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by Darrell Bain
Category: Science Fiction/Fantasy
Description: When one of the Strake brothers is out prospecting with a metal detector he finds what he thinks are peculiar little gold nuggets midway up the Mogollon Rim, a drop off from the Colorado plateau. When Gary Strake's girlfriend Mona calls John Strake for help because his brother is acting peculiar, she is dead when he arrives, her throat torn out. Gary swears there's something else, something big, buried where he found the little gold colored objects. He also thinks some one or some thing has been stalking him. When the brothers and the sheriff begin investigating Mona's murder they are attacked by a creature that looks like a horribly mutated cougar. Then when they find that the nuggets have an almost fatal attraction, they know they need help--and soon! Teaming up with two attractive female scientists from the University of New Mexico, an investigation begins, both there and at the site on the Mogollon rim where a suspected spaceship lies buried. But nothing is as it seems and solving one problem only leads to numerous others, until the brothers and the scientists wonder if they'll even live long enough to solve a mystery that threatens to take them all the way off earth. 2008 EPPIE award finalist.
eBook Publisher: Double Dragon Publishing/Double Dragon eBooks, 2011 Double Dragon Publishing
eBookwise Release Date: August 2011
9 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [300 KB]
Reading time: 195-273 min.
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My brother Gary has always been the adventurous one of the family, although anyone who doesn't know about him might think it's me who loves living on the edge. I've been involved in a few escapades, including one real war and one that never made the headlines but was real enough to those of us being shot at all the same. And I've traveled a lot, itchy feet being something all the men of our family have in common. I was something of a rounder in my younger days, drinking and gambling and bouncing from woman to woman and place to place while thinking I'd never find that true love the romance novels tell about.
That's not adventure, though, not the type that Gary goes looking for and all too often finds. I'm talking about jungles and mountains and deep sea diving and things like that, along with the same wars I was in. Plus an extra one he managed to find that we don't talk about too often. And he always did love prospecting, looking for gold and old coins and antiques on beaches, abandoned mines and at ancient home sites and the like as well as searching for gold nuggets in wild country all over the world. Which brings me to the point where he involved me in one of his wild man adventures, and I'm not talking about the usual, like the time he wound up in the Pacific with his new wife on a disabled dive boat going from circling sharks with hungry gleams in their cold lidless eyes to a giant typhoon that almost did them in. That's just the usual run of life for him, not at all out of the ordinary. This time he went way beyond that.
It started with a phone call, but not from him. It was from his current girl friend, Mona Lighthouse, the latest in an untold number he'd left behind with scarcely a ripple of emotional upset on his part. She wasn't exactly hysterical, but she was close to it, which wasn't like her. She had been with him a couple of months ago when Gary talked her into going on a "vacation" with him. They wound up in British Columbia, high up in the Rockies, on the side of a mountain, inching their horses up a trail not fit for goats, but just the kind of terrain Gary likes to explore. In deference to Mona, he had even hired a guide, who promptly led them to that god-forsaken trail when Gary took him aside and told him Mona was really wanting to see some "wild country." Mona had said nothing of the sort, of course, but she said a lot when they wound up at the so-called pass and it was iced over. The trail was so narrow they couldn't even turn the horses around. Gary and the guide spent most of the daylight hours chopping ice while Mona sat on a horse, too scared to even get off and relieve herself, and slowly turning into a block of ice. She was shivering so bad she couldn't even scream when the lead pack horse shifted its feet, touched an ice-glazed rock and tumbled down the mountain, taking the other two supply-laden horses with it. Fortunately, Gary had taken the precaution of not roping them to their own horses, but simply pulling them along with a hand rope. Once they finally got home, Mona referred to it as "The Vacation From Hell", capital letters included. But she hadn't gotten hysterical, even when the horses slid off the mountain. Or so he told me.
Anyway, Mona said "John, I think you better come up here and see if you can find out what's wrong with your crazy brother."
"What's he doing?" I didn't bite on the term she used to describe him. He's been called worse things lots of times.
"Prospecting, so he says."
