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Moab, Utah
by John Jennings



She came into my studio like an angel on a mission to turn my drab hot afternoon into the best day of my life. Her face had the kind of perfection that conceals true personality, inviting every man to project his own fantasy. Her breasts warped an ordinary white cotton blouse into Einsteinian relativities: she wore jeans. I was stunned. Every curve, every seam, led the eye to follow lines of tautly stretched stone-washed denim to some nexus of feminine function. "Hi," I said. "Where are you from?" In the desert we've got plenty of hustlers, prophets, and freaks. Angels are always from out of town.

"That's not important," she answered. "I need you to take some pictures."
"What kind of pictures?"

"Well..." she hesitated. "You see, my husband is in Yuma." Pause. "You know, the prison. I'm on the way to visit him. His birthday's next week, and I thought I'd give him a set of professional photographs of me. He's asked several times."

In the silence that followed, I jumped to a number of wrong conclusions. Finally I said with a thick voice, "I'm sorry, lady, I don't do that kind of work." It sounded stupid even as I said it.

"Oh, no!" She exclaimed, blushing. "I mean, uh, you know, fully clothed."
"Excuse me," I said. We looked at each other, then started to laugh. "Sure," I said, "Like the sign says, my name's John Walker."
"Hi, I'm Jenny Marsten. Uh, how much would it cost?" She asked.

I thought it over. In Moab, Utah, it's either feast or famine. Due to the spectacular desert landscapes, it's a favorite location for Hollywood films. When there is a movie in town, everybody does great. Right now was lean times. My normal minimum rate would be about three hundred bucks. I decide to give her my rock bottom off-season special.

"A hundred and fifty dollars."

She looked taken aback, like she thought it would be cheaper. But I have my standards. After I put a price out there, I don't haggle. A decent fee frees up my creative juices.

"Okay," she said. "But I need the pictures by tomorrow morning."

I thought a moment. "Well, I'm normally not set up to process color. I usually send it out. But, what about black and white? It's very glamorous."
"That's what I want. Glamorous."

I looked at my watch and stepped to the window. There was about two hours of good shooting light left, and a smooth blanket of light cloud covered half the sky, giving an even, perfectly diffused light. Conditions were ideal.

I decided to use Plus-X. It's a little tricky, tends to be high contrast, but has excellent sharpness and grain. Anyway, I had the perfect model and perfect light. I took three rolls of film from a plastic bag on the desk and loaded one into my Nikon.
"There's a place just ten minutes out from town up in the rocks. It's private, and has some good backdrops. I use it a lot."

She looked at me, making some final judgment on my character.
"Okay," she said.

"Is that what you want to wear?' I asked. It didn't matter, clothes on this woman were just a drab canvas backdrop to the casual arrogance of her beauty. She nodded.

Five minutes later we were rolling out of town in my beat up pickup. I handed her a mirror. I keep one or two new hairbrushes on hand. She took the mirror. She had her own brush. I was silent, deciding not to play local tourist guide. We got to the shooting site quickly. As I hoped, we were alone. I got my camera bag and led her about fifty yards up the slope, checking for rattlesnakes.

I decided to uses a 105-mm lens, a medium telephoto that would throw the background out of focus. It also made heavy people a little thinner, not that she needed it. I metered her face and a gray card. As I suspected, her fair skin threw the light meter off. I dialed an extra stop of compensation into the camera and put a tiny strobe on to put a catch light in her eyes. I glanced at the cloud-filtered sun. The perfect light was still with me.

She made a final check of her makeup, then looked at me.
"I'm ready," she said.

She began to pose. It was eerie. She would stare off into space, as if remembering. Then she would set her body in a deliberate pose, and glance at me coyly. A smile would flicker over her face, and then she would look deeply into the camera as her intensity began to build. It was if neither the camera nor I existed, she stared right through me. At some point I would see it happen and trip the shutter. I would snap off three or four frames, then she would relax, take a deep breath and start thinking of something else.

After a few poses I realized that nothing she did was improvised. It was all endlessly rehearsed: every pose, every expression, in a mirror on a thousand lonely nights. All she needed was someone to be there and press the button. It was up to me to figure out full or half length, or a face shot. It wasn't hard. The strange thing was that neither of us said a word during the shoot, moving in time to a strange dance we both knew. I might gesture if a strand of hair was out of place. At one point, I paused to reload.

