Mountain Moonlight - By Jane Toombs

Chapter 1

"Apache Junction," Davis said as Vala stopped the rental car in front of a store advertising camping equipment. "That's a really cool name for a town, Mom."

Seeing his enthusiasm made her almost forget the hassle to get here--how she'd argued and pleaded for ten days off so they could fly to Arizona after the Christmas holidays, which she already knew she couldn't take off. Davis would have to miss a week or so of school, but that couldn't be helped. Finally her employer had rather begrudgingly given her the seven vacation days she had coming plus another three days leave of absence.

She was grateful she hadn't been fired. Heaven knows she needed the job. Since Neal's new wife had blessed him with a son last May, he tended to be careless about his child-support payments for Davis. He was equally careless about keeping in touch with his first-born son. Or maybe heartless was the right word.

Davis tugged at her arm. "Look!" He pointed. "That's it, that's Superstition Mountain."

She stared at the towering mass of rock--volcanic, she'd read somewhere--off to the northeast. It wasn't her first view of the mountain because she'd lived in Phoenix when she was young. Her thought now was the same as she'd had back then--Superstition Mountain didn't look real, thrusting up forbiddingly like it did in the middle of this flat land.

"I'm glad we came," Davis said, his gaze fixed on the mountain. "Really, really glad."

So was she. Davis probably believed he'd convinced her to make the trip because of his earnest arguments about how finding the treasure was going to make up for having to spend a lot of money to get to Arizona. She didn't intend to admit to her son that she was willing to do anything to keep the bright glow of enthusiasm in his eyes. Before John Mokesh had given him the old deer skin map, Davis hadn't been interested in anything. Even his Christmas computer game, one he wanted, failed to fill the bill.

Poor Mr. Mokesh had died in his sleep the night after he'd presented Davis with the map. To her surprise, her son had accepted the old man's death without excessive grief, saying, "Mokesh told me it was his time to die. That's why he gave me his treasure map."

"Mom, you're lollygagging," Davis said. The word came from her father and probably from his father, but it had caught Davis's attention and he liked to use it.

"I was just thinking," she said.

He grabbed her hand, tugging her toward the store entrance. Once inside, Vala told the clerk, a tanned, healthy-looking woman with a long braid down her back, that she and her son planned to make a trip into the Superstitions. "But I don't know much about camping," she admitted, "and so I haven't the faintest idea what we'll need."

The clerk's eyebrows raised. "You're planning to trek into the Superstitions without knowing anything about camping? I hate to rain on your parade but that is not a good idea. Not without a guide. That mountain isn't greenhorn-friendly. Fact is, Superstition Mountain can't be called friendly to anyone."

"A guide?" Vala repeated. "How do I go about finding one?" She hadn't planned on any extra expenses but maybe guides took credit cards.

"We got a list posted." The woman jerked a thumb toward a bulletin board near the front of the store. "Names and phone numbers. We don't guarantee any of the guides but, as far as we've heard, they're all able to bring you out of the Superstitions in almost as good a shape as you were when you went in. Any one of them can tell you what you need to buy and we'll be more than glad to sell you whatever they recommend."

Thanking her, Vala went to take a look at the list while Davis roamed through the store, examining the camping gear. The third name on the guide list was crossed off. Perversely, she wondered why, leaning closer to see if she could make out the letters beneath the heavy dark line. Was it Bruce something? Or Brian? No, that was an "a" and then an "m" after the Br. She gasped, staring at the paper in disbelief. Bram! Was it possible? The last name certainly looked like Hunter.

Turning toward the clerk, she called, "What about this Bram Hunter? Why is he crossed off?"

The woman shrugged. "That's Bram for you. He only works when he feels like it."

Glancing at the list again, Vala took a pen from