Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Big Reward - short story

Dak and the Big Reward

Dak was drinking coffee in Joshua's café. He had just returned from his motorcycle sidecar trip to British Columbia with his Uncle Jim. It was mid-morning when the sheriff walked in and sat down in Dak's booth. "Good morning Sheriff Brown," Dak greeted.

"Good morning, Dak. I hear you had a little excitement in British Columbia."

"A little, I guess."

"Well it looks like you got back home just in time for a little more."

"If it's excitement, I'm all ears. What's goin’ on?"

"It looks like we have a fugitive holed up somewhere out in the national forest. Seems he shot a family up in Missouri. Killed the mother and father and one of the kids. Two of the kids survived. Family and friends have posted a $25,000 reward for his capture."

"What's his name?"

"The police bulletin lists him as Harold Kerry, but he goes by Harry."

"What makes you think Harry is up in the forest?"

"Well, he was last seen in a stolen car over in Marshal and the car was found abandoned back on Green Road. And, the reports I get indicate he is a trained survivalist, having served in Army special ops."

"Sounds like he might be a little dangerous. Has anyone been out looking for him?"

"He is dangerous. We launched a major search effort. Bloodhounds, helicopters, National Guard, the whole works. It went on for about a week, but it turned up a big fat zero. Not a track or a trace."

"Do you think he's still out there?"

"Yup. He grew up over around Timbo and he knows these parts well. I think he's got himself a cave out there somewhere to hiide in and do his survival thing until this all blows over and he can head for Mexico or some other safe place."

"I sure could use that reward money."

"I'm sure you could, but you could also get yourself killed trying to get it. Well, I guess I'd better get back to work. Good to see ya back."

"Thanks Sheriff. It's good to be back."

As the sheriff walked out, Dak started some serious thinking. He sure could use that reward money. Dr. Zuk was a great ride for the forest, but he had had a taste of the open road and he wanted a second bike that would be good on the highways. That reward money would buy him a second bike with enough left over for another trip as well.

"If he's out there, I can find him," Dak thought, as he began to put together a plan. He finished his coffee and rode Dr. Zuk home to change into his camo gear and pick up his hand held GPS. He then headed for Green Ridge Road and the spot where he had last seen Adam, the gentle giant, and Ebony, his black panther.

He hid Dr. Zuk in some brush and locked it to a tree, a precaution he has been taking ever since he had the bike stolen by some poachers.

This was Dak's first trip to the forest woods since coming back from British Columbia and he was loving it. He had enjoyed the Pine forests of B. C. with their clean scent and ground carpeted with fallen needles. But he was at home with hardwood trees of the Ozarks and the sound of leaves being crunched beneath his feet. The one thing about B. C., though, was those awesome mountains. He'd never seen anything like them.

As Dak walked deeper into the forest, he would call out "Adam" and then "Dodge," just in case the giant forgot he had a new name. After an hour of this, he sat on a fallen tree and waited to see if the giant would appear.

Dak repeated this several times in different locations over the course of a week. Finally, on the fourth day, while sitting on a stump, he heard a rustle behind him as Adam and Ebony appeared out of the brush.

"It's good to see you, Dak," Adam said as he picked Dak off the ground and gave him a bear hug.

"I see you're still wearing your bear hide clothes," Dak noted.

"It's all I've got until some camper hangs out something big enough for a seven foot man to wear. I've heard you hollering around for me. What brings you out here?"

"I need some help. Let's go to your cave and I'll tell you about it."
Dak quietly followed Adam and Ebony for the two mile hike to their place. As usual, Adam's route was so convoluted that Dak had no idea where they were by the time they arrived. For all he knew, they might have only gone a quarter mile the way the crow flies.

When they arrived at the cave, Adam got a small fire going, put on some berry tea, and set up a couple of camp chairs scrounged from campsites.

After pouring the tea Adam asked, "how can I help you?"

"Well, it seems you've got a new neighbor out here, a fugitive. He's wanted for murder and there is a $25,000 reward for his capture and I need that money."

"I guess that explains all the helicopters flying around and the soldiers tromping through the woods a couple of weeks ago."

"Ya, they had a major man hunt, but they didn't find him. However, the sheriff thinks he's holed up out here somewhere in a cave. He's been trained as a special ops soldier and knows how to survive on his own in the woods."

