Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The seventh chapter of my new novel. Thanks for reading, and all comments are welcome. 
Wayne C. Grantham


            The first thing that entered his very fuzzy consciousness was the smell he could only describe as “clean.” The bed Mars lay in was very comfortable, making him delay opening his eyes for a few moments. When he did open his eyes, he found himself in a room bathed in a soothing light. After a few moments of self-orientation, began to focus on the place in which he found himself. It was a hospital room, different from others he’d seen. A nurse, a short, somewhat stout middle-aged woman, wearing a white dress, stood at a computer with her back to him, checking readouts on a four-foot wide computer screen. Several graphic displays were spread across the wall screen; a heart monitor was the only one he was able to recognize.
He raised his head slightly and looked himself over. His left leg, immobilized, was in a sleeve that seemed to grow out of the mattress. It was slightly elevated and felt warm to his skin. His right arm was in another, tight at the wrist and elbow and shoulder, fully immobilized, but not uncomfortable. The sleeves over his leg and arm had tubes and wires attached. He also noticed several bandages and dressings on other parts of his body. The nurse, seeing increased activity on the monitors, turned. She was a matronly, fiftyish woman of Hispanic descent.
A band inside the sleeve immobilizing his right arm, tightened. It felt like a blood pressure cuff.
            “Bueno. You are awake,” she said. “My name is Conchita. I am your physician. Please don't try to move too much. It will hurt a lot and you might reinjure yourself. You have a broken collar bone, a fractured forearm and a compound fracture in your left leg. You also have many cuts, abrasions and bruises--some of them deep. You have a partially healed bullet wound in your left forearm, which was reopened by your fall. The cuts and the bullet wound have all been cleaned and glutured, but too much movement could pull them open.”
            “Where am I, Darlin’?” Mars, a big smile on his face, voice slurring, asked.
            “You are a patient in the Lopez y O’Flynn Trauma Center in Tecate, Freestate California,” Conchita replied, a note of pride in her voice. “Doctora Conchita O’Flynn, at your service. You are under the influence of a pain killer and a sedative.”
            “Good pain killer. I don’t feel any pain....” Mars tried to sit up. “Oof! I found the pain!” He clenched his eyes and screwed his face into a grimace.
            “Lay back and relax, Mr. Marlowe,” the doctor reached over and gently pushed him back into his pillow. “The pain killer isn’t strong enough for that, and I don’t want you to re-injure yourself.”
            Conchita moved to Mars’ bedside. She held a little cup containing a couple of pills to his mouth, and another with some water.
            “What’s this for?” He asked, turning his head away from the cup.
            “To help you relax and to help you heal faster. Your earlier medications are expiring.”
            “I have damn little choice but to relax, in this rig.” He answered.
            “You will mend faster if you are not tense. You will be able to return to your normal activities sooner, senor.”
            “Then, thank you, Doctor Conchita,” Mars forced a smile, with an attempt to rise, followed by another grimace, showing his pain. He allowed her to give him the medicine, and slugged it down with a swallow of water.
“You have a visitor waiting to see you on a legal matter. I have told her that you are recovering from severe trauma, and because of your sedation, may not be at your mental best. Do you wish to delay her visit until tomorrow?”
            “A legal matter, eh?” Mars chuckled. “Perhaps I’m an illegal alien?”
            Conchita laughed. “It would not be that,” she said.
            “Sure, I feel fine, if a little happier, probably, than I should. Send her in.”
            The doctor left and returned in a couple of minutes with a fortyish woman, well dressed in what might pass as a business suit—but not in California. It looked like a blend between a business suit and a sun dress. Skirt just above the knees, it was light, both in weight and in its pale turquoise color, with a jacket over a white open-throat blouse.
“So,” she began as she entered the room and saw Mars lying in the bed, “you are the gentleman who dropped in from the sky.”
“I’m Detective Lieutenant Eric Marlowe, at your service, Ma’am. Sorry I can’t stand and shake your hand.”
