The scheming killer is back, still fixated on the young woman reporter.
But this time he isn’t prepared for how his murders will put her in harm’s way.

Fourteen chapters.
Fourteen writers.
One thriller.


Click here to read Season One: The Sonoma Squares Murder Mystery.

PREVIOUSLY: The Killer begins to track the movement of the home invasion robbers.

Chapter 7 – Ripped Off


The rusted Chevy jounced through the ruts grooved into the farm track as the moon rose over Mt. Taylor.

Jefe, take it easy. You’re killing me,” Cruz shouted from the truck bed.

“Walk if you don’t like it,” Kenner shouted back. “You’re loading up the boxes. Five A.M.”

No te preocupes. I’m not an old man like you, Jefe. I can load, deliver, an’ make it to my other job. Pollak, you tell the boss I got a doctor’s appointment,” he yelled to the man riding shotgun.

The truck backfired and screeched as Kenner braked. Moonlight illuminated a barnyard littered with pallets, vegetable boxes and a John Deer harrow. A two-story farmhouse blazed and crackled with lights and video game sounds. Kenner and Pollak slammed out of the cab while Cruz thudded to the dusty ground.

“Tyler having a party?” Pollak asked Kenner.

Baboso! He’s supposed to be watching out for things,” Cruz groused.

“You’d do better, Cruz? Anyway, I owe my sister. He’s good on the farm.”

The men walked to the house. A barn owl screeched then flapped into the break of eucalyptus around back.

“I’m turning in, Kenner. You coming, Mateo?” Pollak followed the owl toward the apartment.

“We gotta count the money.” Kenner said, clomping his western boots up the steps. The front door hung open, letting in bugs that buzzed around the hall light.

“Kenner, this ain’t cool. Anybody could help ’emselves to the retirement,” Pollak said, nodding toward the money closet.

“I’ve told the damn kid to lock the doors.” He dropped the canvas duffle containing the cash and stomped toward the pulsating living room. He stopped still in the entry.

Cruz peered over Kenner’s shoulder. “¡Qué desmadre!”

Furniture turned over, smashed glass underfoot mixed with clumps of stuffing from the sofa, and above the mess, across the 60-inch—rockets bursting, tracers, staccato of machine gun fire. And Kenner’s prize 1855 Colt Revolving Rifle on the floor.

“Tyler, you little sh—” Kenner started.

They saw it—the spray of blood red splatters across the wall, and half behind the recliner, Tyler crumpled in his blood.

Kenner’s hands flew up. “No! Tyler no—” He trailed off, his face a rictus.

Pollak grabbed a Glock from his boot and turned to Cruz, “You strapped?”

Cruz waggled his revolver as he ducked into the hall. “I’ll secure the house.”

The room smelled like rusted baling wire; Kenner groaned, sinking to the floor. It was bad. Worse than bad.

“Tom, Christ. His arm.” Pollak angled his jaw toward the body.

“RED HARVEST” had been scrawled up his arm. Kenner reached for the uncapped red marker lying next to Tyler—what used to be Tyler.

Cruz thundered from the hall shouting, “We’ve been ripped. They got the money, Jefe—all except tonight’s bag. I hid that good—,” his voice trailed off as he took in the message. “What’re we gonna do?

“Someone is going to pay!” Kenner growled. “First, we’ve got to call the police. Tyler—”

“It’s a 187, man. I’m not going back to prison. We gotta dump Tyler and keep quiet,” Pollak said, his voice flat. “I’m trenching a hole with the back hoe,” he said, leaving the room.

“He’s right, Jefe, we gotta get him outta here.

Kenner struggled to his feet. “Turn that damn TV down!”

“Sheriff! Drop your weapons, on your knees, hands on your heads.”

A deputy flashed his badge and hit “OFF” on the remote. The robbers sank to the floor, Cruz tossing his S&W .38 by the Colt.

“We found him like this,” whined Cruz.

Kenner’s brow furrowed, puzzled. “We just got here. He’s my nephew. How’d you—”

“—Shut-up,” another deputy said.

Detective Brown entered the room, pushing Pollak, cuffed, in front of him. He bent down to examine the body. It matched the text and photo the killer had sent Sandra, from the farm address right down to “RED HARVEST” written up the left arm—but why this farm?

He judged the man had been dead for at least three hours. “They might be telling the truth. The body is stiffening up and the truck’s engine is still warm. Search the house, but don’t touch anything, CSI Unit’s on the way.”

Two deputies scuttled out, pulling on latex gloves.

“Get up, keep your hands on your heads.”

As the men scrambled awkwardly to their feet, the third deputy cuffed and patted Kenner and Cruz down. Brown considered the scene. Were these jokers growing weed? Is that why Brown had seen the Three Trees Farm truck in front of the local hydroponics store? But what would “RED HARVEST” mean?

“Sit down gentlemen, and tell me why you have a body on the floor.” He gestured to the slashed couch. The robbers sat.

“I wonder what the deputies will find? Stash? Money?” Brown paused and looked directly at Kenner, “You growing weed?”

“I’m a farmer, not a pot grower,” Kenner said with disdain. “I’ve got organic greens, beets, favas, brassicas.”

“Why was your farm truck at the hydroponics shop the other day?”

“We deliver weekly veggie boxes. We’re a licensed CSA.”

“At two in the morning?”

“Hey, I took my crew to eat tonight. Where’s the law against that?”

“Why are farmers carrying guns?” Brown glanced toward a commotion in the hall. “Sit tight boys,” he said and went to the door.

The robbers looked at each other. “How did they get here so fast?” Cruz whispered.

“Shut up.” Pollak hissed.

Outside, Brown decided he wasn’t going to let the killer get away with it this time. He turned back to the robbers. He could feel it; these fools were into something, but what? And how did it connect to that sick creep with the marking pen? It couldn’t be a coincidence the killer hit this place—maybe a visit to the station would jog these losers’ memories.

TOMORROW: “Showdown,” by Press Democrat writer and blogger Crissi Langwell. Can Sandra foil the killer’s latest scheme?

Ana Manwaring,, writes for the Petaluma Post, teaches creative writing through Napa Valley College and is an editor at JAM Manuscript Consulting. She’s the Treasurer for Sisters in Crime NorCal and is active in Redwood and Napa Valley Writers. Watch for Ana’s thriller, “The Hydra Effect,” A JadeAnne Stone Mexico Adventure publishing soon. Visit her blog:




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