The Stone Wilderness

By – W.S. Holderby

Chapter 1

A Business Plan
Hong Kong
August 1989

The 25th floor conference room overlooked Aberdeen Bay from the prestigious banking district of Hong Kong. Gathered in the room were ten men of varied nationalities. Some were dressed in western attire, some in the desert robes and headdress of the middle east. The men were seated at the largest, hand rubbed, rosewood conference table in Hong Kong. The deep pile beige carpet, matching rosewood paneling and burgundy glove leather chairs conveyed wealth and power. The noise level in the room was muted as each man spoke to his neighbor in hushed tones. They were patiently awaiting the arrival of the man responsible for the meeting.

At precisely nine o’clock, George Lee entered the room. He was asian, unusually tall at over six feet, with a wide expanse of white hair groomed in the style of the Hong Kong elite. His weight was deceptive with wide shoulders and thick arms. He took pride that he maintained his waist within three inches of its size during his days in the boxing ring. Lee was a former boxer, gun runner, opium smuggler and thug for the Asian mob. He was now a principle in the Toma Corporation. Toma wielded power on a world wide scale. It was generally known that if you wanted a commodity, any commodity, you could rely on Toma to supply it, for a price.

Although the corporation was headquartered in Bern, Switzerland, there was an office placed in any country that fit the Toma profile for possible future business. These offices varied from a one room walk-in in Libya, to this spacious modern building in Hong Kong. It was known that they were a primary supplier of arms to the Middle East and Africa. What wasn’t known was what constituted the rest of their other legitimate, and illegitimate, businesses. The men at the table all had dealings with Toma and George Lee at one time or another, but, until now they had never met him, or each other, face to face. Lee spoke excellent English which he now used to conduct the meeting, as this was a common language for all present. Each of the men had a vague idea as to the identity of the others, but no one, except Lee, knew everyone’s identity.

Lee wasted no time with amenities and began the meeting. “Since I have contacted many of you through different channels, I will identify myself. My name is George Lee. I am Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the Toma Corporation, Hong Kong. We have certain business concerns in Hong Kong and eastern Asia such as real estate and pharmaceuticals. Gentlemen, each of you are familiar with the general purpose of this meeting. I appreciate your time and the great distances you have traveled to be here. We are, in a few moments, going to have the privilege of a presentation from a gentleman with a plan. His plan deals with many of the problems that we face each day. I have carefully studied this plan and conducted a background check on him. His name is Paul Stevens, a former colonel in the U.S. Army. He is fully backed by the Toma Corporation.” The tone of the last statement carried with it Lee’s personal assurance that Stevens was reliable.

“He has prepared a limited number of copies of his plan. These have been placed on the table in front of you. He will also conduct a slide presentation outlining the salient features of that plan. I’m certain that each one of you will find this information extremely interesting. But first, I will outline our security precautions. Since each of you has a legitimate concern about the possibility of legal repercussions, I have instituted certain procedures that will eliminate any concern. We have taken three levels of security, which I will describe, as we expect you to observe the appropriate procedures. First, there are Toma Security personnel protecting this area. They will prevent any unwanted intrusion up to, and including, an armed assault. That is why we are restricting you to this floor. The elevators are programmed to carry you from our private parking garage to this floor and the reverse. Each elevator is manned by our security personnel who know each of you by sight. As you already know, we have removed your brief cases and electronically screened you to remove any recording devices. The only paper you will have is your individual copy of the plan.

“Secondly, this entire floor has been electronically swept to eliminate the possibility that any unauthorized listening devices could overhear this meeting, or your conversations. You will notice the view of the bay. While the view is truly beautiful, it also has its purpose. There are no buildings with a direct line of sight view to this room. This reduces the possibility of laser based listening devices being used. I say reduces, because the devices can still be employed from aircraft or ship. Therefore, we have installed double glass panes in all of these windows with a white noise generator to mask any but the loudest of sounds.” Lee looked around the room and focused on each man.

“Third, I am the only person in this room who knows all of your identities. I must ask you to observe this precaution by not identifying yourself to anyone else in this room. Colonel Stevens does not know your identity, nor does he need to. When you leave this floor, the elevator will conduct you to the parking garage and from there you will be discretely transported to your disembarkation areas throughout the city. You will be accompanied by our security people to these destinations. Your plans are on the table in front of you. These plans are yours and you will take them with you. Feel free to make any notes on the blank pages in your document. Be aware that these documents do not contain any language or hint of any illegal activity. They simply outline our business agreements and financial data.” He paused again and looked around the room. “Does anyone have any questions?” No one responded. They sat riveted to Lee’s presence.

“Good, then by way of limited introduction, everyone in this room represents one or more pleasure and recreational industries on each of the seven continents. The Toma Corporation has carefully evaluated Colonel Stevens’ plan in the light of your needs and we have found that the economic advantages proposed have merit to both you and us. We are providing complete backing for Colonel Stevens and plan to assist him in the execution of this plan. Your participation in this plan involves exclusivity and legal protection in your countries. As I have told you before, we are not asking for venture capital, we simply want to secure a market for our products. Your organizations represent both our customer base and also our partners in this venture.”

“Now gentlemen, I wish to introduce you to Colonel Stevens.” Lee opened an interconnecting door to an outer office and escorted Stevens into the room. He was tall, taller than Lee by at least three inches. His hair was sandy gray and his eyes were cold brown. His face was lined by long exposure to the elements. His smile conveyed sincerity and comfort. He had obviously spent many hours conducting briefings.

Paul Stevens was a retired U.S. Army Colonel. He had retired two years before this meeting from the U.S. Army Chemical Command. Stevens had been a Green Beret in the Special Forces and had served two tours of duty in Vietnam. He began to see the world changing and he intended to change with it and cash in on some tricks he had learned during his twenty-five years. During the past two years, Stevens had solicited Toma, who hired him and provided him with funds for testing and research. He had made good use of the time and was ready to capitalize.

