The Howling Cliffs: A Sara Mason Mystery
Human bones are occasionally sighted along mountain streams in the Hawaiian Islands where Sara Mason had recently purchased a second home. Ancient burials at remote sites are washed away over time by the effect of torrential tropical rains on eroding lava cliffs and steep hillsides. Since those Hawaiian graves were never identified with markers, such bones could belong to a commoner or a King or Queen. No one could know, but bones along Hawaiian streams were more common than finding remains of American servicemen and women in the Vietnam jungle where Sara, Esmerelda Talbot, Huxley Keane and the veterans’ search party presently found themselves.
“The Yards found Palmer.” Sara glanced across the small clearing to the veteran who had become Huxley’s best aide.
“Yes, the Montenyards, the Hmong people that Huxley told us about.” Esmerelda looked up into the treetops. “To think they used to live in this jungle.” Not that much to see existed anymore except struggling new trees, brush and scrub.
Sara, with Huxley’s help, had developed the Orson Talbot Foundation in the Sacramento River Delta in California, named after Esmerelda’s murdered husband. Beside the cold cases they worked on at home, Huxley had gotten her and Esmerelda approved to be included in the searches in Vietnam. Huxley and his team of retired veterans made at least one trip each year searching for his brother’s remains, those of Esmerelda’s daughter, and the other MIAs in the group of abducted medical personnel.
Animals previously found in Vietnam, such as elephant herds, Bengal tigers, crocodiles, and a variety of monkeys and birds, could easily have carried any human remains far away or even eaten them.
Then the forested areas were laid waste by the aerial spraying of Agent Orange and other defoliants. When Agent Orange was sprayed on a plant or tree, it sped up the growth through the trunks and stems and into the leaves at a rate the live plants couldn’t handle and thus forced them to die. With no food growing anywhere, animals and other creatures starved and died.
“You know what I noticed, Esme?” Sara and Esmerelda sat detached from the group in a moment of private conversation.
“The vets in this group, in these trips we’ve made with them, I’ve seen them age drastically.”
“I noticed that too.”
“It’s as if this is their last objective in life and it’s taking a toll on them.” Sara motioned with her eyes toward one of the men they had seen go completely gray over the few years since they had first met him.
“But not your Huxley. He’s the mainstay here. He’s much younger than these vets and he’s strong and aggressive, just what these guys need.”
Sara glanced at Huxley in admiration. He stood tall and erect with broad shoulders and a determined expression. He was the picture of strength and endurance, the type of leader that kept morale buoyant. Framed by a full head of dark hair that he refused to shave off regardless of the present-day trend among many men, and dark brows, his blue-topaz eyes sparkled, even in the filtered sunlight of the forest.
April had passed, the time of year the majority in the group preferred to be in the jungle. The dry season was over and now gave way to escalating temperatures, causing the moist jungle floor to become insufferably humid.