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The Monkey Wrench Gang 40


  “It ain’t the winter either.”

  Silence. They lie on the rock, watching the enemy. Sleep by day, advance by night. But hunger gnaws at their bellies. Both canteens are empty again. Hayduke, stiff from his wounds and bandages, his clothes in rags, retains only his knife, revolver, rifle and rope, a few matches in his pocket. Smith is gaunt and weary, dirty, starved and homesick, beginning to feel his beginning middle age.

  “You think I’ll get lonesome,” Hayduke says.

  “That’s right.”

  “You think I can’t take the lonesomeness.”

  “It can get bad, George.”

  A pause. “You could be right, maybe. We’ll see.” Hayduke rubs the gnat bites on his hairy neck. “But I’m going to give it a try. You know, this is something I’ve wanted to do all my life. I mean live on my own, out in the wilderness.” He pats the stock of his rifle. He touches the grip of the Buck Special. “I think we’ll be all right. I just think maybe we’ll be fucking all right, Seldom. And sometime next spring I’ll come up the river and pay you a visit. Or pay your wife a visit. You’ll be in jail, naturally.”

  Another wan smile by Smith. “You’re always welcome, George. If I ain’t there you can help with the kids and the housework while Susan drives the tractor. Keep the old place going.”

  “I thought you had no use for farming?”

  “I’m a river guide,” Smith says. “I’m a boatman. That ranch is only what they call social security. Susan’s the farmer, she’s good at it; me I’ve got a black thumb. Anyhow I want to get back there for a few days.”

  “They’ll be waiting for you.”

  “Only a few days. Then maybe I’ll load up one of the boats and come down the river a-lookin’ for you. Let’s say about a couple weeks from now. I’ll bring you some watermelons and the newspapers so you can read all about yourself.”

  “What about your other wife?”

  “I got three wives,” Smith says proudly.

  “What about them?”

  Smith considers. “Susan’s the one I want to see.” He glances toward the dawning east. “Reckon we oughta hole up now, George, get some sleep. Our friends out there are gonna be lookin’ for us pretty soon.”

  “I am so goddamned fucking hungry….”

  “You and me both, George. But we got to hole up now.”

  “If there was some way we could divert those guys away from their camp down there. Distract them just for a few minutes, sneak in and dig up our cache….”

  “Let’s get some rest first, George, and then we’ll think about it. Let’s wait till the rain starts.”

  They retreat five hundred yards into the darkness of the Fins, walking on rock, leaving no tracks, and bed down under a deep ledge, hidden by fallen slabs of sandstone from anything but the closest inspection. Mumbling and grumbling, stomachs aching, limbs weak and flabby from lack of protein, throats dry from thirst, they try to sleep, and pass after a while into a twilight consciousness, half awake half asleep, shaking with little nightmares, groaning.

  Far off over the plateau, three thousand feet above, lightning whips the pinyon pines, followed by rumbles of thunder rolling across the canyons, through the clouds, into the heavy silence of a sunless dawn. A few drops fall on the slickrock beyond the shelter of their ledge, making damp spots that fade quickly, evaporating into the thirsty air. Finally Smith, curled on his side, falls into deep sleep.

  Hayduke schemes and dreams and cannot sleep. Too tired to sleep. Too hungry, angry, excited and fearful to sleep. It appears to him that only one obstacle remains between himself and a wilderness autumn and winter down in the Maze, down there where he can lose himself at last, forget himself for good, become pure predator dedicated to nothing but survival, nothing but the clean hard bright pursuit of game. That ultimate world, he thinks, or rather dreams, the final world of meat, blood, fire, water, rock, wood, sun, wind, sky, night, cold, dawn, warmth, life. Those short, blunt and irreducible words which stand for almost everything he thinks he has lost. Or never really had. And loneliness? Loneliness? Is that all he has to fear?

  But there remains the one obstacle: the enemy camp beside his supply cache at Lizard Rock.

  A dazzle of sudden light penetrates his closed eyes. Suspense. Then comes the savage crash of thunder, a roar like the splitting of the belly of the sky. Cannonballs bombard the stone. Another flash of blue-white light, scorching the canyon wall. Jolted fully awake, Hayduke waits for the boom, counting the seconds. One … two …

  CRACK!KA-POW!

