Authors: Vijaya Schartz
Tags: #novella, #arizona, #shape shifters, #chupacabra, #rangers, #skinwalkers, #star people, #girl with gun, #hopi legends, #great coyote
Copyright © 2010 Vijaya Schartz
Cover Art by Kendra Egert
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters,
places and incidents are a product of the author’s imagination. Any
resemblance to a person or persons, living or dead, business
establishments or events is purely coincidental.
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the hard work of this author.
been three killings.
the blond poster boy with clear blue eyes, winked at Madison as he
swaggered into the fluorescent glow of the break room, in the
Arizona Game and Fish Department headquarters. Just in time for
Ranger Madison Huntley set
up her Starbucks tray on a round table. She resented the way her
boss still flirted with her after she’d dumped the womanizing jerk
six months ago. She managed to keep her voice even.
What kind of
Dashing as usual
in his crisp tan uniform, Jake stared into her eyes as he handed
her the assignment sheet.
Better catch the culprit fast or there will be more
Madison snatched the
paper, avoiding his roving fingers, and adjusted her side arm to
sit more comfortably. She perused the document.
Right in our
little corner of paradise.
Jake grabbed a cup from the cardboard tray and pulled off the
lid, then sat next to her. Too close.
Madison scooted her chair
away from him and his overly sweet cologne and frowned.
Creek, a few miles away. Such a sleepy little town,
He inhaled the aroma
from his cup with gusto.
we can’t keep the inhabitants safe from wildlife near our own
headquarters, it will invite bad press for the
scoffed. Heaven forbid. A scandal getting in the way of Jake’s
great political ambitions?
Attracted by the coffee, a
gangly front desk clerk with doe eyes walked into the room and
selected a latte.
As she left, the young woman batted
her lashes at Jake, who ignored her. Probably one of his past
Rangers and game wardens in khaki
uniforms broke their morning joke contest near a snack machine and
approached the table to get coffee as well.
A ranger on his way out to
the terrace toward the tables beyond the glass wall raised his cup
to Madison and gave a thumbs up.
Thanks for bringing the good stuff,
Madison nodded and smiled
but quickly returned her attention to Jake.
We’ve had a resurgence of rabies
lately. Could it be a rabid animal?
Jake leaned over
and whispered in her ear like a lover.
But I’d like to keep it quiet all
Madison cringed but
ignored his advances. Good thing the room cleared quickly as the
rangers left for the field.
What happened to my transfer
Jake leaned back in
his chair, sipping coffee.
Still catching up with paperwork after a week in the
by lightning on your last field trip didn’t improve you
She bit her lips to
avoid getting into trouble again. It wouldn’t help her cause to
antagonize her boss.
your pretty little head. I’ll send the forms.
Was he patronizing just to push her
Madison refused to take
When can I expect
He grinned, happy
about it, the rat.
Madison struggled to
keep her tone casual.
economy, with all the cutbacks, people hang on to their
He flashed a satisfied
Madison repressed a sigh
of frustration, clenching her fist at her side. Reacting to his
insufferable attitude would only make things worse. She didn’t want
to file a sexual harassment complaint either. After all, she’d
dated the jerk willingly. She could deal with Jake until that
transfer arrived. Picking up the assignment sheet, she rose and
take care of whatever killed these
As Madison headed for the door, Jake
followed on her heels, walking along a wide hallway. From the wall,
color posters of animals and drab mug shots of men wanted for
wildlife crimes seemed to stare. The soles of her tan leather boots
squeaked on the polished floor.
Jake breathed on her
Madison quickened her pace
to escape his proximity and couldn’t help the impatience in her
I get it, boss. I’ll
To Madison’s relief, Jake ducked into
Finally rid of him, she
emerged into the bright morning sun of the
employee parking lot. The crisp desert breeze washed away the
clinging smell of his cologne. But the cool morning air wouldn’t
last. Spring in Phoenix meant three-digit temperatures and sticky
She strode through the rows of cars
between the large office building and the labs then entered a
fenced area to the side, where a fleet of white pickup trucks,
perfectly lined up, displayed the round Game & Fish logo on
their doors. Distant gunshots from marksmen at the Avery shooting
range mingled with the sounds of morning traffic on the busy
Madison opened the door of her truck
and stepped inside then checked her laptop and her bio kit. Angling
the rearview mirror, she glanced at her blond bobbed hair streaked
by the sun. Her natural tan didn’t need makeup. Satisfied with her
looks, she slipped on her sunglasses, started the engine,
readjusted the mirror, then drove off the lot through the open
sliding gate and around the main building.
She yielded to a faded,
green Ford pickup, beat up and dull with age, turning left into the
public parking lot. Madison recognized the driver’s strong profile
and turquoise and silver necklace. The old Hopi chief, White Eagle.
What was he doing here? Then she remembered that each spring he
applied for a permit to capture protected golden eaglets for his
tribe’s ritual sacrifices.
What a barbaric
At the light,
turned east on Carefree Highway.
Merging into morning traffic, she pulled down the sun visor against
the bright glare. Ten minutes later, she turned into a pot-holed
driveway that crunched under her tires and sent dust flying in her
wake. She drove along a corral to the right, where a dozen well fed
horses rested in a shaded area, while others nibbled at the scarce
grass. On the left, a huge open barn revealed square bales of hay
and various carts and carriages.
At the end of the dirt
Madison stopped her truck in the
shade of a tall sycamore tree. In front of her spread an old adobe
hacienda, large by any standard. She read the numbers on the
mailbox shaped like a cowboy hat then double-checked the address on
her assignment sheet. Reaching for her laptop on the passenger
seat, she opened it and started a new report.
When she cracked both
windows against the quickly rising heat, she inhaled a whiff of hay
and horse manure and sneezed.
. After grabbing her bio kit from
behind the seat, Madison stepped out of the truck and strode toward
The yellowed front lawn displayed a
battered pioneer wagon, with missing wheel spokes, and rusty,
broken ribs sticking out of tattered canvas. A wooden sign nailed
to it advertised Hay Rides and Horseback Riding in faded red paint.
A horse neighed nearby.
Force of habit, Madison
noticed every detail. The adobe ranch house had sienna walls, a
flat roof, and a wide arch shading the front porch. A last, rustic
remnant of what the Phoenix Valley had looked like in the last
century. Now the quaint
look served as bait for tourism. Anything for
Wind chimes on the shaded
front porch jingled in the desert breeze above a wooden bench
painted purple and green. Before Madison could pull the knotted
cord to ring the antique brass bell hanging by the entrance, the
door opened. She plucked her sunglasses and smiled.
A dark-haired woman in her forties,
wearing jeans and red cowboy boots, wiped mascara-smeared brown
eyes with a tissue. She swallowed a sob and nodded.
Madison Huntley answering your call.
Madison caught a whiff of huevos rancheros
drifting from the dark interior. The rancid smell made her coffee
churn in her stomach.
The woman stiffened as she
glanced at Madison’s firearm.
Are you the police?
I’m with the
Arizona Game and Fish Department.
Madison tried to sound reassuring.
The Cave Creek Police do not
investigate wildlife incidents. We do.
It’s downright criminal!
And destruction of property. It’s an outrage! Who is going to pay