Could he have known his attacker? Nausea crept up Mason’s throat.
Dr. Ruiz scanned the small clusters of law enforcement. “Where’s the OSP lead detective?”
Mason pointed at a tall blonde woman in a dark green jacket and jeans who was speaking with Sheriff Jensen. “Right there. Nora Hawes.” She glanced their way as if hearing her name.
“I haven’t met her. Know her?”
“A bit. We work out of the same office, but she’s only been there two weeks. My partner Ray knows her from when he worked in Salem. Can’t say enough good things about her.” Mason was reserving judgment until he’d seen the woman work more cases. Ray wouldn’t have said she was okay unless he meant it, but with Mason everyone started at level zero and had to prove themselves. An endorsement from Ray meant that Mason actually smiled during the introduction. Mason was surprised OSP had assigned a Major Crimes detective out of Portland; the Salem office would have been closer, but maybe it was stretched too thin.
Dr. Ruiz pulled a long thermometer out of his bag and lifted Denny’s shirt. Mason watched as he made a small cut below Denny’s rib cage and slid in the silver sensor to take the temperature of his liver. “I’ll go online and check what the air temperature was here overnight,” the doctor said.
“It was forty-two when I found him two hours ago,” said Mason. “When we got home last night just before one A.M., it was forty-six.”
The doctor slid out the sensor as he looked sideways at Mason.
“I look at the temperature almost as much as I check the time. I keep it on the front of my phone.”
Dr. Ruiz twisted his lips. “I’ll get the official weather records, but based on what you just said and his current temperature, he died shortly after you guys got back to the cabin last night.”
“Thank you, Doctor,” said a female voice behind them. Mason glanced back to see Detective Hawes listening carefully. She held out her hand to shake the medical examiner’s. He slipped off his gloves and stood to take it. “We knew the window of time was short since the men returned just before one this morning,” she continued. “And Detective Callahan found him at six, but it’s good to know at what end of the window it occurred.”
“I suspect the gash in the neck will be the cause of death, but don’t quote me yet,” said Ruiz. “The blow to the head was hard, but I imagine that came before the neck, and clearly he touched his neck while it was bleeding. I didn’t find any bullet holes or other major injuries during my quick assessment, but I’ll know more once I get him back to the center and get a solid look.” He glanced at the ground near Denny’s head. “I think he bled out right here. Did you find blood anywhere else?”
“No,” said Detective Hawes. “No traces anywhere yet.” She turned her direct green gaze on Mason and said nothing.
He felt as if he had a target on his forehead. Defensiveness swelled in his gut and he bit his tongue. He didn’t need to prove to her he wasn’t involved.
“I’d like to debrief you now, Detective,” Hawes stated. “How about we chat in my vehicle?”
In the front seat of her Ford Explorer, Mason blew on the cup of coffee that Detective Hawes had handed him. Someone had made a coffee run into Depoe Bay and managed to return with a big cardboard carafe of surprisingly good coffee and a stack of paper cups. Mason wanted to ask where they’d found it.
Not that he ever planned to return to Depoe Bay. The quaint little fishing town had lost its already thin appeal.
He’d met Detective Hawes the first day she transferred to Portland from Salem’s Major Crimes. She’d been partnered with Henry Becker, but their desks were on a different floor since the primary detectives’ room couldn’t fit another desk. The separate floors had made for a slow get-to-know-you period. He’d been out of the office most of her second week on the job, but so far the feedback from the other guys was good. Everyone had commented that she looked like a young Helen Mirren.
Nora Hawes set her coffee in the cup holder and picked up a notepad. He watched her write his name on the first line and felt a drop of sweat run down his lower back.
Self-directed anger swamped him. He wasn’t an eighth grader who’d been caught breaking school windows; he was a cop whose close friend had been murdered. Detective Hawes hadn’t said a word otherwise. She’d been polite and professional. His mind was circling the drain of guilt simply because he was now on the vulnerable side of the interview. He didn’t like his position one bit.
“How long did you work with Denny?” Hawes asked.
“Almost ten years.”
“You worked with him before he was promoted?”
“Yes. We even partnered for a short while.”
“How was that?”
Mason kept his tone light, when he really ached to glare and snap at her. “Good. I’d want him backing me on a call.” Hawes nodded at his statement. There were no stronger words to validate another officer.
“What was your first thought when you found him?”
The memory was fresh. “I wondered if the killer was still there. My next concern was for the guys in the cabin.”
“They said you scared them to death when you woke them up by pounding on their doors.”
“I didn’t know what I’d find inside.”
“Was the front door unlocked when you went outside this morning?”