27 Any Other Day
It wasn’t the best way to deal with evidence, the Sheriff knew, but this was pretty far from normal. The bucket with its shards of bloody broken glass sat on the seat beside him, on top of a clipboard. A bagged lunch from the drive-through sat beside the pail. A far from normal way to transport evidence. That would have to change once he got back to the station.
As it was, Hollabird knew that if, when, he had to go to the FBI, he would look like some local yokel hick Sheriff. In charge of a collection of tumbleweeds, scorpions and the people that could live with both. And that would be partially true, he supposed, but he needed to be taken seriously, needed the evidence, the story he was about to present to be taken seriously.
Marsha raised an eyebrow at him as he walked into the station with the pail in one hand in his lunch in the other. Once his back was turned, he grinned, listening as she trailed behind him, her curiosity piqued.
Once in his office, he set the pail on top of his desk and donned a fresh pair of latex gloves, taking a small plastic evidence bag and depositing some of the blood-stained glass shards within. The rest of the pail was carefully placed into a larger plastic bag and then stowed away in the safe. Part of his reasoning was of course to preserve the evidence, but it was also a fail-safe, keeping something back just in case.
Holding a sheaf of papers in her hands, Marsha watched from the door as he took the cardboard box with the bloodied clothing and the blade. Carefully, he swabbed some of the blood from the handle of the knife, not just once, but from several places.
With so much blood, there was no way to know what would be hers and what would be his, but he did know that when most people used a knife, unless they were professionals, they ended up cutting themselves into the bargain. Hollabird was willing to bet that Brightman was no professional. Maybe that changed later on, but at the time when the crime occurred, he doubted it.
All of the swabs were labeled and then he put the whole lot into another bag. While he crouched down to put all the evidence, save the samples that he had just taken, back into the safe, he spoke over his shoulder. Marsha hadn’t moved from her place by the door.
“Did you look up the address for the lab in Yuma for me?” He knew that she had, and just smiled as she mm’ hmm’ed at him, hiding it before he stood again. “And the FBI in Phoenix? You got the name of the agent I’d be speaking to?” Another mm’ hmm. Turning to face her, he took the sheaf of papers from her hands, with all the information he had asked for earlier, before he had left for the Toretto garage. “And the…,” he made a fussy motion with his hands, as though he had forgotten what he was about to say and earned a fleeting smile from her. “What is it again, the name and number of the new Sheriff in El Centro?”
Hollabird could tell she was biting the inside of her lip so that she wouldn’t smile at him outright. It would destroy the cool air of aloof that she had worked so hard on. “What exactly are you planning, John?”
She was one of the few people that could call the Sheriff by his first name. Leaning in, he kissed the top of her head as he walked by, making sure he was on the other side of the doorway before he said anything. “I’m fixing to make up for all the goddamned swearing I do, ma’am.”
He didn’t quite run the last few steps to the front door of the station. But it was close.
Mia looked across at Amber who had fallen into a fitful sleep in the passenger seat; she was amazed that Amber could sleep at all after what had happened. Then again, it was all that had happened that had taken the strength from her.
It left Mia feeling pissed off, but not at Amber; there was no way that she could be pissed off at her. It was so many things. Amber’s husband, all the people in Amber’s life that could have done something and chose not to. She was mad at herself and Dom both for their initial mistrust and all the problems that had caused in Amber’s life.
A small part of Mia that she felt ashamed of blamed Amber, for not getting out sooner, but what did Mia know? No one had ever hit her. No one would dare; Dom would have beaten them to death for it. Not once in her life had anyone abused her like that so she had no idea what it would do to her as a person; it was easy to talk about what Amber should have done.
That she had even had the thought made Mia feel even more protective; Amber had become like family, one of them. The thought that someone could hurt her, could reach out from the past and injure her further, had Mia white knuckle the wheel. It took a conscious effort not to stamp on the accelerator.
The very few times in Mia’s life when things had been rough, when she had been old enough to know that her life wasn’t as peaceful as Dom had tried to make it, had only stood in stark contrast to the life that she had. That Dom had worked so hard to provide. Mia’s life had been good; she had always felt safe, had a family, if an odd one. There had only been two times where she had felt completely alone and in one of those she had Brian so it wasn’t the same.
Even when Amber should have had someone, she had been alone. No family, no one. What few friends that she had she had found on her own afterwards, unsure if she had them, or if she could keep them. It was no wonder Amber was a wreck, frazzled. Mia couldn’t imagine having all of her family, both those by blood and those she had gathered along the way, suddenly gone or never having had them in the first place. She didn’t know if she could live with that level of fear.
