one Garmin eTrex Summit HC handheld GPS unit; various items of no appreciable value: possibly collected samples of vegetation, and three four- to six-inch feathers; and, most interestingly of all, two black- and gray-streaked rocks weighing eighteen and twenty-six ounces respectively, and a native headdress of indeterminate origin, cast in pure gold. The Consulate had confiscated the headdress as Peruvian law frowned upon the unlicensed plunder of its heritage, however, Monahan had promised to include multiple photographs with the rest of Hunter's belongings. There had been no mention of the Les Baer 1911 Premium II pistol or the machete Hunter would have been carrying, nor mosquito netting, change of clothes, or food reserves. Hunter hadn't even packed any of his testing supplies, his various rock hammers, satellite phone, or geologic field spectrometer. All indications pointed to a hurried abandonment of camp. His son had taken only what he could quickly pack and what would be of importance when he escaped the jungle and reached civilization.

Hunter was a world-class geologist with the best academic pedigree that money could buy, though he had proudly earned it on scholarships alone. A B.S. in Geology from Texas A&M, and a Ph.D. in Mineral Exploration and Mining Geosciences from the Colorado School of Mines. Throw in the fact that he had spent the last five years reconnoitering some of the harshest unexplored terrain on the planet, and more questions were raised than answers. Something had happened to his son, and he'd move heaven and earth to find out what.

During their final communication via satellite uplink, Hunter had intimated that his party was close to reaching its destination, quite possibly within the next couple of days. Leo had heard the smile in his son's voice, the faint tremble of excitement. He had felt it, too. In that moment, he had been as proud of his son as any father could be, but he had also been his boss. So instead of heaping praise and adoration on Hunter, he had demanded daily reports and detailed his expectations in businesslike fashion.

That had been twelve days ago now, and the last time he would ever speak to his son.

Two black- and gray-streaked rocks.

A native headdress of indeterminate origin, cast in pure gold.

Although it was subtle, he heard his son's posthumous message loud and clear. It was almost as if Hunter had known there was a good chance he might not return to Pomacochas alive, and had brought items only his father would understand. Clues that would stymie a layman, but purvey important information at the same time. The headdress was simultaneously a location marker and a red herring meant to distract whoever found the backpack like a starling with a bit of foil. The real message was in the rocks, the seemingly mundane black and gray chunks of earth. They were stratified layers of volcanic magnetite and quartz, placers, streaks that pointed like arrows to their ultimate quarry.

Hunter had found it.

For a heartbreaking moment, Leo's pride eclipsed his sorrow and guilt.


Harris County Medical Examiner's Office

Houston, Texas

October 18th

4:32 p.m. CDT

Despite their indignation that the body had not arrived embalmed, the CDC had cleared Hunter's remains of potentially contagious viral and bacterial agents, infestation, and acute pathological processes in record time, thanks in large measure to Leo's government connections. After taking possession of his son's cleaned and sterilized belongings, he had followed the Medical Examiner's van from the airport, cell phone glued to his ear, calling in every favor he possibly could. By the time he arrived at the Harris County Medical Examiner's Office near the Astrodome, the Chief Medical Examiner had already been informed that he would be observing his son's autopsy. It had cost him a fortune---how quickly the mayor and the good Senator had forgotten how much he'd contributed to their last campaigns---but he had gotten exactly what he wanted, as he had known he would. Now, he stood back toward the rear of the room, staring at his son's lifeless carcass on the cold autopsy table.

He couldn't take his eyes off the body. Whatever had once been his Hunter had long since abandoned that broken vessel, which now only vaguely resembled the child he had known for the past thirty-two years. He couldn't bear the sight of where Hunter's flesh had been chewed away by animals that had had no right to violate its integrity. He wanted to throw himself onto the body, to wrap his arms around the boy he had loved unconditionally and breathe his own life into the young man who still had so much living left to do. A surge of rage rippled through him. Heat suffused his face and his fists curled so tightly that his fingernails bit into his palms.

'Christ. They could have at least rinsed it off for us,' the Chief Medical Examiner, Dr. James Prentice, said. His glasses perched almost miraculously on the tip of his bulbous nose, framing brown eyes that didn't appear to blink. The overhead recorder started and stopped with his voice, providing a whirring undertone to his words. 'All right. Let's get this show on the road, shall we?'

He took a pair of scissors from the sterile tray beside him and cut twin lines up each pant leg and through Hunter's underwear. His shirt hadn't made the return trip to the States with him. Prentice dropped the tattered fabric in the biohazard waste container for incineration and pulled the retractable hose nozzle out from under the table. With a squeeze of the handle, he sprayed Hunter's face and chest with scalding water. Smears of mud broke apart and dissolved. The runoff traced the contours of his musculature in streams that rolled down the lines of his ribs and into the side gutters of the table. Swirls of brown water turned around the drains. The flesh beneath the grime was a sickly gray and marbled with blue veins and black bruises. There were dozens of insect bite marks.

'Bird mites,' Prentice said.

Superficial lacerations bisected Hunter's clavicles and pectorals. Leo could see exposed sections of the lumbar spine through the gaping hole in the abdomen where it appeared that piranhas, or some other small- mouthed, toothy critters, had absolved him of a large measure of his viscera. Apparently they had also feasted upon his manhood. Once Prentice had cleaned his legs, he carefully rolled Hunter's body over. His back, buttocks, thighs, and calves were all livid with blood, cellular fluid, and retained river water.

A quick spray through Hunter's hair and the ME was about to roll him over again when he abruptly paused. Leo noticed several sections where the fluid was beginning to drain in foul, sappy ribbons. Prentice leaned closer and inspected the wounds. There were two large punctures over the lower aspect of the rib cage. He sprayed directly into the holes and clumps of clotted blood and mud washed out.

'Twin dorsal stab wounds, one to either side of the spine,' Prentice said. 'On the right: entrance between the tenth and eleventh posterior ribs. Visible comminuted fracture of the tenth rib. Inferior displacement of a triangular fragment. Approximate penetration: three inches. On the left: entrance between the seventh and eighth posterior ribs. Oblique fractures of both the superior and inferior ribs without significant displacement. Again, approximate penetration of three inches.'

Leo eased forward to better see between the isolation-gowned men. In addition to the Chief ME, there were three other men. He'd only been introduced to one, another medical examiner who had apparently bathed in aftershave before entering the room. Leo had already forgotten his name.

'Both wounds were inflicted by the same weapon as evidenced by the external characteristics of the soft tissue. No telltale indications of a sharpened edge. No 'V' pattern from a blade being twisted or widening of the laceration consistent with rapid retraction. Clean incisions through the latissimus dorsi and erector spinae muscles. The epidermal layer is curled inward with no sign of attempted healing. Superior and lateral sides of the wounds are smooth, the inferior ragged, indicating downward force. No bruising to suggest impact from a hilt or handle. Obviously a rounded implement. Not a knife. Definitely antemortem.' He stuck his finger into the wound. 'Angled entrance with inferior curvature of roughly thirty degrees. Possibly some kind of hook with a shallow arch.'

Leo closed his eyes and struggled to keep from imagining the look on his son's face as someone repeatedly stabbed him in the back with a hook. The doctor's monotonous voice and vivid play-by-play description of his son's injuries faded. He thought about how much pain Hunter must have endured, and it made him sick to his stomach.

The whine of a Stryker saw roused him from his thoughts. Dr. Prentice had finished performing his external

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