The killer had trouble locating his target in the darkness but from the sound, he made a leaping lunge that brought him almost squarely down on Brad if he had not quickly rolled to the side.  Brad still had one hand in the bag struggling to get his fingers wrapped around the object inside while trying to shake off the bag.  The killer came struggling across the floor like a sidewinder in the desert going after a hypnotized mouse.  Brad did a backwards somersault to his feet just as the monster’s head came close to his feet.  Brad just gave up and with a mighty swing brought the large bag, hand and contents squarely down on his head with an audible thud.  The big guy went limp like the proverbial wet rag.  Brad straightened up and holding onto the bag with his free hand, finally extracted a 44 Magnum Smith &Wesson Model 29 from its home.

Brad knew about Jack’s favorite toy which he kept in the drawer probably for just these occasions.  Brad marveled at the weight and heft of the gun noting that it made an excellent club even in its protective covering as well as a bear-stopping weapon.  He bent over the limp goon to see if he could get a good look at his face.  He couldn’t make out his features very well in the dark but when he flipped open his jacket; he found a mini 9mm Uzi in a shoulder harness.  These guys were a lot more dangerous than he had first assumed.

“Oh shit,” Brad muttered while a jolt of dread finally rippled through his body imagining what could have happened here if the man had felt any fear at all and had resorted to his weapon.

Brad pulled the ugly little gun out and threw it in a far corner where it would be hard to find in a hurry.  He checked the big guy again and found him heavily breathing though totally out to the world.  Brad realized he only had a few moments to get Brenda and head back to the cabin before the other stranger came looking for his partner.

Brad checked the 44 and found all chambers full.  Heading for the back door, he slipped the other bag in his belt loop as he kept the 44 in his hand just in case of any more surprises.  The rear door was locked from the inside but with the twist of a couple of deadbolts, he was able to gain access to the back alley behind the bar.  He raced around the corner of the building and came up under a brightly lit small window that was glazed over to prevent seeing anything inside.  Brad tapped on the window and whispered loudly for Brenda.

In a moment he saw the shadow of a hand fiddling with the lock from the inside.  The window opened and Brenda cautiously poked her head out the window and whispered back, “Is that you, Brad?”

“Grab your stuff and throw them out the window,” he said quickly but quietly, “followed by yourself.”

“You want me to climb out this little window?” she asked incredulously.

“Yeah and get a move on,” he replied in somewhat of a panic voice.  She sensed his urgency and quickly complied, throwing her backpack out which brad caught and placed on the ground.  She gave up on any form of female dignity as she squirmed and wiggled her way through the open window and into Brads waiting arms.  He finished the job by pulling her the rest of the way where he fell backwards pulling her down and on top of him.

As she looked Brad in the face from just a couple of inches, she noticed the bloody lip.  “What happened?” she cried.   She scurried to get off of him and get to her feet.

“Nothing Mister Smith and Mister Wesson couldn’t handle,” he quipped mysteriously.  “Come on.”  He jumped to his feet and grabbed her hand as he began to drag her along.  He headed down the dark alley between buildings trying to keep in the shadows from street lights and windows.  “We’ve got to get to the truck and take the back road to the cabin.  I don’t want to be seen by anyone.”

Brad dashed through all the alleys and backyard shortcuts he knew through town in order to get back to where they had left the truck earlier in the day.  When he at last glimpsed it near a street light about a half a block away from where they emerged from the alley, he carefully took a moment to scan the scene making sure there were no further surprises waiting for them.  Brenda was still hanging on for dear life and breathing hard in the thin atmosphere which was about three kilometers higher than her usual environment.

Brad walked slowly out of the darkness of the driveway still holding Brenda’s hand with one hand and the 44 magnum in the other.  There was nobody around but he was not taking any chances.  When they got up to the truck, he knelt down by the passenger door, took one more look around from where they came and then reached up to try the door.  It was unlocked as usual.  He indicated to Brenda for her to wait and only get into the truck after he went around to the other side and got in first.  He paused briefly to take a quick look through the rear door windows into the back of the truck.  Then he got down on his hands and knees to peer under the truck before finally entering.  He had a bad feeling that he had no more room for error and his next mistake might be his last.

Brad started the truck and slowly drove away toward the opposite end of town from where they had come from the cabin on the main road.  He knew a short cut through a cattle ranchers pasture near town.  They would have to follow a narrow trail in places and ford a shallow stream but they would get to the cabin faster and hopefully without anyone spotting them if they were watching the main roads.  He wanted to avoid driving on the exposed road that went along the side of the valley where everyone for miles could see their headlights.

To Brenda, it was just a blur of fences, wire gates, willow brush and a small rocky stream.  It was the several wire fence gates that slowed their progress.  Brad stopped, got out to open them, got back in to drive through and then stop on the other side, got out again to close them and then continuing on to the next one.  Even with these maddening delays, Brad was soon nudging her to get out of the truck when they at last made it to the familiar parking lot near his cabin.  They got out together and quickly walked up the path to the cabin.  As they entered after Brad checked that nobody had been around the cabin while they were away, he finally spoke to her.

