“Go ahead!” Bud Rice bellowed. His voice shook with anger. “I don’t give a damn!”
The first shot missed. A second quickly followed and it missed, too. A spasm of hope swept over the storekeeper as the bullets whizzed passed his head. Maybe he’d live.... But no! A third slug tore through his neck. So did a fourth and a fifth. The merchant’s hard gray eyes revealed nothing—not fear, nor rage, nor pain—as bullets ripped his fragile flesh. Blood, bone and tissue erupted from the back of his neck and splattered the trading post wall. The slugs drove him backward by a half step before his knees buckled and he dropped to the floor. He lay there, unmoving, as his carotid artery spurted blood like a fountain for a few seconds. Then his heart stopped pumping.
Two gray-haired women watched from the end of the counter, near the cash drawer. The older woman, immobilized by shock and fear, screamed something the killer didn’t understand—his ears rang from the crash of the gun’s reports—and she raised her arms to cover her eyes, as if not seeing the killer would make him go away. She took a step backward. The gunman fired two quick shots and nine-millimeter bullets ripped holes in her chest and neck. She staggered, then fell, her face a mask of hopeless surrender to death. The woman lay still as blood pooled around her body and soaked into her housedress. She lived another thirty seconds before life left her.
The younger woman ran away and hid.
The killer blew smoke from the pistol’s barrel as he’d seen bad guys do in western movies. He followed the second woman through a door at the rear of the Budville Trading Post, a door that led to the Rice living quarters.
Housed in a white, one story, cement block building with a low pitched roof, the trading post sat behind a wide gravel driveway and gas pump island thirty feet from the shoulder of U. S. Route 66. Two large windows and two smaller ones, all trimmed in red, were spaced equally on either side of a heavy Dutch door. A big red and white sign that read
Bus driver Cody Miles turned his Continental Trailways Scenicruiser
off Interstate 40 onto Route 66 at the Laguna Pueblo Indian Reservation
exit, six miles east of Budville, at 7:40 on the evening of Saturday,
18, 1967. Seven minutes later the bus crossed the Reservation’s west
which also served as Budville's east limit. A sign at that point read
Miles blew a blast on the air horn as he passed between the new yellow brick Mormon Church to his right and the rickety old whitewashed adobe Baptist Mission School to the left. He liked to let Flossie and Miss Brown know he was coming. It gave them half a minute to shoo passengers—usually Indians going to Grants—out of the store and into the chill of the autumn night.
A pickup truck pulled onto the roadway from the trading post parking lot and headed east toward Albuquerque, fifty-five miles away. Cody Miles later remembered the truck as scrap-iron mounted on wheels. A '46 or '47 Ford, he guessed, dark blue or black except the right door and right front fender were light colored. It didn't have a license plate that he could see, and a single tail light glowed dim gray, the red lens long since broken out and gone. Indian Cadillac, the bus driver said to himself. Old Indian Cadillac.
Rice's two wreckers—the blue and white Peterbilt behemoth he used for towing semi trucks and the smaller red GMC he used for cars and pickups—occupied an otherwise empty trading post driveway.
The bus didn't stop in Budville that night. Dark inside and out, except for the two gas pump globes that provided meager yellow illumination, the store appeared closed for business and no one stood under the sign which read Bus Depot. Miles thought it odd. Rice usually stayed open until eight o'clock or later, even when traffic volume declined in the fall and winter months.
It pleased Cody Miles to think some of the ill-mannered arrogance had been taken out of Bud Rice when the merchant lost his final court battle to keep Interstate Highway 40 from bypassing Budville. The new four-lane highway was com-plete and open to traffic from Albuquerque to Gallup except for ten miles of the old two-lane Route 66 from Laguna Pueblo to the Los Cerritos Trading Post; the stretch that passed through Budville. By use of frivolous lawsuits and politi-cal chicanery Bud Rice had stalled completion of the Interstate road for seven years, but in the early fall of 1967, construction crews began work on the final section of I-40 where it climbed the side of Flower Mesa a half mile south of Budville.
Miles didn't like Bud Rice. Few people did. Rice worked at being as dog-mean and nasty as the pit bull terriers he kept in the salvage yard behind his store, and he didn't care whether Cody Miles liked him or not. He didn't care whether anyone liked him or not, and he in turn, didn't have regard for many people. Apart from police officers and sheriff's deputies, Bud counted few men as friends.
