Sneak Peek for Subscribers Only

Chapter One
Peeping Tom

She was looking the other way when his eyes locked on her long, dark hair. He imagined himself hot and naked and sweaty, tangled in those soft, silky tresses.
But she’d never be his.
He knew it.
And if she couldn’t be his, well, he’d do what he had to do . . .
Quickly and quietly, he steadied himself, sighted, and took aim. She tossed her hair and turned his way, a look of surprise flickering across her face. There was a blinding explosion of light as he contracted his finger and took the shot.

Chapter Two

Fort Worth Police Officer Megan Luz

“Up on the scale, Brigit.” I led my black and tan shepherd-mix partner over to the large scale on the floor of the veterinary office and motioned for her to step onto the device.
Brigit placed a tentative paw with red-tipped nails onto the black rubber mat covering the metal surface. Satisfied it was safe, she climbed aboard. Once she was centered on the scale, I directed her to sit, pointing with my own red-tipped nail. I’d given us both mani-pedis the night before. While her manicure set contained different tools than mine, at least we could share the polish. Fortunately, we both looked good in Bodacious Rose.
She plunked herself down on her fluffy haunches and looked up at me and the vet tech expectantly, her mouth hanging slightly open as she lightly panted.
The tech consulted the scale’s readout. “One hundred and three.” She jotted a note in Brigit’s paperwork and reached down to ruffle the dog’s ear. “You’re a big girl.”
Brigit was indeed a big girl. Smart, too. She’d been a standout in our K-9 training class, besting all the others, putting them and their handlers to shame. I was proud to be paired with such an outstanding, if excessively hairy, partner.
Brigit and I had been together for just about a year now. Not to brag, but we made a kick-ass team. Despite our occasional head-butting, we complemented and completed each other. While my skills tended to be more mental, Brigit was a physical powerhouse, able to run like the wind, tackle a target, and leap tall buildings with a single bound. And while I could accumulate and process verbal and visual clues, she put her superior senses of hearing and smell to work, tracking fleeing suspects or searching for hidden ones, sniffing out drugs, alerting me to approaching dangers. Together, we were unstoppable.
Unfortunately, while Brigit’s size and special skills made her the perfect partner on the beat, they made her a pain in the butt when it came to our personal lives. Not only did the dog eat kibble by the ton and shed fifty pounds of fur a day, she could be insistent and defiant. She behaved impeccably on the job but, after hours, she and I continued to vie for the alpha position in our two-member pack. She seemed as doggedly determined to claim the prominent position as I was. So far, it was a draw.
Despite being different species, Brigit and I had quite a few things in common. Both of us were mutts with mixed heritage, Brigit being a shepherd mix and me being an Irish/Mexican-American with a few drops of Cherokee blood tossed in, not uncommon here in Texas. Both of us could be very stubborn, but both of us were extremely loyal, too. We also tended to overlook each other’s faults. She didn’t mind my sporadic stutter, and I forgave her occasional bouts of flatulence.
The tech led us back to an examination room, closing the door behind us. “Has she been eating well? Having regular bowel movements?”
“I can vouch for both.” As I’d mentioned, the dog consumed enormous quantities of kibble which, naturally, led her to litter the backyard of my rental house with turds the size of cow patties. I had to perform poo-poo patrol every couple of days lest the yard begin to smell like a feedlot. “She’s healthy as a horse.”
“Nearly as big as one, too,” the tech noted. “I won’t bother trying to get her up on the exam table. She’d probably break my back.” The woman knelt down to take Brigit’s temperature and look at her teeth, lifting the dog’s black jowls for a closer peek at her chompers. “Her teeth look nice and clean.”
As well they should. The dog was a master chewer. She’d eaten virtually every pair of shoes I owned beofre I wised up and began storing them in the top of my closet where she couldn’t reach them. I bought her a never-ending supply of nylon bones to chew, as well as crunchy biscuits. I even brushed her teeth with a specially designed doggy toothbrush and beef-flavored paste. Heck, I took better care of the dog than myself. Here she was, getting her annual checkup right on time, while I was two months overdue for my women’s exam. Not a big fan of the scoot and spread.
The tech finished her preliminary review, notated the file, and tossed Brigit a dog treat from a glass canister on the counter. “Catch, girl.”
Brigit was on her hind legs in an instant, leaping to snatch the treat from the air with the grace and skill of a prima donna ballerina.
