CHAPTER 1 - STINGER
He lay there on his side, naked, or more accurately, was sitting, naked, strapped with duct tape to a chair that had toppled over. A mallet style putter head was in his mouth and the weight of the shaft forced his face sideways. A Top-Flite golf ball was half visible, like a fried egg in a bunker, lodged in his chest. What looked like a 56 degree sand-wedge was propped between his legs. The shape of several gashes in his lower legs and arms seemed to match the loft of the club. The worst of it was that the wedge appeared to have made a full swing and good contact with his scrotum.
The sight of the bloody, battered muscular body was horrible for anyone, but a nightmare for any golfer. I was a golfer, in fact the golf coach at Willowtree High School. I came upon this horror in the locker room after arriving early to check equipment and go over notes before an early Saturday morning practice. We were diligently preparing for our first match of the season, and my first as the coach. If you didn't win the first match, you wouldn't win them all, which was our goal. Thank the stars I was there before any of my team arrived. I knew who this red-headed person was, and to all of the kids his celebrity was well known.
I was quite shaken, this being without a doubt the worst thing I had ever encountered. I had unfortunately seen other murder victims, but this discovery was more horrible than I could imagine. I don't know how long I stood there in shock, not wanting to look at the body, but knowing I had to determine if he was still alive. He was not, my fingers found no pulse in his cold neck.
I locked the locker room, both doors, and went quickly into the coach's office, closing that door behind me. After punching nine-one-one and giving the dispatcher the basic details, I called the Willowtree police chief, Pete Holton, on his cell. I gave him the same summary and added that I knew who the victim is.
“It’s Stinger Maguire.”
Golf team members would soon be arriving for practice. I wanted to let them know before they left their homes that practice was canceled. We, the high school athletic department, had begun a texting system to get information quickly to all members of a team. The coach would usually make a phone call to a certain member, usually the captain, explaining the situation. He would then get the chain texting going. I found it hard to believe that every single player on my team had some device like an i-Phone actually turned on and ready to receive messages twenty-four hours a day. I was getting pretty good at carrying my own cell phone, keeping it charged and turned on, but I had only texted one time, to see how it worked. The system came in handy if a last minute event, like rain or illness, made it necessary to change the practice time or place. It was necessary to cancel this practice.
I called Cody Wilks, the WHS golf team captain and its longest hitter, and asked him to get the chain texting or calling started. I didn't give him any details, just that something important came up and the next practice would be Tuesday at three o'clock.
After talking to Cody I walked toward the main entrance and could hear vehicles arriving, car doors shutting, and the voices of the first of many visitors I would meet in the locker room that day. I could see the town's rescue van and a police cruiser through the glass door. The EMTs were gathering equipment. The police officer stepped into the building when I opened the door.
"It's you, DelReno? Right place, right time? Again?"
"Yeah, it's me, Dan, though I don't see anything right about it."
Dan King was a patrolman/detective in our tiny Willowtree police department. I had been involved in a case last year and worked with Dan, though some would say I did most of the work. My golden retriever, Keely, had stumbled upon a body in a dry wash near the golf course. Let me just say officer King could have been more determined in solving that case. I appreciate that he did nab the killer in front of my home.
"I was on patrol nearby. Always check on the schools in the early morning on weekends. Chief said he'd be right here. He said the vic is Stinger. That right?"
"I'm sure it is him. Can't mistake that bushy red hair. All those freckles."
The three EMTs arrived at the door that I was again holding open. The short female whose name tag read "B. Trono" and seemed to be in charge asked, "Where is he?"
I led the group through the large lobby area, past the administrative offices, turned left, then continued through the classroom wing and a catwalk into the gymnasium building. On the way I suggested to Dan King that he should alert Holton and the others to drive around back. B.Trono ordered one of her guys to go back and drive the van to the rear of the gym.
As we entered the locker room I noticed details that I had missed earlier when my entire focus was on Stinger's battered body. I only surveyed the scene and mentally noted what I would tell Holton when he took my statement. The EMTs verified that he was indeed expired, but had to wait for the medical examiner before they could do much else.
King asked me if I had touched anything. I hadn't, except trying to read a pulse in Stinger's neck. He said, "Good. Don't." Then he left to wait for and meet Holton and the ME when they arrived.
"Found another one, eh Bruce?" Pete Holton said as he walked in, only pausing a few seconds to look at the body. He was followed by the ME, Doc Petruzzi, King, and a couple others including a camera guy who got right to work. Bright flashes of light bounced off the pale yellow block walls.
Pete jerked his head toward the coach's office and said, "Let's talk." He went in and sat behind the desk, leaving me the only other chair, an old wooden straight-back matching the one Stinger was sitting and lying in. "How are you, DelReno?"
"C'mon, Pete, I'm not good. I'm very upset right now. Can we just do this?"
Pete Holton and I became friends about a year ago after the conclusion of that murder investigation. We have played golf together almost every Sunday for the last few months. He was about fifty-five years old, much younger than me, but my handicap was a little lower than his, so I was the boss on the golf course. He was the boss everywhere else. He was wearing his usual attire, suitable for both police work and golf, consisting of a blue polo shirt with a patch on the breast and "Willowtree Police" embroidered on the left sleeve. He wore tan chinos, same as mine but many sizes larger.
"Sorry, Bruce. Just start at the beginning. You know how this works." He switched on his mini recorder and placed it on the desk.
I recalled as best I could my experience so far that morning. I included what I saw in the locker room besides Stinger's presence.
"The chair he is taped to came from this office. It had apparently been placed in front of the curtain, which was a heavy fabric divider that divided the room in two. It was used when two classes or teams needed the locker room at the same time, and provided a degree of privacy. The golf equipment on Stinger's body and strewn around the room probably belongs to the school and came from the storage room next to this office. There is a bag on the floor that the putter and wedge Stinger is wearing came from. Maybe. You saw the balls. Maybe twenty, thirty balls all around on the floor." I paused, and then speculated, "This is what I think, Pete. You check it out. You don't want speculation, I know, but listen. Whoever it was used Maguire for target practice. See that five-iron in the middle of the room? The asshole hit balls at Maguire, defenseless, tied to that chair. He's got awful bruises all over. The curtain was a backdrop, like a net." I was trying to be strong, but I was really affected by the vision in my mind, and those last words came out more slowly and shaky.
"Okay. Okay. We'll see what Doc Petruzzi says about that. If he doesn't figure it out, I'll ask him about it. Were you alone when you discovered him, Bruce?"
"Yeah, just me."
"No one else in the building besides you until the authorities got here?"
"Just me." I didn't like this line of questioning, but I knew it was necessary, and routine. After a few more of these questions detective-chief Holton turned off the recorder and said I could leave if I wanted. He went out to have a better look around the crime scene. I followed him, and then stopped to watch a body bag containing Stinger Maguire being loaded onto a gurney.
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