Who is up for a murder mystery? Get ready to take a look into this great thrilling book.
John Riley Hubbard is a young farmer and part-time reporter in a small southern town. After the body of an Arab college student is found near his home, Hubbard reluctantly agrees to cover the grisly story for the local paper. When he discovers there is a surprising link from this crime to his father’s unsolved murder, he becomes obsessed with uncovering the killer’s identity. Since he was a child, Hubbard has been haunted by nightmares and suspicions that his father’s killer may be the man closest to him – his wealthy uncle.
As his investigation progresses, he must face mounting threats from an unseen adversary and managed his growing attraction to Maria, a young Latino woman who might be part of the conspiracy.
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Opening of The White River Killer:
The safest drivers on the roaare those hauling a corpse to a discreet location while avoiding the notice of law enforcement.
Luis Espinoza slowed the blue pickup and used the pale glow of a streetlamp to check his newly acquired Rolex. He pulled back the ragged cuff of his faded blue winter coat; it was almost three a.m. The heavy storm was slowing their progress. Luis would have preferred to wait for clear skies, but he had no choice. The man said the body needed to disappear, and if Luis wanted this gig, well...
He pressed the accelerator and he and Pablo Sanchez continued to move through the flooded streets of the Latino barrio of Hayslip, Arkansas, a small farming community. The battered truck, jacked yesterday afternoon, entered foamy water swirling in a narrow intersection just as a streak of lightning revealed Luis’s hands trembling on the steering wheel. Ashamed, his eyes darted sideways toward Pablo.
His young partner seemed oblivious to the risk they were taking. He stared, expressionless, at the rising water while clutching a folded sheet of paper in his left hand. With the other hand, he tapped a knife rhythmically on his knee like he was the drummer in an imaginary band.
Luis met Pablo six months ago on a night as desolate as this. The boy was curled up, whimpering on a gravel bed next to an empty freight car in Guatemala. Pablo had lost a fight with a burly railroad guard, his bloody arms still trying their best to block the blows from the watchman’s metal baton. Feeling an unexpected sympathy, Luis crept up behind the big man, zeroed in on a spot on his balding head, and slammed a heavy rock against the guard’s skull. Pablo was duly grateful, and Luis delayed his departure by a week so that his sister could nurse his new friend back to health.
Uncertain how Pablo would manage on the drive this evening, Luis had written up a step-by-step plan to help him keep his wits. He was trying his best to manage the barely sixteen-year-old. Their night work until now had been limited to minor break-ins and rolling drunks, nothing of this magnitude. Luis worried the boy would crack under tonight’s stress. In mocking irony, it was Luis, eleven years older than Pablo, who was overwhelmed. His chest throbbed as if it were being squeezed by a tight metal band.
A small fortune in cash was within their reach—if he could keep his wits. As they neared the town center, the road cleared of standing rainwater. Main Street, coming up now, marked the most hazardous leg of their journey, a necessary evil due to high water that prevented a more circumspect route. They would sprint along this well-lit road for two hundred yards before they could return to the relative safety of a dark two-lane.
Luis glanced at the rear view mirror. The thick carpet roll was too long for a short-bed Dodge, and flopped over the tailgate. He tried to return his focus to the road, but not before he caught a glimpse of his dark eyes in the mirror. He knew he looked angry. Well, why shouldn’t he be angry? There was a time when his family would have been the one giving the orders, telling others to do the dirty work. Not now. No, he was the one saying ‘yes sir’. It wasn’t right. He wasn’t like Pablo. He had an education. He grew up with fine things. Hell yes, he was angry.
Luis slowed the vehicle, hesitating in the safety of the shadowy intersection, four blocks north of the town square. They remained there, studying the street warily. Pablo’s nervous Spanish was barely audible over the rain pelting the roof. “Is the cop still there? Can you see his car? I can’t. He should be gone by now . . . Is he?”
“Hold on. I can’t see anything,” Luis said, squinting in an effort to see through the foggy windshield. The wipers squeaked noisily on each pass, battling the downpour.
Pablo leaned forward, his brow raised in fear as he pointed a switchblade in front of him. He used one of the few English words he knew, his voice cracking, before he returned to his native language. “Stop!” His knife was directed at the twenty-four-hour Git It N Go convenience store located on the corner, across the road from where the pickup idled. “He’s there. His patrol car. See?” He tapped the windshield with his blade.
