Target on Hurricane Trail-Chapter 1

The transport plane finally landed after the noisy ride from Saigon to the air base at Pleiku in July of 1968. Russ hopped out with his duffel bag onto the runway, and was directed towards a corrugated iron walkway that crossed a muddy field to a metal hut. “Welcome to the ends of the earth,” said a sergeant sitting at a basic army metal desk as Russ opened the door. “You’re the first replacement that has come in quite a while for the communications center at Enari. The 4th division is getting all the infantry people it needs, but we’re having a bit of a problem digging up some support personnel. Got your orders?” Russ pulled out a couple sheets of paper from a folder and placed them on the desk. The sergeant took a brief look at them, picked up his telephone, and told Russ to have a seat. He had left the States about a week ago on a commercial airliner that went from Philadelphia to Anchorage before landing in Saigon after a brief stop in Tokyo. After walking through an air terminal that had a big hole in its roof caused, no doubt, by some sort of unexpected explosive device, he was put on one of many buses packed with soldiers and deposited at an orientation center where his orders would be reviewed and a decision made as to where he would be sent. He spent a couple of days in a noisy, dreary barracks area surrounded by a 15-foot barbed wire fence, which made him feel like a prisoner. It even got worse when he was put on a waste burning detail for the half dozen latrines that were around the center, so he was ready to go anywhere by the time he grabbed his gear and jumped on the transport headed towards the Central Highlands near the Cambodian border. “All set to go?” said a tough-looking master sergeant who suddenly appeared at the door. “We need to get back to camp before dark.” A jeep was running outside, and the sergeant jumped in the passenger side leaving the back for Russ and his duffel bag. He was barely in when the driver slammed it into first gear and raced down a dirt road towards a guard shack that was the entrance to the airstrip. Soon they were going through Pleiku on a road filled with motorcycles and a lot of other strange looking 3 and 4-wheeled vehicles. All along both sides of the dusty road were small buildings of all shapes and colors connected by drooping electric and telephone transmission lines. The air had a noxious odor probably caused by the mixture of vehicle exhaust, outdoor human and animal waste, and groups of Vietnamese huddled over stoves cooking their evening meals of fish and rice. The driver weaved his way around any vehicle that looked as if it would slow our progress in any way. They soon bounced their way out of town with only the numerous potholes and bumps in the road keeping their speed at any sort of safe level. It was twilight when the jeep passed through the only entrance to the camp with M-16 rifle barrels sticking out of the bunkers on each side of the gate. The jeep made its way around many groups of mostly long, one story wood buildings with various signs each designating their company or platoon group. It came to a halt in front of a hut that was marked by a sign surrounded by a neat circle of rocks as the home of the third platoon on the 278th signal company. Russ followed the master sergeant into one of the long buildings that turned out to be a barracks with about a dozen bunks on each side of the aisle. The only light in the whole

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place was from a bright light bulb in the middle of the hut where a small group seemed to be involved in a card game. “You’re bunking here,” said the sergeant pointing to a lower bunk on the right side of the aisle upon arriving at the third one. “Lancaster, take this man to the arms room and get him squared away with a rifle and some ammo.” A short individual with a green t-shirt sitting on a bunk next to the door got up and motioned Russ to follow. They walked out of the barracks past a 7-foot high sandbag bunker to platoon headquarters where they entered a small office with a door in the rear. Lancaster pulled out a key and quickly unlocked the huge padlock on the door, and pulled out a flashlight to illuminate the arms room. There were about a dozen M-14’s standing upright in a rack along with many different sized boxes containing ammunition, hand grenades, flares, and other munitions stacked up in several piles along the wall. “Where’s the 16’s?” Russ inquired. “All you’re going to get here is a 14 and enough ammo to fill three clips. You can also plan on using your stateside fatigues here. The infantry guys get all the 16’s and the jungle fatigues. You’ll have to take all the nametags off your fatigues with the gold lettering and black backgrounds and replace them with the black lettering on green tags. The Vietnamese will make the tags and sew them on for you.” Russ managed to fumble his way forcing 20 bullets into each of the three clips without appearing to be too much of a novice, and took the M-14 Lancaster offered to him after the serial number was noted in a logbook. Lancaster also gave him a heavy-duty belt with an ammunition pouch and canteen as they made their way out of the hut proceeding through the darkness back to the barracks. “Where do you keep your rifle?” Russ asked Lancaster when they walked up to the single bunk bed where Lancaster had been sitting earlier. “Right here in this metal container,” Lancaster replied, opening its lid revealing a disassembled rifle immersed in an oil bath. “I don’t have to worry about a dirty rifle at inspection time. I just leave it here, wipe it off, and put it back together every time I pull guard duty.” “I thought I left that type of BS back in the States.” “Nope, it’s the same old crap here even though we’re 12 time zones away from the land of the big PX,” Lancaster commented, referring to the large military stores back in the U.S. Russ went over to his bunk and propped his rifle against the wall. There was an empty wall locker next to the bed so he threw his duffel bag into it, and then felt for his padlock key on his dog tag chain around his neck before closing his lock through the loop on the latch. After Lancaster came over and gave him the standard Army issued sheets, blanket, and pillow, he lifted up one side of the mosquito netting that surrounded his sleeping area, made his bed up and quickly went to sleep after a long day that began 16 hours ago in Saigon. He woke up early the next morning and decided to take a walk around the camp. After leaving the platoon area he walked on a dirt road out to the perimeter where he found out that the camp was surrounded by 7 rows of barbed wire fencing with above ground sandbagged bunkers (similar to the one back in the platoon area) every 50 yards or so apart. There were numerous tanks, trucks, helicopters, and artillery pieces scattered all over the camp, which appeared to be a circle with a diameter of maybe a half mile. The road along the perimeter appeared to be just the result of tanks and trucks driving along the circular

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fence. There was a large hill in the middle of the camp with a quonset hut on it that was no doubt the communication center where he would be working. It also had a bunch of barbed wire around it and was heavily sandbagged. In the distance loomed a high mountain range, which looked close, but was probably many miles away. The landscape out from the perimeter was mostly high grass broken by the occasional small, scrubby tree. He arrived back in the platoon area just in time to be greeted by the master sergeant. “Where the hell were you?” he growled. “Just went out to the perimeter to look around.” “You could have been shot out there. You don’t even have a flak vest soldier! Get over to the mess hall for breakfast.” Russ saw a bunch of guys lining up outside an L shaped building, and quickly headed there glad to get away from the sergeant. It was there that he first ran into Larry. “Man, Veach was really chewing your ass out! The only shooting I have seen around here is the idiots using some of the drugs the Vietnamese sell to them. You can walk around the camp at night and see some of them strung out on who knows what. I’ve seen guys hiding in the bunkers during the day doing marijuana and sniffing glue.” “How is the food here? The fare we got back at the reception center in Saigon wasn’t too bad, but now we’re in the middle of nowhere.” “Breakfast is good. We got a cook who makes good pastries to go along with your basic eggs, potatoes, and SOS. Usually there’s a big pot of some sort of Kool-Aid with a big chunk of ice in it at lunch and supper. The roast beef is kind of chunky and chewy. I’ve always been suspicious its water buffalo meat. Of course, you can plan on a lot of rice.” “What time is formation? I’ll be working at the comcenter so I’ll have to go with someone who everyone knows to get through the gate.” “You’re in luck, buddy. I’m heading over there this morning to repair some of the teletype machines. There are a few other guys in the platoon who go there every day from morning formation.” They got to the beginning of the serving line after the appropriate introductions had been made, and Russ wolfed down a breakfast that was every bit tasty as Larry described. Russ then went back to the barracks and picked up his rifle and belt before heading over to an area where everyone seemed to be congregating. “Fall in!” shouted Veach which resulted in about four lines of ten men each. The first sergeant was sure a rough looking individual with his large frame and weather beaten face with its handlebar mustache. He went through a few announcements such as encouraging the group to shower occasionally and where to go to see the movies that somehow found their way to this outpost. The platoon had been informed that it would be pulling motor pool detail and a few comments were made concerning our guard duty responsibilities at the perimeter. Russ glanced around the platoon area as Veach spoke in that drill sergeant tone of voice. He saw the platoon’s outdoor movie theatre consisted of two poles sunk in the ground with a bed sheet strung between them. There was a small parking lot that must be the motor pool that was full of 2 ½ ton trucks, ¾ ton trucks, and a few jeeps. There was a small building with a couple of elevated tanks beside it that had to be the shower room. He felt ok about pulling guard duty, but wondered how he would do any motor pool work since he

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knew nothing about maintaining Army vehicles. The only thing he had been trained for was how to shoot a weapon and operating a teletype machine. When Veach was done he dismissed the group, and Russ headed up the hill along with Larry and three others to the communications center. Larry explained that it was called Signal Hill and had been claimed by the 278th for the requirements of the wireless communication antennae about twenty feet off to the side of the center. Russ was glad he got the technical explanation of the entire teletype system before he had asked someone how they kept the Vietcong from cutting the transmission lines down! Larry pushed a button at the gate that must have alerted someone inside that we were there. Then the door of the long, windowless metal hut quickly opened up and a lieutenant walked out and unlocked the gate, which was part of the high barbed wire prison looking fence that surrounded the place. On the inside was the main room containing six teletype machines with the name of its receiving location above it. There were three operators running around trying to finish their work from the 12-hour all night shift. Long streams of paper punch tapes that had been run through the sending devices on the machines were all over the floor. Most of the machines were bouncing up and down as the incoming messages created punched paper tapes that had to be run through a reader to print out a hard copy message for the recipient. There was a crypto box that had to be rewired every day from a code sheet by duty sergeants all over the country so that messages would go out scrambled and not be intercepted in plain text by the enemy. There were two small rooms, one of which served as an office for the officer on duty, and the other being the maintenance and arms room. In the corner of that room were a dozen incendiary grenades to burn the place up if the enemy should ever overrun the complex. A secret clearance was required to work in the center, and a top-secret clearance was necessary to work on the crypto equipment or to handle an occasional high-level message that would announce itself with bells on the particular machine involved. When that happened everyone except the person with the top-secret had to leave the area. Most of the secret and confidential messages seemed to be about the activities of the long-range reconnaissance patrols or LRRP’s, as they were known in military terms. There must have been a secretary in every patrol since the reports were very detailed and tedious to read. A secret message had to be printed out and delivered immediately if it was for a unit at Camp Enari, or retransmitted with haste if it was only received here because the recipient was beyond the range of the sender’s wireless transmitter. The Red Cross messages received relating to a soldier’s family situations such as a birth or death were usually low priority unclassified, but it was common knowledge to give them the same delivery speed as the more important ones. This made good sense to Russ. He couldn’t see what the big deal was on many of the classified intelligence messages. The 12-hour shifts at the center turned out to be pretty dull- just typing, sending, and receiving messages. The only excitement during the first month was when a bumblebee as big as a fist flew into the place and chased everyone around, including the lieutenant who ended up running into his office and shutting the door. Russ was put on the midnight shift the second month he was there, which was OK by him to avoid the more stringent Army life while most of the officers and NCO’s were around during the day. Usually, he would get back to the platoon area around 8:30 A.M., eat a light breakfast, and immediately go to bed arising late in the afternoon. After a

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period of free time he would eat supper before going back to the commcenter at 8:00 P.M. There were a few deviations to this from time to time. “Don’t get in that sack!” Sergeant Veach commanded when Russ arrived back in the barracks one morning after a busy shift all night at the center. ”We have to pull motor pool today.” “You’ve got to be kidding!” Russ complained to Lancaster. “I don’t know anything about vehicle maintenance, plus I’ve been on the go all night trying to keep up with the teletypes. We were running around in the jeep delivering messages and had to push it out of a ditch on that mud of a road by the 10th Aviation. These monsoon rains that show up every afternoon are making this place into a mud hole.” “Yeah, I know. I only take one shower a week because you get filthy again in no time.” “It’s been raining most of the time over the past two weeks. I had to watch a whole movie in the rain a few nights ago with my poncho and gas mask on to keep the driving rain from hitting me in the face.” Veach pointed out a three quarter truck for Russ to work on so he went over to it and spent the next 15 minutes trying to figure out how to open the hood. Good thing it was a foggy morning so no one could see how inept he was. He had pulled guard duty a few weeks ago in a tower with a machine gun that he didn’t have a clue how to operate. The engine in this truck was a mystery to him, too. “What should I do?” he asked Veach when the sergeant suddenly appeared out of the mist. “Change the air filter and check the fluids.” No sooner than when Veach had left Russ climbed into the cab of the truck and went to sleep. He figured the truck would be better off if he didn’t touch anything. He woke up about an hour later, and not seeing anyone around, he closed the hood and headed back to the barracks. How many vehicles ended up ruined across the country if it was standard procedure to throw any warm body to maintain them? One afternoon he was getting out of bed when Larry showed up with a request. “I could use your help, Russ. We’ve got a truck full of supplies to distribute to specific Montyard villages in the area. Want to come along and ride shotgun?” “I don’t know, man. I’ve seen the eyes one some of our guys coming in from patrols and there was fear written all over their faces. I haven’t been beyond the front gate since I’ve been here. I heard someone got their face blown off when a 2nd Louie ordered him to pull out a VC propaganda sign.” “Nothing has been going on for the past couple of weeks. It’s been too wet. Just bring your rifle and ammo. We’ll be back in a few hours.” Russ consented to go since Larry had done him a few favors repairing some of the equipment at the center he worked with. He wasn’t the best repairman, but then if Larry got rushed over here like he had with limited training it was understandable. There was a rumor floating around that Larry was in army intelligence. He seemed to be a pretty smart guy, and he could speak a fair amount of Vietnamese. He jumped into the truck with Larry at the wheel and headed toward the gate. Russ was getting used to the area now as they rode by the young Vietnamese girls filling up sandbags with the damp earth next to the platoon area. Some of them couldn’t have been more than ten years old working in their baggy black pants or dark dresses wearing a light sweater for warmth on this damp, dreary day. They were holding sandbags that were being filled by an

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older group of women. All of them had long, black hair with no shoes and worked for 50 cents a day. They drove by the PX where there had been a big fight the previous week when soldiers jockeyed for position in a long line when a shipment of chocolate milk had arrived from Hawaii. He had tasted a bottle that Larry had come up with and determined it was not worth the scuffle. They went by Anne’s Barber Shop with its parking lot made of army corrugated steel planks just outside the front gate. “You can get all kinds of souvenirs and trinkets in there,” said Larry as they went by. “They even have a steam room and massage. Every base in the country has a place like this just outside its gate. There is another one called Dodge City at AnKe.” “What’s this big hole in the road ahead?” “Just where some road mines were cleared a few months ago.” They bounced along the partially dried muddy road slowing down from time to time to go around huge ruts. Russ stuck his rifle out the window and wished he had stayed back at the camp as he stared at the grassy horizon. He couldn’t imagine what he would do if they came across a VC patrol now. Soon there appeared a dense area of trees and brush that contained a few elevated huts on stilts. A group of Vietnamese came out who were no doubt the Montyard people living in the area. Most of them were kids with green army issued baseball caps. Just about everyone was dressed in shorts, some sort of rumpled shirt and no shoes. Some of the smaller kids had nothing on. Larry jumped out of the truck, while Russ slowly got out, carefully looking around clutching his weapon. He walked to the rear of the vehicle and leaned his weapon against the side of the truck when Larry attempted to hand him a large box. “What the heck is this?” asked Russ peering through a small open area on the folded top. “It looks like boxes of candy! Is this whole truck filled with candy?” “UH, yeah, and some soda too,” replied Larry. “We have a good relationship with the Montyards so I bring them some supplies from time to time. This week we had a lot of extra candy “ “I’m risking my life out here for a candy and soft drink delivery? You got to be kidding me! Look at all this Coca Cola. The only thing we have had to drink in the soda department is the planeload of Wink that came in a couple weeks ago.” Larry handed him a couple cases of Coke and jumped back into the truck. Russ hadn’t seen a Coke in about a month, and wondered what kind of connections Larry had to get something besides the yellow and green cans of Wink carbonated grapefruit drink. The appreciative villagers picked up all the goodies and left while Larry cranked the engine. Russ grabbed his rifle and jumped in, and off they bounced to the next rural village. Russ kept his rifle pointed out the window checking out everyone and everything they passed along the side of the road. He suddenly noticed a young boy with what appeared to be something in his hand. Russ released the safety and put his finger on the trigger where it froze as the boy’s arm swung forward. The good mix of mud and dirt that hit him in the face was a good alternative to the grenade that he thought was coming. He wedged his rifle between the seat and the door and left it there for the rest of the trip, vowing to just stick with the midnight trick at the comcenter for the next ten months. He was glad when the truck passed through the front gate when they got back to Enari. Russ knew there was a drug problem at the base a few days after he arrived there. One night there was an alert, and when he went to the bunker the marijuana smoke was so thick inside, he took his chances and returned to the barracks. Marijuana was no problem to get

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from the Vietnamese who worked on the base. One night he was awakened in Spanish as someone, obviously high on something, tried to get into his bed. He knew there were several soldiers from Puerto Rico in the next barracks over, so he directed the guy to the next building. A short time later he heard the signal supply truck start up, and it began racing round and round all the buildings in the platoon area. The next morning at formation Veach announced that someone had run into the enlisted men’s club with the signal truck, and if anyone had any information about it to let him know. Russ didn’t want to get involved in that so he kept his mouth shut. Then one morning in formation someone began acting very strangely and had to be restrained and taken away. The following day some officers and sergeants that he had never seen anywhere in the camp before came into the barracks and searched the entire place, including all the personal lockers. The word was that the 278th was heavily involved in much of the drug activity in that part of the country. Lancaster told him that several guys weren’t allowed to leave the country at the end of their one-year tour because they were hooked on something. They were sent somewhere for rehabilitation before they could go home. Guard duty was probably what Russ liked to do the least. He had been assigned weapons that he had no idea how to use such as machine guns and claymore mines. The first time he pulled guard the officer in charge, a 2nd Lieutenant Bradford, asked him if he had ever sighted in his weapon since he arrived. This procedure involved going out to a target range and adjusting the sight to allow for any weapon irregularities. Russ said that he hadn’t, so he was sent back to the platoon through the muddy fields to get someone to replace him. Veach was livid when Russ described what had happened, and gave him another rifle that was described as ‘sighted in’. Walking through the wet, muddy fields for the third time, Russ arrived back in the guard area only to discover that the officer was gone, so he looked around for a bunker with only two guys in it rather than the required three. He found himself assigned the midnight to 2 A.M. and 6 to 8 A.M. shifts, which were the worst for such a foggy, damp night. The two-hour periods seemed to last forever as he sat with his rifle directed ahead of him through a slit in the front of the bunker. Staring ahead through the seven rows of barbed wire fencing with the metal pie plates tied around the wires to make infiltration more difficult, Russ tried to remain awake as he looked for any kind of movement on this rainy night. He heard a bunch of yells from the bunker next to his when cat sized rats looking for food apparently alarmed the group there. From time to time a rifle would go off, accidental discharges being very common. The thing he hated the most was trying to wake the next guy up at 2 A.M. Some guys had to be pulled out of bed, as no one was too excited about being awakened out of a sound sleep for their two-hour shift. Russ was working at the NhaTrang teletype machine when a serious looking Larry came over from the maintenance area where he was usually hidden behind machines and boxes of spare parts. “Hey, man. Do you have a minute?” “Yeah, sure,” Russ replied as Larry motioned to the door leading out to a small area between the communication center and the outer surrounding fence. “I need your help. You’re the only one I can trust.” “What’s up? Another candy and soda run?” Larry pulled something out of his pocket, which proved to be an Army identification card stating that he was a captain in its internal investigative division.

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“There’s a truck coming in from Pleiku in the morning that is supposed to be full of communication parts. I just got the list off the teletype from administration of the packing list. Twice as much stuff can fit on that truck. I got a message a couple days ago that some sort of drug shipment is on its way to the 278th, and it’s probably in this truck.” ”What do you want me to do about it?” “I think everyone is wise that I’m not exactly a teletype repairman. If you could watch for the truck after breakfast, and let me know who seems to be interested in it.” “Larry, I don’t particularly want to get involved in this. Don’t you have anyone else in the area working on the problem? I don’t have any expertise in this sort of thing! Some of the guys around here are crazy. They fool around with the women outside the gate and are drunk half the time they’re not on duty. I just want to do my job, stay out of trouble, and go home when my year is up.” “I haven’t seen my contact in three days. I got a feeling something bad has happened to him. Someone might be watching us right now so you could be targeted since we’ve spent a fair amount of time together. You might as well help me out. I’ve got to find out who’s involved, and get the shipment to my battalion at Quinhon as proof so we can bring charges against them.” “I guess I don’t have much choice, do I?” Russ made his way back into the teletype room wondering if any of the three guys at the machines were watching him out of the corners of their eyes. Three hours later he was attempting to eat breakfast when he saw a deuce and a half truck pull into the motor pool. He watched through the large screen in the mess hall as Veach and Bradford, the duty officer who kicked him off guard that night, came out of the headquarters hut and walked back towards where it was parking. Russ quickly dumped the rest of his food in the garbage, dropped off his tray and dishes, and headed towards his barracks that were right next to the motor pool. His heart was pounding as he went in and rushed down the aisle to the back door. He quietly opened the door and made his way down an aisle of trucks, ducking between a couple of them when he began hearing voices. “Get the shit out of the back and put it in the ammo room,” he heard Veach order. “This better be the last one,” said a voice that belonged to Bradford. “Things are getting a little hot around here. We’ve gotten away with this too many times for someone not to wise up.” “Getting tired of the money, you asshole? You gonna take care of your family back home on your military pay plus that big sixty-five dollar combat pay allowance we get every month? You’re even helping your kid brother with his college expenses. Good Luck!” Russ heard footsteps coming his way, and held his breath as Veach, Bradford, and, of all people, Lancaster passed by, each carrying a box labeled as munitions. When they were gone he quietly hustled back to the barracks and jumped into his bunk. Obviously, he wasn’t going to get much sleep the way he was shaking. He got up around 2 P.M. and went for a walk hoping he would run into Larry, but he wasn’t to be seen anywhere. Suddenly, he felt alone as he walked around the platoon area amongst all the guys laughing and talking. Wonder if anyone was watching him? He picked up his rifle in the barracks and headed up the path to go to work after supper. He was about halfway there when a hand grabbed him on the shoulder from behind scaring him to death. ”Russ, what have you got for me?” whispered Larry.

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“The stuff is in the ammo room in boxes with munitions labeling. Veach, Bradford, and Lancaster are involved. This whole thing has me shaking!” “The lieutenant is from the 4th Infantry and not the 278th so there could be others involved from the camp. We got to grab the stuff and get to Quinhon! Go on to work and fake getting sick about 2 A.M. and I’ll meet you at the motor pool. Bring all your personal stuff because you won’t be coming back here. I’ll have a truck by then.” Russ spent the next six hours trying to concentrate inside the comcenter. Finally, he shouldered his rifle, glad that he had the full canteen and ammo pouch that he was told to drag back and forth there every night, and made his way down the path, across the company area, and into the barracks. He put most his stuff into a duffel bag and went out the back door to the motor pool. He wandered around for a couple minutes in the darkness until he heard something nearby which ended up being Larry rolling a dolly out of a truck. “Don’t worry about the guard. I took care of him.” Russ followed Larry towards platoon headquarters not wanting to know what he had done to the guard. Tonight, the enemy was everyone but Larry for all that he knew. “Hey Jordan,” Russ said to the CQ sitting behind the desk interrupting his concentration on the magazine he was reading. “I need to take some ammo over to the comcenter. Got the key for the ammo room?” “Naw, you’ll have to wake up Veach or Lancaster. They got the only keys.” “Don’t think I can do that, Jordan,” said Larry pulling out a 45 and pointing it square at Jordan motioning him to keep quiet. Russ pointed his rifle at poor Jordan, and Larry went over to the ammo room door opening it in no time continuing to display the skills he had beyond electronics repair. He piled about six boxes of ‘munitions’ on the dolly, and then pulled Jordan into the room proceeding to tie him up and tape his mouth before exiting the room and padlocking the door. Russ opened the door leading out of the hut, and not seeing anything moving in the dimly lit area, they headed back to the motor pool past the noisy generator that supplied the platoon’s meager power requirements. He helped Larry load the boxes from the dolly into the rear of the truck, and then they slowly drove out of the motor pool with no lights on. When they left the platoon area, Larry turned on the lights and headed towards the gate. He certainly had things well planned as the guard at the gate motioned them through. The lights of the camp soon disappeared from view as they made their way down the rutted road into the foggy night. It took them a couple of days to drive to Camrahn. Russ would never forget the ride across country and then down the coast. Too bad there was a war going on which made it difficult to appreciate the palm trees and lakes with the pink background of the sky when night was beginning to fall. The beaches at NhaTrang and Camrahn on the Yellow Sea could hold their own against Hawaii. Russ waited for Larry outside a secured warehouse where they deposited their cargo. He watched one warplane after another take off from the nearby airstrip knowing most of them were headed up North on bombing runs. “Russ, I got something to tell you,” said Larry handing him some paperwork. “You’re getting a special discharge because of all of this. This drug operation was bigger than even I ever imagined, and both of our lives have been threatened. Veach was livid when he was taken into custody. Said he would find us wherever we went and even the score. You are leaving tonight for Ft. Lewis, Washington and you’ll be out of the military in a couple of days. We are setting you up with another identity of a last name change and

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another social security number. My superiors want me to express their heartfelt thanks for your cooperation. You put your life at risk and unfortunately it somewhat still is, and I am sorry about that.” They said their goodbyes, and the next morning Russ was on a commercial flight with a planeload of soldiers who had just completed their one-year of duty. Everyone began to applaud as the plane lifted off. Russ was glad to be going as the coastline of Vietnam began to fade from view.

Target on Hurricane Trail-Chapter 2 Russ had always enjoyed being an accountant, but the continual software updates and legal changes in the profession were beginning to wear on him. The field didn’t have the

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status like the 1990’s with incidents such as Enron and the 2008 financial meltdown having reared their ugly heads, The consulting work he had been doing over the last 10 years dried up with the recession, so he felt fortunate that he had latched on to this job at LPN at his age to bridge the gap between now and retirement. It was a job paying half of what he was used to making and was really not in his normal area of cost expertise, but at this point he was just trying to survive for a few years until retirement kicked in. The company manufactured all kinds of generic auto parts and shipped items all over the world. He was amazed at the size of the plant as he stopped at the main gate to pick up his badge for his first day. The guard gave him directions to the accounting office. “Russ, we need to get our fixed assets reconciled, and there are four U.S. cash accounts that need to be reviewed,” said Linda his CPA supervisor as she directed him over to a cubicle. “The last guy here quit after a month to move closer to his girlfriend, so everything is about three or four months behind. We have to get things in shape before the auditors show up in a couple of months.” The cubicle revealed a desk piled high with many windowed envelopes of bank statements and piles of other mail, most of which proved to be requests from the census bureau for financial and plant information. Many of the requests were of the second and third variety, threatening fines and legal action if the required information was not returned. There were piles of green-bar computer reports listing the individual plant assets with their dollar amounts and installation dates. The desk file drawers were packed with useless reports of meetings over the last three years along with accounting studies that looked outdated. LPN was no different than most industries in the 2000’s as it was downsizing to compete cost wise globally. He opened the top desk drawer and saw three different names on LPN business cards mixed amongst the dried out ball point pens, paper clips, small pieces of desk hardware, and old mechanical pencils with no lead. This desk appeared to have been the home for many accountants passing through LPN over the past few years. The shelves were full of fixed asset manuals and old Windows 95 books, which Russ immediately tossed and replaced their spots with the latest pile of fixed asset runs so he could have a working area on the desk. He wouldn’t have touched this job twenty or even ten years ago, but decided to forge ahead with the task at hand taking comfort in the fact that he was only five years away from retiring. It was always 8 to 4:30 in the 70’s and 80’s while the 90’s had resulted in good money consulting, but the working hours had been longer. The 2000’s were proving to be a downsizing, cost cutting, less pay, and long hours nightmare for himself and a lot of other professionals that were his age. “Linda, the fixed asset dollar amounts listed on our detailed listings are not quite the same from what is booked on our financial ledgers,” Russ announced a few days later. “I probably better do a physical inventory to make sure we have everything on the detailed runs. I’ll get some help from a few of the engineers.” “Good idea. I don’t think our assets have been checked for years. Everything was moving so fast here over the past decade that a lot of the basics of accounting were ignored. That’s why a lot of companies run by short-term profit managers have gone belly up. There are a lot of numbers that have no substance behind them.” Russ placed a call to the plant engineer who directed him to Dan Meister, the liaison between the engineering and maintenance departments. He would know where the equipment on the computer lists was located. Danny told Russ he could meet with him the next week. That worked for Russ, as he had to get busy checking out all the cash accounts

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and filling out all these government reports. He sighed after working for a few hours on a cash account that supposedly had been balanced a couple of months ago to the general ledger. The outstanding checks on the reconciliation were not exactly the same as those listed on the bank statement. How could this be unless someone was incompetent or just plugged some numbers and not done the work! He grabbed a government report that had “Third Request” stamped on it, estimating the information required as best he could. He wondered how accurate those monthly and quarterly statistics awaited anxiously by the public were if everyone was guessing and estimating on their reporting like he was. His appointment was with Danny at 9 A.M. so Russ grabbed a cup of coffee and made his way to the maintenance department, which required negotiating through a web of plant interconnecting walkways and various halls finally getting to the engineering building. It was trickier than using his compass on a lot of backpacking hikes to find his way around here. He walked by many offices and labs that appeared no longer in use probably because of employee cutbacks. Danny’s office was rather small with the only visitor’s chair piled high with engineering manuals and reports. He apologetically removed them, throwing them on top of some others in a corner. The shelves in the office were lined with books and manuals that no doubt had not been looked at in years. There was a window on one wall that looked through to the maintenance crib that began at a height where Danny’s desk ended. There were several award certificates strategically placed above the shelves on the other walls. “Let’s take a look at this list,” said a small framed man probably in his fifties having introduced himself as Daniel, “but please just call me Danny. Let’s take a look at these lists.” He slowly flipped through one of the 2-inch computer reports that Russ had placed on the desk. “I’ve got to get Harry in here to ask him about these.” He placed a quick call on the phone, and soon the door opened to reveal a weathered, older gentleman who probably should have retired a few years ago. Harry bent over Danny’s desk and the two of them began flipping through pages looking rather serious, yet occasionally glancing at each other smiling and chuckling. “Danny, this thing was sold over two years ago. Why is it still on the list? Man, these furnaces were replaced when we tore down the old production building to build the new line for the wiper assemblies.” “Russ, why don’t you leave the list here with us, and we’ll review it and make some notes as to the status of each item. It appears as though all the new equipment is listed, but we are running into much old discarded equipment that is still on the lists as well as items that we aren’t sure about. I’ll return the information to you in a couple of weeks.” That sounded fine to Russ since he wanted to get back to the cash accounts that needed more immediate work. He had been working with the bank to try and straighten things out, and it appeared as if the problem might just be sloppy reconciliation’s. He was still puzzled as to why last year’s financial audit hadn’t picked up on anything since the company records hadn’t been real accurate in one of the major cash accounts for a couple of years. He had just written an entry for $95,000 to correct the problem, which he didn’t consider a major thing since millions of dollars flowed through the account, but there was no reason for it to be off at all! “Would you look at some of our foreign cash accounts?” Linda asked him as she walked into the cubicle one morning. “We had to let some people go over in Europe and we need

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to verify that everything looks ok before the auditors get here. You’ll find that they do things a bit different as far as banking is concerned than what we do here.” She placed some accounts on his desk that were from Scotland where Russ knew that a big LPN parts distribution center for the European continent was located. He noticed some of the accounts were in British sterling while others were in Euros, and there was one in U.S dollars. European dates were given with the day of the month preceding the month, and periods were used instead of commas when large quantities of currency were listed on the statements, both of which were somewhat confusing. Linda told him that no reconciliation had been done with the exception of ones from the bank. This looked like trouble to Russ as LPN should have been matching this information to the ledger. Russ reviewed the accounts and placed a call to James Cornwall who was the controller over the operation in the UK that used the Scottish Bank. As he would have guessed, the sum total of the bank statements did not agree with the European ledger after he had made all the currency conversions. Linda had told him that the four European divisions, of which the UK was one, bought and sold parts amongst themselves as supply and demand dictated. This would have resulted in the four divisions having cash transactions between each other. He had talked to the interdivisional accountant the previous day concerning the situation. “Man, I’ve been here for six months and it’s still not straightened out,” complained Dwight Mansfield. “Italy owes the UK cash for parts, but Italy doesn’t pay the whole thing because they ship back some of the parts they don’t need, and the accounting is not always done because there has been a lot of turnover and employee reduction over there since the economy hit the skids a couple years ago. Then the UK doesn’t pay Germany for all the parts Germany returns so Germany ends up taking a credit from parts they receive from Italy, and I get the call to fix it all. Between system problems and trying to deal with the European culture, I’m starting to lose it.” “Hmmm, no wonder the cash ledgers are out of balance.” “I’m glad you’re working on the cash since I have to figure things out sometimes by calling up the locations and asking them to e-mail me their fund transfer information between the divisions.” “I’m just mystified that the bank statements are relied on so heavily to make book entries rather than automatic entries to our ledgers as each individual cash transaction occurs.” Russ’s phone rang interrupting the conversation. James Cornwall was on the other end. “Russ, what can I do for you?” said James in his hard to understand British accent. “James, having a tough time balancing the cash accounts with all these interdivisional transfers. Can you help me out?” “How about it if I get the other three divisions to fax you their bank statements? Things are kind of crazy here with all the employee reductions together with learning the new computer systems.” “Yeah, that would be good. Thanks, James.” The next day the large volume of paperwork began tying up the fax machine as the statements began arriving from Europe. Russ was surprised to see only about three transactions on each statement page versus the dozen normally seen on a U.S bank statement. It wasn’t exactly easy reading the statements arriving from the Scandinavia division with their many individual words of twenty or so letters and poor transmission

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quality. He had to make many calls when pages of the statements were missing. He was glad to see Danny walk into his cubicle and plop the fixed asset runs on his desk after working steadily for a week on the foreign cash. “Here you go, man!” “What have we got here? A lot of this stuff is crossed off.” “I know. It’s ancient history. The items were sold, scrapped, or whatever over the past five years. Some of the items are still here, but we don’t use them anymore. We couldn’t even sell them for what the book value is.” “Danny, there could be hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of book value that will have to be written off! This year’s losses will be bad enough without any of this. Linda is not going to be very happy about it.” “Hey, what can I say? You’ve been the only one to ask these questions in quite a while. The only thing the auditors were doing was spot checking a few items on the detailed listings. I was too busy changing the equipment around in the plant during the past few years since this downsizing began to get involved with the audits!” “Well, I guess I better get together with Linda and a couple other people to figure out how to approach management about this. I got he feeling its going to be one big surprise for them. They’ve been pinching pennies since I’ve been here with these spending reductions.” “Yeah, I know. Our equipment is beginning to fall apart in the plant as we’ve been cutting back on maintenance in addition to the capital spending freeze.” Russ’s phone rang giving Danny the opportunity to wave and clear out of the accounting office. It was James. “Russ, I got the note concerning the problems you are having reconciling the European cash. I didn’t particularly appreciate your copying the U.S. controller on it. I don’t think our controls are as poor as you indicated!” “James I got a Scandinavian bank statement that had a negative balance at the end of July, and the cash ledger has a positive amount. That sounds like some sort of a line of credit, but I didn’t see any loans on the books.” “Don’t forget about the timing on the cash moving around between the four divisions. We also have an interdivisional account between Europe and the U.S,” “I accounted for the European cash movements with Dwight. I didn’t know anything about the U.S. interdivisional account.” “You should have asked around a bit before firing off that e-mail!” “James, I’ll check it out. All I can tell you at this point is that there is two less million at the banks than our ledgers show. I’ll get back to you after I check that U.S. account you are talking about. Why is the accounting so complex in this cash area?” James abruptly hung up as Russ was in the middle of his last sentence. Corporate culture had really changed over the past twenty years. Things were a little closer knit when he had begun his career, but now it seems like everything had to be bigger, better and more complex. He looked at the interdivisional U.S. account that James had mentioned, but it was all a jigsaw puzzle to him. It was time for Linda to get involved with all this! He made his way over to her office, and she motioned him to sit down while she was finishing up an e-mail. “Hi, Russ. What’s up?” “I want to touch bases with you on these fixed assets and cash accounts.”

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“How are you making out? Is everything in reasonably good shape?” “Not really. I don’t think we physically have all the assets and cash we are showing on the books from what I can tell.” “I don’t mean to criticize, but are you sure you checked carefully over your results? You haven’t been here that long and maybe you overlooked something.” “Well, I could use a little help on one cash account relating to interdivisional entries between here and Europe that I don’t quite understand, but I’m pretty sure our fixed assets are overvalued and we need to write them down. It could be as much as a half-million dollars, and there are also a lot of obsolescent items on the listing not included in that figure! I need you to sign off on these entries before I book them.” “Let’s take a look at that interdivisional cash account,” said Linda as she began to tap rapidly on her keyboard at twice his speed. Lately, everyone seemed to be faster than him at any office task. Russ was just glad he was still relevant in the twilight of his career. He noticed a puzzled expression appearing on Linda’s face. “Russ, could we take a look at this later? I forgot that I have a meeting this morning.” He walked back to his desk and spent the rest of the day on the next government report that was way overdue. No one seemed to be able to help a lot as he called around the plant looking for information to complete the report. He wondered why everyone seemed to be having so much difficulty supplying the information he needed in this area. Information technology had spent plenty of money over the past few years on new plant and financial systems. Maybe the downsizing cutbacks were hurting morale. Several managers he had called for information spoke rather sharply to him or didn’t really seem to care. It seemed like his requests were an annoyance to them, and less than half his calls were returned when he had to leave a message. It was 5 P.M. and he was ready to call it a day. It must have been a week later when he got the invitation to a meeting with Linda and George Martin, LPN’s vice president of finance. He clicked on the accept tab, and found himself driving over to the management administration building, or the ‘crystal palace’ as it was known by most employees, which was in a pristine setting about five miles from the plant complex. He parked in a lot by a small lake, crossed over a small stream feeding the lake, and made his way toward a glass and steel structure surrounded by well manicured lawns and flower gardens. He went through the revolving front door across a large marble vestibule and announced himself to the receptionist. Soon Linda was motioning to him from an upstairs balcony to come up the stairway that wound its way up there from the center of the room where he was waiting. Russ followed Linda along a marbled hallway leading to the main executive offices. George’s office was next to the president’s office. The president’s office was located at a back corner of the building no doubt providing the best view. It looked like standard corporate guidelines were being followed here. The more important you were, the closer you were to the president’s office, and the bigger your office was. They walked by George’s assistant and into a beautifully paneled and decorated office. “George Martin,” said a tall slender man in his forties rising from his executive wood desk with a classy looking credenza behind him. He came over with his hand outstretched. “Can we get you anything? Coffee? Water?” “I’m fine,” Russ replied, noticing an empty coffee cup on a small table by the chair near the desk, which indicated Linda had been there for a while.

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“How do you like working here so far? I’ve heard you are shaking things up a bit around here!” exclaimed George as he sat back down behind his desk. “I just want to contribute. I know sales are a bit slow and things are tight.” “Don’t worry about that. We are positioning ourselves in the marketplace as we expect the economy to take off next year. This recession has put many of our competitors out of business, so we plan on incurring a few major plant expenditures over the last few months of the year to get ready for the surge in sales we expect.” “That’s great,” replied Russ, although he showed more enthusiasm than he really felt as only the largest companies were going to survive this slowdown, and many workers were losing their jobs as the smaller competition got forced out. “Listen, Russ. We would like you to do more analysis in the cash and fixed asset areas before we make any write down entries. You’re doing a heck of a job, but our systems are still pretty new in some areas, and we want to make sure an entry is mandated before we book it.” Russ had been around the profession long enough to read through the lines on this discussion. If you want to spend money in a tight year, the directors wouldn’t look favorable on a poor financial report aggravated by a lot of write-offs, especially when many should have been taken in prior years. How much more toxic stuff was on the books that this guy knew about? “I understand you are a hiker,” George went on. “How are you going to find the time for that with only having one week of vacation for the first year you are here?” “Not quite sure. I will probably start thinking about it next month when the leaves start turning.” “Maybe we can advance that week up for you. We wouldn’t want you feeling bad about missing some time off just because you changed jobs. Like I said, we appreciate the effort you have put into this. Hey, take a trip to the national park east of here. It’s got all kinds of trails.” George got up from his chair that indicated the discussion was drawing to a close. Linda stayed in her chair so he guessed they would be coming to some conclusions concerning the situation that he would be hearing about shortly. Russ said his goodbyes and walked out of the office closing the door behind him. The administrative assistant must have been taking a break as no one was in the outer office. He couldn’t help but pause since he could easily hear the conversation through the door behind him. “Look, we need to slow him down a bit!” George was saying. “Sorry, I wasn’t expecting a new hire to move this quickly on fixed assets. The last guy was taking his time, but he abruptly quit and we couldn’t leave the position vacant because of the cash situation. Now we know that James is screwing with some of the cash accounts so I had to pull Russ off that.” “Yeah, not much choice. Wish we could have discovered that on our own, but neither of us had any time to put into it. This management-hiring freeze has been killing the department. I was told that the Fed is involved somehow. Even though they talk job creation, they know that more employment will heat up the economy. It is cheaper to pay out unemployment compensation than to let interest rates and inflation take off. That’s between you and I. I could lose my job for letting that piece of information out, but I don’t want you to think it’s my idea because I know it’s increasing your workload.”

