Dredging Up The Truth
Still recovering from tragedy and grieving a devastating loss, Iraq war veteran and sheriff's detective Katrina Williams copes the only way she knows how-by immersing herself in work. A body's just been pulled from the lake with a fish haul, but what seems like a straight-forward murder case over the poaching of paddlefish for domestic caviar quickly becomes murkier than the depths of the lake.
Soon a second body is found-an illegal Peruvian refugee woman linked to a charismatic tent revival preacher. But as Katrina tries to investigate the enigmatic evangelist, she is blocked by antagonistic FBI agents and Army CID personnel. When more young female refu-gees disappear, she must partner with deputy Billy Blevins, who stirs mixed feelings in her, to connect the lake murder to the refugees. Katrina is no stranger to darkness, but cold-blooded conspirators plan to make sure she'll never again see the light of day . . .
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.63(d)|
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Life is quicksilver, seemingly all shimmer and joy, but in truth a slippery dream-fluid, impossible to hold. I lost my husband, Nelson Solomon, fifteen months after we married. It wasn't unexpected, but that doesn't mean it wasn't terrible. He was a Marine and an artist and funny and kind ... I married him even though I knew he was sick from the effects of chemical exposure during the first Gulf War. It was the best, and worst, risk I'd ever taken.
Loss of a love. Grief. Sorrow. Burdens — but not the reason I was sitting across from a therapist. I had a host of other burdens. Issues my therapist calls them. We have a difficult relationship. I can't say she realizes that. The difficulties are mine. For one thing, she's the kind of perfect woman who just sets me on edge. I'm in jeans and pointy-toed boots with a two-inch riding heel, and I'm spilling my life out to a woman in a skirt with stockings that peek through the toes of red pumps with four-inch heels. We're very different. She tells me that we're not, but how can you believe anything a therapist says?
My presence in therapy is mandated as a condition for keeping my job as a sheriff's detective in Taney County, Missouri. They say I drink too much and have a tendency to violate departmental policies on the use of force. I haven't had a drink since the night fourteen-year-old Carrie Owens bled out in my arms. It was the same night my friend Billy Blevins was almost beaten to death by meth-cooking bikers. It was also the night I shot and killed a gangster for kidnapping and shooting Nelson. There may be an issue with violence, but it's not mine alone. We live in a dangerous world. That's a lesson I learned as an MP and soldier in Iraq, not in therapy.
The therapist and I talked a while about my job and the fact that I've had no black marks against me since that night. Just when I think there are no more surprises, she uncrossed her pretty legs and re-crossed them, right over left. I tried not to be jealous. Dr. Regina Kurtz is the kind of woman I'll never be, perfect hair, perfect make-up. I imagined she wore pearls and slinky black dresses to the kind of parties that have always intimidated me. She looked like an actress playing the part of a therapist on TV. Even her name annoyed me the way it echoed my own, Regina to my Katrina. People sometimes called me Hurricane for obvious reasons. I bet no one called Regina anything other than Dr. Kurtz.
"How are you dealing with the money issues?" she asked me.
"It must be a big change."
"Bigger than the other changes?"
"Different from the other big changes. But big or small, changes all have an effect," she said. "What effect is that one having?"
It wasn't as easy a question as one might think. Money changes everything. Most of the people in my life know about that like they know about breathing underwater. My problem was different and she knows it. The question isn't about bills or living on a salary. She was asking about the fortune that Nelson's death left me responsible for. It's the one thing I hold against the man.
I told her about the problems of licensing and keeping control of the images Nelson created. I shared my feelings of corked-up confusion, anger, and the chainsaw visions I got when talking with lawyers who took millions of dollars for granted. She almost smiled. When I told her, I thought they hid behind their job as a shield from care and responsibility, she didn't smile. Her face froze into that waiting-for-the-other-sling-back-pump-to-drop look she gets.
I didn't bite.
After the session I went out to my truck. It was new-to-me new. My old truck had been fine but after I married Nelson, there was so much money and he needed something roomier for our trips to the hospital. Dr. Kurtz said I have an intimate acquaintance with rationalization. At least I didn't buy straight-from-the-dealer new. It was an off-lease GMC 2500 all-terrain, with every option — a work truck covered in leather and luxury. Nelson said it was me, tough and pretty. Then he added, "Just the right kind of pretty."
He knew how to make sure a girl knew she was being flirted with.
I climbed into the truck and stared out the window for a long time.
One of the changes I had made in my life since Nelson passed was my therapy schedule. Before his death, I went on Thursday mornings, but just after he died, I stopped. And I had remained stopped, as well as off work for a long time. Going back to work required that I return to the sessions, and I really needed to get back to work. My new schedule brought me in on Monday afternoons and the one I just finished was my eighth since going back.
Eight weeks in and I still hated the change. Always before, before Nelson and before perhaps a small amount of perspective, I would attend my session, and depending on how it went, gorge on the kind of breakfast I'm sure the good doctor never indulged in. Often I would meet my father and we'd talk over plates of biscuits and gravy. I'd met him for dinner after the last couple of appointments, but he was out of town this week. That wasn't the real problem though. It was the fact that after sessions and breakfasts, I would go back to work.
