I'll just have one quick go at the crossword, Sarah Burke told herself, and then I'll get my lazy buns out of this chair and take Denny shopping.
A mall run on the first Saturday after Christmas had never come close to making her Favorite Treats list. In fact, it was near the top of her secret WOO list, composed of things she usually tried to Weasel Out Of. But she had promised this trip on Christmas morning, when gift money fell out of cards and began burning a hole in her niece's pocket.
No question, Denny had earned the favor. Ever since they moved into the house on Bentley Street, she'd been doing more than her share to support this improbable household. Several times in the hectic months since Sarah and Will Dietz had cobbled their family together under one roof, Sarah had thought, My lover, my mother and my niece? Even the French wouldn't try to make this movie.
But against all odds, it was working pretty well. And eleven-year-old Denny's helpful hands, especially in the kitchen, had been a big part of that success. Abandoned by her addicted mother after years of neglect, she had bounced back from the self-abusing waif Sarah had adopted last year and shown how much juice and humor a willing pre-teen could contribute to the lives of striving adults. So if a mall run today felt like pulling teeth without a sedative, Sarah had made up her mind to suck up and do it anyway, with a smile.
But just a little self-indulgence first, to help me stay patient, even if Denny sets a new desert southwest record for the number of jeans tried on in a single day.
She poured a second coffee, yawned and stretched. Around her, the house on Bentley Street hummed with Saturday morning sounds – Aggie's mixer whirring in the kitchen, Will running a power drill out in his shop. And down the hall from the breakfast table where she sat, Denny's favorite hip-hop music rattled her bedroom door.
Sarah was counting the letters in 'ebullient' when her cell played the opening bars of 'On the Road Again.'
'Looks like we might be growing some new brand of stupid,' Delaney said. Her sergeant was still at home too, she could tell: his background noises were TV cartoons and a barking dog, definitely not homicide division. 'Some numbskull all by himself, stripping copper wire in full view of heavy traffic. Ripping it out of the power hook-up in front of an abandoned warehouse on Flowing Wells and stashing it in his pick-up.'
'Easier to see what you're doing in daylight, I guess,' Sarah said, waiting for the real news. She knew he hadn't called to talk about wire theft.
'No doubt. And then deciding to shoot it out with the officer who caught him at it. That was brilliant, too.'
Ah. Well, there goes Saturday.
'Officer's name is Spurlock. He called it in and he's waiting at the scene for you. Should be three backups covering the scene by now, and the ME's on his way – I caught Greenberg before he started his morning run. I'll be along as soon as I get everybody else called.' She was starting to hang up when she heard him say, apparently from a little distance, 'Oh, say—' Then he came back on, in full voice, and added, 'The IR guy's running a little late, too – he wants to meet us downtown. So will you secure our shooter's weapon and shield until I get there?'
Oh, sure, boss. Why wouldn't I be glad to be the one to strip him of his most important possessions? All she said was, 'OK.'
On her way to gear up, she stuck her head in Denny's room and said, 'I'm sorry but the mall's got to wait, babe. I just got called to work.'
'Drat,' her niece said. But then quickly added, 'Oh, well, the sales will still be on tomorrow.' She'd been living in Sarah's house long enough to adopt a cop's-kid attitude: stuff happens; work can't wait; live with it. Anyway, she had fresh Christmas loot – a new iPad that was never out of her sight and shared the bed with her now – so she had plenty to keep her occupied.
'Got a call, huh?' Dietz said, coming into their bedroom while Sarah was dressing. It was the closest he would come to offering sympathy. The good thing about two-cop couples was they both had plenty of experience with wrecked weekends, and knew bitching only made things worse.
Will Dietz was a nondescript man, noticeable only for the scars left from a firefight he'd inadvertently walked into a couple of years ago. They had fallen passionately in love during his recovery, just as her obligations to her abandoned niece and ailing mother were threatening to overwhelm her. His efforts had rescued them all, doing most of the work to move everybody into this one old house near two good schools. Now Denny was powering through middle school and Sarah's mother had a nice guest house in the backyard and the assisted living she needed. Undemonstrative, stoical and steady, he had quietly become Sarah's North Pole.
As for the Saturday night date they had planned, they could see the movie later, Will said. 'And should I cancel the dinner reservation?'
'Guess you better,' Sarah said. 'Officer-involved shooting and a fatality, so I'll be gone a while.'
'Well, nice to have known you,' Dietz said, their standard black humor for these times. He kissed her neck and went back outside to prep the new lumber he'd been cutting – he was fixing the crumbled wainscoting in the hall.
On her way out, she stopped at Denny's room again to ask her to keep an eye on her grandmother. 'I heard her mixer going; she's cooking up a storm out there. If she starts to fade she might need some help with the cleanup.'
