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The Monkey Wrench Gang 27


  But Bonnie—good girl! She was gone, out of sight down the eroded gulch and running, no doubt, toward the canyon. One of the two men climbed down into the gulch. The other, with the carbine, ran along its rim, trying to head her off. Hayduke saw him stumble, fall on his face and lie there for a moment, stunned. Slowly he got up, picked up his weapon and started off again, running. In a few minutes he was out of sight.

  The empty helicopter waited behind them, the big rotor turning slower and slower.

  Hayduke drew his revolver, opened the loading gate and pushed a sixth cartridge into the one chamber which, for safety’s sake, he usually left empty in the breech. Leaving the chain saw and pliers under a juniper, he climbed the dune, descended the slip face in three giant leaps and ran toward the helicopter.

  He could hear the crewmen shouting in the distance, out of sight. He ran straight for the objective. When he reached it, five minutes later, the first thing he did was tip the muzzle of his gun into the face of the helicopter’s radio transmitter. About to squeeze the trigger, he reconsidered and chose a less noisy implement, a fire extinguisher, wrenching it from its bracket and smashing the radio. A futile gesture perhaps; another helicopter might even now be on the way.

  What choice did he have? Had to get Bonnie out of this. Hayduke looked around for a place of concealment. There was nothing much at hand. Certainly not within or behind the helicopter itself, a skeletal machine with transparent three-passenger cabin and no true fuselage at all, sitting high off the ground on its steel skids. There was the usual assortment of junipers nearby, but a juniper, while it can conceal a man from aerial observation, is no good from ground level at close range. The trunk is too small, the foliage too sparse, the branches too thin for hiding. Can’t set up an ambush without a proper bush. Having no alternative, he descended into the same gulch Bonnie had taken, crawled beneath a ledge, pulled in some tumbleweed for camouflage and waited.

  Dust. Spider webs. The allergenic Russian thistle in front of his face. A layer of juniper twigs and cactus joints sprinkled with tiny turds covered the floor under his belly—some provident pack rat, years before, had left this behind. Waiting, not patiently, palms sweaty and stomach sick with fear, Hayduke watched a pair of ants climb up the barrel of his revolver. Where’d they come from? The ants clung to the front sight. Before he could flick them off they crawled down the sight and disappeared into the bore. Now there’s the place to hide. What would they make of the groovy rifling and the hollow-pointed bulge of lead blocking the end of the tunnel?

  Hayduke wiped his damp hands on his shirt, one at a time, keeping the revolver out of the dirt. He cleared his throat, as if about to speak, and steadied his grip on the weapon—that comforting, solid and hefty magnum presence in his hand.

  Male voices approaching. He reversed the greasy bandanna around his neck and pulled it up to his eyes. What was it Doc always liked to say? To the question: Wilderness, who needs it? Doc would say: Because we like the taste of freedom, comrades. Because we like the smell of danger. But, thought Hayduke, what about the smell of fear, Dad? Masked like a frontier outlaw, filled with dread, he waited for his next big moment.

  Here they come.

  The three approached in single file, for the gulch was narrow. From fifty feet away Hayduke could smell their sweat, feel their weariness. In the lead was the helicopter pilot, a red-faced young man with a big mustache, wearing army-style green fatigues, a long-billed cap, Wellington boots; like a combat pilot he wore a pistol in a shoulder holster under his left arm.

  In the rear walked the man with the carbine, which he now carried slung over one shoulder. He was dressed in the uniform of a Burns Agency security guard: tight shirt with tin pawnshop badge and shoulder patch, straw cowboy hat, tight pants, cowboy-style boots with high heels and pointy toes, not good for desert exercises. This man looked older, bigger and brawnier than the pilot and just as tired. He limped. Both were sweating hard. Bonnie had given them a good run.

  In the middle walked the captive, not too proudly, looking sullen, frightened and beautiful. Her hat was missing, the long mane of hair hung half across her heat-flushed face. She held her hands clasped together in front of her stomach, the wrists bound with handcuffs.

  Hayduke had only a vague notion of what ought to happen next. Should we begin shooting? Shoot to kill or shoot to maim? With that cannon he held in both hands now it would be hard to merely maim; any hit would remove something substantial. Doc and Smith and Bonnie would not approve. So what? He had them covered now, he had the drop. Should he stop them at once? Or wait until they began the climb up over the slippery sandstone to the rim above?

