Cowgirl Cathy: The Revenge of Big Benjamin Grundy
the desert was a truly beautiful sight. The blood red sun peeped across the
flat horizon, splashing the rocks, cliffs and dusty earth with a vivid red hue.
Cathy often rose as the first rays of light began to poke across the horizon to
take her horse Franklin on an early morning excursion to a small hill behind
her and her father’s ranch, to see the desert shadows being pushed back by the
Evidently Cathy was not the only one who appreciated a good sunrise. Big Benjamin Grundy puffed on his cigar as he watched the fiery sphere arise from behind a nearby cliff-face. “Damn this is a beautiful part of the world. Ever seen a sunrise like this sweetheart?”
“I’ve seen better,” Cathy growled. That wasn’t a lie, she had seen better. Though perhaps this was more to do with the angle she was currently watching this sunrise, which simply wasn’t offering her a good view.
After all it was difficult to see all that much when you were buried in the ground up to your neck.
Benjamin Grundy, a bear like man with hairy arms and chest, visible due to the top three buttons of his short sleeved dark brown shirt being undone, looked down at the pretty young cowgirl he had at his mercy. Cathy only had a good view of his dark cowboy boots with jeans tucked into them. She tried craning her neck up to look at him defiantly but this proved surprisingly hard with her unable to move her body that much underneath the dusty earth.
Her hands and feet had been bound following her capture by Grundy’s entourage of crooks and thieves, having caught the cowgirl snooping around their makeshift desert camp in Devils Canyon. She’d been forced to watch as they dug a deep, thin hole in the desert floor. She’d then been lifted in feet first, before the recently dug soil was piled back in around her body, until everything from her neck downwards was completely buried underneath the surface.
Cathy’s wavy, bright blonde hair was strewn across the sandy earth around her head like a blanket, her bright blue eyes squinting as even then low light of the dawn sunrise dazzled her. She tried moving her limbs but her rope bonds and the sheer weight of the earth held her fast. She gazed up at the grinning man responsible for her plight and said, “You sure know how to treat a girl.”
Big Benjamin Grundy couldn’t restrain his smirk. At last, the girl who had been a thorn in his side for months was now finally at his mercy. She had cost him thousands of dollars in foiled schemes. Now she was going to pay for it. “Only the best for my guest of honour. A great view of the sunrise and a perfect spot for a sunbathe. Anythin’ else I can get for you?”
Remaining defiant even in such a dire predicament Cathy grunted, “Yeah, a tall, frosty beer would be nice.”
Grundy laughed maniacally at her, encouraging his entourage of bandits to do the same. “I’m gonna miss you Cathy. Well, I won’t miss you wrecking my business ventures. You’ve been an entertaining little problem for sure. But as they say, all good things must come to an end.”
Cathy growled in frustration, twisting her head from side to side as Grundy knelt down beside her, giving her a good look of his matted, long dark hair and the scar which was slicing straight across his left eye. His smile broadened as he reached for Cathy’s discarded Stetson hat, and placed it on her wavy blonde tresses. “Well, it’s only fair that a cute little cowgirl should die with her hat.”
He then gave the signal for his band to start revving up the jeep he used to traverse the desert, the rest of his band using pickup trucks and quad-bikes. Before he got into the front seat Big Benjamin Grundy waved at his half-buried captive and said, “Enjoy your final sunrise Cathy,” before he slammed the door shut. Then with the rev of several engines all powering up at once the vehicles of Grundy’s band sped away, leaving a cloud of dust in their wake which completely blew over the helpless Cathy.
Unable to use her hands to shield her face Cathy had to close her eyes and spit the sand out of her mouth. Despite this the dust cloud provided temporary relief for her, because the instant it dissipated Cathy was at the mercy of a rising sun that was already intensely hot.
While her Stetson hat provided some shade if she titled her head to the correct angle, the ground itself would prove just as deadly as the sun. As it absorbed its heat it would be like cooking alive in an oven. With her body enclosed in dirt it was proving difficult to regulate her breathing, and already her mouth was feeling dry.
Cathy figured out that she only had hours to get out of this situation, so she decided not to waste any time. She scrabbled against the earth surrounding her fingers and kicked against the soil enclosing her booted feet. However the combination of rope and earth proved effective at limiting her attempts to vain twists. She tried alternating her shoulders up and down to loosen the earth around her neck, but the bandits had done a good job of firming up the earth around her, ensuring that it couldn’t be loosened.
