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The Monkey Wrench Gang 38


  While Smith, concentrating on the task at hand, thinks mainly about the three innocents following his lead, depending on him to find a way through the maze of the Fins, to find water, to find a route to Lizard Rock and food and fresh supplies, and from there to find a way down into the maze of the Maze, and safety, and freedom, and a happy ending.

  He stops. Suddenly. Doc and Bonnie, heads down, and Hayduke, looking backward, stumble into his rear like the Three Stooges, three clowns in a silent movie. All stop once again. No one speaks.

  Past the mouth of the side canyon opening on their right, Smith peers down the main canyon toward the first bend in that direction, five hundred years away. He listens with the concentrated intensity of a buck in hunting season. The silence, except for the derisive call of one canyon wren, high on the wall and perched on a point, seems perfect as before, an unmarred stasis sealed in the paralyzing, stagnant heat.

  But Smith hears that sound again. Or rather, he feels it again. Feet. Many feet. Many big feet, marching over rock and shuffling through the sand. An echo perhaps? Delayed by some peculiar acoustic property of this grotesque place, a replay of the sound of their own feet? Not likely.

  “They’re still a-comin’,” he mutters.

  “Who?”

  “Them other fellers.”

  “What?”

  “The Team.”

  Whispering, Smith points to the patch of firm and seepage-darkened sand before them. “You watch what I do,” he says, “and then each one of you do the same thing I do.” He looks at Bonnie, at her flushed face and anxious eyes, and gives her a squeeze on the shoulder. He looks at Doc, who is trying to focus his eyes on something not of a visual nature, and at Hayduke, glaring about, tense as a cougar. “You understand?”

  Bonnie nods. Doc is nodding. Hayduke growls, “Hurry up,” before looking back over his shoulder again.

  “Okay now, here I go.” Smith turns himself around and walks backward, facing them, over the stretch of damp sand. At each step he makes a little extra effort with the heel of his boot, sinking it deeper, so that the footprint will resemble that of a man walking normally. He walks backward in a curve around the sand and into the mouth of the side canyon and up into it until he comes to stone again. There he halts, waiting for the others.

  The others follow, walking backward.

  “Hurry it up,” Hayduke whispers.

  Doc comes, shambling heavily, backward, watching his big feet. Bonnie walks beside him, reversing her steps with grace and care. Then, finally, Hayduke. He joins his friends. All four stand on rock and admire for a moment the trail they have invented. Clearly, four people have walked out of this side canyon.

  “You think a trick like that will fool a bunch of grown men?” Bonnie asks.

  Seldom allows himself a cautious smile. “Well now, honey, if Love was by himself I’d say no, you wouldn’t fool him so easy. But with his Team it’s different. One man alone can be pretty dumb sometimes, but for real bona fide stupidity there ain’t nothing can beat teamwork.” He pauses, listening again. “Hear them?” he whispers.

  Now even Doc can hear the tramp of boots around the corner down-canyon, the hollow sound of unintelligible but human voices approaching through a stony echo chamber.

  “That’s them,” Smith says. “Let’s move out, pardners.”

  Half in shade and half in sun they hustle up the bare slickrock, shuffle through more of the dragging nightmarish sand, clamber over spalled-off slabs and struggle on, straggle upward, into the barren tributary canyon. Which rises at a steep gradient, narrowing rapidly toward the almost-certain cul-de-sac. The trap within the trap. The walls lean smooth and vertical on either side, offering fewer finger-holds and toe grips than the façade of an office building. At each turn of the canyon Smith searches the walls ahead for an exit, for some way up and out. He hopes he may have ten minutes to find an escape route, ten minutes before Love and Team decide to make a second study of those human shoe tracks coming inexplicably out of where they should be explicably going in. Even a man who wants to be Governor can’t be that dumb.

  The canyon turns and turns again, looping back and forth in close meanders. On the outside of the curves the walls arch over the canyon floor, forming hollow half domes deeper and higher than the Hollywood Bowl. On the inside of the curves the walls flow in corresponding but opposite fashion, smooth, rounded, rising so sharply from the canyon bottom that Smith can see no way for a human to get started up those slick and tricky surfaces. Perhaps a human fly. Perhaps a human Hayduke….

