Copyright© 2012 by Longhorn__07
"Welcome to 'All Points Bulletin--America.' I'm Daniel Preston. The count stands at nine hundred and twenty-three ... nine hundred and twenty-three criminals behind bars thanks to viewers just like you. Tonight we come to you from Pueblo, Colorado where we have breaking news. A manhunt is on just west of here for suspected rapist Miles Underwood. This animal was on trial for the horrific rape of an innocent young girl in San Antonio, Texas--a rape that resulted in her death.
"Underwood got a free pass in the first trial when the jury deadlocked on his guilt or innocence. Before he could be tried again, the killer brutally attacked the prosecutor in his own home and shot District Attorney Carl Brady twice before escaping in a violent thunderstorm.Underwood is now suspected of kidnapping two Colorado peace officers and holding them at gunpoint for hours before releasing them yesterday evening.
"Authorities believe Underwood is driving a pickup truck he bought from a friend in Texas but never registered under his own name. Two days ago, he was seen in Kansas City, Missouri but before police could close in, he got away. We think he's still hiding somewhere in the mountain region west of Pueblo tonight.
"Colorado--help us catch this sorry excuse for a man and put him behind bars where he belongs. Working together, we put a gang of bank robbers and merciless killers called the 'Chicago Six' away for good. That was just a few weeks ago and we think you can help us do that with this fugitive from San Antonio, Texas. They were armed, dangerous, and on the run and so is Miles Underwood.
"We're issuing an All Points Bulletin tonight for this killer and kidnapper so watch out for him, America. We'll have more information on Miles Underwood later in this program. Stay tuned for that.
"First, last week we told you the story..."
He thought of it as sneaking up on his destination. He'd made his way to Utah to evade all the police activity in Colorado and found a small, out-of-the-way motel on the wrong side of the Provo railroad tracks where he could hide out for a few days.
When he left Provo, he drove south through Salt Lake City on IH-15, and then east on IH 70 to Grand Junction, Colorado. Thinking about it later, he remembered it as an uneventful and quiet trip. In fact, he didn't see any highway patrol vehicles on either of the interstate highways--didn't even hear of any on the CB.
After he turned south on U.S. Highway 50, he'd seen only one sheriff's car ... and that had been parked and unoccupied at a twenty-four hour restaurant near the interstate. That had been before midnight.
Highway 50 turned east from Montrose and it was only a short drive to Monarch Pass. In the dark, he found a parking place near the access point for the Continental Divide Trail and turned off the pickup's engine for the last time. He slumped behind the steering wheel and closed his eyes to rest until the sun rose.
He woke only once during the night, but when he did, he was furious with himself. It was some time before he calmed down enough to see the humor in the situation. Even when the anger passed, though, he couldn't find a logical answer to the question of why he'd put himself through everything that he had suffered after leaving the two police officers in the abandoned house.
Since he had no specific destination in the mountains, he could have selected anywhere to enter them. North of Denver would have been just as satisfactory as south. Instead, he'd worked hard to get back to this one particular trailhead ... one he knew from years past. It was insane ... he hadn't even considered any alternatives. He tried to laugh at himself before dozing off again ... but his heart wasn't in it.
Tired and dispirited, Miles leaned against the pickup's front fender. It had been a long night and nerve-wracking ... though, in truth, most of the stress had been self-imposed. His eyes roamed from one snow-covered mountain peak to another as he spooned the contents of a small disposable cereal box into his mouth. The early morning air was sharp and clear. There was a lot of winter still in the light wind that ruffled his hair.
He wished he could get a traditional breakfast. Visions of a big fluffy omelet and piles of link sausages danced briefly in his mind. A pitcher of orange juice popped into existence beside the overflowing plate. He sighed. The calories from a good breakfast would be useful later when his energy reserves began to fade but there was no way he could get a meal like that today. On the other hand, he could get the needed calories from the remains of the ham he'd purchased his last night in Provo and from the raisin bran he did have. He philosophically swallowed another spoonful of cereal and milk.
