Avengers of Blood

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A Thursday mystery teaser

By Gae-Lynn Woods

GOOBER WAS A MYSTERY. He’d appeared one morning about forty years ago, nestled in the gnarled roots of the ancient hanging tree on the courthouse lawn, abandoned in the middle of the night. In spite of announcements on the local radio station and in the newspaper, the toddler’s parents never came forward to claim him. An elderly widow took him in and over time, Goober became a fixture in Arcadia. The odd man was probably closer to forty-five than to forty given the silver that peppered his nearly black hair. People said that Goober wasn’t truly retarded, but Martinez wasn’t so sure. Goober hadn’t finished high school and his ability to read and write was limited. Granted, he was always polite and seemed eager to help, but there was a slowness about the man, almost an innocence, that Martinez thought reflected some sort of mental challenge.

He stiffened as Forney County’s Forensic Examiner, Tom Kado, came through the gas station’s front door. As Martinez had done, he nodded briefly at the officer near the door and stopped to remove the booties covering his shoes. He shoved them in a plastic garbage bag and rubbed his eyes. Kado was new to the force, having joined only a couple of months ago. Martinez found the younger man arrogant and disrespectful of the last forensic examiner, Hank Comfrey, who had held the job for nearly five decades before dropping dead of a heart attack earlier this year. Kado was full of new procedures and science but didn’t seem to trust his gut as old Comfrey had. Martinez wasn’t sure the science was all that reliable. The wariness he felt for Kado was justified when a crucial DNA sample in a recent case was found by the state lab to be contaminated. If Martinez was the detective assigned to this murder, and he surely would be because there were no other detectives in Forney County at the moment, Kado would have to walk the straight and narrow to Martinez’ satisfaction. He met Kado at the tailgate where Goober sat, still torturing the baseball cap.

“You okay, Goob?” Kado asked.

Goober nodded but his gaze was glassy and his face devoid of color. Kado climbed up in the pickup’s bed, opened a cooler and passed a root beer to Martinez, then took one for himself and Goober. He took the cap from Goober’s hands and replaced it with an open can. “Drink.”

Slowly, Goober did. “Thanks,” he said, burping quietly.

“You up for talking?” Martinez asked.

Goober nodded.

“Why did you come to Whitehead’s tonight?”

“I ran out of potato chips.”

Photo by Matthew Smith on Unsplash

Martinez looked at the mower parked by the station’s pumps. “Did you pump gas?”

“I was gonna check her after I got the chips.”

“What time did you get here?”

“Right about five-thirty.”

“You sure?”

He pulled a beat-up Timex from a pocket and held it out. “It was almost five-thirty when I came around Church Bend.”

Martinez compared the little watch to his own. It was two minutes fast. “Did you pass anybody on the road?”

“Naw, my mower don’t go that fast.”

Kado bit back a smile, and the detective’s jaw tightened. He tried again. “Did you see any other vehicles on the road?”

“Just some tail lights.”

“Where?”

“When I was coming around Church Bend.” He turned and pointed into the night. “A car was farther down the road.”

“What kind of car?”

Goober shrugged. “All I saw was red lights.”

“What happened when you got to the store?”

“I went inside to make sure Mr. Whitehead was still open.” He blinked. “There was gas on the floor. And then smoke came out of the door in the back. So I went to see what was burning.”

“Why didn’t you call the fire department right then?”

“I was scared,” he answered in a small voice.

“You were scared but you headed toward the smoke, to the fire?”

Goober nodded, his eyes fixed on some distant, internal point.

Martinez and Kado exchanged a glance. “What happened next?”

“The smoke was bad, but the back door was open. I heard a noise and went outside and saw… the zombie. He was hanging.” He shuddered and root beer sloshed onto his overalls. “And black all over.”

“Did you see flames?”

“He was breathing fire. Like a dragon. I tried to put it out.” Goober’s eyes filled with tears and he drew a deep, stuttering breath. “But the zombie fell off the rope and started to get up. I figured he was coming after me. He fell and I ran away.”

Avengers of Blood

A deadly game of cat and mouse is playing out in Forney County…

Detective Cass Elliot is still on suspension after killing a fellow officer and Sheriff Hoffner refuses to sign her release papers. But when four people are murdered in one night, one with the exceptional brutality of a lynching, the Medical Examiner side-steps Hoffner to hire Cass and loan her to Forney County’s overstretched police department.

As Cass and her partner investigate, they realize that three of the murders were committed by the same person but find no connection between the victims. Their frustration intensifies when another victim survives and disappears instead of coming to the police.

Sheriff Hoffner is frantic about anonymous letters claiming one of his star officers is dirty, and Cass suspects a link to the current crimes. The pieces fall together when she uncovers the true identity of the man who was lynched, revealing connections between the victims, the killer, and an unpunished crime committed nearly fifty years ago.

Gae-Lynn Woods

is a Texan mystery writer who has traveled the world, lived overseas, and come back home. She and her husband, British jazz guitarist Martyn Popey, share a ranch in East Texas with a herd of Black Angus cattle, one very cranky donkey, and The Dude, a rescue kitty with attitude.

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