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"Two reasons." Gage assumed a relaxed posture in the chair facing his boss. "Doug Vogel's a friend of mine. We flew together in Virginia. I don't think the crash last month was his fault."
Williams nodded. "We suspect the accident may have been sabotage."
"Yet you're willing to dump the blame on him?" Gage worked his jaw. "He may end up in a wheelchair for the rest of his life, and you'll let him sit there, burdened with guilt for his branch chief's death and his own helplessness? The man deserves better than that."
"I don't like it any more than you do," Brent fired back, "but our best forensics team was unable to find any evidence of mechanical malfunction or the fuel contamination he claimed. The agency felt it best to officially close the case."
Gage drew in a breath. The "agency" meant a bunch of bureaucrats who liked to tie things up in nice, neat packages.
"I worked with Vogel for three years and learned to respect him as a man and as an aviator. Instead of ending his career with this black mark on his record, he should be receiving honors. I'd like a stab at setting the record straight."
"Very noble." Williams removed a roll of antacid tablets from his middle desk drawer and popped one into his mouth. "And the second reason?"
"I've been monitoring the situation out there." Actually he'd been following the goings-on in the small southwestern post since long before the crash. "Intelligence reports indicate narcotics traffic and the movement of terrorist weapons through the Tombstone corridor have grown significantly over the past twelve months, and we're hearing more and more rumblings of an Al Qaeda connection."
The corridor or gap was one of the routes traditionally used by cocaine and marijuana smugglers from Central and South America. More recently, however, Middle Eastern terrorists had been finding their way to Mexican shores for infiltration across the porous American border.
"I want to look into the situation out there firsthand," Gage continued. "Robbins's death and the loss of the command pilot smells to me of more than a drug-war casualty or revenge for a bust. My gut tells me something else is going on."
The executive director of Customs and Border Protection stroked his chin. "I'm approving your request to investigate, Engler, but not for the reasons you've given."
Gage frowned. He'd been prepared for rejection, but ... an alternate mission?
"You're right," Williams went on. "Something is going on at the Tombstone station. We suspect a mole in the outfit and right now Jill Manning tops the list of suspects. Taking over as the new senior pilot should give you good cover to find out how involved she is."
"Jill ... Manning?"
"The new branch chief," Williams explained, apparently taking Gage's stammer for unfamiliarity with the name rather than shock.
"Don't worry about the Al Qaeda connection. Other people are delving into that. Or Vogel's record. That'll be corrected in due course. What I want you to concentrate on is Manning's possible involvement in the drug trade. Since she arrived at the Tombstone station, major narcotics busts have steadily decreased at the same time her personal confiscation rate has gone up, almost geometrically."
"Robbins gave her excellent performance reports."
Williams agreed. "Yeah, well, he indicated to me that his next one wouldn't be nearly as glowing. Let's face it, she had the most to gain by his death."
Gage felt as if someone had just hit him in the solar plexus and sucked all the wind out of him. Being set up against the very woman he wanted to protect hadn't been part of his plan. Finding out she was under suspicion for murdering her boss was even more devastating.
"Yet you appointed her as acting branch chief," he pointed out.
The executive director nodded. "Over several more senior candidates."
"Why, if you think she might be mixed up with what's going sour out there?"
"Because she was far and away the best qualified. Her record isn't just clean, it sparkles."
You had to love bureaucracy, Gage thought. It promoted people it didn't trust, mostly because it didn't have the intestinal fortitude to confront them.
"You report Monday," Williams said. "I'll give her a call later today to let her know you're coming."
I'm sure she'll be thrilled.
JILL MANNING NEVER expected to be intimidated by a desk, but even after three weeks the battleship size of this one made her feel like an imposter playing a role. Except she was the branch chief now, the boss, a goal she'd set a long time ago. She wasn't about to let a piece of furniture stand in her way.
The desk, of course, was a minor obstacle. Getting selected for the position over the heads of several of her co-workers added another dimension to the challenge. Most of them had received the news philosophically. A few, though, notably Pratt Dixon, had not been as sanguine. The irony was that Dixon wouldn't even have been considered for the post if the myriad government agencies involved in national security hadn't been brought into the new Department of Homeland Security. Dixon had been the local head of the old Immigration and Naturalization Service. Under the alphabet-soup reorganization he'd been resubordinated to the new Bureau of Customs and Border Protection. He still maintained a separate office south of town, but he'd lost his autonomy and now worked for Jill, a woman ten years his junior.
A tap on the door had her looking up from the daily activity reports she received every morning from each of the sections under her supervision.
"Good morning, Jill. I have that analysis you asked for."
Victor Reyes, the chief of Intelligence, was average in height, swarthy and on the hefty side. He was also smart, even-tempered and thorough. She felt lucky to have him on her team. He'd been at the Tombstone Customs office more than twenty years but hadn't applied for the number-one position, claiming he was in his comfort zone and had no desire to be promoted to his level of incompetence.
She picked up her coffee mug as he closed the door. "What did you find?"
He shook his head. "I wish I could tell you your theory was brilliant." He smiled and took the seat across from her.
Excerpted from The Toy Box by K.N. Casper Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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Posted August 1, 2013
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Posted December 9, 2008
The investigation into the fatal aircraft crash that killed Tombstone, Arizona Customs Chief, Mack Robbins, points to pilot error. However, Agent Gage Ensler knows that experience aviator Doug Vogel would never make such a mistake. He persuades his superior to allow him to go undercover as a pilot in the Tombstone office. However, he is stunned to learn that the prime suspect if fuel sabotage occurred as he suspects is his former wife Jill Manning, the new station chief....................................... Jill divorced Gage accusing him of being a ¿baby killer¿ when their infant Ricky died. Though he knows she hates him, Gage refuses to believe that Jill would be a killer. He believes someone in the office caused the accident because Mack was onto the illegal drug and weapons flow. As Jill realizes she still loves Gage and he never stopped loving her, the mole wants both out of the way to continue the lucrative contraband trafficking............................. Though how the Federal bureaucracy failed to realize that Gage and Jill were once married even with different last names (federal records would include a spouse and be forwarded between agencies), readers will enjoy this action-packed romance. Gage wants Jill back in his life, but has little hope though he knows she still desires him, but also blames holds him for Ricky¿s death. Thus, he gets into her bed too easily with the infant death culpability hanging over him. This engaging second chance at love tale is a winner and shows the deep talent of K.N. Casper...................................... .Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.