Jake couldn’t wait for the sun to come up, so he could stop thinking about the thing he’d left undone. Once in awhile, he’d crack open an eye, and see Coyle’s blurry image staring at him. Finally, he felt the cool, weak blue sky leach through his eyelids. He opened them. He sniffed the sage, heard a ringtail skitter around camp. He thought he smelled rain, but it must have been his imagination. The rise of light licked the sheer west wall of Zoroaster Canyon, first indigo, then red, then bleached beige. A pair of soaring ravens croaked as they pinched the blanket of night in their talons and rolled it west to uncover what the witches had painted onto the sky of Jake’s last day.
He raised his head. Coyle stared at him, catatonic and stubble-faced. He hadn’t moved all night.
“It’s time, Indio,” Coyle said.
Jake sat up, but Coyle kicked him down. He knew what Coyle wanted. He rolled over. He showed him the cuffs were still locked.
“Good boy. Nice and tight,” he praised as he packed up camp.
“OK, stand up,” Coyle said as he waved his gun like a wand.
“Here’s the deal, Jake. You take me to Cheyava Falls.”
“Cheyava Falls is miles off.”
“Well, if you can’t get me there, I guess I’ll have to shoot you now.”
“I’ll get you there,” Jake promised.
Coyle approached Jake and uncuffed him.
“Door Number One: You misdirect me or try to run off, I shoot you in the balls, then just graze the back of your head. I know how to leave a man a vegetable. You’ll be a permanent guest of the VA, OK? Door Number Two: You get me to the Falls. One bullet to the back of the head, to the heart of the Medulla Oblongata.”
He clucked his tongue against the roof of his mouth, mimicking the sound of a bullet.
“And Door Number Three?” Jake asked as they hiked.
“Chuck already chose that door when we he went off the cliff,” Coyle explained. “How far are the Falls?”
“About five miles.”
“You figure that’s about two hours, Indio?”
Jake led the way. It heated up quick in the inner canyon. Before the sun breached the east walls, it broke 80. Coyle stopped three times for water breaks. Jake got none. The flies pestered his backpack even before sunrise, just as the carrion beetles had rustled to and from it across the pebbles all night long. When and where Coyle planned to dump the guard’s body, Jake didn’t know. But by midmorning, they’d made it to the Falls, just a dry hole in the middle of the scarp face this time of year. The shading walls of Ottoman Amphitheater loomed north.
Jake felt his throat swell up. It was thirst, but it was life’s end, too. He saw men up ahead, loitering in the shade. Men from another country. They were white, but they weren’t Anglo. There were five, awkward, hunched over from the weight of their backpacks and sweating in their cotton tees and jeans. They reminded Jake of Coyle and Chuck yesterday morning. Each step he took, he expected to hear the shot peal the split second before it pierced his skull. His heart pounded. The flies buzzed him, buzzed the body he was carrying. He felt a kinship with it, knowing his would soon be like it.