“I understand, Lieutenant.” She bowed her head slightly as she introduced herself. “I am Juanita Chen, owner and chief investigator for Dos Rios Protective.”
Juanita Chen was a tallish woman, with very quick, perceptive eyes and fine Asian features. She wore her bright black hair loose, but tied away from her face.  
“Charmed, Miss Chen.”
“You might not think so shortly. You are being held to determine your responsibility for the destruction of a Cessna 180, belonging to one of my clients, and the death of the other man in your aircraft.”
            “Go easy, Senorita Chen.” The doctor cautioned. “As I said before, he is under sedation.”
            Mars tried to move; once again pain lanced across his upper chest and shoulder. He tried to smile even more broadly at the very attractive investigator, while trying to hide a shooting pain caused by his movements. “Call me Mars. Feel like going dancing soon’s I get outa here?”
            Miss Chen gave Mars a sour look. “This is a serious situation.”
            “Perhaps this should wait....,” the doctor began.
            “Where’s Horiuchi?” Mars looked around the room.
            “Horiuchi?” Chen asked.
            “The copilot.”
            “There were only two of you in the wreckage. Well, you’d been thrown free of the helicopter.” Chen replied. “A search party scoured the area and found no one else, though they did find tracks leading away to the west. One of my men followed the tracks until they disappeared in a rocky area. We had no reason to believe these tracks were relevant.
“We have your sidearm,” she continued, “and the pilot's. We'll soon know if you shot him”
            “Do you have the weapon belonging to the pilot of the Cessna? He’s the one who killed our pilot,” Mars said.
            “If that's true,” Juanita replied, “it'd be a case of self defense. We'll soon know.”
“Not in California, it isn't,” was Mars’ retort. “Eddie Yarborough was an officer in the California Border Patrol.”
            “You're not in California now.” She said California as if it left a bad taste in her mouth. “Our legal system makes sense. No one has any rights not shared by all. Not you, not me, not even the governor. Being an ‘officer’ means nothing here, unless in the militia, and on duty. No one may initiate the use of force against another.”
            “Just a....” Mars started as he attempted again to sit up again. He fell back in pain.
            “Lie still!” commanded the doctor, gently pressing his chest down on the bed. “Do you want to be here all week?”
            “How long will I be here?” he asked.
            “You could leave in a couple of days, with portable meds and instructions on their use, except that you're being held by Senorita Chen.”
            Mars looked at the younger woman. “Your holding me here is an initiation of force,” Mars pointed out.
            “Very good, Gringo! You learn fast! Don’t worry, if you are found innocent, you will be reimbursed for your loss. Having observed the heart monitor as you speak,” Chen broke in, “I’m inclined to believe you are telling the truth as you understand it.”
            “You're involved,” she continued, “in the destruction of an aircraft insured by Dos Rios Protective. You also owe this establishment for its services. If the scenario you describe proves to be true by means of the physical evidence, this is what we have: Your pilot initiated an attack against the Cessna, destroying it.
“The Cessna's pilot returned fire from his parachute, killing his attacker. You crashed in Freestate California. The dead pilot is responsible for the destroyed Cessna, therefore the wreckage of the helicopter will go to Senor Alvarez, for whatever it's worth. He’ll be happy to learn that it didn’t burn. Dos Rios will cover the difference. It looks like you'll only be responsible for your debt to this medical facility.”
“Well,” Mars smiled. “I’m sure I can handle that! Let me call my bank.”
Both women laughed.
            “California money?” Juanita snorted.
            “This hospital does not accept or even recognize California currency as a value.” Conchita said. “I don't know anyone who does. If you have any California silver or gold, we can deal.”
            “What's wrong with California money?”
            Juanita stood and slapped the back of her one hand into the palm of the other, in the pose of a lecturer. “If they didn't get ink all over it, one could write a grocery list on it.”
            “I have some US minted gold and silver coins up in San Diego.” Mars said.