  The trio approached. The pilot was frowning. “That’s right, kid,” he said, looking for a way up out of the gulch, “you don’t have to tell him anything. Name, rank and measurements, that’s all.”

  The guard said, “I don’t care what the hell her name is but she got to show me her sex identification. I guess I know my Constitutional rights. Right, girlie?” He poked her in the butt with two large stiff fingers.

  Bonnie jerked aside. “Keep your hands off me.” The guard, stumbling, did something painful to his game leg.

  “Oh, shit,” he moaned.

  The pilot stopped, looking back. “Leave her alone, leave her alone.”

  The guard sat down on the ground, massaging his ankle. “Christ, that hurts. You got an Ace bandage in that kit of yours?”

  “Maybe I do and maybe I don’t. Leave the girl alone.” The pilot looked around—toward the black shadow of the ledge where Hayduke lay crouched twenty feet away, toward the dry watercourse beyond, and up at the rounded hump of sandstone over his head.

  “Isn’t this where you came down?” The slickrock, easy enough to descend, not so easy to climb, rose twelve feet at this point above the bottom of the gully. “How about it?” he said to Bonnie.

  “I don’t know.” She stared at the ground.

  “Well it looks right to me. I don’t see anyplace else unless we go clear back to where the great lover”—jerking a thumb at the guard—“where he came in.” A false smile from the Burns man.

  The pilot gave it a try. The rock curved upward at an average angle of 30 degrees. There were some niches big enough for fingers and toes. His leather-soled boots gave him little traction but he was agile. Using all fours, he had climbed halfway up the face of the rock when he heard, everybody heard, loud and clear, the sound of someone cocking a revolver. First click: half cock. Second click: full cock.

  Perched uneasily on fingertips and toes, the pilot stopped and looked down. The security guard, surprised but reacting, raised a hand to unsling the carbine. Hayduke fired a shot over his head, closer than intended; the slug nicked the crown of the guard’s hat. Two ants were launched on ballistic flight into the wild blue yonder.

  The discharge made a shocking blast which startled everyone, not least of all Hayduke, and he was familiar with the roar of a .357 magnum. There were no echoes. In the one percent humidity of desert air the sound vanished almost as quickly as the bullet. A clang of hammer on anvil—and the stillness rushed back.

  No one moved though all looked toward the dark shadow under the ledge.

  Hayduke tried to think of what to do next. The pilot, finely balanced on his rock, was immobilized for the moment. That left the man with the carbine.

  “Bonnie,” he whispered. It sounded like the rustling of a dead leaf. He clared his throat. “Bonnie,” he croaked, “get that carbine.”

  Bonnie stared toward the hidden voice. “Carbine?” she said. “Carbine?”

  The guard was alert. His furtive hand began to move again. Hayduke recocked the revolver, firm and businesslike. The hand stopped.

  “Get the guy’s gun,” Hayduke said. He glanced up at the perched helicopter pilot. Two keen blue eyes burned back at him through the concealing weed, into his shadow.

  Bonnie stepped close to the guard’s shoulder, extending her handcuffed hands toward the forestock of the carb
ine. His hands, resting on the ground, were doing a nervous finger dance.

  “Don’t get between me and him.”

  Bonnie gulped. “Right.” Moving behind the guard she stepped, not necessarily meaning to, on the man’s hand with her lug-soled boot.

  “Jesus!”

  “Sorry.” She took the weapon from his shoulder and backed off. The guard scowled, looking at the waffle-iron imprint on the back of his hand.

  Hayduke slid out from under the ledge, rose to his knees and aimed his revolver up at the pilot’s crotch. “All right. Now you. Unbuckle that holster.”

  “I can’t let go,” the pilot said. “I’ll slip.”

  “Then slip.”

  “Okay, okay, wait a minute.” The pilot raised one hand and fumbled with the buckle. “Man,” he sighed, muscles quivering, calves beginning to tremble from the strain.

  Holster, strap and weapon came sliding down the rock. Hayduke stood up a bit shakily, unholstered the pistol and stuck it in his belt. “Bon—Gertrude, you stand over here beside me.” He waited. She came. “All right, now you come on down.” He waved the big revolver at the pilot. The pilot eased himself down. The two men faced Hayduke. What to do now? “I think I’ll kill you both,” he said.

