A Continuation of Rick Bass's "Antlers"
by, David Robert
Suzie's eyes finally opened. An insatiable fog seemed to engulf her brain. She wondered if the fog would ever release its grasp. Finally, and slowly it cleared. She was aware of an intense hunger and thirst. Like anyone awakening in a strange place, her mind wrestled to get its bearings. None would come. The cabin was strange. She knew intimately the interiors of all the cabins in the valley except for one. It wouldn't be the first time she woke with a hangover and no immediate idea of where she was. This sometimes occurred when she switched boyfriends. Suzie remembered last that she was with Rick, but this wasn't Rick's place. Fear rocked her gut when she saw the bow and quiver hanging from the wall. "How could this be", she wondered. She didn't think it was possible to get drunk enough to compromise her feelings and ever be with Randy. The light in the cabin was dim. A nearly full moon offered the only illumination as it filtered through a couple of small windows. The bed was comfortable and warm. Her arm stretched out instinctively and soon found that she was the sole occupant. Suzie continued to search the small cabin's interior with her eyes until she found and confirmed what she was looking for. There on a rustic, homemade couch he lay. At first she thought he was asleep, But then he stirred and with a quiet voice said, "I thought you would sleep forever".
Randy quietly arose from the couch and lit a kerosene lantern in the center of a handmade table.
"Where is Rick? I was with Rick!" Suzie protested.
"Rick is dead, and you came within a hair's breadth of joining him" , Randy stated plainly.
Suzie's gut reminded her of why she hated this man. He was so cut and dry, plainspoken and cold blooded. There wasn't any "he didn't make it", only a plain and simple "Rick is dead". Suzie's memory groped for answers. They rode horses to the top of Lookout Point to camp and watch the full moon rise over the valley. They had cooked a nice supper of mountain stream trout over the campfire and shared three bottles of Red Sangria. The moon rise had been majestic. In their inebriated delight they neglected to clean up and store their food before crawling into the tent to make love and sleep. Before they got around to disrobing, she remembered the tent being ripped open with an angry roar. Something huge pulled Rick away from her. It did not take long to return for her. It had to be a huge grizzly bear. She remembered someone telling her if she were ever mauled by a bear to play dead. So she did. Still she felt the creature's warm bite on her thigh. The beast shook her violently, and started to run with her in its mouth across the snow covered slope. Somewhere in its traverse of the mountain everything went black and Suzie could remember no more. Now it was all coming back to her. The parts she could remember. Suzie felt a dull throb in her head.
"I found you half in the creek below Lookout Point. You were almost hypothermic with a bad bite wound on your thigh and a knot on your head. I need to change the bandage on your thigh" , Randy stated matter-of-factly.
Suzie clutched the covers around her protectively. A look of fear revealed she wanted nothing to do with Randy. As she moved her leg, a jolt of pain shot through. Her exploring hand revealed a tightly wrapped bandage just above her knee. "I'm hungry", she said quietly.
"I bet you are, it has only been three days since I found you" , Randy smiled gently.
"Three days! Why didn't you take me to town?" Suzie protested indignantly.
"Pass is blocked. No one is going anywhere except on cross country skis or a snowmobile, and I don't have a snow mobile. It will be a few more days probably before you can handle skis", came the answer.
"You could have gone and got the rescue squad", Suzie shot back.
"Yeah, I could have. Your wounds are bad, but they are a long way from life threatening. You know what it is like for those guys to get called out for something trivial", Randy countered. "Besides, during the time when I might have gone for help, you did not need to be left alone."
"What about Rick!" Suzie continued to protest.
"Like I said, Rick is dead. Can't nobody help him now. There will be time later to recover the pieces if there are any. In a day or so you should be able to make the trip to town. Now are you going to let me change that bandage or not?"
Suzie relaxed some. This man both fascinated and terrified her, but it was obvious she wasn't going to win any arguments for the moment.
"Once I change that bandage, I'll fix some breakfast. Then I have to go for a brief morning hunt. I should be back in time to fix lunch."
"Davey is going to wonder were I am. Why I am not showing up at the bar."
"Yeah, I talked to Davey."
"You talked to Davey! You just told me you can't get to town."
"I told you the only way to town was on skis. After you were stabilized I made a quick trip in to report the bear incident. Davey and Sheriff Jackson both agreed there was no reason to call anyone out. Sheriff Jackson said he would come by probably today with a snowmobile to check on you and attempt to recover Rick's remains." Randy added in passing, "Davey did mention that business at the bar wasn't quite the same with out you. I guess that place would be pretty dead if you didn't work there."
Randy moved the lantern to a stob near the bed, then lifted the side of the covers to reveal her bandaged leg. Suzie noticed he was quite modest in how he only uncovered what he needed to get at. Then quickly and easily he removed the bandage from the leg. He took a clean wash cloth and dipped it into a pot of water that sat atop the wood stove. Once the wash cloth was wrung out, Randy gently cleaned around the bite wound. Then, he spread some antibiotic ointment over the wound and wrapped it with a fresh bandage. That Randy only handled her as necessary to take care of her wound aroused her interest some. She felt her other leg and self-consciously noticed three days of stubble growing from her unshaved legs. When he was finished with his task, he placed the covers in situ and gave her a brief glance before making his way to the kitchen. Something stirred inside her inner being that she had not felt in a long long time. Her ambivalent feelings were profound. Half of her did not want to admit they existed. The other half wanted to venture further. She willed the chemistry at work to cease its magic and leave her alone.
