I awoke in a panic with sharp pains running through my body, gasping for breath. I looked around the room and relaxed. For a second I thought I was strapped to Crystal’s torture rack in her basement until I saw the familiar surroundings of my fishing cabin I inherited, from my parents, upstate from Big City.
“Shit Tony, get a hold of yourself.”
It’s only been a few days since being tortured by that deranged woman. Once that case was over I came up to the cabin to recuperate from a few broken ribs, burns and other injuries. Jim Cooper’s case was hard on the body but he got justice in the end and my client was happy with the results considering.
I hobbled to the bathroom and took a shower. My water heater was broken so my shower was ice cold but it felt good on my body. Afterward I got dressed and put Louise, my trusty .38 revolver, in her shoulder holster and headed to town on Fat Boy, my Harley.
It was beautiful up in the mountains during the fall season. It wasn’t cold enough for snow yet, but the fishing was great up here this time of year. I needed to get some bait and some supplies for the cabin. When I got here two days ago I just went to bed. I had some rations that I keep in the cabin for emergencies, which I ate when I was hungry. Mostly I just slept to rest my body. I was feeling good today and was ready to rejoin civilization. If you can call the mountains civilization. My nearest neighbor was a mile away and the town, Red Valley Falls, was about ten miles south. I did see people from time to time though. My cabin was on the lake and the woods around my house was good for big game hunting. Bears, wolves, deer, all could be found. People hunt up here 24 hours a day and I would hear gunshots from time to time.
The ride to Red Valley Falls was a peaceful one. Main street had only a few stores on it. There was the general store, where you could buy everything you need to supply your house. A gun/bait shop. A gas station, sheriff’s office, town hall, and a local bar that doubled for a diner. We also had Red Valley Motel, which was on the lake with 18 units. They rented out boats for fishermen if they so desired. There was a lumber mill fifty miles north of Red Valley Falls that brought people from all around to work. Most people that lived around here either fished, hunted, were lumberjacks or drank. There weren’t to many other options. We did have moonshiners and pot growers that lived around the area as well, but they really didn’t advertise what they did.
As I drove past the motel I saw a bunch of cars in the parking lot. Most likely hunters or fishermen. I pulled in front of the general store. Through the window I could see old man Rogers, the owner of the place, sitting behind the counter smoking a pipe. He saw me and smiled as he gave a wave of his hand. Old man Rogers had owned the general store close to forty years now. My parents used to tell me stories about the olden days when old man Rogers would make moonshine and sell it as ‘cough syrup’ right over the counter. He’s been around these parts for well over sixty years and has a photographic memory, but he denies it, and could tell you everything that has happened around these parts.
I noticed a wanted poster hanging on the window.
Doogan ‘The Ear’ Ashe
5’10” 225lbs, Brown hair, Green Eyes
Wanted for the crimes of:
Multiple counts of Murder, Escaping Custody
Has been seen around the area
for information leading to his capture
Considered armed and dangerous
I took out my cell phone and snapped a picture of the sign. I opened the door and went inside.
“Hey Mr. Rodgers, how’s it going?”
Old man Rodgers gave me a smile.
“Morning Tony, as usual, it’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood. What’s it been? Three years now since you’ve been here?”
“Something like that. I’ve been very busy the last few years.”
“I heard about Mary’s death. Sorry for your loss, she was a good woman.”
Old man Rodgers put out his pipe and gave me a once over.
“You doing ok? You look like hell.”
I had to laugh, he always knew when to change a subject.
“I’ll be fine. I just need a little rest. It’s been a rough week. I figured some fishing will do the trick, but I need some supplies. I’m sick of the canned soup and beef jerky I have at the cabin.”
Old man Rodgers smiled.
“You’ve come to the right place my boy. I have the finest dinning for miles around. Just this morning I got a fresh shipment of venison from one of the locals. Hunting’s been good the last few weeks.”
My stomach started growling at the sound of real food. Venison is an acquired taste, but for me it’s heaven. We don’t see much of it in Big City. I walked around the store grabbing things off the shelf that I thought I might need for my vacation.
While old man Rodgers was ringing me up I decided to ask about the wanted poster.