  That was close. Two seconds. About twenty-two hundred feet away. A steady fall of rain comes down, shining like a bead curtain beyond the overhang of the ledge. He turns to look at Smith, meaning to speak to him, but checks himself.

  Old Seldom Seen lies on his side, fast asleep despite the thunder (for him a familiar and maybe soothing sound), head cradled on his arm, a smile on the homely face. The sonofabitch is smiling. Good dream for a change. He looks so vulnerable at the moment, so helpless and happy and almost human, Hayduke cannot disturb him. He thinks: Why wake him at all? We got to split up anyhow. And Hayduke hates farewells.

  He takes off his boots and turns his greasy, worn socks inside out, caressing the hot spots on his feet. No change of socks, no foot powder, no warm bath, those feet will just have to hold up for a few more hours till we get that cache opened. He puts the socks and boots back on. More lightning, another drum roll of thunder cascading off the cliffs. Hayduke finds the effect temporarily stimulating. Invigorating. The rain comes down, heavily now, like a waterfall, visibility less than a hundred feet. Good, excellent, exactly what they were hoping for.

  Hayduke buckles on his gun belt and the holstered .357, slings rifle and rope across his shoulders, takes one of the two remaining (and empty) canteens and slips away. Outside, the rain beats down on his head and shoulders, drips from beak of cap to tip of nose as he forces himself into an uphill trot. In the thick gray light, flaring from moment to moment with blinding swords of lightning, the Fins gleam like old pewter, four-hundred-foot walls of wet silver, hulking in the mist, streaming with water.

  He emerges in a few minutes from the defile and pauses to look out at a world much smaller than before, with eerie forms of stone rising through a sheet of rain, plateau walls lost beyond the obscurity, Lizard Rock itself no longer in sight. But he knows the way. Pulling tighter on the cap, he jogs into the storm.

  Smith is not surprised to wake and find his buddy gone. Not surprised but a little hurt. Would have liked at least a chance to say good-bye (God be with you) or fare (thee) well or at least so long (for now), old buddy, till we meet once more. Along the river, maybe. Or down in Arizona for the glorious finale to the campaign, the rupturing, removal and obliteration of, of course, that Glen Canyon National Sewage Lagoon Dam. We never did get all together on that one.

  Smith wakes slowly, taking his time. No rush at all, now that Hayduke’s gone. The rain pours down in steady monotone beyond the ledge, streams of water trickling into the cave, seeping under his shoulder. It was the water, not the rain or lightning, which finally woke him up. Crawling about for dryer ground he had noticed Hayduke absent, together with Hayduke’s last belongings, and realized without surprise but with some sense of deprivation that he, Smith, was the last one left, from his point of view.

  Well, like Hayduke, he’d make the most of the rain. Should be able to slip around the Search and Rescuers now, hike the jeep trail to the Golden Stairs, climb to Flint Trail and up to Land’s End, Flint Cove, Flint Flat, Flint Spring, from there an easy ten-mile walk on level ground through the woods to Frenchy’s Spring and another food cache. All he needs now is food. Some beef and bacon and beans, some biscuits and cheese, and he’d be ready for the sixty-mile walk home to Green River.

  Mumbling to himself, Smith crawls out of the hole in the rock and lifts his face to the rain. Lovely. Sweet cool rain. Thank you very much, You up yonder. He cups his hands beneath the spout of water at the point of the
ledge and drinks. Good, by God, good, but also mighty stimulating to the appetite. Refreshed but hungry he fills the canteen and moves off, up the eroded joint of stone between the towering Fins, as Hayduke has done. But at the exit, where Hayduke went straight ahead toward Lizard Rock, Smith cuts left, westerly and southerly, following a long contour of bench rock around the head of the nearest side canyon. He has only a notion of the time of day, for no trace of the sun is visible, but he feels like afternoon; his nerves and muscles tell him he has slept for hours.

