As always, feedback can be sent to the author at bloodyvisigoths@charter.net

 

 

"ALLIES"

by Ernie Whiting

Part 3

 

Chapter Seven

"One more time, Mr. Gordon," Colonel Warren told him. "How did you come to meet them?"

"I’ve already gone through all this," Gordon replied with increasing animosity. "I gave my statement to the two patrolmen and to your lieutenant, and I don’t see how jabber-jawin’ with you is going to get my van back any quicker. I’m tired of trading words; I want some action. I am a taxpayer, y’know. What am I payin’ your salary for, anyway? Free coffee and doughnuts?"

Warren snapped his report book shut as he cast a hard look at Gordon. "Let’s go, men," he said. "Mr. Gordon isn’t interested in having his van returned." He turned and started for the Huey 204 helicopter that had delivered him to Clyde’s Mini-Mart after the local office had been notified of the occurrences at the market. A messenger had to be sent to report the theft of Gordon’s van and, as Gordon later discovered when the cowboy informed him, his encounter with the witch, Valerie St. James.

Too bad everyone isn’t like George, Warren thought. This man should be down on his knees before me, begging me for the Lord’s help.

"Hey!" Gordon said. "Where you goin’? What kind of Law enforcer are you, anyway? I’m filing a complaint with your superior. What’s his name?"

Warren unexpectedly whirled around, causing Matthew to jump in both surprise and sudden apprehension, and he impaled him with a fiery stare. "God is my superior, Mr. Gordon! I answer only to Him! Now, if you want your van recovered I suggest that you give me your full cooperation; otherwise the Devil can keep it!" His eyes continued to bore into Gordon’s until the latter finally looked away. Trying to slow his racing heart, Gordon went through his story one more time.

"So they probably continued west on Interstate 70," Warren said, more to himself than to anyone else. He turned to his lieutenant. "Get on the radio and notify the Denver office that I’ll not be returning for some time; I’ll personally be in charge of this search. I want two more helicopters to search in as wide a pattern as fuel capacity will allow. Day searches will be conducted by air and night searches by ground. Ground crews will report their positions by dawn and the choppers will take over from those positions until sunset. I don’t care how long it takes or how many people it takes to find this witch; I want her. Alive, if possible, to stand before a televised trial. I want to make an example of her." It would be a very good way to make an example of her; but he also thought it would probably be best just to burn her once she was caught. He was flexible; he could always change his mind. After all, the sooner she was destroyed, the better.

"What about her accomplice?" the lieutenant asked.

"Her Familiar? Destroy it, of course. What else would you do?" Before the lieutenant had a chance to ask how one destroys a Familiar, Warren turned away and thought, Let’s see you escape me this time, you Devil’s whore. Within a week I’ll have you burning at the stake.

He took out Valerie’s picture again and looked at it. It was a shame, in a way. She was such a lovely girl. But that was the strongest weapon these witches had. Those hypnotic amber eyes, and her glossy and luxurious hair the color of black coffee... Warren wondered what she must look like under those clothes of hers...

"No!"

"Sir?"

"What? Oh! Nothing…" He sternly put down his feelings of arousal, knowing without question that the Devil had planted those thoughts in his mind. He must not let that happen again, or all would be lost.

Within an hour and a half, twenty patrol cars and three trucks had arrived at the small market. Two more Huey gun ships, armed with rockets and .50 caliber machine guns, were parked several yards away. The three supply trucks, loaded with telecommunications equipment, sleeping and eating facilities, and an arsenal of automatic weapons and other small arms that could supply a small insurrection, were parked not far from the helicopters. With nearly fifty men and this much equipment, Warren told himself, there was no way that the witch could escape him. All this was needed to capture a man and a woman who were armed only with a single handgun.

"In the name of our Savior," Warren announced to the rest of the column. He sat in the passenger seat of the lead car and motioned with a slow wave of his arm, as though he was commanding a 19th century cavalry unit. "Let’s move out!"

Clouds of dust rose as the vehicles began to move. The propellers of the helicopters began to spin as the engines roared to life with an ear-splitting whine, and blasted dust and litter in all directions. The convoy moved off toward the mountains in the west as Warren told himself once more that the witch had to die. There just wasn’t any other way. She was much too dangerous to society and morality, and there was no way of telling how many people she might lead away from the Lord. She might even be out to start a coven. It’s my God-given duty to protect the poor, innocent, and unsuspecting people of this great nation, he thought as he rested his copy of Malleus Maleficarum in his lap. "God’s will be done."

 

 

Chapter Eight

Joe and Harold were tinkering around under the hood of Harold’s old and well-beaten red Toyota pick-up. They worked under the light of a single, bare, 100-watt bulb that hung on a drop cord that had been tossed over a roof-beam of the garage, and it’s light made the oil and grease stains on their hands and faces glisten wetly. Several newspapers, similarly stained, lay scattered around them in wads, surrounding the two men and ready to move in for the kill. Tobacco fumes hung in the air and moved slowly with the slight air currents. As the men worked, they discussed current events.

"...what the whole thing boils down to is that the Foundation is fulla shit," Joe was saying.

"Oh, come on. That isn’t true at all," Harold countered. "The FLM doesn’t lie to the people like all the other politicians used to. It doesn’t have to lie. It makes its points truthfully, and they’re all proven in the Bible."