“What’s the deal with Doogan Ashe?”
“Doogan is one mean son of a bitch. I’m surprised you haven’t heard of him. He’s one of those white supremacists, he’s also ex-military. Two years back he was finally convicted and sentenced to death.”
I nodded. “I remember that trial. Doogan Ashe was that serial killer that terrorized camping grounds around the mountains, killing whole families at a time and always taking an ear for a souvenir. It took three different law enforcement agencies, six months and 1000’s of hours of man power to finally apprehend him.”
Old man Rodgers frowned as I recalled the man’s crime.
“Yup, that’s the guy. Supposedly he was being transfered to the penitentiary up north, but escaped during transit. I hear he’s been living off the land around these parts, killing for his food. A couple of hunters saw a fire a few weeks back near Red Valley Gorge and went to investigate. They found a campsite with deer meat on a spit, deerskin clothes hanging on some branches, some makeshift spears, sharpened stakes, homemade arrows and bow. As they were at the campsite Doogan came running out of the brush dressed all in deerskin and stabbed one of the hunters in the chest, killing him instantly. The other hunter fired his rifle at Doogan, but missed. Doogan then ran back into the woods while the hunter fled to get Sheriff Myers.”
“That’s horrible.” I said repulsed. “How do they know it was Doogan Ashe?”
“The hunter recognized him and the Sheriff showed him a picture of Doogan Ashe and he confirmed it. Myers got a posse together and went out looking for him, but when they got to the campsite his stuff was gone as well as the hunters rifle and ammo. The posse spent the better part of a week searching the woods. The state sent troopers to help out and the Marshal service was here as well. I doubt they’ll find him though. With his survival training, he could probably spend the rest of his life in these woods without being found.”
Old man Rodgers followed me outside and helped me put the supplies in the two saddle bags on Fat Boy.
“I’ll find him.”
Mr. Rodgers burst out laughing.
“How do you plan to do what the state troopers and the Marshal service couldn’t? They had k-9’s, bloodhounds, an army of law enforcement and still couldn’t find him. You’re one man Tony.”
I gave old man Rodgers a smile.
“It’s my specialty. I know these woods better than anyone that came looking for him, with the exception of some of the locals that might have helped.”
Old man Rodgers frowned.
“If your hellbent on finding him, I suggest you go talk to the Marshal. She is staying at the motel, room 17, maybe she can give you some information.”
I shook old man Rodgers hand.
“Thanks for the info.”
“Good luck Tony, be careful out there.”
Old man Rodgers headed back into the store and I sat on Fat Boy digesting the information he told me. I’ve done bounty hunting work before. It can be dangerous work, but the payday is worth it. I knew these woods better then most the folks that live around here. I spent my whole childhood playing in them, hunting and fishing. I took a year off before entering the police academy, after graduation, so that I could spend my time camping and hunting in these woods. I spent the better part of a year hiking, fishing, hunting, living off these lands. I knew once I joined the police force my life would change and I would become a full time city boy. I wanted to enjoy the life and simple pleasures that can only be found in nature. During that year I learned a lot about myself, surviving off the land is not easy.
I decided to talk to Sheriff Myers first. The sheriffs office was only a few buildings down from the general store and I saw his car parked out front. Sheriff Josh Myers was a good man. He’s been the sheriff in these parts for the last twenty five years. He was born and raised here. We spent many hunting trips in these woods during my teenage years. He was twenty years older then me, but he was a good friend of my dads and came with us on a lot of the trips. He was the one that convinced my dad to let me start hunting with them.
I walked into the office and saw Jackie, Sheriff Myers receptionist, sitting at the desk. She looked up when I walked in, got up and gave me a hug.
“Tony, it’s been so long. How you doing?”
Jackie’s sheriff Myers adopted daughter. She was a good looking woman, red curly hair, green eyes. She was a few years older then me but I knew her well. Her parents died when she was fourteen and Sheriff Myers was her godfather, so he took her in and raised her. When she graduated high school, Sheriff Myers gave her a job as his receptionist.
“I’m fine thanks. You look great.”
