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Title: Unraveling, Interlude 8
Author: dragontatt
Rating: NC-17
Disclaimer: Neither Shelter nor Without a Trace belong to me. No profit is being made from this work of fiction, and no disrespect is intended.
Word Count: 2674



Jessie Crocker was a name Martin had heard once or twice in the few days he’d been working at the Smoke Shack. Her deeply devoted but sort of dim-witted boyfriend Jeff Tawes had worked there until two weeks ago when he’d suddenly up and left town - it was his spot Martin was filling for the weekend.

Everyone at the restaurant had been surprised at Jeff leaving town, since his parents were getting old and couldn’t take care of themselves very well anymore, but no one had been the least bit surprised that it’d been Jessie he’d run off with. They’d been quite the couple all throughout junior high and high school, it seems, although some of the waitresses were more than a bit catty in their casually cruel gossip.

Most of the girls figured she’d finally gotten knocked up and had run off to Amarillo to get an abortion, dragging Jeff along to help pay for it. A small town like this was still pretty old-fashioned, and Jessie had a bit of a reputation. Martin, who was always a good listener even when he didn’t seem to be paying much attention, quickly realized that most of Jessie’s bad reputation wasn’t due to any real sin but because she’d had the gall to move to a new town and attract the attentions one of the best-looking boys in school. That alone made her a slut in the eyes of the entire class of the Everett J. Whitford junior high. Everybody knew she was just plain no good, just like everyone knew Jeff was a good boy, a hard worker who looked after his folks and who just happened to have the bad fortune to fall hard for Jessie when they’d met in junior high and never really recover from it.

So when a naked woman was found beaten, raped, strangled and then dumped like last week’s garbage in the woods behind the Smoke Shack, nobody was really surprised to find out it was Jessie, shocked yes, and terribly sad about the whole sordid mess, but not surprised. Apparently, most of the town felt she deserved it.

Martin had watched as Jessie’s mother screamed and swore at the sheriff, her voice shaking with rage, her finger pointing at him in accusation. Finally, her tirade came to a sudden halt, like a needle jerked off a record mid-word, and she crumpled to her knees on the asphalt, her face hidden by her hands. Martin could see her shoulders shake uncontrollably and her wails of despair and anguish were barely muffled by the hands she held tight to her face.

The sheriff knelt awkwardly in front of her, trying to coax her back to her feet, but she pulled away from the hand he placed gently on her shoulder, furious at him even in the fresh depths of her grief. He ducked a bit closer, and must have murmured something to her, appealing to her pride perhaps, because she lifted her head and looked around. Her gaze locked with Martin’s for one brief second until he blinked and looked away, uncomfortable at seeing her open desolation.

She lowered her hands to the pavement and pushed herself clumsily erect, refusing the sheriff’s help with a curt slash of her head. She brushed the palms of her hands carefully clean before looking down at her knees. They were both scraped raw from her rough landing on the asphalt, and a tiny trickle of blood was running sluggishly down one leg. She lifted her head slowly, squared her shoulders and was finally able to look the sheriff in the eye. She spoke softer this time, but Martin was still able to hear her clearly. Her voice was thin, and she sounded years older than she had before. “If you have no further need of me, Sheriff Tucker, then I’d like to go home. I have arrangements to make.”

The sheriff gave a stilted, almost formal bow of his head, and without a word Mrs. Crocker turned and made her way slowly back to his car, sliding awkwardly onto the passenger seat before sitting there stiffly, gazing blankly in front of her.

The sheriff blew out a loud, exasperated breath and glanced around in frustration before grabbing his hat off the roof of his patrol car and placing it squarely on top of his head again. He looked toward the group of men in uniforms – Martin assumed they were deputies - still standing there in the trees near the body, and waved one of them over. When the other man got there, he said firmly, “I’m going to take Mrs. Crocker home and make sure there’s someone around to look after her before I come back.” He cocked a questioning eyebrow, and the other man nodded hurriedly. “You boys get started, make sure the area is secure so the Doc’s not pissed at us when he gets here. You know what to do, right?”

The deputy blinked up at the sheriff but then he quickly nodded and assured him, “Of course, we do. Don’t worry, we got this covered.”

Martin’s eyebrows dipped quizzically, and he took a quick glance at all the people standing there gawking, just like he was. Why on earth had the sheriff brought Mrs. Crocker here to identify her daughter? It had to be done of course, but wasn’t there a better place than this, with a crowd of curious on-lookers staring at the woods where her daughter’s body was laying on the cold ground, the flies settling on her face?

