8.4: Part One
tapped at the keyboard so fast his fingers were almost
a blur. He’d been hard at it for the past hour and
a half, and so far he’d come up with nothing.
any sign of Roger Mariotte was all he seemed to do with
any spare office time he got at Phoenix since the hijacking
of Flight LA4177, but it would seem Mariotte was an expert
at covering his tracks.
would leave the job to the F.B.I. and police, but since
Mariotte’s main target had been Sam, well, that
made it kind of personal.
He paused a moment
and rubbed absently at his brow. It ached dully from the
blow he’d taken just a few days ago, thanks to a
rather fanatical neighbor named James.
like the one with Mariotte had not exactly been on his
“to do” list, and he had been left wondering
exactly what he’d done to get into such scrapes
before he’d even started back with Phoenix.
There was a knock
at the door and Mac turned away from the screen to see
Pete Thornton entering, complete with his now obligatory
white cane. He seemed to be coping well with his disability,
and moved around the offices with confidence.
hard at it looking for Mariotte?” Pete asked, even
though he couldn’t see the computer MacGyver was
good, Pete,” Mac admitted. “I haven’t
found a trace of him since the Boeing went up in smoke.”
“Maybe it’s over? Maybe the police will just
quietly pick him up one day at some shopping mall and
that will be the end of it.”
convinced. Mariotte hadn’t tried to kill every passenger
on the flight just to get at Sam, only to give in now.
No, he’d be back if he wasn’t stopped. The
only question was exactly when?
finished, Pete. His kind doesn’t leave unfinished
business like this.”
Pete was silent
for a moment and then placed a hand on MacGyver’s
shoulder. “We’ll find him. I promise. I have
Nikki keeping a lookout too.” He smiled. “But
in the mean time, how’s Sam doing?”
Mac’s dour expression ticked up into a wan smile
at the thought of his son. “His shoulder’s
still a little sore, but he’s already out today
looking for a place of his own. It’s funny, but…”
matter how old they are, or when they fly the
nest, it still hurts, huh?” Pete nodded knowingly.
“That’s what it’s like having kids.
He’s not moving far, is he?”
Mac shook his
head. “Nope, he’s looking for something in
the neighborhood, or at least close by. I think he’s
gotten to like my eccentric friends.”
“I wasn’t even sure you liked them after what
just happened with Tallish?”
at his temple again, remembering being locked in Mel’s
beat up car as it filled with water. “I’ll
get over it,” he sighed and then glanced at the
manila folder in Pete’s free hand. “Something
tells me this wasn’t just a social visit?”
no,” Pete conceded. “I have an assignment
for you, if you’re ready? Nothing too difficult,
just a little something to ease you back into things.”
Mac wasn’t sure what “easing back in”
meant, or if he’d like it. Please say I don’t
have to play desk jockey to a pile of red tape? “So
what have you got for me?”
out and felt the edge of the nearest empty chair. He took
it and sat down, as if he was going to be awhile explaining.
has been contacted by a rancher from Nevada named Jill
Peterson. Basically, she’s looking for some help
saving a group of mustangs that other local ranchers want
to round up and get rid of.”
the authorities step in? I thought there was some kind
of management for wild horses these days?” MacGyver
was thinking as he spoke. Maybe this wouldn’t be
a very long assignment if he only had to give a little
advice and direct the rancher to the right government
already tried that. She’s spoken to the Bureau of
Land Management who are technically supposed to protect
the horses, but at this stage they’re reluctant
to step in.” Pete handed Mac the folder. “She
heard about Phoenix’s conservation work and our
work with endangered species and hoped we’d be able
to come up with a solution.”
solution is me?” Mac hadn’t strictly been
involved in this kind of project since he’d worked
to stop rhinos being poached and wolves being hunted a
few years back.
