Apache Protectors: Tribal Thunder, Book 1
HER WARRIOR PROTECTOR
Carter Bear Den is a proud Apache of the Turquoise Canyon Reservation. The former US Marine is a member of the Turquoise Guardians working to protect his people and their land. When he discovers a grisly mass shooting at the Lilac Copper Mine, Carter’s one thought is to find Amber Kitcheyan.
After breaking her engagement to Carter and relinquishing her membership with the reservation, Amber found work at the mine. Now she is the sole survivor of the shooting—at best a witness, at worst a suspect. But Carter swears to protect the only woman he has ever loved, even if it means losing everything else.
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The idea of murdering seven innocent people should have sickened Ovidio Natal Sanchez. Instead he felt a grim anticipation. These people were responsible for causing that festering wound on the earth. He only wished he had been given free rein to kill as many as possible. But he was a loyal member of BEAR, and he would carry out his mission, with pleasure. He sat in a nondescript van before the loading dock of the Lilac Copper Mine holding an automatic weapon with the safety switched off.
His driver’s phone chimed, signaling a text.
“They’re all in,” he said.
“Give them twenty minutes to get to their desks,” said Ovidio.
His driver cast him a look.
“I don’t want to miss one who went for coffee.”
His driver’s sigh was audible, but he said no more, granting Ovidio a few more seconds to savor the moment.
His organization had supplied everything he needed—maps, head shots of each target, transportation and the automatic weapon he would use to kill every living soul in the procurement office of the Lilac Copper Mine. He didn’t know why. He didn’t care why. He just knew when and how.
Today. By his hand.
The twenty minutes ticked by.
A smile curled his lips. The next hole that went in the earth would be for their caskets.
“I’m signaling our man,” said his driver and began texting.
The van was parked at the receiving bays.
Ovidio had worked protection for his boss for years. Even had to kill a few people. But nothing like this. He licked the salt from his upper lip.
In life, he believed, people mostly got what they deserved. Today was the exception. These people deserved worse. If it were up to him, he’d tie the owners of this monstrous mile-deep pit with their own blasting cord and toss them in with the next load of explosives. But their leader said they had bigger fish to fry. This time they’d make a statement that would not be buried on page six. One that the whole world would feel and know that the earth mattered. That people couldn’t keep assaulting the earth with impunity and that…
“You ready?” asked his driver.
The loading door was opening. He needed to focus.
“There he is,” said his driver and looked expectantly at Ovidio. “Hurry up.”
He wondered if his driver would really be here when he came out or would just leave him. But leaving him was dangerous. He might tell what he knew. He never would, of course. He believed too deeply in their cause. Still, they might kill him. Shoot him the instant he came out that door. He didn’t care. At least his death would matter and they’d never forget him here in this miserable mining town.
Ovidio checked his weapon and slipped from the van. His body tingled as he mounted the five cement stairs that took him from the bright sunlight to the shadows of the loading bay, the sensation reminding him of sexual arousal. Oh, yeah. He was getting off on it because he knew he was on surveillance now. And what would they do with only their rent-a-cops and crappy wire fences for protection?
How long until they spotted him? In the hall? After the first shots?
His conspirator stood holding the door and, as he passed through, relayed a message.
“Ibsen called in sick.”
The man passed him a sheet of paper. Now Ovidio had to get out of here alive to get Ibsen.
Somehow Ovidio thought after he told his commander at BEAR about the discovery made by the new purchasing clerk, Ibsen would know what was coming. Unfortunately it was too late to abort. Besides there was no way of knowing who in the office the clerk had spoken to about her discovery.
Ovidio stalked into the corridor. Today he would write his convictions in blood.
Ovidio continued toward his goal, inhaling the scent of machine oil coming from the automatic rifle heavy in his hands. He thought of the memorials and the anniversaries of the legacy he was about to leave behind. But this wasn’t his legacy. The removal of men who violated the earth—that was his legacy.
“I’ll be back soon.” Amber Kitcheyan stowed the last of the receiving slips she needed signed by her boss in her satchel as she spoke to their receptionist. Then headed out from the purchasing department in the Lilac Copper Mine’s administration building where she was a purchasing clerk. Their squat building sat at ground level perched over the thousand-foot cavity, which was the active open-pit copper mine. Below them, a constant stream of enormous mining dump trucks wove up the precarious roads, hauling ore to the stamping mills in Cherub. The pit covered two-hundred acres and the tailing piles covered even more ground. To Amber, it looked like a crater left by some absent meteor.