"Where are my clothes?" Suzie asked in a manner that indicated she thought he had no business taking them.
"Your clothes?" Randy glanced at her from the kitchen. "They were torn, bloody, muddy, and wet. I didn't think it would be good for you or my bed for you to stay in them."
"I asked where they were, not how they were", Suzie retorted.
"On the back of that chair over there", Randy motioned across the bed.
Suzie looked. The clothes appeared carefully laid out, clean and neat in the dim light. Apparently they had been washed.
Randy served Suzie in bed. She ravenously devoured the breakfast he offered. When she finished, Randy took her dishes and quickly washed them along with his leaving the kitchen as clean as it was before he started cooking. Then without a word he took his bow and arrows down from the wall and disappeared out into the cold.
Randy stalked the bear some each day since the mauling. This one was a big bad boy. The size and depth of his tracks in the snow indicated he had to be a full 800 pounds. Problem black bears were usually captured and released out east in the Ozark or Appalachian Mountains. The black bears were usually more nuisance than threat, but there were no places that wanted a rogue grizzly. It was mostly human stupidity that caused this bear to do what it did. Regardless of what caused its unacceptable behavior, now that the bear had mauled and killed a human there was an increased probability that it would do it again if given the chance. Although the locals rarely hunted any bear, problem bears were another story.
Randy had established a pattern the big boy followed. His cross country skis broke fresh snow as the pristine dawn slowly imbued the valley. Randy felt confident the bear would cross his ambush point this morning. Most prudent bow hunters used a firearm to back them up when hunting bear, but Randy barely gave it a second thought. He remembered working a summer in Alaska when three geologists went walking after dinner and did not return to camp. All three were packing 357 magnums. When they were found all three 357's were completely empty and the bear tracks just wondered away from the corpses. No, Randy understood that it wasn't the power of the weapon put the placement of the shot. A large Alaskan brown bear's circulatory system was so massive that it could function for a full eight minutes even after taking a 44 magnum through the heart. If a rocky mountain grizzly had the same gourmet spread as his Alaskan brothers he would likely grow to be the same size. As it was, the grizzlies only grew to a little more than half a full grown Alaskan brown's size.
Suzie did not usually like being left alone. She quietly explored Randy's cabin grateful that her leg was completely functional despite the pain. The cabin wasn't ultra clean, but it was considerably cleaner than most of the men's cabins in the valley. Suzie wondered what made this man tick. Since the first time they met, she felt a rare intensity emanate from him. She liked her freedom and what she had felt scared her. The bow hunting made for an easy excuse. It was the one thing that singled Randy out from the rest of the men in the valley. It was a reason that could be understood and accepted. Suzie knew that there was more. Men would never understand. There was something that went beyond the bow hunting. Suzie had been curious, but not so curious that she dared venture through a door she was unsure of being able to exit.
Randy's place had indoor plumbing but no electricity. The morning light made it easy getting around. Suzie looked at her hair in Randy's bathroom mirror. She wanted to clean up. Her sandy red hair was dull and lifeless not having been washed for three whole days. Even with a head of dirty hair she still thought of herself as attractive. She wondered what Randy thought. Had he admired her body when he undressed her? He was certainly modest with her this morning. Would he mind if she borrowed his razor? How long would it be before he got back? He said about lunch time. Suzie started running a hot bath.
Randy approached the trail along the creek from the ridge above. The bear was using the trail all right. Randy didn't want to get any nearer to the trail than he had too. It was an easy ski through the aspens to the spot Randy had previously selected for his ambush. If he made the kill, it would take the rest of the morning to drag the bear back to the cabin. If the bear eluded him, then Randy would be back well before lunch. Randy set his skis into the snow and climbed to his perch that overlooked the trail where he hoped the bear would pass. Once in place he secured his sneaky sack to the tree. The sneaky sack was designed for bow hunters to replace a tree stand. It was similar to a tree trimmers saddle and left his hands completely free. Randy set an arrow into his bow. Once he felt secure and comfortable his thoughts drifted to his days in Alaska.
After the death of the three geologists there was a lot of camp talk about the best way to handle a bear attack. At close range most of them agreed a short barreled twelve gauge would be best. An alternating load of slugs and buckshot should be used. It would be foolish to go for the kill first. The best thing was to hit the bear in both front shoulders to render his paws useless and then go for the kill. Randy checked the razors on his arrowhead. A clean lung shot would cause the animals lungs to fill with its own blood and soon drown him. He would try to hit the heart at the same time, but regardless a well placed shot would do the job whether it hit the heart or not.
Randy's mind wondered back to the cabin and Suzie. Dang, she was a beautiful creature. Practically flawless. Randy wondered what the small incision on her abdomen was from. How could those guys , after they had had her, let her roam around like a bitch in heat satisfying one dog after another and be content to share her? Well he knew it wasn't much their choice from what he had seen. She pretty much called the shots. She was a free rover. Like a butterfly exploring all the flowers in the garden except the bow hunters. Yeah right. Randy knew, and Randy knew she knew instinctively that he wouldn't have much tolerance for sharing. A movement in the brush snapped him out of his thoughts...
