Late October in Bella Rosa, Montana was always the same. Cold with almost always a few snowflakes lingering lightly in the air, like someone had shaken a snow globe and the last few remaining flakes refused to fall.
Tonight was no exception to that rule, and as Sheriff Alex Danvers steps out of her police cruiser, her breath clouds the air in front of her. She takes in the scene before her as she closes the door behind her, pulling her knit hat down further over her ears. Very rarely does she regret keeping her hair cut so short, except for nights like tonight. Since her time in the Army, Alex had kept her auburn hair in the same manner; short, off her neck and neat all the way around.
An ambulance and fire truck were parked along the side of the highway, red and white flashing lights casting an eerie glow on the trees around them. Despite the years Alex has spent working in the Sheriff’s Department, she’s never found a better way to describe how emergency lights make the woods around them seem to come to life.
She shrugs her shoulders, centering her coat better across her shoulders. Alex had been a scrawny kid most of her life but during high school she had joined a few sports teams and had managed to add muscle to her frame. She’d never been the six-pack kind of person, but she was fit and had managed to maintain that even now. The military had taught her to like running and she still did it daily.
Chucking to herself, she thinks about how much colder it will be in a few short weeks. When real winter begins.
Moving away from her own cruiser she spots a second Sheriff’s Department cruiser parked next to the ambulance. It had been her Deputy, one of the first on the scene, that had called her all the way out here.
“What do we have Craig?” she asks as she approaches the Deputy who is standing inside the open door of his cruiser.
“I’m not entirely sure yet Sheriff,” Craig answers as he closes the door and moves to walk with her. “911 received a call for an accident. We all got here about the same time and found her.”
“Her?” Alex asks as they reach the side of the highway. This far outside of town and their little two-lane highway is a straight drop down for a few feet before flattening out and leading into the woods, an area of the highway well known for accidents that end up over the embankment.
Walter Norris, the County Coroner, stands along the side of the road with two of his assistants, hunched inside his winter jacket.
“What’s the hold up Wally?” Alex asks with a smile. “You aren’t afraid of a little hill.”
“Not in the slightest,” the man returns the smile. “Seems your medic friend down there didn’t want anything disturbed before you got here.”
“Alright,” Alex says slowly, admittedly confused.
The fire department had tied a few ropes off on the front of their engine to use for easier up and down access of the area. Leaning over the guardrail Alex peers down the embankment and sees one of the Medics walking back towards the ropes, flashlight in hand.
“Maggie, you have eyes on the vehicle?” Alex calls down to the other woman.
“Small problem with that Sheriff,” Maggie calls up. “There is no vehicle,” leaning her head back to look up at Alex she adds, “You’re going to want to see this.”
“Right,” Alex mumbles pulling her coat off and reaching for one of the ropes.
“You want a harness Sheriff?” a young firefighter asks.
“Where’s the fun in that?” Alex asks with a grin, as she hands her coat to Craig and climbs over the guardrail.
Using the rope to keep her descent slowed, Alex slides to a stop next to Maggie, who is patiently waiting for her at the bottom of the embankment.
“Well that was fun,” she remarks with a grin at the Sheriff.
“Hey, being Sheriff can’t be all paperwork and boring meetings,” Alex shrugs as she brushes her hands off on her pants, feeling just the slightest bit of burn from the rope. “Now, what’s going on?”
“About forty-five minutes ago we got a call for an accident out here, caller refused to give any information other than to say there was a woman hurt,” Maggie explains as she leads Alex into the woods. “We got here but couldn’t find anything on the road or down here. So, I figured I would look in the woods, just to be sure. There were no signs of a vehicle at all though. No broken branches or torn up earth.” Despite Maggie having only lived in town for the past four years, her history with Alex went back over ten. Even with that history between them, it still managed to impress Alex how observant the Medic remained.
“Very observant,” Alex agrees as she follows the medic a few feet further before they come to a stop.
“No vehicle, no track marks and no one else around,” Maggie says looking down at the ground in front of them. “Just her.”
