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The Big Safari
Bradley Prescott never saw it coming. He certainly never heard it. He didn't cry out or do any of the things people do in the movies when they get shot. He just fell. He was dead. It was that simple. He was alive before, and now he was dead.
Jennifer Prescott, on the other hand, did all of the things people do in the movies when they see someone get shot. She stared, she pointed, she screamed, she ran, she fell down, she got up and, mercifully, she fainted.
If she had continued running, she probably would have been hit too. But now collapsed in a heap in the tall grass, Jennifer was hidden from view and safe for the moment.
Jeffrey Driscoll watched from the edge of the woods where he had dropped like a ton of bricks as soon as he heard the shot. He wondered what he should do. If he tried to crawl to Mrs. Prescott, the movement of the grass would give him away.
He considered running, but he felt a nagging responsibility for having forgotten his very own personal first rule of guidesmanship: the richer people get, the stupider they get. He knew they couldn't really be that stupid or they wouldn't stay rich; but these wealthy folks sure took a lot for granted. The Prescotts, a loaded couple in their early 60s, were as easily confused and naïve as two little children. He had told them repeatedly never to go anywhere without him ... but as he was breaking camp, the filthy rich idiots had run ahead.
Driscoll silently cursed them now as he lay motionless in the grass. He was positive that Bradley Prescott III's last living thought was, "How dare you kill me! I'll sue!" And he probably would — or at least his estate would. The trouble was they would probably sue Driscoll. This guide business really sucked. Driscoll despised escorting these senseless affluent assholes through the jungles of Africa, and he'd been threatening to quit for some time. And this looked like a real good time.
But Driscoll's sense of duty won out. So he concentrated his gaze on the thicket across the river, where he was fairly certain the shooter was hiding. Driscoll then proceeded to fire an entire box of twelve gauge shotgun shells into the thick underbrush, the gunshots exploding in earsplitting echoes throughout the jungle. He had to stop once to reload and let the gun cool off for a minute. Seeing absolutely no movement in the thicket, he dove across the grass and landed a few feet from where Mrs. Jenny Prescott lay. He dragged her back, half-conscious, to the camp, thinking all the way that he should have just left her there and got the hell out. Now there was one, possibly two, people dead. And if this woman didn't recover, guess who'd be left holding the old bag? He snickered at his clever pun.
By the time Driscoll reached the camp, Jennifer Prescott was awake, sputtering and gasping something about dear old Brad. Driscoll threw her into the back of the Land Rover and proceeded to beat what he was certain must be the all-time speed record between Khartanga and Moombato Bay. He never entertained the slightest notion of going back for Bradley, as Mrs. Prescott seemed to think was so important. "There's no point going back for your husband ... he's dead!" Driscoll shouted toward the backseat. Mrs. Prescott continued her pleas until he reminded her, in graphic detail, of that instant before Brad fell, when a rather large part of his head started off for town ahead of them. Only then did she shut her trap. Actually, Driscoll's cram course in Creative Anatomy did more than shut her up. Now she was in shock, Driscoll realized with a twinge of guilt. But at least she was quiet ... and alive.
Later that night, Driscoll sat alone in a dark corner of a small, dingy bar in Moombato Bay, where he got very drunk as he tried to figure out what had happened. What had he missed about that spot? Why would that place be so damned important to somebody? There's nothing of any value there. Nothing. He took another swig from his beer. Well, that wasn't quite true. The place was a study in natural beauty, and the Prescotts weren't the first to visit that lush area of pristine jungle. He had taken other tourists through there himself, and he knew other guides had as well.
As he continued to wrestle with his thoughts, Driscoll ran his fingers through his ruffled brown hair and turned his sky blue eyes up to the ceiling. Out of habit, he rubbed his face stubble with calloused fingers before he grabbed his beer, downed it in one big gulp, and slammed the mug on the table. He motioned at the bartender for another. Driscoll was only twenty-five years old, but he felt like he'd lived a lifetime since he'd left the States just five years before.
