Midnight Crossing: New Excerpt

Midnight Crossing (Josie Gray Mysteries Series #5) by Tricia Fields
Midnight Crossing (Josie Gray Mysteries Series #5) by Tricia Fields
Midnight Crossing captures the raw natural beauty of West Texas and the tough people who choose to live at the very edge of the country (Available July 5, 2016).

Police Chief Josie Gray wakes in the middle of the night, sure that she’s heard a car slowly passing by her remote homestead. When she goes outside to check, she discovers a woman, mute with shock and terror, hiding on her porch. And when she explores the field nearby, she comes across the body of another young woman, shot and killed.

Located on the border of Texas and Mexico, the small town of Artemis has become a way station for the coyotes who ferry immigrants across the Rio Grande. But they usually keep moving north, to cities where they can blend into the crowd and pass by unnoticed. Why would these women stick around in Artemis?

As Josie investigates the murder and tries to learn the identity of her uninvited houseguest, she discovers that not everyone in town has stayed out of the trafficking business, and someone may play a bigger role than she ever expected.

ONE

Josie opened her eyes, her body instantly alert, muscles taut. Nighttime had never scared her. Lying awake, alone in bed at two o’clock in the morning, could lead to miserable thoughts, but not fear. At the same time, she also didn’t believe in coincidence. For the second night in a row, she awoke to the distant sound of a car driving down the gravel road toward her home.

Schenck Road wound through the foothills of the Chinati Mountains for five miles, and then reconnected with River Road. Two houses were located on Schenck: her own house and Dell Seapus’s, a quarter mile behind hers. The only reason to drive down Schenck was to visit Josie or Dell, and her seventy-something-year-old neighbor did not have visitors at two in the morning.

She lay flat on her back with her hands folded over her abdomen as she listened to the low drone of the engine, growing louder as it neared her house and then slowing like a roller-coaster car approaching the top of a rise. With the late October temperatures in the sixties at night, she’d been keeping her windows open. She slipped out of bed and walked down the wood floor in the hallway without a sound, not wanting to rouse the dog sleeping at the foot of her bed.

Standing to the side of the living room window, she slowly slid a finger behind the fabric and pulled it back an inch from the window. The oncoming vehicle rounded the bend in the road, and as it reached the straight stretch that ran past the front of her home, the headlights disappeared and the car vanished from sight. As she heard it roll by her house, the light from the moon wasn’t enough to determine the size or make.

A half mile past her house, the lights reappeared, but too far away for her to catch any details. The driver knew the road, knew her house, and knew she’d be watching.

Long after the car lights had disappeared, Josie stayed at the window, feeling the rhythm of her pulse slow to normal. She heard Chester rise from the bedroom and his paws clicking down the hardwood floor in the hallway. He nuzzled up beside her, more curious than worried. She couldn’t have picked a less aggressive dog than a bloodhound.

Lying on her back in bed again, but now holding her cell phone in her hands, she stared at the time: 2:17 a.m., obviously too late to call Nick and rouse him out of a deep sleep. He was somewhere in Juárez, Mexico, living with a young woman and her three small children, negotiating the release of the woman’s husband. Josie had thought her position as chief of police wasn’t conducive to starting a family, and then she’d begun dating Nick Santos, a kidnapping negotiator, and all thought of a normal family life, whatever that meant, had ended.

She tried to imagine him, curled up on his side on a lumpy fold-away mattress in the temporary bedroom constructed for him on the family’s back porch. Or maybe he was crouched down behind a garage in a dark alley, waiting for movement, for the quiet approach of someone who might lead him to the terrified victim. Josie pondered how strange their life was, avoiding the criminals while all the same seeking them out.

*   *   *

When her cell phone alarm rang later that morning, Josie turned it off and fell back asleep instantly. Ten minutes later the alarm across the room on her bureau buzzed, forcing her up and out of bed, swearing as she tripped over Chester, who insisted on sleeping in the direct path to the alarm clock.

By 6:45 a.m., Josie had locked up the house and sent Chester down the lane to spend the day at Dell’s ranch. Dell was a bachelor with little patience for people, but infinite tolerance for animals. Josie figured as far as a dog’s life went, Chester was living the dream.

