As Whitaker and Taylor headed out of the hotel and toward the location, Whitaker was texted by the Deputy. There had been a lot of tense silence between them since they’d met, but Taylor could feel the anger coming off Whitaker. And yet, she hadn’t thrown in the towel completely.
Taylor knew he’d been too dismissive of Whitaker from the beginning, but he wasn’t sure how to make any of them listen to reason. He promised himself he would try and go easier on her if at all possible. The hard part, of course, was figuring out how to do that.
The drive didn’t take long, as the lake was on the same side of Lubbock as their hotel. Whitaker turned them down a winding dirt road that seemed to lead off in the middle of nowhere. It seemed they were just going to a dead end in the wooded area they entered until the road turned to reveal a medium sized pond with an open grassy area in front of it, which was currently covered by two squad cars and a tow truck.
Whitaker parked behind one of the squad cars and away from the tow truck, which was at that moment backing up towards the lake, and both she and Taylor hopped out.
Looking towards the lake, they could see just the smallest part of the rear end of a white car. The license plate was mostly visible however and when they got closer, Taylor could make out the tag numbers, which matched what Whitaker had gotten from the DMV for Julie Jones’s car.
“Deputy Everheart?” She said, coming up to one man that Taylor assumed she had just picked at random.
“Yep, you the Fed lady?”
“Ok. Well, you can see the car here has that tag you were looking for. Fred over there’s about to hook it up and we’ll drag it out of there.”
“I wonder how long it’s been there?” Taylor asked to no one in particular.
“Not that long. We were here last Wednesday in the early evening, chasing off some kids who were skinny dipping.”
“Last Wednesday?” Whitaker asked, suspiciously.
“Yes, ma’am. I remember because I was just about to leave and head back out on patrol when that building exploded, and sent that fireball up in the sky. Shit, it about scared me to death.”
“And I’m guessing this car wasn’t there then?” Taylor asked.
“You’d be right. Since that explosion, most of the locals have been keeping closer to their homes, and all the spots they normally find have been pretty empty. Even the college kids have been quieter since then.”
“Do college kids come up here much?” Whitaker asked.
“Not really. It’s a little far off campus, and it’s one of those areas all the local kids know about, but none of the kids from the college are really aware of. Occasionally we’ll see one of them here, but usually it’s someone who’s hooked up with a local. I mean, it’s not exactly easy to find unless you know it’s here.”
“Wade, I’m ready,” the tow truck driver called out.
He was wearing long rubber wading boots and was standing in the water next to the car. The tow cable was already stretched from the truck and attached to the back of the submerged vehicle.
“All right, Fred, bring it outta there.”
Fred pulled himself out of the water, fighting against the mud sucking at his boots, and made his way back up the embankment to his tow truck, where he pulled a series of levers on the side of the truck. A motor started whirring and the line to the car pulled tight. Slowly at first, and then with increasing speed, the car was pulled out of the pond. As it cleared the surface, water began flowing from the cracks in the doors, out the wheel wells, and through the open windows. Small branches and foliage stuck in irregular angles all along the body.
As the front half of the car came out of the water and the front seat became visible, a body could clearly be seen in the driver’s seat, slumping forward against the steering wheel as the back of the car angled up to pull the vehicle over the embankment.
“Shit!” Taylor cursed, stomping his foot against the ground and turning his back on the car.
They didn’t have an ID yet, but in his gut he knew who was in the front seat of that car. He turned back around as the motor to the tow rig shut off, and the scraping sounds of the car being dragged shut off. The vehicle was now all the way out of the pond, on the flat grassy surface not far from where the officer’s car was parked.
Taylor followed the deputy and Whitaker closer to the car, to take a look inside. Up close, it was still impossible to tell if the body in the front seat really was Julie Jones or not. Her skin was a bluish gray color and her face unrecognizable beyond the vague notion that she was female. Fish had clearly gotten to the soft tissue, making it hard to tell what this woman had looked like in life. On top of the damage caused by wildlife, part of her jaw hung loose, with the right side of her jaw missing entirely. Taylor had seen similar damage in Iraq and Afghanistan and recognized the effects of a bullet wound.
Circling around to get a better view of the top of her head, he thought he could make out a wound in the top of her head, although it was difficult to tell with the dirty, matted blond hair. Taylor started to reach through to move some of the hair in order to be sure, when Whitaker grabbed his wrist in a surprisingly strong grip.
“Don’t touch the body.”
“Sorry, I thought I could see an entry wound in the top of her head, and I’m pretty sure that damage to her jaw on the right side is an exit wound.”
Whitaker moved around him, standing up on her tip toes and leaning over a bit to get a better view.
“Yea, maybe. We’ll have to wait for an autopsy to confirm. You never touch a body before the coroner gets here. Don’t touch the car, either.”
“Look at her wrists,” Whitaker said.
Her arms hung loosely and only her left hand was visible. Looking in, he could see a blackish part, about half an inch wide, going around the entire wrist.
“I’ve seen that on bodies before,” Whitaker said. “The people had been zip tied for a while with the ties not being cut off until after they died. Keeps the blood from getting to that area while it coagulates.”
Taylor stepped back from the car, followed by Whitaker while the Deputy headed to his cruiser to call in the body.
“We’re thinking she was murdered, right?” Taylor asked, trying to be less pushy that he had been up to this point.
