Cooper pulled up outside the single-story brick structure, eased into a stop and pulled the parking brake. He turned the key back towards him and picked up his travel mug, pulled the liquid through the little hole with a powerful slurp. Already the coffee tasted funny, that lived-in plastic flavor of all travel mugs past their virgin state. His kids had gotten him one of those fancy glass mugs, the kind coated with impact-proof rubber, but he'd left it somewhere. He only ever seemed to keep track of the cheap ones, the kind they give a person at a rest-stop when they buy enough gas. Maybe he wasn't keeping track of them, maybe he just had enough of them it seemed like he never lost them.
The lot was full up. Squad cars, a couple of ambulances, the big repurposed passenger vans the state police crime scene investigators used. A funny cluster of activity on an otherwise empty road, but sedate activity, calm. No flashing lights. No urgency. He hated that, wished sometimes that they would leave the lights going, at least. A group of law enforcement vehicles with no lights on always conveyed a sense of dread. The law was something that looked better in motion, in pursuit.
He got out of the car, pocketed the keys in a smooth motion, and ambled across the concrete pad to the uniformed officers clustered around a squad car. One of them looked up and said, "Sir," and the others looked up in response.
"Michaels," Cooper said. "Well? What have we got?"
Michaels looked back at the building, which, from this angle, just obscured the morning sun, so that the structure was silhouetted imposingly against the sky.
"It's...bad, sir." Michaels moved his lips around a closed mouth. Cooper found himself taken aback. He's spoken to Michaels because the big boy was simple. Not stupid, just straightforward. Not prone to embellishment, and probably on his way to becoming a gifted investigator, whenever he decided to push himself. The sort of person who didn't get bogged down in extra detail, whether emotion or chaff or red tape. He wanted to say more, because the simplicity felt insufficient, but if he led with 'it's bad,' then that was probably what it was, just bad.
"All right," Cooper said, cutting off the lip movement. "Anything I should know? Any witnesses?"
"Deacon down't the Gas N Go had a forest green Tacoma come through 'bout seven this morning," said one of the other uniforms, Jansson. He was chewing something, slowly, and he looked all right, as long as Cooper ignored the fact that the man had his back facing square to the building behind him, even though it put him off-angle to Cooper. "Only customer he had all night. The folks west at the Shur-Mart ain't had anyone all night."
Cooper nodded. "All right. So we're looking for a forest green Tacoma heading east. Jansson, Veers, you take a look at the surveillance tapes from the Gas N Go, put together a description if you can, get it out on the wire. All right?"
The two men nodded and got into their squad car, again, all business, all calm, as long as Cooper ignored the unnecessarily pronounced acceleration east. He turned to Michaels.
Bad how? He thought.
Don't tease the boy, he thought back.
If it's bad enough that's all he can think to say, it must be plenty bad, he thought.
"Who called it in?" He asked.
"A woman named Fiona Warwick," Michaels said. "She owns the farm across the highway. She was driving past, said the door was open, so she got out to have a look."
"Good citizen," Cooper said.
"She's in talks to buy this plot," Michaels said. "She says she wanted to make sure it wasn't kids, drinking or something."
"She go inside?" Cooper said. Michaels shook his head.
"No sir. Just called the police."
Cooper frowned. "Just like that?"
"Footprints, sir," Michaels said. "Blood. She saw them and just called it in."
"Bloody footprints," Cooper said. He slurped his coffee. "That bad."
"Yes, sir," Michael's said.
Cooper shook his head. "You don't have a cigarette, do you?"
"I do, sir," Michaels said. "In the car."
Cooper frowned at him. "You don't smoke."
Michaels shrugged. "Sometimes they're useful. I didn't think you smoked either, sir."
"Not for a long time," Cooper said. "But you never get over wanting them. Never mind. Let's go in."
Michaels nodded. They both walked deeper into the shadow of the building, which, if Cooper remembered correctly, had been used for equipment storage back when this had been farmland. But this property had been a tax credit for years, a subsidy farm for family back east, and the building had fallen into that funny limbo state of disrepair, as much disrepair as a solidly-built concrete structure could fall into, which is to say, dirty, nondescript, but still standing strong. Michaels pulled open the door and let Cooper pass. The door swung shut behind them.
"Hold on," Cooper said, pointing. "The door was open?"
"Yes, sir, it was propped open." Michaels nudged an angled piece of wood on the floor with his boot.
