Welcome to The Book of Bones, a weekly adventure story. If you’re just joining the story, click here for Chapter 1.
“I didn’t know Los Alamos was part of the Department of Energy,” Jessie said from the back seat of Amanda’s Toyota 4Runner as the blue sign reading United States Department of Energy, Los Alamos National Laboratory flashed past them. “I just figured it was military.”
“That’s a common misconception,” Amanda said, keeping her eyes on the winding road. “The laboratory was founded during World War II as a home for the Manhattan Project, but nuclear is energy…” She didn’t elaborate. They’d made the short, picturesque drive up from Santa Fe in a tense forty-five minutes. Bones had tried to break the silence several times with his trademark humor, but failed at every turn. He’d even resorted to pronouncing “butte” as “butt”. No joy.
“And since the Manhattan Project, they’ve continued to conduct nuclear research?” Jessie asked.
“Much more than that. They focused on nuclear weaponry throughout the Cold War, but have broadened their research since then. They’ve studied other forms of energy, done medical research on cancer and AIDS, non-nuclear threats and response. Lots of stuff.”
“If there’s a zombie outbreak, there’s a good chance it could start from in there.” Bones nodded at the stretch of high, chain link fence topped with razor wire.
Amanda rolled her eyes.
“I’m serious. If a government agency is studying outbreaks and how to prevent them, you can bet they’re also studying how to start them.”
“Paranoid.” Jessie kicked the back of his seat.
“Just realistic.” He shook his head. “A lot of people believe they’ve conducted UFO research here.”
“Why wouldn’t they do that somewhere secret, like Area 51?”
“This place used to be secret too. No one knew where it was. Just PO Box 1663, Santa Fe.”
“It’s sad that you know that, but you can’t remember a girl’s birthday,” Amanda said.
“Look, chick, I remembered your birthday. I was stuck on a dive with…”
“…with Maddock,” Amanda finished. “Have you two considered tying the knot? You’re inseparable and you bicker like an old married couple.”
From the back seat, Jessie let out a tiny laugh.
“We’ve discussed it but we can’t agree who would get to lead when we slow dance,” Bones deadpanned.
Amanda cracked a smile. “I can’t believe I’m here with you. You have this way of creeping in like a fungus.”
“Don’t feel bad.” Jessie reached over the seat and gave his shoulder a squeeze. “Fungi have many important uses: penicillin, dairy products…”
“You’re not helping,” Bones said. “Anyway, back to the UFOs. I…” He paused as Amanda turned onto the main drive leading to the laboratory. “What’s up with this? I thought we were sneaking in?”
Amanda frowned. “Why would we sneak in? I arranged badges for us.”
“Crap. I was really looking forward to sneaking in.” He sat, tensed, as they passed through security at the vehicle access control point. He was convinced something would go wrong. It was never this easy. However, they cleared security and drove to the Research Library. As Amanda parked the car in front of the two-story beige structure, Bones turned to her. “You still haven’t told us what we’re here for.”
Amanda shook her head, slid out of the car, and slammed the door.
“Touchy,” Bones whispered. He waited for Jessie and then the two of them double-timed it to catch up with Amanda, who was already stepping through the broad, glass door.
They stopped at the front desk, where a wizened Hispanic woman with silver-streaked black hair and dark eyes greeted them with a frown.
“I have an appointment to meet with Mike Madden,” Amanda said.
The receptionist gave a curt nod, picked up the phone, and dialed an extension.
“Who’s he?” Bones asked. “Better not be competition.”
“You listen to me.” Amanda’s words poured out in a harsh whisper. “I have been working this guy for months, and you’d better not screw it up for me.”
“Working him? Like a scam?”
“No. Yes. I mean…” She stamped her foot. “Just follow my lead. It would help if you acted like an idiot. That’s how I’ve described you to him.”
“Oh, so you told him about me. That means I’ve been on your mind.” Bones grinned.
“Don’t look so smug. I also told him you were a big guy except for where it counts most.” Her eyes flitted downward for a second and Bones took a step back.
“Not cool. I’ll play along, but don’t blame me if he and I wind up at adjoining urinals.”
“Cool it.” Jessie took him by the hand. “I think that’s him coming this way.”
Madden was a man of around Bones’ age with an athletic build and long, black hair. He greeted Amanda with a tight hug and a quick kiss on the lips.
“Check out the hair,” Jessie said, glancing first at Madden’s flowing locks and then at Bones’ ponytail. “I think she has a type.”
“No white guy is the same type as me,” Bones said softly.
“I hate to break it to you, but ‘big lug’ is universal.”
“Bones,” Amanda said with sudden cheeriness, “I’d like you to meet Mike.”
The two shook hands and traded appraising looks.
“I’ve heard a bit about you,” Madden said, adopting a neutral tone. “I didn’t realize you two were still in touch.”
“It’s a research thing,” Amanda said quickly. “Bones and,” she glanced at Jessie, “his girlfriend happen to be working on something related to a story I’m writing.”
At the mention of ‘girlfriend’, Madden’s posture relaxed and he flashed a warm smile. “That’s great, although I’m bummed this visit isn’t of a more personal nature.” He winked at Amanda.
“Not this time, but we’ll have to get together soon.” Amanda lowered her voice. “Is there somewhere we can speak privately?”
Madden nodded. “We can go to my office. Come on.”
As they strode through the quiet hallways, Bones looked down at Jessie. “He’s not that good-looking , is he?”
Jessie cast an appraising glance at Madden. “He’s all right, but if he works here, he’s probably a brain. I prefer them big and dumb.” She flashed a wicked grin and took Bones’ hand. “We’re supposed to be a couple. Don’t forget that.”
Bones let out a sigh of resignation. “Somehow, I don’t think you’ll let me forget it.”
Since they were in a library, he expected Madden’s office to be stuffed with books, but instead it was sleek and modern, with gray walls, glossy black furniture, and modern artwork. He took a seat on a small leather sofa, and Jessie squeezed in next to him, unnecessarily close, in his opinion, but that wasn’t a bad thing.
Madden closed the door and Amanda took a seat on his desk.
“Mike, I need to see the Book of Bones.”