Payback (The Canine Handler Book 1)

BOOK: Payback (The Canine Handler Book 1)
13.34Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub


Copyright © 2015 Maria C. Hillegas

All Rights Reserved


Cover art by Garrett Hillegas

Topographical map courtesy of


ISBN 13: 978-1-942430-40-7


Year of the Book

135 Glen Avenue

Glen Rock, Pennsylvania


No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from the author.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

This book is dedicated to all First Responders.

For all you do “So That Others May Live.”

In Memory of Maci

Beloved partner and family member (1999-2012)

You always made me look like a rock star.


Certified in Wilderness: Search and Rescue Dogs of Maryland / American Rescue Dog Association

Certified in Human Remains Detection: National Narcotic Detection Dog Association

Beneath the Fray


Underneath thin layers that bind our soul,

Creep malicious judgments dreadful yet bold.

Unwarned targets stand naively at bay,

Unaware of what might slither their way.


Murderous thoughts, malevolent not mild,

Without reins, silently galloping wild.

Among dark shadows where they lay,

Vengeance planned for another day.


Dispatch, disposal, death now is at hand.

Brutal, disastrous, from this tortured band.

Discreet, hovering, like a bird of prey,

Watching, admiring departed decay.


Satisfied with the finished piece,

Woeful mind can finally cease.

Hides away, never can she stay,

Finally content, the debt is paid.


The vacant fishing skiff floated gracefully on the quiet waters of Lake Marburg. Slowly, it made headway toward the earth-filled dam that blocked Codorus Creek. The small motor sputtered as it sustained its neutral position. A fishing pole lay limp and unused in the hull. Birds hidden among the brightly colored leaves of trees lining the shore called as the late autumn sun peeked over the lengthy concrete barrier. A peaceful calm radiated despite what may have transpired during the early morning hours.

A lone hiker made his way from the soggy trail to the edge of the shore; a sharp reflection caught his attention. The intense eastern rays stung his eyes as he peered out across the lake. He spotted a boat that bumped and bounced softly along the dam’s wall. Squinting, he wanted to make sure the small boat was unmanned before alerting authorities. Convinced there wasn’t anyone operating the vessel, he decided to report it.
Hopefully, the boat just got away and the owner was along the shore somewhere
, he thought optimistically. If they had fallen into the spring-fed waters of the lake, there’d be little chance for survival before hypothermia set in…

Chapter 1

Sarah jogged along the damp trail that embraced the lake. Overcast skies cast a gloomy gray setting. She swore under her breath as she trudged through the misty air. Her scalp was wet from the humidity and perspiration. Sweat ran down her forehead and into her eyes. They burned from the salty mix. She swiped her hand across a damp brow. It alleviated the sweat from her vision momentarily.

“Son of a bitch,” she murmured under her breath. She wiped her hand on her shorts as she moved along.
Lovely weather,
she contemplated with sarcasm and continued to push forward.
At least the wet weather is supposed to move out soon. The forecaster promised an autumn change for the better,
she remembered
The thought gave her a little inspiration as she sprinted up the last hill.

Topping the peak, she noticed a sole figure perched on the concrete bench overlooking the lake. It appeared to be a man.
Her thoughts automatically turned to protection mode. His hoody was pulled tight over his forehead, throwing his face into shadow. It gave him an ominous look.

Sarah wasn’t startled though. She would often see hikers sitting at the bench taking a break and enjoying the view. A hitching post stood beside the bench where horseback riders could tie horses, or cyclists might rest their bikes. This was a normal stopping point, halfway on the main trail which wound through the forest and around the lake.
But a man with a hoody in this weather, at this time a day? What’s he hiding?
It didn’t feel right.

Something seemed remotely familiar about the man when she moved past him. Her heart skipped a beat as she peered at him peripherally. She had a sinking feeling in her stomach. Several hairs rose up on the back of her neck.
Breathe deep,
she told herself, trying to calm her body’s reaction. Sarah pushed on harder to put distance between her and the seated figure. She thought it was someone she used to know.

Convinced it couldn’t be who she thought it was, that it wasn’t possible, Sarah dialed back her tempo and continued on at a jog. She headed toward a meadow that would drop her back onto the asphalt a few miles away from home.

Sarah liked to run. It kept her physically fit, but it also helped her decompress, relieving built-up tension that accumulated in her life.

The stresses of her daily situation were catching up to her. She had been working diligently for the last several years between a full-time position with the county and going to school. Finally, all the hard work was paying off. Graduating near the top of her class with a B.S. in criminal science, her dream of entering the FBI Academy might actually become a reality. Sarah had done well on the examinations so far and hoped to be one of the 900 accepted out of nearly 50,000 who applied each year.

In the next few weeks, she would take the last two tests required by the academy. Sarah thought they were the toughest out of all of them: the physical fitness assessment and the psychological evaluation. The first one she knew how to prepare for, but not so much the latter
. I’ve seen more in my 24 years than most people will ever see in their lifetime. I think that qualifies me more than anything.
Her mind raced as she thought back to her upbringing in the foster care system.
Nothing will stand in my way
. Sarah was determined that no matter what, she was going to make this work.

Thankful her workout was almost done, she began her cool down and pondered plans for what was left of the day. Her dogs still needed to be worked and fed. Obedience training was on the schedule.
They ought to be brushed and have their nails trimmed as well,
she realized as she remembered how their summer coats were starting to shed and be replaced by a denser winter coat. These were responsibilities she deeply enjoyed. She started a mental checklist as she walked the last quarter-mile home. Time management was always a challenge and there was much to do before she had to return to work later that night.

