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Joseph Flynn’s “NAILED” is featured in today’s FREE KINDLE NATION SHORTS excerpt – May 10, 2011

Slow down. Murder ahead.
The town police chief and his deputy drive around a bend in the road and encounter death: an African-American man nailed to a tree.
Today’s 14,000-word Free Kindle Nation Short jacks up the mystery as Chief Ron Ketchum is forced to look for a killer, hunt a lion, and defend his own integrity.

Here’s the set-up:

Ron Ketchum saw his share of the dark side as a cop in Los Angeles. Then he becomes chief of police in the Sierra Nevada town of Goldstrike, and comes upon a crime like nothing he’s ever seen.

An African-American man is nailed to a tree.

The victim is a respected minister; his father is televangelist Jimmy Thunder and Ron has described himself in court as a recovering bigot.

Goldstrike’s mayor, Clay Steadman, wants the killer caught fast. Then the victim’s grandmother comes to town. She says God will curse the town until the killer is caught.

That’s when a mountain lion begins attacking people: first on the wilderness outskirts of town, then inside town and finally turning the tables on one of its hunters.

Finding a killer, hunting a lion and defending his own name – it makes being a cop in L.A. seem like the good old days.



UK Customers:  Click on the title below to download


Free Kindle Nation Shorts – May 8, 2011

An Excerpt from


A Novel by Joseph Flynn

Copyright © 2011 by Joseph Flynn and published here with his permission

Chapter 1


The two cops, both ex-LAPD, cruised the California Sierra and talked about crime and race. Crime, in this case, consisted of public drunkenness outside a new bar, a floating poker game run by a professional gambler, and a small but disturbing spike in the number of burglary calls. Race consisted of black and white.

The early morning sky was a rain-scrubbed blue and the mountain scenery was some of the most magnificent in the United States, but they noticed it only in passing. They were looking for – but not expecting – breaches of the peace. Finding none, their conversation flowed without impediment.

“Skin color matters,” Deputy Chief Oliver Gosden said from the passenger seat.

“Yeah,” Chief Ron Ketchum agreed. “Mostly because people won’t let it alone.”

“Some people can’t let it alone.”

The chief wasn’t about to get into that. Instead, he asked, “You know the ultimate proof of racial equality? Rednecks come in all colors.”

“Maybe so. But you know one advantage of being a minority in this country? There are fewer assholes who look like me than look like you.”

“You saying I look like an asshole?” the chief replied.

Ron Ketchum had once saved Oliver Gosden’s life at the risk of his own. Gosden had once saved Ketchum’s reputation at the cost of his job.

The chief was forty-eight years old, six-two, with a lean, hard frame. He had dark brown hair and hazel eyes. He was white. The deputy chief was thirty-seven years old, five-ten, and still had the densely muscular build of the heavyweight collegiate wrestler he’d been at the University of Iowa. He still carried himself like a jock, too. One who could pin the whole world to the mat, if need be. He was black.

“Nah, not an asshole,” Oliver said. “White devil slave-master, maybe.”

Ron gave him a look. “The shit I put up with.”

As the sun climbed over the mountaintops that Friday in the second week of August, the two top law enforcement officers of the town of Goldstrike were on their weekly patrol. Serving and protecting. Keeping their jurisdiction safe. Their aggregate blood pressure was sixty points lower than it ever had been in Los Angeles.

Goldstrike was perched in an alpine valley six thousand feet up in the mountains the colonial Spaniards had named the Snowy Range. The centerpiece of the affluent resort town was Lake Adeline whose pristine waters ranged in color from sapphire to emerald. The setting for this liquid jewel was a twelve mile long shoreline gilded with a chain of manicured estates, four-star hotels, and immaculately kept public parks and beaches. The outskirts of town climbed high up the sea of majestic evergreens that covered the slopes of the mountains. A half-dozen ski resorts stood as sentinels above the town, their slopes descending through the conifers like the spokes of a wheel.

Nature had been lavish in bestowing its wonders on Goldstrike, and the real estate prices had been set accordingly. For the most part, those who lived there had either gotten in early or had made their bundles in high-tech, show biz or some other megabucks profession, and then retreated to “Eden on High,” as the town’s founder, Adeline Walsh, had described the area in 1849.

Ron said, “As important as color is to some people, it’s going to take a back seat real soon to cultural questions.”

“What do you mean?” Oliver asked.

“I mean the way the PC types have subverted the idea of assimilation, there’s going to be a whole new set of worries to get people’s attention.”

“Such as?”

“Such as, who do you think the average white guy would rather see move in next door? A black guy who goes to work in the morning, takes his wife and kids to church on Sunday, and watches the NBA Finals? Or a blue-eyed Caucasian Afghan who’s a former member of the Taliban and wants to shoot up the white guy’s stereo system, not because he’s playing it too loud, but because the new neighbor interprets the Koran as forbidding recorded music?”

The deputy chief snorted. “I think if either of those guys moves into a white neighborhood, ‘For Sale’ signs get posted on every lawn on the block.”

Ron sighed. “Okay, let’s try it this way. You’re the black guy who goes to work every morning, takes your wife and son to church on Sunday, and, for some reason, follows NCAA wrestling.” Which described Oliver to a T. “Now, another black family moves in next door. Only they practice Santerîa. Worships several gods. Believes in casting spells and conducting animal sacrifices. Right there in the yard next to yours.” Out of the corner of his eye, Ron saw Oliver frown. “And lets say your boy, Danny, comes up to you one Sunday and says, ‘Pop, I don’t feel like singing in the church choir anymore. I want to go over to the neighbor’s place and cut up a goat.’ What do you think is going to matter to you, the new neighbor’s color or his culture?”

“They’re both important.”

“Okay. But wouldn’t you rather have another hard-working, church-going college wrestling fan next door even if he were – oh, my God – white?”