  Quite suddenly, without preliminary, they reach the end of the corridor. The predictable overhang bars their advance—a battlement of eroded sandstone sixty feet high, curving outward above their heads, with a spout or pour-off at the notch where the next flash flood, already in preparation on the high plateau, will come crashing down in turgid splendor, rich with powdered clays, muds, shales, uprooted trees, rolling rocks and crumbling sheets of cliff face. To climb this obstacle a man would have to go first upward at 90 degrees, then out under the overhang, hanging like a spider upside down, fingertips and toenails glued to open-angled facets of the stone, his body defying not only gravity but reality as well. It has been done.

  Hayduke appraises the pitch. “I can get up there,” he says, “but it’ll take some time. It’s hairy. I’ll need jumars, stirrup ladders, hex nuts, pitons, cliff hangers, hammer, star drill and expansion bolts, all which we ain’t got.”

  “Is this water?” Bonnie says, canteen in hand, kneeling on the lip of a basin-shaped plunge pool below the drop-off. The wet sand on which she kneels is quicksand, slowly shifting beneath her, but she doesn’t notice, yet. In the center of the basin is a pool eighteen inches wide, consisting of what looks like a cloudy broth and smells like decay. A few flies and fleas hover above the soup; a few horsehair worms and mosquito larvae wriggle about within it; on the bottom of the tiny bowl, scarcely visible, is the inevitable blanched cadaver of drowned centipede, eight inches long.

  “Can we drink this stuff?” she asks.

  “I sure can,” Smith says, “and what’s more I sure as hell aim to drink it. Go ahead, you fill your canteen, honey, and we’ll strain it into mine.”

  “Good God, there’s a dead centipede in here. Also I’m sinking in this muck. Seldom …?” The quicksand quivers like gelatin, oozing and burbling. “What is this?”

  “You’re all right,” he says. “We’ll help you out. Fill the canteen.”

  While Bonnie fills her canteen, Hayduke takes the rope from Smith’s shoulder and retreats a short distance back the way they’ve come. He has noticed a cleavage in the wall, a crack extending upward far enough to give possible access to the gently curving dome beyond, where boot-sole friction may be sufficient for further ascent. A hundred feet above his head the wall slopes off beyond his line of sight; what lies above they’ll have to find out when and if they get there.

  Draping the coiled Perlon across his shoulders, dropping his gun belt and revolver and stacking the rifle, he essays the rock. The wall is vertical at its base but the crack wide enough to admit his hands, one above the other, and the toe of his boot turned sideways. He places opposing pressure on the rock with his fingers, for there is nothing to pull downward on, and inserts the toe of his left boot, gently, into the crevice at knee height. Pulling laterally, with fingertips, he gets enough traction to rise. His right foot dangles uselessly; no place to put it. He slides his fingers up, inside the lip of the crack, exerts lateral force again, unwedges the left foot, lifts it higher and reinserts. This enables him to ascend another two feet. Again he slides his fingers up, first one, then the other, feeling for a fresh grip.

  Should have uncoiled and tied on the rope; the thick coil interferes with his movements, endangers his balance. Too late now. He lifts the left boot as far as he can, places it higher and wedges it. Just barely enough pressure there to support most of his weight. He repeats the finger technique and straightens up. Again. And again.


  He is now fifteen feet above the foot of the wall, and the sandstone starts to round a hair, one degree at a time, off the vertical plane. He climbs. Twenty feet. Thirty. The cleavage pinches out above him, fading into its matrix, the monolithic wall, but the degree of favorable curvature increases. Hayduke finds he can get some support for his right foot. He ventures two more hand slides up the crack before it narrows too much for even a fingertip.

  Time to try the open face of the wall, which here curves inward like the dome of a capitol, the angle approaching 50 degrees. No alternative. Hayduke gropes outward, his fingers walking over the stone, feeling for a hold, a knob, an eyebrow, a crevice, an angle, the tiniest of holes. Nothing. Nothing out there but the abrasive, finely textured, totally indifferent wall. Well then, it’s got to be friction and nothing else. If only I had my chock nuts, a bong, a rurp, a plumber’s helper, a pair of big tits on my elbows. But you don’t. Have faith in friction. Time to withdraw that left foot from the top of the crack.