            “That would work. You might even be able to get a premium for them, for their numismatic value, but.....they are not here.” Juanita Chen replied.
            “Then, how can I pay?”
            “You get a job” Juanita said. “What can you do?”
            “I'm a homicide detective. I'm working on a murder in San Diego. My partner was killed. I need to get back there and finish the investigation.”
            The next morning found Mars reading a bedside monitor, finishing his breakfast with some difficulty, holding his fork with his left hand, which had become somewhat usable, for all the fact that he was right-handed. His muscles were very stiff and sore, he guessed that he was now off the painkillers.
He was wondering when he’d be able to get out of bed, if for no other reason than to use a real toilet in privacy, when Conchita came in and began looking over his readouts.
Moments later, Juanita entered.
            “Good morning, Marlowe,” she said, pulling a chair toward the hospital bed and seating herself. “Good news. You're cleared of the murder of the helicopter pilot. It turns out that he wasn’t actually shot at all. Apparently Senor Alvarez’ bullets merely smashed the helicopter’s wind screen and the flying shards cut him up badly. He was killed in the crash, of a broken neck.
”I can release you from custody, but you can't leave the country for a time. I'll want you to tell me what you know about this Horiuchi fellow.”
            “....Which leaves your responsibility to this hospital,” Conchita interrupted. “I'll get you a detailed tally when you’re ready to leave tomorrow, but it'll be between a half and one rand.”
            “How much in dollars?” Mars said while trying to load some beans on a tortilla.
            “A rand is a troy ounce of pure gold,” Juanita said. “I suppose that’s about ten thousand of your dollars....this week.”
            He held the clumsily-filled tortilla up, about to take a bite. “But you treated me, even though I have no money....that’s any good here.”
            “Of course,” Conchita laughed lightly. “We treat stray dogs too, Mr. Marlowe. I'll get you into a set of portable electrosplints in the morning, and you'll be free to go.”
            “And the bill?”
            “You will pay us when you can.”
            The next afternoon, after Mars had his new portable splints installed, Juanita Chen showed up. After she spoke for a few minutes with the hospital administrator, she met Mars in the lobby.
            “I’ve paid your hospital bill. I’d rather have you owe me than owe the hospital. What Dos Rios will owe you in reparations will lower your debt to us.  I have a proposal to offer you,” she said. “First, we have to get you some clothing that’s in better repair, as well as more fashionable.”
They walked to a nearby men's clothing store. Inside, the clothing was colorful, with Spanish, Mexican and Indian styles. Mars was wearing what was left of his business suit, damaged by his fall from the helicopter, and torn open at the leg and shoulder areas to accommodate his splints. An apparatus applied his weight above his knee on his broken leg. He stood in front of a triple mirror and was being measured up by a clothing salesman.
“Don’t you have any American clothes?” Mars asked, looking at the racks dubiously.
            Juanita laughed.
      The salesman dropped his eyes to Mars’ groin. “Aren’t you getting tired of sweaty balls all day, and that...that belly cinch of yours?”
            “Point taken,” Mars chuckled. “But it’ll take a while before I’ll get used to looking like a peacock.”
            “Peacocks look that way to attract pea hens, Mr. Marlowe,” she reminded him with a coy smile.
            It was while Mars was changing from his tattered suit into his new clothing that he found the envelope into which he’d placed Miss MacDougal’s Freestate money he’s found at the crime scene and at her San Diego loft. He showed them to Juanita.
            “Hold on to them,” she said as she counted up the amount. “We need to talk at my office.”
            Juanita walked along a sidewalk with Mars limping alongside. Mars was wearing a dark green kilt that fit over and partly concealed his leg apparatus and an Irish tartan poncho that covered a t-shirt and his handgun. It was all topped off with a fedora with a bald eagle’s flight feather tucked into the band.
            They entered a building and crossed a large lobby, filled with coin-operated video gaming stations and with a knick-knack stand on one side. They walked to an elevator.
