Northern Blood

(A murder/mystery set in up-north Wisconsin. A troubled boy and a misplaced sheriff fight for stability in a town where all is not what it seems. An in the end, only one man is left standing after a showdown that rocks the heart of a city that has a soft underbelly of lust and greed.)

Chapter One

His eyes burst open when a faceless scream pierced his subconscious and whiplashed him from sleep. He ignored the first slivers of light assaulting his swollen lids and sent an empty whiskey tumbler crashing to the floor. Flinching at the wet stain on his faded Red Sox t-shirt, he shaded his eyes and unsuccessfully tried to decipher the nightmare still reverberating in the cool morning air.

He never felt further from his east coast home than he did at that moment. Life in the Wisconsin northwoods had not been kind to him and future promise had long ago been extinguished. He tugged at his clinging t-shirt and thrust the pillow over his head to block the incessant call of the spring peepers from the nearby marshlands. Stirring restlessly he tried to ignore the noxious smell of his sweat and the sounds ringing from the swamp. In a perfect world he would avoid the day completely but lately his world was as fractured as the tumbler lying in jagged pieces on the wooden floor.

He harbored no illusions in his ability as a small town sheriff. But despite an increasing number of bleary morning wake-ups he was determined to stay the course. The first year is the worst his predecessor warned him when the keys to the office were awarded. He was a virgin to northern Wisconsin and he often found himself longing for his boyhood home of Boston. He had gotten through the first twelve months physicallyunscathed, but when the second year dawned he struggled against the depression that began to erode his psyche and sap his energy.

“Shit,” he said raising his throbbing head from the pillow.

He blinked at the sunlight and considered being alone. His wife had left him months ago but old memories died hard and he still somehow expected a warm body to be slumbering alongside him. For the time being, he remained in possession of the pre-fabricated ranch home and planned to stay in the house until the fast approaching summer passed him by. But with his head threatening to split at the seams, the immediate future was of more consequence than divorce court proceedings.

He rumbled into the shower to clear the remnants of alcohol from his thick frame. The scalding water brought him back to life and he began to feel human again. But a single look in the mirror and the discovery of an unexpected golf ball-sized bruise on his forehead only added to the disgust over his binge drinking. He examined the purple tissue and winced as he touched the swollen mass. What the hell? he thought. Where did that come from? The lump overshadowed his bloodshot eyes and the speckling of shards of red electricity that told their own tale. The locals of Saint Germain had high expectations for their sheriff and the irony of his own weakness was not lost upon him. As it turned out so far, his main duties entailed the simple task of rounding up drunks or settling the domestic squabbles so common to the Wisconsin northwoods. He had hoped to get away from the filth and violence of the east coast and for the most part had accomplished his goal. But the ring of a cell phone changed the simple life he desperately craved.

“Hello, Sheriff Tate here,” he said with a hint of the Boston accent the locals found so engaging.

“Sheriff,” said his dispatcher, “we have a report of a missing person that you need to check out.”

His immediate inclination was that some good old boy had gotten a snoot-full and passed out in the woods but he held back and asked her to continue.

“I’m listening, Martha.”

“We got a call from Mrs. Nichol that Claire Tompkins hasn’t shown up for their morning walk the past three days. Claire’s been pretty much on her own for a few years ever since her husband went down with a stroke. He was the nicest man and had the sweetest smile in the world. And he knew so many jokes that he could make a coondog smile. He—”

“Martha…focus,” he said as she once again left on a tangent. “I think I know who she is.”

“Anyways, today she went by Claire’s house one last time to see if she finally came home. When no one answered again, she checked all the doors and found the back door wide open. She went in and found the house as deserted as a graveyard on a rainy day. She’s pretty upset and is sure something is wrong.”

“I’ve been there to check on some noises, so I know where she lives. I’ll go over and take a look,” he said. “But I’ll bet she’s on a bingo bender at the casino and doesn’t want to share any winnings with her friend. She probably just lost track of the time.”

“Maybe,” she replied. “But Mrs. Nichol said one thing that didn’t make sense. She told me the bathroom mirror was cracked into a million pieces. Almost like it was smashed with a club.”

“Ummm,” he grunted and snapped the phone shut.

The drive to the home took only a matter of minutes. He pulled into the driveway of the missing woman and surveyed the meticulous yard and strings of small flower gardens. The tulips drooped passively and only a scattered tuft of unwanted weeds spoiled the otherwise serene appearance of the well-tended estate. The modest ranch-style house was covered with weathered gray siding and a pair of white shutters framed the front picture window.

He stepped from his car and shielded his face from the sun blazing down from above. An unexpected early summer heat wave was passing through the area and moisture gathered on the back of his neck. He loosened the collar on his work shirt and fanned the dead air in a futile attempt to waylay the stifling heat. He continued walking and recognized the “Got Jesus?” bumper sticker on the white Chevy Cavalier parked inthe driveway. He had seen the car in the local garage on more than one occasion but struggled to form a clear picture of its owner. He strode towards the front of the house and the crunch of gravel underfoot joined the chorus of crickets chirping from deep within the woods. The freshly stained wooden steps creaked when he mounted the series of long, brown planks. He knocked softly on the door and tested the lock by jiggling the antique doorknob. When it held tight he looked into the front window and observed the simple decorations of the homestead. He decided to investigate the rear of the dwelling and just as he had been forewarned, the back door was unlocked. The hinges squeaked when he opened it fully.

“Mrs. Tompkins?” he called and put a tentative foot inside the home.

He called her name again and crossed the doorjamb. Almost on reflex he unsnapped the button that held his firearm secure in its saddle. A trickle of sweat bathed his underarms and an ominous vibration of wrongdoing swept over him. He made his way through the interior of the house and found the belongings to be undisturbed. He examined the curio cabinet and the small shelves that displayed dozens of porcelain angels that had taken a lifetime to collect. It was equally impossible to miss the multitude of stuffed animal heads that stood silent guard over the family room. A collection of hand-stitched Amish quilts hung on the walls and stood in acknowledgement to the nearby settlers of the private sect. To add to the hominess, an assortment of Good Housekeeping magazines lay on the maple coffee table in a fan-like fashion allowing a choice of the last six months of the longstanding favorite. He walked quietly through thehome with only the steady tick of the grandfather clock accompanied the sound of his own breath.

He moved toward the main wall and studied the eight by ten framed picture of the missing woman and her husband. Her fashionable streaks of blonde hair added a youthful look and the snug dress accented her still shapely frame. The distinctive mole dotting her left cheek only added an element of uniqueness to the attractive woman. Tate noted that even the tiny wrinkles at the corners of her eyes did little to diminish the overt vitality she displayed. The vibrant shine of the woman’s blue-green eyes caused him to swallow hard and his heart rate elevated unexpectedly. He steadied himself by placing a hand on the wall until the wave of unsteadiness dissipated.

He continued into the hallway and turned the corner to approach the bathroom as the wooden floors groaned beneath his feet. His shoulders stiffened as he studied the countless shards of mirrored glass that littered the beige countertops. He dabbed at the tiny slivers and winced when a small needle of the broken glass entered his index finger. The shock multiplied when the sole remaining piece of mirror revealed a single word smeared in red lipstick on the wall behind him. He turned and mouthed it in a nearly inaudible whisper.

“Bitch,” he read aloud.

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