Sixty-year-old Dix Ruiz glared across the breakfast table at her twin sister Lil in the home they shared in Los Lunas, New Mexico. A plastic, black cat-shaped clock on the kitchen wall swung its tail from side to side in sync with its green, rhinestone-rimmed eyes.
“How is it possible that we sprang from the same ovum?” Dix said.
“A better question is how have you managed to stay so naïve all these years? You shouldn’t be allowed out of the house alone.” Lil stuffed a bite of blueberry scone into her mouth. “Who is this house-sitting gig for, anyway?”
“A nice man from my martial arts class.” Dix glanced at her wristwatch. “He should be here any minute with the keys.”
“Are this nice man’s intentions honorable?”
Dix rolled her eyes at the same time, the doorbell chimed, cutting off her retort. She hurried to the front door.
“Hello, Henry,” she said to the distinguished-looking, seventy-ish man standing on the porch. “Got time for a cup of coffee and a blueberry scone?”
“Thanks, but I have to hustle; my flight’s in a couple of hours.” Henry offered Dix a handful of keys and a garage door opener. “I don’t think you’ll have any trouble with Lulu; she really took to you yesterday.” He turned to go, then snapped his fingers and turned back. “By the way, you’ll notice a window in the kitchen has been boarded up. Someone broke in last night, but Lulu scared the bejeebers out of him and he took off empty-handed.” He chuckled then added, “I’ve scheduled someone to fix it next week. See you in a few days.”
As Henry headed toward his vehicle, a car parked up the block roared to life and pulled into the street. The vehicle gained speed and bore down on Henry, who had turned toward Dix to wave a final goodbye.
“Henry, look out.” Unable to believe what was happening, Dix stepped onto the porch, her hand raised as if to stop the speeding car.
A puzzled look on his face, Henry turned toward the approaching vehicle just as it smashed into him. The force of the blow catapulted him over the car’s hood and sent him airborne with his arms and legs flopping like a man-sized rag doll. He landed on the asphalt with a muffled whump, then lay still.
The driver of the weaponized vehicle punched the gas. Its tires spinning on the asphalt, the car fishtailed a couple of times then shot up the street, leaving behind the smell of burning rubber.
Dix screamed, then ran after the vehicle until it was out of sight. “ZBD7… ZBD7…” Repeating the portion of the license she had seen, she sprinted back toward the unconscious Henry and squatted next to him.
After checking to make sure his mouth was empty and his airway clear, as she’d learned to do in a CPR training years earlier, Dix clasped one hand on top of the other and placed them on Henry’s chest. Ignoring the pain shooting up her thighs from her kneecaps’ contact with the hard asphalt, she pushed against the man’s ribcage and counted compressions. “One, two, three, four…One, two, three, four.”
Lil hurried through the still-open door of the house, stepped off the porch, and strode toward her sister.
“Call an ambulance,” Dix yelled.
Lil pulled her phone from a holster attached to her belt and punched the tiny screen. When the dispatch operator came on, she repeated Dix’s barked observations.
“It was an old, silver Mercury, either rusty or spattered with mud,” Lil said. “The license plate starts with ZBD7, that’s Zebra Bravo Delta Seven. The windows were tinted, so my sister couldn’t see the driver, but the vehicle headed north on Highway Forty-Seven.” Lil listened, then spoke to Dix, “Could you see how many were in the vehicle?”
“No, but the driver never even touched his brakes; this was deliberate.” Dix stopped the chest compressions long enough to press her fingers against Henry’s carotid artery in search of a pulse. “They’d better hurry.”
As she spoke, Henry’s eyelids fluttered partially open. “The honeypot,” he breathed.
“The honey—” The edges of Henry’s mouth twitched downward. Within seconds, his struggle to breathe became erratic, then shallow, then stopped.
Lil peered at her sister in an unspoken question.
Dix shook her head but continued performing CPR. Grim-faced, Lil remained on the phone with the dispatch operator.
The muscles in Dix’s shoulders and thighs knotted in rebellion against the unaccustomed exercise. Her kneecaps shot bolts of pain up her legs, and her arms began to tremble.
Within minutes, two Los Lunas police officers on motorcycles and a firetruck screamed onto the scene. The officers did a quick check of the area then radioed other officers specially trained to deal with traffic fatalities.
Passing vehicles slowed as their drivers craned their necks to survey the action. Apparently drawn from their homes by the sirens, neighbors began to gather, pointing and whispering to each other.
“I’ll take it from here,” a kind-faced fireman said as he took Dix’s place beside the fallen man. He glanced toward Dix. “Are you hurt; any injuries we can’t see?”
“No, they were after Henry.” Dix scooted out of the young man’s way.
“Come on.” Lil bent over her twin. “Let me help you up.”
After a brief struggle, Dix managed to stand. She steadied herself against her sister until her legs stopped wobbling.
The Paramedic attached what Dix recognized as a heart monitor to Henry and started an intravenous drip in his arm. Then, even as the fireman continued CPR, the Paramedic and Emergency Medical Technician strapped Henry onto a board, lifted him onto a gurney, then pushed the whole thing into the back of the ambulance.
Slowly, the ambulance pulled into the street. The absence of flashing lights or screaming siren announced Henry Taylor had moved beyond the need for speed.
Police officers moved the watchers back to allow the forensic crime scene van access to the area. Countless photographs were taken, and potential witnesses were questioned.
Dix turned toward her sister. “I’m going to stay at Henry’s tonight.”
“Because he hired me to, that’s why.”
“Can’t his daughter take care of things?”
“She lives in California.” Dix spoke slowly and deliberately, as if explaining String Theory to a toddler. “It’ll take a day or two for her to get here. Meanwhile, Lulu’s going to need to be fed and taken for walks.” She squared her shoulders. “Henry paid me to look after his house and pet, and that’s what I’ll do.”
“I still think you would be—”
“It’s an act of humanity, Lil.” Dix looked at her sister. “…Just a small act of humanity.”
Across the road, someone wearing a silver-gray, designer hoodie and matching sweatpants, apparently a young man, judging by his stride, jogged down the sidewalk. Glancing neither to the left nor to the right, he pounded his arms up and down like sledgehammers with every step, as if driving tent pegs into rocky soil.
“It’s awfully warm to be wearing that heavy outfit.” Lil squinted at the figure. “I’ve never seen him before, have you?” She nodded toward the mass of lookie-loos nodding and talking animatedly to one another. “Not so much as a glance to see what all the commotion is about.”
“Give it a rest,” Dix said. “Not every stranger is a mass murderer.”
Lil shot a sympathetic look at her sister then turned and started toward the house.
Dix fell in line behind her twin, but after a couple of steps glanced over her shoulder.
The jogger had stopped and was looking in their direction. Although the hoodie shrouded the person’s face in shadow, Dix got the feeling she was being studied.
Nonchalantly, the jogger turned away, pulled what appeared to be a phone from a pocket in the sweatpants, lifted it to one ear, spoke briefly, then moved on.
Not every stranger was a murderer…
With a determined set to her shoulders, Dix made her way to the house.