A DARK PATH Katrina Williams Book 3 by Robert E. Dunn
Genre: Mystery/Thriller Pub Date: 8/7/2018
Sheriff's detective Katrina “Hurricane” Williams confronts deep-rooted hate and greed in the Missouri Ozarks in this riveting police procedural…
What at first appears to be a brush fire in some undeveloped bottom land yields the charred remains of a young African-American man. As sheriff’s Katrina Williams conducts her in-spection of the crime scene, she discovers broken headstones and disturbed open graves in a forgotten cemetery.
As Katrina attempts to sort out a complex backwoods criminal network involving the Aryan Brotherhood, meth dealers, and the Ozarks Nightriders motorcycle gang, she is confronted by the sudden appearance of a person out of her own past who may be involved. And what seems like a clear-cut case of racially motivated murder is further complicated by rumors of hidden silver and dark family histories. To uncover the ugly truth, Katrina will need to dig up past crimes and shameful secrets that certain people would kill to keep buried . . .
Burning is not the best way to dispose of a body. It’s hard to get a fire hot enough, long enough, to burn through the layers of fat, muscle, and bone to destroy all the evidence you need gone. It doesn’t smell very good either.
Before it ever got to me, the situation had worked through a few preliminary steps. First, the pair of teens who discovered the fire debated calling it in. They had been parking and fooling around in a secluded spot off a rutted dirt track—usually used by fishermen going to the lake. I imagine it was a tough debate among hormones, responsibility, and fear of angry parents. They told me later they would have let the blaze go if the boy’s father hadn’t been a volunteer fireman.
After a brutally stormy spring, the summer had been hot and dry. Over recent weeks, the Ozarks had fallen into a deep drought. Lake levels were way down, crops were withering, and small fires were whipped into big ones by even the smallest breeze. The boy had been lectured about it so many times, it was impossible for him to pretend ignorance.
After the kids called 911 to report what they believed was a trash fire, deputies and the fire department were dispatched. The boy’s father showed up on the pumper. I understand there was a parenting opportunity that involved a little tough love.
That opportunity was probably lost when the embers were raked out and doused. In the center of the smoking pile was a charred lump everyone assumed was a log. When it was hit with direct pressure, the log split open. Under the black surface was pink meat and steaming flesh. That was when they called me.
My phone rang a few minutes shy of two a.m. Late Saturday night—or early Sunday morning—depending on how pedantic you are about that sort of thing. I’m not at all, at least not at that hour. I was in bed, and not yet sleeping because it wasn’t my bed.
Every call to my phone rings the same tone except one, the Taney County Sheriff’s Department. I knew it was a work call even without the tone. Real life always intrudes whenever I find a bit of peace in my life.
“This is Katrina,” I said softly into the phone.
“Who’re you whisperin’ for?” our jailer asked. He laughed like he actually knew something. It was a thick, rheumy cackle that made me picture the soggy cigar in his jowled face.
I was actually relieved. If he was calling, I might be able to stay in bed. “What do you want, Duck?” His name was Donald Duques, earning him the permanent sobriquet, Donald Duck—always shortened to simply Duck. He laughed again and I became unpleasantly aware of being naked.
“Got a body,” he interjected between wet hacks of laughter.
“What?” Given who he was and the old school Ozarks diction, I can be forgiven for thinking he was commenting about my appearance.
I was about to give him some choice thoughts on his manners when he said again, “We got a body. Out on the west side shore of Bull Shoals by Kissee Mills.”
Detective Billy Blevins shifted in the sheets behind me. His arm moved against my bare thigh and hip. I was distracted by the warm contact. “What?”
Duck laughed again. “What’d I catch you doin’? Work can’t hold your attention?”
“Why are you calling me?”
“I told you—”
“Why you, Duck?”
“Oh,” he swallowed the laugh. “Gettin’ a little overtime. Workin’ weekend overnights on dispatch.”
“Then stick to the job at hand, would you? What’s the call?”
