She almost caught him once. Now, he’s back.
For three years, Investigator Cassie Dewell has been on a hunt for a serial killer known as the Lizard King whose hunting grounds are the highways and truck stops where runaways and prostitutes are most likely to vanish. Cassie almost caught him...once.
Working for the Bakken County, North Dakota sheriff's department, Cassie has set what she believes is the perfect trap and she has lured him and his truck to a depot. But the plan goes horribly wrong, and the blame falls on Cassie. Disgraced, she loses her job and investigation into her role is put into motion.
At the same time, Kyle Westergaard, a troubled kid whom Cassie has taken under her wing, has disappeared after telling people that he’s going off on a long-planned adventure. Kyle's grandmother begs Cassie to find him and, with nothing else to do, Cassie agreesall the while hunting the truck driver.
Now Cassie is a lone wolf. And in the same way that two streams converge into a river, Kyle's disappearance may have a more sinister meaning than anyone realizes. With no allies, no support, and only her own wits to rely on, Cassie must take down a killer who is as ruthless as he is cunning. But can she do it alone, without losing her own humanity or her own life?
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"THE TRAP IS SET and he's on his way," Cassie Dewell said to Sheriff Jon Kirkbride. She was out of breath from mounting the stairs to the third floor instead of waiting for the elevator.
Kirkbride leaned back from his desk and cocked an eyebrow. His thick gunfighter's mustache obscured the expression on his lips, but his eyes narrowed. "The Lizard King?"
Cassie nodded her head furiously. She was both excited and scared. She was also hot and she peeled off her Bakken County Sheriff's Department fleece.
"You're sure it's him?"
She said, "I sent you a video link in an e-mail five minutes ago."
He frowned. The sheriff disliked communicating by e-mail. "What's in it?" he asked.
"Let me show you," she said. She shed the fleece in a chair and quickly advanced around the desk, and he rolled his chair back to accommodate her. She reached across him to toggle the space key on the keyboard to wake his computer up. She was aware that her hip was pressed against his right shoulder but she didn't care. Not now.
IT WAS TUESDAY, September fifteenth. Cassie had left the first set of footprints in the frost across the still-green grass of the Law Enforcement Center that morning. She hadn't even heard the loud honking from a V of geese descending through the river cottonwoods to the Missouri River. All indications were of an early winter.
Thirty-nine-year-old Cassandra "Cassie" Dewell was the Chief Investigator for the BCSD, and she knew the sheriff would be in his office early. He always was. Even though he had horses to feed and stalls to clean out, he was at his desk hours before the morning shift showed up. Judy Banister, Kirkbride's office administrator and the only other female within the agency, hovered just outside the door.
Cassie had been three years on the job. The apartment unit she'd first moved into when she arrived was in view outside Kirkbride's window, although it was now occupied by a deputy hired straight out of the law enforcement academy in Minnesota.
Kirkbride had been the sheriff when Grimstad had 8,000 residents and was losing population every year. The demographics of western North Dakota at that time were a mix of German and Scandinavian farmers and a few Scot ranchers. That was before hydraulic fracturing in the Bakken Formation produced twenty percent of the nation's oil and the county boomed beyond anyone's imagination. He was still the sheriff when the unofficial census swelled to 45,000 in town and 80,000 in the county, and his department had grown from four deputies to forty.
The sheriff had hired Cassie away from the Lewis and Clark County Sheriff's Department in Helena, Montana, and had made her promise she would stay with him until his official retirement at the end of the year — three and a half months away. Since his announcement, he'd made it clear to anyone who would listen that he wanted her to be his hand-picked successor. What he'd not done was ask Cassie what she thought about that.
Recently, she'd let her short brown hair grow to her shoulders and was debating with herself whether to color it to hide the gray strands that seemed to have shown up overnight. That, along with fifteen pounds that strained at her underwear and once-tailored uniform. Her own body, she thought, had recently conspired to make her unattractive and uncomfortable. Just in time for her wedding.
That's why she had sat down at her home computer that morning: to compose an e-mail to the dress shop in Bismarck asking them to delay sending her wedding dress until she could get up there and get re-measured. It was a miserable admission to make. But before she keyed in the request an incoming e-mail arrived.
