Hello Readers! Welcome to Chapter 3 of Elkhorn In The Moonlight. I hope you are enjoying the story so far. Remember that this is in rough draft and edits will be forthcoming. Thank you for joining in and reading the story!
After meeting with Marcus, Nicole went to the laundry room and did the wash. When she was finished, She released her hair from the back of her head and let it cascade down her back. She went outside to the log she sat on at the end of the property, before going straight up the mountainside. She felt the breeze go through her hair, and she always liked that. Sierra walked beside her and laid down next to her. She crossed her legs, stretched out her arms to her knees and put her thumbs and third fingers together. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Usually, meditation clears her mind, and things come into sharper focus. She didn’t know if this would help her to remember where she saw the arrows, but it was worth a try. She visualized an image of the view of the land from a mountaintop. She then concentrated on her breathing and started to breathe deeply. She traveled through her body relaxing every muscle as she went. She counted backward from twenty, and she imagined herself standing at the top of the stair. As she counted, she imagined she stepped down one stair, until she got to zero. “I desire to improve my memory. Remove the blockage that is keeping me from remembering.” She saw the arrows in the cave. “I desire to improve my memory. Remove the blockage that is preventing me from remembering. When I get up in the morning, I will remember where the cave is. I will remember what part of Elkhorn Mountains the cave is located, and I will remember how to get there. I will return to full awareness quickly and easy.”
After a few seconds, she opened her eyes and looked around. Sierra sat next to her, looking as if she was waking up too. Sometimes, she thought when she did her meditations, the dog did it too.
“Where’s your stick, Sierra?” She reached over and petted the dog behind her ear. Sierra stood up and wagged her tail excitedly. “Go get your stick, Sierra.” Sierra took off on a run toward the mountains. Soon, she came back with a stick that was bigger than she was. Nicole laughed. “Sierra, that’s too big for you.” She snapped it in a couple of places, and then waved one of the sticks in front of the dog, and said, “Ready to go fetch?” She threw the stick into the wooded area, near the pines and Sierra took off on a dead run.
“You have her trained well,” Marcus said as he came up behind Nicole.
“Oh. Hi.” She spun around as he walked up next to her. Her heart skipped a beat as she gazed upon him. She could smell his cologne just as she did when he sat across from her at the restaurant. She didn’t know if it was the man, or the cologne, or both, that made her senses go swimming. “Yes, she loves to run after sticks, and also likes to bring home bones. She has bones lined up all across our property just before the land goes straight up into the mountains. I sometimes think she is marking her territory and creating a fence to keep the predators away.”
“How old is she?” Marcus asked.
“She’s ten years old. I got her when she was a puppy. I take her with me when I go on my hikes. She’s good at keeping wildlife at bay.”
“Do you hike by yourself or do you have someone or a group of people go with you?”
“No, I hike by myself, with my dog.”
“Isn’t that kind of dangerous?” Marcus raised an eyebrow.
“Well, I guess some people would consider it dangerous. But I have my GPS and my cellphone.”
“How far do you hike?”
“It depends. Sometimes I’ll hike for the whole weekend, sometimes a part of the weekend, and some of the mountains, I drive to a specific location and hike along the trails created by the Department of Natural Resources. These mountains are big.”
“Yes, they are. Do you recall if you drove to a particular location when you went hiking and found the arrows?”
Nicole had a flashback of driving to the north side of Elkhorn Mountains on the other side of Butte Falls. She looked up and saw Marcus staring at her. She felt her face redden.
“I might have, but I’m not able to put it all together just yet.”
“You like to meditate?”
Nicole realized that he had been watching her as she meditated. “Yes. I do like to meditate, but I must confess, it is the first time I ever used meditation to try to remember something. Do Native Americans meditate?”
“Yes, we meditate, but we do it differently.”
“How do you do it?”
“Each tribe is different, but the most common way is through purifying and cleansing. We have totem meditation, and then we have the drums, then comes the music and relaxation.”
“I see. You do it as a group.”
“Yes. But we can also do it alone as well.”
“Did you remember anything after your meditation?” Marcus brought the subject back to focus.
“No, not yet.” She smiled weakly.
“So, you live here with your brother?” Marcus asked.
