Many thanks to Claire O’Sullivan for sharing three chapters of her novel, Nobody Girl (WIP) with us. Due to the length of the chapters, one chapter will be posted a week for the next three weeks. Enjoy!
Alex Makela is in over head in rural Olvegaart, Minnesota. The chief of police passed away, leaving her deputy, detective and chief. Her biggest duties include rounding up wayward cows, tracking down the occasional teens bashing mailboxes, and looking for a detective to take her place.
Things take a turn when Olvegaart suffers its first ever murder.
Detective Jake Littrell comes from big city Dallas, a year after the recruitment ad. Confident in all matters crime, he is a wreck around women, and for good reason.
Alex must overcome her lack of confidence and the secrets she holds to solve the murder of a much-hated victim.
Jake must overcome his angst, his history, and his growing respect for the small town detective with her own pain … as her supervisor.
Chief Alexandra Makela
0700 Sunday, September 20
Hands cupped around a mug of Java, I sat on the porch in a rocker. My feet rested against the railings of the old log cabin. Distant thunder rolled as mist seductively kissed the shore of the lake, and water lapped against the shore. Loons warbled, heralding morning in Olvegaart. Another lazy Indian Summer day.
My cell rang, my early morning reverie halted. Dorothea Johansson, an elderly neighbor spoke in a frenzy.
“Chief Alexandra, a dead body—in the woods—”
My morning coffee time was over as I shot from my chair like a Jack Russell terrier on crack.
Buried remains, parts pushing through dirt loosened by rain?
“Whoa, whoa. Dorothea, are you saying you tripped over a dead body? In the woods?”
“No, no. Danny and Kyle ran through the forest during the storm. Kyle … found the body.”
“I’m on my way, hang on, animals may be about. Don’t go near the body. I need to evaluate the body.”
“Ya, I’m moving.”
“I’ll be there in a hot minute.” I ended Dorothea’s call. “Leroy, dead body,” I yelled. “Time to roll.”
A grunt came from within as I strode into the cabin. Poured another coffee cup; changed, yanked on my sports bra, followed by tee shirt, and jeans. Hair in signature bun, boots on, gun in my holster, I patted my side satisfied and pushed out the door. There was a freaked out grandmother, two scared kids, and we hustled. The dead don’t walk fast, my reference range being Dad’s favorite classic, Night of the Living Dead. This was different.
New to me.
The cabin’s screen door had squeaked and banged shut as we exited, and both secure in the SUV, I worked the key in the ignition. The engine struggled as I cursed and slapped a hand between the glove box and dashboard. That brought the SUV alive, though it keened in complaint.
Steering the Expedition toward Olvegaart’s police department, I braked as dust eddied behind my wheels in the parking lot. I opened the door of the clapboard PD.
A light blinked from the phone’s answering machine. I winced, didn’t have time for a call. Grabbed it anyway.
It had been a long wait for this message. Tapped my finger, grabbed pen and paper. Scribbled, Detective Littrell: Head west on Taggart road. I’m at a crime scene, one thousand feet north of Taggart River Forest trailhead. Chief Makela.
Almost wrote, you’re a year late, go back to Texas.
I tipped my head toward Leroy and he jumped into the receptionist’s chair. Someday, I planned to hire a receptionist with opposable thumbs who said more than woof.
After I snatched the forensics kit, I scrambled out the building, climbed into the Ford, and the engine turned on the first try.
I turned from the lot onto Taggart River Road. Dorothea awaited me and taking the message took longer than I wanted. She needed a shoulder, and the crime scene needed processing. Who died in such a dreadful manner to muddle Dorothea Johansson’s usual grandmotherly calm?
The short drive would wind through the hills, and my gaze drifted over the wild river and the farms which dotted the hills surrounding the rush of water. I frowned. Despite the scenery, Olvegaart was rural, quaint, and extravagant in its charm. Deceptive in financial ruin. And now, a dead body.
The sun peeked through gray clouds and I slipped on sunglasses. Dense ominous thunderclouds crept across the sky. By noon, forecasters predicted sweltering heat, high humidity and rain.
Little nuances of weather changes like today’s influence the timeline of death, so obtaining Dorothea’s account was essential; securing the crime scene, vital. Most insects hasten their business in Northern Minnesota as an Indian summer promenaded. Oncoming rain could wipe away pertinent evidence.
My Ford lumbered, came to a halt and threw an exasperated puff of exhaust. A final burp gave it a shudder. I radioed my coroner, sixty-two-year-old Dr. Tore Svein, a family practice physician; the only doctor in Olvegaart.