It was from Wilson, North Carolina.
When she opened it an electrical charge shot through her.
Then her cell phone lit up. The call was from Wilson County Prosecutor Leslie Behaunek.
"It's him," Behaunek said. She was calling from her cell phone and Cassie imagined her walking fast down the courthouse hallway. "We've got him this time ..."
Cassie forwarded the e-mail to her address at work as well as to Kirkbride.
THE SHERIFF HAD 198 unopened e-mails on his computer. Cassie guessed that was fewer than usual. She scrolled to the top of the list until she found her own address as sender. She clicked on the file.
It took a few seconds to load.
"I really need to get Judy to weed through those e-mails," Kirkbride grumbled. Then, "Okay, what are we looking at?"
The view was of dozens of tractor-trailers parked shoulder-to-shoulder in a lot. It was obviously nighttime. The viewing angle was from above the vehicles. The video feed was dark and grainy, and it appeared at first to be a still photograph. After watching it for a few seconds, though, exhaust from the stacks of the trucks curled up into the night air and occasionally a curtain would part from one of the sleeper cabs. There was no audio. The timestamp in the bottom right-hand corner said 10:53 PM.
She said, "This is from a closed-circuit security camera at a truck stop outside of Eau Claire, Wisconsin, last night."
Kirkbride was still. He was concentrating on the monitor.
"Watch the top left," Cassie said, pressing the tip of her index finger on the screen on a distant truck cab. Beneath her finger the passenger door opened and there were a few seconds of illumination from the inside dome lights as a thin woman appeared, framed by the door. She wore a short skirt that hiked up her thighs as she climbed down from the cab. In the harsh half-light her pencil-like legs looked as white as chalk. She vanished in the shadows between the trucks for a moment. A meaty naked arm appeared from the sleeper section of the cab and shut the door behind her.
"She's a truck-stop prostitute," Cassie said.
"They call them lot lizards."
"Got it," Kirkbride said. "That's where the guy gets his name."
"Right," she said. "Now I'm going to speed it up a little."
She clicked on fast-forward and the prostitute appeared to comically teeter from truck to truck on high heels. One by one, she sidled up to the driver's side of each vehicle and apparently knocked on the doors. The driver in the first truck didn't respond. The second driver flashed on his lights, saw who was out there, and turned them off again.
Before the prostitute could approach the side of the third truck someone — either a wife or companion driver — apparently saw the prostitute coming and unfurled a brassiere out the driver's side window and pinned it in place by rolling the window back up.
"That means, 'Beat it, lot lizard, there's a woman at home,'" Cassie explained.
"Three refusals," Cassie said. "But now watch."
The prostitute moved parallel to the front bumper of the truck with the bra in the window and turned and walked between the third and fourth trucks. She was blocked from camera view by the side of the fourth truck.
"We can't see her, but we can assume she's standing between the two trucks negotiating with the driver in the fourth truck. If you watch closely, you can see the curtains rustle in the sleeper cab." Cassie pointed it out. "He's going to invite her in," Cassie said.
There was a glimpse of the prostitute through the passenger window — just a smudge of white — as she entered the cab and turned toward the sleeper cab.
"I couldn't see her very well," Kirkbride said.
"That's because he must have disconnected his dome light so none of the other truckers could see her get in. Why do you suppose he did that?"
Kirkbride didn't answer. He didn't need to.
"Note the time," Cassie said, pointing toward the time stamp. "It reads 10:58 PM."
"I'm going to fast-forward again but it doesn't matter. You can see that nothing happens ... until 11:17."
The only movement in the nineteen minutes was the crazy swirling of exhaust from the stacks of the idling trucks, a cat that seemed to skip across the pavement going left to right, and a vibration in the curtains of the sleeper cab.
Cassie poked the icon to slow the video to normal speed.
At 11:18, the headlights came on from the fourth semi followed by its running lights. The truck slowly pulled out of the slot, turned sharply, and drove out of camera view.
The space left by the departing truck was empty.
