RUBICON RANCH: RILEY’S STORY — Chapter 6: Cooper Dahlsing — by Christine Husom

Not again. Dear God, not again.

Cooper Dahlsing woke up standing somewhere in the desert, surrounded by cool night air. He didn’t know where, exactly. Hopefully not far from home. It was dark, but not pitch black. The light of a gibbous moon offered some illumination. No wristwatch, no cell phone. From the position of the moon, he guessed it was two or three in the morning.

As his eyes adjusted, he recognized he was on a trail he often took for his hikes. He wasn’t miles from home, fortunately. He stood for a minute, getting his bearings. Moonbeams were highlighting the metal on an object to his left. The old abandoned television set the. He blew out a relieved breath. He knew where he was and began the trek home.

Cooper thought–had hoped against hope–it had stopped for good. He should have known he would never be freed from the constant threat of occasional night adventures that were better described as night terrors. Nightmares he was actually, physically, a part of. Ones he woke up in, wondering how in the hell he had gotten there when the last thing he remembered was falling asleep in his own bed.

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Rubicon Ranch is a collaborative and innovative crime series set in the fictional desert community of Rubicon Ranch and is being written online by authors of Second Wind Publishing.

RUBICON RANCH: RILEY’S STORY — Chapter 5: Mary “Moody” Sinclair — by JJ Dare

Moody’s nose hurt.

And, she was scared.

For the past seven years, psychologist Mary “Moody” Sinclair had been used to the moist cool air of the coastal town of Winnington Bay, Washington. The dry desert air of Rubicon Ranch sucked the moisture out and left her feeling like she was breathing in tiny sand particles. The scratchiness in her nose added to all the other hurts she had suffered over the past year.

One error in judgment had cost Moody her license to practice. When conventional ADHD treatments had not helped eight-year old Chad Monroe, in a moment of self-doubt and slight panic Moody had opted for a new-age radical binding technique.

All had been going well for Moody and Chad’s parents until Chad started to convulse. Epilepsy had not shown up in any of the boy’s medical tests. Everyone, including the coroner, was left with the question: did the tight binding treatment create the epilepsy or was the epilepsy dormant until the binding triggered it?

The humiliation of the trial and its resultant three-month prison sentence added to the hurts Moody had already suffered for her part in killing Chad Monroe. It wasn’t entirely her fault, though. When the boy began to convulse, too many hands had tried to loosen the thick rope wrapped around his small body like a cocoon.

After three months in Fendleton’s Women’s Prison, Moody had been given court permission to return to her father’s home in Rubicon Ranch. When the judge realized who Moody’s father was and where Rubicon Ranch was located, he sarcastically told Moody she might wish to stay at Fendleton rather than move to another type of prison.

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Rubicon Ranch is a collaborative and innovative crime series set in the fictional desert community of Rubicon Ranch and is being written online by authors of Second Wind Publishing.

RUBICON RANCH: RILEY’S STORY — Chapter 4: Dylan McKenzie — by Nancy A. Niles

A day did not go by that Dylan McKenzie did not think about the lyrics to Bob Dylan’s “A Hard Rain Is Gonna Fall”. His mother had given him nightmares telling him stories about how the large companies were poisoning the environment.

“Someday even the rain will be made up of poisonous, toxic chemicals,” she’d told him. “And it will fall on everyone and cause horrible diseases and painful deaths.”

She spoke of the future violence to come when children carried weapons and fought in the streets. He’d once read the lyrics, but it had been like a Rubik’s cube to his young brain and he’d latched onto his mother’s wisdom and had turned Bob Dylan into his own personal idol and prophet.

As he grew older he began to wonder why nobody stopped the chemical companies, why the people of his mother’s generation were so intent on peaceful solutions, when obviously they didn’t work, and why did they spend so much time smoking pot and wiling away the days when so much work needed to be done?

Flower Power. What a cop out that turned out to be. Fear and intimidation were the only ways to get people to do what you wanted.

