Fly: Hello, Jennifer.
Jennifer: Hello Mr. Fly. How are we doing?
Fly: Breathing, now that I have been tranzformed into a zea creature.
Jennifer: Enjoying it?
Fly: Zcarily enough, yez. To fly under water iz quite an experience. What about you?
Jennifer: Well, I love it of course. The challenge and novelty is what makes it even better.
Fly: That’z your motto, izn’t it?
Jennifer: Certainly. I find humour and hope as the perfect set of armour to have around.
Fly: Zo do your characterz. Anna Ryan, the protagonizt, in particular. In the grazp of nervy momentz, zhe laughz - again, and again. That lookz like a mozt unique defence ztrategy. What’z the thinking behind that?
Jennifer: Laughter is usually a sort of defense mechanism we (as humans) use to deflect and hide our inner vulnerability… in Anna’s case she would be hiding her fear, amongst other still lingering human emotions.
Fly: The firzt chapter openz rather harmlezzly - a zquabble that the reader feelz will zoon rezolve. Within the zpace of a few linez, we find the planz of a pregnant woman to break the newz to her love over a romantic dinner tranzform into her murder at hiz handz! All very brutal. And yet, az zhe diez, you give her - and uz - a zenze of calm. It’z literally like floating through water. Iz thiz how you approach izzuez around you?
Jennifer: I’ve been told I’m an incredibly calm person, or at least that’s the perception from the outside. I think in life when one is faced with unbelievably difficult circumstances, keeping a calm head is essential.
Fly: Abzolutely. Your writing exhibitz that mature approach. But it alzo reflectz a ztrong zenze of intuition. Iz it juzt a zentiment?
Jennifer: Call it practical intuition. But in Poseidia “intuition” is a part of their biology, so to speak.
Fly: Anna and her aide, Roman, both zhare forgetful “human” paztz which belong to a world zeemingly inferior to the underwater one. Here’z a zpeculative zcenario: Theze two are born in Poseidia, they nearly die and are zomehow rezcued, brought to land and tranzformed into humanz. How would they zee the world on land now? Would you zay the tablez would turn, and why?
Jennifer: I think they would find the human world very limiting and difficult to navigate. In Poseidia the culture is quite different and integrating into a human’s world would feel awfully… different—their emotions differ—but in some ways it would be more freeing, depending on your perspective (can’t tell you more or I would spoil the surprises for you)
Fly: Alright, out of Poseidia then. Zince you are reziding in the human world on land for now, tell uz about your intereztz here. I hear you are a mazzage therapizt!
Jennifer (zmilez): With 15 years behind me! It can come particularly handy when you’ve been using muscles you haven’t used before, Mr. Fly, as in swimming. Although in your case, I’m afraid I may just squish you.
Fly: A-haw-lright, ztriking that off then! What about your other intereztz?
Jennifer: Writing, writing and more writing. Also, my son and I enjoy playing Minecraft and other video games together. I also love organic gardening, photography, and caring for my two dogs—one twice-rescued—and my son’s grumpy pet turtle, appropriately named Tuck.
Fly: Bring him for an interview, will you? We can talk in hiz zhell, if he preferz.
Jennifer: I’ll ask. I don’t mind though. It’s not that I am the landlord of his little home.
Fly: Which iz both good and bad, I zuppoze. After all, you are alzo an accomplizhed renovator - not zurprizing, given how Poseidia lookz!
Jennifer: That also means I know how to handle the business end of things. Even that can be good and bad, I guess, depending on which side of the table you are on.
Fly: Let me zee - you create mermaidz and underwater citiez, you know the trickz on Earth rather well and you have ztudied pzychology. It’z like a zcary package!
Jennifer: Human psychology. Flies are quite safe! Although you are still underwater and breathing, thanks to me.
Fly (after a brief pauze): And that’z the cue to wrap up, folkz. Before we go, when do we get to zee the zecond book?
Jennifer: Yes, I’m working on revisions now and have a date with my editor in July. Hoping for a release date in September!
Fly: Looking forward to the dive! To all readerz on land, meanwhile, enjoy a sneak-peak into Poseidia, and float with it az we all did. Here’z me zigning off with @JLImhoff.
Glancing down, my dress was torn and soaked in blood. Pain radiated from my abdomen and I placed my hands over it. The warm slide of blood trickled over my fingers.
Get out of the water.
I collapsed before I could make it all the way out of the surf. A short distance away, a small cave was tucked inside an overhanging cliff.
The sound of cars nearby filled me with hope. If I can get to the road, someone can help me. But I would have a lot to explain.
What other choice do I have?
I’ll take my chances—I don’t want to die out here, alone on the beach.
Weakness crippled me and I collapsed face first into the sand. Someone grabbed me, picked me up, and carried me into the darkness of the cave.
Alarmed by the rough treatment, I yelped in protest only to have my mouth covered with their hand, be pushed to the ground, and finally covered with their body.
“Shh, someone’s coming,” a male voice whispered. The voice… I recognized it as the big guy who had been with Lily.
Did he follow me?
Of course he did.
“Mmm…” I struggled to free my mouth. “Get off me,” I screamed, finally able to form a word, or three. Spent from my swim, and blood loss, my struggles were completely ineffective against the strength of his grasp.
He whispered in my ear, “Shhhhh—stop fighting me. You’re bleeding, I need to heal you.” The closeness of his breath sent shivers up and down my spine.
“What?” I whimpered. “Heal me how?”
“I can’t explain it now. Be quiet and listen. A car door slammed.”
“I don’t hear anything.” My protest was not entirely true. Once quiet, my ears also detected the sound of people talking, laughing, and car doors slamming.
“It’s dangerous,” he warned.
“Why is it dangerous? They can call an ambulance. I’m going to die if they don’t.” Fear underscored my plea.
He picked me up again, moved me further into the back of the cave, and placed me down, softly this time.
His fingers explored my abdomen where I’d been bitten. Despite the surprising gentleness of his touch, I whimpered in pain. “You’ll have to be quiet, or we’ll be discovered,” he ordered. “I can only partially heal you in this form. Remain silent, no matter how much it hurts. No one can see you as you are. It’s dangerous.”
“But…” I mumbled.
“Shhh… I have to concentrate.”
“Where’s Lily? I thought she was with you.”
“Shhh,” he reprimanded.
“You’re such an ass,” I spat. Blood oozed down my abdomen and onto the sand. The discomfort of lying still as sharp pebbles bit into my back was nothing compared to the intense pain throbbing on the right side of my body.
“It’s not a good idea for you to call me names right now, considering I have your life in my hands,” he retorted. The outline of his head became clearer as my eyes adjusted to the darkness. His eyes sparkled with fury in the moonlight...
Fly: Welcome, dear Kasey. How are we today?
Kasey: Perfect. It’s good to be here.
Fly: Well, I was in half-a-mind to meet in Riverview inztead, zince that’z where all your characterz live.
Kasey: That’d have been wonderful! It’s a nice, little town with a beautiful backdrop of Colorado countryside to aid with all the action in the plots. And the rural living helps bring the characters together.
Fly: Thoze are two interezting pointz you make. Let’z pick the firzt one - the rugged backdrop. Have you alwayz been interested in zuch zetting or iz there a ztory in here?
Kasey: I’ve lived many years in rugged country and competed on many wonderful, difficult, remote trails when riding Endurance in the Western region. I feel comfortable with that kind of terrain. I love the humbling experience of being in the wild, untamed forest, desert or mountains . . . it is almost a religious experience for me. I feel closer to heaven.
Fly: I muzt admit the woodz ztick to the mind of readerz as they go about the ztory. Coming to the other point you mentioned: what underliez your preference towardz highlighting eventz in zmall communitiez?
Kasey: It is not so much about the size of a community as the spirit that binds them together. Skeleton Trail, like the first Riverview mystery, Desperate Endurance (available at: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00FIE630Y). It shows the values and cohesiveness of small town and rural America. People are willing to help each other and sacrifice as needed to keep each other safe in a very rugged and unforgiving land. That is important to me.
Fly: Az iz the bonding between couplez. Your ztoriez ezzentially belong to the myztery/zuzpenze genre. Yet they are az much, perhapz more zo, about romance, are they not?
