SEVENTEEN ‑ A HIGHER AUTHORITY

 

 

"I'm sorry, Mr. Moranne," Police Chief Lilly shook his head, "But I ain't about to let that bastard go free!"

     "It's inspector," Moranne said. "Inspector Moranne." He sat down on the chief's desk and raised a hand to calm the large man, reaching into his coat pocket with the other.

     "Well, excuse the shit out of me, Inspector."

     "I have a letter here I think will change your mind," Moranne said warmly, ignoring the sarcasm. He handed the folded sheet of paper to Chief Lilly.

     "I don't give a good god damn if it's signed by the President of the ‑ good lord!" Lilly's defiance melted and he whistled in awe. Moranne watched him closely.

     The chief re‑read the letter, then handed it back to the Inspector. He leaned forward in his chair and pushed a button on his intercom. "De bussy," Chief Lilly's voice broke as he talked into the plastic box. He was disappointed. "Get Gideon Holley out of the cell and tell him he's free to go." He listened testily as a tinny voice objected.

     "Just tell him the charges against him were dropped," the Chief said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

EIGHTEEN ‑ PROTECTION THROUGH ORGANIZATION

 

 

Gideon left Albequerque at one‑thirty Monday afternoon after trying in vain all morning to find someone at the college who could get his friends out of jail. The first person he'd searched out was Russ Benedict of the Radical Students Association.

     "Gideon Holley!" An incredibly average young man rose from behind a desk and leapt forward to take Gideon's hand. "I'm Russ Benedict, brother."

     He gave Gideon the secret handshake ‑ fingers gripping the back of the palm, thumbs interlocking above. Actually, it wasn't all that secret. In the early 60s, drivers of certain sports cars and Volkswagen beetles would beep their horns at each other in passing. The handshake was like that.

     "Beep," Russ Benedict said.

     "Beep," Gideon repeated, reluctantly.

     "They called from the office and said you wanted to see me." Russ Benedict was overwhelmed. He had practiced formula living all of his young life. He went through high school at the top of his class, though none of his classmates would remember him if asked. One teacher, an English teacher, still remembered.

     "Polite," she would say, if asked.

     Russ Benedict stood five feet and nine inches in height. An average height. He had brown hair and plain brown eyes and a face that vanished in people's memories like disappearing ink. He believed only hard workers excelled, so he worked hard.

     People from the national offices of the Radical Students Association would say, "Get that guy ‑ what's his name? ‑ from the University of New Mexico to do it. He's a hard worker."

     Now, Russ stood facing Gideon Holley and slipped his secret handshake casually into his pocket. He ushered Gideon into the small room someone had given him for an office.

     "What can I do for you?" Russ asked sincerely.

     "You can get George Two Throws and about forty‑five other Indians out of that fucking jail for starters."

     "Yes, George Cly," Russ said, shaking his head sadly. "It's a shame how America treats its original citizens, isn't it?"

     He looked at Gideon as a father looks at a foolish son. "That was good guerilla theater you guys threw at them yesterday. But, you really should've notified us here at RSA first, so we could have sanctioned it."

     "Sanctioned what?" Gideon was dumbfounded.

     "Well, you see," Russ said patiently, "if we had been aware of it, we could've brought it under the heading of an RSA activity. We could've approved it."

     "Approved it?"

     "Yes, Gideon. If it had been RSA approved, we could raise bail money and legal fees; but, now it's up to the Radical Indian Caucus. It was their operation."

     "They are in jail," Gideon said tersely.

     "A damned shame, too," Russ said, pulling the secret hand out to wring it with the other. "Damned shame." Gideon stared at him.

     "But these people need help."

     "It has to be this way, Gideon," Russ said. "We only have protection through organization."

     "It sounds like the god damned Mafia to me," Gideon spun away and headed for the door.

     "Say, Gideon," Russ called out to him, "I'm organizing a Chicano Independence Day in the spring. I'll try to book you in here."

     Gideon couldn't speak, so he kept walking, fists shoved into his baggy trousers.

 

 

He took Interstate 40 out of Albuquerque and headed west, his mind in deep water again. He could see George's sad smile each time he blinked his burning eyes. The Indian's last words to him echoed through his mind in a sandpaper whisper.

     "Good luck, Gideon," George had said. "We tried."

     "Yeah, and look where you are."

     George gauged Gideon's own sadness and laughed an honest laugh. "Hey, man, don't worry about us!" he said.

     "Yeah," Harry Highhawk leaned into the bars and grinned. "We got 'em by the balls!"

     Gideon stared at him, puzzled by his statement. The entire group, even the young ones, were calm and happy. All those fascinating faces smiling at him, not contentedly but more as though they knew the punch line to a joke when no one else did. He remembered George telling him how they had once scoffed at their parents and the older members of the tribe for being hang‑around‑the‑fort Indians, and Uncle Tom‑ Toms. Then, they realized how hard their elders had worked for the little they had, and the things they'd done, they'd done for their children. It made them sad.