He had learned that much from his dad, who’d once been a flower child himself, but had since learned the real ways of the world. He’d seen his dad push people around and noticed how they backed off and let him get his own way. Dylan knew the shame of letting his dad intimidate him. But he’d always just been a kid. The day would come when the old man wouldn’t be pushing on him anymore.

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Rubicon Ranch is a collaborative and innovative crime series set in the fictional desert community of Rubicon Ranch and is being written online by authors of Second Wind Publishing.

RUBICON RANCH: RILEY’S STORY — Chapter 3: Jeff and Kourtney Peterson — by J B Kohl and Eric Beetner

Jeff Peterson stood at the window in his home office, the wide expanse of desert out before him. The starkly beautiful view went unseen as he stared down at his hands, fingers working a paper clip against the cuticles of his left hand. Beads of blood grew against his nails but he did not stop.

His daughter, his precious daughter . . . dead.

The Rolling Stones played on the stereo. He’d put on “Brown Sugar” as a tribute to Riley. Her favorite. He’d been bound and determined to raise the girl with good taste in music. “No Wheels On The Bus” for his special one. She’d been the only nine-year-old in town who even knew what a record player looked like.

After the song, Jeff let Mick and the boys play on, the memories rushing in. Leaving him gasping for air.

Each day for the past nine years he’d fended off the flood of thoughts threatening to drown him. Each day he devoted himself to Riley for fear that anything less than pure, unconditional love would undermine what it took to get her.

Now that she lay dead, a brutal act no daughter deserved, the levees broke. Nothing more held back the memories of what he had done those years ago.

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Rubicon Ranch is a collaborative and innovative crime series set in the fictional desert community of Rubicon Ranch and is being written online by authors of Second Wind Publishing.

RUBICON RANCH: RILEY’S STORY — Chapter 2: Seth Bryan — by Lazarus Barnhill

“Look I know you’re dressed for the desert and everything,” Bryan said, “but I hope you won’t be offended if I ask you to sit in the unit here for a minute or two and enjoy the air conditioning while I talk to my deputies.”

He could tell she was thinking over his request carefully, that Melanie didn’t quite trust him. She also didn’t act like someone who had just killed a child and was trying to cover it up, although—he judged—she might be clever enough to do just that.

“Well if I have to wait,” she said, “I guess I’m better off in here than out in hundred degree weather.”

Bryan opened the driver’s door. “One hundred and three degrees,” he corrected.

Frio and Midget were standing within a few feet of the discarded TV, as if to make sure the child inside did not get out and skip away. Midget paid less attention to the crime scene than the scrub brush and mounds of rock and dirt around him.

“Do we know who this was?” the sheriff asked as he joined them.

“No,” Frio said. “If she’s from this housing development, it won’t be hard to find out. Not too many girls her age up here.”

“They don’t know she’s gone,” Midget offered in his falsetto. “Otherwise they would have reported her missing before Flower Child over there found her.”

“Yeah, unless they killed her.”

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Rubicon Ranch is a collaborative and innovative crime series set in the fictional desert community of Rubicon Ranch and is being written online by authors of Second Wind Publishing.

RUBICON RANCH: RILEY’S STORY — Chapter 1: Melanie Gray — by Pat Bertram

Melanie Gray dressed all in white—loose cotton pants, billowing long-sleeved top, wide-brimmed straw hat, flowing scarf. She checked her pockets to make sure she had her cell phone, camera, and extra memory card, then grabbed a canteen of water, slung the strap over her shoulder like a bandolier, and stepped outside. Heat scorched her lungs and the glare of the desert sun burned her tear-sore eyes.

She hesitated. Maybe she should stay inside today. Seven o’clock in the morning, and the temperature had already climbed into the hundreds. She was more of a mountain girl—though at forty-three she could hardly be called a girl—and preferred the cool of higher elevations. To be fair, Rubicon Ranch lay three thousand feet above sea level, and the harsh weather and bleak desert vistas suited her present mood, but she hadn’t slept well lately, hadn’t slept much at all since Alexander died, and she had little strength to deal with the present heat wave.

Damn Alexander anyway. Why did he have to wreck the car and get himself killed? Didn’t he know better than to text while driving? And how could he have already spent their advance? Had he squandered it on the woman he’d been texting?

