LOVE’S RACE TO THE FUTURE
Sierra West has a murder to investigate. One that comes with a mine, a Native American fetish, and a hole.
A hole to 1878.
The mine’s owner, Gidry Tyrell, helps Sierra and her brother settle into Tyrell Town, Idaho, a ghost town in 2017, but thriving in 1878. Gidry is on a murder investigation of his own. Can Sierra and her brother help him find who murdered his brother, without becoming victims themselves?
Will they all live to help save the orphans who survived a smallpox epidemic only to fall into the clutches of a cruel child abuser.
AVAILABLE AT AMAZON & KU. ALSO IN PRINT.
LOVE’S RACE TO THE FUTURE
Owyhee Mountains, Idaho, 2017
The rutted dirt road demanded all of Sierra West’s attention to maneuver, but she couldn’t erase the picture she’d seen of that small, bullet-ridden skull. What kind of fiend would shoot a child and throw her like an empty Coke can down a mine shaft?
The Jeep bounced over a bump. Her brother, Trevor, in the passenger seat, shot her a look as if she’d jostled him on purpose.
If such a murder of any child happened in today’s world, it would be easier to believe. Maybe she’d watched too many Little House on the Prairie episodes as a child, but the world had seemed kinder in that era. The idea of
someone at that time killing a child and tossing her away didn’t jive with Sierra’s mental images of life a hundred and fifty years ago.
“There’s a sign up ahead,” Trevor growled.
“I see it. Thank you.” How long would he stay mad at her for making him come on this trip? Stupid. She knew how much he loved the mountains. Hiking. Exploring old ruins. He should be happy to be here. Well, she had her own bone to pick with him. Flunking out of college after only three semesters. Would he never grow up? Ever since their mother had died when he was seven and Sierra twelve, a wall grew between them she felt desperate to knock down.
She turned onto the road marked Pioneer Cemetery. “Shouldn’t be far now. The trail to the Queen Bee Mine starts near the old graveyard.”
“Careful!” Trevor yanked his arm from the open window as branches from the dense willows lining the narrow road whipped inside and scraped along the sides of the car. “You’re going to have to take a trip to Maaco when we get back to civilization.”
“I doubt anyone will notice any new scratches among the ones already there. Roll up your window.” She turned the wheel sharply to avoid a large rock, turned again to return to the road. The tires splashed through mud puddles where a nearby creek overflowed its banks after recent heavy rainfall.
Trevor did as she’d suggested. “Sure we’re supposed to go this way?”
“Check the map on the console if you’re so worried. Or the GPS on your phone.”
“Why is this so important anyway?” he asked. “One kid gets shot a hundred and forty or fifty years ago, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs gets all excited over it? And why did you have to be the one to check on it?”
She glanced at him. His leg jiggled up and down, showing his unsettled nerves. Dressed in a short-sleeved tee-shirt, calf-length shorts, and colorful Nikes, he looked readier for a walk in the park than a mountain hike. She, on the other hand, had worn her red long-sleeved tee-shirt, jeans, and hiking boots. “Look, Trev, I know you’re unhappy because I made you come on this trip. If you’d just put your anger aside, you might enjoy yourself.”
“I’m not complaining.” His voice held a little less steam. “I just wondered why the big deal?”
Maybe he really did want to understand. She’d cut him some slack, just in case. “The BIA is always interested in possible Native American burials, and since I’m part Shoshone, they thought I’d be the best one to send. This skeleton is particularly interesting because the fingers on her hands were deformed.”
“Deformed how?” He sounded like he didn’t believe her.
She sighed. Would they ever be able to form a close bond?” The skeleton’s two middle fingers were fused together. It happened in the womb, sort of like Siamese twins.”
“Huh. Never heard of fingers doing that.”
“It’s very uncommon and, nowadays, such a deformity would be corrected in infancy.” Maybe if she tied it in with their own Native American ancestry, he’d be more jazzed. “Besides, the BIA thinks this might be the missing granddaughter of a famous Shoshone chief.”
“For real?” He straightened, sounding almost interested. “Which chief?”
Sierra allowed herself to relax a little, pretend all was well between them, the way she desperately wanted it to be. “Yellow Wolf.”
“Huh. Not one of the better-known chiefs, but I remember him. He was mostly known for refusing to fight the white man.”
“Yes, but there’s also a sort of romantic tragedy connected to him.”
“A tragedy? Lay it on me.”
She averted her face to hide a smile. If he didn’t watch out, he might start having fun. She eased the Jeep around a corner. “Well, it seems a white man stole Yellow Wolf ‘s daughter, and he never saw her again. Later, he learned she’d died and left a baby daughter behind. He spent the rest of his years searching for the little girl.”
“Did he find her?”
“No one knows for sure, but it doesn’t appear so. I’m hoping, if we get lucky, we’ll find clues at the site.”
“Where was it found?”
“The Queen Bee Mine, near an old ghost town.”
