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A Timber Creek K-9 Mystery
BY MARGARET MIZUSIMA
Deputy Mattie Cobb is in a dark place and has withdrawn from Cole Walker and his family to work on issues from her past. When she and her K-9 partner Robo get called to track a missing junior high student, they find the girl dead on Smoker’s Hill behind the high school, and Mattie must head to the Walker home to break the bad news. But that’s only the start of trouble in Timber Creek, because soon another girl goes missing—and this time it’s one of Cole’s daughters.
Knowing that each hour a child remains missing lessens the probability of finding her alive, Mattie and Robo lead the hunt while Cole and community volunteers join in to search everywhere. To no avail. It seems that someone has snatched all trace of the Walker girl from their midst, including her scent. Grasping at straws, Mattie and Robo follow a phoned-in tip into the dense forest where they hope to find a trace of the girl’s scent and to rescue her alive. But when Robo does catch her scent, it leads them to information that challenges everything they thought they knew about the case.
Mattie and Robo must rush to hunt down the kidnapper before they’re too late in Hunting Hour, the third installment in critically acclaimed author Margaret Mizushima’s exhilarating mystery series.
“You wanna go to work now, Robo? Do ya?” She continued to use a high-pitched voice as she led him toward the southwest corner of the property, avoiding the west side where he’d failed to work previously. He pranced beside her in heel position and waved his tail, his eyes fixed on her as if awaiting instruction; he appeared much more like himself—intent and on the job.
Brody had dispersed the crowd, although a few people lingered around the school boundary, as if hoping to watch the show. Mattie decided to ignore them. Once she’d reached the point where she wanted to start, she asked Robo to sniff the scent article. This time he gave it his full attention and went right to work, quartering the area she directed, nose to the ground, and moving his head back and forth as he searched. She unsnapped his leash and trusted him to do his job, hurrying behind to keep up, occasionally directing him to sweep around the school perimeter in a large circle.
When they reached the east side, Robo hesitated at the sidewalk, giving it a thorough sniffing. Then he trotted away from the school, keeping his nose to the ground. Surprised, Mattie followed.
She glanced behind to see Brody following at a distance, alone. Before she turned her attention back to Robo, she heard Brody shout at a group of boys to stay put, and she knew he’d keep the bystanders in line so that she and her dog could focus on the track.
Robo led her eastward for several blocks and then across the street, heading for the high school. He kept his nose down and didn’t hesitate; Mattie felt certain Candace had come this way instead of going west toward her home. Robo continued along the sidewalk toward Timber Creek High and then turned onto school property.
He skirted the edge of the school, moving along the rough stone-and-metal siding of the walls toward the side doorway. His ears pricked forward, and he paused to sniff the sidewalk, circling the area outside the door, nose down. Mattie imagined the trail he’d been on mingling with all those scents left by other kids, and she feared he’d lose the track.
But Robo kept searching, and he stayed with it until he moved off again toward the far corner of the building. From there, he picked up speed, heading up a well-trodden pathway that led to the hill at the backside of the building, which students had dubbed Smoker’s Hill even before her own tenure.
The steep incline challenged Mattie’s tired muscles. She’d walked this trail countless times as a teen—and yes, once she’d been one of the teenage smokers the hill was named for—but it had been years since she’d been back here. Even so, nothing had changed. Same elevation rising at a diagonal toward the top, same vegetation made up of dry grasses, rabbit brush, sharp yucca and cactus, everything just beginning to green. Same boulders and outcroppings dotting the hillside, providing plenty of places to hide.
Ambush. Something she thought of every time she followed Robo into this type of terrain. She scanned the hillside, telling herself she was silly to worry.
This is the hill behind the school, right here in town, for Pete’s sake. Still, she kept a watchful eye on the boulders as she climbed.
Would she find Candace up here, casually sharing a cigarette or a joint with a friend? Surely a kid with asthma would know better than to smoke.
Robo continued up the trail, his ears darting forward and back. About halfway to the top, he breached a rise that led into a depression surrounded by scattered boulders and rocks of all sizes. After following him down into the bowl, she scanned the area, realizing no one could see her from the bottom of the hill. Isolated.
There were changes on the ground, torn sod and footprints, as if there’d been a scuffle. They spoke to her.
The hair on her neck rose about the same time it did on Robo’s. Something bad had happened here; Robo could feel it, and so could she. She glanced behind her to see if Brody was near, but the rise blocked her view.
She hurried to keep up with Robo, who was trotting off-trail now and heading around a rocky outcropping farther up the hillside. He disappeared behind it, and Mattie ran to keep him in sight. Sprinting uphill, she rounded the rocky area and found him sitting beside a clump of rabbit brush, staring at her.
“What is it? What did you find?”
She spotted something under the brush. Denim . . . jeans. The setting sun provided dim light. Shadows gradually took shape. Jean-clad legs.
Mattie squatted beside Robo, gently pushing the brush aside so she could see what lay beneath. She heard and felt Brody come up beside her, but she couldn’t divert her gaze to look at him.
The girl lay on her back, hands folded on her chest, eyes closed. Only the broken fingernails, blue-tinted lips, and red abrasions on her face belied her peaceful repose. Curly brown hair—no doubt it was Candace. Dead.
Mattie sucked in a breath and slipped an arm around Robo, hugging him close while her eyes rose to meet Brody’s shocked expression.
“Shit, Cobb,” he muttered. “What the hell’s going on in this town?”
Margaret Mizushima is the author of the Timber Creek K-9 mystery series, which includes Killing Trail (2015) an RT Reviewer’s Choice Award nominee for best first mystery; Stalking Ground (2016) a Colorado Book Award and International Book Award finalist; and Hunting Hour (2017). She has a background in speech pathology and practiced in an acute care hospital before establishing her own rehabilitation agency. Currently, she balances writing with assisting her husband with their veterinary clinic and Angus cattle herd. She enjoys reading and hiking, and she lives on a small ranch in Colorado where she and her husband raised two daughters and a multitude of animals. She can be found on Facebook/Author Margaret Mizushima, on Twitter @margmizu, and on her website at www.margaretmizushima.com.
Links to Margaret’s website, blog, books, etc.
Thanks, Margaret, for sharing your book with us!
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