Oliver grimaced, conceding silently that Ron had a point.

He would have offered a rebuttal, but the chief had just guided their police department Ford Explorer onto the Tightrope, a narrow two lane isthmus of blacktop in a sea of blue sky. To their left was a spectacular view of Lake Adeline. To their right was a staggering vista of mountain wilderness. Neither view was obstructed by a guardrail. For the next quarter mile, only a steady hand kept them on the road. The fall-off on each side was steep enough to launch a hang glider. Which more than a few loons did. Illegally.

The speed limit on the Tightrope was ten miles per hour. The deputy chief thought it should be cut in half – if people had to use the damn thing at all.

Ron looked over at Oliver with a grin. “I thought you had something more on your mind.”

“Keep your eyes on the road!” the deputy chief ordered. Oliver was tough-minded, fearless in most cases, but he was a devout flatlander who’d lived the majority of his life on the mostly level plane of the L.A. Basin. He’d moved to the mountains only because he’d needed the job Ron Ketchum had offered him, and he saw it as the stepping-stone to his own chief’s spot someday.

Ron gave his deputy chief a mock salute, and did as he was told.

“I haven’t run off this road yet, Oliver,” he said. “Haven’t asked you to drive it, either. But someday, most likely, you will have to make the trip on your own. Maybe at night. In the rain or snow. Maybe with a big truck in the oncoming lane. What are you going to do then?”

Ron completed the crossing, and Oliver heaved a sigh of relief as the comforting bulk of a mountainside loomed to his right. Ron grinned again. Oliver gave him a look that had put many a wrestling opponent at an immediate disadvantage.

The two men might have pulled each other’s ass out of the fire once upon a time, but there were definitely times when each felt stuck with the other.

“I’ll tell you what I’ll do,” the deputy chief said. “I’ll aim straight down the middle of that sucker, turn on my lights and siren, and everybody else better pull the hell over.”

The chief laughed. “Toss ’em over the side, huh?”

“Bet your ass.”

“Maybe I’ll just keep driving then.” Ron gave it a beat and then picked up the main thread of the conversation. “It’s your in-laws, isn’t it? Didn’t they just leave town?”

“Yeah, it’s them,” Oliver said glumly. “And, thank God, they’re gone.”

“Did Warren and Loretta finally do something unfortunate? Tip you for bringing them a drink or something.”

“You’re a funny man,” the deputy chief said dryly. “You ever retire from police work, you could do stand-up comedy.”

Neither rank nor race kept either man from speaking freely when they were alone. Protocol was strictly for public situations. You laid your life or your livelihood on the line for the other guy, that was how it went.

“Come on, Oliver. I know you’re not a cracker. Can it really be that bad having a white mother-in-law and father-in-law? They must have done a pretty terrific job raising Lauren, back there in Iowa, the way you love her.”

Lauren Fells Gosden was the deputy chief’s beautiful and adored black wife. She’d been abandoned as an infant by her fourteen-year-old birth mother and given a home by Warren and Loretta Fells, shortly before such adoptions had been labeled “cultural genocide” by black social workers.

“They’re fine people,” the deputy chief said of the Fells, “I know that. And I know what’d happen to me if I ever said one bad word about Lauren’s parents in front of her.” A small shudder passed through Oliver at the thought, and he fell silent. But his jaw muscles kept working. Finally, he said, “They told Daniel last night that skin color doesn’t matter. Warren sat my boy right up on his lap, looked him in the eye, and said skin color just does not matter. What counts is who you are inside.”

Ron started to speak, but Oliver cut him off. “And don’t go telling me he was only paraphrasing Dr. King.”

The chief shook his head. “I was just wondering if Danny maybe had asked his grandpa why the two of them are different colors. A six year old might think of something like that.”

The sharp look Oliver shot Ron told him he’d scored a bull’s-eye. Content that he understood the situation, the chief didn’t push it. Just kept his eyes on the road as the Explorer entered a series of descending S-curves.

Undaunted by this road feature, the deputy chief continued to speak his mind. “That’s not the only thing,” he said.

“What else?” Ron asked.

“Lauren came out with a new button.”

The deputy chief’s wife, a surgical nurse, liked to express herself in epigrams that she put onto buttons. She’d pin a given button to her blouse or her blue scrubs until she decided the message had been seen and digested by a large enough audience. It was a low-key method of preaching, a part of Lauren’s charm.

“What’s this one say?” Ron asked.

“It’s one of her cheerleader series.”


“It says: 2-4-6-8, I don’t want to hyphenate.”

“She doesn’t want to be a writer-director?” asked the former L.A. cop.

The deputy chief ignored the gibe. “She doesn’t want to be called an African-American. The bottom of the button says: Just call me an American.”

Ron thought about it for a moment and nodded .

“Ask her if she’s got one for me, will you?”

Oliver turned to Ron and said, “This is serious shi-”

The deputy chief suddenly had to throw his hands against the dashboard as Ron braked sharply. A rush of icy fear filled Oliver as he felt sure they were about to skid over a precipice and plunge to their deaths. When he looked up he saw death, all right. Not the prospect of his own, but still horrifying.

“Jesus Christ,” Ron Ketchum whispered.

“Got that right,” Oliver agreed.

There, just ahead of them, adjacent to the last curve in the road, was the body of a nearly naked black man. He was stretched out against the charred trunk of a lightning-struck tree, a big incense cedar. He’d been nailed to it.


Chapter 2

Mary Kay Mallory breathed deeply but easily, one part of her large, luminous mind measuring her footfalls against her heart rate, another part doing quick scans of her muscles, from the toes to scalp, for any sign of cramping. When you ran alone at 6,000 feet elevation, you had to be aware of how oxygen deprivation could affect your body. It wouldn’t do at all to have her quads or calves knot up unexpectedly and leave her writhing in the roadway, just as a group of happy campers from Marin County came barreling around a curve in their Cadillac Escalade.

