Gravel crunched under tires and slid down the nearby embankment as the black coupe came to a stop. Yellow tape that read police marked off the paved slope into Hastings River. Thick unyielding rocks and dust coated the rest of the lot. The area nearest the river had eroded away, leaving dark brown patches of earth year-round.
Stephen sat in his car, his white knuckles at ten and two, his chest rising and falling in rapid succession. The quarantined zone was less than twenty paces away, but his legs were as thick as the graveled lot and twice as heavy. He glanced in the rearview, aiming for a pep talk, and jerked his head when he saw his eyes were gray instead of blue. Arm trembling, he dropped his visor and cautiously flipped open the mirror. Steel blue met in his reflection.
“Get it together, champ. You can do this.”
He unfastened his restraint and clipped on the amber five-point star that was sitting in the cup holder as he stepped out. Officially the badge meant nothing, but most in Reedy Gap had accepted its authority without question. Some of that came from the signature stored within the versillium, the rest was posturing. They may not recognize Stephen, but under his steady gaze they respected him as a peacekeeper, and that worked for his purposes here.
He had never been to what the locals called The Gap, but he knew it well. There were places like this in most small towns. It was where the high school seniors spent Friday nights. Where tubes filled the summer waterways on Saturday morning and carried Gappers to where the Hastings met with the Dunn. This was a happy place, and the juxtaposition between how he knew it should feel and how it did now soured his stomach.
He crossed the yellow tape, thinking he needed to have one of those long dusters he had seen detectives wearing on TV even though the summer heat would peak in an hour. He wiped the sweat beading around his forehead with a sleeve and parted his sandy hair from his eyes. The outline of Jennifer Bellevue’s body had her lying at the end of the boat launch. He wondered how many people drove past thinking she was sunbathing before someone had checked on her.
When the murders came to Stephen’s attention he had visited the Reedy Gap Police Department. The way they had found the victims in local hangouts had intrigued him, the serial wounds on their chests more so. The pattern looked familiar, but he could not place the source. The RGPD had accepted his forged credentials easily enough. They appreciated any help they could get but had made it clear that any action he planned to take needed to go through them first. This was a matter they intended to handle personally.
The file on Ms. Bellevue sat in the passenger seat of his rented coupe, but the images had burned into his memory. Her skin dyed hazy brown from the water. Her cheeks bloated, lips puffed and cracked like poorly cased sausages. Twin pieces of flesh dilated over the small twisting creases where her eyes had been. Her thick black curls knotted around her neck, patches missing from her temples. The degradation indicated that she was under the Hastings for quite a while before she washed up here.
Stephen wanted to nail the sick fuck behind it, but per the police report there were no footprints at the scene, no discernable tire tracks, and no witnesses. This was a dead end like the other two. Whoever this was, they knew what they were doing and did it well. Unfortunately for them, Stephen had access to abilities no ordinary Camprian could, and he meant to use whatever power within him to bring this killer to justice.
Interested in reading more? Purchase Unbound: The Sifter Saga Book 2