THE DEAD GO FAST
A Fernando Lopez Santa Fe Mystery
The Dead Go Fast
Based on the novel by James C. Wilson
Copyright 2022 by James C. Wilson
Contact: James Clois Smith Jr., Sunstone Press / (505) 988-4418
LOGLINE: A dead woman on Canyon Road, a missing Santa Fe artist, and a hidden Georgia O’Keeffe painting depicting the end of the world send Santa Fe Police Detective Fernando Lopez on a wild chase across northern New Mexico. What he discovers along the way forces Fernando to rethink his notion of justice.
Santa Fe artist Jimmy Mackey wakes up with a hangover after a late night party at his studio on Canyon Road. His morning gets worse when he sees a police car pull into his parking lot to investigate an abandoned car. His morning gets even worse when police find the body of the Santa Fe Mayor’s estranged wife in the trunk of the car. They arrest Jimmy for her murder.
Detective Fernando Lopez, currently on medical leave pending retirement, gets a visit from the Santa Fe Police Chief, who asks Fernando to come back for this one delicate case involving the murder of the Mayor’s wife. Fernando agrees, reluctantly.
Fernando drives his old Plymouth Acclaim to the morgue, where the Forensics show him Kim Martin’s body and the five-inch steak knife that had punctured her aortic artery. The steak knife came from Jimmy’s kitchen cutlery. Lopez then visits Jimmy’s studio on Canyon Road, where he finds evidence of last night’s party and learns from neighbors the names of those in attendance: Ruby Montez, a potter; Blaine Rogers, a gallery owner who sells Jimmy’s paintings; and Rose Lucero, the arts reporter for the Santa Fe Independent newspaper. And Kim Martin.
Later that day Sargent Antonio Blake informs Fernando that Jimmy has been released from jail because no physical evidence linking him to the stabbing of Kim Martin has been found. That evening Fernando gets a call from one of the neighbors on Canyon Road saying that Jimmy was back in his gallery and was fighting with someone who sounded like Blaine Rogers. Fernando drives over to Canyon Road and is nearly run over by Jimmy’s speeding Subaru as it exits Jimmy’s studio. Jimmy and Blaine are on the run.
Next morning Fernando questions Ruby, who tells Fernando that the four of them (Mackey, Rogers, Lucero and herself) were all sexually involved and had been drinking and arguing that night at the El Farol restaurant until they were kicked out, after which they went to Jimmy’s studio and continued to drink. Ruby claims to have been the first to leave the studio, well before Kim Martin arrived. Rose Lucero claims to have left the studio soon after Ruby, but says she saw Kim Martin driving up Canyon Road, alone in her car. Back at the station, Fernando gets a tense phone call from the Mayor, Joe Martin, angry that police have released Jimmy. The Mayor blames Fernando and demands that he re-arrest Jimmy immediately.
Later Fernando teams up with Antonio to visit Blaine’s gallery, which is unexpectedly closed. They find a Molly Maids truck in the parking lot and follow the maids into the gallery. Inside they find a large room filled with paintings and one small room containing Blaine’s black and white photos of a nude Kim Martin. Sexually explicit photos. In Blaine’s office they find brochures from Ghost Ranch, listing the upcoming art workshops at the nonprofit ranch. Turns out Blaine is scheduled to teach a photography workshop beginning in a few days.
Next day, after Forensics identifies Kim’s blood on one of Jimmy’s shirts, Fernando and Antonio drive up to Ghost Ranch near Abiquiu to arrest Jimmy, convinced that Jimmy is wih Blaine. Fernando has reservations about going to Ghost Ranch because it was once home to the infamous Archuleta Brothers who rustled livestock and murdered nearby ranchers. Both brothers died violent deaths. Since then the ranch was supposed to be haunted by the ghosts of the brothers and their many victims.
