Read Savage Run Online

Authors: C. J. Box

Tags: #Conspiracies, #Mystery & Detective, #Environmentalists, #Wyoming, #Fiction, #Literary, #Pickett; Joe (Fictitious character), #Mystery Fiction, #Game wardens, #General, #Explosions

Savage Run (21 page)

BOOK: Savage Run
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"Who is in charge? Who are your employers?"

One of Coble's old hands weakly waved Stewie away The other hand continued to rub his eyes.

"I've stayed too long and talked too much," Coble said, grunting and pulling himself to his feet. "You two best get out of here. I need some air."

John Coble opened the door and leaned against the inside of the door frame.

JOE TRIED TO STAY in the trees, avoiding the grassy open meadows, as he rode hard up the mountain. Lizzie was tiring, her easy lope giving way to lunges, and she was throwing her head in annoyance. Her hooves launched chunks of wet black earth into the air behind them.

He tried to anticipate and play out the scenarios that might occur when he reached the cabin. Should he ask them to come out with their hands up or yell for them to get down on the floor? Should he tell them about his suspicions in regard to the man in the alcove? A stream of sweat trickled down the back of his neck from his hatband.

Sensing that Lizzie was just about to give out, Joe reined her to a stop in the shade of a tree. While she rested, her nostrils billowing, Joe raised his binoculars and looked across the valley to the opposite

mountain. He swept the binoculars over the mountain parks and granite spires, looking for the black Ford truck. A glimpse of movement in a meadow startled him, but when he looked back he saw it was only a cow moose grazing at the edge of a treeline.

Then he saw a flash of glass. Fumbling, he dialed the focus in tighter and tried to concentrate his view while Lizzie heaved, breathing hard, and his own heart whumped against the inside of his sternum. He found it. The glint was from something in the rear of the black Ford truck.

Joe reached out to grab a branch to steady himself and raised himself up in his stirrups so that he could see better. He took a sharp intake of breath. The man in the Stetson was in the back of the Ford, leaning over a long rifle mounted in the bed of the pickup. The glint was from the telescopic site. Joe imagined a line of fire from the black Ford to the cabin, which must be just above him through the trees.

Joe heard the bullet before he heard the shot; a sound like fabric ripping that suddenly ended in a hollow and sickening pock sound.

in the doorway OF THE cabin, John Coble flipped backward through the air and landed heavily on the table where Stewie Woods sat. Britney screamed and backpedaled until the wall stopped her. Her T-shirt and face were spattered with blood and bits of bone and tissue.

Stewie kicked back his chair and scrambled to his feet, looking down at Coble. The top half of Coble's head was gone.

Outside, a heavy rifle shot rolled across the valley, sounding like thunder.

crouching forward in the saddle like a jockey Joe spurred

Lizzie out of the trees and into the open meadow that rose up the mountain to culminate at the shadowed front of a dark cabin. The boom of the shot swept through the timber.

"Get down!" he shouted at the cabin, not knowing how many people were inside. "Get down on the floor!"

And suddenly Joe felt an impact like an ax burying itself into soft wood. Lizzie stumbled, her front legs collapsing as her rear haunches arced into the air, her head ducking as she pitched forward, throwing Joe. He hit the ground hard, crumpling against the foot of the steps to the porch of the cabin, his chest and chin taking the brunt of the fall. Lizzie completed her thousand-pound somersault and landed so hard, just a foot short of Joe, that he felt the ground shudder.

britney was still shrieking inside but she had screamed herself hoarse and was practically soundless when the doorframe filled with Joe Pickett. The fall had knocked the wind out of him and he leaned into the cabin with his hands on his knees, fighting for breath. The rope he had looped around the saddle horn was tangled around one foot.

Stewie lurched around the table where Coble lay twitching and helped Joe inside, leading him from the open door, as a fist-sized hole blew through the front window and shattered all of the glass.

"Get down!" Joe barked, as he dropped to his hands and knees, pulling Stewie with him.

Methodically bullets hit the front of the cabin blowing holes through the walls that looked alternately like stars, hearts, and sunbursts --followed by the rolling thunder sound of the heavy rifle fire.

"You must be Stewie Woods, "Joe said, looking over to the man who had helped him inside the cabin.

"And you aren't Mary Harris," Stewie said.

"I'm her husband," Joe said, glaring at Stewie's disfigured face. Now was not the time to punch him in the nose, Joe thought. "Her name's Marybeth Pickett."

Stewie wheezed. "You're a game warden."

"Right."

