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The Monkey Wrench Gang
The Monkey Wrench Gang 31
“I heard a motor,” the brother said.
“That ain’t possible, Sam,” the bishop replied. He wanted to use his field glasses but so close to the enemy hesitated to put down his weapon. “I don’t hear nothin’.”
They listened intently. There was no sound, no sound whatsoever but the faintest sighing of the breeze in the juniper boughs and the occasional irrelevant twittering of birds.
“I thought I did,” the brother said. “You say he’s behind that last tree?”
“I can’t see the jeep.”
“It’s there, don’t worry about that.” The bishop looked left then right at his men. They waited, watching him. All were sweating, all looked red-faced but resolute. The bishop turned toward the point of the ridge, the last juniper tree, which was obscured by other trees and barely visible from where he stood. He cupped his hands around his mouth and shouted, “You up there! Rudolf, whatever your name is! You hear me?”
No answer but the passing air, the distant jabbering of pinyon jays, the soft hoot of one great horned owl from beyond and below the rim.
The bishop yelled again. “You better come down outa there, Rudolf. There’s six of us. You answer or we’re gonna shoot.” He waited.
No response except a second useless taunt from the owl.
The bishop cocked his weapon, nodded to his men. They took aim and fired, all but the brother, in the general area of the tall juniper, which shook visibly from the blast of buckshot and bullets.
The bishop raised his hand. “Hold your fire!” The echoes of the gunnery rolled away, down the monocline and off across the Valley of the Gods, dying out against the walls and promontories of the plateau, five, ten, twenty miles away.
“Rudolf?” the bishop shouted. “You comin’ down?” He waited. No reply but the birds. “Keep me covered,” he said to his brother. “I’m gonna root that devil outa there.”
“I’m going with you.”
“Stay here.” Whispering: “That’s an order.”
“Don’t give me that bullshit, Dudley. I’m going with you.”
Bishop Love spat on the ground. “All right, Sam, get yourself killed.” He yelled at the other four men, “Keep us covered.” To his brother: “Let’s go.”
They dodged from tree to tree up the last rise of land and hit the dirt—but there was no dirt—hit the rock within plain view of the ultimate tree, the rim of the drop-off.
No question about it now, he was gone. Rudolf had disappeared. His jeep had disappeared too. Nothing remained but the lone juniper, a cracked plate of sandstone lying near its base and a few spots of grease, a few slivers of steel scattered about on the ground.
“He’s not here,” the brother said.
“It ain’t possible.”
“Even the jeep’s not here.”
“I can see that. I ain’t blind, goddammit.” Bishop Love rose to his knees, staring at the positive, definite, almost tangible, almost palpable presence of nothing. Sweat dripped from his nose. “But it ain’t possible.”
They walked to the edge and looked over. All they saw was what was there: the bench of bare stone a hundred feet or so below, the corroded badlands, the gulches, draws and arroyos draining their arid beds of sand and rubble toward Comb Wash, the high sheer façade of Comb Ridge beyond the wash, the mountains beyond the ridge.
Sam smiled at his brother. “Well, Governor …?”
“Shut up. I’m trying to think.”
“First time for everything.”
“Shut up. Hunker down in the shade here and let’s figure this out.”
“Maybe now you’ll radio the sheriff.”
Bishop Love plucked a stem of grass and stuck it in his teeth. Squatting on his broad hams he scratched at the ground with a stick. “I’ll call the sheriff when I catch this bastard,” he said. “Him and his evil crew. That’s when I call the sheriff. Not before.”
“Okay. Fine. Let’s catch them. How?”
The bishop squinted at the sun and frowned at his brother and looked again at the tree and back at the stony ground between his boots. He chewed and he scratched and he thought. “I’m workin’ on it.”
“Gee, then what happened?” She stared at him with awestruck eyes, mouth agape in mock astonishment.
“There you were,” Doc said, “trapped on the edge of a hundred-foot cliff …”
“There I was.”
