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Submitted by Steven ODell on 9 July 2007 - 12:17am.

Chapter 30

Bill had just been finishing the preparation of his firewood to cook the rabbit he had snared. Soon he would be enjoying a good breakfast. It had been a grueling few days, surreptitiously following Ron and Denise. He had taken it upon himself to watch over them-to be a guardian angel of sorts. Ron was ‘good people’ and if Denise was that important to Ron, then Bill felt it his duty to protect and preserve them by any means possible. Of course, it would be his duty to protect a lady, no matter the cause.

He was just about to ignite the wood when he was startled by the sound of gunfire. Not just one shot, but four. Three in rapid succession, followed at length by the fourth, which sounded as if it were fired from a different location or from a different gun. Bill dropped all he was doing, scrambled to get the rifle he had left leaning against a tree and was immediately off to investigate in the direction of the reports.

Ted had been required to travel further upstream than he would have liked, but the turbulence of the water near the falls was a hazard he would be foolish to brave. Upstream from there the water was more peaceful and the rocks that stood above the surface were more conducive to a safe crossing. From there he had only to scale the far bank of the river and attain the top of the ridge. Though he pushed himself, he was considerably slower than he would like to have been; handicapped as he was, he hoped he was only minutes away from his desired goal-revenge. He achieved the top of the canyon and turned left again to work his way downriver. Emerging from the trees into more open area, he approached the edge and scanned the rock face below him. He could see the opening to the cave in the near distance. There was no evidence yet of its inhabitants attempting escape. They were likely cowering in fear of him at this very moment. The thought gave him great pleasure. Soon they would have reason to fear him even more.

In the cave Ron and Denise were discussing their options, completely unaware of the danger creeping closer to them from above. Ron spoke as calmly as he could in order to soothe her nerves. “I’m pretty familiar with this cave and the surrounding area. Ted could just wait us out and we would probably be safe if we were to just wait in here, but I would like to put as much distance between you and him as possible.”

“You mean us and him, don’t you?” she asked anxiously.

He slowly shook his head. “No, I need to stop him any way I can. There is another way out of here that Hunter and I used at times, just for fun. I want to evacuate you out that way and then I can try to sneak around to the other side and take Ted by surprise, if I can.”

“No, Ron….”

“In case anything should happen to me, you’ll be long gone and he won’t find you trapped like a rat in here.”

“I said, no!”

This was the first time she had ever raised her voice to him and he did not hesitate one second to return the favor. “Stop and think about it! What choice do either of us have?” Instinctively she backed off and held her peace. She knew it was prompted by his love and deep concern for her safety. He sensed her sudden timidity and was instantly quiet again, stroking her cheek. “Denise, this is a madman we are dealing with. He has eluded every attempt to capture or control him. He has overcome all odds to accomplish his goal. His determination alone scares me. No ordinary man would just keep going the way he has. What choice do we have but to try to get you away from him as quickly and effectively as possible? And what choice do I have except to try to stop him?” There was sadness in his voice as he said it. She knew Ron had no desire to take a life. Fate had dealt him a hand and he was now required to play it.

“Okay…tell me what you want from me.”

Bill reached the side of the canyon and peered into the bottom. There was no one to be seen. On the other side was a cave in the sheer rock face of the wall where one could hole up, well above the reach of the river below. He advanced further until he was positioned directly across from the entrance. As he stepped to the edge he heard the gentle tinkle of metal at his feet. Stooping down he picked up and examined the spent brass casing of a .45 caliber round. Nearby lay two more. He smelled the first; it had been freshly fired. Bill ducked down and surveyed his surroundings from a vantage point that made him less visible. The shooter was nowhere to be seen. He studied the cave opening again and then scanned the far wall for signs of any other openings. There were none but a tall, vertical slit in the rock--evidence of a perpendicular ravine that was formed by some long past cataclysm. It turned and disappeared around a corner shortly after it entered the face. His best bet was to investigate the cave. What was there awaiting him? Was it empty, were Ron and Denise there? Had something far more sinister entered now?

Ron had pushed away with his boot any wood from the fire pit in the back of the cave. He hurriedly shoved aside the last remnants of coals. “You’ll have to climb out through here. I think you can do it without much trouble—there is enough slope in the shaft. It may be snug, but you’ve got to try.”

