Saturday, October 1, 2016

"Alone in the Wind" by Judy Bruce

Alone in the Wind
(Wind Series Book 2)
by Judy Bruce

This is the third in a special series on author Judy Bruce. Today we feature Alone in the Wind, the second book in the Wind Series. You can read an excerpt from the book, as well as my review. Also available: Voices in the Wind (read my blog post) and Cries in the Wind.

For another book by this author, please check out my blog post on Death Steppe: A World War II Novel.

In the second installment of the misadventures of Megan Docket, she learns of the investigation of meth dealing in the area. A gut feeling forces her to question the motives of a DEA agent residing in the area. As she snoops on the agent, she becomes protective of a young teen and a young autistic, who works at the local diner. The meth use in the community causes the deaths of two friends and ensnares the local residents in the drug trade. Meanwhile, discord with her husband Brian creates problems at home. When the DEA agent and the chief of police commit murder, Megan uncovers the truth. After she impulsively commits revenge against the men, it blackens her soul and plunges her into a personal hell. Burdened with grief over the community tragedies and her own guilt, she seeks peace and redemption.

Chapter 1
My guts churned as I exited the back door, forcing me to halt in the middle of our brick patio. I’d felt this queasy sense of danger before, so I knew to heed it. I returned to the house, and then emerged a few minutes later with my Glock 42 subcompact shoved into the waistband of my jeans. I checked the battery level of my smart phone as I walked across the plush lawn then stepped onto the curly gray-green buffalo grass that covered the crunchy-dry soil.
At my Uncle Bill’s barn a block away, all seemed peaceful. I led my husband Brian’s tall palomino, Rohan, to the adjacent pasture and let him loose. My hardy, black quarter horse bobbed his head in anticipation as I drew near to saddle him. Out in the wild country, nobody owned weak-ankled, skittish horses. Before we exited the barn, I took his head in my hands and stared at him until he became still.
“Danger, Gondor. Danger.”
I stared at him for a few more moments then I swung myself up onto the saddle, hoping he sensed this was an unusual, possibly perilous outing.
“Danger, Megan,” I murmured.
Riding across the jagged ground of western Nebraska, we skirted south of the bluff Big Leo toward the house of the man who tried to kill me.
Yet, the Eldritch house had been vacated last year. The last member of the family, Lew, sold all his family’s land, including the house and his small herd of heifers, to my uncle and me. We were pleased to help our friend start a new life as a carpenter. Bill’s cowhands cleared out all the furniture in readiness for the demolition of the decrepit homestead next week. Compelled to check for any squatters on the property, I let Gondor pick his way through the harsh, rocky ground as I guided him northeast.
To the south, Rohan charged through the smooth pasture in contented oblivion, his gold coat shimmering in the sunlight. Once we cleared the rugged, uneven soil, I spurred Gondor to a gallop. Soon, the gray house, long weather-stripped of its white paint, came into view. When we were fifty yards away, I slowed Gondor to a halt. His muscles rippled in anticipation of a longer ride. I stroked his neck until he became still.
“Danger,” I said as I walked him forward, my queasiness increasing by the moment.
I checked to make sure my denim jacket covered my gun, which dug into my spine. The dilapidated wood frame house, complete with a rotted and partially collapsed front porch, looked shrunken with tragedy. As I approached the south side of the house, Gondor remained quiet, though the pounding of my heart reverberated through my chest.
Just then, I spotted the glimmer of a truck’s chrome rear bumper in the dirt front yard. I yanked us to a halt. A man in a black hoodie and black jeans strode around the corner of the house, his head down.
“Hey!” I yelled. “What are you doing here?”
His head jerked up. “Who the hell are you?”
He looked to be early thirties, about six feet tall, with close-cropped dark hair and a full beard, also trimmed short.
“The owner of this property. You are trespassing.”
“Yeah, right,” he said as he put his hands on his hips.
In a flash, I swung my leg around, pushed off from the saddle, and landed on the ground. I whipped out my Glock and aimed it at his head, my finger on the trigger and safety.
“Holy shit!” he said. “Take it easy.”
“Face down, on the ground. Now!”
“Fine, just cool your jets, princess.” He slowly went to his knees but no further, and then returned his hands to his hips akimbo, mistakenly relaxed.
I really wanted to shoot this bastard. With my heart hammering against my chest, I walked behind him and kicked him in the back of his head with my boot heel. His chest smacked into the dirt. With his right arm, he reached to his back, but I stomped on his arm then pulled his gun from the back of his pants. He thrust his arm out to grab me, but I hopped back out of his reach. I tossed his gun behind Gondor.
“By law, I may not be entitled to kill you as long as you stay down, but I can maim  you—” I swallowed the vulgarities I wanted to add. 
I moved my aim to his leg as I tried not to let my hands shake. Sweat trickled down my back. If he tried to grab me, I would fire.
“Sweetheart, you don’t have it in you.”
“Oh, I bet she does,” said a woman’s voice.
I whipped my gun toward the front of the house. A woman in a tan Nebraska State Patrol uniform raised her hands.
“She killed a man summer before last, just west of here.”
I lowered my gun. “Who is this jerk?”
“DEA,” she said.
“I want to see ID. Hey, moron, why didn’t you say so? I nearly put one through your skull.”
Starting to rise, he froze when I raised my gun toward his head. The jerk respected me now. The State Patrol officer stepped forward and handed me her identification. She smiled at me. My blood pressure began to moderate. Up close, I could see she had freckles to go along with her fair skin and brown hair, tied back in a ponytail. I dropped my gun from eye level to my hip, but kept it pointed at the snake in the dirt.
“Rachel McNeill,” she said.
“Thank you. Now will you get his?” I handed her ID back.
He took a black vinyl case from his back pocket and handed it to her. I allowed him to shift to a sitting position. 
“He’s legit,” she said as she handed me the ID.
“Oh, I believe the DEA part,” I said. “Now charm school, no way.”
She laughed. He scowled. Now that I wouldn’t be in a shootout, I was calming down and becoming curious, though I was angry that this idiot nearly forced me to shoot him.
“And you would be Megan Docket Culhane, senior partner at Docket Law Firm.”
I nodded then flipped open the case and read out loud: “Reginald John Martin, the Third. Drug Enforcement Agency, Las Vegas, age thirty-three. So, Reggie, what are you doing on my property?”
I tossed the case back to him but made sure it landed in the dirt.
“It’s RT,” he snapped.
“Fine. I hope you’re good at laundry.”
He looked down at his shirt, which was a fancy sport shirt, one that’s supposed to wick away sweat with a miracle fabric. His black jeans were covered, front and back, with the dirt ground fine by decades of Eldritch boots. He jumped to his feet.
“Give me my gun.”
“Get it yourself,” I said as I walked over to Gondor.
As I stood by Gondor, RT took a couple of steps toward me but my steed snorted, so he veered toward his gun. Gondor tried to watch him, but I blocked his view. I stroked the white splotch on his forehead shaped like Mozambique. His haunches rippled a moment before he kicked. RT howled and fell with thud. 
“You idiot,” I said, squelching a grin. “Tell me you didn’t just walk behind my horse. You have to pat his rear so he knows where you are.”
Officer McNeill laughed so hard she had to wipe her eyes. Chuckling, I tied Gondor to a tree so he could graze. I crept up the rickety front porch steps through the open front door and beheld the scene—creaking wood floors black with filth, dirty walls darkened by cigarette smoke. The railing for the stairway upstairs was loose at the bottom, so that it rested on a lower step. I took a quick look around the three upstairs bedrooms. I decided not to inspect the bathroom—the stench of a clogged toilet and a cockroach scurrying across the chipped gray linoleum floor convinced me to go back downstairs. If I was forced to choose, I’d take the pungent manure fumes of the barn to the stink of this house. No wonder Lew abandoned the place a year ago. 
