Monday, August 18, 2008

Best Spot For A Murder

by Ben Small

I was talking to Carl Brizzi, Marion County Prosecutor, on his weekly radio program a few weeks ago. (That’s the Greater Indianapolis area for those geographically challenged or who didn’t grow up there.) Carl asked me about the inspiration for Alibi On Ice. I told him I was standing next to a three-hundred-foot-deep, football-field-wide crevasse on Mount Rainier’s steep slopes and the thought came to me: You could put a lot of bodies in there.

Carl laughed and said he doesn’t drive by a culvert without wondering if there’s a body there.

This high level intellectual discussion led me to ponder: Where’s the best place for a murder?

I’ve got a theory: A desert’s the best spot for a murder. And I am prepared to support my theory.

1) Joe Pesci said as a threat in Casino, “There are a lot of holes in the desert.” And if Joe Pesci said it, you can take it to the bank. Did you see what Pesci did to the guy in Goodfellas who told him to get his shine box? You don’t mess with Joe Pesci.

2) Nobody wants to search in the desert. Rattlesnakes, Gila monsters, javelina, coyote, scorpions, lynx, mountain lions, fire ants, and tarantulas. Not to mention spikes on everything that grows. Heck, it took the Army many years to find Cochise in his Dragoon Mountains stronghold. But truth be told, the Army wasn’t trying so hard. Why do you think they blew those bugles?

3) Look what happened to Johnny Ringo, one of the most feared gunfighters in the Old West. He was found at the base of a tree with a single bullet hole in his forehead, his feet wrapped in his shirt. His horse, with his boots tied around the saddle horn, was found twenty miles away. Nobody ever solved that one.

4) Nobody got prosecuted for killing ole Frank Stillwell at the Tucson stage depot. Everybody knew Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday filled poor Frank full of holes, but nobody went after Earp, and Bat Masterson trumped up a phony Colorado charge against Doc to prevent extradition. Justice works funny in the desert.

5) Wide areas of the desert are just empty. It’s hot and dry. Nothing will grow. So a gunshot may not be heard, and a body will quickly be eaten if you’re too lazy to dig a shallow grave. DNA won’t help if there’s no DNA left, or if what’s left is scattered over a hundred mile range in so much vulture or coyote poop. In the words of the Sudanese prince to General Gordon in the movie Khartoum, "May you die in the desert. May the vultures consume your flesh, and the sands your blood."

I suppose one might argue that the sea is just as good a choice, maybe even better. But according to Vince Bugliosi, the sea will tell. And Bugliosi never lies.

Do I need to mention that nobody floats in the desert?

6) Even if somebody hears a gunshot, they won’t pay attention. Everyone in Arizona and Nevada and New Mexico owns guns, and the deserts are where they shoot them. (Side note: Arizonans and Nevadans usually point their weapons toward California. Old habits die hard.) So a gunshot’s no big deal. Or maybe people will just think it’s more fun and games between the Border Patrol and illegals or smugglers. Maybe they got Osama this time, disguised as a Mexican. He looks a bit Hispanic, doesn’t he?

7) The desert is disorienting. Everything looks alike. Got a victim in mind? Slip him or her a diuretic and go for a back roads drive. Scenic stuff. Then when your victim has to pee, back a few hundred yards off the road and just drive away. Think char-broil steak. Think Bogie in The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre. Waste a little time and visit a gas station somewhere down the road. Report a missing person, be a bit vague, and sip a cool one while your victim’s scratching out “w-a-t-e-r” in the sand.

Or take your victim for a trail bike ride out in the boonies. Find a good spot miles from civilization, say you see a trail and point at it, and then claim your knee is hurting, he’d be better off alone. (This works best with guys. Testosterone, you know. Not many women will fall for it.) As you’re unloading your soon-to-be late buddy's bike, just spike a hole in his plastic water bottle. If anyone ever finds him, they’ll think a cactus spike pierced the bottle. Then, as before, wait until your victim leaves, and just drive off. Do the gas station bit again, but this time wait a little longer. You left your victim some water, after all. Give the desert some time to work its magic.

8) You could always just knock somebody on the head and drive their body out to the desert, but that’s a given. And it shows no imagination at all. Where’s the suffering? Where’s the glee? Hah. No satisfaction at all.

Well, I think I’ve won this argument hands down. Any debate? If so, why don’t you come visit. We’ll sort this thing out.

Maybe go for a drive...


Jaden Terrell said...

Ben, remind me never to go for a drive in the desert with you!

By the way, it was great meeting you at Killer Nashville this weekend.

Chester Campbell said...

This brings up a good question. How do you get your protagonist out of there if some evildoer dumps him in the desert? I don't believe we have nice big sandpiles like they do in the Sahara. If we did, you could have a stray camel wander by. Everybody knows they can go for days without water. I'll bet somebody has invented a little spigot you can plug into a camel and partake of his supply. We ought to suggest this problem to Lee Child. I'm sure Reacher could find a way out.

Anonymous said...

I still think the best place to commit murder is in a funeral home embalming room, or in a morgue. Tough places to gather evidence that's not tainted.

Unknown said...


Leave it to you to come up with that doozie of a problem. And I will have to deal with it, because that's gonna happen to Denton Wright in the sequel to The Olive Horseshoe. I watched one of those survival shows where the star survived in the desert, but I think he was also the guy who later was exposed as being airlifted out to hotels each evening. But hey, the Apache did it, so maybe Denton will do a little peyote and take on a spirit life. :<) I've got a friend who works at AmerInd, so maybe I'll talk to her about it.

BTW, it was great seeing you and Beth at Killer Nashville.

Unknown said...

I give, Lee. Can't argue with that one.