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  • H.K. Slade

A Body at the Dam

Note: This story was originally published in Black Cat Weekly #36 in May of 2022

On a bad day just after Christmas in December of 2021, I hopped in my truck and drove until I got lost. I ended up at a dam off of Jordan Lake and just started walking. The picture below is what I found. I remembered that I hadn't spent any time with Officer Friday Hampton and Detective Ambrose Broyhill since Last Gasp, and I thought, "What a wonderful place to put Friday in a horrible situation."

I am particular fond of this story because so many elements of it are amalgamations of things I encountered on patrol. From the body, to the interaction with the child, to the way a pitbull behaves when you get upset, I have been researching this particular story for most of my adult life. I hope you enjoy it.

An unbroken overcast held in the morning’s heat, the charcoal clouds like a weighted

blanket. Friday Hampton could smell the coming storm. She rolled up the sleeves on her

uniform. By all rights, she should have been wearing the heavy coat tucked away in the trunk of her patrol car, but a winter heat wave had descended on North Carolina the day after Christmas.

Now, she had to deal with seventy-degree temperatures in December. The unseasonable weather hadn’t kept the leaves on the oaks and the maples, though. Between the sky, the fallen leaves,and the dead grass, it was a world of muted browns and grays.

“Officer?” a woman shouted from across the empty parking lot. “We’re the ones that

called!” The muffled rush of water spilling through the nearby dam all but drowned her out.

The woman had the raw, waxy skin of someone who’d used cheap soap her whole life.

She led a small boy, five or six-years-old, by the hand. Iron-on patches covered the holes in the boy’s jeans, but the frays in the denim had been carefully trimmed away so that the patches were hardly noticeable.

There were no cars in the parking lot other than Friday’s cruiser. She thought about the trailer park she’d passed on the way up to Tensdale Dam, the only homes in easy walking distance for a kid that age. She wouldn’t have been surprised if this woman’s single-wide was the nicest in the neighborhood.

“How can I help you, ma’am?” Friday asked once the woman was close enough for

conversation. “The call notes I got were a little confusing. You found a suspicious item in the


The woman shook her head. “It won’t me. My boy was playing on them rocks and saw

something. Henry, tell the lady officer what you saw.”

The boy hung his head low enough that his long bangs covered his eyes. His mother gave his hand a firm but encouraging tug. “Go on, now,” she ordered, but the boy turned and buried his face in her pantleg.

The woman’s thin lips drew into a grim line, but her eyes went soft and she lovingly

patted her son on the head.

Friday knelt down. Already short, the gesture easily brought her to the boy’s eye level.

“Henry?” she said and fished in her shirt pocket for the talisman that charmed all children of Henry’s age. “My name’s Officer Hampton. I need some help. Can you help me?”

Reluctantly, still clutching his mother’s leg, the boy rotated to look at Friday.

Friday lacked the high cheekbones and thin eyebrows that turned heads in town, and that never bothered her one bit. What she did have was a smile that put old ladies at ease and got young drunks to do what she asked, which was far more useful in her line of work. She gave one of those smiles to little Henry.

“I know you might be scared, but I think I’ve got a fix for that.” Friday produced a small, metallic sticker from her shirt pocket and made a show of presenting it for the boy to inspect.

“This is a badge just like mine. You can’t get one anywhere else except from a police officer. By giving it to you, I’m making you my junior officer. What do you say? Think you’re up for it?”

The boy slowly released his mom’s leg and nodded. Friday extended the badge sticker

another inch. After receiving mom’s nod of permission, Henry presented his chest. Friday peeled the sticker and, with great ceremony, placed it on the left side of his chest exactly where she wore her own badge.

Henry beamed. He lifted his chin and the bangs fell away like parting curtains to reveal a set of bright blue eyes. Mom’s lips decompressed and she gave Friday a tight smile equal parts approval and appreciation. Friday stayed at Henry’s level. “Now that you’re a junior officer, you can’t get in trouble if maybe you went somewhere you weren’t supposed to go or saw something you weren’t supposed to see. Can you help me out and tell me what’s going on?”