The Bible, he thought, always back to the Bible. "Oh, bullshit," Joe muttered. "The FLM is just the latest version of the Moral Majority, Operation Rescue, the Christian Coalition, HUAC, the Salem witch trials, the Spanish Inquisition, the Crusades, and the rest of that ilk--and they’ve got the weapons and technology to be even more repressive than their forefathers. I mean, they tell people how to conduct their private lives, for God’s sake! Nothing pisses me off more than when some clown with a Bible under his arm comes along and starts telling me that I should live the way he wants me to. That kind of thinking is what got World War II started. Remember Hitler?"

"Nonsense," Harold said. "There’s absolutely no comparison between the Foundation for Law and Morality and the Nazis."

"Oh, no? What about the trashing and burning of rock and roll records, and--"

"Rock and roll is the Devil’s underground music."

"--and book-burnings? Last week they were burning copies of ‘All The President’s Men’ because it shook people’s faith in government, and the writings of Thomas Paine were burned because they were considered radical and anti-religious. Paine was one of the founders of this country, for God’s sake! If it weren’t for his writings, we’d all still be singing ‘God Save the King.’ They even burned Shakespeare, ‘cause they said he was obscene! Shakespeare? How the hell did they figure that?

"And as if that wasn’t bad enough, now people are even informing on each other; they use those damned anonymous tip phone numbers--you know, the ones they originally set up to nail gang-bangers and crack dealers?"

Harold looked up at him. "Don’t you think crack dealers should be arrested?"

"That’s not the point," Joe replied as he rested his arms on the fender, and tapped the handle of a screwdriver against his palm. He lowered his voice, as though he thought someone might be secretly listening in on their conversation. "The point is, there’s too much of this ‘law and order’ and anti-drug hysteria going around; it’s like the Red Scare of the nineteen-fifties, and the drug thing is just an excuse. Thanks to all this damned narco-McCarthyism, people are using those numbers to inform on each other for reading the wrong books or asking the wrong questions...questions like, ‘Does he really deserve twenty years for calling the President a crook?’ People are abusing those numbers. They anonymously turn in their neighbors because they criticize the government, but they charge them with being drug dealers or something. And the cops don’t need warrants anymore, or even probable cause for that matter, to bust in your front door and ransack the place looking for dope, thanks to this ‘war on drugs’; and if they find something else they don’t like, like ‘questionable’ books by Paine or Jefferson, or ‘All The President’s Men,’ then they bust you for being a subversive instead. And the informant gets paid cash, and is told what a ‘good American’ he is.

"Look, I could show you dozens of comparisons. But my original point is this: who are these fundamentalist bozos to tell you or me how to live? Whatever happened to the freedom of choice? Whatever happened to the Constitution?"

"A person shouldn’t have free choice if he’s always going to make the wrong choices," Harold said, ignoring the question about the Constitution. "Hand me that ratchet, willya?"

Joe handed it over, handle first. "Oh, that’s great, really terrific. The ‘wrong’ choices. As opposed to the ‘right’ choices, I assume you mean. Answer me this: whose definitions of right and wrong do you go by? Not all people agree to what’s ‘right’ and what’s ‘wrong.’ I mean, what’s right for you isn’t necessarily right for me."

"That isn’t true. There are certain pre-set definitions of right and wrong."

"According to whom?"

"According to the Bible."

Joe snorted in disgust. "There you go again, back to the Bible. What if you’re a Hindu or a Buddhist? The Bible isn’t right for them."

Harold smiled a smug smile. "If you’re a Buddhist or a Hindu, then you’re wrong."

"Shit. You can be so goddamned closed-minded at times..."

"I’m not closed-minded; you’re just a sore loser." Harold smiled again. "You’d know the truth if you knew the Lord, you know. There is no truth but in Jesus. Don’t you see how simple it all is? All you have to do is give yourself to the Lord, and everything will be taken care of--that way, you wouldn’t have to think for yourself." Somehow, even he didn’t like the sound of that statement, and he quickly added, "So much." He still didn’t like the sound of that, so he worked quietly for a moment, and tried to think of a way to change the subject. He pretended to have some difficulty with the spark plug he was trying to fit into its socket. "I think these plugs are the wrong size. I’m going to call the parts shop and see if they’re still open so I can exchange them."

"You need some new leads, too. These three are shot. And as long as you’re on the phone, order us a pizza. I’m buying."

"They don’t deliver after ten. Curfew."

Joe sighed. "Right, the damn curfew." He looked at him. "So why are you calling the parts shop?"

"Because it’s twenty minutes to curfew, and I can be there and back in fifteen. Pizza takes an hour."

"Okay." He sighed. "I guess I’d better get home, too. You’re probably tired of having me stay over so much."

"Not at all," Harold said. "But if you do leave, don’t forget to lock up."

"Right." He watched his friend go into the house and he shook his head sadly. "You poor, brainwashed fool," he whispered.

Inside, Harold punched out a series of numbers on the telephone. The voice at the other end of the line said, "Guardian Building one-eight-seven."

I’m sorry you made me do this, Joe, he thought, but someday you’ll see the light and you’ll thank me for it. "Yes, hello. I’m calling from 15818 East Edgewood Drive. There’s a man here by the name of Joe Wyman that I think you people would like to talk to. Could you send a car, please?"

