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.