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Authors: Richter Watkins

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Lethal Redemption

BOOK: Lethal Redemption
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Dear Reader,

This romantic thriller arose from the convergence of events that took place over two thousand years apart: the disappearance of a CIA plane in the mountains of Laos following the Vietnam War, and the exploits of the greatest female warrior in Southeast Asian history. These two historic events come together in the mind and actions of a contemporary war correspondent as she searches for the lost plane—one flown by her grandfather that carried an invaluable cargo

Richter

Contents

(PART 1)

WHERE ELEPHANTS SLEEP

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2
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3
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4
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5
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6
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7
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8
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9
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10
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11

(PART 2)

THE SWEET SERPENT

12
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13
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14
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15
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16
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17
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18

(PART 3)

LAND OF A MILLION ELEPHANTS

19
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20
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21
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22
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23
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24
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25
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26

(PART 4)

THE HO CHI MINH TRAIL

27
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28
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29
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30
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31
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32
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33
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34
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35
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36
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37
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38
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39
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40
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41
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42
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43
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44
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45
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46
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47
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48
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49

(PART 5)

A WARRIOR’S DREAM

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51
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52
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53
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54
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55
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56

Coming Soon!

About the Author

Acknowledgments

Copyright

For my co-conspirator, Mary Leo

PART ONE

WHERE ELEPHANTS WEEP

1

War correspondent Kiera Hunter, riding from the airport to Phnom Penh in a covered tuk-tuk on what she felt was the most important journey of her life, closed her eyes for a moment. It had been a long tough three weeks and she felt utterly drained.

As the monsoon squall hit the metal roof of the tiny cab that hot humid afternoon it sounded like machinegun fire. Her eyes popped open and for a moment, confused and disoriented, she thought she was back in Syria.

She couldn’t see much of anything in the blinding downpour and the tuk-tuk was going way too fast. She yelled at the driver with some frustration, “Hey! Slow down. I’m in no hurry!” Then she realized with shock and disbelief that the driver couldn’t respond. The front seat of the small 3-wheeled minicab was empty, driverless.

She leaned forward to confirm the bizarre reality that her driver, the one supposedly sent by the hotel, had vanished, leaving the out-of-control tuk-tuk careening wildly between buses, bikes and elephants in the torrential downpour.

“What the hell!” Kiera yelled, trying to move forward to grab the controls, but she was too late as the tiny cab sideswiped a bus, rocked violently, then headed off the road, plunging down an embankment and splashing into a rice paddy.

She had no time to jump clear as the overturned cab sank fast into the water and muck. The motor sputtered and died.

Welcome to Cambodia
, flitted through her mind as she struggled to pull herself and her suitcase out of the side of the cab that was above the water.

Two Khmer men dropped into the paddy to help her. Kiera, thankful for their Good Samaritan quick response, reached to take an offered hand.

She didn’t have much time to feel gratitude. Rather than help her, one of the men pushed her back inside the water-filled cab and the second man ripped her suitcase out of her hands.

When Kiera tried to grab the suitcase before he could get away with it she was slugged in the face by his partner, who then tried to snatch her backpack.

“Hey! Get the hell off me!” Kiera yelled, hitting him with an elbow. She managed to get a foot into his chest and push him off. She pulled the pack back into her possession.

The man used the top of the open cab to stabilize himself before launching a vicious kick at her face and shoulder.

A quick move by Kiera made it a glancing blow.

She retaliated with punches to his face. There was no way he was going to get the backpack. She would gladly have given up her money, but the pack was about something far more important than money.

Fortunately, the man was small and no contest for Kiera, a tall, athletic gym rat. Her punches weren’t schoolgirl, playground slaps, but rather hard and straight to the target—putting as much of her body behind them as she could, given the awkward position she was in.

Her assailant realized, after taking some of her wrath to the nose and mouth, that the prudent course was to abandon the effort.

Kiera tried to get hold of his skinny leg to use as a means of pulling herself out of the cab, but the Khmer yanked free and scrambled up the bank following his accomplice who had her suitcase in tow.

She pulled herself out of the cab. The rain had abated as suddenly as it had come, leaving behind a heavy mist.

People standing on the side of the road watched but they did nothing to stop the escaping thieves.

Furious at the onlooker’s passivity, a condition she’d met many times before in different parts of the world, Kiera scrambled up the muddy bank and went after the thieves, charging through the onlookers, yelling, “Stop them! Stop them!”

No one made any move. They just watched the show.

She lost sight of the two thieves for a moment before spotting them running unimpeded down the road, dodging between taxies, buses and motorcycles.

Kiera gave chase, hoping to gather some help as she went. But her pursuit came to an abrupt end when they jumped into the back seat of a black Mercedes parked on the side of the road. The rear car doors slammed shut and the Mercedes shot forward, horn blaring, forcing lesser beings out of the way.

She stopped and stared after the car. Then, finding herself between an elephant and a slow moving bus jammed full of people and animals, she moved off the road out of the way of the traffic just as a second wave of rain swept in.

