealt with murder before, Jack knew that for a fact because he had been in attendance for it. Craig knew gory and shocking but this new M.E- Amy Suarez- didn’t appear to have dealt first hand with anything other than natural causes.
As Jack watched Amy avoid staring at the hanging corpses and miss the query if they could move the bodies he made a mental note to look up Craig and see if he could assist this one time.
Jack figured the state might offer an alternative to Amy, with something as crazy as this they had to send aid. He knew a couple of forensic people were on their way but figured by the time they got here they’d be dealing with contamination from footfall, time and weather. He had asked Officer Black to try and secure the evidence with unofficial assistance from Ranger Kuriyama.
Koji Kuriyama’s qualifications for helping with the crime scene were that he wasn’t squeamish, he knew the area and therefore could identify something out of place quicker than most cops, and he had a notable intelligence, which gave him an advantage over Officer Jespen. As far as Jack was concerned, just not being squeamish made Koji more than qualified to help out.
“Miss Suarez,” Jack addressed the M.E again, “can we get these bodies down yet?”
Amy Suarez glanced up to the sheriff with startled brown eyes like a rabbit looking into the gun nozzle, tensing as if that would somehow help her evade fate.
“There’s no transport here yet,” she answered quietly.
Jack stared down at her in exasperation wondering if she’d even been out of the town before now. The woman reeked of antiseptic and he pondered if she had overdone sanitising her hands just a little as his eyes almost watered with the burning scent of cleanliness.
“No vehicle is coming up this far, they’ll stop at the main parking lot same as you did.”
Amy looked puzzled as she tried to digest Jack’s words.
Jack wondered cynically if he should dumb it down, wave his arms in the form of an X and state ‘cars no go’.
“Means we gotta take the bodies to them,” Jack advised, “we’ll get some body bags and trolleys.”
“Right. I...normally they can come to them, I mean sure we’ve had to remove them from houses but only to the door.”
Amy paused to rub under her eyes with her right arm and shield her mouth as a sneeze escaped her.
Jack stared at her stonily. “Allergies?”
“Yes.” She sniffed but avoided rubbing her nose.
Jack figured it had to be some dark joke sending an allergy prone M.E out to a forest, with his luck she’d probably sneeze again and contaminate something.
Amy turned her attention back to the bodies. “Well I’ll wrap up then, when the...bags are here you can cut them down. I’ll know more when I get them back to the morgue.”
“Any signs that they had a chance to fight back?”
As a precaution Amy tugged off her gloves, exchanging them for a fresh pair in her bag. She freed them from the plastic and fidgeted with tugging them on before she stepped close to the corpses.
Amy reached out with a gloved hand to the middle body, turning a stiff hand slightly.
“This one has what could be specks of blood under her nails and defensive marks on her knuckles, the bruising appears fresh indicating a recent struggle.”
Jack watched as the M.E took a swab from under the girl’s nails, labelled and bagged it. He wanted Greg, with Amy he seemed to have to push her to do her job as if she had forgotten half her duties.
Just a few feet away, off the trail and standing in the wilderness of the woods, Koji searched for anything out of the ordinary. The young ranger considered the task laughable as the entire appeal of Piper Woods was that so much of it seemed out of the ordinary. The young ranger had already marked out a shiny nickel on the ground, a loose strap of leather, a tarnished pale green-blue stone that had probably slipped off a pendant or bracelet, and a small cluster of trail mix, tagging them with numbered yellow cards Officer Black had given him. It could just be trash from previous trail tourists but how could one be sure?
Koji glanced to the right where a steep slope started, and then turned a wide stare over to Matt.
“And it’s been ten years.”
Matt gave a blunt nod as he glanced up from crushed leaves to his co-worker. “It’s not the same,” he said quietly.
Matt’s breath escaped in a faint puff of white wisps and he wondered if the morning would warm any. He looked about the trees and grimaced as with the sunlight piercing through them their leaves acted as artificial bulbs casting a crimson glow onto the ground. People came from miles to photograph the effect but Matt found it uneasy as to him it gave the illusion of a ground splashed with blood.
Koji hooked his fingers into the belt loops at his hips as he looked back to Matt curiously.
“Still pretty strange. What are you telling Cassie?”
Matt’s skin paled again as he thought about his sister. His mouth slipped down to a grimace and a sigh slipped out as a faded white mist.
“I don’t know. The truth, it’ll be all over the news soon anyway.”
Koji nodded and looked over to the direction of the bodies. Calm dominated his brown stare, the initial shock of seeing the corpses had faded and he could look at them without flinching.
