By Thomas R. Raley
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Elizabeth parked in front of the city hall, slash police station, slash central fire station, and gathered the few items she would need for her initial contact. She made a vain attempt to straighten her hair, then sighed and stepped out of the mini-van. She wore jeans and a white blouse that was now soaked in perspiration. The white bra she wore was clearly outlined by the wet material and she had two more buttons than usual undone. Heat had overwhelmed any sense of modesty several hours ago and she had resisted the urge to go even farther. Sweat rolled down her bronze skin as she locked the van and adjusted the nine-millimeter on her hip. It was time to go to work.
Inside the nineteenth century building the air was much cooler, though far from the sixty-eight degrees she was accustomed to at the laboratory. She was directed to the police chiefs office on the second floor by a blue haired lady who had seen her eightieth birthday some time ago. There was no receptionist or desk sergeant, only a hallway that housed the chief’s office, a conference room, a break room, an overcrowded storage room, and a spare office. The Lead Tree police department. Chief John Tucker rose as Elizabeth knocked on the open door.
"Good morning. My name is Elizabeth Garcia, I’m with the state crime lab."
The chief was a barrel-chested man who looked to be in his mid to late forties. He stood a good six inches taller than Elizabeth and had a full head of jet black hair. "Dang, you folks don’t waste no time comin’ round," He said as he extended his hand.
Elizabeth’s shook the chief’s hand and gave a casual smile. "I was on my way to another request when you called for a consult," she said.
"Can’t tell you how much we appreciate you comin’ down here," Tucker said. "We don’t often have trouble like this in Lead Tree."
"All I was told was that you had a homicide," Elizabeth said. "Can you give me a few more details?"
"Sure can," Tucker said. "Would you like something cool to drink first?"
Elizabeth smiled. "That would be wonderful."
Twenty minutes later Elizabeth and Tucker stood in the conference room with the case file before them. Elizabeth had begun to cool down, and the glass of homemade lemonade Tucker had provided granted him the title of, life long friend. Unfortunately, the average small town police department rarely handled crime scenes in the manner Elizabeth had been taught. Routine procedures were often forgotten, or were never taught or explained to the officers. The results were often photos with no references points for measurement, and the collection of trace evidence was not even a consideration. While the file Tucker had given her was far from perfect, she was impressed by their efforts to get it right.
"Tell me about the victim?" Elizabeth asked.
"Marsha Links," Tucker said, speaking very reverently. "She was the Mayor’s daughter-in-law. Fine woman, went to church every Sunday, kept a real neat house, never had a bad word to say about nobody. Can’t image why anybody would want to do this to her."
Elizabeth found the photos of the body. Mrs. Links had been found on her kitchen floor, stabbed to death with a steak knife. The murder weapon was apparently one taken from a set in the kitchen. She had also been struck in the face several times, the blood mixing with the eye shadow and mascara to make a grisly scene. In one photograph the woman’s head was covered with what appeared to be a kitchen towel.
"Did you or one of your deputies cover her this way?" Elizabeth asked, holding up the picture.
"No ma’am, the towel was on her when we got there," Tucker said. "I picked it up so I could see for sure it was her, and to see if she was alive. Then I put it back just like I found it, so we could get pictures."
"How did you check to see if she was alive?"
"Felt for a pulse, when I couldn’t find one, I touched her eyeball, there was no reaction," Tucker said. "I thought about CPR, but when I felt her she was already gettin’ cold, so I didn’t figure there would be any hope."
"Did you happen to get a body temperature?"
"No ma’am, should I have?"
"Always. Body temperature will drop approximately one and a half degrees an hour until it reaches room temperature, under normal conditions. Knowing the temperature can really help narrow down the time of death."
"Damn, didn’t know about that."
Elizabeth sorted through the photos and found the shots from the morgue, which in this case, was also the funeral home. There were several more pictures of Mrs. Links as she was found, then with her clothes removed. There were two dark bruises on her forearms and one on her right bicep. Elizabeth could see no other bruising on the body and turned to the close up views of the wounds. The area around each of the stab wounds was slightly discolored. There were no slashing wounds and no cuts of any kind on her arms or hands. Her right hand did appear slightly damaged, as if she had struck it against something, breaking off three of the long red nails.
"Was anything missing from the body or home," Elizabeth asked.