The hot bath felt heavenly. Suzie found and wrapped her bandage with seran wrap. It seemed to work. Even if it did not work, she wanted a bath bad enough to not worry much about it. First she washed her hair, and then set about shaving her legs. She wondered why Randy said he had to go hunting this morning. Nobody had to do anything. But Randy always had to prove something. What? That he was more manly than any of the other men? What if he wasn't? Suzie toyed with her ambivalent feelings. She didn't know if she really wanted to know the answer. But her curiosity was piqued. He didn't even make a pass at her this morning. Just all business, change the bandage, cook some breakfast, and go hunting. Dang, did that man have red American blood flowing through his veins? Suzie was startled out of her thoughts by the hum of a snowmobile growing louder as it came closer.
Jackson. Randy didn't tell me he would be this early. Dang!
Jackson was about to give up knocking when Suzie finally made it to the door. He was an older man who looked like the proverbial mountain man with a crusty old gray beard.
"Hello Sheriff", Suzie smiled. Jackson was not a denizen of Davey's bar, but he was always a friendly sort who never bothered anyone without a cause.
"Randy here?" Jackson asked.
"He said he had to go hunting. Left before sunup", Suzie said.
"Hunting did he? Yeah, we talked about that bear. Once a grizzly mauls someone he's likely to do it again if given the opportunity."
"Bear! You mean he is going after that bear with just a bow?" Suzie looked incredulous and slightly frightened. "I thought he was just going deer hunting."
"What are you scared about now Suzie?" Jackson grinned playfully at her. "You taken a shinning to that boy?"
Suzie kicked him and then winced with pain as her own wound reminded her that she should not have kicked him. "I don't care about any bow hunter Sheriff that ought to be obvious", Suzie stated rather indignantly.
"Huh humph, I see", Jackson said. "I reckon I won't be needing to dig out my J.P. hat."
Jackson looked serious again. "A bow in the hands of the right man will do a better, cleaner, and quicker job than a high powered rifle. I don't reckon Randy will have any problem. It can actually even be more humane", Jackson added knowing most of Suzie's arguments against bow hunting were unfounded.
"More humane? You mean more cold blooded don't you Sheriff?"
"It depends on how you look at it I reckon Suzie. I've always had a lot more respect for skilled bow hunters than your typical lazy gun hunters. I mean anyone can sit back and make a long range shot in complete safety, but a bow hunter has to get close enough to almost smell the animal's breath." Jackson savored having this opportunity to spar with Suzie. He liked the girl kind of like a wayward favored daughter. He figured what she did was her business, but secretly didn't like the idea of her wasting her life.
"Ah you're just ate up with that machismo garbage Sheriff. You've been playing mountain man too long", Suzie grinned deciding she wasn't going to let Jackson get the best of her.
"Well from what Randy told me I don't reckon you can tell me much about what happened", Jackson inquired.
"No Sheriff. I just woke up for the first time this morning. That thing ripped our tent open, hauled Rick off, and then came back and got me pretty quick. I played dead and somewhere along the way I blacked out until this morning." Suzie momentarily got a little melancholy thinking of Rick. But then life goes on for the living. And Suzie never did let anyone get too close to her. The pain that closeness could bring just wasn't worth it.
"When did Randy say he would be back?"
"He said he'd be back for lunch", Suzie said.
"Well if I don't bump into him out there I reckon I'll check back after I have a look around. Good day ma'am. "
The bear presented a clean shot. The whole event was anticlimactic. Only about fifty feet separated Randy from the bear when he let his arrow fly. The bear never knew Randy was there. He startled slightly as the arrow penetrated his side no more bothered than if a bee had stung him. The bear went to the creek and drank some water. Then the huge creature sat down and sniffed the air. Randy picked this spot because the air currents mostly traveled up from the creek and over the ridge. Gradually the bear laid down, as his lungs filled with blood, seemingly unaware of his pending death. Randy stayed still and quiet for a full twenty minutes after the bear ceased to move. Then as effortlessly as he had climbed into the tree he climbed out of it. It was then that he heard the snowmobile off toward Lookout Point and reckoned it would be Sheriff Jackson. Rather than immediately check the bear over, Randy donned his skis and headed up the slope toward the Point. If Sheriff Jackson would help get the bear back to his cabin it sure would save him a lot of time.
Suzie's hair was still a little damp when she heard the snowmobile again. She quickly put the photo album back like she found it. A newspaper clipping in the album made Suzie burn with anger. There were pictures of a very pretty but young girl. And then there was that awful news clipping. "Girl commits suicide apparently distraught over a recent abortion." Suzie liked men a lot. She didn't think she could ever let herself really love one again. They could be such bastards. Evidently Randy was one of the worse. Why else would he have saved that clipping.
When the snowmobile engine shut off Suzie opened the front door. Sheriff Jackson and Randy had rigged a travois that sat upon Randy's skis and was secured to the rear of the snowmobile. On the travois was a huge brown mass. Suzie came outside. She made her way over to where the men were with only a slight limp.
"God, that thing is big!" Suzie exclaimed. She didn't seem to have much concern for how the huge bear met its end.
"Yeah, that old boy ought to make a pretty nice rug", Sheriff Jackson responded.
Randy just got busy hoisting the bear to where he could go to work skinning it out and cleaning it. He had already eviscerated the bear by the creek where the awful was left for the buzzards and coyotes.
Sheriff Jackson removed Randy's skis from under the travois and made some comment about having a lot to take care of. Randy thanked him for his help getting the bear to the cabin. Lunch was still a couple of hours away so he didn't bother asking him to stay. With that the Sheriff was off to load the body bag with Rick's remains and get back to town. The Sheriff was grateful for the cold frozen weather. Three day old remains would be none too pleasant to deal with in warmer weather.