 

 

Chapter Nine

The junction of Highways 70 and 13 brought them to a small town known as Rifle, Colorado. They were higher in the mountains now, and the air had turned much colder. Patches of ice could be seen in the shadows of the tall trees, and low, gray clouds crept slowly across the darkening sky. Far below the bridge they had just crossed, what seemed to be a discarded piece of Christmas tree tinsel was in reality the Colorado River. Some thirty miles farther north, Highway 13 led them into Meeker, where it intersected with Highway 64. Another ten miles of asphalt brought them to a small, isolated auto repair shop.

"This is it," Keller said. Valerie was currently wearing his black blazer over her vest, but even with the heater blowing she was cold. "There--pull around back so we can’t be seen from the road." After she did, he leaned close to her and beeped the horn; one short, one long, and then two more shorts.

The back door of the shop opened, and a beefy man in oil-stained bib overalls came out, wiping his hands on an old dishtowel. He looked puzzled at first; the horn signal had sounded familiar, but he knew no one who owned a white van. But when he saw Keller get out of the passenger seat, his face erupted into a broad grin. "Keller!" he shouted. "You old shit-kicker, how the fuckin’ hell are ya?" He crushed him in a bear hug that nearly snapped his spine. "Damn, but it’s good to see you! How ya been, man? What the hell are you up to these days?"

"Getting chased around by the cops," he said with a slightly strained voice as he tried to get his wind back.

"Same old shit, huh?" He grinned and hugged him again with a muffled laugh. "Damn, you’re a sight!" Then he saw a dark-haired woman, dressed in faded jeans, brown boots, and a black leather vest and matching blazer. She climbed from the driver’s seat and buttoned the coat against the cold air, and came forward, crunching across the loose gravel. She stuffed her hands into the coat pockets and bunched her shoulders slightly against the cold, and an icy breeze teased at her hair as she shivered uncontrollably.

For a moment, Dutch was in love. "Well, boy," he finally said, "aren’t you going to introduce us?"

"Huh? Oh. Valerie, I want you to meet an old friend of mine. Valerie St. James, Dutch Jackson."

Dutch wiped off his hands again and offered one. He took hers and kissed it, and asked (as he remembered to clean up his language--there was a lady present), "And what’s a charming lady like you doing hanging out with the likes of this ol’ horse thief?"

Valerie couldn’t help but grin at him. Despite his bearish build, unkempt graying blond hair and beard, and his oil-stained overalls, this Dutch Jackson could certainly turn on the charm, she thought. And then she suddenly had a mental picture of Keller actually stealing horses. She could see and hear him, dressed like a nineteenth-century outlaw and whistling shrilly, as he waved a coiled rope while horses thundered out of a corral amid a massive cloud of dust--and he seemed to be having a hell of a lot of fun doing it.

"Like the man said," she said at last, "we’re getting chased around by the cops."

Dutch’s gray eyes studied her for a moment. "Hey, I recognize you. You’re that so-called witch that everyone’s after, aren’t you? I should’ve known Keller would be involved. Come on in, you two must be freezing. From the looks of that vest, at first I thought you might be another one of his weird bimbos." He slipped a strong arm around her shoulders. "Come on, Nancy’s got some soup on the stove, and you guys could probably do with a bowl or two."

Valerie glanced at Keller with a raised eyebrow at the mention of his weird bimbos, and Keller looked off toward the mountains, whose tops were already showing signs of snow. "Yeah, it’s a little nippy out here," he said.

With her lips slightly parted, Valerie smiled a small, amused smile, and said nothing.

It was warm and comfortable inside the small house. It was easily kept warm because of its size, and its main source of warmth was the black cast-iron wood stove that sat in one corner of the kitchen. A hand-made oak table rested in the center of the room, and was surrounded by four matching chairs. Nancy, a large woman with bright red hair, ladled out steaming vegetable soup into wooden bowls, and then found a flannel shirt and a large goose-down vest for Valerie. "So how did the two of you get thrown together?" she asked as she settled down across the table from her. "They’re saying you killed a bunch of soldiers; I don’t believe it."

"I shot one of them," Keller said. "The others were victims of their own poor driving. You remember Jeff Hastings? He was a friend of Valerie’s boyfriend."

"Son of a gun," Dutch said. "Small world, huh?"

"Yeah. Anyway, he needed a ride over there, so I took him after I unloaded forty kilos of weed that...well, never mind that. Jeff was practicing his hypnotic skills on Valerie while the rest of us were getting buzzed, and the next thing we knew Valerie was telling us that the soldiers were coming."

"Oh, shit," Nancy said in soft horror.

"They killed Jeff," Valerie said. "And Tony, my boyfriend."

"Jeff? Oh, my God, no. Not Jeff," Dutch said as his face paled. "Oh, God."

Nancy gave her arm a comforting squeeze. "Valerie, I’m so sorry."

"Tony managed to take out one of them before he was shot," she went on, fighting to control herself. "If Keller hadn’t been there, I’d probably be dead, too... Oh God, Tony..." And then she broke and cried, and buried her face in her hands. Nancy moved to put a comforting arm around her shoulders and held her.

"We’ve been on the run ever since," Keller said softly. "That old GTO of yours really came in handy. Valerie was firing blind at the cops, and managed to take out the two cars that were after us."

"Valerie," Dutch said gently, "what makes the soldiers think you’re a witch?"

