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Thursday, October 18, 2012

OFF THE GRID



I’ll be off the grid for a bit over a week.  No internet, no cell phones; just the storm deck of a horse called SMILEY. 
While I’m playing and working on my friend’s ranch in southern Arizona, You can read the first few chapters of my newest novel, UNTAMED.   This manuscript is currently being formatted and will be published shortly after I return to Panama.

UNTAMED

BY

ROBERT HATTING


NOTICE FROM AUTHOR:
This work, UNTAMED, is the intellectual property of Robert Wayne Hatting.  Copyright protected; Library of congress Case# 1-800486301.  This work is no longer available to be loaned.  If you want a fellow reader to experience my work, purchase it for them as a gift.


Special Recognition
Over the years I’ve had several good riding partners.  The following novel begged to be written, if only to acknowledge those special people who shared a campfire with me. Many of the incidents depicted in this fiction novel are based on a sliver of truth. As always, I’ve taken puddles and expanded them into lakes by amalgamating experiences and characters.
Thanks to: Richard Rollins, Bob Jacobsen, Richard Dailey, and Dobe Harding. 


PROLOGUE

Glenn Wilson stood at the podium of the raised platform, just finishing his acceptance speech. Behind him were the dignitaries of the Pulitzer Prize committee. He had an absent look on his face.
“…and lastly, I wanna thank the government of the USA for not believing a word I said, and for trying to kill me!”
A fly buzzed on Glenn’s face and woke him from his recurring dream. He glanced across the meadow at his horse.  The chestnut gelding, grazing peacefully, looked up at Glenn’s movement. Once he identified Wilson he resumed grazing. In just a few weeks a special bond had developed between the gelding and Wilson.  Being raised on a ranch in Northern Idaho, Glenn had owned and ridden numerous horses. This one was special; anyone who knew horses recognized it right away. Glenn was the first human to work with him, except the veterinarian who had gelded him. The chestnut stud had been cut only three weeks prior to Glenn’s arrival. He’d been turned out to pasture; gradually purging his stallion predilections.  The fresh gelding appeared skittish when Glenn and his sister inspected the upper meadows of her and her husband’s ranch.  It was Glenn’s first chance at animal locomotion since returning from overseas. Impressed by the gelding’s conformation, Glenn dismounted, handed the reins to his sister, and walked right up to the chestnut horse.  He was able to stroke his withers and finally his neck.  When he reached up and scratched an ear, the horse began striking the ground with his right forefoot.  Glenn had named him “Thumper”, after the character in BAMBI.
Wilson rose from his nap and walked toward his horse.  He just waved and the horse came to him at a trot.
Thumper had no idea he was about to embark on a long journey.  It was time.  Glenn had had a great reunion with his sister after being away for so long, but he had to leave.  He just wasn’t safe around familiar locations. Someday those chasing him would figure out he wasn’t in the Orient or Europe anymore and the first place they would look was Hermiston, Oregon.

*******


“We’ll find him eventually, Sir.”
“Eventually isn’t good enough, Captain,” said the two star General. “He’s already sent his storyboards to the Seattle Times; luckily, our people intercepted them.  According to his outline he has photos, eyewitness statements, and even statements from two survivors of the air strike.  Everything! If that story gets out of our sector we’ll live the rest of our lives in Leavenworth.”
“With all due respect, Sir, our troops were not directly involved. The Specialists carried out the orders,” replied the aide-de-camp.
Both officers and two noncoms automatically ducked and held their hands over their ears as the command bunker came under attack. Dust and shrapnel permeated the air.  The shelling stopped as suddenly as it had begun.     


