Overkill on I-17

available on Kindle

 

    Overkill on I-17, a murder mystery, was released to initial readers the third week of September 2014. The sudden resignation of the U.S. Attorney General that same week and any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental.


    It was an accidental shooting by a careless hunter on I-17 is the official position of the FBI. The Arizona governor brings in an ad hoc team to examine the matter of what should be a futile investigation. They find they are up against powerful federal officials who want their inquiry stopped at all cost. People start dying left and right. Who is behind these killings?


Here are the first thirty pages for your reading enjoyment:


Prelude

“How long are you gonna give me the silent treatment, Sunny? It’s a long way down this here I-17 highway to Phoenix.”

“Well, I don’t rightly know, Gene. How long was you gonna talk to those nekid women at the America’s Finest gas station?”

“They weren’t naked. They were wearing bikinis. They told me the AC went out in their truck.”

“You know they was completely nekid, Gene. They hung those tiny bikinis on their rear view mirrors when they pulled their truck away from the pumps.”

“Yeah. So what? They were wearing muumuus a few minutes later when they went into the store. Whoa, that guy in the SUV must be going over a hundred. This road is still wet in spots. He probably don’t know they have radar traps on I-17.”

“Hey, that’s that old U-Haul truck with them nekid women right behind him. I didn’t think those old trucks could go so fast.”

         “Now what?” said Gene. “First we all go fast and now everyone is slowing up. I’m not showing any radar ahead.”

“Looks like the guy in the SUV must be texting,” said Sunny, “he’s weaving all over the road. Now that old truck is pulling right up long side him. That’s not very safe. You slow down now, Gene. We sure don’t need to be in a wreck tonight. Hey, that’s not right. Did you see that? That old truck bumped him off the road and then it just kept going.”



Chapter One – Overkill

The silver G500 AMG Mercedes was lying on its side about fifty feet from the pavement. Its left wheels were still turning as Gene and Sunny and the first of a dozen helpers scrambled down the slick embankment. A couple of truckers carried fire extinguishers. Three or four people held their camera phones over their heads casting flickering light as they made videos of the scene. The slightly waning moon that third Sunday night of June shone brightly in the crystal clear mountain air.

“Looks like someone shot the driver through the head,” said a young trucker with a huge flashlight as he peered through the windshield. “Will one of you people with your fancy phones please call 911? I couldn’t get a signal when I stopped. Tell them it looks like we have a dead man here.”

“Shouldn’t we try to get him out?” asked Gene. “I’ve got a winch on my truck and we could get the SUV upright and pull him out.”

“What the hell you talking about, kid?” growled a sixty-year-old trucker with full sleeve tattoos of dragons and snakes covering both his muscular arms. “The guy is completely dead. He was shot through the head. This is a crime scene. We ain’t gonna screw it up before the police get here. But look at this. This sure looks like someone attached a bomb under this poor guy’s car. Looks like it has an air pressure gauge to detonate the device. This guy was certain to be dead before he reached Phoenix. We better all step back.” The crowd backed up.

“Hey, come look at this here dead guy, Gene,” said Sunny as she walked around the SUV while making a video with her new phone. “Don’t he look like D’Wayne Ackerman, the old NBA star? Huh, don’t he? No wonder he was drivin’ hundert miles an hour. D’Wayne made his own rules on or off the court. I guess someone blew the final whistle on him. I don’t think we want to be messed up in this, Gene. There’re plenty of witnesses here. Let’s let them make the police report. Come on, Gene, we can be half-way to Phoenix afore the police from Flagstaff get down here.”

“No, Sunny, we need to stay here. We saw what happened and you got the first pictures on your phone.”

“You know the cops are going to take your fancy phone away from you, don’t you?” said the tattooed trucker. “You’ll be lucky to make it to Phoenix by noon. But the woman is right, nobody don’t want to be mixed up in nothing involving D’Wayne Ackerman. I’m leaving now myself. Nothing more we can do here.”

As the truckers climbed back up the slope two men wearing dark T-shirts, black cargo pants, and desert style combat boots scrambled down the embankment.  One carried a black ballistic nylon tool bag. Both had short hair. Both wore safety glasses and blue neoprene gloves.

“We’re from the government,” announced the older of the two men. “Has anyone called 911?” Several heads nodded. “Okay, we’re taking charge here until the police arrive. Y’all should stop taking pictures if you don’t want to lose your phones. Who owns the pickup with the winch? Okay, we need you to help us get this SUV on its wheels again. Is your cable long enough to reach down here? Yeah, a hundred feet is plenty. My partner will go up with you to pull down the cable. Did anyone get into or touch the SUV? No? Y’all sure about that? Okay, did anyone pick up anything from the wreck? No? Everyone’s certain about that? Okay, now y’all listen carefully. We don’t need your help here anymore. Who ever was right behind this vehicle when it went off the road needs to stay to make a statement to the police. Don’t none of you talk to nobody ‘specially no TV reporters about this. Let the police make their official statements. The rest of you need to get going on down the highway. We’ve got all your license numbers. We can find where you live. We’ll get in touch with you if we need you. Do I need to say some of that again? We don’t need you here. Y’all need to get moving if you don’t want the police to ask you to stay here at least until morning.”

The crowd scrambled back up the slope to their vehicles and started leaving. Gene moved his pickup so it was perpendicular to the highway. The younger government man pulled the winch cable down to the SUV. While they were working with the winch and cable, the older man carefully removed the device that appeared to be a bomb with an altimeter attached from the bottom of the SUV. He tucked the bomb into his tool bag. Two minutes later the SUV was back on its wheels. Gene retracted his cable as Sunny climbed back into their truck.

“Let’s get going,” said Sunny. “This ain’t no normal wreck. Them ain’t no normal government men. I know deep down in my born again Christian soul we really and truly don’t want to be involved.”