He waved at the driver of a lone eighteen-wheeler as the heavily loaded rig topped the rise and began to gather speed on the downhill side. The two toots from the truck's air horn he got in reply broke the morning calm as the sun spilled over the eastern ridge. He walked slowly to the park's trashcan to drop the empty box inside.
"Soooooo..." he said to himself, letting his Texas drawl extend the word indefinitely, "which way shall we go?" He looked north and then south. The terrain was pretty much the same in either direction. Since his only goal was to disappear, it really didn't matter what direction he traveled.
Reminded again of the single-mindedness with which he'd traveled to get to this place, he shook his head. A gust of cold wind from the north strengthened and made the treetops sway to the south. He shivered.
"Okay, I'll take that as an omen ... south it is." An early rising squirrel scolded him half-heartedly from a nearby stump. Miles grinned at the animal, waving his spoon in greeting.
"Sorry, pardner ... didn't mean to disturb ya." The squirrel watched him intently to see if there would be some food offered to supplement the apology. When nothing was forthcoming, it scampered disdainfully into the underbrush.
He walked behind the pickup and studied the backpack sitting on the tailgate. He'd sorted through the contents at first light, positioning lightweight items lower and to the outside of the pack. That moved the heavier items closer to his back and over his hips, taking stress off his shoulders.
The binoculars were in a side pocket ready to use. Below the glasses was a zipped pouch full of raisins and peanuts for a quick source of energy. A big hunting knife in its scabbard was tied on the side of the pack; it was a little awkward to get to quickly but he could do it if he had to. A compass hung from his neck where he could easily lift it to take bearings. His two canteens were full of water--one lashed behind him to the outside of the backpack, the other hung on his hip belt.
He patted the bulge where the dismantled shotgun was secured inside the pack. He'd decided last night the weapon and its ammunition were just too darned heavy to take with him on the trail. They would stay with him only until he came upon a lake deep enough to hide it forever.
His inspection complete, Miles strolled over to the restroom. It would be the last time he would see even as primitive convenience as this for a long time.
Returning to the pickup, he dug in his pockets and emptied them of everything he couldn't use on the trail. He put the key in the ignition and stacked a pocketful of change on the small cooler he was leaving behind. Both actions invited someone to break in and steal the truck and its contents, and that would be a good thing for Miles.
Pausing, he wondered if he was forgetting something he would need but nothing came to mind. He closed the door carefully, firmly. His hand remained on the handle for a long moment as he gazed at the mountains down to the south without seeing any details of the view.
He was delaying the moment when he left it all behind. He knew this intellectually ... but the knowledge didn't help break the mood. In a few moments he would be leaving everything he had ... everything he'd been and worked for in his life. The realization was daunting. Shaking his head, he forced himself into motion
Mechanically, he sat on the lowered tailgate and pushed his arm through the backpack's right shoulder strap. Twisting slightly, he hooked his left arm through the strap on that side of the pack. He fastened the bulky, comfortably padded hip belt in place and stood erect. Taking the weight of the loaded pack on his shoulders for the first time, he walked away from the truck.
He busied himself with making the pack a comfortable load on his back, pulling the belt-stabilizer straps to position the pack better over his hips and buckled the sternum strap. Yanking down on the load lifters, he dragged the weight a little higher and closer to his body. He tightened and loosened the multitude of straps and buckles, rolling his shoulders and working his upper body until the pack settled into place and rode comfortably.
Returning to the pickup, he locked the tailgate in the up position. Walking along the side of the truck, he let his fingers trail along the fender to maintain the contact as long as possible. Then he trudged behind the gondola station to the trailhead, not letting himself look back.
Turning south on the big trail that followed the Continental Divide from Canada to Mexico, he began to climb the gentle slope along the ridge. He loosened the sternum strap for extra comfort when the exertion made him breathe heavier.
