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.
The others were still waiting when Bones returned. He gave a small nod and a thumbs-up in answer to their unasked questions, and smiles spread across their faces.
“Jessie and I will go on down,” Bones said. He would’ve liked to take Padilla with him as well, but the rancher was needed to look out for the others in his absence. Besides, Jesse was the most athletic of the group, and would be better able to navigate her way through the caverns below. After a quick look around to make sure no one was watching, the two of them vaulted the rail and began their descent.
The path immediately fell into a smooth, steep decline, but there was no time to set a rope. They skidded down to the bottom, then regained their feet and moved on. After only a few steps inky blackness enveloped them, and they paused to strap on their headlamps before continuing.
They worked their way down to a series of ladders. Bones went first. The metal rungs were cold in his hands and slick with condensation but they were sturdy. He descended quickly, with Jesse right behind him. As expected, she had no problem making the climb down. She moved so nimbly that Bones wondered if he should cautions her against overconfidence, but decided against it. The girl’s doing fine.
By the time his feet touch solid ground he found himself on high alert. A noise had caught his attention—a scuffing of boots on stone. Someone was coming.
Jesse hadn’t heard. “What’s wrong?” she whispered
One finger held to his lips was his only reply. They moved to the nearest wall, pressed themselves into the deepest shadows, and waited. Soon, the beam of a headlamp appeared far above them, and then another and another. Bones relaxed when he recognized the person in the lead.
“Padilla,” he said
“What are they doing?” Jessie asked.
“I can tell you what they’re not doing: following orders”
He waited, foot tapping impatiently, as the others hurried down the ladders.
“Don’t bother,” Amanda said before Bones could chastise them. “You didn’t actually think we would be left behind, did you?
Bones grimace. “I suppose not. Let’s get on with it.”
Matthew moved quickly through the meandering clusters of gawking tourists. He gritted his teeth, exhaled impatiently. His first inclination was to force his way through. After all, he had something important to; they didn’t. But, he knew it wouldn’t do to draw unnecessary attention to himself. The Indian and his friends were somewhere up ahead. He’d seen the man’s truck in the parking lot Matthew needed to find them and to be discreet about it.
It didn’t take him long to realize he would need help if he was to find his quarry before they got away. He looked around and spotted a man in a National Parks Services uniform.
“Excuse me,” he began. “I’m looking for a friend of mine and I wondered if you might have seen him.”
The man smiled. “I see thousands of people every day, so unless your friend really stands out in a crowd…”
“Oh he does, believe me. He’s about six and-a-half feet tall.” Matthew held a hand slightly above his own head to indicate his quarry’s height. It galled him. He hated being shorter than anyone.” Indian fellow. Can’t miss him,” he added.
The man furrowed his brown and he scratched his chin. “An Indian that big? Are you putting me on?”
Matthew forced a laugh. “He’s a big fellow, no doubt.” Matthew was finding it harder and harder to keep his grin in place.
“What kind of Indian?”
Matthew hesitated for a moment then understood the man’s question. “Oh! Our kind of Indian. Not the other kind. You know,” he pressed a finger to his forehand, “A feather, not a dot.”
That was the wrong thing to say. The man’s expression soured like milk left out of the sun. “Haven’t seen him,” he snapped.
“Hey I didn’t mean anything by that,” Matthew said, but the man was already walking away. “Dammit.”
“You’re looking for the big Indian guy?” a voice behind him asked. He turned to see two attractive young women smiling at him. Their black hair, almond eyes, and cocoa butter skin marked them as some kind of Chinese; Korean maybe. Matthew flashed an easy smile. He’d always wanted to hook up with a Chinese girl. Maybe this was his chance.
“Yeah, I am.”
“He’s a friend of yours?” ane of them asked. Matthew looked her up and down before replying. She had a trim, athletic figure and straight white teeth. Her friend was equally cute. In fact, if it weren’t for the speaker’s ponytail, he wouldn’t be able to tell them apart. Were they twins, or was that just the Chinese thing? He wasn’t sure. “Yeah, he’s a friend of mine. Have you seen him?”
“Oh, we definitely saw him.” The girls giggled
“He kind of stands out in a crowd, you know?” The second girl said
“He’s pretty tall, isn’t he?” Matthew kept his grin locked in place.
Yeah,” Ponytail said. “That too.”
“What do you mean?”
“Are you kidding? He’s so hot.”
“Extremely.” her friend agreed
Matthew felt his grin freeze into a grimace. “Do you know where he went? We got separated.”
The girls nodded like twin bobbleheads. Ponytail pointed toward a nondescript stretch of railing. “He was standing there, and then when I looked again he was gone.” She made a pouting face that sent a shiver down Matthew’s spine. Man, she was cute.
“Don’t be sad,” he said. “Tell you what, give me your number and he and I will take you out for dinner later. How’s that sound?”
The girls exchanged glances.
“Come on. Dinner’s on me. Do you know of any good Chinese places around here?”
The twin tightening of the girls’ mouths told him he’d said the wrong thing again.
“We’re Korean,” Ponytail said.
“I know! I mean, that’s what I thought… I mean that’s what I said.”
She folded her arms. “Let me give you a tip. There’s nothing funny about casual racism.”
“I’m not racist. My girlfriend’s Mexican.” He didn’t need their exasperated sighs to know where he stepped in that time. The girls turned in lockstep, hooked their arms, and strode away.
Matthew only spared them a wistful glance before putting them out of his mind. He had gotten what he wanted. He knew where the Indian had gone.