As she unlocked the driver’s door on her retired Army jeep, her department-issued vehicle, she noticed something lying just behind her back tire. She bent down and picked up what appeared to be a plastic sandwich bag with bread crumbs in the bottom of it—what the Border Patrol would refer to as a sign, usually the remnants of someone crossing the border and leaving behind their trash as they made the long trek.

The problem was, the odds of the bag finding its way to her driveway were incredibly slim. Artemis had many more miles of unpaved roads than paved. Most people lived miles apart. The closest businesses to her home were located downtown, a ten-minute drive down remote roads that sometimes saw no other cars for hours at a time.

Driving to work did little to diminish the unease she felt from the night before.

She wondered if the baggie might be connected to the car driving by her house. A few months ago, she and Nick had found signs of crossing and two kayaks on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande, just a few miles from her house. Crossing the Rio from Mexico into West Texas made no sense at that particular location. Josie lived in the middle of the Chihuahuan Desert, with the Chinati Mountains located just beyond her home. If someone from Mexico wanted to illegally make the trek into the States, they would cross five miles beyond her house, where the land was wide open and mountains wouldn’t add dangerous and unnecessary travel to the journey. And any coyote working out of Piedra Labrada, the Mexican sister city to Artemis, knew where along the Rio the cops lived. They wouldn’t choose to cross by her home, unless crossing by her home was their specific intent. In that case, the crossing probably had little to do with illegals, and more to do with the Medrano Cartel.

Josie tried to clear these thoughts from her mind as she approached her one-stoplight town of Artemis, preparing herself for the day ahead. As a female chief of police in a speck of a town on the border with a country whose criminals had more resources than the federal army, every day was a new drama.

She pulled her jeep in front of the Artemis PD. The words ARTEMIS POLICE DEPARTMENT were painted in gold across a large plate-glass window to the left of the main door, and their motto, TO SERVE AND PROTECT, was painted across the window on the other side of the door. It looked like Mayberry: old-fashioned, small-town paradise. But the issues brought on by the drugs and guns that fueled the cartels had long overtaken paradise.

Josie parked next to Officer Otto Podowski, who stood on the sidewalk, holding a plate covered with plastic wrap. Josie slammed her car door and smiled. “Delores baking again?”

“The woman is amazing. She stayed up late last night to make us apple dumplings for breakfast. And, of course, she made a plate for you and Lou.”

“Lou won’t eat those. She’s boycotting sugar again.”

Otto winked and grinned. “I know that.”

“Ah. Which means you get Lou’s share. On top of the ones you already ate for breakfast. You’re a sneaky one.”

“Josie. A man has to have a vice in his life. It keeps me young. Gives me something to look forward to.”

At sixty-something, Otto was a good fifty pounds over the department weight limit, which was set thirty years ago and had since been ignored. He and his wife, Delores, had left Poland when they graduated from high school so that Otto could attend medical school in the U.S. and then move back home to take care of the village. School had proved too much in an unfamiliar country at such a young age, and so he and Delores had stayed on and made a new life for themselves. Josie knew the hint of melancholy that lay just behind his smile was linked to his faraway homeland and parents who had passed away.

The silver bell clanged against the door to the police department, announcing their entrance. Lou scooted her chair back from her computer to see who had come in.

“Good morning, Lou. You’re looking lovely today,” Otto said.

“Please,” she said.

Lou didn’t get friendly until after nine o’clock, and even then it was a stretch some days.

“Delores made apple dumplings, if I can interest you.”

“You know I don’t eat that stuff.”

“Just checking,” he said. He turned and grinned at Josie.

Josie said hello to Lou and picked up a stack of paperwork and sticky notes, and then they headed upstairs to the office.

Josie and Otto shared an office with the third officer in the department, Marta Cruz. She typically worked the night shift, and Josie and Otto split day and night shifts with the sheriff’s department so that Arroyo County had at least one patrol car, preferably two, on the road at all times. In charge of running the Arroyo County Jail, the sheriff was often shorthanded due to a jail overrun with problems caused by an international border and not enough staff to patrol it. That left the city police to take calls well outside of city limits.

Josie unlocked the office door and the rows of fluorescent lights hummed on. Otto filled the coffeepot with water at the back of the room and they both settled into the comfortable early-morning routine they had developed in their ten-plus years of working together.