  The heavy rain continues. Visibility, two hundred yards. Smith strides across a desert of red rock, red sand, scrubby shrubs of cliff rose, juniper, yucca, sage, blackbrush and chamisa, all well scattered, each plant separated from its nearest neighbor by ten feet or more of uncontested rock and sand. No human concealment possible here, but the ledges, gulches, fins and stony depths lie nearby on his left. Nor does he attempt to conceal his tracks; where the most direct route lies across sand, Smith takes it. He knows that he’ll soon be up on solid rock again, on the Stairs trail, and through the gap toward Flint Trail.

  His loping pace soon brings him to the jeep track, which he cuts across and parallels for a while until the road is confined between the head of another box canyon and the plateau wall. No choice here; Smith strides down the road, leaving in the wet sand and clay the clear imprint of his big feet. Can’t be helped. The road follows its only possible route, the path pioneered by deer and bighorn sheep twenty thousand years before, along the curving terrace to broader ground, where he leaves the road with relief, hoping the rain will wash out his tracks before the next patrol comes by.

  And if it don’t, he thinks, then it won’t. Smith moves across the contours of the land to higher ground, angling toward the gap in the ridge known as the Golden Stairs, the only trail that leads from the benchlands where he climbs to the plateau above.

  Crazy country, half of it perpendicular to the rest, much of it inaccessible even to a man on foot simply because so much consists of nothing but vertical walls. Seldom Seen Smith’s country and the only country in which he feels comfortable, secure, at home.

  A true autochthonic patriot, Smith swears allegiance only to the land he knows, not to that swollen bulge of real estate, industry and swarming populations of displaced British Islanders and Europeans and misplaced Africans known collectively as the United States; his loyalties phase out toward the borders of the Colorado Plateau.

  He sees headlights passing below, through the rain, one—two—three vehicles like a military convoy creeping over the wet rock, grinding through a muddy wash, passing out of sight around the next turn of the bench. He hears the rumble of a rock fall. Some of them machines ain’t gonna get out of here alive, he thinks, leaving the shelter of his juniper and moving on. God rolls rocks too. Should roll more.

  He finds the trail and slogs upward, climbing four hundred feet in close switchbacks to the next bench. Here the trail makes a long traverse to the northeast, following the contour, until another break in the wall is reached. Three hundred feet higher and a mile farther brings Smith into the pass. Below is the upper end of a drainage known as Elaterite Basin; he’s already halfway to the foot of Flint Trail. Beyond, barely visible through the rain, is Bagpipe Butte; above and beyond that the Orange Cliffs, the rim of the high plateau a thousand feet above and still five miles away. The sun is blazing through a hole in the clouds.

  Smith rests for a while. Dozes off. He hears gunfire, far away, remote, hardly within the realm of his consciousness. He looks back, toward Lizard Rock, the Maze. Maybe he was dreaming the sound—hearing things.

  The rain has stopped. More gunfire, a rolling barrage.

  You’re hearing things, he tells himself. The boy can’t be that dumb. Not even George, not even him, could be dumb enough to get in a gun battle with all them, whoever they are in there now, state police, prob’ly, whole goddamned sheriff’s departments of Wayne and Emery and Grand and San Juan counties, not to mention whatever’s left of the bishop and his team of bean farmers and used-car dealers. No, he can’t be; he’s got to be down in the Maze now skinning a deer, that’s his shots I heard. Sounds like a medium-size war, though, to tell the truth.

  Too late to turn back. Hayduke wanted to be on his own. Now he is. Two helicopters clatter by, headed for the Maze. Smith gets up and marches on into the late afternoon. The storm clouds are breaking up, drifting eastward. Spokes of sunlight radiate like enormous golden searchlights across the renovated sky. He drags himself the last few feet to the top of Flint Trail.

  Starved, soaked, exhausted, blister-footed, cold, Seldom shambles past the tourists huddled on the Park Service viewpoint platform at the rim. The Maze Overlook. Four women, elderly, passing binoculars back and forth, stare at Smith with fear and suspicion, then return to their study of something fascinating taking place off toward the Maze. They watch a panoramic ten-ring circus miles deep and wide. Circling aircraft down there. Red fire, writhing mists of smoke and fog floating out of canyons, a bronze waterfall of liquid mud thundering from the brink of a thousand-foot cliff while moving shafts of heavenly spotlights pick out this point, that point, all the remainder in the shadow of the clouds.

