Traveling east on Interstate Highway 8, toward the Fortuna Foothills, Detective Lieutenant, Rodrigo Reyes drove past the miles and miles of brush, rocks, cacti and mostly sand of the southwest Arizona desert. Where he was headed today wasn’t much of any place at all, but he had to go. Orders, you know. Police band radio traffic was very light.
Less than an hour ago, he was just waking up to the aroma of his wife’s best coffee and looking forward to a special and infrequent Saturday off from the job. He knew better than to make special plans for weekends. Just to be home and alone with his lovely Catalina was always where he preferred to be. He sat at the kitchen table, sipping coffee and watched her pad barefoot across the cool terrazzo tiled kitchen floor in that special silk nightgown with matching robe worn open. As she lightly stepped from counter to counter, the morning window light exposed the pertness of her breasts in shadow as she made a special breakfast for just the two of them. Her long chestnut brown hair was parted down the center and perfectly framed her face. It was gently tossed about just enough to give her that sexy just-had-sex look. Her deep brown eyes were mesmerizing and quiet now, but a storm of passion would bring fire to them in an instant. She was everything a man could want … and then some.
This new job of only a year and a half with the Yuma County, Arizona Sheriff’s Department was stressful and time consuming for Lt. Reyes. Depending upon who you talked to, it was either a fairly peaceful community or it wasn’t, but nationwide statistics never lie. Yuma County ranks higher than the national average including a youth street gang population of between 500-600. It could always be worse. Like all jobs everywhere, there would be good days and bad. It was still too early to tell if he would love it here or not. Too early to tell where this day would go, but after the phone call from the Captain, he knew only one thing. No way was today going to be a just-the-two-of-us Saturday off.
Detective Lieutenant Reyes slowed his unmarked squad car, pulled off the road and parked behind the Yuma County Sheriff’s patrol car ahead. It was Unit Seven - Deputy Tabaño’s car. The engine was running, the Visi-bar light array was operating - flashing red and blue. Two young kids in their mid-20’s were in the back seat talking and sucking on orange popsicles. At the right rear quarter panel of the car, two backpacks were leaning against the tire - as if scratching the paint on this dusty five year-old patrol car would be a big deal. He decided to let that go for a moment and find Tabaño.
Reyes immediately saw the footprints in the desert sand and followed them backwards up a small rise and down a narrow pathway through the rocks and brush until he saw Officer Raul Tabaño’s back; an orange popsicle in his left hand and the angle of the brim on his Trooper’s hat tilted downward. It seemed, he was watering the cactus.
“As much Tequila as you had to drink at the party last night, Tabaño, you’d better not poison that cactus. I’ll have to arrest you. That’s a protected plant species around here.” Reyes shouted with only half a grin. “Wanna tell me why I’m out here at ten o’clock on a Saturday morning?”
Tabaño put the popsicle in his mouth to use both hands to zip up his uniform trousers and turned around to face his boss. “Today was supposed to be my day off, too, Lieutenant. We’re here because of that guy,” he said, pointing at the ground back toward the large rock behind Lt. Reyes, being careful not to drip his rapidly melting popsicle down his chin and onto his uniform. “At least, I think its a guy. Looks like it could have been a guy, … once upon a time.”
Not much happened in this part of the Arizona desert, but today was going to be different. Lt. Reyes got a good, long look and went off half-cocked ballistic. “Has the Medical Examiner been called? What about the Forensics Team? Has anybody touched anything?”
“Slow down, lieutenant. Don’t go all Police Academy on me. Its too damned hot out here and my hands are all sticky. It was a long ride out here and my head still hurts. Besides, just look at the scene. Do you see any preliminary evidence of a crime? See any clues?”
The dead man looked pretty bad and very, very dead. No telling how long he’d been out here. I’m sure the County Medical Examiner would have a better idea about that. At least, it was his job to figure out that stuff. The dead guy looked to be older, but not too elderly .. say around mid to late 60’s. He had gray hair which by now was full of windblown sand like the rest of his clothes. He had on an all black two-piece suit - the label inside read Calvin Klein, a white shirt, his black and dark grey patterned tie was wrapped tightly around his left leg. His dusty shoes were shined and his heels were dug-in deeply. He wore no jewelry or watch, only his eyeglasses. His body was bloated and was in a state of rapidly advancing decay. His eyes had been plucked-out, probably by crows. He had a cell phone in his left hand, battery dead and a Walther P22 semi-automatic pistol with laser sight in his right hand; the slide locked to the rear. To the right of the body were all ten of the spent shell casings laying in the sand, spread out where they were ejected. His campfire had long grown cold, but it hadn’t been very large to begin with.