“But that man said whoever was right behind should wait to give the police their report.”

“Gene, I know you’re a lot smarter than that. You know D’Wayne Ackerman was involved in all sorts of bad stuff. He was in the papers all the time. I don’t think them men are even from our government. They certainly ain’t no policemen. We need to be far, far away when the true police get here.”

“I agree but only ‘cause you’re right this time. Look there. That one government guy just pulled a five gallon gas container out of the back of the SUV and tossed it down the hill. Now you know that just ain’t right. This is a no fire zone. What the hell was he thinking?”

As Gene waited for traffic to clear, a bright flash followed by a dull roar came from where the gas container exploded. Traffic slowed to watch the fire. Gene and Sunny pulled back onto I-17. They did not stop until they reached their modest home in west Phoenix.


Chapter Two – The Governor Takes Charge

“Hello Dennis, how’s the foot?” asked Arizona governor, Elaine Winters. She walked around her desk to give Phoenix police lieutenant Dennis Kozlovski a big hug and kiss on the cheek. She pointed to a chair but held onto his hand as he sat down. She was dressed in a tailored business suit. He was wearing casual clothing.

“The foot I still have is fine. The prosthesis is not as good as I’d hoped after six months but I can get around. You know we should be a bit more formal now that you’re governor and I’m not yet retired. I was planning on spending the next two weeks on my boat on Lake Powell but I saw the news. I’m just guessing but I suspect this incident on I-17 will be the topic of our visit.”

“You know I still love you don’t you,” said Elaine as she stroked his hand. “I’ll never forgive myself for not accepting your proposal thirty-three years ago. I thought it was an April Fools joke at first. Then you cried and it almost broke my heart. But I was young and stupid and for you it was all for the best. Your marriage to Marsha was so happy. What was it she told me once before she died, ‘twenty-three years of bliss?’ What did I have in those same twenty-three years? Two unfaithful husbands, a criminal son, and a drug addict daughter who brought me only grief and pain. Your boys are doing so well, an attorney and a dentist. You’ve been a widower almost ten years now. Are you ever going to give me a second chance?”

“I’m sixty years old, Elaine. I’m a cripple after that truck ran over me on my motorcycle. You’re the governor for heaven sakes. You can have almost any man you want. You need someone who can go with you to the fancy parties and such. You told me long ago you don’t like bald men. I’m as bald as it gets and I’m not going to start wearing a toupee. I don’t think we would make a good match. Now why don’t we forget the past and you tell me why you called me in?”

“Okay, only for today it’s all business. But one day soon I’m expecting an invitation from you to spend the night on your houseboat on Lake Powell. Just the two of us, okay? No kids or grandkids. I can arrange it so it will be very discreet.

“Now to this horrible mess on I-17. I know it was on the TV news this morning but here is the rest of the story as far as I know right now. You might want to know it took me six very tedious phone calls starting at four this morning to get this far. For reasons beyond me, the FBI has determined that a randomly fired bullet from some unknown hunter killed D’Wayne Ackerman when it struck him right between the eyes last night. My own Criminal Investigations Division of the Department of Public Safety supports the FBI’s position. What a bunch of wimps. The sheriffs from Coconino County, Maricopa County, and Yavapai County could all care less. I had to twist the arm of the Phoenix city manager to let me have you take a look into this mess. There were hundreds of footprints at the scene of the crime and yet there are absolutely no known witnesses.

“Compounding that, several people called 911 when they saw D’Wayne’s SUV go off the road but none of them admit they stopped to help. They all claim they were several miles down the highway before they got through to the 911 operators and there was no place to turn around so they just kept driving. Yavapai sheriff deputies say it looks like the SUV was lying on its side and then tipped back on its wheels before they arrived.

“Dennis, we worked together often enough when I was the Arizona State Prosecutor to know when we smell a cover up. We now have a major public figure killed on our major highway. No one is interested. To top it off, there is no evidence of a crime. Things like this may happen in Chicago or Detroit but it will not happen in Arizona as long as I’m governor. Please help me sort this out.”

“Do I have any choice?” said Kozlovski. “No, didn’t think so. So where’s the body?”

“It’s here in Phoenix at the Medical Examiner’s Office,” said the governor, “and the vehicle is in the sheriff’s evidence impound lot. Like I said before there is no other evidence.”

“What do you mean no other evidence? Please explain.”

“What’s to explain? The Flagstaff highway patrol and some sheriff deputies were on the scene about thirty minutes after the 911 calls came in. They found hundreds of footprints around the SUV. They found D’Wayne’s body still strapped in the driver’s seat. There was no wallet, no cell phone, and nothing in the glove box but the owner’s manual for the car. No other papers were found in the car. There is no evidence of a crime.”

“And you suspect because this accident scene was perfectly clean,” said Kozlovski, “a crime must have been committed. I think you’ve been watching too much TV. You said the SUV was on its wheels but had previously been on its side. Who put it back on its wheels? Okay, okay, you don’t need to give me your look of death. I just needed to ask.

“If you really want me to solve this puzzle, you know I can’t do it by myself. You need to give me some help…”

“Dennis, Sweetheart, you know I want to find out what happened. I’m giving you all the support I can. I’ve asked Sheriff Luke Zaccaro to give me his best detective to support you. I’m giving you Leslie, my top-notch administrative assistant from my own personal staff. He’s a college kid; sort of my long term summer intern and you can have him for up to two months if it takes that long. He can answer the phones and be your gofer. I’ve arranged for you to have an office suite in the vacant west side of the Sandra Day O’Connor Courthouse. The building’s AC is broken over there and you will need to get some temporary AC set up but I’m sure you will work it out.”

“And my budget?”