It was a subject
that was close to his heart, but he wasn’t sure
just how much he could achieve.
it is, yes,” Pete confessed. “I don’t
know anyone else here who is more passionate about preserving
what we have on this planet. And from what Jill says,
the other local ranchers think the horses are destroying
their grazing land and damaging their property. They’re
likely to do anything to stop that from continuing.”
the mustangs.” Mac wasn’t asking the question,
he was making a statement.
were protecting their assets, and it looked like he was
about to protect the mustangs somehow.
Nice easy, none
dangerous assignment, that’s what Pete thought.
MacGyver of all
people knew there was no such thing.
* * *
Mac swung his Jeep around a long bend in the road and
then slowed as he spotted the sign for Jill Peterson’s
ranch up ahead. He’d had a pretty long drive on
his own, and although it had been refreshing, he’d
quickly realized he’d become used to Sam’s
company, and had missed it.
It was going
to be strange not having Sam around once he got an apartment
of his own.
Still, Mac could
worry about that, and how to keep his son safe later.
For now, he had a job to do, and a rancher to meet. He
pulled the Jeep up just short of the main house and took
a look around.
The ranch was
larger than he’d expected, but not exactly South
Fork. There were a few hands wandering around, tending
horses, mending fences and so on, but no sign of Jill.
out his sunglasses, popped them on and headed for the
entrance. There was a brass doorbell inset into the shape
of a bucking bronco, so he pressed it and waited.
About ten seconds
later, the perfectly painted white door swung open to
reveal a small Mexican lady that looked at the very least
She smiled broadly
at the sight of MacGyver. “You must be the gentleman
from the Phoenix Foundation?” She asked, inviting
him in with the gesture of her hand.
Name’s MacGyver. I’m here to see Mrs. Peterson?”
out back.” The little woman lead him through the
heart of the ranch and out onto a terrace that overlooked
miles of open land that hadn’t changed since the
forefathers had arrived on the continent.
her arms on the fence, looking over it all, was a woman
of about Mac’s age with long flowing hair and deep
brown eyes that seemed to absorb every detail of the panorama.
She turned as
she heard his approach and smiled. “Mr. MacGyver
I presume?” She held out a hand in welcome. “I
see you’ve met Adelita?”
Mac slipped off
his sunglasses. “Yes, ma’am.”
Jill seemed to
find his politeness amusing and couldn’t resist
her smile broadening. “Please, just call me Jill.
We don’t stand on formality around here.”
case, it’s just Mac,” he countered, and then
nodded towards the vista Jill had been appreciating. “It’s
beautiful out here. Makes you almost feel…”
He couldn’t summon the words to describe the view.
Jill nodded and then pointed to a table and chairs. She
took a seat and waited for MacGyver to do the same before
continuing. “Before I bore you with the details
of my crusade to save the mustangs, do you actually have
a place to stay?”
Mac thought about
it. He had planned on looking for a motel or hotel in
the nearest town, but that was actually a whole lot further
than he’d expected. “Not yet,” he admitted.
Jill poured home-made
lemonade from a pitcher for them both. “Then it’s
settled, you can stay here. The place is full of empty
rooms that never get used. It’s time I changed that.
I’ll tell Adelita to choose you one and that supper
will be for two.”
if you’re sure..?”
even bother with an answer. She was looking out across
the countryside again, her eyes sparkling with what MacGyver
could only describe as love for the land.
He let his own
eyes follow hers, and realized that the mustangs were
here, on Jill’s land, at least at the moment.
The main group
was grazing happily, the lead mare taking them slowly
across the countryside as he watched. She was a small
brown horse, whose size hid her status among the herd.
In the distance,
he noted the stallion of the group, hanging back, watching,
and protecting his fold.
found himself stepping down from the terrace and stepping
closer to the bunch of horses.
The lead mare
stiffened, her frame suggesting she may bolt at any second.
Her nostrils flared as she picked up his human scent.
Mac paused and
waited, but the horse didn’t run. Her eyes locked
with his, and they simply stared at one another.
