Former Pittsburgh narcotics detective Trevor Galloway has been hired to look into the year-old homicide of a prominent businessman who was gunned down on his estate in Central Pennsylvania. When Galloway arrives, he determines the murder could have only been committed by someone extremely skilled in two areas: skiing and shooting. He believes the assailant should not be too difficult to identify given the great amount of skill and athleticism needed to pull off the attack. When he discovers the victim’s property is next door to a biathlon training camp, the situation becomes significantly more complicated.
Galloway makes plenty of enemies as he sifts through stories about lucrative land deals, possible drug connections, and uncovers evidence suggesting the homicide may have been elaborate suicide. As he attempts to navigate through an unfamiliar rural landscape, he does his best not to succumb to an old drug addiction, or become confused by one of his occasional hallucinations.
“J.J. Hensley is a crime writer who deserves readers’ attention and trust. Put him on your READ list.”
—James Grady, author of Six Days of the Condor
“In Bolt Action Remedy, Hensley weaves a captivating tale while providing an authentic voice and a dash of ironic humor.”
—Annette Dashofy, USA Today bestselling author
“Fast-paced and funny, Bolt Action Remedy is an action-packed thriller that will keep readers guessing from the first to the final page.”
—Rebecca Drake, author of Only Ever You
“Bolt Action Remedy is the real thing: fast, dangerous, and with a unique setting used in interesting ways. Oh, and another thing: It’s entertaining as hell.”
—Andrew Pyper, International Thriller Writers Award-winning author
About the Author
Mr. Hensley's first novel Resolve was named one of the Best Books of 2013 by Suspense Magazine and was a Thriller Award finalist.
He is a member of the International Thriller Writers and Sisters in Crime.
Read an Excerpt
One year and three days later
Am I still holding the gun? It should be there, but what difference does it make? If I can't see, I can't shoot, and my eyes are flooding thanks to this weather. I know those were people in front of me, but now they 're nothing more than spots that rise and fall with the bleached horizon as I burn through whatever firewood remains in my body. My erratic strides aren't painful anymore, but my shoulder still aches. I can't feel my legs and my steps are muffled by the heartbeat pulsating in my ears. I can barely make out what the people are saying. Why am I even running toward them? For what purpose?
Sergeant Pullman — that was his name, I think. Most of the instructors at the police academy made the recruits run for miles at a time. But not Sergeant Pullman. He shuffled us into that musty weight room and paced from station to station screaming, "You can run all day, but what are you going to do when you get there?"
What are you going to do when you get there ?
Jesus, how long has it been since the academy? A career ago. My days on the street have come and gone and I hear Pullman's gravelly voice now, in this place? His voice rings in my ears while I'm in this barren field and nearly blind. An icy anaconda is constricting my lungs and I can't even tell if my fingers are wrapped around the damn pistol. My snow-hindered steps are making the figures ahead of me float and sink, and I can't distinguish one face from another.
I'm blinking hard and I can tell from the motion in front of me that I've been spotted. Please don't turn toward me. Don't you do it! I have too much ground to cover and not enough time to react. "Action is almost always quicker than reaction." Pullman used to say that too. I need to raise my arm preemptively and pray the gun is still there in a hand I can't feel. I'm closing the gap, but the up-and-down motion is disorienting. I might cover the distance, but to what end?
What am I going to do when I get there?
Good question, Sergeant Pullman.
Action is almost always quicker than —
Four days earlier
"Are you armed?" the man asked.
"No," I said.
"I'll need to check you," he told me.
"No," I said.
"Then, we have a problem," he concluded.
"No, we don't," I told him as I walked back toward my SUV.
As the engine came to life, a woman who appeared to be in her late twenties rushed out of the house and waved for me to stop.
I unrolled my window as she approached and she said, "Mr. Galloway?"
"I'm sorry about that. Sometimes they can be a little overprotective."
We listened to the engine purr and I watched her shiver as a gust of wind whipped through the landscape.
