Scratchgravel Road (Josie Gray Mysteries Series #2)by Tricia Fields, Nicole Poole
It was pure luck that police chief Josie Gray spotted the car, abandoned out in the desert off Scratchgravel Road. If she hadn't stopped to investigate, then she'd never have found the young woman, lying nearly dead of heatstroke on the sand - and the corpse of an older, Mexican man beside her. Cassidy Harper may be grateful to Josie for saving her life, but she
It was pure luck that police chief Josie Gray spotted the car, abandoned out in the desert off Scratchgravel Road. If she hadn't stopped to investigate, then she'd never have found the young woman, lying nearly dead of heatstroke on the sand - and the corpse of an older, Mexican man beside her. Cassidy Harper may be grateful to Josie for saving her life, but she still can't explain why she was out for a walk in the midday desert heat, let alone how she happened upon the body. And once Josie sees the ominous wounds on the man's arms, she knows she needs to find the answer fast, because the evidence points to a death that is not only unnatural, but could be the first of many. Set in the unique world of small-town Texas, Scratchgravel Road confirms Tricia Fields's place as a talented new mystery author and chronicler of the Southwest.
“Captivating. … Fields deftly balances the intriguing intimate relationships among her characters with the broader themes of industrial corruption and greed. With her wild desert settings and her thrilling plot, Fields' novel is situated somewhere between Western terrain and mystery territory.” Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel
“Full of nonstop action … Fields's second crime novel will be a sure hit with mystery fans who miss the late Hillerman and readers who love contemporary Westerns.” Library Journal (starred review)
“As in Fields’ Tony Hillerman Prize–winning debut: carefully integrated red herrings, a tinge of romance and dead-on descriptions of West Texas weatheroppressive heat, weeklong downpours and earth-obliterating mudslides.” Kirkus Reviews
“Noteworthy for the delineation of the west Texas desert country and the well-drawn cast of characters; Josie Gray is a protagonist worth following.” Booklist
“Fields sounds a warning on industrial dangers and their wide-ranging effects on ordinary people in this engrossing follow-up to her Hillerman Prize–winning debut, The Territory. … A tense climax with a flood, mudslide, explosives, and a possible murderer add to the suspense.” Publishers Weekly
“This author was born in Hawaii and lives in Indiana, but she's earned a spot as an honorary Texan. Her series featuring police chief Josie Gray vividly brings Artemis, a West Texas border town, to life.” Star-Telegram
“Some readers might think they have the mystery figured out early on, but they should keep reading. Fields has a couple surprises in store.” Dallas Morning News
“Scratchgravel Road is a fast-paced, action-packed mystery that is quite frightening. … Tricia Fields has ripped the headlines from today's newspapers, created an intense, fast-paced plot, and fleshed it out with realistic characters, both good and bad. Highly recommended for mystery lovers who crave a lot of action and drama, Scratchgravel Road will take readers on an unforgettable journey” Gumshoe Review
Verdict Fields’s second crime novel will be a sure hit with mystery fans who miss the late Hillerman and readers who love contemporary Westerns. [See Prepub Alert, 10/8/12.]Patricia Ann Owens, Illinois Eastern Community Colls., Mt. Carmel
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Read an Excerpt
By Tricia Fields
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2013 Tricia Fields
All rights reserved.
Teresa Cruz knew that people watched her. There's nothing more satisfying than catching a cop's kid, her mom had told her. Yet here she was, standing in front of a pickup truck an hour past town curfew, with Enrico Gomez, the twenty-year-old guy her mother had forbidden her from seeing.
"No cars past here," he said, pointing down into the Hollow.
Teresa looked out into the black desert but could see nothing. She had cotton mouth and her eyes stung from the hot night wind. She felt Enrico fumble in the dark for her hand, then wrap her fingers inside his.
"You scared?" he asked, his voice barely above a whisper.
She shrugged, not trusting her voice.
"Stay with me, you'll be fine. Everybody's cool. We walk down a slope into the Hollow. Can't see it from the road. Cops don't even know it's here."
Teresa's throat constricted.
"Even if she drove by here she couldn't see the cars from Scratchgravel."
She turned away from him. He had misjudged her silence.
He dropped her hand and dug into his front pocket. "I got a surprise. Hold your hand out flat."
She held her palm out and watched him twist open the top of a small container. He laid a round mirror in her hand and she forced herself not to pull back.
She felt suddenly self-conscious, too young in her shorts and flip-flops and tank top. She wore her black hair straight, falling just below her shoulder blades, and worried Enrico's friends would look down on her — just some sixteen-year-old girl. She had no idea who would be there but was too proud to ask.
"Hold still," he said.
