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: A gang of home invasion robbers commit murder during a break-in for drugs and money.

Chapter 4 – I’m Back


Clint Barker wasn’t normally anxious, so he was annoyed with himself. At the same time, he couldn’t suppress the bad feeling that lurked at the edge of his mind. Tonight, he was headed home, pushing over the speed limit on Mark West Springs Road. He probably shouldn’t have stopped for a beer at Cricklewood. It was a normal thing for him to do, and above all, he wanted to feel normal again.

His five acres of densely wooded property was set back in a canyon, the last place on a dead end private road. He had deliberately left his steep driveway unpaved to discourage accidental visitors. It was no problem for his 4WD Jeep Patriot in any weather.

Already twilight, he flipped on his headlights as he pulled off Mark West Springs and glanced at the dash clock. Two hours gone. He hadn’t wanted to be away that long. It was his weekly trip to the grocery store for supplies, the only time he left his property unguarded. Of course there was Callie. She was always on guard, a good thing. His marijuana crop gave him a nice income and he had no intention of losing it.

Clint started up his driveway through a mix of live oaks and tanoaks and overgrown Manzanita that brushed the side of his car. He pulled the Jeep into his carport. Past nine o’clock now, there were shadows everywhere. His stomach lurched. Why was he so spooked? He searched for movement, but there was none. The only sound was from crickets and frogs. Calm down, he thought. But still, he walked quickly to the front door, glancing behind him every few steps, like a kid afraid of the dark.

Inside, Callie met him, docked tail wagging. He turned on the lights, pulled down the shades, took a breath and tried to relax. With groceries put away, he leaned down, rubbed her back and scratched behind her ears. “You’re a good girl.” He bought the Doberman to alert him to thieves. Now, she’d become his companion, an important part of his life. She nudged his hand. He said, “You’d let me know if anyone was around, wouldn’t you.”

Drug wars in Mendocino County were far enough away from Sonoma County that he could ignore them. But the article in last week’s PD about the murdered dealer scared him. Too close to home. He turned on the TV, but he was too jumpy to watch anything. He pulled a bottle of Red Tail from the fridge and opened it.

What is wrong with me? He sat in his easy chair and watched Callie circle the room, nervous like he was. He tipped the beer up and felt the cold liquid run down his throat. Setting the beer down, it rattled on the side table. His hand was shaking. Premonition? No! He told himself. No one’s ever going to find me tucked away back here.

Callie growled. Clint whispered, “What, girl?”

With one quick motion, she was at the door and barking. Clint was instantly on his feet. She almost never barked. He unlocked his closet; got out his deer rifle. Then he turned off all the lights and stood in the middle of the room. His shirt was wet with sweat. Callie snarled at the front door. When he let her out, she took off into the trees. Standing inside, with the door open a crack, he waited. No frogs. No crickets. The quiet was heavy. What was that noise? A stick breaking?

She didn’t come back. He stepped out on the dark porch and yelled, “Callie! Come!” He waited. Nothing. Something’s wrong. She always comes.

Rifle wedged under his arm, he pulled out his cell and punched in his friend’s number. His voice tight, he said, “Blake. It’s Clint.”


He hadn’t wanted to kill the dog. Collateral damage, but fitting. They’d be together. His Ruger #1 had a night vision scope and the rifle was modified for a QSM silencer. He estimated the distance at about 100 yards and clicked the scope up. The mark was standing on the front porch with a cell phone to his ear. Time to eliminate another scum. He took a breath, held it, aimed and gently squeezed the trigger. The rifle puffed and a dark spot appeared on the mark’s forehead.


Sandra found a spot near the front door where she could people-watch. A friend at the Chron had recommended the Bourbon and Branch, a San Francisco speakeasy that wasn’t far from work. Loud, excited talk filled the packed bar, surrounding her with a sense of companionship. It was late, but she had met the deadline and needed to unwind.

Leaning against the wall, she sipped at a drink called “Enigmatic.” She smiled to herself about the Mixology drink names.

The French horn ring tones that sounded from her purse startled her. She hesitated. It’s almost eleven o’clock. Nobody should be calling me. Maybe it’s an emergency. Setting her drink down, she pulled the iPhone out of her purse, sucked in a breath, and nearly dropped it. The screen displayed a bare arm with “I’m Back” written on it in red ink.

She gasped, “Omigod! It’s him!”

A couple standing nearby stopped talking and glanced at her. Sandra turned away. I came here to get away from that bastard.

He texted, “A drug pushing scumbag won’t need this cell. He’s only the first. Tell your detective friend to look in a sweet spot off Mark West Springs Road.”

Sandra shivered as her jaw set, and her eyes teared in the conflict of emotions. Call Brown.

On Jones Street, in front of the bar, against a background of traffic noise, she found Brown’s number. He answered on the third ring, “Hey, kid. This better be good. It’s late.”

“He’s back. He sent me a photo of a bare arm with ‘I’m back’ in red ink. He said the body will be in a sweet spot off Mark West Springs Road.” After a moment of silence, she said, “Brown?”

He answered, “This is all off record, Sandra. No story yet. We’ll monitor your phone, okay?”

“Sure.” She frowned. I’ll have to use another phone for my sources.

“Also, forward that message to me. We’ll monitor it and we can get the vic’s address. No matter when, call me the instant he contacts you. We’re gonna get him this time.”

TOMORROW: “Finding Robin Hood,” by Press Democrat Staff Writer Robert Digitale, a co-editor of “Red Harvest.” The killer and the pot robbers are drawn to the same prey.

 Charles Markee coordinates the North Bay Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) workshops at the Sebastopol Center for the Arts. He is a member of both SCBWI and Redwood Writers, a branch of the California Writer’s Club (CWC). He was co-editor of the Redwood Writers 2012 anthology Call of the Wild and is a Life Member of the UC Berkeley Alumni Association. His published middle-grade novel, Otherworld Tales: Irish the Demon Slayer, will be followed by a sequel this year. He also has short stories published in several anthologies. Learn more at






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