top of page
  • Writer's pictureD. P. Lyle

Criminal Mischief: Episode #42: Prior Bad Acts, An Author Reading

Check Out PRIOR BAD ACTS and My Other Books:


“Prior bad acts predict future bad acts.”—Harper McCoy

Fear grips an isolated mountain town after drug dealer Dalton Southwell kills a rogue dealer and his entire family. Score settled, message delivered. But, Dalton’s best-laid plans go awry when his brother Dennie takes a bullet in the gut. In a panic, Dr. Buck Buckner is kidnaped from the local ER, a pharmacy is robbed and the owner murdered, and the killers melt into the rugged Tennessee hills. Buck’s physician father calls in Bobby Cain and Harper McCoy to rescue his son from killers who would have little use for him after he saves Dennie, or worse, the wounded man dies. But, which direction and how far did they run? What hideaway did they burrow into? For Cain and Harper it’s a race against time to locate the killers, safely retrieve Buck, and settle their own score.

“A born storyteller”—Peter James, UK #1 Bestselling Author of the Detective Superintendent Roy Grace Series

"Prior Bad Acts moves like a runaway freight train, thundering along from beginning to end and picking up speed until the very last page. D. P. Lyle's second effort to feature Bobby Cain and Harper McCoy finds his stalwart heroes on the dark side of the American Dream, as they attempt to right wrongs that turn small-town Americana into a Shakespearean tragedy. This is a crime thriller of the highest order and an absolute must-read.”—-Jon Land, USA Today bestselling author



Bobby Cain stood at the wall of windows in the St. Germain Place penthouse condo he shared with his sister Harper McCoy. Near two a.m. He enveloped a firm rubber ball in each fist, squeezing them in a to-and-fro rhythm. Right-left-right-left. The action made little inroad into the tension that gripped his shoulders, his entire body, but at least it was adding to his hand strength. The key, according to Uncle Mo. Whether climbing a tree, pulling off a second-story B&E, or attempting to survive a mano-a-mano fight to the death, grip strength offered the make-or-break advantage.

Rain streaked the glass and muted his view over the SoBro area and the lights from Broadway, a block away. Lower Broadway, the Bourbon Street of Nashville, rich with food, drink, and country music, was winding down. Lights winking off, drunks staggering home, musicians packing up, another gig finished. The city stumbled toward slumber.

Not so for Cain. The fourth night in a row fitful sleep had dragged him from bed to stand in this very spot. Not an uncommon occurrence. His dreams came off and on in no predictable pattern. Lately more on. Even during restful nights, they appeared as not- so-gentle nips along the edge of his dreamscape, coiled to flare up full-blown. When they did, sleep became impossible.

“Bad night?” Harper moved to stand next to him.


“Which one?”

She meant which dream. Cain possessed a catalog to choose

from. Not that the choice was his. Never his. Sometimes it was the traitorous Iraqi commander whose throat he had sliced just so. Dark room, third floor, dead of night. Never saw his face, but felt the warmth of his departing life ooze over his hands. Other times it was the Al-Qaeda bomb maker who earned Cain’s blade up through his diaphragm and into his heart for dispatching three Marines with his roadside devices. Or one of the other two dozen sanctioned missions he had completed.

Sometimes an unsanctioned mission reared up. Like the three Mexicans, the ones who had killed his parents in Tyler and fled, thinking the border and the cartel they worked for would protect them. He and Harper tracked the trio to Juarez, dead of night, in and out, no shadow of their visit left behind. Only the three corpses.

Tonight? The Taliban scumbag who stood sentry while a pair of his compadres raped a young woman, her screams and cries still jangling in his head. Cain and the other assigned operatives— Seals, Marines, and Harper as the CIA controller—had completed their mission, the silent elimination of an enemy asset, and were hunkered down in a basement, waiting to hump it to the desert extraction site. But, the sounds of the girl’s misery and fear had frayed his nerves to the point that sitting by was no longer an option. Harper had been there—the night of their reunion after a fifteen-year separation—and had helped. Without hesitation.

Their actions were unsanctioned, no permission granted, or sought. Risky move. Could have crashed both their careers. Turned out that was a moot concern.

Harper caught the sentry’s attention. Cain over-powered and bled him through a deft puncture of his femoral artery, clutching him tightly, hand over his mouth, feeling his struggles wane as his vital energy faded. He and Harper then introduced the two rapists to their virgins. The girl scurried to freedom. If there was such a thing in that desert hellhole.

“You were there,” Cain said. No other words needed.

Harper nodded.