She did nothing even close to lascivious, but was mischievous. She turned abruptly away a half turn, stood erect, hooked her thumbs into her pockets, arched her back, thrust out her breasts, and threw a challenging glance over her shoulder. Once she abruptly stuck out her tongue. It didn't matter; I wasn't even there. Click, click, click, went the camera, no other sound but the whirl of the motor drive. Everything she did with her body was secondary; the look was in her eyes. It was there, that look, in every frame. How she felt about him. Some poses emphasized her long legs, the spike heels. That lady could fill a pair of jeans. My camera ran dry a second time.

I found that my mouth was dry as well. I swallowed and said, "That's it, two rolls of thirty-six. We could shoot another roll, but I think we got it."

She thought a moment, then relaxed, "All right". She sat on a rock, picked up her purse, and got out a long slender cigarette. She sat facing away from me and lit the cigarette, staring at the distant snow caps of the La Salle Mountains

I went back to truck, rewinding the film and reloading the camera. I slung the Nikon over my neck, and rummaged in the cooler in the back of the truck. I keep bottled water and soft drinks iced down in the cooler. Dehydration in the desert is no joke. I got her a Coke and me a Gatorade. Then I walked back up the slope.

She faced away from me, hugging her legs, staring at the horizon. I reached to hand her the Coke, brushing her shoulder. At my touch she suddenly trembled, convulsing, consumed by some private heaven or hell. "Oh, Bryce," she whispered, then began to cry. I went down to the truck and waited for her to work through it.

Back at the studio, I gave her my card and told her to call or stop by at nine in the morning. She paid half in advance, seventy-five dollars in crumpled bills. She said she was staying at the Desert Garden Inn, and left in a battered red Ford Escort.

The developing was easy. Film dries quickly in the dry desert air. I made two proof sheets and checked them out wet, picking out the ten best frames with a magnifying loupe. The printing went fast because all the exposures were identical. By nine o'clock I was sipping on a beer, looking at ten perfect prints spread out to dry. They were some of the best shots I 'd ever taken. The thing was, she had done all the work.

By eleven the next morning she hadn't called or shown up. I called the Desert Garden and got Edith Dexter. I felt uncomfortable because Edith craves my body. This is not an ego trip. Edith craves the body of any male over sixteen that can walk unassisted through the door.

"Hi, Edith." I said.
"Well, hello John, good morning." She cooed. "What can I do for you?"
"Please connect me with the room of Jenny Marston."
"You naughty boy, behind my back, I don't think I will."
"Please, Edith, this is business."
"What kind of business, you two-timer?"
"I took some pictures of her yesterday, I need to talk to her."
"Well, keep your pants on, sailor, but she got a phone call in the middle of the night. She checked out at four o'clock this morning."
"Huh?"
"I'm telling you, John, she's gone. But, John, I'm still here."
"Uh, thanks Edith." I hung up.

Damn, I thought. On points I was slightly ahead. I was out maybe fifteen bucks in fixed costs so I didn't get screwed too badly, having a net of sixty. But I was angry at reading her wrong; I didn't peg her as a flake. I looked at the pictures and sighed. Truth was, I'd have paid to have her as a model.

I walked over to Rusty's for a late breakfast. I opened the screen door and stepped in quickly, trying to minimize inbound flies, watching Rusty drop my usual on the hot grill, a Mexican omelet with jalopenos. I sat at the counter. He turned, poured me a cup of coffee, and said,

"Load up your Winchester, pardner and head 'em off at the pass. There's desperadoes on the loose."

He dropped a crumpled Denver paper in front of me. Four convicts had broken out of Yuma the day before. One name leaped off the page. Bryce Marsten, convicted bank robber. Supposed to be a wizard planner. I didn't doubt the connection for a second. Now I knew why my angel didn't show. Good thing I saw the paper. I had a day or so to figure the angles and get my story straight.

Two days later, two federal marshals walked into my studio. One of them, a wiry Hispanic type, flashed me a badge.

"Mr. Walker, I'm Agent Gomez and this is Agent Collins. Three days ago, four convicts broke out of Yuma prison. The wife of one of them, Jenny Marsten, used her credit card to rent a room at the Desert Garden Inn. I've been informed that she visited you the day before."

Damn that Edith, I thought. "That's right, officer. A woman named Jenny wanted some photos."
"Okay, Mr. Walker, I want those pictures."
"Why?" I asked.

He looked at me like I was a cockroach two inches in front of his left boot. With an air of one taking pains with a moron, he answered, "We figure that there's a good chance she phoned him, or vice versa. Marsten is a genius level planner, maybe the most detailed bank job planner ever. They probably have a telephone message drop. There's a good chance she's on the way to meet him. The only photo we have of her is a fuzzy old Nebraska driver's license photo. Could be anybody."

