Midnight Owl (A Joe Leverette Mystery, Book 1)

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Chief Benny Billingsley walked up to Joe Leverette’s desk and tossed a folder onto it. It was barely after six o’clock in the morning and Leverette looked up at his chief.

“This is for you, Joe,” he said, looking older than his fifty-seven years, a permanent frown etched into his forehead, eyes tired and droopy, and his pencil thin body looking like it needed a total make over, or just a good meal.

“What’s this?” Joe picked up the folder and opened it. He let out a long whistle after reading the single page. “So we have a body dump?”

“No. We have a piece-of-a-body dump,” Billingsley said and sat in the chair next to Leverette’s desk. “Only a left leg, and it’s female according to the intake form.”

“You can tell its female?”

Billingsley ignored his sarcasm. “We just got the call and I want you and Marsden to head out. Two patrol officers are out there now with the woman who found it, Mitchell and Miller. The toenails are painted so we figured it was female. Only the ankle and toes are visible.”

“Now-a-days that doesn’t mean much,” Leverette said as he glanced at the page. “Could be a cross dresser. We’ll head straight out. Doc on his way?”

“Yeah, and the crime unit,” Billingsley said rubbing his temples.

Phil Marsden walked up to his desk which was just across from Leverette’s, slowing his pace when he saw the chief there. Marsden was not a fan of the chief, though he respected his position.

“Hi Chief,” Marsden said trying to sound professional.

“Hi. Got a case for the two of you. Leverette will go over everything on the way to the scene.”

Billingsley got up and walked back to his office.

“Must be a hell of a case for the chief to come and talk to you,” Marsden said. “What’s it about?”

“Grab your coat and I’ll fill you in. There’s not too much yet.”

They got to their assigned car and Leverette handed Marsden the file. He let him look at it before he started telling him what the chief said.

“Damn. Just a leg?” Marsden hated these cases. He didn’t have trouble dealing with shootings or stabbings, but he couldn’t stand dismembered bodies, or trips to the morgue when the Doc was working on a corpse. Other than that, dead bodies didn’t bother him.

“Yup. Two cops are there with the woman who found it,” Leverette said. He didn’t turn on the lights or sirens. It was a short drive from the Port Huron Police Department and he didn’t want to alarm the neighborhood just yet, though he figured the first officer’s sirens probably already did that. They turned in to the area off Strawberry Lane and parked near the other squad cars. As they got out of the car, Leverette studied the area. There was a path joggers or bikers could use near the Black River; across the street there were nice homes. The path had some lights. Dead trees and shrubs were scattered about but offered little, if any, privacy for a dump. He wondered how long ago the leg had been put in the river. He knew with the ice still on the river that it hadn’t been dumped here but had flowed here from somewhere farther upstream.

Leverette and Marsden walked over to the officers and Amy. He could see that she had her dog on a leash and it was loving the attention it was getting from one of the officers.

“We’re waiting for the crime unit to get here, but we didn’t see anything other than the bag with part of the leg poking through,” Officer Miller said. A small group of people were starting to gather around.

“Better tape off the area before too many people show up,” Leverette said to Miller.

“Was just about to do that,” Miller said, and he and Mitchell headed to one of the cars and got out the tape. They decided on a perimeter and Miller took one end of the tape and attached it to a tree near the bank. Mitchell took the spool and brought it around and tied it to a strong shrub, leaving a good sized area inside the tape. When they were finished, they walked back to Leverette and Marsden.

Marsden, an obvious lady’s man, turned to Amy.

“Hi, I’m Detective Phil Marsden, this is my partner Detective Joe Leverette. We would like to ask you a few questions.”

Amy, a petite blond with big brown eyes that were filled with tears, managed a smile.

“Sure. But I already told them what happened.”

“I know. Why don’t we go over to the car and have a chat.” Marsden wanted to put a good distance between himself and the leg.

Leverette didn’t mind. He hated talking to witnesses. Victims were all right, though, or murderers, or thieves, or any criminal. He knew Marsden had the ‘gift’ as the chief called it, to talk to witnesses.

Marsden’s dark curly hair and blue eyes seemed to be just what some people needed to regain their composure. Not to mention his gentle voice.

He followed Marsden and Amy to the car.

“What time were you walking here?” Marsden asked.

“I always bring Bud out before work, just after six am. We go the same path every day,” she said.

“How long have you been doing this?” Leverette asked.

“Five years now,” she said and her eyes started to tear up again. “It was nice when they put the path and lights in. That poor woman.”

“What made you notice it?” Leverette asked, a little harsh.

Amy tensed at the sound of his voice. “We were just walking and Bud got upset and pulled me toward it. I saw the black bag and something red. When I got closer I saw it had a tear in it and then I saw the toes.” This made her eyes tear up even more. “My god!”

The crime scene team got there and started looking around and collecting samples. Leverette didn’t have the patience for this kind of work, even though he’d scan the area for things that didn’t look like they belonged there. He admired this team for their dedication to their work.

A van pulled up and parked next to Leverette’s car. The M.E. had arrived and, with much effort managed to work his way out of the van. Dr. George Carrington had been the County M.E. for close to forty years. Bald, tall and very obese, he waddled over to the detectives.

“So we have a leg,” he said. “Did they find any more of her?”

