Dwayne and Linda were exhausted by the time they reached the top of the Paria Plateau. The 2,000-foot climb had turned their legs and lungs to jelly.
Dwayne doubled-over. "I need a break, Linda. My feet are killing me."
Linda brushed a lock of hair out of her eyes and exhaled with relief. Boy, am I glad to hear you say that. I've been ready to stop for a while now, but I didn't want to slow you down."
Dwayne laughed as he mopped his brown with a bandanna. "I was thinking the very same thing." Dwayne took off his cowboy hat and wiped his brow with a blue bandana. "Let's sit a spell and get our bearings."
They sat on a smooth ledge of sandstone looking over House Rock Valley. The view was breathtaking. To the east, they could see the twin towers of the Navajo power plant in the town of Page; behind the generating station rose the looming dome of Navajo Mountain. The world below was an endless expanse of weirdly-shaped, burnt-brown slickrock. The morning air was so clear, it seemed almost polished. Visibility was somewhere in the 150-mile range.
Dwayne pulled off his cowboy boots and groaned with relief. "I'd give anything for a horse. These poor dogs of mine are blistering something bad."
Linda chuckled as she twisted the cap off her canteen. "That's what you get for wearing those silly cowboy boots. Anyone could tell you they weren't made for walking."
"Yeah, that's true enough, but they surely do impress the girls, and they're great for kicking hippies' asses."
"Oh hush. You'd never kick a hippie, and it's not much of a woman that would like a man for his shoes."
Dwayne looked skyward as if he were asking for some help. "If I had known you were going to lead me on a forced march, I'd have worn my sneakers."
"You're the one who is leading this expedition, Bub. And you wouldn't be such a damn tenderfoot if you walked more often. You Forest Service people are all alike; you spend most of your time driving around in trucks."
Linda took a long swig of water from her canteen and passed it over to Dwayne. "How many miles do you figure we hiked so far?"
Dwayne rubbed his feet as he stared down into the valley they had spent the night traversing. "Ohhh, I'd say we've gone about nine or ten miles; a lot longer than I thought it would be."
"That last mile felt like it was straight up."
"Well, at least the climbing part is over."
"How much further until we find Jenny?"
Dwayne leaned back and closed his eyes. "It's hard to say. Hell, we don't even know where she is, and Pinnacle Ridge is about twenty square miles."
"We know they had to have driven into the pueblo where they're digging, so that's got to narrow it down a lot. I've seen a topo map of this area and there are, like, five roads on the whole plateau. Isn't there a small road that goes part of the way across Pinnacle Ridge?"
"Yep. the trail we've been following connects with it right past that big rock formation over there – the one that looks like a big ol’ nipple. The locals call it Emma's Nipple, in honor of one of John D. Lee's many wives."
"How romantic. It looks more like the Capital Dome to me," said Linda as she combed her hair with her fingers.
Dwayne chuckled. "A tit by any other name is still a tit."
Linda gave him an exasperated push. "So once we get on that road, we'll run into Saunders and his men, right?"
"That's a pretty safe guess. They're pueblos all over the area, Linda. You probably didn't notice it, but we're sitting on the edge of some pithouses right now. The cattle have trashed these structures so bad, you can hardly see 'em anymore; and what the cows didn't trample, the cowboys stole, or just smashed for the hell of it. The Anasazi were pretty much all over this plateau." Dwayne leaned forward and picked up a piece of rough, gray pottery that was lying in a wide depression on the ledge. "They caught the rain in these natural depressions and then stored the water in big jars – big gray ones, as a matter of fact." He threw the piece of pottery over the cliff and they both watched it fall into the canyon below.
"I'd say we've got about two miles to go until we get to the place where they're probably digging." Dwayne looked at his watch. "It's nine o'clock now. It's pretty flat from here on out. We should be there in another hour."
"That's great!" exclaimed Linda.
"Well, I don't know about that. There's no way they'll be looking for us to come in from this direction, but that's about the only advantage we have. And surprise will only take us so far. After that, it's a shotgun and pistol against automatic weapon fire. And this time, there'll be more than one person to deal with, there'll be no cover of darkness, and they'll have Jenny as a hostage. Do you know what that means?"
"We're screwed," said Linda as she looked down at the ground and frowned.
"Yeah, probably. But it also means that we'll have to get right on top of these guys before we start shooting." Dwayne looked Linda squarely in the eyes. "We don't have to do this, Linda. Jason will find our rigs at Bighorn Buttes sometime this morning, and when he does, he'll call out the troops. We could just sit right here for the rest of the day and wait for a chopper to come and find us."
"But, what happens to Jenny then?"
Dwayne sighed with weary dismay. "For all we know, Jenny is already dead."
"No!" replied Linda adamantly. "Saunders made it sound like Jenny was running the show."
Dwayne slapped his thigh in frustration. "What the hell kind of sense does that make?"
"I don't know, Dwayne. But the point is, she's a major part of their operation, so they'll keep her alive as long as they're digging."
"You can bet your ass that our little shootout last night has brought a halt to the digging, Linda. Right now, those boys are loading up their loot and making fast tracks for home. And when they leave, they're gonna kill Jenny. Guaranteed."
"Which means you better put your boots back on and get it in gear, Cowboy. We've got to save Jenny."
"Just so long as you realize what we're up against," said Dwayne as reached for his weathered boots.
Linda poked herself in the chest with her thumb. "Hey, I'm the one who saw Saunders blow an Indian's head off, remember? I know what we're up against. We can't run from something like that. We can't hide out and wait for help to come. We have to hunt it down and kill it – before it does the same to us."
Dwayne rose stiffly. "Well, come on then, girl. Time's a'wastin’, and we don't want to be late for the surprise party."