THIRTY EIGHT ‑ MOUNT SHASTA

 

 

The air was cold and a light snow was falling when they found a road that looked virtually unused. They were deep in the mountains, and J. drove the station wagon as far as he could on the bumpy trails. Finally, unable to go farther, he stopped the car and sat back.

     "What do you think?" he asked them.

     Gideon rose from the back and looked around. Even in the cold his forehead glistened with sweat. Sarah watched him, and worried. He looked up at the land first, then climbed out and stood in the snow. He stretched, and felt heavy and slow.

     "This is fine," he said. "This will do fine."

     They searched for a suitable spot to back the car, and J. steered it carefully between two thickets of brush. When he backed it as far as it would go, Gideon began gathering fallen limbs.

     "Can I help?" Sarah said.

     "Yeah," Gideon spread the first of his thatch over the hood of the car. "The engine should be fine in this weather, but I don't want someone to find the car."

     They worked until convinced it was invisible from the road, then began unloading the supplies. Gideon led the way as they trudged through the forest. They wore the thick coats J. had furnished, and the heavy loads in their arms took away the desire for conversation. They worked without stopping until all the supplies were at a spot Gideon had picked out. He had been forced to sit out the last two trips up from the car because of dizziness. Sarah arrived with Uriah seated on the top of a pile of tent stakes and sleeping bags. He sat quietly.

 

 

They'd made camp in a small valley. An icy stream ran alongside the camp. The snow was beginning to fall steadily by the time they had pitched two tents and started a fire. They prepared themselves for a long, cold week. Sarah took one of the cardboard boxes and built a warm little house for Uriah. The cat had a definite distain for the snow.

     Later that night as they lay together in the sleeping bag, Sarah said, "What if somebody finds us?"

     "I'll give up on the spot, Sarah," Gideon's voice was wheezy. "I've come to terms with things, I think. I know I've done nothing wrong, so if they catch me, I'll go quietly."

     Sarah told him reluctantly about the newspaper article, and the interview with Bob Rome. He thought it over for a long time.

     "Things aren't ever going to change, Sarah," he said. "I know that, now. But what we're doing is right. To hell with Bob Rome and all the rest."

     "But, we can't let them win," Sarah said forcefully.

     "Oh, they'll win," he said, then laughed. "They always win, don't you know?"

     "Not always."

     "Always, Sarah." Gideon felt her warmth under the palm of his hand. "But it doesn't matter. That's what I'm trying to say. I think I'm finally starting to understand this stuff. We won't win, but we'll stop them from making a rout out of it. In the end, it's all a matter of style."

     "Do you really think so?"

     "Millions have died proving it," he said, then pushed her back onto the bag and kissed her breast.

 

 

Gideon awoke before dawn the next day and took a walk, feeling strength returning in the quiet wilderness. He stopped at a small ridge above the camp, and looked down at the peaceful setting. He sat on a large rock and tapped his fingers against the cast on his forearm. A flutter of wings destroyed the silence, and he saw a magpie land on a low branch beside his head.

     "Tweedle?" it said.

     "Yeah," Gideon said.

 

 

 

 

 

THIRTY NINE ‑ THE BEEPER

 

 

Day and night the beeper buried under the skin of Uriah's neck sent its silent message out into the air. Day and night the police officers and forest rangers of the state of California carried receiving units around in their cars and trucks. They were Gideon prospectors.

     Inspector Moranne had an office set up for him in the police headquarters. Just like Ironsides. Moranne, Lobajeski and Colletti took eight-hour shifts, an around the clock game of waiting, checking out leads and building each other's morale every time a new lead turned into a dead end.  At six‑thirty a.m., on December 24th, just as Lobajeski began to doze after a long night of reading two Reader's Digest condensed books, the telephone rang.

     "Special Investigations here," he said. "This is Lobajeski speaking."

     "Is this Inspector Moranne's office?"

     "Yes, what can I do for you?"

     "This is Tom Patterson up in Shasta," the man on the line said in a relaxed voice. "I'm a ranger up here."

