The story begins when Mr. Edwards, the high school physical science teacher, teams Cliff Barnes with Darlene for an upcoming field trip to the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Cliff is just an average kind of guy. He comes from a working class family and has little disposable income. He tried out for football his first year in high school and got his leg broken. His injury resulted in such medical expense to his parents that he promised them he wouldn’t try out for the team again. Cliff is ecstatic, however, when he hears he is teamed up with Darlene. She is a beautiful girl and Cliff longs to have her as his girlfriend. Her boyfriend, however, is Rocky. Rocky is an athlete and possesses the body of one with “massive chest and biceps.” Rocky is not a bully; but actually a defender of his weaker classmates. Nevertheless, he considers Darlene as his girl.
While they are searching for rock samples in Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Cliff and Darlene discover a cave. Beside a skeleton, they find old Spanish armor and gold artifacts. Cliff and Darlene want to cash in on the treasure; but one of their other teachers, Miss Dexter, has already explained that any treasure found in that area is the property of the U.S. Government and it is the finder’s duty to report the find.
Darlene, in particular, is reluctant to report their discovery without some sort of reward. She convinces Cliff that the find must remain a secret between the two of them until they can find out what the treasure is worth. Then she and Cliff should negotiate a finder’s fee with the Government.
Due to a blunder on Cliff’s part, members of the Mafia, Nuncio and Vito, learn of their find. When Cliff and Darlene return to inventory the treasure, Nuncio and Vito follow and seize part of the treasure and leave Cliff and Darlene tied up in the cave. Cliff and Darlene manage to escape. They notify the local sheriff that the SUV belonging to Darlene’s mother was stolen; but say nothing about the treasure they found.
Enlisting Rocky’s help, Cliff and Darlene return to the cave to get the artifacts Nuncio and Vito left behind. Later the three conspire with Cassie (Rocky’s partner on the field trip) and develop a plan to recover the items stolen by Nuncio and Vito. This attempt nearly costs Cliff and Darlene their lives; but Rocky rescues them.
After their second encounter with Mafia thugs, Cliff discovers he and Darlene have a new problem. The FBI is now aware of their discovery and the face Federal charges. The FBI, however, is more interested getting evidence that could convict the local Mafia ringleader, Santini. With the permission of the parents of Rocky, Darlene, and Cliff, they use the three students to set up a sting operation aimed at convicting Santini and his gang of larger crimes.
The sting operation initially goes awry, with Cliff, Darlene, Rocky and Cassie being seized by the Santini’s henchmen; but later rescued by the FBI in a raid. Justice prevails.
Targeted Age Group:: 12 to 18
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
I wanted to write a young adult novel. When I was working as an engineering technician on an assignment near Alamosa, Colorado, I heard of some hikers who had discovered a cave in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains that contained some old Spanish artifacts. The hikers tried to come back to the cave they couldn’t find it. I thought this was a good idea for a teenage novel.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
I used some of the people I knew in high school as models for the main characters. The rest I made up as I went along.
Cliff held his breath along with the rest of the Physical Science class. He drummed his fingers nervously on the black marble lab counter. The booby trap was set. It was carefully rigged to explode when the teacher opened his top lab drawer. Tension so predominated the room that Cliff felt he could bounce off it like a trampoline. The same tension gripped his nearly sixteen year old body. What would happen when it went off?
Five seconds, 10 seconds, 30 seconds, a full minute, time continued to pass and now it seemed the teacher wouldn’t show up. All had been carefully planned. “Rock Head Ed” would get his, all he had to do was show up.
Finally the familiar form entered the room. Only 5 foot 10 inches, the teacher wasn’t a tall man Cliff figured, however, he was so lean and muscular that he would sink like a bag of lead bricks in a swimming pool.
“Afternoon class,” he greeted them as he slung a canvas backpack on the counter. The numerous threads hung from the pack, indicating the pack was a veteran of many years of faithful service.
“OK class, he started with a smile beaming under the jet black mustache which formed two symmetric oblique triangles on his upper lip.
“Today we will talk about several of my favorite things: gold, silver, and other valuable metals. We will talk about the processes, which create the formation of these minerals, and where to look for them in nature; then, I have a surprise for you.
“And we have a surprise for you,” Cliff thought as he shifted his six foot frame in his seat and scratched the back of his sandy colored hair. Cliff was the only one among his two parents, brother and sister who had a blonde tinge to his hair. He figured there must have been a Scandinavian somewhere in his ancestry.
Cliff breathed out and in heavily. Mr. Edwards started to reach for the drawer; but stopped. He decided first to pull the projector down in front of the blackboard. The rest of the room exhaled.
“Ms. Jensen, would you like to hazard a guess? In what type of rocks do we usually find gold?”
Cliff looked over at Darlene Jensen. She pulled back the straight locks of her nearly white blond hair in preparation to respond. This motion revealed a golden face without a blemish.
