The Monkey Wrench Gang 30

  “Have a nice day,” the waitress screamed after him, obeying her standing orders from the management; “come back again soon.”

  Hayduke bolted past the bishop’s new V-8 Blazer, regretting he lacked time to snatch the keys or shoot up the tires. He had only a glimpse of Love’s loaded gun racks inside, the pennant on the aerial, before he pivoted around the corner and galloped up the road toward the Frigid Queen. Energy he never knew he had coursed through his veins, arced the spark gaps of his nerves, electrified his muscles. Feet don’t fail me now. Roars of rage followed not far behind, the slamming and reslamming of the door, outcries, shouts, the thump of running feet. Look back? Not yet.

  The drive-in. He swung around the corner and slid behind the wheel of the jeep. As he started the engine he allowed himself a glance back. The younger Love, running full tilt toward him, had covered half the distance. A big man but not fast. Bishop Love, swabbing his face with a towel, staggered out the door of the café, howling for his brother, and groped toward the door of his Blazer.

  Drive wheels spinning, flinging gravel, Hayduke fishtailed his jeep toward the highway. The younger Love sagged against the wall of the Frigid Queen, gasping, then wheeled around and lumbered back toward his bellowing brother.

  Hayduke’s Plan: get the hell out of there. He coaxed his groaning jeep toward its maximum speed. Not near fast enough. He’d have a lead of maybe a mile before the Love brothers stopped fighting over who’s to drive and got their powerful vehicle cranked up, turned around and started on his trail. Not nearly enough. Hayduke’s only chance was to get off the pavement and out into the bush. What bush? He was down in the San Juan River desert, a wasteland of red rock and purple conglomerate where nothing grew but snakeweed, match-weed, povertyweed and tumbleweed. The high plateau where shelter lay was ten miles to the north. All uphill. He’d never make it. Think of something else, man.

  Mexican Hat’s one and only auto graveyard came into view, a decorative sprawl of old, wrecked, abandoned and cannibalized motorcars. Hayduke looked in his rearview mirror: the yellow Blazer not yet in sight. He whipped the jeep off the highway, through a gap in the fence and into the middle of the derelicts. Stopped and waited. Half a minute later the Love brothers came over the hill and rushed past not fifty yards from Hayduke’s nose. By the sound of their engine they were still in second gear, winding it up. The bishop drove; his brother held a shotgun upright between his knees.

  Hayduke gave them a mile lead, then followed. No choice. He couldn’t go the other way, south, back to Arizona. No friends down there anymore. He had to get up on that plateau and through the woods to his mates at the Hidden Splendor. So he followed his pursuers.

  Three miles out of Mexican Hat the highway forked, the main branch leading east to Bluff and Blanding, the left branch—only partially paved—leading north to the high country, the canyons, liberty, sex and free beer.

  The bishop, pursuing an out-of-sight fugitive, had to make the first decision. Would he be dumb enough to choose the east branch, leaving Hayduke a wide-open avenue of escape? Or would he take the road to the left, meanwhile radioing ahead to Bluff and Blanding, alerting the Utah Highway Patrol, the Sheriff’s Office, the rest of the San Juan County Search and Rescue Team? Bishop Love, though full of rage and no intellectual, took the left fork.

  Hayduke, lagging far behind, saw the bishop’s choice and took the right fork. Directly into the waiting arms of the “authorities”? Maybe, and then again, maybe not. Though not intimately familiar with this area, as Seldom Seen was and as the bishop surely was, Hayduke had studied the maps often enough to remember that several miles ahead there was a dirt road leading off the highway to the left into something which the county Chamber of Commerce had named Valley of the Gods. Did the road dead-end? Climb to the plateau? Loop back to the highway? Hayduke didn’t know and he didn’t have time to make local inquiries. In a few minutes the bishop was going to realize that his quarry had somehow doubled back and was behind not ahead of him.

  Grinding up the highway on the shoulder of an utterly treeless monocline, Hayduke watched for the dirt road, found it and veered left, gearing down. He bounced through a rocky gully and splashed across a sheet of water spread six inches thin on a slab of bedrock. He followed the road up the other side, which was bad but not bad enough. Sometime in the recent past someone had worked the road with a grader, trying to make it accessible to tourist traffic. Hayduke kept going, raising a cloud of dust across the wide-open desert plain. If the bishop didn’t see that he was indeed blind with rage.

