Jack Frank likes his job as the chief of police in a small town, until someone finds a man's naked body floating in Storrs Lake. With a murder to investigate, he hardly knows where to start, but having to deal with the county sheriff's office only complicates matters.
Rhonda Phos works for chief Franks as an officer only because of her grief training. when her sends her to inform a wife of her husband's untimely death, she must also inform the victim's mistress as well.
Rhonda finds herself embroiled in one of the most baffling cases to ever hit the sleepy community.Suddenly, she becomes the lead detective and must put her own life in danger in order to find the murderers of the man everyone in town despised.
Jack Franks sat at his desk. His name plaque indicated he was the “Chief of Police” and his uniform denoted his position, but his daily routine seemed about as exciting as watching the grass grow on a hot summer afternoon.
He thought of all the episodes of “Law And Order” he’d watched over the years. Now those cops were doing real police work. They certainly weren’t filling in for the crossing guard or helping Maude Paul get her cat out of the tree growing next to her porch.
It wasn’t like he wanted to have an unsolved murder on his hands, but he did want to do more than act like Barney Fife on the old “Andy Griffith” Show. His officers were good at catching speeders in the speed trap out on the highway, but they did little else to earn their salaries.
Jack heard the phone ring but ignored it. The office employed a secretary and that at least gave her something to do with her time every day. It’s probably another cat stuck in a tree. It’s nothing to get too excited about.
He went back to reading yesterday's weekly paper that just made it to his desk this morning. The news wasn't much different than last week's. Clara Johnson had her in-laws over for Sunday dinner so they could see the new baby and the Bradley twins celebrated their sixteenth birthday. Pete Brown’s daughter got married and Harley Sacks’s dog bit the mailman.
Rather than read anything further, he threw the paper on the desk and was set to go out for a walk when the phone on his desk rang.
“I think you ought to take this one, chief,” the secretary said through the intercom.
Jack sighed deeply and picked up the receiver. “Franks here.”
“Jack, this is Al. I just went out to Storrs Lake fishing and there’s a man floating in the middle of the lake.”
The panic in Al’s voice was enough to send chilled shockwaves through Jack’s body. “What do you mean a body is floating in the lake?”
“Just what I said, asshole. I came out to fish and there’s a body out there in the middle. I haven’t tried to go out and bring him in. He must have drowned, but I’ve seen enough cop shows to know you don’t touch things at a crime scene.”
Jack rolled his eyes. He and Al had been friends since kindergarten and Al tended to exaggerate. If his friend were a woman, Jack’s wife would have called Al a “drama queen.” “Are you sure some kids haven’t stolen a mannequin from the mall and dumped it in the lake?”
“Mannequin, hell, this ain’t no mannequin. It’s a man, and he’s dead I tell you. Now get your ass out here and investigate. That’s your job, after all. You should do something to earn your pay rather than just sitting in the office reading the paper.”
Jack shoved the paper aside, ashamed everyone knew about his duties and reading the paper was all he had to do on a Friday morning. “Okay, I’ll humor you, but if this is one of your practical jokes, so help me Hannah, you’ll pay.”
He hung up the phone, but it rang again before he had the chance to grab his keys and head out the door. “This is another one you have to take,” the secretary assured him.
“Franks here,” he said, just as he always did when he answered the phone.
On the other end of the line he could hear a woman crying. “This is Kitty Reedman and my husband is missing.”
Jack thought about Karl Reedman. He was hardly what anyone would call a “faithful” husband. He recalled he cheated on his first wife, Barbara, with his second wife, Marie. Then he’d cheated on Marie with his third wife, Christine. Just lately he’d cheated on Christine with his current wife Kitty, so why was Kitty so upset about him staying out all night? He was probably just scouting out wife number five.
“Envy” was the word crossing Jack’s mind when he thought about Karl’s sexual exploits. The man had to have the stamina of a bull in a pasture full of cows in heat. The thought of a man being able to satisfy more than one woman at a time was mind-boggling. Hell, he had enough trouble with one woman to say nothing of having another on the side and probably out looking for the next sexual conquest.
“What do you mean he’s missing, Kitty?”
“Oh Jack, it’s so terrible. Karl went out last night to get a pack of cigarettes and he never came back.”
“Are you sure he’s not with a friend?”