Melanie strode down the driveway to Delano Road, wishing their publisher wasn’t holding her to the contract for this final coffee table book. If she still had the advance, she could return the money, find somewhere to burrow, and heal in privacy, but now she had to finish the book of desert scenes by herself, and she knew nothing about photography—Alexander always took the pictures, she wrote the blurbs. Her only option was to shoot as many photos as possible using her small digital camera, and hope that by lucky accident some would be publishable.

When she reached the road, she hesitated again. Right or left? Odd how she couldn’t seem to make up her mind about anything since Alexander’s death. Not that it mattered which way she went. Most roads in Rubicon Ranch eventually wound to the desert.

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Rubicon Ranch is a collaborative and innovative crime series set in the fictional desert community of Rubicon Ranch and is being written online by authors of Second Wind Publishing.

Excerpt From “The Telephone Killer” by Paul J. Stam

A local television station is the link between a murderer and his victims. But why is he killing seemingly random people? An insurance salesman, a police officer and a hitchhiker; the police cannot connect the victims to each other much less to the killer.

The questions haunt Vince Williams as he takes charge of the task force set up to stop the serial killer. When the team comes too close to answers, the killer makes a bold and very personal move against Vince. As Vince races to find the killer and rescue his fiancé, he is haunted by the killer’s calm promise to destroy the woman Vince loves. Vince will do anything to save her. Anything.


After the funeral of Officer Remke, there was nothing more from the Telephone Killer for several weeks, and people started to forget about him. Ralph Moore was not happy with the pause in communication. He had, for a brief moment, enjoyed a certain amount of renown. For a little while, he was somebody.

It was Tuesday morning, and Bob Martin had just assigned Ralph and his crew to the Finance Committee meeting at City Hall when someone answering a phone called above the din of voices, ‟Ralph, it’s for you. Line five.”

He picked up a nearby phone expecting it to be Jessica reminding him of something and pressed the blinking button. ‟This is Ralph Moore.”

‟Good morning, Mr. Moore. This is Ferus Vitium. Do you remember me?”

As soon as Ralph heard the first words, he started waving his arms to get Bob Martin’s attention and, pointing to the phone, exaggeratedly mouthed the words, ‟It’s him. It’s him.”

Martin stopped what he was doing and looked at Ralph curiously just in time to hear Ralph say, ‟Yes, Mr. Vitium, I remember you.”

A hush fell over the newsroom and everyone looked at him expectantly. Ralph liked that.

‟First of all, Ralph, I want you to tell Bob Martin he is to give you the assignment of covering this story. If he does not, I will take future stories to some other station. Our conversation is being recorded, is it not?”

‟Yes, sir.”

‟Good. Incidentally, I don’t like Bob Martin. He is arrogant and stupid. I can’t understand why the management doesn’t realize he is a liability. The only reason I ever watch KWBD is because of the network affiliation, but that’s beside the point. What I am calling you about is the man who cut in front of me on the Beltway. Do you remember my telling you about him?”

‟Yes, sir.”

‟I’ll give you a little background for this story. I told you before how he cut in front of me. He was trying to pass another car and cut in front of me so closely I had to jam on my brakes to keep from hitting him. I wasn’t the only one he did that to. I feel those kinds of drivers should be taken off the streets. Don’t you agree?”

‟Yes, sir.”

‟I did, however, want to give him the benefit of the doubt. I thought maybe there was some emergency he was rushing to, but that was not the case. I followed him home and learned where he lived. I stalked him to learn his habits. He used to go jogging about six o’clock every Monday, Tuesday and Thursday evenings and about eight every Sunday morning. He always jogged the same route so I started doing my jogging along his route. We got familiar enough with each other that we waved and said ‘Hi’ as we passed.

‟Last night it was drizzling so there was no one walking the trails and not many joggers out either. I shot him in the area where there are all those trees and brush just behind the pavilion on the lake in Hampton Park. There was a certain amount of risk. Because of the trees I could not be sure someone was not coming around the corner, but sometimes these little risks make things interesting, don’t they?”

