By – W.S. Holderby
The truck drove slowly, weaving, trying to avoid some of the pot holes in the sun baked clay road. The road had been there for maybe fifty years, the pickup had seen ten tough years and the man driving had seen thirty-five. The desert southwest was hard on machinery and even tougher on men, especially men who made their living in the hot sun. Chad Conteneau was such a man.
Chad was thin, wiry, with a toughness that matched his stark surroundings. As he drove, he constantly had to hold on to the floor mounted shift lever. When he occasionally did hit a pot hole, the truck had would jump out of gear into neutral. There had always been a pongee cord that held it to the dashboard where the ashtray used to be. But, the pongee had been lost for the last two weeks and not replaced. He’d have to raise a little cain about it when he got back to town. That’s how it is with motor pool trucks, at least the ones I get, he thought to himself. But, at least the truck had air conditioning. The cool air wasn’t meant for CC, but for the electronic equipment each deputy sheriff carried in their patrol cars.
As usual, CC had drawn the worst truck in the garage. The sergeant in charge of the motor pool, a very smart man, knew CC’s sloppy habits and the type of terrain he covered. He made sure none of his new vehicles took that kind of abuse.
Chad, or CC as he was better known, was driving between Las Cruces and Aqua Caliente, a small border town just on the U.S. side of the Mexican border, to see a rancher by the name of Jacobs. A couple of weeks ago, two young punks had stolen his car and broken his leg for good measure. But, the car had been recovered just shy of being liberated into the state of Chihuahua. The two young offenders had been taken into custody and the car impounded. CC, the local deputy sheriff, had the duty of identifying the vehicle and making arrangements for its return to Las Cruces. He was doing it as a favor to Jacobs, who was still recovering.
The sun was burning September hot. Soon though, the days of summer would fade into October. In a few weeks, he knew the temperature would drop into the eighties instead of triple digits. As he drove, he constantly scanned the ditches and arroyos along the side of the road. More than once he had pulled an unlucky motorist out of a ditch or gave someone a ride for gas, saving their life by getting them out of the sun.
His route took him through three small mountain ranges. As he started down the twisting slope of the last range, he saw ,in the distance, a black column rising from the desert. He was too far away to see individual objects, but he’d seen similar sights before. Those black dots in the sky had to be buzzards. It was common in the desert to see one, maybe two, birds feasting on road kill rabbits or other small animals. But, when you saw twenty or thirty, it signaled that every damn vulture on this side of the border had spotted dinner. Usually, this meant a dead cow or horse, but on more than one occasion, their prime entree was human. He drove closer and saw the flock circling an area about a hundred yards down a side dirt road. The side road made the crater pitted road he was driving on look like the interstate. Although New Mexico took pride in its major highways and city streets, it almost completely ignored the country roads where much of the local driving was done.
He turned off on the side road and drove the hundred yards up a small incline. The birds were circling more frantically now. The sight of a human still moving is always a danger to the desert buzzard. CC stopped the truck and walked down the other side of the slope. The side road curved to avoid an arroyo that cut deep into the desert hardpan. The bottom of the arroyo was perhaps 12 to 15 feet below the rim.
The side road probably led to a small placer mine or ranch, probably abandoned, judging by the length of the grass and weeds growing in the center of the two tire ruts. Whoever had created the dirt path had the sense to avoid the treacherous rim of the arroyo. He walked carefully down to the edge and peered over. Something in the past few days had caused the a large section of the rim to collapse. Maybe a horse or stray cow had wondered down to the edge of the arroyo and fell in when the rim collapsed. The animal probably had failed to find a way out because no tracks led away from the mound of sand.
The collapsed portion of the rim was easily seen as it was darker than the bottom soil. The side still retained moisture, so the collapse wasn’t more than 24 hours old. The arroyos carried water collected from the surrounding mountains down to a nearby river. The closest river was about twenty miles away. In the arroyo, water could cascade down the slopes at twenty to thirty miles an hour, plowing through like a tidal wave, carrying logs, rubble and anyone or anything else in its path. CC hated these death traps. Too many times during the last fifteen years, he’d had to pull out a body of someone caught in these surges, usually a kid. He removed a small set of binoculars from the truck and scanned the nearby mountains for any hint of storm or rain. Desert rains, while infrequent, could dump a large amount of water in relatively small areas. These rains would flood the parched ground, build up and run off towards the nearest arroyo. Death could be found in the arroyo with as little as a small shower in the right part of the mountain.
He moved closer to the edge and scanned the mound of sand at the bottom, hating the idea of climbing down there. It would be dirty, dangerous work and he’d probably end up finding a dead cow at the bottom. But, duty was duty. He walked back to the pickup and drove it closer to the edge. Taking a coil of rope out of the tool kit in the back of the truck , he tied it to the front bumper. Finding two flat rocks, he wedged them under the front tires. Grabbing a small folding shovel from behind the seat and hooking it on his belt, he threw the rope over the edge to a point beside the mound of sand..
Just before he started down, he called in the report. “Marge, this is CC, over.” He lifted his hat and wiped his forehead with an old rag as he waited for a response.
“Go ahead CC,” a gruff older woman’s voice responded. Even over the radio, you could tell her voice was a blend of smoker’s lungs and whiskey burned throat.
