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Amarillo Mariposa Excerpt        The Three Little Orphan Kittens Excerpt

Operation: Eyewitness

by D. Rudd Wise

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CHAPTER ONE

Leaning back into the seat of a Royal Air Maroc 747 jet airliner headed for the United States, Jess E. Hanes felt the usual pressure forcing him deeper into the seat as the aircraft lifted from the runway. It banked over Casablanca, steadily climbing above the clouds, and he could feel the mental pressures fading away like the continent below.

The noise of his surroundings subsided until he could only feel a steady light vibration. The aircraft had reached its cruising altitude and began a level flight. Deep in thought, he was almost mesmerized watching the puffy clouds pass rapidly beneath them.

A flight attendant tapped Jess on the shoulder, bringing him out of his daze. Startled, he threw up his arm in defense. He could not see her clearly for his eyes were slow to adjust to the lesser light in the cabin.

"Mr. Hanes, sorry I startled you," she said quietly. "Would you like something hot or cold to drink?"

He returned a blank stare.

"Would you care for something to drink?" she asked again.

"Why, yes! Please . . . iced tea?" he asked, turning toward her in the seat.

"Iced tea with sugar, lemon?"

"Lemon. Thanks!" He replied while rubbing the right side of his neck. It had almost cramped while he had been staring so fixedly out the window.

His eyes finally adjusted to the interior light of the airliner, and he could see his flight attendant smiling while she continued taking the other passengers' orders. Then she returned to the upper deck galley serving area at the rear of his seating section.

Jess in his late fifties was in perfect health for his age, a retired military pilot with twelve years in the U.S. Navy and twelve in the U.S. Air Force while working as an undercover agent for the Secret Service.

Now, he was a world traveler, searching for hidden and lost treasures of the world. Jess was married for more than thirty years to the same beautiful lady, Marie Ann, whom he was returning to in Austin, Texas.

He spoke softly to himself while slowly shaking his head, "Lord, I need to get these tensions under control!"

Jess was not in danger any longer. He did not have to look over his shoulder, always reacting to every unusual noise or movement around him. He was tight as a fiddle string.

Seated all the way forward, the roar of the jet engines were behind him. The light vibrations finally began their relaxing effect. No one occupied the two seats next to him toward the aisle, so he was alone with his thoughts.

The Boeing 747 airliner was less than half full, and most of the passengers were seated in the economy middle and rear sections. Jess sat in the front row of the upper deck seats, with only four other people in the section. At the expense of the Moroccan government, he had selected his own seating. It was a good location.

The wall in front of Jess held a large rack full of magazines and current newspapers. He selected a National Geographic magazine, because they always had good photos and interesting articles. He was not really in the mood for reading, but just looking at the pictures kept him from thinking too much.

The attendant brought the iced tea he had ordered. She was an attractive, long wavy haired brunette in a light blue uniform, which fit her tall, shapely frame comfortably. She wore her uniform with pride and confidence. It was not tight like some of the others, who were obviously uncomfortable when bending over or kneeling next to a passenger.

Jess had also noticed that her face, with its natural beauty, was not covered with excessive makeup. Yes, she was a very attractive lady, perhaps in her late thirties. Madilene was on her nametag, which was attached over her jacket pocket.

"Thank you ma'am." Jess spoke like a true native Texan would to a lady.

"If you need me for anything, just push the button above you for service," she said. "I'll be in the back." She hesitated, then opened the overhead storage above him, moved a few items, and closed the door. She laid a pillow and blanket in the seat next to him. "You look like you could use these," she said with a smile, then returned to her duties.

Slowly stirring the ice cubes to get the tea colder, he took a long sip. Its taste was fresh, and its aroma was pleasing, just what he needed.

The pictures and articles in the National Geographic did not stop his brain from wandering off to other things. Taking a deep breath and laying the magazine on his lap, Jess returned to gazing out the window. He shook his head in amazement, just realizing the turmoil he had come through and survived.