“I wouldn’t do this with anyone else but you have a blank check for two months. Leslie has two government credit cards for you to use. Rent the cars and equipment you need. Tell anyone who gives you any grief to call me and I’ll straighten him out. Call me directly if you need anything.

“You know my campaign was based on bringing the rule of law back to Arizona. That’s a novel idea for many people but I’m sticking to it. We both know in our hearts this was no accident. I want you to be very careful because we don’t know yet with whom we’re dealing. Keep me informed when you find something significant. But above all, find out who killed D’Wayne Ackerman and why.”

“I’ll do my best…”

“Your best? I don’t want to sound like Yoda but I don’t want your “best.” I want conclusive evidence that will lead to a clean prosecution or admission of guilt. Are you up to this or not?”

“Hell, Elaine, I’ll still be on disability leave for the next two months until my mandatory retirement. Maybe you should pick someone else for this job.”

“Yeah? Like who? Who do you recommend? Everyone I talked to this morning told me to just let it alone. They all said D’Wayne had it coming. He was mixed up in so many scams and schemes he probably didn’t know how he was going to get out of the hole he dug for himself. Just because you lost a foot doesn’t mean you can’t think clearly. If I thought there was anyone else who could sort this out I wouldn’t have bothered you. You’re the finest investigator in the state of Arizona, maybe in the entire United States. You can do this and do it correctly. Don’t you dare let me down or go getting yourself shot. I need you more than you can imagine.”

“Okay, I’ll do it. Who do I need to see in the courthouse about that office space? Also, I need the names of who you talked to this morning.”

“Leslie has all that information. He’s waiting outside to take you over to your new office. Oh, by the way, Leslie is a close personal friend of mine. Don’t screw with him just because he may be a little…”

“Little what? Different?”

“Yeah, different is a good description. You’ll like him. He does good work.”


Chapter Three – Stranger Than Fiction

“Hi, Lieutenant Kozlovski. My name is Leslie Stanton. I’m your new administrative assistant. I can help you with anything you need. I can’t tell you what an honor it is for me being associated with the man the governor says is the smartest detective in the entire United States.”

“Hello Leslie. I’m please to meet you too. Let’s go look at the office space in the courthouse that the governor wrangled for us already this morning. Doesn’t she ever sleep? My car is in front of the building in a handicapped spot. I’ll drive us over to our new home.”

“She does sleep but not very long at any one time. Don’t you know her well?”

“Yeah, we go way back.”

“I know. You don’t need to say anything more. Your personal life is safe with me. Well, about these offices she…wrangled was the word you used. Interesting use of that word but very apt. We won’t be using those offices anytime soon.”

“Why not?”

“The cooling system is defective on that west side of the building. I don’t know what the architect was thinking but putting an industrial sized evaporative cooler on an all glass building facing west in Phoenix is something only a bureaucrat in Washington could conjure up. I understand from a friend who was working there last week that when the cooling failed it went from 78 to 121 degrees inside his office within ten minutes. My mother’s kitchen oven wouldn’t heat that fast. They evacuated the building. People with offices on the west side of that building plan to work from four in the morning to noon. Or they will work at night until the AC is fixed.”

“We might be able to put in some type of window coolers or portable AC so we can work there during the day.”

“Not likely. The widows don’t open and there is no way to exhaust the warm air from a portable AC unless we drill a hole through the concrete walls.”

“So what do you suggest we do? If we came in to work early in the morning we could be in the office. Then we could knock off or do our outside work in the afternoon and come back after the sun goes down. Are you willing to work that kind of schedule?”

“That sounds perfectly fine with me. I’ll work any hours you need me. I’m very flexible with no current attachments. This is so exciting for me to be working with you. It makes me just tingle.”

“Tell me, Leslie, not that it makes any difference…”

“You think I’m gay, don’t you?”

“That thought had crossed my mind. But if the governor thinks you’re a professional, her judgment is good enough for me. Let’s just keep our relationship on a professional level. Okay?”

“Yes sir. I’m the ultimate professional. Actually though, I can be anything you want me to be. I’m not truly “gay”, I’m transgender by my own preference.”

“So let me get this straight, you can be either a man or a woman?”

“Yes, sir. Either or depending on how I feel or what the situation requires.”

“Doesn’t that make your life a little complicated?”

“I prefer the term interesting over complicated. If you would prefer me to choose one gender and stick with it for the duration of our investigation, I can do that. The governor asked me to stick to being male as long as I’m working for her to avoid confusion.  It’s not much fun but we professionals must forgo fun to get the job done.”

“You can do what ever makes you the most comfortable but if the governor prefers you as a male we should probably stick to her policy. We probably won’t be having much interaction with the public in our office anyway.”

“Oh I don’t plan to work in the office. I’m planning on being with you and who ever the Sheriff Zaccaro sends to help with the investigation.”

“Listen, Leslie, someone needs to be in the office all the time to answer phones and shuffle papers, etc., etc. and that person is you.”

“Oh Lieutenant, you are so cute when you get all official on me. Sorry. I’ll be professional from now on. Please let me explain this in very basic terms. This is the information age. We now have smart phones that we carry with us everywhere we go. Those smart phones and similar devices are connected to the Internet and the cloud. What ever we did with paper and landline phones in the past, we can now do with mobile devices. The only reason for that office is so we can tell people where to send our mail or store our equipment. Besides I can’t work there when it gets so hot in the afternoons. It might ruin my implants.”

“Your implants?”

“Yes. I have discreet breast implants but when they get hot they are quite uncomfortable. It’s like having two hot irons on your chest.”

“Lord have mercy…”

“Yes, exactly, you can’t imagine. You are so sensitive. Most men don’t understand this problem at all. It’s absolutely terrible and to make matters worse, they do the same thing in the cold. It’s like having ice cubes in my safari shirt pockets but they don’t melt. I’ve thought about having my implants removed but they look so good and bring my friends and me such pleasure. Do you want to see them?”

