J ack Potter, perhaps the most successful and best known attorney in Santa Fe, had recently attended a gay rights costume ball dressed as Lady Justice. The following morning a photograph of a smiling Potter, wearing a shimmering frock, a curly wig, and holding the scales of justice and a sword, appeared on the front page of the local paper.
Today Jack Potter wore a tank top, shorts, and a pair of expensive running shoes that looked brand new to Detective Ramona Pino. He was faceup on the sidewalk with a bullet hole in his chest. He’d bled out in front of his office across from the county courthouse early on a warm July morning. From the blood trail on the sidewalk, Pino could tell that Potter had crawled a good fifty feet before turning over on his back to die.
Ramona was more than slightly pissed at the man who’d discovered Potter. Alfonso Allesandro had spotted the body as he passed by in his newspaper truck, and had called the city editor on a cell phone before dialing the cops to report the crime. As a result a photographer had hurried over from the newspaper offices a few blocks away and walked through the blood trail taking pictures before the first officer arrived.
Both men were now waiting in the panel truck under the watchful eye of a uniformed officer while Pino worked the cordoned-off crime scene with the techs, searching for shell casings and anything else that looked like evidence.
Little orange evidence markers were placed at the cigarette butts lying in the gutter, at a broken toothpick found a step away from Potter’s body, and next to the small puddle of fairly fresh crankcase oil in the street. One tech dusted the parking meters for fingerprints, and another worked on the door and front porch to Potter’s office.
Ramona inspected the small fenced lawn in front of the building looking for any signs that shrubbery and grass had been disturbed or for fibers, threads, or hair that might have been transferred by contact. Finding nothing, she sent a tech who’d finished taking snapshots of the bloody footprints to secure the photographer’s shoes so a comparison could be made. The photographer opened the truck door, pulled off his shoes, and shot Ramona a dirty look as he handed them to the tech.
Ramona smiled, but not at the photographer. The newspaper’s truck bore an advertising slogan, EVERYONE READS IT, and in black spray paint someone had added:
AND WONDERS WHY
By the time an assistant district attorney, a medical examiner, and Lieutenant Sal Molina showed up, the courthouse was about to open for business. A small crowd of lawyers, clerks, judges, and officers scheduled for court appearances had gathered across the street and were scrutinizing her every move, which made her a little uneasy.
The ME, a roly-poly man with skinny arms showing below a short-sleeved shirt, went off to declare Potter officially dead. Ramona turned her back on the crowd and briefed Molina and the ADA in a low voice.
“Potter was shot in the chest at what appears to be close range,” she said. “We have no witnesses to the crime and so far no substantial evidence.”
“Was it a drive-by?” Molina asked.
“I don’t think so,” Ramona replied. “Potter took just one bullet. If the killer had been firing from a moving vehicle, he probably would have emptied his weapon at his target.”
“The shooter could have been parked at the curb.”
“Possibly,” Ramona said. “But if the killer was in a vehicle, I doubt it was a passenger car.”
“Why do you say that?” Molina asked.
“The entry and exit wounds don’t look that much out of alignment,” Ramona answered. “From a car, the shooter would have been firing up at an angle.”
Molina nodded in agreement. “Have you found the bullet?”
“No,” Pino said as she gazed down the street. At least a dozen buildings would have to be checked for the spent round, including an elementary school, an office building, and a resort hotel two blocks away across a thoroughfare that circled downtown Santa Fe. It would take hours to do the search, probably with no results.
“Maybe we’ll get lucky,” Molina said, reading Pino’s pessimistic expression. She was a pretty young woman with even features and soft brown eyes that often fooled people into thinking she could be easily conned or manipulated.
“What if Potter knew his killer?” Barry Foyt, the ADA, asked.
“That would be great,” Molina said. “Otherwise we’ve got either a random shooting or robbery as the possible motive.”
“Was there anything in his pockets?” Foyt asked.
“Just his keys,” Ramona answered, showing the key ring in a plastic bag, “and he’s still wearing his watch, although it’s not an expensive one.”
“So maybe we should rule out robbery as a motive as soon as possible,” Foyt said, inclining his head toward the single-story adobe building that housed Potter’s offices.
“Are you giving permission to search?” Ramona asked.
“Plain view only, for now,” Foyt said, “including his car.”
“You got it,” Ramona said.
“Does he have any employees?” Molina asked, looking at the civilians who had congregated at both ends of the street behind patrol cars blocking the intersections. Uniformed officers stood by their vehicles holding them back.
“He has one secretary,” Foyt replied. “I don’t see her here yet.”
“ID her for us when she shows,” Molina said, turning his attention to Pino. “Six detectives are rolling. Let’s get the uniforms started identifying onlookers and taking statements. Assign a detective to search Potter’s office and put one on his car. Find his wallet. That could help us rule out robbery as a motive. Have the others canvass the neighborhood, and start the techs looking for the bullet.”
“Will do, Lieutenant,” Ramona said. Even with the additional help, it was going to be a busy day. Once a residential neighborhood, the McKenzie District west of the courthouse was now a mixed-use area of professional offices, private dwellings, apartments in converted houses, several bed-and-breakfast inns, retail specialty shops, and some eateries that were popular with locals. A lot of people would need to be canvassed on the assumption that someone might have noticed a suspicious person, seen a vehicle, or heard the gunshot.
“I wonder if Potter ran every morning before he started work,” Molina said.
Foyt shrugged. “I know he liked to run, but I don’t know if he kept to a set schedule.”