Kasey: An inevitable fallout, I’m afraid. Love climbs the chart in your list when you have lived with your partner for 40+ years. I love sounding out new plots to my husband. We take care of each other and we care for a large assortment of animals on our 13 acre hobby farm in Southeastern Oklahoma. Such close, sustainable bonds are established by surviving through difficult times. And that is what characters in my story aspire to achieve.
Fly: (zmilez) Does zharing the plotz with your huzband have an impact on how you manoeuvre your ztoriez?
Kasey: He is a wonderful sounding board and often his dry wit comes up with funny aspects to blend into a story. Sometimes he sees something in the story that will not work and offers an alternative to the problem spot. He does not write but is an insatiable reader and those are the best critics.
Fly: Zo we have a common interperzonal objective, a common zocial zetting and a common location - Riverview. Often a times, even the characterz are common. Yet, all your novelz zo far are ztand-alone rather than part of zome trilogy. Why iz that?
Kasey: Sagas and Chronicles are great . . . if you have the time to invest in the series. I like stand-alone books because it may take me months to get to the next and if it is a story on its own; I don’t have to reread the last to know understand the plot of the next. That is why I offer my stories as individual novels rather than a saga or continuing story of the town and people of Riverview.
Fly: Zo tell uz about Zkeleton Trail. What inzpired it?
Kasey: My mind sees every news article as a possible story plot for the people in Riverview to endure and every trail ride as a possible setting for the next crime or mystery. Needless to say, I love the alone time on the trail to work my way through the next plot and create new characters. Once, I rode on an eroding trail along a creek and next to it was an old tree that had fallen over during the winter, leaving a large root hole. From that trail at Cedar Lake Equestrian Campground, this story took flight.
Fly: Az the ztory openz with two ladiez, Bethany and Megan, they’re dizcoveriez - a decaying body, decadez-old letter et al. There’z pain too, with the fall and bruizez. Yet, the ladiez are zo jovial throughout their exploitz. Iz that how you are in real life?
Kasey: I once rode a twenty-five mile competition where I came off and landed on a boulder within five miles of the start. My injuries were almost identical to those I gave Bethany, but over the next four hours of the event I was able to move and Aspirin managed the discomfort. My riding partners would tell you that other than at the breaks; I kept my whining down to bare minimum. I won’t say I never whine when competing – but I try hard not to be the “downer” of the group.
Fly: That’z tough. Zuddenly I feel privileged to be zpeaking with a hardy jockey! You haven’t mentioned your love for horzez. Waiting for me to azk?
Kasey: Of course . . . In Skeleton Trail, I moved away from Endurance Racing and competing because I wanted to branch out. However, horses are what has gotten me into most of the adventures of my life since 1990. Both in the saddle and in work. I would never have started writing if I hadn’t been so irritated at writers who have no knowledge trying to write about my sport and/or about the animals I enjoy.
Fly: Well, if you had appeared here as a horze, I zuppoze we would’ve heard a lot of neighz. Too much negativity that’d be.
Kasey: At least the guy would get his Yes’ correct.
Fly (after a brief thought): Yez. It’s pronounced yez . . . izn’t it?
Kasey: (zmiling) If you say so, dear.
Fly: Ahem. Well, Kasey, we hope to check out your wild eco-zpotz and electric camping zpotz zoon enough.
And to the readerz, you can find Kasey at http://www.kaseyriley.com.
For now, we present a little journey through Kasey’z Skeleteon Trail. Download your copy of the Excerpt HERE or Read it below!
Gunnison County, CO – October 1933
Caleb added an entry to his journal. He placed it carefully into the cracker tin with the other evidence. He put the tin with its precious evidence in the hole he was using to hide it and carefully replaced the flooring. He walked out of the one room cabin, looking back to see if the hiding spot was visible before he headed to town for supplies.
Caleb never saw the gunman or felt the rifle aiming at him as he rode home later. He never heard the shot and felt no pain from the bullet that crashed through his skull causing his body to roll down the gully into the fast rushing shallow creek below.
The killer pulled Caleb out of the creek and took his wallet. He pushed the body over his saddle, walking up the trail for about a mile before he found a large round hole left by a falling tree at the edge of a wash.
He smiled like a kid on Christmas morning. This would save a lot of work. He dumped Caleb’s body off the saddle into the hole, filling it with rocks and boulders. No need to put in dirt, critters wouldn’t get around those rocks.
Once done, he rode back to collect Caleb’s horses. He shrugged down deeper into his coat as snow began falling, signaling the end of good weather in the Rockies and the beginning of another winter.
Gunnison County, CO – Present Day
Megan’s blue eyes grew large as she watched in growing horror the rocky bank giving way under Bethany’s horse. With the horse scrambling madly, the pair slid backward out of sight. Jumping off Radar, she threw his reins in a tree as the sounds below faded into silence. On hands and knees, she cautiously approached the unstable edge, when she heard Bethany scream. “Bethany, are you okay? Are you hurt?” She cautiously lay on her belly, extending her long frame, and pushing her head and shoulders over the edge of the embankment.
Bethany had kicked free of her stirrups to dive off her horse when she felt him begin to slip backward off the edge of the wash. Coup fought the backward slide, whipping his body around to swim with the rolling dirt and boulders, slinging Bethany’s five-foot-four inch frame from the saddle to land on her backside in the rocks. Landing, she felt a sharp pain, her hips digging into boulders lodged in the bank. She watched Coup stumble down the landslide and saw him come to a stop, on his feet, not thirty feet below where she landed. Automatically, she rolled onto her knees, smacking her helmet on the ground, coming eyeball to eye socket with a human skull. Her breath catching in her throat, her mouth went dry in the split second before her scream startled Coup into moving further away.
“Oh my God! Megan, there’s a body down here! Ewww!” Bethany’s voice, breathless, then wavering up to a shrill shriek, rose up from the gully to reach Megan.
“What body? To hell with the body. Are you okay?” Megan inspected what she could see of her friend from above, looking for blood or obvious injuries. Breathing a sigh of relief, she saw Bethany looked to be only dirty with leaf matter stuck between the bill of her helmet and her forehead. She seemed more concerned with her discovery than with herself.
“I’m okay, I think. I landed where I have the most padding.” Her eyes went to Coup, who was walking over to a patch of late oats to graze. Relief flooded her. He seemed to be moving okay, but she could see some blood staining his back right stocking. Knowing he wouldn’t wander farther than the closest food, she looked up at Megan. “Are you going to lie there all day, or climb down here to see this?”
“Well, I don’t want to start another landslide. Does the ground look solid?”
“Yeah, I think Coup’s weight was the issue that caused the ground to give way. The creek’s been undermining this bank for years.” She looked both directions, seeing several spots where the upper ground extended over the gully by as much as five feet. “If you work your way down from where you are, on an angle toward the bottom of the gully, you should be fine,” she advised. This gully was going to be a tough one to create a decent trail across because of the constant erosion. She gingerly touched the small of her back and felt the growing welt where she’d landed against a rock. She knew it was going to hurt later. Looking again at the skull, she frowned. What had this poor person ever done to wind up buried out here with no marker? Sadness welled up in her at the thought of his or her family who had never known the reason for the disappearance of their loved one.
Megan stood up, took a deep breath, and began to work her way toward Bethany. She hated heights and steep spots, no matter if she was on foot or horseback. Bethany was standing by the time she reached her. They both leaned over the wide hole to get a better look at the skeleton.
“I wonder how it got here. That hole looks like maybe a bullet hole. What do you think?” Megan pointed to the smallish round hole on the left side of the skull, and then swallowed back nausea at the mummified tissue and cloth visible beyond the skull.
“This hollow looks like an old hole created by an uprooted tree. I’ve seen root holes larger than this after a strong wind.” Bethany pointed to bits of what looked to be tree roots along one side of the hole. “I don’t think this person died here, unless they took shelter or hid in here. No way could he or she fall so perfectly into a hole. Maybe they froze here in a storm after seeking shelter.” Bethany frowned in distaste and shook her head in sorrow at the thought of a wounded person trying to hide from a killer, but knew in her heart, if it was a bullet hole, the victim likely had never known what hit him or her.
“Yeah, I don’t think this boulder walked up from the creek bed by itself.” Megan hefted a five-pound rock located just inside the hole. “Now what’re we gonna do?” She looked at the bones with desiccated tissue surrounded by rocks nestled in the shallow hole in the bank. “I think we shouldn’t move anything until a forensics expert works the scene. There might be evidence in the hole with the body.”