I took a deep breath before committing irrevocably to the lie. "Unfortunately, officer, I screwed up the pictures. You see, I bulk load both black and white and color slide thirty five-millimeter films into reusable canisters. I got distracted by a phone call, and grabbed color slide instead of black and white film. I shot the pix, but processed color slide as black and white negative. Total screw-up."

Gomez stared at me a half minute, expressionless, Then he said mildly to Agent Collins, "Ed, wait for me in the car." Collins left.

Suddenly he leaned forward, speaking in my face. His breath smelled like a redeye flight from the East Coast, and four hours in a rental car.

"Listen, you little shit. I don't know what your game is, but I don't have time for it. Marsten is bad news. His MO is to carry a sawed off shotgun and a large capacity nine-millimeter as backup. If some peace officer pulls him over on a routine traffic stop, he's going to get a face full of lead." Gomez leaned closer. "I've buried three buddies in the last two years. The last one even had "Amazing Grace" done on the bagpipes at the funereal. Very touching. And you know what? That's my quota till the millennium. Now I figure you've got the hots for this broad. I understand that, she's a fine looking head. But it comes down to this. If I have to bury one more cop, and I don't care if it's the dogcatcher for Bugtussle, Oklahoma, I'll be back. I'm going to toss my badge in the Colorado River, then I'm going to drag your ass out to the tracks and Super Glue your dick to a slow moving freight train. See how long you can run and keep up. Are we clear on this?"

I took a deep breath then answered, "I hear you, Mr. Gomez."

He stared at me a moment, then turned and left.

An hour later the telephone rang. It was Art Thompson, editor for the Denver Plainsman. I had to be nice. Last year I grossed a couple of grand as a stringer for the Denver Plainsman.

Art babbled, "Okay, John, let me tell you how it is. This escaped convict story is hot and will stay hot for a week or two. Then it will fade rapidly. But for the moment. my son, you are sitting in the proverbial catbird seat."
"How do you mean, Art?" I answered.
"Cut the crap, John. You have exclusive photos of the main escapee's girlfriend. I want then for the morning edition. "Mystery Woman Enroute to Romantic Tryst with Desperate Criminal." The story writes itself."
"Sounds like Pulitzer material to me, Art, but there 's a problem." I explained about the film screw-up.

"Bullshit!" Art yelled. " That's like some kid telling his teacher that the cat pissed on his science fair project. You're in the big leagues now. This guy Gomez, the federal marshal, is a real cowboy. He's got a rep for getting results by cutting corners. Don't fuck with him. This kind of case makes or breaks careers, both in law enforcement and journalism. Nobody's buying your story, John."

I waited thirty seconds. "That's what happened. I don't like being called a liar." I guessed I'd have to live without the two grand. There was a long silence.

"Listen, Walker", he said in a calm voice. "We're reorganizing. I can give you an exclusive contract for our whole southwest district. Fifteen, maybe, twenty grand a year. But I have to have something, something to show my boss that you're the man that delivers the product."

I considered it a moment. The guarantee was the difference between worrying about bills every month and relaxing and knowing I had it licked. "I'm sorry, Art. I don't have the pix."

He sighed in exasperation, then chuckled. "OK, Walker, be a chump. I only work with professionals. Have fun taking pictures of rocks." He hung up.

I went to the fridge and got out a Coors. I tried to twist the top, but it was on tight. I used the bottle opener.

I slumped in my chair and thought. Here I am, getting threats from federal marshals and newspaper editors, with a desperate bank robber on the loose. Way too many people were getting in my space. If federal marshals and a newspaper editor could trace her trail to me, what about Marsten? A guy locked up for five years might not be thinking clearly about somebody taking sexy photos of his wife.

I started thinking weapons. I had a beat up lever action Winchester thirty-thirty. And two years before a motorcycle riding extra from LA on the set of a kung fu western had sold me a .357 magnum revolver to back a late night poker hand he thought was unbeatable. I drained my beer and went to my closet and started digging out my guns.

The next morning, Mr. McGinty, my landlord, came in. I had three weeks to go on my lease. "Walker, I got a call from a government agent. He said you had a woman in here, that you've been taking beaver shots."

"That's not true, Mr. McGinty." I answered. His bright eyes darted around my cluttered work area, in search of the mythical photographic beaver pelts. What the hell, I'm a mountain man of sorts.

