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Chapter 23


“Just need to check a couple of details on microfilm,” I said, beaming my most winning smile.

Her face did a ménage à trois of emotions. Surprised. Suspicious. Stern.

“It would be very, very helpful if I could take several reels at a time. You were so kind about that yesterday.”

Her face softened somewhat. Sighing loudly, she went to the cabinet, removed six boxes, and placed them on the counter.

“Thank you so much,” I purred.

Crossing toward the overflow room, I heard a stool squeak, and knew she was craning in my direction.

“Cellular phones are strictly prohibited in the library!” she hissed to my retreating back.

Unlike my prior visit, I whipped through the spools, taking notes on specific items.

In less than an hour I had what I needed.

Tommy Albright was not in, but a drawly female voice promised to deliver my message. The pathologist rang back before I'd hit the outskirts of Bryson City.

“In 1959 a Cherokee named Charlie Wayne Tramper died in a bear attack. Would a file that old still exist?”

“Maybe, maybe not. That was before we centralized. What do you need to know?”

“You remember the case?” I couldn't believe it.

“Hell, yes. I poked through what was left of that ole boy.”

“Which was?”

“I've seen my share of bear bait, but Tramper was the worst. Those little bastards tore the bejeezus out of him. Carried his head clean off.”

“The skull was not recovered?”


“How did you ID him?”

“Wife recognized the rifle and clothing.”

I found the Reverend Luke Bowman gathering fallen branches in his shadowy front yard. Save for the substitution of a black windbreaker, he was dressed exactly as on our previous meetings.

Bowman watched me pull next to his pickup, added his armful to a pile beside the drive, and approached my car. We spoke through the open window.

“Good morning, Miss Temperance.”

“Good morning. Beautiful day for yard work.”

“Yes, ma'am, it is.” Fragments of bark and dry leaves clung to his jacket.

“Could I ask you something, Reverend Mr. Bowman?”

“Of course.”

“How old was Edna Farrell when she died?”

“I believe Sister Farrell was just shy of eighty.”

“Do you remember a man named Tucker Adams?”

His eyes narrowed, and the tip of his tongue slid across his upper lip.

“Adams was elderly, died in 1943,” I prompted.

The tongue disappeared and a gnarled finger sighted on me. “I surely do. I was ten years old when that old fellow wandered off from his farm. I helped search for him. Brother Adams was blind and half deaf, so the whole community pitched in.”

“How did Adams die?”

“Everyone assumed he just died in the woods. We never found him.”

“But his grave is in the cemetery on Schoolhouse Hill.”

“No one's buried there. Sister Adams put the headstone up a couple years after her husband went missing.”

“Thank you. You've been very helpful.”

“I see the boys got your car to running.”


“Hope they didn't charge too much.”

“No, sir. It seemed fair.”

I pulled into the sheriff 's department lot directly behind Lucy Crowe. She parked her cruiser, then waited with hands on hips as I turned off the engine and retrieved my briefcase. Her face looked drawn and cheerless.

“Rough morning?”

“Some morons stole a golf cart from the country club, left it a mile up Conleys Creek Road. Two seven-year-olds found the thing and ran it into a tree. One's got a broken collarbone, the other a concussion.”



We spoke as we walked.

“Anything new on the Hobbs murder?”

“One of my deputies was working security Sunday morning. He remembers seeing Hobbs enter the morgue around eight, remembers you. The computer shows she checked the foot out at nine-fifteen, back in at two.”

“She kept it that long after talking to me?”


We climbed the steps and were buzzed through the outside door, then again through a barred prison gate. I followed Crowe down a corridor and across an outer workroom to her office.

“Hobbs signed out of the morgue at three-ten. A guy from Bryson City PD was working the afternoon shift. He doesn't recall seeing her leave.”

“What about the surveillance camera?”

“This is beautiful.”

Crowe unclipped a radio from her belt, placed it on a cabinet, and dropped into her chair. I took one of those opposite the desk.

“The thing went out around two Sunday afternoon, stayed down until eleven Monday morning.”

“Did anyone see Primrose after she left the morgue?”


“Did you discover anything in her room?”

“The lady was fond of Post-its. Phone numbers. Times. Names. Lots of notes, mostly work-related.”

“Primrose was always losing her glasses, wore them on a cord around her neck. She worried about being forgetful.” I felt a cold spot in my chest. “Any clue about her destination Sunday afternoon?”

