Evil: Finding St. Germaine
Alex returns to Wyndley Farm, her childhood home in Virginia, to await the birth of her baby.
An urgent call from Crescent City Medical Center compels her to return to New Orleans to investigate cruel, questionable incidents and heinous patient deaths.
Digger Stildove returns from Yemen where he has searched for Jacob Stark.
Michaela McPherson travels from Richmond with police dog Angel to consult with Commander Francoise in his search for St. Germaine. Events unfold as the evil continues and the hospital attempts to safeguard patients and staff.
Release date: July 17, 2017
Publisher: Bluestone Valley Publishing
Print pages: 292
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Evil: Finding St. Germaine
The young man’s body twisted nervously as the Al Qaeda leader secured the explosive belt around his waist. Beads of sweat stood on his forehead even though the day was cool. He sighed deeply and brushed tears from his eyes. His handler looked at him and said softly. “Amad, you know you don’t have to do this. You don’t have to die for Allah. The decision is yours and yours alone. You are in control,” the man reminded him gently.
The young man, barely eighteen years of age, swallowed the lump in his throat and said, “Are there no other ways I can serve Allah? I have a lot of knowledge and wisdom for my young years.” The boy knew he was begging, but he didn’t want to die.
His handler nodded and held the younger man’s eyes with his own. “Yes, you do. You can serve in many ways. But the most honorable and compelling thing you can do is die for Allah and our cause. You will be a martyr, a hero to your family,” the man assured him. “Our war is a holy war. Jihad.”
The young man bit his lip in an effort to hold back the tears that scorched his eye sockets. His body trembled with uncertainty and his voice quavered. “You’re sure, a martyr, a hero? You are sure my family will know?”
“Positive. I promise you that I will tell them myself,” the older man replied as he patted Amad on the back. “I will go there tonight and speak with your mother.”
Amad nodded and tried to control his anxiety. He bit his lip, drew blood, and hoped the pain would take away his fear. He looked away from his handler as tears popped into his eyes again.
The terrorist leader pleaded softly, “You will be revered forever and honored among your friends. Your family will be rewarded for your sacrifice,” he promised with a pat of his shoulder.
The young man shifted his position and nodded as his handler gave him the detonator, hidden in a cell phone.
Amad accepted the phone. It burned deeply into his flesh. He wanted to toss it into the air, and throw it as far away as he could. But instead, he stood mutely and stared at the leader, powerless.
His handler observed him carefully and said, “Just press the green button when you are ready.” The man gave him a confidant smile and added, “For Allah,” and backed away into the crowded market.
Amad stared at the phone. His heart beat furiously and hammered against his chest wall. I’ll wait a minute and see if I can gain some courage. I know it is an honor to serve Allah, but I don’t want to die. He looked into the crowd, his countrymen, as they moved through their daily rituals and bargained for vegetables, fowl, and Qat. His heart rate slowed a bit and he breathed deeply.
After all, his handler promised him he could always change his mind at the last minute. He decided he wouldn’t die and he considered multiple ways to serve Allah in his mind. He’d present them to his handler. But then, of course, he wouldn’t. He’d never had a choice.
Digger Stildove peered from behind a cotton drape hanging in a Qat stall at a market in Ta’izz, the cultural capital of Yemen. The stall was packed with Yemeni men who offered him cover from whoever had tracked him for the past several days. The Yemeni men wore traditional dress, their Yambiya curved blades in their belts as they inspected the freshly picked branches of Qat loosely packed in yards of fabric or boxes. Qat, an addictive evergreen shrub, acted as a stimulant for the Yemeni people. It was cheap and plentiful. Digger knew Qat was regarded as a narcotic in the United States. The evergreen was chewed by Yemeni men, women, and children every day after lunch. Yemen was a nation addicted to Qat, but each time he was there, it took him days to become accustomed to the huge bulges of chewed Qat nestled in the cheeks of the Yemini people. Nevertheless, the habit disgusted him as many bearded faces were stained with Qat juice.
Digger knew the country of Yemen well. He’d traveled in and out of Yemen for years on special assignments for the U.S. government. On this visit, he was on a special mission for his dear friend and godchild, Alexandra Destephano, the beloved granddaughter of Congressman Adam Patrick Lee and his wife Kathryn.
He was tracking an American patriot and a one-time questionable traitor named Jacob Stark in the highly dangerous country. Digger knew Stark had taken a part in the terror attack on Wyndley Farm last year, but had been exonerated by the Secret Service. Why Stark had been excused troubled Digger. He’d seen Stark’s classified file and the man was unquestionably an American hero. Was Stark back with the CIA? Was he on a surveillance mission, tracking Al Qaeda? His background in counter terrorism certainly qualified him to be there. Digger just hadn’t had time to put all of it together.
