WHERE THE SONGBIRD SINGS

By A. J. O’Dell

 

 

Dr. Sarah Jones walked into the dark autopsy room and flipped on the exam lights before slowly putting on her gown, gloves and mask.  This was the worst thing to happen to her small Arizona village since four young Navajo teens got their drunken selves literally snuffed out by an on-coming semi truck just outside of town.  There wasn’t much left to autopsy then but the task fell to Sarah and the coroner then, just as it did now.

She never ceased to be saddened when she saw one of her own lying still, pale and lifeless.  Any promise of future success and achievement wiped clean with the quick injection of death into a vein.

Navajo boys had more opportunities now than a hundred years ago, she thought, but they still had the odds tipped in the favor of the white man’s rules for admission to decent colleges.

Sarah had been lucky.  Adopted right out of the orphanage by a young white couple, she’d had her medical school paid for at Stanford before she’d even attended high school.  Her parents were saddened to see her leave the wealthy California lifestyle for a job as clinical director on the Navajo reservation.  Although they never would understand her love of emergency medicine and her fascination with forensics, they stood by her belief that she could make a difference for her native people. 

Now as she stood ready to assist in the autopsy, she felt a sickening lump in her throat and a profound sadness in her heart. 

“So young, so much promise...gone.” she murmured under her mask.

“Not so much promise.” Dr. Wesley Morris glared at her over his horn-rimmed glasses.  “Once they start messing with heroine you can pretty much write them off, barring divine intervention, of course.  He lifted up the stiffened forearm of the seventeen-year-old male on the table.  “Multiple needle marks all on one vein, looking fairly recent.”  He cocked his head to one side.  “Hmm. No needle marks in any obscure places like most young boys. They’re all out here in the most obvious place, as if someone wanted this to be open and closed.” He raised one eyebrow and looked at Sarah.

“I noticed.” Sarah leaned in and held the arm for her colleague.

When the full autopsy was finished and recorded, the evidence was locked up. 

Sarah scrubbed hard on her hands and arms with brush and disinfectant soap.  Maybe if she scrubbed hard enough, memory of the young boy they’d just done the post mortem exam on would wash down the drain along with the fear raising its ugly head.  She looked at her reflection in the mirror, “murdered.”  She said almost in a whisper.

“Ah-yup, that’s right, Sarah.  Somebody wanted this boy to look like he killed himself with an overdose.  Wonder what kind of trouble he got into to earn this kind of death?” 

The metal on the scrub sink, ice cold against her hands, couldn’t allay the wave of nausea mingled hot with fear as she leaned on the sink to steady herself. 

“You said you notified the police?”

“Well, yeah I did, but they said that the FBI was sending a couple of agents as well.  Don’t know why this case is getting special treatment.  Guess we’ll find out when they arrive.”

“No doubt.  I’m going home to a hot bath and a beer.”  She threw her plastic gown in the hazardous materials bag for cleaning.   “Helluva day.”

“Right you are, Sarah.”  Morris secured the evidence discs in the safe and checked all the locks after he pushed the dead boy, Robbie Brave Eagle, into the cold storage locker.

Both left in opposite directions, Sarah to her condo and Morris home to his wife and two kids.

It was times like these when Sarah missed her family most.  Missed the security of her old neighborhood and wanted to forget that someone filled with hate took the life of a seventeen-year-old boy who otherwise was in perfect health.  “Maybe he saw something he shouldn’t have?”  She drove fast to the safety of her home.

 “Sick!”  She drank the last of her beer, double checked the dead bolt on her front door and patio doors and fell into bed. 

As for Sarah, Songbird as her father called her, dealing with the FBI was not one of her favorite things.  She’d handle it in the morning.

The morning came screaming into her room with a brightness that made her wish she hadn’t slammed that last beer.  She turned on the news channel while she made strong, black coffee and toast.     

The announcer’s voice echoed loudly.  “Dr. Wesley Morris, forty-five year old chief coroner, was found dead in his home early this morning, the cause unclear

Sarah’s head spun.  Coffee and the cup that fell from her hand danced and shattered in pieces on the floor.  “I’ve gotta get down to the clinic.”  She threw on blue jeans, a shirt and headed for the door.  Just as she grabbed her car keys and her briefcase, she saw the shadow of a large man pass in front of her side window. For a moment panic seized her mind, freezing her with fear.

