The road looked like salvation to Kerry. Gault hadn’t spoken to her since she’d asked the sheriff about Raymond. Gault didn’t seem angry or jealous so much as worried. He’s worried about his damn organization, Kerry decided. That would be just like him. Doesn’t care who his girl sleeps with as long as it doesn’t jeopardize the cause.
Gault tried to remember the day at the laundromat. He had suspected Beck and he had been right about it, but now that the truth was known, the reality made his hands shake and his knees weak. Thoughts of prison ran through Gault’s mind. Was there someone in the mill? Will they find a body? Should you have called and warned the night-watchman? Was there one?
Kerry felt uneasy at the way Gault swung his rifle. The sheriff and two others were ahead of them. One false step and the gun could go off.
"Armstrong," Kerry whispered. Gault jumped.
"What?" his voice quivered.
The rifle pointed at Kerry’s hip. She carefully pushed the weapon aside.
"Be careful with that," she told him.
Gault tried a smile at Kerry and a "thank-you." Careful to keep the weapon pointed at the ground, Gault marched forward to keep up with the others. Kerry followed.
The rifle is the answer, Gault thought to himself. They think these others did it. When the shooting starts, Gault decided, I’ll make sure I hit Felton. They’ll be so busy proving he did it after he’s dead, they’ll never suspect you.
"Come on," Steadman called from the front to Kerry and Gault. "Don’t lag behind. People get lost in these woods."
Tenner didn’t look like he knew where he was. Scott and Yula stared at his sweaty face, hoping they were wrong.
"I know, I know," Tenner hissed. "It’s right around here."
Scott and Yula shot each other a look. Tenner struck out up the hill, where there was no trail. Scott and Yula followed.
The noise seemed deafening to Scott. Every footfall crunched leaves, every shrub rustled against their clothes. Scott realized how ridiculous it was, but he considered taking off his shoes.
If we can just make it over the ridge. Scott thought he heard the distant sound of cars and pickup trucks. Then Scott saw their lights through the trees.
"Look!" Scott whispered.
They stopped. Yula gasped for breath, Tenner clutched his stomach. Pairs of lights switched off, about a mile away. Distant doors slammed. Are those voices?
"We gotta run," Scott whispered to Yula. He pointed up the hill to the top of the ridge. She looked at Tenner, thinking the same thing as Scott. They would never make it. Tenner collapsed to the ground, confirming their suspicions. He looked white, even in the dim moonlight. He’ll be the first to die, Scott decided.
Scott knelt next to Tenner.
"You stay here," Scott said to him.
"No!" Tenner shot back.
"Quiet!" Yula ordered.
"It’s our only chance," Scott hissed. "Yula and I will run over the ridge. With any luck they’ll follow us and you’ll be safe. When you’re sure, go back to the cabin. Help Xavier with the machine. It’s our only chance."
Tenner looked at Yula. Tears glistened in the corners of his eyes. Yula thought she saw the reflection of the moon there. He was losing her–not just for now–and he knew it. Scott was afraid Tenner was going to scream. Yula put her hand to his cheek in a gesture of farewell. Tenner shook her hand away and looked at Scott. Tenner nodded. Scott stood. He considered the shotgun in his hand. He handed it to Tenner.
"Here," Scott said. He grabbed Yula’s hand before he had a chance to change his mind. They ran, up the steep hill, dodging trees and bushes.
Scott heard their pursuers coming along the top of the ridge from the west. There were still trees up there, for awhile, before the mountain would go bald from the cut. The trees would slow the trackers down some. Yula’s strong legs kept up with Scott’s. His ached terribly. Wonder if hers do too. Don’t push her. What have we done? Burned the mill. That’s what they think. They’ll shoot first and ask questions later. Scott wished he hadn’t given Tenner the shotgun.
Xavier crept along the ground under the cabin. There was a small opening on the west side. Xavier peeked through. Lou Berenson was all the way at the edge of the forest, watching the cabin. He’d see Xavier’s flashlight if he switched it on. Xavier crawled back to the gizmo. He’d just have to work in the dark.
Xavier rolled off a thin wire from a small roll. He measured and clipped off six inches with his wire-cutters. He scraped off the blue insulation from the two ends of the wire and placed the strand inside the machine next to the burnt-out one. Deciding it would fit, Xavier pulled the other wire out. Without electricity to run a soldering iron, Xavier was forced to use the little gas-jet device Scott had bought at the electronics store. As small as it was, it was still too big.
Xavier turned his back to the west to hide the tiny flame. Xavier started to cough. He crawled to the backpack, the one he was supposed to take with him when he went with the others. He fumbled with the straps and got it open. Xavier pulled out a bottle of water and drank. The cough subsided. Is there more water in the cabin? Xavier didn’t remember. This is impossible. Xavier checked the pack again. Two more bottles of cough syrup. He hoped it would be enough. A wave of fear made Xavier shudder. What if they don’t come back?
Xavier felt tired. And something else. What is it? Something he hadn’t felt since graduate school. Drunk. I’m drunk, Xavier giggled to himself, then threw his hand over his mouth. Xavier laid down on the hard dirt. He pulled the backpack under his head and stared up at the underside of the cabin. He soon caught himself dreaming of home, something he hadn’t done in years. It wasn’t his current home, in the future, but his childhood home, also in the future but not so far. Xavier chuckled at the irony of it–he was closer to being a child now.
