A VISIT TO THE CITY OF ROCKS
After last week’s weird post, let’s return to my novel, THE CITY OF ROCKS, for a visit to Doña Ana County. In the following passage from Chapter 2 of the book, our hero, BJ Vinson answers a midnight call and learns the man he’d interviewed earlier that day about a theft has been killed in an automobile accident. BJ is still not clear on the concept of why his client, a respected attorney, has him hounding a man named Liver Lips about the ducknapping ... er, theft of a duck. Our PI leaves his comfortable bed and his companion to head south and see if there’s any sign of the stolen property. The duck.
THE CITY OF ROCKS
Las Cruces, the county seat of Doña Ana County, was a city of around seventy-five thousand perched on the Chihuahuan desert flats of the Mesilla Valley. This flood plain of the Rio Grande boasted pecan orchards, as well as onion, chili, and other vegetable fields. The city was also a rail center and the home of the state’s only Land Grant School, New Mexico State University. The stark, striking Organ Mountains rose abruptly to the east.
I parked in front of the East University Avenue headquarters of State Police District Four around 8:00 a.m. I wanted to follow protocol and have Dispatch let the officers on the scene know I was on the way.
Twenty minutes later, I pulled in behind a swarm of activity. Emergency flares blocked the westbound lanes of the highway. I pulled up to the uniformed patrolman diverting traffic to the eastbound lanes and identified myself. He used his shoulder unit to announce my arrival and then waved me over onto the shoulder. It looked as if the crime unit had about finished with their work. In the distance, I could see a banged up black Dodge Ram pickup upside down snug against the corridor fence. A man in civilian attire detached himself from a small group and started for me as soon as I got out of the car.
“Mr. Vinson?” I nodded. “Dispatch told me a PI from Albuquerque was on the way.”
“Detective Montoya? Good to meet you. I suppose OMI’s already taken Martinson away.”
“Yeah, the medics have come and gone. They took him a couple of hours ago. Forensics is wrapping things up now.”
“Why are they here? I thought this was an accident.”
“In my opinion it’s a crime scene. The investigating patrol unit spotted a second set of tires and what they thought might be foreign paint on the pickup.”
“He was forced off the road? Are you thinking homicide?”
“That’s exactly what I’m thinking, but I don’t know if it was negligent or intentional. The stray paint’s hard to spot because it’s black, too. But it was enough for the patrol division to call us in on it.”
The detective was a small neat man with swarthy skin and piercing black eyes who looked as if he'd be more at home in a uniform. I judged him to be a couple of years older than my thirty-five. I’d be willing to wager he’d spent his entire adult life in the service—probably the military before going over to the state police.
“What’s your interest in Martinson?” he asked.
“He was suspected of theft. I questioned him briefly in Albuquerque yesterday afternoon. When my client called me last night and told me about the wreck, I came down to see for myself. Uh...was there anything unusual in the pickup?”
That got his interest. “Like what?”
“This is going to sound nuts, but he’s accused of stealing a duck. A very valuable duck, as it happens.”
“Quacky? He’s the one who swiped Mud’s bird?” He didn’t crack a smile. Apparently, they took ducknapping down here a little more seriously than I did. Of course, a homicide tended to wring the humor out of it—whether or not Liver’s death was connected to the duck.
“You know about that? I thought it took place over in Hidalgo County.”
“Yep, but the news is all over this part of the state.” The radio unit in his left hand blared. He spoke into the thing and then turned to me. “They’re removing Martinson’s vehicle now. They’ll be releasing the crime scene after that. You can walk it with me if you want.”
Black rubber on the shoulder marked where Liver’s vehicle had left the Interstate. It appeared to have gone airborne for a short distance before landing hard and rolling a couple of times, coming to rest against the fence. The detective pointed out a second set of less noticeable skid marks on the shoulder.
“I figure this is the vehicle that forced him off the road. Either that or some heartless SOB stopped after the accident and didn’t have the decency to call for help or try to render assistance. Of course, it wouldn’t have done any good. Martinson was dead before the pickup stopped rolling.”
Montoya led me over the verge and halted at a dark spot in the grass. “Martinson was ejected and landed here. He was probably traveling at a pretty good rate of speed. I noticed he was all bandaged up.”
“Yeah. The duck scratched him up pretty good; gave him a blood infection. I interviewed him at the UNM Hospital yesterday. What time did the accident happen?”
“Probably sometime after dark, but nobody spotted the wreckage until around midnight. Nobody mentioned a duck with a broken neck, but I’ll check with the forensics people.
Montoya got on the radio and determined the criminalists had found no sign of a duck or a feather or anything else indicating there had been a bird in the pickup. When he finished the conversation, he asked me to go back to Cruces and make a formal statement.
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