Cruising West on an empty stretch of Highway 7 through the moonlit hills outside of Nuevo Montañas, Deputy Sheriff Rick Hunter surveyed the road over the glow of the radar unit; dash cam; radio; and instrument panel in his undercover patrol car. There was no other traffic, so he didn’t have to worry about trying to reach dispatch on the radio. A few more minutes and he would be clear of the hill’s dead zone. This two-mile stretch of hills interfered with his radio and mobile data system where he would check the licenses; registration; and potential warrant information on anyone he had pulled over.
Suddenly, at the edge of his high beams, a woman emerged out of the trees desperately running towards the road with just one goal – getting farther away from where she was right now. Risking a quick turn of her head to look behind her, she tripped and fell onto the pavement about a hundred yards in front of him.
Braking and pulling off onto the right shoulder, Hunter stopped to check on her. Getting out and approaching her prone form, the engine’s low steady idling was overwhelmed by the high-pitched metallic twang of a bullet ricocheting off the hood of his red Charger SRT Hellcat; followed by the crack of a high-powered rifle. At the same moment, a second round created a shattering explosion of glass from the windshield; ripped through the dash camera system and radar detector. Only slowing a fraction in its’ velocity, that shot then smashed its way through the driver’s window as it exited at just over a thousand feet per second.
Instinctively he dove next to the front tire putting the cruiser between him and the shooter.
Almost immediately another shot punched through the front passenger door and screamed out the other side like it was trying to catch up with its buddies.
His adrenaline spiking, he grabbed her limp body and shoved her into the back seat, slammed the door closed and jumped back into the car. Hunter’s heart was racing as he jammed the car into gear and smashed the accelerator to the floor trying to get out of the sights of the unknown shooter. The speedometer was working on getting to the right side of the gauge as fast as it could while he started assessing his situation. The wind was howling through the mess of glass in the metal frames which had been his windshield and window, but he had not been injured in the bizarre attack.
His new passenger? Have to wait at least another minute at the speed he was going before he could clear the hill and safely pull over to check on her, much less be able to call the Sheriff’s office and report the situation. There wouldn’t be much to go on – an unseen shooter – but the fact that it was almost nine o’clock on a Friday night, plus the three shot burst pattern causing the damage to the car, sure seemed to rule out the possibility of a deer hunter coincidentally being in that area at that exact moment.
As the top of the hill loomed ahead, he started backing off the gas and prepared to pull over once he cleared the crest. For the second time in the last several minutes, he pulled off onto the shoulder and stopped the car.
Turning on the interior dome light; he twisted to confront the woman in the backseat about the whole incident, but she was sprawled out like a rag doll which had been casually tossed aside. Her blonde hair was in pulled back in the half braid style, like a laurel wreath; her eyes were closed, and her face was ashen under her makeup. A large pool of blood was soaking through the front of her gold blouse, which had pulled out of her black mid-thigh length skirt. Her arms and legs showed multiple scrapes from her wild dash out of the trees and brush, and she had an anklet on her left leg above her black ankle boots.
Guess questions were going to have to wait a little longer.
He reached over the back seat and felt for a pulse. Once he knew that she was still alive, just unconscious, he shut off the overhead light; threw the car in gear; flipped on the emergency lights and sirens; and grabbed the microphone from the clip on the dash.
“Base, this is Hunter!” He yelled above the wind and siren’s noise as he cranked the volume on the radio way up to fight the maelstrom of sounds crashing around him like the tempest of a violent cyclone.
“Hunter this is Base, go ahead” was the response, but the tone of voice had question marks written all over it.
“Base I am traveling westbound on Highway 7, twelve miles out of town coming down the hill. I have an unconscious female subject bleeding from a gunshot wound to the upper torso. Notify Valley Regional Medical that our ETA is approximately seven minutes. Also, tell the Sheriff that I was fired upon while trying to extricate the female from the situation. I’m 10-4 , but the shooter managed to put at least three rounds into my vehicle, taking out my windshield and window in the process.”
“Roger. Did you get a description of the suspect?”