“Dr. Wickham will be in shortly.” With that, the tech slipped through the back door and dropped the paperwork into a plastic bin mounted on the reverse side. The file slid to the bottom of the bin with a thunk.
I sat down on a green vinyl chair and held the dog’s lead loosely in my hand, allowing her to snuffle her way around the room. She put her nose to the floor and took baby steps forward. Snuffle-snuffle. Snuffle-snuffle. She stopped at the corner of the examination table, paying particular attention to the base. Snuffle-snuffle. No doubt many a patient who’d preceded her had marked the spot. Snuffle-snuffle.
Her curiosity satisfied, she returned to me, virtually bending in half so that both her butt and face were aimed in my direction. She wagged her tail and gave me a soft woof that said Scratch my ass, would ya?
“What have you done for me lately?” I asked.
She failed to respond, of course, but nonetheless I reached out and dug my short nails into the fur at the base of her tail, giving her butt a good and thorough scratch. The things we humans do for our animals. Sheesh. She raised her snout, her eyes closing halfway in pure canine bliss.
“You’re spoiled rotten,” I told her, as if she were at fault. Really, I had no one to blame but myself. When it came to my fuzzy-wuzzy partner, I could sometimes be a pushover.
A noise at the door alerted me that the vet had removed Brigit’s file from the holder. A moment later, the door opened and the doctor, an attractive gray-haired man in his early fifties, stepped inside.
After we exchanged greetings, he glanced down at Brigit with admiration. “Hey, there, Sergeant Brigit.” He bent down to her level and allowed her to sniff his hand. “Remember me from last year? I’m okay, right?”
Brigit’s nose twitched a couple of times before she pulled her head back and raised a front paw. Dr. Wickham laughed and took her paw in his hand, giving it a shake.
The vet looked up at me. “According to the notes in the file, she’s gained six pounds since her last visit.”
She wasn’t the only one. Sitting on my rear in a police cruiser all day didn’t exactly burn a lot of calories.
“That extra weight isn’t good for her joints and bones,” the doctor continued. “You’ll need to cut back on the food and treats.”
On hearing the word “treat” Brigit wagged her tail, obviously thinking she was about to get another goodie when instead the doc had sentenced her to a diet.
“Will do.” Looked like I’d have to be a little less generous with her favorite liver snaps.
He looked into the dog’s ears and eyes, then gave her body a once over. “Her coat looks healthy and shiny.”
That pretty shine was precisely why I used Brigit’s peach-scented flea shampoo on my own hair, too. But let’s keep that between the two of us, shall we? My long, black locks were one of my best features so I did what I had to do to maintain them. My boyfriend Seth, a bomb squad officer with the Fort Worth Fire Department, enjoyed playing with my tresses. I, in turn, enjoyed the way Seth looked at me while he fingered my hair, as if he were burning for me and only I could put out the fire.
The vet proceeded to feel along Brigit’s ribs and abdomen, spread her back legs to test her hips for dysplasia, then used a stethoscope to listen to her heart. “Strong ticker. Everything else looks fine, too.”
Good to know. Although I hoped to make detective someday, Brigit and I would have several more years together before then.
The tech reappeared with three syringes for Brigit’s shots. “Here you go, doc,” she said, holding them out.
The vet took the syringes and motioned for me to join him on the floor. “She trusts you. See if you can hold her still while I give her these shots.”
Wrapping my arms around Brigit to immobilize her, I murmured to distract her while the vet administered the inoculations. “Be a b-brave girl, Brigit. You can do it. Nothing to worry about.”
As the doctor inserted a needle into the dog’s hip she turned her head toward him and whimpered, but thankfully made no attempt to bite the man.
“Good girl!” the vet praised her when he finished, stroking her shoulder. He instructed me to continue holding her while he retrieved a long plastic stick with a narrow loop on the end. “Now for the fecal sample.”
He circled around behind her, wrapped his hands under her abdomen, and lifted her to a standing position. “In we go.”
He gently inserted the stick into Brigit’s rear. Her eyes went wide and she emitted a Ruh? of shock before giving me a look that said she’d never, ever trust me again.

Chapter Three
No Way to Treat a Dog
Sergeant Brigit

As soon as the vet removed the stick from her backside, Brigit plunked her hindquarters down firmly on the cold tile. If that sicko had any other plans for her rectum, he better just forget it.
