What at first appears to be a brush fire in some undeveloped bottom land yields the charred remains of a young African-American man. As sheriff’s Katrina Williams conducts her inspection of the crime scene, she discovers broken headstones and disturbed open graves in a forgotten cemetery.
As Katrina attempts to sort out a complex backwoods criminal network involving the Aryan Brotherhood, meth dealers, and the Ozarks Nightriders motorcycle gang, she is confronted by the sudden appearance of a person out of her own past who may be involved. And what seems like a clear-cut case of racially motivated murder is further complicated by rumors of hidden silver and dark family histories. To uncover the ugly truth, Katrina will need to dig up past crimes and shameful secrets that certain people would kill to keep buried . . .
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Burning is not the best way to dispose of a body. It's hard to get a fire hot enough, long enough, to burn through the layers of fat, muscle, and bone to destroy all the evidence you need gone. It doesn't smell very good either.
Before it ever got to me, the situation had worked through a few preliminary steps. First, the pair of teens who discovered the fire debated calling it in. They had been parking and fooling around in a secluded spot off a rutted dirt track — usually used by fishermen going to the lake. I imagine it was a tough debate among hormones, responsibility, and fear of angry parents. They told me later they would have let the blaze go if the boy's father hadn't been a volunteer fireman.
After a brutally stormy spring, the summer had been hot and dry. Over recent weeks, the Ozarks had fallen into a deep drought. Lake levels were way down, crops were withering, and small fires were whipped into big ones by even the smallest breeze. The boy had been lectured about it so many times, it was impossible for him to pretend ignorance.
After the kids called 911 to report what they believed was a trash fire, deputies and the fire department were dispatched. The boy's father showed up on the pumper. I understand there was a parenting opportunity that involved a little tough love.
That opportunity was probably lost when the embers were raked out and doused. In the center of the smoking pile was a charred lump everyone assumed was a log. When it was hit with direct pressure, the log split open. Under the black surface was pink meat and steaming flesh. That was when they called me.
My phone rang a few minutes shy of two a.m. Late Saturday night — or early Sunday morning — depending on how pedantic you are about that sort of thing. I'm not at all, at least not at that hour. I was in bed, and not yet sleeping because it wasn't my bed.
Every call to my phone rings the same tone except one, the Taney County Sheriff's Department. I knew it was a work call even without the tone. Real life always intrudes whenever I find a bit of peace in my life.
"This is Katrina," I said softly into the phone.
"Who're you whisperin' for?" our jailer asked. He laughed like he actually knew something. It was a thick, rheumy cackle that made me picture the soggy cigar in his jowled face.
I was actually relieved. If he was calling, I might be able to stay in bed. "What do you want, Duck?" His name was Donald Duques, earning him the permanent sobriquet, Donald Duck — always shortened to simply Duck. He laughed again and I became unpleasantly aware of being naked.
"Got a body," he interjected between wet hacks of laughter.
"What?" Given who he was and the old school Ozarks diction, I can be forgiven for thinking he was commenting about my appearance.
I was about to give him some choice thoughts on his manners when he said again, "We got a body. Out on the west side shore of Bull Shoals by Kissee Mills."
Detective Billy Blevins shifted in the sheets behind me. His arm moved against my bare thigh and hip. I was distracted by the warm contact. "What?"
Duck laughed again. "What'd I catch you doin'? Work can't hold your attention?"
"Why are you calling me?"
"I told you —"
"Why you, Duck?"
"Oh," he swallowed the laugh. "Gettin' a little overtime. Workin' weekend overnights on dispatch."
"Then stick to the job at hand, would you? What's the call?"
"Couple 'a kids called in a fire. Calvin called for a detective when the fire department found a body in the brush heap."
"Where?" I stood and broke contact with Billy's arm. My skin immediately regretted the loss.
"That undeveloped bottom land, down the fishing trail that goes off of Hole Road."