“Gentlemen, I am Paul Stevens and I am here to describe my plan and answer your questions. If you have any questions, please, speak up.” He glanced around the room, noting that he had their complete attention.

“As I am sure you are aware, technological breakthroughs in one field often have far reaching ramifications in others. A certain chemical weapons research project recently provided us with a new drug. The special effects of this drug came to light after the researchers had already discounted its usefulness. This drug is totally synthetic and is capable of being manufactured in large quantities with a minimum of capital expenditure. The most beneficial attribute of this drug is its ability to become totally addictive within a one month period, if given in the proper dosage. The phrase totally addictive is far from an overstatement. The tests which we have conducted have shown that once a subject has become addicted, he will literally perform any task or act in a manner which is within or completely outside of their nature, to continue receiving doses of the drug. As you know, other drugs produce an addiction that can be reversed by either detoxification or medical treatment. Individuals addicted to our drug cannot be rehabilitated. Loss of access to the drug produces psychotic reactions and an inevitable death. These symptoms begin to occur within twenty-four hours and end in death within five days. There is no known antidote or substitute drug, as is the case with, say, Heroin.” Stevens paused frequently to convey emphasis. Several of the listeners were evidently interested as they anticipated the effects of the drug on their businesses.

“What is the name of this drug Colonel?” questioned one of the listeners.

“I’m not at liberty to give you its chemical name, but for now we’ll call it Halorin,” the colonel remarked.

“Where can we obtain supplies of this drug?” The question was asked by one of the listeners, obviously from the Middle East.

“Please gentlemen, I will get to the distribution aspects of the plan. But I wish to first establish how we see the use of this new development. I must say that we do not wish to see this drug made available to the general marketplace. If this were to occur, serious consequences have been foreseen. We feel that the only possibility of long term profits is if the drug is handled judiciously. We plan to maximize the profitability by extending its availability to those businesses that we know will use it only in their operations. We do not wish to compete against the present products in the drug market. The drug cannot be made as inexpensively as Heroin or Cocaine. Therefore, the potential for indiscriminate sales would not return the profit levels of these natural drugs. My plan outlines the use of this drug to encourage persons to work in your industries without the problems which all of you have. Specifically, the young men and women in your pleasure houses are recruited from poor families and have never had proper nutrition. Their youth is over by the time they are eighteen and will become addicted to one or more drug by the time they are twenty. You effectively realize a return on them for five, maybe seven, years. You lose 25% during the first two years and an additional 35% within four years. The majority of the females become heroin addicts or run off with a customer. The boys are primarily opium addicts and run away to sell their bodies on the street. These, gentlemen are your business problems. My plan addresses these problems. If a person is addicted to Halorin through the proper dosing procedure, and if the correct recurring dosage levels are maintained, that person will function reliably for a period of between ten to twelve years. They will not co-addict with Heroin, Cocaine or even Opium.” The colonel looked up for a question.

“What happens after the useful period?”, one of the listeners asked.

“The long term effects of Halorin are liver and kidney failure that results as a natural consequence of the body’s cumulative buildup of the drug. I must point out that during the subject’s useful life, no adverse effects will be seen to prevent the subject from functioning normally.” Stevens smiled and positioned a slide projector on the conference table.

“How do you know what effects occur after ten years? You haven’t had the time to test the effects on people for that period, have you?”. The question came from the back of the room.

“The Army conducted tests on animals for a period of two years. This, I believe, is the same procedure that the U.S. Food and Drug Agency utilizes for testing new consumer drugs. Although, since I left the army, we actually included drug testing on human subjects for the past year. During this testing, we developed the dosage levels. The effects of this drug on the human subject are dramatic. The subject becomes far more compliant and develops a complete dependency on the person providing the dosage. The drug does not have effects observable after ten minutes from dosage. To be precise, it has virtually no visible effect on the subject’s personality or intelligence level. It only reduces the urge toward rage and completely eliminates any thought of losing access to the drug. These benefits, I am sure, you will find useful in the control of your personnel.” The Colonel was striking many points of interest to his audience. This drug could greatly reduce their principal business problems.

“Colonel Stevens, how long a period of time exists between the last dose and the final effects of withdrawal?” The question came from Lee.

“Within twenty-four hours, the subject begins to experience symptoms such as you would experience at the onset of hunger. At thirty-six hours, he or she begins to shake and exhibit uncontrollable behavior. As forty-four hours pass, they begin to convulse and within forty-eight hours, death occurs. These times appear to be universal among all of the human subjects tested. I have slides and a video that will show the effects of the drug on several subjects.” He turned the slide projector on. The first slide showed a young man seated in a chair. He had a small red capsule in his hand.

“This first slide shows an Asian boy of fifteen who was already addicted to the drug. The drug is administered orally, in capsule form, thus eliminating the need for disfiguring injections. The red capsule you see here is a placebo. It did not contain the drug.” The second and subsequent slides showed the subject reading and conversing with a lab technician. In the background was a laboratory clock which signified that the events depicted in the slides occurred over a period of five hours. The subject appeared completely normal.

The slides documented Stevens’ synopsis in five hour increments. At the twenty fifth hour, the boy on the cot first began to show distress. At hour thirty five, he began smashing headlong into the door and walls. At hour forty five, he convulsed and fell to the cot in a coma. By hour forty eight, he was dead.

“You have shown us that the drug works, but we will have to see this for ourselves. What’s the deal? Please explain the business details.” The questioner was obviously sold and was ready for the next stage of the presentation. This opinion was held by the rest of the listeners, as expressed by the level of their mutual agreement.

“We are proposing to you an arrangement by which we will supply all of your personnel, addict them to this new drug and provide your organizations with the means to satisfy their demands for recurring dosages. You place your order, we deliver to your requirements and assist you in their maintenance. This enables you to conduct your individual businesses without many of the problems that you are currently experiencing.” The Colonel was pleased to see obvious signs of acceptance.

