Read Behind the Pines (The Gass County Series Book 3) Online
Brody Jensen stepped out in the sunlight, cracked his back like an old crust of stale bread. Maybe his fitness routine had to be updated, he thought, or maybe his weary muscles were growing old. “Damn forties,” he muttered in frustration and squinted at the faded sun pushing its rays through a number of clouds filling the sky like patches of cotton candy dusted on a blue pallet.
His white cruiser was fortunately as shiny as he had left it in spot number seven in the crowded parking lot the previous morning when he had arrived at the convention center. Thanks to the parking spot, his cruiser had an even number of cars securely cushioning its steel from foolish people carrying heads filled with poor decisions, something that calmed his obsessive compulsive mind.
No break-ins, no dust from the crushed pieces of autumn leaves scattered on the ground around his feet, and no one had made the even the slightest of dents anywhere in the polished automobile. At the same time, only a fool would crash a police convention.
His chest heaved and he blew out an exhausted breath into the chill September air as his bottom landed in the comfortable car seat, worn to the shape of his behind. His muscles antsy from the hard chairs provided at the convention. For a few seconds he let darkness coat his weary eyes and he leaned his head back against the headrest.
He enjoyed his job. He enjoyed interacting with the public to some extent—if only people followed the rules—but having to remain social and to pleasantly smile for two solid days with a group of forty officers, most with the same personality as his own, were attributes of torture. He’d waved his last farewell to Officer Melanie Orchard across the entrance hall to the convention center before leaving behind the depressing gray bunker of cement and tall windows. A place he predicted felt just as much like a prison as the town’s holding cell felt to those unable to follow what was written in the law book. He waited for the Zen-like quietness of returning to the opal fields and the whispering wheat stalks bowing in the musty winds pushing through Gass County’s finest city, Primrose Valley.
Ah, the privacy of the valley, his hometown and residence he’d sworn to protect from the first day of Ms. Allen’s safety class in kindergarten, until the day Pastor Hendriksen puts the last nail in his coffin and dumped the final shovel of the chapel’s brown dirt on top of his lifeless body.
That day, that sorrow, he thought. Not for
, but for the town. Not that he was overly full of himself, or at least he was not letting it slip out into the public eye that he from time to time admired himself dressed in full uniform, in the hallway mirror, before driving to work in the morning. Still, he knew his shoes would be damn hard to fill once his days in Primrose Valley were over.
The cruiser fell into reverse under his hand and warily rolled out of spot seven. Cautiousness always his mantra, well that and his slight obsessive-compulsive disorder he tried to hide in the company of others. At home his neatness could roam freely and, without someone to share his days, things already organized stayed put. The thought of it made his toes curl.
A few miles down the busy freeway, he felt more at ease and waved a farewell to the rush of traffic crowding him from behind and steered down the narrowing road where the familiar white-and-blue sign pointed to Primrose Valley.
“Ah,” he breathed, satisfied. “Finally my type of speed.” He was looking forward to another forty miles of empty road winding softly homeward like the curves of a slithering snake through Barney’s Forest and Farmer Gert’s wide pastures, where white fences girded fields of yellows and reds, of trotting mares, and cows munching their daily quota of greens. Just knowing these familiar sights were there presenting themselves around the next few turns, calmed him. His chest no longer heaved in a struggle of pretended niceness and social skills, neither of which he predicted he possessed.
“Jesus Christ!” Under his hands the leather of the steering wheel grew damp with perspiration and his foot smashed the brake pedal into the floor as a dark shadow crossed the road in front of him in high speed “What the hell was that?” he said, out of breath. Still gripping the wheel, he noticed the view from his car was somewhat altered. The car was close to sliding down the gravel into the muddy ditch, and the tail of his cruiser had crossed the yellow dividing line. If he’d hit something, he would have felt it, at least his car might have given off smoke, but this, this was nothing. The surrounding atmosphere of the car was as serene as it had been a few seconds before, and his heart was the only thing speeding, thumping hard against his ribs, the resonating sound filling his ears, but the rest of the world lay quiet, as if he hadn’t just spun around on the road.
As he straightened the vehicle and stepped out onto the asphalt, there was nothing but a whisper from the trees and the slow movement of tall grass bending in the soft wind.
