Home > A Bone to Pick (Widow's Island #2)(4)

A Bone to Pick (Widow's Island #2)(4)
Author: Melinda Leigh

They laid the body on its back. The harpoon jutted straight up from below the breastbone.

As he crouched next to the body, Henry took the dead man’s head in his hands and turned it from side to side. He opened the corpse’s mouth and manipulated the jaw. “Rigor mortis hasn’t set in yet.”

Logan shot Tessa a questioning look. He’d seen plenty of combat violence and trauma, but this was his first homicide scene. “When does rigor typically start?”

She moved to stand next to him and leaned close. “About two hours after death, though cold temperatures can slow the onset.”

Henry removed a boot and sock. “Livor mortis is not visible yet either.”

“Once the heart stops beating,” Tessa explained to Logan in a low voice, “the blood begins to pool in the lowest part of a dead body.”

“Gravity,” Logan said.

“Exactly.” Tessa nodded. “The skin takes on a purplish discoloration that should be observable by the human eye about two hours after death. But again, ambient temperature can affect the process.”

Henry examined the exterior of the wound with a flashlight and gloved hands. “He’ll need an autopsy, but from the position of the harpoon, it likely hit the aorta. There isn’t much blood outside the wound, but I’ll bet his belly is full of it.”

He picked up his scalpel, cut a slit in the corpse’s side, and inserted a thermometer.

“He’s taking the liver temperature,” she explained.

Henry read the thermometer, then checked his watch. “It’s 1:01 a.m. now. I estimate he’s been dead between ninety minutes and two hours.”

“Could the screaming at 11:30 p.m. have been him?” Logan asked, the single beer he’d drunk earlier that evening souring in his gut as he remembered the hair-raising sound that had jarred him from his sleep.

“Yes. It’s possible.” Henry looked up, his face grim. “I doubt the wound killed him instantly. It probably took a few minutes for him to bleed to death.”

Imagining those few terrible minutes, Logan swallowed a surge of bile in his throat.

Tessa squatted down next to the body. She patted the man’s pockets and pulled a wallet from his jacket. She shined her light on the open wallet. Logan looked over her shoulder.

“His full name is Dante Moreno.” Tessa straightened.

Henry stood. “My office isn’t outfitted to perform an autopsy. It’s barely equipped to be a doctor’s office. We’ll send the body to the regional medical examiner on the mainland.”

“The ferry wasn’t running this afternoon,” Logan said.

“Again?” Henry asked. “It was out three days last week.”

The Widow’s Island ferry to the mainland ran like clockwork, except for the days that it didn’t run at all. Locals were used to being isolated. As the islanders always said, no one complained until the Black Tail Bakery ran out of coffee.

“Welcome to island living.” Tessa slid the wallet into an evidence bag. She stripped off her gloves and stuffed them into their own bag. Then she pulled out her phone. “Let me make a few calls. Keep an eye out for Dante’s cell phone.”

After she stepped away, Logan studied the corpse. “Harpooning isn’t the easiest way to kill a man, and no one carries a harpoon around. The killer had to bring the harpoon to the beach. That suggests premeditation. But did the killer know the artist would be here or lure him here? Either way, this feels very personal to me.”

“Whoever killed him was very angry,” his sister added, her lips pressed into a thin line. “Which could make the motive very personal.”

Logan might not have been a crime scene expert, but his years as an army ranger had taught him plenty about rage and violence.

“How hard is it to use a harpoon?” Henry asked.

Logan considered the question. “The dart on the end of a harpoon is sharp, and the head is weighted for optimal leverage. It’s a tool specifically designed to be thrust or thrown into flesh. I’d say its use is more dependent on momentum and coordination than pure strength.”

Tessa lowered her phone. “The ferry should be up and running in the morning. The funeral home will transport the body to the mainland.”

“Do you want to fingerprint the body here or let the medical examiner do it?” Henry asked.

Tessa frowned, her forehead creasing as she considered the questions. “Let’s not disturb his hands. We know who he is. If he struggled with his killer, there could be DNA or other evidence under his fingernails.”

Henry nodded. “Then we should protect his hands with paper bags.”

Tessa agreed. “You’ve been studying.”

“I don’t like to half ass any job.” Henry had worked his first case as coroner just a few weeks before. He’d made one mistake and seemed determined not to make any more.

Tessa stared at the corpse. “I don’t see how it could possibly have been a suicide or accident, which leaves manslaughter and murder.”

“Not many people go for a late-night stroll on the beach with a harpoon in hand,” Cate added.

“As Logan already pointed out,” Tessa said as she gestured toward the body, “this was premeditated.”

Henry said, “This was murder.”

“Let’s get the scene processed.” Tessa blew a stray hair from her forehead. In the light cast by various flashlights, Logan watched tension gather at the corners of her eyes as she sent a text.

I should make myself useful.

Logan turned in a circle and scanned the picnic area and the dark forest beyond. As park rangers were responsible for enforcing the law within the park, his training had included classes in basic criminal investigation. “Do you have more evidence collection bags?”

Tessa paused, looking up. “Yes. There’s a lot of ground to cover. We’ll start with the picnic area tonight. Searching the surrounding woods will have to wait until daybreak.” She shrugged off her backpack and set it on the picnic table farthest from the body. She removed some small paper and plastic bags and handed them to him, along with a pair of vinyl gloves. “We’ll bag everything. Bruce will be here any minute with the lights.”

Nodding, Logan tugged on the gloves.

Her phone beeped. She frowned at the display, then said, “Excuse me,” and stepped away, pressing the phone to her ear. She paced, ending one call and making another. When she returned a few minutes later, her eyes were troubled.

“What’s wrong?” asked Cate.

“That was my sister.” Tessa had a much younger half sister from her mother’s most recent marriage. “Mom isn’t in the house.”

“Does she wander away often?” Logan asked.

“No. This is the first time.” Tessa frowned. “She’s usually a homebody.”

Logan remembered Bonnie Turner-Black-Flagg as erratic, undependable, and—as a three-time widow—unlucky. He hadn’t been surprised to find out that Bonnie was suffering from dementia—or that Tessa had given up her career in Seattle to return home to care for her mother and raise her teenage half sister after husband number three had suffered a massive fatal heart attack.

No wonder Tessa looked tired.

“I’ll round up your mom,” Cate said. “She can’t have gotten far.”

“Are you sure?” Tessa asked, her eyes relieved.

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