The morning air was warm, and the sun had dried the dew from the earth. People walked the streets and drove their cars. They asked what happened to the bench, the light pole, the sidewalk; they couldn’t see into the past where Mr. Bennings lay dying in the overturned Plymouth and Mr. Wright slept face down in the street.
Hudson and Reed wished that they could see into the past, to see how Mrs. Baker came to be under a tree near the edge of the park, stripped of her clothing and of her life.
The area was taped off, and several police officers were standing about in various clumps around the scene. A photographer was taking pictures of a pale, almost bluish, lifeless form on the grass. He walked away from it all and back to his car, while the coroner knelt nearby with a briefcase, putting on his rubber gloves.
Who did this? Who was the missing person in the puzzle? Hudson and Reed figured that whoever threw Wright from the window also killed Baker. Jealousy wasn’t a solid enough motive. The killer had opportunity and a motive; something more than simple jealousy. Both Reed and Hudson had a hunch there was something bigger going on. They needed more clues.
They approached the coroner, who was nearer the body now, examining the neck.
“Right off, it looks like she was strangled to death with a length of rope,” he said, while scanning the naked corpse. “There are several bruises; that’s indicative of assault—but not with a heavy weapon, and not with anything else that could have killed her.”
There were frowns on all four faces. Reed stood with a small notebook, trying to take everything in and looking about for more evidence. Hudson just stood there, head cocked to one side and frowning, a million miles away.
Reed looked up from his notebook. “When do you think it happened?”
The coroner stopped examining the battered face and torn neck of Mrs. Baker. Without looking at Reed, he said, “Judging from the coagulation of blood and discoloration, about five or six hours ago.”
“Hmm,” said Reed, writing in his notebook.
Hudson stood like a statue, moving nothing but his mouth. “Who found the body?” he asked.
The coroner stood and pointed to his rear right to a woman and a small boy hugging her leg. A police officer was talking to her, trying to calm her. The wadded white handkerchief she was holding was red and black from her makeup, and it shivered as she softly sobbed.
“The kid?” Hudson asked with a hint of surprise.
“… Yes, I’m afraid he found her like this while playing,” the coroner said sadly.
Hudson turned away from the world and looked to the car with his hands on his hips, as if waiting for his saddled companion to come and take him away. Reed folded away his book and simply stared at the small boy clutching to his mother. The boy stared right back at Reed with an innocence long forgotten by the four gathered on the hill …
To be continued …