No, no, no. She had too much to live for.

At thirty-five, Mary Kay was the owner and chief designer of HeraSoft, the fastest rising computer game company for girls and young women in the country. She was worth twenty million dollars already, and could add hundreds of millions more if she decided to take her company public. But she didn’t think she would do an IPO. Not any time soon. The money wasn’t worth the meddling outsiders that came with it.

If she sold out, she’d probably have to leave Goldstrike and move the company back to San Francisco, or even set up shop in – yuck! – Silicon Valley. Most of the guys in the valley made Bill Gates look like George Clooney. And if a lot of them were rich and getting richer, so what? So was she. San Francisco was still a great town, her hometown in fact, but … she’d been stalked there.

A guy she’d hired as a sales rep and then declined to date – because you had to be nuts to be anything but polite and professional with a co-worker these days-had refused to take no for an answer. When she’d given him, “You’re fired,” for an answer, he got weird on her. So weird he followed her everywhere, and one night she came home and found him naked in her bed. Pointing a gun at her. He told her she had to have sex with him. Just once. Then they’d get married. But she could have an uncontested divorce once they’d been together long enough to establish his community property rights. Not terribly romantic, the creep admitted, but she would either go along with his plan or he’d kill her.

Mary Kay had managed to hit the light switch and run screaming from the darkened bedroom, sped on by a hail of gunfire. The guy followed Mary Kay right out of her house. Naked. But by this time his gun was empty, and a responsive neighbor broke the maniac’s right leg with a baseball bat. The larcenous stalker had been sent away for twelve years for trespassing and attempted murder, but he was appealing both convictions on a number of legal technicalities. With the way the so-called justice system worked these days, you never knew what might happen.

No, she wasn’t going back to San Francisco. She was staying right here in these glorious mountains. Where she could run along this empty road in the morning, watch the sun poke through the trees, fill her lungs with the thin but bracing air, and experience the joy of gliding along as her muscles gathered and stretched with fluid ease.

Her buoyant mood was helped by the fact that in the past month she’d met two new men, and had dared to allow each of them to buy her a drink-the first time she’d permitted anything like that in over a year. And, wonder of wonders, neither of them had gone psycho on her. Just the opposite. Each of them was charming, each in his way.

Brad and Carter were both good looking. Neither was pushy, thank God. Brad was about her age; Carter was ten years older. Brad was in the first flush of professional success – not on her scale, of course, but he wouldn’t be moving back in with mom and dad any time soon; Carter was starting over after a ruinous divorce, but seemed determined to rebuild his life and not be permanently embittered. Brad was maybe a touch too taken with himself; Carter was a trifle gun-shy.

How to choose, Mary Kay wondered. Or whether to choose at all.

Rounding a curve in the road, she had the uneasy feeling that she was no longer running alone. She looked over both shoulders, but saw no one behind her, and the trees off to either side of the road were too thick for a pursuer to negotiate easily. She listened for the sound of an oncoming runner approaching from beyond the next curve. Nothing. Only the soft whisper of the breeze stirring the trees.

She chided herself for being paranoid. Her stalker was still in prison. He didn’t know where she was; and she’d been told she would be notified in advance of any decision to let him out early. Still, for the first time since she’d come to the mountains, she had that old gut-wrenching feeling: she was being followed.

Another survey of her surroundings, however, produced the same negative results. She didn’t see a soul. As she approached the upcoming curve, though, her hand went to the canister of pepper spray clipped to the waistband of her running shorts. By leaving San Francisco and moving to Goldstrike, she’d fled as far as she ever intended to flee; she had made a vow that anybody who fucked with her from now on was going to have a fight on his hands. Rounding the curve, she saw no one coming uphill.

Mary Kay took her hand off the pepper spray, and forced herself to relax. Her breathing fell back in synch with her stride. She wondered if she’d ever be able to really trust a man again.

That was when the idea for the game hit her: Sorting ‘Em Out.

She would collect the experiences of hundreds – no, thousands – of bright, successful women. Listen to all the smart moves they’d made with men. All the disastrous ones, too. Define the categories of men available to date. List their pros and cons. Start with a first date. Program male moves. Female countermoves. Add some humor, music, and cool graphics. Offer the chance to commit to, or bail out of, the relationship at any point. Then show the likely results of the choice.

What a great game for young women! All women, really.

Pretty big market.

Might even be a movie if sales-

The bolt of fear struck Mary Kay like an axe between her shoulder blades. There was a stalker behind her. She felt it. He was closing in fast. Her throat went dry with fear. She could imagine being dragged into the trees.

She started to sprint, and her right hand closed on the canister of pepper spray.

Then, only two strides into her burst, she heard a deep, guttural grunt. Something stunningly strong hit her, a cluster of razor sharp blades slashed her left shoulder and the back of her neck. The force of the blow spun her around and knocked her off her feet. She came to rest on her bottom and her bloodied elbows.

And there looking down at her, above huge, gleaming fangs, close enough to feel and smell its heated, putrid breath, were the feral yellow eyes of a mountain lion.

The cat snarled and raised a claws-out paw, but it didn’t strike. It paused as if unsure as to how it should dispatch prey that met its fearsome gaze and refused to look away.

In that instant of hesitation, it was the woman who struck.

She blasted the beast’s eyes, nose and mouth with her pepper spray. The lion howled and backed off, raking her abdomen and thighs as it went. But it didn’t run away. It stood not five feet from her shaking its head frantically, trying to rid itself of the effects of the spray.

Mary Kay scrambled to her knees and leaning in as far as she dared emptied the canister in the big cat’s face. The animal shrieked with pain, and swiped at her, but partially blinded now, it missed.