“With the bishop and his fanatic henchmen coming toward you, armed to the teeth and black vengeance in their hearts …”
“That’s about it.” George popped the top from his fourth can of Schlitz within the last thirty minutes.
“No way down and no way out …”
“Six of them against one of you …”
“Six of them against only one of me. Yeah. Shit.” He tilted the can to his grimy muzzle. They heard these awful schlurping sounds, watched his hairy Adam’s apple bobbing. Smith, turning the spit on which their supper was impaled, smiled thoughtfully, gazing at the flames. Dr. Sarvis sipped at his Wild Turkey and pothole water, while Bonnie Abbzug smoked her “Ovaltine.”
Back in the evening shadows, under the dappled light and shade cast by the camouflage net draped from the pinyon pines, Smith’s truck stood parked; snug against it the blanched, blue and wrinkled jeep, its hood, top, seat and tarp-covered load all coated with an inch of auburn dust. There was a jagged, star-shaped hole big as a football in the windshield.
“Well, what did you do?”
“Come on, George.”
George lowered the can of beer. Smith was looking at him; he winked at Smith. He looked at Bonnie and Doc. “Oh, Christ, it’s a complicated story. You don’t want to hear it all. Let’s just say I got down off of there and drove up Comb Wash and hit the road and what the fuck here I am. Give me a hit on that.”
They stared at him in silence. Bonnie passed the weed. Doc lit up a fresh Marsh-Wheeling. Seldom Seen turned the spit.
“Okay,” Bonnie said, “forget it. Let’s talk about something else. What shall we talk about?”
“But if you insist—”
“No, that’s all right.”
“If you insist—”
Smith said, “You winched her down.”
“Of course. How else.” George grinned proudly at them all and in the short pause which followed elbowed the beer once more up to his face. He looked gaunt, filthy, starving, his eyes bloodshot from sun glare and strain, ringed like a raccoon’s with dark circles of exhaustion. Nevertheless he wasn’t ready to crash. Too tired to sleep, he had explained.
“What’s this about a wench?” Bonnie wanted to know.
“The winch,” Hayduke said. “That thing on the front. Got a hundred and fifty foot of cable there. Nothing to it.”
“Now wait a minute,” Doc said. “Are you trying to tell us you winched that jeep down over the cliff?”
“An overhanging cliff?”
“That’s what us rock climbers call a free rappel,” Smith explained.
“Free repel?” says Doc. “What you mean, free repel?”
“Rappel, rappel. Rappel de corde,” Bonnie explains. “C’est un moyen de descendre une roche verticale avec une corde double, récupérable ensuite”
“Exactly,” says Hayduke.
“We do it all the time,” Smith said. “Only not with a jeep very often. In fact nobody never done it with a jeep before, far as I know, and if I didn’t know George here was an honest man I’d be inclined to suspect he was maybe stretching the truth a little bit. Not exactly lying, mind you, I’d never suspect George of anything like that, but maybe just, well—”
“Simplifying the truth,” Bonnie suggested.
“That’s right, or may
be even oversimplifying it some.”
“Yeah,” Hayduke said. “Well, shit, don’t believe me if you don’t want to. But there’s the jeep, right before your goddamned eyes.” He passed Bonnie’s little custom-made back to her.
“It looks like the same jeep,” Smith admitted. “But it don’t have to be. It could be one of them what they call reasonable fact-similes. But I ain’t saying it ain’t possible. I’ve winched my truck up and down some pretty steep pitches. But I got to admit I hain’t never done a free rappel with a truck.”
“Very well,” Doc said, “let’s assume, if only for the novelty of it, that George is not lying. But I have some technical questions. I didn’t know, for one thing, that a winch can be operated in reverse.”
“Wouldn’t be much use if it couldn’t,” Hayduke said.
“And you anchored the cable to that juniper tree?”
