Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Desert Venegence cont 3

Animal and Pop winced at the high pitched yell reverberating along the long cavernous walls of the bunker. Kathy had started wailing as soon as the reinforced door had swung shut. The sounds of the barn collapsing overhead did not penetrate the reinforced walls. It also didn't let sound escape, giving no relief to the assault on their ears.

"Hey, quit your damn yelling, it's over for now, you're safe!" yelled Pop.
"Safe. What the hell are you talking about? We just got shot at by a jet plane, it destroyed your entire property. It's gonna come back and attack again." replied Kathy.

"The barn was shot to hell. Not many people know about this bunker, they'll think we were killed. This place could just about take a direct hit from a missle. It will buy us some time before they send someone to check for our bodies in all that wreckage." said Animal.

"We'd better come up with a plan damn fast. Whoever sent that plane knew you were here. I imagine it won't take them long to find about the bunker, too," said Pop.

"I agree, however with no official records of any of the extensive renovations you and I have made over the years to this place. They'll probably think it's still a dirt covered shack like it was when you first bought this place. No one will believe we could have survived," replied Animal.

Sweeping her arms out over the various motorcycles and vehicles that were parked neatly along the sides of the acre-sized cavern. Kathy asked, "Just what the hell is this place?"

Laughing, Pop replied, "This, my dear, is the ultimate man-cave. We built this when Animal was still undercover. It has all the toys a secret agent would ever need. James Bond would need a cold shower if he ever set foot in here."

Kathy stared at the two men like they had lost their minds.

Animal shot Pop a withering glare. It had always bugged the hell out of him when Pop would bust his chops about being a "secret agent man". When he was particularly liquored up he would even start singing it.

Pop saw the look and started laughing again. "Easy boy, your super agent wristwatch will get all funky and explode or something."

Animal took a step and started chasing Pop across the bunker. Pop was laughing at his own quip so hard he nearly fell to the floor. His words had produced the desired effect. The tension had been broken. Even Kathy began giggling at the scene unfolding before her. The weight of the days events gave way to outright laughter.

Animal looked at his two nearly hysterical companions. Shaking his head, he walked toward the office set along the back wall, and said, "I gotta check on some equipment. I'll leave you two clowns to your own devices."

Entering the office he grabbed the bottom of a life size portrait of Lee Marvin smiling evilly on his Harley from the movie The Wild One. Hinged at the top, it swung up and out from the wall. Behind the picture was a door with a combination lock. Spinning the code, he pulled the reinforced door open wide.

The walls of the room held different weapons that Animal had confiscated over the years in his career as a customs agent. Set on a pedestal in the center of the room, his black Desert Eagle pistol quietly awaited it's owner's return. Opening a door in the pedestal's side he pulled out a shoulder holster and put it on.

Replaying the days events in his mind, Animal couldn't shake the idea that this just wasn't adding up. His intuition was warning him with questions he didn't care for. The A10 attack was too quick in arriving. Kathy's behavior suggested a comfort with the situation that didn't jive with what he'd been told. Holstering his weapon, he walked to the rear of the room and took down a pair of sculptured carbon fiber saddlebags that were hanging on a steel pin. After he checked the contents, he headed back out to the motorcycles parked along the walls.

Kathy and Pop sat silent, reality had started to sink in.

Walking past the many bikes that he and Pop had built over the years, he thought of the choices before him. Custom Harleys, Triumphs and Indians.

There was only one real choice for a mission like this. One bike sat covered in the center of the floor. He pulled the softcover off. The lights overhead danced on the paint. Chrome sparkled.

The silence was broken by an audible gasp from Kathy. Even Pop stared reverently at the reveal of the legendary steed.

Famous in it's day for being a well built 'super bike' the 39 Crocker had been a hand assembled jewel of engineering. Extensively modified and upgraded well beyond anything the original designers could have ever dreamed possible, Animal and Pop had transformed her into modern sport bike killer.