  “Wait a minute, friend,” the pilot began.

  “He’s kidding,” Bonnie said. She looked more frightened than the men.

  “Well goddammit, I don’t know why I shouldn’t,” Hayduke said. The intoxication of absolute power, the power of life and death, was getting to him all right. Despite twelve months in the Central Highlands with the Montagnards, despite his Green Beret and Special Forces rating as demolitions specialist, George Hayduke had never killed a man. Not even a Vietnamese man. Not even a Vietnamese woman. Not even a Vietnamese child. At least, not to the best of his knowledge.

  The fury and frustration of those years bubbled up like swamp gas, like an evil methane, to the surface of his consciousness. And here was a helicopter pilot, most despised of all, a real live helicopter pilot, probably from Vietnam, at his mercy. The right age: he looked like a vet. Why not kill the evil bastard? Hayduke like many men had a not-so-secret longing to cut at least one notch on his gun butt. He too wanted a tragic past. At another man’s expense.

  Providing, of course, that he could get away with it. Providing of course it was “justifiable homicide.”

  “Why shouldn’t I kill the bastard?” he said aloud.

  “Well you’re not going to,” his love said, hanging on to his right arm.

  He shrugged off her restraining hands. Shifting the revolver to his left hand but keeping it trained on the pilot—“You sit down beside your buddy. Yeah, that’s right. Just sit down there on the rocks”—he took the carbine from Bonnie and checked the action. One in the chamber and a full clip. Both hands full, he reholstered his revolver and leveled the carbine, hip high, point blank, at the two human beings sitting there, twenty feet away, alive and breathing in the fresh air, the cheerful sunlight, of the great American Southwest. A bird sang (rufous-sided towhee) down the gulch somewhere, and life generally looked good. A good day for dying too, no doubt, but all present were willing to put off till tomorrow what they didn’t have to do today.

  “How about—” Bonnie began.

  “Why the hell shouldn’t I?” Hayduke was dripping sweat, the little carbine shaking in his hairy, white-knuckled hands.

  “Don’t be crazy,” she said. “They didn’t hurt me. Now get this thing off me.”

  He blinked at the handcuffs. Two bracelets of black plastic, joined by a twelve-inch band of the same. “Where’s the key?” He turned his masked face, red eyes glaring in the shade of the hard hat’s beak, toward the security guard. “Where’s the key?” he roared.

  “Ain’t no key,” the man mumbled. “You got to cut it.”

  “You dirty liar.”

  “No, no, he’s right.” Bonnie’s hands were on his arm again. “They’re plastic throwaways. Get your knife out.”

  “Can’t you see I’m busy?”

  “Please, get your knife.”

  The men watched him closely. The pilot, big mustache drooping, grinned a nervous grin, his blue eyes bright and alert. A nice-looking kid, by recruiting-poster standards. He probably had a mother and a little sister back in Homer City, Pennsylvania. Never mind that he was also, in Hayduke’s inflamed imagination, a mass murderer, a burner of huts, a roaster of children.

  “Okay, Leopold,” Hayduke said, slightly confused, “you too, fella; both of you lie down. Face down. Yeah. Hands on the back of your head. That’s right. Stay that way. Don’t move.” Hayduke tucked the carbine between his thighs, pulled his knife and sliced apart Abbzug’s bonds. “Let’s get out of here,” he whispered. “Quick. Before I kill somebody.”

  “Give me the gun.”

  “No.”

  “Give it to me.”

  “No. You climb up there. I’ll hand it up to you.”

  Bonnie picked off her manacles. “All right.” She put her lips close to Hayduke’s filthy ear, bit the lobe, whispered, “I love you you crazy bastard.”

  “Get up there.”

  She scrambled up the slope of stone easily, her Vibram soles gripping the surface like lizard pads.

  Hayduke handed up the carbine. “Keep them covered.” He drew his revolver, cocked it. “Okay, you guys, roll over. Right. Now pull off your boots. That’s right. Now throw them up to … to Thelma there.” They obeyed. “That’s right. Now.”

  The two men waited, watching him intently, eagerly, with complete undivided attention. As any sane man would, facing the dark hole, bottomless as oblivion, of a .357 magnum held in the shaky hand of an obvious lunatic.

  Kill them now? Or later?

