Smells Like Rain
by B J Bourg
“Smells like rain.” Detective Sergeant Preston Duet stared down at the nude body in the shallow ditch. She was a pale-skinned, twenty-something girl. Her facial features were hidden beneath a mass of broken flesh and dried blood, but if her body was any indication, it had been a beautiful face. Preston leaned to look at her bloody hands. All of her fingernails had been removed. “Who found her?”
“A couple of kids who were playing in the fields.”
Thunder rumbled in the distance. “This scene needs to be worked pronto.”
Detective Elvin Benoit glanced up at the dark, active cloud formation. “Think they’ll get here before it dumps on us?”
A fat drop of rain splashed onto Preston’s thick brown hair. It was followed by another, and another. He snatched up his police radio. “Headquarters, I need a twenty on the crime scene team.”
Sherry Tyler’s soft voice called over the radio, “My ETA is ten minutes. Try to protect the scene until I get there.”
Preston shoved the radio in his back pocket and scanned the barren cane fields that surrounded the crime scene. “We have to cover this area.”
“With what? We’re in the middle of nowhere.”
Preston pointed to the patrol cop who stood leaning against his squad car. “Bill, you have a tarp in your car?”
Bill spat in the dirt that was slowly turning to mud. “Do I look like the umbrella type?”
Thunder clapped and the rain began to fall in sheets. Preston wiped the water from his face and shivered as a cold drop snaked down his neck and into his shirt. An idea suddenly occurred to him and he ran the fifty feet to his unmarked cruiser. He slid to a stop and jerked the door open. Rain pelted his back. He leaned in and snatched the raincoat from the front seat.
As he returned to the shallow ditch, he called over his shoulder to Bill and Elvin, “Grab your slickers. Quick!”
Preston straddled the muddy ditch. His left foot slipped and he sank to the ankle in the slop at the bottom of the ditch. Cold water seeped through the fabric and saturated his sock. “Damn!”
“What happened?” Elvin had returned with his raincoat and tossed it to Preston.
“I nearly fell on the body.” Preston buttoned the flap of his raincoat to the flap on Elvin’s and handed one end to Elvin. The driving rain made it hard to see and the wind threatened to wrestle the raincoat from their grasps. “Don’t let it go!”
Elvin maneuvered around the ditch and held his end of the raincoat directly above the girl’s body. Rain whipped under the cover they had built and sprayed the girl, washing precious evidence into the muddy slop.
Preston squatted and motioned for Elvin to do the same. He had to yell to be heard above the roaring wind and rumbling thunder. “Get low so the rain won’t get under the slickers!” Preston let out a shivering sigh of relief when he realized the raincoats were keeping most of the rain from reaching the body. What little evidence remained would be preserved until Sherry arrived with her team of investigators.
Elvin spat water from his mouth. “Pres, they need to get here quick. Evidence is being washed away.”
Preston nodded. He glanced down at his left foot. The water had risen several inches in only minutes. It gushed into the shallow ditch from the cane rows and rushed passed the body. “The water’s rising!”
Elvin’s eyes widened. “She’ll be fully submerged soon.”
Preston looked toward the cruiser. Bill was picking his way across the muddy field, his raincoat dangling from his shoulder.
“Hurry!” Preston hollered. “I need you to dam up the ditch!”
Bill nodded and broke into a stumbling jog. When he neared the crime scene area, thunder crashed and lightning flashed nearby. The suddenness of it startled Bill and he lost his footing. Preston watched in horror as Bill fought to retain his balance. It was futile. His feet slipped out from under him and he fell face forward. He crashed through the raincoats and onto the body. The force of the fall knocked Preston and Elvin sprawling.
Bill struggled to push himself up and only succeeded in pressing the girl deeper into the muck.
Preston blinked away the rain that stabbed his face. “Bill, don’t move!”
Elvin eased himself out of the shallow ditch and reached for Preston. When Preston again stood on the bank of the shallow ditch, he shook his head. “Can it get any worse?”
* * *
Sergeant Preston Duet looked up as Detective Sherry Tyler walked into the morgue. “Nice to be dry again, eh?”
Sherry nodded. “I don’t think I’ve ever been that wet.”
“Or that cold.” Preston checked the display screen on his vibrating pager. It was Headquarters. He shook his head. They knew he was attending an autopsy. He turned his attention back to Sherry. “Anything on Jane Doe’s prints?”