Duck told me the names of deputies on scene and I started searching for my underthings. They were close by on the floor. Finding them made me think of losing them. I smiled.
"I'll be half an hour," I informed Duck.
"From your place?" He sounded surprised.
"Half an hour," I repeated and broke the connection.
Moonlight through a high window illuminated Billy lying in the sheets. It was a nice sight. I was amazed — and alternately delighted and terrified — by that development in my life. Not as amazed; however, as I was that he'd never woken while I talked on the phone and dressed. Maybe I was projecting. My own sleep was fragile and filled with ghosts. Billy seemed to have the ability to sleep without demons.
He and I had circled each other for years. We were deployed to Iraq at the same time. In the worst moment of my life, Billy appeared for the first time. I don't even know if the memory is real. Everything else about that time is solid and undeniable. I was raped and brutalized by two superior officers. They left me for dead in the blowing brown dust that eddied behind a mud wall. Grain by grain, the dun-colored wind piled a grave on top of me. I pulled myself from the dirt, staggered then crawled to a road. Insurgents found me first. They would have shot me like a rabid dog in a ditch if an Army patrol hadn't shown up. All of that is true. And it's true that a young medic, a corporal, cleaned and stabilized me in the back of a rushing Humvee. There's a little piece of that, the piece I believe but don't know: Billy Blevins was that medic. He's never said and I'm afraid to ask. But I believe.
There were so many reasons why we never should have gotten to this point. I hated giving up any moment of lying naked with him.
Still ... I'm a cop and the real world was calling.
I kissed Billy and bundled up my clothes. I needed to change. I didn't have anything at his place. Two minutes later, I was outside in my underwear. I held my good clothes and shoes as I opened my truck. You don't dress up for a late night call — in the woods — to investigate a burned body. I tossed the date clothes in the crew seat, then pulled out my old jeans and worst pair of boots. When you've been a rural cop for a while, you're never without disposable clothing. Even though Billy's house was remote and screened by a thick growth of trees, I felt exposed dressing in his drive. I refused to go back in the house. It would be too hard to keep from waking Billy — and that would make me late. I covered quickly.
The night was clear. The day had been so hot that not all of the heat had yet escaped into the bare sky. Before I climbed into the big GMC, I took one more glance at the diamond sky. It always made me think of Bob Dylan.
With the stop for gas and coffee, it took a bit more than thirty minutes to arrive on scene. By then I was wishing I had woken Billy and made him come with me. When I thought about explaining that to the on-duty deputies, I let the wish go out the open truck window.
Deep night in the Ozarks woods was lit up like a Spielberg movie about friendly aliens. Emergency lights and strobes were circling and flashing through a screen of brush and trees. I followed the light show to a rutted mud track between old posts where a gate had once been.
We're a mostly rural county, even on a Saturday night things can be pretty dull after one a.m. Four Sheriff's department cruisers and three fire vehicles were on scene when I parked between scrub oaks. The path was about seventy yards from where the shore line of Bull Shoals Lake was supposed to be. "Supposed to be," because the drought had pushed the shore out another few yards. On higher ground beyond the fence was a housing development adjacent to farm land. Down by the shoreline, it was overgrown and thick with underbrush. The fence row that paralleled the dirt path was clotted with under growth and hedge apple trees. The ground between the lake and the barbed wire fence was private land that had not been redeveloped after the White River was damned. It was freshly cleared, all low weeds burned brown. I could tell the land had been worked before. Around the clearing, there were no original or even second growth trees. All the foliage, oak, and hawthorn — mixed in with hedge apple and coils of grapevine — was no older than I was.
All the activity, the reason I had been called, was centered about a circle, close to the north edge of the clearing.
I was pleased to see that deputies had already put crime scene tape around the burned circle. They illuminated the circle with headlights and spots. I wasn't so pleased to see that one of the volunteer firemen was inside the perimeter.
"Calvin," I shouted at Calvin Walker then pointed to the man within the tape. Calvin is not my biggest fan.
