April 15, Five Years Later
I charged from the house and raced across the lawn, frantically waving my arms. "Stop digging! Winston, no!"
Winston, my Great Pyrenees, paused in his vigorous burial of some form of road kill and raised a muddy nose in my direction.
"I mean it!" Why hadn't I bought one of those nice, retriever-type dogs who mindlessly played fetch all day? Winston spent his time wading in the creek, digging pool-sized holes in the lawn, and―judging from the green stain―applying eau de cow pie around his ear. I crept toward him.
He playfully raised his tail over his back and dodged left.
"I'm warning you." I pointed a finger at him. Phthalo-blue watercolor rimmed my nail, making my gesture less threatening and more like I was growing a rare fungus.
Unfazed, he darted toward the line of flowering lilac bushes lining the driveway, temporarily passing from sight. How could a
hundred-and-sixty-pound canine move so fast? I circled in the other direction, slipping closer, then carefully parted the branches. No dog.
This was ridiculous. I could chase my dog until I retrieved the road kill from his mouth, or scrub it off the carpet for the next week. And it was getting dark, with Prussian-blue shadows stretching between Montana's pine-covered Bitterroot Mountains.
I glanced to my left. Winston crouched, wagging his tail. I moved toward him. He snatched his prize and shook it.
Two black hollows appeared.
I couldn't move. The air rushed from my lungs and came out in a long hiss. I patted my leg, urging the dog closer.
Winston lifted the object, exposing a hole with radiating cracks.
Crouching, I extended my hand. "Come on, fellow. Good doggie, over here."
He placed his find on the ground. It came to rest on its even row of ivory teeth.
I approached gingerly, knelt on the soggy ground, and inspected the sightless eye sockets. "Oh, dear Lord."
Winston nudged the skull forward.
I yelped and sprawled on my rear. An overfed beetle plopped out of the nasal aperture and landed on my shoelace.
Heart racing like a runaway horse, I violently kicked the offending bug, skidded backward, and stood. Fumbling my cell phone from my jeans pocket, I punched in Dave's number.
"Leave it to you, Winston, to find a skull full of bugs—"
"Ravalli County Sheriff 's Department, Sheriff Dave Moore."
"She's dead. You've got to come now, Dave!" Winston pawed at the skull like a volleyball.
"Stop that, Winston. You're just going to make more bugs fall out." I bumped the dog away with my leg.
"What is it now, Gwen? You're calling me because Winston has bugs?"
I rubbed my face. "Of course not. Don't be silly. I already told you she's dead―"
"Question one: Are you okay?"
"Good, good. Now, question two: Where are you?" "I'm home. Near home. The edge of the woods—"
"Doggone it, Dave, don't patronize me." I wanted to sling the phone across the yard, then race over to the sheriff 's office and kick Dave in the shin. "Stop being irritating and get over here."
"Ah, yes. That brings me to question three. Who's 'she'?"
"She's a skull. Or technically a cranium. Didn't I say that? She was murdered."
"Murdered? Are you sure she isn't a lost hiker or hunter?"
"Oh, for Pete's sake, Dave. She's got a neat bullet hole in her forehead, and a not-so-neat exit wound shattering the back." The dog reached a paw around my leg and attempted to snag his plaything. I tapped it out of reach with my shoe. I sincerely hoped no one was watching me play a macabre version of skull soccer with my dog. I already had a reputation for being eccentric.
"Are you positive it's female?"