What she wanted to do was pull Amber into a tight hug, but she was worried that she might startle her awake. Amber raised her arm to ward off whatever chased her in her sleep as Mia reached out gently to touch her arm. There was nothing for it and Amber jumped, instantly awake. “Damn! I didn’t know I was going to fall asleep.”
“I’d be wiped out too,” Mia said quietly. “Come on.”
Stretching, Amber arched her back as she got out of the car, rubbing her eyes in a bid to wake up. It was always odd to fall asleep in one place and wake up in another but it was unnerving when that place wasn’t all that far from where she had fled in the first place.
Unbidden, she got oriented and turned her head in the direction of where they had lived, where Alan now lived alone, like she expected to see his car scream down the street towards her. She knew that she was safe, that Alan was gone, but it still left her unnerved.
Mia steered her towards the front door of a small townhouse, feeling Amber relax the moment the door was locked at her back. “Just let me send the sitter home. Make yourself at home.” Toeing her shoes off, Mia walked down the hallway, peeking into a few rooms.
“You’ve actually seen where I live, haven’t you?” Laughing a little, Amber kicked off her shoes and walked into a very cozy family room. It wasn’t messy, just comfortable and lived in. Toys were dotted around the room, left on the sofa or underneath the table where they ended up. A stack of kids movies by the TV. Books everywhere and pictures on the wall of Mia, Brian and two children that looked like one or the other, depending on who they were next to when photographed.
“He was a lot younger then.”
Amber didn’t jump, just turned and looked over her shoulder at Mia; she hadn’t heard her come back into the room. The house was quiet again.
Smiling, Amber turned back to the pictures that had caught her eye. They were in a small group close to a chair that looked comfortable for reading; Mia’s chair. It was hard for Amber to picture Dom looking any different than he did now, but he did. He looked cockier then, more arrogant and even in the pictures that were candid, he appeared to be posing for the camera. Or for something.
That thought was shared by both women; the changes in Dom had often struck Mia since he had been let out of prison. There was no way that she could explain to anyone that hadn’t known Dom then just how deep those changes were. No way to make it clear without diminishing him in some way. So Mia said nothing as Amber took a last look at the small collection and stood.
Amber looked at Mia with the same introspection as she had with the pictures. “You were a lot younger then too.”
“We were all a lot younger then. Not everyone made it.” It was hard to look at the pictures sometimes but it was harder to put them away; she had tried.
“Man, aren’t I just a little ray of sunshine.” Amber ran her hands over her face as she turned back to face Mia. “I didn’t mean to bring up…”
“Don’t worry about it; it was a long time ago.” They had talked about the team but talk was one thing and pictures were another. Jesse would always be the hardest and Letty would always be the easiest when it came to forgetting.
The last thing that Mia wanted to do at the moment was dwell on the past. Amber’s monsters were scarier than hers by far. “I’ll get us something to drink before I make up a bed for you.”
The word ‘bed’ had Amber smile, even though she tried to hide it; she was exhausted, not physically but emotionally.
It wasn’t lost on Mia. “You know, I hate making the bed, do you want to help me with this?” A small lie but Mia knew that Amber would struggle to stay awake if Mia didn’t make it easier for her.
“Sure. Where do you keep the sheets and stuff?” Mia pointed and Amber walked down the hall, tiptoeing past the kids bedrooms, to a linen closet at the end of the hall.
While Amber got the sheets, Mia moved some of the boxes off the mattress in their spare bedroom, stashing them in the closet. It was the room that Mia and Brian had set aside for Dom, hoping that he would stay with them when he got out of prison. Eventually, Brian was supposed to move the queen size bed out and move one of the kids’ beds in but it just hadn’t happened.
Mia had never really given up hope that Dom would give up his self-exile in the desert and move in with them. An idea that Brian had never shot down, not really; he would sigh in that quiet way that he had. Later, when Mia had stopped fussing at the room, he would tell her that Dom would never move in, that he couldn’t. He had explained to her once, that it would be emasculating for him to move in with the younger sister that he had struggled to raise all his life, to possibly be a burden to her. It was hard for Mia to understand; all she wanted was for him to be happy.
The top cover was just for show and Mia pulled it off the bed, leaving it on a chair. Quietly the two women split up on either side of the bed to put on the bottom sheet. Wrestle with the bottom sheet was more like it. “Damn, no wonder you hate making the bed.” Amber chased one corner of the sheet as it zinged across the bed. “Are all the beds like this?”
