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It was a clear early autumn evening, and a full moon filtered through the ancient cottonwood trees lining the graveled driveway to Lisa Garza's home in Albuquerque's South Valley. For her, tonight was just the beginningthe first step on what promised to be a long, hard road to justice.
"You've been a million miles away all night," Bruce Atcitty said while parking.
Lisa looked at her Navajo friend. She'd met the young police officer two years ago when he'd agreed to moonlight for Rio Grande Security Services. An Albuquerque policeman's salary made it a challenge to meet all the expenses of raising a family.
"Tonight we identified the client's security threats and recommended fixes. But it's the last job on the schedule. Business has dried up. No one wants to hire a firm owned by a man most people have been told was a thief. To make matters worse, they're not totally sure I'm innocent either," Lisa said.
"I'm concerned about you and particularly the decision you've made. Field ops is not your area of expertise. Intelligence gathering, threat analysis and countermeasures, those are your strengths. You don't even carry a weapon. As far as I know you've never even fired a gun."
"I hate guns. But I can take care of myself without one. The self-defense instructor for the police department was a friend of Dad's and taught me privately for years."
"Think long and hard about this, Lisa. Once you start down this road, there'll be no turning back. If you're right and your father didn't commit suicide, but was murdered, you'll be walking right into themight start pointing guns in your direction."
"It's a risk I've got to take. But I won't be alone.I've got Dad's contacts, people trained to carry weapons, who'll work alongside me. There's one man in particular Dad trusted and suggested I get in touch with if I ever needed an ally up in the Four Corners. That's where I'm headed tomorrow."
"Who's this guy?" he asked.
"He's Navajo, like you, but Dad said I should keep his name to myself," Lisa said, remembering the call she'd put in to Hunter Blueeyes. "Dad saved his life once, and he said that the man was a pro and would honor the debt. So I left a call for him a few days ago."
"Just be careful, Lisa. You're diving into the middle of something that has the potential to become lethal in a hurry, especially if there is a conspiracy involved."
"I'll take things as they come. But I do have a favor to ask. Will you keep an eye on my mother while I'm gone and find someone to watch out for Dad's assistant, Happeth Kincaid? I'll be stirring things up, so I need to know they'll be safe."
"Consider it done," he said, then, gesturing toward the porch with his lips, Navajo style, added,
"The light must have burned out. Let me walk you inside."
"Thanks, but don't bother. It's probably a fuse again. I'll take care of it before Mom gets home from her quilting meeting."
She fumbled for her key as he drove off, then went inside, her hand over her shoulder bag. Unable to locate her father's diary after his death, she'd carried with her since his death his daily planner and the last note he'd written, in order to safeguard them.
In the note, which Lisa had found in her desk drawer a few days after his death, her father had explained that if anything ever happened to him, her search for answers should begin with their fishing trip.
She'd gone only on one fishing trip with her father. It had been on her ninth birthday, and she'd hated every second of it. But that clue had led her to page nine of his daily log, where he recorded his trips. There, she'd found a sketch of a trading post she was able to recognize. She'd be heading there tomorrow.
Lisa went inside the house, suspecting they'd blown another fuse, the third in two weeks by her count. The porch light-switch was on. She flipped it off then back on. Then she turned on the light in the hall. Nothing happened, so that ruled out the bulbs.
Slipping her purse off her shoulder and setting it on the wooden chair just inside her father's study, Lisa continued down the hall. A minute later, she opened the fuse box, tried the switches, but got nowhere. The wiring was ancient. It was time to call an electrician.
Lisa was heading back when she heard what sounded like the squeak of a hinge from somewhere down the hall. Remembering that the closet door in her father's study sometimes made that noise, she froze, listening.
With her back pressed to the wall, she crept toward her father's study, taking slow, soft steps to avoid giving away her location.
Lisa cursed herself silently for having left her purse containing her father's planner, not to mention her car keys, on the chair in the study. She'd been too complacent, but the fuse box acted up so often she hadn't given it a second thought.
The idea of allowing a stranger to remain in her home unchallenged made her bristle, but she bowed to logic. Although she was proficient in martial arts, she wasn't invincible. Weight and strengthand lung powerstill had the advantage. Asthma was her Achilles' heel, though she'd learned to work around it. And if the intruder had a gun! She remembered what her father had taught herto turn limitations into strengths. She knew the house and the layout. The intruder didn't.
Lisa listened, still trying to get a more precise fix on the intruder's location. All she had to do was slip her hand inside the study, get her purse from atop the chair, then sneak out the front door, less than twenty feet away. Her car was parked near the entrance.
A glance revealed moonlight coming from inside the study, which meant someone had opened the blinds or the French doors. That explained how the intruder had gotten inside. Then she heard the faint rustle of wood inside her father's study. Someone had brushed up against the blinds.
Confident that she knew the intruder's approximate location, she crouched and reached out for her bag.
Suddenly a hand clamped down hard on her wrist, holding her in a steel-like grip. Instinct and training overpowered her fear. Lisa hurled herself against her attacker instead of pulling away, throwing him off balance. They both fell farther into the room, and the shadowy figure let go.
Lisa rolled toward her father's desk and scrambled to her feet. In the moonlight she could see the man was a head taller than her, with the lean, leggy build of a runner. He was wearing a stocking cap that concealed his hair and facial features, but his pale eyes gleamed with deadly intent. He was fast, and back on the attack instantly. She barely managed to counter his punches and kicks, which came with fluidlike precision.
"Give me the journal your father kept while the dagger was in his possession and I'll let you live."
"How did you"
"I know all about your father, and you, too, Lisa. Your martial arts training isn't good enough. You've got asthma. I'm bigger and stronger, and I'll wear you down. I can break youpiece by piece," he said, then almost as if to prove his words, he reached out, pulling a tall bookcase down on top of her.
Somehow she managed to avoid being crushed, but the weight of the heavy oak unit pinned her to the brick floor. Lisa rolled onto her stomach and tried to crawl out, but the man pushed the bookcase down with his foot, trapping her underneath. The pressure made it nearly impossible for her to take a full breath, but she managed to turn onto her side, easing the strain just a little.
He leaned down and studied her face in the moonlight. "You knew I was here, yet you didn't run away. What made you stay!" He looked around, his gaze stopping at the chair. "Ah, now I know. Your purse. Your inhaler, or something more?"
As he stepped away, footsteps sounded in the hall. Seconds later, a tall, broad-shouldered man appeared in the doorway. As her assailant bolted for the French doors, the newcomer reached for something at his belt. With a flash of silver, the bag was stripped from her assailant's hand and pinned to the wall with a throwing knife.
Surprised by the sudden attack, the intruder spun around, but Lisa saw another weapon appear instantly in her rescuer's hand, a long-bladed fighting knife.
Her assailant ran out the French doors onto the patio and leaped the low wall, disappearing.
"Smart man." Lifting the bookcase off her, the second man offered her his hand and helped her to her feet.
His palm was rough, but his touch gentle. The newcomer, a Native American judging from his skin tone, was wearing a tight black T-shirt that accentuated his muscular shoulders and low-slung, dark blue jeans.
"Thanks for your help," Lisa said in an unsteady voice. Everything about him spoke of confidence and!maleness. But he had more than looks. This man had presence. Her heart beat just a little faster as she looked at him. "Who are you?"
"I'm your father's friend, Lisa, the man you've been trying to reachHunter Blueeyes."