     "Shit, yeah, we got 'em," George's deep voice brought Gideon back. "While we're in here, they got to feed us. You don't know how much a hungry Indun can eat."

     Ernesto laughed. "Besides, the food's better here than what we get at home, and there ain't hardly any bugs in here."

     "That's not all," George said. "This place is heated!"

     "Damn it," Gideon said. "I tried to get help."

     "We know that, man," George said. "Now, go on and get outa' here before you wind up liking the taste of shit."

     The men at the bars turned away from Gideon and joined their friends in the center of the cell.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NINETEEN ‑ THE SANDMAN

 

 

He drove hard from Albuquerque, watching the grey skies ahead of him as he passed through the desolate countryside. He made good time until he came to Grants. The weather had worsened every few miles as he approached the pass, but as he pushed upward it became worse every few feet. He kept the van in first gear and managed to get through without stalling or going off the road, but by the time he began moving again normally, he was exhausted.

     Gideon concentrated on his driving, moving carefully along the snow‑covered highway. He watched a snow plow trudging through the other two lanes, working its way back toward the pass. It threw snow over its shoulder in a graceful arc.

     His next stop was Flagstaff, Arizona, but though he'd been on the road for a little over three hours he was tired. Six miles west of Grants, Gideon saw two signs. BLUEWATER ‑ 1 MILE, one said.

     The other, a 4X8 sheet of plywood painted white with blue letters said, BLUEWATER LAKE, LOOKOUT MOUNTAIN ‑ EL. 8110 ‑ CAMPGROUNDS.

     Gideon sighed, a tired smile creeping across his face. He began looking for a store.

     "Bluewater," he whispered the name.

 

 

Gideon finished his last hot dog and lay back against his bedroll, watching as the light from the fire danced upon the side of his van. An eerie darkness had settled on the world around him as he ate, and now, not one star could be seen through the thick clouds. The snow was coming again. He pulled his jacket tighter around him as the cold, dry air moved in silently, thoroughly.

     He tried to force his mind to recall the last two months, but he got nothing but static. "Maybe it's better this way," he said as he felt a soft flurry of snow run across his cheek. "It sure won't do me any good to think about it."

     He settled back still further into the bedroll and thought of the distant past instead. He thought of how his mother had given him hot tea with milk on nights not half as cold as this. He would sip it and grin at her as his eyelids drooped.

     "Here comes the sandman," she would whisper, pulling the blanket up under his chin.

     Gideon sat up reluctantly and tossed another handful of branches into the fire. He got to his feet, stretched, then opened his sleeping bag and rolled it out onto the snow. He put another sleeping bag over the first to keep the cold out, arranging the tent top of the upper bag to keep the snow off his head. He tossed even more wood on the fire as he crawled into the bag.

     "Here comes the sandman," he said, falling asleep instantly.

 

 

He woke the next morning under a thin blanket of snow. He squinted his eyes against the bright, white drifts that lay around him and pulled himself out of the sleeping bag. He saw a Winnebago motor home parked several hundred feet away, its newness marred by a small, deep dent in the left front fender. It made Gideon remember an article he had read in a newspaper recently. The title was Are Americans Becoming Nomads? It was the story of increasing sales in all types of motor homes.

     He cleaned the camp and deposited his goods in the van, then left for his morning walk. He stepped carefully as he made his way across the high, rocky ground and, after crossing a small stone crest, he came to a slow-moving mountain stream.

     Gideon sat at the edge of the stream and scooped up a handful of icy water, splashing it against his face. Sunlight bouncing off the snow warmed him and he felt lazy. He let his fingers trail in the sluggish stream and watched the tiny rapids caused by their presence.

     A blur of motion in the corner of his eye brought Gideon's senses to full alert and he saw a moving shadow at his back. He twisted around, not sure what he was worried about, and his eyes caught sight of a bloated deer carcass as it bounced dully along in the shallows, belly first now as it came toward him. Its head and neck were gone. His stomach lurched and he jumped to his feet, almost falling over the deer in his haste. After running for a time, he slowed to a winded walk and made his way back to camp.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TWENTY ‑ FLAGSTAFF

 

 

Gideon was scheduled to give his first actual speech in radical political alternatives at the campus in Flagstaff. He didn't have the slightest idea what he would say. He had read through the stack of newsletters and booklets Carl Steiner had given him the day he left Minnesota, and now tried to find some useable pattern in the sketchy, emotional articles he'd found there.

     Moving stories by people like Dick Gregory and Julian Bond and W.E.B. Du Bois fought for space with lengthy and trite dialog filled with the usual "colonialist‑facist‑lackey‑dog‑honky‑pig‑motherfucking‑capitalist rhetoric that stretched for pages, its relevance capable of being distilled to few predictable sentences.

