Prising open the stiff fingers of the right hand, Dana showed me the weapon with its pearl handled grip. “Some fancy piece!” She flicked open the chamber. “Three shots fired.” I could smell the faint residue of cordite in the barrel; it must have been fired just a few hours ago. We shipped the body to county morgue in Santa Ana and sat back to figure out what to do.
I had spent three years in Houston, working with their family unit but when the job in Moran County came up, Chief Mulligan pushed me to apply.
“Look, Kiddo, this is your best shot at promo. Lazy little hick town miles from anywhere. Go for it!”
I said, “I know nothing about Mex/Tex profiles and less about homicide! They’ll laugh me out of office in a fortnight!
“You need to show them what a woman can do! Besides, there’s no serious crime down there.” So I took the job.
Two weeks later, Diego Lopez was wiped on the high road.
I left the forensics to Dana and the local team and headed out to find where Lopez had lived. Someone had to tell his family. I wore my best outfit with shiny boots and cap to impress. It had to be good; down here they’d never seen a female cop before. Regulations said I should be armed but I figured I could leave my firearm at the station.This was a sympathy call.
Among the shacks down by the river, everybody knew where his family lived. I was surprised to find it was a substantial brick house set back some way from the hovels around it. A high wire fence kept in a pair of Dobermans and I thanked God. From the gate I could see several figures gathered under the ramada at the front of the house. One of them cut away and approached me. He was a thin man with a face tanned by many years in the sun. His hair was blue black and slicked back from his brow to form a shiny cowl of hair above his narrow face. He stared at me through the gate.
“You come to tell me bad or good news?” He spoke sharply as if to impose himself and intimidate me. “Come! Abuela wants to speak with you!”
I ignored the question and waited while he chained the dogs and unlocked the gate. The walk up to the house took a slice out of my self-confidence. The crowd remained silent as they watched me climb the path, but I took my time and stared ahead. As I reached the steps I saw an old woman in the centre of the group. She sat on an old rattan chair like a queen, her white hair covered by a black mantilla.
The thin man spoke. “She wants to know who you are.”
“You can see on my badge. My name is Kali Kuresh. I’m the new sheriff of this county.”
She looked me up and down and stared for a moment, then she spoke in Spanish to the man.
“She wants to know where the man in charge is.”
I stared back. “I’m in charge.”
“She wants to know where your gun is.”
“I don’t need a gun when I pay my condolences to the family. This time she gave the slightest of nods, as if accepting my statement. Then she spoke directly to me.
“What you do to catch asesino? My blood is in el suelo.”
“Suelo?” I said.
The man spoke. “Her family’s blood is in the ground, she needs to find the culpable.”
“I have a team working on it right now and we are searching the county for a damaged vehicle.” I hoped to God that it might be true. “Who can tell me about Diego’s movements last night?”
A tall dark skinned girl in a black dress stood up and raised her hand. “I know what he did.” She came towards me but the thin man put his arm out to stop her. She pushed him aside and came on to meet me.
“I was with him last night-I’ll tell you what you want to know.”
Her eyes were rimmed in red and I could see a mark on her cheek where someone or something had struck her.
“OK, come down to the station and we’ll take a statement.” It was my first mistake. Two young men stood up and moved towards me giving me the hard stare.
“No! She goes nowhere!” The thin man put his hand inside his jacket; he was carrying a friend. That moment I swore to myself I would never go unarmed again.
“Calle te!” The matriarch stood up and brandished her stick at the men. She spoke quietly but firmly in Spanish and the men stepped back. The girl looked at me and pointed to the open door of the house. I followed her inside, brushing through the group of sneering men. I kept my head up and looked ahead.
She draped herself on a velvet sofa and took a cigarette from a box on the table. Despite her sad eyes she radiated a certain confidence as if she knew something important but kept schtum.
“Do you know about El Calavera?”
I was about to find out.