Betraying Trust – L.A. Dobbs

Chief Sam Mason needs hard evidence to nail elusive drug dealer Lucas Thorne. Mayor Harley Dupont offers to provide it. But Dupont is murdered before he can talk. Sam and Sergeant Jody Harris don’t know who they can trust aside from their loyal K-9, Lucy. When the FBI comes sniffing around, their past actions come back to haunt them. Just as Sam’s strongest clue appears to be a dead end, a surprise twist reveals the truth behind Dupont’s murder as well as the mysterious death of officer Tyler Richardson, and Sam learns that what he thought was a betrayal of trust was really something else entirely. S CHAPTER ONE am Mason stared at the photos of the bloody crime scene lining the corkboard in his office and reminded himself that sometimes, serving justice didn’t always mean doing things by the book. Especially when you were the chief of police of a small northern New Hampshire town loaded with corruption. He scrubbed his hand over his face, the rasping sound of the rough stubble on his chin reminding him that he was operating on only a few hours of sleep. He still wasn’t caught up from the weekend stakeout that had turned out to be a waste of time. “We can stare at these all we want, but they’re not going to tell us who killed him.” Sergeant Jody Harris stood beside him. Coppery curls sprang from under her navy-blue police cap, her gray eyes studying the photos intently. She had a yellow legal-sized notepad in one hand and a number-two pencil in the other. “I know, but I keep hoping I’ll see something that will give us a lead.

” “We already know Thorne’s behind this. And we have to prove it and take him down before he takes us down.” Jo was right. The crime scene had a lot of potential for things to go sideways for Sam and Jo. The victim, Mayor Harley Dupont, had requested a secret meeting with them the night he was killed. He’d promised to turn over information that would help incriminate Lucas Thorne. Sam desperately needed such information. He’d been trying to get something on the real estate developer, whom they suspected was responsible for the influx of drugs into White Rock for years now. Trouble was, every time Sam thought he had a good sting in place, someone tipped off Thorne. Which brought him to the second piece of information Dupont had promised: something on fellow officer Tyler Richardson.

Earlier that summer, Tyler had been gunned down at what appeared to be a routine stop. It appeared as if he’d pulled over to help someone with a flat tire. But the case had turned strange. The facts didn’t add up. The killer and the driver of the car were never found. The only solid clue was a lone fingerprint that didn’t match any in the Automated Fingerprint Identification System database. Dupont had claimed he had information about Tyler’s death, which, as it turned out, could be another big problem for them. Sam glanced back at the photos taken inside the abandoned mill where Dupont had requested the meeting. Dupont lay on the dusty, wide pine floorboards. Blood pooled under his head, and a gun lay at his side.

Pigeon droppings splattered the scene as if someone had taken a brush and flung paint around. Sam could still smell the dry wood of the old mill and hear the pigeons flapping in the odd hushed silence that always seemed to surround the dead. His eyes focused on one photo. Dupont’s empty hand lay palm up, half curled. Dupont had been dead when they arrived, their only information on a small scrap of paper in the dead mayor’s hand. Had anyone noticed that paper was missing? “I still can’t believe that Tyler was tipping off Thorne,” Jo said, as if reading Sam’s thoughts about the missing piece of paper. The paper, a scrap from a DNA test, indicated that their fellow officer and trusted friend Tyler was related to Lucas Thorne. The paper wasn’t in the crime scene photos because Sam and Jo had taken it. And that wasn’t the only thing they’d tampered with before the rest of the police arrived, which was why this investigation could become an even bigger problem. Sam glanced back at the door to his office.

Shadows moving beyond the smoked glass window set in the top portion of the antique golden-oak door indicated activity in the squad room. Sam lowered his voice. “Maybe he wasn’t.” “But those DNA results. There’s no denying those,” Jo whispered. “I would’ve bet my paycheck that Tyler was one of the good guys too.” Sam looked down at her and nodded. After Tyler had died, they’d done everything to protect his memory. They’d investigated the case in their spare time even though the state police had taken over and forbidden them from taking part in the investigation. Jo had even forged an entry in Tyler’s logbook to make it appear as though he’d done everything by the book.

