Welcome to The Book of Bones, a weekly adventure story. If you’re just joining the story, click here for Chapter 1.
“I freaking hate hospitals.” Bones shrugged his leather jacket up as if it could shield him from the antiseptic smell and the underlying current of fear the pervaded the place.
“Why?” Jessie glanced up at him, a bemused frown painting her face.
“You don’t come here unless you’re sick or dying. Not my kind of place.”
“People come here to get better. It’s a place of healing.” She reached out and took his hand. “And don’t forget, some people come here to have babies. You know, to bring new life into the world?”
“That’s an entirely different type of horror.”
Jessie giggled and leaned her head against his shoulder. It was only for an instant and then she drew away, but the sense of familiarity, even affection, was palpable. She stole another glance at him, the too-bright lights reflected in her dark eyes. Neither of them spoke, nor did either let go of the other’s hand.
“I’m not sure I should be here,” Bones said. “I barely know Mari.”
“She asked to see you,” Jessie said. “And Manny’s there. Maybe you can talk him out of doing something crazy to Matthew.”
“Not likely.” The very mention of Matthew’s name sent waves of rage through Bones. He craved a confrontation with the arrogant man, the opportunity to lay hands on the coward.”
“Ouch. You’re crushing my hand.”
“Sorry.” Bones loosened his grip.
“That’s better.” Jessie suddenly halted. “Listen to me. We don’t know for certain Matthew did this to her.”
Bones looked down at the young woman. “You don’t believe that, do you?”
Jessie stared hard into his eyes. “It doesn’t matter what either of us believe. He’s the sheriff’s son. You’d end up in prison.”
“Not if I did it right.”
“You can’t mean that.” Jessie released his hand, reached up, and took his face in her hands. “You and I both know that nothing is going to change for Mari until she changes. If it’s not Matthew, it’ll be another guy just like him. The best thing we can do for her is help her do that.”
“That’s pretty much what Amanda said before you and I left the waiting room.”
“Well, she’s right, and so am I.”
As he looked into Jessie’s eyes and considered her words, Bones was once again forced to revise his opinion of her. “You know, when I met you I thought you were just some sorority bimbo.”
“What do you think now?”
“Still figuring you out. I’ll let you know.” He winked.
They entered Mari’s room without knocking. She was sitting up in her bed, watching a game show on mute. She smiled when she saw Bones.
“You look good.” He meant it. He’d expected her to be battered and bruised, but save the faintest trace of the bruised eye he’d noticed at their first meeting, her face was free of blemish.
“It’s my ribs,” she said. “I took a bad spill.”
Bones didn’t bother to contradict her. He could tell by the look in her eyes she knew he didn’t believe her lie.
He squeezed himself into the chair in the corner of the room while Jessie took a seat on the side of the bed. They made small talk for a few minutes before Mari asked to speak to Bones alone. Jessie gave her friend a peck on the forehead, flashed a warning look at Bones, and slipped out of the room.
“Please don’t do anything to him,” Mari said as soon as the door closed.
“You know who—Matthew. And it’s ‘to whom’, by the way.”
“So you admit he’s the one who did this to you?” Bones kept his voice calm, though he felt his ire rising.
Mari shook her head. “I didn’t say that. I just know that you think he did it.”
They sat in silence for a moment.
“Is that it, or is there more?”
Mari hesitated. “I think there’s a way you can get back at Matthew without going to prison.”
“Figure out the mystery of Halcon Rock before he does. He considers it his life’s work. You could beat him up, but cuts and bruises will heal. If you can solve the mystery, it’ll eat at him for the rest of his life.”
“Can’t I do both?”
“Not if you want what I have.”
“And what is that?”
“Not until you promise you won’t go after Matthew.”
Bones wanted to argue with her, to ask her why she was protecting the dirtbag, but he knew it was never that simple in this kind of relationship. His eyes bored into hers, but her determination didn’t waver.
“All right,” he said. “I promise I won’t go after him. But if he should come after me, I’m going to defend myself.”
Mari nodded. “I guess that’s the most I can hope for.” She paused, her eyes searching the room. Finally, she again met Bones’ eye. “All this time I made excuses for Matthew because I thought that, deep down, he truly loved me. Yesterday I found out it was all a lie.”