They had reached a small clearing, no bigger than a six by six area, with a light layer of fresh snow. Carefully placed in the center of the clearing, laying on her back, was a young woman. She was dressed in a simple white dress, something much better suited for the summer, and her hands were folded modestly across her stomach. At first glance one might thing the young woman was merely sleeping here in the clearing. Only upon closer examination it becomes obvious that her chest does not rise and fall with breathing and her skin and lips are a light shade of blue.
The thing that strikes Alex the most is the unusual cut marks that cover the girl’s body, at least what Alex is able to see.
Alex squats down next to the body, pulling out her own flashlight in an attempt to get a better look. From what Alex can see it looks as though someone had started in the palm of the girls hands and cut in a spiral pattern up her arm until it disappears beneath the sleeve of the dress. The same pattern is repeated on the other arm and both legs.
“Did you touch the body?” Alex asks Maggie while still examining the body with her eyes.
“Only to check for a pulse,” Maggie states. “I retraced my steps as well when I left the body to make sure I didn’t contaminant anything more than I did.”
“Good,” Alex says as she looks at the girl’s face. Something about her seems familiar to Alex but she struggles to remember.
A young woman, blonde hair laid out around her head, looking much like a halo of sorts, lays on a dirt floor in of an empty house. The heat from the desert around them seeping in through every crack it can find, making the uncomfortable scene even more so. Alex stands with the rest of her unit, observing the scene in front of them.
“Any idea who she is?” the Major asks from Alex’s left.
“No sir but it’s pretty obvious she’s not a local,” Alex states in a flat voice. She’d been stationed in Afghanistan with the Army for six months now, well in to her third tour of the country. "Could be a civilian contractor or even a federal employee."
“Any idea what the cause of death is?” the Major asks of the young Navy Corpsman squatted down next to the girl.
“Not really my field sir,” Maggie says coming to her feet, “but these lacerations here on her arms aren’t deep enough to have caused death. A lot of pain yes but not death.”
Alex shakes the faded memory away and sighs deeply, “This doesn’t make sense,” Alex mumbles still studying the body.
“I notified Wally and he’s on his way,” Maggie answers looking at Alex.
“He’s here already,” Alex says slowly, “said you didn’t want anyone touching the scene until I got here. I see why.”
“It’s uncanny,” Maggie agrees with a shrug. “I didn’t know what to make of it when I found her either.”
“It’s going to be a long night,” Alex mumbles standing to her full height and reaching for the radio strapped to her shoulder. “Dispatch, this is the Sheriff,” she speaks into it.
“Go ahead Sheriff,” the voice of the night dispatcher responds immediately.
“Jerry, send Steve out this way, we’re going to need a hand out here. And let Wally know he can head down here now” she adds, “Let all the other units on tonight know that we’re going to be tied up here and they need to help cover the county.”
“Copy that Sheriff,” Jerry replies instantly.
“Any idea who she is?” Maggie asks quietly when Alex drops her hand from the radio.
“Not a clue,” the Sheriff answers looking back at the body on the cold ground. She’s not the same girl from Alex’s memory but she’d triggered it and by the look on Maggie’s face it had triggered her as well. “We don’t get a whole lot of new faces here in town so she must have been traveling through.”
“Alex, I haven’t seen anything like this since…,” Maggie says in a low voice.
“Neither have I,” Alex agrees.
“You don’t think it’s the same person, do you?” Maggie asks after a moment passes.
“I have no idea,” Alex admits, “but we need to find out and soon.”
Several hours later, after the Coroner’s Office had taken the body under their care and Alex and her Deputies had photographed every inch of the scene and collected what little evidence there had been left, Alex sits behind her desk in the Sheriff’s Station.
Closing in on four in the morning and Alex was left with little to do until dawn broke. The autopsy was scheduled for early in the morning and the evidence they had collected couldn’t be taken to the lab until then as well.
Alex knew she should be sleeping right now or at the very least attempting to sleep. Instead she sat behind her desk studying pictures from the crime scene. She still wasn’t sure what is was about this woman that had triggered the memory in her or why it had happened in the first place.
It’s been years since I’ve let myself think of that case, Alex thinks to herself. Even longer since I thought of her.
“Any news?” a voice come from the doorway of Alex’s office startling her out of her thoughts.