Jill moved to
MacGyver’s side – the mustangs apparently
already used to her smell. “Now can you see why
I want to save them? Our ancestors brought these animals
here, and now a lot of the ranchers look on them as parasites.
But they’re part of our heritage, part of what we
once called the Wild West.”
need telling twice. He loved nature, and he loved to see
it like this – untouched and free.
do we start?” He asked, still watching the horses
as they moved off into the distance.
are three main antagonists that want the horses gone,”
Jill explained with a sigh. “But the main troublemaker
is a rancher named Troy Baxter. Baxter is old school.
He won’t listen to any humane ideas about moving
the mustangs. He wants to round them up off everyone’s
land and send them to heaven knows where.” She crossed
her arms in frustration. “I can’t help but
think they’ll end up in some canning factory.”
the pure white stallion as it galloped across the horizon.
It was probably a descendant of the horses the Spaniards
had brought over with them, and it was stunning as it
raced across the landscape. “Don’t worry.
I’ll talk to Baxter and the others first thing.
The Phoenix Foundation is proposing to take the mustangs
and place them on protected foundation land. I can’t
see why anyone would object to that.”
and her expression said she wasn’t convinced. “You
have a lot to learn about Baxter. He’s a man who
likes his own way.”
Mac nodded. He’d
met a few of those types in his time. “Yeah, well
so does Phoenix, and they’re a whole lot bigger
than he is.”
* * * *
The Next Morning…
Setting up a meeting with Jill’s neighbors had been
simple enough, and Mac had hoped it was the start of things
to come. How hard could it be to talk to a bunch of cowboys?
discovered, that it was a whole lot harder than he’d
As Jill had pointed
out, Baxter was an unforgiving individual who simply wouldn’t
listen to reason.
He was a grizzled
rancher of about sixty-five who reminded MacGyver of Jock
Ewing from Dallas. His features were chiseled
from time spent out in the elements, and his hair was
as white as driven snow.
are you to come into this town and start meddling in our
affairs?” Baxter’s blue eyes bored into Mac’s
like he was drilling for oil. “We don’t want
or need your kind meddling in local business!”
Several of the
other ranchers bobbed their heads and murmured in agreement.
Tough crowd was
an understatement, and all over a few horses.
the bridge of his nose in exasperation and tried again.
“From what I can see, you want the horses gone,
and I can provide a non-lethal solution to that at no
cost to any of you. All you have to do is allow the Phoenix
Foundation on your land to collect the mustangs and…”
even let him finish. “Over my dead body! No outsider
is coming telling me what to do with the property my grandpa
and nodding of heads from the other locals.
Someone at the
back actually jeered.
want to move the horses.” Somehow, Mac was keeping
his voice level, although he wasn’t sure where the
determination was coming from. “Surely it’s
better for everyone..?”
differently. He stood from his seat, grumbled an expletive
under his breath and then scurried out of the town hall
at a rate of knots.
Most of the other
ranchers followed suit without as much as looking MacGyver
in the face.
out a long, frustrated breath and began to gather the
information leaflets from Phoenix he’d taken with
him. Sometimes, he preferred an all-action, even dangerous
assignment compared to this.
a tough old bird, isn’t he?”
around to see an elderly ranch hand that had been in Baxter’s
group looking him over. The man looked ancient, and had
a growth of white fuzz on his face that suggested he hadn’t
shaved for a few days.
The older man
offered up his hand. “My name’s Massey, Roy
Massey. I work for Troy – have done since you were
an itch in your daddy’s pants.”
agree with his principles?” Mac questioned.
and licked his lips. “Sometimes it doesn’t
pay to argue with a man like Troy Baxter. Maybe that’s
something you should be of a mind of too.”
a brow, surprised at what Massey was suggesting. “Are
you telling me I should watch my back?”
just telling it the way it is.” Massey stuck in
a slice of gum and began to chew loudly. “Let’s
just say, I’d be careful around these parts who
you upset. Troy isn’t the type to fool around with…”
He turned then,
and ambled out the hall as if he had all day.
