Although not much was happening right now around the Yuma County area except the usual minor disturbances of the ever-present street gangs, this was the biggest case working right now. Or was it even a case at all? Was this a murder? Suicide? or just plain bad luck for some passing tourist? People in the department were understandably curious, but someone had to stand-up on behalf of the deceased. Right now on this case, that responsibility fell on the shoulders of Detective Lt. Reyes.
Today was nearly over and everyone who had worked the case was diligent and had put forth their best effort. It was a Saturday and their usual day off, but they were all professionals. Time is of the essence when working with fresh evidence. As darkness closed-in on the teams, Lt. Reyes got everyone together for a quick meeting.
“Folks, let’s wrap up this scene so the Transportation Department can do their jobs and go home too. Secure the scene, take tomorrow off and forget about the case. Enjoy being with your families. They deserve to have you home with them, but you all know we work on behalf of the victims of crimes. At this point we don’t know if we have a crime, but that’s what makes our jobs more meaningful to the victim’s family. Its a matter of resolution, .. of finally knowing, .. of closure. Monday, we’ll work the case well-rested and with fresh eyes. It has been a long, hard day and I thank you all. Now, let’s wrap up today and get started with what’s left of our weekend.”
Deputy Tabaño was impressed with Lieutenant Reyes’ little speech. There may actually be a human being inside that seemingly hardcore exterior of his official position within the Sheriff’s Department. He was hard to read, sometimes, but he always had his mind on the job. One of these days, he and Reyes would have to have a heart-to-heart talk and figure out why he is the way he is. Working this case, just might be the time to bring that up. It seems to have struck a nerve or two in the lieutenant.
As patrol cars and the evidence van left the scene in familiar gridlock fashion, Deputy Tabaño took the cooler out of his trunk again to see what was leftover. Opening the lid revealed it to be half-empty with orange colored, lukewarm water with paper wrappers and sticks floating about. He shut the lid in disappointment and returned it to his patrol car trunk. As he shut the lid and turned around, there stood Lt. Reyes with a couple of ice cold, Coca-Colas in little 6 oz. sized, green glass bottles. He handed one to Tabaño and reached forward with an old fashioned church key bottle opener - the kind beer companies used to give away fifty years ago and long before there were pull-tabs and pop-tops.
“Where did you find these little bottles of Coca-Cola?” Tabaño exclaimed. “I thought these were extinct.”
“Got a friend who brings me a case or two every now and then across the Neutral Zone.” Reyes grinned wide. He knew that Tabaño watched a lot of space and Sci-Fi movies.
Laughing hard Tabaño spit out, “Now who has been watching too much TV?” They laughed, clinked their bottles together and ceremoniously offered, “Cheers!” before taking a big swig and downing half the bottle of Coke. They wiped their lips, followed by letting out a huge belch and laughed out loud at that. “Wow, that one would have really burnt if it came out your nose.” Tabaño concluded. Then, they laughed again.
As the laughter died down, Reyes got quiet and thoughtful. He glanced upward at the stars - just beginning their nightly show - then back to Tabaño and asked, “What do you think our victim was looking for all alone out there in the desert at night? I know he wasn’t looking to die of a snake bite. He seemed like a regular guy, a tourist here and a long way from home. He looked organized for a long trip. He had outlined maps, tour guide booklets, campground guides and two cell phones. We found the second one in the arm rest storage box between the front seats of the SUV. Why did he need to be here?”
“I don’t know, Lieutenant. I’m just a worker bee in this department. You’ve got the lieutenant brains. Maybe he just wanted a place to BE .. Just BE and reconcile himself with the Universe. You know how awesome the desert can be at night when the air is cool and clear; the moon late in coming up over the horizon. Just you, the Milky Way and the rest of the Universe. Maybe it was nothing more than that. I think he laid out his blanket, propped up his head and built a very small fire just so he could BE and witness the Universe the way the Mayans once did. You can’t do that or be that way with a woman around or other guys whooping it up over a few drinks around a bonfire.”
The mood thickened as the two officers finished their soft drinks while silently contemplating their own private Cosmos in the moment. Reyes held out his hand for the empty soda bottle. Tabaño just looked at him and said, “You mean they have soda bottle deposits across the Neutral Zone? The joke was worn-out now, but the light-hearted intent was understood. Reyes tried to crack a grin, but couldn’t quite pull it off. He was knee deep in thought about this case, but why care so much for a dead total stranger seemingly on some sort of travel quest? This was a mystery and so was Lt. Reyes.
The scene was clear, the victim’s vehicles were on the way to the Police Garage and the two remaining officers each took one last look around and then another long look upward at the night sky. Without saying anything more, they returned to their respective cars and drove slowly toward home thinking, “Monday. We’ll work on this some more on Monday.”
>>>> Chapter 5 >>