The Strange Shape of Anne's Grief Part 16

by Shane Migliavacca


The Strange Shape of Anne's Grief chapter 16 Sheriff John Pinbacker



Anne watched the car in front of her belch out exhaust fumes. A large white cloud of toxic fumes exploding from the pipe. Traffic was backed up quite a bit, strange for a Saturday morning. At this rate she’d be late for sure. For once Anne didn’t feel all that stressed out about that prospect. She felt quite rested this morning. After working her ass off Friday she’d slept like a baby. Traffic crawled along, it inched forward slowly. At this rate it would take all morning. Might as well have a little distraction, Anne thought. She switched on the radio and caught the tail end of David Bowie’s Beauty and the Beast. The DJ came back, talking over the end of the song.

“Burr. Cold morning out there, folks. Hope your bundled up. How was your Black Friday? Did you got all your Christmas shopping done? Up next the world news…before that, Scorpions. Rock you like a hurricane baby! Oh yeah!”

Traffic moved along a bit faster now. Finally allowing Anne to move the truck more than a few feet. Up ahead she could make out what the holdup was all about. A deputy was waving cars through a few at a time. There was a barricade set up along one side of the road. Police tape blocking off a bit of the sidewalk in front of the closed Five and dime. Police cars lined the other side of the street.

Maybe it was a break in, Anne thought. Wouldn’t be the first time some kids smashed in the window of one of the business around here. Why the Five and dime though? As far as Anne knew, that store was empty of anything of value. Of course, there was always a chance they did it just to be vandals. There was certainly plenty of those types around town.

As the cars crept along, Anne pulled up parallel to the crime scene. The front window had indeed been smashed in. Standing inside the store a few deputies were busy going over the scene. One clicked away taking photos. Overseeing it all was The Sheriff. He was a large black man. Over his uniform he wore a brown jacket with a furry white collar. Atop his head was a brown fedora. He appeared to be standing over a white sheet. The shape underneath it looked like…looked like a…

You know what that is.

It looked like a body. No! It couldn’t be. Not around here. The worst there was in Frostwood was the occasional robbery or fight. A murder though? There hadn’t been one in a very long time.

Anne stared at the white sheet lying there. Draped over a vague human like form. Even from here it was obvious to her. Even though Anne didn’t want to think about such a thing like that.

She felt drawn into the plain white sheet. Could feel the absolute whiteness of the sheet against the darkness around it. The image embed itself onto her retinas. She could see the sheet move, falling away as the bloody corpse underneath sat up.

A car horn behind Anne breaking her out of the nightmare of her imagination. She looked to the deputy waving her along. His expression was one of annoyance. Gently pressing on the gas, Anne sped away.


Sheriff John Pinbacker felt the coarse hair of his goatee sting the dried skin on his hands as he stroked his chin. A murder. There was no doubt about it. Why Frostwood? Why now? On his watch. That alone pissed him off. Not to mention the senselessness of somebody taking a life. This was why he’d left Detroit, went out east, settled in a small quiet town. To get away from the still, sad bodies of the murdered. Yet here he stood. Looking down at an unfortunate woman who’d come to a grisly end. At his feet laid a single fuzzy purple slipper. Blood dried on it. “Shit.” He sighed. This was the worst part. Seeing their clothes, their possessions. They’d got up that day, gotten dressed, not expecting their life to come to an end.

He took a silver pen from his jacket. Lifting up the slipper with the pen’s top. Did she wear these simply because they felt good or they were comfortable? Or did someone buy them for her? There was a story behind them. Unique to this woman. Now snuffed out. In is fifteen plus years as a cop, Pinbacker knew even the lowliest and loneliest person had somebody that cared for them. Most of the time they didn’t even know it. Went through their life thinking they were all alone.

He signaled one of the deputies over. Deputy Harold Olson. A skinny young kid who’s only skill appeared to be tripping over his own feet. Somebody at the office had called the kid Scrotum once as a joke. The name had stuck. As much as he hated it, Pinbacker found himself using it more times than not.

“Bag this up, Scrotum.”

Making a face, Harold held open a large evidence bag as Pinbacker dropped the slipper in. Just another piece of a collection now. One that would hopefully tell them the story of what had happened last night. Knowing the why, that was a wholly different story. One you really never could ever hope to understand.

“Some scene, huh boss?” Olson said. Zipping up the bag. “Like a fucking slaughter house.”