“Igneous, often in a vein of quartz which flowed and solidified in a mountain fracture,” Darlene responded.
Cliff sat absorbed by the wonderfully delicate sound of Darlene’s voice. He loved Darlene. He wished she felt the same way about him; but he couldn’t think of a time when she said as much as two words to him. Cliff figured he was too plain looking, too clumsy and lacked the muscle definition of the athletes. Although he had a clear complexion, he had a roundish face with no predominate characteristic that he felt would attract women. As he was pondering his lack of physical endowments, the rest of the class inhaled again. Mr. Edwards was reaching for the drawer. The loud pop pierced the tension of the room. Following the noise, several dozen tiny paper ribbons as they reached the top of their trajectories and fell back toward the lab counter and floor. A half a dozen of these landed on Mr. Edward’s head and shoulders.
Mr. Edwards straightened up after involuntarily ducking from the unexpected blast. Cliff watched as the taunt muscles of Mr. Edwards face relaxed as the teacher regained his composure. Then, Mr. Edwards slowly opened the drawer completely, anticipating it seemed, a second booby trap. When none exploded, he reached in and extracted a bright orange envelope. Holding the envelope delicately between his right thumb and index finger he raised it high for the class to see.
“Is it safe for me to open this?” he asked.
When no one answered, he continued, “Well here goes.”
He reached in the drawer and pulled out a knife. He quickly sliced along the flap, then extracted a card. He took several minutes to examine it thoroughly. The class sat in restless anticipation.
“So this is all a birthday surprise,” Mr. Edwards looked up. “The signatures on this card further indicate that all of you were partners in this conspiracy to give your Physical Science teacher a coronary. How do you plead?”
“Guilty, Mr. Edwards,” the class shouted back in unison.
“OK you delinquents, now I’m not sure if I should let you in on the surprise I have for you.”
“Aw, Mr. Edwards,” Rocco (Rocky) Baltus blurted out. Rocky was big enough to intimidate most any one in the sophomore class. His massive chest and biceps revealed he’d spent long hours in weight training. Cliff liked Rocky though because Rocky seemed to have an inbred sense of fairness. Instead of using his strength to bully others; he was more likely to intimidate anyone he deemed to take unfair advantage of others. For Cliff, the only problem was Rocky also really liked Darlene.
“Well, if you insist, Rocky,” Mr. Edwards answered him.
“OK class here’s the deal. As you know, the high school tries to provide one field trip each year for the physical science and biology classes. Well, this year I decided to see how well you’ve learned your earth science section. We are going to spend 3 days in the Sangre de Cristo mountains.”
Cheers, whistles and expressions like “all right” and “yeah man” interrupted Mr. Edward’s speech.
“Before you get too excited … before, before you get too excited,” Mr. Edwards had to repeat himself several times before he regained the classes’ attention.
“First, we will be going to a somewhat remote area. This means all of you will have to do some serious hiking.”
“Aw Mr. Edwards that’s no problem,” Rocky broke in.
“Well Rocky, you may be in good shape; but climbing up the side of mountains at the altitudes we’ll be working in is a little more than the average teenager is used to. Now let me talk about some of the other arrangements.”
“What kind of arrangements,” Cassandra asked. Cassandra was the type to worry about details. Not infrequently, did Mr. Edwards have to admonish her for painting her nails or combing her long auburn hair in class.
“Well Miss Russell, if you give me a few minutes, I’ll try to explain. Each of you will be paired with a partner. You and your partner will receive the same grade for the tasks I will give you. Therefore, it will be to your benefit to help each other as much as possible.”
“Great,” several of the students blurted out.
“Don’t get too excited,” Mr. Edwards started. “I’ve had you for almost a whole school year now. I know who hangs with whom, and I’ve decided to make things a little more interesting. I’m going to assign partners. I intend to see how you do with a partner you probably wouldn’t choose on your own.”
Amidst sighs and groans, Mr. Edwards began to read off the list of pairs. Cliff had to smirk when he heard Rocky was paired with Cassandra. What an unlikely pair he thought. Rocky was only an average student; but he did his homework. Cassandra, on the other hand, often neglected to do hers. She was not the type to let homework interfere with a trip to the mall or the debut of a new film at the theater. It appeared to Cliff that Cassandra was constantly engaged in an “Out of body” experience.
As Cliff was trying to picture Rocky and Cassandra on the mountain; he almost missed Mr. Edwards next words.
“Clifford Barnes and Darlene Jensen”
He was paired with Darlene? Cliff shot a glance at her. She didn’t appear to share the excitement he felt. Three days with Darlene, the anticipation overwhelmed him! Now he listened attentively as Mr. Edwards continued.
“Even though I have partnered some boys with girls, we will segregate the sexes into separate groups of tents for sleeping arrangements. Naturally, I will need a chaperone for the girls. Miss Dexter, who many of you have had for one history class or another will accompany us. She will also give you some instruction in the methods of archaeology.”
