Chapter Ten—Out and In and Out

Friday morning, October 25, early, early…
        Allie was surprised to see Backstrom at the door, but he was more surprised at how quickly she thought and reacted. She shoved her clothes in his face, then pushed him, hard, against Hutch. Backstrom cried out and Hutch grunted…and they both fell backwards and started tumbling down the stairs. Allie moved like a cat following them down, then, throwing her clothes to the base of the stairwell, she planted her hands against the wall, swung her body over the rolling men and landed at the bottom of the stairs. Grabbing her garments, she immediately darted out the door and down the hall.
          And she wasted no time with the stairs. She placed a hand on the rail and vaulted over it and down onto the living room floor. She landed, knees bent, and made a beeline for the back door. By now she could hear Backstrom screaming behind her. “Get her! Don’t let her get away!” But he was too far behind.
         Allie hit the back door at a dead run and didn’t stop running until she reached the forest some 50 yards away. The dog proved to be a bit of a nuisance, but he remembered Allie and hoped she had another treat for him. So he ran along beside her, barking up a fit. She scooped up a small stick as she was running and tossed it away. The dog, thinking she was playing, gleefully ran after it. She had no more disruptions as she dashed into the forest and up the incline.
          Backstrom and Hutch had made it to the back door, and only briefly seen Allie enter the trees. Backstrom yelled out, “Bob! Rino! Get out here! Go get them, Hutch, you men have got to get after her. She mustn’t escape.”
          Allie heard that, but that was the last she heard of the conversation behind her. She dodged and ducked around some bushes and trees, and then leapt across a trickling stream and up another incline. The foliage was thick and it was dark, but she had good night vision in the forest and made good time. She paused for a moment to catch her breath and put on her clothes.
          She knew that the forest was her ally. She could move, swiftly and silently in it, which Backstrom’s men sounded like an army troop coming through. Allie was well ahead of them and paused for a moment to think of what she should do. Head straight for McConnell, I guess…Then, she paused and shook her head. And smiled. No, I’m going to do the thing they least expect…
          I’m going back…

          Allie had no intentions of giving herself up, of course. She simply aimed to finish the job she had come to do in the first place. She quickly decided on a course of action. I need some sleep…So she searched around for a few minutes and found what she wanted—a tall, old, thick, heavily-leaved oak tree. She nodded, and scampered up the tree like a monkey. She found a solid limb about 30 feet up with another branch for a backrest. She sighed and relaxed. And smiled as she heard Backstrom’s men clomping around below.
          “There’s no way we’re going to find her in this forest at night,” she heard Rino grumble. “She’s probably halfway to Canada by now.”
          “Well, we need to at least put up an appearance,” Hutch said. “We can go back in a little while and tell the boss there’s no way.”
          “He ain’t gonna like it.”
          “That’s just his tough luck.”
          “I want to hear you say that to him.”
          “Aw, now look at that, it’s startin’ to rain…”
          That was all Allie heard as they moved off, farther and farther away from her. If they had been standing right under her tree and looked up, they wouldn’t have seen her—in broad daylight. That’s how well hid she was. And she intended to stay that way.
          Patience was one of the cardinal virtues of a good Ranger. And Allie Summer was one of the best.

Friday morning, October 25, daytime...then very late at night, into wee Saturday morning, October 26…
          It was cold. And damp. And Allie didn’t have anything to eat or drink. Water wasn’t really a problem, though, because, as one of Backstrom’s men had said a few hours earlier, it had begun to rain, and while it didn’t rain hard, it did get Allie wet and dampen the leaves around her. All she had to do was lick them clean. But again, the hardship was something she accepted as a Ranger, and actually hadn’t given it any thought.
          Her mind was on her next move—that is, once she had descended from the tree. And she had every intention of going back to Backstrom’s house and doing what she had come to do in the first place—get those documents that would put him in jail for the rest of his life. Late in the afternoon, she’d go back to the edge of the forest, just to see what was happening at the house. Then, if all looked promising, she would…wait. Until late at night…
          She’d try the front door to see if it was locked, but figured she’d have to go in the back, and made a face; I wonder why I didn’t do that the first time, he doesn’t keep it locked. But she hadn’t known that, and had wanted to go directly into the study and avoid going anywhere else in the house, if possible. This time, she had no choice, for she had no tools with which to open the window.
          Allie intended to follow the plan she had constructed for Thursday night—go into the kitchen, get some food, take the blanket, then into Backstrom’s study for the papers. If she got caught, she got caught; that was the danger of any assignment. But she really didn’t think Backstrom would expect her to come back. At least, she hoped he didn’t.
