Two years after being tossed from the detective bureau for using questionable tactics while catching a child molester, deputy Tim Hallett's life is finally on track. Assigned to a special K-9 unit with the best partner in the world, a Belgian Malinois named Rocky, Hallett has finally learned to balance police work with his family life. But that all changes in the heat of a Florida sugarcane field.
While searching for a kidnapper, Rocky locks onto the scent of a predator unlike anyone has ever seen. Or have they? The more Hallett digs, the closer he comes to his old issues when the case that ended his career as a detective appears to be the key to a series of kidnappings.
When the trail turns to murder, Hallett risks everything to catch the killer, even if it means clearing the child molester who drove him to violence and ruined his career. Along the way, Hallett and his partners learn the true meaning of loyalty and courage as their canine companions take police work to a new level and show that instinct means more than training.
Scent of Murder is a gritty police thriller from veteran law enforcement agent and author James O. Born
At the Publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management Software (DRM) applied.
|Publisher:||Tom Doherty Associates|
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About the Author
JAMES O. BORN is an award-winning author who has published articles on history and Florida. He is the author, along with Lou Dobbs, of Border War. He is a former US Drug Enforcement Agent and is currently a Special Agent with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
Read an Excerpt
Scent of Murder
By James O. Born
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2015 James O. Born
All rights reserved.
Very few cops, including Tim Hallett, ran away from a chance at seeing some excitement. Maybe after a few more years on the job he'd slow down, but he hadn't become a sheriff's deputy to let others have all the fun. He looked up for any sign of the helicopter as he maneuvered his Chevy Tahoe down a narrow, pockmarked, shell-rock road wedged between a Florida Water Management District canal and a sugarcane field near Belle Glade.
The Tahoe bounced violently, tossing his partner, Rocky, a Belgian Malinois police service dog, across the passenger seat. His biggest fear right now was catching a pothole wrong and careening into the canal. In his time on patrol, he'd pulled five bodies out of submerged cars from the crisscrossing canal system of southern Florida. He didn't want some rookie deputy telling the story of how he pulled a K-9 cop and his dog out of the murky water.
Hallett grabbed a quick glimpse of his partner and said, "Sorry about that, Rocky."
As usual, Rocky didn't answer unless he had something important to express.
They were pushing the edge of safety to reach the other deputies who'd been called to the remote sugarcane field after a fisherman reported a possible abduction. To Hallett, the terrain looked much more like a third world country than Florida. The entire area around Lake Okeechobee was dotted with small towns and vast farms. The poor people were very poor, and the rich people didn't give two shits about them.
As the big SUV bumped along the canal's edge, Hallett said, "This is the kind of stuff we signed on for, isn't it, Rock?" He gritted his teeth against another hard bounce and added, "If everyone gets their shit together, maybe we can clear this up quickly." He didn't mind his coworker's silence. Rocky was the best partner, human or nonhuman, he'd worked with in his eight years at the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office. It was unlike any other relationship he'd ever had with a colleague, or with anyone else. He looked across the space between them, then reached over with his right hand and ruffled Rocky's brown hair.
He cleared a line of pine trees, which acted as a windbreak for the sugarcane, and saw the other patrol cars parked along the edge of the canal with uniformed deputies getting their gear together. As he slowed the SUV, Hallett leaned across the console and pressed his forehead against Rocky's, in his normal ritual to psych both of them up for whatever assignment awaited them. Then he planted a kiss almost between Rocky's eyes.
Hallett said, "Time to get to work." He opened the door and slid onto the rough road. Rocky climbed across the console, let out a short bark, and landed on all four feet with the grace of a much smaller dog. Rocky looked like the classic Belgian Malinois, slightly smaller than a German Shepherd but the same shape, with a thick tan coat and dark muzzle. The sheriff's policy dictated Rocky ride in the secure rear seat caged area, which had a hatch that opened to the passenger compartment, but whenever they had to drive for a long distance Hallett preferred to have his partner sitting next to him. Rocky enjoyed the freedom.
