Top of the Mountain — excerpt

Top of the Mountain coverChapter 1

Santa Fe, New Mexico — Friday, July 16, 2021

The temperature at noon was 80 degrees Fahrenheit without a cloud in the sky. A gentle breeze and low humidity made the day seem a bit cooler, even more comfortable. To many people, it felt exactly like what a summer day should be. Nonetheless, Rebecca Bramley Tall Wolf had draped a light cotton blanket over her three-year-old son, Alan, as he slept on her shoulder. A morning spent racing around in his paternal grandparents’ walled garden and rough-housing with his dad had finally depleted the child’s seemingly boundless supply of energy.

The proud mother looked at her husband as he kept pace with her and said, “Alan is such a handful already. What’s he going to be like when he’s five?”

“Kindergarten?” John asked with a laugh. “I’m more concerned what will happen when he asks us for our new electric car’s key-fob.”

Rebecca’s eyes narrowed for a moment as she tried to imagine that scenario.

“We could turn his care and feeding over to Marlene,” John suggested in jest.

Nonetheless, that idea earned him a gentle elbow to the ribs, one that should have discouraged any further discussion of such a notion.

Even so, John added, “She’s promised me she won’t eat him.”

Another elbow shot out, but John was ready this time. He deflected the blow and stepped behind his wife. He put his arms around her waist and whispered in her ear. “You know she had that long talk with my mom and dad, convinced even them that protecting Alan is something she takes very seriously.”

“Great. Someone who’s not entirely human is our baby’s nanny.”

“Your parents were won over, too,” John reminded Rebecca.

“Yeah, after my father said he’d take the head off of anyone who hurt his grandson. Something any Mountie might say.”

“Marlene approved of the sentiment entirely,” John reminded her.

“After what she did in Paris, decapitating those four terrorists, what else could she say?”

“Tell me truthfully,” John countered, “would you rather have her on our side or working against, let’s say, me?”

Rebecca managed a thin smile. “Truth is, I was a Mountie, too. Now, I’m a former-Mountie mom. If I had the teeth and jaws for it, I’d probably snap the head off of anyone who hurt little Alan.”

She gave John a gentle sock on the shoulder and grinned.

He said, “Let’s all see to it that we can keep him safe until … well, until it’s his turn to look out for us.”

“Me especially since Marlene will no doubt work to keep you around, too.”

John laughed.

Rebecca shook her head. “Unh-uh, I’m serious. You’re her foil. Somehow you’ve won her over. No small feat at all, charming a force of nature. Next you’ll make sure no plague of locusts hits our town.”

John laughed again.

Rebecca went up on her toes and kissed his cheek.

She said, “It’s good to see you happy again. I’ve been worried about you for a while.”

“Worried about what?” John asked.

The three of them stopped a half-block short of The Coyote Cafe — not named after Marlene as far as they knew. Freddie Strait Arrow had made the choice to go to the eatery for lunch.

“Not so much about your physical health,” Rebecca said, “but you seem either worried or even despairing about something. Not when you’re with our boy but when you go off into your home office or out in our yard to sit alone. I’ve noticed. Is there something you need to tell me?”

John took his wife’s hand, lowered his sunglasses so she could see his eyes.

“It’s been almost two years since Great-grandfather died.”

“After a last act of personal heroism,” she reminded him. “Restoring all those sacred items to their rightful owners.”

“Yes, that is a comfort, but …”

“But what?” Rebecca asked.

“In all the time we’ve been here in Santa Fe, Grandfather hasn’t spoken to me. Not once.”

She gave him a hug and looked him in the eye. “Oh, John, were you really hoping for that?”

He replied, “Awinita spoke to him all the time, and she’d been dead for decades.”

Rebecca sighed. “Maybe you’d better take up this matter with your parents because I don’t have an answer for you.”