“Where you goin’?”

I froze. Caught. I should’ve thought to grab a file folder off my desk – then it’d look like I was on my way to a meeting. Instead, all I had in my hands was a set of car keys. Which quite plainly indicated that I was making a break for it. I slowly turned around.

It wasn’t Sheila, my chief deputy. Instead, Sam stood in the hallway with a puzzled look on his face. Then he saw the keys and laughed.

“Sheila said you were working on the deputy duty schedule.” My pup of a deputy grinned. “She said I couldn’t bother you, because you needed your full concentration. To finally figure out how to do it proper.”

Sheila was technically not wrong about that. I’d been here almost nine months, and I still hadn’t managed to do it correctly. But it was a task that drove me crazy. Actually, anything that involved being trapped in an office with the paperwork equivalent of the Leaning Tower of Pisa drove me crazy. Especially on such a beautiful day in the Ozarks. When a Branson County Sheriff’s Department cruiser sat right outside, just waiting to be driven somewhere.

“I thought I’d do a little patrol work. There’ve been some speeding problems out on that stretch of Highway 76 near Powersite.”

I shrugged nonchalantly and took a step toward the door. Sammy started laughing full out.

“She’s not going to buy that,” he said.

“I know,” I said. “But if I can get out of here before she catches me…”

I could see him thinking about it. His young face was so transparent, so eager. He scratched behind his ear, then turned back the way he’d come. “I never saw you. Just make sure you drive out the back way. I think she’s in the front of the building.”

I took the steps down to the parking lot two at a time, feeling ridiculously like a kid just let out on summer vacation. I pulled out of the parking lot and headed south over the bridge at Bull Shoals Lake. Free to finally do some real police work.

An hour later, I’d stopped two people for speeding and had a nice chat with an elderly couple sitting out on their front porch. And I was feeling much better. I really did need to get out and do this more often.

To me, that was what being the county sheriff was all about – not sitting in meetings or pouring over budget documents. Those things made me feel like a paper pusher. Which was not what I was expecting when I accepted the job.

I’d planned to apply for a position as a regular deputy when we moved down here from Kansas City to help out my widowed father-in-law. But just when we’d gotten the kids settled in their new preschool classes, the former sheriff resigned his post and the county commissioners offered me the job.

Apparently they were dazzled by my big city-ness. They have since come to regret that. Possibly because I’m not quite the yes man they expected. I also might have called one of them names.

But they’re stuck with me. At least until the next election, when the sheriff’s position will be up for grabs. I’m going to have to run. I need to keep my job. There are no other open law enforcement positions in southern Missouri, so going somewhere else isn’t an option. No one has filed to run against me, though, so I think I might be able to skate through without actually having to do anything horrible, like campaign.

I’d almost reached Kirbyville when an idiot in a Camaro cut in front of me and then disappeared over a rise in the road. I was reaching to flip on my lights when I saw the sign. Billboard big and star-spangled gaudy.

“Gerald Tucker for Sheriff. Put Your Trust in the Local Boy.”

Underneath the writing was a photo of the fifty-two-year-old, paunchy, badly mustached “boy.” I slammed on the brakes.

Tucker? The deputy who abandoned his guard post when the Branson Beauty showboat sank and then mysteriously exploded? The deputy who was, at every turn, a complete jerk? The deputy who everybody in the county knew because he’d lived here his whole life? I groaned and bonked my head on the steering wheel. I should’ve just stayed in the office.

You can read more about Hank in Another Man’s Ground, the second book in the “Sheriff Hank Worth” mystery series.

It starts out as an interesting little theft case. Branson, Missouri’s new Sheriff Hank Worth is called out to look at stands of trees that have been stripped of their bark, which the property owner had planned to harvest for the booming herbal supplement market. At first, Hank easily balances the demands of the investigation with his fledging political career. He was appointed several months earlier to the vacant sheriff position, but he needs to win the fast-approaching election in order to keep his job. He thinks the campaign will go well, as long as he’s able to keep secret the fact that a group of undocumented immigrants – hired to cut down the stripped trees – have fled into the forest and he’s deliberately not looking for them.

But then the discovery of a murder victim deep in the Ozark backwoods sets him in the middle of a generations-old feud that explodes into danger not only for him, but also for the immigrants, his deputies, and his family. He must rush to find a murderer before election day, and protect the vulnerable in Branson County, where politicking is hell and trespassing can get you killed.

In Another Man’s Ground, her next novel featuring Sheriff Hank Worth, acclaimed author Claire Booth delivers a taut, witty mystery that will grip readers from the opening pages to the breathless conclusion.

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About the author
Claire Booth spent more than a decade as a daily newspaper reporter, much of it covering crimes so convoluted and strange they seemed more like fiction than reality. Eventually, she had enough of the real world and decided to write novels instead. Her Sheriff Hank Worth mystery series takes place in Branson, Missouri, where small-town Ozark politics and big-city country music tourism clash in, yes, strange and convoluted ways. For more about Claire, her books, and some of the true crimes she’s covered, please visit www.clairebooth.com. Or connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, or at her Amazon author page.

All comments are welcomed.

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