“What prevents us from copying your drug and selling it?” A question came from the back of the room.

“It is very nearly impossible to copy this drug without a background in the research that led to the drug’s development,” the Colonel answered.

“One other point, gentlemen. There are only ten organizations involved in this venture. If we detect that Halorin is being sold on the market, we will take steps to stop its distribution. This, of course, will cause the loss of all personnel who have been addicted,” Lee spoke.

“How are you setting up your procurement and shipping networks?” The question silenced the group and all attention was focused back on the Colonel.

“For purposes of security, I cannot disclose the details of our networks. I can say that we will have between ten and twenty sites located in Europe, North and South America. The details of your individual shipments will be discussed with only you and none of the others will know the routes or monetary details. I will add that the Toma group has formulated this plan and they are in complete control. Do you agree, George?” The Colonel directed his question to Lee.

“I don’t think we need to cover specifics here, Colonel. However, I think you can describe the generalities.” Lee was playing his role to the hilt. He realized that they were making history in this meeting and would not allow the question to go unanswered, as they held the collective interest of their audience. They had covered these questions in detail and the interchange between Lee and the Colonel were strictly designed to enhance the drama of the moment.

The Colonel continued. “We have begun to establish a number of sites that will function as training and indoctrination camps throughout the Americas and Europe. Subjects meeting your order will be secured through various means, indoctrinated and addicted at these camps. Statistically, we expect the shipments to consist of 75% female, 25% male, in ages of twelve to twenty. The mix of race and color will be determined by your order. We expect an order volume of between 10,000 to 12,000 per year total. The indoctrination process will take six weeks from start to delivery. Following this period of indoctrination, the subjects will be transported, using various means, to prearranged staging areas. From these areas, you will take delivery of the subjects and we will be paid, Cash on Delivery. You understand that we cannot risk collecting through the various banking systems. We provide a complete service to support your main activities. Our period of preparation will be completed by January of next year. The reason for this delay is the level of preparation that must be completed prior to securing these installations. We have infiltrated the law enforcement agencies that have authority in the various locations. Transportation will be conducted through normal public transportation.

“Do you trust public transportation? Why wouldn’t they try to escape or cause a disturbance?” A man in a white turban asked.

Colonel Stevens smiled “The subjects will leave as travel groups, accompanied by one of our technicians. It will be physically impossible, due to their level of addiction, to misbehave or to communicate with anyone because they know any such action will cause them to lose access to their source of the drug. It’s difficult to explain but consider that the drug becomes as critical to them as the air that they breathe. This is their mental attitude after only four weeks. Another security procedure is that we have also infiltrated the public transportation whose routes we use. This allows us to maintain a level of security without the external trappings of that security. Are there any other questions?”

Stevens paused and then went on “We will supply the shipment with a complete set of identification, false of course. Each shipment will be made in small groups and will be accompanied by a technician that will ensure the prompt and safe arrival to any location that you specify. Each indoctrination camp will be secured by our personnel. Certain security measures have been taken to contain any breaches and an emergency fall back plan has been established at each site. We provide to you a completely safe, secure service that will help you maximize the profitability of your businesses. Are there any other questions?”

“You said that each subject would be useful to us for at least ten years. Who gets rid of what’s left?” The question was from the rear of the room.

“That is a very pertinent question. I have said that we are offering you a complete service. Therefore, our plan includes a maintenance agreement which considers this eventuality. We refer to this period as the expiration of our warranty. You deliver the subject to any of our staging areas and we take care of the rest, at no additional cost?”

“What will you do with them?” The question was from the same person.

“That has to remain our business, but let me say that for purposes of your peace of mind, we deal with each subject in a humane manner. This approach is far more considerate that allowing them to die of failure of the vital organs, or even to be thrown out into society, as frequently happens now.” Stevens had anticipated the question and knew that the answer must soothe some consciences.

“How much will this service cost us? Who will be our contact for this service?” The questions reflected the level of acceptance. It could be generally said that they all saw an agreement.

“On an average, $40,000 U.S. dollars, per subject, plus transportation and nominal living expenses. The price, of course, will vary, depending on your specific requirements. For rare subject types, it could increase to $100,000. You will make all arrangements through the Toma Corporation. They have offices world wide and this provides you with a higher level of security than communicating long distances over commercial phone facilities. You will be provided with specifics on how to order and where payment is to be made. Halorin for each individual will cost $25 dollars a day, per person,” Stevens replied.

“Our plan expects an investment from each of you of $200,000 U.S. Dollars. For this amount, you will receive a 25% reduction in the per subject price. You will also receive dividends, to be paid yearly. The bulk of the profits from this venture will be gained from supplying the other sixty organizations world wide. The price of Halorin will remain fixed for five years, for you. Thereafter, we guarantee it will not increase more than 1% per annum. These prices are strictly for you, the founders, and, of course, must remain strictly confidential.” Stevens smiled as he looked around the room.

“With all this secrecy, who says you won’t betray us and sell the Halorin or the subjects, as you call them, at a cheaper price?” The question came from a swarthy man.

“You will, of course, have complete access to our books. This right is guaranteed by Toma. Also, secrecy is in one direction only. You have the right to find out how much the non-investing organizations are paying. All that we ask of you is to keep your prices confidential. As to the point of the Halorin, how long could we keep information about this drug quiet? Once it gets to the world market, it will generate major news,” Stevens replied. The answer seemed to satisfy everyone.

“What happens if your supply network comes under assault by the police? Does it become our problem?” Another man asked.

“We have a damage control plan that reduces the impact of any one staging facility from effecting any of the others. We use a Scorched Earth Plan to eliminate any tie ins with us and certainly, with you. We eliminate all traces that we have been there and any personnel that may implicate us,” Stevens replied.