Though most of his friends in Africa would never guess, Jeff Driscoll was a dropout from Princeton's prestigious Astronomy program. In fact, he had been fascinated with the stars since the age of ten. Not coincidentally, that was the same year his dear old alcoholic dad hit rock bottom. Tom Driscoll got off work at the auto parts factory at four o'clock every evening and headed straight to the local pub, where he bellied up to the bar and drank for four hours straight. Each night like clockwork, at eight fifteen on the dot, Tom would stumble into the house reeking of cheap gin just as Jeffrey and his mother were washing the last dishes from dinner. Seeing the crazy look in his father's glazed over eyes, Jeffrey would race upstairs and hide out in his room for the rest of the night. He'd spend countless hours building his own telescopes from scratch, studying constellations and poring over books about the universe ... anything to escape from the grim reality that festered downstairs. As he tinkered with his telescope parts, he'd slip on his headphones and turn up The Ramones full blast to drown out the sounds of his wasted father yelling, sobbing, and breaking dishes. Jeffrey would gaze out his bedroom window at the endless vista of stars and daydream about visiting space — where he imagined it must be peaceful, silent, and completely safe from raving alcoholic lunatics.
One October night, a few weeks after Jeffrey turned eleven, he and his mother stood side-by-side at the kitchen sink washing dishes. As she rinsed the last plate and handed it to her son to dry, a cool breeze gusted through the kitchen window, rustling the curtains and sending a chill down Jeffrey's spine. And then something strange happened: The clock clicked over to eight sixteen. Jeffrey and his mother stood by the sink staring at each other in silent expectation. They both held their breath, listening for the familiar sounds of tires screeching on the driveway followed by the front door slamming. A dog barked in the distance. And then ... nothing. Jeffrey's father never stumbled through the door that night or any night after that. The drunken bastard had disappeared into thin air.
For the next seven years, Jeffrey's mother showered him with love and attention, constantly struggling to fill the gaping hole Jeffrey's father had left behind. She worked two full-time jobs just so she could buy every telescope part and constellations book her son's heart desired. Although Jeffrey was a precocious child who excelled in math and science, his teachers often referred to him as a "lazy genius."
Things just came too easily for him — and in reality, he wasn't so much lazy as he was distracted.
By the time he turned twelve, his passion for the great beyond was often overshadowed by his obsession with beautiful girls. Jeffrey was a charmer, an athletic kid with rugged good looks and rippling muscles. He played baseball and racked up a record number of homeruns during his high school career. "It's all physics," he once told his mom when she asked how he always hit those balls out of the park. "It's like I can see the trajectory in my head when the ball is coming at me."
Although he was clearly a brainiac, Jeffrey kept this bit of information under wraps for the sake of his reputation. Every few weeks, he could be seen walking arm in arm with yet another cheerleader or homecoming queen, each more gorgeous than the last. The nerds Jeffrey quietly beat out at the Science Fair year after year absolutely despised him: Jeffrey Driscoll, the magnetic, handsome genius who seemed to have it all.
Driscoll's mother was absolutely delighted when her only son scored an Astronomy scholarship to Princeton — though she suspected it might have had something to do with the attractive, young biology professor on the interview panel who spent more time fluttering her eyelashes at Jeffrey than asking him questions.
As a Princeton freshman, Driscoll treasured the many hours he spent in the observatory — but he quickly grew bored of his Intro to Astronomy courses, which focused on fundamentals he'd been secretly studying in his bedroom since he was ten years old. So once again, he turned his attention to beautiful women ... both on and off the Princeton campus. For nearly a year, he wined and dined the loveliest ladies throughout the Tri-State area until his bank account — and his scholarship funds — ran completely dry.
In the wee hours of a brisk April morning, Driscoll staggered toward campus after an interesting evening with a gorgeous Psychology TA. So TA stood for Teacher's Assistant? He could think of something else T and A stood for. He wore a smear of crimson lipstick on his neck and reeked of Scotch. Then he spotted it: a bright yellow flyer tacked to a telephone pole, flapping in the wind as if trying to get his attention. Driscoll snatched the paper off the pole and read:
Need Extra Cash?
