At 9:17 p.m. that Wednesday night in early June, cradled deep in the leather of my reading chair, I turned to page 107 in Peterson's History of the Single-Shot Cartridge Rifle in the United States Military. I settled in and opened to where I'd left off reading three weeks before. I half expected the damn phone to ring, because that's the sort of day it had been—myriad little interruptions, this person and that wanting a slice of my time. But that's what I was paid for. If I didn't respond to each request, legitimate or oddball, I had no reason to be carrying the badge as undersheriff of Posadas County.
For days like this one, my hundred-year-old spreading adobe was a perfect hideaway. I wasn't a social animal. My eldest daughter, Camille, is fond of referring to me as "the Badger" because of my habits. I liked a dark, deep burrow. My adobe, with its two-foot-thick walls, small windows, and the forest of surrounding weed trees, was just the ticket. I couldn't hear the voices of children playing down the street at the mobile home park. I couldn't hear the whine of tires or the loud flutter of jake brakes up on the interstate.
What drew my attention to the clock this evening was the distant shriek of tires tearing rubber and the loud, dull whump that
followed. Two lesser contacts and a final ground shaker followed. Whump, then bang, blang, BAM. Just like that, with a pulse or two between each concussion. The clock jerked to 9:18.
Sounds have a way of wandering when they're out of context. The collision might have been up on the interstate behind my adobe, the concussion filtered through the five acres of undisciplined overgrowth that obscured my property. Or even out on Grande Avenue, the main north-south drag through the Village of Posadas, two blocks west of my home.
The concussions were so massive that not for one second did I think that my nearest neighbor, Ennio Roybal, had once again backed his aging Buick into the side of his own garage. They weren't those sorts of almost delicate sounds.
Still listening hard, I placed the bookmark and gently slid the slender volume onto the end table beside my chair. The window in my bedroom was open, but I heard no voices, no screams. Maybe that was a good thing.
I picked up the phone at my right elbow and punched in a string of numbers, and waited for the circuits to connect.
"Posadas County Sheriff's Department, Beuler."
"Chad, this is Gastner. I just heard a hell of a crash that sounded like an MVA. Has anyone called you yet?"
"Been quiet, Sheriff. Really quiet." That's the way Beuler liked it, I knew. He worked part-time, sharing dispatch with us and the
village PD, and made do with his pension from the railroad and the nickel-dime salary we paid him. Tall and gawky with a receding chin line that damn near blended with his Adam's apple, he had no ambition to advance higher up the ladder within either the Sheriff's Department or the Posadas PD, even though we'd made the offer several times.
Still, Beuler was absolutely dependable, and that's all that mattered to me. He cheerfully agreed to take any dispatcher's
shift—days, swing, or graveyard—at any time.
"Okay. I'm going to see what I can find. Keep the numbers handy. Payson is on?"
"He is, covering swing for Baker. And complaining about having the new guy as a ride-along."
"That's good for him. Builds character." Sergeant Lars Payson loved to hear himself talk. He was an endless font of bad jokes, critiques of the latest proof of the public's stupidity, or his own biased take on the politics of the day. On the other hand, the "new guy," fresh out of the academy and taciturn as a rock, was Payson's opposite. If rookie Deputy Robert Torrez needed three words to get a thought across, he'd try to do it in one or two.
The new guy's reticence wasn't because of laziness. Coming from a large family that included sisters as well as brothers, perhaps he just had grown weary of trying to slip a word in edgewise. He was scheduled to start his tour on the day shift in the morning. But here he was, an informal ride-along, during the swing shift—that odd time at the end of the day when people were most apt to do something stupid fueled by job anxiety, family friction, too much alcohol, or a dip into other recreational drugs. Swing shift was where the action was.