By Sherry Lawrence
"Wildfire crew found it about an hour ago."
"It's pretty well burned out."
Two Lincoln County Deputies stood several yards from the smoldering chassis of an F-150 pick-up truck. Though the fire crew had
extinguished the flames, the hulk was too hot to approach closely. The ground around the burned out truck was scorched. On the night air
hung the heavy stench of burned rubble.
Off in the distance, some 15 or so miles, the deputies could see the flames of the raging Donaldson wildfire as they burned through the
landscape at a frightening speed.
"Only one body inside?"
"Far as I can tell. Won't know for sure until the rig cools off enough to get a closer look."
The two deputies retreated a few more yards from the truck.
"I could never be a fireman. Geez, that smell!"
"I don't like the smell of anything burned, but the smell of a body. You just can't get that smell out of your head."
"I'm not even sure you can smell the body. Separate from all the rest, I mean. But you can't miss the look of the thing. That's a big part of
it, I think."
"Man or woman?"
"Man I'd guess, by the size of it. That'll be up to the coroner to say."
"So, drug deal gone bad, you think?"
"Might be, but I doubt it."
"Could be a suicide."
"Could be, but I doubt it."
"Right. Pretty gruesome way to end it all. Simpler to just put a bullet in a vital spot, and leave it at that. Way out here, like this."
"Might not have been found for days, if the wildfire crew hadn't spotted the flames while they were checking for hot spots."
"I'll call in the crime scene boys, then."
"Tell 'em not to hurry. It's going to be too hot to handle. Might as well wait for daylight, too, so they can see to process the area better.
This guy isn't going anywhere and I'll bet no one is going to come looking for him. Whoever put him here already knows where he's at."
"So, what do you think happened?"
"Well, there's what I think happened and what I can prove."
"I think someone killed the poor bastard, set his truck on fire, and planned for the wildfire to overrun the crime scene and destroy the
evidence. In the end, the guy gets written off as some poor schmuck who couldn't outrun the fire. But the fire crews stopped the fire before
it ever got close to the truck."
"So he was dead before the truck was burned?"
"I sure hope so, for his sake."
* * *
The driving drum beat of Bob Seger's "The Fire Inside" was blasting through the open door as the deputies approached the small house set
back from the main road. As they climbed the worn wooden steps to the front porch, a chocolate brown Lab came bursting through the
swinging screen door followed by two small children; a young red-haired freckle-faced boy and an even younger girl with long strawberry
blond braids. The deputies dodged the assault with a quick side step then approached the door.
The sound of the heavy beat drowned out the sound of their banging on the screen door.
"Anyone to home?" Deputy Alvarez called through the screen door while Deputy Biddell walked to the far end of the porch and checked
the side yard.
"Over here," he called to his partner. "She's around back."
In the side yard an obviously pregnant woman was hanging t-shirts and men's underwear on a makeshift clothesline strung between two
trees. Two other lines tied between trees were already filled with wet kids' jeans, shirts, and cartoon-character bed sheets.
At the sight of the two uniformed deputies, the woman paused then finished clipping the edge of the t-shirt she was holding to the line. She
stretched her back, with her arms on her hips, and twisted her shoulders from side to side to relieve the muscle tension from reaching over
her head to position the wet laundry.
"When are you due?"
"Last week," she sighed.
The dog raced through the damp sheets that were hung to dry in the afternoon sun, followed by the two kids.
"May we talk inside?"
"Sure. Come on in." She bent to retrieve the laundry basket which was held together with duct tape.
"Here, let me get that for you," Deputy Biddell offered.
"Thanks. It's seen better days. The kids use it as a fort and the dog just uses it as a chew toy," she explained as she pointed to the
battered laundry basket. The two deputies followed the woman into the house through the back door which opened onto a mud porch with
an assortment of boots, shoes, coats, and hats along the outer wall and a washing machine on the inner wall that was currently wobbling
through a rinse/spin cycle. The mud porch led to another door that opened into a small kitchen. The coolness of the kitchen was a
welcome relief from the sweltering heat outside.