“Let’s put back the rocks we know rolled out of the hole, geocache the location, tie a ton of ribbon on the trees above the bank and across the way, and start looking for the most direct route out of here to the closest road. The authorities are going to need a trail from the road to the body, preferably a short trail. We can call them when we get back to camp,” Bethany suggested. She gave her friend a kind of lopsided grin. “The only good thing I can think of about all of this is now I have a name for the trail and maybe the ride I’m planning. This will be the ‘Skeleton Trail Loop’ and the ride can be something to do with murder and mayhem or the skeleton. Help me think of a good name?” she asked her friend. “Maybe hold it on Halloween or as a night ride and call it the ‘Ghost 50’?”
“Your mind is never far from endurance, is it?” Megan shook her head and began to brush the dirt off Bethany’s back. She stopped when Bethany winced, gasped, and jumped away from her hand.
“Ouch, careful. I’m going to have a nasty bruise. Why don’t you go get Radar and I’ll finish brushing off my butt and head down to Coup.” She turned away from Megan with her hands lightly covering the injured area. “He looks like he has a cut on his back leg,” she said over her shoulder while she watched her friend climb back up to her horse. Bethany stood a moment longer, gently feeling out the size and location of the growing painful welt of bruised flesh before she cautiously climbed down to inspect her horse.
Above, Radar stood happily trimming the tree where his reins hung over a branch. He looked around as Megan approached. Damn, the day had started out so well. She frowned at the thought of the complications and the fact that Bethany seemed to be in more pain than she wanted her to know. Roger would not be happy that she failed to keep his wife from injury. Not that she could have foreseen the situation, but he had specifically told her to take care of Bethany; even though Bethany seemed completely capable of taking care of herself. Crap. She untangled the reins from the tree, unclipped them from the bit, and clipped one end on the halter part of the halter bridle.
“I’m going to ribbon the tree up here before I follow you. No sense in making two trips up and down,” she called to Bethany. Taking the roll of orange surveyors’ tape off her saddle, she unwound several yards. She broke it up into strips and tied them all over the tree Radar was munching, making it look more like an orange Christmas tree than an aspen. Next, she led Radar to the spot where she would begin her decent and tied several strips of tape around smaller boulders before stacking them. She led her horse past the hole with the skeleton, marking a turning spot for the zigzag path down to the bottom of the gully. Looking back up the side of the wash, the orange tape screamed out of the browns of the fall and the earth tones of the rock. Yep, no one with eyes would miss this spot along the trail she surveyed with a grim smile.
Bethany waited with Coup at the edge of the dry creek. During the wet season, it would be deep, but at the end of summer, there was only one small puddle left to be seen. “I think we can make the trail go up over there. It looks like solid footing and for some reason, the wall isn’t quite so steep. I expect the Trailmaster might choose a different spot, but let’s start there because it’s close to the overall trail.” She pointed across the gully to where the ground slanted up at a less severe angle.
“Sounds good to me. Let’s go, boss lady. You lead.” Megan agreed and urged Bethany onward. Megan stepped her long legs and lanky frame onto the tall Appaloosa’s before Bethany mounted her more petite Arab gelding. She saw Bethany wince as she settled into her endurance saddle. “Hey, do you need a pain killer? I’ve got everything from Advil to Tylenol-3 in my trail kit,” She offered.
“I’ll take a couple of Advil. The stronger stuff just makes me dizzy and nauseous. The last thing I need on horseback is dizziness.” Bethany managed to smile back at Megan, but her face was paler than normal.
Digging out the packet of pills, Megan handed them over. During the past month of living at the R-M ranch, renting the house once occupied by Roger’s uncle Phil, she had come to like both her new bosses and grown protective of them. Bethany worked hard creating the new pack station and guest ranch/campground, while Roger managed the cattle and horse ranch his family had owned for generations.
The R-B, which stood for Roger-Bethany, would offer wilderness trips for eco-tourists and trails for all levels of equestrians. With electric camping spots for guests hauling rigs with living quarters or regular RV’s, cabins for guests arriving without horses or RV’s, and horses for those without animals, it would bring new business to Riverview. They planned guided trips up the mountains and overnight or day options, along with a beautiful lodge for dinner, dancing, and gatherings. They were sinking a big chunk of money into this venture. The purchase of an additional two thousand acres at a land auction this past spring had begun the project. Then receiving permits from the Forestry to put trails for equestrians into the woods with the assistance of a certified Trailmaster had sealed the deal for the new project.
Bethany and Megan started the day at the campground, using Megan’s GPS to store the trail they marked with ribbon through the woods and over hills. Bethany wanted this to be about a fifteen-mile loop that would have overlooks and stopping points, but work its way back to the main camp. For the eco-tourists, it would be a daylong ride with lunch at a meadow. For the more experienced riders and the endurance competitors, it would be a two- to five-hour trail ride. They hoped to have it marked out by sundown, but now with the need to locate the closest road, who knew how long it would be before they would be able to finish the loop. Her spirits drooped at the thought that the loop might not get finished before snowfall. Double crap.
At the top of the gully, Bethany pulled out a folded quadrant map from the USGS. The trail they had been following went off to the left. They were about seven miles from where they had started. “Did you geocache this spot? We’ll need to be able to give the coordinates to the authorities.”
“Yep. Got it safely stored. What does the map show?”
“Well, if we follow the trail to the left long enough, maybe three or four more miles, we should come to BLM 26. It’s not much of a road, but it would allow vehicles to park within walking distance.” Bethany pointed to the left, indicating the direction they should go. “Road access might also work in our favor, allowing crews or an event photographer access to this trail in a competition.” Bethany thought aloud, imagining competitors needing water for themselves and their hot, hardworking horses.
Following Bethany’s lead to the left, Megan stopped to put up ribbons of orange tape, while Bethany went ahead to mark further up the trail. Finding the closest road would give summer riders access to help if they needed it. Riders often overestimated the condition of their horses and then needed help getting back to base camp. Forest roads, even nasty ones, have saved many horses and riders.
“Boss, look up there. Is that a trail to the left? Maybe it goes to the road or a cabin on BLM 26?” She pointed at a faint Y in the trail marked by three stacked rocks followed by several rocks laid in a row.
“Hmmm, that’s possible. Let’s check it out for about a mile. We come up with nothing in that time, we’ll come back here and continue on this track. I think this might be the old trappers’ trail used between the towns along the Gunnison back before the highway was built lower in the valley.” Bethany put ribbon marking the junction low in a pine tree. Three ribbons marking the turn and another past the turn, almost out of sight to show the side trail. “Why don’t you put the regular trail-marking ribbon on the right, where it will draw the eyes away from this junction? I don’t want to divert riders, but I want to be able to find this trail again.”
Megan marked the right side of the trail they had been riding, and then rode ahead on the side trail, while Bethany was tying ribbons at the junction. She put one in the evergreen tree at the top of the rise. Bethany passed her as they had been marking trail all day, going another distance up the trail before tying ribbon on the right side of the faint trail. Megan caught her and they topped a rise together to see a cabin nestled in the broad valley below.
“Look at that! There’s a cabin down there.” Bethany paused to admire the serenity of the scene.
“Wow! Bet we can beat you there! Maybe the owners have a decent satellite phone for us to reach the sheriff.” Megan dug her heels into Radar and the gelding surged forward, carefully finding the trail down the hill into the low, lush valley before breaking into a soft gallop toward the cabin on the far side.
They were almost there when Coup caught up, put a nose in front of Radar, pinned his ears at the gelding, and flipped his tail. Radar, having a beta-type personality, immediately pulled up and let the alpha gelding take the lead.
“Coup has the best ‘sneer’ in this region.” Bethany laughed at Megan’s surprised expression. “He can make just about any horse he gets next to pull up and let him go by, just by pinning his ears and lifting his head at them,” she explained, bringing him to a slow trot and then a walk when they approached the cabin. “I once won a race to the finish by that bit of horse interaction. Oh no! We won’t find any phones here, sat or otherwise. Look at the door.” She pointed to the cabin door. It leaned into the frame and hung by one old leather hinge.
“You’re right. This place has been vacant a while, if the debris on the porch is any indicator.” Megan agreed, noticing the leaves and dirt blown against the cabin wall. She dismounted from Radar and handed his reins to Bethany before she turned to walk carefully up the rough-hewn log steps to the remains of the porch.