DEA. State Patrol. I knew what it meant.
On the north said of the porch, the part that hadn’t collapsed, RT was rubbing the outside of his lower left leg.
“It’s just bruised,” said Officer McNeill.
I nodded. It was time for a different approach. “I assume you two aren’t just passing by. We have a problem in the area.”
Officer McNeill nodded.
I looked at RT. “Are you undercover?”
“Yeah. I’m a photojournalist researching the Nebraska panhandle.”
“Well, you’ve made it clear that you haven’t done your homework. So you’re going to need the backing of a few key people.”
He huffed. “Like you?”
I ignored him and said, “Officer McNeill, why don’t you come for supper and we’ll talk about all of this. And bring Prince Charming. Do you know the red brick house on Harney Street?”
“Sure. We’ll be there. And call me Rachel.”
“What?” RT scowled.
“Oh, you prefer greasy fast food to grilled steaks?”
He snapped his mouth shut. Men were so predictable—sex, food, and beer.
“Six o’clock,” I said as I picked my way down the stairs.
As I mounted my stallion and turned him homeward, I looked back at the house and grounds. I assumed the black Toyota Tundra pick up was his, paid for by U.S. taxpayers. In the copse across the street, a hint of metal shone—she was hiding her patrol car. This was serious.
As we worked our way south, the land to the east appeared in a state of repose; high grass, once eaten by free-roaming bison, stretched out in a lazy, verdant expanse. The wind rumbled over the grassland with an incessant rhythm, giving the land its pulse.
After I left Gondor in the barn, the wind intensified, roaring against me as I fought to make my way home. I ducked my head as I trudged forward against the bellowing wind. Was the wind’s fury a response to the arrival of the invader? If it meant to warn me of new danger, it was too late. With every footstep I’d taken since I wandered out here as a kid, I made this wild land, this world mine. I meant to protect it.
Back at home, I paused to appreciate the cool breeze blowing through my family’s stately, spacious, clean two-story red brick house in the Georgian Revival tradition. The sight of the Eldritch house always cast a heaviness over me. I shook myself out of my doldrums to make the necessary preparations for supper—none of which included cooking. Patty White Horse, my family’s loyal friend and my former nanny, and now our housekeeper, began her cooking in earnest. I called Brian, my former Husker linebacker husband of two months, and told him of the plans. He was at his Docket Law Firm office today, though he also had an office in Sidney, a fifteen minute drive to the east. Then I called my Uncle Bill, the robust rancher with whom I shared the Docket land. Finally, I called my next door neighbor and friend, James Wilson, a member of our Harney Street gang. I grew up with his kids and had forged a tight bond to Mrs. Wilson, Beverly, whom I had loved like a mother.
While I was still in law school, Beverly died in a car accident that also killed Bob Eldritch, the patriarch of the family and father to both Lew, our friend, and his brother Salt, the lunatic who had tried to kill me and James last summer. I used a steep ditch dubbed Miss Gulch, a steak knife, and rock to kill him. The event brought me a strange sort of notoriety—my clientele now extended into counties even my father, the famous Frank Docket, hadn’t forged ties to.
My last phone call went out to Mark “Gus” Gustafson, my law partner. He would miss the meal, but would be out later. As a means of securing my commitment, my father had made me a partner two years ago, even though I was fresh out of law school. Strangely enough, I was now the boss, the senior partner, though Gus was the experienced attorney I hired after my father died last year.
Before our guests arrived, I described in detail the interaction at the Eldritch house to my inner circle. However, when RT arrived, showered and in clean black clothes meant to make him look urban, he presented a more agreeable persona. Despite his nature, he didn’t show any disrespect to Patty, who was three-fourths Oglala Lakota Sioux, or to James, who was African American. Rachel drove up in a red Subaru, now wearing civilian clothes, navy slacks and a silky crimson blouse. After meeting Brian, Bill, and Patty, she smiled at James.
“Mr. Wilson, how are you?”
Nobody needed to smack us over the head for us to figure out that Rachel must have been one of the investigating officers at the fatal accident in which James and Bob Eldritch were driving.
“Fine, fine, thank you, Officer McNeill.”
The meal was comprised of small talk and big steaks. After supper, Gus arrived and we moved to the family room to digest, drink the traditional Docket bourbon, and stir up the nitty-gritty. RT was annoyed that I exposed his cover at the start, but I explained that he needed a few people who could confirm his story. Gus pointed out that he would want connections to people who could report suspicious activity directly to him. He and Rachel passed out their business cards to us. I asked about the extent of meth in the area.
“Oh, we’re just beginning our investigation,” he said.
I glanced at Rachel. She deferred to RT, but looked like she was ready to talk. So I looked at her when I asked, “Do you think the meth is coming in from Mexico or is it being made in the area?”
RT cut her off. “Oh, it could be either, but it’s most likely being made in the area.”
Rachel turned to him but said nothing.
He was lying.
“That’s why I’ve been searching for a place somewhere in this area,” he continued. “We don’t know who the leader is, but we think he or she is somewhere around here.”
My uncle, who had seemed deep in thought and less genial than normal, looked up at RT and said, “So that’s why you’re lookin’ to hide out at the Eldritch ranch.”
“Yes, sir. If that’s possible.”
Bill looked at me and I nodded.
“Well, I think we could delay demolition for a bit,” he said. “The plumbing doesn’t work, except in the kitchen and hall toilet. You’ll need to shower elsewhere.”
“You pay for utilities and rent,” I said. “I’m sure you receive a government allowance. You won’t be able to stay in the house until tomorrow, so that I have time to draw up a contract and disclaimer for any injury you might suffer in that pit. You won’t have water and electricity until Monday.”
RT shrugged. “I’m getting a gym membership in Sidney…I can shower there.”
“And I see no reason for you to access the barn.”
Something flashed in his expression then he quickly said, “Oh, that’s fine. Don’t need it.”
“That will remain locked. Not that locks have stopped you before.”
His color rose a bit and we stared at each other for a few moments. He would make a lousy poker player.
After they left, my brainy blond stud said, “Well, I didn’t think he seemed that bad.”
I loved my husband with every ounce of my being, but he was not a good judge of character. He needed to stick with his columns of figures and tax forms. Still, I didn’t see the point in arguing—it would all play out. But for now, we collectively pondered the tragic news for our community.
Later that evening, I stood atop Rufus, the low hill just north of our house, as the stars began to prick the twilight. For me this land meant the pioneer games of childhood, the ridges and mounds of rock, the thunderstorms without rain, the eerie sounds of cries and whispers, the harsh majesty of earth undefiled, and the presence of wind, always the wind. Yet now a sense of disquietude began to spread through my body. I had entangled myself in something that made me shudder. I knew trouble was ahead and I went to meet it with a gun. What did that say about me? Where would it lead me?
Danger smelled like gunpowder and hay.
What? That didn’t make any sense.
When I returned to the house, I finished my bourbon to fight off the chill of premonition.
[Want more? Click below to read a longer excerpt.]