Leaning heavily into the bed, Mia held onto her corner and laughed. “No, it’s just this one. Figures.”
Digging her nails in, Amber pulled her end again, getting the corner over the end of the bed. It felt like victory and she beamed up at Mia, who still had the giggles.
“We wanted Dom to move in with us; this was supposed to be his room.” Mia switched to the remaining corner and fought with it.
“Stubborn, huh? Who knew?” At that, both women fell on the bed laughing, trying to keep their voices down so they wouldn’t wake the kids down the hall.
Mia got up first and held Amber’s shoulder down. “Go to sleep; this has been one hell of a long day. Maybe it’ll make more sense tomorrow.” It was wishful thinking, she knew, but what else was there?
Once Amber had laid down she knew she didn’t want to get out of bed; it had sucked her into its gravity, the sheets cool and crisp, the mattress soft. Her words softened, already lulled into sleep. “I don’t think this will ever make any sense.”
Mia gently covered her up, staying at the side of the bed for a minute before she went to check on her children. “No, probably not. But it will be over.”
At that Amber smiled, before exhaustion pulled her under.
With nowhere left to turn, left to run, Mike didn’t care if Brightman spotted him, which was just as well, as there was no way that he could be missed. No longer hiding in that strange mirage shimmer that could conceal so much in the desert, Mike crept even closer to Brightman’s black sedan, settling into a comfortable three car length distance.
It wasn’t comfortable for Brightman, he knew. At first the black sedan made that tell-tale shimmy from side to side as the driver fidgeted with the wheel, looking for a place to run. Finding none. Enough cool not to gun the engine, but Brightman sped up, little by little, until the landscape flew by in a blur of stunted low bushes that bled into a mud brown flow beside the road. Mike stayed on his tail and, every once in a while, he edged a little closer.
Up in the distance, hidden in the last of the evening’s shimmering mirage effect, a strange jagged line cut across the road. It might have simply been the border but Mike didn’t think so. Out here, in the middle of nowhere, the border was manned by one or two guards in a shack. A wooden arm came down across the road. That was the extent of it, and it looked nothing like what was up ahead.
The mirage shimmered again and Mike blinked, quickly squinting his eyes against the telltale flash of light.
Something he knew from experience was sunlight glinting off binocular lenses. Someone watched them.
Too late by far to stop and find out who it was, and Brightman showed no sign that he had even noticed as of yet. Anyone but Brightman, on any other day, and Mike would have stopped and did a thorough examination of the area, to find out what he was about to step in. Any other day.
The mirage effect shifted as they got closer, moving further down the road to just behind the line of eight motorbikes strung casually across the road. In the middle, straddling the painted middle line with a purpose, a man stood with binoculars raised and Mike squinted again against the brief flash, almost feeling the inspection.
Apparently he had passed and a cloud of desert dust rose up as riders pulled their bikes off the road. Brightman swerved imperceptibly again and Mike almost thought that he might go off the road, taking out as many of the bikers s he could before he went. Quickly, the sedan righted itself and whistled in between the two rows of hard-faced men. Clad in leather, oil-soaked dirty denim. All of them armed, that was clear. Shotguns out, pointed down at the road, they waited for something, but Brightman, and apparently Mike, weren’t it.
Mike recognized a face as he swept past; Jim Carpenter, one of the mechanics from Toretto’s garage. Binoculars in one hand, a shotgun cradled easily in the crook of his opposite arm like he was born to carry it, Jim raised his fingers in a quiet salute as Mike flew past, headed for the Mexican border.
The parking lot was empty when the Sheriff pulled up to Yuma Medical Labs, so he parked his cruiser in a slot right near the front. There was a lone car down at the far end, and that was pulling out. It was late, almost six o’clock; the lab would close in about three hours.
The lone lab tech was sharpening pencils with an electric sharpener, lining them all up perfectly against a stack of files, as he walked in. The tech was a young man, and clearly not a doctor; he lacked the arrogance that a sheepskin tended to convey. As soon as the door closed behind the Sheriff, the bells tinkling and jangling in the silence, the tech had swept all of the pencils off the desk into a drawer in an attempt to at least look busy.
Clearly bored out of his mind. Which suited the Sheriff just fine; the young Ms Arlington had been dead for a long time and wasn’t going anywhere but that didn’t mean that he wanted to be put onto the bottom of a list, waiting for someone to call him back.
