Killing Dreams – L.A. Dobbs

Sam Mason’s phone pinged for the third time as he pulled the White Rock Police Department Tahoe into the dirt driveway that led to the ramshackle farmhouse where Frank Buckner had lived for most of his eighty-five years. He glanced down at the phone display as he slowed at the beginning of the long driveway, a knot forming between his shoulder blades as he read the texts. Two were from Harry Woolston, who wanted to stop by the station. The third was from his dispatcher, Reese Hordon, informing him that the brother of one of his officers was coming to drop off some things he’d found that might belong to the police. At least Reese had used the phone instead of that dispatch system she’d talked him into installing in the car. Sam glanced down at the mic hanging under the dash. Most police departments had used these for years, but in a town as small as White Rock a computerized dispatch system was hardly necessary. Still, Reese had somehow gotten funding for one, and she claimed it would be easier and more efficient because he could answer while driving instead of having to pull his phone out. Sam hated the thing. All it did was squawk static. Plus, it was a change from their normal routine, and Sam was finding that the older he got, the less he liked change. Sam coasted to a stop and picked up the phone to reply to both. Harry Woolston had once been chief of police of their small northern New Hampshire town, the same position Sam now held. Though Harry’s tenure had ended decades ago, that didn’t stop him from popping into the station and trying to insinuate himself into Sam’s cases. Sam understood that Harry was bored with retirement and wanted to reminisce about his glory days.

That part Sam didn’t mind, but Harry’s insistence at getting involved was getting out of hand. In fact, one could argue that Harry’s involvement and not listening to Sam’s orders was what had caused officer Kevin Deckard’s near-fatal shooting. Harry was in a bad place right now. He blamed himself for the shooting that had resulted in Kevin’s coma. Unfortunately, that meant Harry felt compelled to come to the station even more often in an attempt to assuage his guilt. Sam knew he should tell Harry to stay away, but he didn’t have the heart. It had been two weeks since the incident, and Kevin’s prognosis was uncertain. The doctors said time would tell. Kevin’s brother had flown in from California, and Sam wanted to make sure they gave that the importance it was due. Kevin was a good cop, and he wanted his family to have some peace while they were hoping for him to recover.

So many things to do already and it was only ten past eight in the morning. Sam should have passed this quirky call off to a junior officer, but Frank Buckner had been a friend of his grandfather’s and he felt duty-bound to take care of this personally—even if Frank’s claim of his dog finding a dinosaur bone was a bit preposterous. A whine from the back seat caught his attention, and Sam turned to see his German shepherd mix police K9, Lucy, lying down, her chin on her paws as if she felt the same way Sam did. “I know, girl, it’s crazy right?” Lucy’s brows lifted over golden-brown eyes as if in agreement. “We’ll just go see what Frank has. Let him down easy.” Sam took his foot off the brake and drove the rest of the way down the driveway. The late summer nights were starting to get cooler, but the mornings were still glorious, with sunshine warming the air and sparkling off the dew on the grass. Birds flew between tree branches, and squirrels were busy gathering acorns to store for winter. Frank sat in a wooden rocking chair on his porch, wearing a blue flannel shirt.

Steam rose from a mug cupped in his weathered hands. Sam’s heart squeezed with a pang of loneliness for his grandfather. They’d been close, and Gramps had been gone only a few years. He missed him still. All the more reason to treat Frank with personal attention and respect. Frank’s face cracked into a welcome smile as he recognized the Tahoe. He put the mug down and slowly rose from the chair. Sam could practically hear his bones creaking. They met halfway between the car and the porch and shook hands. Frank’s grip was as strong as a 25-year-old’s.

His blue eyes danced with excitement. “It’s the darnedest thing, Sam. I never seen nothing like it.” Frank ran a hand through his thick white hair. “I think it might be from some kind of dinosaur. Maybe it will even get in the museum.” “Maybe.” Sam hated to dash the old guy’s hopes, but he didn’t want to encourage him either. As far as he knew, no dinosaur bones had been found this far north. Most likely it was a bone from a moose.

