He’d finally made it to retirement, but how could he know that a flat tire would lead him to an ominous discovery—throwing him back into a life of violence?
After thirty years of being a cop, Jason Douglas thinks he’s through with dead bodies, bloody victims, and nightly gunfire. So when he stops to fix a flat tire in the middle of nowhere, the last thing he expects is to find skeletons in the desert. Nor does he expect to be pulled into a small West Texas sheriff’s office as the only available CSI man. Still, he reluctantly agrees to help the deputies process the crime scene. But when people around him start dying brutal deaths, Jason knows things aren’t what they seem. Can he find the killer before it’s too late, or will he and his wife Sonya become the assassin’s next victims?
TAYLOR JONES SAYS: In Death in the Desert by Douglas Durham, Jason Douglas is a retired cop that gets pulled into dealing with drug dealers and assassins when he has a flat tire in the middle of nowhere in Texas. The only experienced crime scene guy in the area, he becomes the go-to guy for the local sheriff’s deputies when Jason’s wife finds two skeletons in the desert near where they pull over to fix their tire. Little do they know that they are dealing with much more than simple crime of murder. Jason and his wife Sonya park their RV at a local ranch and Jason goes to work, trying to help solve the crime.
Durham’s characters are very well-developed and three-dimensional. And he definitely knows his crime scene science. Being a lover of shows like CSI Miami, Law & Order, and Forensic Files, I found Death in the Desert to be on a par with the best of them. It’s a fairly long book, about 400 pages, but the pace is fast and the story extremely interesting.
REGAN MURPHY SAYS: Death in the Desert by Douglas Durham is a combination murder mystery, thriller/suspense. It’s filled with a lot of crime scene science and police terminology, but with the glossary at the beginning, I found it easy for a lay person to understand. I liked the main characters and thought them genuinely well developed. The science is fascinating and I learned a lot about crime scene investigation.
The plot is strong and story very fast-paced. And the book has a ring of truth that tells me Durham knows a great deal about crime scene investigation—whether through personal experience or because he did a lot of research, the end result is a book you will find hard to put down.
It wasn’t so much of a “boom!” as it was a low pitched “thump.” Not all that much as volume goes, and really no vibration to speak of, but it jarred the truck. I knew instantly what it was—trailer tire blow-out. Shit I thought. Just what I needed out here in the middle of friggin’ nowhere. Well, it wasn’t exactly “nowhere,” but close enough that you could see it from here. We were westbound, my wife Sonya and I, on I-20 fifty miles or so west of Pecos, Texas. If you’ve ever been to Pecos, then you know what I mean by middle of nowhere. The two of us were on the final leg of a “bucket list” trip that we’d been planning for two years prior to my retirement. Up till now, it had been a real hoot and for the most part hassle free.
“What was that?” Sonya asked startled.
“Blow-out,” I replied. “I need to get off the freeway.”
Not far ahead I saw an exit onto what looked like a small country road. Why would there be a big-time freeway exit onto this apparently little-used, rough-blacktop road, I wondered. Probably some local rancher with “juice” and a county supervisor for a buddy. But I wasn’t going to look a gift horse in the mouth. I got the rig slowed down enough to hit the exit without killing us both then cruised down the old road until I found a gravel turnout wide enough to pull out of the way should someone pass by. Looking both ways down this road, I figured that wasn’t likely.
We got out of the truck, stretched, and walked back to the trailer. I wasn’t surprised when I saw that the center of the three tires on the left side was shredded. Well at least it hadn’t taken the fender with it when it blew.
“This is going to take a while,” I told my wife, “so you might as well get the dogs out of the truck and walk ’em, then you can help me with tools and stuff.”
“Okay,” she replied.
I could tell by the look on her face she was not thrilled at the prospect of getting her hands dirty by helping me. Even worse, suffering the most hated of female damage, breaking a fingernail. Mumbling under her breath, she began to leash up our two dogs for a walk. We had never had little dogs before. We had inherited these two from our teen-age daughters who, of course, grew up and drove off to college, leaving us with these two mutts. It could have been worse, I guessed. Both were sweet little dogs. They traveled well and didn’t yap or whine all the Goddamn time like so many small dogs did.
I gazed around at the surrounding desert. Whole lot of fuckin’ nothing out here, I thought, sand, scrub brush, some scrawny cactus, a few rattlesnakes probably, and yeah—I looked down, watching a small brown scorpion cross the sand in front of my boot—scorpions. Swell, I get to crawl around on the ground with bugs that can sting the shit out of you!
