In this excerpt from Burning Ridge, Deputy Mattie Cobb and her K-9 partner Robo search for the body of an unknown victim. Prior to this excerpt, veterinarian Cole Walker’s Doberman pinscher, Bruno, had found a charred boot containing partial human remains. Mattie has used the boot as a scent article to see if Robo can find the missing corpse while her colleague, Chief Deputy Ken Brody, provides backup…
Robo entered the forest with her not far behind. She could still see him as he slipped through the sparse pine, but lost sight of him where the evergreens grew dense. When the footing became less soggy, she pushed herself into a sprint.
Sunlight dimmed as the forest closed around her. Mattie pressed forward, searching for Robo as her eyes adjusted to less light. She spotted him about thirty yards ahead following a faint trail, his nose in the air. She raced after him, using the firmer footing to catch up.
A Steller’s jay, its blue feathers iridescent in the filtered sunlight, flashed ahead and then landed high in a pine to scold her, its chirrup echoing in the stillness.
Too still? When they’d reached the meadow, they’d ridden out of the sounds of the forest—the murmuring twitter of birds and jabber of squirrels. Were the animals and birds aware of forbidden human activity back in here? Did they avoid this area?
Her feet thumping on the trail, Mattie closed the distance from Robo to about twenty feet. Her proximity did nothing to slow his pace—in fact, he held his head high and broke into a lope, his gaze straight ahead, his attitude purposeful.
The trail rose up and dipped back down, winding around boulders, currant bushes, and mountain juniper. She heard Brody’s footsteps at her back and saw that Robo remained intent on what lay ahead. They rounded a curve where a stream rushed beside the trail, and Robo veered to cross it. He apparently thought nothing of splashing through the clear water. Mattie slowed to pick her way on stones where she could, but when her foot slipped, cold water filled her boot.
She hoped Robo knew what he was doing and wasn’t leading them on a wild-goose chase. She pounded after him, one foot squishy inside her wet sock.
Robo breached a short rise and shot into a small clearing that contained a circle of rocks surrounding a campfire. The brook burbled behind her while he paused to sniff the blackened ash inside the fire ring. The pit was soggy and wet, no warm coals left to indicate a recent fire.
He sat and looked at her, his signal that he’d found something. And in this case, it appeared to be something outside of the environmental norm—one of Robo’s basic search skills, well practiced and highly accurate.
Her hopes fell. Had he been chasing the odor of ashes instead of decomp? Although disappointed, she followed him into the clearing, bent over and patted his side, telling him what a good boy he was. She needed to reinforce what he’d been trained to do, not be discouraged over his failure to perform a brand-new task.
Looking up into Mattie’s eyes and waving his tail, Robo accepted his praise and then stood and faced the forest, ears pricked. “What else has he got?” Brody said, arriving at the campsite behind her. Both of them had worked around Robo enough to know what his posture meant. Full alert. He’d hit on the scent she’d given him earlier.
“Let’s see,” Mattie murmured. And then, in an excited voice meant to encourage him, she said to Robo, “Go ahead, buddy. Search!”
Robo launched himself away from the stone-lined fire ring and dashed into the woods beyond the campsite. Mattie stayed close on his heels and Brody kept a short distance behind. He always covered her back, and she’d come to count on him.
She followed her dog through the trees for another fifty yards, the odor thickening as she traveled. The air grew heavy with the stink of rotting flesh. Robo picked up speed, dashing down into a hollow and then slowing. He pinned his ears, slinking up to a mound of dirt and debris.
Mattie raced to catch up. By the time she reached him, Robo had sat down and was waiting for her. His mouth opened in a pant, and he wore a smug expression as though quite satisfied with himself.
She squatted beside him and hugged him close, giving him lots of praise and pats for doing such a remarkable job. Since the stench was so bad, she wondered if this had been his destination all along, and he’d shown her the fire ring just for kicks.
“Here’s the big prize,” she said to Brody.
A shallow grave that had been ravaged by predators lay before them, putting on a partial display of its contents. Mattie’s stomach clenched as she took in the sight. The upper body of a burned corpse had been exposed, its arms bent like those of a boxer, its wrists flexed, its fingers curled into blackened claws. Roasted flesh had been harvested from the bone by the animals that had dug into the gravesite, and the face had been uncovered enough that Mattie could see the disfigured lower half—its jaw thrust open by its charred, protruding tongue.
In all her years of law enforcement, it was the worst thing Mattie had ever seen. She controlled her need to retch and scanned the lower half of the grave.
One leg was exposed, foot and boot missing. She forced herself to think analytically. Could Bruno have done this damage when he’d found the body? No, this couldn’t have been his handiwork. A pack of coyotes or foxes must have dug up the grave, one of them had dragged away the boot, and Bruno had merely found it.
Charred pieces of wood were scattered about and there’d been enough digging to see that the body had been buried inside another fire pit—this one huge.
“A burning pit,” Brody said, scanning the area around them. “For getting rid of a body. Plenty of wood for fuel, but not enough heat to do the job.”
Mattie struggled to remain as detached as Brody. Who was this poor man? At least she thought it was a man. What kind of a horrible death had he faced? Who was his family, and had they reported him missing? “Why bury him way up here?”
Brody shrugged. “Slim chance of being interrupted. Besides, he was probably killed up here.”
She forced her eyes away from the desecrated corpse. “We need to preserve this scene the best we can. This one’s going to get complicated.”
Brody straightened, thrusting his thumbs under his utility belt. “That’s for damn sure.”
Featuring Mattie Cobb and her K-9 partner Robo, Burning Ridge by critically acclaimed author Margaret Mizushima is just the treat for fans of Alex Kava.
On a rugged Colorado mountain ridge, Mattie Cobb and her police dog partner Robo make a grisly discovery―and become the targets of a ruthless killer.
Colorado’s Redstone Ridge is a place of extraordinary beauty, but this rugged mountain wilderness harbors a horrifying secret. When
a charred body is discovered in a shallow grave on the ridge, officer Mattie Cobb and her K-9 partner Robo are called in to spearhead the investigation. But this is no ordinary crime―and it soon becomes clear that Mattie has a close personal connection to the dead man.
Joined by local veterinarian Cole Walker, the pair scours the mountaintop for evidence and makes another gruesome discovery: the skeletonized remains of two adults and a child. And then, the unthinkable happens. Could Mattie become the next victim in the murderer’s deadly game?
A deranged killer torments Mattie with a litany of dark secrets that call into question her very identity. As a towering blaze races across the ridge, Cole and Robo search desperately for her―but time is running out in Margaret Mizushima’s fourth spine-tingling Timber Creek K-9 mystery, BURNING RIDGE.
Mystery Woman Sleuth [Crooked Lane Books, On Sale: September 11, 2018, Hardcover / e-Book, ISBN: 9781683317784 / eISBN: 9781683317791]
About Margaret Mizushima
Margaret Mizushima is the author of the critically acclaimed Timber Creek K-9 Mysteries. Her books have garnered a Reader’s Favorite gold medal, a TopShelf Indie Book Award nomination, and have been listed as finalists in the RT Reviewers’ Choice Awards, the Colorado Book Awards, the International Book Awards, and the Silver Falchion Awards. Margaret serves on the board for the Rocky Mountain chapter of Mystery Writers of America, and she lives in Colorado where she assists her husband with their veterinary practice and Angus cattle herd. She can be found on Facebook/AuthorMargaretMizushima, on Twitter @margmizu, on Instagram at margmizu, and on her website at www.margaretmizushima.com.