While the bodies were nameless Koji didn’t have to feel much for them, they had no history, no personalities but for Matt it was the opposite, the possibilities of their personas was endless and he mourned for their lost potential.
“Think it’s going to be bad for the tourism or bring us more?” Koji queried casually as he turned back to face Matt.
Matt’s frown deepened at the query and he gave his co-worker a scolding look.
Koji shrugged, unfazed by the pale blue glower he received.
“I know it’s morbid Matt but am I wrong?”
“Probably not,” Matt conceded quietly.
“Well I could do with some overtime,” Koji commented cheerfully.
Jack glanced to his watch, the cracked face showed that it had turned just after six. He figured he should add at least an extra five minutes to it because he knew the watch was slow, he just wasn’t sure how slow. He had stayed up in the woods until about forty minutes ago, he could do no more save show face and tiredness pulled at his muscles and burned the edges of his eyes now.
The bodies were long gone to the morgue. Everyone Jack could call he had, many people he had called multiple times. All necessary photographs had been taken and some unnecessary ones by Office Jespen who didn’t seem to know a pinecone from his own shoe. All suspicious looking items had been tagged, bagged and removed. Things had been sent on a slow trip to the city lab to get labelled again and left to a long queue. The area had been sealed off and now all that could be done was wait. Wait for the M.E’s report, wait for the labs to work down through the more important city homicides’ cases, wait for help, and wait for the press explosion. Jack hated waiting but he was good at it nonetheless, he’d had a lot of practice in an earlier life as an undercover detective.
Jack glanced up the small, dimly lit car park for the sheriff’s department and arched his dark eyebrows slightly at the Mustang that had prevented him from pulling his marked vehicle into the only space assigned to him in town- the Sheriff’s parking space. The Mustang had dents in several places and scratches. It gleamed a dark emerald green under the bloody beams of a setting crimson sun.
Jack had to park two spaces away as the deputy’s space had been taken. He got out and stepped up to the car, glancing through its windows for clues to an owner. Several polystyrene coffee cups cluttered the passenger floor whilst three books lay abandoned on the passenger seat. In the fading light of the cooling sun, Jack made out the cover of one book, he glimpsed a cheesy illustration of an alligator ready to devour a screaming woman.
Unsure who the intruder could be, Jack stepped back from the car and glanced about his surroundings quickly. He saw no one loitering about so either the Mustang’s owner waited for him in the station or they had wandered off.
Jack headed up to the station, reluctant to deal with another problem. He knew his daughter Cassie would be home from school wondering about dinner, he’d told Matt to head for home and knew he should too so he could be there to help Matt tell her about this morning’s murders.
Angel Hollow sheriff’s department building appeared entirely unremarkable, blending in with the rest of the town’s mix of brick and timber buildings. It advertised itself as the Sheriff’s Office in aged brass letters, the terminology of office highlighting it as neither a well staffed nor sizeable building. Brick columns framed the doors and supported the jutting out brickwork that supported the sign creating a porch above the entrance doors. It looked unthreatening and welcoming and Jack doubted any criminals ever feared being brought to its domain.
Jack stepped up to the dark pine and glass doors, squinting as the dull yellow of a street light bounced off the glass preventing him from seeing much within. Hand at his holster just in case, Jack stepped through the doors to the main foyer and found his visitor standing in the centre, stance casual as if she belonged there.
A sweet, flora scent hit Jack’s nostrils as he stepped through and had him wondering woefully why women seemed to overdo it on the perfume lately. His gaze shifted from the female stranger to Officer Julia Milton as he wondered which of two could be the worst offender.
Julia sat on post at what served as the main desk. A part-time officer in her early thirties, she showed no ambitions with her job and seemed satisfied with it as a source of entertainment rather than an opportunity to provide justice and safety to the town. Jack considered her an idle hand but she had a pretty smile and presented a welcoming front to the tourists, often calming rowdy, drunken, testosterone riled males with a suggestion that she’d rather they buy her breakfast than she had to serve it up to them in jail.
Julia gave Jack a slightly apologetic glance as she stood up from her slightly battered looking office chair exposing her svelte frame.
“Hi Sheriff,” Julia greeted chirpily. “This is-”
“Detective Moon,” the woman standing replied in an accent that held a hint of the no nonsense city life of New York, “Riviona Moon.”
