A warm, rose-pink filed the western sky as the sun set itself deep into the Pacific Ocean. The color reflected itself in the rippling of the river which Doc found himself greatly guiding the large gray mare alongside.
The sound of the horse’s hooves echoed with the natural sounds of the inland gulls and flow slipping past the stony bands of the ribbon of water. Doc paused momentarily to allow the horse to drink from the river.
The young sheriff’s deputy scanned the hills ahead of him and to the east. He looked at the old Ferndale Bridge and thought about the many times he had ridden this same horse over that aging but sturdy concrete and steel expanse.
Suddenly the horse jerked violently to the right, rearing up and screaming in pain and in terror. It raised up to high that it sent itself off-balance and slowly rolled backwards and onto its right flank.
The action caught Doc by surprise and he found it difficult to react. Before he realized it the large horse had rolled over on top of him, effectively pinning the rider underneath her mass by one leg. There was blood streaming from a gaping wound in the horse’s neck just above the left fore shoulder.
The young deputy realized at that second that his mount had been shot out from underneath him. And as if to confirm that thought, Doc heard the report of a rifle a second after he felt the bullet slam into the rib section of the mortally wounded animal.
“Someone’s gunning for me,” he said out loud as he struggled to get free of the now dead horse.
Seconds later his foot slipped out of the boot and he found himself lying with his stomach against the horses back and his bloodied saddle. He labored to pull his rifle out of its hold which also lay trapped beneath the horse and river rocks.
Another round fired at him but this time from a different angle.
“The shooter’s moving for a better shot,” he said to himself.
There was no time to think now. It was time to survive as he had instructed many soldiers in Honduras and Lebanon. Doc kicked of his remaining cowboy boot and crawled on his belly into the frigid waters of the Eel River.
The fourth shot missed him by inches as he slipped beneath the surface of the river and swam with the current, to safety as quickly as it would carry him.
A week before, rotor blades washed down on a pair of officers as they secured the last tether of netting to the hook. The shorter of the two Deputies lifted his right arm and made a fist, than swung it in a tight clockwise circle, signaling the flight engineer that everything was ready for transport.
Within seconds the helicopter’s engine raced to a higher pitch and lifted the netting filled with the green plants from the damp earth through the canopy of dense redwood trees. It vanished, leaving the forest quiet for the first time in the half hour that the raiders had been on the ground.
“You know I’ll get you for this,” the cool deep monotone voice of one of the hemp farmers said.
He was looking at Doc as he spoke.
“I’ve heard that before,” Doc replied, “I also know you’ll be out of jail in a couple of hours and back in business in a week, so don’t sweat it Charlie.”
Charlie looked at him with a glare, than commenced, “When you least expect it, I’ll be gunning for you.”
The other deputy walked over to Charlie and booted him in the ribs,”Shut up or we’ll add assaulting and resisting an officer to the charges of cultivation.”
The kick caught the handcuff prisoner off guard and sent him toppling over face first.
“Hey, knock it off!” Doc shouted at the deputy.
He stepped over and pulled Charlie upright and seated him back on the old stump he had been sitting on.
“Screw him,” the deputy said as he walked away.
Charlie growled at Doc,” Don’t think jus’ you helped me now that it changes anything.” He spit dirt from his mouth than added,”I’m still gonna kill you.”
“That’s mad talk, Charlie Wind,” Doc said as he continued to gather up the remainder of the clandestine camp that Charlie had been living in for the past two months.
Doc knew from his past experience as a rescue swimmer how far he could push his lungs. He remained submerged beyond the burning that seized the wall of his chest.
Still he continued to kick and stroke through the water just under the surface. It wasn’t until he felt his stomach buck with convulsive vibrations did he chanced breaking the surface.
He gasped, gulping at the chilled air, filling his burning lungs with oxygen. Doc felt light-headed.
He allowed himself a few seconds to drift. As he did, he looked around.
The bridge was gone from sight as were the lights of Fortuna just to the south-east of it. Doc had no real way of telling how long he had been under water or how far he had traveled downstream.
