Vanishing Borders

Synopsis

After two years of outstanding service to the nation, PATRICIA MARSHALL, 31, tough-minded, self-confident commercial design consultant, and HARRY HAMILTON, 36, laid-back, risk-averse private investigator, are embroiled in another counterinsurgency operation in the U. S. National Parks. Subversives are using the parks as safe havens for processing terrorists entering the country and channeling them to embedded cells. Marshall and Hamilton are recruited to head up a novel park ranger auxiliary in Bryce Canyon National Park, find the insurgents, and help defeat this latest threat to homeland security.
The story opens with Marshall trapped in the canyon as a result of a broken leg from a fall while eavesdropping on suspects during a winter storm. Auxiliary ranger ALICE WOJECK, tough former gang member, is kidnapped while tracking suspects and barely escapes with her life. Wojeck and macho park ranger SCOTT CANTRELL survive a firefight with insurgents on a canyon trail. FBI agents are shot and one killed tracking suspected terrorists en route to an embedded cell.
THE SNAKE, master mind behind the insurgency operation, proves to be a challenging adversary for the rangers and the FBI. To avoid exposure whenever possible, he changes physical characteristics, murders innocent victims and dissolves into thin air when about to be pinned down. A clever FBI strategy to milk The Snake by allowing him to operate in the park so his recruits can be traced to their embedded cells and the cells destroyed, fails. The Snake outwits them all.
The Hamilton team launches a search for The Snake to prevent him and a terrorist leader from executing a sabotage plan. Two auxiliaries are abducted by the Snake. Hamilton and Marshall launch a search operation and locate the base for the sabotage operation where their colleagues are being held. The rescue effort leads to a major FBI take down of the terrorists with considerable carnage.
The Snake and the terrorist leader escape to fight another day. Marshall and Hamilton end their association with the auxiliary and return to their business activities.
Marshall has continuing friendship and romantic involvement with both Hamilton and Cantrell during the action. This love triangle complicates their adventures with the wily Snake. Marshall wrestles with her feelings for each of the men in her life, but is unable to decide whether to stay friend and occasional lover with Hamilton or accept Cantrell’s proposal of marriage. Cantrell resolves the problem for her.

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Excerpt

VANISHING BORDERS

by D K Elliott

PROLOGUE

Rene Fedock loved his home on St. Lucia—its mountains, its fragrant plant life, its cloud-dappled azure sky. His parents had emigrated to that Caribbean island twenty-two years ago when the separatist movement in Algeria, their former homeland, became volatile. Avoidance of politics was infused in his father’s blood; political activity invariably invited trouble.

When Rene was a teenager—an angry teenager—he and his peers, who attended Friday services at the local mosque, withstood mental and physical abuse from those who attended nearby Christian services. His father taught him to be tolerant of blind unbelievers. They would eventually see the light—the true light that shone through the Prophet. When he shared this with the unbelievers, they cursed him. “You are the anti-Christ. You will rot in hell. The fire will consume you.”

Rene confronted those infidels with strident accusations. “You are instruments of the devil. We will overcome you and your blasphemous ways.” He labored with weights to build strength in his slight frame so he might deliver, as well as take, physical attacks. His father approved as long as he was defending himself and not inciting violence. Rene became increasingly hardened against the infidel Christians. He envisioned a jihad worthy of the strongest martial effort and reached out to others in the Muslim community for support. Thus, Rene Fedock came under the influence of subversive leaders.

As Rene matured, he mastered the methods of their successful operations. The leaders, however, sensed he was not mentally tough enough to sacrifice his life for Islam. On the other hand, he impressed them with his commitment to active insurgency, including death-dealing acts to accomplish a mission. Thus, he was slated for a logistical role in bringing the mighty evil North American colossus to its knees—directing subversive recruits to cells in the U.S.

On a warm November day, a week prior to his scheduled departure for the U.S., in a bucolic setting on St Lucia, he met with Sandori, a woman he was to marry in keeping with Muslim family tradition.

Why can’t I go with you?” she demanded. “We are betrothed. I’ve been promised to you. You are my future. Why abandon me now?”

He looked away. “Never question me. I’ll have no time for you. You’ll be in the way.”

What will you be doing that allows no time for me? I’ll help you. Just tell me what to do.”

No! My work is confidential. I cannot discuss it with you. That’s final. I’ll be back here from time to time if all goes well. You stay here.”

It’s those agitators you meet with, isn’t it? They control you. They’re making you into one of them—a terrorist.”