CHAPTER 1
Maureen watched her brother walking from the lots.  It was unusual.  Since he’d returned from overseas he was seldom biped. Glenn was usually forking a rodeo bronc, training his gelding, checking the horse pastures, or on horseback in their feedlot, sorting cattle. Today, Glenn was walking with a purpose.  She suspected he was about to leave.  In her heart, she'd always known he was bound to drift.  He was different, but she just couldn’t put a finger on the difference.  When he’d arrived three weeks prior, it was like he’d never left. He acted like he’d never gone to college, nor went overseas as a war correspondent.  He was a cowboy through and through; the boy she’d known since birth.   Maureen was intuitive about her brother.  Something had happened to him in Vietnam, but he wouldn’t talk about it. The day Glenn showed up, he was like a product of time travel; none of his education or suave demeanor was evident.  His speech parroted her husband Hal and sounded like all their neighbors, hired hands, and ranch customers.
Glenn stepped onto the porch and dusted himself off with his hat.  Maureen was ready for him with a beaker of cold water.  “You come to tell me you’re leavin’ aintcha?”
Glenn chugged the glass of water before answering.  “Guess I can’t fool a Wilson gal.   Yeah, Sis, I need to drift.  It’s a long story, but the ending goes like this; I’ll bring trouble to you and Hal if I stay.”
“What happened to you over there? What kind of trouble?” Maureen asked.
Glenn paused to refill his glass.  “The less I tell you the better. I witnessed something horrible – actually unspeakable, and the people who did it are after me.  I shouldn’t have told you that much but I figured you needed to know,” Wilson explained.  “By the way, my new name is Curtis Dawson.  Remember the kid that drowned in the Salmon River when we was teenagers? Back before our folks died?  They never found his body, but I located his birth certificate and took his name,” Glenn related in a matter of fact fashion. 
Maureen tried to hold back the tears but finally broke out in a sob. “I’m never going to see you again, am I?”
Glenn took his sister in his arms and held her close as she wept. “It may be a while, but I’ll be back,” Glenn stated.  “I’m just going to follow the rodeo circuit south.  I’ll write periodically to let you know how I’m doing. All the letters will come from Paris, France.”
“Paris?” Maureen asked through her sobs.
“Yep, I had to hide out in Europe for awhile.  I have a friend that will turn the mail around for me.”
“Why can’t you fight these people?”
“Sis, it’s hard to explain.  I gotta be a tumbleweed for a few months. You have to trust me.  My way is best.”

CHAPTER 2
Glenn noticed the same vehicle he'd seen twice before; once in Ontario and the second time outside Boise; traveling east.  It couldn't have been a coincidence.  Someone was following him.  He turned off the main road and pulled into a gravel lot between a motel and a diner.  He checked his horse and meandered into the cafe.
"Excuse me, miss, what is the name of this town?" Glenn asked the waitress at the all night diner.
"This ain't a town -- jest a truck stop," she answered.  "Up ahead a few miles is Twin Falls.  That's where I live," she added with a coy grin. 
Glenn appraised the situation.  A comely waitress was flirting with him, and he knew he had someone on his tail.  Glenn surveyed the premises.  Other than the cook and one other patron, the diner was empty.
"I need a place to let my horse out for the night.  He's been in that danged old trailer since dawn.  Know anyplace with a corral?"
"We have one at my place.  A barn full of hay, too."
Glenn smiled and picked up a menu.  "What's good?"