“Want some tea?” she asked.

“Couldn’t hurt.”

They sat at the kitchen table. Cain placed the stress balls on

the surface, settling them against the metal napkin holder. He cradled the warm cup, took a sip. The chamomile infused his nerves, softening the invading images.

“We need a job,” Harper said.

He looked at her over his cup.

“Idleness makes you fret,” Harper continued. “Drags up your


That was true. They had had a month to unwind from their

last job. Cain could do a week, even two, but a month? Too much downtime allowed the past to dig in its claws. Pull him from bed to the window where he watched the sleeping city, and fought internal battles.

It wasn’t guilt. He never allowed that to enter the equation. Each of his sanctioned missions had been righteous. On point. A problem that he could best resolve. Even if they were off the books. Way off. No written orders, no records. It’s the way it had to be.

And the others? The ones since he and Harper left military service behind? The three who had killed his parents? Never guilt over that one.

No, it wasn’t guilt. It was simply images. A series of pictograms, movies no one should have to store in their memory banks. His were filled with such.

“You’re right,” Cain said. He stood. “Want some more?”

“I’m good.”

He refilled his cup. His cell chimed. From the living room

coffee table where he had left it. Caller ID read “Milner.” Well, they wanted a job.



The gun appeared from nowhere, materializing at the end of an unsteady arm, the black hole of its muzzle searching for a target. Then the flash-bang of sudden, remorseless violence. The shock momentarily locking the scene like a still-life.

Who keeps a gun stuffed between sofa cushions?

For Dalton Southwell the answer was simple. A punk-ass little shit is who. A punk-ass like Tommy Finley, jacked up on his own stash. Wired to the point of implosion, leaving him no way to make a smart move. A desperate one, sure. It didn’t save him and didn’t save his family. Not that anything could have. Their shared fate had been sealed the moment Dalton arrived in town.

Everything had been so smooth. Exactly as Dalton had set it up. He had choreographed every move that his brother Dennie and Jessie Parker, a member of his crew, would make. His sources indicated that there would be four people inside: Tommy the punk, along with his father, mother, and sister. Dalton had hammered into their heads that they were to flank him so that they would have clean lines of fire if needed, and that they were to remain silent, leaving the talking to him. That’s how it went down. He had been in total control, right up until he wasn’t.

His knock on the door had been answered by the father. John, if Dalton remembered correctly. If not, so what? He didn’t really give two shits.

The curious look on the father’s face as he swung open the

front door and asked what Dalton wanted was quickly replaced by shock when Dalton’s Glock pressed against his chest.

Gathering the family in the den, Tommy, his sister, and his mother on the sofa, the father in a wing-backed chair at one end of the coffee table. Some stupid sitcom played on the big screen along the far wall. Dalton ended it with a single round spit from his silenced weapon.

That got their undivided attention, Tommy flinching, his mother covering her open mouth with one hand, only partially smothering her gasp. His father’s face paled, his breathing quick and raspy, head swiveling, obviously seeking a way out, a way to defend his family. The father asked again what the three men who leveled guns in his direction wanted.

“You want to tell him who I am?” Dalton asked Tommy.

Tommy’s gaze danced quickly to his father and then back to Dalton but he said nothing. As if his throat was clogged. Probably was. Dalton offered a half-smile.

“Then allow me to enlighten your family,” Dalton said. “Bring them up to date on your recent activities.”

The mother and sister stared with big eyes as he dumped the bad news on them. That he and his crew were there to settle a score, and to deliver a message. That dear old Tommy had tried to flex his own muscles, go out on his own. That was something that couldn’t be allowed. Not from Tommy, not from anyone.

“I don’t understand,” the father said.

Dalton scratched his chin with his free hand. “You see, Tommy made a bad move. He tried to cut us out of his sales. He tried to hook up with another supplier and build his own crew.” Dalton pointed the weapon at Tommy. “He’d been warned. He chose not to listen.”

“Are you talking about drugs?” the father asked. He glanced at his son. “Tommy isn’t into that anymore. He went to rehab and put it all behind him.” He now slid forward on his seat and stared at his son. “Tell him. Tell him you’re clean.”

Dalton laughed. Clean? Not Tommy. His large, black pupils were only partly due to fear, the rest from the meth that swept

through his bloodstream. Dalton’s meth.

“Tell him, Tommy,” Dalton said. “Tell him what a good boy

you’ve been.”

“Listen, Dalton,” Tommy said, “I didn’t screw you or anyone

else. I was simply trying to expand my operation and make us all more money.”