Still, the mountain lion didn’t run away. It lay flat on its belly and ran its forelegs over its eyes and nose trying to relieve the terrible pain and clear its vision. Mary Kay knew if the cat succeeded it would kill her for sure. But she was out of spray.

So she did the only thing she could think of. She got to her feet, held the canister out at arm’s length and hissed to mimic the sound of the stinging spray being released.

That was enough for the mountain lion.

If fled clumsily into the trees from which it had stalked her.

Terrified, bleeding and stiff, Mary Kay Mallory began to run haltingly in the direction from which she’d come. She knew it was a little better than a mile to the scenic overlook where she’d parked her car. She had to make it back there before the cat’s senses cleared, before it could regain her scent, before it came for her again.

Chapter 3

Ron Ketchum was lucky that Route 99 had a turnout at the point opposite the crucifixion. He moved the Explorer off the road so nobody would come around the curve and rear end them. Oliver called for back-up: cops to keep the traffic moving; Officer Benny Marx, the department’s crime scene specialist and Dr. George Ryman, a retired internist, who served pro bono as the town’s medical examiner. Ron also told the deputy chief to have somebody scrounge up some kind of screen to shield the victim from public view. The sight had jolted two cops with almost thirty-five years of experience between them. If the motoring public came around the bend and saw that corpse, the result might be anything from a vehicular accident to a heart attack to … well, nightmares were a pretty good bet for anybody who saw this particular body.

Ron got out of the car and noticed the tire marks on the pavement. Somebody else had pulled into the turnout recently, and then taken off fast enough that a fair amount of rubber had been left behind. Ron saw that Oliver had noticed the tire marks, too.

“Killer or just a coincidence?” the chief asked.

“Never met a coincidence in my life,” the deputy chief replied. He leaned back into the Explorer and came out with a digital camera. He started taking pictures of the tire marks from several angles. He dropped into a squat and eyeballed the black streaks.

“Nice wide tires. Probably expensive. Kind you find on some fancy foreign car.”

Ron gave Oliver a bleak look as the deputy chief stood up.

“Yeah, I know,” Oliver said. “Fat lotta good that’ll do us around here.”

Goldstrike didn’t have the Rolls-Royce density of Beverly Hills, but there were more than enough Range Rovers to make up the difference. And any car that ever raced down a mountain road in a James Bond movie could be found in somebody’s garage in town. Unlike Oliver, there were plenty of people in the Sierra who liked to drive fast right out there on the edge of eternity.

“Tell Benny when he gets here to take some samples of that rubber and make some measurements and impressions anyway,” Ron said. “Even if the marks are from tires found on something common like a Beemer, it’s good to be thorough. You never know when you’ll get lucky.”

“Right,” Oliver agreed, making a note of the instruction.

Then Ron dictated the time they’d found the body, and the weather conditions. Oliver wrote it all down. Back in the City of Angels, the chief had been the homicide detective, the deputy chief had been the street cop.

They crossed the road and saw the two sets of footprints in the rain-softened earth. Both sets had the toes pointing toward the road. Both sets appeared to have been made by the same shoes or boots. But one set of footprints was outlined by a pair of grooves. The chief interpreted the signs.

“The killer dragged the victim to the tree walking backward. Means the poor sonofabitch was was at least incapacitated before he got nailed up. We’ll need Benny to make molds of these footprints.”

Oliver wrote it down.

“You see any sign anybody else was up here?” Ron asked.

The deputy chief took a long look around. The charred tree rose from a shelf of bare earth that was approximately fifteen feet wide. Just behind it, the land dropped away. Not a cliff exactly, but a steep slope covered with fir trees. Oliver didn’t think anyone involved in the crime had arrived or departed that way.

“No,” he answered.

“Okay, photograph the footprints from here.” After Oliver had taken several exposures, Ron added, “Follow behind me so we disturb the area as little as possible.”

The two cops walked over to the corpse, paying careful attention not to step on any possible evidence. Ron saw no signs of blood spatter. If there’d been any, the rain must have washed it away.

The victim was a very dark skinned man. His head rested on his right shoulder. He appeared to be in his mid-to-late twenties. The flesh above the left brow had been laid open to the bone. His arms had been stretched upward with his elbows bent and his wrists twisted to accommodate the curvature of the tree. One nail had been driven through each of his palms. The victim’s knees were bent and the sole of his left foot had been place over the instep of his right. A nail had been driven through both feet and into the tree. The victim’s toes touched the soil at the base of the dead tree.

The only article of clothing on the body was a pair of pale blue boxer shorts that were stained with urine. A smell of feces indicated that the bowels had also vented. Maybe post-mortem, maybe while the man was still alive.

The victim had been roughly Deputy Chief Gosden’s height, but his lean build was more like Ron Ketchum’s. There were indentations on either side of the nose, as if the victim had been a long-time wearer of eyeglasses.

Oliver, looking over the chief’s shoulder, nodded at the blow to the forehead. “You think the poor sonofabitch was dead before he got stuck to this tree?”

Ron, having a better vantage point, noticed there was a second gash at the crown of the victim’s skull. “Looks like he caught another whack up here.”

“So, what do you think? The one in back to knock him out, then nail him up, then the one in front to keep him from screaming too loud?”

Ron looked around. The road behind them was the only sign of the twenty-first century. Otherwise, it was a wilderness. He asked, “Who’d hear him scream out here?”

Oliver took an old Zippo lighter out of his pocket and started flicking the top open and shut. A former smoker, he had finally managed to quit last month, with considerable persuasion from his wife and additional coaxing from Ron. Now, the deputy chief played with his lighter whenever he wanted a cigarette.

Ron intended to indulge the nervous tic for another week or two. Then he’d tell Oliver to knock it the hell off; it was driving him crazy.

“You look at his face,” Ron said, reconsidering the victim, “it seems there’s just too much pain there for him not to know what was happening to him. He might have been dazed, but I think he was alive and aware when he got nailed up.”