“Negative, shots came from the north side of the road at approximately mile marker 14. I couldn’t call it in at the time so I left the scene to report in before their aim got any better.”
“Deputies Sanchez and Wilson, this is Base – proceed immediately to mile marker 14 on Highway 7 and secure the area – we are also requesting State Patrol as backup for you.”
“Base this is Sanchez, en route.”
“Base this is Wilson, roger.” Those replies were also accompanied by the pulsing sounds of sirens wailing in the background, joining in momentarily with his own earsplitting din.
“Hunter this is Base. Sheriff Axtell will meet you at Valley Regional Medical.”
“Base, roger that.”
Between his sirens’ shrill cacophony; the howling of the wind; and the blaring police radio, Hunter’s ears were starting to ring, and his hammering head was definitely not going to forgive him anytime soon. The white center stripes were flashing by like Morse code dots on overdrive as his own headlights stroboscopically switched between low and high beams, alternating this pattern back and forth while his red and blue flashing emergency lights reflected off the cars and trucks he was passing as traffic started building on his way into town.
From the other direction, he saw Sanchez and Wilson rapidly approaching, red and blue lights flashing at a frenzied pace – sirens building to a crescendo as the gap between the officers closed quickly. The racket quickly faded as they sped up the hill past him and out of sight.
He was less than a mile from the hospital when he saw the bright white and yellow channel 9 TV news van on the road ahead.
Not them! Dammit! They had to have been listening to the scanner to be this close to the ER already!
“Base, this is Sanchez and Wilson – we are entering radio dead zone at mile marker 12. ETA, two minutes” crackled the radio as Hunter raced into town making his way through increasingly heavy traffic.
As Hunter passed through the last intersection before the hospital’s ambulance driveway entrance, the traffic signal control box activated its red light almost as if it knew it had to demand that traffic (including the TV news van) just STOP right there!
Shutting down his lights and siren, Hunter took advantage of those extra seconds to pull up to the Emergency Room double glass doors behind Sheriff Axtell’s white and red pickup. The doctors and nurses were waiting with the gurney, ready to run straight down the white tiled hallway to a waiting operating room like a marathon runner holding out his hand for the oncoming baton.
Getting out of the bullet-ridden Charger, Hunter turned towards Sheriff Axtell and the approaching medical team. One of the nurses moved away from the rest of the trauma team and stepped over to Hunter.
“Are you OK?” She asked, seeing a large patch of blood on his gun metal gray uniform shirt just below his gold badge and above his waist where it met the black belt at the top of his navy blue pants. “Let me take a look.”
“I’m alright” Hunter replied.
“Did she say anything about why she was shot?” Sherriff Axtell asked.
A quick palpation of the abdomen confirmed that he was not injured, and the nurse returned to the rest of her team as the woman was transferred, quickly but delicately, from the backseat into the care of highly trained staff.
“No sir,” Hunter said, “Once I left the area and could try to find out, she was already unconscious.”
Making decisions and barking orders, the doctors and nurses applied their triage skills at full speed down the hallway and through the next set of doors marked ‘Authorized Personnel Only’.
“Did she have any ID?” asked Sheriff Axtell.
“Ok. Get in there while I keep the news hounds at bay.”
“Yes, sir.” Hunter started following the path the medical team had taken just a few moments earlier.
Heading east along the forest road in a dusty blue four door 4×4 SUV; Santo Brey was sweating, wiping his brow with the back of his sleeve to keep the moisture out of his eyes and rubbing the back of his neck in alternating motions, as both his forest green polo shirt and black slacks were surrendering to the moisture. Watching for the rutted side path where he would turn left amongst the steady stream of trees, Santo automatically turned north off of the forest road and onto the path which would deliver him to his destination. The pathway was not much wider than a set of well-traveled tire tracks, twisting into and through the trees and up the hillside.
At first glance, it would seem that it was sheer luck that the tree branches didn’t scratch the SUV’s paint on either side, but careful observation showed they were trimmed just regularly enough to avoid contact with any vehicles traveling this route. To maintain the appearance that this was a forgotten bridle trail, all the other tree branches were also trimmed to provide the illusion that they had naturally grown that way on their own.
