Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Chapter 10

Chapter 10 - Lt. Reyes and Dr. Bob

Lieutenant Reyes walked down the hall to the double stainless steel doors that led to Dr. Bob’s Lab. He had something to say but he couldn’t just put it in a memo or make a phone call. He hoped the Doc would be in a little early. As he pushed open the doors and walked inside, the doctor was just exchanging his suit coat for a clean, fresh lab coat. His lab assistant, Jake wasn’t expected for about another hour. Doc was about to consult the overnight reports on his computer to see how today’s business was shaping up. Lt. Reyes walked over to his desk.

“Good morning, Doc. I came to see you because I owe you an apology. I was abrupt with you yesterday and presumptuous about your final report on the guy we found in the desert. I’m sorry about that.”

Dr. Bob wasn’t new to this game. Detectives - old and new - around this and other departments he had worked with in the past were pretty much the same. These young detectives always thought they knew everything right out of the box and their first impressions of a case were all they had to go on. From that point investigations became a runaway train. The new guys just out of college and police academies were the worst. The guys who came up through the ranks knew better, but they still played the game their own way. “That’s all right, lieutenant. Your job involves shooting at a fast-moving target of evolving information. My targets never move. Don’t think anything about it.”

“Well, I was rude and I’m sorry. I won’t let it happen again. I gave it some thought and what I did was disrespectful and you definitely don’t deserve that,” confessed Reyes.

“Lieutenant, I could tell this case was one of those rare cases that got under your skin for some reason. I don’t know why and I don’t care. That’s your business. In fact, it got on mine, too, a little. I figured the Captain would pull the plug on this case, but I want to take another look just to see if I missed anything before I send my report upstairs. Besides, it will be several days before someone from the family can get here to take care of things. I’ll let you know if I turn up anything new. Thanks for coming down. Don’t sweat the rest.”

Dr. Bob was, first and foremost a scientist and secondly, a man. He never got emotional about his cases. He had seen so many bodies in his career that he was immune to it all by now. The time for his emotional involvement passed years ago when he was a young Navy doctor, working in trauma and caring for injured Marines on board the hospital ship during the first Gulf War. It was their pain and suffering that got to him more than the injuries. Sometimes that suffering would last the rest of the young soldier’s life. Human suffering and the tragedy of war - he could stitch up their bullet wounds, but the wounds to their psyche was a difficult matter that he couldn’t fix. He served his hitch in the Navy, then switched his focus to Forensics because the dead feel no more pain and their tragedies are over. He could deal with the rest. Working with law enforcement in this way, seemed to help him emotionally get back at those who would invest tragedy on others. As Detective Reyes left the room, Dr. Bob sat at his desk and scrolled through his inter-departmental e-mails and notices.

Lt. Reyes took the stairway up to his department rather than take the elevator. He thought better when he walked.  There wasn’t anything new or different to consider. It was haunting and he couldn’t get a handle on it. Maybe it had to do with the disappearance of his own father when he was a baby. Reyes wasn’t even his real birth name, but he never knew what that was. With his Sheriff’s Department access clearance, he could surely find out easily enough, but it didn’t matter to him. His genetic father walked out and he was raised by a step-father who was very good to him. He loved his mother and made a good life for them all. Like other people he had met in the line of his duties and with his participation with the SOLVE program, he had met lots of puzzled and at-risk kids whose parents were divorced and felt abandoned by their father. He knew how it affected them, too. None of them could figure out why they were so unlovable that such a thing could happen to them. So, they acted out in macho fashion hoping to get attention from a man who was long gone. It wasn’t logical. It didn’t make sense, but that’s the way it seemed to be - out there - in the streets.

Arriving at his desk, Lt. Reyes found that someone had put a copy of this morning’s Yuma Sun newspaper, on this desk, folded in such a way that the story on top was what he was meant to read. He looked around, but there was no one else in the bullpen. Sitting down in his chair, he scoured the facing 1/4 page for the article he thought he was meant to read. It was small, but it got his attention.

He wondered what the Captain would think. The dead man was a traveler. Maybe he was involved with this other dead man’s murder. Lt. Reyes stood-up with the folded newspaper to go see the Captain when a business card fell out from under the newspaper folds. It read, “Victor Malone, Special Agent, Dept. Of Homeland Security, Tucson, AZ.”  The card had the official department seal emblazoned in the upper, left corner of the card, in full color. This would be interesting.

He picked up his desk phone and called the evidence lab. “This is Detective Reyes. Do you still have the file on the Desert ex-Marine? Did anyone check his bank accounts for gasoline purchases or anything out of the ordinary?” Reyes waited impatiently, tapping his foot and bouncing his knee. “Well, I need someone to tell if he bought gasoline, oil, pack of chewing gum a Coke or a bag or Doritos with his bank card anywhere near Tombstone. I need this right away. .. Why? I’m working on a hunch, that’s why. Will you help me or not?” The article said nothing of Tombstone, but it did say Sierra Vista, Arizona.


>>>> Chapter 11 >>

Chapter 9

Chapter 9 - Case Closed

Lt. Rodrigo Reyes, Volunteer Abigail Aquilar and Captain Eduardo Romero argued heatedly at times but only for 37 minutes. The man was dead of natural causes, the next of kin were being notified by Sheriff’s Department Chaplain, the vandals who stole his possessions were in jail, and the victim’s body and personal property were being readied for return to the family. Nothing further to prosecute. Nothing further to investigate. Case closed.

