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BLOOD ON THE TRACKS
Sydney Rose Parnell Series
BY BARBARA NICKLESS
A young woman is found brutally murdered, and the main suspect is the victim’s fiancé, a hideously scarred Iraq War vet known as the Burned Man. But railroad police Special Agent Sydney Rose Parnell, brought in by the Denver Major Crimes unit to help investigate, can’t shake the feeling that larger forces are behind this apparent crime of passion.
In the depths of an icy winter, Parnell and her K9 partner, Clyde―both haunted by their time in Iraq―descend into the underground world of a savage gang of rail riders. There, they uncover a wide-reaching conspiracy and a series of shocking crimes. Crimes that threaten everything Parnell holds dear.
As the search for the truth puts her directly in the path of the killer, Parnell must struggle with a deadly question: Can she fight monsters without becoming one herself?
“A stunner of a thriller. From the first page to the last, Blood on the Tracks weaves a spell that only a natural storyteller can master. And a guarantee: you’ll fall in love with one of the best characters to come along in modern thriller fiction, Sydney Rose Parnell.” ~ Jeffery Deaver
“Beautifully written and heartbreakingly intense, this terrific and original debut is unforgettable. Please do not miss Blood on the Tracks. It fearlessly explores our darkest and most vulnerable places—and is devastatingly good. Barbara Nickless is a star.” ~ Hank Phillippi Ryan
BLOOD ON THE TRACKS
Sydney Rose Parnell Series
BY BARBARA NICKLESS
Editorial Note: The following is a murder scene and may be disturbing to some readers, although it is still PG-13. (What you might see on crime television.)
This is the conclusion to a scene early in the book in which my protagonist, railroad cop Sydney Parnell, has been called in by a Denver homicide cop, Detective Cohen, to consult on a crime scene. Sydney served as a Marine in Mortuary Affairs in Iraq, where she processed the dead. Because of this experience, the last thing she wants is to be pulled into a violent murder investigation.
The victim, Elise, is the niece of a family friend, Nik. (Sorry for all the names. I promise there won’t be a quiz!)
While Cohen asked the three people squeezed in the back bedroom to give us a moment, I did a quick meditation, the way the VA counselor had taught me.
I am not here. I am far away. Nothing can touch me.
The others had cleared out. Cohen was looking at me again.
I took a breath; the Xanax unfurled in my blood like a roll of velvet. I stepped to the doorway.
The killing had been savage, leaving the victim no dignity even in death. Elise Hensley had been sliced and diced, her stomach opened, her bare arms flayed. The walls of the room were sprayed with arterial blood, her hair matted with it. From the wreck of her face, her eyes stared at the ceiling.
Everywhere along the walls, written over the blood and smearing it, were symbols drawn in what looked like black Sharpie. Circles and arrows, hatch marks. A stick figure of a cat.
The work of a madman.
“Damn,” I said, thinking that this had to have been done by one of my homeless guys. By someone I knew.
“When we first saw these, we thought it was some sort of cult thing,” Cohen said.
I shook my head. “You were right about it being hobo sign. Like the cat outside.”
“What do they mean?”
“The circle with two arrows across it means to get out fast—hobos aren’t wanted here. The circle next to the square means a bad man lives here. Elise have a roommate?”
“Not according to the landlady. An on-and-off boyfriend. Maybe the guy in the missing photo. What about the next sign, the one that looks like a snowman holding a ball?”
“It means sucker. Someone who is easy to catch.”
“The killer describing himself in all of these?”
“Could be. But the cat means this is the home of a kindhearted woman. So why kill the kindhearted woman?”
“Beats the hell out of me,” he said. “Maybe because you’re a bad-hearted man.”
A tic started in his jaw and his eyes went hollow. Could be murder cops get PTSD, too.
We put on masks and entered the room. Air coming in through the half-open window chilled my face.
“Left open to hide the odor?” I asked.
“Might buy the killer a day or two. But someone phoned it in.”
“Anonymous call. A kid, sounded like. Teenager, maybe.”
I bent down and looked under the bed.
“Your guys look under here?”
“Yeah. A couple of beads, right? They’ll bag ’em when we’re done.”
I pulled the Maglite from my duty belt and played the beam beneath the bed. A cluster of dust bunnies shivered in the far corner. Three carved wooden beads had rolled against the baseboard, their colors bright. “Hobo beads. In case we weren’t sure about Elise’s connections. Your crime scene guys reach under the bed?”
“Only photos so far. Why?”
“The dust has been disturbed. Maybe the necklace broke in a struggle, and the killer tried to collect the beads and got scared off.” I straightened, returned the flashlight to my belt. “You find any other beads?”
“One. Against the wall there.”
He waited while I snapped my own pictures. I didn’t ask permission, and he didn’t ask what I was doing.
“Anything else you want me to look at?” I said. “I need to call Nik.”
“That’s it. Thanks, Parnell. Appreciate it.”
Following Cohen out of the room, I stopped and made myself turn back. Elise had been a beautiful woman, with bright-blond hair and porcelain skin. The sweetest smile this side of the Mississippi, Nik always said.
Automatically, because cleaning up the dead had been my job for fourteen months, I made her beautiful once more. In my mind, I closed her wounds, washed away her blood. I shampooed her hair and combed it, arranged her slashed hands upon her breast. Then I did what no mortician could. I rebuilt her shattered face and restored the flush to her cheeks, the pulse to her throat. I made her smile.
In my mind, I made her whole.
Meet Author Barbara Nickless…
Barbara worked as a raptor rehabilitator, astronomy instructor, sword fighter, piano teacher, and instructional designer before she got serious about writing. Now an award-winning author, she lives in Colorado where she loves to snowshoe, hike and drink single malt Scotch—usually not at the same time. Blood on the Tracks, winner of the Daphne de Maurier Award of Excellence, is her first novel.
Links to Barbara’s website, blog, books, etc.
I’d love to hear from readers! Please check out my blog and website at www.barbaranickless.com. Or connect with me on Twitter–@BarbaraNickless. You can find my book in your local bookstore or at https://www.amazon.com/Blood-Tracks-Sydney-Rose-Parnell-ebook/dp/B01B1OGQH4/ref=zg_bs_digital-text_16
**SPECIAL GIVEAWAY**: Barbara is giving away a Kindle copy of BLOOD ON THE TRACKS to one lucky reader who comments on her **Author Peek** Interview or Book Bench blogs. Thanks, Barbara, for sharing your book with us!
Don’t miss the chance to read this book!