Home > The Last Sister (Columbia River #1)(15)

The Last Sister (Columbia River #1)(15)
Author: Kendra Elliot

Greer stared. He looked as if he’d aged ten years since they’d talked at the pub. “Suit yourself,” he muttered.

He knows I have a point.

Zander climbed back in his vehicle and immediately called Ava.

Minutes later Zander parked behind the sheriff again. The Copeland home was in a small residential neighborhood full of cookie-cutter one-story homes on small lots with green grass. The street was crowded with law enforcement vehicles. Clatsop County, Astoria, City of Seaside, and even a state patrol vehicle. Officers stood in small groups in front of the home, and neighbors pressed against the caution tape, snapping pictures.

Ava’s SUV caught his eye. She was on her phone, pacing beside it. She had still been in downtown Bartonville, so she’d beaten them to the scene, and because Ava had interviewed Copeland yesterday, she knew where he lived. She hung up as Zander and Greer approached, her blue eyes somber.

“I updated the boss,” she told them. “And I was told the medical examiner went inside the home here a few moments ago.”

“Copeland was such a young kid,” muttered Greer.

“He was young. Do you think the murders got to him?” Ava asked. Her tone indicated she found it doubtful.

“How’d he seem when you talked to him yesterday?” Zander asked her.

“He was shook up and definitely upset, but I got the sense he wanted to see justice done for the couple.” Her eyes narrowed. “I didn’t see an officer not wanting to live because of what he’d experienced.” She gestured at Greer. “But you knew him better.”

“I never saw or heard of any suicidal tendencies on his part,” said the sheriff. “But let’s get the facts first.”

Greer scanned the groups of waiting officers. They’d all stopped their conversations and were facing his way. Palpable pain radiated from them as they waited for their sheriff to do something, anything.

Zander knew the sheriff could do nothing to ease the grief.

“I want two officers to keep the civilians back from the tape,” Greer ordered the closest group. “Tell them to put their phones away. Have some respect.” He ducked under the tape and headed up the short walk. Zander and Ava followed. The three of them signed a log held by a deputy at the front door.

The deputy’s eyes were red and swollen, but he stood ramrod straight as they wrote down their names. The sheriff removed his hat and rested a hand briefly on the deputy’s shoulder. He gave a quick squeeze and nodded but didn’t speak.

Gratitude flickered in the deputy’s eyes.

The three of them passed through the front door, and Zander squared his shoulders to face another death scene.

The body was in the living room immediately to their right. Nate Copeland sat in a recliner, his feet on the raised footrest. The chair had been reclined back so far that it was almost flat. Copeland could have been taking a nap except for the blood caking his head and neck. A young Hispanic male bent over the body, doing something under Copeland’s raised shirt. He looked up at the trio.

“Hey, Sheriff.”

“Dr. Ruiz,” said Greer. “This is Special Agent Wells and Special Agent—”

“McLane,” said the young medical examiner, looking at Ava. “We met a while back. Or is it Special Agent Callahan now?”

“Not yet,” Ava answered. “The wedding is this summer.” She glanced at Zander. “Dr. Ruiz handled my DB on a case at the coast last fall.”

Dead body.

The medical examiner straightened as he removed a thermometer from the slit he’d cut at Copeland’s liver. He checked the reading and then gently bent the body’s arm back and forth at the elbow. “No rigor,” he stated as he also moved the officer’s fingers. “Body temperature is only a few degrees below normal. What’s the temperature in here?”

Zander stepped to the thermostat on the living room wall. “Seventy.”

Dr. Ruiz tipped his head as he studied the body. “He’s been dead about two or three hours.”

The sheriff exhaled loudly. “Midmorning. Not long, then.” He turned and motioned to a deputy near the door. “Start a canvass of the neighborhood. See if anyone heard anything.” The man nodded and left, stepping around a crime scene tech with a camera.

Greer waved her in. “You got here fast.”

“Hearing it’s one of ours lights a fire under everyone,” she said. She frowned at the medical examiner, clearly unhappy that he was working in the crime scene.

“I took my own pictures before I touched the body,” Dr. Ruiz told her. “I’ll get them to you, and I’ll be out of your way in a minute.”

