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CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO

As they drove up through Bisbee and over the Divide, Butch sat quietly on the rider's side of the Blazer watching the desert speed by outside the window. "What are their families like?" he asked finally.

"Jeff's and Marianne's?"

Butch nodded and Joanna made a face. "I've never met Jeff's folks. They live back East somewhere-Maryland, 1 think. Marianne's parents, Evangeline and Tim Maculyea, came from Bisbee originally, but they moved to Safford after the mines shut down. They still live there."

"Safford," Butch mused. "That's not too far away, so they'll probably show up to help out, too."

Joanna shook her head. "I don't think so," she said. "Safford may not be that far away in terms of mileage, but emotionally, it could just as well be another planet. That's what Jeff was telling me on the phone. He called the Maculyeas and told them what's happening with Esther. I guess Tim was okay on the phone, but Evangeline wouldn't talk to Jeff and she won't come see Marianne, either."

“Why not?” Butch asked.

"Because Marianne's the black sheep in the family," Joanna replied.

"Black sheep!" Butch echoed. "The woman's a saint. She doesn't smoke or drink or use bad words. Not to mention the fact that she's a minister. What makes her a black sheep?"

"She's a Methodist."

"So?"

"Evangeline is a devout Catholic. She's been bent out of shape ever since her daughter left the Church. She hasn't spoken to Marianne since. The same thing goes for Marianne's two younger brothers. They don't speak to Jeff and Marianne, either. I don't think Evangeline Maculyea has ever laid eyes on Jeff Daniels, even though he's been married to her only daughter for more than ten years."

"I suppose that means she hasn't laid eyes on her grand-children, either," Butch surmised.

"Right," Joanna said.

"That's a shame."

"No," Joanna disagreed. "That's a tragedy-all the way around."

As she drove, she kept one eye on the speedometer and the other on the clock. As soon as it was eight, she picked up the radio. "Put me through to Dick Voland," she told Dispatch. "He should be there by now."

It took a few minutes to track the chief deputy down. "Where are you, Joanna?" he asked.

"I'm in the car and on my way to Tucson," she said. "Jeff Daniels and Marianne Maculyea's baby has taken a turn for the worse. I've got to go see them. I'll need you to handle the morning briefing."

"No problem. I can take care of that. Anything in particular you want me to cover?"

Joanna thought about mentioning her Eddy Sandoval idea, but then she reconsidered. That was something she'd need to handle herself. But she did have another suggestion.

"I want you to have someone pick up the last three or four years' worth of high school yearbooks from both Benson and St. David. Have someone show them to Clyde Philips' next-door neighbor, Sarah Holcomb. She should look through them and see if any of the pictures match up with any of the 'young 'uns,' as she calls them, who used to hang around Clyde Philips' house."

"Okay," Dick Voland said. "I'll have someone get right on it. Jaime or Ernie, most likely."

"Whoever you send, tell them that once Sarah finishes examining the pictures, I want her to go visit her daughter, who lives somewhere up in Tucson. I want her to stay there until we put this case to rest."

"You think she's in danger?" Dick asked.

"Absolutely. If there's even a remote chance that she can identify the killer, she's as much a threat to him as Frankie Ramos was."

"What if she refuses to leave?"

"Then put a guard on her house. Park a deputy on her front porch twenty-four hours a day if you have to. I don't want anything to happen to the woman."

"Mounting a twenty-four-hour guard is going to cost money. Frank Montoya'll shit a brick over that idea."

"Well, then," Joanna said, "send him to talk to her."

"Frank? But he's not even a detective."

"He's a trained police officer, Dick. I'm sure he's fully capable of showing her a montage of photos and getting her reaction. He can do that every bit as well as a detective can. Aren't Ernie and Jaime totally overloaded at the moment?"

"Well," Voland conceded, "I suppose they are."

"Besides," Joanna added, "we both know that when Frank's budget is on the line, he can he amazingly persuasive."