At Ghost Ranch they learn that Jimmy and Blaine had created a scene at the ranch, arguing and fighting until they had to be separated. Blaine is staying in Casita 3, while Mackey is in Pine Cottage, near Ghost House, home of the Archuleta Brothers. Fernando and Antonio first visit Blaine, who tells them that he and Jimmy had been drinking and fought over business matters. Jimmy had agreed to help Blaine with his photo workshop in exchange for a possible show later. When questioned, Blaine corroborates Ruby’s account of what happened at El Farol the night Kim Martin was murdered. Like Rose, he claims to have seen Kim Martin driving up Canyon Road as he left Jimmy’s studio, except Blaine says he saw a second person in the car with Kim Martin.
When Fernando and Antonio visit Pine Cottage they find Jimmy’s Subaru but no sign of Jimmy. They decide to spend the night and rent the cottage next door. Jimmy finally appears after dark, carrying a duffel bag filled with tools. When questioned about the night Kim Martin was murdered, Jimmy says he was drunk and remembers nothing. He claims not to know when Kim Martin arrived. Fernando and Antonio decide to take Mackey to jail in the morning.
Next morning Fernando and Antonio find Mackey and his car gone. On their way out of Ghost Ranch they notice police cars parked by the office. They discover that Casa del Sol, where Georgia O’Keeffe once lived, has been vandalized. Someone has broken out drywall and kitchen cabinets as though looking for something. Fernando and Antonio suspect Jimmy because of the tools they saw in his car.
Fernando and Antonio race back to Santa Fe. At Ruby’s pottery co-op Ruby explains why Jimmy may have been the vandal who damaged Casa del Sol. Wayne Fontenot, an old painter who lives on Canyon Road, told Blaine his father had worked as a handyman for Georgia O’Keeffe at Casa del Sol. His father claimed O’Keeffe hid a painting in the walls of her house that she didn’t want anyone to see during her lifetime: an end-of-the-world painting of a blood red sky over a mesa composed of human bones. Blaine wants Jimmy to find the painting, Ruby says.
When Fernando returns home after a long day he finds that Laura Aragon, who works in the Mayor’s office as a budget manager, wants him to call her back. When he does, she tells him that on the day Kim Martin was murdered Kim and the Mayor had a nasty argument in the Mayor’s office. The argument ended with the Mayor slapping Kim and Kim storming out of the office weeping.
After several Jimmy sightings and false alarms, Ruby tells Fernando Jimmy is likely hiding out in Taos. She gives Fernando a list of four friends in Taos who might know his whereabouts, including Jimmy’s ex-wife Lauren. Before leaving for Taos, Fernando confronts the Mayor, asking questions about his relationship with Kim and if he had ever physically abused her. The Mayor gets angry at Fernando and tells him to get the hell out of his office and go arrest Jimmy.
In Taos Fernando and Antonio visit three of Jimmy’s friends, all of whom say they haven’t and aren’t likely to see Jimmy, since Jimmy owes them money. Driving around Taos Fernando notices an olive green van that seems to be following them. Since it is getting late in the day, Fernando and Antonio stop at the El Pueblo Lodge and book a room for the night, then drive out to Lauren Mackey’s farm in Rio Hondo, a few miles west of Taos. They find no sign of Jimmy or his Subaru, so they decide to call it a day and come back tomorrow morning to stake out the place.
Over breakfast the next morning Fernando receives a message that the Taos County Sheriff has found Jimmy’s car parked at the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge. Fernando immediately understands the significance of this. The bridge was famous for one thing and one thing only: suicide. Had Jimmy decided to take the easy way out and jumped off the bridge?
Fernando and Antonio drive out to the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge and watch as a search and rescue team use rafts to scour the fast-moving river for Jimmy’s body. By the end of the day the team has found nothing. Fernando begins to suspect a ruse.
Next morning they drive out to Rio Hondo and park on a high ridge overlooking Lauren Mackey’s farm. Using binoculars Fernando discovers that both of the vehicles they had seen at the farm yesterday––a Prius and a Chevy pickup––are gone. Eventually the Prius appears on the surface road and turns into the driveway. Lauren climbs out of the Prius and carries bags of groceries into the house. Later the Chevy pickup pulls into the driveway and Jimmy jumps out and enters the house.