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Oops! Russ had heard more than he should have so he turned around and saw George’s assistant with a puzzled look on her face standing in the hallway door. Just great! Wonder how long she was standing there watching him eavesdrop? He hustled across the room and nodded to George’s assistant when she moved aside to let him through the doorway. No doubt, he’d be fired in no time if she brought this up to George or Linda. He felt that he was getting into the middle of a bad situation. For a moment he was reminded of Larry, Veach, and the drug thing in Vietnam. It had been years since he even thought about that. He went down the stairs to sign out with the receptionist and having a little more time to gaze around than when he arrived, saw a global map on the wall with all the LPN sales offices marked with large red dots. He couldn’t help but notice there was even one in Vietnam that must have been a satellite office. The world was really changing! “Russ, we decided that you should put more emphasis on clearing up all the information request forms from the government before the end of the year to keep the company in compliance,” Linda instructed him when she called him into her office the next morning. “James and I will be working on the cash situation, and an appraisal company will be retained to evaluate our fixed assets before we make any entries this year. We also want to give you an extra week of vacation to use this year, and if you need any additional time off beyond that just let me know.” “I appreciate the offer, but do you buy into the timing for all this? George looks like he doesn’t want to get hit with any of these expenses in the current year. Some of these items are old enough as it is without pushing them into next year.” “I just do as I’m told. This company has been good to me, and as you know my husband has been laid off for the past few months. I’m not in the position to make any waves like you are.” “Hey, at my age people wouldn’t be standing in line to hire me if anything would happen with my job here. However, I understand what you’re talking about,” commented Russ thinking about his wife who had died five years ago and two grown daughters. He wondered how much he would have argued with management if he were in her shoes. Let the place do what it wanted! He was too much of a peon to be concerned about it. “Linda, I think I’m going to take you up on your offer and take two weeks off next month. October is the best month of the year to go backpacking.” “Good! I got your cell number in case something comes up where I need to contact you. I wasn’t expecting you to take advantage of this so quickly, but you older guys with no responsibility…” Maybe he was still safe. George’s assistant must not have said anything or he may have been fired rather than getting some time off. Russ spent the next couple of weeks clearing up the most delinquent federal and state reports. As the frustration of working just on these reports got to him, and his last Friday at work got closer, he became more excited about his upcoming hiking trip. He spent most of every night on that last workweek packing and repacking his backpack, making sure he had not forgotten anything while trying to get it all organized as efficiently as possible. George seemed to know what he was talking about when he suggested a place for him to go after he had picked up some literature about the National Park. He blew out of work the last Friday on a warm final day in September, and was on the road early the next morning. The weather forecast indicated there might be a slight chance of storms for a couple of days in the middle of next week. This was normal, as he would never expect two weeks of sunny weather. The leaves on the tree in front of

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his apartment were just beginning to turn on this crisp and cool first day of October. It was time!

Target on Hurricane Trail - Chapter 3 Russ awoke to the sun streaming through the motel window. He had made it to the small town late last night that was a couple of miles from the hiking trail he planned on walking for two weeks. Breakfast was the first order of the day since he didn’t stop for dinner last night in any of the crowded restaurants he passed. A lot of people were out doing some leaf peeping! The main road through town was already showing signs of a busy tourist day when Russ walked down it looking for a place to eat with reasonable prices. A bus passed by him and pulled into a parking lot just ahead. Mostly tourists dressed in slacks with colorful shirts and blouses got off and headed towards the visitor

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center. The driver exited the bus and opened the luggage bin to retrieve a suitcase for a muscular younger man dressed in jeans and a sleeveless black t-shirt who looked completely out of place with the group. A small diner across the street looked promising. A few moments later he was sitting at the counter ordering a cup of coffee to go with the early wakeup special. “Morning!” said the waitress to someone who must have been coming through the door out of his view. There was no response. The young guy from the bus plopped his bag down and sat down on a stool at the end of the counter. He had a brush cut and looked very tanned. Russ couldn’t help but notice the all too familiar dog tags dangling around his neck. “Just a sweet tea,” he finally said after grabbing a menu from a holder on the counter. “Is there a local bus running out of here?” “No,” the waitress replied filling a glass with ice. “Everything goes north out of here and then east and west on the interstate.” “You’re kidding me! I need to get to the south end of the park, and I sure don’t want to go on the tourist bus. You have to pay a hundred bucks plus lodging fees during its slow plod along the main road. It’s over a hundred mile trip and it would take a couple days to get to the other end.” “You might get lucky and hitch a ride with someone taking the road that runs to the west of the park to the other end. Not too much along there, though. Things get more desolate as you go along. Just a bunch of farms, I think.” Russ wolfed down the eggs, sausage, and toast with a couple cups of coffee and left. Traffic was heavy now as the crowds made their way to the north entrance of the park. This was just a basic tourist town with motels, restaurants, and fast food places along the main strip, but the mountains abruptly rising into the clouds at the edge of town presented quite a sight. Everyone was headed down the strip in that direction to get on the parkway that wound through the scenic park. He could see the narrowing ribbon of the park road rising along the side of the first mountain until it disappeared through a pass into an early morning mist that would eventually yield to the direct rays of the sun. He carefully crossed the road and walked over to the visitor center to see if he could pick up any trail maps for the park. There were actually three of them-north, south, and central hidden in the myriad of books, postcards, and souvenirs. Next he headed towards the grocery to buy hiking food and snacks. He knew there would be no major stores along the trail - just small park campground stores with expensive food and supplies. The grocery was always a decision making stroll as Russ reviewed all the canned food areas. Would it be a can of ravioli or spaghetti for the first leg of the trip? He wasn’t quite sure why he spent much time deciding between these two since they both tasted about the same. Did he feel like carrying a pound of his favorite applesauce for a day or two and then gulping down the whole thing to lighten the weight of his pack so the straps wouldn’t dig into his shoulders, or should he get the small can of fruit cocktail that he would usually carry a bit farther providing much needed liquid when he started to run low on water. It seemed like the more he preferred any kind of edible substance to carry in his pack, the heavier it seemed to be. The lighter fare of freeze-dried dinner packs and dry pasta required quantities of water, which were not always available. Besides it was easier to just dump the can of food into the pot and heat it! Russ was hiking for a good time and a challenge, rather than spending time planning the preparation of culinary delights. Finally,

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he threw a can of beef stew into the cart and decided that he had enough for a good part of a week. It was all he would be able to carry so he would have to purchase some of the pricier canned food at the park camp stores along the way. He carried the bag of groceries the short distance back to the motel, and deposited them in the back seat of the car. After grabbing another cup of coffee in the motel lobby, he checked out and then waved to a thoughtful tourist that let him out as he drove out into the traffic on the strip going towards the park. He could have reached the fork in the road leading towards the park quicker by walking rather than crawling along with the long line of vehicles. It would be a little better once he got through the gate, but he was glad he would be walking his way through the park rather than a slow 100 plus mile ride. He wasn’t too far from the gate when he saw the lonely figure in the black shirt walking with his bag up ahead. As he got closer the young man turned around with thumb extended. Room or no room, Russ pulled off onto the shoulder and opened the passenger door. “Where are you headed?” Russ asked as he motioned for the guy to throw his duffel bag into the back seat. “I’m not exactly quite sure, sir,” he politely responded, no doubt being quite aware that he was about to finally get some transportation. Either that or maybe he was showing respect towards the mostly gray haired Russ who was probably two generations his senior. “All I know is that there is a training center for overseas contract employees somewhere south of this park. My sergeant told me about it before I left Iraq for the States. I’ve been out of the service for about three months now, and I figured I would give this a shot since there is nothing going on at home. Kind of took a chance coming down here from what I hear about the place: it is kind of hush-hush.” “Yeah I’ve read a few things about these places. They’re mostly training for hired guns. So the powers that be don’t know you are coming?” “Nope. Couldn’t even find a phone or address for the place on the internet. Could be a pretty dumb thing to do, huh? Come all the way here for nothing.” “Maybe not,” said Russ trying to provide some encouragement. “I’ve done a few tax returns for a few of these ‘contractors’ and you can make some good bucks.” “Hey, I really appreciate this. By the way, the name is Rick,” he said introducing himself after he had tossed his bag into the back and jumped into the front seat. “I’m Russ. Been in the military myself and I know the strange feeling you get when suddenly you’re out into civilian life.” “Vietnam, probably?” “You guessed it. My age gives it away. I think we will turn around and take the highway around the park to the south end. Should get there quicker going 50 rather than 20 miles per hour. Besides it will make no difference to me whether I hike north or south, and it’ll be interesting to see if we can find this place. Wouldn’t mind taking a look at one of these training centers if I was allowed.” “OK, thanks. Don’t mind me if I nod off. I’ve been riding the bus for two straight days and didn’t get much sleep.” Russ made a u-turn and went back to the fork. This time he took the other road that veered to the west and then quickly turned south along the western edge of the park. They were soon rolling along the scenic road looking at the majestic park mountains to their left. There was a stream along the west side of the road which no doubt could turn into a raging river when any sort of storm dumped a lot of rain onto those mountains. The road crossed

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over the stream, and now the hills to the right began distancing themselves from the road providing a nice backdrop for one horse farm after another. Each farm had its name on an ornate sign on its front gate. The white fences, stream, weeping willows, and grazing stock gave all the properties a real touch of class. This went on for about an hour before the farms disappeared when the mountains slowly began edging closer on both sides of the road. Now there was only room for the stream and the occasional house and the small burg that should be showing up momentarily. Rick was still sleeping when Russ pulled into the last gas station they would probably be seeing for a while. He was filling the tank when he noticed Rick beginning to stir. The passenger door opened and Rick got out and seemed quite interested in the diner next door. “Hungry again already?” Russ quipped. He never bothered too much with lunch if he had a large breakfast. He began to wonder if Rick had gotten anything back in town beyond the large sweet tea he was nursing back in town. “Yeah, but don’t stop if you need to keep going,” Rick replied as he peered into a wallet retrieved from a rear pocket. “No, let’s stop.” Maybe the poor kid was tight on cash. “Let me buy you some lunch.” “I can’t let you do that. You’re doing enough of a favor going out of your way with this ride.” “Let’s just say it’s a small token of my appreciation for a returning vet.” Rick ordered a regular dinner for lunch that was consumed before Russ got half done with his salad. Rick accepted Russ’s desert offer when the waitress arrived to clear the empty plate. She was bringing a piece of blueberry pie over to the table when a rowdy group of guys appearing to be in their mid-twenties entered. Russ had noticed the vocal group with an old van at one of the gas pumps next door. “Hey, how about a little service over here?” one guy rudely asked as the group of four males and two females noisily sat down at a table in the diner that was empty except for two tables now. The waitress politely took over some menus probably wishing that this group had driven on by. “We need some iced water! How come you didn’t bring us any water?” another said loudly as the young waitress headed towards Russ with the coffee pot she had just picked up at the counter. Russ noticed a combination of fear, frustration, and embarrassment in her facial expression while her shaking hand managed to somehow keep the coffee within the confines of the cup. She certainly didn’t appear to have the hard shell to handle this sort of thing. After they got their water, it appeared to Russ that one of them had purposely spilled a glass to create more chaos. One of the girls got up after they had ordered, belittling the waitress as much as possible, and went over to the souvenir area to look around. Russ saw her pocket a few items out of the corner of his eye. He turned to Rick wondering why the cook hadn’t been out to restore order, but Rick was already getting out of his chair. “It appears all of you like to have a good time at someone else’s expense,” he calmly stated after he had walked over to their table leaning on the corner palms downward. Russ realized he was just a spectator now as he missed grabbing Rick when he walked by. “What’s it to you? Are we bothering you and your senior citizen friend?” replied the one guy who appeared to be the group’s leader. He was built pretty will even if he looked

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as scruffy as the others. He no doubt took comfort in the fact they had the numbers on their side – four to one and one-half! “I think you need to cut the waitress a little slack and your friend needs to return a few things to the souvenir area,” Rick said while nodding his head in the direction of the attractive, heavily made-up girl who had just returned to her seat. “I didn’t see her take anything. Did any of the rest of you see Jolene take anything?” “Just me, I guess,” piped up Russ from the next table, no longer able to stay out of it when he saw too many heads shaking in the negative. He didn’t especially want to get involved in all of this, but he was beginning to appreciate Rick’s calm handling of the situation. “Who asked you?” came the insolent reply. Rick must have felt there had been enough discussion on the matter. He walked around the table towards the group leader. As the leader got out of his chair, Rick whirled him around and the guy’s arm was quickly twisted behind his back. “Tell them all to sit down!” Rick barked out, twisting the arm a little more when the other three guys jumped out of their chairs. “Sit down! Sit down!” came the order from someone who was in definite pain. “Jolene, take the stuff back!” “That’s the right attitude,” said Rick in a soft voice. “Looks like your lunch is just about ready so you may want to eat and run.” You could have heard a pin drop in the place. Russ looked back towards the kitchen, and he could see the waitress and the cook standing behind the counter looking relieved and fully impressed. Rick went over to the counter and retrieved each plate as it was passed through from the kitchen and took it over to the group’s table. Then he came back to finish the rest of his pie while the group did the best they could on their lunches, but most of them seemed to have lost their appetite. Soon they got up and headed towards the exit, but not before Russ hustled over to the register to request the payment. “I’ll have to keep the change on this,” He said with a smile taking the fifty-dollar bill that was offered. “Not quite sure how to operate the register. Sorry I can’t offer you my senior discount. Besides, you probably wanted to leave a tip.” Russ watched the unhappy group head out and gave the appreciative waitress the fifty while glancing out the front window in time to see the van peeling out of the graveled lot towards the highway. It was good to see them go north. “Do either of you know of a military training camp just south of here?” Rick asked the waitress and the cook when they had finished eating. “Yeah, I have known a few hunters who have been turned around by some tough looking characters on a road that turns off the main drag about 70 miles south of here,” replied the cook. “They said it looked just like a military checkpoint you see on the TV news or in a war movie.” You don’t see people stick their necks out anymore for others the way you did back there,” commented Russ when they walked back towards the car. He had pretty well decided that Rick would make a good candidate for the training center he was seeking out. “Sorry, I didn’t mean for you to get involved in that. It’s tough for me to stay out of bullying situations. There was too much of that going on in the Iraqi neighborhoods I patrolled. Everyone was living in fear of the insurgents. It made me feel good to equalize

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matters a bit-guess it’s carried over into civilian life. Thanks for backing me up on the shoplifting part of the deal. “That’s ok. Don’t know if I could have been of any use to you if things had been more physical. You probably could have handled the four of them anyway.” “Oh, I don’t know. You don’t exactly look like a slouch. You must do something to keep in shape.” “Yeah. I do a lot of walking. I like to take these hiking trips when the opportunity arises.” “So you plan on walking the trail up there,” said Rick pointing towards the towering mountain range of the park backed up by the blue sky of a cloudless early afternoon day. “Eventually,” replied Russ as he started up the car. “First, we have to find this place you’re headed for before dark.” “So what did you do in the military?” asked Rick. “Teletype communications with the 4th Infantry division.” “Man that went out years ago! Everything is instantaneous now. Did you do any infantry things?” “Well, I can hold my own with an M-14 and a grenade launcher.” The height of the park mountain range on the left was beginning to drop off so they both began looking for any small, unmarked gravel or dirt roads that might be what the cook was talking about. Russ had to hit the brakes and make a quick left turn when a road that could have been it showed up at the top of a small hill. The gravel road descended the hill and crossed the same stream that had been running along the side of the main highway for the last three hours. They had to slow down when the gravel turned to dirt and became heavily rutted. He negotiated a ninety degree turn in the road and had to quickly step on the brakes because a black Hummer was sitting in the middle of the road about thirty yards ahead. A couple of men dressed in desert fatigues carrying rifles were soon headed in their direction. “Looks like we’re here-security people,” Russ said explaining the obvious. “This vehicle isn’t on the manifest,” one stated as they walked around the car peering inside. “You guys lost?” “We’re looking for a training compound in this area that I was told about. A sergeant in my outfit told me about it when I left Iraq. He said they are always looking for good candidates especially with infantry experience.” “Actually, there is a new class starting up next week. Not sure if they need anyone or not. Let me make a call,” said the other guard. He went back to the Hummer and picked up a phone. About a minute later he came back. “They would like to talk to both of you. I figured they would be interested in you,” said the guard nodding towards Rick, “but they’re short on support staff so maybe both of you could get hooked up.” Russ wasn’t looking for a job, but figured it would be interesting to look around, and it was too late in the day to get started hiking. He liked the idea of satisfying his curiosity along with a free night of lodging. He could get a good start in the morning. “Ok. Follow us to the lot up the road a bit. You’ll have to leave your car there. We will put what you need to take to the compound into the Hummer and take you on in.” It seemed like it took forever to get to the lot because the road was in such bad shape.

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Finally in about ten minutes, just as Russ felt the car was about to fall apart, the parking area appeared. The lot contained at least 50 staff and recruit vehicles. Russ found a deserved resting spot for his vehicle, and after transferring everything into the Hummer, they pulled out of the area onto a road that was much improved. Probably, the other road had been left in poor condition on purpose to keep the general public away. Russ figured he might as well take his hiking gear along with him to the compound and just start hiking north from there so his car had been left empty. They were moving right along now with a cloud of dust obliterating any view behind them. The smaller park mountains curled around to their left and the woods were now gone bringing a broad plain sprinkled with various forms of vegetation into view. They must have gone about five miles when a few wooden guard towers appeared ahead which continued in a circle around the compound. They began to slow down as they passed a firing range with a line of recruits at the firing line trying to knock down the targets that kept popping up in different locations. Next was a replica of an Iraqi village loaded with recruits running around doing their urban warfare drills. We passed between two of the guard towers and stopped in front of a barracks type building where a staff member was waiting. “You fellas can bring your stuff and leave it in there. It’ll be safe until you get done with your initial interviews. Someone will be over here shortly to pick each of you up.” They had barely enough time to throw all their stuff inside when a jeep wheeled up and the driver called out Rick’s name and off he went. Russ was able to sit down in a chair in front of the building and collect his thoughts while looking about. He wondered what kind of a job they would have for someone his age. The place reminded him of Camp Enari in Vietnam by the way it was constructed. One difference was that there was no screening in the walls of the buildings because it did get cold here in the winter. There was no signal hill necessary in this compound because he could see a communication tower along the perimeter. None of those outside movie theatres or latrines were in existence here. Across the road there was a helipad with a chopper that was no doubt a handy thing to have out here. His thoughts were interrupted when the jeep that had taken Rick for his interview showed up again. “You’re up next,” yelled out the driver as he screeched to a halt. “Gee, you’re older than any applicant I’ve seen since I’ve been here. You must be applying for an instructor position. We got a few older vets around doing some training.” The jeep passed by several barracks type buildings very similar to the one he had just left. They went by a building that looked like a converted barn that had been painted in tan desert camouflage colors with a parking lot in front of it. The jeep pulled off the road next to a group of trailers and came to a stop. The driver motioned Russ to follow when they hopped out. They walked a short way down a gravel path to a point where it split towards each trailer. The driver pointed to the one at the far left and told him to go inside and wait until he was called. He climbed up the few steps at the doorway and entered the small trailer, which only contained a small open area and a doorway into a closed area in the rear. There were five chairs placed along the wall next to the door so he grabbed some sort of military magazine that was in a rack and sat down. He was so absorbed looking at the ads in the back of the magazine looking for people with various skills who had been in the military that he was a bit startled when he looked up and saw a well conditioned, weathered woman a good six inches taller than him standing there.

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“Hi, my name is Glenda. We can talk over here,” she said walking over to a desk in the corner with a chair that was an exact duplicate of the one he was trying to quickly get up from. She sat down behind the desk and opened the top drawer pulling out a yellow tablet and what looked like an application form. He was sure she had to be more involved in this place than just being an administrative type person. She probably wasn’t spending too much time at a desk. Maybe now would be a good time to let her know he wasn’t really looking for work, but for some reason he just kept his mouth shut and waited for her to speak. After writing down some basic information she asked him for on the application form the conversation got more interesting. “Usually we don’t talk to people coming in here unannounced, Russ, but we’ve had a big demand for our services such that the recruit classes are getting larger, and some of our instructors are even leaving to fill jobs overseas that are paying more than they’re getting here.” “Is that right?” Russ was wondering how he would fit into anything here if she thought he could be an instructor. His military skills were so outdated that he probably wouldn’t qualify for a unit in the boy scouts-if they had one. At least he would see if they would feed him and put him up for the night so he could get on the way in the morning. “Actually, I first assumed you wouldn’t be needed here until you told me you do accounting work. We don’t exactly have any demand for M-14 rifle training or teletype,” she laughed. “However, there are a few places we could use you.” She was sparking his interest now. He wasn’t exactly looking forward to returning to LPN with all the strange things that were going on there, especially after overhearing that confidential discussion relating to a possible government secret position on unemployment. The administrative person must have noticed that he was eavesdropping, and would eventually tell someone if she hadn’t already. “To be honest with you, Russ, a lot of our administrative records and finances are really screwed up. We need someone with a knack in that area to straighten things out. We don’t have the latest computer software and equipment, but I got the feeling you wouldn’t care about that anyway. You would also be useful out on the firing range to make sure some of our recruits don’t shoot each other. Basically, we need a mature older man, especially a vet, to do these things, and you would fill the bill. I can offer you a contract for two years at fifty percent more pay than what you’re getting at LPN as long as you check out. It’ll take us a few days to do that, but my gut feeling is that there will be no problems so we need you to start right away.” “It sounds great to me!” It was an easy decision to make. Glenda said they would send a truck to pick up his things back at his apartment and put them in a storage unit that was located in a town about 50 miles from the compound. He would just have to take a day off sometime to go to the storage unit to get anything he needed. They were even going to pay his rent and utilities until his lease expired in a couple months. “You can set up shop in the spare office in this trailer. We got everything you will be using in the office area and you can use this room to store records or anything else you need it for. Let me take you over to our main area which you probably noticed on the way over here.” They left the trailer and walked over to the large barn structure. They passed by the open heavy metal doors at the main entrance into the main hallway. The hallway had a

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staircase at the far end, which led to a second level walkway that came back towards the door on the left side. The upper level had several doors that Glenda explained led to the quarters for the training staff. A door to the left on the first level led to a large room used for entertainment and meetings. The stairs and floors were all knotty pine, while the walls appeared to be made of some sort of dark chestnut. There was industrial carpeting covering the front part of the hall that stopped on the other side of the first wide open door to the right. ”This is the mess hall,” said Glenda. They entered the main area that had about twenty round tables where each could seat six recruits. There was a head table straight ahead near the outer wall that Glenda said was only for the staff. A serving line was off to the left with a door behind it leading to the kitchen. She told Russ that even the cooks did a little bit of training as everyone who was on staff had to have some sort of military background. The recruits had their turn at doing KP as the operation didn’t want to hire anyone for just this function because of security reasons plus the obvious fact that this wasn’t an easy place to get to for a day job. Glenda said the main purpose of the helicopter was to pick up food and supplies. A couple of men with desert fatigues were now bringing food from the kitchen and placing it on the serving line. Several similarly dressed recruits began entering the hall making their way over to the line. It was easy to tell the staff from the recruits even though they were all dressed the same. The staff was obviously experienced veterans of the Vietnam era with maybe a few Gulf War veterans sprinkled in. Their laughter and demeanor as they took their trays through the line and then took seats at the staff table told Russ that they loved their jobs. “Do you mind bunking down back in your trailer tonight until we get your room ready?” asked Glenda. “There is a cot there you can use. You can grab one of the jeeps at the motor pool and go back and pick up your stuff. Then come back to the mess hall and get something to eat. Probably only be a few people left when you come back. My boss will probably drop by the trailer sometime tomorrow to introduce himself.” “Sounds good to me,” replied Russ. It had been quite a day and he would be ready to get some rest by the time he ate and got back to the trailer. She gave him a key to the trailer and pointed the way to the motor pool. The next day he called up Linda at LPN and told her he was quitting. She seemed to be rather miffed and wanted him to come back for two weeks, which was standard employment courtesy. However, the accounting in the place had something to be desired. On top of that, overhearing George’s comments to Linda concerning that government secret on employment policy was making him feel very uncomfortable. After he put the phone down, he clapped because he could see LPN fading in the distance as he new career flight lifted off.

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Target on Hurricane Trail-Chapter 4

Russ woke up feeling great about what he was going to be involved in. Anything he could do to help combat terrorism plus getting paid for it while continuing to wear civilian clothes was ok by him, especially with the disappointments Vietnam had left him with. Most of it had seemed like a wasted effort, so maybe this was his chance to finally make some sort of meaningful contribution to a war effort. He walked over to the mess hall, and after going through the serving line doing his best to restrict the amount of eggs, home

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fries, and buttered toast that the cooks tried to put on his plate, he noticed Rick sitting alone at a table still in civilian clothes. “Morning,” Russ said to him as he sat down. “Looks like you got through the first night.” “Yeah, they’re kind of keeping me to myself until my clearance comes through. I’ve got a guy kind of keeping an eye on me,” he said nodding towards the staff table. “I can’t blame them for checking me out. Although after seeing some of the more rugged staff people, I can’t help but wonder what would happen to me if they decided not to take me on!” “Just kidding, just kidding!” Rick quickly added when he saw the alarmed look on Russ’s face. “They would probably just give me some expense money and send me back to that tourist town so I could catch the bus. However, I’m pretty sure I’ll be in the next training group that starts up in a couple of days. It’s a six week program filled with PT, urban combat training, IED detection, and night fire along with some ethnic and religious classes depending upon what area you are likely going to.” Out of the corner of his eye Russ picked out a bearded man at the staff table who seemed to be carefully observing them. No doubt he was the staff member Rick was talking about. Russ got a quick look at him before the man looked downward at his tray in an attempt to avoid any further eye contact. A few minutes later he collected his tray, got up and dropped the tray off before walking out of the hall. The guy looked to be his age, maybe a few years older. However, there was something familiar about the face and even the way he walked that made Russ wonder if he had known him from his military days. Then again, just because he was dressed in military type clothes now, didn’t mean that Russ hadn’t run into him somewhere else. He finally decided that his imagination was getting the best of him so he concentrated on finishing his breakfast and then walked back to his trailer to get his computer. “Morning!” he said to Glenda as he walked in. “Just have to set this thing up and running and I’ll be ready to go.” “Ok. The cable jack is under your desk for the internet. There is no local system since you have the only computer on the base. I know there is some good bookkeeping software on it. We need to get invoices printed up, bank accounts reconciled, and we are falling behind in paying our bills.” “No problem. Judging from the quantity of stacked paper I see here, we should be in shape three weeks to a month. Maybe then the powers that be will let me take a few days off to do a little hiking around here.” “You like to hike? I’ve always thought of it more like work being around the military most of my life. Special ops people have to backpack into unfriendly spots after getting dropped off who knows where.” “You sound like you’ve had a bit of experience.” “Oh, no. Not me!” she quickly stated. “I stick mostly to the office. I’ve just listened to a lot of stories at the staff table in the dining hall.” Russ believed she had listened to a lot of good stories, but he figured she probably had a lot of good stories to tell. He was glad to get the bulky computer on the table and soon had it humming away. The first stack of paper was a bunch of hand written notes relating to clients with addresses, amounts owed, dates, etc. Apparently various companies doing business in dangerous places like Iraq and Afghanistan would send in requests for specific

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military skilled contract personnel. There were hundreds of companies listed along with amounts like 5, 10, and 15 thousand dollars. It looked like he would be processing invoices totaling several million dollars. As impressive as this seemed at first, Russ knew the daily expenses and the cost to construct the place would be beyond that number. Maybe he would have the big picture shortly depending on the range of finances he was to be involved in. There must be some big investors bankrolling this operation. “Glenda, are there any blank invoices around here so I can get some billing done?” he wanted to know after getting the printer set up. ”Yes, we had some printed up a while back,” she replied pointing over to a cabinet full of supplies next to four filing cabinets against the wall. “We also have a supply of checks that will work with the printer. If you get all our invoices out and get the bills caught up within the next couple of weeks it will be a miracle.” “Yeah, we need to get the cash flow going. Not quite sure how you kept everything going until now without someone here.” “Me either. I just pay up on bills that are past due and batch any checks for deposit that come in. I’m glad you showed up as you seemed to be a good fit for the job. Didn’t want you to get away so we took a few short cuts on our background checks. We couldn’t exactly place a want ad on the internet for this position – lot of confidentiality involved. I’m sure you’ll enjoy this opportunity just like all the other veterans around here. “What about you? Are you a veteran too?” “Yes, but I was just in administration during the Gulf War. My job was to coordinate appointments and special assignments at the central command office. Nothing too heavy duty,” ‘I’ll bet,’ Ross thought to himself. She was probably working a few nights a week in an obscure training area. She would be a pleasant diversion for the recruits from the normal training cadre. He began filling out enough of the customer databases so he could get at least a batch of invoices out for the chopper’s late afternoon mail run. The same thing was done for the vendors so he could get the oldest of the past due invoices paid. “Glenda, I see a lot of bills relating to the day to day activities. I don’t see anything going on for payroll or for the entire infrastructure spending that has taken place.” “I take care of the payroll by hand. I even do handwritten quarterly federal payroll reports, which are all filed in my supervisor’s office. My boss has been taking care of the capital expenditures. I’m not really sure if you will be picking any of this up or not. If you do it may not be for a while as all this information is pretty confidential, and I hired you pretty well on the spot on my own as we needed immediate help. We are still checking out your background, but I don’t foresee any problems.” “How about some lunch, Glenda? Are you at any sort of stopping point?” “I think there is another area you can help us with,” said Glenda as they walked into the dining hall. In another week we will have another group of recruits coming in that don’t have any military experience. They are mostly civilians who have other areas of expertise that our customers are beginning to express an interest in.” “Not night commando training or anything,” joked Russ in the serving line as he was selecting a large slab of meatloaf to go with the mound of mashed potatoes on his plate. “No. We could use you on the basic firing range. We need our staff in more critical areas, and I know you could handle this. You just need to brush up on firing range safety

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rules and do a little target practice before the new group gets here. I’ll take you out there a couple of times. It’ll be a good break from spending all your time in the office.” “That’ll work,” said Russ beginning to feel pretty good that the place had that much confidence in him. He hadn’t picked up a rifle since he had left Vietnam, and it surely wouldn’t hurt to refresh his skills with the crazy things going on in today’s society. Besides, he needed to do more physical things to keep his weight under control if he was going to be eating lunches like this every day! He spent a productive afternoon with the computer, and after supper he found himself in a jeep with Glenda bouncing down a dirt road away from the complex towards the edge of the facility where the basic range was supposed to be almost completed. They had probably gone about three miles when he saw a bulldozer and some other land clearing type equipment parked at the side of the road. Glenda slowed down and turned into a small lot that had just been graded. “This is a brand new firing range,” she verified as we parked and stepped out of her car. I just have to go over and turn on the popup target system.” “Popup target system?” Russ exclaimed in reply. “I’m so rusty at this I would be lucky just to hit a stationery target with any consistency!” He watched her as she walked in her desert fatigues to a small hut about ten yards behind the center of the firing line. She was a tall, well-built woman who appeared to look good in anything she wore. “Don’t worry about it,” she called over her shoulder while unlocking the hut’s door. You just have to give them the basic instructions on the M-16 rifle and make sure they follow all the range safety rules. We don’t want anyone getting shot out here.” “I’ve only used the old M-14 rifle so I’ve got a little work to do.” It was good to know that things hadn’t changed too much from the training he had received over forty years ago in the Army. The targets popped up for about five seconds at 50, 180, and 300-yard intervals. All he would have to do is sight the 16 in at 180 yard and then aim a bit low at he 50 yarders and high at the 300’s. Maybe he would do better than just hitting 39 out of the 70 or so targets which was just good enough to pass back then, unless, of course, he became too distracted by today’s instructor. “Let’s get started,” she said smiling walking over towards him carrying a couple of weapons. She had already placed a box of loaded clips by one of the foxholes on the firing line. He grabbed the weapon she offered him and hopped in the foxhole. She gave him a few instructions on how to operate the rifle and she clicked a remote to bring up one of the 180 targets. He put on his earplugs and squeezed off a round that kicked up the dirt about ten yards in front of the target. He fired off a few more rounds to get familiar with the thing, which was knocking him around pretty good. After he got comfortable with the weapon, he adjusted the sight upwards and to the left to compensate for error. By the time he stopped shooting he was at least hitting the target 2/3rds of the time. He got out of the foxhole very pleased with himself. “Let me show you how the popup system looks,” she said hopping into the foxhole. Russ looked out at the range, which had areas covered with trees, bushes, and tall grass. Some areas were just rocks and sand so there was a good variation in terrain. There was no rhyme or reason for where or when the targets would pop up so quickness was of the essence. Russ watched in amazement as she swung her rifle all around, firing away, knocking down every target, even targets that he did not see until the motion of the falling target she had hit drew his attention. She was definitely not here for her office skills!

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“Sorry, I didn’t mean to show off,” she said when she had finished three clips of ammo. “Now it’s your turn.” Russ tried to get the gawking look off his face before she had turned towards him, but apparently he hadn’t succeeded. She had even quickly changed clips without missing a beat. Glenda must have thought the worst of him when he began. He managed to hit a few of the targets, but on others he either missed or didn’t see them until the five seconds was about up. On those he would swing his rifle around to sight them in and watch them disappear from view as he began to squeeze the trigger. The only thing that encouraged him about this first trial run is that he was getting used to the whole exercise, and he knew he would do better on the next trip out here. Besides, using a weapon in actuality was a lot different than the controlled conditions of the range, so why feel bad about it? “OK for the first run, I guess.” Russ blurted out as he turned around wondering what sort of expression he would see on Glenda’s face. At least she wasn’t smirking or didn’t seem to be wondering if she had done the right thing bringing him out here. “The real world isn’t like this anyway.” “I know,” slipped Glenda. Russ was hoping to get an answer like that to verify his suspicions about her. She quickly turned walking towards the hut, and after locking it up began heading back towards the jeep. The sun was now on the horizon at the end of the range, and was casting its final rays on the mountains of the Park to his left. They had to be at the most northern portion of the base. He was just about to get in the jeep when he noticed a white blaze one of the trees near the edge of the parking lot. “Just a second, Glenda,” he said leaving the door open. He probably would have never noticed the white mark if the sun hadn’t been hitting it just right. Sure enough, when he got to it, he could see an old trail heading off through the surrounding woods directly towards the park. He held up one finger for Glenda while he walked out to the road to see if he could pick out a path on the other side. It took a couple of minutes to locate it. No one had been on it for a while as it was somewhat overgrown. There were black markings on some of the trees, which was probably someone’s attempt to obliterate the old white blazes. “Looks like an old trail here,” he said upon returning, “Yeah, I think they had the forest service reroute it to the west near the highway. The previous owners must not have cared if it crossed their properties, but obviously that wouldn’t have worked for us. It was part of a national scenic trail that goes south for hundreds of miles. I guess it went north through the Park, but I don’t know that much about it.” “Yes, it does go all the way through the park. I actually came down here to hike it, but it might be winter before I’d have time to do it now-not that I’m complaining. Looks like I could start from right here.” “Not my cup of tea. I do my limited girl exercises at the compound gym.” “Come on, Glenda. I must believe you go way beyond office work and limited exercise. I don’t want to be too nosey, but you look like you’ve been around the military for a while in more than administration.” She had started the jeep and had turned down the road back towards the compound by now. Russ glanced her way a couple of times noticing the serious, sad look on her face. He was now regretting that he had tried to pry into her life. “Like I told you before, I was in the Gulf War in the 90’s, but I also spent a year in Iraq a couple of years ago,” she finally decided to tell Russ after a long silence. “Yes, you are

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right that I was involved in infantry more than admin. About a third of my platoon didn’t make it through the year in Iraq. I haven’t really gotten over that. I decided to get out when my enlistment was up and someone told me about this place in the out processing center. Probably thought it needed more women staff since about 10 percent of our classes are female. With my administrative and infantry background it was easy to catch on here.” “They’re lucky to have you,” Russ said as he opened the door of the vehicle after Glenda stopped at the trailer. “You sure you didn’t just feel sorry for me bringing me on with Rick?” “No, I’m sure I did the right thing. I’ve never run into an accountant who could hit at least half the targets at a popup range. You’ll be at seventy percent accuracy by the end of your next session.” They were both laughing as he closed the door and watched her pull away in the twilight. He had no doubt that he would be an expert at the range by the end of the week with Glenda as the instructor. It had been a busy day and even the small cot he had in the trailer was sounding pretty good as he walked to the front door. Russ soon got in a groove with his duties and the next few days flew by. He couldn’t help but notice the leaves were reaching their color peak, which meant he would be missing the two best weeks to be hiking. Maybe they might give him the weekend off before the batch of novice recruits came in and he could get out for a couple of days. He had enjoyed a couple of additional trips to the range with Glenda, and true to her word he was at a seventy percent accuracy level the second time out. In fact, he ended up hitting 70 out of 75 targets on a “final” exam she had given him yesterday. He would be giving the same test to his recruits next week. They would have to fire their weapon 25 times each from the foxhole, kneeling, and standing positions and get at least 50 knockdowns. At the end of the first two weeks everything seemed to be going fairly well. Unfortunately, Glenda was spending less and less time in the trailer office as Russ began helping out on a few non-payroll things she had been doing. He was always busy and the deposits into the organization’s on line banking account seemed to be on the increase as the vendors were beginning to quickly paying the late invoices he was sending out. Their customers must have been impressed with the product they were getting. There was plenty of entertainment such as movies, video games, television, etc. in a room across the hallway from the dining hall, but he hadn’t spent much time there with his evening trips to the firing range. He spent some time with Rick who had passed a rigorous test which allowed him to bypass the normal training routine and had been asked to temporarily stay on as an instructor while they were so shorthanded. There were a couple things that puzzled him though. First, Glenda seemed to blow off any questions he had concerning where the money came from to finance this place. It certainly wasn’t on any stock exchange. He guessed the operation had started up about a year ago, but there was no way the past year’s billings had even begun to pay for this place. There were rumors of a few “patriotic” investors; however they must have been patriotic to the tune of 100 million dollars or so, especially including the value of the land. He sure would like to ask the person running the place a few financial questions, but Glenda never said anything about who or where her ‘supervisor’ was and he wasn’t about to push the issue. The second item that was strange was that he found out there were a few more staff members around than were on the books. Glenda kept on preparing the payroll so he had

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glanced at a government report she was working on that she left at her desk when she went out for a cigarette break. There were 40 names on it that didn’t match up with the 43 staff members he had physically counted. If you added another body for whoever was running the place, there were 4 staff people being paid offline. It was possible they were contract employees, but why pay them differently than everyone else since the payroll was confidential anyway. There were 3 staff members he had only seen once, one of them being that guy who was eyeballing him last week, and a couple others who were leaving the dining hall when he went over for breakfast early one morning. It was possible they worked night security, which would explain why he never saw them, and maybe their names were on the payroll list anyway. Glenda said it would be OK to take the weekend hiking trip, so late Friday afternoon he borrowed a jeep and threw his backpack in the rear and headed out to the rifle range to pick up the trail. He figured it would be neat to try a bit of night hiking, as he never slept very well the first day out anyway. He was pleasantly surprised that the old trail was fairly easy to follow and the old white blazes were still visible on the trees this side of the firing access road. There wasn’t too much up and down since it would be about 8 miles before he hit the Park mountains. He figured he would make that by dark and use his headlamp to keep going until about midnight. He would set up camp then. The trip towards the park was a pure pleasure. The leaves were at about half peak, the streams were running at a trickle making them easy to cross, and the late afternoon/early evening temperatures were just right even though the sun continued to drop over his left shoulder. Russ walked about five miles before a forest road began to run along side of the trail a few yards off to the right. Fifteen minutes later it had to cross the trail and follow along about 20 yards to his left to avoid a ravine with a small stream that now bubbled along where the forest road had been. He could tell the small road was frequently traveled by the tire ruts and broken vegetation in both directions when it intersected his path. The trail began a slight upward ascent and he walked another couple of miles before he saw the white splotches on a line of trees perpendicular to the path that was probably the park boundary. Daylight was beginning to fade twenty minutes later when he broke out of the woods into a parking lot along side a grassy picnic table area. A small gravel roadway running out of the lot no doubt led to the main roadway that snaked its way through the park. It felt good to take off the heavy pack and lean it against a table. He sat down at one of the tables munching on a few snacks until the red glow of the sunset was just about gone. He was just about ready to turn on his headlamp and continue on when he heard a car on the deserted parkway that sounded like it was slowing down. It soon was crunching along the gravel approach road and headlights began to illuminate the trees on the other side of the parking area. Russ was never comfortable with approaching vehicles in desolate areas whenever he was hiking so he quickly made his way over to the largest tree at the edge of the clearing. He got there just as a Park ranger vehicle entered the lot with its bright headlamps briefly illuminating the table he had just been sitting at together with the pack he had left leaning against it. He had just decided to walk over and say hello when he heard another vehicle coming through the woods. Its lights indicated it was traveling that forest road running along side the trail so he changed his mind and stayed put. Now he wished he had been able to drag the pack back here with him, but he just didn’t have time and maybe it wouldn’t be noticed since the table was not one of the closer ones to the parking lot. The ranger vehicle flashed its lights a couple of times and then its

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engine was turned off. In a few minutes a Hummer charged out of the woods and parked along side the ranger vehicle before turning out its lights. He could barely make out the two husky figures that got out of the Hummer and the much smaller built ranger. When he heard their voices carrying clearly in the night air, Russ knew who one of them was even after forty years. A cold chill ran through him when he realized the familiar staff member in the mess hall that he thought was eying Rick was probably more interested in him. “Hey chickadee, how are things going?” asked Veach “I’m OK,” replied a nervous female voice. “I still get a bit shaky doing this job.” “Don’t worry about it,” said the other figure that for all Russ knew might be Bradford or Lancaster if they were still lucky enough to be alive. “Here’s the stuff,” Veach said gruffly. “You got something for me?” A trunk door popped open. The faint light provided from inside the trunk was good enough for Russ to glimpse the familiar looking man from the dining hall. A petite woman with a round, brimmed ranger hat looked on. Veach placed a box into the trunk and took out a briefcase from within before slamming the door shut. Everything went to blackness again. Russ quickly ducked his head back behind the tree as the two vehicles started up. The whole picnic area was instantly lit up while the two vehicles circled around in the lot before heading in their separate directions. He watched the headlights illuminate the woods on either side of him as they pulled out of the parking area. In a few minutes the ranger car was accelerating back up the parkway and the Hummer’s engine was fading along with its lights, buried in the silence and darkness of the woods. He waited about five minutes more before turning on his headlamp and walking back to retrieve his pack. He set it upright on the table and put his arms through the shoulder straps while lifting it on his back in one swift motion. He turned towards the woods and walked across the clearing looking for the break in its edge where the trail had brought him in. No hiking this weekend! He had to go back to the compound and find out what was going on. The skies began clearing and now the woods were bathed in moonlight. He couldn’t appreciate the beauty of it all on his walk back to the range because so many scenarios were running through his mind. What was Veach doing here? Why was he hired with his past military record? Was he involved in drugs again? Is that what was in that box back there? What a remote chance that he would run into Veach again! Things looked too suspicious for anything legit to be going on. How many rangers were involved in this and what part were they playing? Who could he talk to or trust concerning this situation? Glenda? Heck, she could be involved too – then again she knew he was going that way so she would have warned Veach The headlamp beam suddenly had no trees to bounce off which meant the range was just ahead. He plopped his pack in the rear of the jeep and turned off his headlamp as he sat down behind the steering wheel. He was soon making his way down the desolate forest road back to the compound. He had only gone about a mile when headlights appeared behind him. He didn’t want to panic, but it was no doubt the Hummer, and it was catching up to him quickly. Veach might have seen the pack at the picnic area and noticed the jeep was at the range lot. At this point it really didn’t matter so he floored the pedal hoping he could get close enough to the compound to force them to back off. However, the jeep only ended up going a little faster, and the high beams from the Hummer were soon illuminating the inside of his vehicle. The jeep jolted ahead when the roaring, onrushing Hummer gave it a good rap from behind. Thankfully, the road now broke out of the woods and the lights of

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the compound came into view. The headlights behind him were gone so he slowed down and drove the last half mile to the parking lot near the trailer. There were no lights on in any of the buildings so everyone was probably in bed. He hadn’t looked at his watch in quite a while and wasn’t too surprised that it was after 1 A.M. He grabbed his pack and carried it to the trailer looking around to see if anyone was watching, but they were out of sight if they were. He bounced out of bed when he realized that the morning sun was streaming through the window. He dressed hurriedly and went outside and ran into Glenda who was coming up the path. “What are you doing here?” she asked. “ I thought you would be gone all weekend. Get scared in the woods all by your lonesome? Maybe you were really on a hot date.” “I wasn’t with you, so guess not,” replied Russ wondering if she had any idea of the goings on last night. “Glenda, do you know anything about the security guy that drives the Hummer around?” “No, not really,” she replied with an expression which indicated the flirting session was over. “Is he giving you a problem?” “No. He just seems familiar to me like I ran into him years ago in the military,” he answered not wanting to let on he was sure who it was. “I don’t see how you would recognize anyone from that long ago. There are lots of changes between ages 25 and 60. Why not ask my boss about him. He called this morning and wanted to see you as soon as you got back on Sunday.” She abruptly headed towards the trailer saying she had a lot to catch up on. Russ took the hint and decided he would try and find Rick. Maybe he could confide in him. He walked over to the dining hall and looked into the recreation room and saw Rick waving him over towards the TV area. “Rick, I need to talk.” “Yeah, just sit down and make it look like were talking about the news program that’s on.” Russ proceeded to give him the details of the previous night. Rick was absorbing it all with great interest pointing towards the TV screen occasionally to mask their real topic. “Russ, you’re a pretty gutsy guy to trust me with all this. How do you know I’m not involved?” “That incident in the café on the way down here tells me you’re not. You would have never reacted the way you did if you weren’t a decent person.” “You need to get out of here tonight,” Rick said in a whisper after he had looked around the room. “Rick, you know something about all of this, don’t you.” “Trust me. I’m not exactly the raw recruit that people think I am. I know that your background check just showed up, and I’m sure Veach spotted you where the deal took place. He was probably trying to just put a scare into you then, but by tomorrow he is going to know exactly who you are!” “So it is Veach. What a coincidence! If I hadn’t run into you and brought you down here…” “…all of this wouldn’t have happened,” Rick said finishing his sentence. “Well, yes and no. I think more is going on besides the fact that Veach has it in for you from years

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ago. You overheard something back at LPN you shouldn’t have, but I don’t have time to get into that now.” “You mean that stuff about the government not necessarily having our best interests at heart with this current financial situation?” “Let’s just say that there are a few bureaucrats who don’t want what you know to get out at any cost. Unfortunately, these few have a large stake in this place and I’m sure Veach would only be too glad to carry out their wishes as it relates to you. I found out there are a couple of other guys here from your old outfit along with Veach.” “I wouldn’t be surprised if their names were Bradford and Lancaster.” “Don’t know yet,” replied Rick. “I’m more interested in who is running this place.” “Glenda told me her supervisor wants to see me tomorrow. Think that’s the guy who’s running things?” “Maybe so, but I wouldn’t advise going to that meeting. This place does more than just train your normal contract soldier. I’m betting that they coordinate the hiring on special operation requirements such as those a misguided right wing government official might desire. There are a few government higher-ups with their own agenda. The head honcho of this place could very well be involved.” “All right. I’ll pack and drive the jeep over to my car and clear out.” “No. There’s too much security on the roads. You’re going to have to get that backpack and hike up through the Park. I’ll have someone waiting at the north end to pick you up when you arrive. “Rick, it’ll take over a week to get up there on foot, even longer if I’m dodging any security people they might send looking for me.” “Got no choice, buddy. This investigation may go on for another month and I can’t blow my cover yet. You need to get back to your trailer and stay put until after dark. As soon as it looks safe there is an old road running behind your trailer that goes to the eastern boundary of the compound. It intersects another path that will cross the parkway close to where you were last night. Cross the parkway and the path continues up the mountain and will intersect the main trail about halfway up. You need to get by the Parkway before morning because that’s one place that will be watched when they find out you are gone. At least they have no way of knowing which direction you would have gone so they can’t send everyone out looking for you in one area.” “How do the drugs fit into all of this? Is that what was going on last night?” “How do you think they got most the financing for this entire place?” “Now that makes some sense.” “Gotta go, fellow. Good luck to you. Sorry I have to leave you hung up like this. This deal is bigger than any of our problems.” They shook hands and Russ headed back towards the trailer. Glenda was gone when he got there so he was able to spend the rest of the day packing for this excursion. Everything he needed was there since he was originally prepared to take this trip a couple weeks ago. He grabbed all the cash he had kept in a box on the closet shelf and put it in his wallet. He even stuffed some clothes under the blanket on his cot to make it appear that he was still there if anyone checked through the window during the night or early morning. It looked pretty desolate outside around 10 P.M. when he left. He was going to get to take his peak fall hike after all. However, he hadn’t planned on hiding from security people and forest rangers for the whole way. Then too, a remnant of a hurricane was supposed to hit the area

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later on tomorrow. After walking for a few minutes the lighting of the compound began to fade away. He followed the old road into the darkness.