“Yeah kid. Some scene.” The kid was enthusiastic. Pinbacker wasn’t quite sure what to make of Olson. Some became deputies for the uniform. Some for the women they felt it attracted. Some for the power it afforded them. And a few did it because they thought they could make a difference. This kid though. He hadn’t gotten a handle on him yet.

“Here comes the coroner boss.”

A short, dark haired middle-aged woman stepped through the front window. Dr. Sarah Kiesel. Full time general practitioner and part time coroner. This would be her first murder. Pinbacker wondered how she’d handle it.

Kiesel rubbed her gloved hands together “Cold morning for a body Sheriff.”

“You’ll have to take that up with the killer Doc.”

She knelt. Rising one corner of the sheet.

Next to him, Olson shifted uncomfortably. “It’s quite…something.”

The Sheriff watched Kiesel. Studying her reaction. She’d seen plenty of dead bodies. Almost all from natural causes or car accidents. The victim of a violent crime? That was something different.

Kiesel nodded. “Isn’t it though.”

If it was affecting her, she did a damn good job of covering it. Pinbacker thought. The woman knelt, staring intently at the body in front of her without flinching. Something even some of his oldest deputies couldn’t claim.

Kiesel inspected the dead woman’s neck. “Are these teeth marks?” She muttered.

“Teeth marks? Really?” Olson said. His voice becoming excited.

“Deputy Olson, isn’t there something you should be doing? Perhaps finding this woman’s missing foot?” Pinbacker said. His eyes never leaving the body on the floor.

“Oh right. Yeah, I’ll get right on it sir.” Olson backed away.

The doctor worked her way down the woman’s body. Stopping at the leg with the missing foot. “It’s interesting.”

“What’s that?”

“We have two different things going on here.” She points to the stump. “I’d say something hacked this right off. It wasn’t sawed off. Maybe a clever or ax was used.” She then went back up to the woman’s neck. Turing her head to show off the neck wound. “But this…this wasn’t.”

“You mentioned teeth. Our suspect bit her?”

“I’d say just by looking at it, an animal did this.”



Pinbacker sat in the parking lot of The Smoke Stack, the local tobacco store. He tapped the new pack of smokes on the dash. A thermos of hot tea rested on his lap.  His wife had handed it to him as he’d left. Its heat warmed the insides of his legs. Pulling the wrapper off from the pack, he crumpled it up. Stashing it in his jacket. He’d have to remember to throw it out before Rose found it. He’d quit smoking three months ago. It had only lasted two weeks. He was moderately sure she knew he was smoking again. His wife would’ve made a good cop herself. He felt guilty not telling her outright. Choosing to avoid the argument that would inevitably follow altogether. 

Lighting up the smoke, he watched customers come and go as he savored the cigarette. Any one of them could know Rose. They could tell her they’d seen him here. Smoking in the parking lot. Of course, they wouldn’t. Pinbacker could see in their eyes, they were intimidated by his gruff face and large, bulky frame. People moved out of his way. Not to mention he was the goddamn sheriff. If he had a mind to, he could make their life hell.

Cranking down the window, he exhaled a cloud of smoke into the cold air outside. Saturday morning. He should have been at home sitting on the couch watching cartoons on TV. Instead here he was, smoking. Trying to put the image of that dead woman out of his head. She wasn’t the first he’d seen. And it was a sad fact she wouldn’t be his last. And as the investigation progressed he’d come to know her. Her life. Her family. Making the image of her lying there dead all the more worse. She’d join the others in the catalog of the dead he carried in his memories.

He’d have to head into the office sooner or later. There would be too much yet. Not till Kiesel did an autopsy. They could go an hour or so without him he figured. Rubbing his temples, he could feel the coming headache.

“Sheriff come in. Sheriff?”

The cruiser’s radio crackled to life. Pinbacker took one last drag off his smoke. Relishing it. Before flicking it out the window. It looked like work was going to drag him back kicking and screaming.

“I’m here.”

The voice on the other end, a feminine one belonged to Deputy Dana Cuthbert. Of all his deputies she was the best. Dana was committed to “doing good.” She grew up in Frostwood. Her parents upper middle class. She’d had a good childhood and wanted to give something back to the town that had been good with her. If anybody deserved to take over after him it was Dana.

“We’ve got the ID on our victim. Carol Machen. Forty years old. Lives on Hillcrest. Works at Save-Mart.”

Shit. That was fast. Somebody was getting a raise. “Good work. I’m on my way back in.”

Carol Machen. We know your name now. Next, we have to find your killer. Pinbacker started the cruiser. He let his hand drift to his sidearm.

“I’m going to get you, you son of a bitch. I’m going to nail your ass to the wall.”


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