“Not a word.”

A deputy entered and placed a paper on the sheriff 's desk. She glanced at it briefly, back to me.

“I see your wheels are running again.”

My Mazda was the talk of Swain County.

“I'm heading down to Charlotte, but I want to show you a couple of things before I go.”

I handed her the purloined photo of the Tramper funeral.

“Recognize anyone?”

“I'll be goddamned. Parker Davenport, our venerable lieutenant governor. The little twerp looks like he's fifteen.” She returned the print. “What's the significance?”

“I'm not sure.”

Next, I handed her Laslo's report, waited while she read.

“So the DA was right.”

“Or I was right.”


“How about this scenario? Jeremiah Mitchell died after leaving the Mighty High Tap last February. His body was stored in a freezer or refrigerator, removed, then placed outside later.”

“Why?” She tried to keep the skepticism out of her voice.

I withdrew the notes I'd taken at the library, took a deep breath, and began.

“Henry Arlen Preston died here in 1943. Three days later a farmer named Tucker Adams disappeared. He was seventy-two. Adams's body was never found.”

“What does that have to d—”

I held up a hand.

“In 1949 a biology professor named Sheldon Brodie drowned in the Tuckasegee River. A day later Edna Farrell disappeared. She was around eighty. Her body was never found.”

Crowe picked up a pen, placed the tip on the blotter, and slid it end over end through her fingers.

“In 1959 Allen Birkby was killed in an automobile accident on Highway 19. Two days after the wreck Charlie Wayne Tramper disappeared. Tramper was seventy-four. His body was recovered, but it was badly mangled, the head missing. The ID was strictly circumstantial.”

I looked up at her.

“That's it?”

“What day did Jeremiah Mitchell disappear?”

Crowe dropped the pen, opened a drawer, and withdrew a file.

“February fifteenth.”

“Martin Patrick Veckhoff died in Charlotte on February twelfth.”

“Lots of people die in February. It's a lousy month.”

“The name ‘Veckhoff’ is on the list of H&F officers.”

“The investment group that owns that weird property near Running Goat Branch?”

I nodded.

“So is ‘Birkby.’”

She leaned back and rubbed the corner of one eye. I pulled out Laslo's find and set it in front of her.

“Laslo Sparkes found this in the dirt we collected near the wall at the Running Goat house.”

She studied but did not reach for the vial.

“It's a tooth fragment. I'm taking it to Charlotte for DNA testing to establish whether it goes with the foot.”

Her phone rang. She ignored it.

“You need to get a reference sample for Mitchell.”

She hesitated a moment. Then, “I can look into it.”


The kiwi eyes met mine.

“This may be bigger than Jeremiah Mitchell.”

Three hours later Boyd and I were crossing Little Rock Road, heading north on I-85. The Charlotte skyline rose in the distance, like a stand of saguaro in the Sonoran Desert.

I pointed the highlights out to Boyd. The giant phallus of the Bank of America Corporate Center. The syringelike office building on The Square housing the Charlotte City Club, with its circular green cap of a roof and antenna sticking straight up from the center. The jukebox contour of One First Union Center.

“Look at that, boy. Sex, drugs, and rock and roll.”

Boyd raised his ears but said nothing.

While Charlotte's neighborhoods may be small-town cozy, its downtown is a city of polished stone and tinted glass, and its attitude toward crime is au courant. The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department is housed in the Law Enforcement Center, an enormous concrete structure at Fourth and McDowell. The CMPD employs approximately 1,900 officers and 400 unsworn support personnel, and maintains its own crime laboratory, second only to that of the SBI. Not bad for a populace of less than 600,000.

Exiting the expressway, I cut across downtown and pulled into the visitors' lot at the LEC.

Officers entered and left the building, each uniformed in deep blue. Boyd growled softly as one crossed close to the car.

“See the emblem on the shoulder patch? It's a hornet's nest.”

Boyd made a yodel-like noise but kept his nose at the window.

“During the Revolutionary War, General Cornwallis encountered such pockets of intense resistance in Charlotte that he branded the area a hornet's nest.”

No comment.

“I have to go inside, Boyd. You can't.”

Disagreeing, Boyd stood.

I promised to be gone less than an hour, gave him my last emergency granola bar, cracked the windows, and left him.

I found Ron Gillman in his corner office on the fourth floor.

Ron was a tall, silver-haired man with a body that suggested basketball or tennis. The only blemish was a Lauren Hutton gap in his upper dentition.