---

The sheriff swung his patrol car around and headed for the highway, Mrs. Crocker sitting stiffly in the passenger seat. As he neared the barrels that still blocked the entrance, he swung off into the sparse grass on the side of the drive, crunched through the thin strip of gravel along the side of the road and sped off down the highway.

Once the spectacle of Jessie’s mother’s fury and grief was over, many of the restaurant employees wandered back inside, a couple of them wondering aloud if Tommy was going to close down for the rest of the day. One particularly loud waitress, who on more than one occasion had looked Martin over like he was a stallion she was considering hiring for stud, opined that the Sheriff was going to arrest Jeff just as soon as he could be found. “He musta just had enough of her,” she said in a voice that clearly showed she didn’t blame Jeff one bit.

A few employees stayed and watched though, Martin included, as the deputies huddled together a few minutes, obviously arguing over something. Finally one of them went to the patrol car and popped the trunk, rifling in it a bit before straightening, something held triumphantly in his hand.

Heading back to his comrades, the deputy started unrolling a spool of yellow tape with the words Police Line Do Not Cross printed on it in bold black letters. He handed one end to one of the other deputies, and together they managed to rope off most of the treed area. Martin winced as they stepped clumsily among the trees, barely looking where they were stepping. He’d learned a little bit about crime scene tactics while listening to the LAPD testify about what had been done to poor Maggie Calloway, and he was pretty sure he knew more about it than the three deputies here combined.

The same deputy who’d found the tape went back to the car and pulled out a clipboard. He propped his foot up on the bumper, rested the clipboard on his knee and started scribbling something down, calling a question over his shoulder every couple of minutes.

Martin wasn’t quite sure what the deputy was writing down since no one had really done anything yet, but it must have been important because he was in the same spot, foot propped up, clipboard resting on his knee twenty minutes later when an old Chevy Bel Air drove slowly down the highway, black paint gleaming in the noonday sun. It came to a complete stop in front of the trash barrels, engine rumbling loudly and the driver gave an impatient double tap on the horn.

One of the other deputies, who’d finally pulled out a small camera and was gazing quizzically at the back of it, looked over his shoulder at the honking car, seemed to recognize it and then looked around in annoyance before hollering at Martin, “Hey, can you go move those cans so the Doc can get in?” He turned back to his task before Martin even responded.

Martin glanced over at the small group of his remaining coworkers and shrugged before jogging over to the parking lot entrance. He rolled one of the barrels out of the way, grunting with the effort, and ducked down a bit to peer through the windshield before motioning the driver through.

He was an elderly man, with at least two double chins and startlingly white, bushy eyebrows and he raised one hand in thanks before clasping it back tightly onto the steering wheel precisely at the ten o’clock position and driving through the gap with that slow considered effort that older drivers often have.

Martin rolled the barrel back to where it had been and paused a moment before jogging slowly down the parking lot after the Chevy. The driver had pulled in at a rough angle next to the pick-up and the engine chugged a few times after he took out the key before slowly subsiding. The door opened with a mighty creak and one arm came out, hand firmly grasping a walking stick. The driver turned sideways, slowly sliding his legs out. He grabbed the top of the door with his free hand, and pulled himself painfully upright, taking a few seconds to steady himself with his cane. He shuffled a few steps out of the way, and reached for the handle of the rear door, but before he could grab it, Martin called out, “Wait; let me get that for you, sir.”

The old man stood back up with a grateful sigh and waited while Martin opened the door and pulled out a black leather medical bag before closing the door again. “Thank you, very nice of you, son. Do you mind carrying that just over here for me?” He waved the end of his walking stick vaguely toward the trees.

Martin shook his head, and stepped in beside the doctor, slowing his pace to match the older man’s. “Not at all.”

When they reached the edge of the pavement, the deputy holding the camera glared at Martin and said gruffly, “Give that to me, boy. You can’t be here, this is a crime scene.”

Doc flashed an irritated glance at the deputy before smiling gently at Martin. “Thank you again for your help, young man,” and he stuck out his hand for a shake.

But Martin wasn’t looking at the deputy, or the Doc. He was staring over the deputy’s shoulder, into the woods. He couldn’t see very much, not really – his vision seemed oddly blurred, and he blinked once, twice before it snapped into focus. His mouth went dry, and he swallowed hard against a sudden rush of bile at the back of his throat.

He gave a tiny shake of his head and forced his gaze away from what he saw in the woods and he looked back at the Doc. He finally saw the man’s extended hand, and he shook it, brushing off his thanks with a tiny shrug. He handed the case to the deputy, then turned away, resolutely not looking back among the trees. It wouldn’t matter anyway, there was no way he’d ever forget what he’d seen.