Bonnie started to interrupt. “But—”
Hayduke set down his beer can, already empty, and reached for another. “Listen,” he said, “do you want to hear the whole story or not? Okay, then shut up and I’ll tell you exactly what I did. When I saw the bishop and his men were going to give me enough time, the first thing I did was get out my rock rope and measure the descent. My rope is a hundred and twenty feet long. The drop was about one hundred and ten feet. That meant problems. If the descent was seventy-five feet or less I could’ve done a true rappel with the jeep. There’s one hundred and fifty feet of cable on the winch, remember. I could’ve doubled the cable around the tree trunk and hooked the running end to the frame and drove the jeep down to the bottom—”
“And sawed off the tree,” said Smith.
“Right. Maybe. And when I got to the bottom I could’ve unhooked the running end and retrieved the cable without any trouble. But it was too far down. That meant I had to leave the running end of the cable on top, hooked around the tree. That meant I had to figure some other way to get it down after the jeep was down.”
“Why couldn’t you detach the cable from the winch,” says Doc, “after you reached bottom?”
“I didn’t think I’d have time. Besides it’s against climber’s ethics to leave aids in place after you finish a descent. Also I didn’t want Bishop Love to know where I was, or how I got down, or if I got down. I wanted to give him something to think about for the next few years. So I had to get the cable off the tree and retrieve it. The only question was how. While I was thinking about that I secured everything tight inside and jockeyed the jeep between the tree and the cliff, back end at the edge. All this time the bishop and the Team were coming up the ridge but it looked to me like I still had at least five minutes. They were taking their time. And then they stopped about a mile below and got out and palavered awhile and started to walk up the ridge, deployed for combat but not too good; I could’ve killed every one of them if I wanted to. But—pass me that joint again—you know … bad PR.”
“Finish the goddamn story,” Bonnie said, “and let’s eat.”
“So I had the time. I hooked the winch cable around the bottom of the juniper. I tied one end of my rope to the cable hook—that’s a big open slip hook, if you want to look at it. Since you don’t believe me.”
“No digressions.” Smiling at him, eyes shining with ill-concealed love, Bonnie field-stripped the roach and packed the remains into her Tampax tube. “Go on.”
“Okay, I put the jeep in neutral, started the motor and pushed the jeep back over the edge far enough to take up the slack in the cable—about four feet. Winch is locked now, you see, and the jeep hangs there, just the front wheels still on solid rock, motor idling. Then I put the winch in reverse and rode her down.”
“You rode her down?” Doc says.
“You rode the jeep down? Down through the air?”
“What were you going to do if the winch failed?”
“But suppose it did?”
“I’d rappel down the rope.”
Silence. “I see,” Doc said. “Or I think I do. How much does your jeep weigh, Hayduke?”
“About thirty-five hundred pounds with all that gear in it. And the gasoline.”
“And the winch held it?”
“It’s a good winch. A Warn winch. Of course we twisted a lot going down and that worried me more than anything else. I was afraid the cable would twist itself in two. But it didn’t.”
Smith rotated the shish kebab (sirloin tips, sliced tomatoes, bell peppers, cherry tomatoes, onions—nothing is too good for the wooden-shoe people) and looked away and below at the canyon rims, the forested plateau, the distant road coming from the east. “George,” he says, “you’re something else.”
Hayduke opened another beer. La penultima. The next to last. Every beer is la penultima. He said, “I was sweating some, I don’t mind telling you. We hit bottom pretty hard but nothing got busted. I braked the jeep and let the winch unwind far enough to get slack in the cable, gave a good yank on my rope, pulled the hook free, and let go of the rope. The cable came down like a ton of bricks, and the rope after it. The hook went through the windshield and mashed up some gear but I didn’t feel like complaining about it. Maybe I should have put the jeep under the overhang first, but you can’t think of everything. I was feeling pretty fucking good anyhow. After the cable dropped I drove the jeep under the overhang, out of sight, and pulled in the cable. Then we waited. We had a long wait.”
Bonnie said, “Who’s we?”