"Would you like some fresh squeezed lemonade?" Without waiting for a reply, she took down three plastic tumblers from a nearby cupboard
then crossed to the refrigerator and removed a large pitcher of lemonade.
"Is your husband at home?"
She kept her back towards the deputies as she answered.
She poured each of them a drink then set the pitcher on the table.
"When is he due home?"
"Is he traveling?"
"Not as far as I know."
"When do you expect him back?"
Deputy Biddell interrupted, "When was the last time you saw your husband?"
She scrunched up her face, thinking before she answered. "About a week ago, I guess." She paused. "He came home drunk as a skunk,
itching for a fight. I threw his ass out. Told him not to come back until he got himself straightened out. Billy can be awfully charming when
it suits him but he's a mean drunk. The kids don't need to see that."
"No, ma'am," Deputy Biddell agreed.
"Any idea where he's staying?"
"Probably crashing with one of his buddies. Or shacked up with some girl who doesn't know any better." She laughed softly.
"Do I shock you, Officer Biddell? Hell, I know Billy is no angel. If he was, you wouldn't be here trying to find him."
The deputy lowered his gaze to the floor.
"What's he done this time? Drugs? Gun-running? Smuggling?"
The deputies remained silent.
"He tried smuggling aliens across the border last year. The Mexican kind, not the outer space kind out at Roswell. Though if the Martians
had ready cash; U.S. dollars in hand, my Billy would give 'em a ride. He got caught up in that FBI sting last year. Billy can't tell an alien
from an undercover cop.
"If there's a quick buck to be made from it, Billy's tried it. Everything that is except getting a real job and keeping it. I don't know what I
ever saw in him..." she sighed.
"Good girls always go for the bad boys. Isn't that what they say?" Deputy Alvarez quipped.
"I should have married you, Randy — not that you ever asked," she chided.
"If I'd ever thought you would say 'yes' I sure as hell would have asked," Deputy Alvarez responded.
"You two know each other?" Deputy Biddell asked skeptically.
"Well, not in the Biblical sense," she teased. Deputy Biddell looked from the woman to his partner and back to the woman.
"We both grew up in Alamogordo. Went to the same schools, same parties. Had some of the same friends," she explained. "I moved to
Ruidoso about six years ago. Don't know when Randy got here."
"I think we've embarrassed your partner, Randy. Now's he's going to look at your red hair and wonder if those rugrats he saw running
around here earlier are yours or Billy's," she laughed heartily until there were tears collecting at the corners of her eyes. She suddenly
grasped her abdomen.
"Whew! Baby's kicking."
"Are you all right, Amber?" Deputy Alvarez moved to her side.
"I'm fine. I'm fine. But I think the baby might be telling me something."
"Telling you something?" asked Deputy Biddell.
"Like it's time to go to the hospital..." her last words were clipped off with a moan as her abdomen was seized with a strong cramp.
"This is your third child — "
"Fourth," she interrupted. "One was stillborn."
"I don't think we have time to drive to the hospital. Frank, get on the radio. Have dispatch send a Medic One unit. We'll meet them in
route. Then gather the kids and the dog. Bring them inside and stay with them."
"Is there someone I should call for you Mrs. Skye?"
"Oooow!" she was seized by another cramp. "Yes, please. My sister's number is next to the phone in the living room. Jessi. Jessi Harper.
Thank you. She'll come stay with the kids."
"Give me a hand, Frank."
"Can you make it down these steps?"
"I think so..."
"Just take it slow and easy."
Supporting the woman's body between them, they inched their way towards the SUV in the drive marked Lincoln County Sheriff's
Department, pausing each time a wave of cramps enveloped her and almost dropped her to her knees.
"Let's get you into the back seat, in case we need to use it as a delivery room."
"Okay. Get on the radio and call it in," Alvarez barked the command to his partner as he pulled his jacket from the back of the vehicle
and tucked it under her head to make her more comfortable on the hot vinyl seat. The front seats were covered with cloth seat covers to
keep driver and passenger cooled from the blistering heat. The back bench seat provided no such comfort. The hot vinyl covering was all
there was to it. He wished he had thought to bring a blanket from the house to cover the seat with, but there was no time for that now.