“Positive. I know what you’re thinking. I know all about Susan Barclay. I called her and she hasn’t seen him either. We have a very open marriage. I know he has the sexual appetite of a much younger man and one woman is never enough for him. That’s why his first three marriages failed. Those women just couldn’t understand him. He’s not out with his girlfriend and we’re both really worried. We’ve been calling everyone we could think of all morning and no one has seen him.”
“I’ll look into it, Kitty. I have something else I have to do first and then I’ll be right over to file a missing person’s report. I’ll see you in a couple of hours.”
He hung up the phone and wondered where in the hell he was going to find a missing person’s report form. He knew they were somewhere in the office, but since his secretary, Melissa, arrived and reorganized the filing system he couldn’t find a damn thing.
“I need a missing person’s report form.” He approached Melissa’s desk. “Do you have any idea where I might find one?”
Melissa smiled in a way that said she knew exactly where to look. Damn, he hated the way she smiled when she knew where something was and he didn’t. She got up from the desk and crossed the office to the file cabinets. Once there, she pulled open the one with the big black “M” printed on the little card in the holder on the front.
He watched over her shoulder as she pulled out a file with the words “Missing Persons” neatly printed on the top cut of the folder.
“Here you go, Chief. Is there any other paperwork you’ll need this morning?”
“Thanks. I think this will do it.”
He felt a bit sheepish as he left the office and went out to his car. It wouldn’t take long for him to get out to the lake. The only thing he would be needing there was his digital camera in order to take a picture of the mannequin Al insisted was a dead body.
After turning down the road leading past the museum and the industrial park, he headed toward the unpaved portion of the road. When he went to high school, this was lovers’ lane. He’d been down here parking with more than one girl when he was the big man on campus, a/k/a the “captain of the football team.”
Al’s beat-up pickup truck sat parked in the makeshift parking lot about fifty yards from the lake. It was here he got caught one Saturday night with his girlfriend necking in his ‘57 Chevy. If Al hadn’t come into the parking area driving like a maniac things might have gone further than kisses and heavy petting. Instead Al buried his truck up to the axles and Jack ended up helping Al dig the damn thing out. To say the moment was lost was an understatement, especially since the girl’s father gave him hell for getting her home so late. “Over here.” Al called as soon as Jack got out of the car.
Jack made his way across the almost knee-high grass, aware of how soggy the ground was from all the rain they’d had this spring. “I’m coming, keep your pants on. It’s so muddy out here, I could sink to my knees and be sucked into the muck.”
He looked past Al and saw the body of a naked man floating in the lake. “Holy shit, there is a man out there.”
“That’s what I was trying to tell you. Do you think we ought to call for the rescue squad to come out here and get him back to shore.”
“How in the hell could someone get out there and drown?” Jack asked. “What did he do--go out there to commit suicide? He could stand up and the water would be over his waist. Have you touched anything around here?”
Al looked at him as though he’d lost his mind. “There’s nothing to touch except the grass. I did notice some of the grass on the other side of the lake was beat down, but I didn’t go over there to look.”
Jack shifted his gaze from the tanned body and white ass of the man floating in the lake. The morning sun was doing its magic bringing the bent grass back to standing straight and tall.
Knowing the victim wasn’t going anywhere, he left Al and headed around to the other side of the lake. Since the only access to that area was through the gravel pit, he knew he’d have to look there as well. Jack thanked his lucky stars there’d been no rain, as droplets of blood clung to the grass, indicating the path the body had been dragged to get to the lake.
After taking several pictures, he flipped open his cell and called the county sheriff’s office. There was a fine line where this crime scene was concerned. Technically, the lake was within the city limits, but the pit sat in the jurisdiction of the county. With the body being found in the city limits and the scene of the crime in the county, he knew the investigation would be a joint effort.
An hour later, several deputies, as well as the sheriff, joined Jack.
“What made you decide this wasn’t just a simple drowning, Jack?” Sheriff Cantwell asked.
“It was Al Pardee who first saw the body. When he got out here he said the grass on this side of the lake was bent. I decided it was best to come over here and investigate since the body wasn’t going to get away from me.”
The sheriff nodded. “Do you have a boat you can take out there and retrieve the body?”
“I can tell you aren’t from town. The entire lake is only waist deep. You can’t launch a boat in anything that shallow.”
“Then just how in the hell do you expect to get the body to shore?”
Jack was getting more and more annoyed with the sheriff. The fact he said “you” rather than “we,” irritated Jack. “I can check and see if Al has a pair of waders in his truck. If he does, I’ll go out there and pull the body to shore.”