Target on Hurricane Trail – Chapter 5 The SUV screeched to a halt on the deserted Parkway he had walked across only thirty minutes ago. Startled, Russ stopped, leaned against the rocky mountainside and peered down the other side of the narrow path to the roadway below. If he could have made slightly better time, he would have been out of sight, but the backpack was pretty loaded up. He looked from his vantage point just long enough to see the vehicle pull off on the shoulder and a lone figure dart out of the passenger side towards the trailhead at the base of the mountain. “Definitely not a backpacker! Look’s like my first brush with the security group,” he muttered to himself. He tried to move a little quicker up the path, but he was tired after walking all night. It was only 9 A.M. so it was going to be a long day, and that storm was expected to hit later in the afternoon. He would need to make it to the shelter about 12 miles ahead before the weather deteriorated. The aftermath of a hurricane was nothing to spend time in with a small tent. Between this and being chased, things didn’t look too good. Suddenly, there was a gunshot and a round struck a huge rock a few yards in front of him. When he looked back towards the SUV, a glare came from behind its hood. Now he was being lined up again in the scope of the high-powered rifle. The shooter had done well to just slightly miss on that shot because Russ figured he was out of range. Either that or the goal was to slow him up so the guy coming up the path behind him could overtake him. It was beginning to look dim for spending any time in the shelter if he kept being followed from behind. Maybe he would have to set up his tent where these guys couldn’t find it and

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take his chances in the storm. All he could do was hope they would give it up as he went higher or the storm started to move in. Up was the only option now even if the gunman below kept taking potshots at him as he was slabbing the last couple hundred yards on the side of the mountain. The guy coming up the trail behind him was probably not weighted down by a pack and was probably just armed with a handgun so he would be moving quickly. If they caught up with him what were their plans? Maybe they would just take him back to the compound, but he didn’t want to find out if it could be helped! Another loud boom was followed by a round striking the cliff just below him. Russ began moving quicker up the treacherous, rocky path concentrating where his feet were with every step. If he stumbled over a rock while the weight of his forty pound pack was moving towards the edge of the cliff to his right, it would be a fatal drop to the woods far below. His only chance was to keep going until the path curled around the side of the mountain into the woods. Then he needed to locate the fire road intersecting the trail about a mile later that he had remembered seeing on the map. Maybe he could follow it back down the mountain a little way into the thicker woods and hide before his pursuer caught up to him. It was about 3000 feet up at the intersection point, so no one without the right equipment would be able to look around for him very long and get back down to the highway by dark. Another echoing gunshot from below made him move all the faster. The next five minutes seemed like an hour before the path finally began to turn out of sight from the roadway below. Russ heard a couple more shots during that time, but nothing struck anywhere close to him like before. He estimated he had about 20 minutes to get out of sight before his pursuer caught up to him, so he was glad to see the woods up ahead that covered most he rest of the mountain except for a small area at the peak. The path began to widen and its rocks disappeared as the mountainside and the cliff pulled away in opposite directions. He soon picked up the white blazes of the main park trail as the path intersected it and soon he entered the safety of the welcome woods. About 15 minutes later he arrived at the fire road and made a quick turn heading down the steep grade looking for a place to hide. Suddenly, the distant sound of a vehicle in low gear coming towards him, probably the SUV with it four wheel drive engaged, forced him to turn around and head back up the mountain. So much for the hiding idea! They could look around for him here quite a while using the SUV as a base of operations. If he could just get back across the trail before the guy on foot got to the intersection. The sun disappeared behind a storm cloud darkening the wood as Russ scrambled towards the trail he had left a few moments ago. The wind picked up to the point he could no longer hear the oncoming vehicle, but the blowing trees didn’t obscure his view of the trail going downhill when he returned to the crossing. He could see a figure moving with great speed entering the woods while looking up in his direction. He was only a couple minutes away from disaster if he kept trying to stay ahead of these two heading uphill with his pack. He remembered the map had shown an old mountain shelter a mile away along the trail used years ago before they built the newer one he planned on staying at further ahead. He left the road and headed that way on the main trail listening to the rumble of thunder and picking up the flashes of lightening from the direction of the Parkway. The force of the wind increased and it began to rain. Storms usually show their worst at this elevation, but even Russ was shocked, but not disappointed with this rapid change in weather. It was the only hope he had to get away from his pursuers. The wind increased to

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a gale. Tree branches began cracking and falling all around. There was a large flash and a huge tree crashed over the trail just behind him. There was no way he could set up a tent in this mess. The wind and rain began tearing into the forest above, and water was now falling on him like he was taking a shower. The intensity was now reaching a crescendo with the falling trees, deafening claps of thunder, blinding lightning, and the buckets of rain that were turning the trail into a stream. He kept looking down and to the right looking for some indication of a way to the old shelter as he could hardly see five feet ahead. He had just about given up hope when an overgrown turnoff finally appeared at his feet. He stepped out of the three-inch deep water on the trail and made his way down the soggy path that was so overgrown in areas that his boots got tangled up in the heavy brush. He kept his eyes on his feet that allowed him to follow the trail and avoid stumbling over the many obstacles deposited on it by the storm. Now he was completely cold and soaked and feeling miserable. He stuck his arms out in front of him as he could see nothing ahead. It was only a couple minutes later when his hands were pushed back by a stone wall which proved to be the rear of the three-sided structure. He felt his way around to the open side where the force of the storm immediately stopped pummeling him. Thank goodness the open side was opposite the storm’s direction. Usually, they were built that way, but he had spent more than one night in shelters where he hadn’t been so lucky when bad weather came in from an infrequent direction. He peered into the dark interior while unbuckling his pack noticing the wooden floor, elevated three feet above ground level, was mostly wet because of the rain caught in the swirling winds. Russ turned around and leaned backwards while removing the framed pack off his sore shoulders and let it fall on the floor. He unzipped the pouch to retrieve his small flashlight and played with the switch until a small beam of light began to display a dry portion of floor near the back wall which seemed to be unaffected by the weather coming in the front or the dripping water from the leaks in the old metal corrugated roof. He hopped into the shelter suddenly realizing he was shivering with the rapid drop in temperature in conjunction with his wet clothes. Leaning his pack against the wall he opened its top and pulled out the waterproof bag containing another set of clothes. He stripped down and dried himself off with a towel from his clothes bag, and quickly put on the cool but dry clothes he had also pulled out. Next, he got his sleeping bag out of its waterproof stuff bag and quickly got in. Fifteen minutes later he could feel the bag warming up and gradually his shaking began to subside. Now he was feeling hungry so he forced himself out of his warm bag to get his small butane burner and warm up some tea and a can of beans before it got dark. The storm raged all night. Fortunately, the spot where he was remained dry through the whole ordeal. The next day dawned rainy and bleak so he decided to spend the day in the shelter hoping that his pursuers had given up on him for a while. It wasn’t until late in the afternoon that the clouds began to break, and by evening the storm was gone. He spent a restless second night in the shelter continually waking up to noises in the woods. He even had a nightmare about one of his pursuers pointing a gun at him after having pulled on his sleeping bag to awaken him. Morning finally showed up bright and clear, which cheered him up a bit. After a quick breakfast prepared by adding a small amount of boiling water to a pouch of freeze dried ham and scrambled eggs, Russ packed up and took a short side trip to the summit. At the peak there was a lookout that allowed him to see all the way back beyond the south end of the Park where the compound was located. Ahead of him the

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forested mountain swooped down towards a river that snaked along the winding valley below. ‘This hike is definitely different,’ an understatement that he thought to himself as he strained his eyes to read the black lettering on the distant bright yellow sign ahead. It had been fixed in his sights since he left the woods. He made his way towards the parkway walking about fifty feet to the left of the muddy trail. The roadway was winding its way through the gap, its paved ribbon of continuity being interrupted by several fallen trees lying along its path. The sign announced that the Park and the trail, which would pass through 100 miles of federal lands ahead, were both closed and no camping or backpacking was permitted. No doubt the sign was put up a few days ago when the hurricane was forecasted so no one would have to go through his current experience of negotiating washed out sections of trail and crawling over downed trees on the path. He got to the road and could see all kinds of trees lying across it as it wound out of sight. The distant erratic sound of an approaching southbound vehicle to his left broke the silence, so he decided he needed to hustle across the road and make his way through the wet meadow to the pine forest beyond. Pine forests are always a joy to walk through as the cushioned pathway provides relief to the sore, blistered feet of the occasional hiker. Tossing that irrelevant thought aside, Russ began moving much faster since whatever was coming was getting closer. He didn’t relish the thought of getting taken back to the compound or getting picked up by a ranger involved with Veach and his cohorts. The tree line was just ahead now, so a panting Russ unbuckled his pack waist belt, plunged into the pines, and threw his pack and himself to the ground. All he could hope for was that his bright yellow stuff bag at the top of the backpack containing his tent equipment had not been spotted. From his vantage point Russ saw a dark jeep coming down the road, slowing down only to go around the downed trees blocking its way, and then quickly revving up its engine when getting back on the parkway until another tree slowed any progress The jeep lurched to a stop at the yellow sign and the passenger door flew open. Someone jumped out and began scanning the woods line on both sides of the roadway. It sure looked like they know someone was in the area, but Russ wasn’t about to reward their efforts by revealing his position. At best they would only kick him out of the Park, and at worst he would be shot. The driver’s door opened up and a tall, leggy female with binoculars came into view when she walked around the back of the jeep. It sure looked like it could be Glenda! Russ ducked lower when she walked over to where the trail crossed the road and gazed downward, apparently hoping the pathway might reveal some recent activity. It was a relief to Russ that he had not used the lengthy open trail across the meadow to reach the woods because his footprints would have been a dead giveaway that he had gotten this far. He was lucky they didn’t check beyond the trail on either side of the road or they might have picked up his movements through the tall grass. Russ wondered how quickly they would be back as both individuals hopped back into the jeep, and it continued on down the road, probably towards the last trail crossing that he had been a couple hours ago. They would see his boot impressions all over the place if that’s where they were headed! Russ got up as the vehicle left his view, placed his right arm through the pack shoulder strap, then quickly bent down feeling the full weight of the pack when he flipped it on his back while quickly inserting his left arm through the other strap. Moving along the edge of the tree line he made his way over to the trail, and as he breathed deeply walked into the

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woods on the expected carpet of brown needles. The morning sun pushed its way through the treetops raising his spirits after dealing with a walkway that had sometimes seemed like a small creek most of the morning. The trail seemed to be the path of least resistance to the water that was making its way down the mountain after the storm. Russ usually let his thoughts wander about half the time he walked, and today was not an exception. Usually work situations might occupy his thoughts or perhaps the offbeat situations during his tour in Vietnam, but today it was mostly trying to analyze what was going on now. Why was Glenda looking for him? Should he assume she was out to do him harm or was she here to help him out? Was Rick a government agent? Was he more concerned with drugs, what I overheard at LPN, or the actual mission of the training center, whatever that might be? Were these things worth killing him over? He rarely thought about the good things in his life such as his two grown children, one of which had hiked with him from time to time, but for some unknown reason dwelled on situations he never could quite understand or had not yet resolved to his satisfaction. He began to feel thirsty and glanced at his watch only to discover that an hour’s worth of scenery must have scrolled by while he was elsewhere. He saw a campsite off to the right of the trail with an enticing log just waiting to be sat on first chance he got to shed his pack. Breakfast was his least favorite meal on a hike unless a restaurant was within a mile of a road crossing. There was nothing like eggs, pancakes, hash browns, and good coffee on a cool, crisp fall morning after eating canned and freeze-dried food for a few days! A little taste of heaven as far as Russ was concerned, but reality set in as he pulled a chocolate chip granola bar out of the pack, and began chewing on it thoughtfully. He took his first drink out of the canteen he had filled at a spring early this morning near the shelter. His smaller water bottle was full which would keep him in good shape until he reached the next spring. His water would usually last about a day and a half at this time of the year, but not even a day during the summer, which was one of many reasons Russ only hiked in the fall. Fall usually provided colorful trees, cooler days, and fewer flying insects, the latter, which can ruin the best of forest wanderings. Approaching footsteps interrupted his thoughts. He whirled around expecting to see a uniformed ranger or one of Vetch’s men, but was relieved that only a young hiker was turning off the trail from the north entering the campsite. It pleased Russ that he might be able to pick up some information as to what lied ahead. He decided to ask this fellow if he had noticed the two individuals in a jeep on the roadway that intersected the trail from time to time since both road and trail meandered together through the 100-mile long national park. Then, of course, there would be the typical trail condition and water supply questions. “Hey buddy, what’s up?” This greeting came from a young man that was probably less than half of Russ’s age. He didn’t make any attempt to drop his pack so apparently this conversation was not about to last for any length of time. “Getting by ok,” replied Russ, noting the lightweight and expensive looking gear on the guy when he stopped a few feet away leaning on one of his two walking poles. He had all the right stuff for someone who probably could cover at least twice as much ground as him. The young man had and ultra light frame pack with a water bottle attached to one front strap and a Gatorade to the other. His two ski-like walking sticks were the mark of a fast long distance hiker. It didn’t appear as if he was carrying a tent, so Russ assumed he spent most of his nights in the three sided log type shelters that were scattered along the trail.

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Russ preferred to carry a tent because he liked the solitude of a forest campsite rather than the potluck of individuals he had experienced at shelter stops. “How far is the next civilization?” asked the hiker appearing to size Russ up, probably noting the antiquity of his equipment. “I’m running a bit low on food as all the park camp stores closed up a day before the remnant of that hurricane hit a couple days ago. It’s been vacant here. Nobody is around. One of the larger campground and motel facilities about 50 miles north of here will probably have no power or water for the next week. The park was officially closed f few days ago and no vehicles are allowed on the roadway.” “You’ll no doubt be there by early tomorrow morning,” Russ replied to the question simply by dividing his own hiking time by two for this expert walker. “Any water up ahead?” “Yeah, there’s a spring at the next shelter. Not sure I would go there, though, because there were a couple of rangers checking it out to make sure no one is using it while the park is closed. They know about me since we all spent the previous night in the basement of the small store next to a campground and some cottages when the storm came through. Man, its going to take a couple weeks to get that place back in shape again with all the mess from the trees and the downed power lines and poles! They let me continue on when I assured them I was a long distance hiker and could easily handle the trail conditions caused by the storm, plus I’m almost out of the park anyway. I don’t think they would let you through at your age, especially if you plan on going the full length of the park. There are a lot of blow downs ahead and I almost got lost where a mudslide has obliterated the trail.” “Have you come across a man and a woman in a Jeep? I saw them at the last road a few miles back.” “As a matter of fact I have. They were back at that store and campground I was just telling you about. They showed up just when I was leaving later yesterday afternoon when the storm was starting to subside. I heard one ranger tell them all facilities were closed and asking why they were ignoring all the posted signs. The man didn’t seem to be too thrilled about being asked to leave, and, in fact, got a little hot under the collar. The woman calmed him down, and the last I saw of them they were on the parkway towards the south entrance. She was quite a looker!” Russ was really glad he kept out of view from this pair, especially since they had not followed the ranger request and were still around today. It was only about two miles from the south entrance where he had seen them earlier. The hiker, suddenly realizing that all this talk was slowing his progress, told Russ to have a good one, swung around, dug his poles into the ground, and exited the campsite quickly heading south. After taking off his hiking boots and socks and massaging the sore areas of his feet, Russ took a last swig of water, put his footwear back on, performed the backpack maneuver, and gingerly set off up the trail wiser than he had been a few minutes ago. An hour’s hike later brought him to a blue blazed trail that led to the shelter that had the spring to replenish his water supply. He always enjoyed reading the shelter trail logbooks that the hikers left their comments in, but it wasn’t worth the risk if any rangers were hanging around. Especially a ranger that wanted to do him harm! The trail became much steeper after he returned to it from the shelter. It became quite apparent to him that he was in for a rough afternoon as he stumbled over some rocky segments of the path and struggled to get by the occasional tree that had blown down across the trail. The worst tress were the ones that he couldn’t go around or over, but had

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to crawl under on his hands and knees anxiously hoping that the pack on his back would clear the bottom of the tree. Many times it did not, which would require other more strenuous and tricky contortions to get by these aggravating obstacles. The best part was when the pack got caught up in a bunch of tree limbs when he tried to stand up thinking that he was clear and could continue the trek! It was getting a bit warmer, and the water level in the canteen was dropping below his comfort level. You don’t usually find a water source hiking up a mountain. The map told Russ he was climbing Black Mountain. The path began leveling off and he could see a clearing ahead. When he left the woods and walked out into the open area, it was like waltzing into a different world. The first thing he saw was the huge pile of black boulders that obviously was the peak of the mountain. The trail went around the base of the boulders in a U-shape that gave him a panorama of the entire southwestern portion of the park. He could see two mountain ranges beyond backed up by a clear blue late afternoon sky. A hawk was sailing through the air below him. He slowly walked around the base of the boulders taking it all in until he arrived at the other side of the mountain. Russ pulled himself away from the mountain and headed for the woods beyond. It would soon be time to start looking for a campsite, but not before finding some water or it would be a thirsty night. A glance at his watch told him it was 4:45 P.M., which allowed him a couple of hours at the most to find water and get camp set up. Setting up camp after dark was an experience to be avoided especially since the temperature quickly dropped this time of the year at sunset. He liked to have his twenty dollar one man domed tent set up by six at the latest, fire up his small butane camp stove, select another canned delicacy for consumption, and be in his snug sleeping bag listening to his walkman radio as darkness fell. It was amazing how a few items carried on your back suddenly became so important when sunlight faded away making the forest become cold, damp, and silent. Soon he arrived at a vacant parking area, which was used by visitors to access the mountain view he had just enjoyed by taking a 15-minute stroll from the lot on this level stretch of trail. Russ was beginning to enjoy having the pathway to himself without any visitors disturbing his solace or thoughts. There was a side trail from the lot leading down to a spring about a mile away according to a park sign, so he left the white blazed main trail and began the descent into a valley below. Sure enough, about a half hour later he arrived at a bubbling brook next to a small, flat area surrounded by evergreens, which proved to be an excellent spot for pitching camp. He knelt down by the stream and reached his hand into the cool waters to test the temperature. He submerged a water bottle into a small pool of water located between two large tree roots in the stream, dropped an iodine tablet into the bottle when it was full, and gulped the water down since he had finished last canteen back on the mountain. After filling his containers, he headed over to his pack that was over by the evergreens and prepared to make camp. The longer the shadows grew and the farther the sun dropped behind the mountain peak, he got an increasingly uneasy feeling about staying there. He decided that it would be better to camp off the beaten path to make sure his sleep wouldn’t be interrupted by rangers or other unauthorized backpackers. Bushwhacking wasn’t one of his favorite pastimes, but Russ jumped over the small stream and made his way through the woods carefully noting where he was going so he could find his way back in the morning. It was easy to get lost doing this as he had found out a few years back. He had camped only 50 yards off a trail and proceeded to spend an hour the next morning doing circles trying to find it again. It wasn’t until he finally

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dropped his pack and pulled his compass out that he noticed a white blaze on a nearby tree. He was standing directly on the trail! He then had proceeded on with the hike for about 15 minutes until he realized he was going the wrong way, and quickly turned around thankful that no one would ever know that he had made such a miscalculation. Breaking away from that thought, he noticed a slight incline in his steps, and decided to shed his pack in an extremely small area under three small trees before he ended up climbing out of the valley. He pitched camp, lit his stove, consumed a can of his favorite green pea soup with a pack of peanut butter snack crackers, unzipped his tent, crawled into his sleeping bag, and began playing with the dials on his walkman in search of some good music and a weather forecast. He turned it off a couple hours later and fell asleep staring at the shadows on his tent created by the soft, white moonlight filtering through the tree branches. The worst thing about hiking was waking up in the middle of the night and having to take a leak. The ritual normally involved an attempt to delay as long as possible leaving the comfort of the sleeping bag, sitting up and bumping your head against the tent which now had condensation on the inside, unzipping the tent and fumbling through the door placing your feet on a damp, soggy, twiggy, rocky surface, taking a few adventuresome steps, and finally obtaining relief while you shiver uncontrollably in the misty night air. It was very pleasurable, however, zipping the tent back up and jumping back into the warm bag. Russ forced his way out of the tent in the now completely dark forest, shivering almost immediately as he moved a short distance from the tent. It was then that he heard the voices that sounded like they were only a short distance away magnified by the night air rather than back probably where he had originally planned on camping. Russ stayed low to the ground. “It’s frigging cold out here. Why do we have to wander around looking for this guy in the middle of the night?” questioned an irritated male voice. “You want to take a chance meeting up with those rangers again? There are only a couple of good places to camp that have any water in this area, and this is one of them,” replied a female voice that confirmed Glenda was definitely a member of the search team. “Yeah, but there is nothing going on here and nobody was at the shelter, either.” “Quit your complaining and look to see if anyone has been around lately.” Russ decided to move slowly back into the tent without zipping it up when the beams from their flashlights began bouncing around about a hundred yards in front of him. He thanked his lucky stars that he didn’t stay back where they were looking. He listened to them noisily scouring the woods, glad that their lights didn’t strike the tent. “Hey, I see some footprints over here!” “You’re right,” replied Glenda. “It’s about time you contributed something to this operation besides griping and sitting around picking your nose in the jeep. If he’s out here, we’ll never find him now. The farthest he could be is a few miles north or south of the lot, so let’s go back to the jeep and scour the area in the morning.” Russ watched their lights disappear into the wooded side of the mountain on the other side of the narrow valley as the two made their way back to the highway. Needless to say, he slept sparingly throughout the night, mostly drilling his mind as to how Glenda fit into the whole operation. What would happen if he confronted her before he got safely to the north end of the park? The next thing he knew he was waking up to a tent still in darkness, but a check on his cheap Indigo watch said it was 6 A.M. so he decided he better get out of here before they decided to come back. It wasn’t much fun quietly breaking camp in the

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dark and rolling up a tent saturated with heavy morning dew, but he fumbled his way through it and was ready to go at daybreak. He knew he had to stay off the trail until he could get by his unwanted nocturnal visitors, so he decided to walk north, keeping hidden in the soon to be brightly colored autumn forest when the sun rose over the crest of the mountain on the other side of the valley. Russ found himself bushwhacking again, and within a few minutes his feet became damp and were completely wet after he arrived at a swamp fed by a stream to his right that flowed down the middle of the valley. The terrain on his left forced a right turn and he headed towards the stream, hoping that somewhere he would find a narrow enough spot to cross it. The sun was now rising over the mountain ahead of him, and Russ found himself about ready to enter a small clearing that revealed the stream along with a small footbridge crossing it. He looked around to see if the coast was clear, and then quickly moved through the clearing and carefully over what turned out to be an old wooden footbridge with many rotten and missing boards. A small pathway appeared on the other side, which he followed directly into the colorful foliage beyond. He stopped and pulled out his map, but it didn’t give any detail of trails in this valley. There had been nothing on the park sign at the lot last night about any trails in the area either, so Russ, deciding to follow this trail hopefully leading out of the valley, quickly pulled off his boots and changed into some dry socks before his feet became raw. The glaring sunlight that drifted through the forest canopy above from time to time told him he was headed northeast as the bright colored pathway made its way upward out of the valley. His adrenalin let him avoid the usual breathers he had to take every time he ascended a sharp grade, so he did not stop to catch his breath until the overgrown trail had leveled out. The forest came to an abrupt stop ahead, and when the clearing came into view, Russ arrived at a parking lot occupied only by the black jeep parked at a trailhead for the main trail. He wondered which way they might have gone. They could have gone north or south from here, south to where he had seen them last night or both directions if they had decided to split up. Probably, they figured he wasn’t dumb enough to hike on the road so that is exactly what he chose to do. He would be able to hear any approaching vehicles in time to jump into the woods, and he could make better time to get out of their search area. He had experienced a fair amount of highway hiking with a backpack and going into towns to resupply so he knew he could travel three miles per hour versus the one or two miles every hour on a hiking trail. He could be twelve miles away by noon and then try and find a forest road going east off the highway to avoid all the bushwhacking and drastic elevation changes to get back on the trail. After resisting the urge he had to put his jackknife through all four of the jeep’s tires, he made his way across the lot and turned left walking as fast as possible on the narrow two-lane highway that continued to snake its way through the park. There were quite a few tree limbs and small branches on the road, but they had been flattened in spots or pushed aside somewhat by the limited vehicle traffic that had gone through since the storm. When he made his way around one tree that had blown down completely across the parkway, he noticed that there were two sets of tire tracks from vehicles forced to make the same maneuver. One set would no doubt be the jeep, so the other set must have been a park vehicle used by the two rangers checking the shelters that the hiker he had seen yesterday had talked about. The sun was approaching its zenith, and Russ abandoned these thoughts to gaze into a color filled valley far below as the road inclined around the side of a mountain. He suddenly wondered what he would do if a vehicle approached now since there was an open rock incline to his left and a guardrail in

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front of a cliff to his right. There was nowhere to go until he reached the crest. He was now just staring downwards at the road trying to walk as fast as he could ignoring the pain when the hard surface of the road aggravating the blisters that were beginning to form aided by his damp socks. He finally reached the top of the hill and was relieved to see a break in the woods on the right leading up to the roadway at the bottom. That had to be the forest road he was looking for. It was early afternoon so he felt he had gotten far enough away from the occupants of the jeep and their search area so it was time to quit pushing his luck and get back in the woods. He kept imagining he heard vehicles coming along the roadway that made it seem like it took forever to get to the bottom of the hill. He breathed a sigh of relief when he reached the forest road quickly ducking into the woods to change his socks and consume a few mouthfuls of that delicious trail mix of nuts, raisins, and M&Ms. Now he was walking on quiet leaf packed road enjoying himself for about a mile until he went around a sharp bend. He stopped dead in his tracks because about 50 yards ahead of him sat some sort of 4-wheel drive vehicle with the park logo on it. Someone inside of it appeared to be looking straight at him so it was rather pointless to jump into the woods now. He walked towards the vehicle wondering what he would say to the ranger inside. It turned out that he didn’t have to say anything because the ranger was leaning back in the driver’s seat with dark red blood caked to the side of his face. Russ wasn’t a CSI expert, but it looked like the dead ranger had been there for at least 24 hours. It was rather obvious to him that he was now involved in a situation even more serious than he thought. This had to be bigger than just him. Something really bad was going on, and he was going to be a part of it for the next 90 miles until he got beyond the north end of the deserted park where possibly Rick might be the one to pick him up. There were no roads going east or west that went out of the park, and there was no way he was going back the way he had come. Finding his way through the high mountain ranges that ran along the park’s length was out of the question. He wished for the first time he had the skills of one of his infantry buddies in Vietnam instead of the support communication role he had played while there. His instincts told him to get away from here and make his way north staying on or as close to the trail as possible to keep from getting lost. He wasn’t about to disturb the crime scene in any way. The shock of all this was starting to wear off and an eerie, strange feeling was starting to invade his whole body which gave him the incentive to break away and make his way towards the trail. He left the dead ranger behind and kept walking east, and it wasn’t until the sun was dropping behind the mountain to his rear that he saw a familiar white blaze on a large ash tree. He made a left turn and decided to get a few miles in before looking for a campsite.

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Target on Hurricane Trail – Chapter 6 Russ had to pass up another excellent campsite in his quest to keep out of sight as much as possible. He filled up on water when the trail started going uphill along a fast moving brook going the other direction that broke the twilight silence. He was soon jumping across the brook on piles of strategically placed rocks where the trail crossed over it. About 15 minutes later he bushwhacked his way off the trail until he found an area just large enough to pitch his tent. He closed his eyes to sleep safely tucked away among the thick boughs of the trees and the stumps and boulders hiding his tent. He had to stay away from any campsites, water, or the trail itself when it got close to the roadway since these would be the places searched for him like last night. He awoke to the typical morning sounds of twittering birds and the chipmunks scampering around his tent. He grabbed a handful of trail mix and washed it down with a gulp of water. While his water was out he pulled out his toothbrush and small tube of toothpaste going through that ritual only when his water supply was adequate. He figured he was about 10 miles away from a small camp store close to the trail that he assumed would be closed, but knew it would be necessary to get enough food to at least make it to the main park lodge, which would take another couple of days if he could stay on the trail. He would do whatever it might take to resupply! He packed up and put on his backpack, lightened by the fact that his cans of food had all been consumed, and made his way back to the trail through the early morning fog. There were still many blown down trees to slow him down, but fortunately it was a uneventful day since he was worried about running into anyone with an unknown agenda. It was getting late in the day when he entered an evergreen forest and soon came to a small forest road sprinkled with brown pinecones leading up to the store about a half-mile away. He grabbed his half-empty food bag out of his pack, and headed anxiously toward the store after hiding his pack behind a large tree. Shortly, the road began a steep descent down the mountainside that meant the store was only a short distance ahead near the main park road. Russ decided to approach it from the woods behind it to play it safe if anyone was there. He made his way through the evergreens when only a bright red glow appeared over the mountain ahead of him from a sun that was going down fast. He put his hand on his front pocket to verify his small flashlight was still there, and stopped when he reached a spot

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where the store loomed into view. The forest road exited the woods to his right and entered a small paved lot as did a gravel roadway at the other end. The store was a log structure with thin pines surrounding it, and there was a phone booth, a hot dog stand, as well as some vending machines on the one side of the structure. It looked deserted so he left the woods and started making his way towards it across the field. He was half way across when he heard the sounds of a vehicle and saw the bouncing beams of its headlights flashing through the forest in the direction of the gravel road. He broke into a run and headed towards the back of the store arriving just when the headlights began illuminating the whole area. He heard the vehicle race into the parking lot and screech to a halt. The illumination from the headlights disappeared replaced quickly by the thin beams of a flashlight dancing through the tops of the evergreens to his rear. It would only be a matter of time before someone would come around to the back, so Russ hazarded a guess they would come via the unlit vending machine area so made his way around to the opposite side wondering what he was going to do now. A lot of banging told him that someone didn’t have a key to get in so it looked like another bad situation. His only chance would be to make his way across the parking lot to the forest road and get back to the trail. What if he was heard and faced the awful scenario of headlights rushing closer behind him as he ran up the mountain road back to the trail? The pounding ceased and the store glowed as someone was now inside looking around. A light was now illuminating the tree behind him indicating that someone was coming around to the rear of the store. Faced with no alternative, Russ raced across the lot and jumped into a very familiar dark jeep praying that the key had been left in the ignition. After what seemed like an eternity of feeling around on the dashboard, he was suddenly holding onto the keys and turning them in the ignition. He shoved the clutch to the floor and cranked it up. He could hear some yelling and saw the flashlight coming around the side of the building when he grinded into first gear and lurched across the lot to a barely visible forest road before slamming it into second. The windshield wipers started up as he began pulling and turning knobs on the dashboard, but finally the headlights came on when he got closer to the safety of the forest. He heard a bang and an old, familiar whining noise flew over him at the woods line that made him push the accelerator to the floor. The jeep was going too fast for the steep, rocky road conditions. There was a lot of noise while everything loose in the jeep was bouncing around. Every nerve and bone in his body was being jolted as the tires constantly hit the pointed tops of the rocks that he had been trying to step between when he was walking the road earlier. It was going to be difficult to pick out where the trail crossed, but he was concentrating on looking for the large tree where he had left his backpack. He slowed down when the road finally began to level off, and it wasn’t long before he spotted the familiar looking tree hiding his pack. The jeep jerked to a halt and he jumped out on the road running through the brush with his flashlight pointing the way to the bulky pack. He carried the pack back to the jeep while being scratched by the small branches of trees hitting him in the face and various forms of prickly type vegetation brushing across his arms and hands. He glanced down the mountain, and was not surprised to see the lights from a couple of flashlights, that weren’t far enough away for his liking, moving in his direction. He flipped the pack in the rear of the jeep and then gunned it through the tunnel of trees illuminated by the headlights. There shouldn’t be any blow downs on the road since it was now on the lee side of the mountain.

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Russ figured he might as well keep going in the jeep while the road let him. He came to a Y and took the left branch that seemed to be heading north along the side of the mountain. He didn’t really like using the headlights that might telegraph his progress if their glow was picked up anywhere, but he really didn’t have any choice. His whole body was beginning to ache from the constant pounding the jeep was taking from the washboard consistency of the road. After about an hour the road began to narrow and it appeared he wasn’t going to get much farther with the jeep. He ground to a halt and felt good about shutting off the headlights, even though he was sure every ranger and his two pursuers probably knew more about where he was than he did. He grabbed his trail map out of the pack and tried to get a fix on where he was. He was disappointed when the forest road he was on went off the east side of the map, but it couldn’t be more than a few miles northwest from here to the trail. He suddenly realized he hadn’t eaten since noon, and turned his light behind the front seat to see if any of the things that had been bouncing around for the last couple of hours were food items.. The first thing he saw was a small rifle of some kind and some boxes of ammunition. He got excited when his light revealed several packets of freeze dried dinners and a couple cans of Coke. He left his light lying on in the front seat, and stuffed the food, coke, and a couple boxes of ammo into his pack. He donned his pack, grabbed the rifle, and was about to make his way into the woods when the thought occurred to him that the jeep needed to be disabled. He slashed through all the tires, and resisted the urge to cut the engine wires. If he did that, he would have to figure out how to unlatch the hood and he needed to get going. He momentarily flashed his light onto his compass, and proceeded into the woods moving noisily in a general direction towards the trail. This was the first time he had ever hiked in the darkness, and the woods were cold, damp, and unfriendly causing him to shiver. He finally stopped a half hour later, pitched the tent in darkness, and consumed a couple handfuls of trail mix washing it down with a semi-cool Coke. He crawled into his sleeping bag exhausted, attempting to go to sleep as he strained his ears for any strange noises. He awoke in a sweat a few hours later and heard twigs snapping, but sighed in relief at the familiar snorting noise of a deer close by probably looking for food. He awoke in the morning to the patter of rain hitting the tent so he boiled a pot of water inside and prepared his freeze-dried breakfast of beef burgundy noodles in wine sauce. The package stated it was 2 servings, but he had no trouble eating the whole thing. It was a lot easier opening up a can and heating the contents versus messing around with the noodles and mix inside the freeze-dry packet, but this sure tasted better! He spent a few minutes trying to figure out how to load and use the rifle, then made a cup of hot tea to take off the morning chill, and finally packed up all his wet gear knowing he had to move on quickly. It was difficult bushwhacking through the forest with only one arm to clear the limbs in front of his face while the other one cradled the rifle. He hadn’t touched any kind of weapon since he left Vietnam years ago, and it aggravated him that he once again found it necessary to lug one around. He started to feel the dampness of the leaves and spongy ground inside his boots, so it wouldn’t be too long before his feet would become sore and raw. It was still drizzling when he finally ran into the trail at noon. He sat down on a large log and rewarded his feet with a massage and dry socks. His map indicated that the trail would be crossing over the main highway about 2 miles ahead, so he snacked on trail mix and sipped a little water to give him some more energy. Forty-five minutes later the trail started going up, and he could see a clearing at the top that probably would be the parkway.

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There would be no high observation point to check it out this time, so Russ dropped his pack, grabbed the rifle, and approached the road about 50 yards to the side of the trail. He was not surprised to see an official park vehicle sitting there, but no one seemed to be around. He retrieved his pack and hustled across the road making his way up the mountain trail on the other side. He felt relieved because the map said the trail would not cross the highway again until he reached the lodge areas about 15 miles ahead. He stopped dead in his tracks when he heard the female voice behind him. “Drop the rifle!” Russ did as he was told and slowly turned around to see a ranger standing there with her revolver pointing right at him. She was very petite and definitely middle-aged attractive even if she was wearing the drab olive uniform and hat of a park ranger. Her nametag read ‘Amy Rittenhouse’. “Haven’t you seen the signs, sir?” she went on. “There is no backpacking allowed in the park and your firearm is definitely not normal for a hiker. You’re going to have to come with me to the ranger substation next to the lodge until we can figure out what to do about you. Please proceed back to the car.” She followed Russ back towards the car after stooping to grab the rifle with the revolver still aimed at him. “I’m not a criminal. Can’t you put that thing away?” “Sorry, sir. I have no idea who you are, so I will be putting you in rear seat lockup until we get back to the station and ask you a few questions.” She popped the trunk and motioned for Russ to throw his pack in there, and opened the back door of the sedan revealing the durable metal screening attached to the doorposts running the width of the vehicle. He reluctantly got in, and Amy shut the door holstering her weapon as she walked around to the driver’s side of the vehicle after putting Russ’s rifle in the trunk. The sedan soon roared to life and headed towards the lodge area that they would be reaching in a half an hour instead of the day and a half it would have taken Russ to hike it. Amy wasn’t going too fast since they had to keep swerving to avoid the trees that had fallen down on the road. He decided that it felt pretty good to watch landscape go by sitting down rather than walking the wet, slippery leaf coated trail even though he didn’t know what he was in store for. He would have felt better if he weren’t locked up in this back seat. “I ran into a friend of yours a couple of days ago,” Russ said attempting to get a little information before arriving at the lodge. “Tom? You saw Tommy? We are just about ready to go look for him. His radio batteries must have gone dead because he hasn’t been checking in. He is supposed to be checking out some of the shelters and trail sections to make sure no one is passing through. He should have checked in yesterday, but we guessed he might be hiking a long section of trail and tented out last night.” “Was he a young guy with a buzz cut and beard?” Russ asked describing the dead ranger. “That’s Tommy all right. Where did you run into him and why didn’t he pick you up?” “He never saw me. I saw him standing by his car on the parkway where the trail crossed so I just crossed at a different spot,” Russ lied, not prepared to say anything else at this point.