“Maybe some other time.” They parked in the garage to the east of the courthouse and walked across the street. “Do you know your way around this building? I’ve only been here a couple of times since they built it.”

“Yes, I came over this morning to pick up our keys and check out our new offices. I’m quite sure you’ll agree with me that they are adequate for our needs. The elevators are on the right. We’re in suite 327 on the third floor.”

* * * *

“Looks like someone is waiting for us,” said Kozlovski. “Too small to be our sheriff’s detective…”

“No, no, not her,” said Leslie. “Lieutenant, we need to get rid of her immediately. She will make your life hell. I know, I’ve dealt with her before.”

“You must be Lieutenant Kozlovski. My name is Detective Sergeant Nina Begay and I’ve heard all the ‘wrong kind of Indian’ jokes so don’t even start. Why do you have this Stanton person with you? I hope you don’t consider having it on our team. As a matter of fact I hope you don’t want me on your team either. I’ve got five; count them, five important investigations in progress. I don’t need to waste my time on this wild goose chase.”

“Well it certainly is a pleasure to meet you too, Sergeant Begay. Let’s all step into our offices. I don’t like discussing these things in hall.”

“Sir,” said Leslie, “you obviously heard the blatant homophobic animosity in her greeting. We don’t need her and she has other more important things to do. Please do us all a favor and send her back to tracing lost bicycles or whatever she does best for Sheriff Zaccaro. She will bring us nothing but grief and pain.”

“Grief and pain are my middle names,” snarled Begay. “Especially if you get one millimeter out of line. I know the governor likes you but I don’t. Any adult who can’t decide whether he’s a boy or a girl needs some serious prolonged counseling. I don’t know how you can even function in life.”

“Whoa, whoa. Lighten up, Sergeant. The governor told me Sheriff Luke was sending his best detective to help me. Anyone who is considered best by the sheriff must be a truly exceptional police officer. Before I make any decision about sending you back, please tell me a little bit about yourself. Leslie, I want to hear Sergeant Begay without interruption. You can either leave for about ten minutes or sit quietly and listen while she tells me why Sheriff Zaccaro would consider her his best detective.”

“Sir, you are wasting valuable time listening to her. Send her back and save us from hearing her recite the entire Arizona penal code and half the United States statues that may apply to any bizarre circumstance you may think of.”

“You, Ms or Mr. Stanton are the only bizarre circumstance for which there is no current criminal penalty that I know of but I’m still looking for something. So are you going to keep your mouth shut now or do I need to put you out in the hall? If you say one more word before I’m finished you will really get me mad.”

“I’m staying and I’m not saying a word but I’m not forgetting anything you said either and I’m filing a protest with your boss because you…”

“Leslie, please sit down and shut up,” said Kozlovski. “You’ll get your chance next. So please Sergeant Begay, go ahead and talk to me as if you were applying for a job and not trying to get out of it.”


Chapter Four – Nina Begay vs Leslie Stanton

“My name is Nina Begay. I know Begay is a Navajo and not a Hindi name. My husband is Chief Warrant Officer Joseph Begay from Window Rock.” Sergeant Begay went on to tell about her husband, a highly decorated U.S. Army soldier, a sniper in the Special Forces in Afghanistan who was in the hospital in Washington, D.C., due to a wounded foot.

“Excuse me, Sergeant Begay, I want to hear about you, not your hero husband. Tell me about your life and your career with Sheriff Zaccaro’s office.”

“Sorry, I get carried away sometimes. I was raised by my grandmother in Tucson and grew up speaking English and Spanish.

“After I graduated from the University of Arizona I started work as a high school teacher but I found I couldn’t stand the kids. They wouldn’t give me any respect because I’m so small. Some days it was all I could do to not administer corporeal discipline. I have a third degree black belt in tae kwon do.

I applied for a job with Sheriff Zaccaro in the summer of 2011 and worked in the prison admin office at first. I asked Sheriff Zaccaro if he would give a chance as a deputy. I maxed all the tests they could give me and have had pretty good luck in my career so far. I was promoted to sergeant on the day after my minimum two years on the force. I’ve been accepted to the U of A law school and in 10 weeks I’ll go back to school. Sheriff Zaccaro says he’ll always give me a job if I need one.”

“Pretty impressive, Sergeant Begay. I can understand you wanting to get back to your pending cases but I need you. So unless you walk out on me I’m not about to send you back. I just hope we can get this all wrapped up before you leave for law school.

“Now there is one thing we need to settle immediately. Why are you so hostile towards Leslie? What has he ever done to you?”

“Yeah,” said Leslie. “What have I ever done to you? You’re the one who started the fight.”

“About two years ago twenty members of the LGBT community in Tempe thought it would be fun to parade naked without any type of permit down the middle of Mill Avenue at midnight as a prelude to Gay Pride Day. My partner and I responded to a 911 call from an observer. My partner directed traffic and I took charge of breaking up the parade.

“I asked them politely to disband and put their clothes back on. They essentially challenged my authority and made derogatory comments about my size, my ancestry and me. They called me the wrong kind of Indian.

“I gave them a second warning and told them to disperse and put their clothing back on or I would arrest them. I cited their most obvious violations, at least all I could think of at the moment. They became even more obnoxious and started throwing trash at me that they pulled out of the containers along the street. One of them hit me with a 32-ounce paper cup full of vomit. That was too much for me. I called for backup and a prison van. Then I waded into them, taking out the two biggest ones first. That included this Stanton person who was one of the most vocal ringleaders. When the backup and the police van arrived, I had five perpetrators on the ground restrained with zip ties. The rest of the group had run away.

