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Authors: Michael Norman

Tags: #FICTION, #Mystery & Detective, #General

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BOOK: On Deadly Ground
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Chapter Four

Within minutes of his leaving Sheriff Sutter, county dispatch asked Books to drive the Smoky Mountain Road in search of Greenbriar's Chevrolet Suburban. A volunteer in the EEWA office told the sheriff that Greenbriar had mentioned a weekend hike to the Kaiparowits Plateau with a return Sunday evening.

It didn't take Books long to find the Suburban parked near a trailhead about five miles up the road. He could see blood and tissue smears on the rear passenger door on the driver's side with a pool of dried blood in the dirt right below. It looked like the bullet had passed through the victim and entered the door. He asked dispatch to have the sheriff call him on his mobile.

“Find anything, J.D.?”

“Yup, I've got your other crime scene, about five miles up Smoky Mountain Road. The vic's Suburban is parked in the turnout near the trail head. He must have hiked in from here. You'll want to send a deputy and a different CSI crew.”

There was a pause. “What do you mean a different CSI crew? Afraid this is the only one we've got.”

“Never mind, just send the one you've got.”

Policing in Denver had taught Books that whenever you had two crime scenes, it was better for a different forensics team to process the second one. That way an astute defense lawyer couldn't claim cross-contamination of evidence from one scene to the next. But he'd forgotten one little detail: this wasn't Denver P.D.

“Sit tight,” said Sutter. “I'll send Call over right away. The crime scene unit will come just as soon as they're finished here.”

The location of the bullet as well as the blood splatter gave Books a general idea of where the shooter might have hidden. The rocky cliffs above and to the west of the Suburban would have provided a clear field of fire from an easy distance. He spent the next half-hour looking around before he found the spot.

The shooter had been careless, leaving two empty Guinness beer cans and a sandwich baggie on the ground. Best of all, Books found a single shell casing tucked under a shaded sandstone outcropping. The shooter hadn't cleaned up his brass—sloppy, but not altogether unusual.

By the time he returned to his vehicle, Call and members of the CSI team had arrived. Books led Call to the location where the killer had fired the fatal shot.


Later in the afternoon, Books was summoned to a meeting at BLM headquarters. Alexis Runyon and Sheriff Sutter were there.

Sutter was a slight, almost dainty-looking man in his early fifties, with receding red hair. He'd been a member of the sheriff's department for twenty-five years and was now serving his fourth term as sheriff.

Looking at Books, Runyon said, “J.D., Charley has asked for your help investigating Greenbriar's murder. I'm inclined to deny his request, but I thought we should talk before making a final decision.”

Volunteering to be thrust into a murder investigation in a polarized community didn't strike Books as prudent. The victim was the leader of a prominent environmental group, with his likely killer some radical right-wing local with an axe to grind.

“It looks like a can of worms, and I'd prefer not to become involved. And if that's the sole purpose of this meeting, I'd like to get back to work.”

Books started to rise when Sutter spoke. “Would both of you hold on a minute and hear me out before you make up your mind?”

Books glanced at Runyon and dropped back in his chair.

“This is what I propose,” said Sutter. “I'll commission J.D. a deputy in the sheriff's department. He'll have law enforcement authority on federal and state land. I'll give him complete autonomy to run the investigation any way he sees fit. In return, I expect to be kept appraised of the status of the case. And, if you want, I'll assign Chief Deputy Call as his assistant.”

Before Books could reply, Runyon spoke. “Look, Charley, I can appreciate the seriousness of the situation, but I have major reservations about the propriety of the BLM getting involved in a murder case with local jurisdiction. What's in it for us besides a lot of time, money, and headaches?”

A good question, Books thought. You didn't have to be the brightest bulb in the box to understand where Charley Sutter got his political support, and consequently, where his loyalty lay. And it wasn't with the BLM. It had to come from the local ranch community, including the CFW.

“For starters,” said Sutter, “you'd create a lot of political goodwill here in the county. I've already spoken to the county commissioners and they're one hundred percent behind the idea. In fact, they've already agreed to reimburse the BLM for J.D.'s time.”

He'd annoyed Runyon. “You've already taken this to the commissioners?” It was like she'd caught the sheriff red-handed dumping a fresh cow pie all over her office floor. Sutter recognized the look and went straight to Plan B.

“Look, I'm between a rock and a hard place. I need your help. Not counting myself and Call, I got six deputies to cover over 4,300 square miles. This county is bigger than Rhode Island, Delaware, and the District of Columbia combined.”

Fine. Now tell us something we don't know, thought Books.

“Besides, we don't have much experience handling murder investigations. In my seventeen years as sheriff, I can count the number of murders we've had on one hand. And most of them were domestic violence cases turned ugly. Nothing complicated like this one.

