Saturday, August 20, 2011

Anasazi Strip - Chapter 35 - Part III

It took several seconds for Dwayne to realize the fighting was over. Saunders and his partner were fleeing the scene. Dwayne had won the battle, but as he watched the chopper grow smaller on the western horizon, he wondered whether he had lost the war.

“Dwayne? Are you there? Did they all leave?” cried Linda from behind the cover of the bullet-scarred pinnacle of red rock.

“Yeah, you can come on out, Linda. Saunders and the guy in the bush jacket got away.  But the rest of them are dead.”

Linda dropped her shotgun in the sand and ran to greet her friend. “Thank God you’re safe!”

Dwayne threw his arms around her and kissed the top of her head. “We made it.”

Linda hugged Dwayne tightly. “I couldn’t ever really see what you were doing. But when you started shooting, everything seemed to happen all at once. I was covering the two men by the chopper, but then I looked over and saw that Saunders was getting ready to fire in your direction. I was so surprised, I almost didn’t do anything. At the last second I got off a shot in his direction. But I didn’t really have time to aim, so I missed him. Once I fired at Saunders, they all knew where I was and they kept letting me have it. I got off a few shots and tried to stay flat against the rock – God, I was too afraid to even move a muscle. I knew I should do something, but I just couldn’t get up enough courage to fight back. They had me pinned down. And those machine-gun bullets blasting off the rock where I was hiding were the loudest things I ever heard in my life – I couldn’t think straight.  I just kept praying that you’d get them off my back. And you DID, Dwayne!”

Dwayne suddenly had a chilling thought. “Oh shit! I forgot all about Jenny.” He pulled himself away from Linda.

“They didn’t kill her?”

“No. They shot her full of drugs, but they didn’t kill her – yet. I left her behind the far wall of the pueblo, so she wouldn’t get caught in the crossfire.”

“You’re sure the other three men are dead?” asked Linda warily.

Dwayne nodded his head, almost as if he were ashamed of the truth. “When you hit somebody with a 44-magnum – with only a couple of feet between you and them – it makes a pretty damn big hole. They all looked dead to me, but I didn’t have any time to check.”

Dwayne decided to just leave it at that. There was no reason to go into the attempted rape, or the grisly details of each murder. Those were all images that Dwayne would rather not remember, much less relate. And surely Linda had already witnessed enough brutality for a lifetime.

“Well, let’s go make sure,” said Linda as she picked up the shotgun.

The smaller biker John lay spread-eagled on the ground, his mouth agape in a death mask of pain.  Dwayne crouched down and felt for a pulse. “Yeah, this one’s dead.”

“Good riddance,” said Linda coldly. “Let’s see how Jenny’s doing.”

As they came around the corner of the ruin, they were greeted by a smiling Jenny Hatch.  She had propped her back against the wall of the stone building and was softly humming an unintelligible song. Her head swayed from side to side. Her shirt and pants were ripped open and she was covered with red dirt. She looked like she had been to hell and back, and enjoyed the ride.

“Jenny!” cried Linda as she broke away from Dwayne and ran over to the archaeologist.

Jenny did not seem to take any notice of her new company, and continued to sing her song in a high, sweet, whispery voice.

Linda crouched down in front of the dazed woman and then she realized just how wrong things were. Dried spittle hung from the corner of Jenny’s chapped mouth and her eyes had the glazed glint of madness.

“What have they done to her?” screamed Linda to Dwayne.

He kneeled beside Jenny and took her left hand in his own. He checked her pulse and gazed down at his watch. “Her pulse is racing out of control. I don’t know what they shot her up with, she may be dying for all I know.”

Jenny stopped singing and stared directly at Dwayne. “Wrong hand, Cowboy.”

“Say what?” asked Dwayne.

“It’s in the other hand,” said Jenny with a wink as she opened her right hand. Resting in the palm of Jenny’s hand was the handle from a large Anasazi pot. It was several inches long and tan in color. Jenny smiled triumphantly as she gave Dwayne the handle.

“Here. The Magician says that you should have this. It will stop the pothunters.”

