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«Under the color of law», Michael McGarrity

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Chapter 1

Alonso Herrera, nicknamed Cloudy by his fellow Santa Fe police officers because of his piss-poor attitude and constant complaining, cursed as he rolled his unit to a stop in front of the metal security gate at the front end of a dirt driveway. He didn't like working day shifts, didn't like driving through snow and slush, and didn't like checking on some rich-bitch citizen an out-of-state relative was worried about.

He opened the window and punched the call button on the speaker box. An early-morning storm had left two inches of snow on the ground, and the cold wind felt raw against his face.

Fuck February, Herrera thought.

The absence of tire tracks in the driveway probably meant that Mrs.

Phyllis Terrell wasn't at home. He would have to hoof it up the driveway and get his feet wet and his shoes dirty, just to report he'd been unable to make contact with the occupant.

He reviewed the notes he'd scribbled when dispatch had assigned him the call. He was looking for Mrs. Phyllis Terrell, age fifty-two, five four, blond and blue, weight 120, health excellent.

When Terrell had failed to show up on an early-morning flight from Albuquerque to Washington, D. C." her sister, who had been waiting at the airport for her, immediately called the house only to get an answering machine.

The sister, Susan Straley, had then called the shift commander, made a big deal about how Terrell was an ambassador's wife, and asked to have an officer sent to check on the woman.

Ambassador to what, Herrera wondered. Santa Fe had more than its share of media celebrities, movie stars, trust funders, and rich arty-farty types, but the politicians who lived in the city were the local garden variety, not prominent national figures.

After buzzing again with no response, Herrera got out of his unit. The ex-chief of police had purchased white patrol cars for the department, which always looked like shit in bad weather. He hated driving a dirty unit, and today his vehicle was splattered with mud and road slush.

Herrera couldn't even begin to count the wasted hours he'd spent in this neighborhood. The high-tech security systems in these houses went off whenever some damn rodent ran across a floor or a lightning storm came too close.

He keyed his handheld radio, reported he would be on foot at the Terrell residence, and climbed over the four-foot gate. A snarling dog came out of nowhere. Before Herrera could retreat, it nipped hard at his leg. He shook it free, his trousers tearing as the dog let go. The mutt backed up, snarled again, and started another run at him. Herrera squirted it with pepper spray and scrambled back over the gate. The dog yelped, went prone, whined, and started working both paws at its eyes, trying to clear out the spray.

Herrera looked down at his leg and lifted the torn flap of fabric. His skin had been broken by the animal's teeth. He decided he hated fucking dogs and thought about shooting this one, but instead called for animal control.

The dog had wandered off by the time Matt Garcia, the animal control officer, arrived. After getting his snare from the truck, he looked at Herrera's leg. The puncture wound wasn't deep and the blood had stopped running.

Garcia raised his eyes to Cloudy's pinched, sour-looking face.

"What breed of dog was it?" he asked.

"How the hell should I know?" Herrera said.

"Big, about sixty pounds. At least knee high. Short hair. Black with a white chest. It just looked like an ugly mutt."

"You better hope I find it, and it has a current rabies vaccination,"

Garcia said.

"Otherwise, you're not gonna like what happens next."

"I don't want to hear that shit," Herrera said with a worried glance at his leg.

"Go find the damn dog."

"Don't you want to help round him up?" Garcia asked with a grin.

"Just do your job," Herrera snapped.

He watched the young man swing easily over the gate and trot up the steep driveway that had been cut into the granite rock of the hillside.

He sucked in his thick gut and decided to add animal control officers to the list of people he didn't like, which up to now had only included his ex-wife, any and all civilians, and his asshole shift commanders.