My polished-mahogany desktop was almost the way I’d left it earlier that Friday afternoon—unmarred except for the computer terminal and its ancillary junk: the old leather-edged desk blotter, one black felt-tip pen, and an empty wooden in-and-out letter tray.
In an effort to call my attention to them, a sheaf of papers had been dropped into the middle of all that organization. I wasn’t in the mood for paperwork, but as I sagged back into the comforting curves of my swivel chair, I recognized Sheriff Martin Holman’s precise penmanship on a Post-it note spotted to the front of the first sheet.
I dug my glasses out of my pocket, slipped them on and saw that the papers were a Posadas County Sheriff’s Department job application.
“I think you should talk with her,” the sheriff ’s note said. “Talk with whom?” I muttered aloud and scanned the first page of the application. “Well, for heaven’s sake.”
I leaned back in my leather chair and started reading at the top. So engrossed was I that the telephone buzzed half a dozen times before my hand drifted over to pick it up.
“Gastner,” I said, still reading. “Sir, this is Linda Real calling.”
I let the application fall in my lap. “An unexpected surprise, too,” I said. “How are you doing?”
“Fine. Sir, Sheriff Holman said you might be in the office this afternoon, and he said he’d pass my application along to you.” “I am, and he did,” I said, and leaned forward, spreading the application out on the blotter. I rested on my elbows, frowning. “In fact, I was just going through it when you called.” As I said that, I turned the page to read the section that included medical history and the attached physician’s report. “I didn’t know that you were back in town.”
She chuckled. “I think my mother got tired of me hanging around,” she said. “Anyway, I got kinda burned out in the big city. It’s not very user-friendly.”
“I can imagine.”
“Do you think I could come in and talk with you? I know it’s a Friday afternoon and all, but…”
“I think that would be a good idea, Linda,” I said. I didn’t bother to add that Fridays didn’t hold much attraction for me one way or another. The clean desk was not the result of an end-of-the-week wrap-up with an exciting weekend vacation looming. All that tidy organization was just a momentary lapse, a giving-in to a brief episode of spring cleaning. In a week’s time, I wouldn’t be able to see the wooden surface. “Where are you now?”
“I’m at Estelle’s.”
“Ah,” I said, sensing a conspiracy. Estelle Reyes-Guzman, the department’s chief of detectives, had another week or so before she and her physician husband, Francis, left Posadas for the wilds of Rochester, Minnesota. “Have her bring you over, if you’re both free.” I glanced at the wall clock. “Better yet, let’s meet for dinner.” Only a limited number of opportunities remained for Estelle to feast on New Mexican green chili before she had to face raw fish, or sauerkraut, or whatever else the Minnesotans called food.
There was a pause. “Did you have a chance to read Dr. Guzman’s report?”
“No. I see it, though. By the time we meet, I’ll have the whole thing memorized.” I kept my tone light.
“I’d really like to have the opportunity to respond to some of the things he said in that,” Linda Real said.
I leaned back and stared at the ceiling. “Well, then, how about it? Dinner?” Somehow, talking between mouthfuls of food seemed more gentle than me sitting on one side of a big old desk with her on the other side, hands folded in her lap, looking wee and small.
“Then I’ll meet you at the Don Juan at about six. If Estelle can come, that’s fine. Francis too, if he can make it. We’ll see what we can do.”
She thanked me and hung up, and I slipped the phone back in its cradle. Breaking bad news to a stranger was far easier than letting down someone whose life I had once held in my hands. I leafed through the application to the blue medical attachment, a requirement if a positive answer was given for line 17: Do you possess any physical limitation(s) that might compromise your performance in the position for which you are applying?
Dr. Francis Guzman, the official on-call physician for our department, had been his usual plainspoken self, but I could imagine him trying to word the statement so that it told the unvarnished truth and at the same time, created a minimum amount of friction with his detective wife.
On Feb. 21, 1996, Ms. Real suffered extensive gunshot trauma to the head and neck, resulting in complete and permanent blindness in her left eye, and complete and permanent deafness in her left ear. Following a complicated and difficult convalescence, she continues to receive physical therapy for limited muscular movement and strength in the left shoulder.
In addition, a lengthy series of orthodontic reconstructive procedures are required to correct injuries to both upper and lower left dentition.
Although Ms. Real’s recovery has been in many ways remarkable, it should be noted that her physical capacity, including strength, dexterity, endurance, and sensory perception, is well below standard for employment in a law-enforcement capacity.
Since the Posadas County Sheriff ’s Department routinely expects dispatch personnel to perform a wide range of duties, including some corrections and booking procedures, Ms. Real’s physical limitations should be carefully reviewed prior to employment.
I tossed the application on the desk and sighed. I liked Linda Real. When she had been on the staff of the Posadas Register, she’d been eager, more accurate than most reporters I had known, and a bright, smiling face during her daily rounds.
Two years before, as the county neared budget time, she’d embarked on a series of articles about the funding of various agencies, including ours.
What should have been a simple evening ride-along with an officer had turned into a nightmare. Linda caught a faceful of double-ought buckshot, and the deputy with whom she was riding was killed.
I knew that all the common sense in the world was telling me that the Posadas County Sheriff ’s Department shouldn’t hire Linda Real. Sheriff Holman either hadn’t been able to make up his mind or just couldn’t say no. Perhaps he thought I would let Linda down more gently than he would—but there was small chance of that.
I frowned and stood up. I was more than a little irritated with Estelle Reyes-Guzman, too. She should have been able to talk Linda down some other road. In fact, what had prompted the young woman to even consider working for us in the first place would no doubt have made a fascinating psychological study. Estelle should have known better than to encourage Linda, and Sheriff Holman should have just looked them both in the eye and said “No.” Now the mess was in my lap.
Gayle Sedillos, our senior dispatcher, appeared in my office doorway. On more than one occasion during the past few days,
I’d noticed the current issue of Bride’s magazine on the radio console. I didn’t pester Gayle about it—and so far, I didn’t have a clue as to what appropriate wedding gift I was going to find. Short-timer or not, Estelle would have to help, that was all there was to it.
“Sir,” Gayle said, “we just had a telephone call about an aircraft in possible trouble. Tom Pasquale is on that side of the county, and I asked him to head out that way for a look.”
“By ‘in trouble,’ what did the caller mean?”
Gayle shook her head. “It was Mrs. Finnegan who called.” “Oh. That explains that.” Charlotte Finnegan spent most of her waking hours “seeing things” and traveling to places that didn’t exist. I didn’t know if she suffered from Alzheimer’s or was simply tuned in to an alternative universe. Whatever the case, her husband Richard was a man of infinite patience. They lived on a small ranchette just inside the Posadas County line on County Road 43, a desolate stretch of overgrazed country where Charlotte Finnegan could certainly do no harm.
“You might call Jim Bergin and ask him if there’s been any traffic in or out of the airport in the last few minutes. Or if he’s talked to any transient aircraft on the radio.”
She nodded and started to turn away, then stopped. “The sheriff was going to leave a job application on your desk,” she said. “Linda Real’s.”
“I saw it.” I could see that she wanted to say something else, but I frowned one of my scowls and she changed her mind. Taking the electric razor out of the top drawer of my desk, I went to the rest room and chopped off the late-afternoon stubble and double-checked to make sure that I hadn’t left a trail of lunch down the front of my shirt.
The lighting in the Don Juan de Oñate restaurant wasn’t the best, but I wanted to look sharp if I had to do battle with a couple of women.