     "Where is here?" Lobajeski rubbed at his eyes. "What is a Shasta?"

     "It's a national forest north of you by several hours. I'm in charge of the parks up here."

     Lobajeski perked up. "What do you need?"

     "Well, I don't know for sure, but we got the BOLO from your people and I may have something for you."

     "Oh, yeah?" Lobajeski was very interested now. The Be On the Look Out notices had been sent to every law enforcement body on the West Coast. "I'm all ears."

     "Okay," the ranger took his time. "I found a 1965 brown and beige Plymouth station wagon on a pig trail road up here this morning."

     Lobajeski was writing frantically. "A Plymouth, you say?"

     "Yes. It has Sacramento plates ‑ SKG 3477 is the number. Someone drove it off the trail and covered it with tree limbs. Did a damned good job."

     "Anything inside?" Lobajeski asked, wide awake and restless. The rental car J. Hubbard had used to leave San Francisco had been found the day before in the Sacramento Executive Airport parking lot. "Anything at all?"

     "I don't think so," the ranger said. "But one of my men is carrying one of your little devices, and he's been getting a weak signal on it. Of course, nothing's gonna’ come in too strong up here in the mountains."

     "But you are getting a signal?"

     "Yes. It'll be hard to trace, but we'll start working on it as soon as I hang up."

     "Fine!" Lobajeski said. "Patterson, I don't want you or your people, under any circumstances, to make contact with these people, do you understand?"

     "Yes," the ranger said icily, "I understand."

     "Good. These people are fugitives, and they're armed and very dangerous. If you spot them, get your asses back and call us immediately."

     "Will do," the ranger said. He heard the line go dead.

     Lobajeski reached for the intercom to call Inspector Moranne when he heard the door open behind him. The Inspector was standing there, pants in hand, his eyes wild with sleep.

     "Where is he?" Moranne whispered.

     "How the hell did you know?" Lobajeski saw the fire in his boss' eyes, and wondered if the man had reached the point where he could sense Gideon Holley.

     "Tell me where he is," Moranne ignored him. He stepped into his pants, then lifted his head. His nostrils flared once, then again. "He's in the fucking woods, isn't he?"

     "The mountains," Lobajeski said. "North of here."

     "I knew it," Moranne said. "I knew he'd head to the fucking woods. The bastard!"

     "The rangers found a car hidden in the mountains. Someplace called Shasta, I think he said." Lobajeski turned the note pad around to the inspector. Colletti staggered through the door, his face lined and haggard. When he saw the two men he stepped back and leaned against the wall.

     Moranne phoned the Sacramento Police Department and had them check stolen‑ and used‑car lists for a 1965 brown and beige Plymouth station wagon. If it had been purchased, he wanted a description of the buyer. He placed the receiver back on its cradle and waited.

     At two o'clock that afternoon his call was returned by the SPD. The station wagon had been purchased at Fred Blankenship's A‑1 used cars a week earlier. The buyer was a short, neat young man with wide, black‑rimmed glasses. He'd paid cash, and given his name as J. E. Hoover. He'd paid the asking price and Fred Blankenship didn't ask a lot of questions.

     Moranne danced around the desk. His two men averted their eyes.

     At five forty‑five that afternoon, the telephone rang again. It was Ranger Patterson from the Shasta National Forest. He and another ranger, Hubert Fogg, had located a camp hidden away in a small valley. The valley was deep in the mountains.

     The rangers had moved in close enough to see two tents and several stacks of firewood. "We weren't even there an hour," Patterson said, "when a couple of people crawled out of the bigger tent. Young couple, maybe twenty years old, or so."

     "Yeah, yeah," Moranne hurried him along.

     "One was a tall, thin Caucasian male with his arm in a cast. The other was a Caucasian female with long, dark hair. Real pretty." The ranger hesitated, and Moranne could hear the shuffling of papers. "I came back here, and my ranger stayed behind. He said that a short, Caucasian male with brown hair and big glasses joined them outside. Apparently, they were cooking a meal."

