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Out of work. Out of money. Out of options. After a streak of bad luck, army veteran Dallas Rowen is due for a break, and he finds it in a single sentence uttered by a stranger: “I need your help.” Mistaken for a private investigator and desperate for cash, Dallas is enticed by the promise of a paycheck and apprehensively takes on the role of detective.
The death of demolition derby driver Jerry Grady has flooded the news. However, they've omitted one piece of information: it wasn't the impact of the crash that killed him — it was the bullet to his head.
Dallas sets out on the increasingly dangerous investigation, determined to make good on his vow to uncover the truth. As he closes in on the killer, the duplicitous detective quickly realizes time is running our in the battle for justice. The crosshairs of a murderer are turning toward him.
With his trademark gripping narrative, master of suspense Clair Poulson delivers a fast-paced, carefully plotted thriller that will leave audiences breathless.
- Size: 6 x 9
- Pages: 288
- Published: 10/2012
- Book on CD: Unabridged
- Number of Discs: 7
- Run Time: Approx. 9 hrs.
About the Author
Clair M. Poulson retired after twenty years in law enforcement. During his career he served in the U.S. Military Police Corps, the Utah Highway Patrol, and the Duchesne County Sheriff’s Department, where he was first a deputy and the the county sheriff. He currently serves as a justice court judge for Duchesne County, a position he has held for nineteen years. His nearly forty-year career working in the criminal justice system has provided a wealth of material from which he draws in writing his books.
Clair has served on numerous boards and committees over the years. Among them are the Utah Judicial Council, and FBI advisory board, the Peace Officer Standards and Training Council, the Utah Justice Court Board of Directors, and the Utah Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice.
Other interests include activity in the LDS Church, assisting his oldest son in operating their grocery store, ranching with his oldest son and other family members, and raising registered Missouri Fox Trotter horses.
Clair and his wife, Ruth, live in Duchesne and are the parents of five married children. They have twenty-two grandchildren.
I had exactly one dollar and fifty-seven cents to my name. At least I wasn’t starving anymore, although I was still a little bit hungry. Just a few minutes earlier I’d spent five dollars and sixty-five cents on a cheeseburger and fries. Prior to that huge expenditure I’d been as hungry as I’d ever been in my life, and in a few hours I’d be very hungry again. Hard times had hit me right between the eyes, put me to my knees, and they were, it seemed, about to grind me into the dirt. Those hard times had begun when my apartment had been burglarized and my bank account cleaned out before I realized that the burglars had stolen and used my identity.
I was leaning gloomily against the wall of a business on Center Street in downtown Provo on an overcast Sunday afternoon in early September, wondering what to do with myself. I had left the army in July, just a few months after returning from my second tour in Afghanistan. They’d tried to get me to reenlist and even offered me a cash incentive, but I’d had all the war I cared for. I’d already spent nine years in the service. Having enlisted at age seventeen, I’d served three years and then reenlisted for six more. But now, after the thieves had cleaned me out, I was down to my last dollar, and the army didn’t look so bad anymore. I’d been looking for a job for weeks and had failed miserably. Maybe I should enlist again. At least I’d have a place to sleep and food to eat. And maybe, if I was lucky, I’d be able to get my staff sergeant rank back before too long. After all, I’d only been a free man for a couple of months—surely they’d treat me well.
Of course, I’d have to thumb a ride to Salt Lake City. My Dodge pickup, the only home I had now, was nearly out of gas, and a dollar fifty-seven wouldn’t do much to change that. It sure wouldn’t get me to Salt Lake. I could sell it, but I didn’t want to do that. Even if I reenlisted in the army, I’d need my truck, and anyway, I liked it. It was one of the few things the burglars didn’t take—probably because I’d been in it and away from my apartment at the time. I pushed away from the wall, ready to leave my truck at a pawnshop in exchange for a few bucks, hoping to get it back soon. I was also ready to stick my thumb out and head for the army recruiting center in Salt Lake to reenlist, like I should have done before ever leaving the army in the first place, when a small, elderly lady approached me. Her short gray hair was frizzled, her wrinkled face pale, and her light blue eyes sad. She was stooped with age. “I need your help,” she said, looking up at me, her voice sounding desperate. “I have money. I’ll pay whatever it costs to get you to help me. Please, sir.”
She had money. I didn’t. She needed help. I wasn’t doing anything. Maybe that thumbing idea could take a breather. I smiled at her. “Of course, ma’am,” I said politely, envisioning a leaky roof or a cluttered backyard or some such mundane task that needed to be done and being more than willing to do it. “How can I help you?”
“My grandson was murdered, and I want to know who did it. The police aren’t making much progress. Maybe you can.”
I was only three or four sentences into this conversation and was already in way over my head, and that was saying something since I stood six-foot-four in my stocking feet. “Uh, ma’am,” I stammered, warming my thumb up again. “That’s not something I do.”