"She didn't get out," Kirkbride said. "She's still inside."
"We know his MO," Cassie said. "He's done this dozens of times — maybe hundreds of times. He gets them inside his truck and injects them with a syringe filled with Rohypnol. When she's comatose, he binds her up and drives her away. Either that, or he stashes them in the kill room he's built in his trailer that we discovered in North Carolina. But in this case, he can't risk taking her outside to put her in there ... So he drives down the highway to a pull-out or rural road and then stashes her.
"It's his truck," she said. "Bright yellow Peterbilt 389 with a Unibilt Ultracab pulling a reefer trailer. North Dakota plates. It's him all right."
"Where did you get this clip?"
"Her name is Leslie Behaunek," Cassie said. "She's the county prosecutor in Wilson County, North Carolina. I met her last year when they flew me there to try and identify the Lizard King. Leslie felt guilty that he got away on a technicality and she blamed herself. Since then, Leslie and I made a pact to stay in touch and to finally get this guy. She's made contacts with law enforcement and truck-stop owners across the country. Her contact in Eau Claire sent her this just a couple of hours ago."
Kirkbride shook his head. "Why didn't this contact call the Wisconsin Highway Patrol?"
"Because by the time he saw this clip he knew the Lizard King was likely out of the state and hundreds of miles away. That's the thing — he's always moving. He's five states away by the time anyone realizes a prostitute didn't come home. That's why he's been impossible to catch."
"Do you think she's still alive?"
"I do," Cassie said. "He doesn't kill them right away. He likes to make videos of himself while he does it to watch later. The videos are his trophies. He assaults them, sometimes for weeks. That's his history. Then they disappear."
"And he's headed here to Grimstad?"
"What's his ETA?"
She shot out her arm and checked her wristwatch. "Three hours, fifteen minutes. He should be here by eleven this morning."
"How do you know that?"
Cassie spoke fast. "He stopped at the weigh station in Hudson, Wisconsin at 1:10 AM. As you know, weigh stations are the bane of every trucker's existence and every state has to have them to make sure trucks are safe and overweight rigs don't pulverize their highways — and so they can check driver logs to make sure the truckers are in compliance and their log books are up to snuff. The truckers call them 'coops' like 'chicken coops' and the ones in Wisconsin are called 'badger coops.' Anyway, the station is unmanned that time of night but truckers have to drive through it and get weighed. When they're on the scales they get a photo of the DOT number of the truck on the door and the license plate and they go after the driver later if there's a weight issue."
She took a breath and tried to be calm. Kirkbride watched her warily.
"Anyway," she said, "it's ten hours from that weigh station to Grimstad. That puts him here at eleven."
"Assuming he drives the speed limit," the sheriff mused.
"Oh, he does," Cassie said. "And he never misses a weigh station, either. One thing we know about this guy is he's a stickler for rules and regulations because he doesn't want to get pulled over for something trivial. He knows that the only serial killer truck driver ever caught red-handed was when a state trooper in Arkansas pulled a guy over for a busted taillight and saw a human leg inside the cab. So our guy obeys every traffic law and regulation. When he drove through Hudson his gross vehicle weight was seventy thousand pounds. So he was ten thousand pounds light."
"And you know he's coming here?"
"Cassie, how do you know that?" Kirkbride said, genuinely puzzled. Then: "Oh yeah, I remember now. You set up a scheme to lure him in."
"And he finally bit," Cassie said. "I actually talked to him myself."
"Yesterday afternoon. He called from somewhere in Michigan. He said he was headed west. I didn't say anything to you at the time because there was no way to promise he'd follow through. Sometimes he's called — I recognized his voice — but he was shopping rates for the best deal and he never came. He's done the same to Leslie. But this time he texted a confirmation. He's coming. I alerted the highway patrol but told them not to intercede in any way. They're to report his progress only. He'll show up at Dakota Remanufacturing to pick up the load."
Kirkbride stroked his mustache. "If he texted you then we have his cell number. We can track down the location of the phone."
"No we can't," she said. "He uses burner phones he buys in bulk at truck stops. They don't have GPS chips. So when he calls the display reads UNKNOWN CALLER."
