Breakfast waited for them in the morning, though from the attitude of the help and the hustle and bustle around the house and yard, theirs came later than usual-- a lackadaisical rising that seemed slow motion compared to the small army charging from one part of the ranch to another. Even as they clamored out to the covered walkway, Lance noticed the activity, men at one corner of the yard with their heads under the hood of a truck, while others ferried pushcarts loaded with boxes into the center section of the house. Still others came and went without clear purpose. All took notice, however, smiling or wishing them good day
Jimmy hailed them from the east wing, motioning for them to cross the yard. "We got food for you," he said. "Though the cooks are a little peeved at keeping the stoves on this late, considering they'll have to start lunch the minute you're through."
"Is it always this busy?" Lance asked, as they followed Jimmy along the walkway.
"Sometimes," Jimmy said. "But the schedule got screwed up on account of last night. The police found most of the gang down by the highway construction site. Not a rival group after all. Out-of-town indians from what Mister Gil says. Down-right queer if you ask me."
"Why?" Mike asked perking up at the news.
"If they weren't locals, then someone sicked them on you. And God knows none of us can figure out why."
"What was the impact with the police?" Mike asked.
"All that's coming in now. Nervousness, mostly. Though they've managed to keep it all from the newspapers. Wouldn't want to ruin the illusion of a nice retiree town. But they've caught enough of the gang to know something big happened."
"Will they trace it to us?" Mike asked, studying the roof tops, gate and pine tree barrier, as if gauging their ability to withstand a siege. Lance noted several small protrusions from the roof pinnacles-- small boxes with pointed roofs of their own which, from a distance, might have been mistaken for ornamentation. But each held a face with binoculars and rifle.
"There's talk on the radio about the van. But Mister Gil can fill you in on the details."
"When will that be?" Chris asked.
"Why-- after breakfast, of course."
Lance sat back from the long table sedated, laziness already spreading through his limbs as they others chatted. Despite the cheer showed by Gil's men, he could feel their nervousness, like soldiers under siege. Rifles rested in every corner within easy reach. Even the cooks carried weapons under their aprons-- waiting and watching for the first sign of war.
Jimmy, who had vanished after depositing them here, reappeared, his features a bit more sober.
"Mister Gil will see you now in the East Wing."
Mike and Dan rose quickly and hurried out, Sarah on their heals. Lance stood slowly, stretching, gulping down the rest of his coffee, the beginnings of a headache working up from the back of his neck.
"Are you coming?" Chris asked from the door, looking in no hurry to join the others either.
"I guess so," Lance said, and eased towards her.
"What's wrong?" Chris asked as they exited together.
"Sarah's peeved at me again."
"Oh? Is that all? What's it this time, your snoring?"
and Sarah had been a running joke since
"I told her I didn't want to go on to
Chris paused, looking slightly alarmed. "What exactly did you have in mind?"
"If I had a choice, I'd go back to
"I'd settled down. Get a job."
"And Sarah would go for this?"
"No. She misses the hip life in
Chris shook her head. The slanted light showed off her chiseled features, the heritage of a once proud people glittering in her eyes. It stirred something in Lance.
"It's not easy going north from here," she said. "You could head for Vegas and hit Frisco from there. But that's hick country and people won't be friendly-- especially driving that van of yours."
"I figured on selling it first and hitching."
"You won't get much out here. In
"And you could hitch up Route One through Frisco, no problem."
"Getting Sarah out of town again might be."
"How did you get her out this time?"
"I lied," Lance said. "I dredged up old ghosts. She wouldn't fall for it again."
"Maybe not," Chris said. "But
"You think so?"
Chris shrugged. "
Lance sighed. Chris didn't know Sarah.
"Hey, you two!" Jimmy called. The others had vanished into the building. "You want to hurry up?"
Twilight filled the room, cast by several free-stand lamps in the corners, emphasizing the musty scent of century old pine, vanished and aged, cooked year after year with smoke from the fire place. A fire burned there now, even with a rising temperature outside, and yet, the room seemed cool. Native painting decorated the walls in a white man's custom of frames and canvas. Wolf-heads and traditional hunting weapons curled out of the shadows like three-dimensional sculpture, made unreal by the dark wood and small windows-- though which little light came.
This had been the original house, a frontier outpost to which the rest had been added. Stark. Primitive. As if a peek out a window would show covered wagons waiting and stomping steeds. Near the fire place Gil and other stern-faced men sat in a half circle, their faces bathed in shadow and light giving the semblance of war-paint.
