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Authors: Kimberly Thomas

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BOOK: The Bovine Connection
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“Sightseeing,” Angelica winced inwardly at her little lie.

The man tilted his head, and looked suspiciously at Angelica. He lowered his eyebrows curiously and looked back at the cash register, surprised by her response. “Sightseeing? Okay… well let’s get you outta here so you can get started. Would you like your receipt?”

“Yes, thank you,” Angelica smiled.

“So where are you staying?”

“Elk Lodge.”

“Oh, fancy place.”

“Yes, quite fancy,” she murmured as she glanced around the store.

“Are you traveling alone?” he asked, concerned.

Figuring it impossible to dodge his questions, she reluctantly responded… “Yes. Look, I apologize, I shouldn’t have said sightseeing. I’m doing a story on the cattle mutilations,” Angelica observed his expression closely.

“Really?” he appeared curious.

“Yes, ranchers are finding mutilated cattle on their property. People are even saying something about UFOs. I know crazy… right?” Angelica laughed sarcastically.

“Yes, I know all about it,” the man rubbed at his shaggy beard while peering at her.

Angelica stood up straighter. “Really, what do you know?” Angelica had now leaned in closer, fully attentive.

“About ten or so years ago there was a cow cut up on a ranch here in Elberton, you know.” The look on his face grew serious. “I remember hearing folks talk about it. It was a big deal. Folks around here couldn’t wrap their minds around the thought of someone cutting up a rancher’s livestock. You know, they take that personally.” The old store clerk plucked at his beard a little. He continued, “The cattle are the rancher’s livelihood. We … well, most of us thought it was some animal, maybe a coyote, but when we read the details of the mutilation in the paper… let’s just say, a lot of people got nervous and started carrying their guns out in the open… It was like being back in the Old West,” he said as he chuckled. “They had to call a town meeting before people started shooting somebody by accident just for showing up, you know, on their property. It was a pretty big deal. It had kind of a ripple effect into surrounding towns.”

Angelica was trying to ignore the throb in her temple.

“You know, all that died down eventually, and then back in March… there was another one, and now… another dead cow. Now, as you can imagine, people are afraid again.”

Angelica held eye contact with the talkative cashier. She thought the story was certainly interesting so far. “I can’t fathom,” she murmured as she reached over and grabbed the box of Aspirin, opened it, and took two out.

“Well a gentleman came in a little while back, you know. I overheard him talking back there on his cell phone about it. He told the person on the other end that he was convinced it was going to be like the ones in Kansas. And he said something about it happening by the Air Force base.”

“Really?” … Angelica raised her hand to cover her mouth as she cleared her throat. Her throat felt dry. The man pushed her Red Bull on the counter closer to her.

“Thank you,” Angelica said, before clearing her throat again and opening the can of Red Bull. “Please continue… Did he say anything else about the Air Force base?” Angelica put the pills in her mouth, tasting the bitterness, and took a sip before washing it down.

“Yes, I believe he said something about it being odd that another one had occurred near another military base,” he answered confidently.

“Interesting,” Angelica examined the man’s face curiously. “What else?” Angelica had started tapping her finger lightly on the counter.

“He said he was meeting with the police in Elberton. He was going to examine the carcass, you know, the dead cow,” his eyes widened as he raised his hand and cupped his chin, reflecting back.

“And…” Angelica nodded with straight lips.

“You know, he said something about there being no blood, or something like that. He didn’t say a whole lot else. Hey, you know, there’s a reporter in Elberton that’s been doing the stories on the mutilations for a while now. You might want to talk to him.” The man shook his head and looked sharply at Angelica. “You can imagine what the locals were saying after reading the one about the UFOs being involved,” he said as he chuckled while enthusiastically continuing to shake his head.

“What did he say in the paper?” Angelica unconsciously twirled at a strain of her hair, eagerly anticipating his response.

“He was talking about some sort of UFO being reportedly seen on one of the nights of the killing… strange lights shining down and spot-lighting cattle.” He laughed and shook his head. “Yep, UFOs… can you imagine that?”

Angelica observed the man for a moment, “Well, I don’t believe in UFOs. There clearly has to be another explanation,” she said, straight-faced. Deciding that once in her room, her first call would be to that conspiracy-peddling journalist. “Do you happen to remember his name?”

“Which one?” the man asked.

“The reporter,” Angelica responded softly as she started to search her purse for a piece of paper and pen.

“Matthew Tillman. Nice guy. He’s the only reporter writing about the mutilations, so he’s fairly well-known around these parts.”

“That’s great!” Angelica looked up and closed her purse, after recognizing the name. He was the reporter that she stumbled across during her Google search. She had the very copies of his articles in her satchel.

“Thank you!” Angelica grabbed her Red Bull and Aspirin from the counter and turned toward the glass door.

“Good luck, young lady!” The pleasant old-timer waved goodbye, then rubbed at his beard as he watched Angelica leave the store.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Eight

 

             
A
fter what felt like an endless day of traveling, she was ready to get to the lodge. In the rental car, Angelica followed the directions given by the female voice on her navigation system.

“Turn left onto Long Hollow Road…” After a brief pause, the woman’s voice said, “Right onto Elk Creek Road; you will arrive at your destination in zero point one miles.” Angelica thought about the jokes the men in her office made about the female navigation voice and rolled her eyes.

