Marcus hated liars. Ever since Rayanne lied to him about her affair with another man, he’d been hell bent on going after people when he finds out they lied to him. He wouldn’t tolerate it with his clients, nor with his family and friends. So just exactly where does Nicole fit in all this? Probably a client since he’s paying for her services. Even someone who appeared to be innocent, as she did, lied. What a stupid excuse she gave too. Didn’t want him drilling her. Where the hell did that come? He hadn’t drilled her when he started to ask her questions. She didn’t know what the hell drilling someone meant. She had never seen him in action, and if she thought she was scared now, she best hope she doesn’t lie to him again because he would really put the screws on her and show her exactly what it was like to be drilled by a top-notched criminal lawyer. The other thing he hated was wasting time. He had been wasting his time all weekend long because of her lie. They could have been somewhere close to the cave by now if she had told him Friday what she told him today.
Aw hell. He couldn’t stand to be in the motel room, and he couldn’t stand himself whenever he’s in this kind of mood. He got up and grabbed his keys and walked out the door. He pulled his SUV out of the parking lot and drove toward Mason. He stopped at the stop sign and instead of going forward to the town, he turned and went over the expressway. He came to another stop on the over side of the bridge and turned left. He drove slowly down the road.
It looked like a road they didn’t maintain very often, a side road for ranchers to go to the side of the mountains and bring their cattle back. Montana had an open ranged law still on the books, and cattle could go anywhere they want. That was the reason they have cattle guards when you turn on and off the highway, and all interstate roads. Alongside on his right was the river. He noticed the river was high and running fast. There were a lot of rapids. A lot of rocks too, large rocks.
He could see where the rail tracks had once been laid. The state pulled the tracks and dismantled the rail bridges, but up ahead and he saw the one tunnel that Nicole had told him about. He pulled his SUV along a strip of land and got out. He went out and sat on a large boulder by the river. The rapids in the river were loud but soothing to him.
As he calmed himself down, he had to ask, did he overreact to her? What was the real reason she lied to him? He thought back over the events since he arrived here, and she seemed to have become withdrawn or uptight when his family arrived here. Was she put off by the kids? She was affectionate toward his son but didn’t seem to interact with the others as much. When he kissed her last night, she seemed to have enjoyed it and was responding to him, and then suddenly, she bolted.
He wasn’t really interested in her romantically. At least, that was what he kept telling himself. He did dream about her last night, and he saw her in the moonlight and thought she was beautiful. He really needed her to help him in his endeavor. He needed her expertise and her help in finding these arrows. Now that he was this close to getting them, he didn’t want to waste any more time. He was going to have to put off his clients another week. He could not afford to have an intimate relationship with her. Maybe he should take a more gentle approach with her and ask her to lead him to the arrows. Deep inside he knew that she did not make a habit of lying to anyone. She was too down to earth and honest about that. Plus, she actually did tell him, today. So, that raised her creditability a notch.
* * * *
Nicole was nervous about her meeting with Marcus again at noon the next day. She had thought about it all and decided that she’d take him to the cave. The only stipulation was that he had to carry his own backpack, with his own camping gear. She wondered if he even knew how to camp. Over the years of hiking and camping, she had a wealth of knowledge of what to take and how to pack. If he didn’t know any of this, then she’d have to give him a crash course on it all. And he wanted to hike to the site, in the next day or so. Even she couldn’t be ready in that short of time. She had to make a trip to Butte to an outfitter’s store to get stuff, and get everything out to check it, and pack it. She was looking at three days for preparation, at the earliest.
The moment of dread came, when she walked out to meet him at the picnic table. The air was a chilly forty-five degrees, and the sky was overcast. They were predicting snow. In April, often the snow came and the next day it melted, but in the mountains, it takes a lot longer.
Marcus was already sitting down at the picnic table when she arrived.
“Hello, Nicole,” he said crisply.
“So, what is your decision.”
Nothing like cutting to the chase. She sat down across from him and shoved her hands in her coat pocket. “I will take you to the cave where the arrows are at. However, you will have to prepare your own backpack, hiking gear and keep your hands and body to yourself. Do you know anything about camping and hiking in the mountains?”
Marcus smile was smug. “Yes, I’ve a lot of experience with hiking and camping in the mountains. I’ve hiked all over the Rocky Mountains. I have all my camping gear and backpack in my vehicle. I’m just not familiar with these particular mountains.”
“Oh,” Nicole said. “Um, we’ll need to go to the outfitter’s store to get stuff.”