On the upside, at least it wasn’t 110 degrees. That thought actually made me chuckle as I recalled a line from one of my favorite comedy movies Blazing Saddles when character actor Burton Gilliam says to all the rail workers as they are laboring away in the hot sun, “C’mon boys, the way you’z lollie gaggin’ around here, you’d think it was a hunnert’n twenty degrees…can’t be mor’n a hunnert’n fourteen!”
Still smiling at that one, I called out to my wife as she started with the dogs out into the sandy dirt, “Hey, watch out for critters. I just squashed a scorpion. Keep your eyes open.”
Over her shoulder, she tossed me one of her better disdainful How-stupid-do-I-look looks. I shook my head. Humph! Marital bliss. With that I started the unpleasant task of getting the spare tire cranked down. Crawling under the trailer, I, of course, hit my head straight away in the process. Oh yeah, this is going to be some fun.
My wife’s voice was several octaves above her normal tone with obvious alarm as she yelled my initials, they being “JD,” of course. I had just started jacking up the axle, but as was normal when adrenalin jolted my system into the “fight or flight” mode, I could move damn quick without conscious effort. I dropped the jack handle and jetted out from under the trailer like a torpedo being launched from a tube. I jerked my “Kahr” PM 9, 9mm pistol from its small holster on my belt. It was in my hand before I saw her. She was standing frozen like a statue, 50 yards out into the desert. Damn! I thought realizing she was too far out for a quick rescue. Why did she go out that far?
I was running flat out now, but I could already see my worst fears of her being snake-bitten, or having been surrounded by a group of drug smugglers, were not a concern—not that my small seven-shot, auto-loader would do much good if the latter were the case. She was looking down at something, trying to keep the dogs from getting close to whatever she had discovered.
Halfway to her, I slowed. One of the first training officers I’d had so long ago, an old Irish cop complete with food stains on his tie and a pint of Irish whiskey stashed inside his favorite call box, had once told me something I tried never to forget. “Always walk into the mess, boy-o. Never run, no matter how bad things seem. When you run your body will get there quicker than your brain, and that can end badly.” This advice had served me well over the years and had actually saved my sorry ass a couple of times. I slowed my running to a walk then to a slow “hunter’s stalk,” alert for whatever the threat was.
As I got close enough for my wife to hear me, I asked softly, “Are you okay?”
She turned her head toward me and nodded. She then pointed to something on the ground in front of her. It took me several seconds to recognize what I was seeing.
As I did, my brain kicked into a cop’s sarcastic overdrive and I blurted out, “Huh, now there’s something you don’t see every day.” Sonya found no humor in that at all. I said to her, “Hon, look around behind you and try to back out of your tracks the same way you came in.” Than as an afterthought, I added, “And keep those dogs short-leashed.”
Whoops, I thought, should have held on to that one. I again got that disdainful look that all women learned how to do in the “Wife Academy.” You’d think after 28 years of marriage I’d learn.
“Ni-en one, one. State yawl’s ’mergency pa-lease.” The heavy Texas drawl of the sheriff’s department dispatcher’s voice took me a bit by surprise. I could hear the keys on her dispatch keyboard clicking in the background.
“Yeah, listen,” I told her. “I’m a retired cop from California. I’m out here just off of westbound I-20 at exit…ummm, 65. I pulled over to fix a flat tire and I just found something out here that you folks are going to want to know about.”
“Yes, suh, and may I have you name and phone numbah pa-lease?”
“Jason Douglas,” I replied, also reciting my cell number. I then briefly described what Sonya had found. There was a pause as I heard her speak inaudibly into her head-set microphone.
She came back to me. “Did you say ya’ll was a retired offisuh?”
“Yes ma’am,” I replied, “from California.”
“Are you aahmed?” she asked.
“Aahamed? Oh, armed.” I smiled at the accent, knowing how easily I myself had picked them up when I’d lived in different parts of the country. “Yes ma’am.”
“A dep’ty is on his way now. Please put any fireaahms you may have away.”
“Okay,” I said, thinking about them sending just one deputy for this type of call. Well, I thought, maybe it’s like that old Texas joke. If there was only one riot, they sent only one ranger, or deputy in this case.