It was mid-morning before the pale green pickup with red and blue emergency lights on top pulled into the parking lot. The cleared area was frequently used by serious hikers using the Continental Divide Trail and passers-by who wanted to spend an hour or two in the wild.
Ranger Tim Cantwell checked the trailhead every day. Weekend hikers and tourists sometimes took on a little more than they could handle at the high altitude and got themselves in trouble. Some days it was absolute drudgery; today the bright sunshine and blue sky made him eager for a good walk.
The three vehicles he found there didn't surprise Cantwell. That was about normal for early March. He knew that many serious hiking enthusiasts were finding the summers too crowded even on a trail that punished hikers with rough terrain and high altitude.
Some experienced hikers were changing their habits and taking the trail in early spring and late fall to avoid the greater numbers in the summer. Grabbing the daypack full of survival gear and first aid supplies he carried ... even on short excursions into wild country ... he wandered over by the pickup and two SUVs.
Examining the truck, his pulse quickened a little. Park Service Rangers were responsible for law enforcement in the national forests, but that wasn't their primary focus. This morning, though, the day crew had been briefed to watch for an older model, dark-colored pickup driven by a white male with a Texas accent and armed with a shotgun. The supervisor passed on the word that two state troopers had been kidnapped for ransom in the eastern part of Colorado but later escaped. There was some thought the kidnapper might be headed west.
The dark green color and half-ton bed fit the description closely enough. It looked to be ten or twelve years old ... and that fit the description too. Ranger Cantwell saw the Texas plate on the front bumper and his heart began to pound. Dropping the daypack on the ground, he loosened his gun in its holster and scanned the parking lot carefully. A quiet breeze cooled the sudden flush on his face.
His boots crunching in the gravel, he walked closer to the truck. Unused to most law enforcement procedures, he self-consciously drew his 9mm semi-automatic. He yanked the slide back and let it snap forward to load a round in the chamber. His thumb clicked the safety off and he used both hands to support the pistol at arm's length in front of him as he'd been taught on the firing range.
The ranger scuttled three paces forward and peeked quickly in the driver's door while trying to watch the forest around him at the same. There was no one inside. He put his back against the side of the pickup and swung the semi-automatic from left to right, searching for the threat he knew had to be close by. In seconds, his vision had slowly contracted to a narrow tunnel. He reminded himself to breathe.
He swept the pistol in smaller arcs, pausing to aim at hiding places from which an attack might come. The tranquility of the deep forest continued undisturbed except for the occasional shriek from a hawk turning huge circles in the morning sky. If there were humans nearby, they weren't making a sound. The forest ranger began to feel a little silly. In another moment, the muzzle was pointed at the ground a few feet in front of him.
Carefully lowering the hammer and putting the weapon on safe, he holstered it. He hurried to secure the strap when he caught the sound of a car on the highway behind him. He didn't want to be seen acting foolish. Rising from the crouch he'd unconsciously dropped into, he looked inside the passenger cabin of the pickup again. Seeing the doors were unlocked, he opened the driver's side door to inspect the interior.
Dust and some small pieces of gravel littered the floorboard. A fair amount of coins were carefully arranged on the small cooler in the floorboard and the keys were in the ignition as if the owner had just gotten out and would be returning soon to drive off.
Ranger Cantwell ran back to his patrol vehicle to radio in a report of his find to his supervisor. His boss was sufficiently impressed with the information that he placed a call to the state police barracks in Pueblo to pass it on.
The grizzled sergeant working the desk was there because of a ski accident three months earlier. Sergeant Garza wasn't happy driving a desk but he knew his knee wasn't ready for field duty yet. The veteran officer considered all the details he could glean from the caller. He had more questions that needed answers and a three-way conversation developed. The supervisor relayed questions from the sergeant to Cantwell over the radio and passed the replies back to the deskbound trooper.
Thanking them, and making sure they understood how sincere he was, Garza gently hung up the phone. He ran a forefinger across his chin where the razor hadn't quite gotten everything this morning. The phone rang again, but he let someone else answer it while he studied his notes.