The Dos Rios offices were on the tenth floor. They stepped out of the elevator and into the foyer of Dos Rios, they entered the office which had Juanita Chen’s name on the door. Juanita sat at her desk and offered Mars a chair.
            “I’m prepared to make you an offer, Mr. Marlowe”
            “Forget the offer, Miss Chen. I want to get back to San Diego. I’ll find a way to pay my damned hospital bill.”
            “It's your Wall.”
“But you can get through it.”
            Juanita tapped away on her desk surface while they talked. Mars couldn’t see the computer screen which has risen from the desk surface when she started it. He briefly wondered what she was doing.
            “Off the record, of course we can.” Juanita looked up from the monitor. “The Kennedy Border Wall was as foolish a plan as any hatched by the Gringos in this century, but you won't learn any secrets until you've become committed to Freestate.”
            “I'm a prisoner?”
            “You’re not a prisoner. Well, you are, in a way.” She eyed him through a businesswoman’s eyes. “I believe you are an honest and intelligent man. I have a couple of reasons to want you to stay--at least for a while. Hear me out, and if you reject my requests, and find another way to pay your bills, then you’ll be able to leave.”
            “Reasons? What are your reasons?”
            Juanita  continued talking while working at the computer. She pauses for a moment to read the screen.
            “Says here you're well thought of by your peers in San Diego PD, but you're regarded as a kind of a renegade by your superiors....”
            Mars shifted forward in his chair. “You can get my service records?’
            “....You'll need employment. You can learn to investigate claims.”
            “Me? An insurance dick? No....Where's the police department. I'll apply....”
            “Other than local security patrols and our competitors, we are the police. We don't have jack-booted civil servants sucking money out of people's pockets. We don't go harassing joy girls like you....”
            Mars stood. “....I don't roust hookers. That's vice....”
            “Of course you don’t,” Juanita commented sarcastically, with mock patience. “At Dos Rios, we protect our clients' persons and property. We recover losses caused by criminals, accidents or natural occurrences. Any claims we can't recover, we pay off. We try very hard not to have to pay off, and that brings us to the reason I brought you to my office.”
            “I'm investigating two murders--my partner and I were working on the murder of one Valerie MacDougal, a Free Stater who worked in California.” Mars sat down, splaying his hands over his knees. “My partner was killed, I think as a result of this investigation.”
            “Come to work for Dos Rios,” she continued, “and your first assignment will be the MacDougal murder. She was a client, and we don't like our clients murdered. As a bonus, you might find the solution of this case may contain clues to help you solve your partner’s murder. Does this interest you?”
            Mars only paused for a few seconds. “You have a deal.”
            Juanita extended her hand, which Mars shook with his left hand. “Then the money in your pocket will be your first two months’ pay.”

Sunday, November 04, 2012

The sixth chapter of my new novel. Thanks for reading, and all comments are welcome. 
Wayne C. Grantham


Mars had placed a couple of cartons with the material evidence, as well as the photos, video discs and reports in the trunk of his car. It included the autopsies, all the ballistics findings and his and Regis’ daily reports. He had made copies of everything and stored it in the rear of the HumVee. He’d also removed the HumVee from the police garage and hidden it a storage garage in which he kept his classic car and a lot of hobby stuff.
He wasn’t sure how long he could stall Horiuchi about the HumVee, but he planned to put him off as long as he could. He still hadn’t given the vehicle a proper going over.
His arm was feeling better, but he knew it wasn’t healed enough to go climbing around in the rear of the HumVee, not to mention sliding underneath. And he didn’t want to trust the job to anyone else, now that Regis was gone. He could end up charged with obstruction of justice, if this term can be said to mean anything these days. He knew that turning over everything would man that neither the Rodriguez, nor the MacDougal murders would ever be solved.
He was pretty certain that he was supposed to have died in the car crash along with Regis. He’d better watch himself.
The normal morning haze had burned off earlier that usual, and Mars drove down to Otay Mesa in the warm morning sun. It would be a nice day for flying.
