My name is Tuna Dobbins. I write mystery novels now. I wrote my first novel, “Crossbow Revenge,” while I was still working for the Federal Aviation Administration. My job at the FAA was to write technical specifications for software and then write the user’s manual for that software. There were lots of time when I found myself twiddling my thumbs as I waited. I started writing short stories just to pass the time. Along the way, I got to wondering what I would write if I actually wanted to sell my work. I like murder mystery stories. So, that’s the direction I took.
When I was growing up, all I ever wanted to do was to fly jets, fighter jets. English composition was so far off my radar that I didn’t give English class much attention. I paid for that when I went to college. I worked hard at getting a degree in Aero-Space Engineering and I worked even harder at getting through pilot training in the Air Force. I got my wish and became a single seat jet pilot (see my bio).
After 12 years of flying jets, the Air Force decided that I needed to be a staff officer for awhile – like the rest of my 23 year career. After retiring from the Air Force, I got a job working for the FAA and writing for a living. Technical specifications aren’t exactly creative writing but it paid very well. When I started writing short stories, they were more like speeches. Learning how to write dialog and have my characters converse with each other in a manner like is expected for my characters was the hard part.
I started and stopped my first novel half a dozen times and realigned the chapters more than that. Getting “Crossbow Revenge” finished and ready to publish took almost 8 years. The first edition came out in early 2015, about the time I retired from the FAA. My first publisher went bankrupt about the time I finished my second book in early 2016. I had to look elsewhere or go the ‘self-published’ route. I decided to self-publish.
After editing “Crossbow Revenge” and re-releasing it as a second edition, I entered it in a Writer’s Digest competition. I got some good feedback and decided to edit it again. The third edition of “Crossbow Revenge” is what is available now on amazon.com. I thought everyone visiting my website might want to read a little of my first book, so I’ve pasted the first chapter of “Crossbow Revenge” below for your reading pleasure.
First chapter of “Crossbow Revenge’:
What are we doing? Jim thinks. Jim Streeling, the vice-president for Finance and Shipping at BMV Chemicals, is in an after-hours meeting with his boss and he doesn’t understand why.
Earlier this afternoon, Dennis Vega told him that he wanted to go over the financial statements before going home.
We’ve been all over these statements the last three weeks. Now the prick wants me to work late and go over them again. We could have done this yesterday, but he had to see his frigging mistress instead.
“We may be working late tonight so I hope you don’t have anything important planned,” Dennis says.
No, nothing important. Just planning to spend some time with my girlfriend.
“No, I’m good. Let’s get too it.” Dennis doesn’t care if I have ‘anything important’ to do or not. “Well, I do need to call my girlfriend and let her know I’ll be late for dinner.”
Dennis nods and Jim walks out of the conference room. Along the way, he pulls out his cell phone.
“Hi Beth. I’ve got some bad news. I’ve got to work late tonight.”
“I have no idea. Dennis wants to go over all the federal tax stuff again. He’s going through it line by line and invoice by invoice. It pisses me off. We’ve gone over all this stuff at least three times in the last month and he waits until Friday afternoon to tell me he wants to do it again. He took the whole damn day off yesterday to play golf and screw his mistress and now he wants me to work late tonight. I think he’s just messing with me because of the Continental Shipping deal.”
“It’s okay, honey. I’ll be here when you get home.”
“Thanks for understanding. I’ll call you on the way out. I love you.”
“Love you too!”
Jim makes a stop at the restroom then grabs a snack at the vending machine before heading back to the conference room.
* * *
Friday evening, March 12
Just before 8:00 PM, Jim hears a buzz coming from Dennis’s pants pocket. Dennis pulls out a flip phone. “I need to get this.”
Dennis turns toward his office and opens the flip phone. Why does Dennis have a flip phone in his pocket? He has a smart phone in his jacket.
Dennis turns around and faces Jim then reads a text message on the flip phone. Jim can see that Dennis is typing a response to the message. Dennis closes the flip phone and steps back into the conference room. “Well, we’ve got to cut this short after all. Can you come back tomorrow morning?”
“Sure. Should I put this stuff away or leave it here?”
