The Hour To Reap
“Sharp writing and interesting characters. A must read.” Wm. Schulte, Ph.D, Dept. of Mass Communications, Winthrop University, S.C.
When mystery writer Harper Simone agrees to help the manager of a hotel in Glen Allen, Virginia to unravel an embezzlement scheme there, what she discovers turns out to be just the tip of the iceberg.
The plot thickens as the hotel’s housekeeping manager leaves the door open to a Mexican cartel in a hair-brained scheme to hire undocumented workers for profit: his.
To further keep the police on their toes, someone is busy murdering young women and leaving their gruesome remains from Richmond to the Shenandoah Valley.
As the financial intrigue escalates, authorities realize they are now looking for a serial killer. The action builds to a thrilling conclusion as the state medical examiner working the murders becomes the victim of abduction herself.
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THE HOUR TO PREY
It was already coming on 9 p.m. that night. The van idled at the curb several vehicles away from the entrance to the clinic as he waited for her shift to end. Even with the heater on full blast, his leather gloves barely kept the damp and cold at bay after a bone-chilling week of rain. Another starless night; not even the moon bothered to make an appearance.
Suddenly, one of the glass doors opened and there she was, right on time. He watched as she made her way to the sidewalk, bundled up against the cold night air. Shifting her purse to her shoulder, she adjusted the load of books in her arm. Walking briskly down the sidewalk, the co-ed’s quick puffs of breath preceded her as the cold night air filled her lungs. And then she turned the corner out of his sight.
He already knew where her car was parked. It was a shame it had to be so far away from the clinic. Parking was always limited on the street, but she was young and in shape so she probably didn’t mind the exercise. Except…that it was dangerous for a young woman to be walking alone at night in an area considered questionable. Too few street lights made it even worse, which was why foot traffic was scarce this time of night.
The van crept along behind her at a safe distance. On his right, a now empty parking lot surrounded by a high wall of ivy and moss-encrusted old brick came up between them, and he pulled in. Turning off the headlights and killing the engine he exited the van. He knew that in a few minutes she’d be coming around the next corner to walk down the street perpendicular to where he was standing, and she would come into view again. The brick walls and holly bushes afforded him plenty of shadow as he made his way swiftly and diagonally across the lot to the entrance on the next street.
He could hear the heels of her leather boots clomping on the uneven brick pavers of the sidewalk as she approached. Staying close to the wall where she wouldn’t see him, he let her pass by. When there was about ten feet between them, he quickly and quietly closed the distance between them.
Grabbing her scarf from behind her neck, he pulled her towards him causing her to lose her grip on the books and they tumbled to the sidewalk. Instinctively, she grabbed the scarf to pull it away from her throat, but she was no match for his strength. She was denied neither the ability nor the time to scream.
On Sunday morning, Gillian and her friend Nancy set out on their habitual weekend walk along one of the trails in Pocahontas State Park in Chesterfield County, Virginia. Approximately twenty miles south of Richmond, its nucleus is Swift Creek, a wildlife refuge and favorite as a hiking area. The chilly March air still slightly damp from the previous night’s rain held the promise of a clear, bright sky as the sun broke through the last of the clouds. The alders had already bloomed last month. It was now the turn of the red maples, boxwoods, dogwoods, elms, and gray poplars to add to the variety of trees blossoming along their path.
Their unleashed canines, two Labrador retrievers, bounded happily ahead of them through the brush and then back on the trail. It was their habit to disappear entirely, then to re-appear later on confounding the women as to how they both knew where to meet up with them. So, it was of no concern this particular morning when the dogs took off leaving the women to walk alone.
“I’m in no mood to give Ginger a bath today, so I hope she doesn’t take an early spring dip in the lake,” Gillian commented. “The marshy areas are chock full of winter’s detritus of leaves, muck, and God knows what, and I always hope Ginger will act like a lady and not come home a mess of mud.”
“Good luck with that,” Nancy replied.
Ten minutes later, and about twenty yards ahead of them, they could see the two dogs in the bog digging and tugging at something buried in the leaves.
“Ginger! Get over here, NOW. Damn dog. It serves me right. Of all mornings; I should have gone for a walk without her. GINGER!”
Neither of the dogs was paying any attention, or if they were, they had chosen to ignore their masters. Both women hastened their steps to catch up with them along the trail.
“What the hell are they playing with,” Nancy wondered out loud. Nancy’s lab came bounding over to show her its discovery. “Is that a…hand?” she screamed.
“Oh, my God, it is. Oh, God. MISTY! DROP IT. DROP IT, NOW!” The dog had pranced over with its treasure as proud as if it had just discovered another dog’s hidden cache of bones.
“Gillian, call 9-1-1 while I try to get her to drop the hand,” she screamed. “Off, Misty, OFF! DROP IT.” The dog complied, and sat there wagging its tail.
The words tumbled out from Gillian’s mouth so fast the emergency dispatcher had trouble understanding her. “We found a hand. I mean our dogs found a hand. Human. What? Oh, our location? We’re on a trail in Pocahontas State Park. How would I know our exact location? Can’t you trace my call; use my phone’s GPS or something? We’re surrounded by trees and a trail that goes along a lake. Which lake—maybe Beaver Lake? I don’t know. We were just talking and walking aimlessly—someplace along Swift Creek.”
“Oh, jeez Gillian, give me the damn phone.” Nancy seemed to have a better command of the situation, which wasn’t much considering she had almost just touched a severed hand. She was able to direct the police to the correct trail, but it would be up to them to find which end they were on. The women were told to stay where they were.
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