Dwayne did not have the heart to tell Jenny that Saunders had escaped. He stared at the ancient handle and tried to think of an appropriate response. “That’s the second time you’ve mentioned a fellow named the Magician. Who is he, Jenny?”

Jenny smiled as she closed her eyes and began to tell her story. “There’s an incredible kiva inside this pueblo. We found the Burial of the Magician under its floor. It was treasure. And the more we dug the grave, the more the Magician came to life.  God’s honest truth.”

Jenny’s eyes blinked open. “Look at me, Dwayne. You’ve gotta believe me!”

“I do, Jenny,”replied Dwayne. “But it looks to me like you’ve been through a helluva lot and I think we better try and get you to a doctor now.”

Jenny grabbed Dwayne by the shirt. “I tried to do what was right with the burial, and maybe I did. Who knows? But now it’s your turn. You gotta use that pot handle to nail those fuckers. And then we have to return all the stuff they stole; put it back in the kiva where it belongs. Otherwise, the Magician will not survive in his world.”

Jenny strained to take in air as she desperately squeezed Dwayne’s blue denim shirt.  Jenny let go and slumped against the wall. Her breath came in ragged gasps and her whole body began to shake uncontrollably. “Promise me, Dwayne!”

“I promise, Jenny,” said Dwayne as he fought back tears. “You know you can count on me.”

Jenny began to smile and cry at the same time. “You’re a top hand, Dwayne Johnson.”

Linda picked up one of the syringes from the ground. “Do you know what kind of dosage was in here, Jenny? Was Saunders trying to kill you with this?”

Jenny licked her lips. “I don’t know. We had been doing coke for the past couple of days – I lost track – so we could stay awake. But we had always inhaled it before. This last time, Saunders had us all inject it.

“Did he do any?” asked Linda.

Jenny shook her head. “I can’t remember. I’ve been pretty out of it lately.”

“Here, let me see that needle.” Dwayne squirted a drop of the milky liquid onto his finger and tasted it, then spit in the dirt. “That’s cocaine, alright.”

Dwayne stood up and walked toward the front of the pueblo, out of Jenny’s earshot. “I think we better try and find the keys to one of these boys’ trucks and get her back down to a doctor real quick.”

Linda wrapped the syringe in a red bandana and placed it in her jacket pocket. “Oh, god, Dwayne, if Saunders gave her an O.D., there’s no telling how long we’ve got until her heart and liver shuts down.”

Dwayne pocketed the old pot handle and dashed off toward the pothunters’ trucks. He prayed that he could find the looters’ keys.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Anasazi Strip - Chapter 35 - Part II

It had all seemed so easy when Dwayne and Linda had first crept up on the crime scene. No one had seen them, in fact, nobody had paid attention to anything other than loading the chopper with boxes as quickly as possible. Dwayne had no trouble picking Saunders out of the group of five; his long red hair was an immediate giveaway. Linda eyed the man with a burning hatred that spoke volumes.

Their original plan had been to sneak up on the chopper and capture the whole damned lot of them before they had a chance to react. Saunders and a scraggly, blond-haired man in a baseball cap were the only ones wearing weapons at the ready, and the five men presented an apparently easy target. Unfortunately, by the time Dwayne and Linda got close enough to spring their trap, Saunders and two other men had separated from the group and took Jenny with them.

At that point, it became necessary to implement Plan B, which pretty much consisted of winging it.  Dwayne said he would follow Saunders. Linda stayed where she was to cover Mr. Baseball cap and a big guy in a tan bush-jacket who never showed his face as he secured the load aboard the chopper. Linda had been instructed to wait for Dwayne’s signal, which might be anything from a shout, to the sound of gunfire – there was no telling. Dwayne would circle back behind the pueblo and corner Saunders and his crew, and then rescue Jenny. Linda’s job would be to get the drop on the two men at the chopper. She wasn’t supposed to come out of hiding until the last possible second, after everyone else had shown their hands.

