Welcome to The Book of Bones, a weekly adventure story. If you’re just joining the story, click here for Chapter 1.
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Bones pulled into the parking lot of the University of New Mexico public library. Manny had taken pity on Bones and lent him the battered old pickup he called Consuela. She had no air conditioning and shimmied past sixty miles per hour, but Bones was delighted to be free of Quemadura, if only for a few hours.
Outside the library, he spared a moment to check out the scenery. Though it was an urban campus, the university had its share of green spaces that gave it that unique college flavor. The influences of southwestern architecture were all around. But he was mostly interested in the coeds. He smiled at a group of young women who were doing a poor job of hiding the fact that they were checking him out.
“How’s your day going, ladies?” He flashed a disarming smile.
One girl, a raven haired Latina, bolder than the rest, broke off from her group. “Do you go to school here?”
“No, I’m just doing some research. You don’t know anyone who could show me around the library, do you?”
The girl smiled. “I can help you. I don’t have another class until this afternoon.” She looked up at him from beneath thick lashes. “I’m Yesenia, but everyone calls me Jessie.”
“Everybody calls me Bones. You’ll have to get to know me a lot better before I tell you my real name.”
She laughed and led him into the library. Inside, they found a quiet table near a group of girls who cast envious looks at Jessie. She turned and gave them a sarcastic wave, clearly loving the attention.
“So, what are we researching?” she whispered. “Definitely not physical fitness. I can tell you’re already an expert at that.” She immediately blushed and covered her face. “I’m sorry. My friends have been pushing me to come out of my shell. I’m a grad student and I’ve had exactly two boyfriends since I’ve been here. Both of them possessive, controlling jerks.”
“There seems to be a lot of that going around. Tell you what—one of them shows up, point him out to me and I’ll put a scare into him.”
“That won’t be necessary. I can handle idiots just fine. It’s the girly flirting stuff I’m lousy at.”
“Cool. Well, there’s no need to flirt with me. I’ll be grateful for the help.” Already he was revising his opinion of this attractive young woman, and feeling a touch guilty for having tried to charm his way into getting free library assistance. “I can even pay you for your time.”
“Nah.” Jessie dismissed the suggestion with a small wave. “If you don’t turn out to be a creep I’ll let you buy me coffee or lunch or something.”
“Deal. Now, I need to research topics related to this.” He took out his phone, called up the article on the incident on Halcon Rock, and handed it over to her.
Jessie stared at the screen for five seconds before pushing her chair back and fixing him with a speculative look. “Are you messing with me?”
“No. It’s hard to explain. There are some people who believe this incident really happened.” He omitted the fact that he was one of those people. “They’re causing problems and I want to understand why.”
“So you think there’s some kind of conspiracy?”
“Possibly. Local law enforcement is definitely keeping a close watch on the place. There must be a reason.” He thought about the door he’d discovered beneath Halcon Rock and wished he could go back and investigate it further, but he figured the sheriff would keep that spot under close watch for a while.
“Okaaay.” Jessie bit her lip and gazed down at the phone screen. “I doubt there will be any books on this subject, especially in the university library, but we’ll see if we can’t find something related to it.” She logged on to a nearby computer, searched the catalog, and sent Bones off to retrieve a few select volumes on mysteries and legends of New Mexico while she searched online databases.
It took Bones a while to find the books he was looking for and by the time he returned Jessie had printed out a thick stack of articles.
“You owe me twenty bucks for printing charges.”
“No sweat.” He took out his money clip, peeled off two tens, and handed them over. “So, what did you find?”
“Truthfully, not a lot about the incident at Halcon Rock. I printed out all the articles I came across but they’re all superficial. Not as much as this one.” She held up a copy of the original article Bones had shown her. “You should probably call this Amanda Shores lady. She seems to know the most about it.”
“Yeah, I was hoping to avoid that. We dated for a while,” he added, seeing her confused expression.
“It didn’t end well?”
“It didn’t really end. We just kind of stopped calling each other.”
“That’s crap. Somebody always ends it or causes it to end.” Jessie folded her arms, emphasizing her cleavage, and Bones had to force himself not to stare. “Spill it. I’m not giving you any of this research until you tell me the story.”
“Why do you care?” Bones couldn’t help but chuckle.
“I’m interested. Now tell me.”
“We live in different parts of the country and I travel a lot, so we just kind of stopped calling each other.”
Jessie narrowed her eyes. “You ghosted her, didn’t you?”
“What does that mean?”
“It’s when you disappear from someone’s life like you’re a ghost.” She propped her chin on one hand and her gaze bored into him. “Did you stop calling? Leave it up to her to call or text you?”
“I guess so.”
“Did you gradually take longer and longer to reply to her until one day you didn’t reply at all?”
Bones sighed. “If this is what lunch conversation is going to be like, I think I’ll just give you the cash and let you buy your own meal.”
