For more than thirty years, the case has remained stone cold -- the brutal murder of a local Papago girl, her butchered body found stuffed into a large cooler that was left on the side of Highway 86. No one ever paid for the horrific crime ... except, that is, the victim's loved ones, who suffer to this day.
Brandon Walker, once the sheriff of Pima County, Arizona, no longer feels he has purpose. A reluctant retiree living in the long shadow of his wife, Diana Ladd, a successful author of true-crime books, he is bored with golf, and more so with life. Salvation, though, comes with an invitation to join the ranks of The Last Chance, an exclusive nationwide fraternity of former cops and forensic experts who look into unsolved murders that have baffled local law enforcement agencies. And one such case is staring Brandon in the face with cold, dead, entreating eyes -- a murder investigation that may have been mishandled by his department when he was a young lawman.
Bored with retirement, former sheriff Brandon Walker joins a club that investigates cold cases-and confronts a mystery from his past linked to contemporary violence. With a 15-city author tour. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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July 31, 2005
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Excerpt from Day of the Dead by J.A. Jance
NOVEMBER 2, 1970
It was Monday, so Benny Gutierrez was fighting a hangoverýa serious hangover. He had gone to the dance at Crow Hang on Friday and then spent all of Saturday and Sunday timed-out with some of his buddies over at the Three Points Trading Post just east of the Papago Reservation boundary. Now, as he halfheartedly dragged the plastic trash bag along Highway 86 west of Sells, what he wanted in the worst way was a hit of fortified wineýthe drink everyone on the reservation called Big Red. But he'd settle for a beer.
First, though, Benny had to make it through the day. He had to work. That was the deal he'd made with Robert and Doreen, his brother and sister-in-law, after Esther had kicked him out. If he'd work, Robert and Doreen would give him a place to stayýa bed, anywayýand that beat sleeping on the ground. In the summer the ground wasn't bad. Even when he and Esther had still been together, he'd slept outside a time or twoýin his truck sometimes, or else on the ground. But the credit union had repossessed his pickup, and Esther had sent him down the road. Now, in early November, it was way too cold to sleep outside at night, even in a truck.
Benny didn't rush. There was no reason to hurry. The Tribal Work Experience Program didn't pay enough to make working hard worthwhile. When one bag was full, he dragged that one over to the pile he was gradually accumulating. Across the highway, Alvin Narcho's pile was growing at about the same sedate pace. If the two men were racing, it was a very slow race. And since Alvin had been out behind Three Points Trading Post all Sunday afternoon right along with Benny, he probably wasn't in any better shape than Benny was.
The sun was high in the sky when Benny spotted the cooler. A big blue-and-white Coleman ice chestýa relatively new one, from the looks of itýlay hidden just inside the yawning opening to a culvert that ran under the highway. As soon as he saw it, Benny was sure he knew what had happened. It had probably blown out of the back of a pickup driven by some Anglo returning from a trip to Rocky Point in Old Mexico. There was always a chance that the cooler would be full of once frozen but now rotting fish, but if Benny was luckyýreally luckyýmaybe there'd be beer in the cooler as well. Warm beer was better than no beer.
Dropping his bag, Benny scrambled down the edge of the wash. Despite his big belly, he moved with surprising speed and agility. He needed to beat Alvin to the prize. If there were two beers, Benny might be willing to share. But if there was only one? Too bad for Alvin.
Panting, Benny grabbed the handle. The cooler was surprisingly heavy. Grunting with effort, Benny pulled it out of the culvert and off to one side so it would be out of Alvin's line of vision once he reached the far end of the culvert. Only when the ice chest was safely concealed from Alvin's view did Benny reach down to unfasten the lid. As soon as he did so, a cloud of unbearable stench exploded into the air. Covering his mouth and nose, Benny staggered away from the cooler. In his rush, he stumbled and fell. His hand banged hard against the top of the cooler, knocking the lid wide open. The jarring blow caused the contents of the cooler to shift and something wet and foul slopped onto Benny's long-sleeved shirt.
The smell alone was enough to stun him. Benny tried to control his gag reflex long enough to push himself away. It was then, as he attempted to regain his feet, that he saw her. A face stared out at him. Strands of long black hair floated on top of a vile-smelling stew.
Groaning in horror, Benny lurched away. He managed only a few steps before he fell once again. He dropped heavily to the ground and vomited uncontrollably into the sand. When the spasms finally left him, Benny lay there, exhausted and unable to move, wondering if he would ever breathe again without the heavy odor of rotting flesh permeating his lungs.