Lost River

Lost River

by J. Todd Scott


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A blistering crime novel of the opioid epidemic—and its cops, villains, and victims—written by a twenty-five-year veteran of the DEA.

Angel, Kentucky: Just another one of America's forgotten places, where opportunities vanished long ago, and the opioid crisis has reached a fever pitch. When this small town is rocked by the vicious killing of an entire infamous local crime family, the bloody aftermath brings together three people already struggling with Angel's drug epidemic: Trey, a young medic-in-training with secrets to hide; Special Agent Casey Alexander, a DEA agent who won't let the local law or small-town way of doing things stand in her way; and Paul Mayfield, a former police chief who's had to watch his own young wife succumb to addiction.

Over the course of twenty-four hours, loyalties are tested, the corrupt are exposed, and the horrible truth of the largest drug operation in the region is revealed. And though Angel will never be the same again, a lucky few may still find hope.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780735212947
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 06/23/2020
Pages: 448
Sales rank: 275,582
Product dimensions: 6.30(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.50(d)

About the Author

J. Todd Scott has been a federal agent with the DEA for more than twenty years, working cases investigating international maritime smuggling and domestic meth labs, and led a multiagency strike force dedicated to attacking Mexican cartel smuggling routes. He has a law degree from George Mason University and is a father of three. A Kentucky native, he now resides in the Southwest, which provided the backdrop for his novels of the Big Bend.

Read an Excerpt


A few hours before . . .

Little Paris Glasser stares right into the dead man's eyes and tries to see himself in them.

Danny, or maybe slow, stupid Ricky, once told him such a thing was possible, but this dead Mexican's eyes are flat and black, reflecting nothing at all.

Truth be told, they're downright creepy, like they're painted right on the wetback's skull.

A dead doll's eyes.

Little Paris almost reaches out a hand to rub over one of 'em; to wipe that dead man's coal-black stare right off his skeleton smiling face, smear it on his fingers like fresh paint, like fresh blood, but thinks better of it and takes another hit instead from his little homemade pipe, a GE sixty-watt bulb, and lets that hot taste of crank and CRC Bee Blast Wasp & Hornet Killer mule-kick him hard in the chest.

He flickers and flames, blood catching chemical fire.

He holds a mouthful of acid smoke, and it's like he's done swallowed a whole nest of pissed-off yellowjackets, buzzing around now inside his heart and head and behind his own dark eyes.

Goddamn, he finally breathes out.


The sunÕs barely up, just peeking over Crown Hill and hardly casting any shadows yet, but last night still hangs on stubbornly beneath the shingle oaks and cockspurs like a drunk not quite ready to leave the party.

Little Paris ain't sober yet either, has barely slept a wink in three days, with that crank coursing through him and Danny's ghost and all them others calling out his name and his daddy forever pissing and moaning about this and Jamie always whining about that and Hardy at his too-young-to-know-better age playing the damn fool lately and raising a ruckus.

Everyone looking for a piece of him and a taste of their own, including these here damn wetbacks.

Well, one less, anyway.

When he was older than Hardy is now, but still just a boy all the same, he used to steal a little peace of mind at the family plot beneath Lower Wolf's black cherry trees. Lay himself down on them cool, cracked gravestones, where it was quiet and calm and still, where all them old skeletons and ghosts didn't seem intent on bothering anyone, to watch the bluing sky slow to a stop between the leaves and dream about everything and nothing at all.

Not a care in the world.

But it's never quiet now and the world never stops spinning and even the dead can't seem to keep their goddamn mouths shut anymore.

They talk to him all the time.

He hears 'em calling his name.

Like the Good Book says, there just ain't no goddamn peace for the wicked.

Little Paris can't even count on his fingers the last time he slept peaceful the whole night through, and though he ain't dead yet, no gravestone pillow for him, he can't help but wonder what someone might see now if they looked hard and straight into his goddamn sleepless eyes.

Imagines it ain't no pretty sight anyway-

Maybe a bunch of yellowjackets, big as your thumb, circling and circling and circling.

Angry as hell.

Trying to fly free of his goddamn skull.

This wetback here sure didn't see much of anything when Little Paris blew his fucking brains out four days ago now.

Never even saw it coming.

He and Jamie drove him back here wrapped in some Cabela's camo tarp and he has a vague memory of telling Jamie afterward to toss the whole fucking mess into Rockhouse Fork or even Yatesville Lake, but Jamie's now standing by Little Paris's Mustang, staring down at the dead man like he's never seen one before.

Like this one just fucking magically appeared here flat on its back with two bullets in its skull, turning autumn Kentucky colors and going soft, setting off a mighty righteous stink, where his amigos will soon smell him all the way down in ole Me-hi-co or wherever the hell it is they breed 'em.

