Read Snowman Online

Authors: Norman Bogner

Tags: #Fantasy, #General, #Fiction

Snowman (8 page)

BOOK: Snowman
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They roared menacingly at each other. The smaller one raised its front paws to attack. In that instant it was seized from the moraine by its head, and as it thrashed the air viciously the Snowman crushed its head in his mouth.

The other Kodiak immediately began a retreat. It scampered exhaustedly away from the massacre until it reached a couloir. It took refuge in this gulley in the mountainside. It had stopped to rest, bellowing breathlessly, when it was plucked from the deep furrow by its hind legs. The Snowman's claws probed the soft belly of the bear. Still alive, its intestines exposed, the Kodiak gave a low, groaning sigh, ululant and yielding, as the Snowman impaled it on his horned chest. His teeth dug deeply into the bear's head and ripped through the skull.

Bradford lived in a tent next to the Yaqui's. It was without comforts, and all he could offer Ashby was a place on the canvas floor. A smoking kerosene lantern with a blackened wick threw off flickering tongues of light.

Ashby observed a canvas camp bed, a sleeping bag, a pair of worn boots, an old backpack, some denim shorts, and a torn work shirt drying on a clothesline. The mean smell of poverty pervaded the tent.

"Any idea of what an expedition would cost?" Ashby asked.

"Thousands. No one'd make that kind of investment in me," Bradford said without self-pity. "Not again."

"Suppose I had access to money people."

"How'd you get them to part with it?"

Ashby wondered about the value of candor at this moment. Perhaps it might be best to be straight with Bradford, so that there would be no misunderstandings later. Bradford unquestionably could be dangerous. There would be no way to control him unless a bargain was struck at the outset.

"A major corporation owns the ski resort. They've spent something like twenty to thirty million—no one knows for sure—developing the resort and putting in runs and lifts. They've built town houses and condominiums. Some bad publicity and they'd have a hell of a lot of trouble finding buyers."

"You'd blackmail them."

"Well, that's a little severe, don't you think? I prefer to think that I'd be performing a public service by warning people about the dangers on the mountain. After all, a girl was killed by an unidentified creature." Bradford smiled.

"Would they bite?"

"I'm going to try it on."

"And what do you expect out of it?"

"Fame and fortune—the usual things that smalltown nobodies dream about. I'm a newspaperman. I've been reporting broken legs, car skids, the weight of babies, high-school football scores, and weather for most of my life. This story fell into my lap. I can't hack it with the networks or the major papers. If they start sending up journalists, I'll wind up running their shit. This story would make my name. If I have to squeeze somebody's balls, then I'll do it."

Bradford didn't take the bait. "Nothing could persuade me to take you up with me. One weak man and we'd all be dead."

"Okay. But what I'd expect would be an exclusive story. We'd set up a radio with the ground. I'd be at the other end with my tape recorder, or following you with a helicopter when I can, taking pictures. I'd want one of your people to carry a camera with him."

"You're crazy, you know that," Bradford stated.

"Not really—just hungry . . . like you." Ashby rose and stretched his arms. "There'd be money in it for you."

"I'm not interested in the money."

"Well, maybe the people here would be. You might get a score yourself and then give it away. I don't give a damn what you do. But it seems to me I saw you and those Indians out in the sun trying to build a road. You'll never finish it without a Cater and a steamroller. You'll be dead before you've got twenty miles laid."

He studied Bradford's reaction, and he knew that he had driven the man into a corner.

"When I was at college I read some Sinclair Lewis. He used to write about hypocritical small-town sons of bitches like you."

"Only difference, Mr. Bradford, between what you read and me is I'm the real thing. Now, is there anything like a telephone in this wasteland?"

There was one in Crawford's cabin, and Bradford listened as Ashby went through a series of roles: irate public-spirited citizen ("Somebody's got to be the conscience of the community"); investigative reporter ("The public has a right to know what's up on that mountain"); extortionist ("Well, I'll just have to contact the networks and the wire services. I'll let them make their own judgments on the basis of the evidence. I'm with a man named Daniel Bradford who was attacked near Everest. He's identified the footprints and he's also got a scar on his back that's exactly like Janice's").