  The road proceeded generally northward, following the contours of the landscape. Ahead a group of monoliths loomed against the sky, eroded remnants of naked rock with the profiles of Egyptian deities. Beyond stood the red wall of the plateau, rising fifteen hundred feet above the desert in straight, unsealed, perhaps unscalable cliffs. Hayduke had to find his way to the top of that plateau if he was to join his friends at the assembly point.

  The jeep was stirring up too much dust. Hayduke stopped to look around, relax for a few minutes. He was beginning to think he might already have escaped. He hung his field glasses around his neck and climbed to the high point on a nearby stub of a hill.

  All around, nothing but the wilds. Mexican Hat, the only humanly inhabited place within a radius of twenty miles, lay out of view below the swell of the monocline. In all directions he saw only the rolling desert, red rock dotted by scrubby vegetation, with a few cottonwoods down in the washes. Mountains and plateaus, floating on heat waves, walled the far horizon.

  Dust clouds approached from the south and west. He raised the glasses to his eyes. On the road to the west, beyond the buttes and pinnacles in the foreground, he saw a shiny object made of metal coming fast—right: one yellow Chevy Blazer jouncing over ruts and rocks, scarlet pennon flying from the tip of the whiptail radio antenna. Rolling up from the south on the road Hayduke himself was taking came another Blazer, and another, both advancing at a fast clip, aerials gleaming, hardware sparkling under the glance of the sun. Hayduke followed the two roads with the glasses and found where they connected a few miles farther, westward among the Chamber of Commerce gods. The Searchers and Rescuers had him cut off and they were closing in. No more than ten, maybe fifteen minutes away.

  “But I ain’t lost,” Hayduke said, “I don’t wanta be rescued.” For a moment panic struck him: Throw down your pack and run. Crawl in a hole and weep. Lay down, shut your eyes, give up.

  But he suppressed the panic—the sphincter held—and turning away from his pursuers he studied the lay of the land to the north and northeast. North he found nothing but the wall of the plateau; northeast, however, a trace of a trail road wound among the gods, dipped into a ravine and disappeared, reappearing on a narrow juniper-studded ridge toward a drop-off point. A dead end? From here he could not tell.

  Hayduke sprang down the knoll and into his jeep. He started the engine, then jumped out again to lock the front wheel hubs and remove some brush caught in the winch. Seated once more, he shifted into first and drove off. Immediately the rooster tail of dust began to rise, revealing his position. Couldn’t be helped.

  Rumbling on at maximum feasible speed plus ten, he scanned the terrain ahead for the trail road he’d spotted from the knoll. Though not hard to see from up there, it was now invisible. Slabs of sunburnt sandstone in stratified terraces blocked his view. A lone juniper moved past on his left. He remembered it; the trail road diverged in this vicinity. Though the seconds were suddenly vital again, he had to stop and climb onto the hood of the jeep. Surveying the rocky jumble beyond his radiator he saw the parallel tracks peeling off through sand across a wash and up the hill eastward.

  Back at the wheel, Hayduke geared down to first, transferred into low range and plowed through the sand and up over the rocks. At the top he paused to glance back. Three dust clouds were coming closer from two directions, closing a ten-mile triangle of which he was the vertex.

  He hurried on. The road twisted a
mong clumps of rabbit brush and scrub thorn, detoured around the pedestals of five-hundred-foot-high monuments. Despite local variations the trail kept rising; the needle on his altimeter gained another hundred feet, a few more scrubby junipers appeared. Hayduke realized that he was proceeding up the escarpment which he had seen from the lookout point at his first stop—junipers getting bigger, more numerous as the road wound toward the eastern skyline. Riding mostly on rock now, his vehicle no longer stirred up a funnel of dust. But that was not much help. Though three miles behind and not gaining, the bishop and his Team could see Hayduke’s jeep plain enough by line of sight.

  What did Hayduke hope to find at the end of this rising wave of slickrock and juniper? He didn’t know; he no longer had a plan. He merely hoped, and kept going.

  One tall and healthy-looking juniper, well anchored in the stone, as its wind-sculpted branches testified, stood in photogenic silhouette against the sky. Beyond it, apparently, lay a void. With that tree as his goal, for want of any better, Hayduke drove on and upward. He was no longer following anything that resembled a road. The road had faded out on the slickrock a half mile behind.