Cautiously he approached the south side bank of the Eel River. He laid among the rocks in shallow for a minute before slowly moving out onto the drier rocks.
The sun had disappeared and the land had taken on an eerie feel to it. Every shadow Doc thought could hold another rifleman and another ambush.
He felt for the thirty-eight still holstered on his belt. It was there, but would have been entirely useless against a rifle.
As soon as he felt it was safe to move Doc sprinted up the rocky embankment and under the barbed wire fence.
“I think this is Swenson’s place,” he murmured to himself.
Something moved to his left and he reached down and drew the pistol out of its holster. He quietly cocked the hammer and breathlessly waited.
Within a minute the sound be came familiar to him. It was a cow milling about somewhere around one hundred feet to his right. He let out his breath and slowly released the hammer of his pistol.
The deputy knew he had to move quickly because he could still be a hunted man and with the sun having gone down, hypothermia would set in soon. He also knew that he was already wet, lacking boots and his hat.
Doc struck a mild trot across the open rangeland. Soon he found what he had hoped to see — a house with lights. As he drew closer to the house he also knew that he was right about whose property he had washed up on.
He approached the back door as quietly as possible.
“I better put this away,” he thought as he stuffed the pistol into his holster.
Suddenly Mr. Swenson’s collie started barking and before Doc could knock on the door, the back porch light came on and Mr. Swenson appeared in the doorway with a shot-gun.
“Mr. Swenson, don’t shoot, its Doc,” the deputy said.
He stepped forward into the light so the old man could see his face. He also raised his hands above his head.
“So it is, “Mr. Swenson said in his Norwegian accent, “Quick get in here lad before you freeze.”
Doc bounded up the steps.
“What is that down there?” the woman said to her husband.
He was driving the car as they crossed over the Fernbridge, so he couldn’t’ look and therefore didn’t get a chance to see what she was viewing.
Suddenly she shouted, “Harvey, stop the car, I think that’s an injured horse.”
Harvey pushed down on the gas pedal and raced the old Buick across the bridge. He pulled into the turn out on the southeast side of the bridge abutment.
“I’m sure it’s nothing, Doris,” he said as he hurried to join her as she rushed down the embankment on the opposite side of the roadway.
“Are you okay, son?” Mr. Swenson asked. “
“Jus’ scared and cold,” was Doc’s reply.
“Well I need to call your grandpa and let him know you be safe,” he said.
“What?” Doc asked.
Mr. Swenson looked at him than replied, “A couple found your horse dead and they’re mounting a posse to search the river for you.” He paused to pick up the phone than added, “The horse was shot so we thought you’d come to the same end and got caught in the current.”
Mr. Swenson continued to dial the telephone and within half an hour, three sheriff’s vehicles were parked outside the old man’s home.
“I hate the fact that Danger’s dead,” Doc commented to her Grandfather.
His grandfather nodded, “Yup it’s a shame but it could have been worse you know.”
He knew his grandfather was right. He could have ended up dead as well.
“I’ll catch the creep,” he said, “and bring him to justice.”
They finished eating breakfast. Doc had a full day ahead of him he was scheduled to take his mount up to the town of Samoa and ride the outer edge of Humboldt Bay.
He was assigned to look for poachers and their traps. Rumor had it that Huron’s had suddenly been disappearing at an alarming rate and the birds feathers being sold at local art shows.
With the trailer loaded and hitched up to the truck, Doc slowly pulled out of the yard. He drove North on Highways 101 and then turned off at the south end of Arcata, continuing out to Samoa.
It was not yet ten in the morning and the sun felt good against his skin. He urged the youthful buckskin onward.
This new horses name was “Goat” because he had no problem with mountain terrain, so he was a little less than thrilled with the sandy water on which he found himself trotting this morning. Still “Goat” was a solid mount.
The quiet of the morning was broken by the distant wounds of a motorcycle somewhere among the dunes. Doc had been vaguely aware of the cycle for sometime; only when it stopped did he become aware of his own nervousness.
He scanned the dunes ahead of himself, then turned in the saddle to check behind. There was nothing, yet he still had that little nagging voice telling him to remain alert.
