Louie Puroll crouches beside an ocotillo in the desert between Casa Grande and Gila Bend, his M-16 rifle slung in front of him.
It's a cool November morning, and we are in Pinal County, 3.5 miles south of civilization, which is the Veja Truck Stop at Interstate 8 and State Route 84.
This is the Vekol Valley, said by local law enforcement to be a favored route for smugglers moving people and marijuana up from Mexico.
We have climbed to where Deputy Puroll claims he was shot on April 30, atop a pass near Antelope Peak in mountainous desert terrain.
Puroll says this is just the second time he's been back since that crazy spring afternoon, and the first since he returned to the scene with investigators three days after the highly publicized incident.
At this precise spot, the deputy says, he told a dispatcher over his cell phone that a suspected dope smuggler had just shot him with an AK-47 rifle.
Puroll suffered a superficial gunshot wound to his left flank just above a kidney and didn't require hospitalization.
It happened one week after Governor Jan Brewer signed Arizona's polarizing anti-illegal immigrant legislation, Senate Bill 1070, into law.
Literally overnight, Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu was thrust (and thrust himself) into the national spotlight as a tireless crusader against illegal aliens and the federal government, two of the larger current political targets in this part of the planet.
Puroll and I meet on November 4 at the nearby truck stop after the deputy agreed to go with me to the remote desert location where, he says, he almost lost his life.
Three SWAT team deputies, PCSO public-information officer Tim Gaffney, Puroll, and I enter the desert in four-wheel-drive vehicles and drive south until the end of a deeply rutted dirt road.
The two-mile road takes us about 30 minutes to negotiate. We park and hike uphill about another mile south.
In all, it's 50 minutes from the start of the dirt road to the crime scene, at the base of Antelope Peak.
It's there, next to that sturdy ocotillo, that we improbably stand, the tough-talking search-and-rescue deputy and the city journalist the deputy recently had accused publicly of writing "fiction" about his case.
"Right here. It was right here," Louie Puroll says loudly, pointing about 25 yards downhill to where mesquite trees sit on both sides of a trail. "This is where that asshole shot me, whatever it is you want to write."
The 53-year-old deputy is referring to New Times' September 22 story, "Pinalcchio," in which I raised many questions about his accounts of the alleged clash.
Puroll said previously that during the early afternoon of April 30, he parked his unmarked truck on a different dirt road, walked to a hiding spot on a hill, and hunkered down there for a few hours.
About 3:45, he reported to dispatchers that he had spotted six men walking north, five bearing backpacks he suspected were filled with marijuana.
Puroll later told Pinal County criminal investigators that he hadn't seen any weapons as the sextet passed below him, so he decided to follow them as they made their way toward I-8.
But Sergeant Brian Messing told those investigators last July that Puroll had told him that "at least three of [the alleged smugglers] had long guns."
This was but one of several significant discrepancies between the deputy and his supervisor.
Just after 4 p.m., Deputy Puroll said, one of the smugglers shot him with the AK-47.
The alleged shooter, his cohorts, and their backpacks (presumably filled with marijuana) vanished, despite a massive manhunt.
Their mysterious disappearance was one of the several issues explored in "Pinalcchio."
Two well-known forensic pathologists, Drs. Michael Baden (New York City) and Werner Spitz (Detroit), said — after examining photographic evidence provided by New Times — it looked to them like Puroll had suffered a self-inflicted contact wound.
Two other pathologists, Drs. Vincent DiMaio and Phil Keen, disagreed with their colleagues, though each doctor raised other questions:
DiMaio, author of the forensic textbook Gunshot Wounds, said he was troubled by the horizontal angle of the graze wound, because the shooter allegedly shot uphill at Puroll and because of the reddish discoloration around the deputy's wound, often indicative of a contact shot.
Keen, a former Maricopa County medical examiner, suggested that the smuggler (or smugglers, if more than one fired at Puroll) would have done more damage to the deputy than a mere graze wound.