Jessie laughed. “Coward. Big, strong guy and you’re afraid to call this girl after what you did to her.”
“I’m not afraid. I just like to keep things chill, you know?”
The young woman rolled her eyes. “Whatever. Do you want the rest of this? They’re articles on related topics: alien contact with Native Americans, people living under the earth, stuff like that.”
They spent some time going over what she’d found. New Mexico lore was filled with stories of alien visitors, and a surprising amount of material on underground dwellers, but none of it brought him any closer to learning what lay behind the door beneath Halcon Rock.
When they’d covered all the material, he checked his watch and declared it time to eat. He glanced toward the exit. “You know what kind of security they’ve got for these books? I think I’ll snag a few of them.”
“You’re going to steal them?”
“I’ll mail them a donation when I get home.”
“No, you won’t.” Jessie shook her head, her long hair spilling over one shoulder. “For twenty five dollars you can get a card that will let you check books out.” She paused. “On second thought, I’ll check them out for you. Then I’ll get to see you one more time when you return the books. Unless you’re going to treat me like you treated Amanda.” She made a tiny pout.
“I don’t think I could shake you if I wanted to. You seem tenacious for a girl your age.”
“I’m twenty four. I’m hardly a girl.” She tossed her head and stood, her figure underscoring her point.
“My bad. So, how about we get out of here?”
“Text me your number first so I’ll have it. I still don’t completely trust you.” She winked.
When they’d exchanged contact information, Jessie checked out the books Bones had retrieved. They headed back to the truck, Jessie regaling him with the virtues of Giovanni’s Pizza, their lunch destination.
“It’s to die for. It’s been, like, in magazines and stuff. It’s been voted the best in the state and makes top one hundred lists for best in the country. The neighborhood’s kind of sketchy and there’s always panhandlers hanging around the parking lot, so I never go there by myself, but I think you can handle it.” She reached out and gave his bicep a squeeze. “Do you work out? Oh God, I did it again. I’m so awful at this.”
Bones looked down at her, his expression serious. “You want my advice? Stop trying. You’re smart, cute, and you seem like you’ve got attitude. You don’t need to do anything for a guy. Make him come to you.”
Jessie frowned. “Seriously?”
Bones nodded. “You haven’t had many boyfriends because the average guy can’t handle a girl who has it together. It’s like the predator who picks off the young and weak. You’re not an easy target, but that’s okay.”
“Are you calling me a wildebeest?”
Bones laughed and took her hand. “That’s what I’m talking about. Attitude.”
They arrived at the truck and Jessie froze. “Who’s truck is this?”
“A dude named Manny. He lent it to me while he’s working on mine.”
“Consuela! I knew I recognized her.” Jessie ran a hand lovingly across the hood of the old pickup. “Manny’s my great uncle. So that means you broke down in Queamadura. Not much to do there.”
“Except piss of the sheriff.”
“Craig? If you’re on his bad side, that speaks well of you. Have you met his son?”
If Jessie had anything to say about Matthew, she didn’t get the chance. Two men, one blond, one red-haired, dressed in white button-up shirts, ties, and black pants, approached them. Bones first thought was the two were Mormon missionaries, but he dismissed the thought. They were too old to fit the profile, each in their early thirties. Furthermore, they carried themselves with a bearing recognizable only to those who had spent a significant amount of time in the military. Both appeared to be sizing up Bones as they approached. Something was weird here.
“Good afternoon,” the redhead began, “we’re special investigators with the New Mexico State Police Department. You conducted internet searches that triggered security warnings. We need you to turn over any material you gathered, and the two of you will have to come with us.”
“No problem. Here you go.” Bones flung the stack of books at the two men, sprang forward, and drove his fist into the redhead’s jaw. The man’s legs turned to rubber, and as he fell, Bones delivered a spinning backfist to the temple of the blond man, who had stood temporarily frozen in surprise at the suddenness and fury of his attack. “Jessie, get in the truck!” he shouted.
She dashed to the other side of the vehicle and tried the handle. “It’s locked!”
Bones fished the keys out of his pocket. his From the direction of the library he saw a uniformed man trotting in their direction. Campus security was on its way, which meant the police wouldn’t be far behind. No time to search the fallen men. In fact, the redhead was already sitting up. “Crap.” He scooped up the library books, knowing they could be traced back to Jessie, and tossed them into the truck bed. He hastily unlocked the truck, jumped inside, and let Jessie in.
“Why did you attack those guys?” she demanded over the roar of the engine as he fired up Consuela and threw her into reverse.
“I don’t know who those guys are, but they aren’t law enforcement.” Tires squealed and Consuela fishtailed as he floored the gas pedal.
“How can you be sure?” Jessie asked.
Bones glanced in the rear-view mirror. The two men had regained their feet. As he watched, the blond reached into his waistband and drew a handgun.
“The fact that they’re trying to kill us is a pretty good clue. Get down!”