Sunday Night, Town Park
The first body is in the park.
It’s a quiet Sunday night in July. An off-weekend, when Telluride’s population collapses to the non-tourist size of just over 2,000. The town and nearby Mountain Village swell by a factor of 10 times that number when the skiers return, or on long summer weekends when a music or wine festival rings the cash registers in shops and restaurants in the mountainous community in southwestern Colorado.
Jim Demint, a deputy marshal in the Telluride marshal’s office, is working. The newest member of a low-key constabulary, Demint draws the least favorable shifts. He works nights, Sundays, holidays.
Demint makes his rounds on a Trek mountain bike. Evening is slipping into dusk, the sun bleeding out behind the peaks and rifts on the western horizon. He rides the trail along the San Miguel River behind the Camel’s Garden Hotel and gondola station, keeping an eye out for illegal campers. A few weeks earlier, during the Telluride Bluegrass Festival held each year over the Summer Solstice weekend, the trail was thick with dreadlocked music lovers looking for a place to crash. Tonight, Demint owns the trail.
He rolls into Town Park, stopping to prop himself on one leg long enough to look across the valley to where the Tom Boy Road jeep trail slashes up the mountainside toward Ouray. There are no lights in any of the turnouts. During the bluegrass festival, he spent his shifts rousting illegal campers up on Tom Boy: mostly hippies and kids without camping passes or money for the inflated festival-week prices at the hotels and rental condos in town.
Demint pedals into the park from the back side, circling the stage and ball diamond where the girls in long cotton skirts and halter tops had danced with their hula hoops during the festival, motioning for him to join them. If only, he thinks.
He angles back toward the park entrance. Someone is slumped sideways on the park bench under the cantilever pavilion.
Drunk. Or stoned. Small body. A woman, judging from the shape and size.
The shadow does not move.
Demint pulls the mag light off his utility belt and turns it on.
Straddling the Trek with the light in his hand from a dozen feet away, Demint can see she is dead.
* * *
Two marshal’s office SUVs sit in the parking lot along the river, next to the ambulance. The lights are on inside the ambulance, but there are no flashing cherry-tops to attract attention. The doctor’s four-wheel drive BMW is there, too, parked a little ways off. It looks black in the dark, but it is really navy blue. Solomon Byrne strolls across the footbridge, everything about him relaxed and matter of fact. He nods to the deputy posted on the bridge to turn away bystanders. Byrne tries to remember his name and berates himself at the inability to drag it out of his mind. He is in charge, serving as the recently appointed acting chief marshal, while the town council searches for a permanent replacement to Ed Henry, who dropped dead from an aneurism two months earlier.
Sol is a trim man with a shaved head, intense eyes behind wire-rimmed glasses, and close-cropped silver moustache and goatee. He is fifty-five years old. He wears a black North Face jacket over a flannel shirt, blue jeans, and sturdy waterproof brown boots that lace up the front. Even in July it gets cold in the mountains the moment the sun goes down.
A small crowd waits in the pavilion. They stand apart from the body, as if to afford the deceased a matter of respect, but also seeming to regard the corpse with a certain discomfort. Both are true, Byrne thinks.
He grips his lower lip between his teeth when he sees the body is on a gurney covered with a white sheet. The body should never be touched, much less moved, until the case officer has had a chance to examine it.
There are three deputies present: Jim Demint, who called it in; Dharma Copeland, a Telluride native whose hippy parents are disappointed that their son is in law enforcement; and Heidi Price, whose braided hair and generally perky attitude makes her seem barely old enough to be a deputy marshal. Rounding out this somber party are two EMTs, who return his nod, and Dr. Scarlett Geary, who came to Telluride several years earlier on a skiing vacation and eventually wound up running the medical clinic after the previous physician retired.
“Sorry to hold you up,” Byrne says to no one in particular. “What do we know?”
“Hispanic female in her early twenties, my guess,” Demint says, sounding shaky. “I found her making rounds. Thought she was passed out till I shined the light on her.”
“Do we know who she is?”
“Nope. No ID, no purse. Nothing in her pockets.” Demint shrugs. “Nada.”
Byrne looks at Scarlett. “Have you had a look?”
Dr. Scarlett Geary seems to blush, but in the artificial light it is impossible to know for sure. “She’s been dead no more than a couple of hours.”
“A couple of hours?” Byrne asks, eyebrows like birds releasing a limb and floating into the sky.
“Two hours. Maybe less. She appears to have lost a lot of blood, but the only sign of trauma I can find are two tiny wounds on her neck that seem insufficient.”
“What kind of wounds?”
“Hard to say, Sol. An animal’s bite, maybe.”
Sol follows Scarlett over to the gurney. She draws back the sheet and shines her flashlight. The woman is young and attractive, with a fine-boned face and black hair that is long, straight, and thick. There is a little lipstick on her lips, but that’s the only makeup. Her earrings are turquoise and silver. The pallor in her face is more than evident.
“That’s odd.” The doctor takes a latex glove from her jeans back pocket and pulls it over her right hand. “I’m not seeing what I saw before.” She touches the dead woman’s neck on one side and then the next. “The wounds—there are no wounds. Which is…”
“What?” Sol asks when she glances up at him.
“Impossible. Punctures to the skin do not spontaneously heal in a living body much less a corpse.”
“Maybe you saw blood spatter,” Byrne says. “Maybe something rubbed off on the sheet.” He points to a smear of blood on the sheet, dry now and more brown than red.
“Maybe,” the doctor says, her voice doubtful. “But if the wounds weren’t in her neck, then what?”
Byrne looks at the doctor, but his mind is already off somewhere else.
“If she bled out, where did it happen? Not here. There’s no blood. Has anybody had a look around?”
“We were waiting for you,” Heidi answers.
“Good,” Byrne says, seeming to at last hit upon a shard of information that satisfies him. “The first thing, let’s get her into the ambulance and up to the coroner in Montrose. Is that where you usually send the body after a suspicious death?”
“It’s tough being the new kid in town, Sol,” the doctor says, the only one there with courage enough, and self-possessed enough, to rib him.
“I have no problem confessing ignorance,” Byrne says. “It is the native state of every investigator at the start of a case. And it’s preferable to thinking I know more than I actually do. Let’s mark the pavilion off with police tape until we can get it processed. We need to dust the bench for prints. Jim, Heidi: I want you two to have a look around and see what you can turn up. Stick together and keep your eyes open.”
“Are we treating this as a homicide?” Heidi asks.
“I have no idea what it is. Let’s start gathering facts and see what they tell us.”