Things had not worked out as planned, however. By the time Dwayne came around the back side of the pueblo, one of the bikers, a giant pig of a man, was attempting to rape Jenny  while a much smaller man, pants to his knees, clawed at the behemoth’s back. Saunders was nowhere to be seen. Dwayne had to stop both of these men immediately, and saw only one way to do that.

As Dwayne raised his gun to fire, he tried to tell himself that these sub-humans deserved to die. In fact, a certain righteous indignation surfaced as he squeezed the trigger. It felt good to play God.

The only trouble was, that once the shooting began, it unleashed a whole series of unknown forces. Dwayne was discovering what any battlefield commander knows to his core: that the best laid plans turn to shit as soon as the first shot goes off. The best Dwayne could do now was guess.

He zeroed in on the rock pile closest to the pueblo; there were perhaps a hundred feet separating him from his target. He knew he probably had the advantage of surprise on his side; but then he suddenly realized he had forgotten to re-load, which meant he only had two bullets left to disable whoever was on the other side of those rocks. He could not afford to miss.

As Dwayne came running around the corner of the rock pile he stumbled in a loose pocket of sand and pitched headlong into the dirt. He rolled sideways, coming to rest facing the bright, shiny barrel of a .38 caliber Smith and Wesson held by a lunatic in a blue baseball cap.

“Smile. You’re on Candid Camera, Cop!”said Otis with a deranged smile.

At that precise instant, the helicopter lifted off the ground in a hail of stinging dust, and panic took over for a brief instant. The psycho with the pistol looked back over his shoulder to see what was going on and Dwayne let him have it. The first shot went wide, but the next one made mincemeat of Otis Stile’s mid-section. The man crumpled backward as he tried desperately to hold in his guts, the same deranged smile plastered across his face. Dwayne continued to pull the trigger of his magnum, even though he realized his gun was empty. It wasn’t until the man’s bleeding body hit the ground that Dwayne’s head fell onto the soft sand and he shook with terrified relief.

Dwayne struggled unsteadily to his knees. The chopper hovered fifty feet off the ground while Saunders stood underneath it with his machine-gun trained on the underside of the craft.  The message was clear. Either the pilot returned for Saunders, or he was going to blast the helicopter right out of the sky. The double-cross stalemate lasted for only a few brief seconds before the chopper dropped back to earth.

Dwayne fumbled in his jacket pocket for some shells to load his empty gun. His hands were shaking with fear and excitement, and several of the stubby bullets fell in the sand as he frantically re-loaded; another few seconds and Saunders would climb aboard the chopper and be gone in a noisy cloud of dust. Dwayne moaned in desperation as the chopper touched down and Saunders stepped on to the skids and grabbed the door. The chopper quickly lifted off, Saunders signaling to the pilot to head directly toward Dwayne.

Dwayne suddenly went from worrying how he was going to stop Saunders from escaping, to trying to figure out he was going to avoid being gunned down from the sky like a helpless coyote. The rock piles and pinnacles would not provide cover from an aerial attack.  There was nowhere left for Dwayne Johnson to hide.

Dwayne fingered the last bullet into the chamber and stood up to face the approaching chopper, taking careful aim at the bubble-nosed front of the Bell Ranger. He didn’t figure he was going to get many shots, so he knew he better make the first one count.

Dwayne squeezed off a round and watched in fascination as the entire windshield disintegrated in a cobwebbed shower of broken plexiglass. Saunders almost lost his grip as the chopper lurched up and down, and then veered to the left in an evasive maneuver. Saunders fired a machine-gun burst which fell harmlessly short of Dwayne’s position, and Dwayne returned two shots in rapid succession at the fast-moving helicopter.

As the chopper retreated rapidly to the west, Saunders waved back at Dwayne and saluted before crawling inside the chopper.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Anasazi Strip - Chapter 35 - Part 1

Dwayne Johnson had never taken another man’s life, even in war, and much less at point-blank range. He found himself watching in captivated horror as the 44-shell turned the would-be rapist’s head to – what would you cal it? Brain mush?

