Chapter 7 - First Taste
'Sheriff Wheeler', a big wooden plaque set in a gold plated frame sitting atop a dark oak desk greets those that enter his office. Behind the desk is a large map of Michigan and next to it, one of Shawhanee County, his county. He is a big man who in his college days played football for Texas A&M as a line backer, spent most of the prime of his life in Special Ops in the LA Precinct 7 but has over the years exchanged his muscle bound arms and chest for a pot belly which drapes over his belt line and a cozy job behind the head of law enforcement in this small town north of highway sixty nine.
The lobby, normally dead quiet most days of the week is in a bustle that has not been seen for many years, not since that day when a locomotive pulling several wagons with fuel trailers strapped to them hit the car of a suicidal eighteen year old causing it to derail and explode. The uproar caused by the journalists from all parts of the country, the Feds newly formed Home Land Security , worried property owners and Tree Huggers with pro environment banners and posters in hand had the office at the time seeming more like a circus than that of an official law enforcement building. Today's chaos, though not escalated to quite that disorder, was proving to be most nerve wracking even if lacking the presence of the Feds and Tree Huggers.
Deputy Lars Harris enters the office in a whirl wind of a rush carrying a freshly printed fax in his hand, "The initial autopsy report just came in." His eyes drop to the paper and he begins to read, "The dismemberment of the body indicates blunt force trauma from an unknown weapon."
"No shit." The statement slips from the Sheriffs mustached mouth.
Lars quickly glances at the Sheriff, and his clean shaven pale face begins to blush slightly remembering the countless times he has been asked to try and bring information addressed to the Sheriff directly to him without reading it first.
"Go on, you have obviously already read the damned thing." The piercing eyes of the stately yet simple dressed man behind the desk are drilling his underling.
"Death was immediate, decapitation being the primary cause of death. The extremities seem to have been torn from the body, some showing evidence of tissue loss and of puncture wounds possibly caused by the teeth of a man but resembling more that of a carnivorous animal or more than one."
The commotion of those in Lobby had all but disappeared, a silence enveloping the building as though it were a Sunday night after closing hours. All ears and eyes were focused on the open door way to the Sheriff's office, eyes gazing over the waste high counter top flanked by the buildings only secretary and the towns' only other deputy, Deputy Otto.
"Lars, would you do me the favor and close the God damned door!' The low growl of the Sheriffs voice carrying just far enough for Lars to catch. "The hearing of those bastard journalists is second only to that of school teachers."
Lars is new to the force, just coming in as a fresh cadet about a year ago. He has proved to be a good cop, diligent and hard working but when confronted with a difficult situation he becomes a klutz, tripping over himself, stammering on words and just downright nervous.
The door is whipped closed with a clash that threatened to have the inset window pane jump from its secured position and shatter onto the floor outside. The slammed door sends the pictures on the office wall clattering leaving them askew their normal right angles. The Sheriff grumbles at first leaning back in his leather chair as if to catch his breath to then slowly lean forward and stand. He is a tall man at six foot four and though soft around the middle he still carries his two hundred and seventy pounds with authority. Walking around the desk he heads for the pictures, his gaze not on Lars but the certificates, the awards and the pictures that now dangle precariously and crooked from the wall. When he was first hired some five years ago he had placed them across from his desk, not to impress those that visit his office but as a reminder for himself. At the age of 51 he is no longer the model soldier that the force once knew him as. The long years of putting his life in danger at any given time on any given day had cost him two marriages, the life of a good friend and colleague and had propelled him into a pit of alcoholism that he has only recently been able to crawl from.
He was always a level headed man, never angry or abusive, which is just the kind of soldier that the Special Ops were always on the lookout for but the addiction had taken its toll and for a time changed him. His struggle to return to some normalcy of his previous life had won him this position as Sheriff but the lack of his nerve calming drug continues to have him on edge.
"Sit you ass down and relax." He blurts as he adjusts his memorabilia neatly back to a presentable condition on the wall.
Lars takes a seat with the jerky movements of a man not knowing exactly how to handle himself. He is not afraid of the Sheriff even though his demeanor may show otherwise. Over the past year he has gotten to know Wheeler fairly well and knows that though he can bark, he keeps his biting for those that ask for it.
