Kelly “Scooter” Thurston carefully negotiated his horse and pack animal up the switchbacks of the narrow mountain trail. He was in no particular hurry. None of the game animals he hunted or guided “dudes” for were in season.
It was force of habit that had him stop at most switchbacks and glass the country. Using binoculars is a skill and like all skills required use to be maintained. The effects of gravity and temperature changes made the landscape ever-changing. More than once he had guided a client into a trophy animal because he recognized a “spot” was not part of the permanent vista.
There was also the possibility of druggies. The pot growers favored wooded areas over the bleak, sun-blasted mountainside, if for no other reason than the logistics of watering the crop. Meth-cookers were less particular but there were no suitable “cooking” sites that did not require a 300 meter, uphill walk. More than that, those sites had only one-way-in and a raid would bottle up the meth-heads. There were thousands of better, safer sites that were much closer to civilization.
Every half hour or so, Scooter tied up his horse, put on his pack-basket and walked up one of the sheep tracks to check out one of those sites. He had been riding the trails twice a week for the last month. In part, he was replenishing or beefing up caches. The other thing he was doing was looking.
He found his man on his third check of the day, just before the northbound trail crested a ridge. The shelter was about 8’ square and was native shingle rock daubed together with a minimal amount of mortar.
Zev was lounging near the door of the shelter. “I heard you coming for the last fifteen minutes.” was all he said.
Scooter nodded. “Figured you might be up here.” Scooter didn’t say much.
Zev asked, “Want a cup of coffee?”
Scooter was a practicing Mormon but he felt it was his Christian duty to be hospitable, either as a host or as a guest. That, and the fact that it was his coffee they were going to be drinking had him nodding in the affirmative.
“You really stepped into a pile of it, didn’t you?” Scooter stated.
“Guess so.” Zev said. Two months in the sun had darkened his skin and his normally tidy hair style was long and shaggy. The preppy clothing had wear-and-tear. Nothing overt, it was just that the clothing was not new.
“I have been keeping my head down so I have no idea what is going on. What can you tell me?” Zev asked.
“What do you want to know?” Scooter responded.
“Did Fifi and Abe make it out?” Zev asked. Fifi was his wife and Abraham was his son.
“Nope. They burned to death in the house. So did three of your son’s friends, the ones in the band.” Scooter said.
Zev had suspected as much. He had been working late that night and heard reports of “unrest” in his neighborhood. Rather than ride the train Zev had rented a cab and had it drop him off three blocks on the far side of his house.
He could see the flames from there. Still, he had sidled up to the edge of the mob. Of course their night-vision had been compromised by the flames and he was not recognized. He saw enough in two minutes to realize that there was nothing he was going to be able to do if anybody was in the house.
He felt nothing over the loss of Fifi. They had drifted apart a decade ago and the only thing holding them together was inertia and the status Fifi gained by being married to a Silicon Valley mover-and-shaker.
He was far more shaken by losing Abe. They had gone through several years of estrangement but recently Abe had become much closer. He had even been able to overlook the fact that Abe had repudiated the family name and taken the name of a second rate, Scottish socialist. He had gotten Abe a job in one of his factories and hire the two girls in “the band” to work as sales reps.
“Anything I can do to help?” Scooter asked.
From most people those would have been empty words. Scooter, however, meant what he offered. More than one family in King City had meat through the winter because Scooter made sure that the meat from the trophies did not feed coyotes and buzzards. There was also the more than occasional feral horse, burro, goat or hog that fell to Scooter’s gun. There were very few homes around King City where Scooter was not a welcomed guest.
“Can you mail a few letters for me?” Zev asked.
Scooter nodded in agreement.
Zev handed over three letters. Scooter could tell by the feel that two of them held small, micoSD cards. All three addresses were in the Eastern United States.
Then Zev made a short list of supplies for sundries like glue and string, hose clamps, trash bags and a couple of bottles of Dr Pepper soda pop. If Scooter found anything strange about the list he did not say anything.
Scooter noted that the weather was changing. “I would feel a whole lot better if you would let me leave my coat.”
Zev was floored by the generosity. It was sun-faded, brown duck of a brand favored by laborers and farmers in North America and had volumninous pockets.
“Yes. That is a magnificent gift. I will gladly accept it if it is not your only coat.” Zev said.
“Don’t worry about it.” Scooter said with a grin. “The nice thing about guiding you billionaire dudes is you leave more clothes lying around than I can get rid of.”
As they parted, Scooter said, “I will be back in a week.”
After Scooter left, Zev started to move the coat from the chair to a hook by the door when he noticed the coat weighed significantly more than he expected.
Patting the pockets, Zev found two ziplock baggies with fifty rounds of 5.56mm ammo each. The three-by-five card was neatly lettered with the load, the same 50 grain V-Max and 9 grains of Titegroup that his AR was sighted in for.