“Of course you do,” she said, her face stern. “Your advertisement in the yellow pages says you do all kinds of investigations. That’s what I want you to do—investigate my grandson’s untimely death.”
As she spoke, she was opening her purse. “Here, I don’t know what your usual retainer is, but take this.” She withdrew her hand with a fistful of green bills in it. I couldn’t help but think of that cheeseburger and how much I’d like another one just like it. She was thrusting the whole works toward me. My hands began to tremble. I held one of them toward her and, almost without conscious thought, allowed her to deposit the money in my hand.
“Thank you,” she said as I closed my fist. “Let’s go in your office, and I’ll sign whatever you need me to sign.”
She was looking beyond me—at a door. I followed her eyes and nearly choked. A brass plate announced to whomever cared to look that inside was the office of the Pierce Investigation Agency. She’s mistaken me for someone who does business from beyond that door. Guilt flooded over me, and I said, “Why don’t you take this back? I don’t think I am who—”
She cut me off before I could explain that I didn’t work for the agency as she assumed. “Please,” she begged. “Let’s go inside, and I’ll tell you what I know. You weren’t just leaving, were you? I know it’s Sunday, but your ad says you are available seven days a week.”
“I . . . I . . . was—” I began as my eyes again followed the direction of hers and saw the Closed sign in the window.
“Can we go in, then?” she interrupted persistently.
“I, uh—I don’t have the key,” I said. “I can’t unlock the door.” That was all true enough, but I felt guilty anyway.
“Is your secretary inside?” she asked. “Or doesn’t she work Sundays?”
“I don’t have a secretary,” I said honestly. I didn’t even have a daily planner.
“Then let’s go down the street. We can sit in a booth in the corner and have a soft drink while I explain what I need you to do,” she said, undeterred. “Now you put that money in your pocket. I know that’s only a retainer. I’ll give you more later. You just tell me how much you need.”
I looked dumbly at the money in my hand. “Let’s go,” she said urgently, tugging at the sleeve of my jacket.
I followed her as she walked back the way I’d come not ten minutes earlier. I was trying to decide how to explain to her that I was not a private investigator, that I’d just happened to be standing in front of that office when she came to retain competent help. I also studied and then counted the money she’d handed me. They were hundred dollar bills, I discovered—a dozen of them! I shoved them out of sight in a pocket of my jeans. As I struggled with my conscience, she turned into the very Wendy’s restaurant where I’d finally broken down and parted with most of my precious money in order to tame the unruly pangs of hunger in my stomach.
She selected a booth and opened her purse again. She handed me a five-dollar bill. “I’d like a Sprite,” she said. “Get whatever you want for yourself.”
Feeling like a total idiot, if not a crook, I ordered her a Sprite and me a cup of coffee and returned a minute later to the booth, drinks in hand. She took hers and began to sip before I got seated opposite her. I tried my coffee, wishing I had another cheeseburger to go with it. “Did you count the money?” she asked a moment later, her voice businesslike now but her previously sad eyes glaring disapprovingly at my coffee cup.
“Twelve hundred dollars,” I said.
“Is that enough to get started?” she asked.
I wasn’t an investigator, but I supposed that much money could persuade me to become one. I had read lots of mysteries over the years, and I loved them. I was pretty good at figuring out the whodunits. Perhaps that was all the background I needed. Anyway, I wasn’t stupid. In fact, I liked to think I was quite bright, just down on my luck. “That’ll be fine,” I said. “Would you like to tell me what happened to your, uh, grandson?”
“Don’t we need to sign a contract first?” she asked.
“I don’t have one with me,” I said. “I’m not having a good day, I’m afraid.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” she said flatly as she set her soda on the table and once again dug into her purse. I didn’t have any idea what she was after this time, and I was surprised when she pulled out a small notebook and pen. “Why don’t you write one on this?” she asked. “We’ll both sign it, and it will be official.”
It would be deceptive, I was thinking, as I felt the pressure of the wad of large bills in my pocket. I felt like a thief, and for a moment, I just looked at the notebook and pen. “I prayed this morning before I went to church,” she said. I looked across the table at her, wondering where that totally unexpected statement was leading. Those old blue eyes became misty. “I felt that I needed to look for an investigator today, despite it being the Sabbath. You are the answer to my prayer,” she said so sincerely that I felt goose bumps on my arms. “When I saw you standing there leaning against the wall, I got this strong feeling that you could help me. I know that my feelings are not misguided. The Lord will help both of us—even though you drink coffee.”
