Home > Left To Hide (Adele Sharp #3)

Left To Hide (Adele Sharp #3)
Author: Blake Pierce

CHAPTER ONE

 

 

The team leader glanced at the notification scrolling across his satellite phone. Vermisstes. Missing persons. The notification came direct from the BKA. A strange thing for the German intelligence agency to take an interest so quickly. Then again, these two weren’t the usual missing persons.

The team leader adjusted the zipper on his faded red and green overcoat and gestured toward the three other members of his unit. Volunteers—all of them. Their logo in crisp black letters: Bergwacht Deutchsland. Mountain Rescue, Germany. They stomped through the snow in the fading evening. Only an hour left before they’d have to turn back. No sense searching at night and risking his team as well. A gorge dipped from slipping ravines on their left, and to their right, the mountain only protruded higher, threatening to pierce the clouds in their grayish gloom.

The Bavarian Alps were a long and intricate mountain range. And two cross-country skiers as experienced as the missing persons were could cover a significant distance from the Wolfsschluct Resort in the time they’d been missing.

Sasha, the local guide, pointed off into the distance. The team leader paused at the sound of an approaching buzz. He turned, chill wind cooling his exposed face as he regarded the orange helicopter whirring through the blue sky. An echoing hum from the chopper blades resounded in a continuous loop against the backdrop of mountains encumbered with snow.

“Kapitän,” said Jerome, the youngest team member. He huffed a bit, approaching the team leader with quick steps, flicking snow as his boots plunged and lifted from the burdened trail.

“Hmm?” said Luka Porter, the unit captain.

Jerome leaned in, yelling to be heard over the chopper. “No more ski tracks. Scheisse! Think we should double back.”

Luka regarded the young man and breathed, allowing a trail of vapor to twist up past his cheeks and probe toward the evening sky. He also responded in German. “Nein. We go back, you know what happens, then?” he asked, quietly.

Jerome hesitated. “It’s—it’s growing dark, sir. Just that, I thought one of the rules was to return before nightfall.”

Luka scratched at the stubble on his chin. He’d been roused early that morning without a chance to shave. These Vermisstes were important people. Underscored by the BKA agents who’d personally shown up at his home to drag him to the office beside the resort.

“An hour,” said Luka. “Then back. But an hour more.”

Jerome looked disappointed, but disguised it well enough. Both of them trudged through the snow along the trail, following Sasha as she led them along the trajectory of the last known direction the Italian couple had followed.

“I hear… I hear they were wealthy,” Jerome said, gasping in between words now. Some of his eager energy was beginning to fade the deeper the snow became.

Luka grunted again, limiting his words, saving his strength. “Twenty-four hours missing. In this weather, in November, wealthy or not, they’ll freeze all the same.”

“Or worse,” Jerome muttered.

Luke frowned but didn’t reply, doing both of them the favor of conserving their breath.

Just then, Sasha held up a hand from further along the trail. The light trickle of snowfall had stopped and started a few times over the last few hours, disguising any further ski tracks they might have found. Yet Sasha motioned rapidly, drawing Luka’s and Jerome’s attention.

“What is it?” Luka called out.

Sasha was pointing toward the sky, and the two men followed the indicating gesture.

A single beam of blue light extended faintly in the evening horizon, originating from the helicopter, but swishing and circling around a small grove of trees at the very top of the gorge, near the slope.

“They found something!” Sasha shouted.

Luka nodded and picked up the pace, feeling the sting of the cold now and the quick freeze of his breath vapor against his cheeks. He bowed his head, following Sasha’s footsteps as they rushed toward the grove. The Italian couple had set out skiing from the resort more than twenty-four hours ago. Yet, still, there was a chance they’d survived. Properly garbed, perhaps carrying shelter, they’d be in a bad way, but death wasn’t a certainty. Many of the people their Bergwacht unit was sent after ended up being recovered. Many, but not all.

They neared the grove of trees, following Sasha, who had skis strapped over her shoulder. The snow here was too fresh, too light for skiing to be optimal. Luka frowned—so why was the helicopter indicating this grove?

A scattering of coniferous larch and spruce trees circled the indicated beam of blue light, which only seemed to strengthen the more the evening darkened.

“Lights!” Luka called.

The other members of the search and rescue team hit their headlamps, and Luka withdrew his well-used one-hundred-thousand-lumen aluminum safety light. He clicked the switch and pointed the large flashlight toward the trees. Luka blinked a bit at the bright glare, like the headlights of a police vehicle. He nodded at the others to approach.

Care was in order. Jerome, their law enforcement volunteer, drew his sidearm. One could never be too careful in the Alps. All sorts of creatures lurked in these mountains.

“I see something,” Sasha called as she moved toward the trees. Snow crunched underfoot, suggesting new snowfall had been blocked, mostly, by the trees, leaving only residue and whatever had been dislodged from the branches.

“Careful,” Jerome called, his weapon in his gloved hand.

Sasha nodded but waved away the caution, stepping toward the indicated portion of the forest. She pulled up sharply.

Luka could see it now too. It was hard to miss. Dark shapes against the snow. Dark stains.

Jerome’s gun lowered slowly as they approached through the coniferous trees. Then the young volunteer cursed and his arms went limp. “Oh mein Gott,” he said, murmuring a quick prayer before crossing himself.

Luka stepped past Jerome and came up level with Sasha, beneath a giant fir. He brushed aside an extended branch with one hand and stared into the snowy grove, his eyes fixed on the scene.

“The tourists?” Sasha asked in a low, trembling voice.

“Call it in,” Luka said, sharply. “Now.”

He heard Sasha at his side fumbling with her SAT phone, followed by the quick beep of buttons in response. He listened to the helicopter still whirring overhead, like a vulture circling a carcass. Jerome tried to move closer, but Luka held out an arm, pressing back against the young man. “Don’t,” he said, quickly. “Can’t disturb it.”

“What—what do you think did this?” Jerome murmured, staring.

Luka returned his attention toward the grove, difficult as this was. He’d seen victims of animal attacks before, but nothing like this. Bear attacks weren’t common in the region—or, at least, hadn’t been in a long while. Recently, though, in the past few years, there had been a resurgence of brown bear sightings in the Alps.

Now, the proof lay before him.

Two bodies—at least, what remained of them. Bloody, frozen, scattered like impressionistic art in droplets and spray around the area. A few streaks had even speckled the trees. Pieces of human flesh also ornamented the ground. An entire foot was caught in a young sapling, the tree’s growth stunted by lack of sunshine.

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