“Good God,” P. Belton whispered to Judith. “Who would do such a thing?”
Four years shy of his 30th year as a police officer, P. Belton thought he had seen the worse things possible. Nothing he’d seen during the years past prepared him for what he saw this morning. Judith couldn’t stomach looking at the gruesomeness that was Detective Smith.
“I don’t know, P.B. It’s horrible.”
The pair watched as Lt. Wilkins and Detective Tate walked over to where they stood. “What did you notice when you arrived here?”
Judith looked Tate in the eyes and shook her head. Wilkins watched both officers’ faces for dishonesty, but there was none written on them.
“A truck driver called in and said a man was stumbling around. He dang near hit him. When he stopped to help him, he saw the damage.”
“Damage? Smith has no eyes, and he’s…cut.”
“Cut? You mean someone…”
“…Yes. Someone castrated Smith.”
“Sheesh,” Judith muttered. “Who’d do such a thing?”
“That’s not all. They also took his tongue.”
“So, we have a blind, mute eunuch and nothing to go on,” P. Belton said.
Wilkins glared at him, and drew close to the officer and whispered, “You think this is funny? You find who did this to my friend, or I’m doing the same thing to you.” He turned to Tate and said, “Get ‘em out of here. Find who did this to Smith.”
Tate walked the two officers to their squad car. “Go hit up the homeless, see if they know anything about it. I will go check out Smith’s usual routine. Get back with me if you find anything.”
“Will do,” Judith responded.
She sat quietly as P. Belton drove to the bridge that spanned the Tennessee Tombigbee Waterway on the north side of town. He pulled off the main highway onto a red clay dirt road and drove to the rusted metal gate. The gate was locked, and both officers stepped out into the warm night air.
Both pulled heavy-duty Mag-lights and pressed the button to power them on. Then, they proceeded on foot toward the homeless encampment. In the distance, from what appeared the center of the camp, a barrel burned, and it lit up the whole area.
People sat in a loose circle around it, and Judith felt eyes watching them as she and P. Belton drew closer.
“Pigs,” someone shouted. All heads turned toward the pair. The air filled with oinks and grunts, and some people disappeared into the long shadows of night.
“It’s okay,” P. Belton said, stowing his light and holding his hands palms outward toward the group. “I mean no harm to any of you. We’re looking for someone who might have stayed here with you all. They did something horrible to a police officer.”
More squeals filled the night air, more grunts. Judith looked around and kept her right hand near her holster.
“Do you know of anyone who might have a reason to hurt a cop?”
“Vengeance,” an old woman muttered. “He didn’t forget what they did.”
The old woman came forward from the back of the group. Dirt stained her face, spittle had dried in the corners of her mouth, and her black eyes bored into P. Belton’s. “He didn’t forget,” the group chanted in a zombie-like trance. P. Belton swallowed hard and licked his lips. “Um, who ma’am? Do you know his name?”
“Widow Maker. Vengeance. You reap what you sow,” she whispered.
The stench of the old woman’s clothes overwhelmed Judith’s nostrils, and she turned away. P. Belton waited for the old woman to speak further, but she said nothing else.
“You reap what you sow,” the group muttered, and then they went back to watching the burn barrel. The old woman sat next to a young woman and shoved her lice-infested hair out of her eyes. White fuzz protruded from the crags in her lined chin.
“Thanks for the help. We’ll let you get back to whatever you’re doing.”
The pair of the officers walked back up to their car, and P. Belton sat behind the wheel and closed his eyes. Nights like tonight made him feel older than his 54 years. He sighed and turned to Judith. “Do you have Tate’s number?”
“Why would I have his number, P.B.?”
“You’re still seeing him, aren’t you? Call him and tell him we have a name. Widow Maker.”
Judith blushed bright red and stepped from the car. She took two steps away and pulled out her phone and dialed Tate’s phone. Judith scratched the right side of her face while the phone rang.
“It’s Judith. P. Belton and I got a name. It’s Widow Maker.”
Tate scoffed, and Judith’s frown deepened. She let a breath out through her nose and shook her head. “That’s not a name, that’s a moniker.”
“You can run it through the database and see what pops up, or are you too lazy to do that?”
“Watch your mouth, officer. You keep on mouthing off, and me and Wilkins will fix that for you.”
Judith said nothing else and pressed ‘end call.’ She climbed into the car and slammed the door. P. Belton watched her for several seconds and waited for her to say something to him. Judith looked at the floor and said, “Take me home, P.B. I need a shower.”