H Is For Homicide Page 32


He plunked the bag down on the seat beside him. ’’How you doin'back there?’’ He was in his late twenties, cleanshaven, his dark hair clipped close. The back of his neck looked vulnerable above the collar of his uniform.

None of this was lost on Bibianna. ’’We're great, sport. How're you?’’

’’I'm cool,’’ he said.

’’You have a name?’’

’’Kip Brainard,’’ he said. ’’You're Diaz, right?’’

’’Right.’’

He seemed to smile to himself. He started the car and eased it away from the curb, radioing the dispatcher that he was on his way in with us. There was no more conversation. The rain had begun to sound like a pile of nails being dropped on the car roof, windshield wipers flopping back and forth without much effect, the monotonous calls from the car radio punctuating the silence. We reached the freeway and headed north. The windows were fogging over. In the warmth of the vehicle and the lulling drone of the engine, I nearly nodded off.

We took the off ramp at Espada and turned left onto the frontage road, proceeding about a half a mile. We turned right onto a road that cut around to the rear of the Santa Teresa County Correctional Facility, better known as the jail to those of us about to be incarcerated. On the far side of the property, the complex shared a parking lot with the Santa Teresa County Sheriff's Department. We pulled up at the gate. Kip pushed a button for the intercom. The master control regulation officer responded, a disembodied female voice surrounded by static.

’’Police officer coming in with two,’’ he said.

The gate swung open and we passed through. Once we were inside the fence, he honked the horn and the gate swung shut behind us. We pulled into a paved stretch enclosed by a chain-link fence. The whole area blazed with lights, the rain creating a misty aureole around each flood. A county sheriff's car had pulled in just ahead of us, and we waited in silence until the deputy was admitted with his prisoner, a vagrant who was visibly drunk and much in need of assistance.

Once they'd disappeared, Kip shut the engine off and got out. He opened the rear door on my side and helped me out, a clumsy procedure with my hands cuffed behind my back. ’’You gonna behave yourself?’’ he asked.

’’No problem. I'm fine.’’

He must not have trusted me because he continued to hold on to my arm, walking me around to Bibianna's side of the car. He opened the door and helped her out of the backseat and then walked us toward the gate. A female jail officer came out to assist him. The rain was constant, unpleasant, a chill assault on my body, which was already trembling with accumulated tensions. Never had I so longed for a hot shower, dry clothes, my own bed. Bibianna's dark hair was plastered to her head in long dripping strands, but it didn't seem to bother her. All the earlier hostility had faded, replaced by a curious complaisance.

Reception at the county jail is approached through an exterior corridor of chain-link fencing that resembles a dog run. We were buzzed in, passing yet another checkpoint complete with electronic locks and cameras. Kip walked us along the passage, raindrops splashing up around us as our heels tapped across the wet pavement. ’’You know the routine?’’ he asked.

’’Yeah, yeah, yeah. It's all the same, stud,’’ Bibianna said.

’’Let's make that 'Officer.'Can we do that?’’ he said dryly. ’’I take it you're an old hand at this.’’

’’You got that right... Officer Stud,’’ she said.

He decided to let it pass. I kept my mouth shut. I knew the drill from the old days in uniform. It was odd how differently I perceived the whole process now that I was the perp.

We reached a metal door. Kip pushed a button, announcing once more that he was bringing in two of us. We waited while the cameras inspected us. I've seen the big console where the MCR operator sits, surrounded by black-and-white monitors showing the equivalent of twelve totally boring Andy Warhol movies simultaneously. The operator buzzed us in. In silence, we walked down one corridor and then turned into a second, emerging eventually into the reception area where the male prisoners are booked in. I was hoping to see Tate, but he'd apparently been processed and taken to a cell. The vagrant, weaving on his feet, was emptying the pockets of his ragged sport coat. I knew him by sight, one of the town's perennial characters. Most afternoons he hung out around the courthouse having heated arguments with an unseen companion. His invisible chum was still giving him a hard time. The booking officer behind the desk waited with benign patience. I knew the deputy, too, though I couldn't remember his name. Foley, maybe. Something like that. I wasn't close enough to read his name tag and I didn't want to call attention to myself by squinting at his chest.


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