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Wolf River, Oregon
Hundreds of Virgin Marys stared at Rife St. Cloud from every surface inside the old church, their serene eyes in direct contrast to the bloody bodies of the six dead women at his feet.
Staring at a grisly multiple homicide and running on less than four hours of sleep, Rife slid his car keys into the worn pocket of his jeans and wondered what he was doing back in Wolf River. What he was doing on the West Coast in general. This is what I get for taking a vacation.
Vacation or not, his mind automatically registered the stats of the six women as crime scene techs buzzed around them. All Native American with matching tribal tattoos depicting a quarter moon over waves above their left breast. All early to late twenties. Stab wounds and an assortment of symbols carved into the skins of five of the bodies who were staged to circle a sixth.
A ritualistic killer. Rife eyed the various wounds and estimated the depth and number of marks on each woman. Or just a disorganized one trying to cover his tracks?
A heaviness knocked him in the chest. During the past five years as a profiler for the FBI, he'd seen a lot of brutality, but he never got used to the sight of murder victims, especially women and children.
The killer's weapon, a wicked-looking knife, lay on the stomach of the female in the center. Beautiful, even in death, the woman's skin, sharp cheekbones and dark hair spoke of pure ancestry. Chinook? Makah? Tribes existed throughout Oregon, but few pure bloods lived in Wolf River. Unlike the others, she had only one small carving on her breast, in the shape of flames. Thin, bloody lines intertwined and partially encircled her tattoo as if a fire were about to consume it. While she appeared to be the same age as the others, her tat was faded and showed an old wounda single, shallow white scar cut through the center of the quarter moon.
The knife rested with its bloody tip pointing at her pubic hair. The killer's signature?
James Chee, Wolf River's police chief and only detective, snapped on latex gloves as he bent down to study the body. He'd had far more sleep than Rife, even though it was just before three on a Sunday morning. Pressing his fingers against her throat, Chee double checked for a pulse. "EMTs called it," he mumbled, more to himself than Rife. "But I have to be sure."
After a full fifteen seconds, he shook his head and lifted the knife off her stomach with two fingers, examining the ornate hilt. "Definitely not a spree killing. The wheel-spoke pattern with this one in the middle suggests a ritual of some sort." His heavy sigh conveyed grief and pity. "Could be a hate crime. Possibly premeditated."
Rife sunk his left hand into his other pocket. "Ritualistic killings are always premeditated."
Chee bagged the knife and continued to examine it through the clear plastic. "No signs of forced entry or even much of a struggle. Suggests they knew the killer."
Keeping his hands in his pockets, Rife examined the central figure in closer detail. Thick eyelashes balanced her long nose. Her throat showed several old bruises. Had someone tried to choke her previous to tonight's killing? "Cause of death?"
Chee shook his head, the gray braid hanging down his back moving as he studied the woman along with Rife. His finger pointed to the flames. "Keva only has one obvious wound and not a mortal one. Coroner will have to call it."
"Keva? You knew her?"
"Keva Moon Water. Owned the church and the grounds. Set it up as a sanctuary for some of her women kin from what I understand."