“Cool.” He relaxed against his seat. “Wonder why I never ran onto the story before? You know how many books I’ve read on the Shoshone.”
“Like you said, Yellow Wolf wasn’t one of the more notable chiefs. This is a local legend. Maybe it never made it into a book.”
“If only the locals know it, how’d the BIA find out?”
“You? And you never told me?”
She drove through a puddle and avoided another rock. “I didn’t keep it from you on purpose. Our grandmother, Mama’s mother, used to tell it. You never heard it because she died when you were just a baby. I had forgotten it until I heard the skeleton had a beaded turtle fetish around its neck.”
“Do you know the granddaughter’s name?” he asked.
“No, I just call her Turtle because of the fetish.”
“What is a fetish, anyway?” They cleared the willows, and Trevor rolled his window down again. “I’ve seen photos of them, but can’t think how they were used.”
“They stored a baby’s birth cord inside and hung it on the cradleboard to protect the baby. Sometimes, the child wore the fetish around its neck.”
“Okay. I remember reading that now. So, who found the skeleton?”
“A man exploring with his kids. He reported the find to the Forest Service who contacted the BIA because of the fetish.”
“So, they all realized she might be Native American.” Trevor shook his head. “Just when I think I’m becoming knowledgeable about the Shoshone, I find out I have more to learn.”
She glanced over and saw the disgust on his face. “You’re very knowledgeable for being only nineteen-years-old. You should have majored in history, but oh, no, you had to sign up for geology.” Damn. She should have kept her mouth shut.
He glared at her. “I like geology. It lets a guy spend time outdoors. All I could do with a history degree is teach. I don’t want to teach. I told you that.”
Yes, he had. More than once. But he still hadn’t gotten the message she tried to send. “At least, studying history would have taught you more on Native Americans. All the tribes.
There are plenty of history teachers, but few experts on Native American tribes.”
“And how many teachers do schools hire just to teach Indian history?” The stubbornness had returned to his voice.
Sierra decided to cut her losses and clam up. They should reach the cemetery soon anyway.
As if hearing her wish, the terrain opened up, and she spotted a parking area off the side of the road. She pulled over and parked in the shade of big, old cottonwood trees. As she got out of the car, she noticed a sign for the cemetery which remained hidden behind bushes and trees. “I want to explore the cemetery for a minute.”
“You aren’t going to get all mopey because of kid’s graves, are you?”
Okay, he’d been with her before when she’d visited old cemeteries, and yes, they saddened her. So, what of it? With purpose, she got out, walked over to the gate and let herself into the graveyard. From behind, came Trevor’s mutterings as he loaded their backpacks with water bottles and energy snacks. If they’d come on a weekend, she’d have tried to stay in the old original Idaho Hotel in Silver City, but it closed during the week. To stay in a one-hundred-and forty-year-old hotel would be awesome. Trevor would like it too if he dared to admit it. Right now, if she called the sky blue, he’d insist it was white, or gray, or some other color.
She took her cell phone out of her jeans pocket and snapped photos of a few interesting stones as she climbed the hill, stopping finally at a fenced grave. The sight of the small, lonely burial wrenched her heart. Columbines bloomed in the grass, almost hiding the tiny white stone. A rusty black iron fence enclosed the grave, and a giant spruce blessed the scene with shade. Beyond lay more graves, most for children, common in old cemeteries. How hard those young lives must have been, to have ended so soon.
No grave existed for the Indian girl whose death they had come to investigate. After being removed from the mine and examined by experts, her skeleton had ended up in a drawer in the University forensics department.
“Sierra?” Trevor called from the Jeep. “Let’s go.”
“Be right there.” She snapped a last photo, stepped out of the shadows, and started down.
The sympathetic look he gave her when she reached the car had her gritting her teeth again. She hated being pitied.
“It’s not your fault you can’t have kids, you know,” he said.
Instead of answering, she grabbed her backpack. “Thanks for filling this.” His words had been like a knife in her heart. Her need to become a mother haunted her night and day. Since childhood, she’d felt strongly she would become a mother somehow, and despite her childhood riding accident breaking her hip and ending her ability to conceive, the feeling had never gone away. She rolled up the windows and locked the doors.
“Come on, let’s get going.” He headed toward a sign marking the trail. “Hanging around here won’t give us the answers you dragged me up here to help you find.”
“If you weren’t mad at me, you’d have insisted on coming.” Following, she scooped up a square-headed nail with a rectangular shank, handmade and very old. She handed it to Trevor, expecting his eyes to light up. “Especially when it means a chance to collect the rocks, minerals, and old relics you love so much.”
He accepted the nail without comment and tucked it into a pocket of his shorts, but said nothing, simply stepped around the wooden barrier erected to keep out vehicles and started up the trail. Before the trip ended, bits of broken pottery, glass fragments, and old nails would fill his pockets and backpack, despite the boxes of similar items already at home in Portland.
