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George D. Shuman returns! In his eagerly anticipated new thriller, blind psychic Sherry Moore combs the Caribbean to find the murderous kingpin of a human trafficking network and finds that she must confront a man who shares her talent for seeing the final moments of a dead body's life.
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George D Shuman is author of Lost Girls, Last Breath, and 18 Seconds. A retired twenty-year veteran of the Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Police Department, he resides in the mountains of southwest Pennsylvania, where he now writes full-time. To learn more, visit his website at www.georgedshuman.com.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Raw winds hailed lacerating ice, stinging earlobes and ruddy cheeks beneath the climbers' black snow goggles. The storm had an under-growl that suggested it was both alive and malevolent.
It came out of nowhere as polar storms do, the clockwise rotation of Pacific highs meeting counterclockwise Siberian lows, fusing to form a cyclone in ancient cauldrons of granite and glacier. Mountains the size of Denali virtually produce their own weather.
Allison Metcalf descended the headwall below the summit clipped to a fixed line, testing the ice with crampons on the toes of her boots. The well-trod western approach was quickly vanishing under their feet, transmuting into an alien environment of wind-sculpted ice. She took another step and then another, trying to quell the rise of panic. Only three hours ago they had stood on top of the Western Hemisphere. Now they were in a race for their lives to get beneath it.
The spatial world was no more. There were no more ups and downs, no rights or lefts. One could reach out an arm and not see the glove beyond the wrist. If any of the climbers were to unclip from the fixed line, even for a moment, it was doubtful they would find it again; more likely they would wander off the side of the mountain or fall into one of the hundreds of bottomless crevices of prehistoric ice.
"You okay?" Sergio's voice caught faintly on the wind. He was below her, but still close, only a dozen feet away. Was he straggling to look out for her?
"Okay," she yelled, but the words evaporated with a blast of chilled air. She tugged gently on the line tethered between them and a moment later she felt his acknowledgment. It felt good, this tangible connection to another human being.
If they could at least descend to high camp at 17,000 feet, they might survive the night in the uppermost cradle of the summit. The poor buggers above Archdeacon's Tower had yet to negotiate an exposed knife-edged ridge. They would not be so lucky, would not last an hour when the sun dropped below the horizon and windchills plummeted below minus sixty degrees. Allison could not imagine a night of terror in subzero hurricane winds, tethered to four other people in the open, any of whom might panic and make an error fatal for all of them.
Allison had met only two of the other climbers from the teams still up at the summit, both of them women from British Columbia. They'd shared stories of climbs in the Canadian Rockies and a stove for soup this morning as the sun began to rise. One of them was also named Allison. They'd laughed about the chances of that, but now she found that other woman's face etched upon her mind, could not dispel it.
Suddenly Allison's feet went out from under her and she began to backslide, frantically grabbing for the ice ax on her belt. Just before she went head over heels, she wielded the ax two-handed, driving its pick into the side of the mountain to break her fall. She hung there a moment on her side, both arms extended, hanging on to the handle, but then the ax let loose and she began to spiral away, chin raking the ice-sheathed granite until her boots struck something solid.
She tried to blink away the snow that covered her eyes, to see through the hail of white wind, and there was Sergio's purple snowsuit. He wrapped his arms around her waist and put his face to hers and it was cold.
She tried to speak, but the words wouldn't come. Her mouth was filling with warm blood, her eyes welling with tears.
He helped her to stand, neither able to see the other's expression through the dark lenses of their goggles. She put a gloved hand over his heart and held it there and he nodded. Then he gave her his ice ax, turned and pointed down and grabbed the line, descending into the whiteout. Allison nodded as he disappeared. There was no time to reflect.
But Allison did reflect. She had spent last night in Sergio's sleeping bag. It was the first and only time since they had met -- eight days before in the village of Talkeetna, where solo climbers came to buddy up with summiting teams -- that he had even spoken more than a dozen words to her. Allison thought him arrogant at first, one of those handsome playboy types with infinite time and money on his hands. She had even goaded him about it on the mountain, trying to provoke a reaction until in an unguarded moment in their tent she saw an unmistakable look of despair on his face. It was then she realized there was more to Sergio than met the eye. He hadn't come to Denali to conquer the mountain. He had come here to run away. But from what -- a lost love, a failed marriage, some deep incomprehensible disappointment in his life?
They never got to talk about it and perhaps, she thought, they never would.
