BY J. S. JAMES
Copyright is held by the author.
Willamette Valley, Oregon — Four Weeks Before Waterfowl Hunting Season
THE BOY’S alive. It was a good shoot. The boy’s alive. It was a good shoot.
Sheriff’s Deputy Delia Chavez typically put no stock in chants or mantras but this one calmed her, waiting to find out how badly she’d screwed up. It kept her pacing the bus-size RV’s aisle instead of kicking the shit out of every miserable piece of furniture in the place. Instead of kicking herself for letting her temper off its leash.
More than two hours had passed since the shooting. The M.E. was gone and Camacho’s body had been removed from this moss-covered wreck marooned out behind the oldest watering hole in Independence, Oregon. The other deps were gone, too: one returning the abducted boy to his mother.
Mostly unmolested. Mostly uninjured. After Delia had hugged his shakes away, told him he was okay. Hoped she wasn’t blowing smoke.
Even the hardcore Sunday morning drinkers and card players had faded back inside the tavern’s rear door. Only she and Detective Harvey Schenkel, who doubled as IA officer for the Polk County Sheriff’s Department, were left inside the pigsty on cinder blocks, her in the living area, him working his way forward from the bedroom.
She paused near the bump out in the RV’s living space, eyed its recessed couch for cootie squatters and opted to keep moving. She’d take whatever Harvey dished out on her feet. Better coming from him than her Mexi-phobic boss, Sheriff Gus Grice.
Seven steps to the dashboard, turn, seven steps back to mid-bus. The boy’s alive. It was a good shoot.
“Harv,” Delia called. “We about done here?”
From him, silence.
Harvey had liked her investigative work on the Gatlin dual homicides back in June. She could tell he didn’t like what he was seeing now, running his flashlight over the spray pattern again, slow-walking the entire gore-spattered hallway that bordered the galley. She’d had to coax the guy out of the bedroom somehow. To be sure of a clean kill. And not hit the boy.
Afraid of giving in to her demolition urges, Delia eased a hip down onto the arm of the fake cowhide travel sofa. She propped her patrol hat on one knee and searched for distraction.
“How ’bout it, Harv?”
The morning was bright but, with the lights out and newspapers plastered over every window, the RV’s interior stayed murky. Unopened utility bills on the cedar chest-converted-to-coffee table explained the power outage but not those window coverings.
Delia’s hand found a lock that had slipped free of her French braid duty-do. She wondered how messed up the boy really was while her gaze settled on a picture frame hung near the exit. She wound and unwound the strand of hair, sneering back at the canted rendering of the blue-eyed King of Rock and Roll. Messed up in a different way. Still got him dead.
Harvey’s flashlight switched off and the narrow hallway returned to the semi-murkiness she had fired her weapon into. She stopped fiddling.
Shambling forward, Harvey snatched two clear plastic bags off the only surface of the L-shaped kitchen counter that wasn’t stacked with food-lacquered dishes. The labeled baggie held a metal object. The other, larger bag was empty. Three more paces and the big man halted his hi-top Red Wings opposite the cigarette-marred coffee table.
The newspaper-filtered light cast a pall over Harvey’s Afro-Dutch skin ton He frowned in obvious deliberation, his shoulders rising and falling under a black sweatshirt greyed from too many wash cycles. Springy hair the colour of a rusted scouring pad poked out from his Ducks Unlimited ball cap.
Delia started to get up but he motioned her back down. She’d like nothing better than to blow this skank hole. She darted a glance at the crooked picture frame then back to Harvey. “Pretty sure the boy’s gonna be okay, Harv. Wolfed a couple of my granola bars once I got him settled down.” She got back a nod acknowledging the morning’s upside. But looking past his grim smile, the disappointment in his eyes made it clear she’d lost ground. Maybe his support.
“Did you find a weapon?” She had to know where he’d come down on the shoot, her second in less than two years. “I mean, besides what the guy had in his hand?” She folded her arms across her lap, swinging the hat in front of her shins, wishing that metal chunk into a snub-nose or even a buck knife.
