She called her boss back while making a mental checklist of resources to support the investigation on the coast. Anger focused her. No one murders a cop without igniting the wrath of every police force in the state.
Assistant Special Agent in Charge Ben Duncan answered his phone. “We’re keeping an eye on the murder investigation of an Oregon State Police captain on the coast.”
“I heard,” said Ava. “Do you want me to go out there?”
“They haven’t asked for our help, and I don’t think OSP should handle the investigation of one of their own, but it’s their call. I’m just giving you a heads-up. Fill up your gas tank. You’ll be looking at a two-hour drive. Probably more.”
Ava knew she had to speak up. “You know the victim was Mason’s boss, right? And that Mason was at the coast with him?”
Duncan swore. “I didn’t. He was one of the cops staying with the captain?”
Duncan was silent for a few moments. “Your thoughts? Everyone’s plate is completely full—too full—except yours. Zander has some time, but I want two people on this.”
“If we get the case.”
“I don’t think my relationship would be an issue. OSP is sending a major crimes team. The first thing they’ll do is clear their own guys. Once Mason’s name is clear, there’s no conflict of interest.”
“We might be jumping the gun. They could find their suspect behind a tree within the hour.”
“True. But I need to fill up my gas tank anyway.”
Too many people crowded Denny’s property, and Mason struggled to keep track of them all. He positioned himself next to the sheriff’s deputy holding the crime scene log, watching as people signed in and making mental notes of each one’s department and task. A young Hispanic male joked with the deputy as he signed. Mason stepped closer to read the log.
“You’re the ME?” He couldn’t read the name. Something Ruiz.
The man smiled broadly, surprising Mason with very crooked teeth for his young age and medical profession. “Jason Ruiz. You must be Detective Callahan. I just got off the phone with my boss. Dr. Rutledge says to tell you hello and to convey his condolences.” He shook Mason’s hand.
Dr. Ruiz’s smile was infectious, and Mason felt his spirits lift for the first time in two hours. Mason chalked it up to the gossip chain that the state’s medical examiner back in Portland knew he was there. News of a fallen officer travels fast. Or possibly Ava was making calls, greasing the investigative wheels to the best of her ability.
“Thank you. I’ll thank Seth next time I see him—”
“Which you hope isn’t too soon,” Dr. Ruiz finished the lame joke for him. Probably all medical examiners had heard it too many times. “You discovered the body?” Dr. Ruiz asked as they both moved behind the woodshed.
Dr. Ruiz studied Denny Schefte as he pulled on his gloves, his booties already in place. Two crime scene techs backed out of the scene, giving the ME a full view of the body. “Does everything look the same as when you first saw him?” he asked Mason.
Mason took a deep breath and looked closely at the gash in Denny’s neck and the position of his limbs. “Yes. He hasn’t been moved. The blood is drier now. More flies.”
The ME glanced at the crime scene techs hovering behind Mason. “Got your pictures?”
“Yes. I photographed the entire scene from the perimeter to the body and took images of the body in its current position,” said one of the young women. “We were waiting for you before collecting any immediate evidence from the body.” Dr. Ruiz gestured for her to take more photos as he gently used long tweezers to lift the spiked mask.
Mason forced himself to watch.
“Pinhead, I see,” said Dr. Ruiz conversationally. “Not one of my favorites, but not the worst villain out there.”
“Watch horror movies?” Mason asked. Under the mask Denny’s mouth was slack, his eyes open and slightly fogged. The medical examiner palpated Denny’s skull and frowned.
“He’s got a blow to the back of the head.”
Mason wasn’t surprised. He’d assumed the attacker would have had to sneak up on Denny to take advantage of him.
Dr. Ruiz moved to the arms and quickly felt all the limbs. His practiced hands rapidly worked the length of the body. He gestured for Mason to help him roll Denny onto his side so he could visually examine his back.
“I’ve watched my share of horror movies,” said the medical examiner, answering the question Mason had forgotten he’d asked. “I think every man goes through a phase where he can’t get enough. Usually in the late teens, early twenties, I’d say.”
“I skipped that phase. My son didn’t. He’s still a fan.”
Dr. Ruiz picked up one of Denny’s hands, looking closely at the nails and wrists. “No defensive wounds apparent, but there’s a lot of dried blood on them since he grabbed at his neck wound. The blow to the head must have stunned him, not knocked him out cold. With all the blood, I can’t tell if the nails have any fresh flesh under them. We’ll bag the hands and see what we find. Maybe we’ll get lucky and there will be some DNA under the nails. Right now it’s too hard to confirm if he fought back or tried to defend himself. Later I might find some bruising under his sleeves if he blocked any blows.”