Just a little over a quarter of a mile later, the SUV’s headlights illuminated a small clearing. Santo pulled up to where his boss Cesar Gallegos, a short, stocky, bearded Latino, wearing a western style shirt, jeans, and scuffed boots was waiting.
“¡Andele! Let’s get the package moved! ¡Vamos!” It was always the same greeting each time that Santo pulled into this spot.
“El Jefe…we…we’ve got a…a problem” Santo managed to spit out as he climbed out of the SUV.
“What are you talking about?” The man had come to the back door and was grabbing the handle when he noticed Brey’s ashen white face and trembling hands. “What the hell is going on?”
“I…I lost the package.”
“I lost the package.”
“How the HELL did you LOSE the package? Did you forget to put it in the backseat?”
“Were you attacked? Did someone steal it from under your nose?”
“Are you just a STUPID GRINGO PENDEJO??“
The questions came out rapid fire, as Cesar yanked open the back door, hoping that Santo was just trying to play a really moronic joke on him.
“Please let it be a prank, Dios mio!” he whispered, only marginally more audible than the sound of an exhaled breath. No! The only thing he saw was the backseat – no woman – no evidence of a struggle – no reason to explain why Santo was there empty-handed. Turning back to Santo, he tried to keep the fear off of his face and out of his voice.
“Tell me what the HELL happened!” Cesar turned back to face Santo.
“I stopped to take a leak, and when I came back, she was gone.”
“Once you have the package, you’re not supposed to stop ANYWHERE until you get here! And why didn’t you go after her?”
“I heard her running through the trees, so I grabbed my rifle and took off after her. I tried to take her out so she couldn’t get away, but I never got her. Then some guy showed up, and they got away!“
“¡Vamos!” Moving towards him, Cesar prepared to herd him over to the concealed entrance where the victims were brought when they arrived. But instead of cooperating, Santo panicked, feinted to one side, and then quickly reversed direction in a desperate attempt to flee.
“Oh, HELL NO!” Legs pumping, Cesar took off after him like a linebacker going full speed for the quarterback, and launched himself at Santo’s waist. THUD! Instinctively his arms locked around the stomach, and both men went tumbling down to the ground. Rolling, Santo tried to break loose, then started throwing wild punches in a blind panic. One of his wild swings managed to connect, and he felt the grip on him loosen momentarily. Using that advantage, Santo tried to roll and break free, but only managed to cause both to lose their balance and fall down.
Recovering quickly, the two men scrambled back to their feet and started looking for an opening in each other’s defenses. Cesar started throwing punches; first to the diaphragm and then to the head.
Santo managed to block some but was not quick enough to stop all of them. Staggering backward from the impacts, his foot caught on a protruding root causing him to trip and fall flat on his back, hitting his head and knocking himself unconscious.
“Serves you right ¡cabrón! – trying to run from me!” Yanking his belt off, he tied Santo’s arms together and started dragging him inside before he woke up. “Damn hombre” he grunted, “You need to lose some weight!“
Once inside, Cesar dropped the unconscious Santo into one of the short-term holding cells and replaced the belt with zip tie restraints on his wrists, elbows, knees, and ankles; then hog tied the ankles and wrists together with another zip tie. Satisfied that he wasn’t going anywhere at least for the next few minutes, Cesar exited the cell. After closing the door, he made sure that the padlock was secure on the chain holding the door closed. Turning, Cesar walked down the hallway about ten feet and grabbed a satellite phone from a cabinet on the wall. Instead of calling for the transportation driver like he would have normally done after receiving the package, he dialed the number of his lieutenant, Tommy Brummitt, for the first time ever.
“Brummitt!” was the unhappy voice which barked out of the receiver.
“Cesar Gallegos, receiving supervisor, sir. We have a code red – package never arrived, sir.”
“What was the package reference number?” irritation scorched the handset.
“Is the courier there?” anger paraded through those four words.
“Yes, he is in the waiting room right now.”
“I’ll notify logistics. Bring the courier to the front office right away” the connection abruptly ceased, leaving an ominous silence filling the room.