“Uhm, I was playing,” Henry began. “I went down the hill a ways and up to the water.

There’s, uhm, a trail there? I was walking and playing explorer and there was this space up under the trees. I thought it was a bag of trash, but, uhm, it won’t that. It was a man, and he had blood and stuff on his head.”

Little Henry, with all the earnestness his new position could hope to inspire, pointed to his own temple. “I thought he might could be sleeping, so I poked at him, but he didn’t move. Then I ran back and told momma.”

Patting the boy on the shoulder, Friday rose to her feet. “You did good, Henry. Really

good. I’m here now, so I’m going to go see if I can help him. You say he’s down the river?”

“Yes, ma’am,” he said, nodding so hard his chin practically bounced off his chest. “You

got to crawl down the rocks and walk a good ways until you see a little crick, then you keep


Henry made an effort to lead the way, but mom put a restraining hand on his collar, and the boy immediately acquiesced.

“I was up here on the walk by the dam, Officer,” the woman said as if admitting to a

failing. “I was watching, I swear on a stack of bibles, but the river takes a bend down the way. I couldn’t see him ’til he came running back.”

“I’m sure it’s nothing to worry about, ma’am,” Friday assured her. “Henry did a good job letting you know, though, right?”

“He sure did. He’s a good boy.”

Friday took out a pen and her notepad. “Henry, I’m going to get your mom’s phone

number and let you two go on about your day. I’ll call you if I need anything. Don’t go arresting the kids in the neighborhood, though, okay? Wait for backup.”

“Yes, Ms. Officer,” he said and thrust his shoulders so far back that Friday thought his

chest might pop out of his shirt. With mother and son on their way, Friday started the long trek down to the river. The ground beneath her boots was soft, every step embedding more dead grass in the mud.

She keyed up her shoulder mic as she walked. “Charlie Three-Twelve to dispatch.”

Her police radio crackled. “Go ahead, Three-Twelve.”

“Can you get EMS en route to my location? I’m in the park at the base of the Tensdale

Dam on the river side. I might have a possible injured subject.”

The ensuing delay in the response was neither a surprise nor a comfort. Everyone was

short-staffed these days, even the emergency call center. Friday understood, but no one dangling at the end of a rope liked to be reminded how thin the line was.

“Ten-four, Three-Twelve,” the reply came back. “Be advised that EMS is on diversion

due to holiday staffing. Holkum County has the nearest available wagon. ETA of forty-five

minutes. We can dispatch Fire until a closer unit frees up?”

Friday thought about how that would go. The week between Christmas and New Year’s

was a boom time for first responders. If Fire got called out, the men and women in the fancy raincoats had to bring the whole engine and half a station even if it was for a stubbed toe. Friday didn’t want to be responsible for tying up that many resources for what was most likely just a homeless guy trying to have a peaceful nap out of sight of the public. If it turned out the guy was hurt, two minutes wasn’t going to matter in the grand scheme of things.

“Ten-twenty-two, dispatch. Let me get out there and see what I got before I cause a


Quarried stone lined the steep banks of the Shattuck River beneath the dam, the jagged rocks slick with the morning’s misting. Spindly dead trees littered the rock field, the victims of floods, insects, or the overzealous application of herbicides. Friday maneuvered down the face of the slope, cutting parallel to the waterline and balancing with her hands in hopes of avoiding a spill. That was the last thing she needed. It would take the firefighters half an hour to rescue her and another hour to stop laughing about it.

Little Henry’s path was easy enough to see. Even with the dampness in the air, the

narrow strip of muddy riverbank preserved his tiny shoeprints. There were other prints beneath his, more than Friday would have expected to find in such an isolated spot given the holiday and the gloomy weather. They most likely belonged to the homeless man she was going to check on.

