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Copyright © 2021 A.J. Flynn

All rights reserved

The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.

No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.

ISBN-13: 9781234567890

ISBN-10: 1477123456

Cover design by: Coverbarn

Library of Congress Control Number: 2018675309

Printed in the United States of America




























"When our actions do not, our fears do make us traitors."

William Shakespeare


The officer’s neck muscles corded as he clenched his teeth and struggled to swallow. They weren’t searching for a lost child anymore. They’d found him, but he was a dead child. A murdered young boy.

The wind whispered through the boughs of the looming evergreens, as though they were talking about him lying there, crumpled on the damp spongy ground. Dead bodies were a common enough occurrence for him, but when it was a child like this one, strangled, then tossed beneath a clump of bushes like garbage, it felt different.

He couldn’t have been much older than thirteen, and small for his age at that. Skinny, with bony elbows and knees, angled out and covered by the crimson flannel of his bathrobe.

Strange thing about that bathrobe. He lived no more than a block from where he had been found, but it was still odd, his leaving to go out in his pajamas and robe. Children that age were usually sensitive about what they wore and were careful to fit in and dress like everybody else.

The officer moved to where the underbrush hid half the body, and covered the boy’s face. Strangled victims were nothing new, but this one hit too close to home. His own boy would be fourteen this summer.

He rubbed his hands together quickly to warm them, then grabbed a pack of cigarettes from his front pocket and after burning through four matches got one lit. The amber glow from the little coal was comforting, for though he was far from timid, he had never gotten used to standing watch over the newly dead. After two or three drags he flashed his torch over the nearby ground, not that it helped, but it was something to occupy him until the technical crews arrived.

There was no more to see than the last time he looked. A sparse spattering of footprints the murderer had tried to brush away with a tree branch, and the loosened soil where he had uprooted some nearby brambles to hide the body.

It was a botched job. Amateur all the way to the quick, and he must have been in one hell of a hurry too, because there were several footprints he’d missed altogether, and the body’s hiding place had been discovered by the first man with a dog that stumbled upon the path. If it were six or eight months later it couldn’t have happened because the contractor who had put up the development where the boy lived had received permits to build more houses on this tract.

He shivered and began walking back toward the road. The crew was taking their sweet time getting there. His partner was a little was further down the block looking over some fresh tire tracks they’d found. They most likely didn’t mean anything, though. Probably just some kids who parked to snuggle, perhaps, but in police work nothing could be overlooked until it had been thoroughly investigated. Most leads came to nothing, but sometimes they were enough to trip a criminal until he fell flat on his face. The one clue that came out right seemed to make up for all of the other missed connections.

Car lights flashed into view at the corner, so he crushed his cigarette and walked briskly to his appointed post.

He could make out the panel truck and the car that followed it up to the curb, then the men stepped out. There was hardly any confusion as they unloaded their equipment and, after locating the signal light, began down the narrow path. Once on the scene they assembled their lights and began the routine measures, photographing and preparing casts of the clearer footprints.

They were working with quiet efficiency when Police Lieutenant Emma McPherson, accompanied by the boy’s father, Dan Turner, came into view. What little chatter there had been stopped abruptly at their approach.

Turner looked to be at least five years shy of McPherson’s thirty-eight years, but he looked and acted as if he might be a decade older. McPherson’s broad face was resolute and her keen eyes took in everything as they entered the lighted area.

“This is Mr. Turner,” she announced shortly and, pulling her shoulders back, continued to the spot where the men with the cameras were working.

Turner, a tall thin man, head down, shuffled behind her; he looked to be about six feet two but he couldn’t have weighed more than one hundred and forty pounds. Even under the best of conditions he wouldn’t be much to look at, but in the eerie light and after the strained tension of waiting to hear what happened to his boy, he appeared cadaverous.

“Can you give us more light over here?” McPherson said as she turned and grabbed Turner’s arm. Nobody answered as a powerful light hovered over the spot.

“This isn’t going to be easy, Mr. Turner, and we know it just as well as you do, but we need a positive identification.”

Turner nodded by way of answer, then shuffled closer to the crumpled form. You could almost read his thoughts as he neared the body. He knew it was his boy, but the slowness of his shuffle showed how much he fought believing it. As though it might go away if he could somehow avoid looking. He passed his hand nervously over his perspiring face and

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