“I was a financial advisor for a credit union.”
“And this morning, out here in the desert, you were going to kill my children.”
“You don’t understand.”
“You’re f**king right I don’t understand, but if you explain it to me right now, you won’t die.”
“Can I see her first?”
Dave stared for a split second at Jack—a look of seething hatred that vanished as fast as it had come.
“Heather and I came out several weeks ago with our friends on a backpacking trip near Sheridan. Up in the Big Horns. We camped at this place, Solitude Lake. Little knoll a couple hundred feet above the water. Our first night there, we had this crazy supper. Pasta, bread, cheese, several bottles of great wine. Smoked a few bowls before bed and crashed. The lights woke me in the middle of the night. I got Heather up, and we climbed out of our tent to see what was happening. Tried to wake Brad and Jen but they wouldn’t get up. We laid down in the grass, Heather and me, and just watched the sky.”
“What did you see?” Jack asked. “That turned you into this?”
The man’s eyes filled up. “You ever witnessed pure beauty?”
“You’re out of your mind.”
“I saw perfection for fifty-four minutes, and it changed my life.”
“What are you talking about?”
“You saw God.”
“We all did.”
“In the lights.”
“He is the lights.”
“Why do you hate me?”
“Because you didn’t.”
“Were those your friends in the Jeep?” Jack asked, though he already knew the answer. As Dave shook his head, Jack felt a molten-liquid mass coalescing in the pit of his stomach. “You murdered them.”
Dave smiled, a strange and chilling postcard of glee, and he was suddenly on his feet and running, four steps covered before Jack had even thought to react.
The full load of double aught buckshot slammed into Dave’s chest and threw him back onto the ground. Dee stood holding the smoking shotgun, still trained on Dave who was trying to sit up and making loud, gasping croaks like a distressed bird. After a minute, he fell back in the dirt and went into silent shock as he bled out.
Jack struggled onto his feet and walked over to Dee.
“You’re really hurting,” she said.
He nodded as they started back down the slope toward the Rover and the F-150.
“I need to see your shoulder. Do you think the bullet’s still in there or—”
“It’s in there.”
They approached the vehicles.
Dee said, “Wish we could take the truck. At least it has windows.”
“We will take its gas.”
“You kept the hose from the Schirards’ house?”
In the backseat of the Rover, Naomi cradled her brother in her arms, rocking him and whispering in his ear.
“Get the gas cans out of the back.”
The F-150 was black and silver under the layers of dust. Jack pulled open the passenger door with his right arm and stepped up into the cab. It smelled of suntan lotion. Trash cluttered the floorboards—empty boxes of ammunition, empty milk jugs, hundreds of brass shell casings.
He tugged the keys out of the ignition.
Back outside, he unlocked the gas cap.
“How much is in there?” Dee asked.
“I didn’t look at the gauge.” He took the hose from her and worked it through the hole. “Where’s the can?”
He could feel a cool trickle meandering down the inner thigh of his left leg, wondered how much blood that meant he’d lost.
“You okay, Jack?”
“Yeah, I just. . .a little lightheaded.”
“Let me help with that.”
“I’ve got it. Just unscrew the cap.”
As Jack brought the hose to his lips, a voice from the truck disrupted the fog in his head.
“Eighty-five, come back.”
Jack found the walkie-talkie inside the glove compartment.
“Eighty-five and Eighty-four, we’ve got Sixty-eight through Seventy-one headed back your way to check on things. If you’re already en route, advise, over.”
Jack pressed talk. “We’re in route.”
Another voice cut in, strained with pain, barely a whisper. “This is Eighty-four. . .oh, God. . .send help. . .please.”
“I didn’t copy that, over?”
Jack dropped the radio and climbed out. “That was the driver of the Jeep. We’re leaving.”
“Without the gas?”
“There isn’t time.”
He staggered over to the Rover, pulled open the door, slid in behind the wheel.
“We need gas, Jack. We’re under a quarter of a—”
“They’re sending four vehicles. Gas won’t help us when we’re dead.”
She ran back to the Ford and grabbed the tubing and the empty cans, tossed everything into the back of the Rover, and slammed the hatch.
“I’m driving,” she said.
“You’re in no shape.”
She had a point, his left shoe filling up with blood. He crawled over into the front passenger seat and Dee climbed in and shut the door, cranked the engine.
“Na, get you and Cole buckled in—”
“Just f**king go,” Jack said.
They started back across the desert, and Jack leaned against the door and tried to focus on the passing landscape instead of the fire in his shoulder. The pain was becoming unmanageable and sickening. He must have let slip a moan because Naomi said, “Daddy?”
“I’m fine, honey.”
He closed his eyes. So dizzy. Gone for a while and then Dee’s voice pulled him back. He sat up. Microscopic dots pulsating everywhere like black stars.
“Binoculars,” she was saying. “Can you look down the highway?”
She’d set them in his lap, and he lifted the eyecups to his eyes. Took him a moment to bring the road into focus through the driver side window.
The glint of sun off the distant windshields was unmistakable.
“They’re coming,” he said. “Still a ways off. Couple miles, maybe.”
The awful jarring of the desert disappeared as Dee turned onto the highway.
“Don’t do your safe, gas-mileage conserving acceleration,” he said. “Floor it and get us the hell out of here.”