That’s enough! Never say that word again.”

Say it? I’ll go to the American Embassy and tell them everything. Then we’ll see how much power they have over you.”

Don’t be foolish. You’ll only hurt yourself.”

We’ll see.” Resolve flashed in Sandori’s eyes.

They lounged in a meadow well away from the nearest town. He studied the heavily wooded foothills of a mountain range about a hundred meters away. There was no time for negotiation. He pulled a lengthy knife from its sheath and drove it deep into her chest.

She stared at him for an instant—wide-eyed, mouth agape—and folded over.

I

The wind-driven snow stung with the force of a thousand wasps. No attempt to orient her body from the storm’s onslaught brought relief. Ironically, she welcomed its penetrating punishment, for the storm drove the agonizing pain in her leg—the broken leg that would not allow her to escape the storm—into the deeper recesses of her mind. She brushed the storm’s icy deposits from her eyes and took stock of the rocky prison that prevented her from reaching her car and safety.

Twilight descended. Rescue became increasingly remote. The voice of the storm consumed all other voices raised—voices that besought deliverance—voices that appalled the hunted. She bemoaned her likely fate. Am I to die here in this beautiful canyon, to be devoured by the hungry ones, torn limb from limb, scattered among the rocks and gorges? God, I hope I’m past knowing before they find me—or will someone find me before they do? Have I been missed? Does anyone suspect I’m here? Who would know? Scott? Harry? Anyone?

Park Ranger Scott Cantrell pulled his parka tight around his neck to keep the biting wind at bay. Snow coated his parka and cap, stuck to his gloves and face, and blinded his sight. He and a half-dozen fellow rangers had probed every cove, cranny, and trail of Bryce Canyon National Park in search of tourists caught off guard by the unforeseen early snowstorm.

That day started sunny and crisp. Each breath of clean mountain air invigorated him. The few dozen tourists he met appeared to enjoy their exhilarating adventures among nature’s hoodoos, slot canyons, monoliths and other geological wonders of the park.

By mid-afternoon, a mistral-like wind roared out of the north and carried a cargo of snow deep into the canyon. Most tourists on foot were a short distance from their cars or shelters and had reached safe havens. A few had trekked far from a safe refuge and were found huddled in protective recesses of the canyon, frightened and chilled to the bone. Those that suffered hypothermia were rushed to the nearest hospital.

Unaware of all who had ventured forth that day, the rangers had no choice but to search until dusk every remote recess of the canyon. Their attempts to call out for stranded tourists over the howling wind proved fruitless.

Twilight deepened and Scott Cantrell joined his fellow rangers in the lodge after they completed their search of trails off Scenic Drive. Cantrell settled in a languorous position on a bench, worn out by the lengthy search. He casually drifted in and out of conversation with his fellow rangers until it centered on what to do about the missing driver and possible passengers of an abandoned car on the extreme southern end of Scenic Drive at Rainbow Point. Three trails branched into the depths of the canyon from this highest lookout of over 9,000 feet.

Ranger Joe Ryan, head of policing activities in the park, stretched and yawned. “Well, we’ve accounted for all other vehicle owners and their passengers, but a search of the trails at Rainbow Point came up dry. Maybe we should have looked farther, but you guys were frustrated and in need of rest and nourishment. You would hope anyone able to afford a silver BMW 325 had enough brains to stay out of trouble.”

Cantrell bolted upright as if struck by lightning and exploded off the bench. “With black upholstery?”

Ryan glanced at Cantrell with a wry expression. “Yeah. Thinking it might be on the market soon, Scott?”

The others laughed.

Where is it?”

Calm down, Scott. The owner isn’t dead yet, as far as we know.”

Cantrell grabbed Ryan’s shirtfront and screamed, “Where is it?”

At Rainbow Point, Scott. What’s got you so hyped up?”

Cantrell released his grip on Ryan’s shirt and jerked his thumb up. “Let’s go. It’s Pat Marshall’s car.”

Ryan jumped up. “Wow! Sorry, Scott, we didn’t know. Okay, men, back to work. Everyone got a flash?” They all confirmed they did, packed up, and went out to rejoin Aeolus’ early winter visit.

Ranger Winston Brown hopped into Ryan’s SUV. “What’s with Scott and this Pat Marshall?”