“Something’s dead, or dying, in an arroyo off SR64. I’m gonna rope down and investigate. It’s off a side road between mile marker 40 and 41. Over,” CC replied.
“There’s been no report of any rain, but be careful. Take that portable radio, just in case,” Marge urged.
Marge was a tough old gal, but she mothered the deputies unmercifully over the radio. The other ten men on patrol were probably laughing at the exchange, CC thought as he looked for the portable radio.
“OK, talk to you later.” CC found the portable and turned it on. He wasn’t surprised that the battery was dead, probably hadn’t been recharged at all this month. The damn things were never charged. So, he plugged its cord into the cigarette lighter socket and started back to the rim of the arroyo.
Walking further down along the edge of the arroyo, he spotted a cluster of rocks at the bottom. “This looks like a good place to start,” he said to the buzzards. He carefully rappelled over the edge and down to the rocks. Walking around the mound, he realized that it was much larger from this angle. When he reached the far side, he saw tire tracks, deeply impressed into the dry sandy bottom. He looked more carefully at the side of the mound and saw a depression where the sand had sunk inward. Using the shovel, he began to clear some of the dirt from the depression.
After three or four scoops of dirt, he realized that this was no cow. It was a car. A man’s arm, wearing a dark blue denim shirt was visible.
“Anybody in there? Can you hear me? Talk to me, if you can.” He yelled into what was the open driver’s window. Reaching in, he took the arm and felt for a pulse, realizing that rigor mortis had already set in. Standing close to the window, he shined a light into the dark interior. He could see another body on the front seat passenger’s floor. It appeared to be smaller and with longer hair then the man seated in the driver’s seat. Both people were wearing jeans and denim shirts. He could smell death wafting out of the car. The buzzards circling overhead had smelled it, too.
Stepping back from the car, he squatted down, looking for foot prints. But, there were no other tracks except his and the tire treads leading into the mound. As he walked back to the rope, he noticed the movement of three old buzzards sitting in the limbs of a fallen tree. The tree had once grown on the rim of the arroyo, but had toppled over and was resting about twenty feet from the car. The three buzzards watched his movements without fear, waiting to start dinner. “No dinner today, guys. The dining car has just closed,” CC laughed at his little joke. He hated those birds. They gave him the creeps. Jesus, now I’m even talking to em, he thought to himself. I’m spending too much time in this desert. He was almost to the rope when a large purple gob of buzzard shit splattered down the front of his shirt and streaked across his belt and pants.
“Son of a bitch,” he screamed. Whirling around, he pulled out his .357 revolver and shot the left and right buzzards sitting on the tree. The noise was deafening within the enclosed sides of the arroyo. He immediately regretted the act. The birds circling overhead flew further away, finding safety from the noise. But, the third buzzard just sat there, looking him straight in the eye. Visibly the oldest of the three, it remained perched on the limb while the other two had fallen into the branches hanging above the ground. CC fixed the sights of the revolver on the old bird. Finally, he brought the hammer down slowly with his thumb. He couldn’t believe the old buzzard would stay that close to a human, or that the gunfire hadn’t frightened it.
“Nothing left to lose, eh, you old bastard?” CC asked the mute bird.
He stood there for another couple of minutes, locked in a staring contest with the bird. He had never seen anyone or anything totally without fear before and it fascinated him. After a few minutes, he walked over to the rope and slowly worked his way back to the rim.
Replacing his shirt with a fresh one from the truck, he used a damp rag to clean the remainder of the purple gob from his pants and belt. Glancing over at the buzzard, he noticed that the old bird was greedily devouring one of its dead companions.
“Never pass up a good opportunity, I guess,” CC grinned. He felt bad for taking his anger out on the unlucky birds, but in the desert, little goes to waste. He glanced at the mound now with an arm protruding out of it and wondered just who these people had angered.
“Marge, tell Bradley that we have bodies here. I’d say they been dead one day at the most,” he said solemnly.
The disembodied voice paused, then asked “Any way to tell age or gender?”
“Naw, I can’t see them clearly enough. I’m pretty sure the driver is male, but I can’t get near enough to the passenger. I’d have to dig out one of the doors to get inside.”
“CC, just preserve the scene, I’ll have a team out there in an hour. Don’t do any more digging. Just verify they’re dead and leave it at that,” Sheriff Winston R. Bradley replied, using the same deep booming voice he used to thrill voters.
“How in the hell am I supposed to verify if they’re dead, unless I dig them out, Brad? Maybe I should just cover them up and go home,” CC responded, caustically.
“He can’t hear your smart ass remarks. He’s already gone,” Marge replied, still somewhat constrained by the news of death. “The sheriff said he would be at your location in an hour. Until then, stay out of that arroyo. The forensics team wants your GPS location.”
CC found the Global Positioning System receiver and read his coordinates into the microphone. A few years ago, it was the deputy’s job to investigate a crime scene. Now, it required a team of experts and scientists to photograph and probe every aspect. CC begrudgingly acknowledged that forensics was important. But, it left him with the feeling that he’d been relegated to finding and guarding rather than investigating.
