DEA Agent Camden McMillan fanned away the swarming flies that engulfed the teenager’s body. Even after ten years with the agency, he never got used to the brutality inflicted upon people. He closed the boy’s sightless eyes and sighed. The hot June sun sparkled off the nearby rill that meandered through sandy banks.
The body lay in an empty field of shrubs in Minnesota’s Red Lake’s In- dian reservation. As soon as the body had been discovered, Hobie Jack the Chippewa criminal investigator for the reservation had contacted Camden as well as the FBI. The kids who’d stumbled upon the body had been sent home, but their activity around the area had obliterated any footprints. A few tire tracks were visible where scrub brush and twigs had been crushed and broken, but not enough to determine the make of the vehicle.
In the distance high on a hill the citadel-like structure owned by Ed and Yaz Korbin soared toward the sky. Its proximity to the main road to Canada made it the perfect distribution center for drugs coming into the United States. Although Camden had no hard evidence against the broth- ers, their past shady dealings in Texas made them his main suspects.
Now Camden and Hobie stood shoulder to shoulder. With the late afternoon sun at their backs, their elongated shadows spread across the remains. Hobie sighed before he said, “He’s Ned Dickerson, the teenager we were supposed to meet yesterday. He lives in town with his parents. From the state of rigor, I’d say he’s been dead about twenty-four to thirty-six hours.” Camden fingered the long scar on the side of his left cheek. “Ned claimed to have information about who was supplying drugs to his friends. That was Friday. Today’s Wednesday. If you’re right about the time of death, it means he was killed Monday or Tuesday.” He pointed to the body’s head. “Besides the bullet hole in the back of the skull, there’s bruising above the temple and around the mouth and jaw.”
Hobie crouched, his jeans tight around his muscular thighs. “Tortured or a fight?”
They studied the area surrounding the body. Despite the head shot, very little blood had seeped into the sand. The lividity was on the boy’s left side, yet he was lying in a curled up position on his right side. From the evidence before them, the body had been dumped after he’d been murdered.
Hobie stood, but kept his eyes on the body. “Looks like defensive wounds from the appearance of his hands. The FBI will establish an exact time of death and they might get DNA from under the fingernails.” He squinted as he looked up at the surrounding skyline. “Signs of vultures or coyotes might lead us to the kill site.”
Camden turned his attention to the body’s position, his gray eyes narrowed, accentuating the crow’s feet at his temples. “He might have been stuffed into a small area, like a car’s trunk before rigor-mortis set in.” The wrists were raw and bruised with yellow fiber embedded in the skin, but the rope had been removed from the scene. He stepped back, licked the salty sweat on his upper lip, then drew the back of his hand across his mouth. “If I’d met him over the weekend, he’d still be alive.” He ran his fingers through his sandy-colored hair. Since the kid had contacted his office, he felt partly responsible.
“Don’t go down that guilt track,” Hobie said. “We all have too large an area, too many cases and too few resources.” The sun shone on Hobie’s handsome swarthy face. His combed back black hair accentuated his high forehead. “How did the boy get your name?”
“How does she know you?”
“It’s a long story.”
Hobie scowled. “The same story about how she left here three years ago broke and returned with money in her pocket?”
“She helped the government take down a drug operation. The money came from a lottery ticket.”
“Oh.” Hobie glanced down at his well-worn boots, then met Camden’s eyes. “Good. She deserved a break.”
Camden wasn’t sure how to read Hobie’s response. “You know her?” Hobie turned away as he said, “Yeah, from when we were kids…and later.” “Ah.”
Hobie faced him. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Nothing.” Camden wondered if Patty’s relationship with Hobie would affect the investigation. Hobie was a good-looking young man, only a little older than Patty, so it didn’t surprise him that they might have been friends or more than friends. He rubbed his jaw. Why would Patty Harkin give his name to Ned? She’d returned to her hometown of Bromont three years ago, opened an auto repair business, and recently taught auto shop at the local high school. That had to be her connection to Ned. If the boy had confided in Patty about what he knew, she could be in danger.
“Why did Ned want to meet at The Sage Cafe?” Hobie frowned. “That’s near the eastern part of the reservation and far from town.”
“He probably wanted to avoid being seen with me. He sounded afraid.” Camden nodded to the body. “Guess he had reason to be.”
Hobie toed the sand with his boot. “Any ideas who might have killed him?”
“It’s too early to jump to conclusions. But it looks like torture and assassination which spells drug cartel to me.” Camden had to be careful about stating his suspicions without proof. Hobie nodded as if he understood what Camden was thinking. “You better stick around till the FBI arrives. They’re in charge of murders on the reservation. Tell them what you know.” Camden had no intention of staying. The townspeople of Bromont didn’t need to know he was with the DEA. “Who’s the FBI agent in charge?”
“Shana Rawls. This area is a new assignment for her. She’s thorough, detail oriented, and won’t be pushed around.”
“I met her at Quantico last year. You’re right. She wouldn’t take guff from anyone. Some thought she was too aloof and sensitive, but I liked her. Being assigned to northern Minnesota isn’t easy for a black FBI officer, man or woman.”
“She’s better than the last FBI agent. He couldn’t wait for retirement and did sloppy work.” Hobie looked away, his expression unreadable.
Camden knew Hobie’s fiancée had died under suspicious circumstances on the reservation a year ago. The FBI had claimed she died of a self-inflicted overdose of heroin, yet she had no previous needle marks and no history of drug addiction. Camden had questioned the results, but he’d been on another detail at the time. Now with this murder and the earlier suspicious death, Agent Rawls might reopen the old case.
The insidious creep of drugs across the Canadian border and into the hands of eager users had hit northern Minnesota hard. With the North Dakota oil fields booming, workers had moved their families to Minnesota’s small farming communities seeking better housing and better schools than they could find in North Dakota. When the oil market dried up, workers had been laid off, and unemployment, along with the usual human failings and the poverty on the Indian reservation, helped foster the drug trade. The small town of Bromont had become a drug hub. Now it was Camden’s job to find the drug leader and stop the flow of drugs.
“I have a meeting in D.C. but I’ll be back here Friday or Saturday.” Camden lived in Minneapolis using the cover as a history professor, and as a result he was constantly traveling. “Ask Agent Rawls to be discreet about bringing my name up when she questions people. I want to keep my connection with the DEA under wraps for now.”
“It would be better if you told her yourself.”
“You’ll have a cadre of agents and police here soon. Too many to keep my involvement quiet.” There was a leak within law enforcement, and until Camden knew who the culprit was, he’d keep a lid on much of his information.
Hobie’s face remained expressionless. “Agent Rawls can keep a secret, but she’ll be pissed. Call her as soon as you can.”
When they heard a distant rumble, they looked up to see a caravan of emergency vehicles kicking up a cloud of sand. Camden hurried to his SUV and settled his his long frame inside. As he drove off, he spotted a 4x4 white Ford truck with an attractive black woman at the wheel. Agent Shana Rawls had arrived.