     "I want you to post a man up there around the clock, Officer Patterson," the inspector said through clenched teeth. "Tell him to keep well away from them. I don't want anything to go wrong."

     "Consider it done," Patterson said.

     "I want you waiting for me tomorrow morning at your headquarters. I'll find out where that is, and meet you there at five o'clock," Moranne crushed the phone to his lips. "Don't let anything happen to them until I get there."

     Moranne turned to Lobajeski and Colletti, his eyes the focus of their attention. "He won't get away from me again," he said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FORTY ‑ FOOTPRINTS

 

 

Gideon and Sarah crawled from the tent and stood, squinting into the brightness of sunlight on snow. "What should we have for dinner?" she asked. "Hamburgers, or hamburgers?"

     "Hamburgers, I think," Gideon said. He reached high into the nearest tree with his free hand and pulled down a burlap sack. They had planned well, but raccoon tracks around the supplies their first morning told them all they needed to know about who had plundered their stores. There were plenty of dried beans and canned vegetables left, but the only meat to survive was the ground beef, bought and stored frozen.

     Sarah's eyes adjusted to the sunlight and she watched Gideon as he removed a frozen package of patties from the sack.

     "Look," he said in mock excitement, "we have hamburger!"

     He knelt beside the fire and stoked it carefully, adding just enough wood to bring up the heat, but not the flames. Sarah put a hand on his neck.

     "Only two more days," Gideon said without turning around.

     "God, I never thought that could seem like a long time," she said. "I can't wait to get to a telephone."

     "Did someone say telephone?" J.'s voice preceded him from his smaller tent. He stood and brushed the snow from his knees.

     "Just daydreaming," Sarah said. Gideon worked at separating the patties. When he dropped them into the large skillet they hissed.

     J. looked down at them.

     "Hamburgers," he said.

     "Without buns," Gideon adjusted the pan's distance from the fire and rearranged a crude tripod grill he'd made from tent stakes.

     "Oh, well," J. said, "you can't have everything. The funny part is, I feel healthier than I've ever felt in my life."

     "Really?" Sarah asked. Gideon glanced up at her drawn features. Of the three, she was taking longer to adjust.

     "Yeah," J. slapped his chest. "Shit, I'll be a regular mountain man before you know it."

     Sarah laughed. "We'll be too weak to be anything if we lose any more food."

     Their banter was showing strain, too. J.'s parents were due back in two days, and Sarah had decided to go public as soon as the lawyers had been notified.

     "I don't like subterfuge," she'd said. "It doesn't suit me."

     Gideon was the wild card again. They debated whether or not they had been foolish to remove him from the hospital, but decided their gambit had thrown off whoever it was that was trying to build a case against him.

     "I could stay right here," Gideon said, sitting on a square of cardboard and watching the flames.

     "No," J. said. "It would be too risky. You can come with me to my dad's office. He'll find a way to protect you."

     "Maybe."

     "Or," Sarah said, "You could go public with me. The reason we got you out was to buy time, and we've done that. If they bust you again, you won't be powerless."

     They tossed suggestions around until dinner was ready, then settled down close to the fire to eat. After dinner, Gideon stood and bent his long legs.

     "I'm getting stiff," he said. "Anyone want to join me for a nice walk?"

     "Not me," Sarah said. She reached into the pocket of her coat and pulled out a deck of cards. "I'm fine right here."

     "Me, too," J. said. He turned to face Sarah, and she shuffled the cards.

     "You don't know what you're missing," Gideon said.

     "Yes, we do," Sarah smiled up at him. "We've been on walks with you before."

     "Suit yourselves," he said, and trudged off into the snow. He walked up and around the camp, circling the valley as he climbed. He was glad they had refused to come with him, because he had a mission. It was time to cut the cast off his arm.

     Gideon knew J. or Sarah might object if he did it where they could see him, so he planned to get rid of it before he returned. He could feel his arm strengthening, and knew it was healed. He had always been quick at mending.

