Goddamn boys from Sioux City were dumping on them again. It was 6:23 am and he was pissed as all hell. His boss Slater, had called and told him get his ass up there to push it back on Sioux City PD. He knew that was an impossible task.
The sun was rising now and getting in his eyes as the road turned easterly. The Missouri River had claimed another. She had been found on the South Dakota side near the border of the Santee Reservation. This was definitely a South Dakotan jurisdiction, but the story hadn’t ended there. Ten years old, no ID, but with a receipt for some candy from a Nebraskan gas station 55 miles southwest of Sioux City according to the Sioux City’s Sheriffs Department. They were dangling evidence, not getting into specifics. Take it, take the case.
The receipt was only a week old. Their theory was she had washed up in South Dakota, but she was killed up stream in Nebraska. There were very few places where the Missouri seemed to flow from Nebraska to South Dakota. For some reason the killer had dumped here, to the scene he was driving to now in Santee reservation near Niobara, Nebraska. This would be a messy investigation from the start because it was on Santee reservation lands. If the feds were coming up though, they might be quicker getting hold of a council man willing to talk.
He had a pounding headache. Jesus fuck, he had to stop somewhere quick and get some Advil or something. The road passed under him mile after mile after mile. The monotony of the scenery really sucked the life out a man sometimes, washed it grey. The callout this morning had his attention the minute he heard his captain’s preamble. Two girls murdered. Both tortured in some way that he didn’t specify. His boss just said feel it out. Rule out a connection. This sounded like something no one wanted to play connect the dots with.You were supposed to be ruling in connections usually. His bosses undertone was clear- don’t going looking for problems. Keep the media out of it as much as possible.
He shuddered involuntarily, bringing himself right back into the present. A sense of dread washed over him. Another girl found. This one also around 10 years old. Don’t assume it’s connected. Rule out a connection.
Some goddamn tree hugger had discovered the murder scene by accident. The one he was supposed to secure now, but simultaneously hand over to South Dakota state cops. The one that was two miles outta Niobara, Nebraska, the one that was you know, in goddamn Nebraska. Where the river played it’s trick of geography that caught kids in geography classes across Nebraska out. The location fitted the Sioux City Sheriff’s interpretation of events. She was killed here and washed down with river onto the South Dakotan side.
Reilly turned on the radio, and confirmed his worst suspicions. Dolly Parton. She wasn’t the worst but he hated the genre in general. His sometime partner and protege, Daryll, was a Nashville native who married a local. The dial was always set on a band wave for shit heel country’n western. He switched the audio back to his phone and continued on the podcast. Something about an audacious robbery of rare bird feathers.
This was one of the worst parts of this job. Stuck doing this or even having the threat of having to do it hanging over you.
He reckoned on having to see a total of maybe a hundred or so murder crime scenes in his career were he to not progress more in the ranks. Nebraska had forty eight odd murders last year. They were easily going to meet that and more this year. He had done three already now by April. He usually got only five in a whole calendar year.
The ones where a body was still on the ground were the worst, but sometimes just being in a room you knew had experienced extreme violence created a chilling effect.
He shuddered involuntarily again.
He turned off the highway and followed the secondary route until it directed him to Jesuit’s Pier. That was apparently as near as you could get by road. He saw the flashing lights of the crime scene folk a few hundred yards from the small lay to for the pier.
The sky was becoming increasingly sullen, the early morning sun having seemingly gone back to bed. He knew the rivers edge would be muddy, spring rains were still feeding into the Mississippi, adding to the snow melt from the surrounding hills. This was a pretty off the beaten track kind of place. Whoever was out here at any time around now wouldn’t be fur hunting, that season was well over. They would be looking into the background of the tree hugger of course, but Reilly had a feeling he was not a person of interest. Unless the tree hugger turned out to be someone else entirely. Weirder things could happen. But why would he draw attention to himself? Nah, he had accidentally come across the crime scene
Any kind of eye witness from here would be valuable though because very few people had business out and about here.
He took his boots out of the trunk and looked at the department issued Remington.
Fuck it he thought. Even if those black bear sightings were phoney, why take the risk right? He took the shotgun out of it’s holder, grabbed six shells and loaded it.
The morning bird song was in full flight as he made his way through the brush. The techs had left a marked new trail to the scene which was diagonal through some pretty dense brush. They seemed to have marked out another for protection, presumably the killer’s, The signs put up were loud and clear as per usual. Crime Scene tape was everywhere , Walk here signs pointing out the way. Those tech guys were being kept busy as well. But they needed the site protected and secured and that was his job.