Once the forensics team had finished, one or more detectives would be assigned to the case. After all, a double murder was a big event. It would make the television news and the detectives were much more responsive to the press. Even though the detectives’ arrest records weren’t impressive, they looked and sounded good on TV.
CC thought about this as he waited for the team to arrive. He pulled out his pipe and stuffed it with a local blend of Mexican and American tobaccos. Lighting up, he sat in the driver’s seat with the door open and one leg through the open window. His eyes followed the dirt road past where he sat, up a slight incline and off into the distance. Tire tracks led up the road, odd looking prints. He got out of the truck and, walking on the far side of the road, followed the tracks up over the incline. There, clearly imprinted in the soil, was a motorcycle tire tread.
The tread was deep and well formed. The tire was a trail tire with its long cleats, well suited to mud and desert sand. The motorcycle tread was on top of the car’s tire print. He followed the motorcycle track until it skirted the rim of the arroyo. The car’s tracks continued further back from the main road. CC found where a motorcycle kick stand was placed on a large flat rock, its surface scoured by the metal. The motorcycle was too heavy to stand in the sandy soil, so they had to use the rock to support it. The tracks resembled a dirt bike, but it was a heavy one. He looked over the edge and noticed that he was beyond the dirt mound by about ten yards.
There were two sets of footprints. The prints were from similar large welted boot soles. The one set of tracks was from a large, heavy person. The second from a smaller person who left a more shallow impression. The dirt at the arroyo’s rim was hard packed with most of the true soil having been wind blown eons before. The cycle had been driven to this spot by one person. When it left, it had passed over that portion of the rim now on top of the car. As he followed the tracks past where his pickup sat, CC could see a much deeper track. This indicated that two people were probably riding when it left.
CC next inspected the rim of the arroyo. How had someone caused a cave in of enough dirt to cover a car? He found more footprints and some loose dirt. Squatting down and puffing on his pipe, he speculated on what went on here yesterday.
Somebody drove the car up the dirt road, followed by a second person on the dirt bike. The one driving the car found a way into the arroyo further back from the road and pulled it up next to the rim. The second person probably dropped a rope to the first person who must have been standing on the roof of the car. The two then caved in the side of the arroyo to cover the car and sped away on the bike. The killers’ plan was good, but they should have rolled up the driver’s window before they caved in the rim. He figured that they had forgotten the window in the heat of the moment. It was mistakes like that that cost people jail time.
But, he still had a problem with how they caved in the rim. Two people couldn’t move that much dirt with small shovels, so there had to be some kind of help. An earth mover would do, but they obviously hadn’t used one since there weren’t any other tracks. CC’s bet was explosives. A small dynamite charge, properly placed, could move that much earth. You only had to blow it away from the bank and gravity would do the rest.
CC followed the car’s tracks until he found where it had entered the arroyo. He hesitated going back into the arroyo for fear of disturbing further tracks. He didn’t think there would be any more, but he didn’t want to give the sheriff’ any excuse to go ballistic. His job was to preserve the crime scene and check the condition of the bodies. From the small view of the inside of the car, CC determined that they were still dead. His investigative role now officially ended, he walked back to the truck and sat there a while, watching the old buzzard finish his grizzly meal.
He decided to type his report while he waited for the crime scene guys. Using the laptop computer that came equipped with every one of the deputy’s vehicles, he transmitted the report to the office computer using the cellular phone. He really liked this new technology, but, as he looked around at the busted up old pickup truck, he sometimes wondered if they’d put the taxpayer’s money where it would do the most good.
Sheriff Bradley’s car arrived first. CC outlined the crime scene and made sure that the four other vehicles parked away from the tracks.
“Give me what you have CC,” Brad asked. He had pulled out a small pocket tape recorder.
“Two people are dead in the car. The car was driven into the arroyo, probably yesterday or the day before. The rim of the arroyo collapsed, covering the car. We wouldn’t have known about it for weeks if the perps hadn’t left the window open and let the buzzards in. I suspect two or more persons did the killings based on the tracks into and out of the area. One person drove the car into the arroyo. They covered the car, then rode out on some kind of dirt bike. It looks to me like they headed southeast on SR 64. The tracks don’t show they were in any hurry. That’s about it,” CC said slowly, speaking into the tape recorder.
“What’s the next step?” Brad asked. He always asked the same questions, so CC knew exactly what was coming and what information his answers should contain.
“You mean besides the forensics team?” CC asked, inwardly smiling.
“You know damned well what I mean,” Brad answered.
“I want to backtrack the bike and car tracks back down this road and see where they came from. We just might luck out and find where they turned onto the road,” CC answered.
“Go ahead. We’ve got the team working here. You’ve done all you can.” Sheriff Bradley dismissed him and shut off the recorder.
“One more thing, sheriff,” CC replied.
“And that is?”
“Don’t forget to send someone up along that arroyo to watch for water. I’d hate to see you lose the team and all that expensive equipment,” CC said in a steady voice. He enjoyed needling the sheriff when he was on his high horse.
“Deputy Chatsworth, drive along the arroyo towards the mountains and stay in radio contact. I don’t want any wet surprises,” the sheriff said curtly.