The “mystery man” theory had no corroborating evidence to support it. There was only the un-sworn testimony of two criminals looking to get out of the deep trouble they were in. The evidence team found no other tire tracks in the desert out at Owl Station. There were no extraneous hair or fibers found other than what they expected, given the two vandals who were there and already identified. The trailer had been searched again and no evidence of anything hidden or otherwise was found. IF there was a mystery man, he apparently got what he was after because there wasn’t anything else there. Until some muscle-bound desert ghost or UFO alien showed up with a crowbar to explain things, this was it.

Lt. Rodrigo Reyes was only partially relieved, because he still had this lingering feeling that something just wasn’t right with this case. Something was being overlooked. This was nothing new with him. He always felt this way after a case. When “Case Closed” was stamped on the front cover of a file folder, he always wondered if something, someday would jump out and bite him on the ass. He had always taken great care to be thorough in his investigations, but this one just didn’t feel right, somehow. It was different. However, when the Captain says, ‘Case Closed’ .. that’s it. He respected the Captain, so that, was that. He rounded up all the finished case files, boxed them up and set the box on the floor beside his desk. He telephoned his wife to tell her he would be home a little early tonight to take her out to dinner. There is nothing like getting into other peoples’ problems while investigating a case to make this investigator want and love what he already has all the more. After dinner, they went home and made love on fresh, clean sheets. Tomorrow was a new day.

Abigail Aguilar was disappointed in the Captain’s decision, too. He was the Captain and his logic was sound. Just because she wanted to know the whole story, doesn’t mean that she should know the whole story. She wasn’t writing a book of memoirs for the deceased, but merely helping on an investigation. The Captain had warned her about getting herself too emotionally involved in cases. Women seem to find that easier to do than men. He wasn’t being sexist, just pretty much true in his experience with female investigators. Abigail knew she was getting too close. This case just had too many elements that rang her bells, but the Captain was right. It was best if she just let this go and seek her personal closure issues in some other way. He went on to say that she could be a darned good investigator someday or an empathetic and effective social worker. Right now, her career path wasn’t clear or carved in stone. She was studying neither in college, but her grades were good.

Deputy Raul Tabaño heard about the Captain’s decision. To his way of thinking and under NBA officiating rules, there was ‘no blood, no foul.’ - meaning without more evidence, there was no crime to pursue. For the first time in a long time, he took the rest of his shift and went home. He had to partially make up for his long shift on Saturday. His wife greeted him at the door wearing nothing but a smile and nothing else under her thin, summer bathrobe. Upstairs, a warm soaking bath was waiting for him. She knew what her man needed after this case. She loved him and he loved her. Although they had only been married two years, they had a special kind of rare telepathy with each other. She let him soak in the tub while she put away his clothes and got out his bathrobe and laid it on the bed.

Then, she came back into the bathroom and handed him a glass of Perrier water and lime instead of Jack Daniels. She didn’t say a word, just smiled some more as she positioned herself behind him outside the tub. “Scootch up.” She whispered close to his ear. “I want to wash your back.” She had a large, natural sponge and dipped it carefully into the bubbly water between his legs, then slowly sponged his back with long, slow up and down strokes, then side to side, then ‘round and ‘round. Each time dipping the sponge back into the special, skin-softening and aromatic bathwater she prepared for him. The way she saw it, out there in his world, his job was to protect and serve. Inside their home, that was her job. As he began to feel more relaxed, he laid his head back against her now naked breasts as she sponged his chest likewise; her robe now lying at her feet. The Perrier water tickled his nose, but at this moment, she tickled him everywhere else, but mostly around his heartstrings.


>>>> Chapter 10 >>

Chapter 8

Chapter 8 - Outside Captain's Office

Abigail Aguilar sprung from her seat the moment she saw Lt. Reyes coming up the aisle between the rows of desks in the bullpen. She kept her eyes glued to him as he quickly walked toward the Captain’s office door. She had skipped classes today so she could spend more time in Records Department sorting through prior cases digging up background data. She had been waiting there for what seemed to be a long time, knowing the lieutenant would have to report to the Captain today. He was deep in thought and looking down at the floor, one step at a time.

“Lieutenant?” Abigail could see that her sudden greeting had derailed Lt. Reyes’ train of thought.

“Abigail, what are you doing here? Don’t you ever go to school? Don’t you have any other friends to play with .. elsewhere?

Abigail snapped back, “Ouch! That hurt, lieutenant! That’s TWICE you’ve done that to me today - giving me your condescending attitude - and I don’t deserve that .. Especially since I’m trying to help you.” Although he was a superior officer and she was an unpaid volunteer, she could just quit at anytime -  SOLVE college scholarship or not. “I could have gone directly to the Captain with this, but I was busy covering your ass .. If you don’t mind me saying so.”

Abigail was finally coming into her own and standing her ground with the lieutenant. She was right to. For three years she had followed orders, no matter how trivial they seemed, but she was thankful to the Sheriff’s Department just to be involved with the SOLVE program. It gave her life structure and something positive to do with her spare time away from school .. and the neighborhood. After her father and mother divorced, she felt somewhat lost. It was tough to have to move to a lower class neighborhood with her mother, but they could be nearer her grandmother. Her mom tried to make it on her own, but it was very tough. Dad had always worked two jobs to support the family and had taken care of everything while mom took care of the house. She was not particularly well-equipped for employment with only a high school education, but she took what job she could. 

