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of bodies in the Outer Banks' Nags Head Woods leads to the chilling conclusion
that there is an . . .
Weaver Mystery (#4)
Author: Joseph L.S. Terrell
5.5"x 8.5" Trade Paperback
192p; Retail $14.95US
ISBN 978-1-62268-096-2 print
ISBN 978-1-62268-097-9 e-book
Her words tumbled
together so rapidly, breathlessly, it sounded like she spoke in an unknown
I rolled over, sat on the edge of the bed, and
planted my feet on the floor. I pressed the phone against my ear. "Slow
down, Linda. I can't understand what you're saying."
I heard her take a controlled breath. She exhaled
and tried again. "An arm," she said. "And a hand, too,
right there in the picture."
"What picture, Linda? What are you talking
"Picture I took yesterday at Nags Head Woods
on one of the trails." She struggled with her voice again. "An
arm and a hand. I didn't see it until this morning when I zoomed in on
the picture." I could almost visualize her shudder. "It scares
hell out of me, Weav. It's somebody's arm on the ground, just sticking
out from the brush."
"There's got to be a body attached to it.
I know there is," she gasped.
I stood, still clutching the phone to my ear,
and rubbed the sleep from my face with my free hand. "Take another
deep breath. Start at the beginning and tell meslowlywhat's
"I want you to go with me this morning,"
she said. "to make sure it's what I think it is."
"Wow. Hold on. I'm not going anywhere until
you tell me what's going on." There was a pause on her end of the
line and I sensed she tried to calm herself, speak more slowly. She started
again, her voice sounding more normal. "Yesterday, Weav, I got off
early from the paper, took my camera and extra lenses. I wanted to practice,
you know, nature shots like Jeff Lewis does that are always in the paper.
I went over toward the beach to Nags Head Woods, to the Nature Conservancy.
I wanted to go down some of the trails, look for birds, wildlife, and
get some good shots."
"I understand, but didn't you see . . . see
whatever it is you're talking about, see it then?"
"No. I took a few shots, just sort of location
pictures with a regular lens, fifty millimeter, before I used my new long
lens in case I saw some birds or something. But I didn't really look at
the first shots, the location shots, until early this morning when I got
up, and I saw something that didn't look right. I had downloaded all of
the shots to my computer and I zoomed in on that one, and I'll tell you,
Weav, it's an arm sticking out, mostly covered up with leaves and stuff."
I tried to lighten her mood a bit, make sure she
wasn't trying to kid. "You PhotoShop that
She almost sobbed. "No, I swear, Weav. It's
the real thing. I know it is."
"Anyone else had access to your computer,
"No. I'm right here at home, and no one goes
near my stuff. Besides, just Mother here now and she doesn't even know
how to turn on the computer."
I sat back on the edge of the bed, paused a moment,
and then said, "Okay, Linda, so why are you calling me? Why not the
authorities? Sheriff's office?"
"Aw, you know why, Weav. You're a crime writer
and if I called the sheriff's office they probably wouldn't pay any attention
to me, or laugh at me or something."
"But they know you're a reporter . . . and
don't make stuff up." I permitted myself a soft chuckle, hoping to
ease her back down: "At least most of the time."
Linda Shackleford had worked for The Coastland
Times for about four years, starting in classified ads, then managing
to become a reporter, and now a reporter and steadily improving photo-journalist,
with ambitions, obviously, of becoming a nature and wildlife photographer.
I glanced at my bedside clock. "You know
what time it is, Linda?"
"Yeah, about eight o'clock. I figured you'd
be up and be over jetlag by now."
"Jeeze, we just got back last evening. Long
trip." We'd flown in from Paris to JFK in New York, then down to
Norfolk, and picked up my car; drove down to North Carolina's Outer Banks,
where I make my home.
"I know, I know, Weav. But this is important.
I mean, hell, it's a body and I know it is."
"Now listen to me, damn it, Linda. Just listen
to me . . ."
"I'm not about to go down to Nags Head Woods
with you, just the two of usjust
in case it is a body. And I kind of doubt that, actually. But I don't
want us to go down there by ourselves. Just in case."
"What're you saying?"
"I'll call Deputy Wright, see if he's on
duty. I've gotten in enough trouble with DA Schweikert from stumbling
across bodies. He accuses me of being a magnet for dead bodies."
"Think Odell will go with us?" She referred
to Chief Deputy Odell Wright, who had become a friend of mine.
"Maybe. If he's on duty . . . and doesn't
think this is too much of a wild goose chase."
