For now, Torrez was assigned to working days, the standard procedure that gave rookies the chance to learn the county and its people—all seven thousand of them. Having been bread-and-buttered in Posadas, Torrez was as local as they came. Anyone he wasn't related to, he probably knew. And I had been delighted when Sheriff Salcido slid Torrez' application across my desk. The sheriff didn't need my approval, but he was good about that sort of thing.
I had known Robert Torrez, eldest son of Modesto and Ariana Torrez, since he was in middle school. I knew his older sister, who worked over at the Motor Vehicle Department. I knew the other five siblings, from nineteen-year-old Ricardo, now serving in the Navy, down to eight-year-old Ivanita—and all the others in between.
"Have Payson head this way. This was more than somebody just knocking over a trash can. In the meantime, I'll be out and about. Let me know. Stay sharp."
"You got it, sir." Even as he said that, I could hear the phone in the background. I didn't tie up one of the phone lines waiting.
Boots, gun, hat, and handheld radio, and in two minutes I was out the door into the cool fragrance of that June night.
The Crown Vic started easily, but that was its only virtue. The power steering squalled as I swung out of the driveway, and the
transmission held first gear far beyond normal range, finally up-shifting with an unhealthy lurch.
Out of Guadalupe Terrace to Escondido Lane, and I saw Ennio Roybal's Buick parked right where it should be, with no fresh dents in the garage siding. A few yards farther on, no one stirred at the Ranchero Mobile Home Park. With all the patrol car's windows down, I could hear the sporadic traffic up on the interstate to the north...it didn't sound as if anyone was pausing to rubberneck a crash scene.
At the intersection with Grande, I slowed for a moment. North or south? Pick one. I turned north just as the radio lit.
"Three ten, PCS." The crappy radio reception almost blanked Beuler out.
"Go ahead. And ten-one." Beuler responded to my numerical complaint about radio reception and slowed his speech accordingly, upping the volume as well.
"Ten forty-five with probable injuries right at the interstate overpass. Three oh three is in route. ETA two minutes."
"Affirmative. I see it." Just to the north of my secluded neighborhood, State Highway 56 angled in from the southwest from
Regál, then swung north to enter the village. It immediately widened to become four lanes as it joined State 61, the route connecting the village of Posadas with the tiny hamlet of María to the southeast. The two routes, 56 and 61, merged to form Grande Boulevard. Those four lanes ducked under the interstate. Four concrete pillars supported the center span of the super highway, growing out of the littered carpet of the gravel median.
Debris now covered all four lanes of Grande, both north and southbound, with the explosion of wreckage scattered under the
overpass. I stopped the county car in the middle of the street, trying to think of a way to block both sides of 56/61 and the two
interstate off-ramps as well. I needed about five of me, but the decision was made when I saw to my left a form crumpled on the pavement not far from the stop sign of the exit ramp. A foot clad in a tennis shoe jutted upward. This was not just an old coat discarded by some vagrant.
I bolted out of the car, leaving it crosswise in the center of the highway, lights ablaze. The mangled remains of a victim lay just off the pavement on the shoulder, face crushed into the oil and stone, his skull split open. One leg was twisted up over his back until his right foot touched the back of his left ear.
Even as I palmed my handheld radio, I knelt and touched two fingers to the youngster's bloody neck, trying to find the pulse amid the mangle of flesh. Nothing. I heard the howl of a powerful engine and saw the bloom of emergency lights approaching, southbound on Grande. Sergeant Lars Payson reached the northern-most support pillar of the overpass and stood on the brakes, stopping the patrol car crosswise to block Grande's southbound lanes.
My first inclination was to sprint over to the wreck, but Payson and his ride-along would beat me there. The dead youngster at my feet needed protection from traffic. I took a step away, trying to take in the whole picture. After cartwheeling two or three times, the wreckage of the boxy Chevy Suburban had folded itself, passenger side first, around one of the massive highway support pillars. Other than the pinging of cooling metal, the place was silent. No cries of pain, no groans.