“Not so far. The dive team is just getting suited up to check the river. They haven’t found anything else near shore,” Leverette told him. “I don’t know how they can get in that water in this cold.”

Dr. Carrington just laughed. “I guess they’re used to it. Especially after this horribly cold winter.” He waddled over to examine the leg.

The dive team went in with poles and started to gently run them on the bottom, then went further in until they were out of sight. Their flashlights were visible for a few seconds and then they too disappeared.

Marsden had his arm around Amy and was still asking her questions.

“I don’t understand how else I can help,” she said, looking up at his six foot frame.

“You’d be surprised at how even the smallest things could be a big help,” he gently told her.

She thought for a minute but nothing came to mind. “Sorry, I just don’t know.”

“Well,” he reached into his pocket and pulled out a card. “If you think of anything, and I mean anything, call me.”

“Okay, I will” she said, as she tried to compose herself for the walk home.

“Was she able to tell us anything more?” Leverette asked as he and Marsden watched Dr. Carrington examine the leg.

“No. Didn’t see anything or hear anything. Once she calms down a bit she might think of something to tell us,” Marsden said. “I get the feeling she’s not telling me something.”

Marsden looked at his partner and pictured him on an old ship, Schooners, he thinks they were called. Leverette looked so much like the sailors back then, with his silver/black hair and long sideburns that connected at his chin. Leverette’s eyes were even a cold steel-gray. He was thin like Marsden, but about two inches shorter.

Dr. Carrington waddled over to the two detectives huffing and puffing. He stopped for a minute before he spoke.

“It’s a female leg,” he said once he got his breath back. “Looks like it was taken off by a professional.”

“Killer or doctor?” Leverette asked.

“Either. I’ll know more once I check her out at the morgue,” Dr. Carrington waited for either of the detectives to say something, and when they didn’t he turned to leave.

One of the cops brought the leg and put it in the back of his van. The doctor squeezed himself behind the wheel, shut the door and left.

The two divers came out of the water shaking their heads. No other body parts were found, just an old bike, three tires, and some tools. The divers couldn’t go too much farther because of the strong cross current. They walked to their van and quickly dried off and got into their clothes and bundled themselves into their coats, hats and scarves.

“Looks like they’re done, and the crime scene group is still going through the shrubs. We might as well go and wait for the doc’s report,” Leverette said. “I’ll send the patrol guys to check out the homes across the street. The crime guys, er people, are going to check the water’s edge for several miles to see if more bags floated down.”

Leverette went over to the two officers and told them what he wanted them to do. They said they would get back to him once they had finished.

Marsden was bothered by what Amy wasn’t telling him. He wondered if she saw something and was too scared to say anything or if she was part of it. She didn’t seem like the kind of person who would steal a pen from her place of employment. But she could just be a good actress.

The ride back to the station was quiet. Leverette always drove since he was the senior of the two, by about 16 years. Marsden didn’t care today because it gave him time to think. And since Leverette wasn’t much of a conversationalist the quiet, though appreciated, was uncomfortable.

“What’s up?” Leverette asked, the silence bothering him.

Marsden just looked out his window.

“I’ve never seen you this quiet.”

“It just feels like she’s hiding something,” Marsden said not looking at Leverette.

Amy Lang got back to her home and let Bud off his leash then fed and watered him. The coffee was ready so she poured a cup and sat at her kitchen table.

She worried that the one detective, Marsden, thought she was hiding something from him. She could tell by the way he looked at her. Amy wasn’t even sure if she was. If she told him she had a dream about that leg he’d think she was crazy. She was beginning to wonder if she was.

The leg was found close to her home and that could mean she put it there. But if they checked her home they wouldn’t find anything to incriminate her.

The water hadn’t been moving much because of the ice that still covered some of the river. That was probably what tore the plastic bag. Why did she have to find it? Why did she have that stupid dream? Should she tell someone?

She took a sip of her coffee and went over the dream in her mind. It was so grisly. She could smell the blood and a rancid odor. She felt the cold of the room he was working in. Amy saw the body of the woman lying on a table with her arms, legs and head cut from her torso. She watched him put the pieces in the black plastic bags and tie each one off. The torso was another story. He had to put one bag over one end and cover the other with another bag. Then he used a rope to secure it in the center. It would have fit in just one bag but this was better in his eyes.

Amy watched in horror and then the man looked up and right into her eyes, and pressed a finger to his lips making a ‘shh’ sound.

This had made her wake with a start. She was shaking and sweating and couldn’t fall back to sleep.

Now she looked at the clock and it was midnight. Outside an owl gave off three quick hoots sounding almost like a warning. It sent a shiver through her body and she looked around for Bud. He was curled up on the bed next to her and looked up tilting his head wondering what was going on.

“Just had a bad dream, Bud,” she said.

Her phone rang and made her jump out of her chair. She spilled her coffee on the table and her jogging outfit. Amy was glad she had the day off. That dream and the leg she found left her frazzled.

“Hello,” she answered, her body still trembling.

“Ms. Lang, this is Detective Marsden, we were wondering if you could come down to the station for a few more questions.”

“I don’t know what else I can tell you,” she said feeling like he was suspicious of her. “Okay. I can be there in an hour.”

“Fine, see you then,” Marsden said and hung up the phone.

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