Cut and bobbed chrome fenders swept over the carbon fiber invader rims shod in super sticky custom tread Pirelli tires. A black and gold painted aluminum coffin styled gas tank sat perched on the backbone. The bike's name, "June" lettered in 24-carat gold was flanked by twin nitrous bottles slung along the bike's light titanium frame. Double xenon headlights sat perched on the custom Ohlins super bike forks triple tree and a minuscule taillight was blended artfully into the bike's rear fender design. With no tach or speedometer, the prominent supercharger told anybody who cared to notice...this Huntress was out for blood.

Attaching the saddlebags, he opened one and pulled out a satellite phone. He placed a call to his long-time brothers in the wind. The voice that answered grunted, "Yep." Animal smiled and replied, "Classy way to answer a call as always, Marduk. I see that being named after an ancient god didn't impart you any manners."

''Animal! I was just thinking of you! I just saw a gawd-ugly old scooter bitch and figured you had to be close by."

"Hey, I haven't touched yer mama since you crawled out. I took one look at you and started humping Buffaloes. I figured the kids would be better looking," said Animal.

"No shit, really? I think I just ate your date," quipped Marduk.

"Why, did it have a creamy filling?" 'laughed Animal.

"What graces us with your annoying whiny-assed call?" asked Marduk.

Animal's voice took a serious tone as he described the events of the day.

Marduk didn't speak for a bit. Then he replied, "Whatever you need bro, I'll send Oracle to get the package left at the rest area and then round up the rest of the brothers. Meet at Devil's Girdle?" Animal agreed, snapped the receiver off and placed it back in the saddlebag. "Devil's Girdle," Animal whispered to Pop.

Pop nodded in assent. Devil's Girdle was a familiar location to him. It was a pass deep in the superstition mountains that narrowed to the width of one bike earning it's name whenever the club would race to the campsite. With only one way in or out it was an easily defensible position.

"You take Kathy and meet up there with Marduk. I gotta go see Chief Henderson," Animal said to Pop. Kathy looked around the bunker and asked "How? The door is buried under a ton of rubble!" Pop chuckled, "You think we only had one way out?" Pointing to the opposite end of the bunker, he continued, "There are three separate tunnels leading out through the mountains."

Animal stepped over June's frame, settled in and fired her to life. The reverberating twin echoed loudly off the walls. Stepping her into gear, the bike rolled smoothly out of the bunker, reaching the tunnel entrance. Animal twisted the throttle, and flipped the nitrous switch. June revved instantly, looking like a star ship reaching warp speed she tore out along the mountain shaft.

Pop looked over at Kathy. "Satan's gonna have to put up a no more vacancy sign when these guys are done."

Friday, September 12, 2008

Desert Vengeance continued...

Kathy's parched and sun burnt skin seemed to sizzle as she lowered herself into the cool waters of the natural jacuzzi that nature had provided beneath the overhanging ledge of the rocks in Oak creek. Four hours of hard desert riding had taken its toll on Heather and her riders. Finding respite along the oaks and mesquite trees along the river, Animal had set up camp for the night. Listening to the rolling waters quiet rhythms and Heather's ticking and gurgling as the steel and aluminum cooled, Animal unpacked his saddle bag retrieving drinks and a glass mason jar of chili, packed carefully that very morning. Animal chuckled to himself, “At least I learned some skills in the service.” He was painfully aware the fact that anything surviving after today’s ride was something bordering on a near miracle. He set the jar atop a large sunlit boulder. He'd let the desert sun’s natural heat warm the contents.

Watching Kathy contentedly relaxing in the shade, his mind replayed the day’s events; eleven customers had paid the coroner’s son's tuition to college in the space of an hour. A scrap yard had received a recycler's bounty, the local constabulary’s paychecks just went into overtime, hell’s denizens were dancing the Macarena in celebration of its new arrivals and Heather’s tanks were almost empty of fuel. All for a bunch of computer chips that sat buried a hundred miles from here. What the hell was so damn important on those chips that killing was necessitated, who was looking to gain? And how far was the extent of the threat to Animal and Kathy? Knowing no answer would be forthcoming from the desert air; he got up, undressed and waded out to join Kathy.