Driving along the charming road up the hill to the lodge, winding between tall evergreens, she suddenly saw the slopes of the rust-colored roof of Elk Lodge. Her reaction was immediate. It took her breath. The lodge was illuminated with lights in the darkness. The scenic mountain drive led her up the ridge and right into the grand entrance of The Elk Lodge, tucked away in the wilderness slopes of Montana – like a perfectly well-kept secret.

Angelica rolled down her window, took a deep breath of pine-scented fresh air, and thought about how lucky she was to have such an amazing career that allowed her to travel to places most people would only dream of.

Angelica was ready for the change in pace. She was still feeling the lingering burned-out effects of covering the same type of stories back in D.C., where she had spent most of her career knee-deep in political dirt. A story of mystery and intrigue in Montana may have been exactly what she needed.

Angelica pulled up to the valet under the large log canopy, an elegant area lit by large black iron and glowing gas lanterns. The walls were a mixture of stone and smoothly carved jumbo logs. Looking through the lobby doors, her eyes were drawn to the fireplace of smooth grey stones, stretching from the floor to ceiling with a massive white bull elk mounted above it.

Angelica smiled coyly, glancing around. “Exactly what I needed,” she thought as she dropped her shoulders and released a deep breath, feeling suddenly relaxed.

As she checked in, she noticed people passing by dressed in their evening wear. A few couples sat in front of the fireplace sipping cocktails while listening to a man in a tuxedo playing jazz standards on a black grand piano. Immediately taken with the lodge’s combination of warm, rustic elegance and a hint of modern sophistication, she was ready to relax in a hot bath with a drink.

In her room, her headache had eased but she felt exhausted. She put her bags down and glanced around. The room was exquisite, and it should be, considering how much it cost per night, she thought. She walked through, admiring the black granite countertop in the bathroom and elegant amenities. It was well worth the price.

The lodge was known to be a hotspot for high rollers since there was a private jet airport offering air charters nearby.

As she strolled around, admiring the room, she thought about her last trip home. The lodge reminded her of the Biltmore Hotel in her hometown, where she stayed last year for her cousin’s wedding. It had been a while since she had spoken to her mother, still living in Asheville. She debated whether to call her and say hello. Angelica remembered the headache she had fought all that day. The Aspirin seemed to be working, except for the tension she felt in the back of her neck. She didn’t want to risk a reemergence, so she decided to wait and call her mother in the morning.

Angelica stepped over and turned on the lamp on the bedside table. Patting the bed, she noticed it even had the same overstuffed goose down comfortable bedding as the Biltmore, which she was eager to try out.

Angelica walked over and opened the door to the balcony. The night air had turned cool. A soft breeze lifted her hair from her shoulders, and she heard music from the bar below. Angelica leaned over the balcony and saw couples dancing on a small square parquet dance floor situated under streamers of soft glowing balls of light. A woman sang Billie Holiday’s version of “I’ll Never Be the Same.” The nostalgic sound was at once comforting and haunting to Angelica. She recalled a wedding reception she attended while still in college at Georgetown University. After the celebration had died down, she and her date snuck away from the party to a secluded area near the Potomac River. The same song had played in the distance under streamers of lights. She recalled tasting the sweetness of blackberries on his full, soft lips… Lips she told him even angels were jealous of.

Angelica squeezed the rustic railing as the memory faded, and looked out into the darkness to notice the lights from the lodge shining down on the white bubbles foaming around the rocks in the fast moving Elk Creek.

She stood and listened to the music from below, feeling the breeze as it gently blew through her hair. A strange new thought and sensation came over her. The constriction in her chest had released and she realized she felt relaxed and peaceful, nothing else mattered. She closed her eyes and swayed to the music, inhaling the scent of fresh pine, but was quickly jolted back to the pressures and responsibilities of the day when the music abruptly stopped.

Feeling a sharp pain, Angelica placed her hand over her belly, realizing she was hungry. She hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast so she walked inside, and closed the patio door.

Angelica went over to the bedside table and dialed room service, ordering the house specialty. She finished her order with a glass of a moderately priced Pinot Noir, and a glass of single malt Scotch to help her sleep.

 

 

Chapter Nine

 

             
P
ossessed by a strange and uncomfortable numbness, Angelica awoke – paralyzed. She immediately realized she wasn’t dreaming. Angelica’s mind raced as her eyes rapidly surveyed her surroundings.

Angelica remembered she was in a hotel room in Montana and not at her townhouse in D.C. … and as crazy as it seemed, she heard it again! Was it a helicopter? “It must be,” she thought. She quickly concluded the sound was unfamiliar. Angelica tried to lift her arms to cover her ears with her hands but they wouldn’t budge. She resigned herself to the irrational emotion that she was dying. The noise was everywhere. Angelica couldn’t concentrate. Her heart was racing at an extraordinarily fast pace. She gasped for air and without any apparent reason the noise stopped. She felt as if every cell had been hit by an electrical charge and then the numbness slowly retreated.

Shivering, she took a deep breath and gently glided her hands across her face and mouth. Wet with sweat and disoriented, she lifted the moist sheets from her body and then rose from the bed. Steady on her feet, she walked past the mirror and caught a glimpse of her pale nude body in the moonlight.

Angelica turned on the bathroom faucet and splashed her face with cold water, observing each drop of water as it ran down her face. Staring at her ashen reflection, she noticed her eyes were red and puffy. She glanced down and saw a drop of fresh blood in the sink. Angelica gasped as she looked back up at her face in the mirror and saw the blood running from her nose. She leaned in and took a closer look and then rubbed her index finger along her nose, smearing the blood across her cheek.

BOOK: The Bovine Connection
10.31Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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