Published by: Suspense Publishing
Publication Date: November 9th 2021
Number of Pages: 268
Series: Roger Viceroy Series, #2
@Archaeolibrary, @partnersincr1me (@PICVirtualTours - FB), @steven_c_harms,
Author of Give Place to Wrath—Killer Nashville Silver Falchion Award Finalist & American Book Fest American Fiction Awards Finalist
Roger Viceroy faces a return to the FBI and a life he vacated long ago until a knock on his front door announces the presence of billionaire and former U.S. Senator, Jürgen Sandt.
The past has come back to rear its ugly head. Sandt stands on his threshold for a reason: a decade prior the senator’s only son disappeared into the jungles of Guatemala, and Sandt has come to convince Viceroy that further investigation is now necessary. A package left mysteriously outside the family estate, opens the door to the possibility that his son is still very much alive.
Viceroy and his team agree to take on the hunt. Their search steers them from the back streets of Milwaukee to the stealthy corridors of Washington, D.C.—an eerie trek that will ultimately lead to an ancient site that supposedly doesn’t exist.
As Viceroy closes in on the truth, a parallel plot emerges. Not only could it point to the reason behind the cryptic disappearance of Bertram Sandt, but it could also launch a deadly battle that will put millions of lives at stake. On pure instinct, Viceroy knows nothing is adding up. Somehow, somewhere they missed a clue, and if it’s not discovered soon…it may be too late.
“Steven Harms rocks it in The Counsel of the Cunning. Murder, treachery, drugs, and a deadly trek through the Guatemalan jungle. My kind of story.”
—William Nikkel, Amazon Bestselling Author of Deadly Tide
A howler monkey screeched, its shrill pitch adding to the endless cacophony.
Dr. Catarina Amador watched the animal move through the trees until it vanished in the dense canopy below, then drew a last puff on her cigarette, crushing the butt with the heel of her worn-out tennis shoe. Her eyes shifted to the ancient ruins sprawling in every direction; eroded, gray slabs of rock covered with vines, others crumbled beyond recognition.
Atop the temple mount, the slight breeze and mid-morning sunlight provided a respite from the enclave of stone ruins and paths that weaved through the jungle of whatever country she was in. To the east, the sun reflected off the lone glimpse of the river, catching her eye. The faint sparkles shimmering off the surface forever calling her home. Six years and counting. But each passing moment chipped away at her will, replacing those pieces with an ever-increasing hopelessness. She had become mostly devoid of thought save for the world-class talents she employed for her captor.
The youngest daughter of a large family from the slums of Mexico City, her intellect and scientific acumen made her a prodigy. World-renowned in academic circles by the age of fourteen. At fifteen she began her studies at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore; flying through, she graduated just five years later with a PhD in biomedical engineering. Her human molecular manipulation thesis elevated her into the scientific world’s stratosphere. Upon graduation, blank check offers from a hundred different companies and research labs spanning the globe filled her mailbox. All she had to do was pick one. Her parents had come to Baltimore for the graduation and to help with the decision. Over dinner, the list was pared down to four opportunities in the western hemisphere. When the evening came to a close, they parted company—her parents back to the hotel and Catarina to a local establishment to celebrate graduation with her peers. She was never seen again.
Sighing, she took a few steps forward to look out over the plaza area, resting her arms at chest height on the massive stone wall encircling the space. Standing just over five feet, her stature matched her frame. A lithe body and long, black hair kept in a ponytail most days accentuated her stunning facial features. A foot taller and she would have graced magazine covers instead of medical journals.
She peered down at a bird-faced stone sentry near one of the plaza’s entryways and the eyeless human statue set a few yards to its left. A variety of bizarre figures were sprinkled throughout the ruins. She felt the strangest ones were the two tall snakes, standing erect at twice her height with human feet, holding large blackish orbs of polished rock in their massive jaws. Positioned on either side of “Main Street,” as she had nicknamed it, they guarded a small but steady waterfall spilling in front of a steep rock wall. The falls travelled over the rock above creating a wall of water ten feet high, cutting off the path with no way forward. A five-foot-wide chasm stood between the path’s end and the water wall. She once had peered into it. No splash sound, the rushing water just disappeared into an eternal abyss. Beyond the water wall was the forbidden canyon and the treasure of the ancient ruins.
