PURSUIT OF JUSTICE
Call of Duty, Book 3
Tyndale House Publishers, Inc
About the Book
Reading Group Guide
The moment Bella accepted the reassignment to the FBI’s field office in Houston, she realized the past had stalked her to the present. And she was ready, or at least she told herself so. Her training and experience had sharpened her skills and provided tools to solve crimes the average American deemed unspeakable.
Fear and memories had climbed into her luggage for the relocation to Houston, but she resisted their hold. Bella had made the decision to work hard to build her credentials and help curtail the endless barrage of crime, especially in the country’s fourth-largest city.
Her BlackBerry interrupted her thoughts and her drive to work with its rendition of “That’ll Be the Day.” A quick glance showed the caller was Frank.
No way, superagent. I don’t have a thing to tell you. She answered on the third ring. “Morning, Frank. What can I do for you?”
She laughed. “You heard I have an appointment with Swartzer, and curiosity is killing you.”
“Me? I wanted to talk about spending the weekend in Galveston.”
“Right. Frank, we broke up nine months ago.”
“Nine months, huh? As in giving birth to a new relationship?”
She envisioned a slight smile spreading over his face --- a good-looking one, but not for her. “No thanks. Remember, we tried and it didn’t work. I don’t want to put my heart in that place again. See you later.”
“But --- ”
Bella tossed the phone into her purse. Regret over the failed relationship with Frank settled like a day harboring poor air quality. She’d known from the start a relationship with him wouldn’t work. He wanted a wife who’d stay home and raise kids. She refused to give up the bureau, no matter how much she cared for him. The only thing she’d ever formed a lasting attachment to was the FBI, and mistakes in the name of love were not in her playbook.
A promotion had been in her path for the past few months, and she desperately wanted it. Ambition always ruled over her logic, but she didn’t view her objectives as selfish. The meeting this morning with her supervisor might be a jump in her career. A coveted opportunity to prove her mettle sounded almost too good to be true, and like a kid at Christmas on this early June morning, she drove toward the field office to see if she had a gift marked promotion.
Bella moved into the right lane of 290 to take the feeder road off the highway. For certain, battling traffic at 7 a.m. had hardened her for criminal activity --- or destroyed any trace of patience. Her mind raced with anticipation over her meeting with Swartzer. This meeting could be about a number of ongoing investigations or possibly a new one. No matter; she’d take the assignment and keep climbing the ladder.
She swung into the parking lot of the eight-story, glass and steel building and stopped in front of the guard shack. After displaying her creds, she eased into the covered parking area and hurried inside. Her heart pounded against her chest, and she sensed the familiar excitement of something new to challenge her. She scanned her badge and keyed in her security code at every door and made her way to the second floor, housing the violent crimes task force team and the office of Larry Swartzer, her supervisor. While his secretary informed him of her arrival, Bella took several deep breaths in an effort to settle her nerves and will away the anxiousness making her feel like a kid sent to the principal’s office.
Swartzer opened the door. “Mornin’, Bella. Come on in.”
Her heavy shoulder bag shifted and slipped from her arm to the floor. Thank goodness it was zipped. She cringed at the idea of her Glock, handcuffs, and all of her other equipment --- not to mention her makeup bag and wallet --- dropping at her feet.
“Little nervous, are we?” He chuckled, and her confidence fell to somewhere between diffused and lack-of.
She laughed and hoisted her bag. “Add curiosity to the mix.”
He ushered her into his office, and she took a seat across from his desk. The wall behind him intimidated her with its framed certificates and honors earned over his twenty-year career. Most likely his wife refused to have them all displayed at home. Bella attempted to read his face, but Swartzer prided himself in being unreadable, and this morning was no exception. Although short and stocky, her supervisor had the neck and shoulders of a man who must bench nearly 275 pounds. He removed his signature black-framed glasses and turned to retrieve a couple of files from atop his credenza. She hadn’t seen him without his glasses. Swartzer’s military haircut and polyester pants still made him look nerdish, but then superintelligent people usually were.
Where did that leave her? Shoving aside the bazillion thoughts darting in and out of her mind like mosquitoes over a stagnant pond, she realigned her focus and gave the impression of professional calmness.
“I have an assignment for you.” He tapped the file and eased back in the chair that was made for a much taller man, at least physically.
“Murder. Three bodies were found Monday afternoon on a ranch in West Texas.” His calculated gaze met hers. “Sixty miles south of Abilene.”
He had her attention, and he knew it. “Runnels County?”
She nodded and forced aside the implications of what the location meant to her. “Why the FBI?”
“It’s linked to a man on our fugitive list.”
Suspicion flared, and she opened the file, complete with photos of the victims. She pressed her fingertips into her palms. “Who?” But she already knew the answer.
“Murder for hire.” She stated the fact while memories in apocalyptic proportions slammed against her mind. “Also obsessed with finding the so-called Spider Rock treasure.”
“The victims were hunting for this treasure and believed their clues led them to the High Butte Ranch, owned by Carr Sullivan. They sought permission to dig, and he refused. Ran them off. One of the victims wrote ‘Spider Rock’ in the dirt before he died.”
“Runnels County doesn’t fall within the triangle of where the gold was supposedly hidden.”
“You know more about it than I do.”
“What were the victims’ names?”
“Forrest Miller, a history professor at the University of Texas; Daniel Kegley, a geologist from Austin; and Walt Higgins, a retired oilman from Waco.”
