Four men and a woman huddled in the road, their conversation heated. Rockingham County Sheriff Earl “Buck”
Buchanan towered over the group and drove home a point by thrusting his right index finger at Kate Toussaint,
the solitary woman and deputy chief medical examiner. A gust of wind threw leaves into the air and carried most
of their conversation away from the solitary figure who stood to the side staring at the frozen puddle. Blood had
mixed with the pale white ice looking like strawberry swirl ice cream. Like Buck, Kate was pointing. Only her
finger pointed at the only person there who was not in an official position. He felt as if she were aiming a loaded
pistol between his eyes. During a lull in the wind, her voice became audible, “Why’s Ed Traynor here?”
Hearing them argue, Traynor decided the best way to play things was to be discrete and opted to stay back
and wait until one of the combatants motioned him closer. Buck said something in a muted voice.
Although Ed was unable to distinguish Buck’s words, he did hear Kate when she distinctly said, “He can do it
at the morgue—” Her voice sounded loud and carried in the early morning quiet. Three crows flew overhead and
their raucous CAW, CAW drowned the rest of her speech. Traynor knew that if she held her ground, this was as
close as he would get to the tarpaulin-covered body lying in the center of the lane. From his years on the New
Hampshire State Police, he knew that while the crime scene may belong to the police, from the instant Kate
arrived on-site, the body belonged to her. However, Buck was adamant; he bent forward, pushing his ruddy face
as close to hers as he could without burning her with the stubby cigar he had clenched tightly in his teeth.
Traynor resisted smiling. Kate and he had been a couple once and he knew her very well. She was not the sort
of woman who would be intimidated…quite the contrary; she was the type who would attack.
“I want him to see the body now—before it leaves the crime scene,” Buck’s volume increased. “Hell, Kate, the
man was a state police homicide detective for ten years! Besides, if the vic is who we think it is he can make a
That got Traynor’s attention. Since he had gotten Buck’s call at 4:40 that morning, asking him to come to the
narrow wooded lane in remote Fremont, it had been eating at him all morning.
Kate said, “I don’t give a damn, Buck. He is not a cop any longer. He is a private investigator and has no
business being here. But, you do whatever you want, Buck—you always have.” She threw her hands up in
frustration and walked away.
Buchanan had not changed since he and Traynor served together on the state police. As was his usual M.
O., he had used his substantial size to get his way. Nevertheless, Traynor knew that if Buck thought he had
intimidated Kate and won, he had a big surprise coming. The burly sheriff seemed tentative as he stopped in
front of Traynor, his face flushed.
Traynor nodded toward Kate, noting that her eyes still flashed with anger. He said, “Are you sure about this?
You could end up owing some favors.”
“I know. Kate’s a wolverine and like Marines, they fight to the death.” Buchanan glanced over his shoulder,
studied the assistant medical examiner for a few seconds, and then said, “She’s still pissed at you for breaking
off with her two years ago.” He paused again.
“Well, don’t be surprised if this ends up costing you,” Traynor said.
“At this point I don’t give a damn,” Buck said with more fervor than Traynor had heard him display since he’d
thrown his hat into the political arena and ran for Rockingham County Sheriff. He glanced off into the trees.
Traynor signaled him to stop. “What’s up? You’ve never before called me to a crime scene.”
Buck pulled the cigar out of his mouth and looked at it as if it suddenly tasted foul.
“Come on, man,” Traynor pressed him, “you look like you’re getting a root canal during a Novocain
shortage. Do I know the vic?”
Buck tossed the cigar to the ground and stomped on it before saying, “Yeah, I think it’s your brother.”
“John?” Traynor struggled not to let shock show on his face.
“You better look for yourself. I haven’t seen him in ten years and people change.” Buck stepped aside
allowing him access to the body.
John, Traynor’s only brother, was four years his junior. He was everything against which Traynor had worked
his entire adult life. Where Ed had chosen law enforcement as his career, John was a petty thief, drug addict,
and dealer. Considering their parents, Traynor had to admit that his younger brother had probably turned out
closer to what people expected than he had. Their father was a drinker and a brawler and their mother a drinker
and a nagger. They had grown up in a family that was self-destructive a long time before TV sit-coms made
dysfunctional behavior fashionable and funny.
Buck stepped aside and gave his old friend an unobstructed path to the body. It lay in the bloody ice that
Traynor found so mesmerizing. Traynor stared at the tarp and thought: the least they could have done was take
the body out of the ice.
For the first time in years, Ed Traynor wanted a cigarette. It took all of his will power to sound calm. “All right,
let’s get this over with so I can go about my business.”
He stared at the menacing tarp and felt resentment build as he recalled the craziness of his childhood. Traynor
cursed John, thinking, it is just like him to die like this, dragging me back to places I do not want to go—to places
I thought I would never visit again.
Buck walked around Traynor, stopping beside the covered body. He took care to avoid stepping on the ice
and straddled the corpse, squatted down, and reached for the tarp. A gust of wind raised one side of the canvas
and it rose up resembling a cobra poised to strike. Ignoring the violent whipping action, Buck reached out,
caught the corner, and pulled it back.
Buck squatted over the body, looked up, and said, “You want to move closer so you can get a closer look at
The instant Traynor saw the blond hair and the cherry-red birthmark under the left eye his stomach felt as
empty as a hollow tree trunk. “There’s no need. It’s him.”
Buck rocked back on his heels, dropped the tarp, stood up, and looked at the sky again. “Aw shit, Ed. I’m
sorry. I thought it was, but I had to be sure.”
“You have any idea how long he’s been dead?”
“That’s hard to say. The weather is too cold for the crime scene techs to determine time of death with any
degree of accuracy. Kate will get an estimated T-O-D once she has him opened up.” He realized how callous his
words sounded and reddened. He looked Traynor in the eye and shifted back into official mode. “He’s been
here long enough for the blood in his extremities to freeze, and he seems to be in total rigor.”
“So that makes it—somewhere between two and twenty-four hours?”
“That sounds about right, give or take, last night was cold enough for a body to start freezing.” Buck seemed
pensive for a few seconds and then said, “You want a few minutes?”
“Sure, I’d like to get a close look at him. Is it all right to touch him?”
“I don’t see a problem, they’re finished working the body. Take your time. I’ll be with Kate.” Buck paused for
a second, then reached for another cigar and peeled the wrapper as he walked away.