I am instantly alert.
This is not a dust devil or a dry, tumbling shrub. The movement is on the dirt road leading up to the small house and it is definitely human. Whoever it is, he or she is too far away to been seen clearly without a little ocular assistance. The rifle comes to my shoulder reflexively. With my left eye closed, my right eye looks down the scope, focusing on the target some three-quarters of a mile away. Through the crosshairs, I can see the figure much more clearly.
It’s a girl.
What the fuck?
A woman, I suppose – maybe twenty years old. She’s walking sideways just a little, like she’s not really looking where she’s going, and stumbling every once in a while. She’s not carrying anything, but as she approaches I can see there is a small backpack strapped to her back. It’s not big enough for any real supplies, but more like one of those things the college girls wear for a purse – something that is certainly more decorative than useful.
As she comes closer, I get a better view and learn a little about her. She’s been walking for maybe an hour or two at most because she’s not showing any signs of dehydration and she doesn’t appear to have any water with her. Her shoes are very dusty, though, so it’s not like she just started walking, either. Her hair is pulled up on top of her head, but I’m pretty sure she’s only done that recently. It’s haphazard and definitely not done with the aid of a mirror. She was either in a rush when she put it up, or it was done as she walked to cool off her neck.
She’s a freaking klutz, tripping about every forty steps over nothing but her own shoes, as far as I can tell. For some reason, that makes me smile a little. I shift the weapon and scan the horizon behind her from left to right, but there’s no one else to be seen. I consider my options.
Option one - shoot her. I really don’t want or need any company, and company in general is a risk. Pros – I don’t have to think about it anymore, and it’s generally safer for me. Cons – she’s just some innocent chick whose car probably broke down, and killing her is kind of a shitty thing to do.
Next option – let her walk right on up here. If she was from Rinaldo, I’d have some notice about it, and if she was from Greco’s organization she wouldn’t be approaching the house tripping over the dust with nothing on her but a little bitty backpack. Pros – I wouldn’t have to dig a big ass hole in the dry, packed ground. Cons – I will probably have to talk to her.
She stumbles again – just a little. It is barely noticeable if you aren’t really paying attention, but I am. I always pay attention. She’s maybe five-foot-four and a hundred and twenty pounds. Her tennis shoes are covered with a pretty thick layer of dust, and as I lower the scope a little I can see a slightly clearer spot on the edge of her left shoe – near the laces. She must have tried to wipe it off, but it’s been some time ago and it’s all dirty again. I re-estimate and decide she’s been walking for at least two hours, and she’s got something serious on her mind – at least serious to her. As she walks she is completely oblivious to everything around her.
Either it is really that important, or she is really that ignorant. A few hours in this heat is not a good thing. I try to come up with any other alternatives, but I don’t think of many. She’s obviously not Native American, so she probably doesn’t have family too close.
Odin’s head pops up, and he growls low as he looks out towards the young woman.
“You’re a little late,” I tell him, and he huffs at me. I focus the scope back on my visitor, and my finger hovers over the trigger for a moment, but only a moment. I have no problem shooting a woman – done it plenty of times before – but she is just lost, and that doesn’t seem like a decent reason to die.
I lay the rifle back across my lap. She’s close enough to watch without it now, though she still hasn’t even looked up from the dirt road. If I am quiet enough, I’m pretty sure she’ll run right into the house.
She trips again, right at the perimeter of the property, and the truck’s horn starts blaring. Awakened from her trance, her head jerks up and she falters in her steps as her eyes take in the shack, the Chevy, and then me as I stand up, rifle still in hand and pointed in her general direction.
Odin immediately stands alongside me with hackles raised and starts to growl loudly. He doesn’t take it any further because he can tell I’m not particularly alarmed. Wary, yes – because I’m not stupid – but I’m not overly concerned, either. Even if she started running, it would take a track star at least a minute to reach me, so I stand up from my chair, walk over to the truck, and disconnect the alarm so the horn stops.
I walk back towards the porch but stick to the dirt instead of going up the steps. I don’t need the extra height to keep her closely in my sights, and I figure since I’m obviously not shooting her just yet, I am probably going to end up talking to her.
Odin is walking in a figure eight pattern in front of me, watching the girl’s approach. I snap my fingers near my hip, and he walks around behind me. He sits on the ground and looks up to me expectantly.
Her approach slows as she gets near me. She almost seems to hunch down a little, as if there would be some advantage to making herself invisible at this point. Her eyes are trained to the rifle in my grip as she takes a final step forward, stops, and opens her mouth.
“Um…hi!” she calls out. Her eyes dart around, showing her nervousness. Her hand comes up in a short wave, but it’s not too convincing a gesture.
I look her up and down, reassessing now that she is closer. My conclusions are all the same – she’s lost, been walking for about two hours, and she came from the south. The closest road in the
south is Highway 264, so she is definitely going in the wrong direction. She has another twenty-five miles before she hits another road. If she wasn’t standing in front of me right now, she’d probably be dead before nightfall.
“Do you want to die?” I ask her. My tone is probably a little harsher than needed, but the question just had to be asked.
Her eyes go wide, and she takes a step back from the barrel of the rifle. I resist the urge to snicker as I gesture out towards the open desert with the dangerous end.
“Not the very best area to look for a picnic spot.”
She glances around the barren landscape, then at the weapon in my hands as it points back towards her head. She laughs nervously and wraps her fingers around themselves in front of her stomach. Her top teeth pop out and bite into her lower lip as her face turns to a grimace, and she stares hard at the ground for a while. When she looks up at me, I can see her throat bob before she speaks again.
“My car broke down,” she says softly. Her eyes drop from mine, and she looks off towards the dirt road for a second. The muscles in her right hand tighten a little, making her fingers jerk in response.
There is no doubt in my mind she is lying.
“Did it now?” I reply softly.
“Yeah, overheated, I suppose,” she says with a little more conviction. “I thought I was heading back the direction I came from, but obviously I wasn’t.”