Author: Patrick Kelly

Patrick Kelly - author of the Joe Robbins series.

Financial Thriller: A Joe Robbins clip — boxing with distraction

January 17, 1988

Boxer fighting

Boxer fighting

Fight Night

“Don’t knock him out too early,” Neil said.

I sat on the stool in the corner of the ring. Neil knelt before me and tightened the laces of my gloves. He had brown hair, a fat face, a pointy chin, and close-set eyes.

“I don’t think that’s going to be a problem,” I said.

The fighter across the ring looked serious and strong. He was Hispanic, with short hair and a mean sneer on his face. He had to be six-feet-five or -six and weighed two forty or more.

“He outweighs me by a good twenty pounds.”

Neil looked over his shoulder. “He’s a pussy. Just don’t go too hard too fast. That’s the only thing I’m worried about.”

“What about losing? You might want to worry about that.”

“Confidence, Joseph. Confidence.”

“Why don’t you call me Joe?” It was a back-and-forth line between Neil and me. He never called me Joe.

“Okay. . . . José.” He patted my cheeks on both sides and gave me a broad grin. “My bet is as good as won.”

“I haven’t seen that dude around campus. Have you?”

The boxers were supposed to be students of the university. My opponent had tattoos that ran from inside his gloves to his shoulders. They were flames of orange and black.

Neil looked again. “Yeah, he might be a ringer. Maybe that’s why I got the two-to-one odds against you.”

We were the last fight of the night. Fight Night was a charity event run by the fraternities at the University of Texas, Arlington. The ring was official size, centered in the ballroom of the Worthington Hotel in Fort Worth. Four hundred spectators, mostly men, occupied the ballroom. They had paid a hundred and fifty bucks a seat to eat hotel steak, drink table wine, smoke cigars and watch amateur boxing. It was between fights, and nobody paid us the slightest attention.

“Have you seen Rose?” I asked.

“Stop worrying about that chick, will ya? You’ll see her later at the house.”

“She said she might make it. I gave her a ticket.”

“Don’t even think about it. Focus on boxing. Try to knock him out in the third round. I have a side wager that the fight will go three rounds and another that you’ll knock him out.”

“I can’t stop thinking about her.”

Neil looked right in my face.

“Shut up. We can talk about that later . . . all night. Right now you need to concentrate on kicking this guy’s butt.”

Hot lights shined down on the ring, leaving the round dinner tables in relative darkness. A cute co-ed in a swimsuit stepped through the ropes and circled the ring with a sign that read “1.”

“How much did you bet?”

“A thousand dollars . . . and I can’t afford to lose it.”

DING!

We were up. As the announcer went through the drill, the fighter looked right through me, no emotion, no anger, nothing.

And then we were at it, dancing around each other in the ring, trying to gauge skill level, strengths and weaknesses. He came at me soon, quick jabs at my face, trying to get in close enough to land something real. He’d had training; I was certain of that, probably a year or two in a gym like Frankie’s, the place where I had learned. But he wasn’t a pro. That much I knew within fifteen seconds.

He threw two jabs and followed with a straight right at my head. I rocked back and felt the air on my face as his punch missed by an inch. I countered perfectly with a right hook to the side. The punch landed hard enough for people at the tables to hear. A chorus of “whoas” sounded from those who watched. We had the crowd’s full attention now.

We were both good enough to know the score. He was stronger, but I was faster and had better skills. Barring something unusual, I should win. Based on those factors and my knowledge of Neil’s bets, I developed my plan for the fight. Fight Night matches went three rounds maximum. I would dance around the ring for the first two rounds, taking his jabs and counterpunching when a clean opportunity presented itself. In the third round I would crank up the pace in hopes of winning.

My opponent wore bright orange silk pants to match his tattoos and had a hairline scar over his right eyebrow. He had a big flat nose and brown eyes that ran angry. His footwork was good, up and back, side to side, always moving, but he telegraphed his punches.

I stole a quick glance at my fraternity’s table. Rose’s seat was still empty. A few of my frat brothers stood to shout encouragement.

“Come on, Joe!”

