Read Hallowed Ground Online

Authors: Lori G. Armstrong

Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Murder, #Mystery & Detective, #Women Sleuths, #Kidnapping, #Indians of North America, #Kiddnapping, #South Dakota

Hallowed Ground

Previous accolades for Lori G. Armstrong’s first novel, BLOOD TIES:

2006 Private Eye Writers of America SHAMUS Award Nominee for Best First Novel!

“. . . a fascinating tale of intrigue that will sweep you into a world of horror and suspense.”

–NY Times Best selling author, Clive Cussler

“Lori G. Armstrong’s BLOOD TIES is a gripping debut mystery, vividly set in The Black Hills of South Dakota.”

–Kathleen Taylor, Author of the TORY BAUER MYSTERIES

“Hard as nails, a barroom brawler—and a chick! Lori Armstrong’s creation is born of the Black Hills. Tough, sensitive and smart, Julie Collins is a welcome addition to the private eye genre. In BLOOD TIES she breaks all the rules.”

–Stephanie Kane, Author of SEEDS OF DOUBT

“I highly, highly recommend Ms. Armstrong’s debut read. She provides plenty of edge of your seat reading.”

–K. Ahlers, Independent Reviewer

“Lori Armstrong writes a compelling story that will hold your interest from the first page. I was glued to my chair from the prologue and couldn’t stop reading until I finished it. BLOOD TIES

is a roller coaster ride of danger and excitement that will have your heart pumping and your emotions twisting like a wet dish rag. I loved this book, and if you like kick-butt heroines and a fast paced mystery, you will too.”

–C.Cody, www.romancejunkies.com

“If you want to walk on the seamier side with a good murder mystery, you will enjoy BLOOD

TIES.”

–Romance Reviews Today

“BLOOD TIES by Lori G. Armstrong is a thrilling roller of a mystery that taunts you to try and solve the riddle. The suspense was superb, keeping you glued to the page. Your subconscious urging you to read just one more page, get one more piece of the puzzle.”

–In The Library Reviews

TOP PICK! 4 1/2 stars!

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS:

Thanks to Medallion Press—Helen, Leslie and Wendy.

My gratitude to Supermom, Super Lawyer and an awesome friend, Jane Wipf Pfeifle, who eagerly tracked down answers to some strange legal questions. I want to be you when I grow up!

A shout out to the mechanics, nurses, law enforcement personnel, gunsmiths, and state agencies that shared their expertise with me. Any legal, medical, procedural, political, technological errors are strictly my own.

Thanks to my yoga teacher, K.D. for keeping me sane every day.

A huge thank you to my critique partners, Mary LaHood and Arianna Hart.

Thanks to my friends and family for the love and enthusiasm.

Praise be to my super daughters Lauren, Haley and Tessa, for believing I’m Supermom even when I’m not.

To my husband, Erin, the love of my life . . . twenty years and counting baby!

PROLOGUE

Late afternoon

ATONEMENT DAY.

Anticipation streamed down his spine in a river of sweat.

He blotted moisture from his neck with a stained bandana, cursing the heat. It was like being in a pressure cooker. His gaze darted like a spooked jackrabbit, never stopping long in one place.

Weeds sprouted inside the shack, trailed up the buckled walls and poked through the broken rafters. Shards of glass, dulled by rodent and bird droppings covered the wooden floor.

Hard to believe people ever lived in this shithole.

The door hinge screeched. Dim, watery light sliced the dimness, creating a morass of fleeting shapes and shifting shadows.

Two figures were herded to the center.

“Jesus, it reeks in here. Didja hafta pick a place that smells like an outhouse?”

“You wanted remote.” The man scrunched his nose, his eyes eclipsed by the fleshy folds of his face. His blood pulsed, synchronized to his footsteps as he clomped over the planked floor.

He ripped off her gag. A single beam of sunlight reflected off the metal barrel.

“Please. Don’t hurt us.”