Abigail had a boyfriend, but they quickly broke-up when he got arrested for underage drinking. Her father had been around at first, but was having trouble finding work after he was laid-off from his job of ten solid years and couldn’t pay his child support. The bank eventually took back their new house that dad had built for them. He had been back to court many times for support payments and all that involved, but he eventually faded completely from her life. She loved her father, but he was out of the picture now. Abigail always wondered why he left in the first place.

Lt. Reyes narrowed his eyes and looked steamed, “What do you mean covering MY ass?” 

Bordering on gross insubordination, Abigail responded, “Well, it seems like I finally have your undivided attention. Thank-you, very much!  I mean ..  you were about to go into the Captain’s office without reading the M.E.’s report on the dead man in the desert. Don’t you think you should do that before you go in there?”

“Corona and Barerra killed him. The Sonoran Sidewinder isn’t that lethally poisonous to humans - had he gotten treatment. We got the guys who did it in custody. They didn’t admit it yet, but they will. What’s the difference?” Reyes retorted.

“Noooo, you didn’t read it. Did you?” Abigail replied, showing a little more attitude of her own. “His snake bite wasn’t medically treated, was it? According to the M.E.’s report, he died sometime late last Tuesday night of a combination of snake-bite AND lung cancer. If the snake hadn’t bit him, he’d be dead anyway.”

“Lung cancer?!”

“Yes. Once he had confirmed the man’s I.D., Dr. Bob searched for the man’s medical records to confirm his own findings. The last time the guy saw a doctor back in West Virginia, nine months ago. They told him he had six-months to live .. maybe a year. The guy was dying and he knew it, but he never smoked a day in his life. He had been born with asthma and had been using prescription drugs for years to calm the symptoms. They eventually got to him.”

Abigail continued with her unofficial analysis. “I think, that’s why he left his the keys in the ignition of his car by the side of the highway and walked into the desert. That’s why he left his home and came west to drier air, thinking the climate might give him more life to live. That’s why his family hasn’t seen or heard from him in the last nine months. After reading the last few entries of his computer journals, I can tell you that he didn’t want them hanging all over him with sad-eyed faces. He didn’t want regular visits from any clergy. He also carried around the emotional weight of believing that he had not being a very good father after his divorce, that nobody wanted him around but it was already too late to fix that. He was out of time. He didn’t want to live his last days tied to machines in the hospital and running-up expensive bills that his family could never afford to pay. He had lived in cities and small towns all his life and really never experienced the awesomeness of the nighttime skies without light pollution. He wanted to die alone and feel close to the Universe - which for him was God - without any sort of religious ceremonies. This was his way .. according to his journal. I also found some other software on his computer that listed the names and addresses of his next of kin as well as his Living Will, if he were ever incapacitated and unresponsive. It seems, Lieutenant, he knew death was near and he wanted to die just right where he was when the time came upon him.”

“More calmly now, the Lt. Reyes replied, “You’re right, Abigail. I haven’t been very nice to you today, have I? I’m sorry. I apologize. You’ve done a lot of very good research work and thinking things through today, but then, you always do for as long as I’ve known you here. I would really have embarrassed myself going into the Captain not knowing this information. The fact is, we have another problem to solve connected with this case. I was just going in to see the Captain with a “what next” scenario. Want to sit-in with me?”

Abigail was flattered that she had finally made an impressive connection with Lt. Reyes. Of course, she would like to sit-in. 

More importantly to Abigail, while researching the missing persons files, upstairs in Records, she might have discovered a little something about why her father disappeared from her life. Pride .. or the lack of it and shame. He had done very well as a young man giving his family a respectable life, in a good neighborhood, with good schools, but when he lost his well-paying job he lost his sense of pride in those accomplishments. His employer kept saying, “what have you done for me lately” and he was under a lot of pressure. After he lost that job, then his house, then his family, his shame and loss of self was too tough to bear, so he just disappeared. In a sense, he began a new life with a whole new “identity” - not a new name, but a new characterization of himself. It just wasn’t possible to go back to being the man he used to be, or so he must have thought. Abigail didn’t see it that way, but she never understood or had a man’s pride. It didn’t seem fair to Abigail to be deprived of her father’s love, affection and guidance during her teenage years, but it was the way it was. The ex-Marine who died in the desert was emotionally suffering in some of the the same ways her father must have. He just wanted to reclaim a little of his lost pride by dying on his own terms. 


>>>> Chapter 9 >>

Chapter 7

Chapter 7 - Dr. Bob's Lab

Lt. Reyes walked downstairs to the Medical Examiner’s Lab instead of taking the elevator. He needed the exercise to work the blood back into his backside after all the heavy report and file reading of the morning. Not even that coffee in the Detective’s Squad Room could clear his head today. He read most of the preliminary reports but nothing Earth shattering was uncovered. Reading boring and uninteresting reports was a good way to ease into the new work-week, but he either wanted to close this case today before it got on his nerves or find some reason to carry on and see it through. His natural inquisitiveness drove him forward, but he had to have some reason. In his mind, there was really no such thing as a closed case, but there is always a limit at the point of diminishing returns. The Captain saw no merit to pursuing further at all. He’s the boss.