Harvey lifted the labeled bag and squinted at its contents. “Only the metal comb.” His forehead bunched into furrows. “Hardly lethal, huh, Dee-Dee?”
She pulled her hat up over the flat of her lap. Good. Using the family nickname she’d told him about meant he wasn’t going all official. “That steel comb flashed like a blade, sighting down the hallway.” She supposed she could have put a kitchen knife in the guy’s hand afterward but she had to get the kid out of that nightmare. And she wasn’t that kind of cop.
Harvey wanted more.
She raised her chin, brought the hat brim up and made a slicing motion. “Asshole held it like a knife across the little boy’s throat. You didn’t hear that chicken hawk’s words, his taunts.”
He gently took the hat from her hand and set it on the cedar chest.
She braced her hands on her hips, ready to push off. “I need coffee. Need to get out of here. What say we do the Q and A’s back at the shop?”
His sightline dipped to her jackhammering leg. “You need caffeine like a hound needs fleas.”
Harvey ripped the sports section off the closest window and settled himself into an easy chair. She guessed RV cooties didn’t bother him much.
Bathed in sunlight, his dark complexion was back to the freckled warmth she was used to. His hands flipped outward in explanation. “It’s likely the sheriff will be gunning for you, so I need to be ready when I walk into his office.”
Delia breathed easier, nodding that she understood. Every department had a hard-ass or two.
Reaching into his windbreaker, Harvey pulled out writing materials, a stubby pencil and a notebook that got swallowed in his bear-size paw. “OK, run it past again, this time in low gear. Around 8:30 this morning, you responded to a 911 from this woman . . .”
Hands clasped, Delia leaned toward him. “Hernandez, Lupe.”
“About her missing son . . .”
She nodded. “Carlito. Little Carlos. I’ve been to the mom’s apartment three times this month. Lupe had a court order against her ex-boyfriend, because of his violent episodes, weird sex stuff.” She cleared her throat. “Lotta good that did her.” She poked a thumb down the hallway toward the kill spot, the bedroom beyond. “Nasty piece of work, Pedro Camacho. Came and took the boy from the day-sitter’s yard after Lupe left for work.” She nodded at the exit. “The guy was known to hang out at the tavern. I drove here and found out he’d rented the owner’s motorhome out behind the place.”
Harvey flipped a hand, signalling for her to slow down. He’d written nothing. “OK, Dee-Dee. Facts are important, but I need to know exactly what ran through your head. Accounting for your mental state will be crucial with the officer-involved shooting review.”
Delia stiffened. “Uh-huh. Well, I stepped out behind the tavern, headed for the Winnebago and peeked in around the newspapers covering the window. I heard a high-pitched yelp from inside.”
Harvey made his first note. From upside down, it looked like he added “probable cause” at the end. Then he waited, his patience helping calm her, a little.
“I tried the door latch, the boy screamed and I drew my weapon.”
“You didn’t knock?”
Knock, hell. About ripped the damn door off its hinges.
“Sure. But then I stepped in and stopped there.” She pointed to a throw rug at the centre of the RV’s cramped living area. “I heard crying from inside the bedroom. The hall was dim but I could see okay down there.” Delia motioned toward the narrow passage. “Camacho heard my shout and came out of the bedroom. He was this large shape with a head, holding a smaller one by the back of the neck. Harv, the kid was shaking like a leaf.”
“You identified yourself.”
She tensed. “Asshole identified me. ‘Oye, Mamacita,’ he said. ‘Policia.’ Cupped his crotch and growled out, ‘Bet I got a bigger gun.’”
“He could tell it was you?”
She shook her head. “Picked up on my uniform, mostly.”
Harvey tapped his temple. “What went on up there when he said that?”
Delia glanced at the floor. I wanted to storm down that hallway and boot that chicken hawk in his big gun.
“I ignored it. Instructed him to let the boy come forward.”
“You tried a talk-down first?”
