New Mexico, 2002
The Wilkins ranch covered a thousand acres of piñon-dotted slopes rolling into mountains capped year-round with snow. Raney drove the access road, crossed a dry creek bed, crested a hill and came out in the clearing Bay had described. The sheriff was leaning against his squad car, smoking a cigarillo and watching the lab techs unload their van.
"Sheriff Bay," Raney called. "It's been a while."
"You're all they sent?" Bay said.
"Budget cuts. Not enough bodies to justify the manpower."
"This oughta help."
Bay pointed to a clapboard shed on the far side of the clearing.
"Scene's under there," he said. "We kept our distance with the vehicles."
"Let's have a look."
They started across, Raney a hundred pounds leaner and a foot shorter than Bay, sleek in his blazer and jeans, his black ankle boots a compromise between city and country; Bay towering in his Stetson, his sheriff's belt tugging his pants below the waistline.
"Beautiful country," Raney said.
"You hold that thought."
"This one's right out of your past life."
"That's part of it."
The shed was no bigger than an outhouse. The door had been torn from its hinges and dumped in a strip of broom sage.
"Your work?" Raney asked.
"Someone done it for us."
Raney leaned inside, discovered an open trap door and an extension ladder descending into a concrete bunker.
"We took up the false floor," Bay said. "And put in some lights down there. Otherwise, it's like we found it. Coyotes must have caught the smell. You can see where they clawed at the boards."
He handed Raney a surgical mask and a pair of latex gloves.
"You coming?" Raney asked.
"I've looked all I care to. The one by the ladder is Jack Wilkins. I’ve known him and his wife forty years. He owns—owned—this place. Never saw the Hispanics before today."
"All right," Raney said.
The stench cut through his mask before he'd reached the bottom rung. Battery-powered lamps lit the space like a photographer's studio. He stood for a moment, taking stock. It was a large and solid room, built to be lived in once the bomb dropped, then repurposed sometime after the Wall fell. At the center was a cutting table lined with razor blades, clear baggies, a wooden salad bowl brimming with a gray, granular substance. The floor was covered end to end in uncooked grains of rice. Empty burlap sacks lay in a heap near the table.
Three dead: Wilkins sprawled face-up near the exit; two Hispanics—one male, one female—slumped against the far wall. Wilkins with a hole in his chest and his throat slit wide, blood and rice mixing to form a clay-like halo above his head. His right hand clutched at the trigger guard of a break-action shotgun. His left eye had been gouged, the eyeball partially dislodged. Long scratches disappeared into his white beard. There were a half-dozen shell casings scattered around his feet.
Raney crossed the bunker, rice cracking under his heels. Wilkins' fellow deceased were young and shared similar broad features. Siblings, maybe twins. The girl had been shot in the stomach and her throat had been cut with the same stroke that finished Wilkins. She died pressing a balled-up tee shirt to her wound. Her blouse and underwear were torn, one breast exposed, bite marks around the nipple. She wore a short denim skirt, no leggings, sandals with a thick heel. Toenails striped the colors of the Mexican flag. A faded contusion on her left cheek, lipstick smeared, short white hairs mixed with the blood under her fingernails. Raney knelt as close as he could without disrupting the scene, looked for bruising on her thighs, found none.
I hope you were spared that much, he said.
Her brother, the apparent knifeman, lay bare-chested beside her. His physique put him somewhere between seventeen and twenty. He'd OD'd, hemorrhaged internally and bled out through his eyes, mouth, ears. The syringe had fallen from his right arm. A Glock 18, a metal spoon, a Bic lighter and a sprung stiletto lay in a pond of blood between the bodies. The brother's pockets were turned out, as though someone had thought to save Raney the trouble.
Traces of white powder spotted the cutting table. Raney crouched down, sniffed. Cocaine, pure enough to step on several times over. Eighteen years clean and still he felt a surge, the slight tingle of a phantom limb. He peeled off a glove, dipped his pinkie in the salad bowl, touched the tip of his finger to his tongue. Baby laxative. He spit hard into his sleeve. He looked more closely at the bowl, spotted a plastic edge poking through the surface. He pulled it free, brushed it off. A full dimebag. Sifting through the bowl with the blade of his penknife, he discovered two more bags. He wrapped these in a handkerchief, buried the handkerchief in his blazer pocket. He left the third bag for the lab techs to find.
The shipment was gone. Judging by the empty sacks Raney estimated ten kilos, maybe more.
He stood on a chair, surveyed the blood trails. They told a confused story: the most he could determine on his own was that no one had died instantly, that people had moved and/or been moved after their wounds were inflicted.
Fact: they'd been locked down here for days before they died (proof: quantity of urine and excrement stewing in a bucket at the back of the room). Fact: Jack lost an eye assaulting the girl. Fact: Jack shot the girl (to avenge his lost eye?).
Scenario: the brother either fell asleep, was cold cocked by Wilkins, or faded into a drug nod. Wilkins attacked the girl. The girl fought back. Wilkins shot her. The blast or its echo woke the brother, who shot Wilkins, then slit his throat (some kind of signature?). Brother tended to sister. When it was clear she wouldn't live, he euthanized her. Probability: she begged for it.
Raney climbed back out of the bunker, stopped to inspect the trap door. It was forged of a heavy metal and coated with tin; one hasp on the interior, another on the exterior. An open padlock with the key inside lay on the ground a few feet away. Raney saw now where the remaining shells had gone: Wilkins had been firing into the underside of the door, looking to blast his way free.
Bay hovered a few yards from the shed, rolling a fresh cigarette.
"Well?" he asked.
"Wilkins had a side business."
"Figures. He always was a shit rancher. You see a single goddamn cow on your way up here?"
Bay kicked at the dirt. Raney stared at a spot somewhere above the tree line.
"Where's the widow?"
"Mavis? At the house. I got my deputy with her."
"I'd like to talk to her."
"She's shook up, Wes."
"I guess she would be."
"What do you think happened?"
"They were trapped. They turned on one another. Then someone came back for the supply."
"How long you figure they been down there?"
"Hard to say. The dry and dark would have slowed the decomp. A while, I'd guess. Whoever locked them in wouldn't risk coming back early."
"Goddamn," Bay said.
Raney searched the clearing. Apart from his sedan and Bay's squad car there was only the county van.
"Their vehicle is gone," he said.
"Probably burned to shit in a ditch somewhere."
"This how it was in New York?" Bay asked.
Raney shrugged, shifted his gaze back to the mountains.