THE BLACK CAGE

The color had been sucked from everything, not just the dead.

The sky, about to drop new snow, had clouded into charcoal, rubbing away the horizon. Both ends of the two-lane country road, narrowed into a ragged ribbon by the jumble of dark official vehicles, had disappeared into the gauze of gray mist rising from the sudden melt, unusual for late January. It was the melt that had revealed.

A mud-spattered red ambulance idled low in the center of the rough stone bridge that crossed the Devil's Creek. Fifty people milled about—cops in blue uniforms and ball caps, others in suits and dark trenches; television cuties in clingy coats and cameramen in cargo jackets and big-pocket pants; and a few print reporters. They crowded the north side of the bridge, kept back by a steel guardrail scraped bare by the bumpers of beer-buzzed teenagers and factory workers drifting home late from the taverns in Joliet. Most looked away, but some kept staring directly down into the ravine, transfixed by the horror.

They lay nude like contorted marble mannequins, whiter than the melting snow. Beatrice Graves, at 15 the oldest, was on her right side, her knees drawn up as though against the cold. Priscilla, three years younger but already taller, lay on her back across her sister's head, as if slung to form a rough cross. No obvious signs of trauma were visible.

Milo Rigg made notes of none of it. After a quick glance down into the ravine, he moved back along the edge of the woods. He knew most of the uniforms and the detectives and the reporters and they knew him. He wasn't there to report. He wasn't supposed to be there at all.

A fat hand shot out to squeeze his upper arm from behind. “What the hell, Milo, back on the beat?”