"Propped open," Cooper said. "He propped the door open on his way out. Now why would he do a thing like that?"
"So we'd find what he'd done," Michaels said simply.
There was more activity inside the building, which lent things an oddly optimistic feel. Bustle makes a person feel like something's going to be accomplished, Cooper thought to himself as they went down the stairs.
Cooper had been with the Wyoming state police for more than thirty years. He'd seen awful things, people shot, strangled, carved up, burnt. Before that, he'd been in the army, in peacetime, but one still got a sense for the destruction that could be wrought upon the human body. Before that, growing up hunting, farming. In all that time, he'd never felt the rising gorge or thundering heartbeat described by his brothers, his fellow soldiers, colleagues, never felt any visceral connection to what he witnessed. What he saw when he stepped into the little basement room didn't break his long streak of detachment, but he did feel the minute hitch in his step, a pause that may not have been noticeable to anyone else, but nonetheless was there.
"Well," he said. The crime scene technicians looked up, saw that he wasn't going to say any more, and went back to their work.
The body had been dismantled. There wasn't another word for it. Even dismembered wasn't entirely accurate, it implied more energy than was apparent, less finesse. And yet there was nothing clinical about what Cooper saw, no immediate evidence that the perpetrator had known overmuch about the human body. There was an implicit randomness in the pieces of body that were strewn about the floor, as if they had been removed as their removal occurred to the man with the tools. The tools themselves lay discarded in no particular order, smeared with blood, apparently dropped, picked up and dropped again according to need.
"Fingerprints?" Cooper asked. One of the techs shook her head.
"Gloves," she said. It seemed right to speak simply. Their voices intruded on the scene.
The victim was still in the chair, a big deck chair, like something that would be left poolside in a nice hotel. He was missing...Cooper tightened his mouth, angled his head. He was missing so much of him that it seemed like he was out of focus. More of him was gone than was present, although unless the perpetrator had taken some portion of the victim with him, that which was missing was probably lying on the floor somewhere. It was easier in some ways to saw what the man still had. On his face, he had most of his skin, and his skull. On his chest, most of his flesh. On his body, he had the two main portions of his thorax, upper and lower, chest and abdomen. And that, essentially, was that.
Cooper watched one of the techs tag something in an evidence bag.
"That a rib?" He asked.
"Think so," the man replied. "Most of one."
Cooper scratched at his hairline. He still had most of his hair, although it was bushier now, grey hair had a different texture, it was wirier. He focused on a small pile of bloody white lumps. Teeth.
"Sir?" Michaels said.
"Yes," Cooper said. Next to the teeth, a pile of flesh, lips, maybe, or just skin. And what were probably eyes, next to that.
"There's no blood on the walls," Michaels said.
"No, there isn't," Cooper said. He slurped his coffee and made a face. The sound felt wrong in a space that demanded to be called an abattoir. "Means there wasn't any struggle."
"So was he drugged, you think?" Michaels asked. Cooper looked him over. The younger man looked somber, unhappy with his surroundings, but not distressed, put out. He wasn't peaked or reeling. That same simplicity. He'd make a dandy investigator indeed, if he could put this sort of scene in order. Cooper would have to speak with him about that, soon. Encourage him.
"We'll have to wait for the toxicology reports, I think," Cooper said. "Unless any of you can shed any light on the answer?"
The tech cataloguing the tools shook her head. "Haven't found any medical equipment, syringes, vials, that sort of thing. There's drugs that will affect coagulation, but just as many that don't."
"Man wasn't restrained," said another. "No marks on his arms and legs." He gestured at the limbs in question, which had been arranged for removal on a sterile sheet.
"Drugs seem like a likelihood," Cooper said, "if only because I can't imagine anyone sitting still for something like this."
"Unless he was crazy," Michaels said. Cooper raised his eyebrows.
"Anything in particular make you say that?" He asked. Michaels shook his head.
"No, sir. Just, seems like he'd have to be drugged, or crazy, to let a man cut him to pieces like that."
Cooper nodded. "All right," he said. "We'll leave you to it. Anything else worth mentioning before we skedaddle?"
The female tech nodded past him without looking up. "There's blood on the window," she said. "Looks like hand prints, like he maybe leaned there for a time. Lookin' out the window."
Cooper turned around. There was indeed a little window, the sort that sits up high from the inside and goes unnoticed at ground level from the outside, about two feet wide and a foot tall. He couldn't see much through it besides a patch of blue sky.
"I wonder what he was looking at," he said.