"But he was an official agent of the United States government. I demand to see those pictures." McGinty persisted. "I'm not sure I should renew your lease."
"No beaver shots, Mr. McGinty." He snorted in derision, then left.

I got a cup of coffee. I figured that Gomez was pulling my chain and McGinty was just jockeying for a rent increase. I took a sip and considered it. Why didn't I just call the old fart's bluff and pull out? I've been here for five years and wasn't getting rich. The more I thought about it, the more sense it made. I don't need all this crap, I thought.

I starting thinking about things left undone. I decided to go back into the desert for a few days. There were areas I hadn't penetrated, locations I hadn't photographed. I loaded four magazines for the Hasselblad with medium speed Extachome. I took my cameras and guns, water and canned provisions for a week. I got some practice ammo for the rifle and revolver. I took a fifth of Wild Turkey-- though the desert is the real intoxicant. McGinty had a stupid mutt named Comanche that loved my desert trips. I took him along, McGinty wouldn't mind. Comanche would guard my sleep, assuming the clown didn't get himself snake bit or his ass kicked by a coyote. I loaded the truck, drove south, and turned into the Canyonlands, going far deeper than I had ever been.

In the Canyonlands nature has piled up rocks in immense, improbable formations. As always, the best time for photography is dusk and dawn. Through the daytime, I tanned or dozed in the shade, a man playing rock lizard. In the desert human problems assume their true proportion, about the size of a petrified rat turd. I thought a lot about light, how it touched sky, cloud and mountain, how to render it on color film. I used a compass to mark the exact point of the rising sun, picking careful compositions. I was always ready when the light came up. It is wonderful when the light comes up in the desert, revealing moment by moment some new vision of the landscape. At night I stared up at the sharp edged stars, as meteor showers scarred the film of my vision.

On the third day I moved even deeper into the desert. I found an isolated canyon and broke out the weapons. I worked some with the rifle but mainly with the handgun. I fired five hundred rounds of medium power thirty-eight reloads, then worked up to the full power magnum hollow points. Between the blazing sun and my own emptiness I reached the edge, the point where I no longer fired the gun but the gun fired me. In detachment I watched my forearm muscles cycle out the rounds, beyond my volition, every shot a perfect hit. Then I quit having found the edge, and hoping I would find it again.

Jesus held out for forty days and forty nights, but by the morning of day nine I was ready to head back. I got some great medium format color shots with the Hasselblad, some strange sun-maddened memories, and my head back on straight. I had dropped a few pounds, and Comanche limped from cactus needles. I loaded up the truck, got in, then Comanche scrambled in across my lap, his coat matted with cockleburs, raking my bare chest. He had two jagged cuts over one eye. I dug into a paper sack and tossed him an Oreo cookie.

"I hope that coyote pussy was worth it," I told him. He wolfed down the treat, yawned hugely, then gave me a stupid panting grin. I turned the key. The engine caught right away.

Back it town my answering machine tape was maxed out. One more call from Thompson, one from Gomez, and two I really wanted to hear. My stock photo agency said that my shot of Delicate Arch at night with the Hale-Bopp comet had been picked for the cover of a high school science textbook. Also, a nature editor had got approved a thousand bucks in advance money for a mountain sheep feature we had been discussing. I had some good stock stuff, but was still missing the elusive main shot that would make the whole spread. I was glad I hadn't sold my 600-millimeter lens. That was it. I was leaving town for sure.

I got a beer and started going through the mail. I fell asleep with the light still on, my bare feet up on my desk. I woke up about two in the morning and opened my eyes. Bryce Marsten was standing in front of my desk. I lurched forward. but then froze. Stuck in his belt was a huge automatic pistol.

"Be cool, man." He said.
I caught my breath, then nodded.
"You know who I am." He said. It wasn't really a question.
"I read the papers." I managed to say in a reasonably normal voice.
"Mind if I smoke?" He said, striking a paper match and lighting a cigarette.

He stood a street-smart distance away. He could easily draw his gun before I could lunge out of the chair and tackle him, assuming I was crazy enough to try. But there was one thing he didn't know. My .357 was on the desk in front of me under an open copy of the newspaper. In my mind, my desperation plan began to unfold. Grab the gun, roll right, drop to the floor, and get lucky playing swap the bullet. But we weren't there yet.

"Jenny said you was good people," he said.
"I'd like to think I'm good people," I answered.
"I'll make it simple. I need your help. The night I broke out I talked to her on the phone at the motel. We were supposed to meet, but she never made it. I couldn't wait and had to move on."
"Where is she now?" I asked.
Three days ago they picked her up in Durango, Colorado."
"What the hell is she charged with?" I asked.