"Are you talkin' about the food or my place?" she asked in a low tone.
Glenn issued a sly grin and motioned the waitress toward him.  She leaned across the counter and was almost cheek to cheek.  He whispered.  "I'll have steak and eggs, pretty lady. Give me a bucks worth of change for the phone, and then we'll talk about all that hay in yore barn."
"What's yore name, Cowboy?"
"Curtis, and yores?"
"Paula.  Nice to meetcha.  How do you like them?”
Curtis grinned as he stood up.  Paula was still leaning on the counter semi-exposing an ample bosom.  “They look sweet...I like them fine," Glenn replied with a chuckle.
Paula blushed at the compliment and stood up.  "I was talkin' about yore steak 'n eggs."
"Over easy and medium well," Glenn replied as he walked toward the cash register.  Paula placed the order and then came to the register. 
"My replacement should be here by the time you finish yore food.  If you drive me home we can put yore horse away for the night," she said as she gave him the change. “That way my mom won't have to come get me."
"You live with yore mom?"
"No.  She works at the Holiday Inn in Twin.  If I can't find a ride she has to find someone to take her place."
Curtis nodded and walked toward the phone.  He removed his Stetson and pulled a card from beneath the hatband.  It was from a Deli in Washington DC.  Glenn dialed the number and then waited for all the transferring to be achieved.  He could see his reflection in the polished chrome of the pay phone.  His blond hair was a little longer and his blue eyes still had their washed denim look.  He wondered if he needed to change his appearance. A gruff voice finally answered. "Yeah, DC deli!"
"Lemme speak to Luther, series three,” Glenn stated from his end as he began dropping coins into the slot.
"Series three, good to hear from you.  You dropped out of sight for too long.  Where are you?"
"Someone is following me Mister Luther.  That's why I called."
"Again? Where are you so we can help?"
"I'm almost to Twin Falls, Idaho.  I'll be staying at the Holiday Inn."
There was a pause on the line and some muffled talking.  Glenn waited patiently.  The guy on the other line had gotten him out of Vietnam.  He trusted Ken Luther.
"Check in under your name.  You will recognize my agent; he has a bad limp and a bald head," Luther replied.
Glenn repeated the description in his mind and then again, out loud into the mouthpiece.  "Bald head with a limp, right, Ken?"
"Yeah, I've got him on the other line.  His name is Ted, and he'll be coming from Boise, so allow two hours or more," Luther instructed. "Be careful, Glenn."
Glenn hung up and glanced over his shoulder at his place at the counter.  Paula had set out a plate of toast and a couple of pats of butter, along with a condiment carrier.  
Just as she delivered his steak and eggs, a woman came through the door and sat herself at the counter.  Paula greeted her and then pointed to Glenn.
"My new friend, Curtis, is taking me home,” Paula stated to her replacement.
Glenn finished his meal while the women changed cash drawers in the register.  The older woman who'd taken Paula's place came over to offer a refill of coffee.  "Paula is changing, Curtis.  Is that your first or last name?" she asked as she topped off his coffee.
"First name...Curtis Dawson, ma'am."
"Be kind to her, Mister Dawson.  She's had a rough life."
"What's yore name?"  Glenn asked. 
"Millie.   Short for Mildred.  My husband calls me Mil."
Paula came around the counter and took a seat next to Glenn.  Millie poured her a cup of coffee.
"Add that to my bill,” Glenn instructed.  "You want anything else?" he asked Paula.
"No, Curtis, I'm fine.  I'm ready anytime you are."