The ranger had found a big dark-green truck with Texas plates sitting in a parking lot often used by hikers. Inside was a set of keys ... in the ignition, no less. The owner couldn't be found. The inside was neat, the report said--a few stray bits of mud and small stones ... a gum wrapper under the seat--but no real trash. Several dollars in coins were neatly stacked in a prominent place.
The thing was ... the desk sergeant knew of another incident where the suspect had been unusually neat and organized too. That man had been organized enough to capture two armed law enforcement officers and tidy enough to not leave any evidence behind. Sometimes you just knew you'd hit pay dirt. Playing his hunch, the sergeant initiated the process of finding out why the pickup was parked out at the edge of nowhere, apparently deliberately abandoned.
By mid-morning, a request called in to the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles came back with the truck's registered owner. A trooper from the Texas Department of Public Safety was duly dispatched to the address listed for the owner. Unable to conceal their curiosity, the retired couple next door told him where the absent owner worked and the trooper drove across town to catch him just before he left for a late lunch.
The trooper found out the vehicle had been sold months earlier to a Mr. Miles Underwood and she knew that name instantly. When she came out of the pawn shop, she sprinted for her cruiser and its radio.
The information was relayed to the Colorado State Police office in Pueblo inside the hour.
For the first time, there was a name, and soon a fax arrived with a face, to go with the kidnapping reports from southeast Colorado. There was no proof linking the fugitive with the events at the deserted old farm house, but no one doubted he was responsible. Shown the faxed picture, the two officers who'd been kidnapped verified the kidnapper's identity immediately.
Wheels began to move with admirable, unaccustomed speed. District headquarters across Colorado dispatched all the troopers they could pry away from normal duties and sent them to a command post being set up in Monarch Pass. A search helicopter launched from the Colorado Springs airport and flew southwest.
Its support crew climbed into a truck headed for the airport in Salida. The chopper would use the airport there for refueling and maintenance. A second aircraft would be sent from the Denver region when repairs to the tail rotor were completed.
Finally, a call was placed to the governor's office alerting elected officials to the recent developments and suggesting the possibility the Colorado National Guard might be needed for additional manpower.
Everywhere, people began to coordinate personnel movements and reallocations of resources. What should have taken days was done in minutes. This SOB from Texas had dared to mess with some sworn officers and that helped to cut through masses of red tape.
Contempt of cop was not going to be tolerated in Colorado.
A few miles south of Monarch Pass, the object of all the furious activity remained blissfully unaware of it. Miles had stayed on the Continental Divide Trail for only an hour or so before he changed course and zigzagged down the mountain, through a shallow valley, and up another ridge that ran parallel to the one he'd been hiking. He climbed to almost the same altitude as the Continental Trail and began make his way south. He was heading in the same direction as the big path, but there were no hikers on this side of the valley.
He'd paused on the shore of one of the sapphire-blue lakes that dotted the landscape to throw the shotgun and ammunition into the middle. Fed by melting winter snow as well as a small spring, the small lake would never completely dry up and its icy water would serve to dissuade hikers from wading in far enough to stumble over the weapon. The backpack felt a lot lighter too.
It shouldn't have happened. A couple of days later and he would have figured out for himself he had to be wary of areas without adequate cover and he'd have thought to camouflage the bright yellow backpack with the forest-green rain cover he had tucked inside it. In a few more days travel, his legs would have toughened and his back wouldn't have been aching so badly he had to take frequent breaks to rest and massage tight muscles.
Perhaps he just wasn't emotionally alert. Maybe he'd subconsciously decided once he arrived in the mountains all the hard work was done. Getting to the mountains had been the goal for so long and he'd given little thought to what he would do next.
He still should have heard it; the engines laboring at high altitude announced the helicopter's progress well in advance of its actual arrival. There really was no excuse.
