UPDATE 5/22/20: I’m almost finished editing Warning! Cave Exploration Forbidden. Next I’ll be sending it on to my Copy Editor. I’m hoping to have it published before Christmas this year.
Synopsis: Three children camping with their parents in an Arizona campground disobey and head into the dangerous nearby foothill caves for an adventure. Drug and arms dealers and human traffickers have hollowed out rooms inside the caves. The rooms are used to store contraband as the first stop in a nationwide distribution network. The campground owner summons Chief Akumo, the head of the nearby Phoenix Police Substation, and his partner Officer Calvin Mauer, to aid in the search for the children. What happens during the search in the cave includes danger, discoveries, capture, and unexpected twists with a surprise ending.
BELOW IS THE FIRST HALF OF CHAPTER ONE:
“What makes the parents think their two children disobeyed and snuck off to explore those dangerous foothill caves? Are they sure they’re not just wandering around the campground? Have they checked the playground and the pool area?”
Phoenix Police Chief Danial Akumo leaned forward in his leather swivel chair. Holding his cell phone to his ear, he listened intently as Jeffrey Sooner, Jr. explained the purpose of the call. As the owner of the nearby Sooner Campground, during seasonal camping in the spring and fall, Jeff Sooner occasionally had to call the Chief at the substation of the Phoenix, Arizona Police Department. Children or adults lost in the caverns, drug overdose, thefts, accidents, and fights were the usual reasons for the calls.
Chief Akumo shivered as a chill came over him. He grimaced and shifted in his chair. His mind flashed back to that fateful day several years before when he received a similar call from Jeff asking for help in the search for three pre-teen boys lost in these same caves. The search party that included the Chief and his partner, Calvin Mauer, combed the vast dark labyrinth for twelve days before they located them.
They found the boys deep in one of the many cave tunnels. The three pale, cold bodies were huddled together sitting on the moist dirt floor, their backs against the rough stone wall. Their heads leaned together, and they were holding hands. Cell phones, and flashlights with lifeless batteries lie in their laps. Open dust-covered Batman, Harry Potter, and Star Trek backpacks lie nearby. Empty plastic water bottles and torn paper wrappers that once held candy bars and various snacks littered the floor.
Their open eyes stared vacantly down the passageway as though they still expected someone to appear and save them. Any previous attempts to cry out for help had echoed through the tunnels and faded away days ago. Tee-shirts and jeans on the three lifeless bodies riddled with holes and bite marks served as evidence that rodents and insects had begun their sacrilegious desecration. The stench of decaying flesh permeated the air.
The sight of those boys and the smell of death haunted Chief Akumo and Officer Mauer to this day.
Seated at his gray metal desk in the back left corner of the concrete block substation, Chief Akumo tilted his head, placed his elbow on the desktop, and rested his cheek on a fisted hand. Steam and the aroma of freshly brewed morning coffee rose from the dark-blue Police Department mug on a coaster in front of him. An open laptop computer sat to his right with the police department logo displayed in the center of the screen.
As the police chief listened, his black eyebrows bowed toward the center of his forehead. Worry creases formed. His dark black eyes narrowed with growing concern as he sighed out loud.
In a deep, gravelly voice with a western drawl, Akumo responded, “Uh-huh. Uh-huh. How old are they, Jeff?” Pause…
“I see. So there are two nine-year-old boys and a seven-year-old girl. I thought you said the parents told you it was their son and daughter that were missing. Who is the second boy?”
“The third child is a boy who is also staying in the campground. As of now, we don’t know his name. Mr. Roystat said his son just met the boy last night at the family barbeque. I hope to be able to give you more details about him when you get here.”
“Okay. Understood. So it’s just the three children. They’re alone, right?” Pause…
“As far as Mr. and Mrs. Roystat are aware of, yes. The three children are alone.”
“I see. How long has it been since the parents realized the children were missing and reported to you?” Another brief pause…
As Chief Akumo heard Jeff’s response, he sucked in another deep breath and blew it out between clenched teeth, producing a faint hissing sound. His lips pursed in anger.