Amber always left by the loading dock as it was closer to the parking area. She stopped in the rest room for just a moment. Too much coffee, she thought as she left the stall. She glanced at her reflection in the mirror as she washed her hands, checking that her long black hair was all tucked neatly up in a tight coil. She wore nothing in particular that marked her Apache lineage because her face structure and skin tone did that adequately. The human resources had been happy to tick the box indicating they had hired a minority. She didn’t care. A job was a job and this one paid better than the last.
But she missed her tribe and her sisters. And wished…no, she wasn’t going there. Not today.
Amber tugged at the ill-fitting blazer she’d purchased used with the white blouse she wore twice a week. She slung the stylish satchel her shoulder and headed out into the hall.
On the loading dock she paused to slip her sunglasses out of her bag and swept a hand over her hair. February in Lilac was a good twenty degrees warmer than the Turquoise Canyon Apache Indian Reservation where she grew up. She longed for a cool breeze off the river but now wasn’t the time to be feeling homesick. She stopped to find her keys. Amber didn’t like to bother her boss, Mr. Ibsen, at home, especially when he was sick. But as a clerk she couldn’t sign for a delivery this big. So she’d just slip out there, get his signature on the receiving slips and be back before the truck was unloaded. She had called from the office and got his voicemail and followed up with an email.
It worried her that he had not replied to either and that, on the day after she mentioned the problem she’d spotted on the receipts to her boss, he was absent. And he knew they expected another delivery truck today.
She could have them signed by Joseph Minden in finance, but the one time her boss had been absent for a delivery, she’d done just that and her boss had lost it. She’d never seen veins stick out of a man’s neck like that before.
Minden was their CPO, Chief Procurement Officer and Mr. Ibsen’s supervisor. Later in the day, Mr. Ibsen had explained to her about chain of command and threatened to fire her if she did something like that again.
Then yesterday he had shouted at her to get back to work. Amber was on shaky ground here, and she needed this job, what with the seemingly endless debt she was trying to pay down.
She couldn’t afford to screw this up.
She’d only been here a month and was still getting used to the copper mine’s policies. But she would not make that mistake twice because she needed this job for at least the next six months. Then the loan would be finished, and she could go home, if she wanted. The pit of her stomach knotted at the thought as mixed emotions flooded in.
“Not now,” she whispered to herself and strode across the loading dock. The Arizona sky glowed a crystal blue, and the sun warmed the concrete pad beneath her feet. The temperature would rise rapidly, she knew, and then drop with the sun.
She glanced at the deep navy van illegally parked before the receiving bay, then back at the sign that indicated parking here was prohibited. The driver had shaggy blonde hair poking out from beneath his ball cap like straw. She cast him a disapproving look, and he leaned forward over the wheel to glare right back.
Amber descended the steps in a rapid gait, making a beeline for her vehicle, which was small, ugly, used and paid for. She didn’t do leases. She paid cash or did without.
As she drove out of the lot, Amber glanced back at the van still illegally parked and then turned on to the road that would lead her through the high chain-link fencing and off the copper mine’s property.
Carter Bear Den’s first sign of trouble at the mine came in the form of a yelp from the security guard seated at the lobby reception desk. The guard’s eyes were glued to the monitor on his desk, showing a series of images from various security cameras. Carter leaned in to see what had made the man blanch.
Carter had a message to deliver. He didn’t like it, but he was duty bound to see that Amber Kitcheyan received the letter. It had been given to him by Kenshaw Little Falcon, the head of the Turquoise Guardians, his medicine society and a tribal shaman.
Now, standing beside the security desk and the uniformed boy they hired to check in visitors, Carter looked at the monitor that showed a masked gunman making steady progress along an empty corridor, and he stopped thinking and wondering. This time he saw the face of danger before it was too late.
Amber was in this building.
The security officer stood now, one hand on his pistol grip and the other reaching for the phone seeming uncertain as to which to use.
Carter had no such trouble. As a former US Marine with three tours of duty, he knew what he needed to do. Protect Amber.
The digital feed displayed a view of an office where a masked gunman proceeded past a fallen woman toward the cubbies tucked directly behind the receptionist’s station.
“Where is that?”
“Purchasing,” rasped the guard.