He answered softly. "There's an unofficial federal statute called, being in love with a convict. Anyway, they held her while, put her through the wringer, then cut her loose. With a twenty four-hour watch, of course, phone taps, mail intercepts, everything. She's still the bait in the trap for me. She's working at a waitress at a diner in Durango."

I suppressed a silent groan. I pictured her slinging hash, dodging not so careless hands.
"What do you want?" I asked.
"I want you to walk in there and give her a message. It's an envelope with a message that tells her how to contact me. It's a code that she knows."
"Isn't this called aiding and abetting a fugitive, and a lot of other legal bullshit?"
"Yes."
"I heard you were the big planner, that you have a lot of resources."
"I've used up a lot of favors in the last few days. They've upped the reward for me to seventy-thousand grand. I'm down to just a few people I can trust."
"Why do you think you can trust me?"
"She trusts you."

I took a deep breath and thought it over. It was crazy. Gomez was no idiot. I could wind up in prison. I looked at Marsten, then figured out his position. He knew if I said I'd do it, then I'd do it. If I didn't say I'd do it, then he would kill me. But he had another edge. He knew I wanted to see her again.

"Okay," I said. "But I need to decoy Gomez away from there."
"I thought of that," he said. "The day before you go in, I can drop a dime and say that I've been spotted in Santa Fe. That will pull Gomez and the A-Team out of Durango, hopefully leaving Barney Fife minding the store. You can go into the diner with a two-week beard, shades, and a hat. I don't see a problem."

I could see a whole bunch of problems with it. But it all came down to could I turn him in. I looked at my desk calendar. It was Tuesday. "Make your phone call next Monday," I said. "I'll go in at noon Tuesday."

He dropped an envelope on my desk, then turned and walked out the door. He didn't even ask about the photos. I couldn't have given them to them. The photos and the negatives were buried in the desert.

It took four days to pack up my gear. McGinty was confused that I called his bluff, he even offered to cut the rent. Screw him. I could get most of my stuff in the camper shell of my pickup, though I left a few boxes with Rusty to ship me after I found a place. There was one odd ritual before I left. Under the sink were bottles of developing sludge from five years of photography, sediments of dark gray silver extracted from the film. I spent an entire day extracting the silver before I poured the waste down the sink. For my trouble I got small silver nugget, about the size of a pea. Kind of symbolic, I guess.

At six o'clock on Tuesday morning I left for Durango. I drove north out of town and stopped off at Dead Horse Point. I got out of my truck and walked out to the canyon's rim. A steady breeze was blowing; I had the place to myself as the sun came up. I had a camera, but decided to pass on photography. This was my moment. A moment to think about things done or left undone.

I took the silver nugget from my pocket, rolling it between my fingers. I looked at it, the condensed images of hundreds of sunrises and sunsets, ninja cowboys, starlets and painted rocks, Roman gladiators, the residue of five years of patient work, thousands of images dwarf-starred into a shiny lump, including images of Jenny Marsten. So many had come to the desert seeking gold and silver, the Spanish, and later the prospectors. So many hopeful bones crumbled under the hot sun. Yet I held treasure in the palm of my hand. Suddenly I threw the nugget far out into space, invisible in the morning twilight. Maybe, just maybe, some lucky prospector would strike it rich, find my tiny lode. At any rate, it was no sin to return it to the earth. I walked back to the truck and started the engine.

Five hours later I was in Durango. The diner was on the main road. I pulled into a strip shopping center a block away and went into a drugstore. I made a few minor purchases, razor blades and deodorant, establishing a thin cover for leaving my truck parked in the shopping center. I thought the Feds might be tracing the plates of any vehicle that parked in the diner's parking lot. I dropped the paper sack into my truck cab, then walked towards the diner. In the small of my back under my shirt I had my .357. I had a three weeks beard, shades, and a gimme cap, by appearances just another hungry guy.

I walked up the steps of the diner, damn if I could spot any cops. Opening the door, a blast of air-conditioned air struck me. I slid into a booth and saw her at once.

She was tired, wan, red-eyed, and absolutely gorgeous. Some fat guy at the counter was giving her shit. I stared at the roll of bacon fat on the back of his neck, fighting the urge to pull my gun and blow his peanut brain into the refrigerated pie case. She dodged him and brought me a plastic glass of water and a menu. I slipped a scribbled note on the table. "You don't know me," it read. Her eyes were confused, then suddenly widened in recognition.