Settling beside her Animal breathed a sigh of relief as the cool waters swept away the dust and heat from his dry wind burned skin. Watching with a sly smile Kathy stood up and washed the dirt and grime from his back and shoulders. Low setting rays of sunlight sparkled in the crystals of liquid rhinestones on her well toned form. Droplets ran down her breast and fell from her gold piercings. Her hair gently brushed his chest as she reached over his arms to splash water down his crimson burnt skin. Sliding over to sit beside him she softly said, “Thank you for saving me out there today. If you hadn't come along when you did...,” the expression on her face said it all.

Animal didn't reply with words he just smiled and brushed the hair from her face. Kathy placed her head on his arm as they watched as the sun made it's farewell to the day with a spectacular array of colors in varying shades of orange, reds and purples. The last fading rays reflected off the clouds giving the appearance of neon tipped brushstrokes seemingly applied by the unseen hand of Michelangelo. Animal gently gathered Kathy up in his arms and carried her over to the blanket. Setting her down, he grasped her hand and said, “I'll be right back.” He walked over to the nearby boulder, retrieving the sun cooked chili and reaching into his cooler procured two bottles of beer and some utensils, and then headed back to join Kathy on the blanket. "Hope you like chili and beer.”

“Right about now I could eat lizards raw, but it just so happens I love chili and beer!” smiled Kathy.

After lighting the pile of mesquite surrounded by rocks Animal had set up earlier, they ate in silence watching the stars coalesce into view.
“Tomorrow we will ride to a place a good friend of mine lives. Then we will decide who to contact and what to do about all this.” said Animal.
She nodded in ascent and lay on her back pressing in against his hip. Animal reclined beside her, pulled her in tight and wrapped a blanket around them.

Morning came with the harsh return of sunlight reflecting over the waters of the stream. After putting on the river washed clothes they had left drying on the branches of a greasewood bush, Animal and Kathy erased all traces of having been there, packed Heather for the ride out. Animal pointed out over the desert. “Pop lives about fifty miles past that mountain in the distance. Once we get there we'll be better able to decide what we need to do.”

Heather awakened from her slumber shook and rumbled to life. Animal stepped her into gear and rolled her onto the dirt road leading away from the river. Keeping Heather’s speed slow to conserve what little gas she still had. The miles to the nearby mountain seemed to grow with each passing minute.

Spotting a silvery flash out in the nearby wash Animal stopped Heather, shut her off and speaking to Kathy said, “Wait here.” He dismounted and walked toward the source. An abandoned four-wheel drive truck was resting partially covered by the sand of the dry river bottom. Animal, hoping against hope, twisted the gas cap off the fuel tank, leaned in close and sniffed the fumes emanating forth. Gas!

Looking inside the truck’s cab, he found a three gallon water jug behind the driver’s seat. Pulling it out, he placed it under the truck’s gas line. Opening his multi-tool, he sliced the line and golden liquid poured forth into the jug. Elated at his sudden good fortune, Animal didn't even notice his muscles’ painful protest in carrying the jug back to Heather. He topped off her twin fat bob tanks and tossed the jug back toward the wash.
Animal shoved Heather’s kick start and she responded with her characteristic roar. Not having to conserve fuel Animal twisted the throttle ran Heather up thru the gears and covered the miles ahead in just over an hour.

Arriving at the well isolated ranch, Heather was ridden into the barn and covered over with a hay tarp. Animal and Kathy headed towards the main house. Sitting at the picnic table on the long covered porch, Pop was waiting with three hearty breakfasts and a pitcher of hot fresh coffee.

