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Authors: Linda Castillo

Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #Police Procedural

After the Storm (25 page)

BOOK: After the Storm
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“Any idea what happened?”

“Let’s see.…” She goes back to her keyboard and taps a few keys. “The patient wasn’t conscious upon arrival, but it looks like the paramedics got some preliminary info from his wife.” She squints at the monitor. “Seizures. Vomiting. Respiratory distress.”

“Any history of epilepsy?”

“No.”

“Head injury?”

“Wife says no.”

“You guys check for the presence of alcohol or drugs?”

“It’s routine in cases like this for the doc to draw blood, take urine, and send both out for a tox screen.” She wrinkles her nose at me. “He’s Amish, Chief.”

“I’m not sure that matters, unfortunately.” I sigh. “The wife around?”

“She’s in the ER waiting area.”

I make a stop at the vending machine for two cups of coffee and then head toward the ER waiting room. I find Abigail Kline sitting on an orange Naugahyde bench paging through a
Good Housekeeping
magazine.

She startles upon spotting me and rises abruptly. “Chief Burkholder. Is it Jeramy? Is he all right?”

Her face reveals stress piled upon a sleepless night. Her eyes are bloodshot, and the circles beneath them are the color of a bruise. I hand her one of the coffees. “I stopped by to check on Jeramy and see how you’re doing.”

“Oh.” She looks down at the coffee and takes it. “Thank you. I’m fine. It’s Jeramy I’m worried about.”

“What happened?”

“He just … got sick last night. It happened so quickly. I’ve had four children who spent their fair share of time with fevers and whatnot. But this … I didn’t know what to do or how to help him. I’ve never been so scared.”

I nod. “Can you take me through what happened to him?”

“It was a normal evening,” she tells me. “We had dinner and then we walked down to the creek. Afterward, we sat on the porch with some pie. We went to bed around nine thirty or so.” She closes her eyes briefly. “He woke me around midnight. He was in the bathroom, throwing up and … you know. I went in to check on him, and he was terribly sick and shaking. I thought maybe it was the stomach bug that’s been going around, so I fixed him some mint tea. It didn’t help. Nothing would help. He got worse and worse. And then he just … fell to the floor and started convulsing. I thought he was going to die.”

“What did you do?”

“He’s too heavy for me to move. I couldn’t get him to the bed, so I put pillows around him and I ran to the neighbor’s house to call the emergency number.”

“How’s he doing now?”

“I don’t know. The doctor came out and asked me a bunch of questions. I only got to see Jeramy for a few minutes. They put a tube in his mouth to help him breathe. He couldn’t talk to me. He was so pale.” Her face screws up, and she puts her hand over her mouth. “He couldn’t breathe on his own.”

“Does the doctor have any idea why he got sick?” I ask.

She shakes her head. “It’s been hours and no one will tell me anything.”

I nod. “What was his frame of mind last night?”

“He was fine. Same as always.”

“Did you have any guests last night? Did the two of you see anyone else?”

“No, it was just us.”

“Did you go anywhere?”

“No.”

“I hope he’s better soon.” I touch her shoulder. “I’ll check in on you later.”

“Thank you, Chief Burkholder.” She clasps her hands, her knuckles turning white. “I’m just praying to God it’s nothing too serious.”

*   *   *

I’m puzzling over Jeramy Kline’s mysterious illness when I climb into my borrowed Crown Vic and start toward the station. It’s probably an innocent case of stomach flu or food poisoning or maybe even the misuse of or allergic reaction to some prescription drug or unprescribed herb. But the timing of it niggles at my cop’s sensibilities. Even if his malady doesn’t have some benign explanation, I can’t come up with a motive for why someone would want him out of the picture. Unless, of course, the illness is self-inflicted because I’m about to find out about something he doesn’t want me to know.

I’m barely out of the parking lot when I hit the speed dial for Glock’s cell. “You up for an adventure?” I begin.

“I get to bring my gun?” he counters.

I try not to laugh but don’t quite manage. “I want you to run by Axel Equipment Rental over on Third Street and rent two metal detectors for a couple days.”

“Sure. I’m not too far from there now.” He pauses. “Kind of wondering why we need them.”

“I thought we might take them down to that abandoned hog facility and see if anything interesting turns up.”

“You mean like a titanium plate?”