Friday stepped wide to preserve the shoe impressions out of habit, but the rocks proved treacherous, and she soon conceded the cause.

A hundred yards downriver, the slope gave way to flat woods that ran right to the edge of the Shattuck. A low fog clung to the water, tendrils of white mist spilling over the riverbank and into the woods. It didn’t take long to find the little creek Henry had mentioned, nothing more than a brownish-red trickle of water flowing from the underbrush.

Friday had to duck under a low branch and balance on a deadfall to keep going. Her gear caught on the thorny vines and hampered her progress, but the effort brought her to a little cove tucked out of view from everywhere but the river. Someone had lugged enough rocks from the dam to make a little fire pit, but that had been the extent of their industriousness; they hadn’t packed out a single bit of garbage. Beer cans and food wrappers littered the clearing. A filthy sleeping bag lay stretched out before the soot and charred logs in the firepit. A white plastic grocery bag hung from a branch, limp in the stifling stillness of the day.

There was so much junk, in fact, that at first Friday didn’t see the body.

Her initial thought was that the man in question had just gotten up and walked away, and wouldn’t that make her life easier? A less motivated officer might have turned around and called it a day, but the late Detective Tony Hampton didn’t raise any lazy daughters. Friday made a systematic and thorough search of the cove, just like she’d been trained to do, and found the man tucked among the washed-out root system of an old cottonwood tree.

“Trinton Police,” she announced in her no-nonsense voice, “You all right, sir?”

The man lay as still as anything else on the river. He was turned away from her, lying on

his side, arms and legs twined in the roots in a way that could not possibly be comfortable.

Friday crept forward and placed a hand on his leg, her gun half out of its holster.

Death. There was no putting into words how it felt, the difference between touching a person and a corpse. The sense came with time. Time and unenviable experience. Some of the old cops, the twenty-year guys, could tell from across a room. Five years into the job, Friday still needed to touch to be sure, but sure she was; the man had no more cares in this world.

White male, hundred and forty pounds, late-thirties at the time of his death. Hands

calloused and emaciated, fingernails long and caked with grime. It had been a week since he’d seen a razor, longer than that since he’d had a bath. Exposure, malnutrition, alcoholic hepatitis: any number of things could have killed the man, but Friday would have put her money on the blow that had caved in the side of his skull right at the temple.

“Dispatch, Charlie Three-Twelve. Upgrade my call to a one-oh-three. Go ahead and call out the techs. I’m going to be about a hundred and fifty yards downriver from my patrol car. Have them call me when they get here and I’ll walk them in.”

“Ten-four, Three-Twelve. Be advised, Crime Scene is tied up on that home invasion in

the Bellview District. I’ll get them to you when I can get them to you. We’re having to call in a detective to respond. Expect an extended response time.”

“I always do,” Friday said without keying up the mic. She debated about heading back to her patrol car to get crime scene tape, but there was no sense in it. No one was going to stumble across this body without her seeing them.

She studied the wound as much to educate herself as to pass the time. The blood was still wet, so she couldn’t be sure, but it looked like the wound was squared off. She didn’t know how the damp conditions effected coagulation, so she couldn’t even make a guess at the time frame.

There were other things she could do, but she’d gotten her hand slapped once for messing with a crime scene. The detectives could be persnickety like that, and she was just a lowly patrol officer. Better to let the detectives handle it. She checked her watch. Almost noon. They might even get there before sunset.

Friday looked around for a place to sit. She was going to be there a while, but every bit of garbage, every muddy shoeprint was potential evidence of a murder. Maybe if she backtracked to the deadfall—

Something wet splattered on the back of Friday’s neck.

“Just perfect,” she said and reached to wipe away what she was fairly certain was bird

poop. When she checked, though, it was just water. Rain. Not only was she going to have to

stand around for hours guarding a corpse, but she’d have to do it soaked.