"Now round up those kids and get them inside. Don't scare them. And call the sister. I'll send one of the boys out to pick you up or come
back for you myself, after I meet the ambulance."
* * *
The Sheriff's vehicle pulled to a stop on the gravel driveway. The driver waited until the cloud of dust caught up and settled down before
he opened the door and climbed out. He leaned against the front fender without thinking of the heat emanating from the metal. It felt like
he'd just leaned against a hot furnace and he jumped away to a standing position.
Deputy Biddell pushed his way through the swinging screen door and stepped onto the porch. The chocolate Lab followed him. Bidell
reached down to scratch the dog behind its ears. It looked like they'd become buddies.
"Burn your butt?" he asked his partner.
Alvarez joined his partner on the porch. The overhang provided some relief from the direct sun but the hot breeze provided no real relief
from the heat.
"Did you get Mrs. Skye to the hospital all right?"
"Ambulance met us more than half way. Got her transferred and on her way so I came back for you."
"Did you tell her about her husband and what was found?"
"Didn't seem to be the right time."
"You've got a point there. She's in no condition to look at a corpse burned beyond recognition. Best wait and see what the coroner turns
Alvarez nodded his agreement.
"Or the investigation."
Alvarez nodded again and echoed his partner's last words. "Or the investigation."
There was an uneasy silence between the two men.
"Go ahead and ask," Alvarez prompted.
Biddell glanced over his shoulder towards the screen door before speaking.
"Are they yours?"
Alvarez laughed with a full-bodied laugh.
"That's not the question I was expecting."
Biddell stared at his partner. Waiting.
"You're serious, aren't you?" Alvarez asked. "Hell, no, they're not mine. I don't know that they're Billy's either, for that matter."
"Amber's a good-looking woman."
"You'll get no argument from me, on that account. But it doesn't mean she's anything more than a friend. Or an acquaintance really."
"An acquaintance? Really?"
"Okay, a 'friend.' An old friend from school days. Nothing more."
"If you say so." He sounded skeptical. "What question were you expecting?"
"If I killed the son-of-a-bitch."
"I'm not saying if I did or if I didn't. Not to you, anyways. I will say this. I may have contributed to his demise but not in a criminally liable
"It's all going to come out, you know?"
"If it gets to court, it will all come out. A little legal wrangling or a plea deal and most of it can be kept quiet, I expect."
"What do we do now?"
"We go back to the office and have someone take our statements."
"I saw you make the traffic stop. I figured he was drunk. He'd just come from the tavern about a half mile from where you pulled him over. I
saw you make him crawl over to the passenger side and I saw you take his truck keys from the ignition. I figured you left him there,
thinking he'd sleep it off."
"I guessed you hadn't thought to take his spare set of keys away from him. He kept a spare set under the front seat. Same place I keep
my spare set."
"So you slid in, found the spare key, and drove him out to where the fire crew found him."
It wasn't really a question. Alvarez was just stating the facts as they seemed to fall into place.
"Was he dead when you torched the truck?"
"No, just passed out. I wanted the smoke from the wildfire to be in his lungs. Something for the coroner to discover. Make the wildfire
theory more believable.
"I really thought the wildfire was going to overrun the scene," he added quietly.
"Then I hoofed it back to my vehicle. I got the call same time as you. I just hung back a bit so you'd get there first."
"Do I need to ask why?"
"For Amber. For Amber Skye."
Sherry Lawrence continues writing fiction although she sees little profit in it. She relies on her husband's "real " job to pay the bills, not
her writing. Last winter her short story "To Have and Have Not" appeared in the online version of omdb!
while two of her early stories, "Dead Again" and "The Walk-Away Victim", appeared in
the print version of omdb! many years ago.
Copyright © 2012 Sherry Lawrence. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any
medium without express written permission of the author is prohibited. OMDB! and OMDB!
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