Randy and Suzie didn't have much to say to each other as Randy worked. Randy would occasionally explain something he did, and answered Suzie's inquiries whenever she had one. Suzie lent him a helping hand as the need arose. Randy stretched the bear hide out over an available frame and covered the raw side with some tanning chemicals to keep it from spoiling. Suzie found that she enjoyed this experience. There was a comfortable feeling being with and helping this man even though not much was said. The day passed quickly.
Davey met Sheriff Jackson as soon as he returned to town. "Hello Sheriff."
"Hello Davey. How are things?" Jackson nodded.
"Slow as all get out with Suzie not around Sheriff. I was hoping you would have brought her back with you. Is she okay?" Davey inquired.
"Suzie? She looked fine as ever. I can't remember her ever glowing quite as bright as she is now. If I didn't know better, I'd think she has taken a shining to that boy Randy. She sure bruised my shin bone when I mentioned it to her, but it could be she is just grateful to have survived her near brush with death", Jackson offered, thinking nothing about it.
"That's too bad about Rick. He sure was a good customer. Are you going to take him to Doctor Lasiter in Jackson Hole or send him on down to Cheyenne?" Davey asked.
"I don't see any reason to send him down to Cheyenne. It seems like a pretty straight forward mauling death. Lasiter ought to do all right. Well, got business to take care of Davey I'll be seeing you."
Davey watched the Sheriff leave with Rick's body bag in toe. What Jackson said worried him. The county coroner Lasiter liked a good card game. About once a month he frequented Davey's bar to participate in a back room game. His playing wasn't too hot, but Davey sometimes helped him with his card skills just enough to keep him coming back. An appropriately stacked deck among friends could prove quite beneficial for some.
After supper Suzie was perplexed. This was the perfect situation for seduction. The ambiance was nice. Suzie was sure there was a mutual attraction. Yet Randy neglected to make any forwarding moves. Then she remembered he never was really forward in any of his actions toward her. Yes he made and gave her nice gifts from time to time, but that was it. Everyone assumed what his motives were, even Suzie. But in retrospect no one really knew.
Suzie made up her mind what she would do. It didn't take long in the close confines of the cabin for the opportunity to present itself. In a moment when they passed next to each other, Suzie stopped him by placing a hand on his shoulder. She looked into his eyes with a deeply questioning look. Then she leaned forward and kissed him. First a small peck on the lips that quickly progressed into a full mouth kiss. Suzie could feel his passion and desire. It was stronger than any she had felt in a long, long time. But then, abruptly Randy broke it off. He placed both of his strong hands on her delicate shoulders and gently pushed her back.
"What's wrong?" Suzie asked puzzled.
Randy's expression was hurt and troubled, "Don't do this to me Suzie."
"Do what? What's wrong with you mister?" Suzie felt rejected but she also knew the hunger between them was strong and mutual.
"I don't care to be like one of your regular male dogs who so politely awaits his turn. And when you decide his turn is over, at least for a while, he acquiesces like an obedient grateful little pup until he can get the favor of another turn", Randy replied with a serious stern look. "I'm not like that. Suzie", He added.
"I knew it!" Suzie looked as if she was getting angry. "I knew it from the first time I ever met you", She retorted with disgust. "You think you are so much better than anyone else! You think you can have a girl and keep her against her will."
"Look Suzie I don't want to keep anyone against their will. But to me there is a lot more to love than just having your biological appetites fed. All my wiring is normal. The synaptic explosions I feel in your presence are powerful. You are pretty enough to make a good boy want to be bad. It is hard as hell for me not to give in to my basic desires. But my reason and experience tell me that there is more to it than just that. Actions have consequences", Randy grew quiet.
"Consequences? Since when did guys ever think about consequences?" Suzie's tone was belligerent. "Besides, you're just a hypocritical bastard anyhow. I bet you really thought about consequences when that girl in your photo album killed herself. Did you pay for her abortion? Well! Did you?" Suzie demanded, acting like a crazed, cornered, mean animal.
Randy wasn't too sure who had who cornered as he sank down into one of the chairs he had made with a deep look of hurt. "So you've been looking through my things", He stated matter-of-factly.
"I was curious. Besides it was only a photo album. I didn't realize you would have anything so personal and horrible in it", Suzie offered in defense just as belligerent as before.
"How do you know that girl wasn't my sister? Suzie?" Randy asked with piercing eyes that seemed to hurl condemnation for Suzie's apparent rash judgement.
"Well, I, I don't", Suzie stuttered. Randy's statement caused all the belligerence to drain from Suzie's tone. "I just assumed", Suzie confessed somewhat taken aback.
Randy's response had had its desired effect. It took the edge off of Suzie's belligerence. But Randy knew the girl in the album wasn't his sister. He also knew that he could not let the deception stand.
Randy began, "I hate myself for what I did. What I caused. I feel like the worst scum bag, the worst heel. I can't ever forget. I don't need to ever forget. People treat it all like it is just a big game. The latest sport with easy remedies for events that go wrong while life goes on for those fortunate enough to still be alive."
"What are you telling me?" Suzie now looked puzzled. "Are you telling me that she wasn't your sister?" Suzie seemed more concerned for Randy than offended that he might have deceived her ever so briefly.
