I married an alien. But that's okay; he has a green card. We live in Houston, Texas with two children, four cats, a horse and an indeterminite number of fish.View all articles by Alicia Richardson
"Crandall," the sheriff answered the 7:00 AM call on his mobile.
"Don. Fred Tucker. Come down to the farm. Something’s in my south cotton field. Looks like a dead fella."
"Looks like a dead fella? Can’t you tell?"
"Whatever or whoever it was, somebody set it on fire."
"Okay. Meet you at the farm in twenty."
"Yep." The line went dead.
Don poured fresh coffee into his travel mug and got into his department SUV. He sighed. He’d hoped to get up to Abilene for the rodeo this weekend. That wouldn’t happen if he had a murder investigation. He’d had enough of those in Dallas. That’s why he moved back home.
If the call had come from anyone but Fred Tucker, Don would have been surprised if it wasn’t some trash that had blown into the field. But not Fred. He’d probably poked the body with a stick and then fired up his laptop to calculate the impact on his cotton yield.
At Tucker’s farm, Fred was leaning against his pickup, talking on his phone. Don pulled up next to him and he got in the truck, still finishing his call.
"Yep. ‘Til Sunday." He snapped the phone shut and put it in his shirt pocket. "Go out to 1732. Then turn on the field road before you get to the Ferguson place."
"Okay. Tell me what happened. "
"I was out to spray the fields at 6:30. When I got near the trees, I saw a black patch with a pile of something in the middle. When I got down from the tractor, I could see the cotton all around was burned up.
"You been watching CSI again, Fred?"
"Huh," he said, turning away.
Dust hung in the air behind the truck as they drove along the edge of the field. Fred stared out the window, expressionless. As they approached a stand of trees, he said, "Here."
Don could see the burned-out circle in the cotton field. He didn’t have to get too close to recognize the acrid stench of charred flesh. The thing in the middle was definitely a body. He radioed for the dispatcher to send the coroner. It was way too late for an ambulance. Don started taking notes. Not far from the body, footprints and body prints marred the tire-groomed dust of the lane. Blood covered some crushed cotton plants at the edge of the field.
"You have any coyote problems, Fred?" Don pointed to some animal tracks around the body.
"Nah. Plenty of jack rabbits out there for ‘em. Although," Fred said, looking at the tracks, "that fella must be getting more than jack rabbits. He’s real big for a coyote. Might be a feral dog."
It wasn’t long before his phone rang. It was the dispatcher.
"Don, Jesse at the feed store called. Billy McCaulkin hasn’t shown up for work and nobody seems to know where he is. His mother’s on her way to file a missing persons report."
"Right. Got something to finish up here, then I’ll get on it."
No use in jumping to conclusions, Don told himself, but a man gone missing and an unidentifiable body turning up the same day is an awful big coincidence.