The icy wind jolted Burke Wyatt’s hair as he exited his truck, surveying the frozen scene while shaking his head. Winter had come early, and he repressed a shiver as he flipped up his collar and put on his black wool ball cap against the biting cold. There had been a time when he wore a standard cap in the winter, but his wife had insisted, so he wore this because of her.
It was her last gift.
That made it hard to stop wearing once things warmed up, but he was forced to when it got hot. As soon as it was cold, he picked it up again.
His eyes narrowed as he focused on the two bodies that were just visible. He wouldn’t have known what to look for if he hadn’t already known what they were. They were a hundred feet from where he’d parked his truck on the side of the road.
He hadn’t counted how many times he’d responded to a crime such as this. Some became desensitized, but he never had, and he hoped he never would, even though each new case was like a fresh wound.
But it didn’t matter. He could handle it. That’s why he did this job. It was one of the few things he could imagine himself doing. Even though an enormous burden came with being the Bonneville County Prosecutor in southeastern Idaho, he couldn’t and wouldn’t turn from this task.
The worst had already happened.
Burke’s job was to pick up the pieces and determine the how and the why. Today was just the beginning. It would be a long road until he saw the perpetrator brought to justice.
And he would or he wouldn’t stop. Like the other cases that wouldn’t let him go.
Especially the one.
He expelled a sigh, sending a frosty puff of mist into the frigid air. The frustration and anger lasted for a moment longer, and then it was like a switch flipped.
He pushed it away.
A sense of calm filled him, though that wasn’t an accurate description. It was a lack of emotion and a refusal to let it touch him as he prepared for the grim realities of what he was about to view, keeping his focus laser sharp so he could absorb every last detail, no matter how trivial, as he sought the perpetrator or perpetrators.
The snow crunched underfoot.
Several people were likely involved. He doubted it could’ve been done by just a single individual, not without some passerby noticing and calling it in.
His hand brushed against the Glock 47 pistol he kept in a shoulder holster—he always felt naked without it—as he buttoned his suit coat and shut the truck door behind him.
His phone rang. He looked at his smartwatch. It was his mother-in-law, Joyce Romrell. He hesitated before turning away and answering. No matter where he was or what he was doing, he always answered Joyce’s calls.
“Burke, you have a moment? It’s urgent.”
“What’s going on?”
“There’s something in your voice,” she said after a slight hesitation. “What’s wrong?”
“I’m at a crime scene, but I can spare a second. What do you need?”
“Oh, this is a bad time.” Joyce hesitated, and it seemed she might tell him she’d call back, but she continued. “It’s Charles. Something happened at school this morning.”
“Is he okay?” Burke felt a tightening in his chest. A few boys at Charles’s grade school had been picking on him.
It always ate at Burke when things happened to his children that he couldn’t control, but this one was especially poignant because it reminded him of what he’d experienced as a child. He’d hoped to spare his children from bullying but couldn’t see how.
It was the nature of children, after all. The only thing worse would’ve been if his son was the bully.
“He got in a fight.”
Burke had assumed this. “Who with?”
“The Marshall boy. Stan.”
“Stan Marshall? Cameron Marshall’s son?”
Burke frowned. Cameron Marshall and Burke didn’t get along. Never had, never would. But this was the first he’d heard that Cameron Marshall’s son was involved.
Burke’s eyes narrowed. He assumed Cameron had put Stan up to this.
“Is Charles hurt?”
“Nothing serious if he is.”
“He in the principal’s office?”
“Yes. I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind coming with me. I’m just leaving now.”
He checked his watch. She was fifteen minutes out if she was leaving from her home. “I’ll meet you there in twenty minutes. That work?”
That gave Burke ten minutes to be here and ten to get to the school.
“You know what? I’ll handle this.” Joyce could probably sense his unwanted frustration at having to respond to this, but it wasn’t her fault, and it didn’t sound like it was Charles’s either.
“I’m coming. You just make them wait if they try to start without me.”
“I don’t think Charles is the one who started it, if that’s any comfort.”
“I didn’t think he was.”
Burke hesitated after the call ended. Part of him wanted to immediately respond to the family emergency, but his instincts told him he needed to be here.
His presence wasn’t required at the crime scene, but he liked to be on hand whenever something significant happened.
This was why he’d struck up relationships with the local dispatchers, both in the Idaho Falls Police Department and the Bonneville County Sheriff’s Office. He also strived to maintain working relationships with the chief of police and the county sheriff, but those relationships were more fraught with peril because they sometimes fell into conflict. Burke did his best to minimize that, but it wasn’t always avoidable.
He wasn’t notified of every call, but he was usually told about the major ones. As county prosecutor, he felt it was his job to be involved in things like this from day one.
It was a duty he owed to every victim and their families. That’s what he’d been elected for. And that’s what he intended to do. It didn’t sound like his son was in much trouble, and the harm was minimal, if any. Perhaps the situation might be made better if everybody had a few minutes to calm down before he got there anyway.
One of the responding deputies called back to him. “Burke, you’ll want to see this!”
Burke’s phone went into his pocket. Unconsciously, his right hand went to his left side and checked his pistol again. The perpetrator was probably long gone, but it was a risk he didn’t want to take. He put on thin leather gloves that wouldn’t keep him from going for his gun, squinting against the wind as it blew snow into his eyes while he forged ahead.