Wasting no time, Cesar dialed the transportation driver.
“Yeah?” the somewhat bored voice answered.
“It’s receiving – need a driver, but also need two extra guards for heavy lifting and security – we’ll be taking this package to the front office instead of the usual warehouse. Don’t waste any time – we’re expected!”
“On the way” the reply held no trace of boredom this time.
Sheriff Axtell turned towards the approaching reporter and camera operator, who was already starting to collect footage of the damaged vehicle for later editing into the follow-up story that they would put together after the breaking news segment.
Seeing the Deputy move away, the reporter touched the cameraman’s shoulder and then readied his microphone as they moved in unison towards the awaiting Sheriff. The camera operator spoke briefly on his headset radio unit, coordinating the live interruption of the current programming. Moments later, he received the signal and snapped his fingers for attention. Then he counted down the three, two, one signals with his fingers and pointed to the reporter.
“We are on the scene of breaking news at Valley Regional Medical” the light brown haired, brown eyed reported in his mid-30’s stated with a smile on his face as he faced directly into the camera lens.
“Sheriff Axtell, Christopher Brohn, Channel 9 News. Violence has reared its ugly head tonight and set its’ sights on not only on our community but your department as well. Who was the victim of this horrific attack?”
“At this time, we have very few details and are currently looking into this situation.”
“What happened? Where did the shooting take place?”
“At approximately 9 o’clock tonight, Deputy Hunter was patrolling Highway 7 east of town when the incident took place.”
“How did the young woman come to be there in the first place? And what is her condition right now?”
“The doctors are assessing her condition, but no other information is available.”
“Are our citizens at risk? And what are you doing to keep them safe?”
“Once we know more, we will provide that information to the media.
“Have you gathered any evidence from the undercover vehicle that points to a suspect?
“Our forensic technicians will be analyzing everything when they have the vehicle.
“Do you have any theories if this was a lone gunman or something more sinister like a gang style assault or drug cartel operation?”
“We do not have enough information to comment any further on this incident.” Turning, Sheriff Axtell headed into the hospital.
Facing the camera again, Christopher Brohn smiled as he said “Repeating our top story – One of our fellow citizens was brutally injured in a violent shooting just outside of town tonight. The Channel 9 News team will be following this horrific attack for you and keeping you up to date with any new developments, including any new reports of intense, savage attacks on your neighbors. Tune into Channel Nine’s Action News at 10 o’clock, for more on this story as it develops. We now return you to your regular scheduled programming, already in progress.” He stood there motionless, holding that same smile until the cameraman said: “We’re clear!”
Pocketing the microphone, he replied, “Now let’s get B-roll of this damage on the car, and see what shots of the interior you can get through the windows, before they take it away!”
Tommy Brummitt punched the red disconnect button and immediately started towards cyber central, where the black hat computer criminals handled all things technical for the organization. Placing his palm on the biometric sensor he waited momentarily for the usual quick beep, green light, and click of the lock releasing on the glass doors.
Pulling open the first of two sets of glass doors powerful fans kicked on and blasted air out into the corridor behind him, ruffling both his brown hair and the unbuttoned collar of his black dress shirt, then shut off as the doors swung closed. After the lock had engaged, the next set of glass doors automatically opened. This time instead of the rush of air; music and conversation slammed against his 6′ lanky frame like it was seeking an escape route from the confines of the room. Each wall was covered by three 120″ flat screen monitors so that everyone would be able to see no matter which direction they were facing; and computers, monitors, and accessories covered every available square inch of the flat surfaces in the room.
“Where’s ‘Black’ Stack?” he demanded of the first person who came into his path.
“Over there, dude” was the answer, combined with a jerk of the hand to indicate some part of the room behind them as he disdainfully walked away from Tommy without another word.
“Bert – we had a package get away during transport to receiving. Have your slackers find her right away – she’s wearing tracker number 395.”
“Have you told the boss?”
“As soon as you give me her location, I will.”
“deUce, wake up Rover – we need to fetch a package fast!”