“If there are no further questions, I am finished and will turn the meeting back to Mr. Lee.” The colonel placed his slide cassette into its case and left.

“Well, gentlemen. I am sure that you can now appreciate the need for security. I have placed before you a complete package that outlines the answers to many of the questions you have already asked. We have provided you with separate rooms on this floor for your use while you are reading this information. I am sure you understand these precautions. Are there any other questions? If not, please retire to your individual offices and read the information we have provided. Once you have completed that, I will answer any other questions and you may leave.”

Lee stood patiently, waiting while the others left the room. Once they were gone, he opened the door and Stevens came back in. “Well, George, did we convince them?”

“I think we can begin to establish the centers. I feel that this group is sold. I’ll authorize two million dollars to begin the centers and drug production. Toma will provide you with ten men to start recruiting your personnel.” Lee smiled as he and Stevens left the room.
Chapter 2

Rumblings
FBI Field Office
San Francisco, California
October 1985

 

The FBI Field Office in San Francisco is located in a high rise tower about two blocks from the famous spire of the Trans-America Building. The offices are also home to the West Coast Computer Section, responsible for coordinating agents and information from the coast of Asia east to an imaginary line through Dallas, Texas.

Curtis Goodell, the agent responsible for tracking Asian Activities and the coordinator for the translation of the forty-seven languages and dialects normally found in their jurisdiction had been with the bureau for ten years. Curtis was smiling as he placed a large manila envelope on Sam Adler’s cluttered desk. “Here’s the latest mystery for you, Sam.”

Sam Adler, Principal Analyst, was responsible for statistical analysis, decoding, and strategy definition for any information that came from Curtis’s group. He determined the worth of material collected and attempted to link that material with criminal activity known to exist in the region.

Curtis’s six foot two frame seemed to hover over Sam as he stood there waiting for him to open the envelope. He enjoyed working with Sam. They seemed to think alike. This made Curtis smile because they had absolutely nothing in common. Curtis had been content with his office work, but Sam’s career had been spent out in the field.

That was before the bullet wound that had changed Sam’s life forever. Curtis’s dark blue eyes looked at his friend. Sam, an African-American with dark brown eyes, a misshapen nose and a very wry sense of humor had been confined to his wheel chair for the past two years. Since he had received the paralyzing wound in the line of duty, he had been allowed to transfer from field operations to the white tower computer world. On his wall was a sign that read “We Byte Crooks”, a reminder of the fact that he hadn’t lost sight of why he was there.

“What kind of mystery, Curtis?” Sam responded, quickly dumping the material out of the envelope.

“Seems that we had a contact in Asia that had been dealing with us for a couple of years. We received this package from him with some cryptic notes saying that we had better look this over carefully because it seemed serious. He also upped his price to three times the normal payoff for any additional information”, Curtis replied.

“Are we going to pay to see if the info is useful? You said we’ve used him for a couple of years, so he has a track record.”, Sam spoke as he looked over the various documents from the envelope.

“Ah, my friend, if we only could. He was found cut from his throat to his jib last Friday. A fishing boat found him taking a sea voyage without the benefit of a boat. He was floating out to sea feeding the sea birds and fishes.” Curtis developed an Irish brogue whenever he needed to explain bad news. It seemed to go with his red hair even though it was rapidly changing to gray. He also felt that it made the listening easier.

“Enough, already, I got the idea,” Sam groaned. “It looks like what we have here is a business plan complete with comments in the margins. The numbers look impressive, but I doubt criminals have started to develop business plans for their activities yet. Who did this guy work for?”

“He was fairly high up in the Philippine Mob. He wanted out and was putting his escape money together when he discovered he could make a lot more money by informing. It seems that retirement in that group leaves you under the golf course instead of on top of it. Ben Rico, in Manila, made the first contact with him and then I began to deal with him, tracking shipments of heroin from Southeast Asia. Most of our dealings have strictly been time and place of shipments for mucho dinero. He delivered and so did we,” Curtis replied.

“Who or what is Halorin? Have you ever heard of someone by that name or maybe a drug or a medicine. It seems that this plan is based on some undisclosed benefits that can be derived from using Halorin. That word is circled and a line is drawn to Halorin in the margin. He also has the words “los ninos” scrawled in the margin, but with no connection. Have you ever heard of an organization or group called “los ninos” or maybe “the children?” Sam asked.

“There was an organization lead by a man called “El Nino” in Venezuela back in the late seventies, but that group was killed off at least ten years ago. If you look on page twenty-five, you’ll find the name George Lee written in the left-hand margin. Now that’s a name that rings my bell. Lee works out of Hong Kong and he’s become semi-respectable. He’s still a suspect in three murders in Singapore and Hawaii,” Curtis added.

“Can’t we get the British authorities or Interpol to pick him up?” Sam asked.

“Not a chance. He has an in with an organization called Toma. They’re well known and can swing a lot of weight worldwide. Besides he’s only a suspect in those murders, with a little gun running on the side. We can’t get enough evidence to force an investigation, so why fight a losing battle,” Curtis responded.

“I’ll review this info, but unless we can get more data, I can’t see how we can use it. It doesn’t mean anything without some linkage. Find out what Halorin or “los ninos” means and we may be able to decipher it. The spreadsheets are interesting, though. According to these numbers, big bucks are at stake. They started last year and, if they’re on schedule, they should be right in the middle of this plan” Sam said.

“Put all this in the computer. If we do come up with some additional info, then maybe we can link it to this plan,” Curtis replied.
Chapter 3
ASSASSINATION
SAN MIGUEL COUNTY
PECOS, NEW MEXICO
JANUARY 14, 1990
Ev Bracken had been sheriff of San Miguel County for the past twenty-five years. He was known as a hard, but fair, man to most of his constituents. Although he had seen his share of low life, from hustlers to murderers, he still believed that most of his work dealt with just plain, good, folks who had their share of trouble. San Miguel is one of the largest counties in the state of New Mexico, in land area, and one of the poorest in per capita income. Most of the county is ranch land, with few cities, and lacked the safety cushions that come with large urban areas.