Ryan sped along the Drive, glanced left and right, and checked for landmarks through the driving snowstorm. “That’s a long story, Brownie, I only know the top line. He and Marshall have been an item for a couple of years. Both were involved in some scary operations with the FBI and the State Department. Heard she almost took a load of lead in the Grand Canyon, but a private eye took it for her. He survived. Scott was the ranger assigned to that operation. The three of them were also involved with the terrorist plot in Zion last year that nearly cost Scott his life. Guess you can say Scott and Marshall are bonded by destiny’s script.”

Brown nodded. “I can see why he reacted the way he did. Hope we find her before it’s too late.”

Pat Marshall drifted in and out of consciousness, thankful for the peace and security each retreat afforded, and tried to stay in that tranquil refuge from the storm that assaulted her. She was numb from the subfreezing conditions and had lost sensation in her extremities, except for the pain in her leg. She wondered what would happen to her. Is this how life ends, slowly creeping from the verges to the very core of my being? Why can’t it be quick and merciful? If only I had the means to end it quickly. “Wait, what was that?” I must be hallucinating. “No! It is something.” Are the hunters sensing I’m ready to be devoured? It’s getting closer. “Oh, God, make it quick.”

Hello, Pat Marshall, you out here?”

She sat up. Oh, God, they found me. Her body trembled. She struggled to rise on her good leg. “Over here, behind the rocks. Please don’t leave. I’m here. Don’t leave.” Her voice barely rose above a hoarse whisper.

She reached for a small stone with what little strength she still possessed. Her hand wasn’t obedient to her will. She swung her arm. The stone dislodged, tumbled down an incline and rattled against the rocky terrain.

Again, the voice rang out above the fury of the storm. “Hello...anybody there?”

She pleaded weakly, “Over here. Don’t leave.

Footsteps sounded nearby and recharged her biological battery. “Over here, behind the rocks.”

Hello, anyone there? Pat, you out here?”

She garnered every ounce of strength left in her, fought the storm and shouted in desperation with quavering voice. “Over here, behind the rocks. Don’t leave. Please help me.”

Footsteps scrambled over the jumbled scree and grew louder. She cried out again, but her voice weakened and faded in the howling wind.

Joe Ryan leaned into the wind—two steps forward, one back. He close-hauled his body to reduce its exposure to the wind’s force and gritted his teeth. Got to be at least an 8 on the Beaufort scale. Remember that from my days sailing on Long Island Sound. He continued to call out above the howling wind and knew his voice carried only a few short yards. He hoped it was enough and stopped to catch his breath. Then he heard it—a stone clacking along the rocky terrain and strained to detect what it was. That an animal…or the wind? He charged up the slope toward a Kafkaesque assembly of large, geometrically diverse rocks and sent stone chips flying in every direction. Then he heard her cries, swerved to his right, climbed over an outcrop of rocks, and nearly landed on top of her. “Pat, my God! What happened?”

She broke down, sobbed hysterically and shook with emotion.

Okay, take it easy. You’ll be fine.” Ryan knelt down and wrapped his parka around her quivering body. He felt her ice-cold hands and rubbed them gently. She regained her composure.

She smiled through sad eyes. “Thank God. I thought I was a goner. I’d given up all hope. My leg’s broken and really hurts. I couldn’t get out of here.”

What happened, Pat? How’d you break it?”

She glanced aside. “Being stupid.”

He shook his head, more out of compassion than admonition. “Okay, let’s get you out of here. Brownie’s with me; he’s not far off. We’ll get the stretcher from my SUV and be back in no time at all. Will you be okay until we return?”

She looked around. “What about the hungry ones?”

Don’t worry. They’re not on the prowl for food in this storm. You’ll be safe here. I’ll leave you my weapon, just in case.” He handed her his Glock 19 9 MM handgun. “Relax, there should be no need to use it.”

Alright, but hurry back.”

He smiled and patted her cheek. “Will do,” and left.

Ryan located Brown, advised him of Pat’s condition and picked up the SUV. They moved as close as they could to where Pat lay off the Bristlecone Pine Loop Trail. Ryan used his two-way radio to advise the other rangers of Pat’s rescue. When Cantrell got the word, he reported he was two miles into the Riggs Spring Loop Trail.

By now, the snow had greatly diminished, and the force of the wind had slackened to a Beaufort 5—about 20 knots, or 23 miles per hour. Ryan slipped on his spare jacket, and he and Brown moved smartly to Pat’s refuge, toting a collapsible stretcher.

Pat greeted her rescuers with a winsome smile and a feeble wave. “Thank God, you found me. I owe you my life. Will you settle for a good meal and a bottle of wine?”

The guys smiled and shook their heads. They applied a splint to her broken leg, gently lifted her onto the stretcher, and carried her to the SUV.