After Mars checked in at the Otay Border Patrol Base and was directed to the guest lobby, he was met by Lieutenant Eddie Yarborough, the pilot who would be flying patrol that day. They were walking toward the helipad together when Horiuchi came out of a separate door and joined them.
      “Thanks for letting me ride a1ong,” Mars said to Yarborough. “I've been curious about the Border Wall for a long time.”
      “Commander Leeman says you ride along,” Yarborough said without turning his head, “You ride along.”
      “I’ll flap my arms if you need help.” Mars added, trying to answer the hostility with a little sarcasm.
“Lighten up, you guys.” Horiuchi assumed the unlikely role of peacemaker. “Let’s make an easy day of it.” Then, to Mars, “Where’s the package you’re going to give me?”
“Oh, it’s in the trunk of my car.”
“Your car?” Horiuchi stopped Mars by grabbing his arm.
“Ow! Dammit!” Mars pulled away and rubbed his wound. He had left the sling at home to make the day easier to deal with. I was just shot in that arm a few days ago!”
“You were supposed to bring that HumVee!”
“Oh, sorry.” Mars showed remorse; smiled apologetically. “I haven’t gotten it back from that shop. I’ll get it to you.”
Horiuchi tried to keep a lid on his anger. This was all supposed to be over today. He decided to take it up with Captain French as soon as he could.
      Yarborough climbed into the helicopter and took his seat. Mars followed. He couldn’t keep from wincing a bit as he pulled himself up into the rear of the copter. Horiuchi directed him into a seat behind the pilot and showed him the seat belt. He sat in the seat next to Yarborough.
“What's on the agenda for today, Horiuchi?” Mars said as Yarborough started the warm up and went through the preflight checklist. “Find and kill some smugglers?”
      “Special detail,” Horiuchi said simply, watching the preflight operations. This wiseass cop won’t be mouthing off much longer, he thought.
      By way of tying up more loose ends, Horiuchi intended to be the only one who survived this flight. Then, he’d be able to gather all the evidence together and take it up to Sacramento.
      “I have to see this impenetrable Wall,” Mars muttered to himself as the helicopter lifted off.
As they flew over mountains east of Chula Vista, the helicopter leveled out over a forty-five foot concrete wall that extended in a virtual straight line as far as could be seen. On the California side, the wall was smooth and featureless, save for ten-foot high spray-painted graffiti covering most of the lower face. The graffiti gradually became sparser as they flew east, out into the less populate eastern part of San Diego County. On the Freestate side, the wall was artfully painted with realistic-looking flowers, trees and snow-topped mountain peaks, as if to make an artistic statement and disguise an ugly, distasteful edifice. The art too, disappeared as they flew east.
      Horiuchi turned around in his seat to address Mars, shouting over the sound of the engine and the rotors. “President Kennedy started building the Wall back in '23, just before he was killed in the explosion of the West Wing. Construction was suspended until California finished it as far as the Arizona border in ’32.”
      “To keep illegal aliens out, wasn't it?” Mars replied, looking out the open door on the right side of the craft.
      “It was just before Thorsen swindled Baja California from Mexico. Mexicans and other illegals were sneaking into California by the thousands.”
      “It was the terms of the loan, Horiuchi, old pal,” Mars reminded him. Signed and notarized. The Mexican president didn’t have to accept that loan under Thorsen’s terms. Thorsen didn’t twist his arm.”
      “Thorsen stole Baja,” Horiuch said angrily. “President Zorillo’s was backed into a corner. His people were starving.”
      “Because of his policies and those of his predecessors.” Mars completed the thought, wryly. “So, now the Wall is more to keep Californians in, eh?” He laughed.
      “Anyone can leave California anytime,” Horiuchi said even louder than needed over the whine of the engines. “We’re controlling imports of goods detrimental to California's economy.”
