a large clearing, brush and grass gradually turned into alder and birch
and then growing into a thickly packed, never-ending forest. Yellow police
tape cordoned off the center of the scene where Benson kneeled over the
"This is spooky. Don't you feel it?" Lum asked.
Sable shrugged, his ESP tingling as if he had grabbed onto wire
from a main power line. In the recent past, deep currents of evil has
passed through the area.
Following Benson's footprints, Sable stepped over the tape.
Scanning the area for the killer's footprints, he found only the child's
tracks paralleling his sergeant's boot prints. Despite his many years
on the force, Sable was still shocked by the savagery of the scene. He
stopped and felt a chill run up his spine. Slipping on the latex gloves,
he sensed a low current of evil in the background that seemed to grow, as
he got closer to the child. Though he told himself that it was his imagination,
something else told him it was not. "It’s just another crime scene--nothing
else," he tried to tell himself.
“This looks like the child’s been through a slaughter house.
It . . . she . . .” Lum's words drifted off as they neared Benson. Sable
watched the man’s eyes widen in recognition and then in horror. A gagging
sound came from Lum’s throat. His face had gone deathly white, maybe
from the odor or maybe from the gruesome scene.
God, he hated this—even Sable could never get used to crime scenes,
especially those involving children. With each step that brought him closer
to Benson, his dread heightened. Sable looked away, looked back at the
corpse, shivered and then looked away again. He forced his gaze back to
the girl’s body. Though she had been missing for months, he could tell
the murder had taken place in the last few days.
“Why are we just finding Jenny, when she’s been missing for almost
six months?” Sable asked rhetorically. “Do you think the date of her
death has some type of significance? Zodiak wanabe, maybe?”
Sable gasped at the stench of rotting flesh that seemed to surround
him. Sable stood over the body, his stomach churning and his mouth dry.
This morning was worse than most. Though he’d seen bodies severely mutilated
in the past, he’d never seen a child done this way. Animals had scavenged
the body, the entrails scattered across the field and partially eaten.
When he turned to look at Lum, the man’s face paled, he stepped aside,
retched and vomited. “Who could have done this, gutting a young girl
from pubis to her throat?”
“How long have you been a trooper?”
“Only a year.” Lum staggered slightly as he tried to hold himself
erect. “All I’ve done are traffic stops and handling a few domestic
“Don’t worry, you’re doing fine.”
“Do you ever get used to it?”
Sable shook his head and leaned forward. "What do you have so far?"
"The same as the other missing person's reports—nothing except
that we now have a body," Benson said.
Jenny's nude body lay spread-eagled in a large pool of dried
blood, her eyes staring vacantly at the sky. Luckily for them, animals
had not yet eaten all the body. It took all Sable’s nerve to evaluate
the child: her rib cage had been chopped with some type of large blade
or ax, spread open, and her heart removed. Though Benson swatted at several
large horseflies scavenging the flesh, they remained persistent while
more circled the air above, occasionally diving in and out and attacking
“What we have here, best guess, is a male killer. The removal of
the heart alone is a sick statement.” Sable reached out with his hand
and ran it over the remnants of the sternum.
“We know the killer is also careful from the way he discards the
bodies in the wilderness,” Benson said.
“We’ve got a murderer, a real sick one.” Lum’s voice was barely
“When you have this type of ritual killing, you know that this is
only the beginning.” Sable fought to control the rage in his voice.
Across Jenny’s forehead, someone had written a number of cryptic
symbols with a type of black ink. He remembered that Mary Lou Cranston,
the first victim, had similar markings. An odd tingle raced down Sable’s
spine, and he shivered. Each crime scene was different, requiring different
approaches to processing. And this one was definitely different. But
that didn’t detract from the basics. The basic protocol required careful
examination, then photographing, sketching, and processing the scene.
“Find any footprints?” Sable asked.
"Some type of soft shoe with no tread or stepped heel--mukluk
or moccasin. I've got the plaster setting up."
"Same as before?"
"Did you follow them?"
"Yes, for about a hundred feet, until they disappeared. Found
lots of wolf or dog tracks though. Of course, I'm not much of a tracker,
but the killer should have left some sign." Benson wrote in his notebook.
“The craziest thing was wolf tracks.”
"The ground was soft and wet; but the shoe tracks just ended,
but the wolf tracks continued on."
"Maybe he ran and jumped," Lum offered.
"I thought of that, but then the last set of impressions should
have been deeper. I also searched a pattern 200 hundred feet beyond the
tracks. I've never seen anything like it. There was just no trace."
Benson voice had a shaky quality.
An acid taste rolled over Sable’s tongue as he contemplated his
next task—examining the body. He squatted and tried to sense the personality
of the killer, letting the darkness of that essence radiate through him.
Was it an orgasmic release from the hunt of the prey or something darker?
He could feel the dark pulling at him, wanting to merge, but he drew away.
Just like when his wife was murdered. When he had gone after Meyers,
his soul had carried a bottomless rage that had almost pulled him into
the depths of hell. He’d believed that, just as in the Bible, blood debts
had to be paid in blood. Even after all the years, he felt like a puzzle
with a number of pieces missing from the box.
Sable hunkered down over the body again while he examined the open
cavity. The repeated blows by what appeared to have been an ax had cut
the cartilage jaggedly. The scent of fetid flesh clogged the air he
breathed in spite of his precautions and he turned away momentarily.
His eyes misted over--she was too young to die this way. The bitterness
of bile coated his tongue and he tried to swish the taste away while he
stretched and worked on the kinks in his muscles.
He forced himself to lift one of her hands and study it. The
arm barley moved due to rigor mortis. He knew that people who killed in
such an organized fashion wouldn’t stop until they were caught. “Looks
like blood and skin. Make sure that her hands are bagged before the ME
takes the body.”
“If we ever find this asshole--we’ve got him cold.” Benson’s voice
was hard, cold and cutting.
"Any fresh tire tracks?" Sable asked.
"Only mine. I walked nearly a mile up and down the road in both
Lum whispered quietly in the background. "This mother has to
be one sick puppy!"
"Got the camera ready?"
"Yes. I'm right on it." Lum unsnapped the cover of the Nikon,
lifted it, and focused. He didn't snap the shutter for several seconds.
Sable pulled his notebook and pen from his shirt pocket, rolled
the pen over his knuckles and clicked it. "Did you question the children
who found her?”
"I tried, but they were so badly shaken I'll try again this evening."
"Once the Fairbanks medical examiner arrives, she might find
something more before she ships the body to Anchorage for the full boat."
As Sable gently rolled the stiff body partially to the side, he found
two large eagle feathers and a bone-handled hunting knife drenched in
blood with highly visible fingerprints. The murderer had finally made a
mistake--leaving crucial evidence.
"The killer screwed up." Benson's voice sounded like sandpaper
grating on wood.
"Here." As Lum helped support the body, he handed Sable a plastic
"Thanks." Gingerly, Sable picked up the feathers and turned
them over in his hand. Written in a delicate hand and great precision
on the shaft of the quills were strange pictorial glyphs, closely resembling
"What do you make of them?" Benson asked.
"Your guess is as good as mine," Sable said. “Maybe we’ll need
an archeologist for this one.” He dropped the feathers into the bag, sealed
it and handed it to Benson who in turn numbered the evidence and opened