She sniffled and wiped at her eyes, and shook her head. How could they possibly have known about her dream, or whatever it was? "I..." She shook her head slowly. "I’m not even sure I know," she replied with a shuddering sigh. And then she suddenly remembered the bookstore. All of this had begun soon after she had been there, and it made her think back to some of the rumors she had heard about Nazi Germany, and how people there had informed on other people--usually out of a desire to be held in good standing by the authorities. Neighbor turning in neighbor. Child turning in parent. The accused was usually reported for making negative remarks about the government, or for harboring a family of Jewish refugees, or for reading the wrong books. But dear God, Americans didn’t inform on each other.

Did they?

"Come on," Nancy said. "Let’s go check the news and see if they’re still after you."

"Oh, I’m sure they are."

As they settled down in the small and cozy living room, Dutch used the remote control to hunt through the stations. After a few moments he found a news program, then dropped the remote on the sofa and began stuffing a pipe. He sat next to Nancy on a large stuffed chair and she curled up under his arm. Valerie and Keller shared the sofa.

"...price of gasoline will be up to four dollars and seventy-five cents per gallon," the newscaster was saying. "And we’ll be right back with the weather and sports after we take a short break."

The picture suddenly changed to a big face with blond hair and a toothy grin. "Hi there, folks! This is your old pal Honest Joe Bob saying come on down to Honest Joe Bob’s Used Cars for some great once-in-a-lifetime savings! Look at this beauty over here." He pointed to a 1976 Lincoln Continental, on which a fresh coat of maroon paint did next to nothing to hide the dents. "Now, you might expect to pay up to twelve thousand for a beauty like this. It’s got your power steering and power brakes, and it’s got your power windows--"

"Jesus, can you believe this guy?" Keller muttered in disgust. "Looks like something I junked once." He lit a cigarette and tossed the match into an ashtray. Valerie gently waved the smoke away; it reminded her too much of the smell at the stake.

"--but I’m letting it go for only ten thousand, nine ninety-five. Didn’t I tell you this was a once-in-a-lifetime deal?" he went on, and Keller suddenly leaned toward the screen for a better look at the car. A slow, amused smile of recognition spread across his lips. "Now, I know what you’re saying to yourself. ‘But what kind of mileage does it get?’ Friends, for under eleven thousand dollars, this is a great deal! You’ll be able to afford all the gas you want, since there’s no more shortages! And here’s another great deal! How’s this for a great deal? It’s a 1979 Chevy Chevette. Now, I know it ain’t got your power steering and power brakes, or power windows, but it’s got a stereo tape player! And talk about mileage! Do you now how much this little honey is worth? And I’m letting it go for--"

Honest Joe Bob was suddenly replaced with a "Special Bulletin" picture, and a deep voice that said, "We interrupt this program for a special news bulletin."

"Thank God," Keller said. He’d had enough of Honest Joe Bob and that Lincoln.

"What happened?" Nancy wondered. "Did some lunatic general finally hit the Big Red Button?" These Special Bulletins, with their ominous tones, always worried her.

Another face appeared on the screen. He was dressed in the black uniform of a high-ranking officer in the Holy Guards. "My friends, my name is Colonel Warren of the Holy Guardians."

Valerie’s face suddenly paled with the shock of sudden recognition. "Oh, my God!" she whispered. And then, with a near scream, she said, "It’s him!" She leaned forward to study the face. "It’s him! The Priest!"

The other three looked at her, then at the screen, and then at her again.

"We still need your help," Warren said. "We still haven’t been able to find the stolen van that belongs to Brother Matthew Gordon. We understand that some of you may be hesitant to come forward, since there is a witch involved, but Mr. Gordon--Brother Matthew--needs to have his van returned. My friends, Brother Matthew is a distributor of Bibles, the literal Word of God. I know you people out there are good Christians and good Americans. Wouldn’t you like to help Brother Matthew recover his van so he can continue to do the Lord’s work? If any of you out there have any information at all, please notify your local office of the Holy Guardians. Your help will be greatly appreciated, and Jesus will love you for it. Please, help us find Brother Matthew’s van, and help us find the vile witch who stole it." The picture cut to a color photo of Valerie. "This is the witch, known as Valerie St. James."

Oh dear God, she thought, on the edge of panic as a thousand thoughts swirled through her mind like a tornado. Oh God, oh God, they know who I am! Her heart was pounding as though she had just run a marathon, and suddenly she shivered uncontrollably as she broke out in a cold sweat. After five hundred years, it was all happening again; it had, indeed, been more than just a mere dream, and she didn’t know what to do or how to cope with it.

"And this is what she has done!" The picture changed again, this time to a close-up shot of the Tarot cards that lay scattered on the coffee table. "This is just a small example of her black art--the reading of Tarot cards, which came straight out of the Devil’s own unholy book! And this is the result of it!"

The scene shifted again, this time to a close-up shot of Tony’s body as it lay in the hall. "This is what she did to her own fiancée after he found out that she was a witch!"

"What!?" she half-shouted and half-screamed in rage and shock.

"This is the man she was going to marry! Do you see, my friends, what kind of evil Devil worshipers she is? And here"--there was another close-up shot, this one of Jeff--"is an old and trusted friend of hers. Look at how this Devil’s disciple treats those who love her!"

She leapt to her feet and screamed in rage at the television set. "You lying son of a bitch! You bastard!!"

