Monday, April 11, 2011

The Trophy Hunter - J. M. Zambrano

When attorney Diana Martin takes on a child custody case referred by her best friend, Private Investigator Jess Edwards, the case unexpectedly dredges up memories of childhood abuse that fuel Diana's resolve to protect the children involved.

As the case unfolds, Diana and Jess, a flamboyant African-American beauty, cross paths with a group of hunters that includes the new client, his estranged son-in-law and three other long-time buddies who have more in common than hunting: their women are disappearing.

Unknown to Diana and Jess, a psychopath hides in plain sight within the band of hunters. For him, the thrill of big game has lost its savor. Now he collects beautiful women of diverse ethnicities who will never leave him. And he's learned how to keep them perfectly beautiful forever.

The need to write, present since early childhood, has never left me, though it went on the back burner during my parenting years. I've worn many hats including that of deputy sheriff, CPA, forensic accountant, Arabian horse breeder, and caregiver for my mom in her final years. I value all my life experiences as potential meat for stories. Born in Southern California, I now live on a small farm in Colorado where I'm once again giving authorship my best shot.


Chain O’Lakes State Park

Spring Grove, Illinois

The chill November wind carried dampness from the lake beneath the flaps of Diana’s khaki hunting cap. Her ears ached from the intrusion. She and Daddy had been trudging through the early morning cold for what seemed like hours. Her teeth chattered. He was far ahead of her now. Good. He couldn’t chew her out for making noise.

Where was the sun? That pale piece of cold light must’ve dropped into the lake and drowned. Why did Mother let him take me? Her other self, the wise-beyond-her-years one, already knew the answer. He took what he wanted.

She trudged onward through the damp, scruffy brush, wishing for a brother to take her place. Knowing at age eleven that this was unlikely. Her best friend had an older sister who’d clued them in to the facts of life the year before. She knew where babies came from and that parents who slept in separate rooms weren’t likely to get any. Babies, that is. She knew what her dad got. But now that she was older, he was more careful about what he did in front of her.

Ahead of her, Daddy abruptly held up a large hand that signaled her to halt in her tracks. The rifle weighted heavily in its case, slung across her shoulders. Then he beckoned impatiently. She could imagine a frown lurking beneath the bill on his cap. She doubted that he had a clue about the revulsion that crouched in the corner of her heart. But she didn’t have the guts to tell him outright. Some fragment of wanting to please him still remained with her.

I so don’t want to be here. Why can’t he just see that?

When she reached his side, propelled by reluctant feet, he snatched the rifle case from her shoulders, dislodging her cap in the process. No apology followed. She hadn’t expected one. His look bespoke total disgust.

Slow, awkward. She read his mind. Of course. I hate this. You think I won’t put it off as long as I can?

Now that she’d grown so tall, similar adjectives got appended to her at school. She towered over all the girls in her sixth grade class. Forget the boys. They were dorks. But it would be nice to have a dad who thought she was cool as a girl. It would have been …

“Open the breech,” he whispered, shoving the rifle at her.

Even through gloves, the barrel’s cold metal increased her shivering. “No, Daddy. I don’t want to.” She summoned the courage to push the weapon back at him.

“Open the goddamn breech and load your weapon.” He spit the words at her, still whispering, but she pushed the gun away, would have no part of it.

Then she saw why he whispered. A small herd of white-tailed does had entered a clearing some yards ahead of them. One larger doe paused and sniffed the air. As she felt the wind on her face, Diana suspected that the animals were unaware of their intrusion.

Daddy put aside his own rifle and started loading hers. One cartridge. One shot. One kill. His mantra. A drowning sensation enveloped her, more than could be blamed on the mist from the lake that froze in droplets on bare twigs and evergreens.

Oh, please, no.

He forced the weapon back into her shaking hands. She took it this time, not to please him, but to keep the deer alive for one more moment.

“Get your goddamn finger out of the trigger guard,” he hissed.

She quickly obeyed. It had been a slip. If he hadn’t shoved it at her so rudely, she’d have remembered.

“That one.” He moved his eyes in the direction of the unsuspecting herd. She knew he meant the biggest of the lot. The one she’d tagged in her mind as the wise old doe.

Stall for time. She sighted through the scope, deliberately spotting a tree to the left of the big doe. The deer were maybe fifty yards away. Easy to miss and scatter them to safety. So she jerked off a shot, still aiming for the tree. Crack! Pain stabbed her right shoulder. The rifle kick would leave a bruise, even through the padding. The pain was nothing. Her heart did joyous flip-flops as she watched the does’ little white tails bobbing as they leapt to safety beyond the clearing.

Daddy was fuming like a freight train. She wanted to laugh but didn’t dare. He sure didn’t need to whisper now, did he?

“Squeeze, goddamn it! You don’t jerk. How many times do I have to tell you?”

Cap in hand, she hung her head, letting her long hair hide her smile at his expense. Still holding the rifle, she had the fleeting urge to turn it on him and squeeze. Bye-bye, Daddy.

“Don’t be a crybaby,” he admonished, misreading her scrunched-up face. “There’ll be other chances.” His tone softened. How could he not know her at all?

Much to her relief, he seemed to accept her miss as unintended. Or was that only wishful thinking on her part? Maybe if she could convince him that she was unteachable, he’d give up on her. At one point, he put a hand on her should and said in an almost fatherly tone, “Your problem is that you failed to identify your target. Before you go near the trigger, you must unequivocally identify your target.”

Two whole sentences and no cussing.

“Yes, Daddy.”

The rest of the day ahead of them weighed heavily on Diana. The strap from the rifle case rubbed against her bruised shoulder. How many times could she miss a shot before he got wise? And what if he did? He couldn’t make her shoot something warm and living, could he?

Chapter 1

Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Colorado

Twenty-five Years Later

An October dawn cut a swath of vermilion across the eastern horizon. Reflected off the western peaks, it gave the valley an eerie glow.

The Hunter watched a shivering sun inch upward, stingy with its warmth. He glassed the surrounding area, sweeping 180 degrees to the west where roiling clouds oozed between the peaks. The prospect of another storm pleased him. The elements were his allies.

From his rocky aerie he could see her approach the cabin in the tan pickup. He watched her park and get out. Through the scope on his .17 HMR he caught her neck in the crosshairs. The bullet would leave one small hole in the V where her collarbones met, with only a minimal exit wound.

He chuckled softly at her stupid attempt to hide the vehicle under a few branches. She thought she could hide from him. He salivated in anticipation of the look in her eye when she realized her mistake.


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