A sick feeling settled in Jud’s stomach when he saw the body. He swallowed once. Mathew Jetter lay sprawled on his right side facing them, his back pressed hard against the bottom bleacher, his eyes still open, his left arm twisted awkwardly at his side. Blood pooled under his head and smeared the edge of the wooden step. If Mathew was dead then where was his mom?
“Mom!” Jud fell on his knees, his finger frantically searching for a pulse. When the slow ragged thread grazed his fingers, he almost cried. “Call 9-1-1!” Desperately wanting to pick up his mother and cradle her against him, he knew if he moved her, he might hurt her more. Mary lay crumpled on the ceramic floor, brown liquid splashed on the wall and splattered on her clothes. An empty cup—her morning coffee—lay on its side in the corner. Like Jetter, blood pooled under her head. But not as much. She was still alive. Jud could be satisfied with that.
Maneuvering with care, the EMTs pushed the gurney out of the tiny area and into the gym. The rolling rubber wheels sounded weird in the open space. A rhythmic squishing sort of sound. Both men ignored Vance and the deputy who stood by the body. The needs of the living came before those of the dead.
Jud walked beside his mom. His skin cold. His eyes dry.
“Where you going, Longtree?” Vance’s question boomed off the gym walls. Because of the resonance, his voice sounded menacing.
“I’ll be with my mother at the hospital if you need me.” Jud let his words trail back from the hallway. He didn’t bother looking at the officers. Focused on his mom, he tried to ignore the crowd gathered outside the front door.
“Holy shit!” The deputy said what Vance and the doc had to be thinking.
For the first time, they saw a knife sticking out of the lower right side of Jetter’s back, hidden between the body and bleacher.
“Damn! Murder after all!” Vance swore at the evidence that showed his friend didn’t die accidentally.
Vance knelt and leaned in to get a closer look at the knife. Is there writing on the handle? “Hey, Ernest, get that flash down here closer, and take some pictures of that handle for me. Several angles.”
“Yeah, what did you get?” He took the camera and pressed the arrow key, scrutinizing each shot of the knife. By fractions, his lips drew up until he grinned like a fool or someone who’d just won the lottery. “Got ja, you damn red skin.”
In the last shot taken, a name stood out plainly, carved into the bone handle of a hand-made knife. A name accented by smeared blood. One name.