“What the?”  She stood behind the closet door and reached inside for her baseball bat as the doorbell rang.

“Dr. Jones?  Sarah Jones?  FBI agent Jack O’Brian here.  I’d like to ask you some questions, ma’am.”

Sarah looked through the peephole to see a dangerously handsome, tall man dressed in a western-cut jacket and sporting a weathered Stetson.  The man, in his early thirties, was holding up an FBI badge in front of the door. 

“Please, I just need a few moments, Dr. Jones.”                   

Sarah opened the door as far as the security chain allowed and leaned her head around the door.  “I’m Sarah Jones.  What do you want?”

“Ma’am, I’m sorry to inform you that your colleague, Dr. Morris, has been found dead in his home this morning.  I wonder if you wouldn’t mind answering some questions for me?”

“There’s only one of you?” Sarah tightened her grip on the bat in her left hand.

“Yes ma’am, Agent Malcolm is at the scene as we speak.  I came here because” he paused, “I’m sorry, could we talk about this face to face?”

Sarah thought for a moment and reasoned that if O’Brian was a killer and wanted her dead, he could have shot her through the glass patio door.  She closed the door and slipped the chain off.  “Come in.  I just saw the news and I’m pretty freaked out.  Where are Dr. Morris’ wife and children?”

“We don’t know, he was the only one found.”  He smiled and looked at the bat in her hands.  “Would you mind putting the bat down?  You look like you might be dangerous with that thing.”  He smiled.

“Oh, sorry.  Actually, I am a pretty good baseball player.”  She leaned the bat against the couch and motioned for him to take a seat. 

“Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, ma’am, but we found Dr. Morris with a gun in his hand in an apparent suicide.”

“You don’t really think that, I mean, in view of the murder of the young boy he called you about, do you?”

“Myself?  No.”  O’Brian looked over at the coffee and broken cup on her kitchen floor then looked back at her.

“You’re going to need to come with me to the clinic where you did the autopsy on the boy and go over the evidence with me.  There have been three other boys in the neighboring counties found the same way.”

“Sure.  Go ahead and I’ll follow you.”  Her hands were shaking as she closed the door behind her.

When they arrived at the back entrance to the lab, the door stood ajar.  Sarah stood back as Agent O’Brian pulled his .38 special from its holster and kicked the door open with his foot. “FBI!  Come out with your hands in the air!”  He motioned for Sarah to get behind him as he entered and secured the lab. 

Every drawer was opened and dumped on the floor.  The cold lockers were open and she could see that the one containing the Brave Eagle boy was visibly empty.  Glass shards were everywhere as the two of them entered.  Cracked glass crunched noisily under their feet.

“How long have you known Morris?”  O’Brian secured each end of the lab and turned to her.  “How long?”

“Six months, give or take.  Not long, why?”

“If he was into something illegal here, the big boys who did this might have killed him when things didn’t go their way.”  

Sarah just shook her head.  “I...don’t know what to say.  The other boys died the same way?” 

“Same cause of death as your coroner stated.  Did he keep the evidence in a safe?”

“Yes, of course.  That’s standard procedure when the cause of death is possibly murder.”  She looked across the lab and saw the door to the safe yawning open and standing empty.  “What now?”  Fear churned in her stomach.  “If all the evidence is gone, the body’s gone, the disc and samples are gone, then the only evidence left is my testimony in court!”  Sarah gulped hard.  “That puts me in a helluva position, doesn’t it?”         

“Yes, Dr. Jones, it does indeed.” 

O’Brian turned his gun in the direction of the voice coming from behind them only to catch a bullet in his right shoulder, taking him down and sending Sarah running for the exit.  Immediately she was stopped by the large, powerful man.

“Agent Malcolm here.  Pleased to meet you, but now I have to dispose of you both before more agents come and see what a mess you Indians have made of things.  Dr. Jones, help Agent O’Brian out the door and into the van, please.”  He spoke with a cold, methodical tone while he motioned with his gun.  Sarah quickly helped O’Brian up. 

“Could I at least get some dressings to put on his wound?”    

Malcolm laughed, “Why?  You’re both going to be dead inside of thirty minutes anyway.”