“Yes, that seems pretty obvious.”
“The timeline has to give you some pause. She died after the explosion, or at least her body was dumped after. And she was missing for five days before the explosion for it to work with Dorset’s theory, Samar would have grabbed her up and held her captive for some reason, blown up the armory, and then come back to kill her and dump her body here.”
“He could have had accomplices.”
“That he’s been hiding pretty well. No one we’ve talked to noticed him with anyone new. And he couldn’t have kept her in the apartment where he was supposedly building a pipe bomb. The walls there are paper thin, someone would have heard her.”
“Sorry?” Taylor said, surprised.
This was the first time she had backed off on her theory and actually agreed with him.
“You heard me, I said you’re right. This is obviously connected to the armory. The timing is too much of a coincidence. I still don’t think it lets Abbas off the hook. He could have made it out before the explosion, come back to where he stashed her and killed her.”
“I know, but there are some problems with that theory. I said it was possible, not certain. For now, she is our only link to this theory of yours, so we can investigate her death.”
“So this means you aren’t hauling me off to the airport.”
“For now,” she said, but without anger in her voice.
They were interrupted by a Coroner’s van pulling into the small clearing in front of the lake.
“That was really fast. Normally we have to wait for hours for a Coroner,” Whitaker said to the deputy as she and Taylor walked to the van.
“This is a small college town Miss, we get the occasional robbery and a shooting every couple of years, but nothing like this. Ollie about jumped out of his socks to get down here.”
Taylor couldn’t help but let out a small chuckle. He was used to the South, having spent so much time in North Carolina before he went to Afghanistan, and then the time in Florida after, but he wasn’t used to small towns. It seemed like everyone was a Fred, or an Ollie, or Charlie.
Ollie turned out to be not what Taylor had expected. Ollie was really Oliver Chalmers, a man with a New England accent who carried himself with palpable sense of superiority. Taylor knew if he looked into it, Ollie would have an interesting story.
“Doctor Chalmers, can you give me a time of death?” Whitaker asked him after they were introduced.
“Not a chance, at least not while we are out here. This young woman has been submerged for some time. That would throw off any temperature reading I could take off her. She’s clearly been through rigor and back, and started the decomposition process, although that would have been accelerated by the submersion. I would say not less than two days, not more than ... hmm ... six. I can probably be more accurate once I conduct a full autopsy.”
Between two and six days was not much of a help, Taylor thought to himself. That window could still have her killed either before or after the explosion.
“Ok, how soon until you get her back and open her up,” Whitaker asked.
“It will take a little while to do my initial notes here and take her back to the morgue, so I don’t think I will be ‘opening her up’ as you say for at least two hours, give or take.”
“Could you text me when you’re ready, I’d like to be there.”
“If that is what you require,” he said, clearly wanting this conversation to end.
“Deputy, do you know where the warehouse we set up to collect evidence from the armory is?”
“Could you have this car taken there? I’ll make sure we have a technician ready to take it off your hands.”
“Ma’am, this is still a local case. I’m gonna have to talk to the Sheriff and...”
“Deputy, we believe this girl is tied in with the armory bombing, and that brings it under my jurisdiction. I’ll tell you what, as long as I get to do my investigation, I promise to share any information we get with your Sheriff; and I’ll agree that once we catch whoever is behind this, he can give the press conference announcing the capture, ok?”
“I’ll run it by him.”
“If he has any problems, have him call me.”
Taylor and Whitaker headed back to the car. By the time she was pulling onto the dirt road to take them back to town, she was on the phone with the technician handling the evidence recovery from the armory.
“Eugene, I have a car coming over to you. Could you have the boys go over it and get me everything you can? ... Yeah, its tied into the other thing ... A woman was killed and dumped in the car. We need anything you can find on when she was killed, who killed her, where she was originally killed. You know, the works ... Thanks, Eugene.”
“So?” Taylor asked.
“They’ll take care of it. These guys are the best. I promise you, if there is a clue to be found, they’ll find it.”
“So what now?”
“There probably isn’t enough time to do anything before the autopsy, so let’s head back to the motel until we hear from him.”
“Sounds good to me.”
They retraced their steps from little more than an hour before, although much calmer than the car ride they had taken to the dump sight. Taylor still didn’t head to his room but to hers, and slumped down in a chair on one side of the room.
“Don’t you have your own room?”
“Sure, but I want to make sure I’m here when we get a call from either your guy at the warehouse or ‘Ollie.’”
“Listen, I was hoping to shut my eyes for a minute and...”
The ringing of her cell phone interrupted her. Since they had been expecting a call from either the technicians or the Coroner, she answered it and put it on speaker.
“Lola, what the hell are you doing down there,” came Dorset’s voice through the phone.
“Sir?” she said, sounding surprised.
She held a finger up to her lips and gave the sternest look to Taylor she could muster, in hopes he would stay quiet this time.
“First you have that idiot Taylor breaking into the conference call with his nonsense, now I get a call from Eugene that you have a car from some shooting victim being delivered to him.”
“Sir, that is Abbas’s girlfriends’ car. We believe she was killed as part of the events leading up to the armory explosion.”
“We? Loretta, I sent you with Taylor to keep him under control, not help him on his wild goose chase. You’re supposed to be keeping him out of the way, not using up Bureau resources.”
“I know Tony, but there is something here, I’m telling you. We have strong evidence...”