"Monte, if you want to be chintzy, that's your problem. But lookit, you're a public company, and I'm sure the SEC would want to investigate your property development after they see the paper's. Now, I've put a call into the Forestry Service in Sacramento. I'm going to request that they send some investigators."

Ashby also demonstrated that he was a shrewd negotiator.

"No, I don't think two hundred and fifty thousand dollars is exorbitant. If GND found that they could buy a gold mine tomorrow in Eagle Mountain they'd be there with the cash. Now you've got the number I'm at, so if I don't hear from you in ten minutes I'll start making my calls."

He and Bradford settled down on the porch with a bottle of Crawford's redeye. Ashby placed his old Bulova on the rail so that he could read the luminous hands easily.

"Will he go for it?" Bradford asked.

"I don't know. Big corporations are usually gutless. They can stand up to people their own size, but the little man frightens them."

Ashby swallowed the redeye without blinking. The emotional high and sheer intoxication of power overwhelmed him. If only he'd discovered this years before, he might have become really important, someone he himself could have respected.

"Dan, do you think the Snowman can be killed?"

"Yes."

"Twenty feet tall . . ." he began, then trailed off. The phone rang, and Ashby signaled Bradford not to pick it up for a few moments. On the fifth ring, Bradford picked up the receiver.

"Yes, this is Daniel Bradford. Who's this? Okay, Mr. Wright. I'll meet them at Eagle Mountain. It's about five hours from Los Angeles. No, he won't make any calls tonight."

Ashby's laughter was roisterous and infectious.

"Scared him shitless," he said. "I should've asked for half a million."

Chapter Eight

Cathy and Monte took turns driving on the miserable trip through the California desert. They always kept sight of the armored Wells Fargo truck accompanying them. Guards had come to the GND office that morning, and Wright had handed over the money without a word. While the guards waited outside, checking their route, Wright had cautioned them both.

"This money doesn't exist, is that clear?" They nodded. "It's bad enough Ashby's got us on the run. But if he finds out about our emergency fund, we'll have more trouble than Lockheed ever had. I don't know if this is some kind of elaborate scam and if Bradford's his partner or if they're seriously considering going up the mountain. I hope for Ashby's sake he's not taking us for a ride, Monte. And I want you to make it very clear to him that if he's playing games, we'll get our money back."

It was early afternoon when the dusty, mud-spattered Seville and the Fargo truck pulled into the ghostlike main street. Eagle Mountain was a little rathole lodged in the middle of the desert. Although the town was on the Colorado River, it was nothing more than a mud bed.

They passed a clapboard general store with a wooden porch on which food lay exposed on metal trays. Squadrons of large desert horseflies flew sorties over the food, but the Mexican tending the scales and the Indian women on line stoically ignored the sunbaked brownish beef spoiling before their eyes. A bit farther along, at a two-pump gas station, a grease-stained Indian mechanic sweated over a primitive rusted pickup engine. Beside the station was a hardware store with a battered sign advertising Remington guns.

The truck slowed down and one of the guards peeked out of a slit at an adobe building with a grimy storefront window on which a shaky signprinter had scrawled
"RESERVATION BANK."
In front of the bank, Bradford stood waiting. A guitar case was at his feet.

"What the hell are they going to do with a quarter of a million in this garbage dump?" one of the guards asked.

"Maybe the Indians struck oil," the driver replied, parking in front of the bank.

The rear doors were opened and the guards with their M-15's resting in the crooks of their arms waited for the driver to bring out the steel cashbox. He walked between the guards toward the bank.

Bradford watched them and smiled slyly, disconcerting the guards.

"You got nothing better to do, mister?" he was asked.

"I'm just waiting around to make sure the count's right," he said.

Ashby stood by the bank door, gullies of sweat pouring from his cheeks and gathering on the limp collar of his shirt. "Where'd you go, by way of Mexico?" he growled at the Fargo guards.

"We ran out of freeway fifty miles back," the driver replied sourly.

The heat was oppressive and burned Cathy's nostrils when she stepped out of the air-conditioned car. The glare hurt her eyes, and she put on her sunglasses. Ashby gave her a friendly wave.

