The police tape surrounding the forty square feet of the desert made it easy for Black to find the place, even after driving for ten minutes through the wilds of Death Valley. Several officers were present, along with an ambulance and a coroner. Pulling the cigarette from his lips, he blew out a plume of smoke before discarding the cigarette out the slit in his window before opening the door.

Flashing his badge to one of the rookie officers that didn’t recognize him, Black ducked under the yellow tape and made his way over to the scene of the crime. O’Neil and Davidson were standing around the body, an unspecified gender that looked as if it’d been bludgeoned to death. The area was devoid of anything of note, save for a trash can filled to the brim with rusted cans, topped by a mannequin missing an arm.

“So what do we have?” Black asked, clearing his throat as a way of an announcement.

“Well, a nature photographer found the body about three hours ago and called us in,” Davidson said, scratching his head. “We questioned him of course, but without any motive we let him go.”

“Any idea of who we’re looking at?” Black asked, wincing as he stared at the bruised form that the body was composed of; broken bones sticking out from ruined flesh.

“Yeah, we were able to pull an ID from a wallet that was in the victim's pants,” O’Neil said, holding out a plastic ID card. “Jessica Martinez, age nineteen. We ran her through the system and other than a few possession charges nothing worth mentioning.”

“So we have a woman out in the middle of the desert. Any reason why she would be out here?” Black asked, looking between his fellow officers.

“Maybe she was going to pick up a parcel?” Davidson offered, shrugging. “She has a few possession charges against her, who’s to say she’s reformed?”

“And we know that some of the traffickers don’t like entering city limits,” O’Neil said. “There are no tire tracks nearby before you ask.”

Black grunted, looking around at the sandy earth. The wind was negligible, so any tracks left behind would be obvious… which was why when Black saw the footprints leading to and from the trash can he looked back up at Davidson. He pointed down at the footprints.

“This didn’t find you suspicious?” he asked.

Davidson shrugged again. “It seems a little weird, I know. But what was I supposed to say? The mannequin is somehow involved?”

“Never rule anything out,” Black said as he walked over to the mannequin, lifting it by its one good arm from the trash can. He shivered at the cool touch to the plastic, despite the direct exposure to the blaring sun. Hefting out the mannequin, he held it aloft and looked at the head, which rolled to the side.

He was surprised to see a smear of red on the face, a smear that looked suspiciously like blood. Licking his thumb, he rubbed at the smear before adjusting his grip on the arm… only to find his other hand smeared in caked blood. Dropping the mannequin with, cussing, Black pulled out a tissue and wiped his hand as Davidson approached him.

“What is it, Black?” Davidson asked, looking at him as if he’d lost his mind.

“That mannequin is evidence,” Black growled as he wiped his hand free of blood. “Get the CSI team down here to take a look at it, but it was involved in the killing somehow.”

“What do you mean?” Davidson asked as O’Neil radioed for additional CSI personnel.

“The arm is caked in dried blood, and there’s blood spatter on the mannequin’s face,” Black explained, wiping his face with his clean hand. “Jesus, I just grabbed the thing too… my fingerprints are going to be all over this thing now!”

“You had no idea of knowing,” O’Neil said. His radio squawked, prompting him to bring it to his lips. “Yeah, Senna and her team would be perfect. Are they inbound already? Thanks.”

Black stared at the mannequin, the cheap plastic dented and worn from years of use, burnt in some areas and cut in others. The head had pinpoint holes drilled where eyes would normally be, giving it a disturbing demeanor; Black looked away from the crumpled form and cursed himself for grabbing the mannequin in the first place.

The group waited five minutes until they heard the roar of an engine. Black perked up from his place sitting on the hood of his car, looking over his shoulder as an identical squad car pulled up next to his, parking with a shudder. Three people got out, two men and a woman, all in CSI rubbers and gloves.

“I heard you have yourself a mystery stiff?” The woman said with a smile, her pearly white teeth shining from between ruby red lips. Her long black hair whirled in the breeze as she took off her sunglasses and clipped them to her shirt. “What, the crime in the city not enough for you cowboy?”

Black smiled. “I’m just expanding my horizons, Senna,” he said with an easy smile. “I have some evidence I want you to look at along with the body. We can tell she was bludgeoned to death, but we haven’t found a murder weapon yet. We were hoping you could give us some insight into what to look for.”

“I’ll see what I can do,” Senna said as she walked around the ambulance, stopping at the gurney where the body had been scooped up into. She unzipped the bag and winced at the fractured skull that came into view. “Ouch. Well, that certainly looks messy…”

Whatever she was going to say next was cut off by the scuffling of sand and panicked movement. The calm crime scene suddenly descended into chaos as the mannequin, crumpled at the base of the trash can, flipped onto all fours and crawled like a spider, faster than the eye could follow toward Senna. Only Black’s military experience had him pulling his pistol by the time the plastic missile collided with Senna, knocking her over with a loud “oomph!”

Senna began screaming as the mannequin, straddling her at the waist, began raining down heavy blows on her face. Senna brought up her arms to try and defend herself only to have her left arm snap like dry timber with a careless twitch from the plastic figure. By now the other officers had pulled their pistols and bringing their firearms to bear, with Black unloading a round into the head of the mannequin, blowing a small hole in the back of the head – the exit wound far larger in the front.

What followed was five men unloading their full complement of their combined arsenal into the chaotic doll, splinters of plastic flying from it like rain as the bullets tore through the torso and head – the arms continuing to hammer down on Senna, who shrieked the entire time. Finally one of her fellow CSI agents and O’Neil ran up and grabbed the broken mannequin by the arms, hauling it off of Senna forcibly, the mannequin kicking at her as it was pulled away.

Senna looked a mess, one eye swollen shut with her jaw and nose broken, her left arm bent at an awkward angle. The paramedics rushed to her side and began looking her over, checking her vitals and telling her that she was going to be okay while still keeping an eye on the hostile doll.

Black, reloading his Beretta, walked over to where Senna lay. “Is she going to be okay?” He asked one of the paramedics.

The man looked up, worry etched on his face. “I’ve never seen injuries like this outside of a car crash! What the hell is that thing?”

“Take her in this ambulance, I’ll radio someone else for the stiff,” Black ordered, to which the paramedic nodded. He turned and looked at the mannequin, which was still fighting O’Neil and the CSI agent with surprising strength to get at Senna. The head was nothing but shredded plastic, blasted apart from countless bullets, the body barely held together by a long strip running from the left shoulder to the right hip. The arms were covered in fresh blood, and a spatter covering the chest and face where visible.

The head of the mannequin was nothing but shredded plastic, blasted apart from countless bullets while the body was held together barely by a long strip running from the left shoulder to the right hip. The arms and fists were covered in fresh blood, with spatter covering the chest and face where visible.

Black wiped his brow. “Well I think we know what killed the hiker,” he said.

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