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Murder at Dead Woman Pass

by Gary Clifton

Table of Contents

Table of Contents
parts: 1, 2, 3

part 1

“Petrovic, you gotta stop staring out the window. We’re gonna be up here typing this deadbeat case until midnight again if you don’t get busy.” Valdez partly stood to peer over his shoulder out the federal building window. “We’re on the twelfth floor. No way you can see anything down there.”

Chris Petrovic lowered his binoculars and grinned across the desks. “Gee whiz, even slaves get to take a break every so often. Besides, I was kind enough to let you catch this mope, Rook.”

“Let me? Christoper Petrovic, I caught him ’cuz you ran outta gas.”

Petrovic and his partner, Susan Valdez, had arrested a white supremacist for firebombing an African-American church earlier that morning after a six-block foot chase out in the Pleasant Grove district. Petrovic had indeed run out of wind and Valdez, who’d attended Texas A&M on a track scholarship, had finally caught the guy as he tried to climb a hackberry tree.

“I figured you’d need the experience, kid, that’s all.” He grinned again.

Husky, haggard, dark hair combed over in the federal-agent approved style, Petrovic resumed his surveillance, his size thirteen lizard boots still propped firmly atop the battered desk. “Jesus, Rook,” he said beneath his spyglasses. “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood and lookin’ at nothin’ don’t hurt a damn thing. Besides, my half of this dog and pony show is already typed.” He tapped his computer with one hand without lowering the glasses.

Valdez bent back to her screen. “And stop calling me ‘Rook’, dammit.”

A Christmas-light adorned, flashing bank sign across Commerce Street notified anyone interested that it was a breezy 65 degrees, a not unusual afternoon high in a Dallas winter. The street outside was flooded in brilliant sunshine and pleasant holiday music. Pedestrians traipsed along, many in shirtsleeves.

A fifteen-year ATF veteran, Petrovic had his desk pushed front-to-front with that of his partner, Susan. She was a fashion-model clone with a Puritan mindset and deep, beautiful brown eyes. She was nine months out of the academy. Valdez’s figure was ogled by men and envied by women regularly. And that was as close as Petrovic had gotten.

A former tight end at Kansas State, Petrovic was big and looked tough, because he was. But years of bad diet, three wives, inept management, and constant assault by the cynicism monster had gradually lowered his give-a-damn factor to dead even with the floor. It hadn’t done a lot for his lung capacity, either.

Valdez had grown up the only sister of eight older brothers on a pumpkin farm north of Laredo and was capable of giving back as much crap as she got. Her rep was that she dated no cops, male or female — or anyone else, for that matter.

The intercom telephone on Petrovic’s desk buzzed. It was Group Supervisor R.R. “Rat” Ligon, the world’s most incompetent human.

“The Rat wants to see us,” Petrovic said to Valdez as he rose. He ratcheted up his game face, a defense mechanism to keep him from throwing Ligon, whom he despised, out a twelfth-floor window. Every male eye in the squad room appraised Valdez’s backside as she strode toward Ligon’s office.

Ligon, deer-in-the-headlights expression as usual, motioned for Valdez to shut his office door. “Petrovic, you went through the academy with William Peters?”

“Bill and I sat next to each other alphabetically. They assigned him to Denver or Cheyenne.” Petrovic studied the desktop. “Bill got himself fired a couple years ago, as I recall. He in more trouble?”

Ligon’s laugh bounced off the walls like a hyena’s. “I’d say so. They found him dead, or they think it’s him, on a mountain in Wyoming.” A scrawny little man, Ligon had the odd habit of batting his eyes rapidly behind dark-rimmed, thick glasses.

Ligon tossed an e-mail printout across the desk. “Some local yokel lawman thinks he found Peters’ body, apparently dead for some time. There’s a whiskey still nearby. Peters musta been creeping around the woods and got himself killed. Then they had an off-season forest fire, and old Peters got himself found again.” He cranked up a lesser version of the hyena laugh. “The local guy thinks Peters has a bullet hole in his head.”

“Well, sorry to hear that. What do you want from me?” Petrovic glanced at Valdez. “From us?”

“The Director’s Office has ordered you two to go up there and try to figure out what happened. They’ve got a suspect in custody by the way,” he smiled.

“How do they know it’s Peters?”

“ATF badge was beneath the body. Number was Peters’. Headquarters accused him of stealing it when they canned him.”

“If he was fired, why creep on a whiskey still?” Petrovic asked.

“Dunno.” Ligon smirked. “They’re sendin’ y’all to find out.”

“Doesn’t Denver or Seattle or somebody have people?” Petrovic said with disgust.

“The Director says you might help with ID. Body is decomposed and burned. They’re snowed in up in that burg. Blizzard conditions. We’re working on getting you two to the crime scene.”

Petrovic studied the Rat, attempting with only partial success to hide his contempt. “You say they have a suspect. What the hell do they need us for?”

The Rat tossed a manila folder across the desk. “Uh... Fred Gregory, white male approximately eighty-six. Served a stint in the Wyoming prison at Rawlins for murder fifty-some years ago. Get this: Peters busted him for transporting moonshine three years ago. That’s what got Peters fired. Some kinda theft.”

Petrovic flipped open the file. “Is eighty-six a misprint? Dude’s too old to have the strength to murder a grown man.”

Ligon shrugged and tapped the file. “Not if he used a gun. Looks like they call him ‘Thumper’. Must be tough somehow. Just get goin’. Washington says expedite.”

Valdez examined the two mug photos stapled inside the jacket cover. A much earlier shot showed a younger, dirty man of less than forty with the label “Wyoming Department of Corrections” embossed across the front. A grizzled, much older version of the same man scowled back out of the celluloid of the second picture, scraggly long hair and a full beard appearing capable of concealing a nest of rats.

“Looks mean enough to eat a live chicken,” she remarked.

Petrovic picked up the folder and started out the office door. “C’mon, Rook, we gotta round up some travelin’ clothes. What’s the name of this Godforsaken place?”

Ligon looked at his desk pad. “Dead Woman Pass... uh, Wyoming.”

“Not sure I have enough clothes to work in Montana,” Valdez said thoughtfully.

“Wyoming,” Ligon corrected.

* * *

Proceed to part 2...

Copyright © 2014 by Gary Clifton

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