Hell, they were only bones. He’d been called upon to identify bones before. But veterinarian
Gil Tailor was skittish as a gopher in a badger hole. Maybe it was the fact that he hadn’t practiced his profession in more than two years. Maybe it was the irritating manner in which Deputy Jarmillo had asked him to view the bones during their earlier phone conversation. Could it be premonition? Nah, he’d never been a big believer in that paranormal bullshit.
Dr. Gillette Tailor drove the Spanish Peaks Veterinary Clinic truck up to the secured entrance to Rough Mountain Ranches. He was early. The huge wrought iron gates were closed and could only be opened by someone who knew the code. So he parked to the side to wait for Huerfano County Deputy Sheriff Jarmillo. It was the deputy who had called about the bones.
Gil was surprised to see his knuckles were white from holding the steering wheel so tight. He needed to relax. To pass the time and calm himself, he read the advertising signs bordering the highway in front of Rough Mountain Ranches. Own Your Own Colorado Ranch. 40-160 Acre Ranches.
Gil snorted. “Ranches my ass. Forty acres wouldn’t sustain even one animal in this country.”
But grousing didn’t relieve his tension. Nervous perspiration ran down his back, causing his shirt to stick. The hot summer sun blazed through the window churning the odors of naugahyde, hay, manure, medicine and sweat into a sour amalgam. He opened his window and tried to focus elsewhere – his new opportunity as a relief veterinarian for Dr. Bramlett, getting his life back together, distancing himself from the death of his wife; but he couldn’t keep his mind from returning to what was beyond that gate.
His gaze took in Rough Mountain, the namesake of the subdivision. It sat next to the taller Mt. Mestas like a surly sidekick. Their rocky slopes looked grim and uninviting. He turned south to look at the Spanish Peaks. Much larger than Mestas and Rough, the legendary twin peaks stood like two mystical sentinels, scrutinizing all comers to Southeastern Colorado. As he was having coffee earlier the sun was starting its honey flow down the rugged sides - warming and welcoming. Now black clouds blanketed them with an ominous threat.
A black-and-white Durango came careening up the highway. The driver made a screeching turn into the entrance, slid to a stop in front of the gate and climbed out. This had to be Deputy Jarmillo. In his mid-thirties, the deputy stood five foot seven or eight, with swooped shoulders, a round face and hatless head covered in shiny black hair. His mustache swooped from his big nose like two caterpillars, then thinned into lines that followed the upper lip to each corner. A slight paunch hung over his utility belt. He could have stepped out of a Treasures of the Sierra Madre poster.
Jarmillo marched up to the rock gate post, took off his dark glasses and punched in a series of numbers on the key pad. The gate slowly swung in. Jarmillo went back to his vehicle and waved Gil to follow.
Gil blinked. “Well, nice to meet you too, Deputy.”
The deputy’s Dodge Durango kicked up a screen of dust as it led the way over the graveled road and across a two track trail into a little hollow. Jarmillo slid to a stop, jumped from his Durango and was striding toward a hole before Gil could shut off the clinic truck and set the brake.
Gil took off his hat, brushed back the damp, copper-colored hair and scratched his head as he took in the scene. In this little hollow, scattered pinion pine rimmed the area giving it a shadowed seclusion. A backhoe was parked on the far side of what appeared to be a deep hole judging by the dirt piled next to it. It seemed too big for a few bones. He took a deep breath and pulled his hat down tight. With the knuckle of his index finger he smoothed his bushy mustache and climbed out of the truck. He tried to appear relaxed as he strolled to join Deputy Jarmillo.
Quietly they stood side by side looking down at a partially buried, rusted stock trailer and the exposed tailgate of a pickup. The only sound was the eerie call of a magpie and the pinging of cooling engines.
Gil couldn’t believe what he saw. “I’ll be damned.”
Jarmillo was studying him closely. When Gil didn’t go on the deputy said, “What?”
Gil murmured, “The trailer.”
“What about the trailer?”
The sound of the pinging engines seemed to roar in the silence. When the deputy spoke his voice was the low growl of a cow dog who was not ready to attack, but wanted you to know he was alert. “You want to explain?”
Gil took a deep breath and let it out slowly. He looked at the grim-faced deputy and tried to smile, but couldn’t quite pull it off. “Not sure I can.”
“Do your best.”