“And everyone says I hired you for your marksmanship.”

“I’m sort of an all-around guy, I guess.”

I grin. “Meet me there in an hour, will you?”

“Roger that,” he says, and we end the call.

*   *   *

An hour later I’m southbound on County Road 24 northwest of Coshocton. On my right a cornfield stretches west to a precipitous hill and runs alongside the road. I descend a hill, cross a small creek, and the cornfield gives way to pastureland. A quarter mile past the creek, I come upon a wooded area of new-growth saplings and brush and small trees—nature reclaiming what’s rightfully hers.

According to my GPS, Hewitt Hog Producers is on the right, dead ahead. I descend another hill and enter bottomland. The foliage thickens. Mature trees encroach, casting me in shadow. I’m looking for a sign or mailbox, an overgrown driveway or lane on the right. I’ve just crossed the creek for the third time when a barely visible path to the left snags my attention. I hit the brakes hard enough to lock up my shoulder harness.

I make the turn onto an overgrown lane. The Crown Vic bumps over old ruts and dry mud holes. Tree branches and scrub scratch the doors as I squeeze the vehicle through the cavelike entrance. A hundred yards in, the trees open to what had once been a large gravel lot. A huge metal building juts from the earth like primitive ruins. Streaks of rust the color of old blood give the building the look of a felled beast. Silos punctuate each end of the building.

I park in an open area, well away from hip-high weeds that could be concealing holes or snakes or God only knows what. I’m about to call Glock to let him know the map had it wrong, when I hear the crunch of tires. I glance toward the entrance to see his cruiser pull in. He parks behind my Crown Vic. I get out and retrieve the canvas bag in which I packed a couple of hand spades and a folding shovel.

I reach Glock as he’s opening his trunk. “Hey, Chief.”

“Any problem finding the place?” I ask.

“Naw.” He lifts the first metal detector and leans it against the bumper. “Only drove by it four times.”

Grinning, I look toward the main building. A dilapidated chain-link fence encloses what had once been the electrical box. The fence has been cut; the electrical box door has been pried off its hinges.

“Looks like the copper thieves have come and gone.” He leans the second metal detector against the bumper and slams the trunk. “How long has this place been closed?”

“Around eighteen years. Give or take.”

“Looks it.” He straightens, his eyes skimming the trees and thick underbrush. He’s not the uneasy type, but I sense his tension. I feel that same tension creeping into my own psyche. We’re isolated here and surrounded on all sides by perfect hiding places. If you wanted to ambush a cop, this would be the perfect place to do it.

As if realizing my train of thought, he grins. “Keep expecting to see zombies walking out of those trees.”

“If that happens, it’s every man for himself.” I lift one of the canvas bags and heft it onto my shoulder.

The front of the building is stucco that’s covered with green moss. The remainder is corrugated steel. From where I’m standing I see the remnants of what had once been huge roof fans, probably for dispersing heat and the stench in the summer. We don’t speak as we weave through weeds and sapling trees toward the front door. Around us the woods are alive with the echo of birdsong and cicadas. A faded wooden sign dotted with bird shit is propped against a scraggly looking juniper that had once been part of the landscaping. I can just make out the faded print,
HEWITT HOG PRODUCERS,
and the logo of a smiling white pig. Next to it a faded
NO TRESPASSING
sign welcomes us.

“SO know we’re out here?” Glock asks, referring to the sheriff’s department.

I nod. “I called and let them know we were going to take a look around.”

The front door hangs at a precarious angle by a single hinge and creaks in the breeze. The wood is naked of paint and warped from the elements. Beyond, I see what had once been a reception area of sorts and several offices.

Glock reaches the door first and slips inside. “What’s the story on this place, anyway?” he asks as he enters the reception area.

“It closed down after some kind of problem with the EPA. Paid a big fine for dumping waste into a watershed.” I follow him inside and am immediately met with the smell of rotting wood and the vaguely unpleasant odor of mildew. “Hewitt abandoned the business, didn’t tell anyone there were a dozen or so hogs left behind. Agents came out and euthanized the animals.”

Glock turns and looks at me. “Always hate hearing shit like that. People who abuse animals are fucked up.”

“I agree.”

“Bodes well for why we’re here, though.”

“Yes, it does.”

