Blood was everywhere, and I couldn’t make sense of it. The sun had passed over the Grand Canyon’s walls, casting long shadows over the scene. Running down the sandy, rocky beach into the creek, the blood appeared thick and black. The man held tightly onto his pistol, his index finger still upon the trigger. The pistol’s barrel pointed at a dead bighorn sheep lying fifty feet away on the dusty ground.
The man looked strong despite his girth, like he could’ve slung the sheep over his shoulder and carried it out of the canyon by himself. Flies buzzed around his mountaineer beard and soared up and down his wide frame. I looked back down at his body, which was as lifeless as the sheep’s.
The sheep should’ve had a small hole through its skull where the bullet entered. If it was a cold-blooded poaching, blood would’ve dripped from between the curved horns, staining the sand and rocks beneath it red. But the sheep lay in a winding, overflowing river of blood. And its head was clean, free of wounds and scratches. Its belly, on the other hand, was torn open, its intestines spilling out wantonly.
Meanwhile, the man’s body seemed untouched. His stomach stretched the limits of his jacket and jeans. I kneeled down and picked up his head, feeling for dried blood, or perhaps a contusion that a hooded assassin might’ve inflicted on him with a crowbar. My hand was wet with oil from his hair. But there was neither blood nor any sign of blunt trauma. Whoever did this must have been a professional. I wasn’t trained to hunt killers, but a traffic cop was a cop like any other. I couldn’t let someone get away with perpetrating this gratuitous slaughter.
Crows circled above the bodies, barely visible in the darkening sky. Clouds rolled in overhead. The wind howled, hurrying through the tunnel of the canyon. I unsheathed my flashlight from its holster and illuminated the bank of the creek. This case was a tricky one, and I needed to unearth some clues if they were going to take me seriously.
I put on my gloves, snapping them tight against my wrists. While searching for a weapon in the brush, I stumbled on a patch of green grass. A group of three yellow-backed lizards lay dead on their sides in the grass. My heart broke for them. They must have witnessed the brutal scene and died in shock. I wish they could’ve told me what they’d seen.
I crawled in the sand looking for footprints and smelling for scents, but nothing came up. This guy, whoever he was, was good.
Steps echoed behind me. I gripped my pepper spray tight in my pocket and turned to face the intruder. It was another hiker, carrying a baby on her back in a baby carrier. The baby made a good alibi. The woman was probably fine. Still, I couldn’t be too careful. Not with what was at stake.
“Who are you?” I demanded.
“Who are you?” she replied, evasively. “Oh my God! Is that guy dead?”
“Ma’am, I’m going to need you to keep calm,” I said, taking control of the situation. “My name’s Officer Jim. I am conducting an investigation into the grave situation you see before you. I’m going to need you to answer a few questions for me. What’s your name, where have you been the last three hours, and is there anyone who can confirm your whereabouts?”
“I’m Tina. I was hoping to get out of here well before dark, but I got caught up helping a girl who fell and shattered her knee. They had to helicopter her out.” That checked out with the chopper I saw earlier. “Look, Officer Jim, with all due respect, it’s getting late and there were reports about a monsoon sweeping through here. Look up at the clouds. They’re starting to move quicker through the sky. It could be really dangerous to get caught by the creek. They get flash floods here all the time. I get that this is serious, but I think it’s best we get out of here now.”
She looked me over for a second. I thought I saw suspicion in her eyes, but it was dark, and I couldn’t be sure. Maybe she was involved in the killings.
“Say,” she said, “it’s quite strange for a plainclothes officer to be down here in the canyon.” Her brows were furrowed. She was deflecting, hiding something. “If anything, I’d expect a fully outfitted park ranger. Can I see your badge?”
“You know what? Forget it,” she said. “I’m getting out of here before it storms. I’m not risking my life and my baby’s life so you can play detective.”