The tiny drum gave them the shock of their lives.

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A VG Serial: Dark Continent Continental

Chapter 29

“This is war, Skeeter!” Angus exclaimed as they applied their noses to the grindstone at homicide headquarters.  He could not get images of Branford Cooper out of his mind.

“Yeah, it’s war!” She agreed.

They looked up from their desks when they heard Dave’s voice.  He was a huge linebacker of a man and sometimes his voice could match in ferocity.  Now he was merely in broadcast mode.  “They’ve got another body!”  Angus and Skeeter got ready to roll. “Sit back down.  This one is in Atlanta.  It just came over the wire.  Thought I would let you know.”

“What the .  .  .?” Angus started.  “The son-of-a-bitch is everywhere.”

“I know, I know.” Dave agreed.  “Does that mean we are off the hook for awhile, here in Austin?  Or, are more brainless bodies waiting to crop up, here?”

“Well, it is not coming through the US Postal Service.  We know that.  All of that has been checked and re-checked, but it sure does get around. “Skeeter offered.  It has got to have some other delivery method, and what would that be?”

“And what is it?” Justy asked.

“By the way, how is Brad?” Dave asked, this time using his big teddy bear voice.

“Very depressed, as you can imagine,” Angus answered, before he and Skeeter returned to poring over hundreds of photos of interiors of the crime scenes.  They were using Brad’s advice, concentrating on bookcases.  Angus had requested by phone, and gotten, photographs from many of the other brainless body crime scenes all over the country.

“Three of them have a copy of this book, Rhythms of Africa.”  Skeeter pointed to three photographs.

“Yeah, and we know they all had those African thumb piano deals.”  Angus added.

“They liked African art, music, probably—all of the victims.  Many have African masks, but all are different, coming from different tribes and different locations of Africa—so, masks, yes, masks from the same area, no.  The thumb pianos—it seems like there was another musical instrument they all had.  Not regular pianos, they all had one of those, a console, an upright or an electronic keyboard.”  Skeeter did her best work, thinking out loud.

Dave was eavesdropping.  “Drums,” was all he said without even looking up from his logbook.

Angus and Skeeter looked up at him in shock, then, they frantically leafed through photos of the death houses.  “This!”  Skeeter was the first to find a picture.  “They all have this!”

Angus locked eyes with her.  “Wait, let’s double-check.”  He could not contain his excitablilty.  “All right, Padnah. We are going to have to suit up and go back in the Austin death house.  We need to examine this object close-up, in person, photograph it some more, inside and out, find an expert on it—what it is used for.  Is it symbolic of something else?”

“If you are waiting for me, you are walking backwards,” Skeeter blurted out as she picked up her stuff to go.

*     *     *

     “We’ve got to be really careful, Skeeter.  You look sealed up good, to me.  How do I look?”  Skeeter nodded at Angus as they examined each other’s gear.  “Okay, we’re going in,” Angus commanded.

The victim had several bookcases.  Angus and Skeeter scanned each one in great detail.  Skeeter pulled out two books on African artifacts and skimmed through them, while Angus looked over her shoulder.  She photographed a few pages, engrossed.

Angus tapped her on the arm and motioned her to follow him as he went to a bookcase that displayed objects instead of books.  He pointed to the thumb piano.  He pointed to three masks.  He pointed to a small weaving hanging on a tiny loom.  Then his eyes zoomed in on another object.  He withdrew it and took it to a flat, white surface to photograph.  Skeeter shrugged but began photographing, paying attention to detail with the telephoto lens—nothing remarkable about it.  It was a tiny drum—too small for any one to play, really, even a child.  If you tapped it, and she did, it made no drum tone, just a flat sound.

Then Angus turned it upside down.  That is when they got the shock of their lives.

Chapters of Dark Continental by Sara Marie Hogg will be published on Saturday and Sunday.

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