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CHAPTER TWELVE

As Joanna headed north toward St. David with Darren's image still fresh in her mind, she was struck by a sudden pang of loneliness. Missing Jenny terribly, she grabbed up the cell phone and let the auto dialer call the Unger farm outside Enid, Oklahoma. All she wanted to do was talk to her daughter, to reassure herself that Jenny was holding her own against her hooligan cousins. But there was no answer, and by the time the Ungers' answering machine was about to begin, a radio transmission was coming in from Chief Deputy Montoya.

"What do you have for me, Frank?" she asked.

"All I can say is, that little bird of yours is right on the money," Frank told her. "Katrina Berridge's husband, Daniel, is indeed retired Indy driver Danny Berridge."

"That's what I was afraid of."

"Ruby Starr and I were just finishing working over the menus for next month, but if there's something else you need me to do…"

"Actually, there is," Joanna replied. "You and Dick Voland both better hotfoot it over to this new crime scene on the Triple C north of Pomerene. There's going to be lots of media attention on this one, and I'll want you to be on tap from square one. I'll brief you both once you get there."

When Joanna herself reached the crime scene, Detective Carpenter and Dr. Daly were already on-site and on the job. In the sheltering shade of a thicket of mesquite just short of the river bed, Dr. Daly was using what looked like a finely screened butterfly net to capture flies. Meanwhile, Ernie had gone up to the first crime scene on the ledge to confer with the evidence techs who were there working on the previous night's burial mound. By the time Joanna was ready to approach the body, Fran Daly was bent over it, carefully tweezing what looked suspiciously like maggots into a small glass vial.

Lost in concentration on her grisly work, and wearing a mask over her mouth and nostrils, Dr. Daly seemed oblivious to the sheriff's approach. Joanna had tried to steel herself in advance for what was coming, but the effort was mostly wasted. One look at the dead woman's bloody, denuded skull and gas-bloated body was enough to leave Joanna feeling weak-kneed and nauseated.

"What do you think?" she asked at last, after once again taming her unruly gag reflexes.

Dr. Daly looked up. "Well, Sheriff Brady," she said, "it's like this. I think we're looking for some asshole who has delusions of grandeur. Thinks of himself as some kind of Ernest Hemingway-style big-game hunter. She was shot from some distance away. Look here." Dr. Daly pointed at the woman's sliced shorts where a shallow wound cut from back to front across the victim's right thigh.

"That looks to me like a shot that nearly missed, one that just barely grazed her. The same goes for this one that nearly severed her left hand. My guess is he was aiming for a body shot each time and missed. It must have taken hills three shots or more to adjust for windage. After that first shot-the one on her thigh, most likely-she took off running. At least she tried to run, but she couldn't get out of range. The shot that actually killed her came from the back and exited through the front of her chest. From the looks of it, I'd say it took most of her heart and lung tissue with it. That one killed her instantly."

Joanna felt an involuntary chill as she remembered how the other victim-Ashley Brittany-had been rendered helpless by four deliberately placed close-range shots that had shattered her joints and left her stranded on her back as helpless as an overturned box turtle.

"In a case like this, I guess dying instantly is a blessing, isn't it," Joanna managed.

Dr. Daly gave her an appraising look and nodded. "Yes," she agreed. "I suppose it is."

"Can you tell what kind of bullet?" Joanna asked.

"From the size of the exit wound, I'd say we're looking for something one notch under a cannon."

"Something like a fifty-caliber?"

Fran Daly frowned. "Maybe," she replied. "Why do you say that?"

"Because night before last, we had reports from this neighborhood of shots being fired. Two cattle were killed and an irrigation pump was shot to hell, all of it done with what we've pretty well ascertained must have been a fifty-caliber sniper rifle."

"That happened right here on the Triple C?" Dr. Daly asked.

Joanna nodded. "This ranch, but not in this same spot. About a mile or so from here."

"But sniper-rifle kill ranges can cover that much ground and more," Fran said. "Are you thinking maybe a killer started out shooting up machinery and livestock just for the hell of it and then moved on to her?"

"Right."

Removing her face mask, Fran lit a cigarette. "It could be," she mused. "It just could be."