Fernando and Antonio quickly make a plan. They walk down the ridge to the farmhouse, Fernando going to the front door and Antonio to the rear door. On cue Antonio shouts and knocks loudly on the rear door. In response Jimmy comes flying out the front door with Lauren trying to hold him back, screaming “Come back inside, they’ll kill you, Jimmy!” Fernando trips Jimmy and jumps on top of him. Fernando attempts to cuff Jimmy, but Lauren runs over and begins hitting Fernando over the head with a broom handle. Jimmy gets free and runs toward the road. Suddenly they hear a vehicle on the road, an olive colored van. Then three gunshots ring out and Jimmy collapses in the driveway. The van races off while Lauren runs to call Nine One One. Fernando, desperate, asks Jimmy who killed Kim. Jimmy mutters: “She … brought … with her….” When the medics arrive, Jimmy’s body is taken away while Lauren screams angrily at Fernando and Antonio.
Before leaving, Fernando calls Santa Fe and reports what has happened. The Chief comes on the line and congratulates Fernando on his good work, saying we can close the case now that the murderer is dead. Fernando disagrees, arguing the need to find out who killed Jimmy in order to get a better idea of who killed Kim. No, the Chief tells Fernando. The Mayor wants closure.
Back in Santa Fe, Ruby is furious with Fernando, blaming him for Jimmy’s death. The Chief takes the case away from Fernando and gives it to Manny, a younger detective. It’s becoming clear to Fernando that the Chief and the Mayor are in cahoots. Fernando asks Manny to lay low to give him time to solve the case.
While on his way to Blaine’s gallery with Antonio, Fernando receives a call from his wife, Estelle, who tells him that a strange olive colored van is parked at the end of their driveway. She’s afraid, unsure of what to do. Fernando tells her to lock the doors and stay inside, he’s on his way. Fernando races around to Acequia Madre Street and sees the van take off, over to Canyon Road. Fernando follows the van all the way to Upper Canyon Road to a dusty road leading to an abandoned farm. The van stops in front of the house, but Fernando stays back about fifty feet, suspecting an ambush.
Suddenly all hell breaks loose. A sniper opens fire on them from the roof of the house. The Plymouth’s windshield explodes, showering them with glass. Wounded, both Fernando and Antonio bail out of the car. Fernando rolls around behind a water tank while Antonio is pinned down behind their car. Fernando circles around a livestock pen to the front of the van, where he exchanges fire and kills a second shooter in the van. In the meantime the rooftop sniper has stopped firing. Fernando sees the man carrying his heavy rifle lumbering up a trail into the National Forest behind the house.
Fernando and Antonio hike up the trail following the sniper, who stops to shoot at them intermittently. Finally Antonio goes off by himself, running around behind the sniper and surprising him. They exchange gunfire and the sniper is killed. Fernando calls Manny for help and asks him to send Forensics and a medevac to pick up the dead sniper on the mountain. While Antonio waits for the medevac, Fernando goes back to the house and searches the van for evidence.
Fernando finds the driver’s cell phone and an envelope stuffed with one hundred dollar bills and a handwritten note consisting of three words: “Here’s your down-payment.” Then he searches under the front seats and retrieves more receipts and scraps of paper. One wadded up paper turns out to be a copy of an email from none other than Al Monroe, the Mayor’s bodyguard, to Tom Spain at his business, Have Gun Will Travel: Rent a Security Guard. The letter offers Spain $50,000 to pursue and “eliminate” a murderer by the name of Jimmy Mackey, with $10,000 to be paid up front and the rest when the job is finished. Signed by Al Monroe and sent from an email address that he recognizes immediately: “santafenm.gov/mayor.”
