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Ark Page 7

by David Wood

  Bones’ eyes, which had fallen at the word “sorry,” widened as he realized Maddock was messing with him. “Hand it over, bro. Now!”

  Maddock drew the stone from his bag and held it out.

  Bones gasped. He took it in trembling hands and held it up. His eyes glowed, and his grin was almost beatific as he gazed on his ancestor's treasure.

  “This is really it,” he whispered. “A part of me thought Esau was full of crap and maybe he’d made it all up. But it’s real.”

  “So what do you think it is?” Maddock thought it was a fine example of craftsmanship, but apparently there was much more to the artifact.

  “It looks kind of like a spear point, but I don’t think it’s a Native American artifact. The shape is too…refined, I guess. And there’s something about the stone itself that makes it seem…”

  Ancient? Otherworldly? Alien?”

  “Yeah, all that crap and more.” He lowered his hands and his eyes met Maddock's. “Thanks, bro. You don't know what this means to me.”

  “No worries. Hopefully this is the first step to getting those guys off your grandfather’s back.”

  “For sure.” Bones continued to examine the stone. “All these carvings of animals. They’re rough, like they were scratched on long after this was made. It’s weird, but when I look at them, I’m sure this thing has power.”

  “You think it’ll let you talk to animals?”

  “Maybe.” Bones admired the stone for a moment longer before tucking it into his belt and rising to his feet. “There’ll be time to look at it later. It occurs to me there’s only one man left. Let's find our friend Carter and show him what it's like to be hunted.”

  They made their way to the cliff that overlooked the battlefield, lake, and vehicles. “We're almost too late.” Maddock pointed to the spot where a figure had just broken from the cover of the forest and was lumbering toward the parked trucks and jeeps. Carter.

  “We can’t let him get away,” Bones said. “If this place has a tradition of hunting outsiders, they’ll want to cover it up. No way we’d get a fair trial around here.”

  Maddock sighed. “Do what you’ve got to do.”

  Bones smiled and raised his rifle.

  “That's a long shot.” Maddock arched an eyebrow. “Think you can make it?”

  Bones only grinned more broadly as he gently squeezed the trigger. Far below them, Carter fell flat on his face. “Dinner's on you for doubting me.”

  “Are you kidding me? You can even think about eating after all this?” Maddock rubbed his temples. “We need to get out of here, and fast. Like you said, even though we're in the right, if we’re caught, what chance would we have of getting any kind of justice around here? Hell, in a town like this, the judge, jury, and victims are probably all first cousins. I think we need to dispose of the bodies, pitch the rifles into the lake, and get the hell out of Dodge.”

  “You're right.” Bones drew the stone from where he had tucked it into his belt. “But if what Grandfather said about this thing is true, we won't have any trouble dealing with the bodies. After that, we’ve got one more loose end I'm going to tie up.”

  “What are you going to do?” Maddock took a step back.

  “I’m not sure.” Bones held the stone in the flat of his palm, staring hard at it. A minute passed in silence. Bones shook his head. “Either Esau was full of crap or we’re missing the key to unlock this thing.”

  Maddock frowned. The key to unlock the stone. The key…

  “Blood is the key! Remember the last line of the story.

  “Maddock, you’re a freaking genius.” Bones pressed the stone against his still dripping chest wound, and closed his eyes. “Dude, I can feel it.”

  “Feel what?”

  “I can’t explain it but… holy crap, they’re coming.”

  “Who is coming?” As if in reply, a loud rustling sound filled the forest. What Maddock saw momentarily took his breath. “Unbelievable.”

  Chapter 12

  Words failed Maddock as they drove away from the battlefield. What he had seen was burned in his mind. The power of the stone was real, and it just might have been their salvation.

  They had wiped and disposed of all the rifles and pistols, tossing them into the lake. Bones wanted to save Carter's antique Colt, but Maddock put his foot down.

  “Something that could be evidence at your murder trial doesn’t make for a good souvenir,” he said for what felt like the hundredth time.