“Couple ‘a kids called in a fire. Calvin called for a detective when the fire department found a body in the brush heap.”
“Where?” I stood and broke contact with Billy’s arm. My skin immediately regretted the loss.
“That undeveloped bottom land, down the fishing trail that goes off of Hole Road.”
Duck told me the names of deputies on scene and I started searching for my underthings. They were close by on the floor. Finding them made me think of losing them. I smiled.
“I’ll be half an hour,” I informed Duck.
“From your place?” He sounded surprised.
“Half an hour,” I repeated and broke the connection.
Moonlight through a high window illuminated Billy lying in the sheets. It was a nice sight. I was amazed—and alternately delighted and terrified—by that development in my life. Not as amazed; however, as I was that he’d never woken while I talked on the phone and dressed. Maybe I was projecting. My own sleep was fragile and filled with ghosts. Billy seemed to have the ability to sleep without demons.
He and I had circled each other for years. We were deployed to Iraq at the same time. In the worst moment of my life, Billy appeared for the first time. I don’t even know if the memory is real. Everything else about that time is solid and undeniable. I was brutalized by two superior officers. They left me for dead in the blowing brown dust that eddied behind a mud wall. Grain by grain, the dun-colored wind piled a grave on top of me. I pulled myself from the dirt, staggered then crawled to a road. Insurgents found me first. They would have shot me like a rabid dog in a ditch if an Army patrol hadn’t shown up. All of that is true. And it’s true that a young medic, a corporal, cleaned and stabilized me in the back of a rushing Humvee. There’s a little piece of that, the piece I believe but don’t know: Billy Blevins was that medic. He’s never said and I’m afraid to ask. But I believe.
There were so many reasons why we never should have gotten to this point. I hated giving up any moment of lying naked with him.
Still. . . I’m a cop and the real world was calling.
A PARTICULAR DARKNESS Katrina Williams Book 2
Pub Date: 9/12/2017
From the author of A Living Grave comes a gripping police procedural featuring sheriff's detective Katrina Williams as she exposes the dark underbelly of Appalachia . . .
Dredging up the Truth
Still recovering from tragedy and grieving a devastating loss, Iraq war veteran and sheriff's detective Katrina Williams copes the only way she knows how—by immersing herself in work. A body's just been pulled from the lake with a fish haul, but what seems like a straight-forward murder case over the poaching of paddlefish for domestic caviar quickly becomes murkier than the depths of the lake.
Soon a second body is found—an illegal Peruvian refugee woman linked to a charismatic tent revival preacher. But as Katrina tries to investigate the enigmatic evangelist, she is blocked by antagonistic FBI agents and Army CID personnel. When more young female refu-gees disappear, she must partner with deputy Billy Blevins, who stirs mixed feelings in her, to connect the lake murder to the refugees. Katrina is no stranger to darkness, but cold-blooded conspirators plan to make sure she'll never again see the light of day . . .
We had lights on our helmets and a flashlight each, but our progress was really because of Billy’s familiarity with the path. Three turns and one crawl-through and we came out into a chamber. At one end water dripped and trickled, seeming to bleed right out of the stone and filled a small basin. At the other end, the basin emptied into a silent steam that disappeared into a fissure the size of my fist. In between was a flat space on which we sat. Billy pointed out shapes and features in the walls and ceiling.
“Are there bats?” I asked.
“Not all caves have bats,” he answered without laughing or making me feel bad for asking. “But this one has something better. Something special.”
He slipped down to his knees and put his face low. For a second I thought he was going to put his head under the pool of water. Instead, he shined his flashlight around until he found what he wanted.
“Come look at this.” His voice had become a whisper.
I joined him staring into the light beam within the water. What, at first, I thought were reflections, moved away from the light. Fish. They were tiny, like minnows, but the color of bleached bone. Their eyes were small and dead looking. It was as if I was looking into a ghost world.
“Down here.” Billy pointed with the flashlight then poked a finger into the beam.
