The man stopped, turned, shook his head, scanned the horizon 180 degrees, pivoted, and continued walking.
After twenty paces Adrian Jacobs stopped again, repeated his scanning of the horizon. In a low voice, he spoke to himself, “What is it? What’s this crawling, gnawing feeling matching each step I take? Did I forget something? Leave something behind? What the hell’s eating at me? Dammit! I’ve been here before! Something is wrong! Am I being forewarned? What? Is my mind playing with me?”
The escarpment was just ahead! He dreaded the trek down the steep incline, but he would not want to climb back up the damned thing! He almost lost it on the way up, thought he was going to pass out, die, have a stroke, just not ever again! Next time, a helicopter!
There was a boulder on his left. He would sit for a while, clear his mind, re-think it all. He was bone weary after the past few hours. He had to be sure! Too damned many moving pieces! He had to sort them all out, make sure he was not missing something!
He sat on the boulder, took a deep breath, and looked at the valley down below. Lights were beginning to twinkle in this early stage of twilight, dusk not far away. He needed to get started down the slope before darkness came. Weather didn’t appear to be a problem, but he needed to be at least halfway down the slope before he used the flashlight.
“Okay,” he spoke again, quietly to himself, “let’s go over the inventory…” He closed his eyes, projected in his mind the steps he took since leaving the car parked and hidden down below. What? He looked at his watch – nearly five hours so far.
“Car in garage. Nobody saw cargo loaded in trunk of car! Check, 100% sure!”
“Nothing left inside Allie’s patio home to implicate her or him! Check! 100% sure!”
“Car not followed! Check! 100% sure!”
“No one saw him on the up-slope. Check! Toughest part! Heavy-load, with a few stumbles! 99% sure!”
“Cargo buried deep in secluded spot Allie picked out at the far-end of Molar Peak! Check! 100% sure!”
“Information not shared with anyone! Check! 100% sure!
Adrian smiled… “What the hell am I worried about? It’s clean! Like a whistle, it’s clean! This time next week Allie and I will be on the white-sand beach in Aruba, sunning and splashing in those incredible powder-blue waves! I’ve been paid well! Wonder where Allie got the money? Not to worry! Said she would explain later!”
Adrian lifted his sore, well-worn body from the boulder, endured a sharp, involuntary pain in his solar plexus area, stretched, winced, and began his hike down the slope. He scattered loose gravel with each step, and the over-amplified sound filled the early night air, eerie in its hollowness. As the daylight still allowed he kept a wary eye out for rattlesnakes. This was the time of day when they came out from under a mesquite bush or rock to forage for food.
He hated snakes! But this little trip was worth the effort! He sang softly some tunes he knew, hoping to keep the snakes away.
Adrian stopped. Darkness was coming fast upon him…faster than he imagined. Vision was becoming a problem. He would need the flashlight and he had not yet reached the half-way point. He did not want the light to reach curious campers who might be nearby. Considering the time of day and inevitability of darkness he would have to use the flashlight. He did not want someone noticing a light and mistaking it for an SOS signal.
As darkness came the flashlight beam seemed brighter and more encompassing in its breadth of coverage, but he knew he had no choice but to use it. Otherwise, his footing and his balance would surely fail him. He also knew there were a few scattered cabins nearby that would possibly have the tenants sitting on their decks watching the night unfold and peering into the sky. Some, indeed, might have telescopes for their amateur star-gazing. No matter, the flashlight must be on for him to safely make his way down the steep slope. He simply had no choice, and the odds would certainly be in his favor. The cargo took longer to haul up that slope than he thought.
On he slowly moved down the slope, slipping, stumbling at times, the gravel sounds reaching decibels very loud to his ears So focused on his decline and the noise element, he paused at times, switching off the flashlight, standing still and waiting for the gravel rush to stop, listening intently for other possible sounds.
Hearing no sounds, seeing faint lights too far off to matter, he continued down the slope.
Amid his step-crunches and the gravel-rush, his mind began to play tricks on him. He heard or thought he heard hissing noises in the brush nearby. He stood motionless, perspiration blurring his blinking eyes, concentrating on the perceived noises around him. He heard only the slight stir of a zephyr floating by or a distant caw of a bird.
He took a tentative step down the slope and felt a sharp sting in his left calf.
He let escape a loud unwanted yelp! The yelp blended with unmistakable sounds of rattlers. Then, there came another sharp sting on the right calf.
“Ow! Oh, my God!” His mind began to remind him of all the stories he heard from people or read in Arizona newspapers about rattlesnake bites, how fast they entered the nervous system and rendered one immobile. He felt another stab of pain to his left ankle. He started to dash down the slope but fell and tumbled head-long into the brush and gravel in front of him. A cholla shrub sent cactus needles into his arms and face. Some fifty yards down through cholla, sagebrush, and gravel his body slammed into the thicker thorns of a saguaro cactus.
Barely conscious he felt the bloat of his calves and ankles, the blood on his upper torso and face from the thorny saguaro. He lay on his back looking up into the starry skies and felt his life draining from his body. “Oh, God!” He softly murmured, “not like this, please!”
He tried to move, but some parts of his body were broken. He lay there, short gasps emitting from a mouth now with tongue swollen and his energy gone. His mind caressed the final irony of his life. For once, he was to become someone, wealthy, free to be noble of gesture for worthy causes. He was to have Allie, someone beautiful to love and show off to the world.
In his dying throes he managed a weak smile and a mild ‘Ahh’ of capitulation to a God he once knew as a child. In a barely audible breath he muttered, “You are there after all!”
The next day, an Arizona newspaper’s first page lead head-line read: PAYROLL ROBBERY OF MAJOR INDUSTRY. In the smaller type below the headline, the copy read: ‘… No leads in the case.’
Two months later, on the society page, an Arizona newspaper announced the news of an ‘Allie McBride’ wedding, the bride a wealthy young lady of little history, the groom, an also rich and powerful politician in the state.
Six months later, on page five of an Arizona newspaper, a small headline spoke of a man’s bones being found on the steep eastern slope of ‘Molar Peak’. The DNA from the body’s remains gave no clue as to the identity of the man.
©The Cargo – A Short Story by BR Chitwood – August 27, 2018
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