“Yeah, me too.” Oliver snapped the lighter shut sharply, trying to control his rage.

“Can’t have happened too long ago. The hands would start to give way; he’d be sagging more. And the coyotes would have started in on him.” Ron glanced at Oliver. “You recognize him?”


“Neither do I.”

“Motherfucker,” the deputy chief cursed, jamming the lighter back in his pocket.

“Oliver,” Ron said, “this doesn’t have to be a racial killing.”

“It doesn’t?” Oliver asked in open disbelief.

“Could have been one black guy killing another.”

They’d both seen plenty of that in L.A. But neither had seen a crucifixion before.

The deputy chief was in no mood to debate. He just asked, “You want me to call the mayor now?”

“Oh, yeah,” Ron said. “Mayor for Life Steadman won’t want to miss this one.”

Clay Steadman, a movie icon for forty years, billionaire real estate developer, the town’s largest property owner, and the fifth-term mayor of Goldstrike, arrived in his gleaming black Land Rover shortly after Dr. Ryman and the detail of back-up cops had appeared. Nobody, as of the moment, had yet to find a way to screen the corpse from public view, and Officer Benny Marx advised against it regardless, not wanting to take a chance of displacing some subtle piece of evidence.

The chief noted the mayor’s arrival and escorted him to the victim along the now well trampled path that everyone had used. The two men arrived at the victim just as Dr. Ryman was making an incision in the man’s abdomen, not terribly far, anatomically, from where the Roman soldier’s spear had pierced the side of Christ.

“What the hell are you doing, George?” the mayor demanded of the doctor.

Dr. Ryman answered mildly, “Taking his liver temperature to fix the time of death. Problem is, with the rain last night cooling him down, that could be a little tricky.”

The physician inserted a probe with a thermometer through the incision he’d just made. The mayor grimaced and looked over his shoulder. He wasn’t being squeamish, Ron knew, he was just making sure no townsfolk were approaching to witness the ghastly proceedings. Townsfolk or reporters. But it was still early, and the only witnesses were those who had a professional interest.

The mayor fixed his chief of police with a steely stare known to moviegoers around the world and instructed him in an equally familiar glacial whisper, “I want the bastard who did this.”

“Now, there’s an idea,” Ron responded blandly.

Clay Steadman had hired Ron Ketchum personally, and the chief respected the mayor. But unlike most people, Ron never really cared for Clay’s movies, or the way the mayor sometimes lapsed into dialogue from the silver screen.

The mayor’s ball-bearing gaze bore down on his chief of police, but he knew if there was one man in town – or anywhere else – he couldn’t stare down, it was Ron Ketchum.

“Let me know when you have something,” Clay told Ron.

“Yes, sir.”

“Nobody’s going to do this in my town and get away with it.”

More movie dialogue, Ron thought. But he agreed with the sentiment completely. Goldstrike was his town, too.

Chapter 4

In January, 1848, a carpenter named James Marshall, originally from New Jersey, was building a millrace for his partner, John Sutter, in California’s Coloma Valley when a gleaming pebble approximately half the size of a pea caught his eye. He stooped to pick it up. It was gold. By the fall of that year, gold was being sought and found in California from Tuolumne in the south to the Trinity River in the north – a distance of four hundred miles.

By 1849, word of the discovery of gold in California had spread across the United States and around the world, and the rush was on. In just that first year of the gold rush, more than ninety thousand people heard the news, imagined themselves wealthy, and abandoned their homes and former lives with scarcely a second thought or a backward glance.

And that was just the Americans. Additional thousands poured in from Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, Europe and even Australia.

Most of the gold seekers were the young, adventurous and desperate; an estimated 98% of them were male. A cottage industry of publishing guidebooks on how a traveler might find his way west sprang up. One such publication indicated an overland route from New Orleans to the Sierra that could be traversed in only thirty-six days – when the actual travel time was two hundred and sixteen days. Another suggested a southern route through Mexico that crossed “thickly settled country.” Instead, it passed through a killing desert and the territory of hostile Apaches. Of the ninety thousand who headed west in 1849, only forty thousand made it to the gold fields. Of those who did make it, 99% didn’t find enough gold to cover their expenses. All the best claims had been staked in 1848.

Still, the gold rush, far more than earlier agrarian migrations, was largely responsible for the development of the American West. It was the primary reason for the founding of the city of Denver. It was responsible for the direct admission of California to the Union in 1850, having been ceded to the United States by Mexico in 1848, just after the Sutter’s Mill find, but before the word got out. Congress didn’t bother with the usual requirement of California becoming a recognized territory first.

Besides finding gold, the other impetus to head west was the opportunity to “mine the miners.” At a time when the prevailing wage for a laborer was a dollar a day, jobs digging gold on someone else’s claim were being offered at a pay scale of ten to fifteen dollars per day. Simple labor had become a way to strike it at least moderately rich.

A not dissimilar thought occurred to a young man in Chicago when in early 1849 he first heard the news of gold being found. Michael Walsh was, fittingly enough, a journeyman brewer. At the time, Walsh was chafing under the stern direction of his mentor and father-in-law, master brewer Hans Koenig. True, Hans had taught him the marvelous craft of making beer. And Hans had allowed the young man to marry his only daughter, the tall and comely Adeline. And the old braumeister had even built a home for his daughter and son-in-law when the first of their three children had been born.

But Michael Walsh and Hans Koenig could not agree on their beer.

Herr Koenig insisted that beer be brewed only one way – the way he had learned. The way German law had decreed beer should be brewed since medieval times. Michael Walsh had no objection to brewing his father-in-law’s way. It made a grand beer, right enough. But he, too, came from a country with a proud tradition of brewing and distilling, and anytime Michael tried to brew some fine dark stout, even in his own house, Hans would fly into a rage about “Irish swill,” throw all of Michael’s wonderful elixir into the street, and threaten to take back his daughter, his grandchildren and the house in which Michael lived.