The manila envelopes with their blood evidence Hollabird laid on the top of the counter that separated him from the tech, leaning his elbows heavily on the counter. The good old boy routine wouldn’t fly with the FBI in Phoenix but it would serve him well here; it wasn’t the first time he had been to the lab.
“Evenin’, son.” Without sounding harsh, Hollabird managed to sound authoritative anyway. “Wonder if you wouldn’t mind runnin’ some of this here through for me.” The files got moved from the counter top to right in front of the tech.
The tech looked down at the files that he hadn’t been working on when the Sheriff had walked in, looked at the manila folders and then up at the Sheriff. “I’ve got a few tests to run ahead of yours, sir, I’m sorry.”
Taking a long, nearly theatrical look around the empty lobby of the lab, Hollabird leaned in again, a good-natured grin on his face. “Son, there isn’t anyone else here.” He looked down at the drawer where the tech stashed all the sharpened pencils when he came in; the tech looked guilty. “This,” he patted the envelope carefully, “Will at least keep you busy for a little bit.” He edged the manila envelopes a little closer to the tech, covering the files that the young man had been working on.
Switching tacks, Hollabird stood back a little, the Sheriff’s badge just that much more prominent. “Listen, you’re here all day right?” The tech nodded automatically. “I’m guessing they don’t feed you, ‘cept maybe for some sort of packaged sandwich deal or something. Probably comes in offa truck and everything.” The way Hollabird said it, he could have been describing something he’d scrape off the bottom of his boot.
The tech nodded again, and Hollabird pressed for his advantage. “How about this. You take care of this first,” he motioned to the evidence he brought with him. “And I’ll go pick you up something half decent to eat. There’s this place down by the base there, they have this chili….mmmm, mmm! That stuff is to die for. Shame you can’t have a beer with that.”
Another theatrical look around the lobby, subtle and conspiratorial, and the tech was reeled in. Not that it was that hard; the young man was stuck there until the end of the night. There was always a little haggling but one of the things that Hollabird had come to accept as A Great Truth was that young men were easily swayed by their stomachs.
“I…I don’t think I could.” The tech didn’t look all that certain but he hadn’t said no outright either.
“It’ll be our little secret.” Hollabird tapped the counter and took a step towards the door, as though the deal had been struck; knowing that if the tech didn’t stop him before he reached the front door, that it would be.
“Okay then, I’ll get a start on that. It could take me a couple of hours. I won’t guarantee that it’ll be done by the time you get back.”
It was an attempt to reassert some authority and Hollabird smiled back politely as the chimes above the door sounded again. “That’s okay, son. I’ll take a good start too. Back in a bit.”
True to his word, the Sheriff drove halfway across Yuma to the finest Mexican place that he knew and purchased a little bit of everything, including a couple of ice cold Coronas that he had the waitress put in a plain brown bag for him. It wouldn’t do for a lawman to drive around with beer lying out in the open where anyone could witness. Not that there was anyone to witness.
He took his time, chatting with his server for a short while before he left; it was slow everywhere, and he wanted to be sure that the tech was too involved in a test to stop. An hour later, he pulled back into the same empty parking lot, balancing the feast in his arms as the door to the lab sucked shut behind him. The tech grinned; he hadn’t thought the Sheriff was serious.
It changed the tech’s mood considerably and he stood up, finally shaking the Sheriff’s hand. When Hollabird set the two ice-cold Coronas on the counter, the tech broke into a huge grin, before he covered them back up again.
“Thanks! I’m just waiting for a couple of tests to run their course; it shouldn’t be too much longer.”
“Thanks, son.” Hollabird pointed back out at his cruiser as the tech peered into another of the paper sacks on the counter. “No offense, but lab smells give me the jim-jams.”
The tech looked up, momentarily puzzled, and then he laughed out loud. “I’ll bring it out when it’s done. Do you want any of this? Maybe one of the beers?” The last was said warily, like something he could pull back if he had to.
“Now THAT would get me in a whole world of trouble. It’s cooling down out there, I was thinking of maybe catching a few zz’s.” While looking like a good old boy didn’t work all the time, or for everything, it did have its uses. It ensured that people never saw him as anything but what he presented himself to be, a simple small town law man. In the reflection of the front doors, he watched as the tech took a scoop of some chili, set the bowl down, and move into the back.
Out in his cruiser, Hollabird eased his seat back slightly, leaning back and tilting his hat down. He didn’t sleep but looked like he could be, if no one looked too hard. About an hour and a half later, the tech came out the front door with the evidence envelopes tucked under his arm. Hollabird made a show of being startled awake before he tilted his hat back and leaned out of his window.