                   *******

Paula's home was on the outskirts of Twin Falls.  Her home was small, but the barn and corrals were large; showing evidence of being a working ranch at some time in the past. Glenn dropped Paula off at the house and waited until she turned on the lights to the lots. He started to pull away and was surprised to see her holding the passenger side door handle.  He stopped, and she climbed into the truck.
"This used to belong to my father," Paula informed him.  "He died in a fire; fell asleep with a lit cigarette, according to the fire department and police investigation." 
"That must have been rough on you and your mom," Glenn stated.  "I lost my folks when I was in High School."
"It was tough on me, not Mom.  She was secretly happy about it, and was a suspect in the fire and detained by the cops for a couple of hours.  They'd been divorced for many years when it happened. It turned out to be an accident."
"Were you close to your father?" Glenn asked as he backed his horse trailer into a lot next to the corrals.
"Yes, I was.  I loved the ranch, and I loved him.  When he died I had to go live with Mom until I was eighteen.  I worked part time to pay the taxes on this place and as soon as I graduated I moved back here to the ranch and moved into the foreman’s house."
 "When you mentioned you had a place for my horse, you said WE.  Are you married or have a boyfriend?"
The lovely brunette with the wide set eyes paused in recollection.  Her amatory play was suppressed by the question. She replaced it with a look of serious need. 
"I was married, but Jordan was killed in the war.  I still say we and our and all that, even after two years of him being gone."
Glenn backed Thumper out of the trailer and put him in a small paddock.  Paula ran some water into a trough while Glenn put hay and grain into the manger.  He began rubbing down his horse while the grieving woman talked.  "I'm sorry, mister, I'm a mess. I’ve been a drunk for the better part of the last two years.  That’s why I don’t drive; too many DUI’s.”
Glenn felt empathy for the woman.  He could have easily slipped into alcohol or drug addiction based on his troubles.  “There, but for me, goes me!” He thought to himself as he unhooked the trailer from his pick-up.
“Curtis, you can stay here if you want,” Paula said, unabashed, as she took his hand and held it to her breast.
Glenn knew this situation was going to be difficult.  He squeezed her hand, gave her a short hug and kissed her on the cheek.  “I've already made arrangements to meet someone at the Holiday Inn.  Let me go check in and meet this guy, and then I’ll come back.”
Paula threw her arms around Glenn as he grabbed for the door handle of his truck.  He held her close and felt her breath in his ear.  "Please come back soon.  I need you," she whispered. 
Glenn felt the desperation in her embrace. "I can stay for a bit longer; let me help you feed your critters."
Glenn fed the two horses in the barn and filled the dog bowls full of dried dog food.  Although the two Australian Shepherds were fat and had slick coats, they acted as though they'd never been fed.  They consumed their food in just moments.
"Aren't they pigs?  I fed them at noon...before I went to work,” Paula stated.  "You don't have to do my chores, Curtis.  Go to your meeting, but please come back."
Glenn was getting used to being called Curtis.  It seemed natural coming from the mouth of a lovely woman like Paula. 
"How long have you been sober?"
"Four months.  I attend AA twice a week.  Why do you ask?"
Glenn mulled an idea around in his head for a few moments before he spoke. "Your ranch needs a man’s touch.  I'll spruce it up for nothin’ more than room and board for me 'n my horse.  But I ain't wantin' to be part of an alcoholic’s life.  Understand?
“Also, I ain’t gonna be yore taxi.  Your mom can drive you to work same as always, but I’ll pick you up in the evening.”
Paula answered by throwing her arms around Glenn's neck and kissing him passionately on the mouth. "I'll treat you good, Curtis.  You'll see."
“Them dogs are bored.  That’s why they eat so much,” Glenn said as he pulled away.

