The smell of freshly turned, damp
earth caused Jessica McGuire to pause. Because she jogged every
morning, she had grown accustomed to the brilliance of the awakening
day and all that accompanied it: sights, sounds and odors. And her
occupation, that of deputy sheriff, had served to intensify her
senses, to make her even more aware of her surroundings.
It was early March, too soon for
the locals to be starting spring gardens. At an elevation of two
thousand feet, where the foothills turned into the Sierra, the small
community of Lawrenceville could expect more frost, perhaps even
snow, before winter really ended.
After leaving her home at the far
end of town, she had run down the main road until turning on Cemetery
Street. She'd noticed the scent of fresh dirt when she approached
the old graveyard where many of her deceased husband's ancestors
were buried. Though she passed it nearly every day, she'd only visited
it once right after she'd married. Her late husband, Ryan, had brought
her to Lawrenceville and taken her on a tour of all the historical
Perhaps a new grave had been dug,
but she didn't remember hearing about anyone dying recently. Ignoring
the nettles and burrs that snatched at her gray sweat pants, Jessica
sprinted through the weeds toward the chain link fence bordering
the cemetery. She entered through the gate, coming upon the ornate
granite tombstones of the founding patriarchs of the old gold-mining
town located on the Mother Lode, many of them had come to California
searching for gold and lingered on in the town of Lawrenceville.
Unreasonably, tears stung her eyes
as she made her way to the graves. Of course she'd never known them
but she'd heard many stories of the hardship these early pioneers
suffered on their trek across the country.
Jessica was about to resume her run
when she noticed the earth seemed to be disturbed in one of the
oldest family plots. Could have been done by an animal, she supposed,
but as long as she was there she ought to check. As she rounded
the large square stone with the family name of McGuire, she noticed
a small grave had been opened. The earth had been removed and nothing
remained but a gaping hole.
"My heavens," she exclaimed. "What
happened here?" The name of the deceased along with dates of birth
and death were carved into a flat stone. The grave had once contained
the remains of an infant.
Why would anyone want to steal a
baby's skeleton? For that's all that would be left after all these
years. She'd heard of jewel thieves desecrating graves, but they
would have picked an adult grave. It didn't make any sense.
Her run would have to be terminated
so she could call in her discovery to the Sheriff's Department in
the town of Lupine, the county seat. It would be interesting to
hear what the Captain made of it.
* * *
"Yes, that's what I said, Captain
Boone, the baby's skeleton is missing!" While Jessica spoke to her
superior she stretched the telephone cord so she could open the
refrigerator, bringing out a package of bacon and a carton of eggs.
"It isn't exactly a life threatening
situation, now is it, McGuire?" The Captain sounded condescending,
"No, of course not. But there is
a law against desecrating graves and stealing human remains."
"Of course, but you didn't spot anyone
tampering with the graves, did you?"
"If I had, I would have made an arrest."
Jessica fought her irritation by slamming the frying pan onto the
burner of the stove.
"Write your report and bring it in.
No big rush."
"You aren't going to send a detective
"No reason to. Why don't you make
a thorough search of the area, and if you find anything interesting,
be sure to let me know." He hung up.
"What's going on?" Jonathan, Jessica's
fourteen-year-old son, entered the kitchen and slouched into one
of the chairs.
"Oh, it's that frustrating Captain
Boone. Nothing that happens here in Lawrenceville is of any importance
"'Cept when old man Crighton got
murdered," Jonathan said.
"Oh, yes, he high-tailed it over
here in a big hurry then. Got his name and picture in all the papers
from Merced to Stockton."
For a moment, with his lopsided grin,
Jonathan certainly resembled his father. Jessica's heart ached for
Jonathan, growing up without knowing Ryan. When the boy's skinny
frame filled out, he would look just like his dad had when Jessica
first met him at Columbia College. Jonathan's hair was the same
chestnut shade of brown, though Ryan had worn his long in college
while Jonathan kept his cut short, emphasizing his slightly protruding
"Yeah, and it still makes you mad
that even though you solved the case, Boone and the detectives took
all the credit." Jonathan had heard her complain about it so many
times he used exactly the same words she would have.
