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Discovery of bodies in the Outer Banks' Nags Head Woods leads to the chilling conclusion that there is an . . .

A Harrison Weaver Mystery (#4)
Author: Joseph L.S. Terrell
First Edition
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
LCCN 2014941768


Her words tumbled together so rapidly, breathlessly, it sounded like she spoke in an unknown tongue.
    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 about?"
    "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 up."
    "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 picture?"
    She almost sobbed. "No, I swear, Weav. It's the real thing. I know it is."
    "Anyone else had access to your computer, your pictures?"
    "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 . . ."
    "Okay, okay."
    "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 minutes."
    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 ring completed.
    "Wright," he said, his voice clipped and authoritative.
    "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 called Linda.
    "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 came forward.
    "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," he said.
    "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 back tears.
    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.

Excerpt©2014 Joseph L.S. Terrell

A Harrison Weaver Mystery (#4)
Author: Joseph L.S. Terrell
First Edition
5.5"x8.5" Trade Paperback
Retail: $14.95US
ISBN 978-1-62268-096-2 print
ISBN 978-1-62268-097-9 ebook
LCCN 2014941768

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