"He's got to make sure the fire is completely dead," he shouted back, "What do you want me to do?" "I want you to get him out of there unless it's on fire right now," I answered sharply. I wasn't a huge fan of Calvin Walker either.
Calvin went to talk to the fireman. I had another deputy bring me the kids. We had barely gotten started when Calvin shouted again, "Hurricane."
The girl turned from her boyfriend to look me in the face for the first time. "You're her," she said. "Hurricane."
"I'm Detective Katrina Williams."
"But you're the one they call 'Hurricane Katrina'." She had a look of big eyed wonderment. "You kick ass."
"Hurricane!" Calvin shouted with more force.
"You guys stay here," I told the pair, "we have more to go over."
"Check this out," Calvin said as I ducked under the tape. He was standing with the fireman who was leaning on a rake. "This is Cherry," Calvin indicated the fireman. He was an older man, but not as old as he appeared at first. Sometimes life hangs on people in a way that leaves no room for denying the years. His body was lean and hard looking; but in the white wash of headlights and spots, his skin — even that tracked by old blue ink — was thin looking.
"Cherry? Really?" I had to ask.
He gave me a tired look of acceptance, but didn't offer his hand. "Cherry Dando," he said. He examined me with the kind of curiosity that I'd almost gotten used to. "I know you."
"I get that a lot." Shifting my attention back to Calvin I asked, "What have you got?"
"Check it out," Calvin said again pointing into the char on the ground. Everything was black.
"Check what out?"
"Show her," Calvin said to Cherry.
Cherry Dando looked like that was the last thing he wanted to do. He pursed his lips then sucked in his cheeks like he was hoping to find an excuse hidden in his mouth. He didn't. So he reached his rake out and touched the tines down alongside a bit of black shape on burned grass.
I knelt. It wasn't the only shape in the ashes that didn't look like bits of wood. Fishing in my pocket I came up empty. "Either of you have a flashlight?" I asked.
Calvin hit the bone with light. After a second Dando added his. The shape was a scapula, a shoulder bone.
I looked up, then pointed to the larger, black-on-black, shape in the center of the burn circle. Calvin and the fireman turned their lights. The body was intact. It had carbonized on the outside but there were no pieces missing. In the beams of the flashlight it was still steaming.
"There," I said, pointing to the ground under the body. More bones littered the ash. As we swept the burn area with flashlights, we spotted two sets of teeth in lower jaws.
"You think there's any chance this fire could have burned two bodies to the bone and left one intact?" I asked Cherry Dando.
"I look like an expert?"
"Then what are you doing here?"
Dando sucked in his cheeks again. He looked like a man holding something back. "Nope." He sounded more resigned to the answer than confident in it.
"Why?" I pressed.
He sighed. It was the put-upon sound of a kid asked to do a chore with no handy excuse. "See the dark circle?" He outlined the pattern with his flashlight. "It was piled with dry brush. There aren't any big logs at all. Not enough fuel for a long burn. Someone poured gas on a brush pile, set it, and left it."
As soon as he said it, I noticed the scent of gasoline in the air.
"What about around there?" I pointed to the burned area that wasn't as dark.
Dando used his flashlight again to draw out the shape on the ground. It was more of a smudge than a circle. "That's where it caught the grass. If the night was windy, it would'a been a mess — that's for sure."
"Was he alive when it started?" Calvin asked.
"That's for you folks to find out," Dando answered. He turned his head and spit over the tape and didn't turn back.
"Lord, I hope not," Calvin said with genuine feeling in his voice. I was a little less bothered by him.
"Tape up a new perimeter," I said. "Push things out twenty feet that way and this side, all the way out to the truck path. Set up parking over there," I pointed to another clear area on the other side of the road ruts. "I already woke the scene tech as I made the drive. Call him back, tell him to tow the big light rig with him." I turned to Dando. "We'll need you to stick around a while to keep an eye on things. Outside the tape."
