Page 5 of Killer Secrets

“What now, Chief?”

Simpson fell in step with him at the corner of the house. The newbie had stayed hell and gone from the body. He’d confessed on the way out that he’d never seen a dead person before, had never even been to a funeral, and he wasn’t looking forward to the experience. “But I’ll get through it,” he’d hastened to assure Sam. “I’ll get used to it.”

“I hope not,” Sam had replied. No one but medical examiners and embalmers should ever get used to the sights of violent death, and even they couldn’t allow themselves to totally get used to it. They had to retain some of their horror, or what purpose was there in living?

“Sit in with Lois while she interviews the men on the yard crew. I’ll talk to the woman.” As he said it, he looked around. The Hawk’s Aerie bulldozers hadn’t left a single tree on the property big enough to provide shade to anything more than a cricket. The stoop fronting Carlyle’s house was small, and its most notable feature was the sun that shone fully on the three stone steps. “I’m going to the truck. At least we can get some air there. Send her down to me—and make sure she comes.”

There weren’t so many people on scene that Ms. Ramirez could easily slip off and evade him, but he wouldn’t take any chances. If he were a sensitive kind of guy, he could find it downright insulting how many people didn’t want to talk to him when a crime was involved—even self-proclaimed honest citizens.

Striding back to the truck, he started the engine, turned the AC on high and watched as Simpson pointed out the pickup to Milagro. With a tiny nod, she pushed away from the pickup and started Sam’s way, her head still down, her manner submissive. She was average height, slender, and the hair that hung messily beneath her ball cap was black. Her choice of clothes looked unbearable for working in the heat: jeans, long-sleeved shirt with a T-shirt underneath, work boots that reached above her ankles, a bandanna wrapped around her throat to cover the back of her neck and the ball cap pulled low. The men on the crew were dressed the same. Protection from the sun.

The passenger door opened and, after a hesitation so brief he might have imagined it, she stepped up into the truck. Accompanying her was the overripe scent of hard work. Sam had smelled worse. Hell, he smelled worse after every steamy summer run.

As soon as she closed the door, Sam directed most of the air vents to the passenger side. Milagro looked like a rag wrung out then dropped to the ground, with grass clippings clinging to her clothes and what little exposed skin they’d found and coated with layers of dirt. The strongest scent coming from her was that fresh, sharp, not-always pleasant smell of whacked weeds. Smelled like Johnson grass, the invasive weed he’d spent three miserable summers banishing from the farm.

“I’m Chief Douglas.” He removed his hat and laid it crown down on the dashboard. “And you are…”

“Milagro Ramirez.”

The name alone made him expect to hear an accent and sounds meticulously pronounced. He didn’t hear either. She said it exactly the way he would have, her accent indistinguishable, as if she might have been from anywhere but south of the border.

“I understand you found Mr. Carlyle’s body.”

“Yes.” She sat rigid, her spine not touching the seat, and stared at some point in front of the vehicle. The air rushing from the vents blew fine tendrils of her hair and was slowly chasing away the pink that spread across her cheeks.

Was she here illegally? Rumor had it that the guy who owned Happy Grass Lawn Service was too cheap to pay decent wages so he relied on immigrants who had no status and no one to complain to. Or she could have all her papers in order but be in trouble for something totally unrelated. She could be a perfectly law-abiding born-in-the-USA citizen who’d never had contact with the police, or she could distrust cops just for being cops. There was no shortage of that sentiment these days.

And yet he and all the others who did it stuck it out. They were the protectors, the investigators, the defenders, the justice seekers and, sometimes, given the nature of criminals and the extent of the things bad people could do to other people, they were just plain insane.