Author: Lev Raphael
Narrator: Robin Siegerman
Length: 11 hours 59 minutes
Publisher: Audiobooks Unleashed
Released: May 20, 2021
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Aakenbaaken & Kent
A Southern California landmark primarily known only to law enforcement earned a reputation for crime scenes of the most unspeakably vicious homicides. Infamous serial killers had chosen this location to discard and display their victims as trophies of their horrific deeds. Lieutenant Scott Hunter must lead a team of detectives to identify and capture a perpetrator who’s targeting young women, and has chosen this landmark to showcase his victims.
This story is a work of fiction, but the Orange County location is real. So notorious, in fact, that those officers working the graveyard shift need only radio their activity at a site bearing two words, and they are immediately dispatched a back-up officer to the “pepper tree.”
As a young patrol officer, Hunter had been introduced to the “terror at the tree” on an evening when he turned his police cruiser down that dusty road separating asparagus fields, and discovered a corpse hanging from a low-hanging limb. But now as the leader of the Robbery/Homicide team, he received that most dreaded call interrupting the stillness of the night, a body dump.
Like the mast of a majestic clipper ship rising vertically through the horizon, the trunk and its heavily leaved branches interrupted the monotonous plane of the two-lane roadway. Interstate 405 ran parallel to Barranca Road, giving motorists driving northbound from Sand Canyon to Jeffrey Road an expansive view of the tree and its surroundings. Bordered by asparagus fields, Barranca was seldom traveled, but the pepper tree announced its presence, and the density of its foliage shielded the most unspeakable of crimes.
By day the tree was odd; almost enigmatic. Why one, rather than a row? By night, it was an ominous adversary; in particular, to the officers of the graveyard shift. Most activities observed were cars with fogged windows, or simply the impromptu beer bust. But for the serial killer, it seemed to be a magnet that hypnotically drew the perpetrator toward the culminating acts of his horrific crime. It was the kind of place training officers, would admonish trainees to pay particular attention to possible ambush, proper illumination, and the avoidance of passing in front of spotlights, and backlighting you as a target.
This evening was going to prove to be the very thing about which Officer Jim Janowitz had been warned. When his flashlight revealed the woman’s leg, the history of this site flashed before him within a millisecond. Serial killer Randy Kraft had been convicted for the murder of a man whose body had been dumped at this very spot. The newspapers had sensationalized the crime by sharing that a four-foot twig had been stuffed into the victim’s body cavity. Two months prior to the discovery of Kraft’s crime, Gerald Shill had chosen this tree to dispose of a prostitute he had shot to death. Now this.
Janowitz hit the high beams and directed his driver side spotlight across the hood of his cruiser, while with shaking hands he radioed for back-up.
The spotlight illuminated her entire body from feet toward the crown of her head, as she lay prone, and nude from the waist down. Her dark hair, draped over the shoulders of a blue long-sleeved blouse, was matted with blood that sparkled from the beams of light projecting from the idling patrol car. With his flashlight in his left hand, he got out of the patrol car leaving the door ajar.
As he awaited the arrival of what would soon become a busy crime scene, Janowitz surveyed the open field leading from the tree to the freeway, straining to see any signs of human shadows that might have fled upon discovering the approaching sedan bearing an overhead light bar. He rounded the trunk and ducked below the flashing amber caution light, carefully stepping toward the body, scanning for threats, while trying to avoid trampling evidence. He swept the immediate perimeter ensuring there was no further danger, and checked the victim to confirm that she was, in fact, deceased.
The familiar roar of an accelerating V-8, signaled to him that help was on the way in the form of the Area 4 car, manned by Officer Karl Peterson.
As Peterson’s cruiser approached from the north, he could see the tree awash in the lights beaming from his partner’s patrol car. The scene appeared surreal – a pale, mannequin-like figure lying face down in the dirt, at the base of a huge tree, with a slender uniformed officer standing over the body.
“You call a supervisor?”
“I phoned Austin. I heard him radio that he was Code 7 (meal) at Denny’s and figured he didn’t hear my call; the reception’s so bad there,” Janowitz responded, gesturing with his cell phone.
“Let’s get a unit to block Barranca at Sand Canyon, and another to block it off at Jeffrey. I’ll call it in, and you can start setting up a cone pattern for the crime scene.”
“Austin can make the call for the homicide team.”
Sergeant Richard Austin’s supervisor’s unit lumbered down the potholed, graveled asphalt of Barranca Road. The 20-year veteran was in a sour mood. Although he was the senior supervisor in Patrol, he was forced by policy to rotate onto graveyards for a three-month stint, and he had just sat down for dinner when this dead body call came out. He had a feeling that he would be standing a long time, and his back would be smarting from the weight of his Sam Browne gun belt. It was day three of his 4-day work week, and it looked as if his uniform wouldn’t make it to day four before needing dry cleaning. Austin slowly strode from his unit toward Janowitz after glancing at the body.