Chapter 2

Cracking and yawning, the old house reacted to the changing season. Autumn whispered lightly on the gentle breeze that wound its way through a stand of trees surrounding the old structure. The house had settled years ago and though solidly built, still creaked and grumbled with flexing temperatures. As evening drew closer, a chill and recent heavy rainfall took effect on the integrity of the foundation. It was as though nature and the house were having a private conversation. The dwelling radiated a character all its own.

Eva listened to the old house’s responses to the creeping of the cooler wet weather. Thoughts, schemes skirted through her determined head. She sat un-moving, transparent, as though she was just another piece of furniture. Blending in to her surroundings and not drawing attention was important to Eva; she was just part of the graying background. Calculating that the timing was right, she contemplated her next move.

Now that the occasion had finally arrived, allowing her to put her conceived strategy in motion, it was time to take action. It had been what she considered an eternity of waiting, but in fact, was only a handful of years. Remaining in the shadows fully aware that someday there would be a perfect opportunity, Eva had bid her time. Keeping patient and maintaining her silence were crucial. She knew her moment was coming. The mere thought allowed her to stay quiet and under complete control while she waited mutely. Nothing would get in her way now that the occasion had come. She wasn’t about to let anything—or anyone—block her.

Conniving, she formed a flawless plan in her mind, a deserving plan. But still she couldn’t force it. Timing was everything. She had to move forward cautiously with considered actions. Finally, she could repay debts long overdue.

Eva treaded lightly in stocking feet. Moving with careful and deliberate steps, she made sure to avoid loose hardwood floorboards to keep them from squeaking with dreaded opinion, revealing her location. She wanted to stay un-evident, anonymous and not disturb her roommate. Although it was already into the late evening, Sarah was still soundly asleep before her nightshift job and Eva tried to keep it that way.

Quietly she crept past her roommate’s slightly ajar bedroom door. As she tiptoed past the opening, she peered in just enough to see two large German Shepherds curled up in their sheepskin dog beds against the far wall. Both canines raised their substantial heads and turned to look to the hall where she stood, unmoving and rigid just outside the shadow of the door jam. Sam and Gunner emitted low guttural tones of dislike and uneasiness. She stood frozen and stared at them, lying there in the obscure light of late day which streamed in from a large window above their dog beds. Impressed with their size and regality, she also felt disdain and apprehension for the dogs. She cautiously retreated, stepping back down the hall.

The dogs always seemed to know exactly where she was in the house, regardless of her anticipated movements. The dogs didn’t care for Eva. And they made it known. Sometimes they growled and raised a lip at her, exposing large white canines. But mostly they just tried to avoid her at all costs. The dogs seemed perplexed and confused about her, always apprehensive and uneasy in her presence. Eva’s feelings were mutual. She was also a little frightened of them. Generally fearful of all dogs, she avoided interacting with them no matter what she had to do to keep her distance.

The end of the short, narrow hallway spilled into a proportionately small kitchen. The diminutive two-bedroom home sat back off the quiet and less traveled Pine Tree Road. A small lawn area at the rear of the house was surrounded by tall, mature trees that backed up to the local state park. There were insignificant trails forged by deer through the park that dropped into the rear yard. On occasion, a handful of deer could be found in the backyard eating acorns from one of the old established oak trees or raiding the bird feeders that hung on shepherd’s hooks near the edge of the deck.

Partially opening the side door from the kitchen to the breezeway, she continued to keep her movements slow and contained. She wanted to make sure the old hinges of the heavy wooden door wouldn’t groan as she pushed it the rest of the way open. Still trying to be cautious about drawing attention, she kept her actions deliberate and measured. She pushed the screen door gently and leaned out into the breezeway, visually scanning the concrete flooring of the covered space, searching for just the right pair of athletic shoes.

Her eyes finally settled on the pair she was looking for. They were an older, well broken-in pair of Merrill hiking shoes that belonged to her roommate. Both women wore close to the same size and the shoes wouldn’t be missed for the short time she intended to borrow them. They were well worn and dirty from hard years of hiking the park’s trails. It would be difficult to tell when they were last used.

Walking over to fetch them, Eva took note of the cool air coming through the passageway and inhaled deeply. As she breathed the freshness, she accepted the change of weather as a positive sign of readiness. The earlier thunderstorm had cleared the humidity and left behind clean, crisp, drier air in its place.

She sat down on a well-worn wooden bench placed by the kitchen door just for the sole purpose of putting on and taking off shoes. As she pulled the faded tan hiking shoes on, and tied them precisely, she paid close attention to the time of day and estimated how long before complete darkness settled in. The sun was slowly descending in the western sky. Long shadows already stretched and cast themselves among trees which would make the forested park dimmer and more difficult to navigate. It would also mean the park would soon be empty of most of the daytime hikers, bikers and horseback riders. Park hours were from dawn to dusk; the park was a day-use facility. But that didn’t mean the entire daytime park-goers made it out by dusk. Sometimes there were stragglers. She did a few leg stretches to flex her calves and thigh muscles before standing back up.

In the breezeway, she made one more quick check of the contents in the little fanny pack she wore around her waist. She felt satisfied she had exactly what she needed. A quick, wicked smile escaped as deep, dark inner thoughts raced across her increasingly malicious mind. It was time to get moving, daylight was getting short. Eva patted her cropped black hair with the palms of her hands and strode down the breezeway steps from the back of the house.

She crossed over the rear deck and headed across the lawn toward the nearly hidden deer trails leading directly into the park. Starting into the woods, she took one last glance over her shoulder at the back of the house. She was alarmed when she saw their eyes tracking her. The dogs stood rigid, staring intently through the bedroom window. They continued to observe her as she disappeared into the greenery and slipped into the covered forest. As she took off at a slow jog and headed deeper into the park’s forest, her thoughts shifted to what may lay ahead. She hoped her opportunity was waiting.

BOOK: Payback (The Canine Handler Book 1)
13.34Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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