CC had been Winston Bradley’s deputy for the past seven years. During that time, he’d twice tried, unsuccessfully, to run against the sheriff. The last time finished CC’s appetite for politics. He and the sheriff had agreed, amicably, that CC belonged in the great outdoors, far away from the temptations of politics and the rigors of town life. CC became the department’s outrider, responsible for patrolling the border. He was also the department’s liaison with both the border patrol and the Mexican police. This meant CC would only have to be in Las Cruces one week every month. He loved it. The sheriff liked the arrangement because while CC was out of Las Cruces, he was also out of his hair.
CC watched the other deputies as they climbed into the arroyo from the far side and started to dig out the car. It would be another two or three hours before anything happened here. He was anxious to start back tracking. Giving the arroyo one final look, he noticed that the old buzzard in the tree was gone. The circling buzzards had retreated another twenty yards down the arroyo. Now, all they could do was wait and watch.
He drove south on SR 64 slowly, stopping as he reached each side road, looking for the bike tracks. It was fortunate that there had been rain in this part of the state three nights ago. Otherwise, there would have been dirt bike tracks everywhere.
He had gone about seven miles before he found where the tracks had turned into a dirt side road and headed due west. He stopped, got out of the truck and surveyed the road. The bike had made two sets of tracks, first leaving the road and then returning. But, the car had left only one set, driving toward Las Cruces. At the intersection of the two roads were a great many footprints. The car’s tracks showed that it was either driving on the shoulder of the road or stopped on the shoulder at the intersection. Sand had obliterated the tell tale signs of what happened. It had either been deliberately stirred up or sand was spread over the surface to hide any signs.
A glint of metal caught CC’s eye. He stooped down and, using his belt knife, stirred up the sand around the metal fragment. A 9mm casing showed up. He picked the spent round up with his pocket pencil and dropped it into a plastic bag. A few feet further down, he saw another casing. Recovering the second round, he walked back over to the truck and pulled his metal detector out from behind his seat. CC had used it many times before at crime scenes. He systematically went back and forth across the road. Six, seven, eight, times, he came across spent rounds. He uncovered each casing with his knife. Using his hand ax, he chopped four poles from the chest high desert shrubbery. Pounding each pole into the ground, he then strung crime scene tape across the road. It was now closed.
“Bradley, this is CC.”
“Come in,” the sheriff replied.
“I’m about seven miles southeast of you. I think I found where the two victims were killed. At least eight rounds were fired here. I’ve secured the scene, but you need to send a few deputies down to reroute any traffic,” CC said.
“I’ll send two people right now. By the way, there were three victims in that car, a man, a woman and what looks to be a four or five year old boy. The kid was on the back floor so you couldn’t have seen him. We didn’t either until we uncovered the car,” Brad said
“I’ll wait here till they arrive,” CC said quietly. Who in the hell would kill a kid. Of all the things that he’d seen done in his fifteen years as a deputy sheriff, child murder had to be the lowest. Twenty minutes later, the two deputies arrived and took over the latest crime scene. “You boys have fun now. I’m gonna do a bit more tracking while I still have any light. I think we got ourselves some mean kind of bastards.” Waving, he turned down the side road and continued following the motorcycle tracks.
The road wound its way through several low hills and rocky terrain. The motorcycle had both come and gone down this road, CC noticed. So, if they were still around, they might be back in here. He reached in back of his seat, found his gun, and laid his it on the seat next to him. Nervously, he checked the clip in the automatic and jacked a round into the chamber. The way that the road twisted and hugged the increasingly rugged terrain, he realized he could be a mile or a hundred yards from the main road. He drove over a rise and came to an open area, maybe two or three miles across. No large vegetation was visible and it was virtually free of rocks. It was as if whoever or whatever created the hills and boulders in this country had simply run out of material.
CC stopped the truck and started walking. The tracks were less pronounced here, due to the harder clay surface. But they were still visible. Something was bothering him, though. He stopped and looked across the expanse of the valley trying to visually understand what was wrong. Sitting on one of the few large rocks, he carefully surveyed the ground. The motorcycle tracks simply disappeared. The ground had been disturbed, but expertly. Usually, when tracks are covered up, the overturned soil is a different color due to the moisture. Even in the desert, this lasts a few days. Then the sun and wind erase the difference. Someone had somehow caused the motorcycle tracks to disappear, along with whatever else happened here. He could see the tread marks from a plane. The prints showed the plane landing, turning, and taking off. If he could believe the tracks, no one entered or left the plane. The soil was hard and even the weight of the plane left only a modest depression in it.
In his mind, CC had hoped to come across that rise and see the perps having lunch. He’d come in guns blazing, a small daydream he always had and one which had never come true. They had simply vanished into the desert. Whoever had caused this piece of magic probably wasn’t the same person that tried to hide the car. This meant that there had to be at least three people. There was no way yet that he could prove to Bradley and his experts, but he knew it in his gut. Walking back to the truck, he dug out the metal detector again. He knew that somewhere in this valley were more clues. They just wouldn’t be as easy to find as the tracks. Whenever he started tracking someone or putting together a case, he tried to get into the perp’s mind. If he could think the same way, and see the same things, then he might be able to figure out their next move or, at least, narrow down the possibilities.