Mac could still
hear him chewing when he was out of sight.
Had Baxter sent
Massey to pass on a threat? Or was Massey actually trying
to be helpful?
The weird thing
was MacGyver still couldn’t see why anyone would
get so all fired up over a few mustangs.
it’s time to come up with a plan B,” he spoke
to no one in particular as he left the hall and headed
for his Jeep.
The car was waiting
for him where he’d left it, but as he grew near
he spotted a note pinned under one of the wiper blades.
Mac plucked it
out. It was hand-written, and didn’t have much to
while you still can!
the threat and stuck it in his pocket. If anything happened,
there might be prints on it they could trace.
he’d already let Pete down, he cranked the Jeep
and headed back out to the old road that lead to Jill’s
For awhile he
listened to the local radio, but even that wasn’t
a distraction. All he could think about was the stallion
he’d watched, and the rest of the herd so innocently
grazing, little knowing what fate had in store for them.
He took a turn
just a little too sharply as he drove, his mind distracted
just for a second. Compensating immediately, he tapped
the Jeep’s brake pedal.
thing just came back from the shop, it should be perfect…
the brake harder, this time expecting it to respond, but
instead the 4x4 simply kept rolling.
And there was
another sharper bend in the road ahead.
Mac carefully steered the Jeep off the blacktop and onto
the rough gravel siding just enough to try and slow it,
but the turn was coming up far too quickly.
He yanked on
the wheel at the last moment, trying to avoid barreling
into a ditch, even if it meant doing a one-eighty spin,
but the Jeep just didn’t have enough turning circle
to pull it off, and it careered off the track and down
into the gulley as if it had wings and had flown there.
The front end
landed hard, and MacGyver felt the sickening thud of his
own skull against the windscreen, along with the crunch
of metal beneath the car.
He bounced back
in his seat, the cut to his forehead from his encounter
with Tallish reopened by the impact.
So much for
Mac sat for a
moment, regaining his composure. This was not exactly
the way he’d expected this assignment to pan out.
He let his fingers
probe his forehead and they came back bloody, but other
than the bump, he was in one piece.
That was more
than could be said for the Jeep – again.
Mac climbed out
and shakily inspected the damage. The front right wheel
was sitting at an odd angle, and when he hunkered down
he could quickly see that the front transmission shaft
was bent. He was going nowhere in this beast.
think this Jeep is actually jinxed. It gets busted up
more than I do, and that’s saying something.
He moved to the
back, where the underside of the car was more accessible
due to the angle he’d crashed and checked the brake
lines. As he’d suspected, they’d both been
cut, and rather crudely. Whoever had done it wasn’t
bothered about leaving marks or making a mess.
clambered back inside and reached for the car phone that
sat snuggly in the center console. He doubted there would
be a signal on the thing, though, and he was right, it
took a wipe from the first aid kit he carried, mopped
at the cut above his eye, and simply waited. How long
it would take for someone to come along was anybody’s
guess, but he just didn’t feel like walking just
About half an
hour later, Mac finally heard the roar of a truck and
clambered from the Jeep back up to the highway.
was Jill that had found him on her way back from town.
As she killed
the Ford’s ignition she looked him over with a frown,
and Mac realized he probably looked a mess. “Are
you alright? You look like you had a fight with a ten
ton semi and lost!”
Mac flashed a
sardonic smile. “Yeah, I definitely lost.”
He jerked a thumb back to the ditch. “Someone wanted
to send me a message, and somehow I doubt it was over
a bunch of mustangs.”
from her cab and looked over the ledge to the Jeep below,
obviously shocked at what he was telling her. “They
forced you off the road?”
He shook his
head. “Nope, nothing so direct. My brake lines were
cut, and pretty crudely too. I’d guess whoever did
it was in a hurry.”
believe anyone I know would go that far!” Jill put
a hand to her mouth, worry lines creasing her temple.