Kiera swore. She spit blood from a cut lip and clutched her backpack protectively. Nice, she thought sardonically. Insult to injury. It left her drenched in its hot, steamy wake, but the rain moved on. Monsoons are like muggers, she thought. They hit unexpectedly, then run away.

She stood there soaked, luggage-less and pissed and knowing this was no random theft.

She looked past the traffic toward Phnom Penh, imagining the thieves riding off with her suitcase, chatting in the back seat. She said, with a small note of triumph in her voice, “You bastards didn’t get what you came for, did you?”

They were no ordinary thieves for sure and she was no ordinary tourist.

She looked around wondering where the tuk-tuk driver had gone. He’d just jumped off and abandoned her. Or had something happened to him?

This seemed like a follow-up to the break-in of her Chicago condo only days after her grandfather’s funeral. The thief or thieves there had targeted only her laptop, iPhone and an external drive. Though the place had been ransacked, she’d found nothing else missing.

She shook the water off her backpack, unzipped the side pocket and retrieved her new phone and hit the speed dial for Vale Expeditions, hoping there were cell towers somewhere close. This was all her fault and she wasn’t happy with herself.

When she got no answer she swore silently and hit redial.

“Answer, dammit.”

Still nothing.

She had no interest in getting police involved. More than ever she needed to get into town and find Vale Expeditions.

She knew she’d messed up somewhere along the line, let the cat out of the damn bag. Now she could look over the past weeks and there was no doubt somebody was tracking her every move. But at the time, she’d been under such emotional duress she hadn’t been paying attention.

You need to calm down, girl, she told herself. You don’t need to have a meltdown. “Soldier-up,” she said out loud, using the phrase a cameraman who often worked with her in the Middle East liked to say when things were getting dicey.

Kiera looked around for a taxi, wondering if somebody was right now watching her besides her own hypercritical self. They didn’t get the backpack, she thought. They’ll be back.

No intelligent course of action presented itself to her, other than finding Michael Vale. This was his world and if she’d learned anything in her six years of war zones from Africa to Afghanistan it was to not make assumptions about a world you didn’t grow up in. You always need guides and had to hope they were trustworthy.

But her guide-to-be wasn’t answering.

2

Porter Vale felt a reflective sadness as he stood in an empty office and checked the calls racked up on his father’s business cell phone. He turned to his friend. “That’s supposed to be a dead number. Calls shouldn’t be getting through.”

“You seem hesitant to turn it off, mate,” Curtis Knolls said.

Porter nodded. It was true. He turned the phone off and in doing so felt like he was turning off the final light switch on the business and all that it represented in his and his father’s life.

He watched as the last pieces of furniture—a coffee table and two chairs—were being hauled out by a Cambodian man and his wife and son.

“Well,” Porter announced, feeling mixed emotions, “Vale Expeditions is now officially and forever, history. We did what we could, but it’s time to move on.”

“You didn’t get anything for all that furniture?” his Aussie friend asked. “I could have got you a heap of jack. You know they’ll just sell it.”

Porter took a sip from his water bottle, and then said, “I got plenty for it. Friendship and great soup. What more can a man want for some old furniture he has no use for. They need the money a hell of a lot more than I do. For me, money at this point is just transportation to the next gig. I’m good for that.”

Pointing out the window Knolls, said, “How long those goons across the street been shadowing you?”

Porter glanced at the men sitting in a white Jetta. “Pretty much ever since Dad left. Probably making sure I don’t steal any buildings or street lights on my way out.”

Porter looked at the empty office one last time. Much of his life for nearly two decades had been spent here and in the apartment on the second floor. And now, with shocking suddenness, it was over.

All he was leaving behind was a poster on the wall of an article he had written for the Cambodian Daily criticizing the regime’s policies. The article had made him and his father even more
persona non grata
than they already were.

But it had succeeded in giving his dad a good excuse to do what the old man had been planning for some time, and that was retire in Tahiti. Maybe on some level when Porter wrote the article he knew it might be the final straw with the thin-skinned local authorities. Sooner or later his father would land in real trouble and Porter wanted him out before that happened. His father was getting cranky and confrontational in his older age and the authorities in Phnom Penh had him on a short list.

“We got to go, mate,” the Aussie said. “Everybody’s out at the range waiting for us. One last round robin. We can’t let you leave undefeated.”

“The only way that’s going to happen is if I shoot blindfolded. Let me lock up.”

“Who’s been calling?”

“I don’t know,” Porter said. He snapped the padlock on the front door. “Dad sent out a cease-and-desist over a week ago. And the number is supposed to be dead. I’m not interested at this point in dealing with any of my father’s clients on my last day. Especially someone looking for a bone hunter. They’re hard to turn away.”

Porter wanted to say his goodbyes and then party the night away before heading off to Bangkok and from there to Burma.

He followed Knolls to the street and the beat-up Range Rover he’d already sold to a friend but had the use of for his last day.

BOOK: Lethal Redemption
3.28Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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