"I'm Susan Lanskard. Will you please come inside?"
"Ms. Lanskard, like I said on the phone, I really don't think I can help you. The police have been all over the case and you obviously have resources, like private security personnel, at your disposal."
"I remember. But please ... just a few minutes."
I let the engine hum for several seconds before turning the key back toward my chest. The woman took two steps away as I opened the car door and took a reluctant step in her direction. She forced a smile and led me back to the entrance I had been all too happy to leave moments ago. Retracing my footsteps, I wondered how desperate this woman had to be if she wanted to hire me.
I entered the house and was once again sized up by the bulky security guard. He was dressed in a long-sleeved shirt and khakis and wore a sport coat that didn't make much of an attempt at concealing the firearm on his right hip. I did my best to leave all the snow from my shoes on the doormat before the slim woman led me down a wide hallway. The décor inside wasn't that of your typical Central Pennsylvania home, but then again most homes in this part of the state weren't built by millionaires. Although the owner was obviously in a tax bracket most would never climb into, part of me still expected to see hunting trophies or some sort of fishing memorabilia. Instead, the walls were lined with tasteful paintings and the occasional photos of ski trips and other vacation memories. Somewhere a grandfather clock chimed the quarter hour and I picked up the scent of a fireplace in use.
We walked into the living room where a uniformed police officer was sitting on a sofa. Her shoes were dry. She had been here a while.
Ms. Lanskard made the introductions. "Mr. Galloway, this is Chief Colby. She's with the township. Chief Colby, this is Trevor Galloway."
The chief extended a hand and said, "Please, call me Sally."
"Trevor," I said while eyeing the unusual olive green uniform and the shoulder patch that read Washaway Township Police.
I had never heard of the municipality, but that wasn't a surprise in a commonwealth of countless townships, villages, and boroughs scattered around towns and cities.
Our hostess gestured to the furniture and said, "Please have a seat. I'll get you both some coffee." She moved out of the room and I noticed Colby's eyes watching her every step.
While we waited, I appraised the woman in uniform. Sally Colby was in her thirties, but young chiefs weren't unheard of in small municipalities. She was an attractive woman who carried herself with an air of confidence. Her brown hair was in a tight ponytail and her Gore-Tex boots were as clean as possible for the season. Her brown eyes were young, but not naïve.
The faint ticking of the grandfather clock made its way into the room as we waited in silence. I checked my watch for no reason, as I became aware that every move I made was being watched by the woman sitting across from me.
"I've heard of you," Colby said. "When Susan asked me if I knew anybody who might be able to lend a hand, I couldn't think of anyone. So I called Chase Vinson with the Pittsburgh Police and he told me he knew just the man for the job. When he said your name, my jaw dropped. You were in the news a lot."
I didn't speak.
"I was surprised you were no longer with the PD. But I guess retirement is appealing when you hit your mid-fifties. You must have had enough of working narcotics cases in Pittsburgh."
I looked at her and said, "I'm forty-three."
She hesitated and stammered, "Oh ... I'm ... it's not that ..."
I'm well aware I look older than my age and I should have smiled to let her know I wasn't offended. But I rarely smile, and when I do, some people interpret it as insincere. I did my best to put her at ease.
"It's okay. I'm high mileage." After an awkward silence, I said, "I retired on disability."
Colby cleared her throat and shook of the last trace of embarrassment and asked, "So now you're an investigator for the district attorney's office down there?"
I shook my head. "Not anymore."
"I suppose you had enough of dealing with lawyers," she said with forced levity.
"They were fine, but I was asked to resign after my very first case."
"Oh," she said. An awkward silence followed. Then, in an attempt to get some footing, she asked, "So are you a private investigator now?"
Colby swallowed hard and started to wonder if she was the butt of a bad joke.
"Well, Chase said if there is trouble to be found then you'll find it," she said. I tilted my head and gave her a skeptical look.