At this point, the Evidence Lab had revived the memory chip in the dead man’s cell phone and made a list of all the contacts, frequently called numbers from the cell phone company, e-mail accounts and even things he searched-for on the Internet using his smart phone. The other cell phone found in his car was a back-up, still current, but hardly used. The contacts list on both phones was nearly identical, but is still being checked-out. Hopefully, somebody on those lists was the next of kin. Nothing found, so far, really seemed odd or out of place for an ordinary, law-abiding citizen.

The Captain made it perfectly clear, this morning, that he wanted everything wrapped-up by 5:00 pm today, so that the proper Sheriff’s Department representatives could notify the man’s next of kin, presumably back east - once determination was made who and where they were - and to make arrangements for the transfer the body, his vehicles and his possessions. Whoever got the man’s shotgun and robbed his safe might just get a pass if their fingerprints and records weren’t already in the justice system.

The lieutenant pushed open the double stainless steel doors that led down the hallway to the M.E.’s Lab. It just seemed like the right time to check-in. He pushed through the second set on the right only to find Deputy Tabaño talking with Dr. Bob. “Haaay, .. what is this Tabaño? Are you playing detective now?”

“Oh, Hiya there L-T. Just having a PB & J with Dr. Bob here on my lunch break. Maybe someday, I can get a real job in the detectives squad with free coffee and everything. My wife says we could sure use that big raise.”

“Well, since you’re already here, I might as well tell you both that the Captain wants this thing closed today by five o’clock. None of the preliminary reports indicate any crimes worthy of further investigation or expenditure of department resources. That’s it. Wrap-up your reports and put them in my IN box.”

Dr. Bob finally got in a word, “Do you even want MY report, Lieutenant?”

Flippantly, Reyes answered, “Sure, Doc, but I think we already know what it will say. ‘Death by snake bite’, right?”

Dr. Bob raised a single eyebrow, “Oh, you’ve read it already then? Does it really say that?”

Just then, the cell phone in Lt. Reyes suit coat pocket sounds-off. Reyes takes the call. After a few seconds, he looks up at Dr. Bob, “Sorry, I’ll have to get back to you Doc.”

>>>> Chapter 8 >>

Chapter 6

Chapter 6 - Sheriff's Department Out/In

Abigail approached the building doors leading to the Sheriff’s Department employee parking lot and fished around in her purse for a tissue and her sunglasses. She dried her eyes once more and put the sunglasses on. Half-angry and twice as determined, she pushed her way out the door and walked  purposefully toward her car, looking at her watch - still lots of time.

Inside her car, she rolled down the driver’s side window. It was still early morning, but summer Arizona heat had no beginning or end. She just sat there thinking about what just happened in the lieutenant’s office. The lieutenant was right. Other than the vandalism/theft case, there really was no other case. It was pretty much open and shut. Sure, the circumstances of this man’s death seemed weird, but in police work unexplained things like this happen all the time. You process the scene, take care of the details and file your reports. Its easy to become desensitized to the tragedy of others the longer one stays with the department, but to Abigail, it seemed less human. It was just .. how we deal with it.

A good case in point was Deputy Tabaño. Only seven years a Sheriff’s Deputy and he has become this way. He tries to find the impersonal humor in these bad situations .. probably because if he didn’t, he would become too empathetic and sympathetic. Come to think of it, he did seem to be drinking more these days, but to his credit, he never missed a day on the job. His lovely and dedicated wife, Judy was his soul-mate, best friend and confidant. It took some time to find her, but they are perfect for each other. She would help him keep himself together, but it was a rough job at times.

Homeless and friendless people overdose on drugs or alcohol and die in alley ways and flop houses on a regular basis around every big city. Some are even former military veterans, perhaps stricken with undiagnosed post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but all seem to feel without hope. Yet the only crimes they commit are vagrancy and what they do to themselves. It always seemed to Abigail that these kinds of people were running away or hiding from their problems. Nobody seemed to ever care about these sorts of victims. To an ordinary person it may seem that these people gave up on themselves, so why should anyone care about them? Some of them only had street names and no real identification. In that sense, they were truly lost.

Abigail thought about why people would just go missing, suddenly. The cases were as wide and varied as one could envision. There was no general rule or single reason - marital problems, legal troubles, money or the lack of it, criminal activity or fill-in the blank. As sad as it sounds, she was sure there will always be those people. Maybe some could be helped, but who could reach them all?

This ex-Marine victim was not one of those sorts. He was not listed anywhere as a missing person and had no police warrants, which meant nobody was officially looking for him. He showed none of those other characteristics either. He was not running away from something, but seemed to be traveling toward something, but just not feeling the need to check-in with anyone for some reason. Maybe he was the loner-type. He was a seeker and seekers travel. Maybe he wasn’t even sure what he was looking for, but he felt it imperative to try and find that missing something in his life. Maybe he felt he would know it when he found it. Too many questions were blazing through Abigail’s mind, but few answers were automatically forthcoming. She had to find a way to get inside this dead man’s mind. Surely, he couldn’t just be on some kind of permanent vacation. Could he?