It was really bad luck from another angle too. The light was beginning to fail and the pilot was only running a short search pattern so he could say he had.
He'd arrived in the area a short time earlier from the state police post in Colorado Springs and he didn't have enough fuel to make anything more than a quick pass. He badly needed to refuel at Salida before he did anything else but the temporary command post at the top of the pass wanted a reconnaissance and they wanted it done yesterday, if not sooner.
He picked the south side of Monarch Pass mostly because they'd flown in from the north. He would keep going south until he could reasonably tell the CP he was too short of fuel to continue.
Whatever the reason, Miles didn't hear the chopper until it was, almost literally, on top of him. It had cleared the hilltop behind him and was coming fast. As it closed in, the pilot pulled back on the controls and added more power to get some altitude over the power cables while the fugitive trudged through the cleared ground beneath.
Miles took a couple of extra steps before the roar of the motor and frenzied thumping of the rotor blades penetrated the fog of weariness. By the time he thought to freeze, it was far too late. Stopping probably wouldn't have helped anyway. The bright yellow backpack stood out like a beacon in the grassy meadow.
He lurched into motion. Throwing off his fatigue, he dashed for the other side of the clearing as the chopper passed overhead at high speed. It was out of sight in seconds, disappearing behind a rise. Once the sound of the helicopter engines had faded to a distant drone, Miles changed course and ran clumsily back northeast across the naked fifty-yard wide strip of land beneath the power lines.
He ducked into a large grove of spruce and continued to run as hard as he could up the steep slope. There wasn't that much undergrowth at this altitude, but the trees themselves provided more than enough cover. The metallic taste of fear filled his mouth.
The pilot fought to bring the craft around as his partner screamed at him over the intercom. The observer sitting next to the pilot pounded on the frame under the window, cursing at the top of his lungs. In a few moments, with a rare command of the language, he damned all aircraft--especially helicopters--to everlasting perdition, followed quickly by mountains, trees, hanging power cables and the towers that held them off the ground.
"Shut the hell up, George. You know damn good and well I can't stop on a dime so you can get a better view!" The pilot wasn't in a mood to take anything from the observer in the left seat. He had enough to deal with at the moment.
Helicopter controls at eleven thousand feet above sea level were mushy and unresponsive--rotor blades didn't have the same bite on the air up here they did at sea level. It was a lot like driving a big car with soft power steering over a sheet of ice. The driver could pull on the wheel all he wanted, but it wasn't going to change the car's course very much. Slow and sure was the only way to get things done in the thin mountain air.
By the time the pilot had eased the aircraft through a gentle turn to get back to the power line, Miles had run across the clearing and more than four hundred yards into the woods. When he heard the noise of the chopper's engine getting louder, he threw himself under the dark green shield of a squat spruce tree's low hanging branches. His heart pounded and his chest heaved with the effort to fill his lungs.
The helicopter crew couldn't find Miles when they navigated their way back to the clearing. The pilot tried to hover so the observer could search for tracks, but the best he could manage was a maddening slow creep over the ground. Gaining some height, they did a few circles around the tower without seeing anything suspicious and then began to work southwest in the direction they'd last seen him running.
Miles waited for his heart to slow and his lungs to replenish his body with the oxygen it was demanding. When the chopper didn't reappear, he crawled from under the spruce and jogged northeast diagonally up the incline. He was alert now; he did everything he could to stay under cover. His head was on a swivel trying to keep all points of the compass under observation. He was in big trouble and he knew it.
He couldn't travel very fast in this terrain and the police had the benefit of hunting him from above. Climbing over the smallest of fallen tree trunks and negotiating rock formations to maintain a straight course was beyond him in his current state of exhaustion. He had to go around and that took time--more and more of it as he tired further.
It wouldn't be long before they would have a large search party on the ground and could begin hunting for him in earnest. The only thing in his favor was that it was late afternoon. The sun was dropping quickly.