"Jim," she said angrily, "I never expected you to pull this kind of stunt. Why didn't you tell me what you were going to do?"

"Cathy, you're bright and pretty, but you're an employee. You didn't have the authority to come up with the money."

"Are you serious about going up the mountain?" Monte asked him.

"Not me. But Mr. Bradford and a team he'll recruit are going to find out how Janice was killed."

Cathy looked at Bradford. He had a serenity about him that was unnerving and, she thought, somewhat patronizing. He was nothing more than an itinerant cowboy, one of those white Indians she'd read about.

"I'm Daniel Bradford," he said affably.

"The bank manager can count the money, Dan," Ashby said. "Let's all get out of the sun and have a beer."

There was a small cantina at the end of the street. It was cool and dark inside. An old fan droned monotonously, and the radio was tuned to a Mexican station. The bartender brought them bottles of Dos Equis, which he kept on a block of ice; they dripped on the scratched wooden table when he set them down. Bradford was seated next to Cathy on a rickety backless bench, and she felt his leg touch hers. She and Monte listened to his account of his search for the Snowman; then Ashby pulled out the newspaper articles, which were impossible to read in the dark bar. What impressed her about Bradford was that combination of sincerity and fanaticism that she had encountered only at school in Marymount. The religious zeal of the nuns had oppressed her. Bradford's gods were dark, and he was ruled by an obsession. He was not really interested in the money and she regarded this as a sign of arrogance.

Ashby was more transparent. He wanted a story and he didn't care who he had to sacrifice for it. The ruthlessness of small-town provincials had an element of corruption about it that was more insidious than the big-city variety, since it had a single source. What troubled Cathy was that a pattern of conspiracy was emerging in which she would have the central role. Bradford might go up the mountain, but she would be the one to perpetuate the big lie. Others might die later or even now, and she would cover it all with a web of deception.

"If we accept this story about a Snowman—and you've got to admit it's a lot to accept," Monte began, "how can we be sure you'll succeed this time?"

"What's your option?" Ashby asked.

"They could call in the National Guard," Bradford said. "Just imagine a division of them in Sierra."

"The. . . . evidence is all circumstantial," Cathy interjected. "We've handed over a quarter of a million dollars in good faith, and Mr. Wright doesn't care whether you find a Snowman or not. The story's got to be buttoned up. Contained, Jim. And I don't know that I'd take your word on anything."

"You can have your money back," Ashby countered. "I'm not getting any part of it. I can't afford a leak either. If we're all being selfish, my best interests are served by keeping the media out of it. Which is why I just threw the story away in two lines. I don't need anyone asking questions about a mystery death."

"What about the sheriff?" Monte asked.

"He's in my pocket," Ashby replied. "Now, if you're satisfied that this isn't some rip-off, Bradford and I ought to get started."

Monte nodded to her. As they got up to leave, she could not refrain from asking, "What made you ask for that precise amount of money?"

"Ashby asked for the money."

"What are you going to do with it?"

"Split it five ways. I figure that's a reasonable price for a man's life."

When they were outside, he opened his shirt and pulled down part of it, exposing the scar on his shoulder.

"Does it look familiar?" he askecl Cathy.

The sight of it shook her, and she defensively put her hand up to her eyes. What she had seen on the mountain would live on within her.

"Why are you going?"

"I want to kill the Snowman," he said with profound conviction, as though this was his quest, his passion.

The savagery of his reaction was virtually sexual. She had never encoutered a human being with such a finely tuned attitude of naked violence. It took her out of her own corporate sphere, where men were just as dangerous but were capable of modulating their desires, finessing their enemies by the astutely planned maneuver. Daniel Bradford stood exposed, baring his teeth and carrying a spear for the world to see.

"You coming in to count your money?" Monte asked, thrashing the air at mosquitoes. Bradford shook his head. "Well, are you going to deposit it?"

"No, why bother."

"Do you mean to say that you're going to walk around with it in cash?"

"Sure, who's going to take it from me?" he asked without concern.

"What if you get held up?" Monte asked, looking perplexedly at Cathy.

BOOK: Snowman
10.15Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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