Read Along: Paradise Palms: Chapter 5
Sam had never sat in the back of a police car before. He never thought he would. The leather seat was comfortable, but he felt so alone behind the wire mesh that separated him from the officer in the front seat. No music came from the radio and nothing, not even static, from the police dispatcher.
They’d told him he was being taken in for questioning regarding the body. Because of the ‘special circumstances’ surrounding the body, the half of the body, they wanted to ask Sam more questions. There was also something next to the body they wanted to ask him questions about, but didn’t want the entire Paradise Palm community to be around. He didn’t know whether to be more shook up about finding his friend’s body, the fact it was cut in half and there was no trace of the other half, that he was being hauled in for questioning, or the mysterious thing they wanted to ask him about.
The caravan of emergency vehicles would take about an hour to get to town. Sam was certain they drove slowly on purpose. He hadn’t gotten a chance to talk to Girlfriend before they loaded him up into the police car, but at least he saw her. She’d looked worried. He hated seeing her like that. It agonized him that she might think he was guilty of something.
The myriad of trees blurred by. Sam had driven this road ever since he’d gotten his driver’s license. It surprised him how beautiful the trees looked as their colors changed. And the woods went so far back. Woods he’d walked in, hunted in, explored, but had never really seen from the road. How many times had he driven this road? Hundreds? Thousands? All those trips into town for wood or supplies that weren’t readily available at the Shell station. Trips for groceries, even though Lin had offered to set him up with free delivery for life. He had to turn that offer down. He loved to drive; putting the windows down and feeling the rush of cool fall air.
Something in his throat tightened. Even though he wasn’t restricted in any way, he needed to put the window down. Get some air. He reached for the handle, but it wasn’t there. It made sense not to have them if a criminal sat in the back seat. There weren’t even door handles.
“Can you put my window down?” Sam asked and swallowed hard.
“Can’t do it. I’ll turn the air on for you though.”
“Thanks. Say, got anything to drink up there? I’m a little shook up.”
“I’ll get you something when we get to the station. Sorry. I can’t stop. This is a big deal.”
Sam scooted forward in his seat.
“Hey!” The officer snapped. “Sit in back. I can’t have you getting too near the screen.”
“Sorry.” Sam sat back. “I just wanted to ask you, am I in any kind of trouble? No one has told me anything. Just that I needed to go with you to the station to answer some questions.”
“Look… Sam, isn’t it?”
“I feel safe in telling you that this incident is possibly the strangest thing that’s ever happened around these parts. Heck, it’s the weirdest thing I ever saw. I mean, half a body and no bloody trail. It looked to me like he was dragged, you very likely saw that, but I mean, where’s the rest of him? How can you cut someone in half and get away without leaving a trace of the rest of the body?”
Sam almost felt like the question was directed at him, like a tactic or a ploy to catch him off guard. His palms began to sweat. He didn’t like this. He really needed some air.
“Um. I guess I don’t know. I hadn’t thought about that.”
“Well someone did think about that. That’s what gets me. Who would think to cut a body in half and make away with the other half of it? Sick people. I never thought I’d see that happen in my neck of the woods. No sir. So, did you know the guy?”
Guy? How impersonal. Of course Sam knew ‘the guy.’ He almost didn’t want to respond, but would the officer take it as an admission of guilt?
“Yeah. We were on the high school football team together. Done a bunch of odd jobs too.”
“I thought he looked big enough to play ball. You too, in fact. You look like you’re strong as an ox, I figure.”
Sam didn’t answer. Now he was certain that this guy was probing him for anything that might be used against him. He hadn’t been read his rights, so he wasn’t under arrest or anything. He’d found the body, didn’t that count for anything? He was in the right, so why did he feel like a criminal? Maybe if they’d let him ride up front.
“Oh crap,” Sam said mostly to himself.
“What’s that, pal?”
Sam knew exactly what was going on. Why they were so nice to him. They did think he was guilty. Perhaps the murderer returning to the scene of the crime to see how everything would play out. This cop wanted to pump him for answers. If they didn’t think he was guilty, he’d have been allowed to ride up front. He’d been tricked. In his shock over finding Casper’s body and seeing Pops cry like he did, he hadn’t even thought they might suspect him as a culprit. Now he really needed some air. His mouth went as dry as Death Valley and his stomach knotted up. What was Girlfriend going to think?
The rest of the ride, Sam remained quiet, except for an occasional grunt when asked if he was alright.
# # #
Sam had never had the distinct pleasure of sitting in an interrogation room. There was no two-way mirror as he’d suspected, but he did get a paper cup of bitter coffee to drink. He wondered just how long they intended to leave him sitting alone in the cold room with the plain white walls. At least they could have given him something to read while he sat and waited at the small table. The only other fixture was a much more comfortable looking chair across the table.
The door to the ten-by-ten room opened, and a man with a bad comb-over entered. He carried a paper cup of coffee, newspaper, and a cigarette in one hand, and a folder in the other. He plopped the folder and newspaper on the table and gently set down his coffee. After poking the cigarette in his mouth, squinting as the smoke bothered his eyes, he closed the door and took a seat.
“Samuel Jeffrey, isn’t it?” the man asked in a flat tone.
“Yes.” Sam wanted to ask if he was under arrest or something, but he wasn’t given the chance.