From what she was allowed to read from his computer files, he may have been enjoying his retirement benefits and the free time away from a job, but using them for his personal quest. This theory made more sense to Abigail. One thing was certain, she needed to do some research into personal motivation - what makes people do what they do? To do this, she wanted to do some missing persons research. She still had two hours before class and the trip through traffic that time of day took about half-hour. At most, she had an hour for research, maybe a little more.

Abigail jumped out of her car leaving the window down and went back inside the Sheriff’s Offices. Her car with the open window would be safe enough in the Department’s own parking lot. On the elevator ride up to the Records Department, she tried to visualize how to attack this problem. She knew Barbara in Records and thought she might let her use their computers to do a file search. Closed files weren’t very access restricted. She wasn’t looking at specific cases, just seeking some common characteristics. She would start with Missing Persons reports and go from there. She could narrow the information search to exclude those missing children or elderly who may have Alzheimer’s. She would begin the search as narrowly as possible around the dead man’s own criteria and research only the files that had the best field reports and family interviews. The computer could do most of this in seconds, but slugging through basement files would take days. She would do that, if she had to. Even so, this would still take some time. Maybe she would skip class today.

It was Monday and well, .. you know how Monday’s are.

>>>> Chapter 7 >>

Chapter 5

Chapter 5 - Sheriff's Department CIB

Abigail Aquilar sat patiently in the small waiting area just outside the detectives’ bullpen at the Sheriff’s Department. She hoped to meet with Detective Lt. Reyes as soon as she possibly could. She hoped it would be soon because she didn’t want to be late for her summer school classes at Arizona Western College. She was earnest in her studies at college, but was now conflicted since her involvement in the Sheriff’s Office League of Volunteer Employees (S.O.L.V.E.) Explorer Program. This was her third year of college and her third year with SOLVE. There could be some real life-changing decisions to be made sometime soon as she worked into her senior year at AWC.

Abigail started out in the color guard with SOLVE, since she had experience in her high school marching band, but later grew to like the program more and more and wanted to move up to more important, but limited types of police work. Since she turned 20 years old this year, it would be her last year to be a volunteer with SOLVE.  To her, this case was a chance to be involved with some real police work. The Deputies never allowed her to do ride-alongs with them - only as an observer - because she was pretty, petite and too smart for her own good. She also didn’t like her name shortened to Abby, as deputies often tried to do. Abigail was a family name passed down for generations since the first Abigail on her mother’s side came West by covered-wagon train and settled here. She respected her heritage on both sides of the family. Some officers appreciated those traits, like Deputy Tabaño, but others felt intimidated by her constant questioning.

Abigail had been working in Dispatch and Communications on Saturday and monitored the radio traffic about the victim found in the desert. She overheard most all the radio traffic from all the officers, evidence crew and a few administrative calls. She had been in a perfect position to get the overview of the case as it stood so far. With the exception of the forensics lab data, she knew almost as much about this case as the Captain.

Finally, Lt. Reyes walked briskly into the bullpen and to his desk without seeming to notice Abigail - the only other person in the room sitting there this early on a Monday morning before regular office hours. Indignant, she immediately stood and walked directly to the lieutenant’s desk and stood in front of him, waiting silently to be acknowledged.

Reyes looked busy reviewing some report files he had just picked up from the Captain’s office. After what seemed to Abigail like a long moment or two, he finally spoke. “Yes, Abigail. What can I do for you today? Shouldn’t you be in school or somewhere?” Reyes questioned wryly.

Abigail hated that condescending attitude of his. Just because he was a lieutenant didn’t make him God or something. Mentally, she tried to calm her slightly inflamed attitude then cleared her throat. “Lieutenant, I’ve been waiting here to see you this morning to ask how can I help with your case? I mean, I want to be involved in helping you solve this case.”

Dryly and without looking up, Reyes responded slowly, “Which case, Abigail? You know we never just work on one case. There are too many cases.”

Her patience with his attitude was wearing thin. “The case of the dead ex-Marine found in the desert. I was working Communications on Saturday and overheard all the radio traffic. I think I can help. I WANT to help.” She paused slightly, then more calmly and quietly; almost begging she said, ”I know I can help you, sir. Please let me.”

Lt. Reyes slowly looked up at Abigail eye to eye, finally giving her the respect she deserved. “Abigail, there is no case. The poor guy got snake bit and died. Some kids probably stole his vehicles, drove till they ran out of gas and stole what they could sell. Case closed. I’m sorry. I can’t help you today.”

Abigail challenged the lieutenant with increased enthusiasm, “Then how will your report read to the man’s son, daughter and three grandchildren back East? Did you know they haven’t seen or heard from him in nine-months?” Abigail continued to question. “Did you know he had friends, a Facebook page and was writing a travel blog and a novel? Did you know he had been keeping a computer journal for the past eight years? Did you realize the emotional turmoil this man has been going through?!” Abigail fell suddenly silent. She felt she was wasting her breath on the lieutenant, but still she stood there waiting for some kind of hint or response from him. She wasn’t hopeful she’d get to hear the words she wanted to hear.