Jack eyed her up quickly, taking in a petite and thin form, exposed by the loose fitting of a pale brown suit with a cream shirt that bore coffee stains and an unflattering, loosely knotted tie of knock-off silk turquoise and bronze. Visible through the open collar of her shirt a pewter necklace of charms glinted depicting a howling canine, feathers, a crescent moon, and a tiny fir tree. Her gold detective’s shield rested at her hip on a brown belt, and her gun sat stoically in a holster on the opposing hip, half-hidden by the ends of her blazer. She clutched a deep blue cup marked Angel Hollow Sheriff Dpt in yellow font. The cup expelled steam and Jack could smell the strong odour of tea from it. It had him a little puzzled as he wondered why anyone would opt for tea over coffee. He also wondered where in the hell the tea had even come from, certain the station didn’t stock it.
Jack nodded back at the woman in a calm show of politeness.
“I’m Sheriff Jack Tanner. “How may I be of assistance detective?”
Jack figured he could guess at her presence here and his heart sank just a little as he wondered if the state thought so little of him and his three murders.
“’I’m in homicide,” Riviona explained, “I’m here to assist you.”
“Where are you from?”
“NYPD.” Her brown-grey gaze started to bud with a hint of irritation.
Jack sensed something amiss, she didn’t come from any nearby city nor had she the rank of state police or federal.
“That’s a long trip to take alone.” He expressed a casual calm as he surveyed her.
“It was,” Riviona’s response was blunt even as she tried to match Jack’s calm.
Her youth had her lacking Jack’s experience when it came to a good poker face, her mouth was rigid and the annoyance remained in her eyes, emphasised by a slight dip in her thin, pale eyebrows.
“Why are you here? I called the cities and the state, they surely have homicide detectives closer than you.” Jack got straight to the point.
Riviona gave a slight frown as she let her annoyance bleed into her stare. “Unusual homicides are my speciality.”
Jack’s dark eyebrows rose slightly at this and he raised his hands up to rest lightly on his hips as he awaited an explanation.
Julia gaped at the detective, marvelling at her with wide, blue eyes from her stance behind the desk. Her small mouth parted into a o as she let out a low whistle.
Riviona glanced over to Julia in surprise, folding her arms and frowning as she interpreted the whistle as mockery.
Jack fought back a grin with ease, choosing to maintain his indifferent show of tranquillity figuring it would be unprofessional to show his amusement at Julia’s display of a sideshow gawker.
“How does that become a speciality?”
“It just does.” Riviona turned a hostile stare on Jack.
“Did they really send you alone?”
“Who’s you superior?”
“Sergeant Wilkes, then Lieutenant Holly, ring them if you’d like. I don’t know if they’re sending anyone else,” she said bluntly. “Lieutenant Holly just told me to get here ASAP, he said you had three unknown schoolgirls found torn up and hanging in the woods with dolls swinging alongside them and you’d asked for help.”
Jack studied the young woman again. He knew she had to be hiding something but he couldn’t quite figure out what it could be. It angered him as he wondered if the state had viewed his call for help as some kind of knock knock joke and Detective Moon served as the bad punchline they had answered it with.
“Detective Moon I know I’m a middle of nowhere sheriff but I wasn’t always, I know homicides like this deserve more attention.” Jack tried to keep his rising irritation from his voice, letting his stare stay calm as he faced her down.
Riviona shrugged. “Tell someone else.” She took a sip from her cup and glanced about the premises with a look of displeasure. “I’ll need a desk, then you can catch me up to speed with the coroner’s findings and the forensic team’s.”
“No forensic folk here.” He gave her a small grin when she looked at him in surprise. “What we’ve got is myself,” he pointed to himself with one finger, “one deputy, two full-time officers, two part-time, four rangers, one seasonal, and an M.E who’s green on the job.”
Riviona’s anger returned to her dirty topaz eyes and she made a point of taking a deep gulp from the cup as if to stop herself from saying something.
“Alright, well give me all you’ve got so far,” she remarked in a forcibly calm tone as she lowered the cup. “And the local hotel, I’ll need a room.”
“It’ll be booked out, fall season is beginning here. It’s when we get the tourists. Starts in September, hypes up by Halloween.”
“Right, didn’t think I’d be dealing with that again. Well I’ll find somewhere.”
Jack wondered at her reply but resisted the urge to ask what ‘that’ was figuring if she’d wanted him to know she wouldn’t be playing the pronoun game in the first place. He sighed and rubbed at his dark hair.
“You probably won’t, nowhere good anyway.”
Jack figured her walls were up but if he tried a different tactic he might get more answers from her. “Look,” he addressed her tranquilly as he lowered his hand, “you’ve travelled a long way, so I’m guessing you’re hungry. Why don’t you follow me to my house?” He offered a small, friendly smile. “I’ll get you a decent dinner and accommodation, at least for the evening.”
Riviona looked surprised at the offer as did Julia. Riviona cocked her head slightly as she studied Jack as if trying to find some tell in his expression.