She smiled at the compliment and did a little twirl. She was five foot five and couldn’t have weighed more than a hundred pounds. She couldn’t cope with her parents death and put on a lot of weight. She’s been struggling with it ever since. The last time I saw Jackie was almost four years ago and she was much heavier.
“Thank you. I’ve been on a new diet and jog each morning nowadays. What brings you to the Sheriff’s office? Everything ok?”
Jackie frowned at the mention of his name.
“I plan on capturing him and was hoping Josh could bring me up to speed.”
“He’s very dangerous Tony. I would stay away from this. I don’t want you getting hurt. Let the Marshal service capture him.”
I was about to respond when Sheriff Myers came out of his office.
“Tony, it’s been a long time. How you been?”
Sheriff Myers came over and shook my hand. He looked very old, tired, and out of shape. He was six foot and weighed close to 300 pounds. It was all in his middle.
“I’m doing good thanks. I plan on tracking Doogan and was hoping you could help me out with what you know.”
Jackie frowned again but kept her mouth shut and went back to work. Sheriff Myers brought me into the office and closed the door.
“Take a seat Tony. It’s good to see you. I’ve heard about Mary. Sorry for your loss. She was a good woman.”
I took a seat next to his desk.
“Thanks Josh. It was hard for awhile but I’m finally starting to go out again socially. Her killers still aren’t found but I won’t give up. One day I will avenge her death and bring her killers to justice.”
Josh looked saddened but knew me well enough that I was uncomfortable about the situation and moved on.
“So whats this about Doogan Ashe? You want to track him? He already killed one man around here and has military and survivalist training. He’s in his element out in the woods.”
I waved my hand dismissing his training.
“You know me Josh. I spend my living tracking down people, plus I know these woods better then anyone around here. I can handle myself. I’m just looking to see what you got so far.”
Josh opened up his desk and pulled out a folder and handed it to me.
“This is everything I’ve got on Doogan Ashe. I can save you the trouble though. He’s one mean son of a bitch. When we got to the campsite everything was gone except the hunter he killed. The coyotes must’ve run off when they heard us coming. It wasn’t a pretty sight. His stomach was ripped open and his innards were hanging out. I can tell you it was definitely Doogan Ashe. The hunters left ear was missing. We followed his tracks for about an hour and the ended at Shawnee River.”
I nodded as I listened to the Sheriffs tale. I flipped through the case file and noticed the part about Doogan taking the left ear of his victims. It was kept out of the media in case copy cat killers popped up while he was on the run. It also had his arrest record and the details of his other crimes. It listed that he had a sister, but she lived in Big City. Maybe I can give Dwight a call and have him stop by and ask her some questions for me.
“Anything else missing from the hunter? His cell phone maybe? I know Doogan took his hunting rifle and ammo.”
Sheriff Myers shook his head. “Nah, the hunter still had everything else. I figured Doogan would take his boots and clothes but he didn’t bother.”
“Doogan’s smart. By wearing the deerskin clothes, he masks his scent from the other deer in the area and it would be easier for him to track one and kill it. I won’t be surprised if he kills a wolf or bear to make a jacket, it is getting colder now this time of year and he’s going to need some warmth and shelter soon. He probably won’t use the hunters rifle unless it was an emergency. The sound of gunshots travel in the mountains and he wouldn’t want to alert anyone as to his whereabouts.”
Sheriff Myers smiled as I talked. “Sounds like you know what he is thinking.”
I smiled back. “That’s what I did when I lived in the woods. I made my own clothes out of wolf fur and deerskin. I’d wear the deerskin during the day so I was able to track and kill deer easier, and the wolf skin at night so other animals thought a wolf was nearby and stayed away from me. I know a few places where someone can hid up in that direction where Doogan is. He’s not the only one with survivalist training. I will find him. Can I use your copier?”
Sheriff Myers nodded towards the copier and I made copies of his file and put it in a folder that Josh handed me. I handed back his originals.
“Whose the Marshal in town?”
Sheriff Myers gave a whistle. “She’s one tough lady. Don’t let her looks fool you. She has the looks of a model, but the training and skills of a killer. Her name is Greta Ostmen. Her parents are Swedish, but she was born and raised here in the United States. She was first in her class in marksmanship and has tracked down and captured forty three fugitives by herself in the last seven years. You could tell that she is more at home in a city than up here in the mountains. I’ll give her a heads up that your coming by. She might take more kindly to you if she hears it from me. She’s not to keen on bounty hunters.”