"And here, worst of all"--there was a close-up of the soldier that Keller had killed--"is one of your own Holy Guardians who had come to rescue these two innocent souls from the clutches of this seditious Devil’s whore! There is no end to the evil of this woman!" And now there were scenes of the two Guardian cars that lay smashed and burned on the road, offering further evidence of her Satanic power.

"Please, good people, help us find her before she can cause more of this kind of harm and misery to any more innocent souls. The Lord will love you all the more for it. God bless you, and good night."

Valerie didn’t even realize she was sinking to her knees as a low, terrified moan of despair came from the bottom of her soul. That icy fist of terror clutched at her heart again as she stood at the edge of panic and horror.

"This has been a Special Bulletin..."

Oh God, she thought. With that kind of propaganda being aired, appealing to so many "law-abiding citizens" and "good Christians," there was no question in her mind that there were hundreds of people out there who would be perfectly willing and even happy to turn her in. They would be everywhere; the cowboy at the gas station was the first to come to mind. She was a known criminal now, and They would be out looking for her.

Oh, God, she thought again as she felt herself beginning to fall over the edge. Dear God, what am I going to do?

She could feel the flames of the burning stake licking at her already.

And then Keller was there, seemingly from nowhere, helping her up and back to the sofa. "Come on, it’ll be okay," he said reassuringly. "You’ll be okay."

"Lady, you’ve got yourself one mean enemy," Dutch said. "I’ve heard of this guy--he’s a one-man Inquisition." He turned to Keller and said, "Come on, let’s go dump the van--we’ve waited too long already."

***

It was well after midnight when they returned. Dutch went to the closet in his bedroom and produced a spare box of .44 Magnum hollow points that would fit the Desert Eagle, then took Keller out to his workshop. "It’s getting too cold out to do any traveling around anyway," he was saying. "Looks like we’re in for an early winter. And since the human population has been so drastically cut by the bio war, the animals around here have grown in numbers--including the wolves. They ain’t just in Alaska anymore, they’re all over the place. From what I’ve heard, they’re even taking to wandering through a lot of dead cities looking for food. And I know what a poor shot you are."

Keller looked offended. "Hey, I hit what I’m aiming at, man. Remember who still owes who a hundred bucks from last May."

"Dumb luck, that’s all it was," he said with a teasing grin. He knew very well how good Keller really was with a wide variety of firearms; Dutch himself had taught him to shoot. He was also one of the very few people who knew the full story of Keller’s life and various activities. They weren’t at all legal, but that meant nothing; Keller had a strong sense of honor, which was far better than any law spawned by the Foundation and its rabid mob of Theocrats. As a matter of fact, Dutch had been with him during that two-week escapade down in that Central American jungle when--

"Just kidding you, son," he said. "Hey, wait till you see what I got down here." They reached the bottom of the stairs and Dutch flipped on a light switch, and long fluorescent lights flickered to life overhead. They revealed Dutch’s workshop; there was a workbench off to the left, grinders and buffers lay off to the right, and a computerized diagnostics dynamometer rested against the back wall. Most of the tools were neatly arranged by size on a pegboard near the bench, but some were also scattered on the bench itself--Dutch was almost always working on something. And in the center of the shop there was an amorphous shape made of grease-stained white canvas. With a flourish, he whipped away the car cover and revealed what was underneath.

Keller’s heart raced when his eyes fell on the shiny, black 1984 Dodge Charger. Thin red trim was shot along the sides, giving the car a sinister elegance, and a small chrome plate on the lower left front fender read "Turbo." A chill raced up Keller’s spine. The light gleamed and sparkled from the fresh black paint and the chrome around the door handles and wheel covers. "My God," Keller whispered in awe.

Dutch grinned at his friend. "Like her?"

"Are you kidding?" Keller asked, also grinning. "I’m about to come in my pants."

Dutch laughed. "You always did seem to like cars better than girls," he said. "Makes me wonder about you sometimes. Anyway, I saved this one from a scrap yard--she was about to be converted into a bunch of manhole covers. The suspension is just as good as anything that ever came out of Stuttgart, if I may say so myself; even I was surprised by how well she handles. I widened her wheelbase just a bit, and she’s still got her front-wheel drive and transverse mounted engine and trans. And yes, she is turbo-charged."

"Incredible," Keller said as he continued to admire the car. He stepped a little closer and gently ran a hand along its smooth lines. It felt as though it had about five coats of wax. Sliding his hands into his pockets, he walked slowly around the front end.

"And now for the real kicker."

Keller raised his eyebrows. "Such as?"

Dutch nodded toward the car. "Open the hood."

He returned to the driver’s door. He reached in through the open window and found the hood release, popped it open, and returned to the front to find the second release under the hood. He raised it and set the support in place. The first thing he noticed was that there wasn’t a speck of grease on the engine. The second thing he noticed was... "That’s no 2.2 liter engine."

"Well, I see you haven’t forgotten everything I’ve taught you about engines." Dutch grinned, drawing out his friend’s suspense.

"Well?"

"Well what?" He felt as though he was toying with a child, and having a lot of fun doing it.

Keller rested a hand on the hood and shifted his weight to one foot. With mildly forced patience, he asked, "Are you gonna tell me what you got under there?"

Dutch shook his head sadly. "Maybe you have forgotten everything I’ve taught you... You spend way too much time drivin’, and not enough time mechanic-in’."