Frank’s knees popped as he crouched down to pet Lucy. “Nothing like that’s been found up here before, right?” “I don’t recall any dinosaur bones being found here, but let’s not get too excited until we figure out what it really is.” Sam looked over Frank’s shoulder toward the porch. “So where is it?” Frank stood, some of his excitement fading. “Well now, that’s the thing. I haven’t been able to get it away from Ranger. He must realize it’s a rare find and doesn’t want to part with it.” Frank jerked his head toward the side of the house. “He’s out back guarding it like it’s a brick of gold.” Lucy glanced toward the side of the house and whined, then looked up at Sam.

“So, you haven’t really seen all of this bone yet?” Sam asked. “Well, not the whole thing, but it’s got a big knobby end.” Frank held his hands about a foot apart, then moved them a little closer, his expression now uncertain. “At least it seems big. I mean, it’s bigger than the bones Ranger usually finds. Looks long, too. Much bigger than the meat bones I get from the butcher.” Sam nodded. “Okay, let’s go take a look.” Frank led the way to the backyard, Lucy trotting at his heels and glancing up at Sam to make sure he followed.

As they rounded the corner of the house, Sam scanned the yard. He spotted Ranger, Frank’s oversized Rottweiler, lying next to the back steps, the unmistakable ivory color of a bone cradled in his paws. Most of the bone was hidden because his chin rested on it. The hairs on the back of Sam’s neck tingled. It didn’t look like a dinosaur bone, but it didn’t look like a moose bone, either. Lucy stopped a few feet from Ranger, her ears straight up, her gaze riveted on the other dog. Ranger looked at Lucy warily. His lip curled, and he let out a low growl. Lucy looked at Sam, and Sam shook his head. No sense in getting into a dogfight over a bone.

Frank sidled over to Ranger, who glanced up at him with an apologetic look, as if he knew he was doing something wrong but wasn’t about to give up the bone. “You’re a good boy, Ranger. Now show your treasure to the nice policeman here.” Ranger’s eyes flicked to Sam, and he nuzzled the bone deeper under his chest. Lucy moved closer, getting between Sam and the dog and earning another growl from Ranger. Frank cast Sam a sheepish look. “I’m sorry, Sam. He’s usually very obedient.” More knee popping as Frank squatted next to his dog. “Come on, buddy, we want to get a look at this bone.

Could make us famous, you know.” Ranger looked as if he was considering his options. Frank extended his hand, and the Rottweiler eyed it dubiously. Frank pushed further. “Come on, boy, you know you can trust me.” Ranger sighed, cast Lucy a suspicious look, and then turned loving, trustful eyes on Frank as he lifted his head off the bone. “Good boy.” Frank scratched Ranger’s chest, then reached in and pulled the bone from between his paws. He stood holding the bone out to Sam. “See, what did I tell you? That ain’t no deer bone.

Too big and not shaped right.” His gaze narrowed with uncertainty. “It’s a lot smaller than I thought it was. Maybe a small dinosaur? What do you think, Sam? Maybe there’re some tar pits up there or something. We should look for the rest of the bones.” Sam stared at the bone. Frank was right about one thing; it wasn’t an animal bone. Frank was probably too invested in his earlier hopes that he’d made a rare discovery to realize the bone was a femur. From a human. And Frank was right about another thing, too.

The rest of the bones were out there somewhere, and now Sam had the unenviable task of not only finding them but also figuring out who they’d belonged to and how they’d ended up here. “I CHAPTER TWO ’ve already checked all the files. A hiker was reported missing a few years back up on Dixon Notch.” Wyatt Davis rattled off the details of the missing hiker as he followed Sam through the old-fashioned lobby of the police station into his office. Sam had called back to the station as soon as he’d gotten back in the Tahoe with news of the bone, and his small team had sprung into action. Wyatt was fairly new to the department, but Sam liked the way he took initiative. He was going to be a good addition to the team and much needed, especially because they were down one officer with Kevin still in the hospital. Sam put the bone, which he’d wrapped in a towel, on his desk. He’d have to call John Dudley, the county medical examiner, and have him take it to the morgue. But right now he had a search to organize.

