Jared H. vs. ML Grider
Back in 5 mins
The sticky note interrupted the iridescent profile of the Pearly Gates, like a hiccup.
“Back in 5 mins,” it read in looping scrawl.
Mark looked around. A gold fence, at least a hundred feet high, sprouted from honey-colored clouds that stretched out for infinity. An unseen harp played a simple yet tranquil tune to match the empty expanse. Whiffs of lavender and primrose filled his nose. Heaven was just as the Evangelicals described it. Point for Western Christianity.
Except for the note and waiting for an angel to come back from a bathroom break, or whatever took five minutes up here. That he hadn’t anticipated.
Mark’s fingers drifted to the array of charms dangling from his neck. He pushed aside a silver Magen David, flipped away a gold Om, and caressed a brass cross. A dozen other icons and amulets jangled in protest. Yes, the Pearly Gates were here, but it was too soon to remove these adornments. He didn’t yet know who would greet him. Saint Peter? Riswan? Some being who would guide him to a state of Nirvana? Joseph Smith? So many religions claimed monopoly on the afterlife, he had to hedge his bets. He had to be sure.
He had his baby sister to thank for that. During her funeral, the sermonizing priest deviated from Christ’s resurrection to chastise any parent who didn’t baptized their children.
“There is only one way into Heaven, and that is by baptism,” the priest said. His eyes spotlighted Mark’s mother with righteous fury and disdain.
She sobbed for a week straight after. Then, drying her cheeks and donning her best dress, the one embroidered with periwinkle flowers, she dragged Mark to Sunday Services. But when they arrived at their usual meeting house, she paused only long enough to make sure the priest watched them walk across the street to the Methodist church.
This new faith had prayers that were like the ones Mark was used to, but different enough to leave him puzzled and disoriented. It was like stepping into his house to find all his belongings rearranged. More confusing, the new pastor said God already decided who was going to Heaven. Apparently it didn’t matter what Mark did, not even if he were baptized.
When Mark asked his mother why they had changed churches, and why she chose the Methodists over the Catholics or the Seventh Day Adventists (they all had buildings on the same street, after all) she only smiled.
"Just have faith,” she said, then pat his head before taking down the Virgin Mary figurine and replacing it with a picture of a blue-eyed Jesus.
Her answer sat on Mark like a stone. Faith, yes, but which one? Didn’t that matter? The priest and the pastor seemed to be convinced that their brand of belief was the only correct version. And what about all the other churches? They all couldn’t be right, could they?
Mark decided the only way to be sure was to try them all.
By the time he was thirteen, he had been baptized ten times by as many methods. A Pentecostal preacher dunked him in a river, a kindly Anglican vicar sprinkled him with water, and a Greek Orthodox priest with a saintly beard had touched his forehead with a wet thumb. He liked their prayers, found comfort in their congregations, and enjoyed the fellowship he felt on their holy days. But there were so many others.
At night he would lie awake staring at the ceiling fan spinning, spinning, spinning; a propeller that didn’t know it was attached to a building, not an airplane. It felt like a warning. How many people were as equally determined yet immobile? How many prayed or fasted or bowed or tithed in hopes of seeing the afterlife, not knowing that whatever God lived beyond the veil would reject them because they prayed the wrong words, or fasted on the wrong days, or bowed to the wrong Saints, or tithed to the wrong tax-exempt 501(c)(3)?
He would stare at the fan, heart pounding in time to its tick and sway, until exhaustion took him into slumber. In his dreams, the words ‘OH, SO CLOSE’ were carved onto the doorway to Hell.
By seventeen, he could recite any passage from the Quran and the Talmud, and was accepted in mosque, synagogue, and seminary. The more he learned, the more he got them mixed up. It was easy when they used the same stories, for the most part. Just a few alterations and disagreements here or there.
His twentieth birthday found him meditating with monks in Nepal. His twenty-third, leading Shinto prayers in Japan. At twenty-five he could name all the ocean deities of the Pacific Islanders. At thirty, could divine the wishes of his ancestors along with the best spiritualists of the Congo.