The bus cruised slowly through the tiny town. Miles later recalled seeing two cars in front of Dixie’s Place—a rundown old tourist trap and saloon diagonally across the road from the Bud’s Trading Post—and the dirt parking lot outside the King Cafe & Bar at the west town limit was empty. The bus accelerated as it left Budville and soon rolled along the Old Road at seventy-five miles per hour, passing through Villa de Cubero and Los Cerritos. At the bottom of a sharp little hill just east of the Chief Rancho Motel, the driver saw red lights flashing on the road ahead. He slowed to fifty-five before passing a State Police car and a Corvette with Texas plates pulled off on the road’s shoulder. A uniformed officer leaned on the open driver's door of the black and white Plymouth police cruiser and two other officers stood illuminated in the car's headlights. No one’s safe from the cops, Miles muttered to himself.
Senior State Police Officer Troy McGee watched two rookies as they
at filling out a standard traffic citation form. Fresh from recruit
it took them twice as long to write a ticket as it would have taken
He didn't mind much. The workday was about over. When they finished
the Texan, he'd be on his way home.
What he heard on his police radio startled him.
“Troy! Troy! Bud Rice just got shot! You hear me, Troy? Dead! Shot dead! At the trading post! You hear me, Troy?! Troy! Answer me!”
No radio procedure. No ten-code. Debbie Smith, the State Police dispatcher in Gallup, sim-ply screamed hysterically over the air waves. McGee reached inside and snatched the microphone from its dashboard clip. Violations of procedure bothered him.
“One-nine-nine Gallup. 10-9.” He said it sternly.
“Bud Rice got shot!” Debbie shrieked.
“One-nine-nine Gallup. Did I copy right? Bud Rice got shot?”
“Yes! Yes! Five minutes ago. Flossie thinks he's dead.”
“One-nine-nine Gallup. We was just there.”
“I know! Go back! Go back!”
“10-4 Gallup. Show us en route to the scene at this time.”
The taller of the rookies, Bobby Gutierrez, walked toward the driver's door of the Corvette. The stocky one, an Indian from nearby Acoma Pueblo, Juan Posey, took a backup position at the right rear of the sports car.
“Forget the ticket,” McGee yelled. “Get in! Get in! We got a shooting call. Let's go! Let's go!”
McGee backed off the road to his right and the two young officers jumped into the moving car. The Plymouth fishtailed wildly when McGee slammed the transmission selector into “drive” and smashed the accelerator pedal hard against the floorboard. The big V-8 engine strained at its mounts as the officer completed his turn back to the east. The car's wheels dug into the soft shoulder and showered the Corvette with gravel, dirt and dead grass; the tires screeched and smoked white when spinning rubber met hard pavement. Budville was six miles away.
The dispatcher's log showed the time: 1955 hours.
Sounding closer to normal, Debbie Smith's voice came back on the radio. “Gallup one-nine-nine.”
“One-nine-nine. Go ahead Gallup.”
“Further on Bud Rice. Suspect vehicle is a light colored sedan. Make and model unknown. Direction of travel unknown. 10-4?”
“10-4, Gallup. Contact Sergeant North. We need 10-72s at the Rio Puerco Bridge and the east city limits at Grants. ID all drivers of light colored sedans and other suspicious vehicles. 10-33.”
“Damn, Troy,” Gutierrez shouted over the wail of the siren, “that's going pretty far, ain't it? Setting up roadblocks before we even know what happened?”
“Sergeant better do it, too,” McGee yelled. “Bud Rice is a good old buddy of Chief Charlie Scarberry. You get my meaning, Bobby?”
The rookie nodded emphatically.
McGee hoped, silently prayed, the call would turn out to be bogus, that everything would be 10-4 once he got to Budville. Things often worked out that way. But Debbie Smith's uncharacteristic violation of radio procedure told him that everything was not all right in Budville. The Plymouth roared along at a hundred and twenty miles an hour and didn't pass a single light colored sedan.