Quietly, Lt. Reyes spoke, “Abigail, I appreciate your years of volunteer service to the department, your passion, enthusiasm and obvious hard work on this ... “case” .  Obviously, you have wiggled your way into the evidence lab and read this guy’s laptop computer files and cell phone records. I just got the reports on those this morning from the Captain. The person or persons who stole and ransacked the guy’s camper are being located for questioning. No doubt, they’ll try and pawn the guy’s old shotgun somewhere or get crazed with the cash we think was stolen from the guy’s trailer safe. We’ll eventually, .. Maybe, ..  catch those persons but, at best, its a low-priority case. Whoever they are but they’re most likely juveniles and would get-off light with a judge. Believe me, there is no case here.”

Still frustrated, Abigail responded but more softly, “But Lieutenant, don’t you just … want to KNOW?”

Reyes knew what Abigail was driving at. He had a similar discussion with Deputy Tabaño Saturday night. The problem was, there was no evidence that a crime was involved with this man’s death. There was nothing to be gained and nothing to be proved. “Abigail, I know your grandfather was a Marine and is was listed as M.I.A. in Vietnam for a long time. Your father never really knew him either. I think I understand your interest here, but we just can’t spend Department resources any more on this case. There just isn’t a case. Things happen to people without reason or justification. Its a shitty deal, but it just is what it is. I’m sorry.”

Abigail stared directly into the lieutenant’s eyes as tears began to well-up in her own. She didn’t know what else to say. For the first time in a long time, she couldn’t come up with words. All she could say was, “Thank-you, lieutenant. I appreciate your time.” With that, she dismissed herself and walked slowly toward the door. She still had plenty of time before her classes, but the way she felt, she might as well go early and sit in the library and think.

Just as she reached the doorway, Lt. Reyes half-shouted, “Abigail.” She half-turned around toward Reyes. More quietly, he continued, “If anything changes, I’ll be sure and let you know. That’s the best I can do.”

The tears were dripping from Abigail’s eyes, but she managed to sound unaffected. “A-hem, thank-you, lieutenant.”

Lt. Reyes watched as Abigail left the office area. Over the years here, she had always been a bright star in the all-volunteer SOLVE unit. She was always available, hard working and dedicated to her work. He hated to disappoint her, but there was really nothing for her to do.


>>>> Chapter 6 >>

Chapter 4

Chapter 4 - Owl Station Later

Right on-time, as predicted from the last call from Dispatch, the Evidence Crew had arrived in full-force and each man was busy at their tasks. It takes a large crew to photograph the scene and all it’s elements, catalog and inventory the scattered belongings, dusting for fingerprints, check for hair and fiber samples that are foreign or different from those of the the victim. Standing-by, down the road a little ways were two tow vehicles prepared to move the SUV and the camping trailer separately out of the area and back into the police evidence warehouse for more testing, evidence gathering, protection and anything else that might help in the investigation of this victim’s death or help solve the crimes - if there were any. Ultimately, the goal was to lead to some resolution for the next of kin and toward some form of closure of any crimes committed in this case.

 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 >>

Chapter 3

Chapter 3 - Owl Station Ghost Town

An hour later, Deputy Raul Tabaño rolled into the booming metro-plex of an ancient, 150 year old ghost town, which consisted of a couple of dilapidated, roofless shells of adobe buildings and mostly crispy, charred-sticks of a few fire-damaged shacks which remained after the town burned down 50 years ago. The road in was only dirt and some gravel. He had read that military boys and their girlfriends came here from miles around for dances and get-togethers during the 1940’s war years. As he surveyed the area, he couldn’t even imagine that with what was left here. Today, Owl Station was not much of a going concern except for snakes and jack rabbits in constant battle to survive in this harsh and barren land.

Still looking through his patrol car window, it was not too difficult to see the reason he was ordered to come here. What he saw was the only thing that even looked as though civilization had been anywhere near here in the past fifty or sixty years. It was everything that Dispatch said it might be, and more. This looked like a crime scene, but nothing really serious. It was a case of theft or vandalism, at best. Probably some juveniles who turned to crime rather than earn an honest dollar with actual work. Police work isn’t always the glamour job portrayed on the recruiting posters. “Almost seven years in the Department, and I still draw these kinds of cases.” Tabaño muttered. It was time to report-in.

He reached up to his shoulder for his radio Mic, “Dispatch .. Unit Seven on station.”

Soon after, his radio squawked, “10-4.  Unit Seven on station, 14:07.”

Deputy Tabaño shut down the engine and got out of the patrol car to take a look around before reporting further. He grabbed his black, three-cell Maglite on his way out .. just in case. It could be a useful club in an emergency as well as a decent flashlight. He approached the two vehicles - a late model SUV still hitched with a small camping trailer. The SUV doors were closed, but the trailer door had been jimmied and was standing wide open; swinging in the slight breeze. Clothing, pots, towels and other stuff was strewn everywhere. The license plates were current and registered in West Virginia. He wrote down the plate numbers in his notebook from both vehicles. He reached for his radio Mic and called the plates into Dispatch, then confirmed their read back. It wouldn’t take them long to find out who the registered owner was. All computers are connected to one another, these days. Since 9-11-2001, ordinary citizens would be surprised what authorities in the field can find out about any person from the smallest scrap of information.

