DEPUTY SHERIFF MANNY RIVERA stepped out the front door of the small house he rented in Moab, feeling happy and irritated at the same time. He was refreshed after a week’s vacation in New Mexico with his fiancée Gloria Valdez—spending time together, making plans for their wedding, and visiting each other’s relatives—all that made him happy. And now he was looking forward to returning to the office, seeing the friends and associates he worked with, and resuming the job he loved—that also made him happy. The thing that irritated him was what had happened while he was gone. Sheriff Louise Anderson, his new boss, had solved a high-profile murder case in his absence. He regretted not being in Moab to handle it himself. To him, investigating capital crimes in Grand County was his domain, and he didn’t want anyone encroaching on it, not even his boss. Oh well, he thought, there was nothing he could do about it now.
He paused for a brief moment to take in the view. The blue sky was filled with puffy white cumulus clouds, and the trees in his neighborhood were leafing out in every shade of green. The sun was peeking over the LaSal Mountains causing the snow which remained on the north-facing slopes to glisten. He inhaled deeply, filling his lungs to capacity with the cool, high-desert air, enjoying its freshness and sagebrush scent, and reinforcing his belief that late May was one of the best times to be in Moab.
He headed for the white Grand County Sheriff’s Department Ford F-150 pickup truck parked in his driveway and hoisted himself into the cab. He backed out into the street, waved to the young boy and girl playing in the front yard next door, and grinned at the sight of their little waves and shy smiles. Seeing them reminded him of how much he wanted a family of his own, and now that he and Gloria would soon be married, he hoped he would get his wish. At age thirty-nine, he knew he was starting late. He turned his vehicle toward town and headed for the Rim Rock Diner on Main Street. His stomach was growling and breakfast at the Rim Rock was his favorite way to start a workday.
He pulled to a stop at the traffic light on Main Street and waited. Looming ahead of him was the Moab Rim, a two-thousand-foot high sandstone escarpment dominating the western edge of town. The massive cliff was glowing a bright copper color, illuminated by the rising sun.
Main Street was crowded with Jeeps, SUVs, and pickup trucks as adventure seekers headed out to the backcountry for exploring, hiking, rock climbing, mountain biking, rafting, or just sightseeing in the national parks. The number of tourists visiting Moab had grown considerably since Rivera moved here seven years ago. The natural attraction had always been the region’s geologic beauty, but the growth in recent years was also being stimulated by businessmen promoting the area as a tourist destination. New motels and restaurants had sprung up all over town, and more were under construction. Moab, once a dying uranium-mining town, had blossomed into an outdoor recreation mecca, and the growth had exceeded everyone’s expectations. Many of the locals were beginning to regret what was happening to their little town. Rivera and Gloria had discussed where they might live after they were married, but as yet had made no final decision. She’d said she was willing to live wherever he wanted, and he’d said pretty much the same thing, though he had a powerful attachment to the canyon country around Moab.
After breakfast, he planned to go directly to the office. He was eager to reconnect with his coworkers and learn more about what had happened while he was away. He’d heard on a radio broadcast about the murder in the LaSal Mountains, and that the sheriff had identified and arrested the perpetrator in a matter of a few days. Impressive police work, he thought. Sheriff Anderson was a retired Army colonel who had spent her career in the Military Police, so she’d acquired a great deal of experience in law enforcement. Evidently, she’d made the transition to the civilian world without missing a beat. Rivera was curious about the case and wanted to know how she’d solved it so quickly. One part of him resented her success, but another part was proud of her. She was new to the job, and some of Grand County’s citizens had been wondering if she was up to the challenge. Now she had proven herself.
While he waited at the traffic light, Rivera thought he heard a familiar melody. He lowered his window, and the most beautiful accordion music wafted into his vehicle.
He looked to his left and spotted a young lady sitting in a folding chair and playing an accordion in front of the Moab Information Center. She couldn’t have been more than seventeen years old. The accordion was connected to an amplifier and speaker, and the music filled the intersection of Main and Center Streets. To Rivera’s ear, the quality of the music was extraordinary for a musician so young. Several pedestrians had stopped to listen and watch her play, and one man dropped a dollar bill into her tip jar. Rivera loved Moab and the music lifted his spirits.
The traffic light turned green, and he turned left onto Main and headed south, the music fading as he drove. Three blocks later, he pulled into the parking lot of the Rim Rock Diner. Betty the waitress would be waiting for him and, as she always did, would launch into one of her outrageous flirtations, pour him coffee, and ask if he wanted the usual. He would sit in the corner booth where he always sat, sipping coffee and looking out the window at Main Street with the LaSal Mountains as a picture-postcard backdrop. It was a routine he never tired of.
As he parked and started to exit the vehicle, his cell phone buzzed. The caller was Millie Ives, the Grand County sheriff’s dispatcher. He hoisted himself back into the cab.
“Manny, proceed to the residence of Shirley Miller on Shumway Lane.” She gave him the address. “Ms. Miller was a little incoherent when she called, but it sounded like she was reporting a shooting. EMS has been notified.”
“On my way.”
“Welcome back, Manny. Sorry to interrupt your breakfast.”
Rivera started the engine, switched on the light bar, and sped south on Main Street. He reached into the door pocket and extracted a granola bar from the supply he kept there. He tore the wrapper open with his teeth, ate the granola bar, and washed it down with water from a plastic bottle. He wolfed down a second one as he sped up Murphy Lane and turned right onto the patched asphalt of Shumway Lane. The granola bars helped stave off his hunger, but did nothing to satisfy his craving for coffee.
He coasted down into a vale of woody bottomland, passed a series of small houses and abandoned trailers, and slowed down for a flock of wild turkeys trotting across the road. He splashed across the low water crossing at Pack Creek and continued, soon pulling to a stop in front of a one-story, white clapboard house with an open porch in front. Next to it was a detached one-car garage with a sagging roof. Both structures were old and in need of a paint job. The house sat in a cluster of cottonwood trees, and the front yard was mostly dirt with a sparse scattering of high desert grasses and brush. Rivera guessed the house had been built in the 1950s, probably during the uranium boom.
A maroon motorhome was parked in the gravel driveway leading to the garage. It was dusty and decrepit, and its side panel had several dents and scrapes. It was an older model featuring squared-off corners rather than the aerodynamically shaped design of modern units. The vehicle was about twenty-two feet in length and looked vaguely familiar to him. Parked next to it under a tree was a light blue Datsun pickup of 1980s vintage with patches of rust beginning to show through the paint.
Rivera hopped out of his vehicle. A stout, distraught-looking woman wearing baggy jeans and a faded Canyonlands National Park T-shirt was standing in the yard. She looked to be about sixty years old and had the craggy, sun-damaged skin not uncommon to people who have lived their lives at altitude under the desert sun. Her gray hair was pulled straight back and held with a plastic clip. Her hands were thick and weathered, and her face was frozen as though she were in shock.
“I think Iggy might be dead,” she said. She pointed a finger at the motorhome.
“Are you Shirley Miller?” asked Rivera.
“Yes,” she said, in a barely audible voice.
“Please wait here, Shirley.”
The door to the motorhome was open and a pair of dusty boots rested on the first step. Rivera climbed the steps leading to the interior and peered inside, careful not to touch anything. He saw a man lying on the floor, eyes open, with a darkened bloodstain on the front of his shirt. His shoulder-length hair was brown, and he had about a week of stubble on his face. His skin was ashen, and he had an odd look of surprise on his face. Rivera reached down and checked the man’s carotid artery for a pulse. He was dead.
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