Into the family room strode a dapper young man in a sack suit and a bowler hat. He tipped the hat and marched toward Trace with his hand extended. “Sheriff Paulson?” he asked.
“No,” Trace said, “I’m—“
“Oh, you must be Mr. Lombard,” the young man said, nodding at Boz. “And this must be your hired man, Aenard?”
“No, this is my partner, Boz,” Trace said. “And I don’t know any Lombard. Who are you?”
“Rex Reynolds, reporter for the St. Louis Times,” the young man bared his teeth cheerfully. “Were you a friend of the deceased?”
“We knew him,” Trace said.
“Didja?” Rex Reynolds pulled a tattered notebook and a stub of pencil from his pocket. “What was his name again? Hershel, wasn’t it? Was it just him or all of them? Looks like a slaughterhouse in here, don’t it?”
“What are you doin here?” Trace asked pointedly.
“Searchin’ out the truth, mister. People got a right to know when there’s a murderer in their midst.”
“There ain’t no murderer,” Trace protested. “He’s dead in the well with the rest of ‘em.”
“Really? I heard there’s a young girl down at the jailhouse with blood all down her dress. Did you know Miss Anna Hershel before she killed her family?”
“That young girl didn’t kill anybody,” Trace said in disgust. “Hershel was a decent fella with two proper-raised daughters and somebody did for them in a bad way.”
“Mind if I quote you on that, mister…?”
“Tracy. Jacob Tracy. And if you’re here to search out the truth you might ask some questions before you start jumpin to hare-brained conclusions.”
“How did you know about the murders?” Boz interrupted.
“It’s all over the streets this end of town,” Reynolds said.
“You mean you read it in the Voice this morning like everybody else?“
Reynolds sucked his teeth. “Hey, that neighborhood rag may’ve been first with the story, but the Times has got the readership, we’ve got the resources, and this reporter is gonna break the case wide open long before Anna Hershel faces a jury. Now stand aside, gentlemen, I need to see the bodies.”
The young man flipped his notebook shut, shouldered past Boz and strode out the kitchen door. It seemed only prudent to follow him.
They stepped into the back yard just in time to see one of the women hauled up out of the well, dripping wet and dangling from the hook that had caught under her arm and neck. Her head was thrown back, her stringing hair partially covering the gaping white-lipped wound at her throat. There was so little blood left in her that the flesh was white as a trout’s, but her clothes were stained a uniform rusty shade from the saturated water.
“Get her down!” one of the men snapped, and two of them reached to catch the body and the line from which it hung. Together they wrestled the sodden corpse over the lip of the well and lowered her to the ground. She still had her shoes on, which struck Trace as somehow inappropriate.
Rex Reynolds gave the pitiful thing a cursory glance and then barged up to the man in charge. “Sherrif Paulson, I’m Rex Reynolds, from the St. Louis Times, what can you tell me about the situation here?”
Sherrif Paulson swayed away from the young man with a wave of his hand, like an ox flicking at a horsefly. “Nothin’ to tell, son, got three dead bodies and a hysterical young girl watched her father go mad.”
“So you believe her story that the father was the killer,” Reynolds said, jotting in his notebook. “How’d he end up in the well, then?”
“She says he slipped and fell,” the sherrif said. “Easy, there! Don’t go tearin’ up the clothes until Doc’s had a chance to look at em.”
“He was a big strong man, wasn’t he? Is that the body over there?” Without waiting for an answer, Reynolds marched over to the quilt-covered figure on the grass.
“Now you just get away from there,” the sheriff began, and was distracted by a shout from the men at the well. The rope and hook jerked up, suddenly slack, and flung a disembodied arm in a gingham sleeve onto the grass.
They all looked at it in varying degrees of dismay. “So tell me, sheriff,” said Reynolds, “you think a fifteen-year-old girl could swing a kindling-hatchet with that kind of force?”