That afternoon, sitting and staring out at a slow-draining parking lot, I had no place to go. At least no place that needed me there. My Uncle Orson ran a boat dock and floating bait shop. He was always glad to see me, but ... in mid-March, the shop was cold and clammy when the water still had its winter chill on.
My other option was to go to Moonshines — a distillery restaurant overlooking Lake Taneycomo in Branson. My restaurant. At least the majority interest in it was mine. The rest was a complicated mess involving more lawyers and clients whom I don't actually know. Another of the ways Nelson had changed my life.
I was saved from a decision when my phone rang. That was not exactly uncommon, but the fact that it wasn't the ringtone of the department put it squarely into the surprise category. The fact that work is the only programmed ringtone says a lot more about me than I liked to admit.
The phone's display showed Billy — my friend and a deputy with the department.
"How quickly can you get to Black Fork Cove?" Billy asked without bothering to say hello.
"Is there even a road to get there?" Black Fork was an isolated notch in Table Rock Lake where two small creeks drained. It was barely in the state of Missouri let alone in Taney County. "And why?"
"Come down through that housing development," he said. "They put in the road before it went under."
"That doesn't get to the lake," I answered.
"There's a field. Then a trail."
"Great. You never said why."
"It's important, Hurricane."
That was something he didn't need to say. I knew Billy. If he was asking me to come to the ass-end of the county after duty hours, it was important. If he wasn't bothering to say anything else, it was because of a reason he didn't want to share at the moment, but I didn't need to worry about.
"I'm in Springfield." I didn't say where in Springfield. I was pretty sure I didn't need to.
"Can you leave now?"
His was the best offer I had. "Yeah," I said. "I can."
The late afternoon was spring-warm so the windows could come down a bit. Too cold for all the way, but way too nice to be closed in. Even the way I drive, it took well over an hour and a half to get through Springfield traffic and down to Table Rock. Full dark had fallen by the time I got to the stretch of abandoned asphalt called Lake Forest Road. When the road ran out I didn't bother to stop. The developer had walked away when the economy tanked in 2008 and left the end of the pavement a jagged edge dribbling into a graded lot. Since then the lot had become overgrown with weeds, but remained distinct from the green belt that surrounded the lakeshore. I could see a flashlight bobbing around and a truck with a rack of lights pointing into the thick wall of junipers and grape vine.
When my truck passed over the road end and into the field I flashed my lights and the flashlight waved in response. I'd found Billy.
"Thanks for coming," he said through the open window as soon as I stopped. "I really didn't want to call anyone else."
"Sure you didn't." I handed over a XXX-large soda I'd picked up at a convenience store. Billy was a fiend for soda pop and I was his enabler. Usually it was payment for helping me out on a case. Sometimes though you simply wanted people to know you think about them.
His eyes brightened and his grin broadened until it was brighter than the off-road lights on his truck's roll bar. "You're a gem," he said after his first long pull on the straw. He took another drink. "See? That's why I call you. No one else knows me like you do."
"No one else would come," I replied drily. "Now tell me what this is all about."
"What else would I call a woman out into the moonlight at the lake side for? A body."
"Billy, I'm not even on call tonight."
"I know. But a friend called me and I called a friend."
"Close enough." He laughed a bit. More than I thought it deserved.
"Okay." I climbed down out of the truck and left the lights on, pointed at the same spot as Billy's lights. There was a small black gap sliced into the tree line there, the head of a trail.
The passenger door on Billy's truck opened and a shadow without a source moved.
"Who's there?" I reached to the small of my back to set my hand on the weapon there.
"That's my friend." Billy waved the shadow over. "Damon, come over here."
The shadow moved quickly to the front of the truck and I must have twitched because Billy called out, "Take it slow and easy. Hurricane is jumpy tonight."
When the shadow moved into the direct line of the off-road lights, it became a man — a shirtless black man, with very dark skin. He moved closer and I was struck by the play of light on his body. Despite the cool weather he was beaded with wetness that made a sheen on his chest and abdomen like crude oil on cast iron.
"Why doesn't he have a shirt?" I asked. "It's kind of cold for that."
He passed through the bank of light and back into the gloom between vehicles. When he crossed the bumper of my truck, he held out a hand.
"Damon Tarique," Billy said, "meet Katrina Williams."
"The Hurricane," Damon said, then he added, "Ma'am."
Assumptions. I guess we all have them and I guess I failed Enlightenment 101. Seeing the extreme darkness of the man's skin, and his tall, lean physique I expected to hear an accent, perhaps the lilting, soft cadences I'd heard from Eritreans or Somalis. I wouldn't have been surprised by something that sent my ears to the Caribbean. What I got was middle of anywhere, America. I tried not to be disappointed and wondered briefly if that made me a racist.
"Billy has told me a lot about you." Tarique said.