He could follow the motorcycle riders’ logic. They’d killed the people for some reason and then decided to hide the car. Why not just pull it over to the side of the road and abandon it? Why not drive it back up into this god forsaken valley and leave it? Why kill those people in the first place? All questions he could guess at, but then, in flies perp number 3. This person knew the desert. He was also smart enough to know how to eliminate most traces, which meant that he was probably in charge.
CC stretched out a roll of the police tape and, following a line across the valley, began using the metal detector. Finding nothing, he moved the tape a few yards further and repeated the same procedure, with the same result. On his fifth pass, he lucked in. He found five metal tailings from flares spaced out across the valley. So, they’d flown in with some help. He measured the plane treads, noting down their take off and landing distance in his pocket notebook. Removing his plaster kit from under the truck’s seat, he made casts of both the plane and motorcycle tread. While the plaster dried, he resumed walking the valley grid with the metal detector. Another hour passed before he found an empty Meals Ready to Eat can. Damn, he thought. MRE cans could be bought from any army surplus or wilderness survival stores. This one was an army surplus variety and only half eaten. Looking at the greasy contents, he could well understand why. The fact that the local bugs hadn’t found the can yet indicated that it hadn’t been there very long. He picked up the can carefully and deposited it into a clear plastic bag.
By the time he left the valley, CC had more questions than he had when he came into it. The two deputies were now winding up the tape and preparing to leave.
“Did the scientists find anything?” CC asked Jeff Bodine, the oldest of the two deputies.
“All they found was what you said. Only there were twenty five empty casings scattered around this sand pit. All told, they were here an hour,” Jeff replied.
“You see that saguaro cactus over there, CC?” Tim Summers spoke. The cactus lay cut in half, about twenty yards from the road. Tim sort of admired CC because of his independence and no nonsense attitude. Although Tim had graduated from New Mexico State with a degree in environmental science, the one thing they’d forgotten to tell him was that there weren’t enough jobs in that field to go around.
“You know how long it takes those damn things to grow to six feet tall?” Tim asked CC.
“About a hundred years, I expect,” CC answered.
“150 in this part of the damn desert. For no reason at all, they destroyed it.” Tim mulled over the cactus’s fate.
“Why do you think they would do something like that?” CC asked as he walked carefully around the Cholla Cactus patches surrounding the broken stalk. “Tim, did you tell the whiz kids about this?”
“Sure, I saw it right away. Didn’t you?” Tim replied proudly. He was happy to have spotted something that the eagle eyed deputy had obviously missed.
“And what did they say?” CC asked, impatiently, looking down at the stump.
“Not much. They said it wasn’t shot, so they weren’t interested,” Tim answered.
“You’re damned right it wasn’t shot. It was knocked over by something. Something large and heavy hit the top of it and the cactus stalk sheared off,” CC said examining the broken edges. He walked further around the top piece lying on the ground, noticing traces of white cloth, possibly silk, caught up in the Cholla Cactus behind the broken Saguaro. He tried to read the footprints, but all he recognized was the distinctive shoe pattern that forensics wore. The crew had walked all over the area.
“Grab a shovel and come here. I want to throw that broken piece of cactus and these two Cholla in the back of my truck. I think the whiz kids missed something important,” CC said, suddenly excited.
Once he had the plants in the back of the pickup truck, CC headed back towards town.
“Marge, is the old man around?” CC used the cellular phone as he drove.
“Sure, he just came in,” Marge replied.
“Sheriff Winston Bradley here. Can I help you?”
“Damn, Brad. You’d think you were running for office again.”
“Haven’t you discovered enough problems today, CC?” the sheriff responded gruffly.
“No, I’ve still got a few more bones to pick. It would seem that your boy geniuses missed a few pieces of evidence at that intersection,” CC replied.
“That’s the best crew in the state, CC. You’ve had a hard on for them since that unfortunate incident a couple of months ago.” The sheriff was referring to lost evidence in a murder investigation. Two drug dealers had been shot a few miles out of town. CC had been the investigating officer and had secured the scene. The lab boys arrived, boxed and bottled everything and promptly mislabeled half of the evidence before it made the evidence locker. They hadn’t lost anything, they said. The samples had simply been misplaced, somewhere, in boxes that were labeled for another crime scene.
CC had caught the blame on that one, because he was the man in charge. The sheriff had held him responsible for all evidence security. This was the reason that CC had notified the sheriff when he discovered the car and had left the scene as soon as the forensics experts arrived. He didn’t like taking responsibility for the irresponsible behavior of others.
“What evidence did you find?” Brad asked in an even tone.
“Somebody knocked over a Saguaro Cactus. I think the person hitting the cactus was parachuting in the dark and hit it. I’m bringing the top half of the cactus back, along with some other samples of what I think is silk,” CC replied.
“Who in the hell would be parachuting out in the desert at night?” Brad asked.
“Well, it probably wasn’t drug dealers. They usually fly in and out as fast as possible. Could the military have conducted some operations in that area in the last three days?” CC asked.
“I’ll call Fort Huachuca and see if there’s any activity. When you come in, just leave the truck full of evidence for the boys. I’ll bust their balls about it, not you. Understand?” The sheriff asked, leaving no room for argument.