“Hello?” His voice echoed among the tree trunks into the dense forest beside the eerie country road. “Is there anybody there?” With hands resting on his hips, he waited for a response, but got nothing but disappointment. He tried his voice once more before shaking his head, relieving his mind from imaginary ghosts and turning back to the cruiser. A sudden noise took him by surprise and as he turned to draw his gun, black fur flew against him at the speed of a rocket, knocked him to the ground, and disappeared just as quickly among the trees on the other side of the road.
He reached to his belt, fingering the cool metal of his handgun should the beast return, until a woman’s voice called from behind him.
“Brutus, come back here now! Now, I say!”
He gripped his hat that had fallen to the ground and, the moment he pushed himself up from the cold asphalt, the crunching of leaves revealed a young woman running across the road, following the thing that had previously almost killed him. Not only had the wind caught her blonde hair and tussled it, but a leaf hung loosely in its strands.
“Sorry!” she yelled as she leaped over his flashlight that he noticed had tumbled off his belt. “He got away again and I have to stop him before he goes butt-crazy chasing Gert’s cows!”
The trees swallowed her figure as they had done the creature before, and quietness once more reigned the road. Brody stood tall and brushed the front of his shirt and straightened his tie. “Twenty seconds and I almost got killed, twice,” he muttered and sucked in a cleansing breath.
“Calm down, you are fine,” he told himself as he quietly watched the area between the narrow trees where the villains had vanished. “Crazy people.”
“Hi, Brody. How was your afternoon?”
“Wendy.” He tilted his hat, greeting his new office assistant as the door to the police station closed behind him. Calling it a station was overrated, because the building was quaint and held a minuscule main hall where Wendy had enough room to roll her office chair across the floorboards when moving between cabinets and the front desk. Brody had often found it embarrassingly small when officers from outside his jurisdiction came to visit, but over the years had otherwise grown to like it. The station resembled a lumberjack’s forest cottage, but with him and Wendy being the only two employees, it fit them well. Mostly, he enjoyed the quietness his office door provided when Wendy spoke to her girlfriends on the phone during breaks, or when Bernard Winston came in to file yet another complaint about drivers enjoying the road bump outside of his house a bit too much, constantly asking if Officer Brody was still too busy to set up a roadblock?
He grabbed his Stetson and dropped it on a chair behind the office door before opening a cupboard containing a number of painkillers he’d used over the last few months. He popped a few into his mouth and with a gulp of coffee from his thermos, he swallowed them.
“It’s that bad, huh?” a voice sang from behind him, making him drop the thermos and the rest of the coffee with it. “Holy shit, you scared me! Don’t you ever do that again!” He pressed his hand hard against his chest. “You almost gave me a heart attack, Melanie. Jesus fucking Christ. I just waved you good-bye not too long ago.” His eyes were bemused, looking at his watch which said it had been less than three hours since he’d seen her.
She pointed at the motorcycle helmet at her feet and continued. “Don’t underestimate yourself, Brody. You might be in sporadic pain but you’re not that old, are you?” Melanie stood and walked over to look him up and down.
“Stop looking at me like that.”
“Is it because I’m invading your private space?” She stepped closer, the toes of her shoes touching his. “Or because I’m a woman?”
She smiled at him, smug, teasing.
“I’m not going to pretend I know what you meant, but by all means, stare as much as you want. I’ve been gone for a while and I need to sit down for a second.”
The chair squeaked as he sat and he was glad for its noise, hoping it concealed the creaks and pops his body made just about every time he moved.
“What that means,” Melanie planted her bottom on the side of the desk, looking down at him, “is that you need to get used to women. Period. No more excuses and no more pushing them away. It was unbearable watching you interact with the female officers at the conference.”
“Stop talking about ‘women issues,’ I’m doing perfectly fine. How’s Wayne, by the way?”
“Oh, I get it. Change of topic. Smart move there, Officer.”
She smiled again and stood, pacing the tight space of the office. “Wayne is shaken up and is honestly in need of a good psychologist. He’ll be fine, but waking up to stare into the opening of a gun, watching a bullet penetrate someone’s head from a foot away, are things etched deep into his memory, you know.”
“I know I’m a cop, but hearing you speak of it with such ease makes it more distasteful,” he muttered. He stood to find a roll of paper towels stacked above the cabinet, threw a few sheets down and wiped off the coffee residue lingering like a shadow of failure on the floor.