The Crying Season – D.K. Hood

“Run and don’t look back.” Shots peppered the undergrowth, and splintered trees showered Paige Allen with bark. She strangled a scream and gaped at the crimson patch spreading across the front of her fiancé’s shirt. “I’m not leaving you.” She grabbed Dawson’s arm, willing him to move. “Go!” Dawson stared at her with unfocused eyes and blood trickled from the corner of his mouth. “Please… go.” Terrified, she willed her feet to move and rolled into the bushes. She could hear someone crashing through the trees then more shots rang out. Dawson’s body contorted as bullets pierced his flesh. He took two unsteady steps forward then fell face down on the trail. His fingers clawed the dirt in a feeble attempt to survive, then he lay staring at her with unseeing eyes. She knuckled the sob threatening to escape her mouth. Oh my God, he’s dead. In the distance, she could hear something big moving toward her through the undergrowth.

In disbelief and unable to move, she glanced down the track but no one came into sight. What was happening? Terror had her by the throat and it hurt to drag air into her lungs. She peered through the dense vegetation, looking for an escape route. I have to get out of here. Teeth chattering, she scrambled deeper into the forest, moving far away from the trail. To survive she needed to be silent but each twig she stepped on cracked like a whip. The sight of Dawson’s blood-splattered body and his dead staring eyes flashed across her mind in horrific reruns, slowing her responses. The wind rustled the trees, lifting the leaves underfoot and creaking the branches. Each noise sounded like the footsteps of the killer. She ran in blind panic, weaving through the trees and tripping over roots.

Her sense of direction descended into chaos but she ran on, dragging her feet through the thick bushes. As she broke out of the trees, a sob escaped her throat. “Oh, no.” She had run in an arc and was now back on the trail twenty or so yards from Dawson’s body. She turned on her heel and bolted up the path toward the mountain. Someone had killed Dawson. The man she loved had died like an animal in hunting season; run to ground and shot. Tears streamed down her cheeks and the salty flow leaked into her mouth. She had to get away and tell the cops. Desperate, she scanned the area ahead for a hiding place and found a huge boulder bathed in shadows off the main trail.

If she could make it a few more yards without the gunman seeing her, she could hide. The bushes tugged at her hair and tore at her clothes with each step. Panting, she made the shelter of the rocky outcrop and took a quick glance behind her. The bushes on one side of the trail quivered and the crunch of boots on the forest floor sounded like a stampede of buffalo. He’s coming. A figure thundered through the narrow pathway then stopped and kneeled beside Dawson’s body. Dressed in army camouflage with matching face paint, he turned to look in her direction and she held her breath. Her pulse thumped in her ears so loud, she thought he would hear it. Without one ounce of compassion, the man dragged Dawson into a sitting position against a tall pine tree then turned slowly in her direction. Sheer terror gripped her, making it hard to breathe.

She had to get help. With shaking limbs, she pulled out her cellphone and ducked deeper into the shadows. The light on the screen lit up the dark space like a beacon then slipped from her trembling fingers and smashed on the rock. She gaped at the scattered remains in disbelief. I’m alone; no one is coming to help me. The footsteps came closer, slower and more deliberate, stalking her. She stared at the small opening between the sheer rock face and the boulder. If she reached the other side of the massive stone, she could run in the opposite direction. Surely, he was too big to follow her through the narrow gap. Trembling, she eased around the edge of the boulder.

Too late. One large hand grabbed her by the hair and lifted her then threw her onto the ground. The man stared down at her and a wide grin split his face. “What are you doing on your lonesome out in the forest?” His voice was strange, distorted. Paige spat the pine needles from her mouth and staggered to her feet. Anger and revulsion gave her courage. “Are you crazy? You shot Dawson.” “He can’t help you now. Tell me, can you count to ten, sweetheart?” Noticing the amusement in his eyes, she took a step backward and swallowed hard. The man gave a low chuckle then raised his rifle and pointed it at her.

She gaped at him in disbelief. “What do you mean by that?” “One…” Paige turned and ran, crashing through the undergrowth. She found the trail down the mountain and took off at full pelt. No sound of footsteps came from behind her. She could escape. Heart thundering, she leapt a fallen log. Mid-flight, pain ripped through her back as if one of her lungs had burst with the effort. She forced her legs onward but the forest dissolved into a kaleidoscope of green. Falling, the ground came up to meet her, pushing the air from her painful lungs. Flat on the sandy trail, she blinked as a wildflower came into perfect focus then faded into black.