Digger had again become accustomed to the huge amounts of Qat that men kept in their mouths all day. What was new to him was the angry pulse of the country and suspicious hostile faces all around him. Fortunately, most Yemenis didn’t give Digger a second glance. His native-American coloring, dark eyes and hair blended well with the looks of a middle-aged Arab in the Republic of Yemen, an Arab nation in southern Asia near the southern end of the Arabian Peninsula.
He was startled as a tall Yemeni dressed in a white, flowing thoob, the tradition dress of the Yemeni, moved directly in front of him, and blocked him with his arm. The Yemeni stared at him with a malevolent eye. “What do you want?” he asked with suspicion thick in his voice as he leered into Digger’s personal space, his beard within an inch of Digger’s cheek.
Digger backed away, towards the open area of the tent, stared at him but said nothing. The man, angered by the silence, grabbed his shoulder.
“What do you want? Why are you here?” the man growled in a low voice. The Arab spoke English with the typical Yemeni accent, his cheeks filled with chewed Qat leaves. Dark green spittle stained his lips. The cold, dark eyes of the Arab pierced Digger’s eyes as Qat juice ran down his chin and dropped on the dirt floor.
Digger could smell the evergreen on the man’s breath as he returned the man’s insolent stare and said, “I want Qat. What do you think I want?” he snarled. “Isn’t that what you sell?” he added as he peered over the man’s shoulder at a vendor pushing a wheelbarrow full of souvenirs several hundred feet away. There was something about the way the man moved and the tilt of his head that attracted Digger’s attention. It wasn’t the humbled look of a man of Islam or the defiant look of a terrorist. It was a face, even covered with an abundance of facial hair, which was definitely American. Digger’s heart raced. He played the tapes in his mind … the scarce information he had on Jacob Stark, an American traitor and mortal enemy of his close friend, Congressman Adam Patrick Lee of Virginia. But Stark was also the dearly loved and most probable father of the congressman’s granddaughter’s unborn child. Digger didn’t think anyone actually knew who Jacob Stark really was … or what he did. His gut guided him. Stark had been up to his eyebrows in counterterrorism and intelligence for years after he’d retired from the Army as a Ranger and major. He doubted if Stark even identified with his true self. His gut told him it was Stark. It’s him. It’s Stark. I’ve gotta move.
Digger pushed a pile of American bills at the stranger and moved quickly several steps away from the stall, down the street towards the vendor and wheelbarrow. Digger “knew” Jacob Stark only by his CIA file, his military record, and a few video clips. But he “knew” him differently through the eyes of Alex Destephano, the young woman he’d watched grow up on her grandfather’s farm, now a lovely thirty-something woman. Alex was madly in love with a traitor, a man with questionable loyalties, morals, and ethics. The man who, less than a year ago, had tried to destroy everything Digger held sacred … his home, his wife, his friends, and Adam and Kathryn Lee.
Digger smiled to himself as he thought of Alex and how pleased she’d be when he told her he had found, or at least seen, Jacob Stark. Alex and Digger had always had a special relationship. Digger and his wife, Mary, had been a second set of parents to Alex who’d been raised by her grandparents. Alex had spent many nights with them in their rustic cabin near her grandparents’ estate in central Virginia’s Hanover County. He’d taught her to hunt and fish in the woods and waters around Wyndley Farm and, under his guidance, she’d become an expert tracker, fisherman, and marksman. Alex could catch more fish than the average tournament fisherman. Digger had shared his “Injun Know How and Wisdom” as he chose to think of his heritage and as a result, Alex had learned to open her head and heart to spirits, animals, and nature. She’d become an exceptional person and humanitarian. He was as proud of her as he was of her famous grandfather, a U.S. Congressman, and major player in the national intelligence service.
A flash of light caught his eye as a young man, perhaps not out of his teen years, emerged from a stall filled with wool carpets and cotton clothing. The boy was dressed in white. His young body bulged with explosives. A telltale backpack angled widely and exposed a massive load of metal under it. A suicide belt. The young man moved into the center aisle of the market, his right arm thrust upward holding a cell phone, the detonator for the suicide bomb. A shriek arose from the crowd and turned into a cacophony of horror as pandemonium broke loose and everyone raced for cover. The words “Allah Akbar” seared through the marketplace as palpable fear crystallized on the faces of men, women, and children as they drove to the ground, their hands over their heads, and their bodies covering the bodies of their children.