The SUV still had the keys in the ignition. Raul pulled a latex glove from his back utility belt pouch and switched-on the ignition. The engine turned, but didn’t start. It was out of gasoline. The interior had been rifled through, but it was hard to tell if anything was stolen or missing. The crime lab would have to get out here and do a complete work-up for latent fingerprints as well as collect hair and fiber evidence. They could even tow the vehicles back to the air conditioned police garage rather than work in this gawd-awful Arizona-in-July heat. Probably both, but maybe not today, although there was still plenty of daylight left. Still, they would have to mobilize people on their day off, get to the station, gear-up and get out here. No easy feat.

Tabaño looked into the camping trailer cautiously. As he stepped on the bottom step at the door, the trailer rocked with his weight. A startled Owl which had sought refuge inside from the sunlight and heat now flew out the door over the Deputy’s flashlight raised arm and head with a loud, blood-curdling squeal like he had never heard before. In stories his Cocopah Indian Grandmother used to tell him as a kid, seeing an owl like that is a forewarning of death. He loved those stories and he loved his grandmother dearly, but he was living in the real world of the 21st Century and had no time for ancient superstitions during a police investigation.

Once inside, the strewn mess of someone’s possessions continued to indicate some sort of fowl play to him. Whoever did this, took some time and cooked some canned chili on the gas stove and ate a meal as they tore through the place. Flies were busy eating the leftovers. Two things immediately caught Deputy Tabaño’s eye. One, a rifle rack was installed along the bunk area wall, but there was no weapon. The second thing was the small, personal-sized safe that had been broken into, now sitting on top of the small dinette table. He sat down on the edge of the bunk to look at the scene from reverse direction. As he did, he sat on something small and hard under the corner of the blanket. He stood up and threw back the blanket corner to discover a single 12-gauge, #6 shot Remington shotgun shell in a black casing. Probably overlooked by the thieves or vandals. So, we at least have the possible theft of a 12-gauge shotgun of some type.  Raul moved over to the dinette bench and reached for the papers inside the safe - birth certificate, DD-214 military discharge, Social Security card, divorce papers, titles for the SUV and the camping trailer as well as the insurance policies for both. There wasn’t any cash, but if there had been, it was stolen too. Whoever this owner was, he was squared away. He opened one of the envelops from the safe and suddenly fell back against the seat. Hurriedly, he checked the names and addresses on all the other papers from the safe in his hand.

“Dispatch .. Unit Seven.”

“Go ahead, Seven.”

“Dispatch, I’ve found the vehicles that belonged to the victim we found in the desert this morning. I’ll need the crime boys out here as soon as they can get here.”

“Unit Seven, .. Lab crew and Lt. Reyes are en-route to your location. ETA 30 minutes. Captain passed the word about your license plate report.”

“10-4, Dispatch.”

Deputy Raul Tabaño took a long look around, removed his trooper hat, wiped the sweat from his brow with his left uniform sleeve and took a deep breath before putting his hat back on. It won’t be long to wait, but he thought he deserved a break. There was nothing more he should do until the lab crew got here. This was going to be a real case. Time for two more aspirin and another orange popsicle from the cooler in his patrol car trunk. The ice inside the cooler was melting pretty fast now. The popsicles didn’t figure to last by the time the Lab Crew got there, but they might. He took no chances and decided to have two.

>>>> Chapter 4 >>

Chapter 2

Chapter 2 - Arizona Desert Later

“I’ll be the judge of that!” came another voice from down the path toward the road. It was the county medical examiner and his young apprentice assistant, Jake. “Anybody got an I.D.? You’ve got the case solved and all wrapped-up, but you don’t even know the victim’s name? How were you going to fill-out line 6a of the 303 report form? Huh?”

“We were just waiting for you and the forensics team to take your photos and do all that scientific stuff you do. We protected the scene. That’s what we do.” The lieutenant retorted, jovially. “How ya doin’, Dr. Bob?” The assistant immediately began taking photos of the body and everything that could even be remotely considered evidence. He put little numbered flags where the bullet casings laid there in the sand and took more photos.

The M.E. threw some blue latex gloves at the two officers and solicited their help to roll the putrid body over on it’s side to check for a wallet in the back pockets. They extracted the wallet from the left-rear pocket and heard a metallic tinkling coming from the front of the corpse. Dr. Bob checked around the dead guy’s neck and found military-styled dog tags, but they weren’t stamped in military fashion. These were store-bought tags.

The named I.D. on the dog tags matched the Driver’s License I.D. from the wallet. The guy had a name, fourteen dollars, his Medicare card and a debit bank card. There were also the words stamped on the tags, Semper Fidelis. “The dead guy was probably a former Marine, too. I wonder if they would know anything about this guy over at the Marine Corps Air Station Yuma?”

The M.E.’s assistant, Jake chimed-in, “I’m 99.9% sure that there is nothing but water in the canteen, lieutenant, but I’ll test it for sure back in the lab.”

The lieutenant looked squarely at Officer Tabaño, .. “Got drunk and shooting at the moon .. Tabaño, you have a wild imagination. Or else you watch too many western movies on TV.”

“Either way, L-T, not much of a crime scene here. Just some poor dumb bastard whose luck ran out on some lonesome, starry night in the desert. Couldn’t get help on his cell phone, too far to walk back and risk spreading the venom quicker, then decided to ride out the rest of his snake-bit life contemplating the Cosmos and the Milky Way. You know how beautiful the night skies are around here away from city lights.”