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“That doesn’t sound like something Tommy would do. I would have guessed you would have met him on the trail or at a shelter. You sure about that description?” “Yeah. I also saw a man and a woman in a dark jeep,” replied Russ figuring he better change the focus of the conversation. Amy acting somewhat startled pulled over to the side of the road without shutting off the engine and looked back at him wide-eyed through glasses perched on a narrow straight nose. “You did? We told them to get out of the park a few days ago. They seemed upset about it, and Tommy took them off to the side to explain that we couldn’t let anyone stay here as all the facilities are closed and there is no power. I guess they didn’t buy his explanation. They really got into an argument with him. When did you see them?” “Oh, yesterday at that camp store just south of here. Looked like they were trying to break in the front door based on what I saw.” Amy got on the car radio and was soon talking to someone of authority apparently at the ranger station ahead. A guy named Chuck told her to drive back to the camp store and check it out before she came back since she was the closer than anyone else. Russ had the feeling that Amy felt rather uneasy about this plan with him in the back of the car and the fact that the man and woman were still around. She hung up the car phone and sat there momentarily before pulling down the gearshift and making a U turn heading in a direction that he has spent the last week coming from. If he had been in charge he wouldn’t have sent someone like Amy to match up with Glenda, but then again no one knew about her or the dead ranger. He began to question his decision not to tell her about that just yet, but he just decided to hope that they wouldn’t see his two pursuers no doubt looking for their jeep on the forest road above. It wasn’t too long until they reached the cutoff to the store, and it was soon in view as they made their way through the evergreens on the gravel road filled with puddles. Amy stopped the car in the middle of the lot and went over to one of the windows in the front and peered inside. Momentarily, she went over to the front door and disappeared inside the store. It was then that Russ saw the pair from last night slink around the side of the store and charge through the door after her. Realizing that they probably did not see him behind the screen in the car, he knew his only chance would be to get to the gun in the trunk so he began tugging away at the back seat of the car. Surprisingly, the seat came out easily, and with his small frame he was able to squeeze himself into the trunk and return the back seat into position. Once he located the rifle in the dark, he unzipped the pouch in his pack where the ammunition was located knowing full well that Amy must have unloaded the gun after she had taken it from him. He was in the process of loading it when he heard the sound of loud voices approaching. “Let go of me!” “I’d settle down if I were you,” Glenda said. “Marvin’s not the kind of guy to mess with. Just ask his girlfriend!” A rear door opened and the back seat bounced, so no doubt Amy was being shoved inside the vehicle. Another person got in the back seat. “What’s the matter with this seat? It’s loose.” “You probably messed it up when you threw the girl inside,” said Glenda, her voice coming from the front seat. Two doors slammed and the engine started up. Russ wondered how he would keep from getting sick the way the car wheeled out of the lot and roared

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down the gravel road. It turned north when they reached the highway and proceeded at twice the speed Amy had been going. “Let me out of here!” “Just tell us what we need to know and he will!” “I told you. I haven’t seen anyone who looks like the person you’re asking about. Where’s Tommy?” “We haven’t seen anyone except the guy who stole our jeep last night, and we didn’t even get a good look at him,” said Glenda as the car swerved from side to side to avoid the obstacles on the road. Nothing was said after that, and it must have been twenty minutes later that the car slowed down, turning left off the highway to what would prove to be the lodge area. The car came to a halt and everyone got out. After the doors had slammed shut it became very quiet. Russ waited for a few minutes, pushed at the back seat, and slipped behind the front passenger seat dragging the rifle behind him. The back door he tested was not locked, so he quickly got out and took a fast look around before making his way along the rear of some downed trees to hide behind a utility shed. Where was everyone? Looking around he saw the main lodge building with a small building attached on the side that must be the ranger station. There was a lot of noise coming from a shed-like building that sounded like a gas-powered electric generator. If his heart hadn’t been pounding so much, he might have appreciated the beauty of the place while he ran through the pines around to the back of the building sitting at the base of a mountain. It was a three-story log structure with a large windowed area in the back overlooking a raised wood deck that served as an outdoor eating and social area. He didn’t see anyone in the huge dining room while he was slowly making his way around the deck, and soon he was on the side of the structure behind the ranger station. A look through the rear window of the station revealed that no one was there, so Russ went around to the front door and entered with the rifle leading the way. Obviously, he was in the office where Chuck had been talking to Amy with all the communication equipment sitting behind a desk on one side of the room. There was a door on the other side of the room that probably would lead into the main building. Russ went over and opened it slowly, and entered a long hallway with several-closed doors to the right and a glass doorway at the end that must be the entrance to the dining room. He carefully looked through the glass door and entered a huge dark wood paneled room with several chandeliers, dozens of tables, a spacious bar area on the opposite side, and swinging doors probably going into the kitchen. There was a large windowed area looking out over the deck to his left, and some windows on the wall to his right through which he could see Amy’s car sitting out in the parking lot. He walked slowly across the room towards another glass door that led to the other side of the lodge. As soon a he opened the door he could hear voices that became louder as he made his way down another hallway towards an open door to the right. His arm carrying the rifle began to shake the closer he got to the room. “So what do you want with this guy?” an unfamiliar voice said that must have been Chuck. “We just have our marching orders,” replied Glenda. “Here’s some identification. Now if you’ve seen this guy tell us now!”

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“All right,” Amy replied. “I picked him up where the trail crossed the road about ten miles south of here. I locked him up in the rear seat, but somehow he got out before we got back to the car.” “The trunk,” said Chuck. “Did you check the trunk? That was a makeshift job on that car. It is an older vehicle and had to be modified to get a restrictive back seat. All the other vehicles were ordered with the caged back seat, which is like a mini-cell. On this one, though, you can pull out the back seat and get into the trunk.” “I’ll check it out. Give me the keys,” said Marvin. “Why didn’t you tell us you had the guy back at the store?” “I didn’t know you worked at the compound. I still don’t know if I trust you people or not. I’m going to bring charges against you for assaulting a federal officer. I would trust that hiker before I would trust any of you.” Russ moved into the doorway as Marvin headed toward it. He stopped dead in his tracks seeing the rifle pointing directly at him. “Everybody sit down,” Russ commanded. “I need to find out what’s been going on for the last few days.” “Hey, that’s my rifle,” said Marvin. “You’re the one who took our jeep the other night!” “I’ll take the pistol, Glenda. Put it on the floor and kick it over here.” “Russ-“ began Glenda. “Save it. You’ve got a lot of explaining to do.” She placed her pistol on the floor and kicked it over to him. Amy and Chuck sat down in separate chairs on either side of a floor lamp, while Glenda and Marvin sat down on one of the double beds in the room. None of them appeared to be especially nervous about the rifle Russ had trained on them, so he assumed they knew enough about what was going on around here to realize that he wasn’t a threat. “O.K., Glenda. What’s going on? You went from someone who has helped me out quite a bit to someone hunting me down. What the heck changed all that?” “My boss changed all that. He is the first one to review the information that comes down on security clearances. He called me immediately and was livid that I had assumed you were OK and had hired you before the clearance was run through. He basically told me to kill you because he can’t take the chance that you picked up on anything about our mission there.” “Which is?” questioned Russ. Glenda pulled out a cigarette from a pack in her shirt pocket and stood up, managing to retrieve a lighter from the front pocket of her tight fitting jeans. She lit it inhaling deeply, and continued talking trying not to blow smoke in anyone’s direction. “They would kill me if I said anything more. I took that shot at you the other night just to scare you so you would abandon the jeep. I figured you were the one who was there. You know me well enough to realize I could have blasted you off the face of the planet if I wanted to. I just wanted to find you and get you out of here because I don’t believe you know enough about the operation at the compound that is worth getting killed over. I know I could swing the boss to my way of thinking later.” “Who were the other two after me?” “Our night security leader, Veach, and a fellow named Bradford. Where did you run into them? I thought Marvin and I were supposed to handle this area.”

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“Further south. I know them from Vietnam and I don’t think they would be as lenient with me as you would. I helped bust them for running a drug ring in ‘Nam. With a record like that why did they get hired at the compound?” “Well, I guess it makes sense to me now. They like to hire Vietnam veterans as staff, especially all the older ones that are having a problem getting civilian jobs. I know there is something going on with drugs that finance the place. Might as well tell you now that we train hit men as well as contract soldiers. Russ, I was just doing my job and I didn’t get involved with any of the illegal stuff. Now I don’t dare go back.” “Wish I could believe your remorse, but I don’t know. Have to think about it. Besides, I think Amy is involved with the drugs, and who knows what’s going on with Marvin and Chuck,” said Russ looking around at the others in the room. “Does anyone know we are here?” “No. The power and phones have been out since the storm came through. The cell towers must be messed up because my cell isn’t doing anything. Amy is the only one I have been in contact with on the radio.” Russ couldn’t assume Chuck’s comment about the radio was true. He looked out the window and noticed it was getting dark and that he was actually getting hungry now that his stress level was dropping from the afternoon’s activity. Russ looked the group over for the next minute or so, and then pointed his rifle towards the floor. “Chuck, is there anything around here we can rustle up for dinner? Is there anything good in the kitchen? I’ve been eating hiking food for the past several days.” “I’ve been keeping a large generator going since the power went out during the storm. I think it is hooked into the kitchen and operates some lights on the first floor along with the ranger station. I guess nobody would mind if we raided the pantry. I’m not sure how much longer I can keep the generator going so the food will probably spoil anyhow.” Russ motioned for the group to file out of the room not bothering to take Glenda’s pistol on the floor since there were probably other weapons hiding around here anyway. They walked single file down the hallway into the dining room as the outside light was fading, and went through the kitchen doors with Chuck leading the way. He flipped the light switch and opened the door to the upright freezer. Even Marvin cracked a smile when they saw the supply of steaks, fries, vegetables, and pies. Amy began thawing some steaks in the microwave, and Marvin volunteered to get out the pots and pans while Chuck was checking out the refrigerator. Glenda and Russ went over to a table in the corner and sat down. “Where’s the jeep?” she asked. “I’ll send you an email when this is all over. You better take 4 tires up there with you.” “Thanks,” Glenda replied sarcastically. At least she was looking at him like she didn’t hate him or anything. She was really a nice looking woman, but was six inches taller and 15 years younger than him. Soon the table was piled up with all sorts of goodies and the feast began. Russ still kept the rifle by his side while sitting at a distance from the others since he knew any of them would probably like to take control of this situation given the chance. When he finished the piece of apple pie in front of him, his thoughts turned from his stomach to what he was going to do now. He didn’t have to think about it for very long because just then the noise from the generator stopped and the lights went out.

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Target on Hurricane Trail – Chapter 7 “Chuck, I think the generator just ran out of gas,” Russ said. “It couldn’t have! I just filled it around noon.” It wasn’t until he heard the kitchen doors swinging that he thought about the pistol that he hadn’t bothered with back in the guest room. He headed towards the sound of the doors which were now just about back to their stationary position, and stopped next to the bar in the dining room when he saw a light coming down the hallway from the ranger station. Assuming whoever had gone through the door was going after the pistol, he decided to make his way towards the tables by the big window near the deck and take his chances that whoever was coming would head towards that same hallway, They might even go into the kitchen knowing that they had just been there. He just made it behind a table when the glass door to the room opened and a beam of light crossed the room and darted into the hallway at the other side. A shot rang out that shattered the glass door by the bar forcing Russ to stay hidden behind the table as he heard the heavy footsteps of someone moving rapidly across the room. There was a large crash as a table was upended near the middle of the room. Russ was now crawling on the floor between the tables in the darkness hoping he would end up at the door to the hallway leading to the ranger station. And it wasn’t until he reached the wall that he realized he left the rifle back in the kitchen. Another shot rang out from the other hallway while he was crawling along the wall looking for the door. The kitchen door swung open and another blast from a weapon hit the wall about twenty feet from him. His hand suddenly felt the glass door, so he got up, grabbed the handle and threw the door open. He was feeling his way down the hall against the wall when another shot shattered the glass on the door he had just come through. He finally got to the ranger station and felt his way over to the door and went outside. He made his way across the parking lot towards the shadow of Amy’s car. He had to retrieve his pack before he could even think about getting away from here. He opened the door, which unfortunately turned on the dome light, and pulled up on the trunk release. He heard the distant sound of breaking glass as he went around to the trunk, and two rounds of gunfire slammed into the front of the vehicle. Now he could see a flashlight in the ranger station as he grabbed the pack by one side of the frame, lifted it out of the trunk, and put one arm through the shoulder strap balancing it on his back before bending over and moving away from the parking lot into the woods. Apparently, he was the target so maybe the shooting would stop when everyone realized he was gone. He felt like a bit of a coward while heading deeper into the woods, but at present no other plan of action was formulating in his mind. It was very difficult walking in a pitch-black forest, barely making out large trees just before walking into them. There was no way he was going to get his flashlight out of the pack and turn it on right away. He wished he could be quieter as the twigs broke under his

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heavy steps. Branches from the smaller tress were hitting the top of this pack and snapping back. He knew the northbound trail was level and ran on this side of the road for the next few miles, so if he could keep walking straight and avoid any elevation changes, it would probably be easy to locate the trail in the morning. The tree branches stopped hitting his pack, and he heard the distant gurgling noise of a brook. He went through some sort of clearing towards the sound of the water since he was sure his water containers were just about empty. He stumbled over some rocks, and a burnt odor told him he probably was standing in the wet leftovers of a campfire. He took off his pack trying to remember which pouch contained the flashlight, and put it in his pocket in case he lost his pack in the darkness when he went over to fill the bottles. He heaved the boxes of ammunition for the rifle across the brook. No sense in carrying that weight any farther. He filled the two water bottles, but the canteen was no doubt still back in the trunk of the car. The light from the flashlight illuminated his trail map. He thought the brook might give him an idea how to get from here to the trail. His spirits were immediately lifted when the map indicated the trail ran alongside the brook for a mile before it headed over a mountain and then back across the parkway ten miles ahead. He kept his light on since he knew he was far enough away from the lodge and the parkway for it to be seen. When he swung the beam around the small clearing, it illuminated a small white blaze at one edge about twenty yards ahead where the trail must be darting into the woods. Russ decided to try night hiking since sleep wouldn’t come easily to him now. It was somewhat foggy, which made it difficult to see the white blazes on the trees from any distance, but he was able to follow the impression of the trail by shining the light downward keeping it directed a few feet ahead. A few miles later his feet were beginning to feel damp and sore plus he was beginning to tire. His watch indicated it was midnight so he veered off the trail and set up camp in the first open area big enough to pitch his tent. He turned on his Walkman for a weather forecast. Hearing an unusual noise, he tore his earphones off, but it must just have been some sort of background to the music he was listening to. The forest was quiet. The sunshine on the tent was brighter than usual when he awoke. It turned out to be 9 A.M., which was the latest he had ever slept on a hike. It was just as well because the tent now appeared to be completely dry for packing, and the dampness of his sleeping bag was now gone. He boiled some water and decided to try the powdered eggs that one of the food packets contained. It wasn’t until he had hoisted his pack on his shoulders and walked over to the trail that he started feeling strange about the situation he was leaving behind at the lodge. He kept thinking about what Glenda had told him about not following orders to kill him. If she was telling the truth, he had left her in dire straights because others had heard what she said. She was especially vulnerable if that was Veach who had done all that shooting last night. He saw another blaze on a tree ahead, but abruptly stopped, walked off the trail, and dropped his pack out of sight behind a large tree. He only had a water bottle, jackknife, compass, and flashlight when he returned to the trail and headed south back to the lodge. An hour later he could see the lodge looming through the trees, so he left the trail for the cover of a line of thick evergreens that went around to the mountainside overlooking the deck at the rear of the building. He stopped and lay down behind the trunk of a large pine peeking around it to see if there was any movement through the large dining room window. He could see that a few of the large panes were shattered which must have happened last night after he had left. Ten minutes later he decided to head for the entrance at the opposite end of the lodge from the

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ranger station. There were enough trees on the ground from the storm to keep him out of view most of the way, but he didn’t feel very good about it when he made his way out of the woods and ran to the first fallen tree. He darted in and out of limbs and branches and stepped over a downed power line before he got to the door. He carefully opened it and stepped into the same hallway he had been in the previous evening when he surprised the group in the guest room. He wouldn’t have been surprised if someone would now appear at the end of the hall from the dining room with a pointed gun at him! He got to the guest room and opened the door as far as he could before something on the floor stopped its progress. He stuck his head through and look down at Chuck sprawled on the floor. The poor ranger must have been the one who opened the kitchen door when the lights went out trying to get to Glenda’s pistol. He never had a chance against whoever was in the dining room with the cannon of a rifle that was booming. He didn’t see the revolver so he turned towards the dining room crunching across the glass on the floor as he got near the entrance. He opened the damaged doors and could see Marvin lying on the floor face down by the bar. Russ figured he had probably tried to get out of the kitchen and never made it to the hallway he had just left. The thought of what could be behind the kitchen doors frightened him. He slowly opened them and the light gradually revealed someone in a chair with their head on the table in a pool of blood. He knew from the petite frame of the victim that it had to be Amy. Some bastard must have come in here and sat her down before shooting her at close range. In his entire lifetime he had never felt so much guilt, rage, sorrow, and depression all at the same time. He walked across the dining room in a mental fog, and down the hallway to the ranger station. Someone had torn the place apart and did a thorough job destroying all the communications equipment. He went outside wondering what he was going to do now. Even if he could contact the authorities what would he say? He could be suspect number one! He guessed Amy had been shot with Marvin’s rifle, which, of course, would have his prints all over it. Unless Glenda was still alive, who would believe anything he said. Amy’s car was still in the parking lot with the trunk sticking up in the same position he had left it. He heard some movement close by which sounded like it was coming from the generator shed. He stepped carefully to the side of it and moved around to the open slot that served as an entrance. When he looked through he saw a shivering Glenda sitting against the wall with a blanket around her. It was certainly not the image of the woman he had been dealing with over the past few weeks. “Are you ok?” Russ inquired as he backed up a bit when Glenda stood up leaving the blanket on the floor. He would have normally been intimidated by her well conditioned six foot frame, but her mental condition somewhat equalized the confrontation. “I survived, no thanks to you!” “Listen, what was I supposed to do? You might be used to this sort of thing, but this isn’t exactly my line of work. How did you get out of there?” “I stayed in the kitchen for a while and then hid behind the bar when I heard all the gunfire and commotion in the hallway. It suddenly got quiet and someone came around in front of the bar and went into the kitchen. I heard a shot in the kitchen so I jumped over the bar, found my way down the hallway, and went out the side door. I spent the night nearby in the woods. It was too damp and cold to sleep so I just stood by a tree shivering all night.” “I guess you’ve been back in the lodge and seen everything?”

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“Yeah, I came back a few hours ago. I heard a vehicle start up and saw some headlight going north on the parkway just before dawn so I hoped it would be safe here. Those poor rangers! It just doesn’t seem to be fair that they got caught in this situation. I’ve seen a few things in my career, and whoever was here last night was a professional hit man. I didn’t really like Marvin, but he didn’t deserve to die over just this. What did you do to command all this attention?” “I think the hit man last night was Veach or someone in his group. I knew him from “Nam and he had it in for me because I was partly responsible for a drug bust involving him over there. It was just a bad coincidence running into him at the compound. Hard to believe! Not only that, someone might want to get at me for overhearing a confidential government position on the current national economy. Can you believe the government is encouraging business not to hire and keep the unemployment rate high?” “Why would they do that? Aren’t they always trying to create jobs?” “No. They are worried that interest rates will jump if employment gets any better and they’ll be a big problem because the national debt is too high. It’s cheaper to pay unemployment than a trillion a year interest on the debt.” “They would kill you because you know that? There must be others that have figured this out.” “Could be, but it sure gives Veach a green light to do what he wants with me.” “Why did he kill all these others?” “It’s possible that the rangers were involved with him in the drug trade going on at the compound. I think they were moving drugs to finance the operation there. I know Amy was involved for whatever reason, and possibly Chuck was too. He gets rid of anyone else who might be a witness to the fact he is here in the park, which is why Marvin and the poor ranger I saw four days ago aren’t around anymore.” Glenda had finally stopped shivering as the sun began beating on the metal roof of the shed warming the interior. “I’m going to check out Amy’s car to see if we can get out of here,” she said. They walked over to the car, but after a quick check under the hood it was discovered that all the wires had been pulled out. Russ went back to the trunk to retrieve the canteen. “What are we going to do now?” she said in a way that revealed she probably was not used to asking the question. No doubt she was usually in a leadership role. “I don’t know about you, Glenda, but I have to keep hiking north. I’m supposed to get bailed out of this situation when I get outside the park gate. When I think about it, I would rather deal with this situation between now and then rather than getting blindsided sometime in the future. You can stick it out here if you want. Someone should show up shortly if no radio contact can be made with the ranger station. Or you can come with me. Those sneakers you have on should hold up for the fifty miles or so we have to go.” “You want me to walk for fifty miles? You’ve got to be kidding! I don’t want to spend another day in this godforsaken place, especially with you.” Russ hoped it was nothing personal except for the fact he was a target that kept Glenda from wanting to come along. He always preferred to hike alone, but spending a few days with her might be somewhat interesting. And it might increase his chances of making it out of the park in one piece if she came along. He walked back to the lodge leaving her standing by the car. He didn’t really want to go back into the kitchen, but he needed to check out the cupboard and grab a bag of canned goods to carry back to his pack. He

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needed a couple more days’ worth of food to get out of the park. The cupboard was at a higher level on the canned food chain than his regular thrifty grocery purchases. Most of the shelves contained large restaurant quantity tins of items that would be tasty to take along, but he had to go with the tuna fish sized can of crabmeat, a regular can of asparagus tips with hollandaise sauce, and a decorative can of broccoli cheese soup. Items like these were supplemented with butterscotch pudding, cinnamon applesauce, fruit cocktail, and a bag of coconut chocolate chip cookies. He double-bagged all of these items preparing for the walk back to his pack, wishing instead that he had a grocery cart and a waiting car in the parking lot. “Ok, I’ll go with you!” Glenda announced with a sigh as she pushed the kitchen doors open so wide that they swung wildly back and forth when she let them go. She pulled out her half filled pack of cigarettes, and lit one as she began reviewing the options in the cupboard. She let the cigarette dangle from her lips while grabbing some items off the top shelf that he couldn’t even see much less reach. She stopped for a minute to bring an ashtray to the counter between the cupboard and the tables, leaving the half finished smoke there as she continued. He found himself watching her as she somehow found enough room in her tight-fitting outfit to perform the necessary reaching, bending, and stooping operations to place two bags worth of food on the counter. Her brown shoulder length hair surrounded a weathered mature looking face. “We better find you some sort of backpack around here if you are coming,” he said to her when she had finished. “I really don’t have much of a choice. Either Veach or his cohorts could be back or the authorities are going to show up. How would I explain all of this? Dead bodies are all over and the place is a wreck. At least the two of us will be together when anyone starts asking any questions. We can verify each others story.” They stepped through the debris into the center of the dining room, and walked back to the ranger station where they found a backpack along with a sleeping bag stuffed in a closet. They took everything out of the pack except a canteen and went back to the kitchen. “I wonder if Marvin’s rifle is still around?” Glenda asked when they passed by her former partner not even tempted to observe the results of his wounds by stopping to turn the body face up. “I wonder if there are any other weapons around?” Russ was about to answer in the negative, but it was possible the gunman didn’t take any weapons that might have been here with him. What reason would he have? All they would do is put him at the scene if he couldn’t avoid the police. He had to have hidden them before he left. But, then again, why not just leave them where they ended up? Well, anyway, they had to get out of the place, and there was no way he planned on taking the time to look through all the lodge grounds. “We need to fill your pack and get out of here! No time to worry about that.” Russ adjusted the shoulder straps for Glenda after filling up the pack with all her cupboard selections and tying the bedroll at the bottom. He grabbed his bag and she followed him down the hallway out the side door and into the woods. It was tough to keep ahead of her trying to carry his bulky grocery bag as her long strides kept her footsteps coming closer to him, but then she would suddenly back off. They stopped at the brook to fill her canteen and top off the other containers, and in a short while they arrived where his backpack was hidden. Russ glanced at his tent attached to his backpack and began

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wondering how they would be able to zip up the door with Glenda inside of it. Two people his size might have a chance to fit, but the only way Glenda was going to sleep inside was to take up the whole thing in a fetal position. “I’m not going to sleep in that thing!” she said providing the answer to his thoughts. He was sure she assumed the offer was going to be made to let her use it rather than both of them trying to squeeze into the thing. “I’ll take my chances outside. At least with the bag it’ll be better than last night!” “We may find some sort of shelter over the next few nights. There are trail shelters we could use, but most of them are near road crossings and I’d be nervous that someone would show up. W can rig up some sort of a tent for you with some thin plastic sheeting from my pack.” “I’m hungry. How about we split some of this canned food for lunch?” “Let’s go with some freeze dried stuff as long as we have plenty of water.” “Hey, this stuff looks familiar! Of course, you took it out of the jeep. I forgot all about this stuff! You have me carrying all the heavy canned food while you plan on taking this lighter stuff.” “Come on, Glenda. I have to carry a lot of other things,” Russ replied while pulling out his stove screwing it on to a can of propane. He dumped some water in the pot, and backed away after firing it up so she could dump her selection in when the water came close to boiling. He began to wonder what it would be like to hike with a partner after over a thousand miles of wilderness wanderings on his own. All this conversation on a hike was new to him. He found himself spending too much time watching her while she prepared lunch, so he pulled out a trail map to study. They left the campsite after splitting a packet of chicken Alfredo, a fruit cocktail, and a few cookies from one of the two packages of coconut chocolate chips they had each selected. At least they had something in common! Russ was glad to get rid of the grocery bag and carry the weight in his pack, but with his shorter stride it was still difficult to go fast enough to keep Glenda from running over him. Maybe she would slow down a bit on the mountain just ahead. He could see some blow downs ahead of them, but the situation got worse as she was able to climb over some of the trees that he had to crawl under. Still, she wasn’t quite use to all of this, and began struggling somewhat when they began to ascend the mountain. Her shoes weren’t quite as sturdy as his, so she uttered a few choice words when it became rocky about a half mile from the top. There were a couple of times when Russ would have ordinarily stopped for a breather, but he forced himself to keep going since he didn’t want to be the first to stop. Finally, the trail began to level off as they approached the top. There was a pile of large rocks through the woods to the left that was supposed to be a good viewpoint according to the trail map, so Russ, ready to take a break, leaned his pack against a tree and began walking over there. “Where’re you going?” asked Glenda following his lead by quickly dropping her pack on the ground. “There’s supposed to be a nice view over here.” “Oh brother! I’ll wait for you over here.” She had to be well conditioned just to get here from the lodge, but being in shape was one thing and hardening up your feet was something else. It took about a week of hiking to get your feet accustomed to absorbing the constant pounding as the weight from a pack pushed downward to meet the rocks and roots of the pathway. He was sure her feet were

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sore, and he hoped she wouldn’t have too many blisters by the end of the day since it would take at least another four days to get to the entrance. Russ had bypassed many views just off the trail while his feet were feeling the stabbing, burning pain from each step that was taken. Blisters had brought several of his previous hikes to a sudden end. “You can see the lodge from here!” Russ called out to her after he had clambered up the rocks between some huge boulders. The late afternoon sun dropping in the sky created a shadow from the mountain in front of it that was creeping towards the tiny looking structure. The lake beside it was now a dark, shimmering blue in contrast to the brilliant color of the mountains behind it. The location of the road was marked by a winding hesitation of the forest trying to meet as it flowed down the mountains circling the valley. It was quite a view, but he was brought back to reality when he noticed two vehicles moving up the drive leading to the parking lot. From this viewpoint the occupants exiting the vehicles looked like a half dozen small dots moving across the parking area to the lodge. He soon picked up the reflection of sunlight from that direction, and quickly turned and headed down the steep, rocky path concerned that someone with binoculars might have sighted him. “Let’s get moving,” he told Glenda after filling her in on the activity at the lodge. “We won’t get to the road crossing until dark, and it’s possible someone could be there by now checking the area out since a shelter is close by. If anyone spotted me just now they are sure to be waiting there, and they would have both ends of this section buttoned up. Our best bet is to keep going for a while, and pick up the old logging road I saw on the map a few miles ahead going along the base of the mountain.” “If these rocks disappear it’s fine by me!” “If we can make any kind of time on the logging road, we should be able to get out of the area by midnight. We could be doing a lot of bushwhacking and side trail walking before this trek is over because everybody will be concentrating on the main trail and the parkway. I’m not really an expert map-reader or compass man like you may think. Most of my hikes have been on well-traveled blazed trails. We may get lost from time to time.” “Let’s just not get found for a while. If whoever was planning to pick you up could get us to a state police barracks, we could spill our story there. Hey, whoever is trying to do us in could be involved with a few more rangers for all we know. By the way, you never mentioned who was going to pick us up.” “You’ll see.” Russ couldn’t see talking about Rick at this point. She was just trying to be optimistic, anyway. There were too many professional people looking for them, which meant there was a chance of zero for them to go on for the next few days without being seen. The sun line had been slowly moving up the mountain to their right while they walked possibly for the last time on the main trail. It was twilight when the logging road appeared, which was a relief to Russ who thought a couple of rangers could always have been around any bend or rise. He was also relieved when the moon came up revealing just enough of the overgrown road to keep going without using a flashlight. The forest became so quiet that one snapped twig sounded like a firecracker, and surely the rustling of the leaves under their feet while walking could be heard for miles! The moonlight faded away when they reached the middle of a field, and a multitude of stars backed up by the cloudlike glow of the Milky Way unfolded across the clear mountain sky. The air seemed suddenly colder, and Russ knew that without using a light they would have to stop before they reached the

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woods on the other side of the clearing. He began to wonder about the tent and sleeping arrangements when a dark shadow appeared in the distance as the got closer to the edge of the clearing. “Looks like a small old bus,” Glenda said quietly when they got near the object. “Look at this!” Russ had opened the door and walked up a couple steps to the steering wheel. He had quickly turned his light on and off just long enough to see there were a couple rows of seats on one side at the front and a small table with a few chairs on the other. In the back there were some mattresses and a few old pillows. “We can spend the rest of the night here, but we better clear out by daybreak.” It was nice not to bother with the tent even though the inside of the bus smelled musty. They were both tired and Russ was not about to complain about the lumpy mattress after throwing his sleeping bag on it and crawling inside. He woke up in the darkness a few hours later to the sound of raindrops tapping against the roof and the still intact glass windows along each side of the bus. Weather had been somewhat of an unknown since the batteries in his radio ran down during the day. He would give anything right now to have more batteries to see if the local news had anything to say about what was going on in the park. He fell back asleep with this thought and awoke to the same noise of the rain with a dim morning light coming through the windows. He turned and looked at Glenda, but her eyes were still closed and she was breathing heavily. It was time to go, but he wasn’t quite sure how to wake her up. He finally decided the best way was to just get his pack ready to go, which ended up making enough noise where he soon heard her stirring. He took his cook stove over to the table realizing they hadn’t even eaten last night, fired it up, and placed a small cooking pot he had filled with a mixture of half the contents of two gourmet cans of food on the burner for himself saving the remainder for Glenda. It wasn’t until they had packed up and walked into the woods that the sound of ATV’s caused them both to stop and look at each other in a state of panic. Both of them knew that the noises back in the clearing would stop at the bus and realize someone had been there during the night. They would be heading this way in about five minutes so Russ made a fast right turn off the road with Glenda close behind. They quickly waded through a wet mixture of small trees, bushes, and thistle plants, all of which continually slapped, scraped, and tore at their clothes. The ATV engines were now idling which meant they were checking out the bus, but suddenly roared to life moving rapidly toward them. Russ motioned Glenda over to a large new fallen tree from the storm that was big enough to conceal their packs. They hid them there so they could get further away with less noise. The fact that the woods were still somewhat foggy from the previous night’s weather was to their advantage. The ATVs stopped again and they could hear movement and shouts in the forest behind them. It was about this time they ran into a small forest trail. “Russ, we have to split up and circle around to disable the ATVs or we won’t have a chance. They can follow our path all day in this brush.” “Yeah, we better hope that this trail somehow goes back to the logging road one way or the other. I’ll meet you north of where we left it.” “What about the packs?” “We’ll worry about that later!” Glenda tore off to the left, and Russ went to the right soon finding himself back in the clearing where he could see the bus between him and the logging road. He made his way down the tree line to the road and rapidly retraced the walk they had just made from the

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bus, and once again began hearing voices in the woods. The ATVs were parked in the middle of the road, and just as expected the keys were not there. The voices were getting louder when he pulled his jackknife to give the tires their appointed due. The deed being done, he started running down the road listening to some loud cursing behind him. There was a shot from a small firearm in the distance to his right, and he wondered if Glenda was still ok. He kept running, breaking into a fast walk only when he was too winded to continue. He rounded a sharp curve in the road and saw a familiar figure standing there with a ranger revolver in her hand. “I jumped a guy when he came down the trail and wrestled it away from him. Did you hear the shot? It went off before I could get it away from him.” “Where is he? You didn’t hurt him, I hope. We’re in enough trouble!” “No. He took off the other way down the trail when the gun went flying.” “I don’t blame him. He didn’t stand a chance against you without that gun,” said Russ dryly noting that a small display of amusement flashed briefly over her usual serious composure. “What are we going to do about our packs and stuff?” “There’s not too much we can do. I’m sure they saw me running without a pack so they know we have them stashed somewhere. No doubt they have radios and every ranger in the park along with Veach knows where we are now. We need some sort of transportation to move out of here fast. We have to bushwhack towards the parkway.” The compass came out of his pocket and the two of them headed directly east through the same type of miserable brush they had encountered an hour ago. The sun tried to break through the overcast sky, and as the brush turned into a stretch of jagged rocks, they began to descend towards the highway below. They came across the trail and decided to use it to reach the highway and see what was waiting for them. Russ could just envision a sea of vehicles with flashing lights when they got close, but there was only one vehicle with another dead ranger sitting inside of it! “This is the same thing I saw the other day. I wondered if you and Marvin had done it. It’s got to be Veach. I know there is at least one person with him.” “The keys are still in the car! Let’s get out of here before we get some of the same treatment.” They got the dead ranger out of the car and hid the body in some brush so they could possibly drive the vehicle on the parkway with everyone thinking it was just the normal patrol car. Glenda was soon driving north. The short-wave radio in the car was just full of information on todays and past days’ events, and it also clued Russ in that they had found the dead ranger called Tommy. He guessed that Veach didn’t plan on letting any rangers get hold of him before he did. When he saw a sign that said it was thirty miles to the north entrance he told Glenda to pull over. “I’m getting out here. You need to keep going and get to the state police. This vehicle might be the only one between here and the gate so if you can get there within an hour you have a chance to get through. If Veach is up ahead he may not bother you, but if he sees me in the car it would be bad for both of us.” “I’m not leaving you here. Who’s going to back up my story?” “You may not be alive at the end of the day if you stay with me so it wouldn’t matter. Let’s see what kind of supplies are in the trunk.”

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A quick tug on the trunk release revealed a fully loaded pack and two full canteens that probably meant that this guy was a trail ranger. Russ pulled all of it out and made a few adjustments before putting the pack on while listening to Glenda strongly objecting behind him. “Russ, I can’t let you go.” He didn’t bother to turn around knowing she probably had the revolver pointed squarely at him. He proceeded to walk down the embankment and entered the woods as he heard the engine roar and the tires squeal down the parkway.

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Target on Hurricane Trail - Chapter 8

Whoever Rick had contacted to pick him up would be expecting him in about four more days. Ordinarily, he could probably get through the north park boundary and into town in about three days, but it would take another couple days longer going cross-country. He wished he had a weapon in case he ran into Veach. No doubt, Veach was going to have some of the latest gadgets including night vision goggles and maybe even heat seeking equipment, so a weapon would at least give him a chance. Realistically, his only chance was to avoid Veach completely. As far as the rangers were concerned, it depended on the allegiance of whoever got a hold of him. If they were involved with the drugs he would be in trouble. If not, they might turn him over to the state police. Hey, maybe even some of them could be involved too. Rick’s man was his only chance. Even then, could he really trust the government from what he had overheard at LPN? All he could do was keep moving and hope something went his way so he could get far away from all this. It was now an uphill climb through trees and rocks as Russ distanced himself from the parkway. The pack was heavier than he was used to, so when he had gone over a rise and entered lush evergreen woods, he stopped and took a fast inventory. There were articles of clothing and spray cans of white paint for marking trees with blazes that could be left behind with the exception of one flannel shirt. There was a small stove with a built in pump along with a bottle of lighter type fluid that he would have to learn to operate without instructions. He checked the food pouch and was pleased to find enough freeze-dried food for a couple of days, although there were no snack type items. There was a small cooking pot, a metal cup, eating utensils, matches, personal hygiene items, map, and a small flashlight. All this would be taken on this final leg of the trek. There was the essential sleeping bag strapped to the bottom of the pack that Russ had seen when he first opened the trunk. (There was no way he could have left Glenda without this.) Unfortunately, there was no tent. The ranger no doubt used a shelter for any function that involved an overnight. However, it was what he found at the bottom of the main storage area under everything else that interested him the most, even though the items weren’t mandatory hiking equipment. It was a revolver and a couple small cardboard containers of ammunition! The safety was checked and the gun was carefully loaded and placed aside while the pack was reorganized to his satisfaction. He put his arm through one of the shoulder straps, and swung the lighter pack over his back putting his other arm through the other strap. He checked the two canteens that were now hooked to the front straps, and fastened the belt around his waist. He decided to carry the revolver between the pack belt and his left thigh because it would have to always be at the ready. He started off, leaving behind the pile of discarded items, and soon reached the end of the evergreens noting that it would probably get dark in a couple more hours. He trudged through some waist high grass in a clearing. He pulled his compass out and headed to the north edge of the clearing glad to be entering the woods again. However, at this time of day the shadows in the woods made it seem like someone was always behind the trees ahead ready to jump out at him. It began to get darker, and he noticed the dampness of the night air that wouldn’t be shut out by a friendly

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tent tonight. He was forced to spend his first night out in the woods bundled up inside a sleeping bag under a tree so that he wouldn’t be completely soaked by the dew come morning. It was a long night. Sleep came in intervals while he remained curled, head inside the bag with the revolver and flashlight in the middle. He would begin to shiver from time to time because the cold dampness intermingled with the unknown of the days and nights ahead. He kept wishing that this was the last night he would be spending in the woods, and that he would be rendezvousing with his pickup in the morning. Maybe a guy like Larry would pick him up. Someone like him could handle any situation. He and Larry had traveled together 40 plus years ago for 200 miles in a truck filled with drugs from Camp Enari to the Yellow Sea on the Vietnam coast. Larry had taken out a group of GIs who were waiting for them with an M-79 grenade launcher near AnKe Pass when Veach had called ahead. The guy must have gone through 50 clips of ammunition when some Vietcong in a rice paddy 25 miles from their destination ambushed a convoy they had joined. Larry made sure everything was set to get him out of the country and away from anyone who was ready to even the score because of the bust. Larry could have gotten him out of here and put him somewhere no one could ever find him. But all this was just a pipedream and he drifted off to sleep. He was awakened by all the familiar morning forest sounds. He crawled out of the sleeping bag and quickly put on the extra flannel shirt from the pack, filled the stove with fuel, and finally got it going after fumbling with the pump for a few minutes. He prepared a pack of freeze-dried eggs in the pot that went will with a coffee bag inserted into a cup of hot water. He shook the stove to check the fuel when he was done and figured the fuel supply should make it for three more days. A few more cans or packs of food would be needed, and it would be necessary to fill the canteens a couple more times. The sleeping bag had stayed fairly dry on the inside, but was wet on the outside as he rolled it up and strapped it to the pack. The map showed another campground about five miles away and there were a couple of small streams to cross that would take care of the food and water. He didn’t have any purification tablets, but with the park having been closed for the past week, all the running streams should be ok. However, he had to believe that all these places would be where Veach or the rangers would be watching in addition to the roadway and the trail. It must have been an hour after he set out from the campsite that he heard the gunshot from nearby. He dropped his pack and moved in the direction of the sound with the revolver pointed ahead of him. The weapon seemed like a toy to Russ since all he had ever fired many years ago was a high-powered rifle. However, it was better than nothing, and he wouldn’t be heading towards what he figured was someone with a rifle if he didn’t have this peashooter. A much louder shot stopped him in his tracks. He was in the woods overlooking a large clearing with some huge boulders on the other side. The shots were not coming in his direction so he felt safer making a faster, quieter approach through the open field than a slower, noisier one along the edge of the woods. Russ’s sight was fixed on the large boulders all the way across the field just knowing that a head would pop up, and he would become a pincushion for some fast-moving projectiles. Finally, he was standing beside one of the large boulders wondering what to do next. A faint small caliber gunshot broke the midmorning silence followed by a tremendous boom on the other side of the boulders. It sounded like two parties were shooting at each other.

