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Ridin' High
by Wayne Hepburn

Together, they topped the crest of the dune. Charlie put out his hand, in a stopping motion, against Tracy's body. He whispered, "Whoa! Take a look at that."

Below them, maybe two hundred yards or so, the naked couple was sprawled out on a blanket near the water's edge. Lake Mead was calm and blue under the desert sun. The girl, or woman's, body, they couldn't estimate her age from their position, was drop dead gorgeous.

Tracy scanned the horizon for other people. He saw none. He did see the dirt bikes parked just beyond a small rise in the sand. He tugged on Charlie's sleeve. "Get down before they us man."

Charlie quickly responded. They crouched behind the dune's crest. They could poke their heads up a little, and watch the naked couple, without being seen by them. "Man. She is hot!", Tracy. "We could take that guy, I'm sure, the two of us."

Tracy felt the temptation in his loins.

"Yeah, but we could get in big trouble if we're caught", he said.

"Wake up man. We're still juvies. We might do a couple of months in rehab, then we'll walk, and no record. Think how great it would be. We tie the guy up and make him watch us take turns on his chick." Charlie was hyped. "And look. The guy has a bald head. Probably some middle aged jerk business man like Dad ... hired himself a hooker so he can go back to Chicago and brag to his buddies. I know we can take him, you and me."

"Yeaaahh", Tracy mused. "And when we got out, Dad would kill us himself. I'd rather grab their bikes and have some fun. How they gonna call the cops while they're naked?"

"Hmmm. You right dude. Let's grab the bikes and go. But I sure would like to get me some of that, Tracy."

"Me too, but it's too risky. The bikes are a sure thing. They can't even see their bikes from where they are down on the beach. We just go around this dune and, bingo! We're ridin' ", Tracy said.

Charlie popped up to take another look at the naked babe on the beach. "Holy cow man! They're doing it, right out in the open."

"Good", said Tracy. "They won't even know it when we grab the bikes."

They quietly rolled the bikes, a Kawasaki and a Yamaha, across the rocky sand to the paved parking area. They looked like any other two teenagers returning from the beach. They attracted no notice from the few people coming or going from the parking area. The bikes were tagged with the name of a rental company in Boulder City. Tourists, they figured. By the time they could report the bikes stolen, Charlie and Tracy could be almost anywhere. Ridin' high.

"Waaaahooo!" Charlie yelled as he steered 'his' bike off the road into the open Mojave. He was moving at least fifty mph, slipping and swerving snake lines in the sand. Tracy was hot on his tail. They slowed to a reasonable cruising speed to scope out the surroundings.

Ahead, on the left, was a high mound of sand, a dune actually, but far from any water. They clearly saw the tire tracks, running up the dune face, where daring riders had powered their bikes up the steep slope, made the U-turn, and motored back to the flats.

"Wow", Tracy enthused. "think we can make it up that dune?"

Without a verbal reply, Charlie gave him a double thumbs up, slapped it into gear and opened the throttle. Tracy let him go it alone. Give him the glory for first up. About halfway up, Charlie's bike started to wobble. He lost momentum, fell over on one side. He managed to right the machine and made another doomed attempt. He was too far up the angle. It needed a good running start to make it to the top.

He turned the bike and started down, slowly, working the brake. Going up was exhilarating. Coming down was frightening. He covered his loss of face with, "Shit man. I thought I was a goner up there."

"Yeah", Tracy agreed. "It's a lot harder than it looks. Guys who do that stuff must have iron balls." he really wanted to let out a big guffaw, but didn't want to rile Charlie and ruin the fine time they were having.

Tracy declined an attempt to beat Charlie's mark. They moved on along the desert expanse and came to an arroyo, the common name for a narrow, steep sided, gulch or watercourse in the desert. The interesting things about an arroyo are these: When heavy rain occasionally falls on the desert, the arid packed sand won't absorb it. The rain runs off into the arroyos. At times, an arroyo is akin to a flash flood, which basically, is what it is.