She cast a glance at her partner. For the most part, she trusted Megan. But why her partner allowed this man to put Brigit through such an indignity the dog would never know. And she hadn’t even given Brigit a liver treat afterward! If it wasn’t for the facts that Megan let Brigit sleep in her bed with her at night and took her to the dog park on a regular basis, Brigit might consider putting in for a transfer.

Chapter Four
Lookee Here
Peeping Tom

A row of well-established azaleas sat alongside the single-story stucco house. Given that it was now early May, the blooms had come and gone, leaving behind only thick, leafy bushes that did their best to block access to the window.
But he was determined.
At nearly eleven o’clock, the night was fully dark. With no outdoor lighting along the side of the house, he blended readily into the shadows. The few drivers who passed by on the street overlooked him lurking in the bushes. Just as he’d hoped . . .
He slowly forced his way between two bushes, the branches cracking as they gave way, the sound seeming as loud as fireworks in the otherwise quiet night. He hesitated a moment, his heart pounding like a war drum, but the sounds seemed to draw no attention. He inhaled a deep breath, taking in the cedar scent of the bark chips under his feet, and willed himself to relax.
He took another step forward, his face now only inches from the window. The mini-blinds hung slightly askew, leaving a two-inch triangle of glass uncovered in the bottom right corner and providing him a clear view into the woman’s bedroom. The bright overhead light in the room made it easy for him to see her moving about inside.
Gotta love those high-wattage energy-efficient bulbs.
Unfortunately, those bulbs also attracted moths, which fluttered around the window, occasionally thumping softly against the pane as they tried in vain to get closer to the light source. He waved a hand, temporarily dispersing the fluttering pests, and leaned in for a closer look.
The woman was tall and full-figured, with long, dark hair he’d loved to stroke and bury his face in. When she kicked off her stiletto heels, he knew he was only seconds away from his payoff. His anxious breaths came in quick succession, verging on hyperventilation. Easy now, he told himself. Slow down and savor this.
A moth ricocheted off his forehead as the woman tugged her clingy red dress up over her head and tossed it onto a nearby chair, revealing round curves and inch after luscious inch of bare flesh. She’d also revealed a plain beige bra and faded cotton panties, not at all like the black lace he’d visualized her wearing in his fantasies. He felt a twinge of disappointment, but got over it quickly. After all, he wasn’t here to see lingerie. If that was all he wanted he could have simply pored over the Victoria’s Secret catalog he kept in the top drawer of his night table.
As he waved the moths away again, the woman reached her hands behind her back to unhook her bra. His pulse throbbed as he put his face to the window, moths be damned.
She moved toward the front of the room as she wrangled with the clasp.
No, no, NO!
Just as the hooks released, setting her breasts free, she disappeared through the door of her bathroom and out of view.
He stomped a foot in the bark chips, releasing both his frustration and the woodsy scent of cedar. The bathroom windows faced the street. He couldn’t risk attempting to spy on her from such a visible location. He could only hope she’d be bare when she returned to the bedroom.
But she wasn’t.
When she emerged a half minute later, she wore a wrinkled, powder-blue nightshirt covered in cartoon sheep. If that wasn’t unattractive enough, the robe bore a large coffee stain on the front and hung well past her knees. She plopped down on the edge of her bed and proceeded to trim her toenails with a pair of silver clippers, little half-moon pieces sailing through the air. Yuck.
So much for getting any gratification tonight. His balls felt as deflated as the ones Tom Brady had used in the 2015 Superbowl.
He took a deep breath to calm himself. Unfortunately, along with the oxygen, he inhaled a small bug, one that was now lodged in his nostril, frantically flapping its tiny wings in an attempt to escape.
He wriggled his nose and exhaled sharply, but to no avail. The bug was stuck.
Uh-oh . . .
The sneeze came on like a runaway freight train, allowing him no time to back away from the window before it blasted from his nose. The best he could do was cover his face with his hands in an attempt to muffle the sound.
The woman’s head snapped to face the window. Thank goodness he’d worn running shoes because he was definitely going to need them.

Chapter Five

Tuesday morning, I dressed in my police uniform, buckled my belt, and left the bedroom Brigit and I shared to go in search of my K-9 partner. I found her in the living room. She lay sprawled on the couch next to my roommate, Frankie, a blue-haired, blue-eyed Amazon who stocked groceries by night and played roller derby for the Fort Worth Whoop Ass, also by night.