We’re midway through the offices. There’s not much left. Except for a single swivel chair with a missing base, the furniture is gone. The office doors are nowhere in sight. Graffiti covers most of the walls. Some of it’s colorful and creative, but most looks like the mindless work of paint huffers. I see a single glass meth pipe on the floor. Several aerosol cans strewn about. The tiny bones of what looks like a long-dead rodent. Dirt and lichens and other indistinguishable organic matter grow everywhere.

We reach another door. Someone has fired a shotgun into it, which left dozens of pellet holes and an opening the size of my fist. Glock muscles it open. We go down a short stairwell and find ourselves in the belly of a warehouse-type building with a loading dock and dozens of old pens. Most of the steel panels are gone. Some are rusted and broken down. I suspect the equipment and furnishings of this place were auctioned off a long time ago. What didn’t sell was simply left behind, and over the years, people helped themselves to whatever they needed. About half of the pens include concrete manure pits that are about four feet deep. Some have grates in place; others simply drop off.

Through a door on the far side of the warehouse, I see the facade of a dilapidated Quonset hut barn with a big sliding door and tiny square windows.

I take in the sheer size of the place and sigh. “A lot of ground to cover.”

“You want me to call Skid or T.J.?” Glock asks.

I think about scheduling and overtime and shake my head. “Let’s see how much ground we can cover. If it’s not enough, I’ll get them out here tomorrow.”

He nods. “You know, Chief, with those remains showing signs that the vic was mauled by hogs, and he actually
worked
here, this is the place to look.”

“The question is, did he leave that titanium plate behind?” I look down at my metal detector. “The guy at the rental place give any instructions on how to use this thing?”

“Yup.” He reaches over and hits the power button. “There’s your
ON
button. Sensitivity is set high, so it’ll pick up just about anything, including beer tabs and crap. Since we’re both a couple of amateurs, he thought that was best.” He grins. “I think ‘idiot proof’ was the term he used.”

“Not intended in a literal sense, I’m sure.”

Another laugh, and then he offers instruction on technique. “All we have to do is set up a grid. Walk it. Sweep back and forth, like this.” He demonstrates.

I pull out my phone and call up a photo of the titanium plate. “This is similar to the piece we’re looking for. There may or may not be screws with it.”

He nods. “I’ll start on the north side, Chief. You want to take the south? We’ll work our way toward each other?”

“Good plan.”

He motions toward the Quonset hut barn. “If you don’t mind, I’m going to check that out first.”

“Remember what I said about zombies,” I call out.

“Yeah, yeah. It’s every man for himself.”

We part ways. I go right, to the south side of the maze of pens. He descends the steps and starts toward the Quonset hut barn.

*   *   *

Two weeks ago I gave a talk to about forty seniors at the Painters Mill High School. Most of the students viewed police work as an exciting and glamorous career chock-full of high-speed chases, CSI-esque science, and dangerous undercover work that nets millions in dirty cash and concludes with some scumbag drug dealer going to jail. A misconception perpetuated by movies and television. No one likes to burst the bubble of a young mind, so I was hard-pressed to point out that reality couldn’t be further from the truth. But I did.

Sweeping a metal detector over a nine-thousand-square commercial hog operation is a prime example of exactly how unglamorous police work can be, especially when your efforts are hampered by steel panels, concrete manure pits, and falling-down feeders. So far my search has netted a screwdriver, six beer cans, spent shotgun shells, several nails, and a garter snake. It’s hot and humid, and with the close proximity of the creek to the east, the mosquitoes are the size of bats and just as bloodthirsty. I’m two hours into my grid and working my way north, when I find the skull. I’m standing at the base of one of the manure pits atop a decades-old buildup of pig shit—that, much to my relief, has composted to soil—when I spot the curved globe sticking out of the dirt.

Propping my metal detector against the concrete wall, I tug the spade from my back pocket and squat for a better look. The skull is smooth and white and looks to be intact. Using the spade, I pry it from its nest. I’m no expert, but it looks very much like a pig skull. It’s elongated and relatively flat from crown to nose, with small tusks jutting upward from the lower jaw. I glance down, see a glint of white from a second bone. I unearth several vertebrae. A dozen or so ribs. The blade of a shoulder. Picking up the metal detector, I slowly sweep the area. When no alert sounds, I leave the bones and move on.

BOOK: After the Storm
13.86Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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