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TITLE: Precocious by Design
By Rick Higginson
01/16/08
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Current title is working title and may be changed before the first draft is completed. Since italics do not carry through into Critique Circle windows, portions bracketed by (i)(/i) indicate italicized text in original.
Prologue
Friday evening

It was a brief stop for the train, one of many such halts that were between where the old woman boarded and where her journey would finish. Watching out the window with minimal interest, she entertained herself by counting the number of passengers that stepped onto the platform of the small station. A few business people, some blue collar workers, and a single mom with her two toddlers that the old woman had chatted with briefly by the bathroom, wandered away from the conveyance towards the street where the local buses or private automobiles waited to carry them towards their homes.

She sighed; not even a spouse or lover waiting on the platform to bestow a passionate kiss on one of the arriving passengers. All in all, the sights outside the train were little more exciting than staring at the back of the seat in front of her.

Just before the locomotive sounded its horn for departure, a young girl stepped onto the platform from one of the cars ahead. She pulled a small, rolling backpack behind her and carried a doll under one arm, and looked around as she meandered towards the compact building. A man approached her, and the two seemed to converse for a moment before she took his hand and walked with him to the parking lot.

It was a scene she witnessed many times in the years she’d ridden the train; children heading for a weekend with the non-custodial parent, and merited little more notice than any of the other mundane action she watched. As she had many other times such exchanges took place in her view, she breathed a sigh of relief that she and her ex-husband had not had any children before they divorced. All too often, the news carried reminders of how unsafe it was for children to travel alone, and it would have been a dreadful trip to escort a child the long distance to where her ex now lived with his current wife.

Besides which, she was just as happy not seeing either of them, and especially not the younger, slimmer woman he’d moved in with after the divorce.

The train lurched forward, and as it accelerated from the station she saw another man enter the platform and look around. He glanced at his watch just as her car passed where he stood, and his frustrated gesture echoed another scene she’d spied many times over the years; that of someone who hoped the person they were to pick up had made it onto the early train, only to find they would need to wait another hour at least for the next one.

The flashing red lights of the crossing signal illuminated her face, their pattern as monotonous as the train ride had become over the years. Checking the time, she was pleased to see they were on schedule, meaning in another forty-seven minutes they would reach her stop. A twenty minute car ride to home, and she could start her weekend with a cup of green tea, a hot soaking bath, and the new book she’d picked up before boarding the train.

Chapter 1
Monday morning

Detective Lloyd Timmons followed the officer down a barely beaten path. “Who found the body?” he asked, ducking around a low-hanging branch.

“A couple of geo-cachers,” she replied, stepping over the remains of a dead sapling. “They marked the location with their GPS receiver, and then hiked back up to the road to call nine-one-one. It made it easy for us to find the victim again, as they were able to lead us right back to where they’d made their way-point.”

“Why didn’t they just call from the scene and give the co-ordinates?”

“No signal for the cell phone down here, for one. It’s in kind of a hollow, and even our radios don’t get very good reception. For another, I don’t think they wanted to stay close to the body, and I don’t blame them. Once they showed us where it was, they backed away a reasonable distance. They wanted to wait up by the patrol cars, but we figured you’d want to talk to them.”

“Yeah, I will, but let me see the body first.” The commotion of a group and the first traces of decay in his nostrils reached him just before the brush cleared enough to see the assorted teams working the crime scene. They told him he’d get used to the smell eventually, but even after seven years on homicide it still turned his stomach. He’d learned how to keep himself from vomiting, but he’d never reached the point where he didn’t notice the odor anymore.

One of the guys from the Medical Examiner’s office saw him and stood up. “You know, Lloyd, one of these days we’re going to have to get together someplace besides over a corpse.” He shook his head. “You’re going to hate this one.”

“What have we got, Eddie?”

“The victim is female, maybe ten to twelve years old. Based on what I can see here, it looks like cause of death was strangulation, but we’ll wait for the autopsy before we make the final call on that.”