Josie sat down at her computer and started through the several dozen emails that had come through since the evening before and began making return phone calls regarding a vandalized water tank behind the gas station and a burglary at an apartment downtown. A young couple had reported a thousand dollars was stolen from their apartment, but Josie had talked to the sheriff that morning and he said they’d also supposedly lost fifty thousand dollars’ worth of heroin and cocaine earlier in the week. If true, the domino effect would travel along the drug trail that started in Mexico and chugged up north into the U.S. from dealer to dealer, until the drugs were recovered, or someone paid the price. The police carried out an investigation while the criminals conducted their own, which often resulted in a faster, more violent conclusion.

*   *   *

At two o’clock Marta called from home.

“What’s up?” Josie asked.

“I got a follow-up for you. I’m off duty tonight and just wanted to make sure to get this on record. I had a busy night and didn’t have time to leave you a note.”

“No problem. What do you need?”

“It’s Slick Fish. He’s back at it again. I thought we ran him off, but he just changed locations.”

“Somebody saw him?”

“Agnes Delaney, of all people.”

Josie grinned. “Was he naked?”

“Oh, yeah. He’s coming up out of the water just south of Agnes’s house,” Marta said.

“Okay. I’ll check it out.” She hung up the phone and turned to Otto. “Slick Fish resurfaced. Out by Cotton Canyon. Want to go take a look?”

“You bet,” he said. “You got your bathing suit?”

Josie shuddered. “Slick and I will not be swimming together.”

*   *   *

Josie drove with the windows down, enjoying the cooler mid-eighties temperature while Otto cranked up the air-conditioning and pointed all the vents toward his face.

“Four decades I’ve spent in this desert, and I still haven’t adapted to the heat,” he said.

“I’m over a decade into it here, and I wouldn’t go back to Indiana winters for anything.”

Josie slowed her jeep to take a long curve in the road that hugged a bend in the Rio, and then pulled up in front of Agnes’s double-wide trailer. The trailer sat about fifty feet off the road and was the only house for several miles. Boxes and old bedsprings and tires and every kind of worthless junk Josie could imagine were piled around the base of the trailer

“I think it’s gotten worse,” Otto said. “I hope we don’t have to go inside. My stomach can’t take the smell today.”

“That’s what you get. Too many dumplings.”

They exited the jeep and a woman in her fifties with fuzzy gray hair walked outside, leaning on a cane.

“Morning, Agnes,” Josie called.

“Hello, hello,” she said. “Give me a minute.”

Agnes hobbled down the lopsided concrete-block steps and Josie cringed, afraid her cane would get caught in a crack and send the woman tumbling down.

“I hear you had some excitement out here yesterday,” Josie said.

“That man is taunting me. He makes me feel dirty in my own backyard.”

“Why don’t you tell us what happened?” Josie said.

“As you probably know, I’m a birder. I can show you the photographs in my house. I’ve spotted black phoebes, kingfishers, the great kiskadee. And my prize, the Colima warbler.”

“Were you looking for birds when you saw the man crossing the river?” Otto said.

“I wasn’t looking for birds,” she said, scowling at Otto. “There’s a difference between looking out your kitchen window at the birds in your backyard, and actually birding. I have journals filled with notes of my trips, and—”

“My apologies,” he said. Otto raised a hand in the air and spoke slowly. “Were you birding outside when you saw the man in the river?”

“Yes. I was. I’d walked out into the backyard and had traveled maybe a few hundred feet down toward the river. It’s a hard walk for me through the thicket with my cane, so I’m slow and quiet. I had my eye on a painted bunting. A real beauty. Blue and red and green. A little bird that looks like it’s straight out of the tropics.”

Josie heard Otto sigh and she glanced over at his slack face. She had noticed Otto had begun to lose patience when people being questioned about a topic relevant to the investigation rambled on about something unrelated. A significant number of people in far West Texas lived in remote solitude, so when unexpected visits happened, they occasionally got chatty. It mostly led to wasted time, but every now and then a golden nugget surfaced between the details.

“That’s when I saw a pale blob in my binoculars. I put them down and saw this man dragging a big rubber inner tube by a rope, up and out of the water and onto the riverbank. There was a woman who climbed off the inner tube and stood there onshore with a big black backpack over her shoulders. I almost screamed at them to get off my land, but then I worried they might have a gun. Well, obviously he didn’t have a gun, because he was stark-naked. But she could have. So I just stood there in the tall grass and watched.”

“He only brought one person over?” Josie asked.