There, along the line of his finger was a white rock.
“A pebble?” I asked.
The rock moved and the strange shape resolved into what appeared to be a tiny lobster.
“Crayfish,” I said excited. It was so colorless it was practically transparent at the edges. “So pale.”
“They don’t need color in the darkness. They don’t need eyes either.”
I sat up, stunned and elated by the place I was in. “Thank you,” I said looking around. “For sharing this with me.”
“This isn’t what I wanted to share,” Billy said.
He reached to the lamp on my hard hat and killed the light. After a moment, he turned off my flashlight. Again he waited a few seconds to turn off his flashlight. Finally, after a longer pause, he turned off his own headlamp.
We were in the kind of complete darkness I don’t think I’d ever experienced. It was thrilling and jarring at the same time. I reached and took his hand without even thinking. The black we were in was like distance and I wanted to be close.
“Why?” I asked.
“Look around,” he answered, softly.
“It’s dark,” I said. “Nothing but black.”
“There’s no light. But absence isn’t exactly black.”
“I don’t understand.” I shook my head then wondered why.
“Some of the guys I know . . .” Billy said then stopped.
I knew he was talking about something different then, but still the same. A change in subject not in meaning. I waited, like waiting for a suspect. He had to be the one to fill the silence.
“Veterans,” he continued. “Guys who were over there. We talk sometimes. They talk a lot about the things they see when they close their eyes. It’s always personal. No one ever has the same experience or the same . . . vision on events. Look around. Do you still see nothing?”
I did as he asked and noticed for the first time that blackness wasn’t exactly, only blackness. There were patterns of light, vague shimmers, not entirely seen, but not simply imagined, I was sure.
“Something . . .” I admitted.
“Our eyes don’t like complete darkness. When there’s no light to be seen, the optic nerves still fire, populating the void with specters. The thing is, your eyes won’t see what mine do and I won’t see what you experience. Darkness is singular. What you see, is your particular darkness, no one else’s. No matter how well you describe it, no one will see it the way you do.”
“You’re not talking about darkness.” I actually thought I heard fear in my voice.
“You’re holding my hand.”
“Yes,” I answered, squeezing.
“Is it real?”
“What do you mean?”
“My hand. Me. Am I real”
“Of course,” I said. “Why would you not be?”
“That’s what I tell the other guys. We all have our own darkness within us and sometimes it gets out, it shadows our lives, the entire world we see. Those times we get so wrapped up in seeing our own thing, our own darkness, we forget the real out there beyond it.”
He let go of my hand and I was suddenly untethered. I was adrift in my own darkness. It was a familiar feeling. In a way, comforting. The same way what is familiar and expected is always somehow a comfort. But I didn’t want the darkness anymore. I realized I wanted his hand.
“Billy . . .”
He touched my face. Then the touch became a hold as he placed his hands to each side with his fingers in my hair. His thumb rested on the scar that framed my eye and I didn’t mind.
“I don’t want to live in the dark anymore,” I confessed.
Then Billy Blevins kissed me.
When we walked out of the crevasse and entered the cave’s mouth, the world was a circle of light to be walked into. It spread and opened as we approached. When I stepped through, I understood what Billy had said about breathing sunshine.
A LIVING GRAVE
Katrina Williams Book 1
The first in a gritty new series featuring sheriff’s detective Katrina Williams, as she investigates moonshine, murder, and the ghosts of her own past… BODY OF PROOF
Katrina Williams left the Army ten years ago disillusioned and damaged. Now a sheriff’s detective at home in the Missouri Ozarks, Katrina is living her life one case at a time—between mandated therapy sessions—until she learns that she’s a suspect in a military investigation with ties to her painful past.
