by Hawk MacKinney
The Indian Queen would risk torture and worse to keep her secrets from these barbarians in suits of metal and their search for cities of gold. They never found the gold. Empires rose; empires fell, the centuries passed. Legend became fireside myths, but no treasure was ever found. Yet, among the grey-green drapes of wisteria and wild jasmine along the misty shrouded lowlands of bayous and marshes of the Westo River, the folktales persisted.
In the lazed creep of a near-tropical dawnlit the pungent Turkish coffee permeated Moccasin Hollow. Beyond the kitchen door Lucky, Craige Ingram’s German shepherd gnawed a favorite bone. Looted burial mounds seemed a world away until plundered mounds on Moccasin Hollow land brings amateur archeologist PI Craige Ingram into the crosshairs of kidnapping. Stealthy hideaways are concealed in old colonial brick-lined river grottos beneath the big house of Ardochy plantation. Sex-tape underage blackmail and thrill killings on federal land spur a medical examiner’s preliminary postmortem to more than a hired cleaner’s quickie cover-up passed off as drug deals gone sour. Greed tangles a witch’s pigswill of illicit affairs and murder-to-hide-murder. Shady investigators and shadier politics stir an unexpected concoction that threatens the lives of those at Moccasin Hollow in a spiteful plot against ex-SEAL Craige Ingram and the woman he loves.
Leeza picked one of her days off when Crawforde was out of town. She second-guessed herself as she thought how to go about it, and found herself making the turn onto the curved weeded Ardochy drive and parked next to the old granite buggy steps. She walked around to the front door and turned the ornate brass bell ringer; listened to its clang-ding echo. Waited. Nothing. She gave the brass knob another twist.
The door opened a crack, “Who’re you? What you want?” The door opened slightly more, “What you doin’ on this property? Radcliffe and Ardochy is closed for renovation. Won’t be open till restorations are complete.”
The gruff bushy-brows startled her. A bit of sweetness couldn’t hurt, “I wanted to visit Ardochy.”
“Both are private property. I asked you what you were doin’ here?”
“Are you the caretaker?”
“I don’t see that’s none of your business. Ain’t your place to ask questions. You’re on private property.”
“I’m doing a research paper for my history professor at the university in Columbia about the confederate battles near Aiken.”
“The Battle of Aiken?” The door opened wider.
“The McGiffern family and the name of Ardochy has come up several times. The university librarian told me most of the McGiffern papers were still in Redcliffe and Archochy.”
“Far as I know they’re all still on the shelves, but they’re book-wormed and full of silver fish. Pages are rotten. Fall to pieces in your hand. Ink faded, barely readable. I think the fellow handling the McGiffern properties is making arrangements to move them.”
“I’d be ever so grateful if you could show me. I know it’s imposing, but I won’t take long.”
Grumpy face disappeared; the door opened, “Only for a few minutes. I got things to do.”
Leeza gushed, “Thank you ever so much.” In the stifling afternoon humidity she felt a twinge uneasy as she followed him up the age-worn creak of solid wood stair steps that spoke of by-gone years. The long hallway talked to her, and she caught the slow steady tick-tock of a great clock somewhere.
“Library is right in here,” the caretaker ushered her in.
The moment she walked into the smaller room Leeza was bewildered, near to the point of being overwhelmed. Crawforde’s office had nothing like this. The narrow shelves were crammed with frayed folio volumes and stacks of handwritten papers and letters. “I expected this room to be bigger.”
He said, “This isn’t the main library. This room was Miss Theosia’s. Where she took her afternoon tea and sit and read.”
On the small desk with its rickety chair lay large leather-bound volumes, one trimmed in blue. Too big for her to hide and sneak out, “All these books and papers.”
“Still laying right where Miss Theosia last left them. Nothin’ fake about this place. Old man Virgil told me once when the landings flooded and the river got high, how he saw pottery and bones sticking out along the washed-out river banks. When the water went down Virgil went back and reburied the bones. Never told nobody what else he found. If he found anything he wouldn’t have told nobody. Folks talked about him. How Virgil was a dumb field hand. He wadn’t one bit dumb. Times when Redcliffe was a workin’ plantation and when the field bell rung after supper, I’d often see him sitting in that very chair with one of these books on his lap, readin’ away. He read every one of these books, sometimes more’n once.” Quick look at the shelves, “Some got wet during times they was hid in the tunnels and caves along the river ’twixt here and Savannah. Tunnels are older than Redcliffe. Indians likely lived in the first ones. McGiffern’s been hiding things in the tunnels since before this place was built.” With a wicked chuckle, “Early on it was corn squeezin’s bein’ shipped to Savannah Towne. Ain’t safe to go in them no more. All soggy when the river’s high. Timbers gone rotten. Most clogged with cave-ins. Lots of critters, turtles and snakes. Easy to get buried; no one’d ever know. Mud an’ river an’ rot can make a body disappear real quick if’n gators don’t take it first.”
“I’m terrified of snakes.”
He said, “Plenty of them about.”
Leeze recalled what her fifth grade teacher once said—how a book’s value comes from what’s inside. Leeza said, “One of my teachers knew about some of the tunnels.”
“She must’a been one of your old teachers.”
Leeza said, “Could I take just little look inside one or two of these? History of people’s lives right here in these pages.” Same as Crawforde had her do with his old volumes, she slipped on a pair of soft white cotton gloves, “I’ll be extra careful.”
