The Maverick

By: Diana Palmer



“Sorry,” one murmured sheepishly, and they both went back on their side of the line. Alice pushed away a strand of sweaty hair with the back of a latex-gloved hand and muttered to herself. It was almost Christmas, but the weather had gone nuts and it was hot. She’d already taken off her wool jacket and replaced it with a lab coat, but her slacks were wool and she was burning up. Not to mention that this guy had been lying on the riverbank for at least a day and he was ripe. She had Vicks Salve under her nose, but it wasn’t helping a lot.

For the hundredth time, she wondered why she’d ever chosen such a messy profession. But it was very satisfying when she could help catch a murderer, which she had many times over the years. Not that it substituted for a family. But most men she met were repelled by her profession. Sometimes she tried to keep it to herself. But inevitably there would be a movie or a TV show that would mention some forensic detail and Alice would hold forth on the misinformation she noted. Sometimes it was rather graphic, like with the vengeful cowboy in the hardware store.

Then there would be the forced smiles. The excuses. And so it went. Usually that happened before the end of the first date. Or at least the second.

“I’ll bet I’m the only twenty-six-year-old virgin in the whole damned state of Texas,” she muttered to herself.

“Excuse me?” one of the deputies, a woman, exclaimed with wide, shocked eyes.

“That’s right, you just look at me as if I sprouted horns and a tail,” she murmured as she worked. “I know I’m an anachronism.”

“That’s not what I meant,” the deputy said, chuckling. “Listen, there are a lot of women our ages with that attitude. I don’t want some unspeakable condition that I catch from a man who passes himself around like a dish of peanuts at a bar. And do you think they’re going to tell you they’ve got something?”

Alice beamed. “I like you.”

She chuckled. “Thanks. I think of it as being sensible.” She lowered her voice. “See Kilraven over there?” she asked, drawing Alice’s eyes to the arrival of another local cop—even if he really was a fed pretending to be one. “They say his brother, Jon Black-hawk, has never had a woman in his life. And we think we’re prudes!”

Alice chuckled. “That’s what I heard, too. Sensible man!”

“Very.” The deputy was picking up every piece of paper, every cigarette butt she could find with latex gloves on, bagging them for Alice for evidence. “What about that old rag, Jones, think I should put it in a bag, too? Look at this little rusty spot.”

Alice glanced at it, frowning. It was old, but there was a trace of something on it, something newer than the rag. “Yes,” she said. “I think it’s been here for a while, but that’s new trace evidence on it. Careful not to touch the rusty-looking spot.”

“Blood, isn’t it?” She nodded.

“You’re good,” Alice said.

“I came down from Dallas PD,” she said. “I got tired of big-city crime. Things are a little less hectic here. In fact, this is my first DB since I joined Sheriff Carson’s department.”

“That’s a real change, I know,” Alice said. “I work out of San Antonio. Not the quietest place in the world, especially on weekends.”

Kilraven had walked right over the police tape and came up near the body.

“What do you think you’re doing?” Alice exclaimed. “Kilraven…!”

“Look,” he said, his keen silver eyes on the grass just under the dead man’s right hand, which was clenched and depressed into the mud. “There’s something white.”

Alice followed his gaze. She didn’t even see it at first. She’d moved so that it was in shadow. But when she shifted, the sunlight caught it. Paper. A tiny sliver of paper, just peeping out from under the dead man’s thumb. She reached down with her gloved hand and brushed away the grass. There was a deep indentation in the soft, mushy soil, next to his hand; maybe a footprint. “I need my camera before I move it,” she said, holding out her hand. The deputy retrieved the big digital camera from its bag and handed it to Alice, who documented the find and recorded it on a graph of the crime scene. Then, returning the camera, she slid a pencil gently under the hand, moving it until she was able to see the paper. She reached into her kit for a pair of tweezers and tugged it carefully from his grasp.

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