Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Anasazi Strip - Chapter 28 - Part II

He didn't have to wait for an answer because he suddenly heard the warning rattle of a snake in the darkness to his right. Dwayne spun around and let loose with two shotgun blasts as fast as he could pull the trigger and pump the stock. The noise of the explosions were like cannon shots going off inside a barrel. The smell of cordite and sulfur filled the air. Dwayne bent down and hastily picked up Linda, sleeping bag and all, and threw her over his shoulder. He straightened up unsteadily and pumped a fresh shell into the chamber and fired off another blast in the general direction of the last.

      His fire was met with a return volley of shots that sprayed the rocks and bushes all around them.  The muzzle flash from Saunders' gun had been plainly visible a hundred feet away in a scrub-oak thicket. Dwayne aimed the shotgun at gut level and fired off another round as he took off running.

      Linda couldn't see what was happening; she hung over Dwayne's left shoulder and watched the dull gray ground go by, feeling helpless as a baby.

      Dwayne thought there was a good chance that he had winged Saunders, but there was no way to be sure.  He headed straight for a large juniper tree which grew along the back wall of the canyon, where his back would be guarded by the lofty Buttes.  If he and Linda could work their way back up the talus slope and take refuge at the overlook where he had first spied the camp, then they would be relatively safe. Dwayne's body gave out as he reached the juniper and he collapsed to his knees, dumping Linda headfirst into the sand. His chest heaved as he squinted his eyes and anxiously looked back over his shoulder. The coast seemed clear.

      "Dwayne, cut my hands free," whispered Linda urgently. "That bastard tied me up so I couldn't get away, and it hurts like hell. Please get me out of these damn ropes."

      "Saunders could hit us again at any second and I need to reload," said Dwayne as he untied Linda's hands. "Get yourself ready to move. Can you handle a gun?"

      Linda rubbed her numb wrists. "Yeah, I've fired a shotgun before. I used to go duck hunting with my dad."

      Dwayne began feeding shells into the magazine of the shotgun. "I thought you loved birds?"

      "I do," agreed Linda as she slid free of the sleeping bag. "And some of 'em I even love to eat."

      Dwayne finished reloading and jacked a live round into the firing chamber. "That's the kind of birdwatching I like best, too." He handed the shotgun to Linda. "The safety's off and it's ready to go. Now hug that tree and use it as a shield. If you see Saunders coming, wait 'til he gets in range before you fire, and then you aim for his chest. That way you can be sure he won't keep coming. You have to pump it after every shot, and you got six to give. Here's a box of shells just in case something happens to me."

      "Where are you going?" asked Linda in a tone of voice which indicated she wasn't too thrilled with the idea of him leaving.

      "I'm climbing right up there." He pointed at the hill of loose rock behind them. "I'm going up that talus slope to an overlook. It's how I got in here without him catching me."

      "You called him Saunders. How do you know his name?"

      Dwayne shook his head. "It's a long story, and we're gonna have to save it for later. Right now I just want to get to higher ground and find out what's happening. I'll still be right above you. I’ll never be out of earshot. Okay?"

      Linda smiled bravely. "If you say so."

      "That'a girl." He squeezed her hand and then took off.

      Linda sat peering out at the moonlit landscape for the next thirty minutes, waiting for Saunders to show again. She stared into the moonlit darkness, her eyes straining to see the homicidal psychopath who had been seconds away from strangling her. Rage washed over her like a wave. Saunders had terrorized her for so long now that she had moved beyond fear and self-preservation, and into the realm of seething revenge.

      She heard a sudden noise behind her and turned and fired into the back wall of the narrow canyon.

      "WHOA! It's me!" screamed Dwayne. "Don't shoot!"

      Linda lowered the shotgun in embarrassment. "I'm sorry, Dwayne, I thought it was Saunders."

      "Saunders is gone! I just watched him barrel-ass out of here in his truck. He took off in a real big hurry, heading south on the House Rock Valley Road. I 'spect our Mr. Saunders is hit, I betcha he's hurt pretty bad. Otherwise, he'd've stuck around and tried to finish us off."

      "He told me about some big burial site they were digging up on the Paria Plateau – some place called Pinnacle Ridge."

       "That's about ten miles southeast of here."