I nodded. “Thanks Josh, I’ll keep you updated.”
I said my goodbyes to Josh and Jackie and got back on Fat Boy. It was getting close to lunch time and my stomach was growling. I’d been living on canned soup the last two days and I needed some real food in me. I made my way to ‘Last Call’ the local bar. They served the best burgers around, considering they were the only place that served hot food for miles. They had a small grill and deep fryer to cook on.
The parking lot had a decent amount of cars already for the lunch crowd. I noticed that the ‘Local Yokals’ were playing on Wednesday night. The Local Yokals were a local band thats been together for six years now. They were decent enough. I heard them a few times during my visits here.
I stepped into the bar and the lights were dimmed and people were sitting at various tables eating burgers, venison, french fries, and onion rings. The aroma was mouth watering and my stomach began to growl again. I recognized a few people in the crowd and they smiled and waved as walked past. A few asked how I was doing and tried to make small talk, I was polite and talked to most of them. I finally made it to the bar and smiled. Jack Dawson, owner of the Last Call, was standing behind the counter washing a glass with a rag. Jack was an old hunting buddy of my fathers. He was the size of a bear. He stood six foot seven inches and had to weigh close to four hundred pounds. He spent thirteen years as a lumberjack before buying this bar. He had a long scruffy beard that went to the middle of his chest. I’ve heard many stories about the man. I’ve been hunting with him a few times, he was a dead on shot with his rifle.
Jack came around the bar and scooped me up in a bear hug and I cried out in pain. I had three broken ribs from the last case I was on and that was the reason I came here. To rest and recuperate. He put me down and winced.
I was gasping for breath and holding my sides. It took me a few moments to get my breath back before I was able to speak.
“Had a run in with another person that liked to give bear hugs, during my last case. He broke three of my ribs in the process.”
Jack grimaced. “Sorry about that Tony, it’s good to see you though.”
Jack walked behind the bar and grabbed one of his special brews that he makes in the back and slipped it on the counter.
“On the house Tony. What brings you to Red Valley Falls? I haven’t seen you in three years. I thought you gave up on this place.”
I gave him a smile. “How could I forget about my second home. I’ve just been busy is all. Dealing with Mary’s death and starting up the new business. I’m here to rest and recuperate. My body took a beating on my last case and I need it to heal. What better way than spending time in seclusion, hunting and fishing.”
Jack gave me a big smile. “True enough, nothings more boring then Red Valley Falls. I hear there’s a pack of wolves that moved in close to your place. You need to be careful when you go out hunting.”
“Thanks for the tip.” I took a swig of Jacks home brew. It had a kick to it with a slight aftertaste of apple. “This is good. You have any extra I can bring back to the cabin?”
Jack nodded. “For you, I’m sure I can spare some. You hungry? I just made some venison stew.”
In answer to Jacks question, my stomach started growling again.
“I’ll take the biggest bowl you got.”
Jack went back into the kitchen as I took off my coat and grabbed a seat at the bar and drank my beer. Jack said it has some secret ingredient that makes it so special. I suspect it has moonshine for that extra kick. After a few minutes Jack came out with a bowl of the stew and a small loaf of Italian bread. You could see the steam rising from the bowl as he set it down in front of me. It smelled delicious.
Jack went about the bar collecting plates and bowls from other patrons while I ate my stew. I was so hungry I had it finished by the time he made it back to the bar. He looked over and laughed.
“You want more?”
I nodded as I handed him my bowl. I washed down the stew with the rest of my beer as he brought out another bowl of stew, and handed me another beer.
“What do you hear about Doogan Ashe?” I said to him as he sat down.
He frowned at the name. “He’s as bad as they come. Why do you ask?”
“I plan on collecting his bounty.”
Jack just shook his head and smiled. “You can’t sit still can you.”
I shook my head as I took a spoonful of stew.