He turned her toward him and held her upper arms in his strong grip.  He looked her square in the eyes and slowly spoke with emphatic urgency.  “Listen carefully,” he instructed.  “I want you to grab your bag and coat and get back out here to the truck immediately.  Don’t think, don’t worry, and don’t dawdle.  Just do it.  I’ll be right behind you.”

With that, he pulled her close to his face where he firmly but gently gave her a warm and passionate kiss.  She eagerly accepted it without thinking and for just a moment forgot all her immediate worries and concerns.  All she could do was respond as deeply and sincerely as she could with her limited experience in this area.  She felt his emotion and she gave it right back.  For just a second, the whole of time stopped and all she or he could imagine or experience was right here, right now, pure and simple, just love.

Brad slowly eased his grip and his lips fell slowly away from hers.  A search of her eyes looked for something for just a moment and then it was done.  Brad found what he was looking for and now it was time to get down to business,

Brenda was still standing frozen in place with her eyes locked on Brad as he grabbed a box down from the shelf and turned for the door.  As he passed through the still open door she heard him say, “Hurry.  I’ll be right back.”   It took her a moment for the words to sink in and then he was gone.  She set about her task with new determination.

Brad bounded down the steps and headed around the corner of the cabin and up the familiar path behind that lead to his favorite view point.  He could see the whole valley stretching away from the ridge and from here he could see all the way to town and the road that circled the far end of the open valley.  He had an unobstructed view as the road then turned up along the ridge to the back of the cabin and eventually led to the lane that cut through the trees and down to his parking area.

Brad took his infrared goggles out of the box and turned on the power with one smooth movement of his finger as he brought them up to his face.  If anybody was creeping around in the dark or driving with their lights out, he would see them.  It didn’t take him long to see what he was dreading.  There was one vehicle apparently attempting to follow his truck tracks through the rancher’s field where they had just been.  He was moving slowly probably trying to follow their tracks but with obvious difficulty.  It would probably take him at least another half hour to finally get here, plenty of time to make a clean get away. 

Brad continued to look along the main road for anything out of the ordinary.   He started with the bright lights of town almost blinding him in the glare produced by their infrared signature.  He slowly followed the road that left the far side of town and cut across the valley as it headed up the opposite ridge for the base of the ski area.  About halfway up the ridge, the road forked with this branch turning away to the north as it headed along the base of the ridge and followed the east side of the valley towards where he was.

He noted several cars moving along the road to the ski area which was expected at this time.  Tourists staying at the lodges might venture into town to experience a little local old west flavor of the many rustic and boisterous watering holes.  Others would be calling it a night to retire early to their luxurious condos.  He kept following the dim outline of the road as it meandered among the boulders and ravines which dotted along the far ridge.  There was no traffic along this road as very few cabins or vacation homes were occupied this time of year.  He patiently followed the road anyway determined to not let anything out of the ordinary escape his search.

Then he spotted something.  It appeared to be just a dull glow in the goggles about the size of a large boulder or small house where he was pretty sure there wasn’t either.  Then he noticed another glowing object break away from the larger one and move to the right of it.  He couldn’t be sure but he was willing to bet that it was a warm car with someone walking around it, probably dressed for the cold so his infrared signature was somewhat muted.  Probably just his head was exposed to show a small heat radiating smudge.  Nothing seemed to be happening so he temporarily swung his instrument around to see how the car in the willows was doing.

For a fleeting moment, he could not find it giving him just a twinge of panic.  When he finally caught up to it, he had even more to be concerned about.  The car was getting closer than he liked and would probably be at the cabin in just a few minutes.  He dropped his goggles for a second as he looked over his shoulder at the cabin behind him.  The window on that side of the cabin was glowing bright yellow from the lights inside.  He thought to himself that he may have made a mistake by not leaving the lights off.  Then he thought  they should best get moving as time was getting short before the killers would catch up to them. 

He turned once more to check out the mysterious stationary car on the main road one more time.  He swung back around to roughly where he had last seen it but had to search around for a moment before the dull glowing blob showed up again.  This time he could clearly make out the head of the occupant still outside the vehicle but this time there was another dim object right next to the head.  It appeared to be something long and skinny.  It wasn’t another person and it appeared to be a large stick of some sort that the person was holding or resting on his shoulder.  The stick moved up and then foreshortened almost to the point of disappearing.  Then it dawned on Brad what it was.  The guy was shouldering it and pointing it right at him. It was too big to be a rifle.  The realization struck him like a ton of bricks.

Brad panicked for a brief second and then tightened his nerve and muscles as he swung around running as fast as he could back to the cabin.  Fortunately his goggles gave him a clear view of any obstacles in the total darkness surrounding him.  He realized he only had seconds until the killer on the road let go a Rocket Propelled Grenade, one of the most feared hand held portable weapons long favored by terrorists and insurgents world-wide.   As he cleared the corner of the cabin he was relieved to see Brenda walking down the trail to the parking lot.  He kept on running as fast as he could and tried to warn her.

“Get down,” he yelled urgently, “get down!”