I greeted the two with a “good morning.”
Frankie responded with a “’mornin’” while Brigit responded with a tail wag.
Frankie and I had met a few short weeks ago when I’d taken a detour into the South Hemphill Heights neighborhood. She’d skated right in front of my moving cruiser, the bumper missing her by mere inches when I screeched to a stop. I’d pulled Frankie over—it was my first and only time to stop an eight-wheeled offender—and learned that only minutes before she’d been unceremoniously dumped by her boyfriend. Thus, her erratic, bordering on suicidal, behavior.
Lest she end up becoming roadkill, I gave her a ride home. Feeling empathy for her and realizing the bedroom her ex had used as his “man cave” now stood vacant, I’d suggested I take over his lease. Luckily for me, she agreed. I gave notice to the paunchy and pungent property manager at the seedy apartment complex where Brigit and I had been living, and moved our meager belongings into this relatively spacious bungalow.
The place was painted a light mauve with ivory trim, the front door a contrasting navy blue. A giant magnolia tree loomed over the front yard, preventing the grass from making any headway, but an ivy ground covering had creeped over from next door and did a fair job of hiding the dirt. A pre-fab one-car detached garage sat to the back and right of the house, added after the house was originally built. A six-foot wooden privacy fence enclosed the backyard, giving Brigit a safe place to play, chase squirrels, and do her dirty business.
Frankie and I had been roommates only a short time, but so far things had been going great. Brigit even got along with Zoe, Frankie’s fluffy calico cat. Or perhaps tolerated was a more precise word. Zoe was like a pesky kid sister to Brigit. Even now, as Brigit wagged her tail upon seeing me, Zoe crept out from under the couch and swiped at my partner’s moving tail with her paw.
Frankie had arrived home a half hour earlier after working the graveyard shift at the nearby Kroger store. Though it was breakfast time for most of us, the fact that Frankie would soon be hitting the hay made this early morning meal dinner for her. Hence the partially eaten frozen pizza and bag of nacho cheese Doritos on the coffee table in front of her.
I stopped in front of the futon, noted the ring of day-glow orange powder encircling Brigit’s fuzzy muzzle, and frowned at Frankie. “I told you Brigit can’t have any more people food until she loses some weight.”
Frankie didn’t take her eyes off the television, where she was watching a zombie show she’d recorded on the DVR. “I didn’t give her any food.”
I moved in front of the TV, forcing Frankie to look at me, and put my hands on my hips. “Are you lying to a cop?”
“No.” A grin tugged at her lips. “I’m fibbing to my roommate.”
“Who happens to be a cop.”
She raised an unconcerned shoulder. “You’re off duty.”
I narrowed my eyes at her. “A cop is never really off duty.”
It might sound trite, but it was true. Police work wasn’t one of those jobs you could leave at the office, so to speak. The job followed the officers home, sometimes haunting them, other times consuming them. We cops suffered significantly higher-than-average divorce rates, a slightly higher-than-average suicide rate, and, according to several studies, shorter life expectancies than the average person. So why on earth would we do a job that asked so much of us and the people we loved?
I couldn’t speak for all policemen and women, but in my case it came down to a few simple things. One, the world could be a hard, cruel, and violent place, but it had the potential to be so much better. If I could help make it better, why wouldn’t I? Two, I’d never been the type to aspire to a fancy house, expensive jewelry, or a flashy car. Rather, I enjoyed an intellectual challenge. Becoming a detective and solving crimes would give me that challenge I was looking for. Last, and definitely least, because I’d been a twirler in my high school band, I already knew how to handle a baton. Police work was one of the few, if not only, jobs in which baton-handling experience would come in handy.
Brigit nudged Frankie’s hand, making a wordless request for more crunchy chips.
My roommate looked down at the dog. “Sorry, girl. Your mommy’s cut you off.” With that she grabbed the bag and noisily rolled down the top to close it.
Brigit cut a look my way, as if she knew I was the reason why the flow of carbs coated in fluorescent cheese powder had ceased.
I walked to the kitchen and poured a cup of the low-calorie dog food the veterinarian had recommended into Brigit’s large aluminum feeding bowl. On hearing the clatter of kibble hitting metal, Brigit trotted into the kitchen. She looked down at the paltry serving in her bowl, gave the unfamiliar nuggets a sniff, and tossed me a look that said Are you freakin’ kidding me? Diet food?