"Okay, okay. He said the trouble would find you."
Colby's attention shifted and she beamed as our hostess returned and placed a tray down on the table. Ms. Lanskard asked me how I took my coffee, but didn't bother to ask the police chief. She took a seat and we all sipped the warm brew. It was my third cup of coffee for the day, but I had to admit it was by far the best.
"Mr. Galloway, were you briefed as to exactly why I want to hire you?"
I gently put my cup down on a coaster and folded my hands in front of me. "Last year your father, Mr. Peter Lanskard, was murdered while standing outside of this very house." I paused for a moment and added, "I'm truly sorry about that."
"Thank you," she said with no small amount of sorrow in her voice. I glanced at Colby whose expression mirrored that of our hostess.
I continued, "My understanding is that your father, who owned a company called MRS, had been receiving numerous threats from all directions. He had been harassed by unemployed coal workers, anti-fracking activists, anti-mountaintop removal protesters, clean water advocates, the list goes on and on. The case was investigated by the local authorities — which I assume means Chief Colby's department."
"And the State Police's Major Case Team," Colby added.
"Okay," I said. "I believe the conclusion was that the scant evidence points to a lone sniper using a weapon that fires a .308 round." I leaned back in my chair and said, "That's all Chase told me and I'm assuming he got that from Chief Colby, so I haven't seen any files. I remember the media reports and the case seems to have gotten a lot of attention from both cops and reporters. That's why I'm not sure I can be of any assistance."
Colby said, "I was the first officer on scene that day and since that time I've gone over the facts a million times. It isn't easy for me to admit that I'm stuck, but I'm not going to be stupidly territorial about this either. The state police did a good job of checking out the environmentalists and disgruntled former employees, but the case drifted away when they couldn't come up with anything. Regardless, I don't think they were looking at the right people."
I leaned forward and spoke to both the women. "I have absolutely no doubt that Chief Colby's department and the state investigators did the best job possible. As law enforcement officers, they have access to a myriad of intelligence databases and can intimidate suspects by threatening to take away their freedom. I want to be perfectly clear about something. I'm a private citizen. I don't have a badge and have no legal authority in any jurisdiction. I am terribly sorry about the death of your father, but I don't want to give you any hope that I can achieve a result different from what you have now."
"Trevor," Ms. Lanskard said, "one of the weaknesses that you claim to possess is exactly why I want to hire you."
I gave her a puzzled look.
"You have no authority in any jurisdiction," she continued. "You also have no limits as to where you can travel to search for answers and question potential suspects. Thanks to my father, I'm a woman of means and I will fund your investigation and pay your expenses as needed."
"I appreciate that, but I have a life back in Pittsburgh," I lied. "I can't go flying around the country for weeks at a time trying to track down pissed-off coal miners and collegeaged protestors. I'm very sorry, but I really don't want to waste your time. I know you said you would pay me five thousand dollars to come up here and listen, but I really don't want your money. I'm only here because a friend asked me to hear you out."
I stood up as if there was an urgent need for me to drive the three and a half hours back to my apartment in Pittsburgh. My good friend Chase Vinson, a grizzled eighteen-year veteran in my former department, would give me hell for bailing out on the favor he was asking of me. However, I also knew that his real motivation in giving my name to Colby was to keep me, and my mind, occupied.
When referring to my previous job as an investigator with the DA's office, Colby had suggested I had had enough of dealing with lawyers. The truth was that I did have a problem with the prosecutor I was working with on my first assignment with the DA's office. He made a critical error during prep for a rape trial and had tried to convince me to perjure myself on the stand. I refused and testified truthfully. Later, outside the courthouse, he accused me of not being a team player and threw out some not-so-nice words that touched on my previous deep undercover work with the police department and my battle with heroin addiction.
