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Deadly Encounter (FBI Task Force)

By DiAnn Mills

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1
SATURDAY MORNINGS
were Stacy Broussard’s escape, especially when
life slapped her with stress. No better way to unwind from the
week than to ride her quarter horse on Houston’s airport trail and
enjoy nature. This morning promised to be the perfect distraction
from a truckload of problems, from the anniversary of the death of
her sister to seeking custody of a
tw
elve-
y
ear-
old
boy. She looked
forward to a lift in her spirit.
She pulled her truck into the Aldine Westfield Stables. As usual
she was the first one of the airport rangers to arrive. Chet’s pickup
wasn’t parked beneath the
mo
ss-
dr
aped oak, and he normally
arrived before dawn. Strange since he took his responsibilities as
stable manager seriously.
Finishing her latte, she grabbed her wallet and keys and stepped
outside her truck to admire an incredible
purple-
and-
gold sun
-
rise. Not even an early morning aircraft landing disturbed her.
She walked slowly to the stables, taking in the singing robins and
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4/21/2016 7:55:56 AM
the familiar humidity. The smell of horseflesh and straw tickled
her nose.
“Good morning, boys and girls,” she said. “Your friendly veteri-
narian is on the scene.”
If anyone heard her, they’d declare her insane. Maybe so when
she reflected on how much she preferred an animal’s company to
a human’s. Except Whitt . . . the most fascinating
tw
elve-
y
ear-
old
on the planet.
S
tacy ambled past each stall until she reached Ginger’s, greeting
the horses by name, touching velvety soft noses, and visibly check-
ing to ensure they were okay. Her pets looked healthy. Spending a
few extra moments with Ginger eased the knots in her shoulders
that no massage could ever eliminate.
She led Ginger into the stable area and grabbed a pitchfork to
tidy up her stall. A strong horse smell and a little manure on her
boots never hurt anyone. Being prissy was not one of her traits.
When finished, she retrieved her mare’s blanket and bridle from her
tack box. Her cell phone alerted her to a text.
Sorry, Stacy. Got a sick baby. Won’t b there.
No problem. Take care of her and give a hug 4 me.
She’d miss her friend this morning. The idea of a sick child sent
a pang of loss and melancholy through
her—
and not just for what
she didn
’t have. Who was she fooling? Reaching the age of
thir
ty-
fiv
e without a husband and children hadn’t been her idea of the
future. A quote sailed into her mind:
“Want to make God laugh? Tell
Him your plans.”
Not going there. Not today.
Checking her watch, she pondered the whereabouts of her other
partner and Chet. She saddled Ginger, adjusting the cinch twice.
Another text landed in her phone.
Stacy, my in-laws arrived late last night. 4got 2 call.
After a soft sigh, she typed,
Enjoy the visit.
2
//
DEADL
Y ENCOUNTER
01_deadly_encounter.indd 2
4/21/2016 7:55:56 AM
Airport ranger guidelines stated volunteers were to ride in pairs
or threes. This kept the rider safe if a situation arose on the trail, like
in the event a rider fell or encountered a difficult person.
But what choice did she have? Chet hadn’t made an appearance
either. Who would ever know she made a solo ride? She closed
Ginger’s stall door and hoisted herself into the saddle. No point
in abandoning this beautiful morning because of a single guideline.
“Let’s go, Miss Ginger. We’ll see if we can shake up a few squirrels.”
She crossed the road and made her way to the entrance of the
wooded area where the north trail around IAH began. An aircraft
broke the sound of chirping birds and the peaceful
ness that had
settled upon her. Right on time. The moment she turned Ginger
into the brush area, another aircraft announced its departure. So
much for the quiet.
She rode the inside perimeter of the fenced area. Nothing event-
ful to
r
eport—
not ev
en a piece of trash. As she made her way into
a clearing, a squirrel scampered across her path. A ray of morning
light filtered through the trees.
Ginger reared, catching Stacy by surprise. She pulled fast on the
reins. “Easy, Ginger.”
Her mare
cr
ow-
hopped and r
eared again.
What had startled her? A snake?
Then she saw it.
A pair of legs stuck out from a bush approximately fifteen feet
to her right.
Her heart hammered, and Ginger had to feel it. She struggled
to control her own fear and the horse beneath her while her sights
were glued to the man’s lower extremities.
“Hello, are you okay?” When only the quiet met her, she dis-
mounted and moved closer to where the man lay. Eyes open and
vacant. Stacy had seen scowls like this before, but not on a dead
D i
ANN MILLS
\\