That’s when it hit her that the rain would wash away more than her good mood. Even if

they left at that very moment, the crime scene techs would arrive to find every bit of evidence washed down the Shattuck.

Concentric ripples appeared on the stretches of river not covered in fog. The storm was coming fast. Friday didn’t even have time to run back to her car for a tarp. In five minutes, the chances of solving this homicide would drop off the edge of a cliff.

* * * *

Rain slapped at the window, and a heavy gust sent the last sweetgum balls of the year

skittering across the roof. The racket startled Ambrose Broyhill so badly, he nearly fell out of his recliner. He stroked his upper lip with his knuckles, smoothing his burly mustache and soothing his irritation at having his mid-day nap interrupted.

It’s not like I have anything keeping me from making a second go at it.

He was about to do just that when a pitiful whimper cut through the sounds of the storm.

Ambrose hefted his great bulk out of the plush chair, slid his feet into a pair of well-worn slippers, and shuffled down the hall to his bedroom. Lilo the pit-bull lay curled into a tight ball on top of a comforter that had spilled off the

bed. The poor pup was trembling. With a grunt of effort and only a single pop of his left knee, Ambrose lowered himself to the floor and gently patted the dog’s muscled haunch. Lilo raised his massive, blocky head, his eyes turning up to Ambrose.

“It’s okay, boy,” he said. “It’s just a storm. We’re safe in here. You’re always safe with


That was the thing about rescued dogs and old cops; everyone was scared of them, but all they really needed was a little TLC. Gradually, Lilo’s trembling lessened. Bit by bit, the dog scooted closer and closer until he had his big head on Ambrose’s lap. He was almost asleep when the phone rang.

“Hello?” Ambrose said as he stroked Lilo’s ears and whispered calming words to the big dog.

“It’s Friday Hampton, sir,” the voice on the phone said. “I need some help, Detective, and I need it now.”

Ambrose smiled. He had a soft spot for his old partner’s daughter. “That’s retired detective, Friday. Ambrose to you.”

“We can argue etiquette all you want tomorrow, but right now I got a situation and I need a detective.” Her tone brooked no argument. Ambrose sat up a little.

“Tell me what you’ve got.”

Friday’s voice went distant. She must have switched to speaker. She shifted into the near-shout of someone wanting to ensure that they were heard and not interrupted. “I’m out on the Shattuck up by Tensdale Dam. I’ve got a body out in the open, a ton of perishable evidence, and a hell of a storm about to wash over my crime scene like it was biblical times. The cavalry is an hour away. I’m out here by my lonesome until then.”

Ambrose shifted the phone to his other ear and closed his eyes to focus. In spite of his

retirement status or perhaps because of it, his pulse quickened as parts of his brain that he’d consigned to storage came online. “Okay. You know how to work the scene. Tell me what you have.”

“I’m in a little clearing. One way in, a two-foot-wide strip of mud on the riverbank.

That’s unless you count an amphibious landing, but no sign of a boat pulling up. The decedent looks indigent. Blunt force trauma to the left temple. It’s a weird wound. There’s a square edge to it where the skin broke. Blood’s still wet.”

“Did you take pictures already?”

“No city cell phones for lowly patrol officers. This is my personal phone, and the new IA major made it a firing offense to have pictures of a dead body on a personal phone.”

Not for the first time, Ambrose marveled at how much police work had changed. As

dedicated a cop as Friday was, he couldn’t ask her to destroy her career. “Gotcha. Signs of a


“He’s covered in dirt, but I can’t tell how much of that is from the attack and how much

from the lifestyle. He’s face down, so I can’t see a heck of a lot without moving the body.”

Ambrose nodded his understanding for the benefit of no one. Outside his window, an

angry gust drove a sheet of rain against the side of the house. The windchimes on the back patio rang and rattled madly. “I know the protocol,” he said, “but there isn’t time to do things properly. That storm is rolling through here right now, and it’ll obliterate everything when it gets to you. You’re going to be the only one to see the evidence, so let’s get you in there seeing as much as you can.”