"We were so very young. We never thought there would be a pregnancy. We were trying to be safe and responsible, but the stupid condom broke. I anguished over whether or not to tell her. Then I figured it was best that I did. She was horrified. She wouldn't let me sleep with her anymore. Then our worse fears came true. At least in our young ignorant minds it seemed like the worse thing that could happen to us. 'Love was fun, sex was free, cause we were in the class of 83' ", Randy said laconically. "Abortion seemed like our best solution. She didn't really want one. But both of our parents agreed that it was the best most responsible thing we could do. Well she did it. But it broke her heart. She left me a note that asked how could we call what we did love when we could so easily discard like a piece of trash the child that was produced from what was supposed to be done in love. She said she couldn't bear it anymore and didn't want to stay in a world where that's all love meant. By the time I found her, it was too late."
Randy's tone and expression revealed a deep hurt that Suzie realized this man had kept suppressed for all too long. It brought back memories of Suzie's younger formative days.
"Randy", Suzie started talking gently. "At least it is obvious that you really cared. That this stupid society of ours seduced you into believing that abortion was the best thing to do, isn't your fault."
"Dang it. Suzie. I don't think I can ever forgive myself. She had her whole life ahead of her. She was so fresh, and innocent, and trusting. And I let her down. Her and our baby."
"Look Randy life goes on. At least you were not a cold blooded bastard in what you did. Like so many are."
"What do you mean?" Randy looked at her inquisitively.
"The first love of my life who said he loved me. That s.o.b. said he loved me, said if I loved him I would prove it. But then when I got pregnant he said he didn't want any kids, and said he couldn't get married now, but he would pay for the abortion. Like I had some duty to get one. He insisted that I get one. Said he would handle all the bills." Anger started burning in Suzie's eyes again. "Well I'll tell you what, that sorry self centered s.o.b. wasn't going to tell me what to do. I trusted him, and thought I loved him. I told myself I would never love a man like I thought I loved him again. I gave my baby up for adoption and asked my doctor to tie my tubes.?"
Randy sat listening. This woman fascinated and intrigued him. He never fully comprehended how she could be like she was, but he thought he was beginning to understand.
"I was only sixteen going on seventeen", Suzie was tearing up some. He said there was no way he would tie my tubes. He said with time I would change my mind. Do you know how hard it is for a girl to get a doctor to tie her tubes?"
Randy silently and gently shook his head.
"She can go out and get an abortion any day of the week. They say it is a woman's choice between only her and her doctor. Ninety percent of the time she doesn't even meet the doctor that does it until he comes in the room to do it and then he is gone just like that. They don't even want to call the baby a baby. They call it a fetus like it don't count for nothing. Like it is only between a woman and her doctor and the baby don't count. But try to get a doctor to tie your tubes when it really is only your body and nothing else. If you don't already have half a dozen kids then it's nothing doing buster. Well, I told my doctor if he didn't tie my tubes, by golly, I would have them tied in some back alley myself." So he relented, but it was worse than pulling teeth. When my baby was born, even though I gave her up, I knew she was more than just a fetus even while I carried her. Your girl friend knew, Randy. She knew what every woman really knows, but because of practicality and circumstances they often don't want to admit it."
Randy and Suzie fell into a natural embrace. They both sobbed deep restoring sobs as a healing was wrought for both of them for their past mistakes. The sharing of their former experiences had formed a brilliant bond between them. The chemistry was captivating. Someone without a common experience would have to personally witness the meeting of potassium iodide with lead nitrate across a drop of pure water to get a hint at the beauty of the powerful chemical reactions now taking place between Suzie and Randy. Suzie felt a natural maternal instinct she had long suppressed. Soon she would schedule an appointment with her gynecologist. Tubes can be untied. Maybe God would not allow the reversal that could make another miracle possible to be successful but at least there was a chance. Dead babies don't get any chances.
"Dang, I never thought I'd ever want my tubes untied. Mister it just ain't fair that you do this to me", Suzie smiled as she revealed her thoughts and looked into Randy's eyes longingly.
"Well, if we are going to do this we are going to do it right. I don't want my wedding night to be just another Saturday night", Randy smiled.
"Are you asking me to marry you mister?" Suzie looked surprised.
"Hey, I told all my old friends I wouldn't sleep with another woman until she was my wife. They all thought I was crazy, but what do they know? I turned to bow hunting for its discipline and distraction", Randy responded.
"So does that mean yes?
They kissed again, a hungry passionate kiss. They knew that no matter how great a love they might be blessed with that a greater love than they could ever know watched over them. A caring for something more than themselves. Actions have consequences. People can attempt to palliate them all they want, but that really doesn't change the reality of the matter. Both had personally experienced the sting of harsh reality. The restraint that Randy showed caused Suzie to feel a sense of trust she knew she could rely upon. The terrible fury Randy was capable of displaying that had silenced Rick even in his drunkenness made sense now. It wasn't something to be feared now that it was understood.
Randy and Suzie had just finished their second breakfast together when the serenity they were enjoying was shattered by the sound of snowmobiles approaching. They had planned to try to ski to town this morning so they wouldn't have to spend another evening together, but not together. They both stepped out on the porch to meet Sheriff Jackson and several other men.
"Coroner says the cause of death for Rick wasn't that bear. Sorry son, you're under arrest for the murder of Rick Bass", Jackson said flatly.
Randy's eyes turned steely cold as he stoically allowed Sheriff Jackson to handcuff him and place him under custody. He glanced at Suzie. She looked numb with disbelief. Her mouth was dropped open in horror and shock.