1 MONDAY, PRESENT DAY Deputy David Kane ducked out of the way of a beer bottle cartwheeling and spewing foam in all directions. The bottle flew over one shoulder and smashed into the wall, showering his back with glass. Instinct on full throttle, he spun around in time to grab the swinging fist of a burly man in his palm and twist his wrist, bringing the arm up behind the man’s back. He swept his assailant’s feet, sending him down hard on his knees. The man howling in pain did not resemble the usual rough type who frequented the Triple Z Bar. Kane dragged the man to his feet then slammed him against the wall, taking in his expensive jacket and hiking boots. “You planning on spending the hunting season in jail?” “Go to hell.” Kane pulled the man’s hands behind him, read him his rights then dragged him outside and secured him to an old hitching post. “I’ll see if I can arrange that later.” He sidestepped the growing mound of broken glass at the entrance and headed back inside the bar.

One down. His work as a deputy in Black Rock Falls was very different from his time as a sniper followed by five years’ service in DC’s Special Forces Investigation Command. He had had no other choice but to leave DC after a terrorist planted a bomb under his car, killing his wife and leaving him with a titanium plate in his head. Off the grid in the not-so-small backwoods town of Black Rock Falls should have been a walk in the park. However, the dynamics of his life had changed dramatically on discovering his boss was an exundercover DEA agent. Sheriff Jenna Alton, with a new name and face, was hiding in plain sight in witness protection, and Black Rock Falls was anything but the quiet little town he envisaged. An argument had erupted between his prisoner and two local men over the carcass of an eight-point buck, then escalated into an all-out brawl. The red-faced owner stood behind the bar brandishing a shotgun; his mouth was moving but his words were lost over the noise. Men fought each other like animals, using chairs, tables, and pool cues as weapons. A woman wearing a short skirt and high heels jumped onto a man’s back and raked down his face with polished nails.

A miasma of beer and sweat hung in the smoke-filled room. Kane sidestepped a punch from a man wearing a red bandana tied around his balding head. He pivoted on one foot, aiming a kick to the huge belly swinging over his pants, and his boot sank into Jell-O. When the man buckled, Kane shoved him into the pool table then ducked and weaved through the fight, heaving bodies out of his way to help Deputy Rowley. The young deputy was in a brawl with two men and others had moved to join in. Rowley was holding his own but an idiot with blood streaming down his face and holding a chair high in the air was heading his way. Kane drew his Glock and fired three shots into the roof. The room fell eerily quiet and the angry crowd turned to look at him. “Get out of here before I haul you all downtown.” The mass exodus was swift, and he holstered his weapon then stepped in front of the two men who had been attacking Rowley.

“You do know it’s an offence to hit an officer of the law, right?” “He tried to arrest me for stealing the buck.” The man gave him an indignant look then tried to straighten his torn shirt. “You can add resisting arrest to the charge.” Sheriff Jenna Alton’s raven hair glistened under the lights as her annoyed scrutiny moved around the bar. Unruffled and in complete control of the situation, she moved to Kane’s side and when she looked at his prisoner her mouth turned down. “Cuff him and bring him in.” She indicated toward the other man with a nasty cut under one eye and bleeding like a stuck pig. “Him too.” She read both men their rights in a clipped monologue. “Yes, ma’am.

” Rowley’s mouth twitched at the corner as he pulled the zip ties out of his pocket. He turned to Kane. “Did you get the big one who came at you with the bottle?” “Oh, yeah.” Kane smiled. “He is cooling his heels at the hitching post out front.” “And squealing about his $2,000 Stetson he misplaced in here.” Jenna gave him her patented “I don’t give a shit” stare and shrugged. “Says he’ll make a complaint to the sheriff about you through his lawyer. Apparently, I’ll skin you alive.” She cleared her throat.

“More paperwork.” “Who is gonna pay for this damage?” The barman’s angry stare rested on Kane’s face and he still held the shotgun. “Lay down your weapon – now!” Jenna glared at him and the owner complied sheepishly. “Who started the brawl?” “I’m not sure but those two and the city dude were throwing bottles and chairs.” “Okay.” She turned to the other men. “Do you have jobs, property, or cash to pay for this damage? You have the opportunity to settle now before it goes to court.” “Nope.” Torn Shirt wet his lips. “Only my car and we can’t walk home; our cabin is in the mountains.

The buck is ours legal. We have a Vehicle-Killed Wildlife Salvage Permit. I’m within my rights.” Kane snorted and secured Torn Shirt. “Is that your car outside with the buck tied to the hood?” “Sure is.” “The buck out there has a bullet wound and some other damage.” Kane raised an eyebrow. “Care to explain?” “He ran out in front of my vehicle. You check for yourself. Its leg is broken and I have a damaged headlight.

” Torn Shirt looked at Jenna pleadingly. “I have a Vehicle-Killed Wildlife Salvage Permit too.” The owner gave Kane an optimistic look. “I’ll take the buck for my own consumption as restitution for their part of the damage but I want a cash settlement from the rich dude you arrested outside.” “That seems fair to me.” Jenna looked at Kane. “Fix it.” “No way! I found it legal. It don’t belong to anyone. I don’t know why that crazy man started a fight.