The father now appeared to be in full panic mode. As if his worst nightmare had materialized. No longer relegated to the darkness of restless sleep but rather standing right in front of him. Dalton loved this. That brief slice of time when a victim realized that their personal apocalypse had arrived, that Dalton was the personification of their every fear. Heady stuff.

“Tommy, what’re you talking about?” the father asked, his voice wavering.

“It’s not what it seems, Dad.”

Dalton laughed. “Actually, it’s exactly as it seems.”

Tommy’s fingers fidgeted with the edge of the sofa cushion,

then he wiped his hands on his jeans as he shook his head. “Dalton, I didn’t go around you. I swear.”

“What about the guy over in Knoxville? The one who’s cooking for you?”

Tommy’s left knee began to bounce, and his voice ticked to a higher pitch, the words coming quickly as if saying a lot was saying the right thing. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. What guy? I don’t know anyone over there.”

Dalton took a deep breath and puffed out his cheeks as he exhaled. “Tommy, Tommy, Tommy. Don’t you know me? Don’t you know you can’t bullshit me? Don’t you know we work inside a very small community? That every time a new cooker pops up, we know the who, the where, the what, and, most importantly, the how much before he even cranks out his first batch?”

“Listen to me...” Tommy began.

Dalton cut him off. “Shut the fuck up. This isn’t a negotiation.” He now waved his weapon toward the two women. They recoiled, wide-eyed. “And now you’ve dragged your family into this.”

“What is it you want?” the father asked.

“I told you. To deliver a message.”

The father nodded. “We’re listening.”

Dalton smiled. “The message isn’t for you. It’s for anyone else who might be tempted to follow in old Tommy’s footsteps.”

That’s when the gun appeared. Tommy had shoved a hand between the cushions and came up with the .357. He managed to snap off a single round before Dalton punched a hollow point into his forehead. Then two into the father’s chest, the man attempting to rise, his butt never clearing the chair’s cushion before death arrived. The women released a chorus of screams, voices stretched to the snapping point, hands raised for protection. A pair of shots from Jessie’s gun silenced them. The mother took it through her left eye, death following immediately; the daughter to the chest, now moaning and clutching at the red blossom blooming near her left breast. Dalton stepped toward her and ended her struggles with a single shot to the forehead.

He walked to where Tommy lay, crumpled on the sofa. The entry wound in his forehead was surprisingly clean. Very little blood surrounding the black hole. Of course, the back of his head and his brain were splattered over the sofa and the lamp that stood behind. Dalton searched Tommy’s pockets. He found a wad of money, which he took, and two phones. An iPhone and a burner. The former he left, but the burner he slid into his own pocket.

Then Dalton saw his brother Dennie. He was on his knees, clutching his belly, left side, blood flowing between his fingers.

Goddamn it. This entire operation had just morphed from quick, easy, and smooth to screwed, blued, and tattooed.

The truly infuriating part was that Dalton knew it was his fault. He should have forgone the speech and taken out Tommy straight up. But for him, the preamble was the payoff. His victim’s rising fear with its coppery taste, the look in their eyes, the begging and bargaining. God, he loved that. Like waves of electric current enveloping his entire body. The killing was simply the exclamation point.



Cain’s phone lay on the coffee table. He sat on the sofa and punched it to speaker. Harper settled next to him, leaning forward, brow creased, head cocked slightly.

Marcus Milner. Attorney at law. Senior partner at one of Nashville’s most high-dollar firms, he was also Cain’s and Harper’s go-between for cases. He fielded the calls, set up the accounts, and made the deals. Then, turned them loose to do the fixing. That’s what they did. Fixed things. Made things right. Or at least even.

For Milner to call at this hour, the job had to be time critical. Something that couldn’t wait for sunrise.

“It’s a kidnapping,” Milner said. “Tanner’s Crossroads. Over near Knoxville.”


“The son of the client. A Dr. Frank Buckner. Runs a clinic near Charlotte, North Carolina.”

Milner continued, filling in some details. Truth was, he didn’t know much.

“When did this happen?” Harper asked.

“Around six or seven p.m. Say, seven or eight hours ago.”

“Was he harmed?” Cain asked. “The son? When he was taken?”

“I don’t think so.”

“What else you got?”

“That’s it, really. Are you on board?”

“We are,” Cain said.

“Good. I’ll tell the father. He’ll be waiting for your call. He can fill you in. I’ll text you his number.”

“We’re heading out in fifteen minutes tops,” Cain said. “We’ll

get loaded up and call him from the road.” He disconnected the call. “We’ll take The Rig,” he said.

