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The Ford Explorer was flying down the freeway as Cinnamon, the family’s light-brown chocolate Lab, had her head stuck out the window. She was wearing her safety goggles Sharon had bought at the advice of the vet, to protect Cinnamon’s eyes from windburn, flying debris, and bugs. Cinnamon’s ears were flapping in the wind, and the air pressure was vibrating her lips in and out as if she were talking. Her head moved from side to side and up and down. It was the perfect imitation of Snoopy chasing the Red Baron in the infamous dogfight into the wild blue yonder. The only thing missing was the scarf around Cinnamon’s neck.
Sharon was watching in hysterics, laughing so hard she had tears in her eyes. Bill had a huge smile and chuckled every few moments. This happened on every trip with Cinnamon. It had become a normal routine for them. When Cinnamon would tire and drag her head back into the Explorer, Sharon would remove the goggles, and Cinnamon was relegated to the backseat for her nap.
Bill and Sharon were both students at the University of California at Berkley. Sharon was majoring in microbiology, and Bill in marine biology. They were both graduate students now and were taking a two-week leave during the fall semester. They had planned this trip to Lewis and Clark National Park for over a year. The park is located on the Montana-Canadian border. It was a great time to go on the trip. They had spent the last several months packing.
Sharon was somewhat fashion conscious. She wore the latest choice of tops and usually liked to shop at the Gap or Macy’s. Her choice in bottoms was always form-fitting around the hips and tight down the legs. She was a jean fan but liked wearing workout clothes and sweats around the house. Of course, for the trip, she was much more practical.
She packed for cold weather and being outdoors. Her hair was cut in a long pageboy—curved around her face and covering her neck. She had light-brown hair, almost dishwater blonde. Her eyes were hazel, tinted with more blue than green, and she had a beautiful smile with full lips. Sharon did all the packing for both of them. She was very organized and packed all their clothes in the same luggage. She packed all the camping gear in a waterproof tote. She had totes with a lockable latch for the food to keep little critters from stealing it.
Sharon was Bill’s true love. They met at a freshman rush when they first arrived at Berkeley. Sometimes he couldn’t believe they were actually together. They got engaged at the end of their senior year when they received their undergraduate degrees. They promised their parents they wouldn’t get married until they finished school. They decided to do their post-graduate work and then get married. Bill often thought he was the luckiest man alive. How could someone like Sharon be in love with him? She was highly intelligent, very sexy, and attractive. She could have had anyone she wanted, and she picked him. Bill periodically suffered from a lack of confidence.
Using the Internet, they had researched everything on camping and park rules. Basically, they read all the park rules and read every other piece of park information they could find. One interesting fact they found out was that the park had the largest bear population of anywhere in the lower United States. Alaska, much further north, was the only place that had more bears. He had read a recent article stating there had been fifty people killed by bears since 1970. Ten of them were hunters, and the rest were people hiking and camping in the national parks and refuges. Bill told Sharon about all the precautions he was planning on taking. They had used Google Earth satellite pictures of the park to get a bird’s-eye view of the area. They also sent away for information packets that included a map of all the park trails and campsites.
Bill had left all the final packing to Sharon. However, Bill always selected what he was taking. He would merely lay the item on the bed, and Sharon would meticulously pack it according to usage. All grooming articles were kept together. All clothing, shoes, jackets, and personal items were together. All camping items were placed in a special tote. Sharon always kept the number of luggage items to a minimum. The anticipation had obviously been building. The night before, they both had difficulty getting to sleep.
They had been looking forward to the drive to the park. Their travels took them through Northern California, the northern part of Nevada and Utah, and then up through Idaho Falls and into Montana. They went through Bozeman and then Billings. From there, it was a straight shot up Highway 15 to Lewistown. They arrived on the second day around noon.
They knew the park would be empty. All the tourists and families would be back home. The park was already starting to close certain sections and prepare for winter. The park closed for two months starting at the end of October, and then it reopened on a restricted schedule for winter sports, lasting until March. At the park entrance was a large welcome center. It had a drive-through window where they could get their campsite assigned and pick up information about the park. They had their pick of the campsites on the North Slope area. It would be the last section to close.
They placed their tent in the back of the campsite, far from the cooking and fire area. Bill had his camera with a telescopic lens. The campsite had abundant trees, but it was against park regulations to cut down any of the trees or shrubs. You could bring firewood into the park and build the fire in the prepared cement fireplaces. Bill was rather ingenious; he brought a couple bundles of store-bought firewood and a few Duraflame logs to mix with it. That way, the fire was easier to start and lasted a little longer. There was a picnic table located at each site.
They noticed a distinct chill in the air the very first day. Winter was definitely in the air. A cold breeze came off the slope. The clouds were dark and drifting with the wind. It was overcast with a light breeze. The clouds drifting apart would let the sun shine through the gaps and then disappear. The sunlight moved along the ground as the clouds drifted across the sky.
The trees had already started to lose their leaves, and the fall colors blanketed the landscape. The park was a beautiful combination of mountains, meadows, and sloping hills.
