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Logline or Premise
A rookie detective searches for justice in the wake of the murder of the man he called brother. He never saw the dark and uncertain future barreling straight at him or the malignant psychopath, his clock spring continuously winding tighter and moving them both towards violence. 
First 10 Pages

Chapter 1 Gunfire

Friday, December 22, 1978

A deep, shrouding fog concealed crumbling fragments of asphalt and gravel that slipped from the old highway downhill into the wet marsh grasses. An unsettling quiet and a chill of melancholy coated the inky wetlands.

His mind wandering from the drudgery of another crash report, California Highway Patrol Sergeant William Taft sang to himself the single line of Dean Martin’s, Baby Its Cold Outside that he could remember. His thoughts drifted to Christmas morning—three short days to finish his shopping, tinsel and cinnamon, and his tiny daughter’s laughter.

Reviewing his troop’s crash reports under the yellowish glow of a tiny dash-lamp, he was deep in concentration when he heard the first shot. Alert, he listened through his open window. A second and third report followed in rapid succession.

Coffee out the window, but like most cops, he left it down. Taft pushed his cruiser into the muddied dampness. He cut the median to complete a U-turn and merged onto a desolate Highway 21 northbound.

Accelerating, Taft’s mind raced, recounting in his head the number of shots he’d heard: “One, two and three; was there a fourth? It was too late, too dark, and too damn foggy for duck hunters to be working the adjoining sloughs. Was that just another shot?

The Sergeant, pulled the mic to his mouth,

“Dispatch, 8S35.”

“Dispatch, go ahead,” came the reply.

“8S35 investigating shots fired near the Rio Leone overpass at 21.”

“Shots fired, Rio Leone at 21. Unit to fill?”

The prowler’s lights burrowed into the gloom, Taft turned down the Motorola radio and its intermittent patrol chatter. Those shots had to be from a pistol. Taft had been on the job just over twelve years, and intuitively he knewthere wasn’t a single good reason, someone would be firing a handgun, in the middle of the night, in the fog in the middle of nowhere.

In seconds, a nebulous amber bloom winked ahead. The patrol car was strategically stopped at a blocking angle, common in many car stops. The forward shining reds were activated, as was the rear amber. The twin spotlights out in front of the cruiser disappeared in the dark. Whatever vehicle had been pulled over by the deputies was nowhere in sight.

Intuition and experience kicked in. Taft picked up the mic.

“Dispatch, 8S35, 11-96, Highway 21, Northbound, about a half mile north of Rio Leone overpass. Push my fill code 3.” His request of the dispatcher to respond his backup ‘lights and siren’ was ominous.

Taft had no knowledge of the deputies making a car stop in his sector. Unless a dispatcher flipped a switch, CHP and the Sheriff’s Office were on partitioned frequencies. They simply couldn’t hear each other’s radio traffic.

Nothing about this felt right. Taft slowed, looking, smelling, listening, trying to take it all in. Unbuckling his seat belt, he pulled onto the shoulder of the highway, behind the green and white Delano County Sheriff’s Office cruiser. Both of its front doors wide open.

“Dispatch 8S35, I’ve got an S/O cruiser... UTL any occupants” he added.

Slapping the mic onto the dash, the Sergeant popped his driver’s door and shoved it with his heavy boot. He grabbed his Kel-Lite and stepped out onto the lonely ribbon of asphalt. His senses jacked, Taft lit up the roadway, the rear of the S/O cruiser and off to the sides as far as he could see. Nothing clued him into the situation. Without looking, he reached down and plucked his baton from the carrier on his driver’s side door and slipped it into the ring on his Sam Browne gun belt. Taft, glanced left, right, and over his shoulder, then stepped into the darkness.


The Central Valley had its own unique charm—hundreds of thousands of acres of open agriculture, cereal grains, hay, cotton, tomatoes, vegetables, citrus, tree fruits, nuts, table grapes, and wine grapes. Complimenting these were marshlands alive with waterfowl and rice paddies stretching to the horizon.

Two-lane roads, paved and unpaved, crisscrossed at semi-regular intervals, creating a mosaic of varying greens and browns. Three rivers, The Arrow, and the north and south forks of the Bradenton, subdivided the farmlands, too. Between the river’s flows and the ubiquitous irrigation canals and waterways, the sweet smell of fresh or close to it, water perfumed the fields. In the dense heat of the day, the fragrance was intoxicating.

