At dinner, Elby and Garvin sat at their table on JJ’s back porch, quiet with each other, talked out, the river rushing past with an occasional deep dollop and clunk of shifting stones.
“That fried codfish they had here sure was good,” said Garvin.
“They don’t have it anymore.”
“They don’t have that elk steak, either. What the hell’s going on with this place?”
“Just order anything. We’re not here for food, anyway. We’re here to see this psychopath you’ve hooked us up with.” She cringed at her own word choice. Settle down, she told herself. Be civil like you promised. She gently bit the tip of her tongue.
“We’re about to spend a week or so looking for Anasazi signs. That makes me hungry. I’m getting the pork chops. And a Caesar salad. And calamari for appetizer—but I’m going to tell them not to overcook ’em. Those little squid bodies cook real fast….”
A shaved-headed man walked to the table and stared at them.
Elby turned and her mouth opened. “Oh. My. God.” She punched Uncle Marsh on the forearm and pointed. “Please don’t tell me that’s Baxter.”
Garvin turned and looked. “Yep. That’s Baxter. Baxter, this is Elby, my niece.”
“We’ve met,” said Baxter.
Garvin looked back and forth between them. “I can see that.” He looked at Elby “How’d that happen?”
“Friday night. When I went out. I told you. To listen to the bluegrass band.”
Garvin continued to look back and forth. “Maybe I should’ve gone with you. Looks like you two needed a referee.”
“Well, you didn’t. I had a nice little…chat…with this man here about family secrets, though he never told me his name.”
“You never told me yours, either,” said Baxter.
“You didn’t ask.”
“And you didn’t drink your shot of tequila.” Baxter flashed at her, but forced himself to soften it with a grin. And relax his body. As long as she didn’t cock her arm like she would throw another drink at him.
“Sometimes there are better uses for tequila than drinking it,” she said.
“Now I’ve got to stop you there,” said Garvin. “There is no better use for tequila than drinking it unless it’s that bottom-shelf stuff.”
“I agree,” said Baxter. “But your niece here seems to like to use it to end conversations.” He kept his grin, unsure of what the girl might do.
“I don’t know what you two are talking about,” said Garvin.
“We’re just a little surprised to see each other,” said Baxter. “I’m sure we’ll be able to fix that problem when you and I leave—just the two of us—on our trip.”
“Yeah, well…,” started Garvin.
“Oh, that’s fine with me,” said Elby. “I didn’t plan to actually go with you. No, what I’m doing is taking my own trip up there, and keeping an eye on you. This is the last uncle I’ve got. I don’t want him to go on a wild-goose chase without me. Gold fever is a life-threatening disease.”
“See, I told you we didn’t…,” said Garvin.
“Wait. Wait.” Baxter held up a hand and Garvin stopped talking. Elby and Baxter locked eyes. “I don’t mind. You can come along. I’ve got a family secret to unlock. I told you that much already. And I like Professor Garvin. He reminds me of my grandfather. So I understand why you’re worried.” She would be nothing but trouble. But he could sense that resisting her only made her more determined.
Elby narrowed her eyes and waited for the vile response sure to come out of her mouth. Between her father and two or three others she allowed to get close enough, she learned to treat men like poisonous snakes. Yet, she felt a sudden warming in her heart. This man she wanted to hate compared Uncle Marsh to his grandfather. “So what would you do,” she asked, “if your grandfather took off with a stranger into the mountains searching for a fairy tale treasure?”
Baxter nodded his head. “Follow him.”
Elby smiled and he felt like he emerged from under a cloud and a ray of sunshine struck him. No, he thought, imagining a cartoon character, Wile E. Coyote, skidding to a stop. Must resist at all costs. Especially if she’s going up into the high country with them. This woman will be nothing but trouble.
“Ah, okay, good then,” said Garvin. “Sit down here, Baxter, and let’s eat. I’m starving.”
“I’m not really hungry,” he lied. He wanted to get away. Think about how to keep from losing his mind to this girl. Concentrate on gold and the authorities that chased him and his dead wife. He couldn’t have anything to do with a woman now. Had to cover himself in steel. “And I’ve got lots of packing to do, all that new stuff. I’ll see you in the morning. Five o’clock.” He looked at Elby, nodded to her, then turned away.
“I can’t believe that’s your Baxter guy.”
“What is it with you two? And where’s that waitress?”
“I’m not hungry either.” She stood, wanting to walk and think.
Garvin looked up at her. “Am I the only one who has the sense to eat a decent meal before we….”
“Are you taking your truck?”
“What? Oh. Yeah, he’s parking his in our garage and we’re taking my truck up. Leaving at five-thirty. You know how I like to get an early….”
“I’ll take my own car.”
“Why do you always do that?”
“It’s good to have two cars at the trailhead.”
“Because of that one time.”
“Twice,” she said.
“That time with the battery doesn’t count.”
“But three flat tires do?”
“They shouldn’t have gone out like that. I didn’t run over anything. I don’t know what happened.”
“I’m going back to the house. Enjoy your pig meat.” She walked away.
Garvin shook his head and worried about the girl. Not so much because of Baxter anymore. Elby was tough beyond measure, and that made him proud. But deep inside, she was still broken. In spite of his best efforts, he hadn’t been able to heal her deep places. He didn’t know how. She didn’t either, obviously. But sooner or later she had to do something to unbreak herself. When she did, he didn’t know what would happen.
Short description for The G.O.D. Journal: After he accidentally kills his wife, Baxter runs. Hiding in his derelict boyhood home in Pagosa Springs, Colorado, he discovers a journal that leads to a treasure of gold. With the guiding hand of a deranged hunter and Wall Street financier, Baxter discovers true gold is concealed in the heart of a woman who helps him search for an Anasazi pictograph that is key to his family treasure. Read the full description….
Hot Water Press publications scheduled for 2013: Annie and the Second Anasazi (a trilogy set in the year 2054), and Soo Potter (an Anasazi historical novel). To find out when they’re available, sign up for notification by email here.