Chapter Thirty One
The whap whap of the second helicopter was almost deafening as it descended and kicked up a tornado of sand from the beach. At first it looked as if there were not enough room for both, but the sandy area was larger than it appeared. All four of the men on the beach drew their guns and held them ready to kill anyone who stuck his head from the machine. The man in the boat was almost hidden from view behind the second helicopter. When the dust had settled, the door on the pilot’s side opened and Francis X. Marley climbed out. With what passed as a smile, Wulf approached Marley.
“Aren’t you taking quite a risk?”
Keeping his voice low so none of the other men could hear, Marley answered, “A necessity. There’s an informer in our midst.”
“Impossible!” Wulf burst out. He looked around to be sure his exclamation hadn’t brought the others closer.
“The DEA has a man here who can name me.”
“I don’t know,” Marley said grimly. “We’ll have to kill them all.”
“Unless you can guarantee he isn’t the one.”
“I guarantee no one but myself.”
Wulf shrugged, “We kill them all.” He smiled again. This time it was almost real. “We have the money. We’ll sell the product again. As you Americans say ‘it’s a win/win.’”
Wulf and Marley turned and joined the others around the cold campfire ring where Jill lay helpless.
“And what about your lovely guest. I thought I told you to get rid of her,” Marley said dispassionately.
Wulf’s face was stone as he said, “Miss Thornton will have a rafting accident. Unfortunately she will drown. By the time anyone finds her, she won’t be able to hurt us.”
Raymond spoke, “Why not just shoot her?”
Wulf looked at him coldly and the man shrank back from the icy glare. “I prefer it this way.” Then his face creased in a grin, but warmth never reached his snake-like eyes, “Besides I promised Carlos, here, a little treat. In fact, there’s enough to go around for all of us. Eh, boys?”
He reached for a knife and quickly sliced the tape between her ankles.
As Wulf reached for his belt buckle, the others broke into jeering laughter. Jill struggled and moaned against the duct tape. She began scooting backwards on the sand. The bruises around her wide eyes emphasized the terror in them.
Without a thought of what he was doing, Larry sprang from the rocks where he was sitting and with a feral yell threw himself headlong down the path toward the beach, one hand curled in front of him like a claw, his gun hand stretched in front like a battering ram.
The men on the beach were momentarily taken aback; they were stunned into inaction. A second later Wulf recognized Wheeler and started for him, but at that moment Marissa threw the rifle to her shoulder and began to fire. Her first shot missed Wulf by a hair’s breadth, causing him to slow momentarily. The sound of the gunfire shocked Larry out of his blind rage and into the reality of what he was doing. As he ran, he began firing randomly at the men who scattered for cover.
Carlos Madragón jumped behind the his helicopter while Marley and Raymond each ran for nearby rocks. With a snarl, Wulf stopped his rush at Larry and threw himself behind another rock. The lone man in the raft rolled over the side of the boat into the river away from the gunfire.
Heedless of the bullets whizzing past him, Larry hurried to Jill’s side. Without trying to free her, he lifted her and staggered, miraculously untouched by the gunfire, to a large pile of rocks near the trail where he gently laid her.
Over his surprise and dash for cover, Wulf began to fire his own weapon, first in the direction of the rocks above where Marissa was hidden and then at the rocks where Larry and Jill now lay.
In spite of the noise, Larry could hear Madragón yell, “Can you see where they are?”
Wulf replied, pointing, “Up in the rocks. There.” Wulf’s eyes scanned the scene, “What about Edwardo?” he asked meaning the henchman who had come with Madragón.
Behind the rocks, Larry took a pocketknife and cut the tape holding Jill’s arms together. Then he gently pried the tape from her mouth. He briefly touched her face, gently fingering the bruises around her eyes and the tear tracks on her cheeks. Rage filled him again. He peered around the rock and fired the gun at where Wulf was hiding. He could hear bullets ricocheting from the rocks about and behind them, and he hoped Marissa was all right. At least he could still hear her rifle fire and an occasional curse from her targets.
Larry stopped to load more rounds into magazine of the pistol. He glanced at Jill who was rubbing her wrists to restore the circulation.
“I never thought I’d see you again,” she said through numb lips.
A lump rose in his throat. “I’m sorry I got you into all this,” he said. “I didn’t mean what I said. I’ve wanted to take it back a thousand times.”
“No,” she said, reaching out to touch him, “Don’t. It isn’t your fault. Any of it.”
A bullet struck near Larry’s head and pulled him back into the gun battle. In the dark he could see a flash whenever one of the guns was fired, and he aimed where he has seen the last burst. From her vantage point, Marissa had a better view of where the men were hiding. She watched for the flash of Larry’s gun and tried to anticipate who would answer with a shot. She waited a brief moment and then fired at that position, hoping to catch someone in the brief moment that he was in the open. First at Wulf, then Marley and Raymond behind the rocks. She thought the man in the water had apparently lost his weapon because he had not returned fire.