Mr. Edwards then passed out a letter for the parents. While he was doing this, Cliff tried to picture Miss Dexter on the mountain. He had trouble. He’d never seen her outside of American History class. He guessed he figured she’d learned all about history in a library somewhere. After all, she wore thick-lensed glasses. Nevertheless, something about her really attracted Cliff. He first felt this attraction one day when she told him to remain after class because he’d been talking during class. She liked to “get in your face” while scolding you. While she was scolding him, all Cliff could concentrate on was her taut, blemish-free face and azure eyes. He had this overwhelming urge to lean a little farther forward and kiss her full on the lips. He didn’t, of course; but many times later he’d wished he’d been bold enough to follow through on that urge.
“Mr. Barnes,” the physical science teacher interrupted Cliff’s daydream.
“Yes,” Cliff answered.
“Will you take this note down to Ms. Dexter? She’s probably in the teacher’s lounge.”
“Sure, Mr. Edwards,” he responded and popped up out of his seat. Taking a yellow slip of paper from Mr. Edward’s hand, he headed out the classroom door.
Cliff couldn’t resist reading the message on the note as he walked down the hall. It only said: “Brigid please come up to Physical Science Lab now if you are available.” It was signed “Scott”. Evidently they were on a first name basis. Jealously pulsed through Cliff’s body. He didn’t like the idea of Mr. Edwards and Miss Dexter being so “friendly”.
When he entered the teacher’s lounge, he saw that Miss Dexter was the only one there. She was curled up in the corner of a couch reading. She wore a white frilly blouse and a brown pleated skirt. The skirt covered most of Miss Dexter’s legs. She sat with her legs bent at the knee back towards her behind. Cliff couldn’t even see her feet. She was so absorbed in what she was doing, she didn’t notice Cliff until he stood right next to her.
“Miss Dexter,” Cliff spoke.
Startled, Miss Dexter pushed her glasses up on her face and looked up.
“Yes Cliff, what are you doing here?”
“Mr. Edwards asked me to bring you this note,” Cliff answered as he handed her the note.
She read it quickly as Cliff started for the door.
“Wait a minute, Cliff, I’ll walk back with you,” she responded.
Cliff watched with delight as she slipped her delicate feet into the pair of laceless shoes and stood up. She brushed her skirt down and straightened the collar on her blouse.
“Everything look in place?” she asked Cliff.
“Beautiful,” Cliff blurted out without thinking.
“Excuse me?” Miss Dexter shot back incredulously.
“I, I mean you look fine,” the words came stumbling out.
“OK,” Miss Dexter smile the kind of smile which said she’d heard him the first time. Then she asked:
“Would you help me carry some things to my car?”
“Sure,” Cliff responded eagerly as he grabbed a stack of her books. As they walked down the locker-lined halls, Cliff decided to try to find out more about Miss Dexter.
“Do you like being a teacher?” he asked.
“Yes, most of the time,” she responded.
“Why did you pick our high school?”
“Well, I applied with the school district and they assigned me here.”
“Do you have plans to go somewhere else?”
“No, I like it here. Do you want to get rid of me?”
“No, not at all,” Cliff said, overcompensating in enthusiasm.
They burst through a pair of double doors and into the parking lot.
“It’s that old Dodge Colt over there,” Miss Dexter pointed to a white compact.
Cliff noted the hatchback of the car had several bumper stickers with phrases like: “Live simply so that others may simply live.” Cliff recognized these statements as imploring the saving of rain forests. Apparently Miss Dexter was an avid environmentalist. When she opened the hatchback on the car, Cliff set the books he carried inside. She then placed her notebooks and briefcase in and closed it again.
“Why did you decide to teach history?” he asked.
“Oh, I’ve always loved history. I became a teacher so I could get paid for studying it,” she answered.
“What kind of history do you like best?”
“Actually, I don’t have a favorite period; but right now I’m studying the Spanish exploration and settlement in the American Southwest,” she answered.
“Like Coronado’s expedition in the 1540’s?”
“Why yes, and later expeditions as well as the Spanish settlements,” Miss Dexter answered.
“Are you going to be teaching us about the Spanish explorers on the field trip?” Cliff asked.
“No, what we will be doing is field archeology. We will be searching for any kind of artifacts we can find. In the area Scott, I mean Mr. Edwards is taking you I doubt we will find any evidence of early Spanish explorers; but who knows?” With this statement Miss Dexter gave Cliff’s left shoulder a little shake. Cliff savored the gentle pressure of her fingers on his shoulder. He wished he were 8 years older, maybe then she would be willing to date him.
When they got to the physical science lab, the students were busy trying to identify a rock sample Mr. Edwards had given each of them. Mr. Edwards face beamed when he saw Miss Dexter enter the room. Cliff was now sure they were going together.