“Whatever you say, Brad. What do I drive back out?” CC asked.
“Why don’t you take the new 4 by 4 utility truck. After all, it was his boys that made the mistake.” The sheriff was referring to Kim Hopper, the lieutenant in charge of Forensics and no fan of CC’s.
CC could see Hopper’s face when he got the news. While they seldom got along, Hopper was fanatical in keeping his equipment spotless. The thought of CC using the new 4 by 4 would hurt the worst. CC smiled as he drove in to the department’s Las Cruces garage and parked it in the special designated evidence area.
Two days later in the Sheriff’s office, Sheriff Bradley and CC listen to Kim Hopper’s report on the evidence found at the scene of the crime.
“What the hell kind of crime is this, CC? Three murders, and no evidence of drugs on or about the victims. All three victims are first class citizens, poor, but with no records. Not even a parking ticket.” The sheriff pondered the questions.
“What were they doing driving through that part of the country at night?” CC asked.
“Mr. and Mrs. Florence were returning with their son, Tommy, from a Mexican clinic. It seems that Tommy was suffering from a serious case of asthma. The parents couldn’t afford treatment in the U.S. so they took him to Mexico twice a month. The hospital in Chihuahua has confirmed that they left there two nights before you found their bodies. That puts their death in the same time frame as the coroner,” Hopper said stiffly.
“So we have parents driving their sick kid back from the hospital. They stop, or get stopped, in the desert, and are machine gunned to oblivion. Then the perps just disappear into thin air.” The sheriff was grumpy. He hated murder cases, for more then the usual reason. Naturally, they involved people losing their lives. But, they were also high profile. If you found the killer immediately, you were a hero. If it took you longer, you weren’t doing your job. This case had hit yesterday’s papers and the press was already calling it a crime wave.
“Let’s look at it from the killer’s viewpoint. Why would someone fly in, or parachute in, and kill an innocent family? Then leave after destroying most of the evidence and hiding the car. Were the victims killed as part of a plan or did they simply see too much?” CC asked the other two.
“We can speculate all day. The facts are that they were killed and we simply have to find out who did it. My money is still on drug dealers,” Hopper said with the determination of a righteous man.
“Why kill those people just because they saw a deal go down? Tie them up, threaten them, give them some hash and run them off, or any of the above. Why take the chance of getting caught for murder? Maybe they recognized somebody out there in the dark dealing in dope and they became too big a threat.” The sheriff added his own questions.
“I think there’s more to it than that, Brad,” CC said. Desert deals always involve transportation of some kind. There were no trucks or other cars out there that night. The car those people were killed in drove straight from the spot where they were killed into that arroyo. Nobody carried any grass or coke in it. The three sets of tracks we’re sure of are their car, the motorcycle and the plane.
“Maybe they carried the dope out in the plane?” Hopper commented.
“Again, most of those deals concern people smuggling dope into the U.S., not out of it. Besides, there were no cars or trucks to carry the dope to the plane. I searched that entire valley. There were no other tracks, in or out. I even looked up and down the hunting roads. No traffic of any kind, except those three vehicles. How do we explain the parachutist? ” CC asked.
“Well, it wasn’t anybody from the Army. Everybody’s at some big shindig in North Carolina. The Colonel assures me that it was nobody from the fort and he’s checking with the other services,” the sheriff answered.
“We believe that the silk and the fibers you found were from army surplus equipment. Probably just a skydiver, off course. There’s nothing to connect it to the incident,” Hopper said defensively.
“Nothing to disconnect it either, Hopper. If somebody parachuted in, it would make sense for the plane to fly in and pick them up. What’s your estimate on the size of the plane from the tracks and measurements I gave you?” CC asked.
“Two large tires and smaller nose or tail wheel. The guesstimates we’ve gotten are some kind of mid-sized cargo plane. Just the type the dope dealer’s are using. Easy to buy, able to land in the desert, cheap and, if they’re caught, expendable. Why couldn’t they have dropped their cargo somewhere and somebody parachuted out to collect the debt. The family saw who it was, recognized him, so he shot them. All perfectly plausible in that god forsaken stretch of sand between here and the border,” Hopper said emphatically.
“That makes a lot of sense, Hopper.” The sheriff got up and started to walk around the table. He was beginning to see a pattern here.
“Maybe, but who were they collecting the money from, the Florence family? From what you said, Brad, they didn’t have a pot or a window,” CC asked.
“That could have been a cover. My guess is that they’re dirty. We just haven’t found their secrets yet,” Hopper answered, emphasizing the yet.
“Yeah, I can see them as secret multi-millionaires taking their sick son down to Mexico for the ambiance and grandeur of that hospital in Chihuahua,” CC added sarcastically.
“It’s all speculation. Hopper, get on that family. Find out if there’s dirt there. CC, you’ve got contacts in Mexico. Find out what you can about their visits and if they could have been mixed up in any of that shit south of the border. Don’t leave any stone unturned. The papers are starting to make a federal case out of this.” Bradley had made his decision.
“Oh, by the way, thanks for that 4 by 4, Kim.” CC laughed as he went out the door. “It sure makes the rough roads a lot smoother.”
