Clawsby Ozzie Cheek
Enter the deadly safari and hunt down a blood-thirsty killer! When twenty-three lions, tigers, and ligers—a giant hybrid cat—appear in rural Idaho, town officials decide to hold the first safari in America. Only police chief Jackson Hobbs, a man haunted by loss and tragedy, and Katy Osborne, a talented hunting guide, seem to realize the/b>
Enter the deadly safari and hunt down a blood-thirsty killer! When twenty-three lions, tigers, and ligers—a giant hybrid cat—appear in rural Idaho, town officials decide to hold the first safari in America. Only police chief Jackson Hobbs, a man haunted by loss and tragedy, and Katy Osborne, a talented hunting guide, seem to realize the potential danger of this situation. With the town desperate for money, the mayor, who also happens to be Jackson’s ex-wife, and her boyfriend are adamant that the Idaho Lion Hunt go forward even after people are killed. As the death toll rises and his own family is put at risk, Jackson must cope with a town doubled in population, the activity of a local antigovernment militia, a willful teenage daughter, an animal rescue group, a missing young boy, a dead state trooper, and Katy’s desire to save a rare liger named Kali. Betrayal blossoms alongside romance as Jackson gets closer and closer to discovering the identity of those who engineered this predator panic.
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By Ozzie Cheek
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2012 Ozzie Cheek
All rights reserved.
Jackson Hobbs was an inch taller than average and still fit at forty-two, although struggling to keep his waist within two inches of where it had been a dozen years ago. Dressed in worn black jeans, cobalt blue shirt, and black Blundstone boots, there was nothing about him that suggested the stereotype rural cop, not even with the scar. A burn scar began at his hairline and ran down his neck before turning onto his right shoulder. When it began to itch, Jackson shifted his head away from the sun. He resisted the urge to rub the scar. It never helped.
The 2008 black Grand Cherokee that Jackson drove as Chief of Police was parked by the east bleachers, near Ed Stevens' patrol car. Both men leaned against the Jeep while watching the Saturday football scrimmage. Beyond the Buckhorn High School playing field, dotted with red and white practice jerseys, eight girls in red skirts and sweaters, the word Antlers in white across the chest, practiced dance routines and cheers. A teacher in sweats prowled the sidelines shouting encouragement.
Jackson didn't care much for football and even less for cheerleading, but Jesse, his fifteen-year-old, needed to know that he supported her, especially since she had become a cheerleader mostly to appease her mother. Iris, Jackson's ex-wife, was Buckhorn town mayor and his boss.
On the field the huddle broke and the linemen dropped into formation, the quarterback barked signals, and the center delivered the ball. Shane Tapper, a tall and lithe receiver, jogged out of the backfield and then spun right and sprinted toward the sideline. The southpaw quarterback threw a perfect spiral. As Shane reached for the ball, Jesse, now only ten feet away, cartwheeled past him: red skirt flapping, white briefs shining, red and white sweater blurring, bare midriff and legs beckoning. The football skimmed through Shane's hands and hit him in the chest. A second later the defensive back knocked him to the ground.
Coach Pettigrew waddled up to Shane with surprising speed for a fat man. "Damn it, Shane," he said, helping the boy to his feet, "if you'd watch the ball instead of your girlfriend's butt, maybe we'd win a few more games." The coach gave three sharp whistles to end the practice.
Jackson gave in and rubbed the burn scar. "Guess we should go fight crime," he said absently. When Ed didn't respond, Jackson glanced over at him. Ed's head bobbed like an infant's, like it was too big to be supported by the body beneath it. Before radiation and chemotherapy, Ed Stevens had been a robust, short man. Now the blue uniform hung on him like he was playing dress-up. "Ed?"
"Short practice today."
"No reason for you to be out here. We'll cover it."
Ed pulled himself free of the Jeep. "Oh hell, I'm okay, just a little sleepy is all. Used to be, I slept like a baby, but now I wake up two, three times a night. Always dreaming too, the same damn thing over and over."
Although Jackson said nothing, he nodded his head to let Ed know that he was familiar with bad dreams.
"I dream something's chasing me. A monster with a man's body and a bird's head or a woman's head on a lion's body – crazy things." Ed reached into his shirt pocket. His hand came away empty. "Damn smokes are killing me, but I still miss them." He paused in thought. "I saw these pictures once, Jackson. Some guy painted the monsters I see in my dreams. What I keep asking myself is why me."
