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DARK SHAMAN

EXCERPT 

Around 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 body.  
    "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?”
    Benson shrugged.
    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 disturbances.”
“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 indiscriminately.
“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 a whisper.
“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.
Benson nodded.
    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?"
    "Could be."
    "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.”
    "Why’s that?"
    "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 directions."
    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 bag.
    "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 hieroglyphics.
    "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 another bag.


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