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Extreme Exposure
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ISBN-10: 1-89484-195-6
ISBN-13: 
Genre: Suspense/Thriller
eBook Length: 274 Pages
Published: October 2002
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Total Readers: 1

From inside the flap

It is Christmas week and journalist Glenda Prentiss is trying to escape from a grisly event that she photographed in the Middle East. On a follow-up assignment in Hagerstown, Maryland she is confronted by that same memory that threatens to haunt her forever. Meanwhile CIA agents Pip Pippin and Sadie Cozzoli are discussing how they can use Glenn to do their dirty work, which may or may not be sanctioned by the government.

Her publisher, Shane Singleton, meets her at Union Station where he entrusts her with a photograph called ?The Conspiracy? that has the world media and several governments in a panic. As Shane is about to leave he is abducted. Trying to locate him and still protect the photograph leads Glenn to a studio apartment where she discovers her ex-boyfriend’s dead body.

There can no longer be any doubt that her life is in real danger. Everyone who has come into contact with ?The Conspiracy? is a target. But who could be desperate enough to get hold of this photograph that they would go to these extremes?

Events in Extreme Exposure propel Glenn Prentiss to a dorm room at the University of Maryland, a residence in Silver Spring, a state park in rural Maryland, and an underground military complex near Camp David. The final life-and-death struggle comes at Antietam Battlefield when the characters and their separate agendas collide.


Extreme Exposure (Excerpt)



1

The staccato cough of machine gun fire from the advancing soldiers sent the marketplace swarming. Civilians of every size scrambled past a distracted Glenn Prentiss, surging against her like a tidal wave. She lost her balance and pirouetted to the ground, her limbs splaying like a newborn colt. Her camera bag swung around her neck and struck her breastbone with a thud as she fell. She cussed up a blue streak as her fingers were flattened under sandaled feet. Struggling up, she fought her way to her painfully peeled knees. It was then, glancing up from the pavement, that she saw him.

An olive-skinned youth grabbed the black holes in his chest, and slumped to the road. An aged woman dropped behind him, opening her palms to a pastel sky. Glenn’s left hand closed around her lens, as her right raised the camera to eye level. In the seconds it took for the old woman to cry out to her God, the instrument snapped half a roll of film.

A tug on the back of her collar yanked Glenn to safety behind the grotesquely bent umbrella of a melon cart. She curled up, and used her fingernail to harvest grit from the gash in her knee. She clamped her lips tight, to keep from crying out as a pair of dusty black boots hovered nearby. When the soldier finally galloped away, the solid black eyes of her Arab assistant made their inquiry.

"Don't worry," she said. "I got the picture." She made a fist, and pressed it to the center of her cotton blouse to absorb a puddle of nervous sweat. "We're done here."

The assistant helped her to her feet, then took the elbow of a withered old man, and steadied him. "Remember," he said, as he turned away from Glenn. "Meet at hotel."

"Yeah, yeah, whatever." Glenn brushed sand off her shorts. "I said, I'd be there."

She had developed a habit lately of combing her fingers through her crop of sun-whitened hair. This time, as her hand lifted, it was trembling. She swallowed, and surveyed the wreckage littering the street: toppled carts, crushed produce, tattered schoolbooks, and bloody corpses.

She ran her tongue over her parched lips. "I need a drink."

Glenn turned from the carnage, and tried to remember what street the hotel was on; what town this was; what part of the Holy Land she was in. It was impossible. There were too many factions and territories: Arab, Israeli, Moslem, Christian, Orthodox, and a partridge in a pear tree. She blinked her cat green eyes at the desert landscape. It was barren, desolate, a land so empty its flatness was born into the eyes of the children. Was there time for a few more shots? The authorities would be back to make another sweep. She'd have to use a wide-angle lens, no getting around that. That meant floundering through the camera bag. Maybe it would give her time to remember the name of the hotel. El- something. They all started with El-something, or Al-...

She squinted at the retreating figure of her assistant, the man who had just saved her life, as he melted into the horizon. She wet her lips again, and cursed herself for not asking directions to the nearest bar.