‟I don’t know, Sir.”

‟The police will find the body hidden in the brush by the culvert. I left a few clues for the police to play with if they know where to look. However, some of the clues may have been washed away by last nights rain. Well, that about covers it. Oh, I almost forgot. John Crawford, that’s his name, was killed at precisely six thirty-seven in the evening with the same gun that killed Officer Remke. Well, that’s it then. Do you have any questions, Ralph?”

‟No. I guess not.”

‟Incidentally,” Ferus said, “you don’t know it but in addition to having your phone at home bugged, the police have been checking you out you are probably being tailed.”

‟How do you know that?”

‟The police always do those things. They think there may be some connection between you and me.

‟One more thing. Why don’t you put out a message that if anyone else cuts me off at an intersection, cuts in front of me on the highway, or takes a parking space I have been waiting for, the same thing will happen to them that happened to Crawford. That should put the fear of Vitium into them.” He chuckled again and said, ‟Good-bye,” and hung up.

As soon as Vitium hung up Bob Martin was barking orders. ‟Ralph, you take your crew to Hampton Park. You probably can’t get there before the police, but do what you can. Radford, you find out who this John Crawford was, where he lived, and go interview the family. Be sure you get the right John Crawford. You may be the one who is going to break the news to them so do it diplomatically and sympathetically. OK. Everyone, move it.”


At age 13 Paul hunted big game in Africa with his father, not as a sport but to provide food for the station. He’s had a leopard’s face six inches from his own in the middle of the night where the only thing protecting him was the mosquito net. He has single handedly sailed a 38 foot ketch from Tahiti to Hawaii. Another time with only his wife and 13-year-old son on board, he sailed their 42 foot cutter through a hurricane.

Paul has been a construction worker (while going to college),a sailboat skipper, and  university teacher and administrator before and after his sailing days. Paul is now retired and lives in Hawaii where he spends a lot of time on the potter’s wheel making bowls and mugs and at the computer writing.

Click here to buy: The Telephone Killer

Excerpt From “Deadly Adagio” by Carole Howard

deadlyadagioEmily Radly chafes at being a tag-along spouse while her husband tries out a Foreign Service career in Dakar, Senegal.

When Margaret, her closest friend and fellow violinist in an amateur expat-orchestra, is garroted with a violin string, Emily is devastated. She also fears the official investigative team is leaping to “random anti-American violence” as its conclusion.

Emily delves into her friend’s private life for clues. She discovers Margaret was involved in a campaign against the traditional practice of female genital mutilation. Could that be behind her murder?

She risks a visit to the village where Margaret’s anti-cutting activities were centered. A crude and threatening drawing appears in her purse soon afterwards. When the Peace Corps volunteer in that village is also murdered, Emily is certain her own life is in danger.


When they got to the village, they went straight to the cinderblock clinic to see Nora. She was busy with a pregnant woman, holding a stethoscope to an enormous belly and holding up her thumb and index finger. Nyar,” she said with a grin. Emily knew from the market that nyar meant “two.” The woman was having twins, a harbinger of good luck.

Emily remembered what a shock it had been when her doctor told her she was pregnant with twins. Now, of course, she wouldn’t have it any other way. She shook the pregnant woman’s hand and gave her to understand that she was the mother of twins, too. They smiled energetically enough to make up for the lack of language.

Nora was much older than most volunteers. She embodied a certain solidity, echoed by her short stocky body. Her nose was big and hooked, her skin wrinkled, and her eyes far enough apart to sometimes give her listeners pause as to exactly where she was looking; but her self-possessed demeanor made no apology for her face, and that, in itself, made her attractive.

She took Emily and Walter to pay a courtesy call on the chief. He was old and withered but with a stature befitting his authority. The scarification on his face—which had undoubtedly been done at his initiation rite, some 50 or 60 or even 70 years ago—was elaborate and, in its own way, beautiful. The colorful embroidered cloths that were casually draped around him were similarly ornate.