All of which led Michael Walsh, at age thirty-one, to sell the house his father-in-law had fortuitously put in his name, buy two wagons, four oxen, brewing equipment and all the supplies Adeline insisted upon, bid the bitter Hans farewell and set off for California with his family to brew Irish stout for all those miners, many of them his countrymen, making ten to fifteen dollars a day.

He was sure they were thirsty. He was sure his fortune would soon be made.

The early part of the Walsh’s journey was relatively easy. They drove their wagons, in caravan with those of four other families leaving Chicago, across the blessedly flat and relatively settled prairies of Illinois to St. Louis. From there, they enjoyed the comparative comfort of a steamboat ride to Independence, Missouri.

But once in Independence, the place where large parties of migrants formed for the westward push across the vast wilderness, life became a great deal more precarious. The plague of cholera struck. The disease was debilitating at the very least, producing bouts of diarrhea, projectile vomiting of blood and, most commonly, death.

Michael and Adeline were fearful for their family: nearly panicked on the one hand that they would die and leave their children orphans, stranded hundreds of miles from their Chicago home; filled with dread on the other hand that their children would die, leaving them with broken hearts.

To ward off the possibility of disease, the Walshes hit on two strategies. Adeline made sure that each of them was meticulously clean, right down to scraping the dirt from under their fingernails. She’d noticed, growing up, that those people most susceptible to disease and death were invariably the ones who went the longest between baths. Michael’s contribution was to soak bandannas in a barrel of his stout that he’d brought along, and then cover the faces of his family with them.

The Walshes’ masked countenances soon drew public notice, as did the fact that they remained healthy. Others emulated them, though not many chose to bathe, and Michael even allowed them to dip their bandannas – once they’d been well laundered, at Adeline’s insistence – into his barrel of stout. In short order, a party was formed to head west on the Overland Trail, and escape the pestilence of the staging area. The Walshes were among them. Many in the party came by the Walshes’ wagons to dip their face masks in the stout again, until they were sure that the danger of contracting cholera was well past.

Not a single migrant in the Masked Man Party, as it came to be called, came down with the dread disease.

Neither did a single migrant come to consider Michael Walsh’s stout anything but medicine. It worked just fine for that, thank God. But drink it for pleasure? A substitute for real beer?

“Mister, don’t make me laugh,” one and all told Michael Walsh.

The gold seekers pushed on through present day Nebraska. Even though the greatest hardships lay ahead, the long journey was beginning to take its toll on the Walsh children, the oldest of whom, Wilhelmine, was only six. Rory and Erik were four and three, respectively.

Adeline did not want to see her children die of exhaustion or depletion of their spirits, not after she’d kept them safe from the cholera. At every trading post along the way, she asked her husband if they might not establish their home there, if he might not make a success of his business there. After all, so many others had set up their businesses and were prospering from selling to the flood of immigrants.

But Michael Walsh was determined to make it to California. He said that’s where the greatest concentration of riches lay, and that’s where they would go. Unspoken, even to his wife, was his fear that if he didn’t find a large gathering of fellow Irishmen with gold in their pockets, he’d never be able to sell the stout he wanted to brew.

So, they pushed on through the treacherous mountain passes of the Rockies and the great, deadly deserts of the West. In Nevada, the sun was so fierce they had to travel at night by torchlight. One morning as the migrant party stopped to rest in the shade of an outcropping of rock, Michael Walsh found his three children with his wife’s fingers in their mouths. Their parched little mouths were red. They were suckling on Adeline’s blood.

It was moisture, she said. She’d pricked her fingers and was giving her children their mother’s strength.

Others in the wagon train sought a less drastic way to slake their thirst and preserve their meager stores of water. They finally came to Michael Walsh for small measures of his stout. But even dying of thirst, they developed no taste for the stuff. This filled Walsh with a dread almost as great as the thought of death.

Finally, eighteen grueling weeks after leaving Independence, Missouri, the Masked Man Party reached the Sierra Nevada, only to find inclines so steep that their wagons had to be broken down and hauled over jagged ridges. But now, even this backbreaking work could not dampen the enthusiasm of the gold seekers. They knew they were near their destination. Just the other side of these mountains was the green, fertile Sacramento Valley where gold lay waiting to be found. They would dig their fortunes – their dreams – right out of the earth.

The Walshes never made it that far.

They were stopped by the epiphany Adeline Walsh experienced when the sparkling majesty of the lake that would later bear her name first filled her eyes. She drew a deep breath, clasped her hands to her heart, and turned to her husband. The words she spoke to him that day were later recorded for posterity.

“Michael, we have found Eden on high.” Her next words were less poetic but had far more immediate impact. “This is where we will stay.”

Assuming his wife meant where they would rest, fill their barrels with the crystalline water from the lake, and gather their energies for the final push, Michael did not argue. But by the very next morning he understood clearly that if he were to continue the journey, he would do so alone. On foot.

Adeline felt certain that it was her destiny to live out her days in this place. Michael argued that it was already September, and that if they didn’t leave soon, they would be snowbound and no doubt die there. Adeline’s response was that she better start felling some trees then, build a cabin and lay in some food.

Michael Walsh was galled to have come so far and be stopped just short of his goal. But try as he might – and try he did – he couldn’t imagine going on and leaving his wife and children behind. He was sure he’d be consigning them to their deaths, and even if they were to survive somehow, he’d miss them sorely. Taking pity on her husband without losing a bit of her resolve, Adeline comforted Michael. Then she cajoled him into making a further concession, even more vexing than the last. She talked him into brewing beer her father’s way.