Twenty minutes later Doc heard the motorcycle cough to life. It was somewhere in front of him. He touched “Goat” in the flanks and the horse stepped up his pace along the shoreline.
Within minutes Doc rode up on a crude-looking bird trap. It was a wire loop baited with a live frog, obviously set with the intent of catching a Huron.
Doc stepped off the horse and let the bait frog go free and then he pulled the wire and the stake holding it out of the muddy silt. Just as he yanked the long piece of wood out of the edge of the water it exploded. The deputy dropped to his stomach because he knew he had been fired on once again.
“That was too damned close,” he said to himself as he heard the motorcycle rev up and take off.
He rolled under Goat and pulled himself onto the saddle spurring the horse ahead after the motorcycle. Doc saw the cycle making for the roadway and he could also see the driver.
It was Charlie Wind. He radioed the dispatcher, letting her know what had happened and that he was pursuing him even if it was on horseback.
Soon the radio was alive with chatter from other officers who had entered the pursuit. Doc slowed the horse to a trot as he knew the other motorized units would catch Charlie Wind soon enough.
Yet somehow Charlie Wind kept managing to evade their massive dragnet which now involved five agencies. Still Doc trotted Goat towards Arcata where Charlie Wind had last been seen and finally lost.
There were squad cars everywhere inside the town when Doc cautiously entered it. He immediately rode for the center of the square where the statue of President McKinley stands.
The young deputy figured that the reason the others had lost Charlie Wind is that he was hiding in plain sight. The square was usually the hangout of students from Humboldt State University.
He slowly walked his horse through the square in an attempt to see all of the people there. Sitting with his face towards the front of the stature was a man with stringy black hair. He didn’t look out-of-place except for the logging boots he was wearing.
He continued to circulate through the square as every time he tried to get a look at the man’s face he noticed his seating arrangement would change. That’s when Doc realized that he was looking right at Charlie Wind, noticing the sand in the cracks and laces of the man’s boots, and then the bulge just under the dirty gray sweat shirt.
“Charlie Wind!” the deputy shouted and the man looked up.
It was the wanted man.
He sprang to his feet and raced across the quad and into the Arcata Hotel. Doc followed him on horse back.
Charlie Wind tossed off a shot at the deputy as he pushed his horse through the doorway of the bar.
Bang! Crack! Bang! Bang!
Three more shots fired as Charlie ran up the stairs and Doc followed him still mounted.
They rushed to the third floor. Charlie Wind turned and fired off and then shot at the deputy and his horse just as they crested the final step.
Again the shot missed.
Doc spurred the horse forward towards the assailant. They were now outside on the roof of the hotel and there was no place for either man to go.
The deputy paced his horse back and forth in front of the only exit.
“There’s no place to go, Charlie!” Doc called out.
Charlie pointed the pistol at the deputy and squeezed the trigger. Click! Click! Click!
Doc smiled, “Its empty Charlie, and you got nowhere to go!”
Charlie Wind turned around and looked over the edge of the building. It was a thirty-foot-plus drop. He was contemplating jumping, even if he met his death.
While he was looking away, Doc loosened his throwing rope and shook out a loop. With a single flick of his wrist, Doc dropped the lasso over the entire body of Charlie Wind.
Without warning he jerked the loop tight and dallied the end to his saddle horn. Doc turned his horse and walked him towards the door.
Charlie Wind spun around, realizing what was happening and threw the empty pistol at the mounted deputy. Doc ducked and the gun bounced down the stair well.
“Okay, now I’m angry! “ Doc said as he spurred Goat down the stairs and through the narrow passage of the hotel.
Charlie Wind yelled obscenities all the way down the steps. And he was still cussing a blue streak when they put the handcuffs on him and loaded him into the nearest squad car.
Doc sat high in the saddle as he gathered up the rope and coiled it back onto his saddle. He reached down and scratched “Goat” on his left fore shoulder, then urged him forward and back into the Arcata Hotel.
He rode up to the bar a looked at the still stunned bartender and said “A beer for me and a whiskey for my horse.”
The bar erupted into cheers and shouts, followed by laughter.