He finally made it down to the river edge, fifty or so yards from the scene. Joe Bubowski and two other guys from Lincoln City crime lab were amongst the unlucky few chosen to be here this as well on this dreary day.
His headache was pounding again as he climbed up onto the rocks and back down again onto a shaded brushy area.
All he could see for now was a rocky out crop, but as he stumbled up the next set of rocks, he saw it. There was a clearing inset into the riverbank, and what looked like the remains of a small camp fire. There was strange wooden man made structure consisting of three wooden planks leaning onto one another to form a triangle. The planks were held in place with three rocks to prevent them slipping on the muddy floor. On the top of the blocks was a rope tied around it, cut roughly, with a trail of blood from it to the rivers edge only ten yards away.
“What we got Joe?” he shouted upstream. “Some guy walking his coyote up here?
Bubowski was staring over and into a crevice.
“Weeelll, we got a right douzie here Steve. One dead coyote all right over here. Looks like a small round or at least a low velocity one. And then we got the girls DNA on this thing whatever the fuck it is.
Bubowski pointed at the structure made from the tree planks.
“We got a preliminary from Wolock in the autopsy room. Bite wounds to the girls legs post mortem.”
Riley looked at the planks again. The rope loop cut was actually part of knot which seemed to create two loops, as if made for little hands.
He had to reach out to hold himself steady on a nearby small tree branch. He could sense the violence of it. He had seen this before. His rookie year, eight long years ago now.He was patrolling with his seargent when they had gotten a call about shots fired to a tenement in Salt Creek Lake area in Lincoln.
Bubowski looked at Reilly. He was staring at the structure in the center of what was to all intents and purposes a stage, for some savage play to be acted out on.
“This is worse than that shit on the radio about the LA Clippers. But I’m guessing you see what the coroner's office in Sioux City have confirmed this morning.”
He could see the pain on Reilly’s face.
Reilly did see it. He had seen it before. When he and his boss entered the house that fateful Sunday eight years ago, they eventually found two dead. The neighborhood was a poor one, ketamine was making a comeback apparently. The first body they found was a naked nineteen year old male who was mounted on to something like this plank construction, but much taller. He had been attached to the top of the structure in rope knotted in just the same way this one was. He had hung there and essentially strangled himself over a long period. How he got there was another question.
“She died of what appears to be asphyxia, without external pressure points noted.”
He almost whispered it by way of reply to Bubowski.
He knew what that was code for. Dry drowning was what he’d heard it called in Iraq as a grunt. You heard all kind of stuff that time and you were so green behind the ears you believed anything.
The victim suffocates slowly trying to support their own weight because their arms slowly choke them if they don’t support their own weight. The victim is tortured further because their position allows them to only partially weight bear, so it’s a constant physical struggle to even get their forefeet on the ground. It had been used for torture in a wide spread manner in Iraq by the Saddam regime or so the rumours were.
And then he had actually seen it in that house in Lincoln City. No longer just a rumour being just a rumour in Iraq.
That was his first week on the job.
He shuddered again.
Back to the present.
This was becoming a thing with him today. Maybe he was coming down with something.
He forced himself to re-orientate. A ten year old girl died here. This was another crucifixion site. Only this time the victim was a lot younger, or at least smaller. And the device was crude and home made, not purpose built. The planks crudely put together were the gibbet. She had been tied with her arms over her head and whoever it was watched her die slowly.
“Let me guess- wrists show evidence of being tied”
“Yup. Sick fuck must have watched her for hours. Then maybe left, maybe came back and found this coyote here at her. Shot the coyote, panicked and dumped the body quickly in the river. Weighed her down with a few rocks but did a poor job of it.”
“Broke her ankles too? Did the coroner mention that?”
“Yeah” Bubowski looked over to him quizzically. Reilly looked like he was coming back to the present as if he had just awoken.
“It was called curifragrium back in Jesus’s time. They’d break the legs of the slaves so trying to support any weight for even any time was agony.”
He walked over to the gibbet. She must have been small for a ten year old. Underweight at the least. To suspend her so her feet just about touched the ground meant she could not be more than 4’2 or so. The whole thing looked less than six foot. She could have been taller - if he had smashed the girls legs she may not have been able to stand at all which would also result in her choking.
“That’s how you die. You can’t support your weight eventually and your arms are forced by your own weight above your head in front of you. You slowly run out breath trying to hold the position. You eventually pass out and choke yourself death.”