  He drove as far as the tree and there he had to halt. Land’s end. Fifteen feet beyond the tree was the edge, the rimrock, the verge of a big drop-off. Hayduke got out and looked, and found himself on the brink of a cliff. Not merely a vertical cliff but an overhanging cliff, the rim of a projecting scarp. Hayduke was unable, because of the overhang, to see down to the juncture of the cliff face and bench of stone below. How far below? He estimated the fall at one hundred feet.

  The lower bench or ledge sloped gently into a sandy wash which led in turn, through badland domes, knobs and turrets of eroded stone, to the broad avenue of sand, gray-green with sage and shaded by groves of cottonwoods, called Comb Wash. Comb Wash ran north and south for fifty miles below the wall of Comb Ridge. Some forty miles north of this point ran the highway project. Beyond that was the old road to Natural Bridges, Fry Canyon, Hite—and off on a northerly spur (abandoned), the remains of the Hidden Splendor uranium mine, sixty-five miles away.

  A long hike and Hayduke was already four days late for the get-together. He might escape on foot, even from here—somewhere along this bluff there might be a place where he could rappel down by rope from the rim—but that meant surrendering his prize jeep with its roll bars, winch, auxiliary fuel tank, beer-can holder tilt meters, Guru Maharaji decal, “Think Hopi” sticker, wide wheels, special weapons, tools, camping and climbing gear, topo maps, Gideon’s Bible and The Book of Mormon (stolen from the Page motel) and other treasures to that bunch of vigilantes behind him. No way. Not if he could help it. But could he? He looked over the edge of the cliff again. It really was an overhanging drop-off. It really was at least a hundred feet down. He recalled Dr. Sarvis’s favorite apothegm: “When the situation is hopeless, there’s nothing to worry about.”

  He turned to weigh the pursuit. The bishop and his Team were two miles back, coming slowly but steadily up the scarp. In the stillness he could hear, despite the distance, the throaty roar of those big V-8 engines. Gas hogs but powerful. Hayduke estimated he had about ten minutes.

  Bishop Love was a patient man. Patient, methodical and painstaking. Though his face and neck still burned from the scalding coffee, he would not allow hatred to interfere with his judgment, his caution, his concern for his men. With the hairy gentile still distant but plainly trapped, he called by radio for consultation and stopped. Waiting for the others, he got out and studied the subject through binoculars. Focusing, he looked at bulging stone, the scattered trees and yucca plants in organic pockets of soil and, farthest out, way on the end of a geological limb, the patch of sun-bleached blue which gave away the location of the jeep, pitifully ill-concealed behind that large but final juniper.

  Love knew what lay beyond that edge of rock. He himself had pioneered this very road, decades before, when staking out his claims during the first big uranium rush in ’52. You heathen sonofabitch, the bishop thought, grinning in his entrails, we got you now. Glassing the criminal youth’s position, he detected furtive movements behind the tree. Take care, he reminded himself. Consider armed and dangerous.

  His men came up and joined him. They conferred. Bishop Love advised a vehicular advance of one more mile, stopping just beyond rifle range. From there they would proceed on foot, armed of course, in a broad skirmish line, with one man out wide on either flank to prevent the fugitive’s possible escape along the rimrock. Agreed? Bishop Love’s request for consensus was a courtesy only; in fact his suggestions, in the firm hierarchy of the Church, carried the authority of commands. His companions, all of them full-grown men with businesses of their own, nodded like good soldiers. All but the bishop’s younger brother, who was, sad to say, somewhat of a jack Mormon.

  “And be careful,” the bishop concluded. “That unwashed bastard might have a gun. He just might be crazy enough to shoot.”

  “Well then,” said the brother, “maybe we should radio the sheriff. Might be a good idea to have a little air support here. In case that rascal manages to creep away over the rocks, maybe?”

  The bishop, fifty-five, looked with humorous squint of eye and a hint of sarcastic grin at his kid brother, forty-eight. “Think we need help, Sam? There’s one of him and six of us and you think we need help?”

  “He’d be a lot easier to spot from the air.”

  “How’s he gonna get down off that rim out there?”

  “I don’t know.”

  “Maybe we ought to call in the state police too? Maybe the Air National Guard? Helicopters, maybe? Puff the Magic Dragon? Maybe a tank?”