  “I know, but that was a sweet piece. He didn’t deserve it.”

  “For what it’s worth, I think you covered our tracks nicely. I doubt anyone will find the bodies, and if they do…”

  “Eaten by bears,” Bones said. “This stone is something else. You’ll have to try it sometime.”

  “Sure. Next time we need to make it look like seven dead men were victims of animal attacks, I’ll use it.”

  He had a feeling the names of the seven dead men would simply be added to the list of strange disappearances in Dark Entry. Maddock had seen and experienced some strange things in the time he and Bones had known one another, but what Bones had done with that stone was near the top of the list. The bears emerging silently from the trees and dragging away the bodies. The coyotes lapping up the blood. He shuddered at the memory. He supposed he would never grow fully accustomed to the idea that there were forces in this world that defied understanding.

  When they were a quarter of a mile from the ranger station, he pulled the car off the shoulder of the road and cut the engine.

  Bones grabbed his arm before he could open the door and get out. “You sure you want to be a part of this? I can take care of it myself.”

  “They were hunting both of us.” Maddock felt the heat rising inside of him as he thought about what the men had tried to do to them. The way he saw it, justice had been meted out, but there was one more person who needed to pay. There was no telling how many murders could be laid at the man’s feet.

  “I know.” Bones looked up at the night sky. “It’s just that you and I are different, Maddock. You're... better than me. You've always killed in combat or self-defense.”

  “And you haven’t?”

  “Well, still. I don't want you to...”

  “Don't worry about it. My conscience is clear on this one. Besides, we're not going to do anything to the man. At least, not if your plan works.”

  Bones gingerly drew his backpack from the back seat and held it at arm’s length. He clutched the stone in his other hand. He and Maddock had washed up in the lake and changed into clean clothes, but Maddock thought he could see a darkness in Bones’ face that wouldn’t soon wash away.

  “It will work. It worked back at Dark Entry, didn't it?”

  Maddock grimaced at the memory and nodded. It certainly had worked and he would never forget it. “Let's get on with it then.”

  Earl Eddings checked his watch for what must have been the twentieth time. He should have heard from Carter by now. He wanted to call and make sure everything was all right, but that was strictly forbidden. Their connection had to be carefully hidden. Carter had already let too many people in on their little game. Perhaps it was time to put an end to it. He'd made a nice chunk of change out of the deal, Carter and his friends had their fun, and together they'd made sure the deaths were always written off as missing persons or tragic accidents. Perhaps they were tempting fate by keeping things going. Of course, getting out of the arrangement would be neither simple nor easy.

  He propped his feet up on the desk and reached for his coffee. It had gone cold, but he didn't feel like brewing another pot. Besides, once he heard from Carter, he'd close the office and retire to his apartment in the back. He'd heat up a frozen pizza, watch a movie, maybe Smokey and the Bandit, and hit the sack. He swished the bitter drink around in his mouth and closed his eyes, trying to coax a bit of flavor from it. Paul Revere and the Raiders were on the radio. It was a good song, one of his favorites.

  “I h
ope I'm not interrupting anything.”

  Eddings’ eyes snapped open as the coffee cup fell from his limp fingers. It was the Indian from earlier today. How could he be here? He got a grip on himself and forced a smile.

  “Not at all, you just gave me a start, that's all.” He sat up, letting his feet fall to the floor. “Did you find the battlefield all right?” The Indian didn't appear to have a gun, just a backpack. Still smiling, Eddings let his hand drift toward the bottom drawer of his desk where he kept his .38 revolver.

  “Keep your hands where we can see them.” Another man had slipped through the door while Eddings' eyes were on the Indian. He was shorter than the Indian, not quite six feet, with close-cropped blond hair, blue-gray eyes, and a calm demeanor that was somehow even more intimidating than the seething rage that boiled behind the Indian's eyes. He held a pistol trained on Eddings, and it was readily apparent that the man had both the ability and inclination to use it if he so desired.