“That son of a bitch burns my ass, Brad. How long do we have to put up with him?” Hopper asked.
“As long as I’m in this office. He’s the best field investigator I’ve got and the only one that’ll take that assignment. You wouldn’t consider taking it, would you Kim?” Brad asked, knowing the answer before he even asked the question.
Returning briefly to the old travel trailer that he called home, CC quickly changed into what he called his over the border outfit. Heading south, he crossed the border at Nogales and drove another fifty miles to a small town named Tres Padres. There, he was known by most of the locals as just another New Mexican cowboy on the make for a good time. Because Tres Padres is located in the Sonoran Mountains, on the edge of the driest, most desolate part of the Sonoran Desert, a lot of good times went on that weren’t quite legal. They weren’t even close to legal. A desolate area in this part of the world quickly becomes the devil’s playground, occupied by drug lords with fast cars, faster planes, and a police department that looks the other way.
CC often came south to collect information. The people he saw in Tres Padres, he’d often see further north, in New Mexico. Usually, they were either under arrest or about to be. He came this time looking for a man name Jimmy Tucker. Jimmy had served time in Yuma Prison and CC had even arrested him, once. Currently, Jimmy was wanted on a stolen car warrant in New Mexico along with a couple of other minor charges. CC knew that Jimmy had come into some big money and had invested in several of the local boy’s towns in Nogales and Tres Padres. CC had been down here enough to know that boy’s town in Mexico was another name for whore house. Only in this area, the prostitute was not looked down on, as they are back in the states. So, Jimmy was now a legitimate businessman who, in a few short years, two to be exact, had gone from being a fleeing felon to becoming a Mexican entrepreneur. Under the New Mexican statue of limitations for his alleged crimes, he’d have to stay missing for another eight years.
Jimmy usually hung out in a gin mill in Tres Padres named Rosa’s Fine Dining and Drinking Emporium. In Rosa’s, you could get drunk, high, laid, rolled or beaten up without ever leaving the premises. Few bars in the states could match that. CC came in about ten o’clock Friday evening. He was off for the next three days and decided to look around. He asked Emilo, the bartender, if he’d seen Jimmy.
“No, Senor CC, he hasn’t been in tonight, but it’s still early. I’ll ask around and tell people you’re looking for him,” he replied as he handed CC a bottle of the local beer. CC tipped him a ten spot and grabbed a corner booth. The building was long and narrow with the bar on one side and ten or twelve booths scattered throughout the rest of the structure. There were about twenty people sitting at the tables and in several of the booths the bar girls were drumming up business. The booth that CC picked was near the stairs, in an area where he could see everyone coming and going through the swinging doors.
It wasn’t long before Rosa came out and hopped in CC’s lap. “CC, you drive all the way down to see Rosa, no?” she asked. Rosa was a woman in her early fifties and one of the truly ugliest women CC had ever laid eyes on. She had buck teeth and a smile that would pit limestone. But, Rosa’s body belied her face. She had the shape of a twenty year old and her legs were flawless. She was also one of the friendliest women he’d ever met. If she liked you, there wasn’t anything she wouldn’t do. The opposite was also true. CC had personally witnessed a confrontation between Rosa and a local bad guy nick-named El Toro, the bull, for his physique and general personality.
El Toro had come into her bar loaded for bear one night with two local hookers at his side. One of Rosa’s rules is that, if you come in, don’t bring outside whores with you. She made a percentage off the inside girls. That was his first mistake. Rosa might have let that pass except El Toro had saddled up to the bar and gotten into a fight with her sporting man Ricky, who was the bartender on duty that night. Ricky had obviously tried to enforce Rosa’s rules and El Toro had taken offense. He had Ricky laid over the bar and was about to cut his ears off when Rosa came charging down the stairs. She usually carried a derringer, but that night she had a Smith and Wesson .357 magnum in her purse. Halfway down, she pulled the gun out and fired it. The bullet passed through both cheeks of El Toro’s ass and lodged in the bar. She cocked the pistol again, but El Toro was rolling around the floor trying to determine the seriousness of his injuries. He saw her pointing the gun at him again and pleaded with her not to shoot. She calmly walked down the stairs and held the gun pointed at his crotch. Then, she made him crawl out of her bar on his hands and knees, helped along by his imported whores. As far as CC knew, El Toro had never returned. The way Rosa handled herself made everyone in the bar that night believe that she truly had cajones (balls).
“I’ve been looking forward to seeing you all week, Rosa. I couldn’t wait to get here.” CC lied easily.
“You want we go up into my room, CC? I can do for you what these other putas can’t,” Rosa said smiling and burying his head in her bosom.
“Si, only later. I have to see Jimmy first,” CC replied.
“I’m so sorry CC, Jimmy’s in jail. He beat up the Alcalde’s brother,” Rosa said softly.
“Why did he do that, Rosa?” CC asked puzzled.
“Enrique, the alcalde’s brother is a mean drunk. He beat up one of Jimmy’s girls and was going to cut her when Jimmy came in and threw him out. It might have stopped there, except Enrique had two friends who decided to get involved. Jimmy and his man beat up all three of them on the front street. The alcade doesn’t even like his brother, but he had to do something about it, so Jimmy’s in jail for a week,” Rosa replied.