  The other men chuckled, shuffling their feet in embarrassment. Big men, strong, competent, shrewd; two of them ran gas stations and auto repair shops in Blanding; one owned and operated a motel in the village of Bluff; one managed a feedlot and a six-hundred-acre pinto-bean ranch on the dry upland near Monticello; the bishop’s brother worked as chief engineer for the El Paso Natural Gas Company’s pumping station at Aneth, southeast of Blanding. (A very responsible position.)

  As for Bishop Love himself, Search and Rescue was only a hobby; he was not only a bishop of the church but also served as chairman of the county commission, planned to run soon for the Utah State Assembly and higher office after that, owned the Chevrolet agency in Blanding, several uranium mines active and inactive (including that old one on Deer Flat above Natural Bridges), and a half interest in the marina complex at Hall’s Crossing. And eight children. A busy man; too busy, perhaps. His physician, frowning over Love’s cardiograms, advised him twice a year to slow down a bit; the bishop said he would when he got the time.

  “Okay, Dudley,” the younger brother said, “make a joke out of it. All the same, we ought to call the Sheriff’s Office.”

  “I don’t need any help,” the bishop said. “I got a deputy’s commission and I aim to use it. I’m gonna take care of that hairy little hoodlum up there and I’ll do it all by myself if I have to. You fellas can go home if that’s what you want to do.”

  “Hold it, Bishop,” the motel operator said, “don’t get your back up. We’re all goin’ with you.”

  “That’s right,” the bean-ranch manager said.

  “Just what do you have in mind when we get him, Dudley?” his brother said.

  The bishop grinned and tenderly, gingerly, touched his inflamed face. “Well first I’ll take my needle-nose pliers and remove a couple of his toenails. Then his back teeth. Then I’m gonna ask him where Seldom Seen is, and that Dr. Sarvis and that little whore of a girl they transport around with ’em. We might get them all on the Mann Act, come to think of it—crossing the state line for immoral purposes. Then we’ll bring in the whole bunch ourselves and we won’t need no sheriff’s department or state police to help neither. I don’t have anything else I have to do today. You fellas with me?”

  They all nodded, except the brother.

  “How about you?” the bishop said.

>  “I’m coming,” he said. “Somebody has to keep a rein on you, J. Dudley, or next thing we know you’ll be running for Governor.”

  The men smiled, including the bishop himself.

  “I’ll get around to that later. Right now let’s go jump that rabbit out of his bush.”

  They climbed back in their machines and advanced as planned. Within a mile of the objective Love stopped and got out. The others joined him. All were well armed—pistols, carbines, shotguns. Love issued his orders and the Team spread out laterally toward the sides of the ridge. He raised his field glasses to check on the quarry but the rise of the land prevented direct observation. He looked to either side; his men were ready, watching him. He made a forward motion with his right arm, the squad leader’s signal to advance. All began to walk forward, crouching, keeping in the cover of junipers and pinyon pines, holding their weapons at port. The bishop’s brother Sam stayed close by the bishop: where each wanted the other.

  A fierce hot high noon in San Juan County—thunder on the air, some more than decorative clouds in the southeast quarter of the sky, dazzling sunlight on the stone, the trees, the bayonetlike leaves of the yucca. No one noticed the desert marigolds, purple asters, mule-ear sunflowers in bloom here and there, in the sandy basins in the rock. The Team had better game.

  “Did you take your digitalis today, Dudley?”

  “Yes, I took my digitalis today, Sam.”

  “Just asking.”

  “Okay. Then shut up.”

  Bishop Love jacked a cartridge into the firing chamber of his carbine and lowered the hammer. He was enjoying himself; hadn’t felt so good since mopping-up days on Okinawa. He was Lieutenant Love then, platoon leader, Bronze Star, building a good war record for later use. Heart expanding, the bishop even felt for a moment a trace of sympathy for the trapped Jap, the loser out there on land’s end, cowering behind his jeep, pants stinking with fear.

  The Search and Rescue Team advanced tactically, two dodging forward while the others stood ready to provide covering fire if needed. But there was no shooting from the fugitive’s position. The Team advanced, crouching low, for the rim was less than four hundred yards away and the trees were scattered. The six men crept forward in plain view of one another, halted, waited, listened.