“J.D is here. He knows the community, and most important, he's a first-rate homicide detective. I know because I called his old boss in Denver, a captain named Howard Cornell. Recent problems aside, this Cornell described J.D. as one of the best homicide detectives he'd ever seen.”

Books gave Sutter credit. The sheriff had done his homework in the few short hours since they'd parted company at the first crime scene.

Before either Runyon or Books could respond, her phone rang. She answered and handed the phone to Sutter. “It's for you.”

“Yeah. Oh, Christ, When? Where are they now? Stall them until I get there. I don't know how long, maybe a half-hour or so.”

He handed the receiver back to Runyon, a frown etched on his face. “That was my secretary. There's a crew from KSL-TV in Salt Lake City camped in front of my office. How could they have gotten wind of this so fast?”

It seemed like a rhetorical question, and neither Runyon nor Books responded.

Runyon glanced at Books. “What's your pleasure, J.D.?”

Reluctantly, Books nodded his assent. If he was going to be involved, he might as well run the investigation instead of trying to provide advice from the outside.

“Against my better judgment, Charley, I'm going to approve Ranger Books' assistance in this investigation, subject to a couple of stipulations. First, the county reimburses my budget for J.D.'s salary during the investigation as well as any secretarial support he requires. Second, everybody understands that my decision could be reversed at any time by the regional office in Salt Lake City. Are we all clear?”

Relieved, Sutter nodded. For better or for worse, Books now stood at the center of a volatile murder case in a bitterly divided community.

Chapter Five

The local district court judge conducted a brief swearing-in ceremony in which Books became a Kane County deputy sheriff. The county commissioners offered him an office in a small conference room in the county courthouse, complete with a desk-top computer, a printer that looked about a hundred years old, a metal four-drawer file cabinet, and a telephone. For support staff, they offered Chief Deputy Call and a secretary who worked for the commissioners.

With the exception of Call, Books turned the rest down. He'd decided to run the investigation from his office at the BLM using a secretary provided by Runyon. Information from the investigation would be difficult enough to control without working from a courthouse conference room he couldn't secure, with a secretary who had a direct pipeline into the county commissioners' office.

Sutter held a brief press conference in which he read a short statement confirming that his office was investigating a suspicious death. He declined to answer any other questions, including who was running the investigation. Books hoped this might give him a little extra time to follow leads without having to dodge the media.

Books contacted Call and arranged to meet him in the office as soon as he returned from the field. In part, Books wanted to get a sense of whether Call was competent and if he was someone Books could trust. He was worried about both.

Over two cups of burnt coffee, the men talked. “I'm a Kanab native,” Books smiled. “What's your excuse?”

Call smiled back. “I've always been a hunter and an outdoor enthusiast. When I was a kid growing up in Las Vegas, my dad used to take us to Kane County on hunting trips—great trophy deer around these parts, but I guess you'd know that.”

“So you're originally from Las Vegas?”

“Yup, born and raised. I moved to Kanab thirteen years ago and set up shop as a hunting guide and outfitter.”

“Makes sense.”

“Maybe so. Problem was I damn near starved to death. Outside the hunting season, there just wasn't enough business to make much of a living.”

“Why did you get into law enforcement?”

“Probably for the same reason you did. I needed a job. I'd worked a while in the Las Vegas Metropolitan Jail, so when a position opened up here, I jumped at the chance—good benefits, decent pay, and best of all, steady work.”

“And you've worked for Charley ever since?”

“Ten years, almost eleven, now. Charley Sutter's a good man and a damn fine sheriff.”

“Charley's been the sheriff a long time. I'm sure he doesn't remember this, but he wrote me my first traffic ticket when I was a senior in high school—pissed my old man off big time.”

Call nodded. “Now if I've made it through the interview, I'd like to know how I can help with the investigation.”

“I think you have, Deputy Call. I'd like you to get started on a couple of things. First, get hold of the medical examiner's office and find out when Greenbriar's autopsy is scheduled. I want you to attend. We need the medical examiner's report as soon as possible.”

“Okay. What else?”

“Then get a list of all the CFW members as well as any CFW wannabes. Do the same with the EEWA. Keep your eyes and ears open. Talk to people. See if you can identify anybody with a grudge against Greenbriar. Better yet, see if you can identify anybody who may have threatened him.”

Call was smiling now.

“I didn't realize I'd said something funny. Care to clue me in?”

The grin disappeared.

“Only that you're going to end up with a long list of suspects. Most people outside the Green movement hated the guy, but I'll ask around.”

“I'm curious. Does that ‘most people' include you?”