The tech squatted down on his haunches, on a level with the window, holding the envelopes out. “I got a positive hit on only one of the swabs. Can you tell me what this is all about?” The tech wasn’t supposed to know anything about the tests that he ran but the truth was that his job was as dull as dirt; he couldn’t be blamed for being a little excited.
Tucking the envelopes against the dash, Hollabird turned back to the kid, dropping to a conspiratorial tone. “I can’t say at the moment, but when it all cracks open, I’ll make sure to drop you a call personally, okay?”
A little excited at being in the middle of who knew what sort of a case, the tech grinned sheepishly, standing up and backing away again. “Thanks for bringing me dinner, sir. Hope that works out, whatever it is.”
Tipping his hat, the Sheriff pulled out of the parking lot; he wanted to be somewhere away from prying eyes when he opened the envelope. A positive hit. That was all that he needed to hear, but he wanted to see the results with his own eyes.
On a deserted stretch of road, the Sheriff pulled onto the shoulder, taking the envelope from the dash. It didn’t tell him anything that he didn’t know before, but it did set that knowledge down in a concrete scientific way that would be very hard for others to dismiss. Blood from the glass shards matched blood taken from the knife that the private detective had sent him. Brightman was definitely involved.
Back in his station, Hollabird stood before his fax machine, ready to send the results to the FBI agent in Phoenix that Marsha had spoken to earlier. It was late, just past nine at night; no one would get to his fax until the following morning anyway. It wouldn’t hurt to wait till then.
Sighing, he left his hat on the desk, put his feet up and pulled the phone closer. “Hi, ma’am. Can I speak to Sheriff Garrison, please?”
“May I ask what this is about?” Businesslike and clipped; he could hear the secretary rustle papers as she set about preparing to take a message.
“It’s about a cold case. Janet Arlington. And he’s going to want to take this, ma’am. This is Sheriff Hollabird from Desolation.” The name Arlington had the secretary sharply inhale, which she covered, or tried to, with a soft cough.
Hollabird closed his eyes after looking at the fax machine one last time. If the Sheriff in El Centro was going to screw him over, he’d have the time to do it before Hollabird could call the FBI again in the morning. The chance of the local Sheriff wanting to continue a potential cover up was small but there was always a chance. Hollabird rolled the dice; he wouldn’t have if there hadn’t been a change of office since Arlington’s death.
Hollabird didn’t know if Garrison had picked up his phone habits from his secretary or if it was the other way around but they both had the same clipped businesslike like tone. “Hollabird from Desolation.”
Hollabird could do businesslike as well and, with the evidence envelope in front of him, he spelled out what was known about the disappearance and murder of Janet Arlington, and Brightman’s involvement. The phone was quiet on the other side, save for the scribbling of notes from time to time, Garrison didn’t interrupt, not once. Notably, Garrison didn’t argue or downplay either, which gave Hollabird some hope.
While the FBI was, or could be, effective in these types of cases, it went against his grain to go to the FBI. It would be easier if the El Centro Sheriff would act. But if he didn’t, then Hollabird had no compunction about going to the feds. One way or another, Arlington would be found.
It was quiet on the other side of the line for a moment or two, as Garrison finished up writing whatever notes that he was writing. Hollabird had heard the telltale sound of a recording device when he started the conversation. Pretty standard procedure, but like the silent attentiveness, it gave Hollabird hope. If Garrison was going to softball it, at best, or cover it up, at worst, he wouldn’t have recorded the conversation or taken notes. He wouldn’t have wanted the evidence lying around that he had been told about Arlington.
“So where does this leave us, Hollabird.” Garrison was a little quieter but no less businesslike.
“I’m holding onto the evidence. If there isn’t some concrete sign that something’s being done to find that poor girl, I’m turning the whole mess over to the FBI.” There was no anger, no threats, just a crystal clear certainty.
“This isn’t your jurisdiction.”
“It’s come to me nonetheless.” Briefly, Hollabird spelled out the connection that Amber had to the case, to the murderer. That her life would be in danger if Brightman wasn’t stopped, that he might come back and kill her as well as another woman in Hollabird’s jurisdiction. What it might do to Garrison’s career to have known the danger involved and have done nothing. “I made a promise to see this through, and one way or another, that’s exactly what I intend to do. Jurisdiction be damned.”
“Fair enough. Do you have a number where you can be reached?”
Copyright © April 2008 xxxevilgrinxxx