“Yeah Steve. I know. I know...... I've seen it before right. We took care of Chris that night too right? What about those Clippers though right?”
Bubowski looked awkwardly around. He knew NBA was something one thing they had in common. Anything but talk about the other thing. The dead brother.
He glanced over to a small bag with a Dora the Explorer picture on it.
Bubowski shook his head.
“No surprises. No ID. Nothing.”
“Hers and an adult size tens, looks like Nike trainers. My guess is not a big man. Took them quite a while to get over the rocks, she struggled a lot if you look at the tracks on the riverside. He parked in the lay by you have, We reckon he then dragged her here going directly to the shore and up.”
“How come he didn’t go diagonally like we did across the field.”
Bubowski shrugged his shoulders.
“I dunno man. All I know is he didn’t looking at the tracks.”
Reilly looked across the bank to the other side. That was why. The killer had seen the secluded spot and saw the pier a few hundred yards downstream from the South Dakota side of the river. Saw that the way to the spot from the pier was relatively clear to cross in terms of terrain, just two small crops of smooth rock.
“What’s the nearest town across the banks?”
“ Biggest is Sioux Falls. I mean, there are some shit heel towns like Mitchell maybe, and Yankton is the nearest but yeah Sioux Falls is the biggest.”
“Yankton - about maybe a hour east.”
Riley looked at his watch. 6:54 am. Maybe he could actually put this back across the river.
“Bet it’s the biggest tolled river crossing too right other than Route 14”
Reilly looked north east over the trees. In the distance he could see the bridge on Route 14. It was not tolled but it was all highway with no connect except until you hit Route 12 and turned west on Route 12. That could get you here as well across state lines.
Or you could cross at Yankton. They could probably start there with CCTV for traffic at night in the last week. Because who ever did this had to do so would prefer the night. It was harder explain away an upset child or subdue a child during the daytime without arising suspicions. And the tracks did indicate the child struggled.
He looked at his watch. He’d call Slater then. He looked back at the Dora the Explorer bag. Something bothered him about it. Wasn’t Dora the Explorer a bit young for a ten year old? He had an eleven year old a d she wouldn’t be seen near a bag like that.
He felt an overwhelming sense of dread.
It was a three hour drive back to Lincoln. He felt like the last decade had been spent in this car or some other patrol car. The clue was in the name he guessed. The Nebraska called their state police State Patrol for a reason. There was so fucking few of them relative to the actual territory they covered, it mandated a lot of patrol and a lot less investigative time. They were all things to everyone. Got a sports event to police? Yeah that’s us. Got a MVA scene that’s needs a crime scene investigation? Yeah that’s us. Have a wedding event that needs covering? Hell, why not ? And hey, give us that stone cold treble homicide why’ll you’re at it. He knew at least sheriffs he drank with reasonably regularly, that were thinking of just throwing it all in. There wasn’t much private security action in Nebraska, but if you were prepared to leave the state, and the Mid West in general, you could get some decent money as ex law enforcement or an ex- sheriff. Big city people had this view of a Sheriff being exclusively Texan, white and aged but still sharp, straight outta Hollywood. They were under the mistaken impression sheriffs got shit done and they’d pay money in the private security business on the basis of something so nebulous at that.
He had bad feeling about the chances of getting this promotion. The Investigations Division was highly sought after, the K-9 Division the only
one more popular. If this interview tomorrow tanked, he was going to have to take a long look at his career options too .
He took out his phone and dialled in to Daryll who was pushing paper back at Lincoln.
Daryll didn’t do small talk.
“You know this case up here- Sioux Falls people said she bought candy at a nearby gas station this side of the river. Can you call Paul or whoever it is that’s your contact there and ask them which one.”
“Yah”. The phone went dead.
He shrugged his shoulders unconsciously- he could complain all day about a lack of small talk but he knew one thing. Daryll would ring back in fifteen minutes with that gas station name.
He climbed into the truck and waited for the photography crew and fence crew to arrive. This one was to be walled off and someone rotated to check in on it. That would take him to eleven at least to sort out. He had a funny feeling this one was going to involve some bigger hitters than just good ole Nebraska State Patrol. The scene was to be prepared for someone else to inspect. With the other girl found five months earlier two counties over, this was connected until proven otherwise. That meant a lot of news and noise and that usually meant the Feds getting involved. The Feds were based fifty miles northwest of his Lincoln office in Omaha, and they thought their shit smelt of roses.