“Are you sure you’re okay?”
Her eyes locked on the cut to Mac’s head.
good, which is more than I can say for the Jeep.”
sound convinced. “Well, if you’re sure…I
have a rope in the back of my truck; we can get your car
out of the ditch and tow it back. I think the police should
take a look at it.” She moved to get the rope, and
MacGyver scrambled back into the trench to fix it to the
rear tow hook on the Jeep.
After about twenty
minutes of maneuvering, the 4x4 was back up on the road
looking extremely sorry for itself. It took another forty
minutes for MacGyver to make it towable with the buckled
When he finally
pulled himself back into Jill’s truck, he was tired,
and even scruffier than when he’d crashed. All he
wanted was a hot shower and a warm drink.
something going on here, isn’t there?” Jill
asked as she cranked the engine and headed back to the
ranch. “I mean, other than those horses? No way
would anyone I know, not even Baxter, try and kill you
over a mustang or two. And there’s something else…”
Mac rubbed at
his head absently. He really must stop getting hit on
it. “Oh? Like what?”
Jill took the
sharp left that lead to the entrance to her home and slowed.
“Some of the damage done to my fences and land?
Well, it might have looked like the horses did it, but
I think it was made to look that way.”
She pulled over
just past the main gates to her property and jumped out.
MacGyver followed, intrigued by what was going on.
are some of the fence posts my guys replaced over on the
south quarter. Take a look.” Jill handed one to
the troubleshooter and he spun it over in his hands.
The damage could
have been done by the mustangs, but like Jill, he suspected
otherwise. “I think you’re right,” he
admitted. “But why?”
“Beats me. There’s no real money in moving
the mustangs – not even if they end up at a canning
factory. It just wouldn’t be worth killing someone
it. It seemed a cheesy solution that happened every time
in the movies, but the obvious answer was probably land
– or rather land ownership. “Has anyone been
trying to buy up land around here recently?”
Jill put a hand
on her hip and looked out over her own acreage. “It’s
funny you should mention it, but Billy Scott, a neighbor
of mine in his eighties was going to sell to a developer
a couple of months back. He’s had enough at his
age and was going to live with his son in Wyoming.”
pulled out after they heard about the “horse problem.”
I guess they didn’t want involving in bad press.”
Jill pointed in the distance. “Looks like our friends
were grazing again, with some of the younger horses playfully
rolling in the longer areas of grass that hadn’t
been dealt with on the neighboring land.
in all its pallid glory was once again watching over them.
This time a very short distance from Jill and Mac.
It seemed to
sense their eyes on it and turned to face them, its right
hoof pawing at the ground until a tiny zephyr of dust
appeared. It snorted, whinnied and then raced off to circle
making his mind up if he likes you or not,” Jill
not,” Mac conceded. “Not very many around
these parts seem to.” He smiled then, despite what
had happened with the Jeep, and then he put his focus
back on what had caused it. “So, I’ve heard
of unscrupulous land developers doing stuff like this
to get land. But these guys were actually put
off? Sounds like they were on the level for once.”
get it any more than MacGyver did. She brushed a hand
through her hair in exasperation. “So who could
gain from the land not being sold?”
maybe?” Mac offered up as he started to make his
way back to Jill’s truck. “He does seem to
be the main protagonist in all of this. Maybe he wants
the land for himself?”
Jill slid back
behind the wheel and shook her head. “Nope, it can’t
be that. He actually gave Billy a parcel of that land
to begin with. Why would he go to all this trouble to
get it back?” She started up the Ford and headed
back to the main house, her frown suggesting the puzzle
was getting the better of her.
If MacGyver admitted
the truth, it was him too. “Well, Baxter is the
one who started all this and he’s the one that wants
the horses gone. I’ll get Pete to check him out,
including his workers. It might not hurt to check out
the other ranchers who agree with the roundup too.”