“How long has the body been here?”

“I figure thirty-six to forty-eight hours; the lab should be able to narrow that window a bit. My guess is she was dumped here sometime Saturday morning or early afternoon.”

He closed his eyes and willed the rising gorge in his throat to retreat. Dreading the answer to the next question, he took a few shallow breaths first. “Any signs of sexual assault?”

“The body was nude, with sufficient evidence of multiple assaults. Either she was attacked by a group of perps, or one perp that kept her around long enough to prolong the rape.”

“Let me see the victim,” he said.

(i)Love your enemies; pray for your persecutors(/i), the Bible said.

The body was filthy, and her position indicated she’d been thrown aside there, not gently placed on the ground. Bruises and scratches showed on the pale skin, along with the marks where a cord or rope had been tightened around the neck. (i)How do you love someone who would do this to a child?(/i) Lloyd prayed.

“This is how she was when the two guys found her; we haven’t moved her yet. Whoever dumped the body didn’t worry about further concealing her; they flung her into this spot and probably just kept right on going,” Eddie said.

(i)He finished with her, and then just threw her away. He didn’t even care that we would find her soon enough. God, let me find this sick puppy, please.(/i)

“Are you okay, Lloyd?”

He shook his head. “No, I’m not, and I don’t want to be. If I ever reach the point where I can look at something like this and still be okay, I hope they force me to retire. Where are the guys who found the body?”

Eddie pointed to a couple of young men sitting beneath a nearby tree. “They’re waiting over there.”

“Thanks.” He covered the short distance up the hill to where the two sat, and showed his badge. “I’m Lieutenant Timmons with homicide,” he said, crouching down rather than making them stand up. “How are you two doing?”

“I’m hanging on okay, I guess,” the one said. “Stan here puked his guts out right after we got back down here with the cops. The officer pulled the brush away a bit more, and that was too much for him.”

“How did you two happen to be here this morning?”

“We were out looking for one of the local geo-caches; this one is a multi-cache, and we were on our way to the next one when we noticed the smell. We thought it was just a dead animal, and figured we’d do something about it so it wouldn’t be a problem for the next cachers that came along; you know, maybe call animal control or something. Some of us geo-cachers work to make sure we leave the area cleaner than we found it. When we saw it was a person, we marked the location and headed back to the road to call you guys.”

“You didn’t disturb the scene at all, did you?”

“Are you kidding? Once we realized what it was, we didn’t even want to be near it.”

“Did you guys see anyone in the area? Notice any fresh looking footprints or something else that would have indicated someone had passed this way recently?”

He shook his head. “No; we were paying attention to the GPS and to avoiding some of the brush.”

“Okay; I’m going to send one of our forensics guys over here to take some pictures of your shoes, so we know which footprints are yours when we find them.” He handed them each a slip of paper. “I want you to write down your names and where I can reach you if we have any more questions we need to ask, and I’m going to give you my card. If you remember anything, even if you think it’s too trivial to be important, call me immediately, okay?”

“Yes, sir, we will.”

“You guys don’t have to be at work sometime today, do you?”

“We both work graveyard shift on the weekends, which is nice since we can come out and do this stuff during the week when we’re less likely to happen on someone else doing the same cache.”

“Okay; I was just going to ask if you needed a ride back to your cars or something, if you were up against a time constraint. Once the forensic guy gets what he needs, you’re free to go.”

“Sir?”

“Yeah?”

“That was a kid down there, wasn’t it?”

“Yeah, she was just a kid, probably no older than twelve.”

“Was it an accident? Or did someone do something to her?”

Lloyd swallowed. “Right now, it doesn’t look like an accident.”

He swore, and rubbed his face. “You hear about stuff like this on the news, but you don’t really think it’ll happen this close to where you live.”

He looked at the name on the piece of paper. “I wish it didn’t happen anywhere, Phil.”
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