The helicopter sailed over Saddle mountain and banked north toward Buckhorn Point. The deep gorges of the Grand Canyon fanned out below like bright knife wounds in the earth’s crust. The colors swirled together to create a divine painting of seemingly infinite proportions. To stare into its shimmering depths was to look into the face of God Almighty.
B.T. Saunders and Judge Keating were not interested in spectacular views. The Judge had spent the last twenty minutes haranguing B.T. about the horrendous state of their affairs.
B.T. sat back and weathered the verbal storm without saying a word. He could not change what had already happened. Eventually, the Judge grew tired of beating the dead horse, and flew the chopper in icy silence.
B.T. was left to ponder his precarious future, and one thing kept haunting his thoughts. He hadn’t been able to get the hair from John and Billy Ray. The Ritual could not be performed. The spirits of the slain had been carelessly lost by the wayside. And the gods would be displeased. How could he satisfy them? How could he make things right again?
“We are at Buckhorn Point, Mr. Saunders. Where do you want me to put down?”
B.T. stared vacantly at the baked-brown landscape dotted with green pinyon and junipers, and struggled to focus. “Over there,” he pointed at a weathered old corral. “I stashed the motorcycle in the brush behind the corral.”
“Are you sure it’s still there?” the Judge asked skeptically.
“Well, it was there a couple of weeks ago when I was out here scouting for Indian ruins. And it’s too damn big to do much with, unless you’ve got the key. I had a helluva time getting it in and out of my damn truck by myself. I’m sure it’s where I left it, Judge.”
“It better be,” concluded the Judge as he landed the helicopter on the sagebrush flat.
“The only sign of life I’ve ever seen out here before was a couple of cows. It’s the fucking middle of nowhere, Judge. Nobody in their right mind would come out here.”
“We did, Mr. Saunders.” replied the Judge.
“Well, there you go,” laughed B.T., trying to add a little levity to an unpleasantly tense situation.
The Judge smiled disdainfully as he turned off the Ranger’s engines. “I can assure you that I am firmly in control of all my faculties, Mr. Saunders, although I must admit that I am forced to question my own judgement in this unfortunate matter. It has become painfully obvious to me that I delegated far too much authority to you.”
B.T. blew up. “Why don’t you climb down off that high horse of yours, Judge. You put up some of your easy money and you get to fly around in your helicopter, while the grunts down on the ground bust their balls for you, and then you piss and moan when things turn sour. I think you’ve forgotten what it’s like to put your ass on the line. Remember how it went in “Nam? Sometimes a mission would click like clockwork, and other times it would blow up in your goddamn face. And not necessarily because you didn’t plan it right, either. Remember that time we went into Laos to blow those VC command bunkers. The Land Sat photos said the place was guarded by a company of light infantry. But remember what we found waiting for us? Tanks. A whole shitload of Russian tanks, and we lost half the unit. Whose fault was that, colonel? Yours? It was your mission. You were in charge.”
The Judge’s face turned crimson. “ I had no way of knowing those tanks would be there.”
“No. And I had no way of knowing that everybody and their goddamn grandmother would suddenly show up on the Paria Plateau this week. It just happened. So you try your best to deal with it, and then you cut your losses. Three good men are dead, and we’re sitting on the considerable fruits of their labor. So, stop your goddamn bellyaching; you’ve got blood on your hands, just like me.”
The Judge toyed with his mustache. “I suppose you’re right, Mr. Saunders. Perhaps I have been a bit too harsh in my judgement.”
“Yeah, and I’m not forgetting that you tried to leave me back there on the Paria, either. That was pretty cold-blooded, even for you, Judge.”
The Judge flashed an embarrassed smile. “I was just cutting my losses, Mr. Saunders.”
B.T. laughed loudly and aimed the muzzle of his Mac-10 at the middle of the Judge’s chest. Well now, if I can’t trust you, Judge, who can I trust? After all we’ve been through, it seems a damn shame to have to call it quits like this. But maybe it’s for the best.”
The Judge didn’t bat an eye at the deadly threat. “If you kill me, you will never be able to sell any of the priceless artifacts in this shipment. I am the only person with the necessary contacts to accomplish such a, shall we say, delicate transaction. I am the only person who can supply the proper authentication papers – McCracken would never deal with you. Surely, you must realize that.”
“All I know is that you were ready to shitcan me back there. That being the case, I think we should re-examine our partnership. What do you say to that?”