At forty he didn’t know which rituals would get him into Heaven, or what Heaven awaited, if there was even one at all. But he loved each paster, each priest, each shaman. Faith, he learned, was not the opiate of the masses, it was the masses. In the end, were any so different?
Perhaps not, but why risk it?
Five minutes. Why was it taking so long? Surely more time had passed. Was time different in the afterlife? He surveyed the landscape again. The space beyond the Pearly Gates looked as equally vacant and empty. Where were all the people?
“Sorry, sorry, didn’t mean to keep you waiting,” a voice behind him said. Mark turned, looked down, and gasped.
Curved black eyes embedded in a bulbous, gray head stared up at him. The thing raised a three-fingered hand in greeting.
“Welcome to Heaven,” it said. A slit of a mouth pulled into a smile, revealing needle-point teeth.
“You’re a —” Mark said, his throat desert dry. “An —“
The thing stiffened. The grin (if that’s what it was, Mark really couldn’t tell) faded. It pushed past him to the Pearly Gates, plucked off the sticky note, crumpled it, then tossed it into a nearby bank of clouds.
“A what?” it said, turning. “What am I? Go on, finish it.”
Mark forced his tongue to shape the syllables. “Alien?”
The thing sighed.
“Great. You’re one of those humans,” it said. It folded its spider-leg-thin arms. “Look, the universe is a really, really big place, okay? Humans aren’t the only ones out there. You all seem fine with the concept of extra-terrestrial life, but an afterlife?” It threw up its hands in mock surprise. “That you seem to think is just for you. You’re the alien to me, you get that, right?”
Mark’s head spun. No religion spoke of this. No scripture, no prophet, no vision reported aliens on the Other Side, as the guardians of Heaven.
“Are you Christian?” Mark asked, his voice a squeak. “Or Jewish?” He fumbled for the symbols around his neck. “Hindu?”
The thing rubbed its ponderous forehead.
“I can’t believe you just asked that.” It stepped closer, its black eyes reflecting Mark’s pale face. “We really only have one requirement here: no bigots. Just people who can accept others, no matter who,” it paused “or what, they are. So if you can’t handle that, you really should have spent your life learning not to judge.”
It snapped its fingers. The clouds gave way under Mark’s feet and he dropped. His icons and amulets and charms — all equally useless now — hovered in his face as flame and brimstone swallowed him.
The Lost Job
Friday, August, 10, 1990
That olive green wagon was a on a mission. It clearly knew where it was going, and it was in a hurry to get there. It was going way too fast and had made too many turns to be lost.
Lieutenant Colonel Steve “Hannibal” Utley of the sixty-ninth Special Operations Unit watched the civilian vehicle turn off the access road onto the hidden driveway that led up to the armory through his field glasses. Undercover cars were always the same; they were either Crown Vics or station wagons, and they were always brown, dark tan, or pea green. The real give away was the lack of wheel covers. Even when they were smart enough to take off radio antennas and the spotlights they never put a cover over the black pressed steel rims. The dark green station wagon was obviously an unmarked government vehicle; it may as well have had said “Police” on the side and had a light bar on top. That car had to be the FBI, or CIA, or maybe even NSA. The feds were on to them.
With only days left to zero hour, he hated to abandon the operation now and go back on the run with Lieutenant Colonel Crouch. He and Tom had worked so hard to prepare Operation White Dragon that he just couldn’t walk away without knowing how their security had been breached. That meant interrogating the traitor driving that car.
Amy Dresden slammed the door of her baby shit green ’72 Vista Cruiser so hard that the sun visor fell open. The jolt was too much for the brittle old rubber band holding all the business cards, receipts, snapshots and other miscellaneous junk. They fluttered down on her like confetti. She pounded her fists against the steering wheel and made a sound not unlike a cat stuck in a washing machine. How could she have been so stupid?
It was a good part, that’s how, and it would have led to other parts too. It wasn’t exactly Blanche DuBois but it was a speaking part. Okay her only lines were asking the sheriff if he wanted to come inside the saloon, have a drink and maybe take her upstairs before he shot it out with the outlaw. But it was screen time opposite the star of the picture. She would even have had a close up, and a real screen credit.
