Updated: Jun 13, 2020
The police officer stood over the trail of blood, which extended nearly twelve feet from the curb where the car was, across the grassy divider to the far edge of the sidewalk. There was more. It trailed off somewhere into the darkness. His hands were cold, trembling, bone white. He blew warm doughnut breath inside his cupped palms. Yum-Yum Doughnuts, just down the street, best in town.
Although the day was still dark, a dim glow over the eastern horizon was slowly bleeding into the rest of the blackened sky. The sun would soon emerge, appear right between the two highest peaks of the Rincon Mountains, light the city, heat things up a little, resurrect the inhabitants—most of them anyway. As it was, the air was still a degree or two below freezing. Tucson rarely got that cold. But for several weeks now, the weather had been perverse. The desert was supposed to be hot and dry, with an occasional monsoon blowing through near the end of summer. There was dust, pollen, and Valley Fever, but never much need for a thick Dow jacket. Snowbirds migrated to Tucson for the winter to warm their aging bones, relax, play a little golf, swim, Jacuzzi, plant a garden, make a batch of Prickly Pear jam, and slow traffic. Above all, it was a place where no one had to worry about shoveling snow off the driveway. It was also supposed to be a relatively safe place to live. But things change.
The keys were still in the ignition, the engine idling, the headlights funneling through the early morning mist. The radio dial, a green and eerie glow emanating from the cab, was set to a fifties station—the music blaring, with too much bass, too much fluttering from the worn out speakers. It was a blue '91 Toyota Corolla, with a torn interior, cracked plastic dash (the searing Tucson sun constantly beating down; happens all the time). And there was this flagrant patch of gray primer outside on the driver's side. The passenger door was open, swung wide, the seat inside drenched.
The policeman put his hand on the roof of the car to steady himself. The smell was putrid: insides that should not be outside. There was a blue Playboy Bunny air freshener hanging from the rearview mirror. Apart from the radio, the only sound was the steady gust of wind and the policeman’s own wheezing doughnut breath. The trail of blood led away from the car along the sidewalk toward a row of hedges near a white, two-story building.
After graduating from the police academy and sweating out six months of subsequent unemployment, Ray Mendoza had finally been hired by the University of Arizona Campus Police Department. It took him a year and a half to get into the academy. He originally intended to go to college, then on to law school, but just before high school graduation, he and his girlfriend became invincible. The rabbit died anyway. The two were married and came up with an alternative plan: Ray would go through the police academy, then be recruited by the Sheriff's Department, command a good salary, gain immediate respect and prominence, prosper. Law school would come later. And so, he would accept nothing less. But the county-wide hiring freeze in law enforcement put an immediate damper on those aspirations as well, and after spending six arduous months in the apartment alone with his two-year-old son while his wife worked at a silk screening place in the mall, Ray was ready for anything.
So he thought.
Sunlight began to spill over the mountaintops, casting a beam down to the sidewalk where the wetness now sparkled. The victim, bleeding massively, had fallen out of the car and onto the sidewalk, lingered a moment, then somehow managed to get back up again and walk, stumble, or crawl to the hedges—where Ray would now find the body.
The first thing he saw was a hand—stiff, clutching air. Ray slowly leaned over the hedge, far enough to see the body of a young man whose eyes were wide open, but dull, not glassy. The throat had been slashed at the jugular. Since most of his blood was on the sidewalk and a good amount splattered all over the front of his white shirt and cheap tweed sports coat, his skin was overly pale, even for such deplorably frigid weather. The young man's mouth was gaping; he had not been ready or willing to exit this life. And yet he was long gone.
A burst of freezing night wind blew into Ray's face, and his eyes began to water. He shook his head, pulled out a cigarette, and lit up. He inhaled for a long moment, trying to warm his whole body. Tried to relax. Let out smoke and doughnut breath. Then he dropped the cigarette, convulsed, and there was vomit.
A plain glazed doughnut and a chocolate bear claw with candy sprinkles.