Meanwhile, Cantrell had reached the Riggs Spring Loop trailhead in record time and spotted Ryan’s SUV on the Drive. He raced and reached it just as Ryan and Brown appeared with Pat. “How is she?” he shouted.

She raised her head a few inches off the stretcher and waved weakly.

Cantrell expelled a heavy breath that flushed tension from his body. “Oh, thank God!” He bent down and kissed her. “Are you alright?”

Not too bad for a one-legged idiot.”

He was ever amazed at her wit, particularly under conditions that would leave most humans depressed or wallowing in self-pity. “Okay, what happened to your leg?”

My leg…oh, it decided to retire at a most inconvenient time. Of course, I gave it every reason to quit.”

He shook his head. “Alright, let’s get you out of here.”

Ryan and Cantrell took Pat to Garfield Memorial Hospital in Panguitch, Utah. Brown picked up Pat’s BMW and drove it to the ranger station. Gradually, the storm abated and died out.

Cantrell glanced out the car window. “We’ll be busy tomorrow. The tourists will surely be out in the hundreds to photograph and sketch Bryce in its early wintry dress.”

Upon arrival at the hospital, Pat was X-rayed, and the simple shinbone fracture was set and soft-cast. She was kept overnight, heavily sedated, as a precaution. Cantrell and Ryan put on their official personae and interrogated her for the required NPS report of her accident.

Ryan led off. “If you’re up to it, Pat, start from the beginning. Why were you in the park, and what were you doing that led to your accident?”

The last thing Pat wanted at this moment was an inquisition. She regarded Cantrell with a pleading expression and hoped he would intercede. She truly loved him, but he had a trait she could never understand, nor become inured to. He had a dual personality. On the one hand, he could be a sensitive, loving and caring friend, but on the other hand, he could be a stern, cool and dispassionate professional. The latter Cantrell surfaced, unmoved by her silent petition.

She resigned herself to the onerous task of reliving the past twelve hours. “I went to the park around noontime to obtain material for a design project I’m working on for a client. I drove and walked to several viewpoints and took notes and photos, until I reached Rainbow Point. I walked the Bristlecone Pine Loop Trail continuing to take notes and pictures when I saw them….”

Cantrell interrupted. “Saw who? I thought you were alone. When that part of the park was searched, the rangers didn’t report seeing anyone.”

That’s not surprising. Anyway, I came upon three men on the trail, quickly backed down and hoped they hadn’t seen me. I stayed well behind them and noticed they were deep in conversation, ignoring the scenery and not behaving at all like tourists. I thought, why come here and trek this trail just to talk? Makes no sense, unless it’s top secret stuff…you know, espionage activity or something like that.

They stopped and appeared to be arguing with one other. God, my leg hurts. Hand me the morphine drip, Scott. Well, anyway, my curiosity got the better of me. I left the trail and climbed a rocky precipice where they couldn’t see me and I could overhear them—the place you found me, Joe. Don’t ask me why—guess I have to attribute it to a hangover from last year.” She looked at Cantrell and shook her head. “Well, to make a short story shorter, they were arguing about whether to launch some kind of activity here in the U.S. or in Canada. Before I could learn more, a sudden blast of wind and snow bore down on us. They immediately took off, and I tried to scramble off the rocks, slipped and fell. Then, I heard something I hope never to hear again. I tried to get down off the rocks with my one good leg, but it was hopeless. I thought I was done for when Joe found me.” She reached over and squeezed Ryan’s hand.

Cantrell flushed. “What in heaven’s name were you thinking...playing the counterintelligence agent? Haven’t you learned enough from your adventures of the past two years? My God, Pat, you relocated from Philadelphia to Utah to get away from that stuff. Now, you risk exposing yourself again. I don’t understand you at all.”

She avoided Cantrell’s glare, knowing he was right. It was a stupid thing to do.

Ryan’s reaction was all business. “What did you overhear, Pat?”

I picked up snatches of their argument. Two of them were trying to persuade the third guy to do something here in the U.S. The third guy was arguing to do it in Canada. I have no idea what they were talking about, but they clearly had something specific in mind and had no need to describe what it was.”

But you assume it’s some kind of espionage or terrorist activity, right?” said Ryan. “Okay, describe the three men, exactly what they said, and anything else you can remember.”

Can’t that wait until tomorrow, Joe? I’m exhausted and in pain…I’ll think more clearly in the morning.”

The caring Cantrell showed up. “Of course. We can’t do anything about it tonight. Right, Joe?”