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Russ moved slowly around the huge rock, which revealed a very narrow pathway that made its way upward between large rocks of decreasing size before it disappeared from view near the top. He slowly twisted and turned up the erratic pathway trying not to dislodge in any way the small rocks that his boots pushed off on. Surely, he must look like a candidate for a mental hospital as he nervously approached the top. He was shaking so much the gun would have probably discharged if the safety hadn’t been on. He seemed to settle down when he crawled over the top and saw the camouflaged gunman, lying on a rock below, his attention drawn to the small lake in front of him with woods on all sides except the beach area to the man’s immediate front. Russ couldn’t see any features of his face with the flat brimmed hat held to his head by a tie string under his chin. The rifle was aimed at the woods to the right side of the lake, but all Russ could see was a small dirt road coming out of the woods to the left of the lake that went out of view to the front and then reappeared to the right entering a small parking lot. Now he could make out a vehicle that was at the far end of the lot that was difficult to see at first glance from this distance against the dark background of the woods. It sure was similar to the car he had left Glenda in yesterday afternoon, but there were probably a few more ranger vehicles around than just that one. He jumped as the rifle boomed again causing some loose stones under his elbow to make enough noise to surely draw the man’s attention. He flattened his entire body half expecting a round to whine over his head, but instead he heard the man’s footsteps quickly coming up between the rocks towards him. He pushed the safety off and poked his head up blindly firing a round in the direction of the footsteps. He heard his bullet ricochet off one of the many boulders below. The footsteps retreated back down the hill and went silent. The gunman now knew he had a sidearm, and was smart enough to quickly get back out of range. Russ probably had the advantage with the revolver in the rocks, but the other guy might have a small weapon, too. If this was the hit man he might as well face the music at close quarters now rather than out in the open against a rifle later, so he slowly crept down the trail with his right arm outstretched pointing the gun to the left, then to the right, and then back to the left again. A shadow with a long stick moved slowly across the top of a rock ahead of him. He quickly swung the gun upward accidentally discharging the thing. Now the shadow was racing by him up the rocks to the top, so Russ turned around and raced up the path taking a shot at the guy when he scrambled over the top of the rocks. He got to the top just in time to hear a tremendous boom with an instantaneous whine just to his left. He fired blindly in the direction of the boom then lay down in the path listening for any revealing noises from below. Hearing nothing, he slowly rose and viewed from the top of the boulders back down the hill towards the field. He edged his way back down the path towards the field wishing he could avoid the faint sound of his hiking boots making contact with the small rocks in the passageway. Another boom was followed by a shattering noise as the round struck a boulder in front of him. Now the guy’s footsteps were charging down the path making a rapid succession of crunching sounds as boots rebounded from the narrow trail. Russ jumped up and headed down in pursuit just in time to hear a series of swishing noises the killer made while running across the field. He arrived at the bottom and saw a figure half way across the field running towards the other side. The guy was way out of range, and there was no way Russ was going to go up against that rifle out in the open. He just watched until the runner disappeared in the woods

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beyond the field. Hopefully, the guy wouldn’t accidentally come across the pack he had left in the woods. Instead of going back up through the boulders, Russ decided to go around them down to the lake and find out who was there. It definitely was not a good time to go back and get his pack with the possibility his assailant was still in the woods beyond. He began rounding the hill of boulders to the right and grabbed at any small sapling that was reachable to steady him as he headed steeply downhill. He bounded out on the road at the bottom looking over towards the car at the end of the lot. He cut across the beach directly towards the car hoping that the gunman had not returned to his original perch up on the top of the mountain. As he approached the vehicle he saw that it was the one he was in the previous day. There was a bullet hole on the driver’s side of the car, and the door on the passenger side was open on the other side, which probably meant that the driver had to use it to make a fast exit into the woods. He walked down the road into the woods along the lake wondering if Glenda was the driver, but she should have easily reached the north gate yesterday afternoon and been long gone. After he had walked about a half mile the lake appeared at the left of the road, so he turned into the woods and made his way back towards the beach along the edge of the woods by the lake. The guy was shooting in this direction so somebody should still be around, unless they had continued up the road to the parkway. He walked along a small winding woods path while catching the color of the trees above him as reflections in the quiet water at the edge of the lake. He walked by several individual tenting or trailer areas that would be full right now if the park were open. A branch snapped behind him and he grabbed his gun and whirled around! “Russ, it’s me!” blurted out Glenda, who was coming out of the dense woods with her arms extended straight out, palms of her hands facing him with fingers spread. “Glenda. You should be at a police station right now! Why are you still here?” “I overheard a call on the scanner that clued me in that some rangers were headed south from the north gate after you bailed out yesterday. I figured I had about fifteen minutes to turn off before I ran into them, so this was the road that showed up. I came down one of these tiny individual campground roads and spent the night in the car. I heard enough on the scanner to know there are a couple of manned park vehicles between here and the gates at points where the trail crosses the parkway. I heard a car come down the road last night to the lake, and I had to look out the windows and watch the headlights to make sure it wasn’t checking all the individual campgrounds. Fortunately, it kept going up to the lot and continued around the lake. This morning I drove around the lot hoping maybe an old forest road ran into it where I could at least get a few miles further, when someone took a shot at me. He must have a powerful scope. He even took a couple shots at me in the woods after a zinger just missed me while I was running into them. I really shouldn’t have fired off that round when I got to the woods, but I wanted whoever it was to know I had a firearm.” “You’re lucky to be alive. I ran into the guy up there,” Russ said, pointing to the adjacent ridge with its pile of rocks. “If the guy was a real pro he shouldn’t have missed you in the car if he had a scope. I got a feeling that Veach and his group have split up, and that he was the one just taking the shots. The hat looked like something he might wear, and besides the infantry wasn’t his expertise in “Nam. He was mostly involved in support.”

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“Anybody can have a bad day. I seem to be having several of them myself!” commented Glenda as she lit a cigarette and inhaled deeply probably now realizing that she might just have been closer to the end than she had thought. “Look, we have to get out of here. The rangers will be here sooner or later. We will have to go back to get my pack.” “Wouldn’t we be better off dealing with the rangers than some madman up in those mountains?” “Maybe most of them, but there could still be a few bad apples involved with Veach who would do us in. I can’t take the chance.” Glenda took a last puff on her smoke and crushed it out on a large flat rock when Russ began walking. She really didn’t want to let on how glad she was to see him. Maybe it was just because she would have been trying to explain all of this to the authorities by herself. Then it was always possible that she was afraid he might be trying to go up against an impossible situation that was even difficult for her to deal with as a professional. This place was too scary right now to be here alone. She wondered if he had any of the same feelings. They slowly climbed and clawed up the steep incline using the rubbery saplings wondering if they would grow to their adult height after pulling on them so much. Russ once again pointed out the group of rocks the sniper had been shooting from when they reached the top of the ridge. They kept to the woods around the field, and they were soon standing over the backpack much to Russ’s relief. Glenda hadn’t eaten since yesterday so Russ fired up the stove and cooked up a packet of pasta with some sort of sauce that she finished in no time. She even ate the rest of his chicken and rice dinner with the oriental sauce that he didn’t finish. Soon they were on their way because they needed to put a few miles behind them today if they planned on getting out of the park on schedule. Clearings had to be avoided which resulted in slowing them down because they needed the cover of the woods. Plodding through the woods with no trail to move along was not a lot of fun. There were unseen crevices, which could twist an ankle or even break it if you tried to go too fast. Thin green branches with thorns and ugly patches of brush were destroying the only clothes either of them had left. Wet areas had to be circumvented. Crossing points had to be found for a couple of large streams. They would have to locate more food tomorrow for the last couple of days, which would add to the delays. If they met up with this guy again and could nail him, it would be one delay that Russ wouldn’t mind. The sun looked like it was sitting on the top of a mountain across the valley when they came across a small, unmarked trail. It seemed to be going north so they had to go with it to make any time since they both had grown weary of bushwhacking. Their feet were wet, sore, and blistered. All their clothes were a mess. They were getting very tired when it began to get dark. Glenda pointed to a small grouping of evergreens along the side of a brook about fifty yards off the trail. They trudged over to the area and collapsed on a comfortable cushion of needles. Out came the last two packets of trail food that were consumed just before the last of any light faded from view. They both started thinking about sleeping arrangements at the same time. It was just a matter of who was going to bring it up while they sat there in the darkness with the temperature starting to drop. It would have been nice to have a campfire, but any sources of light that could be seen were out of the question including the flashlight.

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“Uh, we better get some sleep as we will have to head down to the parkway and see if we can come up with more food in the morning. We are out of everything,” Russ said quietly, unstrapping the sleeping bag from the pack. “Look, I know we are both going to have to use the same bag tonight. Let’s do our best to find another one in the morning.” “Maybe we can alternate. Should we take turns staying up on watch? This guy could have a night scope or any kind of heat seeking locator equipment,” he replied kidding only about the first two comments. “You know it will probably be in the mid-thirties during the night. Neither of us has much warm clothing,” she retorted not appreciating his humor. “I’ll probably be awake most of the night, anyway.” “Who’s going to get in the bag first?” “Unzip the thing, and I will. Then you get in and zip it up,” she said impatiently trying not to shiver. Glenda slipped into the bag sensing the dampness of both it and her clothes. Russ wondered how much room was going to be left for him. He was sure she would be complaining shortly since there wouldn’t be much wiggle room. She must have had her knees bent somewhere since his sock covered feet nudged her backside right after he started getting in it. The whole bag shifted when she straightened out her body trying to turn over onto her side. The back of his head ended up against the back of her neck when he finished zipping up the bag. No one was going to be able to shift during the night without seriously disturbing the other. The thing that was working the best was that the bag was warming up considerably. “I’ve got to go,” said an embarrassed voice about a half hour later. “No problem. I’m still wide awake,” Russ replied starting to slowly unzip the bag replacing the warmth that had come gradually with the instantaneous cold and dampness. She started to shiver as soon as she got out of the bag, and probably went farther away than she needed to attempting to avoid further embarrassment. He could hear the twigs snapping while she went all the way to the outside of the evergreens. Soon he heard a cold, shaking Glenda coming back, this time getting into the bag facing Russ probably taking advantage of the opportunity to shift her position. She was still shaking when Russ put his arms around her not knowing how she would react to his attempt to warm her up. She flinched at first maybe just not expecting that, but didn’t say a thing. It wasn’t too long until the warmth came back, the shivering stopped, and her breathing told him she was fast asleep. Russ was up at first light. He proceeded to the brook to fill up the canteens and reluctantly brushed his teeth with the used toothbrush in the hygiene kit. When he got back to the campsite, Glenda was sitting on the sleeping bag wearing the flannel shirt he had forgotten about and finishing a cigarette. He offered her the toothbrush. “Thanks, but I’ll wait and see what we find today,” she said trying not to look him in the eye after the previous night. She was beginning to feel like the weaker link in this duo which wasn’t what she was accustomed to. Russ had to be fifteen years older than her, and he didn’t have her physical conditioning, yet he seemed to have a fortitude that went beyond any mental toughness she had always been capable of displaying. “Why don’t you let me carry that pack for a while?”

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After adjusting the shoulder straps on the pack for her, they headed down the small trail, but soon lost it to the thickening brush. Russ checked the map and they slightly changed their direction hoping to run into a forest road that ran down to a campground about fifteen miles from the gate. He was sure someone would be there waiting for him or her or anyone else not supposed to be in the park, but they had to get some food for today, tomorrow, and maybe longer if things didn’t go as expected. The sun was now directly overhead beaming its way through the trees, removing any kind of morning dampness and chill from the previous night. When they stepped out onto the forest road, both of them checked their handguns and headed for the campground that was now just a couple miles away. “There’s a ranger car there!” announced the taller Glenda as they were walking up a slight incline towards the campground store coming into view on the left. “Give me your gun and go see if you can distract the guy long enough for me to go in and get a few things.” Russ suggested. “The worst thing he will do is try and throw you in one of those caged back seats and take you to the north gate.” “And maybe worse if he is working with Veach. I don’t like this idea.” “All right, we both go! Got any ideas-you’re the expert.” “We have to wait until dark. You come in from the road and I’ll circle around to the back of the store. First one to run across the ranger puts a gun to his head and takes him into the store, if he isn’t there already. If something doesn’t go right, one of us can bail the other out.” “Yeah, but dark is still four hours away.” “Get down!” whispered Glenda, dropping to her knees. A ranger is coming out of the store towards the car. I got a better idea.” She took off like a rocket through the trees and was soon standing in back of the store. The ranger must have been checking in, since he sat in the car for a few minutes, and then drove off slowly into what looked like the campground area. Glenda was moving around the building to stay hidden as she made her way to the front door. She could have won a shopping spree contest because she was soon out the door with a bag of something. Now she was extending those long legs to their fullest and her well conditioned body was flying up the road towards him. Everything looked good until Russ heard a familiar loud boom that shattered this late afternoon triumph. Glenda immediately dropped, and there was a momentary quiet period before everything broke loose. The ranger car came charging out of the campground and spun halfway around allowing the driver to get out between it and the storefront. He was quickly positioned laying his rifle across the roof scanning up and down the roadway. There was another boom, and the ranger car shuddered as it took a hit. Meanwhile, Glenda was ok as she had kept crawling towards Russ, and he grabbed the bag when she finally appeared over the small rise that would now give them temporary sanctuary from the two rifles. Russ quickly put on the pack and they headed back down the road away from the store. The ranger car was now noisily spinning away from the store coming directly towards them. They jumped into the woods, but the car was now stopping very close behind them, and a loud, booming voice instructed them to stop in their tracks.

Target on Hurricane Trail- Chapter 9

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Only fifteen miles to go and it is all over! Instead of two more days of bushwhacking and dealing with a killer out in the wild, Russ would be taking a half hour ride in the ranger’s car to the north gate and probably held there until the state police picked him up. This ranger was probably not involved with the compound group since the other party had just fired at him. Even if he got out of this after a lot of questioning, he would have to keep running until there was some sort of solution relating to the people chasing him. Only Rick might have the answer to that question. When in the future would they strike again? Would someone have him his gun sight while he was driving along the highway? When he turned his ignition would a loud explosion be the last thing he ever heard? Maybe he would have to buy a pistol. Just spending the rest of his life married to a weapon did not excite him. One year with that M-14 had been long enough. It would be like a prison sentence. He would always be looking behind him and constantly wondering until the inevitable end. “Drop the pack and both of you lie face down right now! Where’s the rifle?” “We don’t have a rifle,” said Russ answering the first of the multitude of questions that would probably be asked over the next few days. “Someone else took that potshot at you.” “Yeah, sure,” came the reply while the ranger scanned the immediate area. “I’ll take both of those revolvers. They’re both park police weapons. What kind of explanation do you have for that?” “Don’t say anything else, Russ. Let’s wait until we are talking to the state police with an attorney at our side.” The ranger motioned them over to his vehicle and opened the door to the back seat. After shutting the door that locked them in the caged area, he placed the pack and the bag of items that Glenda took from the store into the trunk. He then backed the vehicle down the road towards the store, where he turned around and headed for the parkway. He was just reaching for the radio to report in when they came upon a stopped SUV about 50 yards away blocking their exit. “Get this thing into reverse,” Russ yelled when the windshield suddenly exploded sending glass spraying about the entire vehicle. “What the hell!” was the only thing that was heard from the front seat as the car screeched to a halt. The engine roared, and the car lurched backwards slamming Russ and Glenda against the part of the cage fastened to the back of the front seat where they were diving for cover. There was another shot followed by a loud noise in the front of the vehicle, and they came to a stop. After an expletive uttered by the ranger, the front door opened and Russ was looking into the face of a very serious park ranger when the back door thankfully opened. “We need to get to the rear of the vehicle. Stay low.” The next round hit somewhere on the front door causing its window to shatter. They crawled out of the back seat, and stumbled quickly around to the back of the car. “You can have these back, temporarily,” said the ranger thrusting the two revolvers at them. He grabbed a box of ammunition out of his pocket and began loading his rifle. “I guess you were telling the truth back there! Sorry about that.”

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“He’s still got us outgunned,” said Glenda. “He’s got a powerhouse of a weapon from the sounds of it.” “The name’s Chad. I know who you two are although I only have a name for one of you. We got about two dozen people in the park looking for you. If we get out of this situation, you’ve got a lot of explaining to do about what’s been going on for the past few days. Obviously, more is going on here than my group realizes, based on the last fifteen minutes.” “You can blame this guy for any missing or dead rangers. He also killed my partner back at the lodge.” “Why did the two of you keep evading us? Let’s face it. You looked pretty guilty.” “Let’s discuss this later,” said Russ when another round slammed into the car. “One of us needs to get around behind this guy if we plan on living much longer.” “You’re right,” replied Chad. He suddenly stood up and fired off a round at the SUV, quickly crouching beside them again. “That was to let him know we have more firepower than just revolvers. We don’t want him charging down the road closer to us in that big vehicle.” “Cover us,” Russ said quietly as he made ready to dart into the woods while motioning Glenda to go in the opposite direction. They both took off when Chad’s weapon fired. Glenda immediately found herself entangled by brush and prickly bushes. A round whistled over her head, which was not a surprise with all the noise she must be making. Now she was descending into a small ravine that seemed to parallel the road. It was difficult to move silently with all the leaves and twigs crunching and snapping beneath her feet. At least sneakers were quieter than if she would have been wearing boots. She was glad to step on the first of a sea of many rocks that were tough on her feet, but at least wouldn’t announce where she was. There was more gunfire when shots were exchanged back on the road. The SUV now roared to life and sounded like it was heading down the road towards Chad. Her legs bounded across the rocks, but when she got near the road her ankle got caught in a crevice. She tripped somewhat twisting her ankle, and went sprawling out on the road as the SUV went by. It quickly came to a stop so she swung the revolver around and took a shot at the front door when it began to swing open. “You bitch!” came a loud yell as the door slammed. The vehicle revved up and backed towards her, its spinning wheels digging into the soft forest soil of the road. A shot rang out when it got closer. In a few more seconds the SUV would crush her, but she couldn’t push off on the twisted ankle to get off the road. Now more shots rang out, and the vehicle ran off the road just in front of her, its rear end slamming into a large tree. She fired at it when the passenger door opened on the other side of the vehicle before a figure got out and raced into the darkening woods. “You ok?” she heard Russ yell out. “What’s going on there?” Chad was yelling from down the road. “Come on over!” Russ shouted back while he helped Glenda over to the SUV for cover in case they took any fire from the woods. “Keep low and move fast. He might be in the woods off to your left.” “Let’s check this thing out,” said Chad, breathing hard while stooping beside them after sprinting over from his wrecked vehicle.

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“It’s starting to get dark. Let me keep an eye out with your rifle if yon want to get inside the SUV and nose around. This is the same SUV that has been hounding me for the past week. I think Glenda could be hurt.” “I’m ok. Just a bit of a sprained ankle. Russ is right. We need to watch out and make sure this guy doesn’t take some more shots at us. We got his vehicle and he’s out there somewhere with no supplies and possible a rifle with a night scope on it. He isn’t going to want to get stuck out here overnight!” It didn’t seem to bother Chad when he handed his rifle over to Russ. He opened the door and began to look around. He kept announcing to them the items he was finding which made them realize how lucky they were to still be alive. There were all kinds of ammunition, a shotgun, a box of what appeared to be some sort of explosive devices, a sleeping bag with an air mattress underneath, a camp stove and cooking utensils, food, and on and on. This guy was ready for just about anything. He could have set some explosive charges on the trail and blown Russ to kingdom come if he had had the chance. His nasty plans had been messed up because of the hurricane and Glenda’s entry into the picture, both of which threw off the timing of Russ’s trip. No doubt, he would be dead by now if it weren’t for the storm. Maybe they had set some traps after the storm, but he may luckily have skipped those areas. “What are we going to do with this vehicle?” asked Glenda pausing briefly while she lit a cigarette. “If we take it back to the highway and make for the north gate, we could get our ass shot off along the way. I got to believe he is heading towards the parkway hoping to get his supplies back when we head out that way. He probably figures the park vehicle won’t be going anywhere with all the rounds it took.” “Glenda’s right. I can’t call this in on my radio because it was shot up. I’ll grab the sleeping bag and some of his food. We’ll disable the vehicle and hide all this stuff in case he comes back. Our best bet will be to hike cross-country to the gate. We might be able to get there by tomorrow night, but maybe not until the next day depending on how Glenda does on that ankle. Hopefully, Mr. Veach won’t be able to track us.” “Mr. Veach?” Russ asked. “Yeah, that’s the name on the registration in the glove compartment. George Veach from Craig, Colorado. Ever hear of him?” “I served with him in Vietnam. I figured it might be him–now I know for sure. He’s involved with some drug operation back at the compound, and he probably has orders to get rid of me relating to another thing I seem to have got involved in at my last job.” Russ didn’t want to explain the last item to a government employee, and Chad didn’t ask any more questions about it. Chad went back to what was left of his vehicle, and returned with the pack along with some other supplies including another sleeping bag. Now they would have three bags to cover the sleeping arrangements. He had Glenda remove her shoe from the foot with the bad ankle. The man expertly taped it as he had probably done for many hikers in his career. He adjusted the straps on the pack after he had loaded the thing up with fifty percent more weight than Russ would ever think about carrying. Russ would be carrying a few canteens of water, his revolver, and two sleeping bags. Glenda would have enough of a battle carrying a revolver and herself on the bad ankle. Chad had already pulled the wiring on the SUV and had hidden just about everything else in it back in the woods. “I think we need to get a mile away from here before we set up camp,” said Chad.

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“Absolutely!” agreed Russ, wondering if they were being watched right now by Veach or whoever had been driving the SUV. The ranger led the way as they stepped into the moonlit woods. Glenda stayed in the middle and Russ brought up the rear. It was soon apparent that Chad knew his way around since they only spent a minimum amount of time in thick brush and more time on small trails and woodland roads. Their pace was slow and steady, which was all that a noncomplaining Glenda would be able to handle. Russ soon began to forget about their assailant while he viewed the soft forest features made visible to him by the white nocturnal globe in the sky. The beautiful environment began to trick him into believing that nothing bad could happen out here. Veach surely wouldn’t go up against the three of them with no supply vehicle to back him up. Then again, maybe he had a backup stash of supplies nearby or a couple other of his men in the area. Oops, the store! They had forgotten about the store. He could have gone back to the store and resupplied. However, they had no choice but to leave the area. They couldn’t have taken the chance going back to the store because someone could be waiting for them there. This was the best thing to do. “I think we’ve gone far enough,” said Chad quietly pointing to a small pathway to the right. “There is a lake over here we can camp by. There is a small shelter there that is large enough for the three of us.” “Hopefully, my ankle will feel better tomorrow,” said Glenda even though she knew it would probably feel worse at first until she walked on it for a while. “Chad, are you sure we shouldn’t stay hidden in the woods rather than in the open by a lake?” said Russ when he saw the reflection of the body of water ahead. “If the guy had any night vision goggles we have a better chance to see him if we are more out in the open, especially with this moonlight.” “What makes you think he has that type of equipment?” asked Russ who hadn’t discussed this probability with anyone. “He had to have them because of what happened in the lodge. He had a clear advantage over Chuck and Amy based on our investigation. They knew the place better than the killer. That guy seemed to know what room Chuck went into and got there pretty quick. Chuck couldn’t get back into the hallway and exit the building because the gunman would have fired at him as soon as he stuck his nose out the door. He didn’t even have enough time to get out the window. Poor Amy froze in the kitchen. She wasn’t trained or experienced in that sort of thing. The guy shot her in cold blood.” Russ didn’t say a thing about Amy being involved with the drugs or any suspicions he had related to Chuck. He figured they just weren’t needed anymore. Why bother saying anything that would take away any death benefits their survivors might be entitled to? “Why didn’t he see me while I was in the dining room if he had night vision goggles?” “You were just lucky, that’s all. Chuck heading down the far hallway probably distracted him. If you hadn’t got out of there he would have seen you when he came back. Chuck and Amy were good people. Amy had just completed her on-year training period, and then this has to happen. It’s really sad.” “Did you know the other two rangers very well that were shot?” “Two? I only know about one! Tommy was found dead in the southern region of the park about 5 days ago. Did you see another one?”

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“Glenda and I found one yesterday dead in his vehicle at a trail crossing. We needed the vehicle so we hid him at the side of the road. Now it is sitting at a lake south of here with a good-sized campground area. Sorry about leaving him there like that, but I was hoping that Glenda could have made it to the gate. This isn’t her fight.” “It is now! I’ve been shot at too much. I agree with you Russ. We need to take care of this situation before we leave the park. We could have the upper-hand now-at least during the day.” “Hey you two, I’m in charge here. We’ll make our way to the north gate, and the rangers and state police will come back and search for Veach. You two can help best by explaining why this Veach fellow is after Russ, and why Glenda is in the park in the first place. Both of you aren’t exactly in the clear with this lodge incident, either. Let’s eat now and then get some shuteye.” “Shouldn’t we take watches during the night to make sure anyone doesn’t show up?” asked Glenda. “That would probably be a good idea. We could do a two hour on and four hour off. Whoever gets the third shift just goes one time since it’s about eight now. It’ll be nine by the time we’re done with supper so that’ll cover us until morning,” Russ replied. The shimmering lake appeared through the trees reflecting the large disc of the moon at its far end. A pathway of white light came across the lake that met the trail when it reached the water. It almost looked like you could just step onto the lake and keep going. They turned left and walked along the water’s edge listening to the occasional splashing of a fish or frog penetrating the surface. Soon they reached a tiny clearing that had a small, dilapidated three-sided shelter set up against the woods with the open side overlooking the lake. The metal corrugated roof had a few holes in it, but all they needed was something to keep the dampness of the night air from settling on their sleeping bags. The floor was mostly dirt and pine needles, and the thin plywood walls were supported by what looked like leftover studs of all sizes from other projects. Chad set the pack down outside the structure and lit a candle that was in an old brass holder on the floor. “We use this from time to time when we check out the general area for fire risk, conduct environmental tests, and do a few other things we like to keep tabs on. This place is off the beaten track so it takes a special permit to camp here.” “I’ll get the stove going,” said Russ. “Probably should get supper over with and not burn that candle too long. I am even concerned about using the stove.” “We should be ok. You could only see the light from the other side of the lake, and even if Veach came this way, he couldn’t have gotten this far yet.” Russ placed the stove on a table of sorts in front of the shelter and fired it up. The moon had now disappeared, but the sky was illuminated with stars most of which duplicated themselves as they reflected off the quiet lake. There was a stream emptying into the lake that ran by the shelter on the opposite side from the way they had come. Its gurgling sound along with the glow of the candle from the shelter provided his senses with just enough information to get to it and fill his cooking pot with water. Between the items Glenda had taken from the store and the other items Chad had brought along, he cooked up a batch of rice and chicken that went good supplemented with half a loaf of bread. There were even some individual packets of margarine, peanut butter, and jam to use. He discovered three bags of hot chocolate after making a return trip to the stream to get more water for cleaning

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the cooking utensils. They stood around the table eating and talking while the water heated for the chocolate. “I’m sure glad you brought that bread. It’s a nice change from canned and freeze-dried stuff,” commented Russ while pouring the hot water into cups with the powdery cocoa mix at the bottom of each. He then stirred them before offering the steaming brew to the others. “I’d sure like to talk with both of you more about this situation, but I need to get some sleep. Tomorrow will be a long day. I think we will be spending one more night out here before we get to the gate.” “You guys hit the sack,” said Glenda after she had gulped down her chocolate. “I’ll take the first watch and Russ can take the second. That way Chad will only have to take the single watch if the middle of the night. He’s carrying the most weight and also needs to be the most alert.” Chad and Russ didn’t need too much persuasion on that idea. The utensils and dishes were cleaned up, sleeping bags unrolled, and the candle snuffed out. The two tired men crawled into their bags. Their feet were in the direction of the opening, and in case of a rude awakening during the night placed their weapons at their sides. Russ took a last look into the blackness, listening to Glenda’s footsteps going in the direction of the lake. The sound of the stream beside the shelter splashing against a few of the small rocks that tried unsuccessfully to keep it from reaching the lake soothed his mind. He was soon asleep. “Russ, wake up,” whispered Glenda, gently tapping him on the shoulder. “Must be that time,” replied Russ. He never had a problem with being instantly alert when awakened. “Pretty quiet shift, huh?” “I just kept looking into the darkness and listening. It clouded up so you can’t see much. You could probably hear anyone coming from a mile away it’s so quiet. I’ve been walking some to keep my ankle limbered up.” She crawled into her bag after giving him the light jacket that Chad had brought along. They had just enough extra clothing to share between the three of them for the cool fall night. They were fortunate that the weather had been fairly normal for this time of year. If any sort of cold front had moved in over the last few days, it would have been trouble. He walked down the path through the small clearing to the lake, which was about all he could see in the darkness. In a way he hoped he would hear the snap of a twig, and be able to deal with Veach right now. He knew Veach had a grudge against him because of ‘Nam, but maybe life hadn’t been good to him because of that. It seemed to him that there was something more to all of this than just Veach and what he had overheard at the LPN meeting. Someone was going to a lot of trouble, risk, and expense to get him. He had to find out the answer to this before he got to the north gate. This would not be any easy goal since they would be there in 36 hours at the latest. The two hours of the shift went by quickly aided by his thoughts. He tucked the revolver in his pants and walked back to the shelter to wake Chad at 1 A.M. It was a simple task to get him up, and sleep rapidly overcame Russ after he zipped up his bag. He found himself in the world of pleasant dreams of wife and family. He awoke briefly realizing he missed the fun times and the feeling of being needed and depended upon. There was that certain responsibility that was important to him then, but like being on guard, he didn’t mind letting go when his time of vigilance was finished. His next round of dreams was not as pleasant. The truck he and Larry were riding in was being shot at and pulled over by a jeep that came up on them rapidly on the road between AnKe and

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Quinhon. The jeep pulled along side of them, and he was looking at the hiker he had met entering the park a week ago driving it. An older version of Veach was sitting on the passenger side motioning them to pull over onto the narrow shoulder of the newly paved road. After they pulled over, he looked at an older Larry who had a revolver pointed in his face. He woke up in a sweat thinking how dumb dreams can be when you’re under stress. He pushed the button on his watch, and the position of the hands said it was 3:30 A.M. It was pitch black outside. He could hear Glenda’s quiet breathing a few feet over on his right. He slowly moved his right hand and grasped the revolver in his bag. He turned the safety off, and slowly moved the weapon across his chest in an arc until it was next to his chin. Something was wrong! Chad should be in the shelter, not Glenda!

Target on Hurricane Trail – Chapter 10

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He looked forward into the darkness trying his best not to move his head higher. The woods were deadly silent. Waking Glenda was not an option right now. He began to unzip his bag ever so slowly, wishing the fastener were plastic rather than a durable noisier metal type. His best Army physical training skill was the low crawl, which was exactly what he started to do after rolling over on his stomach. He crawled across the dirt floor through the front opening and then along the outside of the shelter into the woods behind it. He rose to his hands and knees, and slowly made his way towards the lake along the edge of the woods. The only way he could tell he was at their edge was by the faint shadows of the trees on his right side with the utter blackness of the clearing as a background. His only chance was to stay low if someone was using any night vision equipment. He saw a flashlight go on and then quickly off through the trees to his left down by the lake. Chad would not have risked giving away their location by using his light out in the open. Russ stopped for a moment, but could only hear the tops of the pine trees above him moving ever so slightly from a gentle breeze coming off the lake. It seemed like it took forever to cover the distance to the lake, but he now found himself at the pathway running along the water’s edge. Deciding to go to the spot where he saw the flashlight, he got to his feet keeping his back bent low. The water was lapping at the shore, which seemed to be covering any noise from his footsteps. He could see a little better along the shore, but it was still mostly the shadows of brush and trees that were visible. It was when he rounded a bend where the trail conformed to a small inlet that he saw a pair of boots coming into view a few yards ahead. He looked at the body dressed in the ranger uniform lying face down. It was Chad’s body lying along the length of the path, his arms extending outward from his sides. There was not enough light to see signs of any wounds, but it sure looked like he was dead. Obviously, this was the origin of the light he had viewed a few minutes ago from the woods. He felt around hoping he would get lucky and find the rifle. Having no success, he figured he better get back into the woods and return to the shelter the same way he had come. “Ok Chad, I’m getting up,” said a sleepy Glenda. “You don’t have to poke so hard!” “Just stay in the bag for now,” said an unfamiliar voice coming from a shadowy figure standing above her. “Where’s the other guy?” “You mean the ranger?” “No, the older guy.” “What older guy?” “Don’t play games with me! I know there are three of you, and I already took care of the ranger,” the voice said again, poking her harder with what was probably the barrel of a rifle. “Stop wiggling around and get your arms out of the bag.” “Ok, Ok!” was all Glenda could say as she extended here arms out of the bag after vainly feeling for the revolver she knew was in there somewhere. She was aggravated with herself for being caught unprepared like this. “Get out of the bag, but keep your arms extended. You have a weapon in there?” Glenda said nothing as she wiggled out of the bag by pushing the end of it away with her feet. She began to shiver in the cool night air when the gunman ordered her over towards the side of the shelter. He shook the bag and the revolver fell out noiselessly dropping on the soft dirt floor. The gunman swore and shoved her hard against the wall.

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His shadowy face was now close up to hers, and she soon felt the cold steel of the rifle barrel against her neck. She suddenly felt his hand on her waist. That was a bad move on his part! Knowing he now only had one hand on the rifle, she grabbed at the barrel with one hand pushing the firearm away from her, and gave him a hard kick to the groin area with her right shoeless foot. The rifle exploded while they both struggled for control of it, Glenda’s left hand near the top of the barrel. The gunman was now moving his other hand about halfway up the barrel to aid his other hand that was wrapped around the trigger area. She instantly swung out with her right fist into his stomach following that with another right kick to the groin. He yelled out in pain, and she was able to yank the rifle out of his hand sending it crashing against the wall. She felt a crushing blow into her left side when he felt his right arm free to swing out. His left hand lunged for her throat, but settled for grabbing her shirt collar as she backed away. He settled for ripping the buttons off her shirt down the front when he fell back after Glenda gave him an elbow to the face. Now the two were looking at each other’s shadowy figures at a distance of two yards while they contemplated what to do next. Glenda made a move for where she thought the rifle might be as the gunman lunged at her. He hit the wall when she ducked going for the rifle, giving her enough time to grab it and swing the butt of it across his waist when he quickly moved back towards her. He doubled up and when she swung again at his head, he dropped to his knees and slumped forward. Russ was about halfway back to the shelter when he heard the loud gunshot followed by all the commotion. He stood up and began making his way directly across the clearing towards all the noise with the revolver pointing straight ahead of him. He could now just make out the outline of the structure when the fighting stopped. He dropped to the ground still pointing the revolver straight ahead as he heard someone now moving about in the shelter. What was he going to do now? Can’t shoot when Glenda is in there! A match was now being lit, and the flickering light of the candle soon illuminated the shelter. Glenda was standing there with the candle holder looking at a body slumped down on the floor. “Glenda, are you all right?” was all he could manage to say. “Where have you been?” replied a startled Glenda turning towards him not realizing he had been there. “Sorry, I woke up and went to check up on Chad when I looked at the time and realized he hadn’t come back yet. I couldn’t wake you up because you may have talked or made some movement to attract attention.” “I guess you did the right thing. We’re still alive.” “What did you do to this guy? Is he still alive?” said Russ stepping into the shelter trying not to notice she was standing there dressed in her partly torn slacks and a bra. He sure wished he could have seen her in action. “Let’s turn him over,” said Glenda, forgetting about her appearance and the cold. She had no problem rolling the body over on her own. “He put up a good fight for an older guy.” “He looks about my age,” said Russ looking at a balding, tall man of about Glenda’s height. He looked like he had been in better shape in his younger years because there seemed to be a bit of extra weight on his well-built frame. He had a large gash on his forehead that was still bleeding, so Russ found a piece of gauze in Chad’s first aid kit and crudely taped it. He had a hunter’s camouflaged suit on.

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“Hey, I’ve seen this guy around the compound. He was in Veach’s security group. His name is John Bradford according to his ID,” said Glenda after she looked in his wallet. “How many guys worked with Veach at the compound? If there were three of them I’m pretty sure who the third one is,” said Russ while he looked at Bradford realizing he would have never recognized him. Most people change quite a bit over four decades. “Yeah, there were three. The third guy was mostly involved with supplies-pretty knowledgeable. You know this guy?” “Yeah, he was a lieutenant involved in the drug operation over in ‘Nam that we busted. Looks like they got back together after their service days. Still, someone else has to be involved here. I don’t think any of the three guys I knew forty years ago would be smart enough to coordinate all of this.” Bradford was beginning to stir. “Glenda, aren’t you getting cold? Use the extra shirt.” “Ok. I don’t want this guy staring at me,” she said while lighting a cigarette with the candle. She grabbed the extra shirt hanging on the rear wall. “Oh, man. What hit me?” Bradford said groggily, putting his hand up to his forehead. He slowly sat up noticing the revolver that Russ had trained on him. “What did you do to the ranger?” “I hit him from behind when he walked by me down at the lake. It was so dark he didn’t see me behind a tree. He should come around in a while.” “You’re lying. I was there and he looked dead to me. You probably strangled him. What are you up to?” “I’m not answering any more questions.” “I wouldn’t bet on that,” said Glenda, placing her revolver against Bradford’s head while blowing smoke in his face. “I’m not as nice as this guy, especially after what you tried to do to me.” “Were you ever in Vietnam? I remember a 2nd lieutenant by the name if Bradford in the th 4 Infantry at Pleiku.” “Yeah, that was me. What’s it to you? That was a long time ago.” “You, Veach, and Lancaster got busted dealing drugs over there. I got involved only because an officer named Larry Roberts needed some help.” Bradford seemed a bit startled by what Russ seemed to know about everything. “How did all of you get back together and who is calling the shots here? Why are you after me?” “I don’t know. I just take my orders from Veach,” he admitted helped by Glenda waving the gun in his face. “He called me a few years back and we’ve done a few jobs together. We’ve been working at the compound since before it opened.” “It’s starting to get light,” Glenda said interrupting the interrogation. “We’re going to have to take him with us and go on. Without Chad it will probably take until late tomorrow to get to the gate area.” “Also, without Chad it is going to be our word against his,” said Russ softly to Glenda making sure Bradford could not hear. “We need to avoid the gate and hope Rick is able to take care of us. If we end up in police custody, I might be a sitting duck for Veach.” Russ went down to the lake while Glenda kept a watch on Bradford. Chad was still lying in the same spot, but now he could see the red area around the dead ranger’s neck. He couldn’t find the rifle, but he did take his light jacket and boots hoping they might work

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for Glenda. He pulled the ranger away from the lake and propped his limp body against a tree. It was beginning to bother him that all these people were dead because of him. There must be some serious money involved based on all the effort to get rid of him. He hurriedly made his way back to the shelter, and they began packing for the day’s journey. Russ looked at a map Chad had been using, and it looked like the gate was about ten miles away in a direct line to the northwest. It appeared as if there was a series of forest roads that might add about five more miles to the trip but would still be better than going crosscountry over a couple of mountains. He still hoped they would run into Veach. They needed to take care of him and find out who was in charge. They were disappointed that Bradford didn’t have any night vision equipment on him. He wasn’t about to give them any information on where he left his pack.” “Russ, I’ll take his rifle. How about we let him cart the pack?” “Excellent idea! With the exception of that knock on his head, he looks in good enough shape to carry the thing. I’ll carry two sleeping bags and a couple of the canteens.” They left the shelter by the same route they had come in the previous night. Russ took the lead, taking the compass out from time to time checking their direction. Bradford reluctantly took the pack knowing there wasn’t much of a choice when Glenda nudged his back with the rifle a few times. He figured the tough looking woman would shoot him in an instant. She would tap the pack from time to time with the rifle barrel as they hiked along to give him the incentive to keep going. Fortunately, the storm hadn’t hit the northern region of the park as hard as the other sections, so blowdowns had been showing up less and less since they had left the lodge. They had pretty well disappeared at this point, which was a good thing with Glenda’s ankle and trying to keep an eye on Bradford. It was a cool, foggy morning so Russ was wearing the extra shirt, and Glenda almost looked like a ranger with Chad’s jacket on. “You look kind of worried, fella,” said Russ, turning to look at Bradford when they had finally stopped to take a quick break. “Why shouldn’t I be?” I’m either gonna be handed over to the cops or this woman is going to shoot me.” “Are you sure you’re not more worried that one of your friends out here won’t take a shot at us and end up hitting you? You’re probably not of much value to them now.” Bradford didn’t answer, but Russ caught him constantly looking left and right while they walked along during the entire morning. He had to assume Veach knew where they were since Bradford could have contacted him last night. The quiet roadways were in pretty good shape with the exception of the long stretches of wet, muddy areas that were waiting for them when the road concaved in spots. Usually, it was necessary to walk haphazardly on its high shoulder area or take your chances going into the woods to get around the muck. The wind began to pick up, which hustled the fog away, and the sun was soon illuminating the forest colors. It broke the monotony of the forced march to watch the colorful leaves raining down in front of them. Once in a while Glenda’s ankle forced them to slow the pace even though Chad’s boots were giving her more support than the sneakers she had been suffering with. The sun was directly overhead when they paused for a lunch break. “What do we have for lunch?” asked Glenda as she sat down on a large rock keeping the rifle pointing in Bradford’s direction.

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“We better just go with something fast until supper,” answered Russ looking through the pack. “If I remember correctly there is a sack of trail mix along with snack packages of cheese and crackers.” “I hear something coming,” announced Glenda after unwrapping noises had ceased when they were ready to eat. “Can you hear it?” “Not yet,” replied Russ as he strained his ears while looking down a road that just ended in a wall of fall colors. “Wait a minute. Now I hear something. It sounds like a chopper. We need to get into the woods!” The pulsating of the rotors on the helicopter soon became much louder as they picked up their gear and hastily moved under a thick canopy of color provided by a group of large trees nearby. The other trees were only about 75 percent covered so it was fortunate that this oasis of solid leaves was here. The helicopter got louder and louder and now was roaring by overhead. It must have been following the narrow road looking for either Chad or us. Now it sounded like it was turning towards us again, and it soon was making its loud flapping noises again. It steadied itself overhead for a few seconds causing Russ to wonder if they were picking up their disturbances of the leafy forest road. If they had any heat seeking equipment, they were going to know they were down here. Fortunately, it soon sped off in the direction of the lake. There had to be a search on for Chad since it had been probably about 24 hours since he reported in. When the chopper scanned the shore of the lake and saw Chad’s body, it wouldn’t be too long before someone was out here following their path from the shelter. They might even come from the direction they were going since someone would probably know what trails and forest roads they might use assuming they were headed towards the north gate. “We might be able to use these roads for a few more hours, but that will be it,” said Russ. “We’ll probably have to start moving cross country around 3 P.M. There are sure to be bodies covering these series of roads within a couple of hours after they see what happened at the lake.” “I’m not sure my ankle will be able to handle it. I’m hobbling along as it is now.” “We’ll just have to slow up. It’ll be all over by tomorrow night, one way or the other. Meanwhile, let’s get as far as we can on this old logging road.” They were soon at it again, Russ in the lead, a reluctant Bradford with the pack in the middle, and Glenda walking with a limp in the rear. It was actually a nice day. Russ was wishing he were hiking just to hike. The occasional deer could be spotted, and then it would charge off into the forest showing them it’s bouncing white tail when they approached. The chipmunks were scurrying about, birds were squawking, and more leaves began to flutter down when the wind picked up. Russ pulled out the map while keeping the pace, and decided they must get off the road about a mile ahead rather than making more zigzags on these soon to be populated roads. About 15 minutes later he saw the sharp left turn coming up ahead. “Hey, man it’s too quiet,” Bradford said, making his first comment for a few hours. “Do you know something I don’t?” asked Russ, quickly stopping. He definitely wasn’t hearing anything from the woods now. “Someone could be up ahead,” commented Glenda staring down the forest road that ran slowly downhill between the rising landscapes of the two mountains on either side of them to the gap below. There was a road at the bottom of the hill that made a left turn down into the gap.