Fernando gathers together all the evidence. While Forensics begins their investigation, Manny gives Fernando a ride home. Fernando’s trusted Plymouth Acclaim is dead.
Later, back home, Fernando gets a surprise visit from Laura Aragon. She tells him that she has been terminated from her job at the Mayor’s office, presumably because she reported the argument that ended with the Mayor striking Kim. Fernando tries to apologize, but she stops him, saying she had been planning to retire anyway. She says there’s something else that she should have told him earlier. The Mayor and Rose Lucero are having some kind of affair. She’s been coming into the Mayor’s office frequently. Fernando thanks her, beginning to make sense of what happened at Jimmy’s studio the night Kim was murdered.
Fernando waits until 10 p.m. and then drives Estelle’s Camry around to the house Rose Lucero was renting on Don Gaspar Street. He finds the Mayor’s sleek black Mercedes parked behind Rose’s Passat station wagon. He knocks on the door of the house and surprises Rose and the Mayor, who’s hurrying to get dressed in the back bedroom. Rose refuses to let Fernando into the house, so he tells her to get a lawyer, because the investigation of who killed Kim Martin is not over, no matter what the Mayor says.
Next morning Fernando walks into the Washington Street Station and tells the Chief to get his retirement papers in order. He looks again at his notes and Jimmy’s last words, “She … brought … with her,” which he’s beginning to understand. He walks over to the Independent on Marcy Street, only to find that Rose Lucero has resigned. So he drives back to Rose’s house on Don Gaspar and finds her packing all her belongings in the house, in the process of moving back to her home in Michigan.
Fernando tells her what he thinks happened the night Kim Martin was murdered, that she was walking back home from Jimmy’s when Kim stopped to pick her up, which is why Blaine saw two people in Kim’s car that night and why Jimmy’s last words were something to the effect that Kim brought Rose with her. He says: “You and Kim started to argue when the two of you arrived at Jimmy’s. You went into the house and came back with a steak knife. Then your argument with Kim turned violent and you stabbed her. You decided to put her body in the trunk of her car, but you couldn’t lift her by yourself, so you went to get Jimmy to help you. That’s how Kim’s blood came to be on Jimmy’s shirt.”
In response, Rose admits to getting into Kim’s car that night, but says Kim was drunk and started the argument in the parking lot by Jimmy’s studio. Kim went up to the studio and came back with a knife, which they fought over and which plunged into Kim’s chest accidentally. Rose says she tried to get Jimmy to call Nine One One, but he refused and let Kim die sitting in the front seat of her Beamer. Then, according to Rose, Jimmy wiped the knife clean of fingerprints and the two of them placed Kim in the trunk of the Beamer.
In Fernando’s mind the question becomes: who’s to blame for Kim’s death? Kim herself for being drunk and aggressive? Rose for fighting back and accidentally stabbing Kim? Jimmy for refusing to call Nine One One? Or all three of them?
Fernando tells Rose to have a good trip and leaves her to her packing.
Fernando summons Antonio. They walk to City Hall to confront the Mayor about hiring the two gunmen who killed Jimmy and tried to kill the two of them. Fernando bursts into the Mayor’s office unannounced and gives the Mayor the option of resigning immediately or he would take all the evidence they’d acquired to Federal Prosecutor Scott Anderson in Albuquerque. The evidence includes the cell phones of the gunmen Martin hired and a record of all the calls they made to his office; an envelope containing ten thousand dollars in cash and a handwritten note; and copies of emails sent to them from Martin’s office. After a short argument, Martin agrees to resign.
Next day, after Martin’s public resignation, Fernando and Ruby meet for lunch. They rehash the details of the last few days. Ruby threatens to run for City Council. Fernando threatens to open an office as a private investigator. They joke about which of them has more enemies.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: Opening credits, Visual: a group of four people, two men and two women who have had too much to drink, burst out of a bar and walk unsteadily along a dark street arguing loudly with one another. Title Card: Closing time on Canyon Road, Santa Fe, New Mexico