Wyatt eyed the towel. “The hiker was reported missing two years ago. How long do you think that bone has been out there?” “Hard to tell. If animals got at it, they would have picked it clean and left the bone to the elements…” Sam let his voice trail off at the gruesome thought. He’d seen some chew marks on the bone. There’d been no meat left on the bone, and he wasn’t exactly an expert on dating old bones. Lucy, who had lingered at the reception desk to score a treat from Reese, padded in and scanned the office warily. Probably looking for the stray cat that had shown up at the back door a few weeks ago. Sam suspected the cat had belonged to their latest offender, a cold-blooded murderer who had been killed when he’d pulled a gun on them during his arrest. If the cat was his, then it was now homeless, and Sam didn’t have the heart to kick it out even though the cat and Lucy seemed to be at odds.

“Don’t worry, she’s not in here,” Wyatt assured Lucy. Lucy cast one look at the towel on Sam’s desk, then flopped down in a patch of sunlight beneath the tall arched windows that overlooked Main Street. Stately oaks and maples lined Main Street, and the morning sun beamed through their thick leaves, causing dapples of sunlight to dance on the sidewalks. People strolled the street where the shops were just starting to open. Kids tossed a Frisbee on the grass in the commons. Just like any other day in a peaceful New England town, people went about their business not knowing that the remains of a body long lost lay hidden in the woods. Somewhere a family was waiting for this person to come home. It was Sam’s job to do that, a job he took very seriously. “Any runaways or other missing persons in the area?” Sam asked. “I only searched a few years back and in this county.

I’ll expand the search. Would help if we could narrow down a timeline.” “Hopefully John can help with that. In the meantime we need to get out there and start searching. I can call in the Staties. Maybe Bev Hatch has some people she can lend, but I don’t want to wait. Where’s Jo?” Sam glanced back through the door into the bullpen of the police station for his second in command, Jody Harris. “She went up to Nettie Deardorff’s. Apparently Bitsy ate her petunias.” Sam smiled.

There had been an ongoing feud between Nettie Deardorff and Rita Hoelscher. Most of the complaints came from Nettie, who claimed Rita’s goat, Bitsy, was damaging her property. Recently Nettie had adopted a chicken, and Sam thought it was mostly to get back at Rita. The two elderly women had been feuding as far back as Sam could remember, and he suspected their differences went much deeper than the goat. Even though their calls usually amounted to nothing, it was important in a small town like White Rock to go out and smooth things over. He wondered how long Jo would be out there. Jo was his most trusted officer, and the two had forged a bond that went beyond working together as cops. Jo knew Sam’s secrets. He knew she had his back. And he had hers, though sometimes he wondered if she was as forthcoming with her secrets as he had been with his.

But today they had an important search to conduct, and while he wanted Jo’s input on organizing it, he wasn’t going to wait. “She can join us later. I want to get out to the woods as soon as possible. Frank said he’d take Ranger out. Thinks the dog can lead us to the spot.” Sam opened the paneled oak door to the small closet in his office. The police station occupied the old post office and hadn’t been updated since the 1930s. Not that Sam minded. He much preferred the honey-golden oak doors and scarred wide pine flooring to the newer building’s indoor-outdoor carpet, beige walls, and steel desks. This place had character from the floor-to-ceiling windows with their intricately carved moldings to the antique brass post office boxes with their beveled glass panels and eagle motif that now served as a divider between the reception area and the squad room.

He grabbed a lime-green police vest and tossed it to Wyatt, then pulled one out for himself. “Harry’s on his way here.” Sam turned to see Reese standing in the doorway. Her brows were raised over wide blue eyes as if questioning whether or not she should let Harry in. “And Kevin’s brother will be here in thirty minutes.” Damn! Sam had been so focused on the bone recovery he’d forgotten all about Harry and Kevin’s brother. He didn’t want to put Kevin’s brother off. He knew how important it was for the family members to get answers when an officer had been shot in the line of duty. But the responsibility of finding the rest of the bones and discovering the identity of the person weighed on him. He’d have to leave word for Jo to meet with Kevin’s brother.