Things went quiet on the line as Friday set the phone down to work. Ambrose should

have known there would be no hesitation. The girl was squared away.

Her old man would be proud.

“Massive defensive wounds,” she shouted after a few moments. “The left forearm is pulp. No rigor or livor mortis that I can see without cutting all his clothes off. His cell phone’s still in his pocket. So’s his knife and a lighter. Maybe three dollars in change.”

Robbery was unlikely. In Ambrose’s experience, that was hardly ever the motivation

when the homeless were involved. Jealousy, sometimes, but most often, it was good old-

fashioned anger. “What’s around? Anything unusual?”

“Plenty.” Friday chuckled, the mirthless laugh of someone overwhelmed, on the cusp of giving up. “It’s like a freaking a yard sale out here.”

She’s a good kid, a damned good cop, but this is a no-win scenario and she knows it.

She's out of her depth, but she had the presence of mind to call you, Ambrose.

He put his hand on Lilo’s ribs, felt the dog’s slow, even breath, and let some of that

serenity into his voice. “Tell me what you’re looking at, Friday. Systematic and thorough,


“Okay, okay. There’s a firepit. It’s warm, but not hot. Probably from last night. Junk food wrappers. Chips, cookies, Slim Jims. Things you can shoplift. Some beer cans, a couple of glass bottles. Empty cigarette packs.”

Ambrose could see it in his mind’s eye. Easy enough. It sounded like every homeless

camp he’d been to in his thirty years. The solution would be in the details, though. “Tell me

about the cans and bottles.”

“The cans are a mixed batch. PBR and Bud. A couple crushed Modelos, but they look old. The bottles… one’s Wild Irish Rose. Mostly empty. Looks like a twenty-two of

something… Olde English maybe? Been here long enough to have spiders in it. And a Mike’s

Hard Lemonade? A six of them.” There was a thud on the line, probably Friday moving the

phone. “One’s in the pack, still cold.”

Interesting. That changes things.

“Look around,” he told her. “See any condoms or drugs or a clean blanket?”

Another pause. Ambrose could hear Friday sifting through junk, bottles clinking together,

aluminum cans bouncing off rocks. “Yeah, I found the end to a box of Trojans. It’s wet, but not dirty. Got to be new. How’d you know?”

It was all starting to come into focus. “Who drinks Mike’s Lemonade?”

“Sorority girls?”

Ambrose smiled beneath his mustache, far too seasoned and composed to laugh aloud in such a tense situation. “You think the ladies of Kappa Delta were touring the homeless camps this morning and things got out of hand?”

“Fair point,” Friday acknowledged.

Working down a list that had become almost subliminal after so many murder

investigations, Ambrose thought about what he’d want to know if he were assigned to the case.

“Is the weapon there? Maybe a piece of angle iron, or a crowbar? Something heavy with an edge.”

“Nothing,” Friday said quickly, and there was a fresh touch of panic in her voice. “Oh

shit. Here comes the rain.”

What are we missing? What do we need?

“Footprints, Friday,” Ambrose urged. “In the mud. Quick, before they wash out.”

Static filled the line, and it took him a moment to realize it wasn’t a dropped call but the roar of heavy rain.

“Mine,” Friday said, now truly shouting. “The boy who found the body. The vic’s work

boots. Beneath that… looks like… flat tennis shoes. Vans, maybe?”

Time was running out. Ambrose could hear the downpour picking up. “Don’t worry

about that now. Are all the prints coming and going?”

“The boy’s… yeah, going both ways. Spread out where he was running back to mom.

The vic’s boots are both ways, too. Bottom layer of the prints, looks like. He must have left

before everybody got here. No, there’s one on top of the Vans. Shit. It’s washed out now. I’m

sure of it, though. The victim must have left and come back.”

“The Vans, are there any leading back to the park?”