Jill bobbed her
head. “Let’s just hope he finds something
before anyone gets seriously hurt…”
* * *
The room Adelita
had made up for MacGyver was more than adequate, and the
bed was huge. He’d taken a shower and sank into
it the previous evening, dropping to sleep instantly.
with a headache, but then that wasn’t surprising
given the lump that had appeared under the cut to his
head. The pain had soon subsided into a dull ache as he
sat out on the terrace eating breakfast.
The thought occurred
to him that he could get used to Adelita spoiling him
with her cooking – it was definitely a major improvement
on Sam’s idea of breakfast, and a whole lot healthier
So far he hadn’t
seen Jill, which was strange. Didn’t ranchers tend
to get up at the crack of dawn?
He was about
to ask Adelita were her boss had gotten to, when Jill
stormed through the glass door to the terrace with a face
wrong?” Mac flinched as she angrily tossed down
there is! Baxter brought the roundup forward again. I
knew he wouldn’t wait for the Phoenix Foundation,
but can you believe he’s actually out there now
hunting for the horses with that self-righteous posse
of his?” Jill waved her hands in the air as if she
were surrendering to the inevitable.
must something we can do?”
whirled around and stormed back into the house without
the look on her face likely meant, Mac followed her inside.
As he stepped
through the doorway, he was just in time to see her reaching
for, and taking down a rifle that hung over the huge stone
not the way, and you know it. Those things are never the
answer.” Mac put a hand on the barrel of the Winchester
and gently took it from Jill’s shaking hands.
know yet,” MacGyver offered honestly. “We
need to get out to the mustangs and fast, and maybe I
can come up with something along the way…”
start by checking out where we saw them last.” Jill
grabbed the keys to her pickup and raced to the door with
MacGyver in tow.
question was, even if they saved the horses today, it
didn’t answer why it was all happening?
been a target, but who was next?
what had been done to his Jeep; Mac headed for the driver’s
side of the Ford and held a hand out for the keys.
Jill looked like
she was going to argue and maybe tell him she could drive
just as good as any macho male in the county, but then
her expression softened as common sense took a hold, and
she placed the fob gently in his palm.
she nodded, diving into the passenger side and slamming
the door with such ferocity MacGyver thought it might
fall off at the hinges.
* * *
realized that finding the mustangs wasn’t going
to be difficult at all. Baxter’s men were on horseback
and kicking up a dust trail that could be seen half a
wranglers had already managed to group the herd of mustangs
in a tight corner, and were forcing them towards a dead
At their lead,
the striking white stallion was trying desperately to
protect his family, but he was falling straight into Baxter’s
see every sinew and muscle on the horse as it raced along
the ground, hoofs pounding into the earth and leaving
sods of it flying through the air as it tried to escape
what?” Jill opened up the sunroof of her truck
and bobbed up through it to try and shout to the cowboys
thundering past on their own charges. They either didn’t
notice, or ignored her in favor of the chase.
expected any differently, but there was still a chance
if he could drive between the posse and the wild horses
and try to push the mustangs in a different direction
– hopefully back on to the haven of Jill’s
Ford’s wheel around with just one hand he hit the
gas and carefully pointed it in front of Baxter’s
people. It was a tricky move, because he didn’t
want to risk hurting anyone.
Some of the cowboys
realized what he was doing and pulled up their rides,
others dug their heels in, spurring their animals on to
try and scoot around Jill’s truck.
on more gas and began slewing the truck from side to side
whilst hammering on the horn.
reacted to the sound and veered suddenly away from the
dead end, their legs moving like the wind, and sweat covering
Mac heard Jill’s voice above the commotion and looked
across to comment, but what he saw stopped him.
Troy Baxter was
heading straight for them on a Skewbald that had the speed
of Seabiscuit and wasn’t afraid to hide
And he was aiming
his rifle straight at Jill.