- Author: Dan Padavona
Book online «River of Bones Dan Padavona (amazing books to read .TXT) 📖». Author Dan Padavona
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I’m a pretty nice guy once you look past the grisly images in my head. Most of all, I love connecting with awesome readers like you.
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Sunday, August 9th
The headlamps of Thomas Shepherd’s F-150 illuminated the sign welcoming guests to Wolf Lake State Park. He pulled onto the shoulder beside a scenic overlook and descended the gorge trail. A flashlight pierced the darkness. The man in the gorge was state park ranger Darren Holt, his friend and neighbor. The ranger’s blue Silverado parked a hundred feet down the dirt access road from Thomas’s truck.
“Down here, Sheriff,” Darren called from the gorge.
Thomas was still getting used to the sheriff moniker. Technically, he was interim sheriff of Nightshade County, a collection of sleepy villages around the Finger Lakes in upstate New York. Less than a month ago, his mentor, Stewart Gray, stepped down as sheriff at sixty. Thomas once served as an intern under Gray for the County Sheriff’s Department during high school.
He pushed aside a tangle of brush and squeezed between the trees, his own flashlight cutting through the gloom. Night sounds sang to the starlit sky as his boots slogged across soggy ground. Brushing the unruly, sand-colored hair out of his eyes, he felt out of sorts. The evening before a day shift, he always finished working around the house before eight, settled down with a book for ninety minutes, then climbed into bed at precisely nine-thirty. Breaking the pattern made him skittish, a trait common to people with Asperger’s.
The phone call had pulled Thomas away from the new Rachel Caine novel at eight-fifty. Someone discovered human bones on state park land. The park butted up against Thomas’s lakeside property.
The falls roared to his left, though he couldn’t see the water through the trees. He leaped over an embankment and landed beside the water. Spray from the waterfall soaked his face and chilled his flesh, despite the humid summer night.
Darren Holt stood a head taller than Thomas. A former Syracuse police officer, the dark-haired ranger had retired from the daily grind and accepted the state park position. Darren lived on state park grounds in a log cabin, a fifteen-minute hike from the A-Frame Thomas owned.
“It looks like I pulled you out of bed,” said Darren.
“Not quite. An hour later, and I’d have fallen asleep.”
“No rest for the weary when you’re the big cheese.”
“So I’m the big cheese now? Coming from the lord emperor of state parks, that’s saying something.”
“How’s the sheriff life treating you?”
Thomas glanced at Darren from the corner of his eye.
After Sheriff Gray put in a good word for Thomas, the county commissioner had appointed Thomas as interim sheriff to fill the vacant position.
“As if you won’t win the election.”
“Never count your chickens before they hatch.”
“The election is in November, and you’re running unopposed.”
“So far. Anyhow, where are these human remains?”
The ranger scratched at day-old scruff and pointed toward the creek bed, the stars dancing across the water.
“A hiker descended the gorge trail and followed the creek bed for a quarter-mile,” Darren said, swatting a mosquito with his baseball cap. “Hikers aren’t allowed this far off the trail, because the creek floods after we get a heavy rain.”
“It thundered like hell Friday night.”
“The water came up fast and flooded the gorge, and the flow strengthened enough to scour the creek bed. Forty-eight hours later, our hiker got the bright idea to check out the damage and came across bones embedded in the mud.”
“You’re certain they’re human?”
“They’re human, all right. There’s a skull buried in the dirt about fifty feet from where he found the bone.”
Two more flashlights cut down the trail.
“That must be Virgil.”
Virgil Harbough was the Nightshade County Medical Examiner. At sixty-two, the frail and grayed medical examiner had become a familiar face in Thomas’s life. It seemed a dead body surfaced every month, as if part of some strange ritual. Virgil struggled through the brush. Supporting Virgil by the elbow was a russet-haired woman fresh out of medical school. Claire Brookins had joined the coroner’s office three weeks ago.
“Sheriff,” Virgil said, shrugging Claire off his elbow. “Good evening, Ranger Holt.”
“Thanks for coming out, Virgil.”
“We need to stop meeting under these circumstances.” Virgil caught his breath. “You said something about human remains.”
“Over here,” Darren said, motioning them forward.
Thomas settled his light on the pale bone jutting out of the earth as Virgil knelt down for closer inspection. Claire pulled a brush out of her kit before Virgil stopped her.
“Don’t touch anything. Let’s get an idea of what we’re dealing with first.”
“It’s human, right?” Darren asked.
“Oh, it’s definitely human.” Virgil rose on rickety legs and surveyed the land. “The question is, how long has this bone been here. Sometimes people find skeletal remains because they’re standing on an abandoned cemetery. It’s amazing how many forgotten people are buried under our feet. But nobody in their right mind would dig a graveyard along the river.” He made a sweeping gesture with his arm. “This whole area is a flood plain. In rainy seasons, the river expands to the base of the ridge. That’s why trees can’t get a foothold until you move up the hill.”
“And that explains why nobody found the bones until now,” Thomas said. “The water dug them out. Any way to determine how long they’ve been here?”
“I know someone who can,” Claire said, drawing their attention. With everyone staring at her, she fidgeted and cleared her throat. “Doctor Stone, from SUNY Oswego.”
“Never heard of him,” said Virgil.