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Availability date: 10/14/2015
When a hometown girl is brutally murdered, Detective Scott Aylward vows to bring a killer to justice. His focus on the case further damages his failing marriage and reinforces the knowledge that he always fails those who matter most--his parents, his boss, his wife, but most of all the victims who expect him to bring them justice.
His search for the killer takes him back to his roots and crosses his path with the missing piece of the puzzle. When the shocking truth is finally revealed, he finds himself unarmed and face to face with the killer. This time, failing might cost him his life.
He studied the ground at the top of the dike. The dry sand of the hardened path told few stories, as the relentless wind swept it daily. He saw shallow depressions that perhaps indicated the footsteps of the man and the dog, but they were indistinct. He pulled out the radio.
“Seventy-three to dispatch.”
“Go ahead, seventy-three.”
“Have the reporting party waiting at my truck at the end of the dike road. Might get another unit en route to help secure the scene if needed.”
“Ten-four. Will send the next available unit.” That meant that other officers were still busy. He would be on his own, even if he needed backup.
“Twenty-one to seventy-three.” He heard Bates’s tired voice crackle at him.
“Go ahead, twenty-one.”
“I can be there in ten minutes.”
“Ten-four. Thanks.” He slipped the radio back in its case and started cautiously south along the top of the dike. Step by step, he walked as lightly as he could, scanning all around the pathway for anything not native to the site. Halfway to the cottonwood, the hairs on the back of his neck stood up, and he unsnapped his holster. He slowed his pace within twenty feet of a gray and twisted tree trunk that must have once supported a massive cottonwood, but now instead provided a windbreak that allowed sand to settle in its lee and let shrubs gain a foothold. He looked down the sloping bank of the dike toward the river, noting the lazy flow as it rippled barely a foot deep in half a dozen shallow braided channels within the banks. A gray heron took off from a sand bar, long legs dangling behind him.
He stopped and squatted to view the path from a different angle. Just this side of the tree trunk, he saw indistinct grooves in the sand of the path that could have been made by a body being dragged. Big bluestem waved behind the tree trunk, and a sand plum thicket guarded the north side of the approach. Buffalo grass carpeted the ground from the path to the tree, obscuring any sign from this angle. He stood up again.
Now it looked like there were faint marks in the grass, here and there, that could be drag marks. He continued on the other side of the path, careful not to disturb the sign. At last he was even with the northern edge of the sand plum thicket. Again, he went down to see what he could observe from this angle. He spotted some broken branches and a few tufts of buff fur, where the dog had bounded in to make his discovery and dragged the man in his wake. He followed the path of fur and branches with his eyes, and finally saw something large and too pale a pink to belong in that environment. Reminding himself to stay detached and professional, he stepped up on the tree trunk to get a better view.