Stopping to rest his aching legs, Miles faced back in the direction from which he'd come and squatted against the trunk of a thick fir. He couldn't see anyone coming after him. He guzzled water from his canteen, hardly pausing to breathe between gulps.
Suddenly the helicopter reappeared a mile or more south of him, climbing hard. It banked and flew almost due east through a pass ... away from where he was hiding. In seconds, it was over the horizon. It had been moving too fast to be searching for Miles. They were leaving.
After a few minutes break, his chest wasn't hurting quite as badly as it had been. He stood to stretch the muscles in his legs. The mountains loomed dark and massive all around, covered with thick forests of spruce and pine. Bald patches showed where fires had scared some slopes and there were signs of sporadic logging. He marked those as places he had to keep away from ... there was no cover there.
Here and there the stone heart of the mountain poked through the sparse soil and snow still covered some of the higher reaches. He had to stay clear of those spots too. If nothing else, travel was too difficult through them. He shivered as the frigid wind cut through the jacket as if it weren't there.
He studied the shape of the land so he could walk in something approaching a straight line while avoiding places he dared not go. The natural tendency to walk in circles in the wilderness was something he couldn't afford tonight. It was vital to get as far away as possible from the last point of contact. Forgoing the nicety of taking a compass bearing, he selected a tall chimney of rock on the shoulder of a ridge northeast of him that would stand out until total darkness took away all landmarks.
He grimaced. He would be climbing at about a thirty-degree angle across the slope. It was only marginally better than climbing straight up the mountain.
"Commander, I don't think you understand what the problem is here."
Sheriff James Barton was beginning to lose patience with the officious senior officer from the Colorado State Police. He might have been a fine policeman in his time, but the gut spilling over the gun belt testified to the fact the highway patrolman spent precious little time out in the field lately.
"All right, Sheriff. Pray tell, sir, what is the problem as you see it." Commander Prescott Winters bit his lip as soon as the words were out. The sarcasm wasn't going to do anyone any good and he knew it.
It was a sign he was already getting tired though he'd arrived and assumed command of the search only an hour before. He didn't know why, but the locals didn't seem to be as enthusiastic as they could have been.
"Please," he said, gesturing for the local law officer to continue. He tried to be conciliatory. "Let's figure out what we need to do."
"Okay." The sheriff spread a large scale U.S. Geological Survey map of the area open on the hood of the four by four he used as a patrol vehicle. "This is where the helicopter crew reported seeing the hiker," he glanced at his watch after putting a dot on the map with his pen, "about an hour and a half ago. They only saw him for a couple of seconds ... never did find him again.
"Now ... a lot of this country is more up and down than it is level," Barton remarked, "so a hiker isn't going to make very good time unless he's on one of the established trails. The guy they saw was nowhere near the Continental Divide Trail or the Colorado Trail. But there are a number of smaller paths that he could use, as well as some forestry roads. Or ... he could be going cross-country.
"He was seen walking a little bit west of due south, but we don't have a clue whether he's still heading in that direction or not. If the man is even slightly intelligent, he's going somewhere else now."
Working quickly, the sheriff laid his ballpoint beside the distance scale and marked the distance he wanted on the barrel of the pen with his thumb. He laid the pen's barrel flat on the map and used a fingernail to set that distance from the place where the fugitive had last been sighted. Using that as the diameter, the sheriff drew a rough circle on the map. He leaned back, shaking his head.
"In terrain like this, a couple of miles per hour is about the best he can do ... but he's going to have a good two, maybe two and a half hour head start on us. He's going to be somewhere in this circle.
"Gentlemen, that's four or five miles in any direction away from the starting point. If I remember my high school geometry, we've got between fifty and seventy-five square miles to search right now, and it's only going to get worse. While we've been talking, we've added a couple more square miles that we're gonna have to go over inch by inch." Sheriff Barton backed away from the map to let others absorb what he'd said. He paused, glaring at the offending map.