"No ma’am," Tucker answered. "Nothing seemed to have been disturbed. Take a look at the rock on her finger. If it was a robbery, they sure would of taken that."
"Any sign of forced entry?"
"Nothing, but round hear a lot of people leave their doors unlocked," Tucker offered. "Like I said, this ain’t normal for Lead Tree."
"You said she was married to the Mayor’s son?"
"Yes ma’am, young William, though he ain’t so young no more."
"Anyone here have a grudge against the Links that you know of?"
"No ma’am. Bill Link has been Mayor here goin’ on twenty-three years. His daddy was Mayor before that for almost ten years. They own the grocery store, feed store, and the liquor store over on 17. They treat everybody right, you know, on account of being in the public eye and all."
"So the Links kind of run Lead Tree?"
"I guess you could say that, but it ain’t like they’re the mafia or nothin’."
"What about young William? Does he have any political ambitions?"
"Oh sure, everybody spects him to be Mayor. His daddy sure is priming him for it," Tucker said. "Why so many questions about the Links? You don’t think they had anything to do with this, do ya?"
"I just got here, so I have a little catching up to do is all," Elizabeth answered. "Do you think we could go to her house? I would like to see the crime scene first hand."
"Sure thing," Tucker said. "Do you want to take my car?"
She wanted to scream out, yes, but she knew she might need gear from the van. "No, I’ll follow you in mine."
The Links home was a two story traditional set off a rural highway. There were several cars in the driveway and people standing on the porch. Even though it was the scene of a murder, it was also the family home and friends were stopping by to pay their respects. Once again Elizabeth thought of her appearance and reluctantly buttoned up her blouse as she climbed from the van. Chief Tucker lead her down the driveway to the rear entrance of the house. The door had a strip of yellow tape stretched across it with the words "Do Not Enter" printed on it. The Chief pulled the tape down and opened the door for Elizabeth. The door led into the kitchen which was still sealed off from the rest of the house. A rough outline of the body had been drawn on the floor, and there were two small pools of drying blood on the green linoleum. The table had been shoved to one side, causing one of the chairs to fall against the outer wall. Two other chairs were also askew, but the fourth was set away from the table near the center of the room.
"Right there is where we found her?" Tucker said, for some reason feeling the need to point to the outline.
"Who found the body, and who was the last person to see Mrs. Links alive?" Elizabeth asked as she slowly walked the perimeter of the large room.
"Her husband said they had breakfast together around six this morning," Tucker answered. "A friend found the body around ten or so."
"Who was the friend?"
"Jane Kundrick, lives just down the road."
"Close friend?" Elizabeth asked as she picked up a picture of Mrs. Links and a man she guessed was young William.
"Oh yes ma’am, they were real good friends," Tucker said. "Closer than most sisters."
"Is this William, her husband," she asked, still examining the picture.
"Yes ma’am, that was taken at their fifteenth anniversary party. Half the town turned out for that one."
Elizabeth felt that Marsha Links could have been an attractive woman, had she worn make-up, or done something special with her hair. With no make-up, her brown hair pulled back in a loose bun, and only a minor touch of lipstick, she appeared older than her true age of thirty-six. Setting the picture down, Elizabeth once again resumed her search of the kitchen. Tucker stood near the door as she walked the imaginary grid that divided the room. While certainly not a well-educated man, Elizabeth could see Tucker studying her, not simple curiosity, he seemed to truly want to understand what she was doing, and why.
Elizabeth bent down and looked closer at an item lying near the table. It was one of the false fingernails missing from the victim’s hand. She looked beneath the table and could see a second nail a few feet away. As she stood, Elizabeth found the third nail in the seat of a chair. She stood beside the table, her back to the outline of Marsha Links’ body. Looking over her shoulder she estimated the distance between her and the diagram, then took two steps forward.
"Can I ask what you are doing?" Tucker asked.
"She was standing about here when she was struck," Elizabeth answered. "She fell back, hit her hand hard on the table, shoved it to the side, then landed there," she continued, pointing to the diagram.
"Did you find a mark on the table?"
"No, its solid oak, so it will take a solid object to leave a visible mark," she answered. "Her nails were broken off and landed around the table and this chair, or so I am speculating."
"Can’t find a reason to argue with you."