     Hundreds of anti‑Vietnam war cries were thrown at Gideon through the pages of every pamphlet and book; stories that tore at his heart. There were photographs that echoed the brutality of war, the senselessness of killing human beings and the agony of watching the things society had worked so hard for being destroyed.

     In these same pages were other articles, written by the Movement's top revolutionaries ‑ Yippies, Weathermen and S.D.S'ers who swore to take the revolution into the heart of America. They called themselves "street fighters" and talked of violent revolutions and blood‑in‑the‑streets to get rid of the "top establishment dogs" whose crimes were oppressing others, and waging violent wars. Like father, like son.

     Gideon passed through Gallup, drove mechanically through the snowy worlds of Lupton, Houck and Sanders, not seeing signs asking him to visit the Petrified Forest and the Painted Desert. After stopping for gas in Holbrook, Gideon at last tried to put together a speech.

     "Brothers and sisters of the revolution!" he shouted, his words ringing against the inside of the van. He lifted one hand off the wheel and pointed a finger straight into an imaginary audience as forcefully as he'd once seen a pudgy, bearded speaker do at Macalester College. He wished now he'd stayed and listened to the speaker instead of getting up to take a leak.

     He practiced his speech as he drove, lengthening it, changing it to give it more impact and trying to use cliché to build a structure of relevance that radicals could relate to. When he finished his speech he was driving through the wide streets of Winslow, divided from the two east‑bound lanes by rows of buildings. He was quite proud of his speech.

     He was surprised to see forests rising above the snow as he neared Flagstaff.

 

 

Gideon drove into Flagstaff and found the road that led to the campus, surprised when several students called to him by name when he stopped to ask for directions. He waved at them. When he stopped his van in front of the administrations building he saw posters tacked to a bulletin board on the sidewalk. On the posters were more pictures of Gideon that he'd never seen.

     GIDEON HOLLEY ‑ TUESDAY ‑ NOVEMBER 18 ‑ 8:00 PM IN THE AUDITORIUM, the posters said.

     Under this, smaller letters whispered, 'Sarah Ash on political reform in today's America ‑ 7:30 .'

     "Sarah Ash," Gideon said, remembering. "Still doing the opening act."

 

He spent the day being ushered around from one student group to another. He visited the Movement in America, and the War Resisters League. He chatted with the Council for World Peace and the Students for a Democratic Society. Each group was filled with warm, dedicated people who promised Gideon they would make the world a fit place in which to live. Gideon wished them luck.

     Throughout the day Gideon was praised as the new leader of a new and better world. A world controlled by "the people."

     At seven‑fifteen Gideon told his associates that he wanted to go to the auditorium.

     "But, Gideon," Dennis Eubanks, the freshman representative of the Radical Students Association complained, "We were hoping you would have a chance to talk to us about what we should do for the Movement." Actually, they were eager to show off to Gideon. They wanted him to see how much they had done already.

     "Besides," Dennis said, "Sarah Ash is going to be on stage until eight o'clock, and she's kinda' boring."

      "Boring?" Gideon roared. The room grew silent. He slammed his fist down upon the desk and glared at Dennis Eubanks, now ashen and cringing, searching for something to lean on. "For your information, Sarah Ash is probably the best authority on the movement you'll ever see!" He pointed his finger at the door.

     "Sarah Ash is my favorite speaker," Gideon said. "She's the only one who makes any sense out of this whole mess and you say she's boring?"

     Gideon turned and followed his finger to the door. "Will someone please show me the way to the auditorium?"

     "Wait, Gideon," Jimmy Creski, the campus representative of the Radical Speakers Bureau pleaded with him. "Dennis is new in the Movement, and," he paused, glancing over at the young student who stood, eternally damned, propped up on a desk, "he just doesn't understand."

     Jimmy walked quickly across the room and opened the door for Gideon. "I have a seat ready for you on the stage," he said, implying he'd meant to take him to see Sarah from the beginning. Gideon was beginning to enjoy his new‑found assertiveness.

     "Good," he said as the others in the room raced ahead of them down the hall. "Let's go."

 

 

Sarah Ash offered a slight smile to Gideon when she saw him enter the stage door, and he returned it.

     "It was a nice surprise seeing your name on the program," he said, briefly taking her hand. "I'm glad to see you again, Sarah."

     "Speaking of surprises," Sarah smiled curiously at him, "you've certainly surprised me lately. It seems you've set out to do exactly what you said I wasn't doing." She was polite, but cold, indifferent.

     "I've even surprised myself," he said, ignoring Jimmy Creski as he took a seat beside her.

 

 

Sarah began her speech to a sparse crowd scattered through the large room, but soon after she began her talk the auditorium suddenly began filling up with students who, after taking their seats, seemed to listen with rapt interest. It caught Sarah off guard, but not for long.