“The next day the judge released all of them with just a warning. Then she cautioned me about using undue force when people were exercising their First Amendment rights to free expression. That really pissed me off. Sheriff Zaccaro thought I did a good job and gave me a commendation after I told him I made sure I did not break any bones.”

“Well, Leslie, is what she said accurate?”

“I can’t comment on what went on between her and Sheriff Zaccaro but the rest was pretty accurate. Sir, we were not hurting anyone. We were just having a little fun in the middle of the night and this pit bull person tore into us like we were some type of major criminals. I carried black and blue marks on my body for weeks from her nightstick.”

“It was a side handle baton not a nightstick, you idiot.”

“Okay, Sergeant Begay, I’m now giving you a direct order. Stop using derogatory language towards Leslie. We’ll be working together for a few weeks. You don’t have to like him but you will respect him and his life choices.”

“Sir,” said Begay, “just send me away. I don’t think I can work with this person for a day, not to mention a few weeks. Tell Sheriff Zaccaro I’m too small or the wrong kind of Indian. Sheriff Zaccaro will send you someone else.”

“I don’t want someone else, I want you. I’ve known Lucas Zaccaro for almost as long as you’ve been alive. He would not have sent you to me if he thought someone else could do the job. So suck it up and act like a professional.”

* * * *

“Okay, Leslie, now it is your turn. Tell me why the governor wants you to work with me to solve this case. What special talents do you have? Why does the governor think so highly of you? Sergeant Begay, you may leave for a few minutes if you want. If you stay, please don’t interrupt while Leslie is talking.”

“Sir, again I must protest about us having Sergeant Begay involved in this investigation. She is a bull in a china shop. She cannot control herself in difficult situations as she has already admitted. We would be better off working alone.”

“Leslie, you obviously have many good qualities or we would not be having this conversation” said Kozlovski. “Apparently comprehension is not one of them. You just heard me tell Sergeant Begay she is staying. Now I’m telling you the same thing I told her, suck it up and act like a professional. Now tell me your story.”

“My parents are both professors who were born females but my father changed gender. When they adopted me as an infant they agreed I could also choose my own gender when I was old enough to make that decision rationally. I was a boy through elementary school and became a girl in high school. Then in college I became transgender but most of the time now I’m male. My parents and counselors have always been very supportive. Just like you, they are kind and sensitive people who understand me.

“My parents are staunch Democrats but fully supported me when I left that party and became friends with Elaine. Elaine is truly a fine lady who has given her life to the state. She asked me to become her personal assistant and her liaison to the LGBT community. I was honored to accept both positions.

“Last year after I graduated from ASU I moved into Elaine’s beautiful home in Paradise Valley. I manage her home, her personal affairs and finances, handle her appointments, give her massages, and do what ever else she asks me to do. She asked me to join her personal staff this year when she moved into the governor’s office. She calls me her gofer in public but I am more like her privy counselor. She never makes a decision without consulting me. She loves me like her favorite child. Her son and daughter hate me because they are great disappointments to her. I treat her like a queen and she treats me like a prince.

“Sir, I know Sergeant Begay has not said a word but her evil looks are disturbing me. She radiates malice. Perhaps we could excuse her…”

“Leslie, Sergeant Begay’s looks can’t hurt you. Turn your back to her if it helps and just keep talking to me. What skills and talents do you have that will help in this investigation? Please continue.”

“Sir, I can feel her still looking at me. She is an evil person. Okay, okay, don’t you look like that at me too. I have dual degrees in psychology and computer programming. I suspect my computer skills are what Elaine thought would be the most useful to you. She knew you would need some help in that department. As long as we have Sergeant Begay hovering over us we will need to stick strictly to the law. If you would send her away like I’m pleading for you to do, I can show you some computer tricks that may surprise you. She might have her size three black belt in martial arts but I have the equivalent of the top rung in computer hacking. My skills are at your disposal. We will need to go through a hassle to get court orders or warrants if she’s still on the team. Am I making myself clear? Do I need to clarify anything?”

“No I think you have been very clear. I appreciate you not getting into computer jargon. Even without Sergeant Begay on our team we will get warrants when needed so please stay within the law in your activities. The governor wants a clean case when we go to court. We don’t want any critical evidence suppressed because we acted improperly.”

“Okay team, here is what we need to do in the next hour before it gets too hot to work in this office:

1. Develop an investigative plan – Sergeant Begay, you start the plan.

2. Set up communications – Leslie that will be your job.

3. Get the needed warrants to permit us to recover anything we can from D’Wayne’s residence, his phone, laptop, mail, etc. – that will be my job.

4. Rent a car and get some office equipment – Leslie you do that.

5. Appeal on TV for witnesses to contact us – Sergeant Begay, I know the sheriff’s office can help. Get them to give you the right contacts.

6. Leslie, you need to be sworn in as a reserve deputy sheriff. I’ll call the sheriff’s office to make sure you can do it before lunch.

7. One last thing before we break, we don’t know who killed D’Wayne. When the killers find out we are investigating they may not appreciate it. It could become dangerous. I want complete silence concerning our investigation. Don’t tell anyone about our team who does not have the need to know. I’ll keep the governor informed. Leslie, let me be the one to tell her. She will try to get information from you when you’re rubbing her back but you need to tell her to talk to me. Same thing with you, Sergeant Begay, if someone in the sheriff’s office wants to know what is going on, refer that person to me. Okay? Good. Let’s meet back together at noon and then we’ll go to lunch.”


Chapter Five – Head ‘Em Up and Move ‘Em Out

“Sir,” said Sergeant Begay when they returned to their office space at 12:30 after a quick lunch, “I earn enough to buy my own lunch. I didn’t raise a fuss in the restaurant but I don’t want to be filing the paperwork needed to deduct government furnished lunches from my pay.”