Friday was smart, and if Ambrose’s suspicions were right, that was going to be a

problem. If she put the pieces together too quickly, she was going to do something stupid.

Sensing his worry, Lilo whined softly.

“It’s coming down in buckets. Everything’s flooding. I can’t… no, the Vans are all

heading away from the dam. Shit. Detective, the lake’s pretty much topped off. If they open the spillway—”

Ambrose cut her off. Friday's thought process was a train barreling towards a washed-out bridge. He had to get ahead of it. “Officer Hampton, listen to me. I want you to get back to your patrol car and wait for back up. Promise me you’ll—”

“I got to go,” she blurted, and the line went dead.

Ambrose stared at his phone, his mouth still open from trying to head off this exact

outcome. Lilo lifted his head, his ears pinned back with concern.

“Damn it, boy. She figured it out.”

* * * *

Friday stood on a riverbank that was rapidly becoming indistinguishable from the river

itself. The pounding rain drenched her to the skin. She had to hood her eyes with one hand just to keep them open. Her other hand held her SIG 226.

She looked up the creek. Water poured in a torrent from the little ditch, washing loose

branches and other debris out into the wide Shattuck River. The footprints were long gone now, but she remembered. They told the story. Fighting against the wind and the suck of the deepening mud on her boots, Friday slogged up the creek into the dense, dark woods.

Maybe she would have gotten there without Detective Broyhill. Maybe she had

everything she needed to figure out the murder on her own. Then again, maybe not. The cove had been a perfect out-of-the-way place. Hardly anyone ever came up to the dam at this time of the year. It was too ugly, too drab. Spring was a different story, but in winter, the only reason to come there was to get away from something.

A homeless man wanting a quiet spot to build a fire and hide from the scrutiny of polite society? All he’d need would be a few beers and some non-perishable food, and the cove provided everything else. A pair of teenage lovers, off from school and looking for a spot to slip away from the folk’s trailer for a frantic bit of affection? Well, the cove would work just fine for that, too.

The problem only came when the two mixed.

The creek was a straight shot, no curves or bends. Probably engineered that way. Friday’s shorter stature became an asset as she ducked under fallen logs and overgrown bushes. She spared a thought to hope the warmer weather hadn’t thrown nature’s cycle off enough that she had to worry about snakes. The creek was the perfect environment for water moccasins, and she already had enough on her plate.

As Friday moved deeper into the woods, the trees transitioned from broadleaf to conifer. The dense pine needle canopy cut the force of the storm considerably, but it also blocked what little daylight there was and left the forest floor in near darkness. Friday had a flashlight that she knew from experience would work even underwater, but the light would give her away to anyone hiding in woods.

There were no good choices. See where she was going or be seen coming from where she was? Having already thrown caution to the wind, Friday elected for stealth over safety. At least she had the advantage of knowing where her quarry was heading.

The creek led back to a steel culvert that ran under a fence separating the woods from the nearby trailer park. Friday had once recovered a stolen dirt bike from there, and she knew it would be choked with leaves and garbage, at least until the storm cleaned it out. Anyone running from the river would have to go around or shelter on this side of the fence. She was counting on the latter. It was the only way she was going to catch the murderer.

Up to her knees in water, Friday found the most likely path out of the creek. She

holstered her weapon and, grabbing roots and rocks for leverage, scrambled up the bank to the relatively dry pine needle carpet of the forest floor.

She spit rainwater from her mouth and keyed up her shoulder mic. “Dispatch, this is

Three-Twelve. I’ve got a location change.”

“Go ahead with your nature change, Three-Twelve.”

“I’m back in the woods west of the Shattuck. Can you have responding units head to the trailer park off the access road? Go ahead and detain anyone out in this weather, especially teenagers.”

“Copy, Three-Twelve. Nearest unit shows an ETA of eighteen minutes. Do you need me

to expedite?”