But still, from the very beginning, something had been off. “It kind of makes sense now. We knew someone was feeding information to Thorne. That’s why all our surprise busts didn’t pan out.” “Especially the last one at the river. But Tyler was already dead. Who was feeding him information then?” Sam shrugged. “I suspect Thorne simply felt things were too hot around here with the mayor’s death just days before and called off the drop.” They’d been tipped that Thorne was moving drugs out of state using a small river in a remote location. But a two-day stakeout at the most likely spot had yielded nothing.

Sam figured Thorne had realized it was too risky to make a move so close to Dupont’s murder. “Probably. So how do we catch him? We’ve been over the crime scene countless times. We’ve scoured Dupont’s house and his office.” Sam walked to the tall windows in his office and looked out at the quaint New England town, past the green of the commons and toward the brick building where Harley Dupont used to preside as mayor. Lucy, the German shepherd mix police dog, lay in a pool of early-morning sunshine on the honey-gold oak floor. She glanced up with one whiskeybrown eye then, upon deciding there was nothing of interest going on, snapped it shut and went back to sleep. “I just hope we’re doing the right thing.” “We haven’t done anything yet.” Jo tapped the end of her pencil on her notepad.

“Well, hardly anything. I mean, we did what we did for the right reasons.” The tense tone of her voice indicated she felt the same apprehension that Sam did about tampering with crime scenes. He reminded himself they were doing this for the right reasons. They were the good guys. But the way things had gone down with Dupont made Sam think Thorne might have seen an opportunity to silence the mayor and frame Sam for it. Sam walked back to the corkboard, keeping his voice low. Only he and Jo knew what the crime scene had really looked like in that mill, and he wanted to keep it that way. “We have our work cut out for us, but finding the killer could lead us to Thorne.” “Whoever did this must be a close associate of Thorne’s.

If we can nail him for the murder, maybe we can convince him to give us evidence on Thorne’s other activities.” Jo glanced up at him. “I just hope a full investigation won’t uncover some things better left covered.” “That’s why I did a little rearranging.” Sam cocked his head and looked at the photo of the gun next to the mayor, almost exactly as it would be positioned if he’d shot himself. Almost. “Gives us the opportunity to rule it a suicide.” Sam didn’t like the idea of not conducting the full investigation. He was all about justice. But in this case, what could come out in the investigation might not serve justice.

Maybe Thorne had rigged things this way on purpose. Still, he was having regrets about moving the gun. Tampering with crime scenes wasn’t the norm for him. He had integrity. Principles. But sometimes you had to do what you had to do in order to get to the truth. “Seems risky. What about the medical examiner and Kevin? We won’t be the only ones looking at this case.” “John hasn’t written up his report yet. He hasn’t said one way or the other whether he thinks it’s suicide or homicide.

And Kevin, well, I think he seems on board with ruling it a suicide.” “How do you know that?” “He indicated that when we were on the stakeout.” Sam had been surprised that their part-time officer, Kevin Deckard, had apparently been well aware that Thorne might be setting them up. Kevin had come a long way in the few months since Tyler’s death. Sam hadn’t been so sure of his loyalties earlier in the summer, but he’d stepped up big time and gone above and beyond on the stakeout. Sam hadn’t taken him into his confidence about what he’d done at the crime scene, though. The only one he trusted with that was Jo. A knock sounded on the door. Sam shot a warning look at Jo, not that it was necessary. “Come in,” Sam said.