“See there,” said Leslie, “she won’t even let me buy her lunch. Nothing will make her a team player. Please send her back to Sheriff Zaccaro.”

“What are you talking about?” said Begay. “You used your government credit card to pay for our lunches. My taxpayer dollars paid for our lunch.”

“That credit card’s payments are automatically taken from my pay,” said Leslie. “I have to request reimbursement for any official expense items. I didn’t use either of the two new cards issued for this operation. So there! Now I expect an apology and a thank you.”

“Sorry, I guess I jumped to an erroneous conclusion. Thanks for buying us lunch but I still want to pay for my own in the future. I don’t want to owe you anything just in case I need to bust you again. You know I will do it sooner than later.”

“Will you two please back down,” said Kozlovski. “I appreciate you not discussing sensitive business at lunch. That is the mark of a professional. Let’s take a look at where we are now before we need to vacate this oven. Sergeant Begay, you go first. Let’s hear your plan and we’ll see if we can improve it.”

“I think we should visit the scene of the crime first to gather any information we can. Then we need to comb through the vehicle in the impound lot. As soon as you get our search warrants we need to look into every aspect of D’Wayne’s private life. I’ve asked all the TV news shows to appeal for witnesses. We will interview them as they respond. We also need to find out who told the FBI to issue that silly statement they made this morning. That’s about it.”

“Well Leslie, did she miss anything? Can you improve on her plan?”

“Absolutely. She entirely forgot about D’Wayne’s body at the Medical Examiner’s Office. That would be the first place I would go to learn what I could about the killing. Maybe we could watch the autopsy.”

“I did not forget about the body” said Begay. “The autopsy is scheduled for 9 AM tomorrow. There is nothing to learn there today. The man is dead. He can tell us nothing. I thought this plan was for what we could do today.”

“Sir, did you hear that? ‘Nothing to learn there today’ she said. We can learn all sorts of things from the body before the autopsy. What was he wearing? Who did he call on his cell phone? Was there any mud on his shoes?”

“What do you think, Sergeant Begay? Shall we add the body to your plan?”

“Okay, but I think it will be a waste of time. His wallet and cell phone went missing at the crime scene. Is anyone else getting hot in here? I think we need to move…”

“Hold on a second,” said Kozlovski, “someone is standing outside our door. Leslie, go see who it is and shoo them away.”

“May I help you?” said Leslie as he cracked opened the textured glass door and looked out at Harvey Romero, Special Agent in Charge of the Phoenix FBI office.

“You can open this door and let me come in for a minute,” said Romero. “I need to talk to Dennis. Hey, Dennis, what are you doing in this oven? I heard from the building manager you were here. Is it right what I hear that the governor has you investigating the I-17 shooting?”

“Yeah, Harvey, we’re looking into the I-17 shooting. I’m curious as to how you determined it was a random, accidental shooting so quickly?”

“What else could it be? There was no place for a deliberate shooter to take a position anywhere near the spot where D’Wayne was killed. Who you got working with you on this ‘special’ investigation?”

“You met Leslie Stanton from the governor’s office already and this is Sergeant Begay from the Sheriff Zaccaro’s office. That’s all of us. People, this is Special Agent Harvey Romero from the FBI. I’m sure he is here to help us. Isn’t that right Harvey?”

“Yeah, right,” said Romero. “I’m here to help. I’d like to give you all some advice and I hope you will take it in correct way. I know the governor wants to satisfy her voters and produce a thrilling crime investigation concerning this I-17 shooting that will make all the national and international news outlets. Well that ain’t gonna happen, Dennis. Too many influential entities wanted D’Wayne Ackerman dead. If he was murdered, and there is not the slightest smidgeon of evidence to suggest that he was, the killers were such professionals that you and your strange little team here can investigate until hell freezes over and you will find nothing. Don’t look at me like that. I know, I know, you need to give it your best shot but be careful. You don’t know whom you are up against.

“Oh, and by the way, this is a federal courthouse. We may have moved our main FBI headquarters offices way the hell out of town to Deer Valley Road but I still keep a small office here. I represent the federal government. Don’t do anything screwy to make me evict you. And if you do find anything of interest, I want to hear about it first. Is that clear. You’ve got my number. So good luck and I hope you enjoy your glimpse of hell that will start when the sun starts shining on your windows in about twenty minutes.”

“Well that was interesting,” said Kozlovski as soon as Romero left the office. “Pick up your stuff. We need to get going. I don’t want to be cooked on my first day on this job. Leslie, why the hell are you starting up your laptop? I said we need to get going.”

“Hold on just a minute. I think you will find this very interesting.”

Leslie opened a video surveillance app that linked his laptop to a security camera above the elevator doors. Romero was on his cell phone as he walked up to the elevator.

“Yeah, I talked to him,” said Romero on his phone. “It’s a joke. The governor wants to show she’s doing something for political reasons. Kozlovski was a good cop but he’s a crippled old man now. His heart’s not in it any more. The tall queer guy the governor keeps in her office is helping him as well as a tiny Indian deputy sheriff. No, she’s the wrong kind of Indian; she’s an India Indian; a Muslim or Hindu or something like that. She’s probably the only one who could cause any problem but that is very unlikely. No, I know her only by reputation. The sheriff calls her his prize pit bull. He wishes he had a dozen more like her. Yes, they promised to tell me if they find anything. I know recovering that check is the most important thing. Sure, I’ll let you know as soon...” The audio and video stopped when he stepped on the elevator.

“Shoot, shoot, and double shoot,” said Begay. “Leslie, you idiot, you’ve just violated a very serious law and royally screwed us before we even got started. If that guy is anyway involved with D’Wayne’s shooting he now has a free pass. Do you want me to make the arrest and charge this idiot, Lieutenant? How can anyone be so screwed up?”

