A Killing at the Creek: An Ozarks Mystery: Chapter 5


AS ELSIE UNLOCKED her office door, Madeleine’s voice stopped her cold.

“Where’s Chuck? I want a report.”

Elsie wheeled around to face her boss. “Madeleine, he went straight to court after we got back. He’s got to do the appearance on the vehicular homicide case. The preliminary hearing waiver.” When she saw the blank look on Madeleine’s face, she added, “My case. Remember?”

“Why aren’t you doing it?”

Elsie was glad she wasn’t holding a gun, because if she had one, her boss would be dead.

“You wanted Chuck to do it. Remember? This morning? The meeting?”

Madeleine’s face twitched with irritation. “Fine. Come along.” Turning on her heel, she stalked down the hallway in her expensive shoes.

Elsie followed reluctantly. One-­on-­one conferences between Elsie and Madeleine had a history of going sour.

Once inside Madeleine’s office, Elsie lingered in the open doorway. The better to beat a hasty retreat, if necessary.

“What did you and Chuck find out there?” Madeleine picked up a pen, poised it to write.

“There’s a corpse under a bridge about five miles outside the city limits. It’s a woman. A farmer found it—­her—­and he called the Sheriff’s Department.”

“Can we identify the deceased?”

“She had an ID on her. Ashlock says she was transporting a bus from Detroit to northwest Arkansas. Somebody killed her and dumped her.”

“Cause of death?”

“Cut her throat. She bled to death, medical examiner says.”

Madeleine shuddered. “Did they do a good job at the scene, you think? Forensic samples? Photos?”

A vision of the bloated corpse with the gaping slash flashed into Elsie’s mind; she shook her head with a jerk to dismiss the image. “As thorough as possible, considering she was out in the woods. It’s not as tidy as finding a body in bed with white sheets and latex paint on the walls. But Ashlock was there, and he took charge.”

“Good. I don’t want it mishandled, for heaven’s sake. I made a promise to the voters.”

“Right.”

“I told them I’ll personally see to it that this terrible crime is punished.”

“Yeah, I heard that.” Elsie advanced a ­couple of inches into the office. It was time to make the pitch, she thought. “You know, Madeleine, I’d really like to be part of this case.”

“I have a second chair. Chuck will assist me.”

“I could be third chair. Assistant to the assistant.”

Madeleine paused, refusing to meet Elsie’s eye. She exhaled as if ridding herself of an unpleasant burden. “You don’t have the necessary experience. Chuck has been exposed to these kinds of cases in Kansas City. You’ve never tried a murder.”

And you haven’t faced a jury in a dog’s age, Elsie thought. Madeleine cherry-­picked high-­profile cases, either pleading them out or handing them off to her assistants when they hit a wrinkle. Elsie kept a genial tone as she replied, “If you don’t let me in on a murder case, I’ll never get any experience.”

Madeleine ignored the remark. Dropping her pen on the notepad, she pushed her chair from the desk. “I wonder how on earth they’ll ever find a suspect.”

Elsie stepped into the room and dropped onto the sofa that faced Madeleine’s desk; with excitement overtaking caution, she said, “But they already have, Madeleine; didn’t anyone tell you?”

Madeleine answered with a blank look. “Tell me what?”

“They found the bus the dead woman was transporting. And the guy who was on it is being brought in, straight to McCown County. As we speak,” Elsie concluded.

“Who is it? Who would be crazy enough to kill the bus driver, and remain in the vehicle? That doesn’t make any sense.”

“It’s a kid. He’s fifteen. They’re taking him to juvie.”

Madeleine was struck dumb. Elsie could swear she saw her swallow. Elsie edged off the couch, anticipating a curt dismissal and bracing herself.

But Madeleine began to nod, focusing on a crystal paperweight on her desk. “You’re right,” she said.

Elsie cocked her head, not certain she’d heard correctly. “What’s that?”

Madeleine picked up the paperweight and hefted it in her hand. She regarded it for a moment before switching her gaze to Elsie. “You’re right,” she repeated, sounding assured. “You need to get your feet wet.” She set the paperweight down with a careful hand, focusing her attention on its facets. “You’re in. Assistant to the assistant.”

Sitting back, Elsie opened her mouth to express her gratification at the decision, but Madeleine swiveled in her chair, showing Elsie her back.

“Go find Chuck Harris. I want to talk to him. Now.”

Elsie didn’t require urging. She hit the floor running.


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