"So, how can I help you?"

"I figure if anyone can find him, you can, since you and Ebony move around the forest a lot. And, if you do spot him, you can tell me where. I brought along a GPS so you can mark exactly where he is."

"You brought a what?"

"A GPS. It's an electronic navigation device that works in conjunction with satellites which are man made moons circling the earth. The satellites send out radio signals that are received by the GPS. These signals establish the exact coordinates of where the GPS is."

"Whew! That's all too technical for me."

"You don't need to understand it to use it. Look, you press this button with the red light icon to turn it on. When it first comes on there is this page that shows you whether you are connecting with any satellites. When you connect with at least three satellites, a navigation page comes up. That's where you want to be. Think you can do that?"

"That much I can do."

"Okay. Now, don't turn it on until you can see his cave. When you are in a position to actually see his cave, turn it on. When the navigation page comes up, press this button that says "mark." Give it a couple of seconds and then turn the thing off. That's all there is to it."

"I'll do it for you. Give me a few days and I'll see if I can find your man."

Adam and Ebony escorted Dak back to his bike and Dak rode on home. The next day he rode down to Mt. View to see Sheriff Brown.

"Mornin' Sheriff," Dak greeted.

"Mornin' Dak. What can I do for ya this mornin'?"

"Have you got a picture of that Kerry character?"

"Sure! What do you want it for?"

"I gotta make sure I'm bringing in the right guy."

Dak studied the copies of the pictures the sheriff gave him, looking for distinguishing features. He was a normal looking guy, though his nose was a little large. He had thin lips and bushy eye lashes. He also had a slight scar along his nose. It looked like the scar Dak carried from catching a fish hook in the face. The police description listed him as six foot, 200 pounds with blue eyes and blond hair. He is believed to be 35-years-old.

The next morning Dak was at Joshua's early, hoping the sheriff would drop by for a little breakfast. He was not disappointed.

"Good morning," Dak greeted as the sheriff slid into the booth across from him. "I've got a couple of questions concerning this Kerry guy."

"Sure, go ahead."

"Well, just supposing I come across him and he's dead. Would I still get the reward?"

"I suppose."

"What if he was dead because I shot him?"

"That would depend on how it came about that you happened to shoot him. If it was self defense, I suppose you'd get the money. If it wasn't, you'd probably get a few years of hard time. Why so many questions? You don't really think you can find him do you?"

"If he's out there, I can find him, but I'm not sure I can bring him in. At any rate I want that money pretty bad, so I can get a new bike."

"If you should locate him, son, you'd better call for help or you could find yourself dead. You're pretty good out there in the woods with all the huntin' and stuff you've done, but you're no match for this guy. He's hunted those woods just like you, only he's had some tough army training to boot."

Sheriff Brown ate his breakfast and left, but Dak sat through another three cups of coffee. He had to decide what he would do if Adam found Kerry's hide out. He knew the sheriff was right. He could wind up dead, but then $25,000 was a lot of money and that kind of money didn't come without its risks. If he got some help, he'd have to split the money, unless he got Adam in on it. Adam would probably do it, but it would ruin his life if he got found out. The sheriff would have to launch a big investigation into his background. Then the press would get wind of it and the woods would be full of reporters and camera crews sensationalizing the story, and Adam's little paradise would be finished. A new motorcycle wasn't worth messing up his friend's life.

He could ambush Kerry, but it's hard to make an ambush look like self defense and deep down he knew he didn't have any right to take this man's life, even if he was wanted for murder. He hadn't been convicted of anything yet.

Dak got up and paid for his coffee. Until he talked to Adam again, he might not have any decision to make anyway.

That evening he rode out to the forest hoping to meet up with Adam. He parked Dr. Zuk and found a comfortable place to sit where he could use a tree as a back rest and waited. Darkness slowly fell over the woods as Dak dozed off. He was awakened by a big gentle hand shaking him.

"Wake up Dak."

"Huh! Oh, it's you. I must have dozed off."

"I think I have your man, or at least I have spotted someone new living out here. There's a guy living in a cave a few miles south of here. I followed your directions with the GPS so you should be able to find him."

"Wow! Thanks Adam. Tell me what you found."