“There was a man standing onshore, already waiting there. I hadn’t noticed him until the woman came ashore. Then the naked man jumped back in the river and swam over for another man. He put the rope over his arm, like a woman’s purse, and swam the man over in the inner tube like a fish. He has a heck of a strong stroke. I’ll give him that. I bet I stood there maybe ten minutes and it was over.”

“Was anyone else on the bank waiting for them? A coyote picking them up?” Josie asked.

“As soon as the last man got to the shore another fella in jeans and a shirt and cowboy boots appeared out of nowhere, and the three people followed him out toward the road. I stayed right where I was until I heard a car take off. I couldn’t see them on the road. I was down below the bank.”

“What time was this?” Otto asked.

“About five. It was about dinnertime.”

“Have you seen him here before?” he asked.

“No, sir. But I’ve heard about the naked Mexican. He charges people for that!”

“About a thousand dollars a person,” Josie said.

Agnes’s jaw dropped. “Well, I’ll swim them across for that kind of money!”

Otto smirked. “Don’t try it. It’s a bit easier to arrest you, on U.S. soil, than it is to catch a guy who just has to jump back over the river to avoid arrest,” Otto said.

“We call him Slick Fish,” Josie said. “He’s been doing this for years. He has runners up and down the river that he pays to watch for police and Border Patrol. When the area’s clear, they radio Slick and he strips down, gets his people on the inner tube, and swims them across. No engine noise, no commotion.”

“Why on earth would he come here where he has to swim across?” she asked. “There’s places in the river upstream where you can practically walk across.”

Josie looked downriver to where Agnes was pointing. “He’s got a perfect spot here. The river splits this long low hill.” She pointed to where the river dipped down a fifteen-foot bank and disappeared from view. “The cottonwood trees and the salt cedar give him cover. His scouts look up and down the road here to ensure there aren’t any cops. And he has easy access to a road. When you cross in the open desert, you can cross the border easy enough, but you’re an open target on the run. Here, it only takes fifteen minutes and he’s got three people across the border, loaded into a pickup truck, and headed north to freedom.”

“And three thousand bucks for his trouble,” Otto said.

Agnes looked horrified. “Well, you can’t just let this naked man ferry people onto my property!”

“We’ll get someone out here.” Josie handed her a business card. “You call me if you see anything else. By the time we get here the transport will probably be over, but we’ll track what times he comes and goes. We’ll get him eventually.

“And, whatever you do, don’t get involved. No yelling at him to get off your land, or firing shots, or you’re likely to get shot yourself. Understood?”

Agnes nodded, her expression grim, and slipped the card into her shirt pocket.

*   *   *

They got back in the jeep and Otto buckled his seat belt, clearly agitated. “Explain how a multimillion-dollar border fence is going to stop a guy like Slick Fish.”

“No clue,” Josie said. She’d heard the same rant from Otto for years.

“We spend a small fortune building a fence that they’ll go under, or over, or cut a hole in and drive straight through. Makes no sense.”

“It’s a deterrent. It slows them down,” she said, which was the same response she always gave.

“It’s like shoving your thumb into a hole in a dam and expecting to stop the water. The water always wins. It doesn’t work.”

Josie changed the topic. “I’ll work with Marta to set up an observation post to track Slick’s movements. It’ll be tough to find her time to get over there in the evening, but we’ll give it a shot.”

“We’ll never catch the bastard. He’s naked and he’s slick. Unless you’re right down there on the water and plan on jumping into the river and wrestling him back onto U.S. soil, he’s home free. What’s the point?”

“What are you so grumpy for?” she finally asked.

He ignored her question as she parked in front of the PD. They entered the building and found Lou behind the entryway counter, leaning against it with her hands folded in front of her, grinning as if she had a mouthful of gossip ready to spill.

“Okay. Let’s hear it,” Otto said to her.

Lou grinned wider. “Can’t. It’s a surprise. And, boy howdy, is it ever.”

Josie refrained from rolling her eyes and walked through the swinging door at the end of the counter and back toward the stairs that led to their office. Pointless gossip annoyed her almost as much as meaningless small talk.

She reached the top of the stairs and was surprised to see the office light on. Marta had another half hour before her shift began, and she wasn’t one to come in early. Then Josie smelled cigarette smoke. She knew it wasn’t from Lou sneaking one in the bathroom because she’d given up the habit several months ago and turned into an anti-smoking zealot.