"I should have known," the sheriff said. "He's always a few steps ahead of us."
"Until now," she said.
"Have you called Tibbs?"
Avery Tibbs was the new county attorney. They both knew he might be a problem.
"Not yet. I just got that confirmation text from him ten minutes ago and I came straight to you."
Kirkbride thought about that for a moment. Then he reached forward and plucked the handset from his landline. Before he hit the speed dial, he said, "I'll handle Tibbs. You call your Fed."
"Special Agent Craig Rhodine," Cassie added.
"He's got a special team on call. I don't know how long it'll take him to get them geared up and on the plane."
"He's got a plane?" Kirkbride scoffed.
"A Boeing 727," Cassie said. "It's reserved for the FBI's Critical Incident Response Group."
His eyebrows rose. Kirkbride was always immediately suspicious of federal law enforcement intervention.
"The Critical Incident Response Group," she said. "From what I understand it's a group made up of a tactical assault squad, snipers, criminal profilers, attack dogs, and crisis managers. They show up in a 727 with blacked-out windows. Plus Rhodine himself, of course."
"Sounds like overkill," the sheriff said, more to himself than to Cassie.
"Don't forget who we're up against," she said.
"I haven't. How many years have you been after him?"
"Four," she said. "Well, three and a half."
"Will they get clearance at Sloukan?"
Sloukan Field Airport had once been located on the northeastern town limits of Grimstad before the growth of the community had overrun it. It was now in the middle of town surrounded by still-to-be-completed subdivisions.
"I don't know," she said, flustered. "I assume they'll take care of that themselves. I'll ask them."
"Don't forget we have commercial flights now," Kirkbride said.
She had no response. She had no idea why he was focusing on the flights that had been introduced to Bakken County by Delta and United to service the traffic generated by the oil boom when the Lizard King — also known as Ronald Pergram and Dale Spradley — was finally on his way directly to them.
"I know, I know," he said, holding up his left hand. "I just worry about logistics. That's a lot of firepower coming into my little town."
As Cassie strode to the door Kirkbride called out to her to stop.
When she paused in the doorway, he said, "I've got a bad feeling about this, Cassie."
"Please don't say that." It hurt that he said it.
"Don't get me wrong," he said. "I'm with you. I trust you. I've got your back all the way. But this is happening fast. You've told me the Lizard King is smart as hell and he's gotten away more than once. He knows the law and he knows how to hire the best defense lawyers to keep him out of jail. I worry about not building a careful box around this guy. We can't screw up. We can't let him escape again."
Cassie turned and narrowed her eyes. "He won't get away this time."
"How do you know that?"
"Because," she said, "we're going to kill him if we have to."
Kirkbride was still. The phone was still in his hand, still poised halfway between the handset and his ear.
"Good thing I didn't hear that," he said.
Excerpted from "Paradise Valley"
Copyright © 2017 C. J. Box.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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
A real page turner. Can't wait for the next novel !!!!!
Enjoyed all the action all the twists and turns Kinda sorry it ended as it did will miss the hunter Being the hunted . COME BACK Cassie Dewell
Loved the entire series...could hardly wait for the next book. Wish there were more
I really enjoyed this book. It was a great follow-up to The Highway. I’ve read all the Joe Picket books and thought I’d try another CJ Box book. I’m really glad I did!
Paradise Valley is a fantastic finish for the Highway series! I have read all the C.J. Box books straight thru and am now wondering what the heck I’ll do until he has another book out!! He may have spoiled me for other authors! I am currently reviewing my atlas to plan a trip to Wyoming and Montana to visit all the unique towns and beautiful mountains featured in all his books.
Didnt want to put down or to end! Cant wait till the next one
Box does it again.lets see more of cassie.
Another great story! Thank you, CJ Box.
Great read as one would expect of C J Box!
I liked this story. I do feel that when CJ Box is writing this series he is telling the story Differently than he does when writing the Joe Pickett series. The time lapses and skipped endings to a chapter are hard to get use to. The story is good and I really enjoy the characters but the postponed end to an action scene is frustrating
I thank you for writing on the Highway mystery. I am pleased with how it read and the ending was so right. Thank You, C. J. Box
This story is great. Character development is rich and multiple themes kept my interest. Another great job by a great author.
