I looked back at Micah and Nathaniel, I motioned them over. Ronnie was starting to slow down. She'd reached the dry heaves, at least.
"Stay with her." I knew that by walking up to it, I might be destroying evidence, but I also knew that it could be a mannequin, or someone passed out. I had to be sure before I called in the cavalry. What did it say about my life that I thought dead, murder, before anything else? That I'd worked on homicides too long.
I walked through the dry grass, and I was moving slower, watching where I put my feet. The grass didn't make a sound against my jeans, because I was creeping along. If there was a weapon anywhere I didn't want to step on it.
The more I saw of the body, the more I thought, dead. The skin had that paleness in the distant halogen lights and the cold light of the stars. It was a man, lying on his back, with that one arm propped up against a dead tree branch. If the hand hadn't been propped up, I might not have seen it so quickly. Like the girl's hair at the first scene, someone had taken a little extra effort to say, hey, look at me. Yeah, it was a man instead of a woman, but he was wearing a leopard skin thong that had been pulled aside so we wouldn't miss the fact that he was shaved, very shaved. The chances of him not being a stripper that worked at Incubus Dreams were almost nil. Vegas wouldn't take those odds.
The fang marks on his neck were black against his skin. More at the bend of his arm, his wrist. I didn't touch him to move his head to see if he had matching marks on the other side of his neck. I didn't move his legs and see if they'd marked him low. I just squatted down beside him, trying not to touch the ground any more than I had to, and touched his arm. Yeah, I'd like to say I was searching for a pulse, but that wasn't really it. He was cold to the touch, but his arm moved when I pressed, oh so gently. Rigor had either not set in, or it had come and gone. Different things can affect that, but I was betting that he'd died earlier tonight. That they'd been killing him while we questioned Jonah Cooper at the Church of Eternal Life. Looking at the dead man, boy almost, he looked so young, I didn't feel so bad about killing Cooper. Funny.
I stood up and fished in my jacket pocket for my cell phone. I dialed a number I knew by heart.
"I hope you're not at home," I said.
"Why?" and he sounded positively suspicious.
"Because I'm over the river and through the strip clubs, looking at another damn body."
"No one notified us."
"I'm notifying you."
"Are you telling me that you found the body?" he asked.
"Tell me what happened."
I told him a short version. I didn't leave out that the bartender had told Ronnie to get a ride home, just that she was shit-faced about breaking up with Louie. I left out the creepy couple, but that was it.
"Shit," he said, "I've got to call this in. The Staties or the local sheriff are going to get there before we do. The sheriff didn't like you much."
"I remember," I said.
I could almost feel him thinking on his end of the phone. "I'd almost say send your people home, but we'll need them to corroborate your story."
"You don't believe me?"
"I do, but I won't be first on the scene, Anita. Do you understand?"
"I think so, I'm going to need an alibi to explain how I just happened to find the next murder victim when they've got people patrolling all the clubs. They're going to think that someone tipped me to it."
"Yeah," he said.
"You believe me, Zerbrowski."
"Yeah, but I know you. If any woman could go out to a strip club trolling for guys and accidentally find a murder victim, it's you."
"I was not trolling for guys," I said.
"Oh, yeah, I'll be sure and tell all the guys here at RPIT that you were just doing a favor for a friend."
"You bastard, don't tease me about this."
"Would I do that?"
"Fuck you, Zerbrowski."
"I'd say yes, but what would Katie say?" His voice got serious all of a sudden. "I'll put the call in, tell them that one of our people is on the scene, but if the sheriff gets there first, be nice."
"I'm always nice," I said.
He laughed. "Yeah, and hell is cool in the summertime. Just try to behave until we can get there to back you up."
"I'll behave, if he does," I said.
"Great. I'll be there as soon as I can, Anita."
"I know you will."
"Long damn night," he said.
"Yeah," I said.
He hung up. I hung up and started walking. I heard sirens before I even made it back to the parking area. I had time to give Nathaniel and Micah a thumbnail sketch of what had happened and what was about to happen. Ronnie was sitting on the ground, moaning and holding her head. I'm not sure she would have heard me even if I'd tried to talk to her. Then cars squealed into the gravel parking lot, and in the lead car was Sheriff Melvin Christopher. There wasn't a state cop in sight. Perfect.
The EMTs, emergency medical techs, had given Ronnie a blanket. They seemed to think she was suffering from shock. That wasn't it. She was sobering up. Sobering up in the middle of a murder investigation, when she'd drunk more in one night than she'd consumed in the entire six years I'd known her. They had her sitting in the open back of their ambulance. I think partly it gave them something to do. It's good to keep busy.
Physically Ronnie felt the worst, but none of us were having a good time. Sheriff Melvin Christopher's opening shot to me had been, "Almost didn't recognize you with more clothes on, Miss Blake."
I smiled sweetly and said, "That's Marshal Blake to you, sheriff, and you are awfully interested in women's clothing for a heterosexual man in a rural area." It had gone downhill from there. I even admit that part of it was my fault. I shouldn't have made the comment about women's clothing, or questioned his sexual orientation, but, hey, his face got all the way to this awful maroon color before he started yelling at me. For a second, I thought I'd given him a stroke or something. Deputy Douglas had to separate us and take his boss for a little walk around the parking lot.
It gave me time to go check on Micah and Nathaniel. Micah was saying calmly, patiently, but in a tone that said it wasn't the first time he'd said it, or the second, "I do not work at this club."
The deputy who was questioning him was too tall for his body, as if his joints and hands and feet hadn't had a chance to catch up yet. He was either well under twenty-five, or needed to eat more. "What club do you work at, then?"
Micah looked at me. The look said, help me.
I tried. "Deputy," I said.
He looked at me. His eyes flicked to the badge in my hand, but since his boss hadn't been too impressed with the badge, it was hard for him to be impressed, either. The boss sets the tone. He had pale bluish eyes. They weren't friendly, almost mean. "I'm questioning a witness here."
I smiled and tried to push it all the way up into my eyes, but probably didn't manage it. "I see that, but, Deputy," and I read his name tag, "Patterson, the witness has answered your question several times."
"He won't tell me where he works."
"You never asked where I worked," Micah said.
Deputy Patterson looked back at him, pale eyes narrowed in what he probably thought was a hard look. It wasn't. "I did ask where you worked, and you won't answer."
"You asked what club I work for, I do not work at a club of any kind. I do not strip for a living, is that clear enough?" Micah asked. His voice had an edge of impatience. He was one of the most easygoing people I knew. What had Patterson been saying to put that tone in Micah's voice?
Patterson's face showed that he didn't believe it. He was really going to have to work on the blank cop face, right now everything he thought spilled across his face. "Then what were you doing inside this place?" A look of near evil joy crossed his face. "Oh, I get it. You like to look at other people's beans and wienies."
"Beans and wienies," I said, "what the f**k does that mean?"
"Dick and balls," he said, with a tone that implied everyone knew that.
Micah looked at me, and even through the dark glasses, I could picture the look. I was beginning to see what had gotten on his nerves.
"Patterson, I allowed you to question my friends out of courtesy. This is my crime scene, not yours, and if you can't ask a single question that could help us solve this crime, then you need to go somewhere else."