Animal smiled and said, “You were expecting us?” Laughing, Pop replied, “That old shovel of yours is so damn loud you couldn't sneak up on a Stones concert and Heather's distinctive bellow makes her all the more identifiable. Besides, you two are all over the news this morning, something about espionage? I knew you'd be arriving soon, after all where the hell else were you gonna go?”

Animal sat down and motioned Kathy to join them. She walked over slowly and sat next to Animal across from Pop while he continued on, “I made some phone calls and it seems that you two are wanted for stealing top secret files from the Tucson NSA Agency. There's a million dollar bounty on your heads dead or alive.”

“Are you gonna turn us in?” asked Kathy.

Pop could hardly keep from falling of the bench in laughter at that question. “Animal is more than a brother and son to one will be turning anybody in around here, I can assure you. I will make a few calls and we will have trusted brother bikers up here in no time flat.” Animal finishing off the last bit of corned beef hash on his plate, stood up and said, “I'll go make some calls myself and see if I can get a little more detail concerning the case.” He walked into the cabin and closed the door.

Pop and Kathy continued eating. Kathy looked up at Pop and asked, “How did he get the name Animal?”

“Well what did he tell you?”

“He never said, but I could guess,” she said suggestively.

“Well then, you'd be wrong,” chortled Pop. “I gave him that name myself when he was just a young lad. I found him being jumped by a gang of teenagers, he fought them all off like a caged Animal...the name stuck even after I adopted him as my son.”

“What about his parents?”

“They were killed in Mexico by a drug smuggler for refusing to help bring cocaine across the border.”

“What else can you tell me about him?”

“Nothing,” Pop replied, “If you have any questions about Animal, you’re better off asking him yourself.”

Animal was never known for wasting time when it came to finding the details of a case. Today certainly would be no exception. Picking up the old style rotary phone he allowed himself a momentary smile. Things never change around this house, he thought. Pop was as stubborn and predictable as triple digit temperatures in a Sonoran desert summer. Animal remembered asking as a teenager why they couldn't have a new phone with touch tone dialing and Pop's gruff reply, “Why spend money for new-fangled phone when it could be better spent on our bikes?” Back then, Animal couldn't argue against the logic, thinking to himself, “Still can't.”

Placing a call to a direct line of the head of U.S Border Protection Service using his old undercover alias, the call was placed straight through.

“Commissioner Henderson speaking.”

“George it's me, Animal. I need to know what the hell all these espionage charges are all about. Who is claiming I had any part in this?”

“All I can tell you is they are showing footage around the agency of a biker and his female passenger busting through the gate at N.S.A I checked the footage myself and the chopper’s three exhaust pipes exiting from the front of the engine told me clearly it wasn't you. Commissioner Henderson was a longtime collector of rare vintage American bikes and knew exactly what to look for. “Somebody is setting you up. And they're doing a damn good job of it.”

“What is it they are saying was stolen?”

“N.S.A is being tight-lipped about the details. Our division of Homeland Security is being kept in the dark. Even the White House is keeping silent about this. None of my contacts there will mention anything about it. Whatever it was you stepped in, I hope you have a long snorkel because this is some deep shit. I'll keep looking to see what I can dig up. How can I get hold of you?”

Animal replied, “I still have the satellite phone from the Panama mission around here someplace, call me on that, I doubt anybody will still be monitoring that old frequency. Even if they are, the built in encryption should still hold them off for a while.”

Pop's sudden yell to “Run” was followed by a sudden rain of ordinance that tore half the house to splinters in a fraction of an instant. A growling sound and a sudden boom of a jet engine passing overhead told Animal what was happening: an A10 gunship was firing on the house.

Jumping through an open window he sprinted toward the barn following Pop and Kathy. Once inside they ran to an old horse stall and swept away the hay covering a door. Grasping the clasp and swinging the door ajar, they jumped down the steps to an underground bunker. The bunker had been part of the property when Pop had purchased it in a government auction back in the early seventies. It had been used as an underground hydroponics lab for growing marijuana.

