Chapter 18 - Evident Paws
With the calm of a man with years of experience with the press, from being the lowly patrol officer to his days as captain of a police department, Sheriff Wheeler has had to deal with that deranged bunch of human beings.
"It's alright son, catch your breath." He says as he steps to the front door of the building and locks it just as a couple of curious birds were thinking of moving back into to see if the news might pertain to the story they are working on.
"Dad sent me,…" The boys breath wheezing into his lungs. "Mr. Lierson is dead, his head cracked open in the parking lot, and there is a foot print in the blood next to him,…" The boy puts his hands on his knees trying to get air into lungs.
"Lets go back to my office boy, come on." Sheriff Wheeler guides him past the counter to his office in the rear. "Lisa, that doors stays closed for the next 15 minutes. Lars, you have your car parked out back?"
"Yes boss." Lars nods, more interested in this new development than looking into the computer to find more names of locals that might have had contact with the weekend warriors that came out to hunt this past weekend.
"Go to the back door and make sure that no vultures are hovering out there, when I am done with the boy, we may need to get out of here unnoticed." The Sheriff looks at Lisa, "Get Mark and Dr. Baker back here. It may take him some time but I need him here ASAP." The office door closes behind him.
Lisa, her desk behind the counter, can't be seen from the lobby. She takes the microphone from the radio and attempts to contact Deputy Mark Otto.
"Okay kid, let's hear this from the beginning and calm down." Sheriff Wheeler has closed the door behind the teenager before heading to the corner of his desk where he planted his bottom. "Who is Mr. Lierson?"
The boy, slowly catching his wind stammered on that his dad, the janitor of the high school had taken him with to work late that afternoon and as they had pulled in noticed that two cars were in the parking lot, when they drove up closer they could see the body next to the light pole. They got closer, getting out of their truck and next to the dead man's head in a pool of blood was the biggest paw print they had ever seen. Although a hunter, the boy said his dad couldn't identify the track.
"My dad pulled out his 30-30 rifle from the truck then told me to come find you. He said he was going to follow the tracks, not much more than blood drops from that foot that headed right towards the trees at the edge of the parking lot. That's when he sent me to get you." The boy was noticeably more relieved, not only at being able to get his story out but just by being in the presence of the big lawman Sheriff Wheeler.
"Okay son, I will be taking you home right now and when you are there, keep yourselves close to home for the next couple of days, then I'm going to go see about your dad." The Sheriff gets up from his desk following the boy out of the office door. "Lisa, any word yet on Mark??
"Yes, he called in about twenty five minutes ago, he should be here shortly." Lisa answers, taking her eyes off of her computer for just the couple of seconds it took to address her boss.
"Lars, you got things squared away out back?", the Sheriff now getting a bit itchy to get out and see what will certainly be the beginning of an already bad day.
"Yes Sir, ready when you are." Lars was jittery, he had seen the last murder scene and just knows that this cannot be coincidence, three murders in their town and just a few days apart.
The Sheriff could hear the knocking at the front door, the reporters had seen the kid come running in and knew something was up. As is there nature and curiosity, worse than cats he thinks to himself, they will be wanting in that door soon enough. "Time to leave." He motions Lars and the boy to the rear door where they can make their escape without being followed. "Lisa, give Kevin down in Lancing a call. Tell him we have a problem here and that we are going to need his help now."
Lisa turns this time, not just a glance this time but with surprise. With a pause, "Yes, right away." Kevin and Jack are good friends and they go back a long way, since they were just little kids. Kevin worked for the State Law Enforcement and though they have stayed friends it isn't like Jack to call in help on anything. Jack always seemed to be above the problems this town has, even on top of the murder of the hunter.
"It's a Saturday thankfully." Lars states as the trio gets into the black Tahoe parked in the alley behind the office building.
About ten minutes out from the office Mark calls Jack via his cell phone knowing full well that anything going over the radio is going to be listened in on. "Sheriff, I am just a few minutes out. What's going on? We were just making some headway in our search when Lisa called us back."
"Mark, just meet me at the high school. We have another incident and need to get this documented before all hell breaks loose. We are on our way there now with an eta of about five minutes." The Sheriff killing the conversation quickly to then pull the shot gun from between the two front seats, racking in a round and putting it on safety where he then laid it across one leg, the muzzle into the carpet at his feet.
The Tahoe pulls into the rear parking lot of the school, the scene is as the kid has described it. The crime wasn't fresh though, to the Sheriff's experienced eyes, at least since the morning if not the night before. There were already flies buzzing around the dead body and the blood had already congealed in some areas and baked to the black top. Where the man got his head wound was obvious from where he lay and the blood smear on the corner of the light posts square cement footing.