Ev was a big man, 6 foot and 225 pounds, who had, during the course of these twenty-five years, suffered two heart attacks. His ruddy face showed the ravages of too much drink, too many years of hard work and too many sleepless nights. He was now, just past sixty, serving his last two years as sheriff. He had decided to retire to his ranch and try not to give a damn what happened to the rest of the world.

Right now though, he still faced two more long years in office. The time didn’t feel as heavy to him back when his wife was alive. At least, then, he had someone who gave a damn if he lived or died. But, Mildred had died more than two years ago. His two kids had married and moved away, chasing better working conditions. He couldn’t blame them, though. This area had little to offer, unless you were a rancher or retired. Their future lay in California. Let them have it, he thought. He had made his own decisions for sixty years and now the kids could make theirs.

Ev was driving east on Interstate 25 with his chief deputy, Dale Monroe. Dale had been with the sheriff’s department for the past year. He had served in the military police before coming to San Miguel County. As far as Ev was concerned, Dale was the best deputy that he had ever seen. He always seemed to be on top of every problem, whether it was law enforcement or a personnel problem. There was just one flaw in Dale’s character. He stuck his nose into everything. This left Ev with the feeling that Dale was preparing himself to be the next sheriff.

During Ev’s last heart attack, Dale was with him at the hospital every day. He even directed activities from the hospital. At first, Ev had been flattered. But, he began to feel that there was more than loyalty motivating the man. Dale was really everything that Ev was not, except sheriff. He was tall, lanky and spent long hours working out at the gym. He was never sick or even tired. When it came to filling in for personnel, Dale was always available. He had developed a contingent of deputies who followed him around like dogs. At first, this had bothered Ev. But, being a realist, he was resigned to the fact that he was becoming history. Dale had hired the last three deputies and directed their assignments on a daily basis. Ev realized that he relied on Dale to carry out the bulk of the department direction. He thought to himself that he was probably feeling what every other man felt when retirement was staring him in the face. His stock was ebbing.

These thoughts were filtering through Ev’s mind as he drove east over Interstate 25. He and Dale were expected to speak at one of the outlying state schools on drug abuse and the enforcement of New Mexico’s laws on young people. He always enjoyed giving these lectures because he saw the drug problem as it related to the users, not the pushers, like the case down near the Mexican border. He could never decide which problem was worse. He had his own set of priorities now and his attitude to the world’s self inflictions had changed since his second heart attack.

“Sheriff, this is Deputy Martin” The crack of the radio brought Ev out of his reverie. “I’m five miles from the Glorietta Reserve School. I responded to a report on a body in the woods at the Trace Club. Can you swing over this way and give me backup? The report mentioned a gun near the body. Over.”

“Dale, tell him we’re on our way. I was going to eat lunch at the school, but we’ll do better at the Club. We don’t have to be at the school until 13:00 hours anyway,” Ev said as he turned on the siren and lights.

The Trace club used to be owned by a New Mexican corporation, and was open only during the fall hunting seasons. Last June, a group of international investors bought the Club and now it was open year around catering to VIPS who were in retreat from drug and alcohol problems. For $5,000.00, a two-week treatment was available, accompanied by the best food in the county. Unfortunately, the restaurant wasn’t open to the public. Where they had found decent cooks to work in that wilderness was beyond Ev’s understanding. However, he was not above stopping off to inspect their kitchen and food preparation. Ev was not against using his badge to gain entrance. It was purely a courtesy to the local ordinance enforcement departments. These inspection trips were always greeted with a large quantity of free food. Ev inevitably decided that if the food didn’t kill him then the preparation was adequate.

The Jeep drove along Interstate 25, south past the Glorietta Mesa, into the foothills. Interstate twenty-five circled through the valley formed by the Sangre DeCristo Mountains and the Glorietta Mesa, past the town of Las Vegas, New Mexico and up into the Raton Pass to Colorado. The valley was filled with Juniper, Greasewood and Cottonwood Trees. The Sun was hanging in a cloudless sky. The day was cold, but the sunlight coming through the windshield was warm. They turned off onto a small access road.

The road was a narrow two lane path that the State had seen fit to pave every ten years, whether it needed it or not. It had been about six years since the last repaving and the road resembled an artillery target range. Ev dodged as many of the potholes as possible by driving on the left side of the road. It was only when he neared a curve that oncoming traffic forced him back to the rutted side. About three miles down the road, a chain link fence topped with three strands of barb wire came into view. The fence was new, probably installed by the new owners. Ev thought to himself that this level of security was hardly necessary. No one lived within ten miles of the club.

“Dale, what was the name of that corporation that bought this club from Chad?” Chad Barnhard had owned the club previously. He had opened it in the late fifties, renting out the facilities to the Boy Scouts and then to church groups that were looking for both scenic beauty and privacy. The club’s property covered five thousand square acres and presented its members with a choice of terrain for hunting, fishing and camping. The lake on the property was used by several church groups for baptismal purposes. Several years before, a nudist colony had rented the property, but the daytime highs and nightly lows were too cold for unprotected skin.

“Some foreign outfit. The Toma Corporation, I think. It’s a damn shame that Chad died. Those kids of his didn’t want a thing to do with the property. They just wanted to sell and get out of this area. I hate to see foreigners taking over America,” Dale replied.

They spotted Deputy Martin’s patrol car just inside the fence at one of its normally locked side entrances. Martin was back about fifty yards, by a grove of Cottonwood trees.

Ev quickly drove through the entrance and parked next to Martin’s car. “What do you have, Brian?” he asked as they walked up to Martin.

