Lone Star Christmas Witness

By: Margaret Daley
ONE


Texas Ranger Taylor Blackburn strode toward the clinic, ducking under the crime scene tape. A northwest wind blew, a chill in the winter air. Dread threatened to slow his pace, but he couldn’t allow that. Forty-five minutes ago, a woman reported a shooting—a madman had entered this building right before it opened and shot the six employees on the staff. Five were dead, one critically injured.

When Taylor entered the Premier Medical Clinic, the smell of copper and gunpowder accosted him. Sadly, he’d smelled those aromas too many times in his sixteen years in law enforcement. His gaze swept the reception area, pausing for a few seconds on the downed pine tree with its multicolored tiny lights twinkling among the green foliage and the many ornaments lying on the floor. Tangled in the midst of the tree lay the first victim, a middle-aged woman dressed in her nurse’s scrubs—the vision making a mockery of what Christmas stood for.

Lieutenant Nash Cartwright with the San Antonio Police Department approached Taylor, who had been called in because it was a mass shooting. “It’s good to see you.”

Taylor shook his hand, glad that Nash was the SAPD’s lead on this case. He’d worked with the lieutenant several times. “I wish under different circumstances.”

“Me, too. We don’t know much yet. An unidentified man moved methodically through the building taking out the cameras as he went and killing anyone in his path. From what little we saw on the surveillance footage before it went black, the gun had a silencer on it.”

“There wasn’t anything that could identify the suspect?”

“He knew where the cameras were and made sure we didn’t see his face even during the brief time he was caught on tape. All we know is he’s approximately six feet tall with a slender build. His clothing was all black, with a hoodie to hide his face. Nothing else.”

“Was the door unlocked?” Taylor glanced at the security system pad near the front door.

“Don’t know. The alarm was off when we arrived.”

Taylor had briefly noticed a rear parking lot, most likely where the employees parked, which probably meant there was another entrance there. “Even with a silencer, you can hear the muffled shots. But no one escaped the building out the back door?”

“Right. It was blocked by a big trash bin. One male doctor was killed trying to leave.”

Taylor glanced down the hallway and saw another body by the exit, the door opened partially but a large garbage bin against the wall on the outside. “So, the killer came in and left by the front entrance. Any surveillance cameras outside in the parking lots in the back or front?”

“Yes, but taken down beforehand. I just sent some officers out to canvass the other businesses on the street, but with this clinic set back from the road and not surrounded by close neighbors, we might not get anything. And there are no traffic cams on this side street that could show us cars turning into the clinic. We’ll look later at other traffic cams in the general area during the time frame and try to identify the license numbers.”

“Who reported this shooting?”

“The first patient of the day, at eight. An older woman—Gladys Mills. She’s outside in a car with a female officer. She was shaken up and could only tell us she didn’t see anyone leaving the building or hanging around.”

Its location had made this place an easier target, Taylor knew. But he wondered whether this attack was random or targeted. “Any drugs taken?”

Nash frowned. “No. The drugs were locked up, and there are no signs the locks were tampered with, so we can rule that angle out.”

Taylor moved down the hall to the man by the rear door, dressed in a white coat. He stooped and examined the body, facedown, with an entry bullet hole in his back. “The only doctor here?”

“No, Dr. Noah Porter runs the clinic with one other doctor—a female, Dr. Kathleen Markham.”

“Is she one of the dead victims?”

“Yes. She was still in her office.” Nash gestured to a shorter corridor off the main one. “At the end.”

The door was open, but from this view Taylor couldn’t see the victim. “Are all the employees here today? Most clinics, even small ones, have more than six employees.”

“No. There are two not here if the information we’ve dug up is right. One is a male nurse, Colin Brewer, and the other is Sierra Walker, who manages the clinic. I have two officers tracking down the missing employees.”

“Good.” It was possible one of them or both were involved in the shooting or at the very least might have information that could help this investigation. “I especially want to talk to the office manager. This could have been done by a disgruntled employee—past or present. Knowing why will help us find this guy. Where are the other two dead victims?”

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