“Jesus, Maggie, didn’t anyone ever teach you to knock,” Alex says a bit flustered.
“Sorry,” Maggie chuckles as she walks into the office and plops herself down in the chair across from Alex, her small frame barely making a sound on the old chair. Maggie clocked in at barely five feet two inches but made up for her lack of height with her personality, at least that’s what she told Alex in the past. “Thought you heard me walk in.”
“I didn’t realize that stealth training was part of what they teach you in Medic school,” Alex says as she steadies herself after being startled.
“Must have been all that time spent paling around with the SEALs in Afghanistan,” Maggie shrugs as she slumps down more in the chair. Moments like this often times make Alex think about the time she and Maggie had spent together while deployed in Afghanistan. While not serving in the same branch it was not uncommon for teams to be made up of all branches at any given time. Maggie looked much the same now as she had then, still well-muscled and strong. Her tan skin had, at times seemed lost in the desert landscape, now stood out against the stark winter nights here. Her long, black hair was most often pulled back into a ponytail, not unlike how it had been all those years ago.
“So humble. Must be something they teach you in the Navy huh?” Alex jokes with a smile.
“Wouldn’t know,” Maggie shrugs. “I skipped that class.”
Alex chuckles and reaches for the coffee mug on the corner of her desk. Taking a sip of the now ice cold coffee, she grimaces and sets it back down.
“Have there been any updates on the Jane Doe?” Maggie asks a moment later.
“You know better than that,” Alex answers with a chuckle. “I can’t even send the evidence out to the lab until morning.”
“It is morning,” Maggie counters with a grin, “but I know what you mean. That why you’re camping out in here? Waiting for the lab to open?” she adds lifting an eyebrow in question.
“Not exactly,” Alex shrugs, leaning back in her chair. “Anything about this bother you?”
“You kidding,” Maggie laughs shortly. “The whole damn thing bothers me and I’ve seen some crazy shit.”
“Fair enough,” Alex concedes, “but did she remind you of anyone?”
Maggie leans forward and reaches across Alex’s desk picking up one of the pictures of the girl, studying it for a moment before saying, “She’s a pretty girl but she looks like half the cute brunette you run into in lifetime.”
“Yea,” Alex replies absentmindedly.
“You know her?” Maggie asks replacing the picture.
“No,” Alex answers flatly then with a sigh adds, “She just reminds me of someone I used to know.”
“A good used to know or a bad?” Maggie asks as she observes the woman sitting across from her.
Alex chuckles, “Both.”
“Ah,” Maggie decides not to push the issue right now and chooses a safer route, “When’s the autopsy scheduled for?
“First thing in the morning,” Alex looks down at her watch to check the time again, “So in about another three hours or so.”
“Three hours, huh?” Maggie nods her head in understanding. “Well Sheriff, I think you need to at least attempt an hour or two of sleep.”
“That your professional medical opinion?” Alex smiles.
“As a matter of fact,” Maggie replies, coming to her feet, “it is. Come on Sheriff, I’ll walk you out.”
“You’re not giving me much choice in the matter, are you?” Alex sighs as she comes to her feet as well.
“Not really,” Maggie answers with a smile, “and what kind of friend would I be if I did anyway?”
“Funny,” Alex sighs pulling her coat off the back of her chair and heading out of the small office with Maggie.
“Do you want to get drinks tomorrow night, well tonight now I guess?” Maggie asks as they make their way through the small station.
“I’d love to, but my sister is coming into town tonight and I’m supposed to pick her and the family up from the airport.”
“Ah, the FBI Agent,” Maggie nods. “I haven’t had the privilege of meeting her yet. From what you’ve said about her though she might be pretty interested in the Jane Doe.”
“Probably,” Alex agrees with a chuckle as they walk out of the station and into the cold night air. Alex takes a deep breath and sighs, her breath causing a large cloud in front of her face. “Let’s just keep the feds out of this for the time being. That’s a headache I just don’t want yet.”
Maggie is silent for a moment before saying, “I know you don’t want the feds involved, and I completely understand that, but your sister might be a good source of knowledge. Not something you should dismiss without thinking about it.”