“Knock his head off.”

A left hook came hard, and I dipped my right arm to block it. Whew. Too close.

The bell rang to give us sixty seconds of rest, and then we were back at it. The second round unfolded much like the first. I scored me with a slight advantage, just where I wanted to be going into the final round.

In the break I sat on the stool while Neil wiped my face with a damp cloth. My eyes strayed back to the table. There was still no Rose.

“Hey! Stop that.” Neil slapped me. “Now look, Josephina, it’s time to ditch the wimpy act and crank it up. You need to knock this guy out.”

“I’m not trying for a knockout.”

“Are you crazy? You can kill this guy.”

“You shouldn’t have made the knockout bet. This is Fight Night. We throw a few punches, have a few laughs, and everybody goes home.”

Neil looked over his shoulder at my opponent. “You think that’s how he’s playing it?

The fighter didn’t look tired, and if anything, he looked meaner than he did at the start.

“Maybe not, but that’s how I’m playing it.

DING!

My feet were comfortable, the shoes a perfect fit. I sped up my footwork. The fighter noticed. I worked in closer, throwing a few jabs of my own to keep him busy.

I worked in a left hook to right hook combination that caught him by surprise. Slam! His eyes winced at the pain, and he shook his head to clear it. I backed up to let him breathe a little.

“Hit him, Joseph! Go on. Knock him out!”

The ringer came at me quick and threw a southpaw roundhouse punch that I easily slipped to the outside. I countered with a straight right to his head. The punch landed just above his eyebrow and snapped back his head.

He was fundamentally a street fighter. If we had been in the alleys of south Dallas he would have beaten me, no question. He would have used his superior strength to throw me to the ground and kick me senseless. But we were in the ring, and there were rules.

He came at me with another wild swing, a nervous look in his eyes. I blocked the punch and countered with a solid uppercut. A loud crack rang through the room. The crowd gasped. They sensed my victory at hand, but I backed away again.

I gave him a second to recover and stole another glance at the table.

There she was, my beautiful Rose. She wore a white dress that showed off her dark complexion. The frat boys around her cheered, but Rose stood quiet, her shapely figure compelling, and her brown hair falling around her shoulders. On her face was a look of serious concern. I wanted to tell her I was fine . . . everything was going to be okay.

I turned my head back with an instant to spare. There was no time to put up a glove, barely enough time to lift my shoulder and scrunch my chin behind it before the wild punch slammed full into my temple.

WHAM!

I was on the canvas. I don’t remember putting my arms up to break the fall. All the sound shut off. The lights went off briefly and came back on again, but everything was out of focus. Time slowed to a crawl. I blinked and faces appeared, cheering faces, screaming at me, but still no sound. I lay still and breathed. I counted my breaths: two, three, four. Still no noise.

“One!”

There it was. The referee’s first count. I kept breathing: five, six, seven breaths. All sound returned. The cheering continued for me to get up.

“Two!”

It was a slow count, a lucky break for me. The ref was as surprised by the knockdown as I was. I inhaled deeply: eight, nine, ten breaths.

The referee continued counting out loud. “Three . . . Four . . . Five. . . .”

He sped up the pace. I stole a quick glance at the clock, just under two minutes. I’d have to work fast. I intended to use every instant of the count to recover. I flexed my feet and hands to get ready.

“Six . . . Seven. . . Eight. . . .”

I rose to my knees and then to my feet just before he finished the count. Breathe in . . . breathe out. The referee studied my eyes to make sure I was lucid. He looked surprised.

My opponent almost ran at me, dying to finish me off. I side-stepped the charge and punched him hard in the ribs. It pushed him sideways. I bounced on my feet, faster than before. He turned to face me and ran into a left-hook to right-uppercut combination that snapped at his face. His gloves were out of position. He shook his head and came at me again.

He threw a quick jab in an attempt to recover his momentum, but I slipped it outside, stepped to the right and hit him three times in the side.

WHOMP! WHOMP! WHOMP!

He took a couple of hesitant steps to his right and tried to pull his gloves up to face me. I danced in close and feigned a punch at his middle. He took the gloves down, and I came back with a straight right to his head, followed by a hard hook to his left ear.