Luis grabbed the .38 under his seat. “Put the knife down . . . Where?” “The bastard parked behind the store tonight. Why? He never does that. It’s a trap!” Luis prided himself on knowing the routines of Hayslip’s tiny police force. It allowed them to do their work in peace. “How could it be a trap? I don’t see his . . . Christ! How many times have I told you that you need glasses? That’s the girl’s car, not his, and it doesn’t look anything like a patrol car! Don’t lose it, man.”
Pablo pouted. He fell back in the seat and flicked his knife open and closed several times. The interior of the cab had grown humid and Luis wiped sweat from his forehead with the palm of his hand. Returning his attention to the small store, he spotted the curvy figure of the young cashier through the plate glass window as she picked up a magazine from a rack in front and then returned to the rear of the building.
A new understanding made Luis panic, his breaths became rapid. No . . . no . . . His thinking about tonight was all wrong. It would be better to know where the cop was when they were in transit, rather than delay until late at night to miss him at the store.
Hayslip’s deputy dawdled each evening inside the Git It N Go to mess with a girl at the register. But with the deputy gone at this hour, he could be anywhere. It would have been much smarter to arrive when his attention was on the girl, not his duties. Now there was a chance they would run into him on Main Street.
He surveyed the length of the broad avenue. Nothing moved along the gloomy corridor except silver sheets of rainwater. Traffic signals, fried by the storm, blinked red warnings in all directions.
Luis needed time to think. Did the cop go back to the jail to sleep? He didn’t know what the redheaded fool did this late at night when dawn approached.
“Let’s take off,” Pablo said.
“I’ll say when we go. I’m—”
There was a flash of white light in the rear view mirror just before a vehicle plowed into the truck’s tailgate, Luis’s head snapped backwards and then the force of the crash slammed him against the steering wheel. For a painful moment, he was disoriented by the harsh jolt.
Regaining his wits, Luis shouted a war cry that was a confused mixture of profanity and terrified gibberish. He flung open his truck door and leapt out.
Pablo bounded out the passenger door after Luis, waving his arms. “Luis don’t . . .”
Luis shielded his eyes from the blinding headlights, too enraged to hear the warning. Harsh bile burned his throat. The stolen pickup, a body in the rug; there was too much to explain away. This singular opportunity for a return to the good life was ruined. Cursing the deputy to hell, he fired four rounds at the hazy outline of the patrol car. His fourth shot went wild and smashed the vehicle’s left headlight. A second later, the remaining lamp shorted out, issuing a soft pop of complaint as it died.
Luis wiped icy droplets from his face and realized that he had been fooled by a mirage. Like a nightmare, a gray Oldsmobile, with chrome fenders and a vinyl top materialized. No one was sitting inside the idling car, either dead or alive. After a moment of uncertainty, he took small steps forward, Pablo behind him.
Low thunder rolled overhead as the Olds driver—about Pablo’s age—rose somewhat unsteadily behind the dash. Behind him, Luis heard Pablo whisper, “Un niño.” A kid. The lighted dashboard tinted the boy’s features an eerie teal. Almost in slow motion, the youth slid behind the steering wheel, wide-eyed, as the men approached. His mouth opened partially, perhaps to cry out, maybe to plead.
Raising his pistol, Luis aimed at the center of the driver’s blue-green head. But his gun hand quivered, and his vision turned cloudy. The trigger resisted the pull of his finger. With nothing to lose, the boy slapped the Olds’s gear shift into reverse. The rear tires spun loudly on the wet street and then gained traction.
Pablo pointed at the retreating vehicle. “Stop him. Do something.” Pulling back from the two men standing in the front of the car, the vehicle made a wild retreat, barely staying between the ditches.
Luis lowered the gun as a porch light flicked on down the street. He ran for the truck. “We’ve got to get out of here.” He flung open the truck door and jumped in, grabbing the steering wheel.
Pablo’s arms flailed against the rain in wordless fury, but he sprinted after Luis and leapt into a vehicle already pulling away. As they took off, Luis looked back and saw the Olds careen into a parking lot and crash backward into an automatic car wash. It then pulled forward, the metal siding on the building crashed to the ground, and the vehicle raced away in the opposite direction.
Luis accelerated toward highway 281.
After they had gone almost a mile, Luis berated himself in Spanish for panicking with a mournful wail of frustration. “Goddamn! I thought it was the cop. Why . . . did . . . I . . .” Staring at the muddy floor mat underneath his feet, Pablo was silent. Luis drove on, squinting into the rain until he made out an unmarked trail connecting to the highway. He turned to Pablo, who still clutched the plan in his hand. “Where are we? What number? Read it.”
