Outrun the Wind

By MacsJeep

Episode 8.4: Part One



Phoenix Foundation Headquarters
L.A Division

Angus MacGyver 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.

Searching for 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.

Normally, MacGyver 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.

That encounter, 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.

“Still hard at it looking for Mariotte?” Pete asked, even though he couldn’t see the computer MacGyver was working on.

“He’s good, Pete,” Mac admitted. “I haven’t found a trace of him since the Boeing went up in smoke.”

Pete shrugged. “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.”

MacGyver wasn’t 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?

“He hasn’t 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?”

“Better.” 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…”

“But no 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.”

Pete chuckled. “I wasn’t even sure you liked them after what just happened with Tallish?”

MacGyver rubbed 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?”

“Well, 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.”

“Okay.” 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?”

Pete reached 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.

“The Foundation 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.”

“Won’t 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 department.

“Jill’s 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.”

“And that 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.

“I think 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.”

“Like killing the mustangs.” Mac wasn’t asking the question, he was making a statement.

The ranchers 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.

* * * *

Little Horseshoe Ranch
Nevada


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.

MacGyver tugged 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 a hundred-years-old.

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.

“Yes, ma’am. Name’s MacGyver. I’m here to see Mrs. Peterson?”

“She’s 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.

Standing with 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.”

“In that 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.

“Alive?” 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.”

“Thanks, if you’re sure..?”

Jill didn’t 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.

Transfixed, MacGyver 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.”

Mac didn’t need telling twice. He loved nature, and he loved to see it like this – untouched and free.

“Where do we start?” He asked, still watching the horses as they moved off into the distance.

“There 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.”

MacGyver watched 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.”

Jill huffed, 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?

He’d soon discovered, that it was a whole lot harder than he’d expected.

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.

“Just who 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.

MacGyver pinched 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…”

Baxter didn’t even let him finish. “Over my dead body! No outsider is coming telling me what to do with the property my grandpa left me!”

More agreement and nodding of heads from the other locals.

Someone at the back actually jeered.

“We just 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..?”

Baxter thought 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.

MacGyver blew 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.

“He’s a tough old bird, isn’t he?”

MacGyver whirled 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.”

“And you agree with his principles?” Mac questioned.

Massey shrugged 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.”

MacGyver cocked a brow, surprised at what Massey was suggesting. “Are you telling me I should watch my back?”

“I’m 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.

“I guess 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 say:

Leave now, while you still can!

MacGyver folded the threat and stuck it in his pocket. If anything happened, there might be prints on it they could trace.

Feeling like he’d already let Pete down, he cranked the Jeep and headed back out to the old road that lead to Jill’s place.

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.

Nothing happened.

Okay, this thing just came back from the shop, it should be perfect

MacGyver pressed 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.

Thinking quickly, 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 seat belts…

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.

Great, I 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.

Sighing, Mac 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 was dead.

Dejectedly, he 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 yet.

About half an hour later, Mac finally heard the roar of a truck and clambered from the Jeep back up to the highway.

Ironically, it 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.”

Jill climbed 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.”

“I can’t 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.

“I’m good, which is more than I can say for the Jeep.”

Jill didn’t 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 shaft.

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.

“There’s 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.

“These 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?”

Jill shrugged. “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 over.”

Mac considered 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.”

“What happened?” Mac probed.

“The developer 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 are back…”

The mustangs 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.

The stallion 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 its brethren.

“He’s making his mind up if he likes you or not,” Jill teased.

“Probably 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.”

Jill didn’t 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?”

“Baxter, 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 Next Morning…

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.

He’d awoken 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 too.

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 like thunder.

“Something wrong?” Mac flinched as she angrily tossed down her hat.

“You bet 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.

“There must something we can do?”

Jill paused, whirled around and stormed back into the house without answering.

Knowing what 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 fireplace.

“That’s 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.

“Then what is?”

“I don’t 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…”

“We can 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.

The worrying question was, even if they saved the horses today, it didn’t answer why it was all happening?

He’d already been a target, but who was next?

Thinking about 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.

“Just hurry.” she nodded, diving into the passenger side and slamming the door with such ferocity MacGyver thought it might fall off at the hinges.

* * * *

MacGyver soon 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 mile away.

The professional wranglers had already managed to group the herd of mustangs in a tight corner, and were forcing them towards a dead end.

At their lead, the striking white stallion was trying desperately to protect his family, but he was falling straight into Baxter’s trap.

MacGyver could 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 capture.

“Now 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.

Mac hadn’t 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 land.

Spinning the 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.

MacGyver poured on more gas and began slewing the truck from side to side whilst hammering on the horn.

The mustangs reacted to the sound and veered suddenly away from the dead end, their legs moving like the wind, and sweat covering their haunches.

“Its working!” 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 it.

And he was aiming his rifle straight at Jill.

 

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