The disappearance of a local girl is far from the routine distraction, however. Brutally murdered, the girl’s corpse is found by a bottlegger whose information leads Katrina into a tangled web of teenagers, moonshiners, motorcycle clubs, and a fellow veteran battling illness and his own personal demons. Unraveling each thread will take time Katrina might not have as the Army investigator turns his searchlight on the devastating incident that ended her military career. Now Katrina will need to dig deep for the truth—before she’s found buried…
I felt like it was the end of summer. Not that there was a hint of green or the creeping red-oranges of leaves turning. In Iraq, everything was brownish. Not even a good, earthy brown. Instead, everything within my view was a uniform, wasted, dun color. It was easy to imagine the creator ending up here on the seventh day, out of energy and out of ideas after spending his palate in the joy of painting the rest of the world. This spit of earth, the dirty asshole of creation we called the Triangle of Death, didn’t even rate a decent brown.
I had been in country for eight months. I had been First Lieutenant Katrina Williams, Military Police, attached to the 502nd Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division for a little over a year. Pride and love had brought me here. Proud to be American and just as proud to have come from a military family, I was in love with what the ROTC at Southwest Missouri State University had shown me about my country’s military. I fell in love with the thought of the woman I would become serving my nation. I wanted to echo the men my father and my uncle were and add my own tone to the family history. Iraq bled that all out of me. Just like it was bleeding my color out into the dust. Bright red draining into shit brown.
It was the impending weight of change that made me feel like the end of summer. As a girl, back home in the Ozarks, the summers seemed to last forever. It wasn’t until the final days, carried over even into a new school year, when the air cooled and the oaks rusted, that I could feel them ending. Their endings were like the descent of ice ages, the shifting of epochs. That was exactly how I felt bleeding into the dirt. The difference was that I felt an impending death rather than transition. The terminus of an epoch. In Iraq though, nothing was as clear as that. It was death; but it wasn’t.
Lying on my back, I wished I could see blue sky, but not here. The air was hazed with dust so used up it became a part of the atmosphere. There was no more of the earth in it. Grit, like bad memories and regret, hanging over an entire nation. I coughed hard and it hurt. A bubbly thickness slithered up my throat. Using my tongue and what breath I had, I got the slimy mass up to my lips. I just didn’t have it in me to spit. Instead, I turned my head to the side and let the bloody phlegm slide down my cheek. Dying is hard.
Wind, hot and cradling the homeland sand so many factions were willing to kill for, ran over the wall I was hidden behind. It eddied there, slowing and swirling and then dumping the dirt on my naked skin. A slow-motion burial. Even the land here hated naked women.
I stayed there without moving, but slipping in and out of consciousness for a long time. It seemed long, anyway. I dreamed. Dreamed or remembered so well they seemed like perfect dreams of—everything. Green.
We played baseball. Just like in old movies with kids turning a lot into a diamond. No one does that anymore, but we did. My grandfather played minor league ball years ago and I had a cousin who was a Cardinals fan. Everyone was a Cardinals fan, so I loved the Royals. When the games were over and it was hotter than the batter’s box when I was pitching—I had a wild arm—my father would take me to the river. Later when we had cars, I was drawn there every summer to swim and swing from the ropes. We floated on old, patched inner tubes and teased boys. That was where I learned to drink beer. My father would take me fishing on the river. My grandfather would take me on the lakes. I used the same cane pole my father had when Granddad taught him about fishing. Both of the men used to say to the girl who complained about not catching anything, “It’s not about the catching, it’s about the fishing.” I don’t think I ever understood until a good portion of my blood was spilled on the dirt of a world that hated me.
My head spun back to the moment and back to Iraq. If I was going to die, I would have done it already, I figured. At least my body. That physical part of me would live on. That other part of me, the girl who loved summer… I think she was already dead. Death and transition.
Robert E. Dunn was born an Army brat and grew up in the Missouri Ozarks. He wrote his first book at age eleven turning a series of Jack Kirby comic books into a hand written novel.
Over many years in the, mostly, honest work of video and film production he produced everything from documentaries, to training films and his favorite, travelogues. He returned to writing mystery, horror, and fantasy fiction for publication after the turn of the century. It seemed like a good time for change even if the changes were not always his choice.