       Several seconds went by before Dwayne regained his senses enough to deal with the second rapist, the man with his pants down around his ankles. From his position behind the dilapidated remains of the pueblo’s far wall, Dwayne had no fear of being shot – to hit him, someone would first have to flank him from the rear; there was little chance of that happening.

       The little man struggled to pull up his pants. He reminded Dwayne of a cockroach caught in the light. The man zipped up his jeans and then pulled a switchblade from his back pocket.  He wailed like a maniac as he looked back and forth from Billy Ray’s still-quivering body to the stranger with the gun. His head bobbed from side to side like it was on a spring.

Dwayne leaned out from the cover of the crumbling wall and aimed the 44-magnum at the knife-wielding junkie. “Try fucking this, you little prick!” he yelled and then fired.

       John’s mouth formed a circle of terrified surprise and he stopped dead in his tracks. He dropped the knife and clutched his chest with both hands. “Help me!” He collapsed on the ground next to Jenny and writhed in agony, convulsing for air like a fish on dry land.

       Dwayne showed no pity for the hapless rapist. Instead, he ran over to Jenny and tried to pull her back toward the protection of the rock wall as questions filled his mind. What was Linda doing? She was supposed to be covering Dwayne from a sandstone pinnacle near the helicopter. Why wasn’t Saunders shooting. What the hell was going on?

       “Dwayne!” gushed Jenny with a big smile as Dwayne grabbed her under the armpits and dragged her along the ground. “You found me!”

“Shhhh,” whispered Dwayne. We gotta get you back behind the pueblo so you’re out of the line of fire, Jenny. Are you hurt? Can you walk?”

Jenny put her palms on the ground and tried to get her balance. “I’m not sure, Dwayne.  Saunders gave me a whole bunch of cocaine a few minutes ago, and now I’m all messed up. Sorry, Cowboy.”

“Don’t worry about it,” said Dwayne as he lifted Jenny and looked over his shoulder to see what was happening.

Suddenly, all hell broke loose around him. A shower of machine-gun bullets raked his position, followed by the distinct blast of a shotgun. Dwayne strained to drag Jenny behind the rocky cover before they both were ripped apart. The clatter of a small-caliber pistol rang out across Pinnacle Ridge, quickly followed by the baritone growl of Linda’s shotgun, then another burst of automatic weapons fire, none of which were aimed in Dwayne’s direction. 

Dwayne hauled Jenny to the pueblo, then quickly stepped out into the open, fired twice, and jumped back behind the pueblo’s crumbling wall. Linda had bought him some time by drawing the fire down upon herself, but from the sounds of it, she was in desperate need of some diversionary help.

Jenny lay on the ground, trying with great effort to get hand him something. It was the first time Dwayne had a chance to give Jenny a close inspection, and the strange reflection of the woman he had once known was almost beyond belief. Jenny had aged decades in a matter of a few days. It did not seem possible. What could have happened up here on the Paria Plateau to do such a thing to a person?

“Jenny, now listen carefully. I’ve gotta go help Linda. I think she’s in big trouble.”

“Oh. Is she here with you too?” asked Jenny as she held out her hand, revealing the jar handle and exhaled with relief.

“Yeah, that’s who Saunders is shooting at right now.”

Dwayne’s words were punctuated by a fresh barrage of weapons fire, and then the noise of something even more troubling: the high-pitched whine of the Bell Ranger’s engines starting up.

Dwayne grabbed Jenny by the shoulders and stared straight into her cloudy eyes. “Jenny, you stay right here now. Don’t move until I come back and get you. Understand?”

Jenny stared down at the pot handle like a child with a toy. “I’m not going anywhere, Dwayne. Ol’ Jenny’s played out. But I’ve got something here for you here that you’re going to need. The Magician said it’s going to stop these bastards cold.”

Dwayne didn’t have time for cocaine gibberish. “Okay. That’s great. You just stay put, Jenny. I gotta go now. Alright?”

Jenny smiled and drooled on herself.