“Class give me your attention a minute,” Mr. Edwards began. “Miss Dexter will give you a quick run-down on the field archeology program she plans to conduct during our field trip.”
Cliff took his seat and listened for about 15 minutes while Miss Dexter outlined what she planned to do during the field trip. Just as she appeared to be winding down her talk, the bell rang. As the class began to file out of the room, Mr. Edwards shouted after them.
“Don’t forget to bring back the permission slips tomorrow.”
As Cliff was about to pass through the doorway, he heard the sweet melody of Darlene’s voice behind him.
“Wait for me in the hall,” she insisted.
Cliff stepped through the door and sidestepped a couple of paces to his left. Darlene followed. She then took 4 or 5 steps more to lead Cliff away from the rest of the crowd of students. When Cliff caught up to her, she looked up at him with her delicate blue eyes.
“Cliff, would you come over to my house tonight?”
She spoke the question in such an enticing manner that she could have asked Cliff to run in front of a semi-trailer truck with her and he probably would have agreed.
“Where? When?” were the only words he could muster.
“Seven o’clock, 1014 Packwood Lane, can you make it?” Darlene responded.
“See you later then,” Darlene said with one of those perky smiles Cliff noticed she usually reserved for her boyfriends.
Seven o’clock couldn’t come soon enough for Cliff!
Cliff bounded along the last block of Parkwood Lane. He looked at his watch, it was ten till seven. He would be early. He didn’t want to appear over anxious in front of Darlene so he contemplated walking a couple of blocks beyond her house and then doubling back to kill time. He decided against that though. He was afraid Darlene might see him pass by and that would be even more embarrassing.
“1010, 1012, …1014, there it is,” Cliff talked to himself as he spotted her house. It was a brown brick structure with a meticulously landscaped yard. Cliff turned up the black flagstone path that led to the front door. Darlene’s dad must be doing OK to afford a place like this Cliff thought. When he reached the front door he pressed the doorbell and waited. As he waited he looked back over the front yard, he marveled at how two enormous trees nearly blocked out the rays of the setting sun. When he heard the door open, he turned, expecting to see Darlene but found himself face to face with a blond vision of beauty who looked something like Darlene; but decidedly more mature.
“Yes,” she said with a smile that rivaled Darlene’s.
“Is Darlene home?” Cliff asked.
“Yes, I’m Darlene’s mother, she’s on the phone in the den. Come on in. What is your name?” Mrs. Jensen responded.
“Cliff Barnes,” he answered. He couldn’t help but notice Darlene’s mother also a superbly proportioned figure. He watched, mesmerized, as she walked over to an overstuffed rocker, then slid into it, smoothing the skirt portion of her cotton dress along her thighs and over her knees in a fluid, modest motion.
“Tell me a little about yourself, Cliff.”
These words broke Cliff’s trance. Embarrassment surged through him. For a moment he had felt the same attraction for her that he felt for Darlene.
“There’s not a lot to tell, Mrs. Jensen,” he began. “My dad is a delivery truck driver. My mom works part time doing accounting for several small businesses. I was born in this city and have lived here all my life. We moved into a new house about 16 blocks from here about 2 years ago. That’s why I go to the same high school as Darlene.
I run track. I tried to play football my freshman year; but I broke my leg and my parents asked me not to go out again. They had a hard time paying the medical expenses.”
“How do you feel about Darlene?” Mrs. Jensen asked.
Mrs. Jensen’s bluntness shocked Cliff. He was embarrassed to tell the truth; yet, some inner voice urged him tell Mrs. Jensen.
“I think she’s really pretty, like yourself,” he blurted out, regretting the words immediately.
“Oh, I think you’re at that age when your distracted by any pretty face,” Mrs. Jensen philosophized. “You’ll learn to be more discerning as you grow older. Tell me, why did you come tonight?”
“Well, Darlene asked me to come. I assume it’s about the field trip.”
“The one to the mountains?”
“Yes, Mr. Edwards partnered me with Darlene to do the fieldwork,” Cliff explained.
“Are you looking forward to that?” Mrs. Jensen asked.
Cliff wished she wouldn’t ask such blatant questions. He wondered if he answered “yes” whether she would ban Darlene from the trip. If he answered “no”, he would be lying and he didn’t want to lie to Darlene’s mother.
“Yes,” he responded stoically.
“Is it because you enjoy the fieldwork, or because you want to spend time with Darlene?” Mrs. Jensen pressed.
“Ah, well, mostly I want to spend time with Darlene,” he answered.
“Have you ever asked her for a date?” Mrs. Jensen probed deeper.
“I just think she would never agree to go out with me,” Cliff answered.
“You’ll never know if you don’t ask,” Mrs. Jensen said and winked at him.