About every ten or fifteen miles, small towns dotted the landscape. Hardscrabble and coarse small cafes, mom and pop grocery stores, grain silos, taco trucks, heavy equipment sales yards and of course, a wide selection of dive saloons routinely populated them. Along the Bradenton and Arrow, smallish and being kind, ‘river resorts’ and bait shops littered the banks where it intersected with the valley’s whistle stop communities. The hamlets of Luck, Silverton, Calpine, Davison, and Peyona where the glue that held this agricultural region together.

Only six miles north of Calpine was the Striped Bass Tavern, Stripers to the locals. A long plank of tortured wood and dozen chrome barstools, their red vinyl upholstery in differing stages of neglect, greeted those bold enough to push into the room. A derelict shuffleboard, a couple of taps, and a battered back bar dominated the railroad flat-style saloon. Mostly bottom-shelf booze and a box or two of the valley’s finest box wine filled in the gaps between dusty fishing lures, nets, rods and reels, and ancient pictures of angling trophies past. Some of Daddy’s favorite tribute mementos of the Solons, the Pacific Coast league’s single A team in Sacto were wedged into the clutter as a designer touch. In an old bathtub placed below, a slurry of melting ice, a dozen Miller’s, “The Champagne of Bottled Beer” and a quart can of Old Sacramento tomato juice, long since prime, bobbed in the wash.

A single strand of Christmas lights on ‘random blink’ stretched the length of the back bar. It ended in an unkempt coil of blue, red, and green on the floor next to the stuffed cardboard box assigned as trash. They hardly detracted from the gloom of Stripers.

Tommy Abraham, aka Daddy, stood behind the bar staring out the grimy window to the street. Grubby overalls, a flannel shirt rolled to elbows and an arm full of tats complemented his long gray hair and beard.

His only customer that night was a regular, Mikey C. A rice farmer by day and sullen drunk by night. Just returning from the “pit” as the locals called the shitter (and for good reason once you had to opportunity to experience it), Mikey C. was still wiping his hands on his sweatshirt when he slid his bony ass onto the bar stool closest to Daddy. He pulled a swine-label bourbon off the soaked cardboard coaster and dragged it to his lips.

As they both sat in silence, they too heard that first shot. And the following four. Those shots seemed out of place to them too, but neither said a word.

Daddy slipped from behind the bar and walked to the ramshackle front door, pushing it open with his weathered Doc Martins. He pulled a time-worn zippo from his pocket and lit the first Marlboro out of his fourth pack of the day. A couple long drags and silence followed as the fog seeped in the open door. Daddy picked at a blackened fingernail, recently crushed by his joiner’s mallet after several too many beers. He flipped the half-spent smoke to the ancient wood floor and twisted it out with his boot.

Mikey C. swiveled on his bar stool and, looking into the foggy darkness, drained his Four Roses. Before he could order yet another, they both heard four more shots.


The Highway Patrol had trained Sergeant Taft well, at least as well as all his trooper counterparts, and he was an excellent student of the profession. The one thing that they could not teach was experience, but Bill felt his twelve years ‘on the job’ qualified him as having been there and done that. On this night, Taft found out he was mistaken.

With his Smith and Wesson .357 in his right hand, his Kel-Lite in his left, Taft sliced through the fog and lit up the rear deck of the squad car. A quick left and right swing, but still he had no idea what he was walking into. As he stepped to the side and moved toward the driver’s open door, he illuminated the interior of the squad car. The rear or ‘perp seat’ revealed nothing. His first glance up front was another matter.

Normally when two cops bail out of the front seat to make a vehicle stop, they leave it quickly, effortlessly, with nothing likely upset in their cruiser. In that first split second, Taft noted a metal clipboard, partially opened, and paperwork haphazardly poured across the console and onto the passenger seat.

He bent at the waist and leaned into the driver’s compartment, his brain fogging with stimuli. The microphone was not in its normal resting spot on the dash latch but lying on the hard rubber front floor mat. That was unusual, but the fact that the shotgun appeared to have been partially pulled from the locking rack, canted at a steep angle, was startling.

As was the blood.

The passenger seat was slick with it, the floorboards bathed in the sanguine fluids. A more focused look and Taft saw smears of blood on the locking rack, the solenoid release button, and the lower half of the of the shotgun.