“About twenty yards up in the grove, looks like a body. I can see a pair of tennis shoes and blue jeans. Could be either a boy or a girl. I haven’t seen any motion. Been waiting here till you arrived, just in case there’s trouble,” the deputy replied.

The stand of Cottonwood trees was separated from a larger grove of mixed hardwood and Cottonwoods. Further up the winding trail, there was a small lake with boat ramps and a closed food stand. The grove with the body was filled with ground clutter of long grasses and berry bushes.

The sheriff, who for years had only one deputy, always did his work alone. He understood the new techniques which required waiting for backup before moving into potential danger, but it irritated him. He wondered what Martin would have done if help had been an hour away, just sit and watch? Dale, who had been trained by the military, had instituted these techniques in the department. He advocated safety and encouraged the men to obey the rules.

“Brian, have you seen anyone else around or any tracks?” the sheriff asked as he and Dale began circling the area.

“Two sets of footprints coming from the back of the grove. I guess they came from someplace north of the Club. Maybe its just some kid that fell asleep in there, but it’s been too dark to tell much. Except he hasn’t moved while I’ve been watching,” Brian replied. The sun was still hidden behind a bluff. The Club’s eastern wooded area did not receive sunlight until noon.

“Dale, you go around the grove and check out those tracks. See where they came from and where the second set went.”

“OK, Sheriff,” Dale replied and started circling toward the north. He carried a new 30-30 Winchester. His shoulder holster was unfastened.

The sheriff walked further into the grove, carefully watching for any movement from the pants and shoes. “Who reported this body? It can’t be seen from the road” the Sheriff asked.

“Anonymous caller. A man called in about an hour ago and said he had seen a body here in the Cottonwoods. He wouldn’t leave his name or number. You might recognize his voice sheriff. We taped it,” Brian replied.

“Probably the person that dropped the body off. He didn’t want us to think he littered” Ev answered, sarcastically.

The sheriff could now clearly see the body. It was a young man, probably in his late teens. He was laying motionless with his right arm under his head. He was stretched out on a section of the grove that had little natural growth, just fallen leaves from the trees. There was no blood visible and the two sets of tracks leading to the spot were easy to see. The ground was the soft blood red clay which had given the Sangres their name. The first set of tracks showed the woven pattern of gym shoes. The other set of tracks were easily recognizable as typical cowboy boots with a small, fancy heel and pointed toe. Judging by the size, the boot tracks appeared to be made by a larger man than the sneaker wearer.

The tracks seemed to circle the body before they moved off to the west. That’s probably where they had left their car, right on the narrow dirt road where the two patrol cars were now parked. Well, Ev thought to himself, there go those tracks. As the sheriff stood up, his eyes slowly scanned the area. It was important to him that he take in every detail of the surrounding tracks and brush. Evidence could be anywhere: pieces of cloth caught on the scrub brush, broken branches that might show a definite trail.

Ev walked over to where the body of the young boy lay. He always hated this part of the job. As he knelt down to check the boy’s body for wounds, Ev thought he detected some eye movement in the kid. He quickly checked for a carotid pulse and found one. “Jesus, Brian, this kid is still alive. Call for an ambulance.”

“I already did, about ten minutes ago,” Brian replied.

“You never said he was alive. I didn’t hear you call for rescue, just backup. What channel did you use?” the sheriff asked, puzzled.

“The second band. They said they’d have one here in thirty minutes. I thought the kid was dead so I told them that thirty minutes would be OK. Otherwise, I would have asked for the chopper. I guess I screwed up, right, sheriff?” Brian was talking to Ev but staring at Dale. He was obviously nervous.

“What in the hell is going on here? Since when do you assume that someone is dead before you even check him out? This isn’t like you, Brian.” Ev ‘s mind kept trying to put two and two together but all he could come up with was three. It made him wonder if there was more here than just the boy.

“Just call them back on the radio and tell them to hurry. You have a live youngster here who needs help. Those two drivers are probably still having coffee at Maria’s. I want them here, now.” Ev was trying to calm himself down. His doctor had said that he would have to learn to control his emotions or the next heart attack would be his last. But, damn, the procedure was that an ambulance or medevac chopper had to be able to reach anywhere in the county in fifteen minutes. The lack of urgency on the part of the deputy was infuriating him.

As Brian turned and walked down the trail to the patrol car, Ev’s eyes followed him. He still didn’t move like a life was on the line. The kid was sick, his color too pale. It looked like a drug overdose. “Hurry up, we need them here, now. You understand? We’re not investigating a murder, yet,” Ev yelled after him.

The sheriff noticed that Brian had dropped a lit cigarette butt into the dry leaves near where he was standing and smoke was rising. He walked over to stamp the butt out when he noticed that there were more foot prints that matched the boot tracks left by the person who had been with the boy. He followed the tracks with his eyes and suddenly stiffened. The tracks ended where Brian had been standing. Had Brian brought the boy here? Why would he? It must be that they were wearing the same make of boot. He walked back to where the boy lay and measured the track with a tape measure which he carried with him. The track was made by a man with a size ten shoe. The toe of the right boot was oddly worn and the heel on the boot was notched. He walked back to Brian’s tracks and examined them. They were identical. There must be some mistake. Why would Brian have brought the youngster here? It didn’t make sense. The sheriff was beginning to feel his blood pressure rise and the hairs on the back of his neck stiffen. He began to walk down the trail toward the patrol car, where Brian was talking on the radio.

“Brian, did you go over to the kid before we got here?” the Sheriff asked in a suspicious voice.

“No, Sheriff, I always follow procedure. We are not to approach a potentially dangerous situation without backup,” Brian replied. His statement was right out of the rule book. Brian looked beyond the Sheriff with a strange expression.

Dale stepped out from the brush with a Winchester Rifle cradled in his arms. “Dale, Brian’s tracks match the tracks left by whoever was with that boy. What the hell is going on here?” Ev asked.

