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Tuesday, January 9, 2018

SPOTLIGHT: A Reckoning in the Back Country by Terry Shames @seventhstbooks @terryshames

A Reckoning in the Back Country
by Terry Shames
Seventh Street Books


Take a look at this Police Procedural book by Terry Shames! Continue below for a synopsis of the book, about the author and read Chapter 1 and then go and buy this mystery/detective book from one of my favorite publishers, Prometheus books!

About the book:

When Lewis Wilkins, a physician with a vacation home in Jarrett Creek, is attacked by vicious dogs, and several pet dogs in the area around Jarrett Creek disappear, Police Chief Samuel Craddock suspects that a dog fighting ring is operating in his territory. He has to tread carefully in his investigation, since lawmen who meddle in dog fighting put their lives at risk. The investigation is hampered because Wilkins is not a local.
Craddock’s focus on the investigation is thrown off by the appearance of a new woman in his life, as well as his accidental acquisition of a puppy. 
Digging deeper, Craddock discovers that the public face Wilkins presented was at odds with his private actions. A terrible mistake led to his disgrace as a physician, and far from being a stranger, he has ongoing acquaintances with a number of county residents who play fast and loose with the law.

Purchase HERE!

About the author:

Terry Shames is the author of A Killing at Cotton Hill, The Last Death of Jack Harbin, Dead Broke in Jarrett Creek, A Deadly Affair at Bobtail Ridge, The Necessary Murder of Nonie Blake, and An Unsettling Crime for Samuel Craddock, the first six Samuel Craddock mysteries. She is the coeditor of Fire in the Hills, a book of stories, poems, and photographs about the 1991 Oakland Hills Fire. She grew up in Texas and continues to be fascinated by the convoluted loyalties and betrayals of the small town where her grandfather was the mayor. Terry is a member of the Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime.



Loretta doesn’t bake as often since she started taking art classes at Ellen Forester’s workshop, so I’m happy when I hear her call out as she walks into my kitchen, holding a familiar pan.

“Oh, that smells good,” I say.

She sets it on the counter. “I’m sorry to barge in. It’s cold out there and I didn’t feel like standing out on the porch.”

I’m still not used to Loretta’s new looks. Several months back, she showed up with a stylish new haircut and a blond tint instead of her curly gray hair that I was used to. And she has started wearing slacks. She used to wear only dresses and expressed a low opinion of women who wore slacks. If she takes to wearing blue jeans, I’m going to think she has decided to become a teenager.

“Loretta, when did we ever have to stand on ceremony?”

“I don’t want to be pushy.”

“You can be pushy anytime you want, if you’re bringing cinnamon rolls. Sit down; have a cup of coffee. When are you leaving town?” She and half the people I know are on their way out of town for Thanksgiving.

“Tomorrow. I told you that.” She sits down and I hand her a mug of coffee with a big dollop of cream, the way she likes it.

“I know you did, but it’s been a busy weekend and I lose track.” I take a cinnamon roll out of the pan, put it on a plate for myself, and sit down. She won’t eat one. She’d pick at it until it wasn’t salvageable. The kitchen is the warmest place in the house, but it’s still drafty. It takes cold winds like we’ve been having the last couple of days to remind me of the chinks in the house’s armor.
“What’s kept you so busy?” Loretta asks.
“We’ve had some dogs go missing.”

“Dogs?” Loretta’s face screws up in distaste. “Probably just ran off.” “You may not like dogs, but people get attached to them.”

“I know it. Ellen brings that yappy little dog down to the art gallery every day. Not that he’s as bad as some of them.”

I have a soft spot for Ellen’s dog, Frazier, since he saved my life a while back, going for the gun hand of somebody who had ill intentions toward me. And contrary to Loretta’s prejudice, Frazier rarely yaps.

“I thought the same thing at first, that the dogs had run away. But it’s happened three times now and I think someone is stealing them.”

“Who would steal a dog?”

“I’m not sure, but I suspect it doesn’t spell good news for the dogs.”

“Anyway,” she says. “Speaking of going missing. Have you heard
that Lewis Wilkins is missing?”

“Lewis Wilkins?”

“Doctor Wilkins, I should say. He and his wife are lake people.”

Her tone is dismissive. In the last few years we’ve had a flock of outsiders from cities like Houston and San Antonio build homes on the far side of the lake. The real estate is cheaper here and the lake is a popular recreation site. Most of the lake people visit only occasionally, over holidays or on summer vacation, and they don’t blend in with the local community.

The one thing people appreciate is that they have brought prosperity to town. The grocery store, the general store, the marinas, and the couple of cafés have thrived.

“How did you hear about it?” I ask.

“He’s a friend of Dooley Phillips, and Wilkins’s wife, Margaret, comes to sewing circle sometimes with Dooley’s wife, Connie. Not that Margaret does needlework. She sits and watches. She doesn’t say much, but she’s nice enough. Anyway, Connie said Margaret called their house this morning to ask if Dooley knew where Dr. Wilkins was. She said he didn’t come home last night.”
“Dooley didn’t know?”

