“Hon dah Ranger Hancock, hon dah Sheriff Jefferson, thank you for coming out here.”
“Not at all, Chief Kuruk, we want to get to the bottom of this as much as you. Thank you for cooperating with us,” the sheriff stated as he shook hands with the chief.
“But of course, as you say, I want to get to the bottom of this as much as you,” smirked the chief. The sheriff grinned sheepishly. “Now, if you do not mind, who are these two young men with you?”
Ranger Hancock replied, “These two are my sons, Aaron and Jim. They have something to ask of you, Chief Kuruk.” The chief motioned them forward. The two teens slowly stepped up, nervousness clear in their eyes and manner. The boy with light brown hair and green eyes took a deep breath and spoke for the two.
“Um, Chief Kuruk, um, may we, uh, may we speak to your people about how you live and work for a school project we have?”
Kuruk raised an eyebrow, “And for what purpose would this school project do for you?”
The boy winced and gulped, “Um, to help us learn about your culture?”
“And to put a stop to mean gossip,” blurted the sandy-blond.
“Jim!” hissed his older brother and swatted his shoulder. Kuruk glanced at the boys’ father for an explanation. Hancock sighed, chuckling ever so slightly.
“My apologies, Chief Kuruk, there are a few mean-spirited people going around town, trying to spread some false rumors. The sheriff has it pretty much under control, but the boys saw it as their duty to gather facts about the tribe and use that to battle this. That, and hopefully help solve their first mystery.”
“What? Ho . . . ow!” Jim yelped as Aaron pinched him. The men chuckled as Jim rubbed his shoulder and shot his brother a glare.
“Jim, there’s a reason why I’m a ranger. Besides, it’s not too hard with you two; you’ve been itching to solve a mystery ever since you got your hands on my copy of The Study in Scarlet!” The boys grinned sheepishly at their father.
“And gather information while working on your school project. An excellent idea,” stated Kuruk, his brown eyes sparkling.
“You mean we have permission?” exclaimed Jim, his own brown eyes sparkling with excitement. Kuruk nodded. The boys jumped up and exclaimed, “Yes!”
“Um, I mean, thank you Chief Kuruk,” ventured Aaron, giving an elated bow.
“On one condition.”
The boys glanced at him, “Yes?”
“My son will help you in gathering whatever information you need, for both the project and the mystery.”
“Absolutely! An extra pair of eyes that knows the terrain is perfect, Chief Kuruk!” exclaimed Aaron. Sometime later, the chief’s son Illanipi was showing the Hancock boys around the camp, explaining several of the processes they were witnessing. One such process, the making of an elaborate dress, was being worked on by Illanipi’s own mother, Nascha, and sister, Liluye. After Illanipi introduced them to the Hancocks, they answered any questions the brothers had and were enraptured with the boys’ account of the mystery.
“Are they absolutely sure some brave did it, or did someone make it look like a brave stole those diamonds?” asked Liluye.
“We’re not sure yet, that’s why our dad and the sheriff are here, they want to figure that out,” explained Aaron.
“Father believes that openly cooperating with the Ranger and the Sheriff will help relieve some of the tension between us and the town.”
“There would not be any tension if they had not taken our lands from us,” mumbled Liluye.
“Liluye!” muttered Illanipi.
Aaron sighed, “In a way, she’s right. Maybe there’s a better solution to this than all the fighting, and without having to force those of us who have called this land home to leave.”
“You must make your father proud, Aaron, you are wise for one so young,” smiled Nascha before glancing a disappointed glance in her daughter’s direction. Liluye glanced down, trying to hide her embarrassment in the dress she was sewing.
Illanipi cleared his throat, “Well, I think we should head out. There’s still a lot to show them, and uh, a lot of ground to cover.”
Nascha nodded, “Of course, may the Creator guide your steps to the truth.”
“Thank you mother,” stated Illanipi as he gave her a slight bow.
“Um, thank you, uh, ma’am,” said Aaron as he and Jim also gave slight bows. The boys took off, hoping to find a clue at the next location. But they went through the entire camp, not finding a single clue, or any information that could shed some light on the mystery.
“Well, I’d say this is starting to look more and more like someone was pretending to be an Indian,” remarked Jim as they made their way back to the council tent.
“It certainly puts my mind at ease that it’s not an Apache,” commented Aaron.
“At least not an Apache from here; could be a rogue Apache, or even a rogue from one of the other tribes,” Illanipi pointed out.
“That could be, but I’m beginning to suspect that it is someone pretending to be an Indian, what with the gossip popping up at the most convenient time.”
“When did the gossip start?”
“Not long . . .” Aaron paused as his eyes widened, “not long after McCarthy showed up!”
Jim’s eyes widened in turn, “And the diamonds were stolen not long before McCarthy left town! Why didn’t we see that earlier? McCarthy’s been planning this haul for a while now, and setting up the Apache for the fall while he got a clean getaway! Come on, let’s go tell dad!” Aaron groaned and rolled his eyes while Illanipi grinned with understanding before leading them into the large tent.
“Hmm, they are not here. Perhaps they have found the diamonds?”
