Monday, September 24, 2007

In the Deserts of The Heart - Chapter 2, Part 1

Chapter 2
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It had been ten years since Jerry Rawlings had prevailed over the Bureau of Land Management and they'd issued the deed for the Wishing Well Mine and Mill Site. It had been fifteen years of legal wrangling before then, over the fact that his granddad had patented the mining claim decades before yet the BLM refused to admit it and indeed had ordered him out of his home. A pair of BLM rangers had come out to his home to burn it down as "abandoned property", that being a time when BLM rangers were regularly spotted burning down backwoods cabins as "public nuisances". That had been shortly after the cell phone tower went up Roger's Peak, and luckily Jerry was line-of-sight. He'd called the judge, the judge had immediately written out a court order, and while the BLM rangers were stomping around outside threatening him, the Sheriff and two of his deputies came by and served the court order on them ordering them to cease and desist or be jailed immediately for contempt of court. It took the two BLM rangers a while of talking to their superior, but they finally left. Two years later, the BLM had finally issued the deed.

Since that time, Jerry had fixed the place up pretty nice. While he had a 30kw propane-powered generator out back, he rarely had to fire it up, thanks to a row of solar panels on his roof. The BLM had cut his water line, claiming he had no water rights to the Wishing Hole Spring, but all he had to do to foil them was drill down 40 feet to the granite shelf that the water from the spring ran along and suck the water out from there. He had a windmill pumping the water back up to a water tower on the hill above his house, and a backup electric pump that he ran once a month just to make sure it worked. It was a damn sight more complicated than a simple pipe to Wishing Hole Spring, but given that the BLM rangers kept coming in and vandalizing his pipe every time he fixed it, well...

His wife had run to Ridgecrest with the grandbabies to do some shopping and he was there by himself when someone smashed into his locked gate with a sound like a small explosion. Jerry grabbed his 30-30 and ran out onto his front porch. Some durnfool was driving a big Chevrolet pickup truck way too fast up the canyon towards his house. Jerry pondered a second, then decided anybody willing to smash through a locked gate was up to no good, and moved out to where he could get a down-the-throat shot at the front tire. Easy now... squeeze... yeah!

The truck veered wildly, almost flipping before it came to a stop sideways in the canyon. A wild-haired man jumped out and looked around wildly, then spotted Jerry sighting down on him with the rifle and jumped back in. The man started the truck back up, turned it around, and drove out the way he'd come, flat tire and all.

Jerry just stood there for a few minutes, listening to the sound of the truck's engine fade away around the bend of the canyon. It stopped for a few minutes. Changing the tire, Jerry figured. Then it started up again, and faded out.

Now that was interesting, Jerry thought. He walked back up to the house, and fished the bag phone out and gave a call to the Sheriff's office. "Is Ray in?" he asked Marlena, the red-headed dispatcher who was seriously hot in a curvy sort of way but way too young for Jerry, something that had crept up on him. How had he gotten old so fast, anyhow?

"Ray's holed up in his office," Marlena said. "Is that you, Jerry? I don't think he has time for fishing. He has a pretty blond thing to worry about."

"Oh yeah. The new woman up Copper King Canyon. I think she said her name was Clair, something like that? I went up there and introduced myself a few months back. Friendly enough li'l filly, but a bit distant. Got that whole thousand yard stare thing going, y'know?"

"Clarissa, I think. Anyhow, she's had someone poking around, and wants one of our deputies to come out and see if he can figure out who it is and what they want."

"Is that so? I was just wanting to talk to Ray about my own visitor. He smashed through my front gate and was driving hell-bent for my house. He mighta accidentally picked up a flat from some lead poisoning, if you get my drift, and decided to leave. Wonder if that has anything to do with Clarrisa's problem?"

"You ain't shootin' trespassers again, are you?"

"Well, sorta," Jerry said, embarrassed. There'd been a big stink when some of them Sierra Club types had cut the lock off his gate and traipsed right on in, and he'd fired a warning shot in their direction. One of them had gotten irate and huffily stormed at Jerry, and Jerry had promptly put a bullet through the man's shoulder. The man had survived. Filed a complaint with the Sheriff's office, of course. Jerry just told the Sheriff, "I'm sixty-five years old, he was a twenty-somethin' youngster with muscles threatening to beat me up for tellin' him to get off my land, I defended myself, ain't a jury in this county that would convict me." Which was true. Everybody knew Jerry, and knew if he shot someone, that someone needed shootin'. But still, it was a lot of fuss, especially the lawsuit.

"Is this guy going to be filing a complaint?"

"Over a spare tire? After he destroyed my gate? I doubt it. Anybody who would smash a pickup truck through a locked gate ain't got no good in mind."

"Well, maybe your visitor has something to do with Clarrisa's problem. I'll tell Ray."

"'Preciate it." He hung up the phone, and went back inside and turned off the television. Satellite TV was ruinin' folks, he figured. When he was younger, the only entertainment was what you made for yourself with the piano or banjo or harmonica. Nowdays...

He strapped on his big .45 automatic and headed out the side door to the workshop. He seemed to recall having some chain there. Ah. Yes. A twenty-footer. He dug around until he found a spare lock that would fit through its links, declared it good enough, and found some yellow marker ribbon. He tossed it all into the back of his old Jeep Wagoneer 4x4, and drove down to his gate to see what had happened.

The gate was a bit dented, but he'd welded it up of some pretty hefty pipe, and it was still pretty much intact. The lock on the chain, on the other hand, had disintegrated. The chain itself still looked fine. Jerry got the other lock out of the Wagoneer, chained the gate back up, then stopped to think a bit. What if this fellow met his wife and grandchildren on the road, coming back from Ridgecrest?

He headed back up to the house and tried to raise his wife on the CB radio. A 20 foot mast got his signal out pretty far, but she either was out of range or otherwise occupied. It was the otherwise occupied thing that bothered him.

Jerry sighed, collected his wife's .38 and his grandchildren's .22 rifles, went back out to the Wagoneer, and headed back out, locking the gate behind him as he left. He figured he was going to go wait where the road hit pavement to make sure that the crazy man wasn't going to bushwhack her. And if the crazy man tried to bushwhack him instead...

Well, that was why the .45 ACP was on his hip, after all.

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