The man that found the body of a naked, fifteen-year-old girl stabbed thirty-three times in the chest and face kept checking his watch. Deputy Hal Brooks only heard about brutality second hand and didn’t know whether this reaction was normal. It wasn’t what he expected.
“My kids had to use the bathroom,” the man said.
The highway rest stop stank burned Brooks’ nose each time the wind cut the prairie.
The man said, “My boy near tripped over the poor girl’s hand.”
The dead girl’s arm reached out of the snow to the elbow. Fingers encrusted with blood. The painted nails cracked and jagged.
“It was too little, too late covering my little girl’s eyes.”
Both kids watched from the rear window of a station wagon piled high with boxes and bags. Four hollow eyes possessed by the sight of something beyond their comprehension. Brooks figured a fair time would pass before those haunted stares would find the light again.
“We’d been driving all night,” he went on. “I got work starts in the morning. There’s finally work. Just have to travel a piece to find it.” It pained him to explain. Someone had died, but it didn’t change the fact he had someplace to be.
Blue lights from the sheriff’s Bronco come around a bend a half-mile down the road. The man should stay long enough Brook’s boss could say his piece. Brooks had only been on the job in this county for two months. There would be plenty he didn’t think to ask the man. Although it was obvious the man didn’t know much. He’d simply tripped over some bad luck rushing-on towards a sliver of hope.
Sheriff Wes Putney moved like an athlete after the adrenaline of game-time wore-off, regrettably. Putney nodded at the man when he passed. He wedged a knee in the snow beside the bloody arm. With a small, plastic shovel, the kind a child might use at the beach, he moved snow until he could see better what lay beneath.
Brooks had only seen pictures of the dead. The red and black gashes where the knife gauged were flecked with ice crystals. He fixed on the sole line where she’d been pierced through the cheek. He offered silent prayer she died before that strike.
The weapon punctured her belly and chest so many times the wounds became indistinguishable one from another.
Putney didn’t stand. He shifted on his haunches to get a proper look at the man who found her. “She didn’t die this morning,” Putney said. Then he jerked his body back around and patiently considered the departed.
Brooks couldn’t think of anything better to say. He lifted his hands to the man in surrender, or futility. The man began to extend a hand, realized no transaction had taken place and turned it palm up. He checked his watch again.
One of the man’s eyes flinched. He said, “Good day, officer.”
Brooks spent most of his life in an Irish community north of Boston, and hadn’t acclimated to the cordial manner of the west. He told the man, “Good luck.”
The only thing left between the men would be the lingering nightmare of a naked girl and the red-dimmed snow.
The man trudged back to his car.
His children’s bleak stare rolled away with the car out of the rest area parking lot and on down the road.
“What do you say?” Brooks couldn’t get used to the word sheriff, so he conspicuously left it out.
“Least there aren’t so many kin to tell,” the sheriff said. “Make it a fair bit easier on you.”
“Then you know her?”
“It’d be hard murdering someone I don’t.”