Davey breathed a sigh of relief and stepped out of the small crowd with a thin smile of satisfaction. "Come on Suzie, let's get you back to town where you belong."
Randy was silent and stone faced. He made direct eye contact with all of the men present. All but Jackson had been intimate with Suzie at one time or another. His cold stare sent a chill down Davey's spine who unlike the other men refused to return Randy's gaze. There was going to be hell to pay if he could only find a way to get to the bottom of all this.
The jail was a small stone building. The valley's crime rate was low so the jail was hardly used. Randy found himself to be the sole occupant. He had been gravely quite since Jackson placed him into custody. Now Sheriff Jackson and Randy sat alone in the small jail.
"I didn't kill Rick, Sheriff", Randy said in a quiet voice.
"Randy, just about every criminal there ever was says they didn't do it", Jackson observed.
"Dang it, Sheriff, you saw Rick before anyone else except me. If a bear didn't kill him, what did?" Randy asked.
"Well Randy, the full autopsy report is still not complete, but it didn't take Doc Lasiter long to call me after I delivered Rick to him. Evidently, there was something obvious to him that I missed. Now do you want to tell me all about it?" Jackson asked.
"So that's why you made it back to my cabin so quick? Look Sheriff, I checked Rick's pulse when I found him. He was dead. Then I followed the tracks down to the creek and found Suzie almost hypothermic."
"So you don't want to tell me. Well, you get one telephone call. Would you like to make it now?"
"I have no one to call Sheriff."
"That's too bad son. You either need a high powered out of town lawyer or the best lawyer in the county or the Judge will have you for lunch."
"Why is that?"
"I've seen the Judge run roughshod over these two bit public defenders too often. If they want to get you, you haven't got a prayer. This is the land of the free as long as you pay your way."
"Why would they want to get me Sheriff?"
"I've got a bad feeling for you son. Things rarely happen this fast out here. But when they do you can almost always figure something is up. Anyhow things are out of my hands now. I probably should have sent Rick to Cheyenne, but it did seem pretty obvious that the bear had killed Rick. Now it is out of my hands. If Lasiter wants to send Rick to Cheyenne it is his call, but I wouldn't bank on it. He is coming to town tomorrow night to play cards. I asked him to bring me a copy of what he has completed so far on the autopsy report. So if you don't have anything to tell me, I suggest you get plenty of rest. You're gonna need it." Jackson shook his head sadly as he locked the cell door on Randy then had Randy extend his hands through the bars so he could remove the handcuffs. Before leaving, Jackson tossed through the bars an old dog-eared Tom Clancy novel, Clear and Present Danger. "Here, this will help you pass the time in the meanwhile Randy", Jackson said as he left.
"Suzie, you need to get over it. You always said that boy was cold blooded and dangerous", Davey reminded her.
Suzie had protested about working the bar. She still felt numb from the shock of all that had happened and didn't feel like putting on a fake happy face.
"It just doesn't make sense Davey. Why would Randy want to kill Rick?" Suzie pouted.
"Who knows for sure, Suzie", Davey stated more than asked. "Everyone knows that boy has had his eyes on you for a long time. A unique opportunity presented itself and he took advantage of it. With Rick around he couldn't have so easily have wrapped you around his little finger like he did. Now could he?" Davey asked like the answer was obvious.
"Look Davey, what happened between us was..." Suzie stopped in mid sentence as if she was either unwilling or unable to continue. "Agh, you wouldn't understand."
"Well understand or not Suzie, I have customers that are gonna need tending too and you need to get your act together cause I'm counting on you sweetheart", Davey smiled.
"Dang it Davey, don't push me", Suzie started to feel anger rise up within her.
"Push you? What? You want to sleep out in the cold? Look Suzie, I'll let you have my spare bedroom until you feel better. But you really need to pull it together. Besides, working the bar having something to do will help you feel better", Davey poured himself a drink.
Suzie never did have her own place ever since coming to the valley. Davey was the first to befriend her. Gave her a job. When she grew restless, he even encouraged her to take up with one of the regulars. One or two of the other guys had tried to get too possessive of her, but Davey set them straight fast. Word got around and Suzie never had a problem anymore when she was ready for a new face. She had never needed her own place, now she really wished she had a place of her own. Well there wasn't much to do but try to grin and bear it. Suzie showed Davey a half hearted smile.
"That's my girl. The Suzie we all know and care for", Davey smiled confidently.
The following evening Doc Lasiter dropped off the preliminary autopsy report for the Sheriff before heading for the bar. "There are still a couple of loose ends, but I should have them tied up before long Sheriff", Lasiter said as Sheriff Jackson took the report.
"I'll tell you Doc, if I had had any idea I would have taken Rick down to Cheyenne and not bothered you. Don't you think we should send him on down now?" Jackson asked.
"When you read that report Sheriff, you'll find it is pretty straight forward. No need to take him to Cheyenne. That bear really did a number on him, but if he had received prompt medical care like the girl did he wouldn't have died."
"Died? I thought you told me he was killed Doc?
"That's right. Asphyxiation. The signs are clear. The bear certainly didn't bury his face in the snow. You said he was on his back when you first saw him. Pretty cold blooded to take a man mauled by a bear and shove his face in the snow. All I have left to do is establish the exact time of death. The elements would have killed him eventually, but the boy was pretty smart to realize that the time of death had dang sure better be near or before the time he said he found the girl", Lasiter offered.
