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The Monkey Wrench Gang 20


  The wind hissed softly swiftly by; the great motorcar plowed almost silently through the edge of night, wired to and guided by the quadruple beam of its powerful lamps. Behind them, over the rim of Black Mesa, the first virescent streaks of dawn appeared, announced by slash of meteor dying into flame and vapor down across the fatal sky.

  They rushed ahead on a direct collision course with trouble. The lights of the instrument panel glowing under the hood of the dash illumined three solemn, sleepy faces: Doc’s face grim, she thought, bearded, red-eyed and ruby-prowed; Seldom Seen Smith’s face homely honest incorrigibly bucolic; and mine of course, that très élégant profile, that classic loveliness which drives men right out of their gourds. Yeah, sure.

  “Right again, honey, about a mile ahead,” Smith mutters. “Watch out for them horses.”

  Horses? What horses?

  Brakes. Scream of rubber. Two tons of steel, flesh, dynamite fishtailing down the pike, weaving like a shadow through a band of ponies. Startled eyes big as cueballs gleamed in the dark: painted ponies in camouflage, inbred underfed Indian horses browsing on the weeds, tin cans and rabbit brush along the road. She missed them all.

  Doc sighed. Smith grinned.

  “Hope I didn’t scare anyone,” she said.

  “Hell no,” Smith said. “My asshole kind of puckered up, that’s all.”

  “You can’t see those animals till you’re right on top of them,” she explained.

  “That’s right,” Smith said. “Maybe that’s why they have them Watch Out for Animals Next Twenty Miles signs every two miles.”

  “It was pretty good driving,” she said.

  “Damned redskin savages,” Doc said. “Too cheap to string up fences. What do we pay them welfare for? You can’t rely on these aborigines to do anything right.”

  “That’s right,” Smith said. “Turn there on that dirt road where it says Shonto thirty-five miles.”

  They followed a dirt road with a surface like a washboard. Little blue lights stretched across the horizon: the BM & LP all-electric automated railway.

  Darkness still surrounded them. They could see little but the road ahead, lined with sagebrush, and a few stars and the blue lights. Something like a tunnel appeared.

  “Now,” says Smith, “that’s the railroad. Soon as you get through that underpass hang a hard left.”

  She did, leaving the Shonto road for a sandy wagon trail.

  “Gun it hard,” Smith says. “Deep sand.”

  The big car groaned, gearing down automatically as the tires sank into the sand, and wallowed on, pitching and yawning across sandy hummocks, undersides rasping over the cactus and weeds of the high center.

  “Good going, honey,” says Smith. “Keep it going far as you can. That’s right. Now, there, see that fork? Stop there, turn it around. That’s where we start walking.”

  She did. Lights off, motor silent (smell of overheated engine in the air), they got out and stretched and saw the dawn flowing toward them, violet clouds lighting up on the east.

  “Where are we?”

  “About a mile from the bridge. We picked this spot the other day. The car is out of sight of the railroad here and there ain’t even a hogan within five miles. Nobody out here but us kangaroo rats and whip tail lizards.”

  Pause. In the silence of the desert, under a sky scattered with stars and tinted with the rush of the approaching sun, they stared—three small weak frightened mortals—at one another. Still time, she thought; still time, they were all thinking. The monster not even in sight yet. Still time for sober thought, order, decorum, sanity, all things good and safe and decent for Christ’s sake!

  They gazed at each other, smiles trembling on their cold lips. Each waited for another to speak the word of sense. But no one would be first.

  Dr. Sarvis smiled broadly and opened his huge arms wide. “Abrazo, compañeros. Come to me.” They came close and he embraced both—the exiled Jew, the outcast Mormon—in his vast Episcopalian anarcho-syndicalist libertarian tentacles. “Be of good cheer,” he whispered to them. “We are going to face the Power Grid and clip its claws. We are going to be heroes and live in fame.”

  She leaned against his wide warm chest. “Yes,” she said, shaking with cold and fear, “you’re goddamn right.”

  And Captain Smith: “Why the hell not?”

  To work. Smith and Sarvis hoisted each a case of Du Pont’s finest up to shoulder and trudged westward through the sand. Bonnie followed with canteen, spade, pick; on her head the Garbo hat with floppy brim.