“Yeah, Baby!!” deUce spun around in his chair to face the keyboard in front of him.
What’s that number, Black Stack?”
As he started typing rapidly on his keyboard, the room monitor’s display switched to show a satellite view of North America.
While the software processed the tracking information, the GPS map view changed to the United States, then started zooming into the Southwestern United States and increased its magnification to show Highway 7 which paralleled the US – Mexican border. A flashing red dot was moving rapidly into Nuevo Montañas, in the Southern New Mexico desert.
“She’s hauling ass – already at the edge of town!” deUce called out. “Ain’t no use – you can’t outrun Rover, Baby!”
The map kept scrolling west into and past the outskirts of town, and heading straight into the city, then slowed down and became stationary at Valley Regional Medical.
Brummitt stood tensely and watched with everyone else to see if the dot was going to leave and start going somewhere else. While he waited, he pulled out his phone and punched one of the speed dial numbers.
Just then, the image on the monitor magnified one last time, showing just the block where the hospital was located. Now the red dot moved to show that the GPS tracker had gone inside of the hospital and as they watched, it continued moving farther inside the building.
“Hey, Tommy” Bert pointed at the screens, “Looks like it’s heading past the E.R. and into the surgery and I.C.U. area.”
Before he could reply, the phone speaker burst forth with heavy metal guitars and an Australian accented voice singing “Dirty deeds done dirt cheap, Dirty deeds and they’re done dirt cheap. If you got a lady and you want her gone, but you ain’t got the guts, she keeps naggin’ at you night and day, enough to drive you nuts. Pick up the phone–” (AC/DC)
The singing was interrupted by a man’s voice, “Stamm.”
Brummitt barked “I need you to get over to Valley Regional. We’ve got a package there and we need to find out what is going on with it!””
“On my way.”
“How long until you get there?” Brummitt demanded.
“About five minutes.”
“Ok. Right now it looks like it might be in the surgery area. If anything changes, I’ll have Stack give you a call and update you. As soon as you’ve got anything – call ‘Black’ Stack right away!” Brummitt punched the end button and looked at Bert. “Something happens – let me know first! Then call Stamm. I’ve got to go see the Boss now!“
Once inside the E.R. Hunter traveled down the white antiseptic corridor, where a horizontal bright red painted line would periodically spike and dip on the wall like an Electrocardiogram displaying a heartbeat, leading towards the surgical section of the Emergency Room. Stopping halfway down where the corridors branched off in a T-intersection in front of the semi-circular nurses’ station, he asked about the injured woman. Not surprisingly, she was in surgery – no other information was available yet.
“Got any aspirin?” he asked the nurse hopefully and explained briefly the circumstances surrounding his arrival. That got him a pit stop into the hospital’s version of a cubicle, a surgically sterile space with little more than a gurney, an IV tree, and various computer diagnostic patient monitoring devices, waiting for a doctor to give him a quick check-up. After a few minutes, a doctor arrived and proceeded to examine him while Hunter explained again how the blood on his uniform came from the injured woman as he got her into the car. Once satisfied that the deputy was ok, acetaminophen made their appearance to the grateful officer.
Hunter then headed over to the surgical waiting room, as employees were coming and going around him in different colored scrubs, where he found Sheriff Axtell standing with his back to the wall; casually surveying the visitors in the waiting area as they also came and left.
A dozen padded chairs were loosely arranged around a TV mounted on the wall, which was tuned to channel nine where the earlier interview was being repeated as part of the regular newscast. The surrounding walls were painted a light blue and various paintings of forest scenes, flowers, and a beachfront with gentle ocean waves and seagulls in flight.
An elderly woman dressed in a light blue blouse and dark blue pantsuit was crocheting a muffler or some type of small blanket. A young couple in jeans and t-shirts were holding hands, trying unsuccessfully not to look nervous; and a man in his late 20’s or early 30’s in a western style shirt and somewhat faded blue jeans was reading the newspaper and occasionally sipping coffee out of a paper cup.
“Any word yet, sir?”