“Be careful. I don’t want you to get hurt. If it looks like it won’t open, leave it, and we’ll bring the boys back to investigate,” Bethany warned, gingerly dismounting from Coup. “Damn, now my pants are starting to rub where they cross that bruise.”
Megan laughed over her shoulder at her friend. “Guess it’s going to be some time before you ride out again. We really should head home so you can get some ice on that swelling.” Nevertheless, she still lifted the door to open it and peered into the dimly-lit cabin. “Wow, it looks like someone just left it yesterday, except for the dust. Looks all ready for the owner’s return.” Megan’s voice reflected the awe she felt looking into this snapshot back in time. She could see the cot with the rumpled bedroll along one wall, the large pot hanging over the dead fire in the fireplace, the two-plank table, and split-log bench pushed against the closest wall to her, all waiting for the homeowner’s return. She sneezed three times in a row, wiped her eyes and nose on the back of her glove, and said, “Yep, lots of dust, but wow, there’s even still a book lying open on the table. Wonder what was being read the last time this place was occupied?”
“I don’t think you should go in there. It could be dangerous. What if the floor gives way?” Bethany warned while she stood at the bottom of the steps holding the horses.
“The floor looks strong. Those planks must be at least two inches thick. I wonder if there’s a name inside the book.” Picking her way softly across the plank floor, she made it to the table in three careful steps. “Wow, it’s a Bible. Kind of gives me goose bumps. There’s a stub of a candle and a stub of a pencil here with it. Wonder what he’d been writing?” Megan touched the candle and pencil before her hand rested on the open Bible. It was open to the book of Luke in the New Testament. No telling which verse had been the last one read. Again, she got goose bumps thinking that here was something cherished by a person who had never come back to collect his things.
“Check it to see if there’s a family name or inscription. Bibles have always been used to record family events.” Bethany took one step up and decided to remain where she was when the tightening of the skin across her backside made her gasp.
Lifting the dusty book without removing her riding gloves, Megan mentally noted the page number before closing the volume and opening the front page. “This Bible is the property of Caleb Preston,” she read aloud to Bethany. “The first part is printed inside and the name was handwritten on a vacant line.” She fanned the pages to find the original spot in Luke to set the book back down where she found it. A single folded sheet of paper slipped from the center of the Old Testament to land on the floor at her feet.
“Wow, Bethany, there was a sheet of paper folded up in the Bible.” She set the book down on the table, open to the correct page before bending over to lift the sheet and shake out the folds very gently to avoid tearing the thin paper. “It looks like a letter. The handwriting is much too fine to be written by the same hand that signed the Bible.” She moved a step closer to the door for better light, and then read:
October 2, 1933 Montrose, Colorado
Thank you ever so much for the work you have been doing to find the killer of my husband. The new sheriff has been around asking questions about the “person” I’ve hired to investigate my husband’s death. From the way he was acting, I think that not only was he unhappy with your investigation, but that he also feels threatened in some way. He told me that I needed to let go of this search and accept that the villains who shot Tuck have long since left Riverview.
Caleb, I’m worried for your safety. If Sheriff Miller is involved in Tuck’s death, he can be very dangerous. Maybe you should quit searching until next spring. By then, Miller might no longer care about your investigation. I can’t stand the thought of you risking your life to bring Tuck’s murderer to justice.
Please be careful and let me know if there is anything I can do to help you. Tuck didn’t leave much, but I know you must be getting short of funds. I can wire you money if you need help to get through the winter. Or, maybe you can get your old job back with the Cole spread.
I’m doing fine and I feel the baby move often, so I know he’ll be born to carry on his father’s name. I just know it’s a boy; he’s so feisty, kicking all the time. I’ll be praying for your safety and I hope to see you soon. Maybe you can get here for either Thanksgiving or Christmas. My mother and I would love to have you as a guest to show our appreciation for all of your hard work since Tuck’s death.
Walking outside while she read, Megan used the bright sunlight to see the beautiful script. “Wow, I wonder if our skeleton is Caleb Preston. Maybe he got too close to finding the killer of his friend Tuck. Since the writer’s name is Angelica Tucker, we should be able to assume that her husband was called ‘Tuck’ because it was short for Tucker.” She handed the letter to Bethany. “Wonder what Tuck’s first name was. I bet we can find a history in the papers of the day, since we know the man was killed within eight months or so of October in 1933.”“Yeah, even in those days, babies took nine months, so if she was feeling it kick a lot, it’s likely she was in her third trimester.” Bethany looked over the paper in the sunlight trying to find any further information she could about the writer or the person who received it. “No envelope? Wish we could know where he received this letter. What town, post office, or maybe even at the Cole Ranch.” She turned the paper over again and searched for clues.
“I could go in and search the cabin for more,” Megan offered, turning back to the cabin door.
“No!” Bethany ordered. “I mean, no. That’s not a good idea. If anything happened, I wouldn’t be able to help you. Sorry, I didn’t mean to shout. It’s just scary with you in there and me out here.” She apologized for her outburst. “Let’s keep the letter to turn over to the authorities and head out to the road.”
“Yeah, you’re right. We could spend hours looking around this place for clues. Let me get this door closed.” Megan suited action to words, lifting the door on its single hinge back into place, leaning against the frame. She stepped lightly down to Bethany and took Radar’s reins. “Do you need a leg up?”
“I think I can still mount, but, I won’t get off again until I’m home.” Bethany muttered, turning to lift her left leg into Coup’s stirrup. She grabbed his mane to pull herself into the saddle, settling into the seat, but keeping most of her weight on her feet to avoid resting her bruised lower back against the cantle, stifling a groan, even with all the care she took.
“You sure you can ride okay?” Megan asked.
“I can make it. I once finished a twenty-five mile race with a similar injury in the first five miles. I can ride, but I won’t be able to move tomorrow,” she confided, trying to keep the irritation from her voice. She knew the pain was making her snappish and didn’t want to hurt Megan’s feelings.
“Okay, let’s get back to the main trail.” Megan took the lead. At the junction of the trails, she dismounted and surveyed the placement of the ribbons to make certain riders would go straight and likely never see the side trail. “The turn is almost invisible. I doubt anyone will be up this trail before we bring back the authorities,” she commented, mounting up.
After marking trail for another couple of miles, they finally heard a vehicle crunching on a dirt or gravel road almost dead ahead.
“Yippee! I knew the road had to be close. I am sooo ready to reach civilization.” Bethany sighed in relief.
“Why don’t I ride on ahead while you mark the spot where the trail comes out to the road? I can use my phone and call the sheriff,” Megan offered. She actually planned to call Roger. They needed the trailer.
“Huh? Okay, let’s get down to the road first, and then you can ride up to the ridge crest to get the best reception.” Bethany agreed, while Coup cautiously picked his way down the twenty-foot embankment to the gravel road. He automatically turned and angled down the slope, while she placed one hand on the cantle and the other on his neck to balance herself against the angle of decent.
Megan sat on Radar at the top of the embankment, watching until Bethany reached the bottom, and then let Radar pick his way down the same slope. Radar had watched Coup and followed the same path without hesitation. Once at the bottom, Megan turned to Bethany, who was tearing off strips of orange surveyors tape.
“Hold on to Coup and I’ll let Radar canter up the hill,” she warned, and then clucked to Radar, letting the gelding set off at his sweet rocking chair gait up the gravel road.
At the top of the hill, she was happy to see her phone showed reception at three bars. Relief flooded her while she speed dialed the R-M Ranch house phone.
“Hello, this is Shorty.” Shorty’s voice was music to Megan.
“It’s Megan. Is Roger there?”
“Nope, he’s out in the barn working with that new youngster.”
“Okay. Here’s what I need you to do. Go tell Roger we need him to bring the two-horse trailer. Take BLM 26 to the left just before the county line. Follow it south-southeast. We’re coming out that way and will meet him. Bethany is in pain. She’s toughing it out, but I think she needs a lift. Oh, and tell Roger we found a body. From the GPS markers, I think it’s in the National Forest lands.”
“WHAT?!” Shorty shouted into the phone, causing Megan to hold it out from her face. “A body? Bethany’s hurt? You better give me something better than that or Roger will come unglued,” he warned.
“Coup stumbled and slid down a hill. Bethany dove off and landed on her butt. She has a serious bruise, but insists on riding. She landed almost eye-to-eye with an old skeleton in a hole in the embankment,” Megan patiently told the man. “Think that’s enough information to calm him down?” she asked.