“Nothing. We also checked Missing Persons for anyone matching her description, but that was a dead end, too.” She glanced around the morgue. “Where’s Elvin?”
“He knocked off early. He and Claire are going up to Baton Rouge for the weekend.”
Preston nodded and watched as Doctor Linda Dearborn made the last stitch to close the “Y” incision in Jane Doe’s chest. She pulled the mask from her face and turned her sparkly blue eyes toward Preston. “This killer was either very smart to put her in that drainage ditch, or very lucky.”
Preston stared down at Jane Doe’s mangled face and bruised neck. “What can you tell me?”
“Her hyoid bone was fractured pre-mortem and conjunctival petechiae is present in her eyes. There are also horizontal, crescentic abrasions on her neck and-”
“Doc, can we get that in English?”
Doctor Dearborn smiled at Preston. “She was strangled, Detective. But she didn’t go down without a fight.”
Dearborn pointed to the crescent-shaped abrasions on Jane Doe’s neck. “These fingernail marks were caused by the victim trying to rip the killer’s hands from her throat.” She then held up Jane Doe’s hands. “If you find the killer, check his wrists and arms. They should be clawed up pretty good.”
“Is that why he removed her fingernails-so we can’t get his DNA?”
“That’s my guess.”
“Did you locate anything that’ll help us locate the killer?” Sherry asked.
“Not a shred of trace evidence on her body. If any was present, that storm washed it away. I’d be willing to bet-”
A loud buzzer interrupted Doctor Dearborn. She walked to the voice box on the wall and pressed a black button. “What is it?”
“Doc, the body from the auto fatality is here.”
“Bring him in.”
The double doors opened and an assistant rolled a gurney into the morgue. A black body bag lay atop the gurney. The assistant slid the gurney alongside Table Two and Preston walked over to give him a hand with the body. “What happened to this one?”
When they had dragged the body onto Table Two, the assistant leaned against the gurney and took a deep breath. “Car crash. He lost control in that blinding rain and hit a cement culvert.”
“On Spur 70. He flipped end over end and landed upside down in a canal. From what they said, it looks like he drowned in his seatbelt.”
“Poor bastard.” Sherry had walked up to watch the assistant unzip the body bag. When he pulled the flap away from the body, Sherry let out a shrill scream that made the hair on Preston’s neck stand up.
Sally turned her back away from the bag and stood shaking. Preston slowly turned to the bag. When his eyes caught sight of the victim’s face, his heart stopped beating. He opened his mouth to talk, but nothing came out. He reached for the table to steady himself.
Doctor Dearborn rushed over and flung the flap closed. She glared at her assistant. He shook his head. “I’m so sorry. They didn’t tell me he was a cop.”
Preston took a deep breath and straightened. He circled the gurney and put an arm around Sherry. “Are you okay?”
She nodded, but her body was shivering. “It can’t be Elvin. We just talked to him a few hours ago.”
“I know.” Preston led Sherry outside to the carport and held her tight. The rain pattered the metal roof above them and a cool wind blew her long blonde hair against his cheek. The weather fit the mood. His eyes drifted shut as he rocked Sherry, but his vibrating pager brought him instantly alert. He snatched it from his belt and sighed.
Sherry pulled back and tilted her tear-streaked face upward. “What is it?”
“Headquarters.” Preston pulled his cell phone from his coat pocket. He called Headquarters and recognized Rhonda’s frantic voice on the other end.
“Preston, I’ve been trying to page you! Elvin was in a wreck-”
“I know. They brought his body here to the morgue.”
Preston could almost hear the tears sliding down Rhonda’s cheeks.
“I’m sorry,” she wailed. “I just...”
“It’s okay. We all feel the same way.”
Rhonda sniffed and exhaled forcefully. “Okay, the reason I paged you; Lieutenant Bradley notified Elvin’s wife and she’s asking to speak to you.”
Preston scratched his head. “Where is she?”
“I can patch you through to Lieutenant Bradley’s cell.”
“Do it.” A moment later Rene Bradley answered the ring. Preston asked to speak with Claire.
“She’s been asking for you, but she’s messed up. Good luck.”
“Messed up? So, she was in the car?”
“No, she’s home. She’s messed up mentally. Elvin was alone in the car.”
“It looks like he lost control in the rain. We’ll know more when the Troopers finish processing the scene.”
“Put Claire on.”
A sobbing Claire Benoit screamed into the phone, “Preston, what happened?”
“Elvin was in a bad accident.”