  Eddings recognized the gun. “So your plan is to kill me with Carter's gun and hope it gets pinned on him?” He forced a laugh. “You two don't understand. This is bigger than me. Bigger than this town, even. The Trident will come after you.”

  “Who the hell is the Trident?”

  “A group of powerful men who are very interested in the battlefield. Carter works for them.”

  “You mean ‘worked’ for them.” The big Indian grinned.

  Eddings’ heart raced. “If you kill me, you'll just be sticking your hand into the viper's nest.”

  “Funny you should mention snakes.” The Indian deftly unzipped his backpack and upended it, spilling two twisting, black-banded forms onto the desk. Timber rattlers! They were each a good four feet long, and they both immediately coiled as if to strike, rattles buzzing, and eyes locked on Eddings.

  “What is this?” Eddings tried to keep his voice calm, but it came out as a hoarse whisper. “Do you think you can make these things do your bidding?” The thought was absurd but, seeing the way these snakes kept their eyes trained on him, he believed, against all rational thought, the Indian could do exactly that.

  “Oh, you wouldn't believe what I can do.” The Indian pulled a black stone from his belt and slowly drew the blade across his palm. He squeezed his fist and let the blood drip down onto the triangular stone, which seemed to sparkle as if shooting stars whirled inside it. The Indian’s eyes remained locked on Eddings as he raised the stone to his lips and whispered a single word.

  The snakes struck as one. Eddings screamed as the fangs bit into him again and again, hot pain searing his body, burning through the numbing disbelief that clouded his senses. The agony seemed to go on forever. And then it stopped.

  He watched through cloudy eyes as the rattlesnakes slithered off his desk, dropped to the floor, and disappeared. As light and life fled, he saw the Indian make a mocking bow, turn, and walk away.

  Chapter 13

  Maddock turned the triangular stone over in his hands, examining the carvings etched in its surface. Despite the warmth of the day, it sent a chill through him. It was difficult to believe that through it, one could indeed control animal behavior, but he’d witnessed it first-hand. Besides, he had to admit, it wasn’t the craziest thing he and Bones had experienced.

  “The animal carvings are shallow, like whoever carved it barely managed to etch them in.” He held the stone out so Bones could take a closer look. They sat on a sagging picnic table in a small campground somewhere in the mountains of North Georgia. They’d wanted somewhere off the beaten path to lie low and plan their next move, and this place, little more than a gravel drive running alongside a mountain stream, with a few turnouts for parking, fit the bill. They didn’t even have to provide names or an electronic form of payment—only a few dollars stuffed in an envelope and dropped into the payment box. Even better, they were the campground’s only visitors.

  “I wonder what this thing is made of.” Bones took it and swung it back and forth in half-speed cuts. “It’s heavy as hell. Almost like a meteorite or something. And even though it looks kind of like flint, it doesn’t seem brittle.”

  “I had the same thought. It’s very strange stone.”

  Without warning, Bones raised the stone, point down.

  “Bones, wait!” Maddock shouted as his friend drove the point of the stone into one of the warped boards of the table top. It bit deeply into the wood and stuck there.

  “Dude, you have got to chill.” Bones waved away Maddock’s concern. “I’m conducting an experiment here. You know, science?”

  “What if it had broken?” Maddock pulled it free and returned to scrutinizing its surface.

  “Then we’d have known for sure that it really was brittle. I was testing my hypothesis.” Bones stood and stretched, his back popping loudly. “Sleeping on the ground sucks. My back is one giant mass of knots. You think they’ve got a massage parlor in that town we passed through last night?”

  “Maybe, but do you really want to get a massage from one of the locals? This place has got a Deliverance vibe to it.”

  Bones shuddered. “You’re right. It’s probably like that topless place south of Cheyenne I stopped at that one time. I will never, ever unsee that. Stretch marks for miles.”

  “You stopped during the lunch shift. What did you expect?”

  Bones grimaced and shook his head. “Let’s get back to a happier topic.”