  Smith ignores the tourists, seeking only to get beyond this public place into the piney woods as quickly as possible. Ten more miles to Frenchy’s Spring and food. His shortcut takes him past the ladies’ parked car and a picnic table on which they’ve left a big Coleman ice chest containing—denture cream? Preparation H? Food, perhaps?

  Smith’s faint knees almost collapse. He senses meat. He hesitates at the table, opens the ice chest, can’t help it, reaches for the topmost package, checks himself. Looks back. Two of the women are gaping at him, astonished, their eyeglasses catching sunbeams for a moment, blazing in his eyes. He feels in his pocket. One greasy two-bit piece in there—hardly enough. But all he’s got. He drops the quarter on the table and takes two cool packages wrapped in white butcher paper, touched with blood.

  One woman shrieks, “You put that back, you filthy thief!”

  “Sorry, ladies,” Smith mumbles. He cuddles the packages to his chest and runs off into the woods, drops one, goes on, clomping through muck, pine needles and puddles to a sunny spot near a boulder. Listens. No sign of pursuit.

  Good Gawd but I’m tired. He sinks to the ground, opens the package. Two pounds of lean red hamburger reeking with protein. He chomps into it like a starving dog, eating it raw. Eating it all. Gobbling, he hears a car rush down the road. No other sound but the chatter of a squirrel, a choral jabber of bluejays off among the pinyon pines. Evening summer sunshine. Peace. Exhaustion.

  Belly fulfilled, Smith leans back against the sun-warmed rock and closes his weary eyes. A chorus of evening birds celebrates the end of the storm; bluebird, pinyon jay, thrush, mockingbird and thrasher sing among the trees, in the high-country air, seven thousand feet above sea level. The sun sinks into archipelagos of clouds, the broken ranges of the sky.

  Smith falls asleep. His dreams are strange, troubled—dreams, those shabby and evasive imitations of reality. Poor Smith sleeps….

  Or thinks he sleeps. Some sonofabitch keeps kicking at his foot.

  “Wake up, mister.”

  Whack whack whack.

  “Wake up!”

  Smith opens an eye. Forest green pants and shiny shoes. Opens the other eye. A clean fresh pink-cheeked young man in a Smokey Bear hat is glaring down at him, holding in one hand what appears to be a plucked chicken. Another young man nearby, armed with Mace and pistol, raps a billy club against a tree, watching Smith gravely. Both are wearing the uniform and badge of National Park Service rangers.

  “Get up.”

  Smith groans and pulls himself half erect, sitting up against the boulder. He feels awful, and a dawning sense of disaster does not help. He rubs his eyes, picks at his ears with his little fingers and looks again. Sure enough, a plucked chicken. The young man dangling it before him looks familiar.

  “Get up!??
?

  Smith gropes around for his old mashed slouch hat and clamps it on his head. But then irritation sets in. He does not rise. “You fellas go away,” he says. “I’m trying to sleep.”

  “We’ve got a complaint against you, mister.”

  “What’s the complaint?”

  “The ladies said you stole their hamburger and their chicken.”

  “What chicken?”

  “This chicken.”

  Smith swivels his head a bit and studies the naked bird. “Never saw him before.”

  “We found it on your trail. You dropped it running away.”

  Raising his eyes from the chicken, Smith reads the ranger’s name tag: Edwin P. Abbott, Jr. Now he remembers. “Say,” he says, “weren’t you down there at Navajo National Park in Arizona just a couple months ago?”

  “I was transferred. They also say you stole two pounds of hamburger.”

  “That’s true.”

  “You admit it.”

  “Yep.”

  “You don’t deny it?”

  “Nope.”

  The two rangers glance at one another, nod, then return their grave and serious eyes to Smith. Ranger Abbott says, “So you confess?”

  “I was starvin’ to death,” Smith explains, “and I think I left them ladies some money. Meant to anyhow. Now you fellas got important work to do and I don’t want to take up your time; go away and lemme get some sleep.”

  “You are under arrest, mister. You’re coming with us.”

  “What for?”

  “For theft and for camping in a nondesignated camping area.”

  “This here’s my country.”

  “This is a national park.”

  “I mean I live here. I’m a Utahn.”

  “You can explain it to the magistrate.”