Today's Reading

The entry wound from the bullet that had killed him looked surprisingly small. She leaned over his back, put one gloved finger under his chin and lifted his head a fraction of an inch. They were not going to find an exit wound—the area under his face was clean. So the bullet was still in his head—good; the crime lab might get some news off that.

The smell wasn't bad yet. She took a deep breath to get her olfactory nerves adjusted, so she could ignore it as it got worse. What was left of the windshield, and the undamaged window on the driver's right, were streaked with blood. The blood streaks, in turn, were festooned with clinging fragments of dust and pollen. She felt an impulse to close the window but quelled it—it was crime scene evidence that the driver's side window was open. Open, in this weather? She made a note and went on.

She kept turning left, typing notes on her tablet. Most of the spatter had stayed up front. The chase car must have come from behind, and never quite caught up—even the two shots that had come in through the open window had buried themselves above the windshield. The one lucky shot that killed the driver must have been fired on an inside curve. By the end of her first turn she had a dozen questions in the hasty code she used for first impressions: Hi-pow rif—ammo 22 or up - w-sh brok, right wind not?? Where casings from (how many) shots?

Wanting answers, she climbed out of the van and asked the two gardeners, who were still jittering nearby, 'Tell me how this trouble started.' She had scrolled back to what Delaney told her when he gave her the case: 'People working outside heard shots and yelling.'

Usually the story changed considerably in the telling, but today the crew members confirmed what Delaney had told her.

'Shots is what I heard first,' Henry said. He wore an air of being in charge of the whole place. When she'd asked, he said he was head of the grounds crew, which seemed to be this two-man team.

'Yeah, and then a lotta yelling,' the younger man said, 'out on the road.' His pocket said his name was Jacob. He avoided eye contact, had trouble with r's and l's and a nervous habit of scratching his elbow. Sarah noted these quirks as she always did, handy reminders when she had to get acquainted with a group in a hurry.

'Two shooters with high-powered weapons,' Henry said, 'hanging out the rear windows and they shot fast. Yelling and shooting, going bam bam bam...' He did his best Tom Cruise imitation.

'About what time was this, do you remember?'

'Uuuhhh,' Henry looked pointlessly at his watch as if he expected it to tell him how many minutes had passed since the van grazed his shins. 'Few minutes after eleven.'

'Good. Thanks.' Knowing the time of death would save some time for the coroner who got this autopsy. They were always overloaded, so you earned some credit with the coroner if you helped speed up the process. Sarah was a careful collector of credits.

'The yelling,' she said, 'could you hear what they said?'

Henry turned his hands over and looked at Jacob, who shrugged. 'No idea,' Jacob said.

Henry added, 'Spanish.'

As she watched them over her glasses, they began to nod, each encouraging the other to go on. Finally Henry said, '...And then our van, this one here, came through the gate very fast. We was working over there near the entrance, spreading gravel on the plant beds next to the driveway. That van missed killing the two of us, Jesus, just by inches.'

Emphatic head-shakes from Henry and a little groan from Jacob, who said, 'But it did miss us, but then it didn't stop! Crashed right into the garage door when it was only halfway up. That got it stopped all right, but the motor kept on running.' 'But right behind it—I mean right behind,' Henry said, 'the shooters' car come roaring in—and man, it was lucky we'd already jumped out of the way of our shuttle bus or they'd a' got us for sure. Because them bozos wasn't thinking about anything but killing, never looked at a friggin' thing but our van. I never seen anything like it—we coulda been sticks and stones for all they cared!'

'Wasn't for these cops here,' Jacob said, nodding at the tape-stringers, 'we'd a been dead ducks right now.'

'These patrolmen my partner's talking to?' Sarah said. 'They were the ones chasing the shooters?'

'With lights and sirens going soon as they turned onto Silverbell at the light up there,' Jacob said. He got excited, waved his arms. 'And the shooters, soon as they heard the sirens they started yelling at each other. All in that Mex lingo, but it wasn't hard to guess what they were saying.'

'Oh? What do you think they were saying?'

'"Let's get the hell outta Dodge!" Right, Henry?'

'Right. And did they ever—look what they done to our perfect gravel.' He waved mournfully at the trenches in the freshly manicured grounds. 'Three days we been rakin' this place, we had it smooth as a new baby's ass.'

'Even so, I guess we should be grateful,' Jacob said. 'They'd a run over us without battin' an eye if we happened to be standin' in the way.'

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