     She spoke eloquently and approached all problems head on. To Gideon, she was incredible. Sarah used the same objective style he had admired at Macalester College, speaking of unity and patience as the students applauded boisterously.

     She told them they must have understanding, and they cheered. The auditorium was packed. 'Creski must be doing some good legwork,' Gideon said to himself.

     Sarah said, "I drove through some heavy snow this morning farther north ‑" then paused to clear her throat. The students applauded wildly, and Gideon poked his fingers into his ears, wiggling them around for a few seconds before removing them. He thought he'd missed something. She took a step back, and hesitated.

     "She really is excellent!" Creski whispered in Gideon's ear as he took a seat beside him.

     Sarah talked more about a cultural and an "inner" revolution, shouting to be heard above the appreciative crowd. Later, her mind wandering as she checked her notes, she said, "I wish I had a glass of water."

     The crowd screamed and applauded, and finally, Gideon understood. No one was really listening to Sarah. They were just trying to please him. They had turned out because Gideon mentioned Sarah Ash, and now they were just killing time.

     Gideon was furious. He watched the building pep rally atmosphere of the audience and felt like screaming at them. He rose to his feet in his anger, then sat back again when he heard Sarah thank the crowd. She backed away from the podium and received a booming round of applause.

     Her eyes met Gideon's and she shrugged, still smiling, though her eyes were red and wet, her face tight and controlled. She took her seat.

     "Brothers and sisters!" the student M.C. shouted into the microphone. "You know who we have here tonight, right?"

     The crowd went wild.

     "Who?" he teased them.

     "Gideon!" the crowd shouted as one, and Gideon felt a shiver slip down his spine. "Gideon!"

     "Who do you want to hear?"

     "Gideon!"

     "Who do you want to hear?" he repeated himself, putting an open hand up to his ear and leaning toward them.

     "Gideon!"

     The M.C.'s hand fell away from his head and reached out to Gideon, who sat fuming on the edge of his seat. He stood without looking at Sarah, and stomped up to the podium, nearly blind with rage. The applause, the cheers kept coming, building to an impossible crescendo. He raised his hands and waited for the sound to die down.

     The M.C. pressed up against him and said, "Here he is, Gideon Holley!" and the cheering began all over again. He straightened up from the microphone and grinned at Gideon, then melted away.

     Gideon waited, wondering if they would pay as little attention to his words as they had to Sarah's. He decided to find out, and erased the practiced speech from his mind. He braced his hands on the sides of the podium, gripping the wood fiercely to fight the anger that threatened to render him speechless. When the control finally came he began.

     "Brothers and sisters of the revolution!" he cried, his voice filled with emotion. "We've watched the capitalist pigs and their capitalist system destroy our freedoms for too long!" The windows rattled under a tidal wave of cheers.

     "Now is the time to take the revolution into the streets and show our oppressors how strong their slaves have become!" Gideon shouted as he had never in his life shouted before, and began to feel dizzy from it. He could feel, too, Sarah's eyes watching him as the applause thundered through the hall.

     Gideon pointed into the crowd, his eyes filled with fire. "It's our responsibility to show those in power," he stretched out the word, "that the world is ours!

     "Karl Marx once said, 'fuck you if you can't take a joke,' and we have seen time and time again the relentless absurdity of what we're doing!"

     The audience was one now, on their feet and cheering.

     "Right on!" they screamed.

     "Power to the people!" they raved.

     "With the ridiculous and idiotic assumption of this power," he once again let the word linger, "of this power to the people, I say, 'fuck  you, too.'"

     Wild applause.

     Gideon was just close enough to Sarah to hear her giggling behind him. "Nixon and his pigs want to see us run! These fascist oppressors want to see Spot run, they want to see Spot hunch Mary's leg!" Gideon's throat was raw. Student fire marshals worked valiantly to keep the fire lanes free of ecstatic young radicals, but it was a losing battle.

     Gideon kept up the dialog for another ten minutes, glancing around twice to see Sarah Ash doubled up in her chair, hands in front of her face as she choked on laughter. Jimmy Creski watched him in awe as he finished in grand style.

     "Never before have such brave and courageous revolutionaries missed the point so entirely!" His finger had become a weapon, and he fired off round after round into the crowd.

     "Che Guevara told us of all of the decadence of the capitalistic bureaucrats and their ruling class that has dominated the world! Remember that in Nineteen forty‑one, the year of World War Two, ladies' stockings were rare indeed! Yet now, there are enough ladies' stockings to cover one woman's leg in the whole world twice!" He made a fist and threw it into the air.

     "Yet, there are people starving ‑ starving in China!" he raised his other hand and opened them both, holding them out to the crowd.

     "Does that seem fair?" he sighed.

     The crowd screamed until Gideon feared the roof would fall in. He stood tall and proud.