“Believe me, I’ve thought about it,” Alex admits, as the pair make their way to the small parking lot next to the station. “Do you ever wonder why it is you’ve lived in town for almost four years now and have never met my sister?” Alex asks.
Maggie frowns and shrugs, “Always figured she was out there somewhere being a super-secret agent or some shit like that.”
Alex chuckles, “Not too far off actually. She left here six years ago when she got accepted to the FBI Academy and she’s only been home to visit once since then.”
“It’s a demanding career,” Maggie tries, and winces a little when Alex gives her a doubtful look. “Look, I was barely in this town a month before I knew all about the Danvers and what kind of legacy your family has here. Maybe she just wanted a break from all that. Honestly, I’m not sure how you handle it all the time,” Maggie adds with a shrug as they stop next to Alex’s cruiser.
“Don’t typically thing about it all that much,” Alex pulls her keys out, “and that’s one of the reasons why I don’t want to drag Kara into this.”
“Fair enough,” Maggie concedes holding her hands up in surrender.
“Where’s your car?” Alex asks looking around the lot, realizing Maggie’s truck is nowhere to be seen.
“Left it at the station. Figured a walk is this lovely weather couldn’t hurt,” Maggie replies rubbing her gloved hands over her cold cheeks, “Turns out I forgot you convinced me to move to the coldest place in the country,” she laughs walking backwards a few steps.
“All I ever said was that you should come out and that maybe you’d enjoy it,” Alex laughs at her friend. “I never expected you to actually show up.”
“Ye of little faith,” Maggie chuckles then stops and asks, “What’s the other reason?”
Alex tilts her head in confusion a second before she realized what Maggie is asking.
“Because I only get to see my niece twice a year and if my sister-in-law thinks Kara’s going to come here just to work she’ll kill me,” Alex answers with a smile.
“Fair enough. Get some sleep Sheriff,” Maggie says as she turns and heads out of the lot.
“You too,” Alex calls after the other woman before unlocking her cruiser and sliding in.
Maggie’s only response is a laugh as she rounds the fence surrendering the parking lot and heads down the street. Alex closes the door and lets her head rest on the back of her seat for a moment, taking another deep breath. Alex had a feeling that it was asking too much for this case to somehow be wrapped up before six that evening, when she was supposed to be picking her sister and family up from the airport.
That feeling only got worse as she walked in to the Coroner’s Office at nine that morning, having managed two hours of sleep and a shower. The Office was located in the basement of the County Building causing it to feel gloomy and dark due to the lack of light.
“I still don’t understand why they insist on keeping you all down here in the dark,” Alex says as she walks up to the greying man standing in the doorway of an office. “Always reminds me of a dungeon,” she chuckles as she shakes the man’s hand, noticing his ever-present bow tie. She can only think of a handful of times in her life she had seen him without one.
“I rather enjoy the peace and quiet I get down here in my dungeon,” Wally chuckles as he returns the hand shake. “That is until I got the call from you last night.”
“Not one I enjoyed making Wally, believe me,” Alex saying dropping the man’s hand. “Have you been able to find anything out yet?”
“I took her prints last night after I got her back here, sent them to your office this morning,” Wally offers as he heads further down the hallway. “Took some trace evidence off the body as well, sent them off to the lab but that’ll take some time. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much there to find. Whoever left her there did it with great care.”
“How do you mean?” Alex asks as they walk through a set of double doors leading to the exam area. Since most of the deaths that take place in the area are of natural cause their space is limited with only one exam table placed in the middle of the room. Cold storage was located at the back of the exam room with space for three bodies. It had never been filled.
“If I was a betting man, I’d bet she was bathed shortly after her death,” Wally answers stepping up to the table where the Jane Doe lies, covered with a simple white sheet.
“Whoever did this cleaned her up afterwards?” Alex asks in disbelief.
“Looks like it,” Wally says pulling the sheet back and exposing the young woman down to she shoulders. “Not a single drop of blood or dirt on her. The body is in nearly perfect condition.”
“With the one small detail of being dead,” Alex says softly as she leans down to take a closer look at the woman. There was still something about the girl that seemed familiar, though Alex still couldn’t figure out why.