Southwest Texas along the I-20 corridor was for the most part flat, open, desolate country. Oh, there were the Sierra Madre Mountains to the far south in Mexico and the Guadalupe Mountain Range to the west, but right here where I stood, I could see for miles in every direction. The red and blue lights of the Revas County Sheriff’s Department Ford SUV were visible for a good five minutes as it approached. The deputy’s vehicle exited the freeway as I had, along that same rough blacktop road. He shut down his emergency lights as he got close. I again thought about them sending only one unit. They either don’t believe what I told them, or hell, maybe they just don’t have the people. The SUV slowed as it passed the rear of our trailer. Now I could see this was a double unit, the two deputies inside watching us where we stood in the gravel turn-out.
As the vehicle slowly approached, I could see they both were particularly interested in where our hands were. Prior to the arrival of the deputies, I’d put my pistol back in the trailer and clued Sonya in on the proper etiquette of how not to find one’s self on the business end of nervous cop’s gun. We were both holding our hands in plain view by our sides, with our driver’s licenses gripped in our fingers. I’d also grabbed the paperwork for the truck and trailer right after I’d hung up the phone. As the Sheriff’s vehicle slowed, I could see the passenger deputy holding the microphone to his mouth, obviously advising his dispatch of their arrival, our descriptions, and requesting the registration info on the South Dakota plates on our rig. The deputy driving pulled the unit in front of our truck in a classic blocking position. I smiled, thinking sarcastically, Oh yeah, like we’re going to lead all the cops in West Texas on a high speed chase in a pick-up truck pulling a 40 foot fifth wheel.
Sonya, always the mind reader said, “Be nice.”
Both deputies exited the SUV. The driver approached us, the passenger deputy hanging back. Both had their right hands hovering near their side arms. Being a “gun guy,” I immediately recognized the weapons as Beretta Storms, thinking to myself, Maybe 9’s, but more likely .40’s, since that’s the caliber that most agencies like these days. The approaching deputy was a young Caucasian guy in his early 30s. He was tall and lean in a muscular way, and even I noticed that he was handsome in his tailored khaki uniform. A police recruiting “poster-boy.” He was also very pale. My investigator’s instincts kicked in. Either new to day shift, or maybe working over from nights. I was amused to notice out of the corner of my eye, Sonya checking him out from his boot soles to his shaved head under his brown “Sheriff” ball cap. No doubt she was having a brief “cougar” fantasy moment of her own. That was okay. We all like to look at good looking people with nice bodies.
He had on a brand new pair of those streamlined bug-eye tactical sunglasses that all the young-stud S.W.A.T. coppers wore these days. I couldn’t see his eyes, but by the slight movement of his head, I could tell he had stolen a quick glance at Sonya’s C-cup size and currently bra-less breasts under her T-shirt. He couldn’t help himself. Neither could I for that matter. The cool morning air and the adrenalin still pumping through her veins were making her nipples poke at the underside of her shirt like tent poles. I almost laughed out loud, thinking that guys were the same everywhere.
The passenger deputy was a contrast. Older, probably mid-fifties. Hispanic, barrel chest, with thick forearms. Face and arms weathered brown by the Texas desert sun, his eyes quick and experienced. Yeah, this guy would be a handful for anyone deciding to try him on, I decided. His eyes were on both of us, but unlike his younger partner, he was more interested in watching our hands and body language than looking at my wife’s tits. His gaze swiftly moved from my eyes, to my hands, to my waistline looking for any telltale bulges under my T-shirt, down over my pockets to my feet, then back to my eyes again. He did the same with Sonya. It was all about officer survival with this guy.
“Hi, guys. I’m Jason Douglas, your RP,” I said to them. “This is my wife Sonya.”
“Hello,” Sonya said, smiling and extending her right hand a bit flirtatiously to the young deputy.
Thinking more about the front of her shirt than his own well-being, the young cop automatically extended his right hand, his gun hand, and shook hers. Critical error, I thought. I caught the quick disapproving look the older deputy shot at his partner, then he turned his attention back to me and we exchanged knowing glances. This seemed to put him somewhat at ease.
“You’re retired off the job?” he asked.
“Yeah, central California, Vista P.D.,” I replied and showed him my departmental retired ID and badge.
“Deputy Frank Sanchez.” He extended his left hand. We both smiled. “My not-so-subtle partner here is Deputy James Olsen,” Sanchez said.
Embarrassed at being caught boob watching and flustered now, the younger deputy stammered a few words. I was sure he was now thinking about how he was going to explain his voyeurism to his sergeant when I made my complaint about him checking out my wife.
