Reporter Sawyer Cahill returns home to Cheyenne, Texas to report for the local television station. But leaving behind the coverage of San Antonio's gangland murders only lands her in the middle of a wave of ritualistic animal mutilations. Harassed and threatened by Hunter Kane, the freak behind the bizarre mutilations, Sawyer plunges into her investigation.
A former attorney turned rancher, Jake Spooner lost his wife to the man he believes is now tormenting Sawyer. Torn between his desire for Sawyer and his need to keep her safe, Jake's mission is to bring Hunter down before the murderer strikes again.
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By PH Turner
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2014 PH Turner
All rights reserved.
I met him for happy hour at the Yella Feather bar over on the south side about 5:30 on a hot August evening. He was dead by 6:15. Ours was a short relationship.
Lieutenant Deaver was one of the old guys with the San Antonio PD. He strolled in with the coroner, finding me where the first responder had put me. Over in a corner holding up a yellowed wall that reeked with years of stale nicotine.
"You okay?" Deaver asked.
"Yeah, think so." I took a weak swallow of warm Coke.
"What happened?" He pulled out a rickety chair and sat down.
I slumped into a seat beside him. "I didn't see the killer. My back was to the door when I heard the sound of a round chambered. Right in front me — Rodriguez was talking to me — a small, round hole drilled into his forehead. I heard the door bang shut and a car squeal off, but by the time I made it outside there was nothing to see and only cordite to smell."
I looked around the bar, broken-down scarred tabletops, wobbly chairs, flaking vinyl floors with duct tape covering the cracks. The stink of disinfectant and stale grease mingled with gun smoke. Helluva place for a kid to die.
"How long you known him, Cahill?" Deaver asked softly.
"I'd say about forty-five minutes, give or take."
He scratched his left armpit, his face screwed into thought. "What were you doing with Rodriguez? Source of yours?"
"Yeah, for a Latin Kings story. I've been trying to get in front of him for weeks."
"Looks like your time with him is over. You get much outta him?"
"Not much more than I already knew."
"Which is?" Lt. Deaver probed.
"He and his older brother live two blocks down in the Oleander Projects with their mom. No dad around. He denied he was a King. Claimed he was twenty-one and an unemployed high school dropout. Just another guy from the south side."
"Hell, that's a lie," Lt. Deaver grunted. "He's a King just like his brother. Rodriguez isn't — wasn't — eighteen. Let me know if you come up with anything else." He shifted his bulk in the chair. "Why don't you get a job fitting a woman, Ms. Cahill?"
"What job would that be?" I tossed over my shoulder watching Deaver zeroing in on the bartender. I stepped out of the grimy bar into the oppressive heat, popping the lock on my Laredo.
Rodriguez was just a kid, with scarcely a twist of beard masquerading as a goatee. My hands began to shake. I pulled over to the side of the curb, wrenched opened the door and puked on the street. When my head quit spinning, I slammed the door shut and hit the automatic lock. Air conditioning cooled the sweat on my upper lip. Easing the Jeep back into the San Antonio traffic, I headed toward the station. Maybe Deaver was right. Sawyer Cahill, you need to look at that job offer you have sitting on your desk.CHAPTER 2
I pushed open the barn doors to the studio area of NBC7. The news director Andy shouted over the bedlam of two electricians hanging metal lights on the grid. "Hey, look who just blew in. Did you get any footage of the Rodriguez shooting? We need it to cut in under Manuel's lead. We don't even have a body bag shot."
"I'm fine, thank you."
"You know the drill," he barked. "Cryin' babies, dead bodies. Great footage. Your job is to bring me, the news director, what I need — news." Andy's hands were on his hips.
"No footage, Andy. I didn't take a camera. I just went for background. I got damned little of that."
"Next time take some gear, Cahill. Amateur's mistake," he sniped.
"Like hell, Andy. Rodriguez woulda split the second he saw a camera. How long since you were in the field?"
I stepped over the cables snaked on the floor. Andy's news rundown was on the desk. The lead story was Rodriguez's killing.
Andy walked up behind me. "You got a source to replace Rodriguez on the Kings story?"
"Jesus, Andy! Rodriguez's body is barely cold. What the hell's wrong with you? All he was to you was a south side banger?" I threw the rundown on the desk. "He's got a mother for Christ's sake. You think she isn't bawling her eyes out over her dead son? You have no compassion — none. He was a kid for god's sake, not just one hundred-fifty pounds of dead meat in a body bag! Screw you, Andy. I'm done here."
"Get a source," Andy called after me. "Soon, Cahill. Or I'll pull you. I'll get a reporter in there who knows how to get the job done."
A threat from Andy. All I need to cap my day.
Exhaustion seeped into every pore. The adrenaline rush ended before I could get out of the station. In its wake, I felt lethargic. What a loss! A kid who would never get the opportunity to turn his life around. Rodriguez's killer would probably never be found, leaving his mother to cry for justice.
I made it home and threw my keys on the counter. Thumbing the mail, I dropped most of it in the trash. All I wanted was a long soak in my favorite lavender bath salts. I kicked off my shoes, leaving a trail of clothes on the way to the tub.