Most people didn’t know how to take Wally, but Alex had the benefit of having known him nearly her entire life. Walter Norris has been the County Coroner for the last twenty years and had worked with Alex’s father, when he had been the Sheriff. His dark hair had gone completely grey years ago and he wore it longer then Alex’s, and she watches as it falls into his eyes whenever he looked down.
“There is that,” Wally agrees. “There are also the lacerations on the extremities. They start in the palms of each hand and in the arch of each foot, spiral up until they reach the trunk. They’re deep enough in some spots that the muscles are actually split”
“Is that the cause of death?” Alex asks, looking back up at the man standing across from her.
“No, my preliminary COD is strangulation,” Wally offers pointing to an area of the neck where several light bruises can be seen in the harsh light. “The bruising plus there are signs of petechial hemorrhaging in the eyes. There are several bruises of varying degree, I’d say she was choked several times prior to her actual death.”
“Do you think she was tortured?” Alex ask raising an eyebrow in question.
“I think so,” Wally replies sadly. “The lacerations, they were done premortem.”
“Jesus,” Alex mutters looking back down at the body. “How the hell does someone sit still for something like that?”
“I don’t know yet,” Wally sighs. “I sent some blood out for testing. There is one more thing,” Wally adds after a moment.
“Do I want to know?” Alex ask wearily.
“There is one injury that was postmortem,” Wally says lifting up the side of the sheet next to where Alex stands.
Alex considers herself someone that has seen a lot and is not often surprised by what she sees. People do terrible things to each other. This, however, was not something she had ever seen before. Carved into the woman’s side in delicate, smooth lines was one simple word. MINE
“Who the hell does something like this?” Alex asked rhetorically.
“Someone with a very disturbed mind,” Wally answers, lowering the sheet again. “It was covered by the gown she was wearing, which I removed and sent to the lab.”
“What kind of tool would leave marks like this?” Alex asks after a moment.
“The cuts are smooth and even, there are no hesitation marks and it appears that the cuts were made without lifting the instrument,” Wally remarks. “I’d say that the tool was a scalpel and it was used by someone that knew how to use it.”
“So, we need to be looking for a doctor?” Alex guesses.
“Not necessarily,” Wally hesitates then adds, “There are a number of careers that require the ability to use such a delicate tool. Doctors, nurses and surgeons of course but don’t forget artist, engineers and even field medics all know how to use scalpels. You should know this,” Wally teases, knowing full well that Alex had spent her time in the Army as a medic.
“Fair enough,” Alex chuckles lightly. “Is there anything else I should know?”
“Not right now. I’ll let you know when I hear from the lab but I’m sure you’ll get results before I do,” Wally shrugs. “I don’t have near the pull around here you do.”
“Sometimes being a Danvers pays off,” Alex smiles.
Wally chuckles at that, “There’s a copy of my report on the desk by the door. I knew you’d want a hard copy of it.”
“Thanks Wally, I’ll let you back to your work,” Alex nods. “Let me know if you find anything else,” Alex takes a few steps away to where the small desk is, manila folder sitting on the corner.
“Will do Sheriff,” Wally says as he pulls the sheet back over the Jane Doe’s face.
Sliding the folder off the desk, Alex steps through the swinging double doors and back out into the hallway.
Sitting at her desk a few moments later, Alex lays out all of the pictures from the autopsy, effectively covering the entire thing, including the pictures from the crime scene. There were a lot of people that thought Wally was too old to still be doing his job. Despite the doubts, Alex found she was never disappointed by the man. The photos spread out before her were evidence of that. The man was thorough, photographing everything.
After a few moments of letting her eyes roam over the pictures, Alex reaches over and picks up the phone on the corner of the desk, the only thing not currently covered. Hitting the three-digit extension number for the front desk, she huffs out a breath.
“What can I do for you Sheriff?” the voice of Cathy, the dayshift receptionist, answers after two rings.
“I’m having a memory moment Cathy,” Alex answers, “Can you tell me who we have out on patrol right now?”
“No problem,” she says and Alex can hear the smile in her voice. Alex can hear the sound of keystrokes in the background and knows Cathy is looking up the roster of today’s officers. “Tim, Heather, Shawn, Darrell and Bill are on day shift today,” she answers after a few seconds. “Darrell and Shawn are patrolling up north, and Heather and Tim are in town. Bill just got back to the station a few minutes ago.”