The campsite was located just off the main trail. It was shaded and protected from the wind. All their food was kept far away from the sleeping area and stored in locked coolers. They hoped to get pictures of elk and hopefully a bear.
The rainy season was pretty much over. Several large rivers snaked through the valleys. Their campsite was close to a river’s edge. They could hear the river washing over the rocks, and the soft roar of the water easily put them to sleep. The park was everything they had imagined. Each main camp area had restrooms and shower facilities centered in the area.
Bill had fixed dinner and had a nice fire going. Before it got too dark, Sharon wanted to take advantage of the shower facility and clean up. It would be a few days before she could do that again. She took her makeup bag and Cinnamon and headed for the restrooms.
After she finished and was leaving the facility, she noticed a ground vine covering the base of the trees. She knew exactly what she wanted to do. Bill was always playing pranks on Sharon. She was certainly not stupid but still had a certain naive trait about her. Bill took full advantage of that whenever he got a chance. Early in the year, Bill had returned from a marine fieldtrip that took him off the coast of California to an area called Portuguese Bend. This was an area that had a resurgence of marine life that centered on the formation of large kelp beds. The otter population had shown a large growth over the last several years.
He told Sharon he was diving with his scuba gear down at the base of the kelp beds when he saw a large seahorse. He was very convincing in how he described the encounter. He said it was large enough to be grabbed by the tail. So he grabbed the tail, and the seahorse dragged him around through the kelp beds for fifteen or twenty feet. Eventually he let go.
A few months later, when they were having their usual dinner in front of the TV, a National Geographic special was on. The special was about sea life off the California coast, and a diver’s video showed some seahorses gathered around the base of a kelp bed. The seahorses were very small, only several inches in length. They were way too small to do what Bill had described to Sharon. She immediately looked over at Bill and said, “You son of a bitch, you got me again.” Bill laughed so hard he almost fell off the couch. Sharon vowed that she would get even with him no matter how long it took.
At the campsite, she gathered up a large piece of vine and cut off a piece around four feet in length. She then stripped off all the leaves and placed it in her overnight bag. When she got back to camp, Bill was still cleaning up from dinner and putting the cooking gear away. She very casually went inside the tent. She removed the vine from her bag, coiled it up, and placed it at the bottom of Bill’s sleeping bag.
That night, they made love on the picnic table outside their tent. The night sky was partially clear, with stars flickering between the clouds. Lying on her back, Sharon said, “The stars are so big and bright. I’ve never seen so many stars.” Bill replied, “From my vantage point, all I see are the stars in your eyes.” She laughed. “You’re almost romantic,” she said, “especially when you get a little sex.”
Half-dressed, Bill stumbled into the tent. Sharon said she would join him in a few minutes. Suddenly Sharon heard Bill yelling, “Damn it! Oh shit, there’s a snake in here!” Bill came running out of the tent, dragging the sleeping bag. Sharon casually walked over, picked up the sleeping bag, and placed it on the picnic table. Then she reached down inside. Bill was yelling at her that she was going to get bit. Sharon reached in and got the vine. As she moved the vine toward Bill, she shook it, making it look alive. She started to laugh. Bill got a puzzled look on his face. As he stared at the snake, he realized it was a vine. He glared at Sharon. She said, “So you grabbed a seahorse by the tail?” They both started laughing. He said, “Well, you got me this time.”
Alaska has its own kind of justice—one outsiders might not understand. Dave Warren lives in this wild country. He’s a determined man, a tough man, who can stare a hole right through a person. His trusty companion is Beardog, half-wolf and half- Labrador, and together, they work to protect their neighbors and land.
Dave and Beardog are surrounded by a cast of loyal characters who stick close to Alaska’s unwritten laws. Red is one of them. He’s the leading law enforcement officer in the entire State of Alaska and has a duty to uphold the law, but his laws aren’t like normal laws. His laws are according to Mother Nature, who likes seeing justice done right.
The people of Alaska don’t have an affinity for social games or politics. Their lives seem ordinary, built on strong family values and loving pets. They share a familiarity and closeness with their native wilderness, and visitors do well to understand—step out of line and these “ordinary people” might just sit back and watch you die.
The next morning was the coldest morning so far. Bill was out of the tent first. He always tried to do the manly thing. He started the fire and then set up the Coleman propane stove. It used small propane canisters that screwed onto a valve at the side of the stove. Within minutes, the hot chocolate was ready. He cooked traditional bacon and eggs over the camp stove. What was camping without the aroma of cooking breakfast?
They decided to take the trail up to Clear Lake. This was the first overnight hike of the two-day trip. They packed a small two-person tent and two blow-up mattresses. The food and other gear were divided between the two packs. They had a small one-burner propane canister stove for cooking. They each carried a pack using a pack frame. Bill always carried the camping gear because it was a little too heavy for Sharon to carry. It was a fourteen-mile hike to the lake.
Bill went over to help her with her pack. He adjusted the straps in back and then pretended to adjust the straps in front. Sharon noticed he was taking a little too long around her breasts and was copping a feel. She asked, “Why are you taking so long to fix my pack?” He laughed and stopped what he was doing. They hoisted their packs on their backs and were ready to go.
