The plan was, they’d drive back to town, JJ and Tess in the Camaro, Cody following in his pick-up. They would meet the attorney who facilitated the auction sale of the ranch ASAP. In the meantime, Tess would not leave JJ’s side. It was unspoken but understood that JJ could always run for it, but the next meeting with Cody would be very unpleasant. Besides, where would he go? They took his wallet and he had no cash or card.
As they drove up the valley and entered cell coverage, JJ’s phone vibrated and he looked at the screen. Eight text messages, all from Lila.
“Who’s looking for you?”
“No one,” JJ said. He had 4% battery in the phone, and no way to charge it. Most of his stuff was still in the hotel in Fort Collins.
“Must be someone,” Tess said.
“The lawyer. The bank. Checking in.”
“Checking in? By text?” Tess grabbed his phone. “No texting and driving,”
“Oooooh, look at this. A lady friend coming to the rescue? Lila? That there’s a nice name.”
“Give me that!”
They were heading up toward the pass at the head of the valley, climbing up the long switchbacks as the scrubland of the valley turned to forest. There was a steep drop now on the passenger side. Tess rolled down the window and backhand tossed his phone out, well over the guardrail.
“What the fuck!” JJ swerved into a pull-off, a scenic vantage point with a view of the valley below. Cody’s pickup skidded to a stop behind them. JJ was out of the Camaro and trotting back down the highway along the shoulder, looking down the slope at the loose rocks and trees. It was pretty steep and rugged. The phone was a goner. It would take hours and too much luck to find it. And even if he found it, it was likely cracked and broken.
“Where do you think you’re going?” Cody was watching him from the parking area. Tess was out of the Camaro.
JJ looked up toward Cody and Tess. The Camaro caught his eye, hyper-blue and metallic, reflecting sunlight even while dusty. Why had he rented that thing again? It was garish and flashy, so obviously a compensation or cry for attention. He had the keys in his hand. JJ pointed the fob at the car and pushed the lock button. The tell-tale beep. Then he jumped over the guardrail and managed a controlled slide down the bare rocky hill toward the pine trees. JJ rode the little landslide of rocks and dirt, dust rising, turned to the side, leading with his downhill leg. He put his hand down once on something sharp, some mean and pointy mountain plant. Otherwise, he reached the trees intact and looked up toward the road. Cody and Tess looked down at him but showed no signs of pursuit. They stayed like that as the dust blew away and settled.
“Where’re you gonna go now, Fucko?” Cody yelled. JJ looked around. He moved down a little more to get in amongst the trees. He crouched down behind two trees that grew close together and peered between them, back up the slope. Cody and Tess were gesticulating and appeared to be arguing. JJ crouched and moved parallel to the road, staying in the trees, about forty or fifty yards, so he was below the pull-off were the cars were parked. Then he crouched behind another two trees and peered back up. They were still there, off to the left, arguing.
JJ hunkered down to wait. His heart pounded and he couldn’t seem to catch his breath in the thin air. He would just wait and see if they stayed or if they went.
Or, if they came down for him.