The dampness hit him before his eyes adjusted to the darkness. The Sherrif’s leather boots crossed the foreboding space, thick with the coldness of neglect. His torchlight scanned his surroundings; concrete, scathed floor, rusted metal pipes, and a single chair positioned in the centre of it all with hands bound to its back. The harsh beam shone onto the lonely object and cast its brightness onto the person sat hunched over, covered in flies. As he approached closer, he noticed how her hair was knotted and frayed at the edges. A strong stench pervaded with the acrid, coppery scent of blood. A smell he still hadn’t grown accustomed to despite his years in the force. He shuffled around to face the body and checked for any sign of life even though he knew there would be no pulse. Deep, bruised slices littered the woman’s chest. The blood, now dried and congealed, was black against her exposed skin.
At least a week. She’s been gone at least a week.
The radio crackled in his hand, impatient for news. He turned it off - if only for a few seconds. He’d never once broken his routine. The Sheriff placed his firearm back in its harness and knelt at the woman’s feet. He pressed his palms together and touched his ageing fingers against his creased forehead. His prayer hung solemnly in the room, but he hoped it did not fall on deaf ears. He promised the woman that he’d find whoever did this to her and asked forgiveness for his failings in the case so far. Despite his best intentions, it was a promise that Sheriff Walker did not know if he could keep.
“Your prayers are too late, Jon. No matter how good you are, you can’t bring the dead back to life,” his partner interjected as he caught up to Walker.
The pair had decided to search the warehouse separately due to the sheer scale of the place. Fortunately or unfortunately for Deputy Peterson, he hadn’t long been assigned to the case and was still figuring out how Jon liked to operate.
“Call forensics; looks like she died from knife wounds,” he instructed while pointing to the woman’s torso. “We’ll need to locate the generator to get some lights on in the place before we can conduct a thorough search.” Walker’s torchlight gestured to all four corners of the space as he spoke. The plentiful barrels and crates provided perfect hiding places for a murder weapon.
“On it,” Peterson responded with a level of optimism only a new detective would possess.
Outside, Walker squinted against the glare of the sun. Long inhales filtered out the remaining odour of death lingering at the back of his throat. The image of her rigid body would take far longer to fade. Lying dormant in the back of his mind, his first-ever homicide case resided. The shock had him throwing up for hours. These days, he was still stunned by what humans were capable of, but he had slowly learnt to process a scene without becoming overwhelmed. Where women and children were concerned however he could never quite fully suppress his emotions.
The sound of crushed gravel broke behind Walker, but he remained still and reflective.
“Forensics are on their way. I’m still working on getting someone out here for the electrics,” Peterson announced as he sauntered over to the Sheriff, sunglasses in hand. “So, what are you thinking?”
Jon remained silent as he stared out across the dry desert ablaze with orange. A hawk circled overhead, calling out in hunger. It was the type of view that people travelled for – a picture of rustic serenity and calm, away from prying eyes and busy traffic.
“I’m thinking someone really didn’t want her to be found.”
The two detectives stood side-by-side searching the vista for answers.
“You still think the husband did it?”
“We need physical evidence, Tom. Without it, we don’t have enough to prosecute.”
Peterson’s breath exhaled loudly. “Any luck on tracking down the caller behind the anonymous tip?”
“Nothing. It’s like the call never even existed.”
Peterson tut as he turned away from Walker to peruse the perimeter of the lot, eager to find imprints left behind by the assailant; tyre tracks or footprints stencilled into the dirt.
It was no use. The wind had wiped away anything useful or incriminating. The many barrels and crates revealed nothing of evidentiary value.
Quicksand, Walker mused. We are stuck in quicksand.