"We all dream, all the time. We just don't remember."
"Maybe so, but how come we mostly remember the bad ones? Why not dreams where we go fishing all day and your beer stays cold and elk walk right up to you and TV shows actually make you laugh? You know what my wifesays? Eileen says the dreams are God writing me a warning ticket. What do you think about that?"
"Ed, I think you're about the best man I know."
The radio in Jackson's car crackled with static and then, "Chief Hobbs, what's your ten-twenty? Over."
"And I think Eileen spends too much time in church," Jackson said, moving toward the squawking radio.
Ed grinned. "Bosch. Like the spark plugs. That's the name. The guy that painted the creatures from hell."
Jackson removed the microphone from the holder in the Jeep. "Jackson here. What've you got, Sadie?"
"It's Mandy Placett. Said she found a monster cat in one of their sheds. Said it was long as a car. Over."
"Be a hell of a mountain lion half that size," Jackson said. "Anyway, she should call Fish and Game."
"The thing jumped right over little Tammy. She said her boy set off firecrackers to scare the tiger away. Over."
"Sadie, I know when you're done talking. What tiger?"
"Tiger, lion. She wasn't exactly sure. But you're their neighbor, Jackson, and the law. So she called you."
Jackson clicked the transmit button. "Who's free?"
"Angie responded to a four-fifteen-f, and Tucker, he's at the cafe trying to sweet-talk Suzy Beans into bed. He should be out with a radar gun at junction thirty-four."
Jackson looked at Ed to see if he had reacted to Sadie's commentary about officer Tucker Thule, his nephew. All Ed did was point to his own chest and grin.
"See if Angie needs backup on the domestic. And tell Tucker he's got ten minutes to get out to the highway. I'll take care of the monster cat. And Sadie, call Stilts or somebody else at Fish and Game, let them know."
"Roger that, Chief. Over and out."
Jackson replaced the microphone but stayed in the car. "If you won't go home, you may as well come with me."
"With you?" Ed tapped his watch. It hung loose on his wrist. "Don't you have a meeting to go to?"
"Damn!" Jackson stared into space, and then he said, "You go. You're better at dealing with them anyway."
"Probably true, but you're the chief now, not me."
Before the cancer Ed had been Chief of Police and Jackson Deputy Chief. A year later Jackson still wasn't comfortable with the role reversal. Neither was half the town. "They'll give me shit for not wearing my uniform."
"Just make sure you wear your gun. Town council, you never know if you'll need it," Ed said and chuckled.
Beyond Ed, Jackson noticed his daughter coming across the field. She had swapped her cheerleading outfit for jeans, boots, a t-shirt, and a fleece vest – an Idaho cowgirl uniform. Already five-eight, she was slender in that tight-skinny jeans-that-forgive-nothing-way only certain high school girls can be. While watching her approach, Jackson said, "So what do you think Mandy saw?"
"A big-ass mountain lion," Ed said.
"Except they don't look much like a tiger."
"Then there's only one thing it could be, but I sure hope she's wrong. We're cops, not big-game hunters."
"You know the Cheneys better than me. If one of their cats got out, would Ted come let us know?"
Ed shrugged. "They ain't lost one before."
Jackson turned from watching his daughter to looking at Ed again. "Not that we know of, you mean."
"I was there a while back," Ed said. "They're fixing it all up. Building a brand new, big cage. A real one."
"Huh! I thought they were poor as church mice."
"I asked Ted if they were finally gettin' all their permits. He told me to mind my own business."
Jackson knew the Cheneys discouraged visits until the safari park business was open, and they could sell tickets to view their exotic cats. "Maybe it is our business," he said and then added, "Jesse's coming. Right behind you."
Ed swiveled to look at her, and Jesse, some twenty feet away, waved and said, "Hi, mister Stevens. Daddy."
"Now how'd you get so pretty, Jesse?" Ed said. "Look at her, Jackson. She's just like her mother."
"I hope not," Jesse said softly but not soft enough.
"One of us should go check it out," Jackson told Ed.
"Check what out?" Jesse asked.
"Police business. You feel like doing it, Ed, then go on. Stop at Ted and Dolly's place too. Humor me."