It only took a few seconds to open the tailgate of the Tahoe and pour some water into Rocky's favorite dish, the one with Garfield on the bottom of the bowl, as if mocking the dog. Rocky's sheer exuberance for life put him in a class of his own. He never walked when he could run. There was no such thing as easing them into a situation; the muscular Malinois had to jump in with all four feet, so to speak. Bred in Malines, Belgium, in the mid-nineteenth century, the Malinois was one of four Shepherd breeds from the area the American Kennel Club recognized in the 1950s. The only issue for the dog here in Florida was the heat. Hallett took his responsibilities to keep Rocky groomed and cool very seriously. The rear of his SUV was littered with Gatorade and water bottles he and Rocky had emptied during their long shifts. He'd brush out his partner for an hour after this job was done. It was tough keeping an eighty-five-pound dog cool in Florida.
As Rocky lapped at the water, Hallett got his gear in order, checking his tactical vest to make sure his flashlight, Gerber folding knife, and radio were all in place. He knew that whatever the situation, the K-9 units would be at the very front of the effort. That's why he had taken this assignment over three years ago.
He was happy to see Sergeant Helen Greene already directing the other deputies. It took him a second to recognize the detective sergeant. He'd heard she'd lost weight, but the woman in the slacks and white shirt organizing things hardly resembled the woman the other detectives had nicknamed "Mount St. Helen." She turned toward him and gave him a quick smile and wink. St. Helen might not be mountainous anymore, but she really was a saint. She'd helped him when his career as a detective turned south, reminding the sheriff of the benefits of Hallett's rash acts, and she was known for protecting others as well. After the brief, silent greeting, the sergeant was back to work pushing other deputies to get ready.
Hallett hooked a sixteen-foot leash, or lead, on Rocky's harness and trotted toward the group of deputies. He kept chatting lightly to the dog, making everything they did a game. Every once in a while he would throw in Josh's name and smile at the dog's reaction. Hallett's son, Josh, commanded the dog's complete attention when they were all together.
Rocky was bounding forward, anxious to start their game and making some of the regular patrol deputies nervous.
The other two K-9 units from his special squad were on their way out from headquarters, but depending on how hard they pushed their own vehicles it could be another ten minutes before they reached the scene. There were three things a cop never hesitated to move on quickly: a missing child, a death notification, or a call for help from another cop. Hallett doubted Sergeant Greene would wait for the other K-9s if the information indicated there was really a kid at risk. Most times these calls were flawed and the witness had only seen a family argument or misinterpreted the entire situation, but no one wanted to risk a child's safety, even on a bogus tip. No one wanted a family to hear about the death of a loved one from the media, and no cop hesitated to help another in trouble. The scariest radio call was 10-24, which meant send help but was usually associated with an officer down. Hallett knew if he was ever in the shit and called for help, every available cop would be on the way instantly.
If this call was legitimate, this was exactly the kind of activity Hallett needed to help him feel like he'd made the right choices in life. Lately they'd been hard for him to justify. He didn't worry about any of that as Rocky strained at his lead and pulled Hallett toward the gathering deputies.
* * *
He took a moment to catch his breath after slogging through the drainage ditch between the two cane fields, each over six feet high. Somehow, the fields reminded him of growing up in Indiana. Sugarcane was like scratchy cornstalks with snakes and alligators. He was lucky it hadn't been harvested yet or he might really be in trouble. As he scrambled up the other side of the drainage ditch he could almost hear his father yelling, "Move your fat ass, Junior. You're never going to drop any of that weight if you don't start getting some physical activity." Twenty-one years later, everyone in Indiana still called him "Junior." He hated that goddamn name.
The other name his father continued to call him was "the dickless wonder." The sour old bastard called everyone by some derisive nickname, but "dickless wonder" implied Junior couldn't take a chance or make a ballsy move. That wasn't true. He was proving it at this very moment. Somehow, his siblings had escaped the old man's wrath and attention. On some level, it comforted Junior to know he was the only one his father screamed at and berated. At least he was interested in Junior's life. However, it also made him wonder how much the old man had affected him.