Call gave Books a hard stare. “Tell you the truth, I didn't care much for the guy—trouble-maker if you ask me. But I'll work just as hard to find Greenbriar's killer as I would if the victim had been somebody from the CFW. I don't take kindly to murder in this community, regardless of who did it.”

Books stared back at him for a long moment. “Fair enough.”

Chapter Six

When Books arrived at the sheriff's department, Darby Greenbriar was sitting at a round conference table in Sutter's office holding the hand of an older woman, who, at first glance, looked enough like her to have been her mother. It turned out that the woman was a neighbor of the Greenbriars and a volunteer in the EEWA office.

Darby Greenbriar was a knockout and looked to be about half the age of her now deceased husband. She had shown up unannounced in response to the phone message left at her home.

“How did she take the news, Charley?”

“Not as upset as I thought she might be. She saw the media outside, and I think she knew something was wrong. She just wasn't sure what.”

Sutter had delivered the bad news in the privacy of his office prior to Books' arrival. At the moment, the widow looked composed, although Books could see that she was clutching a handful of Kleenex and occasionally dabbed at tear-filled, puffy eyes.

The sheriff introduced him to the two women and explained that Books would be assisting the sheriff's department with the investigation. They excused the friend and sat down for what would turn out to be the first of several interviews with Darby Greenbriar.

Books offered his condolences and then explained how important it was to have her cooperation if they were going to catch her husband's killer. He also had to figure out whether she was somehow involved in the murder without alienating her in the process. In murder cases family members often got the first look. That meant finding out whether she had the means, motive, and opportunity to have murdered Greenbriar herself, or whether she might have hired someone else to do it.

“Mrs. Greenbriar, may I call you Darby?”

She nodded.

“Tell me, Darby, had David expressed any recent concerns about his personal safety, or did he ever mention specific incidents in which somebody threatened him?”

“We've been receiving threats almost from the time we moved here. They occur so often in fact, that after a while you just learn to ignore them. Most of the threats come from anonymous e-mails sent to our Web site or crank phone calls to the EEWA office or our home. Sometimes callers leave obscene voice messages. Other times, all you can hear is heavy breathing—nobody says anything.”

“Any idea whose been sending the messages?”

“Nobody in particular, but we assumed the threats had to be coming from locals who are associated with the Citizens for a Free West.”

“Did you report the crank calls and anonymous e-mails to the police?”

She forced a laugh. “You must be kidding, Ranger Books.”

“Please, call me J.D.”

“Okay. We did at first, but it didn't take long to realize the sheriff's office didn't have the slightest interest.”

Sutter bristled but didn't say anything.

“What makes you say that?”

“Well, why should they? Most of them either belong to the CFW or are CFW sympathizers.”

“That's not true,” said Sutter. “My men investigated every one of those incidents just as we do all citizen complaints that come into this office.”

Books turned to Sutter. “Were you able to identify any suspects?”

“No, never did, but it wasn't because we didn't try.”

Books shifted his attention back to Darby. “Has anyone ever threatened you or your husband directly?”

She started to shake her head and then paused. “Come to think of it, there was an incident about two, maybe three months ago involving that gorilla who works for Neil Eddins. Tommy something-or-other, I think his name is.”

Books glanced at Sutter. “Help me here, Charley.”

“McClain, she's talking about Tommy McClain.”

“Yeah, that's him. Big guy, tall, with very yellow teeth and stinky breath you can smell clear across a room.”

Sutter fidgeted in his chair, not caring for Greenbriar's characterization of Tommy McClain.

Books suppressed a smile. “Well, I'll be damned. Tommy ‘Trees' McClain—haven't heard that name in a few years.” Books had played basketball with McClain in high school. Trees had sprouted to six-feet-seven by the end of tenth grade. For a small-town high-school basketball team to have a six-seven center was akin to Shaq O'Neill playing for a local church team. Unlike O'Neill, Trees couldn't walk and chew bubble gum at the same time. McClain must have decided to remain in Kanab and work for Neil Eddins.

“Tell me what happened, Darby.”

“David and I had just finished dinner at the Stagecoach Grill. It was a Friday or Saturday night, I think. We were in the parking lot about to get into our truck when this Tommy and some other guy I didn't recognize stopped us. They'd been drinking and were headed into the Stagecoach Bar when they saw us. After a couple of sexual innuendos directed at me, McClain asked David if he knew what happened to tree-huggers in Kane County. When David didn't answer, he laughed and asked us if we'd seen the movie
As I recall, he found it quite amusing telling us that ground-up body parts from a wood-chipper provided an excellent source of protein when mixed into hog feed.”

Charley Sutter had heard enough. “If this incident happened as you say it did, why didn't you report it?”

“Hello, haven't you been listening? We don't report this kind of harassment because your office refuses to do anything about it.”