With that the medical examiner fell silent. The second-hand smoke from her unfiltered Camels helped to cut some of the awful odor. Somehow ignoring the gaping wound in the dead woman's chest, Joanna tried to understand exactly what had happened.

"Do you think this is where she fell?" she asked.

Fran shook her head. Using her cigarette, she pointed toward where two thin dark strands of stain wandered off across the rocky terrain. "If you follow that trail out about twenty-five yards, you'll find the kill zone. It's pretty much out in the open. He dragged her in here under the trees after she was already dead."

"So if we're going to find bullets, that's where they'll be," Joanna said. "Out there where she fell."

"That's right."

Joanna looked upward through the lacy canopy of mesquite leaves that sheltered the scene from the worst of the early-afternoon sun. "If he went to the trouble of bringing her this far, maybe he was worried someone would be looking for her. Maybe he thought someone might mount an airborne search. Bringing her under cover would make spotting her from the air almost impossible."

Fran Daly nodded thoughtfully. "Sounds reasonable to me," she said.

Basking in the doctor's mild but still unexpected approval, Joanna went on theorizing. "The scalping's the same, but there are some obvious differences between the two cases. This body is still fully dressed, while Ashley Brittany was naked. There's no cross here, and no rocks, either. But maybe the killer just hadn't gotten around to that part of it yet. With Ashley, he must have known he had plenty of time. Her pickup truck was found over near Redington Pass. He probably moved it there himself. At any rate, he most likely was fairly confident no one would come looking for her here. That's why he could shoot her and leave her to bleed to death at leisure. That's also how he could afford to spend God knows how long gathering up the rocks he used to bury her.

"With this victim, he's more rushed, more hurried. It's as though Ashley's death was premeditated, while Katrina's wasn't. Maybe she just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Maybe he came out here to shoot up the cattle and stumbled over her in the process."

When Joanna stopped talking, Fran Daly was staring at her, staring and frowning. "How long did you say you've been a homicide detective?" the medical examiner asked.

At once Joanna felt embarrassed and self-conscious, sure her blatant lack of experience was showing. "I didn't say," she said.

"Why not?" Fran Daly pressed.

"Because I never have been," Joanna admitted. "I've managed an insurance office and been a mother, but I've never been a detective."

"You could have fooled me," Fran Daly said. "It sounds like you've got a good head for it. Now, have you established any kind of trajectory on the shots that killed those animals?"

Surprised by this undiluted praise, Joanna had trouble answering. "Not yet," she managed. "We're working on it."

"Well, we'd better make that a top priority. If we can figure out where the guy was when he started pulling the trigger, maybe we can find something that will tell us who he is and how to find him. We've got to take this animal off the streets, Sheriff Brady," she added urgently. "If we don't, you'd better believe he's going to kill again."

With that the medical examiner resumed her work. Dismissed, but feeling a sense of connection to the brusque woman, Joanna returned to her assembled troops-the two detectives and the members of the S and R team, all of whom were still standing by at a distance to see what would be required of them. Something Fran Daly had said had raised a red flag in Joanna's brain-the idea that the killer might kill again. What if he already had? What if there were more than two slaughtered victims hidden here in the wilds of the Triple C? Maybe the ledge beneath the cliffs-maybe the cliffs themselves-held other cairns and other mutilated bodies.

She called Mike Wilson over to her Blazer. "How are your guys doing?" she asked. "Are they ready to call it a day, or are they willing to work some more?"

"They're a gung-ho bunch, Sheriff Brady," Wilson replied. "You tell me what you want them to do, and they'll do it."

"I want somebody to go up and search those cliffs from end to end," she said. "Both the tops of the cliffs and the ledges that run underneath them. I'm worried we may have other victims up there, ones we haven't even found yet."

"We'll get right on it," Wilson said.

"There's something else. I want this whole area combed for evidence of any kind-tracks, blood, fibers, whatever. Dr. Daly can tell you where the victim was hit. That area should be cordoned off and held in reserve for the evidence techs. I'm hoping that's where we'll find the bullet that killed her. But there were other shots as well, with bullets that went astray. With any kind of luck we'll find them. I can order out deputies and have them here doing the search within a matter of an hour or so, but if your guys wouldn't mind…"

"No problem at all," Wilson assured her. "I'll split the team into two groups. Half of them will go up the mountain. I'll get the others working down here on the flat."

