Tuesday, April 15, 2003
It was hardly the type of day you’d expect to discover a dead baby.
The late-afternoon air was warm and scented with lilacs. Forsythia splashed the landscape with yellow blossoms. Daffodils, tulips, and dogwoods were in bloom, and many locals had come out for the groundbreaking ceremony of the Tadeas Phan Shelter for the Homeless.
Ashland was a postcard-perfect kind of town, set in the rolling foothills of the Siskiyou Mountains, with a population under 20,000. Tourists often described it as a little section of England set down in southern Oregon. An Elizabethan theater nestled into the hillside above Lithia Park, Ashland’s crown jewel.
Two ravens took flight from a nearby spruce, rising stark and lonely against the cloudless sky. Their sleek black bodies gleamed as if coated with oil.
Detective Winston Radhauser had plenty of things he’d rather be doing, but it was a quiet Tuesday and he came out of respect for Mau and Lien Phan, parents of the young murdered boy for whom the new homeless shelter was named. He glanced at his watch. It was two thirty. Plenty of time for him to be present at the groundbreaking and still make it to the obstetrician’s office in time for his wife, Gracie’s, ultrasound. Though the pregnancy had caught him off guard, he was now excited about adding a third child to their family. He secretly hoped for another girl—one they might name Hope after his baby sister who’d died in infancy.
Radhauser watched as the birds circled above the scene. One alighted on top of the sign, half the size of a billboard, that read: FUTURE HOME OF THE TADEAS PHAN SHELTER FOR THE HOMELESS. The bird cocked its head, neck craned as if interested in what was going on. The second one landed beside the first. They edged along the top, their talons flexed and curled as they gripped the sign and stared at him with beady black eyes.
A chill of foreboding raced through his veins.
After Mayor Gladstone cut the ribbon and delivered his boring yet melodramatic speech, he pushed the blade of his shovel into the already softened ground. The mayor smiled. Reporters snapped photographs and video cameras rolled.
Mayor Norman Gladstone was short, on the portly side, and always looked a little rumpled. He often wore a hat to cover his bald head. This afternoon he had on a black beret, slanted to the right.
Radhauser had seen the mayor in a fedora, a cowboy hat, and a newsboy’s cap, but the beret was a first. With his round and slightly reddened cheeks, he looked more like a wilting jack-o’-lantern than the suave Frenchman he’d tried to emulate.
The crowd cheered as the mayor lifted the first scoop of dirt. Again, the cameras erupted in blinding bursts of light.
Seconds later, a human skull, no bigger than a softball, rolled onto the ground at his feet. The mayor jumped back. His dark eyes bulged and a look of horror spread over his face. Cheers turned into a collective gasp. Bystanders automatically took a step backwards.
As if he were about to faint, the mayor clutched his ample belly and leaned against the sign.