Praise for the Book
"Alone in the Wind by Judy Bruce is a compelling tale of treachery and deceit set in a small town in western Nebraska…. Alone in the Wind is well-written and well-crafted, with the author’s descriptions of scenery and place so vivid that it’s easy for readers to close their eyes for a moment and see the unforgiving, raw landscape of Megan’s Nebraska. While the story is set in a town small enough that everyone appears to know everyone’s business, this makes the story all that more engaging and gives it a colorful local flavor. Bruce’s treatment of the character of Davey was especially well done as the author chose not to resort to stereotypical clichés when presenting a pivotal character with a disability…. Bruce’s main protagonist, Megan Culhane, is clearly a big fish in a small pond and it’s her ballsy, take-charge attitude that makes the story such a compelling read." ~ Readers’ Favorite Book Reviews
"If you like crime fiction and/or suspense, I highly recommend this book and this author! Bruce weaves a mystery full of interesting characters and makes you think." ~ N. N. Light
"Death, friends helping friends, and some of Megan’s cases made both the town and characters genuine and tugged at my heartstrings. While the plot was intense as the investigation heated up, Bruce did a wonderful job of providing ordinary, mundane moments that added depth to both the story and the characters." ~ kimbacaffeinate
"Judy Bruce has done it again. Creating the perfect novel full of crime, action, and secrets. [...] Overall, I highly recommend this second novel of Judy Bruce's and look forward to reading book three. I loved reading this intriguing story and I know without a doubt that readers everywhere will love it too." ~ Danielle Urban
"This fiction book is full of adventure, suspense and violence. You find yourself spellbound wondering what is going to happen next. [...] Megan finds herself solving difficult cases in and out of the courtroom! You will find yourself cheering for Megan’s success. The story is believable, compelling and could really happen. Full of mystery, both men and women would enjoy this book. The language in this book is intended for an adult audience." ~ Yvonne Wu