“Relax,” I told him, smiling. “First of all, I’m a guy, too. The twins there—” I nodded at my wife’s shirt. “—wouldn’t have gone unnoticed by me either. Second of all, I’m old school, youngster. I don’t beef other cops, within reason anyway.” The relief on his face was obvious. “Besides,” I continued, winking at Sanchez, “I would imagine your senior partner here will have some additional words of wisdom to impart to you once you guys are alone.”
“That’s a given,” Sanchez muttered under his breath, scowling at his partner.
It was obvious by the look on Olsen’s face he was not looking forward to that conversation.
With his mind now back on the business at hand, the young deputy asked, “Are you armed?”
“Was,” I replied. “I put it back in the trailer just before you guys got here.”
He examined our South Dakota driver’s licenses and the paperwork for the truck and trailer. “Mind if I pat you down real quick-like?”
“Not at all,” I told him and assumed the position against the side of my trailer. “I’ve got a pocket knife in my right front pocket and a small flashlight in my left.”
He removed both, laid them on the ground near his feet, and quickly searched me. I was glad to see he had finally recovered enough of his wits to again start thinking about his own survival.
Sanchez spoke up at that point and said to both of us, “I hope you don’t mind, but we’ll need to do the same to the young lady. I’m sure you understand. I can call a female deputy to do the search if you’d like, but that may take a while. She’ll probably have to come from another agency as we’re pretty short on lady deputies these days.”
I looked at Sonya. “Honey?”
“I don’t care,” she said, clearly flattered at the “young lady” comment.
I was sure she was hoping that it would be the handsome young Olsen who would perform this task, but alas it was not to be.
Sanchez shot his young partner a quick Don’t-even-think-about-it look and took a step forward. “I’ll take care of it,” he said. “Would you turn around, raise your arms out to your sides, please, ma’am?” He then used the backs of his hands to quickly and thoroughly complete her pat-down—armpits, ribs, between her breasts, waist, inner thighs right up to her crotch, front and rear pockets. I noticed he was being overly careful not to allow his hands to spend too much time lingering in any particular spot. Very professional. “My apologies, ma’am,” he offered.
“Kind of enjoyed it,” she shot back with a playful wink. This embarrassed the older deputy.
Satisfied that we now presented no immediate threat and having heard back from his dispatch on his earpiece that we and our vehicles were not wanted, they were both now at ease. Olsen handed me back our licenses and paperwork and retrieved my knife and light from the ground. “Hey, a ‘Fenix,’” he said as he looked at my small flashlight. “I’ve never seen a small one like this, only their larger tactical lights.”
“Yeah,” I replied. “I have a bigger one, too, but this one is so handy being pocket size.”
As he handed them back, Sanchez said, “Well, let’s get to the rat killin’, folks. What’d you find out here?”
Turning my head, I nodded to indicate a northeast direction and told him, “It’s out there about 50 yards or so. My wife actually found it when she was walking our dogs. We tried not to stomp around too much, but she and the dogs were in close before she saw it. I had her re-trace her steps out, though, so it shouldn’t be too bad.” Sanchez again started to ask about the find, but I held up my hand. “You have to see it to believe it.”
The deputy shrugged and held out his hand for me to precede him. The three of us started walking out into the desert. My wife, having actually picked up a few things over the years from both my work and from watching her favorite crime shows on TV, knew the deputies wouldn’t want any more “cooks in the kitchen,” so she opted to stay put at the rig with the dogs.
“We’ll be out there a while,” I told her. ”Keep an eye out for any mutants, and keep Pietro close-by.”
Puzzled by this Olsen asked, “Mutants? Pietro?”
Sanchez laughed and answered Olsen for me. “Mutants meaning just about anyone who don’t have your interests at heart, and Pietro was the inventor’s first name, as in Pietro Beretta.”
The younger deputy nodded. “Ahh.”
“Very astute, deputy,” I told Sanchez
“Beretta 9mm?” he asked, referring to the caliber of Sonya’s pistol.
“Yeah,” I replied, “a full size Model 92.”
“Big gun for a girl,” Olsen said.
“I know,” I answered, “but she shoots it well.”
“Cool.” The young deputy nodded his approval as we trudged our way through the hard-packed dirt and sand, asking, “So how long were you a cop?”
