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To each there comes in their lifetime a special moment when they are figuratively tapped on the shoulder and offered the chance to do a very special thing, unique to them and fitted to their talents. What a tragedy if that moment finds them unprepared or unqualified for that which could have been their finest hour.

 - Winston Churchill

Chapter Twelve


Danny Wood once more found himself in Clement’s Funeral Home. Clement had called early in the morning to report he had heard strange noises from downstairs, and been afraid to go down and check them out. Wood had been ready to dismiss Clement’s complaints as the imaginings of an old man. The locks had been changed, and Williams had been assigned to watch the place. Then Wood reconsidered. Locks can be picked, windows forced, and men on stake out can get bored and inattentive. Danny had misjudged Clement once. He would not do it again. He drove down immediately, accompanied by Joe Gwyn.

Williams was parked outside, watching the house. When he saw Wood and Gwyn arrive, along with a few of the lab boys, he waved. It took Wood only a few moments alone in the basement to find what he was looking for. He shouted up to one of the lab boys that he had brought along, “Get Williams down here.”

Wood shook his head in disgust and mumbled an obscenity. When Williams came down, Wood pointed to the Crematorium and announced, “This crematorium has been used recently. It’s still warm.”

Williams replied defensively, “I don’t see how.”

“You either, fell asleep, are blind and have managed to hide it all these years, or you were never out here at all.”

“I was here all night, except for a half hour or so, when I had to answer a call.”

Wood raised his eyebrows. “You don’t respond to calls on stake out. You leave that to patrol officers. You were supposed to be watching this place.”

“It was right up the street sir. A householder called, and said a prowler was in his house, and trying to get in his bedroom. Said the guy was trying to kick his door down. Emergency call. How could I let it wait?”

“So what did you find when you got there?”

Williams looked at him sheepishly. “Nothing. I found out later that the owner was away on a trip. We thought it was a wrong address or maybe a prank, so we looked around a bit.

“It didn’t strike you as suspicious?”

“No, not at the time.”

“I don’t understand why dispatch would assign you something, when you were on stake out.”

Williams hesitated, and finally blurted out, “Well, sir, the call came over the phone. I was playing checkers with Leroy at the substation. The phone rang and some guy up the street was all in a panic about how a housebreaker was trying to get into his room.”

“Well, did Leroy see anything at Clement’s while you were gone?”

“He came with me to the call.”

Wood choked back some harsh words, and finally muttered, “Give us a hand here, and then come back to the station with me. This doesn’t end here.”

Williams nodded dejectedly, and said nothing.

Wood and Gwyn looked the basement over carefully, noting the freshly swept and mopped area around the crematorium. They then concentrated their examination on the crematorium itself. Wood photographed everything, as always. Noticing something odd, he pointed it out to Gwyn.

"Joe, look here. What are these scratches? They weren’t here the last time I looked this place over.”

“Are you sure?”

“I can verify it from the photos we took last time; but yes I’m sure.”

“Look, here are some more.”

The two of them carefully went over the grate and found four sets of scratches. Wood rubbed at his chin, and wondered out loud, “What could have made scratches like this?”

Joe ventured, “If someone was handcuffed, wrist and ankle to the grate, it might leave such marks.”

“Why would anyone want to handcuff a dead body to a grate?”

“A dead body? They wouldn’t.”

Wood didn’t wish to pursue the matter. Instead, he and Joe Gwyn checked the rest of the basement again, and then carefully went over the stairway, and the first floor. They paid special attention to doors, and windows. Williams, hoping to redeem himself, sullenly fetched and carried for them, and tried to make his presence as unobtrusive as possible.

Wood sprayed the scene with Luminol, which glowed under ultraviolet light in the presence of even the smallest amount of blood. As expected, the whole area around the crematorium and preparation areas glowed brightly. So did large sections of the walls. The area was regularly cleaned, of course; but nothing could remove all blood trace, and Luminol was sensitive. Nothing appeared to be fresh.

Danny had the lab boys extend the search to the stairway and the rest of the house. It didn’t take long for one of them to find something, and announce, “We found blood.”

Danny asked carefully, “You didn’t check the last time?”

“No, of course not. The place is a funeral home with the basement set up to process cadavers. We would have found traces of blood all over the place, like you just did, and it would be proof of nothing. This time, we knew someone had been here the previous night, so we checked around any signs of any recent disturbance. The killer did a great job of cleaning up any evidence around the crematorium. We found nothing helpful there. The blood we found was a small trace amount near the flashing of the back door to the kitchen. It was fresh, probably ten hours old. The victim may have had a cut somewhere, or a bump on the head. Hospital records show that Eddie was treated for a head injury the night of his disappearance. The killer missed it somehow.”

“Can you peg the time of death?”

“From this? No.”

“Can you tell if the victim was alive or dead when he got here?”


“Please do so, and let me know what you find.”

Wood nodded, and then sought out Mr. Clement.  Clement was sitting up in his study, looking out his window at the three sheriff cars parked outside. Two of the squads still had their flashing red lights on. When Wood entered the room, Clement continued to look out the window, and spoke without turning. “You know what my neighbors will think. They will either figure I died, which will please some of them, or that I committed some terrible crime and am going to jail, which will please them even more.”

“What do you think?”

“I don’t give a damn; dim witted busybodies. They should mind their own business.”

“Mr. Clement, I can’t apologize enough. Our man allowed himself to be called away, and will be reprimanded.”

Clement nodded sadly. “Sherriff, I’ve felt a lot of things in my life. There was the sadness of losing my son in the war, and then my first daughter when that damn husband of hers decided they were going to use natural childbirth. Then there was the loss of my dear wife, and I sort of closed up and scowled at the whole world, which then scowled back at me.

“For all that, I never felt as helpless and good for nothing as I did last night. A man was in my house burning up a body, and all I could do was cower in my room, afraid even to call the police until this morning. I’m just a useless old man who can’t even protect himself anymore.”

“I wish I knew what to tell you Mr. Clement.”

“There’s nothing to be said. I have another daughter, out west. Maybe I can stay with her for a while. Not sure if I’m coming back. Nobody knows me there; nobody hates me as a cranky old man.”

“You’ll be missed.”

“No I won’t. Detective Wood, the first thing you have to learn about lying, is to tell lies that are believable.”

“I’m sorry sir. I truly am – for everything.”

“Nothing you can do about it; but thanks for saying so. Anyway, you didn’t come up here to watch me feel sorry for myself. What do you want?”

“I need permission to install some surveillance devices in your house. In particular, I want to put some disguised miniature cameras in your basement.”

“Do what you want, detective. I really don’t care.”

“Thank you sir.”

Wood left, realizing suddenly that Clement had not turned from the window the whole time they had talked. When he mentioned this to Joe Gwynn, Joe advised him, “Pride is a hard thing to hang on to when you look another man in the face and have tears in your eyes.”

“I never noticed.”

“You weren’t supposed to.”

Wood gave orders to have the cameras planted, and then returned to the station. He doubted the killer would return, after all the police attention Clement’s had received; but he was nothing if not thorough. Around noon, he got a call from the lab.

“Detective, you asked me to check on something. I have an answer for you.”

“About the state of the victim; what did you find?”

“A dead body gives up some toxins, and other chemicals. At your request, we checked for them. This blood sample had no trace of any of that kind of stuff.”

“What are you trying to tell me?”

“Something I don’t want to believe.”

“So you figure he was burned alive?”

“What do you think?”

Wood nodded, “There were scratches on the grate, like someone was handcuffed to it.”

“God help us. What kind of monster are we dealing with?”

“Not a monster; but a human. Humans can be monstrous enough.”