"So it is pretty cut and dry, Doc?" Jackson asked.
"Clearly. If he doesn't confess the prosecutor will have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he did it, but from what Davey tells me the boy had motive", Doc said.
"Motive?" Jackson raised his eyebrows.
"Davey says the boy always gives her nicely handmade gifts, but she never returns him the time of day", Doc offered.
"Well enjoy your card game Doc. I'll call the bar if I have anything else to ask you after reading this."
"Davey's Bar and Grill", Suzie answered the phone in the same manner as always.
"Suzie, this is Sheriff Jackson honey. How are you?"
"Oh Sheriff, I still feel numb with disbelief, but I reckon with time I'll get over it. This is only my second night back at the bar", Suzie said in a half-hearted manner.
"Well, would you tell Doc Lasiter to stop by when the card game is over?" The Sheriff asked.
"Okay Sheriff. I'll tell him. Could Randy really have killed Rick Sheriff?" Suzie added quietly.
"Well Suzie, I really can't talk about it now. But, everyone tells me that you're the one who always called that boy cold blooded and dangerous."
"I guess I did Sheriff, but I thought I learned I was wrong. God I wish I was wrong."
"Yea, my bruised shin bone told me that. Well I gotta go Suzie. Pass that message on for me."
"Okay Sheriff. Bye", Suzie hung up.
Suzie looked at the wall clock before going into the back room. It was close to closing time anyhow. Davey always turned the lights on bright and played a tape of the old "Rawhide" theme song. "Head em up, move em out, keep them doggies moving Rawhide..." It had proved a popular way to get the message across that closing time had really arrived. Even the most obstinate drunks received it well. The regular crowd were never much of a problem, but the tourists often didn't want to call it quits. The "Rawhide" song and bright lights moved them along easily.
Suzie noticed Doc Lasiter had a huge stack of winnings piled on the table. Davey never let his winnings stack up like that. Instead of giving the message outright to the Doc, she whispered it into Davey's ear. Davey looked at his watch.
"Get us all another round of drinks back here Suzie and then start the Rawhide song." Davey smiled at her. "Okay boys, two more hands then it's a night. Final drinks are on me", Davey nodded at Doc Lasiter knowingly.
The bar cleared out fairly quick with the bright lights and Rawhide moving the doggies along. Suzie turned the lights back down once everyone cleared out. Davey exchanged the Doc's large stack of small bills and coins for a few larger bills. The Doc was the last customer to leave. Davey stepped outside with him.
"Look Doc, come on back by when you are through talking with the Sheriff. I'll leave the back door unlocked. Come on upstairs, but knock before coming into my apartment. If you don't want to drive back to Jackson Hole tonight we might be able to round up an empty bed for you." Davey told the slightly inebriated Doc as he gave him a firm handshake and solid pat on the back. "And look Doc, it will all work out." Davey added as an after thought.
Sheriff Jackson looked tired. He had the autopsy report spread across his desk. "Hello Sheriff", Doc Lasiter said as he entered the room.
"Hi Doc, take a seat." The Sheriff motioned to a chair beside the door to the small office. "The way this is written, that boy won't have a snowballs chance in hell will he Doc?"
"There is always a chance Sheriff. My findings are not one-hundred percent substantiated yet. He lost a lot of blood, but I think the evidence is pretty clear that Rick died of asphyxiation first", Doc said as he watched Sheriff Jackson's face suddenly turn pale as his eyes widened and he simultaneously attempted to draw his service revolver while he rose out of his chair.
The blast was deafening. One shot from a twelve gage Mossberg 500 Persuader hit the Sheriff squarely in the chest. He was propelled backward over his chair against the wall and quickly crumpled down, clearly lifeless on the floor. Randy's angry form rapidly followed the barrel of the shotgun through the door. The Doc's mouth was open with disbelief. Randy could smell fear all over him.
"Nice weapon these law officers like Doc. Eighteen and a half inch barrel, just above the legal limit, seven round magazine LIFO1 loader lets you stack em like you need em. Reliable pump action. In Alaska we would have preferred a pistol grip with a fold out stock. But this will do just fine." Randy leveled the gun at the doctor. "Cops call this a riot gun, up in Alaska it's known as a bush gun. The weapon of choice. It gives a man his best chance against a bear. Easy to pack and carry. Tremendous firepower." Randy spoke with a cold calculated tone. His countenance seemed to exude fury, that terrible fury that could penetrate the depths and soul of even mindless drunks. "What's all this about Doc?" Randy asked with a deep cutting tone as one hand scattered the autopsy report across the floor while the other hand kept the shotgun leveled on the doctor.
"Da, Da, Dav, Davey made me", the doctor stuttered. "He, he said he'd lose Suzie. Said he couldn't let that happen. Said I owed him." The doc's eyes suddenly enlarged like saucers as Sheriff Jackson stirred and began to lift himself off the floor.
"Dang wad hurt, Randy, even through my body armor. So Davey made you do it ugh doc?" Sheriff Jackson just shook his head as he removed his cuffs from the back of his belt.
"Pretty good scheme those Coast Guard boys used on those drug smugglers, Sheriff", Randy grinned for the first time in a long time.
"Yeah, Tom Clancy really knows how to spin a yarn", The Sheriff grinned back. "So Doc how did Davey know he would loose Suzie?" the Sheriff asked.
