The funeral had an open casket. David Daugherty wasn't certain if that made things better or worse, but it was too late for his opinion to matter by then. People filed past to give their respects. Too many people. Brooke had only lived in Kept Creek for three months before she died, and David even less than that. How could she know this many people?
Because she was Brooke, that's how. She was kind and outgoing and beautiful. She made friends with every person she came in contact with. She was a dazzling, sparkling light that was taken from the world. David sat as far back from the casket as the prearranged seating allowed, terrified of seeing the body. And it was just a body at this point. Brooke herself was gone forever.
The ceremony was a haze of tears and organ music. People spoke, the casket was closed, and at some point the coffin was lowered into the Earth. David was allowed the first handful of dirt to place over the wooden box. That had surprised him, but it made sense when he thought about it. Brooke had been an only child in a single parent household, and her mother died of a massive heart attack two years prior. David thought back to Brooke's despair at the loss of her mother, and secretly thanked any deity that chose to listen. A parent shouldn't outlive their child. If there was one small mercy in any of this, if even the tiniest bit of solace could be found, it was the lack of a mother's tears as Brooke Meiers was unceremoniously covered with a mass of dirt from a backhoe. Apparently the one-by-one handfuls didn't get the job done.
David sat beside the fresh grave for a long time after the rest of the mourners had gone. He'd been so scared of looking at the body that he'd passed up his last chance to ever see her face. A wild thought crossed his mind, that he could claw through the dirt, rip open the coffin, and just hold her for a minute. He needed a real goodbye. Something.
He didn't start digging, though he did absently pick at blades of grass, their pale green blazing fiercely in the sun. He was sweating through his suit, but he didn't care. He'd always hated suits. He only had this one for special occasions. Brooke had bought it for him. She had done so much for him. He buried his face in his hands, giving in to the weight of it all for a moment.
"Son?" A rasping, kind voice crashed against the silence of the day. David didn't respond, except to raise his head. It was the Sheriff. Of course it was the Sheriff. David had only met the man once before, but it was the type of meeting that really makes an impression.
"Son, you okay?" The pot-bellied, mustachioed man was not exactly the kindly law-man figure. The gun on his hip looked more like something from a Clint Eastwood movie than a standard issue police weapon. His deep voice was a calming one to hear, though. Well, it wasn't calming last time. Mr. Daugherty, is it? This's Sheriff Hubbard. I'm real sorry, but we need you to come on down to the morgue. Body identification. The message had ended there. A lot of things had ended there.
David stared up at Sheriff Hubbard, preparing for the worst. The police had been surprisingly kind so far, even waiting until after the funeral to take him in for questioning. Of course he was going to be the prime suspect. He had moved to the area with Brooke. He was the only person who'd had a close relationship with her in Kept Creek. He knew she'd be out for a run that night. He'd been home grading papers, so no one could corroborate his alibi. David couldn't put any of this into words of course. He just sat in the dirt with tears running down his face as he stared up at the Sheriff.
"Get off yer ass, Son. Now stand up," Sheriff Hubbard roughly yanked David's shoulder in a manner that would have some courthouses crying police brutality, but the movement lifted David to his feet. The Sheriff gave him a hard look, searching for something on David's face with his sharp blue eyes, "Now, what we got here's a tragedy," He nodded, those incredibly pale eyes boring into David's skull, "And when there's tragedy, more's to follow. You got that?" He raised an eyebrow, "So I need you to not loose your mind, here, okay? I really don't need you gettin' heatstroke out here from sittin' in ninety-seven weather in the noon-day sun, wearin' winter clothes," He turned on his heel, keeping a close grip on David's shoulder as he started marching through the cemetery, "'Cause if you get yourself killed, you know what that'll bring the number to? Hmm?"
"Damn straight it'll be two. And if somethin' happens twice..." He led off as if David should know what in the world he was talking about. He caught the confused look on David's face and sighed, "It's sure to happen again," He nodded, touching his finger to the side of his nose in an ominous, though nearly comical, gesture.
"Omne trium perfectum," David muttered, unable to keep the lit teacher in him silenced whenever the 'rule of three' was brought up.