“We’ll find out,” Ramona said.
“Have you called Chief Kerney?” Molina asked Pino.
“Negative,” Ramona answered. “I wanted to secure the crime scene and get an evidence search under way first.”
“I’ll call him,” Molina said, turning to Foyt. “Anything else you want to add, counselor?”
Barry Foyt glanced ruefully at Potter’s body. He’d been handling murder cases for the DA’s office for the last five years and had been called out to most of the major homicide crime scenes. But this was the first time the victim had been someone he knew and liked.
“Jack was good people,” Foyt said brusquely. “Let’s get a suspect in custody fast, Lieutenant.”
“If only it were that easy,” Molina said, thinking maybe he’d been stupid to let Kerney talk him out of putting in his retirement papers. Potter’s murder could turn into a real bitch of a controversy real fast if progress on the case stalled.
If he’d been smart, he could have been out on a lake trout fishing without a care in the world, instead of facing the potential indignation of every judge, lawyer, prosecutor, and gay activist in Santa Fe.
Molina scanned the growing crowd before addressing Ramona. “I know you caught the case, Detective, but I’m taking over as primary on this one.”
“I understand, Lieutenant,” Ramona said.
He sent Pino and Foyt off to brief the detectives who were piling out of unmarked units, flipped open his cell phone to call the chief, and hesitated.
Kerney had picked up his pregnant wife at the Albuquerque airport last night before starting a two-week vacation. Their baby was due any day, and on top of that Kerney was having a new house built on some ranch land he’d bought outside the city.
But the chief’s policy was clear: No matter where he was or what he was doing, he was to be informed immediately about every homicide or major felony that occurred within the city limits.
Reluctantly, Molina dialed Kerney’s number.
Lt. Colonel Sara Brannon handed the telephone to Kerney and watched his expression change from consternation to vexation as he listened to Sal Molina. She’d just told him that when her maternity leave ended she would start a tour of duty at the Pentagon in a plum strategic planning position that would put her on track for promotion to full colonel. He wasn’t at all happy about it.
“What is it?” she said after Kerney hung up.
“Nothing good,” Kerney answered. “A lawyer has been shot and killed outside the courthouse.”
“You’d better go,” Sara said, shifting her weight in the kitchen chair to ease the pain in her back. In the last two weeks being pregnant had become increasingly uncomfortable.
“They can get along without me for a few more minutes,” Kerney replied, giving Sara a long, unhappy look across the kitchen table. “I thought you were trying for an assignment closer to home.”
“Believe me, I did.” As a Military Police Corps officer, Sara wore the insignia of crossed pistols on her uniform. “The only possibility was with the 14th Military Police Brigade at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri. But there were no slots available at my rank.”
Kerney nodded and studied his wife’s face. Fast approaching her mid-thirties, Sara was fifteen years his junior. Even with the extra pounds she’d gained during pregnancy, she was lovely to look at. She had strawberry-blond hair, a slender neck, a small line of freckles along the ridge of her nose, sparkling green eyes capable of both warmth and chilling scrutiny, and lips that could smile generously or tighten quickly into firm resolve.
“What about resigning your commission?” Kerney asked. “I recall a conversation we had about that possibility.”
“I’m not ready to do that,” Sara said. “You knew I was a career officer when you married me.”
“Things have changed, we’re about to become parents.”
“Thanks for the reminder,” Sara said forcing a smile and patting her tummy. “I’d totally forgotten.”
“We can talk about it later,” Kerney said flatly as he got to his feet. Sara’s sarcasm annoyed him, but he didn’t want to quarrel.
“I thought you had the time,” Sara said.
“Not for this discussion,” Kerney replied with an abrupt shake of his head.
He left the kitchen and returned wearing a holstered sidearm and his shield clipped to his belt. He gave her a perfunctory kiss on the cheek and went quickly out the door.
Determined not to cry or throw her coffee cup against the wall, Sara decided to draw a warm bath and take a long soak in the tub.
Kerney arrived at the crime scene to find Potter’s body covered with a tarp. A large number of onlookers were clustered in the courthouse parking lot watching television reporters broadcast live feeds about the murder to network affiliates in Albuquerque. One reporter started shouting questions at Kerney from across the street.
He ignored the woman and took a quick tour of the evidence markers which, except for the bloody footprints, looked like nothing more than street litter. But if they found a suspect, DNA testing of the cigarette butts that had been marked as evidence might prove valuable.
He bent down and uncovered Potter’s body. Jack’s handsome, wide-eyed features were frozen in shock, and his bloody hands were pressed against a dark stain on the tank top just below the entry wound in his chest. Potter had died hard.
Jack had started his law career with the district attorney’s office a few years before Kerney first joined the police department, and Kerney knew him well, professionally and socially.
After a fairly long stint as an ADA, Potter had opened a private practice specializing in criminal law, quickly becoming one of the most sought-after defense lawyers in the city. When he came out of the closet as an advocate for same-sex marriages some years later, it didn’t hurt his reputation in Santa Fe one bit.
Of all the prosecutors Kerney had worked with in the district attorney’s office, Jack had been the best of the lot. Outside of the job, he was charming, witty, and fun to be around.
Kerney flipped the tarp over Jack’s face and stood. Inside Potter’s office he found Sal Molina talking with Larry Otero, his deputy chief and second-in-command. He nodded a curt greeting to both men and turned his attention to Molina. “Fill me in, Sal, if you don’t mind repeating yourself.”