“You need to lose weight,” I explained, as if the dog would understand me.
Evidently she didn’t give a rat’s ass about her fat ass. She put her paw on the edge of the bowl and flipped it over, spilling its contents all over the floor. She sat down, her expression now offering an insincere Oops!
I frowned down at her. “You know exactly what you’re doing, don’t you?”
I swept up the kernels and tried again, this time mixing the low-calorie food with her regular kibble. “How’s that?”
She put her face in the bowl and began to eat.
“Good girl.”
I fixed myself a bowl of healthy, whole-grain cereal with soymilk. While working as a police officer involved the occasional foot chase, cops spent most of our time sitting in our cruisers, driving around. Not exactly good for the heart or body mass index. To avoid ending up with thick thighs or pancake butt, I tried to eat right and performed isometric exercises with my glutes while out on patrol.
I carried my breakfast to the kitchen table and took a seat.
Zoe, Frankie’s furry calico cat, leaped up onto the table and tried to stick her head into my bowl.
“Scram,” I told her, defending my cereal with a wave of a napkin.
Zoe took a couple of steps back and sat down on the table, lifting a leg and spreading her fuzzy toes to clean between them.
“Learn some manners,” I told her.
The cat gave me a look even more arrogant and disdainful than the one Brigit had given me earlier. When had these animals figured out that they were in charge?
When I’d finished my breakfast and brushed my teeth, I returned to the living room and patted my leg. “C’mon, Brig. Time to get to work.”
Brigit stuck out her tongue, licked her muzzle clean of its fresh accumulation of cheese dust, and hopped down from the couch to follow me.
“See you later,” I told Frankie as I opened the front door.
“If you happen to talk to Seth,” she called from the couch, “tell him I’m ready to get back on the horse.”
I stopped in the open doorway. “Really?”
I’d been pestering Frankie for days to go on a double date with me and Seth. I was tired of seeing her mope around, lonely and depressed, and there was no end of eligible young guys at the fire house or the joint base where Seth served his one-weekend-a-month army reserve duty.
“Yeah,” she said. “Just make sure Seth gets me someone tall. I want a guy who can look me in the eye, not the mouth.”
“Tall. Got it. Any other requests?”
She shrugged. “It wouldn’t hurt if he was hot, too, as long as he’s not a jerk.”
“No jerks. That’s fair.”
Her lip curled up in a mischievous grin. “It wouldn’t hurt if he was rich, either.”
“It never does.”
With that, I raised my hand in good-bye and led my partner out the front door. As we walked down the porch and over to my tiny metallic blue Smart Car in the driveway, I sent a text to Seth. Frankie’s ready to date. Wants a guy who’s hot but not a jerk. I hoped I wasn’t asking too much. After all, the hot gene and the jerk gene seemed to be linked. It probably went back to some attractive caveman who saw his reflection in a mud puddle and realized he looked damn good in that saber-tooth tiger loincloth. Me sexy. Oogah.
I bleeped the locks open and let Brigit into the passenger seat. Circling back to my side, I climbed in, gently elbowing Brigit back to give me at least a partial view out of the side window. The enormous dog took up nearly the whole cab. “Sit back, girl.”
She complied, settling back in the seat.
As I put the gearshift in reverse, a reply text arrived from Seth. I’m on it.
I drove to the Western-1 substation, W1 for short, where I’d been assigned since joining the Fort Worth Police Department a year and a half ago. The W1 division covered nine square miles. Bounded on the north by Interstate 30, on the east by Hemphill, on the south by Berry Street, and on the west by the shore of the Trinity River, W1 included Texas Christian University, Colonial Country Club, Forest Park, the Fort Worth Zoo, and several quaint and relatively quiet older neighborhoods. All in all, it wasn’t a bad gig, especially for a cop like me who thrived on the mental feats posed by police work rather than the physical ones and was mostly just biding her time until she qualified to make detective.
There was only one bad thing about working in W1, and there he was now, exiting his truck and making his way into the station with his usual testosterone-driven swagger. Derek “the Big Dick” Mackey.
