Death of a Flycatcher, Part IX

The story so far: U.S. Fish and Wildlife special agent Angela Dimato is accompanying a group of volunteers on a habitat restoration project via raft in remote western Colorado. Their objective: remove invasive, exotic tamarisk trees and reintroduce native plants, with the goal of improving habitat for native wildlife, including the endangered southwestern willow flycatcher. The group happens upon the camp of two fugitive bank robbers, heavily armed. To avoid panic among the volunteers, Angela reveals the situation only to Kate, the crew chief. When they attempt to call the police, they discover the satellite phone to have been smashed to pieces. At dawn the next morning, gunshots crack the air: All three rafts have been hit and deflated. Angela explains the situation to the worried volunteers. The only way out of the canyon is to hike, which would put the crew in the line of fire. Raft guide Greg is shot in the leg, and volunteer Julia Glew is missing. Angela sneaks toward the bank robbers’ camp, spies both men present, and sees Julia Glew duct-taped to a chair. Angela realizes that the volunteer group’s leader, Kate, must be an accomplice to the criminals!  She hears one of the men say that they’ll have transportation out the next day, and that the volunteers are trapped.

 

Angela needed back up. Fast!

She didn’t wait to hear Leon’s reply. Backing out of her hiding place, she sprinted down the path, retracing her steps to the trail. Once the sun dropped behind the mountain it would get dark quickly. There was only a little daylight left to burn, and Bedrock was at least two miles down canyon.

Thirty minutes later, it was dark enough that the path was impossible to see, and she slowed her pace. Ahead she could see the lone store that was Bedrock. Tightly shuttered, the large wood and native stone structure loomed in the gloom of night sitting alongside a small ribbon of empty road.

Angela peered through a crack between the boards crisscrossing the windows. Inside were plank floors, a potbellied stove, and antique display cases. Toward the back, was a long counter with a wall of square boxes climbing behind. A Post Office sign hung above the counter, anchored on long chains.

She circled the building. On the far side, there was a pay phone. Worth a try.

Digging in her pockets, she pulled out a quarter. The payphone took thirty-five cents—if it was even hooked up.

Based on the deep shadows, the moon, and the time she’d been walking, Angela guessed it was around 10:30 p.m. She scanned the highway in both directions. A sign on Highway 90 read “Paradox 8.” She did the math. It had taken her approximately thirty minutes to cover two miles, which meant it would take her approximately two more hours to hike into town. The odds of a car coming along were slim. From Paradox the closest sheriff’s department was more than two hours away. That meant the soonest help could reach the campers would be near dawn.

Angela didn’t have that much time, and neither did the volunteers. If Kate suspected that Angela had been successful in calling for help, the campers would be in even greater danger and the fugitives might make a move along soon.

Think, Angela, she said to herself. Think. There might be a phone in the store.

She assessed the boards on the window. They were nailed tight. Better and quicker to shoot the lock off the door. She had no idea how far the sound would travel, or whether or not it could echo up the canyon far enough for the fugitives to hear. No matter. Time was of the essence.

One shot obliterated the lock and scared up a barn owl roosting under the eaves. It swooped toward her, wings spread, its flight stirring her hair.

Gun still in hand, she yanked open the door and entered the building, clearing the corners from habit. Holstering her weapon, she did a quick inventory. There weren’t too many supplies still on the shelves in the main room: a few boxes of crackers that had been nibbled at the corners by mice, a few cans of soup and corn.

The back office offered more. In the closet she found some a flashlight, and in one of the desk drawers she found a roll of duct tape. The phone line was dead.

She pulled a trail map from a display near the front counter and spread it open on the flat surface. With the rafts deflated, the work crew and the fugitives were stuck on this side of the river. That left only two ways out—the river or land. The river took them straight downstream and required operable rafts. Even if the fugitives were lucky enough to have rafts on the way, the danger of being spotted and caught was high. Plus, there was no way Kate could maintain her cover.

By land there were only three paths. The one she’d just walked, one that led back to Slick Rock, and one that headed straight west toward Utah.

That was it! Straight west would put them in Canyonlands National Park.

Angela had helped conduct bird counts in the Canyonlands one year. Its 337,598 acres of canyons, mesas, grasslands, and buttes provided ample cover. All Kate had to do was arrange to have a couple of ATVs or dirt bikes waiting on top of the mesa and the men could lose themselves forever.

Somehow she had to get a message to the sheriff and get back to camp before Kate realized Angela had made it to town. Folding the map and leaning over the counter to replace it in the rack, her eyes lighting on the cash register. Not likely there would be any money in it, but it couldn’t hurt to check.

Angela moved behind the counter and pressed the handle. The cash drawer clicked open. Empty. Slamming it shut, her eyes caught a glimmer on the shelf below. Stooping, she found a dime.

Back outside, she placed a call to her boss Wayne and explained their circumstances. He said he’d notify the sheriff and make sure someone came out. Then he told her to head back to camp, and to be careful.

It was nearly 1 a.m. before Angela stumbled back into the clearing. Kate was standing by the fire and rushed toward her.

“Where the hell have you been?”

Angela held up the flashlight. “I tried hiking out to get help. I made it to Bedrock, but the store is all boarded up.”

“I could have told you that,” Kate said. “It’s been closed for a year.”

“The phones were dead. I found a map, but it was an eight-mile hike to the nearest town, and even farther to anywhere with guaranteed law enforcement. I decided I was needed back here. Any word about Julia?”

“The men claim to have her and have ordered us to just sit tight. They say they’ll release her in the morning.”

“Are we sure she’s not in cahoots with them?”

“No.”

“Do they know I was gone?”

“No. We covered for you.”

“Thanks.” Angela never considered herself much of an actress, but Kate seemed to relax, comfortable that her cover remained intact.

Kate grinned. “So what’s the plan?”

Read the final installment of “Death of a Flycatcher” »

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