The door opened, and Kevin Deckard and Wyatt Davis came in. Kevin clutched a white bag of doughnuts from the local coffee shop, Brewed Awakening, in his hand. “Hey, Chief. I’ve shown Wyatt the ropes.” Kevin raised the bag. “Including the important parts, like where Brewed Awakening is.” “Thanks for coming in early, Wyatt.” Wyatt wasn’t supposed to start for two weeks, but given everything taking place with the investigation, they’d called him in to start that morning. “No problem,” Wyatt said. He looked at ease in his uniform.

Proud to wear it. Maybe a little too proud. If he had an overly developed sense of his own authority, Sam would have to deal with that later. It wasn’t as if applicants for this police job way up in the middle of nowhere were knocking down his door. Wyatt’s had been the most qualified of the few resumes that had crossed his desk. Kevin gave the bag to Jo. She peered inside and pulled out a jelly doughnut then passed the bag to Sam. The crinkling of the bag woke Lucy. She trotted over next to Sam and gazed up at him with hopeful eyes. “Not today, buddy.

These aren’t good for you.” Sam bit into a cruller and passed the bag to Wyatt. “Any new ideas?” Kevin’s eyes drifted to the corkboard. “I brought Wyatt up to speed on what we have so far.” Wyatt stepped in front of the board. “I hear the mayor wasn’t well liked around here,” he said without turning to face them, still studying the gruesome photos. “Not really,” Sam said. “He made upholding the law difficult for us.” “There was a reason. He was in deep with Thorne.

” Jo wiped a blob of jelly off her shirt. “He wasn’t a nice guy, either.” Kevin put the doughnut bag on Sam’s desk and bent down to pet Lucy. “If he had his way, we wouldn’t have Lucy here as our K-9.” Wyatt turned, his dark eyes narrowed on the dog. “Animal hater?” “Yep,” Jo said. “Probably made a lot of enemies,” Wyatt said. “No doubt.” Sam leaned a hip against his desk and looked back at the photos. “Dupont had set up a meeting with Jo and me that night.

He was going to hand us evidence we could use against Lucas Thorne. But when we got there, he was already dead. Dupont must have been getting nervous about what he had gotten himself into. Either he couldn’t see any way out and took his own life, or Thorne got wind he was going to talk and took it for him.” Wyatt’s eyes flicked to the photos. “You think it could be suicide?” “Possibly. The gun was at the scene and in the right position,” Sam said. Wyatt cocked his head to look at a photo from a different angle, doubt seeping into his expression. “If he was murdered, leaving the gun doesn’t make any sense,” Jo said. “Unless the killer had a reason.

” “Like what?” Wyatt asked. “To frame Sam or Jo.” Kevin’s words surprised Sam. Apparently, Kevin was much more insightful than Sam had thought. “That would serve two purposes,” Jo said. “Avoid being prosecuted himself and put someone in place here at the police station that he can control.” Wyatt nodded and reached down to pet Lucy, his face relaxing into a smile as his hands touched her tan-and-black fur. Her tail swished on the floor. Sam’s estimation of Wyatt went up a notch. Anyone who liked dogs was okay in his book.

Wyatt looked back up at them. “So, how do we prove it was him?” J CHAPTER TWO ody Harris sat in the hard oak chair that Sam liked to use when questioning suspects. He’d sawn a quarter inch off of one leg so that it tipped back and forth. Came in handy for throwing suspects off balance during interrogations. Not so handy for taking notes in a police investigation, as Jo was trying to do right now. Sam was in front of his desk, one hip leaned against the edge. Kevin and Wyatt took up the other two oak chairs. Lucy was back in her spot in the sun. It had been almost a week since the murder. They’d done a fairly thorough job of looking for evidence at Dupont’s and had also interviewed all of his contacts.