“Mother, was that the doorbell I heard?” Darlene sailed gracefully into the room. She passed in front of Cliff with her back turned toward him, not noticing he was there. Cliff marveled at the elegance of her form. She was dressed in a yellow and white striped shirt with thigh hugging blue jean shorts and yellow socks that reached to mid calf. Cliff wanted to relish the scene indefinitely; but Darlene’s mother spoke to break the hypnosis of the moment.
“Darlene, you have a guest,” she said, pointing toward Cliff.
Darlene did a pivot turn with the grace of a ballerina and faced Cliff.
“Oh hi!” she said with a smile that lifted Cliff off his feet.
A “Hi,” was all Cliff could muster.
Darlene glanced back at her mother.
“Do you mind if I take Cliff upstairs to talk over our field trip?” she asked.
“OK, but leave your door open,” Mrs. Jensen instructed.
“OK,” Darlene responded. Then she grabbed Cliff’s left tricep and lead him out of the room. Cliff enjoyed the gentle pressure of Darlene’s fingers on his arm. When they got to the steps she let go, however, and bounded up them ahead of him, her feet making a muffled thump on the carpeted hardwood steps. At the top of the steps, Cliff followed her a couple of paces down the hall. She stopped at an open doorway on her right and motioned for him to enter. Cliff stepped into her room. The first thing he noticed was Darlene’s neatly made bed. The bed had a white painted headboard and foot board. The spread was light pink with a white fringe. Cliff looked around, the walls were covered with pink and white flowers, giving the room the appearance of a three dimensional valentine.
“Have a seat if you’d like,” Darlene motioned to a dark maple chair alongside a matching maple table containing a pile of school books, a clock radio, a cup full of pens and pencils and other feminine odds and ends. Following this invitation, Darlene picked up a notebook and pen from the table and plopped on her bed.
“You know, you’re the first boy my mother let me bring up here. Usually she insists we stay downstairs.”
“I guess she figures you’re safe with me,” Cliff tried to joke off his disappointment that he didn’t enjoy the same status as Darlene’s other boyfriends.
“I’m glad to hear that, “ Darlene teased. “Now let’s get down to business,” she continued.
“OK, why did you invite me over?” Cliff asked.
“You missed physical science class the other day when Mr. Edwards gave the assignment for the field trip. I though since we will be working as partners you should know what we are supposed to be doing.”
“You’re right,” Cliff answered. He was disappointed. All Darlene wanted to talk about was homework. “What’s the assignment?”
“Mr. Edwards gave us a list of rocks we have to find. The team who finds the most on he list is guaranteed an “A” for the assignment and won’t have to take a final exam for physical science. I would like to get out of that final exam so I want us to win!”
“I’d love to get out of that exam too. Mr. Edwards gives pretty tough tests.”
Darlene took a blank sheet of paper out of her notebook, then offered the paper, a pen, and the notebook to Cliff.
“Here, copy down the list, on the blank sheet,” she ordered.
Cliff took the notebook, pen, and paper and sat down at Darlene’s desk. He began to copy the list.
“How good are you at field identification?” Darlene asked.
“About as good as the average sixteen-year-old,” Cliff replied.
“Smart-aleck!” Darlene snipped. “I was hoping you might have done this king of thing before.”
“Well, I was a boy scout; but we didn’t spend much time on rocks and minerals.”
“I haven’t either,” Darlene confessed. Then she added, “I think if we each take half of the list and get an identification manual from a library or somewhere we might get a jump start on the others. Why don’t you copy down the first half of the list and I’ll work on the second half. If we each concentrate on studying half, between the two of us we should be able to identify anything Rock Head Ed throws at us.”
“I hope we don’t have to identify it in the air,” Cliff quipped.
A brief look of confusion washed over Darlene’s face followed by one of forced tolerance.
“If that’s an example of your sense of humor, Cliff it’s going to be a long trip.”
She drug the word long out for emphasis. Darlene then got up off the bed, walked over and stood behind him placing her hands on his shoulders. She peered over to watch him as he copied down the last few rock names. He liked the gentle pressure of her hands on his shoulders and longed to slow down his writing to prolong the moment. With Darlene peering over his shoulder; however, he did not want to give away his feelings. She watched the few seconds it took to copy the remaining rock names. Then she gave him a gentle shake and said:
“Take that list now and learn your half. I’ll walk you out.”
Darlene backed off as Cliff stood up and headed for the bedroom door. Darlene’s mother, sitting in her chair in the living room, reading a magazine as Cliff followed Darlene down the stairs. Seeing them she got up and came toward the steps.
“That didn’t take long,” Darlenes mom commented.
“Well, I only needed to pass on an assignment to Cliff,” Darlene answered.
“I’ll show Cliff out,” Darlene’s mother offered.
“OK, Mom,” Darlene said and bounded back up the stairs.
Mrs. Jensen took Cliff by the back of his upper arm and led him to the front door. She opened the front door for him; but, to his surprise, she followed him out and shut the door.