The old man had caused a lot of trouble since relocating to the Sunshine State, but he sure could pick some stocks. If things kept going like they were, Junior might be able to live off investments before he turned fifty.
So far, the day had not turned out like he had expected. He had such high hopes for it. In fact, he'd dreamed about it for weeks. Maybe not details like this cane field or cops chasing him, but more his encounter with the pretty blond girl named Katie. He had followed her to the Wellington Mall and waited. He knew where she would be. It was a lucky break to catch her in the parking lot so quickly. She had surprised him by being so quiet and compliant until she was out of the car. She'd been scared by the blindfold and being stuffed onto the floorboard of the beat-up Toyota Tercel he'd stolen from the parking lot of the Palm Beach Outlets Mall. But as soon as her feet felt solid ground, she'd managed to slip his grasp and then guessed the right direction, scurrying through the cane like a rabbit, and he would've still been chasing her if not for the canal. But now he was pretty certain the old fisherman had seen enough to call the cops. The old man had pretended to be focusing on his efforts to catch something on his three cane poles wedged between rocks on the edge of the canal, but Junior was sure he knew something was up. These isolated fields rarely saw any excitement, and the commotion would have caught the man's attention.
Thank God the Tercel was parked on another access road fairly close. He'd already spent too much effort screwing around with this girl. He usually enjoyed his time with these young women, but today had been very unsatisfying. He needed to invent some new kind of blindfold, maybe use a burlap sack over their heads, but he enjoyed looking at their pretty faces even if they did have a rag and duct tape around their eyes. This girl had cheekbones like Christie Brinkley and thick, full lips. He'd seen her plenty of times without any obstructions on her face and knew so much about her that it hurt to be fleeing the scene without accomplishing everything he set out to.
Junior was lucky to have heard the old fisherman's truck drive off down the access road to State Road 80. He had heard other vehicles coming back and had to assume they were police cars, but he never panicked. He prided himself on never panicking. No matter what.
Now, if he could make it to the beat-up Toyota, then back into West Palm Beach within forty-five minutes, everything would be cool.
The pistol stuffed in his pants felt awkward when he tried to run, but he was never built for running anyway. Too much jiggled.
Junior thought he heard a dog bark at the far side of the cane field and was glad he had crossed through a couple of drainage ditches in case they tried to track him. Dogs scared the holy crap out of him, and the idea they were chasing him like an animal was disturbing on a number of levels.
* * *
The western section of Palm Beach County was separated from the eastern section by a stretch of wilderness known as the Twenty Mile Bend. Tim Hallett could think of few places in America where twenty miles made so much difference. On the coast sat Palm Beach with its mansions and world-famous beach, but out here, a forty-minute drive away, it looked more like the Mississippi Delta. Wide plains of crops, hot, stagnant air, and alligators were the dominant features. When the cane fields were burned for harvesting, the smoke hung in the air like a noxious fog for days.
Now, as he stood in a wide semicircle with four other deputies, the air in the cane field was thick with humidity and sun-warm, but not unbearable. It was still a little early for the bugs to start eating them alive, but he knew there were plenty of them concealed out there.
Sergeant Helen Greene said, "We have a report of a man chasing a young girl at the edge of the field. An elderly cane fishermen thought it was a white man and a white girl, but he didn't get a good look. This happened almost an hour ago because he didn't have a cell phone and had to drive into town." Her dark skin had a sheen of perspiration, and her light Glades accent made her seem natural in the setting.
The sergeant continued. "Looks like there was a scuffle in the cane field up ahead. We're gonna send Tim and Rocky into that field and use the other two K-9s to check along the canal and the far cane fields." Her dark eyes scanned the group of six deputies. Then she said, "If this info is right we've got a tough job ahead of us."