The State Police car slid sideways to a rocking stop in the trading post parking lot between the road and the faded red gas pumps, sending up a brown cloud of dirt and dust as the engine stalled. The three officers deployed quickly. Posey took cover behind a gas pump and Bobby Gutierrez ducked behind the Plymouth's left front fender. Both leveled .357 magnum Smith & Wes-son revolvers at the trading post entrance. McGee dashed toward the building. The store's windows were brightly lit and the place looked open for business. McGee tried the doorknob. Locked. He knocked loudly with his gun butt and then waved his left arm in both directions as if directing traffic. Posey dashed to the corner of the building and crouched down. He used his flashlight to probe the darkness beyond a low wall and out toward an oldfashioned wooden windmill tower and water tank, and the desert beyond. Nothing moved. No one there. Gutierrez ran quickly to the garage at the east end of the store and took cover in the doorway. A padlock secured the building.
No one checked around back, in the junkyard. No need. The pit bulls stood guard there.
Nettie Buckley unlocked the store’s front door and the officers nearly knocked the feeble housekeeper off her feet as they charged inside, guns at the ready. They took up positions never taught in any police academy. The three of them simply stood in the center of the room, back to back, sweating, while Nettie disappeared meekly into the living quarters like a little gray ghost. The store was quiet and seemed deserted. McGee smelled burnt gunpowder. He saw spent car-tridge casings on the floor.
“Flossie,” he called, scared deep in his guts at what he'd see when she answered. Five seconds passed.
“Over here,” Flossie said in little more than a loud whisper. “Over here, Troy.”
McGee took a step toward the voice before he saw her, down on her knees behind the glass-topped counter, beside the body of her husband. She held his lifeless hand in hers. Bud’s neck, a torn mass of ripped flesh and gore, oozed his life’s blood into a large irregular pool that spread out around his head and shoulders and soaked into his clothing and into hers. The fluid glistened dark red/black and wet in the glare of overhead fluorescent lights. Death closed Bud's eyes but his mouth remained open, as if he had one more thing he wanted to say.
“He killed him, Troy. Just shot him down.” Flossie's voice quavered and her words came slowly, but she didn’t cry. “And Miss Brown. Shot her too. Why would he do that, Troy?”
“Where’s she at, Flossie?” Troy asked more forcefully than he intended.
“He drug her in the living room.”
McGee nodded his head toward Posey and then the living quarters before he knelt down beside Flossie Rice but away from the blood. He'd known her since the State Police assigned him to the patrol area east out of Grants five years before. He wanted to comfort her, wanted to make things better. He knew, though, that he could not.
Officer Juan Posey disappeared through a door between the store and the living quarters. He returned in a few seconds and leaned on the end of the counter, his dark face frowning, his head bowed.
“She's dead too, Troy. Shot in the head, looks like. There's blood all over the place back here.” The young Indian’s face was impassive. “I liked her,” he said.
Officer Bobby Gutierrez walked outside, quickly, to the corner of the building and over the wall by the windmill. He vomited mightily. He, McGee and Posey had visited with Bud and Miss Brown not an hour before. They'd stopped at the trading post after supper at Scottie's Cafe.
Gutierrez slowly returned to the store. He and Posey stood looking at the floor, doing nothing and staying as far away from the body of Bud Rice as they could and still be indoors. There was something about the room neither of them liked and neither could identify as the cloying, sickening, miasma of fresh human blood. A lot of it. And death.
“Who done it, Flossie?” McGee said gently. “Who killed ‘em?”
She gripped her husband's hand tightly in both of hers. “I never seen him before, Troy. I thought he'd kill me too. He pointed that gun right at me and he poked me with it too. Just kept poking me.”
“What'd he look like?”
“I don't know. Bud fought him.” She tilted her head and looked wistfully at her dead husband, her long face ashen and down at its corners, a look of grief in her gray, uncrying, eyes. She looked up at Troy. “His shirt was ripped open. Bud did that, I guess. I seen a mark on his belly, like a tattoo. Like a bird, maybe. He had on a black jacket.”
McGee stood. “Bobby, get on the car radio and call Gallup. Tell 'em we need ambulances and all the backup they can find and get us some criminal agents out here. Check on them 10-72s I requested. Tell ‘em to watch for a guy in a black jacket with a torn shirt and a tattoo on his belly. Posey, you guard the crime scene. I don't want nobody to touch nothing 'til the criminal agents get here. Nobody! Got that?”
Posey nodded, not at all sure what McGee expected of him.
McGee took Flossie firmly by the elbow and helped her stand. “Let's go outside. Get some fresh air.” She held back, reluctant to leave. “Come on Flossie. There isn't nothing you can do in here and we need to make sure nothing's disturbed. Maybe it'll help catch whoever done it.”