"When she didn't come back to town with you Sheriff, he said he just knew in his gut", the Doc said looking somewhat relieved feeling confident that Randy wouldn't deprive him of his life now.
The Sheriff was about to close the cell door on Doc Lasiter when Randy gave him a little bump that shoved him into the cell. Just as quick Randy closed the door turned the key and removed it from the lock.
"Randy, dang it! Don't do this boy!" The Sheriff stated with all the authority he could muster.
"Sorry Sheriff, but this is personal", Randy said with cold seriousness.
"Look Randy you're in the clear now. Don't blow it", The Sheriff said with an implied threat.
"Like I said Sheriff, it's personal." Randy walked out still in possession of the Mossberg 500 Persuader. He briefly looked back, "So they left the back door open for you did they Doc?" Randy grinned with steely cold eyes.
The Sheriff and the Doc looked at each other as they heard him eject all the dummy shells with only wads for loads that Randy and the Sheriff made up for the doctor's deception. Then they heard him load 8 new shells before hearing the outside door open and shut. The Sheriff felt sick.
Randy stopped at a pay phone on the way to the bar. He dialed the Palisades Resevoir ranger station. It took several rings for the phone to be answered. Finally a sleepy sounding man announced, "Palisades Resevoir Ranger Station can I help you?"
"Yeah, Sherrif Jackson is in the North Lincoln county substation and needs help asap", Randy said.
"Who is this?" The ranger asked.
Randy found the back door of the bar unlocked just like the doc said. He quietly let himself in. As quiet as a Teton Sioux warrior he made his way up the stairs. He paused to listen outside the door.
"Dang Suzie, that boy really messed with your head. I wonder what is keeping that old drunk so long getting back here?" Davey seemed to ramble.
"Look Davey I'm just not interested in sleeping with you or anyone anymore", Suzie sounded angry.
"Well you better get interested honey, or its going to be a mighty cold world out there for you", Davey said.
"It already is a mighty cold world, Davey. If it gets any colder it's going to burn as hot as liquid nitrogen", Suzie retorted.
"Liquid nitrogen? What do you know about that?" Davey wanted to know.
"I know I should have listened to my daddy and stayed in school and never came to this God forsaken place. Chemistry class was a cake walk compared to this."
"Chemistry class? It's time for us to make some chemistry. Now come over here to Davey", Davey insisted.
Randy felt a huge jolt of adrenaline surge through his body as an anger greater than any he could remember started to boil within. He almost crashed through the door with all his might, but instead first checked the knob. It was unlocked. So, he quietly opened the door and let himself in.
"I told you to knock you old goat", Davey loudly stated tyrannously with out looking up.
Randy pumped the shotgun, ejecting shell number eight from the chamber for effect while placing shell number seven into the chamber. It was a noise that would send a chill down the back of the most hardened criminal. It had its desired result on Davey as his face turned pale. Suzie placed her hand over her mouth. Randy's cold steely eyes pierced Davey through over the top of the barrel as he drew down on him.
"You dirty bastard. How could you?" Randy said in a quiet deliberate tone.
Then without taking his eyes off of Davey, Randy extended the shotgun to Suzie which she took.
"What do you want me to do with this?" Suzie asked scared and confused.
"Just hold it for me while I take care of this lowlife scum", Randy said without removing his eyes from Davey.
"Shoot him Suzie! He's crazy", Davey shouted. "Shoot him!"
"Yeah, shoot me Suzie remove me from my nightmare this jerk created", Randy coldly said still not removing his eyes from Davey.
"What do you mean?" Suzie asked confused and scared still.
"Shoot him Suzie! He's dangerous, cold blooded, and crazy!" Davey started to get hysterical.
Davey felt the penetration of Randy's fury, terrible fury as Randy's steely cold gaze never left him. "Yeah, Suzie shoot me before I rip this jerks tongue out of his mouth if he don't start talking and tell us why." Randy slowly and methodically advanced toward Davey.
The fury emanating from Randy did its work. Davey started blabbering like a blubbering idiot when he was convinced Suzie was not going to shoot Randy.
"Suzie, I was afraid he would take you away from me. I love you Suzie, and need you. Doc Lasiter said he could rig the autopsy report where a flaw could be found that would have let him off the hook after you had cooled down and gotten over him. It wouldn't have totally exonerated him. It just would have left enough doubt so that he would have been released", Davey blabbered on.
Randy's face started to soften. He finally looked directly at Suzie ignoring Davey. Their eyes hungered for each other. There was hurt, but there was trust. A profound joy at being found again was communicated without words. Randy held out his hand and took the shotgun from Suzie and then they embraced. Suzie sunk her face deep into his shoulder and started sobbing tears of joy and relief.
Davey quietly removed a Browning 9mm high-power from a drawer beside his bed. He slid the slide back and released it. The metallic sound awoke both Randy and Suzie from their dream. "Step away from him Suzie", Davey stated with authority.
But then with stronger, more compelling authority Davey heard Sheriff Jackson's strong voice. "Drop it Davey, It's over!"
Two rangers assisted Sheriff Jackson in placing Davey into custody.
"Now just tell me what am I going to do with you Randy", Jackson looked at him shaking his head. He surreptitiously gave Suzie a wink.
"How about marrying us Sheriff, as quick as you can", Suzie smiled. "That is, if you are sure we are not two crazy, wild animals."
1 LIFO - last in first out.
Robert Spring 99'