His eyes grew bleary. He lost control of his legs and took two side steps that were off balance. I threw one more punch to the right side of his unprotected head. It wasn’t even a hard punch. He took one last step, and his knees buckled.

He was a strong guy and remained conscious, but he couldn’t stand any longer. He fell to his right knee and put an arm out for support. The referee was on time with the count, but it didn’t really matter; he could have counted to thirty. My opponent kept sinking until he lay on his stomach with his legs and arms flat to the mat.

I stood tall over him, my gloves at the sides, staring, breathing heavy.

The crowd screamed on and on. Neil ran in and lifted my arm high while the ref lifted the other. I stood flat-footed and continued to stare at my opponent.

First, I had been stupid but lucky. After that, his overconfidence had made it easy for me.

“You won, Joseph. You won! I’ll clear four thousand bucks.” Neil’s mouth was at my ear to be heard above the noise. “Friends forever, Joseph. Friends forever!”

END

Originally part of the prologue to Hill Country Rage, this Joe Robbins clip was deleted during editing.       – P. K., September 18, 2016

Hill Country Rage is available in print and eBook formats at Amazon.

 

Financial Thriller: A Joe Robbins Clip — dog racing

Ferocious barking came from the back of the cabin, followed by a man’s shout and then nothingdoberman-untouched. I got out of the Jeep and walked toward the door. A faded blue Mercedes sat parked in the sun. The covered porch was made of unfinished hardwood.

As I approached the porch a movement caught the corner of my left eye. I glanced that way and saw dark shapes moving across the ground, sleek, fast, and quiet. A low guttural noise came at me, interrupted by inhalations of air to feed the charge.

The Dobermans sprinted toward me, closing from a hundred feet away.

Pressure surged in my chest. I ran for the porch, my heart thumping as my toes dug into the dirt. My eyes tracked the lead dog, his teeth bared, his legs stretching fully with each stride. I stepped once more on a bare spot of dirt, and then leaped to the porch to grab an upright beam. I scrambled up the beam, sucking in huge gulps of air, my hands grabbing, slipping, and grabbing again.

I got a hand on the porch roof, the shingles tearing at my skin. The lead dog jumped, his jaws open, his body in full flight, and I shot a kick in his direction that glanced off the left side of his face. His jaws clacked shut on empty air, and he slammed into the beam. His mate ran behind him. She slowed her pace to study me. With eyes wide I pulled myself up, my other hand on the roof and legs wrapped around the beam. As my legs began to sag they fell into range. The bitch ran onto the porch and leaped from there, her jaws closing around my left shoe, pinching my heel. Her weight pulled my leg from the beam just as the male jumped again. I kicked blindly and clubbed him in the snout with my right foot. He whined and fell to the ground. The weight of the bitch stretched my arms as I kicked at her, finally landing a hard enough blow to loosen her jaw.

I wrapped my legs around the beam again, my chest heaving, while the dogs barked insanely. They took turns attacking, snapping jaws at the apex of their leaps. Each time they jumped my stomach tightened, my legs retracted, and I stared as their jaws snapped. My arms ached. Sweat stung my eyes. I had battled them to a temporary stalemate, but how long could I hold on? No more than a minute, maybe two.

A man laughed.

He strode toward me at a leisurely pace. He wore work boots, khaki pants and shirt, and a safari hat. A dog leash hung from his right hand. He shook his head as he continued to laugh, big chuckles that crashed against the cabin and thundered out to the hills.

“My, my. You’re up a tree.”

“Get your dogs off me.”

“Lady. Heel.”

The bitch immediately left the porch and stepped to her master’s side, silent. The male kept barking and jumped again, his jaws snapping as they closed on empty air inches from my leg.

“Brad. Stop that.”

Brad barked again, coiled for another attempt. His master deftly looped a choke chain around his neck and pulled him from the porch.

“You can come down now,” he said.

I eyed the female suspiciously.

“She won’t attack unless I give her a command.”