He shrugged without looking at me then ducked under the tape.
"Can I keep that?" When he looked I pointed to the rake in Dando's hand.
He stared down at his hand or the tines of the rake — I couldn't tell. He seemed to be giving the request a lot of thought. "I'll need it back."
He put it on the ground and pushed the handle over like he didn't want to get too close to me. Without another word or look, he walked to the firetruck.
I leaned the rake against a scraggly oak, then pulled out my phone to call Chief Benson.
* * *
An orange-red sun bloomed in the east — giving new life to bleary eyes. Our crime scene was populated with a couple of dozen people by then. The coroner's van was there and waiting with open doors to take in the remains. To one side, Sheriff Benson, Chuck to his friends, was glad-handing with Riley Yates. Riley was one of the sheriff's friends. Almost everyone in the county was. Riley was also a reporter. In that role, he didn't seem so happy with the sheriff. I've heard that conversation before. Being friends didn't mean the sheriff was unprofessional about his job.
With the rising light, I was able to get into my own investigation routine. I retrieved a pencil and pad out of my truck and set to sketching. Photos catch the objective reality of the scene. But I find that, sometimes, the truth of things isn't so objective. It was an old habit that got stronger when I met my husband. Nelson Solomon had been a Marine, and after that a successful artist. When he died, he left me richer in many ways — not the least of which was a better eye for the small parts of a big picture.
I stood by the oak I had leaned the rake against and put the main shapes into the sketch. There was the tape perimeter, three trees, and the push bumper on a cruiser around which the tape was looped. Around the outer edges were tall grasses and weeds. They were all brown and friable from the drought. In the center was a black circle of ash and char. In the middle of that, like a bull's eye in hell, was the burned man's body.
I worked quickly. People were waiting for me to release them to their jobs. Using the side of the soft lead, I made broad shades to fill in the burn circle. With my thumb, I smeared the lines out — smoothing and feathering them from black to grey to almost not there. After that, I used the point and a light touch to draw in the bones.
It wasn't until I had the bones in and compared my sketch to the reality that I noticed what was missing. In the ash were the clear furrows where the rake tines had been pulled. There was something else. Sticks and bits of bark — unconsumed by the fire — were raked out and evenly spread. The bones were scattered widely and — in some cases — covered by ash. They had been given particular attention.
I glanced over and took a look at Fireman Dando — who was standing beside the pumper truck talking with his squad mates. In the rising light, I noticed, for the first time, the close crop of his hair and the corded muscle that I had taken earlier for frail thinness. His thin skin showed the sinew, and the tattoos on his arms highlighted each sharp angle. Even from where I was, it was easy to see the body art was not of the highest quality. It was the kind of old and faded ink you see on retired vets.
To justify my continued staring, I kept sketching the layout of the larger scene. I added Dando at his truck and resolved to hit him with a few pointed questions.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "A Dark Path"
Copyright © 2018 Robert Dunn.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This third Katrina Williams novel starts with a brief moment of normal and even some semblance of happy for our feisty heroine, but it's short-lived. After all, she is called Hurricane and she's earned it. Katrina finds herself smack in the middle of a murder case, white supremacists, a motorcycle gang, and drug dealers. In addition to the action and danger on the professional side, she's also hit with problems in her personal life. Much like the first two book in the series, there's a little bit for everyone who enjoys the genre. It's full of action, suspense, and drama. While I enjoyed all of those things, the place where this author shines is with his rich and complex characters. From their little quirks and personalities, to the wonderful descriptions of how they interact with others, Dunn has created a group of people that you can't help but want to know more about. Love them or hate them, they're all interesting and each stands out in his or her own unique way. All in all, another entertaining read from this author.
