Welcome to The Book of Bones, a weekly adventure story. If you’re just joining the story, click here for Chapter 1.
The Blue Corn Brill smelled of burger grease, roasted chile, and stale beer. The afternoon sun shone through the dusty windows, casting dull beams on the warped wooden floor, stained by the spills of decades of tipsy clients. Three men in work uniforms sat around a table, loudly debating the relative merits of the Dallas Cowboys and Denver Broncos. When Bones walked in, they all gave him a quick glance. He raised his chin by way of greeting. The men returned the gesture, looking like baby ducks waiting to be fed, and then went back to their conversation. Mariachi music blared from an old jukebox. Bones smiled. Swap out the mariachi for some Metallica and he’d be right at home.
Marisol stood with her back to the bar, filling a pitcher with beer. Bones propped his elbows on the bar and waited for her to turn around.
“Oh my God, you scared me,” she said when her eyes fell on him. “What are you doing, stalker?”
“I didn’t want to interrupt you when you’re hard at work.”
She rolled her eyes. “I’ve got three customers. Four if I count you.”
“Why wouldn’t you count me? I’m awesome, and I’m a good tipper.”
She laughed at that. “We’ll see. Did you get checked into the motor lodge all right?”
“Sure did. Surprisingly, they had a ton of rooms available. I guess it isn’t tourist season.”
“It hasn’t been tourist season for as long as this town has been here. Hold on a minute.”
Bones waited while she carried the pitcher of beer over to the table where the football fans were still arguing. Embroiled in a heated Tony Romo versus Peyton Manning dispute, they hardly noticed her.
“So,” she said, wiping her hands on her jeans, “what will you have?”
“How are the chicken fingers?” Bones asked, scanning the chalkboard behind the bar where the menu was written in a delicate, feminine hand.
“Frozen. Same as the burger patties. The hot dogs are awful. The locals usually go for the burrito or the huevos rancheros.”
Remembering what Manny had said about the burritos, Bones decided on the latter. “Huevos rancheros sounds good. Eggs over easy, if you don’t mind.”
Mari nodded. “Red or green?”
“I forgot you’re not from around here,” she said. “Everything comes with chile on it. Do you want red or green?”
“Can I have both?”
“Christmas tree it is. What to drink?”
“Tell me you have Dos Equis with a lime. After the day I’ve had, I need one. Maybe more than one.”
“Dos Equis I have. No limes.”
“Good enough.” Bones accepted the ice cold bottle, chose a table close to the bar, and took a seat. He rocked back, stretching his long legs out, and gazed out the window. There wasn’t much to see outside, but Mari was the only thing worth looking at in here, and he wasn’t the kind to stare. He thought about his friends, Willis and Matt, arriving in Vegas tomorrow without him. Twenty four hours from now, they’d be living it up, surrounded by bright lights and beautiful women, while Bones would be here, surrounded by juniper. Not much of a tradeoff.
A few minutes later, Mari slid a plate onto the table. Bones’ mouth watered at the sight of the heaping pile of pinto beans, cheese, and green chile over two blue corn tortillas and topped with three eggs. You couldn’t get this at a Vegas buffet. He was just digging in when she sat another, identical dish on his table along with a steaming cup of coffee.
“I know I’m a big dude, but I can’t eat that much. At least, not if I want to keep my girlish figure.”
“It’s for Manny.” She giggled and playfully punched him on the shoulder. “He comes in at the same time every day and orders the same thing. I like to have it ready for him.” She glanced up. “See? Here he is.”
Manny bounded into the restaurant, greeted the customers with a wave and a loud “ola” and then took at seat across from Bones. “You saved me a seat.” Without further word, he dug into his meal.
The two men ate in companionable silence. When they’d both cleared their plates, they enjoyed their drinks and made small talk. Manny was an army veteran, and had a few tales to tell. Every one of them involved women and alcohol, not necessarily in that order. Bones was beginning to feel right at home when a new customer entered.