Unwrapping my legs, I dropped to the porch, exhausted and out of breath. My hands shook; I leaned to press them against my knees. I focused on breathing in and out, inhaling lungsful of air, until I could stand upright again.

“Those dogs are vicious,” I said.

“They’re protective. You’re trespassing.”

“You should post a sign on the gate.”

“Yeah, I meant to do that.”

The bitch sat obediently at his side, panting. The male growled low in his chest and struggled against the chain.

“Anyway,” he said. “Why are you here?”

For the first time I studied the man carefully. Tall. Blond hair. He looked a little different without the fedora and sunglasses, but I recognized him.

“Hey,” he said. “I know you. I’m not talking to you.”

Suddenly, standing there, still breathing heavy, it all seemed worth it: the hours of driving on back-country roads, the frustrating answers from county clerks, even the mad scramble to stay clear of the dogs.

Lady began to growl. I didn’t worry much about her so long as Brad stayed on the leash. One dog I could handle. Two were a problem.

“You’d better talk to me,” I said. “You help me, and I’ll put serious coin in your pocket. You don’t, and I promise the police will be out here tomorrow.”

Lady continued to growl. Cunningham considered my offer with a snarl on his face. If he made a move toward Brad’s leash, I planned to run two steps and kick Lady hard in the stomach.

He smiled an ugly smile. “Or I could just let these dogs loose and watch them tear you to pieces.”

“Do you really want to add murder to your résumé? Murder? Or would you rather make some money?”

He cocked his head to one side as if listening for something. For a moment I thought he was going to unleash Brad. Lady thought so, too, for she stood on all fours and growled louder. We remained like that for long seconds, with me ready to move on Lady, Lady readying herself for battle, and Cunningham trying to decide what to do.

“Lady. Heel.”

The dog obediently returned to a sitting position. I inhaled deeply and exhaled slowly.

“Is there someplace we can talk more peacefully?” I said.

 

This thriller scene was taken from chapter 20 of Hill Country Siren: A Joe Robbins Financial Thriller (Book 3). Check it out on Amazon.

 

Hill Country Siren is released!

Hill Country Siren: A Joe Robbins Financial Thriller (Book 3) was published in Kindle and print formats on Amazon this week.HCS ebook cover 2.4M

In Siren, Joe is hired by a rock star to investigate a fraud and winds up on the trail of a serial killer.

Personally, I believe this is the best Joe Robbins story yet, and as always, I guarantee you will be entertained.

Press release here.

The financial thriller series endorsed by critics and business executives alike

Joe Robbins is hired by a rock star to investigate a fraud and winds up on the trail of a serial killer

Joe loved Sophie Tyler long before she hired him. She was a hometown hero, a musician who grew up in Austin and made the big time. Joe first heard her music in high school; he’d buy her albums and play them over and over, and dream.

Twenty years later, Sophie has left a trail of lovers behind her; she draws them in like a maelstrom, the outcome pre-ordained. When she hires Joe to investigate a fraud he solves the case in a couple days, but then the perpetrator is brutally murdered, and Joe finds himself pulled into a world of stardom, and enchantment, and the frightening path of a freshly awakened serial killer.

As Joe pursues the killer from Austin to Cabos San Lucas to Beverly Hills, he falls dangerously in love with the Hill Country Siren.

>>>>>> Glowing reviews from critics and business executives

  • “I finished Hill Country Siren in the middle of the night, which is always a good sign. I just love that Joe Robbins, the hero, is a CFO.” – Patricia Little, CFO, The Hershey Company
  • “I loved the live Austin music scenes, particularly Sophie Tyler’s shows at Antone’s and the Austin City Limits festival.” – John Price, CEO OF VAST.COM
  • “Joe may be a good CFO, but he’s an even better detective and carries the mystery like a seasoned professional.” – Kirkus Reviews
  • “Patrick Kelly is the Austin version of John Grisham, but with more of a business grounding.” – Brett Hurt, Founder of Bazaarvoice, Coremetrics, and Hurt Family Investments

˃˃˃ >>>>>> Read the full Joe Robbins Financial Thriller series

Get hooked on Joe Robbins: freelance CFO. He has a head for numbers, a penchant for trouble, and a history with boxing and guns.