Ruiz turned back to Copeland as the tech started to circle the edge of the room, snapping pictures nonstop. The medical examiner shone a flashlight in Copeland’s mouth. “Entrance wound through the hard palate.” He gently palpated the skull. “Good-size exit wound.”

Based on the blood and brain matter splattered on the chair and wall, Zander had already assumed that. Copeland’s weapon lay in his lap, his hand at his side. Zander stared hard at the gun and the position of Copeland’s hands and arms. He didn’t see anything that indicated Copeland hadn’t shot himself.

But he was keeping an open mind.

Is someone tampering with this investigation?

Dr. Ruiz glanced at Greer. “We’ll check his hands for GSR.”

“Of course he’ll have gunshot residue on his hands,” Greer pointed out. “He handles guns every day. For all I know he took his weapon to the range yesterday.”

“The particle count from the residue will tell us,” Dr. Ruiz said. “It’ll be very high if he fired the weapon right here.” The doctor removed his gloves and set them near the gun. “I assume I’ll be working on this one?” He glanced at Greer. “Or are you sending it to Portland like yesterday’s deaths?”

Sheriff Greer looked to Zander and Ava.

“No offense, Doctor,” said Ava, “but since Seth Rutledge has already seen two bodies from this case, I think he should see this one.”

“You think it’s related to yesterday?” Ruiz asked.

“We can’t rule it out,” answered Zander. He looked over the living room, noting the furniture and decor seemed a couple of decades old. “Do you know if Copeland lived here alone?” he asked the sheriff.

“Yesterday he told me he lived with his parents,” answered Ava. “He also said they were in Mexico for several weeks.”

“Who found him?”

“One of the other deputies—Daigle—was to pick him up this morning,” said Sheriff Greer. “They had plans to go to Short Sands. A beach south of here,” he clarified. “Daigle called it in after he found him.”

“He still around?”

“I saw him out front.” The sheriff strode to the door and looked out. “Daigle! In here,” he shouted. “Please,” he tacked on almost as an afterthought.

The deputy who appeared wore sagging jeans and a heavy coat. His round face was blotchy and his eyes swollen. He deliberately kept his gaze on the sheriff, avoiding the sight of the body.

Zander felt for him. Daigle looked barely out of high school. The same thing he’d observed about Copeland yesterday. To him all the deputies appeared very young, and he wondered if he was simply getting old.

He didn’t feel old. Forty wasn’t old.

Except maybe in the eyes of twentysomething-year-olds.

Ava frowned at the deputy, two lines forming between her brows, and Zander wondered if she was having the same thoughts.

The deputy shook hands with Zander and Ava as Greer introduced him. Polite. Exceedingly polite. Often what Zander had seen from fresh graduates of the state’s police academy before they had much experience.

“When did you last talk to Copeland?” Ava asked.

“Last night, ma’am,” Daigle said as he wiped his nose on his sleeve. “We agreed I’d drive and pick him up around noon.”

“He sounded interested in the trip?” asked Zander.

“Yes, sir. We were both looking forward to getting out of town for the afternoon.”

“It’s cold, damp, and windy,” Ava pointed out. “Why would you go to the beach?”

The sheriff snorted lightly as Daigle answered earnestly. “If we waited for perfect weather around here, we’d never leave home. We’re used to it. Shorty’s has some protected areas where you can build a fire and stay out of the wind.”

“What do you do there?” It sounded miserable to Zander, protected or not.

Daigle shrugged, looking at his feet.

Drink. Smoke pot.

Zander exchanged a glance with Ava, whose lips twitched. He wondered if Daigle had drawn the short straw to be the driver.

“Nate needed to get away after his shitty morning yesterday,” Daigle explained.

“How’d you get in the house?” Zander asked.

“Door was unlocked. I rang the bell, and no one answered. I could see—see him through the window, so I opened the door.”

“Copeland ever say anything in the past that made you worry for him?” Zander continued.

“No, sir. I understand what you’re asking. I never dreamed this would happen in a million years. I’d say I’m his closest friend, and I never saw this coming. If he had depression, he never told me about it.”

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