B.T. looked momentarily flustered. "Look, Judge, all I'm telling you is that this woman knows her shit. She made us a fucking potful of money. And if she did it once, she could do it again. Just look at all this loot, Judge."
B.T. walked over to the large collection of carefully boxed artifacts.
The Judge noticed for the first time that Saunders was limping slightly. "What did you do to your leg, Mr. Saunders?"
"That's the other thing we need to talk about, Judge. That girl Linda Joyce – you know, the one who was down in Jumpup Canyon the day I killed Willie? – well, believe it or not, she popped up again, this time out here. By late last night, I knew we were going to make our deadline, so I thought I'd better pay her a little visit while I had the chance to get her alone and silence her for good."
"I trust you ended her following days."
B.T. smiled nervously as he prepared to dance around the truth. "Well, yes and no. I went down to her camp. And she was there all right. But she had some company. A Forest Service cop, I think."
The Judge frowned. "So you had to kill him, too. Is that what you're saying?"
"Not exactly. See, it was dark, and I wasn't familiar with the area, and I didn't really expect him to show up out of the blue like he did."
The Judge stiffened with apprehension. "I hope you aren't going to tell me you let them both get away, Mr. Saunders. In light of your past oversights in this matter, that would not sit well with me at all."
B.T. knew there was no longer any way to avoid the whole truth. “Things just happened too fast."
The Judge interrupted brusquely. "I assume that is how you hurt your leg?"
B.T. looked down at the ground in embarrassment. "Yeah, the guy had a shotgun and nailed me with some buckshot. But I’m okay."
"How bad is it?"
"It was just a lucky shot, Judge. It didn't do much damage, just slowed me down a little."
The Judge looked like he was going to explode with rage; his face reddened and his jaw tightened. "And where do you suppose we might presently find Ms. Joyce and her friend?"
"I crippled both of their trucks, so they'd be walking if they tried to get out. I'd guess they're either heading for the highway, or laying low until somebody from the Forest Service comes looking for them."
The Judge's anger turned to nervous agitation. "And when do you anticipate such help might arrive?"
"I had Jenny call in to her office this morning – you know, like she does every day. She told the head ranger that everything was going okay. The ranger asked to speak to some guy named Dwayne – he must be the asshole who shot me – and he also wanted to talk to Linda Joyce. Jenny dodged the request by telling him that they had already left for work and she didn't know where they were."
"And he believed that?"
"It's hard to say, Judge. He seemed to. I mean, they're all fucking shitkickers, so who the fuck knows?” But I broke the radio in this fella Dwayne's truck, so they aren't going to get any answers that way. It'll take 'em a couple hours to get organized and drive out to House Rock Valley; see, that's where they think everybody is. They're not going to come up here on the Paria – at least, not right away. And by the time they figure out what's going on, we'll be history."
"You have left us with many imponderables to deal with, Mr. Saunders."
"Perhaps. But the situation is basically the same as it was three days ago – except for the fact that we're a helluva lot richer than we ever expected. I didn't plan to kill the Joyce woman until after this dig was over, anyway. But the opportunity presented itself, and I tried my best to terminate her while she was close. Things didn't work out the way we wanted, but it ain't the end of the fucking world."
The Judge looked unswayed by B.T.'s analysis of the overall situation. "And how do you and your men intend to get out of the area, Mr. Saunders?"
"The same way we got in. Drive."
"And if the police have blocked the road? How will you and your men manage to avoid the police roadblocks?"
"They won't be there yet."
The Judge brought his index finger to his left temple. "Obviously, your brains are so badly scrambled from prolonged drug abuse that you are incapable of thinking clearly any longer."
B.T. stiffened with indignation. "Hey, wait a minute now. You try and dig one of these goddamn pueblos for three straight days and nights and see how together you feel. And then take a load of buckshot in the leg. It ain't my fault that Linda Joyce keeps following us around like a fucking shadow!"
The Judge wagged his finger back and forth in the air. "That is no longer the point, Mr. Saunders. The question is how to cut our losses and remove ourselves from this plateau without being caught by the authorities."
B.T. rubbed his wounded leg and tried to focus on the problem. "Hell, I don't know, Judge. You’re the fucking brains. So, you tell me."
The Judge shook his head in disappointment. "In my opinion, departing by truck no longer seems a viable option. I, of course, will be flying out as planned; which leaves us with several interesting courses of action. We can simply leave the shipment here, and all fly out together. Or second, we can load the shipment on board and then allow space considerations to dictate who goes and who stays. How much would you estimate the entire load weighs?"
B.T. had already made such a mental calculation. "Oh, I'd say close to eight hundred pounds."The Judge nodded thoughtfully. "That means I have room for you and one other person. But whoever remains must be permanently silenced as well. So, which of your friends will you kill, Mr. Saunders?"