“Hold on a second,” said Leslie, “you’re telling me you did not find that phone call of great interest? I didn’t know that Sheriff Zaccaro considers you his prized pit bull. And for your information, I committed no crime.”

“What crime do you think Leslie committed, Sergeant Begay?” said Kozlovski. “I don’t seem to be on the same page with you.”

“The fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees U.S. citizens the right to privacy and that includes our personal communications. I can’t remember all the pertinent cases right at the moment but the Supreme Court has ruled on this matter several times. Intentionally intercepting a phone call without a warrant is a violation of section 18 of the U.S. Code paragraph 2511 dealing with interception of electronic communications. I know that for certain. You’re sure as hell going to jail this time.”

“Stop,” said Kozlovski, “Sergeant Begay, do you believe Leslie intentionally intercepted that phone call?”

“Yes, he most certainly did and we are both witnesses.”

“Do you think he knew Romero was planning on using his cell phone in our hall?”

“He may not have known it for certain but why else would he add audio to the surveillance camera. How and when did you do that anyway? I’m sure that maliciously interfering with a government building’s surveillance or security system is a federal offense. It’s the big house for you for sure.”

“Leslie,” said Kozlovski, “did you know that Romero planned to use his cell phone in the hall?”

“No, I didn’t know that but I hoped he would.”

“Did you intentionally intercept his phone call?” asked Kozlovski.

“No, I didn’t intentionally intercept any phone call,” said Leslie. “I merely added a simple audio collection capability to the video camera that was already in the hall. As I recall the Supreme Court has also ruled that there is no expectation of privacy when a person uses his tablet or cell phone on an elevator.”

“He wasn’t on the elevator yet,” said Begay. “Okay, maybe I was a bit hasty. But you better watch your step. Communication intercepts without a warrant is illegal.”

“I’ve got a blanket warrant that allows us to collect any communications that may help resolve this investigation,” said Kozlovski. “It was signed this morning by Judge Janet Ellis. I think we are on safe legal grounds.”

“That is total BS,” said Begay, “and you know it. Only Congress can authorize blanket wiretaps to catch terrorists.”

“You want to discuss that with the judge? I explained what we needed and she understood and signed the authorization. I’m sure not going to go back to her and tell her she made a mistake. Besides, we don’t know, maybe terrorists killed D’Wayne Ackerman. We won’t invade anyone’s privacy who is not some how connected to solving this case.”

“Can we continue this conversation in the car?” asked Leslie. My phone shows it is 95 in here now. It is getting very uncomfortable for me.”

“Me too,” said Begay. “Let’s go. I’m getting sweaty all over.”

* * * *

The group left the building and crossed the street to the parking garage just east of the courthouse. Leslie led them to their rental car on the second level. It was a new white Prius with Colorado license plates.

“What’s this?” said Kozlovski, “I thought you would get us an American car. Can we even fit in this little thing?”

“Toyota wants to start building the Prius in America so it’s almost an American car,” said Leslie. “It’s bigger inside than you might think and it’s very economical.”

“Yeah, so is a bicycle,” said Kozlovski. “Are you okay with riding in the back seat, Sergeant Begay?”

“It’s fine with me. My personal car is also a Prius. For the first time, I think Leslie made a smart choice. We need to consider the environment.”

“Okay, fine. I would never have thought you two would agree on anything and both of you are tree huggers. Leslie, please drive us to the scene of the crime so we can take a look for ourselves.”



Chapter Six – Nothing to See Here

The Prius with the investigating team left Phoenix at 1:30PM. They stopped at a big office supply store to buy a camera. They also picked up a twenty-four pack of half-liter water bottles.

“You know we all have cameras on our smart phones,” said Leslie. “We don’t need to lug another piece of equipment.”

“Humor me,” said Kozlovski. “I’ll let you pick out the camera you want but remember you’ll be lugging it so we don’t need something with exchangeable lenses. Get the best optics, the most pixels and the biggest memory card. Then buy six extra big memory cards and extra batteries.”

“Why do you want six extra memory cards for the camera?” asked Begay. “We can just store thousands of pictures on the cloud straight from our camera when we connect it to our phones.”

“That is exactly why I want extra memory,” said Kozlovski. “We don’t want to put anything we are doing in the cloud or anywhere someone can get to it without us knowing.”

Kozlovski called the highway patrol office in Flagstaff. He explained what he wanted and met a little resistance. Kozlovski invoked the name of the governor. The resistance vanished and the supervisor said at three PM the officers who were first on the scene would be at the spot where the SUV left the highway.

The group from Phoenix arrived at the scene on the southbound side of the freeway about ten minutes early. They could see nothing that would even suggest any incident at that spot. At 2:55PM a highway patrol car pulled up behind them with its blue lights flashing.

“You folks can’t park on the shoulder here,” said the patrolman over his loudspeaker. “If you are not having trouble, you need to pull carefully back on to the highway and drive to the next rest stop.”

Leslie and Kozlovski started to get out of the Prius.

“Stay in your vehicle,” ordered the patrolman. “If you are having trouble, put on your warning flashers and I will come to you.”

The patrolman made several calls on his radio before he got out of his patrol car and approached the Prius on the right side.

“Please keep your hands where I can see them,” said the patrolman. “What seems to be the problem? Are you from Colorado? You buy any pot up there?”

“There is no problem officer,” said Kozlovski with both hands on the dashboard. We are police officers from Phoenix. We are investigating the incident that happened here on Sunday night. Were you one of the first responders?”

“No, I’m just trying to keep this stretch of the highway safe. We’ve had several people stop here today looking for souvenirs from D’Wayne Ackerman. The first responding officers will be here in a few minutes. Please stay in your car until they get here. I’ll stay behind you with my blue light flashing.”

