Authors: Randy Wayne White
EARLY BIRD BOOKS
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Randy Wayne White writing as Carl Ramm
James Hawker knew at a glance that the woman and her two kids were in trouble.
The three of them had been brought to this remote valley of grass and wild flowers high above Denver in the Colorado Rockies. They had been housed in the old herder's cabin by the cold trout stream that rushed through the aspens, out of the snowy peaks.
They had been told to live quietly in the cabin, to stay away from civilization until their “problem” had been resolved.
Hawker was familiar with the woman's problem: there were men who would happily torture or kill her and her children to get what they wanted from the woman's father.
Hawker also knew that the only way to resolve her problem was to eliminate those men.
Now, Hawker decided, was the time to do some eliminating.
He reached into his canvas duffel and withdrew a black alloy bow attached to an abbreviated rifle stock.
It was a Cobra crossbow, military issue. The crossbow had a killing range of nearly a half-mile, and it could send its dart-size arrows traveling through the heart of a man at a speed of a hundred yards per second. Each dart was specially made so it could be fitted with tiny weights to compensate for distance or windage. The bow itself had a 4Ãâ7Ã zoom scope with a built-in self-illuminating compass.
As Hawker picked up the bow, he wondered what the Arapaho warriors who had hunted in these mountains three hundred years ago would have thought of this strange dark-red-haired man in his camouflage jump suit and black wool watch cap, holding this strangest of all bows.
They would have probably thought he was some kind of weird mountain god.
In a way, they would have been right.
Today, anyway, he was playing God. Today he would save a few lives and he would take a few lives.
It was a role he had played many times before, all across America.
Hawker used the self-cocking lever to break the bow almost double, like an air rifle. The bow locked back into place, and he fitted one of the arrowsâboltsâonto the shooting track. After checking to make sure the safety pin was on, he rested his eye against the scope and used his left hand to dial to its lowest power.
The scope melted the two hundred yards between the cabin and his position on the mountainside into almost nothing. He could see the heavy logs of the cabin mortised by gray wattle, the planking of the slanted roof, smoke drifting out of the raw stone chimney, the Appaloosa mare grazing among the sheep on the hillside, and the wide door on its rusted hinges as it opened out onto the dirt path that led past the split-timber fence to the river.
He could see, too, the woman, with a towel in her hand, walking toward the river where the aspens and the willows met in a screen of yellow and white leaves, could see her using her fingers to brush her buttock-length black hair.
Hawker swung the scope back toward the cabin. Where were the two kids? There they were, two sets of big dark eyes at the window: K.D., the nine-year-old boy, and Dolores, the lovely, fawnlike seven-year-old girl.
When the vigilante was sure the children were all right, he focused the scope on the back of the woman as she swayed toward the river.
The woman's name was Lomela. Hawker guessed her to be in her early thirties; though she looked younger, she might have been older. Lomela was the illegitimate daughter of old Robert Charles Carthay, the silver prospector, and his Hispanic/Indian bunkmate, housekeeper, and (when he was mining the high basins for silver) pack mule. Lomela had the short, stout body of a Mexican and the long legs and Apache-face of an Indian. Her hair was glossy blue-black, as healthy as an animal pelt, and her eyes were a shy brown.
Hawker had never met Lomela or her two children. But he had spent the last eight hours on this mountainside watching over them.
Now he watched her closely.
Lomela knelt at the clear river and dipped her hands in, drinking. Then, with the abrupt this-way-that-way look of a deer, the woman stood and stretched herself. Crossing her hands in front of her, she stripped off her white blouse, then stepped out of her boots and jeans.
Now she wore only sheer beige panties. Hawker watched her through the scope as she threw her hair back over her shoulder and held her arms out as if to embrace the sun. Her body was more attractive than Hawker would have guessed. He would have expected her to be brown and doughy and shapeless. She was none of those things.
Her shoulders became narrower without the baggy blouse, and her chest expanded and took shape. Childbirth had flattened her heavy breasts, but the nipples, tiny on the vast dollar-size brown circles of areolas, still pointed upward. When she leaned over the river to drink again, Hawker could see the washboard steps of her ribs beneath the swinging breasts, and he could see the meaty expansion of hips and thighs beneath her panties.
Now she stripped off the panties, scratched at her pubic hair with the unconscious ease of a wild creature, and then ran into the cold water of the river.