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“I think we should keep going,” said Russ, hoping that he could get some truth out of Bradford on who or what could be waiting for them. “I’m not going anywhere. You can shoot me right here.” “Who is it, Bradford?” said an aggravated Russ whirling around and dropping to his knees pointing the revolver at him. “You’re better off dealing with us than them.” If he hadn’t dropped to his knees the round would have hit him rather than Bradford. He heard the shot and instantaneously saw a hole being bored through Bradford’s camouflaged shirt into his chest. The force of the shot tossed his body right back against Glenda who was behind him. Glenda pushed him off and began firing in the direction of the gunshot. He could see some movement near some rocks down the road ahead of them. He heard another shot followed by a line of dirt and stones being kicked up in an area directly in front of them. Glenda was now moving down the road firing into the rocks. Russ decided he needed to get the pack, and was in the process when he heard Bradford’s barely audible voice. “Veach, Lancaster. Veach wants you so bad I knew he wouldn’t pass up a shot even with me in the middle. From what Lancaster told me, some right-winged Fed person wants you dead for some reason. What you know about the drug operation is secondary to the powers that be. We just wanted payback for screwing up our lives and for the time we spent in military prison. We didn’t really care why the hit was out on you. I think Veach has it in for you the most of the three of us. We just take our orders from the guy who runs the compound. I wouldn’t trust your girlfriend here because-“. Bradford’s eyes rolled and he was gone. Russ dragged the pack over to the side of the road. He heard some distant ATV’s so he quickly turned around and put the pack on. He then grabbed one of the two sleeping bags and the canteens. He looked at the rocks before he headed down the edge of the road to Glenda’s position. He was soon kneeling besides her looking towards the rocks and pointing down the road behind him. “ATV’s. We gotta go.” Glenda fired once more into the rocks as they crossed the road and went into the forest. The two of them rushed down a small wooded hill listening to the noisily approaching ATV’s behind them. They crossed the road in the gap that they would have turned onto if they hadn’t had to go cross-country. They plunged into the woods again, trying to get out of sight before the vehicles got to the intersection and turned down their way. Now there was the sound of gunshots behind them. Hopefully, someone was shooting at whoever had been shooting at them from those rocks. Maybe it was Lancaster since it would have been difficult for Veach to trail them this far over. It was always possible that Lancaster and Bradford had been out together looking for him, while Veach had been by himself. He slowed down and waited for Glenda to catch up. She must really be hurting, but she struggled up the hill valiantly toward him. The hill was beginning to turn into a mountain, but a sparsely used trail that began to switchback aided them in getting to the top. It would have been nice to take a normal rest during that ascent because Russ was soon gasping for breath. The pack was digging into his shoulders since he didn’t have an opportunity to adjust it from where Bradford had it. He paused and looked behind him watching Glenda about 25 yards behind, stepping ever so lightly when it was the bad ankle’s turn to traverse the rocky path. Finally, the trail began to level out and they walked out of the forest into a pasture of tall grass intermixed with short, stubby trees. He headed over to one of them,

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leaned the pack against the trunk, and lay down in the tall grass letting his tired body absorb the warm sun. Glenda was soon in the same position a few yards away. “Russ, this feels so good!” she exclaimed while she took off what was now her boots. She unwound the tape from her swollen ankle and elevated it on a rock. “We can get near to the north gate by following this ridge. If we can make a few more miles before we camp, it’s possible we could make it by tomorrow afternoon,” said Russ while he studied the map held towards the sky casting a shadow on his face. “We need to rest for an hour and get some food into us. That was a tough haul!” “My clothes are all ripped and I need a shower. One more day of this will be enough for me.” She sat up and crumpled the empty cigarette pack after pulling out the last one. “_And, I’m now out of cigarettes.” They lay there for about a half hour watching the puffy clouds move across the sky, which was the only clue they had that the world hadn’t stopped like they had. Russ got up and lightly walked over to the pack under the tree in his stocking feet. He heated some water and soon they were consuming a couple bowls of noodles with some tasty red sauce that Chad had in the pack. Their supplies were beginning to get low which was ok if the trip ended tomorrow. There was enough drinking water for today, and hopefully they would see more in the gap they would be going through in the morning. Russ found a couple pairs of clean socks in the pack, so he spent the next fifteen minutes rubbing his bare feet as a prelude for putting on a new pair. Glenda taped up her ankle just enough to get her through a couple more hours until darkness. She put her boots back on followed by the sleeping bag she had been carrying, and slung the rifle over her shoulder. Russ threw their garbage and dirty socks into a nearby hole covering it with grass and branches. The dirty dishes and utensils were put back in the pack and would be cleaned when they reached a water source. The sun was disappearing over the neighboring mountain range by the time they got going. Heavy clouds were coming in lower and the wind began picking up. The altitude was about 4,000 feet according to the map, which meant that they could be in for a cold, wet night if any rain moved into the area. It was twilight when the tall grass of the pasture gave way to a field of rocks. They struggled over the rocks, which seemed to know the best places to jab into the soles of their boots to inflict the maximum amount of pain. The ridge began to narrow until all that was left was a solid, high rock with a narrow edge along its side for walking. The open, rocky field was now going downward to the left. It was starting to get dark when they reached the woods about a mile away from the gap ahead. Hearing some faint engine noises, they looked down into the valley far below and could see a series of lights moving along which probably were the ATVs heading back to the north gate. Hopefully, they may have found whoever had shot Bradford back there, but he doubted it. The wind was blowing harder now so they were glad to get out of the open and enter the protection the woods provided. The sky was beginning to flash with lightning, which illuminated the woods giving them some help while they looked for a campsite. A dense batch of evergreens lit up ahead, and they were soon beneath them inside their sleeping bags. Chad had the foresight to include some thin plastic sheeting that they had wrapped the bags with before getting in. Not as good as a tent, but it would have been a long night with wet bags.

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“Guess we can’t have good weather every night. I was hoping we could avoid the wet on our last night out, especially since we don’t have a tent,” said Russ while he watched the light show followed by booms of thunder. “I’m just wondering what sort of chance we have finding our pickup tomorrow with all the company we seem to have. They have to know we are up here so they’ll be waiting for us in the gap ahead. There could be a group of rangers camped there now.” “You’re probably right. I’ll check the map again in the morning. We better get some-“ “Russ, I just saw something out in the rock field!” He got up out of his bag and crawled under the low evergreens to the edge of the woods waiting for the lightning to make day out of night. He could see a light slowly moving up the steep rock field they had seen earlier while they walked along the ridge. Soon the light disappeared. Certainly it couldn’t be any rangers since they would have come along the ridge like they had done. It had to either be Veach or Lancaster trying to stay away from the rangers. The sky suddenly lit up revealing a lone figure about 200 yards diagonally below coming slowly towards him. Glenda was behind him pointing the rifle into the darkness towards the area where the figure last appeared. A large purplish bolt of lightning lit up the entire valley followed by a tremendous clap of thunder causing Russ to immediately crouch lower so he wouldn’t be seen. “I got a pretty good view of him in the scope. I’ve seen him around the compound. Not sure who he is, though.” “Let me take a look,” said Russ as the wind began to blow harder causing showers of leaves to fall behind them. “Shine the flashlight on the guy when he gets close.” He shouldered the rifle waiting for the next bolt of lightning. Large intermittent drops of rain began to pelt their faces. Russ wiped the scope with his handkerchief praying that the next bolt would come soon. Otherwise, they would just have to use a flashlight when they heard the figure approaching the woods. It began to rain harder, and he realized the fiery show might be done for the night. Soon there was the faint crunching noise of footsteps. The figure was only 50 yards from them now. Russ adjusted the rifle to the rapidly approaching steps as the man no doubt wanted to get out of the open before the full brunt of the storm hit. Now he was just to the left of them ready to enter the woods. Why hadn’t Glenda hit the light yet? He heard the crunching of leaves, the snapping of small tress, and heavy breathing about ten yards to his left. A beam of light shot out revealing someone with a large pack and a rifle slung over his shoulder. “Hold it right there!” said Russ in a loud voice keeping a close eye on the hand movements of the figure that had stopped immediately upon command. “Russ, it’s me!” “Rick?” “Yeah, man. The one and only.” “Hey, am I glad to see you!” Russ exclaimed as he lowered the rifle. “Glenda, douse the light. How’d you find us?” “Questions later. Let’s get this tent set up before this storm gets any worse. I have a small penlight we can use rather than your light.” Glenda took the penlight and led the way back to the campsite. Rick had the large tent set up in no time, and motioned them to put their bags inside. He pulled out a heavy sheet of plastic, and with Russ’s help got it over the tent and weighted down in spite of the wind’s efforts to blow it away. He took the penlight from Glenda and told them to get

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inside while he went back out of the woods to collect some rocks to weight down the plastic sheeting better than they had it. Russ wrapped both packs with the thin plastic sheeting they had been using around their bags, and hopped into the tent just as Glenda was zipping up her bag. Rick soon came back and they heard him outside putting more weight on the plastic sheet that seemed as it might soon blow away. He was soon gone again, probably to get more rocks because it was still flapping in the heavy wind. The rain was now beginning to come in torrents when Rick crawled into the tent with one last rock. He turned around so his head was sticking outside, and shoved the final section of the plastic sheet under the tent while placing the rock in the corner of the tent floor to weight it all down. He was shivering somewhat while he was crawling into his bag, and everything went black when he turned off the small light. “You two dry enough?” he quipped. “You would have looked like you were stretch wrapped by morning with that thin plastic sheeting on your bags out in the storm.” “You won’t get a complaint from me,” said Glenda wondering how waterproof the tent was if the plastic sheeting crackling above them ripped under the force of the howling storm. “Rick, how the heck did you find us?” “It wasn’t too difficult. I heard the chopper and the ATVs earlier so I just headed in this direction. I was told by the head instructor at the compound to look for you by coming down from the north. The police are keeping a tight lid on the happenings here for some reason. The park is still officially closed from the hurricane and the news media doesn’t know squat. There were police cars parked at the north gate along with a chopper so I had to act dumb a couple mornings ago and ask them if it was open yet. They said it was still closed so I turned around and checked into a motel back in town. I hiked around the gate last night and started coming in this direction hoping to run into you. I jumped off the forest road below when I saw the ATVs coming back towards me and hid behind some large boulders in that huge field of rocks on the side of this mountain. I waited there wondering which way to go next when I saw you up on the ridge just before dark. I don’t think the rangers saw you, though, because they had been gone for a while. What can you tell me?” Russ filled him in the best he could as to the events of the past ten days. He was sure Rick was dying to ask Glenda a few questions because there was no way he was going to trust her. There was still more to talk about, but they cut it off knowing they had to get some sleep before morning. The wind finally began to subside, and now there was just a sprinkling noise on the plastic shell around the tent. They were all exhausted and sleep enclosed around them. He was rudely awakened by what sounded like an explosion followed by a gunshot. It sounded like the rangers were up to something in the gap. He heard Rick get up, no doubt to check things out, and decided Rick would be better off on his own so went back to sleep. He woke to the sound of Rick taking the plastic off the tent and the dripping noise of moisture from the evergreens onto the woodlands floor. He sat up when Rick had tied up his bedroll and started outside. “Rick, you heard the story last night. What do you think we should do?” “We need to get back to the motel, pick up my car and get out of here. If we get picked up we’ll be the only suspects they have. Everyone is dead who can vouch for you two, and I would be in the same boat. If Veach and Lancaster find their way out of here we’ll be the

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only culprits in town. It would look as though this whole thing was related to drug activity by the compound once the investigation got underway. And here we are, all employees of the compound! If we can get out of here we won’t have to explain anything to anybody.” It didn’t look like Rick was about to say anything that would clue Glenda in that he worked for the Fed. He surely didn’t trust the rangers or the police, so it looked like he just wanted to get them to his people. He would probably be keeping a good eye on Glenda once they got to the motel. She would need them up to that point. Surely she was now suspicious of both of them since they had shown up at the compound at the same time. “Sounds good to me,” Glenda chimed in. “No way have I wanted to be clipped inside this park as an only suspect. I could just see myself in a courtroom trying to explain all of this.” “I don’t know. How can we walk away from all of this and never see it resolved? There are a half dozen dead people since this started. Do you think whoever is behind all this will stop trying to kill me just because we get out of the park?” objected Russ. “Hey, we aren’t out of here until we get to my car so they may show up yet. Ask that question again when we are at the motel.” Russ couldn’t argue with that. They just couldn’t stand still. Twenty minutes later they were headed for the gap. He didn’t even think to ask Rick about the noise they had heard during the night.

Chapter 11 - Target on Hurricane Trail Bob Lancaster waited impatiently in the rocks along the old forest road not knowing if anybody was coming his way or not. The ATV was safely parked out of sight about a quarter mile up the road behind him. Veach had arrived at the supply trailer last night

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telling them about the latest monkey wrench in the 10-day saga of a job that should have been wrapped up in the first day. This time his excuse was that an unexpected ranger had shown up. Between Veach and Bradford he was tired of hearing about rangers, the tall broad from the compound, communication problems, and the surprising resilience of a guy in his early sixties with one year of dubious war experience over forty years ago. For pete sakes, the guy was just a 72B20 teletype operator. It should never have come to this. He was only supposed to be in charge of the supply trailer and move it to whatever campsite Bradford or Veach told him. The trailer was actually just a regular camping trailer that hitched on to his pickup. He had reserved a campsite a few miles from the lodge a couple weeks ago when Bradford said that’s what the boss wanted, and had gotten the gear together and drove down immediately. He spent a day looking like an ordinary camper, and even had dinner at the lodge that first night. It was on the next day that the rangers had come through the campground warning everyone that the park could be closing down because of a hurricane that was off the Carolina coast. The next morning they showed up again, and instructed everyone that the park would be officially closed that night so they would have to leave. Whoever planned this thing had thought of every possibility. Veach and Bradford seemed to know who was in charge, but no one was telling him. His only guess was that the guy running the compound was in charge. He had seen him a few times around the place, and probably was an older Vietnam veteran like they were. Veach and Bradford must have known him from the ‘Nam drug operation, because they were all here doing it again. Bob had waited until most of the campsites were vacant before driving out to the main road. There was an emergency backup location on the map he had with his instructions about thirty miles north of the lodge. When he got there he turned right onto a dirt road, and drove a few miles into the forest before turning down a narrow rocky road. It dead-ended in about 100 yards and he parked the trailer there. He was riding out the hurricane there when Veach and Bradford showed up in the SUV. They had to break the gate at the south end of the park to get in and said they hadn’t taken care of the target yet because of the storm. The deal was they were supposed to find Russ Steward and eliminate him on a lonely stretch of road or trail. Veach had taken a few potshots at him earlier that day, and Bradford had gotten close to him but had to turn back when the hurricane struck. The trailer was packed with all sorts of goodies. There was canned food, freeze dried items, snacks, a backpack, rifles and ammunition, an M-79 grenade launcher and rounds, night vision goggles and scopes, and a camp stove. After the storm was out of the area they got a message that the female ranger in the operation had picked up Russ and was headed towards the lodge. Veach and Bradford took off that night for the lodge, but they were back by morning explaining that Russ and Glenda had gotten away. Now Bradford was checking out various campsites they might have gone to, while Veach was covering the trail and the parkway. He had been told to watch this small roadway since this would be the way the targets would come if Bradford didn’t find them at any of the camping areas. He had been there a couple of days when he spotted the three small figures coming down the forest road. He wished he could radio Bradford or Veach, but they couldn’t take the chance that anything would be picked up by the police. All he knew was his instructions were to get rid of Stewart and anyone else with him. He made his way down into the rocks and placed his rifle on top of a large boulder taking a look through the scope.

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It was Stewart in the front with a pistol, which was not good news when he saw Bradford in the middle with Glenda pointing a rifle at him from the rear. He put his cross hairs on Stewart, but the guy moved while he squeezed off the round. Bradford lunged backwards into the compound broad, and he fell to the ground. The military broad was now zigzagging in his direction, and a shot glanced off a boulder near him before he could get off another shot. When he heard the sound of several ATVs coming in his direction, he moved back farther into the rocks as more rounds were striking close by. He could no longer see his two targets so he worked his way through a field of boulders to his hidden ATV. He had just got to it when he saw the ATVs heading down the hill towards him. He fired a few rounds in their direction and watched as they quickly slowed down and turned around. Knowing he wouldn’t stand a chance of getting away on his ATV, Lancaster shouldered his rifle after putting on the backpack he had brought, and headed into the woods towards the next gap where he figured Russ would have to show up at on the next day. They would have to go over a mountain to get there if they didn’t come this way. He correctly figured the rangers wouldn’t come this way too quickly for fear of ambush so he had time to go around the mountain. He traveled through the dense trees along the edge of the mountain arriving at the gap when darkness began to fall. He heard the ATVs coming down the road, so he crouched down as the forest began to brighten around him with their noisy engines shattering the quietness. When the noise and their lights faded away, he walked through a wood that was being illuminated again by flashes of lightning. He set up his tent about a half-mile from the gap in the densest area he could find and was asleep by the time it began raining. Lancaster’s watch alarm woke him at 4 A.M. He packed up and walked out to the forest road so he could get to the gap before dawn. The night vision equipment he had on made it all possible because he knew the rangers were just up ahead so a light was out of the question. They knew anyone heading north on foot had to come through this gap from the road or over the mountain if they weren’t using the parkway. The parkway was Veach’s problem now. He cut back into the woods when the road began dropping steeply into the gap, and quietly moved through the damp forest until he arrived at the edge of a clearing. He saw three small tents along with a couple of ATVs about 100 yards ahead of him near the other edge of the clearing. He dropped his pack and opened its top pulling out the grenade launcher. A round was inserted, the tents were sighted in, and a familiar thumping discharge noise broke the stillness of the morning when he pulled the trigger. The explosion surely awoke every living creature within a couple miles as well as echoing off the nearby mountains. Now the tents were gone and the ATVs were on their sides in ruins. He spotted a lonely figure moving low through the darkness towards the area from the road. It didn’t take too long to scope him in with his rifle, and a round was squeezed off to take care of the guard. It would get light in another hour so he took the small trail up the mountain from the clearing to pick off his two targets that had to be somewhere near there. They probably would have heard the ruckus, so his only advantage was the darkness or it would be two against one in the daylight. It still was complete darkness and the clouds from the previous evening’s storm were hiding the attempts of any heavenly body to send light to this part of the world. He spotted the tent at the edge of the woods about a half hour later, and began to go through the same procedure with the launcher that he had just completed below. He was probably the least likely of the group to get the job done, but here he was with no

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Veach or Bradford, just a squeeze away from getting the job done. He opened the chamber, inserted the round, and sighted in the target. However, instead of the thumping noise he heard a pinging type noise from a short distance away. He felt pain, turned to see a figure holding a revolver, and slumped to the ground. He never felt himself being dragged a short distance to be left in the woods to perhaps be found in the future.

Chapter 12 – Target on Hurricane Trail

Rick led the way down the small, wet, forest trail towards whatever awaited them below. It was like a huge burden had been lifted off Russ to let someone of experience take over the situation. Rick had just returned from a military conflict that certainly made him a good guy to depend on to get them out of this. They were moving at a good clip, especially since Glenda’s ankle seemed to be getting better. Rick was in the lead carrying

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a good size pack and his rifle followed by Glenda with Bradford’s rifle, a revolver, and a sleeping bag. Russ brought up the rear carrying Chad’s pack and the other revolver. Both packs had sleeping bags attached. The trail was so wet from the storm that everyone’s feet were damp by the time they reached a small clearing in about an hour from where they had camped. Rick motioned for them to stop. “Are those ATVs over there?” Glenda asked softly while looking over the open area that was sprinkled with sunlight when the clouds began to break. “Looks like they’re all tipped over,” chimed in Russ. “Is it safe to go over and take a look?” “No, we need to move along the edge of the woods around the clearing and pick up a forest road that zigzags towards the north gate. There is a trail that we can pick up in about 5 minutes off the road that goes over that last mountain. That will put us at the north edge of the park by early afternoon. All the roads and trails are probably being watched on the other side of the mountain, so when we get to the top we will have to bushwhack our way down and sneak by the north gate area. It’s going to be tricky because we will have to cross the parkway at some point. When we get by there we got a good shot at getting back to my motel. “Rick, those ATVs look like they’re busted up!” Russ exclaimed when they got closer to them while they moved cautiously around the clearing. “Sure wish we could go over and take a better look.” “No time man. We need to go,” said Rick who didn’t really want to talk about what he had to do early this morning. No sense in alarming them as to what kind of weaponry Veach might have. They soon reached the road letting Larry carefully look in case any vehicles were in sight. He waved them on and they were soon making their way down it, and like the map indicated, there was soon a trail off to the left. He motioned them that way and they went into the forest to make their way up the final mountain. The narrow, soft path soon began to give way to a rising trail with plenty of rocks and roots. Glenda was able to match Rick’s strides for short periods of time with her long legs. Russ was taking three steps for every two of theirs. Rick had to slow down from time to time so they could catch up. The trail got even steeper because there were no switchbacks like on the road they had just left that zigzagged up steep sections at a lesser grade. Rick was grabbing onto anything at the side of the trail to pull himself along. Glenda was breathing heavily, and Russ soon felt himself getting nauseous. Rick finally stopped so they could take a breather. “I don’t think we have to worry about running into anyone before we get to the top,” Russ stated with confidence. “If anyone was coming down towards us they would have rolled us over!” “We won’t have to climb the entire thing,” said Rick pulling out the map again. “We’ll take off to the left and slab the side of the mountain. We got to get off this trail anyway and start bushwhacking so might as well start now. The park road goes on to the gate from the other side of the mountain. We can walk along the edge of a big ravine ahead, and then we’ll be dropping down to the parkway along a creek. It looks like there is a bridge when the stream gets to the parkway. Maybe we can walk under the bridge as long as the water isn’t too high with the runoff from the hurricane and the last storm.”

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“I need to take a long shower and get a change of clothes when we get to the motel tonight,” said an optimistic Glenda, realizing there was finally a light at the end of the tunnel. “How far is it from you motel to town?” “Not too far. There is a Wal-Mart close to it that’s open all night. You can give me your size and I’ll pick something up for you. You and Russ will have to keep low until we leave the motel in the morning.” “You sure they have your size, Glenda,” quipped Russ. “I wouldn’t even attempt to pick out a style that you liked.” “When you get to know me a little better maybe you will figure things like that out,” she replied, smiling at him. Russ still wasn’t quite sure what that meant before he had to shift gears when the uphill trek stopped, and they began slabbing upwards along the side of the mountain through a dense forest. There was still no pathway when they reached a level area about a half-mile from the peak to the right and the deep ravine to their left. Russ couldn’t help but marvel at the beauty of the area when he looked down into the ravine. There was a waterfall gushing out of the cliff halfway up the other side of it. It tumbled down into the gorge splashing down into a cascading stream several hundred feet below. The color of the forest at the edges and the blue sky with its puffy, white clouds painted a perfect picture. Soon they began moving steeply downward along the edge of the disappearing gorge. The descent was so steep that your right leg seemed a foot shorter than your left leg and vice versa while they slowly struggled downward, grabbing on to any rock, tree, or branch that would keep them from tumbling. It was slow going, but it was still better than trying to climb anymore. It was about noon when they broke into a large meadow. They kept to the high side of it along the woods while looking at the parkway in the valley far below. To the far right of this panorama they saw the road finally make contact with the north gate. A helicopter rose into the sky below from the gate and began following the road in their direction. They stopped and Rick was soon training his binoculars on the scene. “Looks like there are about a dozen cars at the gate, and I would guess there is another chopper around beside this one. We’ll be running into the water running out of that gorge in about 20 minutes, so we’ll just follow it down to the parkway.” Just as they suspected, the stream was going to be a major event. They heard it long before they saw the foaming, wide ribbon of water sluicing down through a bed of rocks that cut its rushing way through the now sharply descending woods. Russ had hiked many miles only dreaming to see something like this! Water was rushing headlong into huge boulders that pushed it off to either side allowing it to once again try and forge a single downward path. There was splashing, spraying, crashing, gurgling, bubbling, foaming, and best of all the resulting roaring sound that found them all yelling at each other in order to be heard. The river was now the lead hiker as it directed their way towards the bridge in the valley below. In fact, it was the commander-in-chief of the expedition until they got to the motel. It was either follow its lead or go through the north gate. Downhill was tough! After an hour their knees began to ache when they tried to slow their descent as the mountain pushed them from behind. Small trees were pulled and held to get up the mountain, and now were being pushed and held as long as possible for support to get down it. They stopped for a late lunch when they came upon a large flat rock that was somewhat level.

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“We better just eat snacks,” said Russ in a loud voice while the river did its best to drown him out. He pulled out all the trail bars and mix packages that were left. He set his pack on the side of the rock and sat down heavily. “We don’t have the time to goof around cooking. “Are there any good takeout places near the motel?” Glenda yelled. “There’s got to be a Mickey D’s or something. I need some good greasy food! I need a large, icy coke.” “That stuff will kill you,” replied Rick. “I’ll bring you back something from the motel restaurant.” He bit into a cranberry trail bar and was soon lost in his thoughts. It was about 2 P.M. when they continued down towards the encounter with the highway, which was probably a couple of hours away. They had come too far to get shut down now, and there was no way that Russ could explain all of this. The authorities were sure to eventually catch up with Glenda because of her longer association with the military training compound, but no one would ever know about Russ unless they got the information from Veach, Lancaster, or Rick. Probably none of the three would say anything even if they were caught- no real incentive. LPN or whatever right-wingers were involved certainly weren’t going to give out information that a hit was out on him. All they needed to do was get to the motel and get out of the area. Maybe Rick would have some contacts so that Glenda could get a new identity or something. Then again, he couldn’t help but remember what Bradford had said about not trusting her. The terrain was starting to level out so he decided he could worry about all this later. “Let me go ahead and check the situation out,” said Rick, apparently acknowledging the fact that they were getting near the parkway. “Ok by me. I need to take a break,” said a weary Russ. He watched Rick disappear along side of what was now about a thirty-foot wide river. “Russ, how well do you know this guy?” asked Glenda looking directly at him. “Not real well, I guess,” he answered after contemplating the question. “He warned me to get out of the compound when he found out Veach told the guy in charge of the compound that I had figured out they were involved with drugs. He even told me that my employer could possibly be involved in some sort of conspiracy to get rid of me because of some confidential government item I overheard in a board room.” “It must have been pretty confidential!” “I am guessing that it relates more to some higher-up getting in trouble and losing his job or perhaps a small government radical group hired them.” “Maybe a combination of both.” “Why are you asking all this?” asked Russ beginning to wonder if she was more involved than he thought. Maybe Bradford’s warning had some merit. “I guess it’s just the detective nature in me. He seemed to show up just in time to bail us out of a bad situation. It’s almost as if it’s too good to be true. Now he takes off on his own when there might be a tricky situation ahead. Why did he take his pack with him just to check things out? You would think he would want to travel as light as possible if he was just going to come back here anyway.” “Let’s just trust him for now. He’s got the only plan for getting us out of here,” said Russ, realizing she had a lot of good points. “If he was going to turn us into the police or do anything bad to us, he’s had plenty of opportunities.” “Yeah, you’re probably right. Hopefully he isn’t going to bring the state police back from the parkway now.”

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It was about 4:30 P.M. when he heard Rick coming back towards them. He was moving quickly so they got ready to go as he got near. “The river is pretty high under the bridge, so we can take that route if we have to. I didn’t see any cars on the road, so maybe we can just cross it if it’s still clear. We better get a move on before the situation changes.” They moved quickly keeping all conversation to a minimum. The trail soon began to make its approach to the highway as they could see an open area through the woods ahead. The river was still rushing along right beside them. If they got real lucky they could cross the bridge ahead and walk along the other side of the river arriving at the motel just before dark. If someone were there for any reason, they would have to sneak under the bridge and cross the river further downstream. When they stopped at the edge of the woods, Russ realized that it was going to be option number two with a slight variation. There were a couple of problems. The first problem was that there was a ranger car parked on the bridge. The second problem, created by the first problem, was that the water was extremely high going under the bridge. “We’re gong to have to wait until dark and swim under the bridge if that car doesn’t leave,” whispered Rick. “I thought it was too good to be true when no one was here earlier.” “What about all of our stuff?” asked Russ. “Just leave it here if we have to. It’s only a mile or so to the motel.” “It’s going to be a cold trip if we have to do that,” said Glenda. “I hope the motel has a good heating system.” They went back into the woods a bit deeper and made their way down to the river. It was decided that Russ would go back to the trail and watch the roadway to see if the park vehicle left before dark. Glenda and Rick would find a good hiding place for all the gear they wouldn’t be able to take if they had to use the river for an escape route. “You’re a pretty handy guy to have around,” Glenda said after Russ headed out towards the highway. She felt a little uncomfortable being left alone with Rick, so she thought a little conversation would put her more at ease. “Hey, Russ helped me out when I got here. I’m glad to have a chance to return the favor.” “This looks like a good spot over here to stash the packs,” Glenda said when they approached a dense brush area along the river while they walked along in the direction of the highway. “Looks good to me,” he replied. “Why don’t you secure the gear while I walk a little closer to the highway to get a better perspective of what we may have to deal with.” “Sounds good,” she replied, trying to hide her enthusiasm of finally getting a peek at what was inside his mysterious pack. Glenda wasted no time opening Rick’s pack after he was out of sight. There was the usual clothing at the top, but it got a little high-tech closer to the bottom. There was a rifle night scope along with a pair of night vision goggles. This guy had come prepared; maybe a little too prepared! There was some rifle ammunition in one of the pouches in the pack, which seemed reasonable, but the two hand grenades in one of the other pouches were somewhat of a shock. She wished Russ were here to see all of this! He would probably come up with some sort of flimsy defense to justify Rick again. She started to unzip another pouch wondering if its contents could top what she had seen so far.

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“See anything of interest?” came a voice from behind her. She whirled around to see Rick standing there with his rifle at this side. “Uh, I was just looking for some food, and I was hoping you had something in your pack,” she said, keeping an eye on his hand that was holding the rifle. “No, not really,” he replied looking directly at her with eyes that seemed to be reading everything that was going through her mind. “Listen, we’ve run into a bit of luck. There’s a canoe that someone left under some brush along the shore up ahead. They must have had to leave it when the hurricane blew through and planned on picking it up later. I think we should use it and make for the motel when it gets darker. No sense in swimming and walking.” “I’ll go get Russ,” Glenda said. She at least wanted to let him know what was in that pack, even if he wasn’t going to be overly concerned about it. It also seemed too convenient that someone had left a boat in a spot exactly when and where they needed it. It didn’t take her too long to reach him at the edge of the clearing. He was crouched down still looking out at the highway where the park vehicle was still sitting. He turned around as she approached. “Russ, Rick found a canoe along side the river, so it looks like our ticket out of here.” “Wow, what a lucky break! Glad something is going right for us. I don’t think this car is going to move. There are more patrols out there as I saw another ranger drive by about ten minutes ago.” “Yeah, a lucky break alright. Almost too lucky!” “You’re still suspicious, aren’t you?” “Absolutely! I peeked into that pack of his while he was scouting around back there. He’s got night vision equipment and at least a couple of hand grenades. I’m sure he knows that I saw his equipment. Just as he came back I was putting his clothes back into the main compartment. There was another bag at the bottom of the pack that I didn’t get a chance to look in. I told him I was looking for some food.” “Hand grenades?” “Yes, and I didn’t get a chance to look through some other pockets. Who knows what other little goodies are in them.” “Ok. I’ll ask him about it when we get to the motel. There is probably a good explanation for what you’ve told me, but now is not the time to ask. Let’s get out of here first.” Russ took one more look back towards the highway, then motioned her back towards the river and fell into place behind her. Rick probably had his reasons for coming with all of the equipment. He probably was issued it when he signed up at the training center and brought it along realizing they would run into trouble trying to get by the north gate. He had to trust Rick for warning him to get away from the training center, but he was beginning to have respect for Glenda’s cerebral input. She was a survivor, and they had been through quite a bit together over the last week. Their backgrounds were like night and day, and yet they seemed to function well together after being thrown into this situation. He had to admit to himself that he was physically attracted to her as he watched her moving ahead of him down the narrow trail. The shadows were beginning to lengthen when they arrived at the spot where Rick was waiting. “Did Glenda fill you in? Leave behind what you don’t need and let’s go!”

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Russ just took a pistol and a change of clothes in a stuff bag. Glenda had her ever present rifle, some ammunition, and a few items stuffed in the pocket of the tight, ragged pants she had been wearing. If Rick had left anything behind it was not apparent since he still had his pack and rifle. It was getting darker as they walked along the quick flowing river towards the bridge. Russ saw the canoe ahead where Rick had dragged it out from where someone had attempted to hide it. He had to admit that it was a find of great convenience. There were even a couple of paddles in it. “Let’s get the stuff into it,” Rick said. “We’ll push off at dark. Everybody familiar with a canoe?” “I’ve done some canoeing,” replied Glenda. “I can handle the steering from the back until we get by the bridge. With the way the water is moving we won’t be doing much paddling!” “Don’t look at me,” Russ added. “I don’t think I could handle a rowboat!” “I’ll take the front then,” said Rick. “Glenda’s got it right on the paddling. It’s all about the steering until we get by the bridge. We should be at the motel in about an hour if everything goes ok.” They quietly put the boat in the water as darkness fell. Russ got in first while Rick held onto the front of the boat while Glenda stabilized the rear. Rick got in next allowing the front of the vessel to swing out into the water, and then Glenda got into the rear while pushing off from the shore. She used her paddle as a rudder to move away from the shore into the quick moving current. Russ couldn’t see much of anything except he knew the canoe was now being navigated downstream by the sounds of the river and the limited vision they had. The night air was cool and Russ began shivering when the river’s spray dampened his clothes as the canoe bounced in the turbulence. Soon the outline of the forest disappeared on each side, which meant they were now entering the clearing near the roadway. He could now hear water rushing against something that was no doubt the central stanchion of the bridge. They were moving quickly to the right now, and he saw a large shadow above him and a large object whisked by just to his left. Glenda was breathing heavily after obviously making a skilled maneuver to get them between the center post and right side of the bridge. Now they were steering to the left when the right shore began to sound a bit too close. The spray had soaked them all by now, but Russ was shivering the most. The others were too busily working the paddles to notice the cold. It seemed like this was going on forever when Rick finally spoke. “I see lights up ahead. That will be the motel areas so we need to beach this thing in another five minutes.” “Paddle away,” said Glenda. “I’m ready for a hot shower.” The boat slowly headed toward the right as the current slowed when the river began to widen. It began to get easier to see as the glow of the lights began to illuminate the river. Russ knew by the sound of the water they were close to shore, and it wasn’t too long before he was nudging his paddle against the shore to slow their progress. The boat swung over to the shore and Russ climbed out. He held the boat while the others got out while grabbing their gear. They pulled the canoe out of the water and hid it in some brush. They walked silently on the bank towards the lights ahead. The bank soon became a park along the river with a paved pathway and a few scattered street-lights, but fortunately no one was around. All three of them were now shaking as the temperature continued to drop. The pathway turned into a deserted parking lot that was quickly crossed. They walked behind a few

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buildings of a small business plaza along the main road and found themselves behind the motel. Rick dropped his rifle and pack and motioned them to stay there as he pulled the room key out of his pocket and headed around towards the front. A light soon switched on and a small, rear window was soon being opened. Glenda went in first as Russ held her legs while she wriggled through. Next, he passed all the gear through, and then let them pull him through the opening. He suddenly felt amazingly good as he felt the warmth of the room on his face. Glenda had already claimed the bathroom to shed the rags that were left on her. He took off all of his wet things and claimed a pair of Rick’s underwear from a drawer. He turned the heater up as high as it would go and jumped under the covers of the large double bed. It felt oh so good! The last thing he could remember before he fell asleep was Rick changing his clothes and rummaging around the room.

Chapter 13 – Target on Hurricane Trail

Russ awoke in the morning to the sun trying to make its way through the blinds on the room’s window by the front door exiting to the parking lot. He didn’t plan on sleeping the whole night through, but he sure felt a lot better even if he was still in a groggy state. He rolled over and felt the unexpected softness of flesh. Glenda was in the bed still asleep, and obviously had nothing to sleep in. He backed off instinctively figuring she had slipped into the bed after she was done in the shower. He sat up and saw some rumpled blankets on the sofa where Rick must have spent the night. He didn’t hear anything coming from the door that was ajar to the bathroom, so he assumed Rick had gone out to get some food. Hopefully, he was going to look for some clothes for Glenda since she really had nothing but ripped clothing to wear.

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He got up quietly and realized his whole body was sore and aching after this almost two-week ordeal. The hot shower was a welcome relief! It felt like many layers of dirt and dried sweat were peeling off him as he lathered up and let the steamy water do its job. He ran the shower for 15 minutes, which was twice as long as he normally would have. He finished and wiped the bathroom mirror, and was shocked to see the face that had not been shaved since he had left his pack behind days ago near the old bus. Hopefully, Rick would come back with a few things for him, too. He dried off and went back out into the room turning the television on low keeping the large bath towel around him. He didn’t particularly want to put on the filthy clothes he had been wearing for the past week. There was an inviting chair in the corner of the room facing the television set, so he sat down, wet towel an all. He flipped the remote looking for some news and weather. He stopped channel surfing when he saw Glenda’s picture on the screen! It was a local newscast, and the big story was the goings on in the park. According to the story Glenda was a ‘person of interest’ in the case, and any citizen who might spot her should call the 800 number on the screen. The body count was listed at 10 so far, which was more than Russ was aware of. There were the 2 rangers in their vehicles, Amy and Chuck at the lodge along with Glenda’s partner Marvin, Chad, and finally Bradford. That made 7. The newscast was also talking about one unidentified body being found near the gap they had just gone through along with two more rangers killed by an explosion in the gap. Maybe that’s what he had heard the other night! The entire park was supposedly sealed off, and the state police and search helicopters were involved. It was certainly no surprise they were looking for Glenda, but there was no mention of himself, Veach, or Rick except for the fact that others were believed to be involved. It was only a matter of a day or two before the search expanded out of the park, so they had to get out of here tonight. “What’s going on?” Glenda asked, obviously now awake listening to the latter part of the broadcast. “They’re looking for you just like we figured. There are 10 dead so far so there are more than the 7 that we know about. I figure they will be looking around in this area by tomorrow so we need to get out of here.” “Where’s Rick?” she asked sitting up in the bed keeping the sheets wrapped around her. “Not quite sure. He’s probably out doing a little shopping. I don’t think we will get too far with our current wardrobe. Hopefully, he will come back with something to eat. You hungry?” “Starving. I need a cigarette. Do you think there is a machine around this place anywhere?” “I don’t think we’re in a position to make a short walk to the motel lobby to find out.” “Yeah, right.” She got up with the sheet wrapped around her and headed for the bathroom. Her feminine qualities were somewhat more obvious now that hey were out of the forest setting. Her face seemed softer now, and her hair was more flowing than the matted look he had gotten used to. The door opened a few minutes later, and she came over to him and sat down on the edge of the bed. Russ was trying to watch a weather forecast, but it was difficult to concentrate on the television with her that close. He finally looked away from the screen and found his gaze locking into her’s. She let herself fall back onto the bed offering an invitation that he wasn’t quite sure how to handle. He got up and kneeled along

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the edge of the bed and leaned towards her. Her hands were suddenly pulling him closer to her. Russ quickly pulled away when he heard the door to the room being unlocked. “How’s everybody doing?” exclaimed Rick announcing himself as he opened the door and walked into the room. He plopped a few Wal-Mart plastic bags on the sofa. “I got some clothes for both of you. I got some takeout and coffee out in the car. I’ll be right back.” Glenda got up looking somewhat embarrassed. She grabbed one of the bags and looked inside it before taking it into the bathroom. Russ found some underwear and a pair of pants along with a shirt in the other bag. He was in the process of putting them on when Rick came back with the food. He tore into the bag that Rick gave him, and quickly consumed the contents washing them down with the warm coffee. It was a kingly breakfast compared to granola bars and snacks. Glenda exited the bathroom in a pair of slacks that were looser than the shredded ones she had arrived here with. Rick had picked out a blouse that didn’t look too bad with the pants. She headed towards her bag of food and attacked it with relish. “I brought these back for you,” said Rick as he tossed a pack of cigarettes and book of matches on the bed where Glenda had been sitting eating her breakfast. “I wasn’t quite sure what your brand was.” “Thanks. Any kind will do right now,” she said opening the pack and pulling one out. She lit it and inhaled deeply before returning to her coffee on the stand at the side of the bed. “How long do we have to hang around here?” “Until dark, I guess. Your picture is all over the news, and there are more police around town than usual. I’ll book the room for another night, but we will plan on leaving around 8 P.M. I don’t want to be the only car exiting the town at midnight so I’d rather leave when there is other traffic on the highway. The interstate is about 50 miles away. Once we get there we’ll be home free. I’ve got some contacts that will help you disappear, Glenda. Hope you didn’t have a life back home.” “I don’t think anyone there will miss me,” she said looking over at Russ while flicking the ashes from her cigarette into a motel ashtray. “I need to get a new life anyway.” “I’m going to the office and make arrangements for the room tonight. I’ll probably be gone for a while. I want to scope out the area. If I don’t like the looks of things, we will probably have to take a chance and leave before this evening. Keep the local channel on so we can get any news updates. Might be wise if you stay in the room too, Russ, even though no one is particularly looking for you, yet anyway.” “Sounds reasonable to me.” Rick took a peek out the front door and left. The silence of the room became deafening as Glenda sat on the bed finishing her coffee and cigarette. Russ was staring at the TV, but really wasn’t listening to it. He definitely had feelings for her, but was afraid of getting involved with someone he really knew little about. Then, again, you can get to know someone pretty quickly under adverse conditions. He felt funny about the fact he had to be 15 years older than her. Maybe they just needed to communicate a bit to see exactly what the other person was looking for, if anything. “What do you think of Rick’s offer? I bet he has the network to deliver on what he said.”