The A10's gun shredded the barn just as they reached the bottom steps leading into the interior. Pop looked at Animal, pointed to the ceiling and said, “I don't know what the hell you got yourself into son, but I can guarantee you there's gonna be some serious payback for this.”

Friday, September 5, 2008

Desert Vengeance

85 miles per hour was the sweet spot on Heather, cresting the long rise and peering down the miles long straight stretch of deserted highway.

Animal was kicking back and enjoying life just for the sake of it. Boots on the forward controls, his left hand splayed across the bottom of his 'king tank', right hand palming the throttle, twin cylinders singing a note of contentment.

‘Life is good’ was the mantra repeating itself over and over in his head.

The air was so crisp, clear and cool. Animal's bike had an extra helping of torque and horsepower today...Heather was loving the extra charge of oxygen.

A momentary blip of the throttle and Heather jumped to over a 100 in an instant. Rolling off the throttle brought the iron mare back to 85. Animal yelled out over the bike's sound an earsplitting, "Yeaaaah!"

Having no demands on his time, a pocket full of cash and no particular destination in mind, it was the ultimate taste of freedom.
Reaching the end of the long straightaway he saw a rest area up on his right, smoothly downshifting, he slowed and rolled up to a shaded picnic table, shifted into neutral, switched the bike off and kicked out the side-stand. Stepping off the bike, he allowed himself a long slow stretch.

Pulling a pack of smokes and a tall cool drink from the cooler in his saddlebag, he proceeded over to the table. Instead of sitting he lay on his back across the table and watched the eagles soaring overhead. 'Yep, life is good." he whispered aloud to the majestic gliding birds. He thought to himself, "This day would be absolutely perfect if I had a lady to share it with." Another voice in his head replied, "Still, it's a damn great day.

In his relaxed state of mind he started to drift of to sleep. "Mister?" a voice from the nearby sagebrush called out to him. Thinking for a moment that he was dreaming Animal almost didn't respond. "Hey Mister." came the voice again. Animal rolled over off of the table and walked toward the sound.

'Hello?" answered Animal questioningly. A young woman emerged from the bushes and asked, "Can you spare a drink?" Animal looked around the park and saw no vehicle other than his bike and asked, "Where the hell did you come from?"

“My boyfriend kicked me out of the car yesterday and left me here,” she replied.

“You've been here overnight?” Animal replied as he walked over to the bush and peered under it,”With no blanket or anything?”

Standing back and taking stock of what the girl was wearing; Animal couldn't believe the girl was still alive. The desert can get damn cold at night, all she had on was a pair of Daisy Duke shorts and a halter top with knee high boots. It wasn't exactly the sort of clothing that fostered overnight survival.

“If that's the case, this is one tough chick,” Animal chuckled to himself. Still he found it odd that she was looking no worse for wear.

“Do you need a ride into town?” Animal asked. “Yes I do,” replied the girl, “but I don't think I want to ride on a motorcycle. I have never been on one and they look very scary. I'm afraid I'll fall off.”

Animal smiled and thought to himself, I've heard this a few times. ”You don't need to worry; there is a sissy bar on the back to keep that from happening. All you gotta do is keep yourself centered on the seat and hold onto me if you need to.”

The girl looked at Animal and over at his bike and seemed to be contemplating whether to take the ride or face the prospect of another night in the desert. It didn't take long to make a decision. Cautiously she replied, “I guess it would be okay to ride into town...If you ride slow and easy.”

Animal laughed and said, “Don't worry; I'll get you there safe and sound.” He pointed to the picnic table and continued, “But first lets get you something to drink and I have a couple of sandwiches in my saddlebags. You'll feel better after you have had something in your stomach. By the way what's your name?”

At first she didn't respond. She looked as if she was wrestling with the idea of giving this stranger her name. Finally she half whispered, “Kathy.” Sensing her discomfort at being asked, Animal didn't pursue the subject any further.

