Weakened by loss of blood, she dropped onto the orange shag carpet and didn't move again. Hours passed. Some time later, with her overheated dogs still hovering anxiously around her, the woman died. All through the day, the temperature in the closed mobile home continued to soar. And, with their mistress dead, one after another, the dogs, too, slowly succumbed to the heat.
Late on Tuesday afternoon, Sheriff Joanna Brady sat at her desk, stared at the pages of her calendar, and knew that Butch Dixon, her husband, was absolutely right. She was overbooked. When he had mentioned it at breakfast that morning, she had done the only reasonable thing and denied it completely.
Coffeepot in hand, Butch had stood looking at the week's worth of calendar he had finally convinced Joanna to copy and tape to the refrigerator door in a vain attempt at keeping track of her comings and goings.
"Two parades on Friday?" he had demanded, studying the two pages of copied calendar entries she had just finished posting. "According to this, the parades are followed by appearances at two community picnics." Butch shook his head. "And you still think you'll be at the fairgrounds in time for Jenny's barrel-racing event, which will probably start right around four? You're nuts, Joey," he concluded after a pause. "Totally round the bend. Or else you've picked up a clone without telling me about it."
"Don't worry," she told him. "I'll be fine."
Butch had poured coffee and said nothing more. Now, though, late in the afternoon and after putting in a full day's work, Joanna studied her marathon schedule and worried that maybe Butch was right. How would she cover all those bases?
The Fourth of July had always been one of Joanna's favorite holidays. She loved going to the parade, hosting or attending a backyard barbecue, and then ending the evening in town watching Bisbee's community fireworks display.
But this wasn't a typical Fourth of July. This was an election year, and Joanna Brady was an active-duty sheriff trying to do her job in the midst of a stiffly contested reelection campaign. Rather than watching a single parade, she was scheduled to participate in two of them -- driving her Crown Victoria in Bisbee's parade starting at eleven and in Sierra Vista's, twenty-five miles away, starting at twelve-thirty. She was also slated to appear briefly at two community picnics that day -- in Benson and St. David. The day would end with her making a few introductory remarks prior to the annual fireworks display eighty miles from home in Willcox. Stuffed in among all her official duties, she needed to be at the Cochise County fairgrounds outside of Douglas at the stroke of four o'clock.
After years of practicing around a set of barrels positioned around the corral at High Lonesome Ranch, Jennifer Ann Brady had declared that she and her sorrel quarter horse, Kiddo, were ready for their public barrel-racing debut. That Fourth of July would mark Jenny's first-ever competition on the junior rodeo circuit. Joanna's showing up for the barrel-race rodeo had nothing at all to do with politics and everything to do with motherhood.
Be there or be square, Joanna told herself grimly.
Looking away from her calendar, Joanna walked across to the dorm-sized refrigerator Butch had brought back from Costco in Tucson and installed in her office. She retrieved a bottle of water. Taking a thoughtful drink, she stared out the window at the parched hills surrounding the Cochise County Justice Center. The thermometer perched in the shade under the roof of a covered parking stall just outside her office door still hovered around 103 degrees. Summertime temperatures in and around Bisbee seldom exceeded the low nineties, so having the temperature still that hot so late in the afternoon was bound to be a record breaker.
The foregoing is excerpted from Exit Wounds by J. A. Jance. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from HarperCollins Publishers, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022.
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