“He said he didn’t.” She arches an eyebrow. “You don’t believe him?”

“Men are always sticking up for each other. He’s probably fooling around.”

“Now, Loretta, you don’t know that. Is that what Dooley’s wife said?”

“Well, no, but where would he be?”

“A lot of places. He could have had a wreck, or been felled with a heart attack or a stroke.”

“She told Dooley that she had called the hospital and they didn’t have him.”

“Well, all I know is she hasn’t called me.”

But that situation changes as soon as I get into work. There’s a message on the phone from Margaret Wilkins. In a shaky voice she says, “I live out at the lake and I’m calling because my husband didn’t come home last night. I don’t quite know what to do.”

I return her call and tell her I’ll be right out to talk to her. It’s up to me because I’m short-handed. My new deputy, Connor Loving, is off for two weeks of training, and Maria Trevino has five days off. She has been talking about her sister Lupe’s wedding plans for three months.

I’m walking to the squad car, ready to head for the lake, when my phone pings with a text message from Ellen Forester, asking if I’m free for lunch. I type back that I’ve been called out to look into a problem and I’ll see her later. She texts me right back. “Oh. Too bad. I have something important to talk to you about. Never mind.”

I tamp down annoyance. Ellen is sometimes coy. Why not come out and say what’s on her mind? Still, I like Ellen a lot. We have fun together. It took a while to break down the wall of defensiveness and suspicion she had erected because of her abusive ex-husband, and occasionally she still closes up on me.

The wind has let up, but there’s still a bone-chilling nip in the air, and I slip into the car before I send a quick reply that I’ll see her later.

The homes on the west side of the lake are isolated because there is no direct road between there and town. I have to drive ten minutes south on the highway toward Cotton Hill before I reach the county road that leads to the west side. It takes another ten minutes to reach the private road where the homes are located.

The houses line the west side of the road, on big lots. Most are modest vacation places, but some of them are grander. At the near end, they back up onto fenced pastureland, but halfway down the pastures end abruptly, giving way to back country—acres and acres of thick brush, post oak trees, and poison ivy. Although a lot of the foliage is gone by this time of year, it’s still a thicket and looks even more intimidating with the brown leaves of the trees hanging against a gray sky.

Before the dam that created the lake was built, it was all bottom swampland, and it’s still alive with critters, mostly snakes, opossums, raccoons, and mosquitoes. People report seeing the occasional bobcat as well. Legend has it that a panther attacked a child here back in the 1930s and dragged it away into the swamp, and the child was never seen again. I have my doubts.

Margaret Wilkins told me that her house is two doors down from a carved wooden bear. The bear is life-sized, easy to spot. As I pull up in front of the Wilkins house, I realize that I recognize it. A few years ago, it was owned by a couple who kept a lot of guns, and the man accidentally shot his wife. This was before I had taken the job as chief, but the story was on the news and in the Houston Post. The husband was exonerated, but shortly thereafter, he killed himself. The house went on the market at a lowball price, but it still took a long time to sell.

The house looks like a hunting lodge, giving it a grander appearance than some of its neighbors. The bottom half is made of local stone, and the top part is wood siding, painted an awful pea-soup green. It’s got a screened-in porch all the way across the front, and it is furnished with massive wooden chairs facing the lake.

I park on the gravel driveway in front and get out of my squad car. I used to take my truck everywhere, but Maria claims it’s unprofessional. It’s also because of her that I usually wear at least a uniform shirt, even if I forego uniform khakis in favor of Levi’s. It’s always easier to give in to Maria’s notions than to argue with her. Today, with the chill in the air, I’m wearing a zip-up jacket.

Before I mount the steps, the screen door opens and a woman steps out to meet me. In her late forties, she’s tall and scrawny, dressed in jeans and a heavy gray sweater. Her limp brown hair is pulled back by a clasp at her neck. Her face has the stunned look of someone who has had bad news, and I wonder if she has heard something since she called me.

“Mrs. Wilkins?”

“Are you the chief of police?” “Yes, I’m Samuel Craddock.”

She frowns. “Oh. You’re . . . different from what I thought you would be.” She most likely expected a younger man.

“Have you heard from your husband yet?”

She shivers. “No. Can we talk inside? I can’t seem to get warm.”

Inside, she’s got a fire in the fireplace, which makes the room warm and stuffy.

She walks into the kitchen, which is separated from the living room by a long, wide counter, and asks me if I’d like a cup of coffee.   I decline, but she pours a cup for herself, and I see that her hand is shaking. Holding the cup in both hands to warm them, she leads me into the living room.

The room is crowded with furniture that should make it feel cozy, but there’s no charm to it. There’s an oversized sofa and two big, rustic chairs that match those on the porch—thick, rough-hewn pine that has been sanded and varnished, and decorated with square, hard-looking cushions. Everything is grouped around a massive, chunky wood coffee table in front of the fireplace.

I’m always interested in the art people display. Above the fireplace there’s a woven wall hanging in muted colors. Another wall contains a few small, amateurish watercolors of the lake.

