Today's Reading

She drew out the small sketch pad she kept in her pocket; she also kept notes, but Amy liked to sketch out what she saw, always wondering if there was something that would particularly catch her mind's eye.

"Hey, Picasso, you know there will be—"

"Photographs, yes," she told her partner, Special Agent John Schultz of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

They'd been partnered for two years and worked well together. He was fifty and had been with FDLE for most of his adult life.

She'd been with the FDLE two and a half years, after a stint with Metro-Miami-Dade. She was thirty-one, and John had been admittedly annoyed and amused when they'd first been paired on major state crimes, but he was quick to tell others now that they were an odd couple who worked.

Amy sketched every crime scene.

John mentioned it—every crime scene. Even though her sketches had proved valuable in the past, and she knew he liked that she did them.

He gave her an odd, grim smile. He was a tall, rugged man with a sweep of snow-white hair that gave him no end of happiness since most of his male friends and coworkers his age were already bald. But it was hot out here, and he had to swipe back a wavy lock from his forehead; the sweat was causing it to plaster to his face. His smile faded as he took in the scene again.

While no one entered law enforcement without knowing they'd have to face brutality and death, what they saw here was especially grotesque. Despite what he had seen in life—or maybe because of it—John Schultz was a kind man, a good man, and knew the scene was causing an effect on her, as it was on him.

Amy arched a brow to him, and John nodded. They walked over to Dr. Richard Carver. The ME was from this county, which stretched from the beaches to this no-man's-land. They knew him well and had worked together before, though he looked like he should still be honing up for final exams. His looks were deceiving; Carver was in his late thirties.

Carver was just moving up his portable stepladder, asking one of his assistants to check that he didn't pitch forward to the road and bracken, dry in some places, wet in others.

Amy noted the area offered a fine cropping of sharp sawgrass, as well.

"Anything to tell us yet?" Amy asked.

"She's been in rigor and out of rigor... I'm going to say she's been here about a day. The insects are doing a number on her."

"Method and cause of death?" John asked hopefully.

"Well, the method could have been this sharp pole sticking into her. With the amount of blood, I'm thinking the cause of death just might have been exsanguination. They were pretty damned accurate in slamming that thing right through her chest and into the wooden pole here. Don't think they got this wood from around here, but I do bodies, not trees. So, sorry—right now, I'm thinking she's been here somewhere between twenty to thirty hours, and she was killed here."

He hesitated; even the doctor seemed bothered by this one. His voice was hard when he spoke again. "She struggled," he said. "I think they cut her face while she was alive. Her wrists are ragged, which shows she tried to escape these ties. And when they came at her with this spear, she knew they were coming."

John turned to Detective Victor Mulberry, from the county's sheriff's office, who had been standing, silent and greenish, behind them. He'd been routed by the hysterical call from a tourist about the body and had been first on the scene. "Do we know of any active cults in this area?" John asked him.

Mulberry shook his head. "Small communities out here, minuscule next to the coast. But we got Lutherans, Catholics, Baptists...and two Temples. I know two of the rabbis and several of the pastors and priests. The people are churchgoing, but in truth, we're a little haven of diversity—all kinds of backgrounds, religions, colors. All the leaders of the local houses of worship get together once a month to make sure there's friendship between everyone. Heck, they put on charity sales and the like together. We have no fanatics, no Satanists, cultists. I guess those church guys made it so it's Good, I mean. Good. Folks get along. They like each other. They help each other."

Amy smiled grimly at him and nodded. "Nice," she told him.

But someone, somewhere, wasn't so nice.

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