As the two just sat and ate quietly, Animal had a recurring thought that all wasn't as it appeared...but couldn't see any evidence to the contrary. Dismissing it as old habits from his former career as an undercover customs agent, he relegated the idea to the back of his mind.

“Would you mind if I had one of your smokes?” she asked. “Help yourself,” said Animal. Drawing a long drag from her cigarette, Animal could see that Kathy relaxed a bit. Finishing it and stubbing it out on the concrete slab she looked over at Animal and said, “I'm ready whenever you are.”

Animal packed up the contents of his saddlebags and threw a leg over the bike, motioning for her to get on the back. “Just place your foot here on this peg and swing your leg over.” She did as he asked. Animal wondered if she did it just a little too easily for a novice.

Bringing Heather to life, he waited for the knee-squeeze that always accompanied a new girl’s first reaction to the shaking and loud rumble. When she didn’t respond at all it struck him as more than a little odd. The thought nagged at him as he shifted into gear and pulled out from the rest area.

After he got up to a cruising speed of 70 mph, Kathy leaned back against the sissy bar and Animal could feel her settle in for the ride. 20 minutes later, as they were approaching town, her casual posture almost made Animal wonder if she had fallen asleep.

Rolling down the town's main drag, Animal saw a group of bikes parked in front of a local tavern. He slowed and started to turn into a parking spot. Kathy suddenly seemed to come to life, and now he felt the familiar knee-squeeze, extremely tight, and she grabbed his shoulders and pleaded into his ear, "Don't stop here, keep going, get out of town!" Animal twisted the throttle and took off.

Reaching a few miles outside of town, Animal pulled over to the side of the road, shut off the bike and turned on his seat and said, “OK, what gives? What the hell was that all about?”

“I haven't exactly been truthful with you.” she replied.
“No shit. But now would be the time to come clean,” said Animal.
Tears were welling up in her eyes as she looked at Animal and mumbled, “Those bikes you saw in town....they are looking for me.”

“What the hell for?” Animal yelled. He was getting a sinking feeling in his gut as he waited for her response. This 'good day' was looking like it was going to hell pretty damn quickly. Suddenly, Kathy jumped to a standing position on Heather’s foot pegs and screamed, “They’re heading this way!”

Glancing over his shoulder, Animal witnessed ten sport bikes screaming out of town and heading in their direction. Animal figured an explanation was gonna have to wait. Waiting on what sounded like a pack of angry diuretic mosquitoes didn't look to be a healthy pastime. Animal started Heather; her angry, deep-throated bellow spurred into action with a twist of the throttle. He shifted into gear and laying rubber for 20 feet, hurdled out on the asphalt. Knowing that even on her best day, Heather couldn't outrun the pursuing multicolored wraith that was rapidly approaching.

Looking for a means of escape, Animal saw a Cadillac heading into town towards them. Figuring to at least have a witness to what, at this point, wasn’t looking good, Animal aimed to close in on the vehicle.
The oncoming Caddy driver was less than a quarter mile away and closing quickly. Animal looked into his rear view mirror to see the pursuing bikes no less than a hundred feet behind him and one was almost abreast of Heather.

“Damn.” thought Animal, “they caught up quick.” The lead rider pulled almost even alongside Heather. Looking forward, Animal saw the Caddy driver stick his hand out and before he had time to react, he saw a flash and heard a loud pop. Instinctively swerving, the bullet ricocheted off the triple clamp of his front forks. Adrenaline caused his eyes to follow the path of the bullet, and then he watched as the rider next to him flipped backwards off of his mount as his face plate imploded. The now rider-less bike continued on following a straight line, narrowly missing the oncoming Caddy.

“One down,” flashed in Animals consciousness. Not wanting to be in line for another shot from the Caddy driver, he swerved sharply to the left across the path of the Caddy. The driver, reacting to the sudden move, yanked his wheel left and in doing so, had turned into the headlights of the onrushing bikes. Two bikes became a mangled twisted decoration of the Caddy’s grill. The helmeted riders flew along the hood and into the windshield. Before the Caddy driver could get the fabled image of life flashing before his was game over.