"I'd prefer to call it amazingly obnoxious," Voland re-turned, "but you're right. If anyone can charm the old lady into leaving town for the duration, Frank Montoya is it. Especially when there's overtime at stake. I'll have him go to work on it first thing this morning. As soon as the briefing is over. Anything else?" he asked.

"You tell me."

"I'm just now collecting my copies of the overnight incident reports. It doesn't sound like anything out of the ordinary."

"Good," Joanna said. "Keep me posted. If I'm out of the car, I'll have my cell phone with me. You'll be able to reach me on that."

"Right," Dick Voland said. "In the meantime, I hope things work out all right for Jeff and Marianne's little girl."

"I hope so, too." Joanna said the words, but deep in her heart she feared it wasn't to be.

The trip from High Lonesome to Tucson should have taken about two hours. It was accomplished in a little less than ninety hair-raising minutes. And if Butch Dixon had any objections to the way Joanna drove, he had the good grace to keep quiet about it.

As they walked from the hospital parking garage toward the lobby entrance, a wave of panic suddenly engulfed Joanna. She hesitated at the entryway, unsure if she was capable of facing what was coming. On her previous visit, Esther's situation hadn't been this bad. Now it was like having to relive everything that had happened to Andy.

Somehow, without her saying a word, Butch must have sensed what was happening. He reached out, captured her hand, and squeezed it.

“Yuri have to do this,” he said. "Jeff and Marianne are counting on you."

Bolstered by his words, Joanna took a deep breath. "I know," she said. "Thanks."

When they entered the pediatric ICU waiting room there was a lone figure in it, an elderly gentleman standing next to the window, staring down at the hospital entrance far below. It wasn't until he turned to face them that Joanna recognized Marianne's father, Timothy Maculyea.

"Mr. Maculyea," she said, hurrying toward him, "I don't know if you remember me. I'm Marianne's friend Joanna Lathrop-Joanna Brady now. And this is my friend Butch Dixon. Butch, this is Mr. Maculyea."

The older man held out a massive paw of a hand the permanently callused and work-hardened mitt of a former hard-rock miner. "Tim's the name," he said to Butch. "Glad to meet you. I came as soon as I heard, but-" He stopped and pursed his lips.

"How are things?" Joanna asked.

He shook his head. "Not good," he said. "Not good at all."

"Where's Jeff?"

"Down in the room. It's the ICU, so they let only one person in at a time."

"And Marianne?"

Tim Maculyea swallowed hard before he answered. "She's down in the chapel," he said, his throat working to expel the words. "I haven't seen her yet. She doesn't know I'm here."

"And Mrs. Maculyea?" Joanna continued.

Tim shook his head once more. "Vangie isn't coming,. She's always been a stubborn, headstrong woman. Not unlike her daughter."

Joanna turned to Butch, "I'd better go cheek on Marianne," she said.

He nodded. "Sure," he said. "You go ahead. I’ll stay here and keep Mr. Maculyea company."

Minutes later, Joanna stepped into the hushed gloom of the dimly lit chapel, a small room that held half a dozen polished wooden pews. Marianne Maculyea, her head bowed and her shoulders hunched, sat in the front row. Silently, Joanna slipped into the seat beside her. Marianne glanced up, saw Joanna, then looked away.

"It's bad," she said.

"I know," Joanna murmured. "Jeff told me."

"Why?" Marianne whispered brokenly. "Why is this happening?"

"I don't have an answer," Joanna said. "There's never an answer."

Marianne put her hand to her mouth, covering a sob. "I thought she was going to make it, Joanna. I thought it was going to be all right, but it's not. Esther's going to die. It's just a matter of time. A few hours, maybe. A day at most. All her systems are failing."

"Oh, Mari," Joanna said, barely able to speak herself. It was what she had expected, yet hearing the words tore at her heart. "I'm so sorry. I don't know what to say, what to do…"

Marianne breathed deeply, fighting for control. "Joanna, I need a favor."

"What?"

"Promise me that when the time comes, you'll officiate at the service."