“I worked the street for about eight years in the Bay Area. Ended up there after I got out of the service. I’ve been a crime scene guy for the last 22 years in Vista. Supervisor for the last 10.”
“Army?” Sanchez asked.
“Yeah, one of the last of the draftees in ’70,” I told him.
“‘Nam?” he asked and I nodded.
“I’ve heard of Vista,” Olsen said “Where exactly is it?”
“Right in the middle of the state,” I answered.
“How big is it?” he asked.
“Oh, last census I think the population of the city itself was about half-million, but with all the surrounding and adjoining smaller towns, the whole area is probably closer to 750k.”
“Wow!” Olsen said. “That’s big. How big is the P.D.?”
I answered as I walked, “When I started we were only about 250 sworn, but in the early ’90s, crime got out of control. The streets were literally running with blood. I’m not shittin’ you. It was like Chicago is right now. That led our illustrious city leaders to realize that they’d better find some money to hire some more cops or they could kiss their cushy jobs adios, so by 2005 or so, we had about 800 sworn. Now though, with the bad economy and the budget woes, probably only half that number.”
“Humph!” Sanchez replied, his aggravation obvious. “I see we’re not the only ones having to plug twelve holes in the dike with only ten fingers.” He looked me up and down again. “You retired pretty young.”
I nodded. “I was tired. Thirty years in this business was enough. More, actually, if you count my Army Military Police time. Too many years of blood, screaming, gunfire, and bodies. Too many shouting suspects, crying victims, and damaged children. Had a bellyful of the politics of the staff weenies and city leaders—you know the story. I was just flat worn out, so I pulled the pin. Wife wanted me out at 20. I hung in there a couple more years, but when that little voice inside me started shouting that it was time to go, I finally listened. We sold the house and everything else, bought the RV, the truck, and the bike, and bailed out of California, destined for the adventurous life of retirement on the road. Hey—” I changed the subject, pointing to Olsen’s ball cap. “—I thought all you Texas lawmen wore white cowboy hats?”
“Nah,” he said. “That’s just the glory boys. The rangers or the junior rangers.”
I raised an eyebrow. “Junior rangers?”
“TSDPS,” he replied. “Texas Department of Public Safety—highway patrol in California speak.”
“Oh,” I replied, hearing a bit of animosity, or envy, or maybe some of both in his statement.
As we neared the spot of my wife’s discovery, I began leading the deputies in a semi-circle around to the southwest, attempting to pick up Sonya’s tracks, explaining to that we would approach over the same path, thus not contaminating the scene any more than necessary. I noticed both deputies exchanged quizzical glances, but they nodded their agreement. I related the entire story of our discovery, from the blown-out tire on the interstate, to my wife’s near scream, to my armed response.
“What kind of pistol do you carry?” Sanchez asked as we approached the spot.
“Depends on the time of year,” I replied.
“Oh, you’re one of those guys, eh?” Olsen inquired. “A gun for every season?”
“Nah,” I said. “I own a few, but I generally carry a sub-compact Kahr 9mm in the summer. I carry a compact Smith .45 in the cooler weather.”
“Why switch?” he asked.
I was sure he was expecting some complicated “ballistic co-efficiency” answer. “Clothing,” I told him. “Summer time I like to wear shorts and a tank and the Kahr is small.”
“Mmmmm,” Olsen replied, obviously thinking about having only six or seven shots in a small automatic.
I could read his mind. “I know, I know, you give up firepower for size but the object of the game is to not get yourself into shooting situations in the first place if you can avoid them.”
“Amen to that,” Sanchez interjected.
I smiled to myself. I could tell Olsen was still in that carry-two-guns-and-100-rounds-of-ammo-even-when-you’re off-duty frame of mind, indicative of all young cops. I had been just like him when I was his age. A young, tough, bad-ass cop with a badge and a gun. Instead of that silly “To Protect and Serve” motto so often seen on the doors of patrol cars, it should have read “Don’t fuck with me.” At least on the cars that young coppers drove.
I found Sonya’s and the dog’s tracks and the three of us, now single file, turned and slowly made our way northeast along the same path. The tracks ended and we stopped. Olsen seemed taken aback by what he saw. He slowly pulled his sunglass down to the tip of his nose, his mouth agape.
Sanchez simply stared at the scene with an experienced eye, and after a minute he said, “Well, there’s something you don’t see every day.”
I laughed out loud. Both looked at me not understanding why. “Same exact thing I said to my wife.”