      “Your boss’ taxes are so high that nobody can afford to buy any of that stuff.” Mars said though his continuing chuckle, “He certainly wouldn’t want to see an infusion of money into the California economy. Money, that is, that isn’t in his control.”
      At this, Horiuchi unbelted. He got out of his seat and pulled his sidearm. He leveled it on Mars’ chest.
      “Keep your hands on the armrests,” he said.
      “I didn't know you'd take it so personally,” was Mars’ retort.
      “This is where you get off, asshole! Get outa the seat belt.”
      “I figured there was something up your sleeve,” Mars said as he slowly reached for the buckle. “So, it was you who killed Regis. You’re not satisfied that I survived the shooting that killed my partner, so you set this up. A rat like you wouldn’t be satisfied until every loose end was dead.”
      “Keep your hands away from....”
Mars opened his seat belt just as the helicopter veered suddenly to the left, throwing Horiuchi slightly off balance. Mars, producing a he small knife he kept in his waistband, grabbed Horiuchi's wrist while reaching to stab Horiuchi’s throat. Pain shot through his left arm, but he held onto Horiuchi’s right, keeping him from bringing his handgun to bear. The sudden motion of the helicopter caused him to miss with the knife, which slid along Horiuchi’s cheek, cutting a deep gash from his jawbone to near his eye.  Blood spattered on the metal and glass of the cabin. He let the knife go in favor of steadying himself against the edge of the side door opening of the craft.
“God dammit, Yarborough!” Horiuchi yelled. “Keep this fucking thing steady!”
Yarborough was turning to chase an aircraft in the distance in front of the helicopter.
Horiuchi and Mars fought over the pistol while the copter banked hard to the right, throwing the grappling men toward the open door on the left side of the copter. The two men grabbed and held onto whatever they could, while they struggled for control of the handgun.
      Up front, Yarborough continued to maneuver the helicopter while he spoke into his mike, reporting in.
      “Bogey! He’s flying low, in a southerly direction. I'll intercept.”
      He switched frequencies on the radio. “Unidentified aircraft. You're flying in restricted airspace. Please turn to a northerly heading immediately.” He repeated the message. “Unidentified aircraft. Leave the area immediately, in a northerly direction or you will be fired upon. This is the California Border Patrol.”
Yarborough flashed a look at Horiuchi. “Fine time you picked for that! I gotta deal with this guy.”
“I have him visual. He's not turning. He's going for the border. Closing.” Yarborough spun the copter to follow the single-engined plane.
The pilot of the Cessna watched as the pea-green helicopter turned to line up on him. He unbuckled his seat harness and popped the door latch. The moment he saw the rocket light, he threw himself out of his plane, pulling the ripcord of his chute as soon as he cleared the plane. As soon as the chute opened, he began pulling toward the Wall. He was barely clear when his aircraft exploded. The shower of debris and burning avgas showered past him, missing him by mere feet. Fortunately, his chute was undamaged. He pulled as hard as he could to try to land on the Freestate side of the Wall.
While momentarily holding Mars against the side of the copter, Horiuchi saw the flier hit the silk.
      Horiuchi yelled at Yarborough, while still grappling with Mars. “Shoot the bastard out of the air!”
      The pilot of the destroyed aircraft watched while hanging from his parachute. He could see the helicopter bring its weapons to bear on him. He drew a sidearm. He fired several rounds.
      While Yarborough tried to aim the copter's Gatling, the windscreen shattered, fragments flying around inside the helicopter. Horiuchi ducked; Yarborough’s body snapped back in his seat. He bled from several deep lacerations in his upper chest and face. The helicopter tilted and dove out of control. Horiuchi, still holding his sidearm and wrestling with Mars, struggled into the copilot's seat. Grabbing the yoke with his left hand, he tried to control the copter.
