Welcome to The Book of Bones, a weekly adventure story. If you’re just joining the story, click here for Chapter 1.
“My God, will these flies give us a break?” Amanda swatted in futility at the cloud of biting flies that swarmed around her head. “They don’t seem to be bothering you guys.” She cast a baleful look at the others who stood nearby suppressing grins.
Krueger let out a puff of bluish smoke in her direction, temporarily scattering the insects. “They don’t seem to like cigarettes. Have one?” He held out a battered pack of Marlboro Reds.
“I’ll pass.” Amanda waved the offer away, but moved closer to the others.
“So that’s the final resting place of Billy the Kid?” Bones nodded at the simple headstone at the end of the sidewalk. Enclosed in a black cage and set in front of a large cane cholla cactus, the roughly carved gravestone was the only feature in the enclosed space behind the Old Fort Sumner Museum.
“Maybe.” Krueger shrugged and led the way toward the grave. “He’s buried somewhere in here. Back then, they used wooden grave markers and a storm washed them all away shortly after he was buried. This marker is just a guess.”
“Bummer,” Bones said. “Why is it caged like that?”
“Thieves and vandals.” They reached the gravesite and Krueger reached out to touch one of the bars. “The headstone was stolen more than once.”
“Why?” Jessie asked. “It’s not valuable, is it?”
“Who knows why? Same reason they have annual tombstone races here in town.”
Amanda cocked her head. “Tombstone races? Is that what I think it is?”
Krueger chuckled. “If you’re picturing people running around with eighty pound slabs strapped to their backs, then yes. I can’t explain it. Something about Billy the Kid brings out the crazy in people.”
“It hasn’t brought out too many crazies today.” Bones’ eyes swept the empty horizon before returning the gravestone.
The marker memorialized not only Billy the Kid, but two others. At the top was inscribe the word PALS. On the left was the name Tom O’Folliard, at the bottom Charlie Bowdre, and at the right, William Bonney.
“William H. Bonney. Alias, Billy the Kid. Died July, 18 something,” Jessie read. “Looks like the vandals damaged the stone.”
“I have to say, I’m not too interested in sightseeing,” Amanda said. “I want to know who the hell just came after us and how did they find us?”
“You know we had to get off the beaten path and this place is as good as any,” Bones said. Krueger had chosen the place somewhat at random. It lay northeast of Roswell in the direction of the interstate highway that would take them back to Albuquerque or Quemadura, depending on what they decided. He let out a heavy sigh that made him feel like a deflating tire, turned, and leaned against the metal cage. The sun had baked the bars and he felt their warmth through his leather jacket. “I have a theory about how they found us.”
“It’s not because you stand out in a crowd,” Jessie said, “because that wouldn’t explain how quickly they were on us.”
Bones shook his head. “The incident at Halcon Rock has ‘aliens’ written all over it. If someone suspects, or knows, that I’ve been checking into something related to aliens, where’s the one place in New Mexico I’m bound to show up sooner or later?”
Krueger nodded thoughtfully. “So they sent someone to keep an eye on the place. That’s how they got ahead of you.”
“I guess Tam will have to change your identity again,” Bones said. “Sorry about that.”
“Maybe not. They came looking for you, not for Kraig Klemmer. I should be okay for the moment.”
“So, that’s how they found us,” Jessie said. “Any idea who they are?”
“I have an idea.” Krueger flicked his cigarette butt out onto the dry brown dirt of the graveyard. Catching Amanda’s disapproving glance, he hurried over, stubbed it out, and pocketed it. “Anyway, I can’t prove they exist, but I’ve long heard rumors of a group called STAR.”
“Let me guess,” Bones said. “It stands for something ridiculous.”
“Steering Toward America’s Roots.”
“That’s bad,” Amanda said. “A simple acronym for simple minds, I suppose.”
“If the rumors are true, they’ve got some bright and talented people among their ranks. Mostly ex-military, but they’ve got connections in other places as well, and their ranks are swelling.”
“Sounds like the Dominion,” Bones said.
Krueger nodded. “Somewhat, but their aims are not religious in nature. It’s purely political. Limited government, with the exception of the military, limited taxes, again, except for defense spending. Bascially, keep the borders secure on the outside, laissez-faire on the inside.”
“I can’t say I totally hate that idea,” Bones said. “Then again, I’ve seen what powerful people inside the country already get away with. I don’t know about giving them freer rein.”
“But what do aliens have to do with that?” Amanda asked.
“Aliens?” Krueger asked. “Nothing. But alien technology, that’s a different story.” He slapped a fly that had landed on his neck. “Time for another smoke. Anyway,” he continued as he lit up, “I told you the group is filled with ex-military. At least some of them have to know about the government cover-ups and have heard the stories of highly advanced alien tech. If they could get their hands on it…”
“Rebellion,” Jessie finished. “Overthrow of the government.”
“Perhaps,” Krueger said, “but they’d settle for establishing their own small nation Part of west Texas, southern New Mexico, which has a large population of expat Texans, pieces of Arizona and northern Mexico. They’d have oil and natural gas to export, and with sufficient alien tech they could defend their borders.”
“Imagine the ripple effect that would have on the rest of the United States,” Amanda said. “If a region managed to successfully break off from the rest of the country, that would embolden separatists all over to rebel. Even if they failed, it would be a bloodbath. How many innocent people would die? What would it do to our economy and our long-term stability?”
Bones grimaced. Amanda’s words echoed his own thoughts. Such an occurrence would send ripples not only across the nation, but around the world. That couldn’t happen.
“I think we all agree this STAR group sucks, but nothing you’ve told us has changed our goal. We need to get the Book of Bones before they do.” Bones turned to Krueger. “We heard it disappeared around the time you worked at Los Alamos. Any idea where it is?”
Krueger took a long drag of his cigarette and let the smoke out in a long, slow exhale.
“Yes and no. I mean, I did steal it, after all.”