Murder on Route 66

Murder on Route 66Biker Bobby Navarro finds finds the body of his new friend lying in a pool of blood in a Tucumcari, New Mexico parking lot, a campfire cooking rod stuck in his chest. Bobby promises the victim’s ten-year-old son he’ll find the killer, and the owner of a New Mexico cattle ranch that he’ll stay on as temporary cook.

Of course, some promises are more easily made than fulfilled. Nevertheless, Bobby hopes an illusive, homeless witness he saw at the murder scene will shed light on his friend’s brutal murder/robbery — if he can find him again. Other suspects include three bikers, a homeless man spending money like Billy the Kid, and a rival cook.

Bobby’s girlfriend finds his sleuthing almost as unsettling as his failure to mention his cooking position isn’t permanent — and that his normal job is working with high explosives. If the ranch foreman has his way, Bobby won’t be around long enough to solve the murder or settle in as cook… but the only opinion that matters to Bobby is that of a boy with a murdered father.

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Read an excerpt from Murder on Route 66:


I suppose I should never have taken the job in the first place, but who wouldn’t like a few weeks’ work on a cattle ranch in New Mexico? Maybe that makes me a romantic. Maybe it makes me something other than just a blaster, a guy who does high explosives. Me? I just see myself as someone who likes riding one-up on my Harley any chance I get and as far as the road will take me.

“Think about it, Bobby. Be a good chance to stay and explore the country,” Randy said.

We were shooting pool, a little eight-ball, at the Cattlemen’s Bar and Grill in Tucumcari. Randy was cook for the Rocking-H cattle ranch north of town.

“Hell, why not?” I said.

It meant I had to cancel a blasting job and tell some friends who were expecting a visit they would not see me for a while. But like I said, who wouldn’t jump to spend time on a real cattle ranch?

That was six weeks ago, with no break in the work, no chance to explore the countryside, and no time to myself. Well, I had managed to slip into town a few times to spend the evening with Sally Daniels, waitress at the Route 66 Cafe. Life was good.

Randy and I had just finished breakfast clean-up when he tossed his towel on the countertop.

“Soon as you get them pots and pans put away, I want you to clear out and keep the hell out of my way ‘til suppertime.”

I looked at him, puzzled by his outburst, until I saw a smile sculpt his face into the leprechaun image I was used to. My long-awaited day off had finally arrived. I headed out of the cookhouse and hurried toward the shed where I kept my motorcycle.

“What the hell you grinning about?”

It was Ned, the ranch foreman, standing near the shed entrance. He was wearing a light tan shirt with a lariat embroidered on the left side, jeans and a cowboy hat. He always seemed a little overdressed. I guess he wanted to emphasize his position.

“Got the day off. I’m going for a ride.”

He gave me a disapproving look as I shoved open the heavy door to the shed. I didn’t think he cared much for me. Maybe it was the motorcycle. I threw my leg over the saddle and started the engine.

Before I could raise the kickstand, I saw Randy rushing toward us, his red hair flashing in the sun. At about five feet eight, a little shorter than me, with a limp forcing him to half-hop as he trotted, Randy looked like an agitated rooster crossing the compound. I envisioned my day off heading down the highway without me. Oh, well. I shut the engine down so I could hear what he had to say.

“You going through town?”

“Why, you need something?”

“How about stopping off at Valley Tent and Awning, see if they’ve finished working on my chuck wagon?”

“That’s all? Sure. No problem.” My spirits lifted. I reached to turn the ignition on again.

Randy skewered me with his clear, blue eyes.

“I figured you’d scoot into town as soon as I gave you a chance.” He turned and gave Ned a wink.

“Into town? I thought I’d go for a ride in the mountains.”

Randy’s eyes twinkled. “Well, sure, that’s what you’ve got planned. That’s different, then. Of course, once that wind hits your face, you probably won’t turn around for hours, days even. Hell, she won’t never see you again. None of us will.”

“She, who?”

“That sweet little thing, keeps you up half the night so I don’t get any work out of you next day.”

The lines on his face shifted back into the familiar map of mischievous wrinkles. He looked at Ned and laughed. Ned looked disgusted.

“Don’t worry. I’ll check on your damn wagon, and I’ll be up bright and early tomorrow morning, too.”

I hit the starter button and let the sound of my straight pipes drown out his laughter.


When I did get back to Tucumcari, it was already dark. A storm front was driving masses of rain clouds across town from the northeast. I had already toughed out two heavy downpours, once in the mountains and again this side of Santa Rosa, so I wasn’t surprised. I ignored this new threat and let myself enjoy the lighted storefronts along the main drag as they seduced me with promises of food, warmth and comfort.

Not surprisingly, my first stop was the Route 66 Cafe. I was more than a little hungry, and the steaks weren’t bad there, especially when Sally served them, the “sweet little thing” Randy had mentioned.

When my steak was ready, she brought it over and plunked herself down on the vinyl-covered bench seat opposite mine. Elbows on the tabletop and chin resting in her hands, she peered at me out of those deep blue eyes of hers. I felt my toes melting. She wrinkled her nose, then craned her neck forward and sniffed at my plate.