The sheriff looked at him as if he’d lost his mind.
“Do you have any better ideas about how to reel him in?”
“I hadn’t given it much thought. I figured we’d just go out there in a boat and get him. Guess it’s a bit more complicated than I thought.”
“Look Sheriff, I’ve been around this lake all my life. Now if it were the lake west of town, your idea of a boat would work. This one is different. If it weren’t for all the rain we’ve had this spring, we’d be looking at a swamp rather than a lake. Calling it a ‘lake’ has always been a joke. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll go back around the lake and pull in my body.”
“Your body! This is in our jurisdiction.”
“He may have been killed in your jurisdiction, but he was dumped in mine. The way I see it, if you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.”
Jack could see the anger in Sheriff Cantwell’s eyes over having to work with Jack’s small town police force. “I’ll go with you to make sure you don’t muck up the evidence.”
Jack laughed to himself. How in the hell could he muck up the evidence any more than it already was? The poor schmuck had been floating in the lake for God only knew how long. Any evidence would be completely waterlogged by now.
As they headed back around the lake Jack could hear Cantwell swearing about the mud and the muck. It was evident he didn’t like getting his highly polished shoes all muddy.
Once back to where Al stood, Jack saw his friend was grinning like a damned Cheshire cat.
“How do you plan to get him out of there?” Al questioned.
“I’m hoping you have your waders and boots in the truck. It looks like I have to go out there and drag him in.”
Al laughed, like the idiot he was, and walked to his truck. The damn fool would probably hang around with that shit-eating grin on his face until Jack pulled the body in.
By the time Jack pulled on the waders, at least half a dozen officers were standing on shore, along with the coroner. From the looks on everyone’s faces, he knew they were grateful he was the one walking out through the murky water. Even though it was only late June, the water was already green. This had been a strange year with almost steady rain combined with an early heat wave.
Even though the waders and boots were a bit too large, it was better than walking out there unprotected. He felt his feet sink into the muddy lake bottom. Slogging through the mud made for slow going.
He finally got to the body and reached out to touch it. His initial reaction was to jerk away from the cold dead skin, but with so many people watching his every move, he started back toward shore with the dead weight in tow.
Once back at the shoreline, Sheriff Cantwell and two of his deputies helped get the victim out of the water. As soon as they turned the body over, Jack swallowed down the vomit threatening to erupt at any minute. Someone had shot the poor bastard in the nuts and cut off his pecker. To add insult to injury, he’d taken a shotgun blast to the face, obliterating his facial features.
“Holy shit, how in the hell are we going to identify this guy?” Cantwell asked.
“That will be my job,” the coroner replied. “Between fingerprints and DNA I might have an answer for you in a week or so.”
“A week or so?” Cantwell echoed. “We need answers now!”
The radio attached to the sheriff’s shoulder crackled, indicating a transmission would soon follow. “We’ve found something over here,” the disembodied voice said.
“What did you find?”
“Well…ah…it’s a guy’s pecker.”
Kitty Reedman’s call resounded in Jack’s mind. “Ask him if it’s pierced,” Jack said.
Cantwell looked at him skeptically, but repeated the question.
“It sure is,” came the reply. “Not only that, it’s tattooed with a naked woman.”
Jack nearly choked. He’d forgotten the tattoo Karl bragged about getting. “I’m fairly sure our victim is Karl Reedman. His wife called him in as missing right after I got the call about the floater.” Jack checked his watch. “I told her I’d be over to file a report two hours ago.”
“Are you sure?”
Jack wanted to laugh in the sheriff’s face, but he remained professional. “Look Cantwell, this is a small town. From the looks of this guy, he’s in his fifties, he’s going bald, and your boys found his pecker over at the gravel pit complete with piercing and tattoo. Considering Karl’s the only person in town with the balls to have both procedures done and then brag about them, it has to be him. Besides, he’s officially a missing person.”
“Makes sense.” The sheriff agreed.
Jack smiled at the slight victory he’d won over the sheriff in the turf war over this murder. Turing away, he took out his cell phone. Kitty would have to be notified, and the best person he could think of to do it was the only female officer on his small police force.
When the city council first suggested hiring a woman, he’d fought them tooth and nail, but he’d been outnumbered. At least Rhonda had been willing to go through grief training. She’d made herself a valuable asset to the department when it came to telling families someone they loved wouldn’t be coming home because of a car accident.