Michael McGarrity

The Judas Judge

Starting sometime after midnight, six murders had been committed along a stretch of highway in south central New Mexico. Soon after sunrise, Kevin Kerney arrived at the Oliver Lee State Park, where Sgt. Randy Shockley waited for him outside a motor home parked in an area that provided electrical and water hookups to recreational vehicles.

Westward, across the Tularosa Basin, a band of low clouds mimicked the outline of the distant mountains, creating a mirage of shimmering vague foothills. The October morning was chilly, and a low sun softened the stark landscape, giving the desert a deceptively inviting impression. Raised on the Tularosa until his parents' ranch was taken over by the army and made part of the high security White Sands Missile Range, Kerney knew the clouds would soon burn off and the day would heat up.

He eyed the motor home. It was an expensive model with a retractable awning, an air-conditioning unit on the roof, and a detachable satellite TV dish mounted on a bracket. Under the awning were a small barbecue grill, a lawn chair, and a folding metal side table. The door into the cabin of the RV was open. Painted on the side of the rig, above the manufacturer's nameplate, a bounding cartoonlike kangaroo floated in midair.

Sergeant Shockley held the crime scene log in one hand and a pen in the other. Kerney scribbled his name on the log and returned the pen. 'Any witnesses?' he asked.

'No,' Shockley replied. He eyed the chief's cowboy boots, jeans, and silver belt buckle, and repressed a smirk. 'And nobody heard any shots. A camper discovered the body.'

'Where is he?'

'Sequestered inside the visitor center with the park manager. I have an officer with them.'

Across the way, a tight group of campers had gathered around a picnic table under a shelter to watch the action. Most were gray-haired, overweight, tanned, and wearing sweats and pullover tops to guard against the early morning chill. 'We're holding everybody who stayed overnight until we can take their statements,' Sergeant Shockley said. 'Some of them aren't happy campers.'

Kerney smiled thinly at the joke. Shockley, a shift commander and the evidence officer for the Alamogordo District Office of the New Mexico State Police, smiled back. With nine years on the force, Shockley still had a cockiness about him that most cops lost after working their rookie season on the streets. He was thirty-two years old, stood five-nine in his stocking feet, and carried a hundred and forty-five pounds on a compact frame.

Shockley's record was clean. Divorced with no children, he served as an officer survival trainer at the state police academy when recruit classes were in session, and had a reputation as an instructor who enjoyed putting a hurt on cadets during hand-to-hand training.

Kerney knew about Shockley because the sergeant was the target of an internal affairs investigation. He inclined his head toward the motor home. 'Who's been inside?'

'Me, a paramedic, the man who found the body, and the park ranger. The radio message from Major Hutchinson said you were the primary investigator on this one.'

'Until we get more people here,' Kerney said. 'Let the park manager and the witness know I'll take their statements as soon as I can.'

'How many dead people do we have, Chief?'

'This one makes six.'

'Looks like somebody went on a killing spree.'

'So it seems. Where's the body?'

'In the back of the RV,' Shockley said, 'on the bed.'

Kerney nodded, went to his unit, and got his gear.

At two A.M. Kerney; his second-in-command, Nate Hutchinson; and a team of agents had left Santa Fe by helicopter and flown the short hop to the Valley of Fires Recreational Area outside of Carrizozo, the scene of the first homicide. A retired couple from Iowa had been murdered in their sleep and robbed. The team had been working their way south ever since.

At the Three Rivers Petroglyph Recreation Area, a machinist from California had been killed in his travel trailer by a bullet through the heart, and at a campground near the boundary of the Mescalero Indian Reservation, a retired army master sergeant and his wife had been shot dead.

Major Hutchinson's team was stretched thin at the three crime scenes, so Kerney had taken the latest call. There was no way of knowing if it would prove to be the last.

He put on a pair of plastic gloves and went inside the motor home. The man in the sleeping nook wore only boxer shorts. Tan lines on his body stopped midway up the arms and formed a V below the neck. His torso and legs were a startling pale white in comparison.

Somewhere in his seventies, he had a full head of gray hair, good muscle tone, and two bullet holes in his chest. Above a hint of jowls, his features were angular, with thin lips and a long, narrow nose. A large black bloodstain on a neutral gray blanket had dribbled onto the carpet. One round had caught a heart valve, and a blood spray three feet long had smeared the window and wall above the bed.

It was Friday, and Kerney had planned to fly to Kansas City to spend the weekend with his wife, It. Col. Sara Brannon, who was enrolled in the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth. But that wasn't going to happen.

Under the plastic glove on his left hand Kerney wore a gold wedding band with lapis and turquoise inlaid in a triangular pattern Sara had picked out as part of a matched pair. She had canceled her last trip to Santa Fe due to a mandatory weekend training exercise, and it had been a month since they'd been together. Aside from their honeymoon trip to Ireland in April, the most time they'd been able to spend together was four days in July. Since then, only quick weekend visits back and forth between Santa Fe and Fort Leavenworth every two weeks had been possible.

Kerney had gone into the marriage knowing it would be a part time long-distance relationship, and so far he hadn't voiced any complaints. But a month was a long time, and Kerney had to shut down a desire to grumble about it. He shook off his ill-humor and got busy.

He took photographs, did a crime scene sketch, and searched for evidence. He found no spent rounds or sign of forced entry, and went to take statements from the park ranger and the witness who'd discovered the body. Nate Hutchinson arrived just as Kerney finished up.

Known by his nickname Hutch, Nate ran the day-to-day operations of the criminal investigations, narcotics, intelligence, internal affairs, and alcohol and gaming enforcement bureaus. He had droopy eyelids that gave him a sleepy look often mistaken for boredom by those who didn't know him, close-cut brown hair showing a hint of gray, and the ramrod carriage of a Marine drill instructor.

'Got anything, Chief?' Hutch asked.

'The victim's name is Vernon Langsford, a retired lawyer from Ruidoso, age seventy-six. The park ranger said Langsford was a volunteer camp host. He worked three days a week and was on call at night after the park closed. When he wasn't passing out information to tourists and campers, he liked to play golf at the local courses. He was shot twice in the chest at close range.'

Hutchinson cocked his head. 'Twice? All the other victims were killed with one round. Why two shots for Langsford?'

'I don't know. There's no sign of a struggle. His wallet and jewelry were taken, along with a small, portable color television.'

'That matches the MO at the other crime scenes. All the other victims were just tourists traveling through, Chief. Why did our killer take out a camp host?'

'I haven't a clue. From what I've been told, nobody heard shots at this location.'

'Silencer?'

'Without a doubt,' Kerney said, looking at the travel trailers within shouting distance of the motor home. 'Why

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