Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?”
He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?”
Genesis, Chapter 4 verse 9
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 positive I.D.”
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
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 that 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. “Listen—”
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 his
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.