They’d been busy on the stakeout at the river where they thought Thorne would be making a drug drop, and that had eaten into time they could have spent investigating Dupont’s death. Jody glanced at the new guy, Wyatt. He seemed competent. She supposed he was good-looking, tall with a trim-cut beard. Not as tall as Sam or as broad, but he had a certain boyish appeal. Not that Jo was looking; Wyatt was ten years her junior, and she wasn’t in the market for a man anyway. She appreciated that Sam had given her a chance to look at his resume and talk to Wyatt before making the final decision on hiring him. It made her feel like her input was important. It was early yet, but Jo doubted she’d develop the same bond with Wyatt that she had with Sam and Tyler. Maybe that wasn’t such a bad thing considering that Tyler had ended up being a traitor.

Wyatt seemed competent, and they desperately needed the help. Hopefully, they’d click over time. And now that Kevin seemed to be coming around, they might have a pretty tight team in place. Her gaze drifted back to Sam as he went over the specifics of the case. His navy-blue T-shirt was a bit rumpled, but he radiated an exciting energy even though the salt-andpepper stubble that covered his chin and the lines etched into his face betrayed the fact that he must be as tired as she felt. Sam was a good cop, a loyal cop, a trustworthy cop, and Jo was proud to work under him, even if he pushed them, no matter how exhausted they were, to solve this case. She glanced nervously again at the photos. Had it been a mistake to move the gun? There was no telling what Thorne had planned, and while neither of them wanted to obscure justice, they’d try to work the case so that the outcome was the same even if they had to take a circular route. If they thought it best to try to get a ruling of suicide, they’d continue their efforts to go after Thorne. Either way, Thorne would pay.

Whichever way Sam wanted to play it, Jo would go along, because she trusted him. Especially because he’d trusted her with his secret that night at the mill. A pang of guilt picked at her stomach. Problem was, she hadn’t trusted Sam with her secret yet, and until she did, things wouldn’t be open between them. “So you don’t mind doing that, Jo?” Sam’s question pulled her out of her thoughts. Jo’s head shot up. “What?” The pencil tapping on her notepad increased. “Making a few calls to some of the people Dupont met with the day before he died. Maybe one of them can give us some insight as to his frame of mind.” “Oh, yeah.

Sure. I have a list from his assistant. Of course, most of his meetings were with Jamison.” Henley Jamison had been Dupont’s vice mayor. He was now acting mayor and was almost as antagonistic as Dupont but maybe not quite as cautious. He’d already started to put pressure on them, just as Dupont had. Whether or not he would try to impede investigations that involved Thorne remained to be seen. Jamison was ambitious, but was he ambitious enough to get into bed with Thorne as Dupont had? It hadn’t worked out very well for his predecessor. “Okay, I’m going to go get together with John and go over his report,” Sam said, referring to John Dudley, the county medical examiner. “Kevin, I want you and Wyatt to go over the crime scene at Reed’s Ferry Mill again.

But this time, search farther away from the building. I know it’s contaminated there because it’s been a week. I know the drug addicts are going back in, but maybe there’s something out there. The killer might have parked on the access road and walked in. There’re some narrow trails. Take Lucy. If something is there, she’ll sniff it out.” At the sound of her name, Lucy lifted her head and gave Sam a questioning look, the fur on her forehead wrinkling above curious eyes. Kevin sat up a little straighter in his chair and nodded. As a part-timer and low man on the pole, Kevin was usually relegated to grunt work.

After Tyler’s death, they’d been shorthanded, and he’d had to step it up. At first, Jo hadn’t been so sure about trusting him with extra responsibilities. She thought she’d even caught him lying once when she’d seen him come out of the alley near a restaurant. But he’d proved himself these last few weeks, and she was happy he was getting better assignments, even if she was a bit jealous that Kevin was getting to do fun field work while she was stuck making phone calls on this one. Sam always had a reason for everything, and she suspected that Sam was giving this job to Kevin and Wyatt so it wouldn’t seem as if she and Sam were collecting all the physical evidence. A knock sounded on the door, and the receptionist, Reese Hordon, poked her head in. “Sorry, Sam. I got a call from Nettie Deardorff about Bitsy again. Seems the goat chewed up the hem of her new housedress that was drying on the clothesline.” Reese’s expression was apologetic.

