Medium Rare Chapter 2b
May 2012 – Searchlight, NV – Vector
He leaned his head back against the neck rest as their vehicle ate up the miles, turning off Joshua Tree Highway to take an older side road that eventually disappeared. At the thirty-four minute mark, they had fully transitioned to a dirt path cut between the native flora by—Vector couldn’t even imagine who would have passed this way before them. Hunters maybe? Campers? Hikers with an interest in flat desert and the occasional cactus.
He didn’t sleep, but he drifted in a light doze in the otherwise silent car, lulled by the rock and roll of the tired skidding through brown red dirt. Deputy Roberts kept the air conditioning going on high the whole time so that it felt like they were driving around in a black refrigerator.
Vector roused himself at the forty minute mark, his internal clock ticking off the minutes steady as a metronome, and flicked off the air to the Deputy’s protest. He rolled down his window and took in the hot, dusty air that whipped past them.
“Just let him do it,” Henderson said in an aggrieved tone when Roberts tried to protest.
“You’ll miss when you’ve been out here for an hour in those clothes of yours,” the Deputy muttered.
Vector’s head hung off his neck, angled towards the car window, eyes closed, and nostrils flaring.
He had just finally settled on east and west when they pulled up at the crime scene.
Another Clark County deputy sat on a folding chair, her feet propped up on a cooler and her hair pulled down to cover her face. They’d erected a blue tarp tent over the scene and her chair must have been positioned just so to keep her out the sun and hour or two ago, but the edge of the light had since crept up over her boots and into her lap.
“Vicki!” Roberts snapped, throwing open his door. “The hell you think you’re doing. The Feds are here. Agents, this is our forensics deputy, Victoria Jones.”
Vicki slid to her feet in a slow crawl. She was tall, five foot seven or five foot eight, with tanned skin, and long honey-brown hair controlled in a neat braid. She flicked a glanced over the FBI agents disembarking from the cars with disinterest, until her eyes landed on Vector.
He felt his nostrils flare, scenting the unmistakable salty tang: coyote. Like bitter tar and cactus juice in the back of his throat.
Vicki Jones licked her lips and strolled over to him.
“You the tracker?”
He inclined his head, standing up straighter when she leant in to get a better whiff of his own wolf scent, the corners of her eyes crinkling up in a mischievous look.
“Didn’t know the Feds employed boys like you.”
“I don’t know what this would be a surprise. Who else were you expecting?”
“You process the scene yet?” Roberts interrupted.
“I took photos,” she said, pointing her finger towards the little bag of equipment next to her vacated lawn chair. “Sherif told me not to mess anything up before they could get here.”
She kicked open the little cooler and pulled out two cans, offering one to Vector. He demurred and gestured to Henderson, but Vicki snorted and placed the second can back down and snapped the hatch closed.
“Come on, I’ll show you what we found,” she said, cracking the top of the can and taking a long sip. Vector could smell it now—not beer, just root beer, sweet and highly carbonated.
He followed Vicki under the canopy where a six-by-six foot area had been marked with police tape. They’d dug down a couple of feet into the dry cracked earth, revealing two partially decomposed bodies.
“How did you find them?” Vector asked, tilting his head. His eyes took mental snapshots of the bodies’ position, the depth, and the relative state of decay.
“Something’d been digging, local wildlife maybe. Uncovered part of the topmost body. You can see where they’re missing most of their hand,” she said, indicating the disturbance. “Some kids followed the birds that inevitably flocked, freaked out when they uncovered part of the torso. Called us.”
Vector squinted around them, at the distinct lack of anything. “Why do they come out here? Kids.”
Vicki smirked. Her chapped lips curling up in a dirty smile that reached her eyes. “You asking me why kids will drive into the empty desert? Pick a spot with nothing around for miles?”
“I see.” He squatted in the dirt, touching the tips of his fingers against the sandy grains, just to get a feel for the earth here. Vector glanced between the sun where it was disappearing behind the blue tarp, and the edge of the gravesite. “We’ll need to uncover the entire area.”
“Yeah, s’why I had Quinetha bring the shovels. Don’t suppose your boys will lend a hand?”
Vector shrugged. He laid his suit jacket across her lawn chair and began to roll up his sleeves. “I can help.”
“Clanahan!” Henderson snapped.
Vicki raised her eyebrows.
He pressed his lips together in a thin line. “We need to see if there are five of them, like the other scenes. If there aren’t five bodies than this isn’t our case and we’re just wasting our time.”
“What’s so special about five?” Vicki asked under her breath.
“The killer I’m tracking, always leaves five bodies behind before moving to a new hunting ground.”
“How many cities have you been to so far?”
“This would be the fourth?”
“Fifteen murders. This could be twenty. Fun person you’re trying to catch up to.”
Quinetha grabbed four shovels out of the back of his SUV and a five gallon bucket full of brushes, trowels, tape, string, and garden pegs. Vicki took the bucket.
“We’re a regular archeology team, see?”
She rolled her eyes and looked between Roberts and Henderson. “Well? You boys going to help if this ones not allowed to?” she demanded, jerking her thumb at Vector.
He sighed, and backed up as the LEOs began arguing about who was best suited to do the excavation work. He could hear Vicki snickering under her breath as the men came to some sort of agreement, two FBI agents grabbed shovels—the boys out of Denver—and Roberts and Quinetha to the other two while Henderson shouted down anymore arguments.
Vicki whistled a low tune and scuffed her cowboy boot in the dirt. Vector wandered away from the scene in an ever expanding spiral.
“How does it work?” she asked, dogging his footsteps.
He glanced at her in question.
She made an expansive gesture with her hands, somehow taking in the both of them, the dead bodies, the FBI agents, all of it.
“Whatever it is they’ve got you doing that not digging.”
He tapped his nose and Vicki laughed.
“What, just a glorified bloodhound?”
“Why do I not believe that?” she said, biting off the words with her sharp little coyote teeth, her hot breath ghosting across the back of his ear.
The crime scene overlooked a dip in the desert, where it suddenly and without warning dropped off into a winding, bone dry ravine. Maybe there had been the trickle of a river here once, but it had long since vanished into the sands.
Vector stood at the edge of the ridge and took in the vista before him, mostly brown, but spotted here and there with tufts of hearty little green plants and the occasional Joshua tree.
“Did you grow up in these region, Deputy?”
“Yup. What about you?”
Vector pressed the tips of his fingers into the fine silk-wool blend of his trousers, thinking of salt air off the Sound, the taste of cool rain on his tongue. If he closed his eyes, he could hear the fish mongers hollering as they threw their catch from truck to ice bed, could feel the drizzle soaking the edge of his collar, his dark brown hair turning black from the rain as it plastered to his skull, not a single umbrella in sight. If he stood there silent and perfectly still, he could almost imagine the bitter taste of Starbucks rolling across his tastebuds.
“Someplace about as far away from this one as you can imagine,” he replied.
Vector’s eyes snapped open, the brown red sun and dirt burned into his retinas. Beside him Vicki Jones laughed, the sound bouncing off the barren earth.