I wasn’t so sure about that. After all, despite my early LDS upbringing, I not only drank coffee, I didn’t even go to church. To make it worse, God and I, well, we hadn’t talked much lately. Now don’t get me wrong, I believed in God, and at times, when things were desperate in the war, I tried to pray, and I suppose I got an answer—I was alive, after all. That wasn’t true of many of my army buddies. My grandmother, the only grandparent I ever knew, had taken me to church as a boy, but I hadn’t been in years. My folks, who had died in an accident when I was only nine, were never active, and when my grandmother died a few years later and I went to live with a distant relative, I just quit going. I was fourteen at the time.
“That’s good,” I finally said uneasily, leaving the coffee on the table, feeling a twinge of guilt each time her eyes strayed to it.
“My name is Ellen Grady,” she said as I sat with pen and notebook in hand, not sure what to write or even if I should write anything. If I wrote a contract, crude and unprofessional as it might be, I would be obligated to go looking for a killer. That was heavy stuff. I didn’t even know where to begin. “And your name is?” she asked, scrunching her wrinkled brows. “Are you Mr. Pierce?”
She was asking me a question. My name? That was easy. “No, I’m not Mr. Pierce. I am Dallas Rowen,” I said. Until a few weeks ago, I’d been Sergeant Dallas Rowen, and unless I pulled out a miracle for this little old lady, I would probably soon be Private Dallas Rowen, starting a military career all over again. The idea of having to do that got me writing. I hoped that the simple contract I wrote between me and Ellen Grady wouldn’t one day land me in jail and make me Inmate Dallas Rowen. With that thought in mind, I didn’t make any mention in the document of me being a private investigator, for I wasn’t. When I had finished, she scanned the document briefly and said, “So you work for Mr. Pierce.” It was a simple statement, not a question or an accusation of any kind. She went on in the same businesslike tone. “It looks good to me except that it doesn’t mention your financial terms.”
“Let’s just work that out as we go,” I said awkwardly. “The retainer you’ve given me is sufficient for now.”
She nodded agreeably. “My dear departed husband left me with plenty of money, so I can pay whatever you feel is fair,” she said. “All I want is justice for my grandson.”
“Let’s see how it goes,” I said, becoming increasingly uncomfortable over being paid to do something I had no experience with and certainly wasn’t licensed to do. She asked me to write the contract a second time so we could each have a signed copy; then she asked, “How do I get ahold of you when I need to? Should I just call your office?”
“No, the best way to reach me is on my cell phone. I’ll give you the number,” I said and recited the number of the phone that had been turned off just a couple of days ago when I couldn’t pay my bill. With the help of that wad of money in my pocket, I’d rectify that little matter before the afternoon was over.
She gave me the number of her phone, saying, “I don’t have one of those fancy new phones like you young people use, but I’m usually at home. At my age I can’t get out a lot.”
“That will do,” I said as I wrote down her number and address on a borrowed page of her notebook.
I looked up as I finished writing, and she said, “Why don’t I give you my granddaughter’s cell phone number too. If for some reason you can’t reach me, you can call her and she will find me. She’s a sweet girl—solid and steady—unlike her brother Jerry.”
I assumed, as tears began anew, that the not-so-steady brother was the deceased person whose killer she was expecting me to find. My stomach began to churn. What did I think I was doing?
Finding a way to eat, I reminded myself. A dollar fifty-seven wouldn’t go far, especially for a big man like me.
“My granddaughter’s name is Alexandra,” she said. “But she usually goes by Alex.”
“What’s her last name?”
“Oh, I’m sorry. It’s Grady, the same as mine. Her father is my only child. He was a career soldier, didn’t marry until he was over thirty. He died in Iraq several years ago, and Alexandra’s mother, who is almost ten years younger than he was, remarried. She’s a good woman, but my grandson didn’t take his father’s death well, and he never got along with his stepfather or stepbrother. His stepbrother is older than he and Alexandra. He is a badly spoiled child.”
“Where does he live?” I asked.
“St. George, I think. We never see him. He’s really not part of our family.”
“What’s his name?” I asked.
“Kade Squire,” she replied.
“Thanks. Now, you were saying that Jerry didn’t take his father’s death well,” I prodded.
“That’s right. He was bitter. I think that having a hard time with his stepfather and with Kade didn’t help. Alexandra, on the other hand, turned out okay despite the trials the kids went through. Jerry didn’t, I’m afraid.” She paused, caught my eye, and went on. “Don’t get me wrong. Jerry worked hard and all that. He talked a lot about going into the military like his father had, but his mother and I talked him out of it. Neither of us wanted to lose another loved one to the war. We should have kept our thoughts to ourselves.” She choked, wiped her eyes, and then added, “Jerry was killed anyway, and he wasn’t living like he should when he died. He just, well you know, he . . .”
When her voice trailed off, I rescued her. “He slipped from church activity, just like I did,” I said. “It happens, you know.”
“Yes, that’s it. I’m sorry. I don’t mean to offend you, Mr. Rowen.”
I smiled at her. “No offense, Mrs. Grady. Now, I know this is hard, but tell me about what happened to Jerry.”