But the sleazeball director decided at the last minute that all the women in the saloon had to be topless. He didn’t even have the courtesy to say it to her face. After sitting around all day waiting for her scene in full costume, the director’s pusillanimous assistant came into the makeup trailer and whispered to the wardrobe woman.
The next thing Amy knew was the wardrobe mistress was telling all the girls in the bar seen to strip down to corsets, stockings and bare breasts. When Amy refused to grin and bear, it she was fired on the spot.
Amy over crancked the ignition and the starter motor made a noise much like the one she had just made. It wasn’t good to drive angry. The last thing she wanted was to hit a rock on the dirt road and take off her oil pan or get stuck in a ditch. It was well over thirty miles back to LA. She tightened her fingers around the steering wheel and took a deep breath and let it out slowly.
She should have known better. It was always like that in this business, especially with independent films like this one. If the producer didn’t expect her to put out at the auditions, the director would eventually want her to put out in front of the camera. Talent didn’t enter into it, casting always came down to just two things, and whether or not she was willing to put them on display.
She put the car in gear and glanced in the rearview mirror before backing up. On the opposite side parking lot, glittering bright red even through the thick layer of dust from the dirt road that led to the shooting location was the director’s shiny new Mercedes-Benz SL convertible. Ever so slowly she eased her foot off the brake pedal. The 455-cubic-inch Oldsmobile engine was notorious for jumping off the line if she wasn’t careful. The crunch of crumpling fender and tinkle of breaking glass from the Nazi war machine was at least a small consolation for refusing to deploy her own airbags.
She didn’t even bother to get out and look at the damage. She knew good and well that the huge steel bumper of her early 70s land yacht would had given better than it got. That’s what bumpers were for after all. Only the lack of a paved surface prevented her from burning rubber as she launched out of the parking area. She turned the wheel straight and punched it, kicking up rooster tails of dust behind her and showering the little roadster with dirt and gravel.
That will take some time to buff out.
She knew she was going too fast for the dirt road, but she didn’t care. The dust cloud she was raising would hang in the air for at least an hour and cause the director of photography to rush his precious Panaflex Platinum cameras into the trailer to protect them from the grit. That would set the shooting schedule back at least two hours. It was mean and evil, but so was suddenly forcing her and the other extras to go topless or be fired.
The dust and her rage had another consequence she hadn’t even counted upon. Because of the loss of visibility, she became confused on the maze of back roads leading in and around Vasquez Rocks Natural Area. After an hour of driving aimlessly in circles, she found herself on a dirt path that was more like a horse trail than a road. It seemed to be heading in the opposite direction to where she wanted to go.
She slowed down a little; after all, it wouldn’t do to get stuck. Especially way the hell out here in the back of beyond. There was no way a tow truck would come all the way out here to get her even if she could find a phone to call one. And how would she tell the driver where to go if she didn’t have any idea where she was.
She passed through a cattle gate and took that as a good sign. That meant she was getting close to something at least. She slowed to ten miles per hour. About a mile past the gate there was an old, sun-bleached, wooden barn.
At first glance the building looked abandoned, but the scrub grass had been beaten down into tire tracks leading up to the door. It didn’t take Davy Crocket to see someone in a car was coming and going pretty regularly.
As much as she hated admitting she needed help to find her way back to the main road, she had to find someone, anyone, to tell her the way. At least as a woman she could admit she was lost and stop to ask for directions. A man would have driven halfway across Arizona before he stopped.
She parked about twenty feet from the big door. Mostly out of habit she slung her oversized bag over her shoulder and locked her car door before she approached. The main door to the barn was open just wide enough for a person to squeeze through without too much difficulty. Still, she tried knocking first. There was no answer. She stuck her head through the door and called out. Nothing.
After the glaring desert sun, the interior of the barn was almost pitch black. She slipped through the opening and stood there motionless while her eyes adjusted to the darkness. Gradually shapes began to emerge from the shadows. First sharp-edged white stripes, where the sun forced its way between the boards of the walls made an abstraction of shapes in a herringbone pattern. Finally the shapes began to take familiar forms. There were empty stables along the walls, and rusty farm tools scattered all around, making the place seem abandoned.