While I prided myself on my brain, Derek’s claim to fame was his brawn. He was built like a dump truck. Solid, immoveable, and carrying a heavy load. But while dump trucks were generally filled with dirt or debris, Derek was full of himself. The guy was also known for his bravery, boldly going alone into situations where other officers would wait for backup.
To call him Derek thorn in my side would be an understatement, but in order to tell you what the guy really was I’d have to use at least five of the seven words the FCC wouldn’t let anyone say on regular TV. Instead, how about I use my creative license and say he’s a tasbard and a sasshole?
Derek and I had been partners for several months when I’d first joined the force. During that time, he’d bombarded me with crude, sexist jokes and filled our cruiser with the scents of sweat, onions, and gas. Clearly, he’d been trying to break me. And break me he had. When we’d arrested a woman for driving under the influence and found a bag of meth in her car, he’d suggested I perform an on-the-spot body cavity search. The lewd remark was the last straw. I’d pulled out my Tazer and replied to his comments via a high-voltage response that caused him to wet himself and very nearly got me fired. Derek’s inappropriate comments could have put him out of work, too. Luckily for both of us, Derek and Police Chief Garelik were personal friends. The incident was kept off our records and I was allowed to keep my job on the condition I partner with Brigit, whose handler had resigned from the force to take a job in private security. While I hadn’t been at all happy about being paired with a K-9 at first, now I couldn’t imagine working with any other partner.
I parked, let Brigit out of my car, and clipped her lead onto her collar, leading her inside for the morning briefing. It would probably be over quickly. Things had been pretty routine in W1 the last few days. Routine was a good thing in my book. Over the recent months I’d dealt with a psychopath setting bombs around the city, a purse-snatcher/pickpocket who’d targeted tourists at the stock show and rodeo, and a brutal bastard who’d abused his girlfriend and their child, burglarized homes, and murdered a drug dealer. Who could blame me for wanting to take a break from all the crime and violence?
I took a space along the back wall of the briefing room next to one of the other female officers in W1. Summer had been with the force three years longer than me, had witnessed three more years of the havoc people could wreak on themselves and each other, yet somehow maintained a disposition as sunny as her curly blond hair. She must be an expert at compartmentalizing, a skill I had yet to fully develop.
“Hey, you two!” She sent a smile my way before crouching down to give Brigit a nice scratch under the chin. “How’s Sergeant Brigit today, hmm?”
Brigit responded by licking Summer’s face from chin to ear. Slup!
“Listen up!” came Captain Leone’s voice from the front of the room, where he’d stepped up to the wooden podium. The captain, a fortyish guy with dark, spongy hair, ruled W1 less with an iron fist and more with his terrifying eyebrows. We officers feared that if we didn’t obey his orders, his crazy, wiry brows would reach out and throttle us. “We’ve got several things to go over today before you head out on the streets.”
Her cheek slick with dog drool, Summer stood back up next to me and we directed our attention to the Captain.
“Number one,” the captain said, scanning the room with a pointed look. “Check your spelling and numbers when inputting traffic ticket information into your computers. The traffic court’s been throwing out citations left and right.”
He went on to say that one of the local attorneys who handled traffic tickets en masse had successfully argued dozens of cases where the data contained typos, claiming that if a cop couldn’t accurately input a driver’s license or license plate number, the officer might have also erred in putting in other data, such as the purported violation or alleged speed the driver was going. A rather lame argument, in my opinion, but since we officers rarely had time to appear in traffic court to defend our actions, the judge probably felt compelled to dismiss the cases. At least the offender still suffered, though his punishment came in the form of attorney fees rather than a bad mark in his driving record.
“Make regular rounds by the high schools during the morning and afternoon hours,” Captain Leone continued. “Lunchtime, too. With the end of the school year nearing, students about to graduate might pull some crazy and stupid pranks. We don’t want things to get out of hand.”
While babysitting high school kids held little appeal to us officers, until the epidemic of senioritis died out in June it couldn’t hurt for law enforcement to be more visible and to stay in the vicinity should things go awry.
“Last but definitely not least,” Captain Leon said, “keep your eyes peeled for this S.O.B.”
He held up a mug shot. It was difficult to tell much about the guy from my vantage point at the back of the room, but he appeared to be Caucasian with brown hair.
“Name’s Ralph Hurley. He served three years in the state lockup for multiple counts of burglary, aggravated assault, battery, and criminal trespass.”
