Welcome to The Book of Bones, a weekly adventure story. If you’re just joining the story, click here for Chapter 1.
Halcón Rock loomed in the distance, only a bump on the broad, empty horizon. Matthew grinned as it came into sight. Today was the day.
The Jeep dropped hard into a rut as he guided it across the rough dirt road. Matthew winced, thinking of what he had stored in the back seat. It was a reflex borne of irrational thought. It wasn’t like he was hauling nitro glycerine.
The road bent around a dense patch of piñon pine and juniper, and as he rounded it, he let his eyes and thoughts drift back to the rock, and the mysterious door beneath it. So distracted was he that he almost didn’t notice the olive-colored transport vehicle barring the way.
“Damn!” He slammed on the brakes and the jeep fishtailed as it skidded along the hard-packed dirt road. It came to rest in a dust cloud only feet from the side of the vehicle. “What the hell is…” The words died in his throat as two men, clad in body armor and carrying automatic rifles, approached his jeep from either side. Mathew swallowed hard, took a deep breath, and rolled down the driver side window.
“What’s going on here?” His voice sounded too high-pitched, almost shrill. He cleared his throat and continued. “I’m conducting research up at Halcón Rock.”
“Site’s closed.” The speaker was a brick of a man— short and thick bodied with a blocky build and a flat-topped haircut. The bright New Mexico sun shone off his aviator sunglasses and gleamed on the sweaty bald patch of tanned on the crown of his head.
Matthew waited for the man to elaborate, but no further explanation was forthcoming.
“I’ve been working hear for months. I assure you it’s all legal. The sheriff is aware of the situation.
“Situation’s changed.” This time the man on the passenger side spoke. He was of late middle years, with silver at his temples and deep cracks marring his weathered, coffee-and-cream complexion. Mischief danced in his whiskey colored eyes as he worked at a toothpick in the corner of his mouth.
Matthew wanted to step out of the jeep and smack the toothpick down the man’s throat, but he was outnumbered and outgunned. His eyes took in the scene. The men wore desert camouflage clothing free of patches, insignias, or other identifying marks. Their vehicle was equally void of identification.
“Who are you guys? You’re not Feds.” Matthew wasn’t certain of that statement, but his gut told him it was true.
“That’s classified.” Bald Spot cleared his throat and spat on the ground. “You need to get out of here, Sir.”
“I have a right to be here.” Matthew knew he was defeated. He supposed he could drive around the makeshift roadblock, but then what? They’d follow him and stop him climbing the rock. Hell, they might even shoot him.
Toothpick man rapped on the passenger window.
“What?” Matthew snapped.
The man pointed in the direction from which Matthew had come.
“Is that supposed to mean something? Use your words,” Matthew said.
“Leave now, or we’ll be forced to incarcerate you and impound your vehicle.”
Matthew knew there was nothing left to say. He shifted into reverse and hit the gas, engulfing the two men in a thick fog of dust. Neither of them flinched. He yanked the wheel hard to the left and hit the brakes. The jeep skidded off the road and came to a halt. Matthew shifted into drive, floored it again, and tore away down the road. As he drove away, he gave the men the one figure salute for good measure.
“Son of a…” He pounded his fist on the dashboard. Who the hell were these guys, and how had they found out about Halcón Rock? Were they friends of his dad? Surely his father would have warned him of potential interference. That left Bonebrake.
According to his father, the Cherokee’s biography was as full of holes as Swiss cheese, but he had military and government connections. Matthew’s thoughts raced. Bits and pieces of information sorted themselves and began to fall into some semblance of order.
“Sure, you just happened to break down in Quemadura,” he muttered. “You went jogging and just happened to run straight to Halcón Rock. And you just happened to chat up my girlfriend.” That sealed it. Bonebrake was behind this, and Matthew needed to find out exactly what the man knew, and Matthew knew where to start.
The sound of a vehicle rumbling up her dirt driveway roused Mari from fitful sleep. She rolled over and looked at the clock on her bedside table. It was late morning. She hadn’t intended to sleep in, but it was her day off, so why not? Squinting against the bright light, she turned to see who was coming. Her heart sank when she recognized Matthew’s jeep. He was the last person she wanted to see.
She hastily threw back the covers and climbed out of bed. The tile floor felt cold under her bare feet, but the air inside her tiny bedroom was already warm and heading toward hot. She could open the windows and catch a breeze, but that would mean a house coated in dust before too long. She longed for an air conditioned home, but she couldn’t afford even a tiny window unit.
She hurriedly tugged on a pair of sweatpants and a loose fitting shirt, and tousled her hair for good measure. Maybe if she convinced Matthew she was sick, he’d leave. Not for the first time, she chided herself for lacking the courage to end it with him. He just never took ‘no’ for an answer. The solution was to get out of this place, but where could she go? She had no money, an incomplete education, and no job skills beyond waitressing. She was stuck.
Three sharp knocks and the front door squeaked open. Mari winced at the sound of heavy footfalls covering the few steps from the front door to her bedroom. She hopped back onto the bed, leaned back against the headboard, and closed her eyes.
“Mari?” Matthew opened the door. “What’s your problem?”
“Migraine,” she groaned. “It kept me up all night.”
Matthew snorted. “I’ll bet you didn’t have a migraine when you were talking to your new friend.”
Mari froze. She covered the reaction by slowly raising her hands to her head and massaging her temples. “What are you talking about?”
“How much time have you spent in Bonebrake’s hotel room?”
“I went there to tell him to leave you…” The words were out before she could stop them, and she hadn’t finished her sentence when Matthew grabbed her by the wrists and hauled her to her feet.
“I knew it! What did you tell him?” Matthew yanked her up so their noses were almost touching.
Mari stood, trembling, on her tiptoes. She could see every blemish in his scarlet face, feel his hot breath. She tried to push away, but he shook her with such force that a sharp pain shot up her neck. The meager resistance she’d mustered now melted away. She tried a softer approach.
“Matthew, you can’t think I like that man.”
“You admit to being in his hotel room?”
“Only to tell him to stay away from Halcon Rock,” she said in a rush.
“What else did you tell him about the rock?”
“Nothing at all. Just to stay away.” She gazed into his wide eyes, wondering what would happen next.
Matthew’s shoulders sagged and he relaxed his grip on her.
“I wish I could believe you.” He turned, pushed the bedroom door closed, and turned back to face her. “But I need to make sure you’re not lying.”