Title: A Horse by Any Other Name
Author: Sherry Perkins
Genre: Cozy Mystery, Female Sleuth
Like everyone else, Dr. Beth Ann Butterbaugh, DVM, loves a good mystery; however, she hardly expected to stumble into the middle of one. Except that is exactly what happened on a crisp autumn day when she receives an urgent call to attend to an injured horse found wandering by the roadside. With the help of the newly appointed sheriff -- a former big city detective -- they discover a connection between the injured horse and two seemingly unrelated murders in the small seaside and farming community where they live. Surprising discoveries will be made during the course of the investigation and lives will be changed in quite unexpected ways. But can Beth Ann and the sheriff prevent another murder once the motivation becomes apparent?
Beth Ann went to the body. She knelt beside it, feeling for a carotid pulse. But it was obvious the woman was already dead—she was pale and cold, her lips a mottled blue.
“She’s dead,” Beth Ann said. “Been dead for a while too.”
“Un huh,” the sheriff nodded. He knelt on the other side of the body, opposite from Beth Ann. He studied the dead woman and the ground immediately surrounding her. When Beth Ann spoke again, he refocused on her.
“At least eight hours dead. She’s cold but not in rigor,” Beth Ann said.
He grimaced. “The cause of death isn’t obvious to me. What about you? Do you see anything that jumps out?”
“Can I touch her? Or roll her? It would give us a better idea of what might have been the cause.”
“I wouldn’t go around telling all your friends about it, but yeah. You can touch her. Just a cursory look. Nothing that might otherwise contaminate the scene or any available physical evidence. You’ve already touched her when you checked for a pulse. We’ll eliminate your DNA, if necessary.”
“I understand.” Beth Ann took a package of forceps out from her medical bag. She’d brought the bag with her since most of what was inside could also be used to provide first aid to a human, when needed. She also took out a pair of nitrile exam gloves.
The sheriff motioned for her to give him a pair of gloves too. While he donned his pair, Beth Ann set about lifting bits of clothing or hair with her gloved fingers or with the forceps as was needed to best accomplish the perfunctory examination. When she was done with that, Beth Ann looked at the woman’s hands, paying particular attention to the fingers and nails. The nails had been manicured recently, except now there were several broken nails, and some with organic material beneath them. The material may have been dirt. Whatever it was, it was gritty, not like dried blood or scraped skin.
Beth Ann moved efficiently, her movements purposeful and practiced. She realized the sheriff was watching her rather than watching what she was doing. “What?” she asked. “Am I doing something I shouldn’t be?” She paused in her assessment. “Am I doing something wrong?”
“No. No, I was just thinking that you’d have made a pretty good police investigator. You’re quite thorough despite the field limitations we’ve got here. Tell me what you’re thinking. What do you see as a medical professional?”
“Help me roll her first. There’s something I want to check on her back. But I don’t think she was killed here.”
“I’m inclined to agree. There’s not much ground disturbed around her, as you’d expect to see if she’d lost control of the horse. Or if the horse had bolted or something like that and then had dragged her. There’s no blood either. Or a saddle.”
He reached across the body, placing his hands behind the woman’s shoulders and waist. He pulled slightly as Beth Ann pushed. Once the body was turned, Beth Ann did a quick exam of the rear of the skull and of the dead woman’s back, running her gloved fingertips, stopping here and there, before moving on.
“OK,” Beth Ann said. “Let’s roll her back again.” She paused, removing her gloves. “The livor mortis isn’t right. She has lividity primarily on her chest and on her forehead right there beneath her bangs. There’s no lividity on her back, which is how we found her—flat, on her back. She’s been moved. Otherwise, we would have seen the blood pooled as lividity on her back, not on her chest and forehead.”
“Yeah. When we turned her, I noticed that. What about cause of death? Care to hazard a guess?”
Beth Ann chewed on her bottom lip. “It’s impossible to say without a postmortem, but I think she may have been struck on the rear of the head, then fell forward, striking her head again. See the well-defined linear bruise on her forehead? Right here at the hairline? You can see it just under the less defined lividity. There was some swelling at the back of the skull on the occiput where I checked. No break in the skin though. And I could feel bony crepitus—bone crunching that is consistent with a fracture. She may have been hit with something heavy and blunt as suggested by the general shape of the tissue where it’s swollen, and the accompanying crepitus.”
“What about the bleeding around her eyelids here and here?” He pointed at the faint discoloration around the woman’s closed eyes. “Is that from the force of the blow to the back of her head, do you think?”
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Sherry Perkins has worked as a licensed practical nurse for more than thirty-five years and has experience in psychiatric/addictions nursing, nursing-care coordination, and risk management. She earned a BS in health sciences from Campbell University in Buies Creek, North Carolina, and has spoken at public health functions on topics such as addiction prevention and treatment, prevention of teenage opioid deaths, and connecting patients who are resistant to treatment with appropriate services.
A mother of four, Perkins lives with extended family on the Delmarva Peninsula, where she enjoys collecting shells and sea glass; reading mysteries, science fiction, and fantasy; doing organic gardening; and following the Dave Matthews Band around the East Coast.
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