'She said she was thinking about banana bread.' Denny giggled and hopped off the bed. 'I'll go ask her if she needs me to lick the bowl.'
Dietz had taught her how to light the old gas oven, because Aggie got dizzy bending over. Denny would do that first, Sarah knew, and then find a spoon and clean out that bowl till it hardly needed a rinse. How could you not make a trip to the mall for a kid as good as that?
Although, maybe by tomorrow ... if she found something on the internet ... Would she think it was fun to have something delivered by UPS?
Officer Spurlock looked unusually pale for a Tucson street cop, Sarah thought. A little sweaty, too, despite an ambient outdoor temperature of fifty-seven degrees. He was standing very straight by his black-and-white squad car in a trash-strewn gravel parking lot that surrounded an empty warehouse on Flowing Wells. Two of his fellow officers were stringing crime-scene tape around the entire lot. A third patrolman, whose name badge read, 'T. Garry,' had set up a surveillance post across the lot's driveway, holding a clipboard inside a posse box. Inside the tape, a police photographer carried two bags of camera equipment toward a tarp-covered mound that lay near a pickup in the otherwise-empty lot.
Sarah said, 'Hi, Tim,' signed the sheet on the clipboard Garry handed her and timed herself in at 10:03 a.m. Walking carefully to keep out of dog poop and some prickly-looking weeds, she approached Spurlock, showed him her badge and announced herself the first detective on the scene.
'Glad to see you,' he said. 'Glad to see anybody at all, actually. Felt like forever I stood here alone with that body.'
'How long was it really?'
'Twelve minutes till the EMT team got here. Took them about two minutes to pronounce him dead and be on their way. Then a hundred years or so went by till these two guys,' he nodded toward the two men working on the tape, 'showed up and told me to stand over here and wait. I did that for another century till this photographer walked in and said the same thing. Been standing here like a dork since before I was born, it feels like ...' Hearing himself begin to babble, he stopped and swallowed. Then he quickly added the one other thing he simply had to say to somebody. 'This guy didn't leave me any choice at all, you know?'
'You'll have a chance to tell me all about that, and anything else you want to tell me. But we have to take this one step at a time. You were the first responder, is that right?'
'Yes, ma'am. First and only, for what seemed like a long time.'
'OK. Detective is probably better than ma'am for this occasion. Or you can just call me Sarah. Do you know if the items in the pickup were stolen from this building?'
'Beats the hell out of me – I never had time to find out.'
'I see. Did you just happen across this scene or did somebody call in a complaint?'
'Alert seniors drinking beer over there in the bar called it in – see the little sign on the second floor of that warehouse? Somebody converted that room to a bar, I guess, and all the patrons were having fun watching this guy work for a while. Then they talked it over and decided that even if this place is abandoned, this mutt probably shouldn't be wrecking it, so they called nineone-one.'
'You get their names?'
'No. The minute I got here I saw that guy pulling wire out of that power box and called for backup. He wasn't moving very fast but I saw him spooling out wire, and I could see that the back of his truck' – he licked his lips, as if his mouth was dry – 'was full of those fixtures that looked like they'd just been ripped out of somewhere, and I thought, I gotta stop him, so I—'
He stopped and made a small hissing sound, like somebody who's just been hit in the gut. Following his stare, Sarah saw that the photographer had pulled the tarp off the mound. A dead white man lay there, face up, with a bright smear of blood under his head.
'Officer Spurlock,' Sarah said, 'are you sure this is a fatality?'
'Well, the ME isn't here yet, but the head guy on the EMT team said he was qualified to call it and he did – no use transporting a dead body, he said, and he called the ME to take care of it. Take a look if you— Do you think he's still alive?'
'No, but I'm puzzled – where's all the blood? Just hang on here a second while I take a look, OK?' She hurried toward the motionless body on the ground. She had recently had a corpse at a crime scene begin to move. It was not an experience she expected to forget, or wanted to repeat.
Buddy Norris was the police photographer today. A methodical man who didn't like distractions, he said sharply, 'I'm not done yet, Sarah.' Which meant get the hell out of my crime scene. And the rules said he was right. An iron-clad rule at a crime scene was to take a picture of everything before you touch anything.
'Buddy, I'm not touching anything, I just have to get one look. Because if this is a fatality where's all the— Oh.'
Spurlock's first shot must have been a thousand-to-one successful crime-stopper that entered just below his chin. It appeared to have kept going straight back, probably through his spinal cord. Or was buried in it? Either way, there wouldn't have been much bleeding after that bullet found its target. This man was probably dead when he hit the ground. Nice shooting, Officer Spurlock.
She walked back and stood beside the young officer. 'Looks like your suspect died really fast,' she said. She glanced through her notes and found his first name. 'Daniel,' she said, watching the nerve twitch in his cheek, 'is this your first shooting?'