Adeline was sure that once word spread about the lake, anyone traveling through these mountains would stop there to replenish their water supplies. Doubtless, many of those who did would like something stronger to drink. She was sure that Michael could brew and sell the beer her father had taught him to make.

With great gentleness, she reminded him that her father’s beer was a very good brew.

“And everyone thinks mine is snake oil,” Michael Walsh said bitterly.

Hurt to his soul, but still wanting to make his fortune, he reluctantly agreed.

When the remainder of the Masked Man Party was told of the Walshes’s decision, they viewed it with suspicion. To a man, they were sure that Michael Walsh had somehow stumbled on to gold. The Miner’s Commandment said: Thou shall not tell any false tales of good diggings. Meaning don’t send your fellow gold-seeker off on a wild goose chase to your own advantage, lest you taste his vengeance.

But Michael Walsh hadn’t done that.

Rather, he’d said he was staying because his wife wanted him to stay. With one exception, the other twenty-three gold seekers of the Masked Man Party were bachelors – but even the married man couldn’t imagine having come so far, enduring so many hardships, and then stopping just short of your goal solely for the sake of a woman.

In the early days of the gold rush, one of the most alluring tales pulling migrants westward was that of Goldstrike Lake. Legend had it that a prospector had found a beautiful mountain lake where gold was strewn on the shores just waiting to be picked up. Unfortunately, the prospector had died, been killed, some said, before he could file his claim and reveal the lake’s whereabouts.

The common suspicion in the Masked Man Party was that Michael Walsh had found those legendary golden shores.So in the name of gratitude for the aid the Walshes had given in the face of the cholera outbreak, the party delayed its departure to help the family fell trees and erect a rough log cabin. Of course, they really stayed to make a collective effort to find the gold that tight-mouthed, want-it-all-for-himself, papist bastard Walsh had blundered upon.

The problem was, the lakeshore was twelve miles long. And with all of the shoreline’s inlets and points, there had to be twenty-five miles of ground to explore. More daunting than that, some parts of the shoreline could be reached only by descending sheer cliffs. That or paddling in by canoe. Many a gold seeker in the Masked Man Party tried to worm the secret out of Michael Walsh, but the brewer never let on. Not a word. Just pretended like he didn’t know what the hell any of them was hinting at.

The cunning Mick.

Several men took to following Michael Walsh around when he wasn’t busy working on his cabin. They watched him fish and hunt. But they couldn’t catch him out. He didn’t drop the smallest clue as to where he’d made his strike. When he wasn’t engaged in providing for his family, he spent most of his free time filling his bucket in the little springs that fed the lake, and then he toted the water home.

Pretty soon, some of the men wanted to beat his secret out of him.

If he hadn’t had his wife and children with him, they might have tried.

But as October approached all but one of the party finally decided they had to push on before they became snowbound. As a farewell gift, Michael Walsh gave them a barrel of his new beer – the kind Hans Koenig had taught him to make. The Masked Man Party was delighted with the brew, said it was the best beer they’d ever tasted. Then they rebuked Michael Walsh for not making it earlier. Such good beer certainly would have made crossing the desert less painful.

The Masked Man Party departed drunk, singing and promising to return. They’d be back to have some more beer, and see if Walsh hadn’t had a little luck prospecting the area.

Michael Walsh never did. It had never been his intention to prospect. But Timothy Johnson, the gold-seeker who had stayed behind, became a legend.

In the dead of winter, in the middle of a howling blizzard, when the Walshes hadn’t set foot outside their cabin for weeks, except to fetch snow to melt for water, and after they’d had to butcher one of their oxen for food, Johnson banged on their cabin door. He’d gone off into the mountains by himself shortly after the others had left, and now he returned covered with snow and in the company of a short Indian woman with a solemn face.

He also had with him a dozen nuggets of gold.

Ranging in size from a raspberry to a baby’s fist.

“She led me right to these,” Johnson told the wide-eyed Walshes. “She’s teaching me her language, and I just know when I understand it better, she’s going to take me straight to the mother lode.”

The Indian woman said nothing. She didn’t speak a word in the four days that she and Timothy Johnson sheltered in the Walshes’s cabin.

Before they left, when the blizzard had finally blown out, Johnson grandly traded his twelve nuggets of gold for all the beef and beer he and his female companion could carry. As the two made ready to leave, Johnson thanked the Walshes for their hospitality.

“The next time you see me,” he said with a farewell smile, “I’ll be a rich man.”

But that was the last any white person ever saw of Timothy Johnson or the short Indian woman. The only trace left of him was the gold he’d given Michael Walsh.

Which was more than enough.

In the spring of 1850, several of the Masked Man Party who’d failed to find gold further west returned. Along with them they brought others who’d been similarly unlucky in their search for riches. All of them thought to make one last stab at wealth by prospecting the mountain lake.

Michael Walsh told them he’d named the lake in honor of his wife, Adeline. Nobody was about to debate the point with the man who made the best beer west of St. Louis. They accepted Walsh’s decision and the name stuck.

Then Walsh told them the tale of Timothy Johnson. And he showed them the nuggets of gold to prove he was telling the truth. He did the same for the newcomers heading west who were among the tens of thousands caught up in the second year of the rush.

He said he had no idea of where Johnson and the Indian woman had gone or where they’d found the gold. The mystery didn’t deter the gold seekers; it fired their imaginations. Just as staring at the twelve nuggets of gold renewed their lust for riches.

The prospectors speculated aloud about what they knew of Tim Johnson, then made whispered plans with favored partners, and then stared some more at the golden nuggets, all while drinking Michael Walsh’s wonderful new beer.

By the fall of that year, three hundred men and fourteen women lived in the vicinity of Lake Adeline. Michael Walsh prospered on their thirst. He built a large addition to the original cabin. He established a trading post that sold durable goods hauled in from San Francisco.