“Mmm, smells good. I don’t think I’ve eaten even once today. Gimme a bite?”

I cut into the steak and held a piece toward her on the tip of my fork. “Don’t you just tell the cook what you want, and he fixes it for you?”

“Not that easy, Hon. We’ve been busy all night. Anyway, it’s too late. Once these tables empty out, I’m done. Why? Don’t you want to share yours?”

She tilted her head to the side, lowered her eyelids to bedroom level, and pouted. “Would you really let a poor little girl like me go hungry?”

Of course, she could have had the whole steak at that point, even though I was starving. Lucky for me, she was a lady of mercy and only wanted a little taste.

After she got off her shift, we were just leaving the cafe when I thought about my promise to Randy. Rated against the thought of going someplace where I could slip my arms around her, running the errand for Randy was a minus-two, Sally a ten. But, a promise is a promise.

“We’ll have to make a detour first,” I said, “but it won’t take long.”

I tried to focus on driving as we cruised up the main drag. Sally’s arms hugged my chest in a warm suggestion of more to follow. I pulled into Valley Tent and Awning.

As my headlights swept across the parking lot, I sensed something wrong. Randy’s chuck wagon, sporting the new top he had ordered, gleamed in the light from the pole lamp at the other end of the lot. His pickup stood nearby, the driver’s side door open. I half expected to see him next to it, scowling at me for not having performed my errand sooner.

“I guess he didn’t trust me to keep my word.”

“What are you talking about?”

“I told my boss I’d look in on his wagon. That’s his pickup. I guess he decided to do it himself.”

A little apprehensive, I swiveled my head around to look for Randy. That’s when I noticed something on the ground about thirty feet from the wagon. For an instant I thought someone must have lost a sleeping bag or quilt. Sally’s grip around me tightened. I heard her gasp.

I turned the handlebar toward the thing on the ground to let my headlamps splay light over the scene. Sally’s scream pierced the night like a banshee, and I clamped the brake handle, nearly dumping the bike. My legs had gone weak and shaky, and I had to struggle to keep us upright.

“Oh, my God, Bobby! What is that?”

My voice clawed at the walls of my throat. I heard the words come out, sounding ragged and distant.

“That’s Randy. That’s my boss.”

I stared at his body lying in a pool of blood. My pulse drummed in my ears like a car with a boom box bass. I wanted to vomit. I heard Sally make frantic mewing sounds while her fingers dug into my chest. I eased the bike closer and stopped again.

Randy’s face was pasty white, not all rosy and Irish-looking. His mouth gaped open. Blood and saliva dribbled down one side. His skin and clothing were muddy, drenched by passing rainstorms. I saw a familiar-looking iron rod. I had seen rods like these used to hold pots over campfires. This one stuck upright in Randy’s chest.

I twisted loose from Sally and pulled myself off the bike. “It’ll be okay,” I said. “Just wait here.”

Trying to calm Sally had some of the same effect on me, as well. My heartbeat settled a bit. I could breathe. I took a couple of steps forward, then hesitated. Don’t touch anything. Don’t they always say that? But I had to be sure he was beyond my help. I went to him and bent over, then pressed my fingertips into his neck. His flesh was unresponsive, hard and cold to the touch. No pulse.

“Oh shit, shit, shit,” I said, as I groped in my pocket for my cell phone. I flipped it open and punched in 9-1-1. “We need help,” I said. “My boss has been killed.”

The dispatcher started asking questions.

“Just please get someone the hell over here,” I said.

It didn’t do any good.

“What is your name, sir?

“Navarro. Robert Navarro.”

“Can you give me your phone number and address?”

I didn’t want to answer a bunch of questions, I wanted to focus on Randy. I couldn’t let go of him, not even for a minute.

“Sir, can you spell your name for me?”

I saw flashing blue lights coming down the street. They made sense out of the sirens I’d been hearing in some back area of my brain.

“Okay, I can see someone coming now.”

“Yes, sir, please stay on your phone.”

I snapped it shut. A few seconds later a police car bumped over the parking lot entryway and skidded to a stop a few feet from me, followed by another, unmarked car. About damn time.

A uniformed officer jumped out of the cruiser and drew his sidearm. His eyes locked onto me like a ship’s gun control radar as he reached out with his free arm, warning me not to move. What the hell is that about? Is he new? First time on a call where someone was killed?

I held my hands in front of me, palms outward, to let him know I wasn’t a threat. He swept the area with quick jerks of his head, keeping his gun trained on me while checking to see if anyone else was around. I raised my hands higher. When he finished, he holstered his weapon.

“Keep your hands where I can see ‘em, and stay where you are,” he said.

“Don’t worry, I’m not going anywhere.”

With a sense of disgust, I watched Officer Newbie open the trunk of his car and dig around inside. After a few moments, he came up with a roll of yellow, crime scene tape and busied himself stretching it around the wagon, Randy’s pickup, and everything he could find stationary at that end of the lot.

Then I heard a car door open behind me and turned to look. The driver got out, ran his thumbs inside his belt line to smooth his shirtfront, then looked at his wristwatch. I had the impression he only broke a sweat in some gym. He walked up and announced himself as Detective Sergeant Armstrong. He made no offer to shake hands.