“Tore, Dorothea Johansson called. Danny and Kyle tripped over a DB. Am a thousand feet off Taggart trailhead between Grace Wilson and the Johansson home. I’ll get a statement from Dorothea in about five minutes.”
Moments passed. “Meet you in fifteen.”
The forensics kit banged along my leg. Trailside, I stepped over small downed trees, half-eaten by whatever bugs enjoyed them. A handful of unfortunate mushrooms with squatter’s rights smushed under my boots.
The forest, long since neglected, did what forests do when left to their own devices. The path before me now needed sizing up to continue. Strong winds once felled a large Norway pine, which blocked my way. My shirt snagged the tree’s underbelly as I ducked underneath in a graceless attempt. I should’ve crawled over it; instead, landed on my forearms and knees in wet muck beneath composting timber.
“Great.” Not that I held grudges against goopy, composted sludge, but clean fingers were required. I stood and wiped my hands on my jeans.
“Dorothea,” I called. Seventy, hair askew despite her red bandana, stood fifty feet from me, as her face twisted somewhere between repulsion and sorrow.
Her palm pressed against her mouth. “I looked, there’s no telling who …, but…the stench drove me away, I had to leave, even if you hadn’t told me to get out.”
“Come, stand over here.” I offered my hand and met her halfway. “Tell me what happened.”
“The boys found—” she pointed. “Kyle slipped and fell into the body. They burst through the door howling; after they showed me the spot, I sent them home. Suspect they ran off to play this morning after their chores, and didn’t want me to know where they were going. Said the lightning threw them both to the ground.” She clucked.
“Might let them know they did important police work, maybe I’ll hire them when they’re older.” I smiled, with hopes to calm her. “Go home, get hot cocoa for the boy’s nerves. Something a little stronger for your worry. After I finish here, I’ll drive to the farm this afternoon when the two escapees are ready.”
“Pastor Makela is at the house, now.”
I withheld a groan. Dad. “Terrific. I’ll see you later.”
Dorothea hobbled homeward. I yanked the cellphone from my pocket and hit speed dial.
“Tore, Dorothea is coming your way. Mind giving her a lift home, first?”
“I shall deliver her in my chariot. Out.”
Continued the walk toward the body. A leg protruded from muddy ground. A chest cavity was visible. This is where Kyle fell. Sweat clouded my vision. I dabbed my brow and opened my kit. Yellow crime scene tape trailed from my hand, as I determined the scene to cordon off, and I wrapped ‘Do Not Cross’ tape around four Norway pines.
I pulled a digital camera from the tackle box and began the tedious task of documentation and photography. Photos snapped, placards placed, and rulers set. Gloved, I sat over my haunches, grasped a brush and swept away dirt, a female body in early stages of decomposition revealed. Used my hand to shoo flies from her. Next, I worked on her face. My eyes squeezed shut.
“Oh, crap, I should’ve given you the forgiveness you asked for yesterday.” My chest gripped, the hatred I’d had for her, gone. My voice faltered. “Why …? Who did this to you?”
No animal caused the gaping hole in her torso. A weapon ripped through her, creating the cavity Kyle tripped into, face first. I evaluated Bridget’s head. Smashed. No blunt and bloodied object close to the scene. She was near unrecognizable. Her clothes intact, recognizable from yesterday, they hadn’t been ripped from her. No evidence of a staged scene.
Leaves rustled, and Tore Svein, greeted me. “Morning, Miss Pocahontas.”
With my forearm, I wiped moisture from my cheeks. “You’re very non-PC, today. I’m Finnish.”
“And, I suspect, Laplander. You put your black hair in braids, and you can be all the non-PC you want. No one will know.”
“Bun, no braids.”
His eyes remained on the scene. “How Kyle and Danny handling this?”
“Don’t know. Will check on them later.” I removed the gloves, fisted both hands, and placed one on each hip. “I’ll swing to Dorothea’s later; Dad’s there now. Victim is Bridget Anderson.”
Tore wiped his face and gloved. “Poor Bridget. Awful death, this. Who could do this to anyone? Tsk.”
“Grim sight. Don’t know how many will grieve, truth be told.” I wasn’t sad. Guilty for not giving Bridget what she begged of me, but not sad. “Time of death?”
