Rattled: Chapter One
Erin could hardly believe what she was seeing. Could this be it? After all this time waiting, searching, had she finally, finally, found what she was looking for?
She forced herself to sit back and take a deep breath. Don't make assumptions. Don't rush into things. She wanted to leap up and scream her excitement, but years of academic training held. Slow down, double-check everything, and make sure you are right!
She leaned forward and ran her fingers over the grainy photograph. With that one image, everything seemed to fall into place. This was the clue. It had to be.
She fumbled in her desk drawer for a magnifying glass and studied the symbols in the photo more closely. At a glance, they looked like your standard Indian petroglyphs. You could find them throughout the Southwest, tucked away in caves or scattered among boulder fields. She'd been on a hike just a few miles outside of town which took her past a wonderful series of handprints and spirals, and what looked strangely like a robot.
But this was different.
If she was right--and she had to be right--these symbols were a map. A map that could lead her to one of the greatest caches of buried treasure ever.
Erin flipped back a few pages, to the first photograph, the one that showed an overview of the boulder field. She confirmed that it had numbers identifying the specific rocks that the book then showed in detail. She could see a few outcroppings that would help orient anyone searching for those petroglyphs. The book also had a map of the area, and clear directions. She would be able to find the carved map. If the landscape hadn't changed too much the last century, anyway.
She pushed that thought aside, jumped up, and did a little dance.
She reached for the phone. In a few seconds a voice said, "Yeah." Erin could hear the sound of some tool on metal in the background.
"Camie? I found it!"
The working sounds stopped. Camie said, "You'd better not be talking about that sweater you lost."
Erin laughed. "No, I found the clue! I know where the treasure is--well, at least, I think I've found the first clue that will--"
Camie cut her off. "Forget the disclaimers. You really found something? You mean, we might actually do this?"
The two women screamed into the phone at each other.
Erin collapsed into her desk chair, her cheeks sore from smiling. "I'm so excited I can hardly breathe. Look, are you at work? I'll come by. I can get out of here in, oh, fifteen minutes, so I'll see you in half an hour?" She leaned over her desk and gazed down at the photo in the battered old book. "I want to show you where we're going. We need to make plans."
"I'll be here waiting." Camie's voice purred, with a touch of twang. "Honey, we're going places."
Erin hung up and gazed at the book a moment longer. Who would believe she'd found the clue to one of the most fabulous hidden treasures ever, in a battered old library book? The book must have been sitting there for years, quietly hoarding its secrets. But she had found it. Six months of research had led to this.
In the beginning, it had been a whim. Something to distract her from the tedium of teaching history classes at a small science college where students didn't value history. Researching lost treasures was fun, and she'd written a few articles about it for magazines. Reading the books on lost mines and buried treasures, you'd think the entire country was covered with them. The Southwest had more than its fair share, from miners who lost track of their remote gold mines, to prospectors who had buried bags of gold and never returned to retrieve them, to bandits who had hidden stolen loot and been killed.
But among all the legends, all the fact and fiction, one story stood out. The Victorio Peak legend had it all. A Franciscan priest and a swindler. Torture, murder, a government cover-up. Where was the truth, among all the stories? Erin wanted to find out. Over time, and with Camie's encouragement, she'd started to take the treasure hunt more seriously. It wasn't so much for the treasure itself--that would most likely belong to the government or the landowners. But from the start, she'd recognized the potential, should she ever unearth new information. Forget academic publications; this was the kind of story which could capture the general imagination and catapult her into success as a writer of popular nonfiction. It would make her reputation, open up new job opportunities--change her life in ways she hardly dared dream.
She touched the book gently. The pages were falling out; she didn't want to risk carrying it around. Instead, Erin snapped a picture of the petroglyphs with her phone. That would be enough to show Camie for now.
She put the book back on her shelf among the hundreds of others she either owned or had borrowed from various libraries. Then she flipped through her stack of topographic maps and found the right one in southern New Mexico. She tucked the phone and the map into the small waist pack she used when biking around town.
Her stomach rumbled, a reminder that she'd been so caught up in her work she'd skipped lunch. She forced herself to stop and have a bowl of cereal. She ate standing up in the kitchen while her mind raced through the planning of the treasure hunt. The timing was perfect; she'd made her students' final papers due the previous week, before finals. She just had to turn in grades and field a few tearful last-minute requests for extensions, and she'd be done for the semester. What better way to spend the summer, than hunting for buried treasure?
Erin shook her head. Who would've thought that she, the quiet, studious girl who'd spent her entire adult life in academia in one way or another, would be planning such an adventure?
She checked that the front door was locked, a habit left over from living in bigger cities, grabbed her bike helmet, and went out the back.
Erin wheeled the bike around the front of her house and mounted. At the corner, she paused and looked both ways. The long frontage road was dangerously narrow, with a cement wall on one side and a ditch on the other. Fortunately, traffic was normally light, and at this time of day the road lay empty. Erin pushed off, still grinning from her find. She rode on the right side, by the ditch, instead of facing traffic, because it was just too frightening to ride alongside the wall when a car passed.
She'd gone a block when she heard the hum of a car engine as it pulled out from a side street behind her. She rode along the very edge of the pavement, even though the car would have plenty of room to pass her without oncoming traffic.
Erin glanced over her shoulder. The black SUV 20 feet behind her hadn't bothered to pull out into the road at all. Jerk. When would drivers learn to share the road with bicyclists? Erin pulled onto the two-foot wide gravel strip between the pavement and the ditch. She couldn't stop without risking a skid, but she slowed so the SUV could pass.
The engine roared. Erin glanced back again.
Black metal bore down on her. Her heart lurched and the bike wobbled. This guy was crazy! She whipped her gaze forward, rose up in the seat, and pumped the pedals with all her power, skimming along inches from the ditch. He was just trying to scare her. She'd get his license plate and--
She felt the bumper hit her back tire. The bike seemed to leap into the air, and she went flying. The dried mud and weeds of the ditch seemed to rise up to meet her.
She didn't even have time to scream.
writes action-packed romantic suspense, often involving outdoor adventures and Southwestern landscapes. Her hobbies include hiking, rock climbing, and photography. To learn more about Kris and her latest work, visit krisbock.com.
Ms. Bock also writes for young people under the name Chris Eboch. The Eyes of Pharaoh
is an action-packed mystery set in ancient Egypt. In The Well of Sacrifice
, a Mayan girl in ninth-century Guatemala rebels against the High Priest who sacrifices anyone challenging his power.
The Haunted series follows a brother and sister who travel with their parents' ghost hunter TV show and try to help the ghosts. In The Ghost on the Stairs
, an 1880s ghost bride haunts a Colorado hotel, waiting for her missing husband to return. The Riverboat Phantom
features a steamboat pilot still trying to prevent a long-ago disaster. In The Knight in the Shadows
, a Renaissance French squire protects a sword on display at a New York City museum. During The Ghost Miner's Treasure
, Jon and Tania help a dead man find his lost gold mine--but they're not the only ones looking for it.
Read excerpts at chriseboch.com.