Happy New Year!
Some time back, I promised a sneak preview of my new Matt Davis mystery, Deadly Ransom, which should be published sometime in mid-2016. With the new year fast approaching, I thought this might be the right time for you to see what’s coming. So, here’s an exclusive look at Deadly Ransom: A Matt Davis Mystery.
Beaverhead Valley, Southwestern Montana
The bull weighed more than thirteen hundred pounds and was named Tyrus, after the Hall of Fame baseball player, Ty Cobb. Like his namesake, Tyrus was a stud—and just as ornery as the legendary Georgia Peach, according to his owner, Clint Davidson. Clint owned the Crooked Creek cattle ranch, an 8,500-acre spread that was bordered on its western flank by the Beaverhead River, a blue ribbon trout stream. The ranch had been in his family’s possession for nearly a hundred and twenty five years, and its pastures held more than fourteen hundred head of black angus, including mother cows, bred half-blood Braunvieh/Angus Heifers, and some bulls. Tyrus was a classic example of a breed-grade Braunvieh bull, two years old and in his sexual prime. His only purpose in life was to provide regular quantities of high-priced semen sold to other ranches for purposes of artificial insemination, or AI as it was referred to in ranching circles. The Davidsons had a dozen or so of the Braunviehs, but Tyrus was their number one producer.
Sixty seven-year-old Clint watched as Shorty McMann led the single-purposed bull toward the waiting surrogate by a short rope attached to a nose ring. Shorty was anything but short; he was six feet-two and weighed two hundred pounds. He’d been tagged with the moniker while still a late-blooming teenager, and it had stuck. A four-year-old cow was positioned in a capture chute, its hind end available to the task. The targeted bovine had been prepped by having its pubic hair trimmed and its vaginal area washed with a sterile solution (to prevent the bull from possibly contracting venereal disease in the event of an accidental penetration). All of this was done to facilitate the false mounting required to stimulate the bull and increase the count and motility of its sperm—the ultimate prize. Rather than depositing its semen into the cow, the bull’s engorged penis would be guided by a lucky AI tech into an artificial vagina used to capture the five-or-so-milliliters of ejaculate.
The bull snorted and pawed the ground, its penis slick and erect, fully fifteen inches free of the soft skin of the sheath that normally hid its contents. The testicles were tight and close to its underbelly. A dull look, not at all indicative of his mood, blanketed the bull’s face. Shorty guided Tyrus to the cow, the bull mounted her, and in the blink of an eye deposited its precious fluid into the artificial vagina that was deftly positioned by the AI tech. The device itself was quite interesting. It was essentially a sheath enveloped in a casing filled with warm water, designed to imitate the real thing.
A few minutes later, after the tech had finished emptying the capture vessel into a sterile container, Shorty said, “Okay, let’s give him another shot at it.” The tech readied the artificial vagina, Shorty steered Tyrus to the cow by the nose ring, and in less than thirty seconds, the whole process was repeated. Finally, after a third “performance,” Tyrus was led back to his corral—to rest and recuperate from the stressful event.
The cattle business had been good to the Davidson family. The previous year, gross receipts had topped a half million dollars, a far cry from the hand-to-mouth existence Clint’s ancestors had hacked out of the land when they first migrated West in 1891. Now, as he made his way back to the house on his palomino, he thought of all those who had gone before him and smiled. Of course none of the Davidsons could have made a dime without the help of the hundreds of ranch hands who had served them so well down through the years. Of all the ranch hands whom Clint had employed, none could hold a candle to Shorty, his foreman and best friend.
Roscoe, New York
Chief of Police Matt Davis had just finished going over the early morning wants and warrants on his computer, noting a bulletin regarding a barn burning over in Green County, when Nancy Cooper, his secretary, shouted to him from her office across the hall. “Hey, Matt. You’ll never guess who’s on the phone?”
“Nope. Try again.”
“J Edgar? . . . no, wait, he’s dead.”
“Come on, Matt,” laughed Nancy. “Seriously, think about it. I’ll give you a hint. It’s someone from your past who you haven’t talked to in quite some time. Think big!”
“Big? Too bad! I was hoping it was Rita Valdez.”
“I’m telling Val,” quipped Nancy.
(Rita had been a member of Matt’s squad when he was a homicide detective back in New York City.)
“Oh please don’t tell the Missus,” said Matt in a falsetto voice. “I promise I’ll be good.”
“Oh, you’re impossible,” said Nancy, who by now had walked the short distance from her office to Matt’s. “Actually, you were close. It’s Chris Freitag.”