“A group of hunters, from out of town, came in about a week and a half ago. They were telling me they found an abandoned campsite close to the falls. There was a deer carcass picked clean left behind, but that was about it. They said whoever was there couldn’t have left more than a day before they got there.”
“If that was Doogan, then he traveled almost twenty miles east of the gorge. I wonder why he is staying around these parts instead of just leaving. He must know there are people here looking for him.”
Jack shrugged as I continued to eat my stew thinking about it. The gorge was north east of town, roughly eight miles. The falls were another nine miles east of the gorge. That puts him close to the Hendricks place.
The Hendricks were the meanest people put on this earth. Ma Hendricks ran the clan. Her word was law as far as the Hendrick boys were concerned. Ma and Pa Hendricks has four boys. Abraham was their oldest. He’s been in and out of jail on numerous occasions. Samuel was the second child. He takes after Abraham and has seen the inside of Big City jail just as many times as his brother. Luke was the third child. He broke away from the clan and works at town hall as Judge Stern’s personal assistant. The fourth child is Daniel. He hasn’t gotten arrested yet as far as I know but he looks up to his older brothers and usually isn’t far behind when they are around.
Rumor has it that Ma and Pa have a huge marijuana growing operation somewhere in the mountains, that they export to Big City. They are very protective of their land and usually shoot first if someone is trespassing, rather than ask questions. The Hendricks have an intense hatred for law enforcement and everything it stands for.
I finished the stew and passed the bowl back to Jack and said. “Do you think the Hendricks are harboring Doogan on their property? It wouldn’t surprise me, they way they feel about the law and law enforcement in general.”
Jack put the bowl in the sink under the counter.
“What would they get out of it? I can’t see them doing something like that without wanting something in return. They may hate the law but Ma Hendricks is not willing to goto jail for a stranger. Now if he had something they wanted…”
“Maybe it’s the other way around. Maybe the Hendricks have something that he wants, so he’s staying around until he finds it. There’s rumors of that marijuana that they grow and the money that comes in from it. I’ve heard that they have close to three million dollars hidden away on their property somewhere.”
Jack scoffed at the idea.
“That’s insane. You’ve seen their house. You see the way they live up there. If they have three million dollars than they sure don’t use any of it.”
“Doesn’t make it untrue though. If they are growing and exporting marijuana than they have no costs, except fuel from driving it to Big City. It’s a pure profit operation. Maybe Doogan is looking for that stash so he can flee the country.”
Jack shook his head. “Thats a big if Tony. I think he’s staying around the area because there are a lot of unused cabins in the woods. He has plenty of choices for shelter in the coming months. When it comes time for spring he’ll split for warmer climates.”
I shrugged. “His biggest mistake is staying here. Either way, I’m going to catch him and collect that bounty.”
I got up and put on my coat and slipped a twenty on the bar. I grabbed my six pack of home brew and shook Jacks hand.
“Thanks for everything Jack. It’s good to see you again, I’ll see you soon.”
“Be careful Tony.”
I gave Jack a smile. “You know me.”
Jack laughed. “Yes I do, that’s the problem.”
I put the home brew into my saddle bags and decided to head home to put away my supplies before they went bad. I decided to go see the Marshal later on in the day. I thought about Doogan Ashe, and why he was staying around the area, on the trip home. The Hendrick boys are in and out of prison, one of them could’ve talked about their cash while trying to buy some protection in jail. Prison is like a small community, everyone hears about everything sooner or later. There are no secrets in prison.
I pulled up to my cabin and noticed a note stuck to my door. I grabbed my supplies, and the note, and went inside to put them away. When I was done with my supplies I sat on my chair next to the fire place and opened the note.
Hello Mr. Gavel,
I heard you were in town and that you specialize in finding missing persons. The Sheriff couldn’t stop talking about you when he called me. I was up in your neck of the woods and stopped by, but you weren’t around. Come see me when you get a chance. I would like to talk to you. I’m staying at the Red Valley Falls Motel, room 17.
Marshal Greta Ostmen
I slipped the note in my pocket and grabbed my cell phone. I had a few missed calls from Aerial. She was a bartender at the Stadium Sports Bar in Big City and hopefully my future girl friend. She helped me out during my last case and we went out on a date. She is the first person in three years I’ve developed feelings for since the death of my fiance, Mary.