She grinned at him. "Know your mother
pretty well, don't you, son? How about bacon and eggs for breakfast?'
"No time, Mom, don't want to miss
"You have to eat something."
"I will." He reached into the cupboard
and brought out a box of cereal.
She sighed. "Got enough money for
"Is food all you think about?" He
spoke around a mouthful of sugared flakes.
The two slices of bacon in the frying
pan began to sizzle and she poked at them with a fork. "No certainly
not!" She spoke sharper than she'd intended and glanced at Jonathan,
but he didn't seem to notice. Even with her active life, extra pounds
showed up quickly on her small frame. Food did occupy her thoughts
more than she wished. She should have foregone the bacon and just
fixed a couple of poached eggs, but it was too late now.
"So how's school?"
With his mouth full, Jonathan mumbled,
"You ask me that every day, and it's just like it always is ...
"You didn't used to think it was
boring. Are you having trouble in any of your subjects? Anything
I could help you with?'
"No, Mom." He didn't look at her
and dumped has his cereal into the sink. After shrugging into his
quilted jacket, which had become a bit short in the sleeves even
though it fit perfectly when he received it for Christmas, Jonathan
scooped his day pack off the washing machine and disappeared out
the back door.
"Don't say goodbye," she shouted
after him. Jessica wished she knew more about adolescent boys, and
for the second time that morning thought how much easier life would
be if Ryan were still alive. Jonathan had been only six when his
father died of brain cancer.
Though short, Jessica's marriage
to Ryan McGuire had been a good one. Unfortunately he didn't have
any insurance. A police dispatcher before her husband's death, Jessica
decided to go into law enforcement in order to make enough money
to support herself and her son. After taking classes at the college,
Jessica applied for and was accepted into the police academy.
She served for a few years as a deputy
sheriff in Modesto and when the opportunity arose, she transferred
to Lupine County and became resident deputy of Lawrenceville. Living
in Ryan's hometown seemed a fitting way to keep his memory alive
for Jonathan. Her patrol area covered a large expanse surrounding
Lawrenceville and on into the mountains. But the population was
sparse, and outside of a burglary now and then and the one murder,
Jessica sent most of her time arresting drunk driver, handing out
speeding tickets, working accidents, and answering tourist's questions.
Knowing that even if there were any
clues in the Lawrenceville Cemetery--which she doubted--it wasn't
likely anyone would disturb them before she returned to the scene.
She decided to do a load of laundry, clean the kitchen, and generally
pick up the small house before she changed into her uniform and
went to work. After eating breakfast, she added her dishes to those
from yesterday in the dishwasher and started it.
She gathered up the dirty clothes
from the bathroom hamper and entered Jonathan's room in search of
more laundry. Amazingly tidy for a teenager, Jonathan had made his
bed, his discarded clothes tossed into one corner of his closet.
Jessica didn't care much for her son's taste in decorating, the
posters of heavy metal rock stars dressed in their weird costumes
and ugly hairdos crowded the paneled walls. She wondered how he
could sleep with such ferocious faces peering down at him from all
sides. Merely a phase, he'd be into something else in a few months.
He'd gone from collecting dinosaurs:
posters and models, to the world of fantasy: armored knights, dragons,
beautiful maidens in gossamer gowns living in castles; spending
hours playing complicated board games with his friends.
"This too shall pass," she murmured
while gathering his soiled clothing.
The phone rang just as she turned
on the washing machine. Maybe Captain Boone had changed his mind,
and a detective was coming after all. "Deputy McGuire here."
But it wasn't the Captain. "Hi, Deputy,
I've get a problem."
Jessica recognized the voice immediately.
It was Pastor David Tanner from the community church. Though she
didn't attend church, she had many dealings with the minister. He
and his congregation took care of many welfare problems that cropped
up in the community. "Yes, Pastor, how can I help you?"