"Then that's what he's probably doing," I told her. Gary purely loves to hunt for gold, even though he's never found that mother lode he keeps talking about or discovered the "lost" mines his old treasure maps refer to.
"I guess so. It the way he's prospecting, though."
"How?" I asked. Hell, I didn't know but one way to prospect, and that was with a metal detector. Gary has spent a small fortune on the devices, always going for the most expensive ones, with all the bells and whistles, guaranteed to find a microgram of gold forty feet beneath solid granite if you can believe their ads.
"Well, he goes out in the morning with this detector he bought last month, then he comes home mumbling and saying he needs a microscope and he should call John, then he cusses and plays around adjusting the settings on his detector until all hours of the night and never does call you and then the next morning he goes out again. He's acting like a crazy man."
"That's normal for him," I said, trying to jolly her a little. She takes Gary too seriously. It didn't work.
"No, it's not, this is different from his normal crazy. He's acting all mysterious and telling me he can't tell me what he's found or what he's looking for or even where he's looking. That's not like him."
Well, I had to admit it wasn't. Normally, he likes to talk about all the gold he's going to find with his newest toy or how he had bought a new treasure map that was "guaranteed" to be authentic. I had given up asking him where all his gold was or why the dealer was selling it if the map really did point the way to a mountain of gold or diamonds or lost Spanish treasure or a shipwreck or...well, you get what I mean. "Where are you now?" I asked. The last time I had talked to my brother he had been up in Alaska, looking for a purported Bigfoot. The only thing he found was an Inuit girl who led him astray and taught him a few new things about the frozen north that can't be related in polite company.
"Well, we're either in the Blue Range or The Blue Ridge, depending on which side of the state line we're parked on."
I had to think for a moment or two before it came to me. Combine New Mexico's Blue Ridge Wilderness with Arizona's Blue Range Primitive Area and you have two pieces of earth that encompass a wild, generally dry, and seemingly endless expanse of rough but beautiful terrain. The state line is all that separates the two areas, with New Mexico's Wilderness tucked into the Blue Range Mountains and halved by the Mogollon Rim, a dramatic edge of the Colorado Plateau that runs east to west. I had gone there once after my divorce to find a little solitude. That woman I had been married to could talk the cement out of a brick wall and never shut up from dawn to dusk. "That's pretty country," I commented, without the commercial I could have added. "Where's Gary now?"
"How the hell should I know? He leaves before the sun comes up and won't tell me where he's going. Someplace in the goddamn blue yonder."
She was really agitated. "And you say he's wanting a microscope? Well, I can understand that. It takes one to see most of the gold he finds."
My effort at humor fell flatter than my billfold after Joanne's divorce lawyer got through with me.
"John, please come up here and help. I'm at my wit's end."
"How long has this been going on?" I temporized, not really wanting to leave my new job as the night lab tech at Women's Hospital in Little Rock . It gave me a chance to meet lots of pretty nurses and most of the night I could loaf and work on the novel I was writing about the evils of talkative women, not that I expected it to sell. The publishing industry is mostly controlled by liberal female editors these days. That kind of book had about as much chance of being published as a baby rabbit did of surviving in the same kennel with a starving wolf. On the other hand, I had written a couple of science fiction novels good enough that a small publisher took a chance on them. And lost money. Unless they have the finances for thousands of copies to be printed and have a big advertising budget, the chain bookstores won't stock books by a small publisher. And the big publishers won't look at a book unless you have an agent. So far what little success I've enjoyed has come with e-books, the kind you download to your computer or phone or a reader. I've had two books out in print but my publisher wouldn't risk another.
"I don't remember. Too long. He's lost weight, too. And he carries his pistol everywhere he goes now. Wherever he goes."
Now I was worried. Not about carrying a firearm. We've both always been partial to guns. Up in that country it's not a bad idea, if for no other reason than rattlers and cougars. But losing weight? Not the way he liked to eat, as if the world had never heard of trans fats and bad cholesterol. I sighed. "All right, give me directions. I'll see if I can get some time off."
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