“I’m sorry this is what it took to make you realize that, but I’m glad you did. This kind of relationship isn’t love.” He thought about the things Amanda and Jessie had said to him, and hastily added, “You should be proud of yourself for figuring that out. Some people never do.”
A single tear trickled from the corner of Mari’s eye. “You might want to save your accolades. The reason I realized it isn’t what you think.”
“What is it, then?”
“He told me he’d been ‘waiting and waiting’ and he wasn’t going to wait anymore. Then he asked ‘Where is it?” over and over again.”
“Where is what?” Bones asked.
“My father was a researcher who was into all the stuff Matthew is studying. Aliens, underworld dwellers, lost treasures, even the chupacabra.”
“I know a little something about that last one.”
Mari smirked. “Sure you do. Anyway, Papi kept his work quiet. In such a small town, he was afraid his work would reflect badly on me, so he kept it to himself. When he died I hid it all away. I thought no one else knew, but somehow Matthew found out about it. Turns out, that’s the only reason he pretended to be interested in me. When I think about what I put up with from him and all the while he just wanted Papi’s research. God, I’m such an idiot.”
“Don’t do that to yourself. We’re all stupid for love sometimes.”
“I suppose. I guess I should give him credit for his patience. He stuck with me for a long time.”
“Do you think your father knew something about Halcon Rock?”
“Matthew certainly thought so. I’m not sure what’s in his research, but he always claimed to know more than anyone else in town. His big thing was the Gregory Glade treasure. He was pretty sure he had solved that one.”
Bones perked up at the mention of the treasure. “Seriously?”
Mari forced a small, sad smile and turned to gaze out the window. “He was on his way to the spot he swore the treasure was hidden when he ran off the road and was killed.”
“I’m sorry,” Bones said. “I never had a father but I know how it feels to lose people you care about. It’s happened to me more times than I care to count.”
“If you’re willing to share his research with me, I think it could help more than you know.”
“It’s yours if you want it. It’s brought me nothing but heartbreak.” Her gaze softened, as if she were staring at something only she could see.
“Is that why you never tried to find the treasure yourself?”
Mari laughed. “Partly, but could you imagine me hunting treasure? I wouldn’t know where to begin. I’m a waitress. That’s all I’ll ever be.”
“What if I told you that’s not true?”
“I’d say your sweet. A liar, but sweet.”
Bones leaned forward, all business. “Mari, look at me. I need you to understand something. This isn’t just a race between me and Matthew. There’s someone else involved—someone dangerous.”
“More dangerous than Matthew and the sheriff?”
“Yes. They’ve already tried to kill me once. I don’t know who they are or what kind of resources they have at their disposal, but they caught up to me again after I thought I’d shaken them.”
“I’m sure you can handle it.”
“It’s not me I’m worried about. I don’t know if Matthew is connected to the people who are after me, but if he knows your secret, we have to assume it’s going to get out. If they find out about it…”
For the first time, Mari looked frightened. “What do I do.”
“Let me move you to somewhere safe until this blows over.” He stood, moved to her bedside, and took her hand. “I know people who can help you start over for real. I’m talking an iro
nclad new identity, maybe even set you up with a new job and a new life. If you’re willing.”
Mari’s lower lip trembled. “Why would you do that for me?”
“It’s not easy to explain, but mostly because it’s the right thing to do. You’ve put up with enough crap in your life. It’s time you got a break.”
“All right, I’ll do it. The doctor says they’ll release me tomorrow morning.”
“Great. You can stay with a friend of mine while I make the arrangements.” He’d have to set her up at Amanda’s place. She’d give him a hard time about it, but she wouldn’t say no to someone in Mari’s plight. “If I’m not here when you’re released, someone will be.”
Mari gave his hand a squeeze. “I’d hug you but I’m afraid it would hurt my ribs.”
“That’s okay,” he chuckled. “So, is your dad’s research hidden somewhere in your house?”
“No. I hid it at one of Papi’s favorite places. You shouldn’t have any problem finding it, but you’ll have to be careful.”
Bones grinned. “Chick, that’s the story of my life.”