Denise kissed Ron with some urgency. She never said a word, but the look in her eyes said, ‘I love you—be careful, please.’ She then turned and bent to begin her ascent up the sloped shaft to the surface. Ron watched with anticipation as she vanished from his sight. The light in the shaft had dimmed as soon as she entered it. It would brighten again as she emerged on the other end. His anxiety peaked as he called to her. “Is everything okay?”

Her muffled reply came back without hesitation. “I’m fine—almost there.”
In a few more seconds, the light again shone unimpeded through the opening above and Ron prepared to follow the same path that Denise had taken. He stooped to push his head into the entry and reflected—it had been years ago as a young boy that he had last climbed this way, but he was now confident that he would succeed again. He knew that if she had been able to pass through with her wider hips, then his shoulder width should be no problem either.

Nearly there-a few steps higher and he, too, would emerge into the sunlight. One, two…there! Ron put his hands on either side of the opening and pushed himself up to where he could sit on the edge of the hole and then to a standing position. In turning to find Denise he received the fright of his life. Ted had an arm around her throat and had a gun pointing at him! He tried to cry out, but the words would not form. He could only plead with his eyes.

The satisfaction on Ted’s face was more than just a smile. It was jubilant. Here was cause for celebration. His joy was nearly uncontainable and he gleefully laughed out loud at the confusion and fear on Ron’s face. Denise cringed involuntarily at the maniacal laughter so close to her ear. Her eyes begged Ron for a way of escape. He could only look back in agonized apology.

“You thought you were so smart, didn’t you?” He laughed again and ended just as quickly. “Didn’t you?” The words were nearly screamed. Ted was now over the edge and into madness. He was more dangerous now than he had ever been. That seemed nearly unimaginable to Ron, with all that had ensued so recently. How could all this have happened in just a month’s time? He had met, saved and proposed to the woman he loved more than his own life and now it appeared he was doomed to lose her as quickly. And there was little doubt she would lose him.

Ted was tugging at Denise sporadically, making it difficult for her to breath. The way he was stumbling about with her, it was with the greatest trouble that she could even stand on her feet. This made it even harder to relieve the pressure on her throat. The gun never left Ron for a moment, except when Ted waved it in gesture to illustrate a point. He was having his say—giving his last speech before he would kill them, Ron was certain. “You thought you could fool us, but there is no way you could do that. We are so much smarter than you.” The look in his eye made Ron shiver. It was the look of pure evil—of pure madness.

“Let Denise go. It’s me you want.”

“I …want…both…of…you!” He emphasized and over-enunciated each word, dividing them as with a knife. He barked each word at top volume past Denise’s ear and she closed her eyes with the pain that it caused. “You’ve caused me…”, he hesitated and corrected, as though coached by some invisible presence, “…us…no end of trouble. For that you both must pay. We are going to enjoy this immensely.”

Denise found her opportunity. The gun was aimed straight upward into the air as Ted illustrated his final point. It was now or never. She pulled her arm across her chest and, forming a fist, she swung it downward and backward into Ted’s injured thigh as hard as she possibly could. He bellowed like a wounded animal and immediately began to fold. She swung again and he turned her loose. Ron jumped forward to pull her from Ted’s reach at the same time that Denise leapt through the air and dove toward Ron. Ted recovered swiftly. Bang! The shot missed Denise and struck Ron a grazing blow to his head. Where he had been running he was now falling; blood pouring profusely down the side of his face.

It all happened so quickly that it seemed over in an instant, yet the memory of it was already as if in slow motion. The rush of emotion and the surging adrenaline took hold and Denise surveyed the situation as if from outside her body. She felt like an observer rather than a participant, unable even to scream. She rolled and turned as she hit the ground and glanced quickly and calculatingly toward Ted. He was rubbing his wound and would soon charge again, she knew. She turned back again toward Ron. He could be dead at this very instant; she had no way of knowing. She knew that to stop and help him was to forfeit her own life. There was no way around Ted, but there was one possibility of survival. She dug her foot in and propelled herself past Ron’s lifeless body with all the energy she could summon. If she could get Ted to follow, maybe she could trap him and he would be unable to harm Ron more. She ran straight and swiftly for the rope bridge she knew lay close ahead.

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