The Maverick

By: Diana Palmer

Alice rolled over, restlessly. Her job haunted her from time to time. Along with the coroner, and the investigating officers, she was the last voice of the deceased. She spoke for them, by gathering enough evidence to bring the killer to trial. It was a holy grail. She took her duties seriously. But she also had to live with the results of the murderer’s lack of control. It was never pleasant to see a dead body. Some were in far worse conditions than others. She carried those memories as certainly as the family of the deceased carried them.

Early on, she’d learned that she couldn’t let herself become emotionally involved with the victims. If she started crying, she’d never stop, and she wouldn’t be effective in her line of work.

She found a happy medium in being the life of the party at crime scenes. It diverted her from the misery of her surroundings and, on occasion, helped the crime scene detectives cope as well. One reporter, a rookie, had given her a hard time because of her attitude. She’d invited him to her office for a close-up look at the world of a real forensic investigator.

The reporter had arrived expecting the corpse, always tastefully displayed, to be situated in the tidy, high-tech surroundings that television crime shows had accustomed him to seeing.

Instead, Alice pulled the sheet from a drowning victim who’d been in the water three days.

She never saw the reporter again. Local cops who recounted the story, always with choked-back laughter, told her that he’d turned in his camera the same day and voiced an ambition to go into real estate.

Just as well, she thought. The real thing was pretty unpleasant. Television didn’t give you the true picture, because there was no such thing as smell-o-vision. She could recall times when she’d gone through a whole jar of Vicks Salve trying to work on a drowning victim like the one she’d shown the critical member of the Fourth Estate.

She rolled over again. She couldn’t get her mind to shut down long enough to allow for sleep. She was reviewing the meager facts she’d uncovered at the crime scene, trying to make some sort of sense out of it. Why would somebody drive a murder victim out of the city to kill him? Maybe because he didn’t know he was going to become a murder victim. Maybe he got in the car voluntarily.

Good point, she thought. But it didn’t explain the crime. Heat of passion wouldn’t cover this one. It was too deliberate. The perp meant to hide evidence. And he had.

She sighed. She wished she’d become a detective instead of a forensic specialist. It must be more fun solving crimes than being knee-deep in bodies. And prospective dates wouldn’t look at you from a safe distance with that expression of utter distaste, like that gardener in the hardware store this afternoon.

What had Grier called him, Fowler? Harley Fowler, that was it. Not a bad-looking man. He had a familiar face. Alice wondered why. She was sure she’d never seen him before today. She was sure she’d remember somebody that disagreeable.

Maybe he resembled somebody she knew. That was possible. Fowler. Fowler. No. It didn’t ring any bells. She’d have to let her mind brood on it for a couple of days. Sometimes that’s all it took to solve such puzzles—background working of the subconscious. She chuckled to herself. Background workings, she thought, will save me yet.

After hours of almost-sleep, she got up, dressed and went back to the crime scene. It was quiet, now, without the presence of almost every uniformed officer in the county. The body was lying in the local funeral home, waiting for transport to the medical examiner’s office in San Antonio. Alice had driven her evidence up to San Antonio, to the crime lab, and turned it over to the trace evidence people, specifically Longfellow.

She’d entrusted Longfellow with the precious piece of paper which might yield dramatic evidence, once unfolded. There had clearly been writing on it. The dead man had grasped it tight in his hand while he was being killed, and had managed to conceal it from his killer. It must have something on it that he was desperate to preserve. Amazing. She wanted to know what it was. Tomorrow, she promised herself, their best trace evidence specialist, Longfellow, would have that paper turned every which way but loose in her lab, and she’d find answers for Alice. She was one of the best CSI people Alice had ever worked with. When Alice drove right back down to Jacobsville, she knew she’d have answers from the lab soon.

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