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2

Glenn slumped into a prickly rattan chair of the caf?, and ordered two fingers of whiskey. A melody of sitar and thumb cymbals over the loudspeaker found its way to her last nerve. She shut her eyes, and lost herself to the murmur around her. Some women were speaking a non-Arabic language. They could be Dutch, Swiss, or European Jews resettling the homeland. Not that it mattered to her politically. But, by concentrating on the voices, she was able to wait the two minutes it took to get served. When the glistening amber whiskey arrived in a puke-green glass, she took a slow sip and the fire slid down the back of her throat.

"Hi, Glenny. Buy you a drink?"

"Already got one." She raised the glass to Bobby Duncan as he made himself at home at her table. Even in civvies, he still looked like an MP. "Have a seat?"

"Already got one. Give a Marine a break already," he said.

"Marines have to make their own breaks. You know that, Bobby."

"So, you remember me?"

"Sure," Glenn said. "My camera loves you."

"What's not to love? So, how'd the pictures come out?"

"Great. I'll have to show them to you sometime."

"I'd like that." Bobby grinned. "Is that what you're doing today? Out wasting more film?"

Glenn swallowed. "Everybody's shooting everybody one way or another."

She avoided looking at him. His eyes were crystal blue, and stared at her from beneath a manicured crescent of hair. It made her feel naked when he gazed at her like that, like there was nothing she could tell him that he hadn?t already seen inside her heart.

She cleared her throat. "I don't know how I keep pulling it off. You know the joke about the lens cap being on. You have to be ready for anything. Who has time to think about details?" She slugged down the rest of the drink. "Look at that. All gone. Offer still stand?"

"Wouldn't you like some dinner?"

"Huh-uh. Couldn't keep anything down."

"I understand," he said. "It's rough."

"If it was easy, they wouldn't need us. You and me, we're both the best at what each of us does. Let's drink to us."

"Why don't we eat something first?"

"What are you trying to do, give servicemen a bad name?" Glenn asked. "Stop being such a gentleman. Why don?t you get me drunk, and take advantage of me?"

"A Marine doesn't do that, not if he has any honor. We?re the police: protect and serve."

"Protect?" She laughed. "You aren't even allowed to wear your sidearm. I'd have a better chance of protecting you. At least I can shoot." She winked. "With my camera."

"That's why I like having you around. You make me feel so safe."

Glenn fingered the shot glass. "Sorry. I've got a big mouth sometimes."

"Forget it." Bobby leaned on his elbows. "The other day, I was talking to an Arab university student, and she was baffled by the importance of rock and roll to Americans. When I said 'The Boss'," Bobby drew nearer, "she said, 'Oh, like Allah?."

"That's rich," Glenn laughed. She placed her hand over his. Her fingers walked from his wrist to the cuff of his short-sleeved shirt. "I think my appetite is back."

"Great. I'll get the waiter."

"I don't believe this." She pulled away from him. "What's wrong with me?"

"Whoa. You?re great, believe me." He reached for her hands. "An oasis in this desert. But, sweetheart, this antifreeze you drink. What are you doing in this God-forsaken place, anyway? You should be home, dating some rebellious young man. Like my brother, he?d go for you in a big way."

"I wasn't built for small town traffic. I suppose you think I should let a man do this job?"

"I think all of us should go home," Bobby said. "Think you could smuggle me out in your camera bag?"

She lowered her voice. "Scared?"

"That's not it. It's the people. I honestly like them." He looked at her. "Don't you?"

Her eyes drifted to the mustached waiter balancing a tray on his fingers. He stopped two tables away, and put a steaming dish before a red-haired American.

"Look," she said. "There’s Rusty"

Bobby turned, and waved to him. "Would you excuse me? I have to talk to him." He pushed himself up from the table. "I'll send Enri over with some food."

Glenn toyed with the camera, focusing on faces: waiter, German-Swiss-Yiddish ladies, Bobby. He was too American for her photos, but she tightened on him, and snapped three frames. Such a hometown face, all that was missing was freckles. She needed another drink. One more, and the nausea would be conquered.

"I have your stew," Enri said.

She recognized Enri's mustache through the lens. "Hi. I've been spying on you."

He shrugged. "I serve your stew?"

"This heat kills your appetite. But, I am thirsty. If you bring me another one of these I'll love you forever, and dance at your wedding." She put the empty glass on his tray.

