hill country siren

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: 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.

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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.

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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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