Who is Noah?

Noah no longer lifted weights to become stronger. Although he did not lift as a religion, he lifted religiously. As he neared forty years old, maintaining rather than gaining strength and increasing endurance had become his mantra. His friends called him obsessive. He’d reply, “I simply like to argue with gravity.” That’s how he defended his daily hour of squats, presses, pulls, crunches — and his daily run, which he hated. But he ran. If he couldn’t become stronger, he could always endure.

Noah was five feet, nine inches tall. A modest height, but Noah impressed people by being as wide as most doorways. He had stopped growing upward in the tenth grade. Like so many gangling, awkward teens, he turned to the levitation of iron to produce, through sweat and the discipline of thousands of repetitions, what nature would not. He left high school for Colorado State as a squat, 240-pound fullback who had no need for outside speed in setting WAC rushing records. Now he weighed 210. He had let go the thirty pounds that had made the difference between being tackled by a cornerback and scoring a touchdown. While doing his master’s at Colorado School of Mines, he chose to carry thirty pounds of field gear rather than those same thirty around his midsection.

He yawned. He put down the two dumbbells he’d been using for curls. He was tired. He hadn’t slept well. He had dreamed, and he rarely dreamed. He thought about it, sitting on a cottonwood stump next to his outdoor gym. It sat outside a decade-old, thirty-two-foot travel trailer that had only traveled from a used car lot to his land west of state Route 24. The gym sat behind a post-and-beam hangar covered with corrugated aluminum. He built it for his stable of ultralight aircraft and the parts of several more. He made a modest living, though he didn’t need to, as the owner-operator of a charter air service housed at Green River Municipal Airport. He preferred his ultralights to his Cessnas, a Skylane and a twin-engine Skymaster, when flying in the backcountry. Low and slow. That’s how he liked it. The big birds just ferried people and things from Point A to Point B. Where’s the fun in that?

This morning, he’d flown back from Moab in his Skymaster after ferrying two lawyers from Price to a court date there. He’d followed Route 191 north. He had plenty of altitude. The rare calm air made the flight uneventful. He’d banked west where 191 ended at I-70 at Thompson Springs. On a whim — he’d thought it was a whim until he began having that damned dream — he had flown west past Green River. At 5,000 feet above ground level, he’d seen a line of thunderstorms looming well beyond the Swell but headed for the Fishlake National Forest. Lightning stitched the earth in the distance as if targeting its strikes. He’d turned, landed, and trundled home in his decades-old Land Cruiser, an FJ55, the long-bodied wagon. He had a premonition that something was wrong somewhere for someone. He’d gone to his gym. There he could think.
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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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