“Nothing that you’ll live to tell, sheriff.” Dale said this as he raised his weapon and fired, point blank, into the sheriff’s chest. The impact lifted Ev off his feet and sent him flying into a clump of bushes.

Ev was wearing a bullet proof vest. This had reduced the force of the shot but didn’t completely stop it. His holster was pinned beneath him, but instinctively he was trying to reach it. “I don’t understand. Why, Dale?” The pain was growing steadily. He could still focus, but could feel the shock starting to affect his mind.

Dale walked over to where the sheriff was lying. “We waited long enough for you to die, Ev. With you gone, I’ll run this county. I thought your last heart attack would finish you, you old bastard, but I forgot how tough you were. So now, adios.” The sheriff’s eyes followed the gun as it was pointed to his head and wondered if he would hear the shot that killed him. He didn’t….

Brian walked up to the older deputy. “I told you he’d notice something wrong. He was always careful.”

“Brian, next time I tell you to eliminate tracks, take it like I meant it. He spotted your boot prints right off. Ev was sheriff for years and, even though he was pig headed, he wasn’t stupid. Now, take his gun and holster off and put it in your trunk. The sheriff wasn’t carrying a gun on a bona fide field call, in clear violation of his own rules. By the way, what’s the boy on?” Dale asked.

“We gave him some Crack. He’s still groggy, but he can be handled,” Brian said.

“Stand him up, I want to finish this. When we’re done with the boy, call for air support. Our beloved sheriff is dead,” Dale said cynically.

Brian walked over to the boy and dragged him to his feet. He was barely able to stand by himself and swayed with a glassy eyed stare. Dale walked over to the boy, put his finger on the trigger of the Winchester, pointed the gun into the air and pulled the boy’s finger, discharging the weapon. The recoil sent the boy back to the ground. Dale picked up the gun and tossed it aside on the trail. He stood the boy back up and walked away. The boy again swayed and looked around with a blank stare as the deputy walked about ten yards down the path. Dale turned swiftly, drew his weapon and fired three shots into the youth. The impact slammed the boy back to the ground one last time. The same glassy eyed stare was present as his blank eyes stared up toward the blue New Mexican sky.

“Dale, why did you have him fire the gun?” Brian asked, puzzled.

“In case there’s an investigation, his body would be given a paraffin test to show that he fired a weapon. Thanks to me, they will now find traces of gunpowder on his finger that will back up our story. I don’t leave anything to chance, Brian. You had better start to do the same thing, unless you want to wind up like old Ev over there. He only made one mistake the whole time I knew him. He trusted us,” Dale replied. “Colonel Stevens will be notified immediately when we return to the station. I’m sure he will verify that every step has been taken to eliminate any cause for a detailed investigation.

“Hell, Dale, we’re the ones who’ll be doing the investigating, won’t we?” Brian asked.

“Maybe yes, maybe no. I don’t take chances. Now put out the call. We have an officer down,” Dale replied angrily.

Brian started down the trail, when they saw a civilian car driving along the road fronting the fence. The occupant had definitely heard the shots and was trying to identify their location. Brian jumped back into the brush and signaled to Dale that they had company.

Dale grabbed the fallen Winchester, took aim and waited. As the car passed by the portion of the road which provided visibility back into the grove, Dale fired, once, twice, three times. The car swerved, then hit the fence. Dale and Brian both stayed hidden, waiting for any movement from inside the car. After watching for two or three minutes, they walked over to the fence and looked in at the driver.

“It’s a woman and she looks dead” Brian said. One of the shots had struck her in the left side of the head. The other two shots had gone through the shattered windshield without hitting the driver.

Dale turned to Brian. “She’s dead, all right. Now get the call out on the radio. I’ll check out our visitor here. Tell them that we have three bodies and for them to use the ambulance, not the chopper, since all three are dead. Tell them that I was the one that shot the drug crazed maniac that killed our sheriff. Make sure that announcement gets out for the rest to hear. I don’t want any screw up as to who’s going to be Ev Bracken’s successor. And Brian, get rid of your tracks. Go back over every inch of ground where the sheriff and the boy were shot. I don’t want any clues left.”

What should have been a simple hit had turned into a blood bath with too many people getting killed. This would be getting harder to explain with every new body. There were only four murders in San Miguel last year. These deaths would almost equal that in one case.

The ambulance and three patrol cars arrived within fifteen minutes of the call for help. The other deputies poured all over the grove, each taking his turn to pause for a respectful moment of silence over the body of the sheriff. The deputies noticed Dale and Brian sitting by themselves, talking quietly. They were shown the proper respect in their hour of grief and were left alone.

In fact, Brian and Dale figured they had about two or three hours before the press would question them. They wanted to make sure they had changed their prearranged comments to take into account the death of the young woman. Their new story placed her car at the scene when they arrived. They would state that they didn’t see the body right away, but had instead seen the boy leaning against a tree. The sheriff had walked up to the youngster and been killed. Dale would then take credit for shooting the boy. They told their stories to the other deputies and the coroner. The reaction was as expected. They were surrounded with sympathy for their terrible ordeal. The coroner was beside himself and insisted that Dale take a sedative, right away. Inwardly, Dale was smiling. This was a lot easier than he thought it would be.

The woman’s body was identified by the wallet in her purse. Her name was Melissa Stryker, a teacher at the school that had asked Ev and Dale to speak. She was the daughter of Chet Stryker, one of the largest ranchers in San Miguel County.

The coroner loaded the bodies into the ambulance and the deputies roped off the Cottonwood Grove, pending further investigations. Monroe and Martin returned to the Sheriff’s office. Both men were under suspension with pay until an investigation had taken place into the cause of death. This was standard procedure in shooting deaths.

