Exclusive Excerpt: Kill Season by Declan James

Copyright © 2022 by Declan James Books

All Rights Reserved

Twenty pairs of disapproving eyes settled on Detective Jake Cashen during the morning roll call. Then half of them turned to grins as they got the full effect of Jake’s ringtone. He’d broken a rule.

“Phone’s on silent, Detective,” Lieutenant John Beverly said, peering at Jake over the top of his glasses. “Breakfast is on you tomorrow morning.”

Jake fumbled for his phone as the strains of Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries reached peak volume. Laughter went through the other cops in the room. It was Gemma calling. His sister. They all knew her well. They also knew she didn’t usually call unless there was some fire Jake needed to put out.

He clicked the volume button on his phone and slipped it back into his pocket.

“Anyway,” Beverly said. “As I was saying. I want extra patrols out at Blackhand Park. We’re getting lots of complaints about underage drunks out there. Let’s not let that place turn into another Grover Courtyard.”

In the late eighties and early nineties. Grover Courtyard had been a Worthington County hotspot where local bands came to play. By the time Jake graduated from High School, it had turned into a drug dealer’s paradise.

“Arlene Bloom is at it again,” Beverly continued, running down the most notable crime reports from in and around the county. Arlene Bloom was known as a frequent flier. She lived in a trailer park in Galway Township and thought 911 was appropriate for whatever neighbor disputes or parenting issues she was having on any given day.

“Neighbor said she brandished a pistol at him yesterday,” Beverly said. “Said she had her laundry hanging on a line for over a week and he complained about it. Next day he caught a raccoon in a live trap after two nights of it rummaging through his garbage.”

“Oh lord,” Jake said. “Corky.”

“Yep,” Beverly confirmed. Arlene Bloom kept the thing as a pet. Just last year, Jake had gone out to her trailer and found him sitting at her kitchen table eating breakfast cereal.

“She’ll kill him,” Deputy Chris Denning said. “She treats that racoon better than her actual kid.”

“Well,” Beverly said. “I’d like it if we made an appearance out there. Calm them both down before this thing escalates. Cashen, you’ve built a rapport. Take a drive, will you?”

“What?” Jake said. “A rapport?”

“She asked for you specifically,” Beverly said. This got another round of snickers from the group. Jake knew the more he protested, the worse Beverly might make this particular turd bag of an assignment.

His phone vibrated again. He stole a glance at the screen. Gemma. Again.

“Seriously,” Lieutenant Beverly said. “Something you wanna share with the class, Cashen?”

“All good, Lieutenant,” Jake said. Though he knew it wasn’t. His sister knew he was at work. She also knew mornings were the worst time to call. Usually Gemma’s emergencies consisted of leaky pipes, the latest verbal abuse from their cantankerous grandfather, or something to do with one of the cars. He’d invoked the story of the Boy Who Cried Wolf to her a zillion times to no avail.

“Well,” Beverly said. “That’s about all I got. Except it’s opening day for gun season. Expect the usual level of trespassing complaints and general ass-hattery on state land. DNR is stretched pretty thin so let’s back them up where we can.”

“So are we,” Sergeant Jeff Hammer said. He wasn’t wrong.

“We’re all on the same team,” Beverly said.

“Their team is better paid,” Deputy Denning said.

This got a round of laughter and generalized griping from the group. Jake’s phone started buzzing again. He was kicking himself for not leaving the thing at his desk like he usually did during roll call. It was like his sister had a sixth sense about that too.

“That is all,” Lieutenant Beverly said, wrapping up yet another meeting they all knew could have been an email. Beverly gathered his notes and dismissed the shift to start their day.

“Jake,” Beverly called. “You mind staying after class?”

This earned Jake a couple of catcalls and more laughter. Jake didn’t mind. It would give him a refreshing respite from the phone call he knew he’d soon have to return.

“You bet,” he said. He waited for the room to clear before approaching Beverly at the lectern.

“Everything okay at home?” Beverly asked. As lieutenants went, John Beverly was a decent one. Didn’t micromanage. Tried his level best to get his people what they needed. And he knew how to stay out of the way. Jake knew that was in large part, to the credit of Sheriff Meg Landry. She’d inherited the gig after former Sheriff O’Neal died suddenly of a heart attack. Though Landry had never set out to be Sheriff, she was doing a heck of a good job at it. She’d been the one to pin Jake’s detective badge on him last year, seeing something in him he’d tried damn hard to push away.

