The bad guy

The tall, gaunt man with an austere, unshaven face marred by a nose broken in some dim barroom past stood impatiently beside a hellishly expensive high-definition Sony videocam. It stood ready, mounted on a robust carbon-fiber tripod planted near the edge of a steep-walled arroyo. Next to the man stood a camera operator, looking through the viewfinder toward a dark blue Chevy Blazer parked atop the opposite wall edge of the arroyo a hundred yards away. Its supercharged, 572-cubic-inch crate engine rumbled impatiently at idle, 750 horses waiting to stampede. This was no normal Blazer; its 24 forward gears made highway travel cumbersome. It had been trailered over a rough access road to this once-quiet place and now sat mounted on adjustable shocks with 17 inches of travel. The 46-inch Mickey Thompson Baja Claw tires cost nearly three thousand dollars a set. The tires sat squat, inflated to only five pounds of air pressure. This Blazer could crawl over virtually any obstacle.

Dressed in black despite the growing heat of emerging spring, the thin man pulled a radio from his belt. Sunlight reflected from the large, oval, silver buckle stamped with the letters “XOX.” He nodded to the cameraman, then spoke into the radio. “Now.”
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The bad guy’s henchmen

Noah and Kara walked into Ray’s Tavern. Her arm rested easily in the crook of his elbow. “Table or booth?” he asked.

“Booth,” she said, walking to a corner under pictures and posters on the wall near the back pool room. She waited so he could choose where to sit. He appreciated that. Like Wyatt Earp did once too often, he sat with his back to the door. Kara, a semi-committed vegetarian in a cheeseburger bar, ordered a cheese omelet with bean sprouts. The waitress, a woman in her 40s with leathery skin and a slight stoop, stared at Kara blankly. No bean sprouts, Kara was told.

“Really?” she said.

“Kara,” whispered Noah, “this isn’t Seattle.”

“Whoa. I’ll say,” she muttered.

Noah asked for a cheeseburger. Kara complained her plain cheese omelet was too well done; Noah just ate without comment. Apple pie followed for both.

“Do you bitch about everything?” Noah asked.

“I only bitch when things aren’t right.”
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Noah, airborne and dodging bullets

The ultralight, despite Noah’s many attempts at muffling the big Rotax engine’s whine, usually announced itself a few seconds before it would rise from its furtive, belly-to-the-ground approach. It was his favorite tactic. The rock crawlers liked plateaus and ridges for thematic scenery. They thought the high ground would allow them to see him first. But he found arroyos and gullies and fins to hide in as he approached.

The yellow Drifter, his favorite, sped through a narrow canyon in the Box-Death Hollow Wilderness Area, west of Capitol Reef. Noah knew this old river channel intimately, so, despite the apparent danger of wingtips striking sedimentary walls, it seemed just another routine, quick in-and-out. He knew that on the plateau above the western wall, six powerful off-road vehicles were racing, one at a time, up a slickrock slope. Where the slope broke, cameras were set up — one to catch the undercarriage as it rose into view, huge wheels off the ground, and two on either side. The thin man’s clients favored this place. The middle camera would catch the snow-capped Henry Mountains to the east; then, suddenly, their big rock crawlers would rise up from seemingly nowhere, blotting out the Henrys. Rich men conquering nature, captured on DVD, sold well here, he thought.
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