Ryan nodded. “Okay, Pat. Get a good night’s sleep. See you after breakfast.”

Her shoulders sagged, Cantrell kissed her forehead and the guys left.

On their way out of the hospital, Ryan pulled Cantrell aside. “Why would Pat assume three men in the park having a conversation were spies or terrorists? Does she have a vivid imagination or what?”

She’s been sensitized to threats here in the good old USA, Joe. Been involved in some hot action for the past two years. She had a successful business in Philadelphia when she was drawn into covert government operations and wound up having to deal with foreign agents and terrorists. It all started when she hired a private eye, a guy named Harry Hamilton, to help her find her missing brother, Jimmy. That innocent search led to their involvement in an undercover operation with the State Department and FBI in the Grand Canyon. That’s where I met her.

Well, the next thing I knew, she was recruited by State for a new operation. I guess it was because of her effectiveness in the canyon caper. She and Hamilton were given the job of keeping an eye on foreign guests in Zion, here for a government sponsored program. Well, that assignment turned out to be more than she bargained for. It escalated into a challenging terrorist hostage situation. She and Hamilton played key roles in resolving that crisis. I almost wound up in a box defending the hostages.”

No shit. I never knew the specifics of those encounters, only that you and she had some operations with State. Is that why she relocated to Utah?”

Yeah. By then, much to her regret, Pat had become known to embedded foreign agents. Her fear of continued threats from them prompted her to make the move. She hoped to sever all connections with the government and with all the problems that went with their counterintelligence activities.”

Ryan smiled. “What about that guy, Hamilton? He’s still hanging around, isn’t he?”

Yeah, like a recurring virus. For some reason, she considers him a friend.”

Hmm…competition, hey, Scott?”

Cantrell ignored the remark.

Ryan pictured Pat in full flower: five-eight, auburn hair, hazel-green eyes, full sensuous lips, Grecian nose. He hated pug noses. He swallowed hard and shook his head.

That night, in the hospital bed, Pat wondered if she’d made a disastrous mistake. Am I inviting trouble that I came here to avoid? Oh, Jimmy, where are you when I need you to keep me out of trouble? You returned from the grave once and warned me to stay clear of intrigues I’m not trained to handle? She relaxed. I’ll tell Joe what he wants to know in the morning and then wash my hands of the whole affair. I need to refocus on my design business and stay out of trouble.

After a night of deep sedated sleep, interrupted by nursing imperatives, Pat awoke restless and in pain at six. She groomed herself, checked her eyes for bloodshot imperfections, and propped her head and shoulders on bed pillows. The early-morning TV news was on and she started to drift off when startled by a familiar voice.

Well, you certainly don’t look the worse for wear, Patricia. You’re as pretty as ever.” It was Harry Hamilton. “You made the late-night news. I had to come and offer support, but you sure don’t look as if you need any.

She smiled. “Thanks, Harry, that’s sweet of you. I thought you were on your way back to Philadelphia. Did you change plans?”

He shook his head. “No, the airline did that for me. My flight was canceled because of weather. In a way, I’m glad. Gives me time to be of service to you.”

She cocked her head and smiled. “Oh, really. Just what kind of service did you have in mind?”

He laughed. “Now, behave yourself. When will you be released?”

She shrugged. “Sometime today. Joe Ryan and Scott Cantrell will be here later this morning to finish interrogating me.”

They’re interrogating you? What’s that all about? I thought you only fell and broke a leg.”

Don’t I wish. No, I stuck my big Grecian nose where I shouldn’t.” She told him about her experience of the prior day.

He stared at her with a bemused expression. “You put yourself in jeopardy again. You moved here to avoid getting involved with that stuff. What were you thinking?”

She looked away, chagrined. “Don’t beat up on me, Harry. I know it was stupid of me. I thought I might learn something I could pass on to Joe Ryan. Well, on second thought, maybe I didn’t really think.” Pat stretched and pulled herself upright. “I just reacted. Attribute it to a residual sense of citizenship—something left over from the past two years. I know it’s crazy, but somehow I still have this idea I need to fulfill Jimmy’s commitment to serve our country. I’m torn between that sense of duty and the fact I’ve already served…twice.”

He patted her hand. “I know. Sorry for coming on so strong. Can I help?”

Not at the moment. I plan to cooperate with Joe and Scott and tell them what they want to know. Then I expect to forget all about the incident and get back to my business.”

Well, I hope it turns out that way. I’ll hang around for a few days just in case I can be of help.”