He raised his voice and said, “Let me see if I’ve got this straight. Three kids have been missing for almost three hours, they’re only seven and nine years old, and they’re in those dangerous caves all alone? Did I hear you right?”
When Mr. Sooner responded in the affirmative, the Chief sat bolt upright, smacking the palm of his hand on the desktop. The impact caused the mug of hot coffee to jump, slopping some of its contents onto the coaster and desk blotter. The sound reverberated across the quiet room.
Officer Mauer sat behind his desk across the room, completing reports on his laptop. Startled, he stopped typing and glanced over at the Chief.
“Okay, Jeff. We’ll grab our gear and head on over there right away. See you in about thirty. Bye.”
As Chief Akumo ended the call, Officer Mauer frowned and asked, “What’s up, Chief? Trouble at the Sooner Campground again?”
Akumo reached over and closed his laptop computer as he grunted his response, “Three kids have gone missing. Jeff Sooner and the parents fear they may have gone exploring in the caves. I’ll explain the details in the car on the way over there.”
Cal Mauer had been partners with the Chief long enough to know when not to pursue a more detailed answer to his questions. True to his Apache nature, Chief Akumo was short on words but long on action. Respected by everyone who knew him, he was a serious, composed, no-nonsense officer. Mauer closed his computer and began clearing his desk.
Daniel Akumo was born of Apache parents and raised on an Apache Indian reservation north of Phoenix. He finished high school in Phoenix and went on to Arizona State University, majoring in law enforcement. After graduation, the Phoenix Police Department recruited him. While he attended the police academy, because of his Apache heritage, everyone called him Chief. The title stayed with him.
He rose to the rank of Chief of Police in charge of the remote substation on State Route 17 between Phoenix to the south and Camp Verde to the north.
Now 35, his high cheekbones, sunken cheeks, broad nose, and bronzed skin reflected his proud native ancestry. His long charcoal black hair fastened in a ponytail hung down his back.
As he pushed his chair back away from the desk, Akumo glanced at the silver-framed picture sitting on the left edge of the desktop. He sighed. The parents must be out of their minds with worry, he thought as his gaze lingered for a moment on the picture of his wife, two sons, and daughter.
He glanced up at the clock mounted over the front door. It read 11:45. The late morning sun shining through the mini-blinds hanging over the large plate-glass windows on either side of the door left an elongated striped pattern on the dark laminated wooden floor. The quietly turning blades of a ceiling fan cast moving shadows on the sand-colored walls. On the back wall hung a large map containing pushpins. The pins marked the locations of the Sooner Campground, ranches, housing complexes, and other pertinent landmarks within the station’s territory that covered a100-mile radius.
Quickly, he swiveled his chair around, stood, and shoved his cell phone deep into his pants pocket. A large tall man at six foot two, his muscular frame nearly filled the space between his desk and the wall behind him. He straightened his dark-blue uniform tie, turned and reached behind to the rack on the wall. Chief removed the regulation baseball-style cap that bore the Phoenix Police Department logo embroidered on the front. He set it on his head with his large hands and yanked the brim downward.
Akumo turned and removed the belt containing his gun, holster, and other equipment from the rack. He wrapped the belt around his waist, adjusted it, and fastened the buckle. He reached over to the desk, picked up his laptop computer, and tucked it under his left arm.
Almost as tall as the Chief, Officer Mauer rose from his chair, expanding his lean, tan, and physically fit frame.
Chief Akumo looked over at his partner. “Hey Cal, would you go ‘round back and bring a patrol car to the front door? I’ll join you in a minute. Here, catch.” He picked the car keys off the desk, turned, and tossed them to Cal.
In a somber tone, Cal responded, “Sure thing, Chief,” as he reached out and caught the keys midair. He reached over to the rack on the wall behind his desk, grabbed his cap and the belt with his equipment, and buckled up.
Be sure to check back for an update on the publication date of this novel.