"This is a small town, how many places can a woman get her nails done like this?"
Tucker rubbed his chin as he considered his answer. "Not exactly my area of expertise, but I can only think of one. The Faded Rose, over on Chester Street."
"Okay, its not really important right now," Elizabeth said. " Do you remember if the chairs were this way when you arrived, or did they get moved when the body was taken out?"
"We had to move this one here," Tucker said, pointing to the chair near the center of the room. "I put it back though after they were done. I checked the photograph to make sure I got it right. Was that okay?"
"Perfect, you did a great job of preserving everything," Elizabeth said. " Now I really need to talk with Jane Kundrink, if you think you can locate her."
"Shouldn’t be too hard," Tucker said. "You want to go through the living room, meet William? I pretty sure I saw the Mayor’s car out front too."
Elizabeth said she would and they made their way under another section of yellow tape, down a short hallway, and to the crowded living room. Nearly a dozen people, mostly men, filled the room. A table had been set up and was covered with all types of food and beverages. As they entered they became the center of attention and all conversation stopped. William, who she recognized from the picture, approached from across the room. His eyes were puffy and red and he truly looked as if he had lost his best friend. He obviously knew who Elizabeth was, or what she was, as he seemed very eager to speak with her.
"Are you going to be able to find the person who did this?" He asked, wasting no time with introductions or small talk.
"I promise to do everything I can," Elizabeth answered. "If you don’t mind, could you tell me when you last saw your wife alive?"
"I told the chief, we had breakfast around six, and I left for work about six-thirty," William answered.
"Did she seem upset, worried at all?" Elizabeth asked.
"No, not at all. She was looking forward to working in her garden," William answered.
He had just finished speaking when an older man joined their small group. The resemblance to William left little doubt this was Mayor Links. He nodded to the chief, then looked Elizabeth over very carefully. She was accustomed to men’s eyes moving over her body, but not in this manner. This man was sizing her up, but not at all in a sexual manner.
"Do you have any leads yet?" he asked after Tucker had made introductions.
"I have a few thoughts," Elizabeth said.
The Mayer raised an eyebrow and Elizabeth was reminded of Mr. Spock on Star Trek. "Really? What would those be?"
"I’ll be giving the chief my full report," Elizabeth said.
The fact she was not impressed with his title of Mayor did not escape the elder Links. "I see, so you think there was evidence left by the killer?"
"There is always evidence, you just have to know how to find it, and then know what it means," Elizabeth answered.
"Evidence can be interpreted in different ways," another man offered.
Tucker quickly introduced the new comer to the conversation as Nicolas Banks. He was apparently a friend of the family who was also in business with young William.
"You are quite correct," Elizabeth answered. "Like any question, there are any number of answers, but only one is correct."
"And you think you have the correct answer?" Young William asked.
"I will have before I leave Lead Tree," Elizabeth said. "Now if you will excuse me, I need to get back to work."
Tucker walked quickly to keep up with Elizabeth and said nothing as they each climbed into their vehicles and drove to Jane Kundrink’s home, which was almost in walking distance of the Links house. While the Links’ home suggested they enjoyed a moderate amount of money, the Kundrink home was completely average in every way. Elizabeth always found it odd when people from vastly different income brackets became close friends. It told of a different type of bond, or perhaps something other than friendship kept the two together.
As Elizabeth walked to the house she spoke softly to Tucker. "Was there an autopsy done on Mrs. Links?"
Tucker shook his head. "We don’t exactly have the training for that, besides we thought it was kind of obvious what killed her. What more would an autopsy do for you?"
"I would like to know the condition of her stomach contents," Elizabeth answered. "If she ate between six and six thirty, and was dead by ten thirty, we should be able to get a reasonable time of death by the amount of digestion that had taken place between the two known times."
"When we get through here I can call Doc Ward and have him do that for you," Tucker said. "Otherwise we’d have to ship the body off, and I really don’t want to do that to the family."
"That should be fine," Elizabeth said.
Jane Kundrink met them at the door and did not seemed surprised by their visit. She lead them to the living room and offered them a cool drink, but both declined. Jane was a handsome woman, though it was obvious she worked hard to pay her bills. Hard physical work.
"I understand you and Marsha Links were good friends?" Elizabeth said.