"I tell you it's not, Weav. I could email
you the picture but I'm not sure you could zoom in on it."
"Probably couldn't. I take your word for
what you see." I knew Linda usually was not this excited and upset
about anything. She was pretty levelheaded, and I was beginning to believe
her. "Okay," I said, "I'll call Deputy Wright. Sound him
out, if I can get hold of him. At any rate, I'll call you back in a few
When we hung up, I made a trip to the bathroom.
I splashed water on my face and looked at the bags under my eyes, muttering
to myself. I went to the phone in the living room, uncovering my parakeet's
cage as I passed it. She started chirping and doing her good-morning head-bobbing
dance. "Yeah, in a minute, Janey," I mumbled.
I called the Dare County Sheriff's Office and
asked the dispatcher for Deputy Wright's extension. "He's out,"
the dispatcher said.
I identified myself and told the dispatcher I
had Wright's cell number, and I'd call him. The dispatcher hesitated,
then said, "Okay," as if he wasn't sure I should be doing that.
I punched in Odell Wright's cell number and he answered before the second
"Wright," he said, his voice clipped
"Odell, this is Harrison Weaver . . . and
I've got a strange request from our friend Linda Shackleford . . ."
Then I outlined what Linda had said to me and told him I didn't want to
go to check it out without him.
Odell was quiet for a moment or two. I was about
to ask him if he was still there. Instead, I said, "I know this all
sounds a little farfetched, Odell, but . . ."
He puffed out a sigh. "I hope it's farfetched,"
he said, sounding weary. "I've just been assigned a missing person
search, getting started on it. I just hope . . ." His voice trailed
off as if he mulled over options. Then, "Yeah, Weaver, maybe we better
check it out. Linda's a straight-shooter."
We agreed to meet at the gravel parking area at
the Nature Conservancy, Nags Head Woods, at nine-thirty. I told him I
was sure Linda could be there by that time, with her camera and maybe
a printout of the picture that sparked all of this. Then I immediately
"I'll be there," she said. "I'm
uneasy about going there. I don't want to see what I think I'm going to
see, but I'll be there."
I drove south to Ocean
Acres, the street beside Pigman's Barbecue, turned right and kept going
until the paved road became gravel. I passed the house that has all of
the Christmas decorations each yearattracting
hordes of visitors, and even national televisionand
continued to the small parking area at the Nature Conservancy. A pickup
truck was parked close to the wood frame Conservancy office, and a Nissan
Maxima was pulled in near to the vegetation on the opposite side from
the office. I eased my Outback in behind the Nissan, but leaving room
for the other driver to maneuver out. A couple of minutes later, Deputy
Odell Wright pulled up in his cruiser and backed in next to me. I got
out to greet him.
He gave a tight smile as we shook hands. There's
now just a touch of gray in his hair, but it looks good against his chocolate-colored
skin. His silver rectangular nametag reads "O. Wright," and
with his usual wry humor he will tell someone he is one of the original
Wright Brothers. But he wasn't joking today.
He looked around. "So Linda's not here yet?"
"Any minute, I'm sure."
Then he did a quick double-take of the Nissan.
"Uh-oh," he said, staring at the vehicle, noting the license
tag and dust-covered body of the car. As he took steps toward the Nissan
the door to the Conservancy office opened and a young woman in khakis
"I was just thinking that maybe I should
call the police about that car," she said. She smiled and approached
Deputy Wright. "But I guess here you are." She nodded toward
the Nissan. "It's been here a couple of days now, and I didn't know
what to do about it. Call the police? Have Seto's tow it, or what?"
"We'll leave it right there for now,"
Odell said, frowning. He turned and opened the door to his cruiser, punching
in something on his computer. I assumed it was the Nissan's license plate
number. He stepped away from his cruiser. With a dead-serious expression,
he shook his head. "It's Dwight Fairworth's vehicle all right,"
he said quietly. "The missing person . . ."
Now it was my turn to say "Uh-oh."
He sighed. "Linda say where this . . . this
picture of hers was taken?"
"On one of the trails. She'll lead us there."
I glanced around at the tall trees, both pine and hardwood. With such
a thick truly maritime forest, it was hard to believe we were that close
to the sound, less than a mile away and not much farther from the ocean.
I turned back to Odell and cast a quick glance at the Nissan. "A
missing person report?"
He nodded. "Janet Fairworth reported her
husband didn't come home from a Wednesday church meeting. Just been thirty-six
hours now. Usually wait forty-eight. Well, close to forty-eight now. The
sheriff wanted us to get on it. The wife's very upset, and Sheriff Albright
knows her." He compressed his lips. "At first I figured the
husband's probably off with someone elsepraying
or something." He shook his head. "No, I shouldn't say that."
