The government is still closed down today.  Yes, I am smiling, as I remember what Thomas Jefferson said – the real one, not the one in the story.

“The government that governs best, governs least,” said Thomas Jefferson. He
was right. The less “governing” you do, the less you are lying,
cheating, stealing and murdering people. The less you are using force to get
what you want.

CHAPTER  FIFTEEN

 “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety”.

 Ben Franklin

“In recent years, spurious substitutes have been palmed off on the American people for these basic virtues of free men: government aid for self-reliance; collectivism for individual initiative; a partly socialized economy for personal responsibility; soothing propaganda for vigilance; public subsidies for thrift; subservience for pride in citizenship; paternalism for courage; materialism for religious faith.”

 H.W. Prentis, Jr. 1948

 “Drive safe,” Chris said.

“I will.  It can’t be any worse than yesterday and thanks again for the gas.”

Chris’s mom hugged her son.  “Least we could do for you Dustin.  We’re just thankful to have Chris home safe with us.”

The sight of the family standing together in the driveway waving good-bye fueled Dustin’s desire to get home.

The cool night air had not yet left the valley floor and the warm air from the car’s heater felt good on his feet.  Still haunted by yesterday’s events, Dustin thought the morning sun looked as magnificent as he had ever seen it.  Its joyful light helped to ease his mind and lift his spirits.  It was also good to be back on the road and headed home.

The freeway at Ellensburg was nearly empty—then Dustin remembered the passes were closed and he wasn’t likely to see much traffic.  Anxious to get home and with no one around, he stepped on the gas and left yesterday far behind.

After turning south on Highway 82 the freeway remained uninhabited and he pulled out his phone to check in with his folks.  Jean and Cliffson were glad to know he was on his way but warned him to be on the lookout for trouble.

Speaking with his parents relaxed him and after digging through his music collection, Dustin found a Ben Harper CD, cranked it up, and let the road unwind behind him.  The open hills rolled by, silver guard rails flashed and he found his mind in places it had never been.  Places that hadn’t even existed until yesterday.  The highway wasn’t a highway at all, but a steel blue ribbon cutting through a pastel sky, taking him through time, to a place unknown; a place with no cities, no electricity and lime green vans.

The CD advanced to the next track and Ben Harper began singing “Fight For Your Mind.”  Dustin thumbed the player back a few tracts to “Burn One Down” and cruised on.

Near Toppenish, Dustin turned off the freeway and continued south on Highway 97.  The road climbed through national forest to Satus Pass where low hanging clouds dripped with moisture.  On the other side, his descent took him through a thinning forest, mixed with rangeland where the highway exited the mountains and entered a narrow and twisting canyon.  Dustin slowed for the corners, crossed a low slung bridge over Cozy Creek and put the canyon behind him.  Now the road straightened and he was just beginning to make out the shape of a car in the distance.

It was stopped on the right hand shoulder of the road and tilted at an awkward angle where the ditch dropped steeply into the creek.  Then an unseen hand reached for Dustin’s neck from the back seat and the jolt of alarm froze him in place.  It was the lime green van.  He told himself it couldn’t be, but the bumper sticker said otherwise, and he recognized the girl standing beside it waving her arms.

His brain had already sent an electrical impulse to floor the gas pedal, but his heart cut it off half way and Dustin pulled over to the side of the road.   The girl swaggered over and suggestively leaned through passenger side window.

“Hey, I’ve had a breakdown and…and…it’s you, from the diner.”  Then she whispered, “Get out of here, it’s a trap.  Go now.”

Dustin hesitated only a moment before hitting the gas, spinning his tires and tossing gravel at the two men climbed up from the ditch.  He was racing away to safety when the image of the girls pleading eyes began to stare back at him through the glass of the windshield.

Dustin smashed his fist against the dashboard.  She saved me.  I can’t just run away to the safety of my own family knowing this girl’s in trouble.  I have to do something.

The road continued for another half a mile before bending around a hill and out of site of the van.  At mile post 27 Dustin parked his car in a gravel pit on the left side of the road, grabbed his jacket and cell phone and jogged across the highway to the creek.

Three well spaced boulders allowed him to jump the creek and enter the dense willow and elderberry foliage on the other side.  There he found a game trail and followed the creek back to the edge of an opening forty yards from the van.  What am I going to do now?  The two men were hiding near the creek waiting to spring their trap.

It may have only been ten minutes, or maybe it was an hour, but he’d been squatting in the brush long enough for his legs to begin to cramp.  Dustin was about to move up the hill and deeper into the timber to get away from the creek when he heard the sound of squealing brakes from an approaching car.

The girl played her part just as she’d done before and the man inside the car leaned over to engage her in conversation.  Immediately the two men charged the car.  The little man pulled the girl aside and the other man shoved his shotgun through the window.

The girl’s screams and report of the gunshot filled Dustin with rage.  He was tired of feeling scared and helpless.

The big man rifled through the car, removed the dead man’s wallet and a laptop computer before pushing the car off the road and into the creek.  Then he joined the others in the van and drove off in the direction of the gravel pit.

Dustin knelt in the brush unwilling to move.  He already knew what he’d find in the car and refused to look.  Unsure of what to do next he sat at the edge of the stream, numbly staring at a limb bobbing in its current.  When the water took on a red tint he burst from his hiding place and ran back towards his car.