Cathy swore to herself in frustration. She’d really got herself into a fix this time. After finally tracking down Bug Benjamin Grundy (the bandit leader responsible for all the illegal activities in her area, including the rustling of her cattle herd and the illegal fur trading ring she’d helped to bust) to this isolated area of the desert, she’d dropped her guard while snooping around the cliffs and crags around their camp. She’d quickly got overpowered, restrained and at Grundy’s orders, whisked out into the wilderness to be dealt with.
And even in the face of this terrible situation, Cathy was determined not to let him get away with it. So she refused to give in. Even as her limbs and body failed to respond after repeated attempts to free them. Even as the sun roasted her skin and caused beads of sweat to trickle down the side of her face. She wasn’t going to let herself be beaten. She was too stubborn to die a damsel in distress.
Ultimately though her salvation didn’t come from her own efforts, but from the contingency plan Cathy had put in place. About forty five minutes after Grundy’s departure, Cathy heard the roar of an approaching quad bike engine in the distance. Cathy kept quiet initially, in case it was one of Grundy’s men coming to check on her. But as the engine continued its approach she twisted her head to the direction of the noise, and could see the quad bike approaching. And unlike the jet black vehicles used by Grundy’s band, this one was a bright shade of red.
Cathy felt an overwhelming sense of relief when this quad arrived at her position, parking in front of her face to provide her with some much needed shade. Cathy looked up at the figure dismounting the quad bike and said, “Knew I could rely on your scouting abilities.”
“God Cathy, what did Grundy do to you?” Nakoma, Cathy’s Native American friend and occasional crime busting partner, remarked with her mouth agape as she knelt down beside the head of the blonde haired cowgirl.
“I think it might be some kind of new spa treatment,” Cathy joked as she felt relief fill her body. “I don’t suppose you brought a shovel with you?”
Several hours later, as the afternoon began to transform into the twilight of evening, a showered and refreshed, Cathy was seated at the foot of Nakoma’s bed tipping out the soil that had accumulated in her boots. “Damn, sand really does get everywhere. I haven’t even checked my jeans yet.”
Nakoma was seated in a chair facing Cathy, her arms folded and an unamused expression on her face. “This isn’t funny Cathy. Grundy could have killed you. I was watching you through my binoculars from my position on the clifftop, and any moment I expected him to pull a gun on you and for that to be it.”
“But he didn’t, look on the bright side.”
“But he could have done.”
“Grundy is full of himself. He’d rather subject his victims to some kind of elaborate death trap to prove his own genius than just do something as simple as shoot them. Typical villain flaw.”
Nakoma huffed, fiddling with her braided dark hair, which she always did when she was frustrated. She’d changed out of her trekking clothes into an orange short sleeved top, jean skirt and flat ankle strap sandals. Cathy’s dust covered clothes lay discarded on the floor at her feet, the blonde haired cowgirl now wearing clothes borrowed from her Native American friend, a light blue shirt, unbuttoned over a red tanktop and brown khaki shorts.
Cathy sensed her friend was upset, which was why she asked, “Why are you pissed at me?”
“I’m pissed because I could easily have watched my best friend get her brains blown by one of the most dangerous men in the state, and all she’s doing is cracking jokes about it,” Nakoma told her.
“Don’t worry, Grundy’s fallen right into my trap. He probably thinks I’m dead, so he’s not going to expect me to lead the Sherriff and the rest of his department straight to his hidden den in Devil’s Canyone. We just have to lay low for a few hours, then we’ll finally bring Grundy’s gang to justice.”
“So what, you’re just going to hide in my apartment and pretend to be dead for a few hours?” Nakoma asked grumpily.
“That’s the idea,” Cathy responded, pulling her bare feet up onto the bed and resting her blonde tresses against the pillow, intending to get some rest.
At first Nakoma said nothing, staring at the floor while lost in thought. Then she stood up, ad glaring angrily at Cathy she said, “You may not care about your own safety, but you could at least give a damn about how your friends care about it. How your father cares about you. About how I care for you. Have you even considered how we’d feel if one day you were stuck in the desert and no-one was around to save you?”
“As long as you’ve got my back I don’t need to worry,” Cathy replied casually.
“Yeah, well maybe one day I won’t,” Nakoma snapped, jumping to her feet angrily before striding to the door of her apartment.
