Officer Schneider was siting behind the wheel of a police cruiser chain smoking with the window down. On approach, Detective Blackhorse could see cigarette butts littering the ground. He bent down to look into the driver’s side of the cruiser and Officer Schneider glared up at him.
“Where the hell you been? I was beginning to think I was gonna have to set up camp,” he snapped.
“I came as soon as the case was assigned to me,” replied Blackhorse stiffly, annoyed by the rebuke.
The men eyed one another for a few silent moments. Officer Schneider made no move to get out of the cruiser. Detective Blackhorse could feel his irritation mount and strove to keep his voice neutral.
“Where is the crime scene?”
Schneider took a leisurely drag off of his cigarette and blew the smoke up towards him. He slowly climbed out of the cruiser and flicked the burning cigarette at Blackhorse, prompting him to take a step back. Schneider ground the butt out with an expression conveying his hearty wish that he was instead grinding his heel into Blackhorse’s face.
Wordlessly, Schneider walked off. He halted at a clearing several yards away. Beside him, Blackhorse looked around and observed a tent, a cooler and some camping gear strewn about. The ground was furrowed in several places. Blackhorse didn’t attempt to mask his irritation.
“Who the hell disturbed the crime scene, before the investigator could get here and take pictures?”
“The crime scene investigator is already here.”
“You’re looking at him.”
“You? But the Nodaway…”
“Team ain’t coming. Sheriff Stone called and said they wasn’t needed. I got it all under control.”
“Ok then crime scene investigator, where the hell are the bodies?”
“They’re already on their way to the medical examiner’s office. I had no way of knowing how long it would take you to get here. It was getting late. I couldn’t just leave the bodies out here exposed to the elements. Besides, I knew wasn’t nobody coming into the Bent Woods to pick up no bodies after sundown.”
“Don’t tell me the medical examiner’s office closes that early.”
“Nah, it’s these woods. Don’t nobody with any sense come up in here, when it starts getting dark. Why do you think I’m the only one out here? Nobody else was willing to wait for you.”
“Why is that?”
“You act like you ain’t never heard of the Bent Woods.”
“Why do you keep calling it that? This forest isn’t named the Bent Woods.”
“Not officially no…an outsider wouldn’t know what the folks in town call it.”
“Ok, I’ll bite. Why do they call this place the Bent Woods?”
“You got eyes ain’t you? Don’t tell me that your keen powers of detection overlooked how gnarled and bent these trees are.”
“I noticed…so what? It just means they’re old.”
“Some of ’em are centuries old I hear tell. Those are the ones that used to be hanging trees, back when the town practiced frontier justice.”
Schneider nodded, a leering smile slowly spreading across his face. Blackhorse wasn’t sure what to make of the sly expression. Is he pulling my leg? I’ve never heard any of this before. Schneider took a step towards him, speaking in low tones, as though he were fearful of being overheard by the contorted trees.
“The townsfolk used to string up all manner of outlaws, natives, and slaves. They say over time, all that rage and misery infected the trees and caused them to grow deformed. Others say the spirits of the damned reside in these trees. Several folks swear they seen them come alive after sundown.”
“Alright, you’ve had your fun. Enough with the campfire ghost story. Let’s get back to the crime scene. Did you at least take photographs, before they moved the bodies?”
“Of course I did. I know how to do my damn job! I took detailed photographs of the bodies and the scene. I also tagged and bagged the evidence.”
“Then why is all this stuff still here?”
“I only bagged pertinent evidence. This trash ain’t got nothing to do with the murders.”
“At this point, how do you know that for sure? Are you psychic? Let me get this straight, you intend on just leaving all this stuff out here?”
“Of course not, I thought you wanted to get a feel for what the crime scene looked like.”
“Then you should have left the bodies where they were, until I got here!”
Schneider stifled the obscenity that sprang to his lips. He abruptly turned on his heels and walked off, not trusting himself to speak. Blackhorse paused in the act of crouching to examine the furrowed ground more closely.
“Where the hell are you going?”
“Back to the office. I got work to do. Can’t stand around here all day holding your hand.”
“What about the photographs and the evidence you bagged?”
“Everything is at the office,” he snapped.
“How long will it take for the ballistics report to come back?”
“There ain’t gonna be no ballistics report. Those men weren’t shot.”
Blackhorse was so taken aback, he momentarily forgot his irritation. How did someone manage to murder four presumably able-bodied men without a gun? He crouched and was minutely examining the pattern of furrows in the soil, when he heard what sounded like a car door slam. A few moments later, the sound registered again. Blackhorse was too preoccupied to wonder what Schneider was doing. His only thought was, I’m glad that bastard is leaving.