Digger’s would-be attacker shot him a terrified look as he returned to the Qat stall, jumped on top of his friends, and pulled boxes and bundles of Qat over him. Digger moved into the stall behind him.
The sound of the blast was excruciating. Eardrums popped and bulged as shrapnel cut into buildings, vendor stalls, and the tender flesh of men, woman, and children. The silence that followed deafened until the screams of injured and dying people cut through the air.
It was a beautiful spring morning in rural Virginia. Alex had hiked a couple of miles up the North Anna River accompanied by Shogun, her newly adopted, retired military dog. Shogun was impressive, a beautiful Belgian Malinois who’d done two tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. He was a highly trained canine and had been a valuable asset to the U.S. Army. An American hero, Shogun was an athletic dog capable of enduring some of the harshest terrains in the world.
He’d participated in more than four hundred military patrols, discovered countless explosive devices such as mines and bombs, and been directly involved with the apprehension of insurgents who’d sold Improvised Explosive Devices or IEDs to terrorist cells in the region.
Shogun had come to the attention of Alex’s grandfather, Congressman Adam Patrick Lee of Virginia, who’d learned through the grapevine that his owner and trainer, a marine gunnery sergeant, had been killed in Afghanistan. A law and order politician and congressional expert on military intelligence, Adam Lee had long been an advocate for and proponent of German Shepherds and Belgian Malinois as full-fledged members of the armed forces. Several “retired” service dogs had spent their later years at Wyndley Farm where they were revered and loved for their high level of intelligence, loyalty, and controlled aggression. Adam had given Shogun to Alex as a welcome home gift when she’d returned from France earlier this year.
Alex paused and admired the beauty of an oak tree on the opposite side of the river. The morning sun shone through the newly opened leaves and created multiple bursts of green and yellow. The beauty of the trees was translucent. Alex closed her eyes and imagined how she would blend the colors on a canvas of habotai silk or watercolor paper. Shogun stood quietly next to her. The sunlight reflected on his honey colored coat as he halted his stride and looked up to her for direction, his clear eyes waited for her command.
“Let’s sit a minute and rest,” Alex said as she scratched his ears. Shogun continued to look at her until she commanded, “Sit.”
The dog sat obediently next to Alex on the ground and she placed her arm around his shoulders as the pair watched the sun dance off of the clear water and sparkling rocks of the North Anna River in the May sun. The soft rush of the water over the rocks was music to Alex’s ears and a soft wind whistled through the tall hardwoods. She closed her eyes, rubbed her dog’s furry neck, and relished in the peace and tranquility of her childhood home. The past year had been difficult, a tragic year for Alex in many ways, and coming home to Wyndley Farm was the medicine she needed.
The bright sun made Alex sleepy. Her eyes were heavy as she lay on the dry ground, her arm around her dog. Shogun lay quietly beside her, his eyes half closed in the morning sun, but vigilant in the calm of the morning. For a moment, Alex thought she saw Belle, their local Civil War ghost, peering at her through the trees, but she wasn’t sure. Belle always appeared when Alex and her grandmother were in danger. She smiled as she remembered her childhood with the ghost as she fell asleep in the warm sunshine.
She was jolted awake by the sound of voices in the woods and a low, ferocious growl from Shogun. She scrambled to her feet as a shot rang out quickly followed by a second one. The dog bolted. Alex ran after him, but he was much faster and she was six months pregnant. She panicked for a second and called his name. “Shogun, come back. They’re hunters, poachers. Stop.” Alex’s heart hammered in anxiety. She’d die if something happened to her dog. She couldn’t endure more heartache and violence. Tears of desperation filled her eyes.
Shogun heard her command and stopped but took off again. He seemed to travel at the speed of light. He paused at the bank of the river. A third shot crackled through the trees and disturbed the leaves as it whizzed by Alex’s ears. These people are crazy.
Alex hit the ground, pulled her cell from her pocket, and speed dialed her grandmother, Kathryn Lee, at the main house of the farm. Kathryn answered immediately. “Alex, what’s wrong,” she asked, with fear in her voice. “Where are you? I heard a gunshot.”
“Grand, nothing serious,” she said calmly, “I promise.” Alex pictured her lovely grandmother as she drank coffee in her glass-enclosed morning room as the sun streamed through her beautiful white hair. Kathryn was most likely dressed in her jeans, flannel shirt, and riding boots. Today was one of the days she planned to ride her horse. Alex could barely see the house from her location down river, but she knew that Kathryn had glanced over the Washington Post.