“No, she may be in surgery for a while. The doctors will notify us when they have an update on her condition. We’ve had your car towed to the impound lot where the techs will see if there’s anything which might give us any clues about the shooter.” The Sheriff glared momentarily at the TV, then said, “I’ll take you back to the station so you can pick up a marked unit until yours is released.”
The Sheriff turned and headed out of the waiting room lobby, followed by his deputy.
The man with the newspaper, seated nearby to where the officers had been, watched them leave. Once they were out of sight, he pulled out his cell phone and punched one of the speed dial settings.
A few moments later he heard: “Black Stack – what’s happening?”
In a hushed voice, Stamm said, “Check out channel nine — they’ve been talking about her for most of the news so far.”
“Sonofabitch!” Pulling the phone away from his face, Stack yelled out to the black hats, “Get the channel nine website up NOW!”
“No shit!” Stamm replied, “Tell the Boss that the cops were also here talking about her, but they left because she’s in surgery.”
“How long ’til she gets out?”
“They don’t know yet.”
“Call me back as soon as you find out anything else!”
“Got it!” Stamm pressed the screen on his cell phone and put it into his shirt pocket. Turning back to his paper, he sipped his coffee and settled in to wait, periodically glancing at the nurses passing by in the corridor.
Floating…Wrapped in a safe, soft, snuggly cocoon…Like drifting on a bed of fluffy white clouds…Muted sounds…Nothing matters… Everything blends into the warm, quiet, whiteness…
Cresting the top of the hill, Mesilla County Sheriff’s Deputies Sanchez and Wilson shut down their sirens as they begin to approach the area where Hunter had taken fire. They arrived a couple of minutes later, thankful for the clear sky and bright moon to help illuminate the area. Emergency lights still flashing to warn any approaching drivers; Sanchez and Wilson parked behind the broken glass and small pool of dried blood. Sanchez aimed his spotlight on the scene, then grabbed his flashlight, camera, and portable fingerprinting kit as he got out. The two deputies began their initial assessment as they figured out how far the glass and blood extended.
Once they had determined the area, Wilson then pulled in front of the scene and parked to protect it from the other side. Getting out again, he pulled his shotgun from his patrol unit and started to scan the brush up the hill with his spotlight to see if there was any sign that the shooter was still in the area. Just then, two State Police units arrived, their lights flashing in counterpoint to the Sheriff’s vehicles.
The State Police officers’ bronze shirts, gold badges, and indigo pants were consistent with the paint jobs of their vehicles. Getting out, they headed over to join the deputies, in their gun metal gray shirts and navy blue pants, by the broken glass.
“Heard there was a shooter here earlier. I’m Trooper Seth Raider, and this is Sergeant Diego Lopez.”
“I’m Deputy Jason Sanchez, and this is Deputy Ralph Wilson. We weren’t here, but Deputy Hunter was the one who took fire. The Sheriff wants us to search the area and see if we can find any evidence.”
“I’ll get Storm.” Lopez turned and headed back to his vehicle.
“Sergeant Lopez is our K-9 handler and Sergeant Storm is his partner.”
The three officers moved over to the perimeter of the broken glass where Sanchez had already started photographing the scene, and the other two scanned the hillside with their flashlights searching for any signs of life.
Lopez and Storm, a black and tan German Shepherd wearing a bronze vest and badge, joined the group as Sanchez finished up.
“Yes. Storm will track the scent, I’ll take point with him. You three spread out about 15 – 20 feet from each other and follow us.” The K-9 team started towards the blood stain as Storm’s nose was drinking in the odors.
Satisfied that Storm had recognized any potential scents, Lopez called out “Arrozisk!”
“Aroof! Ruff! Ruff!” Storm immediately took off, heading into the brush and up the hillside.
“What did he tell him?” asked Wilson.
“Storm’s trained in Russian for his commands. That one is to search.” Raider replied as he turned to follow Lopez, gun and flashlight ready, into the vegetation bordering the trees. The two Deputies fanned out on either side of the Trooper, weapons ready, scanning the moonlit terrain with their flashlights as well.