The trailhead was down toward the ranger station. Soon after they started the hike, they realized how cold it was. They stopped for a minute and took their packs off to get their lightweight lined raincoats out of the packs. They took a few more minutes and got everything back on and in place and then started up again.
The trail headed up the north side of the park. It was a well-traveled trail. All summer it had been beaten into a clear, smooth path by the thousands of visitors. Sharon had Cinnamon on a spring-loaded leash that let the dog travel around about fifteen feet. When the dog returned, the leash drew back into the holder. Cinnamon was always in the lead, sniffing and looking everywhere; basically, she was hunting. Every now and then, she would pick up on a squirrel.
They’d been walking for over an hour when they finally saw a small herd of elk. They stopped to take some pictures. Bill got out his camera, tripod, and telescopic lens. It was a beautiful sight, all the animals just grazing in the meadow. The elk were traveling across the river on the other face of the slope and were grazing with very little concern about the hikers. Sharon was digging through the pack for the water bottles and a granola bar. Bill reached around her from behind and started kissing her neck. He slid around front and held her tight against him. He started to run his hands down the back of her jeans. She looked at him and said, “It’s too cold.” He replied, “If you let me, you won’t be cold for long.” She said, “Wrong!” After a few sips of water and their granola bars, they continued up the hill.
This section of the trail was like a tunnel. The trees had grown over the top, and it made a canopy high in the air. It was very plush vegetation. They traveled for another three hours. The trail narrowed and came out into a clearing. They could see down in the valley with a panoramic view of the trail and the wide, sloping hillside. It was everything they expected.
Cinnamon stopped in his tracks and immediately started to panic bark. Bill held out his arm, making a gesture for Sharon to stop. A loud rustling and crashing noise came from the bushes bordering the trail. He looked to the side of the trail just in time to see the bear coming at them. Cinnamon was still about fifteen feet in front. When the bear got to the dog, he swung his massive paw. It looked like a golfer swinging a driver club for a long shot. It caught the dog just behind the ear. The dog went sailing through the air, landing just off the trail in front of a small tree. The dog didn’t move. The force of the impact broke the dog’s neck, killing him instantly.
It was coming so fast and it was already so close they didn’t have time to even say anything to each other. After the bear got the dog, he turned on Bill, who was the next one closest to him. Bill was knocked to the ground. The bear was trying to bite his head. Bill was rolling around. He could feel how powerful the bear was. He could smell the foul breath from the bear’s mouth. He was trying to raise his shoulders to protect the back of his neck and head. The pack was offering some protection.
As he was being attacked, Sharon was screaming, “Oh god, oh god, Bill.” She froze. She just stood there. Her muscles wouldn’t react. Bill was yelling at Sharon to get on the ground, but she couldn’t move. Bill stopped moving. For a moment, the bear paused. He raised his head and looked straight at Sharon. Bill was badly injured. His coat and pack were torn away from the back of his body.
The bear stood up. It was a large, heavy male with dark, grizzled fur. The bear made a loud, deep, muffled sound while clacking his jaws. Within a few steps, he was next to Sharon. He swung his massive paw, and his claws caught Sharon on the side of her face. She was knocked off the trail into the bushes. She put her hand to the side of her face and could feel the flesh torn away and the blood oozing down her neck.
Chapter 36 . . . . .
The vans were almost in position. One van was moving to the back of the plane as the other one was almost directly in front. The pilot turned the rudder at full left position. As the pilot gave the plane more power, the plane started to make a sharp left turn. The plane cleared the front van and started to roll toward the side of the runway. The plane didn’t have enough room to straighten out, but the pilot could maneuver the plane to the far side of the runway. It would be facing the wrong way for the plane to make a dash for takeoff, but it would give some distance between the vans. There was about a fifty-yard clearing at the side of the runway where the forest began.
The plane rolled to a stop at the edge of the runway. The door to the plane opened and was almost touching the ground when two men jumped out and started down the stairs. They both had rifles. The troopers and DEA agents were rushing out of the vans and started across the runway. They knew the drug guys would make a run for it and try to lose them in the forest. There was still at least a hundred feet between the two groups. The plane was in such a position it shielded the dealers from most of the law enforcement.
The drug dealers turned and started to fire. They also had military type weapons, fully automatic. One of the DEA agents went down. He was hit in the thigh. All the law enforcement men had bulletproof vests on, but a head or leg shot would stop them in their tracks. The other agent saw his partner go down and stopped to make sure he was going to be okay. The bullet entered and then traveled just below the hip joint but missed the artery. The agent that had been shot was in a great deal of pain but motioned for the other agent to continue the chase.
Shaun stopped while everyone else was trying to close in on the dealers. He got into a crouching position and leveled his rifle. He took good aim and slowly pulled the trigger. Bullets were flying by him. He didn’t flinch. He felt the recoil of the rifle. The bullet hit center mass in a dealer’s chest. The dealer jerked back several feet and then hit the ground. He was dead. The other dealer made it into the forest. No one had a clear shot. Red was trying to flank him on the right side of the plane. By the time Red could see the dealer, he was just entering the forest.