The Dogs of Beaumont Heights is now available. Jessica Branson returns riding high off the end of Ralph Smithers, Monticello’s notorious drug lord. However, the tenants paying for the house she can’t afford drag her toward the center of the city’s drug war. To an ambitious police commander, it’s a chance to get rid of Branson once and for all. Yet for the residents of a quiet, if fading, neighborhood, it brings terror in the form of abused dogs guarding drug stashes. Here now is an excerpt.
“Why didn’t I rent to Jerry’s friend?” Jessica Branson muttered
to herself for the fifteenth time since leaving her apartment. The
clock on the dash read 3:22, the numbers glowing brightly in
the dark. She took another sip of gas station coffee, which, at
that hour, tasted burnt.
When the call came, she threw on one of Jerry’s sweatshirts
and pulled yesterday’s jeans out of the hamper. Wild animal in
the house, they said. Trapped in the bedroom. By the time she
ran out to the Pathfinder, she realized she could have called the
Vodrey Heights Division to send over a cruiser. Instead, she
found herself on Monticello’s Big Mac Bridge, the huge, yellow-
arched span over the Musgrave River, less than three hours be-
fore she needed to be at roll call.
A version of “Crazy Train” rendered in sixteen-bit arcade
sound interrupted Spotify on her phone. She had to reach down
and grab it since the Pathfinder did not have in-dash Bluetooth.
“What?” Branson snapped as she cleared the bridge and slid
into the sparse traffic on I-73 north toward Lake Erie.
“We know what’s got us trapped,” Astrid said, crying.
Knowing Astrid, her space cadet tenant, it was probably a
stray dog, the neighbor’s cat, maybe even a squirrel.
“Where are you?” she wailed. “Trey is scared.”
Oh, Trey’s scared, she sneered silently. Your big, brave boy-
friend is scared. Trey was the type one saw on the news in the
aftermath of a tornado when it hit a trailer park. That or a
meth lab bust. “I’m getting off the Inbound now,” she said, re-
ferring to I-73’s northbound lanes. “Be there in five. What’s in
“Shit.” Monticello did not have much of a coyote problem
like the rest of Ohio, but it had them. Branson had nearly hit
one on her way to Put-in-Bay a few weeks back. It looked like a
big red dog. Canine rats, she called them. “Hang tight. On my
She reached over and pulled the bubble light from her glove
box. Rolling down her window, she slapped it on her roof.
With a move practiced over twelve years with the Monticello
Police Department, she took the wheel with her left hand and
used her right to plug the light into the dash outlet. Actually,
the Pathfinder was old enough for it to be called a cigarette
lighter. A voice in the back of her mind told her she needed to
buy a new car.
She hit her hazards and grabbed the phone again. Calling up
the assistant, she said, “Call Vodrey Heights.”
Moments later, a bored desk sergeant answered. “Vodrey
Heights HQ, Sergeant Hayes. Can I help you?”
“This is Jessica Branson,” she said. “I’m on my way to
11745 Barnett Avenue. I got a call that a wild animal has the
occupants trapped somewhere in the house.” She flipped a men-
tal coin, lost, and added, “Occupant says it’s a coyote.”
Hayes did not say anything for a long beat. Then laughed.
“Oh, the loot’s going to love that!”
Coyotes were an old joke with Hayes, whose one-time part-
ner had told a few stories about encountering them back in
Kansas. Branson did not find it funny now. “The tenants think
it’s a coyote. Since the house is in Llanfair, I’m going to go out
on a limb and say the neighbors’ chihuahua got loose and is
“This is a Using 69 call, isn’t it?” Hayes referred to a com-
mon Ohio police code for “User is high as a kite.”
“Bring NARCAN. Just in case.” She hung up before Hayes
could grill her about the tenants.
She pulled up to the house about five minutes after getting
off on the Barnett exit. The proximity to I-73 had made the
house attractive years ago. If the housing market continued to
rise, she hoped it would again. For now, though, she found the
lawn uncut, the landscaping resembling an episode of Life After
People, and the battered front door standing wide open. The
neighbors would call her at work tomorrow.
She reached under her seat and took out her gun, the Sig
P320 she’d carried since her days in the Freeway Police. Her
holster lay at home, but she remembered to grab her badge,
which she clipped to her belt.
“Might as well make this official,” she muttered aloud.
Creeping up to the house with her gun at low-ready, she nudged
the door open more with the barrel. “Hello? Astrid? Trey? It’s
Jess.” No low growl responded, so no coyote waited inside.
With no yapping, her chihuahua theory had also gone out the
window. She pushed the door open further.
On a ratty couch that Goodwill would have been embar-
rassed to sell, a young woman, her brown hair tangled and rat-
ty, lay back unconscious. Her legs splayed out opening her dress
and exposing her in a way that looked more pathetic than inde-
cent. Next to her, a pale man of roughly twenty, curly-haired
and rail thin, sat with a hypodermic needle sticking out of the
crook of his arm. Blood ran from his nose.
Shit, she thought.
The red, white, and blue lights of a Vodrey Heights Division
cruiser began strobing outside. Branson slipped her finger out of
her trigger guard and turned toward the door, making sure her
badge would be seen by anyone coming through.
A man with a blond military cut and a crisp Navy-blue uni-
form came through, announcing “Police.” He stopped. “Detec-
“Call an ambulance,” she said. “Now.”
Nearby, a baby began crying.