Death and Her Devotion(2)By: Kendra Elliot
Definitely not locals.
Stevie introduced herself. Bleached hair was Josh and the skinny guy was Spider. “Show me the way.”
The men exchanged a look, and Spider spoke. “I’ll stay here with Brandon. He doesn’t want to get out of the Hummer.”
“I’m expecting more officers,” Stevie said to Spider. “Can you send them our way when they arrive?”
Spider nodded, and the young boy ducked his head out of sight as Stevie smiled at him. She and Ralph followed Josh down a dirt path between their tents and deeper into the woods. Crying Indian was a heavily used campground during the summer. Under the tall firs, the packed dirt ground was scattered with pine needles. Every stick or twig that could be used in a campfire was long gone. They passed trees that had huge sections of bark stripped away, the smooth living wood of their trunks exposed. No doubt the bark had been stolen to burn.
“What happened to your friend?” Stevie asked Josh.
“I’m not sure.”
She’d originally thought Josh was in his early twenties, but as she walked next to him, she realized he had to be at least thirty. He dressed young: baggy cargo shorts and a tank top. No wedding ring. Brandon appeared to be about ten, and she assumed Spider was his father.
“Chase wasn’t in his tent when I got up this morning. I didn’t think much of it until I’d been up for fifteen minutes and he hadn’t appeared. That’s when I asked Spider and Toby if he’d said he was going somewhere.”
“He’s up ahead with . . . with the body.” Josh shook his head and wiped his eyes. “He’s a mess . . . we’re all a mess. The four of us are pretty tight. And finding Chase like that . . .”
“Had either of them talked to Chase this morning?” Stevie asked, stepping over a well-worn root that crossed their path.
“No. The three of us started hollering his name and decided to search.”
The Rogue River grew louder as they walked, and Stevie smelled the cool water and damp moss that covered its rocks. “Who found him?”
“Toby.” Josh stumbled, but Stevie didn’t see a rock in the path. “Oh God.” His voice cracked. “How did this happen to us?”
Stevie spotted a man up ahead. His hands were shoved in the pockets of his cargo shorts, his shoulders slumped, and his cap was slightly crooked. Where Josh and Spider looked as if they spent a lot of time in the gym, Toby appeared to prefer time on the couch. Stevie noted he wore the same expensive shoes and watch. He was crying and had a difficult time looking her in the eye.
Josh and Ralph stayed back as Toby led her past a giant fir, its trunk at least five feet in diameter. On the other side lay a man on his back. A belt was cinched tight around his neck and his arms were stretched above his head. Toby halted several feet from the body.
“I wanted to take off the belt, but the other guys wouldn’t let me,” whispered Toby through a fresh wave of tears. “They said he was long dead and to leave it because it’s evidence.”
“They were right. Stay back, okay?” Stevie pulled out her camera and started taking pictures, working her way to the body. Their friend was dead. Flies were buzzing in his mouth and eyes, and she smelled a hint of decay, something putrid and rotting, over the fresh, wet smells of the river. “Did you touch him?” she asked Toby.
“I shook him, but he was cold. Then the other guys pulled me away.”
“What’s his name again?” Stevie asked as she started taking pictures of the corpse. Same shoes; same watch.
“Chase what?” she asked with a touch of impatience. Toby didn’t answer, and she turned around to see if he was listening.
Toby looked at his shoes. “Chase Ryan,” he said softly.
Stevie froze and then spun to look at the body, recognizing the hair and face.
Chase Ryan. Big-time TV star.
Solitude Police Chief Zane Duncan plowed through the woods. A half step behind him, Kenny talked nonstop about the Hummer in the campground.
“I’ve never driven one,” Kenny said. “Heck, I’ve never even sat in one. I really think they look good in black, although I’ve seen them in a sporty yellow. It takes a lot of guts to drive a big vehicle in that color. I don’t know if I could do it. Think it’d be okay if I took a closer look at it when we’re done?”
“Might need it for evidence,” Zane said.
“Oh! Good point.”
Zane followed the path that Spider had indicated, wondering what they’d find. Up ahead he spotted Ralph with a guy in a cap. With her camera in hand, Stevie stepped out from behind a huge tree with a third man.
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