     "To quote Chairman Mao," he said, "thank you."

     Young revolutionaries swooned in the aisles as Gideon backed away from the podium. He grabbed Sarah's hand and pulled her to the stage door.

     "What ‑?" she started, and he cut her off impatiently.

     "Let's go!" he shouted to Sarah above the din, his throat ruined. "Let's get the hell out of here!"

     "I can't leave!" she shouted back.

     "Yes, you can, damn it! One more minute, and we won't get out!"

     "No!"

     "Yes!" he pulled at her hand, his eyes locked on hers. "Come on, Sarah. You've given them enough."

     Sarah hesitated for only a second, glancing over her shoulder at the insanity in the packed auditorium. She nodded her head in agreement.

     "Yes!" he said again, and laughed. She held tightly to his hand as he stepped past a startled Jimmy Creski, then she was running with him through brown steel doors, flying past the crowd of student journalists before they could ask any questions.

     Gideon pulled Sarah into the cold night and they ran through the icy wind, legs aching as they continued across the green, up and down several hills until at last they reached the parking lot and his van. He fumbled with the keys and opened the door, pushing her in then climbing in after her.

     Gideon drove fast through the slippery streets, heading for dark peaks that stood like shadows against the night sky. He felt as though he was on fire. Sarah sat across from him, watching closely as he drove maniacally up the narrow, winding roads. She studied his face but could find no clue to help figure him out. She realized she had been holding her breath, and let it out in a sigh. Her eyes drifted from Gideon's face to the headlights as they darted like birds across the wall of trees ahead.

     Gideon came to a roadside park and whipped the van into a sharp right at the entrance, causing it to skid dangerously before coming to a stop. He was out of the cab before the engine died, running, running like a mad man, flinging himself at the nearest snow covered peak. He stumbled, falling again and again as he raced along, dodging trees and rocks while crashing up the hill.

     When he reached the crest of the small hill he paused, standing absolutely still for several seconds before spinning around and flying back down. He gained too much momentum and, as he came in sight of the van, his feet left the ground. He hit the soft snow on his stomach, rolling over and over until he finally flopped down on his back beside a picnic table.

     Sarah ran across the snow and dropped to her knees beside him. "Gideon?" she looked down at the spread‑eagled scarecrow and put her hands on his face. "Are you all right?"

     "Oh, yes," Gideon said. "Oh, yes."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TWENTY‑ONE ‑ THE WHOLE STORY

 

 

They hiked through the snow, two silhouettes on a world of white. Their arms were filled with supplies and Sarah's face held a puzzled expression. He was in his long, black coat and she was wearing his wool military jacket. Gideon had said nothing more since she'd lifted him from the snow and now she found herself walking through the wilderness with him to God knew where. It was a beautiful night. The erratic clouds had disappeared again and bright stars flashed in the crystal darkness above them. The slight glow was magnified by the blanket of snow.

     They came to a small clearing and Gideon looked it over. Satisfied, he threw down his armload of goods and helped Sarah with hers.

     "Gideon ‑?" Sarah said.

     "Shhh." He cleaned the area of small rocks and branches, then patiently built a firewall with the rocks. He placed two large, flat stones in the center, gathered up the wood nearby and soon had a nice, warm fire going. Sarah sat on a rolled sleeping bag and waited.

     Gideon straightened and smiled at her. "Come closer to the fire." His voice in the silence surprised her. Gideon Holley was a stranger, and his intensity frightened her. In some part of her mind, though, she'd known him for a hundred years. She liked the sound of his voice and was relaxed with him.

     "Here," he said, pulling the other bedroll nearer the circle of rocks and brushed snow and twigs from its sides.

     "Thanks," she said, and moved from one bag to the other. The warmth of the fire gave her a sense of security. She thought for a second about this primal feeling. The only two people in a new world, huddled close to a fire set to deny the cold night.

     "I forget," he said. "Not everyone is as crazy about this kind of weather as I am."

     "I don't mind," she said, staring into the flames. When she raised her eyes again, he was gone.

     "Gideon?" She looked around nervously and watched the shadows leap around the outer fringes of the clearing, jumping out at her from the corners of her eyes. "Gideon?"

     As they had walked to the spot earlier, Sarah had been fascinated by the silence that swept over them like a breeze. Now, alone by the small, dying fire, she heard the wilderness that lay outside the light come to life. Crunching and snapping and tapping, chirping and grunting sounds that pushed her even closer to the fire. She looked over her shoulder into the night as fear tugged at her heart, making it pound crazily in her breast.

     "Hey?" Gideon returned a few minutes later, his arms filled with wood. He dropped it beside the waning fire and, seeing the fear in her eyes, apologized instantly.

     "God, I'm sorry."

     "I didn't know where you were," she watched as he fed the fire. He smiled.

     "From the city?"

