Enchanted Rock Blue(s) – Chapter 1
Enchanted Rock Blue(s) is in its final stages. I think it may be a better story than Enchanted Rock Red; here is the first part of Chapter 1:
Maurice Neunhoffer stood alone on the top of the knob shown as a scenic view point on the folded map of Enchanted Rock State Natural Area in his left shirt pocket. Above the pocket was the badge of a Texas Parks and Wildlife Park Police Officer. He faced the western horizon, where a cumulonimbus cloud spat out lightning and rain a few miles away. Over his shoulder an AR-15 rifle hung from a strap. A hundred yards behind him on the Loop Trail a John Deere Gator stood empty. The towering storm cloud blocked the late afternoon sun. High above a lone vulture circled, canvassing the terrain below for a meal. Maurice held binoculars to his eyes, moving them slowly to the right as he examined the terrain between his position and the western boundary fence. He continued turning to the right until several minutes had elapsed and he had turned a full 360 degrees. The remains of a picnic were scattered around at his feet. He bent over and collected the scraps of food, an empty green bottle lying on its side by the stain of spilled wine, a daypack, and a picnic blanket, and walked back to the Gator.
The trip back around the Loop Trail to Park Headquarters would be half an hour on foot, but in the Gator it was only ten minutes. When he arrived he saw the green pickup truck of a Texas Parks and Wildlife Game Warden in the parking lot. In the distance he could hear the blades of an approaching helicopter beating the air in a frenzy of ‘whop-whop-whop.’ Maurice slipped through the door beside the entrance drive where Becky stood ready to collect user fees.
“Nah.” Maurice continued towards the back office. In the office the Game Warden sat in a chair beside the desk, the Park Superintendent behind the desk. Maurice smiled when he saw who had come in the green pickup outside. “Wie gehts?”
Maurice shook the Game Warden’s hand, nodded to the Superintendent, then took off his cap and sat down in the other office chair. “Nothing. Nada. How’s the victim?”
The Superintendent shifted in his chair. “Not too bad. Had some stitches at the ER in Fredericksburg.”
“Sounds like you’re going to be on TV tonight.”
The Superintendent shook his head glumly as the helicopter with the logo of an Austin TV station on the side slowly settled onto the grass behind the building. “Well, what are we going to do about it?”
Max, the game warden, spoke up. “They’ve got a pretty big range. He could be watching the campground from one of those rocks behind us or he could be miles away and never coming back.”
“All the same, I think we should close the Loop Trail.”
Maurice sat up straight in his chair. “And the Walnut Springs and Moss Lake Campgrounds too? There’s a bunch of campers out there. Where we going to put all those people?”
“Got to do something. If that cat attacks someone else, there’ll be hell to pay. Max, what do you think?”
“Attacks by mountain lions are very rare. We’ve got some public information handouts on mountain lions. Tells you how to prevent an attack, what to do, that kind of stuff. They’re on our website. We can pass them around and warn people to be on the lookout.”
“How about you guys spending the night out there? Aren’t they nocturnal? Maybe you’d see it then.”
Max looked at Maurice. “Hell, I don’t know. I suppose that would be OK. Maurice, you up for a camp-out?”
“You know me; I’d live in a tent if Angela would let me. She’s in Houston with her parents for a few days. How ‘bout you get your camping stuff and some grub and meet me out by Walnut Springs?”
“I suppose so. You’re going to have to tell me where that is. It’ll take me a couple of hours. What happened to that storm?”
Maurice got up and looked out the window. “Looks like it’s moving off to the north. Bring a couple of those big spotlights with you. I’ll get my stuff together and get some brochures passed out.” They could hear the TV reporter in the lobby. He turned to the Superintendent. “Looks like you got your work cut out for you. I’d face down a mountain lion rather than those cameras any day. I’ll get some of those brochures, and then I’m outta here.” He stuck his head out of the office door; Gwen was only a couple of feet away at a station registering guests. “Are there any campers in Buzzard’s Roost Campground?”
“I’ll get out to the campgrounds and pass the info out ASAP.” He took the folded park map out of his shirt pocket and made an X in the Walnut Springs Primitive Camping Area, then handed it to Max. “Here’s where I’ll be. Bring some decent food, eh?”
While Gwen printed two hundred of the “Mountain Lions In Texas” brochures from the TPWD website, Maurice slipped out the back door with the AR-15 over his shoulder and drove the Gator to his living quarters at the north end of the park along the highway. He got his sleeping bag, sleeping pad, and tent, filled a big jug with water, grabbed his field jacket, and drove back to the Headquarters. The TV camera was set up on the back deck, and the Superintendent was being interviewed by a reporter with long, curly, brown hair. Maurice quietly went in through the side door. Gwen handed him a couple of manila envelopes filled with the two page brochures.
“That reporter asked about you. “She said she was hoping to get you on film for the evening news.” Maurice grimaced. “I told her you were out chasing the big cat.”
“Thanks.” Maurice smiled, tipped his hat to her, and then slipped back out the side door.