"Me?" Joanna was aghast. "Mari, you can't be serious. I'm not a trained minister. Surely one of the other pastors in town would be glad to step in…"

Marianne Maculyea shook her head fiercely. "No," she said, "I don't want one of the other pastors. I want you. II one of them had nerve enough to mention the word 'faith’ in my company or during the course of the service, I'd probably go berserk. Besides, none of them knows Esther, not really-not the way you do. You were there the day we brought the girls home from the plane, Joanna. We're still using the diaper bag you gave me to take to Tucson that morning. In fact, that's what we brought with us to the hospital to carry Esther's things-" Unable to continue, Marianne broke off in tears.

"Please," she added after a pause. "Promise you'll do it."

"Of course," Joanna said. "Whatever you want." "Thank you."

For the next several minutes the two women sat together, lost in their own thoughts, neither of them saying a word. Joanna was the one who finally broke the silence. "Your father's upstairs," she said gently. "Butch and I ran into him in the waiting room."

"And my mother?" Marianne asked woodenly.

"No," Joanna said. "I'm sorry."

"That's all right," Marianne said. "It figures. How long has my dad been here?"

"I don't know. He was in the waiting room when we arrived."

Marianne sighed and stood up. "I'd guess I'd better go see him, then. Are you coming?"

"Yes I am." Joanna said.

The morning passed slowly. Several times Joanna tried calling Jenny, but there was no answer at the farm, and once again, she didn't want to leave this kind of disturbing message on anyone's answering machine.

Word of the impending tragedy had spread throughout Bisbee, so in the course of the morning, more and more people showed up-some of whom, in Joanna's opinion, had no business being there. She and Butch found themselves running interference, trying to keep the group of sympathetic well-wishers from completely overwhelming Jeff and Marianne.

At twenty after one that afternoon, Jeff emerged from the ICU, sank onto a couch, covered his face with his hands, and announced to the room, "It's over. She's gone."

Trying to stifle a sob of her own, Joanna buried her head against Butch Dixon's chest. There was nothing more to be said.

For the next half hour Butch and Joanna helped herd people out of the waiting room. When Marianne finally emerged herself-dry-eyed, despondent, and empty-handed except for the diaper bag-there were just the four people left in the room: Joanna and Butch, Jeff Daniels, and Tim Maculyea.

Marianne spoke only to Jeff. "I want to go home," she said. "Please take me home."

Jeff reached in his pocket and fished out a set of car keys, which he immediately handed over to Butch. "Marianne and I will take the Bug," he said. "We have to go by the hotel and check out on our way out of town. The International is parked behind the hotel on the corner of Speedway and Campbell. Butch, you're sure you don't mind driving it back to Bisbee?"

"Not at all. I'll park it on the street somewhere near the Copper Queen. And if I'm going to be out, I'll leave the keys at the desk."

"Good," Jeff said. "Thanks." Then, with a gentle hand on Marianne's shoulder, he guided her out the door. She moved stiffly, like a sleepwalker. It broke Joanna's heart to see the vibrant and loving Marianne Maculyea, a woman whose very presence was a comfort to those in need, so bereft and comfortless herself.

Hands in his pockets, Tim Maculyea stood to one side and watched them go. "It's rough," he said, shaking his head and swiping at tears from under his thick glasses. "It's awful damned rough." He turned to Joanna. "Marianne didn't happen to tell you when the services would be, did she?"

"No, she didn't," Joanna replied. "But I'll call you as soon as I know. What about your wife? Will she come?"

"I doubt it," Tim said sadly. "I'll see what I can do, but I'm not making any promises."

At two-thirty, Joanna dropped Butch off at the Plaza Hotel so he could take Jeff's International back to Bisbee. "You've been a brick today," she told him as he climbed out of the Blazer.

He looked at her and smiled. "Glad to be of help," he said, and then he was gone.

Once alone, Joanna headed back toward Bisbee. She tried to switch gears-to make the transition from private to public, from Joanna Brady to Sheriff Brady. But it didn't work very well, at least not at first.

Not wanting to broadcast everything that had gone on over the police band, she used her cell phone to check in with the office. She wasn't surprised to hear that everyone was out. In fact, considering that week's impossible case-load, Joanna would have been disappointed if her officers hadn't been.