The medical team, Dr. Bob and Jake, bagged the body by lifting the whole Army blanket. Then placed the dead snake in a separate bag, while Officer Tabaño picked up all the .22LR brass shells and put them in an evidence bag; the wallet and dog tags in another bag. The cell phone in another bag. The empty pistol with magazine removed in another bag. They would all help carry the D.B. back to the M.E.’s wagon.

The poor guy was dead. The Sheriff’s Deputies had a tentative I.D. which would have to be confirmed from latent fingerprints if they could get any and then compared to civilian or military records. There was nothing else to do at the moment, but finish the paperwork. Not the best way to spend a Saturday afternoon, when it was supposed to be a day off.

Deputy Tabaño’s radio sounded off .. “Unit Seven, Unit Seven .. Dispatch”

Tabaño grabbed the radio Mic clipped to the epaulet on his uniform shirt, “Unit Seven .. Go ahead.”

“Seven, we have a tourist-reported Signal 11, possible Signal 34-Victor east of the Owl Station ghost town. You’re the closest Deputy to that area.”

He recognized the dispatcher’s voice, “Lucy, do you know how hot it gets over there in the afternoons? There’s a reason its a ghost town, ya know.”

“Captain wants you on it, Seven.” Lucy, the dispatcher mono-droned in reply.

“10-4. On my way.”

Tabaño took a deep breath and muttered under his breath, “That’s great. There’s an abandoned vehicle, probably vandalized in an abandoned ghost town, 50 miles away in the hottest part of the desert and me with a hangover. This must be my lucky weekend day-off.”

“Did you say something, Tabaño?” asked Lt. Reyes.

“L-T, … Captain wants me to investigate an abandoned and vandalized vehicle over at Owl Station. Looks like you and the Doc got this guy in the bag all to yourself. I gotta go protect and serve  … in a the ghost town.”

>>>> Chapter 3 >>

Chapter 1

Chapter 1 - Southwest Arizona Desert

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 >>

Prologue

This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to persons past or present is purely coincidental.

Prologue

A lone, gray-haired man wearing sunglasses, rapidly breathing in labored, shallow breaths, feverish and heavily perspiring, drove his late model SUV towing a modest travel trailer heading west through the desert of southern Arizona swiveled his head side to side looking for a suitable place to die. Feeling himself grow weaker, minute by minute, he cautiously slowed to a stop off the side of Interstate Highway 8. It no longer mattered about the perfect place, but just any place would have to do, now. Reaching down the steering column he shut down the engine and pulled the keys from the ignition. He tried to take a long deep breath but couldn’t as he looked around his car one last time and gingerly patted the dashboard with a faint smile before he opened the door to exit into the remaining desert heat of the early evening.

Slowly, he walked around the front of the car then back toward the trailer door, pulled out the entry steps, unlocked the door and went inside. Deliberately, piece by piece he takes off all his clothes while wiping his sweat with each article of clothing before tossing every item onto a pile on the floor beside the little sofa just inside the door. Standing naked in front of the trailer’s only mirror mounted on the medicine cabinet above the compact bathroom sink, he leaned-in, stared deeply into his own blue-green eyes - not caring about anything else - as if wondering what his soul will look like on the other side of life and if he would recognize his former self then.

Outside, an 18-wheeler tractor-trailer whizzed past. The blow-by wind rocked the little trailer as the man balanced himself with both hands on the edge of the sink and the bathroom wall while continuing to stare straight forward. He violently coughed, gasping for air and spitting up blood. He spit it out into the sink. He reached around to take out a bottle of chilled water from the refrigerator and and drank a little, rinsed his mouth out and spit again, before consuming the rest of the bottled water all at once. The tiny drops of remaining water on his lips instantly evaporated while the perspiration on his face remained.

Reaching into the tiny shower room, he grabbed the wash cloth, wet it and took - as campers call it - a quick little spit bath with the bar of soap and water running from the spigot into the plugged sink. He had to be quick. There wasn’t much time. Then, he put on clean underwear and socks before reaching into his hang-up closet for his best and only suit of clothes, a white dress shirt, but couldn’t decide between the two ties for a second, then picked the opposite one he originally picked out to go with his gray shirt. He only had two. He had been retired for some time and had no need of such things.

He buttoned up his shirt and neatly tied his tie so that it just the right length and would have that famous GQ dimple just below the knot .. just right. Then, he pulled a pair of black dress shoes from the shoe rack behind the bathroom door and dusted them off with his damp towel. He decided they were shined enough as he raised each foot to the edge of the dinette seat, put them on, and tied the laces. He reached for his suit jacket and draped it over his arm. It was still too hot for that just now, but he wanted to look his best. Isn’t that what they do in ordinary funeral homes?

It was getting on toward dusk outside. He flipped on the light over the medicine cabinet, stood himself up as straight as he could quickly as flashing Marine Corps Boot Camp images passed through his mind as his head passed through the neck chain of his decades old dog tags. He took one last final inspection look before running a hairbrush over his head four or five times, as if it really mattered. It would have to do. Strictly out of a lifetime of habit, he loaded his pockets with the usual things; wallet, sixty-three cents in change, clean handkerchief, comb and small multi-tool pocket knife he’d been carrying for a dozen years. He did grab two more things — his cell phone and his handgun - checking to be sure it had a full magazine.

>>>> Chapter 1 >>