“Paradise Valley” by C. J. Box is an intense story following Cassie Dewell as she continues her search for the deviant long-haul trucker she first encountered in “The Highway.” It is not necessary to have read the two previous books in this series to grasp this one. This story begins about four years after “The Highway,” and Cassie is working in another state for another agency. She is planning her wedding and setting up the final trap for The Lizard King. The book starts with a bang, literally, as the scheme does not go as planned. Heat, fire, smoke, and ash fill the Dakota sky. Lives are lost; jobs are lost, and all hope seems to be lost. On the other side of town, two teen-aged boys have planned a “Tom Sawyer” type trip down the river on a raft. They load up their provisions, push their rafts into the water, and set out down The Missouri River on their way to New Orleans. They disappear without a trace. They were friends of Cassie’s son Ben, and since she is now unemployed, she agrees to help the families find the boys since law enforcement’s effort has been minimal and unproductive. The book is all about those chases, the continued pursuit of “The Lizard King,” and the search for two boys on their adventure. In a dark race against time, these two quests traverse several states and intersect in a frightening way. The action is dialogue driven, and the pace is solid and swift. The characters are diverse, complex, and true to life as they struggle to cope with seemingly untenable situations. All are hurting, and all are seeking an end to the insanity. “Paradise Valley” is gripping and addictive, and it does not end well for everyone involved. I received a copy of “Paradise Valley” from St. Martin’s Press, C. J. Box, and NetGalley in exchanged for my impartial review. It is not an easy book to read, but it is a very good one.
I love C. J. Box's stand alone novels and this one did not disappoint. An action thriller that had my heart pounding as I ripped through the pages. Investigator Cassie Dewell is on a mission. She failed to capture the "Lizard King" years ago and it has been bugging her ever since. Now, they have found him again and he's still abducting "lot lizards" who no one ever hears from again once they are inside his truck. Cassie just knows that this time they have him and the latest "lot lizard". He's going to be arrested and hopefully rot in jail. Unfortunately, the elusive and always thinking of ways to keep himself out of prison is one step ahead of them. His latest plan has Cassie losing her job and even more determined to get this guy. Filled with action, suspense, unusual predicaments and one that will have you staying up WAY past your bedtime this is one I highly recommend. I read it in one sitting while the pages just flew by. A sicko with an unusual technique that I couldn't wait to see him caught and put away! Thanks to St. Martins Press and Net Galley for providing me with a free e-galley in exchange for an honest, unbiased review.
I sure enjoyed this book. I won't rehash the story. I was certainly not dissapointed, and will continue to read and recommend Mr. Box's books to friends.
In the previous novel in the series, the Lizard King, responsible for the murder of dozens of women, finally was in the hands of the authorities and was even brought to trial, at which Cassie Dewell testified. Only he walked on a legal technicality. Cassie and the prosecutor became friendly and teamed up in an effort to recapture him. Cassie started a sting operation to attract him to Bakken County, North Dakota, where she worked as chief investigator in the Sheriff’s Department, posting “possible” pickups at a local plant to entice the long-haul trucker-murderer into her jurisdiction. And after four years obsessing over the Lizard King, he bites and Cassie sets up the trap to finally capture her prey. Only, the Lizard King thwarts the attempt, by having the rig driven to the loading dock and exploding, killing three deputies, including Cassie’s fiancé, and injuring others. Cassie is blamed for the fiasco and quits the department. The Sheriff is forced to retire. Meanwhile two boys go missing, as does a woman. Cassie, now a private citizen, is asked by the grandmother of one of the boys to find out what happened to him. Reluctantly, she undertakes a private investigation which brings her on the trail of not only the missing boys and woman, but the Lizard King himself. Once again, Mr. Box has written a tightly plotted thriller, with stark descriptions of the Yellowstone Park area in which Cassie finally seeks a solution to her four-year obsession with the Lizard King. Recommended.