“And McCarthy, I hope,” shrugged Aaron.
“Aw, man, and I was hoping we’d have a chance to solve our first mystery and impress Dad! But instead, he’s already solved it,” grumbled Jim.
Aaron patted his younger brother’s shoulder, “I know, so did I, but I’m sure we’ll get our chance soon.”
“Perhaps sooner than you think.”
Jim glanced at Illanipi with renewed hope, “Really? How so?”
“Yes, can you figure out where we eat?”
“Illanipi!” groaned Jim while Aaron chuckled.
“Oh, come on Jim, let’s go ahead and show him how a detective’s supposed to work.” The two showed Illanipi all the tricks they learned from their father in terms of solving cases, looking for clues and following them. They found the dining area fairly quick, and sat down to a fine Apache dinner. When the chief, the ranger, and the sheriff didn’t return as the sun continued to set, the three boys began to worry.
“Do you think something happened to them?” Jim asked worriedly as they watched the sun setting from the large tent. Aaron was pacing around inside while Illanipi sat cross-legged on the ground, rocking back and forth every now and then. Aaron noticed the worry in his brother’s face and decided to change the subject.
“Why did everyone call you Elan?”
Illanipi smiled softly, “Because it is Apache for friendly.”
Jim’s eyes began to spark, “Really? I can see why though.” Their conversation was interrupted by a loud pop.
“That was a gun,” murmured Aaron, his face becoming pale.
“No, wait Jim, don’t!” Aaron shouted, but Jim was already out of the tent. He and Illanipi dashed after the younger teen as he barreled through the brush. Two more pops resounded through the air, the second one louder than the first, letting the boys know that they were getting closer. Aaron and Illanipi were thankfully taller and managed to catch up to Jim long enough to tackle him to the ground, right as another pop resounded a few feet from their position and a bullet whizzed over their heads.
“Don’t come any closer, Sheriff, or I just might consider taking those boys as hostages!”
“He saw us,” muttered Aaron under his breath, glancing harshly at Jim.
“But perhaps . . . he cannot think that we could stop him too,” pondered Illanipi.
Jim glanced up at the Apache with a grin, “I really like the way you think.”
“But . . .”
Jim turned his brown puppy eyes pleadingly towards him, “Please? We didn’t solve the mystery, but at least we can help them catch the criminal.”
Aaron rolled his eyes, “Fine, but you do exactly as I say, alright?”
“Right.” Aaron whispered his plan, and the three crawled as quietly as they could towards the thief while the men exchanged a few words.
“Give yourself up, McCarthy, it’s no use trying to take hostages now, we’ve got you surrounded!” McCarthy glanced between the boys and the Sheriff.
“By who? You and these three boys? Or a posse made up of blood-thirsty Injuns? You can’t trust ‘em any more than you could me, obviously!”
“Obviously they’re more trustworthy than you,” muttered the Sheriff.
“What’s so important about them? Why do you feel the need to protect them?”
“They are members of the town of Amarillo, their safety is as important to me as the rest of the townsfolk!” retorted the Sheriff. McCarthy wasn’t paying attention to him anymore; he turned his focus to the rustling slowly coming towards him. He aimed the gun at the area.
“You boys come out of there now! Ain’t no use sneaking up on me!”
“Aaron, Jim! Back down!” shouted Ranger Hancock. The rustling seemed to pause, right before Aaron lunged at McCarthy. He quickly pushed the gun to point to the side, right before it went off. “Aaron, Jim!” Jim and Illanipi jumped out at that moment and helped Aaron tackle McCarthy to the ground.
“Get off me, you mangy mutts!” he yelped as they fought him for his gun.
“Aaron, Jim, Illanipi, get out of here!” ordered Ranger Hancock. He and Sheriff Jefferson were standing over them, guns pointing at McCarthy. The boys slid off and quickly backed away, Illanipi soon finding himself in a tight hug with his father. They quickly arrested McCarthy and found the diamonds hidden in his coat. Jefferson escorted him to the jail, while the Hancocks bade the Apaches goodbye before heading off for home.
“What were you two thinking, tackling McCarthy all by yourselves? Not only did you disobey me, you put your lives and that of Illanipi’s at risk!”
They boys glanced down sheepishly before Aaron began to speak, “We’re sorry Dad, we just wanted to help . . .”
“It was my fault, Dad, I pestered Aaron into agreeing to tackle him, and . . .”
“Enough, you’re both over thirteen now, have you no sense? Aaron, as the eldest, I expected more from you. As the youngest, Jim, you were supposed to obey your brother, as I thought I could trust him to be far more cautious than you.” Both boys winced.
“Sorry dad,” they finally muttered.
Their father sighed, “I’m glad that you are safe, but there will be consequences for such rash actions. I think I will take away all the mystery books until further notice, is that clear?”
“Yes sir,” the boys chorused with melancholy. The rest of the ride home was silent, but the boys began to wonder if they would ever get to solve a mystery. With patience, any wish can come true, as they would find out soon enough being the only ones able to solve the very next one that lands in their laps.