Nora’s introduction was mostly in Wolof, with a little French thrown in. Emily only knew a few words in Wolof, but she heard ciif, which was easy-—it was Wolof for “Chief”—twice, once in connection with the village chief and once for Walter. There was Jere jef, of course, Wolof for “thank you.” There was an interchange whose words she didn’t understand but whose tone and body language were clearly related to her friend’s death and the chief’s sympathy. She wasn’t sure how Nora introduced her, though she thought she picked up the word ambassade.

Nobody paid much attention to her, so she let her eyes drift and her mind wander. She hadn’t been to many villages or huts, since Pete’s job mostly dealt with the physical housing arrangements of the American dips.

At first, she was diverted by the chickens and the children in the hut. They wandered from the sleeping quarters— marked by their mosquito nets, thanks to Nora—to the cooking area with its fire pit and oddly-shaped cooking implements, to the general open area where the kids and birds took turns chasing each other. She tried to concentrate on what few words she could understand. After a while, like the cooking smoke, her attention drifted upwards.

The roof was built with thin poles like bicycle spokes, but only some of them went all the way to the center, so there was an almost spokeless area of about one foot in diameter. Then the straw was laid on top of the spokes, all the way to the center, and loosely tied in bunches. The light peeked through the thatch, a bit stronger through the center hole, and so did the breeze, but not the bugs, and the smoke from the cooking fire drifted up and out, leaving only its smell.

She stared at it with her head tilted back and one hand behind her neck for support, as if she were looking at the starry sky on a camping trip. Did the Africans attend to the symmetry and balance during construction, she wondered, or was the beauty just a side effect of the functionality?

Something tugged at her pants. She got down to the tuggers’ level and started to talk to the kids, even though she knew they wouldn’t understand anything other than the universals: eye contact, smile, soft voice.


carolehowardAfter a career in which her writing largely consisted of training manuals and memos, in which clarity was the holy grail, Carole is thrilled to be writing fiction and memoir.  She lives in the beautiful and rural Hudson Valley of New York with her husband, and with her daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren just down the road apiece.

Carole gets around, having been to about 50 countries (so far), including eighteen months spent in Senegal, the setting for Deadly Adagio, while her husband was a Peace Corps Administrator. She has also been in several amateur orchestras, which is territory that, like a country, has its own language, customs, government, hierarchy, and sub-groups.

Excerpt from “It Takes Two to Strangle: A Damon Lassard Dabbling Detective Mystery” by Stephen Kaminski

When the owner of a traveling carnival is strangled—not once but twice—on opening night of the summer fair in Hollydale, the police surmise he was not well liked. As the head of Hollydale’s citizens association and local liaison with the carnival, Damon Lassard feels obligated to help his dear friend, Detective Gerry Sloman, solve the crime. Damon is determined to bring the killer to justice, to the fascination of his mother, best gal pal Rebecca, and lovely local weather girl, Bethany Krims. To unravel the threads underpinning this peculiar murder, Damon will travel far from Hollydale as his quest to find a murderer leads to the discovery of long hidden and horrific crimes.

It Takes Two to Strangle introduces Hollydale’s lovable neighborhood leader, Damon Lassard, and twists the dabbling detective through an intricate maze of greed, deception, and murder.


Damon steered his car through the downtown streets in search of a friendly place where he could gather information. He stopped at a diner on a busy street half a mile from the Uniontown mall. A short line of people smoking dotted the sidewalk to the left of the entrance. The interior of the restaurant was so brightly lit Damon had to narrow his eyes upon entering. Sitting at the breakfast bar, he ordered a lemonade and asked the waitress if she knew the baseball coach at Battle Park High School. She responded politely that the school was “a ways out of town,” and she didn’t know any of the coaches. But when she returned with his drink, she brought one of the hostesses and introduced her as a rising high school senior.

“You’re looking for the baseball coach at Battle Park?” the girl asked, knotting shoulder-length kinked black hair with her index finger. Acne and light freckles were blanketed by heavy pancake make-up, usually reserved for women three times her age.

“I am,” Damon replied. “Do you go there?”