"I can have one of them call you as soon as they show up," Kristin Marsten offered.

"No," Joanna said. "Don't bother. I'll be there in person soon enough. One other thing, though. Did Stu Farmer leave an envelope for me? It was supposed to be on your desk when you came in this morning."

"It was there, all right," Kristin answered. "There was a piece of paper inside with Clyde Philips' name on it, and nothing else. It's a rap sheet with nothing on it."

"Nothing? Not even a minor vehicle mishap?"

"Nothing at all. I figured you'd know what it means."

"I'm afraid I do," Joanna said grimly. "It means there's a serious problem in my department, and I'm going to fix it."

When her cell phone rang barely a minute later, Joanna assumed one of her several officers had turned up at the Justice Complex and was returning her call. She was startled to hear a man she didn't know announce himself to be Forrest L. Breen, FBI Agent in Charge, Phoenix.

"Monty Brainard must have called you," she said. "He told me he was going to."

"Yes," Breen replied. "With some wild-assed idea about your department wanting to borrow some weapons. Fifty-calibers, I believe."

"Well, I-"

"I told him I'd get back to you, Sheriff Brady. I can see from the news reports that you and your people have your hands full right now, but you have to understand the agency's position. If you want to call us in officially, that's one thing. I can have people there in jig time. But the other is out of the question. Bisbee and Phoenix may be from the same state, but we're not exactly neighbors. And borrowing a fifty-caliber weapon isn't the same thing as borrowing a lawn mower or a cup of sugar. You do understand what I'm saying, don't you, Ms. Brady?"

Yes, Mr. Breen. I certainly do, you overbearing asshole, Joanna thought. "Of course," she said.

"So," Breen continued quickly, before she had a chance to finish her response, "as I said, if you'd like to call us in, I'll be glad to send in a team, along with someone to take charge of the entire operation and personnel who are actually qualified on the kinds of weapons we're talking about, Otherwise.,."

Like hell you will! "Thanks, but no, thanks," Joanna said curtly. "I don't believe I'm interested." She ended the call then, hanging up on Mr. Overbearing Agent-in-Charge Breen before he could say anything more.

Joanna was still steamed about both Agent Forrest Breen and Deputy Eddy Sandoval when she drove through Benson some twenty minutes later. There, next to the curb outside the Benson Dairy Queen, she caught sight of Eddy's parked cruiser. Speak of the devil! Joanna thought.

Executing a U-turn, she drove back and pulled up beside his vehicle. "Meet me at the Quarter Horse," she told him. "I need to talk to you."

"Sure thing," he said.

Ten minutes later, Joanna had ordered a sandwich and was drinking a cup of coffee when Sandoval came sauntering into the restaurant. At the Triple C crime scene two days earlier, the man hadn't seemed nearly as large as he did now, walking across the tiled restaurant floor to her booth, pushing his paunch ahead of him. "What's up, Sheriff?" he asked, slipping into the bench opposite her.

Joanna had used the intervening minutes to plan her approach. She had decided not to soft-pedal any of it. "You've been with the department for a long time," she said for openers. "I'm assuming you'd like to continue."

A veil of wariness closed down over Deputy Sandoval's eyes. "What's this all about?"

"Frankie Ramos."

Joanna waited, giving the name a chance to settle between them. After it did, she waited some more, not offering any explanation, leaving the officer to wonder and squirm under her withering scrutiny.

"What about him?" Eddy asked finally.

"I understand you and Ruben are old buddies."

Sandoval bristled then. "I don't know what Ruben told you," he began, rising off the bench, "but I-"

"Sit, Eddy," Joanna commanded. "You and I both know what he told me. And you know what you did, so let's not play games."

Reluctantly, he settled back down. "Frankie's dead," he said. "So what do you want? My resignation, is that it?"

"I may want your resignation eventually. But right this minute, what I want is information."

"What kind of information?"

"Did you ever break up any parties at Clyde Philips' house over in Pomerene?" she asked.

Eddy Sandoval's eyes flickered and then slid sideways toward one of the many horse pictures painted on the wall. "A few, I guess," he admitted.