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“I hate to hide for the rest of my life, but I am in a corner. Everybody that could vouch for me is dead, except you. If they catch up with you and you knew where I was, it would just put more pressure on you. It’s probably best if I take him up on the offer.” “Is that what you really want to do?” “Yes. I need to get a fresh start. My biological clock is still ticking and I’d like to give that a chance. I’m tired of the private investigating world of deadbeats, criminals, bad family situations, and shady dealings.” “If I were 10 or 15 years younger-“ He knew it would never work with her anyway because of his two daughters. He would never be able to drop out of their lives. He would let her carry the conversation from this point. She got up and smiled at him without saying anything. She walked towards the bathroom and was still there when Rick came through the door. “We gotta go now, Russ. I didn’t book the room for another night because there are a lot of state police hanging around. I’m afraid they might decide to set up a roadblock before nightfall.” “How are we going to get Glenda out of here in the daylight?” “The trunk is the only option.” “I’m kind of claustrophobic when it comes to trunks!” “Don’t have much of a choice. You can stay here or make your way back to the river and keep following it north.” “I’ll go with the trunk. I’m not inclined to do anymore hiking, thank you.” Rick went out the door and opened the trunk. Russ looked out the blinds, and motioned Glenda to dart out and climb into the trunk as Rick gave the all clear. The trunk was quickly closed. It was decided that nothing could be left behind so that Rick could be traced to any sort of park activity. They tossed everything into the back seat and with Rick at the wheel drove across the motel parking lot and turned left onto the highway. There was a lot of traffic on the road as a lot of people were in town hoping that the park would be reopening. The police couldn’t keep it closed forever. Rick made sure he did not exceed the speed limit as they passed by a now crowded McDonalds restaurant and the busy Wal-Mart, no doubt filled with hopeful park visitors killing some time. They passed a few police cars parked at the side of the road. One of the officers standing outside his vehicle gave them a glance when they passed. It was a relief when they pulled away from the area. “You want to fill me in on who you really are before we pull Glenda out of the trunk?” Russ asked. “I don’t think you’re just recently out of the service looking for a job. You wanted to get into whatever was going on back there at the compound.” “Yeah, OK. I’m a federal drug enforcement agent. This was my first assignment and you were my ticket into the place. I knew you were an old Vietnam veteran who had some inside contacts at the compound. Figured you intended to get there sooner or later once I ran into you.” “That’s interesting! I just happened to come here to do a little hiking.” “That’s not what our intelligence group indicated to me when I contacted them after I ran into you. They said you knew the guy who was running the place along with several of the people employed there.”

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“I’ve got no idea who is running the place, but I did recognize Veach and eventually ran into Bradford. Your intelligence seemed to omit the fact that I was involved in busting this group’s drug dealings in Vietnam.” “Come on, Russ!” Rick replied. “You are even working for a company that is involved with government officials that aren’t exactly in tune with the best interests of the country.” “Hey, Rick, why on earth is everyone doing their best to kill me. You even warned me to get out of the compound. How could I be involved with these people?” “You’re absolutely right, unless you double crossed them somehow. However, I don’t think so. At this point you seem to be a victim of coincidental circumstances and some sub par intelligence. That’s just my gut feeling – haven’t reported anything to my superiors yet until I find out for sure. I’m still wondering how Glenda fits into all this. I need to get you back to DC for interrogation so you can clear yourself. It’s probably better if Glenda does a disappearing act because she knows too much about the place, and you must admit she could be involved somewhat. By the way, if anything happens to me you need to get back into the park and get the pack you left behind by the river. You’ll need what is in it so the two of you can stay out of sight for quite a while. There’s a good quantity of drug cash I slipped into it from the compound that I couldn’t bring with us. I swiped it for evidence, but won’t do any good if I’m not around to explain myself.” “Speaking of Glenda, do you think its safe enough to stop and let her out of the trunk? She probably feels like a sardine about now.” “OK, but she better lie down until we get to the interstate.” Rick checked the rearview mirror and pulled off the side of the road. He released the trunk and Glenda got out quickly. Russ slammed it shut as Glenda slid into the back seat. Russ took a quick look around before closing the back door, but no one was in sight. He jumped back into the passenger seat as Rick gunned the engine, causing the stones on the shoulder of the road to go flying as the car squealed back onto the highway. “Better lie down until we get to the interstate,” Russ said to her. “How long before we get there?” asked Glenda, sounding relieved to get out of the darkness of the trunk. “Probably in another half hour,” replied Rick. “Unfortunately, we’re going to have to stop for gas between here and there. I should have got some when I was out earlier this morning, but didn’t think we would be leaving so fast.” The traffic began picking up when they were about 15 minutes from the interstate, which seemed pretty normal since it was getting near lunchtime. There was a sign along the road denoting a combination sandwich shop and service station that seemed to meet everyone’s fancy, so Rick pulled in stopping at one of the pumps. “Russ, why don’t you fill up the tank while I go inside and pick us up a few sandwiches and pay for the gas?” “Plenty of onions and mayo on mine,’ said Glenda lying on the back seat. She propped herself up on one elbow trying to light a cigarette she had retrieved from her pants pocket. Russ got out and began filling up the tank when Rick signaled him from the store window that he had placed a deposit with the cashier. When he completed the task he got back into the car to wait for Rick. “I’m going to peek inside to see what’s taking him so long,” Russ said after a few minutes had gone by. “Staying here so long is making me uneasy.” “Maybe the line at the sandwich counter is long.”

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“Maybe so, but I’ll feel better if I take a look.” Russ got out of the car and looked through the building’s large front window expecting to see Rick waiting in line, but didn’t see him anywhere. It was possible he was in the restroom, but Russ continued walking by the front window to the side of the building. Not seeing anything except a few cars and mostly empty parking spaces, he continued around to the rear of the structure. When he got to the corner he stuck his head around it, pulling himself back abruptly when all he saw was two men standing over a motionless Rick. One of them was Veach, but the second guy dressed in a suit was facing the other direction. They both had weapons drawn with long barrels on them – probably silencers. He turned and jogged back to the car doing the best he could to contain his anxiety. He jumped into the driver’s seat hoping that Rick had left the keys in the ignition. A great sigh of relief came over him when they were, and the engine soon roared to life. He gunned the vehicle out into the roadway and felt even better when he didn’t see either of the two men in the rearview mirror. “Russ, what’s going on?” yelled Glenda from the back seat. “Where’s Rick?” “I think Rick is dead. Look’s like Veach and someone else shot him behind the store.” “I didn’t hear any shots.” “They had silencers, I’m sure. He was just laying face up on the ground. He wasn’t moving and I gotta believe he is dead.” Glenda kept her eyes posted through the rear window while Russ tried to keep his mind on the driving wondering what they were going to do next. “Russ, you better step on it. I think we have company coming.” Russ took a quick glance in the side mirror and spotted a large black pickup with tinted glass quickly moving up behind them. There was no doubt in his mind that Veach was driving it! The vehicle slowed to their speed when it got a few car lengths behind them so it looked like their pursuers were content to play a waiting game until they stopped or got to a remote area. It wasn’t too much longer when he saw the signs for the interstate up ahead. He turned onto the ramp figuring if they were going to get away from these two their best chance was in a crowded interstate rest area. There was no way they were going to outrun the powerful looking truck turning onto the ramp just behind them. “Looks like we should have trusted Rick,” said a somber Glenda turning from time to time to observe the black pickup, which had fallen back somewhat now that they were on the interstate. “I guess I always did. He told me a little more while you were in the trunk. He even wasn’t 100 percent sure about trusting me. Somehow, he heard something back at the compound to indicate they would be gunning after me and he warned me to get out. I had to trust him after that.” “Yeah, I would have too if he saved my rear end.” “You know, he said a puzzling thing back there. There was intelligence to indicate I knew who was running the training center. You must have seen who was in charge while you were there. Maybe he was your boss.” “I’m not sure. I just got my instructions from a civilian type, older gentleman. I met with him when I got hired, but after that we just kept in touch by phone and email.” “Did he give you a name or anything?” “Just a Mr. Jarvis or something like that – I forget. He had a small office, but no name was on the door or his desk. I did notice a bunch of service medals in a glass case on the

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wall. Pretty sure one of them was the standard Vietnam service medal that everyone gets. No doubt the others would have been for greater honors than that if given time or opportunity to look.” “Listen, Glenda, Rick thought it was in your best interests to disappear. He must have figured you were in a no-win situation based on your employment at the compound and the body count in the park. He had the contacts to pull it off, but he’s gone now. What do you want to do? With Rick gone it might be best if we both disappeared – for a while anyways. Maybe things will sort themselves out and we can see where things stand before either of us turns themselves in.” “Sounds good to me! I think it would be hard for anyone to believe our story right now.” “There is a major service areas coming up. Somehow we need to lose these guys. Maybe we can pull in and get them to follow us into the food area. We can split up and if either of us loses them it might be possible to get back to their vehicle and disable it-let the air out of the tire or something.” “It’s worth a try. We can’t keep going on like this forever.” Twenty minutes later the sign came up for the rest area and Russ pulled into the parking lot. They could see the pickup coming down the ramp as they entered the building. They split up and Glenda headed towards the women’s rest room while Russ grabbed a coffee and sat down in the main lobby waiting for the two men to enter. If they did a confrontation would probably be unavoidable. It was about 10 minutes later when only the older man in the suit came into the lobby and he came right over to the table. “You might as well give it up,” he said to Russ as he sat down. “Are you kidding me? I’d be dead in five minutes.” “What makes you think I would do that to you, Russ? Don’t you know by now who I am? “ Russ began to look carefully at the man sitting across the table from him. He was about his same age and looked vaguely familiar - maybe from a long time ago. “Larry, is that you?” Russ asked looking directly into his eyes. “Yes it is! I never thought I would run into you again after Vietnam.” “Larry, what is going on here? “ “I’ll explain later. We can’t talk here.” “Why not? It’s safer for me.” “Sorry, Russ. Take a good look out in the lot. Veach has got Glenda. We’re going to have to do it my way.” Sure enough, Glenda was standing next to Veach out in the parking lot. No doubt they had nabbed her trying to disable the truck. He must have a hidden gun pointed at her to make her behave like that. Russ reluctantly got up from the table and they headed outside. “Well, we finally meet face to face,” said Veach triumphantly as Russ and Larry approached the other two in the lot. “Where’s the money Rick took before he left the compound.” “What are you talking about? The guy was a Fed. Why would he take your drug money?” shot back Russ. Larry and Veach looked at one another in astonishment. They hadn’t figured Rick out. They must have thought he just took off only because he had stolen a good part of their

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drug stash at the compound. That was the only reason they must have put him away back at the gas station. He wasn’t about to tell them where it was so they assumed it must be in the car. He must have not gone quietly, so they had no choice but to shoot him and hope it was in the car. “I’m going over to check out the car,” Larry said to Veach confirming Russ’s thoughts. He came back shortly shaking his head empty-handed. “You two know where it is?” Larry asked politely. “I bet the broad knows where it is,” Veach said gruffly. “You two better start talking or you’ll end up like Rick!” “Cool it, Veach,” said Larry. “This isn’t the best place for this conversation. I’ll go in their vehicle with them. You follow us in the truck. I have a place about 20 miles from here in the same direction we are going that I use to meet with customers confidentially.” Larry motioned Russ and Glenda to head over towards the car. With Veach close behind, he instructed Russ to get in the driver’s seat and Glenda on the passenger side. Larry got in the back seat and soon they were back on the interstate with Veach close behind. “So what is going on, Larry?” questioned Russ, wanting his promised explanation. He knew Larry must have his weapon pointed at them from the rear. “It’s hard to believe you are they guy behind all of this. I can’t even fathom the reason why.” “I can tell you right now it’s going to involve drugs and money,” Glenda quickly said before Larry got a chance to begin. “Is that true, Larry?” “Basically, yes. I never really had a lot of success working for people in the civilian world when I got out of the service. I knew all that ever happened to Veach and the rest of his group in ‘Nam was a slap on the wrist and a dishonorable discharge. All the risk we took to nail them and the Fed just let them off. That really ticked me off! You never knew a thing about it because you had gone back stateside. I knew they had made all kinds of money so I decided to locate Veach about twenty years ago. I wanted to get my own security business started and the banks wouldn’t loan me any money with my credit. I figured he was still involved with drugs and he might have some tips on where I could get some confidential financing. He was shocked and angry, to say the least, when I showed up unannounced at his apartment, but he came around when I offered him a job if he could help me out. He still didn’t completely trust me, but he said he had some contacts that would ‘check me out’. He may not like me for screwing up his life, but he trusts me after working together over the many past years in this business. We started small, but we have been very successful. Wish we could have had different sources of financing, but really had no choice. Once you get involved with these people, you don’t walk away. They think they know what’s best for the country and they have no qualms about where to get the cash to carry out their agenda” “So what’s this got to do with Russ and myself?” asked Glenda. “We’ll keep our mouths shut. Just let us go.” “Can’t do that. There are certain individuals in the organization that I’m involved with that want Russ eliminated. Apparently he overheard something that no one is supposed to know about while working at LPN. I let Russ stay after you hired him when he just happened to show up with Rick. Figured I owed Russ one from Vietnam and planned on helping him disappear in good time. Trouble was that he saw the drug and money

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exchange that night he was out hiking. Looks like the Fed guy found out what Veach had in store for him. When you left the compound I had to send my teams after you. Bradford took it upon himself to try and take out Glenda and get rid of Marvin back at the lodge that night. He figured the fewer people that knew what was going on, the better. He thought that female ranger was going soft on the operation so he got rid of her along with Chuck. ” “Larry, you’re a real lowlife like Veach and the rest of them. Don’t try and elevate yourself in my eyes just because you originally were going to help me disappear. Veach and Bradford I know about. Who else was there?” “You remember Lancaster? He was the logistics part of the team. I think Rick took him out after he killed the rangers in the gap with an M-79 round. They were in the way of us trying to get to you. If it hadn’t been for Rick’s training, we just might have. I must admit, though, you two got a lot farther than we thought you ever would on your own! I can’t believe you got by Bradford back at the hotel. He had to hang around there longer than we wanted him to so he could collect all the weapons in case you came back. The hurricane helped you out as it messed up our plans and timing. We would have had you in a few days out if it weren’t for that.” “Who killed the rangers in their vehicles?” “That was all Veach. He wasn’t about to take a chance that anyone would get in the way or be able to identify any of the three of them. By the way, he has already rigged this vehicle with an explosive device that he can operate from the truck so don’t try anything stupid. We need to get off at this next exit.” Russ looked back in the rearview mirror to see a completely different Larry than he had known years before. His eyes had a mean look to them and his face was more hardened. All he really wanted to do was to get them both out of the park once his cohorts had botched up the job, and take care of them in his own way! He was like a lot of others, caught up in the drug and money laundering business. He probably thought he was doing the country a favor by contracting out hits for these government right-wingers. You can bet he wasn’t about to leave any messes behind that would lead to him. Russ exited the interstate like he was told, hit the gas, and with tires squealing quickly turned on the rural highway at the ramp’s end. By the time Larry recovered from being bounced around in the back seat from the force of the turn, his gun was in already in Glenda’s quick hands. “Are you guys’ crazy? Veach is going to blow us up. Pull this thing over.” “Even with you in it Larry? Plus for all Veach knows, Glenda and I are the only ones who know where Rick left the cash. He’s half right about that as Rick told me he stuffed it into a pack we left hidden just before we got out of the park. He took it to use as evidence against your business of carrying out right-wings hits financed by drug money. We got a better chance of living longer by running than pulling over!” yelled Russ as he veered out into the passing lane to get around a tractor-trailer. He got around it swinging back just in time to avoid a group of oncoming cars. He knew it would take Veach a while to get around the truck. Russ began looking for any kind of side road they could turn off on, but the scenery was flying by pretty quickly, and it would be hard to spot anything before they were already by it. “Hit the brakes, Russ, I see a dirt road up ahead to the left.” The brakes squealed, and the dirt began flying as somehow he made the turn without ending up in a field. Russ pressed the accelerator to the floor, and the fishtailing vehicle

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headed down the road that went across a meadow to a wood beyond. The car was bouncing so much that his head kept hitting the car roof. When they got to the woods he took his foot off the gas. He took a quick look in the mirror and could see the dust of the pickup maybe a couple hundred yards behind. “Glenda, get out!” he yelled opening his door. The last thing he could remember was jumping out and preparing to meet the hard ground.

Chapter 14 – Target on Hurricane Trail Russ woke up to the sound of gunshots. His head was pounding, and as his eyes slowly opened he only saw the colorful bundles of the leaves in the trees above him. Now he turned his head and saw Glenda next to him. “Russ, are you ok? You’ve been out for about 10 minutes. Veach is about 150 yards away taking potshots at us. We need to get deeper into the woods!” “What happened?” asked Russ groggily. “Where’s Larry” “The car blew up as soon as you jumped out. Larry must not have made it. His body is either in the car or got tossed into the heavy brush on the other side of the road. What’s left of the car is just a big pile of twisted wreckage.”

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“Yeah, I can see it over there,” Russ said when he looked to the right through the woods at the roadway in the clearing beyond. He ducked as a couple of rounds zinged about 20 yards to their right. “We must have got out just before Veach triggered the detonator. Apparently, he wasn’t worried too much about Larry, but he had to make sure one of us got out of the car since we know where the money is.” “Well since you just told me, I do” “Yeah, if we ever get out of this we’re going to have to get back there.” “I carried you over here. I could hear the pickup coming so I knew we had to get into the woods for cover. I was able to hang onto Larry’s gun through all of that, and fired a few rounds to let him know we have a firearm. He pretty well has us pinned down, and he will certainly make a move toward us in a short time. He knows he doesn’t have to wait forever in this standoff. No telling what he has in the truck. “It might be a good idea if one of us can circle around behind him rather than both of us just retreating into the woods. We need to nail this guy now or we will just be on the run again.” “Let me circle around, then,” agreed Glenda. You still look a bit woozy to me.” Russ wished her good luck as she fired towards Veach one last time and low crawled away deeper into the woods with Larry’s gun to begin a long circular route to get back across the road. All Russ could do was lay low and pray that Veach didn’t decide it was time to advance towards their position before she confronted him. Without any weapon he didn’t have a chance. He looked over the log in front of him towards the clearing and could see Veach’s truck to the left in the distance. He could see a slight movement in a tall grassy area on the other side of the clearing which was probably Veach slowly making his way towards him. The gunman’s head popped up and then back down in case that action might draw any fire. When nothing happened Veach suddenly jumped up and began running towards him across the clearing in a zigzag pattern. Veach must have figured someone was circling around him, and decided to take his chances confronting the situation since no one was firing at him from the woods. Only a miracle was going to save him now since there was nothing he could do. If he made a move he would be an easy target for Veach. All Russ could do was lie next to the log and hope Veach rushed by him, but he knew the chances of that were slim to none! Veach had just entered the woods about 25 yards in front of him when he heard the shot. He looked up quickly to see Veach crumpling forward and falling on top of his rifle into some brush. He got up expecting to see Glenda making an appearance, but no one was in sight. He walked over to where Veach was lying and saw a bullet hole in the side of his head. He turned to the left and saw someone crawling out of a in a ditch on the other side of the road where it entered the woods. He cautiously walked towards the spot, but by the time he got there Larry was laying face down on the road in his ragged, burned clothes with an arm extending forward. There was a revolver on the road in front of an outstretched hand. Somehow, Larry must have been on his way out of the car when the explosion occurred, and he was knocked into the brush on the other side of the roadway. Russ ran over and turned the body over. He was still alive. “Did I get the son of a bitch?” Larry spoke in a whisper. “Glad I had my ankle revolver.” “Yeah, he’s dead.”

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“Greedy bastard. I think he must have decided he could go back to the camp and take the operation over with me out of the way. I should have known he could never be trusted when the stakes got really high. I told him not to set off the explosives until we were finished questioning you and Glenda about the whereabouts of the cash. Sorry for everything, Russ. Things got out of hand.” Larry’s eyes closed and his body went limp. “Russ, are you ok?” Glenda called while running down the road towards him. “Yeah, thanks to Larry. Looks like he stayed alive just long enough to even things up with Veach,” he said pointing over towards Veach’s body. “We need to get out of here before anyone shows up,” said Glenda. “We have no one left who could vouch for any explanation we have to offer for anything that happened in the park or here either. Everybody is dead!” “We’re both in a bit of a fix for sure,” replied Russ. They left the bodies and walked quickly down the road to where the truck was sitting. Veach had conveniently left the keys in the ignition. The back of the truck had his backpack in it along with boxes of hiking supplies. It was now late in the afternoon when Glenda started the engine and drove the truck back towards the highway. Russ turned on the radio searching for some local news. They were close to the highway when the faint sound of sirens reached their ears. Glenda sped up and turned right towards the highpitched noises when they got to the highway. “Glenda, what are you doing? We should be going the other way.” “I don’t think so. Maybe someone heard the explosion and reported it, but then again maybe they are looking for Rick’s car and know it went this way.” Three police cars with flashing lights came into view and rushed by them. Glenda slowed down and Russ turned around to see if they turned onto the side road, but they kept going. “Maybe they’re looking for someone else,” said Russ wishfully. “With three cop cars? I doubt it. They are looking for Rick’s car figuring whoever killed him back where we filled up with gas took his car. We’re probably ok driving this truck around. They won’t be looking for it until they find Veach’s body which may not happen for a day or two. Didn’t look like anyone had been down that road in a while, but they may be searching the area for Rick’s car.” The radio caught a newscast, and they quickly learned that the search had expanded out of the park as the authorities were now convinced that the responsible parties could be anywhere within a 300 mile radius. The official in charge of the investigation wouldn’t give any more details according to the broadcast, but it sure sounded like they weren’t safe by any means. “What do we do now?” asked Glenda. “Maybe we should just give up and try and explain the whole thing.” “No. I think we need to go with our original gut feelings that no one would believe our story, especially since we both worked for Larry. They would investigate his operation and we would be toast for being a part of it. We need to drop out of sight.” “Where do we go now?” “Where’s the last place they would be looking for us?” replied Russ. “Are you thinking we should go back to the park?”

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“Exactly! However, we obviously won’t go to a regular entrance. We can cross back over the interstate and head towards the mountain range that borders the western side of the park. If we can find a road that goes north we can be back near the northern part of the park in a few hours. All we have to do is hike cross the range to get back into the park.” “Those mountains are pretty rugged. Are you sure you don’t have anything else in mind besides keeping away from the arm of the law?” “We might as well go back and get the money where we hid our equipment by the river. We’re going to need it for living expenses while we keep out of sight until this blows overperhaps for years.” They were now approaching the interstate and things started to look dim when they saw all the flashing lights up ahead. There was a roadblock set up on the exit ramp from the interstate, but no one seem interested in them or Veach’s vehicle as they crossed the overpass and continued east towards the looming mountain range about 10 miles ahead. It was hard to believe they were going back to do more hiking when they were still trying to recover from what they had just been through. What if someone else had found their stuff by now and the money was gone?” There they would be at the north end of the park in the same situation they were in a day ago! It was developing into one huge predicament! All the good guys and the bad guys were dead – only they were left to take the fall. At least this was an idea until the situation changed or they thought of something else. “We need to stop somewhere and check out the stuff in the back of the truck. We’ll probably need to pick up a few things,” Glenda said lighting a cigarette noticing she just had a few left. “There’s got to be some sort of a store along here somewhere. Do you have any cash? Probably shouldn’t use any credit cards. They’d know where we were in a snap.” “I have a hundred bucks or so. We better plan on buying some food in the park. We don’t want to carry too much weight over that mountain range. We need to get hold of a map so we can figure out the best place to cross over. Is this a town coming up ahead?” They passed a reduce speed sign and were soon greeted by a welcome billboard. After going by a few residences they saw a small grocery store off to the left. Glenda turned into the lot and parked the truck in the midst of a crowded area of vehicles. They certainly didn’t want to stand out to anyone who might likely remember strangers if the police arrived anytime soon. Russ went into the store alone and grabbed a shopping cart, heading over to the canned food area to pick out the assorted delicacies they would be consuming for the next few days. He was trying to stay upbeat realizing this was better than what Larry and Veach might have had in store for them. He still felt somewhat sore and tired from the trip that ended last night, and now they were going to traverse terrain that was far tougher than anything they had to endure on the trail. When they got over the mountain range and back to the trail they would get to do part of it all over again. It had never been exciting to him repeating hikes down the same trail. This time instead of avoiding people try to kill them, they would be avoiding search parties sent out with descriptions of the only two people not accounted for from the compound. The money better be there with this type of an effort or it would be all over for them. He tossed a last can into the cart and grabbed a couple packs of cigarettes for Glenda when he got to the checkout. It wasn’t until he glanced through the large front window that he saw the state police car sitting in the parking lot.

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He glanced over to where the truck was parked, but there was no sign of Glenda. She must have ducked out of sight when she saw the state vehicle coming into the lot. No doubt, she was lying across the seat. An officer was now walking toward the front door of the store. These guys usually stopped at fast food places or coffee shops, not grocery stores. Russ waited anxiously in line as the uniformed trooper walked in the store and began glancing around. Surely, the guy would soon single him out putting an end to the whole ordeal! Russ put the mostly canned goods on the checkout belt, paid for the items, and put the two bags of groceries into the cart. He walked by the officer, giving him a polite nod, and walked the cart over to the truck. He opened the passenger door just wide enough to put the groceries by Glenda who was where he expected. Now he was making the unwanted trek back to the store to return the empty cart. He came back through the door again and carefully inserted the cart back into the small row of them at the front of the store. He didn’t want to give the appearance that he was in any kind of a hurry to get away. He headed out the front door again back towards the truck. “Hey, sir,” came a voice from behind Russ when he was about 30 feet away from the truck. He turned around to see the trooper coming towards him. Maybe he had been acting too nonchalant. He felt his face begin to flush and the adrenalin was flowing. “Yes, officer. What’s up?” “I noticed your out of state plates. This is kind of an out of the way place. You’re not lost or anything, are you?” “No, just stopped for some groceries. Thought I’d like to get a closer look at the mountain range. I understand there is a road that follows alongside it.” “That’s right. It goes north for about 100 miles before you have to go back towards the interstate. If you’re going that way it will be getting dark before you get back to the interstate. There’s a campground with a few basic motel rooms about 50 miles from where you first turn on the road. It’s not much but the owners keep it pretty clean.” “Thanks, officer. I appreciate the information. I’m looking forward to a nice scenic drive.” “It’s scenic all right. The road is a bit rough, but go slow and enjoy the views.” “Are there any mountain roads that go through the range? I got 4 wheel drive on my truck if they’re tough. I’d love to drive over the range and head home from the other side rather than just going back to the interstate.” “Nope, just one trail. It is very rugged and dangerous, too. A few people have died over the past number of years using it. They set off alone and never tell anyone they are even there. The trailhead is at the north end of the road just before you hang a left to go back to the interstate. It goes southeast to the top of the range and follows the ridgeline for about 20 miles before it drops down to the southern entrance of the national park on the other side. You are at an elevation of 4,000 feet for quite a while, and a lot of sudden weather changes can hit you.” “Think I’ll just stick with the road,” lied Russ, walking around to the driver’s door hoping the cop would keep his distance. Thanks again.” He opened the door and slid under Glenda’s head and shoulders. He fired the vehicle up and slowly made an exit to the road with much relief. At least he found out what they needed to know since he didn’t see any maps in the store that would help them. Unfortunately, they were going to end up in the southern part of the park, which was 100

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miles away from where the money was stashed. Glenda popped up when Russ accelerated out of town. “That could have been a disaster,” she said while looking through the shopping bag to see what Russ had bought. She lit a cigarette and rolled down the window, not saying much as they watched the foreboding mountain range growing in size the closer they got to it. In about a half hour they were sitting at a stop sign looking straight ahead into mountains that towered above them. The late afternoon sun illuminated the color of the fall foliage at the lower elevation, but the rocks seemed to take over the closer Russ looked towards the peaks. Even the good color that was left wasn’t quite a brilliant as what he had experienced last week. Hopefully, the decent weather would hold up until they could make their way back over to the park. They turned left onto a paved road that seemed to be more patches than pavement. The road seemed to run along the base of the range, crossing the occasional rushing streams still ridding the slopes of the excess water that the copious rain from the hurricane had left them with. Once in a while the road would drift away from the range allowing just enough room for a meadow or pasture to fit in. Now just a large creek separated them from the steep slope of the range. “There’s the campground the trooper told me about,” said Russ after they had spent over an hour concentrating on the scenic ride and ignoring the continual punishment the road inflicted on them with its bumps and potholes. “Not exactly a major thoroughfare. Do you think we should stay here tonight?” “No, those showers we took should last us another week, at least! We should get to the trailhead in about another 90 minutes. We’ve got to hide this truck and get started up the trail before dark. There’s a good chance they’ll be checking out this road tomorrow if they pick up on Veach’s vehicle. So far that trooper is the only one that knows we came this way so we don’t need the campground owners confirming that we passed through.” “We never did get a chance to check out the stuff in the back of the truck. Hope we have most of what we need,” said Glenda. “We should be ok. I know there’s a pack and a small tent back there, and we have the canned food. The only thing we don’t have is warm clothes. We got enough to at least put on layers, but a storm could be real trouble. I don’t have a clue about a weather forecast.” It was suppertime when they got to the trailhead. There was a small lot with a couple of cars in it. No one would make it to the top and back again on a day hike, so the vehicles must have transported some serious hikers up here. Sometimes a group of hikers would spot cars at either end of a planned hike so they wouldn’t have to backtrack to their transportation. They went around to the rear of the pickup and pulled out the pack and began checking the contents. There was a jacket and a heavy wool shirt that was definitely going with them. Veach had a small stove and a small canister of butane, which pleased Russ who was not exactly thrilled with the prospect of eating cold cans of pasta. There was an envelope of personal effects that included a key of some sort. Russ decided it might be worth taking along. A dilapidated picnic table close by would serve as a good cooking surface, so Russ got busy preparing some supper while Glenda began searching the cab for anything else that might be of any use. He had just finished warming up a can of Alfredo noodles and some green beans when an excited Glenda came over to him.

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“Russ, there is a rifle, some ammunition, and about $1,000 cash in a bag under the seat! Guess we don’t have to skimp too much on our travels. Smells good, but if there was just a restaurant nearby we could get some steaks.” “I’d settle for a burger and fries knowing we’re back to canned food for a while. We would need to wear disguises in public from now on. Our descriptions will be all over the place once they find Larry and Veach. Maybe we could afford some plastic surgery after we pick up the stash.” “You don’t like my face?” she teased knowing quite will what he meant. She was just trying to get a jovial conversation going between them to take the seriousness out of the situation. “You know what I mean,” he replied somewhat relieved to see her serious look break into a smile. “Did you find any sleeping bags?” “Just one,” she replied with an unusual twinkle in her hard eyes. “I didn’t even think about not having a bag until I saw it.” “We would have thought about it as soon as that sun began to drop. It’ll get cold pretty quick tonight. We should finish eating and clear out of here before anyone shows up. We need to get far enough along on the trail so that we have a shot at getting over the summit in a couple of days. Without a map we are at a disadvantage.” Russ was concerned about their situation, especially the fact that the trooper would no doubt remember them and the vehicle when the descriptions came out. If they left it parked in the lot, the authorities would just be waiting for them at the other end of the trail. It couldn’t be left in the lot. There was a farmhouse just a bit down the road, so while Glenda cleaned up from supper Russ took the pickup and pulled into the long driveway leading up to a barn. He parked and went over to the farmhouse and knocked on the door. “What do you want?” said the cranky old man who answered the door. “I don’t like visitors – that’s why I live out here! The only reason I didn’t bring my shotgun with me is you aren’t a kid like most of the people who’ve come here bothering me.” Russ noticed he had an old Vietnam field jacket on. He had First Sergeant stripes on the sleeves. “You got a 4th infantry division patch on the jacket,” said Russ pointing to his shoulder. “When were you there?” The old guy broke out into a smile. “Three times to be exact. A couple times in the late sixties and once in the early seventies before things fell apart. What a shame.” “I know. I was in Pleiku and later on the coast.” “I retired out of the service after that. Between all the men in my company who were killed and the way the war ended up, I couldn’t handle it. But that’s in the past. What can I do for you?” “I need a place to park my truck for a couple of weeks. Be glad to give you $100 - no questions asked.” “Does that include the cops?” his eyes narrowed and now he looked a bit more serious. “Wouldn’t hurt. Might be some more in it for you when I come back. If I don’t show up in the next month feel free to keep the thing.” “Fair enough! I’ll open up the barn doors so you can pull it in. You’re welcome to stay for the night.”

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“Thanks, but I need to get going. My friend and I are hiking over this mountain range into the park. We’ll have to trade some stories when I get back.” Russ drove into the barn and parked the truck by a red 1958 Chevrolet. He gave the old man the keys and $100 after the barn doors were closed, and then walked about 10 minutes to arrive back at the lot. Glenda had everything cleaned up and packed. After filling her in on the truck, he swung the pack onto his back. Glenda picked up Veach’s rifle and put the ammunition into a smaller backpack she found in the cab along with Larry’s revolver, and they walked over to the trail feeling the elevation rise immediately. “I’m still sore from hiking over the past couple of weeks,” groaned Russ when he felt the pain in the back of his calves as they ascended. “You want me to take the pack?” kidded Glenda turning around to get a last glimpse of the small parking lot before they entered the thick forest the rocky pathway had brought them to. The sun was now getting low in the sky and the shadowy forest soon enveloped them. “We got an hour at the most to find a campsite before it gets dark. We’re not going to break out of the woods until we hit about 3000 feet around noon tomorrow.” “We better hope there will be some sort of level spot. We’d slide back down to the parking lot by morning if we tried to stop here,” said Glenda looking backwards down the trail. Their progress was about a mile per hour at best. Breathing became hard and laborious as they slowly placed a foot on the next protruding rock on the pathway and pushed off, quickly trying to find a next rock to begin the process all over again. Every 50 yards or so Russ stopped to catch his breath. Glenda was doing a bit better with her longer stride plus the fact she wasn’t carrying the pack. They decided she should go on ahead of Russ to see if there might be a good campsite. She could clear away any brush and have it ready to use by the time he got there. It would just be a matter of setting up the tent and getting into the bag before it got cold and dark. It was about a half hour later when the trail made a turn to his right and leveled off. Thank goodness, maybe someone had blazed some switchbacks to ease off on this brutal climb. Russ was gasping for breath. His back was getting sore by the time he heard Glenda rummaging around up ahead. Sure enough, she had found a small flat area just big enough to put up the tent. Russ didn’t usually care to camp close to a trail, but they really had no choice up here, plus it was remote enough that no one would be coming through tonight to bother them. After gladly dropping the pack on the trail, he heard a stream just below the camping area so he scrambled down there and filled up the canteens. Glenda was just about done setting up the tent when he got back, so he released the belts on the pack holding the sleeping bag and threw it inside. He looked into the sky before he crawled into the tent, but there were no stars to see as the clouds had been building before dark. Between the facts that there was cloud cover and they were only up around 1500 feet, it shouldn’t get icy cold tonight. A breeze began to blow, and he noticed a flash of lightning in the direction of the interstate that unfortunately meant a cold front was probably moving in. Glenda hung the pack in one of the many trees near them, so Russ ducked inside the tent when she arrived in the darkness at the entrance. He unrolled the bag, unzipped it most of the way down, and they both got in. Russ could hardly see her even though they were facing each other just a foot apart.

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“What does tomorrow look like?” she asked after a minute trying to break the awkward quiet inside the tent contrasting with the pulsating flapping of the flimsy shelter as the wind increased outside. “I think it could be a cold, damp day. We better put on every piece of clothing we have in the morning. We need to get over this thing and down into the park before any cold weather hit or we will freeze to death up there.” “How far is it up to the summit?” “I’m guessing it is about 7 or 8 miles, so we need to get an early start as it will take about 8 hours to reach it going uphill. That puts us at about 3 P.M. and then we have about a 20-mile hike along the ridge before we can drop down to the other side. The front is coming from the west so if it moves through quickly we should be ok tomorrow and the next day. If it is a large one or a slow mover, we’re going to have problems,” Russ replied as the rain began pummeling the tent. A flash of lightning gave them a brief look at each other when it lit up the inside of their protective shield. “Did you ever think you would be in this crazy situation when all you did was come here to take a hike?” “Not in a million years. I’m not even the same person anymore after this experience. Here I am trying to find some drug money so I can get lost for the rest of my life because all the good and bad guys are dead. I guess I’m beginning to see how Larry got involved with all of this. Life can deal you a strange hand.” “Yeah. At times it seems the right thing to do would be to come clean with the police, but I’ve dealt in situations with them before where the innocent party gets screwed.” The wind began howling forcing the conversation to stop. Besides, they knew they needed to get as much rest as possible to be ready for the day ahead. Sleep ended up being a series of catnaps during the night separated by gusts of wind trying to gather up the tent with them inside and bounce it off the many surrounding trees like a giant marble in a pinball machine. It wasn’t going to be much fun trying to eat breakfast and pack out of here at daylight if the weather didn’t settle down Russ thought to himself during one of the several periods he lay awake. He illuminated his watch and saw it was about 4 A. M. He pulled the bag up a little more as the temperature in the tent was beginning to drop even with the two of them inside it. Whatever was hitting the side of the tent seemed noisier than just rain which meant it was some sort of sleet, rain, and snow combination. He drifted off one more time and woke up as the darkness was slowly giving way to a gray dawn. Something was still hitting the side of the tent and the wind was still blowing, but not at the strength it had a few hours ago. When it was light enough, he forced himself to get out of the somewhat warm bag and feel the beginning of the misery he would face for the rest of the day. “We gotta get something into us,” he told Glenda as he got back into the tent after relieving himself and retrieving a couple cans of food out of the pack outside along with the stove. “Pretty tight quarters for a meal,” she said keeping the bag around her as she sat up bending her head to keep it from rubbing the condensation at the tent’s top. Russ found himself shivering while he opened a can of mixed vegetables and one of pasta. At least the stove was warming up the tent somewhat even though he had to leave the front flap of the tent open somewhat for exhaust. They were feeling much better after

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consuming the strange breakfast. Russ went outside and stuffed the empty cans back into the pack and grabbed every piece of clothing in the main compartment. He laid the pack against a tree on its lee side before he scrambled back into the tent. The sleet and rain combination had begun to dampen his clothes. Even the faint warmth of the tent’s inside felt like a furnace compared to outside. They both put on an extra pair of pants and layered up with every shirt they had. Russ picked Veach’s baseball cap while Glenda went with the wool skullcap. There was a light jacket that Russ put on. Glenda volunteered to carry the pack for a while so Russ picked up the rifle and ammo as they forced themselves out of the tent into the dull, gray, cold, wet, and windy environment they would soon become familiar with. Russ pulled the stakes out of the icy ground while Glenda took down the poles and zipped up the front of the tent. After doing one of the quickest and sloppiest tent roll up jobs of his hiking career, Russ strapped the wet mess onto the pack beginning what was to be the worst hiking day of his life. Glenda took the lead as they worked their way along the side of the mountain on the switchbacks, which at least were making the steepness of the climb within reason. However, when they got past the tree line, the cold rain was constantly being driven into their bodies. At least it was a help that their opposite sides had turns every time they made a 180-degree turn at each switchback. The higher they went the worse it became with the drop in temperature. Soon visibility decreased to the point that all they could do was look down at the trail for direction as it was impossible to see anything ahead. The incessant rain would soon permeate their clothing which meant that there would be no rest breaks. Hypothermia might set in soon and stopping would just speed up the process. Glenda was now feeling the straps from the pack digging into her shoulders when she momentarily stopped to get her bearings. She was jolted out of her thoughts when Russ bumped into her from the rear. “Russ, I think we have reached the end of the switchbacks!” she had to yell at him over the howling of the storm. “The trail ahead of me is going straight up at a 45 degree angle for all the five feet of it I can see. Can you take this pack for a while?” “OK. Let’s make the quick switch and keep plugging. You shivering at all? Once that starts it is trouble. We need to keep moving until we get to the top and find an area just over the top where we can set up the tent. We’re about 5 hours away from doing that.” He donned the pack Glenda had dropped and started up the steep straight incline. At least the weather was now at his back. It seemed to be more tolerable this way than the wet, cold pellets of moisture stinging the opposite sides of his face traversing the switchbacks. Glenda shouldered the rifle and forged ahead moving quickly out of his sight. Russ took a few steps and the demanding incline of the switchbacks was now replaced by a trail that was like walking up a staircase with no stairs. The straps on the pack were already finding the tender spots on his shoulder from before. They dug their way in even more each time he pushed off with one foot to get the next one into a secure spot so he could push off with that one. He began to feel the back of his legs getting raw as the bite of the cold wind made it seem like he was wearing shorts rather than two pair of pants. Soon the calves of his legs began to ache as pain shot through them during each upward step. Each push forward was now agony and he began to shiver a bit as his progress slowed. His breathing became more labored to the point of gasping for breath. He would occasionally stop to recover, and then forcing himself to start again feeling guilty about delaying their ascent to the top. He would go for another few minutes, but soon had to stop again

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repeating the same scenario. Suddenly, his foot slipped when he pushed off, and he felt the rocks at the side of the trail jabbing at him as he fell down. He rolled backwards for about 20 feet before stopping. He just lay there too exhausted to make any move to get up. “Glenda1” he yelled hoping that she wasn’t too far ahead. The only thing he heard in return was the howling wind. He looked down at the rocky ground and realized he wasn’t even on the trail anymore. “Can you hear me?” he yelled out. “I think I’m off to the side of the trail!” Now he could hear sleet pinging on the back of the pack as he lay face down. He moved his legs and arms slowly, and fortunately everything seemed to be intact. He forced himself to get up. He looked around but could see nothing in the dense atmosphere. He looked on the ground in all directions but could see no sign of the trail. He was tempted to move in the direction of where he thought the trail might be, but he stayed where he was hoping that Glenda would soon realize that something had happened and would come back. All he could do was yell out every one in a while so that she might hear him and guide him back to the trail.