“No, but I have friends who do. I can find out in about ten seconds.” Which she did. The hostess reached into the front pocket of her apron and removed a smart phone. She pressed a speed dial code, spoke quickly and gave him a thumbs-up in ten seconds flat. But she kept talking for another five minutes, and, without failing to remove the phone from her ear, seated a young family who had just approached the hostess stand. Damon sipped his lemonade patiently. It was terrible—made from straight powder and without enough sugar. But by the time he choked down half of it, the teen returned and gave him the name of David Johnson, who taught biology when he wasn’t coaching the team.

Great, Damon thought sarcastically, could there be a more common name? The phone book could be littered with David Johnsons and D. Johnsons. And he didn’t even know whether this particular one lived in Uniontown.

But the hostess had even more information for him—a diamond in the diner. She didn’t know whether the coach would be there, but there was a baseball complex five miles northwest of town that hosted high school summer league games almost every Sunday night during June and July.

Damon wrote down directions to the park and slipped the hostess a twenty dollar bill but left the remainder of the lemonade on the counter.


STEPHEN KAMINSKI is the author of It Takes Two to Strangle, the first book in the Damon Lassard Dabbling Detective series. He is a graduate of Johns Hopkins University and Harvard Law School. Stephen has practiced law for over a decade and currently serves as General Counsel to a national non-profit organization. He is a lifelong lover of all types of mysteries and lives with his wife and daughter in Arlington, Virginia. The second book in the Damon Lassard series is expected to be published in September 2013.


Excerpt From: “Not Safe for the Bank(er) A Fiona Gavelle Mystery” by Una Tiers

Not Safe for the Bank(er)Fiona Gavelle just wanted to get a roll of quarters but ended up in the middle of another murder investigation. Meet Father Gizzle and Mary Ann and find out whether or not Fiona gave her business card to the murderer.


The police car parked on the sidewalk didn’t suggest anything out of order, but the crowd inside the bank did. As the door hit me in the ass, I stopped like a cartoon character.

Feigning confidence to cover my indecision, I scanned the room. Ten or twelve police and an equal number of humorless guys in suits were watching me with at least scorn. Mr. Fives, the bank manager was sitting in the lounge area squeezing his face in his hands, then running them up through his hair making it stand up in goofy clumps.

His eyes widened, “Ms. Gavelle you need to help me.” He stood up part way and sank down in resignation.

Relieved to see a friendly face, and inappropriately curious, I started over to him.

“Are you okay Mr. Fives?”

Before he answered, a large man stepped between us fuming with exasperation.

“You can’t talk to him.”

“He’s asked to speak to his lawyer.” I searched for a poker face to apply. Oh how I love when my mind works at lawyer speed.

After some mumbling and discussion among the suits and uniforms, the large man stepped aside and Mr. Fives and I went into his office. The floor to ceiling glass walls would drive me crazy but in a bank I guess they were necessary. Mr. Fives looked considerably less handsome with a splotchy face than when sitting at his desk printing out extra copies of my monthly statements or hawking a new credit card feature.

“I don’t know what happened…” he started.

A slight blur of movement distracted me. “Wait,” I held up my hand.

“They think I…” He blundered.



“Ssh.” I whispered impatiently.

For a few seconds he looked confused. Looking through to the curious crowd inching closer to the glass, watching us without shame, he figured it out. Turning his back to the glass window, he continued. “Carol’s dead. She was murdered in the vault this morning.” His nose was running and he wiped it on a real handkerchief wadded up in a death grip in his hand.

“Carol?” I started. “Murdered?”

“Dead, murdered, gone, and they think I did it because I was the last one in the vault last night.”

“You didn’t admit anything did you?”

His wretched look suggested he had. Didn’t he watch television? Innocent questions and honest answers always get people in trouble.

My fingers were less than steady when I pulled out my cell phone and called Bob Noodle, an attorney who actually practices criminal law. I’m just a reasonable faker because I watch lawyer and cop programs and reruns of Police Woman.


Bio: Una Tiers is an attorney in Chicago, Illinois. She murders people (on paper) to relieve stress or if they sass her. Her school chum asked if she would be in one of her books and the result is Not Safe for the Bank(er). It’s a short story/humorcide.