A young man emerged from the lee of a thick stand of firs only a stride or two away. He

stood a foot taller than Friday, all sinew and muscle, and held a 2x2 length of lumber like a war club. Behind him, a teenage girl peeked out from the trees. The rain had plastered her bleached hair against her face, and her makeup ran down her cheeks and left her looking like a drowned raccoon.

“Yeah, dispatch,” Friday said with overexaggerated calm, “go ahead and expedite.”

The boy hefted the board and took a step forward. He shivered. His eyes, red nearly to the point of glowing, were nonetheless resolute.

Friday’s gun came out in a blur. “Slow your roll,” she commanded. The mousy girl

shrieked, clutching her sodden T-shirt. The boy stopped.

The board in the boy’s hands beaded water like pressure-treated lumber. It had a fresh cut to one end, a sharp edge that might still have a bit of blood and skin in the grain. Friday couldn’t be sure without a closer examination.

Friday played the hand she’d been dealt. She did not want to shoot this kid, but neither

did she want to end up another body on the banks of the Shattuck.

“This doesn’t have to go like you’re thinking it has to go,” she said, her gun never

wavering. “I think I know what happened. I can help you.”

“You don’t know shit,” the boy said and bounced the board on his palm. Friday could see him building up enough courage to charge. It was bad. He wasn’t just violent, he was stupid.

“You just went down to the river to get some time with your girlfriend, right?” Friday suggested. “Some peace and quiet away from all the little brothers and sisters running around the trailer? Nothing wrong with that. Hell, I’m not the make-out police. But then some crazy old drunk stumbled up on you two. Probably scared the hell out of you right?”

“I ain’t scared of nothing,”

Friday extended her non-dominant hand, palm opening in a calming gesture. “Now’s

your chance to show everyone how smart you are. Set the board in the dirt, and the three of us are going to walk out of here together. We’ll get us some dry clothes and you can tell me all about what happened over a Big Mac. Or not. Maybe you want to talk to your free lawyer and let them sort it out for you. That’s what I’d do, but it’s your choice. If you take another step, though, you don’t get any more choices.”

He thought about it, chewed on the decision like a pip. The kid was skinny enough that

Friday saw the ripple of tension in his arm muscles as he made his choice. The wrong choice.

“Gavin!” the mousy girl shrieked.

It was enough to snap the kid out of it. His narrow eyes relaxed, then drooped. Similarly, the tension drained from his arms, first from his shoulders, then his forearms, then his hands. The board dropped from his limp fingers, falling to the ground next to his muddy Vans.

* * * *

Ambrose paced his bedroom, holding his phone away from his ear so that he could yell

into it more effectively.

“Bullshit, Barb,” he thundered along with the storm. “I don’t care how short-staffed you are. You’ve got an officer alone in the woods with a murderer. You’re the watch commander. Find a way to get someone there ten minutes ago!”

Lilo, who never barked, growled low and menacingly, adding his voice to the argument in the only way he knew how. Ambrose gave the big dog a pat, grateful for the show of


“I hear you, Detective,” the young captain protested, “but I’ve got people on the way. I

don’t know what else you want me to do.”

Ambrose bit his knuckle, fully aware that he could only push so far. He’d known now-

Captain Barbara Rice when she was a recruit, been her training officer at one point, but there was a limit to her indulgence, and he was right up against it. Still, if the choice was between burning bridges and wondering if he could have done more to save his old partner’s daughter, there really wasn’t a choice.

“Listen,” he started, but his phone beeped with an incoming text message. He let Barb go so he could check it.

Ambrose’s stomach finally stopped percolating. It was from Friday.

“Two in custody. Tell you about it over coffee soon. Thanks for the help detective.”

Lilo sat at his feet, his giant head cocked to one side. Ambrose put the phone down on the dresser. His knees gave out and he dropped his substantial backside on the end of the bed so hard that he bounced slightly.

“See, boy? Nothing to worry about.”

They both ignored the wetness on his cheeks.


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