In a classic confrontation of good versus evil, Special Agent Michael Griffin returns from The Vendetta to stalk a backwoods predator.
Lost in a dark blur of booze and depression after the death of his wife, it’s a last chance for Griffin to rebuild himself as a cop and as a man. With a knack for thinking like his suspects, a talent for following cold trails, and no qualms about crossing the lines of legality in order to stop a child killer, he backtracks thirteen years to close the gap on Choctaw’s elusive psychopath.
Tortured by reluctant desire for a tantalizing Latina, frustrated by his just-out-of-the-closet partner, hated by Choctaw’s Sheriff, and backed by a most unlikely posse, Griffin races to stop The Reaper before he kills again.
Michael Tyler: I pledge half my profit from the sale of this hardcover book (print) to the National Center For Missing and Exploited Children.
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CHOCTAW, NORTH CAROLINA
They’d been on the stove all day, and even outside Billy Joe caught the mouthwatering aroma drifting from his Mama’s kitchen. Still, as dusk approached, not even the hungry rumbling of his belly could pull the boy inside to enjoy his favorite meal.
Three days past his seventh birthday, Billy Joe wouldn’t surrender even one minute of play with his newest, mightiest toys. Proudly stamped Tonka, the bulldozer and dump truck were gifts from his dad. They held the boy’s interest as nothing else had, focused all his playful energy, and only darkness--or Mama--would end the Tonka trials born of his fertile mind.
Tator, his cat, suffered the indignity of riding around in the dump truck for a while, but his moody feline pal tired of the game and ran off to kill a mouse or somethin’, Billy Joe supposed. Bobby, his baby brother, also joined him in the grass, but all in all, Tator was more fun.
When the light came on in the dining room, Billy Joe knew his time was short and doubled his effort to squeeze in as much Tonka-fun as possible. He could play again tomorrow, of course, but tomorrow seemed pretty dawgon far away to Billy Joe Spruill.
"Supper time, Billy Joe," Mama called from the back door.
Well there it was, the official end. "Comin’, Ma."
Still, sure as the sun rises, tomorrow would come, and beans and cornbread sounded better and better. Billy Joe pushed the bulldozer to it’s parking spot under the back porch, then went back for the dump truck. He’d saved it for last because it was his favorite. He knew he wanted to drive a dump truck, someday--when he wasn’t busy playing second base for the Atlanta Braves.
Hot and tired, Mattie Spruill wanted nothing more than to put her feet up and enjoy a few precious moments of doing nothing. Minus five minutes spent gossiping across the back fence, she’d cooked, cleaned, and busted her butt all day. She didn’t mind, really. She liked keeping a nice home for her family, liked being a mom, but she had a right, she thought, to be a little crabby after Big Bill’s call from the mill. He would be late--again. Overtime, yes, and they could use the money, but still it rankled, and Mattie fought the urge to be snippy with her boys. She’d been successful, so far, but thought she might give Billy Joe a swat on his bee-hind if he didn’t get inside to eat his supper. It was his favorite, and his daddy’s too--great northern beans with onions and chunks of leftover ham--an’ it was gettin’ cold sittin’ on the table.
She’d already called him once, and despite her fatigue and her crabbiness and Big Bill, she had savored the warm pleasure of watching her son push the bulldozer to his "garage" under the porch. There weren’t many things better than seeing your children at play, Mattie didn’t think. Even the smell of them was special: mingled scents of sunshine and child-sweat, innocence and joy. She strapped the baby into his highchair, then went back to hurry her oldest.
"Billy Joe Spruill! You’d best get your hiney in here!"
Mattie used that distinctive tone moms save for those times prompt obedience is expected. When combined with the full name opener, it almost guaranteed instant response. But this time she got nothing, and that wasn’t like Billy Joe.
The first queasy tendrils of fear snaked through Mattie as she stepped onto the porch. Maternal instinct? Mother’s intuition? Whatever the name, she knew something wasn’t right.
"Billy Joe?" No answer. "Come on, honey." Billy?
Mattie rushed into the twilight calling for her boy and trying to smother the dread uncoiling in her belly. Her Billy Joe never strayed, and not seeing him scared her more than a little. But what scared her more was the feeling of emptiness...of talking to air...the sense of gone.
Oh God, please...
But God was busy, and Mattie’s little angel had disappeared.
Billy Joe hadn’t really disappeared, of course--he’d been harvested.
He’d gone farther than he intended at the town meeting. He’d thrown down a gauntlet, challenged the Sheriff’s conclusions, stripped away Choctaw’s delusions. He might have made himself a target, too, but accepted the risk as worthwhile.
Sometimes if you want a nut, you have to shake the tree.