      Mars gave Horiuchi room to try to stabilize the aircraft, while keeping his gun pointed in what he hoped was a safe direction. Just as Horiuchi began to stabilize the craft, one of the landing skids raked along the top of the Wall, causing the craft to tilt and slide downward. The copter twisted and the tail rotor hit the Wall, making the helicopter spin even more wildly. The craft slid down the Wall and crashed to the ground, its fall slowed somewhat by the still-spinning main rotor. Sometime during the plunge along the Wall, Mars was thrown from the copter. His fall was broken several times by the branches and boughs of a tree. He finally landed on the ground in some brush a few hundred feet from the copter’s final resting place.
      Horiuchi, cut up and dazed, rolled out of the broken craft onto the rocky ground. Dazed, but not hurt beyond cuts and bruises, he quickly checked Yarborough whose neck was broken, retrieved his handgun. He looked around for Mars’ body and not seeing it, stumbled away, following the Wall toward the west.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

The fifth chapter of my new novel. Thanks for reading, and all comments are welcome. 
Wayne C. Grantham


      Mars was walking among the vehicles in the Impound Lot. He spotted the faded yellow HumVee and approached it. He examined it briefly, looking in through the windows. As near as he could tell, the Humvee was just as it was at the crime scene--no cleaner. There was no cargo inside; that he could see.
      He went into the custodian’s shack. The custodian on duty sat with his feet on his desk. Mars flashed his badge.
      “That HumVee from the MacDougal case; I want to take it down to the garage to examine it.”
      “It'll be examined. It just hasn’t been scheduled yet.” The custodian said without moving.
      This was one of the times Mars had no patience for the bureaucracy. He was a bubbling cauldron inside because of the murder of his partner, and he knew that what he was about to do bent the rules well past the breaking point. He was beyond caring. And, his arm hurt. “I'm gonna take it out to the desert for a spin. Get me the keys!”
      The custodian wrote the license number of the HumVee in his book.
      “I'll get the paperwork,” he said, finally stirring from his chair.
Mars parked the HumVee inconspicuously among several of the older police vans and paddy wagons. He parked it more or less out of sight between two of the larger vans. His plan was to keep it out of sight and out of the way so that Horiuchi would overlook it. He wanted buy himself a little time to search it himself as soon as his injured arm was more usable.
The arm wound had been a simple injury--the bullet passed cleanly through the flesh of his upper forearm. The clinic cleaned, closed and bandaged it, and restrained it in a sling. Fortunately, he thought, his left arm.
Fortunately, he was still alive.
Unfortunately, his partner was not.
He was going to solve the case in spite of CIATFBI, because the state anti-smuggling agency never would.
      Soon after, Mars made his way to his desk in a partitioned corner of the Squad Room, where after exchanging somber greetings and receiving condolences from his fellow detectives, began typing his reports on an old laptop, one hand, one finger at a time.
Horiuchi entered and scanned the squad room. He walked, without saying anything, straight to the door of Captain French's office. He knocked, and after a moment, entered. After a moment, French poked his head out of his office and waved Mars in.
      Mars took a moment to finish a sentence on his report, saved it with an unconscious flourish, then rose and slowly walked among the desks to Captain French’s office, and entered. It was a small room with a government issue-type desk, a couple of cheap chromed metal and plastic chairs and some framed commendations and photos of the Governor and the Mayor on the wall. They hadn’t yet replaced the picture of the old Mayor with his successor, Mars noticed. French had already returned to the well-worn faux leather executive chair and was sitting forward, elbows and hands on his desk. Horiuchi was seated in one of the other chairs, working at his fingernails with a penknife.
“Sit down, Mars.” Captain French offered.
Mars remained standing. “I just lost partner and a friend, Captain, and I haven't slept in three days. I know what's going on. Let's skip the bullshit.”
      “Sorry to hear about Rodriguez,” Horiuchi said without looking up.
      Mars locks onto Horiuchi. “Yeah, I'm not completely sure you weren't involved, Horiuchi. You drive a black Suburban”
      Glaring up at Mars, Horiuchi started to get up, then relaxed back into his chair. Only his eyes did not relax. “Everybody drives a black Suburban,” he said, trying to force nonchalance. He went back to the task of minutely grooming his fingertips.