“Alright,” Alex says, “Have Heather go out to the scene and take another look around, I want fresh eyes and daylight. Have her get another round of pictures too.”
“You’ve got it Sheriff, anything else?” Cathy asked.
“No, not right now,” Alex sighs, “Just do me a favor and keep everyone out of my office unless it’s related to the case from last night.”
“No problem Sheriff,” Cathy promised as the call ended.
Alex had barely replaced the receiver on its cradle before there was a knock on her door. With a short chuckle she starts to pull the pictures in to a stack and says, “Come in.”
“Morning Sheriff,” Bill says as he walks in to her office, leaving the door partway open behind him. Bill comes from an older school of law enforcement, having worked under Alex’s father when he had been Sheriff. Over the years, the weight of their work had taken its toll on Bill, his shoulders hunched just slightly, and he walked with a limp. His right knee had been injured years ago while wrestling with a drunk. It surprised Alex that his hair had not gone entirely grey, only showing signs at the temples and at the back of his neck.
“Morning Bill,” Alex says, piling the pictures in the center of her desk. “How’s Mary?” Alex asks with a smile. It was common for the younger members of the department to comment that Bill was so old school that even he and his wife’s names were. After all, it doesn’t get much more old school then William and Mary.
“She’s good. Looking forward to the holidays,” he answers with a smile. “I have the numbers for last month,” he adds, holding up a sheet of paper.
“How’s it look?” Alex asks sitting back in her chair. Over the past several years Bill had started helping out with more of the administration side of their job. It wasn’t that he had outgrown working the street but there was a large amount of work that needed tended to at the station. It hadn’t taken Alex long to find herself so buried in the paperwork aspect of being Sheriff that she rarely ever made it out of the station.
“Not bad, but September usually isn’t,” Bill says handing over the paper. “I’m sure it’ll be worse by the end of this month.”
“Only if the McCarty brothers are planning anything for Halloween again,” Alex smiles taking the report and looking it over. The arrest rate in Belle Rosa had never been incredibly high but they did deal with what could be considered usual. The same drunk and disorderly almost every week, the rare domestic and vandalism, which was where the McCarty brothers came in.
While they were in high school the two brothers had been known for pulling pranks and had even set off a cherry bomb on the boy’s bathroom. An incident that had been enough to close the school for the day. Now into their twenties and they hadn’t gotten much better, having set their parents barn on fire last New Year’s Eve after a failed attempt at making their own fireworks.
“It’s nothing short of a miracle their parents haven’t pressed charges yet,” Bill chuckles sitting in the chair opposite Alex.
“The price of love,” Alex mumbles while glancing over the short list of arrests. September was a calm month, school was fully back in swing and things had calmed down from the summer season. “Is it just me or has crime in this county always been predictable?”
Bill chuckles, “For the most part, yes,” he sobers slightly and adds, “With a few noticeable exceptions.”
Alex nods once, closing her eyes for a brief moment, in the process. One of those exceptions currently sat in front of her.
“I don’t think we’ve ever had anything like this before,” Alex sighs as she slides the top picture towards the older man.
“Lord in heaven,” Bill mutters, picking up the picture to study it further. “No one from here could have done something like this.”
Alex chuckles sadly and replies, “That wasn’t true the last time.”
Tearing his eyes away from the photo the older man meets Alex’s gaze.
“What happened to your father,” he starts but Alex quickly waves her hand in the air, cutting him off.
“Was a long time ago, I know,” she sighs. She glances at the far-left corner of her desk, the only spot that had not been covered moments ago, at the single framed picture.
A smiling family standing in front of a Sheriff’s Department cruiser. Alex had been twelve at the time, standing proudly next to her father, with his left arm draped around her. Alex’s mother stands to the man’s right, the couple holding hands fondly. Alex’s hand rest on the shoulder of her little brother, the boy is hugging the youngest Danvers close.
It had been taken only a few short days before their little world had been turned upside down forever. It was the last time Alex could remember them all being together and so happy. It was the last time they had been a real family. After that day, it had all fallen apart.