He listened without interrupting as I told him my theory about Mitchell and the foot. When I'd finished, he held out a hand.

“Let's see it.”

He slipped on horn-rimmed glasses and studied the fragment, rolling the vial from side to side. Then he picked up the phone and spoke to someone in the DNA section.

“Things move faster if the request comes from here,” he said, replacing the receiver.

“Fast would be good,” I said.

“I've already checked on your bone sample. That's done, and the profile's gone into the database we set up for the crash victims. If we get results on this”—he indicated the vial—“we'll feed them in and search for a hit.”

“I can't tell you how much I appreciate this.”

He leaned back and placed his hands behind his head.

“You really put your finger in someone's eye, Dr. Brennan.”

“Guess I did.”

“Any thoughts as to whose?”

“Parker Davenport.”

“The lieutenant governor?”

“That's the one.”

“How did you rile Davenport?”

I turned palms up and shrugged.

“It's hard to help if you're not forthcoming.”

I stared at him, torn. I'd shared my theory with Lucy Crowe. But that was Swain County. This was home. Ron Gillman directed the second largest crime lab in the state. While the force was funded locally, money came to it via federal grants administered in Raleigh.

Like the ME. Like the university.

What the hell.

I gave him a condensed version of what I'd told Lucy Crowe.

“So you think the M. P. Veckhoff on your list is state senator Pat Veckhoff from Charlotte?”

I nodded.

“And that Pat Veckhoff and Parker Davenport are tied together in some way?”

Another nod.

“Davenport and Veckhoff. The lieutenant governor and a state senator. That's heavy.”

“Henry Preston was a judge.”

“What's the link?”

Before I could answer, a man appeared in the doorway, the name “Krueger” embroidered above the pocket of his lab coat. Gillman introduced Krueger as the technical leader of the DNA section. He, along with another analyst, examined all DNA evidence at the lab. I rose and we shook hands.

Gillman handed Krueger the vial and explained what I wanted.

“If there's something there, we'll get it,” he said, giving a thumbsup-gesture.

“How long?”

“We'll have to purify, amplify, document all along the way. I might be able to give you a verbal in four or five days.”

“That would be great.” Forty-eight hours would be great, I thought.

Krueger and I signed evidence transfer forms, and he disappeared with the specimen. I waited as Gillman took a call. When he hung up, I asked a question.

“Did you know Pat Veckhoff?”


“Parker Davenport?”

“I've met him.”


“He's popular. People vote for him.”


“He's a royal pain in the ass.”

I produced the Tramper funeral photo.

“That's him. But it was a long time ago.”


He handed back the picture.

“So what's your explanation for all this?”

“I don't have one.”

“But you will.”

“But I will.”

“Can I help?”

“There is something you can do for me.”

I found Boyd curled in granola crumbs, sound asleep. At the sound of the key, he shot to his feet and barked. Realizing this was not a sneak attack, he placed one forepaw on each front seat and wagged his hips. I slid behind the wheel, and he began removing makeup from the side of my face.

Forty minutes later I pulled up at the address Gillman had found for me. Though the residence was only ten minutes from downtown, and five minutes from my condo at Sharon Hall, it had taken that long to work through my usual Queens Road confusion.

Charlotte's street names reflect its schizoid personality. On the one hand the street-naming approach was simple: They found a winner and stuck with it. The city has Queens Road, Queens Road West, and Queens Road East. Sharon Road, Sharon Lane, Sharon Amity, Sharon View, and Sharon Avenue. I've sat at the intersection of Rea Road and Rea Road, Park Road and Park Road. There was also a biblical influence: Providence Road, Carmel Road, Sardis Road.

On the other hand, no appellation seemed adequate for more than a few miles. Streets change names with whimsy. Tyvola becomes Fairview, then Sardis. At one point Providence Road reaches an intersection at which a hard right keeps one on Providence; going straight places one on Queens Road, which immediately becomes Morehead; and going left puts one on Queens Road, which immediately becomes Selwyn. The Billy Graham Parkway begets Woodlawn, then Runnymede. Wendover gives rise to Eastway.

The Queens sisters are the most evil by far. I give visitors and newcomers one driving rule of thumb: If you get onto anything named Queens, get off. The policy has always worked for me.