"You got it, Chief." Ed moved as briskly as possible toward a black police cruiser with blue lettering. As he did, he grinned at Jesse. "So how's that gelding of yours?"
"Ready to beat them purebred Arabians."
"I bet he is." Ed laughed. "Got a real cowgirl here, Jackson. Must be doing something right." He was still grinning as he slid into the Ford Crown Vic and drove off.
"Who's Ted? You mean the lion guy?" Jesse asked.
"Don't be so nosy." Jackson kissed the top of his daughter's head. "You girls looked really good out there."
"Yeah right! Sis-boom-bah."
Jackson nodded, but even he wasn't sure why.
"Daddy, after work today I want to go on a nice long ride, a good three hours or more. Get Touie out there on some steep hills. Up and down. Work him hard. Get him used to being alone again after staying at the Double-D. Then I'll be at the farm."
"Well, in that case, I'll meet you there later and we can grill some hamburgers and –"
"I can't. It's Saturday night."
"You understand, right? You were young once."
"Was I?" Jackson, already showing gray in his hair, wrapped his daughter in a hug. "Sometimes I wonder."
Jackson circled the little park and war memorial in the downtown square, turned onto Salmon Street, and a block later parked in front of the old Tapper Elementary School. A town of four thousand located in the northern part of rural Fremont County, Buckhorn was over an hour drive from St. Anthony, the county seat in the south. Whatever wasn't handled in St. Anthony or in Boise by the state was done here in the brick building, including town council meetings.
The Buckhorn Police Department was two blocks west on Red Hawk Road in the former home of an auto dealership. Instead of a showroom it now housed a 'bullpen', Jackson's office, a storage room, a tiny break room, and a large bathroom. There were no cells. Prisoners were escorted to St. Anthony or even Rexburg. On occasion someone was handcuffed briefly to a desk. Ed had tossed a few drunks in the storage room on a cot. Jackson had five blue-pin officers with full academy training and four reserve officers, people with other jobs and much less training. In Fremont County his officers were more likely to handle a car wreck than a shooting, more likely to bust beer-breath teenagers than they were burglars. There was an anti-government group rumored to exist in the area, but for the most part infidelity and not insurrection made up the bulk of town gossip. Of course everybody talked about money and jobs. Everybody felt the squeeze of The Great Recession.
Jackson notified Sadie that he was 10-7, but even after going out of service, he continued to sit and stare at the brick building. He had been in Idaho five years, having arrived with a wife, a gangly ten-year-old, and a new job as Ed's Deputy Chief. His wife was now his ex, his daughter training for the country's hardest endurance race, and he was Chief of Police. "Sis-boom-bah," he muttered.CHAPTER 2
Four miles north of Buckhorn on county road 34, Ed slowed to a crawl behind a green combine hogging the two-lane asphalt, even though Med Fedder steered far onto the shoulder. When the double-yellow line ended, the farmer signaled to Ed. He pulled out and, seeing no traffic, gunned the Ford. He beeped and waved as he passed.
A mile farther Ed met Idaho State Police trooper, Ronnie Greathouse, coming from Med's place. He knew Ronnie was seeing Maryann Fedder. Med's oldest girl had been in a wheelchair for the past three years, since a horse threw her and cracked her spine. Ed also knew that Ronnie and Tucker, his nephew, his sister Agnes' boy, both belonged to a white power, anti-government, militia group. If Med ever found out, Ronnie would not be welcome at the Fedder house, regardless of Maryann's wishes. All in all, Ed figured a crippled thirty-year-old country girl didn't have a line of men outside the door. Med would not find out from him.
While keeping his eyes on the road, Ed felt along the driver's seat for the Marlboro pack. He thumped the box and pulled a cigarette with his lips, leaned forward, and lit it with a match. He inhaled the smoke deeply and then, after lowering the window, slowly let it escape, the way he had learned to do it when he was young and invincible.
He always figured death would come as a surprise, not a trip he planned in advance, but once the doctors agreed not to tell Eileen how little time he had left, dying had become just another secret to keep. He had kept so many: hater's secrets, killer's secrets, and lover's secrets. A town has many secrets that only a cop knows, some that only the Chief of Police knows. For a while Ed wasn't sure if he would share his cache. He wasn't sure Jackson would stick around long enough, and town secrets shouldn't travel too far. Now, he felt relieved finally to shed them.