"Hell yeah, I do!" he slurred loudly in response as he swayed on the empty sidewalk.
"You bet your ass!"
Become a Tour Guide in Africa!
"Africa?" He stared at the flyer for a few moments before folding it up and jamming it in his pocket. "Okay, then. Why the hell not?"
Less than two months later, Driscoll found himself in Moombato Bay, where he quickly learned the art of African guidesmanship. And now, with five years of experience under his belt, he was like a cynical old veteran guzzling beer in a grimy local bar.
Leaning back in his chair, Driscoll propped his crocodile boots on the edge of the table and considered how lucky he was after today's shooting incident. Not only was he alive, but he wasn't even behind bars! Lord knows he had been an overnight guest of the Moombato Bay jail quite a few times before, and for offenses much more minor than this. The local Police rated men like himself on a scale that ranged between Adventurer and Cutthroat. But the Moombato cops tolerated Driscoll and the other guides because the same rich tourists that hired them also spent a lot of money in the town, doling out cash for unnecessary permits before and after their big safari. Funny, Driscoll thought as the bartender set yet another mug of beer on his table. They didn't have a word for bribe in the native language.
But things were different this time. He had set off with two of their best high-spending American big shots, and now one was a basket case and the other was Jungle Pizza. This was definitely not travel brochure material. When Driscoll had taken Mrs. Prescott to the station earlier that day, he assumed they would lock him up at least until the old lady could coherently confirm his story. But after questioning Driscoll, the Police told him he was free to leave the station as long as he did not leave town, which he couldn't do even if he wanted to. The cops had impounded the Prescotts' Land Rover, Driscoll's only means of transportation, and poor old Bradley never had a chance to pay him his fee — which meant Driscoll couldn't really afford to do anything but stay put.
He took another long, slow drink of beer. Now that he had time to think about it, the Police really hadn't seemed that put off or surprised at all by the whole jungle fiasco. In fact, they almost seemed prepared for it — which was a little fishy because, around here, no extension of the government was ever prepared for anything.
It suddenly occurred to Driscoll that there was only one thing about that spot in the jungle today that was different from any other day: Bradley Prescott had been in it.
Driscoll dropped his boots to the floor with a loud thump and sat up in his chair straight as an arrow. He had been set up. He began to wonder if he had killed the man in the thicket. He hoped now that he hadn't. It wouldn't do his reputation any good around here, and somebody, somewhere, might be slightly annoyed with him for eliminating their hit man and almost fouling up an otherwise successful assassination.
When he was leaving the Police barracks earlier that day, he had noticed a Jeep and a truck heading off in the direction he had just driven in from ... to recover the bodies, he knew. He also knew that in this place you could buy anything if you knew the right people. And he just happened to know all the right people — and tomorrow he intended to buy a look at the death certificate of Bradley Prescott.CHAPTER 2
About a thousand miles away from where Jeff Driscoll was planning his bargain for information, Roger Coridif was floating in the crystal blue Caribbean Sea and making arrangements of his own. It was the cruise ship's third night out from port, and the weather was absolutely beautiful — a warm, gentle sea breeze and not a wisp of cloud in the star-filled sky.
Roger, who had spent most of his fifty-seven years accumulating great wealth, was now determined to offset his failing health by putting a large portion of his fortune back into circulation. He had spent the evening wooing an exotic young lady with long raven locks and striking brown eyes, finally convincing her to leave the ballroom for a moonlight stroll on the deck. After their short walk, he planned to invite her back to his suite for a drink — where he was certain if he couldn't seduce her, his money could.
On deck, Roger and the stunning girl leaned against the rail to admire the breathtaking view as anewly hired steward approached from behind with a tray and two glasses of champagne. This was perfect. He couldn't have created a more romantic setting. The moon, the sea, the ever so gently swaying deck beneath their feet. And she was so beautiful. Her olive skin, her long dark hair, her gorgeous eyes, her soft hands clenching around his neck ...