The other body found was badly decomposed and found in a shallow grave as far as he knew. She was supposedly twelve years of age. The weird thing as he understood so far was that there were no matched girls missing from either Sioux City, Omaha or Lincoln City. He’d been involved in his fair share of Missing Peoples searches in his eight years with the patrol. Teenagers running off wasn’t uncommon, they usually turned up later when they ran out of cash. Of course some ended tragically in a lonely garage or wood somewhere. Some ended up in car wrecks in another state before being identified.
And as for Missing People- well that was pretty much the same, with one big extra group: the kind of people who wandered the country. You’d be called in, so and so missing a week, left their job, not seen. You’d do a bit of digging and find out their social security number was false. Their previous references from jobs wouldn’t check out. You’d trace them back to another town or state, same story.
Reilly had his own theory on these type of people- they were running from something or someone. It might they were on parole and broke it, it might be they owed some bad people a lot of money far away in a distant state or city. It might even be they had lost their anchor to a place, their loved one, and now they belonged nowhere. Nomads.
But Missing Children?
You remembered those rare call outs. The pulse quickened that bit more, the senses tuned up almost immediately. No need for coffee. He was lucky enough to only be involved in one, four year old Tommy Silberger who crept out his ground floor window one night in the dead heat of a summer night. He was found a day later alive and well a mile
away, playing in a small stream, tired, exhausted but alive.
But he knew there were no such searches recently for a missing 10 year old. Or a year back for a missing 12 year old girl. Those stories always made the local cable news. He was certain nothing like two missing children would have gone unreported.
His phone rang.
“Plainview. Take 14 south 40 miles until you hit route twenty and head east. Place called Sioux Sams or some shit like that. Looks like a Mom & Pops kinda outfit.”
“Thanks man, can you...”
The line went dead.
Reilly looked at time displayed on his phone. At this rate he would swing by once the scene was secured and he was heading home to Lincoln. It looked pretty much on the way, just a small detour.
By midday, he was pretty happy with the scene . Road access had been restricted which was easy given the remote nature of it. The photo people had done a number of shots and short walk around videos. The Crime Lab boys had done a second sweep and wrapped the giblet plank structure in place with plastic sheeting. The temporary fencing and police tape was in place. The local PD agreed a 4 hourly check in, he had a locally sourced State patrolman a county over who agreed to swing by at least daily.
The drive to Plainview down Route 14 was the same drive you took all over a lot of Nebraska. Flat featureless farm land on either side melting into a drab grey cloudy sky. Occasionally you’d see some heavy farm machinery maybe, or pass through some tiny town like Verdigre or Plainview.
He knew the kind of town this was even before he got there. There was a hundred more like it in Nebraska. The kind of place that had one all purpose general store, a food mart who’s idea of exotic was pineapple on pizza and where everyone drove a white pick up. Nothing ever happened really except for the occasional Friday night fight that turned nasty. The kind of town he grew up in.
Ever since concealed carry became a thing in 2007, Nebraskan citizens across the state were buying guns as if the apocalypse was around the corner. Of course the apocalypses were usually handed out in singular doses through a bottle of booze, a glance taken the wrong way and a legally acquired 9mm in the car park at 1am. Really in essence, Reilly reckoned it was the Wild West Way. Towns like this usually even had their hero plastered on pictures in every local establishment- a WW2 general from the last war just about everyone still could agree was a “good war”.
If you slowed down and took a turn off Main street, and rolled around the few houses spread around town, you’d see them. Pictures of young men in uniform from round there, now placed reverentially on lawns, public tombstones so to speak, draped in the red white and blue. The pictures would have the young man beaming in their dress uniforms, with the date they were KIA detailed below.
“Paid the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom” it would say. Some kid blown up in desert mountains thousands of miles away, never got to marry sweet Lilly Jane three doors down. This state went blue last time in 1964, it had been red through and through since then. Things like the flag, your right to carry a gun out drinking, and marrying your half cousin were what mattered to a lot of these folk.
He eventually reached Plainview by 1:15 and he figured he might as well get lunch. He was the wrong side of 215 lbs but he was 6’4 so he could carry it. He was doing maybe forty miles spins on his bike when he could at the weekends. But even still, the weight was slowly going on. He knew it was the beer of course. Not the bacon and egg sandwich’s he constantly had, or the burger and wings on the go. He’d have to cut down to Fridays only for serious drinking.