At first glance, looking through the interior, out the wide-open passenger door, the Sergeant noted footprints in the wet ice plant on the roadways edge. As if all this wasn’t enough, it was still not what stopped him in his tracks.

It took Taft a split second to comprehend.

“Dispatch 8S35, respond an ambulance, code 3. Officer down.”

He uncoiled from his uncomfortable crouch in the driver’s compartment of the Sheriff’s cruiser. Just beyond the passenger door, he locked on the yellow stripe on a pair of uniform pants. The balance of the deputy’s body was just out of his view on the downslope of the ice plant.

As he came to his feet, he swept his flashlight, his mind calculating the possibilities obscured by the darkness and the fog. Seeing no one else, he cautiously moved past the left rear of the cruiser just in front of his patrol vehicle. As he rounded the rear of the sheriff’s cruiser, his light caught a prostrate body lying on his back, headfirst down the steep slope from the roadway.

Ashen faced, the sheriff’s deputy stared dully into the misty night sky. At least one shot had torn away part of the deputy’s jaw, bathing his upper body in blood. His tactical boot at the edge of the roadway, the rest of his body uncomfortably embedded in the ice plant.

Taft breathed into his shoulder mic, “Dispatch, hurry....” and dropped to his knees next to the deputy, just about his age, about the same time on the job. In fact, not seventy-two hours prior the two of them, their patrol cars sixty-nine’d under an overpass, had shared a thermos of coffee and laughed about the exploits of their young children.

He felt for his friend’s carotid pulse. Nothing.

Taft noted a single bullet hole in the deputy’s torso. Unfortunately, it had found its mark in the gap between the Kevlar vest panels along the right side of his rib cage. Blood was pooling at his left arm and right hip as well.

The ice plant cradling his head was stained with the jets of arterial blood that had minutes before been the deputy’s life spring. The sheer volume of blood created an iron-rich scent that hit Taft like a punch in the face.

He knew the trooper was dead but had no time to process it. There was another deputy still out there, one who might still be alive.

Taft heard the first faint wail of oncoming sirens. He wished they were closer, but that was a wish that just wasn’t meant to be. Not only did he know that another deputy was unaccounted for, he was acutely aware of his own risk.

He swept the steep embankment and the passenger side of the deputy’s vehicle with his Kel-Lite and at first saw nothing. He crouched low, pushing his .357 ahead of him. Taft inched along past the patrol car’s open door and to the front right of the vehicle. He continued sweeping his light, hoping for... well, it was chilling that for what, he wasn’t sure.

He lit up the roadway as far forward as he could see ahead. Nothing. He moved a few steps down the embankment and made a deeper sweep of the ice plant. To the right, then the left. As he started to widen the Kel-Lite’s sweep, there, just outside of the cruiser’s headlights, and about sixty feet ahead, was what he’d most feared.

It was difficult on the steep embankment covered in deep, wet ice plant, but Sergeant Taft ran as best he could toward the uniformed deputy laying by the pavement.

He was more than startled to note the lawman was handcuffed, his hands behind his back, his legs akimbo. The deputy’s battered uniform hat lay half-submerged in murky pool of rainwater, fifteen feet off the roadway edge. His left-handed holster was ominously empty and that in and of itself sent a chill through Taft.

He knelt for the second time in less than a minute, at an officer’s side along that nightmarish roadway. His Kel-Lite illuminated gruesome wounds that were almost more than he could bear. Multiple rounds to the back of the head had disfigured the victim. There would be no open casket at these funerals.

Taft was conflicted. His common sense and deep-seated training screamed officer safety, and yet his limbic system seemed to take charge. On his knees, his hands to his side, Taft looked skyward, not seeing and not feeling. It seemed that he sat there, on his lower legs, for minutes. There was a very long, deep sigh, and a moan that only Taft could hear.

As the sirens closed in, he regained his focus. On the steep embankment, he pulled himself into a lop-sided standing position. Only then did he note that this deputy was a bit older than the other; it was hard to tell, though. The wounds were so severe he was surprised he still recognized his fellow lawman. The bloody toupee, splattered across the wet, jade slope, had confused him. Taft thought it bizarre that his first impression was I never knew he wore a toupee?


Kirstie Long Mon, 14/08/2023 - 17:04

This is well written and has the right pace to start building suspense. I like the switch between the scene and the bar, which added to the initial tension.