Welcome to The Book of Bones a (mostly) weekly adventure serial.
Click here to download the chapter in digital format.
If you haven’t been reading along, start here with Chapter 1.
Bones turned to see Matthew standing just inside the doorway. He held Amanda in a chokehold, a revolver pressed to her temple. Even in the uneven light cast by a myriad of headlamps Bones could see determination in the man’s eyes, and a touch of madness.
“If you do anything to her, you die,” Bones said. “You know that, don’t you?”
“Wrong. First I turn her brain to oatmeal and then I back down the tunnel and wait for you to come at me. Lots of choke points for me to choose from. Do you like your odds?”
“I’ve taken out better than you.” That was true, but Bones knew his words rang hollow. He wasn’t going to let Amanda die, much less anyone else from his group, if he could help it.
“Maybe,” Matthew said. “But there’s also Mari to consider.”
Bones didn’t think his stomach could churn any more than it already had, but Matthew’s words put him at the edge of throwing up. “What are you talking about? Where is she?”
Matthew chuckled. “She’s somewhere safe, but if I don’t come back for her she’ll die… slowly. People need food and water, you know? I’ve even got the pics to prove it.”
For an instant, Bones considered drawing his pistol, gunslinger-style, and taking a shot at Matthew, but he dismissed that thought immediately. Even if he was fast enough, only a small fraction of Matthew’s head was exposed. He’d never make that shot. Hell, Maddock probably couldn’t make it, and Maddock was better with a handgun than anyone Bones had ever met… not that Bones would ever admit it, of course.
“So, what’s it going to… don’t do it, old man!” Matthew took a half-step back, dragging Amanda with him, his eyes moving back-and-forth between Bones and Padilla, who had nearly succumbed to the same Old West instinct that had almost overcome Bones. “Everybody on the ground face-down or people start dying.”
Bones couldn’t believe this turn of events. The elation of a few minutes before had dissolved in the bitter libation of defeat.
“Do what he says,” he told the others.
Matthew didn’t lower his guard for an instant. Once everyone lay side-by-side in the center of the room, he instructed Bones and Padilla to slide their weapons over to him, including Bones’ Recon knife and Padilla’s hunting knife. Only then did he shove Amanda roughly to the ground. Now, with a pistol in each hand and a third tucked into his belt, he loomed over them, the corners of his mouth tilted upward in a manic grin.
“I want the book,” he said to Bones.
“I didn’t bring it along,” Bones said.
“Who should I shoot first? Your choice.” Matthew leveled his pistol at Jessie. “I could shoot her in the liver and let you listen to her scream. It wouldn’t bother me, but I imagine a woman in pain brings out the white knight in you.”
“It’s in my pack,” Krueger blurted. “I’ll give it to you. Just don’t shoot.” Carefully, the man removed his drawstring backpack and tossed it to Matthew.
To Bones’ chagrin, Matthew kept his eyes on his captives and his weapon steady, even as he bent to pick up the ancient book.
“You lose,” Matthew said.
“Not really,” Bones said. “It’s useless.”
“What are you talking about?” Suspicion flared in Matthew’s eyes.
“These aren’t aliens. They’re ordinary people with Ant People burial masks.”
Bones shook his head. “This is just some sort of shrine to the Ant People. It’s culturally significant, probably interesting to archaeologists. But there are no aliens here.”
Matthew aimed both barrels at Bones. His knuckles turned white with the pressure he put on the grips, and his arms trembled slightly. “Stop lying.”
“Check for yourself. The masks look realistic, but they’re just masks.”
Keeping one pistol trained on Bones, Matthew sidled over to the closest bier. He looked the skeleton up and down, then holstered the pistol in his right hand, reached out, and lifted the burial mask.
“No,” he whispered.
“Told you.” Despite his disappointment at not finding aliens, Bones derived a measure of satisfaction at Matthew’s own frustration. The man moved to another body, removed the mask, and shouted a curse.
“This must be your first treasure hunt,” Bones said. “I could have told you, I’ve chased a lot of rainbows in my life, and there’s almost never a pot of gold at the end.”
Matthew now quaked with rage. He rushed to the third Ant Person and raised the mask. He let out a scream of pure rage, whirled, and flung the mask across the room.
That was when Bones made his move. He sprang to his feet, snatched the spear from the grip of the closest skeleton, and hurled it at Matthew, who realized an instant too late what was happening. The spear sliced across his forearm just as he squeezed the trigger of his pistol.
The boom reverberated through the chamber and Bones felt the bullet take a chunk out of his shoulder as he plowed into Matthew. They hit the floor with Bones on top. Holding Matthew’s gun hand in place, he rained punches down as Matthew twisted and struggled to buck the big man off of him. Hot rage boiled inside Bones and, for a moment, he considered choking the life out of their would-be captor, but something stayed his hand.
“Where’s Mari?” he demanded.
Matthew, his face slick with blood, snarled and spat at Bones. Bones raised his fist to deliver a blow, but he froze as a new voice rang out.
“That’s quite enough. Get off of him and I won’t shoot any of you.”