Jo had worked closely with Kevin and knew him as well as Sam. “Thanks. I want to get on this search as quickly as possible. When Jo comes back can you have her wait for Kevin’s brother and then join us at the search site as soon as she’s done?” “No problem.” Sam bent down and grabbed a pair of hiking boots from the closet, speaking over his shoulder to Reese. “And tell Harry that…” “Tell Harry what?” Harry Woolston appeared in the doorway beside Reese, looking at them curiously with intelligent blue eyes. He was thin and spry, his white cotton puff of hair contrasting with Reese’s jet black locks as the two of them stood side by side. “Is something going on?” Sam sat in his chair, toed his black shoes off, and started tugging the boots on. “Sorry, Harry. Frank Buckner found some bones out in the woods behind his place.

” “Human bones?” “Yep. We’re going to find the rest of them.” “Oh, I see.” Harry scratched his chin. “Old Bucky, huh? You sure you can trust what he says? He can be a little fanciful.” “Went out there and took a look myself.” Sam gestured to the lump under the towel, and Harry’s eyes widened. “Ahh, that seems important. I just came by to see if you wouldn’t mind a late lunch with Marnie Wilson.” “I think I’ll be kind of busy today, Harry.

” “Yeah, yeah. I see that. But you know Marnie really wants to help out and wants to get your take on a few things.” Marnie Wilson was Harry’s favorite candidate for mayor. Sam didn’t really know her well, but Harry had been pushing hard for his approval. Not that he had to push that hard; the current mayor was no prize and pretty much anyone would be better. “Maybe some other time.” “Yeah, see, her schedule is real busy and it would be a big personal favor. She has an opening later this afternoon and…” Sam was barely listening as he laced his boot and mentally went over the list of things he’d need for the search. Orange vest for Lucy.

Bug spray. Evidence bags and gloves. Flashlight. Lucy’s leash… now where was that? Sam pulled his bottom desk drawer open. Not in there. He opened the one above. He hardly ever used Lucy’s leash because she was trained to stay by his side, but he wanted it just in case they ran into anything she shouldn’t get into out in the woods. “It would mean a lot to me, I’d consider it a big personal favor, but if you’re busy…” Sam’s heart hitched at the dejection in Harry’s voice. Even though Harry could be a pain, the truth was he had helped in several investigations. Sam didn’t want to hurt his feelings, but the search was a priority.

“I don’t know how long I’ll be searching,” Sam said. The leash was in the middle desk drawer. He pulled it out and looked toward Lucy. Wyatt had found her vest and was putting it on her. “Good. Then you might still be able to go. I mean, if you find what you’re looking for. I’m sure she won’t mind if you’re busy. I’ll let her know what’s going on and she can swing by. If you’re here, good; if not, no big deal.

” “Okay, fine.” Sam was pretty sure he wouldn’t be there. If Marnie Wilson wanted to waste her time swinging by an empty police station, that wasn’t his problem. “Good.” Harry turned to leave. “Good luck out there. I’d offer to help but…” “Don’t worry. We have Lucy. She’ll find what we’re looking for.” Lucy’s ears perked up as if she’d understood his words.

“Then I’ll see you later.” Harry left. Sam pulled his flashlight from the drawer, stood and shrugged into his vest. “Reese, can you call Bev Hatch and find out if she can join us? I’ll let her know the location when we get there.” “Will do.” Reese turned and headed back to her desk. Sam looked at Wyatt. “Ready?” “Yep.” “We’ll take the Tahoe.” Sam had a supply of gloves and evidence bags in the vehicle.

