Today's Reading

She realized Dr. Carver and his assistants had started their work while she and John had silently stared at the scene.

Well, that was work, too, trying to take in every small detail of the scene; it was impossible to know what might become important in the end.

She'd barely been through this area before—and only because both the turnpike and I-95 had been plagued with accidents, and the old road had been just about the only chance of getting up to the middle of the state.

She glanced John's way, shaking her head. "There are a lot of churches, but as far as I know, they're pretty traditional. The population in this area is sparse. Most of the land was owned by the big sugar companies for years, and we're not far from Seminole tribal lands," she said.

She was close enough to one of their best crime scene investigators and forensics team leaders, Aidan Cypress, and she winced when he looked at her with a question that was almost accusation in his eyes. "This is nothing Seminole, I assure you," he said.

"No, Aidan, I wasn't implying that. This is different than anything...from most anything else in the state," Amy said.

He nodded; he knew her better than that.

"No, nothing traditional, for sure," John said. "Ritual overtones. Both cheeks have been slashed identically. The weapon...half-makeshift, as if a poor cosplayer was trying to recreate a medieval halberd. She's naked, but that could be the work of a run-of-the-mill sicko."

"The cross she's on—I think it looks like Dade County pine," Amy said. That wood was almost impossible to acquire these days. But the CSI team would know more on that; she was hardly an expert on wood or trees herself.

"I think you're right," John agreed. "And it wasn't recently chopped down—more like crude carpentry. I think the wood might have been taken from various demolition sites, a house or some other building. Though you'd think we'd be preserving our older homes. It was abundant here once, used in most of the Victorian-era houses down in Key West. I'm going to say reclaimed from somewhere."

"We're looking at something planned, yes, with religious overtones," Amy said. "Something extremist..." She looked around at their group. "As we all know well, any extremist is dangerous..."

Dr. Carver twisted on the ladder to look at her. "And you're afraid this is a harbinger of more?"

"Dear God, let's hope not," she breathed.

Aidan Cypress walked over to them. "We're trying to pull tire tracks, but as you can see, the ground is mostly muck. And it's rained, so even the paved area is giving us just about nothing. One thing about being on an old road almost no one uses anymore—not a lot of trash. But we're doing our best to get everything, the tiniest scrap. And some of this is sawgrass—long sawgrass, but we're doing our best."

"Thank you, Aidan. You guys are the best," Amy assured him.

"Sketching again, eh?" Cypress asked.

"You never know."

"Okay, Picasso!" Dr. Carver called out. "I'm going to get my crew busy taking her down so I can get her to the morgue. From what I'm seeing, and what I believe, she was killed just as darkness was falling last night, and she was between twenty and thirty years old."

Amy stood just to the side of the corpse, swallowing hard as she saw the blood had covered the body in such quantities and had dried so it was almost as if she were dressed.

"Like Fantasy Fest down in Key West," John murmured.

She turned to stare at him.

"All the blood...it's almost as if she'd been body painted."

Somewhere inside, Amy trembled at the horror of what they saw. Death had taken the woman in such a way she was almost surreal, like a Halloween prop set out for a wickedly scary party.

"That's what happens," Carver said, "when you pierce the heart and rip up veins and arteries. Anyway, we're good to go, team. We're going to need to get her off the cross—carefully, carefully, my friends," he said to his assistants.

"And we need to get the cross to the crime lab, as much as is possible," Cypress said.

Detective Mulberry had been watching and listening. He spoke up. "Yes, please, get everything. This had to have been wackos from somewhere else in the state—or the country. This sure as hell didn't come from anyone local! And my citizens are going to be terrified. And there aren't a lot of homes with fancy alarm systems out here."

Amy hoped he was right: that the murderer—or murderers—had come from somewhere else, and that they would not strike again. She looked down at her sketch of the scene; it was one that would probably give her nightmares.

She swatted another mosquito buzzing around her face. It was going to be a long morning.
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