Where to begin and how to tell it? Gil pulled a bright red kerchief from his back pocket, took off his wire rimmed glasses and polished each lens thoroughly before placing them back on. “I loaned that trailer to a buddy of mine a couple years ago. He was starting up a cattle hauling business. One day he disappeared while taking a valuable bull from up near Brush to Fort Worth for a big Longhorn show. He never made it.”
Gil sought refuge in the silence. But Jarmillo pushed him. Pointing to the trailer he said, “How do you explain this?”
“I don’t. I can’t.”
There was no point in stalling so Gil went on. “Roscoe. His name is Roscoe Brown. He and I grew up together in Wyoming. We played sports together, rodeoed together. Hell, he damned near married my sister.”
The deputy had a notebook out and was taking notes. “Where is he now?”
With a slow shake of his head Gil sat down on the dirt pile. “Don’t have a clue. Haven’t heard from him since he disappeared.” He picked up a chunk of clay and crumbled it between his fingers, letting the pieces fall between his boots. It dawned on him what Jarmillo had asked. “He’s not in the pickup?”
Jarmillo was quiet for a second, staring at Gil over the tops of his dark glasses, his jaw muscles working. “We don’t know what’s in the pickup. We haven’t looked.”
Jumping up Gil said, “Well hell, let’s find out.”
“Not yet. We need to protect the scene and pull all evidence before we disturb it anymore.”
“Dammit, let’s do something. You said you had some bones for me to look at. What bones?”
The deputy held up his hand. “I think we’ll get someone else to do that.”
Gil was getting pissed, “Wait a minute. You didn’t get me out here to look at any Goddamn bones. You knew that was my trailer.”
“Calm down, Tailor. Naturally, we ran the plates. Found out it was yours. That intrigued me. We find a trailer, filled with bones, buried in the middle of an old cow pasture. It turns out that it belongs to a transient veterinarian who just took a job over the hill from here. Quite a coincidence, isn’t it?”
“Well, it is a coincidence.” Gil knew how lame that sounded.
The emotion that crossed Jarmillo’s face might have been a smile, but looked more like a snarl. “In law enforcement we have a hard time believing in coincidence. Your daddy probably taught you that.”
Gil stared at the rusty trailer. He felt like he was on a runaway horse and couldn’t reach the reins. Then he realized something Jarmillo had said. “What do you mean my daddy taught me?”
“Actually, I’ve learned quite a bit about you.” The deputy looked at his notes. “I know your dad was sheriff in Campbell County, Wyoming for twelve years before being killed trying to stop a barroom brawl. I know you inherited some money which you probably blew on a veterinarian degree. I know your pregnant wife was supposedly killed by a horse two years ago, a horse that you should have been treating. Since then you’ve had run-ins with law enforcement throughout Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico. No tickets or charges filed, but the incident usually involved alcohol. And I know you treated the bull that disappeared with that trailer.”
“Jesus,” Gil exclaimed, sinking back onto the dirt pile. “I’m a goddamn suspect!”
“Not yet,” Deputy Jarmillo growled. “But your story stinks and I sure see you as a person of interest, and I don’t want to lose track of you. How long will you be subbing for Dr. Bramlett?”
“He’ll be on vacation about three more weeks.”
“Okay. Here’s the deal. I’ll need you to come into Walsenburg and sign a written statement telling me all you know about this trailer and how it got here.”
“Dammit, I told you, I . . .”
Jarmillo held up his hand. “Shut up and listen. Just write down what you do know. Then, don’t leave the area without telling me. If you think of anything that might be helpful, give me a call. Obviously, if you hear from your buddy, Brown, call me immediately. And finally, if you take off, I’ll be on you quicker than flies on shit.”
Jarmillo turned and strode toward his Durango.
Gil stood, took off his hat and wiped his brow with his kerchief then ran his fingers through his hair. “Can you let me know what you find in that truck?”
The deputy wheeled. “Why don’t you go see if you can play veterinarian and we’ll take care of the investigating. There’s a Colorado Bureau of Investigation guy coming down from Denver this afternoon. He’ll tell us when we can get in that pickup.” Jarmillo looked directly at Gil as he said, “But everyone wants to know whether this is just larceny or do we add murder?”
The word froze Gil’s heart. “Roscoe murdered. And this guy thinks I did it.” Gil could feel the personal animosity emanating from the deputy like puss from a prolapse.