"Sit," Gil said, motioning towards heavy wooden chairs relocated for their benefit and forming a completed circle.
"What is this?" Dan whispered to Chris and Lance. "A pow wow?"
"Maybe," Chris whispered back seriously.
Mike sat first with Marie to his right. Dan, Chris and Lance to his left. Sarah stood back from the circle, shaking her head at Jimmy's gesture for her to sit.
"All right," Gil said. "It's time to talk. You came looking for me. Why?"
He stared at Mike, and for the first time Lance noticed a similarity between the two, the same protruding cheeks, jaws and brows, more like brothers than merely related through tribe.
"I need your help," Mike said. "The others have their own reasons."
Gil nodded and turned towards Chris. "And your reason?"
Chris glared. "To warn you about trouble," she said. "But if I'd known about the third degree I wouldn't have bothered."
"Warn me? About what?"
"About the collapse of the drug circuit
Gil's face tightened. "I have heard dark things, rumors and half-truths filtering in with wanderers such as yourselves. And I know you have brought storm clouds with you and trouble I do not need. Had you been other people, I might have left you to the wolves. But Michael's name is known to me. There are people here and in the south who remember him fondly. And you, less fondly."
"Which means what?" Chris snapped, leaping to her feet, as armed guards stepped out of the deeper shadows of the large room.
"Sit," Gil ordered. "I pass no judgements. At least no until I have heard your tales."
Chris sat reluctantly, as Mike began, telling
Gil about the pot farm and the disaster and his flight to
Chris came next, informing Gil about the bust
and escape from the
"All this explains much," he said. "Though not why everything had ceased."
"You knew about the shipments ending?" Chris said, seeming a bit disappointed.
"On your route, no," Gil said.
"But I expected it. Other routes have dried up over the last few months.
And it is quite disturbing. My operations here almost totally depend on
"What?" Dan said, pushing up the brim of his hat to reveal a startled face. "But I was under the impression..."
"The drug companies know nothing of it," Gil said. "I've been careful to disguise my operations as to have them believe each route was operated by a different agent."
"Then we could have come here," Dan
said. "We didn't have to deal with
Gil nodded. "It would have been wiser.
Things are precarious in
"Why not?" Dan demanded.
"Your partner is not to be trusted."
"You've seen him?"
"Not directly," Gil said. "But he knew of my operations and sought me out several times. When I made it clear I would have nothing to do with him, he went elsewhere."
"It would seem so."
"But why bother with me?"
"I suspect he needed a more respectable front, someone with a less double-dealing reputation."
"But he double-crossed me, too!"
"A last minute decision," Gil said. "Rumors of the system collapse have been in the works for months. He obviously wanted to snatch up a little extra profit before things fell apart."
Dan seemed to ponder this, staring down at his own hands, his expression growing more and more angry. "I'll kill him," he said finally.
"Perhaps that would serve a purpose," Gil said. "But tell me your tale first."
Dan brushed bits of breakfast out of his
moustache with his hand and lit a cigarette. He took the story back as far as
"He said we'd get rich," Dan said.
"He did, obviously," Gil said. "Go on."
"Anyway, he sent me to
Gil stayed silent for awhile after Dan ceased, his fingers pressed into a church steeple beneath his lips. Finally, he sighed.
"It seems very complicated," he said. "Something has scared the drug companies badly."
"Demetre did," Mike said.
"What are you getting at?" Chris asked.
"There's something missing in all
this," Gil said. "Everything is not explained. Where is the dope from
"That's bothered me, too," Dan said abruptly. "And why didn't Sweeny haul my ass into jail?"
Everyone stared at Gil. Lance felt a tension rising in the room, like some haunting spirit which only Gil could exorcise.
"I believe Demetre is looking for someone," Gil said softly.
"Who?" Mike asked. "Me?"
Gil smiled. "No, friend, I believe bigger fish are in this barrel."
"Bobo?" Dan asked.
"You?" Chris asked.
"Maybe, but I don't think so."
Mike stirred, his face dark. "Buckingham?"
Gil's mouth grew taunt. "You know of him, then?" he said.
"He's the reason I've come to see you."
"Out!" Gil ordered. "Everyone but Michael."
"What do you make of it?" Chris asked
Dan as they circled around the horseshoe towards the apartment again. A harsh
sun engulfed the yard. It intrigued Lance. Dry heat seemed a contradiction in
"I'd say he's heard something," Dan mumbled. "And nothing good."
