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Spirited US Fish and Wildlife agent Rachel Porter is back in her native New York following the trail of murderous smugglers. Rachel Porter has relished the beautiful serenity of Hawaii, but her hometown of New York holds a special place in her heart. So when a job prospect in nearby New Jersey arises, she jumps at the chance. But, after the diversity of Hawaii, rats, roaches and seagulls are about the only creatures Jessica encounters in her new job. While she slaves away at her paperwork, Rachel pines for some ...
Spirited US Fish and Wildlife agent Rachel Porter is back in her native New York following the trail of murderous smugglers. Rachel Porter has relished the beautiful serenity of Hawaii, but her hometown of New York holds a special place in her heart. So when a job prospect in nearby New Jersey arises, she jumps at the chance. But, after the diversity of Hawaii, rats, roaches and seagulls are about the only creatures Jessica encounters in her new job. While she slaves away at her paperwork, Rachel pines for some excitement. But she gets more than she bargained for when the body of a rich socialite is discovered steps away from her post. Rachel fears for the safety of the woman who found the body after she is called in to investigate the mysterious $20,000 shawl, made of illegal Tibetan antelope fur, found with the victim. Rachel is determined to show that she still has the New York grit needed to track down those responsible for the brutal murder . . .
Spirited US Fish and Wildlife agent Rachel Porter is back following the trail of murderous smugglers. New York holds a special place in Rachels heart so when a job in nearby New Jersey arises, she jumps at the chance. Slaving away at her paperwork, Rachel pines for some excitement. But she gets more than she bargained for when the body of a rich socialite is discovered with an illegal Tibetian antelope shawl. Rachel is determined that she still has the New York grit needed to track down those responsible . . .
The sound of a siren split the air, shrill as the cry of a prehistoric bird. I steered my vehicle to one side of the road as a set of flashing red lights appeared in my rearview mirror. Their reflection was dulled by the morning haze, the sky dingy as a soiled pillow case. I stifled a yawn and cranked up the radio, hoping the local shock jock would say something outrageous to jolt me awake.
The bumper-to-bumper traffic paid little heed to the blue-and-white Crown Vic that continued to screech angrily behind us. But that was the norm for this place. This stretch of the turnpike lay between a couple of urban bullies: Newark and Elizabeth, the Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield of industrial Northern New Jersey.
I'd quickly become acclimated to my new surroundings. In fact, perhaps a little too well. I gave the incident barely a thought until the Crown Vic's emblem caught my eye. Squeezing through morning rush-hour traffic was a Port Authority police car. It clearly signaled that something was taking place in my territory. I watched as the squad car disappeared amid the crowd of vehicles, until even its call had been silenced.
Damn, I thought. Why didn't I have one of those handy dandy sirens?
Instead, I continued to crawl along with the rest of the throng, like one more regular Joe. There was little to do but stare out the window as the scenery slowly slipped by.
Vast warehouses gradually gave way to towering columns of colorful cargo containers. The metallic rainbows rose like giant LEGOs, their individual shells stacked high to the sky. Hidden from view lay a sprawling complex where goods from far-flung places arrived daily by ship.
One if by air, two if by sea. Newark International Airport stretched along one side of the road, while the Port of Elizabeth laid claim to the other. The turnpike divided the two. What they have in common is that each is a major transportation hub.
A massive blue-and-yellow structure appeared ahead like a concrete flag of Sweden. The Ikea building cheerfully announced that I'd reached my destination. Exit 13A swiftly approached and, as usual, my vehicle was stuck in the wrong lane. At times like this, I have no shame. The Trailblazer used its bulk to bully its way into the tiniest of spaces. What I hadn't counted on was hitting a patch of ice while swerving into the exit.
My vehicle fishtailed, nearly colliding with another brawny SUV. That car did what no disc jockey this morning had so far achieved. Its blaring horn finally shocked me awake. I quickly overcorrected, and sliding to the other side of the road, brushed up against a border of tall, graceful phragmites. Their feathery plumes shook their heads in distress as they valiantly buffered a small polluted creek. Taking a deep breath, I maintained my grip on the wheel and continued on, pretending not to notice the other cars that did their best to steer clear of me.
I'd been stationed at Port Elizabeth for only a few months, but the posting already felt like years. Perhaps it was due to the fact that winters on the East Coast were colder than I had remembered, the January days morbidly gray.
Things will be better once spring arrives, I thought, trying to bolster myself.
But the cold felt as though it would never go away. A gust of wind rounded a bend and shook the Trailblazer as if it were a toy. I must have been certifiable to have ever willingly left Hawaii. I tried to push that thought from my mind while passing the Jersey Garden Mall and drab hotels overlooking scenic oil tanks and chemical plants.
Turning on to North Avenue, I jostled my way between a line-up of trucks and entered Port Authority property. I felt like one more game piece on a Monopoly board, my destination to pass Go, collect what I could, and land at the seaport.
Asphalt lots filled with truck wheels and empty containers lined the roadway. This was the place where old semis go to die. A section of swampland up ahead caught my eye. It consisted only of weeds on which nothing had ever been built. However, plenty of action was taking place today.
Five Port Authority squad cars were parked in single file, their flashing lights simultaneously announcing that urgent business was under way. Sitting nearby was a silver "roach coach," which best resembled a sardine can on wheels. A closer look revealed it was a mobile luncheonette truck that serviced the port.
My pulse sped up upon catching sight of the sign on its side. Whatever was going on obviously involved the Kielbasa House. It served some of the best homemade food in the area, and was owned and operated by a Polish woman that I'd befriended.
I parked behind the last car and got out. My hiking boots crunched through snow and weeds, the sound of my steps in time with the same thought repeating over and over in my head: Please don't let anything have happened to Magda.
I nearly made it to the cordoned-off area before being stopped.
"Sorry, but this is official police business. You'll have to turn back around," intoned an authoritative voice.
I stared at the Port Authority officer's badge. Then I looked at the man himself. Even through his clothes, I could tell that Officer Nunzio worked out diligently. His arms and legs were slightly bent, as if his muscles had sprouted muscles. He looked to be no more than thirty years old, sported a flattop, and was clearly gung-ho. My fingers clumsily fumbled while removing my own badge from my pocket.
"Special Agent Rachel Porter," I responded, and quickly stashed the badge away, hoping that he hadn't seen the words U.S. Fish and Wildlife.
Nunzio stepped aside and let me pass.
"What's going on?" I asked, as he walked beside me.
Excerpted from Unsafe Harbor by Jessica Speart Copyright © 2006 by Jessica Speart. Excerpted by permission.
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Posted July 1, 2009
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