  Hayduke hesitates. Naturally. He looks down. A natural mistake. Three pale faces shaded by hats, three small human figures, are staring up at him. They seem to be far below, very very far below. They hold canteens, now full of murky water. No one speaks. They are waiting for him to come sliding, sprawling, tumbling down, to smash and crumple on the broken slabs below. No one speaks; a breath might knock him loose. Exposure is the word.

  For a few moments Hayduke feels that sick panic of the unbelayed and unaided climber. The nausea and the terror. Impossible to go on, impossible to descend, impossible to stay where he is. The muscles of his left calf are beginning to tremble and the sweat percolates, drop by drop, through his eyebrows into his eyes. With cheek and ear pressed against the canyonland bedrock he feels, hears, shares the beating of some massive heart, a heavy murmur buried under mountains, old as Mesozoic time. His own heart. A heavy thick remote and subterranean thumping sound. The fear.

  Dr. Sarvis, someone calls, years away, a phantom voice, like the bellowing of the Minotaur off around the many turns of many sunken canyons in this labyrinth of red stone. Doctor. …

  Raising his head, Hayduke leans out away from the dome, placing the weight of his body on his right foot in its lug-soled boot, the boot supported by the curving rock—nothing more. He gently unwedges his left foot, draws it out and sets it down beside its mate, two big strong feet planted on the surface of a curvilinear plane. He stands erect. Friction functions. He’s going nowhere now but up. Sound of helicopter rising—whock whock whock whock—off beyond the walls and domes and fins and pinnacles. No matter. That can wait. Walking upward, one firm step at a time, Hayduke thinks: We’re going to live forever. Or know the reason why not.

  So much for that. Safety. Now we need a belay point. He finds it immediately, a narrow but solid ledge dipping into the fall line of the wall (the right way) where a century or two before a slab had yielded to impulse and slipped, shattering into that pile of rubble on which Hayduke’s friends stand now. He looks up. Waiting above is a long slope of stone littered with hamburger-shaped rocks on pedestals, some reposing beds of gravel, a few shrubs—cliff rose, yucca, gnarled twisted half-dead but also half-alive junipers. The way leads upward into the petrified mysteries of the Fins, toward (he hopes) Lizard Rock and finally the Maze.

  “Next!” Hayduke shouts, taking one end of the rope around his waist and tossing the coil out into space. The running end sails out and down to the others, ninety feet below. Thirty feet to spare.

  There is some resistance down there among the neophytes but finally Smith and Bonnie succeed in browbeating Doc into making the ascent. Smith lashes the rope snug below Doc’s big chest, above the belly, hangs his medical kit to his belt, and boosts him up the first few steps. Doc is terrified, of course, but also feeling better as a result of at last getting some water, however warm and foul, into his spongy cell tissue. He tries at first to crawl up the rock amoeba-style, one sweaty pod at a time, but gets nowhere. They convince him that he has to lean out, lean back, in direct violation of all common sense and instinct, and walk up the wall, letting Hayduke pull him up with full tension on the line. He does it, somehow, and sinks near Hay duke’s feet, wiping his face.

  Next comes Bonnie loaded with gurgling canteens. “This is ridiculous,” she says, “absolutely ridiculous, and if you let me drop, George Hayduke you pig, I’ll never speak to you again.” Pale and a bit shaky, she sits beside Doc.

  Sound of a helicopter cruising somewhere near, off among the spires and turrets and domes, searching for something, anything, if only a place to put down, and finding nothing but an unearthly landscape of standing rock, rows of parallel three-hundred-foot-high tapering stone plates set on edge—the Fins. But at least it’s not the Maze, the pilot thinks, thinks Hayduke, who is also unfamiliar with the region but at least he, Hayduke, has both feet on the ground: solid stone. Plus a strong flexible umbilical cord belayed around his hips connecting him to Seldom Seen Smith, who waits out of view below the hemisphere of sandstone.

  “Don’t forget my guns,” Hayduke calls down.

  Dr. Sarvis, calls somebody else, in a bull-like megaphonic voice grotesquely amplified, booming up the canyon from a hidden source, much closer than before, and coming closer. Doctor, we need you….