"Maybe we should get out of town," Lance suggested, drawing Sarah out of a thoughtful mood, her eyes glaring at him.
"What's the hurry?"
"Didn't you hear what went on in there?" Lance asked. "We're caught in something awful here. People have died, and I've got an ugly feeling more are going to die before it's over. I don't want it to be one of us."
"And just where would you propose we go?" Sarah asked suspiciously.
Lance eyed Chris and swallowed hard. "L.A."
"What? But you said..."
"I changed my mind."
"So have I," Sarah said as they reached the apartment door, her gaze searching the door to Gil's chamber across the bleached sunlight. "I want to stay here."
"Here? In Phoenix?" Dan snorted as he pushed open the door. "Nobody wants that, for God's sake! Especially not with Summer coming on."
"Mikie!" Marie yelped as Mike appeared, red-haired Jimmy holding open the door like a jailer. She ran and hugged him as the others stirred from their seats.
"What did he say?" Chris demanded.
Mike deposited Marie onto the couch and sat beside her. "Not a lot."
"Two hours and he didn't say anything?" Dan growled, pulling on an end of his moustache. "Out with it, boy! We're all on your side."
"Gil doesn't seem to think so."
"What?" Dan boomed.
"He thinks one of us is Demetre's spy."
"He said that?" Chris asked, her face screwed up with rage.
"Not in so many words. But he isn't going to let any of us leave here until he finds out for sure."
"We can't stay," Lance told Gil once Jimmy had shuffled him before the man. The hall seemed larger and more empty, a cool darkness after the walk in the sun. It made Lance long for the north.
"So Jimmy told me," Gil said, his features wooden now in the dim light. Only the eyes looked alive, like pools of brown water with flames deep inside. "What exactly is so urgent?"
"It's hard to explain."
"Ah secrets," Gil said with a grim smile.
"It's not like that!" Lance said. "It's personal."
"There isn't much I don't already know from the others."
"About me?" Lance said, startled. He had watched the others parade in and out as part of the process of interrogation, like prisoners of war. But he had presumed the others would speak only about themselves.
"They told me what they knew," Gil said.
"I am not Demetre's spy," Lance said coldly, feeling the accusation growing behind Gil's eyes. The others were known to him, people who had cross-connections with each other. But Lance and Sarah had only stumbled into this life of crime, an accident of fate putting them in the middle of the Western Drug circuit.
"Then what are you doing here?" Gil asked.
Lance laughed. "Looking for a place to settle down."
"Your old lady says you stole some money."
"Most of it's gone," Lance said. "Mis-spent in LA. What's left I figure to use as a grub stake. I hear Oregon's nice."
"A lot of trees and rain," Gil said, suspicion edging out of his voice.
"So can we leave?"
"Soon," Gil said. "One more question."
"Are you Buckingham?"
The tremble in his voice said something about the panic, but Gil's hard eyes remained fixed on Lance's, waiting for an answer, watching for the reaction.
"No," Lance said softly. "I'm not."
"One of them is lying," Gil said, pacing back and forth across the front of the fireplace. "I can feel it in my bones."
"About what?" Mike said, seated in one of the chairs.
"I don't know," Gil said. "How much do you know about your girlfriend? Of all, she's revealed the least."
"She has nothing to reveal," Mike said. "She's just a pampered little rich girl."
"Then what's she doing with you?"
"Looking for cheap thrills."
"Maybe more," Mike said with a sigh. "But I hope not. I don't need a deep relationship in my life."
"But she clings to you?"
"And will as long as she thinks her father's chasing her."
"And you're sure she's not a spy?"
"Her father. The FBI. For Demetre even."
Mike shook his head. "She's too stupid to be a spy."
"One never knows," Gil said. "Stupidity is a clever disguise."
"If you're worried, let us go. You've already answered my questions about Buckingham."
"Rumors and my fears. I know nothing more of him."
"Except that he wants to get rid of you."
"Me or anybody else in his path. But I can't let you go until I know more about what happened to the Albuquerque shipment. Knowing who has it would answer other more serious questions."
"I think Demetre has it."
Gil shook his head. "Not me. For him it is bait."
"Maybe," Gil mumbled. "Maybe him."
"I'm scared, too," Mike said, the dark around him like a shroud. He had lost count of the nights here, though recalled at least three.
"What are you scared of?" Gil asked, seated beside him one of the great chairs, the dying fire the only source of light, flickering up from time to time, revealing bit of bookcase or desk.