  Somewhere back in the gloom, over the dunes, came the whine of jeep in four-wheel drive. The demon, following.

  He caught up to them near the bridge.

  “Ya-ta-hay hosteen!”

  Grinning like a little boy at Hallowe’en, Hayduke swept upon them. He carried the balance of the necessary equipment: electrical blasting caps, reel of wire, crimpers, blasting machine (that reliable old workhorse the Du Pont No. 50, push-down type). Staggering over the sand in the twilight of morning, he stopped as they stopped and all four stared at the primary objective.

  The bridge was the basic stringer type, forty feet long, supported by steel I beams abutted in concrete, grouted into the canyon walls; below the bridge was a chasm two hundred feet deep. Down in the cold and darkness of the bottom, among the slabs of rock and over the spongy quicksand, a trickle of water shone like tin, reflecting the last of the starlight. Willows grew down there, stunted cottonwoods and clumps of grass, horsetail reeds, watercress. Nothing moved below, no sign of animal life, though the stink of sheep was unmistakable.

  Beyond the bridge the railway curved out of sight through a deep cut in the ridge. From where the gang stood they could see no more than half a mile of track in either direction.

  “Okay, lookouts,” Hayduke said. “Bonnie, you climb up on top of that cutbank”—pointing—“on the other side. Take these binocs. Doc—”

  Bonnie said, “You said the train wouldn’t get here till eight.”

  “Aha, right, but have you thought of this? The track crew putt-putting down this way on their little car, the nosy motherfuckers, checking out the line ahead of the train. Hey? To your post, lookout. Don’t fall asleep. Doc, why don’t you go back the other way, find a comfortable spot up there under that cedar tree. Me and Captain Smith here will do the dirty work.”

  “You always get to do the dirty work,” Bonnie grumbled.

  Hayduke smiled like a cougar. “Don’t you start whining already, Abbzug. I have a special treat for you, goddammit, right here in my arms.” He set the blaster on the ground.

  “Why are we doing this?” someone asked, one more time. Not Doc. Not Smith.

  “Don’t forget your spray paint either.” He shoved the cans at her.

  “Why?” she asked again.

  “Because,” Hayduke explained, one last time, patiently. “Because somebody has to do it. That’s why.”

  Silence. The onward rush of the sun.

  Doc scrambled up his hill, leaving tracks like a snowshoe trail in the loose sand. Bonnie climbed through the right-of-way fence and went to work on the beams of the bridge with her handy spray paint, on her way across to the other side.

  Hayduke and Smith listened to the morning stillness. They watched the growing flush of light on the eastern horizon. One lizard rattled through the oak brush nearby, the only sound. When both lookouts were in position and gave them the all-clear signal, Smith and Hayduke took pliers, pick, spade and bar and went to work. Having inspected the target two days before, they had a clear idea of what they meant to do.

  First, they cut the fence. Then they dug out the rock ballast from beneath the crosstie nearest the bridge, on the side of the train’s scheduled approach. When a hole was cleared the size of an apple box, Hayduke consulted his demolition card (GTA 5-10-9), handy little item, pocket-size, sealed in plastic, which he had liberated from Special Forces during his previous career. He reviewed the formula: one kilogram equals 2.20 pounds
; we want three charges 1.25 kilograms each, let’s say three pounds each charge, to be on the safe side.

  “Okay, Seldom,” he says, “that excavation’s big enough; you dig another five ties down. I’ll place the charge.”

  Hayduke steps off the railway, back to the sealed boxes waiting on the dune. He rips open the first case—Du Pont Straight, 60 percent nitroglycerin, velocity 18,200 feet per pound, quick-shattering action. He removes six cartridges, tube-shaped sticks eight inches long, eight ounces heavy, wrapped in paraffined paper. He makes up a primer by punching a hole in one cartridge with the handle (non-sparking) of his crimping tool, inserting a blasting cap (electrical) into the hole, and knotting the cap’s leg wires. Next he tapes the six sticks together in a bundle, the primed cartridge in the center. The charge is ready. He sets it respectfully in the hole under the first crosstie, attaches a connecting wire to the leg wires (all wires insulated) and replaces the ballast, covering concealing and tamping the charge. Only the wires are exposed, coiled in their red and yellow jackets, shining on the railway bed. He tucks them under the rail for the time being, where only an observer on foot would be likely to see them.

