Lake 33 Killing Relic
Chapter Sixteen
Saturday Kiss

Chapter 16

Are you doing anything on Saturday morning at 0930? Available for a tour?” asked Director Lui.

“Meet at the Movie Theater? I will be there,” I said.

Saturday morning 0930.

“A beautiful morning for a tour of Busch Wildlife Area,” I said as I held the barbed wire apart for the Director to squeeze through. The sign on the fence read Missouri Department of Conservation.

Our vehicles were parked behind the movie theater on the north side of the wildlife area.

Could this be called a date?  “This will be an easy walk downhill, not so much going back uphill. I have been scouting the area for Morrell mushrooms.”

What did the conservation agent tell her about me as a kid?

“I had some morrell mushrooms with a bison steak at the Salt Lake City rodeo competition,” said the Director.

“What? I thought Director Liu was a vegan. Learn something new every day,” I said.

“Call me Amber,” she said, “And I will not call you the janitor.”

“Ah, but I am the janitor; I clean up everyone’s messes.”

“Are we talking about the Weldon Springs Interpretive Museum,” asked Amber.

“Maybe. But the army would get in trouble overseas, and I would clean up their mess.”

“That sounds more like the calvary.”

“Same thing, I suppose. “The Salt Lake City Rodeo? Were you riding one of those bulls or Mustangs?” I asked. “Eight seconds of terror?”

“Hell no! I’m still walking, and my legs and back work, right? Although, as a kid, my parents entered me in roping competitions because I am a damn good rider. I didn’t last long because I cried at how they treated the calves during the roping competition.”

“I get that. In Missouri, we have beer bottle tossing; in Texas, you had calf tossing,” 

“I bet you were a terror,” she said. “Before the Air Force tamed you?”

“Look a fox squirrel!” I said, changing the subject.

“Do you prefer Eastern or Western style riding?” I asked although the answer was obvious.

“Western, of course. I liked barrel racing because the horses were eager to run. You had to hold them back at the starting gate. All muscle, trembling to make the first move at the sound of the bell. No spurring required. Then hold own with your legs and give them the reins,” said Amber.

She could not hide her enthusiasm, clearly animated about horse competitions.

“I have been on the barrel racers,” I said. “Had to default to screaming in terror while holding on to the mane or risk getting tossed from the saddle. Hope I did not pull the hair too hard. Oh, I gripped that saddle horn pretty tight also, but I was always worried the girth strap would loosen and I would go flying. At least pulling on the hair, I wasn’t depending on a strap when the horse was at full gallop. It is scary as hell on a barrel racer,” I said. “Ever come across a horse you couldn’t tame?” I asked.

Before she could respond, we walked onto the ruins of the old house.

“Careful, an old cistern is boarded over with some old oak planks,” I warned. “This is my favorite vista, looking down into the valley where the Dardenne and O’Day Creeks meet.”

“Indeed, beautiful; it reminds me of the wineries out towards Agusta,” said Amber.

“Elegance and beauty,” I said, but I was looking at the Director when I spoke the words and covered my tracks as quickly as possible.

“That is why that letter on the wall is so sad. The other farms taken were more ordinary agricultural land, plain and overworked by the way the land appeared in the old photos.

“You mentioned a spring?” said Amber. “I hope you were not drinking from the spring water?”

“Almost every day I drank from the spring at the bottom of this hill,” I said. 

“Was the water ever tested for radiation?” asked Amber.

I shrugged my shoulders. “No tests I ever heard of. There are actually two springs, the big one below us and a smaller one over by Dardenne Creek by the cave.”

I could not believe I mentioned the cave. She has me flustered.

“Follow me down the hill to the big spring. If you’re interested, I will show you where the arrowheads can be picked from the water. Two different types of arrowheads. Little serrated points from the short grass prairies, a type found from Texas to Missouri. The other type is small triangle-shaped arrowheads with square notches; those types are from the Temple mound peoples who lived along the big rivers.”

“I have never found an arrowhead,” said Amber.

“When I was a kid, I would wait all winter and spring until the weather was warm enough to wade the spring creek, looking for arrowheads, even snakes and sculpins -anything I could catch.”

“Well, let’s hope there is no radiation in this spring,” said Amber. “Since apparently you spent your life in this freaking stream. Did you do anything civilized as a kid? The conservation agent mentioned something about growing pot.”

“I can truly say, that was not me growing weed,” I said but a little aggravated at Agent Dougy.

“Follow me. One year, I saw a log that had fallen across the spring, causing a tiny waterfall, and I found the first arrowhead trying to catch crawfish under the waterfall. After that, I moved the log around making new waterfalls and would return the following week to collect my booty. I have to warn you about the spring water; it is freezing, which is the price you pay to find your first arrowhead.”

