Everett looked through his binoculars, steady and patient, watching Nathan sleep against the backdrop of his flickering campfire. Everett had been in this position for a few hours, but he had hardly moved a muscle. Like the other New Denver Rangers, he had learned the great art of patience. Now, though, it was time to report in, so he slid down the rocky outcropping, kneeled beside his military radio, turned the crank, and lifted the receiver to his ear.
“Hello, hello? This is Everett…is anyone there?”
Several moments of static and then–
“New Denver Operations here. Did you say this was Everett?”
“That’s right. Ready to make my evening report.”
“Alright, hang on a moment, I’ll get him.”
A few more moments of static and then–
“Hello, sir, this is Everett. I’ve tailed that guy all day and he’s settled down for the night.”
“Do you think he might have seen you?”
“Not a chance.”
“Alright, well, where did he go?”
“After he left the city he wandered down the path for a good while, as if he was making for the other outposts. He did look over his shoulder several times, like he expected one of us to be following him.”
“And did he ever see you?”
“Sir we rangers have that whole way mapped out. We know how to get to our lookout points without anyone seeing us coming or going. It’s simply not possible that he would have seen me.”
“Alright. Well did he make it to one of the outposts?”
“No. Once he got to that grove of trees at Long Bend he left the trail. Crept over to where it exits into the gorge and used that to double back towards the salt flats.”
Samuel sighed. “That’s what I was afraid of. What then?”
“Well, he stayed in the rocky crags until nearly sundown. He went about it real cautious, too, keeping in the shadows and triple-checking for anyone tailing him at every turn.”
” And do you think–“
“And I’m sure he didn’t see me. Anyway, come evening he set up camp in a bowl and has stayed there ever since. He laid down to sleep a little after dark and hasn’t made a single movement in the last two hours. He’s sleeping, sir.”
“Now if I know that gorge as well as I think I do…he’s headed straight for the ridge and back past our city.
“Yes, sir, that appears right.”
“And then over the ridge into the salt flats themselves!”
“That’s how I figure it, too. My guess is that tomorrow he sneaks out to the flats for as far as he can stay concealed. Maybe he even lays on his stomach and crawls when climbing over the ridge. At some point he’ll know he’s bound to be seen, and then he’ll just have to up and book it, hoping to get far enough into the nesting grounds that we won’t dare chase him.”
“Is that how you would do it?”
“Hmm…well no. I suppose I would have kept moving through the night so I could get over the ridge while it was still dark. Of course, I’m more familiar with this area than he is.”
“I think he’s plenty familiar. Smart, too. He knew enough to steal into the crags when he reached the trees, didn’t he?”
“Fair enough. Might be he’s resting up now, but then sets off a few hours before sunrise. Do you want me to apprehend him now?”
“Yes,” Samuel sighed heavily. “I think it’s evident enough that he’s still sticking to his plan. Get him now before he sets out any farther.”
“Bring him in alive?”
“Well…what’s most important is that he is stopped.”
Everett closed the antenna on his radio and blew on his fingers to warm them back up. He undid the straps around his waist and chest, lowering his gear down to the ground. For this next part he would want to be as quiet as possible. So he continued to unburden himself until all he had left was his first layer of clothes and his handgun. He even took off his boots and put on a pair of thick moccasins instead. Then he stretched and ran-in-place, getting his stiff muscles limbered up after sitting still for so long.
Only when he was fully warmed up and loosed out did he set out, moving through the rocky crags, making for the campfire in the distance. He kept his eyes locked on the camp, watching for any shadows that might pass in front of the small, open flame. When he got within thirty yards he was able to make out the shape of Nathan’s body laid out in his bedroll.
Everett paused and waited for his beating heart to slow back down again. That surge of adrenalin that came before a kill was trying to flood his senses, but he just let it pass him by, until he was back in a cool and collected state. Then he snapped his gun up, watching down its sights as he crept forward again.
Closer and closer he came. He wanted to get close enough to be certain of making his mark, but if Nathan so much as rolled over Everett would take the shot here and now. Now he was fifteen yards away. Now ten. As he advanced forward his eyes repeatedly darted to the ground, ensuring that he never put his foot on a twig or loose stone. Everett pulled back the hammer smoothly and silently, watching to see if Nathan would stir at the soft click of metal.
Everett was near enough now to make out the difference between Nathan’s sleeping form and the long shadow that his body cast from the flickering flame that lay behind him. Everett centered his gun on Nathan’s head and took three more steps forward, careful to lift his foot over the tripwire he had watched Nathan set up before settling down for the night.
Everett exhaled slowly, tightened his forefinger, and fired!