  Checks the lookouts. Bonnie stands on the skyline west of the bridge, watching the curve of the railroad off to the west and north. He looks east. Doc leans against the cedar on the summit of the cutbank, smoking his cigar, and nods reassurance. The line is clear.

  Hayduke prepares the second charge, same as the first, and places it in the second hole, which Seldom Seen has now completed. They work together on the third hole, ten crossties back from the bridge.

  “Why don’t we just blow the bridge?” Smith says.

  “We will,” says Hayduke. “But bridges are tricky, take a lot of time, a lot of H.E. I thought we ought to make sure we get the train first.”

  “The train is coming from this side?”

  “Right. Downhill from Black Mesa, loaded with coal. Eighty cars with one hundred tons each. We blast the tracks right in front of the locomotive and the whole works goes ass over tincups into the canyon, bridge or no bridge.”

  “All of it?”

  “It should. At least we’re sure of getting the engine—that’s the expensive item. They’ll be pissed all right, old Pacific Gas and Electric, old Arizona Public Service, they’ll be mighty pissed. Our name will be shit in public power circuits.”

  “That’s a good name in them circuits.”

  The sun rises, a mighty asterisk of fire. Hayduke and Smith are sweating already. Third hole completed, Hayduke tapes and places the third charge, covers and tamps it. Resting for a moment, they grin at each other, white grins in sweaty faces.

  “What the hell’re you grinning about, Seldom?”

  “I’m just scared shitless, that’s all. What the hell you grinning about?”

  “Same thing, compadre. Did you hear a hoot owl hoot?”

  Bonnie Abbzug’s face is turned their way, arms waving. Doc Sarvis too is sounding the alarm.

  “Grab the tools. Everything out of sight.”

  Hayduke pushes the leg wires of the third charge out of view while Smith dashes toward the dunes dragging spade and pick. Hayduke scans his work, seeking some flaw in the arrangement, but all seems properly concealed.

  They scuttle for cover, lugging their tools, leaving fat footprints all over the place. Can’t be helped. They lie down and wait, listening, and hear the hum and rattle of one electric track car coming down the grade. Hayduke takes a peep, sees the square yellow cab on wheels, open windows, three men sitting inside, one at the throttle eyeballing the rails ahead.

  Bonnie and Doc are down behind the bushes. Bonnie, on her belly in the sand, sees the track car coming her way, slowing at the bridge, stopping in the middle of it for a moment, starting again and passing through the deep cut beneath her (sound of laughter) and on around the curve, electric sparks flying from the trolley intersections, motor whining away into the stillness, out of sight and out of hearing. Gone.

  The track crew had paused on the bridge, she realized suddenly, to look at her art-nouveau graffiti on the cement of the abutment, her red and black and decorative writing on the wall, CUSTER WEARS AN ARROW SHIRT—RED POWER!

  She unbuttoned her sweater as the sun began to bear down, put on her smoky shades, adjusted the brim of the huge and nonchalant hat. Garbo on guard duty. She watched Hayduke come tramping out of hiding, carrying what looked like a big metal spool. Squat and powerful, he resembled more than ever an anthropoid ape. Darwin was right. Seldom Seen Smith came out with him, lean and long. Mutation; the vastness of the gene pool; the infinite variables of combination and permutation. Who, she wondered vaguely, shall father my child? She saw no likely prospects in the vicinity.

  Watching Hayduke kneeling by the tracks, she saw the knife blade flashing in his hand, watched him splice and tape a connection of unsheathed wire. When the fourth set of connections was completed, Hayduke joined the free ends of the blasting-cap wires to the shooting wires, making a single-series blasting circuit. He then unreeled the lead wires away from the bridge along the rim of the canyon to a point sheltered from the blast site, under an overhang. He set the reel down and followed the wires back to the railway; as he walked he pushed the wires over the edge of the canyon rim, letting them hang there hidden from view—from the view, that is, of any eyes coming from the east. At the tracks he took the exposed wires and taped them to the web of the rail, beneath the flange, concealing them there as well.

