Read Along: Paradise Palms: Chapter 8
Myra Tolie swatted at the alarm clock, but the beeping sound didn’t stop. She tried tucking her head under her pillow, but that didn’t help. Pulling herself out from under the padded protection she looked at the red, digital numbers of the clock: 12:54 AM.
“What? That’s not my alarm.”
Myra fumbled around for the light switch, her brain still not fully awake. The light hurt for an instant, but the beeping still hurt her ears worse and she had to find its source. Her pager! As archaic as it was, she’d been given a pager by the Science Museum of Minnesota in case of late night deliveries or emergencies. It’d only gone off once in the past five years and that was for a mummy that was delivered on a particularly rainy night. It was August and the forecast called for clear skies. If nothing else it was a perfect night.
She found the pager tucked in the nightstand drawer and pressed the button to stop it. She laid back on her bed with the pager on her chest and waited for her mind to wake up. Her first mistake was closing her eyes. She startled herself when she woke three minutes later and saw the light on. It hadn’t been a dream. Her pager had really gone off. Myra sat up on the edge of the bed and held the pager under the light and looked at the message. It was only a number. It wasn’t local either. She looked closer at the area code. It was from northern Minnesota. Why would someone page her at this time of the night from up north? That didn’t make any sense.
They would have to wait a few minutes. She wasn’t going to call anyone until she’d woken up. She took her time going to the bathroom and splashing some water on her face and rubbing the sleep from her eyes. She even took a few minutes to turn on her computer and check her e-mail. As her Macbook booted up, her pager went off again.
“Leave me alone.”
She looked at the page under the glow of the Mac’s screen. It had the same number followed by three asterisks and “911”. Someone wanted to talk with her and now. It had to be some idiot with the wrong pager number. They couldn’t want to talk with her.
Myra checked her e-mail. Fifteen pieces of spam, three responses to forums she frequented — did those people ever sleep? — and something from her mother.
“Geez, Mom. Go to bed.”
She looked at the pager again. Even if it was a wrong number, she may as well call them and let them know they had the wrong person, so she could go back to bed. She had a lot of work to do tomorrow. They’d just gotten in a shipment of hadrosaur bones that were supposed to be some fine specimens. She looked forward to cracking open the casings and seeing what they contained. There was supposed to be a fully intact skull in this batch. That alone would make the weeks of cleaning worthwhile.
She dialed the number and took a deep breath. This wasn’t going to take long. The phone only rang once before someone picked up.
“Hello,” the man said.
“Hello?” Myra said, trying her best to sound annoyed.
“Is this Myra Tolie?” he asked.
“Yes.” So the call really was for her. She self-consciously groomed her hair and then shook her head. The person couldn’t see her. She should have waited a few more minutes before calling.
“Ms. Tolie, I apologize for calling you so late. Before I left the office, I wanted to see if I could get in contact with you. I tried calling you at the museum today, but no one was able to get a hold of you.”
“I was busy today out of the office.”
“I tried to page you as well. Don’t you have a cell phone?”
Myra laughed. “I don’t like cell phones and I left the pager at home.”
“Oh.” He sounded disappointed. “I’m sorry. I haven’t introduced myself. I’m Detective Andrew Schneider. I’m calling from the Aitkin County Police Department.”
“Police?” Myra had never gotten a call from the police before. Her mind raced through a thousand different things the police could be calling her for. A death in the family? Something she’d done wrong? Identity theft?
“Yes, Ma’am. I have called all over the state looking for an expert in animals. Specifically, lizards. That search led me to you. I paged you several times today.”
Myra scrolled through the pages. Sure enough he’d paged her five times already. “I guess I’ve never really gotten a page I needed to return when I wasn’t home. Why do you need an expert on lizards?”
“Well, there’s been a death up here in the woods that I’m having trouble explaining to my superiors and to the community. In fact, I’m having trouble making sense of it myself. Do you have a fax? I’d like to send you something.”
“A fax? What do you want to fax me?”
“You know pictures don’t fax well, don’t you? I’d just get a black page. Can’t you e-mail it to me?”
“Oh, I must be tired. I hadn’t thought of that. Certainly. Why don’t you give me your e-mail address? I’ll have to pull up the digital photos.”
She gave him her e-mail address. There was a lot of clicking and cursing from his end. Finally he said, “Okay, I’ve sent you a picture. Don’t worry, this isn’t the body of the man who was killed. Please, if you can, give me your opinion when you see the photo.”
“I’m not sure what much I can do just from looking at a picture.”
Myra opened her e-mail and checked. Nothing. It took several tries before she finally pulled down the e-mail with the large attachment. She verified the address it was sent from. Sure enough it was from the Police Department. She thought about scanning the file, but no one would pull off such an elaborate stunt just to get a virus on her computer. The program opened the image. Myra leaned in closer to look at the head in the picture, severed just at the base of the long neck. The color of the skin was magnificent, but odd.
“What is that?”
“That, Ms. Tolie, is why I’m calling you.”
“I can’t tell how big this is because it’s a close up of the head. It’s interesting, but how large is it?”
“I sent you a second picture of me holding the head.”
Myra traced the lines of the head and mouthed words to a song from her childhood. The head looked strange, and unlike any living lizard she knew about. Perhaps it was some small lizard from the Amazon that someone had bought and set free in the woods. Probably some hunter with his big knife cut off the head and was proud of himself.
Myra opened the second attachment. She had to look twice to make sure she understood.
“Did you see?”
She didn’t answer right away. She was shocked at what she was looking at. It didn’t make sense to her brain. How could he be holding the head like that, with both arms?
“Ms. Tolie, did you get the picture?”
She had to see it. Pictures weren’t going to do it. “What’s your address?”
“I need a closer look at that. There’s no way you’re holding that. It’s just not possible.”
Andrew gave her the address.
“How long will you be there?”
“I’m about to go home. Why?”
“What time will you be there in the morning?”
“I’ll be in at seven. Miss?”
“I need to see it. I’ll be there in the morning. I’ll try to get there by seven, but I’ll be there in the morning.”
“Ma’am, what is this? That’s all I really need to know.”
“Is it being preserved? You know, like you guys do with bodies and things?”
“Yes. It’s in the morgue.”
“I’ll be there in the morning. I’m going to bring some books with me. I think I know what it is, but I need to see it, to actually touch it, first.”
Andrew sighed. “Alright. I guess I’ll have to wait for my answer in the morning. Thank you for your time, Ms. Tolie.”
“I’ll see you in the morning, Detective Schneider.”
Myra hung up the phone, but couldn’t pull her eyes away from the picture.
“How did you get here?”
She would find out as much as she could in the morning. Something just wasn’t right. That picture had to be a fake, but why go through all the trouble? Several times her hand reached for the mouse, and each time she pulled it back. All her life she’d wanted to see one for real. Detective Schneider, in the picture, was holding one. Tomorrow morning, she was going to touch one. Absolutely amazing.