“Well, it sounds a dang site better than ‘Come out and get us because Bethany’s hurt and needs you and by the way we found us a body.’ Sounds,” Shorty snarled. “I’m on my way out to the barn. Don’t be surprised if he calls you.”
“Well, I’m headed back down the hill to help her mark the trailhead, so he might not reach me. Just get him moving with the trailer, okay?” Megan’s patience slipped and her voice sounded sharp with the question. “Sorry, Shorty. I’m tired and this day has been kind of crappy. Not your fault. Just tell Roger everything is fine, but we need him…with the trailer,” she told the man as she closed the call. She turned Radar back toward Coup and let him long trot back down the grade. She saw Bethany had marked the boulders with spray paint and walked up the incline to tie ribbons around the trees at the top of the embankment.
“Hey, you shouldn’t have dismounted. I could have done that painting,” Megan called to her.
“It’s okay. I want to walk for a while anyway. It might keep me from getting so stiff.” Walking back down the trail in the embankment, she was pleased that the ribbon was barely visible from the road. That would keep any nosy people from following the trail back to the body. She wanted the spot to be visible “if you looked hard on the left side.”
Observing Bethany’s handiwork, Megan said, “Looks good. If you know where to look, you can find it.”
“That’s exactly what I want. Geocache this spot for me and we can be on our way.” Turning, she led Coup up the road toward the ridge. “I take it you managed to reach the ranch. How upset was Roger?”
“Well, I haven’t talked to him. Shorty took the message to him out in the barn. I expect one of our phones will ring the moment we get reception.” Megan no sooner finished the phrase than her phone gave a half-hearted ring and went silent. “I expect that’s him. He’ll try again in a minute or two. Maybe by then I’ll have better reception.”
Bethany laughed, but it ended in a groan. “Damn, now it even hurts to laugh. That bruise must be swelling more. It sure is rubbing on my pants.” She finished just as her phone gave a demanding shrill ring. “I’ve got to change that ring tone. By the time I can answer the phone I’m already in a foul mood from the noise,” she muttered, digging out the offending item and flipping it open. “Hi, Honey. No, I’m okay, just bruised and sore. Megan said what? Well, she’s exaggerating. I can too ride if I wanted to.” Bethany glared at Megan while she listened to her husband. “Okay, I know the junction you’re talking about and we’re about a mile from there. If you’re just hitching up, we should be there within about five minutes of you. Just take something to read and wait for us.” She closed the phone. “I’ve got a bone to pick with you. You told Shorty that I couldn’t ride? What were you thinking?” her voice rising with the second question.
“Well, what I told Shorty and what he told Roger are two different things, unless Roger has a tendency to blow things he hears out of proportion.” Megan looked squarely at her friend. She wasn’t going to justify herself any further and if Bethany wanted to be angry, maybe it would ease the discomfort she was feeling from hiking up the road. Megan got off and took Coups’ reins so Bethany could move more easily.
“Okay, I forgive you. Shorty does have a problem with retelling what he hears. You might want to keep that in mind and have him write down messages. Force him to read back what he wrote,” Bethany advised.
Megan snorted. “Yeah, like he would agree to that. Some people just have no good relationship with truth and unvarnished information.” She shook her head and walked on ahead of Bethany, giving the woman space enough to groan, if needed, without embarrassment.
Roger’s hands shook after speaking with his wife. Hitting the button to settle the gooseneck trailer onto his truck, everything seemed to be moving in slow motion except his thoughts. He shuddered at his vision of Coup rolling down an embankment over the top of Bethany.
Shorty told him she was fine, except that there was so much pain, she couldn’t stand to ride. Knowing it had to be something serious to force Bethany to call for the trailer, he considered calling the EMTs to meet him out where he was going to meet the girls. No, she’d kill him for over-reacting. But, damn it, the EMTs would be better equipped to judge the severity of her injury than he was.
Fuming about the stubbornness of this woman who had captured his heart, he recalled her jumping back on a horse to finish a seventy-five mile competition after surviving a kidnap attempt before their marriage. More guts than common sense he mused, checking the connections, latching the hitch, and making certain all the doors were secure. Jumping into his running truck, he spun gravel into the air as he headed out to collect his woman and her friend.
He turned right onto the highway, trying to picture where he needed to turn off the main road. Megan told Shorty it was BLM 26, just before the county line. He knew that road. There was one junction, and that was where he could turn this rig around to wait for them. Or, at least park and leave it to walk further up the road to find them. He wasn’t certain he could sit and wait patiently if the girls weren’t in sight when he got there.
BLM signs never lasted out here, but he saw the road he wanted on the left. Turning onto it, he took the next turn left, making it close to a U-turn. A short distance later, he turned right and headed south-southeast into the public lands. About two miles further, he spotted the junction. Knowing this road got nasty the higher it went, he would have to park here.
Slowly pulling past the turn, he backed the trailer around it until the rig rested on the side road. Turning off the truck, he drummed his fingers on the steering wheel, watching the side mirror for any signs of riders. He gave the horn a couple of long honks to announce his arrival. His patience at an end, he locked the truck and began walking up the road, watching and listening for signs of life. From the top of the first rise, he could only see another hill in front of the higher mountains. He walked down and up to the top of that hill, only to see another. Still no riders in sight. He tapped his foot, wondering if they were just beyond the next hill. He pulled out his phone, happy to see three bars before he speed-dialed his wife.
Bethany sighed when her phone let out the shrill ring tone Roger had selected. “Damn, doesn’t he know we’d make better time if I didn’t need to answer the phone so often?” She muttered before opening the flip phone. “Hi, Honey. We heard your horn. You must be just over the next hill.”
“I just wanted to see if you heard it. Can you tell how far you are from the junction?” He heard the exasperation in her voice and knew she must be in pain. Normally she was happy to hear from him. “Do you want me to try backing the rig up the road so you won’t have so far to ride?”
“Roger, I’m perfectly able to walk. We’re leading the horses because I was getting stiff riding,” she soothed.
“Don’t believe it, Roger! She couldn’t get back up on Coup. That’s why she’s walking!” Megan called loud enough for Roger to pick up.
“Is that true? You couldn’t get back onto Coup? That does it. I’m taking you to the clinic and you’re going – no arguments.” His voice sounded stern enough that Bethany knew she would have to do as he wanted.
“Yes, Dear. Just for you, I’ll go to the clinic for an x-ray,” she conceded quietly.
Roger hung up more worried than ever. She never allowed him to boss her. She was far too stubborn to admit to injury or illness. She must be worried. He dialed the clinic in Riverview to set up an emergency appointment for an x-ray. The receptionist agreed he could bring her in as soon as they could get there.
He sat down on a convenient boulder next to the road and again found himself drumming his fingers while he waited on the women. Staring at the top of the next hill, his eyes were watering when a couple of boulders seemed to be moving. He stood up and the higher vantage point showed the upper torsos of two women and the heads of the horses following them. Putting his fingers to his lips, he whistled and waved at them.
Megan heard the whistle and waved at Roger. She doubted he saw her because he had begun running down the hill toward them. “Damn fool man. He’s going to hurt himself running on this loose gravel.” No sooner was that said, than Roger’s feet slid out from under him and he sat heavily in the middle of the gravel road.
“Well, at least, I won’t be the only one with a sore ass,” Bethany hooted, laughing at her husband.
Megan watched Roger stand up slowly before dusting himself off and continuing to walk, instead of run, down the incline. She sighed in relief. “Looks like he hurt his pride more than his butt. That’s good because there’s no way I could have gotten him back up the road if he broke something,” she muttered.
The women met him at the bottom of the hill. Megan stood admiring the tenderness Roger showed when he gathered his wife into his arms. “Are you okay? Can you show me where it hurts? You had me worried.” All the words tumbled out of his mouth while his hands roamed up and down her arms and his eyes took in the lines of stress and pain showing on her face.
Huffing in exasperation, Bethany pulled free of his arms, whipped around, and dropped her riding tights below her injury. “Both of you get a good look. It’s the only chance you’ll get. Now, just let me be.” A black bruise ran from left to right across the top of her hipbones. It was about three inches wide from top to bottom and about six or seven inches from left to right. The entire thing was swollen above the surrounding flesh by about a half inch at the center with a defined red line across it. “Are you happy now?” Pulling her tights back over the swelling, she grimaced.