He spotted the gas station easily on the main avenue - there was a large Plastic native Indian statue below a big red and white sign that said “Sammy the Sioux” . He pulled in behind the two gas pumps, beside an old Nissan Almera with Chicago Bulls sticker on it. He could bet his life that Sammy was as Native American as his white half Irish ass. He put the F- 550 in park, and grabbed his hat from the dashboard.
He pushed open the front door to a cramped shop floor and counter. The doorbell tinkled, no one seemed to be coming out any time soon from behind the counter though. He looked for CCTV but could only spot one camera, and it was looking over the till. The shop sold a few soft drinks and chips and an impressive array of vehicle add ons like portable phone chargers, oil, brake fluid and winter chains. And of course, a fairly decent stand was dedicated to candy.
“Can I help you Officer”
Reilly wheeled around to look at the voice’s owner.
Sammy was indeed not Native American. He sounded like he was straight outta The Bronx.
“ I’m looking to talk to the manger”
“Speakin. I don’t recall calling in the Patrol though?” Sammy looked Italian American, was about maybe sixty five, and he was clearly unwell. His face was almost grey, and his eyes yellow and sunken.
The look on Reilly’s face must have given away his first impression, because Sammy just went ahead and came out with it.
“Pancreatic cancer. Got maybe a few months
at most. So let’s get down to business”
“We are looking for a child who bought candy here at this store about a week ago. Bought it late, about 10:20 pm. Last Tuesday. She may have had this with her.” He showed Sammy a picture of the Dora Explorer bag he had snapped on his phone from the scene.
Sammy looked back to Reilly.
“I guess you ain’t really lookin for the girl now right? I guess you found her. It’s being going over the radio round here.”
The gaunt yellow sunken eyes unsettled Reilly. They seemed to look at nothing in particular, no real focus.
“Well yeah, I guess. It’s a sad situation up there no doubt.”
Reilly put his phone back in his pocket.
“So then. You recall the girl or anything. Were you working maybe? You got any CCTV”
“My niece was working, I’ll get her number. He turned around and shuffled out to the back of the shop.
“And you’re in luck. We got new hidden cameras now for the pumps. New system and everything last year. It’s all on this”
Sammy came back out with a laptop.
Reilly smiled. His luck could be in.
He woke up in a cold sweat. He looked to his right at the digital clock. 4:53 am.
They hadn’t any real recent relationship. Daryl had been his older brother by two years. He had never been destined for college and had eventually drifted into machinery repair, in particular Nebraska’s farming machinery sector. It paid enough money and gave Daryl enough time and money to pursue his other two favourite hobbies, crystal meth and male prostitution. Reilly knew his brother was gay from the time when he was eighteen and he caught Darl with gay porn in their family home. It had shocked him at first and Daryl had a huge fight with him about it, insisting he didn’t tell their parents. They had kind of drifted apart afterwards as Daryl moved to a job outside Omaha. Ten years later he was dead, an apparent suicide. That had all transpired eight years previously. Of course his curiosity got the better of him and he accessed the Omaha PD file at the time. Usual stuff- self inflicted gunshot wound to face, weapon at the scene, his prints on the gun, drug paraphernalia at the scene.
Two things struck Reilly as odd from the file. The first was about what it didn’t say about the weapon used. It was a Mossberg short barrel special. Reilly wasn’t a gun nut but he knew that was an unusual gun for the likes of his brother to own. His brother had been hopeless with guns at home when they were brought to the ranges in Lincoln City. He could barely manage a .22 by the time he left home. He just wasn’t a gun guy. So the thought of him going out and buying a Mossberg? Nah. And why would a thirty year old single guy who liked to smoke a bit of meth need a Mossberg? Either Daryl had evolved into someone else and was in fear of his life, or that wasn’t his gun.
The second thing in Daryl’s police file which was right at the back hidden within the usual forensic stuff was a luminous pink small post-it note with the words “Operation Pringle” and a question mark beside it. He had asked around and eventually one of his Lincoln Murder PD connections told him. It was a now suspended investigation looking into a potential pedofile ring operating out of Sioux City. Reilly’s stomach had churned a little when he was told that. His brother died whilst being linked to pedofile ring. A little bit more digging by Reilly had confirmed his worst fears- his brother’s name was indeed on a list of names involved in a pedofile ring. The rest of the names were either absconded, doing jail time or dead. His mum and dad were still of course heart broken. He had just continued to lie to them, and peddled the suicides/drug user angle the local cops were putting on it. If it was anything else, no one seemed to want to know about it and that suited him fine. Or at least it did in the real world, but not so much in the dream world.