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“Go ahead, Seth. Sheriff Greer is here too.”

“Morning, guys.” Dr. Rutledge’s voice filled the vehicle.

“Don’t tell me you’re done already,” Greer said.

“I start early,” answered Dr. Rutledge. “A typical autopsy takes me about two hours. Sometimes more, sometimes less.”

“I trust you were extra thorough with this couple,” said the sheriff.

“I’m thorough with each body.”

Zander bit the inside of his cheek at Seth’s pointed comeback. “We just found out that Sean was in a bar fight the night he was killed—or the night before he was killed, depending on your time of death,” he told Seth. “The bartender witnessed kicks to his stomach and some blows to his face. I assume you found supporting evidence?”

“Definitely. And that answers a question of mine,” answered Dr. Rutledge. “At first I’d assumed Sean’s abrasions and scrapes were from fighting with his attackers. Then I got his preliminary blood results.”

Zander and the sheriff exchanged a glance.

“Both Sean and Lindsay had large doses of GHB in their system. I doubt he was conscious enough to fight his attackers. It makes sense if he received the injuries in an earlier fight.”

“What’s GHB?” asked Zander.

“The type I found in the Fitches is basically homemade Ecstasy. There’s a euphoric high and then a crash, making people sleep heavily—or die. The homemade stuff can vary in potency, especially when the makers get sloppy. It’s flat-out dangerous.”

“Holy shit,” muttered the sheriff.

Zander was stunned. Had the couple taken the drug themselves? Or had they been drugged to facilitate the attack? “Did the forensics techs say they’d found drugs in the house?” he asked the sheriff. Greer slowly shook his head, his countenance grim.

“We’ll notify forensics to watch for it in the evidence they took from the home,” Zander told Dr. Rutledge. “What would they be looking for, Doc? Pills? Liquid?”

“Judging by their stomach contents and the drug levels in their blood, it was ingested in liquid form. So take special care with any used cups, bottles, or mugs. Check the liquids in their refrigerator. It’s colorless and tasteless.”

The sheriff scribbled a note. “We need to go back through the home. I know the refrigerator contents weren’t taken for examination. Same with dirty dishes.”

“Sean had drinks at the bar,” Zander said quietly.

“That doesn’t account for Lindsay being drugged,” said the sheriff, still writing in his notebook. “But let’s keep it in mind if nothing turns up in their house.”

“Could it have been injected?” Zander asked, wondering if something could have been administered during Sean’s bar scuffle.

“I didn’t find any injection sites,” answered Dr. Rutledge. “But Sean had abrasions on his knuckles, jaw, and cheekbone, and deep bruising on his abdomen and back. Consistent with fighting and being kicked.”

“Any other injuries?” Zander asked.

“Not current. He had an old break in his radius and was well on his way to heart disease.”

“He was only twenty-seven,” the sheriff said, shock in his voice.

“Yep. I see it in younger people all the time. And also his heart was no longer beating by the time they hanged him. Livor was present in his lower extremities. He was hanged soon after being killed.”

“They hanged a dead man,” Zander said slowly. The killers had an agenda.

“They did. Maybe they thought he was still alive, but one of the stabbings cleanly sliced through his aorta. He bled out quickly. This was his cause of death.” The doctor paused. “Nineteen stab wounds. Twenty-one on Lindsay.”

Zander’s head reeled. Someone had been angry. Very angry.

“And Zander.” Dr. Rutledge’s voice lowered. “Lindsay was pregnant. I’d say around two months.” The doctor’s tone was careful.

Zander’s vision narrowed, focused on the cars speeding by on the road beyond the parking lot. He felt the sheriff’s curious stare pointed his way. “That’s horrible.” His voice was even, flat, as he tried to ignore the sudden ringing in his ears.

“Think she knew?” muttered the sheriff.

“In my experience, most women know,” said Dr. Rutledge. “But some go into labor with no idea that they were pregnant. I thought those were made-up stories until it happened to the daughter of a friend of mine.” Wonder filled his voice. “They scrambled to buy diapers and a car seat. No one knew.”