     "All my life," she nodded her head in agreement.

     "Well, don't worry," he said, sloshing water into a large pan from a plastic bottle, "We left all the dangerous animals behind." He added a few scoops of snow and placed the pan on one of the flat rocks in the fire. Sarah looked on as Gideon created a thick soup with his bundle of supplies.

     "Is there anything I can do?" she asked.

     "Just get warm," Gideon said. He scooped up more snow and stuffed it into a blackened coffee pot. Sarah kept the silence until she could stand it no longer. There were too many things she wanted to know. Things she needed to know.

     "Gideon," she said, "when I met you back at Macalester College I really liked you. Just in that instant, I did. You were the first person who ever talked to me honestly about myself and I thought I'd finally found a real person floating around in all this shit."

     Gideon slid the coffee pot onto the other rock and withdrew his hand quickly.

     "When I started hearing about you, I didn't know who you were. Then I saw the posters and I knew. Everyone was talking about all your daring exploits, and I said to myself, 'Well, Sarah, you're wrong again.'

     "Now, tonight," she shook her head slowly, her dark eyes on him, "you made me laugh harder than I've laughed in a long time."

     "We left 'em guessing, didn't we?" he grinned, and she did, too. She didn't answer, though, but continued to stare at this intense young man.

     "Who the hell are you?" Sarah asked.

     Gideon tipped the lids of both the coffee pot and the soup pan and checked the water with the tip of his finger, then sat back beside her. He pulled the other bedroll up and leaned against it.

     "Would you like to hear a long story?" he asked. "A very long story?"

 

 

Sarah Ash had one major flaw that kept her from being recognized as the most intelligent person in radical politics ‑ she believed people should be good to each other. That was the flaw.

     She had a knowledge that came only partly from formal education. School for Sarah was fine topsoil to a strong seed. It gave her a place to grow. She had good common sense and the strong ethics that came from growing up in a close family.

     Sarah had an understanding, a kinship, with psychology and religion and politics that was constantly being underestimated by those around her. She felt the workings of the world within herself and tried hard to let others see it, wanted them to touch the delicate threads that held it all together; but, they refused.

     People admired, envied and endorsed her. The only thing they denied her was their attention. The truths she told held no food for their egos, no comfort for their minds. Sarah told them to work and love and have understanding. It was too much to ask.

     In her first year at the University of Southern California Sarah fell into a heavy sexual marathon with a member of the top campus fraternity, an ass who practiced domination and demanded servitude. The affair lasted two months.

     At the end of two months and emotionally depleted Sarah finally faced up to herself and admitted the truth. She had been punishing herself for being right. She'd given up the reins to him, and allowed herself the relief of following blindly. The years of leading had taken their toll. The affair left her with scars deeper than any physical wound.

     Now, two years later, she sat in front of a warm fire and listened to Gideon's story. He made her feel she wasn't alone. She hadn't felt that way in a long time.

 

 

"Now you know," Gideon said as he got to his feet. He had stopped his story only once to make two cups of coffee, and now his joints ached. He leaned over the fire and stared into the soup, stirring it once then raising the ladle to his lips. He let it cool before tasting it.

     "Now, that's good!" he said. He poured the soup into tin cups and sat back down, handing one of the cups to Sarah. They ate the soup and listened to the night.

     "You're one of only three people who know the truth. I'm the second, and my old room mate, J. Hubbard, is the third."

     "J. Hubbard?" Sarah asked. "I met J. Hubbard."

     "Really?"

     "Yes, I'm sure of it." She described him to Gideon and he nodded.

     "That's him," he said.

     Sarah watched the fire. "It's funny, but he's the reason I remember you so well. After you and I were separated in the hall he showed me how to get to the taxi stand."

     "I didn't see him at the rally."

     "Well," Sarah touched his knee, "he was there. He told me your name, but I never connected it to the Gideon Holley I've been hearing about lately. Not until I saw the posters."

     "You met J. Hubbard," Gideon said, intrigued. J. had never mentioned meeting Sarah, but then he rarely said anything at all.

     "Yes. In fact, after he walked me to the taxi stand he said that I'd be seeing you on the road."

     Her hand stayed on his knee, and his fingers found hers in an awkward silence that grew between them. He felt a chill colder than the night air.

     "Damn," Gideon said softly, "that was before I went to New Orleans."

     "Is that significant?" she asked.

     "Sarah, I never said anything about leaving," he could feel her eyes on him but he avoided her gaze. "Hell, I didn't even know I was going then." His mind stumbled over a memory of Jean, the Creole fortune teller in New Orleans. He thought of what she's said to him that day in her apartment, and fear tripped him up like a roller skate on the stairs. He was unprepared for the fall.

     "Jesus," he breathed the word. The silence lingered.

