NOTIFICATION

orange cone

“One of our own.” A difficult job but it has to be done.

From my recently released novel, GROUND EFFECT:

“You ever wash that thing?” The uniformed sergeant walked over to Gerry’s open driver’s window at the roadblock. The black Tahoe showed every speck of dust and was a constant issue with the bosses. Gerry tried but living so far off the paved road was its own problem.

“Hey, Bud.” Gerry looked past the trooper to a mass of flashing lights and police cars piled along the highway near an open cattle gate into the ranch on the north side of the road. This was the neighbor’s ranch to the one where Gerry lived and was even bigger.

“They found him back in a ways. Shot in the head. Plane spotted him. We would have been a while without it. The captain’s on his way. We’re trying to get everybody back out. Afraid they’ve messed up the tracks but I think they left the car alone.”

“Can I walk it?” Gerry asked.

“Sure, it’s not too far.”

This wasn’t the first “in the line of duty” death Gerry had worked. Texas Rangers start out as Department of Public Safety troopers. Gerry had thirteen years in uniform as a trooper and then as a sergeant. The Rangers are very picky about who they bring in and Gerry had been in the select unit for the last ten years. This close to the border, there was always plenty to keep them busy. Sadly, shootings of troopers and sheriff’s deputies happened all too often. Only modern medicine kept the death toll in check. This wasn’t one of those times.

Gerry glanced at the marks in the dirt as he passed and would come back for a closer look but he wanted to get to the trooper first. There was one DPS car still parked behind the dead trooper’s car. A young trooper that Gerry only knew in passing was standing next to it writing in a notebook.

The trooper looked up and saw the hat and badge and pulled his shoulders back a bit. “Sir, I don’t remember your name. Can I have it for the log?”

“Gerry Santos. What have you got?” Gerry took several pictures while he talked.

The young trooper seemed confused. “Well, I got here first. He was dead when I checked him. His weapon and magazines are gone. One shell casing by the passenger rear door. Looks like it was from his gun. I left it alone. I stepped back out here and kept everyone else back behind my car.”

Gerry looked over the camera at the trooper, “That’s good. What do you think?”

Again, the young trooper hesitated. He was new and had only spoken to a Ranger once before in the courthouse and had only seen Ranger Santos from across a parking lot last month. He thought a moment more then said, “Traffic stop went bad. He stopped a vehicle and called in the tag but that was it. The dash cam should tell us more. But they cut all the wires behind the radio. I think the camera will still have the pictures though.”

“I like the way you think, kid. When the crime scene guys get here let’s get that memory card out and see if we can start after them.” Gerry walked over to the trooper and said, “Lift up your boot so I can see the tread.”

The trooper lifted his left boot and Gerry took a couple of pictures of the sole. Until the lab guys got there it was very quiet except for the flies that began to come in.

Gerry heard several sirens light up out on the highway. He couldn’t figure what that was all about. He worked slowly around the car in narrowing circles. He found footprints and took digital pictures of all of them. He separated out the prints from the live trooper and then got pictures of the dead trooper and the nasty wound to his head. The crime scene crew would take their own shots but Gerry had a set to work with now.

“You have one of those orange cones in your trunk?” Gerry waited then took the cone back along the dirt track toward the gate. He found where the truck made its turn around and the tracks were undisturbed where it had gone wide. He put the cone between the tire tracks and the gate and motioned for the crime scene van to stop there.

“Don’t let anyone past here unless I give the okay,” Gerry said to the driver of the van. “I need the dash cam an hour ago.”

Nobody in DPS had a problem with anything a Ranger wanted. The crime scene crew got busy and documented the approach to the passenger front door that appeared undisturbed. They made entry without adding anything and got the memory stick from the dash cam. A forensic program in a laptop made two duplicate copies and the original was bagged and tagged.

The computer tech handed his laptop and a duplicate memory card to Gerry. Gerry squatted in what little shade the scrub provided and scrolled through to the last of the video. He ran it backward and watched the trooper’s car move until he got back to the original stop and then started it in real time. “Well, I’ll be damned…”

Gerry e-mailed the video to his phone and then sent it on to Headquarters. The faces of the two murderers would be out to the media in less than half an hour. Facial recognition software from Texas and adjoining states’ driver license photos would be run and then move out from there, including arrest and prison mug shots.

“Excuse me, Ranger. Who’s going to tell his wife and kids?” the young trooper asked.

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