“Boy, you can really tell exactly where you hit. It must have been a flat edge piece of shale or slip rock,” Megan remarked.
“Yes, you definitely need that x-rayed. You might have chipped your hipbone on either side.” Roger couldn’t resist pulling her back into his arms and kissing the top of her head. “Let’s get you out of here. Do you want to continue walking, or would you like me to put you up on Coup? I could carry you,” he offered.
“For crying out loud, both of you are treating me like I’m dying. It’s only a bruise – get it?” Bethany pulled out of Roger’s embrace. She really wanted to stay there, but knew the more she let him coddle her, the more he would worry. It wasn’t like her. “Just throw me up on Coup and we’ll ride back to the trailer, unsaddle, and load them while we wait for you to catch up.”
Bending, Roger grabbed her calf, lifting her up so she could land gently in the saddle, smiling because her frustration and anger were more like what he expected than the quiet “yes dear” she had been offering.
“Thanks. See you at the trailer,” she told him, setting off at a trot up the hill.
Scrambling onto Radar, Megan followed. She looked back only once to see Roger jogging up the road after them. Catching Bethany just as she got to the top of the hill, she said. “Okay, you can slow down now. He can’t see you.” She understood why Bethany had taken off, but she didn’t agree with the reasoning. She knew that Bethany was proving to her husband that she was “fine.”
“Was it that obvious?” Bethany slowed Coup to a walk, standing in the stirrups to relieve the pressure on her bruise.
“Only to someone who has used the same ruse,” she responded. “If we keep ’em to a fast walk, we can be over the next rise before he’s halfway down this hill. That way he won’t see you standing in the stirrups.”
They kept the horses moving so that Roger only got a glimpse of them cresting that final hill. After sitting down when he tried to run in the loose gravel, he kept his downhill pace at a brisk walk, only jogging when the angle of the grade was uphill. He knew they had slowed once he was out of sight. He trusted Megan to control the pace and she was smart enough to slow Bethany down.
Roger had a lot of faith in the common sense of his new hand. Any person, regardless of gender, who had been through what she had and kept her wits rather than give in to pain and fear, had his full respect and admiration. Uncle Sam didn’t give the Silver Star for just any reason. It takes a special personality type to be able to hold terror at bay while buried in the rubble, and stay on the radio with the enemy in the same room. It was a shame her wounds had washed her out of the Army. He knew she wanted to be a career soldier and was experiencing problems returning to civilian life. Using her to help Bethany create and run the R-B was his contribution to her rehabilitation.
Topping the final rise, he saw the girls had the saddles off the horses and Bethany was leaning against the trailer while Megan put the horses into it. Her face was pale, even from a distance. One hand was against the wheel well and she wiped her mouth with the other. He guessed that she had vomited from the pain of dismounting and unsaddling, too damn stubborn to wait for assistance from either him or Megan. Frowning, he shook his head and kept walking.
Reaching her, he took her into his arms. “It’s a good thing I love you, ‘cause your stubbornness could test the patience of a saint.” He murmured into her hair while she turned her face into his chest, resting her forehead against it.
“Yeah, I know, but you would worry more if I sat back and let you do everything.” Her arms went around his waist for a quick hug before she pushed him away. “Let’s get out of here. The clinic won’t wait all day for us.” Her smile let him know she guessed he’d called them already.
“Do you think you can sit, or would you prefer to lie across the back seat for the drive to Riverview?”
“I think I can sit.” She walked to the cab of the truck.
Opening the door, he gently placed both hands around her waist, lifting her. He froze when her breath caught as she bent at the waist to put her butt into the bucket seat. “Are you certain you want to try?” He watched carefully. “There’s no shame in just laying on your stomach across the back seat. I won’t tell anyone and neither will Megan.” He assured her, trying to get her to acknowledge that the back seat would be a better idea.
“No. I am going to sit.” Gritting her teeth, she would not let Roger win this battle, even if he was right. She just wasn’t going to give in to his coddling. She would stay sitting, in spite of the pain.
“Okay, okay, do it your way. I suggest that you leave your seatbelt loose and sit forward, holding onto the dash so the bumps won’t force you deeper into the cushion.” He conceded to her pigheaded stubbornness.
Megan came around to the truck from securing the animals and tack. “You two done figuring out which is more stubborn?” She smiled at the couple. She hadn’t heard much, but the sight of them made it obvious to her that there had been a mild confrontation between Mrs. “I’m all right” and Mr. “No, you’re not” that she was happy to have missed.
“Yeah, I let her win. She get’s really nasty if I don’t.” Roger grinned.
“I guess in that case, I’ve got the back seat all to myself?” Opening the back door on the drivers’ side, she climbed into the truck.
Climbing in, Roger automatically checked the mirrors, started the truck, and gently pulled out, headed for the highway. He watched his wife from the corner of his eye, but other than her knuckles turning white on the dash a couple of times, she seemed to be handling the rough road okay. Trying to avoid any holes he could, the truck crawled along. One section was washboard for about a quarter mile and there wasn’t much he could do about it. More color drained from Bethany’s face until they reached the highway.
From there, they had only about a fifteen-minute drive to town, paved the entire way. Relaxing his grip on the wheel after making the right turn and slowly bringing the truck up to speed, he looked over at Bethany. Her knuckles were returning to normal color where she gripped the dash, her eyes were closed, and he could tell she was breathing against the pain. “We made it through the worst part. Stubborn as you are, I’m proud of you, but I would be happier if you had laid down on the back seat.” She gave him a valiant attempt at her sassy grin, but with the paleness of her face, it fell short.
“I’m calling Shorty to tell him we’re on our way to the clinic in Riverview. He can bring your car and take the truck and trailer back to the ranch,” Megan suggested.
“Good idea. The car will be a smoother ride home for her. She could even lie down in the back.” Roger glanced meaningfully at his pale wife. Waiting for Megan to finish talking to Shorty, he changed the subject. “So, Megan, tell me about the body Shorty said you found on the trail.” He wanted to get her report while it was still clear in her mind and before the chaos of the clinic.
“Yes, Sir. Bethany found it, when she jumped off Coup. She screamed. I never realized someone her size could be that loud. I was off Radar fast. I made it to the edge, getting a good look at her before she told me why she screamed. Man, I was so relieved. I thought that moving had caused her pain and I was going to need the Spot 2 Messenger to get us out of there.” She paused to find the water bottle she had stashed in her pocket, took a drink, and recapped it.
“May I ask why you two didn’t use the Spot 2 to bring help in rather than try to ride out?” his disapproval obvious when he glared at his wife, then looked in the mirror to make eye contact with his employee.
“Don’t give the girl a hard time, Honey. When all this happened, it didn’t hurt much and I was mobile. No sense bringing in a helicopter and the Marines, if I could ride. It’s only been since it started swelling that the pain got worse.” Bethany chided him and protected Megan.
“Okay, but next time – if there ever is one – call for help,” Roger ordered them. “Go on, Megan. Continue.”
“Yes, Sir. Well, I got down to her level, and sure enough, there was a skull sticking out of the ground and rocks that had fallen away from it. We looked closer and could see what looked to be a bullet hole in one side and a good portion of the bone gone on the other.” She shuddered at the memory. “The rocks were kind of piled around the skull, so we moved a few and found what looked to be the remainder of the body surrounded by rocks. We stopped there, didn’t move any more, and carefully replaced what we’d moved. He wasn’t laid out flat. I think I saw a kneecap up next to his scapula, if I remember my anatomy of the human skeleton correctly.” She scratched her head, remembering how the form looked to be crumpled onto itself in the hole.
“Anyway, we put a mound of rocks over the skull so that it would be protected from critters and weather, like that would help him at this point.” She snorted. “Then we marked the spot with ribbon to show the location of the grave. Bethany was moving okay, so we geocached the location and headed on up the faint trail we had found.” She made eye contact with Roger in the mirror. He nodded at her, both to continue and approval of their actions.