Tenner moved east, parallel to the ridge, about a quarter mile from the top. The brush was thick and it was slow-going. He already felt lonely without Yula. He’d spent almost three years with her, non-stop, almost twenty-four hours a day. And now she’d abandoned him. His animal instincts told him to fight for her. The way they used to. The way they did in this time, so far as he knew. But how can you? She loved Scott–it was all over her face.
They won’t make it over the ridge, Tenner knew. But he had another plan he was certain would work.
Steadman moved slowly up the hill. Even from the distance he had seen the lights of the vehicles on the ridge. Just make it a hike, Steadman told himself. Don’t move too fast. Steadman hated having Gault behind him with that rifle of his. But the plan was working. The fugitives were in front of him, moving up the hill to the ridge, where the others would arrest them.
Kerry wondered why they were moving so slowly. She wondered if Steadman really wanted to catch Scott. She knew Gault did. He searched the black forest with nervous eyes, looking for a target. He looks so ridiculous. Suddenly, Kerry wondered if she would turn out like Leigh, hating men for every little stupid thing they did.
Beck and Johannsen took turns looking through the infrared telescope. Beck had to admit it was delightful toy. They spotted Lou Berenson in the woods guarding the cabin and snickered at the idea the young man could be of any use. It occurred to the FBI men that the older man Scott had called Xavier might still be in the cabin. Even in a structure as simple as that there could be crawlspaces, loose floorboards, secret compartments. Beck and Johannsen had absolutely no faith a thorough search had been made.
Gault took in deep breaths of air. The steepness of the hill had little to do with it; the adrenaline coursing through his veins would propel him up Everest. He longed for the release of gunfire. It would make it all right. It would make him safe.
Scott led Yula carefully up toward the ridge. There were trees here, old trees, that had been there a thousand years. It didn’t make Scott feel any better that hundreds of generations had lived and died since they were saplings. He would be just one more dead man, not noticed or recorded by Nature’s indifference.
Yula stared at the motion of Scott’s backpack ahead of her. She no longer listened to Scott’s thoughts; it was difficult enough to hear her own. Suddenly, the catalog of complaints she’d had against Tenner had disappeared and she tried to remember why she didn’t love him anymore. A sneeze worked its way to the back of her nose and threatened to burst out. Yula stumbled to the ground and put one finger under her nostrils like she’d seen in an old movie.
"What’s the matter?" Scott whispered, coming back to her.
Yula’s mouth opened. She inhaled, trying to bypass her nose.
"Relax," Scott ordered. "Relax."
They waited, two adults in the dark, for a sneeze to come and reveal their location. This is so silly. Don’t laugh, Scott. This is serious business.
Yula started giggling. She tried to hold it back but it all burst out, a spitting blast of laughter.
Scott’s eyes frantically darted left and right, searching the darkness for the enemies of laughter.
Xavier took a long swig of cough syrup. He’d held responsibility for so long, the alcoholic liquid felt like freedom rolling down his throat. It would make him dream, he felt, something he hadn’t done in years. It would help him forget the misery of his own existence and the effort necessary to maintain that existence. Forget the contraption, he told himself, we’re dead anyway.
Tenner knew he’d made it to the right place. He took a couple of deep breaths and held his stomach. It felt okay. He’d be able to run. Tenner raised the shotgun and aimed it at the top of a high tree some hundred yards off. He squeezed the trigger. It seemed like he waited forever for the blast. When it came, the tree branches shook with the shot, and the night came alive.
"There! Down there!" the men on the ridge shouted.
Beck stood to his full height and looked to the east. Johannsen grabbed Beck’s coat and pulled Beck to the ground.
"Get down!" Johannsen screamed. His service revolver was already in his hand.
Steadman tried to work his walkie-talkie but he got no answer. The men on the ridge were already moving down the slope, though they weren’t certain in which direction they should go.
Tenner pointed the shotgun to another tree. He pulled the trigger and this blast seemed even louder than the last.
The men on the ridge saw the flash and started running.
Scott pulled Yula behind a group of trees and they sat there, watching the ridge men charge down the hill.
"Damn him," Yula hissed. "I should have known."
She loves him. She still does.
"Damn him," Scott repeated. He’s being a hero. That isn’t fair. We’re supposed to draw the fire.
Still, Scott was relieved at the sight of the lumbermen passing them by. He and Yula were safe. There was a whole world out there where they could be safe.
Gault charged through the trees, his rifle blasting a path ahead of him.
Kerry ran after, screaming, but Gault’s ears wouldn’t admit the sound.
"Stop! Both of you! Cease fire!" Steadman yelled at a run.
Beck and Johannsen made their way across the ridge. They were parallel with the gunfire, heading east.
"Damn!" Beck screamed, his weapon aimed down the mountain.
This wasn’t the way The Bureau did things–shootouts in the hills. Not since Bonnie and Clyde anyway.
Hot tears streamed down Kerry’s face, but her legs were strong. She would stay an even distance with Gault, even if she didn’t catch him. Steadman and the others were behind her, but losing ground. Go back to the road, go back to town, go back to San Francisco, she told herself. You’re too young for any of this.
Gault saw he was losing ground. The man was getting away and what was just as bad, the sheriff and his men were keeping up. Get a lead. Shoot him. Self-defense. Out of their sight.
copyright 2007 Brenda H all rights reserved
[tags]Brenda H, sci-fi, novel, thriller, ecology, environment[/tags]