Man alive! He almost said out loud. I'm finally on the way! Here I am, going home to Texas after eight months of life threatening adventure and leaving behind nightmares of terror.

Those were events he would not soon forget. How did he get himself into such a mess? He was just an innocent bystander who had been involved in international terrorist turmoil in Morocco.

Again, it was the age-old story of being at the right place at the wrong time or was it the wrong place at the right time for Jess?

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#

It was August of the previous year when all his problems started during a layover in the Dar al-Baida International Airport, Casablanca. Jess, a professional treasure hunter, was in route to the Middle East. With a six-hour delay in Morocco, he welcomed the chance to be back in a country he had lived in thirty years prior.

Strange things can happen in international airport terminals where thousands of people are in transit. Not knowing one another, but thrown together in a split-second of passing, people glance at each other but do not really see. Occasionally, eyes momentarily meet, but otherwise no communication shared.

Jess moved through the terminal aisles, looking for his departure ramp before taking a sightseeing walk outside. He glanced at his ticket again for the gate number, and moved into the flow of people heading in that general direction.

The morning crowd pushed through the wide aisles. He noticed congestion ahead of him where three civilians and a big fat military man were quarreling. They were shoving and cursing each other. That attracted a small crowd in front of an empty ticket counter, causing the flow of people to shy around them.

One civilian was dressed like a banker, or politician, in a white summer suit. The other two, who wore similar light blue three-piece suits, had joined with the large military man in an intense argument with the gentleman in white.

Jess did not know why he had noticed the suits, but thought it unusual. He did not stop to watch, because common sense told him to keep moving. Not minding his own business had gotten him in trouble before.

As Jess pressed between people to pass around the small crowd, the large uniformed officer backed out into the aisle, almost knocking Jess down. He turned and glared at Jess for being in his way. The big man made gestures with his hands flapping in the air, shouting what Jess supposed were Arabic obscenities.

Because of his brute size, he had brushed Jess aside with little effort. He and the two blue-suited men hurried toward the main lobby, leaving the white-suited gentleman standing alone. Startled, Jess just stood there watching the three leave, realizing that the encounter could have been a bloody battle if they had come to blows.

The big military officer suddenly stopped and turned around, glaring back through the parted wake of people he had left behind him. His men were following so close they almost bumped into him. He yelled something and pointed toward Jess; or rather, at the white-suited man behind Jess. Jess quickly moved aside, turned around, and continued on his way.

The noise from the crowded lobbies eventually drowned out the confusion behind him. He followed the signs to the departure ramps and stayed with the flow of people ahead of him.

Seeing restaurants reminded Jess that he had not eaten for a while, and his stomach began to growl. While trying to make up his mind where to eat, he made mental notes on the different cultural clothing of the international travelers. He enjoyed watching and studying the people.

This is going to be an enjoyable layover, he thought to himself. The flight for Dubai, United Arab Emirates, is six hours away. There is plenty of time to eat, browse and perhaps find a souvenir to send home.

Suddenly, he had a call of nature, causing a frantic detour for the nearest restroom. That can be a threatening experience in a foreign country. But, when you gotta go, ya gotta—now!

Upon finding a restroom entrance marked with a silhouette of a man on the door, he rushed in. The heat from the Moroccan desert with the ocean's humidity made most of the terminal unbearable. But the temperature was cool inside the large, brightly lighted, high-ceiling restroom.

It was fairly clean for a foreign airport. There was a long row of washbasins on the left, and a row of twenty partitioned stalls across from them. He picked the last stall at the far end of the room. Standing inside the stall, he could not see over the top of the partition, and it reached down to within six inches of the floor.

Jess laid his satchel and attaché case against the wall, closed the door, dropped his pants and sat on the cold toilet seat. No sooner had he sat down, he heard shuffling of feet at the other end of the room. Low voices in Arabic bitterly argued. One loud husky voice was familiar to Jess, like that of the large military officer he had seen earlier.

The sound of three muffled gunshots startled him. Then, he heard the sound of a body falling to the floor, which sent a sudden, icy chill down his spine. He sat motionless, barely breathing.