"Give me a large ice tea, no lemon," I said. She backed away from me, managing a credible recovery. I read the menu. In half a minute she was a back, her pen and order pad ready, eyes shining.

"I'll take the chicken dried steak special with gravy, mashed potato, and pinto beans. Jalapenos on the side. And that coconut creme pie looks good." I flicked the menu open once, showing her Marsten's brown envelope. Then I carefully handed her the menu. She clasped it like it was the Holy Grail, finished writing, and disappeared back into the kitchen. I casually looked over the diner, which was three quarters full. Nobody looked like a Fed.

The meal was great, helped perhaps by the brilliance of her smile. She didn't risk any conversation, neither did I. We said a lot with our eyes. All in all, the best chicken fried steak and coconut creme pie I ever ate. I left a two-dollar tip, paid at the register, and left. The sky was clear and bright and I didn't have a trouble in the world as I walked up the street to my truck. I got in the truck, shifted my revolver around to my right hip, and tucked my shirt in. In Colorado, a gun may be legally carried on the hip if it is openly displayed. I thought of putting it in the back of the truck, but decided to wait until the next stop. I didn't want to hang around Durango a second I didn't have to.

The road led out of town up into the mountain. Downshifting to power up the grade, I saw a good overlook of the valley with Durango below. The sun was right and I decided to pull over. I might get a good shot for my stock photo files. I dug a camera loaded with Kodachrome and a tripod out of the back and walked to the edge. A toy train moved along the valley floor below. I cranked off a few frames.

Behind me I heard a car slam on its breaks, tires squealing. I turned to see a gray Chevy backing up the side of the road and stop next to my truck. Two men got out. It was Gomez and Collins.

They walked towards me, moving apart, and stopped about fifteen yards away. My right hip was turned away from them, and my right hand held the tripod, concealing my gun from view. Gomez grinned and said. "I thought I recognized that pickup. Why don't you just step over to the car and, as we say, assume the position."

Come to Jesus time, high noon in Durango, Colorado. My thoughts streamed at light speed. I was on legal business on a legal highway. These guys had leaned on Jenny. Now they were telling me to assume the position. In the mountain air, in the light and the space, suddenly the decision was made. I had been in the desert too long to go into a cage.

"Piss off, Gomez. I don't have time for your games."
Both men visibly tightened. I let the tripod fall to the ground. They saw my gun. Gomez barked, "What are you doing with a gun?"
"Colorado state law. I have been told there are dangerous criminals on the loose."
"Bullshit," Gomez yelled. "We're federal agents! Take that gun out slow, toss it, and get over to the car, or we'll lay you right down here in the dirt!"

They were both within my skill zone. In my head ran the hand-gunners mantra, two in the chest, one in the head, guaranteed to leave them dead. Two in the chest, one in the head, I didn't give care about Collins, but, barring taking a hit in the head or spine, I could drop Gomez.

"Get over to that car, asshole!" Gomez screamed.
Silence. I knew I should watch his hands but I held his eyes. He was the law but in the desert the law dissolves in the reaches of endless space, a shutter click of an empty camera, defined only by the range of a gun. Time slowed to a frozen frame, fear a tunnel that passed into nothing, the nothing of a moment with no past or future, just the odd calm of the sky, a lazily circling eagle, and the peace before violence breaks.

Collins cleared his throat. "Let's go, man, this punk isn't worth it."
His words hung in the silence. Then Gomez blinked, relaxed minutely, then spat out "You know more than you're telling." They backed off several steps, then turned to walk back to the car. "Hey Gomez," I said. The Feds turned for the last time.

"Head 'em off at the pass."

They got in the gray Chevy and drove away. I picked up the tripod and walked to the door of my truck, a sudden reaction hit my stomach. I leaned against the cab, tasting sour gravy and jalpenos, trying hard not to puke. After several deep breaths, I got it under control. One moment like that in a lifetime is enough. I got in, started the engine, and headed for the Rockies.

For a half-hour I listened for pursuit, checked every turn for a state trooper. Slowly I came to accept that I was clear. My engine whined steady and strong, taking me to a new future. I had two months before the first snows, two months to find my place. And unlike most of the confused people on this confused planet, I knew what I wanted. She was out there and I'd find her. She might be a waitress, a ski instructor, a tourist; even a rocket scientist for NASA. I'd find her. I'd find a woman who would look at me the way she looked at him.
________________________

We invite you to read what two of our poets, Halsted and Gordon Edwards, have written in response to John's story. We suggest reading the story and then John and Story. --egh




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