Immediately after my shoulder collides with the frozen ground, the stone house detonates. I crumple and skid before being tossed like a ragdoll in the shockwave pursuing me out the window. Fragments of the tattering roof whistle overhead and disappear. And then I hear nothing but ringing.
Billowing smoke and dust settles over me as I struggle to lift my battered body. Seconds later the heavier pieces of roof collide with the tops of the trees on their way back to earth. Dragging myself away from the house, I pick glass out of my arms until I reach the clearing where I parked.
Luckily the idiots ignored my auto, choosing to head straight for the stone house. Sliding through the gaping hole on the passenger side, I crank it over and gun the engine. After tearing a donut in the grass I shoot back out the way I came.
Everything goes blood red with thoughts of revenge, as the memories of my dying Dot and my murdered Liz are joined by the rotgut feeling of holding Abby’s blood-stained shoe in my hand. God dammit! Even Job had been allowed to start over!
Swinging wide around a tight corner, my watch floats across my field of vision. The frozen hands mock me. The time’s come, but I’m not going alone. There’s only one thing to do first, and it so happens it’ll fit nicely into the plan. I let up slightly on the gas, allow my racing heart to slow along with the auto.
Finally I see lights in the rearview mirror. Nodding my head in approval, I continue toward the only fitting place for it all to end. Thirty minutes later I bounce onto a dirt road, less than a mile ahead of Vezzoni and his men. I intentionally shoot gravel in an arcing rooster tail, tearing up the ground worse than a deer in rut so Vezzoni won’t lose me.
I speed up to give myself time, whipping past mesquite branches that cramp the little-used dirt road. Skidding to a stop under the giant cedar elm, I rifle thought my satchel for the bundle of letters tied off with string. It’s you and me, Dot.
Gimping toward the tree, I collapse near the rock at its base. With a grunt I tip it over and brush off the metal box I’ve kept underneath it for over 40 years. Tears are flowing freely down my grizzled cheeks, lightly slapping the slick surface. Guilt, regrets, grief, anger, loss, all colliding in the moment. A locket, a photograph, now a bundle of letters—and J.T.’s wedding ring. Just a few years ago, he’d returned, taken it off and buried it with the rest.
When he doesn’t hear from me, he’ll know. He’ll come here first. And he’ll finish the job. Hell’s gonna get crowded.
With the rock back in place, nothing’s left but to blow out the candle. And I got the perfect method in mind. Somewhere distant, cloaked by night I hear the company cars closing in. They smell blood.
My carbide lanterns were crushed on Ranger Hill, but the carbide reservoir is over three quarters full. I’ve already picked the spot—the wash. Thirty yards back, the dirt road turns sharply and crosses a dry wash before creeping steadily uphill to the edge of the bluff shaded by the giant cedar elm.
Quickly I use the camp shovel to load the trunk with a couple inches worth of gravel. Then, unraveling several feet of fuse, I rip up the cushion behind the seat and feed two feet of the wick into the reservoir welded to the bottom of the Model T. Using my forearm I measure the length of the fuse left, run the numbers through what’s left of my mind and come out with 18 seconds. Eighteen seconds.
Headlights dance through the skeletal mesquite trees and live oaks still clinging to life. I estimate the distance to the bottom of the wash. I wanna make sure I surprise the bastard, get close enough to see the piss soaking through the crotch of his pants.
With the fuse coiled on the roof, I scamper around front and start pushing the auto backwards until its rolling slowly of its own volition. Vezzoni’ll be in the lead car now that he thinks I’ve curled up under a tree to die. He’ll want to finish me himself. Headlights shine into the opening just on the other side of the wash.
I climb onto the hood, strike a match and hold it to the tip of the fuse. It sparks to life, sizzling quickly. With one last grunt I hoist myself onto the roof of the Model T on hands and knees. Vezzoni’s car slows to make the sharp turn and angle down into the wash. His cabin lights are on. The fuse burns past the edge of the roof and drops inside the auto. As I stand, stretching out to my full height, I see the man’s eyes following the road across the bottom of the wash and slowly up the other side until he finally sees me.
At first his face reveals nothing but a gloating arrogance, his work-a-day expression. But then something switches. Fear and anger crease his brow as he hits the brakes, stopping dead center in the wash. Rolling toward him at a fast run, I simply smile and nod as the flickering tail of fuse drops through the floor and into the tank.