Welcome to The Book of Bones a (mostly) weekly adventure serial.
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If you haven’t been reading along, start here with Chapter 1.
They paused at the top of the mountain to take in the scenery. To the northeast, the sharp outline of the Sandia Mountains loomed dark on the horizon. As he turned toward the west, the land flattened out and Bones imagined he could almost see Arizona across the broad desert expanse. For a moment, he forgot everything that had happened over the past few days and simply took in the grandeur.
The moment passed all to quickly and he returned to full alertness when Jessie elbowed him in the ribs. “You still with me?”
“Just taking it all in.”
Jessie smiled and gave his hand a quick squeeze. “I knew it. Within that coarse exterior lies the soul of a poet.”
“Yeah.” Bones let out a little chuckle. “There once was a girl from Natucket…”
“I’ve never heard that one,” Jessie said. “Was that Henry David Thoreau?”
“More like Henry David Bathroomwall.” Bones looked around. “So, what all is up here?”
“According to Mari’s directions, we first have to find the…” She furrowed her brow and stared intently at a small notepad. “The kettle’s coat?” She cocked her head, bemused. Bones couldn’t help but notice how cute she looked at that moment.
“What’s that again?”
“She says it’s like, Aztec, or something.”
“Could she have possibly said Quetzalcoatl?” Bones asked.
“That’s it. You’re brilliant.” Jessie punched him on the shoulder. “Sorry. I didn’t hurt you, did I?”
Bones didn’t dignify the question. Instead he began the search for something that resembled the feathered serpent of Mesoamerican lore. After a brief search, the only thing they had spotted that even vaguely fit the bill was a pictograph that looked more like an inchworm from a children’s storybook than the ancient deity.
“Could this be it?” he asked.
“She did say it looked kind of like a snake or a worm. What is it supposed to look like?”
“Uglier, angrier, more feathered.” He knelt down for a closer look. “I suppose some of these lines could signify feathers.” He ran his finger along the line of the twisting creature, being careful not to actually touch it. “I still say it’s an inchworm, but for now let’s say it’s Quetzalcoatl. What’s next?”
Jessie consulted their notes. “Now we find the tortoise.”
They scoured the mountaintop, inspecting the various ruins that comprised what Jessie said might have once been an ancient settlement.
“Some researchers have identified these ruins as dwellings and an animal enclosure. Some say it served the purpose of defense, and was used as an observation post.”
“All I know is I don’t see a single stone or structure that’s shaped like a tortoise.” He looked around, and his eyes fell on a dark stone covered in tiny images. “Let’s take another look at the star map.”
The so-called “star map” depicted the zodiac constellations Sagittarius, Scorpio, Libra, and Virgo, as well as several other constellations. Based on the positions of the various stars, and the location of an imaged some believed to be a representation of a total solar eclipse, combined with the orientation of the stone, it was theorized that this image dated back to the year 107 BCE.
“It’s not shaped like a tortoise,” Jessie mused.
“No, but maybe there’s something hidden in the star patterns. I was so focused on the shape of the rocks that I might have missed something.”
“I thought you said you’ve solved a bunch of mysteries.”
“I work with a partner. I’m brute force; he’s fine detail.”
“That Maddock guy?” Jessie asked, skirting a stone carved with a Hebrew phrase that, according to their notes, translated to, Jehovah our Mighty One. “Maybe you should give him a call. Get us some backup.”
“Not happening. He’s on a cruise with my sister. Even if I could reach him, he couldn’t get back and my sister wouldn’t let him.”
Jessie pursed her lips. “Won’t let him?”
“If you knew my sister, you’d understand.” Seeing the doubt in her eyes, he took out his cellphone and saw that he had one bar of service. “Check this out.” He called Maddock’s number and switched to speaker phone. A long silence ensued, followed by two crackly rings, and then Angel’s voice came on the line.”
“He’s on vacation, assclown.”
“Angel, I need…” The call ended. Bones smiled at Jessie. “If I call again, she’ll block my number. Guaranteed.”
“Loving family you’ve got there.”
“It works for us. I’m not exactly brother of the year.”
Jessie let it drop as they reached the star map. “I don’t see a tortoise.”
“Wait a minute.” Bones slowly circled the stone. “I’m an idiot. Look at it from this angle.”
Jessie moved within a few paces of him and halted. “You’re standing in a patch of yucca.”
“Which is why we didn’t see it before. Look there.”
“Jerry is a tortoise?”
In the middle of the stone, a person had carved his name. Bones grimaced. “Don’t you love people who deface historical sites? Somebody ought to slap him and the person who raised him.”
Jessie flashed a sly grin. “So, your parents are to blame for your misdeeds.”
“Fair point. Comment withdrawn. At least, the last part. But look at the ‘y’ in ‘Jerry’ and then let your eyes move straight up from there. See it?” He pointed to a white circle with six short, thick lines extending from it.
“Oh my God! From where we were standing I thought it was some kind of sun or star.”
“It might be, but from here, it definitely looks like a tortoise.”
“Cool. So, Mari said she hid it where Quetzal…whatever and the tortoise can keep an eye on it.” She rolled her eyes. “I still don’t understand why she couldn’t just say ‘I hid it here.’ Must have been all the pain meds.”
“Maybe. Then again, if it’s in the middle of the ruins, there’s not much to distinguish one pile of rubble from another.” He scanned the site. “Tell you what. You go put your back to Quetzalcoatl and walk straight ahead. I’ll do the same from here. Wherever we meet, that’s where we’ll start our search.”
“Fine. Make me walk all the way over there.”
“You want to stand in the yucca? Be my guest.”
Jessie declined by way of raising her middle finger, then proceeded to the Quetalzcoatl pictograph. They proceeded according to Bones’ plan and, after a bit of clambering over low walls and piles of lose stone, they found themselves standing before a nondescript heap of rock.
“You were right. There really wasn’t a good way for her to give us the location. Assuming, of course, this is the right place.” She stared doubtfully at the stones.
“We’re about to find out.” Bones didn’t expect to encounter any snakes or scorpions up here but he gave the pile a few kicks and a visual once-over before setting to work. In a few minutes, he’d uncovered a smooth, flat stone. He shifted it aside.
“Bingo!” Jessie exclaimed.
A gray, metal box sat in a shallow hole. Bones lifted it out and set it on the ground “It’s heavy.”
“Duh. It’s made of metal and is filled with paper.”
“Thanks. In the future, I’ll remember not to keep you in the loop.”
“Did I hurt your feelings?” Jessie teased.
“Chick, you’re about to make the climb down the mountain Jack-and-Jill style. Now shut up and tell me the combination.”
“Mari’s birth year. 1988.”
Bones turned the dials on the simple lock, and raised the lid. Inside lay several manila envelopes encased in a large Ziploc bag. Bones eased the entire package out.
“Put this in your backpack,” he said. “I know we probably won’t run into anyone on the way back to the truck, but if we do, I don’t want to be seen carrying this box.” Jessie did as instructed, while Bones returned the box to its hiding place and then replaced the stones. When they were finished, he stood, brushed his hands on his jeans, and then stretched. “Dude, my back is killing me.”
“If that’s your way of asking for a backrub, forget it. After the ‘Jack and Jill’ comment, you’re on my list until you redeem yourself.”
Bones was about to retort when a sound caught his ears.
“Quiet!” he whispered. He put a hand on Jessie’s shoulder and the two of them ducked down behind the nearest wall.
“What is it?” she mouthed.
“Someone’s coming. And whoever it is, he’s trying not to be heard.”