Excerpt 1 from The Harbin Connection | Verso.ink

Excerpt 1 from The Harbin Connection

Book 4 in The Net thriller series

By DM Coffman

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Chapter 1

UTAH LAKE STATE PARK, PROVO
July 24

“Help me, please!” the distraught woman yelled into her phone to the 911 operator. “Please!”

“I’m here. What is your location?” the operator calmly replied.

The woman’s head reeled as she spun around trying to get her bearings. She looked out across the lake then back at her Dodge minivan that she had parked haphazardly in the boat launch ramp area. She didn’t even remember getting out of the vehicle and running toward the lake. Two of her three children in the van were beginning to swing arms at each other. She stumbled back to the vehicle and leaned against it for support. Her head continued to spin as she tried to piece together what was happening.

“Go ahead,” the operator coaxed.

A strong, warm breeze caught the woman’s cotton skirt and whipped up the hem like a fully opened parachute. Her long blond hair wrapped around her head blocking her view. As she pulled the strands from her face, she couldn’t help but notice the many people and families happily engaged in boating and swimming activities at the popular lake’s state park. How can life be going on? screamed through her mind. Couldn’t these people see the turmoil in her body language and hear the panic in her voice? Don’t they know that my daughter is missing?!

“What is your name and your location?” the operator asked again.

“My name is Jenny Marsden and I’m at Utah Lake State Park.” The beeping sound of the call being recorded made her words seem even more ominous. “My daughter is missing!”

Jenny’s eyes scanned the lake’s horizon for any signs of her daughter. There, near some tall reeds was what she believed was her daughter’s inflatable swim raft. But her daughter was nowhere to be seen. Jenny then looked over to where her daughter’s friend’s family had gathered. Their daughter was missing as well.

They spoke with others on the beach and pointed out on the lake as others began to notice that something was wrong. The friend’s mother clutched her daughter’s inflatable raft to her chest and Jenny could see her head bobbing up and down from crying.

The 911 operator placed a call to Provo police as she waited for more information from Jenny.

“Provo police in the area of Utah Lake State Park, this is 911 Dispatch. Please standby.”

“My daughter and her friend are missing,” Jenny’s eyes began to fill with tears as the reality of her words hit her full on. “They were here to swim for just a few hours and now they are gone!”

“Mrs. Marsden, what are their ages?”

“Twelve.” Jenny’s voice broke and she began to sob.

“Was an adult with them?”

Jenny could barely get the word out between sobs. “No.”

“Provo police this is 911 Dispatch. We have a 10-65 at Utah Lake State Park. Two twelve-year-old females swimming in the area. Unattended.”

The line beeped silently as the 911 operator waited for a response. After only a few moments the phone line squawked and beeped again as the response came.

“911 Dispatch, we have three vehicles enroute including a dive team and K-9 assist,” Provo’s police dispatcher reported.

The 911 operator then requested an ambulance for possible drowning. She was glad Mrs. Marsden could not hear that request. Most families don’t think about drowning when a family member goes missing—even near a body of water.

“Mrs. Marsden, the police are on the way,” the 911 dispatcher spoke reassuringly. “I’ll stay on the line with you until they arrive.”

Jenny quietly nodded her head as if the operator could see through the phone.

It seemed like an eternity as Jenny waited for the police officers and watched as her other children fought it out in the minivan.

Members of the other family had begun walking toward her. Jenny dreaded the confrontation. This was supposed to have been a Marsden family activity. But, at the last minute, something important had come up and rather than cancel, Jenny allowed the two girls to be there on their own.

“We’ll be on our best behavior, I promise!” daughter Lily had pleaded.

Reluctantly, Jenny had given in with the understanding that Lily would report in every hour on the hour.

The last call was more than two hours ago.

“How could this happen?” the friend’s mother confronted Jenny. “We thought your family was supposed to be watching them.”

“I know, Mrs. Quinlan, I’m sorry. We had planned it that way. But Jimmy had an urgent call from work and two of my other children had schedule changes in their soccer games. The girls promised to call me every hour. I thought they would be fine for a short time. I’m so sorry.”

Sirens suddenly grew louder, and everyone’s eyes turned in the direction of the park entrance. Three police cars and an ambulance pulled up beside Jenny’s minivan, which was now rocking side to side from its own drama of her other kids fighting. One officer glanced at the vehicle as he passed by it. Several loud shouts emanated from the open windows.

“I’m Officer Watkins,” the first officer began addressing Jenny. “We had a call regarding two missing twelve-year-old females?”

Just as Jenny began to speak, another vehicle came screeching to a halt behind the police cars.

“That’s my husband, Jim Marsden,” Jenny replied, waving frantically so that Jimmy would see her in the crowd that had now formed.

“Where were they last seen?” the dive team duty officer asked.

“On floaters near those reeds,” one teenager in the crowd spoke up.

“No, I saw them farther out talking to some people on a boat,” a man holding a two-year-old boy interrupted.

“Do you see that boat now?” Officer Watkins asked.