          The tree wasn’t terribly comfortable, but she was able to catch patches of sleep throughout the morning and early afternoon. Part of that was sheer exhaustion; she hadn’t gotten any sleep the night before. She rested the best she could. The rain had stopped, but it was still cold and overcast. But, once more, the weather was just about the last thing on the Lady Ranger’s mind.
          Late in the afternoon, but still with plenty of light to see by, she crawled out of the tree and headed back towards The Man’s castle. She was careful, just in case Backstrom had any of his men stationed somewhere in the forest, but there was no one. She chose her favorite viewing spot from her earlier stakeouts, on the side of the hill about a quarter mile away from the house. She could see some activity, but not much. She watched as Curt walked from bunkhouse to mansion; Allie’s blood ran cold at the sight of him, and then it began to boil as she remembered what he had planned for her that very evening. But she smiled. Too bad, loser, couldn’t have happened to a more deserving fellow…but it reminded her of the taunting, humiliation, slapping around, and raping she had endured the night before from Rino, Hutch, and Bob—not to mention The Man himself. It would be very hard, if she ever had those four men—and Curt--in her rifle sites, not to pull the trigger. She was supposed to uphold the law, not break it. Allie would cross that bridge if she ever came to it.
          Patience…patience…patience…Allie remained, crouched in that one location, for several hours. And nothing of her moved but her eyes. She didn’t even brush away a bug that was crawling up her cheek; she didn’t feel it, her concentration was totally on that house. Darkness…a mist falling now…the dog crawling under the house to get out of the dampness…Curt heading back to the bunkhouse …Allie frowned…Where’s Bob, Rino, and Hutch?…she pulled a face…they’re out looking for me, which was a subtle reminder that she would need to be careful when she headed to the Rangers’ office…Mona leaving and walking to her little cabin on the other side, the southeast side, of the property. A light on in the study…that light stayed lit for at least two hours…Allie never moved. No activity anywhere else around the house…well, the men all came out of the bunkhouse to answer the call of nature one more time before bedding down…so Bob, Hutch, and Rino ARE hereget good and empty, guys, I don’t want any unforeseen trips to the privy tonight…The light in the bunkhouse went out, and a few minutes later, so did the light in the study. If Backstrom is expecting me to return, he is playing it very coy, with no guard…a light in the upstairs bedroom, but it remained lit for only about 15 minutes. Then, total darkness. And total silence, except for the forest sounds of the night.
          The mist stopped. The clouds were moving fairly rapidly and thinned out occasionally to allow Allie to see some of the things mentioned above. The lights in the bunkhouse and house were easy to see regardless, but movement outside was often indistinct. But if there was anyone standing guard at the back door…
          And then, she saw it, on the back porch. The slight glow of a cigarette being inhaled. There IS a guard at the back door…Allie frowned and shifted her gaze to the front of the house, which, given her location, was actually easier for her to see. No guard there, for sure…It disturbed her a little that Backstrom might be expecting her to return. Or perhaps he kept a guard there every night. But then she smiled, chiding herself for her own antsyness. The man tossed the cigarette away and walked back to the bunkhouse. He was just getting out of the elements to have his cigarette…She wasn’t sure who it was; she figured it had to have been Curt, but she hadn’t seen anyone come out of the bunkhouse. Yet, at times it was darker than others and she could have missed him. I obviously did…
          Allie waited…and then it was time. She knew it was, she could feel it. Her nerves were taut, yet tingling in anticipation of the coming danger. In and out, Allie…with all deliberate speed…
          Silently, she made her way down to the clearing. She stopped, crouched, and looked around. Nothing. Not even the dog. She made a quick, crouching dash to the side of the house. Waited to see if she had been seen. No indication. Stealthily she crept around the back of the house, onto the back porch, and then to the back door, still in a crouch. She decided not to bother going to the front; time was essentioal. Looking around again. Nothing.
          There was a screen door which swung outward, and it squeaked slightly when Allie opened it. She winced, but didn’t stop. The back door, swinging inward, gave silently and Allie found herself in the hallway—a hallway she had vacated about 24 hours earlier.
          She didn’t close the door completely, leaving it to where she could pull it open rapidly, without having to turn the knob, if she was forced to make a quick getaway. The study was the first door to the left, and it struck Allie—what if the door is locked? I don’t have the nail…She intended to go to the kitchen first and get the supplies she wanted, but as she passed the study door, she tried the door handle. And muttered a curse under her breath. Locked, indeed. I’ll have to find something in the kitchen
          The hallway was extremely dark, but she knew the layout so she had no problem navigating to the living room and then the kitchen. She hadn’t removed her outer garments this time, wanting to remain as invisible as possible as she moved back and forth from forest to house. So she’d have to be careful not to catch her clothes on something and pull it over.