"Oh, gimme a break..." he grumbled.

"Okay. You remember those old 327s that Chevrolet used to stick into their ‘64 Corvettes? That’s a half of one under there. I also bored out the cylinders a little, stuck in some bigger pistons, and I installed a four-barrel carburetor. I also made some changes in the gear ratio of the tranny, so you’ll have to experiment with the shift a little to find the best shifting points. I seriously doubt you’ll ever need the overdrive, but it’s in there for just in case."

Keller stared at him in disbelief.

"Yeah, she’s yours."

Keller’s jaw dropped. "I can’t take this," he said. "Not after all the work you put into her."

"Sure you can. Remember those ten kilos of Lebanese hash you got me? I made quite a tidy little bundle on ‘em. Besides, I got another of these in the works. Only it’s gonna be better."

"I don’t think you’re gonna be able to top this," Keller told him. "Damn. I am definitely gonna come in my pants."

"Wait till you get inside her. For a test drive, I mean," he added, and they both laughed. He went to the driver’s side and opened the door. "Get in."

Keller eased into the contoured bucket seat, and the gray leather creaked under him. He lovingly wrapped his fingers around the black sport-grip on the steering wheel and turned it gently a few times. He adjusted the seat so his legs fit comfortably, and then tilted the seat back a bit. Dutch closed the door and leaned on it. "Start ‘er up." Keller depressed the clutch and stepped lightly on the gas once, and let it up. He twisted the key in the ignition. Grrr...rrr...rr...r...

Dutch returned his blank look with one of his own. "Don’t worry, it’ll be charged by morning."

Keller let his eyes wander over the gray vinyl dash. The original speedometer had shown a top speed of only eighty-five miles per hour, but it had been replaced with one that top-ended at 140.

"Got a real nice sound system in there, too," Dutch went on. "Four channel CD stereo and Dolby cassette system, and a bunch of bootleg digital tapes in the glove box. ‘Course, the sound may have a little trouble keeping up with you."

"I don’t know what to say, Dutch."

"Just keep healthy, man. Both you and the lady."

***

The next morning the battery was holding a full charge. Dutch slipped his bulk into the car, turned the key, and the engine purred immediately to life. With a throaty rumble, the car eased out of the shop and came around to stop in front of Valerie and Keller, who were standing on the porch with Nancy. They held two small nylon day packs and a pair of sleeping bags. Dutch got out of the car. "Well guys, you’re all set. Remember: the door’s always open if you’re ever in the neighborhood." He gave Keller another of his spine-crushing bear hugs, and then hugged Valerie more gently. "You guys take care, okay?"

"You too, Dutch," Valerie said. She turned and hugged Nancy and said, "Blessed be."

***

The small black Charger was roaring down Highway 64 at around ninety miles an hour, and while he drove Keller thought about the Tarot cards, and what they’d had to say about going on a long journey. In under an hour they got on Interstate 40 and crossed over the border into Utah. Now out of the mountains again, Valerie had taken off the down vest and laid it in the back seat. She watched the scenery for a while and would glance at Keller every once in a while. Keller had not spoken a word since they left Dutch’s and Nancy’s home.

"You and Dutch go back a ways, don’t you?"

"Yeah, he’s an old friend of the family. My sister and I went to live with him when I was about twelve or so, after our folks got killed in an airline accident. He’s the one who taught me how to drive and how to shoot."

"Nancy told me some interesting things about you."

Uh oh. "Oh, yeah?" he asked nonchalantly. He was silent for a minute or two. "What’d she say?"

"Not a whole lot. But she did say you were a man of honor. How does a ‘man of honor’ get into smuggling drugs?"

"He doesn’t. I’ve run grass and hash and peyote, but I don’t hold those in the same category as some of the shit that a lot of people are into. I never ran crack or heroin or dust or any shit like that; that shit’ll kill you."

"I heard you’ve smuggled people across the border. What do they call those guys? Coyotes, I think."

He gave her a sharp look. "Hey, I was never a coyote! Those guys are thieves--they take advantage of people and rip them off. All I did was help a couple of kids into the States so they could have a slightly better life, that’s all." There wasn’t any more liberty here than at home, but at least they weren’t being shot at by government troops anymore, he reminded himself.

"Hey, I’m sorry. I wasn’t trying to be insulting or anything."

Keller sighed as he returned his attention to the road. "No, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t’ve come down on you like that. It’s just that I have a strong disliking for ‘coyotes.’"

I guess so, she thought. "Sorry," she said again. She was quiet for a short time. "You know, I never did thank you for helping me out. I appreciate it, and I want you to know that I don’t expect you to keep on sticking your neck out for me."

"That’s okay. After all, we are in this together. Besides, I’ve got a score of my own to settle with those pigs."

"For Jeff? I guess you guys were pretty close."

"I’m close with all my friends. But it’s not only for him, though. There’s my sister, too."

"Yeah, you said you had a sister. Is she in the same line of work as you? ‘Keller & Keller, Illegal Import & Export Trade?’"

"She’s dead."

In the stunned silence, Valerie wished she could kick herself in the ass. "Keller, I’m sorry."

