Thursday, August 12, 2010

Anasazi Strip - Chapter 3 - Part 2

The road came up onto a wide flat bench of black sagebrush where the view went on forever. Dwayne adjusted his cowboy hat as he stared off into the distance, the Grand Staircasea series of Kodachrome-colored uplifted sandstone cliffs, marched northward from Arizona into Utah. The Chocolate Cliffs began in Fredonia, Arizona; followed by the Vermillion Cliffs which started their climb around Kanab, Utah; then rose through the White Cliffs of Navajo Sandstone near Carmel Junction; and up into the Grey Cliffs of the Carmel Formation around Hatch; and topped out at 9,000 feet in the Pink Cliffs of Bryce National Park about seventy miles away. In the mid-day sun the pink Morrison Sandstone glowed like the walls of some magic kingdom. The prehistoric Colorado river, along with volcanoes and earthquakes had exposed about 175 million years of geology, beginning about 65 million years ago at the top of the steps and getting older and older until you arrived at the Jumpup Road near the Grand Canyon where the rock was nearly 240 million years old.

A large raven at the top of a berry-laden juniper tree by the edge of the road caught Dwayne’s eye. Time was running out. Eco-freaks and hot-headed ranchers were a lethal combination. Dwayne knew there wasn't much he could do to help Billy out. By now the vandals were long gone; the only thing Dwayne would find would be a barbed-wire fence that had been cut. There might be footprints and tire tracks, but the Forest Service didn't have the resources to pursue a pointless investigation. Instead, they sent Dwayne out to soothe the ruffled feathers of the local yokels, to tell the ranchers that everything was going to be A-okay. But it wasn't.

The ranchers weren't dumb enough to believe that Dwayne Johnson could even begin to protect their herds roaming over a half a million acres of mostly desolate Forest Service land. The local cattlemen knew Dwayne understood the score; he ran about fifty-head of cattle of his own, down near Kanab Creek. And while good intentions were all fine and dandy, these cattlemen weren't about to sit by and watch their livelihood go down the drain. It was that simple.

Dwayne came around a slight bend in the road and was greeted by a strange sight. Someone was running up the road toward him. At first, he thought it might be some fool out for a jog, though for the life of him, he couldn't figure out why somebody would pick such a remote place to go running.

Dwayne pulled over at a nearby pullout and pushed his cowboy hat back on his head. “What the hell?”

As Dwayne neared, the runner's arms waved frantically. It was a young woman. Dwayne cut the engine and climbed out of the truck with the bow-legged stiffness that came from spending too many days in the saddle of a horse. Always the gentleman, he flashed his patented Dwayne Johnson smile and took off his cowboy hat. The woman ran into his arms, hugging him like a long, lost relative. She was soaking wet with sweat, her hair matted against her dust-smeared face like a tangled mop.

"Hold on there, little lady," said Dwayne in his high, nasally, country twang. "Everything's gonna be okay. De-wayne's here now." He patted her lightly on the back like he was burping a baby. Smelling bad fear on this woman, he pulled her closer.

When the words finally came from the panic-stricken woman, they poured out in a torrent.

"Oh God, I was so scared! I didn't think I'd ever get away alive. When I got back to my truck and found that he had done something to the engine, I really thought I was a goner. I knew then that my only hope was to get away from Jumpup Cabin as fast as I could. And it was a lucky thing, too. Because he did come back, just like I knew he would." Linda pulled herself away from the rugged cowboy and wiped her bangs from her dirty forehead. Her eyes darted as if she expected to be attacked at any second. "He was in the helicopter again, and he had a big light that he used to search the ground with. Twice he flew right over me! But I was a good little rabbit. I didn't bolt. He had a machine gun and he blew up everything that moved. That's why I didn't move. I couldn't. I had to stay alive, so I could tell what I saw him do. I'm the only one who knows!"

The woman’s words made no sense to Dwayne. "Why don't you try starting at the beginning, ma'am. Whaddaya say we get you some water and then find you a seat over here in the truck?"

Dwayne eased Linda toward the green Ford, handing her his blue bandana so she could mop the sweat out of her eyes. She took the rag and allowed herself to be led along like a child.

"I've been running down this road for what seems like forever. I feel like I ran a desert marathon. How far is it between here and Jumpup Point?”

Dwayne stared off to the west and shook his head. “I’d say it’s a good ten miles or more.”

Linda nodded her head and spit dryly into the red dirt. “I kept stopping every few minutes to listen and make sure no one was still chasing me, while praying that somebody would come along and help me. But I realized that if I did come across a truck, there’d be no way of telling whether it was him. That's why I couldn't believe my luck when I saw your Forest Service rig. There was no way in hell he could be driving one of those. You know?"

Dwayne retrieved a canteen from the bed of his pickup and handed it to Linda. She was calming down, but her story still sounded pretty crazy.

"Why don't you start with your name," said Dwayne with a smile that made Linda relax.

"I'm sorry," she said. "I guess I haven't been making a whole lot of sense, huh? Okay. Okay. My name is Linda Joyce, and I've been working for Game & Fish, doing a migratory bird study down in Jumpup Canyon. That's where I saw the murder."

The smile vanished from Dwayne's tan face. "Beg your pardon, ma'am. Did you say murder?"

Linda nodded and took a short swig on the canteen. She hadn't had a drink since she had left her disabled truck at the Jumpup Overlook over twelve hours before. Her mouth was so dry it hurt to drink, so she swished it around in her mouth before swallowing each time.

"Why don't you have a seat in the truck and we can get to the bottom of this thing."

After the terror-packed run, Linda’s brain was overloaded with a million different emotions. It was hard for her to know where to begin her story. She looked up into Dwayne's brown eyes as he opened the door and helped her to step in. There was a steadiness about this man that made Linda feel comfortable. "I can't thank you enough, Dwayne."

Dwayne blushed as he chuckled softly. "Hell, I ain't done much, Linda, 'cept give you some water and a seat in the truck here."

Linda reached out and squeezed the big cowboy’s muscled forearm as she shook her head. "You'll never know."

Linda explained what had led her to Jumpup Canyon, her encounter with the red-headed Indian killer who raided Anasazi ruins and made his getaway in a helicopter. She described the ordeal of running through the night, across the endless expanse of sagebrush flats, alone and scared. She cried as she told about the helicopter returning several times; of the searchlight and gunfire that erupted when the Killer fired into the darkness while she huddled under any cover she could find; of catching a quick nap near dawn and then rising with the sun to keep running toward – she had no idea what. The story ended with her stumbling onto Dwayne.

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