“But he’s bleeding so badly.  You don’t want to leave a bloody evidence trail, do you?”  Sarah’s mind was in high speed.  “Let me just get some dressings to stop the bleeding

“Make it quick, Doc!”  Malcolm looked nervously at the door.

Sarah went behind the desk, reached underneath and pushed the silent alarm button.  “Oh, here they are.”

She pulled the dressings from the drawer and went quickly to help Agent O’Brian.

“I worked in LA and saw lots of young Hispanic boys tricked into swallowing cocaine in rubber carriers to smuggle the drugs across the border.  Young Brave Eagle didn’t overdose, did he?”

He forced them into a black van and made Sarah drive while he held his gun on Agent O’Brian.

“You’re a smart girl.  They’re called mules and Brave Eagle’s older cousin was actually one of our best curriers.  When he tried to cheat us, we held his brother until he gave us the heroine.  We threw him down a mining shaft in Colorado.  Then we arranged a drug ‘overdose’ for young Brave Eagle.  So you see, Dr. Jones, you were just in the wrong county at the wrong time.”  

They rounded the bend and stopped.  Malcolm pulled O’Brian out of the van with a rough jerk and motioned for Sarah to go ahead of him on a trail leading past a large field, up the side of a hill.

“So, you got tired of FBI pay? How much did it take to buy you?” O’Brian shouted.

“Not as much as you might think, smart ass. Better than twenty years and gold watch for my retirement! If you weren’t such a Boy Scout, you could’ve been part of this deal.” Malcolm was visibly tired of dealing with his partner’s questions.

They continued for twenty long minutes and Sarah could see Agent O’Brian’s energy waning as fast as his blood was seeping out of his shoulder wound. They were almost to a sandy area where Malcolm had obviously decided was a good place to kill them both. “Stand over there by those rocks and say your goodbyes.” 

Just then, Malcolm was struck hard on the side of his head by a large, pointed rock. 

“Who’s there?  Come out or I’ll shoot both of these people!”  Another heavier rock grazed his temple and in the afternoon sun, Sarah could see that Malcolm’s head was bleeding profusely.  He swerved and kept motioning for Sarah to get up against the side of the hill.

Sarah held on to Agent O’Brian’s arm so he wouldn’t fall. 

Another object struck Malcolm and he went down hard.  It was just long enough for Sarah to hide O’Brian and herself behind a rock.

Far below, she could see a dust cloud billowing behind the sheriff’s vehicles as he and his deputies slammed on their brakes and got out.  They raced up the hill, spreading out and yelling for Malcolm come out with his hands behind his head.   

In moments, multiple young men in baseball uniforms stormed Malcolm and one hit him with a bat, knocking him out with a ‘crack.’

By the time the sheriff and his men reached them, Sarah and O’Brian had Malcolm in his own handcuffs.

The mysterious baseball players who’d thrown the rocks were giving each other ‘high-fives’ and laughing.

“That was very dangerous for your boys!” Sarah scolded them while they continued fist-bumps and laughing.

Agent O’Brian was scratching his head while she dressed his wound. “Where’d those boys come from?”

“Here, drink some water. We need to get you to an E.R. so we can dig that bullet out of you.” She walked him to the sheriff’s car.

“How’d the sheriff know where to find us?” O’Brian was dizzy as he looked around in disbelief at the baseball team of young boys and all the deputies around them.

“You agents must think we’re a bunch of techno-challenged hicks out here, huh?” She smiled. “I pressed the silent alarm at the lab and left my cell phone on in my pocket so they could track us.”

“And the baseball team that came out of nowhere?”

“Oh them?” She drank from a water bottle.  “I’m their junior league coach. We train right over there.”  She pointed to the field below them.  “They must’ve seen Malcolm dragging us out of the car. They’re not about to let me get out of a practice. We have a game coming up!” She smiled, “Do you like baseball, Agent O’Brian?”

He gave her a broad smile. “I do now!”


A. J. O’Dell has published two full-length novels; many human interest stories for the Voice osteopathic journal; short stories for Dobbs Publishing; and currently writes for a local newspaper The Prairie Times.


Copyright 2014 A. J. O’Dell. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of the author is prohibited. OMDB! and OMDB! logos are trademarks of Over My Dead Body!


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