She held her hand motionless, torn between the fear of getting caught and the thrill of watching.
In his other hand he flipped open his cell phone and shone the dim light onto the mirror, where he tapped out a line from the container. He handed her his cell phone and she held the light over his hand as he tightened the lid on the small vial, stuffed it back in his pocket, then bent over her hand and used a thin straw to snort the powder into his nose.
Teresa felt nauseous. She had crossed a line her mother would never forgive, certainly never understand.
In the pale light Teresa watched him shove his hand back into his front pocket. "Want a hit?"
She shook her head.
"You ever done a line?" he asked.
She said nothing.
"Come on, girl. You'll feel like Superman. Feel like you can do anything. Just a small one."
He unscrewed the lid and her skin prickled.
"Let's just go," she said.
He hesitated and then replaced the lid and shoved it back in his pocket. She should have told him the truth — she didn't want it. She liked Enrico, but she didn't like the person she became when she was with him.
He walked back to the truck's driver-side door and she listened as he turned the key and rolled the windows up, then locked the doors.
It was a warm July night and the air felt hot on her skin. The sky was wide open with a three-quarter moon that cast a deep purple light, revealing the jagged shadows of desert cactus and low-lying mountain ranges in the distance.
He came back and stood in front of her. "You know anyone who's been out here?"
Like most high school kids, she had heard of the Hollow but never been. It was a desert hideout accessible by invitation only. A kid didn't wander into the Hollow without being asked first by a regular. By someone who had already been accepted. Rumors ran through school about what went on: drugs, sex, alcohol, but it was the allure of the unknown that made kids talk.
She shook her head no.
"That's cool. Just relax. Street etiquette, right?"
"I know." She did not know. She had no idea what she would say. She felt entirely out of place and wanted him to promise not to leave her side.
Taking her hand again, he laced his fingers between her own and began walking.
Enrico pointed toward the land in front of them. "Look. You don't need lights now."
Teresa made out the silhouettes of two small mountain ranges to the north. Creosote bushes, agave, Spanish daggers, and mesquite clumps blended with large boulders that disguised vehicles from view. Enrico was right; her eyes had adjusted and the land spread out before her like a movie screen. It was the same desert she'd grown up in, but everything looked different. The boulders and bushes she wouldn't have given a second thought to in the daylight now appeared to hide things inside their shadows.
"How will you find the truck with no lights?" she asked.
Enrico laughed. "You stick by me. Ain't nothing to worry about."
His hair was cut military style, short on the sides, longer on top, and he wore the loose jeans and tight shirt of guys who claimed gang status. She could feel the energy buzzing through his body, his grip on her hand so tight it hurt.
As he pulled her along she struggled to keep her bearings, beginning to feel anxious that she couldn't find her way out on her own. Enrico had pulled off of Scratchgravel Road onto an arroyo that she hadn't even known existed. He had put the truck into four-wheel drive and followed the arroyo heading east for close to a mile before stopping. There were a half-dozen trucks and Jeeps parked behind the tail end of a small mountain range that appeared to have been chopped into pieces. It made good cover for the vehicles and the Hollow that lay somewhere on the other side.
Enrico laid his arm over her shoulder and it felt heavy. He was built thick and worked out obsessively. She struggled to keep up with him, worrying she would trip over a cactus, leaving cuts that she would struggle to explain to her mother the next day.
She smelled the sweet musky smoke before she saw the faint light from the bonfire in the distance. Enrico put a finger to his lips and they listened to hushed laughter, maybe fifty feet in front of them. She couldn't tell if the voices' owners were walking or were inside a vehicle. After a few seconds the sounds faded into the distance.
With no city lights the stars and moon lit the desert floor a soft gray. The ground appeared to be reflecting back the absorbed light from the sun's afternoon glare. The light from the fire, still partially hidden behind a large boulder, appeared bright suddenly.
"It's a half-mile walk from here. You cool?" he asked.
"Watch for the long skinny cactus. They rip into your skin like a fishing hook. Hurts like hell to pull them out."
Enrico stopped suddenly and Teresa ran into his side. He pointed to his left, toward the road, in the direction of an approaching vehicle. "Hold up. Truck's coming."
They stood and watched the yellow parking lights of a dark-colored, full-size pickup as it drove slowly forward, just to the north of them. Without a word, they both crouched in the sand and watched the truck slow to a crawl, then circle behind a large thick grove of bushes roughly thirty feet in front of them.
"Don't you know all these people?" she whispered.
"Nobody comes to the Hollow off Scratchgravel like that," he said, pointing in the direction of the truck. "Got to be safe."
She wondered what he meant. Safe from the cops?
The truck stopped. The driver exited, slammed the door, and walked to the back end.
