The Dead of Winter
from "Out of the Shadows"
Penobscot Bay was quiet, save for the shrill cry of the wind, forcing clouds of snow to blanket the small town of Rockport, Maine. The docks all groaned from the weather’s assault, their long wooden legs stationary within the solid icy waters of the bay. The early morning’s sea smoke had dissipated from the surface of the water, leaving only cracked chunks of ice to wobble on the surface in its place. The roads were white with compacted precipitation, and traffic was scarce as the residents were fleeing to their homes for shelter from Mother Nature’s fury.
At the old house where he had found the first frozen victim, Jonathan Colter stood in the dark parlor, staring pensively out the window at the front yard, now covered with snow. He had already decided that this was an inconvenient day for nature to unleash hell. He wanted to be at home with Leslie, cradling her small figure in his arms, sitting in front of the fireplace, watching one of her old Frank Sinatra movies. He also wondered how Christine’s debriefing of Rita was going. He didn’t like working without her; it felt as though one of his limbs was missing from his body, and his movements and thoughts felt unbalanced.
He sighed, going over the minute details of the day so far. Lifting the yellow police tape, he ducked under it and made his way up the stairs to where the rest of the team was working. He shivered as he neared the master bedroom where the frozen corpse stood. They had had to open the window to keep the room cold, because the statue had begun to melt. Now, the man’s features drooped and sagged with unsettling eeriness, like the actual molecular structure of his body had been altered; simply melting him to do an autopsy would not be possible, unless the coroner was able to work with a vat of liquefied flesh and organs.
“Colter,” a fellow officer called out behind him.
Jonathan turned to meet his call. “What do ya got?”
The young officer handed him a small stack of papers. “Vic’s name is Peter Sheffield. Fifty-eight-year-old white male. Born in upstate New York. Moved here twenty years ago. Been cashin’ in on unemployment for the past five.”
Jonathan scanned the info on the first page while listening to the officer spout his facts.
“Neighbors say he’s a shut-in. Mainly stays inside. Pretty much your typical introvert.”
“There’s… one more thing.”
Jonathan looked up from the papers. “Go on.”
“Neighbors also said that once a week, they’ve been seein’ the same white car parked in front of the house at the curb.”
Jonathan’s brow furrowed at this news. “Did they say which day?”
“Ayuh,” the officer nodded. “And I’ll give ya three guesses…”
He wouldn’t need any of them to know that at that moment, the white car was sitting outside. A sedan, in fact. He knew, because he’d seen it as he’d swept the area for clues, but there had been nothing suspicious about the parked vehicle at the time.
“Get a team out there before the snow gets too high to get into the frikkin’ car,” he told the officer, who nodded and trampled down the steps. Jonathan observed the small team of men and women inside the bedroom daintily dusting the furniture for fingerprints. “Let me know if you guys find anything,” he said to them, even though he had a hunch that they would turn up with nothing. He moseyed down the steps, ruminating on the information in the packet he’d just received. He was hoping that something tangible would come from the search of the white sedan parked out front.
He strolled through the parlor once more and scanned the furniture with his eyes, hoping to spot any fragments of clues that could be pieced together. The couch, the end table, the ashtray, the whiskey bottle, the television. He searched the bookshelves and found a surprising lack of dust. He poked his head into the first floor bathroom but found nothing immediately unusual – no hair or toothpaste in the sink, no stains in the toilet, no scum in the shower.
In the kitchen, other than the plate from yesterday’s dinner on the cheap table, the counters and cabinets were clean. Placing his stack of papers on the table next to the dirty plate, he bent to examine the stains on the laminated flooring that he’d observed earlier, and he noticed that none of them appeared to have been there long. Residue from haphazardly throwing together the meal still on the table. No dirt along the baseboards though.
“You find somethin’, Colter?” asked Evans from the kitchen entrance.
Jonathan didn’t look up, his focus remaining on the details of the kitchen. “Somethin’ doesn’t add up here.”
The other cop waited for elaboration.
Eventually, Jonathan stood, brushing his hands on his pants and exhaling. “A lazy guy past his prime, nursin’ from the tit of unemployment for five years, an entire room upstairs filled with boxes nevah unpacked, passes out on the couch with a bottle of whiskey in one hand and a cigarette in the other… But look at this place. The only grime is from last night’s dinner. This doesn’t seem like the type of guy to have the motivation to get up every mornin’ to clean house.”
“I’m not sure what you’re gettin’ at, man.”
“He had a housekeeper. Or at least someone that stopped by to help him out. And I’d bet my left nut that that’s their car out front.”
Copyright © 2015 Timothy Boyd
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