“Where are you going?” Cathy asked.
“Out!” Nakoma barked angrily, before she flung open the door, strode out then slammed it shut.
Cathy sighed to herself, realising that her Apache friend had a point. She had been very reckless recently, placing both her and others in danger. So determined was she to see Big Benjamin Grundy brought to justice. It wasn’t just revenge for him stealing her cattle herd. He’d caused misery for thousands, exploiting migrants, robbing families, bribing officials to get away with it. She was tired of the entire region being in that thug’s pocket. She wanted him behind bars, more than anything.
Yet Nakoma’s words ate into her. She’d never really considered the impact that her recklessness and desire to be a hero would have on those she cared about. She thought of her dad, whom she lived with on their ranch, battling to make a living ever since her mother died. She thought of all those that she’d grown up with, who were now struggling to adapt to a changing world and an economic situation rigged against them.
Then she thought of Nakoma, a friend unlike any other she’d had before. Her unwavering loyalty and shared passion for protecting their desert home had turned her into probably the best friend Cathy had ever had. And she’d taken that friendship for granted.
Cathy rose from the bed and looked out the window, seeing Nakoma stood on the side of the busy high street of Santa Maria, the closest town to her ranch and where Nakoma called home. Cathy decided then, after seeing how angry she still looked, that she had to make it up to her somehow.
Unfortunately, shortly after making that decision, Cathy watched as a black jeep screeched to a halt beside Nakoma, before the doors were flung open and a group of darkly dressed men grabbed the unsuspecting young woman and hauled her inside before she’d even had a chance to scream.
“NAKOMA!” Cathy screamed on her friend’s behalf, though her cries were significantly muted by the glass of the window she was watching through. Instantly she was racing out the door and down the stairs onto the high street. Her cover story of being dead be damned, Nakoma was in danger!
She ran onto the street in her bare feet, but was only in time to see the dark jeep turn a corner and out of her sight.
Cathy was surrounded by people who had watched this brazen, daylight kidnapping first hand but had also been powerless to prevent it. But while everyone else flapped around in a panic, calling 911, Cathy began to feel a well of anger boiling up inside of her, like a volcano on the point of erupting. How could Grundy be so daring as to kidnap a girl in broad daylight from the street? Clearly he was feeling emboldened by her assumed demise, and he was now going after everyone else who had ever crossed him.
Bad news Grundy. Because Cowgirl Cathy was very much alive…and she was coming for him!
“Cathy if you’re going where I think you’re going then you better turn around right now!” Sheriff Hatton barked down the phone at her.
“Sorry, can’t hear you Sherrif, bad patch of signal!” Cathy responded, despite having heard his order clearly.
“I’m serious Cathy, you’ve told us where Grundy is hiding, let us handle this and save Nakoma. You’ll just end up making the situation…are you driving a car at the moment?”
“I’m not in a car!” Cathy insisted. She was telling the truth. She was riding Nakoma’s quad bike through the darkening desert, ignoring the ruts and bumps in the road as she drove the vehicle as fast as she could, her long blonde hair billowing in the wind behind her like a plume.
Sherrif Hatton saw through her evasiveness. “I don’t care what kind of vehicle you’re driving, stay clear of Devil’s Canyon, understand?”
Cathy at that point switched the phone off. She was done talking. She’d had enough sense to call the cavalry, but she was not going to be denied her showdown with Grundy.
The sun had already set, and the air temperature was already cooling rapidly. Still wearing the clothes she’d borrowed from Nakoma, but now wearing her Cowboy boots and with her Stetson hat stuffed in her rucksack for the journey, along with her lasso whip and her hunting knife. Cathy wished she’d worn something a little more suitable. Devil’s Canyon was an isolated spot, and notoriously difficult to traverse. Probably why Grundy had picked the abandoned mine as his hideout.
But Cathy knew she was travelling in the right direction, due to the fresh tyre tracks from a large jeep imprinted in the dusty earth. She knew she was closing in.
As she approached a rocky outcrop she stuck close to it, using it to conceal her approach. It allowed her to drive the quad-bike close to the entrance to Devil’s Canyon, a scar in a cliff face that ran for several miles, leading into a deep gully that was once mined extensively during the gold rush. It had been abandoned for decades, the only sign of previous occupation now being some rotted timber frames and some half buried, rusted mining equipment.