      "Saunders has Jenny and he's making her dig the site for him. The way he talked, there were some other men up there with him, too, but he didn't get specific. He said that Jenny was leading the dig. I know that doesn't make any sense, but that's what he told me. The guy's as crazy as a loon, Dwayne. I mean, completely out of his mind. He was about to kill me when you showed up. You saved my life!"

      "Not yet, I didn't.  We've gotta get our butts out of this box canyon right now. If he's got company up there on the Paria, then he might send 'em back down here after us. We've gotta get while the gettin's good. So let's go. And how 'bout puttin' the safety on that shotgun."

      "I already did, Dwayne. Jesus, I'm sorry. I could have killed you."

      "Well, at least I don't have to worry anymore about whether or not you can shoot the gun, huh? Come on, Annie Oakley, let's ride."

      Back at camp, Linda grabbed her down jacket. "Let me get some things from out of my truck and I'll be ready to go." Linda let out a startled gasp. "Oh Christ, look what that bastard did to my truck! He slashed all my tires!"

      Dwayne walked over to inspect the damage. "Saunders might be crazy, but he ain't stupid. And I betcha we'll find that he put my truck out of commission, too, along with the radio. Goddamnit! I could have nailed his truck when I first got here, but I didn't even think of it. I was so worried about finding out how you and Jenny were I wasn’t thinking straight. Course, he'd still be here if I had knocked out his truck, so maybe it's just as well. Can't say I'm sorry to see him gone."

      When they checked Dwayne's truck, they found that Saunders had stolen the distributor cap and slashed all the wiring to the radio.

      "I'm afraid we'll have to hoof it, Linda. I've got a couple gallon canteens of water in the bed of the truck. Jason'll be out here by tomorrow morning. If I don't call in, he'll know there's been some sort of trouble here."

      "So, what do we do between now and then?" asked Linda. She laid her shotgun on the tailgate and adjusted her canteen.

      "The main thing right now is to get away from here. Hell, we might even get lucky and find someone driving down the main road, 'though I doubt it at this time of night."

      "If somebody comes along, how will we be able to tell whether or not its Saunders or his men?"

      "I saw his truck, remember?"

      "But what if he's in one of the other guys' truck?"

      "Good point," agreed Dwayne. "I guess we don't hitch any rides."

      Linda grabbed Dwayne’s elbow. "Look, I'm sick of running from this shithead. He's got Jenny up there on Pinnacle Ridge, and God only knows what he's doing to her. You said the place isn't that far away. I think we should go after Saunders. He'll never expect that; maybe we can get lucky and take him by surprise. You did it once already. If he doesn't get off the Paria real quick, he's going to get caught. He's not going to leave a witness like Jenny alive.  Believe me, Dwayne, I've heard this guy's views on life and death, and he'll kill anyone who knows who he is. That's why he killed Ken."

      Dwayne's mouth dropped open. "How the hell do you know about that?"

      "Yeah, Saunders was nice enough to give me the details; he made it sound like he was putting a dog to sleep. The way he sees it, he's doing a person a favor by killing them. That way they get to live forever. How can you deal with that kind of madness?"

      "I know a shortcut up onto the plateau. It's an old cattle trail that's too sandy to drive – nobody uses it anymore – but it'll be easy on foot. It'll save us a couple miles, and Saunders and his boys'll never look for us to come in from the east side of Pinnacle Ridge. But, the turnoff to the trail is about five miles down House Rock Valley Road, which means we'll be out in the open for at least the next couple hours, and that's exactly where those fellas are gonna be looking for us. Count on it."

      Linda picked up the shotgun and angrily popped in a shell. "And we'll be looking for them, too, Cowboy."

      Dwayne shook his head and chuckled. "You're something else, girl." He picked up a full canteen and draped it over his shoulder. Leaning over the bed of the truck, he used his finger to print PINNACLE RIDGE on the dusty back window of the pickup.

      "That'll tell Jason where we've gone."

      Dwayne and Linda walked down the sandy road together, the moonlight illuminating the way. It was nearly midnight.

      "It'll be dawn before we get where we're going, Linda."

      Linda clapped Dwayne affectionately on the back. "Just think about how good we're going to feel when we sneak up on those bastards. I can't wait to see Saunders' face."

      A lone coyote sitting on top of the Paria Plateau cut loose with a baleful howl, quickly answered by a chorus of high-pitched wails from all around the valley. It was a unsettling sound to a cowboy; Dwayne felt surrounded by the unseen enemy. The devil dogs were out hunting by the light of the moon and the scent of blood was on the wind.

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