Cause of death? The coroner would have to do some tests, but I was pretty sure I already knew. I could see ashes on his upper lip, and around his nose. Nearby was an upended oil drum, and on the surface some bits of paper and ashes.
The kid was a Bible snorter.
I shoved the pile of ashes around and dug out an unburned scrap. I could feel the texture of it even through the gloves. Tissue-thin, but strong. Holy book paper. One corner still held scorched lettering. “Lev” something.
Oh, hell. I knew this one. Leviticus. A lot of crap about ritual slaughter of animals, with some extremely explicit imagery of splashing blood and the proper techniques for making burnt offerings. It’s heady stuff for young people. Bad enough when you read it, but when these innocent kids burn it to ashes and then snort it, they have no defenses. Their brains simply shut down.
But even as I was thinking all this, something was bothering me. And then I got it.
“Wade! Perkins! There’s enough ashes here for two people. Look for another vic! Fast!”
The investigative team instantly fanned out under the bleachers, intent on finding the second victim, a young girl or boy who might very well need emergency medical care to survive. Seconds might make a difference.
Not two minutes later, Wade’s voice rang out. “Danforth! I’ve got her! It’s a girl, looks like the same age as the kid. She’s in a bad way!”
I hurried in the direction of his voice, almost running in my haste.
She was a pretty little blonde, maybe a bit too thin, and she couldn’t have been older than 16. The ash residue on her upper lip was almost matched by the dark rings under her eyes. She looked like a corpse, but I could tell she was breathing. Barely.
“Goddamit, I’m not losing another one!,” I grated. “Wade, give me your lighter! Quick, man!”
Wade tossed me the lighter as I whipped a tiny pamphlet out of my pocket. I flicked the lighter into flame and quickly applied it. I blew on the mass of paper to hurry things up, and the small flame quickly consumed the 20 or so pages of the little thing. Without waiting for the glowing ashes to cool, I mashed them down and ground them into a fine powder with my bare fingers. I’d have blisters tomorrow, but it might be worth it.
“Perkins! Help me lift her head!” I dumped the small pile of ashes onto her upper lip, flicking it toward her nostrils with a fingernail.
“Come on, baby. Breathe it in. Breathe.”
Her chest continued to rise and fall almost imperceptibly. The ash might save her life, but her respiration was so shallow she might fail to take it in before her brain shut down. I shoved forcibly down on her belly, just below her diaphragm, hoping the return breath would suck some of the ash into her nasal passages.
She did me one better. After that first forced inhalation, there was a quiet pause, but then she sucked in a rattling gasp and sat up so abruptly she almost catapulted out of my arms.
“Shee-it!!” she shouted. Her eyes met mine as she clutched her head. “What the hell was that?” she choked out. “It’s like condensed stupidity.”
I smirked in relief and showed her the burnt pamphlet’s cover. “Chick Tract, doll. The damned things are so absurd they drag even fanatics back from the edge.”
I glanced around at my team and took a deep, satisfied breath. This one would live.