It took the better part of an hour for Janie to drive to Sparky’s. She pulled into the parking lot and took an empty spot that gave her easy access to the highway. Plenty of cars provided cover for her to make it to her vehicle should something happen.
Her sense of hyper-vigilance was part of her time in the Air Force. Having served as an Security Forces sniper, she understood the importance of self-awareness and cover.
Although she hoped she’d not need any here at the restaurant.
Tammy Bowen sat in a booth halfway down the right side of the restaurant. The booth had an unhindered view of the only entrance and exit.
The Medical Examiner looked up from her menu and motioned for Janie to sit. Janie slid in.
“Can I get you something to drink,” a small waiter asked, as he ran a hand over a thin mustache.
“Sweet tea, please.”
Tammy waited until he walked away before speaking. She put down the menu, a look of disgust crossing her face, and took a sip of her drink.
“Tammy,” she said, extending her hand to Janie,” you must be Janie.”
“Nice to meet you detective.”
“You’re upset I didn’t wait for you.”
“A little bit, yeah.”
“I apologize. My duties are extensive, and I’ve got more than one detective wanting results.”
“Yeah,” Janie said slurping some tea, “my boss mentioned Thermopolis Konan and Lilly Thompson.”
“It’s not just them. I work with detectives across the state. You do have an interesting case though.”
“You’re aware that just because your heart stops beating, you’re dead, but certain things still happen, right?”
“Um., like what exactly.”
“Well, in your case, there should have been another body.”
Janie looked at Tammy Bowen. The waiter cleared his throat and raised his eyebrows. Both women ordered catfish filets, hushpuppies, and fries.
“She gave birth.”
“I don’t understand. How does a dead body give birth?”
“It’s called postmortem fetal extrusion. Intra-abdominal gases build up and force the baby out. It’s a rare occurrence.”
“So, there’s another skeleton out there in the swamp?”
“Or in the belly of a gator.”
“Oh my God. The poor woman., who would do such a thing to her?”
“Yeah. She didn’t go easy. As to who did it, I don’t know. There are plenty of mean people out there.”
“Did you find out anything else?”
“Judging from the breaks in her ribs and face, she was beaten viciously. She was 17, maybe 18 at the time of her death. And there were a few scraps of clothing attached to the skeleton. She was dressed for the prom.”
“How do you know that?”
“I had a dress like the one she was wearing. It was a big hit for the wannabe fashion icons of the local high schools.”
“Okay. Thanks for the information, Tammy. I’m not hungry right now.”
“I’m starved,” Tammy said, as the waiter put down their plates, “it’s been a long day, and I still have a long drive ahead of me.”
“How can you eat after laying out what you found? There was a child out there, a child we didn’t find.”
“You think I’m calloused,” Tammy said around a mouthful of fish. “I understand. Maybe I am but I’ve done my job. I did the tests, gave you the results, and now it’s on you to hunt down the mean SOB who did this to her and make them pay.”
“Yeah,” Janie said, suddenly feeling underqualified to handle such a case.
Tammy took a sip of her drink and stared at the young detective; a small smile crossed her face as she speared another piece of fried fish.
“What do you know of Thermopolis Konan?”
“Besides he’s a great detective?”
“I was the M.E. when he and Lilly first teamed up. He came to us with a bad rep, but I knew the minute I saw him he wasn’t the type to back down. No matter how tough it got, he would find justice for the victim. You have that same tenacity, Detective Temple.”
“You think so?”
“Yeah. Just take the case one step at a time. Look at the pieces and put it together. You got this. Eat up.”
The kind words seemed to do the trick because Janie cleared her plate. After thanking Tammy Bowen for the meal and information, she walked out of the restaurant to her car, no hidden assassins waited to ambush her, and she began the drive home.
On the way back to Angie, she considered what the medical examiner told her, and her thoughts turned to the baby they hadn’t found.
The child born in the swamp to a dead mother, pushed out by a mass of bloated intestinal gases, unwanted and doomed to be lunch for an apex predator.