“Yes. My brother, Ronnie, and sister-in-law, Debbie, own this place, but I live here in the first room, and I help with cleaning the rooms and doing laundry.”
Sierra returned with the stick, and she shyly walked over and sniffed Marcus. He reached down and stroked her fur.
They walked over to the picnic table and sat down. Sierra went sniffing around the property as if she was looking to see if anyone or anything trespassed.
“You take good pictures. Are you a photographer?”
“No. I’ve always wanted to go to college and take photography but never did. I take the pictures because I enjoy doing it.”
“What kind of pictures do you like to take?”
“Mostly, birds and wildlife. I love birds. I got a few really good ones of the eagles and their eaglets.”
“Really, you’d have to be quiet to get close enough to get pictures like that.”
“I also like to take pictures of the moonlight. The view of the moon is pretty spectacular on top of the mountain at night.”
“Yes, it is.” Marcus smiled. “Do you recall what kind of evening it was when you took the pictures of the arrows?”
“Hmm, I think, it may have been daylight when I took those pictures. I don’t go into the caves at night.”
“Do you think you’d recognized the surroundings if you were to meet upon that cave?”
Nicole pulled out the pictures from her breast pocket and looked closely at them. A flashback of a scene from just outside the cave went through her mind. There were three other caves nearby. There was a dead tree with rotted roots that had wrapped around the outside entrance of the cave. The entranced into the cave was narrow, barely big enough for her to get in, but it grew in size after she entered. She also saw footprints inside the cave, which made her suspect that the arrows were there for a reason and that she was trespassing. “Um, I do recall the entrance of this particular cave, and that there were several other caves nearby.”
“What did the entrance look like?”
“There was an old, rotted tree with its roots wrapped around the cave opening. The opening was narrow, but once inside, it was a rather large cave. I was able to stand upright. I recall that I had to walk in about a hundred feet or so before I came upon the arrows leaning against the cave wall.”
“Do you recall if there was an exit or another entrance at the opposite end of the cave?”
Nicole tried hard to remember. In her mind, she went further into the cave after she saw and took pictures of the arrows. It was starting to come back to her. “What I remember, there were bats deep in the cave, but that was the only wildlife I saw. I was very much aware of my surroundings, and I was concerned that I might encounter a bear or a rattlesnake.” She recalled that she used the light on her hardhat and her flashlight. She remembered she felt her .45 caliber gun that was in the gun holster on her hip. She was constantly looking back and forth furtively. “It seemed as if the cave went on forever, and there was not another opening on the other side of it. I’d say that the cave may have been about one mile long. I still can’t remember where exactly those caves are.”
“Are there a lot of caves in the mountains?”
“Only in several places that I ever came across.”
“So that narrows it down then, to what, three locations we could look?”
“Yes, I think so.”
Debbie stepped out on the porch that was attached to the back of the house and office. “Hey, Nicole. Dinner is ready,” she hollered.
“Okay. I got to go in now.”
“If you can think of anything else, let me know. I’d like to get to these arrows and get back to Amherst as soon as possible.” Marcus’s eyes narrowed, and his smile disappeared.
“Yes, of course. I will try to remember.” Nicole got up and walked past him to the porch and entered the house. Sierra followed behind her.
* * * *
Three possible locations, several caves. One cave, in particular, had a rotted tree wrapped around the entrance. That was more information than I had earlier today. He was going to have to continue to use his lawyer technique questioning to drag the information out of her.
She seemed delicate, a bit naïve, but probably not too much if she could hike mountains and find her way around. He found himself staring at her mouth, wondering how soft it would feel if he had his lips on them. It was a bit disconcerting for him because he needed to be focused. He had to treat this situation as he would if he was working on behalf of a client, and in this case, he was acting on behalf of the Chief David Whitetail and the Cheyenne Nation. Occasionally, in the past, he would find an attractive woman, and he’d have a fling, but it’s been a while. Especially since he now has full custody of his son. He could never get involved with anyone that could not accept that he was a father, and fatherhood was a top priority for him.
He decided to go to the Bureau of Land Management tomorrow and see if he could get topographic maps of Elkhorn Mountains and inquire about caves in the mountains. He walked back to his room and took off his shirt, and his boots. He sat down at the laptop and turned his ellipsis jet pack on so he could have internet access. While waiting for it to upload, his iPhone rang. He looked, and it was Shana’s number. “Hello.”