     "Gideon?" she said quietly. He shifted nervously to his feet, letting Sarah's hand slip from his damp palm. He tossed more wood on the fire and kicked at his dwindling supply.

     "I have to go after some more fire wood," he said. "It's going faster than I thought."

     Sarah nodded, and wanted to follow him when he vanished once again into the night. When he returned, staggering under the weight of a large stack of branches, Sarah had the camp straightened. She'd gathered up the scattered supplies and rolled the sleeping bags out side by side. Gideon dropped the load of branches on the smaller stack and surveyed the supply.

     "That should do it," he said. He walked to the sleeping bags and pulled one over the top of the other.

     "Why ‑?"

     "We need one under us," Gideon explained, "to keep the cold out."

     Sarah looked at his arrangement and frowned. She liked him, but didn't want to be pressured this way.

     "Take off your shoes," Gideon called to her as he leaned over one of the knapsacks. "I'll give you some heavy socks to sleep in." He tossed them to her. "They're warmer than shoes, and a hell of a lot more comfortable."

     Gideon removed his boots and placed them on their sides with the tops toward the fire, then quickly pulled another pair of heavy, grey socks over his lighter ones. He took her shoes and placed them beside his boots, tossed more wood on the fire and twisted into the sleeping bag, fully clothed. Sarah slipped into the bag apprehensively, and was surprised by its warmth.

     "Good night," Gideon said. He was asleep before she could answer. She lay awake for over an hour, watching the stars. She felt Gideon rock against her gently with each breath, like a boat against its mooring, and took his hand again. Her mind settled at last, and she let out a breath she had been holding for what seemed like forever.

     "Good night, Gideon," she turned on her side, her head lightly touching his shoulder, hand loosely entwined in his. Soon, her face relaxed in a peaceful, dreamless sleep.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TWENTY TWO ‑ THE PARK RANGER

 

 

Sarah woke the next morning with a start, almost crying out as something moved along her side. She opened her eyes and saw Gideon slipping from the sleeping bag.

     "Sorry," he said, his hands in the air in mock surrender, "but it's hard to get out of one of those things quietly."

      The strangeness of waking up in an unfamiliar place passed and she smiled up at him. "Is it early?"

      Gideon removed the heavy socks and slipped into his boots. He picked up Sarah's shoes and slid them in the bag with her, laughing as the cold shoes touched her hand. "It's six forty‑five, and the sun's coming up. You don't want to miss seeing that."

     "God, no," Sarah moaned. "I missed seeing it go down, so there is an obligation, I suppose."

     "Damned right."

     "You don't suppose you could find any more coffee?"

     Gideon had brought the fire back to life with fresh wood, and Sarah could feel the heat ripple across her face as she debated getting up.

     "Yeah, I always have coffee," Gideon worked at the pot with his back to her, but his voice carried. "Now get your butt out of bed, or you'll miss the best part of the day."

     "Yes, suh!" She tried to salute, but her hand got stuck inside the bag. So, she laughed. Sarah was overwhelmed by the ease she felt around Gideon, and enjoyed the feeling. She slipped her shoes over the socks and crawled out of the sleeping bag, drawing a breath through her teeth as the biting wind struck her.

     "It's cold!" she complained, and stepped back toward the bag.

     "Oh, no," Gideon took her arm. "You can't go back."

     "Only until Summer?" she said. He shook his head and rolled up the bags.

     "I did a little looking around last night as I gathered fire wood, and I found a small creek right over there." Gideon pointed to an outcropping of rocks. He put his wide hands on her shoulders and pointed her in the right direction.

     "Why are you telling me?" she asked. Gideon handed her a towel and some tissues.

     "Go splash some water in your eyes and freshen up," he said. Sarah walked away, glancing back at him and shaking her head. She heard him singing a country song loudly, and off key, as he rummaged through his supplies. When she returned, he had bacon and eggs frying in a large skillet.

     "Watch this, will you?" Gideon said, lifting the pan from the fire and placing it on a large rock. He took the towel from her and walked back in the direction of the stream.

     "I don't cook," she called to him.

     "You don't have to," he said. "It's ready. Just divide it up."

     "Captain, my captain," she muttered.

     As they ate, Gideon and Sarah talked about how they grew up and what kind of music they liked. Each laughed at the misadventures of the other. Sarah tried once to bring up the subject of what they were doing on tour, but Gideon avoided giving an answer. She didn't mention it again until much later.

     He took her hiking in the forest until her legs felt like lead and she sat down on the trunk of a fallen tree. She refused to walk another step. Gideon lifted her to her feet and supported her, coaxing her on until they came to a totally unexpected sight. There, miles from nowhere, a ranger's cabin had been built between two diagonal sheets of solid rock.

     "Wow," Sarah said.

     "Let's see if anyone's home," Gideon said.

     "You can't do that!" She reached for him, but he was already beyond her hands. "Gideon!"

     "It's what people do," he said.