But here he was, a year later, one of only two detectives handling crimes against persons in the whole county.

“About Ed Zender,” Beverly said, referring to the other detective in the crimes against persons division. Though even the term “division” was loose. They were two guys with side-by-side cubicles in a 12 x 12 foot office on the second floor.

“I just got off the phone with him,” Beverly said. “He’s gonna be laid up for a few days yet. Doc’s referring him to a spinal surgeon.”

“Oh geez,” Jake said. Ed Zender had thrown his back out bowling last week, the culmination of close to thirty years on the job carrying a heavy gun belt and service weapon at his side. Jake knew his days were numbered on that score too.

“Is he in the hospital now or at home?” Jake asked.

“Hospital,” Beverly responded. “They’ve got him in traction.”

“I’ll try and pop in,” Jake said.

“I was hoping you’d say that,” Beverly said. “I know he’d sure appreciate it. I’m sorry to say the burden of all this is going to fall on you, workload wise. We don’t have the manpower or the budget to bring anybody else up to Detective right now. I talked to Majewski though. If there’s any slack he can pick up while Ed’s gone, feel free to press him into service.”

“I will,” Jake said. He felt bad for Ed, but the truth was, the man had been more or less just punching a timecard for years. Ed Zender could be an okay guy, but a lousy detective.

“And if you need to work overtime on anything,” Beverly said. “I’ll make sure to get it approved.”

“I appreciate that,” Jake said. “Let’s just hope for a quiet couple of weeks.” The second he said it, Jake regretted it. He’d committed the worst of all jinxes. Even Beverly’s eyes went wide.

Jake’s phone buzzed yet again. Beverly patted him on the shoulder. “You better get that. The last thing I’d wanna be on is your sister’s bad side.”

Jake smiled. He and Beverly started to walk out of the room together.

“Hey,” Beverly said. “On that score. Not her bad side, I mean. But about your sister. Is she seeing anyone lately?”

Jake stopped short. Last time he checked, John Beverly was very married, not to mention a good fifteen years older than Gemma.

“Not for me,” Beverly said, his face going white. “No. No. It’s just speaking of the DNR. I’m friendly with one of the wardens. Good guy. Anyway, he was asking about her. We bowl together.”

Jake laughed. “You like this guy?”

Before Jake could say anything else, he and Beverly turned the corner and ran smack into Darcy Noble, head dispatcher.

“Jake,” Darcy said. It took a moment for Jake’s brain to catch up with what his eyes were seeing. Darcy was crying. No. Not just crying. Sobbing. She’d broken out in hives.

Beverly reacted first. He put a hand out to steady her.

“Jake,” she said again, heaving out her words. “A c-call. I took a call.”

“What is it?” Jake said. His nerve endings went on high alert. He’d never seen Darcy like this. Ever. She had always been cool and calm as she carried out her duties.

“There’s been some kind of accident,” she said.

The buzzing phone in Jake’s back pocket took on new meaning. Gemma. He knew. Deep in his bones, he knew. This time, there really was a wolf.

Beverly held on to Darcy’s shoulders, keeping her upright as she struggled to find the words.

“Out on Grace Church Road,” Darcy said. “The Palmer farm. An accident. It’s bad, Jake.”

The morning’s events replayed in Jake’s mind. They were like floating puzzle pieces slamming into place. Grace Church Rd. The Palmer farm. It was a sixty-acre tract of land in Lublin Township, not far from his Grandpa’s place. Prime buck country. He’d hunted it himself so many times with his boyhood friend, Ben Wayne. It was opening day. Gemma kept calling. Now, her son Ryan was best friend’s with Ben’s son Travis.

Travis. Ryan. My God. In slow motion, Jake reached for his still ringing phone in his back pocket.

“Where’s Ryan?” Jake heard himself say. In front of him, Darcy’s face registered Jake’s words. She shook her head vigorously.

“No,” she whispered. “Jake, it's not Ryan.”

In his ear, Gemma was sobbing.

“It’s Ben, Jake,” Darcy said. “It’s Ben. It’s Ben.”

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