As Wilson went off to issue orders and dispatch his people, Joanna turned to Detectives Carpenter and Carbajal. Ernie's face was screwed into a disapproving frown. "What the hell's the deal?" he asked. "Why send Search and Rescue to do something detectives and evidence technicians should handle? Those clowns may be fine at finding lost hikers, but they're not going to know real evidence from a hole in the ground unless it jumps up and hits them in the face. Send those guys home and wait for people who actually know what they're doing. We're going to have plenty of help from real detectives. I just heard Pima County is sending us a pair of investigators. So is Maricopa."

"I'm afraid we're going to have more than plenty of help," Joanna said grimly. "Which is why we need to do what searching we're going to do now, before the place is overrun with a bunch of outsiders."

"What do you mean, more than plenty of help?" Ernie asked.

"Has either one of you ever heard of a race-car driver named Danny Berridge?"

Detective Carbajal shrugged his shoulders. "Not me," he said.

"Danny Berridge." Ernie Carpenter repeated the name as a frown burrowed across his forehead. "That sounds familiar somehow. Wait-wasn't he that Indy 500 driver who dropped out of sight several years back, sometime in the late eighties or so? I seem to remember that he was involved in some kind of on-track accident and then… Wait… are you telling us Danny Berridge is Katrina Berridge's husband?"

"One and the same," Joanna replied.

"How did you find that out?"

"I just lucked into it."

"But is it confirmed?"

"Yes. Frank Montoya already checked it out. So that means we not only have a serial murderer on our hands, we also have a case that's going to arouse a good deal of national interest. With the other cases and other counties involved, it would be bad enough to just have the Tucson and Phoenix media breathing down our necks. This one will probably draw reporters from all over."

"Great," Ernie grumbled. After a moment he brightened. "Get thinking about it, this thing could have an upside."

"What's that?" Joanna asked.

"My mother-in-law loves the National Enquirer," he re-plied. "Phylis is always asking me when one of my cases is going to appear in her paper. If the Indy driver turns out to be our killer, maybe this is it."

"Don't even think such a thing," Joanna told him.

While Ernie and Jaime set off to join the S and R team in the ground search, Joanna stared up the road, wondering how long it would take for Dick Voland and Frank Montoya to arrive on the scene. It was early afternoon in the middle of August. As the desert heat bore down on her, she rummaged in the back of the Blazer for a bottle of water. She had finally succeeded in locating what was evidently her last one when the phone in her purse rang.

Joanna's cell phone had come complete with an option that allowed her to adjust and personalize the ringer. In order to differentiate her phone from others, she had chosen the ringer option that sounded for all the world like the early-morning crow of an enthusiastic rooster.

"Hello," she said, after finally pawing the instrument (nit of the depths of her purse.

"They're done," Marianne Maculyea said. "Esther's out of surgery and in the transplant intensive care unit."

Joanna breathed a relieved sigh. "Thank God," she said. "How are you and Jeff doing?"

"We're both pretty ragged," Marianne admitted. "Jeff's at a phone down the hall calling his folks. I decided to call you."

Joanna heard the unspoken subtext in that simple statement. Jeff Daniels could call his parents and tell them the news. Marianne couldn't. Marianne's parents had never recovered from their daughter's public defection from the Catholic Church and becoming a Methodist minister. Over the years, Marianne had given Joanna helpful hints about resolving the mother/daughter rifts between Joanna and Eleanor Lathrop. That didn't mean, however, that she had ever been able to heal the long-standing feud with her own mother.

"Thanks for letting me know," Joanna said, not commenting on the unspoken part of the message. "Angie called early this morning to let me know what was happening. I decided that it was better for me to wait for you to call me rather than the other way around. Are you staying in Tucson?"

"For tonight anyway," Marianne replied. "We've booked a room at the Plaza at Speedway and Campbell. Once Jeff gets off the phone, he'll probably head over there to catch a nap. He'll come back later and spell me. I don't know about tomorrow. One or the other of us will go home to be with Ruth, or maybe Angie or somebody can bring her up here for a little while during the day."

There was a pause. "You don't necessarily sound all that hot yourself, Joanna. What's going on with you?"