Except. Thinking at first it was a mirage she blinked and rubbed her big blue eyes. It didn’t make any sense at all. It was so out of place in this rustic setting that Amy had to stare at it almost a full minute before she believed it wasn’t a trick of the light. But one of those stripes of daylight cut through the gold and brown shield and illuminated the logo, u.p.s. all lower case.
What in the name of Schweinepriester was a UPS truck doing out here in the middle of nowhere? The back doors of the brown truck were open. Amy cautiously peered inside. She didn’t know what she expected to find. But instead of piles of boxes to be delivered, the entire twenty-four-foot cargo space was filled with steel fifty-five-gallon drums.
Maybe it was some kind of special food for the livestock, she was after all in a barn, and the driver was off looking for the farmer to take delivery. But there weren’t any animals in the barn. Maybe it was fertilizer, but she hadn’t seen any crops either.
“Find any clues, Daphne? Drop the bag and turn around nice and slow.”
There was no way she was going to drop her bag on the dirt floor. It was a genuine Coach bag, and even though she had bought it from an outlet store for a considerable discount, she still had to shell out two hundred and fifty dollars for it. She turned around very slowly, and smiled.
“I’m so glad I finally found someone, I must have turned…” She fell silent when she saw the gun. The guy behind the gun was close to her age, give or take a year. He was dressed in an odd combination of civilian hunting gear and army surplus desert camouflage and some sort of khaki bullet proof vest with silver oak leaves on the collar. His skin was baked a dark brown from months under the desert sun. Amy dropped her expensive bag in the dirt.
“Kick it over here,” he said without moving. As much as she liked her bag, she understood it wasn’t worth her life.
“I didn’t mean to trespass, I—”
“Don’t try and bullshit me about trespassing. You know goddam-good-and-well you can’t set foot on private property without a warrant.”
“A warrant? What are you—”
“Cute, Them sending in a pretty woman. Probably figured we wouldn’t shoot a chick, huh? Who sent you? The FBI, ATF?”
“Nobody sent me, I’m just lost.”
“Lost my ass. Who do you work for?”
“I don’t work for anybody; as a matter of fact, I just got fired. I must have made a wrong turn in all the dust. I was just looking for someone to give me directions back to the road.”
“Right. How dumb do you think we are? Hot babes like you don’t go randomly wondering around in the desert poking into old barns. Steve and me ’ill get the truth out of you as soon as he gets here. In the meantime, hands against the van, feet apart.” He gestured with the gun. She moved around to the side of the van turned her back and put her hands on the hot steel.
How could this be happening? Five minutes ago her only problems were finding her way back to the road. Now this mouth breather was going to feel her up. Why did every man she met think he could do anything he wanted to her just because she was pretty? She couldn’t let him get away with it any more than she could let the director force her into getting naked.
Not satisfied, he came up close behind her and hooked his foot around one of her ankles, forcing her to lean her entire weight against the truck. After he kicked her other foot out far enough to get her off balance, he stood close behind
Amy glanced to her right so she could see what he was doing in the oversized side mirror of the delivery van. He stood between her outstretched feet with his left arm extended all the way holding onto the back of her neck. With his right hand he awkwardly worked the gun into a tan nylon holster strapped to his right thigh.
Once he had secured the pistol, he slid both hands around her torso and squashed her breasts like he was milking a cow. He lowered them and worked his way around her abdomen. Then back up across her chest again, double checking that she didn’t have a .357 wedged in her bra. He obviously liked searching her chest. But there was little she could do as long as he kept her off balance and leaning against the truck.
His hands went south, across the Mason-Dixon Line, and did a quick once over of all six pockets of her cargo shorts. Finding nothing he did a little more exploring. His right hand found its way to her crotch and lingered there.
It was clear where this was going if she didn’t do something about it. Amy gritted her teeth and forced herself to endure the groping. As much as his touch appalled, her she had to go along with it.
“I bet you like that, don’t you?” he grunted. “If you like this, just wait till Steve-reamer gets here.” He pressed his groin against her butt and started to dry hump her. With his left hand he began to unbutton her shorts.
“Are all feds this sluty, or is it just you?”
Amy exhaled sharply and doubled over. Years of aerobics had made her so limber that reaching between her legs and grabbing his ankles was no problem for her. With a quick flex of her knees for added lift, she yanked his feet out from under him.