  Doc sits beside Hayduke, wiping his brow, still pale from the exposure and fear, trembling like a foundered horse. With shaky fingers he tries to relight his cigar, can’t connect. Burns his fingers instead. “Goodness gracious.”

  Dr. Sarvis, sir, where are you?

  Nobody pays much attention to the disembodied voice. Why should they? Who can believe it? Each thinks he alone is going crazy.

  Bonnie strikes a match for him, lights the doctor’s cigar. “Poor Doc.” The acrophobes lean on one another.

  “Thanks, nurse,” he mumbles, regaining a measure of steadiness. “My goodness but this is a strange place.” Looking around. “Naked rock, nothing but naked rock, everywhere you look. A surrealist dream world, eh, nurse? Dali. Tanguy. Yes, Yves Tanguy, his landscape. What’s George doing there with that rope? If he’s not careful someone will yank him off his perch.”

  “He’s waiting for Seldom, love. Have another drink of water.”

  “Smith,” yells Hayduke, “what the fuck are you waiting for?”

  “I’m a-comin’, I’m a-comin’. Belay ready?”

  “Belay is fucking ready.” Hayduke braced and waiting.

  “Testing belay.” Sharp tug on the rope. Hayduke stands firm.

  “Give me tension.”

  “You got it.”

  Smith comes walking up the wall, hand over hand up the rope, feet flat against the stone, joins the crew and drops the rope. Breathing hard but looking relieved.

  “What were you doing down there?” Hayduke says.

  “Had to take a leak.”

  DR. SARVIS PLEASE. DR. SARVIS.

  “What the hell is that?” Hayduke says.

  “Sounds like God,” Bonnie says. “With a country-western accent. Just what I was always afraid of.”

  “Gimme the rifle,” Hayduke says. “And the cannon.” Reluctantly, Smith hands them over. “Rest of you start up the slope.” George buckles on his gun belt.

  “Now George—”

  “Go on!”

  DOCTOR SARVIS!

  Nobody moves. They stare down the canyon, from which direction the mighty appeal comes. Sound of heavy boots slogging over sand and gravel, busting through brush.

  HEY, DOC SARVIS!

  “Somebody with a bullhorn,” Hayduke mutters. “Some kind of trick that bishop’s up to.”

  “Only it don’t sound quite like the bishop.”

  “Watch behind us. They’re pulling something here. Everybody out of sight.” Hayduke holds the rifle aimed down-canyon; nervously he works the bolt, slides a round into the firing chamber, closes the bolt.

  Waiting. They stare at the bend of the canyon wall as the tramping feet come near. A man appears, large, heavy, a two-hundred-
pound six-footer, sweating like a hog, unshaven, red-faced, anxious. A big canteen dangles from his shoulder. He stops, holding the battery-powered bullhorn in one hand, a dirty white T-shirt drooping from a stick in the other, and stares at the empty box of the canyon, unaware of the gang ninety feet above, looking down at him. The man looks something like Bishop Love. But not quite. He carries no weapons.

  “What’s the bastard want?” Hayduke whispers.

  “That ain’t the bishop,” Smith says. “It’s his little brother, Sam.”

  Their whispers carry. The man looks up, first to the left, the wrong side, hearing not the original sounds but their echoes. On that side he sees only the shadowy ceiling of the royal alcove arching above his head, two hundred feet high.

  “We’re up here, Sam,” Smith says. “What you doin’ anyway? You lost?”

  Sam spots them and raises the dirty undershirt in a weary gesture of either surrender or parlay. Parlay: he raises the bullhorn to his mouth.

  Smith lifts a hand. “We can hear you without that goddamn thing. What’s on your mind, Sam?”

  “We need the doc,” the brother says.

  “I knew it,” Hayduke mutters savagely.

  “What for?” Smith says.

  “I knew it was a trick all along. Watch behind us, Bonnie.”

  Bonnie ignores him.

  “The bishop’s having a heart attack. Or some kind of stroke. I don’t know just what it is but I think it’s a heart attack.”

  Doc lifts his head with interest.

  “Call in your helicopter,” Smith says. “Get him to the hospital.”

  “The helicopter’s coming but it can’t set down closer’n a mile and we need the doctor right away.”

  “Describe the symptoms,” Doc mumbles, reaching for his black bag.