“Did he say anything before... before he died?”
“I don’t know, Claire.”
“But I thought he was with you?”
“No, he knocked off early. He said y’all were going to Baton Rouge for the weekend.”
There was a long moment of silence. When Claire spoke again, there was confusion in her voice. “What are you talking about?”
“Elvin left work a few hours ago. He said y’all were going to the LSU baseball game.”
“No, he called me and said he would be working late; that y’all were working a murder case.”
Preston opened his mouth to answer, but was interrupted when the morgue door burst open and the assistant grabbed his arm. “Detectives, y’all need to come quick.”
“Claire, I have to go. I’ll call you back.”
Preston flipped his phone shut and he and Sherry followed the assistant into the autopsy room. They found Doctor Dearborn bent over Elvin’s nude body. Preston’s mouth dropped open. “What the-?”
Doctor Dearborn straightened and pursed her lips. “The crescentic abrasions on his arms are consistent with those on Jane Doe’s neck.”
Sally gasped. “That’s impossible!”
Preston moved closer to examine the torn flesh on Elvin’s arms. He shook his head. “There has to be an explanation for this.” His phone rang. Without thinking about it, he lifted it to his ear. “Preston here,” he droned.
“Hey, it’s Rene. You’re not gonna believe this.”
“I’d believe anything right about now.”
“The State Troopers found a purse and some bloody clothes in the trunk of Elvin’s unmarked cruiser. Get this; the driver’s license photo matches the description of your Jane Doe. Her name’s Betty Wainwright.”
Preston looked down at Elvin’s twisted, lifeless face. “What did you do?”
Sally walked over and touched Preston’s arm. “It was Elvin?”
“Oh, God!” She bent over and vomited on the floor.
Preston grabbed a hold of Sally and helped her to a chair. When the color had returned to her face, Preston asked her if she was okay.
“I think so.”
“We need to talk to Claire so we can try to figure this out.”
Sally nodded. “I’ll be fine.”
* * *
Claire was seated on the sofa and Sally on the recliner. Preston walked around the living room staring at the pictures and plaques on the wall. “Tell me again about the phone call.”
Claire cleared her throat. “It was yesterday morning. I received a call from a woman who said she had something very important to tell me. She wanted to meet with me.”
“Did y’all agree to a meeting place?”
“No. She told me she would call with the details. She told me not to tell Elvin.”
“But you told him anyway.”
“I tell Elvin everything.”
“What happened next?”
“He asked if she gave a name. He asked if she said where to meet and if she said what it was about.”
“No. She just said she had to tell me something really important and she had to tell me face to face.”
“How did Elvin react to this news?”
“He began acting weird. Said I couldn’t believe everything I heard. I asked him what he was talking about, but he wouldn’t say.”
“What happened next?”
“He left in a big hurry.”
Preston paused to look at a picture on the mantle. It was of him and Elvin at last year’s department crawfish boil. “Did the girl ever call back?”
“Yeah, but I wasn’t here.”
“Then how’d you-”
“She left a message on my answering machine.”
“Can we hear it?”
Sally stood to her feet. “That won’t be necessary.”
Preston’s brow puckered. “Excuse me?”
“Can I talk to you in private?”
“Sure.” Preston walked to the kitchen and Sally followed.
When they were out of earshot of Claire, Sally hung her head and said, “Elvin was having an affair.”
“How do you know?”
“I overheard him on the phone with her. He was telling her that he would never leave his wife. I don’t know what she said, but he responded with, Betty, I’d kill you if you ever did that to me.”
“What do you think it meant?”
“I figured he meant if she ever told Claire about the affair.”
Preston rubbed his chin. “So you think she was going to tell Claire?”
A tear slipped down Sherry’s cheek. “I was going to tell Claire. I was the one who made the phone calls.”
“When I was married my husband screwed around on me for years. Everyone knew about it but me. I felt like such a fool. I was humiliated. I vowed it would never happen again.”
“But what in God’s name does your relationship have to do with Elvin’s?”
“I vowed it would never happen again to any woman as long as I could help it.” Sally wiped a tear from her eye. “I didn’t know Claire would tell Elvin, and I didn’t know Elvin was capable of murder.”
Preston stared through the doorway at Claire, who sat wrapped in a thick, flowered print quilt. “What do we tell her?”
He shook his head slowly and, resignation bleeding through his tone, said, “It sure smells like rain.”
Copyright © 2007 by B J Bourg