He breathed in with a sigh. "But now, I've got a bad feeling . .
Linda drove up fast and pulled her older model
Toyota into the parking area. Dust rose, hanging around her blue-jean
clad legs as she got out of the car. She's sturdy, has short-cropped dark
hair and big strong teeth she flashes as she smiles. But her smile today
was quick and disappeared in an instant. She had a camera around her neck
and a printout of some sort in her hand. She handed the printout to Odell.
"Not a good quality, I know, but it's the best I could do."
I stood beside Odell as he studied the printout
of a wooded area. There was something light-colored and elongated near
the base of a tree and underbrush. It could be just about anything, including
a broken limb minus its bark.
"This supposed to be an arm?" Odell
asked, glancing at Linda and back at the printout.
"You can see it much better on my computer,"
she said defensively.
"Where's the spot? Where'd you take this?"
Odell continued squinting at the eight-by-eleven printout, which was on
regular copy paper.
"On the Roanoke Trail. Just down there. Fifty
yards or so after the road comes to that other little road off to the
right. Then I walked down the trail on the left, taking pictures."
Odell nodded. "We'll take my vehicle,"
"Not much of a place to park on that little
road," Linda said.
Odell managed another of his tight smiles. "We'll
make a parking place," he said. He opened the back door of his cruiser.
I started to get in but Linda shook her head at me and slid into the back.
I squeezed into the passenger seat, along with his computer and radio
equipment that occupied much of the space.
He drove a short distance farther along the gravel
road to the intersection with another dirt road. Over his shoulder, Linda
pointed to the right, and he eased along the narrow road. We saw a short
split-rail fence on the left, with a wooden sign that said "Roanoke
Trail." I knew it led eventually all the way to the Roanoke Sound.
Odell pulled his cruiser's left wheels up on the low embankment so that
we were tilted at about a twenty-five degree angle. Linda and I exited
easily, but Odell had to push hard against his door to struggle out.
"Down this way," Linda said. She took
a deep breath, and exhaled audibly.
"Lead the way," Odell said. He walked
beside her on the trail. I was close behind them.
We moved slowly along the path that was dappled
every few feet with morning sunlight. The temperature, here in mid-September,
was well into the seventies. A beautiful fall day at the Outer Banks.
After about fifty yards, Linda stopped, studied the area. "I was
thinking it was about here, but I guess it's farther along."
Odell didn't say anything and we started walking again.
"See, I stepped off the trail and went into
the woods a little ways." Linda looked again at her printout, which
was becoming wrinkled and sweat-stained in her hand.
We continued forward with measured steps. Linda glanced repeatedly to
her left and right. "It looks a little different," she said
softly, and swallowed again as if she tried to get moisture into her mouth.
"Take your time, Linda," Odell said.
After a few yards, Linda said, "I think it
was here. Right about here that I left the trail and walked into the woods
a little . . ." We followed her in several yards, and she stopped
suddenly. "No, no, this isn't it."
I watched her face. She appeared to be fighting
She looked up at Odell, almost pleading. "Can
we go down the trail some more?"
"Of course," Odell said, and smiled
kindly at her.
You had to like the man.
A short distance later, we were now more than
a hundred yards down the curving trail, Linda stopped again, shook her
head. "I'm really not sure I walked this far before I went into the
woods more." She looked around at the vegetation on both sides of
the trail, walled in by tall pines, sycamores, maples, and shorter fir
trees. She smoothed the printout and appeared to be scrutinizing it, glancing
up and looking around. She chewed on her lower lip. "I don't know,"
she said. "I guess I'm sort of confused now, or nervous or something."
"Take it easy," Odell said.
"It's got to be around here somewhere,"
she said, the trace of a sob in her voice. Her brow wrinkled, thinking
hard. "I stepped off the trail to the right . . . It had to be about
here, but I don't see where I might have . . . It was by a tall tree .
. ." She gave a short, self-deprecating laugh. "Hell, nothing
but tall trees around here."
The wind had shifted, coming now from the west off the sound.
Suddenly Odell stopped. He tilted his chin upward,
and sniffed the air. He looked straight ahead. Very softly he said, "Bingo."
He inclined his head toward an area ahead of us and to the left. Low brush
gathered around three tall maples. There was the barest hint of disturbed
vegetation leading to the three trees. "There's something up there."
His voice was quiet and level. "And it's not good," he said.
Joseph L.S. Terrell