“Doesn’t appear you’ve scored any points with Darlene,” Mrs. Jensen said.
Mrs. Jensen’s interest in Cliff’s love life shocked him. All he managed to say was “Yes, Ma’am”.
“Well let me give you a little advice. With Darlene you’ve got to be bold. You need to let her know how you feel about things. The guys she’s gone out with were like that, very direct.”
“But she’s only dated the cool guys, the one’s all the girls moon over,” Cliff protested.
“Being cool is as much an attitude as anything else. I think you’re cool.” Mrs. Jensen mused, placing particular emphasis on the word cool.
“Well, that’s nice; but you’re not Darlene.”
“But I was a high school girl once,” Mrs. Jensen responded.
“Things were different then,” Cliff protested.
“I don’ think what attracts girls to boys changes that much,” Mrs. Jensen responded.
“What would you recommend?” Cliff asked.
“I think you should ask her for a date the next time you have a good opportunity.”
“Do you think she’ll go out with me?”
“I can’t answer that question. Only Darlene can; but she can only say yes or not, and I don’t think either response will destroy your future do you?”
“I guess not. Thanks for the advice Mrs. Jensen.”
“Any time,” Mrs. Jensen answered with a captivating smile.
With that, Cliff headed for home.
On Monday, several days after Cliff’s visit to Darlenes house, he sat on the steps outside the main entrance to Hoover High. He watched as slowly other members of his Physical Science class struggled in. Cliff anxiously awaited Darlene’s arrival. He figured she would sit next to him on the bus. Cliff looked forward to a long trip with Darlene. He glanced down where his backpack lay. It was identical to all the packs the rest of the students would carry; but he was proud that his fit the aluminum frame with the tightly rolled sleeping bag attached below. The high school provided the packs and sleeping bags; but it was up to the students to bring the things they would need for the trip. Cliff figured he had the edge on the others, having been a Boy Scout and veteran of many camping trips.
A red luxury sedan pulled up. When the passenger door opened Cliff saw Cassandra climb out. She looked like she just stepped off the cover of Heidi. She wore shorts with bibbed front over a frilly blouse. To complete the outfit she wore hiking boots the color of which matched her shorts and long white knee socks, giving a very Bavarian appearance. Cliff noted that she did look very appealing, particularly since her shorts revealed a shapely pair of suntanned thighs.
Cassandra opened the door to the back seat. She reached in and tossed out a sleeping bag which, although the same time as Cliff’s, appeared to be twice the size. She also pulled out knap sack It looked as though it could explode with a pin prick. In addition, she had half a dozen drawstring plastic shopping bags hanging from various rings on the pack. Each bag seemed to be full. Cliff wondered how she was going to manage to carry all that stuff.
Cliff looked all around him. It looked like nearly all the students were there now, but no Darlene! Then he noticed two figures walking up a sidewalk that came from the student parking lot. They both had packs on their backs. Cliff recognized the first of these as the heavily muscled body of Rocco. The second he recognized as the divinely proportioned body of Darlene! Rocco looked comfortable in jeans, T-shirt, and running shoes. Darlene looked like a professional rock climber. She wore a T-shirt and khaki shorts with tan climbing shoes and white ankle socks.
As Cliff watched with jealousy Darlene arriving with Rocco, he heard Mr. Edward’s voice behind him.
“Are you all ready to go?” Mr. Edward’s asked.
Like the others, Cliff turned to face the sound of his voice.
Mr. Edwards stood on the steps. He wore a khaki shirt and khaki trousers. Cliff thought he looked like he just came from a safari.
“OK the bus will be here any minute. Get with your partners, I need to take roll.” Mr. Edward’s continued.
Cliff watched Darlene reluctantly leave Rocco and come toward him.
“Hi, would you help me off with this?” she asked Cliff.
“Sure”, Cliff answered. Darlene gave him a short smile and turned around. Cliff noted that her knap sack and bedroll fit neatly on the aluminum frame. He figured she must have had experience in the outdoors or had help packing.
“You came with Rocky?” Cliff prodded.
“Yes, he gave me a ride. He also helped me pack my pack. I’m afraid I don’t know much about hiking or camping.” Darlene answered him.
“Listen up,” Mr. Edwards’ voice interrupted Cliff’s thought. “The bus will be here in a few minutes. When it gets here, I will call off your names by partners. I want you to put your packs in the luggage hold and board the bus. I want you to board with your partner so when I’m done calling names, there shouldn’t be any bodies outside the bus. Once you get on, you may choose to sit where you want; but make sure you board with your partner. From now to the end of this trip you will be responsible for your partner, so whenever I take roll call you’d best know where that partner is!”
This rule thrilled Cliff. Wow! He and Darlene bound together for four days and three nights!
“Did you study your rocks?” Darlene quizzed Cliff.
“I haven’t studied them that much; but I think I got a good field manual – lot’s of pictures,” Cliff responded.