"Yes ma’am, I’m going to miss here terribly," the woman answered, tears welling up in her eyes. "I just couldn’t believe it when I found her, it was so awful."
"I understand, and I will try not to keep you. I just have a couple of questions," Elizabeth said.
"No, its fine, whatever I can do to help."
"When you found Mrs. Links, did you notice anything unusual, see anyone on the road, hear anything out of the normal. Anything at all?"
"No, I just stopped by to say hi and maybe have a cup of coffee, everything seemed fine until I went in the kitchen."
"Did you cover her face with a towel?"
"No ma’am, when I saw her lying there I screamed and ran," Jane said. "I called the police from next door."
"Had Mrs. Links seemed upset recently?"
"No, she had been in a great mood. God, why did this have to happen."
"Were you and Mrs. Links supposed to go out?" Elizabeth asked.
"No, I had to go to work at noon," Jane answered. "We always stopped by each other’s place unexpected, you know, just to talk."
Elizabeth glanced at Tucker, then back at Jane. "I’ve got to ask you one more question, and it is going to be a tough one for you to answer, but I need you to be honest with me."
"Who was Mrs. Links having an affair with?" Elizabeth asked.
"Now hold on," Tucker said, but Elizabeth held up a hand and he fell silent.
"Why do you think she was having an affair?" Jane asked, her hands rubbing her thighs as she spoke.
"I saw her anniversary picture she had made with her husband. She didn’t bother putting on any make-up, didn’t fix her hair, and her hands looked a little rough from working in her garden," Elizabeth said. "Her husband said she was going to work in her garden the day she was killed, but when she was found she had on eye shadow, mascara, and her nails had been professionally done. Nothing for an anniversary picture, but a full make-up job for a day of gardening? If I’m wrong, tell me, but if there is someone who is responsible for her recent good mood, I need to know."
Jane’s eyes no longer looked at Elizabeth, nor did she look at Tucker, who was now leaning close. She rubbed her hands on her jeans as if drying the nervous perspiration, but it was also evident her hands were trembling.
"By golly, she’s right," Tucker said. "There was somebody. Who was it Jane?"
"I don’t believe he could have done it, no, he couldn’t have, they were in love," Jane answered.
"We’re gonna need a name, you know that," Tucker said.
Jane looked up at Elizabeth, but if she were hoping to find an alley for her secrecy, she was disappointed. "Its Jimmy Watsun," She finally said, her eyes once again looking away. "They’ve been seeing each other about six months."
"How serious was it?" Elizabeth asked.
"Pretty serious," Jane answered. "He had asked her to go away with him."
"And she said no, didn’t she," Tucker said. "Jealous rage, that’s one of the oldest motives in the book."
"No," Jane protested. "She wanted to go away, and I think she was going to, she just didn’t know how to tell William is all."
"Did she tell William?" Elizabeth asked.
"I don’t know, and that’s the God’s truth," Jane answered.
"Chief Tucker, do you know Jimmy Watsun?" Elizabeth asked.
"Sure do, I always thought he was a good man, till now," Tucker said.
"He’s not quite convicted yet," Elizabeth said.
"I know he may not have killed Marsha Links, but I don’t hold with no man that runs around with a married woman. Its wrong, and that is all there is too it."
"Well, I’m here to investigate a homicide, not adultery," Elizabeth said. "Do you think you can check on some things for me Chief?"
"Just name ‘em."
"I need to know where some people were between say, five thirty a.m. and eleven a.m. the day Marsha Links was killed."
Tucker pulled a note pad from his shirt pocket. "Who are you interested in?"
"Start with Jimmy Watsun, William Links, the good Mayor, and Nicolas Banks," Elizabeth said. "And can you have the Doctor take care of what we were talking about earlier."
"You mean about the stomach , , ," Tucker began, then looked at Jane. "Sure, I’ll have him get right on it. Got to tell you, this list of names is a little odd."
"See what you can find out, I’ll explain later," Elizabeth said.
The sun was resting low in the sky, its day’s work all but done as Elizabeth took notes over the phone. Doctor Ward gave her the results of his examination, and while not a pathologist, the good doctor seemed more than capable and his report gave Elizabeth what she was looking for. She thanked him and hung up as her stomach began to protest her lack of attention to its needs. She was just searching through her bag for a package of cheese crackers when Chief Tucker returned.