(Chris had been Matt’s partner and was now actually married to the former Miss Valdez.)
“Freitag? You’re kidding, right? Freitag?”
“That’s what the man said.”
“I wonder what he wants.”
“I don’t know,” replied Nancy. “I guess you’ll just have to pick up line one and find out.”
Matt grabbed the handset and shouted into the mouthpiece, “Is this the world famous New York homicide detective, Chris Freitag?”
“No,” said the voice on the other end of the line, “It’s Mayor Bloomberg. Who the hell did you think it was, you asshole?”
“Wouldn’t you like to know?”
“Yeah, like I give a shit.”
Some things never changed. Freitag was as feisty as ever. Just hearing his old friend and partner’s voice was enough to make Matt smile. How long had it been, anyway? Christ, I haven’t talked to him since the wedding.
“I know, I know,” apologized Matt, “I’m a dick. Guy gets married and his best friend acts like he died.”
“Well, don’t go beating yourself up. I haven’t exactly been Mister AT&T.”
“So what’s happening in Haus Freitag? How’s the little woman? Wait, wait. Don’t tell me; you’ve called to tell me she’s pregnant?”
“Yeah, and it’s yours.”
“Nice. But seriously, how’s Rita?”
“Rita’s just fine. And, no, she’s not pregnant.”
“Oh. I’m genuinely disappointed.”
“Well don’t be. You know how I feel about dogs, cats, and kids. They’re just great—as long as they belong to someone else.”
“So surprise me. What’s going on?”
There was a long pause.
“Yeah. I’m here. Listen, all kidding aside, Matt, I need a big favor . . . actually, someone we know needs a favor.” The tone of Freitag’s voice had changed from light-hearted to deadly serious.
“No, no. Not with us, anyway. It’s somebody else. Do you remember Ralph Gilly?”
“The guy at the fishing ranch out in Montana? God, what’s it been, ten years since we were there?”
“Yep. Anyway, he called me last night.”
“Is he in some kind of trouble?”
“No, not him. It’s a friend of his, a cattle rancher. He’s got big problems.”
“What kind of problems? And why’s Ralph calling you?”
“It’s a long story,” sighed Chris, “but his friend really needs our help.”
“Yeah. Both of us. I can’t go out there by myself.”
“Go where? Montana?!“
“Yes, Montana. Listen, have you got a few minutes?”
“Of course. What about lunch? Come on up and we’ll go to Raimondo’s. My treat.”
“Hmmm, that’s very tempting . . . and I’d love to, I really would, but I can’t get away right now. Just listen to me for a minute, okay. This friend of Ralph, his name is Clint . . . “
Fifteen minutes later, Matt hung up the phone. “Nancy! If anybody calls, take a message and tell them I’ll call them back. I’m going over to see Harold.”
The previous day’s semen collection had been a huge success, and Clint Davidson awoke refreshed after a full night’s sleep, which—for a change—had not been interrupted once by his aging prostate. He sat up in the king-sized bed, stretched his arms over his head, and turned to his left. But of course, his wife Harriet wasn’t there. It had been a little over a year since the love of his life had succumbed to a sudden heart attack and died at the tender age of 60, but the habits learned over forty years of marriage hadn’t died with her—at least not yet. Clint still slept on the left side of the bed, and probably always would. Harriet’s side remained as neat as if it had just been made.
Bright sunshine peeked around the edges of the mini blinds that covered the two large windows on the eastern wall of the enormous bedroom, almost as if attempting to grow the flowers that adorned the wallpaper. Clint couldn’t help but feel energized. He glanced over at the grandfather clock in the corner and noted it was seven already. Jeez. Half the day’s nearly gone. He sighed and swiveled around to the edge of the bed, letting his long legs dangle over the side. He dropped down onto the hardwood floor, padded over to leather recliner by the TV and retrieved his jeans and long-sleeved, western shirt from where he’d left them the night before.
Fifteen minutes later, after an ice cold shower (the only kind he ever took), he dressed for the day and clomped down the stairs in his cowboy boots, headed for the kitchen in the back of the house.
That’s strange, he thought, as he made his way along the back corridor, he couldn’t smell the coffee.
“Shorty?” he called out. “What happened to the coffee?”
Shorty was not only the ranch foreman, he was a hell of a cook. The first thing he did every morning was brew a hot steaming pot of coffee, long before he ever peeled one potato, or fried one strip of bacon. It was a ritual. That’s why Clint couldn’t comprehend the absence of the familiar aroma—any more than he could understand why his ranch foreman was nowhere to be found.