My Review

By Lynda Dickson
Megan returns for another adventure a year after the events of the first book. This time, Megan is caught up in a drug ring when a DEA agent arrives to combat the rising meth problem in the area. When people close to her begin to die, Megan takes the law into her own hands, and she struggles to come to terms with what she has done. Can she ever forgive herself? More importantly, will God forgive her?
The author provides a good (and not-too-obvious) summary of the events of the previous book, as needed. This is helpful to new readers, as well as serving as a reminder to readers of the first book. With her forthright, no-nonsense manner, Megan makes plenty of enemies, but she can also be the best and most loyal of friends. She continues to get premonitions when something bad is about to happen, and they are now more obvious as they make her feel physically ill. Although there is not as much in the way of legal proceedings in this volume, there are, once again, many characters and lots of things happening. But all of the seemingly disparate storylines come together neatly in the end.
Warnings: coarse language, violence, drug use, alcohol abuse, domestic violence.

About the Author
Judy Bruce is a novelist and screenwriter. In addition to her acclaimed novel, Death Steppe: A World War II Novel, three stories have been published from her Wind Series: Voices in the Wind, Alone in the Wind, and Cries in the Wind. Her novel, Fire in the Wind, will be published in the fall of 2016 by Merriam Press. Judy maintains a website and a blog. She is a wife, mother, and sister residing in Omaha, Nebraska, and a Creighton University law school graduate. Her autistic son keeps her in touch with her quirky side.