"What the hell's this guy doing?" Enrico said.
Teresa could feel his arm tense against hers like he was ready to take off after the guy in the truck. Enrico had an intensity that she respected, like he could handle anything.
The man laid the tailgate down and dragged something forward. They heard him grunt, obviously struggling with the load. Teresa wondered if they were watching a drug exchange. The Rio Grande, the border to Mexico, was less than a mile away, and crossing it in the middle of nowhere was no big deal. The Border Patrol rarely made it to Artemis. With two thousand miles of international border their little town barely got noticed, and drug mules and coyotes transporting illegals were part of life.
The man at the back of the truck continued to struggle for another minute, and then they heard a heavy thud as the load hit the ground. The man bent and worked for several seconds arranging something, then stood abruptly, shut the tailgate, and walked back to the driver's side. They listened as he shoved the truck into gear and drove slowly away, around the bushes and back the same way he came, straight back out to the road.
Enrico stood and Teresa grabbed ahold of the back of his shirt. "Maybe we should turn back. If that's a load of weed we should get out of here."
Instead, he walked forward, toward the dark mass lying on the ground. Teresa followed a few feet behind him.
Enrico stopped suddenly and threw his arm out to stop her. "Son of a bitch."
Looking over his shoulder, she gasped and stifled a scream into her fist.CHAPTER 2
At noon on Monday, Chief Josie Gray followed her bloodhound outside, then locked the front door of her small adobe house in the foothills of the Chinati Mountains. She watched Chester lope up the long lane behind her house to the cabin owned by her closest friend, Dell Seapus. His place was the dog's second home while Josie went to work. She unlocked the driver's-side door of her dusty blue and white jeep and leaned in to start the car. The blast of hot air sent her back to the shade of the front porch while the car cooled. Her police uniform was standard garb: thick gray pants, navy blue short-sleeved shirt, and heavy black work boots that made little sense in the West Texas desert, but the mayor and commissioners were convinced they conveyed the proper image. Josie wore her uniform carefully pressed and the brass polished. She recognized that her public image as chief of police had to remain impeccable on every level. Not everyone thought a thirty-three-year-old woman fit that role.
She pulled her cell phone out of her uniform shirt pocket and called dispatcher Louise Hagerty, to log on for second shift.
"Anything going on?" she asked.
"Otto's taking a report at the Gun Club. Tiny called and said somebody stole all the trash cans from behind his store."
Lou told her she was cleaning out the refrigerator and wanted Josie to tell Otto to quit leaving open Coke cans on the shelves. Lou was a forty-seven-year-old chain smoker with a voice like sandpaper who complained about having to work as secretary, detective, intake officer, custodian, and psychologist on top of her real job as dispatcher. But Josie knew Lou was first rate at all her various tasks, and probably would have complained bitterly if someone tried to take one away from her.
"I'll talk to him," Josie said. "I'm going to drive by the watchtower before I come into town. Call me if you need anything."
With the steering wheel cool enough to touch, Josie backed out of her driveway onto Schenck Road, the gravel lane that led to her and Dell's property. The Chihuahuan Desert spread out before her, sparsely marked with cactus, scrub bushes, and pinyon pine, with not another house in sight for miles. Josie drove slowly down the lane, appreciating the quiet and the solitude.
She glanced down at the gold medallion that lay in the tray on her console; her father's ten-year award for his service as a police officer. It was the only memento she had of her father's work as an officer and she kept it with her, a talisman to protect her on the job. Her father had been killed in a line-of-duty accident when she was eight, and in her own mind, it had always been a given that she would become a cop as well. Looking out at the lonely desert before her she knew the job was a good fit. She preferred watching people to talking with them, asking questions rather than answering them.
* * *
Cassidy Harper wiped the sweat out of her eyes with the sleeve of her T-shirt and turned to face the road, a quarter mile back through scorched desert sand, to where her water bottle sat in the front seat of her car. With thirty minutes before Leo returned home, there was no time to turn around.
She pulled a folded piece of paper out of the front pocket of her shorts and stared at the words she had heard two days ago. At one thirty in the morning she had awoken to the sound of Leo's voice in the other room. She got out of bed and crept down the hallway to see him sitting in the dark on the living room floor, hunched over the phone. She had only caught pieces of his conversation before the fear of being caught eavesdropping forced her back into bed. But she'd grabbed a pen, and a paperback book from her nightstand, and in the light from the digital clock she scribbled down fragments of the conversation she had heard on a blank page: I'll take ... to Scratchgravel Road. Half mile before River Road, on the right. A quarter mile downhill. Can't see ... from the road.