A few minutes later a second highway patrol car arrived at the scene. It passed the Prius. Then it pulled over to the edge of the highway a hundred yards ahead. Two patrolmen got out and waved to the team to pull ahead. They pulled up with the first patrol car close behind. Everyone got out of the vehicles.

“Let’s see some ID folks,” said a large patrolman with a shaved head. “Very authentic looking IDs. I’m impressed. But, you don’t look like a Navajo, Sergeant Begay. And you don’t look like a policeman at all, Mr. Stanton. Even you don’t look like an active duty police officer, Mr. Kozlovski, what with your artificial foot and all. I think we may need to have you all drive up to Flagstaff with us so we can sort this out properly. No policemen that I know would be driving a Prius. Although calling ahead to have us meet you here was a nice move.”

“May I make a phone call first,” asked Leslie. “I think I can save you a lot of grief if I can get my boss on the phone.”

“Okay, one call and then we are headed to Flagstaff. Who are you guys really? Some TV news team looking for a big story?”

“Hi, Elaine, it’s Leslie. Listen darling, we have some of Arizona’s finest standing here with us next to the crash scene on the I-17. They think it is highly unusual that we drove all the way out here in a Prius to look at nothing but rocks and bushes. They want to take us to their headquarters in Flagstaff. Would you be so kind and speak to this splendid officer in charge and tell him we are working for you? Oh thank you. I’ll see you tonight I hope but it might be late so don’t wait up for me. Yes, I’ll take care and I love you too. Remember your meds.”

“This is Sergeant Church. Who are you?” asked the bald patrolman as Leslie handed him his phone, “Yeah, right. You want me to believe you’re Elaine Winters, the governor? Don’t make me laugh. Listen lady, we don’t have time for games. Your friends are already in trouble for impersonating police officers. You will be in some trouble yourself unless we get a straight answer out of you. No, I don’t know the Director of Public Safety. Yes, I’ve met the director of the Highway Patrol. So what? That doesn’t prove anything. You’re wasting our time out here in the sun. I’ll let your friends call you from Flagstaff after we book them. Hang on a second.

“Oh I’m so sorry ma’am. The director of the highway patrol just called us over the radio through the Flagstaff dispatcher. You’re right; I should have recognized your voice. I apologize. No, it will never happen again. Thank you. It’s been an honor.”

“Told you so,” said Leslie. “Now may we take a closer look at the crime scene?”

“There is no crime scene here, fella,” said Church. “The FBI has determined it was an accidental random shooting that killed D’Wayne. Look around you. Where do you think a marksman would sit waiting for a car to come speeding down the highway at night and then shoot the driver between the eyes? It’s just not possible.”

“What if the shooter was sitting on the bridge over the freeway at Fox Ranch Road where we turned around?” said Begay. “That’s less than a mile up the road. If D’Wayne had his cruise control engaged… or even if it was not and he was traveling fast enough he could have coasted this far. Let’s go back and take a look around that bridge. Where is the nearest spot we can cross over to the north bound lanes?”

“There’s a place about a mile south of here,” said Church. “It’s for police and emergency vehicles only. You can’t make a U turn there with your Prius.”

“Do I need to call the governor back?” asked Leslie. “I’m sure you can help us get turned around safely.”

“Let’s look around here for a few minutes,” said Kozlovski. “Leslie, I want good pictures of everything. Can you handle that? Okay, get started. Sergeant Begay and I will go down the hill to look at that burned spot.”

While Leslie photographed everything as directed, the highway patrolmen sat in their air conditioned cars and fumed. Begay and Kozlovski carefully made their way down to the burned spot where the gas canister exploded. Begay found the canister nozzle in some bushes. She put on plastic gloves before she placed the nozzle in a ziplock bag. They found a few fragments of the red plastic container plastered to some rocks and collected them also. There was not much to collect at the spot where the SUV rested first on its side and then on its tires. Leslie took hundreds of pictures of footprints. They collected a few unfiltered Camel cigarette butts. They spent almost an hour at the scene.

“You know we were working in the dark last night,” said Church as the Phoenix trio finally returned to the Prius. “We could have come back this morning and found that stuff too if anyone thought there was a crime involved here but there isn’t. The FBI says it is an unfortunate accidental shooting of a prominent person. Do you need us anymore after we get you back to the bridge? We do have other things to do you know besides watching you all waste your time.”

“No,” said Kozlovski, “we don’t need you anymore. You have been most helpful. Here is my card. Please call me if you come across anything that might be connected to this unfortunate accidental shooting. I’m sure the governor will appreciate your cooperation in tying up any loose ends in this matter.”

“I’d appreciate being left out of your report,” said Church. “I don’t think I made a good impression on the governor and I’d prefer she just forgot me.”

“You help us when we need you and I’ll make sure the governor gives you a citation or at least a letter of appreciation,” said Kozlovski.

* * * *

The group drove south less than a mile and then turned across the median of the Interstate highway and drove back to the Fox Ranch overpass. The Flagstaff highway patrolmen did not wave as they left the Phoenix trio at the bridge.

Again Leslie took hundreds of pictures of everything and the other two combed the bridge and the edges of the highway. They found cigarette butts on the bridge similar to those at the crash scene. In the median strip under the bridge, Nina found a single spent .50 caliber cartridge case. On the frontage road on the east side of the highway, approximately two hundred yards south of the bridge they found more unfiltered Camel cigarette butts. Tire tracks in the red mud left nice tread patterns. Leslie took excellent pictures with his new camera.



If you read this far, I hope you are hooked and want to read the rest of the story.  I need beta readers. Send me an email if you would like to be one of the first to read this exciting, but as yet unedited, tale. One of my first readers says it is very easy to read. She sat down to read for an hour at noon and could not stop until she finished the 215 pages at  7:30PM.