As Roger crashed into the water and struggled in the waves, he sputtered and gasped, trying to scream out at the ship gliding away from him. Then his thoughts switched to wondering how far he could swim. Not far enough, he reckoned. He was right.
When the ship docked, some of the Coridif family were already there, all wailing and sobbing in appropriate shock and mourning. The Police had been unable to recover the body, and they did not suspect foul play. After all, the poor, dark-haired girl was visibly shaken, and a steward had witnessed the unfortunate "accident." According to their story, Roger Coridif simply had too much to drink and lost his balance, tumbling over the railing.
The girl went along her way, and the steward never showed up for the next sailing — or anything else, for that matter.CHAPTER 3
The Friendly Skies
Flight 702 from Dallas arrived right on time into JFK. "This is a first," the Texan muttered to himself. He hadn't had a good flight, but then he never did. Even the amenities of first class did little to dampen the annoyance he always felt when he traveled. As far as Roy Piterman was concerned, nothing was ever where it should be, when it should be.
He knew that since his flight was on time, odds were that his luggage would be delayed — if it was in fact even in the same airport.
Roy Piterman did not travel for pleasure. He traveled for business and only when he absolutely had to, which lately, seemed to be all the time.
He grumbled his way through baggage claim and yelled at a hotel reservations rep on his cell phone before heading out the main doors to the rent-a-car lot across from the airport entrance.
As he crossed the road he hoped his secretary had gotten it straight this time. Full-size, dammit, full-size. What was so hard about that? Not compact, not subcompact, and not intermediate, whatever the hell that was, but full-size.
He figured he would be lucky if there was any car waiting for him at all. But there was.
Unknown to Roy, someone besides his secretary had arranged for a car to meet him. It was indeed a full-size, and it met him head-on at about fifty miles per hour without stopping, killing the grumpy old Texan on impact.
To make matters worse, Roy Piterman was charged a no-show penalty for not calling to cancel his rent-a-car.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Kabrini Message"
Copyright © 2018 Marie Carhart.
Excerpted by permission of Balboa Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Part One The Secret of the Oracle,
Chapter 1 The Big Safari, 1,
Chapter 2 Bon Voyage, 7,
Chapter 3 The Friendly Skies, 9,
Chapter 4 Driscoll's Marauders, 10,
Chapter 5 Armed and Dangerous, 17,
Chapter 6 The Assault, 20,
Chapter 7 Going for Broke, 24,
Chapter 8 An American in London, 29,
Chapter 9 Old Friends, 41,
Chapter 10 Jessup's Map, 44,
Chapter 11 The Dig, 52,
Part Two The Message,
Chapter 12 California Dreaming, 61,
Chapter 13 The White House, Three Years Later, 66,
Chapter 14 Solar Space, 74,
Chapter 15 Bad to Worse, 80,
Chapter 16 KUX Radio, Twelve Miles Away, 83,
Chapter 17 Eight Hundred Million Miles Away, 87,
Chapter 18 Titan, 90,
Chapter 19 The Waiting Game, Washington D.C., 96,
Chapter 20 Jamaican Getaway, 99,
Chapter 21 Saturn Space, Three Years Later, 108,
Part Three The Crystal City,
Chapter 22 Deep Space, 113,
Chapter 23 Kabrini Communications, 118,
Chapter 24 Danbury's Doom, 126,
Chapter 25 Athenium, 130,
Chapter 26 Another Job Well Done, 142,
Chapter 27 Playing God, 145,
Chapter 28 Space Life: "The Real World", 158,
Chapter 29 Calculated Desperation, 162,
Chapter 30 Plan B, 166,
Chapter 31 Two Parties, 177,
Chapter 32 Hitting the Fan, 184,
Chapter 33 The Truth, The Whole Truth ..., 189,
Chapter 34 From There to Here, 193,
Chapter 35 Eyes Wide Open, 200,
Chapter 36 The Visit, 210,
About the Author, 217,