“Cut the shit, Mars!” French ordered. “We're all on the same side.”
“You’re a lot more certain of that than I am, Captain!” Mars countered, not taking his eyes off Horiuchi. A moment passed, then Mars made a show of visibly relaxing, leaning against the wall of the office. He did a better job of faking a change of focus than Horiuchi. Believing the tension had eased, at least somewhat, Captain French leaned back. “We're giving the MacDougal case over to the CIATFBI. I want you to cooperate fully with them.”
      “Have they ever,” Mars asked through a wry smirk, “in the six long, painful years of the agency's existence, actually solved even one crime?”
      Horiuchi gave Mars another look. “Listen, you....”
      “Shut up, Mars. Give Horiuchi everything you have on this. That's an order.”
      Mars looked back at Horiuchi, now offering a more affable, if insincere smile. “I thought you guys were just into smuggling.”
      “This is a smuggling case,” Horiuchi said. “She was bringing in and selling contraband from Baja California.”
      Mars gave a slight nod, as if to accept Horiuchi’s explanation.
      “It’s rough losing a partner, Mars” French said, thinking the tension between the two men had eased. “We’ll all miss Regis around here. Just give Horiuchi the stuff you have on this case, and then take a couple of weeks’ vacation on the Department.”
      Exiting Captain French’s office together, Horiuchi followed Mars through the Squad Room to his desk. Mars sat; opened a file drawer.
      “Freestate California,” Mars begins while riffling through the drawer. “Doesn't the Border Wall pretty much make smuggling impossible, along with the tracking of ships by satellite and the highway checkpoints? Governor Blue says Speedy Gonzales couldn't get in.”
      “Governor Ballou is a politician, and statements like that are for the rubes.” Horiuchi laughed without smiling. “You can't stop a hundred percent. Some smugglers are too smart to try to carry contraband in hidden under the seat cushions of a power boat. We know, for example, that Freestate smugglers have breached the Wall. We haven’t yet discovered how or where.”
      “Why do you want to catch them?” Mars asked, wondering what the current official lie was. “Why not just import their stuff and put it in stores?”
      “Come on, Marlowe!” Horiuchi scoffed. “It’d wreck California’s economy.”
      “California’s economy doesn’t have that far to go, the way it looks.” Mars countered. “Maybe some fresh trade goods might help a little.”
      Horiuchi darkened. “Look! I’m not here to debate economics with you. Just get me the stuff on the MacDougal case.”
Mars pulled a relatively thin folder. Opening it, he checked the several computer discs and three large manila envelopes marked “Photos.” He shuffled quickly through the thin sheaf of typed paperwork. He handed the whole folder to Horiuchi.
“Ok, that’s your file. What else is there? I want your reports, your notes, all the photos and videos and all the physical evidence.”
      “I haven’t finished writing my reports. It’s what I was doing when you arrived. The physical evidence is in the Evidence Room. You can see it with your ID. MacDougal’s gun and the bullets we dug up are in Ballistics. The corpses are in the morgue and her vehicle is in the Impound Lot. Wait....no it isn’t. I sent it to a shop I know. The guy knows HumVees inside out. If there’s anything hidden in the vehicle, he’ll find it.”
      “I don’t want to see the evidence.” Horiuchi sneered. “I want the evidence. You were supposed to have it ready for me.”
      “First I heard of it,” Mars lied. “Tell you what. I’ll get it all together and bring it to you. It’ll take me a day or so.”
      Horiuchi considered for a moment. Mars thought he saw something click into place in Horiuchi’s eyes.
      “Thursday, I’m scheduled to ride along with the Border Patrol on one of their helicopter patrols of the Border Wall. Bring the stuff down to the Otay Border Patrol Base, and I’ll show you the Wall.”
      “I’ve never seen it from the air. Sounds good.”
      “I’ll set it up with the gate guard. Eight AM Thursday.”