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DESERT FLOWER BY REX SEXTON

Other works by Rex Sexton

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

 

I

Dusk, and once again, the dream-like grapple with death, as high winds howled  across the South Dakota desert, and black rocks twisted in a devil dance against the sky.

 

Wheres your goons, Tonto?

 

Greenleaf looked sharply at the girl.  She stood, motionless, by the window, her arms folded.

 

Relax, angel, it will all go down.

 

It doesnt look like it.

 

Theyre on their way.

 

She made an impatient gesture.

 

Shadows filled the room, as night came on.  He sat at the table and studied the layout which the girl had drawn for him, the maze of rooms and hallways and staircases, while he chain smoked cigarettes.  She remained restlessly watching, her eyes fixed on the road.

 

Im not waiting.

 

Thats too bad love.

 

Im not coming back.

 

Thats too bad too.  But it will be a mistake.

 

Youre a mistake.

 

Suit yourself, Cinderella, but theres still time.

 

Your time, Geronimo.  Small time.

 

  Headlights swept the driveway.  A dark late model car pulled in.  Two shadows sat slumped in it.  Greenleaf rose softly, slipping a revolver down his snakeskin belt, his gaunt Indian face expressionless.

 

 Your coach awaiteth.

 

Your goons are drunk.

 

Theyll deliver.

 

Youre a joke.

 

Fifty thousand dollars?  The Mexican asked again.

 

Right, amigo, Greenleaf answered impatiently, fifty grand.

 

Fifty thousand dollars in cash?

 

Cash.

 

 In that haunted house?

 

The wind rocked the black sedan.  They sat parked near the entrance to the roadhouse, headlights extinguished, engine idling.  Greenleaf watched the girl slip out of the car and run through the night.  Her cheerleaders uniform fluttered with the gusts.  Her long golden hair something out of a fairytale flared for an instant as she disappeared through the roadhouse doorway.

 

You have seen this cash, my friend?

 

It was still early.  The parking lot was all but empty.  There was a pickup truck parked by the roadhouse door.  There was a late model station wagon next to it.  Beyond the asphalt, under the waving trees, they could dimly make out the silhouette of a squad car.  Inside the roadhouse, the girl was making her moves. 

 

This dont look so good, my friend.

 

The driver stared hard at the parked police car.  His blunt fingers gripped the wheel.  His partner was staring hard at it too.  He shook his head and tilted his bottle.

 

It looked good to you this afternoon, amigo.

 

Greenleaf leaned forward in the back seat.  He tried to peer past the two petrified Mexicans.  The roadhouse was a relic from another time a high gabled ghost built during the brief mining

boom which founded Black Water.   Its wooden frame was warped and weatherbeaten,  bordering on haunted oblivion.  The gutters and drainpipes were dull with rust.  Blinking neon food and drink signs stabbed through the first floor windows. The rest of the house was cloaked in darkness.  Somewhere inside,  the strange white girl was drifting through the rooms, cutting phone lines, unlocking doors.

 

No, my friend, it sounded good to me this afternoon.

 

The driver took a long drink from the tequila bottle.  He wiped his mouth, hesitated, and then took another.

 

How does this sound to you?

 

Greenleaf shoved the barrel of his revolver into the drivers neck.  He cocked back the hammer until it clicked into place.

 

Its going down soon, Pancho, Greenleaf whispered, and youre going with it.  Sos your pal.  In case you forgot, were looking at a bag stuffed with cocaine in a safe in that house.  Were looking at fifty thousand dollars on its way to claim it.  Were looking at the advantage of surprise, and were looking at the fact that we got someone inside to set things up.

 

Greenleaf sat back in the seat and closed his eyes.  He listened to the wind howling through the night across the bluffs and rocks and boulders of the Badlands.  His shiny black hair was matted with sweat.  His hands were shaking.  The night seemed like a dream.  Everything seemed like a dream since he had met the girl.

 

She had appeared that morning, like an apparition, standing suddenly before him in a Black Water tavern, where Greenleaf was playing the final shot in a high stakes pool game which began the day before and continued through the night.

 

His dark eyes heavy with smoke and the long night, his fingers stiffly wrapped around the cue, Greenleaf leaned across the table and fixed his gaze on the last  bright colored ball which seemed to float there.  He looked up suddenly a flood of sunlight was streaming through a cathedral window.  As he squinted, the stained glass dazzle slowly gave way to a  strange white girl.  Hair like spun gold, skin so pale it was almost translucent, she stood like a chimera at the end of the table, disturbingly beautiful, her candycane cheerleaders uniform sparkling under the light of the overhead lamp.

 

Got a gun Cochise?

 

She was looking down at him with undisguised disdain.  Her eyes seemed to look through him, not at him, from some far away reality quite beyond him.

 

I might have, princess.  Why?

 

Greenleaf had to gather himself together to just take a breath.

 

Got a couple of these to go with it?

 

She lifted the ball  from the table and held it lightly in her hand.

 

I might have those too, love.  Cut to the chase.

 

She waited tables after school, she told him, at a roadhouse in the valley.  The owner had a brother who was a crooked county cop.  They were both crooks.  Anyway, the cop got lucky.  He scored a primo bag of cocaine in a routine traffic bust.  He either snuffed the delivery boy, or let him go in a trade ... he was selling the stuff back to the delivery boys boss ... or to someone else.  She had overheard all this through a door in the storeroom and couldnt quite get it straight.  But the score was stashed in the office safe.  A deal was going down that night at eight oclock.

 

Big time wampum, Hiawatha.  She made mock Indian signs with her hands. You in or you out?

 

Headlights swept across the roadhouse parking lot.  A champagne colored Cadillac sped past them and parked by the neon-lit door.  Two men in suede suits and Stetson hats climbed out.  They looked around and went inside.  One of the men was carrying a briefcase.

 

Its game time, amigos.

 

Greenleaf pulled himself together and leaned forward.  He jabbed the drivers partner with his

gun.

 

Im not going to run this past you again, amigo.  You know the set up.  Make your way to the hall at the end of the bar and slip through that storeroom door.  It will be unlocked.  Inside the storeroom theres another door, also unlocked.  That door opens to the back of the roadhouse office.  Its unlocked too.  Wait by the door till you hear my voice.  Then bust in.

 

The Mexican looked long and hard at the parked police car.  He studied the Cadillac.  He turned and looked at his friend.  The driver nodded gravely at him.  He shook his head and slipped outside.

 

Lets move.  Greenleaf jabbed the driver.  They drove to the end of the parking lot and braked by the swaying trees.  Greenleaf hit the asphalt running, a flashlight flickering in his hand.  It was all a matter of timing to hit them hard in the middle of the deal.  He imagined the play going down, right now, in the office: the safe open and the cocaine out, the briefcase open and the cash out, the four men clustered around the office desk, sampling the product, checking the bills.  He imagined himself and the Mexican, guns drawn, busting in from different doors.  Five times fifty thousand dollars, the coke would take in on the street.  Greenleaf calculated breathlessly as he ran.  Maybe more.  Plus the cash.  Eighty thousand dollars would be his share.  In ten more minutes he would have eighty thousand dollars.  Eighty thousand dollars plus.

 

The cellar door was open and Greenleaf bounded down the wooden stairs.  The flashlight tossed off devil shapes in the darkness, igniting black flame shadows everywhere.  Eighty thousand dollars, Greenleaf repeated to himself.  He beamed his way, slowly, through the mountains of roadhouse rubbish, around crates and barrels and boxes and trash.  He ducked under dripping pipes and waded through puddles of stench.  The old house rocked and creaked above him, while the cellar floor was alive with frightened rats.

 

Murder.  Gunplay. Prison. Death.  Black thoughts ran round and round in his head.  Round and round, they raced in his mind all day, as waves of fear and panic seized him.  Drug dealers, crooked cops, crooked club owners, shotgun ready Badlands bartenders Cinderellas castle was a booby trap.  He had known that going in, but he could not stay out.  Eighty thousand dollars.  This was his first real crack at big-time dough.  Maybe the only shot hed ever get.  This was the break he needed to blow off Black Water; to escape his dirt poor life in the South Dakota desert shooting stick for meals and rent in Badlands dives.

 

Greenleaf stopped abruptly and held his breath.  The long steep staircase that led up to the office suddenly loomed before him, climbing through the cobwebs and disappearing in the darkness.  He lifted the light and shone its beam on the waiting door.  His heartbeat raced and his legs felt wobbly.  He had to grip the flashlight  to keep it steady.  The Mexicans were right.  The play was crazy.  They were pros upstairs four armed, experienced, dangerous men.  Those pros would never give up the Jack.  Not without a bloodbath.  Even if they gave it up to them tonight, they would get it back tomorrow.  They would hunt them down, anywhere they went.  The cop would see to that.  How hard would it be to throw a net around Black Water?  To find and break the Mexicans?  to sniff him out?  to get all of them?  Anything odd happen here lately, you ask?  Well, yeah man, there was this high-school chick in here talking to this hustler Indian.  They didnt have a chance.  But he knew that coming in.  Eighty thousand dollars.  Maybe they werent supposed to have a chance.  There was something out there he couldnt quite see.  Something crazy.  He tried to see it, but the pills he popped all day to stay awake...

 

Greenleaf froze on the spot as the door opened suddenly and a flood of light came streaming down the staircase.  Framed in the yellow haze at the top of the stairs, the silhouette of the girl appeared, standing motionless in the brightly lit doorway.  Her eyes gazed down on him like holy mysteries two huge, hypnotic, emerald-green gems.  As always, her gaze went completely through him, hitting some mysterious target deep inside him, leaving him, as always, strangely stunned and spent.

 

Greenleaf felt himself falling  as he mounted the stairs, sinking, dropping, drowning like a one- armed swimmer disappearing into some desolate unknown.  Halfway up, he remembered  the  mask. He slipped it over his head and face.  An executioners mask.  A hit mans black hood.  Someone would die tonight, Greenleaf knew, and he somehow knew, deep down, that it would be him.

 

He lumbered to the top and as he moved through the door the girl swiftly retreated.  He followed her figure down a hallway lined on both sides with hulking doors.  She was dressed in a bridal gown, a ghostly swirl of taffeta and silk.  On her head was a crown of desert flowers.  There were more garlands woven in her golden hair.  She turned and smiled at him and beckoned.  He lurked behind, his neck glistening  with sweat, squinting through the slits in the black hood.  At the end of the hall, she turned again.  She lifted an ivory finger to her lips,  slipped through the door and signaled him to follow.

 

He followed her in, but what he found inside the dingy office looked more like a hopheads hallucination than the slick doublecross he was expecting.  Yes, all the players were there waiting for him.  The cop was there.  The owner a big balding man was there.  The two Stetsoned drug dealers were there, as was the briefcase full of cash and the sack of coke.  But everything was topsey turvey, upside down.  The men were sprawled all over the tiny room slumped in chairs, toppled over furniture, curled on the floor.  No sound came from the bar.  The girl stood like a dream shape in the midst of the petrified mayhem.  Her emerald eyes were sparkling and there was a faint smile on her lips.  She performed a little pantomime for him.  She mixed an imaginary drink, tilted her head, and pretended to drink it down.

 

Knock out drops.  She whispered.

 

She leaned over and pulled the gun from the curled up cop.  As she did Greenleaf saw the body of the Mexican behind her.  He was sprawled out on the floor.  There was blood seeping through the top of his thick black hood.

 

Happy hunting, Hiawatha.

 

She smiled as she rose and extended her arms in front of her and pointed the policemans thirty-eight caliber special at his chest.

 

The explosion sent him reeling back.  He slammed against the wall and sagged slowly to the office floor.  A ball of fire blazed in his chest.  His head was spinning as he gasped for breath.

 

You wont need this, my love.

 

The girl floated over him like a white-winged angel.  She pulled the gun from his snake skin belt.

  Greenleaf lifted his eyes and watched her turn and fire his revolver into the unconscious cops chest.  She fired again into the face of the sleeping owner.  And then she fired into the walls, desk, woodwork until the gun was empty.

 

Greenleaf tried to rise but he found that he could not move.  It felt as if a great weight was pressing down upon him.  He looked on as the girl took one of the drug dealers guns and shot the Mexican, and then used the Mexicans gun to shoot both the dealers.  She moved around the room amidst the rustle of silk and the fragrance of desert flowers rearranging the bodies, shooting bullets into the walls and doors.  He knew what she was up to but he couldnt imagine why.  She floated past him and rustled down the hallway.  There was the slamming of a door and the sound of a body being dragged back toward the office.  Greenleaf knew it was the body of the getaway driver.  A door opened across from the office.  The sound of the barrooms jukebox filled the air.  There were more explosions, more bullets ricocheting, the sound of more bodies being dragged and rearranged the bartender, the cook, the few patrons.  It was as if the roadhouse were her dollhouse.  The bodies of the men her toys all of them being arranged by the girl to create, for the police, the illusion of a robbery gone bad and a survivor-less gunfight when it had.

 

A white silk suit, a diamond ring, a pocket full of money, his hair slicked back Greenleaf was high rolling his way through the casinos of Las Vegas, a blonde on each arm. The bright lights glittered and the roulette wheel turned.  He was winning big time, jackpot after jackpot, prince among the players ...

    The girl sat in the dark and waited for her lover.  Soon he would appear, to her, as he always did in the dark, in the antique barroom mirror.  Tall, dark, handsome, elegant, he would be dressed for their wedding in that high style gold rush fashion which gentlemen wore for their ladies way back then.  The roadhouse was theirs now, theirs alone.  Her father was gone.  Her uncle was gone.  They were gone in the way they both deserved.  There would be no more of that from them.  There would be no more rooms with drunken men.  There would be just her and her lover from now until forever.

2

 

Hows Sitting Bull?

 

Sitting Bull is lying flat.

 

Lying and dying.

 

And nobody crying.

 

Hey Doc, whats the prognosis on Big Chief here?

 

Grim and drawn, the gray-haired emergency room physician moved from body to body shaking his head.  The corpses lay side by side on transport stretchers in a screened off section of Black Water Generals crowded emergency  ward, blue with rigor mortis and covered with blood.  Men the doctor knew, had known for years, personally, professionally Slim Clemens, Jack Stokes, Chester Owen men he treated, joked with.  He  glanced angrily at the reporters clamoring in the hallway.

 

Were moving the survivor to the ICU.

 

The spectacle disgusted him.  It sickened and it saddened him.  It brought back memories of Viet Nam the young soldiers senselessly slaughtered.

 

 He stood between the two tall, rangy Black Water policemen: sheriff Cole and deputy Tate.  They all gazed thoughtfully at the Indian.  His pallor was a ghostly gray. The slender IVs of blood and morphine flowing into his arm, seemed all that anchored him to existence.

 

He gonna make it?  The sheriff demanded.

 

There had been no vital punctures, no complications.  The bullet had come out smoothly and cleanly.  There was shock, tissue damage, and that minor.

 

Probably not.  The doctor sighed.  Hes lost a lot of blood.

 

He took a lot of blood.

 

The big man shook with emotion as he spoke.  His cold gray eyes shifted slowly to the IV bags which hung on a stanchion above the stretcher.  A wave of panic passed over the physician.

 

What happened? He asked quietly.

 

Hell happened, pure and simple.  Hell, fire brimstone, damnation.  The work of the devil.  The sheriffs voice trailed off.  He closed his eyes and clenched his fists.  Maybe he was past it?  The sheriff wondered of himself.  Had he lost his mettle?   Like a nightmare the roadhouse massacre replayed in his mind.  Room after room of bullet-riddled bodies anywhere and everywhere.  Six bodies in the office, four bodies in the bar, another body in the kitchen, and yet another which he  found later in a closet in a bedroom on the second floor.  All good, solid Black Water citizens; men he had known since boyhood, men he had laughed with, fought with, struggled through life with. 

 

And this Indian is the devil?

 

Meet the devil.  The sheriff smiled.  He waved his hand at the screened off ward.  Welcome to hell.

 

Like a stiff, starched, dazed white ghost, nurse Hartfelt, as pale as her uniform, staggered unsteadily toward them through the antiseptic glare of hospital neon, a stack of medical forms clutched against her body.  She averted her eyes from the horror show of bodies which still lay uncovered in a gory row along the wall,  friends, neighbors, familiar faces.  There was more to her grief than that, the doctor suspected as he watched her shock-stricken face draw close.  Nurse Hartfelt, plump , plain, devoted to her profession, had remained unmarried.  Maybe one of these men had taken her as a mistress?   In any event, no one in the ward could face the situation.  No one in the ward could look at one another.  The orderly had gotten sick.  The young nurse Ms. Hartfelt was training had fainted.  They were all in a daze since the caravan of corpses arrived suddenly amidst a riot of sirens brought by ambulances drawn from all over the county.

 

Looks like Big Chief here, the sheriff explained, swallowing  hard as Nurse Hartfelt approached and the doctor delicately took the forms, and Cisco and Pancho over there, tried to hold up Jake Flowers place down in the valley.  Big time money Doc.  Big for Black Water: 25 grand.  Looked like ol Jake finally decided to unload that rat trap, cash on the barrel-head.  There were these two slicks laid out in his office, brand new Cadillac parked out front.  Somehow, these three slime bags got wind of the deal.  They busted in like Hollywood wiseguys black hoods, gags and ropes stuffed in their pockets.  Maybe someone panicked, or someone got trigger happy.  You see the result.

 

The doctor nodded gravely as he filled out the forms.  Dead on arrival.  Death by gunshot wounds.  Multiple gun shot wounds.  Multiple morgue meat.  The only thing that had saved the Indian was a slightly abnormal breast bone construction, rare at best, but peculiar to certain southwest Indian tribes.

 

Now all of this is bad, doc, the sheriff went on flatly, bad even for the Badlands.  Of all the shootouts, holdups, bar brawls and feuds Ive seen in my time this takes the cake.  And it goes without saying that I dont look forward much to facing the wives and children of these men.  Nor do I look forward much to our Black Water  Bloodbath being hashed and rehashed in the papers and on TV for all the blood junkies and gore guzzlers out there in tabloidville and boob tube land.  But what gets me most, what hits me hardest you may think this odd, doc, given everything, but not if youd been there was the sight of Big Jakes daughter trapped in the middle of that nightmare.  Do you know what I mean, doc?  The sheriff asked softly.

The doctor nodded.  He had forgotten about the girl,  forgotten that she was connected with that old tumble- down roadhouse in the valley which housed Big Jakes Dinner.   Jake Flower, a highschool football hero.  He had lost track of him.  Even though Nurse Hartfelt  had taken care of the girls mother -- a long time ago when the poor woman took a nasty fall and got so banged up she couldnt come to town -- he, himself, had never treated the family.  But everyone knew the girl.  He had just examined her a few months ago.  He examined all the athletes and cheerleaders for Black Water High.  Even in the aseptic sanctity of the hospital examining room, even at his age, her beauty took his breath away.  She was a flower in the desert; a rare and beautiful lily blossoming in a dusty wasteland.

 

Was she harmed?  The doctors voice trembled.

 

If only we had got there quicker, doc.  The sheriff shook his head.  Orville Reed, who lives in the valley, gave us a call around nine oclock.  Said he thought he might have heard some gun shots when he passed Jakes place headin for town.  Said he didnt pay it much mind figured it werent none of his business no how but this barmaid at the Crystal Palace where he was hoopin it up started in on him when he mentioned it.  She said he should of stopped and had a look see.

 

We gave Jakes a call but it didnt seem to go through.  We tried a little later and it was the same way.  We decided we better drive out there and have a look.  The bar room was still heavy with the smell of gunpowder.  There was still a hint of gun smoke in the air.  We saw the girl sitting alone in the dark in a corner of the room by the barroom mirror.  She was all gussied up in a wedding gown.  Doc, she had to be the right purtiest thing I ever saw maybe that I ever will see.  Then we started to see the bodies around her in the darkness: Slim Clemens slumped in a chair.  Bill Ofrey sprawled across the bar.  Jack Stokes laid out on the floor.  They were already beginnin to turn.  The girl didnt pay us no mind doc, no mind at all.  Even when we crossed the room and stood behind her, she didnt seem to know we were there with her.  She was talking to herself in the mirror.  Talkin, laughing, as pretty and happy as a bride could be.  Just seeing her

like that doc, seeing her alone in the dark with all those corpses turning.  I dunno doc.  It was like seeing...I dunno...

 

An angel in hell.  The deputy flared.

 

Yeah, and hell got more hellish.  Shes here now doc in the psycho ward.  They said it was shock doc but I dont know.

 

Poor kid.  The doctor shook his head.

 

Fix Big Chief here up for me doc.  Someones got to answer for this.  Fix Big Chief up sos he can stand trial.  Fix him up sos he can hang.

 

Ill fix him Jim.  The doctor shuddered.  Dont worry, Jim,  Ill fix him.

 

Better get the big boys down here boss, the hot shot anchors ... no Im not exaggerating ... this is extra Extra, going electra ... didnt you get my Fax?  Well check it out.   Theres this psycho Cinderella slant, blood and beauty, thats going put this story on the map ... just go look at this girls picture, OK?   Youll see what I mean. 

 

The blurred white faces swam around him in the darkness, bloated, bloodless, bobbing like bone-gutted blobs above the pressed white collars of their black, wind snapping funeral suits, eyes bulging, mouths agape.  They ran in a huddle across the lunar  landscape, down the devil rock gorges and through the bottomless ravines, across the tumbleweed twirling wind-ravaged plains.  The ghost hands pushed and pulled him forward while their blob-like bodies penned him in.  He was trembling with fear, sucking the night air for breath.  The coarse black suit he wore, with its ruffled white shirt and high buttoned vest, chaffed and scratched his sweat soaked skin.  The tight starched collar choked his neck.  Beyond the chasms, in the valley far below him, the roadhouse glittered in the darkness like a diaphanous dream dome each window blazing with a blinding  light, even the gables and garrets glistening with luster.

 

They ran through a cold rain which suddenly began to fall, dodging and turning across a parking lot crowded with hearses, while thunderclaps rumbled across the desolate wasteland and flashes of lightning lit the storm- blackened sky.  The menace of the night closed in like a madness with the downpour, and, as they drew nearer to the roadhouse, the fear Greenleaf felt for the baleful white glow which blazed coldly and eerily from the half-open door began to fill him with a dread that bordered on delirium.

 

They tumbled across the threshold into an absolute blackness, knocking over tables and scattering chairs.  The radiant white haze blazed, not in the barroom, but within the barroom inside the antique barroom mirror.  They passed through the glass into its surreal luster.  The room beyond was thronged with ghostly men and women crowded together in the nimbus like moon- shrouded mannequins.  Dazed, shaken, shivering with cold, Greenleaf studied the ashen faces and the blank dead eyes of the hundred dead souls who stood white and silent around him dressed in their burial garments.  A long black coffin lay before him.  Its lid was open, its interior empty.  On either side of the casket stood the two murdered Mexicans staring at him without expression.  Greenleaf sensed that they were waiting for him to join them, waiting for him to take his place beside them among the dead.

 

For as much as it is the ordination of the almighty God,  intoned a strange, indistinct, figure who suddenly appeared behind the coffin, tall, pale, thin, grave, that  flesh hath soul and thereby is empowered with a spirit, so also is the spirit  possessed of the powers of the flesh, even when it leaveth the flesh and liveth as a thing apart. Greenleafs heart began to pound and his legs to weaken.  This could not be real, he knew, and yet he was  trapped in this gruesome unreality.  He felt the heavy blob hands grip him tightly.  The tall ghostly preacher gazed coldly in his direction.  And so forever as a thing apart, even from all thus parted, the damned must dwell in the world of the damned, neither flesh nor spirit, neither living nor dead.

 

He stifled a cry as he felt the sudden rough pull on his arms and shoulders and felt his body dragged forward through the white haze.  The blob shapes wrestled him to the coffin and stuffed him inside, bending, lifting, stretching him across the satin-lined interior of the heavy lacquered box.  He felt the weight of their hands on his head and throat, on his chest, wrists, legs, ankles.  He fought weakly with the dead men, twisting, struggling, straining to break free.  But the pale blob phantoms held him tightly and pressed him down into the soft, satin vortex of his new eternal cell.

 

We surrender this soul to Satan.  He heard the preacher say.

 

There was a sharp pain in his chest.  There was an odd sensation of physical penetration and an oozing of something from somewhere deep inside him.  He listened to the far-off tumult of thunder, to his own frantic breathing.  He could not move and he was afraid.

 

This body is the bounty of Satan.

 

They were draining him of blood.  Greenleaf looked down to find a long glass funnel protruding from his chest.  One by one the pallid blob shapes lapped greedily  from the spout and swallowed the thickly oozing  liquid.

 

Damned be the body and the soul of the male bride of Satan.

 

Greenleaf let out a cry of horror and turned his head.  He saw, standing in the center of the large black rectangle beyond the blinding radiance, the strange white girl staring at him without expression from the other side of the mirror.

 

Blessed be our savior Satan.  Blessed be the damned and the powers of the dark.

3

 

She stood a long time and looked down at the hospital bed where the Indian lay tied up and dying.  His blue-gray body had taken on a faint flush of color since she had examined it last the night before.  The flesh of his face looked less stony and ashen, and his chest moved perceptibly beneath his hospital gown.

 

She listened carefully to the sounds outside the door.  The shift was changing.  There were voices, footsteps, laughter in the distance, the sounds of a cart rolling slowly down the hall.  She studied the high-tech tangle of wires and tubes, gauges and dials, which ran in a cris-cross pattern from the medical monitors to the nose, temples, arms of the Indian, enfolding his comatose figure like some alien spider.

 

Tonto.  She whispered.

 

Behind her in the darkness, special deputy Horace Camby sat slumped in a chair.  His head was bowed and his arms hung loosely at his sides.  His scalp, raggedly removed from the back of his neck to the front of his forehead, hung over his face like a fury black mask.  His throat was cut and the dome of his head was covered with blood.

 

Tonto.

 

Her hands moved swiftly and deftly over the pale sleeping figure, removing the clamps from his head, the oxygen tubes from his nostrils, the needles from his arms, and the bands from his wrists.  She watched the lean muscled frame shiver and twitch, curl and recoil under the movements of her touch as the pallid face trembled and perspiration broke out across the ash-colored brow.

 

Rise and shine, Tonto.

 

It was like surfacing from the depths of the bottom of the sea where monsters swam through murky waters and seaweed waved like witch hair across the ocean floor.  Greenleaf awoke with a start bathed in sweat.  He did not know where he was: the roadhouse floor?  A cell in prison?  A vision in white floated wordlessly above him.  A  radiant, motionless woman with a halo of gold.

 

Sleep well, Tonto?


 

Greenleafs head was throbbing and he could scarcely breathe.  His chest was a burning, pulsing cavity of pain.  He rolled on his side and peered at the small white room, the medical monitors, the girl from the roadhouse whom he had last seen in a wedding gown now standing

 

before him dressed in a nurses uniform.  He dropped his legs carefully over the side of the bed.  He sat huddled in the darkness shivering with cold.

 

Wheres the money, Princess?

 

He was not sure whether he was awake or still dreaming.  Nothing made sense.  Nothing seemed real.  The girls emerald eyes enveloped him like fathomless seas.  Like the sea from which he just surfaced, filled with monsters and mysteries and treasures buried in its deeps.

 

Theyre going to hang you, Tonto.

 

She laid a newspaper across his lap and spread its pages over his knees.  ROADHOUSE MASSACRE... BADLANDS BLOODBATH ... the headlines leaped out at him in the wan window light from the  rumpled pages.  He saw his name mixed in with a jumble of words beneath a black and white photograph of a room crammed with corpses ... red devil psychopath bandit leader ...

 

A chill went up his spine as the girl moved across the room and the mutilated policeman suddenly appeared seated before him.  Blood flowed freely from the burly mans throat, streaming down his shirt front and forming a long dark patch.  Blood beaded on the scalped mans temples and dripped from his ears.

 

Theyre going to try you and convict you, Tonto.

 

The girl reappeared before him in the darkness.  She laid a shirt and trousers beside him on the bed.

 

And then you will die.

 

Greenleaf rose carefully to his feet.  He needed air.  His head was spinning.  He was not quite sure he wasnt still asleep one grim nightmare followed by the next.  He studied the golden haired girl with a mordant disbelief.  He half expected her to disappear.

 

Theres a car outside.  The girl said matter-of-factly.  She glided to the window and leaned against the sill.  Its owner wont need it.  He wont need this either.  She touched the pocket of

 

her starched white uniform where Greenleaf saw the pearl handled impression of an oversized gun.

 

The night nurse will be here soon.  Its time for your medicine.  They want to make sure that youre fit, Tonto, for your execution.  Doesnt that kill you?

 

A cold blast of air blew across the room as the girl lifted the pane of glass and slipped outside.  She turned and faced him, a wraith-like presence in the uncertain alley light.

 

Run, Tonto.  Run.  She whispered.

 

 The darkness rushed past them, a whirling black funnel which enfolded them like a predator in its deadening grip.  Bent double, numb, and shivering with cold, Greenleaf sat huddled in the passenger seat of the unmarked  squad car and stared at the road. He felt hollow inside.  He had barely found the strength to get himself dressed, to climb out the window and to follow the girl.  He probed the bulky medical bandage taped to his chest.  The wound was tender but there was no infection.  Over the dark custodians uniform which the girl had given him, he wore a deep-pocketed desert long coat which belonged to the deputy.  The coat was heavy and warm and it wrapped around him like a tent.  In its pockets, Greenleaf found a thermos of soup and a package of cigarettes.  He sipped the tepid broth and smoked the stale Kents while the police radio crackled and the bleak Badlands moonscape hurtled  by.

 

... auto wreck on highway one ... stick up in progress, Amoco station, route 44 ...

 

The girl sat rigidly beside him.  Hands on the steering wheel, she stared straight ahead.  Her mouth was set.  Her foot was pressed against the speeding squad cars floorboard.  She seemed pale, less sure of herself, somehow troubled and confused, but even more beautiful than she had been on the night of the robbery.  Greenleaf studied her uncanny features with a wary fascination.  Even after everything, even after all the murders, including his own, she had a way of drawing him into her hypnotic spell, that magical, insensible, mesmerizing aura.

 

Craps out, Princess?

 

Greenleaf drew on the cigarette and felt the smoke cut  into his lungs.  Something like a flinch briefly marred her face.

 

The games not over, Tonto.

 

But its a different game.

 

No, its a different deal.

 

And Im a different card.

 

Youre the same card. Tonto.

 

What card, Princess?

 

Joker Tonto.  Youre still the Joker.

 

Maybe the jokes on you, love.  What did you lose?

 

Lose?  Everything.  All of it.  All of it in spite of everything.  Too bad, too sad.  I lost the roadhouse.  Theyre going to tear down the roadhouse.

 

So what?

 

It was my roadhouse.

 

What happened to the take?

 

Safe and sound.

 

Whats my cut?

 

Your life, Tonto.  For as long as it lasts.

 

What else, Princess?

 

Thats enough, Tonto.  You wont last long.

 

Because Im the decoy.

 

Yes, but you wont get far.

 

But far enough.

 

And not much farther.

 

Greenleaf grabbed for the gun, reaching across the seat and groping weakly for the handle in her pocket.  She snatched his waxy, corpse-like hand, bending his fingers and twisting away his useless arm.  She swung the steering wheel back and forth, swerving the car  across the desert road, tossing his limp body until it slammed against the dashboard and hit the floor.

 

Youll be asleep soon, Hiawatha.  The girl said softly.  By the still clear shining waters.  The soup was seasoned with sleeping powder.  Youll wake up in Ringo at the railroad station.  Ill send you a postcard while you rot in prison.

 

It was a lucky break, after all, that you didnt die, with the roadhouse condemned and the way things shook out.  Im pregnant Big Chief.  If I had stayed any longer in that Black Water booby hatch, Dr. Kildare and Florence Nightingale would have found that out.  Especially the way that goody two-shoes nurse Hartfelt kept poking at me.  That would have raised some questions; maybe suspicions, maybe even to rumors and investigations.  Especially with you around shooting off your mouth.  Heres a bedtime story for you, Tonto, to sleep with in your grave.  Im the under-aged expectant mother of my fathers bastard son or daughter.  Does that mean Im my own wicked stepmother?  Youre a bright boy, Tonto, you figure it out.  Its time to lose this town.  Get out of this prison.  Get rid of the devils spawn.  A quarter million dollars should spring my trap.

 

You killed and scalped the deputy, Tonto.  You escaped and took me hostage.  In the dead of the night, when you had cleared Black Water,  you took me to a mining shaft.  You  raped me, killed me, dropped my body down a hole.   Tomorrow morning the good guys will find you in the car, or not far from it if you wake up with the early light and manage to crawl out.  Theyll dust out a death row cell for you if they dont skin you alive or shoot you first.

 

She swerved the car around a corner, braking and sliding and dropping off the road.  Under a full-blown desert moon, Greenleaf saw the high gabled roadhouse slide past the windshield as

she whipped the car in a circle and parked in front.  He tried to rise but the numbness had taken over.  She was a golden ray of radiance in a curling fog of sleep.

 

See you in dreamland darling.

 

She leaned over him and brushed a strand of sweat soaked hair from his forehead.  He breathed in her aroma as she kissed his lips.

4

 

That her?

 

Bingo.

 

Alone?

 

Looks it.

 

Packing?

 

Big time.

 

Dont make a play till she hunts the stuff out.

 

Come to Papa.

 

 They waited in the shadows, one on either side of the bolted barroom door, guns drawn, doused flashlights stuffed in their pockets.  They listened to the scraping of the key in the lock to the click of the tumbler and to the creaking of the hinges as the door swung open.

 

She slipped silently past them; her lithe shadowy figure slipped quickly through the darkness and disappeared behind the bar.  From the far corner of the room, they heard the clinking of bottles, the clatter of glass, the repeated crunch of ice cubes being scooped from the cooler and poured out on the floor.

Rocco had called it.  Vinnie replayed the meeting in Chicago as he watched her.  Rocco fingered the girl right off not that anyone believed him the instant he read the story in the Chicago Sun-Times and studied the girls highschool photograph next to the picture of the massacre.

 

They go together.

 

Rocco tapped the paper.

 

Stake out the girl and youll get back the snow.

 

The cops had it, the cowboys had it, the pompon girl had it, a survivor of the Indians gang had it. Who had it?  It went around the table like that in a circle all morning, jumbled, contradictory, confusing -- which really didnt matter to Salvatore Corso because everybody was going to get it unless somebody out there came up with the dope.

 

Vinnie!  He raged.  You and Sully gonna go out there right now!  I want that roadhouse torched!  I want that jail bombed!  I want the straight shit from that Indian and I want the same from that girl.!

 

Jesus Christ, Salvatore!  Marco exploded.  You gotta let this thing go!  All you gonna do is get us in the shit!  The cowboys dont got it!  I just talked to the cowboys!  It was a freak thing!  Either the cops got it or one of those Indians got it!  You dont really think that girls got it?  If the cops got it its gone.   If one of those Indians got it its gone.  That Indian they caught aint gonna talk; he cant talk.  That girl aint gonna talk, she got nothing to say.   You start shooting the cowboys all you gonna do is kill business!  Besides, the place is crawling with cops!  State cops, Federal cops, local cops!  The place is a fucking zoo!  Every junk show on TV is there with a camera!  Hard Copy, Current Affair, Movie of the Week!

 

I dont care!  Salvatore stormed.  I aint gonna be played for no chump!  Whoever figured this heist figured it wrong!  They figured it wrong because they didnt figure in me!  Everybodys got it so nobody gets it!  Nobody got it so everybody gets off!  Bullshit!  Nobody got it so everybody gets it!  Vinnie, you and Sully start packing!

 

Just stall.  Marco took them aside.  Go out there and look around.  Toss the roadhouse if its not a problem.  Ill go out there too in a couple days .  See the guys at the ranch.  Its about 20 miles down the road.  Ill give you directions and a phone number.  Well hook up later.  Look, dont talk to no one.  Dont do nothing.  Itll be OK.  Ill calm Salvatore down.

 

Vinnie waited in the shadows, pressed against the wall, his automatic handgun pointed at the

darkness in the direction of the girl who seemed to be scooping ice invisibly in the far corner of the room.  His face was shadowed by a scowl.  Anger lit his eyes and a grimace twisted his features.  He ought to take out Rapunzel right now, he knew.  He ought to take her out before something happened, before Miss pretty freak turned the tables, got the drop on him.  He ought to pull the trigger and start blasting if she was half as good as Rocco made her.  And as unreal as it seemed, to his shock and his astonishment, it looked like Rocco was right and she probably was.  The dope in the bar ice.  Who would have looked there?  He didnt.  Jesus.  Vinnie never would have made the girl, not for anything, not in a million years.  He thought the swart greasy racketeering relic was off his rocker when he dropped his pompon girl theory just more idiotic old man ramblings from the senile, has-been, moth-eaten mobster.

 

Dont play with this kid, Vinnie.   Rocco warned him.  Shes smarter than you, Vinnie.  Dont let her in the game.  She dont play games, Vinnie.  She got her own game going.  She plays for keeps.

 

I got to listen to this crap, Mr. Corso?  Vinnie had thrown up his hands in disgust and distain.  He looked around the table in a raging disbelief, trying to see if he wasnt the only one who wasnt crazy.  I got to hear more of this crap about the Crime Crazy Cheerleader?

 

You gotta listen to everything!  Anything is something when nobody knows nothing, unless you think you know something nobody knows!

 You couldnt argue with Corso.  Not when he was over the top.  First the 50 gs ransom. Now this.  Corso was raging with a personal vendetta against everyone in Black Water.  Vinnie argued anyway.

 

I know horseshit from bullshit!  This is both!  What?  Im gonna shadow some teenybopper around some tumbleweed town?  Im gonna stake out some sock hop?  Look, Mr. Corso, the cowboys got it!  Its as plain as my face!  Those dude ranch deadbeats double-crossed each other!

 

The cowboys dont got it, God dammit!  Marco slammed his palm on the table.  Nobody double-crossed nobody!  Give it up!  What you gonna do, Sal, turn this thing into a ghetto drive-by?

 

Anybody could have double-crossed anybody.  

 

Sully shrugged.

 

And somebody did!  Vinnie raged.  The cowboys did!

 

Listen to me.  Rocco rasped.  Marco, Sully, Vinnie, Mr. C.  The girl did it.  The girl got it.  I can see it, feel it.  She doped them, shot them, stashed the snow.  It all adds up.  Its the only thing that adds up.  She served the drinks.  She was the only survivor, or should have been.  It was so clean, so logical, a bullet for every body, nothing out of place.

 

So the cowboys lined everyone up and shot them with different guns!  Big deal!  Vinnie stormed.  Besides, why is your chief suspect sucking her thumb right now in a psycho ward!

 

Its a cover, Vinnie!  That shock things an act!

 

Youre an act old man.  Vaudeville!

 

Vinnie never would have made the girl.  He could not figure out how Rocco did what Rocco saw, how he saw it.  Even after a day and a night of looking at the girl, looking at  highschool photographs and homemade films of the girl films of her cartwheeling across a gym floor with the Black Water high school cheerleading squad, photos of her sitting, smiling, with her arms raised atop the shoulders of some hayseed high school football hero in a snapshot from some local newspaper after a winning game shown over and over again on every TV station, in every paper, in every tabloid everywhere they stopped along the long drive from Chicago to Black Water, he had seen nothing else in those films, photographs, snapshots, reports, but a drop dead movie star face with  sculpted cheekbones and dewy eyes.  If he saw anything else in that magnificent face, it was perhaps a certain mysterious sadness which made him feel sorry for her sorry that Hell had thrown a party in her house one  night, had killed her family, had left her damaged. 

 

 But that was before he saw with his own eyes her strange nocturnal visit to what the tabloids called this Theater of Blood.

 

Now that the girl had suddenly made herself, now that she was standing alone in the dark digging out the dope from the last place they ever would have looked ( what else could she be doing?)  Vinnie knew that even after all of this was settled, after the killer was killed and the snow returned, her freak roadhouse heist would firmly and definitely unmake him.  His  position with the mob would never be the same.  He would never again be taken into Corsos confidence.  Corso would never again confide in or consult with him.  A player whose size-up couldnt be trusted?  Only Corsos brother Marco could get away with that.  Vinnie had been too wrong and he had made too much of it.  He knew as he stood there that from now on he would be just another hired gun to Corso another bone breaker, score settler, just another goon to be sent out to deal with the dregs of the outfits dirty work.

 

He ought to take her out right now.  Vinnie brooded.  His face puckered with rage.  It was all that he could do not to pull the trigger.  He ought to take her out instead of taking chances; blow her away in the dark just for the pleasure of blasting her.  But that would be too easy.  When she got it she was going to be alive to regret it.  She was going to know she was getting it and who was giving it to her.  She wanted to play Big Time?  She was going to pay Big Time.  She wanted to fuck up his life?  It was going to cost.  The price he would exact was going to be long, slow, brutal, satisfying.

 

The crunching stopped and the two men stiffened.  They shifted their weight to the balls of their feet, lowered their shoulders and braced for the lunge.  Vinnies heart beat quickly and his palms were sweating.  He searched the dark with a deadly deliberation, devouring the blackness for the outline of the girl.  There was no chance she could grab for her gun.  Her hands would be filled with the cash and the caine.  There was no chance she would see them until they made their move.  When she reached for the door the fun would begin.  Underworld fun.  Gumba time.  Just what the little bitch asked for, what she deserved.  The roadhouse massacre made his flesh crawl.  Twelve men, doped, shot, used as pawns by some high school princess.  It was too bizarre even for him.  Tossing the roadhouse had turned his stomach.  It was a ramshackle  relic straight from some grade Z movie,  with its dust, cobwebs, groans and drafts.  Bloodstains splashed the floor and there were police outlines everywhere like spastic ghosts.  She was going to get what she gave in the place she had given it.  She was going to get it in spades and Vinnie was going to grin while he gave it to her.

 

But in the back of his mind all that Vinnie really wanted from the girl was to hear from her a different plot to this roadhouse nightmare.  He wanted the girl to tell him she wasnt in it on her own.  He still couldnt believe it was only her play.  It didnt make sense.  He couldnt see it.  He wanted to hear from the girl that she had been in it with the cowboys, or the cops, or the Indians, anyone.  He wanted to hear anything from her that would take him off the hook, that would help him save face with Corso.  Maybe she wasnt digging out the dope after all.  Maybe she dropped an earing in the ice serving drinks or something.  Maybe she was in shock like the papers said, wandering around in a stupor.  But then why the 45?  But after what happened why not a 45?  In these cowboy towns guns ... besides Marco said ...

 

Where is she?  Sully hissed in his ear.  Sully was suddenly next to him.  They crouched together in the darkness and stared in the direction of the night blackened bar.  Where is this bitch, man?

 

Vinnies heart began to pound and his legs to stiffen.  A clammy sensation crawled across his skin.  He peered dumbly at the darkness with a deadened expression, his breath stopped, his stomach sickened.

 

Watch the car.  He rasped, softly.  Keep an eye on her car.

 

He moved slowly through the stillness, crouched low in the shadows, his gun arm extended, pointing straight ahead moving, yet not moving exactly, more like being moved, being propelled forward, a step at a time by some invisible force.

 

He could see nothing, hear nothing.  No sound, no movement, no shadows shifting.  For the first time in the killing game a charge of fear mingled in with the adrenalin rush he got from danger.  He clenched his teeth trying to control his frenzy.  The girl was hiding in the dark.  The girl had heard them, sensed them.  She was waiting in the shadows, ghostly, lethal.

 

His free hand groped blindly for the edge of the bar.  Sweat gathered on the scars across his forehead.

 

Dont play with this kid, Vinnie.  Shes smarter than you are, Vinnie.

 

He sensed her hovering presence all around him, in every fiber of his being, in every night-blackened pocket, every deep shadowed hole.  Captor, captive, the girl suddenly reigned over both men now.  The first shot would be her decision.  If she got off a good one, Vinnie was gone.  Sully would fire at her gun flash, she at his.  Sully was out in the open.

 

How in the fuck did he fuck this up?  Vinnie seethed.  How did this happen?  His legs brushed soundlessly against the bottom of the bar stool.  He paused and lifted the giant flashlight from the pocket of his coat.  He carefully widened the radius of its extinguished beam.  She was buried somewhere in the back bar, he brooded, like a sniper in a bunker.  He would draw her fire, then commence blasting.  Two guns to her one, they were bound to take her out.  They had better take her out. 

 

With his torch hand extended far away from his body, Vinnie aimed at the cooler and lit the beam.  The back bar was empty.  The isle, the cooler, the shadowy recesses under the sink, all were empty,  vacant, harmless in the whitewash of the flashlights beam.

 

He dropped quickly to the floor and doused the torch.  His heart was pounding and his gun hand shaking.  She had hopped the bar.  She was out there, somewhere, hidden amidst the tables.  He clenched his teeth and edged his way slowly toward the center of the room, sliding silently on his haunches across the hardwood floor.  They were both out in the open now, he and Sully.  They were sitting ducks.  He narrowed the beam and rolled on his stomach.  He lay spread-eagled before the tables gun hand sweating.  He lit the beam and swept the room: floor, tables, walls, window panes.  He swept it again and doused the light.  The barroom was empty.  The girl was nowhere in sight.  She had moved again.  She could be anywhere.  Behind him, next to him, back behind the bar.  He looked quickly up and down the pitch black darkness.  He looked over his shoulder.  She was as agile as a cat, as quiet as a shadow.  He recalled the gymnasium films of her running, tumbling, turning cartwheels.

 

Vinnie jumped to his feet and vaulted the bar.  He swept the back bar wildly with the flashlight.  He turned and swept the restaurant again.  The walls, windows, tables, floor.

 

She split man!  Sully hissed behind him.  The cunt made tracks!

 

Keep it down!  Vinnie rasped.

 

He crouched, panting, trying to think.  He couldnt figure out what cat and mouse game the girl was playing.  He shot the beam straight ahead toward the back of the room.  At the end of the bar a door stood ajar.  It was the stockroom door which led to the office, which led to the hallway, which opened to the back as well as the upper floors of the house.

 

She went out the back, man!  Sully hissed.  Shes getting away!

 

"Shut up!  Vinnie rasped.  Go watch her fuckin car!

 

Vinnie knew her game now and he wasnt going to play it.  She needed her car.  She wanted to split them up, pick them off one at a time.  She was in the stockroom, hidden, waiting.

 

Move man!  Sully hissed.  Youll never catch her!

 

Shut up!  Vinnie rasped.

 

Death, fear, panic, stopping his blood, shutting off his breath.  Vinnie felt like a fly caught in the web of a devious spider like those twelve other flies who had flown into her  trap.  His prizefighters face was covered with sweat as he crept cautiously toward the stockroom door.

 

Dont play with this kid Vinnie.  Shes smarter than you are, Vinnie.

 

He crouched on the floor and braced his back against the wall.  With the barrel of his gun, he pushed the door open.  The darkness was even murkier than the restaurant and bar.  He tried to remember the arrangement of shelves and boxes inside the cluttered room.  He tried to imagine where she might be hiding amidst that jumble.  He listened intently for the sound of her breathing, for her slightest movement.

 

To die like some bug.  To die like some discarded doll in this crazy teenieboppers haunted

playhouse ....

 

Vinnie dove through the door and rolled across the room, torching the light sporadically as he tumbled, trying to draw her gunfire at the flashing beam.  He slammed against a wall and twisted around.  He ignited the wide beam and swept the shelves and crates.

 

The stockroom was empty.  It was cold, still, silent except for the panting of his breath.

 

Goldilocks was gone.  She had skipped out the back.  She was halfway now to hide out land.  Vinnie ran a shaky hand through his sweat soaked hair.  He shook his head and fumbled for a cigarette.  He had been chasing ghosts, fighting shadows.  The girl hopped the bar and took off long ago.  He watched a mental replay of his commando attack.  What could be more ridiculous?  He could hear Roccos raspy laughter.  He could see Salvatores sidelong smirk.  Vinnie laughed with them at the spectacle of himself.  Vinnie the enforcer, king of the goons.

 

A sickish sensation swept dully over him and he lit the cigarette with a clammy hand.  He would have to hunt the girl down in Black Water now.  Hunt her down when he could have had her here had her, had the dope.  Hunt her down in a place which was swarming with cops.  Cops and cameras.  Cameras and more cameras.  The media was buzzing around the town like flies in a dumpster.  Buzzing and feeding.  Eating Black Waters  festering trash.  He was part of that trash.  Vinnie the ginny, Vinnie the ginny goon.  Vincent Vincente, the garbage man of gangsterland.

 

He sat and he smoked and he reran the botched stakeout in his mind.  It was so absurd he couldnt believe it.  In an hour he would have to make a call to Corso.  He knew he could not possibly call Corso.  He knew that he would never get the girl.  Not now, now that she knew they were after her.  He may get her sometime, someday, but not now, and he knew now that he could never get the dope.  He knew that there was only one thing he still could do.  He didnt want to do it but he had to do it.  He had to kill Sully.  It was either him or Sully.  If word got back to Corso about the way he blew this job ... But if he killed Sully, he would have to have a cover for Sullys killing.  He could think of no cover that would stand up, no bullet-proof story about cops, cowboys, Indians, accidents.  Nothing that Rocco ...

 

Vinnie rose slowly to his feet and took a deep breath.  His pulse quickened as he swallowed the air.  Slowly and cautiously, he moved quietly across the stockroom toward the inner door of the roadhouse office.  Like the other door, it had been left ajar, blown back by the drafts after the girl slipped through.  He pushed it open and swept the beam inside.  The office was empty, but the smell of incense was even stronger there.  The odor was so strong it made him dizzy, and the eerie tape outlines there seemed to float like ghosts in the beacons light.  He shook his head clear and moved through the room.  He opened the door to the hallway and peered out cautiously.

5

 

    Light streamed into the center of the hallway from one of the oak doors which led to the lodgings on the second floor.  The smell, and even the smoke, of the incense drifted down the stairway and filled the corridor.

 

He moved to the door and paused at the threshold.

 

It was candlelight that filtered down from the room at the top of the stairs.  The soft, fluttering illumination, the dense, hypnotic pall of the incense, stirred memories of the Immaculate Conception when he was  an altar boy.  Deaths perfume.  Vinnie remembered, almost with a smile, recalling an old priests remark while making preparations for a funeral.  The  mysterious smell of the incense, reeking of ancient Catholic rituals and rites, made Vinnie think uneasily about the dark and impenetrable void.

 

The smell was overpowering as he mounted the stairs enough incense burning to foul ten cathedrals.  Torch tucked away in the pocket of his coat, automatic pistol lifted, pointed, firmly but tensely at the illuminated door, Vinnie gripped the banister to keep his feet under him.

 

Nuns, priests, crosses, crucifixions, angels, devils, holy ghosts, damnation ... his head was spinning as he climbed heavily to the top.  His temples and forehead were beaded with sweat, his lungs were on fire, his eyes burned fiercely.

 

She stood with her back to him across the candle-lit room.  She was staring at her own ghostly reflection in a full length, antique mirror.  She was dressed in black a gossamer black with lavish jet trimmings and lush midnight lace.  Like frozen flames her golden hair fanned over her shoulders and flared down her back.  She stood motionless, her arms at her sides as rigid, straight and still as a statue.

 

She was talking to herself in the mirror, staring, speaking, whispering in a low almost inaudible voice like a ritual incantation or a mystic prayer.  His own dark reflection appeared behind hers in the glass a  shape in the distant doorway which she somehow failed to notice.

 

Vinnie moved into the room and looked around.  Glints of flame from dozens of candles, candelabrums, kerosene lamps, fluttered on bureaus, mantels, bed stands and dressers.  Incense was burning everywhere.  All the rooms were the same on the second floor.  They were big, high ceilinged elaborately furnished rooms, lavishly appointed and garishly ornate.  Fireplace, oval mirror, four poster bed, mock oriental carpets, plush sofas, plum colored walls and lush velvet drapes all faded, tattered, mottled  with age.  They had tossed the house by torchlight focused on their work. It was a revelation to Vinnie to see one of these rooms clean, lit up, without spiders and webs. 

 

Bawdy-house boudoirs.  Vinnie brooded as he looked around.  He wiped a hand across his sweat-beaded face.  The smoldering fumes were blurring his vision.  A mausoleum for the ghosts of Black Waters long-dead ladies of the night.

 

He stepped closer to the girl.  She remained motionless, staring, whispering to her own pale reflection in the mirror.  She seemed hypnotized, a zombie, fixed, remote, rooted to the floor.  Wacked, Vinnie thought, as he eyed the girl uneasily.  He felt his scalp tighten and his throat constrict.  He stared at the girls  motionless figure with that fascinated horror one reserves for the insane.  Did this roadhouse creep show ever stop?

 

Dolls had been heaped in a huge pile on the carpeted floor.  The pyramid of dolls which rose to the height of his waist.  The pile stretched across the entire room, spreading from the andirons of the fireplace to the four poster bed.  Enough dolls to choke  a toy shop in Disneyland.  They seemed to be part of the girls crazy ritual, her weird black mass.

 

Vinnie spotted the big gun and moved quickly to it.  It was lying on the top of a standing black suitcase which had been set at the foot of the four poster bed.  He shoved the weapon in his pocket and grabbed the bag.  It was stuffed, heavy, packed tight.  Vinnie flipped it over and popped it open.  He pulled out nightgowns, dresses, slips, panties.  He dug through nylons, slippers, high heels, bras.  He tossed the flimsy contents left and right as he dug for the bag of cocaine and the bundle of cash.

 

The whispering stopped and Vinnie froze in mid-motion.  His scalp began to crawl as he watched the golden head turn slowly from the mirror and stare directly at him.  Her eyes were the singing of sirens.  They probed deep enchanted reaches where a man wander for days.  She had the bearing of a goddess and the face of an angel.  It seemed to shine in the candlelight with its own soft incandescence.  She was the most exquisite creature he had ever seen.

 

Ive lost him.  She whispered.

 

She gazed at Vinnie intensely for an instant and then she dropped her eyes.

 

I know.  Vinnie soothed.

 

Ive lost them all.  She said softly.

 

I know, kitten.

 

The suitcase was empty.  Vinnie rose slowly to his feet and gazed at it dully. He felt like he was fighting a hobgoblin, struggling desperately to get out of a dream. Sticky with sweat, head spinning, he faced the girl woozily across the candle-lit room.  Her head was bowed, her arms hung straight at her sides.  She looked like a broken doll, a porcelain princess dressed in the worlds dark vale.

 

I didnt know he would do that.

 

She stood staring at her feet, her eyes vacant, a sleepwalker in a trance.

 

Do what kitten?

 

Do what he did.

 

Who kitten?

 

Bo.  My boyfriend.

 

Did you do it with him?

 

I did it for him.

 

What did you do?

 

Spiked the drinks.

 

Why kitten?

 

Because he told me to.  Because I love him.

 

So he could get the snow?

 

So he could get what was his.

 

Does he have what he wanted?

 

He took something with him.

 

Do you know what it was?

 

Money, I think.  Something he said they owed him.

 

What were you doing downstairs, angel?  The bar?  The ice?

 

Cleaning.  Storing.  Im going away.  Im going far away.  Im going far away and forever after I kill him.

 

Ill kill him for you kitten, if you take me to him.

 

Ill kill him myself.  I must kill him myself.  I must kill him like he killed my father, my uncle, like he killed the others.  I must kill him myself and then I must kill myself.  But not here.  Not in Black Water.

 

She was half in the room, half in a dream.  She stared blankly at the floor, dazed, listless.  Vinnie studied her with fascination, his back tensed, ready for motion.  It was too nutty not to be real the candles, the incense, the pyramid of dolls and the cryptic solo conversation.  The girl was wacked, screwy from shock, guilt, probably a bit bolo to begin with it really didnt matter.  None of this mattered anymore to Vinnie.  Rocco didnt matter.  Getting back the dope didnt matter.  Who did it, who had it, who didnt.

 

His legs were getting rubbery and his head was throbbing.  He could feel the wings of fever-dream  beating in his ears.  He could blow the girl away right now and end it.  Kill it.  Stop it.  He could shoot up the dude ranch.  Torch a squad.  That would calm down Corso, keep things even.  He could get out of this rat trap before the roof fell in.

 

You can forget about all that kitten.  Vinnie said softly.  Her face floated like a desert moon above the black mourning dress.  You can forget about killing and forget about dying.  Ill take care of your boyfriend.  Your boyfriend has something I want and youre going to take me to him.  After we settle this score youre going to take care of yourself.  I want that too.  Youre going back to the asylum.  Youre going to get your head together and tell your story.  Youre going to tell the cops and tell the papers your version of what happened.  You leave out the part about spiking the drinks and youll be alright.

 

I cant tell my story!

 

You can and will kitten one way or another.  If you dont Ill call the station and tell them for you.

 

He looked down into eyes which were fearful, pleading.

 

You got scammed, kid.  Your boyfriend took you in.  Hell be dead in an hour.  Whatever went down dont matter.  Maybe there is no boyfriend.  I dont care.  Just talk up now.  All I want is the dope and a certain story.  You got both.  Everything Im after.  Ill get you what you want.  Doctor? Priest? Revenge? Rest up kid, if youre on the level.  Get a new start.  If youre not on the level I got the same advice.  You dont need my money.  More money than Im looking for will come to you.

 

What money?

 

 Tabloid money.  Boob tube money. 

 

 I dont understand.

 

You dont watch TV?

 

I dont do anything.  The doctors wont let me.

 

Youre the golden goose angel.  The Bride of Bloodshed.  Cash in. With your looks its a cinch.

 

  She stared blankly at him.

 

 Dear Abbys over doll .  Time to get down to business.  If this is a stall it aint worth it.  Ill rip you apart if I have to.  All I want is the dope.  All I want  is to get out of this loony bin.  Work with me and well both make out.

 

He was dizzy now and her face was a  pool of whiteness floating in  haze.

 

Would you like to sit down?  I think youre sick.

 

Save it for the car, kid.  Lets get out of here and get it over.  Lets get out of here before I get to like you.  Lets get to the ranch before your boyfriend takes a powder.

 

Get to the ranch?

 

The ranch, kitten!  Your boyfriend!  The ranch!!

 

Oh.  My boyfriend.  The ranch.

 

He was swaying on his feet.  He needed to clear his head.  He pointed his gun at the man in the mirror.  The man   disappeared.  Vinnie ran his hand through his hair.  He was really dizzy.  She must be nuts, he thought, if she can suck in this stench.  It was like a drug.  Marco.  Rocco.  Hed show those assholes.  The girl was wacked,   just like he said.  Shed tell her story right.  Hed see to that.  Hed stick it in their faces.  Salvatore, that shrimp.

 

The room was filled with smoke. 

 

He moved sluggishly through it.  He yanked a tassel off the canopy of the four poster bed.  He knew the cowboys were in it from the get go.  Rocco, that bozo, trying to fuck with his head.

 

Gotta tie you up kitten.

 

His fingers felt like rubber.

 

Hold out your hands.  Gotta toss the room again before we go.  Look by this time tomorrow the worst will be over.  By this time tomorrow youll be rolling in dough.It would be a long night.

 

My dolls are asleep.

 

Good for them.

 

My dolls are going to heaven.

 

Beats Black Water, kid.

 

Are you going to heaven?

 

Cant say I am.

 

Have fun in hell.

 

The explosion of flames was so sudden and fierce, that Vinnie never knew what hit him.  There was a black swirl, a silver flash, a great conflagration in which he became swallowed by fire.  A split second later his mind sorted it out the girl turning a cartwheel, tossing a lit cigarette lighter.

 

She watched the big man run from the flames.  He took the flames with him, a human torch.  He slammed into a wall, fell, leaped to his feet and ran through the door.

 

The room was an inferno.  Flames leaped wildly from the pyramid of dolls which she soaked heavily in kerosene before she lit the candles and incense.  She would burn the house down before they tore it down.  It was her farewell ritual to its history in Black Water.  Her funeral pyre.

 

The night stands ignited.  The four poster bed went up.  The dressers, tables, sofas, drapes were swirling with flames.  At the apex of the pyramid plumes lit the ceiling.  A vortex erupted.  It raged in a widening circle over her head.

 

She stood and watched until the heat drove her back.  The walls began to crackle as she edged toward the window.  She lifted the glass and sat on the sill.  Beside her in the corner lay her black velvet bag.  She studied it, hesitated, and then grabbed it off the floor and looked inside.  Everything was there, the dope, the money both cold from the ice bin.  She pulled it over her shoulder and hugged it to her side.  She swung her legs up and over the ledge as the oval mirror shattered and the ceiling caved in.

6

 

Cole to Cannon.

 

Go Cole.

 

Choppers coming?

 

Coming Jim.

 

Call Ringo?

 

Stations covered.

 

Blocks set?

 

Blocks in.

 

Holler anyway.

 

Thats a ten.

 

Black Water station to all units in Kane, Corbette and Macon counties ....

 

He wont stick to the roads.

 

He wont stick to that car.

 

Dump em and jump em.

 

Least well know where hes been.

 

Not where hes going.

 

He aint going nowhere.

 

Think hell hole up?

 

He will if he can.

 

Whyd the creep take her?

 

Dont know Ben.

 

Hostage?

 

Suppose so.

 

Dont make sense.

 

Maybe theres somethin she knows.  Maybe revenge.

 

Leave me be when we find him. 

 

 The deputy gripped the wheel firmly and glared at the road.

 

I mean that Jim.

 

No, this ones all mine.

 

The sheriff said softly.

 

Its just me and him.

 

Time gap.  Space gap.  Crap gap the Indian was gone.  He had too big a jump.  Almost an hour, in any direction.  Wasteland, Badlands, cattle country.  He could slip through the towns.

 

Hit and run. If only that night nurse hadnt walked in the room and fainted.  If she called them right off, they might have a chance.

 

Its impossible, Jim!  The doctor said sweating.  Theres no way I tell you!  The mans still half dead!

 

The dead have risen doc.  The sheriff shot back.  What I need to know now is what are we in for?  Whats this psycho got in him?

    Hell Jim, he can barely stand!  He cant have much strength!  Were still feeding him blood!

 

  Guess he dont need much!  Look what he done! 

 

Cole to Cannon.

 

Go Cole.

 

I want all freight trains stopped and checked what passed anywhere in or around the hundred mile net.

 

You got it sheriff.

 

Joe whats with them Feds?

 

Nothing yet Sheriff.  Thats a negative, Jim.

 

The odd angle, the lucky shot.  Thats all they had going.  Flat tire, engine trouble, freak collision anything that would stall the Indian until they fattened the net.

 

They flew through the night, hunched forward, side by side, staring straight ahead.  Going nowhere, nowhere fast.

 

It was the reign of the devil.  The sheriff clenched his fists.  The world gone mad.  Destruction, murder, orgies, drugs.  Blood lust was spreading across the land.  It was a lust which could not be sated.  Movies, books, magazines, TV .  Everywhere you looked, evil spreading.   Haunting his mind was the Black Trench-coat Mafia massacre.  A dozen high school students in Colorado killed or wounded by two of their schoolmates with automatic rifles and pipe bombs on Hitlers birthday. 

    Headlights swept past them and he saw his face reflected briefly in the squad car windshield.  Grim, haggard, angry, lost.  He was past his time.  It was time to get out.  The reign of the devil.  He couldnt beat the devil.  It was beyond his badge.

 

Valley Jim.

 

Cole turned his eyes slowly to the steep descent.

 

Theres a fire in the valley, Jim.  Looks like the roadhouse going up.

 

She could hear the sounds of sirens in the distance.  She saw police flashers, like fireflies, far off in the night.  She gripped the rusted drainpipe tightly, hanging high atop the warped wall, bat-like in the moonlight, black dress fluttering.

 

A man with a gun stood directly below her.  He was dark like the other man, city tough.  The man gazed at the flashers and cursed to himself.  He kicked at the asphalt and ran inside.

 

Cops!  Vinnie!

 

She lowered herself, cautiously, down the pipe.

 

Vinnie!  Cops!

 

The roof ignited.  Glass shattered above her head.  Flames leaped wildly from the broken windows.  Smoke poured out.  She felt her hands slipping.  Blood beaded through the palms of her black velvet gloves.

 

What the fuck, man!

 

The gunman reappeared.  He stood back from the burning house and glared at its blazing roof.  He cursed again to himself and shoved his gun in his pocket.  He walked quickly across the parking lot and disappeared behind the trees.

 

She dropped to the ground, arms extended, feet together, black dress billowing.  Stars exploded as she hit the pavement.  The dark world tilted, hurtling at her face.

 

She lay twisted on the asphalt, ankle broken, forehead bleeding.  She fought to stay conscious, shuddering and confused. Gotta get to that Indian.  She told herself.  Gotta get to that Indian before they get here.  She dragged herself to a drain hole below the pipe.  She stuffed the velvet bag down in it.  Tears welled up in her half-closed eyes, streamed down her face.  She slid

 

around and crawled toward the car.  Her body trembled with pain.  She felt dazed, faint.  Gotta ...gotta...

 

Ahhh Haaa ...Hee Hee Hee Hee

 

Ahhh Haaa ... Hee Hee Hee Hee

 

Ahhh Haaa ...

 

Slimey Soul, Slimey Soul, Slimey Soul.

 

Ahhh haaa...

 

Do you know what hell is, Vincent?

 

Yes Father.

 

Do you?

 

Yes Father.

 

Did you take the money from the poor box, Vincent?

 

No Father.

 

The priest sighed and lifted the candle from the candelabrum.

 

Give me your hand, Vincent.

 

He gripped the tiny fingers and crossed himself.

 

Hell is fire, Vincent.

 

No father!

 

Hell is torment, Vincent.

 

No Father!

 

Hell is endless screaming suffering, Vincent.

 

Stop Father!  Stop Father!  Stop Father!  Stop Father!

 

Ahhh Haaa...

 

 

He still had eyes.  As wide as saucers, they scanned the smoke filled blaze.  He listened to the crackling of the roadhouse walls, to the crash of rafters.

 

Sully!

 

He crawled on his belly across the smoldering floor, dragging himself along by his elbows, leaving a trail of blood.

 

Sully!

 

Smoke ghosts drifted and circled through the choking pall.  They watched and waited.  Fire devils leaped and danced with the flames.  They licked their chops and laughed and jabbered.

 

HELP ME SULLY!  HELP ME!  HELP ME!

 

Cole to Cannon.

 

Go Cole.

 

Were on highway 6 near Devils Gorge.  Were heading toward Big Jakes Roadhouse in the valley.  The house is burning.  Theres a car out front.  Could be Cambys.  Stand by.

 

In the rear view mirror, Sully watched the disappearing roadhouse explode in flames.  The top floors were blazing.  The roof was falling in.  Fire lit the windows of the restaurant and bar.

 

Corso would kill them!

 

Sully cursed and slammed his palm against the steering wheel.  That fuck up Vincente!  Sully could see what happened.  Vinnie lost the girl, got pissed, then scared, then came back and torched the house to placate Corso.  Cool.  The dumb motherfucker!  He didnt know you start an arson in the basement so like maybe it wouldnt show for a while and you could get away?

 

His blood was boiling.  He crept along the desert in the dusty Caddy with the headlights off, chain smoking cigarettes, as he maneuvered through the rocks and ruts by the light of the moon.  He looked back at the burning house, at the flashers racing to the blaze.  The only smart thing

 

they did was to come up this back way and park behind those trees.  Theyd be trapped rats if they messed with the highway.  He searched the rocks and crevices for the out to the road.  He kept a lookout for Vinnie along the lunar desolate.  He kept a lookout for the girl.

 

Dumb mother fucker!  Sully cursed to himself as he fought with the wheel.  They should have blasted that bitch the second they saw her.  Thered have been enough of her left to make her

squawk.  Dont make a play until she hunts the stuff out.  Stupid, idiot, fuckhead, fuckup!  It wasnt enough they had the girl.  No. The stupid fuckup  wanted to pump her for a story a story that would put him in the right and show up Rocco.  Brainless bozo.  Now that he fucked it up he wanted to cover it up.  Fire right.  Hed expect Sully to help him cover.  Fuck him!  Like Corso and Rocco wouldnt see through the bullshit.

 

There was a spiraling rock and a break between the boulders.  Sully steered the Cadillac slowly, gently, daintily through the crevice trying not to scrape the paint or dent the fenders.  So what was left?  Howd they get the girl now?  What good would it do them?  They gonna snatch her from that town with all them cops, feds and TV crews.  Then what?  Maybe they ought to blow up some squads shoot a few cowboy types and call it a day.  Play dumb.  He eased the car through the break, rising and falling and holding his breath.  They couldnt win, for Christs sake.  The blow had blew.  Face the facts.

 

Smooth ground ran next to a gully which separated the highway from the desert.  He picked up speed and looked around.  This was cool driving at an angle off the road in the dead of night with his lights off and an arsenal of guns and bombs loaded in the trunk.

 

He sped ahead, afraid the car might slide down the road bank, afraid of being spotted by a car coming up the highway.  He searched the gully for the sudden rise where the ground leveled off for a few rocky yards and he could wheel the Caddy off the desert.  A smile split his face as he imagined Vinnie emerging from the house, finding the car gone, the cops waiting.

 

Good luck dickhead.

 

Sully slammed on the brakes and lurched forward.  Far up the highway, he saw a cluster of flashers.  His heart pounded as he dug through the glove compartment and pulled out a pair of old army surplus binoculars.  A roadblock was set up at the crossroads just ahead.

 

Cole to Cannon.

 

Go Cole.

 

We see the girl.  Send an ambulance.  We see Cambys car.  No sign of the subject.  We got a back up and were going in.

 

Ten four Sheriff.

 

They swung into the drive and braked by the car.  Cole made a run for the girl while Tate leaped out and leveled a shotgun at the unmarked squad.  Two county patrol cars rushed in after.  Four officers jumped out and fanned across the lot.  They covered the house, car, front grounds, trees with rifles.

 

The Indians ours, Cole!

 

The girl lay face down in a tangle.  Flames leaped at her from the burning house.  The house was an inferno.  The roof was falling down.  The walls were caving in.  Cole scorched his face as he reached down and snatched her.  He bundled her in his arms and raced for the squad.  He carried her low, braced for a gunshot.  Her long hair spilled to the ground sweeping the asphalt.

 

Gotta get that Indian.

 

She twisted and moaned.

 

Hush now princess.

 

Glass, metal, wood chips, debris, flew like shrapnel as a series of oil barrel explosions erupted from the basement.  A great ball of fire mushroomed from the shell.  Coles back and arms stung with cuts and burns as he bent and bundled the girl into the back seat of the squad.  Behind him the walls came down like a house of cards.  The roadhouse staircase stood blazing in the night.

 

Fucking fuckhead fuckup fucker!

 

Sully cursed and spat and fought the wheel.  He heard the fenders crunch and the bumpers buckle.  In the rear view mirror, he eyed the dwindling flashers disappearing behind him in the night.

 

He had to get to the highway.

 

He had to get back to the motel.

 

It is 2 A.M. ... In the top of the news ... Roadblocks have been set in place for escaped suspect Thomas Greenleaf who is believed to be responsible for at least two murders in Fridays infamous roadhouse slayings.  The fugitive was discovered missing late last night from an intensive care unit in Black Water General Hospital.  Found was the mutilated body of special Black Water deputy Horace Camby assigned to guard him.  Deputy Cambys black unmarked police car is missing from the hospital parking lot.

 

The fugitive is believed to be armed and highly dangerous.  He may have a white female hostage with him.  The licence number of the missing vehicle is KS 106.  Agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation are working closely with local police.  A house to house search is underway.

 

Sully stopped the car and lowered the radio.  His mind raced.  He scanned the moonscape.  He juggled Vinnie, the girl, the escaped Indian, the roadblock.  He jumped from the car and popped the trunk.  He took out the weapons and bombs and nervously hid them in a hole at the base of a pyramid like jumble of rocks.  2 Uzis, ammunition, 2 revolvers and 4 pipe bombs which they stuffed in a gunny sack in Chicago.  Kiss this shit goodby.  He brooded.  Like hed really find this rock heap again.  He jumped out of his skin and drew his revolver.  There were snakes everywhere crawling all around him in the moonlight.  Long gruesome slithering shadows.  Jesus Christ!  He muttered.  He backed toward the car and pocketed the handgun.  He looked at the sky.  Desert manhunt.  Helicopters were bound to be coming soon.

 

   Back off that car, Tate!

 

Cole looked out the windshield.  Two of the county patrolmen moved slowly toward the unmarked squad, rifles ready.  Ben walked in front of them, shot gun aimed.

 

He killed one of yours, Ben, but he killed one of ours too!  Mac was my friend.

 

Gotta, gotta ...

 

Lie still angel.

 

Coles big hands trembled as he wiped the blood from her forehead.  His thick fingers lingered in her soft golden hair.  He gazed reverently at the face which was beyond mortal beauty.  The girl was OK.  Just dazed, shaken.  A concussion maybe, ankle broken.  Tears streamed down her delirious face.  She strained to get up.

 

Just lie still.  He straightened her dress and tucked her in.  Youre safe and sound princess.  Sleep and dream.  The devil will die, darling.  The devil will die.

 

Cole lunged from the squad and lumbered toward the car.  His eyes were cold fires, his haggard face frozen.  He plowed through the patrolman and tore his gun from its holster.  He pushed back his deputy and grabbed for the door.

 

Its empty, Jim.

 

Tate stood silently beside him, shotgun lowered, arms loose at his sides.  Both men looked down at the empty interior of the unmarked police car where they expected to find the Indian.  The county patrolmen tried to peer in the window past them.  It was like trying to find a hole in the Broncos line.

 

Well get him Jim.  Tate said, firmly.  He cant be far.

 

Cole stared blankly at the empty seats.  His 45 Magnum still pointed at the window.

 

We got the girl Jim.  Tates voice was soft, almost a whisper.  Thats what counts now.  Well get him too.  He got no way out.

 

Cole turned slowly from the car and walked toward the squad.  He walked gravely, doggedly.  His revolver hung limply in his trembling hand, dangling at his side.  He looked like a falling mountain, a human avalanche slowly caving in.

 

Maybe the devils in hell Cole!

 

One of the county cops stared keenly at the burning house.  Cole glanced at the smoldering walls, the blazing staircase.

 

Ask the girl Cole!  Maybe he never got out!

 

Cole settled down heavily inside the smoke scorched squad.  The girl lay restlessly in the back seat tossing with delirium.  She chattered and muttered meaningless mumblings to herself.  Her dolls were going to heaven.  The devil had died.  Her dolls were pregnant with the ghosts of the roadhouse dead.  Her dolls were delivering their souls to the afterlife.

 

Cole gathered himself together and heaved a sigh.  Dirty red devil.  Ill skin you alive.  His eyes scanned the moonlit desert night.

 

The odd angle.  The lucky shot.

 

Dirty red devil.

 

There were no keys in the ignition of Cambys car.  The fool had lost them.  He was out there on foot.  It was a matter of time.

 

7

 

His ass was grass.

 

Sweat beaded on Sullys forehead, dripped from his brow.  It was a matter of time.

 

A hundred bush beating yokels out there on the desert with the first rays of light searching,

 

poking through the rocky terrain.

 

Sully roared down the highway, chain smoking cigarettes and flipping the radio dial.  Dust covered Cadillac, dented and scraped.  Tire tracks back there everywhere in the dirt.  Fingerprints his, Vinnies, on the Uzis and bombs.

 

They better catch that stupid Indian, he brooded, before it got light.

 

FBI, ATF, lab checks, print checks those fucking snakes!  He should have wiped everything clean.  But how was he going to wipe everything clean with those fucking snakes crawling everywhere?

 

Cocksucker Corso!  Sully fumed as he sped.  What a bunch of shit!  Even if he got out of here without being  hassled theyd be after his ass.

 

The road was clear, a shiny black ribbon shimmering in the moonlight.  Marco was right.  The place was a zoo.  Cops, media.  Dickhead spectators.  The second they saw this circus, they should have bailed out.

 

He pushed the pedal to the floor, but something was wrong.  The Caddy shook, rattled, veered to one side.  Brand new car!  Sully fought the wheel fuming inside.  Fucking rockheap!

 

The day had been as crazy as the night.  First, they had to wait out some idiot some fat kike with a camera who was prowling through the roadhouse taking pictures.  The sheeny had a skeleton key and they slipped in after him.  After that an endless procession of drive-through tourists jammed the roadhouse lot. They peered through the stenciled windows, took pictures, jiggled the bolted doors.

 

From the rat-infested basement to the bat flitting rafters, he and Vinnie crept from room to room, wondering how they would handle it if any of those jerk-offs got inside.

 

Now the zoo was a dragnet and like a weird slow dream he and Vinnie were getting tangled in its web.

 

Down the road, the white painted motel sign lit up with his headlights.  Sully slowed, braked, cut off his engine and doused his lights.  He coasted into the parking lot and slipped between two cars.

 

The motel was dark but a light burned brightly in the all night office.  A bearded man with a shotgun stood watching him through the window.  He was tall and gaunt with fierce cold eyes.  The night clerk stood next to him, pale and gangly, a puzzled expression on his putty shaped face.  They peered at Sully like two painted figures.  He could see the night clerk slowly shake his head.

 

Ma rone!  Sully looked at them and cursed.

 

He pushed at the car door but it wouldnt budge.  He slammed his shoulder against it and slammed it again.  The gaunt man moved from the window and the office door opened.  Shotgun raised he stepped out into the night.

 

Night ridin the desert Rocky?

 

The gaunt man studied the dusty car, the dents and scrapes.

 

Blow out.  Sully rolled down the window.  Hell of a time getting back on the road.

 

The night clerk appeared with a folded newspaper.  The two men looked from the paper to Sully.  They talked in harsh whispers.

 

Lookin for a room Buddy?

 

The gaunt man bent toward him.  The night clerk hurried back inside.

 

I got a room, Buddy.  Sully held up his key.  I got room five.

 

Through the office window Sully could see the clerk grab the phone.

 

My brother dont recollect you, Buddy.  The gaunt man smiled. Funny bout that key.

 

My partner signed us in.

 

Sully slammed the car door open and stepped outside. The gaunt mans fierce eyes flickered

 

but he stepped  aside.

 

Looking for that Indian, Buddy?

 

Were looking for an Indian, Buddy.

 

I look like an Indian, Buddy?

 

Maybe.  Just might.

 

A Cleveland Indian, Buddy?

 

Say what, Buddy?

 

An Atlanta Brave?

 

Steady now, boy.

 

Its been a long day, Buddy.

 

Sully pushed his revolver against the lining of his coat pocket.

 

I think Ill hit the hay.

 

He edged toward the door.

 

That what you cowpokes do around these parts, Buddy?

 

 Sully grinned as he sidled by.

 

You hit the hay?  Or do you eat the hay?

 

The two men glared at one another.

 

Keep an eye peeled for my partner, Buddy.

 

Sully backed past him toward the door.

 

Hes a Chicago Blackhawk, Buddy.  Shoot him on sight.

 

Cole to Cannon.

 

Go Cole.

 

I need a hundred men out on the desert by morning.

 

Got them, sheriff.

 

    I need a dozen good dogs.

 

Got them too.

 

Cords bloods?

 

Cords bloods.

 

Good work Cannon.  Over and out.

 

Cole stood outside the squad car and looked up at the sky.  The two Ringo helicopters circled overhead.  They circled and counter-circled, fanning out across the desert in opposite directions.  Their infra-red sensors combed the desert floor.  They could see jackrabbits in the dark, wild dogs, toads.

 

Hes sittin in a hole.

 

Tate settled down beside him.

 

Sittin and shittin.

 

The dogs will get him in the morning.

 

Aint soon enough.

 

The parking lot was a three ring-circus jammed with media vans, state and county squad cars, paramedic units, spectators, reporters, canteen trucks selling coffee, pie, scrambled egg sandwiches, candy bars and soda pop.  Cole looked around wearily at the flasher-lit mayhem.  The fire was burning out.  He needed sleep.  He needed a good drunk.  He needed a three week stay in another town where no one knew him and he was someone else.

 

Tube time.

 

Cole wiped the sweat from his face with a smoke smudged bandana.

 

Tate followed his gaze to the cadre of cameras and reporters clustered around the barely conscious girls stretcher which was being rolled toward the ambulance.  The girl moaned and twisted and tossed her long golden hair.  The camera crews leaned over her.  Several microphones  poked at her pain distorted features.

 

Did he rape you, sweetie?

 

She opened her eyes.  Flash cameras popped into life, exploding in her face like the Forth of July.

 

Were you molested?

 

Were you scared?

 

 How did you get away?

 

Her head was throbbing.  She tried to sit up. She squinted at the figures. Their faces were a blur, blob shapes floating before her amidst huge white spots.

 

 You mean Tonto?  She tired to focus.  She heard herself laugh.  That loser?

 

  Thats the right spirit.

 

 Someone patted her arm.

 

The little lady has spunk.

 

Her eyelids fluttered.  Her head began to spin.  What was she saying?  Things began to grow dark.  A microphone poked her.  She jerked up her head.

 

What is this?   She struggled to prop her self up. What do you all want?

 

Were reporters Desert.  The world is worried about you.  We want to know how you are.

 

How I am?  She hesitated. I dont know. Things arent right.  Those gunmen.  The police.  Is that Indian dead yet?

 

Do you want the Indian to die, honey?

 

Did he rape you, dear?

 

She held her head in her hands.  They kept badgering her.  Why didnt they stop?

 

Youre the golden goose kitten.  The bride of bloodshed.  You can make your own ticket.  Name your own price.

 

Youre going to have to stand back folks.

 

The paramedics were getting edgy.  The reporters were blocking their path. A sudden pain in her stomach doubled her up.  Her eyes swept the parking lot.  They stopped at the hole.  She tried to get off the stretcher.  The  paramedic pushed her down.

 

  The money!

 

 She panicked.  A fine sheen of perspiration glistened on her brow.

 

 They were sliding her back.

 

Hell take it!  Dont trust him!  Kill the Indian!  Hes bad!

 

Tate watched the media vultures and shook his head.   They didnt let up until the ambulance doors were closed.

 

Ill let them know Jim.  He sighed.  Black good with you?

 

 Blacks fine Ben.  Make it big and as strong as it gets. 

 

Cole watched the rangy deputy shove through the mayhem.  The county police were removing spectators from the lot.  The reporters were massing toward him.  The ambulance maneuvered slowly through the cris-crossing throngs.  Cole nodded at the reporter who approached him with a mike.  Other reporters quickly gathered.

 

Let me tell you where we stand right now.

 

Cole squinted at the shadowy cluster amassed amidst the camera lights.

 

We got the girl, thank god, as you just saw and she seems unharmed.  Were hot on the heels of the escaped suspect and we expect to get him before the day is out.

 

Coles voice trailed off and the reporter told him to speak up.

 

The fugitive aint far.  He cant get no farther.  Hes boxed in.  Soons its light well flush him out.

 

Speak up!  Someone shouted.

 

I got a hundred men arriving in an hour to comb the desert.  Most of thems off duty officers from all over the county.  I got bloodhounds coming.  The best in the state.  I got helicopters, roadblocks.  I got a hard target search already underway.

 

Quit mumbling!

 

The fugitive cant be more then a few miles from this spot.  Hes on foot.  Hes runnin scared.

 

How do you know hes on foot?

 

Scared you might hold him this time Cole?

 

If you catch him.

 

Well catch him.  Well keep him.  On foot or not it dont matter.

 

You mean you dont know?

 

Everythings sealed off, shut tight, like a lid on a drum.

 

Like the hospital sheriff?

 

Cole spotted Tate moving through crowd with the containers of coffee.

 

If any citizen sees anything, Cole concluded, anything at all that dont look right call the station.

 

One second sheriff!

 

A voice barked sharply from the cluster of men and women.

 

Not so fast!  Will Hobbs, Rapid City Sentinel.  What we dont understand is how this homicidal maniac escaped police custody in the first place.  Why dont you tell us how you let that happen.

 

Marco!  Jesus Christ!  Its Sully man!  Yeah, I know what time it is.  Look it cant be helped!  Sorry man!  I tried to call the Capo, he aint around.  Yeah I know hes pissed.  Yeah I know that shit.  Let him know I called.  Hey you were right about this place, its a fucking zoo!  Ill call you back.  You wanna know whats up, watch the news!

 

Sully sat on the bed and looked at his watch.  It would be light in a hour.  He couldnt wait for

 

Vinnie.  There was too much shit going on out there and all of it was nuts.  Through the rooms shaded window he saw a shadow move about.  Snake-eyed hayseed.  Sully cursed to himself.  He should have whacked that bearded rube.

 

He rose and paced and sat back on the bed.  Hed have to locate that dude ranch, wait for Marco, sit it out. Make friends with the boys.  No arsenal now.  Corsos hit was out.   Too bad. He was looking forward to a shoot out with the Marlboro men.  He checked his watch.  He eyed the window.  The shadow came and went.  He thought about the roadblocks.  Maybe he should ditch his gun.  It was like the Twilight Zone.  Sully brooded.  The whole fucking gig.  X Files.  The Outer Limits.  Fucking Vincente!  If he didnt call or show in the next ten minutes he was out of luck.

 

There was a snack fridge in the corner and Sully rose and checked it out.  Candy bars, cheese whiz, peanuts and pops.  He grabbed a beer and a Slim Jim sausage and flopped back on the bed.  He hit the remote and surfed the stations Farm Reports, Cattle Reports, reruns of old sitcoms.  Some guy yodeling in a cowboy outfit and playing a guitar.  Wow!  Hillbilly Heaven!  Sully chewed the greasy stick.  I dreamed I was there.

 

He needed a shower and a shave.  He needed to have breakfast in some civilized place.  Some place in Chicago.  Crickets or the Ritz.  He watched the window and fingered his gun.  He wasnt going to be hung up in some jail cell in this one horse town.

 

He squeezed the remote and semi-naked warrior midgets popped up on the tube.  The little helmeted men carried tiny tritons and tiny torches.  Amazon women fought them with slanted swords in an arena in ancient Rome.  The battle went back and forth.  The midget men got their heads chopped off.  The Amazon women got stabbed and burned.

 

It was a black and white flick.  Sully had seen it before.  Long ago when he was a kid.  Something about Christians and Romans.  Cecil B De Mille.   The movie was wild.  It was pretty cool.  His favorite place was the arena part.

 

 Suddenly, a giant gorilla charged across the screen galloping on his knuckles.  He raced toward a naked blonde who was tied to a stake.  The womans eyes popped open.  She screamed with terror. The gorilla studied her, fondled her, then tore her up.

 

A man with a lot of muscles fought a fat black bear.  The bear ate his face.

 

Another man fought a Bengal Tiger.  There was a similar result.

 

Then came lots of audience reaction shots and the camera panned the colosseum. The colosseum was colossal.  Statues, columns, wreaths and garlands.  It was a humungous  place and it was packed tight.  Jammed to the rafters with partying Romans.  Everyone was pigging out, drinking wine, having a blast.

 

Sully wolfed down the Slim Jim and sipped at the Bud.

 

Some kind of creepy dungeon.  Hundreds of Christian martyrs being led through this giant gate.  Stone stairs and arches all over the place.  The Christians moved in a mass to the center of the arena, heads bowed, singing and praying.  Lions were let loose from cages at the other end of the amphitheater.  The lions swarmed all over the praying martyrs,  ripped them to shreds.

 

Mother fucker!  Sully sipped the beer.  Ancient Rome!  The place was tripping.  Amphitheaters, gladiators, knock out babes all hot to trot.  Vino, orgies, villas, games.  Greek slaves.  Man, that was a happening scene.  The place was buzz.

 

For some reason Sully started remembering the synagogue they hit when he was a kid.  Breaking windows, painting the walls with swastikas.  They had nothing against the fucking Hebes.  Nothing at all.  They were OK.  It was just something to do.

 

Them fucking Nazis.  Sully brooded.  The lions were still chasing the Christians around.  Man there was a scene.  Everyone heiling and smiling and clicking their heels.  Fucking Gestapos were the big guns then.  Cool and quiet they would drift through the nightclubs and dance halls making everyone around them shit in their shoes.

 

Sully leaped to his feet and looked at his watch.  He was falling asleep.  It was time to get out. 

 

He went to the bathroom and splashed water on his face.  He couldnt keep his eyes open.  Hed fall asleep at the wheel.  He studied his dark swarthy reflection in the mirror.  He had a Roman nose.  Roman features.  Not a Sicilian face even with the jet black hair.  He had the face of an aristocrat.  A Julius Caesar. 

 

He spun around and glared at the door.  He could hear that fucking rube again nosing around outside.  Snake-eyed, bucktoothed, big eared bearded yokel.  Sully fumed.  He wanted trouble hed have all he wanted.  Hed shove that shotgun up his hayseed ass.

 

8

 

The Big Dream Score.

 

The Top Bop Jackpot.

 

Dead.  Dead as the roadhouse ghosts.

 

Dead as the rocks which twisted in the desert night.

 

Grand Prize Death

 

Within the Derby of Death

 

Because all bets were off,

 

And the Joker was ...wild?

 

In the hurtling riot of flight and panic, Greenleaf plummeted headlong through his memories like a drowning man his dreams.  Bear Butte, The Holy Mountain, where Greenleaf would stand as a boy and look out across the forests over sixty miles of sacred Indian ground.  The Black Hills of South Dakota lush rolling fur covered slopes of such a rich deep green that they appeared like black shadows against the pale blue sky.  The Pine Ridge Reservation, where his family still lived.  The hunting, fishing, trapping he did with his father and his brothers.  The silence of the forests.  The starry night skies.  And then the trouble, the turning when he was a

 

teenager and everything went bad.  Like fever dreams the memory shapes shifted through his mind.  He was fleeing through a dream, an evil demons nightmare, his blood-drained body as cold as ice ...

 

    Youre the Bride of Bloodshed kitten.  The bride, the bride ...

 

Jake.

 

Shut up!

 

Jesus Jake ...

 

I said shut the fuck up!

 

Jake, you cant Jake!

 

Fucking bitch!  Ill kick your butt!  You better run!  You better get in that cellar!  You better not come up!

 

In her Cinderella dress, her golden hair in curls, a tiara atop her sleepy head, she sat silently on the bar stool, her small legs dangling, and watched her mother run from the room.  Her mother was crying and screaming and wringing her hands.  She ran into the cellar and bolted the door.

 

Angel.

 

Her father stood over her, breathless, sweating.  He held a life size doll before him, gently in his trembling hands.  The doll had wide eyes as green as her own.  It wore a white ruffled dress.  It had long golden hair.

 

Little princess.

 

His bald head was glistening.  His eyes looked like glass.  He spoke softly, hoarsely, from somewhere deep in his throat.

 

Little lady.

 

 

    Cole to Cannon.

 

Go Cole.

 

Cannon, where in the hell is that god damned jeep?

 

Coming Cole.

 

Been coming.  Were going.  Should a been here.  Over and out.

 

Cole blew on his frozen hands and rubbed them together.  Pre-dawn light filtered through the Badlands.  The jagged rocks, the twisted peaks, loomed like predatory monsters in the shadow-less terrain.  Hungry, cold, tired, stiff, he stood with his arms folded staring at the morning mist.  No word from the choppers.  No word from the roads.  The dirty red devil was hiding in some hole.

 

Twenty yards ahead, near the dawn blurred bank of trees, Sam Peckins, the US Marshall, paced and barked at a hundred phantom men.  The Marshall had arrived with an entourage minutes before.  He shook Coles hand, smiled curtly, and then took charge.  Cole knew the score.  Cole had lost the Indian.  A policeman had died.  By nightfall the Marshall wanted that Indian back dead or alive.  If that didnt happen Cole could hand in his badge.

 

   Shoot on sight!  The Marshall shouted.  Aim to kill!  We got a demon on the loose men, straight from hell!

 

The Marshall was a thick set, short-necked, broad-shouldered man, with short cropped hair and keen blue eyes.  He paced back and forth with a military stride, his square jaw jutting, his chest thrust out.

 

Dont warn him, dont wound him, dont give him a chance!  That happened once men!  It wont happen again!  This creeps not for real!  He can fake death!  You find him lying on the ground put a bullet in his head!

 

The dogs were yelping, yanking at their chains.  They had the scent.  They were struggling to go.  The men stood in a stony silence, angry and grave.  They would not look at Cole.  He could not look at them.  One of their own had been mutilated, scalped.  Cole was in charge.  That death was his fault.

 

Spread out!  Stay sharp!  Check every hole!  This is search and destroy men!  Kill or be killed!  Weve already had a dose of this mad dogs medicine.  Dont play with this psycho!  Hell do it to you!

 

The dogs were let loose.  They charged through the trees, their snouts to the ground, a brown jostling blur.  The men moved in a mass across the dark desert floor.  The jeeps wheeled carefully around them carrying the Marshall, the Feds, sheriffs, the Marshalls sharp-shooter corps.  Cole moved toward his own jeep which had finally arrived.

 

God let me get him!

 

Cole prayed to the Lord.

 

    

 

Greenleaf  followed her floating figure down a hallway which was lined on either side with heavy doors.  She turned and smiled and beckoned to him.  He stalked after, sticky with sweat, squinting through the slits cut out for his eyes in the thick black hood.  She was dressed in a bridal gown, a ghostly swirl of antique silk.  On her head was a crown of desert flowers.  There were garlands of flowers in her golden hair.  She turned and smiled and beckoned to him.  He stalked after ...

 

Greenleaf awoke with a start, trembling.

 

Trout leaped magically in silver streams, the waters of which were so pure and clear that the pebbles in the streambed sparkled in the summer sun like Indian beads.

 

Rainbow trout flying through the air ...

 

It was black as death.  No sound.  No wind.  He did not know where he was.  He lay flat on

 

his stomach grimacing with pain.  He sensed rodents, reptiles, spiders in the dark.  He was shivering, cold, his mind a blank.

 

The stream cascaded from the golden bluffs above, crashing down the dappled rocks and careening around the tree lined banks.  He leaped from rock to rock, shirtless, bare foot chasing the flying trout with his hand carved spear.

 

Be careful, Tommy!

 

Below him, he could see his father and his mother.  They were wading into the sparkling water, snaring the glittering trout with fishing nets.  Both his brothers were seated on the bank.  One was stringing the catch of fish.  The other was carefully building a fire.

 

Dont slip darling!

 

He heard his mother call.

 

The trout flew past him.  He aimed and threw his spear.  It shimmered through the deep blue sky and struck.  He raced down the rocks toward the flapping fish.  The spear had transformed into a billiard stick sharpened at the point.  The giant trout was miraculous, a technicolor dream.

 

Lets see Tommy Hawk!

 

He heard his fathers voice.

 

He lifted the billiard spear and waved the great fish in the air.

 

His parents smiled.  His brothers laughed.

 

A rainbow arched across the sky...

 

He was awake.  His heart was pounding.  Furtive snakes wound around him in the dark.  He was deaf, blind.  There was the smell of rotting vermin all around him, the feel of cavernous rock.

 

Lunch time Tommy!  Tom Tom Tommy!  Tommy the brave one!  Tommy the Hawk!

 

Like a drunken dream of living death the roadhouse robbery careened through his mind.  The explosions in the night, the explosion in his chest, the dead Mexicans, the murdered men, the

 

mutilated cop and the long dark drive.  With a shock it all came back to him seeming more like a hopheads hallucination than something that could actually have happened.  Floating through this nightmare madness, the golden haired girl drifted like a ghost; her eyes like holy mysteries, her skin as white as fallen snow.

 

A rainbow darling and a rainbow trout.  A blessing from the Gods.  A sign of luck.

 

He could not move.  It was impossible to breathe.  A  snake crawled up to his face.  He could feel one slip between his legs.  He edged, rolled, rocked to his side.  He felt an opening by his feet, an out into the night.

 

Dead?

 

Reckon.

 

Aint too smart.

 

The night clerk knelt beside the bloody body which lay face down on the gravel in the motel lot.  Behind him his brother was breathing erratically.  He stood with the shotgun by the office door.  The barrel was elevated.  He gripped the weapon tightly in his gnarled hands.

 

This is murder Chester.

 

The clerk eased a sigh.

 

There was a fist-size hole in the dead mans back.  Blood pooled from it blackening the clothes.  Both barrels, point blank.  The chest blown out where the bullets went through.  A package of pulp beneath the dark leather coat.

 

He went for his gun Clem.  It was self defense.

 

   The clerk glanced at his brother and shook his head.  Shot in the back, an overnight traveling bag in either hand.

 

Hope the law sees it your way Chester. He sighed again.  Hope they dont look too closely.  Hope this dont get you hung.

 

The clerk teased the dead mans wallet from the pocket of his jeans.  Chicago drivers licence, photo ID.  Sylvester De something.  Age 25.  The names for room 5 in the ledger said J. Smith and J. Doe.  The wallet was fat.  Fat with hundred dollar bills.

 

He was part of that gang, Clem.   Chesters breath came staccato like.  He was packin that gun.  I said Wait for the law, boy! I said Boy dont you run!

 

He glared at the body, his fierce eyes aflame.  Big city hot shot.  That shit-eatin grin.  The way he spat on the gravel, laughin at him.

 

Maybe he was, Chester, and maybe he werent.

 

The clerk counted the money.  Well over two grand.

 

The laws coming soon.  We called them ourselves.  Seems youd remember. He put the money in his pocket.  Chester, if I was you, Id drive that boy out on the desert.  Id drop him in a hole.  Id bury that gun.

 

The brothers stared at one another.  Chester pulled on his beard.  Finally he nodded and sidled over to Clem.  They lifted Sullys corpse and carried it to his car.  They sat him in the front seat passenger side.

 

Thats a mighty fine new Cadillac Clem.  It seems a shame.

 

 Top of the line.  Lush leather seats.

 

Dont you come back with that car now.  You walk back home.  You bury them license plates.  You drop a lighter down that gas tank and blow it to hell!

 

Beg.

 

Please.

 

On your knees.

 

Please princess.

 

Say pretty please.

 

Hey, I paid your father!   You little bitch!

 

You paid my father?  So go fuck him.

 

Easy angel.

 

The paramedic leaned over her and wiped her forehead with an alcohol swab.  The ambulance hurtled through the night, its flasher circling, its sirens wailing.  The interior lights flickered with each bump on the road.  The medicine trays rattled in the cabinets.  A police car raced ahead of them, another followed.

 

Easy does it beautiful.  Were almost there.

 

He loosened her collar and opened the buttons down the front of her dress.  She lay tossing in delirium.  Her pale face twitched and her eyelashes fluttered.  She muttered meaningless mumbles to herself, as he took her vital signs and examined her carefully.

 

The castle approacheth.  The paramedic said soothingly.  Your attendants await.  Well pull up the draw bridge, post guards at the gate.  That Indian cant get you now.  With me youre safe.

 

So far, so good.  He breathed a sigh of relief.  Everything was OK.  He whistled Jim Dandy to the Rescue followed by Dream Baby.  There were no broken bones, no torn ligaments, no lacerations.  There were just bruises and scrapes.  A minor concussion no doubt.  Her ankle was sprained and he wrapped it in tape.  He pulled off her black velvet gloves, treated the palms of her hands.  He fixed the IV to her slender white wrist to ease off her shock.

 

Breakfast in bed.  TV all day.  Cant be all bad.  Youll be right as rain in a couple of days.

 

He sat back in the seat and stared at the girl.  His own pulse was racing.  He felt light in the head.  The biggest story going and there he was.  He was suddenly part of a drama which captured the world.  He ran a shaky hand through his scruffy brown hair.  Slid it over his blunt boyish features, his smooth chinless face.  Reporters would be waiting at the hospital.  He would

 

appear on TV.  The news, the newspapers.  God knew what else.  There was talk of a movie.  Maybe this was a scene?  He imagined two actors in an ambulance recreating what went on: the concerned paramedic, the delirious star.  He looked down at his patient, tossing on the stretcher.  The snow white  skin, the thick golden hair, the sumptuous black dress and the curves which filled it out.  He knew that no one could play her.  She was beyond movie star.  She was like some painting in some museum.  Some queen in a poem.  His palms began to sweat.  Under the blazing lights of the ambulance the girl seemed unreal.  This was even bigger than a movie.  He was feeling uneasy.  A touch of stage fright.  Maybe something would go wrong.  There was too much at stake.  The whole world was watching.  He was in a spotlight.  He looked through the portal at Black Water emerging in the dawn.  He whistled Jim Dandy to the Rescue.  The notes went all wrong.  He looked back at the girl and sat up with a start.  Her huge eyes were open.  She was staring at him.  Her hands groped for her stomach.  Fear filled her face.  Her eyes were in a panic.  There was frenzy in her gaze.  She tried to sit up.  The IV ripped from her wrist.  She was talking to him.  It didnt make sense.

 

Theyre after me!

 

She grabbed him.

 

They figured it out!  The money!  Turn around!  Ive got to get back!

 

He eased her back down.  There was a lump in his throat.  His blunt hands were shaking.  He murmured: There there, there there.  He reattached the IV to her wrist.  He was damp with sweat.  He rechecked her signs.  She clutched at her stomach.  He lifted her dress.  His heart almost stopped.  Through the black satin panties blood welled between her legs.

 

9

 

Cole to Peckins.

 

Go Cole.

 

Marshall we found some tire tracks riding the lands.  Picked them up right from the roadhouse.  Maybe a Caddy or Olds.    Aint no desert buggy.  No reason to be out here.  Since it come from the roadhouse thought you might want to know.

 

Ten-four sheriff, you stay with them tracks, see where they go.  Maybe some dumbass reporter trying to get in on the show.  Or maybe Geronimo beat them choppers with a ride of his own.

 

Dogs is hot Cole.  Got hell in their nose.  They howlin bout something, something real close.

 

Earth, wind, sky, the morning stars shining like fairy lights in the vast blue expanse.  The sun and moon crossing in a dream.

 

He was awake.  His eyes were open.  He sat hunched beneath the twisted rock hed just crawled from.  He gazed numbly at the rising sun, at the weird fearsome outlines which loomed around him in the dawn.  He was shivering with cold.  He could not think.  The Badlands looked eerie, surreal.

 

He remembered crawling from the unmarked squad.  There were sirens, flashers.  The roadhouse was on fire, burning to the ground.  He remembered staggering, stumbling across the moonlit desert, falling, running.  Then everything went blank.

 

He pulled the greatcoat around his pain-racked body.  His fingers fumbled in the pocket for the package of stale Kents.  He managed to light a crumpled cigarette with trembling fingers.  The smoke burned in his wounded chest.

 

Helicopters, searchlights, running from hole to hole.  Greenleaf did not know whether that was real or not.  Maybe something he had dreamed?  Maybe none of this was real?  Maybe he was dead?  Maybe this was Hell?  The endless torment of the white mans devil an Indian manhunt which had no end.

 

A  snake slithered between his feet, slipping silently over the frost glazed stones. Greenleaf watched it wriggle past him in a daze.  He was starving, beat up, half dead.  Aside from the doped up soup he drank in the car,  he hadnt eaten for days.  He imagined himself rising from the rock and stalking the snake.  He imagined killing the snake with a sharp edged rock and  eating the raw bloody meat.  But the hunt was all in his head.  In reality he could not move.  He didnt have the strength.  He sat and shivered and watched the snake slip away, even though he knew he had to eat to stay alive.The night nurse is coming with your medicine, Tonto.  They want to make sure that youre fit for your execution.  Doesnt that kill you?  Kill you, kill you, kill you? Greenleaf struggled to his feet and staggered toward his prey. Or did he?   His heart was pounding and his head was in a whirl.  Everything killed him.  His life killed him.  The girl and her set up killed him. He had died long ago.  He was born dead and didnt know it.    Last meal.  He chattered to himself.  Dead man walking.   Or was this still a dream?  He would  go like a warrior to the white mans grave.  He dropped to his knees and grabbed the snake by the tail.   It whirled like a whip and struck at his face.  He grabbed it in flight and held its neck in his grip.  Its devils eyes devoured him.  Its fangs glistened with venom.  He barely had the sense that he held the snake at all.  His hand seemed numb. Maybe the snake had bitten him?  Could anyone catch a striking snake? His head was spinning and sweat trickled down his back.  Even as he pinned it and struck it with a rock and struggled to cut into the leathery skin, he wondered if he really held the snake or if some demon were  playing tricks on him.

 

 

 

Whats this, Rocco?

 

Wait.

 

Wait what?  This cant wait?  Its six in the morning.  I just got up.

 

Watch Sal.  Wait, youll see.

 

    See what?  I gotta pee!

 

Night.  Silence.  A staircase on fire, blazing against a starlit sky.  Shadows.  Figures.  Flashing

lights.  A scene from Hell?  MTV?

 

Rocco?

 

The camera panned the hellish dream.  More lights, figures.  A man in a trench coat appeared with a mike.  He gazed gravely at the television screen.  One of those anchor guys from channel 5.

 

A bizarre new turn in the South Dakota roadhouse robbery took place last night when alleged robbery ringleader Thomas Greenleaf escaped custody ...

 

Corso gripped the arms of his chair and clenched his teeth.  Escape, murder, kidnapping, arson, roadblocks, dragnets.  His dark furrowed face was frozen as he watched.  His temples were throbbing.  The blow was gone.  So was the cash.  300 gs just like that.  He was into the Columbians for their part in the deal.  The Godfather was expecting his usual cut.  Payoffs to this one, that one.  The plush room closed in.  Fireplace, pop art, black baby grand.

 

What the fuck happened to Vinnie and Sully?  Shark mother fuckers!  They probably shook down the Indian and took the shit for themselves!  You couldnt trust no one.  Hed kill them all.

 

See Sal?

 

See what?  I see what I saw!  Marco was right.  You were wrong!  The dopes in a hole under a cactus plant!  Sos the cash!  The whole things fucked up because of some crazy Indian!

 

Corso rose and paced and glared at the screen.  Sunlight was streaming into the North Side apartment.  His mistresss place.  A view of the lake.  He tightened the belt of his bathrobe around his bulging waist.  This new bimbo was cleaning him out.  Gimme this!  Gimme that!  So was his wife!  Two kids in college.  Gambling debts.

 

You gotta let this thing go, Sal!  He remembered Marco insisting.  This heist is too hot!  All you gonna do is fuck things up!

 

Marcos Dude Ranch.  An expensive flop.  20 miles west of that roadhouse which fucked everything up.  Did any of this make sense?  That kid, Guido, whatever, Plugger Marzulos kid,  who gave him the job?  Marco thats who.  The kid couldnt make it another 20 miles?  Driving dope from Chicago to South Dakota.  Was that so hard?

 

Marco.  The cowboys.  Something was going on.  Babes, horses, booze, blow.  Great, sure, Ill buy into that.  But how did he know anything was there?  He never checked out that dude ranch.  He just shelled out the dough.  Bribes, payoffs, set up, start up...Maybe he was the set up?  Maybe his own fucking brother ...

 

Look Sal, theres more to see!

 

I saw!  Im blind!  I got spots in my eyes!  All the little spots got dollar signs!

 

Water was running: the bimbo at bath.  Six in the morning.  Corso glared at the door.  Where was she going?  Another tennis lesson?  Some beach boy she met?  If she thought she could get away with two timing him ...

 

Its still there, Sal.  The 300 gs.  Its all there to take.  Listen to me.  They were in it together.  The Indian, that girl.  She was there in that hospital.  He couldnt a got out alone.  See what I mean?  When she goes for the gold, Sal, we take back what was ours!

 

Corso glanced at the old man a frail construction so  shriveled he was almost swallowed by the sofa on which he sat, his tiny legs dangling.  He plopped in his own chair and crossed his legs.  Only one bathroom, hed have to hold it and wait.

 

What gold?  Go where Rocco?  Youre driving me nuts!

 

Hed have the bitch shadowed.  Hed rip out her guts!

 

Tinseltown gold Sal.  Movies.  TV.  Shes cashing in big time.  Wait.  Youll see.  You cant get a paper without seeing her face.  Shes everywhere, anywhere, all over the place.  When she thinks shes all set we straighten her out.  We want what she took or were shutting her down.  If we dont get whats ours were taking her out.

 

    Maybe the old bird was crazy?  Senile like Vinnie said.  Six in the morning, impeccably dressed.  Black suit, silk shirt, silk tie.  He looked like a goddamn ventriloquists dummy.  Even his hair, dyed, slicked back with pomade, looked painted on.  But he wasnt no dummy.  He was sharp as a tack.  He bootlegged in the 20s and he was still going strong.

 

Rocco, youre talking extortion.  Youre talking the Feds.  You harp on this pompon girl, maybe its all in your head.  I just saw the news.  They took her away on a stretcher.  The dope wasnt there.  You hear what youre saying?  It dont make no sense.  What movies?  What money?  The girl is half cracked.  So maybe she aint.  Maybe youre right.  What makes you think she can act?  Shes a looker.  Shes got hype.  Rocco how far can that go? How long can that last?

 

The bathroom door opened.  The bimbo slipped out.  Corso glared down the hallway.  A swirl of raven-black hair, long dancers legs.  Hed watch those legs dance if she didnt watch out in a cellar in Cicero at the end of a rope.  Or maybe a face full of acid would cool her hot cunt.

 

She got the dope Sal.  We can get it back.  Shes a moneymaker Sal.  Shes putting on an act.  Shell do what we want.  We can make her pay.  I know what went down Sal.  I know every move.  We dig into those bodies we find dope in the brain.  She was serving the drinks.  She knew the layout, the caper.  She was the only one left.  Those sheriffs you bought off for that dude ranch of Marcos can get  that stuff done.  She knows the tabloids will back us.  Theyll eat this shit up. I know shes guilty.  We got a good case.  She aint going to chance it.  Shell play it our way.  So she cant act on the big screen.  She can act in a bed.  Big money in porno Sal.  We can shoot that stuff ourselves.  The girl from the roadhouse giving super stud some head.


We couldnt make enough copies to supply the demand.

 

Corso rose from his chair and straightened his robe.  He looked down at the little man.  This stuff almost made sense.  Rocco finally said something he could actually understand.

 

If youre right about this Rocco, we do it that way.  Thats the way I want to use her.  Thats  

the way Ill make her pay.  She tried to fuck me over now Im going to fuck her out.  When shes too useless to trick up big money ...

 

 What else?  The bitch turns up dead.

 

They were closing in.  Greenleaf could feel it.  Death coming, haunting the stillness.  He sat huddled against the rock and stared straight ahead.  It was like being awake when asleep or asleep when awake.

 

The sun peeked blindly over the bluffs.  Far off in the dawn, a helicopter circled, turned and flew off.  An army of men mobilized somewhere beyond the rocks.  White men with rifles, hunting the Badlands for him.  Men coming on strong from every direction.

 

Now that he had eaten he felt stronger but more depressed.  He knew he couldnt cut it.  Fight them.  Get away.

 

He felt lost, alone.  There was no where to run.

 

The girl had been right.  Greenleaf hung his sweat-beaded head and remembered her words.    He was strictly small time.  Small time Tommy chasing nickels and dimes.

 

His mind drifted back to the roadhouse.  The girl moving the bodies of the dead men around like toys.  He was one of those toys.  He remembered her face in the moonlight, the lingering kiss, a mix of wonder and death.

 

He lit another cigarette.  The snake made him sick.

 

The game was over.  He had played out his rack.

 

His mind wandered  back to his boyhood.  He was a champion then.  He could hunt like a warrior with any kind of weapon.  Swim, track, run like the wind.  He remembered his family and friends, life on the reservation, the mission school, his crazy uncle Silvertree, who taught him to shoot pool.

 

Check this out kid.  His uncle handed him a pool stick.  Big city spear.  Pay attention and Ill teach you to fish.

 

Hustling pool with his uncle that was the best.  Greenleaf learned the game like magic.  He had magic hands.  By the time he was twelve, he couldnt miss.  They traveled from city to city, town to town, the Drunken Indian, the Bumbling Boy, setting up the suckers in the taverns and poolrooms for the Lucky Shot.

 

I dont want this money, Tommy!  His mother would cry out when they got back to Pine.  You cheat and you gamble like you wasnt raised right!  How can you do this?  She shouted at her brother.  Teach him these things?

 

We only cheat white men.

 

His uncle was placid.

 

That dont count.  They only get cheated because theyre trying to cheat us.

 

His uncle was a gaunt, hawk-nosed, sinuous man, with silver gray hair and sharp, close-set eyes.  He wore shabby clothes and wore a shapeless feathered hat.  For the con, he could make his hawk face expressionless, his keen eyes look blank.

 

They never cheated us?  They never slaughtered our people?  They never stole our land?

 

His eyes had a hard, tight focused glint when he talked.  He disdained all white men, their world, their rule.  He loathed life on the reservation, A ghetto in the woods.  He stayed away from the radicals, the malcontents in Pine Ridge.

 

Shadow Man.  The reservation called him.  He kept to himself, came and went.

 

Anyone who has an advantage, nephew, will take advantage of anyone who is at a disadvantage to them.

 

Wooden-faced his uncle told him the law of the land.

 

Its the way of the world.  Youll learn that fast.  Look what the white man did to us.  No ace up your sleeve?  Leave the world alone.  The world is a pack of buzzards eyeballing the meat on your bones.

 

Rapid City, Sioux Falls, Ringo, Tremont, his uncle showed him the cities, their streets and back streets.  He showed him a different quarry to stalk, another way to hunt.

 

Stay low, nephew, walk light, keep out of sight.

 

The money bulged in their pockets.  They lived like chiefs.  Where else could a reservation Indian get money like this?  The con, the game, the bright lights and big cities, got under Greenleafs skin.  They traveled around the territory, mixed set ups, played it close to the vest.

 

 But word got around. In a tavern in Texas the hustlers were waiting for them.  They watched in silence while Greenleaf played the impossible shot.  He was fourteen then.  They jumped him, worked him over, broke his fingers and thumbs.

 

His uncle stabbed a man in the scuffle.  They sent him to prison.  They sent Greenleaf to reform school.  When he got out four years later, he wasnt the same.

 

It was bright daylight now.  Greenleaf looked at his hands.  The magic was gone, his fingers were too lame.  Heists, dope, gambling, fights, in and out of jail, nothing going right, for years now that was his life.  Far off against the sky, beyond the black ragged bluffs, Greenleaf could see the sacred mountain and the forests of Pine Ridge.  He stared at the top where he stood as a boy.  Thirty miles from home.  He would never get back.

 

Greenleaf leaped to his feet and dropped the smoked-out cigarette.  Motors were moving toward him, he saw wispy clouds of dust.  Beyond the jagged rocks, he heard the voices of men.  It was like the rumbling of an army.  He heard the yelping of dogs.

 

 

Cole to Peckins.

 

Go Cole.

 

Dust trail kicking up by Devils Gorge, Marshall.  Big car hauling ass about a mile off.  We can head it off at Widows Pass.  Call later for a back up if it dont respond.

 

Hold tight Cole.  You copy Chopper 2?  Devils Gorge, stop that car.  We need you at our 20 Chopper 1.  All points be alerted, this dragnets over, done.

 

Get back here, Cole, PDQ and save your lead.  Got the Indian in our sites, Pal.  His ass will soon be dead!

 

Reporters swarmed around them as they pulled the girl from the ambulance and wheeled her toward the emergency ward.  Flash cameras exploded from every direction.  Security guards pushed into the mob and tried to clear a path.  He ducked his head into the collar of his coat.  Microphones jabbed at his face. He pushed frantically at the stretcher.  He couldnt get through.

 

Was she raped?

 

Is she hurt?

 

Are you OK, Desert?

 

Whats the matter with the girl?

 

His head was spinning.  His heart was thumping in his chest.  He looked anxiously at the girl tossing on the stretcher.  Hemorrhage?  Rape wounds?  Miscarriage? Just her period maybe? 

 

Gang way!  Stand back!  Medical emergency!  Step aside!

 

His voice was strained.   Hands grabbed at his arms.  He fought to get through.

 

What emergency?

 

Whats wrong?

 

What are you hiding?

 

Speak up!

 

Was she raped?

 

I dont know!    He stammered.  I dont know!  Maybe!  Shes bleeding!  Let us through!  Medical emergency!  Shes losing blood!

 

They shot from their seats, rifles raised to their shoulders.  Six sharp staccato explosions which echoed like fireworks off the rock formations.

 

A football field away they watched the Indian fall.  He dropped like a rag doll and tumbled down the hill.

 

Hold them dogs!

 

Peckins shouted from his jeep.  His barrel chest ballooned.  His face was red with rage.

 

Hold your fire!  Get down you asshole!  Didnt I tell you the maniacs got a revolver?

 

There was a shuffling, a hesitation, men scrambled for the rocks.  Peckins scanned the distant ravine with his field binoculars.  Amidst the terraces of granite, the twisted tiers, the short scrub bushes, nothing could be seen.  There was a salmon colored curl which may have been a shoeless foot.  But it could have been anything, a reddish jutting rock.

 

I got him clean, Sam.

 

The shooters eased their jeep beside the Marshalls.

 

Not at this range.  Not shooting from a rolling seat.

 

Peckins scanned the slope again.  A smile traced his wind chapped lips.

 

Three went home, Marshall.

 

Three kicked dust.

 

He went down hard.

 

Hes hard to nail.

 

The shooters shrugged and reloaded.  They searched the dead terrain.  They wanted to finish off the shooting before the Indian made a play.

 

You fixin to call him out Sam?

 

They began to see the Marshalls game.

 

Not right away.  Well ring him first.  Get a chopper overhead.  Get everyone in place.  Then were going in.  A smile crossed the Marshalls mouth.  Ill make sure, myself, that Indian stays dead.

 

Seems to be that sort of day.

 

Seems.

 

Sorry Jim.

 

Cole shrugged.

 

 The phantom car was their only chance.  They hoped the Indian was in it.  That washed out.

 

Least its over.

 

Over and done.

 

Dont let it get you.

 

Ill be OK.

 

Coles folly.  Peckins fame.  Marshall Sam Peckins saves the day.  Marshall Peckins came to the Badlands with his big cock in his gun hand.  The highway hurtled past.  Theyd never get there on time.  Cole looked angrily at the speedometer, as if by an act of will he could make the

 

old jeep fly.  Nothing made sense.  This manhunt was insane.  Cole had a law officer in the hospital room.  He had one in the lobby.  He had another in the parking lot.  The Indian was in a coma.  He was tied down by his wrists.  The doctors had done that themselves so he wouldnt pull out his needles and hurt himself.  Shit!  The Indian was half dead anyway!  It made no sense that he escaped!

 

No news is good news.

 

The radio was silent.

 

No.  Its over Ben.  Like you said.  Whats over is over.

 

Twenty years of service down the drain.

 

Move your lines men!

 

The radio transmitter felt supercharged in Peckins hand.

 

Close them flanks!  Chopper 1 you sittin on your hands?  How come I dont see you overhead?

 

His blue eyes danced as he watched the team respond.  They were spread out like a bulls horns centered by the jostling hounds.  Since the break of dawn, theyd moved methodically along, poking through the nooks and crannies, dropping canisters of tear gas down the wastelands interlacing holes.  They ran now in a ragged frenzy, forming a close knit circle around the rocky bluff.

 

Custers last stand.

 

Peckins watched the running men.

 

Cept the other way around.  And our one little Indian out there aint gonna stand that ground for long.

 

He aint standin now.

 

One of the shooters chuckled.

 

Peckins checked his rifle and pulled on a bullet proof vest.  The shooters shrugged and pulled on theirs.  They shifted in their jeeps.  In the distance, Chopper 1 appeared.  It dove in circled and hovered directly above the rocky knoll.

 

Brief me 1.  Whats going on?

 

Hat brim low, Peckins scanned the slope again.

 

Hes face down in the dirt, Marshall, at the bottom of the rock.  Hidin, wounded, lying dead?  Aint seen him move a muscle yet.

    Tenfour Chopper 1.  Lets call him out.  Time to get this mission done.

 

The two jeeps eased forward.  Peckins laid his shotgun on the dash.  In their own jeep, the shooters held their rifles on their laps.  Hard Copy.  Current Affair.  Movie of the week.  Magazines.  Press conferences.  Tabloid talks.  These media inevitabilities ran through Peckins thoughts.  Sam Peckins.  Marshall Sam.  In the Badlands, killed the bad man.  Hell, hed run for office.  Governor maybe.  Marshall Sam, hes our man.  He wondered who would play him on the screen.

 

Chester fought the wheel.  He fought Sullys corpse.

 

The Caddy rocked.  The body lurched.

 

Through the rear view mirror, he watched Helicopter 2  close in.   He and Clem should have buried the body  on the motel grounds.  His hair and beard were dark with sweat.

 

YOU ARE COMPLETELY SURROUNDED!

 

Beating the air above the bluff, Helicopter 1 hovered above the Indian over a cloud of dust.

 

THERE IS NO ESCAPE!  COME OUT NOW WITH YOUR HANDS UP!

 

Stunned, dazed, missing half an ear, Greenleaf lay flat of the frozen ground paralyzed with fear.  There was a fire in his leg.  Blood trickled down his neck.  Through a break in the rock, he watched the armored jeep approach.  Fight, flight.  Both were out.  His mind flashed again to the mutilated man, to the newspaper headlines, to the words of the girl on the long dark drive.  Theyre going to hang you, Tonto.  Gas you.  Burn you.  If they dont skin you alive or shoot you first.

 

Greenleaf groaned, stood, put his hands in the air.  An explosion burned his fingers..  Another explosion raked his skull.  Bullets beat like rain against the twisted rocks.  He dove, scrambled, crawled into a hole.

 

    Talk to me...shoot pal ... youre at the hospital and the girls OK?  Medicated, delirious, but nothing serious?   Thats good news Maury, the ratings would suck without a happy ending.  What about what that paramedic on the news said?   Rapes not confirmed?  Well either way.  Rapes not a bad development ...let me know.   Yeah, things are going fine here.   Scripts half written.  Right, right, formula schmaltz.  Small town Americana.  Widower father, doting uncle. Sleeping beauty and her rude awakening.   Sign her?  Sure, as soon as we can.  Look, my tongues  hanging out.  Everyone wants to sign her.  Shes a knock-out.  The whole  world knows her face.   The whole world wants to see the rest.  Well let things cool down.  Could back fire.  Bad PR.  The press will say were pushing her.  Right, like they arent.  I can see the smary TAB headlines if this rapes confirmed. DESERT DEFLOWERED or some such shit.  Screen test?  Oh, sure just for show.  Like its important she can act or something.  Yeah, I got the roadhouse photos.  Good work.  Right, a haunted house.  No sweat, it will look like the Partridge family estate when we build the set.  Hey, I know it aint Top Cops out there, Maury, but whats the odds theyll take that Indian alive?  You dont think they want to.  Too bad.  A splashy trial

 

would really keep the story hot.  Look pal, I gotta go.  Im going to send Blackford out there to talk to the girl.  Sure hell behave himself.  Talk to you babe. 

 

He was dead.  Greenleaf ran a hand through his matted hair.  This was the Devils game.  He had died in the roadhouse with the other men.  He was dead, delirious, dreaming or insane.

 

His fingers felt numb.  The pads were burned and scratched with streaks of blood..

 

He reached, hesitated, reached again.

 

What he saw in the hole could not be there.

 

He was as startled by the weapons under the rocks as Sully was by the snakes when he hid them  there.

 

Two semi-automatic Uzi style rifles.  Hand guns, bullets.  Four pipe bombs.

 

STOP THAT CAR!

 

The blunt blades beat the air above the Cadillac.  Through the sun roof Chester could see the belly of Chopper 2 almost resting on the rocking car.  His brain pounded.  He was drenched with sweat.  Sullys corpse rocked and pitched off the leather padded dash. 

 

He was part of that gang, Clem.  He was fixin to run.

 

Hope the law sees it your way Chester.  Hope this dont get you hung.

 

Chester shoved the barrel of the shotgun through the window on the roof.  The explosion bent his arm in half.

 

It was as quiet as a crypt along the ridge.

 

Careful Sam.

 

Peckins drew a long deep breath.  His palms were sweating.  He studied the pyramid-shaped hill.  The Indian could be anywhere.  It was hide and seek.  Cat and mouse.

 

They stood huddled by the Marshalls jeep.

 

Just keep me covered.

 

He scanned the rocky ridge.  It was a long steep climb.  If he wanted what there was to get, hed have to do it, take the risk.  Chopper 1 hovered overhead.  Theyd take care of the Indian if things went bad.

 

We can smoke him out.

 

The shooter pulled a canister of teargas from the idling jeeps back seat.

 

Can you clear that ledge?

 

Clear it easy, Marshall, if I move up some.

 

The bomb blast blew them off the rock, each man flying helter skelter down the ragged bluff.  The Marshalls driver was split in half.  The pipe bomb spiraled through the sky and landed in his lap.  The two shooters were mangled flesh.  The Marshall sat beside the burning jeep, a load of shrapnel in his heaving chest.

 

10

 

There were dark clouds gathered at the top of the mountain, which puzzled Moses, because one would think there would be a haze of light around the presence of God and Moses was meeting with God who was the symbol of light.

 

But God is a dark cloud.  God is truth.  Truth and reality are rarely sunshine and light.

 

The Indian appeared like a dark cloud at the top of the rock.  His great drab coat billowed and ballooned bat like in the whirlwind of the choppers beating blades.  Blood ran like war paint

 

down his ravaged face.  His hair was wild.  Arms outstretched, he leaped barefoot from rock to rock, a pipe bomb clutched in his mangled hand, a bag of rifles belt bound to his back.

 

The big guns boomed and the rifles crackled.  Bullets beat the bluff like monsoon rain, tearing

up the short scrub bushes, ricocheting off the twisted rocks.  Phantomlike, the Indian descended the hill.  His eyes were vacant hell shocked dreams.

 

Peckins thought of the mountain and watched in a daze.  He could not move.  Bullets whizzed above his bomb stunned head.  The deafening barrage intensified his pain.  The nails, shards, shafts of metal imbedded in his heaving chest, vibrated with the thundering explosions and twisted deeper into his punctured flesh.

 

Above him, the helicopter dipped and turned.  Rapid fire eruptions shot out from the cockpit door.  Peckins watched the Indian leap, spin, and swing his arm across the air.  A storm of glass, metal, and bloody limbs rained down as Helicopter 1 exploded in a ball of fire.

 

Cole to Peckins.

 

His heart was pounding.

 

Cole to Hawkins, to Nesbit.

 

His big hands trembled.

 

Cole to Hendon, Wilson.  To anyone in the posse.

 

Nam was the last time he heard anything like this gunfire.  Heard or saw, for the two fireball explosions blackened the sky a dozen miles off.

 

Whats going on?

 

Dont know Jim.

 

Tate clutched the wheel and shook his head.

 

The choppers down, Ben.  That last big blast.  Whats going on?

 

Tate shook his head.

 

    STOP THAT CAR!

 

Sullys corpse now lay across Chesters hunched down shoulders.  Its goggle eyed face was pressed against the drivers window.  Its blown out chest was a dead weight on his stooping back.  Somehow Chester managed to drag the dead weight over him, even though his arm was broken from the shotgun kick back and he was quivering with pain.

 

He fought the wheel.  Head bent forward, he squinted at the bowed black rock, at its billowy granite bonnet looming past the ridge; while bullets from the relentless helicopter exploded through the Caddy roof, thumped into the dead mans back, thudded in its brain blown skull.

 

Chopper 2 to Marshall Peckins!  Come in Peckins!

 

Go for Peckins, Chopper 2.  This is sheriff Cole.  Over.

 

Were going down, Cole!  Fuel tanks blasted!  Widows Pass!  Send a back up!

 

You copy Dry Gulch?  Back up Ringo.  Widows Pass.  On the double ...

 

The road rushed past.  The gunfire deepened.  Cole swallowed hard.  His heart was racing.  Indian gang?  Some mad bucks from the reservation?  They were out there with him?  On foot?  A car?  How could they have hid from the helicopters surveillance?

 

Cole to Peckins ... Cole to Nesbit, Hawkins ...

 

 

 Anything is possible when nothing is real, and if this was real than God was the Devil, Heaven was Hell, Beauty Horror and Death an Angel.

 

An army came running, running across the badlands from every direction, running, shooting, shouting, cursing.  Fifty yards away, forty, closing.  They were aiming wildly, tripping, falling.

 

Greenleaf climbed behind the wheel of the shooters bomb scorched jeep.  Bullets beat like hail against it, shattering the windshield, shooting out the head and tail lights, puncturing the tires and knocking off the mirrors.  Unharmed the undead inhabit Hell unscathed.  Greenleaf knew.  Their mutilated immortality lives on to receive the Devils pain.

 

Greenleaf hung the short haired scalp across the broken rear view mirror.  Blood dripped from it.  There was not much meat.  With his hands sore, he could only slice the skull skin deep.

 

Peckins sat and stared and tried to breath.  His bald head bled.  He was chattering with pain.  The Indian stared starkly at him from the shooters jeep.  He tossed a flat sharp rock at the Marshalls feet.  It was covered with blood and the skin of a snake.

   

 

Cole to Cannon.

 

Go Cole.

 

Cannon lift that ban.  I need airborne reconnaissance quick as you can.  Weather station, news, crop duster, buzzard.  The first thing you get.  I need the roadblocks in place.  I need driving patrols.  I need you to contact the Pine Reservation.  Get them to assign their police to the borders, tell them I need them to close their main roads.  I need ...

 

Calm down Cole, Ill do what I can.  Im just back on duty.  My brain aint no bigger.  I still got two hands.

 

 

Guns and adrenalin, frenzy and fear, rage, outrage, the army swarmed around him firing in a panic as they ran, stumbling, falling, killing one another with their own cross-fire.

 

Greenleaf stood atop the jeep with his arms extended cross-like at his sides.  He held a rapid firing Uzi automatic in each mangled hand.  His great dark coat fluttered like a phantom in the wind.  His eyes were closed.  He turned slowly from left to right and back again.   He felt free.  As though he were flying.   His stretched out arms like wings.   He felt like an eagle soaring.  He was perched on top of the Sacred Mountain.  He rose above the misery of his life.  The poverty, the prison, the beatings, the set up.  The staccato shots streamed like lightning from his lifted hands.  He listened to the death cries of the screaming men.

 

Hawkins to Cole ... Hawkins to Cannon ... Hawkins to Dry Gulch, Macon, to anyone at the station ... Hawkins to ...

 

LAST CALL CADDY

 

 Chopper 2 whirled ahead, spun, and dropped.  An explosion blew the Caddys windshield out.  Chester ducked behind the padded dash.  Bullets blasted through the cabin space.  He fired the dead mans gun at the cockpit door.  He saw the pilot slump.  There was a grinding crash.  Through the smoke of the explosion, above his hunched down head, he saw the widows granite bonnet hurtling at the car.

 

 

 

    How many Jeb?

 

It was as dark as dusk across the battle ground.  Cole stood with Hawkins near the Marshalls burning jeep.  Peckins sat and chattered.  His broad chest heaved.  Bodies lay everywhere the dead and the dying, the wounded and the maimed.  They were all enfolded in a toxic shroud as dreary as a dead mans dream of smoke and tear gas and blazing gasoline.

 

Dont know Jim.  Dont want to neither.

 

Hawkins stared the ground. His voice was strange.  His body shuddered and his face seemed aged.

 

You get the Indian?

 

Cole looked past him at the slaughtered men.  His heart beat wildly.  His fists were clenched.

 

Hes the Devil Jim.

 

Hawkins closed his eyes.

 

You didnt get the Indian?

 

Hes Evil Cole.  Thats all Ill say.

 

Sirens howled like strangled ghosts beyond the battle fogged ridge.  The flashing lights were tripped out dreams.  Cole descended the knoll on shaky legs.  Paramedics struggled past him

dragging a transport stretcher.  They lifted Peckins by his armpits and sat him down.  They wheeled him seated to the medical van.

 

Bad as it looks?

 

Its a horror Jim.

 

Ghostlike his deputy met him in the fog.

 

How many Ben?

 

Tate shook his head.  A bandana covered his nose and mouth.  He took a breath and pulled it down.

 

Hes headed for Pine in a shooters jeep.  Werent no gang Jim.  Only him.  Hes got bombs, Uzis.  God knows how.  Nesbit tried to follow him but lost him in the fog.  Hes tossing tear gas left and right as he goes along.

 

They moved down wind.  Cole was walking in a trance.  Tates eyes and face were blank with shock.  This could not be real.  It was too insane.  More would die.  They would choke to death.

 

Well cut him off, Jim.  Get more men.  Ring him. Pin him.  Hold him down.

 

Hes heavy armed.

 

Well wait him out.

 

Night comes quick.

 

Well light it up.

 

Hell use the shadows and the holes.

 

Well get generators and volunteers from every town.  More Feds if we can.  The militia if we have to.  Whatever it takes to take him down.

 

Theres a plane coming Ben.

 

Coles gray eyes froze.  The lawmen stopped beside a dead blood hound.

 

Guy I knew in Vietnam.  Survivalist.  Supremacist.  Outlaw plane, Ben, custom made and coming on its own.

 

Cole looked across the smoke smothered ground.

 

Hell bomb that psychopath to kingdom come.

 

 

11

 

    Youre dead!  Youre dead, Tonto! Now get off my bed!  I aint your lay!  You aint  stickin that ugly thing between my legs!

    Through half closed eyes, she saw ghost shapes gathered around her bed stiff white shadows that came and went.  The Indian crawled on top of her.  His black eyes were  ablaze.  He had a tomahawk penis.  He held her down by her wrists. 

 

Get off of me you mangy dog!  She hissed in the depths of her delirium.  Get off me now!  Id rather eat flies out of a garbage can than feel your dong.

 

 She tossed and turned with disgust and rage.  She felt the Indian push himself inside her.  Something oozed between her thighs.  His breath smelled of snake.  His hair was a tangle of blood.  It ran down his face like war paint.  His hands were scarred and burned.  He was even more disgusting dead than he was when he was alive.

 

Die goddamn it! Stay in Hell!  She cursed in her dream.  Take those gangsters with you!  I hope the Devil gets you all!

 

Why are her wrists bound, Nurse Hartfelt?

 

Doctor Laster  stood flushed with anger in the doorway.  His  face was grave, but his eyes were aghast.  They  moved  from nurse Hartfelt to the cluster of staffers who stood with her and then to the girl they surrounded on the elevated bed.   She lay spreadeagled under a sheet which was pulled to her chin.  Her wrists were tied to the side bars, her legs were spread apart.  She was twisting in torment and  muttering to herself.  Her hair was a tangle of flames.  Her pale face glistened with sweat.   

 

 My god, are her ankles bound too?

 

The doctor moved doggedly  into the room.  His eyes were puffy and red.  His gray hair was disheveled.  His grim features were drawn. His thoughts were cluttered with cobwebs.   He was up all night with an emergency operation.  A farmer near Dead Wood who got crushed by a plow.

 

Certainly not, doctor!   Nurse Hartfelt turned white as a ghost.  Her plump figure froze in mid motion.  She looked like she was about to faint.  Untie her Nurse Manning!  She shrieked at her assistant.  I think shes stable now.  She was scratching at my face. She turned to the doctor.  You can see shes delirious.  I had to clean her up.  I think she was over medicated in the ambulance.

    The doctor leaned over the bed and with the gentlest of touches took the girls pulse.  He tested her forehead with the back of his hand.  His examination was done so lovingly that he even noticed the affection himself.  He was aware the staff was watching him and he quickly pulled back his hand.

 

   Poor kid.  What a nightmare.

 

The doctor shook his gray uncombed head.  The girls skin had the luster of porcelain.  She was like some china doll come to life.  He felt somehow responsible for the state she was in.  She could have lost her life.   Had he put her in harms way?  Was it his fault the Indian  escaped? Was the restraint they put on the Indian too loose?  Was he wrong about his medical condition?  Of course much of the Indians blood had been replaced by transfusions, but still, he would be too weak to kill a policeman, and a big one at that and pull off such a daring escape. Wouldnt he? This played on his mind all night, even through surgery.  Maybe he should have been more careful.  He had seen half dead soldiers perform miraculous feats of heroism in Viet Nam. The human will was extraordinary.  The superhuman efforts men made when it was a matter of life and death was well known to him.   Maybe he should have kept that in mind.  But then that was Coles job. Cole was the Sheriff not him.   He had his own job to do.  He worked from morning till night.  His secret regret was that when they brought the Indian into the emergency ward they simply didnt let him die.

 

There was some bleeding , Nurse Hartfelt?  The doctor hesitated and then turned to the flustered nurse.  I ran into a  paramedic on the way to the ward. He was with her in the ambulance.  Hes worried  about the girl.   He thinks he messed up somehow?

 

She had her period.   Nurse Hartfelt said nervously.  There was something evasive in her glance.  The doctor wondered why the head nurse was so jumpy.  But then they were all coming

apart at the seams.  Youd think the poor boy would  know the difference between that and anything else.   She laughed nervously. I suppose were lucky he didnt give her plasma.  Ill have to take him under my wing?

 

 Sometimes it hard to tell.  The doctor muttered. When things happen fast.  He was asleep on his feet.  There was something odd going on.  He was too tired to figure it out.  He started to lift the girls bed  sheet but a strange sensation shot through him and he stopped.  The soft white shape below him, suspended in its sleeping beauty stillness, suddenly seemed like an  angel  in a cloud.  Had something voyeuristic stolen into his glance?  He let the bed sheet drop.

 

Ill leave her in your capable hands, nurse Hartfelt.

 

Doctor Laster  bowed to the wounded head nurse with deference trying to patch things up.

 

I have to get some sleep.  Ive been up all night.  Forgive me, Im not myself.

 

Nurse Hartfelt  looked at him icily.  She managed a pained smile.

 

I hope we can manage without you doctor.   We may be inept but we try.  Ill stay with the girl while she sleeps.  Ill be here when she awakes.  Youre not the only one who puts in long hours.  We all try to do our best.

 

 The doctor winced and smiled, bowed and turned away.   He moved toward the door feeling guilty.  He had put his foot in his mouth.  They were all upside down since the holdup.  There had never been anything like it.  Black Water General was the focus of the world.  He would send some flowers to the nurses station.  It occurred to him as he moved slowly down the hall.  Maybe that would bolster morale.  He would talk to security and get some guards on the floor.  Why hadnt that been done before?  Did he have to think of everything?  The doctor brooded.  Reporters were all over the hallways.  They were stopping everyone.  He felt the weight of the drama crushing him.  It didnt seem like the town could survive all this madness.  They were under the invasion of the globe. Everyone was  stressed to the limit -- what with the tragedy,  the manhunt, the media camped everywhere.  He began to notice a flurry of commotion.   Staffers were running through the halls.  Doctors and nurses were moving rapidly.  Phones were ringing at the nurses stations.  Doctor Steinmetz, panicky and upset, came hurrying down the hall.  When he saw Laster his eyes lit up.   He grabbed him by the arm.  All hells broken loose John.  He said breathlessly.  Get a shower, get a shave, get some coffee.  I need every physician I can get.

 

   Whats going on out there Nurse Winter? 

 

    Nurse Hartfelt looked out the door at the commotion in the hallway.

 

   Im not sure. Nurse Winter hesitated.  She was pushing a medicine cart through the ward.  A shootout,  I think.  Someone said bodies coming in.

 

  Finish in here.  Nurse Hartful said anxiously to her staff.  Find doctor Steinmetz.  See if you can be any help.  You may leave that bundle, William, Ill dispose of it myself.  Mind what you say to the reporters!  She chided nervously.   Theyll be pestering you for news.  Theyre going to try to bribe you for photos of the girl.  Of course you all know thats strictly against hospital regulations.

 

 The flustered nurse closed the door behind them.  She turned and looked at the girl.  Nurse Harfelts small plump hands were trembling.   Her head was in a whirl.    She had lied to the doctor.  She couldnt believe what shed done.   She committed medical fraud.   The girl had a miscarriage that morning.  Nurse Hartfelt had covered it up.  Just now there were complications.  Everything was OK but she covered that up too. She could loose her license if the truth got out.    She moved in a daze across the room and sat down near the bed.  She looked desperately at the girl.   Nurse Hartfelt wondered if she had gone crazy,  risking her career in that way.  But what else was she to do? If the story got out that the girl was an unwed mother the tabloids would be after the poor thing like a pack of wolves.  Wolves after a lamb, and after all the girl had been through.  My god she was just 17.  There would be shame, snickers, she knew how people turned on one another.  All they needed was an excuse. Besides what would that do to the town?  Hadnt Black Water  suffered enough already? The only thing that was keeping anything together was their admiration and love for the girl.  Their own home-grown beauty.  Did they need to know she was flawed?  She turned from her  pleasant but homely reflection in the dresser mirror which she had been absently gazing at to the dazzling creature lying asleep beside her in the glass.  Suddenly a tremor of longing went through her for a beauty she never could have.  To be beautiful like that, like a living dream, to be beautiful and beautifully loved.  Everyone fell in love with a beauty, it was the stuff of movies and books.  Her misty eyes moved from the mirror to the flowers which filled the room.  Flowers and candy and boxes with satin ribbons, hats and dresses and cards and letters.  They filled the room.  Not just this room but a storage closet too.  Over a hundred thousand dollars in donations had been sent to the hospital for the girl.  Money for her college, medical care, money from everyone everywhere.  And, like the gifts and cards,  it just kept coming in.  There were book offers, movie offers, marriage proposals. Quite frankly, she thought bitterly, if the girl were plainer or fatter none of this would be happening.   Shed be out in the cold.  People knew that deep down and were jealous.  They would be all too eager to attack.   Could she risk ruining a new life for the girl with some information which meant nothing to anyone?

 

It was all such a nightmare.  Nurse Hartfelt wrung her hands.  It was all so confusing.  One didnt know what to do.  She remembered the bodies coming in, the shock of seeing lifelong friends dead on stretchers.  She remembered the girl being led by Sheriff Cole to the psycho ward.  Well that, in its own way, made sense now too, if you worked in a mental ward.  The unwed mother in the wedding gown, surrounded by the bodies of the dead.  A chill ran over her.  When would it ever end?  Would Black Water ever get back to normal?  Would the vultures leave the girl alone?   Would they drive the girl into madness ?  She looked desperately at the girl again.   Now the FBI seemed to be bothering the helpless thing.  They kept asking the strangest questions.  Did the girl know the Indian?  Was the girl rebellious? What did the FBI want?  What did they mean?  They kept asking nurse Hartfelt to demonstrate the wrist restraints.  They kept going over the Indians escape from the ward.  How could he get to the girls room without being seen?  How could he have slipped in and out past the nurses desk with a hostage?  Wasnt the mental ward sealed off?  They even asked her for the girls personal items.  She gave them a compact and a brush.  Why did the FBI agents  ask her for those objects?  Did they want the girls fingerprints?  They couldnt suspect her of being involved with the robbery, could they?  Who would think of such a thing?  Why didnt they go catch the Indian!  Do something useful!  Leave the poor girl alone!

 

In the dark, in bed, lying alone and naked, Guido Marzullo stared at the television screen and waited for his death.

 

The transient room was a lockup in a no mans land, cramped, dingy, crawling with bugs.  Uptown Chicago, the penthouse of the damned.  Nevermen, losers, juicers and ghosts, druggies, degenerates, a dead end for the citys refuse.  But uptown, downtown, in town or out, Guido knew it didnt matter, theyd find him anywhere.

 

Black Water South Dakota: CBS has learned that the bloodbath that began earlier this week continued its rampage in the desert late this afternoon.  In a bizarre turn of events, a manhunt became a massacre when...

 

Guido was sweating with fear.  Purgatory flared in his pores.  His sodden clothes lay rumpled on the floor.  Contract out.  The hit begins.  His execution over a bag of blow and fifty grand.

 

Lay low Guido.

 

His father told him on the phone.  Guido called home from South Dakota after the smokie took the dope and let him go.

 

You got stopped, searched.  That shit happens all the time.  A different cop youd be in jail right now.  Corsod have to make your bail, pay your trial.  Have something for you when you did your time.  And thered be no blow in hock.  No blow at all.  Forget about it Guido.  Theyll do the deal.  Itll be over and done.  So maybe they dont let you drive for a while.  Aint your fault.  Youre a kid.  Its your first big job.  Wait a little while, youll be back on the run.

 

Guido fingered the gun that lay beside him on the bed.  The blow disappeared.  The money was gone.  Corso had no other choice but to rub him out. 

 

He stared at the newscast.  Smoke billowed on the screen.  Fire, gas, what looked like the skeleton of a blazing helicopter in the long range camera shot.  Hed call his father, get some cash.  Get out of Chicago.  Theyd hunt there first.  He had fucked up big time.  It was all his fault.  Marcos dude ranch.  Racing through the night.  Popping pills and smoking grass.  Those six foot blondes in the cowgirl hats and high spiked boots, spurs, lassos,

riding crops.

 

Bag man coming, coming with the cane...

 

Marcos dude ranch ...cunt, dope, high stake games...

 

Gueeedooo ...

 

There were footsteps on the landing.  He heard movement in the hall.  Guidos heart was pounding.  He broke out in a sweat.  He tried to move.  He was paralyzed with fear.  Through the rotting wooden door, he heard the murmuring of men.

 

We know youre in there, Gueedooo.

 

Ben.

 

The crop duster clattered across the sky.  A barnstorming relic from an era gone by.

 

Tate glanced at Cole.  They watched the old plane roar by.  Ebenezer Motley, an old racist crank.  Lived in a shack on a spread alone in the wasteland with his arsenal of hate books and guns.

 

Devil kills Devil.

 

Coles tired eyes turned cold.  The law couldnt cut it.  They were out of their league.  It was the Reign of the Devil.  The law was a joke.

 

Maybe Evil gets Evil.   Tates slender lips curled.  Maybe Evil crawls in a hole.

 

Long as he holds him so we can move in the circle.

 

Maybe the Indian will down him.  Hes got enough fire power.

 

No skin off my nose.

 

Cole hung his head.  He couldnt remember when he felt so tired.  Help from Nazi.  They were really hard up.

 

12

 

I look like her.

 

The red tip of her cigarette fired the highlights in her golden hair which flowed like molten flames across her ghost white shoulders.  The smoke formed a veil for her stunning new face.

 

The illusion is uncanny Ms Strand.

 

Blackford studied the transformed megastar by the indirect lighting above the circular bar.  At 25 she looked 18.  Alluring, innocent: Ms MTV.  Even her eyes looked altered.  Huge and green.

 

But you must have some sense of our budget Ms Strand.  This is a production for television.  A movie of the week.  We simply cant afford you.  You know you dont come cheap.

 

The waiter brought them fresh martinis on a silver tray with Spanish olives.  Over the rim of her raised cocktail glass, she glared at Blackford from some frenzied, hostile deep.  Her eyes were dangerous.  Both tense and fierce.  It was a look the seasoned casting director had never seen.

 

I look like her.  It wasnt easy.  It wasnt cheap.  It wasnt pretty.  Fuck your budget.  Ill work for free.

 

A combo was playing Stardust in the corner.  Under the immense arched windows, the huge cross beams, the club was quietly crowded with the worlds elite.  Lake Strand.  This made no sense.  Golden Globe.  Best Supporting Actress.  Multi-million dollar Movie Goddess.  Tinsel

 

Town was tumbling down. The Dream Machine was in overdrive everything set spinning by a golden-haired girl in a wedding gown, a roadhouse slaughter, and a psychopathic killer whose bloodlust knew no bounds.

 

A magnificent gesture Ms Strand.

 

Blackford stifled a yawn.  Heavy with gin his pomaded black head began to nod.

 

You would immortalize the part.  But arent you under contract at present?  That new Scorsese film?

 

Blackford sipped his drink and closed his eyes.  The melody of Star Dust fluttered through the club like diamond butterflies.  Lake Strand.  What was next?  Since the murder story broke, his life had become a surrealistic dream: a blur of snow white skin and huge green eyes, long golden hair and ripe young thighs.  Under him, over him, all around him on the casting couch threadbare from vigorous years of Leading Lady interviews.  But nothing like what was transpiring now.  Starlets swarmed his back lot office.  Designer clones of the haunting Badlands girl.  What was her name?  Desert Flower? Even the name was outrageous.  She was the most sensational tabloid miracle since Princess Di.  Breathtaking body doubles, magically remade.  They even managed to project a modicum of the stark girls mesmerizing gaze.   All of them were dressed in identical wedding gowns.  That ghostly swirl of antique silk the girl was photographed wearing when they led her into the psycho ward.  It would be THE LOOK  after the movie came out: the romantic dress, the golden hair.  Millions of Desert Flowers  would roam the world.  Another Hollywood hallucination to bring home Never Never land to all the cubical people in their sitcom worlds.

 

Bradford Blackford, clone master.

 

Bradford Blackford, master of the dream.

 

Even the ravishing megastar seated tensely before him near the circular bar, wore her own

 

clubby version of the dress.  Sensuous, surreal, beauty under, over, through and through.  The feminine deception was like some Hitchcock film.

 

Let them sue me.

 

The actresses eyes were luminous.

 

Let them try.  Theyll back off if your studio backs me up.  This is my role, no one elses.  I have to play this part.

 

She dug her fingers into Blackford. There was no muscle in the scrawny arm to cushion the

painful claws.  He was going to seed.  Blackford noted with a sigh.  He cut a fine figure once, now he was just another drunk.  Those long pointed nails raking down his spine.  Her passion was explosive.  Shed eat him alive.

 

Ill do my very best, Ms Strand.

 

Blackford placed a sympathetic hand on the fiercely working claws.

 

Ill back you to the hilt.  Youd make this brutal tragedy a work of art.

 

An ice dancer from Russia had already been given the title role.  Blackford contacted the teenagers trainer the day the story hit the news.  Blonde, beautiful, skin as white as a snow leopard.  She was the darling of the international ice skating rink.  She won all the competitions, stole the hearts of the world.

 

Lake Strand.  The night of nights.  Moonlight.  Champagne.  Her milky thighs.

 

 

 

Moon Shadow was spiritual in the ancient Sioux way.  She spoke to the wind, the moon and the stars.  She married Night Walker on the top of Bear Butte.  It was a ceremony the Sacred Mountain waited centuries for.  That night, wild game crackled on spits.  There were drums, dancers, holy chants.  Night Walker was a descendant of Medicine Men.  High Chiefs traveled to Pine Ridge from faraway lands.

 

Greenleaf drove in a daze.  The mountain drew nearer.  If he could make it to the mountain, his soul would return.  Moon Shadow, his sister like some far away dream.  The night of the wedding, he was wide-eyed, just ten.

 

The jeep rocked on its wheel rims, its tires blown out.  He could walk to Pine faster if he was able to walk.  He could swim the white rivers, leap the quick streams, race through the forests like a fresh gust of wind.

 

A mushroom cloud erupted from a furnace of fire.  The crop duster  lifted and arched for the sky.  The pilot  glanced down from the cockpit at the hurtling jeep.  He watched the Indian fly over the hood and land on the rocks.  The jeep dropped into a gully and turned on its side.  He took another stick of dynamite from the box at his side.

 

The ridges and gorges and ravines flew wildly past.  He nosed the old plane into a Ferris wheel turn.  Below him, small armies were crossing the lands.  An hour away.  Coming on strong from every direction.  They descended the mountain, rode the wasteland in jeeps.  Theyd find a hole in the ground when they got here, some chunks of burnt meat.  Hed circle the crater when the second cloud cleared, drop calling cards for the media to let them know who was there.  White power pamphlets with the sign they all feared.

 

WHITE MIGHT.  WHITE JUSTICE.  The wind blew in his face and he felt the dark rush.  Ebenezer Motley, the killer of killers.  Just an ant on the ground.  The world would soon learn what the white race could do.  All the subhuman blood scum could quake in their boots.

 

He swept through the turn and roared for the rocks.  The Indian stood slumped with an Uzi a scarecrow in shock.  He banked the barnstormer smoothly and circled the ridge.  A duel with Red Devil.  He couldnt resist.  Hed shoot off his legs with the machine gun he installed in the propeller, circle again, drop a ton of insecticide on the rock ridge and watch the crippled bug squirm.

 

He flew close to the ground.  The tiny shape grew.  He sighted the machine gun at the target.  The scarecrows Uzi was useless.  The barnstormers nose was armored, the bullets  wouldnt  get through.  He pushed the button and watched the spitfire shoot out.    The Indian dropped to the ground amidst a barrage of bullets and dust. The pilots  toothless mouth split as he grabbed the bug bomb release.  Hed lay down a cloud to drive the Indian out.  Maybe hed drop another stick of dynamite, maybe not.  Might be more fun to buzz him for a while, watch him scurry about.   As he roared toward the rocks the Indian surfaced again. He stood on the ridge and threw something at the plane.  Two silvery glints sparkled in the sunlight for a second.  There was a clatter of steel hitting metal.  Two sharp clanging thumps.

 

 

 

13

 

Youre the Bride of Bloodshed, kitten, the bride, the bride...

 

 Come to Daddy little princess!  Come to Daddys big dark bed!

 

The faceless strangers come and go.

 

Shadows sweep across the land.

 

Mists envelope each pale ghost.

 

She drifts like a phantom beneath the moons dim glow.

 

It was dark in the room.

 

The curtains were drawn.

 

She sensed Evil in the shadows,

 

an Evil more relentless than her own.

 

 

There were bars on the windows.

 

Restraints dangled from the bed.

 

She was back in the psycho ward.

 

She sensed from the Evil, she might never get out.

 

The gunmen, the fire, crawling for the car, she remembered trying to get to the Indian before the Indian could talk.  The room spun around her.  She lay flat on her back.  She stared at the ceiling, trying to make sense of it all.  It was like some madwomans dream, what she saw in her mind a carnival of flames, and flashers, and wailing sirens.  She remembered falling from the pipe, crashing to the ground, she remembered hiding the money in a hole and covering it with a rock.  She remembered the police cars coming out of nowhere, the ambulance, the swarm of reporters badgering her, flashbulbs, cameras, microphones shoved in her face.  There was a chinless boy in a frenzy of light.  The boy was whistling songs and feeling her up.  She remembered the Indian raping her.  Or was that a dream?  She remembered blood between her legs.  She wondered if they captured the Indian, if he was dead or alive.

 

She sighed, shifted, tried to sit up.  They must have medicated her with tranquilizers.  She didnt have the strength.  Her head was splitting.  Her ankle throbbed.  She felt sleep pulling her under if she went under she was lost.  She struggled again.  Her silken flesh strained beneath the sheets trying to push off some invisible weight that was holding her down.  She rose, turned, dropped her legs over the bed.  Her body felt shapeless.  She stood swaying in the dark.

 

Everything was caving in, falling apart.  Her thoughts were all tangled.  She tried to push through the webs.  The gunmen were after her.  They had figured it out.  The big city gangsters looking for their dope.  They knew she set up the robbery and double crossed everyone.  Or, at least, they knew she was in on it and was the only one left. 

 

 

    She groped her way slowly across the small cluttered room, using the chair, sink, dresser for support.  Everything was like a dream.  Her secret was out.  She would have thought it all a dream but for the throbbing  in her ankle and the pain in her head.  She leaned over the dresser holding its surface for support.  She peered at her own spectral silhouette  in the mirror shimmering in the dark.  The Evil in the room watched her as she stared. The Evil was like some deadly frost hovering in the air.   The Evil was the menace of the gangsters looking for revenge.  

 

I dont care what went down here, kitten.  She remembered the words of the gunman she torched.  I aint no cop.  All I want is the dope and a certain story.  If this is a stall, Ill rip you apart.  I want whats ours.  You better give it up.

 

She switched on the lamp.  Her own reflection was a shock.  A ghost version of herself faced her across the glass.   Her alabaster skin looked like a crude pastel drawing done with coarse grainy chalk.  Her golden  hair was witchy, a terrified tangle of wildfire. There were dark circles ringing her eyes.  Her eyes looked sodden, drugged.  There was a bruise on her forehead, scrapes on her face, black and blue marks on her arms and legs.  She had to get the money and get out of town.  Get lost in some big city until things settled down.  She had slipped up somewhere.  Something had tipped them off.  Her mind was filled with cobwebs.  She couldnt figure it out. She wanly studied her  image as if it held the answer to a problem she couldnt  solve.  Her mind raced in all directions.  Her heart felt stopped.  The gunman was an enforcer for some big city mob.  A hired goon, expendable, replaceable.  There were a million more like him wherever  he came from.  They would keep coming to Black Water until they got what was theirs.  Even after they got it they would have to settle the score.  She could change her hair, color her skin,  but her eyes, cheekbones, the shape of her mouth, would give her away no matter what she tried. The whole world knew her face. Even the gunman told her that.  If the girl from the roadhouse disappeared, the whole world would be looking for her.  The police, the reporters, the man on the street.  A global hunt would be underway.    There was nowhere to run, nowhere to hide.  She was between Hell and the Devil and she couldnt get out.

 

    She turned abruptly, lifted her eyes,  and took a deep breath, startled by what she noticed reflected  behind her in the mirror.  She braced her ghost stricken figure against the bulk of the dresser.  She looked stupefied around the room, not comprehending what she saw.  The room was filled with flowers.  There were bouquets of flowers everywhere: bright splashes of gold and amber and violet and crimson,  as  fragrant as perfume.  They  suddenly flared through the fog of her senses in full blazing color, so many flowers that they suggested some enchanted garden in a fairy tale dream.  Lining the walls between the dazzling flowers, piled in festive stacks which reached from the floor to the ceiling, rose gayly wrapped boxes tied with bright  bows and  ribbons.  Lavish, lush colored, helium filled Love Hearts floated like magic around her in the room, many with frilly lace boarders. 

She might have been standing in a fancy boutique decked out for Valentines day.

 

She moved trance-like across the psycho ward room grabbing a Love Heart from the air and clutching it to her breast.  She gazed at the mountain of gifts with mesmeric wonder as she limped along in her disheveled hospital gown trying to guess what each contained by its size and shape and wrapping paper.  There were hat boxes, shoe boxes, slender bracelet boxes, perfume boxes,  great garment bags, small boxes, big boxes, tall boxes, fat boxes.   Never at any time anywhere for anyone had there ever been anything like this, she was sure.  Her thoughts drifted back to Christmas at the roadhouse, to her birthdays,  to past Valentine days.   The men at the roadhouse gave her dolls.  Her father gave her dolls.   Dolls for the doll girl, toys for the toy.  The men would doll her up in antique dresses from the cedar chests in the attic.  She would play act for the men in a world of purulent pretend.  Was this any different? Another fairy tale written on pretty paper by a dark dream master with a  poisoned pen.  What else was there?  Did it matter? 

 

 Her hand reached hesitantly for the nearest garment bag which was so plump with promise that she couldnt resist.  Slowly and gingerly she drew the zipper down.  Mink.  She murmured to herself, gazing at the lavish coat.  Full length Mink. She let the heart float to the ceiling.  She ran her fingers softly through the lush dark fur.  It was smoother than silk.  It took her breath.  A card dangled from the enfolding bag.  She turned it over and read. Lucky Mink!  What  creature wouldnt give its life  to wrap itself in your splendor!  It was signed Bradford Blackford, Paramour Pictures.  She moved hastily to the next bag.  It was from a store in Beverly Hills.  Inside was a stunning dress aglitter with sequins, a concoction one would only see in a Hollywood film. The proprietor wished her well and invited her to pick out a hat when she came to town.  Next was a richly woven shawl from a monastery in Brazil.  They sent her their payers, blessings, wished her good health. After that she picked out  a  diamond bracelet from a Black Water jeweler.  It shown like a rainbow in its black velvet box.    She could feel her pale face flush as she opened each parcel.  Her hands were shaking.  Her head was in a whirl.  Everything she touched sent an electrical shock right through her.  It went straight from her hands, through her heart, into her haunted soul.   She was getting light in the head.  She tore herself away unwillingly but wondering what else was there for her in the room.  Her dazzled eyes fell on a bouquet of desert flowers aflame on the bureau near her .  It was the most beautiful arrangement in the room.  Some of the blooms were local, she had used them for her wedding crown, wove  them into the   garland she wore that night in her hair.  Others were exotic.  They looked like they came from another planet.  The card read: God saves his best blooms for himself.  He hides them in the desert.  Let me show you to the world.  It was signed, Bradford Blackford, Paramour Pictures.  A smile curled her lips.  The dream master strikes again.  This fellow was as smooth as snake oil.  He was slowly sliding in.  Below the bureau on an incongruous night stand lay a huge wicker basket filled  with cards and letters.   Bending she nervously picked  one from the pile  attracted to its strange letter head: a tall steel tower with an eye at the top.  Waves of energy radiated from the structure.  Below it were the names of all the important cities in the world : London, Paris, Rome, New York,  Los Angeles, Sidney, and others.  She pulled out the letter and peered at it bewildered.  Its author wanted to publish the story of her life. He wanted her to agree to an exclusive interview on one of his television stations.  For both, he would pay her two million dollars.  He also wanted options on a second book if things went right.  This would describe her first year in Hollywood.  He would pay her a similar amount.    She tore open another letter.  It was from a cosmetic company: Natural Beauty Make Up.  The company wanted her to be the Natural Beauty girl.  They would pay her a million dollars to assume that part. They would double that amount the next year if, as they assumed, her  celebrity grew.  Her heart raced as she reached for more.  Her arms transformed into delving divining rods as she drew out one miracle after another.  Money for endorsements, money for films, money from recording companies.  The amount of money at her fingertips was too complicated to count.  Intermingled with the offers of money and fame, were get well cards from movie stars, rock stars, every celebrity in the world.  She felt faint.  The letters swam before her.  She turned with the basket and staggered to the bed.  She sat down in a daze and tried to catch her breath.  Her mind was spinning.  She wondered if she were still delirious.   She ran a hand over her forehead and felt a jolt of pain from the bruise.  A shudder ran through her body.  None of this would do her any good.  All of this was meaningless.  The magic potion was laced with poison. To drink it was to die.  The road out of  Black Water led to a cemetery.  She felt like a genie imprisoned in a bottle.  The mob was peering in at her through its rose colored glass.

 

 

14

 

An explosion split the propeller.  Another cracked the wing.  The old plane hurtled past the rock ridge, bucking through the air.  Ebenezer Motley fought frantically with the levers.  The crop duster began to spin.  The ground flew at the cockpit.  His mouth opened in a scream.

 

Greenleaf watched the plane nose dive into the rocks nearby.  It  crumpled like an accordion. The fuel tank burst into flames.  He could see the piolet kick  and claw at the window of the caved in cockpit trying to get out. Fire danced around him.   He looked like a squirming bug.

 

Greenleafs chest rose and fell.  His gaunt frame shook.   Scorched air drifted to him with the wind.  He waited for the explosion to erupt.  There must be more dynamite in the burning plane.   Greenleaf might  go up with it.  He was too weak to move.  The earth rocked.  He hurtled into a wall.  A cloud of dust exploded.  Rocks rained down like a storm of hail.  Wooden and unmoving, he sat and stared at the mushroom as the storm came down.  A mammoth crater emerged in its wake.  A ball of fire blazed inside.

 

Slanting forward,  he slid precariously from the ridge.  The ridge seemed to drop like a bottomless chasm.  He reached the ground below on shaky legs.  Below him the jeep lay turned on its side.  He moved like a sleepwalker toward it,  stiff in every joint.  He stared with hard eyes at the desolate desert landscape.  They were closing in around him.  He could see the dust trails kicking up on every side.  He knew they were winding down the roads through the forests of the

 

mountain behind him: troop transports, squad cars, armored jeeps, an army of men, machinery, guns and dogs.  He sat down heavily on a flat cold rock.  He ran his hands through his blood tangled hair,  his dark eyes were closed, his head was bowed.  Dead men howled like banshees in the black fog of his brain, bodies mangled and bleeding on a battlefield of blood.    Men he killed in a rampage of fear and rage.  He shuddered as he pictured them: the grotesque tangle of

mangled men lying trampled on the desert floor as they swarmed the jeep.  Greenleaf had left something of himself back there with them on the battlefield.  It would haunt a common grave with the men who died by his hand.  What he felt was the hollowness of living death.  He was a monster now, no longer a man.  He had lost his soul to save his skin.

 

He could hear motors in the distance.  Or was that in his mind?  They must be close.  Minutes away.

 

Half man, half shadow, he rose ghost-like from the rock.  He staggered toward the toppled jeep a phantom in a nightmare which would not stop.  He wanted only one more thing to do with life.  He wanted to kill the girl .  He wanted her scalp.  She was responsible for all of this.  Her greed and her betrayal had broken all their lives.

 

He pulled off his greatcoat and rolled up the sleeves of his shirt.  He took a crowbar from the back of the jeep and  set it atop the upturned wheel.  The sun was setting in a final hellish glow.  Night was coming on.  The  winds were raw and wild.

 

 With a strength beyond the strength of his body, for he had no strength left now, Greenleaf  began to pull with the crowbar at each lug nut on the wheel rim straining to yank each off in turn.  His back was bowed and his arms were trembling.  Pain shot from the pads of his hands to his shoulder blades.  His heart was pounding.  His eyes were black with fury.   He gripped the frost cold crow bar tightly.  It was like wrestling the devil for the staff of life.  The first  broke free. 

 

He moved to the others, stunned, spent, stupefied.  He was soaked with sweat, his breathing was heated with fury.  The battle continued.  Hed win it or hed die.  Each nut was as bad as the last.  The cords of his wrists and forearms felt like they would snap.  His back was breaking.

 

Finally he was finished.  He stood swaying in the dark.  He could see the headlights of the armies coming at him.  Bright dots in the distance moving through the desert and down the mountain.  They made him dizzy. With his last agonized effort he slowly stripped off all his

clothes.  Breathless and sweating he stood naked in the night.

 

 

 The door flew open.   Clem watched his brother Chester stagger into the room.   Half asleep, Clem was seated loosely on a tall metal stool behind the cluttered  motel office counter, arms hanging at his sides.  Under the hawkish yellow lights, his brother looked like nothing so much as a wayward desert ghoul.  Chesters  hair and jacket, even his black tangled beard, were caked with blood.  There were burn marks on his face and hands.  His clothes were blackened by smoke.   His arm was broken.  It dangled and swung as he lurched toward him and fell forward.

 

Help me Clem!

 

Chester clung to the counter like a downing man a rafts edge.   His head was bowed and his body trembled. There were tears in his eyes.  His crusted mouth was drooling.

 

Im hurt bad Clem! They durn near killed me!

    The pale clerk rose slowly , adjusting his glasses.  His brothers eyes were wild, filled with

fear and panic.  He saw no open wounds or lacerations.

 


 

You should of used a fuse on that there Caddy tank Chester.  Clem pulled the motel ledger from beneath his brothers toppled figure.  His thin lips pursed.  The top page was smudged with smoke.  The binding smeared with red.  He must have carried that city slicker over his shoulder. Clem brooded. He should have drug him to a hole.  His brother had no sense at all.   Fuels dangerous, Chester.  Thought you might know better.

 

Hed never wipe this off.  Clem shook his head.  Hed have to start a new book.  The records would be all messed up, lest he attached the pages from the previous lodgers and that wouldnt do.

 

   Caddy tank!    Chester lurched up like a madman.  Werent no Caddy tank, blew me!  Were the chopper exploding!  The fire and the boulder!  It was like hell!  He whimpered. 

 

The brothers turned abruptly from one another and gaped out the window.   Headlights swept across the motel parking lot.    A dark sedan pulled up near the office.    A lone man sat inside.  The plain car looked official.  The brothers eyed it warily.  Their bodies stiffened as they studied the man behind the wheel.

 

Best go in the back Chester.   Clem straightened his suspenders and put on his clerical visor. Well talk about this later.

 

 The man behind the wheel had a dark sallow face.  He wore a drooping bandit moustache. On his head was a baseball style cap.  FBI was lettered on it.  

 

 You stay in there Chester.  Clem called nervously after his brother.  You dont come out till I get you.

 

 The man emerged from the car.  He had dark curly hair.  He was rough and rangy.  Clem caught a flash of a 45 holstered beneath his dusty Bureau windbreaker.  Clems pulse was racing as the man strode through the door. His flesh felt clammy as the scowling agent approached the counter.  When Clem he saw his eyes sweat broke from his pores.

 

Stragger.   The man held up a badge.  FBI.   Im following up on a call you made last night.  You told the Black Water police you had two suspicious men staying here.   Couple of Indians,  one was armed.

 

  Clem swallowed hard and heaved a sigh.  Chester was into something.  Least the feds werent on it.

 

   Them men is gone, sir.   Like I told the other.  Them men looked dangerous. Lord knows what they was up to. Were lucky were alive.

 

Whos we?  The agent glared at him and scowled.

 

Clems face turned white. 

 

Agent Stragger took the ledger from the counter and studied the entries inside.

 

Me and my brother Chester.   Clem stammered. This motel is ourn.

 

 Whats your name?

 

Names Clem.

 

Wheres your brother, Clem?

 

 The agent tore a page from the book.  His moustache formed a frown.

 

Hes away.  In town I reckon.

 

The agent looked around the room and lit a cigarette.  He blew the smoke in the nervous clerks face.  Something was eating away at the back of his mind. His eyes looked wary.

 

  Is this their entry?  Room 5?  J. Smith?  J. Doe? There was a license number entered here.  How come its been scratched out?

 

Clems palms were sweating.  He tried to smile.  The agents eyes were serpents.  They bore through him like  fangs.

 

 Really didnt notice sir.  Clems legs were trembling.  He played with his suspenders, fingered the visor on his head. Maybe one of them done snuck in here and scratched it out?

 

Was the car a Cadillac?

 

Smoke trailed through the agents nostrils.

 

Cant rightly say I recollect.  Maybe it were, maybe not.  Might have been a Buick.

 

Well enhance this page on a computer, see if the numbers stand out.  Im going to send an agent around to dust room 5 for prints.  Make sure you dont rent it out.  A police artist will be with him.  You and your brother Fester help him out. Give him descriptions of the men who were here.  Make sure Fester sticks around.  I dont want to have look for him.  Were too busy to play around.

 

Thats Chester, sir.

 

What?

 

Chester not Fester.

 

Someone get cut?

 

The agent held up his hand.  The long blunt fingers were stained with dried blood.  Clem watched the agents eyes wander along the counter.  They moved from it to the floor and to the spotty path that led to the washroom door.

 

   Yes sir.  My brother.  Clems voice was shaky.  Earlier in the day.

 

  That why he went to town?

 

 Sir?

 

 Did he go to town to see a doctor?

 

Yes sir.  The doctor.  Cut real bad.  Been too blamed busy to clean it up.

 

 Place is a real bee hive.  The moustache smiled.   Can I use your washroom?  He vaulted the counter and strode toward the back.   He dragged on his cigarette and dropped the butt on the floor.

 

 Plumbing aint working, officer.  Clems voice was strained.   I can let you in the room next door.  Nice and clean, fresh new towels.

 

  Just want to wipe off my hands.  The big man turned and smiled.  Maybe run a comb through my hair.

 

 That locks plumb busted!  Clem called after him shrilly.  You cant get in!

 

 Thats OK.  Ill fix it.

 

 Stragger kicked in the door.  Chester was seated on the toilet, holding his broken arm.  He was biting on his wallet, squirming with pain.

 

Works better with your pants down.  Stragger said pleasantly.  Oh, thats right, plumbings out anyway.  Guess if it was working youd have washed up some.  Stragger studied the tortured blackened figure.  Lookee here, Clem.  He turned back to the clerk.  Clem stood white as a ghost, his arms frozen at his sides.  Your brothers back from town.  Why dont the three of us take a little ride?

 

15

 

 All we want is the dope, kitten.  We want whats ours.  You better give it up.  Ill rip you apart.

 

Her pulse was racing.  Her mind raced with it.   Head bowed, arms folded, she sat slumped on the edge of the hospital bed, and gazed  blankly at the card filled basket, knees together.  It seemed to lay at her feet like a pot of fools gold, mocking her, driving her mad.   It offered her a life beyond anything she ever dreamed and then took it away.   Dont freak!  She told herself.  Dont panic!  Get a grip!   Youre lost if you lose it! 

 

Sweat glistened on her forehead.  Her heart was pounding.  She reran the robbery and the roadhouse fire in her mind, sorting through every move that she made, sifting through every word that was said -- what the drugmen knew, or thought they knew.    What they didnt.  What they guessed.  What they couldnt.  She was the daughter of the man who set them up. That was all they knew.  There were no witnesses.  She should be safe in the perfect front  that put her in the asylum, secure in the shock of her psychotic behavior, a testimony to  her innocense: the small town pompon girl in the wedding gown so shaken by the bloodshed that she saw that she was talking to herself.    The town bought it.  The world bought it.  The gangster she torched bought it.  It was the only weapon she had in her arsenal when she saw him behind her in the mirror, gun pointed.   Why did the drugmen keep on pressing? 

 

   She rose with a shudder and limped to the door.  She heard a cart clatter through the ward.

There were voices, laughter, a barrage of bellows down the hall.  She opened the door a crack and peeked outside.  A crowd of men and women surrounded the nurses station.   They were waving notebooks and holding up badges.  Many held cameras, or wore them around their necks.  She knew by now they were newspaper  reporters.  A tall nurse stood arguing with them, shaking her head.  Two security guards blocked their path, backs to the ward, arms folded.  There seemed to be dispute going on about taking pictures. 

 

She hobbled across the room,  grouping at the furniture for support, the dresser, the bureau, the stands which held flowers. Her ankle was throbbing from her fall from the pipe.  Her head was splitting from the bump on her forehead.  She made her way frantically to the wall of gifts.  Working quickly and desperately, she slipped off ribbons and bows, ripped off wrapping paper.  Amidst the boxes and bags, she found a tan trench coat, a simple shawl, slippers which looked like shoes.  Gloves, lotion, tissue, she stuffed in the pockets.   She slipped everything on and looked in the mirror.  Her hair was a shower of flames .  She stuffed it down the coat, turned up the back of the collar, she pulled the shawl together, tied it under her chin. Her ankle was wrapped.  She unwound the bandage.  It was beyond her endurance  to look around the room at the array of treasures.  The gifts, the floating Love Hearts, seemed like a rainbow arched across the dismal vistas badlands, across her life at the dreary roadhouse.   A rainbow waved by a magic wand in the hand an evil magician which included a curse.   The Devil was the only prince waiting for her.

 

The clock on the dresser said half past four.  Early winter night had settled in.  It would be another hour and a half until the cart came with her supper.  She had an hour and a half until they found her gone.  Once they found her room empty a search would be on. 

 

No one was looking her way at the end of the hall when she peeked  again.  They were busy with one another, arguing back and forth.  All the exits were alarmed in the mental ward.  The windows were barred.  The ward was a dead end.    She slipped out the door, holding her breath.  Her heart was racing as she edged toward the desk.  She heard snatches of conversation.  Everyone was talking about her.  The reporters, the nurses, the security guards.  The reporters wanted to know if she knew the Indian was still at large.  Did she know about the massacre, that the Indian killed dozens of men.  They wanted to know her reaction.  If she said anything quotable or interesting.  Was she afraid?  Shocked?  They wanted to know if there was any truth to the rumor that she was friends with the Indian.  Did they hear anything about her fingerprints being found in his hiding place?  Bribes were being offered, for pictures, information.  The nurses told them they knew nothing.  Tomorrow the hospital would make a statement.  The argument was continuous.  It went back and forth.

 

A plump nurse swivelled in her chair, rose, and looked down the  hall in her direction.  She ducked into the room she was about to edge past.  Her back to the door, she listened to the footsteps approach.  Her heart was pounding.  She knew she must have been seen. They would take her back to her room and lock the door. She would be lost forever.  They might tie her down.  The footsteps walked past.  A door opened and closed.  Was it her room?   She waited for the nurse to make some commotion, call the desk on the intercom to report she was missing.

 

It was dark where she stood, but light filtered into the room from an outside source.  It was a hazy illumination in which she could make out shapes.  A woman was seated in a chair staring at her,  an old woman with blood red hair.  Her mouth was open.  Her arms dangled at her sides.  She had glasses on her nose.  She looked paralyzed or dead.  She snatched the glasses off the old womans face and put them on her own. There was a food tray next to the seated figure, an untouched lunch.  Hunger cut through her like a knife.  She grabbed a piece of meat and wrapped it in a napkin.  She hesitated and then grabbed the plastic fork and knife.  She stuffed everything in her trench coat pocket. The footsteps reemerged.  She opened the door a crack.  The portly nurse was waddling back to the desk.  She was reading a medical chart and shaking her head.  She slipped behind the big woman and used her body as a shield.   They moved slowly toward the station.  She could hardly walk on her foot.  She couldnt see through the lenses, everything was a blur.  Her ankle was giving out.  She couldnt keep her balance.   Suddenly, a hand closed around her arm.   It had a  grip like steel.  A security guard stood over her.  His face was a beefy scowl.  The nurse turned around and looked at them. All at once everything stopped.  The angry guards face was flushed.  She smelled liquor on his breath.  

 

Ive had enough of this crap! The guard roared in her face.

 

Let her alone!  Someone shouted.

 

Im not fucking around!  Im calling the law!  Im sick of you news hounds sniffing around the halls!

 

Her ankle gave way as the guard tugged her along.  Her leg buckled from under her and she fell to the floor.  The guard yanked her to her feet and swung her around.  He dragged her toward the desk pulling his handcuffs from his belt.

 

She didnt do anything, you imbecile!  She heard a womans voice pleading.  She was standing in the hall!

 

Let her go for Gods sake!  Youre acting like a fool!

 

  The reporters were protesting.  The other guard held them back.  Cameras were flashing.  There were curses and threats. 

 

Ive got a picture of this pal!  You roughing up the press!  Youll see it in the paper tomorrow!  Along with your name!

 

Get a picture of this! The guard held his middle finger in the air. Trespassing on private property!  Bring your photo to court!

 

 She sank her teeth in his hand and bit down to the bone.  The guard struggled to get free.  The ward echoed with his howl.  She pushed him away and hobbled through the crowd.  Blood dripped from her mouth as she ran down the hall.

 

Black Water General was a madhouse since the massacre that afternoon.  The bodies began arriving around one oclock.  The dead, the dying, the wounded and the maimed, arrived in convoys like battle battered soldiers from some third world tribal war.   Medical staff and medical support were rushed to the hospital  from neighboring towns.   Reporters, police, media from all over the world, already camped in Black Water,  stormed the hospital with the first hints of the news.  The hallways were jammed.  All the rooms were filled.  The elevators were backed up.  The stairways were so mobbed they were impossible to use.  The hospital morgue was too small to house all the dead.  Undertakers worked with the victims families in an effort to transfer the remains.

 

She pushed into the crowd.  There was nowhere to go.  She tried to edge around a transport bed.  She couldnt get through.  The security guard ran behind her, a walkie-talkie lifted to his mouth.  Blood ran down his arm.  The reporters followed.  She found an opening between two nurses.  She pressed along the wall.  Caravans of transport beds rolled past her as they rushed to the surgical rooms.  They crossed with other caravans coming back.  The hall was filled with the bodies of bandaged men, groaning, gasping, blocking her path.  She tried office doors but inside they all were crowded with patients. In the middle of the mayhem she heard the splutter of a walkie-talkie transmission calling all guards and giving her description.  A black man in a uniform spotted her from the other side of the crush.  She ducked under the lifted arm of an orderly raising the IV of a man moaning on a bed.  She wedged between a crowd of reporters.  She pushed aside a weeping woman who stood with a child in the middle of the mob.  A hand grabbed her arm and spun her around.   She pulled away and pushed down the hall.  She jumped over a drinking fountain and wedged through a space in the crowd. She saw the black guard again.  He grabbed at her coat, pushing his hand through the throng.  She shoved a medicine cart at his legs.  She heard curses, bottles breaking as she struggled around a corner.

 

The lobby was jammed.  There was no room to move.  The crush was even greater than it was in the hall.  She saw Doctor Laster talking with a nurse near the entrance doors.  Security stood near them stopping women as they went out.  One was detained because of her tan overcoat.  She saw the guard from the ward in the middle of the room.  He was standing on a lobby chair looking down at the crowd.  His hand was spurting blood.  He held a walkie talkie to his mouth.  He looked in her direction.  His eyes lit up.

 

She pushed into a line moving through a stair well door.  The crowd was struggling up the steps.  The stairway was empty going down.  She heard the squawk of a security radio above her as she raced down the stairs.  Footsteps were right behind her.  An alarm went off as she pushed through an unmarked door.  She felt dizzy and sick.  The medication.  The fall.  Her ankle was throbbing.  She couldnt walk another step.  She limped through a dimly lit corridor filled with barrels and boxes, trash bins and bags.  There were  passages leading off it.  Signs pointed to the kitchen and the laundry room.   She ducked under a water pipe and saw a sign that read Morgue.  A ghoulish row of sheet covered corpses ran down a hall into the dim light beyond. There were so many bodies it gave her the chills. She felt weak in her knees.  She ran in a daze.   In her mind, for a moment, she was back in the roadhouse running from her father through the cellar, running from his glazed, staring eyes, his big groping  hands.  Her heart pounded.  She was wobbly with pain.  The hall seemed to go on forever.  A horrific dead end. As the bodies rushed past she began to imagine in the frenzy of her  flight, that beneath the sheets no longer lay the remains of dead men.  Beneath the sheets lay the smiling sentinels of Satan.

 

Figures appeared out of nowhere at the end of the hall.  Grim men in dark suits followed by a huddle of men and women.  She heard voices behind her, footsteps at her back, the squawk of security radios, garbled echoes, tinny calls.  Her ankle gave way.  She stumbled and clutched at a corpse.  Its flesh crackled beneath her fingers like overcooked meat.  Breathless and weary, she lifted the sheet.  Eyes like great saucers stared from a char blacked face.  It was the man from the

roadhouse.  The one she had torched.  His burned flesh stuck to the sheet.  His mouth was frozen in a howl.  She crawled in beside him and pulled the cover over her head.  His body felt like burned rubber.  It had a rank rotten smell.

 

 The footsteps pounded past.  She held her breath.  None of this could be real.  It was too much like a dream. The gifts, the money, the promise of fortune and fame.  Maybe she was still unconscious?  Maybe she was dead?  Maybe this was hell?  Maybe she died in the fire or from her fall from the pipe?

 

The guards were still moving around, running this way and that.  She fought to keep down the sickness she felt.  She struggled to clear her head.   The shouts of the reporters were still spinning in her mind.  The Indian, the massacre, something about the FBI.  No one could kill all these men.  It could only happen in a dream. The Indian couldnt be alive.  The Indian couldnt kill anyone.   He didnt have it in him.  He was just another two-bit loser drifting around the town. Thats why she picked him.  She knew he would go down.   

 

The hallway was quiet.  Her heart was pounding and she was covered with sweat.  She waited, listened.  She slipped off the stretcher and slid to the floor.  Her head was throbbing and her  body shook.  She wondered if all of this was a trap.  A rigged game from the start.  A set up by the devil to punish her for her sins.  The sin of sleeping with her father, of being an unwed mother with an unholy child.  The sin of watching her mother die and never saying a word.  The sin of sleeping with the roadhouse men, using them for money and gifts.  But the roadhouse was a prison.  What else was she supposed to do? 

 

She rose slowly to her feet.  She looked down the hall in a daze.   She could barely stand.  Her ankle ached. Get a grip!  She told herself.  Dont lose it!  Dont freak!  Theyre closing in!  This is your only chance!

 

She limped down the hall.  The men in dark suits, the cluster of people with them, were examining a body.  The sheet was lifted.  She recognized two undertakers from a parlor in town.  The others must be family.  One woman was crying.  Another looked faint.    The undertakers covered the corpse and pulled the stretcher from the white-sheeted row.  Slowly and grimly, they rolled it down the hallway to a service elevator.   She limped  behind. No one looked at her as she trailed along. They rode the lift in silence. She bowed her head and crossed herself.  The doors opened to a dock.  A  hearse was waiting for the wheeled out corpse.  She moved passed it to a floodlit pandemonium, another noisy swarming crowd.  The parking lot was filled with spectators, reporters and film crew vans.  Other hearses were driving up.  TV newsmen were surrounding the families of the victims.

 

It was close on five by the clock she passed in the hall.  She moved away from the media lights out of the crowd into the parking lot.  There was no one around, not a soul in sight.   The cold air cleared her head.  She was freezing in the flimsy gown.  She took off the glasses and the shawl and stuffed them in her pockets.  She pulled her long  hair out from the cover of the coat.  She let it tumble around her shoulders, ran her fingers through the tangled knots.  She scanned the lights of Black Water, the traffic in the streets.  She took a few faltering steps toward the bustle when she heard the sound behind her of a car door opening with a squeak.  She turned and saw a boy lit up by interior lights.   He had scruffy brown hair and a smooth chinless face.  He was climbing into an  old red Dodge.   It was the boy from the ambulance.   He looked sullen and sad, exhausted from the day.

 

Jim Dandy! She called, as she limped to meet him. Wait Jim Dandy! Do you remember me?

 

The sanctuary was dark, all draped in black.  The altar, the pulpit, the statues and the stained glass windows, even the giant cross to which the high priests nailed him, were covered for his crucifixion with Christian ritual cloth.

    Candlelight flickered in the darkness far below him.  Burning incense filled the air.  Head bowed, eyes lowered, his naked body racked with pain Greenleaf wondered what became of the soul after the body was devoured.  Even the nuns and the priests had fled.

  Help me Tonto!  Help me please!

  You betrayed me princess!  You sold me out!

 

Down the aisle, across the flickering church, the girl from the roadhouse faced him in the stillness, hanging from a rafter by her golden hair.  It had been tied to a beam.  She hung like a doll.  She wore a white shimmering nightgown.  Her wrists were bound.  Her eyes were wide with fear.  Her face was stark with pain.

    Theyre hurting me Tonto!  Help me please!

 

 Greenleaf sensed rather than saw the spider.  Silently it descended from the sanctuary rafters, a huge black mass  slowly separating itself from the shadows of the night and the darkness of the ceiling.  As big as its legend it dangled in the air.  A miraculous monster with multiple legs and eyes like hellish fire.  Greenleafs heart pounded and he twisted on the cross.  He struggled futilely to get free as the monster crawled through the shadows and enfolded the suspended girl.

    Help me Tonto!

 

I cant you!

 

Greenleaf awoke with a shudder, shivering with cold.  Naked and dazed he sat crouched in the darkness at the foot of the hills.  The plane burned below him, shrouded by a mist.  The armies were closing in.  A thousand men moving steadily through the fog toward the fire from every direction.  Men, machinery, helicopters, dogs there was a ring of electrically generated lights, a mile wide, emerging around a radius from the rock on which he sat.  He heard motorized vehicles, blood hounds baying in the wind. 

 

16

 

Make way!  Stand back!

 

 Castle lifted his pale grey eyes as a caravan of transport stretchers, carrying the wounded from the desert battle, rattled toward them through the mob which filled the crowded hallway.   An orderly plowed in front of it trying to clear a path to the surgery wing.   Figures collided trying to move out of the way.  Another caravan, filled with anesthetized patients, came at Castle and Blade from the opposite direction rolling hurriedly toward the recovery rooms.  The weary investigators turned, shifted, bumped together.  There was no where to go, no room to move.

 

Step aside!  Make room! 

 

A masked staffer  waved and shouted.  Two trains, one track, a tidal wave of traffic.

 

Clock it, Castle.  Blade snorted as the caravans clattered past.  There was a tangle of wheels, a jumble of safety bars scraping.  This is what we call hazzard duty pay. They stood side by side backs braced to the wall, hands lifted, stomachs sucked in. This hospital will kill us yet.

 

Castle ignored the comment.  Grave and ghostly, he drifted back through the mayhem, eyes lowered, head bowed.  His  slender slumped figure slipped silently through the throngs, frozen-faced and  detached.  White Castle. Blade brooded as he stalked his superior unsteadily, dispersing  the swarms with his well muscled bulk.  What you crave. Right?  Sure.  The mans a gas.

 

They maneuvered through the throngs finding openings where they could between the mazes of beleaguered doctors and nurses, around the clusters of badgering reporters, through the huddled grieving families.  They kept close to the walls, but even there the groaning bodies of bandaged men on stretchers blocked their path and they had to maneuver around them.  There were forty dead, by Castles calculations, another forty wounded, many badly, and still another dozen hanging on an edge.

 

 

Castle and Blade had spent the afternoon wandering amidst the wounded, examining the corpses, trying to gather information for their FBI report.  What they uncovered was contradictory, confusing, or made no sense.  The stories of the shell shocked survivors sounded like hellish hallucinations, but they were told through the drug deadened deliriums of men twisting in the throes of pain.  The Indian was the Devil.  Helicopters exploded in the air.  The Indian flew like a bat over the battle.  Lightening shot out from his hands.  The vacant eyes of the victims, the  missing limbs, the feverish groping, grasping for the agents it was a journey through hell, a nightmare without end.

 

They stopped before the entrance of the intensive care ward, a glass-encased enclosure with a maze of glass enclosed spaces which they could see was filled to capacity with dying men.  A single nurses aid moved frantically  between the spaces dashing helter  skelter in some sort of frenzied, solo, bedpan boogie.  She didnt notice them.  Or pretended not to.  It would be hard not to notice the federal agents, they were a startling pair.  Blade was a big, broad-faced inner city black who had worked his way up through the military  into the Federal Bureau of Investigation.  Castle was a wealthy New England WASP recruited by the bureau from an Ivy League school.  Castle had a bleached look about him, slender and starched. A young man, his hair was prematurely white, his eyes a crystalline grey.  Albino- like Blade always thought, bemused. No spots on this dalmatian.  Castle was too white.  The men were as unalike in their personalities as they were in their appearance.  Blade was  a jovial jock, into martial arts and body buildings.  He had a taste for gallows humor.  Joking calmed his nerves.  Castle was humorless.  He had a bookish way about him, an absent-minded air.  They both wore similar grey suits.  Blades clothes had a flair.

 

Were looking for Marshall Peckins.

 

Castle called into the room.  The nurse spun around and glared at them, a bedpan in each hand.

 

Marshall mummys in the corner.  She snapped.   Spouting from both ends.

 

 The agents glanced at one another and hesitated. Castle drifted first into the room.


Peckins sat in a wheelchair wrapped in bandages from head to foot.  There was an oxygen mask over his mouth.  His broad chest heaved and rasped.  His eyes were vacant furies. 

 

He looks pretty bad.   Castle ventured.  The aid was wrestling with a machine on which a tube was attached.

 

 

No shit Sherlock.  He was scalped, shot, blown up with a bomb.  I dont suppose any of that did him any good.

 

The aid was shoving a plastic funnel down a dying patients throat, sucking out green bile from his lungs.

 

  Blade and Castle studied Peckins. They looked at one another.  Peckins was mumbling some thing through the mask which they couldnt quite understand.  Something about Moses and mountains, dark clouds and God.

 

Theres nothing to be learned here.

 

Castle shook his head.

 

Dont diss Moses, man.   Blade pretended to look around.   God strike you dead.

 

They slipped out quietly, Castle upset.

 

Tough love is still love.

 

Blade smiled at the aid as they passed.  She told him to screw off.

 

Shoot me first Castle.  Dont bring me here.


 

Outside in the crowded hall Castle tried to stop an intern who was passing.  The intern waved him off.  He stopped a nurse and asked if there was a space set off for the less severely wounded.  She shrugged and told him to ask the lobby desk.  Lost in a maze they looked up and down the hall.  The throngs pressed around them.  They looked for a lobby sign.  Taller and more observant,  Blade spotted Stragger over the crush of rushing men and women. Mean-faced, menacing in his bandit moustache, Stragger stood at the end of the hall waving his arm at them over the bobbing heads.   Straggers hand made a fish-like diving motion.  Blade gave him a high thumbs up.  Castle came out of his reverie.  He studied Blades vertically  extended arm.  Blade told him Stragger would meet them in the basement.  Castle made no response.

 

 The lobby was jammed the crush even greater than it was in the halls.  Police, reporters, families, lawyers, priests and politicians were packed in the drably painted and carpeted entrance hall.   Security was turning hordes away at the doors. Security radios squawked everywhere in the din. Castle told Blade to wait by the stairs. He slipped away like a shadow.  Blade watched his ghost head disappear in the crowds.  He spotted Castle phoning from the lobby desk.  Castle talked briefly to the receptionist.  He was writing something down.  Blade looked at his watch.  It was five oclock.  He hadnt eaten since breakfast.  He hadnt slept for days.  He wanted to get away for a few hours, have a drink, call his wife.  He wondered what Stragger wanted.  The frantic way he waved at them meant something was going on.  He hoped the meeting wouldnt last all night.

 

Black winds blew across the Badlands as the red Dodge roared down the road, howling across the darkness like tormented ghosts.  The chinless boy sat slumped beside her in the passenger seat.  Blood flowed from his throat, covering his shirt.  His body swayed with the pitch of the car.  His dead eyes stared blankly into space.

There was blood on the steering wheel, blood on the inside windshield, spots of blood on her coat.  The handle of the plastic knife stuck out from his neck at a crazy angle.  When she climbed in the car,  she sprayed his eyes with the canister of pepper spray she lifted from the belt of the guard.  When the boys hands went to his face, she broke the tip off the brittle knife and plunged the shard into his throat. 

 

Her heart was racing, she held the pedal to the floor.  The clock on the dash read 5:02.  The speedometer 110.  She steered with one hand, ate the old womans sandwich with the other.  The car snaked back and forth. She felt like a ghost in a dream.  A shadow on the loose with no one to cast it.  Her life was snatched away.  She no longer controlled it.  What she faced now was even worse than before.  The funeral pyre she made was for herself no other.  She was as dead as the roadhouse ashes.  Her dreams were dead.   Her escape from Black Water ended.  There was no way out.   There was hell, forever.   Dont freak!  She told herself.  Dont lose it!  Suddenly she knew.  She remembered the chinless boy beside her in the ambulance., the blood between her legs.   The devils spawn was dead.  She had a miscarriage.  She was free from that curse at least.  There were no tears of relief in her eyes, although she felt like crying for the first time in years.  Children cried.   She had never been a child.   Her father made her a woman when she was seven.  The roadhouse men made her ancient, seasoned beyond all earthly years with the practice and knowledge of sin.   There was nothing she hadnt done with them.   Nothing they hadnt made her do.  There was no role she hadnt played, no costume she had not worn, no fantasy she hadnt assumed.   She was a sphinx in the riddles of her secret knowledge about men and life and the dark side of the moon.

 

She slammed on the brakes and turned the wheel.  The Dodge spun and swerved and fishtailed in the driveway.  It slid to a stop next to a yawning pit, an open grave in the valley hazed with fog.  She pushed the boy away and reached for the glove compartment.  Her hand was shaking as she found a flashlight.  She slipped from the car and limped through the cold.

 

Mists shrouded the deepening shadows of the gusty wind torn night.  The desert air was heavy with the smells of dampened earth and rock.  The gusts cut through her body like sharpened blades of ice.  She tried to bundle the coat around her but it fluttered from her hands.  She shined the beam on the pit of rubble which had once been her home.  The empty space was eerie, a black-hole in the night.

 

She searched the ground for the drainage hole.   Without the house to mark it off it was hard to find.  Fire, flashers, wailing sirens was what remained in her mind.  She recalled the gunman she saw below her in the parking lot cursing and kicking the ground and calling for his friend. 

 

The Indian was out there with him in the car.  Maybe Tonto killed the gunman and took his weapons?  She found the hole and dropped to her knees.  The wind almost knocked her down.  She removed the rock and pulled out the black velvet bag.  Her hair tossed with the gusts as she seated herself at the pit edge, bare legs dangling over the side.

 

  It was her grandmothers bag.  She should never have taken it, but a girl with a gunny sack would have drawn attention on a train.  She was going to drop Tonto off at the Ringo station, get a ticket to Saint Louis or Chicago, never to be seen or heard of again.  They would have blamed her disappearance on the Indian, assumed he killed her and dropped her body down a hole.  The brass buckles and trim were filled with her fingerprints.  The bag held momentums of her past.  She pulled out her grandmothers locket and a photograph of her mother in an oval frame.  She shined the light on the faces, her hand shaking as she shivered in the cold.   She didnt have time to pack them.  She was surprised by the gunman she torched.  They were the last things she grabbed before she jumped to the window.  She couldnt leave them behind. 

 

She looked like the woman in the pictures, both great beauties in their time.  The roadhouse was handed down through these women.  It was built in the gold mining days.  It was a place locked into the past.  It was a grand house before her father married her mother and let it fall to decay.  He sold the land piecemeal, sold the antiques, lived his drunken useless life.  He probably would have sold her  too, eventually, if she didnt beat him to it and started selling herself. She protected herself with her clients.  She couldnt with her father.  He would grab her suddenly and throw her down.  She lifted her eyes from the pictures to the rubble and remembered her life, a life she hoped to bury in ashes, the toppled stairways  piled in half burned heaps like the ruins of a nightmare she had somehow survived.  In that nightmare she lived a ghosts dream life.  Her world was a make believe with the roadhouse past, the ghosts of the gamblers and the painted women, the gold men and the con men who had struck it rich, many of whom built Black Water.  Their descendants were the towns ruling class.  She found them in albums and photographs in the chests in the attic stored with the antique clothes.  She had a make believe lover, handsome and dashing, a rogue who fought duels and turned the ladies heads.  Someday he would come to her rescue, she pretended, like magic he would emerge from the mirror.  He would take her away from the roadhouse.   Sometimes she really saw him, she wished him so bad.  She had no friends, no playmates, no one to be with, nowhere to turn.  Her father dressed her in rags after her mother died, old clothes found in the chests.  He didnt have to, he just wanted to keep her to himself, mess with her head.  Scrawny and disheveled, she was a misfit at school with her outlandish dresses.  Everyone made fun of her.  Her schoolmates called her Ditzy Foul  instead of Desert Flower, and then finally just FREAK. FREAKYS  coming!  Here comes FREAK! That was their nickname for her.  The teachers were no better.  They thought her clumsy and retarded, they treated her like trash.  Didnt they notice her bruises?  The fear in her eyes?  The loneliness she always felt?  This was all through grade school.  Everything changed in highschool, however.  She began to blossom.  She became a beauty.  She had money for clothes.  She was selling herself.  She got it off the men.  Her schoolmates treated her like a treasure.  But she had their number.  She knew the lowdown by then, she recorded her rap sheet  on the world.   They forgot about their cruelty, she didnt.  At the drop of a hat it could come back again. 

 

She put the locket and photograph in her pocket.  She tossed the bag on the pile of ash.  Her mother was buried in the floor of the cellar.  Her mother hung herself when she was ten. Seven years, she was a skeleton by now.  She found the body dangling from a beam in the basement and showed her father.  Her father told the town she ran off with a salesman.  That was his explanation for  why she disappeared.

 

She rose and braced herself.   The wind tried to push her down.  She pulled the shawl from her pocket and tied her hair in a tumble on her head.  She pulled the raincoat around her.  The icy cold whipped at her shivering bare legs.   It stung like her fathers  strap.  She picked up the gunny sack and moved to the edge of the pit.  She  gazed for the last time at the black hole of her life.  

17

  Blade looked at his watch.  He searched the lobby for Castle.  The white haired agent emerged from the crowd studying a slip of paper.  Blades stomach was growling.  He asked Castle what was up.   

 

 I have a list of the wounded who were treated and released. Castle said, grimly.  Ill call them later for the report.

 

 Try the nearest bar.  Blade offered.  Thats where Id be if I were them.

 

  Or between the sheets with my wife, he mused, with a blanket over my head.

 

Throngs were struggling up the staircase.  It was empty going down.  Castle and Blade descended.  Both men balked at the waiting cellar door. Castle keyed them in.  They moved reluctantly through the dank and dingy halls, bracing themselves as they turned this way and that around barrels, and boxes and bins filled with trash.  They emerged in an open graveyard.  Corpses lined the dripping walls.  Thirty sheet covered bodies floated ghost-like on transport stretchers outside the hospitals tiny morgue.  Ten more lay in drawers within, all the morgue could hold.  Teams of undertakers drifted in and out to meet with the families and take the remains away.  New bodies took their place brought down from the wards upstairs.

 

A hallway spit off to a service elevator, another to the laundry room.  The agents ducked under a dripping water pipe and entered a boiler room.  Stragger was waiting for them.  He sat slumped in a folding chair, a cigarette dangled from his mouth.  His feet were stretched out on  the table.  He didnt bother to look up.

 

  Whats that?

 

 Castle looked down at the guns.  They were lying atop a pile of papers between an ash tray, cups,  a coffee pot.  The two hands guns were scorched by fire.  There was a tiny crucifix lying next to them, twisted and dark.

 

Burnt offerings.

 

 Stragger snarled.  His arms were folded.   His bandit mustache formed a scowl, smoke streamed from his nostrils.  He stared starkly at his boots.  

    Clues from the crypt.  Tips from the tomb.  Big blows from the beyond. 

 

Castle and Blade sat across from him, lifting and adjusting the metal chairs.  Blade fanned at the smoke and eyed the obnoxious boots.  Stragger glanced indifferently at him.  There was an edgy expression on his sallow countenance.

 

 That one, Stragger kicked at the big gun, a 45.  Belonged to the scalped deputy Camby.  I checked it out.  The automatic we cant identify, yet.  But you can bet that its been around.

 

Stragger looked beat.   But they were all burnt out by their short time in Black Water.  No sleep.  No stop.  Calamity after catastrophe.  Three agents dead.  Nothing making sense.  Straggers field jacket, jeans, his black curly hair, even his scuffed up boots were covered with ash.

 

I took those off a charcoal broiled corpse this morning buried in the rubble of the roadhouse cellar.  Stragger continued.  The automatic I had to pry from the crispy creatures hand.  There was a hole in his head the same size as a slug.  Looks like he blew his brains out when he got trapped by the fire.

 

They sat huddled around a paper cluttered card table in a mechanical room in a remote wing of the basement. The offices upstairs were being used for patients.  Tanks with gauges and dials loomed around them in the dreary light which flickered from oversized ceiling bulbs switched on and off  by hanging chains.  Oil stains and cigarette butts covered the cracked cement floor.

 

Maybe the man you found helped the Indian escape?  Castle pondered.  A problem yet to be solved.  He sat slumped forward, his elbows on the table, his slender hands folded together,  fingers cradled in his frozen face.  Or maybe the Indian called him from the road and arranged a meet.

 

Maybe he was in on the heist.  Blade shifted his bulk, too big for the chair.  Maybe they got into it, fought over the gun.

 

Lot of maybes.  Stragger snorted.  I think our barbequed buddy copped a Kevorkian, whoever he was.  Check the face when you get a chance.  A blackened blob with flying saucer eyes.  A frozen howl for a mouth.  Stragger pulled his feet off the table angrily, leaned forward and stubbed out his cigarette.  He poured himself a cup of coffee from the pot.

 

 Ill pass on that momentarily.  Castle ran his fingers through his ghost white hair.  He spoke mechanically, his mind a blank. There was something beyond the pale about all this.  He needed a good nights sleep. He couldnt sort it out.   He confronted a mystery much larger than the crime.  A whole bigger than the sum of its parts. Blade and I have seen enough bodies today. He said, woodenly.  He recalled the stark staring eyes, faces blue with asphyxiation, purple tongues hanging out.

 

   Maybe the girl called a meet?  Stragger tightened his jaw and said gruffly.  His movements were agitated. Maybe the girl was in on the heist?  Maybe the girl sprang the Indian?  The girl seems to be everywhere and anywhere, a part of everything and a part of nothing.  Stragger glared at his cup. The girl was eating away at the back of his mind. What else we got on her?

 

   Castle and Blade glanced at one another.  The girl was a problem.  She kept popping up like Stragger said.  Somehow this bothered all of them, why they couldnt say.

 

 We found her finger prints in the Indians hide out, an old shack near the woods.  Cardinelli matched them off the window sill with the compact we got from the nurse.  The tools Cole found on the Mexicans bodies were traced to a hardware store in Black Water.  These tools were charged to the roadhouse account.  Two people swear they saw the girl and the Indian together in a bar in Black Water on the morning of the crime.  A couple of dubious witnesses, but not when you start to add everything up.  On top of that theres gossip, the girl and the roadhouse men.  The paramedic and at least one of the nurses thinks the girl had a miscarriage when they brought her in.  Theres nothing official about that on the medical report.  The tools werent used incidently.  They were still in mint condition.  Someone had to unlock those roadhouse doors.  Add to that the mystery of the Indians Houdini escape.  Why would he go back to the roadhouse?  Why would he take the girl?

 

 Castle ticked these off mechanically staring into space.   Maybe the Indian and the girl were an item.  They were all thinking that.  It wouldnt be the first time.  Good girl, bad boy.  Theyd all seen it enough times before.  They had enough to link her up with the robbery.  But the robbery didnt begin to explain everything.

 

I smell mob.

 

 Stragger lit another cigarette.  His eyes flicked in Blades direction.  Blade smiled.  His big hand began to fan  the smoke away.

 

That roadhouse robbery was a hit.

 

Stragger was an assassin, now a bit too old for the game.  He made an indifferent investigator.  His hunches were never wrong.   

 

 Maybe.  Blade conceded. I was kinda thinking the same. There was always something jive about that robbery, something funky about the scene.

 

 The business men who got killed in the robbery got them wondering from the start.  They didnt have criminal records but they were involved in shady things.

 

Its not that simple.  Castle rubbed his forehead.  Although my thoughts were going that way.  We all agree the robbery is the tip of some iceberg.  But who, and why, for what?

 

Drugs, money, territory, payback.  Stragger shrugged.  That arsenal the Indian came up with ... these bodies turning up ... the shootout at Widows Pass between the Caddy and the chopper ... somethings going on ... Look, the Caddy had Chicago plates, untraceable plates, whats to make of that?

 

Too bad the body went when the car caught fire.

 

 Too bad the driver got away.

 

 Dental records take forever.  If theres a war going on were pressed for time.

 

 We may have got lucky.  Stragger scowled.  He stared at his empty cup.  Ive got these motel yokels on ice at the station.  Theyre making sketches of some shady tenants stayed there the night of the fire.  Were dusting the room they rented  for prints.   I scraped some blood off this one yahoos jacket.  This is a long shot, a hail Mary hunch, I want to see if I can match it with the Caddy corpse through DNA.

 

 Interesting.  Castle whistled.

 

 Well see about that soon enough.

 

Did you hear about the plane?  Blade turned to Stragger.

 

 Been digging through the ashes of a cellar all day.

 

Some Nazi nuthead tried to bomb the Indian.  Crashed into the rocks below Pine Ridge.  Barnstorming crop duster.  Local looney.  Swastikas painted all over the wings.

 

  I know where that takes us, Stragger spat out more smoke, another maybe.  Maybe were looking paramilitary?  Maybe the roadhouse was a meeting place for white supremacists?  Maybe there was retaliation by Pine Ridge Indian radicals?  Maybe these business men were supplying funds? 

 

 We cant rule any of that out.  Castle shook his head. His voice was a weary complaint.  Not around here.

Not at this stage.  Pine Ridge has a reputation as a hotbed.  Theres plenty of kooks in the hills.  The men you took in could fit that play.

 

I still go mob.  Stragger narrowed his snipers eyes.  Gambling, drugs.

 

Castle shuffled through the pile of papers on the table.  He pulled out a map.  Circles were drawn around South Dakota casino sites.  Gambling was legal  in Deadwood and on numerous Indian reservations, including Pine ridge.  These were casinos for the tourists.  The tables had a five dollar maximum bet limit.  This was not Las Vegas.  The stakes and the take were never high.

 

The Black Hills have casinos but its small money play.  These are resorts for tourists.  Snowmobilers, horseback riders, middle class vacationers buying Indian beads.  Theres illegal

gambling all over the Badlands.  But its nickel and dime.  Weve never had a problem with any of this before.

 

Maybe someones trying to up the ante? Blade speculated.  High stakes games Las Vegas style.  Hookers, drugs.  Big time play.

 

Any machines at that roadhouse?  Castle asked Stragger.

 

Nothing like that.

 

Card tables and fortune wheels would have gone up in smoke.

 

Casino wars?  Drug wars?  Race wars?  What are we left with?  Blade looked at his colleagues.

 

 Any of the above, or a combination thereof.  Castle shuddered.  We need more funds, more men.  I have to get this report done.

 

Any word from the Eye?  Be nice to talk to that Indian.

 

 Its set up, thats all.  A closed circle with a ring of lights.  The Indians in it somewhere.  The troops are moving in.

 

  Theyll kill the Indian, or hell kill himself.  We wont get anything from him.

 

Then we better talk to that girl.

 

 Talk to her tonight.

 

  Let me make these calls first.

 

Castle pulled out his list.

 

  Ill eat and change.  Stragger stubbed out his cigarette.   Formal attire?

 

 Wear what you like.

 

That snazzy purple polyester ensemble should do.

 

Its lavender.  Stragger stared at Blade.  And its silk.

 

The girl is in on it?  Castle interrupted impatiently.  Or at least the evidence is provocative?

 

The evidence speaks for itself.

 

We can charge her now.

 

Were going to catch a lot of flack from the media. 

 

Stragger shook his scowling face.

 

Were going to be the bad guys, thats for sure.   Blade conceded.  Shes the darling of the world.

    We cant let any of that bother us.  Castles stark eyes stared at them coldly.  We have sixty dead men since this whole thing started. Dozens wounded.  More dying. We have get to the bottom of this.  I dont care what comes up or out in the process.  We have to go where this takes us.  Wherever that is.

 

18

 

Blood.

 

The demon whispered.

 

Coles heart began to pound.

 

Whos blood?

 

Yours.

 

When?

 

Now.

 

Who are you?

 

The demon pushed him.  Cole fell through the sky, hurtling headlong from the top of the Sacred Mountain, dropping toward the ring of lights which formed the outline of the Eye.  The Nazi plane burned below him in the darkness  its  flames were the fires of Hell.  Ghost shapes shifted between the rocks around  the flickering flame shadows.  They were the souls of the massacred  men Cole caused to die.

 

Cole awoke with a start covered with sweat.    Mists shrouded the idling jeep.  Fog covered the jutting rocks.  The mile wide ring of lights circled round them like a ghost snake.  The blazing plane flared in the center of the dragnet flickering  at the cosmos through the hazy nimbus.  The Devils Eye, the eye of the demon, Cole gazed at the Indian mantrap and shuddered.  He felt sick, feverish.  Was he awake?  He wondered.  Or was this another nightmare?

 

He leaned forward with a grunt and threw the heater on high.  The winds howled across the rocks like souls in torment.  Tate sat beside him twitching in his sleep.  His long legs were cramped beneath the steering wheel, his hand reached spasmodically toward the revolver in his holster.  Tate was trapped in bad dreams too. An hour ago, they ate, washed, changed clothes in an army truck.  The cook slipped them a pint of whiskey.  They slept like two men struck dead. They dreamed of devils and phantom Indians.  Cole felt the blade of a knife at his scalp more than once.  He sensed the Indian sneaking up behind them in his dreams,  slipping through the darkness.

 

He turned with a shudder and looked nervously in the back seat.  He was too old for this.  He

brooded, feeling foolish. He was just a shaky old man.  The last few days had aged him.  The burning plane fuel, the blazing insecticide, filled the Eye with poison.  It gave him a headache -- venom from the ghost snake inflaming  his lungs, fogging his senses.  There was a drink left in the bottle.   Cole swallowed in down.  He grabbed the night binoculars the army gave them off the dash.  He adjusted the lenses and peered into the blackness.  Suddenly the foothills were filled with ghosts.  Hundreds of phantom creatures prowled the staggered ridges. They looked like dream walkers on an alien planet, each shrouded in a greenish glow.  The military moon-men wore full combat gear.  Bloodhounds ran between the freakish figures, demon ciphers spiriting up and down the hills.  Cole hadnt used such lenses since Vietnam.  Tonight the vistas they revealed seemed particularly ghoulish.  The Sacred Mountain, The Devils Eye, the ghost men and the phantom Indian, the swirling mists,  chilled his  soul.  He thought about the ghost dance at Wounded Knee, the Indians  calling on the spirits to ward off the white men.  This was Indian territory, sacred ground.   He shuddered with guilt over the way his forefathers had treated the Indians, murdered them like dogs.  There was always slaughter, the unleashed savage lurking deep inside everyone. The strong preying on the weak.  Was that what scared him? Was that why he became a peace officer? To control himself?   Did he feel it in him, the blood lust deep within?  Vietnam, Cole brooded.  War and law enforcement had been his life.  Somehow despite them he raised a family.  Had he won for his family a better life? Hardly, Cole brooded.  Things were worse. Crime, murder, decay were everywhere, moral, social, spiritual.  It was like the fall of Rome, the collapse of the country, you could see the signs.   Halfway across the world 2  million people had been driven from their homes, killed, tortured, put in camps.  Ethic cleansing, in a modern society in this day and age, just like the Nazis  done to the Jews in the year he was born.  Nothing had changed, nobody cared.  The world was a cesspool, getting dirtier by the day.  Cole wished he were home with his wife.  He wished he were in a church, safe, clean, quiet,  at peace.

 

Hows the death watch going?

 

Tate was awake.  He untangled his long body and sat up.

 

Somethings out there, Ben.

 

Cole spotted a greenish apparition beneath a rock.

 

Might be a snake.  Might be a mans leg.

 

Tate reached for his field glasses and studied the dreamworld.

 

To the right of the bonfire, Ben,  just up the ridge.

 

  Suddenly there was gunfire.  The ghost men were running.  The spirit dogs were chasing something up and down the hills.

 

The red Dodge raced like a demon through the darkness.

 

The dead boy rocked and the raw winds wailed.

 

The reservation road was shrouded in fog.

 

Wild grass waved like a stormy sea on either side.   

 

She gripped the wheel and fought the ruts.

 

The clock on the dash showed half past five.

 

Scattered through the hills, the long oblong Indian bungalows emerged in the mist, their dim lights ghostly amidst the cover of fog.

 

The narrow row ended.

 

 She killed the headlights and coasted into the drive.

 

The tumble down structure was crowded with pickup trucks and cars.

 

BAD BRAVES BAR was ablaze with lights.

 

She slipped from the car and ran toward the tavern.  Her heart pounded.  Her eyes were glazed with fright.

 Bits of broken glass littered the gravel, bottles, bags, scraps of debris.  Beyond the shack, the claptrap reservation houses lay sprawled in a junk-heap of rusted cars, appliances, and discarded TVs. 

 

 Not a soul was in sight.  She peered through the window.  Inside the shack,  Indian men dressed in jeans and flannel shirts drank and gambled and played the jukebox.  Indian women in gaudy dresses, costume jewelry,  painted up like party hookers, danced and flirted and reeled around the room.    She dropped to her knees and pulled the jimmy from her coat a crowbar she took from the trunk of the old red Dodge.    She pried loose a board from the base of the tavern.  She squirmed along the ground and slipped inside.  The floor shuddered above her as she crawled on her belly through the cubbyhole.   She heard shouts, laughter, feet pounding over her head.  Rats scurried across the moist earth as she waved the flashlight beam.  She pulled herself along toward the piling in the center of the crawlspace, one elbow at a time.   Pain shot through her ankle as she pushed her body forward.   Her head was throbbing.  The crawlspace smelled of sewage, rodents, urine,  beer.

 

19

 

Watch the road!  God Damn it! Corso rocked and cursed.  The limousine bounced and swerved and straightened with a jolt.  I got a blind driver, Rocco, playing pooch and pal on a dead mans road!  Quit fucking around with that dog, Big Hands, youre getting on my nerves!

 

Rambos hungry boss.  Big Hands patted the monster dog riding shotgun next to him  in the stretched Cadillac.    Rambo needs his food.  Rambos a big boy.  He got a big job to do.  Big Hands fed the monster

Shepard pieces of steak from a paper bag,  steering  with his elbow as he reached inside.  Rambos my new buddy.  We get along real good.

 

Rambos gonna eat a bullet,  he barfs in my car.  Corso straightened his tie and tried to smooth out his suit which was getting creased and rumpled from the endless drive.  He found a  stain on his shirt from the drink he spilled.  He laid his scotch on the bar and soaked a napkin in soda water.


    Rambo dont barf boss.  Big Hands smiled back at Corso through the rear view mirror.    Rambos a  cop.  Rambos the most decorated dope sniffer they got on the force.

 

Rambo can sniff his ass.  Corso fumed, as he rubbed the stain. Or sniff your head.  Thats dopey enough.  Smells the same.  He was going crazy.  This was worse than Stir, the endless miles of endless nothing, flat-lands, farmlands, pasture-lands, no mans lands, when they reached the Badlands the scenery went berserk.

Like cops dont barf.  Corso muttered.  Like cops aint slobs.  Like they dont call them pigs.  Like they dont eat donuts all day and puke up the town.

 

 

The moonscape hurtled past, ridges and gorges and craters and spires, prehistoric rock mounds which went on forever, shrouded in fog.  His brother must be crazy.  Corso brooded.  A casino out here?  For who?  Vampires?  Were they still on the planet earth? Something didnt jive.  This was a dummy set up, thats all.  Marco was ripping him off.  Or it was a set up by a dummy.  Marco flying back and forth from Chicago to South Dakota in his piper jet.  This dude ranch shit was going to stop. Hed take care of that DUD ranch.  Hed take care of them all.

 

Put on the radio for Christs sake!  Its like the last ride in here!

 

Nothin but static boss.  You want a CD?

 

No I want you to sing!  You and the dog!  I want a duet from you two.   Things arent  gruesome enough.

 

Tony?  Frankie?  Deano?  Marilyn Manson?

 

Who?

 

Its right here boss.

 

Give me that fucking thing!  What the fuck is this?  Whos this freak?  Its a guy in drag! The punk who parks my car! Ill bet its his!  Hes in for it now!  Probably screws his bimbo in here!  Parties off my bar!  Put that back Big Hands.  Thats punks gonna eat that for lunch.  Punk kids!  Theyre everywhere!  Fucking up my life!   

 

Kids aint what we was when we was coming up boss.

 

Shut the fuck up.  What are you reading Rocco?

 

Corso eyed the little man sitting bolt upright across from him, a newspaper spread out on his lap.

 

Obituaries Sal.

 

Read something else.

 

Sure one sec.  Vito Marzullos kid, Guido, its in here.  I hear they Waked him real nice. 

 

 How sweet.  My heart is melting.  Fucking punk!  May he rest in hell!  Putting me through this shit.  Id like to dig him up and kill him again!  Wait till I get my hands on his roadhouse girlfriend, that little bitch!  They probably rigged the whole thing up together, only he aint cashing in!  She aint either!  When I get done with that bitch shell wish she was dead.

 

Says here, she got a lot of movie offers, Sal.  Ad stuff too. Hollywoods real hot for her.  She can pick and choose.

 

 Were all  hot for her, only my heats hotter .  I got a film for her to star in. This role she cant refuse.  I wrote it myself.  It was inspired by this drive.  Well see if she finds the part I wrote for her something to cheer about.  The movie is Goldilocks and the Chicago Bears.  Its all about a pompon girl who loses her bet with a football team and how the boys collect.  Well shoot it at Marcos Dud ranch.  It ought to make a nice porno set.   Well get Marcos bimbos and bouncers to fill in the cast.  I got to make sure my  little cheerleader gets to use all her talents for shouting and screaming and hopping around.  Since Im the director you can bet that happens.  Theyll be spankings and beatings and orgies and gang-bangs.  Well even use Rambo in a sequence as the leading man.  Hear that big fella?  Got a treat for you!  As soon as were finished well start on the sequel.

 

I think were here boss. 

 

The cyclone fence broke for a wide timber-rail gate.  Big Hands slowed the black limo and eased into the drive.  An arch of wrought iron letters curved over the entrance.  MARCOS was stenciled in the fog. Two cowboys with side-guns appeared from the mist.  One faced them, arms folded, feet spread apart.  The second held his hand over his holster and walked to the car.  Big Hands rolled down the window.  Rambo let out a growl.

 

Evening, gents.  The cowboy leaned forward and tipped his ten-gallon hat. One hell of a bad night. May I see your invitations.  Some dog you got there friend.  Hope he dont bite.

 

    No trouble at all.  Big Hands smiled.  Dont worry about Rambo, he just et a snack.  Got my invite right here, Cowboy.  Its pointed at your gut.

 

False alarm, Ben.

    Now you see him now you dont.

 

I see that devil in my nightmares.

 

Those boys do too.