Pablo opened the sheet of paper, pulled a small flashlight from his pocket, and recited aloud. “Nine. Exit the highway at the fourth dirt road. Unmarked. Count each road.” “Was that the first or second road?” Luis asked. His mind was racing so fast everything was jumbled. Pablo looked up, shrugged his shoulders and turned off the light. “I don’t know.”
“You’re supposed to be counting. Count.”
“Yeah . . . I think that was the first.” Pablo put the sheet of notebook paper on the seat beside them and pointed to the right. “That’s the second.”
They had passed the crude turnoff before he finished the sentence.
“Second,” Luis said. “Okay, two more.” Luis shoved the gun back under the seat.
They noted a third trail that looked so vague it appeared to be more a memory of a cow path than a route.
“Okay . . . It’s coming up at the top of this hill,” Pablo said.
Luis turned onto a narrow dirt path that first cleaved a line of pine trees, and then divided an open meadow into two sections. Farther away from the highway, the terrain on either side of the road transformed into impassably thick undergrowth dotted with scrub trees.
Luis leaned to his left to fully view the side mirror. No headlights pursued them in the night. They had done it. The ache in his chest eased.
As they splashed through water hiding potholes in the road, Pablo fidgeted in his seat and eyed the dark cottages on their route. The primitive structures were cloaked in shadows by brambles and pine foliage. “Are you sure they’re all empty?” Pablo said. “How can there be so many houses and no one living in them?”
Luis pointed to a shack on the right. “No electricity. No running water. Rotten floor boards. They call this place Shanty Town. They’re old sharecropper shacks—nothing here but an abandoned ghost town. I’ve been here a few times before. It’s a good place to hide things.”
“Hide things? What have you put out here?”
Luis ignored the question. Veering off the meager road, he headed for the drop-off spot. The truck struggled to make it up the muddy rise, slippery with rain. He parked next to a drainage canal, barely visible in the overcast night. Luis turned off the headlights, plunging them into darkness. They sat for a full minute to let their eyes adjust.
“When do we leave? Pablo asked. Tomorrow? That dude might have recognized us or we could run into him again. We can’t stay here.”
“We’ll handle him if we run into him again.”
“No . . . I’ve been thinking,” Luis said. His voice was a whisper. “There’s more money to be made from this . . .” Luis’s head tilted to the rear to indicate the unmoving passenger in the truck bed. “This is the start of something very bad. A pillar of the community won’t want to deal with the details. He has too much to lose.”
“Pillar . . . of the . . .what?”
Luis shook his head. “Never mind. I just think we can make more money before we leave . . . I’ve got uh, some things I need to take care of.”
After an uneasy moment of quiet, Pablo asked, “What are you going to do with your share of the money?”
Luis considered the question before deciding to answer it. “I haven’t told you this, but my sister just arrived. I’m going to help Maria get settled. I promised I’d take care of her.”
“Maria’s here? In Hayslip? ” Pablo then separated Maria’s name into three lovely parts, wrapping each syllable in a verbal caress, “Ma—ri—a.”
Luis’s eyes narrowed, and his lips pressed together into a scowl. Maria turned men into fools. He glowered at Pablo.
Smiling apologetically, Pablo turned his attention to the particulars of the miserable weather outside the door window. He edged closer to the glass as his hand swept back and forth, wiping away condensation. “Shit . . . Some guy is watching us. He’s standing by that tree. Look!”
The tightness in Luis’s chest returned, squeezing the air from his lungs. Struggling to breathe, he slid closer to Pablo’s window to see through the grey mist. After several tense seconds, he returned to his former position. “It’s only a shadow. Yes, it looks like a man, but it’s not. You need glasses.”
“But I saw him move. He walked—”
Pablo folded his arms around his chest and his bottom lip jutted out.
After their breath had fogged the windshield completely, Luis said, “Okay, let’s go.”
11. Use side rails to get into truck bed. Don’t leave footprints on wet ground.
Stepping onto slick side rails, they climbed into the cargo area. The men stood on either side of the rug, staring down at it expectantly as if it might suggest how best to move it.
“Did he tell you who’s in the rug?” Pablo asked. “Do you know? What did he do wrong?”
“Don’t know. Don’t care,” Luis said. “Let’s lift it.”
Crouching down, they tried to lift the carpet, but discovered it was too heavy to pick up. The long downpour had soaked it for several hours after they took it from the mansion to hide it until nightfall in the woods. Now, filled with both water and a body, the dead weight stuck to the truck bed as if glued. After minutes of futile strain, both of them were breathing heavily. They sat across from each other on the sides of the truck bed to catch their breath.
“The goddamn thing won’t budge,” Pablo said. He straightened and put a hand on his back.
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