“I’m aware of that. We can go today if you want.”
“It’s going to be a day or so before I can get all my camping equipment out and packed. It’s all been put away for the winter.”
“Today is Wednesday. Can you be ready to leave in two days?”
“Yes. We could leave early Friday morning. I figured we’d do twenty-five miles a day, give or take. So it would be at least three days to get there. Plus the same amount of days to get back.”
“I’m well aware of that. I’ve had to reschedule my client’s meetings and extend my stay here.” Nicole looked at him. He’s blaming her for the delay, but it’s really his choice to stay and do this now when she had advised it would be better to do in the summer.
“It is your choice to do this now, not mine. I recommended you wait until the summer.” She leveled her gaze at him. “You also should prepare yourself for the possibility that they may have been moved.”
“I am prepared for that. Just don’t think you can screw me over, Nicole.” Marcus warned.
“I’ve never intentionally or unintentionally screwed anyone over in my life.” That stung. How dare he threaten her. She had agreed to do this for him, she really didn’t want to.
“Is payment of thirty thousand agreed upon, or have you raised your price?”
“No. I haven’t raised the price.”
“Let’s not waste any more time. Shall we head to the outfitter’s store?”
* * * *
“Which outfitter are you going to?” Nicole asked as Marcus guided the SUV onto the highway heading to Butte.
“I bet the Rocky Mountains are as beautiful as Elkhorn. Which part of the Rocky Mountains have you hiked?”
“Mostly the northern Rockies in Montana. I’ve been at Yellowstone as well, but I haven’t been there as often as I’d like.”
Nicole pulled out her check off list and went through it, checking those items she knew she had to get. By the time she had finished the two-page list, they had arrived at Stockman’s Outfitters.
“Is that your list of what you need to get?” Marcus asked.
“Okay. Let me pay for it when you’re ready to check out.”
“You don’t have to do that.”
“I know, but I will.”
Stockman’s Outfitters reminded Nicole of Cabela’s in Billings. It was a huge store with everything you could think of for every kind of outdoor activity and then some. They had everything for hunting, shooting, fishing, boating, camping, auto and ATV, clothing, footwear, home and cabin, and hobby stuff. She could get lost in the store and spend hours just roaming around.
They arrived at the outfitter’s store and entered. Nicole went straight to the dried/dehydrated food section and got breakfast and dinner, enough for eight days, to be on the safe side, and some snack bars. She looked at her list and headed to another part of the store to get other items.
Marcus came up behind Nicole while she was looking at a couple of items she needed.
“You do know how to dress for winter hiking don’t you?” he asked.
“You have everything you need for it? Wool socks, insulated underwear, winter jacket?”
“Yes, I have all those things and then some. Do you?”
“Yes, I’m well equipped.”
“Did you get some hydrated food?” She looked into his shopping basket.
“Yes. Can I look at your list to be sure I haven’t forgotten something?” he asked.
“Yeah, sure.” She handed him her list, and he scanned it. He handed it back to her. “Looks like I got everything I need.”
“Good. I need to get some batteries and dog food, and then I think I’m all done.”
“You’re taken your dog?”
“Yes, she helps me to ward off danger. She rarely ventures away from me when we are hiking.”
It’s just too bad he’s married. It would be most enjoyable to go on a winter hiking trip in the Rockies with him. Nicole let out a sigh. Wonder if his wife likes to go hiking and camping with him or if he’s ever taken his boys? She could picture Nathan having the time of his life hiking and camping.
“Do you have a good tent to sleep in?” Marcus broke into her thoughts.
“Yes. I have a very small tent that sleeps one and is easy to carry. Do you?”
Marcus nodded as he surveyed the newest tents on the market.
“Is there a hiking trail or river flowing through that we would be following?”
“No hiking trail. Everything is strictly backcountry. There are rivers, and streams where we can get water. I carry a pump-style water filter. I get a little leery about the water because, in some sections, there are old gold and silver mines where the water had been contaminated.”
After making the purchases, they headed back to Mason. Nicole grabbed her stuff from the back seat of his SUV.
“I’m going to go to my room and start pulling my stuff out and getting packed.”
Marcus nodded as he headed to his own room.
Nicole dumped the meals and stuff she got from the outfitter’s store on her table. She was going to have to tell Debbie and Ronnie. She didn’t mind telling Debbie, but Ronnie would be a different matter.
Debbie knocked at Nicole’s back door, and she went to answer it. “Hey, come on in,” Nicole said.