Storm’s barking urged the officers on as they climbed through the verdant soil, littered with twigs, leaves, branches, and the occasional tree root poking out of the ground into the moonlight. The steady crunching of the officers’ boots, as they traversed the hillside dotted with cottonwood trees, was a rhythmic counterpoint to the stillness which was only otherwise broken by the occasional noise from some unidentified nocturnal creature. The officers proceeded with hardly any conversation, all senses on the alert as Storm zigzagged into and through Apache pine trees and up the hill.
“I’ve got a fresh gash on this tree! Looks like a bullet ripped the bark off about 5′ up the trunk.” Sanchez called out to the rest of the searchers.
“Anything lodged in the trunk itself?” asked Raider.
“No, just a furrow about two inches long.”
“Mark it and we’ll come back to it for follow-up photographs and measurements. Now let’s go see if the Sergeants’ have found anything.”
Continuing up the sylvan slope, the signs of someone fleeing headlong were apparent in the broken branches and trampled undergrowth which interlaced lattice-like through the Arizona alders and walnut trees.
His flashlight glinting off a metal fragment, Wilson called out “I’ve got a bullet lodged in this tree trunk” as he dropped a marker by the base. Slightly over a quarter mile from where he started tracking, Storm burst from the tree line and began circling a spot on the dirt forest road, barking in confusion. Lopez caught up with him less than thirty seconds later.
“Got tire tracks, and this is where the scent ends” Lopez called out to the other three who were still catching up to them. “Looks like whoever was here has already left.”
As the other three officers emerged, they converged back with the sergeants who were standing by the tire tracks.
“We’ll need to get photos and casts of these tracks back to the lab to see if they can narrow down the tire type and possible vehicle based on that information” Lopez commanded. “Sanchez – photograph the tracks, then take the west part of the road to see if you can turn anything else up. Raider, head back to your unit and grab the plaster kit. Storm and I will check the north side of the road and Wilson, you take the east part of the road. Let’s see if we can find anything that might give us a reason why they stopped here.”
Separating, they each started sweeping their flashlights ahead of them. Moving slowly to avoid damaging or destroying any new evidence that they might turn up, they worked in relative silence for about ten minutes before Sanchez called out “I’ve got shell casings here – could be a dozen or more.”
“We’re coming” Lopez called out as he and Storm headed that direction.
Once the new pictures of the shell casings and their surroundings joined the growing collection of photographs which had already been gathered, Storm was brought forward to search for any scents. Standing rigidly, he stuck his nose next to some of the brass and barked.
“Got something? Arrozisk!” Lopez called out, and Storm took off back in the direction they had come from.
Sanchez bagged the casings and then started off after the K9 crew. About ten feet past where they had originally found the tire tracks, the scent trail stopped.
“When you get done over there, you need to come see this.” called out Wilson as he came walking out of tree line on the northeast side of the road. “It looks like a big, old, shed but it sounds like there’s a fan or some type of small motor running inside of it.”
As the officers approached the structure, they observed that the walls were simple wood planks, roughly 4″ x 8″ in size and that they were aging due to exposure to the weather. Some areas of the walls also had small gaps between the boards when they were built, as if they might have been hand sawn instead of a more precise cut which would come from a lumberyard.
The door was padlocked, and the window frames had plywood boards inside of them instead of glass as if the building wasn’t being used. The faint whirr of electronic motors was audible, but there were no signs of electric lines leading into the structure. Looking through one of the gaps in the wall, a very faint, indistinct glow was visible inside.
Sergeant Lopez led Storm around the outside, but he did not react anywhere along that perimeter.
“Sanchez, get photographs of this shed and let’s see if the detectives can find anything out about this place that might have something to do with this investigation. Once that’s done, let’s rendezvous with Raider and then head back to report our findings.”
“Valley Regional Medical, E.R. unit. Nurse Galvan.”
“This is Christopher Brohn, Channel Nine Action News. I’m calling in regards to the young woman who was shot earlier tonight. Can you tell me how she is doing?
“I’m sorry, you have the wrong department. All media inquiries are handled through our public relations department.
“How bad were her injuries?” Brohn eagerly inquired.