A Dark Path – Robert E. Dunn I was fortunate to receive this novel as an Advance Reader Copy, in exchange for an objective review. Katrina “Hurricane” Williams is a Detective in the backwoods of the Missouri Ozark mountains. As a military vet with both personal and professional scars, she has gained the nickname “hurricane” for her sometimes violent, “kick ass” type of policing. As this novel opens, Katrina is roused from sleep by a call indicating that a charred body has been found. As Katrina arrives to the scene and begins her investigation, the property owner drives up and attempts to throw them off the land. This is just the first time you’ll meet Johnson Rath. As Katrina investigates the murder and learns the victims identity, the case quickly takes on racial undertones and becomes even more dangerous, with threats lurking around every corner. Then her absentee mother very suddenly re-appears in her life, but for uncertain reasons. As Hurricane works to solve the case, her past returns to haunt her with a vengeance, and she must battle those demons once again, as she fights to solve the case. I LOVED this character! “Hurricane” almost reminds me of a female Jack Reacher, even if she’s not the proverbial loner. Great characters, great plot development, and relationships with uncertain endings that will have you waiting impatiently for the next installment in the series! Fabulous book!!
Katrina isn't your average woman. She doesn't primp, do mani's or pedi's, she doesn't meet the girls for girls night. She's a cop. A darn good one too. Daily she fights the wall of blue that is a resemblance of the military in their treatment of women. She has a past. One that continues to assault her but she is finally embracing healing and her mandated visits to her psychiatrist. As she moves on from her loss she starts dating but still holds her past close to the vest. It's a constant worry while she battles more of her past and secrets are revealed as she investigates a murder that opens some old wounds for her. She isn't going to make it out of this mess without more scars, for the life of me I can't understand her need to continue to self torture. Great read. The more I read of her the more connected I become and understand the attitude that makes her seem untouchable or robotic is what she uses to protect herself. While we see a calmer side of her, her handling of her drinking and her response to her flashbacks, there is still much work ahead of her. Loved it.
A Dark Path by Robert E. Dunn A Katrina Williams Novel #3 I truly enjoyed this dark gritty story of Katrina “Hurricane” Williams as she dealt with mental demons while working to solve a murder. She is a bit heavy handed and in your face with the bad guys and not the most open with her feelings but she is definitely a force to be reckoned with and I would love to see what happens next. I had not read the first two books in the series and was able to read without problem though it might have been nice to have known more about Katrina and others mentioned in the book that no doubt were in the previous books. With rape, murder, racists, Aryan Brotherhood, bikers, drugs, treasure hunters and more this was an interesting story that kept me reading through the night. Katrina was complex and layered and angry and so much more. I don’t know if she will ever find true peace or be able to share with others but have a feeling that the therapy she is going to may help her in the long run. Did I enjoy this book? Yes Will I read more by this author? Yes Thank you to NetGalley and Kensington Books – Lyrical Underground for the ARC ~ This is my honest review. 5 Stars
Meet the Ozarks' force of nature ... Katrina "Hurricane" Williams, Deputy Sheriff. Katrina is sent to investigate a fire in some dormant land. Her investigation turns up broken headstones, open graves ... and the charred remains of a young African-American man. Her search for the killer leads to a backwoods criminal network, a vicious motorcycle gang, meth dealers, and the Aryan Brotherhood. She feels that the murder was racially motivated, but things get really muddled when there's rumors of silver. Shameful secrets, lies, crime, corruption, complicate her life in more ways than one. An unexpected appearance of someone from Katrina's past shows up. Her budding romance with Deputy Billy Blevins is headed for the rocks ... by her own defenses. This is a well-written action-packed story that shows how family secrets can be held in silence through generation after generation. The ending is ... ferocious. Katrina is tough, smart, dedicated to her job ... but she suffers a form of PTSD from her military days. Her anger and flashbacks has caused some problems with her job, resulting in her boss' demand that she undergo counseling. She makes a terrific series character. Although third in a series, this is easily a stand-alone. However, as always, I highly recommend starting at the beginning. Many thanks to the author / Kensington Books /Lyrica Underground / Netgalley for the advanced digital copy. Opinions expressed here are unbiased and entirely my own.