The Blood of Brothers

By: Domino Finn

A Sycamore Moon Novel (Sycamore Moon Series Book 2)

Day One

Chapter 1

A 6 a.m. phone call was never a good thing. Whether a family member in trouble, a friend who needed a favor, or a telemarketing recording from another time zone, it didn't matter—the call was a recipe for immediate anxiety. An overbearing ring that demanded attention, right at that moment. It was a jarring, imbalanced way to wake up, creating an edgy tension that wouldn't dissolve until the day ended with a beer in hand.

In short, early phone calls were unwelcome.

As the sole homicide detective in Sanctuary, Arizona, Maxim Dwyer knew these calls heralded an entirely different kind of pain. To a lot of people. And he was the lucky one.

The darkness of the morning was foreboding. In the peak of the summer, the bedroom should've been bright by now. Some days it was a struggle just for the sun to come up. But it always did, in the end. As did Maxim.

Sanctuary was a small town. The police force was nine men strong, including the marshal, and Maxim was the only assigned detective. That meant he handled all sorts of calls: robberies, violent crimes, and cases that required tact. The uniforms managed the day-to-day stuff: domestic violence, drunk and disorderlies at the biker roadhouse, accidents, theft, and vandalism. Most of the work this season involved keeping ornery groups of campers in line. But the officers on duty were trained to handle light investigative work if needed. For Maxim to be summoned this early, there was only one explanation.

No time to shower or shave. No brushing or flossing. A slap of cold water to the face was an amazing stimulant when it needed to be. And breakfast was overrated.

Maxim threw on an old suit and headed to the crime scene. An unnatural fog hung in the air, blocking out the sky. On the way, his sleep-filled eyes squinted as the sun gained ground in the sky. It pierced the glaze of weather and seemed to burn it away. By the time he pulled his silver Audi TT into Sanctuary High, daytime was official.

The detective idled past the large building of gray and brown brick. Wide paths of concrete and asphalt with newly painted lines covered the lot all the way into the parking area in the back. It was summer break, so the only two cars present were the brand-new cruisers driven by Hitchens and Cole, the department's oldest veterans. The cars were pretty slick for Caprices, making it look like the Sanctuary Marshal's Office had better resources than it did.

Maxim parked his coupe between the squad cars and scratched his prickly chin. He gazed across the large green field before him. Surrounded by a chain-link fence, it shared the school's back grounds with the parking lot. The asphalt section didn't need an outer fence, however. The curb was enough.

Besides the current police presence, nothing appeared amiss. An empty school, an off-season, and a whole lot of quiet. Immediately, Maxim decided the serenity of the location played a part in the crime.

He exited his car and spied the police tape across the field, where the metal fence kept out a thick cluster of trees. The forests in the greater Sycamore area were dense. The tree line had only been cut back as much as the school needed, and even that encroachment seemed unwelcome. Sanctuary was a beautiful town precisely because it hovered on the edge of civilization. Its inhabitants appreciated being reminded of the wild. As the detective watched Hitchens and Cole work outside the fence, he realized nature had inched a little too close to society once again.

Maxim strode through the open gate and made his way across the field. The lawn was freshly cut and still wet with dew. The expanse was mostly wild grass, natural in this climate and easy to maintain. The football field, along the street beside the school building, was laid with sod and more meticulously cared for. Closer, there was a cement court for basketball and other activities. The larger area here, where it was more natural, was mostly used for pick-up games of soccer and other general activities, like running.

Large swaths of grass were cut, but other sections grew long and appeared ignored. Maxim noticed the ride-on mower on his side of the fence, right next to the scene, and immediately ran the events through his head. The groundskeeper was mowing the lawn as he probably did once a week, judging by the grass length. He had only managed to do about a third of the field before he made the grisly discovery and called the police. As Maxim approached the officers standing on the other side of the fence, he noticed a Mexican man in his late forties hunched next to them. He wondered why he hadn't seen his car in the parking lot, and made a mental note to check on that.

As Maxim reached the fence, the other two officers shared a smile.

"How's it going, rock star?" asked Cole through the chain-link. The tallest of the three, and the most built, he was an imposing figure, but his demeanor alternated between bouts of sobriety and jest in a way that was unexpected. He wore black nitrile gloves and held a small camera—standard investigative procedure for crime scenes.

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