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4/21/2016 7:55:56 AM
man. He appeared to have defied his attacker in one last fit of anger
before surrendering to death.
Blood pooled on his chest and trickled over his abdomen and
left side.
O
ne—
no, two horrible holes.
The wounds looked fresh,
perhaps within the last hour or so.
Terror rose, and she thought she’d be physically sick. She swung
her attention in every direction, expecting someone to emerge
from the tangled green terrain along the north section of Houston’s
Intercontinental Airport. She yanked her only permissible weapon
from her
jeans—
a
pocketknife—
and opened it as if it would war
d
off a killer.
Why had she chosen to ride alone?
A yellow Lab snuggled near the body, her head resting on the
dead man’s chest. A leather leash from the dog was wrapped around
the man’s fingers. Five feet to the right, a
blood-
spatter
ed motor-
cycle stood at attention. Securing the pocketknife in her palm, she
lifted her phone from inside her jeans pocket and pressed in 911
while she continued to look over her shoulder.
“What is your emergency?” the operator said.
Stacy swallowed the acid rising in her stomach. The morning’s
heat didn’t help. “I’ve found a dead body on the north trail that
runs along the FM 1960 side of IAH. The nearest entrance is on
Farrell where a sign designates the Houston Airport System eques-
trian security trail. My name is Stacy Broussard, and I’m an airport
ranger volunteer.”
“You’re sure he’s not alive?”
She bent beside the body and felt the side of his neck for a pulse.
Nothing. “Very much so. He’s lost a tremendous amount of blood
from his chest and abdomen. I’m assuming gunshots.”
“Do you know the man?”
“No, ma’am.”
4
//
DEADL
Y ENCOUNTER
01_deadly_encounter.indd 4
4/21/2016 7:55:56 AM
“Are you all right?”
“Shaken. I’m alone except for a dog lying next to the body. The
animal’s right front paw is bleeding, and I’m a veterinarian. She’s
not protective or aggressive.” Stacy drew in a ragged breath. The dog
rose from the body and limped to her side, while the leash stayed
fixed in the man’s hand. She rested her head on Stacy’s knee.
“You’re doing fine,” the operator said. “I’ll keep talking until
the police arrive and I’m assured you’re safe. How did you happen
upon the body?”
Keep your head. You can get through this.
“I’m a volunteer for the
airport rangers. We ride horseback to patrol the outer perimeter of
IAH and report any problems to the Houston Police Department.
The man is in a clearing. I checked for a pulse, and I’m sure of his
condition.” She removed the leash from his hand and examined the
dog’s bleeding paw, a wound that would require a few stitches. The
man wasn’t as fortunate. “How long until officers arrive?”
“Only a few more minutes. You’re a brave woman.”
“I don’t feel brave. How awful for this poor man.” The victim’s
eyes would haunt her for a long time, maybe forever.
“Tell me more about the airport rangers,” the operator said. “I
wasn’t aware Houston had such a service.”
She’s trying to calm me, divert my attention from the blood-coated
body.
“We’re not highly publicized. Normally we find evidence of
drugs or kids’ inappropriate behavior. Never anything like this. And
we aren’t supposed to ride alone, but the other two volunteers can-
celed at the last minute. Our stables are close by.” Stacy avoided
staring at the body and instead concentrated on the injured dog.
Her collar didn’t have an ID. Had the animal been hurt while pro-
tecting her master?
“Are there any signs of a struggle?”
She peered around for what seemed like the hundredth time.
D i
ANN MILLS
\\
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4/21/2016 7:55:56 AM
“There’s a motorcycle, a Kawasaki. I suppose the plates won’t be
hard to trace.” A strange object captured her attention in the shadow
of the bushes. Boots? Shoes? “I see something unusual, but I can’t
make out what it is.”
“Be careful. The police can investigate it.”
No need to caution her. She was already frightened out of her
wits. Sirens grew closer. “I hear them.”
“Stay where you are until the officers arrive. They’ll take over
the situation.”
“I’m sorry, but it might be another body or someone hurt. I
have to see if someone needs help.” She bolstered her courage and
moved toward the questionable object. The dog followed her to the
edge of the clearing, where a type of drone with four propellers was
lodged in a fallen tree branch and bushes. A churning panic swirled
through her. Had the dead man stopped a potential crime of blind-
ing a pilot? “What happened here?” she whispered, more to herself
than the 911 operator.
“Talk to me, Stacy.”
“I’ve found a drone. A clear dome is attached underneath, and
it’s pointed toward the northwest end of the run

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