“You will need to contact our public relations for any information on patient statuses.”
“We need to speak with that young woman as soon as possible. Can someone from the hospital call me as soon as she is able to talk?” Brohn pressed the nurse.
Ed Stamm casually approached the E.R. nursing station, watching for the nurse to get done with her phone call.
“Our public relations department will be open tomorrow morning at 8.” stated Nurse Galvan.
“Can you let me speak with the doctor who is treating her?” Brohn impatiently demanded.
“Would you like me to transfer you to their voicemail?”
“Please hold” Nurse Galvan punched a couple of buttons on the phone. Hanging up, she sighed in exasperation, “Reporters!”
“Excuse me, ma’am,” Stamm asked, taking the last step towards the semi-circular nursing station.
“You have reached the voice mailbox of the Valley Regional Medical Public Rela-“
“I wanted the Doctor’s voicemail, not P.R’s!” Snarling, Brohn slammed the receiver down on his desk in the middle of the newsroom.
“Chato” Brohn called out across the room.
“What’ve you got for me?” Juan ‘Chato’ Vasquez, night shift producer, answered back.
“The E.R. won’t give me anything.”
“Did you really think that they would?”
Ignoring that jibe, Brohn replied, “We need to send someone to the hospital so that they can let us know when anything changes and then I can go break the latest details.
“Yeaaah…” Chat said with a touch of sarcasm. “About that – you can go back and wait if you want, after you are off, otherwise just call them or go by in the morning. I’m not going to send someone to sit there all night just to wait for her to wake up.”
“I apologize for interruptin’, but I was hopin’ I might get some information?” Stamm’s slight drawl played well with his polite smile.
“How may I help you?”
“My employer wants me to find out about the young woman on the news – the one who was brought here earlier tonight for emergency medical treatment. How is she?”
“Are you a reporter also? I just finished telling the one on the phone that he needs to speak with our public relations department for information on patient statuses!”
“No, ma’am I’m not – my employer has an interest in the legal system.”
“A lawyer, huh? Well, the same answer applies to you and your boss.” Brushing him off, Nurse Galvan said, “Now if you’ll excuse me, I have patients to take care of.”
Heading back to the waiting area, Stamm took a quick detour into the 120/80 Cafe looking for another cup of coffee. The white walls were decorated with colored stencil decals of stethoscopes; thermometers; penlights; blood pressure cuffs and dials; forceps and clamps; and just above and behind the coffee carafes and cappuccino machine, a 3′ red syringe labeled ‘CAFFEINE’. Grabbing a table next to the coffee station, Stamm sat and listened to the employees’ conversations around him. He was just getting ready to top off his cup when a group of nurses dressed in green surgical scrubs came in chatting as they headed straight towards the coffee bar area.
“…had almost forgotten how busy Friday nights are in this place.” An auburn haired nurse in her 30’s said.
“Yeah, I was wondering when you would be back from your vacation” laughed an older brunette.
“We didn’t want you to feel left out, so we saved the stabbing and gunshot victims ’til you got back!” said a younger nurse who looked like she had just dyed her hair blond.
“Thanks, but you really didn’t have to.” deadpanned the first nurse.
“It was no trouble, really! Especially gunshot girl! I mean, how many people start waking up in the middle of surgery as the doc is working in her chest?” the younger nurse retorted.
“Well, she already made a dramatic entrance tonight with the Sheriffs department acting as her own private ambulance – so why not keep us on our toes as well?” the older brunette quipped.
“Some mother’s children…” the first nurse sighed.
Still chatting, the nurses wandered out and back to their respective workstations.
After the door had closed behind them, Stamm moved over to the farthest corner of the cafe. Glancing around to see if anyone was watching him, he pulled out his phone and called ‘Black’ Stack again.
“Stamm the man! Got something new for me?”
“She’s definitely here, and out of surgery, probably in recovery by now.”
“Sonofabitch! She managed to screw up the delivery, and now she’s even screwed up dying on the table! Sonofabitch!…OK… Here’s what you need to do…”
Get in touch with Jeff here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/dillard-jeff/