“What do you think, lieutenant? .. That the guy got drunk or high on drugs and was out here howling and shooting at the moon?” The position of his body suggested that he had propped his head up a little ways with a little camping-sized pillow over a flat rock. He was laying on this tattered old Army blanket by his campfire. “I have no idea how he got here, besides walking or what he might have been doing here. His foot tracks just led me up here from the highway.”
The lieutenant looked around for other clues. There were no beer, whiskey or wine bottles around, but there was a canteen. The contents would have to be documented by the forensics team - whenever they get here. The guy had emptied his gun shooting at something, but chances are, it wasn’t the moon. “How far did you look around this area, Tabaño? Did you do a patterned search? Who are those two kids and why are they eating popsicles in the back of your patrol car?”
“There you go again, Lieutenant. Calm yourself. Think of the heat. Think of your blood pressure. Those two kids are just hikers coming down from the Telegraph Pass Trail who discovered the body, but happened to have a satellite phone instead of a regular cell phone. They called it in. You know that there isn’t a cell phone tower for miles around from this area. Its a dead zone. Ya get it? Okay, not funny. I just didn’t want them walking around, contaminating the scene until you got here, in case you want to question them. Do you want to question them?”
“Do they know anything?”
“Only that there’s a dead guy out in the desert at these coordinates. Oh yeah, they had a hiker’s GPS thing with them, too. They’re just young Midwestern school teachers out here for a summer break. What stories they’ll take back with them to their students, huh?”
“Let’s try and stay focused here, Tabaño. No, I guess I won’t need to talk with them right now. You can cut them loose after you get their contact information in case I have questions later.”
“Already in my notebook, L-T.”
Deputy Tabaño walked back to his patrol car to let the two kids out. With a not-so-stern warning to NOT find any more dead bodies today and to throw their popsicle sticks and wrappers in the little trash can on the floor of the patrol car, by the door. “Let’s keep Arizona highways clean and beautiful. Thanks for your public service, today. If we need you further, we’ll let you know.” Officer Tabaño said.
“Thanks for letting us sit in the air-conditioning of your patrol car while you waited for your boss. It was really nice of you on a day like today. The hike turned out to be more than we thought it would be. The popsicles were a nice treat.”
“Yep, I keep a cooler in the trunk for just such emergency occasions”, Tabaño smiled. “Have a good day and stay close to town, just in case. Okay?”
The two kids grabbed their backpacks and waved as they took-off hiking down the highway, headed West, where they were camped in one of the many local RV parks. It seems they had enough adventure for one day. The delay caused by their morning desert discovery put their day-hike behind schedule. They decided to take the safest route back to town instead. Officer Tabaño walked back to rejoin the lieutenant.
“Well, I found it.” The lieutenant stated with all his authority.
“Found what, lieutenant?” replied Tabaño.
“What the dead guy was shooting at.” The lieutenant held up a dead 2-1/2-foot Sonoran Sidewinder Rattlesnake with three bullet nicks in it’s back and one to the back of it’s head. “Its really hard to hit these little bastards ‘cause they’re fast. I guess he got the snake that got him. I saw the necktie tied around his leg and figured he was using it as a tourniquet, so I looked around. Had to be a lucky shot with all the pain this guy had to be in. Besides, he was shooting in the dark by flashlight.”
“How do you know that?” Tabaño didn’t recall seeing any flashlight.
“The campfire ..” Lt. Reyes rotated his other evidence-gloved hand around his body toward Tabaño .. “And this flashlight. He must have been out here, laying on his blanket by his little campfire looking at the Milky Way or looking for shooting stars or something, got bit, tried to save himself, exact retribution on the snake and tried to call for help on his cell phone then threw his flashlight out of anger. Without help, he knew he was going to die. The guy just came out here for some peace and quiet and ran out of luck. That’s all. The End. Case closed.”
The only thing now that bothered the lieutenant was that the victim was wearing a two-piece suit out here in the desert all alone.
>>>> Chapter 2 >>