On the wall farthest from the fireplace there are two large, full- length oil portraits of Margaret Wilkins and her husband dressed in evening clothes. I walk over to look more closely. In the portrait Margaret is pretty in her full-length blue gown, her figure more filled out, her cheeks rosy. She’s wearing expensive-looking jewelry, gold and diamonds. But despite the elegance of the picture, there’s something wistful in her expression. Her husband looks at ease in his tuxedo, with a wide grin and friendly eyes. He’s got a solid build, bushy eyebrows, and a thick shock of dark hair.

“That’s your husband?” I nod toward the portrait.

“Yes, that’s Lewis.” She comes and stands next to me. “When was it painted?”

She shrugs. “Seven or eight years go.”

“Do you have a recent photo of him?”

She goes over to a table shoved up under the windows and picks up a small photograph, a picture of her and her husband. In the photo, she’s looking at him and he is looking straight at the camera, one eyebrow cocked, his expression challenging. This photo shows a remarkable change from the painting. Wilkins’s formerly healthy, glowing face is sagging, his hair thinner and graying at the temples.

“Do you mind if I take this with me to make copies?”

“Of course. Whatever you need to do.”

She moves to the sofa and sinks down onto it as if her strength is gone. I take a chair across from her, the large expanse of the coffee table between us.

“When did you last see your husband?”

“He left yesterday morning before I was up. He poked his head in and said he had errands to run. I was half asleep, so I didn’t ask where he was going.” Her voice is very quiet. I imagine she wishes she had gotten up to see him off. “But then he called yesterday afternoon and said he was going fishing and then would probably go out afterward to have a meal with a friend, and that he’d be back late.”

“Have you contacted the friend he was going out with?”

She stares at me. Her eyes have turned bleak. “I don’t know who it was.”

“I understand he’s friends with Dooley Phillips.” She frowns. “How do you know that?”

I smile. “Jarrett Creek is a small town. Not too many secrets around here. I heard it from a friend of Dooley’s wife, Connie.”
She nods. “I called Dooley, but he said he didn’t have any idea where Lewis could be.”

“But your husband did say he was having dinner with a friend. Any idea who it could be?”

She sighs. “My husband doesn’t like for me to pry.” I wait for more of an explanation, but that seems to be it.

“Has he ever done this before—disappear overnight?”

“He’s been gone overnight, but it’s not like him not to let me know if he doesn’t plan to come back.” She gnaws on her thumb.

“You’re from San Antonio?”

“A suburb. Monte Vista.”

“What brought you here to Jarrett Creek?”

She waves her hand vaguely. I notice she isn’t wearing a diamond engagement ring, just a plain gold band. “Oh, you know. We wanted a vacation house.”

“How long have you had this place?”

She draws a sharp breath, “Is this necessary? I don’t know what it has to do with finding Lewis.”

“Bear with me. I’m trying to get a general picture of your husband’s normal routine.”

“Okay. Sorry, I’m jumpy.” She expels a breath. “We’ve owned this place three years in January.”

“How often do you come here?”

“When we first bought it we didn’t come that often. A weekend every couple of months, but in the past year we’ve been here a lot more. Lewis seems to like it.” Her eyes dart around the room. There’s a vague distaste in her expression.

“You’re here for the holidays?”

“Yes. We arrived a couple of days ago. Our kids are coming tomorrow.”

“You said your husband was going fishing. Does he have a boat?”

“No. I thought he fished from the bank.”

“He ever catch anything?”

She grimaces. “He knows that if he brought fish home I wouldn’t be happy to clean it, and he certainly wouldn’t do it himself.” She runs a hand back and forth over her forehead. “No. Oh, wait. I remember something he said. He said he did ‘catch and release.’ Whatever that is.”

I would laugh if it weren’t clear that Lewis Wilkins was lying to his wife. Game fish get caught and released, usually in the ocean. Or fish that are scarce, like if a river is overfished. Jarrett Creek Lake is stocked with bass, catfish, and perch. And crappie, if you want to count them, which I don’t because they’re full of bones. These fish are not scarce, and I can’t imagine anybody catching and releasing them. The question is, where was Lewis Wilkins going when he said he was going fishing? Loretta may be right. “Fishing” may be an excuse for something else.

Margaret jumps up and strides to the window, peeking out the side of the curtain. “Where could he be?”

“Do you have any idea at all? Even if it seems far-fetched, you should tell me.”

She shakes her head. “I thought maybe he had had an accident, but I called the hospitals in Bobtail and Bryan, and neither of them had him.”
It’s possible he took a back route and went off the road and no one has discovered him. “What kind of car does he drive?”

She tells me it’s an older-model white Chevy Suburban.

I get up. “I’ll call it in to the highway patrol. You know, it’s likely he and his friends went fishing and maybe drank a little too much, and he’s sleeping it off.”

“I suppose.” Her expression is skeptical.

“I’ll stop by the marina and talk to Dooley. Maybe he has some ideas. Meanwhile, if you hear from your husband, let me know.” I give her my card with my cell number.

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