"How many would you say? Two? Five?"

"I don't know. I don't remember exactly."

"And how many of those show up in the official log?"

Sandoval dropped his eyes and stared down at the table-top. His finger traced a chip in the edge of the Formica. "Probably none," he said.

"Why not?"

"Who knows? Maybe I forgot. But I don't have to answer any of this," he added sullenly. "I've got a right to an attorney."

"You do have to answer, Eddy," Joanna said. "You have to because lives are at stake. Now tell me, was there anyone else in Clyde Philips' car the night you failed to arrest Frankie Ramos for that MIP?"

Eddy hung his head. "Yeah," he said at last. "There was one other guy there, a buddy of Frankie's, I guess. Last name of Merritt."

"What about this Merritt kid?" Joanna asked. "Was he of age, or was he o juvenile, too? And if so, did you write him up or not;'„

Eddy continued to stare at the table and said nothing. "That's answer enough, I suppose," Joanna said. "When I looked the other way, Clyde was always good for it," Eddy mumbled.

"Good for what?"

"I don't know, some ammo now and then. A gun, I suppose. Nothing big. Just little stuff."

"And you somehow never wrote up any of those citations."

"Yeah," he said. "I suppose that's it."

"What about Ruben Ramos?" Joanna asked. "Did you make him pay, too?"

Eddy straightened up. "Ruben's a good friend of mine," he said. "We've been buddies a long time. I never charged him nothin'."

"What about the other boy? What was his name again, Merritt?"

Eddy shrugged. "He's over twenty-one, so all he was looking at was an open-container. I went out to see his folks but ended up talking to his stepmother. I could see right away that wasn't going anywhere, so I gave it up."

"Who's his stepmother?"

"Sonja Hosfield," Eddy Sandoval said. "Out at the Triple C. As far as she's concerned, that boy could be drowning, and she wouldn't lift a finger to drag him out. I just let it go."

"Merritt Hosfield?" Joanna was puzzled. "I don't remember Sonja Hosfield mentioning a child by that name."

"Ryan Merritt," Eddy returned. "Lindsey Hosfield was all screwed up when she left Alton. Took back her maiden name when she got a divorce and changed the kids' names, too. Changed them legally. That's the kind of thing women do sometimes when they're really mad."

As the connections came together, Joanna's neck prickled with hair standing up under her collar. Ryan Merritt! She remembered meeting Alton Hosfield's son Ryan two days ago. He had given the impression of being a fine, upstanding, hardworking young man. She remembered the polite way he had doffed his hat upon being introduced to her.

But what if that politeness is all facade? she wondered. What if a cold-blooded killer lurks behind those clear blue eyes?

Joanna held out her hand. "I want your badge, Mr. Sandoval," she said. "Your badge, your gun, and your ID. As of this moment, you're on administrative leave. Hand them over."

Sandoval drew back in surprise. "Wait a minute, Sheriff Brady. You can't do that."

"Yes, I can. Watch me. I don't know about criminal charges. Right now you're out pending the formality of a dismissal hearing. You're to drive your county-owned vehicle back to your house and park it. I'll send someone out there later on this afternoon to pick it up."

Eddy hesitated, then grabbed his badge and wrenched it off his uniform. Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out his ID holder and slammed both of them down with a blow that sent dishes skittering across the table. The gun he slapped into Joanna's outstretched hand.

"There! Are you satisfied now?" he demanded furiously. "But you're not going to be able to nail me on any of this, Sheriff Brady. You never read me my rights. My attorney wasn't present during questioning. You won't be able to use a single word I said against me."

The old Joanna might have been intimidated by Eddy's show of physical force. The new one held her ground.

"Maybe," she replied, keeping her eyes focused on his florid face while she gathered up his credentials and weapon and shoved them into her purse. "But I don't think I'll have to stoop to that. I'm betting there are plenty of other irregularities that'll turn up in this sector, and I can assure you, Mr. Sandoval, I'm not going to rest until I find them."


CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE | Rattlesnake Crossing | CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE







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