Another thing is that depending on compass orientation, an arroyo will have a sunny slope, and a shady slope, during the early and the late hours of the day, when the suns rays are angled. At midday, all arroyos are exposed to direct, overhead, hot sunshine. It was late afternoon when Charlie and Tracy ventured out into the Mojave.

At the arroyo's edge, daredevil Charlie challenged Tracy to a race through it. Using a long lateral slope to avoid crashing into the bottom fifteen feet below, they rode the bikes down the steep wall of the arroyo. Once in it, what they could see was limited to the sky overhead ... the few scraggly, stubborn, plants clinging to the sides near the top of the channel ... and endless sand and rocks in both directions. That is, they could see the sand and rocks in either direction until the arroyo turned, which it did, frequently, and erratically.

Where their race began, the floor of the gulch was flat and wide; maybe eight feet in width. Plenty of room for them to race abreast. On a signal from Charlie, they were off. In the very first twisting turn of the arroyo, the base width narrowed to less than three feet; not enough room for both of them. Somebody had better yield or they would collide.

Tracy let his over eager younger brother have the lead for the first turning, giving himself time to get accustomed to what he was doing. The power of the machine beneath him was marvelous. He couldn't help feeling immensely powerful himself, not to mention invincible. Notions of invincibility seem to be endemic to adolescence.

After they passed the first turning, they could see ahead a fair distance. The channel, if anything, grew slightly narrower, affording no opportunity for Tracy to get past Charlie. They raced along like this for many minutes with no change in their relative positions. Then Tracy was inspired.

He decided he could take the bike up onto the arroyo wall, using the gradual sloping path method, overtake Charlie's position on the bottom, and come down ahead of him. It might have worked too, if the bike hadn't hit that stretch of loose sand, and sent him and the bike slip sliding down the slope and smack up against Charlie on the other bike.

The collision threw the two boys, and the two bikes, in four different directions. Each landed in its own heap. One bike conked out. The other lay up against the side wall of the arroyo, wheel spinning, gouging out a furrow.

No injuries except scratches.
"Holy crap man! That was sumpin, hunh. I was flyin' ", Charlie exulted. "You all right bro?".

"Yeah. Fine. I'm sorry man. I thought I could pass you and get the lead. How about we just get out of here? I think the sun is going down."

Charlie shrugged, "Fine by me. Help me get this bike up, will ya?"

They got it up okay, but it wouldn't start. After several tries, Charlie opined, "The hell with it. It's not like we're losing anything. We have to ditch them anyway when we're done with 'em."

"Yeah. Okay", Tracy agreed. "Let's double up on the other one. At least it's running."

Tracy switched it off so he could get it out of the sand rut the wheel had dug. "Hey Tracy! Don't do that man! What if it won't start again? We'll have to hoof it outta here."

They dragged the machine out of the loose sand and stood it on the arroyo's flat floor. Tracy switched it on. It fired up immediately. Big grin, "See? Nothing to worry about. Hop on."

For the next hour, they tried in vain to motor up the steep wall to the top of the arroyo. The sun was indeed going down. One wall glowed desert orange from the light, the other was in deep shade, and noticeably cooler. If these lads were from around these parts, they would have known that the desert grows suddenly cold after sunset. The atmosphere is thin and dry. The sand gives up its heat as quickly as it acquires it under sol's punishing rays.

It's not like Wisconsin; not a bit. No lingering sunsets through the conifers. No lakes other than the ones made by man's meddling with the Colorado River. They were becoming exhausted. They rested often in the cooler shade, then made more attempts. Finally, with Charlie on the bike and Tracy pushing, sand spewing up into his face, they gained the flat floor of the desert itself. They were elated to be out of the arroyo. The pale purplish sky stretched out for what seemed like infinity. Eerie orange light bathed the entire surface of the desert. In the distance they could see mountains, illuminated on one side, dark on the other.

