Click here to read part two.
Click here to read part three.
“The thing is,” the cop said before clearing his throat again, “that this smell came up earlier his week. Weirdest thing ever. And I can’t believe I’m even telling you about it. But I think we better find out more about the grave, uh, hole, you saw in the woods.”
This calm but somewhat loaded revelation from an authority figure had an effect on Lydia. The filmy ideas in her head were now trying to take shape. Heat rose in her body, and she felt that swell of adrenaline again. Her right foot began to bounce. Again she had the urge to run away, but she was anchored to the moment and hoping the cop would know what to do. She knew she would have to tell her husband all the details now, regardless of what he’s dealing with at work.
“I can take you,” she assured him. It would be such a relief for someone else to see the hole itself, not just a photo. She looked for the first time at his name tag. Kevin Michael. Two first names.
After calling for another patrol car and making various updates over his phone and laptop, Officer Michael turned his flashing lights on but not his siren and followed Lydia in her yellow car about a mile around the block, where it would be easier to access the woods. Once they both parked, he kept her from getting out of her car until the other police officer arrived, at which time there was lots of hushed conversation and nodding and looking around in every direction. He still had possession of the strangely scented glove, which he retrieved from his car and showed to his colleague, who recoiled and let out an expletive under his breath. What could it be? What happened already that this is so alarming?
The abundant sunshine from just a little while ago was now slashed and interrupted by white. Clouds were being pulled like cotton candy across the cold blue. Newly invigorated winds combed the trees and screamed. Everyone pulled their jackets tightly. Lydia felt out of balance wearing only one glove, so she peeled it off, tossed it into her car, and pushed her hands, cold and fisted, more deeply in her pockets.
Soon a third police officer arrived. Female. She was driving an SUV painted with K-9 warnings. Old looking for a young woman, she had a square, sturdy frame and a serious face. Her hair was slicked into an intense, narrow French braid and her arms, bare even in winter, were heavily freckled, pink and tan like someone who has never worried about sunscreen. She wore blade style sunglasses and no gloves, no coat. Just her uniform and, in a moment, her dog, who leaped energetically out of the back seat and stood with perfect attention at her side.
The three officers conferred without Lydia but with a gentle awareness of her presence. Then Kevin Michael stayed with her, either to distract her or gather more details, maybe both, while the K-9 handler and the other male cop walked towards the opening of the trail.
“It’s through here?”
“Yes, you go in there, curve a little bit, and take the first right. Just about a hundred yards in, by some wild roses. You won’t miss it.” She had barely missed it, almost stepped into, while running. They had to see it while walking and searching on purpose, right?
Every sound, every snapped twig or shaking bough of dry leaves, every vehicle speeding past on the paved road behind them, startled Lydia. She had the overwhelming need to call her husband. To have him here for this before it went any further.
“Can I call my husband?”
“You can do anything you want,” Officer Michael very nearly chuckled, “You’re not under arrest.”
So she sat down in her car and texted him, rather than call again. She did her best to relay all the facts but down play it a little, choose her typed words carefully so he didn’t panic, but after just a short exchange he said he was on his way. He would leave right then.
Don’t go anywhere Stay with the cops.
Ok love you! See you soon!
He gave no reply to this last ditch effort to lighten the mood. He was probably already walking to his car or maybe even already driving.
Standing again in the cold, just waiting, she decided to see what she could learn.
“What do you think is going on? Do you know the guy?”
“We really don’t know much at all. And I shouldn’t talk to you about that anyway. But we will get in there and see what the rectangular, um, hole might be. And we will see about connecting dots with this smell on your glove. It is weird, I gotta admit.” He made eye contact with her a few times, a practiced skill of steadying a nervous subject. But mostly he cast his gaze off in the distance, thinking, chewing quietly on the shape his own filmy thoughts were taking.
“I saw him again.” She remembered suddenly to tell him about the quick moment the man had driven past them at the bank. “He was driving the pickup they usually have parked at the maintenance building; I always assumed it was broke down. He drove past us at the bank while you were calling someone.”
“Did you see where he went?” Razor sharp focus now, theorizing halted.
“Towards the post office.”
“Tell me about the truck again?”
She described the edges of rust on the wheel well and the faded city logo emblazoned on the door. There was a crack running along the bottom of the windshield.
She felt stupid for not having mentioned this second sighting already, but it was so startling, she almost didn’t believe it was happening, and the project of collecting more officers and getting to the woods had sucked all the oxygen out of her.
Running those early, blissful miles felt like weeks ago.
After about fifteen minutes, the second and third police officers, together with the spry K-9, emerged from the woods. The male officer had his hand on a gun holster at his hip and was speaking into a walkie-talkie on his shoulder. The woman was discreetly praising her partner for, presumably, a job well done. She avoided eye contact with people, Lydia noticed, forever favoring her dog. Though engaged withher dog, her energy was as intense as her braid.
They called Officer Michael over to their side of the gravel parking lot. Everyone exchanged more hushed expletives, more private conferring. Michael pointed and waved his arm in a way that she could tell he was updating them about the second sighting. They turned their darkly uniformed backs to the yellow car as well as to traffic. A curious driver passing by paused and gawked but did not stop. A motorcycle whizzed by well over the speed limit, and it caught the second cop’s attention, irritated him, but he didn’t budge.
Officer Michael squared his muscular shoulders a little bit and walked over. Said to Lydia, warmly, “Your husband is on his way?”
“Yes. He should be almost here.”
“Okay. Okay.” A measured pause. “Why don’t you sit down and stay warm. Just hang tight for a minute.”
There was seriousness hovering around him now that made her nauseous. She sat down, locked the door out of habit, and tried to breathe. Can you feel your eyes dilating, is that possible?
Her husband’s car skidded a little bit in the gravel as he parked, askew. He walked a beeline this wife’s car and Officer Michael followed. She stood up in the cold and prepared to answer lots of questions. She was so thankful for a tight hug first.
Introductions traded and names recorded, the overall information available to Lydia and her husband was still frustratingly scarce. They were being asked to stay out of the woods, of course, and her single, weirdly scented glove was now in a plastic bag.
A few minutes into the bland but necessary follow up conversation, the K-9 suddenly alerted and started pulling her lead tight. She emitted a much deeper growl and bark than anyone would have thought she possessed, and of course her human partner listened and followed her lead. In an instant, they were off. Back into the woods, headed down the same inroad, but this time they went left instead of right.
The second cop drew his gun and followed them. Officer Michael asked Lydia and her husband to stay put, get in the car again. He spoke urgently into his shoulder walkie-talkie before drawing his own gun and trotting cautiously into the woods.
The couple stood alone in the parking lot, shrouded in disbelief.
A. Does her husband follow the cops into the woods?
B. Or does he stay to protect his wife?
C. Or do they both get in their cars and get pizza on the way home?