He shook out a cigarette and punched in the dash lighter. When it popped out, he inhaled deeply and sighed smoke. "It happened ten years ago," he said at last. "She was seventeen then, when she was raped. As a result, she got pregnant and she wanted an abortion, but the doctor she went to wouldn’t do it. According to that goddamned ‘Right To Life’ amendment, he said that fetus had even more of a right to live than she did ‘cause while she could protect herself there was no one to protect that fetus. And there wasn’t a doctor around that would be willing to perform an abortion; the penalty for it was too stiff."

She was watching him intently. She couldn’t see behind his sunglasses, but she thought she might have heard a slight catch in his voice.

He dragged on the cigarette. "She couldn’t stand the idea of having a rapist’s kid. The rape itself was bad enough, but the thought of having a part of him growing inside her and feeding off of her like a parasite was a hundred times worse. And the goddamned authorities were forcing her to have it!" He took a deep breath to calm himself. "She just couldn’t deal with it. So she bought thirty reds from a third-hand connection and downed them. There was no way in hell she was going to have the kid of the man who raped her...so she killed herself."

"My God, Keller, I’m so sorry..."

"The cops investigated, of course, and they said the doctor had been right in doing what he did, and that it wasn’t his fault that Lisa killed herself. Denying her an abortion was the legal ‘Christian’ thing to do, and they told me the Devil had taken over her soul and had forced her to sin by either getting an abortion or taking her own life. The ‘Christian’ thing to do would have been to have the rapist’s kid."

Valerie snorted in disgust. "Bastards."

"But have you ever noticed how the Foundation’s concern for these ‘pre-born’ kids doesn’t seem to extend to the environment that they’re going to be growing up in? After passing the Right To Life Amendment, the dumb fuckers went and gutted every local, state, and federal law that had ever been passed to protect the environment because all the pro-environment laws had supposedly been supported by all those ‘leftists’ and ‘pro-abortion communist liberals.’" He hit on his cigarette again. "Later on, they admitted the possibility that they may have been slightly responsible for her killing herself," he went on, "but they added, ‘We Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven.’ Man, every time I see that on a bumper sticker it makes me want to open fire." He found himself squeezing the steering wheel with one hand, crushing into its padding. "Their parting shot was, ‘Well, it was her own choice to kill herself,’ and then they started to lecture me on the evils of free choice."

"There was something I heard a long time ago," Valerie said. "There were some of those pro-lifers running around and saying that abortion had to be stopped because the souls of those fetuses were in danger; if they were aborted before knowing Christ, their souls would burn in hell." She shook her head. "They couldn’t jam their Jesus down the throats of the adults, so maybe they figured they’d have a better chance of doing it to the next generation of kids." She turned in the seat so she could face him more easily. "Do you think they’d really go so far as to force people to have kids they really don’t want, judge them to be unfit parents because their politics aren’t correct, and then seize those kids and raise them in religious foster homes to be the next generation of religious wackos? I mean, I know it sounds a little far-fetched--even to me--but some of those people are pretty nuts, and a lot of their sympathizers do hold positions of power. I mean, if they’re willing to kill abortion providers and lie about family planning clinics to advance their own agendas..."

"Wouldn’t surprise me a bit," Keller said. "I got a lot of close friends running around, but the only people I consider family that I have left are Dutch and Nancy. I just keep working underground, and with any luck I might be able to find a resistance group to join up with. I figure your uncle’s place in Mendocino is as good a place as any to get started." He tried to lighten the mood by adding, "Besides, I like helping pretty ladies in distress."

Valerie smiled, and accepted the compliment without any further cracks about male chauvinists. "Well, I kind of like you, too," she replied.

He smiled faintly, and kept his eyes on the road. He could still see in his mind the image of his sister’s body lying on that cold porcelain slab in the morgue, and tried to force his mind onto other thoughts.

 

Chapter Ten

Colonel Warren was smiling smugly. He had received a telephone call from a concerned citizen in reply to the public appeal for assistance in finding Matthew Gordon’s stolen van; the citizen had seen two men pushing a white van over the edge of a steep cliff where it crashed and exploded into flames. The descriptions of the men had not been very good, and no escaping vehicle had been seen. Expecting the information to be misleading, the soldiers were still obligated to check out the report. But after the investigation of the wreckage, Warren was feeling considerably better; a DMV check on the vehicle’s license plates proved that this van had indeed belonged to Matthew Gordon--but the men who had destroyed it could not be found.

"Most likely, they’re continuing west," Warren said to his aide. "According to this map, there are only two more towns between here and the Utah border, so it shouldn’t take long to check them out."

"If you don’t mind my asking, sir," the aide said, "what makes you think they’re still heading west?"

Warren wasn’t sure. A hunch? That’s what most would have called it, but Colonel Warren did not believe in hunches; he believed in messages and visions, whether they were from God or the Devil. At first, he thought maybe the witch was influencing him, directing him westward and possibly even throwing him off of her track. But a witch could not control him. As strong as he was in his faith, he would never believe that neither Satan nor any of his unholy minions could ever influence him. He was too strong for that. Instead, he felt the power of God directing him. She could be heading anywhere, but the Lord knew where she was going, so he would have to trust Him. He thought about asking God why He wouldn’t just tell him exactly where the witch was, but that would not have been right; the Lord has His plans, and one does not question them. Instead, he would just follow whatever leads the Lord presented, and hope he was strong enough to do God’s work.

"She is headed west," he replied at last, with a tone that would not allow any further questioning.