If Jamie wasn't already Glasser blood, weak and thin as it might be on his side of the family, Little Paris might find himself inclined to shoot this sonofabitch too.

"What'd I say?" Little Paris asks, toeing the gassy body with one of his boots, but gently, so it don't rip like an overripe Granny Smith and explode shit and pus everywhere.

A sweet, crisp Granny Smith is one of Hardy's favorite things.

"What the fuck did I say about this?"

Jamie shrugs but won't quite look at him 'cause maybe he really can see all them angry yellowjackets behind his eyes.

"I know, coz. I know. Just ain't seen to it yet." Jamie goes to light a Marlboro, that dumb-ass silver ring of his catching fire with the first of the morning sun. "It ain't like we ain't been busy. That last batch this boy brought is moving. I'm still cleanin' up with that."

That last batch . . . the white powder H the dead wetback brought them.

DOA, motherfucker.

Everyone around three states wants a taste of it, but no matter how pure or good it is, smack has never really been Little Paris's thing. It makes him too soft, too fuzzy at the edges. The dope sex is good and all, sweet as pure cane sugar or honey, but he likes the way crank sharpens him right up, a whetstone to a knife, and that sex ain't half bad, either.

Rough, angry, although sometimes just a little too much of both.

"If Danny were here-" But Jamie stops sudden, wise enough, or sober enough, anyway, not to hold Danny's name in his mouth for too long. Little Paris has already done heard it a thousand times if he's heard it once-from Daddy out loud and damn near everyone else just under their breath-how he ain't like Danny at all.

How Little Paris is gonna be the one to finally let slip through his fingers these mountains that one Glasser or another has held on to with an iron fist for a hundred years or more.


No, he ain't got the business sense his older brother had, probably never will, but even Little Paris knows a silver dollar when it falls into his hands, so when Jamie told him Danny's wetbacks had started sending their mules out alone, well, then only a damn fool could let that slip through his fingers.

Goddamn money for free.

Jamie's since been telling this boy's compadres he got paid and moved on down the highway, like always, but it ain't clear they believe him, although Little Paris figures it might help everyone if they just spoke better fucking English.

It's possible it don't matter quite what they say or even do with the body now, since pride all but dictates his amigos gotta come looking for him anyway, but Little Paris don't put too much stock in that.

One dead or missing Mexican ain't worth anyone's trouble, and no one comes calling uninvited on a Glasser in these mountains.

Not in Lower Wolf.

Not for a hundred fucking years.

Although the Big Sandy Power Plant no longer burns the black rock, coal is still in Lower WolfÕs bones.

The deep, rolling green of the surrounding hills are knife-cut right down to them old, dark seams. In some places, the land's been blasted away altogether, woods leveled and whole mountains beheaded, hundreds of thousands of years blown sky-high, or so they say.

Strip mining's done left everything raw and exposed, slag scabs and stitches in the hollers. Years back a slurry spill sent a whole mess of arsenic and mercury right into Coldwater Fork and damn near flooded Lower Wolf too.

Damn near poisoned everything, but folks picked up and moved on as they do.

Eastern Kentucky bears such trials and tribulations proudly, wears her scars openly, the way Little Paris shows off all his ink: colorful tats up and down his body that Daddy hates something fierce, so he gets more of 'em, just to piss the Old Man off.

To remind him he ain't Danny and never will be.

Any day of the week Little Paris can run into a third-generation miner grabbing a cold one at the Crow Bar, men who know their way around a Caterpillar D11 or a Komatsu crawler dozer. Not his daddy, or even his daddy's daddy before him, but his people all the same.

His land too . . . all cut up and forever bleeding and downright poisonous in some places.

When it rains hard, Lower Wolf's colors come back to life.

These here surrounding hills run red and black like old blood.

Today's gonna be a real corker later, hot as hell, and somewhere through them trees, tiny bugs are already dipping and dancing off the Coldwater.

Bugs like the ones working away on this dead Mexican.

Little Paris scratches at his naked torso, his latest ink still itching him something fierce, a wolf's head all shot up with arrows.

Now he says, "Seems to me Danny's got no say in it, so you better be cleanin' this up. Today."

And Jamie nods through pale cigarette smoke. "Awright, coz. I got it. I said I got it."

"Damn straight you do," Little Paris answers, as he takes another hit off the bulb, setting them yellowjackets buzzing angrily again, before realizing it's just his goddamn cellphone.

When he checks the message, he can't help but smile to himself, 'cause this shitty morning just started shining up already.

Jamie eyes the phone. "You comin' on up to the Big House? We still got rest of that shit to deal with."