Hill Country Greed — Joe Robbins will earn fifty million dollars in a software IPO, but when the market crashes and a director on the board is murdered, Joe becomes a suspect.

Hill Country Rage — When his best friend is murdered on a street in Austin, Joe Robbins embarks on a relentless quest for justice

Hill Country Siren: A Joe Robbins Financial Thriller (BOOK 3) Episode 10

The final episode: Joe scales the stonewall outside Sophie’s estate and creeps toward the house. He finds the side door open. Forced. Johnson has a new crowbar.

Once inside, Joe discovers he can still save Sophie. Joe fights Johnson to a climactic finish upstairs.

Back in Austin, a shattered Joe has an eventful meeting with his ex-wife, Rose. In the last scene Joe takes Chandler and Callie to Krause Springs.

Read episode 10 (the final episode.)

Sanjay tries the rope swing at Krause Springs.

Sanjay tries the rope swing at Krause Springs.

Excerpt from the final episode of Hill Country Siren.

The wall stood eight feet high. I jumped to grab the top, hoisted my legs up and over, and dropped lightly amid the junipers. A high wind rustled fronds in the fan palms. As I walked toward the house a thrashing noise came from the ferns beside me.

I turned that way, my nerves on edge.

It was only a small animal. I took slow, measured breaths to steady my heart rate.

At the edge of the patio I crouched behind a flower bed to survey the backyard. The outdoor spots lit the pool and deck area. Bright lights shone in every room in the house, but I detected no movement.

Rico’s words rang in my ears.

But Sagebrush is a serial killer.

I ignored the words and flexed my shoulders to stretch the muscles in my back.

I crept from chair to chair on the patio, pausing often to watch the windows. The bamboo wind chimes rang on the back porch. The palm trees swayed. I looked behind me, and all around the yard. I made it to the back right corner of the house and tiptoed up four stairs to the side door.

It stood open. Forced. Johnson had a new crowbar.

He might have watched my every move from the security room inside. Had Rico reached the local police? I pulled out my cell and dialed 911. When they came on the line I whispered, “I’m outside Sophie Tyler’s residence at 1102 Benedict Canyon Drive in Beverly Hills. A serial killer is inside the house. Tell the police to be careful. He could have hostages.”

“What is your name, sir?”

“Joe Robbins. I’m a friend of Sophie Tyler’s.”

“Please stay on the line while I contact the police.”

Seconds could mean everything.

I hung up and rose to look through the door window. The mudroom on the other side was empty. I had to be silent now. Luckily, the door opened without squeaking. I stepped inside and searched the room for a weapon. I found an umbrella, not much use against Johnson’s crowbar.

I opened the door to the kitchen, every nerve alive, the umbrella held at the ready. The overhead lights shone brightly. I heard faint human voices. It sounded like an argument, but I couldn’t discern the speakers. My chest tightened.

A broken plate lay wedged in the corner at the far edge of the floor. In search of a better weapon I quietly opened a drawer on the left and saw odds and ends: spatulas, mixer attachments, can openers. I took another step into the kitchen.

A pool of blood seeped from the edge of the butcher block.

Read all of the final episode.

Check out the photo gallery for Hill Country Siren.

How to beat insomnia with the lucky seven cure

If you’re a busy person (Who of us is not busy?) you may often receive an unbidden wake-up call at two a.m. On some nights you roll over and fall back to sleep in a few minutes, but more often than not you wind up staring at the dark . . . thinking.HiRes with annotation

  • How can I get my boss to invest in Project X?
  • Are we saving enough for retirement?
  • Will my mother/father like the senior living center?

The list goes on, and if you ever get to the end of the list you start all over again. Your mind and body are exhausted. You need more sleep but can’t stop thinking.

To key to more rest is to distract your mind from the endless churning, and then to lull it back to sleep with a boring task.

Lately, I’ve had success with a game I call Counting Sevens. The goal of the game is simple: Count upward by sevens in your head until you reach an even one hundred.