  “You mean like, ‘Why is someone willing to hurt your grandfather just to obtain this artifact?’”

  “Yeah, that.” Bones did a few toe touches and then returned to his seat. “Where do we go from here? The only way to get the Trident, whoever they are, off my grandfather’s back, would be to either give them the stone, or let it be known that we’ve found it.”

  Maddock nodded. “Obviously, we can’t hand it over. Its power is incredible and we don’t know its limits. We have no understanding of what this thing is or what else it can do. Nor do we have any idea who the Trident is and what they want with it. Bossing around animals can’t be the full extent of it.” He couldn’t shake the feeling that he’d heard the name “Trident” before.

  “In a perfect world,” Bones said, “we’d learn its origin and give it over to the tribe that has the best claim on it, assuming it’s a Native American artifact. But if we do that, I’m sure the Trident will just steal it.”

  “Agreed.” Maddock had contemplated that very thing. “Obviously, we should try to learn all we can about this thing before we make any firm decisions.”

  “Obviously,” Bones said. “We’d do that regardless.”

  “Right. Second, we need to find out who the Trident is. If we’ve got another Dominion on our hands, I want to know about it.” The Dominion was an extremist religious group of whom Maddock and Bones had run afoul many times. “We also need to know if Tyson and Ahmed are connected to that group or if they’re free agents. It would be one heck of a coincidence if they’re unrelated.”

  “Should we check with Tam Broderick? She’s a Fed who deals with this kind of stuff. Maybe she’s heard of the Trident.”

  “I don’t know.” Maddock scratched his chin, eyes still fixed on the stone. “We just got out from under her thumb. I’m not sure I want to go to that well unless we absolutely have to.” Tam was on the right side, but she always had her own agenda and she seldom shared it with anyone else. She also never failed to call in a favor owed.

  “Your sister still works for her, doesn’t she?”

  “Good idea. If the Myrmidon files contain something about the Trident, she’ll hopefully be able to access it.”

  “That’s a plan,” Bone said. “Now, how do we get the heat off of Grandfather?”

  “Unfortunately, I think we need to let it be known that we’ve found Esau’s treasure. It’s possible that Eddings really did get the word out about us, but we should make our own efforts in that regard. We’ll be the rabbit the Trident is chasing.”

  “Holy crap.” Bones buried his face in
his hands. “We spent enough time yesterday being chased. It’s already getting old, but I think you’re right.”

  Maddock couldn’t disagree. “Maybe a rabbit is a bad analogy. We’ll be the bait in the trap.”

  Bones eyed him, a curious look in his eyes. “I guess that’s a little bit better, but you realize, even when the trap works, the bait tends to get eaten.”

  Chapter 14

  The vibrating phone rattled on the desk, breaking Avery Halsey’s contemplative silence. She sat alone in her tiny office at Myrmidon headquarters beneath the Truman White House in Key West. Tam had loaded her down with work and she really didn’t have time for a personal call. She reached over to tap the Decline button, but then she saw the name on the caller ID.

  “What’s up?” she said by way of greeting. “I haven’t heard from you since you called to tell me you’re engaged. You haven’t already gotten cold feet have you?”

  “No, it’s still a go,” said the familiar voice on the other end. “So, how’s it going, Sis?”

  “Maddock, do you really think I don’t notice when you do that?” He was so predictable.

  “What’s that?”

  “You only call me ‘Sis’ when you want something.” She grinned at the sudden pause on the other end of the line. She and Maddock had only known one another for a short while, and she enjoyed ribbing him.

  “No, it’s not like that. I’m trying to be more personable, that’s all. You’re always telling me how distant I am.”

  “So you don’t want anything?” Another pause.


  “What is it? I’m glad to help if I can, but Tam’s got me working on something she says is urgent and the last thing I need is her catching me taking a personal call, particularly if it involved doing you a favor while I’m on the clock.”

  “Are you ever really off the clock when you work for Tam?”


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