Chapter 15 - Target on Hurricane Trail Glenda struggled up the mountain wondering how Russ was doing between all the dampness, cold, and pain she was feeling. They were not conversing a lot as they climbed. They needed every ounce of energy to try and keep their momentum going. If she turned around to try and converse with him, a wall of stinging sleet and fog would meet her. Finally, she decided to stop and wait until she could hear him coming up from behind. It was probably about time for her to take her turn with the pack, anyway. She stood quietly still listening for him, but in a few minutes she began to shiver so she decided to descend hoping he wasn’t too far back. She began to get worried when he didn’t appear and got aggravated at herself for getting too far ahead. Yelling out his name wasn’t doing much good because the storm was just blowing the sound of her voice back in her direction. The sense of being alone on this mountain in a life-threatening storm was not a good feeling. Suddenly, her feet went out from under her on the slippery, steep path and she was now

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tumbling off the path down the side of the mountain. She came to a sudden halt when she hit something that was at least softer than a rock but hard enough. “Ouch!” came a familiar voice out of the dense cloud surrounding them. “You could have just yelled to me from the trail rather than falling over me,” Russ said trying to make light of a bad situation. “I’m sure glad to see you even if we could be lost. Which way is the trail?” “I don’t know. I can only make a guess. It might be best if we go in a circular pattern until we stumble across it.” “I’m taking that pack now, Russ. No arguments!” They were both shivering noticeably, now that the relief of finding each other was beginning to wear off. They began a tortuous circle with Russ taking the lead going up and down the mountain making sure they kept in sight of each other. He just kept staring at the ground hoping he could see the friendly pathway before they began freezing to death going nowhere. He stopped quickly noticing the ground seemed to stop in front of them. He heard the sound of wind rushing below and realized he was standing on the edge of a cliff! “Glenda, we have to go to the right,” he yelled over the raging storm. They carefully followed the edge of the cliff upward hoping it might lead them back to the trail. Russ was thinking the trail might meander over to the cliff in a spot that was normally a good view on a better day. The wind was carrying the sound of Glenda’s struggles and now uncontrollable shivering to him. They not only had to find the trail, but they needed some shelter and warmth in the next half hour or he had the sick feeling that they just were not going to get through this. Things were looking rather hopeless when he noticed a small path off to his left. He decided they had nothing to lose by following it. He had only followed it for a few steps when he stumbled up some wooden stairs and found himself on a porch. He yelled out to Glenda and felt along the side of a wooden structure for a door or handle to enter whatever good fortune they had come upon. He soon found a doorknob that he quickly began to turn thinking for sure it was probably locked. Luckily, the door opened and both of them were soon inside struggling to close the door against the fury on its other side. Glenda dropped the pack and began pulling the sleeping bag out of its wet, but waterproof stuff bag. Russ’s eyes were beginning to adjust to the dim room and he noticed a wood stove over in one corner. He asked Glenda to find her lighter and bring it over after he noticed some wood and paper stacked against a wall. Shivering uncontrollably, he opened its door and threw some paper into it as Glenda lit it with her lighter moving up and down in her shaking hand. Not having time to enjoy the instant warmth, Russ quickly moved over to the wood and selected some small pieces to throw on top of the soon to be gone paper fireball. He shut the door and adjusted the ventilators to get the optimum amount of airflow going so the wood would catch. He went back to the stacked wood and brought more chunks of wood close to the stove, so they could be used without getting out of the dry sleeping bag that Glenda was now getting into after removing her wet clothes. Russ stripped down and was inside a few seconds later. They huddled together in the bag trying to stop shaking. They were still in bad shape when Russ grabbed some bigger pieces of wood he had brought over and threw them in the fire. They wriggled themselves inside the bag as close as they could to the stove and waited for its warmth to flow through the bag. Russ woke up a few hours later to find himself alone in a warm, dry bag. Glenda was up rummaging around through the pack deciding what they should eat. He saw some

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sunshine through the window, but figured they better rest up here for a few hours before starting to traverse the top of the range that led to the trail going down into the park. They might have been dead by now if they hadn’t gotten lucky and found this place. His clothes were hanging on a nail over the stove, which by now had warmed the small cabin up. Glenda must have put more wood on the fire since everything he had stacked near the stove was now gone. “You’ve been out for quite a while, fella.” “Yeah, it was a rough morning. What time is it?” “About 4. We better hang out here tonight,” she said. “Looks like the storm is gone and it will be a full day trek across the top of this thing.” “You could be right. Let’s decide later, depending upon how we feel. I would hate for someone to show up this evening and eventually report to the authorities that we were here. Even worse, if anyone is looking for us they will check this place out if they should come this way.” “Sounds reasonable to me. There’s a good flashlight over here if we want to pull an allnighter, but moonlight would be a lot better. A flashlight could be seen for quite a ways from below darting along the wide-open ridge. Russ got up and put on his now warm, dry clothes and walked out onto the porch to get a view of their surroundings, which had been denied to him so far today. The sun was now finding its way through the clearing skies illuminating the mountainside and the valley below. To his right was a jagged rock cliff sculptured into the side of the mountain with a colorful forest far below. He followed the edge of the cliff down the mountain trying to estimate where he had almost walked over it several hours ago. He saw the trail they had tried to stay on winding its way up towards them passing about 50 yards in front of the cabin as it continued up towards the ridgeline a few miles away. It looked impossible for anyone to get lost up here, but if there was a storm and no visibility, it was one of the most dangerous areas you would ever want to be in. He saw what appeared to be some sort of memorial in front of the cabin so he went over to view an inscription that was too small to make out from the porch. A man whose son had died hiking the trail at this point about 5 years ago had constructed the cabin. Apparently, he must have lost his son in a storm up here and decided to provide some shelter in case any one else, like themselves, had found themselves in the same predicament. Maybe he was the one who was stocking the place with firewood and some basic supplies. He looked back at the cabin and noted that a spot level enough to build it had been dug out of the side of the mountain. What a task it must have been! He wished he could leave a note behind thanking the man, but it was best if their presence here was never known. Hopefully, the authorities would think they had gone back to the interstate when they couldn’t locate Veach’s truck back at the trailhead. He walked back to the cabin picking up the pleasant smell of the early supper Glenda was fixing. They were pretty charged up when the meal was done, so they decided to head out at dusk since the sky was clear. They spruced up the cabin to make it appear like no one had been there. Glenda insisted on carrying the pack and Russ followed about 10 yards behind carrying the rifle and a couple bottles of the water that had been stocked at the cabin. They slowly moved up the rocky incline feeling the usual aches and pains. It got dark around six thirty, but a bright moon made the mountain glow enough so that the way could be seen without using the flashlight. Russ turned around and could see the small lights of

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civilization twinkling in the valley far below. The lights moving rapidly in a straight line on the far side of the valley were no doubt the evening traffic speeding along the interstate. A couple hours later the climbing became less strenuous which meant they were approaching the ridgeline. When Glenda stopped and removed the pack Russ knew they must finally be at the top. There was a pile of rocks to the side of the trail that Russ scrambled up to get a night view towards the park. All he could see were a few headlights moving slowly on what must be the southern portion of the parkway that he had crossed over from time to time over a week ago. Apparently the park was open again. “I’ll take the pack for a while,” he told Glenda as he walked back to where she was waiting. The moonlight was lighting up her frozen breath until it dissipated a few feet away. A clear night up here meant it would be a cold one. “Let’s just keep going until we get tired. Shouldn’t be any steep terrain up here – just an occasional drop into a gap. We can make some good time with this weather,” she said. They had probably transversed two thirds of the ridgeline when they stopped just before dawn to make camp. It was cold when they stopped, but the rising sun began hitting the side of the tent to warm things up inside. They were really tired and it was about noon when Russ woke up and went outside to fire up the stove to make some lunch. They were camped on a small flat area where it was only a short walk either way to scope out the excellent view in either direction. The color from the trees made it seem like someone had laid multicolored blankets down in the valleys on each side. It was Glenda’s turn for the pack. They followed the ridge trail as it meandered from one side of the range to the other, taking very little time to enjoy the scenery Late in the afternoon it veered to the left and began going down into the park. What had been a struggle going up was soon a major challenge going down. Russ was moving slowly knowing that he had a couple of hours before his knees would begin to feel the descent. They were still descending around 6 P.M. when they got to the tree line with the sun slowly sinking behind them. They had to break out the flashlight when darkness fell as the moon would not be helping them in the thick forest like it had up top last night. Using the light didn’t exactly thrill Russ as the flashlight might draw some attention, but he was sure no one would dream of looking for them back where he began hiking a couple of weeks ago. They stopped when Russ was ready to take his turn with the pack, but when they got going the descent became less steep when the trail began its switch backing into the floor of the park valley. They finally got to the valley floor around midnight, which was good timing because the flashlight was becoming dimmer. They found a good spot to make camp and it felt good to get into the tent and crash as both of them were exhausted. They were asleep in no time at all. They awoke to a fully lit tent, courtesy of the late morning sunshine. What a difference 24 hours can make! It didn’t take too long to get the stove started and a can of mixed fruit was shared while waiting for a can of noodles covered with some sort of unknown red sauce to heat up. “Hey, I think there is a meatball in here,” said Russ as he stirred the now steaming mixture. “We’ll split it!” “If we can get to the south end of the park by tonight, we have a shot at getting a hamburger at the restaurant there.” “Hey, Glenda, I wonder if your jeep is still up in the mountains where I left it. If we can get hold of 4 tires we can use that to get up north.”

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“What’s wrong with the tires I have on it.” “Uh, I slashed them!” “Real smart Russ. That could have been our transportation! At least you didn’t trash the thing. We never did get to it. We finally gave up chasing you and went back to the store hoping someone would come along. Finally, the girl ranger showed up.” “Amy.” “Yes, Amy. She deserves more respect than ‘girl ranger’. Sorry. Hated being so nasty to her, but I had a job to do.” “We better find a ride from the south end of the park rather than spending the time to get to the jeep. Maybe we can buy a ride. We still have most of the thousand dollars we found in Veach’s truck.” Glenda was soon putting on the pack, and Russ led the way through the woods on a trail along side the base of the mountain range they had just passed over. He knew it would eventually hook up to the main park trail just outside the park near the south gate. They filled their canteens in a stream that was gushing out one of the mountainsides. Around 2 in the afternoon, the sun actually began to feel a bit too warm through their layered clothing so they stopped briefly to shed a layer of it before breaking out into a clearing that appeared ahead. With the exception of the motel room from three nights ago, it was the best they had felt in a week as they strolled across the open areas in the bright sunshine. The trail began making a slight descent when they began getting near the south end of the park. The trail was now rock free, covered with a thick, colored cushion of leaves that had fallen or been blown there by the storm during the past couple of weeks. It was a nice treat that there were no blowdowns, which Russ had no interest in negotiating through any more. A side trail appeared about an hour later, so he dropped the pack and they both walked down the short path to a lookout. In a couple of minutes they were looking across a valley with a four-lane highway cutting through the bottom of it. There was a cluster of buildings near the highway and where the main park road intersected it about a mile outside the park. Russ had passed them by a couple weeks ago, but everything had been closed. “We’ll probably get there by dinnertime if we move out. Maybe we can do better than a hamburger,” said Russ gazing across the scene in which the colors did not have the brilliance of two weeks ago. “I’ll carry the pack the rest of the way just to make sure,” teased Glenda as she gracefully moved her tall frame towards where the pack had been left. She had already hoisted the backpack onto her shoulders by the time Russ got to her to grab the rifle. It seemed like her spirits were picking up now that the end of this was only a couple hours away. They still needed to figure out how to quickly traverse the 100 miles or so to where they left their gear and hopefully the money Rick had taken. After walking it one time, he knew he didn’t have the desire or physical stamina to do it again even if it meant just getting the 30 miles or so to where he had left Glenda’s jeep. The pain in his knees would not let him carry any kind of weight downhill. His knees began to feel better when the trail began to level off when they got close to civilization. The sun was just about ready to disappear over the side of the mountain they had just traversed when they began hearing the traffic of the highway ahead. Soon they were standing at the tree line looking across the large parking lot that catered to the restaurant, motel, gas station, and gift shop beyond. On the other side of the group of buildings was the familiar stone bridge he had crossed a couple weeks ago that carried the park trail over the busy highway.

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“Russ, it looks pretty quiet at the restaurant. I think it would be ok as long as we don’t both go in at the same time. I don’t see any police or ranger vehicles.” “All right, but I’ll go in first to make sure. Remember, you’re the one who’s description has been broadcasted all over so if anything happens and we get split up head north on the trail and I’ll meet you there later.” Russ headed across the lot and deposited the pack on the porch of the restaurant leaving Glenda to hide the rifle in the woods. He opened the door and walked in gratefully noticing that there were just a few patrons inside that were probably staying at the motel as there were no cars parked in the front. There was a family with a couple of kids in one booth and a man sitting at the counter busily absorbed in a plate of chicken and mashed potatoes. A waitress was sitting over in the corner probably waiting for the place to close that according to the sign at the door was to be in 45 minutes. She didn’t exactly look excited to have a customer when she came over to the booth he sat down in and handed him a menu. “I’ll take a regular coffee and a plate of chicken and mashed potatoes,” said Russ without even looking at the menu. “What kind of vegetables do you have?” “We might have some carrots left,” replied the waitress in a sharp tone that didn’t make him feel welcome. She was probably planning on leaving when the family and counter customer were done. He would try not to look at her expression when Glenda walked in the door. “Has all the excitement died down in the park?” he asked when she brought his coffee over to him. “I guess so,” she replied with disinterest. “The latest newscast had the police searching for the tall lady up north and along the interstate. Nothing has been going on around here.” Now Glenda was coming through the door as the waitress was turning and heading back to the kitchen. She probably heard her come in, but wasn’t really ready to face the prospects of yet another customer that would probably keep the place open past closing time. Russ saw Glenda stop suddenly when she looked towards the man at the counter. The man obviously knew who she was because he stopped eating and jumped off the stool in one motion. He excitedly went over to her and guided her back outside. What should he do now? He couldn’t let on that he knew her. It was pure luck that he was able to keep them in view from the window of the both as they walked across the lot and entered a room at the end of the small one level motel. “Here you are,” announced the waitress bringing a plate of food that was not steaming hot, but would do the job provided he could eat it and wonder what was going on in the motel room at the same time without getting indigestion. The couple with the kids was now at the register paying their bill. Russ motioned the waitress over while they were leaving and asked her to duplicate his order to go. He would have to take it over to a famished Glenda, and at the same time take a chance and find out what was going on in that room. It was dark outside when he finished eating and walked over to an anxiously awaiting waitress at the register. He paid for both meals and presented her with an undeserved generous tip before walking out to the front porch. He scanned the desolate parking lot while he put on the pack for the short trip over to the motel. He felt better when he saw Glenda peeking out the blind from the front window to the right of the door as he got closer. When he got near the room the door opened and he

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cautiously walked in pack and all. The man he head seen in the restaurant was sitting on a chair that was ordinarily facing the other way under a writing desk. There were a couple of half opened suitcases in the corner of the room with clothes sticking out of them. The door to the bathroom was opened and there were a couple of wet towels on the floor. The guy was definitely not a tourist or a high-powered businessman. “Russ, this is Jim Lansky. He owns a detective agency I worked for a few years ago. Thanks!” she said when she took the dinner box Russ handed to her. “Hi,” said Russ a bit warily, dropping the pack from this shoulders while wondering how Jim had just happened to end up here. “I’ve been on a case for the government. I know you and Glenda can’t be behind all the killings that have been going on around here. I just happened to be on my way home when she unbelievably walked into the restaurant. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised she is outside the search zone. Smart girl!” “Really a stroke of good luck,” said Russ somewhat sarcastically. “Actually, Russ, I found out he is looking for you.” “Me? What for? Why didn’t you just come over to my table after I walked in?” “I didn’t recognize you. You don’t look anything like the picture I have. I didn’t know it was you until I saw Glenda. The state police are after the both of you.” Russ turned towards the mirror in the room, and it became obvious to him why Jim was having a recognition problem. He looked like an old grizzly bear from being out in the woods for more than two weeks. “I got a package for you, Russ. Took us quite a while to locate you since you left on ‘vacation’,” said Jim as he got up and went over to a dresser and opened a door. He pulled out a small box that was heavily wrapped with brown paper and secured with packaging tape. He presented Russ with a receipt form that had to be signed before the package was released to him. “I thought I had this all figured out a few days ago when Larry died. What could be going on beyond that?” “Hey, it’s none of my business, that’s for sure.” said Jim holding up his left hand, palm out. “After all that has been going on with you over the past few months, I don’t even want to know. My job was to deliver it to you. Glenda tells me that you two don’t want a ride out of here when I leave. That’s your business, but you’d have a much better chance than just staying in this area. Anyway, sooner or later the police will be coming to me since I know Glenda so ‘I never laid eyes on either of you’. Jim was already beginning to pack up as he was talking, and it became rather obvious that he wasn’t planning on spending the night now that the package had been delivered. After signing the receipt, Russ took the package into the bathroom and began the process of unraveling the tape and tearing through the brown paper on the box. He hesitated before he removed the cover, almost if it might be anticlimactic as to what was in there and why. He removed the top and was now looking at more cash than he had ever seen in his life! There was also an envelope with his name typed on it. He opened it up to reveal a handwritten note on a plain sheet of paper. Dear Mr. Steward: Please accept this gratuitous payment as a severance package for your position at LPN. Your services were appreciated but will be no long required. Your employment file has

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been closed. You personal items left at the office have been boxed and forwarded to the local post office at the north end of the National Park you stated you would be going for your vacation. Enclosed is the card of a local moving company that we will pay to move your possessions out of your apartment to any location of your convenience. We only ask that you do not return to this locality, and in no circumstances discuss any financial matters you have been privy to at LPN with any person or organization. Your signature on the receipt for this package will signify your acceptance of this agreement. Regards, George Martin VP Finance, LPN It was bad enough he had gotten involved with Larry’s operation, and now here was another situation that might come back to bite him. If he would take the money he would be part of it, and if he refused it would someone be coming after him to shut him up? He had to believe Linda was on the up and up, and apparently George must have felt a bit of remorse over the situation to do this. George must not have had any knowledge of the depths certain government officials were going to maintain their agenda. He began stacking all the various denomination bills on the bathroom counter and estimated that he was in possession of about $75,000. There was a knock on the bathroom door. “Russ, are you ok in there? Jim just left.” Russ put all the bills back in the box. Looks like he couldn’t refuse the money if he wanted to at this point. He opened the door and watched Glenda finishing up the food he had brought. She must have been very hungry because she didn’t say anything to him until she lit a cigarette a few minutes later. “Come on, Russ. The suspense is killing me. What was in the package? “Looks like LPN is paying me $75,000 to keep my mouth shut about something. Could be anything from their accounting procedures to what I overheard at George talking with Linda about back at LPN.” “Wow! Must be something important. I know a bit about deceptive accounting, but what did you overhear them talking about?” “It was a discussion I overheard concerning something about the Fed is purposely keeping unemployment high so that interest rates and inflation stay low. That’s the only way to keep the national debt afloat. There was something said about cash subsidies being offered to companies that cooperated.” “That’s completely contradictory to what Congress and the President are telling us. Might be some sort of select group of ultraconservative higher ups who think they know best, and don’t care about the regular guy on Main Street needing a job. I’ve heard about groups like this, and if that’s what’s going on, I got a feeling the group couldn’t agree on how to handle you. I think that VP sent you the money because he believed your life was in danger if you ever came back. It seems to confirm what Larry told us that this organization was after you for more than what you found out about the compound, and maybe this is not over yet. Someone may still be out there to make sure you have a convenient accident.”

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“That’s exactly right, Glenda. It sure is confirming what Larry told us before he died. This $75,000 works for a couple years, but we will need more than that to afford a disappearing act. Better stick with our plan to get Rick’s stash.” “We could rent a limo to get us back to the other end of the park, now. We’re in good shape, Russ. We even have a free room for the night courtesy of the agency.” “I gotta make a phone call and then we better get some sleep. I’m going to see where the car rental office is and when it opens. Maybe we will be able to rent a car without a credit card with all this cash. We could get up there in a few hours by car. People who are looking for us will spot you more easily than me. Plus, if we are together, it will be a dead giveaway – tall, fortyish woman with older man.” “I know what you’re getting at. You’ll want me to lie on the seat or get in the trunk!” “You got it, Glenda! There is a parking lot just before the north gate with a side trail that leads to the river where we left our stuff. We don’t want to walk over any more mountains to get there.” “Agreed!” “Listen, I’m going to get a local paper when I go out and see what is going on around here. Be right back.” Russ made his way back to the front of the restaurant where he remembered seeing a newspaper dispenser. He put two quarters in the coin slot and glanced at the front page illuminated by one of the outside lights that were scattered about the group of buildings. The hunt was mostly centered to the north and west along the interstate. No one must have thought they would be crazy enough or have any reason to circle back into the park. Probably the best thing to do would be to check out the hidden pack and then drop the car back off at the rental office, which he noticed was on the other side of the restaurant from the motel. It didn’t have any hours listed on the door. They would then have to hike back over the mountain to pick up Veach’s truck. Maybe the old guy at the farmhouse had a vehicle they could buy rather than using the truck since the state police might be looking for it by then. A lot was at stake that the money would be located at the river! Before he got back to the room he stopped at a booth and made a phone call to his daughter to let her know he was all right and not to pay attention to any incriminating news reports she would be hearing shortly. He told her it would be a while before she would hear from him again. Glenda was fast asleep by the time he got back to the room. He went over to the small sofa and turned on the light and found himself reading the financial page, even though he knew he should be resting up for tomorrow. He was about to put it down and turn out the light when he saw a small article relating to LPN. It was just a small informational piece that was probably of little interest to most readers, but of great importance to Russ. It talked about the death of an LPN vice president, George Martin! He was found in his parked car with a bullet in his head. A gun was found in the front seat of his vehicle so at this point the authorities were looking at a suicide, but the investigation was continuing. Russ crawled into bed for a much needed rest, but his mental state kept sleep a long time from coming.

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Chapter 16 – Target on Hurricane Trail

Russ was awakened by the sunshine streaming through the window. He bolted out of bed knowing that he had slept longer than he planned. He heard some noises from the bathroom so Glenda hadn’t woke up early either. He looked at the clock and it was 9:30 A. M. They should have been an hour into the park already! He knocked on the bathroom door and told Glenda he was going to pick up a car and some donuts and coffee. As it turned out the car rental place hadn’t opened until nine, so they wouldn’t have got an early start anyway. There were only three cars to choose from, so he chose the large sedan because it looked the most like a tourist car for an older couple. He slipped the clerk a $50 bill and suddenly it was ok if he paid the bill in cash rather than the mandatory use of a credit card. He figured they could be up and back in 24 hours, assuming they could find the cash quickly, but decided to rent the car for three days in case there were any problems. He also needed to check out the post office north of the park to pick up his personal effects that had been sent there by LPN. He didn’t plan on coming back anytime soon to do that! He drove the car over to the motel, and backed it into the parking space in front of the room so Glenda could get in quickly from the door. It was about 11 by the time did all this plus picking up breakfast. “Glenda, breakfast has arrived,” he announced when he entered the room. He just about dropped the two hot drinks when he saw her turn around.

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“Russ, don’t be so shocked. I just changed my appearance a little bit so I don’t have to ride in the trunk. Jim left me a few disguise items.” Glenda was almost unrecognizable except for her height. She now looked about 10 years older with her black and grayish wig. Her old fashioned, loose skirt was a complete makeover from her usual tight fitting outfits. The horizontal striping pattern on her outfit along with the flat shoes she was wearing minimized her height and maximized her weight. The old-fashioned glasses completed the disguise. “You look as old as me,” was all Russ could say. “Just slouch in the front seat and we’ll be fine.” They finished the coffee and donuts, and threw the pack and the rest of their clothes and camping equipment in the trunk. Russ took about $500 in cash out of the box and added it to what he had left from Veach’s $1000. He put the rest of it in the trunk along with the rifle that Glenda had retrieved from the woods where it had been hidden last night. He slipped the revolver under the front seat, and drove slowly across the large lot passing in front of the restaurant and gift shop before turning on to the small road that ran to the stone bridge that crossed the highway below. He could see the white trail markers painted on the overpass that he had followed a couple weeks ago. The trail left the road when they got to the other side of the bridge and headed up the side of a mountain. They followed the fir tree lined parkway for a couple of miles and soon arrived at the gated south entrance of the park. “You folks here for the day?” the ranger assumed when he peered through the window at the late fiftyish looking couple. “Not sure,” answered Russ. “We heard all the news about the excitement here. Before that it was the after effects of the hurricane. Is everything open?” “Yeah, we finished cleaning the last of the parkway a few days ago. All the camp stores opened back up a couple days ago, and the lodge is open today for the first time in about three weeks. All the power is back on and we’re ready to get back to normal.” “We’ll take the three day pass,” Russ said getting a twenty dollar bill out of his wallet. He had mixed emotions when the ranger gave him a five in change that was the senior discount price. “Probably figured you were the senior,” Russ quipped to Glenda as they drove off. He looked up the mountains on either side of the roadway that he had crossed by foot. The color had backed off quite a bit from two weeks ago. In about 30 minutes they reached the trail crossing where he had first spotted Glenda’s jeep. He pulled over to the side and pointed out to Glenda where he had first seen her and Marvin. “I wonder how different things would have been if you had spotted me? I just got into the woods when you got here.” “You’d probably be dead, and everybody who is dead now would still be alive.” “Thanks for making me feel good,” replied Russ sarcastically. He pulled back onto the road and they drove in silence. Even with all the turmoil it was still possible to take in the beauty of the park. The road usually had a tree-covered mountain on one side, and a drop into a valley on the other. Once the road curved up and around a mountainside the views would usually switch sides. Three-foot high stone fences prevented anyone too absorbed by the scenery from running off the valley side of the road. The only time he could see the trail was when it suddenly decided it needed to cross the road to catch the next good view on the other side. Russ reinforced his earlier opinion that

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the view from the road were better than the trail as the paved surface climbed, descended, and curled like a snake under what little was left of any morning fog. They turned off on a gravel road to stop for lunch at the camp store where he had stolen Glenda’s jeep. He drove across the lot and parked at the now open small stand near the store and turned off the motor. He walked over to the lunch hut and came back with a couple of hot dogs packed with mustard and relish, two cokes, and a container of curly fries. “This should get us through the next couple of hours to the river.” “Not exactly a healthy fare for citizens of our age,” joked Glenda. “Too bad we can’t get your jeep back.” “If we get lucky at the river, I won’t be too concerned about it.” “I’ll do your taxes. We’ll write it off as a casualty loss.” “Probably be best if I don’t file any taxes.” “You’d be filing under a new identity, Glenda. Hopefully, there is enough in that pack to cover our expenses for the rest of our lives. My accounting career is definitely over with my age and no references from recent jobs. We both need new identities, social security cards, etc. All that will take a little time and money.” “Does this mean we’ll be staying together for a while?” “We need to talk about that, but let’s concentrate more on the immediate future,” replied Russ as he saw a ranger car enter the lot and pull into a spot next to the camp store. They watched as the ranger entered the store, and then Russ started the engine and they were soon back on the parkway headed north. It was a nice day and the traffic began to get heavier with the tourists trying to get in their last look at he fall foliage. Local radio had warned about this since many vacationers had delayed their trips from the previous two weeks while the park was closed. It was better that they be lost in the crowd, anyway. Hopefully, there wouldn’t be too many people hiking along the river trail where the money was hopefully still waiting for them. They drove by the entrance to the lodge, and at about 2:30 Russ was pulling into the crowded lot at the river trail, not too far from the bridge they had gone under with the canoe 4 days ago. “You don’t exactly have your hiking clothes on,” said Russ when he turned off the engine. “Maybe you should wait here.” “No way!” Glenda quickly replied. “Besides, it would be tough for you to find the exact spot where we left our gear. You were just there for a few minutes. I was hanging around for quite a while waiting.” “We’re going to look a little funny carrying all that gear out with all these people around. Maybe we should try and locate it now and wait until the day hikers go back to their campsites before we carry everything out.” “Not a bad idea. Let’s go make sure the stuff is still there.” They walked across the lot to the trailhead not attracting any attention, as there were many other older couples out walking. There was always somebody in view as they started along the path. Soon they found themselves standing by the river with the bridge off to the left. There were several canoes coming down the river with excited teenagers paddling with the swift current. They continued walking along the pathway further into the woods, but there were many hikers of all ages slowly meandering along or sitting alongside the river. In about 10 more minutes they could see the dense brush area ahead where Glenda figured their excess gear had been left. All that remained to be done now was to hang around for a couple more hours until people headed back to their camping areas or motels.

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They walked up to the thick brush where the trail was forced to make a turn to get around it. They pushed into it as the trail went right hoping they would run into the packs. They had no luck on the first pass-through and soon ran into the trail about 10 minutes later when it meandered back down to the river. “Let’s go down by the river and claim a spot,” suggested Russ as they walked back down the trail so they could eventually try again.. “This is pure torture, not being able to barge in there and root around. You don’t think someone has taken it by now, do you?” agonized Glenda as they moved into single file to let a couple get through that was going the other way. “I don’t think anyone would bother to walk through all of that brush. We might as well cool our heels and wait. Not too much we can do without drawing attention with this entire crowd around.” There was a small grassy spot where they could sit and keep watch on the vital area. Russ lay down and listened to the talking and laughter of the tourists as they walked or boated by. He watched the puffy clouds slowly pass across the background of the late afternoon sky. Glenda stayed in a sitting position watching they critical area out of the corners of her eyes. Russ was still lost in his thoughts an hour later barely noticing the giggling of a female teenager when he felt a jab in his ribcage. “Russ, a couple of teenage kids just walked into the brush areas. I think they’re just trying to stay along the edge of the river, but they might see something.” “I’ll check it out,” Russ replied. He walked over to the trail and followed it around until it met the river on the other side of the brush, but he did not see the teenagers. Now he would have to walk back towards Glenda through the brush to make sure the kids hadn’t discovered anything. Maybe he would just be interrupting them in an amorous embrace rather than hovering over the hidden packs. Sure enough, they were just up ahead absorbed in each other. Good thing, because about 20 feet to their left behind some heavier brush was the pack and stuff bags of other things they had left there. The teens jumped up and scampered back towards Glenda when they heard him approach. He looked in the stuff bags but it was just their equipment. He grabbed the pack and slung it loosely on his shoulders preparing to struggle back though the thick mess as quietly as he could towards Glenda. Fortunately, the coast was clear when he popped back onto the trail. “You found the pack! Wonder which pocket the money is in?” “Well, we got something here,” said Russ as he partially unzipped the back pocket revealing a large waterproof bag full of Ben Franklins. “The other two pockets are full of cash, too. Wow, most of the pack is full of cash. Could be over a million dollars here!” “Rick must have hated to leave this behind. I’m sure he would have been right back here after his business with us was complete.” “He must have just taken this from the compound for evidence. Any crook would have never left this much money behind.” “I wonder if there was any more money left in Veach’s truck? We didn’t have a lot of time to do a thorough job before you left it with the guy at the farmhouse.” “I guess we could take a ride over there before we turn the car in since we have it for a couple more days. The search in this areas should be less intense now since they gotta believe we are gone by now. Let me put this pack back on and let’s get out of here. Don’t think the other bags are worth carrying out.”

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There were still a few people around, but definitely not as many as before so Russ flipped the pack over his shoulder and with some help from Glenda got it over the other one. He buckled everything up and they began the short walk back to the car. There were only about a half dozen vehicles in the lot when he opened the trunk and put the pack inside. The sun was getting ready to disappear over the mountain range behind them when they got to the parkway. “Glenda, there is enough cash here where I’m not going to worry about my personal effects LPN sent to the post office. I can buy all new stuff! Besides, the place is going to be closed now anyway.” “I figured you shouldn’t bother with that stuff anyway since it might be risky going there. Didn’t want to say anything since some of it might be things like pictures and mementos that were really important to you.” “There are some things like that, but wouldn’t do me much good if I got caught with all this cash.” They turned south and headed back to the motel. It wasn’t until he had to turn on the headlights that he noticed the car behind them, which seemed to keep pace with them over the next half hour. “Glenda, someone could be on to us. The car behind us seems to be keeping an equal distance behind us no matter how fast or slow I go. See the glow of its headlights over that last hill we just came over?” “I don’t know, Russ. We’ve been pretty careful. Maybe it’s just a coincidence.” “Let’s check it out. That last campground is coming up just before we get back to the motel. I’m going to pull in there and see if it comes in behind us. If it does I’m just going to circle around the camping area road and come back to the highway. If it is still with us, we have a problem!” “Ok, I guess it won’t hurt anything to make sure.” It was about 10 minutes later when they reached the familiar gravel road that led to the camp store Russ would soon be at for the third time in as many weeks. It had been dark for a couple hours when they made the turn, and headed very slowly towards the lot. The tires were crunching over the large stones of the roadway as Russ sighed with relief when the headlights of the other vehicle flashed by on the parkway. Maybe he had overreacted to the situation, but he wasn’t going to let his guard down until they were far removed from the park. “Do you think it is safe to spend another night at the motel?” Glenda asked while they were passing through the deserted south gate. “Let’s not take the chance. How about we circle around the mountain and get back to the farmhouse where I left Veach’s truck? We can check it out in the morning and then drop the car back off at the rental agency. I remember seeing a bus schedule in their office that has a coach passing through at 2 P.M. every day. We need to hop that bus and get to a major transportation center. Then we’ll figure out where we should go.” “Sounds like a-“ Glenda never got to finish her comment, when the large SUV stopped in the middle of the road ahead surprised them as they drove over a hill. Russ instinctively slammed on the brakes. He heard a thump to his right, and realized that Glenda’s head must have hit the windshield while their car screeched to a halt with the front of it ending up in the middle of the road and the rear on the shoulder. It was too late to do anything by the time he saw the

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headlights illuminating a figure that darted in front of the car. Russ’s door suddenly opened and Jim was pointing a revolver at him. “Where’s the pack?” he ordered waving the gun at him. “What do you think you’re doing? Are you crazy?” “Shut Up! Open the trunk!” Jim instructed since the dome light revealed there was nothing in the back seat. “What about Glenda?” said a concerned Russ looking at the large gash on her forehead and blood all over the front of her face as she sat there motionless. “What about her? I knew something was going on when she didn’t want to leave with me. It must involve money if she was hanging around here with her picture all over the news. Then I saw her coming out of the motel room this morning with that disguise. I taught her well in that department! I’ve been following you all day, and I saw you come out of the woods with a pack and toss it into the trunk. I’ll just take that and you can go on your merry way.” “Yeah, sure! Especially when we know where to find you.” “Just hit the trunk release and get out of the vehicle.” Russ did as he was told and got out of the car when the barrel of the revolver jammed into his ribs. Jim began rifling through the pack grunting his approval when he saw the packs of bills in the pockets. He let out a gasp when he saw the huge bag of cash at the bottom of the main compartment. “Let’s take that pack over to my car, buddy”, ordered Jim, once again thrusting the revolver into his side. “You can give me that LPN money, too. I can keep that, but the powers that be waiting back at the motel will get most of the other.” Russ pulled the pack from the trunk wondering about the “powers that be’, and walked over towards Jim’s car that was easily visible as the rental car’s headlights illuminated the area. Jim was right behind him, and opened his trunk motioning Russ to toss the pack in. Russ noted that they were at the beginning of the downward slope on the other side of the hill they had just climbed. No wonder he hadn’t seen Jim’s car until it was too late! Jim flipped the LPN money into the front seat while waving the revolver at him telling him to walk back to the rental. “Walk over there,” said Jim pointing to a specific spot off the roadway near the open door keeping his weapon trained on Russ. He hopped in the still running vehicle and slipped the lever into drive while keeping his foot on the brake. Russ realized he was about to let the car careen down the hill with an unconscious Glenda in the front seat! “Stop, you SOB!” he yelled out. Russ started running towards the now slow moving vehicle. A shot rang out and he expected the feel of instant pain as its round bored through his body. That didn’t happen and Jim wasn’t getting out of the vehicle because a struggle was going on in the front seat. Glenda must have come to and surprised him just when he was ready to jump out. Another shot rang out as the engine revved to a high pitch and the rental took off swerving and squealing down the mountainside until it glanced off a stone wall about 100 yards down the hill. All Russ could do was helplessly watch as the headlights illuminated a group of large trees at the top of the bank on the opposite side of the parkway while the accelerating vehicle careened out of control down the hill at times on the roadway and at other times trying to ride up the bank. Finally, it curved off to the right and exploded in a ball of fire

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when it struck something at the bottom of the hill. He ran down the hill hoping that Glenda had somehow jumped out before it crashed. “Russ, over here,” a faint voice called out about halfway down the hill. He could see her in some high grass about halfway up the bank in the flickering light provided by the burning car. “Thank God you got out of there! Are you all right?” he exclaimed when he got to her. “I guess I’ll survive,” she answered while Russ helped her up to her feet. She still had some blood on her face and she was hobbling somewhat when they started walking back up the roadway towards Jim’s car. “I can’t believe that guy! I worked with him for years.” “Too much money involved. I saw what it did to Larry” “What do we do now?” “We got some settling up to do back at the motel. Some upper level guys involved in all of this are back there waiting for Jim to bring them the money.” “I think we can do everyone a favor by using up the few grenades left in Rick’s pack. What else can we do? They’ll be after us when they find out about Jim, and the police really won’t believe anything we say now.” “Yeah, not much choice,” said Russ when they got back to Jim’s car. “Let’s get going before someone comes along and sees the mess at the bottom of the hill.” The fire was just about out from the car and fortunately did not seem to be spreading because things weren’t really dried out from the hurricane. They slowly drove by just in case Jim had somehow survived, but didn’t see him. The authorities, no doubt, would find his burnt corpse in the wreckage. It was about midnight when they pulled into the motel lot. They got out of the car, Glenda carrying the rifle, Russ the revolver, and they both had a grenade. They silently headed toward the motel office, and were soon inside it after Glenda picked the lock on the front door. A quick search on the computer indicated 3 single rooms right next to each other occupied by men from DC. Only a couple other rooms on the far side of the motel were rented for the night and they were registered to families. Russ looked out the office window and saw that a light was on in one of the DC rooms. “Let’s do it now, Glenda. Let’s put an end to all of this!” Russ followed Glenda across the dark lot and they silently went to the front door of the room. Before Russ could even think about the next step, Glenda had kicked the door in and they were facing three men who had just jumped up in surprise. “Jim won’t be here. You guys are out of luck,” she said. “Look out!” yelled Russ when he saw a bathroom door begin to open. A shot rang out and Glenda was down. She fired at the bathroom door and a figure falling forward pushed it open. Russ would always remember what happened next in slow motion. Glenda was falling down looking towards him with a smile while pulling the pin out of her grenade. The three men were rushing towards the back of the room trying hopelessly to get away. Now Russ was instinctively running outside and was knocked forward onto the parking lot by the force of the blast. He got up and turned around to look at what was left of the front wall of the room. He turned back towards the car agonizing how Glenda had escaped death a few hours earlier and was now gone. He had so much he wanted to say to her. Now he couldn’t. He had only known her for a short time – really well for a couple of weeks! Now someone he would have been close to for the rest of his life as of 10 minutes ago was gone.

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It took every effort in his body to move back to the car and start it up. He pulled out on the main highway and headed west where eventually he turned off on the state road that would eventually get him back to the farmhouse where he had left Veach’s truck. He drove in grief; his mind was in a fog of disbelief as to what had just happened. It would be morning before they began searching for Jim’s car. He was sure the man at the farmhouse could make this car disappear and provide him with a good trade for Veach’s truck. A little bit of the money he was carrying would make it even more worthwhile! He looked at the mountain range to his right that he and Glenda had just crossed to get the pack he was now in possession of. He wished now they had never tried. But they were too involved to make it go away, and the same thing that just happened might have eventually come about in some form or fashion. This thought didn’t really help. All he could do is remember her last smile. He had just lost the best friend he had ever had, and he couldn’t even say goodbye.

EPILOGUE Grandkids can get you to do things you don’t want to. The motel and restaurant were now gone as Russ sat in the back seat of his daughter’s van when it turned left off the highway onto the new asphalt roadway that led to the south gate. He wondered if the motel ever reopened after that night he still would never get over. There was a brand new one there now. The two grandsons were sleeping on the seat next to Russ. His daughter had made reservations at the lodge for a couple of days, and the boys were not to be denied as to letting their grandfather show them some of the places he had hiked and camped some fifteen years ago. His son-in-law was talking to him from the driver’s seat in front, but he stopped listening and was just looking when they drove up the hill where Jim had stopped them. They drove through the gap where Russ had seen the sign stating that the park was closed because the hurricane was coming. He saw a tall, slender figure walking around a jeep at the side of the road, but when he blinked his eyes the vision was gone. He saw Black Mountain and wondered if the view was as good today as it had been years ago. The van was about to bypass the gravel road leading to the store like it wasn’t even there. A stopped ranger car was waiting for them to get by so it could make a left onto the gravel road. He was sure that was Amy driving with an obscure figure in the back. He turned around to look, but the car was gone. It was an unusually hot spring day, and the blue sky was the perfect backdrop for the green of the mountains. He couldn’t help but stare at the scenery remembering what he and Glenda had gone through years ago. He had forgotten about the key he had found in Veach’s truck. Sure enough, it went to a safe deposit box at the only bank southwest of the park where Larry had his business accounts for the compound. Veach’s license was still in the truck so it wasn’t too difficult to access the box and get all of his illegal earnings, too. He drove the car he had traded for Veach’s truck to Raleigh and found an out of the way apartment. He had to open several safe deposit boxes at a few banks for enough room to fit all the cash he had. Just about

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everything was $100 bills and he figured there was over 2 million dollars – he never really took the time to count it. He was pleased to have been a financial help to both of his daughters over the past decade. He wished he could have had the chance to ask Glenda where her half should go. The van was now pulling into the parking lot at the lodge. It looked about the same as before except there was an addition at the one end where the ranger station had been. Russ walked down to the dining room after they had settled into their adjoining rooms. It looked just the same as before with the large picture window in the rear, the bar along one side, and the doors leading to the kitchen. He walked over to the wall he had crawled along years ago trying to get out of the place and began reading some of the plaques on it containing geological and historical data. He strolled over to look at a group of plaques hanging at the center of the wall, one below the other. He saw the name Amy Rittenhouse by itself on one of them. The rest of them had unrecognizable last names with Chad, Johnny, and Chuck in front of them. No doubt, they were the full names of all the rangers who died during that fateful week. Obviously, none of them had been implicated in the drug ring. That would shortly prove to be a good thing. “That was my mom,” said a young teenager that was suddenly by his side. “She was killed here 13 years ago. My grandparents and I come here every Mother’s Day.” “I remember the story in the newspapers,” replied Russ softly, not realizing until now that this was a special Sunday. Amy must have been a single parent. “Do you plan on being a ranger like your mom?” “Not exactly. I want to get into law enforcement. No one ever really came up with the full story behind my mother’s death. All I was told was that it involved a group of people fighting over drug money. I believe it had to be more than that.” “How so?” “Why would they come all the way up here to argue over it? The investigation was centered at an old training center south of the park. They never found any of the money so I got to believe someone else was involved.” “Pretty good theory. You know they require a 4-year degree to get into police work now. Plan on going anywhere?” “I can’t expect my grandparents to pay for it,” she said looking over to a table where there was an older couple talking to one of the waiters.” “I think you’ll make out just fine,” said Russ smiling at her. “You just keep remembering your mother at the lodge every year. She was a brave lady.” He walked back to his room and got out his suitcase. He believed Amy had gotten in way over her head and was trying to get away from being involved in the operation from what Larry had said.. She was dead because he had been on the run. He put 100 $100 bills in an envelope along with an anonymous note and took it down to the front desk. He asked the clerk to put it in the lodge safe and contact a Ms. Rittenhouse to pick it up. He gave the clerk $100 and told him to forget about who was giving him the envelope. The note inside told her a money order would be sent to the lodge for the next three years around Mother’s Day for her to pick up. Maybe with the final order he would pen a letter to let her really know the full story.

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