Within twenty-four hours, the news had spread all around the southwest. The papers had labeled Dale Monroe as the hero of the moment and the Editorials had all but nominated him to take Ev Bracken’s place as Sheriff of San Miguel County. Dale had responded to reporters that it was far too early to make any commitments. He would wait until after the funeral before anything like that would be considered. He even alluded that he just might get out of police work altogether and leave the state. He claimed he had seen enough killing and that he had lost his best friend, Ev Bracken. He wished only that they give him time to grieve.

The funeral for the Sheriff took place on Saturday. The entire San Miguel Sheriff’s office staff was present, along with representatives from every police organization in the state. The San Miguel County Commission was there, as were many of the residents who had known Ev for the last twenty-five years. Ev’s son and daughter were present and were given the flag. As the honor guard completed the ceremony, everyone left the cemetery with the feeling that old Ev had been given a proper sendoff.

The boy was identified as Albert Wallace from Utah. His body was sent to his parents to be dealt with as they saw fit.

The Governor decided that the investigation was to be conducted by the San Miguel County Sheriff’s Department, eliminating the possibility of outside interference.

Melissa Stryker’s funeral took place on Sunday with her father and the rest of her friends and family present. The Reverend Amos Samuels conducted her funeral with the proper amount of somberness and respect. Absent were the reporters from Santa Fe and the honor guards. Unfortunately, the funeral of an innocent bystander was neither front page news nor did it have significant impact on the county.

Dale Monroe arrived in time to participate in the ceremony. He watched silently as the casket was lowered into the red New Mexican clay. “I want to convey my deepest sympathy for the death of your daughter, Mr. Stryker. I only wish I had gotten to that kid before he did this. At least he won’t kill anyone again.” Dale didn’t know Stryker well, nor did he like the looks of the three men who faced him across the grave. They were of a breed that he recognized immediately as being dangerous when crossed. Stryker was a big man, over six feet tall and 200 pounds, with startling white hair. He had a dark, smooth complexion with wide set eyes. The eyes, cold steel gray, were probably the most impressive part of his face. His stare could almost be felt. He had a square jaw with a small scar just below the lower lip on the left side. The other two mourners were both large men, but Stryker was the biggest of the three. Stryker’s son, a slightly smaller version of his father, stood to his left. The third man on his right side was Mike Donovan, the local chief ranger. When Donovan looked directly over at Dale, the lawman felt uneasy.

“Thank you, Sheriff. I was sorry to hear about Ev. I appreciate you handling the matter like you did. I wouldn’t want to see a trial.” Stryker’s voice was full of grief and anger.

“I was just doing my job, Mr. Stryker.” Dale liked the respect shown by Stryker in calling him “Sheriff”. True, he hadn’t officially gotten that title, yet, but it was just a matter of time.

The ceremony officially over, the family slowly walked away from the grave to the waiting limousines. It was obvious that Stryker was on the ragged edge of a breakdown. Melissa had been his only daughter.

Dale needed more details before Stryker left for the ranch. He had to judge whether the father or his son might be dangerous to his plans. “Mr. Stryker, will you be staying in town? I’d like one of my deputies to ask you a few questions before you go back to the ranch. We’re trying to tie this case down and we need to know some things about your daughter.”

Mike Donovan moved between Stryker and the deputy. The other had assumed a defensive position off to the right. Stryker turned and said, “Easy boys, the Sheriff’s just doing what he has to. Yes sir, I’ll be in Santa Fe for a few days sorting out my daughters affairs. I have her furniture to move back home. I also have the apartment to close down and put up for sale. If you need to ask me anything, I probably won’t be back at the ranch until next week,” Stryker responded.

In his mind Dale knew the father could be trouble. Would he hire his own investigators? He would have to talk this over with the Colonel. Their plans had worked so far. He didn’t want any unseen problem to mess things up. They would now begin to start the club. The Trace Club had not been used as a staging point up until now, because Ev Bracken could not be trusted not to pick up some clue and he had a habit of being where he wasn’t always wanted.

Dale would soon be in charge of the department, but he still had three deputies to replace. This would be done through voluntary attrition or involuntary elimination. He couldn’t afford to fire anyone and have people critical of his efforts so soon after this publicity. Colonel Stevens had carefully outlined his plans and he would need all of the deputies in place within three months. No one could be trusted that he had not personally recruited. Stevens had already installed his watcher on the force. Brian Martin, a deputy hired six months ago, was Stevens’ man. Dale knew this and would use it to his advantage. As he walked away, his thoughts went back to Stryker and Donovan. The way Donovan looked at him, it was like he could read minds.

During the long drive back to Santa Fe, Chet sat staring out the window. He thought about Melissa and how she didn’t deserve to die like she did. Occasionally, he removed his handkerchief from his pocket and wiped his eyes. “Mike,” Chet asked, “you didn’t seem to cotton to the new sheriff. Why not? He seems pretty straight to me.”

“I’ve seen his kind before. Extremely efficient and as trustworthy as a flat tire. Chet, I haven’t said anything before about this, but I don’t altogether believe the story of Melissa and Ev’s death,” Mike Donovan replied.

“Do you have proof or are you speculating? I just buried my daughter and now you say she might have died differently than we know. I don’t buy it Mike. The two deputies were right there and saw the whole thing. If you’ve got some point, make it or drop it, forever, OK?” Chet was again on the verge of tears.

“All right. One point, then I’ll shut up. Did you ever know Ev Bracken to go anywhere without a side arm, Chet? Think about it. The deputies used to kid him about how he even wore his pistol to the toilet,” Mike answered.

“He was getting old, Mike. Just because an old man forgot to wear his pistol one day doesn’t mean that my daughter was murdered for a reason. Without any proof, we’re only speculating,” Chet replied. “But if you ever do come up with something concrete, you bring it to me and I’ll take care of the problem myself.”

Donovan decided to let the conversation drop for now. He leaned his head back and closed his eyes.

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Copyright – 1999 – W.S. Holderby – All Rights Reserved