Her shrill voice grated on him; a broken tree limb scraping a windowpane.

A hard knot of enmity tightened his grip on the pistol. “On your knees.”

The man huddled next to her dropped to the ground like a sack of wet grain.

“Come on, I ain’t got all day.”

“Don’t do this,” she pleaded, swaying to the filth beneath her feet. “I’ll tell you anything you want. Just let him go. He had nothin’ to do with it.”

“Shut up.” He swung the long, silver barrel toward her companion. “Ain’t got nothin’ to say?

Gonna let her beg for your worthless life?”

“My ancestors were Sioux warriors. I don’t beg.”

“Ooh,” he taunted, “tough guy.”

The other man stationed by the door laughed.

“Where were your superior warrior skills when I hogtied you, huh?”

The Lakota man stared ahead without blinking.

Furious at the haughty attitude, the man kneed the Indian in the face.

Blood spurted. The blow knocked him sideways.

Satisfaction was short-lived when he realized his captive hadn’t uttered a sound.

Grabbing the braid, he yanked him vertical again. “Still feeling invincible,
Tonto
?”

“No.” Blood, a brighter red than his skin poured from his misshapen mouth. “I won’t lay down, waitin’ for you to shoot me like some diseased dog.”

“Lucky for you, the wait is over. Enjoy the happy hunting grounds.”

He fired.

The first shot struck the forehead, slicing off the top of his skull, sending blood, bone, and brain matter splattering across the floor.

Across her face.

The second shot ripped through his chest. His heart exploded upon impact, darkening his skin in a grotesque tribal tattoo. The force of the blast jerked him backward, a discarded marionette.

Her shrieks cut through the deafening aftermath of gunfire.

Pungent clouds of gun smoke hung, momentarily obscuring the man’s vision, but not his objective.

Dangling the big pistol by his thigh, he slanted his head to inspect his marksmanship. “Appears the brave warrior done been scalped. Ain’t that right, sweetheart?”

Obscenities flew from her mouth. Snot and tears tracked the crimson spatters. Retching and weeping, she struggled to escape, slipping in the dirt and fluids coating the floor.

“Didja hafta make such a fuckin’ mess? Why didn’t ya use a .22?”

“Thought we were supposed to make a statement. Nothing makes a statement like a Smith and Wesson .44 mag.”

He snorted. “Who the fuck you think you are, East-wood? Come on. Grab her and let’s go.”

The man polished the warm muzzle against his cheek, relishing the familiar aroma of gun oil that couldn’t mask the stench of dust and despair.

“What’re you waitin’ for? She’s scared shitless. Now she’ll tell us what we wanna know. Let’s get outta here. This place gives me the fuckin’ creeps.”

The man cradling the gun casually twisted his body.

He riddled the guy with the four remaining bullets before the fool had a chance to raise his weapon.

Fitting, the man thought, as he stood over the twitching form, the Swiss cheese body now matched his face.

He reloaded the cylinder. Six more bullets.

Glass crunched as he tracked the woman cowering in the corner like a whipped pup.

Cocking the hammer, he sited her trembling lips. Her slender throat. Her breasts. The notch between her thighs, which had enthralled lesser men.

“Don’t kill me.”

He bent forward until her hair flowed against his cheek soft as goose down. Her fear was potent; the ultimate rush.

“Beg me,” he whispered.

“Please. Let me go. No one will ever know. I won’t tell nobody he did it. Ever. I swear.”

“Yeah, I know you won’t.”

He fired. Twice.

After wiping the sticky blend of sweat, blood, and gunpowder residue from his jowls, he jammed his gun in the holster.

Slippery fingers punched in a number on his cell phone.

“It’s done.”

The bandana fluttered to the floor, forgotten in his haste to escape into the blistering sun.

CHAPTER 1

One week earlier . . .

THE DOG DAYS OF SUMMER DIDN’T INCITE THE EUPHORIA I remembered from my youth.