Be quiet, Jess! They may not know you're here, he thought to himself. Maybe they won't notice this is the only closed stall door.

He stood, pulled his pants up, zipped them closed and lightly bumped the stall door. It banged against its latch, and the sound was like a shotgun being fired. It echoed in the large room.

The men stopped talking and listened. Now Jess knew they would notice the only closed stall door. He held his breath, not wanting to make a sound, and did not even want to blink or think about them knowing he was there.

He started to step up onto the stool, and a coin dropped out of his pants pocket onto the tile floor, making enough noise to raise the dead.

One of the men ran toward the stall where Jess was, shouting in Arabic, "BISMILLAH . . . in Allah's name, you die!" and hurriedly tossed a bag toward Jess' stall. It scooted on the tile floor and swished under the stalls partition, bouncing off Jess' attaché case and coming to rest between his spread legs. It was a tan canvas bag, and he had little doubt of what it was: a satchel charge of explosives. He kicked the bag, shoving it out of the stall. It slid across under the lavatories.

He grabbed the top of the partitioned wall next to him. Lifting his legs toward the back wall, he pressed his shoes against it and hugged the partition as tightly as possible. He began to pray.

A deafening explosion shook the room, blowing the outside wall onto the grassy yard. At the same instant, the stall door blew in and slammed against Jess' back. The shrapnel had cut jagged holes in the door, which ripped into his skin, penetrating between the ribs, pinning him to the door and against the still standing partition wall. He could feel the sharp metal scraping his rib bones. Hanging helplessly, he was not able to extend his legs to the floor for support.

His head reeled from the concussion of the explosion. He could not catch his breath, speak or scream. The stenches of powder, dust, smoke and blood mingled, dripped down his shirt onto his pants, and then onto the floor. A thick cloud of dust settled over him as numbness and shock rapidly set in.

Jess began to lose his grip on top of the partition wall, and his weight pulled against the jagged metal, which was tearing further into his back. Not able to reach the floor with his feet, he hung helplessly by his back from the door—and passed out. The partition wall began to lean, and finally collapsed from his weight.

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Amarillo Mariposa

by D. Rudd Wise

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CHAPTER THREE

After spending time with the Lord Jesus in prayer and reading the Holy Bible, placed in his room by the Gideons, Jess reviewed his plans for the day. I should have asked Tom and Gladys Ramp about Professor John Stapleton, maybe Horris downstairs knows him. The professor has been around these parts since after World War II, teaching at Sul Ross University. He’s retired now, living on a ranch south of here. He was one of Granddad’s old mining buddies. The professor sent me this letter last week, saying he needed to talk about something he found that belongs to Granddad Hanes.

Looking at his watch and mumbling to himself, “I’d better get downstairs for that taxi ride to the airport. It’s nine-twenty now, so pack up, let’s get this show on the road.”

I can take my time checking the aircraft and take some notes before leaving. I don’t need to be at Professor Stapleton’s place until two. After fueling, I could even take a nap on the bedroll in the shade of the plane’s wing. Now, dog-gone if that don’t sound invitin’!

Later this evening, I’ll fly to Marfa, then on over to Presidio for the night; if my visit with the professor isn’t too long. A couple of hours at his ranch should be enough.

Leading Jess to the lobby’s front revolving glass doors, Horris said, “Everything has been taken care of Mr. Hanes,” with a snappy salute, “Adios Señor! Come back, por favor.”

“Óptimo, adiós Señor!” Jess said with the little Spanish he thought meant ‘excellent’.

#

Jess asked the taxi driver if he knew Professor Stapleton. He nodded, yes, and with broken English, “The old man west of town?” The driver’s Spanish accent was thick, which reminded Jess again he needed to brush up on his Spanish.

“Si, Señor! If the ‘old man’ taught at Sul Ross University?” Jess answered.

“Si, he retired long ago. He sick now!”