From the security guard’s radio came a call to lock down. On the other monitors people scurried about, fleeing the halls for the closest cover.
Carter retrieved his Tribal ID from the high counter and tucked it in his open wallet as the shooting started, the burring sound of an automatic rifle blast unmistakable and close.
For just an instant, Carter was back there in Iraq with his brother and Ray and Dylan and Hatch. The next instant he was drenched with sweat and running.
Suddenly delivering his message came second to keeping Amber alive. Had Little Falcon known what was about to transpire?
The stabbing fear over Amber’s safety took him by surprise. He’d been so sure he was over her. So why was he running into gunfire?
Although he now moved forward with the stealth of his ancestry bolstered by the training of the US Marines, the stillness in the corridor was unnerving. It had the eerie quiet of a deadly game of hide-and-seek. Everyone was hiding except for him and the killer.
From down the corridor he heard a bang, like the sound of a heavy door slamming shut. He ran toward the sound, the light tread of his cowboy boots a whisper on the carpeted hallway.
He saw the blood trail as soon as he rounded the corner. It led from an office that read Purchasing upon the door. The gunman’s boot prints were there in blood leaving the scene, dark stains on the industrial carpeting.
Amber’s office, he realized. For an instant he was too terrified of what he might find to go inside. Was it the same as Iraq? Was it already too late?
He held his breath and stepped across the threshold. The calm sending his flesh crawling. He moved from one body to the next, checking for signs of life and the face that still visited his dreams.
Everyone in the outer office was dead. He moved to the two private offices. The man in the first was gone, shot cleanly through the forehead. In the next office he was greeted by the sight of dark legs, sprawled at an unnatural angle. One moved.
Carter was at her side in an instant, sweeping away the dark hair that covered her face. She was breathing, but she was not Amber., Her eyes fluttered open and flashed to his.
“Rest. Help is coming,” he said, feeling his gut twist in sympathy.
He could tell by her sadness and the tears in her eyes that she saw death coming.
“Amber?” he whispered.
“She left. When he spotted her empty cubicle, he said he would find her. ”
His heart gave a leap and hammered now, hitting his ribs so hard and fast it hurt.
“Where is she?”
“Left. Harvey Ibsen’s home. Paperwork. Oh, it hurts. My kids. Tell them I’m sorry. That I love them.” Her eyes fluttered shut.
Someone entered the office.
“In here,” he called.
A moment later a man in a gray uniform shirt and black pants appeared in the doorway. His gun drawn.
Carter lifted his hands. “Unarmed.”
The man aimed his weapon. Carter didn’t have time to get shot.
“EMT’s on the way?” he asked.
The man nodded, his face ashen.
“Come put pressure on this.”
He did, tucking away his weapon and kneeling beside Carter before placing a large hand on the folded fabric over the woman’s abdomen.
“You know a guy called Harvey Ibsen?” Carter asked.
“Yeah. He works here.”
“Where does he live?”
“I don’t know. In town, I guess. Who are you?”
“Friend of Amber Kitcheyan.” Friend? Once he had planned to make her his wife.
Carter was already on his feet. He pointed at the woman. “She wants her kids to know she’s sorry to leave them and that she loves them.”
The security officer blanched. Carter stepped away.
“Hey, you can’t leave.”
Carter ignored him. If the shooter was after Amber, he had to go. Now.
“She also said that the shooter was looking for Amber. Send police to Ibsen’s home. I think he’s heading there.”
The man’s eyes widened and he lifted his radio.
“Call Amber’s cell. Warn her,” said Carter.
“She doesn’t own a mobile. Or at least that’s what she told me.” The security officer’s eyes slid away.
Carter groaned. Of course she didn’t. That would have made the necessity of him delivering this message superfluous. He headed out, following the ghastly bloody footprints. His phone supplied an address for a Harvey Ibsen, and his maps program gave him the route.
Ibsen didn’t live in Lilac. According to Carter's search engine, he lived in Epitaph, the tourist town fifteen miles north of here. The name, once a joke for the number of murders committed during the mining town’s heyday, now seemed a grim omen.
Carter swung up behind the wheel of his F-150 pickup. Amber’s boss was out the very day this happened. A coincidence that was just too perfect in timing. Luck. Fate. Or something else? He didn’t know, but he had a sour taste in his mouth.
Excerpt TURQUOISE GUARDIAN ©2016 – Jenna Kernan