Ed finished his cigarette and started to toss it out before remembering the drought. The winter and spring had been wet and the spring growth lush. But it had been a hot, dry summer. Given a chance, the fields and forests would flame like a barn filled with straw. He dropped the butt on the floor mat and squished it with his shoe.
Before long Ed swapped the blacktop for a gravel road that snaked past Jackson's farm. The dust he kicked up forced him to close the car window. He had already written one letter to leave behind, revealing the secret Jacksonmost needed to know. Tonight, I'll write another, he thought, and tell him about Tucker and Ronnie and some other secrets too. Just one thing Jackson has wrong, Ed told himself as he turned onto the rutted dirt road to the Placett farm – it's him, not me, that's the better man.
When Jackson entered the meeting room, the talk died abruptly. Jackson nodded a greeting to the four council members seated around two folding tables set end-to-end: Fred Bulcher, owner of a gravel and sand business; Pamela Yow, head librarian and Buckhorn's self-appointed moral compass; Neil Fennis, owner of the Sportsman Motel; and Clancy Anderson, a retired railroad man. Iris, the town mayor, was at the head of the table. She once had been Iris Hobbs but returned to using Inslay – Iris Inslay.
At age forty-one Iris still turned heads. While other women might be pretty, Iris was exotic. Petite and Mediterranean dark, her lush brown hair almost black, she claimed to be Portuguese-American. In truth, she was part Mexican and part German-Mormon, but being Mexican didn't help the ambitious in Idaho, even if being Mormon did.
Jackson took the empty chair across from Dell Tapper. Besides owning the Bank of Buckhorn, a town institution since the 1930s, he was the father of Jesse's boyfriend. As far as Jackson was concerned, Dell also was the man responsible for ending his marriage, although Iris, seated between them, would certainly disagree.
"We all know how busy Chief Hobbs is," Iris said, her words conveying sarcasm without too much offense, "so let's move on to the police department's budget."
Due to the sparse population in northern Fremont County and the location of the county sheriff's office in the southernmost part, Buckhorn police officers held a cross-deputy commission that gave them full law enforcement powers outside city limits. In return, part of the department's operating budget came from the county, and Buckhorn currently had more officers than the county seat did. The town and the county were at odds about money.
"Well, to start with," Neil Fennis said, "none of us have a problem with the job you're doing as chief."
"Or with your officers," Pamela said.
"Who at least wear their uniforms," Clancy said.
"Tell me, Jackson," Dell said before Clancy could continue, "how many people did you arrest yesterday?"
"One. Billy Frasier. His third DUI."
"Any unsolved murders?"
"Not that I know of."
"How about car-jackings? Gangs? Drug cartels?"
"What's your point, Dell?"
"His point," Iris said, "is serious crime almost never happens here. But our budget doesn't reflect that."
Some of the council members muttered agreement or nodded their head. The town had money problems, and Jackson knew they wanted to cut his budget.
Excerpted from Claws by Ozzie Cheek. Copyright © 2012 Ozzie Cheek. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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What People are saying about this
- Keith Abbott, author of Downstream from Trout Fishing in America: a Memoir of Richard Brautigan.
"Claws is a tremendous read. Well-written and scary. A lethal combination. I suggest you do what I did, and read it in the daytime. Nighttime reading was too scary."
- Nancy De Los Santos, Writer
Meet the Author
Ozzie Cheek wrote his first story when he was in the fifth grade. He knew then that he would be a writer, but his life took detours, and he was in his midthirties before he started to write full time. Prior to this period, Cheek attended a Methodist seminary to study for the clergy, taught high school English, lived in a commune in New Mexico, heeded the generational call of sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll, and somehow still earned a master’s degree in communication and a master of fine arts degree in creative writing. Cheek moved to Los Angeles in the 1990s and found work as a staff writer on a TV series. He wrote movies for HBO, Showtime, NBC, CBS, and Fox, and wrote and produced the TV movie Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye. Cheek’s fiction includes the thriller Claws and the literary novel White Boy Blues, and he is the coauthor of Why Planes Crash (2011), the memoir of an aviation disaster investigator. An avid traveler, Cheek follows baseball and basketball, has been a Shambhala Buddhist meditation practitioner for years, and reads constantly and widely. He divides his time between coastal Maine and Los Angeles.
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