My second glass of wine took the edge off. I had most of my right leg shaved when my mom called to ask about my love life. Since my dad died, she'd made her life's work to get me presentable, paired and pregnant — in exactly that order. "Sawyer, honey. How're you doing? I don't get nearly enough time with you. I've been worrying about you." I took a sip of wine and stuck my big toe in the spigot to catch the drips. This was going to take awhile. "All this running around down there on the bad side of San Antonio talking to gang members. I just want what's best for you."
I shifted the razor to my left leg. "Yes, Mom ..."
"You know, you work too hard at that job. Crime reporting really doesn't suit you. You know that, don't you honey?"
"Mom, I like my job and I'm damned good at it." I immediately regretted the damned.
"But Sawyer," she wheedled, "a man wouldn't want his wife to interview criminals. Think of your children. You couldn't very well tell them what you did all day, could you?"
The imaginary zygotes drove me nuts. "I'll think about it," I said. "Can I call you later and catch up with you?"
"Sure. You call me now. Love you."
"Love you, too. Take care." I slipped deeper into the lavender scented water letting the warmth work on the kinks in my neck.
* * *
By seven AM, I was editing video, listening to a social worker talk about the forty-seven percent dropout rate of Hispanic students in the south side high schools. Gang membership was surging. My cell rang.
"Ms. Cahill? It's Clay Watkins." His deep voice boomed out of my speaker.
"Good morning Mr. Watkins. How are you?"
"Fine. Sorry I missed your call. I'm hoping you're gonna tell me you're coming on up here to join us at CBS3. I need a reporter like you. Am I right?"
The offer letter was staring up at me from the desk. I fingered the paper, lingering over the clauses. Sure, I could stay right here. Find Rodriguez's killer. Probably the kid's best shot at justice. Might even win another Emmy. Why should I stay? Just to see a new kid try to ace the gang initiation and get his head blown off?
"Absolutely. Shall I sign and fax it and then put the hard copy in the mail?"
"Whew! Yes." He cheered. "We're happy to have you. When can you start?"
* * *
I stood outside Andy's office waiting for him to get off the phone.
"Yeah, yeah," he barked impatiently into the phone. "Go to hell, Frankie. I'm not doing it." He slammed the receiver down. "Yeah? What do you want, Cahill? Better be good. Better brighten my day. Had my fill of assholes already."
"Me too, Andy. I'm resigning." I laid the letter on his desk.
"What the hell do you mean you're resigning? You wanna tank your career, fine by me. You haven't worked here two years. Two years. You got clauses in that contract of yours. Read it and weep. You aren't going anywhere without a lawsuit."
I sat in his hard plastic chair. "I've read my contract. There's no clause saying I have to work here for two years. It says I can't take a job at an NBC affiliate within five hundred miles of San Antonio and I'm going to CBS3 in Cheyenne." I dropped the letter of notice on his cluttered desk.
He didn't touch it. He fumbled in his file drawer, pulled out a file and started to read, flipping pages noisily. "Got your contract right here." He peered at me over his cheaters. "So, there's no clause in it." He looked up with a nasty smile. "Big shit! News business is a small world. I call that news director and tell him you're some flighty bitch who jumps from job to job and you'll be out of a gig. I'll do it too."
"I've signed the contract in Cheyenne, Andy. We haven't always gotten along, but I have not broken my contract with you."
"Then turn in your keys and get the hell out," he snarled. "Turn your crap you're working on over to Manuel. He'll do a good job on that story of yours."
"Consider it done."
* * *
I put my Press Award plaques in the single box — all that was needed to carry out my personal things. I called Lt. Deaver and he had nothing on the Rodriguez killing. He did wish me well. The gangs were silent, but so was the gunfire on the south side. Let Manuel chase it. I pulled my station keys from the ring and stared at them in my hand. Andy was right about one thing; news directors were a tight bunch. What if he called Clay Watkins and tried to screw me at CBS?
I dialed Clay's number. "CBS3. This is Margery. How may I help you?"
"Sawyer Cahill, here. Could I speak to Mr. Watkins, please?"
"Oh, hello Ms. Cahill. Mr. Watkins is in a staff meeting. Would you like to leave a message?"
"No, I'll call back later," I said. "But would you tell him I called?"
How fast could Andy make that call?CHAPTER 3
Cheyenne was my hometown until the end of my seventh grade year. I cried for three weeks that first summer in Denver, missing Julia Graham every day. She answered on the second ring.
"I hope you're calling to tell me you're coming home after fifteen years. You're taking that job you told me about, right?"
"I'll be there in a week, give or take a day or so!"
"It'll be like old times, Sawyer. Where are you going to be living?" she asked.
"I'm hoping you can help with that. Got any recommendations?"
"Ohh, Sawyer. Rentals are scarce what with the oil boom. Some oil workers are bunking in Laramie and driving back and forth to the fields. I'll get on Craigslist and see if anything decent is available," Julia said.
"Thanks, you're the best."
* * *
I left San Antonio in a red-streaked dawn. I was officially homeless. So far, Julia had struck out on finding me a rental.