Lucy trotted to the door and waited for them. Out in the bullpen, the cat sat on top of a filing cabinet, its paws tucked underneath, jet black fluffy hair puffed out all around it. It stared at them with ominous green eyes. Lucy gave the cabinet a wide berth, but that didn’t stop the cat from hissing. As they jumped in the Tahoe and drove back toward Frank’s, Sam couldn’t shake the feeling that what he was about to find in the woods would not be what he expected. S CHAPTER THREE ergeant Jody Harris eyed the white bakery bag on Reese’s desk in the station’s reception area. She could really go for a jelly doughnut right now, but the snug fit of the belt around her normally slim hips gave her pause. Maybe she should lay off the sweets for a while. She was pushing forty now and couldn’t pack them away like she used to. “Sam and Wyatt took off to search the woods to find the rest of the bones.

” Reese barely looked up from her typing. Jo tore her eyes from the bag and frowned at Reese. “Bones?” Jo had just returned to the station after a grueling hour of trying to settle the latest argument between Rita and Nettie. She’d finally gotten them to shake hands when Rita promised to buy a new flat of petunias and plant them. When she’d left, Rita was breaking out the fruitcake, and they were sitting down to tea. She hadn’t heard anything about any bones. What was Reese talking about? Reese stopped typing, leaned her elbows on the desk, and looked at Jo. “Yeah, if you turned on your police radio you might have heard about it.” Oh, that. Jo wasn’t used to having a dispatch radio installed in the Crown Vic—one of two official police cars the town owned.

She kept forgetting to turn it on. “Anyway,” Reese sighed and pushed the bag of doughnuts toward Jo. “Turns out Frank Buckner’s dog dug up a bone in the woods. A human bone.” Something in the back of Jo’s mind stood at attention; her frown deepened. “A human bone?” “Yep. A femur. You just missed them. They took Lucy to try to locate more bones.” Reese nudged the white bag closer and Jo shook her head.

Reese lifted her brow and shrugged before pulling a chocolate cruller from the bag. “He’s going to text me the coordinates so you can join them. Bev Hatch is on her way. She mentioned something about notifying the state police.” Jo’s mind reeled. Human bones in the woods were bad enough, but Jo had a personal reason to be concerned — the real reason she’d come to White Rock in the first place. Images of her kid sister, Tammy, flashed in her head. She didn’t have many, because her sister had been abducted when she was eight years old. Jo had been ten, but memories of that time cut deep. Her family had been torn apart by the subsequent futile search for the person who had taken her.

The police assumed it was a serial killer. They’d captured someone who they thought had done it, but they’d never recovered any trace of her sister, and he’d never admitted to taking Tammy. Jo had been haunted by not knowing. That haunting was what had sent her into law enforcement and what had eventually brought her to White Rock. After decades of investigating privately, she’d been led to this area when she’d gotten a tip that trees with certain markings—signs she suspected were connected to Tammy’s killer—had been found in this area. She’d never found those trees, though, other than in a few grainy photographs connected to another case and whose locations were unidentifiable. After five years here, she’d finally decided to let go of the investigation, put it away, and move on with her life. And now this? Could this be what she’d been looking for the whole time? “Earth to Jo…” Reese was staring at her. She tipped the open bakery bag in her direction. “You spaced out.

I think you need a doughnut to keep your blood sugar up.” Jo peered in. No jelly? Darn it. She picked a honey-dipped doughnut and absently tore off a small bite. Of course Reese would have no idea why she was acting so weird. She’d never told anyone about her sister, not even Sam. That could present a big problem now if this bone was connected. Jo stuffed another bite in her mouth and talked around it. “Any idea how old the person was or how long the bone had been there?” Reese shrugged and munched the cruller. “John just came and got it.

Said it’s probably an adult and has been out there maybe a few years. He’ll have to examine it closer. Wyatt thinks it might be a hiker who got lost two years ago.” The tension in Jo’s shoulders eased. She glanced out the window toward the rolling blue mountains in the distance. That could be it. Simply a hiker who got lost. This northern town near the border of Canada with its unspoiled forests, pristine lakes, and ranges of mountains was a mecca for hikers. But the forests could turn unfriendly in an instant. Hikers got lost, and once you were in deep, those lacking the proper equipment could find it nearly impossible to get out.