"Do you know how many there are out there shooting at us?" Stewie asked with remarkable calmness.

"One older man in a black Ford pickup. He's got a hell of a rifle and he knows what he's doing."

"Look what he did to John Coble," Stewie gestured to the table above them. For the first time, Joe noticed the two boots that hung suspended from the edge of the table and a single still arm that dropped over the side. A stream of dark blood as thick as chocolate syrup strung from the table to a growing pool on the floor.

"Is he-"

"He's dead," Stewie said. Britney Earthshare had now crawled over to join them on the floor. Her face was a mask of revulsion and frozen shock. Joe sympathized. He couldn't yet grasp the magnitude and danger of the situation he was in.

"Do you have any weapons in the cabin?" Joe asked them both.

"No, but Coble has a pistol with him," said Stew
ie.

"Get it," Joe commanded. "Can you shoot a gun?"

"Of course," Stewie said. "I'm from Wyoming."

Stewie rolled toward the table and began to rise up. As he did, the kitchen window imploded with the force of another bullet and threw shards of glass skittering across the floor. Stewie dropped to a sprawl, his attitude accusatory toward Joe.

"Forget that!" Stewie yelled.

"What about you, Britney?" Joe asked. She was closer to Coble.

"I will not touch a gun."

Joe cursed. They were useless.

Joe's mind raced as he lay there, his cheek pressed to the rough wood. Stewie was a few feet away and despite the immediacy and danger of the situation, he couldn't help staring. Stewie, Joe thought, was hideous. Seen in the dusty rods of light from the bullet holes in the walls, Stewie's face looked as if it were made of wet papier-mache that

had been raked from top to bottom with a gardening claw and allowed to dry. His mouth was misshapen and exaggerated, capable of making a perfect inverted U when Stewie was angry like he was now. His mouth looked like a child's drawing of a sad face.

Under Stewie's rough, loose clothes, it was obvious that he had been bigger but had recently lost most of his muscle tone. Skin sagged on big bones. His left arm was limp and thin. Stewie's fingernails and toenails needed trimming, and a beard, once full and red, was now pink and wispy The hair on his head grew in patches, like putting greens on a desert golf course.

Joe, however, pulled his attention away from Stewie as he realized that the gunshots had suddenly stopped. Joe guessed that the shooter was reloading. He reached down to make sure his .357 was still in his holster and was relieved to find it was. Unfortunately Joe was a notoriously bad shot, and he knew that it would be close to impossible for him to hit the shooter at this distance,

The shots resumed, but inside the cabin nothing happened. The shooter had shifted targets. Joe heard a faraway shattering of glass, and a metallic clang from the impact of a bullet.

"He found my truck," Joe spat.

He remembered that his shotgun was in the saddle scabbard. On his knees and elbows he scrambled toward the open door.

"Where are you going?" Britney asked hysterically "Are you leaving us?" "Try to calm down, Britney" Stewie implored.

Joe crawled to the side of the doorframe and cautiously leaned forward. His face and head felt stunningly exposed when he peered outside. He wondered if he would hear the bullet before it hit him.

Joe was practically useless as well. The shooter was over 1,500 yards away on the other mountain. Joe's .357 Magnum was not capable of even half of that range. The fat, heavy bullets he fired would fall short at about the distance of the road. lizzie wasn't where she had fallen, but Joe spotted her further down the meadow. She stood in a pool of shadow just inside the treeline. His saddle had come loose and hung upside down beneath her belly She took a step, faltered, and stopped. She stood stiffly He could see that the bullet had shattered her right rear l
eg.
Her leg, from her hock down, hung like a broken branch.

Suddenly, there was a puff of dust and hair from her shoulder and the horse jerked and buckled into the summer grass as the reverberating sound of shot rolled across the valley

That son of a bitch, Joe thought. That son of a bitch killed Lizzie!

Joe suddenly scuttled back as another .308 bullet blew a football sized chunk out of the doorframe Directly above where his head had been.

"Jesus Christ!" Stewie bellowed.

Joe knew his face was white and contorted with fear--he could feel his own skin pulling across his skull--when he joined Stewie and Britney Earthshare under the table. His voice choked as he asked them if there was another way out of the cabin.

Stewie said there was a side door but that Charlie Tibbs could probably see them if they went out that way

"There's a window in the bedroom," Britney said, her teeth chattering as if the temperature were subzero.