Hallett took a moment to assess the situation like the detective he once was. He noticed the older black man sitting in the front seat of the sergeant's car. The old man had done a great job going to get help, and now the sheriff's office—or SO, as most people in the agency called it—had to live up to his expectations.
Just as he was about to start the search, his partners, Darren Mori and Claire Perkins, bumped down the shell-rock road in Chevy Tahoes similar to Hallett's. The task force they were on was funded by the federal government, which had not only provided money to train the dogs in different disciplines but bought the deputies high-end cars, weapons, and other gear that generally made the average deputy jealous as hell. Cops love equipment, and the three K-9 officers had more than they could ever use.
Although he was impatient to get started, Hallett knew it was better to have all three dogs on scene and ready to go at the same time. It didn't take long for Darren to get Brutus on his lead and, of course, Claire hopped out with Smarty ready to go on a sixteen-foot lead.
Hallett was the team leader. It was an odd, almost honorary rank within the sheriff's office, and his authority was implied rather than specified. He did receive a small bump in pay, but he was not considered a sergeant and had no administrative duties. Instead, he made decisions on tactics and how to deploy resources during a callout. He also worked with Ruben Vasquez, the canine trainer who'd been assigned to the unit when they got the grant. The guy was a former army dog handler and smart as a private school math teacher, but Hallett recognized he didn't have much experience in police work. It took a cop to know what was needed on the street in certain situations. It didn't always require a dog willing to bite anyone in sight—although sometimes it did.
Being a team leader might have been a promotion, but it meant nothing if his partners didn't accept him as the leader. Like a lot of things in police work, his authority was implied rather than specified. It was an easier path than dealing with liability and promotional exams. Luckily, both Darren and Claire appreciated his experience, and he had proven his ability to make decisions. Hallett had also proven that he wasn't afraid to work long hours and do whatever it took to get the job done.
At five foot eight, Darren was constantly trying to prove his worth even though he was widely respected in the agency. Darren always had to be the first in a fight, the best possible shot, and the most eager to work. But his exotic good looks and athletic build, and the fact that he was the only Asian in town, made the twenty-six-year-old Japanese American popular among the women in Belle Glade. As Brutus pulled him along on the lead, he smiled at Darren's annoyance about being issued a Golden Retriever instead of a traditionally more frightening Belgian Malinois or German Shepherd like Claire and Hallett worked with. It turned out Brutus was just about the smartest dog any of them had ever seen and had been trained in several disciplines, including article searches, bomb searches, and cadaver searches. If he had to, Brutus could be aggressive, but generally the snarls and barks coming from a Golden Retriever failed to instill the terror that Rocky could spread in an unruly crowd. Brutus wasn't trained to apprehend suspects, or track them, but he could find a body or bomb with incredible skill. The way the unit was organized and trained, everyone chipped in when the others were working. Brutus could follow a scent, or at least look like he was.
Excerpted from Scent of Murder by James O. Born. Copyright © 2015 James O. Born. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This novel reminds me of the old TV show Mr. Ed. Instead of a talking horse, we have talking dogs. And the dogs are more intelligent than their human handlers, who are K-9 cops. There are three on the K-9 team led by Tim Hallett, who was booted out of the detective bureau even though he rescued a girl and captured her would-be rapist, obtaining a confession by an unorthodox method. Now a series of abductions, with the victim of one of them murdered, leads the police poobahs to enlist the K-9 team in an effort to capture the culprit. Hallett is convinced the perpetrator he originally apprehended who is now at liberty is responsible for the present crimes. And he pushes the investigation in that direction. But it is really up to the dogs to solve the crime. Well, having dogs as the protagonists in a crime novel is different. Unfortunately, much of the writing is too cutesy, and having sections with the dogs offering analysis and other observations is too much. And various attempts by the author to explain the person responsible for the reign of terror by offering psychological reasons for his actions seem too simplistic. On the other hand, the novel is light and can be read quickly and enjoyably.