“Just leave it here. I’ll lock the room and we’ll get back on it tomorrow.”
“Okay. What time do you want me in tomorrow?”
“Sure. See you then.”
* * *
Jim walks back to his office and looks around to see if there’s anything he needs to put away. Nothing, it’s all good.
Dennis turns out the lights in the conference room and walks back to his office, leaving everything on the conference table.
Jim turns off the lights in his office then locks the door. It’s been a long day and he’s ready to get out of the office and spend the rest of the night with Beth. As he walks to the elevator, he sees Dennis sitting at his desk. Jim gives Dennis a little good-bye wave. Dennis waves back at him and watches him walk to the elevator.
* * *
As Jim waits for the elevator, he thinks back to last year and the way Dennis’s attitude toward him changed. Jim replays it in his mind.
Last summer, I started reviewing shipping invoices and paying attention to the billing practices of the different shipping companies we use. I noticed that Continental Shipping’s costs were out of line compared to other shipping companies for similar services. So, I started looking at them more closely. During the last quarter of last year, I was sure that Continental Shipping was overcharging BMV. I brought this to the attention of Dennis in early December.
Dennis politely told me that there was no need to worry about Continental Shipping and that he was happy with their services and costs. Shortly after that, paperwork and invoices relating to Continental Shipping stopped coming across my desk.
I thought that Dennis had terminated their contracts. The week between Christmas and New Year’s, I was talking with the people in the mailroom and mentioned Continental Shipping to them. I guess the mailroom employee didn’t know he wasn’t supposed to tell me, but he did. Seems, they received instructions from Dennis to send everything related to Continental Shipping directly to Dennis.
When I asked Dennis about this, he got mad and reminded me that he was the Chief Financial Officer and part owner of BMV Chemicals, and, that he had managed BMV’s finances for a long time before I arrived.
After that, Dennis didn’t talk to me much and he seemed to be watching me more than usual. The big boss, Mark McCovey, stopped chatting with me also. Now Dennis is making me work late for no reason.
* * *
After Jim steps into the elevator, he calls Beth.
“Hey, I’m done and heading for the car. Do you still want to go out to dinner?”
“Sure, if you do.”
“I’d never say no to spending an evening with you. Halfway through all the stuff, Dennis got a text message and decided to quit. The message was probably from his mistress. Prick! Anyway, he wants me back tomorrow morning at nine to finish it.”
“Well, he’s the boss and if he wants you to hold his hand one more time, I guess that’s what you’ll have to do.”
“Yeah, it just pisses me off. Let’s go to D’Angelo’s when I get home. It will be quick and good.”
“Sounds like a plan to me. We can split an entrée and a bottle of wine then go back to the condo.”
“Meet me in the foyer and we’ll walk over together.”
“Okay. I’ll see you soon.”
Jim hangs up the phone as the elevator doors open at the parking garage level. After starting the car, he opens the glove box and takes out the parking permit card. The parking garage in this building has two gates. One is manned 6:00 AM to midnight Monday through Friday. The other has a card reader for people with parking permits. Jim needs the card for the permit gate or he’ll have to drive around to the far side of the garage and exit at the manned gate.
Jim hits the auto-down feature on the driver’s window as he pulls up to the gate. He inserts the card into the card reader then pulls it back out. A moment later, the gate swings up and out of the way. Jim pulls through the gate and stops at the edge of the sidewalk to check for traffic. A man steps out of the shadows next to the building and sticks a gun in Jim’s face.
“Get out of the car or I’ll kill you! Get out now!”
For a split second, Jim thinks about gunning the car and darting out onto the road but before he can make that decision.
A bullet passes right by Jim’s head and through the passenger door’s window.
Jim’s ears are ringing, and his face is stinging from the powder burns. The man is still yelling at him, but Jim can’t understand a word. He jams the shift lever into “Park.” Please don’t shot again.
He tries to get his seat belt off but he’s too nervous and fumbles with the release.
The man with the gun jerks the door open as the doors automatically unlock when the car is put into park. Jim tries to get out, but the seat belt is hung up.
He jerks the seat belt loose and swings his legs out of the car. As soon as he is standing, the man puts the muzzle of the gun against his head and pulls the trigger.