“Let’s do this,” said Amber. “I brought old shoes that I can get wet.”

I stepped into the stream and held my hand out.

“Oh my god, the water is cold!” said Amber.

“It is not far to the first waterfall, but keep an eye out for arrowheads on the creek bottom, and I’ll keep an eye out for snakes.”

Amber punched me. “It had better be too cold for snakes.”

“Oww, Director, that hurt!” I said in mock indignation.

“My feet have frostbite already,” said Amber.

“Wait until our fingers turn blue. Okay, start feeling in the little pockets of clay under the waterfall and see what we find.”

I pulled out a hand full of gravel and a fossil.

“You did not warn me about frozen fingers,” said Amber. Who suddenly held up a flint arrowhead and shrieked in delight. 

“Oh my goodness, look at this!”

“The elegance of the universe of human creation,” I said. “That is called a Hardin Barbed dart point, and they are known for being one of the finest works of art across the Midwest and Southeast.”

“Hardin?” she said.

“Let’s get out of this cold storage, enough wet exploring for the day,” I suggested. “My feet are killing me.”

Amber held up her trophy, the beautiful arrowhead I had planted under the waterfall.

At our vehicles, I asked, “Drinks,” and pointed to the local pub. What was her story?

"I just want to put on dry socks and shoes before I consider a drink," said Amber.

Inside the noisy pub we took seats at a booth. I sat so I could watch the door, and she sat next to me.

“You’re always on guard for the next threat,” said Amber.

“Only a janitor, ready to clean up the spills,” I said.

“Is that your disguise?” said Amber.

The waiter came to the table, “Beer for me,” I said. “And the young lady would like a margarita.”

She slapped me on the shoulder. “Never again, never another margarita,” said Amber. “A beer, please.”

“I have to admit, you looked pretty damn good in that evening dress.”

“No more margaritas,” she said. “But yes, I did look damn good in that dress.”

“What does the real Amber do?” I asked. “You didn’t get your master’s degree to run an interpretive center for a bunch of filthy snot-nosed redneck kids, did you?”

“I love my job at Weldon Springs. I will admit that the school buses are an unexpected challenge,” said Amber.

“Guessing you’re pretty damn good barrel racer by the trophies in your office,” I said.

“Oh,” said Amber, “Let me brag. I was the county champion barrel racer, that is, Pierce and I were champions. We were a team. We knew each other moves before they were made,” said Amber, her voice rising and face flushed.

“Impressive, you could tame a horse like that,” I said.

“Tame? No. Do you really want to tame a champion barrel racer? You’re not really breaking a horse who wants to race the barrels. Some days, he might nip you or throw a back leg at you; other days, he was the sweetest creature on the planet. During competitions we blended together mind and body. I miss that connection.”

Talking about her horse, she tilted her head and placed her cheek on my shoulder.

“Who tried to tame you?” asked Amber.

“I’m just out of prison,” I said. “There is an ex-wife somewhere in Florida with our three children, but she didn’t leave me a forwarding address. After the war, there was too much wildness in me.”

Amber lifted her head, and we stared at each other. Her face was wrapped in a beautiful smile, and I kissed her and was smothered in a cloud of her scent.

“Wondering when you were going to make that move,” she said.

 We kissed again, exploratory, with rising passion.

When we finally pulled apart, I whispered, “Prison sucks. Nothing like that in jail. Wow, you have no idea how good that feels.”

“I think I have an excellent idea of how it feels,” said Amber, and we kissed again.

We broke apart when the waiter brought two beers.

“Did you know my ex-wife’s name is Amber?”

“Get out!”

She punched me again.

“In the Air Force, we used to say, do not date strippers, redheads, or anyone named Amber.”

“I think you might be a jerk,” said Amber, pulling on her beer.

“But I don’t have red hair anymore,” said Amber and she pulled me in close, perfume and roundness, strong back muscles, and long black hair tangled around me like a Medusa.

“Maybe I should start poetry,” I said. “This is like an opium dream.”

“Actually, you need to be quiet,”

My hands explored her body, staying in the safe zones, and she pressed closer, sharing her body heat. She was like a barrel racer self-contained, breathing soft moans, waiting for the whistle or buzzer to say go.

There was no way to hide my erection, and we both ignored it.

Finally, my hand slipped down on a breast, causing her to gasp, and I broke apart, reaching for my beer.

“That’s all the further barrel racer; we have to wait for the buzzer,” I chuckled.

Amber reached for her beer, her thighs touching mine.

“Oh, I was just laughing. What are your parents going to say if they knew you had dated down and were making out with a janitor?” 

“My parents?” said Amber.

“Damnit, woman, you feel good,” another wall came down inside me, and we kissed again.

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