Jess coughed as dust from the dirt road came in the window of the back seat. “This isn’t the road we took into town. Where are you headed?” No reply from the front seat.

“How long has he been sick?” Jess asked. “I got a letter from him only last week.”

This is unexpected bad news, and from a stranger. The professor is an important link in my research on mines in the Big Bend country south of here.

“He been sick long time,” he answered as they turned through a gate and crossed the active runway to the aircraft parking area.

This guy drives like a wild man high on drugs, Jess thought. Approaching the aircraft at full speed, “Señor?” He questioned and motioned with both hands off the steering wheel, as to where Jess’ airplane was parked.

Jess yelled as they crossed the active runway again, “Watch for landing aircraft!”

“Que? Donde uno? Señor?” he asked again, spreading his arms in a wide arc over the dashboard toward the parked aircraft – then grabbed the steering wheel.

Jess leaned between the front seats and motioned toward the white and blue Pilatus, “The two-wheel, tail dragger, blue and white! It’s a good thing this isn’t a busy airport this afternoon. We could be in trouble crossing an active runway like that.”

The way he darts between the parked aircraft, this taxi driver knows his way around. But, back home, the airport security would be all over him by now, Jess thought.

The taxi driver slid to a stop behind the Pilatus. Jess held tight to a door strap to keep from being tossed into the front seat. When the dust settled, he was looking into the barrel of what could have been a cannon.

Jess froze! A stickup! I can see the silver slug in the cartridge down the barrel.

“Mr. Hanes!” He whispered. “Jess, please continue to stay against the back seat and put your hands on your kneecaps.”

What happened to the slurred Spanish accent? What’s this all about? I’m not in the habit of having the ‘bitter-end' of a gun pointing at me! Especially, right in my face! Jess did not panic, but stayed calm. This guy is smiling like the canary that swallowed the cat. Lord Jesus, take care of this situation!

The taxi driver’s expression changed as he glanced past Jess, as if someone behind them was about to pounce.

The hole at the business end of the gun looked like a truck tunnel to Jess. He was going to speak, but the driver put his finger to his lips and motioned Jess to sit still. Taking his I.D. wallet from his shirt pocket, he let its flap open and gave Jess time to read it.

“Mexican Federal Agent, Chihuahua, Mexico: Donald Ramos Simms,” Jess said. It was all he could read. The sweat ran down his forehead blurring his vision and stung, plus his thinking wasn’t clear like it should have been in a panic situation. For some reason, Jess’ mouth was too dry to speak.

He doesn’t have any jurisdiction in the U.S. . . . Jess’ thoughts began to run wild as the Mexican agent motioned him out of the car, then holstered his automatic as he grabbed Jess’ arm. Jess turned to throw a punch, and he wasn’t there. The agent had quickly moved to the rear of the taxi and opened the trunk. Jess got out on the opposite side away from the driver.

Agent Simms held up Jess’ flight bag for him to carry. Then, he nodded toward the aircraft, and Jess followed cautiously. They stopped under the shade of its wing. The sun reflected off the hot metal, and the coolness of the shade felt good, plus a breeze began to rustle the red streamers on the propeller and exhaust covers.

Jess gave the agent a harsh look and dropped his bag under the fuselage. He was becoming very angry at this type of treatment from a law official.

“Mr. Hanes, please try to relax while I endeavor to explain what is happening,” Agent Simms said, wiping the sweat from his neck and face with a handkerchief. Jess folded his arms, “I certainly would hope so. It’s not every day I get a gun stuffed up my nose. What’s going on?” “I need your immediate help,” he said taking off his sunglasses and wiping his face with the handkerchief.

Jess folded his arms, "I certanily would hope so. It's not every day I get a gun stuffed up my nose. What's going on?"

Jess was thinking, 'This guy can’t really be doing this, and the thought of being hijacked is causing me to twitch a little. Why would he flash his gun, shove it in my face, and then flash his badge? Lord Jesus, something isn’t quite right about this whole thing, and I need some answers. ’

“Please open the door to your aircraft and put your bag inside,” he demanded. “We are being watched. Rather, I’m being watched. I have a feeling you may be here for the same reason I’m investigating for Professor Stapleton. I have reason to believe the taxi is bugged to listen to my conversations with people I pick up.”

