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their way through that chain out there, he was certain this was the
place his father had come or been brought at gunpoint; but there
wasn t a shred of proof of it or the slightest clue to their identities.
Even reporting it to Brubaker was pointless; he wouldn t find
anything here either. Of course, he d probably know who owned
the place, but that was of little value. The owners would have
entered with a key, not a pair of bolt cutters.
He sighed and got in the car and started back out to the gate.
From the sagebrush off to his left, the vultures took off again,
flapping clumsily to get themselves aloft. Purely on impulse, he
stopped the car and got out. It was probably the carcass of a jack-
rabbit or a calf, but at least he d know for sure. As he started out
through the brush, he saw a lengthening plume of dust rising from
the road. It was coming up from the south, the vehicle itself out of
sight beyond the low ridge this side of the gate. He stopped to
watch it. It came up to where the gate would be and went past. He
went on, beginning to be conscious of the odor of putrefaction. The
carcass came into view then. It was a burro, or what was left of
one.
It lay in a small open space surrounded by a scattering of
greenish-black feathers and the white lime of bird droppings
where the vultures had been tearing at it for days or perhaps
weeks. All the soft tissues were gone now, consumed by the big
birds and the other, smaller scavengers of nature s clean-up crew,
so that little remained except the skeleton, some of the tougher
connective tissues, and enough of the leathery hide to identify it.
He was about to turn back to the car when he noticed a puzzling
thing about the skeleton. Nearly all the ribs were broken.
Man on a Leash  75
That really was odd, when you thought about it. The scavengers
could separate the individual bones as the connective tissues
deteriorated, but their breaking anything as strong as the ribs of
one of these small desert mules was out of the question. He
wondered what could have killed it. The only North American
predator with the power to smash in the chest that way would be a
grizzly, and there were no grizzlies in the desert or probably
anywhere nearer than Yellowstone.
He shrugged. Strange it might be, but not very important. It
could have been hit by a car or truck out on the road and then
brought in here to be disposed of. He turned away and started
back to the car, idly watching the ground for tracks. He d taken
only a few steps when he saw the piece of metal. He picked it up.
It was a small aluminum cap, and even as the tingle of excitement
began to spread along his nerves, he saw the other thing on the
ground a thin slice of wood veneer the same length as one of the
Upmann cigars. It was flat now instead of curled, and somewhat
bleached by the sun, but there was no doubt what it was.
What in God s name had the old man been doing out here by the
carcass of a burro assuming the carcass had been here then? And
where was the tube itself? He began a search then, slowly,
systematically, covering every inch of the ground in a widening
spiral outward from the burro. Several times he saw heel prints,
but the ground was too hard to tell whether they were all made by
the same pair of shoes. The sun beat down relentlessly, and the
smell was disagreeable until he began to get farther away. It was
obvious now the burro hadn t been dragged in here or unloaded
from a truck because no vehicle had been near the place at all, but
this interested him only slightly at the moment. It was a full ten
minutes before he found anything else, and then it wasn t the cigar
tube he already knew he wasn t going to find that, and why.
It was a small strip of brown plastic or wax-impregnated
cardboard a little more than an inch long and varying from a half
inch to an inch in width, jagged of outline and looking as if it had
been scorched. It was slightly curved as though it had once been
part of a cylinder, and it was crimped at one end. The only images
he could evoke from this much of it were of a shotgun shell or a
stick of dynamite, but it couldn t be either of these because of the
markings. At one end, where it had apparently been crimped, was
a plus sign, and at the other, where it was torn and scorched, the
two lower-case letters: fd. Was there a word in the English
language that ended in fd? He couldn t think of one, and if he d
Man on a Leash  76
ever seen anything resembling this, he couldn t remember it. He
put it in the pocket of his shirt.
The three beer cans made even less sense. He found them as he
was completing his last circuit, now a good fifty yards away from
the burro. They were almost that far again beyond him, toward the
house, but sunlight glinting off one of them caught his eye and he
went over. They were shiny and new, emptied only recently, and
were strung together with short lengths of soft copper wire as if
somebody had fashioned a homemade toy for some toddler to drag
around. He pulled them from the clump of sage in which they were
caught, looked at them blankly, and shook his head.
Their being linked together with the wire seemed too pointless
even for speculation, and their only significance was the proof that
there had indeed been people here within the past few weeks and
that, contrary to the evidence so far, they weren t a new species of
man subsisting off the surrounding air in the manner of lichens
and orchids, both of which he d already established when he found
the cap to the cigar tube. He tossed them back into the bush, went
out to the car, savagely turned it around, and drove back to the
house. There were only two possibilities. Either they d carried
everything away with them, in which case he was out of luck, or
they d disposed of it farther from the house, possibly by burning or
burying.
He parked in the shade of one of the trees in the rear yard and
went straight back, carrying the binoculars. At first the ground
was flat, sparsely covered with sage, but after about two hundred
yards it rose in a series of low benches, cut here and there by
ravines. He climbed up and turned to survey the flat, sweeping the
glasses slowly back and forth over all the ground between there
and the house. Nothing. He went on, following the course of one of
the twisting ravines for several hundred yards, crossed it, and
worked his way back down another. The sun was blistering, and
sweat ran down his face. Thirst began to bother him, and he
wished he d taken a drink of the water before he started. A
jackrabbit burst out of a clump of sage and went bounding off.
Heat waves shimmered off the rocky ridge just beyond him to the
north. It was a half hour later, and he was a good quarter mile
from fhe house when he found it.
A steep-sided gully about twelve feet deep led off from one of the
ravines, and at the bottom of it, half-covered with dead
tumbleweeds, were the remains of a fire and a heap of blackened
tin cans and broken bottles. He backtracked, found a place to
climb down into the ravine, and followed it up to its steep-sided
Man on a Leash  77
tributary. He entered it, feeling the brutal heat within its
constricting walls, and smashed and shoved the old tumbleweeds
out of the way.
He found a short piece of stick left over from the fire and began
to probe carefully through the pile, separating and cataloging its [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]