“Let me assure you that all your rights are intact. If you wish, I can have a lawyer called in, but no charges are being presented against you at this time. We just wanted to separate you from the scene in order to ask you more questions.”
“Can I call you Sam?” he didn’t wait for an answer. “I’m Detective Andrew Schneider. You can call me Andy if that makes you feel more comfortable.”
Sam didn’t answer, as nothing at this point was going to make him more comfortable.
Andy opened the folder and pushed aside the newspaper. “I’m looking at the pictures that were taken at the scene this morning. I’d like to say these are disturbing, but I was a detective in the cities for a long time. In Minneapolis I once had to recover a few dozen trash bags scattered all over Plymouth, each containing a different body part, and I had to figure out which went with which. That was gruesome. This just has me confused. Do you know why, Sam?”
Sam shook his head.
“I’ll tell you why. First, I don’t think you’re responsible for this. You’re far too shook up and you’ve got that deer in the headlights look. For now, drink your coffee and try to relax. If you need it, I can get you something to help you relax. Would that help?”
“No, I’m fine. Just ask me your questions so I can go home.” Sam didn’t like the tone of his own voice. He thought he sounded too defensive.
“Very well, Sam. When I look at the pictures, the first thing I notice is Casper appeared to be dragged into the woods whole. I say whole because there’s only a small trace amount of blood along the path to where he was found. Did you notice any large quantity of blood?”
“Only where the body was.”
“Exactly. That’s my point. If Casper Jasper was killed then dragged into the woods, why isn’t there any blood. Doesn’t make any sense. We must, therefore, assume that he was killed after he was dragged into the woods. Right?”
“Sure. Where are you going with this?”
“Just try to follow my thinking on this. If he was killed in the woods, where are my footprints? The officers said they only found your boot prints around the body and they wanted to immediately press charges against you. They all think you did it. I’m not so certain.”
“I thought you said…”
Andy held up a hand. “I really don’t think you did this, Sam. I really don’t. But like I’ve said, I’ve seen a lot. I’ve also interviewed a lot of perpetrators. You don’t come across as unstable. Just scared. After finding half of your friend, I can imagine why.” Andy put out his cigarette and lit up another. He offered one to Sam, which Sam declined. “Bad habit, I know. So, Sam, I need to stress something. I’m bothered by only two things with this case.”
“First, there’s no sign of anyone leaving with the other half of the body. Based on the amount of blood at the scene, it’s obvious he bled out there. If he’d been cut in half somewhere else, we wouldn’t see quite so much blood. You may have already figured that out. But if he was cut in half there, we’d have a bloody trail leading somewhere. Deeper into the woods, to the road, to a trailer. Somewhere. But there’s nothing. It’s like half his body just disappeared, but things don’t just disappear.”
“No, they don’t,” Sam mumbled.
“You were there first. I need to know as best as you can, what did you see? This is very important. Did you touch anything? Did you pick anything up? Move anything?”
“What happened? Why did you go into the woods in the first place?”
“I heard a beep, like a dying cell phone. I went around the Sandy Bar, I was going to borrow their ladder, and I saw the trail leading into the woods.”
“So you followed it? Go on.”
“Yeah, I followed it into the woods. The phone rang, and I froze.”
Andy flipped through the folder’s contents. Sam saw pictures of the scene and turned away. “Yes, here. I see that Casper Jasper Senior called his son. I’m guessing he was trying to locate him.”
“That’s right. I had spoken to Pops, that what we call him at the park, and he’d been trying to call Casper all morning.”
“Okay, so what happened next?”
“I went deeper into the woods. I saw the drag line pretty clearly. I mean, Casper is a big guy. He left a big trail. When I saw the body, I nearly lost it. I thought I was going to puke. I ran back to the café and called 911.”
“That’s it? You didn’t see anything else?”
“What else would I have seen?”
Andy closed the file and snuffed out his cigarette. He pocketed the pack and picked up the folder, his newspaper, and his coffee. “Sam, I’m going to show you something. I need to know if you saw it. Come with me.”
With that, Andy got up and led Sam out of the room. Finally Sam felt like he could breathe. The police weren’t in charge of the investigation, and he didn’t need to be concerned with what they thought. Andy stopped leading and walked side-by-side with Sam.
“Sam, are you sure you didn’t see anything else when you saw the body?”
“Nope. I pretty much turned and ran back.”
“Nothing out of the corner of your eye that didn’t look quite right? Anything out of place?”
That wasn’t an easy question. Once Sam saw the body, that was pretty much all his brain could comprehend. Nothing else mattered but his friend and calling the police. “Nope. Nothing.”
They stopped at a door marked “Coroner”. “Sam, be ready. This isn’t a nice room to enter. It smells pretty bad.”
With the door opened, Sam had to take small breaths to keep from gagging. The room not only smelled bad, but it had the chemical smell trying to cover up the stench that overpowered Sam’s senses. Inside on two stainless-steel tables were two objects. Sam might have known they were bodies if only either one looked complete. Neither was. He could make out the half body under the sheet that must be Casper, but the other’s shape didn’t look right at all. Andy approached that table and motioned Sam to stand next to him.
“I need you to look at this and tell me what you see. This, Sam, is the other thing that baffles me about this case.”
Andy pulled back the sheet and Sam thought he was going to pass out from fright when he saw the massive lizard head, severed at the neck.