“Then why are you calling me?” her grandmother asked in a peeved voice. “Aren’t you out for a walk with Shogun?”
Alex nodded and said, “Yes, yes, I’m walking. But there are poachers hunting illegally on Granddad’s land. Would you call the game warden for me? I don’t have his number in my cell.”
Kathryn sighed and said, “Okay, I will.” She shook her head. “Here we go again,” she said in a disdainful voice. “I’m sick of this because we go through it every year. We spent a small fortune posting the land and no one pays any attention around here.”
Alex visualized the look of disgust on her grandmother’s aging but still beautiful face. “I know. It’s truly a pain in the tail.”
“Oh my, is that another shot?” Kathryn asked. “Let me get off here and call the game warden. I’m sure he’s besieged with calls.”
“Thanks, Grand. We’ll be back in a little bit. Save me some coffee,” she teased, knowing that Kathryn would have consumed every drop.
“Hang on. Tell you what, let me send one of the agents out there on an ATV just to be sure that they’re hunters. That should scare the living daylights out of whoever is trespassing on our land.”
Alex laughed, “Yeah, you can try that. But you know Granddad will have a fit since they’re government employees,” Alex warned her. “You know how he is about that, right?”
“Hell yes, I know, Alex. I’m the one who’s been married to him for almost sixty years,” she said in an exasperated voice. “You don’t need to warn me. I definitely have the old coot’s number,” she insisted with a laugh.
Another shotgun blast reverberated in Alex’s ears. Alex couldn’t see Shogun anywhere. She whistled and called for him, but he didn’t come. Her heart hammered in her chest.
“Is that another shot?” her grandmother asked. “I’ve already heard three shots from up here.”
Alex shook her head and steadied her voice. “Yeah, it’s another shot and I can’t find my dog. On second thought, call the guys at Command Central and send a couple of agents out here on an ATV. These poachers are reckless.”
“Okay, I’m on it,” her grandmother assured her as she clicked off. Alex stood and scanned the shoreline and the woods. She whistled for Shogun again. She couldn’t hear voices anymore, but she heard a lot of thrashing through the trees. Two deer, a mother and fawn, rushed through a grove of trees. The doe, critically wounded and unable to run any longer, fell to the ground. Her baby, uncertain of what to do, stood over her. Alex felt the fawn’s fear. She was enraged.
A flash of resentment shot through her. It’s not doe season. Hell, it’s not even hunting season. And if you’re gonna hunt, then shoot to kill. What kind of moron shoots a deer like this? The thought of the animal’s suffering boiled her blood and she started to walk towards the noises in the woods when she heard a voice curse.
“Get that dog out of here. Where the hell did he come from?” the first voice said. “If the damned dog doesn’t move, I’m gonna shoot it.” The man picked his rifle up and aimed at Shogun.
“Let’s get out of here. I don’t like the way this is turning out,” the second voice said. “Forget the deer, we can shoot them anytime.”
Alex looked through a grove of evergreens and saw two men with long hunting rifles staring at Shogun, who furiously growled at them.
The taller man raised his gun and his finger teased the trigger.
“Shogun, at ease,” Alex hollered. Her voice reverberated through the forest. The dog immediately stopped growling and returned to a sitting position. Alex ran towards the dog and took his lead. She turned to face the trespassers and said, “You’ve trespassed on private land.”
The first hunter, a heavyset dark headed man in blaze orange and camo looked at her and snarled. “Private land, so what? The forests are overrun with deer, we’re doing whoever’s land this is a favor.”
Alex was furious as she stared at the man. “You’re breaking the law. You’re trespassing and you just shot a doe. It isn’t doe season. It’s not even hunting season.”
“So what, who cares?” the hunter said as he moved closer until he was only a few feet from her. “The farmers love us. Killing deer saves their crops,” he leered at her.
“Leave immediately … before I call the game warden,” she warned. She could feel Shogun stiffen at her side.
The hunter came two steps closer and laughed in her face. “Yeah, sure, the game warden will get here next week … maybe. I’m scared to death,” he said, sarcastically ridiculing her.
Shogun growled again. Louder this time. He bared his teeth and his fur stood up on his large body. One word from Alex and the man would be on the ground.
The second hunter spoke for the first time, “Pete, Pete, let’s go. Let’s git outta here. We can go somewhere else. That dog looks mean,” he added as he darted his eyes to Shogun.
Pete shook his head, “Shut up. I ain’t scared of no damned dog.” He stared at Shogun whose fur had bristled even more. “I’ll just give him a taste of this,” he threatened as he held his rifle up.