Her long dark hair was pulled into ponytails that cascaded down the sides of her face. Her blue eyes looked at them keenly. Jo liked the young woman, who was a cadet at the police academy and had a good instinct for police work. Not to mention that her contacts at the academy sometimes allowed them to expedite things as well as glean sensitive information off the record. What Jo liked most about her was that Reese didn’t flinch when they had to push the envelope a bit in order to expedite justice. Lucy swiveled her head and wagged her tail furiously at the sight of Reese. “Goat?” Wyatt asked. “Nettie Deardorff is one of our senior residents. She’s had a feud going on with her neighbor, Rita Hoelscher, as long as I can remember,” Sam said. “They’ve fought over many things over the years, but ever since Rita got Bitsy—that’s her goat—Nettie has really stepped up her complaints.

Thing is, Bitsy does get out and chew on things. Sometimes I wonder if Rita lets her out on purpose. A few months ago, Nettie got a chicken, and now they take turns calling in complaints on the other’s pets. It always ends amicably. I think they just want attention.” Kevin rose from his chair. “I’ll take care of it.” Sam held his hand out. “You sit back down. This will be good experience for Wyatt.

Get him used to the local folks and all.” Kevin beamed. “Sure. I can handle that,” Wyatt said. “I have the address right here.” Reese held a pink Post-it note out toward Wyatt. Sam’s gaze drifted out the window. “Crap.” Henley Jamison was walking down the sidewalk. It was a hot summer day, but he wore his charcoal-gray Armani suit coat, his crimson tie making a statement against his white shirt.

Every single hair was perfectly in place as he strutted down the street in his shiny Ferragamo shoes toward the police station. Sam pulled open his drawer and grabbed his keys. “Okay, let’s wrap this up quick and get out of here before Jamison comes in and makes a pain in the butt of himself.” The office filled with the sounds of chairs scraping as they all jumped up and ran for the door. Sam’s voice stopped them as Jo was reaching for the old brass doorknob. “Let’s do our best work today. We need to wrap this one up quick. I have a feeling Jamison might be ready to call in reinforcements, and I don’t think any of us wants another police department getting into our business.” A CHAPTER THREE s Kevin turned into the parking area of the Reed’s Ferry Mill, Sam’s words echoed in his head. He sure as hell didn’t want another department looking into this case.

That might lead to investigating each of them, and that was the last thing he wanted. Especially considering what he’d been up to. In the passenger seat of the police-issue Crown Victoria, Lucy stared out the window intently, her gaze focused on the abandoned brick building. Kevin chose his parking spot carefully. The parking lot had been claimed by tall grass, scrawny shrubs, and thick weeds. He didn’t want the Crown Vic to get scratched, because it was a privilege to be allowed to drive it. The police department had only two vehicles; the other was the Tahoe that Sam usually drove. When Tyler had been alive, he’d driven the Crown Vic, and Kevin had to drive his own car. But once Tyler was gone, Kevin graduated to the Crown Vic. Now that Wyatt had been hired on full-time, would Sam let him drive the official car and bust Kevin back down to his personal vehicle? Kevin didn’t think so.

He had seniority, and Sam respected that sort of thing. But he still didn’t want to risk his privileges by getting the car all dirty and scratched. Kevin pulled to a stop and took his keys out of the ignition before reaching into his pocket for one of the special treats for which he drove two towns over to purchase for Lucy. They were her favorite. The smell of bacon permeated the car, drawing Lucy’s gaze to the treat in his hand. He fed her the treat and then patted her, taking comfort in the softness of her fur on his fingertips. “You remember this place, right, girl?” Lucy tilted her head. She’d been over the crime scene several times with Sam and Jo. “Of course, you do. Let’s give it another look.