“Of course I did.” Had she? Her memory flashed on a little boy’s face contorted in terror, Camacho shuffling him sideways.
“All right,” Harvey prompted. “Camacho’s in the passageway with the boy . . .”
“By the kitchen opening, now.”
“ . . . beside the kitchen, still holding the boy at the neck?”
“Squeezing, Harv, making him squeal.”
Harvey frowned. “Jesus. Then?”
“Camacho said, ‘Back off, Chiquita. Or the floor turns red with blood.’ That’s when he yanked a drawer open, whipped out something shiny and held it close to the boy’s throat. Honest to God, Harv, I thought it was a knife.” Delia clasped her hands together, studying her chewed thumbnail.
Could have been a spatula, anything from that galley. But her trigger finger had turned it into a knife.
Harvey would talk to the boy. She hoped he’d back her up.
He patted her wrist, a brief touch. “That’s what made you take the shot?”
She blinked at the whiteness in her knuckles. That, and blind fury.
“I was sure the boy was toast.”
He sat up and capped his knees with his hands, the notebook disappearing under one of them. “The sheriff will point out you’ve collared this Camacho before.”
“Right. Several priors. Three for domestic violence, one a possible snatch attempt on the boy. Camacho skated when Lupe refused to bring charges. She was scared spitless of him.”
Delia Chavez hadn’t been, not by a long shot.
Harvey wrote something then double-traced a question mark after it. “The last mentioned being the most recent?”
“Harv, my run-ins were three of at least a half-dozen nine-one-ones on this guy. Ask Castner. Ask the responding deps. We all had our eye on him.”
“But you more than others. He knew you.”
Delia maintained steady eye contact and kept her first thought to herself. If he didn’t, he was blind, deaf and stoned.
“Knew I was Latina and a cop. He was usually so wasted he couldn’t have cared less whether it was me or anybody else pouring him into the back of a patrol car.”
Harvey’s eyes narrowed. “Well, he wasn’t falling down drunk this morning.”
She said nothing.
The big man lifted the curved bill of his cap off his forehead, scratched at a woolly outcropping and reset his cap. “That brings up the last shooting review. You’d had several run-ins with the shootee back then.”
Delia bristled but held silent.
“As I recollect, it also ended with him taking a little boy —”
“Now that was ruled a clean shoot. I — ”
He raised his hands in a whoa-up gesture. “Except this time, you shot the guy dead.”
She glared down at him, only then realizing she had jumped to her feet.
“Dee-Dee, I gotta play devil’s advocate. Remember? I was the deputy’s rep on that board. Now I’m on both sides of it, and I’m expected to present the full picture. You know I’ll back you, so long as I’m convinced you didn’t target Camacho and the shoot was justified. So park your skinny ass and get on with the convincing.”
Skinny ass. Delia clamped her mouth shut and tried to wrap her head around the notion. Harvey had a knack for deflating her with an off-the-wall remark. She let out a breathy laugh and eased her so-called skinny ass back down onto the arm of the couch. “Sorry, Harv.”
“I’ve said this before, Dee-Dee, you’ve got potential. Way beyond some of the numbnuts in our department. You’ve got this drive, this fearless compulsion to . . . well, do what’s right, corny as it sounds. Just don’t go overboard with it. She almost blurted out that he wasn’t born in a Latino family like she was—lost most of their family, like she did. “And you’ve got to spritz whatever’s burning inside. Above all, an officer of the law is required to keep his or her temper in check.”
She smiled at the spritzing part but recognized the last as a direct quote out of the law enforcement practices manual.
Harvey opened the larger bag and held it out. “I need your piece.”
She felt the burn steal back into her face. Like a good investigator, she squelched it with a curt nod and handed over her weapon.
The interview lasted another 30 minutes, him probing with needle-sharp questions, her answering, eyes fixed on the opposite wall, where that velvet Elvis sneered back.
Finally, Harvey yawned. “What say we blow this dump?”
On the way out, Delia straightened the picture.