They were just fading at dawn, bodies sprawled across the interior of the farm house like mannequins, each limb frozen into its last drug-induced orgasm faces thrust into one another's bosom, men with men, women with women, a mingling of both, gasping as if dying rather than making love.
Chris clutched the inside ledge of the window with both hands, keeping her back to it, wishing it out of existence, wondering how people could get so out of control.
But it always came down to this. Each shipment
of dope from
The silence outside the house.
Normally there were birds and occasional
trucks moving along the road in and out of
Someone watched from it. Hidden in the folds of earth. The police, maybe. Or someone darker. More deadly. The pain and pressure was that intense. God knew the music had been loud enough at one point to hear downtown, rocking the rustic walls with Hendrix and Stones.
She wanted to crawl down into her garden and hide among its leaves, as if it had been the reason for her mothering each precious plant up from the dry soil-- though there was ritual to that, too, a need to fill in the hours, days and weeks of waiting. Michael is coming!
Mike's face floated somewhere in the back of her mind, a distant ghost she couldn't exorcise, whispering noises of their own love-making now years out of date.
She saw something move, a flash of chrome along the upper level of the twisting drive-- a drive which circled in on itself so from the porch one might see a car moving once in one direction then again in the opposite. On its reverse angle, she saw the cherry top and yelled: "Cops!"
For a long moment, it did nothing. Faces turned up towards her. But the limbs seemed tangled and unable to move.
"Didn't you hear me?" she screamed. "It's a raid!"
That did it. But it was a confused and senseless dash of people with nowhere to run, trapped rats charging from room to room, banging drawers and secret compartments, flushing both toilets.
City kids. Out here on a lark. Communal living? They knew nothing about it. This was all one long vacation for them which was now ending up with a bust.
Chris slipped out the front door, the sound of tires loud on the gravel just around the last bend. More than one car. More like twenty. She leaped down the stairs to the path, then off it to the right and through her garden, parting the tallest of the tomato plants which hid the hole in the building's foundation.
There was no basement, just a crawl space under the floor of the main room-- her little insurance policy against just such an event. In winter when there were no plants to cover the hole, she used a piece of plyboard-- which she slid closed behind the plants now, hoping it would escape view.
She propped herself on her elbows behind it, peeping through the crack. Upstairs, the children panicked as cops pounded on the doors. They understood this no more than they had nature-- presuming nothing could harm them, as if there was no laughing Coyote to snatch their joy from them. But Chris had grown up in this part of the world, and understood the evil of nature, and how it dried up people's lives by degrees. It had sucked life out of her people and condemned them to reservations.
But children learned; even as they screamed for mercy.
It seemed to take hours to sort itself out; first banging and tears, then enforced silence. Chris counted the sound of their footsteps on the porch, putting a face to each sobbing as it was snuffed out by the slam of a car door. Then, finally, silence, and by her count, the police had come up at least one hippie short...
It was night again. Hours had passed. The police had come and gone. But Jorge didn't move. Hadn't moved since closing himself away behind the bookcase. The previous master of the house had shown him its secret.
Hide here when the police come. No one will find you.
No one had.
Though hours earlier the sheriff had come sniffing around, trailed by some tall black narc named Demetre.
"It has to be here," the black cop said in a crisp Eastern accent. "We traced it this far and there were lots of loose drugs downstairs."
"Well, it ain't there now," the sheriff mumbled. "They either did it all or it went on its way."
The black cop stared straight at the bookcase, his eyes squinting as if studying the very hole out of which Jorge peeked. Had the cop seen Jorge running up here? Had the open suitcases left a trail of loose drugs up the stairs?
He shook his head. "Not even this gluttonous lot could have eaten all that dope," he mumbled, taking a step towards the bookcase, his marred face coming into focus, a criss-cross scar pale against the black skin in the shape of an X. It made him look cruel. "And it was larger than usual shipment. Maybe the last."
"You think they were on to you?" the fat sheriff asked, fingering through the notebook on the desk-- the house diary in which Jorge recorded household events. He'd marked the shipment's arrival. But the sheriff lost interest and closed the book.