She stood slowly. “Bud was a tough guy, Troy, and you know it too. He fought all his life. This time he got killed for it. But Miss Brown. Why shoot her? She never hurt a soul in her life. It don't make no sense, Troy. No sense at all.”
Word of the Budville murders spread quickly to law enforcement
all over northwestern New Mexico. Valencia County Sheriff Jack Elkins
Debbie Smith’s hysterical broadcast as he scanned radio channels and he
soon hurried along State Road 6 on his way to the scene, fifty miles
of the county seat at Los Lunas.
The Sheriff had made the same trip under similar circumstances only three months before, on the night Decillano “Speedy” Montaño died in the dirt, shot to pieces from ambush near the village of Cubero. Elkins had a suspect in custody, but not much would likely come of it. A nasty business, Elkins thought, but ol’ Speedy was the local bully and he probably had it coming. The murder rate in and around Budville seemed on the rise.
Troy McGee’s supervisor, Sergeant Al North, and District Attorney's investigator Jim Mitchell sat drinking coffee in the Franciscan Cafe in Grants when North got word of the murders and a request for roadblocks by way of a phone call from Debbie Smith. North took the time to call his boss, Lieutenant Morris Candelaria in Gallup, before he and Mitchell set out for Budville at a high rate of speed.
Candelaria called Debbie Smith and ordered her to order roadblocks on major roads. Then he called his boss, the deputy chief of the State Police, Lieutenant Colonel Charles Scarberry at his home near Santa Fe. Candelaria despised the deputy chief almost as much as he hated his job as commander of the Gallup State Police district. He correctly blamed Scarberry for the assignment. Candelaria called the deputy chief “Old Gooseberry” behind his back. Even so, he did his job. No one could accuse Morris Candelaria of allowing personal feelings to interfere with professional obligation.
Chief Scarberry called the Special Operations Unit duty sergeant and ordered the State Police helicopter readied for a flight to Budville. Then he called Captain Mateo “Mat” Torrez, commander of the State Police Criminal Investigations Division at his home in Albuquerque.
“Torrez,” he shouted into the mouthpiece, “Bud Rice got shot a little while ago. Murdered! I want every son-of-a-bitch in the State Police workin’ on it and I won't rest ‘til I see the bastard that done it dead or in jail. Preferably dead. You got that? And I want every swingin’ dick agent in Criminal, Narcotics, Special Investigations and Intelligence, and every uniform in Gallup, Grants, Santa Fe and Albuquerque workin’ on it. All leave and days off is canceled! You understand me, Torrez? And I want to see your brown ass in Budville in an hour.” He slammed down the phone without waiting for comment.
Mat Torrez, half asleep, had not said a word after “hello.”
Scarberry brooded over the news. Tears wet his cheeks and his breath caught in his chest as he dressed in his headquarters command uniform. The Deputy Chief never in his life had a better friend than Bud Rice and it grieved him to know he’d never talk to the man again. He’d miss sharing mutual contempt for lesser men and tourists with old Bud, miss splitting a pint bottle of bourbon and getting drunk in the old garage out back of the trading post while Bud’s pit bulls romped in the dirt nearby. He thought about Flossie, fondly, and wondered if she was all right. Cande-laria hadn't said. The deputy chief's mind raced. Who’d do it? And how? A hell of a lot of people didn’t like Bud—hated his guts, truth be told—but Bud kept a gun handy and viewed strangers with a wary eye. Robbery? Bud would fight back. He wouldn't give up a nickel without a struggle. But what if it was something else? Bud, Scarberry remembered, had testified for the FBI in a narcotics trafficking trial in Texas only a week before. Or what if some Indian with a snootful of Twister went on the warpath? He remembered a time fifteen years before when State Police officer Nash Garcia died under circumstances just like that, ambushed and shot by drunk Acoma Indians. It didn't seem possible that a tough old hide like Bud Rice could be murdered, shot down like any ordinary man. As Deputy Chief, Scarberry would take personal command and bring the matter to a rapid conclusion. Nobody could kill a friend of his, and a friend of the New Mexico State Police, and get away with it. He vowed to himself that he’d do whatever it took to avenge the untimely passing of Bud Rice.
The State Police helicopter landed on the Cubero Elementary School
a mile from Budville, in a circle of light made by the headlamps of
police cars. The pilot’s log read 2200 hours. ...