"Sure. He's living in a cave and he's set up like he intends to stay for awhile. The location makes it hard to find and difficult to sneak up on. It's at the base of a cliff so you can only approach it face on. The face is down in a hollow and can only be approached by coming over a high ridge which makes it hard to sneak up on him."

"Thanks, Adam. I'll have to check things out and do some planning."

They said their good-byes and Adam and Ebony slipped off into the dark.

Dak got up the next morning and gobbled down his usual breakfast of Special K, Toaster Strudels, and orange juice. He turned on his GPS and copied down the co-ordinates Adam had marked for him. He then got Dr. Zuk out of the shed and headed over to Uncle Jim's office at the Forest Service.

"Uncle Jim," Dak greeted, "I need a topographical map for these co-ordinates." He slid his note across the desk.

"Sure," Jim said. "I think I can find you one."

He returned with the map. "You can look at it here or pay me five dollars and take it with you."

"Here's five bucks. Thank you Uncle Jim."

Dak raced for home and spread the topo map out on the table. He located the co-ordinates that were marked on his GPS. He studied the terrain on the map as carefully as he had studied Kerry's face. Apparently Adam had been standing on the ridge opposite the cliff with the cave at the base.

It looked like the cliff was a couple hundred feet high on the north side. Nobody could come at it from that direction. He could approach the cave from atop the ridge, but going down the steep south side would keep him off balance and in a poor position to fight. The hollow ran a few yards west and took a turn north and a quarter mile east before taking a turn south.

Dak decided he'd have to recon the site for a day or two before he could make any definite plans, so he got his gear together: GPS, a ghillie outfit for extreme camouflage, his hunting rifle, a pair of binoculars, and some snacks. The ghillie stuff would make him invisible at his observation post as long as he didn't move.

Dak headed out on Dr. Zuk, figuring he could get within a mile of his destination on the bike. When he rode as far as he could, he hid the bike and locked it to a tree as usual. He hiked in from the south side of the ridge and as he neared the top he begin to belly crawl into position. As he crawled over the top, he could see the cave below. Adam had gotten it right.

Dak made himself a nest among some brush, put on his ghillie clothes and settled in to watch.

It was mid-afternoon before the cave dweller showed up. He came up the hollow from the west carrying a yearling deer over his shoulders.

Dak studied the man through his binoculars. There was no doubt he was looking at Kerry. He had his man. Kerry set about gutting his game. He cut the back strap off for his evening meal. He then cut the rest of it in strips and hung it on a makeshift rack to dry in the sun. He also built a smoky fire under it so the smoke would help the drying process and flavor the jerky he was making. It looked like his intentions were to stay.

The late afternoon sun began to set and soon darkness settled over the hollow. Kerry had built a small fire for cooking and kept it going after dark.

As Dak watched, he also listened to the night sounds of the forest which he so much enjoyed but that city folks often found frightening. The whooo, whooo, hoot of the screech owl could certainly be scary to the person who had never heard it before. And the scream of a panther would pierce the night so as to chill the blood even of those who had heard it. Of course the experts claimed there were no panthers in Arkansas, but Dak knew better.

His favorite sounds, though, were those of the crickets and katydids. The chirping rises and falls until there are hundreds chirping, each sounding like he has a microphone and an amplifier. Those who talk about the quiet of nature have never experienced a summer night in the Ozarks.

Dak dozed off and on throughout the night. Kerry had put out the fire and gone into his cave right after he was done eating, and there was nothing else to watch 'til morning. He spent his waking time trying to figure out how to get this job done without bringing someone else in on it.

His mind wandered back to Miss Beddles ninth grade lit class and "The Most Dangerous Game." Would any of Rainsford's tricks work here?

The Malay man catcher, which involved setting a deadfall tree so it would fall on his victim, was out. It almost worked for Rainsford because General Zaroff was hunting him and Rainsford could make sure his trail went past the trap.

The Burmese tiger pit had promise, but the ground where Rainsford dug his pit was soft. It would take forever to dig a pit in this hard scrabble ground. And, he would still have the problem of getting Kerry to walk into the trap.

Finally, it was the Sunday school story of Gideon that gave him his inspiration. As he remembered the story there was this general named Gideon in the Old Testament. By the time he got done running all his guys through boot camp, he only had three hundred who could pass the course. Unfortunately, there was an army of many thousands waiting for him in the valley. It appeared to be an impossible situation.

