New York Times bestselling author Stuart Woods delivers a riveting thriller that introduces an exciting addition to the pantheon of fictional sleuths.
Forced into early retirement at thirty-seven, smart, attractive, and fiercely independent Major Holly Barker trades in her bars as a military cop for the badge of deputy chief of police in Orchid Beach, Florida. But below the sunny surface of this sleepy, well-to-do island town lies an evil that escalates into the cold-blooded murder of one of Holly's new colleagues.
An outsider, Holly has little to go on for answers and no one to help her—except Daisy, a Doberman of exceptional intelligence and loyalty that becomes her companion and protector. The closer she gets to the truth, the more Holly knows that it'll take one smart dog with guts to sniff out this killer—before he can catch her first.
Holly Barker, with the rest of the crowd, was called to her feet as the panel of officers filed into the courtroom. She was a spectator now, no longer a witness, but she wanted to be here for this.
Colonel James Bruno stood at the defense table, ramrod straight, and watched his judges with beady eyes. For the first time since his trial had begun, he was not smiling.
"Seats!" the clerk of the court called out, and all sat.
The brigadier general, who was president of the court, cleared his throat. "The following three verdicts have been reached unanimously," the general said. "As to the first charge, sexual harassment, we have reached a verdict of not guilty."
Holly's stomach shrank into a knot. She locked her knees so that they would not buckle. She knew what could only come next.
"As to the second charge, attempted rape, we have reached a verdict of not guilty," the general said. "And as to the third charge, conduct unbecoming an officer, we have reached a verdict of not guilty."
"Yes!" screamed a woman in the front row.
Holly recognized her as Colonel Bruno's wife. It was the first time she had appeared in court.
"Colonel Bruno," the general said, "you are restored to duty. This court is adjourned."
Holly made her way slowly through the crowd, ignoring the reporters who were demanding her reaction to the verdict. On her way she came abreast of the young blond lieutenant who had been the other complainant in the case. Holly found her hand and squeezed. The woman was in tears.
The cold outside air struck like a slap, reviving her, and she saw her father's car at the curb. She got in beside him.
"I'm sorry," he said. He was dressed in his master sergeant's uniform and wore the green beret of the special forces.
"You knew, didn't you?" she asked.
Hamilton Barker nodded. "It was in the cards," he said. "It was Bruno's word against yours. He's a West Pointer, and so were most of the court. They weren't going to destroy his career."
"They've destroyed mine," Holly said. She could see the gold oak leaf on her left shoulder out of the corner of her eye.
"You can request a transfer, and they can't deny it," her father said.
"Come on, Ham. They'd never let me forget it. I'd end up in some unit commanded by a classmate of Bruno's, and I'd be repeatedly passed over for promotion on some pretext or other."
Her father said nothing.
"I could get a job on a police force somewhere," she said.
"Funny you should mention that," her father replied.
They sat in a steak house near the base, the ruins of their dinner before them. The talk had been of army, Vietnam and army, and Holly had done all the listening.
She liked Ham's friend and old comrade-in-arms, Chet Marley; he was smaller and skinnier than Ham, but he had the same wiry toughness as her father, the same crow's-feet around the eyes from squinting into the distance. And he seemed very smart.
"Okay, enough of this old-soldier stuff," Marley said suddenly. "I've got a problem, Holly, and I think you might be the person to help me solve it."
"Tell me, Chet," Holly said.
"I'm chief of a twenty-four-man force in Orchid Beach, Florida, and there's a gaping hole where the number-two man ought to be."
"Don't you believe in promoting from within?" Holly asked.
"I believe in the best man for the job," Marley said. "Or woman," he added.
"You short of good men?"
"I'm short of experienced men. Most of them are in their twenties. I've got one man who's forty and has experience, but I don't trust him."
"Don't trust him, how?" Holly asked.
"He's a politician, and I don't like politicians. He thinks he should have my job, which is okay, I guess, except he'd screw it up if he had it."
"Why don't you fire him?"
"He's never given me any real cause, and he's connected with some of the city council."
"That's bad, I guess," Holly replied. "I'm no politician, but I can see how that could be difficult to deal with."
"I'm going to retire next year, and I don't want him to have my job," Marley said. "My idea is to bring in an experienced . . . person, somebody who can take charge and be ready when I go."
Holly nodded, but said nothing.
"I know about your record from your old man," Marley said, "and I've asked around some, too, because I wouldn't take his word for anything." He grinned and cast a sideways glance at Ham Barker. "You're already running more MPs than I've got cops. I've heard about your unit citations and the level of training and performance you demand from your people, and I like what I hear."
"Thank you," she said.
"Of course, we're not the army, and things have to be handled a little different in civilian life, but I think you could get used to that."
"I'm sure I could," Holly said.
"It's a nice town, Orchid Beach. It sits on a barrier island halfway down the east coast of Florida, has a population of around twenty thousand, a lot of them retirees."
"Lots of tourists?"
"No, not really tourists. We get the same folks back, year after year, most of them to family beach houses--folks from Atlanta and Charlotte and Birmingham, and a lot of northeasterners. We've got no high-rise hotels, no casinos and only a few motels. There's a small black community and a stable blue-collar group, mostly construction workers, plumbers, electricians and a few retired military folk. We've got a low crime rate and not much of a drug problem, until recently."