After crossing the creek and climbing the bank to the road, Dustin stomped his feet on the pavement in frustration and to remove the mud from his shoes.  I should have done something to help her before they got away.

Then the sound of a car door slamming in the gravel pit seized his attention and Dustin froze.  In the middle of the road he was exposed with nowhere to hide.  The approaching sound of boots crunching on gravel chased him back across the creek to hide in the brush on the other side.

Peering through a clump of willows Dustin watched as the big man appeared at the top of the bank, where he stood stock still, listening carefully.  Upstream a covey of quail burst from the creek and flew into the forest.  The man raised his shotgun and fired into the area until his gun was empty.  Again he waited and listened, then turned to walk back across the road.  Dustin shuddered.  He’ll kill me first chance he gets.

When things grew quiet Dustin crept back across the creek and climbed the bank.  Daring to peek above the crest in the road, Dustin raised his head enough to look towards his car.  He couldn’t see it, but the sounds of men swearing and rummaging through the vehicle were clear.

The damp creek side and cool evening air were bringing on a chill, but he didn’t dare move any closer.  Unexpectedly, a loud whoosh filled the air and black smoke began rising from the gravel pit.  Then the thud of heavy boots returning to the road forced him to rush back across the creek and hide again.  The boots continued their march across the pavement and soon the big man was standing at the top of the bank again.

“We have you now college boy.  That’s your car going up in smoke over there.  You’re stuck here in the wilderness and we’ll find you soon enough.   Sweet dreams college boy.”

The man’s laugh rolled down the drainage and rumbled through Dustin’s ears to reverberate in the forest behind him.  Dustin was sure the man had looked right at him, but he walked away instead and Dustin took stock of his situation.

He had no car, the sun was setting and he was not looking forward to a night alone in the forest.  His options were limited at best, but given a second chance, he was not going to abandon the girl this time.  He waited by the creek until the cool evening breeze forced him to move.  At least he’d taken his jacket with him.

Remaining on the side of the creek away from the highway, Dustin climbed the bank and moved uphill into the forest.  Now he could see across the road and began to look for a vantage point from which to watch the group.  The flames were still leaping from his car when he reached a high point and sat down behind an enormous ponderosa pine.  It was beginning to get dark, but the orange light from his burning car allowed him to see the lime green van and the silhouettes of three people there.

Dustin breathed deep and tried to calm the tremors jolting throughout his frame.   He still had no idea what he was going to do, when he saw the three people leave the van and disappeared over a low hill in the back of the gravel pit.

Unarmed, his options were limited, but he had to do something.  His mind wrestled with itself.  This is stupid Dustin.  You could get yourself killed.  No harm in following to see what opportunity might present itself.  Yeah, right.  Unarmed you’re gonna whip that gorilla and save the girl.  In your dreams, Dustin, in your dreams.  But I‘ve got to do something, even if I don’t know what that something is right now.

Finally deciding he could use the growing cover of darkness to conceal himself, he set off to follow them.  After crossing the creek, he skirted the gravel pit to the left, to remain on higher ground.  The forest thinned on this side of the road and he began moving through a mixture of rangeland grasses, sagebrush and a few scattered pines.

From atop a low rise, Dustin looked across a stretch of rangeland and tried to decide which direction he should take.  It was nearly dark now and the moon was of little help.  Then a flickering beam from the group’s flashlight caught Dustin’s attention and exposed their location.  He slithered across the open rangeland and stopped behind a dead pine tree with a broken top.  Now he could clearly see the bobbing yellow light that was leading the threesome back into the hills.

Following at a safe distance, Dustin soon found himself watching the group disappear into a shallow valley.  He moved away from the trail the group was following and crept to the edge of the canyon rim to peer below.  From his vantage point he watched the flashlight stop momentarily at the front of a building before disappearing inside.  Soon lanterns were lit and egg yolk colored light spilled from two small windows and a crack under the door.

Now what?  I’ve found their hideout—he laughed to himself at the thought of calling it a hideout—but what can I do?   Moving back from the edge of the rim he sat down next to a round boulder and pulled out his cell phone.   Knowing the local authorities had been required to assist in closing the mountain passes, he knew calling 911 would be of no help and decided to call home.  His parents would be worried anyway because he should have been there by now.

“Dad.”

“Dustin where are you?” His father’s anxious voice didn’t do much to calm his tingling nerves.

“I’m ok, but I need your help.  My car’s been torched and I’m stranded.”

“What?  What happened?” Cliffson replied.

“I don’t have time to explain.  I’m north of Goldendale.”  Then he paused, remembering the mile marker he’d seen—“At mile post 27 is a gravel pit.  You’ll see my burned out car there.  Go to the back of the pit and follow a trail for half a mile or so and you’ll find an old cabin.”

“A cabin?  Dustin what are…”

“Dad listen, two men have kidnapped a girl and are keeping her there.  I not only need a ride, but I need some help,”  Dustin pleaded.

“All right, all right.  Lay low until we get there.  I’ll grab Monk and we’ll be there as soon as we can.  I love you Dust, please be careful and don’t do anything I wouldn’t do,”  Cliffson told him.

Dustin knew it was meant to reassure him because it was kind of an inside joke they shared.

“Ok dad, I’ll be right here.  And dad, they have a shotgun and a pistol with them.  Please hurry.”

After hanging up, Dustin leaned back against the boulder and looked into the sky.  The stars blinked back from a black emptiness that gazed into eternity and he suddenly felt very alone.

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