“Are you sure she’s dead?”
“I checked carotid, no pulse. I looked for lividity, and saw signs of blood pooling on the exposed extremities – knees, thighs…”
“This is Irvine, Janowitz, America’s safest city; we generally frown on this type of activity.” Austin responded sarcastically.
The sergeant then began to approach the body, tracking across the dirt shoulder of the road.
“Sarge, careful, there’re some footprints around her that aren’t mine.”
“I’ve handled more dead bodies than you’ve taken petty theft reports Junior.”
Janowitz hoped Austin’s bluster was compensation for the sobering scene that lay before them. Viewing bodies was, unfortunately, part of the job, but what appeared to be a beautiful girl being discarded at the foot of this tree seemed, well, monstrous.
Austin reached over and separated several strands of the victim’s dark brown hair glued together with dried blood, revealing what appeared to be an entry wound.
“Well, Janowitz, looks like this young lady has a bullet hole in her skull. I’ll call Homicide.”
About the Author
Dave Freedland is a 34-year decorated law enforcement professional having served with the Irvine (California) Police Department. Following a competitive athletic career culminating with the award of “UCLA’s Most Valuable Gymnast,” he graduated 1st in his Sheriff’s academy class. As a SWAT team leader and commander for over 25 years, he supervised operations for numerous barricade and hostage incidents, and was the recipient of several awards including “Police Officer of the Year” and the “Meritorious Service Award.” He retired at the rank of Deputy Chief, and currently holds a 6th degree black belt in Japanese Shotokan karate. His first novel, Lincoln 9, was Oak Tree Press’ best-selling book on Amazon in 2015. His second novel, The Pepper Tree, published by Aakenbaaken & Kent, received a 2018 manuscript award from the Public Safety Writers’ Association.
I have this gift, an ability to transcend myself while I sleep. I never interact with anyone in this out-worldly place. I simply…watch.
I’ve heeded my aunt’s warning to not interfere while I roam freely around the world in my dreams. But that all changes when I find an injured man fleeing his captors.
Now, every night when I fall asleep I manage to find him. I can feel him—his presence caressing my skin. The more I see him, interact with him while I’m in this trance, the more I start to realize that there’s a reason I found him. There’s a reason I sense him wherever I go.
He’s in trouble. In the real world his life is in danger while the shadows keep his soul trapped in limbo.
I have to figure out how to help him, how to rescue him from the darkness.
I need to save…Cade.
In over her head
After escaping a jealous husband, Lana Gregory is done with men. Especially chauvinistic bullies like rival boat captain, Elias Sobol. But after she falls overboard during a storm, she’s stranded on a remote Alaskan island with the very man she hopes to avoid.
The catch of a lifetime
The first day Elias laid eyes on Lana, his selkie soul recognized she was his mate. The feeling is not mutual, however, and the stubborn female has hated him from the start. He’s forced to watch from afar, and it’s a good thing he has, because now her very life is in his hands.
As the frigid Alaskan wilderness presses in and the heat between them builds, Lana wonders why she ever thought Elias was the enemy. Until he reveals his true nature, and she’s blown off course. She’s just learning to trust again… but can she trust a man who truly isn’t what he seems?
**Reader note: This book contains explicit language and sexual situations. It is intended for audiences 17 years and older.
Welcome to the world of Aurora Shifters, where magic comes to life beneath the northern lights, and the wilderness isn’t the only place to find fur and fangs.
About Aurora Shifters: We are a collaboration of Alaskan authors who decided to put our own Arctic spin on hot paranormal shapeshifters. Look for wolves, bears, moose, ravens, seals, and many, many others. Each book stands on its own, with a guaranteed HEA and no cliffhangers, but be warned – once you read one, you’ll want them all. Tap to start reading today!
Seasoned attorney Brendan Murphy eagerly uncovers legal loopholes for his defendants. After keeping his death-row client alive for thirty long years, he’s sure he can buy enough time for the man to see his son’s upcoming wedding. But when an imminent execution date is suddenly set, Murphy resolves to prove the convict couldn’t have murdered his pregnant wife.
Claire Chastain isn’t afraid to testify for those she loves. So when her soon-to-be father-in-law faces lethal injection, the gutsy lawyer reopens his case hoping to expose the real killer. But as she follows a trail littered with old love affairs, dangerous stalkers, and a missing witness, Chastain’s once firm belief in his innocence begins to waver.
And with the clock ticking closer to capital punishment, shocking revelations from the highest court in the land could turn the entire case upside down…
Can Murphy and Chastain untangle the web of clues before the truth dies with the accused?
Keeping Secrets, A Legal Thriller is the fourth standalone novel in the gripping Warrick-Thompson Files series. If you like true-to-life characters, electrifying suspense, and superb twists you’ll never see coming, then you’ll love Deborah Hawkins’ powerful drama.
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