The Rig was their black Chevy Suburban, modified for their needs. A cranked-up engine, extra fuel tanks, bulletproof glass and tires, and a satellite communication system. Because you never knew when a simple situation could shape-shift into something more dangerous.

“I’ll gather the duffles,” Harper said.

The duffles, eight in total, varied in their contents. Cain and Harper kept them ready to go at all times. For situations such as this. Where every minute created a colder trail, and a greater chance for a bad outcome. Some of the bags were packed for surveillance, some for full-on warfare, most somewhere in between.

A kidnapping could go in many directions. From a simple rescue to a hostage situation to a hellfire shootout.

Ten minutes later, they lugged four duffles to the elevators and descended to the basement parking area.



Dalton wasn’t panicked. Panic was not in his nature. But he was furious, and such fury had always been embedded in his DNA. Even as a kid, his switch could flip on a moment’s notice, and with little provocation. That constantly simmering anger was probably the reason he did poorly in school and why he now did what he did. Dirty work for Frankie. Things like sending messages and settling scores. His fury never left room for panic. He always did what was necessary and completed the job. No matter what. That’s what Frankie paid him for. He had no doubt that he would have to earn his keep before this night was over.

Dalton twisted and turned the black Lincoln Navigator through several of the quiet neighborhood streets. Jessie rode shotgun. Dennie lay in the cargo area, moaning. They had folded the rear seats forward so Dennie had room to stretch out.

“How bad is it?” Dalton asked.

“It’s bad,” Dennie said. “Hurts like a bitch.”

“What’re we going to do?” Jessie asked.

Dalton considered the question as he turned west onto Main

Street. What could they do? This was supposed to be a clean hit. As simple as one, two, three. Take out the family, walk away, message sent. But now? Dennie’s blood left at the scene, a huge stain on the light gray carpet. Tommy’s un-silenced gun going off with explosive intensity.

Did the neighbors hear anything? Had they called the police

already? The houses in the neighborhood were spaced a couple of hundred feet apart so they might’ve gotten lucky, but Dalton knew anything was possible and counting on luck was never an acceptable strategy. Sure, luck could smile on you, like drawing to an inside straight when the pot was piled high, but in Dalton’s experience, it more often offered an unfriendly face. Like a gun appearing from nowhere. Fucking Tommy.

If they were in Memphis, he’d know where to go. The boss had a doc on retainer for just such emergencies. He could fix things off the radar, no record and no one the wiser.

But here? In Fucktown, USA?

“I don’t know,” Dalton said.

He rolled past the hospital on his right, and to the left, the

town’s park, quiet this time of night. Main Street became Highway 57, a narrow two-lane blacktop that wound into rural darkness. Dalton glanced back at Dennie. His bloody hands clutched his side and he winced with each bump in the road.

“Think you can make it to Memphis?” Dalton asked.

“No. I need a hospital now.”

“That ain’t going to happen.”

“Come on, brother. Memphis’ll take hours. It’s on the other

side of the fucking state.”

Dalton’s knuckles whitened on the steering wheel. “A hospital’s

out of the question. We might as well drive to the local PD and let them cuff us.”

“You gotta do something,” Jessie said. He spun in his seat to look back at Dennie. “He’s losing a lot of blood.”

The highway led them through what was mostly farmland punctuated with wads of trees. There was no real traffic. In fact, they passed only two cars, each headed in the opposite direction. A few miles out of town, Dalton saw a church. On the left, set back from the road a ways, it was a white frame structure with a wide gravel parking area. Empty at this hour. He wheeled into the lot and circled to the back, the chapel blocking them from the road.

“What are we going to do?” Jessie asked. “Pray?”

Dalton gave him a look, then pushed open the driver’s door.

The interior lights popped on.

“Somebody’ll see us,” Jessie said.

“Not here.” Dalton climbed out and tugged open the rear door.

“Let me see.”

Dennie rolled out of his fetal position, and onto his back. He

lifted his blood-soaked shirt.

It was bad. No way to sugarcoat this. The bullet had entered

the left side of Dennie’s abdomen. It had to have damaged some important shit inside. Dalton rolled Dennie to his right side, drawing a deep moan. He searched for an exit wound but found none.

“Hand me that towel,” Dalton said to Jessie. He passed it to Dennie. “Hold pressure on the wound. The bleeding is slowing and that’ll stop it.”

“We’ve got to do something,” Jessie said.

Dalton stood and looked up at the night sky. “Give me a second. I’ll figure it out.”

9 views0 comments


bottom of page