          Allie made it into the living room and took the blanket and then to the table with the matches. She removed them and stuck them in her pocket, and then something caught her eye. Leaning up against the wall, right next to the front door—a rifle. Allied hurried over to it, and took it. She glanced around quickly for shells, but didn’t see any. She’d have to make do with what ammo was in the rifle—provided there was any. Then a quick jog to the kitchen. She took a knife, with a good six-inch blade, from one of the drawers and shoved it, point down, inside the back of her pants. Then she went to the corner and picked up a canvas bag and opened the pantry door. It was attic-at-midnight dark, but Allie’s eyes adjusted to it, and she detected boxes of crackers and cookies, along with canned fruit, beans, and…corned beef. She even saw the breadbox and opened it. A smile. A nice full loaf, which she took and stuffed into the bag. Too bad Hutch and Rino didn’t come in tonight…Then she pulled a face. Well, they might, so I better hurry…She took enough food to last her several days, if she were conservative in her eating, and as she set them in the canvas sack, she made sure that the cans didn’t rattle together. The blanket she had taken proved a godsend in that regard.
          But Allie needed one more thing—something with which to unlock the study door. She looked around, especially checking in drawers—the ones that weren’t stuck too tightly. She left those alone, not wanting to risk making too much noise. She found nothing useful. Allie was getting a little desperate and stood still, looking around the room. And then she almost broke out laughing. For right there on the counter in front of her…was the nail she had used to open the lock on the loft door.
          It would be touchy, opening the study door with it, because it would make noise and Backstrom slept with his door open upstairs. Allie took her sack and rifle and walked quickly to the study door. She knelt down and inserted the nail. As slowly and quietly as possible, she maneuvered the tip of the nail around inside the lock, and there was virtually no noise until she heard a click, indicating the lock mechanism had tripped. Backstrom might have heard it, but it would have taken very good ears to do so.
          Allie quickly opened the door and slipped inside. She intended to escape through the window, so she brought her cache of goods with her. She had been in the study enough to know its layout, and there was a little bit of light shining in from the windows; a thinness in the clouds which she welcomed. She set everything down in the middle of the floor and went around behind Backstrom’s desk. The painting swung open soundlessly and Allie saw the safe.
          She had absolutely no intention of lighting a match if she could help it, so Allie moved her eyes as close to the combination knob as she could. Very faintly, she made out the numbers and began twirling the dial. It took a little longer because of the dimness of the light, but within two minutes she had the safe door ajar, and a wad of papers in her hands.
          She knew what she was looking for so she didn’t have to take the time to read through anything. She walked over to the window where she had sufficient light and began sorting through the sack of papers, setting aside the appropriate ones, those that would put Nicholas Backstrom in jail for a long time. When she had all she wanted, she stuffed them into the canvas sack, replaced the unneeded papers in the safe, closed it, spun the dial—she didn’t care now if Backstrom saw which digit it was on—and returned the painting to its proper location. Allie then saw one more thing she wanted—well, two more. Hanging on a hat stand in a corner of the room was her hat, and an Indian headband she always wore. She took them, then moved cautiously to the window, not wanting to make a mistake now that she was so close to victory. She peeked through the pane before opening the window, just to make sure Backstrom and his men weren’t standing there with rifles. Nothing—that Allie could see. She unlocked the window, and slid it open. She picked up her sack and rifle, and, leaning far over the window sill, she dropped the bag to the ground, but held on to the rifle. Without ado, she followed she slipped through the opening. With her heart thumping, Allie pulled the window closed, picked up her sack, and ran for the forest. She had only one anxious moment when the dog appeared, barking, wanting to play. Allie reached into the sack, ripped off a hunk of the bread, and threw it as far as she could. The dog bounded happily after it, and Allie was in the forest before the mutt had finished its meal.
          Allie wound her way about 100 yards into the forest before she stopped. Elated, she knelt on the ground for a few moments to take a breather and calm her nerves. I made it! And soon that filthy, crooked, slimeball will be in prison where he belongs. I might be able to get a rope around his neck for rape. Allie would settle for life in prison without parole.
          But it wasn’t over yet. She had about 100 miles to go to reach McConnell with the evidence she had found.
          She didn’t know it now, of course, but she’d never make it.