“Wait a minute,” you say, “seven doesn’t go evenly into one hundred.”

Correct! So here’s how the game works.

Start off counting by seven: 7, 14, 21, 28 . . . and onward until you hit 84, 91, 98, 105. STOP.

You went over one hundred, so take the 5 from your first number over one hundred and start all over again.

5, 12, 19, 26 . . . 89, 96, 103, STOP.

Do it again.

3, 10, 17, 24 . . . 87, 94, 101   STOP.

Repeat as needed UNTIL you get to an even one hundred.

1, 8, 15, 22 . . . 85, 92, 99, 106

6, 13, 20, 27 . . . 83, 90, 97, 104

4, 11, 18, 25 . . . 81, 88, 95, 102

2, 9, 16, 23 . . . 79, 86, 93, 100.

BING! You won!

Here’s the thing: Keeping track of the count in your head is just hard enough to distract your mind from those thoughts that keep you awake. At the same time, counting sevens is repetitive enough—i. e. boring—that it will often lure you back to sleep before you reach the even one hundred.

Count slowly . . . pausing mentally between numbers to calm your mind. Don’t slow the cadence so far that it allows your brain to jump back to those other thoughts.

If you make it to the even one hundred . . . slow the count further and start over again at 7.

Happy ZZZzzzzz . . .

HEY — no trick works for everyone. What’s your cure for insomnia?

Share Counting Sevens with anyone who suffers from insomnia; it just might lull them back to sleep.

 

HILL COUNTRY SIREN: A JOE ROBBINS FINANCIAL THRILLER (BOOK 3) EPISODE 9

Joe finds Hector Romero at the lobby bar of Los Cabos Royale resort

Joe finds Hector Romero at the lobby bar of Los Cabos Royale resort

Joe travels to Cabos san Lucas, Mexico, in search of Hector Romero, a former lover of Sophie’s. He tracks Hector down at the lobby bar of Los Cabos Royale resort, where they have a heated conversation. Afterward Joe scales the dunes to Sophie’s former beach house in search of an alias for Johnson Sagebrush.

Read episode 9.

Excerpt from Episode 9

The house stood on the side of a hill that rose up from the dunes. Similar high-end homes occupied the surrounding hills. Sophie’s old house had two floors, a tile roof, and floor-to-ceiling windows across the back. A pool deck area overlooked the ocean.

I had half expected the home to be dark; many around it were, but bright lights shone in Sophie’s place, and on the ground floor a person walked from room to room behind plate glass windows.

Sanjay had learned that the shell company that bought Sophie’s house had flipped it two years later to a Graham Whitaker. The house was part of a gated community with an unlisted phone number. I had guessed that my best chance to meet Whitaker face-to-face was with an old-fashioned knock on the door.

As I climbed the dunes to get closer the going got tougher. Fine grains of sand, whipped by the wind, stung my face. I grabbed at sea grasses that clung to the dunes. The terrain changed from dune to hillside, and I ran into rocks, cactus, and native shrubs. At the top a six-foot concrete wall formed the back edge of the pool deck. I reached for the upper edge of the wall and heaved myself high enough to grab the lower railing of the patio barrier.

Sophie once owned a Cabo Dream house like one of these

Sophie once owned a Cabo Dream house like one of these

Large potted plants and four palm trees framed the deck area. The wind rustled the leaves and made ripples on the water in the pool. Behind me the waves crashed and rolled up the beach. I clambered over the rail, crept halfway to the house, and crouched behind an outdoor bar.

The ground floor was one great room, with the kitchen and dining area on the left and a living space to the right. A woman stood in the kitchen leaning against a counter, talking on a cell phone. She wore slacks, a sweater, and had short gray hair. A man sat reading a book in a big chair in the living space, his legs resting on an ottoman. He wore a sweatshirt, running shoes, and had reading glasses. They had left the sliding doors open, and the soft sounds of a Steely Dan song carried out to the patio.

The woman continued to talk on the phone as she watched a coffeemaker on the counter. She closed the flip phone and put it down; then she poured coffee into two mugs and walked into the living space. She handed a mug to the man, leaned to kiss him, and sat in a nearby chair.