Animal witnessed the melee in his mirrors just before Heather decided she was a trail bike, taking to the air across a drain gully, barely clearing with the front tire. The rear tire landed partially on the ledge and forward momentum pushed Heather out into the desert.

Animal turned to see three more sport bikes go down; one high siding and sliding into the roadside ditch, two others didn't make the leap, impacting straight into the side. The resulting effect looked as if some lunatic farmer was planting wheels. Animal's innate sense of wit popped the question, “I wonder if that counts as a bumper crop?” Before his subconscious could respond with a retort, Animal rolled the throttle open wide and hauled ass over the barren desert.

The harsh terrain was giving Animal a fighting chance of escape. Heather’s rugged frame, born from decades of dirt and board-track racing was sufficient enough to handle the strain; the factory had built her well. The pursuing plastic-covered rice-rockets could not hold up to that kind of abuse. Animal noted that the remaining four riders didn't even attempt it. They headed down the road looking for a pathway leading in his direction.

Animal saw a trail heading up between the mountains ahead and steered Heather toward it. Downshifting and letting Heather’s ample torque pull them up the mountainside, he spotted an old mine entrance. Rolling in just enough to be out of sight, he shut off the bike and set her on her kickstand.
Turning to his ashen-faced passenger, he could see the fear in Kathy’s eyes. He realized growling at her wasn't gonna help. After taking a minute to breathe and give her a chance to regain some composure Animal calmly asked, "Are you ready to tell me what the hell is going on?"

Kathy wailed, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, so, so sorry! I didn't mean to get you mixed-up in all this."

"Just what is all this?" questioned Animal as he pointed outside. "Why are all those people after you?"

"The riders you saw are computer chip smugglers. I was catching a ride from a guy I knew, and we were just supposed to be going on a long cruise. When we stopped at that rest area you met me at, I had opened his backpack to get a drink when I saw computer chips stamped 'Classified - Government Property'. The leader of the group saw me and pulled a gun. I ran into the bushes to get away. They all started running after me, so I jumped down a rocky ledge and found a hiding spot. That's when I realized that I still had the backpack in my hand. Two of the group passed by almost on top of me and I heard them screaming that they needed to find the bag because they were supposed to meet the buyer today. They searched all morning, then I heard them arguing that I must have doubled back and could have gotten a ride into town. At that point, they all ran to their bikes and took off toward town. Later when you pulled in, I wasn't sure if you were the buyer they had been waiting for. That's why I lied to you."

For a very brief moment Animal thought back over the day and wondered if somehow he had accidentally ingested some peyote for breakfast and this was just a bad trip. The pain in his aching back from the gut-busting ride told him that no, this was real.

Animal had dealt with smugglers when he was still a customs agent; he knew too well the lengths they would go to avoid being caught. This was a dangerous game of cat and mouse he had stumbled into. Animal got a mischievous gleam in his eye and thought too bad for kitty because this particular mouse had a nasty bite.

Looking over at Kathy he tossed her pack of smokes and calmly asked her to stay put while he went out to assess the surroundings. Stepping out of the mine into the exposed mountainside he looked over the desert below, two separate dust plumes below told him the four riders had paired off and took different paths. He could see that at least one pair had found the old mining road and would soon be heading up his way.