"The stew very good. I leave it?" Enri held the bowl, as if he was weighing it.

"Yeah, leave it."

Enri made a curt bow. "Please enjoy."

He put the dish in front of her on the table, and started to walk away. There was a flurry of activity near the entrance. Enri stiffened, drawing Glenn’s attention toward the front of the caf?. Before she could react, Enri folded in half, dropped to the floor, and began crawling away. In light of the situation, it seemed like a good idea.

"Gun!" Glenn yelled, and dove to the ground.

She overturned the table, but lost its sound in the rattle of machine gun fire. The stew bowl crashed to the floor, spraying vegetables at her ankles. A half-minute later, it was all over, but the weeping. The soldiers and their weapons disappeared as quickly as they had arrived, while the air was still thick with the sound and smoke of gunfire. Glenn opened her eyes to the topsy-turvy world from the slate floor.

Where was Bobby? Never mind. He was a big strong Marine; he could take care of himself. But, where was her camera? She crept around on her hands and knees. It had dropped to the other side of the table. She dragged the back of her hand across the crust of drink, and dust on her face. Get the camera. That was the only thought she would permit herself.

Damn! The lens was cracked. A three hundred and fifty dollar Nikkor lens shot to hell. It would cost her a month's salary to replace. It was her favorite, too. Telephoto lenses were for unobtrusive shots, but she preferred the wide-angle. It forced her to get up close whether she wanted to or not. She fumed, and cursed through clenched teeth as she changed lenses. Now, the hard part. She drew in a deep breath, shuddered, and breathed out. Then, she somehow got to her feet and began moving.

Three off-duty Marines lay like lumber at the base of the table. Snap, snap. One face-down, glasses broken across his nose. Close up. Zoom, focus. Good. Snap, snap. Rest in Peace. Rest in Pieces. Too graphic. Step back, long shot. Last Supper. That's simple, elegant.

Now, for the two at the other table. The two she knew. They were so still, so quiet, so dead. Glenn stole an abandoned beer bottle, and guzzled a third of it. Then, she dried her palms on the pockets of her khaki shorts.

Okay, Bobby, I'm about to make you the most famous Marine since Iwo Jima.

The hollow eye blinked. Rusty was on his side, hand draped across a perforated abdomen. There had been no time to eat. Even a convicted criminal gets a last meal. Click, click. Rusty and Bobby. Buddies to the end. Kneeling, she got a tight shot of Bobby's face. The usable shot would be the full frame showing the dark stain seeping through his pastel shirt but, for herself, she screwed the lens into focus. Bobby, you look so peaceful. All this violence and you appear to be sleeping. Snap, click. Someone manhandled Glenn aside.

"Hey!" she shouted, and snapped a picture of her thigh.

"Has anyone gotten medical help for these men?"

Glenn watched as a man fussed over Rusty, and Bobby. Then, he sat back on his heels.

"Well?" Glenn asked. "They're... are they?"

"Yes, they're dead." The man rose, six feet tall, and every inch of him in Glenn's way. "Put that camera away. You vultures make me sick."

"I'm just doing my job. Freedom of the press."

"Doing your job?" He moved toward her, his dark eyes smoldering beneath two brushy eyebrows.

"What do you think those assassins were doing?" He stabbed the words at her with his index finger.

Her eyes dropped to her stew-stained sandals. "What do you know about it?"

Her thumb moved the rewind lever. She lifted the camera, and took a picture of her accuser’s face. His presence was claustrophobic, and his expression reflected the exact same disgust toward her that she?d felt for herself lately. A good photojournalist had to connect with her subject to find the truth, beauty, and realness there, yet it was crucial that she remain clinically aloof, and detached. This was the high wire act she performed every day, teetering between empathy and objectivity, and it left her feeling unbalanced and awkward most of the time. Being judged and evaluated by every person who followed current events didn?t help either. Like this stranger now, this passerby. She searched for something to say that would verbally shove him away from her. Words that would disorient him, put him off guard, just long enough for her to find a means of escape.

"Bobby was my friend," she said, changing focus. "I loved him."

Swiftly, she aimed her camera at the fallen hero, and took one last shot of Bobby's silent, blood-freckled face. Then, she stepped over him and ran for the exit.