"Boss,… How can those doctors know that he died from decapitation? That man's body was all over the place, a hand and some of his guts were found in half the trees around where his body was laying. There was blood in a pool all around the guy and not only was his head detached, it was nearly cloven into three parts."
This was the first time Lars had ever seen the sight of a dead body, the first time that he has seen a decapitation, and though he has often gone hunting and cleaned his own deer, the first time that he has seen the insides of a living human being, possibly someone he knew strewn throughout half the forest. The scene had at first taken his breath away, stumbling onto the shredded thigh of a severed leg as old man Johnson pushed some thick brush aside for him to pass through, not realizing that the half hidden extremity belonged to the hardly recognizable corpse that presented itself in its full horror as he stepped into the little clearing where the killing had taken place. He forgot to breathe, then he felt dizzy as the blood began to leave his head and his knees buckled. Seeing the gored core of the body laid open with the remaining entrails mixed with cracked and crushed white bone ended with the gurgled cry of "Boss" as he puked his morning breakfast consisting of a farmer's omelet with bacon and hash browns all over Mr. Johnson's rubber boots.
Lars was so engaged with the thoughts of the horror of the sight that was presented to him that he hardly noticed as Sheriff Wheeler plucked the two page report from his limp fingers and returned to his seat.
"There is no mention of bullets wounds, I guess that rules out an accidental shooting that someone might have wanted to cover up as an animal killing." This is muttered to himself, Lars nearly forgotten and the Sheriffs mind consumes the words of the two pages. "There seems to have been not one other trace of a second person onsite? Was that footprint then from this poor bastard?" No, it absolutely could not have been he thinks to himself. The leg that Lars had tripped over, though bootless, was the left leg and the print left in that bloody pool on the moss and broken over grass was most certainly that of a right foot,… stepping into and on top of the bloody mess and not covered by it.
After a few minutes of thought, the Sheriff looks up and sees Lars staring at him. "Don't you have anything to do? Get out there and help calm those people some. I'll be out in a moment." The doc had mentioned earlier on the phone that semen had also been found. How the fuck does all this fit together?
Lars leaned forward stopping just short of standing, posed as if to say something. Thinking better of it, he stood and left the office letting in the commotion of the again busy office for a few short seconds.
What to tell these vultures? That was what was pricking him at the moment. Those cockroaches outside won't leave until they have something worth writing or putting on the boob tube. The last two days have had the credible papers printing headlines reading "A Hunting Trip Gone Wrong" and the less than credible writing "From Cow Mutilation to Human Mutilation". One of the tabloids even went as far as to show the hairy face of what appeared to be King Kong and title it "Sasquatch on the Loose". Raving lunatics all of them, credible or not, Big Foot has never set foot in his county and most certainly not on his watch.
Having in the past dealt with the Feds more than was to his liking, he doesn't want to let out information that might bring them in. A cluster fuck would ensue as usual and he would be nothing more than a puppet head again, more like a slave. "Screw those bastards, Feds and vultures alike, though there
seems to be more here than meets the eye I am going to give them what it appears to be and hope these vulture fucks disappear after a couple of days." His lack of a 'short one' getting the better of his level headedness he ventures out into the Lobby.
"Quiet Down!" The Sheriffs voice booms out into the not so large room accomplishing what Deputy Lars was not capable of. The noise lessens substantially except for the rumble of those now trying to get inside as they hear that a press conference of sorts is to be held.
Standing half a head taller than most everyone in the room he could see the large majority in the eye and speak to any one person if necessary. The room, now filled to where there is nearly no standing room at all was silent but for the scuffle of feet trying to find room to stand.
"I know that we have kept you in the dark for a couple of days now." A not so quiet murmur rolled through the room. "Most of you here today are not from these parts but those of you who are know me."
From somewhere in the room someone chided in low indistinguishable voice, "Yeah, a drunken Western asshole."
The words were not far from the truth, the whole truth being that the statement would have fit a couple of years ago, not today. "You are right, I can be very difficult but that is not the topic today." With a slight hesitation he continues, "As you are all certainly aware, we have found an unidentified deceased man in the woods near Hathford Hill."
