Christine was up before we finished eating and downed her own healthy serving of oatmeal. Once we were dressed and had packed food and water, we loaded Ammo into our Jeep – dogs were welcome on the trail, as long as they were leashed – and headed back to the mountains and the Mescalero reservation.
We checked in at the Inn of the Mountain Gods to inform them of our plans and were granted permission – a necessary formality, according to Meredith – then donned our backpacks and headed out. The lake was formed by the damming of Carrizo Creek. We circled it once then allowed Meredith to lead us away from the lake, on the service road that ran past the golf course.
We were strolling along comfortably, chatting and laughing. Ammo was trotting along beside me, occasionally stopping to investigate a scent but generally staying right at my heel as he’d been trained. So it caught me off guard when he suddenly stopped, head up, sniffing the air, then took off up the mountain slope.
I yelped, “Ammo, stop!” But for the first time since we’d adopted him, he disobeyed. I had no choice but to follow. Chris and Meredith straggled behind.
Deep into a stand of trees, Ammo slowed. He was sniffing the air, adjusting his course accordingly. A tiny pool of disquiet began to settle in my chest… because Ammo, a certified cadaver dog, was certainly behaving as if he was scenting a corpse.
After another hundred yards or so, we came upon a campsite. Ammo stopped, then sat and woofed softly. In Ammo-speak, “There’s a body here.”
Indeed there was. The body – a heavyset man – was sitting in a low-slung folding chair by a defunct campfire. He was wearing outdoor-appropriate clothing, a knit cap, and boots. His head was hanging down, his chin drooping to his chest.
I said, “Hello? Sir?”
No response. I tiptoed closer. “Sir?”
Nothing. I bent down to see his face. His eyes were half-open and clouded over, his lips and skin blue-white.
Chris and Meredith scrambled up to the site and stopped. Chris asked, “What’s… who’s that?”
“I don’t know, but he’s dead.”
Chris took an involuntary step back. Meredith asked, “Are you sure?”
I tugged off one glove and tentatively touched the man’s jawline. His skin was cold and felt stiff. I said, “I’m sure.”
Meredith had her phone out. “I’ll call 911.”
Chris and I spoke in stereo. “You have a signal?”
“I have an Iridium Go device. I’m on the reservation for work often enough, I need to be able to call and text from anywhere in these mountains.” She dialed, then identified herself and described our findings and location.
Then we waited.
Chris and Meredith went back down the hill to the service road we’d been on so they could guide the responders. I moved myself and Ammo away from the tent and looked around.
There was no sign of anyone else. A one-man tent was pitched a few feet away from where the man sat. A Thermos was on the ground beside his chair.
A lone camper who suffered a heart attack or stroke and died by his fire?
Possible that he’d only been incapacitated by the precipitating event, then froze to death.
I shuddered. Then I remembered that I hadn’t praised Ammo for a job well done. I dug treats out of my backpack – “good boy, Ammo, way to go” – and hoped that would suffice. Our standard procedure to reward Ammo after a successful training session was to play tug of war with his favorite rope bone. I hadn’t brought it; I never considered that I might need it.
After about twenty minutes, I heard vehicles on the road below. A couple of paramedics came crashing up the hill, equipment in tow. They were followed by a cop, a young Native guy, who said, “Stay right there, if you would, sir.”
“Yes, sir.” I stayed.
The paramedics approached the body and shook his shoulder. “Sir?” They attempted to lift him from the chair and stopped. One of the paramedics said, “He’s either in full rigor or frozen.”
The cop said, “Shit. Is he native?”
“Nope. Appears to be Anglo.”
The cop turned to me. “Sir, stay put. I’ll be right back.”
I continued to stay put. The paramedics followed the cop back down the hill. A few minutes later, he returned, alone. “All right. I’m Officer Mike Chavez, Mescalero Police. You’re family of Ms. Lagai?”
“Yes, sir.” I explained.
“Tell me what happened.”
I told. Chavez eyed Ammo with interest. “Cadaver dog, huh?”
“Cool.” Chavez scanned the area around the tent. “His fire went out.”
Chavez sighed. “Why the hell do people camp alone?”
“Um. Seeking solitude?”
He grunted. “Okay, Mr. Brodie, I have to wait here for a physician to declare the death. Give me your address and phone number in case I have any follow-up questions then you and the ladies are free to go.”
At the bottom of the hill, the paramedics were still there, sitting inside the cab of their ambulance. Meredith and Chris were pacing. When they saw me, Chris asked, “Do we have to stay?”
“No. Do you want to keep hiking or go home?”
Meredith and Chris exchanged a look. Meredith said, “I’d rather keep going.”
Chris nodded. “So would I.”
We headed further out the service road we’d been on. Meredith pointed out a few native plants along the way, and the dead guy slipped from the forefront of our minds.
When we reversed course and passed the point where Ammo had taken off, a battered four-wheel-drive pickup truck was parked at the side of the road. The ambulance was still there, but the paramedics weren’t. The back doors of the squad vehicle were open, and the stretcher was gone.
Back at the house, Pete had spaghetti sauce bubbling on the stove. He boiled some linguine, and we dug in, ravenous, telling him of our adventures while we Hoovered our dinner. When we got to the part with the corpse, Pete whistled softly. “Wow. Ammo’s first real body.”
“I know, and I didn’t have his rope toy.”
Chris said, “With your habit of stumbling over bodies, you should probably carry one with you at all times.”
Pete and Meredith laughed. I spluttered. “Hey! At least this was a natural death, for once.”
I should have known better.
When Jamie Brodie’s dog sniffs out a corpse at a campsite on the Mescalero Apache Reservation, Jamie thinks, “At least it’s a natural death this time.” Not so fast. The dead man is freelance investigative reporter Danny Norman, and he was on the trail of a major story. Who or what was Danny about to expose? Meanwhile, Jamie’s husband, Pete Ferguson, is behaving strangely: careening from one obsession to the next, neglecting the classes he’s teaching, and refusing to admit that there’s anything wrong.
Jamie needs answers to two questions: What happened to Danny Norman? And, more importantly, what the heck is going on with his husband?
More About Author, Meg Perry
Learn more about author Meg Perry and her Jamie Brodie Mystery series via her website:
From Meg’s website:
“I’ve been writing the Jamie Brodie Mysteries since June 2012. Hard to believe! Jamie is (like me) an academic librarian. Not like me, he’s a gay man, a Rhodes Scholar, a rugby player, a son, brother, uncle…and boyfriend (eventually, husband). Jamie’s boyfriend (eventual husband) is psychology professor Pete Ferguson, and they share a townhouse in Santa Monica, CA.”