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ABOVE THE BRIDGE
By Deborah Garner
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When Paige MacKenzie arrives in Jackson Hole, her only goal is to complete a simple newspaper assignment about the old west. However, it's not long before her instincts tell her there's more than a basic story to be found in the popular, northwestern Wyoming mountain area. A chance encounter with attractive cowboy Jake Norris soon has Paige chasing a legend of buried treasure, passed down through generations.
From the torn edge of a water-damaged map to the mysterious glow of an antler arch, Paige will follow clues high into the mountainous terrain and deep into Jackson's history. Side-stepping a few shady characters who are also searching for the same hidden reward, she will have to decide who is trustworthy and who is not.
Jake paced back and forth across the town square, frustrated and angry. How stupid could he be, believing Frank the way he had? He was as much of a liar as his grandfather probably was, raising him on all those ridiculous stories of buried treasure. His grandfather had pulled the wool over his eyes and now so had Frank. He should have seen it before, but that only made him as stupid as the others.
Pausing to lean against the monument in the center of the square, he pulled a pack of cigarettes out of his pocket, tapped it against his hand, pulled one out and pressed it between his lips. With his right hand he patted his chest and then his hips before finding a book of matches, somewhat torn and wrinkled from being carried around in his pocket, but useful nonetheless. He coughed a little on the first puff, just a reminder that he had quit smoking years ago. But extreme times called for extreme measures. He was just about at the end of his rope.
Jake shifted his weight from one hip to the other, then leaned back casually again. It wouldn’t help to appear nervous, he thought. It was a good thing he calmed down and settled back, because when Frank came walking up, he wasn’t in any kind of a calm mood himself.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing, calling me out here like some little servant?” Frank was fuming and he wasn’t about to hide it.
“I need more information from you,” Jake stated calmly, looking Frank directly in the eye.
“I already gave you everything I have,” Frank insisted, though the look in his eyes told Jake otherwise.
“Listen up, now,” Jake said, the calm tone in his voice and manner starting to quickly slip away. “I didn’t spend all this time, all these years and all of this last particular year getting to this point, only to have it all ruined by you.” He pointed his finger at Frank for emphasis, then dropped it and looked around to make sure they weren’t attracting attention by causing a scene.
Jake lowered his voice and moved his face closer to Frank’s. Even without words, the communication was clear. Frank now shifted his weight back and forth, considering the unspoken statements.
“I want the rest of the information now,” Jake said slowly. “Don’t even try to tell me that paper is everything you have. I know better. For one thing, the tear on the side of the paper hardly looks a hundred years old. And the smudge doesn’t look that old, either, now that I think about it.” Jake ran an image of the small map through his mind.
A woman walked by, accompanied by a small terrier on a leash and a young girl, who she pulled in closer to her as she passed the two men. Frank and Jake waited until they were alone again before continuing.
“OK,” Frank said carefully, keeping an eye on Jake while he spoke. “I might have something else for you, but…” His voice trailed off and he looked at Jake inquisitively.
Jake threw back his head and laughed, then brought his gaze directly into Frank’s eyes. “Don’t even think about blackmailing me for any more money. You’ve gotten all that you were promised. Now it’s your turn to hold up your end of the deal.” His eyes didn’t waver until Frank started to nod his head.
Frank looked around nervously; making sure no one else was approaching.
“Here’s what we’ll do,” he said, lowering his voice as a precaution. “We’re not going to meet in this place again. Too many times will look suspicious. For all we know, someone could have already seen us and wondered what was going on.” Frank paused and looked around again, then stopped with his gaze on Cache Street, directly across from the town square.
“I’ll meet you tomorrow night at the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar. It’s crowded there and we won’t appear obvious to anyone. Besides, a good, tall lager sounds pretty good to me.” Frank shrugged his shoulders and stretched his neck to one side, then to the other.
“Well, at least that’s one thing we agree on,” Jake answered, imagining a cold beer in his hands right then. “You’re on, but don’t let me down on this one. I already told you I held up my side of this deal. Now you’re going to follow through.”
With that the two men parted ways, Frank heading toward one antler arch and Jake heading toward another. It would be a long twenty-four hours, Jake thought to himself, but he’d make use of the time. And tomorrow night he’d have his answer.
* * * *
The Million Dollar Cowboy Bar wasn’t terribly crowded when he arrived, but by the looks of the busy sidewalks, Jake knew it would be filling up soon. The regular doorman, Billy, tipped his cowboy hat at Jake and waved him in.
“How you doin’, Mr. Norris?” Billy asked as Jake flashed a grin his direction.
“Doin’ fine, Billy, doin’ just fine,” Jake answered, taking a quick look around the room.
“What brings you out on a cold night like this?” Billy asked, more for small talk than anything else.
Jake glanced over his shoulder to respond as he sauntered by. “Just hangin’ out, figured a beer or two might taste good.” Billy nodded in agreement before turning back to the door to check the ID’s of a couple young ladies. Jake continued on into the room, passing a row of pool tables before arriving at the well-known bar counter. Swinging his leg over a saddle, he nodded a hello to the bartender.
“Hey, Deke,” Jake called out, “How about a cold one?”
The bartender gave a thumbs-up sign in Jake’s direction and opened the door to a refrigerator under the counter. Pulling out a tall, frosted glass, he angled it under one of the spouts for draft beer and filled it most of the way, then turned it upright at the last minute, allowing a perfect head of foam to settle on the top. He placed it in front of Jake and slapped his hand playfully against the bar.
“One Snake River Lager, Jake, old boy. That’ll be three bucks for you.”
Jake pulled out a billfold from the back of his jeans, leaning to the side a bit in order to reach it. He slipped out a five and slid it across the bar. “Keep the change, Deke. It’s always a pleasure doing business with you.”
Taking a slow drink of the amber liquid, he looked around the bar and took in the usual nightly scene. A few men stood casually around one pool table, leaning on cue sticks and watching one man take a shot. In the far corner of the bar, a band twanged out a country song, spotlights casting a red glow on the stage as the musicians played. A few old timers danced on the wooden floor in front of the band. Several men in jeans, boots and cowboy hats leaned against the far wall, eyeing the room and watching for any attractive ladies who might show up.
There was no sign of Frank. Jake kept an eye on the door, forcing himself to look around only occasionally, so as not to appear too anxious. He began to feel irritated at having to wait. Frank had inconvenienced him enough. He’d had just about all he was willing to take, and then some.
The band broke into a run of old classics – Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson. Jake was tapping his foot to a rendition of “I Walk the Line” when he saw Frank enter the bar, glance casually around the room and then walk over to where Jake sat. He took a saddle next to him and told Deke to serve up one of whatever Jake was drinking.
“How’re you doing tonight, Jake?” Frank said with feigned politeness, handing Deke exact change for his beer.
Jake waited until Deke walked away, knowing that bartenders often heard a little too much of everything said at the counter.
“Don’t mess with me, Frank,” Jake said, lowering his voice. “I’m all out of patience with you. Don’t even think about wasting any more of my time.”
Frank paused a few seconds, just on general principle, and then reached into his pocket, pulling out an envelope that looked much like the first one he had passed to Jake in the town square.
“I don’t know if I should even trust you,” Jake mumbled with exasperation. “How do I know this one will be different from the other?”
Frank stood up, gulped down the rest of his beer and looked Jake straight in the eyes. “You’ll see,” he said. “Put the pieces together and you’ll be on the right track. You probably could have done it with what I gave you before, but maybe this will make it easier for you.” He dropped fifty cents on the counter as a tip for the bartender and then turned toward the door and left, stepping aside only briefly to let a few people enter the quickly filling venue.
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