Warren’s aide, a junior officer by the name of Carlos Gutierrez, studied the map. "The only two towns between here and the border are Rangely and Artesia," he said. "We could send a chopper out to look for them. Highway 40 meets with 64 in Artesia, and goes west. Or we could contact one of the local offices there and have them set up some roadblocks."

"We don’t need any help from any other office!" Warren snapped. "We’ll handle this ourselves! Just contact Shipman and Reeves, and have them check it out."

Gutierrez was both stung and surprised by the vehemence of Warren’s rebuke. A veil of uncertainty about the man’s ability to lead then began to settle over him...and then he immediately cast off the doubt. Warren knew what he was doing; he was a full colonel, and he certainly hadn’t achieved that high rank through incompetence, Gutierrez concluded. He suppressed his own thoughts, and remembered the advice of his instructors: When in doubt, follow orders. Follow the chain of command.

"Very well, sir," he said at last. "In the meantime, what should we do about Mr. Gordon and those...objects that we found in his van?"

"Oh, those...those sex things..." He shuddered with disgust. "They were probably left by the witch to try and slander him because he sells Bibles. We don’t need to hold him any longer."

"Very well, sir, I’ll have him released."

"Fine." Warren turned slowly and went to sit in the passenger seat of his black-and-white limousine. "Forgive me, Lord, for ignoring your first Vision so long ago," he prayed quietly. He thought about it, playing it over and over in his mind: the woman being dragged through the muddy streets, being tied to the stake, her speech to the crowd, and her curse. "...only next time it will not be me who burns!" she had threatened. Warren sighed and lit a cigarette. He studied the flame that had sprouted from the tip of his butane lighter, and tried to picture the girl in the middle of it, screaming and writhing in agony. She had not gone like that in the Vision, and he remembered how disappointed he had felt. He had wanted her to suffer for the crimes that she had committed against the Lord; she was supposed to have paid grievously for her sins. But now he couldn’t see her in the flame, no matter how hard he tried. Instead, he saw himself.

With a nervous jerk of his hand, the flame went out. "We’ll see about that, witch," he muttered. He pocketed the lighter and leaned back. There was nothing much to do now but to settle back and wait for the report from the chopper.

***

Shipman and Reeves were racing across the desert to the northwest in their UH-1B helicopter gun ship, the model that had been so popular in the Air Cavalry during the Vietnam War. They flew with the throttle wide open, and had it not been for the miniature transmitters and receivers in their helmets they would have had to shout at each other to be heard over the roaring of the engine and the rapid thump-thump-thump! of the rotors.

"Seems like an awful lot of trouble just to catch one girl," Shipman’s electronically distorted voice was saying into Reeves’s ears. "I mean, how dangerous can one person be?"

"That’s like saying, ‘How dangerous can one cancer cell be?’" Reeves countered. "By herself, she can probably do nothing. But if she spreads her ideas around to enough people, we could be in really big trouble. You don’t wait for a tumor to get big before you cut it out, you get it as soon as you can."

"Well, when you put it that way, I guess it does make more sense."

"Of course it does." Reeves squinted through the dark visor of his helmet. He motioned with a slight not of his head and said, "Hey, check that out." He pulled back on the throttle to reduce the chopper’s speed.

Shipman looked down. "What, that black car? What about it?"

"Looks like one of those old Lasers or Chargers they used to make, doesn’t it?"

"Yeah, it does." Shipman smiled fondly. "I haven’t seen one of those in years. Want to go down and get a closer look?"

"Yeah." Reeves also had a fondness for old cars; that was one of the reasons why they had selected each other as partners. "Damn, it’s really moving, too. I’d love to see what’s under the hood." He pushed gently on the control stick and took the chopper into an easy decline.

"Hey, let’s go for it. If he wonders why he’s being pulled over, we can always say he was speeding."

"Hey, that’s no lie; he must be doing at least ninety."

The chopper came down to within fifty feet of the speeding black Charger, and Shipman switched on the PA system. "You there, in the black car," he said, his voice sounding like an electronic God coming from out of the sky. "This is the Holy Guardians. Pull over to the side of the road."

The Charger continued to race down the highway.

"This is the Holy Guardians," Shipman repeated. "I’m ordering you to pull over, right now!"

A cloud of blue-white exhaust poured from the twin tailpipes of the Charger as it picked up more speed. The chopper had been pacing the car at ninety-five miles an hour, and suddenly the Dodge put on a surprising burst of speed, leaving the chopper behind.

"That fucker’s asking for it," Reeves said to himself, and then hoped that no one on their frequency had heard him over his open mike. He opened the throttle again and caught up to the Charger, which was now doing 115 and was still picking up speed. Shipman’s voice blared out over the speakers again. "This is your last chance. Pull over!"

The Charger continued to accelerate. Now both vehicles were doing 130.

"That tears it," Reeves said. "Get on the radio and tell the Colonel what’s going on. I’m going to nail this sucker, but good." He reached forward and armed a rocket. "Now, you son of a bitch," he said, "let’s see you outrun this!"

***

"Colonel Warren! Captain Shipman is on the radio--he thinks he’s in pursuit of the witch!"

Warren ran over to the communications truck and picked up the microphone. "Warren here. Report!"

"Colonel, we’re in pursuit of a black ‘84 Charger, westbound on Highway 40. We’ve just crossed the Utah border. We think it’s the witch. We’re going to...oh, Jesus, NO!"

The radio went dead.

To Be Continued


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