"The church was broken into, not
much taken, but our insurance company says if I want the cost of
fixing the door and replacing the stolen object, then I must report
it to the authorities. Guess you're all the authority we have around
He laughed at his joke but Jessica
"I've got another matter I must attend
to first then I'll be over. I'll be at the church around two."
Officially, Jessica wasn't required
to go on duty until four. The CHP patrolled the main highways on
a fairly regular basis, and most crimes were reported to the station
in Lupine. A deputy would be sent out on an emergency during Jessica's
off hours, otherwise the calls would be referred to her to take
care of at her discretion.
"Oh. All right. I thought you'd want
to take a look around while the clues were fresh." The minister
"Did the break-in just occur?" Jessica
"No. Actually, I don't know when
it happened. I found the side door into the sanctuary standing open
when I stopped by this morning to pick up some reference books for
the sermon I'm working on ...."
She interrupted. "Please don't touch
any more than you already have."
"I'm afraid I did touch quite a bit
before it dawned on me I shouldn't."
"Don't worry about it, everybody
does." She repeated the time she'd be there and hung up. It was
going to be a long day.
The phone rang again while she was
in the middle of her shower. Dripping, with a towel wrapped around
her, she answered in her bedroom.
"Jessica, dear, it's Letty Barnes."
The eccentric old woman sounded on the verge of tears. Letty lived
outside of Lawrenceville and kept a menagerie of animals on her
acre of land. Besides chickens, pigs, and a couple of ponies, she
raised goats and sold the milk.
"Yes, Letty, what can I do for you."
"Oh, Jessica, Beatrice is missing!
I've looked everywhere, and she's nowhere to be found. You don't
suppose someone's stolen my baby?"
If it had been anyone but Letty,
Jessica would have assumed a child had disappeared. But Letty's
only babies were her animals. She always named them after movie
stars from the thirties and forties. Jessica thought for a moment
how best to form her question. Letty didn't consider her pets to
be animals, and could become quite hostile if anyone referred to
them as such.
"Can you describe Beatrice for me,
"She's only two weeks old, that's
why I know she wouldn't stray from her mother. She's got the most
beautiful eyes and the silkiest black hair you've ever seen."
Jessica still didn't know what kind
of creature Beatrice was but she wasn't about to risk Letty's wrath
by asking. "Tell you what, Letty, I'll stop by sometime this afternoon
and you can fill me in on the details. In the meantime I'll be on
the lookout for Beatrice."
That seemed to satisfy the woman
and Jessica returned to her shower. After donning her crisp, khaki
uniform, she used the blow-dryer on her short, strawberry curls.
Despite her fair coloring, her brows and lashes were dark brown.
A touch of blush and lipstick brought out the green of her eyes.
She buckled her utility belt around
her waist before checking out her .38 caliber department issued
handgun and slipping it into the holster. Though she wore the same
tailored uniform as the men, she knew it looked much different covering
her high bosom, tiny waist, and curving hips.
After locking the house, Jessica
climbed into the big white Bronco with the county seal on the doors.
When she worked out of the city, she drove whatever unit was assigned
to her each day. But the deputy assigned to Lawrenceville kept the
official four-wheel drive unit at home, the only way to provide
around the clock law-enforcement protection to the remotely scattered
communities and ranches. In an emergency, it took too long for a
unit to respond from Lupine. Her foul weather jacket and 12-gauge
shotgun she kept inside the cab of the Bronco.
Her first stop was the Lawrenceville
cemetery. She took pictures with the Polaroid and searched the area
for footprints. She didn't find any. The last rain was about a week
ago and the top soil had dried. She also looked for anything else
that might give her a clue as to the identity of the grave robbers.
But the only items she found were a crumpled candy wrapper and a
soda can, both probably left from last summer.
She couldn't fathom why anyone would
go to all the trouble to dig up a baby's grave and steal the skeleton.
And there were no answers to be found at Letty Barnes' place either.
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