"It's possible," Demetre said,
squinting at the bookshelf, eye level with Jorge's peep hole. "The
Demetre slid out one of the books. Jorge stumbled back, nearly knocking the suitcase of drugs from the shelf behind him.
"I think this was meant as a payoff."
"For who and for what?"
The book teetered on the black man's palm.
"For someone to keep quiet. There were a few dead bodies in
"Buckingham?" the cop said, looking up, fat hand flat on the desk blotter, thumb hooked beneath it for a peek under. "You mean there's actually such a person?"
"There was," Demetre said, staring at the book in his hand. "I tracked him a few times. Rumors say he's come West again. He's a clever devil and dangerous-- more than a match for local police."
Demetre grinned. The skin around the scar tightened into a horrid mask of wrinkled black flesh. "I haven't caught him yet."
Another cop knocked at the door, dressed in the sandy uniform of the state police. "They're all out," he said.
"Good," Demetre said. "Post a car on the road until the finger print people get here. I don't want things disturbed."
"Yes sir," the trooper said and left.
"Could the shipment have slipped out through our ring of cars?" the sheriff asked as he lowered himself into the desk chair with a sigh. "Could this Buckingham have gotten it out?"
"If anyone could, he could."
"Was he here?"
Demetre shrugged and put the book down flat on the ledge of the bookshelf. Slanting sunlight from the window caught its gold lettering. "I don't know. I've never seen him. And I don't know anyone who has. But there's one important detail missing."
"Dead bodies," Demetre said and sighed, then led the sheriff out and down the stairs, the thud of their feet the last sound Jorge heard until the finger print men. After that, silence.
Even then, Jorge waited, picturing the black man sitting in the dark room waiting for Jorge to come out, as if he had smelled Jorge's sweat through the bookcase. Jorge even thought he heard the front door open once and close, long after other sounds had ceased.
Finally, he decided it was paranoia and slid back the metal bolt. The heavy door opened outward with a loud groan. The sound carried through the house, but was answered only by the sound of the distant city and traffic moving in and out of it along the highway.
The flashlight beam caught Jorge full in the face and staggered him back, his hands waving to relieve the blindness.
"Where is it?" a harsh voice asked from behind the light. Jorge could not see a face, but knew the voice from somewhere despite the attempt at disguise. Demetre? Jorge couldn't tell.
"Wh-What?" Jorge stuttered.
"Don't play games with me," the voice said again, as the light came closer and something blunt struck Jorge. Pain erupted from his stomach, bowing him forward.
"Where is it?" the voice asked again, this time closer, this time the smell of weak cologne reminding Jorge of someone-- someone who...
Another blow. This one to the head. Jorge's head snapped aside, temple hitting the shelf.
"I-I don't know where it is," Jorge said, the guide lines for the house master echoing loudly in his head: Never betray the package! Never!
"Liar! Is it in there?"
"No, really, the cops must have taken it. That Demetre guy must have...."
"Demetre?" the voice hissed. "Here?"
"He was here with the others," Jorge said, sensing doubt in the stranger. Maybe even fear. "He must have taken the thing."
Jorge never did feel the bullet which struck him in the face. He saw only the flash of the pistol muzzle, then darkness.
Lance stared down at the money on the bed-- two thousand dollars in assorted wrinkled bills, down from $20,000 eight months earlier.
"So?" Sarah asked, folding their clothing into the motel dresser, a towel around her head from the shower with a single strand of wet hair hanging across her forehead. She looked the same. Even the motel had the same stuffy scent to it, of lint and packaged soap. Only the money had changed.
"So it's almost gone," he spat and stood, knees cracking from sitting too much. Hours and days in the front seat of a van. He missed the vibration of the wheels beneath him.
"Lance, talk to me," Sarah growled, her practical tone cutting through the haze of shock.
"I guess I'll have to get a job," he
mumbled and staggered to the window where the sky shocked him again. Or rather
that part of the sky missing. A black patch out of which no stars shown. The
"You?" Sarah laughed in a tone harsh enough to hurt. "What do you know how to do?"