“Hello, whose this?”
I smiled when I heard her voice. She knew it was me but she was playing hard to get. She must be pissed that I haven’t called her in a few days after our date.
“Hey Aerial, it’s me Tony. How you doing?”
“Hey, where you been? I tried calling you a few times. I figured you weren’t interested. The least you could’ve done was call me.”
“I’m up at my cabin in Red Valley Falls. I wanted to call you but I needed to rest after that last case.”
I could hear her walking around as she spoke. “I saw it on the news. They arrested some prostitute for Jim’s murder. I heard that you were tortured close to death, and that Dwight saved you.”
I had to laugh and it hurt my ribs in the process. “I guess you can say that. I was tortured and have some burns and scaring on my chest and three broken ribs. Dwight did save me. I’m sorry I didn’t call before I left.”
I could hear the concern in her voice. “Jesus Tony, I just hope your ok. You should have called me. I would’ve taking care of you.”
“Thanks Aerial. That means a lot to me. I’m looking forward to seeing you again.”
She hesitated for a few moments before she spoke. “I’ve got some time off coming to me at the end of the week. I could come up there and nurse you back to health. If you want me to that is.”
I almost dropped the phone. Aerial was a gorgeous woman. I only just met her last week and we have been on one date so far, and here she was offering to spend time with me up at the cabin.
“I uh, um.”
Aerial laughed into the phone. She knew I wasn’t that smooth with the ladies and she thought it cute that I get tongue tied.
“Is that a yes?”
“Yes.” I finally blurted out. “I would love to see you. I’ve some work to do up here but I’m hoping to have it done before you would even get here. Bring some warm clothes with you. I don’t have a tv but I do have a computer, plenty of fishing poles and some hunting rifles, if your into that. I do know you like fishing.”
“Sounds like a date then. I’ll see you Thursday, sometime in the afternoon.” She said.
I gave her directions to the cabin before I hung up the phone. It shouldn’t take her more then five hours to drive from Big City. I couldn’t believe my luck. After I blundered through the first date I was sure I wouldn’t get a second chance.
I went into my room and checked the closet. I had my camouflage hunters gear, rifle, 6 boxes of ammo, 5 fishing rods, hunting knife, matches, compass, night binoculars with a built in digital camera, flashlight, rope, firs aid kit and some dried rations. I had a map of the area that I had drawn during my year living in the woods, hanging on my wall. It had all of the secret little nooks, shelters, mines and other places to hide penciled in. I took it off the wall, rolled it up and slipped it in the backpack. It was one of my prized possessions out here in the cabin. I will need all of that if I was going to track down Doogan Ashe. It’s been awhile since I tracked anything in these woods, and Doogan’s had almost three weeks now on me. Who knows what kind of surprises he has laying around for the unsuspecting.
I filled up my backpack with the gear and loaded the rifle and slipped two boxes of ammo in the pack as well. I checked Louise and made sure she was ready to go if I needed her. I tied the knife to my leg and slipped into some hiking boots. I grabbed a few bottled waters and headed out into the woods. The falls where Doogan may have been hiding out was about a five hour hike from my house. I could drive to the falls, but I wanted to get in touch with the land and maybe see if I could find anything along the way. There was still plenty of daylight left and I could always set up camp for the night.
After the first hour of hiking my ribs were killing me and I was gasping for air. I forgot how strenuous hiking was. I’d gotten soft living in Big City. I sat down and took out my map. I traced my finger along the trail, I was on, going towards the falls. There were two spots that may be of interest that I was going to have to check out along the way.
Doogan was a survivalist. I’m sure he has the area mapped out by now, knowing where he could hide from the law. One of the spots on the map was a small cave that went about forty feet under the ground. It had enough room for me to stand in and would hide a campfire from sight. It was pretty close to where I was now and would take me about a half hours hike north, to get there.
I got up and dusted myself off and headed towards the cave. If I had any luck, Doogan would be there and I could collect the bounty and then rest up for when Aerial came to visit. As I got close I put my pack on the ground and took out my binoculars and scanned the mountain wall. I found the cave entrance within a few moments and sat quietly in the brush watching the entrance.
