"That's the damnedest story I've ever heard," Dwayne said as he tried to figure out what to do next.
Linda looked up with a start. "You do believe me, don't you, Dwayne?"
"Of course I do," replied Dwayne. He looked the haggard biologist directly in the eyes and tried to look upbeat.
Linda smiled with relief. "Thank God."
"You can thank him, too, if you like," grinned Dwayne.
"If the police are half as easy to talk with as you, Dwayne, then I just might make it through this thing with all my marbles."
Dwayne reached for the microphone from the portable radio on the dash. "We gotcha covered on that end, too, Linda. I'm a Forest Service police officer."
Linda's mouth opened with surprise. "You're kidding!"
Dwayne shook his head. "Well now, I s'pose kidding is my major claim to fame. But when I ain't kidding, I truly am one of Smokey's cops."
Dwayne cued the microphone and prayed he wasn’t in a dead zone. He heard the familiar click that told him his signal was hitting a repeater tower up on Timp Point to the north. Radio transmission in this part of the country was line of sight, and if you couldn’t hit a repeater, no one could hear you. “Three zero, this is Dwayne Johnson. Do you read me?”
Andy Zaballo, the forest dispatcher out of the Fredonia District Office answered the call. His voice, clear and unwavering.
“Andy, I need to speak to the District Ranger pronto.” Dwayne concentrated on keeping his voice calm, but his heart was racing. While he waited for his boss to come on the line he motioned to Linda to keep drinking water.
Linda took a swig from the orange canteen and thanked the lord that Dwayne had gotten through to the authorities in town. She was feeling much better, and Dwayne was like a godsend, but she would feel much better when she got back to town.
After a minute or so of silence, Ben Tissaw, the Kaibab District Ranger came on the line. “Dwayne, this is Three Zero. Come in. What’s up, Dwayne?”
Dwayne swallowed hard and began his crazy tale of a terrorized bird watcher, a flying pothunter, and a dead Indian. He knew it all sounded crazy, but when he got to the part about the murder in Jumpup Canyon, he had Ben’s undivided attention.
“Repeat that last bit, Dwayne. Did you say that someone was murdered in Jumpup?”
“That’s affirmative, Boss.” answered Dwayne. “I don’t know for sure what we’re dealing with yet. But the Grand Canyon County Sheriff's Office should be alerted. I'm gonna proceed to Jumpup Cabin so I can have a look at the young lady's truck. In the meantime, you tell Jason and the boys to get out there on the double. I'll be wanting some back-up before I go down into that canyon. And I think it'd be a good idea if you sent Jenny out here, too. The Forest Archaeologist should be in on this one right from the start. Oh yeah, and how 'bout giving Billy Mangum a call at home. Leave a message with his wife that I'm not gonna be able to meet with him like we planned."
"Ten-four, Dwayne," came the crackling response of the District Ranger. "I copy your transmission. I'll give him your message. You can expect some relief within the hour. So just sit tight and make sure you're prepared to defend yourself if this joker comes back before Jason gets up there. Understood?"
"I read you loud and clear, Ben. It's lock-and-load time." Dwayne signed off and replaced the microphone on its metal hook.
Linda wiped her face with the bandana as she leaned back in her seat, lost in thought and fear. It was all just too much to handle. Here she was with a stranger in the middle of nowhere and it sounded like they were now going to return to the place where she had narrowly escaped death. Would the Killer return again, she wondered? And would this down-home cowboy cop be able to protect her if he did? She just wanted to be as far away from this place as she could get.
Dwayne got out of the truck and unlocked the toolbox in the bed of the pickup where he retrieved a holstered pistol. It was loaded and the safety engaged.
The gun made Linda feel safer, but she still wasn’t enthused about heading back to Jumpup Point. Why couldn’t they just return to Fredonia? Who cared about her truck. It was broken. It could wait. Why tempt fate and the red-headed killer?
Dwayne adjusted his weather-beaten hat and smiled at Linda. "Let's go have a look at that truck of yours."
Linda nodded and tried her best not to scream. This was crazy.
Dwayne started the Ford and drove toward Jumpup Cabin. They headed down the dusty road in silence. Dwayne rehashed Linda's story in his mind, trying to imagine the ruthless killer she described. He sure didn't sound like anybody Dwayne had ever met, nor did it sound like the work of a local. Helicopters and machine guns were signs of industrial-strength pothunting. And that meant big-time money.
Linda fidgeted in her seat and kept looking up at the blue glass sky, expecting to see the return of the helicopter. Those heartless green eyes haunted her memory. They soon came to a washboard rutted two-track road that ended on the point. Dwayne stopped and surveyed the scene before continuing. The point looked empty except for Linda’s abandoned red truck and the sun-baked ruins of the abandoned cabin that had once been occupied by some reclusive miner in search of the big score.
Linda slid across the seat and gripped Dwayne's shoulder. She felt Dwayne’s holstered pistol press against her side and it made her feel better.
Dwayne pulled up next to the solitary vehicle at the edge of the rocky point and told Linda to sit tight. She was more than happy to oblige, never wanting to set foot in this part of Grand Canyon again.
It didn't take Dwayne long to figure out the problem with Linda's truck. The distributor cap had been removed from the engine. Dwayne closed the hood of the truck and put on his best face as he returned to his Forest Service rig. "You're in safe hands now, Linda. No one is gonna harm you. I promise you that."
"I feel safe with you, Dwayne," said Linda as she buttoned the denim jacket Dwayne had given her to wear over her soaking-wet shirt. “But I’d feel a helluva lot better if we could get out of here now. This place gives me the creeps.”
Dwayne tipped his cowboy hat back on his head and got back in the truck, scanning the point one last time for any clues. He saw nothing out of the ordinary. It was just another late summer day at the edge of America’s favorite playground.
He started the engine and gave Linda what he hoped was a reassuring smile, but his gut was telling him that he better be real goddamn careful. Because whoever this Indian killer was, he was a professional. By rights, Linda Joyce should have been dead.