He fell backward like Buster Keaton in a tornado. She turned counterclockwise, and crushed his tiny teepee with her left heel. The crippling pain made him curl up into a ball on his left side gasping for breath. She had the advantage for now but it wouldn’t last long. If he was able to get back on his feet he was not going to be in a forgiving mood.
As he writhed in agony Amy ripped the handgun from his holster, took three steps back, and pointed it at her attacker with both hands. She just stood there.
“I should blow your head off, you fucking pervert.” But the gun did not fire. She clenched her teeth and tightened her grip on the gun so much that her knuckles turned white. The gun began to tremble in her hands, and sweat was making the black plastic stocks slippery. She adjusted her grip on the weapon and shifted her weight from one foot to the other. If she didn’t shoot soon, he would be back on his feet.
“Or—I could shoot you in the leg, blow your knee cap off.” She nodded. “That wouldn’t kill you, but you would just have to lay there and suffer until the cops came and got you.”
The gun was getting heavy, and hot. But she just could not make herself do it.
“Maybe not the knee though. I could shoot you in the leg, so you can’t get away until the cops can come and get you.” I could do that, just wound him. That way the police could take him to jail and make sure he never tries to rape anybody ever again. She pointed the gun at his calf. What if I hit an artery and he bleeds to death before they get here? I still don’t know where the hell I am…
Her attacker’s groans began to subside. She lowered the muzzle of the gun a little and looked around her.
“I suppose I could tie you up.”
Still gasping for breath, he rolled over on to his stomach and started to get up to his elbows and knees.
“Oh no, you don’t.” Without any hesitation she made a running start and kicked him so hard in the ribs that his body was lifted off the floor. She was convinced she felt ribs crack before he collapsed face first into the dirt, wheezing for breath.
He had attacked her and was obviously planning to rape her, at least. If she didn’t do something, he would eventually realize that she couldn’t bring herself to kill him, and he would attack her again. She had been able to take him by surprise before because he was preoccupied with groping her, but he wouldn’t fall for that again and if she couldn’t bring herself to use the gun, he had the advantage. She was tall and lean and remarkably strong for a woman, he had at least sixty pounds on her. She would be able to put up a good fight, but like the instructor in her self-defense class back home always said “the only good fight is a fight you win.”
I should at least tie him up. She looked around at the rusting tools and old farm implements decaying in the barn. There had to be some tack or bits of harness left she could use.
But she didn’t dare turn her back on him to look for any, and the gun was gaining weight faster than Kirstie Alley at an all-you-can-eat buffet. Even with both hands, she could hardly hold it up anymore. She couldn’t stand here all day kicking him every time he caught his breath until someone else showed up.
Until someone else showed up. Who exactly did she expect to show up out here in the middle of nowhere anyway, the U.S. Cavalry or maybe Lassie? It wasn’t as if anyone was out there looking for her. The police weren’t exactly patrolling the neighborhood either. She was on her own in the middle of nowhere. Then it hit her. Steve. “Steve and me ’ill get the truth out of you as soon as he gets here,” he had said. The groper was not alone.
It was time to go. Amy crab walked over to her good but somewhat dusty bag keeping the stainless steel anvil pointed in the groper’s direction. Giving him a wide berth she made her way to the door.
Pressing her back to the door and pointing the gun at him, she listened just to be sure Steve, whoever he was, wasn’t waiting out there for her. The only sound was the wind. She took a quick peek, then with the gun pointed ahead of her she squirmed through the gap and made a break for her Vista Cruiser.
As she ran she kept her head up, eyes darting all around for any sign of Steve. When she got to the car she squatted down with her back to the front left tire and dug around in her purse for her elusive car keys with her right hand, still holding the gun in her left.
Phone book, wallet, compact, box of Kleenex, empty Tic-Tac dispenser, half a dozen of Ted’s chipped guitar picks, a broken strand of fake pearls, one of the jade hoop earrings she had been looking for all last week, a packet of band-aids, old wadded up receipts, dried out ballpoint pens, and finally the car keys. Why was the thing she needed always at the very bottom under everything else?