The caretaker said, “A professor once looked through these books. He put on a pair of gloves exactly like that.”
“The professor I work for uses gloves when he’s handling his old volumes.”
“I’ll leave you be. When you’re done, I’ll be at the lower landing.” He shuffled out, Clomping down the creaking steps down one step at a time.
Leeza had used FIND and parts of the filename to locate the one she wanted with its small colored snapshot he’d taken. When she found the note, she printed a copy.
“Confirm El Escorial title printed in Madrid – check Ardochy library – name on the spine with embossed Coat of Arms – list of kings and queens, consorts and mistresses, madness and intrigues, courtiers, notables of each reign – Cortez, Portuguese Magellan – Fidalgo y Ranjel – Cutifachiqui – Westobou treasure – DeSoto –”
She turned to the endless shelves. Her eyes searched for the title with Madrid on the cover. Leeza had heard old-timers talk about Indians and their settlements along the Savannah. She reached a smaller volume down from the shelf. Several loose handwritten pages fell out. The flaky edges crumbled. Across the top of one page, “Westo tribes centered along upper Savanno River.” More faded words inked or penciled along the margins, across the top of the fragile sheets. “Traded mostly with Edisto and coastal tribes – bartered furs for sea treasures- ”
There were more words in cursive she couldn’t read or understand; more scribbles in English, but the faded ink was almost unreadable. “DeSoto kidnapped a Chief’s daughter – Chief died from the sickness the medicine man had never seen -” Underlined one word, “smallpox” Followed by, “ – fear for her people. Daughter gathered tribe’s sacred objects – hid them near the burial mounds of their forefathers.” She flipped through the folio pages for any other notes. Nothing shook loose until her fingers trailed the uneven bumps between the last folio page and heavy back cover, and found more notes between the original binding and the newer binding laid over the original. Leeza turned to the spine. She could just barely make out Madrid underneath the later cover.
She took out the pages she’d printed, and opened the book with the blue trim. The stylish handwriting scribed so many decades was long gone. She flipped through a few more pages, then eased closed the aged cover, and took the stairs back down.
HAWK MacKINNEY: WHY I WRITE THE KINDS OF BOOKS I DO
Ah yes, the concoction of genre…which shelf in a bookstore or library…kind of book describes way mo’betta the ‘write’ of an adventure in cursive longhand or printer output bound between some sort of covers. Sci-fi and thrillers or romance or historical tales are the same. Readers identify with characters, the people-story emotions they can connect with. There is a misleading mantra afoot…“Write to the market.” That may be more than a few grains of marketing distortion for the beginning writer. It can distort and cripple one’s creative efforts down a very boring unfeeling path.
One should write what they enjoy. Roses are red, and violets are some other color is the extent of my poetry ability, but I’ve never found a poem that grabbed me that didn’t have a bit of gusto, tenderness, understanding…all those emotional ties that make writers persist into the long hours, alone in a room doing what they enjoy. Tales are about people.
My writings cross all manner of genre-stirring in my tales – science fiction with romance, a thriller mystery with romance. In a thriller boy-gets-girl, jealousy, boy-loses-girl, heartbreak and dreams reclaimed…tell me that’s not romance found in historical fiction AND sci-fi or the deciphering of macabre murder and mayhem. The beast of the ID is in all men. Without emotions to drive us, our words become dry logs in a dead journal. That wispy ghost of the tale shapes a droopy outline of boring behavior, objectives and single-spaced cardboard cutouts. Characters are in no way ever alive…the read of the book never finished.
My female characters are my favorites, and I make sure they never get away from being involved in how the screw turns. My serial protagonist in the Moccasin Hollow Mystery Series is yanked and puzzled all asunder by the delightful mysteries of the turn of an ankle or slope of a slender neck, a blazing glance of the eyes, the carriage of shoulders and upturned chin. The lusty inviting allure of strong thoughtful caring females who know what is right and possess the mystery of a wanton promise with the grace of a lady…no matter whether she’s hoeing corn or attending an opera. Protecting their children/family or tenderness with a significant other, it’s an innate poise and confidence-in-a-crisis these women most definitely have. I’ve been around strong women all my life. They are the greatest comfort in the world. Spoiling them when I can, but I prefer they spoil me. Those are the tales I tell…the books I write – I enjoy drawing these wonderful creatures with words. Genre doesn’t matter.
AUTHOR Bio and Links:
Internationally acclaimed author and public speaker, Hawk MacKinney began writing mysteries for his school newspapers. He served in the US Navy Reserve for over 20 years, and was a tenured faculty member at several state medical facilities, teaching postgraduate courses in both the United States and Jerusalem, Israel. Since retiring Hawk has authored several novels that have received national and international recognition. Moccasin Trace, a historical novel, was nominated for the prestigious Michael Shaara Award for Excellence in Civil War Fiction and the Writers Notes Book Award. The Cairns of Sainctuarie, his science fiction series, includes The Bleikovat Event and The Missing Planets, with a third book in the works. Hawk’s latest project focuses on The Moccasin Hollow Mystery Series. Book 1 in the series, Hidden Chamber of Death, was released early 2016.
Hawk MacKinney will be awarding a $25 Amazon or Barnes and Noble GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour.