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Hillerman, Tony - [Leaphorn & Chee 02] (16 page)

BOOK: Hillerman, Tony - [Leaphorn & Chee 02]
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"Let's see it," Leaphorn said. Susanne dropped into his palm an empty 30-30 shell, its copper percussion cap dented, its mouth still smelling faintly of burned powder.

"It was right at the base of that big rock," Susanne said. "Was it from George's gun?"

"It was from George's rifle," Leaphorn said. "Now see if you can find another one. Look around the fringes of this clearing… around places where somebody could stand and look in here without being seen."

Susanne's face made a question. He didn't answer it. Instead he began the tedious job of finding how George had left this spot.

First he found the way George had arrived. He had come up the deer trail from below. It took another fifteen minutes to sort out the footprints and determine the way the boy had left. Leaphorn felt tremendous relief. George had left under his own power, walking directly away from the carcass and back around the boulder. There he had turned, crouched with his weight on the balls of his feet, facing back into the clearing. (Doing what? Listening? Watching? Had something alerted him?) From there the footprints led past a screen of piñons, past another stony outcrop, and up the slope into heavier timber.

Leaphorn spent another half hour at the clearing and learned little more. In her fruitless hunt for another empty cartridge (which Leaphorn no longer expected to find), Susanne startled a cottontail rabbit from his brush-pile den beyond the clearing and sent him bolting through the rocks. That sort of sound might have been what had alerted the boy. Whatever it had been, the boy had been nervous enough to take a covered, indirect route to the place where he had left his horse. From there he had ridden westward across the mesa.

Leaphorn sat on the trunk of a fallen ponderosa, fished out his emergency can of potted meat from his jacket pocket, and divided it with Susanne. While they ate he considered alternatives. He could continue trying to follow George's tracks, or he could wait and try to catch him at the lake tomorrow, or he could give up and go home. The odds of finding George now that he had been frightened looked dismal. The boy would either be running (but not very fast, because his horse would be nearly dead by now from hunger and exhaustion) or he would be hiding somewhere, very alert and very cautious. If Leaphorn had guessed right about the lake, the chance of catching George there looked a little better. At least they were the best odds available. The sun was low now. The clouds in the west had risen up the horizon and were fringed with violent yellows. Slanting light was turning the alkali and calichi flats in the valley below from white and gray into rose and pink. Seventy miles southwestward, another cloud formation had formed over the dim blue shape of the White Mountains. This great vacant landscape reminded him of Susanne's remark about it being hard to be a Navajo if you minded being lonely. He wondered about George again. The boy's flight from the deer carcass seemed to suggest taut nerves more than panic. He had heard something, seen something, had been suddenly fearful, and had ducked away. He would hide somewhere safe, Leaphorn thought, rather than run wildly. And today his fears would have diminished with the light. George Bowlegs, Leaphorn decided, would still, right now, be on this mesa waiting for whatever he was waiting for at the Dance Hall of the Dead. But would the man who hunted him still be here? Leaphorn considered this. The man would have known he had flushed his bird. He needed to be a fairly competent tracker to find George's kill site. But once George was running, covering his tracks, he would have to be much better than that. He would have to be as good as Joe Leaphorn—and perhaps better than Leaphorn. As far as Leaphorn knew, there were no better trackers than himself. Certainly no Zuñi, or white man.

So what would the Man Who Wore Moccasins do? Leaphorn thought of the bloody head of Shorty Bowlegs, the ransacked hogan. He doubted if the man would give up. He would stay in a likely place with a long view and wait for the boy to make a move. Leaphorn looked toward Susanne, who was sprawled on her back, her face dusty and drawn with fatigue. Too tired to talk. He pushed himself to his feet, more tired himself than he'd been since as far back as he could remember.

"We've got a little bit of light left," he said. "I think we'll cut back toward that saddle where we climbed up here. That was George's way up and it's probably his way down. We'll find a place to get some rest somewhere near there. And in the morning we'll be in position to watch for him."

"You're not going to try to find him tonight?"

"I'm going to try to get some general idea of about where he might be," Leaphorn said. "And then we're going to rest."

On the rimrock above the saddle, Leaphorn stopped again. He got out his binoculars and spent five minutes examining the landscape. The saddle, as it had appeared from the lake, seemed to be the only easy way down. Beyond the saddle, south of the cliff on which Leaphorn stood, a shelf of land extended from the escarpment. The timber there was a thick jumble of mixed dry-country conifers. He had noticed it before, spotting it as ideal deer cover—the sort of place a deer herd would pick for a resting place, A single neck of land connected this great hill with the mesa. Against the rimrock, the deer could not be approached from above because of the overhung cliff. They could watch the backtrail, as resting deer always did, with no trouble. Rising air currents during the day would carry up to them the scent of any predator. And there were escape routes. The way down was steep but, unlike the mesa cliffs, not impossible. Leaphorn studied this site through the binoculars. It would be attractive to George for the same reason it would appeal to deer. It offered security without being a trap. George had seen it. He must have seen its advantages as a hiding place.

At the head of the saddle, they crossed the game trail which led down it. Susanne had revived slightly now. "There's our tracks," she said. "Your boots and my tennies. And there's George's horse's hoofprint that we saw going up."

"Yeah," Leaphorn said. If she was reviving, he wasn't.

"And here's one of those moccasin tracks," she said. "Like the one you showed me back at the deer."


"Right here. He stepped on your footprint."

Leaphorn squatted beside the track. The moccasin, going down the trail, had partially erased the heel mark Leaphorn had left that afternoon on the way up.

Susanne read something in his face. "Is that bad luck, or something? Someone stepping on your footprint?"

"I guess it depends," he said. He hadn't explained to her who must have left the prints at the carcass of the deer. There hadn't been any reason to frighten her. Now maybe he should tell her. The man who had been stalking George yesterday might now be stalking them. At least, he knew they were on the mesa. Leaphorn would decide what to tell her after they had found a place to spend the night.

By the time they reached the access route to the wooded peninsula of land below the rimrock, the western sky was the violent red of dying sunset. Due east there was the faint yellow glow where soon the full moon would be rising. Leaphorn stood at a gap in the rimrock, looking down the inevitable game path which led away into the brush.

"If I had hurried a little," he said, "I could see something." No tracks were visible in the dusk on the narrow trail. George might have avoided it, anyway, if he suspected he was followed. Far away and behind them, Leaphorn heard a yipping bark. The calm cycle of day was ending. Now the hunting cycle began—the hours of the predator, the owl, and the bobcat, the coyote and the wolf. There was no breeze at all, only the faint movement of the ground thermal, cold air sifting past him, sinking toward the valley far below. He was suddenly nervously aware that the Man Who Wore Moccasins knew they were on this mesa. Had the man found them? Had he watched them? Was he watching them now? The thought made Leaphorn conscious of a spot of itching skin between his shoulder blades. He decided to tell Susanne about the moccasin tracks. He would do it while they were eating. She should know.

"Susie," he said. "Keep your eyes open. I'm going down here just a little ways and see if I can see anything."

He took, as it turned out, exactly three steps.

Chapter 16
Thursday, December 4, 6:08 P.M.

THE PAIN was like being struck by a hammer. Leaphorn staggered a step backward. He gasped for air, conscious simultaneously of the loud double crack of the shot, of the great knot of pain in his abdomen, of the stink of burned powder. Behind him he heard Susanne scream. His left hand had moved, without his willing it to move, to his stomach. His right hand fumbled under his jacket for the pistol bolstered on his hip—an action equally reflex. His eyes had seen the source of this attack at the very moment it had happened. They had registered a jet of motion from the rocks directly ahead of him, and the streak of the projectile toward him. It seemed impossible that he could have seen the bullet. It seemed impossible that the shot had come from the very face of the rocks. His right hand held his pistol now, but there was no target. No one was there. No one could be there. And then he was con scious of what his left hand was feeling. It had found, projecting from his shirt just above his navel, a tube of metal. Leaphorn stared down at it, incredulous at first and then trying to understand what he was seeing.

Projecting from his abdomen, the source of both the burned powder smell and his pain, was a cylinder of dull aluminum. A tangle of pink wool yarn was attached to its base. With a motion born of revulsion, Leaphorn jerked the cylinder away from his stomach. He flinched at the freshened pain. The cylinder was free from his flesh now, but caught on the tough khaki cloth of his shirt. He jerked it free. "What happened?" Susanne was shouting. "What's wrong?"

A steel hypodermic needle, half the diameter of a soda straw, jutted an inch from the front of the cylinder—red now with Leaphorn's blood. The cylinder was hot and stank of cordite. He stared at it without understanding. His finger found the barb which had caught in the cloth of his shirt. And then he knew what had stuck him. It was a hypodermic dart for stunning animals, used by zoos, game conservation officers, veterinarians, and animal biologists. He took six quick steps down the trail to the rocks. Carefully wedged into a crevasse, screened with dead leaves, was a black carbon dioxide pellet gun with a second tube attached to its top. A copper wire was tied to the trigger mechanism.

Susanne was beside him now, looking at the cylinder. "What is it?"

"I tripped some sort of booby trap," Leaphorn said. "And I got shot with this thing. It's what you shoot wild animals with when you want to capture them without killing them." Leaphorn unbuttoned his shirt and pulled apart the cloth enough to examine the wound. The puncture hole in the dark skin looked, to Leaphorn, incredibly small. Only a little blood seeped from it. But what sort of serum had it blasted into his flesh? Thinking of that added a measure of panic to the knot of pain. He wasn't ready to think about it for another second or two. "The way it works, the cylinder is fired by a compressed gas—or, in some guns, by gunpowder. And when it strikes the animal, there's another little powder charge in the cylinder. That explodes and forces the serum down the needle into—into whatever you're shooting."

"The serum? What would it be?" Susanne's eyes were enormous. "What will it do to you?"

By now Leaphorn was asking himself the same question. "We'll guess it's the same stuff they shoot into animals. So we've got to hurry." He looked around him almost frantically. He ran down the path and then cut back toward the cliff.

"There," he said, pointing. "We'll get into that depression in the wall." He lost his footing twice scrambling up the mound of fallen stones under the rock wall of the mesa, and then sprawled onto the sand behind them. He inspected the site quickly. Given time he could have found something better, perhaps even a secure place to hide. Here whoever it was would find them, and it was too open from the front. But at least their rear and sides were protected. Nothing could reach them from above.

"What are—"

"Don't talk," Leaphorn said." There isn't time." He handed her his pistol. "I'm going to be out of it in a minute, so listen. Here's how this thing works." He showed her how to aim, how the revolver fired, the dozen spare cartridges in his belt, and how to reload. "Whoever set that trap either heard it fire or he's going to come around and check, and he'll know he got somebody and he'll find us. You're going to have to stay alert. When he comes, shoot him." He felt a wave of nausea and raised his hand to rub his forehead. It took a concentrated effort of will to control the hand. "Try to kill him," Leaphorn said. His voice sounded thick in his ears now, and fierce with rage. "If you don't keep him away, I think he'll kill us. I think he's crazy."

It was hard now to control his tongue. " This stuff is paralyzing me. I think it wears off in a few hours and I'll be all right again. Don't let me smother if I fall over, or swallow my tongue or anything. And if I die, try to slip away in the dark. Find the highway." Talking now was an immense effort. His legs were numb. He wanted to move his feet. The message left his brain, but nothing happened. "Don't get lost," he said. "Moon rises east, goes down west. Try…" His tongue would no longer rise from his teeth to form the sound. When he could no longer talk, when he could do nothing, panic arrived… a frantic dream of suffocation, of drowning helplessly in his own fluids. He fought it down grimly, controlling his mind, as he could no longer control his body. The panic left as quickly as it had come. Left him calm, studying the effects of the drug. It seemed now to have included an almost total paralysis of all voluntary muscles without affecting involuntary actions—the blink of the eyes, the rhythmic expansion-contraction of the lungs. Leaphorn considered all this with an odd sort of detachment. He tried to remember what he had heard about this method of stunning animals. Paralytic drugs must block passage of the message from brain to muscle. Otherwise, if all muscles were paralyzed, breathing would cease. His mind still seemed clear—unusually clear, in fact—and his hearing was excellent. He simply could not move. It was as if his brain had been partly disconnected from his body—still receiving the sensory inputs of eyes and ears and nerve endings, but unable to react with commands to action.

BOOK: Hillerman, Tony - [Leaphorn & Chee 02]
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