  “Take off your pants.”

  This command drew protest. The guard, with a feeble laugh, perhaps an attempt at levity, said, “There’s a lady present.”

  Hayduke raised his gun and squeezed off a shot two feet above the guard’s head, knocking a chunk of stone out of the wall. The dart of flame, the crash of shock waves splitting the air. The invisible bullet, a mangled asteroid of lead, ricocheted off the rock and zigzagged down the gulch. A cascade of pulverized sandstone pattered on the brim of the guard’s hat and into the neck of his shirt.

  Hayduke recocked.

  Skinner was right; persuasive reinforcement works. Both men pulled off their pants, quickly if not gracefully. The pilot wore, underneath, chic trim purple briefs which he may have been pleased to reveal to Bonnie, watching from above. The guard, older and more conservative, probably a Republican, wore conventional middle-American pee-stained shorts. He had a right to object.

  “Okay,” said Hayduke, “now take out your billfolds or whatever—keep that—and throw your pants up on top.” They obeyed, though the guard had to throw his pants up twice before they reached the rim and stayed. “Now lie down again, on your stomach, like before, hands on your necks. Right. Stay that way, please, or I’ll blast both you cocksuckers into eternity.” Hayduke liked that majestic phrase so much he repeated it. “Blast you cocksuckers—into eternity!” he hollered, holstering his gun and creeping up the slope of stone.

  On the rim they held a hurried consultation, then Hayduke hustled off to the helicopter with an armload of pants and boots. Bonnie stayed where she was, carbine cradled in her slender arms, watching the prisoners. The sun, plying westward, had only an inch to go to reach the horizon.

  Hayduke, at the helicopter, tossed the clothes into the cockpit. He glanced at the smashed-up radio and regretted his haste. Would be nice to know what communications were flying back and forth right now, on the short waves of the air. He considered for a moment the controls of the machine. I wonder…. No, no, there was no time for that. Though he could go back and get the pilot, make him…. No! Not enough time; have to get out of here. Fast.

  He drew the pilot’s automatic from his belt and fired a shot into the instrument panel. Messy. He turned to the rotor head and shot up the sw
ash-plate, the lag hinges, the rotor blades, the fucking ball bearings. Only three or four rounds left and he didn’t want to waste any of his own ammunition. He fired the last two rounds into the fuel tanks, mounted on cross plates above the engine, close behind the cockpit. High-octane aviation gasoline streamed down into the works.

  He found some flight maps in the cockpit, crumpled them together, lit them with a match and tossed the flaming ball onto the sand beneath the engine. He backed away. The ball of paper burned, then soared upward in a rich yellow spurt of flame as the first dribbles of fuel got to it.

  Hayduke threw the pilot’s gun into the flames and turned and moved off farther, quickly, as the fire spread over the engine and reached toward the fuel tanks. A mushrooming explosion shook the air—whoomp!—and the fire leaped upward, casting a violent glare across the sundown scene, paused at apogee and sank back upon the helicopter, draping the entire machine from cockpit to tail rotor in a film of sticky, busy, energetic flames.

  Well, surmised Hayduke, feeling satisfied at last, I reckon this one’s had it. Cooked. This fuckin’ fucker’s fucked. Full of goodwill, he turned to Bonnie. “Come on.”

  “What about these men?”

  “Shoot them, kiss them, what do I care?” he yelled gaily. “Come on, come on.”

  Bonnie looked at Hayduke, then down at her two prisoners. She hesitated. “Here’s your gun,” she said, lobbing it down into the twilight of the gulch. The handy little firearm (U.S. Army .30 caliber semiautomatic) clattered brutally on the rocks, breaking. “Sorry. We have to go now. You can—”

  “Come on!” barked Hayduke, waving his arm.

  “You can get warm at the fire after we leave.” She took off after her lover.

  Side by side they ran past the melting helicopter into the shadows of the junipers.

  “Where’s the carbine?”

  “I gave it back to them.”

  “You what!”

  “It was their gun.”

  “For Christ’s sake.” Hayduke paused to look back. Nobody had yet begun to emerge from the dark cleft in the slickrock. Bonnie stopped too. “You keep going, I’ll catch up.” He drew his revolver and fired a snap shot over the rim of the gulch, just to keep things quiet and respectful down in there. Nobody replied. They ran on. The sun went down.