“Why, me and my jeep.”
Smith began removing dinner from the spit. “Grab your plates, pardners.”
Doc said, “They couldn’t see you down there?”
“It was an alcove in the cliff. Like a cave. There was no way they could see me or the jeep from the rim. But they hung around all afternoon. I could hear them arguing up above, with J. Dudley doing almost all the talking, of course. My main problem then was how to keep from laughing. Along about evening they left. I could hear them driving away. I waited until midnight to make sure they were gone. Then I wound up the cable on the winch and picked out a route down to Comb Wash. That took me all the rest of the night. In the morning I hid out under the cottonwoods. When nothing showed up by afternoon I came on up here. Let’s eat.”
“George,” said Doc.
“George, do you really expect anybody to believe that story?”
Hayduke grinned. “Fuck no. Let’s eat. But next time you see the bishop, ask him what happened to Rudolf the Red.”
“Deus ex machina,” Bonnie said.
They ate and drank and watched the sunset flare and fade. Dr. Sarvis gave his celebrated lecture on the megamachine. The fire flickered low. Smug Hayduke, victorious, gazed inwardly toward the smoldering coals of juniper and thought of the look on the bishop’s face. Had he risked his life for a laugh? Yes and it was worth it. While Seldom Seen, quietly alert, relaxed but attentive, looked west at the mellow sunset, south into twilit canyons, east toward encroaching night, and north at the butte, Elk Ridge, the Abajo Mountains. Not worried, not anxious—but aware.
Don’t like it here too good, he thought.
Hayduke yawned, beginning to unwind at last. Bonnie opened one more beer for him. “Time for you to get some rest, beast.”
Dr. Sarvis dried his hands on a rag and contemplated the rich red-golden half-clouded sky. “Well done, Yahweh.”
“Weather’s comin’,” Smith said, following the doctor’s gaze. He wet his finger and held it in the air. “Wind’s right. We might have a sprinkle or two tonight. On the other hand we might not. You can’t never depend on the weather in these parts, like my daddy used to say. When he couldn’t think of anything else to say, which was kind of often.”
“I’m taking to the sack,” says Hayduke.
“And like I meant to say,” Smith went o
n, “reckon we might as well keep a lookout from now on. I’ll stand the first watch myself.”
“Wake me up at midnight,” Hayduke said, “and I’ll spell you.”
“George, you better sleep. I’ll get Doc here.”
“How about a friendly little game?” says Doc. “A little nickel ante? Table stakes? Pot limit?” No response.
“Doc’s drunk,” Bonnie said. “Wake me.”
“You and George can stand watch tomorrow night.”
Bonnie led Hayduke to the love nest she had prepared: their sleeping bags zipped together on a pair of sheepskins on the rim of the mesa under the sweet air of pinyon pines.
“I don’t know,” said Hayduke.
“Don’t know what?”
“If we should do this. Tonight.”
Bonnie’s voice became chill. “And why not?”
Hayduke hesitated. “Well … Doc’s here.”
“Well, won’t he … I mean, Doc’s still in love with you, isn’t he? I mean—Jesus Christ.”
Bonnie stared scornfully at Hayduke, her eyes twelve inches away, six inches below. He could smell the smell of her wilderness cologne—what did she call it?—L’Air du Temps. That fragrance meaning: North Rim. Cape Royal. Point Sublime.
“Such delicacy,” she said. She grabbed him by the shirtfront, firmly. “Listen Hayduke, you flake, you yo-yo, Doc’s not like you. Doc’s a grown-up. He accepts the fact that you and I are lovers. We don’t have to be sneaky about anything.”
“He doesn’t care?”
“Care? He cares about me and he cares about you. He’s a decent man. What are you afraid of?”
“I don’t know. He’s not jealous?”
“No, he’s not jealous. Now are you going to go to bed with me or are you going to stand here arguing all evening while I go to bed? Make up your mind quick because I am not a patient woman and I detest wishy-washy men.”