     He climbed toward the large, flat rock he had found the second day there, but stopped before he reached it. A chill much colder than the winter air ran up his spine and paralyzed him with fear. To his right, cutting across a patch of snow, were two sets of deep footprints.

     They had been discovered.

     By the time he had run back down the hill to the camp he was breathless, and the snow had begun to fall again. He heard Sarah giggling inside the tent and he crawled in. Sarah and J. were wrapping a small, flat package with a piece of brown paper bag. They looked up at him with caught‑ in‑the‑act expressions on their faces.

     "Get out!" Sarah said, laughing at J. as he tried to cover the little package. She pushed at Gideon's chest. "You just can't come in now. Not until we call you."

     "Sarah ‑" he said breathlessly. Her smile faded when she saw the fear in his eyes. J. sat up and stared at him silently. The tent sides rippled as a sudden wind blew down on the valley. Gideon felt the snow sweeping across his neck as it swirled in through the open flaps. He reached behind him and pulled them shut.

     "What's wrong?" Sarah asked, her words a soft whisper as Gideon's fear washed over her. J. watched without moving.

     "Footprints," Gideon said, trying to regain his breath. "I found footprints in the snow."

     "Are you sure they're not ours?" Sarah said.

     "Positive," he said. "They were up close to the top of the ridge, and we've never been there."

     "Still ‑" her faith in the word died, and she was silent.

     "They were the footprints of two big men, Sarah."

     "Oh." The wind picked up speed and beat at the tent. Snow flurries raked across it again and again as they sat quietly, each waiting for the other to speak.

     J. stirred, touched his lips with his fingers then used them to adjust his glasses. "What can we do?"

     The thought of J. without a solution to something caused Gideon's face and neck break out in a sweat in spite of the freezing wind.

     "There's only one thing to do," Gideon said. "We have to get out of here as soon as possible."

     "Could it have been hunters, Gideon?" Sarah said.

     "Maybe," Gideon said. "But, even so, they'll probably stop by the ranger’s station on the way out and tell them about us. We can't afford to take the chance."

     "Right," J. said, suddenly animated. "There are a line of motels not far from my dad's house. We'll get rooms there until they get home."

     "That's not a bad idea," Gideon said. The idea of warm rooms and showers allowed him to forget the chance of being caught. "I would've said it was too risky, but it can't be worse than staying here, now."

     The sides of the tent popped in and out as the wind beat at them. Gideon reopened the tent flaps and looked out into a mass of swirling snow. He fought away panic as he searched his mind for a way out. The snow fell thicker and thicker in the gathering dark, and he knew that if it didn't stop soon they would have to wait until morning.

     The tent began shaking furiously, and Gideon closed the flaps. Uriah unwound himself from his box, stretched, yawned, then climbed into Sarah's lap. She scratched his neck.

     "We can't do a damned thing until this snow stops," Gideon said. He sighed and sat down on the sleeping bag beside Sarah, reached into her lap and ran his hand through Uriah's fur. His hand touched Sarah's.

     "Uriah, old buddy," he said. "You'd have been better off helping your old man dodge the draft." Uriah purred.

     "Break out the cards," he said to J. "It's going to be a long night."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FORTY ONE ‑ MORANNE'S ARMY

 

 

Moranne arrived at the ranger’s station at four thirty a.m. As he turned onto the gravel drive, his headlights illuminated a tall, heavyset man in a fur‑lined parka, and the tan uniform of a ranger.

     "Hello," Tom Patterson held out his hand as Moranne climbed out of the car. The inspector ignored it. The ranger watched in surprise as a seemingly endless caravan pulled to a stop behind Moranne's car.

     "What did you do," Patterson asked, "bring your own God damned army?"

     "Exactly," Moranne said. Behind him, men started emerging from the line of cars. Each man wore indentical white, insulated jumpsuits with matching hoods.

     "Looks like a bunch of fuckin' Easter bunnies to me," Patterson said. "Stupid way to waste a fuckin' Christmas."