Josie pushed the office door open and the “surprise” stood and smiled, blowing smoke out in a stream and dropping her cigarette into a Coke can sitting on the conference table.

Josie pushed past her shock and said, “Mom! It’s great to see you.”

“You bet it is!” She gave Josie a quick hug and turned to Otto, who had been right behind her. She walked up to him and poked a finger into his chest. “And I remember you. Officer O. Right?”

“Otto,” Josie said. “His name is Otto.”

“It’s good to see you, Beverly,” Otto said, reaching his hand out but accepting her enthusiastic hug instead.

“Of course I know this is Otto! That was my nickname for him!”

Josie didn’t remember that at all. Her mom had made the trip from Indiana to Texas once a few years back, and it had been a disaster.

“This is a big surprise,” Josie said. “What brings you here?”

Her mom planted her hands on her hips and looked offended. “Seriously? You have to ask? I came to see you!”

“Beverly, it’s a pleasure to see you again. I’m sorry to leave so soon, but I’ve got a meeting I need to get to.” Otto laid his notebook on the conference table and headed toward the door. He turned to Josie when he reached it, his eyebrows bunching up as he offered what she assumed was a sympathetic look. “I’ll see you tomorrow?”

She nodded. He didn’t have a meeting. Their shift was almost over and he had just mentioned going home to feed his goats. “See you in the morning.” Josie didn’t blame him. She didn’t want the drama either.

“I figured, you won’t call me, so I’ll just come visit in person!” Beverly said. Her voice was loud and overly cheerful in the otherwise quiet room.

“The phone lines run both ways,” Josie said.

“You going to take me out to dinner tonight? Introduce me to your friends?” her mom asked.

“A friend of mine is coming over for dinner tonight. His name is Nick. Why don’t you come by about six, and I’ll have dinner for us.”

Beverly’s face fell and her shoulders slumped. “I thought I’d be staying with you. I drove all the way out here. Gas cost a fortune. And buying all my meals along the way. I just figured you’d put me up.”

Josie felt blood rush to her face and she struggled to contain a smart remark about the visit that she’d had no time to prepare for. “I have a small place. I think it—”

“You have two bedrooms!”

“—would be better for us if we got you a room at Manny’s. You stayed there last time you were here. I’m sure he’ll have a nice room for you. And his rooms are very reasonable.”

Beverly huffed and Josie motioned to the conference table, where they both sat down. Her mom was wearing a short denim skirt and a T-shirt that fit her like a second skin. Josie acknowledged in her mind that it had been several years since she’d seen her mom, but she was fairly certain that her mom’s chest was a size or two larger now than she remembered.

“Surprised?” her mom said. “I could tell I got you when you walked in the room.”

Josie smiled, trying to warm up, to be gracious and show some appreciation for her mom. As happened with almost every visit, she felt nauseating guilt for the irritation she felt over her mom’s presence.

“You surprised me. That’s for sure,” she said. “How’s everyone back in Indiana?”

“Did I tell you Aunt Sugar got married?” Beverly asked.

Josie shook her head. She hadn’t talked to her mom in almost a year. Her mom knew that she’d not told Josie about her aunt. She’d never understood her mom’s insistence on pretending they had a close relationship when it so obviously was not the case.

“She got married a month ago and moved to Oklahoma last week. She’s my last family. Everybody else either died or deserted me. I figure, maybe it’s time to move west. Be closer to Sugar. Closer to you and my grandkids.”

Josie raised her eyebrows. She was an only child, mid-thirties, never married, no kids.

“You’re old enough. I figured I’d show up and find out you were married, with a kid on the way. You and the accountant. What’s his name? Drake?”

“His name was Dillon. And he no longer lives here. He moved back to St. Louis about a year ago. And no. I have no plans for marriage or kids in the near future.”

The intercom buzzed on Josie’s desk phone. Josie took a deep breath and walked over to her desk and pressed the button, telling Lou, “I’ll be with you in a minute.”

As she sat back down at the table, trying to avoid the feeling that her mom was baiting her, she heard the steady clomp of cowboy boots, the precursor to a visit from Mayor Moss. She briefly closed her eyes and wondered if her day could get much worse.

Thirty seconds later the mayor walked into the office, glanced from Josie to her mom, and stopped as if he’d suddenly forgotten why he was here. He played like he’d just walked into the middle of a pleasant surprise.

“Afternoon, Mayor. What can I do for you?” Josie asked.