I shook his hand. "A lot?"
"Billy's a talker."
A note of accent crept in, but it was only an accent because it came from him. He sounded like me. Or Billy. Or any of the people I'd spent most of my life around.
"Let's get down to the water," Billy said. "We don't want to spend all night."
I nodded in the direction of my rear passenger door and said to Damon, "There's a jacket in the truck if you want it."
"Thanks." He went right for it.
"So where do you two know each other from?"
"Iraq." Billy said the word and looked away. He knew something of what happened to me over there. Probably more than he wanted me to realize and he was uncomfortable talking about that place in front of me. It used to make me feel a lot more than uncomfortable. "Damon was a Ranger. I patched him up a few times."
That was part of what made me uncomfortable. When I was Lieutenant Williams, an Army MP, something had happened. Something that left me naked and bleeding beside a road. The one tiny piece of that day I can recall without terror was the care I got in the back of a Humvee from a medic. Not so long ago, when my life began falling apart all over again, I began to think that Billy might have been that medic. He's never said anything to make me believe one way or the other. I don't have the guts to ask. Just another one of those complications.
"You can always tell military," I said.
The truck door slammed. Damon came back around into the light wearing a flannel-lined denim jacket. It was Nelson's.
"Thanks," he said rubbing his arms. "It was getting cold."
For some reason the action gave me goose flesh and made the short hair on the back of my neck stand up. More than that, I began to feel angry.
"Let's go," Billy said again. This time he didn't wait.
Damon gave me a little after-you gesture and I fell in with him bringing up the rear. "You grow up around here?" I asked him over my shoulder.
"Just on the other side of the border."
"Little Rock?" That made sense.
"No, ma'am. Eureka Springs," he answered, once again taking down my expectations.
"I'm surprised." Ahead of me Billy paused at the transition from wispy weeds to thigh high scrub. He cast the beam of his flashlight around until he found the bare dirt of the trail.
"Because you think only good ol' boys come from hereabouts?"
I looked back and caught him grinning before I started down the track after Billy again.
"Ha!" The laugh was a good-natured sound. "Billy was right about you."
"What did Billy say?"
Billy jumped in. "He said you knew when to keep your mouth shut and keep walking. But he was wrong."
"Keep sucking your soda," I told him. "You invited me."
"It's my fault," Damon said.
"What is?" My question came fast and sharp. If you bring a cop out into the woods and say there's a body, don't be surprised to find everything you say scrutinized.
"Billy's mood. The whole night."
"It's not your fault." Billy told him. "You did the right thing calling."
"The right thing would have been calling the regular cops. I called you. That's my fault."
"I am a regular cop." Billy said it like he'd had the conversation a million times. "We both are."
"Why didn't you call 911?" I asked him. Then to Billy I asked, "And why did you call me?"
"He didn't want to get in trouble," Billy answered.
"You found the body?" I asked Damon.
"Do you have anything to do with it being there?"
"I know you got to ask." He lifted his chin at Billy. "He asked the same thing. But I didn't. And it wasn't why I didn't call the regular cops."
"I am a regular cop." Billy said.
"You know what I mean."
"Yeah, I'm a pretty regular cop too." I told him. "If you thought Billy could keep you clear of things you should have —"
"I'm not trying to keep clear of nothing to do with the dead dude. That has nothing to do with me. It's the fish."
"Fish?" I asked.
"Don't ask," Billy chimed in. "Just wait to see."
It wasn't a long wait, but it was a wait spent tramping through thick overgrowth at night. By the time we reached the edge of the water I swore I could feel ticks crawling over every bit of my skin. Even though it was too early in the spring for the parasites, I'd still check carefully when I got home. Then it hit me that there was no one there to help with those odd little tasks married people share. Thoughts like that came unbidden but never unexpected. I had a history of going to the dark places without much warning.
Usually I went to a patch of dirt in Iraq — a spot so dry and bare it was as if the earth had been rubbed raw and left to scab over. I could feel the dark pulling me in, and I reached up to touch the small crescent of scar tissue that curled out of my eyebrow and curved along the outer corner of my eye socket on the left side. It was a habit and a warning to myself. I only did it when things bothered me.
At the end of a therapy day I'd been called out into the woods by the lake to investigate a body and, possibly, be manipulated by a friend. What was there to be bothered about?
"Over here." Billy gestured with his flashlight and turned off trail to follow the lapping lake bank.
A reflection came back from the beam. It was dull at first, the aluminum of a boat. It brightened when the light struck the registration letters.
"Whose boat?" I asked.
"It's mine." Damon answered. "That spot, with the flat rock is a good place to clean my fish and make a camp."
As we got closer the smell rose slowly, but hit suddenly. I almost retched. Billy took a drink of soda like it had no effect on him.
"Don't you smell that?" I asked it like an accusation. How could anyone walk into that miasma sucking on a sugary drink?
"I was already here once. I got used to it."
Excerpted from "A Particular Darkness"
Copyright © 2017 Robert Dunn.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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