Charlie Draper only took the job of finding the missing girl as favor. He approached it convinced that the hot desert sun had likely eliminated another unprepared hiker rather than a part of the Border Wars. It didn’t take long to realize his error. Then it became complicated. In less than a day he discovers that drug cartel members shot her and threw her into a volcano vent. The resulting trail leads into Mexico where his actions bring on the wrath of the cartel. The bodies start to pile up with a vengeance as he and his helicopter-flying Apache friend attempt to rescue the young women and prevent the revenge determined drug alliance from killing them all.
Sunday, 5:47 am
Jennifer Hollings parked her five-year old Honda CRV at the new wash; an inauspicious beginning to a day she hoped would improve. An exaggeration when called a road, the previous rough, gravelly, seventeen mile, two cow-path byway, intended at the end of the 19th Century for mule-drawn ore wagons, challenged the Honda’s suspension. The remnants of the old wagon road ended at the edge of a deep channel, now impassable due to rare spring rain. Surrounded by fifty-plus miles of Sonoran Desert in any direction, Jennifer loaded her backpack in the predawn darkness with three 24 ounce bottles of water, a small Mini-Maglite, two Granny Smith apples, two whole grain bread and sliced roast beef sandwiches and a package of Twinkies. She’d decided the two mile walk to the old mine site would burn enough calories to afford the sweet. Arranging everything in the backpack to ensure the Twinkies survived undamaged, Jennifer added her camera bag and wiggled into the backpack stra ps. Ready to go, she lifted her camera strap over her head, securing her prized Canon EOS 7D digital SLR camera with its 28-135mm kit lens close to her body. Jennifer treasured the 18 megapixel camera body and hated the kit lens. She preferred a longer, faster lens but her meager salary at the local newspaper prevented the purchase. As a beginning photographer/writer, copy person and maker of the morning coffee for anybody that wanted it, Jennifer’s skimpy paycheck barely covered her living expenses. She skipped meals and saved loose change to buy gas for her desert photography trips. So, the kit lens had to do, and she concentrated on composition, detail, and lighting to compensate. Her plan this morning included using the hike to catch a desert critter or two framed in her camera lens and reach the mine site as the morning sun created long shadows on the landscape. The old buildings would standout like lonely pillars of a past time.
Jennifer respected the desert. She knew the silent, seemingly unoccupied setting was filled with silently struggling vegetation hiding any number of ominous creatures. Snakes, scorpions, and an occasional tarantula lurked in the sparse grasses and green barked Palo Verde brush while Giant Saguaro cactus stood like soldiers guarding her path, arms held out in welcome. She appreciated the Sonoran Desert, but had also learned enough about it to respect its unseen dangers.
Taller than average at five-foot-nine with a slim build, she enjoyed hiking in the cool of the morning and a thrill of anticipation rose in her anticipating the coming adventure. She tied back her reddish-brown hair with a cotton scarf to keep it out of her eyes. When she was younger she’d hated her carrot-top hair not only because of the color, but because it curled in tight ringlets making her look like a red-headed Shirley Temple. As she aged through puberty, her hair darkened and now in her mid-twenties it was more auburn than red, but still curly. Her feet protected by sensible hiking boots with Vibram soles, she wore rugged Levi pants and a boys Brushpopper shirt to protect herself from thorns. The single common trait of desert flora was wickedly sharp and sometimes barbed protrusions.
Jennifer dropped into the wash and climbed up the other side impatient to follow the remnants of the old wagon road to the mine site and its abandoned structures. The old buildings would make a dramatic backdrop for her photographical creations. It was spring and the desert bloomed in proliferate color contrasting deeply with its normal earthy tones. Backpack laden, Jennifer hiked through the growing heat enjoying the smells and sensations of crimson Ocotillo blooms, white and yellow flowers peeking from the tops of Saguaros and watching the antics of geckos racing through the hot sandy soil. The desert thrilled her; its empty landscape from a distance contrasted oddly to its abundance close up.
The gravel-filled trail she followed climbed upward along the rocky contour of an ancient volcano cone, one of many that dotted the desert floor. Jennifer considered herself desert savvy, seasoned in a variety of flora and fauna that eked out an existence in sometimes severe conditions. Summer temperatures routinely reached one-hundred-twenty in the scarcely available shade. This day, Jennifer knew it would barely reach ninety. Her pace was slow and steady, conserving energy as the sun peaked over the horizon and began its daily travel across a cloudless azure sky. She also considered herself tough; once allowing a traveling sidewinder rattlesnake to slither across her booted ankles while she clicked her Canon following its movements.
By seven a.m., after an hour of walking, Jennifer reached the half-way point in a small saddle between two pillars of eroded volcanic chimneys that looked, from afar, like two stubby fingers reaching for the sky. From the saddle she could see the mine a mile in the distance to the west and more Sonoran Desert below her extending miles to the South. Somewhere out in the blowing dust, marked only by rusting steel posts but at least several miles away, lay the U.S’s. southern border with Mexico. The border was like a sieve with a partially built fence, but mostly guarded by technology and under-manned Customs and Border Protection, the new umbrella agency including Border Patrol agents; a thin barrier to unrelenting illegal immigration and drug trafficking. The area around Jennifer was barren and far from any population center on the Mexican side and she hadn’t heard of any problems in this locale. Besides, she reasoned, the newscasters only showed activity at night . She had made this hike numerous times without seeing a soul.
Jennifer found a convenient rock outcrop and rested. She retrieved one of the bottles of water and surveyed the desert around her while she hydrated. Her eyes drank in the scene until a stately mule deer buck stepped out of the coulee below and looked up the hill trying to decide if Jennifer was a danger. Her heart skipped a beat in excitement as she slowly brought her Canon up, turned it on, dumped the lens cap and located the deer in her viewfinder. The buck’s heavy antlers framed in her lens, it stood for a couple of still shots before sensing peril. Jennifer followed its stiff-legged, bouncing escape shooting until the fleeing animal disappeared. Excited with her first shots of the day, she had reviewed the first five pictures when she saw what had made the deer bolt. Across the canyon, somewhat higher than where she sat, the picture included a flash of light, similar to the sun bouncing off a mirror. It startled her. She looked up from her camera and stare d at the spot, certain that in her many trips to the old mine; she’d never before seen light reflected from the tightly massed boulder piles across the coulee. She brought up the camera with its less than perfect kit lens and swept the hillside, but the naked boulders revealed nothing, no movement, no reflection; only desert rock. Her mind was still puzzling when her head exploded in pain and the ground came up slapping her in the face. Her nose pressed in the desert sand, she didn’t hear the gunshot reverberation echoing in the canyon.
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