I know you can find something.” Kevin got out of the car and came around to the passenger side to let Lucy out. Pride swelled in his chest. Lucy usually stayed with Sam or Jo, but today Sam had trusted him with the dog. He was making progress, becoming part of Sam and Jo’s inner circle. Kevin had gotten attached to Lucy. He enjoyed her company, and she seemed to understand him. Dogs just took you at face value; they never complained. Didn’t stab you in the back either. You could trust a dog.

People, not so much. Before Lucy had come to the department, Kevin had felt isolated. As a part-timer, he worked odd hours, and it always seemed as if Sam, Jo, and Tyler were in a special group and he was the outsider. Once Lucy came on the scene, he felt he had a friend. And now things were really looking up. His relationship with Sam and Jo was strengthening. Sam had been giving him more responsibility and had shown in several ways that he trusted Kevin. There was no way he would betray that trust. He couldn’t undo what he’d already done, but at least he could try to make up for his mistakes. His thoughts turned to the mysterious contact who had asked him to relay information about what was going on in the station.

It had started almost a year ago. He found notes in his mailbox and his car. He met with people in shadowy alleys. He’d almost been caught at it once and was forced to lie to Jo, making up a story about meeting his cousin who worked at the restaurant next to the alley when she’d seen him coming out of the alley after meeting his contact. Sure, he felt guilty about that now, but he’d done all that before he knew the truth. He’d thought he was doing the right thing. At first, Kevin hadn’t understood who was behind the requests. He thought the FBI was investigating Sam and Jo. Kevin knew the agency didn’t always go by the book, so he assumed they were up to something shady and he was helping the authorities catch them. Once he started to work with Sam more closely, he began to realize that was not the case.

Whoever was pressuring him for information about Sam and Jo was up to something else entirely. He was sure Sam and Jo weren’t doing anything underhanded. Sure, they used some unconventional methods, but sometimes that was what you had to do in order to get justice. Especially in a town like White Rock, where corruption reached as high as the mayor himself. And after what happened at the stakeout, Kevin had a sneaking suspicion the orders from his contact were coming directly from Lucas Thorne. It was no coincidence that the drug drop at the river never happened after Kevin leaked information about the stakeout to his contact. They waded through the knee-high grass. He’d have to check Lucy for ticks thoroughly later. He didn’t bother going into the building; they’d been over it many times already, and by now, the crime scene had been contaminated by the lowlifes who hung out inside the mill. The only things to be seen in there were dirty mattresses, used needles, and crumpled junk food wrappers.

He could do without the stink of vomit, urine, and sweat. He figured Lucy could too. Not to mention the piles of pigeon droppings and those noisy birds cooing and their claws scraping the rafters as Kevin tried to work the scene. One of them had expressed its displeasure at his presence by splattering a fresh drop on his black police boots. That stuff was caustic; it had taken the shine right off that quarter-shaped spot. Nothing Kevin tried could restore the luster. Kevin walked slowly, his eyes scanning the ground. Lucy ran ahead, sniffing every tree and acorn and scaring off a few squirrels, which chattered at her angrily from the branches they’d taken cover in. It was hot, one of those sticky end-of-summer days. A bead of sweat trickled down the back of Kevin’s neck as he swung his head back and forth, searching for anything that looked out of place.

He wondered if Sam would try to rule the investigation a suicide. He thought Sam might have a few reasons to do so. When Kevin had gotten to the crime scene, he’d noticed some discrepancies, like the smudge near the gun. He was pretty sure someone had moved it, and the only people who had been there were Sam and Jo … and the killer. But why would the killer move the gun? Just in case, Kevin had obliterated the telltale smudge with the toe of his boot when no one was looking. He didn’t want Sam to get into trouble. The other discrepancy Kevin had noticed was the way Dupont’s hand had been curled, as if he’d been clutching something. Kevin had to wonder if Sam knew more about that than he let on. But Kevin had his own reasons for wanting Dupont’s death to be ruled a suicide. An investigation might uncover some of the things he’d been up to, like tipping Thorne off to police activity.

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