The first in a gritty new series featuring sheriff’s detective Katrina Williams, as she investigates moonshine, murder, and the ghosts of her own past…
BODY OF PROOF
Katrina Williams left the Army ten years ago disillusioned and damaged. Now a sheriff’s detective at home in the Missouri Ozarks, Katrina is living her life one case at a time—between mandated therapy sessions—until she learns that she’s a suspect in a military investigation with ties to her painful past.
The disappearance of a local girl is far from the routine distraction, however. Brutally murdered, the girl’s corpse is found by a bottlegger whose information leads Katrina into a tangled web of teenagers, moonshiners, motorcycle clubs, and a fellow veteran battling illness and his own personal demons. Unraveling each thread will take time Katrina might not have as the Army investigator turns his searchlight on the devastating incident that ended her military career. Now Katrina will need to dig deep for the truth—before she’s found buried…
I felt like it was the end of summer. Not that there was a hint of green or the creeping red-oranges of leaves turning. In Iraq, everything was brownish. Not even a good, earthy brown. Instead, everything within my view was a uniform, wasted, dun color. It was easy to imagine the creator ending up here on the seventh day, out of energy and out of ideas after spending his palate in the joy of painting the rest of the world. This spit of earth, the dirty asshole of creation we called the Triangle of Death, didn’t even rate a decent brown.
I had been in country for eight months. I had been First Lieutenant Katrina Williams, Military Police, attached to the 502nd Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division for a little over a year. Pride and love had brought me here. Proud to be American and just as proud to have come from a military family, I was in love with what the ROTC at Southwest Missouri State University had shown me about my country’s military. I fell in love with the thought of the woman I would become serving my nation. I wanted to echo the men my father and my uncle were and add my own tone to the family history. Iraq bled that all out of me. Just like it was bleeding my color out into the dust. Bright red draining into shit brown.
It was the impending weight of change that made me feel like the end of summer. As a girl, back home in the Ozarks, the summers seemed to last forever. It wasn’t until the final days, carried over even into a new school year, when the air cooled and the oaks rusted, that I could feel them ending. Their endings were like the descent of ice ages, the shifting of epochs. That was exactly how I felt bleeding into the dirt. The difference was that I felt an impending death rather than transition. The terminus of an epoch. In Iraq though, nothing was as clear as that. It was death; but it wasn’t.
Lying on my back, I wished I could see blue sky, but not here. The air was hazed with dust so used up it became a part of the atmosphere. There was no more of the earth in it. Grit, like bad memories and regret, hanging over an entire nation. I coughed hard and it hurt. A bubbly thickness slithered up my throat. Using my tongue and what breath I had, I got the slimy mass up to my lips. I just didn’t have it in me to spit. Instead, I turned my head to the side and let the bloody phlegm slide down my cheek.
Dying is hard.
Wind, hot and cradling the homeland sand so many factions were willing to kill for, ran over the wall I was hidden behind. It eddied there, slowing and swirling and then dumping the dirt on my naked skin. A slow-motion burial. Even the land here hated naked women.
I stayed there without moving, but slipping in and out of consciousness for a long time. It seemed long, anyway. I dreamed. Dreamed or remembered so well they seemed like perfect dreams of—everything.
We played baseball. Just like in old movies with kids turning a lot into a diamond. No one does that anymore, but we did. My grandfather played minor league ball years ago and I had a cousin who was a Cardinals fan. Everyone was a Cardinals fan, so I loved the Royals. When the games were over and it was hotter than the batter’s box when I was pitching—I had a wild arm—my father would take me to the river. Later when we had cars, I was drawn there every summer to swim and swing from the ropes. We floated on old, patched inner tubes and teased boys. That was where I learned to drink beer. My father would take me fishing on the river. My grandfather would take me on the lakes. I used the same cane pole my father had when Granddad taught him about fishing. Both of the men used to say to the girl who complained about not catching anything, “It’s not about the catching, it’s about the fishing.” I don’t think I ever understood until a good portion of my blood was spilled on the dirt of a world that hated me.
My head spun back to the moment and back to Iraq. If I was going to die, I would have done it already, I figured. At least my body. That physical part of me would live on. That other part of me, the girl who loved summer… I think she was already dead. Death and transition.
From the author of A Living Grave comes a gripping police procedural featuring sheriff's detective Katrina Williams as she exposes the dark underbelly of Appalachia . . .
Dredging up the Truth
Still recovering from tragedy and grieving a devastating loss, Iraq war veteran and sheriff's detective Katrina Williams copes the only way she knows how—by immersing herself in work. A body's just been pulled from the lake with a fish haul, but what seems like a straight-forward murder case over the poaching of paddlefish for domestic caviar quickly becomes murkier than the depths of the lake.
Soon a second body is found—an illegal Peruvian refugee woman linked to a charismatic tent revival preacher. But as Katrina tries to investigate the enigmatic evangelist, she is blocked by antagonistic FBI agents and Army CID personnel. When more young female refu-gees disappear, she must partner with deputy Billy Blevins, who stirs mixed feelings in her, to connect the lake murder to the refugees. Katrina is no stranger to darkness, but cold-blooded conspirators plan to make sure she'll never again see the light of day . . .
We had lights on our helmets and a flashlight each, but our progress was really because of Billy’s familiarity with the path. Three turns and one crawl-through and we came out into a chamber. At one end water dripped and trickled, seeming to bleed right out of the stone and filled a small basin. At the other end, the basin emptied into a silent steam that disappeared into a fissure the size of my fist. In between was a flat space on which we sat. Billy pointed out shapes and features in the walls and ceiling.
