I’m working diligently on the fourth book in the Harrie McKinsey mystery series. Because it’s taking so long, I thought it would be nice if I give you a little peek at what’s in the works. So here is the first chapter of Murder at the Petroglyphs. I hope you like it!
Tonight the spirits of the Ancient Ones walked among the sacred rocks. Few people claimed to have seen them, but Nick Ellis sensed their presence. An anticipatory shiver coursed through his body.
The young man gazed at the landscape in awe, as he always did in this consecrated space. To the west, peach and rose-colored streaks of sunset faded to the palest shade of pink over the Petroglyphs National Monument. He looked east at the Sandia Mountains towering behind the Albuquerque landscape. As if on cue, the huge full moon eased up from behind Sandia Crest.
On his first day as a new Ranger, he’d heard people talk about the spirits. He hadn’t believed them—not until he experienced the eerie feeling for himself one night. It rattled him so much he thought about transferring to a new facility. Free-roaming spirits had not been part of the job description.
Before long, he noticed they usually manifested during the full moon. Over time, he came to respect them and give them their space. Besides, he decided he loved this special place too much to leave.
Tonight he vowed to stay alert. He’d learned his lesson.
Normally the gates closed to the public at 5:00 pm. But this evening, a special group event had been scheduled. It concluded by 7:00 and everyone departed by 7:30. Now the gates blocking the entrance road were locked. In theory, he was alone. His senses told him otherwise.
Nick hurried up the hill, a little north and west above the Visitors’ Center, checking the nearest walking paths. He spent his usual half hour making sure the trails concealed no lingering tourists. The faint smell of early blooming flowers reminded him spring had arrived in force. He sauntered back down to the Visitors’ Center and gazed at the now fully-risen moon. He couldn’t resist taking his phone from his pocket and snapping a photo of the spectacular beauty of moonrise in New Mexico.
Next, he walked toward the small amphitheater on the south side of the Visitors’ Center. It sat atop a hill, and each night he checked it before leaving to make sure no one had left belongings there. The Rangers kept a cardboard box in the back room as an informal lost and found repository. It amazed him to see some of the things people brought with them to the Petroglyphs, then left behind.
A sound made him stop short as he approached the gathering spot. Thick clouds scuttled across the moon, plunging him into darkness. He forced himself to ignore the traffic noise from the roadway close by and strained to hear the sound again.
He pulled out his flashlight and turned it on. In the soft desert night, the harsh beam seemed out of place. He swept it across the path, then lifted it toward the structure. Something moved and his heart raced. Only a young coyote. The animal stared at him a moment. Then, with graceful ease, it leaped from the low wall. The animal disappeared with no more sound than when it arrived.
Nick let out the breath he’d been holding and continued toward the structure. He pointed the beam into the far corner at his right and let it play across the concrete floor at the bottom of the amphitheater. Before reaching the other side, it illuminated a pile of clothing.
Somebody forgot their jacket and backpack.
He stepped closer and halted. The flashlight fell from his hand. It clattered as it rolled down the steps and landed at the bottom.
A body lay on the floor of the amphitheater.
And Nick, for the second time in his career, considered asking for a transfer.
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Patricia Smith Wood