No agenda except endless hours of swimming and bike riding. Running through the sprinkler.

Stretching out in the freshly mown grass, watching clouds billow into mysterious shapes or form towering thunderheads. Drinking Kool-Aid. Making mud pie masterpieces and dandelion necklaces.

A wave of sleepiness washed over me. What I wouldn’t give for a nap right about now. I lifted my hair, letting the gentle breeze cool my sweaty neck and soothe my over-worked adult soul.

The breeze turned gusty, shearing the documents on my desk into a mini-tornado. Pity, the paper that had landed on my cigarette didn’t immediately burst into flames, like the cool burning map at the start of
Bonanza.
But, the edges did start to char quite nicely.

I grabbed the smoking paper and accidentally tipped over my Big Swig. Crap. Four hours worth of paperwork now swam in a lake of Diet Mountain Dew. Looked like the Jolly Green Giant had pissed on my desk.

“Fuck,” I yelled to nobody in particular, complete with hand gestures. “Fuck, fuck, fuck!”

Two raps sounded on the open door adjoining my office to the reception area.

I glanced up.

Tony Martinez leaned against the jamb.

Hello
. My heart did a slow roll then a hard thump.

He lifted a dark brow. “So, blondie, was that an invitation?”

“Not for you.” I resisted the urge to smooth my hair, check my teeth for lipstick smears, pop a TicTac.

“Shame,” he said, flashing perfect white teeth at me, complete with a sexy dimple deep enough to fall into. “And here I’d hoped you’d changed your mind.”

I gave him a cool once-over, which he allowed.

Martinez and I had gotten tangled up in a case a few months back. I hadn’t seen him since, but I remembered, and had seriously considered, his open-ended invitation to get tangled up in his sheets. His offer still held a certain appeal, which my common sense refused to acknowledge—an attitude my body tried to change.

Despite his badass biker appearance, Martinez is, for lack of a better term, a businessman. He owns two bars, Fat Bob’s, a biker hangout, and Bare Assets, a strip joint. Oh, and he’s the president of the Hombres, a local motorcycle “club” rumored to control nefarious commerce in our area.

I busied myself scooping up the soggy mess. “What brings you to the respectable side of town?”

“Just checking to see how the private dick business is treating you.”

“Swell.” The Cromwell report made a soft, wet thud as it plopped into the metal wastebasket.

“Nice office. Great artwork.” His astute gaze passed over rust-colored walls, showcasing my collection of local artists and lingered on the large green and blue Sioux pottery wedding vase nestled next to the golden buffalo skin chair.

“Thanks.” I’d slaved to create a warm, welcoming space, unlike the austere, utilitarian office I’d left behind three months ago.

After quitting my secretarial job at the Bear Butte County Sheriff’s Department, I’d hoped the mundane part of my life had ended. Truthfully, the working hours of a PI were worlds apart from TV shows. My days were spent verifying and documenting research. Followed by piles of paperwork to fill out and file. Endless phone calls. Snooze city.

With the Internet, I had access to information from my brand-spanking new Gateway.

No wire taps, no confrontations between jilted lovers, no aha! moments. My hard-hittin’-hard-livin’-PI fantasies had been dealt a serious blow. I’d wrinkle up like Jessica Fletcher if I waited for trouble to stumble in. Few clients crossed our humble threshold, preferring to conduct business via telephone, fax, or email.

Tony Martinez was far from humble. Why he chose today to cross my threshold remained to be seen. Pathetic, that I’d gladly embrace his brand of trouble just to relieve the tedium.

“You been busy?” I asked, remembering my manners.

“Hit a slow patch this time of year.” He shrugged. “It’ll pick up next month.”

August. Sturgis Rally. Bike week. A motorcyclist’s version of heaven, my personal vision of hell. Half a million bikers descended on the sleepy South Dakota town that boasts 7,000 full-time residents. Shuddering, I made a mental note to pencil in vacation time.

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