Viewed through the dry air, the lines were sharp and well defined. No mist interfered with their view. As the sky darkened a shade or two, distant lights became visible. Hard to tell where they were. Maybe the marina, or even in town. If a person is on a peak, he might see another peak as far as one hundred miles away. The desert is like that.

Greatly relieved, they mounted the bike and headed toward the lights and safety at last. In their rush to freedom, they almost did not see the black gash in the desert before it was too late. But Tracy did see it and screamed in Charlie's ear, "STOP! For God's sake stop now."

In a rare act of submission to his elder brother, Charlie slowed the bike, then he saw the gash. He stopped. He rolled the bike cautiously toward the black gash. They had almost fallen into a deep arroyo. They were facing the setting sun, so the side of the arroyo visible to them was dark. Charlie turned the bike and they headed in another direction. After a mile or so they came to, what, another arroyo. Every direction they tried ended at the chasm of another, or the same, arroyo.

"What the hell?" said Tracy. "We're on a damned plateau or something Charlie. There's no way off."

"Yeah. Looks like. We'll just have to go into the arroyo and up the other side. When we come up, we'll spot the lights out there and head toward them. Okay with you Tracy?"

"Guess it'll have to be. Let's do it."

It was an exhausting struggle, driving down into an arroyo, then finding purchase to get up the other wall and out. They did this many times that night, each time trying to get to the distant lights they assumed to be civilization.

Finally, exhausted, they gave it up, for now. In the morning they would start again. It would be much easier in daylight. They huddled together to keep each other warm.

The distant howls of coyotes faded from consciousness as they fell into innocent sleep. They were oblivious to the sounds of the alpha male emitting a low growl, just before the entire pack descended into the arroyo for a fresh meal big enough to feed the entire pack. Less quarreling among them with a kill this big.

In the motel room in Boulder City, Detective Freland was saying gently, "Mr. and Mrs. Hunter, I understand how you're feeling. I have two sons of my own, and I worry about what they night get into. But let's not panic. We will find them. We can't do anything at night in the desert. It's just too big. We'd need a thousand helicopters with search lights to have any hope of spotting anything. Let me get all the data about what they were wearing, where you think they might have gone, and so forth. We'll launch an all out search in he morning."

It would not have mattered that police talked to bike rental places from Vegas to Boulder City. The owner of one had two bikes not returned, but they were rented to a couple visiting from Denver, not two teenage boys. "We don't rent to kids. They got no license and they ain't responsible enough. You know how much these bikes cost me?"

Funny thing. It rained that day. Rained like in Noah's time. Aerial searching was fruitless until the rain passed. It lasted about an hour. That was long enough for the torrents to flush the arroyos of every loose stone and piece of debris, into Lake Mead. Unlike Charlie and Tracy, the two bikes were heavy enough to sink to the lake's bottom.

Water from Lake Mead flows into the power generating system of Hoover Dam far down inside the massive concrete structure. The dam is equipped with intake filters. These prevent trees, pieces of boats, all sorts of other flotsam, entering the turbines that generate electricity.

For the first two weeks after they returned from vacation in Nevada, Mr. and Mrs. Hunter called from Milwaukee every day, asking Detective Freland for any news. "Nothing yet. We're still searching."

Then it was once a week; then every two weeks. After a few months, Freland said, "Look Mrs. Hunter. Why not save yourself the grief of hearing there is no news and let me call you when we have something? I promise I'll call the minute we get a lead of any kind. Okay?"

When a routine cleaning of the filters yielded two sets of bones, more or less still connected, the foreman called the anthropology department at UNLV, told his buddy the professor, two more old Indian skeletons had turned up. Did he want them. Of course he did. They were tagged and stored for future evaluation and study.

A forklift picked up the cartons containing the remains, and placed them on an open shelf near the top of the warehouse. From now on, they would be ridin' high.

Copyright ©2009 by Wayne Hepburn - All Rights Reserved
Story may not be copied, edited, downloaded, reproduced, or distributed in any manner or form without the express written consent of copyright holder.

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