"There must be something," he mumbled and looked at the money again. The question had plagued him for months and he had put it off, thinking the money would last forever.
"You mean we came all the way back here so you could tell me that?"
"No," he said, turning from the
window to stare at Sarah's round face. In
He knew the answer. He'd seen it in her eyes
the whole ride back down the mountain from
He loved it, not her, from his first visit here, walking in awe like a child among skyscrapers, unable to believe in things so ungodly big.
Eight months ago he had come here to steal her
and had taken away a dream of snow capped heaven
"I hate it here," she said and sat in the chair beside the dresser, yanking the string for the lamp. Dull yellow light filled the room and the black mountain vanished into a wobbly reflection of his face in the window.
"We shouldn't have come back."
He sagged and sat heavily on the bed, some of the money tumbling to the floor where he left it. He stared at himself in the glass. Long brown hair shaped around a rugged face. The eyes half hidden by protruding brow. He had lobbied hard for her return, hoping she would feel the same magic he did.
Maybe he should have guessed from her willingness to leave with him back then, when he had come knocking on her door after his stint in the army.
Come away with me, he'd offered,
telling her of a little dive he'd rented in
But the mountains had stolen his soul, and as he talked her into leaving, he begged himself to stay. But among her friends he felt skittish. One or two had been lovers and he resented it, allowing the resentment to chase him west.
"Why?" he asked, still staring at himself in the glass. "Why do you hate it."
"Because it's boring," she said. "Always has been, always will be. "But you agreed to come back."
"I forgot this part," she said harshly. "I forgot how ugly the quiet can be. I used to lie in my bed for hours cursing it, straining to hear the sound of motor cycles coming to rescue me. It's the people I missed and they're all gone now. They probably couldn't take it either."
Gone like the money was gone. Spent in
"So what do you want?" he asked after a long silence.
Sarah shivered and slithered from the chair, ambling slowly to the window. Below the rear of the hotel, the land sank into a bowl of twinkling lights, Downtown Denver at its center.
"I want to leave," she said.
They were back there somewhere-- though the
rear view mirror showed only the passing glitter of
Back there riding the curve behind him with their headlights off. He tried to picture their grim faces and grey suits, wondering if they would break his legs or toss him off a cliff. He glanced forward in time to swerve away from the guard rail.
Calm down, boy! Don't do their job for them.
The grade increased sharply and Dan down-shifted. The weak voltswagon engine struggling to keep up speed. It hadn't been built for mountains like these. And the thin air effected its fuel mixture. It coughed and grunted. The additions he and Lance had built into the thing weighing it down. Like the wood bed frame and the boxes of clothing. They swayed with each turn, dragging at the wheel as the speedometer needle descended from 45 to 40 to 35, then 30.
Dan coughed, too-- the pain in his chest
bringing back the horrors of East Coast life and the frightful medical
predictions which had said: Go West or Die. They had meant
He coughed again, down shifted as the needle dropped and the engine threatened to stall.
"Easy baby," he mumbled, patting
down his pockets till he found a package of Vicks Cough Silencers and pack of
The hill leveled off and he shifted again. The road dipped, making one last dive before the big climb. He gunned the engine to gather speed. Every mile an hour would help on the up-swing. Behind him, approaching the hair-pin curve around which he'd just come, the other car's headlights flicked on.
"Got ya!" he shouted, then coughed. He crushed the cigarette in the overflowing ashtray, though many of the other butts were Lance's Marlboros.
Smoking was bad for him, the doctors said. As
was drinking, and big city pollution. He knew little about the disease. He
hadn't wanted to know details. But fleeing
One lost wife, career and life style.
That was a capitalist plot, man. Street life
and free love were "in" these days, smoking dope and promoting peace.
Even his exterior had changed, from the suit & tie indignity to a floppy
leather hat and beard. After all, one didn't have to get jeans dry cleaned
twice a week. Nor did he have to worry about alimony payments in
The lights stayed on after the curve and grew larger in the rear view mirror. Dan shifted again, but the big hill had already begun, sapping the power out of the van. To one side, the sheer stone face of the mountain grinned down, while the guard rail kept back the darkness and drop on the other side.