Such debris proved a thriving town once stood nearby. A few partial walls and foundations hid among trees and bushes. Sierra thought it a shame for towns to be left to fall apart. So much could be learned from them, about the past, the country’s history, and the residents. About life. Trevor wasn’t the only one in their minuscule family who loved history.
“You didn’t finish college either,” he pointed out, returning to their previous subject.
“Not by choice. I had to go to work and take care of Dad after his heart attack. You don’t have the same excuse. The BIA pays well enough for us to get along and provide for your education.”
He chose not to respond, but the slump of his broad shoulders hinted she’d struck a chord. Good. He needed to give his future some serious consideration.
Another hiker came toward them.
“Hey,” Trevor greeted the man.
“Hello.” The guy stopped. “Great place to hike, isn’t it?”
“Yeah.” Trevor cast Sierra a look reminding her he hadn’t chosen to come. “We’re not here just to hike, though. My sister has to check out an old mine.”
“Oh?” The man grinned at her. “Which one?”
“The Queen Bee,” Sierra told him, wondering why he seemed interested.
“Well, you won’t get to the Bee on this trail.”
“Why not?” Could she believe him? “You’re familiar with the area, I take it?”
“Yes. I spend a lot of time here. Great place to explore. But you want that trail over there for the Queen Bee.” He pointed out a faint path through the bushes.
“You’re sure?” Sierra studied him.
“Definitely. You want that trail, not this one.”
“Where does this one go?” Trevor asked.
While the two men chatted, Sierra took out her camera, pretended to take a photo of the trail, and snapped one of the stranger as well. Something about him seemed off. Her map showed only one trail. If there were two, why hadn’t they both been included … unless the second one didn’t go anywhere. In case this guy meant to lead them astray for some reason, and anything happened to them, the authorities would find his image on her phone.
“Well, good luck,” the man said as he started to move off toward the
parking lot. “Hope you find what you’re looking for.” He glanced upward. “Full moon tonight. Great time to hike.”
Sierra frowned as she watched him leave.
Trevor had already switched to the new trail. She followed, pushing through tall grass and bushes. “Wait. I think we should stay on the main path. This doesn’t look well used, and I don’t trust that guy.”
“Don’t be ridiculous, Sierra. What reason could he have for purposely misleading us?”
She didn’t know, but still felt they’d made the wrong choice. Regardless, she said nothing more and followed his lead. The way widened after the first few yards, and she noticed more signs of a town having once occupied the area. Perhaps they were on the right path. Her brother almost tripped over a bit of old foundation, and Sierra spotted a greater abundance of broken pottery and glass.
“They never sent you to investigate a case like this before,” Trevor said over his shoulder. They had to walk single file and talk louder due to the narrowness of the pathway.
“Because no one had found such an old skeleton until now. The cold temperatures in the mine helped to preserve it.”
Wildflowers bloomed everywhere. Ground squirrels scampered among the rocks and trees. Sierra breathed deeply of the fresh air and hoped the peaceful setting would help heal the wounds dividing her and her little brother.
According to her VIVOfit tracker, they’d hiked over a mile. Should reach the mine soon, for which she’d be thankful. Her bad hip, broken in her childhood horse riding accident, objected to the unaccustomed exercise. Trevor, younger and more fit, had left her behind, maneuvering the rough terrain without difficulty.
A glint of light from a piece of broken glass caught her eye. She picked it up and sat on a rock for a quick break. “Trevor! Hold up.”
He turned, hands on his hips. “What’s the matter?”
She lured him back with the bit of colored glass, hoping to use his love of geology to make amends. “Look how smooth these edges are.”
“Sure.” He took the glass and studied it. “Wind, rain, and tossing around in streams ground the edges smooth. This is old and has magnesium in it. That and exposure to sunlight made it go purple.”
“Awesome. See, college taught you something.”
He tossed aside the shard. “Get off my back, Sis.” In minutes, he’d left her behind. Shoot. She had meant to encourage, not upset him. How could she convince him she had his best interests at heart?
They hiked in silence another ten minutes before a strange shivery sensation under her feet brought her to a halt. An earthquake? She looked around. Everything appeared normal. No rocks moving, no trees threatening to fall. You’re imagining things. She started to walk again.
The ground beneath her shook. No denying it this time. “Hey, Trevor?”
He didn’t stop. Couldn’t he feel the earth move?
Pebbles rolled downhill, trees squeaked as if rustled by a high wind. Sierra widened her stance, arms held out to help maintain her balance. “Trevor!” she yelled louder.
“What?” he fired back without turning around.
Before she could answer, the earth shifted. Her hiking boots sank into loose soil, like quicksand. She looked for something to hang onto, but the trees weren’t close enough, the rocks too small. She tried to move to safer territory.
With a rumble, the ground gave way.
Sierra scrabbled to grab hold of something, anything, to stop from being sucked under. Debris scratched her hands and a fingernail bent back as she clawed at the dirt. Nothing held. She plummeted into darkness.