"Damn if people ain’t peculiar animals," Tucker said. "You would have thought I told everyone of them folks on your list they were under arrest."
"Were you able to get details on everyone?" Elizabeth asked, no longer surprised at people’s reactions to such inquires.
"Sure did, double checked ‘em all and verified with witnesses."
Elizabeth found the crackers, stared at them for a moment, then dropped them back into her bag. "Could I treat you to dinner Chief? We can go over your information there."
"Got no problem with that," Tucker said. "Mable’s has a real nice buffet, or if you want Tex-Mex we can , , ,"
"Let’s try Mable’s," Elizabeth interrupted.
Elizabeth finished her chicken fried steak as Tucker pushed his empty plate to the center of the table. His appetite was exactly what Elizabeth had expected and she could not help but wonder if he had ever had his cholesterol level checked. He accepted the waitress’s offer of more tea as he pulled his note pad from his pocket.
"Who do you want me to start with?" Tucker asked.
"Doesn’t matter," Elizabeth said, as the waitress took away the empty plates.
"Okay then, William Links said he left home at six thirty. It’s a ten minute drive to the feed store, but nobody remembers actually seeing him until almost eight. He said he was out checking inventory. He was at the store until he got the call to come home around eleven or so."
"Next," Elizabeth said as she made her own notes.
"Mayor Links said he was up around six, or there abouts. He was at his house until he left for his office at nine. First time anyone remembers seeing him was around nine thirty," Tucker said.
"Does the Mayor live alone?"
"Yea, his wife passed bout two years ago, cancer of some type."
"Okay, who’s next?"
"Nicolas Banks," Tucker said. "He was at the Links liquor store at quarter to six and was there all morning, all kinds of folks saw him."
"Which leaves us with Mister Jimmy Watsun," Elizabeth said.
"Yeah, he was all kinds of upset when he found out we knew about him and Mrs. Links," Tucker said. "Started swearing he had nothing to do with it, he loved her and she had agreed to go away with him."
"Could he tell you where he was that morning?"
"He worked the night shift out at Omar Metals. I verified he got off at a little past midnight. He said he was asleep in bed until almost noon. No witnesses of course."
When she finished writing she looked at her list and she felt she had a fairly accurate picture of what had taken place in the Links’ kitchen that morning. It was time to test her theory. "I need to speak with some of these people," she said. "Do you think you could have the Mayor come by your office this evening?"
"I can give him a call."
Elizabeth was sitting in the conference room when the Chief entered, followed by the Mayor. Both men took seats across the table from her as she flipped through her notes. "Thank you for coming by Mayor Links," Elizabeth said.
"Anything I can do to help," he answered. "You have some knew ‘thoughts’, I believed you called them."
Elizabeth ignored his sarcasms. "I have a few. Would you like to hear them?"
"By all means."
"When they found Marsha Links’ body, her face was covered with a kitchen towel," Elizabeth began. "That normally indicates she was killed by someone who knew her, most probably someone who had some sort of feelings for her. You see, the killer covers the victim’s face so they don’t have to look at the person when they kill them. Its much harder to kill someone when you can see their face, especially if you care for them."
"I remember reading that," Tucker said, then realized by Elizabeth’s stern look that she would rather he not interrupt.
"The killer came in and began hitting Marsha, there is evidence of at least three blows to her face. She managed to deflect three or more additional blows with her arms. I suspect one of the blows was sufficient to knock her off her feet and render her unconscious. As she fell, she hit the table, shoving it out of place. She also hit her hand on the table, breaking several nails in the process. There are no cut or defense wounds on her arms or hands, which is why I presume she was unconscious. The killer then placed the towel over her face, and stabbed her several times. The bruises around the wounds show the killer used a great deal of force, pushing the knife in all the way to the hilt. This would indicate a lot of anger, perhaps rage."
Both Tucker and the Mayor remained silent. "Now, I believe the killer pulled one of the chairs out to sit down. He could have done this before he stabbed her, contemplating his actions, or he could have done it afterwards as he considered what to do next. The murder weapon wasn’t found, so he undoubtedly took it with him."
"Now, according to Doctor Ward, who seems very competent by the way, the contents of Marsha Links’ stomach had begun to digest, but not to a great degree. He estimates she had eaten approximately two hours before her death. Which means she was killed at eight thirty, if William was telling the truth about them having breakfast together between six and six thirty."