Mr. Dunn is the author of the horror novels, THE RED HIGHWAY, MOTORMAN, and THE HARROWING, as well as the Katrina Williams mystery/thriller series, A LIVING GRAVE, A PARTICULAR DARKNESS, and the upcoming A DARK PATH.
I’m taking a stand. YAWN
I saw that. I understand it too. Saying that you are taking a stand in today’s America is like announcing you’re taking a breath. It seems like people are shouting everywhere. And all those shouts are about what they believe. Who they believe in.
But I don’t really believe in shouting. I’m just a poor writer trying to get some books out into the world. I’m not one of those celebrity writers who gets attention for their position on a topic. I’m certainly not one of those celebrities, who has decided to write a book. That’s to say I don’t have the benefit of celebrity. Heck, I hardly sell any books. I do hope to change that, hint-hint. The thing is that me saying I am taking a stand and the kind of position I’m talking about has the chance to hurt me. At least it has the chance to hurt my sales.
I can literally hear eyes rolling out there. Who cares? Say what I have to say and shove off, you’re thinking.
That’s the thing. I’m not here to lecture or tell you to do anything. This is about me. This is about the small things I can do to make a better world and, I hope, better books.
A little about me—I’m an old, white, guy. To look at me you would think I’m the poster-boy for status quo. That’s important because of the messages in my books. If you know nothing of me but my middle-class American, Caucasian position in the world, you might have an expectation about the books, and characters I write. And it is the expectation I’m taking a stand on.
I’ve said this before, good writing, the kind that inspires a deep connection between the author and the reader, will always give something of the writer away. Why? Because art takes effort. Anyone can throw paint at a canvas. Few can make it mean something. Most of us are not a Jackson Pollock. The same is true for books. We can all toss words at a page. It’s easier than ever with word processing, digital publishing and a thirsty internet to put words out and call it a book. Like I said earlier, any celebrity can do it and make more money off one than I will off fifty.
Okay, maybe I got a little sidetracked.
Now where was I?
Art. Yes. And expectation. I want to change what you expect from my books. My Katrina (Hurricane) Williams novels are set in the Missouri Ozarks. The Ozarks are not a region noted for broad racial depth, or cultural diversity. You may not have noticed, but in those books, Katrina has interacted with people of color in primary roles. She has encountered, and been changed by, gay characters. The latest, the upcoming, A Dark Path, deals with racism. That’s no surprise. I’ve written books before that have used that theme. The stand it not against racism. Who doesn’t stand against that? Don’t answer. If that’s a trigger for you, I don’t want to hear it. My stand is not against, but for.
I make an effort to include diverse characters in my books. That’s it. That’s my stand. Diversity. By that I don’t mean casual inclusion. And I don’t mean that I intend to write books about cultural experiences that I have no experience with. It is not about taking from anyone or representing what I can’t. I mean, my book’s worlds should be diverse. And that’s not a simple, black and white, or race issue. It means different people. Race, gender, sexuality, abilities—all the things I encounter in life I want reflected in my books. Actually I want them reflected in all books. That’s nothing I have a say in so I will try simply setting an example.
See? Now that I’ve said it, it seems like such a small thing. A writer wants his characters to look like the world around him. Obvious right?
If it was so obvious why did I even have to say it? Why did I ever have to think about it? Story tellers, writers, filmmakers, game makers, comics artists—we’ve all been trained to work toward a certain audience. There’s that old status quo thing. It’s changing. The young artists out there don’t have the same cultural boundaries on them that I grew up with. That’s a great thing.
So what’s it matter that I’m making my own effort? It probably won’t to most of the world. My hope is that it might to my kids. A reader or two might notice. How cool will it be if no one notices? That’s really my goal I guess—that my effort becomes invisible.
And it is no effort at all. That’s why it’s a stand I guess. Something effortless, that can mean so much in the world, needs to be talked about.
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