     Moranne glared at him. He remembered the humiliation he'd received at the last ranger station, and wasn't about to have it repeated.

     "Patterson," he said, his words knife sharp and deadly, "your job is to show us where these people are, and that's all I want from you. I don't want your home‑spun humor. I don't want your ideas. So, shut up."

     Moranne was very edgy. He'd received a telegram from Senator Pillhauser after San Jose, and another after Gideon escaped from him in San Francisco. The Senator's tone had not been polite, and the Inspector wanted no screw‑ups this time. The men he'd brought with him were professionals, and he had picked them all himself. Some, he'd had flown in from the East Coast during the night.

'No,' Moranne said to himself, 'there'll be no mistakes this time.'

     "My men will direct you to the canyon," Patterson said tersely. He avoided even a glance in Moranne's direction. He didn't like being treated that way by anyone, much less some big city asshole from Washington.

     "I want you there," Moranne said. "This is going to be a well-run operation, and I want someone culpable in charge at your end. Is that clear?"

     "Very clear, Inspector."

     Patterson led the group to a large map of the mountain range and used his big, red fingers to draw out the vital statistics. He described the valley, how it was laid out topographically and pinpointing the only two easy routes out of that valley from Gideon's camp.

     "Will our view be unobstructed?" One of the men in white asked. He had black, close cropped hair and green eyes. Dangerous eyes.

     "This time of the year?" Patterson thought it over. "Yeah, unobstructed."

     He counted heads as Moranne and the men huddled before the map. Twenty-four men to catch three college students. This would make a great story over a cup of coffee. Each man studied the map intently. Then, as if by a silent command, the men returned to the cars in groups of fours.

     "If you will be so kind as to show us the way," Moranne smiled graciously at the ranger.

     "Just follow me," Patterson walked to his jeep where his own men waited. He cranked it up, and led the parade up into the mountains.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FORTY‑TWO ‑ CHRISTMAS

 

 

Gideon and Sarah untangled themselves and lay side by side between the sleeping bags. She leaned into him and snaked a bare leg over his. Outside, the darkness was absolute, but it was morning.

     "Hear that?" he whispered.

     "What?" She tensed.

     "Nothing," Gideon said, "No sound, Sarah. The wind isn't blowing."

     "You scared me," she said. He turned to her and their bodies touched lightly. He kissed her nose.

     "Sorry."

     "Does that mean we can leave?"

     "Yes," he said. "That's exactly what it means. Let's get the hell out of here."

     They slipped from the covers and reached for their clothes. Sarah crept up behind Gideon as he tied his boots, and wrapped her arms around his chest.

     "Did you know today is Christmas?" she said in his ear.

     "Really?" he said, genuinely surprised.

     "Yes," she said, pressing her cheek against his shoulder blade. "I'd forgotten all about it until J. reminded me."

     "Well," he said, "it'll be one to remember."

     Sarah reached under her pile of clothes and withdrew the small package she and J. had been wrapping the night before. She placed it in his hand. Gideon watched her eyes as he tore apart the brown paper. Inside was a small, primitive horse, carved out of wood, and a note on white paper. Merry Christmas. I love you, the note said.

     "My father taught me," she said. "When I was young, I carved people and animals all the time. That's the first one I've done in years.

     He pulled her around to him and crushed her to his chest. She closed her eyes.

     "I love you, too," he said.

     "Hey!" J. said through the side of the tent. "Are you ready?"

     "Yeah," Gideon said. "We're coming out."

     They crawled through the tent flaps, then Sarah said, "Wait a minute." She went back inside. Gideon stood and looked around at the dark, snow covered valley. The first phantom light of morning dusted the snow. Sarah returned and Gideon helped her to her feet.

     "Uriah's gone," she said.

     "Damn," J. turned in a circle, looking.

     "We can't wait for him," Gideon said. He met Sarah's eyes, then J.'s. Tension hummed in the air between them. "In fact, I don't think we should even take down the camp."

     "Are you sure?" Sarah asked.