After consulting with God, Gideon came up with a plan. He waited until dark and then he gave each soldier a torch and a clay pot to hide it under. He spread them out along the hillside over looking the enemy. At the sound of the trumpet, they all broke their pots, letting the torches shine, and shouted something about the Lord and Gideon.

When the enemy heard the trumpet blast and crash of all those pots, they looked at the hills and saw three hundred lights. Since they had bad recon, they had to assume each light represented a commander and all his troops. They immediately panicked and fled the scene, giving Gideon a great victory.

As Dak recalled the story, a plan for his own battle began to form in his mind. By the time dawn was breaking, he had come up with a plan. He stayed in his stake-out until dark and then slipped out of the woods and rode Dr. Zuk on home.

Next morning, Dak paid a visit to his nerdy friend, Fredrick. "Good morning, Fredrick," he greeted, "I'm in need of some technical help."

"Mornin' Dak. What kind of help."

"You remember that public address system you rigged up for Sheriff Brown the last time he was up for re-election?"

"Ya, I remember."

"Well, I need about three of those speakers and some instruction in how to rig 'em, along with a half mile or so of wire."

"I can get you the speakers. To get the wire you're gonna have to make a trip over to Highland to the Army Surplus store and get a couple spools of surplus commo wire. You also need to pick up a deep cycle marine battery."

Dak rode over to Highland to pick up the stuff, and while he was there, he also bought a bunch of surplus camo netting.

He listened intently as Fredrick showed him how to hook up all this electronic gear. He then loaded it in the pickup as this was no job for Dr. Zuk.

He waited until dark before he headed out to the forest. It was a clear night and the moon and stars provide enough night light for Dak to do his work.

It took him three trips to haul all his gear the mile from his truck to his observation post. First he set up the battery, amplifier and control box, and one loud speaker in his observation post and carefully camouflaged it with the netting he had brought.

Next, Dak took one of the speakers and spool of commo wire about sixty yards west of his post where he found a good place to nestle it on the ground. He then connected the wire to it and camouflaged it. Concealing the wire as he unspooled it back to the amplifier was the difficult part, but he did what he could and hoped for the best. He took the other speaker in the opposite direction and set it up.

Everything was ready and now Dak was beginning to have second thoughts. "Would this really work?" he wondered. "Would Kerry fall for the trick? What if he came out shooting?"

Dak decided now that everything was ready to go, he'd done enough for one night. He'd go home and get some rest before he set the trap. A voice in his head argued that maybe he should let the sheriff in on his plans. Another voice told him this was his project and he didn't want to share the credit and especially the reward money.

It was 3:00 a.m. When Dak got to bed and he slept soundly until noon. The sky was clear when he woke up and, like last night, it was to be a cloudless sky. He decided he would bring Kerry in tonight, but first he would let the sheriff in on his plans.

After a jumbo bar-b-que sandwich and super sized fries at Joshua's, Dak headed over to the sheriff's office. "Good morning, Sarah, he greeted the dispatcher. "Is the sheriff in?"

"Good morning, Dak. Sheriff Brown is gone for the day. He won't be back until this evening. Is there something I can do for you."

"Na, it's just something I wanted to discuss with him."

"He tells me you're huntin' that Kerry fellow for the big reward money. Find 'im yet?"

"That's kinda what I wanted to talk to the sheriff about, but it can wait."

Dak was relieved when he left the sheriff's office. It looked like he was going to have it both ways. He would spring his trap tonight, knowing he had tried to talk it over with the sheriff. It wasn't his fault the sheriff wasn't in.

It was shortly after midnight when Dak headed out for the forest on Dr. Zuk. He took with him his ghillie togs, rifle and scope, GPS, and cell phone. He locked the bike to a tree and slipped off into the dark woods. After a hundred yards or so, he sat on a stump to give his night vision a chance to adjust.

As he sat, he identified each sound as he heard it until he heard a sound that struck fear in his gut. He was definitely hearing footsteps.

Dak slipped off his log, switched his safety off on his rifle and laid prone behind a bush ten yards back and waited. The steps came closer and a shadowy figure came out of the woods and sat on the log that Dak had been sitting on only twenty seconds earlier.

Dak slowed his breathing down and strained to see. From the size of the man sitting on the log he judged him to be Kerry. "I could take him right here," Dak thought. His scope on him and he had him dead to rights.