"You suspect William of lying," the Mayor snapped, small beads of sweat forming on his forehead.
"No sir, I believe William was telling the truth," Elizabeth said. "I believe he had breakfast with his wife, then left for work. Sometime after that you arrived at their home."
The Mayor’s eyes widened ever so slightly. "I arrived? What makes you think I went to William’s house? I was . . ."
"Because you had heard about Marsha and Jimmy Watsun, and you also heard they might be running off together," Elizabeth interrupted. "You went there to what, try to talk her out of it? Threaten her? To kill her? Your whereabouts cannot be accounted for during the time of the attack All of these things put together places you at the top of the suspect list, and it is a very short list."
"This is insane," Links said, rising to his feet. "Why would I . . ."
"To prevent a scandal. You want your son to be Mayor, and it would look bad if his wife left him for a common laborer. Being in the public eye, you must be above reproach, am I right."
Links looked at Tucker, but found no sympathy or aide. He slumped back into his chair. "My God, I never…"
"Mister Links, before you say anything further, you should be aware of your right to remain silent, you also have the right for an attorney to be present…"
"I know my rights," Links said, barely loud enough to be heard. "Marsha called me, asked me to stop by that morning. When I got there she told me she was going to leave William for Watsun, that they were in love. She just didn’t know how to tell William and wanted my help. Can you image that, asking me for help on something like that. I tell you, up until that moment I had thought she was the perfect wife for William. I felt so betrayed, and I knew William would also. I’m not sure what happened then, something snapped inside me and my temper took over and I just started hitting her. When she fell I pulled a knife from the drawer, but you were right, I couldn’t do it with her looking at me, so I covered her face. I didn’t go there to kill her, things just, they got out of hand, she was dead before I could stop myself. She was wrong for what she did, and what she wanted to do, but she didn’t deserve to die for it. I just sat there in her kitchen, where I helped her fix Christmas dinner last year, and watched her bleed to death. Oh God, what have I done," Links said, holding his face in his hands as he began to sob.
"Chief Tucker, I think you should take your prisoner to a cell until he has had a chance to call his attorney," Elizabeth said.
Tucker only nodded as he took Links by the arm and helped him up. Tucker escorted him to the holding cells in the basement, then returned to the conference room. His expression was one of total shock and amazement.
"I never would of thought…" he began. "But you figured it out in less than a full day."
"I was guessing on some, but the evidence fit," Elizabeth said as she began packing her things.
"How did you know it wasn’t one of the others?"
"Some intuition," Elizabeth said. "William looked too distraught, I didn’t think he was that acting, so that eliminated him. From what we had, it appeared Watsun had or was going to have everything he wanted, so he had no clear motive. That left the Mayor as the only strong candidate who didn’t have an alibi for the time of the murder. Plus the fact he knew the victim, and he had something to loose if she left William."
"Not bad," Tucker said. "You think the Mayor will get life?"
"I can’t see getting a conviction on murder one," Elizabeth said. "I suspect the prosecutor will go for murder two, maybe even manslaughter. I don’t really expect it to go to trial, but if it does, I’ll be back to testify."
"I can’t believe the way he broke down and confessed so quick, I would have thought he would try to hide it more."
"The Mayor’s not a killer by nature," Elizabeth said. "The guilt was working on him and a part of him wanted to confess. It isn’t really that uncommon."
"I’m tellin’ ya, this has been some day," Tucker said. "Hey, aren’t you stayin’ the night? We got us a fine hotel," Tucker continued as Elizabeth put away the last of her things.
"I’ve got another consultation request over in Grand Fork Crossing."
"Don’t you want to get some sleep fore you start that drive?"
"No, its much cooler at night," Elizabeth said. "Chief Tucker, it has been a pleasure working with you," she said extending her hand. "You run a very fine ship here. I hope you never need this type of help again, but if you do, please feel free to ask for me by name."
"I sure appreciate your help, though I can’t say I’m pleased with what you found," Tucker said, firmly shaking Elizabeth hand. "You’re welcome in Lead Tree any time."
"I’ll keep that in mind," Elizabeth said. "Please, drop me a line and let me know how things work out for the Mayor."
"Consider it done."
And she did.