Jim falls backward against the side of the car and then to the ground. The man kicks Jim’s legs out of the way and jumps in. A moment later, Jim’s car is out on the streets of Houston and heading out of downtown.
* * *
At the manned gate on the opposite side of the garage, the attendant is reading a book and waiting for someone to leave. He looks at his watch. Four more hours.
The attendant can see the permit gate if he turns around, but it’s all the way across the building. The attendant can also check the permit gate on the security monitor. The attendant can select only one security camera at a time. The permit gate camera is not selected.
The attendant heard the big Mercedes’s tires squeal as it turned the last corner before the permit gate but didn’t bother to watch it leave. He’d seen it leave many times before but not usually this late.
A few seconds later, the attendant hears a couple of muffled pops and then tires squealing again. He turns and looks across the building just in time to see the Mercedes disappear into the street. He doesn’t give it another thought.
A short time later, he looks back at the permit gate and notices something lying on the left side of the exit lane. He selects the proper switch on the security monitor to display the video and sees what looks like a person lying on the left side of the gate’s exit lane. Whatever it is, it’s blocking the exit.
“Yeah.” The security supervisor answers.
“I’ve got something blocking the permit gate. It looks like someone is lying on the floor on the left side. Would you send someone to check it out?”
“Sure.” The supervisor radios one of the roving guards.
* * *
Oh shit! The guard sees a man lying in the exit gate with blood pooling around him. “Security, call nine-one-one, there’s a bleeding man in the permit gate.”
The security supervisor dials 911 and switches the monitor to the permit gate. He sees the guard kneeling beside a body. Within a couple of minutes, Houston police and an ambulance are on the way.
* * *
A marked Houston Police car pulls up across the exit gate and the officer bails out. The guard is pointing him to the body but isn’t acting like there’s much of a rush. The HPD officer can’t help but see the head wound and all the blood. Still, he checks for signs of life. He’s dead. No wonder the guard isn’t too excited.
An ambulance arrives less than a minute after the police officer. The first EMT checks for signs of life also. “Have you called for a medical examiner?” The EMT asks of the officer.
“Yup. Medical examiner and crime scene unit.”
“Okay. Now we wait.” The EMT puts a sheet over the body.
More marked police cars arrive, and officers secure the area.
* * *
When the phone rings in Homicide, Detective Jason Knowles picks it up. “Detective Knowles.”
Jason starts writing notes on a pad. After a couple of minutes, he hangs up.
“Dave, grab your jacket. We’ve got a body downtown.”
“Yes sir.” Dave jumps up from his chair and collects the jacket hanging on the back. “What’s up?”
“Sounds like a carjacking in one of the parking garages. A man has been shot in the head and his car is missing. Dispatch is sending out a medical examiner and CSU.”
* * *
Detective David Hill is the junior member of the homicide team with Jason Knowles. After a couple of years in a patrol car wearing a uniform, Dave couldn’t wait to be selected for detective school. After detective school, he was assigned to homicide and paired up with Jason. Dave is twenty-six now and has been in homicide for a little over two years.
Jason is a good mentor for a junior detective. He’s in his mid-thirties and has been in homicide for almost ten years. Everyone knows that he wants to be a Texas Ranger and that he has sent résumés to them several times over the last few years. He recently got called in for an interview. Captain Montrose strongly recommended him for the position.
* * *
On the way to the scene, Dave thinks out loud. “It’s a good thing I’m still single. The hours we keep would kill a family.”
Jason makes a crooked smile but doesn’t say anything, he has a wife and a kid at home. Jason knows being a homicide detective is tough but he’s making it work.
“Then again, it beats the hell out of being a uniformed officer and working the streets.”
Jason laughs. “You got that right buddy.”
When they arrive at BMV’s parking garage, they get out of their cruiser and scan the area around the scene. Jason has been doing this for years and Dave picked up the habit. Get the big picture first, then look at the details. Jason had told Dave when he became his partner.
The CSU team is marking evidence and taking pictures. The lead walks over to Jason.
