Blanchart got out of his unmarked cruiser and sidestepped a puddle to approach the locked storage unit. “Were you the first on scene?” he grilled the deputy patrolman wearing a yellow rain parka and holding a pair of bolt cutters in his hand.
“Yes Sir,” the young officer answered. “Dispatch said someone reported sounds of gunfire in the area. I rolled up and searched the premises.” He pointed to the Geo Metro with a broken antenna. “I found the car when I arrived.”
“You find the owner?”
“The car was empty when I got here.”
“Did you run the plates?”
“The vehicle’s registered to a Joshua Sullivan. I got a last known address if you want it.”
Blanchart squinted at a crimson smudge on the storage unit handle. “Looks like blood. We might get a usable print.”
Blanchart poked the padlock shackle with a pen. “Did you touch the lock?”
“No Sir. I grabbed the bolt cutters from the trunk, but I waited until you got here.”
“Back up,” said Blanchart. He unholstered his service pistol and fired two rounds at the latch. He lifted the corrugated aluminum panel and recoiled at the smell of death inside the unit, where flecks of blood and brain matter spackled the roof and walls.
The deputy dropped the bolt cutters and covered his mouth with his hand. “What happened in here?”
Blanchart assessed the crime scene with a visual inspection of the crumpled boxes and a trampled collage of bloody shoeprints. “Don’t step there,” he told the deputy about to add a fresh boot print to the mix.
The deputy moved behind the sheriff and knocked over a pile of boxes on the horizontal freezer. “Sorry.”
Blanchart slipped his hand in a latex glove and opened the freezer lid to find Josh’s body with a hole in the side of his head. He touched the neck. “He’s still warm. What time did the call from dispatch come in?”
“About forty-five minutes ago.”
“Did you see anyone at all when you rolled up?”
“No Sir.” The deputy leaned forward for a better look at the.38 revolver in the victim’s hand. “Looks like two rounds were fired.”
Blanchart noted the spatter pattern on the walls and ceiling. “Call the coroner and tell him to send the meat wagon.”
The deputy stepped back and held his stomach. He vomited a leftover meatball sub on his shoes.
“Do that outside,” said Blanchart. “You’re puking all over my crime scene.” He backtracked to his cruiser and grabbed the camera. “Stay away from the scene until the coroner gets here.”
Blanchart snapped pictures of Josh’s body in the freezer and studied the bloody boot prints leading outside.
“What about the gun?” asked the deputy.
Blanchart followed a diluted blood trail that tapered away from the property. “Bag it and have it processed for prints.”
“You find something?”
“Maybe…” Blanchart noticed the contours in the sand and studied the narrow tire track. Too skinny for a car. Too wide for a bicycle. “I want road blocks set up at every intersection out of town. We’re looking for someone on a motorcycle.”
“You think he’s still around?”
Blanchart retrieved a broken ankle monitor from a cluster of overgrown weeds. “You ask a lot of questions.”
“Just trying to be thorough. Sir.”
Blanchart held the device by a piece of torn strap.
“Looks like a GPS monitor,” said the deputy.
Blanchart read the serial number from the back. “Looks like someone doesn’t want to be found.”
“What’s it doing out here?”
Blanchart burned the serial number in his memory and dropped the evidence where he found it. He hustled back to his cruiser and jumped in the driver’s seat. “Stay here until the coroner’s finished.”
“Where are you going?”
“To catch a killer.”
Jamie shivered in her silk camisole, confined inside a dark sarcophagus beneath her husband’s toolshed. Her heart pumped wildly to feed exposed extremities crawling with red fire ants inflicting painful injections of alkaloid venom.
Trapped in a devil’s tomb, she confronted the darkness surrounding her, more petrified at the thought of never seeing Lloyd again than death by suffocation. Her life was hers to save or lose amidst a seething vengeance that simmered over years of abuse and neglect. Her fear transformed into anger. Her anger morphed into determination.
She twisted her wrists, rotating her hands back and forth to rip her bonded fingertips from the epidermal layer on her thighs. With both hands free, she swatted at the red ants clamoring over the human tapestry of red welts and pustules dotted with bloody fingerprints.
She pounded the plywood above her head, kicking and screaming until her voice gave out. An inner strength welled up inside her. Beaten but not defeated, she stoked her desire to see Alan suffer for the countless acts of cruelty he’d thrust upon her and the people she loved.
She pushed up with her arms, straining from her chest and shoulders to move the three-quarter-inch thick sheet of wood. The unbearable weight seemed impossible to budge at first—a monumental impediment that barred her path to escape and any chance of freedom from the husband she loathed.
She bit down hard on the scarf in her mouth, her neck tendons straining from the effort to maximize her efforts against the Goliath enemy above her. Anger fueled her adrenaline rush, compelling her muscles to perform beyond their normal capacity and leverage her untapped strength.
She pushed and squirmed until she raised the plywood far enough to topple the work bench on its side, shifting the enormous weight far enough to pry herself out from under the makeshift coffin lid and emerge like an animal from an underground cave.
Barefoot and trembling, she pulled the scarf down and smacked at ants crawling on her hair and ears. She pounded on the padlocked exit and cried for help, oblivious to the angry figure charging across the lawn.
* * *
Prodded by a loud scream, Lloyd regained consciousness and rolled himself over from a face-down position in a patch of soggy grass at the base of a red maple tree. He curled his arms toward his chest and made a fist in one hand. The throbbing pain in his leg returned. Rain water dripped on his forehead from the wet leaves above.
Dazed and disoriented, he stood up with the backpack still strapped on his shoulders and remembered a fuzzy sequence of events. He dug the disposable cell phone from a zipper pocket and pressed redial to call Samantha’s phone.
Real or imagined, Jamie’s screaming voice reverberated inside his head like a gong at the mercy of a drummer’s mallet. He could feel the desperation in her words as if she stood face to face with him. She needed his help. And she needed it now.