David Dun: Unacceptable Risk

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David Dun Unacceptable Risk
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David Dun

Unacceptable Risk

Chapter 1

To watch bees swarm, stand in the smoke.

— Tilok proverb

A pair of spotted owls roosted in an old, dead fir tree in a dense thicket of the forest. On this night, the owls hunted wood rats quietly. Sam, familiar with their ways, listened to their occasional calls and wingbeats above him until sud denly they began hooting with more vigor and coming down to the lower branches. Next they moved away, flitting from tree to tree and calling to each other. There was a certain rec ognizable pattern to these antics. The spotted owls had been fed live mice by so many biologists that they had developed an affinity for people. Their response to a creeping person was typically to come closer and make a dinnertime call, looking for a mouse on a stick. It sounded very much as if Sam had human visitors. If so, they were moving away from him, and that was not what Sam expected.

Sam clicked his radio and Paul clicked back. The wind moved through the trees, rustling stiff yellowed leaves. Clouds blew past, alternately veiling and unveiling a gibbous moon. On the forest floor it remained black. Grandfather had taught Sam to look from the corner of his eyes for improved night vision, as well as to "see" with his other senses. Despite Sam's efforts, only the owls had announced the visitors.

Grandfather had taught him as well as he could. On Sam's first night in the forest with Grandfather some twenty years ago, he had grown impatient after a minute or two. Now, after two decades of sporadic practice, Sam could remain still and alert for many hours.

To show Sam how to make himself a part of the forest, Grandfather had told him a story. A friend had kept a blind horse. It lacked even eyeballs, bide covering the eye sockets. When a man approached its paddock with an apple, the old horse could easily find the hand that held the fruit. In fact, the horse acted much like a horse with vision. The average person, looking from a distance, would never know the horse couldn't see. Grandfather told Sam never to allow any one to suggest he couldn't see, even on the darkest night. To this day Sam resisted the temptation to fall back on the obvi ous and wear his night vision goggles without interruption. Instead, he used them at regular intervals, and the rest of the time he spent straining to discern.

Sam lay in a grove of Douglas fir near an ancient incense cedar, most of his body tucked inside a hollow pine log and covered in a down sleeping bag that kept the late-October cold and damp at bay. He breathed in the mold smell of the forest and the odor of old fire, and this night the musk of a distant skunk. It all blended and swirled, creating a place of comfort because it felt familiar. Thirty yards distant stood his log house, built seventy years prior by a timber baron in this most remote corner of the state of California. As pre cious as the house to Sam were its contents, among them an eight-foot-high fireplace with iron log stands forged in the 1890s in Boston; handmade feather-cushioned couches and chairs passed down by his father's Scottish ancestors; the grandfather clock that had come across the United States in a covered wagon. Most of the furnishings, even the throw rugs, had a story. But the best stories existed in no book, liv ing instead in the land itself.

Here in the northern California coastal mountains, among the old-growth conifers shrouded in winter mist, even the great est of men seemed small. The timber baron had chosen well, building his house on a bench on an otherwise steep mountain, surrounded by government land and adjacent to the Tilok Indian reservation and tribal grounds, home to the other half of Sam's family heritage.

From his position, Sam could see through the bay window to the fading glow of the coals from the fire that had earlier played over the Douglas fir floor and paneling. Next to him on the ground lay Harry, a mostly Scottish terrier, snuggled in his own heavy blanket. Sam had one last doggy treat for Harry, but he was waiting for the dog to ask for it. Out of sheer boredom Sam looked at Harry and licked his lips in a fashion commonly canine. Harry gave a quiet groan of belly-felt desire, knowing exactly what was on his mas ter's mind. Sam reached beside his sleeping bag and into the doggy treats bag, removed one, and held it under his own nose for a languorous sniff, as a man might do with a good cigar.

Harry thumped his tail. Sam held the treat in front of Harry's nose and Harry sniffed it in dignified silence as Sam had taught him. Then Sam tossed it into the air and Harry snatched it with a quick snap before it bit the ground. Harry rolled over on his back for a good belly rub, which Sam obliged. Then Sam put his finger to his lips and made a slight shhh sound, at which Harry lay silently on his blanket. Harry was a master at both shush and stay. Although Harry was truly Sam's buddy, he also played a practical role. As difficult as it was to sneak up on Sam, it was nearly impossi ble to sneak up on Harry. The terrier's senses of smell and hearing were acute and he was fundamentally a paranoid dog. Given his brushes with death, he had a right to be.

Sam fingered the braided rawhide necklace and its gold medallion, which opened like a locket. Inside was a picture of Stalking Bear, his grandfather on his mother's side. Stalking Bear had been a full-blooded Tilok North American Indian and a Spirit Walker-a spiritual leader that came along, at most, once in a generation. Although Sam was already eigh teen years old when he met his grandfather, he had learned what he could in the next twenty. And on nights like this he was grateful.

Sam was every bit as tough as he looked, a long-muscled, swarthy-skinned man, an exotic admixture of his two family lines. It had taken some doing to trace his father's lineage back to the Highlands. His clan had been big, fierce, ruddy- cheeked people, brave to the point of fighting every superior force. From them had come the curl in his dark hair, which fell down over his ears. His face was more angular than round, though; the fine features were smooth and unblemished except for two scars, a line over his right eye and a small nick at his chin. His eyes were amber. As a job-related precau tion, Sam did his best to conceal his features with raffia hats, sunglasses, and nondescript clothing.

Tonight it had dropped briefly below freezing, leaving the intermittent precipitation somewhere between rain and sleet. The wind whipped up a nasty chill factor. At the mouth of their log, Sam had placed a small lip of camouflage material to direct the flow of water away from their shelter. Harry was careful to keep his nose back behind the rain line. Sam hoped this small

concession to comfort would not call atten tion to their hideaway. He looked at his watch: 5:10 A.M.

It was peculiar, he thought, how, at this moment, out of the billions of people on earth, only one man really mattered. Sam knew that every time the man called Devan Gaudet closed his eyes to sleep he felt hunted. A small comfort, but com forting nonetheless. Perhaps Gaudet retained enough human ity to realize that Sam hunted him for good reason. Still, for all Sam's efforts to focus on his side of the battle, there re mained the sobering realization that he hunted a man who in turn hunted him and all those dear to him. It was a game that would end only when one or both of them were dead. As part of the game hunt Sam had decided to give Gaudet a shot at killing him. When Sam found the radio locator beacon in his car, no doubt affixed by Gaudet henchmen, he had led Gaudet and his people north from Los Angeles and into these moun tains.

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