He walked slowly toward the back of the restaurant, blinking against the glint of the asphalt in the bright sunshine. His vision blurred again, and he paused, closing his eyes, remembering…

There, at the end of the rough path that led among the trees, was an empty circle of bare earth. He knew it well, all the employees did. They went there for smoke breaks, or the occasional make-out session, or just to get away from the heat and the bustle of the kitchen for a few brief minutes of peace.

On the far side of the circle was a large flattish rock, big enough to seat two comfortably, three if things got chummy and normally on the bare ground in front of it was a large ashtray, by night’s end overflowing with crushed cigarette butts, bottle tops and the odd roach or two. Tony had long since given up on trying to keep his employees out of the trees and only made them promise that someone would empty the ashtray every night and that they wouldn’t set the woods on fire.


Today, however, Martin didn’t notice if the ashtray had been emptied last night or not, because there was so much else to look at.

He opened his eyes and hurried toward the kitchen door, shouldering past the waitresses jabbering questions at him. He rushed inside, toward Tony’s office and closed the door behind him, shutting out all the noise. He curled up in the corner of the worn leather sofa where he’d slept so soundly the last three nights and he closed his eyes again…

There was a roughly circular patch of bare ground that was darker than the earth around it – darker and wet, a kind of muddy red. Near the center of that circle was a pair of naked, dirty legs, the pale skin marred by bruises – there was a long smear of blood running up one calf and some dried leaves stuck to the bottom of her foot. The rest of her was thankfully hidden from view behind some saplings.

There was a sudden crash from the kitchen, someone dropping a pan into one of the metal sinks, a normal enough noise for this place but it made Martin sit up with a jerk, breath hitching in his chest. When the door to the office didn’t come bursting open, he relaxed slowly and leaned back. He chewed his thumb nail thoughtfully.

Just the sight of those dirty, bruised legs had made his stomach churn - there was no way anyone could mistake them for anything but a corpse. He couldn’t stop thinking about that tableau in the woods, couldn’t force the pictures from his mind. And yet despite the startling obscenity of Jessie Crocker lying naked and dead on the bare Texas soil, there was something else about that scene that had caught his eye, that nagged at him and demanded his recognition. But what was it?

He sat there, eyes shut tight, running the few brief seconds he’d looked into the woods over and over in his mind like some obsessive projectionist looking for a single frame of nudity allegedly spliced into a mainstream movie, and then suddenly it hit him. He jerked upright again, but this time it was no noise that startled him into movement.

On the far side of the small clearing, just beyond the remains of poor Jessie Crocker, was the boulder used by the employees as a chair, and sometimes as a bed if the temptation was right. Its mostly flat surface was partially hidden in the shadow cast by the overhanging trees but Martin could see a small shape that didn’t belong, a deviation from the norm. The small lump looked to be a rather dull brown, blending into the rock that it lay upon, but in his mind’s eye, Martin blinked and squinted just so and he suddenly knew exactly what it was. It used to be bright red in a former life, and if it had been turned around so he could have seen the other side, he would have been able to make out the letters that over time had faded from a bright gold to a pale yellow: USC.



Hope this will tide you all over till the next set :)

(no subject)

30/4/12 01:57 (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] huntersglenn.livejournal.com
Thanks for updating! I admit I had to go back through the interludes to find Martin's cap...definitely scary if that is HIS USC cap out there, since he'd lost or misplaced it before that town.

And while I feel for Shaun, I'm kinda looking forward to Danny and Martin getting ahead of him and hopefully reading him the riot act for taking off on his own. And I hope that somebody kicks Jeanne's (hope I spelled that right) butt good and gets her away from Alan. Poor Zach!

Thanks for sharing.

(no subject)

1/5/12 23:01 (UTC)
Posted by [personal profile] samueljames
Was very glad to see some updates on this. I'm worried about Zach & Shaun's state of mind but hopefully with Danny & Martin working on it they'll find Zach.

(no subject)

13/11/12 08:05 (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] kk-d.livejournal.com
Hey hey.

Just read all this in one go. It was great!!

I hope that there will be more soon, it's so nice to have more of Zach and Shaun and I love how you've included without a trace.

Thanks
Kat

(no subject)

18/11/12 00:17 (UTC)
ext_11622: (Default)
Posted by [identity profile] dragontatt.livejournal.com
Hey, thanks for the kind words. I do have more almost ready to go, unfortunately I'm spending this month doing NaNoWriMo so I can't get to it till December. I do have definite plans of finishing this though, I have 1 set almost ready to post plus another half written. After that there should be maybe one more to the end.