“We’re going to go to the Mason Café for dinner and wanted to get you to go along with us.”
“Oh, okay. I’ve something to discuss with you and Ronnie, and a public place would be best where he can’t make a big scene.”
“So, you’re going to take Mr. Blackhawk into the mountains?”
“Yes, I decided to take him up on the offer. After talking to you and thinking about it all night, I decided I really could use the money and like you said, go to school and get a degree.”
“Good. I think it’s a good idea. I know what you mean about Ronnie. He’s probably not going to be too happy about it.”
Ronnie tooted the horn to his truck. Debbie and Nicole walked out of her room. Debbie climbed in next to Ronnie, and Nicole climbed in next to Debbie.
They sat down in the middle of the restaurant at a table and ordered their drinks. Lori and Doug were sitting at a booth nearby. Sandy was working the tables that evening. She walked up to Lori and Doug and served them their food.
“Hey, Sandy, do you happen to have a pick fork I could use?” Doug asked.
“Yeah, I think I do. It’s flat on one end and a point on the other end, right?”
“Yes. I have one but the handle came off it.”
“Okay, sure, I’ll pull it out and bring it to you tomorrow morning, is that okay?”
Sandy disappeared into the kitchen area to pick up another order and delivered it out to another couple sitting at the back of the restaurant. She came by Lori and Doug and asked, “What did you want a pick fork for?”
“Got some people I don’t like.” Doug quipped.
“Oh my God, Doug,” Lori said, laughing.
Sandy laughed as she walked over to get the coffee pot. Nicole, Ronnie, and Debbie joined in the laughter.
Lori and Doug were new to the town, having moved here a few months ago. They were a nice, funny couple and Doug had become known for his dry wit.
“I’m going sapphire digging and needed to dig the top layer off before I can get down to bedrock.”
Nicole had done some sapphire hunting, as well as gold panning. She knew what to look for, her dad owned the Winchester gold mine before he closed it up. She wished that he didn’t have to shut down the mine, she always loved going through it. She looked over at Ronnie. “I have something to tell you, Ronnie.”
“What’s that?” He cocked his head her way.
“I’m going to be gone for about six days starting Friday. I’m taking Mr. Blackhawk into Elkhorn mountains to the site where I found those arrows a few years ago.”
“You’re what?” He arched an eyebrow, his voice elevated.
“I’m taking Mr. Blackhawk to a cave in Elkhorn mountains to get those arrows I told you about a few years ago. He’s paying me thirty thousand to do this.”
Ronnie sat there staring at Nicole. “I don’t know if that’s a good idea, Nicole. For one thing, the weather, and for another thing, how do you know he won’t take you up there to take advantage of you and leave you high and dry?”
“You also know that I can take care of myself up there, plus I’ll have my GPS and my cellphone. I will keep in touch at least once a day with you or Debbie, and tell you the coordinates where I’m at. You also got a tracking device on your phone that is linked to mine, so you know where I am at all times when I go hiking. I’m well aware of the weather conditions there and what we could walk into. But, Mr. Blackhawk wants his arrows, and he’s offered to pay me a lot of money to get him to those arrows and back.”
“What the hell is it about those arrows he’d pay that kind of money for and risk his neck and yours to get?”
“They are called Sacred Arrows and are apparently valued very highly and considered holy. I read up on it through the internet and you know, women are not even supposed to look upon them. I hope I didn’t devalue the arrows by my looking on them and taking pictures of them when I saw them.”
“Wouldn’t Mr. Blackhawk had said something to you about that if you did?” Debbie asked.
Nicole shrugged. “I don’t know if he would’ve or not. It doesn’t pertain to white people, just Native Americans.”
“I guess I can’t tell you what to do, Nicole, but I do want to warn you to be careful. Not just the weather, but with him too. You aren’t going into the cave, are you?” Ronnie’s face showed a frown.
“Yes, probably. To show him where they are.”
“You need to one, call me and let me know when you are entering the cave because cellphones and GPS won’t work in the caves, as you already know. Two, leave a notepad outside the cave so we know where you are should we have to get in to rescue you. We’ll set a length of time, and if I don’t hear back from you within that period of time, I will start a search and rescue operation. You need to do pretty much what we’ve always done in the past when you’ve gone hiking, but going into a cave, well, that’s something else. Anything can happen in those caves.”
After Sandy had served them their food, the door opened, and Marcus walked in. He looked around and saw a booth available and went and sat down.
All Nicole could do was stare at him. How am I going to get through six days with him?