He handed the picture printout to an officer sitting on the front row so it could be passed around. While the photo made its way around the room, the captain gave us the scoop. “Hurley broke into several homes in affluent areas of San Antonio at night. Despite being six-feet-four and two-hundred-and-fifty pounds, he was able to sneak through windows without making a noise and surprise his victims. News reporters dubbed him the ‘Silent Giant.’”
The captain went on to tell us that Hurley had threatened the residents, sometimes with a handgun, other times with a shotgun, forcing them to turn over their debit cards and provide the associated PINs with the proviso that if the PIN didn’t work he’d return at some point in the future and make them very sorry they’d given him a false number.
“He’d hit their accounts right away,” the captain explained, “and withdraw as much cash as he could before the victims could notify their banks to deactivate the stolen cards. In most cases he went after female victims who lived alone or whose husbands were not at home, which tells us that he cased their residences before breaking in.”
An involuntary shudder went through me. Hurley’s victims must have been terrified to face down a super-sized man like him, especially when they were surprised alone in their homes and Hurley’s intentions were unknown. And to realize that Hurley had been watching them while they went about their lives totally unaware? So creepy. Surely the victims would spend the rest of their lives looking over their shoulders, fearing any man who gave them a second glance.
“Hurley was recently paroled,” the captain continued. “He’d been ordered to wear an ankle monitor to track his whereabouts, but he cut it off Sunday morning.” Captain Leone went on to tell us that Hurley made a quick escape from the efficiency apartment he’d rented in San Antonio, which sat a four-hour drive to the south of Fort Worth.
Given the limitations of an external apparatus like an ankle monitor, maybe it was time to insert a microchip in violent parolees so they could be tracked. Heck, Brigit had a chip in case she got lost or stolen. The mere thought of Brigit being in danger turned my insides to ice. Instinctively, I reached down to stroke her head. She looked up, her big brown eyes locking on mine as if she were trying to read my thoughts. When she gave my hand a comforting lick, I had to wonder if she could, in fact, read my mind. More likely, my emotions had caused me to release some type of fear pheromones and Brigit had picked up on the scent, a canine form of mind reading.
I raised a hand and Captain Leone lifted his chin in acknowledgment, inviting me to speak. “If he robbed and battered multiple victims,” I asked, “why’d he only serve three years?”
“Plea bargain,” he replied with a scowl. “Hurley always wore a ski mask and gloves when he broke into the homes and made the withdrawals at the bank. No one could positively identify him. He was also careful not to leave fingerprints.”
In other words, all of the evidence against him had been circumstantial. The district attorney must have decided it was better to put Hurley behind bars, even if for a relatively short time, rather than risk a not guilty verdict at trial and having the man go free.
Without bothering to raise his hand, Derek asked, “He shoot any of the women?”
“None that could be confirmed,” the captain replied. “He shoved one victim against a wall and pushed another down a flight of stairs. Broke her arm and collarbone. A woman was shot and killed in her home around the same time Hurley committed his other crimes, but law enforcement wasn’t able to pin the murder on him. The bullet didn’t match any of the weapons in his possession at the time of his arrest. San Antonio PD believes he ditched the gun.”
Unfortunately, a significant numbers of murders went unsolved, the killers never brought to account for their crimes. The inability to apprehend and successfully prosecute violent criminals was the most frustrating aspect of law enforcement. Being a cop meant accepting that we could only do so much, that some scores would never be settled, that evil would occasionally prevail. We could only hope that, more times than not, the scales would tip in our favor and justice would be served.
Leone’s grip on the podium tightened. “On Sunday night a woman in Alamo Heights was shot three times in her home. The bullets damaged some vital organs. She’s in intensive care, fighting for her life. Hurley’s a person of interest in that shooting, too.”
Summer took a quick look at Hurley’s mug shot and handed it to me. My eyes moved over the photo. Hurley looked like your average Joe, with brown hair and brown eyes, no obvious distinguishing features. Where’s a gold-capped tooth or a Texas-shaped scar when you need one?
A soft snort escaped me when I read the first three letters of his Isuzu Amigo’s license plate listed at the bottom of the page. DUH. Yeah, that pretty much summed up what he’d done. What kind of idiot would risk his recently reacquired freedom by cutting off his ankle monitor? When Hurley was captured, he’d definitely be heading back to the klink, maybe for life.