"I'm scared of being caged," Mike said, taking a long hit on the joint before passing it back. "I don't just mean jail. Everything is closing up, buildings and highways and fences filling up the countryside like a disease."
"And you're going to L.A.?"
"Only till I can find a ticket out."
"To where?" Gil asked, turning just enough for Mike to see the fire in his eyes. "Where aren't they building fences?"
Mike shrugged. "I haven't figured that part out. What would you have me do, stay here and join Chris' revolution?"
"Only if you want to die with it," Gil mumbled, staring again straight into the fire. "I'd join it myself if I thought it would work. But they'll wind up like the Panthers, shot to pieces by the cops. No one'll put up with free indians or anything else."
"Where then? Red China? The Soviet Union? I thought about Cuba, but that's a prison, too. There must be someplace free."
Gil sucked the joint. "Maybe there is," he said. "But I haven't found it. And I doubt you will either."
The tapping made him look up from his desk, the receipts for two-months staring up at him with hints of ruin. If he didn't get a shipment soon, his empire would crumble, and the intricate web of loyalty would attach itself elsewhere. Access to drugs was everything. The knock came again.
"Yes?" he said, pulling off his reading glasses with one hand as he reached for the desk drawer with the other. No one could have gotten passed his guards and yet...
Leonard in Las Vegas. Evans in Seattle. And a half-dozen lesser names rose in his head. All dead. Their empires vanquished.
His fingers closed around the pearl-handled woman's revolver that had been his mother's. Small caliber, but deadly at close range.
The door eased open. "Hello," the careful voice said, probing the room from the darkness outside.
Gil fingered the safety off, but kept the weapon on his lap.
"Come in if you're coming," he snapped, then relaxed as the face of the hippie woman moved into the light. She seemed frightened by the darkness. Only his desk lamp glowed, a gold island of illumination encircling his desk and chair. All else was invisible. "Can I help you, Sarah?"
"Yeah-- well..." she looked shy, like a girl just out of high school in the presence of an older man. He had noticed her infatuation earlier.
"Come closer to the light," Gil said, pushing his pistol back into the drawer. "Just lock the door behind you."
She complied, then eased closer, her round face straight out of Eastern European stock with just enough color in her eyes and cheeks to make her attractive. Or was it her adoration. Others had come to him. But over the years he'd grown tired of indulging, and lately, had become something of a recluse. He felt himself react.
"What brings you here?" he asked.
She blushed, her gaze rising to meet his, her blue eyes caught with embers from the fire. "I wanted to... see you," she said.
"About staying here-- with you."
He didn't smile-- though he had expected the usual indirect approach, the hints and suggestions common with such women. The up-front approach was refreshing.
"What about your friend-- the pacifist?"
"Lance doesn't mean anything to me any more," she said, spitting out the words.
"But he will expect you to leave with him when he goes."
"I don't care," she said, easing closer, the wisp of her clothing loud in the silence. He noticed her open shirt and the lack of a bra. Her breasts swelled against the opening. He shook himself and pushed up from the desk. But she moved around the side coming closer and closer, alarms ringing in his head, the panic alarms of an isolated man, easily victimized, always on guard.
"Make love to me," she whispered.
"You can't stay here," he said, kicking at the blankets and sheets mounted at the foot of the bed.
"Why not?" she asked, lying beside him, staring up at the ceiling, her naked form as attractive in the light as it had been in darkness.
"Because you still love your pacifist," Gil said.
"Bullshit!" she snapped. "He's nothing but a wimp!"
"You say that because you're angry at him. But you don't mean it. The minute he's gone, you'll be miserable."
"You seem to know a lot about it. Wasn't I good enough for you?"
Better than anyone in a long time, he thought.
"That's not the point. Good or not, you don't belong here. And if you hated Denver, you'll hate it here."
"But I like you," she said, hinting of future encounters.
"You're using me to get even with him."
She sat up glaring. "You seemed to like using my body," she growled.
"It was freely offered," he said
"I could tell Lance."
"And what would he do? Kill me?" Gil laughed.
"He might. He knows how to kill. They taught him that in the army."
"But he won't. Not even for you."
"You're cruel!" she shouted jumping up from the bed.
He smiled. "Maybe. But don't threaten me with the unlikely. And don't tell me you're carrying my baby. I'm quite sterile."
She started to say something, but her mouth clamped shut. She grabbed up her loose clothing from out of the shadows and marched out with them. He listen to her snap open the lock and leave, then rose to relock the door behind her, regretting the necessity of sending her away.