Jeff and Marianne were enmeshed in the all-consuming cocoon of their own little crisis, and justifiably so. Joanna could see no reason to trouble Marianne Maculyea with any of the grim details of what was happening right then on the Triple C.

"I'm overseeing a search right now," Joanna answered carefully. "And then I have some interviews, but I thought I'd try dropping by the hospital later on this afternoon if that's all right with you."

"Please," Marianne said. "That would be great. I'd really like to see you. So would Jeff."

Something in Marianne's tone bothered Joanna-something she couldn't quite put her finger on. "Esther is all right, isn't she?" she asked.

"Yes," Marianne replied, her voice cracking. "At least I think so."

"What's wrong, then?"

"That's just it. I don't know. Maybe I'm just tired. We were here all night long. Neither one of us has had any sleep…"

"No, Mari," Joanna countered. "It's more than that." A long silence filled the phone. "What is it?" she urged. "Tell me."

Marianne took a deep breath. "You remember that night Andy was here in the hospital?" she said at last.

Joanna remembered every bit of it. Too well. "Yes," she said.

"Remember when you told me you were trying to pray, but you couldn't remember the words?"

That moment was still crystal clear in Joanna's heart and memory, as if it had happened mere minutes ago. She squeezed her eyes shut against a sudden film of tears that threatened to blind her.

“You told me that it didn't matter," Joanna said. "You told me that trying to remember the words was good enough because God knew what I meant. And then you offered to pray for me."

"I shouldn't have," Marianne said now. The black hopelessness in her friend's words wrung Joanna's heart, made her want to weep.

"What do you mean, you shouldn't have?"

"I had no right," Marianne said. "I didn't know what I was talking about."

"Of course you did. What are you saying, Marianne? What's wrong?"

"I've been here all night trying to pray myself, but I can't, Joanna. And it's not just the words that I've lost, either. It's more than that. Far more. How could God do something like this to us and to Esther? How could He make Esther so sick that the only way to save her is for some other mother's baby to die? That's not right. It's not fair."

Marianne lapsed into a series of stricken sobs. For several seconds Joanna listened and said nothing. There was nothing she could think of to say. How could she go about comforting someone who was a steadfast friend and pillar of strength to everyone else?

"You'll get through this," Joanna said finally.

"Yes," Marianne choked, "maybe I will. But how will I ever be able to stand up at the pulpit and preach about faith when my own is so totally lacking? How can I teach about a loving God when I'm so pissed off at Him I can barely stand it?"

Joanna smiled in spite of herself. Marianne Maculyea, the rock-throwing firebrand rebel she had known in junior high at Lowell School, was a firebrand still.

"If you're so totally lacking in faith," Joanna pointed out, "you wouldn't even acknowledge God, much less be pissed at Him. Now, have you had any asleep?"

Even as she asked the question, Joanna reminded herself of her mother-in-law. For Eva Lou Brady, a crisis of the soul was almost always rooted in some physical reality.

"No," Marianne admitted.

"What about having something to eat?"

"Jeff brought me a tray from the cafeteria a little while ago, but I couldn't eat it. I wasn't hungry."

"Is the food still there?"

"The tray is."

"Eat some of it," Joanna urged. "Even if it tastes like sawdust when you try to choke it down. You're going to need your strength, Marianne. If you don't eat or sleep, you're not going to be worth a plugged nickel when you'll want to be at your best. If you're strung out because of lack of food or rest, you won't have anything to offer Esther when she finally comes out from under the anesthetic. She's going to need you then, and you'd better be ready."

There was another stretch of silence and Marianne seemed to consider what she'd been told. "I'll try," she said at last.

Joanna saw two vehicles pulling up behind the Blazer-Dick Voland's Bronco and Frank Montoya's Crown Victoria. "Good," Joanna said. "You do that. And remember, I'll be there either later this afternoon or else this evening. All right?"

"All right."

"You hang tough."

As soon as the call ended, Joanna stood with the phone in her hand. She thought about calling the Copper Queen Hotel directly and telling Butch that she wouldn't be able to see him that night, but she was afraid he'd talk his way around her. Instead, feeling like a heel and a coward to boot, she hunched in the code for the sheriff's department.