Dwayne peered around the corner of the ruin to appraise the situation. The smaller rapist lay motionless in the sand. Linda was completely hidden from view, but bullets were riddling the rock column where she had originally taken up position, so it was a pretty good bet she was still there. From the looks of it, everyone now had his own individual rock pile to hind behind, but nobody was prepared to lead a charge. Undoubtedly, Saunders and his people were as spooked and perplexed as Dwayne and Linda – even more so. They probably wondered how many folks they were dealing with. At least Dwayne knew that much. There had been five bad guys at the beginning of the ambush. Dwayne had killed one of them, for sure, and the other appeared either dead or critical – certainly out of action. One man was piloting the chopper. And the two remaining gunmen were still going strong, evidenced by the relentless attack on Linda from two different positions. There was no telling where Saunders was. Dwayne could not see who was warming up the helicopter, so he could either be there, or behind rock number one, or number two. Take your pick.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Anasazi Strip - Chapter 34 - Part II

      B.T. finished filling the second syringe and passed it on to a gaping Billy Ray, who had already taken off his faded jean jacket and rolled up his right sleeve. "I'll tell you what, Red, without your help, we'd have been in a world of hurt. And I'm gonna return the favor as best as I can."

      John moaned as he finished plunging the uncut cocaine into his vein."God-fucking-damn, that coke feels good, old buddy!" John let the needle fall into the sand and his face sagged into a satisfied smile.

      B.T. began filling the final hypo with the deadly cocaine solution. "I'll never forget what the three of you brought to this operation, and I know damn well you deserve better than I can give. But we had us some fun digging in that sandbox, didn't we? You bet your ass we did! We were one helluva team."

      John swayed in place and licked dreamily at his lips while Billy Ray untied the bandana tourniquet from his forearm and farted loudly.

      "Be brave, my child," whispered the Magician. "Stand strong and true, and the rest will take care of itself. You must believe."

      "I never doubted that you'd come back for me," said Jenny.

      B.T. placed his palm under Jenny’s elbow and raised her left arm firmly against his side.

     "And I promise to honor our agreement, no matter what happens," said Jenny, ignoring B.T. entirely.

     " The gods will love you, Red. I promise," said B.T. as he reached over and cut away some of her shiny red hair with his knife. Then he stuck the needle into the Jenny’s arm and emptied its contents into her bloodstream.

     Jenny looked down with bemused interest at the syringe sticking into her arm. "Hey, no more snorting this stuff up the nose, huh? We’re doing it for real this time."

     B.T. pulled the needle free and let go of Jenny’s arm. "We are indeed, Red. As real as real can get."

     "You think you won, don’t you?" asked Jenny as a shiver of pleasure ran up her spine.

     "Sure looks that way, Red."

     "You still have to get by the Magician," said Jenny as her eyes twitched madly and her head bobbed back and forth. "And you can’t even see him." Jenny convulsed with laughter.

     B.T. didn’t have time to listen to such foolishness. "Yeah, well, you give him my best regards, Red." 

     B.T. turned around to face the two stoned-out bikers. "She’s all yours, boys. Enjoy her while you still can. I’ll be back for some hair in a few minutes."

     As he approached the chopper, he was met by Otis and the Judge. He signaled them with a thumbs up sign. "All taken care of. They’ll be dead real soon."

     Otis wiped his forehead with the back of his dirty hand. "What the fuck’s going on over there?" He pointed in the direction of the pueblo. "Looks like John-boy is getting ready to cut himself a slice."

     B.T. turned. John had pulled down his jeans and was trying to drag Jenny to the ground where he could better attempt to rape her. It was almost a comical sight; the two drugged bikers looked like a pair of drunken dancers. Billy Ray clumsily elbowed his smaller friend out of the way. John was not interested in sloppy seconds and took a swing at the hulking beast. While B.T. stared in amusement at the demented scene, Billy Ray’s head suddenly exploded in a red haze. The trailing sound of a gunshot quickly followed.

B.T. dove behind a large sandstone boulder and felt a stabbing pain in his wounded leg. Who was attacking them? How could anyone have gotten this close without being heard? And as B.T. listened to a second and then a third gunshot go off near the old pueblo, he wondered if it was indeed the deadly work of the Magician.