Twenty seconds in a young man’s life has followed him like the shadow of a curse for 27 years. Did he crack under pressure or was it simply good reflexes? Aaron Hemingway still doesn’t know and nobody ever told him because the Army had buried it in a black hole.

But in an ironic twist of karma, it was those close to Aaron who paid the price. He sometimes questioned whether the two were connected, but after his 14-year-old daughter was taken hostage by a murder suspect and then watched three men die in her bloody rescue, that was pretty much the end of the argument Aaron, a former Denver cop and newspaper reporter.

So he became a recluse, avoiding people he cared about to protect them. But after three years of that, he was ready to eat his gun. Then an old friend called and offered him a temporary job as a small town deputy marshal. Knowing what was at risk, he nevertheless took the job.

Surprisingly, things seemed to be going well, including his handling of a couple of situations that were ripe for disaster. Then, in an unprovoked but not random attack, his dog was killed and his women friend was left in a coma with a gunshot wound to the head.

Aaron discovered the identity of the man behind the attack and, breaking a vow he made after Vietnam to never kill again unless in self-defense or to protect the innocent, he swore vengeance against the man. He only saw three outcomes: he would be killed, he would succeed and be arrested or he would get away with murder. In the Malpais lava fields of western New Mexico, he found that things are not always that simple.

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