"Kristin," she said as soon as her secretary came on the line, "I don't have much time. Please call the Copper Queen Hotel and leave a message for Mr. Frederick Dixon. Tell him I won't be able to join him for dinner tonight. Tell him I'm going up to Tucson to see Jeff Daniels and Marianne Maculyea."

"Got it," Kristin said. "Copper Queen, Frederick Dixon, and you can't make it for dinner. How're Jeff and Marianne doing, by the way? I had lunch with my mother. She was telling me about the transplant. I don't know who told her."

I can guess, Joanna thought. And her initials are Marliss Shackleford.

"They're okay," she said. "At least they're doing as well as can be expected."

Finished with the call, she tried to reassure herself that she had handled the Butch Dixon situation in a kind and reasonable fashion. He might be disappointed, but at least she hadn't just left him hanging for a change. Still, though

Her thoughts were interrupted by an excited shout from one of the S and R guys a good quarter of a mile away.

"Sheriff Brady," Mike Wilson yelled, relaying the message. "Come take a look at this."

With Dick Voland and Frank Montoya both trailing be-hind her, Joanna hurried over to where Mike was standing. Several of the other S and R guys were already converging on the spot. Ernie Carpenter and Jaime Carbajal weren't far behind.

"What is it?" Joanna demanded when she finally reached Mike.

He pointed toward the ground. "Look," he said.

There, nestled between a pair of rocks and winking back the brilliant late-summer sunlight, was a watch-a gold-and-silver Omega. On the watch's pearlescent face behind the remains of a shattered crystal, the two hands stood stopped at 10:26. That was the time Sonja Hosfield had told her she remembered hearing shots. Around ten-thirty.

Looking around, Joanna saw the blood spatters and knew this was the killing ground-the place Katrina Berridge had fallen to earth. She looked up and caught Ernie's eye. "Have you found any bullets?" she asked.

"Not yet," he said. "But we're looking."

"Hey, Mike." Terry Gregovich's voice shrilled out of the speaker on a small walkie-talkie fastened to the collar of Mike Wilson's orange hunting vest. "I think we may have found something up here."

All eyes turned from the watch and the blood-spattered ground around it to the majestic cliffs rising from the valley floor. There, barely visible and clambering over the rock face like so many orange-bodied ants, were the other members of the Search and Rescue team.

"What have you got, Terry?" Mike Wilson asked.

"No shells or anything like that," Terry Gregovich replied. "But I've got some funny little marks here in the dirt. Looks like they might have come from someone setting up a tripod. And some footprints, too. A couple of them might even be good enough to cast."

Joanna closed her eyes. Now we're making progress, she thought. "Great," she said to Mike. "Grab one of the evidence techs from the burial mound and get him over to Terry to make plaster casts. On the double. We lucked out that it didn't rain here yesterday, but that's not to say a storm won't blow through today."

Joanna knew enough to be thankful. Considering the amount of space involved, it was more than luck that some-one had stumbled across the possible footprints on top of the cliffs and recognized their importance. It also crossed her mind that Terry Gregovich's skills and talents might be underutilized by his being permanently sidelined in Search and Rescue.

"Hey, Mike," she said, "do your guys carry binoculars?"

"We all do."

"Ask Terry to look off the other side of the cliffs and see if he can see the ranch house at the Triple C."

A few moments later, Terry replied in the affirmative.

"Now look off to the left of that," Joanna continued. "To the north. There's a well with a big pump on it with two dead cattle nearby. Can he see those from, there?"

This time the search took a little longer, but eventually it paid off. "I can see them clear as a bell," Terry said.

"That's it, then," Joanna said. "That must have been where he was when he started shooting. Good work, Terry. Great work, in fact. This may be exactly the kind of break we need."

"So what should I do now?" Terry Gregovich asked.

"Don't touch a thing," Joanna told him. "Stay right where you are until the evidence guys show up with their plaster. And when you get down off the mountain, make an appointment to see Chief Deputy Montoya."

"What for?" Terry asked.

"To put in for a promotion," Joanna said. "You've earned it. You can tell him I said to find a spot for you in Patrol with the possibility of working into Investigations."


CHAPTER ELEVEN | Rattlesnake Crossing | CHAPTER THIRTEEN







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