“Really!” Jess said. “That still doesn’t explain your gun in my face.”

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Agent Simms took a deep breath, “That was to get your attention, in order to shut your mouth long enough to get you out of the taxi. I’m on to something on the professor’s ranch. He has hired me to solve some problems out there.” He shifted his weight against the side of the fuselage back of the wing. For a big man, he was having a hard time breathing in the heat. “I am working with the Texas Rangers.”

Jess wiped his face on his short sleeve shirt, watching Simms every move. If he gives me a reason, I’ll have to do something drastic. Lord Jesus! What, I don’t know right now.

“We are far enough away from the taxi for talking, so I’ll hurry with my request.” Simms leaned away from the aircraft, squinting his eyes and putting his sunglasses back on. “I’ve been watching visitors in and out of the airport, and those coming and going to the areas around his ranch. There seems to be a lot of traffic in his area with aircraft, four-wheel drive vehicles and horseback riders at night.”

Simms stood up straight with his hands on his hips, “The noises close to his ranch house at night sound like trucks and helicopters. They are never around when I’m out there, and I’m not working alone. But, we still can’t get a fix on them.”

“What does this have to do with me?” Jess asked, pulling his campstool out of the back of the plane and setting in the shade. Simms declined the use of one. This could take awhile, Jess thought with a frown on his face, then folded his arms again.

“I lied about his sickness to get your mind off what I was trying to do,” spreading his arms to express his frustrations, “and I wanted . . . ” His dark face turned as white as the side of the aircraft. He stumbled backwards against it, sinking to his knees.

Jess thought he was having a heat stroke and jumped to grab his arms, letting him down under the fuselage for shade. Jess didn’t realize what had happened until he saw blood oozing between Simms fingers, where he had grasped his side. Blood was smeared on the side of the aircraft where he slid down.

Jess felt his pulse, and it was beating hard and fast. He’s been shot and I didn’t hear anything.

Jess laid next to him on the ground, looking in the direction the bullet should have come from. High hills in that direction, he surveyed the area to the west, and a ravine with large cottonwood trees. We need some protection from that direction.

He grabbed Simms and pulled one of his arms around Jess’ neck, dragging him down into a ditch back of a storage shed behind the aircraft. Someone must have been a long way off or used a silencer. This guy’s not looking good at all.

Jess ripped open the front of Simms’ shirt and stuffed his own wet handkerchief into the gaping bullet hole in Simms front side. “This looks like the bullet was tumbling when it hit,” Jess said, and rolled Simms’ against his leg and found the exit hole. “This doesn’t look too bad. The slug ripped completely through, and took part of you with it.”

Jess grabbed Simms hand, “Give me your hand. Hold this handkerchief in place, and I’ll use yours to plug the hole in your back. Then I’ll get help!”

The hole in the back swallowed the handkerchief, so Jess stuffed Simms’ shirttail into it as well. That seems to stop the excessive bleeding, Jess thought, pushing more of the shirt into the hole. He made Simms as comfortable as possible before standing up.

“Let me catch my breath,” Simms said. “I’ve been shot before in Vietnam. Man! I sure have more pain now than I remember back then. Can’t be I’m older!” Simms tried to straighten up off the ground, but stayed down. “Here, take my gun! Use it if you have to. They will kill us both if they have another chance.”

“Who? Who is, ‘they’?” Jess asked.

Simms was beginning to cough up blood, which meant internal bleeding.

That wound didn’t look that bad, Jess thought as he ripped open Simms’ shirt. Sure enough! There’s a small hole below his left nipple oozing bubbles of blood.

He used the other part of Simms’ shirttail to plug the hole. His back, at the same level, showed no blood soaked through his shirt. Lord, the slug is still inside his chest cavity, doing its damage. Lord Jesus, cancel that thought. No more damage!