Tore squatted next to Bridget’s cadaver, made an incision in the right upper abdomen, and inserted a thermometer. “Twelve to eighteen hours ago, best guess. Insect activity will help. Blunt force trauma to the skull; I’ll determine if pre or post-mortem.” Tore leaned over the body providing close inspection of the cavity. “I’ve no idea what caused the wound but clear it’s murder. Bloody.” He turned her body. “The exit wound tore her up, it did. Tissue swelling around her left ankle. Let’s obtain soil samples and move her to the morgue.”
“Eighteen hours… she stopped by at my place yesterday—asking forgiveness. Same outfit, shorts and tee shirt. Told me she was on her way to see Grace. Granted, the trail is a faster way to reach the Wilson farm, but more difficult. You’d think she’d take the road.”
Tore gawked. “She came to your place? After all these years tormenting you.”
“Think she found Jesus or something.”
“You say that like it’s a bad thing. The boys ran through the woods. Wonder why?”
“Lightning storm. Dorothea figured they thought they were safer in the woods, and didn’t want to be in the open. Kids.”
I tapped a foot and took more pictures after the dirt swept away revealed Bridget—what was left of the young woman. Muddy footprints. Clear some belonged to Danny and Kyle. After changing gloves I took blood, dirt, and insect samples. Poured mixed plaster into three sets of footprints, and waiting for them to dry, sampled soil from more muddy prints.
Snipping leaves and moss from surrounding plants would reveal soil similar under boots or evidence we’d find. I repeated the same process with plant evidence for evaluation of DNA.
If only we had a big city forensics lab. I bagged and tagged them, anyway.
Tore said, “Any luck finding someone?”
“Why the city council made their decision remains beyond me.”
Tore glanced at me and halted note taking. “They trust you.”
I lolled my head his way. “A deputy, a chief does not make.”
“What about that Texan last year? On Craigslist?”
I removed my sunglasses and chuckled while tipping my chin, evaluating his craggy face. “There is no law enforcement Craigslist. Jake Littrell. On a recruitment site. That was over a year ago and he sent his assistant. What kind of detective has an assistant?” I pointed my pen his way. “This morning, Detective Jake Littrell left a message on the answering machine. Says he’s on his way. Probably searched for bigger pay. Have half a mind to blow him off, if he shows.”
Tore pushed his mask aside. “Snarky today, aren’t you? You’re the one who posted the position.”
“Well. We’ll see. He sends another assistant, and my pen scratches Texas off the list.” I slipped my glasses back on and used my arm to push escapee wisps of hair from my face.
We finished our note taking. I measured, snapped more photos, and checked for hidden drag marks, snapped twigs, and bent leaves. Tore and I wrapped her hands in paper bags, tied them off, and placed Bridget in a body bag. After we placed the body onto an ambulance stretcher, Tore hustled to the trailhead, put the truck into reverse and edged as close to the gurney as possible. I raised a hand, signaling ‘stop.’ We had to heft the stretcher up to reach the pickup. He wrapped a tarp over the vehicle.
I checked my watch to note the time we finished the preliminaries. Ten-thirty-five. I had plenty of time to check Bridget’s apartment.
Rustling came from the trail as a light breeze played among the tops of the pines. A hand rested on my gun, I reseated my sunglasses, filtering the sun and tree shadows. I stood, my gaze fixed on the man sauntering toward us.
“Tore, who is that man?”
“Don’t know. Maybe it’s your mail-order cop, that Jake-something.”
“Yeah. Jake Littrell…” Not sure, but my mouth may have fallen open. He could’ve been walking in slow motion for all I knew. He wore jeans, a typical cowboy hat, cowboy boots… and rodeo walk. Sturdy. Confident. Tall. I hooked a finger onto my glasses, pulled the m down my nose, and gawked. His head dipped and I could no longer see his face, just a hat.
Tore laughed and nudged me. “Go on, girl, you been struck by lightning? I’ll take Bridget to the morgue, and you walk him through the crime scene. I’ll set up the tarp when I return. Your fiancé will steam red if he sees you ogling.” He nudged me again.
“Oh, yeah, fiancé. Eric.” I swallowed. “What do I say?”
Tore went back to work and chuckled as I headed to meet the man on the trail.
He called out. “Rebekah Alexandra Makela, you talk to people every day. Untie your tongue.”
“It’s not Alexandra …,” I whispered.
About Claire O’Sullivan: Author, copy editor, Big Dreamer. Non-fiction, Fabulous Foods, Enjoying Healthy Comfort Foods (non-fiction) Christian Fiction, Romance, Crime, Forensics, Medical (all in fiction, usually all at once…) Let’s connect!