Welcome to The Book of Bones a (mostly) weekly adventure serial.
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If you haven’t been reading along, start here with Chapter 1.
Matthew froze and switched off his headlamp. There was that sound again. A dull scrape like someone or something moving through the passageway behind him. Bonebrake and his group were somewhere up ahead, but what could be following him? The lower cave tour only ran once a day, so there should be no one coming in behind him. Probably it was his imagination. Echoes of his own footsteps, maybe. Still, he quickened his pace.
He stumbled along, occasionally barking his shin and just barely managing to suppress a curse as pain shot up his leg. He was tempted to turn back. This place was colder than a hooker’s heart. The dampness soaked into him, and the oppressive feel of stone all around him set his nerves on edge.
More than once he told himself Bonebrake was on the wrong track. Carlsbad was such a popular tourist destination, he reasoned, that anything of interest down here would have already been found. But that wasn’t true. Certain sections were still being explored, and many were off-limits to the public. A man could spend a lifetime exploring the caverns and never learn all its secrets. It was the thought of Bonebrake uncovering one of those secrets, a secret Matthew had worked so hard to unlock, that kept him going.
A large cavern loomed up ahead, and he quickly covered his headlamp, allowing only enough glow for him to see a few steps ahead. He paused at the mouth of the passageway and peered in. He saw little in the blackness, save for a dim light on the far side of the cavern. As he watched, a large figure silhouetted in dull, red light, clambered a few feet up the cave wall and then disappeared from sight.
Bonebrake! He must have found a passageway of some sort.
Matthew smiled. He was on the right track after all.
“Is that your son up there?” Gilmour whispered. “I don’t want him getting in the way.”
“He won’t.” Jameson tried to hide the frustration that welled up inside him. He was fed up with Matthew. The boy’s antics had caused nothing but problems for the sheriff. As a youth, he’d been the town bully, and kept it up into young adulthood. That alone had kept Jameson scrambling to keep his job and deal with the aftermath of Matthew’s shenanigans. And now he was a grown-ass man, and he’d turned into the sort of person Jameson despised—an abuser and a cripplingly insecure narcissist. To top it all off, he’d run afoul of ICE, and put Jameson at risk too.
Hell, the boy wasn’t even his, though Matthew didn’t know it. He was the product of his mother’s affair, back when Jameson was drinking too much and paying too little attention to his home life. He’d raised Matthew as his own, done his best, and he’d failed.
“I’m sorry, Luce,” he whispered to the soul of his deceased wife, just in case there really was a heaven, and she’d made it in.
Gilmour stared at Jameson. The beam of his headlamp made it impossible to read the expression on the ICE agent’s face, but Jameson thought he knew what the man was thinking. Jameson had failed to keep Matthew in check, and he was now a liability.
“What do you think happened to your two?” Jameson asked, deflecting the focus away from his own failings. The two ICE agents Gilmour had sent ahead of them had neither been seen nor heard from.
“They’re morons.” Gilmour pressed his lips together in a tight frown. That was, apparently, the end of that.
They watched as Matthew stole across the cavern, stopped on the other side for a moment, and began to climb. A few moments later, the darkness swallowed him whole.
“Looks like there’s a passageway over there,” Gilmour said. “Let’s go.”
Jameson swallowed the bile rising in his throat. He dreaded what was about to happen, but it was the way it had to be.