     "Yes," he said. "Let's go."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FORTY‑THREE ‑ THE YELLOW BUTTON

 

 

The line of cars stopped in the darkness and headlights were flicked off almost in unison. The men left their cars with the doors still open, and formed a half circle around the ranger's jeep. Each man held an automatic rifle with a full clip. Pistols were holstered on each belt.

     "Jesus Christ," Patterson said. "That's quite an arsenal you've got there, Inspector."

     Moranne walked down the row of men, checking this and tapping that. "Okay," he said to the men, "Get in formation."

     They lined up, four abreast, and waited for the ranger. He was startled.

     "Officer Patterson?" Moranne introduced him.

     "Okay," he regained his composure. He looked them over in disbelief, "I'm going to take you men to the ridge that overlooks the valley. When we get there, you can spread out for your descent."

     "Thank you," Moranne said.

     "Once you're there, you've got them," Patterson continued. "If you concentrate your strength on those two points, you can force them into an easy surrender."

     "I said, thank you," Moranne repeated. The ranger turned toward him, his face even more red than usual. The inspector smiled his cold smile. "Now, can we get on with it?"

 

 

Moranne had equipped his men with tiny buzzers that attached to their wrists. He held a little gray box in his hand that activated the buzzers. All he had to do was press his thumb down on a small, yellow button located on top of the box, and all the buzzers would buzz at once.

     This little box was Moranne's secret weapon. It enabled him to make all his men act as one, on his command. There would be no room for a sloppy job at this point in the game.

     "Hold it!" he said as the men began to creep stealthily through the snow. He stepped up to the last two men in line, and grabbed them by the shoulders. Lobajeski and Colletti looked back at him, both feeling silly in the white suits.

     Moranne stepped between them and pressed the yellow button. Twenty-four little buzzers buzzed together. "Beautiful," he said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FORTY‑FOUR ‑ THUNDER

 

 

Gideon held Sarah's hand in his left and J.'s in his right. They looked from one to the other, searching for words. The first true light of dawn settled around them, casting an eerie half‑light on the snowy forest that surrounded the camp.

     Above them, twenty-four men in white jump suits moved invisibly through the snow. Even in the increasing light they blended into the drifts. They circled the camp, each man dropping out of line with a trained discipline as he reached his appointed place.

     Moranne knelt beside a large, flat rock on the ridge and watched the pale shadows of his men as they took their positions. A wide, humorless grin was stretched across his face. Tom Patterson stood behind him, shielded by a clump of dense brush. Hubert Fogg, one of his rangers, stood beside him.

     Below, three figures stood around a stack of supplies. "They're holding hands, for Christ's sake," Patterson said. Fogg chuckled quietly. He leaned his head into Patterson's.

     "Hey, Tom," Fogg said, almost casually, "How come they don't just go down there and arrest the fuckers? How hard could it be?"

     "I don't know, Hubert," Patterson replied. "This must be the way they do it in Washington."

 

 

"Gideon," Sarah said. She pulled her hand from his and pointed to a blur of color behind a low bunch of thick, wiry brush. "It's Uriah."

     Gideon turned in the direction she pointed. He saw Uriah prance around the edge of the last small bush. The cat had something in his mouth, and he was straining to hold his head up.

     Uriah slowed as he approached the camp, and swaggered up the snowy trail. He growled proudly as he pushed himself through the deep drifts toward the three people. He wanted to show off his catch.

     In his mouth was a broken, dead magpie. Its dull, ball‑bearing eyes stared, unseeing, at the ground.

     "God," Gideon said, looking up to the top of the hills around them. He saw movement. So did Sarah. J. had removed his glasses and was cleaning them on his scarf.

     "Gideon?" Sarah clutched his arm.

     "The car!" Gideon said, pulling a startled J. away from the camp. He pushed Sarah ahead of him. "Head for the car!"

     When Moranne pressed the little yellow button, twenty-four rifles fired again and again, until the sound was like thunder rumbling through the valley.

 

the end

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