“Put the rifle down and get out of here,” Alex said firmly her voice loud and clear although she was frightened and enraged at the man’s insolence.
Pete laughed at her and took a step closer “And just who are you, Missy?” he asked in a sarcastic voice as his eyes roved her body. “Some sort of a royal person or something?” He took a bottle of cheap whiskey out of the pocket of his camo jacket and drank deeply.
Alex shook her head. “One more time, get out of here.” There was nothing she hated more than “drunked-up blaze orange rednecks” who hunted illegally. She stared directly in the man’s eyes and said, “Your aim is off, you’re drunk, and the animal you shot was tortured.”
Pete stared at her, his red-rimmed eyes brimming with rage and revenge. He was drunk. He ogled at her.
“And drinking and hunting is a bad combination, so I’m askin’ you one more time to get off of my grandfather’s land. Now.”
The man had hatred written all over his face. He quickly closed the distance between them and said “Well, aren’t you just Ms. Hoity-Toity. You think you’re better than the rest of us,” he sneered as he came at her and stood in her personal space.
Alex smelled his foul breath, a combination of whiskey, stale cigarettes, and dental decay. She backed away, her hand on Shogun’s collar.
“I hate you rich bitches with your fine riding crops and fancy boots. Watch me show you a thing or two,” he threatened.
“Get off this land, now,” Alex warned as she loosened her hold of Shogun’s collar.
The man reached for her and grabbed at her long red-blond hair. Alex kicked him in the groin as she released her dog. Shogun jumped the man and knocked him to the ground. He stood on his chest. One word from Alex and he’d rip into the man’s carotid artery.
Alex saw fear flicker in the trespasser’s eyes. She stood over him for a few seconds, picked up his rifle, and said, “I told you to get off of this land, I’m going to release my dog in a couple of seconds, and he’ll escort you to your vehicle. I’ll keep your rifle, and your friend’s, as well. In the meantime, if you ever set foot on this land again, I assure you there’ll be federal and local charges lodged against you.”
The man stared up at her, a murderous look in his eyes and said, “You’ll pay for this, you bitch. I promise,” he threatened. His eyes left her face as the sound of a vehicle broke the silence. His eyes widened in disbelief as an ATV approached, followed by a black Suburban. Two men jumped off the ATV with heavy assault rifles.
They walked towards Alex and the taller agent asked, “Everything all right, Miss Alex?”
Alex flashed them a bright smile and said, “It is now. These guys are poachers and got a little ugly with me. Shogun didn’t like that and neither did I,” she said as she held the man at gunpoint with his own rifle. The second poacher stood still and stared at the black Suburban.
The Secret Service agent smiled and said, “Sure, but now that we’re here, they’ve committed a Federal crime. It’s no longer a simple case for the game warden.”
“But—” Pete started.
“But, nuthin,” the agent said. “You should’ve left the first time – when the lady asked. Now it’ll be years, if ever, before you pick up a hunting rifle,” he promised as he stared down at Pete whose look of insolence had changed to fear mixed with anger.
Alex whistled and Shogun jumped off the man’s chest as the Secret Service agent leaned down and handcuffed him. The agent grinned at Pete and said, “Dude, you’ve ruined my day. I was looking forward to a long boring afternoon and now I gotta process you and your buddy. And, you know how the government is with paperwork – you’ll be here for hours.”
The barrage of curse words made Alex smile as she and Shogun stood side-by-side near the ATV. The agent in the SUV turned and asked, “Give you a lift back, Miss Alex? I’ve got an empty seat and Shogun can ride in the back.”
Alex shook her head. “Nope, I need the exercise and so does Shogun, but thanks anyway,” she said as she flashed them her beautiful smile. She turned and looked over her shoulder, “Have a great day, boys,” she said as she grinned at the poachers. “Hope you get home for dinner.” She turned to the senior Secret Service agent and said, “Do you have someone who could remove the female deer they shot? She had a fawn and I’d like to find it. We’ve raised many motherless deer here at Wyndley Farm over the years and I’d like to get this one as well.”
The agent nodded and said, “Of course, Miss Alex. We’ll find the baby deer. I’ll take it up to the barn and let you know.”
Alex’s eyes glowed with her thanks. “You guys are always saving my butt and gettin’ me out of trouble. Appreciate it,” she said as she and her dog turned and headed back to the main house.
She didn’t turn as Pete strained against the strength of the Secret Service agents and yelled at her, “I’m gonna get you, Miss Alex Save-the-Deer-Rich-Bitch. Just wait and see.”
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