The radiant heat from the massive boulder, having been exposed to the morning sun, surged through Jake’s body as he leaned against it. The sharp crack of bullets slamming into the other side of the rock and the desert floor surrounding the two men was terrifying. Creek and Jake moved closer to one another, making sure neither of them were visible from the other side of the boulder.  Whoever was shooting at them had a good idea of where they were hiding. Then, there was a break in the shooting.

Muffled shouts came from the distance. They were harsh shouts, like commands being given to correct someone doing something wrong. But the voices were so muffled and distorted, that the words couldn’t be made out. It was as if they were wearing masks. Listening intently, Creek guessed there were at least three different voices in the distance. He couldn’t tell exactly what language was being spoken, maybe it was English or broken-English, but Creek thought he made out the words “bomb”, “power”, and “kill”.

              “How many of them?” Jake asked in a hushed tone.

              “Can’t tell, but there’s more than one. We’re blind right here,” Creek replied

There was a slight, fearful pause before anyone spoke again

              “There’s a washout over that rise,” said Jake pointing to a small hill about fifteen yards away, “It runs back around toward the direction of camp. If we stay low and quiet, we can flank these guys and maybe get close enough to camp where we can get to the truck.”

              With a silent nod of agreement, Creek made the first move toward the hill, staying low and keeping his frame crouched so he would remain hidden behind the rock. Jake followed, and they both slid down the steep bank, disappearing.

              The two men dragged themselves across the desert floor to stay low and out of sight. Jake followed Creek around the twits and bends of the small, dried-up stream bed. After what felt like an eternity of crawling across rocks and sand, the two reached the cover of a massive Juniper with foliage so thick it might as well have been a wall. Jake and Creek cautiously stood up, listening for anything other than their own breathing.

              “This might not be the time,” said Jake quietly, while letting out a hard breath and taking another deep inhale, “but I think I have sand in my crack.”

              “We both might be getting sand in a bullet wound if we don’t figure something out quickly,” said Creek.

              “Do you know how far we are from camp?”

              “We followed this wash yesterday when we were harvesting Agave, I think it’s fifty yards that way, give or take,” said Creek pointing to the southeast.

The two again heard voices communicating in loud, short, and harsh-sounding Spanish sentences. However, this time, the voices didn’t sound as close as they had before.

“Whatever is going on, we have to get to the truck. Being stuck out here without it isn’t an option. If we move now, we might make it to camp undetected,” whispered Creek.

“Where are the keys?” Jake said, securing his camera with a tight grip.

“I’ve got them,” Creek reassured, “let’s do this.”

The men sprinted furiously between the desert scrub, snagging their clothes and breaking their skin on thorny limbs that protruded into their path. Jake looked ahead of Creek as he followed in his footsteps and could see the splotches of red breaking through the dense desert brush surrounding them. It was the pick-up truck. Creek had lead them back to camp. Just as adrenaline and relief began to collide within him, Jake noticed Creek stopping abruptly in his tracks. The two slowed to a halt, Creek dropped into a crouch and Jake followed suit.

In a barely audible voice, Creek spoke “On the other side of the truck…” Jake followed Creek’s words with his eyes and saw it—a man, decked out in military desert camouflage, with a rifle slung across his back and a dust mask wrapped around his face. He was leaning into the driver’s side of the truck, looking through the glove box and all the contents of the cab. He threw things around carelessly for a minute looking around with half-heartedness, then closed the door, walked to the back of the truck, dropped the tailgate, and sat down with a sigh.

Between the gunshots, the yelling, and the invasion of privacy that had just taken place before them, both Creek and Jake knew that there would not be a peaceful resolution to this conflict If they were to show themselves.

“I’ve got an idea,” Creek whispered in a barely audible voice, “but I need to put you in play as a failsafe in case it doesn’t work.”

“What’s that?” whispered Jake.

“I can make a staff sling out of this Juniper branch and a piece of strapping from my backpack. It’ll give me more power than throwing, and If I nail him…and I think I can, he’s down. If I miss, he’s going to notice. You’re bigger than him and you gotta be there to knock him to the ground. The gun is on his back. You have to get to him before he gets the drop on you, and I’ll be right there to help. Can you do that?”

“Oh, I’ll knock the taste out of his mouth,” said Jake with a grin, mentally reminiscing about his days as a defensive tackle, and trying hard not to think of the gun the man had.

“Atta boy,” said Creek, “whatever happens, we have to keep him quiet. If he yells, the others will be on us fast.”

“You just make sure you have those keys ready to go,” Jake said with a wink.

While Creek was busy quietly fashioning the staff sling, Jake quietly maneuvered through the brush, keeping an eye on the man with the gun as he sat on the tailgate of the truck, until he was a good distance from Creek. He didn’t know the best position to take because he didn’t know where Creek’s projectile would go it missed the man, but Jake found a good spot where he knew he could close the gap between himself and the man quickly. He knelt behind a thick grouping of scrub brush and looked for something to use as a weapon, in case he needed it. He spotted a large, hefty piece of Choya with thick, barbed thorns laying in the sand. He picked it up, gripped it as best he could by maneuvering his fingers around the patchwork of thick spikes, getting a baseball bat-like grip on the thing. He readied himself, made eye contact with Creek and nodded.

Creek came around the massive thicket of desert brush he’s been hiding behind and drew back the staff. He whipped it forward with all his might, releasing the large, rounded rock he had placed in its center pocket. Jake didn’t wait to see where the rock would land. He immediately rushed out from behind the scrub where he was hiding and charged the man with the gun. There was no going back, now. If Creek’s rock didn’t knock the man down, he would.