“Daddy. Please come home.” Nathan cried into the phone.
“What’s wrong, Nathan?”
“My arm. It hurts so much.”
“Have you taken some aspirins for it?”
“Yeah. It’s not working. Please come home.” The child was pulling at his heartstrings.
“How about this, Nathan, I have Aunt Shana, Daniel, and Bryan, and you make the trip out here to Mason and spend the weekend here with me. Would you like that?”
“Yeah.” Nathan sniffed.
“Okay. Let me talk to Aunt Shana and I’ll see what I can do.”
“Hey, are you busy this weekend?”
“No, not really.”
“How about you and the boys take off Friday afternoon after school and come out here and stay with me for the weekend. I really can’t take off right now, and I think it might make Nathan feel a little better and give you some relief.”
“Ah, well. Okay, I guess we can do that.”
“Did you have something else planned?”
“No. I was just thinking of how much gas and money I had on me.”
“If you can get here, I’ll pay for everything and give you the money for gas and food.”
“Oh, you don’t have to do that, Marcus.”
“I know, but I want to. I’ll get you and the boys a room, and I’ll have Nathan stay with me. We’ll find some stuff to do around here.”
“Um…Okay. That sounds like it would be a nice break for all of us.”
“Did Nathan take any aspirins?”
“He did earlier, but he’s being obstinate again.”
“Okay, let me talk to him some more.” Marcus waited for Nathan to come to the phone.
“Daddy, are you coming home?”
“Not yet. But your Aunt Shana is going to bring you out to be with me this weekend. You will all be leaving tomorrow afternoon. How’s that?”
“Okay. But I still want you to come home.”
“I know, son, but I have to stay just a little longer. I have important work to get done. Now, what is this about you crying in pain but not taking any aspirins for it?”
“I don’t like to take it, daddy.”
“I know, I don’t like to take medication either, but sometimes you have to, and this is one of those times that you have to take it if you don’t want to be in any pain.”
“I’ll feel better when I’m with you.”
“You’ll be with me tomorrow afternoon, in the meantime, you let Aunt Shana take care of you and take some aspirins so you won’t be in so much pain, okay?”
“Okay,” Nathan muttered.
“I love you, son, and I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“I love you, too, daddy. Bye.”
Marcus got up from the table and walked over to the phone located on the nightstand next to the bed. He picked up the receiver and pressed eight for the front desk.
“This is Debbie, how can I help you?”
“Hello Debbie, this is Marcus Blackhawk in room 6. I need to make a reservation for another room from tomorrow evening until Sunday night.”
“Okay, did you want a single or a double?”
“A double, please. My sister and her two boys will be occupying the room. You can add that to my credit card.”
“Okay, I have room five reserved for you. You can come and get the key anytime you’d like.”
Thanks.” Marcus hung up the phone. He went back to sit at the table and logged into his laptop. He looked out the window and saw Nicole with her dog, walking toward a cluster of pine trees near the base of the mountains. It was almost dusk, he wondered where she went and what she was doing outside in the woods at this time of day. He knew there were black bears in the mountains, as well as deer, elk, moose and mountain lions. Did she carry a sidearm? He watched her until she disappeared into the woods.
* * * *
Marcus left in the morning and headed to Butte Falls. The town was a little bigger and had a couple of restaurants to eat breakfast before he headed to Helena and the Bureau of Land Management. After breakfast, he got into his SUV and turned his Navigator on. He got to Helena and following the directions from his Navigator, he found the building downtown he was looking for. The building was old, turn of the century style and parking was screwy. He had heard the saying that Helena was a rich man’s town, and Butte was a miner’s town. He wondered if he would have been better off going to Butte. He walked into the building and looked at the sign on the wall that indicated where everything was. “BLM, first floor.” He walked up the steps from street level to the first floor and entered. The building was bustling with people coming and going. It was, after all, the county building and county courthouse as well. He walked along the corridor until he found the office he was looking for, and he walked in.
“Good morning, how can I help you?” A man behind a desk asked.
Marcus looked around the office and saw every type of map he could think of, including a huge map that took up one wall on his left. It was a map of the mountains around Helena.