"Remember, we don't have any idea what route this guy is taking, how fast he's moving or if he is moving. If we don't get a real big break, we're going to have to look behind every tree, every bush, and every rock in that circle because we won't know whether he's there or not until we check.
"And while we're doing that ... he could be traveling as fast as his legs can go getting away from us or he could get a comfortable distance away from where he was seen and go to ground ... and only he knows which." He studied a sky dissolving slowly from blue to black.
"Pretty soon, it's going to be pitch dark out here and there aren't any streetlights out here. If it turns cloudy--and it probably will at this time of year--you won't be able to see your hand in front of your face without a flashlight. Inside an hour, even with a light, he could be standing a couple yards away and if you aren't shining it right at him, you won't see 'im.
"If he's real unfriendly ... well, we could have even bigger problems. Do we know if this guy is carrying?" He turned to the state patrol officer for an answer.
"Underwood is supposed to have a shotgun and a .357 Magnum revolver. The guy we want was seen with a shotgun but there was no report of a pistol at all," the state trooper commander mused. "We don't know about any other weapons."
He snorted. "Hell, we're only assuming they're the same person. Could be we got a couple o' crazies wandering around southern Colorado. Wouldn't surprise me all that much ... who knows?" He shrugged his shoulders expressively.
"Yeah ... well... ," continued the sheriff, "we do know a couple things. If the guy the chopper crew saw is our man, he surprised two officers over by La Junta at gunpoint, took their side arms away from them, and put both in their own handcuffs.
"Before that, he shot a District Attorney down in Texas. That takes a particular brand of cojones you don't see every day. People ... do not make the mistake of thinking this guy is afraid of you. He isn't and he's proved it already."
The sheriff quit talking and began to fold the map. He'd repeated himself some but, overall, he was pleased he'd been able to get a lot of information across.
"I'd like to piggyback on a couple things you mentioned, Sheriff." Winters paused to get his thoughts in order. "One, if this is Underwood, he's a twenty-year veteran of the U.S. Army. He's familiar with firearms and we'd better assume he's pretty good at using them. Second..."
He paused to find the words he wanted.
"Second, like Sheriff Barton said ... and again, if this is Underwood and if he's the man who kidnapped those two cops ... he's demonstrated a couple of times he won't hesitate to get into ... ahhhh ... potentially violent confrontations. We're not hunting for rabbits out here. Be careful! Consider this man armed and super, super dangerous. Everyone stay alert and we'll get this guy. Remember your officer safety, okay?"
The group of state troopers, sheriff's deputies, and several forest rangers, had all been quiet while Sheriff Barton and Commander Winters laid things out for them. A few raised their eyes to inspect the high mountains surrounding them. It was getting colder by the minute. Some reflected on the fact their wives and girlfriends could be waiting for them with hot dinners and welcoming arms right about now. Two reserve deputies wished they'd invested in a better grade of Kevlar vest.
"Anyway ... thanks, Sheriff. Fifty square miles? Lot of territory," concluded the senior state trooper. He was deliberately working on his people skills ... time to mend some fences.
He looked around to include the rest of the group in the discussion. "It's not going to be easy," he remarked, "but I can't see us just sitting around not doing anything until morning. Our air support will be back overhead in 15 minutes or so. I think we need to push this guy while we have the chance. Otherwise, we may never see him again.
"Anything else?" He waited. "I'm open to suggestions here."
One or two in the group shuffled their feet and pretended fascination in the mountain peaks high above them. They directed their gaze everywhere except toward the commander. Others frowned as they considered what they could contribute.
"Uh ... how sure are we of the place where the 'copter first saw the guy?" The young deputy who spoke had been one of the frowners.
"Pretty darn certain, actually." The reply came from the sergeant who had been designated as liaison for the air operations and had talked at length with the pilot as the chopper left the scene to refuel at Salida's airport. "They evidently caught him crossing one of those cleared areas that run under the power lines. He was right beside one of the big steel towers, they said."