Lurking outside the windows, watching the older couple, I felt like a peeping Tom. Climbing the dunes had been harder than I expected, but I had made it that far, and they seemed harmless enough, so I pressed forward.

I stayed in the shadows and walked to the side of the house. A narrow strip of smooth gravel stones separated it from native foliage. I walked along the strip of gravel, past two central-air units, and came out to the front yard. From there I crossed the small lawn, climbed two steps, and looked at the front door—no doorbell. I knocked twice.

After twenty seconds of no response I knocked again. A shadow moved behind the glass at the side of the door.

“Who is it?” said the man.

“Joe Robbins. I’m a neighbor.”

I waited in silence. The lie was an attempt to induce him to open the door.

“Just a minute. Be right there.”

Footsteps walked away. After a short interval they returned. A dead bolt clicked and the door opened. The man stood about six feet. He had removed his reading glasses and wore a windbreaker with his hand in the right pocket.

He hadn’t worn the windbreaker in the back room, and his hand looked funny in the pocket, as if he held something.

“Sorry to disturb you,” I said.

“We’ve been coming here for years, and no one’s ever knocked on the door at night.”

Whitaker spoke in a flat tone and eyed me with a steely gaze. My blood pressure jumped ten points.Hill Country Siren - Ch 31 Joe grills Hector in the open courtyard

“Let’s take it easy,” I said. “I’m going to raise my hands.” I lifted my arms until my hands were face-level, palms forward.

“Sure.”

“Sorry I lied. I’m not a neighbor.”

“You have dirt on your hands and a lump on your forehead. I figured you weren’t here to borrow sugar.”

Whitaker seemed calm, which gave me comfort; he wouldn’t casually shoot me or accidentally pull the trigger.

“As I said, my name is Joe Robbins . . . and you’re Graham Whitaker.”

“How did you know my name?”

“The Internet.” It felt like I was standing in front of a rattlesnake trying to avoid making a stupid move. “You want to take the gun out? It will shoot straighter that way.”

“Why not?”

Graham pulled the gun from his pocket and pointed it at me. It looked every bit a serious pistol, large-caliber.

Read all of episode 9.

CHECK OUT THE COOL PICTURE GALLERY

The final episode of Hill Country Siren will be published here on June 2.

HILL COUNTRY SIREN: A JOE ROBBINS THRILLER (BOOK 3) EPISODE 8

Joe shares the information he gleaned from Mark Cunningham with Rico. Back at his condo, he discovers a shocking surprise and a most unwelcome guest. The next day Joe returns to Cunningham’s ranch intent on pressing him for information about Sagebrush’s co-conspirator.

Read Episode 8.

Back at his condo Joe discovers a most unwelcome guest.

Back at his condo Joe discovers a most unwelcome guest.

Excerpt from Episode 8

The sun had almost set. As I sat on the sectional in semidarkness, my mind returned to the conversation with Mark Cunningham. I didn’t see a next move for me. I sifted through the new data and cross-referenced it with everything else I’d learned, trying to find a loose end or a logic stream to pursue. I had just poured a second glass of wine when it occurred to me: I forgot to tell Rico about Oklahoma.

After a few beers one night, the bouncer Buddy Wantannabe had told Cunningham he came from a small town in Oklahoma. Earlier, I had gotten the impression from Johnson that he might have killed his own father. If so, he had escaped undetected.

I stepped to my desk and woke up the laptop; the white screen glowed in the otherwise darkened room. I typed a search into Google: “unsolved murders in Oklahoma”. A number of websites popped up, one organized by the state, a site for the Tulsa Police Department, and a long list of private sites.

I spent time on the state government site researching open cases with posted rewards but found nothing related to Johnson Sagebrush. The Tulsa site had summary facts of a number of cold cases, but nothing seemed to fit. A television news site from Norman had an old unsolved murder of a housewife. The subsequent Google hits seemed random: a media article on a single case, several missing-persons sites, and various crime-statistic sources.

But on the third page of the search I found a low-traffic true-crime site called UnsolvedHomicides.com. Ten minutes later I stared at a high school picture of Johnson Sagebrush.