In all fairness, I hadn't become a junkie by choice. My cover had been burned by an informant, and as a result, a drug ring mostly consisting of thugs from former Soviet republics held me captive for several weeks. During that time, I was tortured and repeatedly injected with heroin until I was hooked and nearly forgot my own name. Deep down I think people knew my affliction wasn't my fault. However, once you get the "addict" label slapped on you, the context has a way of becoming irrelevant.
To make a long story short, the result of the conversation with the antagonistic prosecutor ended with him having a broken nose and me being unemployed. This led to my having a slight relapse with opiates and a halfway decent romantic relationship getting wrecked on some rocky shores. There were some other issues, but I was doing my best to leave those behind.
Lanskard crossed her legs and used her left hand to push strands of red hair away from her appealing face. I didn't see a wedding band and she had made no mention of any other family members who were interested in the case.
I said, "I noticed most of the photos around here are of you and your father. Do you have any other family?"
"My mother died years ago and I'm an only child. My father was everything to me, and someone took that everything away. I don't expect you to understand how I feel, but I can't live with the fact that my father's murderer is still out there."
The pain welled up in Susan Lanskard's eyes and Colby leapt up and handed her a tissue.
I told her, "It would be irresponsible for me to not let you know that you may never get the closure you are seeking. I was a cop for a long time, and the conclusions reached at the end of a case are rarely happy ones. Even when a killer is caught, a hollowness remains and will never be completely filled."
She seemed to ignore me and said, "If you agree to take the case, and you work fast, there may not be any travel involved. However, in one week the suspects will be scattering to the four winds and you — or somebody else — will have to head out of state if any more questions need to be asked."
I sat back down and moved my eyes between Lanskard and Colby. Poker faces all around.
"Are you saying you think the killer is still here in Centre County? Right now?" I asked.
"I know he is," Chief Colby replied calmly while sipping her coffee. "In fact, he's right next door."
"You have my attention," I said unnecessarily.
Susan Lanskard wiped her eyes and said, "I'm afraid I have a teleconference I have to attend in the other room. When my father died, ownership of the company fell to me. And honestly, reliving all of this is very difficult for me."
"I have a few questions before you go. Were you here when it happened?"
"No. I was finishing up my graduate degree at Dartmouth. Obviously, I made my way here as soon as Brady called."
"Brady Mason is our head of security. He was standing beside my father when ... anyway, he called me. He and his team work for me now."
Her face had gone pale and another wave of emotional turmoil washed over her as she dabbed at her eyes.
She explained, "Unfortunately, along with inheriting the company, I inherited the threats that come along with the business. Therefore, there is still a need for security personnel."
Colby watched Lanskard for several seconds and shook off a concerned look before standing up and saying, "Let's take a drive, Trevor. I'll explain everything on the way. If you aren't intrigued by the time I'm finished, I'll bring you back here and you can get in your car and head back to Pittsburgh."
"Where are we going?"
"Like I said, the suspects are right next door."
It turned out that next door was a relative term. The Lanskard property consisted of an immense expanse of land that placed the closest neighbor several minutes away by vehicle. The Washaway Township cruiser was the typical Ford police package and the chief of the township kept the vehicle immaculate. She drove cautiously down the icy roads and lowered her police radio to a near whisper.
"How many officers do you have reporting to you?" I asked.
"Three at the moment. We had one retire last month, but we haven't replaced him yet."
I said, "I assume from the green uniforms, the department has been around for quite a while."
She shot me a sideways glance and asked, "What makes you say that?"
I pulled a pair of sunglasses out of my jacket pocket as the sun broke through the clouds, illuminating the terrain.
"Well, I've only seen a few departments with green uniforms. The West Virginia State Police, the Chesterfield County Police in Virginia, and the U.S. Border Patrol all chose green long ago because they needed it for sneaking up on moonshiners or hiding in the brush. I've never seen a newer department choose to wear green."
Excerpted from "Bolt Action Remedy"
Copyright © 2017 J.J. Hensley.
Excerpted by permission of Down & Out Books.
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