The scene before us in the sand looked like someone’s Halloween porch display. Two intact, sun-bleached and weathered skeletons were laying face down together, perpendicular to each other. Any remnants of flesh or hair were long gone. Partially covering the legs of one of the skeletons were the tattered remains of what appeared to be blue wool pants with a faded yellow stripe, the feet still in rotting leather knee-high, cavalry-style, riding boots, complete with rusted spurs. No clothing of any type was visible on the other, save a small square of leather loin-cloth protruding from under the front of the pelvic girdle. The leather was in surprisingly good shape. Two large heavy bladed and very different, rusted knives were visible, also. One was laying in the sand next to the loin-clothed skeleton. The second was protruding from between the right side ribs of the booted one.
“From the looks of this, we got us one very old double homicide,” Sanchez observed dryly.
“Will you be calling out your detectives and crime scene people?” I asked him.
Sanchez snorted. “Ol’ buddy, you’re looking at the only investigation team that’ll be responding.”
“You’re it?” I asked, surprised.
“We’re it,” he replied. “Like I told ya, times are tough and there’s no money to hire deputies, much less any kind of CSI people, so we handle our own investigations.”
“What do you do if you run into something you can’t handle? Or where do you do any evidence processing?”
Olsen spoke up. “Oh, we can call in the TSDPS crime scene folks for help if we need it. If it’s got enough notoriety and enough press interest, the rangers like to take over and get their mugs on TV, but for the most part, it’s just us.”
“We do have a small crime lab of our own back at the main station,” Sanchez said. “Doesn’t get used that much, though.”
“Wow! Well, good luck,” I said to both. “You guys need anything else from me?”
They looked at each other, both wanting to ask, but neither one wanting to be the first to do so.
Finally Sanchez spoke up. “Hey listen, this isn’t some gang-banger shot in an alley. We’ve never encountered anything this weird. We ahhh…”
I looked at him. “You guys need some help getting started with this thing?”
“Well,” Sanchez said, smiling, “since you offered and since you are definitely the most experienced crime scene guy amongst us at the moment, it sure would help us out if you could give us some pointers.”
“How much you gonna pay me?” I asked him. I could see he was struggling to find a way to tell me that no money would change hands. “Hey.” I chuckled. “I’m just kidding you, but I do need to run this by the wife before I commit to anything. If she agrees to hang for a while, then yeah I’ll help you out, but you should know, the way I see it, this isn’t going to be a two hour project. Here’s the way it’s shaping up to me. It’s noon now, and I still have a flat tire that needs to be changed. This scene is going to take some serious time. It’ll have to be preserved overnight at least, possibly even longer.” Then I asked them, “If the wife agrees and I do stay on and help you out a bit, I’m going to have to find an RV park or truck stop to plant the flag. I have an on-board generator, but I’d at least need water. Any suggestions?”
“This is your lucky day, or maybe this was all just meant to be,” Sanchez replied. “As it so happens, there’s a rancher I know, big horse ranch, has his place about six miles from this very spot. He’s got a big motor home that he parks out near his stable across from the house and he keeps it hooked up there for guests. The parking spot has water, sewer, electric, the works. He owes me one for taking his drunken teenage son home instead of to ‘Juvie’ one summer night back in July, so if he’s around, I’m sure he’d move his RV and let you park there for free.”
“That’ll work,” I told him. “And the price is right for sure, but I can pay him if he balks at the free deal.”
“Don’t think he’d take any money from any friend of mine,” Sanchez continued. “And besides, the guy is rich so it’s not like he needs it. I’ll make the call.”
All three of us then turned back toward the road and our vehicles. I discussed with the two deputies how large an area to tape off surrounding the crime scene. I was thinking about Sonya’s reaction to the fact that we might be staying here in the desert for a few days. Surprisingly, when I told her about the deputies’ request and the possibility of having a place close by to stay for free, she reluctantly agreed, although I could see she wasn’t particularly happy about being stuck in the RV, taking care of the dogs in the middle of nowhere, while I would be out here playing in the sandbox. She was placated somewhat when I told her that we’d be staying at a nearby horse ranch. Sonya, like most girls, loved horses.
I then went about the business of finishing up my hour-long, tire-changing chore. Just as I finished picking up my tools and cleaning my hands, Sanchez walked over to me.