” Torn Shirt smirked at Kane over one shoulder. “Ain’t no law about picking up roadkill. My permit is up to date and paid for.” Kane turned to the proprietor. “Take the buck. As he said, ‘It don’t belong to anyone.’” “Sure, it’s better than nothin’.” The bar owner headed out the door. “That ain’t fair.” Torn Shirt gave Jenna a puppy-dog stare.

“Sheriff, you tell that son of a bitch he can’t do that, it ain’t fair.” Oh, this is going to be fun. Kane bit back a grin and raised one eyebrow at Jenna. “Okay, but it won’t be good eating after you leave it out in the sun for weeks.” Jenna gave Torn Shirt a tight smile. “You could remain in jail until your court case.” “Oh, man.” Torn Shirt bit his bottom lip as if considering. “Well, what’s it to be?” Jenna’s eyes flashed as she glared at Torn Shirt. “I ain’t got much choice, have I?” “You had the choice not to fight in the first place.

I’m going easy on you.” She turned to Kane. “Get them into the back of my vehicle. I’ll drive your rig back to the office.” She held out her keys. “Yes, ma’am.” Kane swapped car keys with a smile. Jenna called his black SUV “the beast” after the upgrades. It was fast, very fast. With the three men secured in Jenna’s vehicle, Kane watched her drive away then went back inside to examine Rowley.

He would have a shiner but looked okay. “Get some ice for that eye before we leave and ask the barman to look out for a Stetson, and to call if he finds it.” “Yes, sir.” With Rowley holding a bag of ice to his eye, they hurried back to Jenna’s rig. The men secured behind the bulletproof glass argued the entire trip back to the sheriff’s office. Torn Shirt and the man with the cut under one eye gave Kane their information without a problem before he handed them over to Deputy Cole Webber who took them to separate interview rooms, but the man who had attacked Kane glared at him, eyes blazing. Kane pushed him down into the seat in his cubicle. “Name?” “Ethan Woods. Those men took off with an eight-point buck I’d bagged.” Kane sighed.

“Did you tag your kill or report them as poachers to an FWP officer at the check station?” “No.” Woods shot him an angry glance. “The question on my lips for an experienced and I hope licensed hunter would be, ‘Why?’” Woods’ face reddened and he gave Kane a look cold enough to freeze Black Rock Falls. “I want you to call my lawyer.” “Sure.” After entering the name in the arrest report, Kane looked him over. “Are you injured?” Woods gave him a stony stare. Oh boy, he was complying with his right to remain silent. Kane shrugged. “Duty of care, sir.

We have the paramedics coming in anyway. If you need them to look at you, let me know.” He leaned back in his chair. “Lawyer’s name?” “James Stone.” Kane’s day was deteriorating by the second. He groaned inwardly. The Black Rock Falls lawyer had been a pain in the ass. Apparently, before his arrival, he and Jenna had dated a couple of times and it didn’t work out, but Stone wouldn’t take no for an answer. Kane had spoken to Stone and implied he was involved with Jenna to convince the man to back off. Since then the cooperation between the sheriff’s department and Stone had ended.

Sucking in a deep breath, he made the call, and from the way Stone went into action the moment Kane mentioned the prisoner’s name, he figured Woods must be some big-shot client of his. He could almost picture Stone dashing to his car to get to the sheriff’s office before he disconnected. Smothering a grin of satisfaction, Kane moved his attention back to Woods. “I’ll take you to an interview room to wait for your lawyer.” “Did you find my Stetson?” Kane had dealt with people many a time who believed law enforcement were the scum of the earth and their money could buy them out of any situation. The attitude Woods was giving him came from years of privilege and getting his own way, likely old money. He shrugged. “I’ve asked the barman at the Triple Z Bar to look out for it.” “That’s not good enough.” Spittle flew from Woods’ mouth.

“Get back down there and find it.” “No can do. I make a point of staying out of places like the Triple Z Bar unless there’s a ruckus. If somebody hands it in, we’ll let you know.” Woods’ face turned a peculiar shade of purple. “Those lowlifes will steal it and you know it. I paid them good money to track for me and they deserted me out in the forest, said they’d hunt down the buck I clipped.” “You should have hired professional trackers.” Kane looked down at the man’s enraged face and smiled. “Don’t you know if you lie down with dogs, you’re gonna get fleas?” He gave him a light push toward the interview room.

“This way.” “I demand you go to the Triple Z and find my hat.” Woods threw him an indignant stare over one shoulder. As Kane ushered Woods past Deputy Rowley, he grinned. “Seems like Mr. Woods has given up his right to remain silent and refused medical assistance. Inform the sheriff, will you, please?” “Yes, sir.”


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