“Well let’s work hard on finding those rocks as soon as we get there,” Darlene prodded. “Maybe we can find them all the 1st day and enjoy the rest of the trip.” As Cliff pondered over various scenarios he hoped Darlene meant by “enjoy”; he noticed Miss Dexter’s Dodge Colt pull into a parking space in the distance. He noticed with delight when she stepped out of the car that she was dressed in the same style of kakki shorts as Darlene. Miss Dexter’s wardrobe selection was identical to Darlene’s with the exception that she wore a kakki jungle style shirt that appeared to come off the same rack as Mr. Edwards.
Cliff continued to watch as she opened the hatchback of her car and adroitly fling her pack on her back. As she walked toward the group, Cliff, mesmerized by the exquisite shape of her form and grace of her movement, was unaware that the bus had pulled up and stopped. In addition, he didn’t consciously notice Mr. Edwards cas his and Darlene’s name.
These two words preceded a “back to reality” jolting jab in the ribs.
“Come on space cadet,” Darlene prodded. “Rock Head Ed just called our names. Where’s your mind anyway?”
“Oh, sorry,” Cliff answered.
“What had you so entranced?” Darlene asked as she looked in the direction Cliff had been staring. Then she answered her own question.
“Miss Dexter, you’ve got a thing for Miss Dexter, don’t you?”
“Never mind,” Cliff tried to brush her off. He was annoyed that she had assessed his feelings so effortlessly.
“You have the hots for Miss Dexter don’t you?” Darlene continued to rib him.
Cliff suddenly noticed this revelation of a “secret love” seemed to spark Darlene’s interest. It was as though Darlene was willing to share some degree of intimacy with him. Well Cliff wanted to make the most of this opportunity.
“I think she’s cute, Darlene; but that’s all.”
“That’s all, huh? Yeah, if that’s what you say,” Darlene gave him the “I don’t believe you” look then went on:
“She’s not going to be interested in some teenage boy. Come on, help me with my pack.”
“OK, I’ll get it for you,” Cliff answered her. Then he picked up both his and her packs. With one on each shoulder, he followed Darlene down to the bus. The bus was one of those used by the major bus companies providing cross country service. It was air conditioned and had the large baggage compartment underneath the seats. Cliff placed his pack in the baggage compartment and put Darlene’s on top of his. He followed her up the steps to the seats. As they reached the front of the aisle, Darlene turned to Cliff.
“It looks like Rocky saved me a seat by the window,” she stated.
Cliff watched with jealously as Darlene waved at Rocky waved back. Sure enough, Rocky was sitting in an aisle seat with his partner, Cassandra, across the aisle. There was an empty seat next to the window alongside Rocky.
“Talk to you when we get to our destination,” Darlene quipped at Cliff.
Cliff’s emotions deflated like a ruptured tire.
Six hours later, Cliff struggled to find a comfortable position in the bus seat. For him, the trip took an eternity. After Darlene left him to sit with Rocky, Cliff grabbed a seat a couple of rows back from the front next to a window. The group of students didn’t fill the bus, so there were extra seats and no one chose to sit beside him.
During the trip, Cliff glanced back several times only to see Cassandra, Rocky, and Darlene talking back and forth to each other. Apparently, all three were enjoying the trip. Anger welled up inside of Cliff. It didn’t help to look toward the front either. From where Cliff sat, he could see the aisle seat behind the driver. Miss Dexter and Rock Head Ed had boarded the bus last. Cliff noticed then that she and Mr. Edwards sat together behind the driver. Although Cliff could see only Mr. Edwards, from his point of view, Mr. Edwards appeared to have been talking to Miss Dexter the whole trip. Some guys have all the luck, the thought irritated Cliff like an unscratchable itch.
In an attempt to distract himself from the pain of his loneliness, Cliff looked out the window. There wasn’t a lot to see nearby. The sparse vegetation consisted mainly of isolated clumps of straw colored grass, begging for survival in the rusty Colorado soil. Here and there, he could see a shrub. These shrubs appeared as though they had been at the same stage of growth for centuries. He turned and looked out the front window. He could see a large snowcapped mountain just ahead. Mt. Blanca, he thought. It has to be Mt. Blanca. Mr. Edwards hadn’t given a lot of details on the location of their field work; but he did mention it would be: “In the shadow of Mt. Blanca”.
The bus suddenly turned off the paved highway and on to a road which seemed to have been formed by scraping a wide path through the surrounding terrain. It bore the red-brown tint of the native soil and here and there one could see the outcroppings of boulders which rose as much as 6 inches above the road surface. The road was wider than most dirt roads Cliff had seen, which probably explained why the driver would risk taking such an expensive bus on it.