“Are there bats?” I asked.
“Not all caves have bats,” he answered without laughing or making me feel bad for asking. “But this one has something better. Something special.”
He slipped down to his knees and put his face low. For a second I thought he was going to put his head under the pool of water. Instead, he shined his flashlight around until he found what he wanted.
“Come look at this.” His voice had become a whisper.
I joined him staring into the light beam within the water. What, at first, I thought were reflections, moved away from the light. Fish. They were tiny, like minnows, but the color of bleached bone. Their eyes were small and dead looking. It was as if I was looking into a ghost world.
“Down here.” Billy pointed with the flashlight then poked a finger into the beam.
There, along the line of his finger was a white rock.
“A pebble?” I asked.
The rock moved and the strange shape resolved into what appeared to be a tiny lobster.
“Crayfish,” I said excited. It was so colorless it was practically transparent at the edges. “So pale.”
“They don’t need color in the darkness. They don’t need eyes either.”
I sat up, stunned and elated by the place I was in. “Thank you,” I said looking around. “For sharing this with me.”
“This isn’t what I wanted to share,” Billy said.
He reached to the lamp on my hard hat and killed the light. After a moment, he turned off my flashlight. Again he waited a few seconds to turn off his flashlight. Finally, after a longer pause, he turned off his own headlamp.
We were in the kind of complete darkness I don’t think I’d ever experienced. It was thrilling and jarring at the same time. I reached and took his hand without even thinking. The black we were in was like distance and I wanted to be close.
“Why?” I asked.
“Look around,” he answered, softly.
“It’s dark,” I said. “Nothing but black.”
“There’s no light. But absence isn’t exactly black.”
“I don’t understand.” I shook my head then wondered why.
“Some of the guys I know . . .” Billy said then stopped.
I knew he was talking about something different then, but still the same. A change in subject not in meaning. I waited, like waiting for a suspect. He had to be the one to fill the silence.
“Veterans,” he continued. “Guys who were over there. We talk sometimes. They talk a lot about the things they see when they close their eyes. It’s always personal. No one ever has the same experience or the same . . . vision on events. Look around. Do you still see nothing?”
I did as he asked and noticed for the first time that blackness wasn’t exactly, only blackness. There were patterns of light, vague shimmers, not entirely seen, but not simply imagined, I was sure.
“Something . . .” I admitted.
“Our eyes don’t like complete darkness. When there’s no light to be seen, the optic nerves still fire, populating the void with specters. The thing is, your eyes won’t see what mine do and I won’t see what you experience. Darkness is singular. What you see, is your particular darkness, no one else’s. No matter how well you describe it, no one will see it the way you do.”
“You’re not talking about darkness.” I actually thought I heard fear in my voice.
“You’re holding my hand.”
“Yes,” I answered, squeezing.
“Is it real?”
“What do you mean?”
“My hand. Me. Am I real”
“Of course,” I said. “Why would you not be?”
“That’s what I tell the other guys. We all have our own darkness within us and sometimes it gets out, it shadows our lives, the entire world we see. Those times we get so wrapped up in seeing our own thing, our own darkness, we forget the real out there beyond it.”
He let go of my hand and I was suddenly untethered. I was adrift in my own darkness. It was a familiar feeling. In a way, comforting. The same way what is familiar and expected is always somehow a comfort. But I didn’t want the darkness anymore. I realized I wanted his hand.
“Billy . . .”
He touched my face. Then the touch became a hold as he placed his hands to each side with his fingers in my hair. His thumb rested on the scar that framed my eye and I didn’t mind.
“I don’t want to live in the dark anymore,” I confessed.
Then Billy Blevins kissed me.
When we walked out of the crevasse and entered the cave’s mouth, the world was a circle of light to be walked into. It spread and opened as we approached. When I stepped through, I understood what Billy had said about breathing sunshine.
About the Author
I wasn't born in a log cabin but the station wagon did have wood on the side. It was broken down on the approach road into Ft. Rucker, Alabama in the kind of rain that would have made a Biblical author jealous. You never saw a tornado in the Old Testament did you? As omens of a coming life go, mine was full of portent if not exactly glad tidings.
From there things got interesting. Life on a series of Army bases encouraged my retreat into a fantasy world. Life in a series of public school environments provided ample nourishment to my developing love of violence. Often heard in my home was the singular phrase, "I blame the schools." We all blamed the schools.
Both my fantasy and my academic worlds left marks and the amalgam proved useful the three times in my life I had guns pointed in my face. Despite those loving encounters the only real scars left on my body were inflicted by a six foot, seven inch tall drag queen. She didn't like the way I was admiring the play of three a.m. Waffle House fluorescent light over the high spandex sheen of her stockings.
After a series of low paying jobs that took me places no one dreams of going. I learned one thing. Nothing vomits quite so brutally as jail food. That's not the one thing I learned; it's an important thing to know, though. The one thing I learned is a secret. My secret. A terrible and dark thing I nurture in my nightmares. You learn your own lessons.
Eventually I began writing stories. Mostly I was just spilling out the, basically, true narratives of the creatures that lounge about my brain, laughing and whispering sweet, sweet things to say to women. Women see through me but enjoy the monsters in my head. They say, sometimes, that the things I say and write are lies or, "damn, filthy lies, slander of the worst kind, and the demented, perverted, wishful stories of a wasted mind." To which I always answer, I tell only the truth. I just tell a livelier truth than most people.