Dewey Couple Found Murdered; Son Missing

On a warm spring morning in April of 1986, June Sprinkle walked to the Wannamakers’ house next door to borrow a cup of sugar. She could see her friend Olive’s car in the driveway and was surprised when no one answered the doorbell. After ringing twice June walked around to the backyard thinking she’d find Olive tending her garden. Once there she noticed the back door slightly ajar. She feared Olive might have fallen sick, so she walked up the steps to knock.

“Olive,” she called. No answer. June took three steps into the kitchen and screamed. Olive Wannamaker lay on the floor in a pool of her own blood, dead of multiple head wounds from a blunt instrument.

June continued screaming as she ran from the house, afraid for her life. The police found Brownie Wannamaker in the garage in a similar condition. They discovered the murder weapon, a crowbar, in a trash can in the garage. Two days later Brownie’s 1982 Dodge Ram D-150 was found in a Target parking lot in Tulsa, forty-five miles away.

The Wannamakers’ eighteen-year-old son, Charles, had gone missing. Initially the police believed the murderer had killed or abducted Charles, and an organized search of neighboring areas was conducted; however, other factors have led Charles to become a suspect.

For most of his senior year Charles Wannamaker had sexual relations with one of his schoolteachers, thirty-five-year-old Annabelle Poteet. A single woman, Ms. Poteet resigned her position soon after the affair became public knowledge. Apparently the Wannamaker couple had discovered the affair and reported it to school officials. Ms. Poteet has cooperated with police in the investigation but has refused to speak to anyone else about the matter.

Charles Wannamaker was considered a polite student by his classmates, always smiling, never offensive; however, he appears to have had no personal friends. In his junior year Charles was charged with a misdemeanor for public disturbance when an altercation initiated by two football players ended with both of them in the hospital.

The murder remains unsolved, and Charles Wannamaker has not been found. The state of Oklahoma offers a reward of ten thousand dollars for information leading to the arrest of a suspect.

I pushed back from the computer and closed my eyes.

Charles Wannamaker had become Buddy Wantannabe and then later changed into Johnson Sagebrush. Four years elapsed from when he abandoned the truck in Tulsa to when he met Cunningham in Houston. What had transpired in those four years? Were there other aliases? Were there other victims? I feared the stripper Marci’s life had come to a gruesome end. If so, Johnson had killed at least four people.

Johnson claimed that everyone acted only in his own self-interest. He saw the world as Sanjay’s primitive man: There was no right and wrong, only strength and weakness, primordial rules. The strong took what they could take, and the weak suffered the consequences.

I thought of his parents. What was his mother doing as he walked into the kitchen holding the crowbar? Perhaps she cooked pancakes, relieved that Brownie had not assaulted her that morning as he did so many other times. What had she done to earn her son’s brutal justice? Had she reported the affair with Annabelle Poteet to school officials? Had the affair with Annabelle been the one thing Charles cherished?

I imagined Charles swinging the crowbar as his mother screamed on the floor. My throat ran dry. A sinking sensation invaded my chest. Sanjay’s mention of Darfur came to mind. What had he said? Anytime the fabric of societal control frays, the strong take whatever they want. I shuddered at the thought of living in such a place, ruled by the instincts of primitive men.

I had much to tell Rico and had promised to call him, but before doing so I had to step outside to breathe fresh air, to shake those terrible notions from my head.

Standing up, I stretched and moved toward the balcony. My fingers flipped open the lock and I slid the door across. As I stepped over the threshold a gentle breeze blew and brought with it a rich, deep, earthy scent: sandalwood.

I instinctively stepped backward into the room, and a rushed movement flew through the spot where I had stood.

Kutchiiiittssszzzzzz.

An object collided with the sliding door. Shattered glass fell.

I shuffled farther into the darkened room and almost tripped, my heart pounding. I gasped for air.

I saw him. His silhouette framed the doorway, his bald head dark, his solid frame heaving, and the crowbar hanging loose in his hand.

Read all of episode 8.

Episode 9 will be published on May 26.

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