Then he'd disappeared for three hours. Gotten in his car and driven away without waking her up or leaving her a note about where he was going. Cassidy had remained rigid when Leo crawled back into bed near dawn the next morning. He had curled away from her and said nothing. A mix of fear and anger kept her from saying anything that morning, but she couldn't let it go.
Over dinner that evening, she had asked where he had gone in the middle of the night. He'd given her a startled look and then concocted some ridiculous answer about not being able to sleep. "I just took a ride, got some fresh air. I didn't want to wake you." Bullshit, she'd thought.
Cassidy had allowed the words she had written down to chew at her for two days, but the not knowing was driving her crazy. She'd heard rumors about a dirt road somewhere off of Scratchgravel that led to a place where kids partied on the weekends. The druggies called it the Hollow. But she had never known Leo to take drugs or even show any interest; he rarely even drank alcohol. None of it made any sense.
With fewer than 2,500 people, Artemis was a remote desert town situated on a dead-end road between two ghost towns. For an outsider, it was not an easy place to meet people, especially if you didn't fit the mold. Cassidy wasn't sure what the mold was, but it obviously wasn't an out-of-work physics teacher. Leo had no friends and only a part-time research job he worked at from home. She was basically his only friend in Artemis, or so she had thought, and she couldn't imagine who he would be meeting at one in the morning. So she had decided to investigate. She wanted proof before he had the opportunity to spin the lies she was sure would follow.
She looked back toward her car, but it was behind a low hill, just out of view. She was not good at judging distances, but she was fairly certain she had walked at least a quarter of a mile. In the heat, it felt like five miles. Twenty-two years old, and she was stalking her lousy boyfriend in the desert.
Cassidy turned away from the road and began walking toward a patch of mesquite bushes and several large boulders about fifty feet in the distance. If there was nothing there she would turn back. Her head hurt, and the sun, now directly overhead, was making her dizzy and nauseous. She could see a depression in the sand directly in front of her, maybe another quarter of a mile from Scratchgravel, and she assumed it was the crater-shaped area the kids called the Hollow. Curious, she wanted to check out the spot, but she would need to come back with water if she intended to hike any farther.
Fifteen feet from the small grove of bushes she caught wind of a horrible smell. She stopped and wrinkled her nose. It smelled putrid, like a rotting animal — not a familiar smell in the desert. She realized suddenly how hot she was. Her sweat evaporated instantly and it was difficult to measure how much water she had already lost.
Growing up in the swamps of the Everglades she had hated the dank decay that permeated everything she owned. When she left home at sixteen she hitchhiked west and stopped in Texas for the smell alone, the clean baked smell of desert dirt. She wrinkled her nose in disgust. Whatever it was now, a dead jackrabbit or coyote, it definitely did not smell clean.
There were six mesquite bushes, approximately five feet tall and just as wide, with only a sparse covering of small green leaves that allowed her to see through to the other side. Before she walked behind the first mesquite she noticed a lump. She held a hand over her eyes to block the sun's glare and after several seconds she made out the shape of a body, a man, flat on his back.
Excerpted from Scratchgravel Road by Tricia Fields. Copyright © 2013 Tricia Fields. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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Meet the Author
Tricia Fields lives in a log cabin on a small farm with her husband and two daughters. She was born in Hawaii but has spent most of her life in small-town Indiana, where her husband is a state trooper. Her first mystery, The Territory, won the Tony Hillerman Prize and was named a Florida Sun-Sentinel Best Mystery Debut of the Year.
Nicole Poole is an American actor, award-winning narrator, voice talent, writer and Soundpainter based in New York City and Paris. In addition to audiobooks and voiceovers, her love of theater and jazz has her collaborating regularly with international ensembles such as SPOUMJ, and Anitya. This began with touring with The Royal Shakespeare Company in Tantalus. In the U.S., she's worked with companies ranging from the Tony Award-Winning New Group to the Present Company.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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Just finished this 2nd book in the series and loved it! I read the first book a year ago and enjoyed it. I thought the 2nd book was even better. The first book sets up the town and the cartel. It explains "The Territory" as a place along the border with Mexico and all the cartel drama that comes with that. I thought this was an even better overall mystery. I loved the connection to the closed nuclear weapons factory. Very original storyline and was happy that Josie and the basic cast of characters was back. I heard the author speak at Bouchercon and was impressed. She has a new book with the series coming out sometime later this year. I would definitely recommend the series.
Was very disappointed in this novel. Purchased after reading her first effort. Did not have the good story line nor did it keep you reading to find out what happens next. I found myself skimming through pages trying to get to a more exciting stage of the story. I would not recommend this book to anyone and I shall wait to order any future effort by the author until it has been out for a while and readers have had a chance to review it.