He looked from Josie to her mom and back again. “Sisters? I definitely see a resemblance here.”

“Mayor Moss, this is my mom. Beverly Gray.”

He gave Beverly a big skeptical grin as if he couldn’t believe it. “Mother? No way. You have to be sisters.”

Beverly stood and walked around the table, stretching her hand out to shake his. Josie was relieved she didn’t go straight for the hug, or, worse yet, the kiss on both cheeks.

“I am so glad to finally meet you!” Her voice was a flirty singsong. “You happen to be the first mayor I have ever actually talked to in person. It is a real honor.”

Moss lit up like a Christmas tree.

“Josie told me all about you. I know she feels very lucky to work with you.”

Josie stared at her mom like she had lost her mind, and then felt the mayor’s eyes on her. She turned to the back of the room. “Anyone want coffee?”

“No, I’m fine, honey,” her mother called.

Honey? And why on earth had her mom told the mayor that Josie had talked about him? Her mom had no idea who she talked to or about, or the fact that Josie and the mayor had a contentious working relationship.

After another five minutes of interminable flirting between the two, Josie repeated, “What can I do for you, Mayor?”

He glanced back at Josie and cleared his throat. “I have intelligence that we need to discuss.”

Josie gritted her teeth. Her tolerance had evaporated.

“I got an anonymous phone call. There’s some bad customers taking up in town.”

Josie turned to her mom and said, “I’ll have to connect with you later.”

Beverly seemed shocked, like she couldn’t believe she was being dismissed. “So, I should just take my bags to your house? Is that what we decided?”

Josie glanced at the mayor and said, “I’ll be right back. Let me walk her out.”

The mayor extended his hand again and said what a pleasure it had been to meet such an outstanding woman. He turned to Josie. “You make sure and show your mama a good time while she’s here in Artemis. Bring her by my office one afternoon, and I’ll give her the big tour around town. You hear?”

“I sure will,” Josie said.

*   *   *

Moments later, standing in front of the police station, Josie pointed down the block. “You remember Manny’s Motel? Just remind him that you’re my mom. I’m sure he’ll give you a good rate. Do you need directions to my house for dinner?”

“Nope. I got you in my GPS.”

“Okay. I’ll see you at six, then.” Josie reached out and they hugged awkwardly. “It’s good to see you again.”

*   *   *

Back in the office, Moss had regained the stoic expression he usually wore when talking with her, one of a stern, disapproving superior. Josie wondered if he’d been so friendly with her mother just to irritate her, and she realized if that had been his intention it had worked.

Moss sat at the conference table texting on his cell phone. When Josie sat down he laid the phone on the table.

“I got an anonymous tip that something’s going down in Artemis.”

“What kind of tip? A phone call?”

“Somebody left it on the office voicemail. Helen heard it this morning when she got to work.”

“What exactly did it say?”

“There’s the problem. Helen isn’t too techno-literate. She erased the message. But she says a male, not too old, not too young, said there’s some bad business taking place in town and the police had better get a grip before it gets out of hand.”

“That’s all she remembers?”

“You want more?”

Josie laughed, incredulous. “More would be helpful. An anonymous man leaves a vague message about trouble in town. That’s not much to go on.”

“It’s not like we get anonymous tips left on the office answering machine on a daily basis. Obviously something’s up. Be vigilant. Inform the officers that there’s possible trouble. Do I need to do your job for you?”

“No, sir.”

They both stood and she watched him pick up his phone and slip it into his back pants pocket. Josie was five-foot-seven, and Moss was slightly shorter than her, although he made up for it in cowboy boots with a custom high heel. His body was shaped like an inverted triangle, with large muscular shoulders and biceps and a narrow waist. His build, coupled with a significant underbite, had gained him the nickname Bulldog with the local law enforcement.

Before he left, the mayor admonished her once again to be vigilant. Josie texted Otto, Look out. Bulldog’s got a bone.

***

Copyright © 2016 Tricia Fields.

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Tricia Fields lives in a log cabin on a small farm with her husband and two daughters. She was born in Hawaii but has spent most of her life in small-town Indiana, where her husband is a state trooper. She won the Tony Hillerman Prize for her first mystery, The Territory, which was also named a Sun-Sentinel Best Mystery Debut of the Year, and has been followed by Scratchgravel Road, Wrecked, and Firebreak.

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