"More like shredded from what I heard.", could be clearly heard over a throng of questions that are thrown at the Sheriff by nearly half of those in the room.
"Quiet! QUIET DOWN!" His voice thundered again through the room restoring order if only for a few short moments. "I will get to your questions once I have revealed the contents of that autopsy report that we have received only minutes ago." With that the multitude went dead silent.
"Please keep in mind, this is a PRELIMINARY report and is subject to change as more clues to what has happened turn up. That would also mean that this conference will be short!" After a pause, expecting to hear an explosion of complaints that didn't come, he continued, "Since the body was found three days ago and the remains barely one day in the lab the results are inconclusive with respect to what has actually occurred. The only thing that can be said with some conviction is that decapitation seems to be the main cause of death and due to the extent and type of the other injuries, it would seem that an animal is responsible, possibly the work of a bear."
"What was the victims' name?" A woman reporter throws into the silenced room.
"You know better than to ask that question Mrs. Wilitz. Yes, I know you from channel four news." Turning and addressing the rest in the room, he states, "The deceased person's name will not be announced until one, we have identified him and two, we have notified his next of kin."
All hell breaks out in the room as everyone begins throwing questions at him or yelling into their voice recorders over the outburst the news that the body was so terribly disfigured that identification is impossible. Some could be seen trying to worm their way forward to get closer but are being beaten back by experienced war proven comrades.
The Sheriff refrains from yelling a third time allowing those in the room to realize that not one more word is forth coming until the people again behave themselves.
As order again returns, one man asks in a not so friendly voice, "Are you suggesting that a bear may not be the culprit? Could this not be the work of something more hideous than our current scientifically recorded mammals?"
"What are you suggesting then if I may ask?" The Sheriff now realizing that he has opened himself wide up for attack.
"Sasquatch? Aliens? You tell me! You were there to see the remains!" The man's voice sounds quite a bit like that of the person that had earlier suggested he is a drunkard. The Sheriffs notes his face and puts it to memory for later use.
"Next question." He has several applicable questions tossed at him, all of which he had to reply with "No Comment until we have completed the investigation." One of the questions did ring a bell with him though. It was brought up that only a few short weeks ago, a man was taken into custody by this office that could in some way be connected,… if this was a murder that is. He committed this bit of information to memory as well. Probably the only good thing about these vultures is that every now and then a good piece of information may be accidentally dropped. Even then it is doubtful whether that information is worth the shit one has to go through to get it.
"One question Sheriff, my contacts here have referred to the mauling of this man as total dismemberment. Can you substantiate theses claims?" The question came from a beautiful young lady obviously an aspiring journalist from one of the better organizations present.
Without hesitation the Sheriff answers, "Your information isn't completely correct ma'am. It definitely looks like the "mauling" of an animal but "total dismemberment is inaccurate". His reply was truthful, the right leg of the deceased, though horribly shredded was still attached to the body and from the autopsy report he could gather that the genitals were completely unscathed.
"The meeting is over Ladies and Gentlemen! Please see yourselves to the door! Deputy Lars, Deputy Otto, Please escort ALL personnel, except those with legitimate excuses, out of the Lobby!"
Through the outer office windows one could see the multitude diving into their pockets and pouches with desperate hands to pull their cell phones out and be the first to pass the news to their respective agencies. Some of the larger Networks already had vans pulled up outside and were readying their commentators for live feed to the rest of the nation.
Deputy Otto, without thought of those near him remarks about the crowd, "You would think that we are in Iraq somewhere where a bomb has leveled a building killing thousands of people but no, it's just a bear attack. An occurrence that statistically happens about once every two years in Yellow Stone National park, or once a year when one combines Yosemite, Yellowstone and Alaska. I guess it is better news than the unemployment rate that we have been hearing about in the last months."
Sheriff Wheeler returns to office grabbing a coffee as he heads back. Lars isn't far behind, eager to mention something that has been on his mind since he had recovered from his first death scene back in Hathford Hills forest. Sheriff Wheeler keeps him waiting, choosing to pull out topographical map of the area, hoping he might find some clue to the mauling, something that might jump out at him that has been overlooked.