Animal decided that it would be rude of him not to be a gracious host and prepare a welcome. Heading back into the mine he opened his saddlebag and pulled out a leather pouch. Untying the knotted string the contents unrolled to reveal a silver gilded pommel of a custom made bowie knife. Animal reflected for an instant that it had been 5 years since the blade had seen daylight. The custom hilted knife had been a gift from a grateful family that had been threatened by drug-runners. Animal had saved the mother and daughter from being shot in a firefight. Shot in the thigh he had still managed to kill two attackers with his bare hands. The resulting wound from the firefight forced him to early retirement. Extreme cold or humidity always gave a noticeable limp in his gait. Still, he'd gladly pay the price again anytime to save a woman or child. Unsheathing the blade Animal heard Kathy gasp in shock. Attaching the scabbard to his belt he walked over to her and spoke in a soft tone, “Don’t worry, I will get us through this”.

Kathy looked and saw the Machiavellian twinkle in his eyes and his quiet confidence. She somehow knew the pursuing killers had just picked a fight they had no clue how to win.

Animal retrieved a 50 foot roll of stainless steel multi-strand cable, ten times as strong as the best test fishing line ever devised and just as thin. He pulled out a custom purpose built multi-tool and it's nylon-leather constructed sheath and attached it to the inside of his vest. The last item from the collection was a telescoping nightstick, which, when collapsed fit into his left boot’s sewn in holster. Animal carried no gun; he stopped carrying when he retired. Too many mothers’ sons had met their (deserved) express ticket to hell at the end of his desert eagle. Remembering that it had been his job didn't always make it easier to sleep at night. Animal didn't particularly like killing, but had no compunctions when it was necessary for survival. Then there was days like today...when they came out shooting first.

Animal was making reservations for the sport riders. Lucifer was gonna gain few more arrivals today. Hope he's got his furnace warmed up, thought Animal.

Stepping out from the entrance once again, Animal headed down the trail away from the mine. 1500 feet down the mountain he found the place to spring his trap. Towering saguaro cactuses flanked both sides of the mining path. Tying the steel filament across the roadway just above handle bar height would certainly do the trick. Animal walked 100 feet back up the road, paused to light a smoke and waited for his guests.

The yapping cylinders of the oncoming riders gained in intensity as they saw Animal standing in the road casually smoking a cigarette. Furious at his audacity, both riders downshifted and poured on the fuel. Twin helmets went sailing out over the desert air as the headless bikers and their whining mounts flew forward and exploded on impact with the boulders along the trail.

Animal surveyed the carnage and knew the smoke and flames would be seen for miles. He knew he had gotten off easy with the first pursuers. He wouldn't be so lucky with the remaining two. He knew they would be aggressive in their approach. Heading back into the mine, Animal told Kathy it was time to go.

Rolling in second gear, taking advantage of the engine’s braking power, they headed down the opposite side of the mountain. From this vantage point on the trail, Animal and Kathy could see police cars arriving at the highway wreckage.

A sudden flash of yellow off to his right warned Animal that the remaining two riders had found them. He leaped onto the highway from the dirt road that paralleled the highway. The sport bikes rapidly closed the gap. Flanking Animal on both sides, the rider to his left reached for his holster and started to pull out his gun. The one on his right pulled in close and tried to grab Animal’s forearm. Before Animal could react, Kathy pulled his knife from its sheath, swung the blade wide and brought it down on the grabby biker’s neck. The bike veered off crashing in a whirl of dust and gravel. The left side rider pulled out to the left and thinking they had no weapons opened his faceplate to better sight his nine millimeter. He leaned in closer to look Animal in the eyes before he killed him. Lining up the shot, he was shocked to see Animal look back at him and smile deviously. Before he could pull the trigger, Animal reached and pulled the nightstick out of his boot and shoved it into the front wheel, sending a flaming yellow comet cart wheeling end over end down Main Street.

Animal downshifted and brought Heather to a sliding stop. A lone rider was sitting on his bike in the middle of the street. A sheriff’s car was parked next to it. While revving his engine and taking a long hard look at Animal, the rider spun his mount around and headed away out of town. The sheriff turned on his blues and started heading in Animal’s direction.
Animal looked over his shoulder and quietly said to Kathy "This goes higher up and deeper than we thought, and it isn’t over yet." Spurring Heather into gear they headed out across the desert.