“We figured we would be closer to a road by going forward than going back. The trail might be easier, so we could move more quickly. Our marking became secondary with ribbon being further apart, since the trail was obvious; faint, but obvious. It might have been the old main trail to Cimarron back in the day,” she mused aloud. “Then we found a side trail. Not as obvious, but we thought that it might lead to a cabin or closer road, so we followed it about a half mile. All we found was an old, and I mean really old, cabin. It was still intact, but abandoned long ago by anything, but maybe mice.” She paused. She knew that Roger was going to give her grief over the fact that she and Bethany had spent time investigating the cabin when Bethany was injured. “Bethany still was going strong, not looking that pale or giving any obvious signs of pain, so we rode over to the cabin and I went inside to check it out.”
She kept her head down, refusing to meet Roger’s glare in the mirror, and then quickly continued. “We found an old Bible on the table. The name in it was Caleb Preston and there was a letter from Angelica Tucker to him, thanking him for his effort to investigate her husband’s death. We think the body is his and Tuck’s killers found him in the woods and shut him up to protect themselves. Then Bethany began to show signs of pain when she remounted, so we made our way out to the road and called you without any more side trips.” Using a positive voice, she hoped to deter the coming lecture. The label on her bottle had her full attention, while Roger experienced a mild melt down.
“Let me get this straight. First, my wife is injured in a fall, then she finds a skeleton. Next, you follow a side trail to an abandoned cabin that you take time to explore before you two decide it might be a good idea to get your asses out to a road while she can still ride. Is that a fair understanding of your actions?” Rogers’s voice had not risen; in fact, it had become more controlled by the word, until the final question came through his clenched teeth. “What were you two thinking?” he yelled at the women. “Never mind that question. It’s obvious that neither one of you were thinking.” Slamming his hand on the wheel, he spoke through gritted teeth, gripping the steering wheel in the same manner he wanted to grab either his wife or the woman he expected to be a good influence on her. He glared in the mirror, willing Megan to raise her eyes, silently daring her to do so. Wisely, she kept her head down.
“Roger, Honey, I’m okay. When we went to the cabin, I wasn’t hurting much. I think getting off Coup got the blood flowing more to the bruise and that’s why it started to be more painful. You know as well as I do that swelling causes most of the pain in a bruise.” Bethany’s even voice did little to settle Roger’s anger, other than direct it back at her.
“Damn it, Woman. I know that I can’t trust you to take care of yourself, but I expected more of Megan.” His voice had lost the tightness, but gained the sound of disappointment.
“Did you really expect her to control me? I’m not only older than she is, but I’m also her boss. The most she’s going to be able to do is possibly make me see a different side of what I want to do. She’s not going to be able to stop or even direct me. You ought to know that.” She reached one hand over to rub his white knuckles where they gripped the wheel. “Don’t blame her. Blame me if you feel we acted stupidly. At the time, I felt well enough to continue riding for the remainder of the day. I knew I was going to pay for the fall later, but not as much as it actually hurts now. Otherwise, I would have stayed on the main trail and come straight out to the road.” She continued to rub his knuckles until he relaxed his grip. “I love you and I’m sorry that I’ve scared you and caused you to worry.” She smiled when he took her hand in his and lifted it to his lips.
“I’m sorry I yelled. I think I’m going to get gray hair with you around, either that or keep you under lock and key.” He smiled over at her. Glancing in the mirror, he caught a smirk on Megan’s face and glared back at her, forcing her to study her water bottle again. “You, I’ll talk to later,” he darkly promised.
Pulling up next to the clinic door, he set the truck in park before hopping out and running around to assist his wife. By the time he opened the door, Bethany had undone her seat belt. Grasping her around her waist, he lifted her carefully from the truck, taking care not to let any part of her back touch the frame as he set her on her feet. “Megan, haul the horses over to the far side of the lot, lock the truck, and meet us inside,” he ordered, taking his wife’s arm to assist her up the small step and in through the sliding doors.
The new office nurse met them with a wheelchair. Bethany eyed the chair and made a face that caused Roger to snort. “I’m not certain I can sit. Is it okay if I walk to the exam room?” Bethany asked.
The nurse made eye contact with Roger over Bethany’s head, asking his opinion with her bright green, expressive eyes. He shrugged and nodded, knowing his wife would be uncomfortable in a wheelchair.
“Okay, Ma’am. You’ll be in the first exam room. Right through this door and to the left.” The petite curly-headed nurse pushed the chair ahead of her while she led the slowly-moving couple into the examination room. “Can you get up on the table?”
“I’ll lift her for you.” Roger picked up his wife and set her in the middle of the exam table with great care.
“Okay. Let’s get your vitals while you tell me what happened and where it hurts.” The nurse tightened the cuff while Bethany held the electronic thermometer in her mouth. Making notations in Bethany’s chart after taking her pulse and reading the thermometer, she listened to the tale.
“I jumped from my horse as he was falling down an embankment and landed on my butt. I have a horrible bruise at the top of my hipbones. Not my seat, my hipbone.” Her voice faded toward the end of the statement because the nurse had moved around and pulled her riding tights away from her body to see the bruise.
“Well, your pulse is elevated, along with your blood pressure, but your temperature is normal.” Sympathy shown in her bright green eyes.
Noting the oddity of the green eye color against the warm brown hues of her skin and the extreme curl to her blue black hair, Roger wondered about her heritage.
“Hmmm, I think the doctor will want an x-ray. You’re not pregnant are you?” The nurse eyed both of them, noting Roger’s possessive and protective stance over his wife.
“I don’t think I am, but we don’t practice any birth control. I’m not due for my period for another week. Your guess is as good as mine.” Bethany’s chin had gone up in a challenging manner.
“Hmmm, I’ll give this information to the doctor and let him make the call. You two just wait here and he’ll be right in.” Pushing the unneeded wheelchair out, she closed the door.
“I wonder when Doc hired her,” Bethany snorted. “Kind of stern and sad, if you ask me.” She leaned her head against Roger’s shoulder. He had kept his arm behind her and refused to move when the nurse gave him the evil eye for getting in her way. “I’m so tired right now, I could just cry. I know it’s shock from the injury, but I just want to either cry or sleep.”
Hearing the strain in her voice, Roger felt his heart tighten. “It’s okay, Honey. Whatever you want to do is just fine. You’re injured. It’s okay for you to cry.” He murmured into her hair, rubbing the top of her head with his chin.
The door opened and Dr. Samuelson entered. “Well, if it isn’t my favorite kidnap victim.” He smiled, remembering the first time he met Bethany after she had foiled an attempt to kidnap her. “What happened this time?” he asked, looking at the notes his nurse had made. He frowned, shaking his head at their brevity, and the lack of information they provided. He looked up, noting the closeness of the couple, and smiled more broadly. They made a good-looking couple, even with her face so pale.
“I came off Coup when he fell and managed to hit myself on a boulder or something. I have a nasty bruise across the top of my hips. I guess that means I didn’t exactly land on the rocks, but rather hit them when I landed,” Bethany explained. She was beginning to feel that she should have the story printed to hand out.
“I’m sorry. I know you’re in pain. I’ll get you something for it in just a minute. Nurse Marjani noted that you could be pregnant. That’s going to affect both medication and possible x-rays.” He raised his eyebrows at them.
“What my wife told your nurse was that she is just past mid-cycle for her period, so we have no way of knowing if she could be pregnant of not.” Roger took over for Bethany, feeling her lose strength as she leaned more heavily against him.
“Oh, I see. Well, I’d like to run a blood test. It might not be accurate at this point, but if it comes back positive, then we’ll move as though you are pregnant and avoid heavy meds and x-rays.” He found a tube and a syringe before gently drawing blood from Bethany. “Are you two working at starting a family?” he inquired with his back to them while he put the blood into a test tube.
Roger and Bethany exchanged looks over his bent head. “Well, we’ve discussed it and decided to let nature be our birth control. We want a family, but maybe not for another year, but if we conceive, then we’ll have a family earlier,” Roger explained, smiling when the doctor looked over at him.
“Sounds reasonable to me. I’ve always felt those who work too hard to have a family don’t do themselves any service and create more stress than needed in a marriage. Best to let the future decide itself at this point,” he agreed. “I’m going to run this over to the lab. I’ll be right back.” He waved at them with the test tube, as the door closed behind him.
Bethany sighed. She just wanted to lie down and sleep. She eyed the exam table, running her hand over the paper cover sheet to smooth it. She saw Roger reading her mind and smiled at him. “Think the doctor would mind if I just stretched out here for a rest? I can barely hold my eyes open.”
“Here, let me help you. I’ll lift your legs as you move your upper body over the table.” He put actions to words and she managed to stretch out on her stomach as the door opened.