"I don't speak Spanish," Sheriff Hubbard waved off the statement calmly, "But I'm gonna drive you home, and you're gonna get some rest, maybe take a few days off work, and try to keep yerself in one piece," He opened the passenger door in his police cruiser and motioned for David to get in.
"You're taking me home?" David stood uncertainly on the sidewalk. He could feel sweat sliding down freely from the back of his neck all the way to his ankles, but he didn't make a move towards the air conditioned car, "Why are you taking me home?"
"Well, Son, you might be a little touched," He taps his own head as if in demonstration, "by the heat, so I'm not lettin' you get behind the wheel,"
"No, I mean... shouldn't I be taken in for questioning?" David had to admit that the Sheriff might have a point about the heat, and he grabbed the edge of the open door to use as support.
"Why'd we wanna question you? Sittin' in the graveyard's not against the law," The Sheriff wrinkled his nose in confusion.
"Seriously?" David's voice cracked with emotion and dehydration, "My fiancé was just stabbed to death in the woods and you don't think it's worth questioning me? Have you questioned anyone?" He'd never had a temper before, not even as a teenager, but he could feel his blood pressure skyrocket and all he wanted to do was punch that sad look off of the Sheriff's face.
"You want to get questioned? Even though you're innocent? Would it make you feel better if we put you through that too?"
"But how can you know I'm innocent? You haven't done any fucking police-work!"
"Mr. Daugherty, I've dealt with murderers before. I've dealt with grieving families before too. Wanna know which one you are?" He gave David a withering glare that shifted into a gentle smile. David sighed and climbed into the car.
"I live on Peach Street," He mumbled, as chills rose along his neck at the sudden temperature change.
"I know where ever'body lives. I'm the Sheriff,"
The sun was nearly set as David finally made his way off the living room floor. He'd literally dropped in the middle of the room as soon as the Sheriff had brought him home. Once he was standing, he saw that he'd left a dirty, grassy stain on the cream-colored rug that Brooke had picked out. She would be impossible to escape here, as nearly every decorating decision had been hers. She'd been a woman of strong opinions, and David had let her take the reigns a long time ago. In fact, there was only one time in recent memory that he'd taken the lead in their relationship. The night she disappeared, was the same night he'd proposed. She was wearing the ring when she went out for her run, but it was gone three days later when David was called to the morgue.
Perhaps someone tried to rob her, and it went wrong. The ring wasn't a show-stopper or anything, but the band was real gold and the tiny stone was real. Not a diamond, but a real sapphire. Brooke loved sapphire, she always said that diamonds bored her, that they lacked color. She'd been dropping heavy hints about an engagement ring for months, and David had taken each to heart. When he'd finally saved enough, he knew just the one to get her. She'd even cried, and Brooke was not much for tears.
This line of thinking was not going to help. David took a deep breath as he hopped into the shower. He couldn't wallow in old memories forever. It'd been nearly a week since he'd lost her. A week wasn't long enough to mourn. He was definitely taking off work.
It had been a week, and an awful one at that. The local police needed to do a better job at keeping their mouths shut, as David was quickly learning. Strangers kept walking up to offer their condolences. Strangers that occasionally let the wrong thing slip.
"I'm sorry 'bout your bride-to-be, sweetie," One old woman patted his shoulder as she walked past in the grocery store. There had been no engagement announcement. She'd had the ring for less than two hours before her run.
"The knife's a terrible way to go of course, but you hang in there," A grey-haired man in a cowboy hat nodded on the street. The newspapers hadn't printed the details. Hadn't even mentioned how she died.
"'Least she had somethin' nice to look at 'fore she went," That woman had chilled his heart to its core. He'd shouted after the old lady with the flame-red dyed hair, even tried to chase after her, but she didn't seem to hear him. She couldn't have known that. She couldn't have known what Brooke was looking at. Unless the police were running their mouths.
Brooke was found in a clearing in the woods, lying on her back at the base of a lone tree in the center of the open space. A massive, flowering dogwood. He'd seen the pictures, but he hadn't had the guts to actually go out to the crime scene yet.
It seemed the entire town, or at least everyone over the age of thirty, knew all of the specifics of her death. They seemed to know more than he did. One thing was certain, David hated Kept Creek. He hated all of Alabama.
Actually, one more thing was certain; if the police wouldn't find the murderer, David Daugherty would.