I passed the printout to the officer on my left and ran a quick search on my phone. Ah. No wonder the make and model of his vehicle didn’t sound familiar. According to the information online, Isuzu had left the U.S. auto market in 2009 after years of financial woes. My search for images told me that the Amigo was a small SUV that came with either a hard or soft top. With the soft top down, the front seat remained covered by a short metal roof while the cargo bay and back seat were exposed to the air. The vehicle looked like it couldn’t decide whether it wanted to be a pickup truck or a convertible and ended up some kind of odd, genetically-engineered hybrid.
I slid my phone back into my pocket and returned my attention to the captain.
“Hurley was spotted at a gas station in San Antonio around noon yesterday,” he said.
Given his ordinary features and the multitude of brawny, barbecue beef-fed men in Texas, Hurley didn’t immediately catch anyone’s attention. But while the clerk hadn’t identified the man at his register as Hurley, he had taken notice of the tell-tale green Isuzu Amigo as it drove away from the pump. The attendant phoned police and reported that the escapee had turned toward the I-35 access ramps, which meant that Hurley could be anywhere from the southern border town of Laredo, Texas to as far north as Duluth, Minnesota, assuming he’d stayed on the interstate. If he’d ventured onto other roads, or hopped onto a bus, train, or plane, he could be virtually anywhere in the U.S. by now.
Captain Leone began to wrap things up. “Hurley’s older sister lives in W1. We think he might be headed our way.”
Escapees often relied on family or friends to provide them with cash, food, and a place to crash. With his sister right here in town, it was possible, perhaps even likely, that Hurley was aiming for Fort Worth. Hell, for all we knew he could be here already.
“If Ralph Hurley dares to set foot in our division,” the captain said, “I want him apprehended right away. Got it?”
Murmurs of assent followed. Get the bad guy. We got it.
Captain Leone ran his firm gaze across his troops for a final time before pointing at the door. “Go out there and make the world a safer place.”
Our meeting/pep rally concluded, we shuffled in a big blue blob out the door, down the hallway, and outside, where we dispersed in the parking lot.
Summer vectored off with a smile and a parting wave. “Have a good one!”
“You, too.”
While my coworkers headed to their standard patrol cars, Brigit and I headed to our specially equipped K-9 cruiser, which featured a metal mesh enclosure and carpeted platform where the backseat would normally be. Of course I’d made the space even more comfortable for my partner by adding an extra-large cushion and a half dozen chew toys to keep her entertained.
Derek unrolled the window of his squad car as he drove past. “Get to work, bitches!” With an obnoxious laugh, he gunned his engine and burned rubber as he pulled out of the station. Squeee!
What a jerk.
Taking a quick glance around to make sure no one was watching, I scurried over to Derek’s personal vehicle, a shiny black pickup truck, to exact a small measure of revenge. I whipped my lipstick from the pouch on my belt and drew a smiley face on the rubber truck nuts that hung from his trailer hitch. Whoever came up with the idea for those things had to be a disgusting perv. Also a genius. Given the popularity of the novelty with macho truck owners, he was probably a gazillionaire, like those bearded boys from Duck Dynasty.
Brigit and I returned to our cruiser.
“Another day, another dog biscuit,” I told my partner as she climbed into her enclosure. I joined her in the squad car, situated my police-issue laptop in its mount, and set out in the opposite direction Derek had gone. With any luck, our paths wouldn’t cross again today.

Chapter Six
From Street to Star

As her partner drove their cruiser around their beat, Brigit eyed the various toys scattered about her carpeted enclosure. A squeaky squirrel. A tennis ball. A knotted rope. A Frisbee. So many toys to choose from. And to think Brigit had once been a shelter dog, with nothing but her fleas to call her own.
Megan sure did spoil her. She’d even bought Brigit a comfy cushion to lie on in the cruiser. Brigit’s last partner had been a nice enough guy, but Megan was more generous and much easier to manipulate. All Brigit had to do was whimper softly and bat her big brown eyes and Megan would buy the dog whatever she wanted. What a pushover.
Still, Brigit knew she was lucky to have been paired with such a softie. She returned the favor by being an attentive watchdog at their house, chasing off pesky skunks and possums, and alerting Megan to the arrival of the mailman.
Brigit picked up a nylon bone, settled down on her belly, and set to work. It wasn’t enough to have a sharp mind, a K-9 officer needed sharp teeth. The better to eat you with, my dear.