“Just got off the phone,” he said. “I talked to my rancher friend. His name is Frank Rollins. He’s not actually at home right now, but he said it’s no problem. He’ll have his foreman move his RV and you can park there. I also talked to my lieutenant and brought him up to speed. He’s going in right now to discuss all this with the sheriff, including your helping us out, I mean. At first, he wasn’t hot on the idea at all. He’s concerned about you having to go to court to testify at some point down the road, but I told him I wouldn’t let you get into that situation, and that with your experience you could be probably of substantial help to us, so he agreed to pitch it to the boss but we’ll see. My lieutenant is kind of a dick. He said he’ll call me back in a few. Got your tire changed, I see.”
“Yeah, what fun,” I replied. “Getting damn hot out here now, too.”
Sanchez’s cell phone rang and he stepped away to speak privately for a few minutes. He then hung up from one call and made a second. After speaking and listening for several minutes, I heard him raise his voice a notch. “I don’t care,” he said to the person on the other end of the call. “Get hold of whoever is working Toyah today and have him go over to his house, wake his lazy ass up, and get both of them out here pronto! They are our only two reserve deputies and I want them out here like yesterday! ”With that he hung up abruptly and walked back over to me.
I hadn’t seen Olsen in a bit and I wondered where he’d gone.
“Here’s the scoop,” Sanchez said. “My lieutenant is on his way here. He said you can help but there’s some conditions. No one talks to anyone about what we’ve got out here. The local news guys will get wind of it at some point I’m sure, but as far as anyone is concerned, we’ve just got another desert fatality and it’s ‘under investigation.’” He made quotation marks with his fingers then continued. “You’re in an advisory position only here. He doesn’t want you to take any direct action that could land you a subpoena down the road and, most importantly of all, he wants you to understand there’s no pay involved, agreed?”
I frowned, wondering what I was about to get myself into. I was retired, after all, but I’d already agreed so I said, “Okay by me, I guess.” I suspected that their wanting to keep this on the “down-low” was a pipe dream, for reasons they obviously hadn’t thought of yet.
“I’m also trying to get our only two reserve deputies out here to stand-by overnight,” Sanchez continued. “One of them tied one on last night at a wedding and they can’t get him to answer the phone but we’re going to send someone over to his place to wake him up. Hey, where’d my partner go?” he asked, looking around.
“I don’t know,” I replied. “Last I saw of him he was out there in the dirt putting out the crime scene tape.”
Just then Olsen reappeared at the end of the RV. “Sorry to disappear on you,” he said. “Had to take a leak.”
“You get that all done out there,” Sanchez asked him, nodding toward the scene tape.
Olsen nodded. “Yeah, just like we talked about.”
I looked out across the dirt and could see a continuous line of yellow POLICE LINE – DO NOT CROSS crime scene tape tied between bushes and cactus surrounding the area. “Patrolling out here in the boonies like you do, you guys should ask your boss if you can get some of those thirty-six-inch, wooden, grade stakes for your tape,” I told them. “Then you wouldn’t have to look for brush to tie it to.”
“Shit,” Olsen replied. “We’re lucky they still buy crime scene tape for us.”
I shook my head, again wondering what I’d gotten myself into.
Sanchez’s phone rang. He ans
wered and again conversed in a muted tone for a good five minutes. Finally he hung up and turned to all of us. “Okay, our two reserve deputies will be heading out as soon as they get suited up. Jim, I’m going to ride with these folks over to the Rollins ranch. You stay here and keep an eye on things and when the reserves get here, clue them in on what we need then come pick me up. You remember where the ranch is?”
“Think so,” Olsen replied. “Just off 2119 right?” he asked, referring to the designation of a local county road.
“That’s it,” Sanchez said, “Oh, yeah. One more thing. Remind our guys this is a crime scene out here and not to go poking around, or chatting up their friends or girlfriends about it. Stress that last one more than once. The less people that know about what Douglas’s wife found out here the better, and women are not known for their propensity to keep secrets.” Sanchez turned to me. “You don’t mind if I ride with you folks out to the ranch, do you?” he asked. “I need to leave my partner the unit.”
“Not at all,” I replied.
Sanchez advised his dispatch over the air what he was doing and where we were headed. As the three of us climbed into my truck, Sonya gave Olsen one last flirtatious smile, knowing full well she was only pouring gasoline onto a fire. I shook my head. Women. With Sanchez’s directions, I pointed our rig toward County Road 2119.
© 2012 by Douglas Durham