She came to me in a dream, commanding me to open my eyes and see beyond the scene.
The first day of Autumn had cooled the air just enough to make standing outside pleasant. Birds sang among golden leaves shimmering in a soft breeze. Nature cared little for the plight of man.
Officer Blake Hardy ran through standard procedure, pausing in his assessment of the accident only to take a breath between statements. The coroner standing at his side nodded his assent and made a few brief notes on a pad, then replaced pen and pad in the front pocket of his white lab coat.
The Crow arrived, as she always did, minutes after the coroner.
The police chief was a stickler for details, especially after the botched investigation of the murder of the previous DA. He’d taken enough heat from the media to warrant the termination of his position with the force, but his connections had gone higher than state. Even so, one more mistake and he was out.
So he hired The Crow, a meticulous, cold woman, to stand over their shoulders and make sure they were doing their jobs. Naturally, they resented the intrusion. Even worse that their warden should be a woman.
She stepped out of her black Crown Victoria, dressed to match head to toe. She pulled off a pair of black leather gloves only to replace them with black latex ones. No one knew where she’d gotten them, or why she’d even bothered. One look at her, though, and no one really wanted to think too hard on the matter. Her long, black duster billowed out behind her in a sudden gust, and she dipped her head forward and held her wide-brimmed hat in place.
She approached Hardy and Dr. Death (a nickname Hardy had given the coroner on one of their many nights spent at the bar avoiding their wives) just as the coroner was wrapping up his assessment.
“Guy was probably texting, cell phone’s on the seat. Didn’t see the logging truck stopped ahead. Plowed right into it. The jolt likely knocked the ties loose, the log slips from the bundle, crashes through the windshield, and smashes into his chest. Died instantly, so … time of death is,” he glanced to his notes to check the time the accident was called in, but The Crow interrupted.
Her voice belonged to that of a night-club singer from back in the twenties; pure, rich, deep. It didn’t match her flat, objective tone.
“He did not die instantly.” She stood with her hands clasped before her, only the pale skin of her face showing among all the black she wore. Her eyes darted about the scene, never let to linger.
Hardy would have let the comment go, had it been anyone else. That specific detail mattered little in the course of things. It wasn’t like a murderer would go free on a bit of improperly processed evidence. How long the guy had survived with a log lodged in his chest was irrelevant, and his patience with her was non-existent. “What difference does it make?”
Dr. Death followed with, “It doesn’t matter. Couldn’t have been more than a few seconds anyway.”
She met their eyes, each in turn, and each man took an involuntary step back. “If he had died instantly, his hands would be resting on the seat beside him. The difference, Mr. Hardy, was an infinite moment of torture for the deceased. A moment during which he brought his hands up in a frantic, hopeless attempt to remove the log crushing him.” She turned her dark eyes on the coroner. “He died struggling, gasping for air while even that caused him unimaginable pain. He fought until the end, and in his final moments, his hands came to rest on top of the log that killed him. I assure you, Doctor, those few seconds mattered to him.”
She didn’t miss the shamed look on either of their faces. Her black eyes, an unsettling genetic abnormality, never missed a thing. It was why they called her The Crow.