“I guess that means I’ll have to see him in the callaboose, then,” CC said.
“I’ll still be here when you get back,” Rosa replied.
CC walked the five blocks to the local jail. He knocked several times and was startled when the jailer came up behind him and tapped him on the shoulder.
“Que pasa, Senor CC?” the man asked. He’d known CC for ten years.
“Ernesto, how’s the wife and children?” CC asked.
“Fine. We haven’t seen you in weeks. Is everything well?” Ernesto asked.
“Yes, everything great. I’m here to see Jimmy. I heard he was locked up because he was in a fight,” CC replied.
“Si. I was just over to his place trying to find a girl to stay with him tonight. They were all busy. Business is good this night,” Ernesto said unlocking the door.
They walked through the two room police station and down a flight of stairs to the basement. Jimmy was locked in the largest of six cells. The others were vacant and their doors hung open. Each cell contained a toilet and two double deck bunk beds. Jimmy occupied the lower bunk.
“Muchas gracias, Ernesto. I’ll only be a few minutes,” CC said as the jailer locked him in the cell.
“De nada, CC. If you want to stay the night, the next cell is unlocked,” Ernesto replied.
“Not tonight, amigo. I have to be back to work in the morning,” CC answered.
“To what do I owe this pleasure, CC? It’s been a while. Don’t tell me the alcalde’s so pissed off that he’s gonna have me extradited?” Jimmy said.
“Not that I’ve heard. I wouldn’t want you back anyway, too damn much paperwork for the couple of years you’d get.” CC replied as he walked around the cell and looked behind the toilet and the bunks.
“What the hell you looking for? You don’t think they’d use bugs in this shithole, do you?” Jimmy asked. Jimmy was a tall thin anglo with light red hair.
“I just don’t want to be overheard. Electronics has made it even here, Jimmy. The reason I stopped by was to ask what you know about a murder across the border two days ago. A man, his wife and their little boy were killed in what looks like a drug rip off. Since you seem to know most of the drug sleaze bags on this side of the border, I’m thinking there may have been some talk.” CC sat down on the edge of Jimmy’s bunk.
“I heard about it, but nothing about a drug deal. There’s been a real push on by the DEA and the locals. But, there’s been nothing big moving north for the last two months,” Jimmy replied.
“No help then?” CC asked.
“I could ask, if there’s something in it for me?” Jimmy answered.
“If the information was worth while, I could talk to the Alcade for you. No promises, but we’re friendly and he might have cooled down by now,” CC answered. He knew the mayor very well. They’d hunted for deer on both sides of the border. He felt confident that the mayor would honor a request, if he was told that Jimmy was helping him on a case.
“I might have an in with some of the local boys. I’d have to be out of here, though.” Jimmy said
“No shit, Jimmy. If you were out today, when could I expect a call?” CC asked.
“Late tomorrow. It has to look like I didn’t sell anybody out to get out of here. They’re getting jumpy and there’s people up the food chain out there that I don’t want to mess with,” Jimmy answered.
“Jimmy, up the food chain from you there’s a whole shitload of people.” CC called for Ernesto to let him out.
The alcade was still furious with Jimmy, but he understood that business was business Within an hour, Jimmy was free pending trial. CC headed back for Tucson.
The next day as CC was having a warmed over burrito for lunch, Jimmy called. True to his word, he had a few hints that something was going on.
“I heard that no dope was involved, but some pretty nasty people were”, Jimmy said.
“What the hell does that mean. Why would some nasty bastards cross the border and kill a man and his family, for no reason?” CC spoke angrily.
“I know it doesn’t make sense, but no dope was involved,” Jimmy said trying to placate the deputy.
“Was there a hit out on the dead man? Were they smuggling something else? Come on, give me something to work with, Jimmy,” CC said cooling down.
“There’s only one name that I’ve heard, Guillermo DeJesus. Have you heard of him?” Jimmy asked.
“Who hasn’t?” CC answered. Guillermo DeJesus, AKA Billy De Jesus was one of the most notorious of the border drug lords. He had a bad reputation and an extremely large, well financed organization.
“Then it had to be drugs. Billy doesn’t deal in guns or anything else, does he?” CC asked, puzzled.
‘Maybe not, but my information says that no shipments have gone north in two months. From what I’m told, the stuff’s just collecting dust in a warehouse waiting for the DEA to chill out,” Jimmy replied.
“How do I get in touch with DeJesus?” CC asked.
“What the hell are you saying man. That guy’s bad news, he’ll cut your throat as quick as look at you. I don’t want any part of that scene, man. Count me out on that,” Jimmy said, with genuine fear in his voice.
“I just want to ask him some questions. If you won’t help, then the Alcade gets a call and your ass is back in the cell. I’ll even tell him you refused to cooperate and he’ll put you in with someone who’ll change your attitude.” CC responded. Jimmy could still be playing the game or maybe he was that afraid of DeJesus.
“It’s your funeral. I’ll pass the word, but no more. Just remember I warned you when they’re putting you down, man.” Jimmy replied quietly.
“Do it and let me know what you find out. I’ll be back across on Friday night. That gives you three days to set something up,” CC replied and hung up.