I-25 skirted the mountains around Raton, New Mexico. I'd make Denver late tomorrow and spend the night with mom. Dad died last spring and she was having a terrible time being alone.
She opened the door before I could get my key in the lock, looking perfect in her pearls and deftly applied makeup. Her cashmere twinset matched the shade of her long skirt. "Sawyer, so good to see you, dear." She kissed my cheek. Hands on my shoulders, she stepped back looking me over. "You look scruffy, honey." She scrutinized me. "I'm not sure that shirt color does much for your red hair. Maybe a different shade, blue to accent your eyes."
"Mom, I didn't dress up to drive ten hours." God, she brings the petulance out in me.
"Well." Her eyes welled up. "I'm just saying ..."
"No problem, Mom." I hugged her. "Let's get this stuff up to my room." Thirty seconds together before I hurt her feelings and tears spilled. I wanted to do better. I would do better.
I followed her out to the deck. She precisely dusted off her chair, arranging her skirt around her knees. I enjoyed a cold Dos Equis. She had her favored merlot.
"Tell me about your new job, sweetheart."
"It's what I always wanted. I'll be a special projects reporter at CBS. I'm excited, Mom."
She sighed, rolling her eyes. "I can't believe you haven't gotten this journalism stuff out of your system by now. It's just not right Sawyer. You need a job fitting the type of young woman you are." She slammed her glass down, sloshing merlot, staining a red ring on the table.
"Mom, this is the type of woman I am. I love my job and I've worked hard to get where I am." I remembered Andy's threat to call Watkins and sour my prospects. Andy wasn't going to screw this for me.
"I just worry about you dear." She patted my hand. "I want you to be happy, that's all your Dad and I ever wanted. With a nice young man and a life together."
"My life is good."
"But Sawyer, you've let some good opportunities for marriage pass you by. Remember that orthodontist in Boulder? He offered you such a promising life. Then there was Connor. Connor's so accomplished and he was such a lovely young man. From a good family, too. I really enjoyed him. You broke off with both of them. Honey, do you know what you're looking for in a man?"
"I guess not, Mom."
The tears formed in her eyes again. Guilt rolled over me. She's my mother, for god's sake. Why can't she let me be the adult woman I am?
"Mom." I pulled her into my arms. "I want you to stop worrying. I'm fine. My life is not a mirror of yours, but I'm happy."
She pulled a Kleenex out of her skirt pocket and dabbed at the corners of both eyes. "You're my only child and I just want what's best for you. Your dad's gone now." The tears rolled down her cheeks. "He would know what's best."
"Mom ..." I warned.
She sat up in her chair until her back was ramrod straight. Raised her chin and tugged at her twinset. "So. You're going back to Cheyenne. Where are you going to live? You haven't told me."
"I don't know." I laughed. "Julia's looking for place."
She clasped her hands on her knees. "Sawyer, you have no home?"
"Mom, I have a job. The worst that could happen is that I have to stay in a hotel and store my stuff for awhile."
She worried at a miniscule piece of lint on her sleeve. "But Julia is helping you. Right?"
"She is. She and Dave got married, remember?"
"That boy she was dating when you two were in college?"
"Yes, they moved from Boulder to Cheyenne after they graduated." The crinkled worry lines on her face relaxed. "Julia looked at a rental for me today. I may hear from her tonight." I gave her hope.
We cleared the dishes. I hugged her goodnight and climbed the stairs to my old room. I opened a window to let in fresh air. She had left my room as it was the day I left for CU. A dry, brittle corsage was pinned to my sagging bulletin board. The ribbon hung in limp dusty streamers. I was ten years older than this room.
* * *
At nine sharp, I called Clay Watkins.
"What can I do for you?" His distinctive voice boomed out of the radio speakers.
"I'll be at work tomorrow. I'm looking forward to it." I paused. "The news director at NBC and I didn't part on the best of terms ..."
"I know." Clay's voice was louder. "Heard an earful from him."
"I left under the terms of my contract. I changed networks and moved over five hundred miles."
"Didn't get the particulars from Andy. I know him, you know. Couple of us go drinkin' every year at the convention."
"I assumed you knew each other. The important thing is that you understand that I fulfilled my contract and I gave two weeks' notice."
"Tell you what's important to me. You get here and do a helluva professional job for me and this station. And don't be an asshole while you're doin' it. See you tomorrow." The line went dead.
I tapped my phone off. I could work with that.CHAPTER 4
I drove into the wide-open spaces of Wyoming deciding to quit rehashing my old relationships. I wasn't missing any of them. Or Andy either.
What I needed was a house.
I picked up the phone and called my go-to person. "Julia, did that guy call you back about the house?"
"Finally. I hope you're gonna like this place. It's a restored farmhouse ten miles north of Cheyenne. Probably bigger than you need, but it's nice and it's available. He's offering a twelve-month lease and the price is good." I sensed her excitement and pictured her flushed face and bright eyes.
"Great! Tell him I'll take it. I'm excited about seeing you. I'll call the movers now to give them my new address so they won't put my stuff in storage."
"When are you getting here? I can meet you out at the place after four."
Excerpted from Winterkill by PH Turner. Copyright © 2014 PH Turner. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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