Keys in hand, she took a deep breath, stood up and made one last scan of her surroundings. So far, no sign of the fabled Steve. Just as she jammed the key in the lock it dawned on her. She had seen it as she ran to the car but hadn’t realized it. All four tires were flat. She was desperate enough to try driving on four flats on a paved road but even with its monstrous 455-cubic-inch engine the Vista Cruiser wouldn’t get ten feet on this rutted dirt road.
She looked back at the barn. He was still in there, and Steve, whoever he was, was coming. She was stuck here with both of them. She looked at the weapon in her hand. The deep blue finish made her reflection seem dark and sinister. Without being able to bring herself to use the gun, it was like an albatross around her neck. She considered throwing it away but didn’t want to risk him getting it back. Even though she couldn’t bring herself to use it, at least as long as she had it, he couldn’t use it against her.
If she didn’t want to end up with a starring role on Unsolved Mysteries, she was going to have to use it. She sank back down on her hunches with her back to the car door, holding the gun in both hands. Could she really do that? It was them or her, but could she actually bring herself to take a human life? Even if they were planning to rape and do god only knows what else to her.
How could this be happening? All she did was take one wrong turn off the road and she was in the middle of a life and death struggle for survival. All she had to do was take her shirt off and she would have been in the movie with her name, along with a couple of other things on screen and a paycheck big enough to make three month’s rent. Would it really have been that bad? But what would she have told Ted or her father?
Was this the universe trying to tell her something? If she wasn’t willing to sell her body and her self-respect, it would take them by force. For refusing to take money to exploit herself she was now stranded in a wasteland in a running gun battle with two loonies. Was letting someone see her boobs really worth all that? Was not flashing her tits for thirty seconds in a movie worth letting a couple of militia nut jobs rape and kill her?
A couple of militia nut jobs. A couple? She hadn’t seen any proof that Steve existed. Maybe Romeo in the barn was alone and bluffing about the other guy to intimidate her. Or maybe there were more than just two? How many bullets were in this gun anyway? Six? No, that was for old-fashioned cowboy guns. This was an automatic. It could be as many as fifteen or twenty for all she knew.
She knew that there was a clip in the handle that held all the bullets, but it didn’t budge when she pulled on it. There had to be some sort of release or something, but before she could figure it out, she heard the distant sound of a car engine.
Jumping to her feet she saw the dust rising up over the road she had come in on. Her first thought was to go running to her rescuer. But was it a rescuer? Could this be Steve? Would he be armed too?
She crouched back down against the driver’s side door and held the gun in both hands. Better to know for sure than be caught by yet another psycho. She glanced back toward the barn; did she see someone move in the shadows? She pointed the gun at the door. If the pervert was up again, she didn’t want him coming out after her. Nothing moved.
She heard the car pull up; it stopped abruptly with her car between it and the barn. She heard the door open; its hinge could use a little WD-40. Boots crunched on the dry ground. Footsteps.
She looked to the barn door, something tan moved in it. Definitely. He was up again. The black plastic grips of the gun were getting slippery in her hands. The footsteps were closer.
“Slashing the tires, good job, Tom,” a male voice said from the far side of the car. It had to be Steve; who else would think that was a good idea? Half a face peeked over a window frame in the barn. She pointed the gun at it and it disappeared like a threatened prairie dog. But he had found enough wind to shout. “Look out, Steve, she’s got my nine!”
Amy stood straight up and faced Steve over the hood of the car. He was right there just six feet away staring at her over the hood in full combat gear with a handgun in one hand pointed up at the sky like Don Johnson in the late night reruns Ted liked so much.
She didn’t think about it, there was no time, she just did it. She pulled the trigger. Steve’s eyes widened, his jaw dropped and he screamed like a twelve-year-old girl at a New Kids on the Block concert. His eyes rolled back in his head and he dropped as if all of the bones in his body had turned to jelly.
For that instant, Amy thought she really had shot him. But there was no bang, weren’t guns supposed to kick or something? She still had the trigger pulled all the way back. But the gun hadn’t fired. No smoke no recoil no noise, her ears weren’t even ringing. And yet she had killed him.