They need to step on the last bit of the Mexican's H, make it last as long as possible, since they don't know when they're gonna get more in . . . a problem with Little Paris shooting the messenger the way he did. But it helps this batch is so damn strong, damn near killing folks left and right.

A little goes a long fucking way, but they always come back for more.

"Yeah," Little Paris says. "But toss me some of that new stuff, I gotta run up the way for a short bit. Just a little errand."

Jamie smiles. Knows just the sort of errand that Little Paris likes to handle on his own, the only kind that really gets him out of Lower Wolf anymore. He reaches into his white Escalade, then tosses a bag to Little Paris, who catches it out of the air.

Little Paris roots around in it and pulls out a glassine bindle stamped with a skeleton dancing a jig.

DOA, all right, motherfucker.

And his next tat might just be a handful of those tiny skeletons on the side of his neck . . . a whole family of 'em.

He likes that idea a lot.

"You want me to take Hardy back with me?" Jamie asks, prompting Little Paris to turn to the Mustang's backseat, where a little blond boy lies sleeping.

His own boy, Hardy.

Clutching that little toy six-shooter he's so damn fond of.

A Glasser outlaw, just like his daddy.

Someday, all this will be his. These mountains, these woods and hills-all of Lower Wolf-as long as Little Paris don't let it slip through his fingers.

And maybe someday too his boy will lay up on his daddy's gravestone beneath them black cherry trees and let Little Paris whisper to him.

Little Paris leans through the window and puts the bag on the seat next to Hardy.

"Naw, no need to wake him. He can come on up the way with me. I won't be long at all, and she'll want to see him. Always does."

Danny told him during one of his little Tamarack parties that pussy was gonna be the death of him, but Little Paris figures if that's how he's gonna go out, he's just fine with that.

Better than how Danny died, anyway.

Little Paris checks his own gun, a heavy Beretta slipped sideways in his jeans, and stares down at his boy and wonders what he's dreaming and wishes he could sleep just one more day like that.

One last day.



And not a goddamn care in the world.


Dillon Mackey hits his first home run ever, just as his mama, Kara, drops dead in the bleachers.

The ball stays aloft in the hot, heavy air . . . spinning, spinning, spinning . . . even as Kara's on-again, off-again boyfriend, Duane Scheel, falls out right after her.

Looking on, you might think Duane's reaching for Kara-a gentle, almost protective gesture-but you'd be wrong. There's never been anything gentle or protective about Duane Scheel. In and out of Big Sandy RDC since he was sixteen, he once beat a man senseless with a McDermott pool cue.

Once put a blue steel thirty-eight revolver against a Pakistani's jaw in a liquor store holdup when he was barely fourteen, and that was ten years ago.

Now tall, thin, wasted, he doesn't look his age but a hell of a lot older. Nothing much left of him at all, a hastily scrawled stick figure, all right angles and sharp edges.

A Punch doll, a bad joke.

So when he tumbles off the rusty bleachers it's like someone's cut all his strings. He goes slack and silly, lifeless and limp, and falls forward with hardly a sound.

DillonÕs rounding first, heading to second, smiling and laughing and raising his arms to the sky and happy for the first time in a long time-least since his real daddy, Ronnie, ran them over to that catfish place in Catlettsburg before he went back up to the corrections for a spell-when Junior HeckÕs mama, Tanya, starts hollerinÕ loud like a big ole fire truck.

Dillon passes second, slowing down now and the game long forgotten, as mamas and daddies pull away from the bleachers, a few even runnin' low and covering their heads 'cause they think it's a shooting. Eleven-year-old Dillon knows all there is to know about that, what to do if someone angry or strung out or just plum crazy ever bursts into Angel Middle. How you hide when you first hear gunshots. But soon as Tanya Heck started up her hollerin', Dillon already knew it weren't caused by no crack of a hunting rifle, no shotgun blast.

Most of them mamas and daddies have figured that out too, calmly looking for their kids, rounding them up with waving arms.

But some others are just standing around, wrapped up in cigarette or vape smoke, staring down, embarrassed, at something lying on the ground.

Dillon takes one last look back over the left-field fence to see if his ball's still flying high, or maybe rolling instead all the way down to the water's edge at the Fork, but there's nothing. That ball, and so many other things the boy can't put a name to, lost forever in the deepening dusk, where fireflies pop here and there like campfire sparks, like that one time he and his daddy camped down at Yatesville Lake, and what a fire that was. It was summer then too and way too hot, but his daddy helped him build it up bigger anyway, feeding it every piece of hickory or black cherry they could find, sitting as close as they dared, his daddy hanging one arm over his shoulder like they were good buddies. They burned hot dogs pitch-black but ate 'em anyway, then laid side by side beneath the whited-out stars as his daddy told him stories about the mines and even further back than that, when he was only Dillon's age.

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