They crawled across the floor of the cabin toward the bedroom over shards of glass, splinters of wood, and congealing globules of blood and tissue. A bullet tore through the wall a foot above floor level and smashed into the base of the stove where Britney had huddled just a few minutes ago. Joe felt the cabin shudder with the impact.

In the bedroom, Joe ripped the curtains and rod off of the only window and shoved it open. It faced the back of the cabin, away from where Charlie Tibbs was positioned on the mountain.

Britney was trembling beneath her T-shirt as Joe helped her out the window There was a five-foot drop, and she landed awkwardly but recovered. Stewie sat on the sill and grunted, trying to fit his broad shoulders through the frame.

"I'm stuck, dammit," he complained.

With the heel of his hand, Joe thumped Stewie's left shoulder, forcing him through. Stewie dropped to the ground and landed gracefully.

A sound like a cymbal crashed in the maim room as a bullet tore through the wall and hit a cast-iron skillet hanging above the stove.

Joe dropped through the window and his boots stuck fast to the soft earth covered with pine needles.

"Which way?" Britney asked.

"North." Joe pointed into the timber. "Keep the cabin between us and the shooter. Stay in the trees and don't look back until we're over the top of the mountain."

"I was really looking forward to seeing Mary," Stewie said. "What a shitty day this has turned out to be."

Joe wheeled and hit Stewie square in the nose. Stewie lost his footing and sat down.

Stewie reached up and covered his nose with his hand, then looked at the smear of blood in his palm. He glared at Joe with his one good eye.

"Enough about my wife." Joe commanded, shaking his hand that stung from the blow

Britney ran to Stewie and helped him to his feet. Stewie rose with a twisted, manic grin that looked almost cartoonish.

"The man who is shooting at us," Joe asked, "do you know who he is?"

Stewie nodded, still rubbing his nose. "His name is Charlie Tibbs."

"Charlie Tibbs?" Joe repeated. "Oh, shit." Joe had heard of Tibbs. He hadn't realized the legendary stock detective was still working.

"Okay," Stewie said, shaking his head with bemused disbelief "Let's resume fleeing now"

THEY CLIMBED through the thick trees in back of the cabin, Joe grimly went over what had just happened, wishing he could call it all back, wishing he could start over from the time he saw the man he now knew as Charlie Tibbs.

Wishing he knew then what he knew now, Joe thought how easy it would have been to pump his shotgun and level Charlie Tibbs with a cloud of buckshot as the man stood in the alcove by the hidden Mercedes. If he had done that, Joe thought, John Coble would still be alive, Joe would still have his horse and his dignity and he -would not be deep in the timber, running north, with Stewie Woods and Britney Earthshare, into mountain country so rough and wild that no one had ever bothered to cut a road into it.

Behind him he heard another heavy bullet slam into the cabin, followed by another booming roll of a rifle shot.

27

AFTER entering the HOUSE and kissing Sheridan, Marybeth asked if Joe had called. Sheridan, still lounging on her pillows in front of the TV answered that he hadn't.

Marybeth dropped the Tom Horn book on the kitchen table and launched herself into scrubbing the counters and washing the dishes. It was a way of fighting off the sense of dread she had been feeling since the telephone calls and the incident with Ginger Finotta in the library It was barely four in the afternoon and Joe had said he would be back by dark or call first. It was still early and she had no good reason to feel such anxiousness.

Reading the book hadn't helped. Although it meandered through Tom Horn's Indian fighting days--he was one of those hired to pursue

Geronimo--and his service with the U.S. Army in Cuba, what interested her were the chapters at the end of the book. Those chapters covered the period when Tom Horn was hired by Wyoming ranchers to clear out rustlers and homesteaders in southern Wyoming. The ranchers were a gentlemanly genteel group. Many had nothing to do with day-to-day ranch work, which they hired out to their foremen, and they spent their days in the men's clubs wearing fashionable clothing and their nights in a cluster of beautiful Victorian homes in Cheyenne. Some had visited their vast holdings up north only for occasional hunting trips. They knew, however, that the presence of rustlers, outlaws, and settlers threatened not only their income but also their political power base and the concept of open range. The ranchers were all members of the nascent Wyoming Cattle Growers' Association. So it was decided among a cabal of association members that the rustlers had to go, and it would be best if it were accomplished ruthlessly to send a powerful message. Based on the landowners' experience in the territory thus far, local law enforcement couldn't handle the job. The rustlers were local and their connections within the community were pervasive. For example, the rustlers knew well in advance when a sheriffs posse was forming or where deputies were going to be sent to try to break them up.

BOOK: Savage Run
7.23Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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