  She watched him talking with Smith; saw Smith punch Hayduke lightly in the ribs, saw them place hands on each other’s shoulders like a pair of Sumo wrestlers squaring off. There was something in the way they grinned at each other, something in the way they handled each other, that irked and offended her. All men at heart, she thought—at bottom should I say?—are really queer. The way ballplayers pat one another on the fannies, running onto the field or coming out of the huddle. The Greek quarterback and the nervous center. Queer as clams. Though of course none would have the decency or honesty or nerve to admit it. And of course they really are united against women. The swine. Who needs them? She stared fondly at the two oafs below, fondling one another. A pair of clowns. Queer as abalones. At least Doc, he has some dignity. Though not much. And where was he, by the way? She looked, looked hard, and finally made him out in the shade of a tree, head drooping, falling asleep on his feet. Jesus, she thought; this criminal anarchy is boring work.

  Her name lofted through the sunlight. Faces facing her. That bisyllabic tremor rippled through the air, spreading past and beyond. Bonnie! …

  Hayduke, Doc and Bonnie huddled at the spool of wire. Smith was working on the bridge. Hayduke cut the leads, while Doc and Bonnie watched, separated the wires and peeled two inches of insulating plastic from each shining strand of copper.

  “These fuckers,” he explains, “go here.” He touches them to the two terminals on the blaster. “This little fucker”—dropping the wires aside and lifting the handle of the blaster—“goes up like this.” He lifts it all the way. “When the wires are connected to the terminals and you push down hard, hard as you can—don’t be afraid to hurt the machine, you can’t hurt her, just go ahead and try to knock the bottom out—when you do that you send a current through the circuit and the juice sets off the caps. The caps detonate the primers and the primers detonate the charges and—well, you’ll see. But you have to push that handle down hard. Like cranking an old-fashioned country telephone; if you don’t crank hard enough you don’t send out any signal.” Looking at Bonnie. “You listening to me, Abbzug?”

  “Yes, I’m listening, Hayduke.”

  “What did I say?”

  “Listen, Hayduke, I have a master’s degree in French literature. I’m not a high school dropout like some people here I could mention though I won’t name any names even though they’re in spitting distance.”

  “Okay, try it then.” He screwed the caps off the blasting machine terminals and placed his fingertips on them. “
Go ahead. Slam that handle down. Give me a charge.”

  Bonnie grabbed the handle and pushed it down. It clunked against the top of the wooden casing.

  “I felt a tingle,” Hayduke said. “A tiny tingle. Try it again. Slam it down. Knock the bottom out.”

  She pulled the handle up, took a breath and drove it down. As it crashed into the box Hayduke’s hand bounced up in sharp galvanic reflex.

  “That’s better. I felt it that time. Okay, Bonnie, you want to be the blaster on this operation?”

  “Somebody has to do it.”

  “Doc can stand by, check the procedure, back you up. I’ll be where I can see the train coming. When the train’s in the right spot I’ll give you a signal, like this.” He raised an arm and paused. “When I raise my arm you pull up the blaster handle. Keep your eyes on me. When I lower my arm”—he slashed it downward—“you ram that handle down. Hard!”

  “Then what?”

  “Then we get the hell out of here. You and Doc take the station wagon; me and Seldom’ll take the jeep. We should have at least an hour before they send up airplanes, so drive like hell for an hour, then stop somewhere under a tree, wait for evening. Take the old dirt road to Shonto. We’ll meet back at Betatakin tonight to celebrate the victory. Don’t look up at airplanes. Pale faces show up good from the air. Take it easy, keep cool, if anybody talks to you make like tourists. Put on your Bermuda shorts, Doc.”

  “Haven’t got any, George, but I’ll try.”

  “And you, keep those dark goggles on. Don’t let the Indians see that crazy gleam in your eye.”

  “Sure,” Bonnie says. “Where’s the bathroom?” And she disappeared over the sand dunes.

  Doc looked morose, staring after her.

  “What’s wrong?” says Hayduke.

  “Nothing.”

  “You look sick, Doc.”

  Doc smiled, shrugged. “A little black magic is leaving my life.”

  “You mean her? You want to talk about it now?”

  “Maybe later,” Doc says. He returned to his lookout station.

  Hayduke joined Smith at the bridge, laboring on the east abutment with pick and shove.