“We’ve got two spent casings from a nine-millimeter pistol lying near the gate and the body. There are glass fragments on the opposite side of the gate. The guard says that the victim was confronted as he pulled through the gate. When he got out of the car, he was shot in the head and the shooter drove off with the car.”
“Do you have the victim’s name?” Jason asks.
The CSU lead hands over a wallet. “James Streeling. There’s an emergency contact card in the wallet. It lists a couple of women in San Diego, California. Regina and Deborah Streeling. Same address. We also found a cell phone on him.”
“Regina and Deborah, huh? Wife and daughter?” Jason asks the lead.
“That would be my guess.”
“None.” A uniformed officer says. “Security cameras caught everything though. The garage attendant heard a couple of pops and the tires squeal as the car left but didn’t care to check it out. Later, he’s looks at the monitor and sees the body blocking the gate. The building’s security service sent a guard to check it out. That’s the gate attendant and that’s the guard.” The officer points to both.
Dave interviews both and reports back to Jason with the same stories.
“Why don’t you go check out the security videos.” Jason says.
The supervisor plays back the recording and they watch Jim Streeling pull up to the gate, put in his card then stop at the sidewalk just outside the gate. Then the carjacker appears. It was dark at the time of the murder and the subdued lighting at the gate didn’t do a very good job of showing the details of the killer. Like most surveillance systems, the camera has been pointing at the same place for too long and isn’t very good. Identifying the killer from the video will be next to impossible. At least it shows the exact time of the murder, and the car’s license plate.
“Are there any videos of the area outside the gate?”
“Nothing on the street if that’s what you mean. We never felt the need to watch the cars leave.”
Dave has the supervisor save the portion of the video that shows the carjacking then email it to HPD’s homicide address.
Dave pulls out his cell phone and calls dispatch. A couple of minutes later, an APB is send out on the Mercedes.
* * *
Back at the scene, Dave asks the CSU team to look for other security cameras down the street. They find one a block away by a jewelry store and it’s pointed in the general direction of BMV and the permit gate. Dave tells a uniformed officer to get an emergency contact for the jewelry store and call them. Jason calls in the request for a search warrant for the jewelry store security video.
One of the CSU members steps out of their van. “Detective Knowles, the victim’s cell phone has rung a couple of times since we picked it up. I checked it and the caller ID was the same each time.”
“Let me have the phone. I’m going to hold on to it and see if they call back.” The CSU lead notes this in their log book.
* * *
A short time later, the cell phone rings again. Jason pulls the phone out of his pocket. Caller ID shows “Beth Montgomery” and a Houston area code phone number. He writes down the phone number before the phone switches to voice mail.
“Dispatch, I need a trace on a phone number with the name ‘Beth Montgomery’.” Jason reads the number to them.
A short time later, dispatch calls back with the location. The address is the same as Mr. Streeling’s address, only with a different condo number.
Jason dials the number of another homicide detective.
“Shar, Jason, I need you to pay a visit to a person of interest in the carjacking.”
“Okay. Who and why?”
“The victim’s cell phone has rung several times since his murder and the caller ID shows a Beth Montgomery. Dispatch says she lives in the same condo as our victim. She might be a girlfriend. I’d like you to go over to the condo and find out what her connection is with the victim and anything else she might know.”
“Give me that address and I’ll get going.” Jason reads the address and phone number.
* * *
The medical examiner starts loading Jim’s body about the time a local television news crew shows up.
The CSU lead leans close to Jason. “It must be a slow news day. The TV people don’t usually show up at a carjacking scene unless they think the victim may be someone important.”
Jason looks around and realizes that he is the senior officer on the scene. Damn! I’ll have to deal with the reporter.
Jason asks dispatch to send out a spokesperson because of the TV crew on the scene.
The TV crew starts filming the area and trying to get information from one of the uniformed officers. The uniformed officer provides the TV reporter with a little information then points to Detective Knowles.
Jason holds the reporter off for several minutes while he completes other duties. Finally, it’s time to talk to them.
“A man leaving the garage was confronted by an unknown assailant after he pulled through the gate. When he got out of his car, the assailant shot him then drove off in the car. We have an APB out on the car and the assailant, but we do not know who the assailant is at present.”