Zander briefly closed his eyes. Why were some people handed children while others agonized and suffered to create a family?

“Did she have defensive wounds, Doctor?” asked Greer.

“She had two cuts on her lower arms. With the amount of GHB in her system, I suspect this was a feeble attempt at defense. Livor mortis is consistent with the position she was found in, on her side. She wasn’t moved.”

Unlike Sean.

Had Sean been the target? Zander wondered. Or both? Was the pregnancy a factor?

Not knowing the motive bothered him.

“Time of death, Doc?” he asked.

“I estimate between midnight and three a.m.”

“Both of them?”


“Anything else that would help us at the moment?”

“Not for now. You’ll have my report this evening . . . well, except for the extended toxicology results. I requested additional testing, and sometimes it takes a while.”

“Good call. I’d like to know if they had anything else in their systems.”

Zander ended the call and sat silently for a moment. The sheriff respected the silence. Zander suspected his brain was also going at full speed. Dr. Rutledge had given them a lot to process.

“Do we want to go to the Osburnes’ right away?” Zander asked.

Sheriff Greer’s hands tightened and twisted on the steering wheel. “Maybe we first need to see if any Osburne fingerprints turned up in the Fitch household. From what I understand, the brothers wouldn’t have visited Sean and Lindsay socially.”

Zander understood. A visit might tip their hand. The presence of the brothers’ fingerprints inside the home would most likely indicate they’d been there for the attack. “Let’s drive by and see if anyone is home. You know what they drive?”

“An older Ford king cab and a Durango.”

Zander was duly impressed by the prompt response. But the sheriff had known that the Osburnes had fought with Sean ahead of their visit to the bar. He might have checked.

“Sheriff,” Zander asked, “how many race-based crimes do you see every year around here?”

Greer rubbed at the back of his neck as he thought. “Dunno. You never know if race is what started something. And honestly, ninety-nine percent of the population around here is white. That other one percent is Latino.”

“Any reported race incidents involving the brothers?”

“I’ll have to look. As far as I know, they pick fights with everyone.” He shook his head. “Every time I cross paths with them, they’re working somewhere new. Or not working at all.”

Zander wasn’t surprised. The entire coast of Oregon was slightly isolated. A low mountain range separated the cities from the rest of the state, and few extra jobs were available. Unemployment was high. This was no California coast with warm weather and perfect bodies. Living on the Oregon coast took dedication and a thick coat.

Greer turned the ignition. “The Osburne place isn’t very far from here.”

“I’ll follow.”

The sheriff’s Ford Explorer abruptly pulled onto the shoulder of the narrow road and slammed to a stop. Zander sucked in a breath as he hit the brakes and pulled in behind him.

Zander had been distracted, studying the homes along the two-lane highway. Maybe it was the bleak weather, but the properties scattered among the tall trees and brush had depressed him. Many held broken-down vehicles, rusted swing sets, and barns with giant holes in their roofs.

Greer stepped out of his vehicle, and Zander did the same. As far as he could see, they weren’t near a home or driveway. There were only trees.

The sheriff’s face was grim as he strode toward him, and the hair on the back of Zander’s neck rose.

“What happened?” Zander asked, his stomach sinking.

“Just got a call. One of my deputies shot himself this morning, so I need to go there first. The Osburnes will have to wait.”

“What?” Shock jangled through Zander’s nerves.

Greer crossed his arms and looked away. “It was Copeland,” he said through white lips.

Zander instantly placed the name. “Your deputy from yesterday morning. The one who took down Sean’s body.”

“He’s dead. My boys say he used his service weapon.”

Zander couldn’t speak. Is this related to the Fitch murders?

“I need to go.” The sheriff turned away, his shoulders stooped.

“I’m coming with you.”

Greer glanced back. “Thank you, but that’s not necessary.”

“Yesterday your deputy was the first officer at a crime scene that I’m investigating, and today he’s dead?” Zander held the sheriff’s gaze. “I’m coming.”