I waited fifteen minutes and found no activity around the entrance. I decided it was time to go in. I took out Louise and grabbed my flashlight and made my way to the entrance. I stood motionless for a minute listening inside the cave, but heard nothing. I checked the ground and saw footprints all around the area. It wasn’t your normal type of footprint. There was no tread on the ground from a boot or sneaker. It looked like a smooth oval. The kind of footprint that someone wearing deerskin moccasins might make. They were definitely human though.
The first thing I noticed when I entered the cave was a strong putrid odor. I had to cover my nose with my jacket to ward off the smell. I made my way to the cavern and flashed my light around the room. I could see a fire pit was built out of rocks on the ground. From the looks of it, it hasn’t been used in over a week. I heard the sound of buzzing and saw movement out of the corner of my eye. I looked in the corner and found the half rotten remains of a deer, with flies swarming around it. I was surprised that no other animal claimed it as it’s own. There was nothing else of interest in the cavern.
Doogan might have spent a day or two here at the most. He likes to move around, which is smart if your a wanted fugitive. I exited the cave and sat on the ground. I ate some beef jerky and washed it down with water while looking at the map. I know there is a cave behind the falls down at the bottom. It was a good hundred foot climb to get to the cave. It was a perfect place to camp out. Fresh water all around, hidden from view. There was an animal trail that lead to the water, from there it would be a small climb up to the cave. That would be my next spot to investigate. It would be safer to take the trail to the bottom of the falls but it would add about two hours to my hike. I looked at my watch and it was getting close to four thirty. I had close to two and a half more hours of daylight and it was going to take me close to forty five minutes to get to the falls.
I made it to th top of the falls without incident. It was almost five thirty and the sun was getting low on the horizon. I slipped off my pack and laid down on my belly looking over the edge of the cliff. The sound was deafening with the falls going over the cliff into the rapids below. I grabbed my binoculars and looked down at the trail. From my vantage point, I could see the animal trail and the small climb to the ledge going behind the falls.
I scanned the ground below for any movement but didn’t see any. I slipped out my climbing rope and secured it to a tree, making sure it was safe I threw it over the edge and slipped my backpack on. I put on my climbing harness and began the climb down. There were plenty of hand and foot holds, but my ribs were killing me and I was running out of breath the more I exerted myself. I had to stop and get my breath. I looked down at the rapids below and noticed I was about halfway to the bottom. As I was getting my breath back some rocks came sliding down the side of the mountain, almost hitting me. I looked up and saw a head staring down at me clad in a wolfs head cap, he had piercing green eyes and broad shoulders. Doogan Ashe.
Doogan Ashe looked down at me and smiled as he held up an eight inch bowie knife. The sun glinted of the metal and I began to scramble trying to get Louise out of my holster. Doogan’s head disappeared over the top of the cliff and I felt the rope tighten and than it started to jerk back and forth. He was cutting the rope off the tree. I kicked off the rocks letting myself free fall a bit down the side of the mountain, trying to do a rapid descent. I came crashing back into the side of the mountain and I pushed off again with all my strength. I was about twenty feet from where the cave entrance should be behind the falls and a good forty feet from the rapids below. As my feet left the side of the mountain my rope finally cut loose and I began plummeting. I tucked my legs and hit the water.
During impact, all the air came rushing out of my lungs. I couldn’t breath and my body ached from head to toe. I quickly swam to the surface and looked up and saw Doogan with a rifle in his hands scanning the water. I took a deep breath and dove just as I heard the shot. A bullet hit the water inches from my body and whizzed past me. I swam as hard as I could against the current towards the falls, hoping to conceal myself from Doogan. With my broken ribs, and all the strenuous activities I’ve been doing over the last few hours, I had to come up for breath. I popped my head up and went right back down again as I heard another shot. My left shoulder exploded in pain as the bullet went through it. I cried out under the water and stopped swimming. I let the current take me away from the area. I tried to get my head above the surface, gasping for breath each time I felt the air on my face. Within five minutes I was about a mile downstream from the falls and Doogan Ashe.