Fayetteville, North Carolina
The body was unrecognizable.
Maj. Jaxon Jennings stood inside the doorway to the home and tried not to breathe too deeply. The dark iron smell of blood mixed with the stench of human excrement made the scene that much more horrifying. Second Lt. Don Pardon came up behind him, looked over his shoulder through the door, and promptly turned away and vomited. It took everything Jaxon had to choke his breakfast back down.
When Pardon was done, he wiped his mouth with his hand and stood up straight. “Sorry, Major.”
Jaxon didn’t respond.
The body belonged to a woman, of that Jaxon was sure. In fact, he knew her name, and her husband’s name. Had met her once in the commissary. Brianna Patterson had been a pretty girl. A high school prom queen, Jaxon would later learn, she’d married Robert Patterson just out of school, only to find the life of a military wife somewhat more challenging than she had envisioned. Now, that life was over at the hands of that same man.
Sergeant Patterson had come off duty at 0600, walked into his post home, pulled the big kitchen knife from its wooden block on the counter, and cut up his wife beyond recognition. When the screams had woken their neighbors, the MPs were called. It took four of them to subdue him. And he had only spoken two words.
Jaxon moved carefully into the living room, approaching the body in a wide circuitous route, trying his best to keep the crime scene as pristine as he could. But with the MPs’ struggle and all that entailed, Jaxon was sure evidence had been lost. Not that they really needed it to prove who was guilty. The sergeant had been covered in blood, and the look in his eyes smoldered with nothing short of a deep, cold, rage. Jaxon had never seen anything like it before.
Brianna lay sprawled over the back of the couch, bent backward at a weird angle, her legs splayed open and her upper body and head resting on the cushions, faceup. Blood had pooled under her bare feet and into the cracks of the couch cushions. In death, she had soiled herself, and it mixed with the blood soaking into the cheap, brown carpet. Her mouth had been sliced through horizontally, creating a horror show mask of pain. The pale blue eyes stared open at the ceiling, one pupil bloody and deformed, the other clear and bright. Jaxon shivered.
He knelt next to her and pulled a pair of gloves from his pocket, slipping them on. Under the couch, a handle protruded, and Jaxon grasped it carefully, sliding the murder weapon out, its blood-covered blade badly bent from the brute force Patterson had used. Jaxon looked up to see Pardon’s ash-white face watching him.
“Bag,” Jaxon said.
Pardon stepped into the room, followed the same path Jaxon took to keep from contaminating the scene any more than it already was, and held open a clear baggie for Jaxon. He deposited the knife into it and stood.
From behind him, the soft sound of footsteps approached. Jaxon and Pardon turned to see a boy of about five standing in the doorway to the kitchen. He stood in his skivvies with a white T-shirt covering his upper body, holding a small teddy bear in his arms. His hair stood up in spikes from sleep. As his eyes found Jaxon’s, his lower lip began to quiver.
“Oh Jesus,” Pardon said.
Jaxon moved quickly to the boy, scooped him up, pushed his head down into his uniform shirt, and carried him quickly out of the room. The boy never said a word.
* * *
Jaxon rose to attention for the officer standing in front of his desk and let his eyes wander to the two sergeants flanking him on the left and right.
“What can I do for you, Colonel?”
“We’re here to take possession of a prisoner in your stockade.”
Jaxon eyed the man, his unfamiliarity with him something unusual on this base. Jaxon made it a point to know all the major players here. So, this man must be from somewhere else.
“And who might that be, sir?”
“Sgt. Robert Patterson.”
Jaxon frowned. There was no way in hell he was letting that man out of his cell.
“I’m afraid that’s not going to be possible.”
“I assure you it will, Major.”
The colonel handed Jaxon orders, and he read through them quickly, not understanding what the hell was going on. He put the papers down in front of him.
“Do you know what this man has done, Colonel? I can’t just give him to you. I’m sure you’re aware that my position as commander of this office supersedes any command, or order, from ranking, or flag, officers, if I deem it appropriate.”
“I’m well aware of your authority. In this case, that authority has been rescinded.”
The colonel leaned over and placed the tip of his finger onto a paragraph at the bottom of the orders. Jaxon read the paragraph more carefully this time and felt his face flush.
“Pardon my expression, sir, but this is bullshit.”
The colonel cleared his throat. “Major, my men will escort you to the stockade where you will transfer custody of Sergeant Patterson to them and you will then escort them back here where I will take responsibility. Is that understood?”
Jaxon stood and pointed a finger at the colonel. The two men bracketing him took a step forward and tensed, focusing their gaze on Jaxon. It didn’t faze him.
“This is highly irregular. I will not transfer custody of this man until I have confirmation that this is legit. Do you understand me, Colonel?”
Without permission, the colonel reached for the phone on Jaxon’s desk, picked up the receiver, and dialed a number from memory. He spoke two words into the handset and then handed it over to Jaxon, who took it slowly. He placed the receiver to his head and listened.
“Yes, sir,” Jaxon said into the phone. “No, sir. This is highly…yes, sir. I understand.” Jaxon stared at the colonel as he put the handset quietly back onto its cradle. “Follow me.”
A few minutes later, as Jaxon stood on the sidewalk outside his office, Sergeant Patterson chained inside the government vehicle bracketed by the colonel’s men, he called out to the colonel as he climbed into the passenger seat.
“I hope you understand, Colonel, that this man is very dangerous.”
The colonel closed the door and rode off. Jaxon turned immediately around and went to his office. His staff sergeant opened his mouth to speak.
“Not now, Sergeant.”
The man remained silent as Jaxon closed the door to his office. He picked up the phone, dialed an extension, and waited for it to be picked up.
“This is Major Jennings. I need to speak with the chaplain.”
After a few seconds, the pleasant voice of Capt. Mel Thomas, chaplain, came over the phone.
“Major. What can I help you with?”
“Morning, Captain. I was just checking on the boy. Didn’t know if he had come around or spoken anything to you yet?”
“Major, I thought you knew. As a matter of fact, I thought you authorized it. He was picked up yesterday by Social Services.” Jaxon heard him shuffling papers. “A…uh…Miss Rutherford. She had the proper paperwork, and I handed him over to her.”
Jaxon had not authorized anything. But then again, it really wasn’t his responsibility to handle those kinds of things. Usually, it was the chaplain’s office that coordinated with family, or civilian authorities, on behalf of military families who had experienced a tragedy.
“Did he say anything to you before they took custody?”
The chaplain sighed. “No, Major. I’m afraid not. He never spoke. I tried, but the boy was in shock. Horrible, to say the least. But it doesn’t surprise me. The boy had seen something most adults would be traumatized by. It might be a long time before he becomes functional again. I hope they get him the attention he needs.”
“Me, too,” Jaxon said. “Me, too. Thank you for letting me know. I appreciate you helping us with him.”
“That’s what I’m here for, Major.”
“Good day, Captain.”
Jaxon hung up the phone and stared at the door. He stood, and then sat back down. He looked over the orders again that were sitting in front of him on the desk and then slipped them inside the folder in his active bin.
It was then that Jaxon had realized he had never even known the boy’s name. He reached for the phone again, thought better of it, and leaned back in his chair.
He’d have to let it go. As much as it bothered him. It was out of his hands.