“There you are.” Megan entered the exam room with Shorty hot on her heels. “What’s the doctor say?”
“He wants to run some tests before they can do any x-rays, so we may be here a while,” Roger told the pair. “Shorty, I know you want to stay, but it’s not good to leave the horses standing in the trailer. I want you to take Megan and head home.” He gave a stern look to the man who was as much a friend as he was a cook and housekeeper. “I’ll call as soon as we know anything. I seriously doubt that Doc will send her to Montrose for anything, so we’ll be home before the evening’s done.”
Shorty’s face fell, but he took Megan’s elbow and directed her toward the door. “Okay, Boss. I’ll make something easy on the tummy for dinner and see you when you get home.”
Megan paused at the door and glanced over at the couple. “I’ll wait until tomorrow morning to call about the skeleton. No sense getting the town gossiping and some yahoos trying to beat the forensics people out there.”
“Good idea. Nothing can be done tonight and it’s not as if it’s going to disappear before anyone can get back out there. Shorty, keep it quiet so no fools go out there searching at dawn, okay?” Roger’s stern expression as he looked at Shorty quelled the excitement in the older man’s eyes.
The door closing behind them, Roger pulled a chair closer to the exam table and sat down before picking up Bethany’s delicate hand in his rough one and kissing her fingers. “I guess now we wait.”
Fly: Welcome to my humble abode, dear Kathi.
Kathi: It’z the internet, dear Fly. Everyone livez here.
Fly: True, but humanz have had a monopoly thuz far. Fliez have only juzt arrived.
Kathi: (proudly) Which is why I am here today as Scooter, the cat.
Fly: Aah, and I thought that waz artificial fur you’re wearing! White coat with grey ztripez. And the eyez - one green, the other blue. Heterochromia, izn’t it, Zcooter?
Scooter: Well, I ameow a mixed breed.
Fly: Much like your upcoming novel, I underztand. Let'z ztart with that. It rezidez around one Sunderland family, Rainbow Bridge, Superstition mountain et al. You have ztrikingly mixed the very nature of certain principal elementz in the ztory - az if to not let pre-conceived notionz form, or perhapz to break the zhacklez of thought. Iz that the objective?
Scooter: Very much so. My pets are my life, and we are breaking many moulds so that they may free themselves of the life which has taken them on a downward spiral. But they shall prevail, for they are far stronger than they realize. I only wish that I were with them during this journey, but alas, I must guide them from afar.
Fly: Zo when you zay petz, you mean the family?
Fly: Interezting! Well, tell uz about them.
Scooter: There are four youngsters - a tough Kenny, reticent Jimmy, Stacy the dancer and my favourite, Krissy, the youngest. There are also the older teen twins, loyal and audience to more trouble than their years deserve, and their hard-working mother. And then there’s the drug-maker dad. All the individual variations would make it a family of innocent sweetness, were it not spoilt by that one agent of wrath in the house.
Fly: You zeem to not like him, not that I can’t underztand why . . .
Scooter: Oh, I definitely do not. The jerk put something in my litter-box the other day - probably a revenge for jumping at him from the refrigerator the other day. The noise its pop-pop-pop made drove me meow. I had to run as far as the Rainbow Bridge outside. I tried to keep an eye on the children from afar, though being nearer may not have helped either, given how I couldn’t keep Krissy from crying even when I gently rubbed against her once.
Fly: I zee. What I am particularly drawn towardz iz the adult “pet” you zeem to have zo kindly overlooked - the mother who workz hard. Zo do you, wouldn’t you zay? Gently rubbing baby Krissy, clawing at her dad, keeping a dezperate eye on the petz’ protection even while zaving yourzelf - iz that how you approach life in reality too? Or iz that the inevitability of rezponzible exiztence?
Scooter: I am their benevolent ruler, much like a human king. They look to me for comfort when all is bad. They play with me, using their toyz when all is good. The mama pet is particularly in need of my comfort in the dark hours of the night. She hides her tears and bruises, she thinks, but I and the twins know of them. We are the ones she leans on to regain her strength and be a better mother to her family. Truly a strong woman.
Fly: And yet, I have heard zome call your life an adventure. And for good reazon. You were in the Air Force, flying off to Zpain and Germany - Frankfurt, the Hahn Air Base - and pozzibly half of America. And here you are now . . .
Scooter: A lot of who I am today has to do with the earlier stint. I learnt so much about life in the Air Force. I always liked flying, though writing was my first love. I tried my hand at Accountancy but the childhood fascination with Astronauts eventually had its say. I remember our young days out hopscotching and biking, and (laughs) how we used to jump ramps where we attempted to fly beyond gravity to reach the moon.
Fly: I don’t quite underztand the fazcination with the moon. Az I zaid on Valentine'z day, Zweet Fly iz never imprezzed. But anyway, it’z eazier zaid than done - flying. I’d know a thing or two about it.
Scooter: (smiling) Indeed. You probably never rode a bike though.
Fly: Oh, no. But my daughter - Teeny Fly - iz an expert on zkateboardz. I recently came across girl-power exprezzed through zkateboarding in Afghaniztan. Teeny’z in her own little world when zhe’z on it. Zpeaking of which, your blog iz called Out of Control Characters. That quite zumz up all your workz, doezn’t it?
Scooter: It does. Those characters rule my life. They are in charge, often taking their stories in directions I never conceived. Yet, all works out in the end, and they have the story they want.
Fly: Ever planning to get them in control, or will the wordz keep scaling highz of imagination?
Scooter: To quote my husband, it’ll stop "when they nail the coffin closed."
Fly: (smiling) Or maybe it’ll continue through the people thoze characterz inzpired over the yearz. Thank you very much, Zcooter.
Scooter: Thank you too, The.
Fly: The iz my firzt name. You can call me Fly. It’z more familiar. Well, all the bezt with the novel, and go eazy on the dad pet.
Fly: Right. God zave the guy then! March 3rd, Kathi'z Lost & Scared on Amazon. And to my audience, we leave you with an excerpt from the book below. Enjoy the read!
The window in my bedroom that I share with my two younger brothers overlooks Main Street. I angle my head, so I can attempt to see where my twin is.
“See Keri?” Axe, my best bud, asks.
“Nope. But I do see a bunch of cars leaving.” I face him and grin. “That means she’s on her way back.”
“Great. We can leave now.”
“Looks that way.”
He and I race down the stairs. The normal noise of a large family during winter holiday break greets me, along with what can only be described as evil snickering. We come around the corner, shoving and pushing to see which one of us gets to the bottom first, with me gaining an inch on my bud.
“Yes!” I pump a fist and hop down the last three steps, the satisfaction of proving once and for all that I’m the best pass receiver on our team.
“I am so going to beat you one of these days,” he says.
We knuckle bump and clown around.
“Ready when you are, honey,” a strange female voice says.
“Huh?” I turn around.
A woman who looks like a million miles of bad road stands beside the open front door. Before I can ask who she is and what she’s doing in our house, a series of loud bangs precedes the sound of a cat yowling. That noise sends fear shivers through every inch of my body, and I don’t scare all that easily.
“What the heck?” Axe pushes me aside. “What’s going on, Shane?”
“Don’t know.” I point at the woman. “Who are you?”
“Jake’s honey-poo,” she purrs.
That response is wrong on so many levels, beginning with Jake is my dad’s name. The last time I checked he was still married to my mom.
“Who are you two handsome hunks?”
Gross. Sick. Yuck! She sounds just like Scooter when he catches a mouse.
Just as I’m about to tell this loser from the wrong side of the tracks to get lost, Scooter races out of the kitchen. A mix of who knows what, he has gorgeous gray and white striped fur and I can only describe him as fat and slow.
Slow comes nowhere close to describing that streak racing for safety. Scooter howls out his fear. His fur stands on end and his tail is so fluffy that it looks ten times its normal size.
Connect with Kathi & her characters here:
Google +: https://plus.google.com/u/0/+KcSprayberry/posts
Amazon book list: http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Ddigital-text&field-keywords=k.c.%20sprayberry&sprefix=k.c.+%2Cdigital-text
Manic Readers: http://www.manicreaders.com/KCSprayberry/
Bookz featuring me:
An Enlightened Fly
The Fly That Followed Me
Kalki Evian - The Ring of Khaoriphea
Malay A. Upadhyay
Gilbert Literary Agency