“Steve!” the one still in the barn shouted. Amy turned back to him and tried to shoot. Still nothing. She released the trigger and pulled it all the way again, but it didn’t do anything, not even a click. What the fuck over?
She remembered seeing people cock guns like this one in the movies. Maybe that was the problem. She tried pulling back hard on the top part of the gun. The entire upper half slid easily back. An unfired bullet burst out of a hole in the side and bounced off her stomach. She jumped and almost dropped the gun.
She ran around the front of the car and found Steve sprawled out like a broken doll. As inert as Ted the morning after a gig or when the word “work” was mentioned. That’s was it, Steve wasn’t dead, he was just passed out. The big bad tough guy that was coming to help his buddy rape and murder her, had fainted dead away at the sight of the gun.
It was so ridiculous she actually laughed out loud. All dressed up in his paramilitary best he had fainted like a southern belle with the vapors. She moved around him to get the car between her and the barn then squatted down on the balls of her feet to retrieve the gun from his hand.
With her left foot on his limp wrist and the useless gun still pointed at his head, she crouched down. His gun was a little different, instead of being a deep blue color it was a chrome silver and had part of an old bicycle inner tube wrapped around the walnut panels on the handle. She grabbed the middle part over the trigger guard and yanked. As she pulled it up out of his hand his pudgy finger got caught on the trigger and the weapon discharged in her hand.
A burning shell case ejected out of the side, just like the unfired shell from the other gun, but this time burning powder and lead fragments stung her fingers. The top part snapped back and closed itself, recocking the gun as it flew out of her hand.
Amy screamed and jumped back counting her digits. One she was sure they were all still there she gingerly picked up the gun with two stinging fingers of her right hand. Well, at least she knew this one worked.
“Steve, did you get her?” the other attacker shouted as he wiggled halfway through the barn door. He stopped short and his face went pale when he saw her stand up, now with a gun in each hand. She leveled them both on him. His lip trembled and a dark stain appeared on the front of his pants. He made a whimpering noise and disappeared back into the barn like a Whac-a-Mole.
Amy switched hands and fired the silver gun in the general direction of the barn. To her surprise she was able to hit the broad side of it, but only just. After five shots the slide locked open and gun was empty.
Satisfied now that her friend in the barn would stay put at least for a few minutes, she shoved the muzzle of the empty gun in her back pocket and crouched over Steve again. She retrieved the keys for their Toyota Land Cruiser from a chain attached to his belt and jumped into the car.
Her dad had insisted that all of his daughters learn to drive a standard transmission, but Amy had not done it since she was sixteen. After stalling the car twice she finally got it into gear and got it moving. It was a hard jerky ride at first but it did not take her long to get the hang of shifting gears.
Close to sunset she stumbled across the information center for the wilderness area. One of the park officials was explaining to a group of tourists how Little Joe Cartwright had overcome his fear of heights on this very peak and Captain James T. Kirk had overcome the infamous Gorn not far from where they were standing.
She only had to tell her story to the park workers three times before they called the police. After repeating it to them six times, they finally did something about it. Privates Tom Crouch and Steve Utley were caught in the stolen UPS van stuck in a ditch two miles south of the barn. The body of the UPS driver was found sealed in one of the drums in the van. The other drums were all filled with a combination of ammonium nitrate fertilizer and fuel oil.
As they were both AWOL from the army post in San Diego, Utley and Crouch were turned over to the military police. With charges ranging from desertion, to grand theft, illegal possession of stolen weapons, possession of explosive devices, assault, attempted sexual assault and murder, they were sent to Fort Leavenworth for a total of 173 years each.
Recovering the Vista Cruiser only wound up costing Amy three hundred dollars in fines and repairs. But being able to sleep through the night took some time. For almost a year, she would wake up in a cold sweat after seeing Steve’s gaping eyes as she pulled the trigger.
She had tried to kill him. She would have killed him if the gun had worked. She had actually tried to kill a human being. The fact that he was an aspiring mass murder was little comfort in the small hours of the morning. Just knowing she would have killed him left her stomach tied in a Gordian Knot of regret. She had to live with the fact that all it would take was one wrong turn and she could be a killer. All it would take was the right set of circumstances and she would be back in the jungle willing to take a stranger’s life to save her own.