They didn’t travel far on the dirt road. Four or five miles later by Cliff’s estimate, the driver pulled off into a large unpaved parking lot. The parking lot was surrounded by a border of railroad ties, many of which were so rotten that weeds grew up through the ties. A solitary pipe with pump handle sat in the middle of a concrete slab. A thousand feet or more beyond the pump, half obscured by juniper shrubs, Cliff could make out what appeared to be “His” and “Hers” outhouses. Beyond them, the ground dropped in elevation, indicating wide open spaces. To the left, however, the surface of the earth rose steadily, with the vegetation changing gradually from shrubs to conifers and terminating in a rock ridge with some traces of snow still left.
“End of the line,” boomed Mr. Edwards voice. “Everybody line up outside with your partners,” he continued.
Cliff was one of the 1st ones off the bus since he sat so near the front. He waited anxiously for Darlene. She followed Rocky and Cassandra off the bus, and, spotting Cliff, came straight for him. Just as she reached Cliff, Mr. Edwards’ voice boomed again:
“OK, we’re going to try to get in a couple of hours hiking before making camp for tonight. Get tour packs off the bus. Use the outhouses which are located behind us if you need to, fill your canteens and pair up with your partners. I want to leave in fifteen minutes.”
Darlene smiled at Cliff.
“Be a dear and get my pack,” she cooed. “I need to use the outhouse.”
“Sure,” Cliff answered. Then he suddenly remembered he didn’t know how to identify her pack.
“How can I tell which one is yours?” he called after her.
“My name is on it silly,” Darlene hollered back at him.
“Yeah, sure,” Cliff said to himself, remembering the names were on a 3 inch by 5 inch card inside a clear plastic protective pouch. The pouch was on the same side of the pack as the straps. He would have to read this label to identify her pack. He decided to wait for awhile to look for it. With luck, it would be the only one besides his left. Then he decided to retrieve his first and fill his canteen. He come back for hers later.
Two hours later, the group of students with teachers were trudging a narrow footpath, stepping between random spaced stones of random sizes, sprouting to random heights above the ground. Cliff followed Darlene up the path. It was too narrow to walk side by side. Toting the heavy pack at this altitude didn’t leave much breath for talking anyway. Darlene’s performance amazed Cliff.
Although her pack dwarfed her body, she seemed to stride the trail as though she was walking through a shopping mall. Cassandra, by comparison, managed to load down Rocky with all her “extras”!
The line of students snaking up the side of the mountain was now disappearing over a ridge. Miss Dexter, who lead the group, was nowhere to be seen. The tortuous path of the trail also prevented Cliff from seeing the rear of the line, where Mr. Edwards had positioned himself.
As Cliff topped the ridge, to his surprise Miss Dexter and the other students were forming a semicircle in a clearing surrounded by Cedar trees.
About the Author:
Biographical Information on
Michael J. Schneider
I was born and raised in Omaha, Nebraska. In 1971 I enrolled at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and received a degree in Civil Engineering in May 1976. I worked for the Federal Government as an engineer from June 1976 until January 2008.
I became interested in writing about 1987 and took a correspondence course in writing for children and teenagers. In 2001 I self-published my first book, The Secret of Sangre de Cristo. I wrote this book for the young adult audience. The setting is modern. I thought this book would be popular because it is male-focused in world of female-focused teenage novels. It currently is only available in paperback form.
That same year I completed Brendan of Kilrush: This is a historical fiction book targeted at the middle school to high school audience. I self published it in paperback form in 2001. I sold very few copies. I learned from a review by a middle school librarian that the book contained many errors. I never liked the original cover anyway; but couldn’t afford to have it redone. I proof read the book again and corrected the errors. Then I created my own cover. The result is the ebook version now available. I haven’t sold any copies of the ebook yet.
I didn’t have any success with the first two books so I enrolled in another correspondence course which emphasized writing books for children and teenagers. My teacher suggested I write a non-fiction book. The result was Swift, Silent and Deadly: Recon Marines in Vietnam. This is a non-fiction book is targeted at the middle school to high school audience. I completed the manuscript in 2004 and have been trying to get it published through a conventional publisher ever since. When I learned that ebooks were becoming popular, I self published it through Amazon.com. Since it was published in May 2011, over a 1000 copies have been sold with no marketing strategy except it being listed on Amazon.com and with other ebook providers through a contract with Bookbaby.
I have experimented with two other genres. The first was a historical romance, Rebecca and the Renegade. I started this book in 2001. I got about halfway through the story and lost interest. In 2011, I decided to finish it. It is only available as an ebook. I self published it at Amazon.com that year. The other book is The Mystery of Skunk Hollow: This book is targeted at the adult audience. I’m not sure how to classify it. There is a mystery the main characters are trying to solve; but the reader is aware of who the criminals are throughout the story. It also has a strong focus on the hero’s relationships with women, so it could be considered a romance. This is my latest work. I haven’t sold any copies yet. It is only available as an ebook at Amazon.com.
Links to Purchase eBooks
Link To Buy The Secret of Sangre de Cristo On Amazon
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