Marcus smiled at the man. “I’m looking for a detailed, topographic map of Elkhorn Mountains. I’m interested in viewing the location of the caves. Is this something you can provide?”
“Yes. We can. Are you looking for caves in a particular area? There are about fifty known caves throughout Elkhorn.”
Fifty known caves? Aw hell. “I’m looking for an artifact, and I’ve been told it is in one of the caves in Elkhorn. I’m not sure where the location is. My sources say that there were only three locations for caves.”
“Well, there are only seven caves that we know of where humans can enter and stand up in. The rest of the caves are small and have a lot of wildlife living in them. I have to warn you too, that all the caves have bats in them. I know that Native Americans have a thing about bats, so I wanted to warn you of that.”
“I’m aware of that, thanks.”
“Okay, let’s see what we have here.” The man pulled up on the big screen first, a satellite view of Montana. Then he narrowed the view to Helena. He zeroed in on Elkhorn Mountains. “Did you want all of Elkhorn Mountains or just the areas where we know the larger caves are?”
Marcus thought a second. What if he only got the view of the larger caves and it was not the right place? Maybe he should get the whole mountain range and be on the safe side. “Better go with all of Elkhorn Mountains. How big will the printed maps be?”
“That was my next question. You can have them any standard size. Those on the wall over there are the standard size.” The man pointed at the right side of the room where the maps were pinned on the wall along with the prices for the prints. Of course, the smaller the size, the more we have to print, and that drives the cost up.”
“I’m not concerned about the cost. What I would like, is one big print this size.” Marcus pointed at the print on the left. “With the larger caves highlighted or somehow marked so I can see where they are, and I’d like a detailed copy of sections of the entire map in this size, and the caves highlighted also.” Marcus pointed to the size on the wall that he wanted.
“Okay, so you want one size of forty-eight by sixty, and the each area of the map broken down into eight, thirty by thirty-six sizes. This will take about an hour to print out on the Inkjet large format printer.”
An hour later, Marcus returned to the office to pick up the maps. The worker had put them in a mailing tube, and Marcus paid for the order and left. Marcus stopped at Walmart and went to the electronics section of the store. He knew that Nathan would be bringing his electronic games, and he’d been wanting a specific game. He also grabbed some healthy snacks for all three of the boys, along with bottled water and of course, gummy bears for Nathan. There was a causeway at the motel between rooms six and seven and in that area, was a pop machine, water machine, and an ice machine. He would get the ice for the water before they snuggled down for the night.
Along the way back to the motel, Marcus pulled into a rest area, took the mailing tube and walked over to the picnic table where he could spread the maps out and study them. After an hour of careful study, his iPhone rang. He looked and saw it was Shana. “Hey, Shana. Where are you?”
“I’m on 90 and just passed Bozeman.”
“Okay, you’re about an hour out. I’ll meet you at the motel.”
“Okay, sounds good.”
Marcus disconnected the call. He was anxious to see his boy. He rolled the maps back up and put them in the mailing tube and sat there for a bit. His mind drifted off to Nicole and her free-flowing blonde hair. She had a quiet, inner beauty that as far as he could tell, not many could see. She seemed shy and didn’t ask a lot of questions. He needed to be careful that he didn’t run roughshod over her while trying to jar her memory of where she’d seen the arrows. Stress may cause her to shut down. Although he found he was attracted to her, he didn’t really want to get involved with her. He sensed that she had a sheltered life and was probably a virgin. Though the idea of being her first lover held some appeal, he was not in the practice of helping virgins give up their virginity. He preferred women who were experienced, knew what they wanted, and enjoyed sex. He looked at his watch. Time to get going. He couldn’t wait to see his boy.
He maneuvered his SUV onto the highway and headed back to Mason. He pulled into the driveway at the same time Shana pulled up in her car. She didn’t even have the car in parked when the boys scrambled out of the vehicle. “Daddy, daddy!” Nathan said excitedly as he jumped out of the car. Daniel and Bryan bounced out too, and all three ran up to him and wanted hugs. He picked up Nathan and held him. “Are you doing better, son?” he asked.
“I am now, daddy,” the soft little voice answered.
Shana came around the car to Marcus and he reached over and gave her a hug.