"Boss, from the wig Mr. Lierson is wearing he had to be dressed for the Halloween party the school had last night." Lars holds a hand to mouth trying to hold back the lunch that is trying to force its way up past his esophagus. "From the wig he has on with the balding forehead, that black tie suit and the big shoes, he had to have been dressed as one of the Three Stooges. Culy I thin,..." Lars turns away dry heaving.
The Sheriff was listening to Lars but his attention was on that foot print, a dry area surrounded by blood. It was as big as his open hand and although it resembled a paw print it wasn't. It somehow also had the looks of a human foot print, someone on the balls of their feet but completely distorted. There were more foot prints heading towards the woods, two more but so spread apart that no human could have left behind.
Marks car pulls in to the parking lot taking his attention off the prints where is mind was racing to make some kind of sense of the evidence presented. "Lars, get this area quartered off, all the way up to the woods. We'll be heading in there shortly to see what else we might find."
Lars was just wiping the spittle away from his mouth with a sleeve but waved with his other hand to acknowledge the orders were understood.
Mark strolls up to the Sheriff, loosening his revolver in its holster as he spots that which had caught and held Jacks attention.
"Son of bitch." Mark whispers under his breath.
"Same thing I said. What do you make of it Mark? I'll be damned if can make heads or tails of that print.", The Sheriffs attention again on the track at his feet.
"I just saw this very imprint up in some mud about three quarters a mile from the dead hunter. It's nothing that I have ever seen before.", An expression of amazement running across his face.
"Are you sure this is the same track?" The Sheriff turns to his subordinate looking for more details.
"Why, yes Sir, with the exception that in the mud next to that creek you could see the claws that had gouged into the soft mud. This track here looks almost human but if you look just past the toes, you can see where the tips of nails might have been." Mark has squatted to get a close look and point out what he thought looked like pin points of black tar in the blood.
"Sheriff, Sheriff!" Mr. Zeckler, the father of the boy that had rustled Jack out of his office to this new crime scene came running out of the woods behind the school parking lot. "If I would have heard sirens I would have come out sooner but I was seeing if I could find more tracks out near the other body.
All three police officers turn in the direction of the voice, the two younger cops with hands on their pistol grips.
"Mr. Zeckler, your boy mentioned there were two bodies, where is the other?" The Sheriff heads back to the Tahoe to pull his shot gun from the center console.
"Yes Sheriff, I think it was another one of the teachers. It's a young lady that had started here about two months ago. I don't know her name although I am sure that I have heard it couple of times. A crying shame I tell you, from what I hear she's supposed to be a real sweet person." Mr. Zeckler wipes what are obviously some tears from the corners of his eyes, "There's not much left of her now but her face was left untouched."
Both of the young officers look at each other and they recognize that each is shaken not only by what they have seen in the parking lot but from what they have heard and what they are about to see.
The Sheriff, confronted with these new details, just threw out the prospect of the Curly's death being a hit and run or some other kind of accident which he had sincerely hoped this would turn out to be. Now, with Zeckler's information, he knew that there was a serial killer on the loose, one with paws for feet and a knack for tearing people apart with, what it would seem, were his bare hands.
Picking up the mic from the radio in the SUV, the Sheriff calls into the office, "Lisa, any word yet on Kevin?"
The radio crackles a bit, "Sheriff, Kevin is on his way. ETA, one hour."
Closing the car door, the Jack turns to Lars. "I want you to block the entrance to this parking lot and then get old Johnson on the phone, have him out here as soon as he can muster his dogs again, with some luck he hasn't even gotten home yet."
"Mark, get your shotgun and bring some extra ammo. Grab some of that yellow tape too.", The Sheriff issuing his orders like a drill sergeant.
"Hey Lars, when your done getting Johnson on the phone,…" The Sheriff stops for a moment to consider what he was about to set in motion. "get on the phone with the Kevin and let him know that we now have three homicides which could be attributed to one person. He needs to make some calls and get us some help out here as fast as possible. He is already on his way but you should still be able to reach him. Oh yes, and keep those vulture reporters out of the parking lot when they show up. Get some help out here from some of the locals if you have to, some people you can trust." With that said, the Sheriff grabs Mr. Zeckler by the shoulder and turns him in the direction of the woods that he had just come from. "Lead the way Mr. Zeckler and don't get lost. We are losing day light on this bastard and want some clarity before night fall."