Years later, for his own consumption and that of his sons, he brewed Walsh’s Private Reserve. The dark stout nobody else would drink.

One hundred and twenty-three years later, a former Navy chief petty officer, trying to make a go of it in civilian life as a bill collector decided to take an acting class in Los Angeles. He didn’t aspire to a movie career. He just wanted to improve and diversify his collection technique. Jack up his take-home pay as much as he could.

His name was Clay Steadman.

Steadman had been knocked off his intended career path as a navy lifer after he’d beaten a lieutenant commander to a pulp. He took this drastic action when he caught the officer screwing the wife of one of his men. The sailor had been the first to catch his spouse and his superior in the sack, but had been intimidated by the officer into not filing charges. Instead, the sailor had complained to his chief.

Clay Steadman had never liked the brass in general, and that particular officer was a pustule he’d wanted to squeeze for a long time. In short order, he managed to ambush the officer, timing his entrance to the San Diego motel room to catch the officer and the cheating wife in mid-stroke.

He said to the illicit lovers, “Naughty, naughty.”

The woman screamed. After stealing a pillow from her to cover his flagging member, the lieutenant commander promised to court martial the chief petty officer. He ordered Clay Steadman to leave the room immediately, and to confine himself to his quarters.

Chief Steadman considered the situation. “You’re fucking the wife of one of my men. When he objects, you threaten to court martial him. Now, I catch you at it, and you threaten to court martial me. Have I got all this right?”

The officer arrogantly assured him he had.

“Well, if you’re going to court martial me,” Clay Steadman said, yanking the man upright by his hair, “let’s make it for something worthwhile.”

The court martial never took place. CPO Steadman let the base commander know that if he was charged with assaulting an officer – breaking the man’s nose, jaw, and six ribs – he would file an adultery complaint against that officer. A deal was struck: the adultery charge would go away, and so would Steadman. He was given an honorable discharge.

In the civilian work force for the first time, Clay joined the EZ Does It Collection Agency in North Hollywood. The policy of his new employer was not to browbeat their deadbeats, but to speak to them in tones of such cold, quiet menace they’d think if they didn’t pay up immediately, someone from EZ would creep through their bedroom window that night and repossess all their vital organs. Clay Steadman was a natural.

But after a couple months on the job, he began to feel his delivery was getting stale. He thought that, as a collection technique, quiet menace was so … expected. The only thing more obvious would have been giggling-lunatic menace. The Richard Widmark bit that had been done to death. What Clay thought might be interesting was woeful menace. Tell the deadbeat assholes his sad story, imply how it would truly pain him to work them over with a baseball bat, but he had bills to pay, too, or people would be coming after him.

The thing was, he didn’t know if he could bring it off, be believable enough that the f

KND Kindle Free Book Alert, Tuesday, May 10: 2 New Freebies Top Our List of Over 300! plus … Suspense author Joseph Flynn strikes gold as former LA cop Ron Ketchum finds much more than he bargained for in Nailed (Today’s Sponsor)

If you’re looking for your next book club read, there’s a great chance you’ll find it atop this morning’s latest additions to our 300+ Kindle Free Book Alert listings….

But first, a word from … Today’s Sponsor

Ron Ketchum saw his share of the dark side of life as a cop in Los Angeles. Then he left L.A. to become the chief of police in the Sierra Nevada resort town of Goldstrike. One sunny morning in the mountains, though, he comes upon a crime unlike anything he’s ever seen before.

“Once again, Joseph Flynn weaves a well-written story with twists and turns and of who done its, until all the puzzle pieces seem to fit.” –Donald Sabino

by Joseph Flynn
5.0 out of 5 stars  2 Reviews
Text-to-Speech: Enabled 
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Here’s the set-up:

Police chief Ron Ketchum and his deputy drive around a bend in the road and encounter death:  an African-American man nailed to a tree.  

The victim is a highly respected minister, and his father is the nationally known televangelist Jimmy Thunder. Ron, on the other hand, has described himself in court as a recovering bigot.

Goldstrike’s mayor for life and movie icon, Clay Steadman, wants Ron to catch the killer fast. Adding to the pressure, the victim’s grandmother comes to town. She tells the media mob that has descended on Goldstrike that God will curse the town until the killer is caught.

That’s when a rogue mountain lion begins attacking people. At first, the attacks happen on the wilderness outskirts of Goldstrike. Then the predator moves into town, leaping a fence into a family’s backyard. Finally, it turns the tables on one of the hunters sent out to bring it down.

Looking for a killer, hunting a lion and defending his own integrity — makes being a cop in L.A. seem like the good old days.

What the Reviewers Say
“Goldstrike, CA is a tranquil lake side city of 12,000 located 6,000 feet in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Enter two killers who interrupt the idyllic lifestyle of two “salt and pepper” transposed cops from the City of Angels. One killer committed the heinous crime of crucifying a black minister. The other, a mountain lion, had developed an insatiable taste for two-legged prey. Factor in the crucified victim’s grandmother who lays a curse on the town, causing panic and racial hatred.”
–Donald Sabino

” It was very entertaining as all his books are. Takes place in California with a couple of ex-LAPD cops as the Chief & Deputy Chief of the town. And a movie star as the mayor-for-life. A young black man is found nailed to a tree. You will need to read it to find out more.”

About the Author

Joseph Flynn was born in Chicago and raised in the shadow of Wrigley Field. He was one of three White Sox fans in the neighborhood, swimming against the tide of the Cubs faithful. Such adversity would later serve him well as he embarked on a career in writing. His education was both parochial and secular, including, St. Mary of the Lake School, Francis W. Parker School, Loyola University and Northeastern Illinois University. Mr. Flynn’s novels have been published by Signet Books, Bantam Books, Variance Publishing and his own imprint Stray Dog Press, Inc. Booklist said, “…Flynn is an excellent storyteller.”

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