It was bath time in the high country of the autumn Rockies.
Lomela's little boy and girl poked their heads out the door to watch.
Hawker knew that they were not the only ones who were watching.
He twisted the eyepiece of the zoom scope to full power. He began a methodical search of the dense brush below him. Finally, he saw it again: the wide fingers of a man's hand, the ugly snout of a sawed-off shotgun. This time, though, he also saw a chunk of the man's head as he leaned eagerly forward from his blind so that he might better see the naked woman.
How many more of them were there?
The vigilante had seen only this man for certain. But he had seen a glimmer of metal or glass on the hill behind the cabin, and he had seen crows flush from the aspen grove to his right, so he suspected there were more of them.
They had come into the basin more than two hours ago, and Hawker had awaited their first move.
But they seemed content to lie low until dark to strikeâa sign of patience that distressed Hawker, for it showed the men to be competent, professional, and very, very dangerous.
Hawker knew he wouldn't have much of a chance against them after the sun dropped behind the mountain.
He had to sniff them out now, take them one by one, and hope to Christ he got them all.
Below, the woman was climbing out of the river, her hair hanging in a wet rope down her back, her hips swinging, her breasts bouncing, her whole body glowing with the cold. She found the towel beneath her clothes and buffed herself dry.
From the door of the cabin, the boy and girl stepped outâonly to be waved back inside by their naked mother. With the sure intuition of a woman, she seemed to know there was danger nearby, and she wasn't going to let her children take any chances.
As Hawker looked at the woman, he thought about the bizarre circumstances and the strange chain of events that had brought him to these mountains. The story Jacob Montgomery Hayes had told him involved a mixture of piracy, international finance, and Old West claim-jumping. And the whole story revolved around this woman who now stood naked before him.
I've watched her move all around today, Hawker thought, and she never once struck me as being physically desirableâuntil now. With her clothes off, she has the sloe-eyed, big-breasted, spread-thighed broodmare look, the look of a woman who lives to be bedded and bear young.â¦
Hawker shook the image from his mind. Voyeurism is bad enough, he thought. Combined with adolescent fantasies, it makes you into a singularly unattractive middle-aged man.
Once again, one of the childrenâthe boyâpoked his head through the door. This time, Hawker stiffened as he saw the man on the ledge beneath him stand, balance himself, then exchange the shotgun for a long-barreled rifle. Hawker recognized the rifle. It was a Remington model 700, the Mauseractioned weapon that, in its military version, had been used as a highly effective sniper rifle.
The man now lifted the rifle toward the head of the child who stood in the distant doorway.
Why would the man have waited so long only to fire now? It didn't make sense.
But Hawker didn't take time to ponder. He got noiselessly to his feet, brought the cross hairs of the Cobra to bear on the back of the man's neck, saw the reflexive stiffening of the man just before the Remington exploded, then squeezed the trigger of the crossbow.
The arrow was a momentary sliver of light between two snowy peaks, Hawker saw it flash once, then disappear into the pale hush of the aspens. The Remington made no sound.
Now it was an entirely different scene through the zoom scope. The vigilante could see that the man lay face downward while his hands clawed at the bright arrow in his neck. His feet made a random, thumping motion as they hammered at the earth. Blood splotched the pale weeds.
Beyond, the woman had thrown her clothes over her shoulder and now walked unconcerned toward the snug little cabin. She had obviously heard nothing.
Hawker was relieved. If she had not heard, the men had not heard either.
The vigilante loaded another bolt into the crossbow and began to move toward the expanse of trees where he had seen crows flush.
The snowy peaks glittered with the cold light of dusk as Hawker began to hunt along the mountainside.
Back in Florida, back in the mangrove, mosquito, and tarpon country where he had been when Hayes had wired him, it was September. But September in Florida had absolutely nothing in common with September in the Colorado Rockies.
September in Florida was desert-calm mornings on the sea, suffocating afternoons beneath a sun the size of a full moon, and still-humid nights dank with the protein odor of mud flats as hot as human viscera.
In the Colorado Rockies, though, September was a month of transition. It was a clutch month that shifted directly into autumn. Here the aspens were turning silver on the high mountain peaks. The air was as startlingly cool as skin bracer. Ski resorts were already preparing their lift gear. The mountains seemed to hush a little with the expectation of snow.