He was a tall, sturdily-built Anglo of about an age with Bones. He wore his sandy-blond hair cut short, and his beard and moustache were neatly trimmed. Despite the heat, he was dressed in khaki pants and a long-sleeved blue Oxford cloth shirt. As he passed the table where the football talk had finally subsided, he greeted the three patrons in an overly loud voice.
“Wish I could join you for a drink,” he said, “but I’ve got this book to finish.” He held up a laptop case and grinned. He turned and headed for the bar, the men at the table rolling their eyes and shaking their head as he walked away.
“That’s Matthew.” Manny looked like he’d sucked a lemon.
“What’s his deal? He’s friendly to the other guys in here but he blows you off?”
Manny cackled. “That’s because I think he’s full of mierda de toro, and he knows it.”
“That means ‘bullcrap’, right?”
“A little less delicate, but you got the general idea.” Manny took a sip of coffee.
“So, what’s his story?” Bones asked as he watched Matthew open his laptop, turn it on, slip on a pair of reading glasses, and then look around to see if anyone was watching. “He’s a writer, I take it.”
“Not really. He’s a schoolteacher in the next town over, but wants everyone to think he’s a big-time writer. Claims he’s working on ‘something huge’.” Manny waggled his fingers as he said the last. “He’s published a few books, but I think only his mom has read them.”
Bones chuckled. “This seems like a weird place to work on a book.”
“For him, it’s more about the image than it is about actually succeeding. He’s here for two reasons: to get attention, and to keep an eye on Mari.”
Bones shifted in his seat. “Is that her boyfriend?”
Manny nodded. “I don’t know what she sees in him. She’s a good girl, and smart, too. She went to college for a couple of years but came back when her abuela got cancer. After the old lady died, the life just left Mari. She took a job here and hasn’t left since.”
A cacophony of conflicting thoughts ran through Bones’ mind. Odds were, Matthew was the one who had given Mari that shiner. Bones’ inclination was to drag the guy out back and introduce him to Bones’ fist. But he didn’t know for sure that Matthew was the culprit, and if Bones landed himself in jail, he’d definitely miss out on Vegas.
Manny seemed to read his thoughts. “There’s not much anyone can do for her until she’s ready to stand up for herself,” he said. “Believe me, we keep trying. Nobody’s giving up on her.”
Bones nodded. Up at the bar, Mari and Matthew were engaged in a heated discussion. Matthew jerked his head to the side and glared at Bones, who responded with a wink.
“Oh no, Boss, why did you do that?” Manny whispered. “Now he’s going to come over here, and homes wears way too much cologne.”
Manny was correct on both accounts. Back ramrod-straight, chest puffed out, and elbows slightly cocked, Matthew stalked over to their table, a sickly-sweet cloud of musk preceding his arrival by almost a full second.
“You got a problem, mister?” Matthew asked.
“I got a whole list of them,” Bones said. “Starting with an asshat who’s interrupting me while I’m trying to enjoy my beer. Think you can help me with that?” He grinned at Matthew, who was clearly sizing him up.
Finally, the man’s lips drew back in a mirthless smile. “You’re a funny guy. I’ll have to write you into a book sometime.” He stood there for a full three seconds before returning to his seat at the bar.
“You hurt his feelings,” Manny said in a low voice. “He wanted you to ask him about his book. You know, treat him like a bestselling author, like that Harry Potter guy.”
Bones didn’t bother to correct Manny. He gulped down the last of his beer and held up the empty bottle to signal Mari that he’d like another.
“So, what does he write about?”
“He wrote some weird science fiction stuff, but now he says he’s doing some serious investigative work, and that when he’s finished, everybody will be blown away by what he’s discovered.” Manny smirked.
“Any idea what he’s working on?”
“Rumor has it,” Manny said, leaning forward, “he’s been asking questions about aliens.”