The first clue came with a corpse.
The body lay next to a gravestone in the Bakerhaven Cemetery.
Police Chief Dale Harper stood in the pouring rain and looked down at it with displeasure. What was a corpse doing in the cemetery? Chief Harper was not unaware of the humor in the question. A body in the cemetery--the press would have a field day. Chief Harper frowned and wiped the water off his face.
The body was that of a young girl in her late teens or early twenties. She was lying facedown with her head twisted to the side. Her left eye was open. Chief Harper wished he could close it. It was eight in the morning, he had barely had his coffee, and the sight of her made him queasy. What in the world was she doing there?
And why was she in the cemetery? If she'd only been on the other side of the fence, not a hundred yards away, she'd have been in the township of Clarksonville, and he wouldn't have gotten the call that dragged him away from the breakfast table before his toast had even popped, on a rainy Monday morning the last day in May.
But, no, this corpse fell under his jurisdiction. The good citizens of Bakerhaven would expect him, as chief of police, to do something about it. It was up to him to find out who killed her and why. At the moment, he didn't even know who she was.
"Never seen her before," the caretaker said.
It was the fourth or fifth time he'd said so. A shriveled little man with a somewhat belligerent nature, Fred Lloyd had found the body when he'd arrived for work this morning. He'd driven in the gate, and his headlights had picked up the girl's silhouette. He'd called the police station, the cop on duty had called the chief, and now Lloyd and Harper were standing together in the cemetery in a drenching rain.
"So you said." Chief Harper knew he should interview Mr. Lloyd, but at the moment he couldn't think of a thing to ask him. The guy had found the body, he'd never seen the girl before, and what else was there?
Chief Harper wasn't entirely up on procedure because murders just didn't happen in Bakerhaven, Connecticut. Waterbury or Danbury, sure, those were big cities, they had their share of crime. Bakerhaven was one of those small, quiet, respectable towns where nothing much happened. There had not been a murder in Bakerhaven in the year and a half that Dale Harper had been chief. So he was not entirely sure what to do.
One thing he knew was he couldn't touch the body until the medical examiner got there. The ambulance he'd called for had arrived, and the paramedics had confirmed what he already knew, that the girl was dead. But they couldn't take her away until the medical examiner saw her, and Barney Nathan, the notorious stick-in-the-mud who served that function, was undoubtedly taking his own sweet time finishing up his breakfast before venturing out on a morning like this to stand in the cemetery in the rain. The paramedics had gone back to the shelter of their ambulance. Chief Harper hunched his orange slicker up over his neck, wished he were somewhere else.
The phone bleeped.
Chief Harper reached under his slicker, fished out the cellular phone, flipped it open, said, "Hello?"
Chief Harper sighed. His wife. "Yes, dear."
"You ran out on breakfast. Is everything all right?"
"I can't talk now. I'm out in the rain."
"Clara's upset. She doesn't want to go to school."
"I can't deal with that now."
"What shall I tell her?"
"Tell her to go to school."
"Ellen. I'm in the cemetery. A young girl is dead."
"Oh, my God. Who?"
"It's no one we know. I can't talk now. Tell Clara if she doesn't go to school she'll miss all the gossip. The phone's getting wet. I gotta go."
A car drove through the cemetery gate, stopped behind the police car. An umbrella popped out from the driver's door, mushroomed open. The trim figure of Barney Nathan emerged. Despite the early hour and the rain, Dr. Nathan was nattily dressed in a blue suit, white shirt, and red bow tie. He would have looked more in place on the dais of a medical convention than at the scene of a homicide.
If this was a homicide.
Dr. Nathan stepped carefully through the streams of water up to the two men. "What do we have here?"
"You tell me," Chief Harper said.
"You mean you haven't touched it yet?"
"Just to make sure she's dead. Aside from that, we've all been waiting for you."
If Dr. Nathan took that as a pointed remark, he didn't acknowledge it. He went over to the grave, bent down beside the body. Examined it with one hand, while holding the umbrella with the other. After a few moments he straightened up.
"Okay. Let's get her out of here."
"So what do you think?"
Dr. Nathan's smile was superior. "Much too soon to tell. I'll have to do a postmortem."
"Any idea when she died?"
"That's what I'll be trying to determine. Okay, that's all I need here. They can take her away."
"In other words, I can touch the body," Chief Harper said.
"With all due care. I still have to determine the cause of death."
"Yes, of course. I'd also like to know who she is."
Chief Harper rolled the body over.
The girl was wearing a cotton pullover and blue jeans. No shoes or socks. Harper felt in the hip pockets, looking for an ID, but they were empty. The right front pocket had some cash. Eight dollars in bills and some change. He put it back.
The left front pocket appeared empty, but proved to contain a folded piece of paper. Chief Harper slid it out in his cupped hand, and looked up to see Barney Nathan standing there watching him.
Which irritated him. Granted, Chief Harper had never liked the man, but it was more than that. Chief Harper had waited for the doctor, held everyone off, shown him the proper respect for his office. In return, Dr. Nathan had not given him the time of day, and was now looking over his shoulder, poking his nose into police business, as if insinuating he didn't trust him to do his job.
This particularly grated since Chief Harper wasn't all that confident about doing his job in the first place.
Which is why, instead of opening the paper, Chief Harper palmed it and casually slid it into his pants pocket as he straightened up.
"Okay, you can take her," he said.
"You find anything?" Dr. Nathan said.
"She's got no ID on her."
"That should make it more difficult." Dr. Nathan gestured to the two medics in the ambulance to bundle up the body.
"Where they taking her? The hospital?"
"No. My office. I have one of the rooms set up for autopsies."
"Uh huh," Chief Harper said. As he watched Barney Nathan walk off, he couldn't help wondering how much the good doctor charged the town for the service.
With the umbrella gone, Chief Harper was getting soaked. He gave way for the paramedics, nodded to the caretaker, and plodded through the mud over to his police cruiser. He hopped in the front seat, started the car, turned the heater up. He snuffled, found a tissue, blew his nose. It occurred to him it would be just his luck to catch a cold.
Dr. Nathan had already driven off. Watching him go, Chief Harper reached in his pocket, and pulled out the piece of paper he'd taken from the pocket of the girl.
He knew it was probably nothing. And he was not entirely sure why he had concealed it from the doctor. With low expectations, he unfolded the paper.
It was an ordinary piece of lined notebook paper.
Chief Harper looked at it and blinked.
On it was written in ballpoint pen:
4) d - line (5).
Chief Harper shook his head. Just his luck. A dead body in the graveyard wasn't enough. He had to get an enigmatic clue.
Chief Harper sighed, wondered what it meant.
Excerpted from A Clue for the Puzzle Lady by Parnell Hall. Copyright © 2000 by Parnell Hall. Excerpted by permission of Bantam, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.