"What in the world is that?"
Mike Collins raised sweat coated goggles to see more clearly. It was a boot, a single black boot with red inset and stitching. It looked new. He held it up to the cemetery maintenance man working near him. "Joe, look at this."
The other man couldn't hear over the angry growl of the gasoline trimmer he was wielding. Mike walked over to tap him on the shoulder to get his attention. The silence washed over them like a fog bank when the wiry little man shut the machine off.
"I found a boot." Mike held it up.
"So, you want me to applaud or something? It probably fell off a truck on the highway."
"Clear over the fence and on the other side of the duck pond? That ain't possible."
"What are you trying to say, aliens dropped it?" Joe took off the floppy brimmed cowboy hat and mopped his brow with his sleeve.
"No, look closer, the soles aren't even scuffed. It doesn't look like it's even been worn. Nobody would go off and leave a boot like this. Something is wrong."
"Big Mike, you got more imagination than my three year old. We better get back to work before the manager comes by."
"We gotta do something."
"We gotta call the cops."
"Oh all right, if it'll make you feel better. I could use a break."
They threw the equipment in the back of the small maintenance scooter and went back to the office to place the call. Then they got a cup of coffee and sat down in the shade to wait the arrival of the unit.
Corporal John Bucks swung the black and white into the parking area about ten minutes later. He was the training officer for rookie Sonny Jacobs, just beginning active duty. They got out of the unit and walked toward the pair sipping coffee in the shade. The young officer carried himself with an air only possible under the weight of the authority conveyed by a brand new badge.
His voice rang with that authority as he said, "You the ones that called?" The Corporal stood off to the side to watch his new charge handle the situation.
"Found this boot." Mike held it up for inspection.
"You called the police because you found a boot? Are you nuts?"
Mikes face flushed the color of a ripe tomato. "A pair of boots like this would cost over a hunert bucks easy. Nobody would go off and leave one. There's been some sort of foul play."
The Corporal spoke up. "You guys been sniffing your fertilizer spray? It just fell off a truck."
"That's what I said but he wouldn't listen," Joe moved a few steps to the side as if trying to disassociate himself from Mike.
"Yeah," Mike shot him a hard look, "and I said it couldn't have fallen that far."
The young patrolman said, "So, somebody took a nap over there and dropped it gathering up his stuff. No reason to make a federal case out of it."
"Like you'd get back in your truck and not check to see if you had your brand new pair of boots? It ain't right, I say."
"Okay, okay," the Corporal said. "Don't have a stroke, we'll take a look. Show us where you found it."
Mike took them to the place. The Corporal knelt down and looked. "I'll be switched if it don't look like something was dragged off that way. See those little scuff marks on your nice manicured lawn?"
"I'll be, I didn't even notice," Mike said. They followed the trail, stooping occasionally to keep track of it.
"I feel like Daniel frigging Boone." The Corporal's words elicited a nervous laugh from his younger colleague, who quietly unsnapped the strap on his revolver. The trail led to a thick stand of evergreens, a windbreak that surrounded the memorial park.
"It goes in here," the rookie put a hand on his pistol as he eased into the trees. He came out immediately, obviously distraught, no color at all in his face.
"What's the matter?" The older officer unsnapped his own weapon.
"I found the other boot. It's on a body, and it's . . . it's" . . . he put a hand to his mouth as if he might be about to throw up . . . "it's been mutilated. Arms and legs cut off - - - all except one."
"Oh Lord, that's all I need. Get some crime scene tape and let's secure this place."
"I knew it," Mike said.
The Corporal looked at the officer's retreating back. "You feel the carotid artery to make sure he's dead?"
"Make sure? The man is cut up in pieces."
"Okay, okay, calm down. We've still got to make sure before we call it in. You wait here." The Corporal took a deep breath, pulled himself together and went into the thicket. He saw what appeared to be a vagrant. "What on earth were you doing with a hundred dollar pair of boots," he said to the corpse.
The man at his feet jerked and screamed. The Corporal stumbled back into the depths of the nearest evergreen, pulling his pistol by reflex. "Don't sneak up on a man like that," the man propped himself up on the arms that had been tucked under him for warmth. "You nearly scared me to death."
"We thought you WERE dead." He let his heart settle down a little as he replaced his gun. "Why did you throw away a perfectly good boot, and where did you get them?"
"I found them in a sack over by that dirt road. Fell outta some trucker's cab I guess. I just needed the one." He pointed. "Hand me that crutch, would ya?
The Corporal shook his head. "Rookies . . ."