“I’m not going to last long,” Simms sputtered. “In my jacket pocket are notes of my investigation for the professor. He hired me to find out who was on his ranch, but I found out more than that.”

Jess nodded and waited for him to say more, but he passed out cold. He shoved an empty oil drum behind Simms, making a good backrest to keep the cloth in the bloody holes. He then slid two empty drums behind the empty one to hold it from sliding, and to provide some protection from other rifle shots.

The storage shed gave Jess enough cover to survey the area across the runway from where the shots came. He could not see anyone with a gun anywhere or anyone suspicious.

“They must have used either a sniper rifle or a long range varmint rifle,” Jess said.

Now, what am I going to do for help? Wait a minute. Two shots at the same time, maybe two people fired together, who knows? My cellular phone is in the aircraft at least twenty yards away. I can make it.

Running back to Simms with the cell phone in his pocket, Jess could almost feel hot slugs slapping him in the back. He tripped and fell headlong past the oil drum Simms was propped against, rolled over next to him and dialed 911. While the phone went through it paces, Jess reached up and checked Simms’ pulse. He waited for someone to answer, no ring back or recording. Simms’ pulse was good, but weak.

Leaning against the oil drum next to Simms, Jess looked at the phone and dialed 911 again, noticing the antenna was not pulled out, he thought, "No wonder, dummy!"

“This is a recording for 911. You must use a local number for emergency calls, thank you.” By then, Jess was about ready to throw the thing away. Keep calm Jess, get your wits about you. You're shaking like a leaf. I need to get an ambulance out here, and now!

Jess put the gun back in Simms’ holster and stood up. What’s this all about, now? I can’t believe this is happening to me again! I can’t get involved in another shooting like back in Morocco. Plus, this will delay my research about Granddad Hanes.

“Jess!” He yelled at himself. “He’ll bleed to death before you ever figure out all of this!”

Jess looked around, nothing seemed out of place except the Mexican agent’s lifeless form next to the barrel. Taking a chance again, he ran from behind the shed for the plane, dumped out the contents of his flight bag on the floor and grabbed the Texas Ranger radio. He kept looking around while strapping his gun in its holster around his waist.

As Jess ran over to the taxi, an aircraft landed and parked next to the terminal building. The passengers and pilot went inside and did not see him waving, or hear his hollering.

In the taxi, Jess spotted the two-way radio’s handmic and began calling, “This is an emergency!

Man shot at the airport! Anyone out there! Dispatch! This is an emergency!” While waiting for a reply, Jess searched through Simms’ jacket for his notes, finding the writing pad and address book. He stuffed them into his empty hip pocket along with Simms’ I.D. wallet.

“Repeat that last message about someone shot at the airport. Who is this speaking?” she asked.

“This is Jess E. Hanes at the airport! Am I talking to Gladys?”

“Yes, Mr. Hanes, what do you need?”

“Send the police and an ambulance to the airport, now! I’m at the storage shed across the runway next to a white and blue aircraft. Hurry! This driver of yours will bleed to death! Over and out!”

“I understand!”

Running back over to the taxi driver, Jess was wondering who Donald Ramos Simms was? Is this a fake I.D., or is he for real? He squatted next to him, “Mr. Simms, I’m going to check your wounds again. Help is on the way.”

No reply, but his bleeding had stopped, and his pulse seemed steadier than before. Good! Thank you Lord! Maybe he’ll make it after all. Lord Jesus, please take care of his injuries.

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The Three Little Orphan Kittens

by D. Rudd Wise and Rachel Wise

Picture of Dave and Rachel on the floor listening for a kitten meowing. The story reads: I repeated my call, Talk to me! and it answered again with a weak cry. I hollered for my wife, Rachel, who was in the living room, Sweetheart, come out here. She knew by the tone of my voice it was rugent. I motioned for her to get down with me and listen. She heard the weak reply of a kitten when I called, Talk to me! I stood up and told her to continue listening and I would go outside and try to get underneath in the crawlspace.
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