Marion Veckhoff lived in a large stone Tudor on Queens Road East. The stucco was cream, the woodwork dark, and each downstairs window was a latticework of lead and glass. A neatly trimmed hedge bordered the property, and brightly colored flowers crowded beds along the front and sides of the house. A pair of enormous magnolias all but filled the front yard.

A lady in pearls, pumps, and a turquoise pantsuit was watering pansies along a walk bisecting the front lawn. Her skin was pale, her hair the color of ginger ale.

With a warning to Boyd, I got out and locked the door. I shouted, but the woman seemed oblivious to my presence.

“Mrs. Veckhoff?” I repeated as I drew close.

She spun, spraying my feet with her hose. Her hand jerked, and the water was redirected onto the grass.

“Oh, dear. Oh, my. I'm so sorry.”

“It's no problem at all.” I stepped back from the water puddling the flagstone. “Are you Mrs. Veckhoff?”

“Yes, dear. You're Carla's niece?”

“No, ma'am. I'm Dr. Brennan.”

Her eyes went slightly out of focus, as if consulting a calendar somewhere over my shoulder.

“Did I forget an appointment?”

“No, Mrs. Veckhoff. I wondered if I might ask you a few questions about your husband.”

She recentered on me.

“Pat was a state senator for sixteen years. Are you a reporter?”

“No, I'm not. Four terms is quite an achievement.”

“Being in public office took him away from home too much, but he loved it.”

“Where did he travel?”

“Raleigh, mostly.”

“Did he ever visit Bryson City?”

“Where's that, dear?”

“It's in the mountains.”

“Oh, Pat loved the mountains, went there whenever he could.”

“Did you travel with your husband?”

“Oh no, no. I have the arthritis, and...” Her voice trailed off, as though uncertain where to go with the thought.

“Arthritis can be very painful.”

“Yes, it surely is. And those trips were really Pat's time with the boys. Do you mind if I finish my watering?”


I walked beside her as she moved along the pansy beds.

“Mr. Veckhoff went to the mountains with your sons?”

“Oh, no. Pat and I have a daughter. She's married now. He went with his chums.” She laughed, a sound halfway between a choke and a hiccup. “He said it was to get away from his women, to put the fire back into his belly.”

“He went to the mountains with other men?”

“Those boys were very close, been friends since their school days. They miss Pat terribly. Kendall, too. Yes, we're getting old....” Again her voice tapered into silence.


“Kendall Rollins. He was the first to go. Kendall was a poet. Do you know his work?”

I shook my head, outwardly calm. Inside my heart was thumping. The name “Rollins” was on the H&F list.

“Kendall died of leukemia when he was fifty-five.”

“That's very young. When was that, ma'am?”

“Nineteen eighty-six.”

“Where did your husband and his friends stay in the mountains?”

Her face tensed, and the comma of skin under her left eye jumped.

“They had some kind of lodge. Why are you asking about all this?”

“A plane crashed recently near Bryson City, and I'm trying to learn what I can about a nearby property. Your husband might have been one of the owners.”

“That terrible affair with all those students?”


“Why do young people have to die? A young man was killed flying to my husband's funeral. Forty-three years old.” Her head wagged.

“Who was that, ma'am?”

She looked away.

“He was the son of one of Pat's friends, lived in Alabama, so I'd never met him. Still, it broke my heart.”

“Do you know his name?”


Her eyes would not meet mine.

“Do you know the names of the others who went to the lodge?”

She began fidgeting with the nozzle.

“Mrs. Veckhoff?”

“Pat never talked about those trips. I left it to him. He needed privacy, being in the public eye so much.”

“Have you ever heard of the H&F Investment Group?”

“No.” She remained focused on the hose, her back to me, but I could see tension in her shoulders.

“Mrs. Veck—”

“It's late. I have to go inside now.”

“I'd like to find out if your husband had an interest in that property.”

Twisting off the spray, she dropped the hose and hurried up the walk.

“Thanks for your time, ma'am. I'm sorry to have kept you so long.”

She turned with the door half open, one veiny hand on the knob. From inside the house came the soft bong of Westminster chimes.

“Pat always said I talk too much. I denied it, told him I was just the friendly type. Now I think he was probably right. But it gets lonely being by yourself.”

The door closed, and I heard a bolt slide into place.

It's O.K., Mrs. Veckhoff. Your answers were bullshit, but they were charming bullshit. And very informative.

I dug a card from my purse, wrote my home address and number on it, and stuck it into the doorjamb.


@by txiuqw4

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