'Yes, it is,' Spurlock said, 'and I gotta tell you, it does not feel good.'
'It never does,' Sarah said. 'I would be quite alarmed if you said it did. But you and I are going to have to walk this scene together while you tell me everything you can remember about what happened here. And then, once the rest of my crew gets here, you and I will go downtown and meet somebody from Internal Affairs. I'll sit in while he interviews you and we'll make out the preliminary report. First, though,' she said, pulling on gloves, 'I have to ask you for your badge and your weapon. As of now you're on paid investigative leave, Daniel.' She watched his eyes darken for a couple of seconds and got ready for an argument, but the moment passed and he pulled his badge off his belt.
'Call me Dan – everybody else does. This doesn't feel so good either,' he said, unclipping the holster that held his Glock.
'I know. Think of it as a nice paid vacation with the family.'
'I'll try. When does it start?'
'As soon as you finish talking to me and Internal Affairs.'
'How long does the investigation take, usually?'
'On average? Three or four months. But you won't get that much time off – just three working days, usually. Though you can request one or two extra if you feel you need it. What shifts are you working?'
'Saturday through Tuesday.'
'So you might get back to work on Tuesday, if all goes well. Check with your duty sergeant. Meanwhile a dozen or so people will be writing their reports – I'll write one, and Delaney, and the Chief of Police after he walks the scene with one of us. Internal Affairs will review the scene and write a report, too, and somebody from the County Attorney's office—'
'Jeez,' he said, 'everybody gets to comment but me?'
'Oh, you'll get interviewed plenty – more than you're going to like, probably. But the more you help me right now, the easier the whole thing will go.' She turned to a fresh page. 'Did you talk to the men who called in the complaint?'
'No. Like I said, the minute I got here I saw that guy and called for backup. I walked over to that bar as soon as the other two patrol cars got here and asked the guy who's running the place to show me who called it in. He said they left right after they ended the call, said they didn't want to get involved.' He shrugged. 'People are funny about that sometimes, aren't they?'
'Yes.' The ME's car had just parked beside hers and she saw Moses Greenberg, a.k.a. the Animal, get out of it and stride impatiently toward the tape. Sarah removed the ammo clip and the last bullet from the chamber of Spurlock's gun, then dropped it and his badge into an evidence bag, saying, 'Will you wait here, please, while I have a word with Doctor Greenberg? Then we'll take a stroll around this lot before we go downtown.'
She walked over and stood beside the doctor, who was already hurling questions across the eight feet of space between him and the photographer. How come the scene was only just getting photographed? Greenberg wanted to know. Where were all the detectives who should be here by now? Had the photographer rolled the body yet? How much longer did the doctor have to wait? Moses Greenberg had a Type-A personality augmented by a fanatical fitness regimen. Running marathons, biking mountain trails and swimming a mile or two a day, he stayed fit and ready to cope with the next crisis, which as often as not he would create himself.
Dr Greenberg was not easy to be around. Sarah liked him anyway, because his standards for himself were even higher than for everybody else, and he had a nice, respectful way with bodies.
Buddy Norris flung back short answers without looking up, making it clear he didn't give a crap about the doctor's anxieties. 'I'll be done here in about five minutes,' he said, 'but then I gotta do all that junk in the pickup and a bunch more in the warehouse. Plenty of time for questions later, Doc.'
'Good morning, Doctor,' Sarah said, and waited through a couple of loud, well-phrased sentences describing everything that was wrong with the way this scene was being handled. His curls and high coloring grew more dramatic as he described the several catastrophic mistakes it was probably already too late to prevent.
When he paused for breath she said, 'Yes, well, you know this is an officer-related shooting? So we'll need detailed descriptions of the number and placement of bullet wounds.'
'Ah. Yes, I suppose you will be quite anxious for that,' Greenberg said, 'considering how little blood I'm seeing. Looks like the poor sap died while he was still falling down.' He looked at her sideways. 'No witnesses, huh?'
'No. Spurlock called for backup but everybody was on another call. It took a few minutes for anybody to get here.'
'Well then,' Greenberg said, 'let's hope all the entry wounds are at the front.'
Not needing any more of Greenberg's black humor just then, Sarah walked quickly back to Spurlock and said, 'Let's take a hike.'
They started at the street. Standing in the driveway in front of Officer Garry's makeshift check-in desk, Spurlock had distance from the body and better concentration. 'Take it from the top,' Sarah said. 'You were on Flowing Wells when you got the call? Heading north or south?'
'Just crossing Wetmore, headed south. Dispatch asked if there was anyone in the vicinity, said witnesses reported somebody burglarizing an abandoned warehouse on Flowing Wells. I called in, said that I was just north of there and I'd take it.'
'So you were approaching from the north, you arrived at this address and turned in right away?'