She closed her eyes tight and bowed her head, reflecting on the moment she first penetrated the water wall, not knowing what was on the other side.
Two men had tossed her over the chasm where she landed on hard ground and found herself in a dank cave, lit only by a torch on each wall. Soaking, she followed the orders she was given and took ten steps forward to a turn in the cave, which led to the opening on the other side. About sixty feet ahead was the jagged mouth of the exit, perfectly outlined by the sunshine stabbing through on the other side. Picking her way carefully towards it, the temperature warmed until she was standing at the cave’s exit. She took the final step, ducking slightly into the beyond, and took in the wonderment of her surroundings.
It was a smallish canyon with sheer, steep sides and thick vines growing in bunches among the rocks. Clinging in arbitrary clumps was a fruit she had never seen before, displayed in a spectrum of light green to black and every variation in-between. Above the canyon the jungle had formed a natural ceiling of branches; not overly dense, but enough to provide a protective layer yet still allow the sun to push through to the polished, black-stained stone floor in various spots.
And there, in the middle of it all, stood a man of some years with his hands clasped behind his back. Wearing a panama hat, unassuming slacks and a floral print button-down, the hat’s shadow cut across his face making his mouth the only discernible feature.
He gestured to her to come and sit at a small wooden table to his left. She had walked with slow, unsure steps towards him. What would he do? Was this the end? As she neared, his persona became clear. A man of Hispanic descent, well-manicured, with an air of self-assurance that clung to him like an invisible but tangible layer.
Once she sat, the man took his own seat and lit a cigar, drew a few puffs, and spoke.
“Good afternoon, Dr. Amador,” he had said. “Welcome to my kingdom,” he added, with a sweeping hand gesture.
“Where am I?” she remembered asking, as if in a dream.
“Where you were born to be.”
“Who…who are you?” she asked.
Her mind’s eye recalled the memory of his response at this particular moment. A smile. Cryptic.
“My name you will never know. But take heart. You are here to lead a significant advancement in a little science project I have a vested interest in. You, Dr. Amador, will be its shining star.” Then came his explanation for her kidnapping and what he wanted.
He began with a cloaked apology for his men taking her off the streets of Baltimore and blindfolding her for two days.
Her memory replayed the horrible experience. Someone coming from behind as she passed an alley. A hood suddenly coming down over her face. A vice-grip hand that quickly covered her mouth. The man whispering something in her ear—a throaty, aged timbre—before hustling her into a vehicle. Once inside, he let go but ordered her to be silent as she felt the unmistakable hardness of the barrel of a gun being pressed against her temple. She recalled the vehicle speeding up, taking a number of tight turns before zooming along a straight path, then slowing to a stop and taking a final turn. The last slice of recollection was a breeze touching her arms as she was pulled out of the vehicle, being carried up a flight of stairs and into an enclosed space, as the sound of an airplane’s engine roared to life. For a brief moment the hood was removed, but an instant later, a man she assumed was her captor, sprayed something in her face. That was it. Her recollection of a hazy, in-and-out consciousness was the only vestige of the bridge between boarding that plane and coming off it some amount of time later. Once again hooded and placed back in a vehicle for a short ride, she was then in a helicopter—the sound of its rotors were unmistakable. She remembered the flight being incredibly long. Upon landing, the same throaty voice said something she couldn’t understand and then her hood was removed.
The bright stab of lush greenery walling in a sunlight-splashed landing pad pierced her vision. She recalled squinting, trying to discern the environment. The warmth of the climate immediately registered. Baltimore and her parents were the first thought that came to mind and then the understanding that they and the city were now thousands of miles away.
Two different men, not so gently, had taken her arms and steered her to a pathway that directly led into what she then was able to realize was a tropical forest, and finally to the waterfall and the eventual meeting with the man in the panama hat.
With another puff of the cigar, he then presented her with the whole tale of what lay ahead.