Books interrupted to stop the acrimonious exchange from going further. “Aside from members of the CFW, can you think of anyone else who might have wanted to see your husband dead?”


“What about members of the EEWA? Were there any members who seemed opposed to the direction your husband was taking the organization?”

That gave her pause. “The alliance is governed by a seven-person board, with David as the chairman. The vice-chairman, a guy named Barry Struthers, sometimes expressed frustration that David refused to approve more aggressive forms of protest.”

Like acts of eco-terrorism, thought Books.

“But I can't see him getting involved in a plot to kill David. I just don't see it.”

Books would need to find out more about Barry Struthers but that would have to wait. Instead, he turned the interview in a new direction. “How did you and David meet?”

“I met David when I was a grad student at Berkeley. David was the chair of my master's degree thesis committee. He was a professor in the microbiology department. Later, I became his graduate assistant. We grew close, and, over time, one thing led to another until we fell in love. David's marriage had been on the rocks for years.”

“So after his divorce, the two of you decided to marry?”

“Not right away, but after a time, yes. We married in Las Vegas a little over four years ago.” Her voice remained steady, but she used Kleenex to wipe tears from her eyes.

“Would you like to take a short break?” said Books.

She took a deep breath and shook her head.

“All right. What kind of relationship did David have with his former spouse?”

“Okay, as far as I could tell. They haven't had much to do with each other since the split. Lillian is a professor of English literature at Berkeley. The divorce was amicable considering the circumstances. They divided the personal property, split the proceeds from the sale of their home, and went their separate ways. They never had children.”

“Can you tell me about your husband's estate? Did he have a will or perhaps a trust?

“David never talked to me much about stuff like that.”

“And you never asked him?”

“Not really. Financial stuff bores me. He did mention once that he was working with his attorney on a will.”

“When did he mention that to you?”

She hesitated, “Maybe a year or so after we married.”

“Is his attorney local?”

“No. Even after we moved, David kept his Berkeley attorney—the same guy who handled the divorce. I can get you his name and number later if you want it.”

“I'll need that, thanks. Did David ever ask you to sign a prenuptial agreement?”

“No, and if he had, I would've refused.”

“Why is that?”

“There's something creepy about starting a new life with someone and having the cloud of a prenup hanging over everything. I would never have married David, or anyone else for that matter, if a prenuptial agreement was part of the deal.”

“Was there a life insurance policy?

“There was, but again, I don't know the specifics. I can look into it and get back to you.”

“I'll need that information as well. Can you provide me with the insurance information when you get back to me with the name of David's lawyer?”


“Please don't be offended with my next question, but I'll need you to tell me where you've been the past forty-eight hours.”

“I'm not offended at all. I know why you're asking and I understand. I spent the weekend in Las Vegas. It was kind of a spur-of-the-moment thing. I knew David wouldn't be back until Sunday night, and I was bored. I love to shop, so I drove down Saturday morning and came back today.”

“So you spent two nights in Vegas?”


“Where did you stay?”

“The Hard Rock. It's my favorite casino hotel.”

“Anybody go with you?”

“I went alone. I've got an old high-school girlfriend who lives in Las Vegas. I tried calling her before I left and after I got to the Hard Rock. I kept leaving messages, but I never reached her. She must have been out of town.”

“So you spent the weekend by yourself?”


“I'll need your girlfriend's name and phone number?”

“Her name is Erin Rogers. The number is (702)678-9924. That's her cell.”

“What does Ms. Rogers do for a living?”

“She's a dancer at the Mirage.”

“How about receipts?” said J.D. “Would you happen to have receipts—credit card charges or the hotel receipt?”

“Um, not with me, but I can get them for you.”

“Add that to your list. You said you left for Las Vegas on Saturday morning. What time was that?”

“Maybe nine o'clock.”

“And returned today at….”

“I got back by early afternoon, two, maybe two-thirty.”

“When was the last time you saw your husband alive?”

“David left the EEWA office around four o'clock Friday afternoon. That's the last time.” She choked off a sob.

Books handed her a fresh tissue. “Sorry, Darby, just another question or two, and then I'll be finished.”

She nodded and dabbed at her eyes.

“What did you do on Friday evening after David left?”

“I worked until about six and then went out to dinner with Celia Foxworthy. Celia's the lady who's here with me today. She's a volunteer at the office, and she's also our next-door neighbor.”

“So you went to dinner with Ms. Foxworthy and got home at about what time?”

“You can check with her, but I think around eight-thirty.”

“And what did you do for the rest of the evening?”

“I just tucked in, watched TV, and read until I fell asleep.”

Books ended the interview by asking Darby for permission to search her husband's EEWA office. She consented but demanded to be present during the search.

BOOK: On Deadly Ground
12.25Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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