"Jerk!" I snapped my cell shut and tossed it into the passenger seat. I wanted to call him something else but decided to save that until the next time I saw him. He knew I'd had plans for tonight. I'd already refused to work late twice today.
I'd be seeing him soon too. Marshal Edwards didn't recognize the address but I did and something told me it was going to be a long night. Taking a deep breath, I steered toward the next driveway, looked both ways then pulled a u-turn and headed back to town.
It took me ten minutes to make the drive. Long enough to calm down and keep my job but not long enough to think about my ruined evening and get angry. Instead, I searched my brain for everything I knew about her honor, Margaret Richards.
Last week, I'd spent all Wednesday in her courtroom. She had been tough but fair. A little over the top and a tad pompous but what else could you expect when your every decision is applauded by fifty people. I still couldn't understand why anyone would want to spend all day in court if they didn't have to but heck, I'm just a cop so what do I know. It was obvious Judge Richards enjoyed the attention though. The way she played to her fans had me wondering if her secret desire was to be the next Judge Judy.
Judge Richards lived in the upscale part of town. Trick-or-treaters ran from house to house in fancy store bought costumes carrying plastic jack-o-lanterns, which reminded me of the party I'd be missing tonight. I vowed to make Edwards wish he'd called someone else by the time I was through with him.
The streetlights came on just as I turned off the main street. A wrought iron gate blocked the drive so I stopped at the speaker box and pushed the "call" button. Static was my only reply. I grabbed a ponytail holder from the ashtray and pulled my hair up then gave the button another jab. This time I got more static along with a barely understandable "May I help you?" It only took a couple seconds after I said police officer and the gate was swinging inward. I put my jeep in gear and proceeded down the blacktop.
Azaleas lined both sides of the drive and circled the tall pines that hid the house from those passing on the main road. An older woman waited on the porch fidgeting with the buttons that lined the front of her uniform. She hurried down the steps as I parked by a bed of dying tulips. She rattled off a string of Spanish mixed with English. All I managed to catch Richards, dead and blood. I calmed her as much as I could and learned her name was Maria, that she had called in the report and that Judge Richards wouldn't be holding court again. I grabbed my cell and kit then followed Maria past the dolphin fountain and toward the steps. At the door, she wiped her feet on the sisal mat and waited until I did the same. We made our way inside and down the hall.
"I have day off. Senora Richards, she insist I be here before dark, so alarm be on." Maria stopped before a closed door and turned to me. "When I return, I look for Senora and find this." She opened the door and stepped aside.
I took a deep breath and looked into the room. Judge Richards knelt before a judge's bench, her head resting in a pool of blood. At the bench, a large teddy bear held a gavel in its paw. I looked back at Maria. "She has a courtroom in her house?"
"Si'. Before Senora Richards become judge, she practices her talk to jury. She say it help to see holes." Maria shrugged. "But it never like this, with the dolls."
This was going to be a press nightmare so I dialed Marshal Edwards. His number was busy so I ended the call. He needed to be here, but for now, I could get the pictures taken. After pulling on a pair of rubber gloves, I grabbed my camera and stepped into the room. Might as well start with the body. I slowly walked around the judge's body and gave it a once over. Someone had made sure there would be no appeal. The back of Judge Richards' head spattered the floor and the two tables behind her. My stomach protested as I gathered up blood samples and brain matter making me glad I'd skipped lunch.
My cell rang just as I finished up with the Judge. Before I could say anything, I heard an angry "Where are you?" I tried to apologize for not calling to let him know I had to work late after all but he wasn't impressed and hung up on me about halfway through. We had a rocky relationship and this didn't help. I almost called him back but decided to let him cool down and gave the marshal another call instead. This time it rang but went to his voicemail so I left a message for him to call ASAP, that we had a serious situation here. I closed my eyes, counted to ten and got back to work. After studying the blood spatter pattern, I strolled to the back wall and looked for the slug. It only took a minute to find it buried in the wood paneling. I dug the slug out then did the bag and tag thing.
To my right, a jury box took up most of the wall. In each chair sat a doll. I snapped pictures of each one. Chinese, Native American, Japanese, Mexican, she had a whole collection of them, all in native costume. The doll in the number one chair wore a hooded parka and fuzzy boots. Eskimo, I figured. It also held part of a sheet of paper in its hand. I took several pictures then removed the note and read it. We the jury find the defendant, Margaret Richards guilty on all charges. Not quite a jury of her peers. I shuddered, bagged the note, labeled, and set it aside.
I sighed and punched in the marshal's number. Again, it ended up going to voicemail. I left a message that wouldn't get me fired then called dispatch. Jerry answered. Nice guy for the most part though his eyes tended to wander when he thought I wasn't looking. I updated him on the situation, requested a coroner, asked that he contact Marshal Edwards and send him this way.
That left the bench with the bear, a soldier doll standing nearby, and the witness stand. No witness occupied the stand so I snapped a picture, dusted for prints and moved to the bench.
A large brown teddy bear that had seen better days sat in the chair. A rubber band fastened a gavel to its right paw. Its other paw held a red plush heart with "I love you" embroidered across it. I wondered if the heart was symbolic but hadn't a clue. I dusted for prints and came up empty. Standing to the left of the judge's bench stood a tall soldier doll. I guessed he represented a bailiff. This doll also held a note.
My cell rang. About time Edwards answered my call. I flipped the phone open and answered. Jerry sounded worried as he told me he couldn't get in contact with the marshal. He even quoted rule number three at me. Never be unreachable. I took a deep breath. "He's probably at a party and can't hear his cell. Just keep calling and I'll finish up here."
Jerry didn't sound convinced but agreed to keep trying. I told him I'd let him know soon as I finished with the crime scene or if I heard anything from Marshal Edwards.
A knock on the door startled me. Doc Sam stood at the door, gurney behind him and a funny look on his face. He'd retired from his medical practice years ago but said he still needed something to occupy his time other than fishing and hunting. I sighed and told him to come on in. By this time tomorrow, everyone in town would know about Judge Richards' in-house courtroom. Not that it was really Doc's fault but he'd tell his wife and she'd tell everyone else.
Doc and I wrapped the body in a sheet of plastic and loaded it on the gurney. He fastened the straps across the body, said thanks for the help and wheeled Judge Richards away. Maria stood in the doorway muttering to herself in Spanish. She made the sign of the cross as she watched Doc make his way down the hall, then turned to me.
"Must I stay?" She gazed around the room then shuddered.
"Of course not. In fact, it'd be better if you left." I watched her sigh in relief.
"I be gone in five minutes. I leave key on table by front door so you lock up." Maria hurried down out of sight, her shoes echoing down the hall.
Couple minutes later, she hurried past the door, paused long enough to say goodbye and then continued on. The front door closed with a click and I was left alone.
Giving the soldier another look, I circled him taking pictures then carefully removed the paper from its hand. I placed it face up on the floor and took several pictures. Today's date had been handwritten in the right corner of a docket sheet. On the first line, as case number one someone had filled in Judge Margaret Richards. A red line marked through her name. I read the next name and sucked in a deep breath. Marshal Bryan Edwards.