The phone she held beat an erratic tattoo on her thigh. She steadied it and breathed. Blood thickened where it oozed from the body’s nose and out onto the carpet. The pale blue eyes stared into the spreading pool. A long navy skirt covered the body’s legs above a pair of black flats. Anne knelt beside it, pushing back her jacket to keep it out of the blood. The hand was cold, and the only pulse she could feel was her own.
The skull was crushed in above the right ear. She ran her fingers over the sharp indentation. How she hated trauma. Nausea threatened to overwhelm her, and she sat for a moment, before making the call. The receiver of a telephone dangled from the desk. Best not to touch that, she thought.
Outside, she pushed 911 on her cell and said,
“Operator, please send the police to the Culver’s Mills Public Library. A death.”
She went back inside and sat on one of those thick, pale oak chairs that are supplied to libraries. The railroad clock on the wall ticked on—five minutes, fifteen, twenty. Perhaps she hadn’t reached the right operator. Perhaps the police had to come from Burlington. She put the phone in her purse and leaned back against the wall and breathed and thought about why she had come here.
Three days ago, she had slammed the trunk of her new Honda and taken a last look round her house. The cat was looked after. Eloise, her nearest neighbor on the lake and dear friend, had promised faithfully to drop in and talk to Albert, her Siamese, as well as to feed him. The young woman who had come to take over her practice had fit in well with her staff (not an easy task) and was interested in the kind of patients she had. She was calling this retirement to the world, but she wasn’t sure how long she would last without the daily rewards of medical practice.
She was tired. Her husband, Michael, had died two years ago. They had no children, and she hoped carrying on in the routine of life would help her with her grief. It hadn’t. Looking after so many children with behavioral and emotional problems took more than she had to give. She realized that she was only crawling through her days.
So she was through. Photography, painting, writing, and most recently, genealogy were interests she turned to. Her doctor had encouraged her to take a protracted leave, try a different life-style. She had no money worries. She and her husband had both inherited wealth, in her case quite unexpectedly from a heretofore-unknown great aunt. That discovery had sparked her interest in genealogy and brought her to sit on this chair, staring at a body. How long had it been? She checked her watch—20 minutes.
Enough, she thought, as she stood up and walked to the door intending to call again. A police car stopped at the curb, and a young man ran up the steps of the library, pushed open the main door, and stopped as he reached her at the entrance to the adult section.
“Hello,” she said.
“Who are you?” he said.
“Dr. Anne McPhail.”
“Could I see some identification, please?”
Anne handed him her passport and Canadian driver’s license.
“What are you doing here?”
“Genealogy research,” she answered, knowing that he likely didn’t understand.
“I’m looking for my roots, constable.”
“Deputy Graham, ma’am.
“Deputy”, she acknowledged.
“Could you stay here?”
He walked to the corpse without waiting for an answer.
“Was this exactly as she was? You didn’t touch anything?” he asked.
“I’ll have to see your purse and search your car, ma’am.”
He could search her car and her purse all he wanted, she thought, as long as he didn’t want to search her. Her dark blue jeans and casual yellow shirt didn’t leave room to conceal any weapon. She hoped he wouldn’t insist that she be searched. At least he wouldn’t do that himself. Or so she hoped. The deputy found only the usual assortment her purse contained: car keys, old Master-Card receipts, too many coins, and a lipstick.
More waiting and then came the arrival of several more men, some wearing Sheriff’s Office jackets. Crime scene crew, she supposed. A stocky man, dressed in wrinkled khaki pants and a red plaid jacket hurried in. A medical bag proclaimed his profession.
“Hello, Adam. What do you have for me?” the doctor said to one of the men in plain clothes.
Adam moved aside and showed the medical examiner the body on the carpet. The examination was brief but thorough. The real work would be done at the autopsy. The ME turned the head gently to reveal the deep depression in the skull that she had seen before. Odd, Anne thought, no real breaks in the skin. She shuddered again, imagining the blood and macerated brain that must lie below the skin and broken bone.
“What do you think the weapon was, doc?” the detective asked.
“Heavy and smooth, other than that, I’ll tell you after the autopsy. Didn’t you say a doctor found the body? Where is he?”
Adam turned towards Anne who stood up and put out a hand to the medical examiner.
“Anne McPhail, Doctor.”
He shook her hand.
“None whatever,” she said. “I’m a pediatrician. I don’t do much trauma, day to day.”
The doctor nodded as the stretcher arrived for the body.
“I’ll let you know.”
Adam turned to her. “Dr. McPhail, I’m Lieutenant Davidson.”
Medium height, tanned, thin, dark eyes, dark hair, straight nose and attractive, but with an edge to it, she thought.
“Hello. Could you tell me, Lieutenant, how much longer you might need me here? I told the deputy what I saw.”
As usual, Anne’s nervousness made her sound curt and a little abrasive. Knowing her face was flushing a brilliant scarlet didn’t help either.
“Could you tell me?”
With a sigh, she went over it again.
The detective probed a bit. “Did you come here by chance?”
“No. I wrote to the librarian here, a woman called Nancy Webb. She told me that her assistant was very good at archival research and would be available today. The lady’s name was Jennifer Smith. She is not by any chance…?”
“Yes, she is. You’ve never been here before; never written to the deceased?”
“Yes, that’s right.”
Anne could hear the anxiety in her voice. He was asking another question.
“How did you find out about the library and Culver’s Mills and the records?”
“Internet. The library is listed as one of the premier sources for early French and aboriginal research in the Northeast. Ms. Webb’s name is on the site. My fourth great grandmother was possibly aboriginal, married to a French Canadian. My third cousin in Elliott Lake found evidence that he had spent time in this area.”
She stopped talking as the familiar glazed look came into the policeman’s eyes. Not everyone shared her enthusiasm for the minutiae of family relationships.
“Yes, yes,” Adam said.
Irritated by his tone, she stood up.
“Lieutenant, I’ve had it. I’m tired, and I’ve been sitting on this hard chair for long enough, and I am leaving.” She had also had it with hard-eyed policemen.
“Where are you going?
“I’m going to Catherine’s Bed and Breakfast where a very kind lady is waiting for me. I told her I’d be there before noon. So, if you will excuse me?”
“Ms. McPhail, don’t leave town.”
“I still have my research to do, Lieutenant.”
The yellow tape, familiar from too many cop shows and too many newscasts, surrounded the building entrance. Her Honda was parked in the library parking lot, across from the fire station. She drove off, feeling the stares of the few people attracted by the commotion.
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