“What did Sam say? Does he think the bone is that old?” Jo swallowed, the doughnut tasting like sawdust at the thought of Sam. He’d become more than just a partner over the years. They had built up a bond. Sam had shared his secrets with her; why hadn’t she shared hers with him? She’d wanted to, but it seemed there had never been the right time. She felt guilty that her whole reason for hiring on here had been to further her personal investigation into her sister’s disappearance. At first that hadn’t mattered, but that was before she had gotten to know her squad mates. The longer she’d worked here, the more the place had grown on her. And Sam, too. Their friendship meant a lot to her, and she didn’t want to risk it for anything. Even though they were just friends, she couldn’t bear the thought of not working with him every day.

Sam would be hurt if he knew she’d been holding back on her sister’s case. She needed to tell him soon, even if this bone wasn’t related. Jo shoved the rest of the doughnut in her mouth and brushed the crumbs from her hands. “I need to get out there.” “Not right now. If you’d had your radio on, you’d know that you have to meet with Kevin’s brother in ten minutes.” “Kevin’s brother is coming here?” She really needed to get in the habit of turning on that radio. “Yeah. He wants to talk about what happened and drop off a few things. Some thumb drive and Kevin’s badge.

” Darn! Jo couldn’t put it off, especially because Kevin had taken the bullet meant for Lucy. The bones would have to wait. “Sam will let me know the coordinates and you can join them when you are done.” Reese went back to her typing. “Okay, thanks.” Jo headed to the coffee machine and grabbed a K-cup and her yellow smiley face mug. At least this would give her a chance to load up on caffeine. She’d need it if she was going to help search for bones in the woods. With the mug full, she headed toward her desk when… Hiss! Something sharp snagged the collar of her shirt. “Ouch!” She turned to find the fluffy black cat sitting atop the filing cabinet, looking at her with faux innocence in its alien-like green eyes.

“Cut that out!” The filing cabinet was as tall as Jo, so the cat was positioned above her, staring down with a look of superiority. “You know, I’m beginning to regret fighting to keep you here at the station instead of taking you to the animal shelter.” The cat’s eyes narrowed slightly. “Is Major bothering you?” Reese appeared at her side, a noxious smelling nugget in her hand. Jo turned to Reese. “Major?” “Yeah. Major Payne. Major for short. That’s what I’m calling him.” “Him?” Reese nodded and held the treat out to the cat, making soft cooing and clucking noises.

Major regarded her with suspicion. “Yeah, it’s a him. Eric gave him a wellness check and all his shots. He needs to be neutered, by the way.” Eric, Reese’s boyfriend, was going to veterinary school. Major’s paw shot out, slapping the treat from Reese’s hand. “Guess he doesn’t like the idea of being neutered.” Reese picked the treat up and plopped it on the filing cabinet in front of the cat. He simply glared at it. “Lucy might get a kick out of it, though.

” Jo took her coffee to her desk and left Major glaring at the treat. The cat had shown up at the back door a few weeks ago, and the two animals had been at odds ever since. The cat kept stealing food from Lucy’s bowl. Lucy hid the cat’s toys. It was like having two children. But Jo liked having animals, and she had a feeling Sam did too. Jo opened her laptop, her gaze sneaking to the icon for her personal files in the corner of the screen. Most of the information on her sister’s case was on her other laptop at home, but this file had some general information on White Rock geography. She’d felt it was safe to keep it on her work laptop as there was really no indication it was part of her secret investigation. She opened the file, searching Google Images for the beech trees that she suspected marked the areas of shallow graves for victims similar to her sister.

There were no beech trees on Frank Buckner’s land. Good. Wyatt was probably right. It was just a lost hiker. If Frank’s dog had come home with the bone, it had likely been lying out in the woods, not buried in a shallow grave. She’d been in a panic for nothing. But now that those old feelings had surfaced, a new seed took root. Had she abandoned her sister’s case prematurely?

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