|Cover art by Amanda Schirmang Art|
Mitch Hasslet, a war photojournalist relegated to a desk job, is the sole witness to a heist of Mayan artifacts. Recruited by the enigmatic director of the Museum of Art and Antiquities, Mitch is sent to Guatemala, the last location the shipment was tracked to. Acting as the museum staff photographer, Mitch joins a group of archaeologists. His goal is to locate the artifacts as swiftly as possible so that he can collect his compensation and get the hell out of the jungle.
Alexandra Langley is about to run out of funds. She has yet to discover the lost Mayan civilization she knows lurks in the rainforest. To achieve her grant, she will accept the museum's latest nuisance, Mitch Hasslet, and any other obstacle that is sent her way. Unsuccessful and desperate, Alex has decided to move the group to a portion of the jungle referred to as, “No Man’s Land”−a sector where archaeological teams have ventured but never returned.
As Mitch and Alex discover romance, will their bond protect them in a jungle filled with deceit?
Port Newark, NJ – April 22nd
Mitch Hasslet aimed his lens at the aft of the ship parked a hundred yards away. He narrowed the viewfinder on the cracked white letters.
Christ, he hoped there was a portrait stored somewhere that flattered this old bucket of bolts. Perhaps in its heyday, the freighter shined with fresh black paint and gleaming brass fixtures−but now it looked like a ghost ship ready to embark on a voyage to a prehistoric island.
On deck, crewmen were busy preparing for their valuable cargo as Mitch swung his camera in the direction of two police cars entering the barricade. In their wake, a trio of armored trucks stamped with the Museum of Historical Art and Antiquities insignia were flanked by two additional patrol units. The entire convoy pulled up idle at the foot of a ramp that led into the bowels of the Dorian Gray.
Mitch’s curiosity flared at the sight of wooden crates towed on mobile skids by the armed security representatives of the HAA Museum. Some of the fanfare in the papers came to mind.
Rare Mayan artifacts. Brutal pieces of art that stirred up controversy, and even warranted a disclaimer at the entrance of the museum.
Not for the faint of heart.
Systematically, the shutter clicked as he captured images of the wooden crates hauled like behemoth creatures into a cage.
When four Apache helicopters descended on the pier, his camera continued to snap. As if a beehive had split open, a battalion of camouflaged uniforms erupted from the choppers and flooded the dock, encircling the comparatively small police force. Men he had presumed were part of the ship’s crew now drew weapons of their own, joining in the invasion as the explosive percussion of AK-47’s pierced the brackish air.
It happened so fast. Outnumbered, and with only futile attempts to fight back, the police and museum force were circled to the tune of more shots. Mitch flinched at the sudden blare of violence—a sound that plagued him often in his sleep. He searched in vain for a way to stop this madness. It was this preoccupation that prevented him from detecting the figure behind him.
At the last second he turned and came face-to-face with a dark-complected man bearing a scar on the corner of his lip. The disfigurement extended the slash into a macabre smile.
That Cheshire grin was the last thing Mitch Hasslet saw as the butt of a rifle cracked into his jaw.
Waking up on the hot tarmac with a swollen eye and a faulty chin, Mitch lumbered to his car. The guerillas, or whatever the hell they were, were long gone, as well as the shipment from the museum.
He needed to call for an ambulance. Men were down.
Before he could even get his scraped knuckles to cooperate, a black stretch limousine pulled up alongside his car. He jerked back a step, startled to have not heard the motor.
A tinted window slid down with a hiss as the driver, indiscernible behind sunglasses and cap, inquired in a deep voice, “Mr. Hasslet? Mitchell Hasslet from the Chronicle?”
Mitch nodded and rubbed at his jaw.
“Please get in, sir.”
Staring at the sleek limo as if it were an alien craft, Mitch managed a gruff, “Excuse me?”
“Please get in, sir. Mr. Nicholson would like to have a word with you.”
The crazed expression of Jack Nicholson in The Shining flashed in his mind.
“I don’t know a Mr. Nicholson.” Mitch’s voice was hoarse. “But if you have a cell phone in there, can you call 911?”
Sunlight reflected off the driver’s glasses.
“It’s been taken care of, sir. Please get in.”
“Hey, look,” Mitch’s fingers worked their way around his door handle, “I don’t know how you know my name, but I need to get to the authorities now. There are men that have been shot, there’s no time for this bull—”
The rear window of the limousine rolled down with a soft purr. An indistinct silhouette filled its frame and a disembodied voice called, “Mr. Hasslet, I am Phillip Nicholson, the Director of the Museum of Historical Art and Antiquities. I would really appreciate a moment of your time.” He paused and added with the benevolence of a holy man, “Trust me, the police and ambulances are on their way.”
On cue, sirens could be heard in the distance. Mitch felt his jawbone throb and winced at the glare from the driver’s sunglasses.
The car door opened in silent invitation, and the blast of air conditioning felt like an ice pack against his swollen cheek.
“Please, Mr. Hasslet. We need your help.”
A headache struck with the force of a two-by-four, and inside the limo the sound of ice cubes cascading into a glass posed a greater temptation than Delilah.
Mitch cast one last look across the deserted dock.
Son of a bitch.
With a slight limp, he climbed into the back seat.