"What if it's not him," Dak thought. "I can't tell for sure in the dark. If he makes a wrong move and I plug him, I might get the wrong guy. Besides, I'm not sure I could shoot him anyway. And, if I order him to stand up and put his hands behind his back, he might dive behind a shadow and slip off into the woods and then I'd have him hunting me."

As these thoughts were circling through Dak's mind, he could feel his nose start to itch. A sneeze was coming on. He tried to think it away, but he could feel the sneeze growing. He had to kill it. He jammed the tip of his index finger into the cartilage at the bottom of his nose and hoped the slight movement went unnoticed as the sneeze passed.

He continued to keep the man in his scope until he finally stood up and walked away. Dak followed him until he felt certain they were going to the same place. It was his man alright.

As Kerry went on to his cave, Dak worked his around to the back side of the ridge and crawled to his observation post. He pulled on his ghillie outfit and lay on the ground to wait for morning. It was then he realized that even if he had challenged the man back at the log he'd have been in trouble. He had not thought to bring anything to secure the guy's hands. No handcuffs no zip ties. He had to figure a way to deal with this problem.

It was another three hours until daylight when Dak lay down. He dozed off as he waited for morning. When he awakened, Kerry had a small fire going and was brewing some coffee. It was time to spring the trap.

Dak reached over and flicked the amplifier power switch on and set the selector to the speaker next to him. He spoke into the mic: "You're surrounded by sharp shooters Kerry. Put your hands up." The sound from the speaker reverberated through the forest.

Kerry jumped back into the cave and reappeared in the entrance with a rifle. He popped off a couple of shots toward the sound. Dak saw the dirt kick up to the right of him. "This guy must be crazy," Dak thought as he moved the selector switch to the west speaker.

"Don't fire," Dak shouted. "You're surrounded."
Kerry swung his rifle and again took a shot at the sound. Dak carefully took a shot at the dirt in front of Kerry's feet and shifted to the east speaker. "Stop the shooting," Dak broadcast. We don't want to have to kill you. We just want to take you in before some bounty hunter gets you."

"I didn't mean to kill those people," Kerry yelled back. I went to collect on a debt and they attackedz me. It was self defense."

"That's good. Let's just let a jury decide and then you'll be free and no one else will have to die," Dak said.

Kerry's answer was to fire a couple more shots at the sound. Dak fired another warning and Kerry disappeared back in his cave. Dak listen for some response or to see if he was going to come back out, but all he heard was a muffled explosion.

"He's setting a trap for me," Dak thought. "He wants me to come in the cave to see if he shot himself and then he'll ambush me."

Dak turned on all three speakers. "Come out or we'll tear gas you out," he shouted. Then Dak took out his cell phone and called the sheriff at home. "Sheriff Brown, Dak here. I've got your man holed up in a cave and I need some backup."

"Well I'll be darned. Just exactly where are you?"

Dak gave him the coordinates and added, “ you'd better bring some tear gas.” He then settled in to wait without taking his eyes off the cave. Soon he saw a Forest Service helicopter land in a clearing a short ways away. In a few minutes he heard the sheriff and his team coming through the woods behind him. He signaled them to come up to his observation post.

"He's in that cave," Dak reported to the sheriff. "He went back in there after I took a shot at him. I heard a muffled explosion, but suspect he's set up a trap and I'm not going in to find out. Did you bring some tear gas?"

"Sure did. Let's go see if we can flush the rat out."

Dak and the sheriff worked their way down to the cave while the deputies covered them from the ridge. The sheriff lobbed a tear gas canister in the cave and they waited. After five minutes, he lobbed in a second one.

It looks like he's not coming out," the sheriff said after a few minutes. "Let's give 'er a little time to clear up and I'll go in and see what's going on. I suspect he's dead.

The sheriff approached the mouth of the cave. "Kerry, there's no way to escape, so come on out," he shouted. The sheriff disappeared into the cave and came out with tears in his eyes, dragging a body by the legs.

"Here's our man," he said. "Died from a self inflicted gun shot to the head. Let me check his billfold for some identification."

The sheriff read the man's I.D. Card and smiled. He handed it to Dak. "Here, read this." Dak looked at the name on the card. It read, "Harold 'Harry' Kerry."

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