All this was Bobo's fault, of course. Dan's partner sticking his pudgy little fingers into the operation with all the surgical skill of a construction worker.
"I'll take care of it," Dan had told
"Are you sure, Danny-boy? I mean-- your going out of state is dangerous business."
Had Bobo tried to keep him from
You say you're Mr. Bobo's partner? the grey haired man had asked, then handed Dan the million dollar tab. For product already delivered.
Three shipments worth of dope to be precise.
Your partner never paid us.
Worse was the odd sense of fright in the grey-haired man, and the close examination Dan had to endure, as if they'd suspected Dan of being someone else. Someone they had no great affection for.
A cop perhaps?
"There's obviously been a mistake,"
he told them. "I came to tell you people we were taking over the
The man nodded. But the stare did not. And Dan
didn't wait till the motel, feeding coins into a downtown pay phone for the
call back to
He got a recording. Pacific Bell saying Bobo's phone had been disconnected at the customer's request!
The son of a bitch!
The headlights closed in on him, the shape of the car almost visible against the back drop of city lights. A sports car of sorts. Low to the ground and fast. A two-seater. It eased up to the wooden bumper of the van, slow and steady. It was Dan's hand's that shook, the van swaying ever so slightly from side to side.
"Steady, boy," he mumbled.
The car made its move when the road
straightened-- the curving ascent from
"Don't stall, damn it!"
The car pulled beside him, riding the opposite lane. A dark colored Mercedes with the shape of two heads inside. Something flashed. The glass of the vent window cracked as a small round hole appeared.
Dan slammed on the brakes!
While the tires didn't squeal or burn, the van twisted around, its painted body sideways to both lanes. The engine sputtered out. The Mercedes stopped, too, a few hundred feet farther up hill, and struggled to make a three-point turn on the narrow road. Dan turned the key; the engine grunted but didn't start.
"Come on, baby," he said. Footsteps
sounded on the gravel coming towards him. In front of the van,
"Start, damn it!" he yelled and hit the dashboard with his fist. The engine whined once, then started weakly. He slammed the gear shift into first.
The men on the road gave a start-- a surprised growl immediately followed by spurts and flashes. Two more cracks appeared in the glass, inches from Dan's head. But he turned the van down hill. At first, they ran after the van, their figures visible in the driver side mirror.
Dan slammed the gear shift into 2nd, then 3rd.
The van picked up speed. The weight which had held it back coming up, now
propelled it downward into the abyss. He kept it close to the belly of the
mountain, protruding pine branches scraping the roof and side. But he dared not
move out into the center of the roar where the coming sharp curves could drive
him over the other side. A chunk of jutting stone scraped the van. The
speedometer read sixty and still climbed. He shifted into neutral to keep the
engine slowing him down. This fast, the gears acted like a brake and he needed
all the speed he could get.
He wanted to explain-- to tell them it was
Bobo who'd taken their money, and if they had approached him more respectably,
he might even have helped in the hunt. But something had frightened them,
driving them into a desire to clean house. Bobo's time would come. As would the
others along the route to
The headlights reappeared in the driver's side mirror, coming up fast despite Dan's head long plunge. The other car kept close the mountain as well-- and there was just a chance Dan might make the city limits. If the van could handle the hair-pin turns. It would be hairy. Dan had no intention of slowing down.
The first of very sharp curves came. The steering wheel nearly jerked out of his hand. He fought it, keeping it solidly right as stone and branches whacked the passenger side. Behind him, the Mercedes made its move, creeping up to his rear bumper. The headlights vanished, then reappeared on the left side as the road straightened again. It pulled up slowly, the bumper first, then the hood, windshield, and finally a face in the open window.
Spark! Splat. Tinkling glass.
The curve came. Dan slammed on the brakes, turning the wheel towards the Mercedes, not the mountain, the wood front bumper striking the car's side.
The Mercedes hit the guard rail and plunged right through. By the time Dan stopped the van, the car had hit the ground below and burst into flames. Dan stood for a long time, too shaken to light a cigarette. Too shaken to think about the cold, his disease or the thin air.
He thought only of Bobo.