“Who is the victim?” The reporter asks.
“We cannot identify the victim until the next of kin have been notified.” Jason notices a new police car arrive and recognizes the officer when she gets out. He points Dave to her and Dave gives her a rundown on the crime scene. Then Jason hands the TV reporter off to the spokesperson.
The TV reporter is not happy, but they’ll play the story up for the news and hope to have more information by the time it airs.
* * *
An hour later, the jewelry store video is available, and it shows someone walking up to the permit gate from the other side and waiting but the camera is too far away to show a good picture of the carjacker. When Jim’s car pulls out of the garage, that person moves to the side of the car, which blocks the rest of the action. This video also confirms that two shots were fired, a person getting into Jim’s car and driving away. When Jim fell back into the garage, he was out of sight of this camera.
* * *
Jason checks the emergency contact card in Jim’s wallet again and notes the names, address and phone numbers in his note pad. He calls dispatch on his cell phone and relays this information, asking them to contact someone out in San Diego to see if these people are the ‘next of kin.’ The dispatch supervisor places a call to the San Diego Police Department.
* * *
Back at the office, Jason opens an investigation file and starts making entries on the ‘murder board.’ The official murder file is an electronic application much like a slide show or project tracker software. As Jason and Dave transfer their written notes into the computer, the information is displayed on their screens and, sometimes the big screen in the room.
One of Jason’s comments is that ‘the carjacker probably staked out the parking garage and decided that, late in the evening, he might steal a nice car and then sell it to a chop shop or ‘exporter.’
After entering all the information, Jason looks over at Dave. “Unless we get a good tip on this or the carjacker does something really stupid, I don’t think we’re going to solve this one very quickly.”
* * *
A couple of CSU members spend some time looking for the bullet from the first shot but do not find it. That bullet went through the right front door’s window and then down the street along the sidewalk to who knows where. It could have gone a very long way.
While the police are working the crime scene, building security puts a sign up directing everyone to the manned gate.
* * *
A short time later, the carjacker is sitting in a bar in southeast Houston, sipping tequila gold and waiting for a phone call. The caller is supposed to identify himself as ‘Manny.’ Manny is going to take the Mercedes off his hands and hand over the last of the money promised for job. Then, adios Houston.
* * *
Friday around 10:00 PM, March 12
Beth is pacing the living room when the doorbell rings. When she looks through the peephole, she sees a woman holding up an HPD badge.
“Are you going to tell me where Jim is?”
“Ms. Montgomery, I’m Detective Lazzari, HPD. May I come in?”
Beth holds the door open for Shar.
“I’m here to talk to you about James Streeling.”
“What happened to him?”
“First, I need to know your relationship with Mr. Streeling?”
“I’m his girlfriend. We were supposed to go out tonight. What happened to him?”
Detective Lazzari pauses for a few seconds. “Ms. Montgomery, I’m sorry to tell you this, but Mr. Streeling was murdered earlier this evening.”
“oh no! Oh, my gawd!”
“How long were you together and what is your relationship like?”
Beth paces the living room again. “About a year. We started dating after I moved here. Who killed him?”
“Mr. Streeling was shot during a carjacking as he was leaving his place of employment around eight PM. I’m very sorry for your loss.”
“Did you get the carjacker?”
“Where is Jim now?”
“I believe he was transported to the medical examiner’s office.”
“Can I see him?” Beth asks.
“I don’t think so, I’m sorry. The next of kin have to be notified first, after that, it will be up to them. I wish I could help you out with that, but I can’t.”
“I understand that Mr. Streeling had an emergency contact card in his wallet with the names Regina and Debbie Streeling. Do you know these people?”
“Debbie is his daughter. I haven’t met her, but Jim has told me about her. I assume the other is his ex-wife.”
Detective Lazzari stays with Beth for a while longer and decides that she is in control and not likely to hurt herself or anyone else.
* * *
The cell phone in the carjacker’s jacket pocket rings.
“Manny. ¿Estás listo?”
Manny confirms the location for the exchange and tells Jorge to be there at 1:00 AM.
Jorge hangs up the phone.