"Well..." The deputy hesitated in the presence of so many senior personnel before plunging ahead. "Curt Barnett over in Mustang Springs has those dogs he's trained for huntin' and I heard he's done some trackin' tryin' to find folks that get lost. I don't know, but maybe he could help find this guy with them dogs. Ya reckon? I mean ... if they have a place where they know the guy's been, shouldn't it be pretty easy to find his trail?" He was asking more than he was telling, but Commander Winters didn't hesitate.
"Good idea." If they could get an idea of which direction the man was fleeing, that would cut down the area they had to search considerably. The commander walked over to the cruiser he'd driven to the pass and spoke on the radio for a couple of minutes.
"Hey, son," he called to the young deputy, "can you tell my dispatcher how to get to where that guy Barnett lives?" As the young man stumbled closer, the commander handed the microphone to him and walked back to the group.
"What about a good tracker? Anyone know of ... someone around here who can do that?" The commander struggled with political correctness and his real desire to know if there was an American Indian living somewhere nearby. He identified Indians as being close to nature and able to trail someone through the wilderness. He was aware he couldn't let anyone know he thought that way, though--no telling who might get pissed off and motivated to file a suit.
"That's no problem," replied the sheriff. "We can have a dozen men familiar with hunting and tracking here in the morning--but you can't do it in the dark ... no way."
"Okay, you guys are the experts." The commander gave in without protest. "Can you set that up for us?" At the grizzled sheriff's nod, he dropped the subject to pose a final question.
"Is there anything else we can do tonight?" he asked the group. He saw a number of shaking heads and heard the non-committal noises indicating he'd probably gotten everything he could from them for the moment.
"Well, if anyone thinks of anything, let me know, okay?" He smiled to show them he was just one of the boys. Grabbing his air liaison officer by the elbow, he walked the man over to the SUV outfitted with a small forest of antennas. Behind him, the group broke into several smaller ones.
A dark sedan drove in from the east and pulled into the parking lot. The supposedly unmarked vehicle stood out clearly as a government vehicle from one agency or another. The cheap wheel covers and uninspired paint job were neon signs proclaiming the obvious.
Commander Winters watched the car as he talked to the trooper he'd escorted to his vehicle. In a moment, three men and one woman in conservative business suits exited the car and peered around to orient themselves.
"Damn!" Winters complained. "What is the FBI doing here?" No one had an answer.
The four agents across the way huddled briefly with their heads close together to discuss some arcane matter. They straightened and the stocky male agent with the youthful face separated from the gathering. He began to stride purposefully across the pavement toward the hapless State Police officer. The other three waited impassively near their car and continued to catalog everyone in view.
Two miles away, the van from the independent television station in Pueblo was laboring up the steep pass. When it arrived, the commander appointed himself as spokesman for the taskforce.
Miles couldn't feel his legs any more. The earlier pain had given way to numbness and he had to watch his feet to make sure they actually moved. He couldn't feel their impact on the ground any longer. Waves of pain from legs and back were thoroughly filtered now by an all-encompassing fatigue. Now they were only bits of information sent to a brain too tired to respond.
Any other time, he would have long since given in to cramped, aching muscles, but that wasn't an option tonight. He had to get as far away as he could from where he'd been spotted. If he didn't, he'd be in jail before the sun rose.
At first, he'd aimed for the rock chimney high on the mountain but he was past that landmark now. Since leaving it behind, he'd tried to stick to a reasonably straight course by keeping the Little Dipper to his left but the sky turned overcast and took that away too. His only means of keeping a reasonably straight course now was to keep the downhill slope to his left front as he descended diagonally across the mountain. It wasn't very good, but it was all he had.
Eventually, his body had to give in to the need for rest. When he couldn't lift his foot high enough to get over a small branch laying flat on the ground, he stopped.
Staggering to a big log, he eased his body into a sitting position straddling the trunk. He swayed slightly as his inner ears struggled to keep him from falling over. He would have removed the backpack but he was afraid he'd never be able to get it back on if he did.