Larry raised his hand to shoot when Jill cried, “Don’t move!”
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a huge rattlesnake, coiled and ready to strike.
“Where the hell did he come from?” Larry said through clenched teeth. “It’s night, for god’s sake, and cold.”
Above them Marissa could see something was wrong. She rose slightly from her crouch to get a better view and saw something out of the corner of her eye. Instinctively, she swung the rifle in that direction and fired. The man behind the raft let out a yell and dropped the gun she hadn’t seen. He fell back into the water and drifted into the current where he began floating downstream.
Carlos Madragón took advantage of the lull in shooting to climb into the helicopter from the far side. He started the motor and the rotors began to stir.
Infuriated that she might lose her chance to kill her much-hated lover, Marissa stood and aimed a shot at him through the windshield of the helicopter. Marley fired, and her shot went wild as she crumpled to the ground.
The rotors spun faster and faster and the machine began slowly to rise while Larry watched in helpless fury. Without thinking, he rose and started running toward the helicopter. At the first move, the coiled snake struck, catching Larry in the calf of the leg. Surprise and the pain of the bite stoked his anger. He dropped his gun, and without conscious thought, grabbed the snake behind the head as it began to recoil. He sprinted for the rising machine, the snake writhing in his hand.
“Don’t leave me,” Wulf shouted at Madragón. “Wait! Don’t leave me, you bastard!”
As the helicopter started its rise, Wulf jumped on the landing skid and tried to wrench open the pilot’s door, but with a malevolent grin at him, Madragón locked it. Wulf screamed obscenities as he frantically clawed at the door. Barely clinging to the helicopter by the fingernails of one hand, with the other he pointed his gun at the drug lord, who ignored the threat, believing Wulf wouldn’t dare to fire at his only hope for escape.
When Marley saw Larry run for the helicopter, he rose to shoot, but Jill grabbed the gun that Larry dropped and fired in Marley’s direction, grazing his shoulder. The yelp of pain and the surprise on his face as he dived behind a rock made Jill laugh aloud.
As the helicopter rose to Larry’s waist level, he climbed on the passenger side landing skid, tore open the door, and hurled the snake inside. The machine made a slow turn over the river, and Larry dropped from the skid into the water. Exhausted and feeling faint from the snakebite, he barely had the strength to make his way out of the rushing current to the shore.
Jill rushed to his side. Marley fired and almost hit her, but she ducked aside and the bullet sped past her into the sand. Marley turned to Raymond and pointed the gun at him.
“You may not be the one, but I can’t take a chance,” he said.
The man stared at him in surprise, and that expression remained on his face as the bullet from Marley’s gun drilled a neat hole in the middle of his forehead.
Above them, the helicopter rocked back and forth in the sky as Madragón tried to avoid the angry rattlesnake, which struck, hitting first his seat and then his leg. Outside on the landing skid, Vladimir Wulf fought to maintain his hold on the aircraft.
While Marley was busy killing Raymond, Jill helped Larry to his feet and they hurried for the shelter of the rocks. She laid him back and tore the already shredded sleeve from her blouse. Using the sleeve and a nearby stick, she wound a rough tourniquet around his leg.
“Hold this tight,” she commanded him.
“What’re you doing?”
“I’m a nurse, remember. And a girl scout, too, I might add. This is going to hurt some.”
She took the pocketknife from him and cut two vertical slits over the snakebite wounds. She sucked out blood and spat it into the sand, hoping to get some of the venom with each mouthful.
Marissa pulled herself to her feet. In spite of the copious amount of blood on the side of her face and shirt, she found she was not seriously wounded. A shallow furrow along the side of her left temple where Marley’s bullet had grazed her left her with a splitting headache. She looked at the scene below for only an instant before reaching for the backpack and one of the flares, which she pointed at the dancing helicopter. She tried several times to light the flare, but the match would not ignite. She stared helplessly at her target.
Outside the cabin, Wulf clung precariously to the still rising helicopter, his usually stone face twisted into mask of real terror. Inside, Carlos was now trying to get the snake out of the cabin of the aircraft by using the barrel of his rifle. The snake struck again and again, biting his arm and hand. Carlos screamed in pain and instinctively dropped the joystick to grab his arm. The helicopter began to rotate and before Carlos could recover and regain control, it headed for the side of the canyon.
Larry and Jill heard Wulf’s hysterical scream just before the aircraft exploded against the wall of the Canyon. Above them, Marissa sat back with a satisfied smile and passed out.