She remembered his lips pressed to the side of her neck in the cocoon of that sleeping bag last night. He had actually cried after they made love. He did not want to leave the mountain, he'd told her. His warm tears had been wet on her neck; he'd told her he did not want to return to who he was.
Denali National Park
Five Days Later
Harsh sunlight glinted off the big blades of the HH-60 Pave Hawk, creating strobe-like effects inside the helicopter's cargo bay. Captain Metcalf, sitting opposite Sherry Moore, shielded his eyes from the rapid-fire bars of white light deflecting off her snow goggles.
"Glaciers." He leaned toward the edge of her helmet. "We're almost there."
Sherry nodded, her stomach queasy as the craft began to tilt on its side, darting toward the tallest mountain in the Western Hemisphere. Sherry was no stranger to helicopters. She'd spent much of her life being whisked from one place to another, knew the crew seats of the big corporate Bells and Hueys and Sikorskys, even the fleet of luxury VH-3Ds designated Marine One when the president of the United States was on board. But the Pave Hawk was like nothing she had experienced before; it was the difference between riding a flea and a bumblebee.
"Is it clear? The summit?" she asked.
"Blue skies. Hard to take your eyes away," Metcalf said absently. She felt him looking at her just then, knowing he was regretting the offhanded reference to sight.
Her own images of the mountain were formed from books she'd listened to on tape or disk, of blinding white snow and black granite walls, of ice-blue glaciers and bottomless crevices.
"I can imagine," she said softly.
The Alaskans called the mountain by its Indian name, Denali, meaning "the great one," though U.S. geological maps still call it Mount McKinley. It towered four miles above five glaciers, with more vertical face than Mount Everest, high enough to be seen from Anchorage, a hundred and thirty miles away, on a good day.
There were no climbers on the summit of Denali today. No colorful string of snowsuits negotiating the Denali pass or the notorious ridge or the turn called Windy Corner.
All of the climbers known to have survived the storm had been found below 14,000 feet, near basin camp, where National Guard Chinooks were evacuating them as fast as they could assemble.
Above 14,000 feet, conditions were simply indescribable, or, as one Denali ranger told reporters, a wasteland of flash-frozen cornices. Of valleys pitted with hidden fissures wide enough to swallow rescue teams or helicopters.
The storm was the result of a low-pressure system that had inserted itself on the mountain last Sunday, generating what was known as a polar cyclone. The system laid upon Denali for five days, producing a dozen feet of new snow in gusts of wind exceeding 100 miles per hour. The storm virtually resculpted the upper third of the mountain.
Now it was Friday and twelve people were still missing above basin camp. One expedition of four had summited the morning of the storm and was making their way back to high camp when the storm hit. Their last FRS radio transmission before the communications system went down due to the storm was from the Denali pass, 800 feet above high camp. They had every chance of making it then, but five days later they could not be reached, and it was impossible to know where they had finally dug in to weather the storm. It was also unlikely their supplies had been sufficient to sustain them.
Other expeditions, one from Thailand and one from British Columbia, were only nearing the summit when the storm suddenly developed. Their last reports indicated they were going forward, only a few hundred feet to the top, before they would turn around.
The cyclone hadn't been predicted, but that was the nature of Denali. The sheer mass of the mountain created its own weather. Any beautiful morning could end with an afternoon storm and a climbing disaster.
Meteorologists, as always, wasted no time getting their warning out, but those on the upper third of the mountain needed days, not hours to make their descent, and that was under optimal conditions. Anyone above basin camp last Friday was there to stay.
From the television on board the private jet taking Sherry to Alaska, Sherry learned there was little hope for climbers above 16,000 feet. Teams attempting the summit would have cached much of their equipment and food below, leaving them light for the final two-day ascent to the top of the mountain. Which meant that time was their greatest enemy. Even if they managed to reach high camp, there would be little food and fuel for heat, certainly not five days' worth.
The park rangers set up a triage area in the permanent medical station on basin camp, doctors from Anchorage and Fairbanks dividing their attention between cases of frostbite and acute mountain sickness. There was no small number of broken bones too, and a tent was set aside for bodies retrieved from a rescue in the gully below the vertical headwall under Camp 6. Three had fallen to their deaths.
A fourth body, photographed by search planes, was dangling off that headwall by a line wrapped around his boot. He was hanging just below the 16,000-foot mark and his jacket, once...
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