     "Oh, Jesus."

     He stepped up to the cabin door with Sarah limping along behind, knocked, and grinned at the hefty park ranger who swung the heavy wooden door inward. The big man squinted out into the bright sunlight.

     "Hi, there!" Gideon said, extending a hand to the ranger. He shook it warily. "Do you have any coffee?"

     The ranger stared at him suspiciously for a moment, then his eyes found Sarah, leaning against the cabin, her eyes reflecting her exhaustion. He dragged a hand across his face and waved them inside.

 

 

They talked about the mountains and the forests and the tourists who destroyed them. After the first cups were empty the ranger refilled them.

     "I hated barging in on you like this," Gideon told the ranger. "But I sure do appreciate your hospitality."

     The ranger nodded. "It's nice to have company every once in a while. It was nice to talk." He turned his attention to Sarah.

     "Would you like some more coffee, miss?"

     "No, thank you," Sarah said, warmed by the genuine concern in his dark eyes. Creases divided his tanned cheeks like furrows on a field, and when he smiled they pulled up at the corners of those eyes, stretching the skin until it shone.

     She watched the casual conversation between the man and Gideon, then let her eyes wander around the simple, comfortable cabin. She wondered what it would be like to live away from the world. Something here drew her in. A half-opened door led into a bedroom and another branched off into a small bath. The kitchen and living room were one, divided by an old wooden desk covered with papers and dominated by a large radio transmitter and receiver. The living room was sparsely decorated, holding nothing but an incredibly fat sofa that might once have been green, a wooden rocking chair and a portable television. There were no paintings on the walls, which, she thought, was just as well. A Rembrandt would've looked tacky beside the scenes visible through the wide glass windows.

     Sarah was in another world, and began to understand Gideon's love for it. The brawny, sun darkened ranger in his pressed uniform would have seemed menacing to her in the city. Here, he was beautiful.

     There were no beliefs to be trampled, no causes to fight for but your own survival. She thought these things through as her mind worked to memorize her surroundings. She felt herself slowing down, her ideas unifying as the voices of Gideon and the ranger droned like honey bees around her head. She thought of having to leave, and hated herself for thinking it.

     "‑good campgrounds up here?" she heard Gideon ask. "I mean, real ones?"

     "Oh, yeah," the ranger said with an honest enthusiasm. He told Gideon how to get to the campgrounds and led him to a large relief map that hung on a wall beside the front door.

     "This is the best spot," the ranger said as Sarah joined them. His thick index finger tapped the upper corner of the map, then wound its way toward the bottom. "You're right here. It's a pretty good way, but the roads aren't bad."

     "Thanks."

     "Don't mention it."

     "God," Sarah said, "I hate to leave."

     "Ya'll are welcome to stay awhile."

     "No, thanks," Gideon said. "I want to get to that camp."

     "You have a beautiful home," she said sincerely.

     "I'm glad you like it," the ranger said.

    

 

     They said goodbye to the ranger and braced themselves for the frigid wind. "Think you can make it back to the camp?" Gideon asked.

     "Yes," she said. "I feel much better now."

     Sarah did feel renewed, but only partially because of the rest. When Gideon had mentioned finding a campground to the ranger she felt a great burden lifting from her. She hadn't been away from the growing tensions of her job for over a year, and to her surprise she found that she didn't want to go back. Gideon was looking for more time in the mountains and she hoped that meant her, too.

 

 

When Gideon and Sarah were out of sight, the ranger stepped back inside and sat down at his desk. He pulled the microphone close and turned on the set, called headquarters and talked to his captain.

     "Jim?" he asked. "Is that Moranne character around somewhere?"

     "No," a scratchy voice answered. "He ain't been around yet, but sure as daylight he will be." The captain hated men like Inspector Moranne. He called them weasels.

     "That's one determined man."

     "I know it," the captain said. There was a silence on the line. "Why are you asking, Travis?"

     "Well," the ranger drawled, "I had a boy and a girl stop by just now and share a cup with me." He felt a knot of tension in the pit of his stomach. "They fit the description of the two he gave us last night."

     "Where are they now?" The captain asked. The ranger told him where Gideon and Sarah were camped.

     "But, they're gone now," he said. "They wanted to find a campground with hook‑ups, so I sent them to number six, the one on the ridge."

     "I'll give this to Moranne when he shows up," the captain said, writing the information down. "Thanks, Travis."

     "It couldn't be them anyway, Jim," the ranger said. "Not the kind of kids he was describing. These was just nice kids." After he signed off he found his hat and coat, then walked down the mountain, following their footprints. When he reached the camp they were gone. He looked around the clearing and saw how neatly everything had been left. There was nothing to show the land had been disturbed but a circle of stones Gideon had left for the next hiker. That, and footprints in the snow.

     "A couple of nice kids," the ranger said.

 

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