The man scanned the lake area then shook his head. “No. No, I don’t. Sorry.”

The officer then turned to the rest of the crowd and asked, “Well, did anyone see the girls onshore?”

Many in the crowd shook their heads.

“Okay, let’s set up a grid starting from the reeds out,” the dive officer spoke to his team as he pointed out on the lake.

“On the off-chance they did return to shore, does anyone have a piece of their clothing I can use?” the canine officer asked.

Mrs. Quinlan handed the officer a pink t-shirt that her daughter had been wearing over her swimsuit. The K-9 officer held the t-shirt to the nose of his German shepherd, who quickly began pulling on his tether. They headed off in the direction of the picnic area.

“I need to get more details,” Officer Watkins stated as he took out his iPad and opened a report form. “Let’s just start at the beginning and tell me exactly what happened here. One at a time.” He nodded toward Jenny.

“Why don’t you go first.”

* * *

Two men and a woman in a high-powered speedboat on Utah Lake pulled alongside two attractive young girls sitting on inflatable rafts. They were splashing and laughing at each other, obviously having a good time.

“Hey, leave some water in the lake for us!” one of the men yelled jokingly to the girls. Startled, they had not even heard the boat come up beside them.

“What?” Lily asked. She didn’t know if she and her friend, Maddie, had done something wrong, or if the man was kidding with them.

“I’m just joking,” the man replied with a charming smile. He was holding a camera and had snapped a few pictures of Lily and Maddie.

“You startled us,” Maddie said trying to sound stern.

“Well, you looked like you were having so much fun,” the boat’s driver interjected.

The man with the camera continued to take pictures of the girls.

“Hey! Why are you taking our pictures?” Maddie questioned, feeling a little uneasy.

“Two beautiful girls like you? Having fun on the lake? I couldn’t resist. And I’m a professional photographer so I know beauty when I see it.”

Lily and Maddie started to giggle.

“That’s his job,” the woman added.

Lily and Maddie were in awe of the lady. She looked Asian and very exotic—with long black hair and an elegant thin body. She wore a bright floral one-piece swimsuit.

“We are models,” she explained, pointing to the boat’s driver who was also Asian, handsome, and sporting six-pack abs. “And that man is our photographer.”

“Wow,” the girls whispered.

“We’re out here on assignment to take swimsuit shots on the lake with the mountains in the background.” The photographer pointed up at Mount Timpanogos. “But two of my models didn’t show up for the shoot.”

“You look like models,” the woman smiled, “so we wondered if you wanted to help us out, and even earn some money.”

“Sure,” Lily responded eagerly, and Maddie nodded in agreement.

“Yes? Well, great then,” the woman responded, lightly clapping her hands.

The two men helped the girls into the boat.

“This is Kai,” the woman said pointing to the driver. “I’m Nikki. And he is Gregory,” she added pointing to the photographer.

“But you can call me Greg,” he said and beamed his charming smile.

“This shouldn’t take long,” Kai interjected as he revved the boat’s engine and quickly sped off. “We’ve already got most of the shots we need,” he assured the girls.

* * *

“My wallet is back at our van,” Greg explained to the girls. “I assume you want to be paid in cash.”

“Absolutely,” the girls chimed in together with a giggle, no doubt thinking about what they were going to buy.

Kai steered the boat toward the boat launch area where their van and trailer waited. After positioning the boat back on the trailer, Greg motioned for everyone to get in the van so he could move it out of the launch area.

As they did, Kai handed each of the girls an opened can of soda.

“Thanks,” Maddie smiled as she took a big swig. “I was so thirsty.”

“Me, too,” Lily added as she gulped her soda.

“I’ll just pull over there out of the way.” Greg pointed to a remote parking lot as he steered the van and boat in that direction. The area was deserted and had been since the freeway entrance and road to Provo’s airport had been constructed. “We can then pay you ladies so you can get back to the rest of your day. We don’t want anyone worrying.” His warm smile seemed genuine.

“Yeah, I’m late calling my mom,” Lily replied. “She’ll be mad.”

“Don’t you have phones on either of you?” Nikki asked as she moved a strand of hair covering Lily’s eyes. Are her eyes starting to dilate?

“No, we left them with our other stuff in the picnic area.”

A slight smile formed in the corner of Nikki’s mouth as she glanced over at Kai.

Maddie yawned and leaned her head back against the seat’s headrest.

“Lily?” Nikki asked softly.

No response.

Nikki’s nod signaled for Greg to put the van in gear and head quickly to nearby Provo airport. A plane waited, ready to fly them all to Los Angeles International Airport. Kai took out his cell phone and punched in some numbers.

“Bao, this is Kai. We have two on the way. You’ll be pleased,” he added with a grin.

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About DM Coffman

DM Coffman specializes in clean suspense thrillers (no offensive language, graphic sex or extreme violence). Strange experiences while living in China inspired The Net thriller series, and many unusual truths are interwoven into the stories of espionage and international intrigue. It's up to the reader to figure out where truth ends and DM's imagination begins.

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