Julia gaped from one to the other, still wide eyed and open mouthed as if an exciting drama on television played out live before her. Jack knew that courtesy of Julia it’d be about town by midnight that the local sheriff had invited a stranger to his house for the evening.
“That’s a generous offer, what’s the catch?”
Jack’s smile widened as he allowed some warmth to slip into his face adding a charming show of laughter lines at his cheeks and a brightness to his electric blue gaze.
“It’ll get you out of my parking spot,” he answered cheerfully.
Riviona, to her credit, did not look embarrassed at the comment. “Alright sheriff,” she raised her cup, “let me wash this and then you can lead on.”
“Julia can take care of that.”
Riviona shook her head. “I don’t believe in letting others clean my mess,” she said darkly. Noticing the quizzical expression that flitted across the sheriff’s face, she added hastily in a more neutral tone, “and since I’m working here, I should learn where things are, like the break room.”
“Alright,” Jack gave in as he glanced at his watch, “I’ll show you the break room but the rest of the tour can wait until tomorrow.”
Jack stepped past the woman to lead the way back through the sheriff’s department. He caught a strong odour of sweetness almost like honey mixed with floral scents he couldn’t pinpoint. He wrinkled his nose in irritation before continuing on, figuring a compliment on her perfume would be a pointless lie and a comment on its overuse would be an undeserved insult.
Jack paced through the corridors to the break room quickly, not bothering to point out the display of history on the walls- plaques noting sheriffs and officers past with some plexiglass protected photographs and newspaper cut outs. Jack had no interest in them. The ones that mentioned his deeds were on the walls of the main foyer at the mayor’s insistence but Jack had hidden them beneath flyers looking for lost cats.
“Here it is,” Jack murmured as he pushed open a door with a small, rectangular, black sign on it with white imprinted font indicating it as the ‘Beak Room’ thanks to a fading of the letter r.
Jack stepped into the room and gestured to the steel sink along with a filter coffee machine and a microwave on the counter beside it. A toaster sat on the opposite side with a small fridge humming under the counter it rested on. The only other features were a small television resting precariously on a wonky, steel shelf high on the left corner wall, a round, stained table with four chairs pushed against it, and a sorry looking plant resting on a windowsill with no real view. The bizarre collection of beaked masks dangling from a cork pin board on the wall drew immediate attention.
Riviona looked at the masks with unease and mild confusion.
“There’s a waffle iron in one of the cupboards,” Jack advised as he ignored her gawking, “Officer Jespen brought it. Man can’t complete reports correctly but he makes one hell of a bacon and waffle breakfast.”
Riviona stared over at the sheriff warily as she tried to work out if he was joking or not. When he offered a blank smile that confirmed nothing, she gave him a frown in response before charging up to the sink.
“Who has the sense of humour?” she queried as she scrubbed.
“The beaked masks for the beak room.”
Jack watched as she made a point of scrubbing the cup thoroughly with steaming hot water and a generous dollop of washing up liquid. His mouth twitched as he felt another grin budding when she dried it off with the straggly tea towel until it actually started squeaking.
“Oh,” Jack glanced to the masks and then back to the detective, “that would be Deputy Daniel Lupino. Best not to comment, it just encourages him.”
“Which cupboard?” She held up the now shiny cup without looking to Jack. She glanced up to the veneer cupboards built in above the toaster and then down to the ones under the coffee maker and microwave. Her eyes darted over to the pin board and its collection of dangling masks.
Riviona’s frown returned as she opened the top cupboard and saw the few cups in there resting on the top of two shelves. The height of the shelves forced her to rise up to her tiptoes to place the cup up there. A small spark of amusement budded in her gaze when she spied a white cup with blue font on it stating ‘Donut give me shit’ complete with the obligatory cartoon image of a pink iced and colourfully sprinkled donut. She closed the cupboard and looked back to Jack expectantly.
“So, sheriff, your house next? Should I offer to buy dinner or pay rent or something? I didn’t really expect the local law to put me up.”
“You’re the guest so I’ll provide the dinner and I wasn’t expecting visitors so it’s not gonna be much, don’t worry.”
He turned and headed out of the room, glancing back in surprise when he heard Riviona’s heels scrape on the tiles as she moved after him quickly, after hitting off the light. She pulled the door of the break room shut abruptly as if making certain to shut something up within it.
The young detective had the grace to look sheepish when she caught the sheriff’s prying eye upon her. Her strong show of calm faded as fatigue started to take over and when her stomach let out a small growl she couldn’t withhold her grimace.
“Hungry?” Jack smiled at her.
“A little peckish maybe.”
“Well let’s get going then.”