She didn’t recognize any of them. “Family?”
“Miller has a wife and three teenage girls, Kegley was engaged, and Higgins has been divorced for over thirty years --- no ties there. The families have all been interviewed. Professor Miller’s wife said a fourth man was in the mix, but that’s all she knew. Nothing else at this point.” Swartzer slipped on his glasses and steepled his fingers. “You know why I want you on the assignment. Or would you rather I brief Frank Nielson?”
Not on her life. Both of them were up for the same promotion. “I’ll take it.”
“I thought you’d accept. The updated report has been sent to your e-mail. I’ve also arranged for you to have access to classified files this morning and anything else you need. Here’s the bite: The ranch owner and a man who works for him found the victims. Sullivan phoned the local deputy sheriff and reported the bodies. When Sullivan learned their names, he told the sheriff about his conversation with one of the men. Said the three wanted to dig for treasure and he refused. When the Spider Rock legend came into the discussion, the FBI became involved. Richardson is out there somewhere with his own treasure-hunting expedition, and murder is one of his specialties.”
“Any idea who’s working with him?” Bella turned the pages in the file, ignored Brandt’s latest photo, and read his vital information. “He’s been quite successful at staying undercover.”
“The classified information will help you there. Twelve years ago he left the area for Peru with a woman. She’s never resurfaced. He probably got tired of her.” Swartzer leaned over his desk. “You know how these people in West Texas think, and I imagine you know the superstitions surrounding the legend.”
“Richardson won’t stop searching and killing for the treasure until someone clamps handcuffs on him.” Dread filled her while memories from the past threatened to paralyze her, but she refused to show it. She took a deep breath, one meant to clear her thoughts and help her think like a special agent, not a woman who swore she’d never set foot in Runnels County again.
“I have a difficult time believing anyone would spend their lives looking for lost treasure.”
“If the three victims believed the gold was on Sullivan’s ranch, his refusal wouldn’t have stopped them,” she said. “By him denying the men access, they’d believe he was searching for the treasure too. And it would have spurred on their efforts. Even caused them to dig at night.”
“And your knowledge of the area makes you the best agent for the investigation.”
“I appreciate your giving me this opportunity, sir.”
“Since this is in Dallas’s territory, they will furnish you with what you need. There’s also a satellite office in Abilene. But keep me informed.”
“I’d rather use one of our analysts, since I have a rapport with them.”
Finding the killer would end the nightmares for those families whose loved ones he’d killed and terrorized. If the killer happened to be Brandt Richardson, then that was an added bonus for all concerned.
“Sullivan is also under suspicion for the murders. Richardson may not even be involved with these killings in light of Sullivan’s ordering the three to stay off his property. Additional investigation shows the bullets found in the bodies came from a Ruger Mini-14 rifle. One is registered to Sullivan, and it’s missing. He claims it was stolen, but he hadn’t reported it. And he has an alibi for the estimated time of death.”
She turned to another section in the file. Carr Sullivan, former real estate developer, Dallas, Texas. He had blond hair and deep blue eyes. A pleasant-looking man, but not a lady-killer. “Tell me more about the rancher.”
“The man has a history of violent behavior. Used to be a high roller in Dallas. Made his money in commercial real estate. Drugs, alcohol, and being known for his wild parties along with a propensity to fight. Quite a colorful reputation. He spent a fortune in rehabs, but it never lasted. Then when his girlfriend OD’d about five years ago, he sold his business and bought a ranch in West Texas. Since then he’s settled down.”
“So the girlfriend’s death scared him into going straight?”
“The word is he got religion.”
“Found Jesus. Claims he’s born again.”
She stashed that info away for later reflection. “How does he spend his time?”
“He’s turned himself into a rancher and a respected member of the community --- done all the right things to alter his former reputation. His latest project is turning his ranch into a home for at-risk teen boys. He’s already applied for the licenses.”
“A real Boy Scout, huh?” She peered into Swartzer’s face. Couldn’t tell if he thought the change in Sullivan was legit or not.
“Sullivan’s past wheeling and dealing in Dallas fits the MO of a man obsessed with finding a lost treasure and potentially hooking up with Richardson.”
“I see.” She closed the file. “Sullivan could be working with Richardson.” Manipulated sounded more like Richardson’s method.
“You’re a good agent, Bella. You’ve demonstrated your commitment to the bureau with an impeccable record. All of your investigations have been conducted professionally and with excellent results. You lived there for fifteen years. Need I say more?”
“I appreciate your confidence in my skills and experience.”
“Then I’m assigning you as lead agent in this investigation to help solve these murders and possibly the opportunity to arrest Brandt Richardson.”
Her pulse raced. At last an opportunity to prove her training and determination. “I don’t know what to say, except thank you. I’ll not disappoint you.” Bella couldn’t stop the smile.
“When do I leave?”
“I’d like to see you on the road by lunchtime. Reservations have been made at the Courtesy Inn in Abilene near Highway 83 --- the same hotel where the victims stayed. Special Agent Vic Anderson from Dallas will meet you at your hotel at nine in the morning.”
“Thank you again.” Bella couldn’t get to her computer fast enough to review all the reports on the murders and Brandt Richardson.
“If you find yourself in over your head, don’t hesitate to contact me.” He gave her a tight-lipped smile. “Go for it.”
Excerpted from PURSUIT OF JUSTICE: Call of Duty, Book 3 © Copyright 2017 by DiAnn Mills. Reprinted with permission by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved.
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