CHAPTER 3

Glenn drove past the parking lot of the Holiday Inn three times before he parked at an adjacent restaurant.  He searched both parking lots for the car he'd seen following him in Boise.  He noted the time.  Paula's shift was over at eight, it was now almost ten.  Ken Luther's man, Ted, should be arriving soon.  Since Glenn had a place to stay, he opted to remain in the lobby near the reception counter and wait for someone to ask for him.  His other reason for not checking in was Paula's mom.  Paula knew him as Curtis Dawson; to give the clerk another name wouldn't be smart.  Glenn wanted to be with the winsome woman. His needs mirrored hers.  He'd been alone for a long time.  He needed a witness to his life; even the fake one he was enjoying. 
Curtis settled into an overstuffed chair within earshot of the front desk clerk.  He picked up a magazine and began to skim some of the stories; it was a Sports Illustrated.  Glenn paused at an article outlining the number of sports figures that had been, or were currently, serving in Vietnam.  He became so engrossed in the article that he almost missed the large, middle-aged man who asked the clerk for the room number of Glenn Wilson.  Glenn knew this was not Ted.  The man was wearing a civilian suit, had a full head of hair, and was wearing military dress shoes.  A bulge on the man's right hip indicated either a weapon or deformity.  Glenn guessed the former, so he left his chair, rolled up his magazine, and walked out of the lobby.  He scanned the parking lot and spotted the tan sedan that had been following him for the better part of three hundred miles.  Glenn waited one car over from the tan Ford.  He knew the man would return to it sooner than later.  When the beefy man came out, Glenn was hunkered behind the adjacent car.  He could see the hitman through the side windows of the Mustang he was using as a shield; his anxiety was like a fever.  The goon took out his pistol and began screwing on a silencer.  Glenn made his move while the man was focused on his task.  He vaulted over the hood of the Mustang and, using the rolled up magazine, stabbed the goon in the solar plexus.  It was a perfect stab; it paralyzed the goon.  The look of astonishment on the man's face suggested he'd never encountered someone who fought back.  Glenn used the magazine to slap the pistol from the man's hand. It dropped to the asphalt with a clatter.  He picked  up the weapon, twisted the silencer to make sure it was secure and fired instinctively at the man who was gasping for air. His shot took the assassin in the head.  Glenn looked at the body lying on his back.  A hole the size of a pea was just to the left of his right eyebrow.  A small trickle of blood oozed from the fatal wound.  Glenn could see the puddle on the ground beginning to form.  He'd seen it before in the war.  The gunshot had blown out the back of the man's head.  Not bothering to check for a pulse, Glenn paused to think through his predicament. He knew his prints were on the pistol and all over the magazine.  He decided to take them both and just leave the body.  It would ruin someone's day, but he knew it couldn’t be helped.  While placing the pistol inside the magazine his hands began to tremble.  He scanned the parking lot.  He saw no one and finally turned to look behind him.  A bald head was showing two cars away. 
"That was nice work," the man said as he limped around the two cars toward Glenn.  "Nice shot, too," he added as he looked at the body.  “I don’t know why Luther called me.  You take care of yourself good.”
"You're T,ted?" Glenn stammered.
"Yeah, I'll clean up this mess for you.  Get gone!  Pitch that pistol into the river; the magazine you need to burn."
Glenn walked shakily toward his pick-up, holding the pistol inside the magazine.  Once in his truck, he stuffed the pistol and the magazine under his seat and drove slowly away from the restaurant. He was on the high bridge over the Snake River and could easily toss the pistol over the side.  He elected not to because if he were a detective it would be the first place he’d look.
Glenn held his speed and kept reassuring himself that there was nothing to tie him to the killing.  He wondered how the assassin had known where to look.  It was obvious that Ken Luther’s team had been compromised.  From this point on, he’d be Curtis Dawson. Luther and all of the other government clowns could just POUND SAND!
******
      Curtis followed the freeway west until he reached the Buhl exit.  As he turned off the freeway, his thoughts turned to the fact that he'd just taken someone's life.  Glenn was familiar with death; he had photographed it, wrote about it, and, earlier in his life, he had hunted and killed animals.  This was the first time he'd taken a human life. Rationalizing was easy.  The man was there to kill him. He was one of the General's men who had hunted him down and was going to use the silenced pistol to snuff out his life for the decision he'd made years before; to document and write about the atrocities of war.
 Curtis approached the river again and backtracked a frontage road to a low bridge over the river.  Curtis stopped on the bridge for a moment and tossed the weapon into the river.  As he approached Paula’s lane, he removed the magazine and put it on the seat with him.  He had no intention of burning the magazine; at least not until he finished the article he’d started.
Paula was in her night clothes and had wet hair when she rushed onto the front porch to greet Curtis. 
“Sorry I’m late,” he said as he dropped his small duffel and removed his hat.  Paula approached but was upstaged by one of the Australian Shepherds.   The female of the pair wanted attention from Curtis, and she was insistent; jumping on him and wagging her tail.
“Brandy, get down,” Paula ordered without much conviction.  Curtis stroked her coat and scratched her ears as Paula stepped forward and folded herself into his arms. “I want you all to myself,” she whispered in his ear.
Curtis hugged her gently.  “I need to wash off some trail dust.  Mind if I use yore shower?”
Curtis stood under the steaming shower until the water turned cold. His attempt at cleansing himself of the killing wasn’t working.  A deep wound cleaved his soul because of a betrayal by his government. He knew he had limited time in Twin Falls, maybe a month or two, and then he’d have to drift.  What he'd witnessed and the proof he had was damning to too many people; high up people with unlimited resources.  Running like a rabbit wasn’t his style, but he had no choice.  The fact that Ken Luther’s team had been compromised spoke volumes to Curtis.  He’d never be free as long as the General, his Captain, and all their henchmen were at large.
Curtis bore the cold water and finally stepped out of the shower.  He wrapped himself in a towel and forced his woes to the back of his mind as he stepped into the bedroom.  Paula was lying on her bed in a skimpy white chemise, her long, dark hair in disarray on the pillow.  Curtis just stood and stared.
"How tall are you, Curtis?
"Four foot twenty-two in my bare feet. Four foot twenty-four in my boots," Curtis answered. "Why do you ask?"
"I'm twenty-six years old and have had sex with seven men.  I'm five foot five.  None of them were taller than me.  It's nice that I finally attracted a tall man," Paula replied.
Curtis chuckled.  “Five ten ain't tall," he replied as he let his towel slip away.

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