That was, until Grundy’s band had moved in. Now the canyon was filled with tents and vehicles, and was home to at least twenty of the most notorious criminals in the region. From here they conducted their illegal operations in secret, until Cathy and Nakoma, after months of searching, had finally stumbled across it the other night.
Cathy brought the quad-bike to a stop and turned off the engine, deciding to take the stealthy approach and go the rest of the way on foot. She swung her legs off of the vehicle, re-affixed her Stetson on her head, and set off to complete her rescue mission.
She knew that going in through the main canyon entrance, in plain view of every attending crook and villain, was a stupid move. Fortunately Cathy knew of another entrance, one she had uncovered with Nakoma the other night. Setting off through the ever dimming twilight Cathy skirted around the edges of the canyon walls, searching for her way in. She quickly found it, a small gully in the cliff face formed over the centuries by a stream which only formed after the rain of a passing storm. It was a tight fit, but Cathy had no choice. If she was to rescue Nakoma, she’d have to squeeze through.
She held her breath as she sidled along the gully. The dusty walls pressed against her back and front, and she had to use her hands to almost drag herself along. A few times she had to step over boulders that had fallen into the gully. She moved along as fast as she could, trying to regulate her breathing while not doing anything which might give away her position. Already she was hearing raised and excitable voices echoing off of the canyon walls. She knew she was getting close.
After many minutes of careful sidling she reached her goal, a rocky outcrop overlooking the widest part of the canyon, providing her an excellent view of Grundy’s camp. Cathy immediately fell onto her front and crawled to the outcrop edge, cautiously peering over to survey the encampment.
It turned out that she hadn’t needed to be careful. Grundy’s band were in full party mode. In the centre of the campsite was a roaring fire, around which the entire gang had gathered. Everyone had a bottle of beer in their hands, and judging by their raucous singing and loud shouting it hadn’t been their first of the evening. Cathy smiled to herself. This gang had got over-confident, too certain of their own safety. This was going to make her job a whole lot easier.
Moving as slowly as possible Cathy moved to the edge of the outcrop, and using groves in the canyon walls lowered herself into the bandit’s camp. The light was now dim enough, and the senses of the crooks dulled by the booze, for her not to be noticed. She crouched behind the nearest tent for cover, before darting from tent to tent. Despite her heart hammering in her chest she still wasn’t noticed by gang. This allowed Cathy the chance to keep her eyes and ears open for any sign of her kidnapped friend.
As she crouched behind the biggest tent of the lot, she noticed that the canvas walls were shaking violently, and the central post keeping the tent upright was swaying violently. Cathy strained her ears and, even over the hollers of the nearby gang, she heard the unmistakeable sound of muffled grunting. Her heart in her mouth, Cathy lay down on the floor, lifted up the tent canvas and peered inside.
She immediately clapped her eyes on a desperate looking Nakoma. The Apache girl was sitting on the dusty earth, bound to the central wooden post of the tent. Her hands wrapped around it and tied together, more ropes pulled about her waist, and additional cord about her ankles and knees. Her long dark hair had come out of its braid and tumbled past her shoulders. Any attempts at speech from her were curtailed by a rag shoved in her mouth and a length of brown cord wrapped around her head and pulled between her teeth, serving as an effective makeshift gag.
Cathy watched Nakoma struggling vainly against her bonds for a moment, before scanning to ensure the rest of the tent was deserted. When sure they were alone, she pulled herself underneath the canvas into the tent.
Nakoma quickly saw her, and her eyes widening in surprise she started wriggling with renewed vigour, even as Cathy dragged herself into the tent. “Wwwwttt rrrr yyyymmmm dddnnn hhrrrr?” Nakoma exclaimed as her friend ran behind the post, grabbing her knife in preparation to saw through the ropes binding her.
Cathy didn’t have time to reply, because she heard footsteps approaching the tent at that moment. She just had enough time to dive underneath a nearby camp bed before Big Benjamin Grundy walked into his tent.
A devious sneer formed on his ugly face as he took a swig of his beer, and after swallowing he gloated, “Having a cosy evening in sweetheart?”
“Gggggtttt llllssssttt!” Nakoma growled at him, shaking her head from side to side trying to shake off her rope gag.
Grundy allowed himself a gleeful laugh at her expense. “Well maybe this will teach you a lesson for going around snooping in the affairs of people like me. That blonde cutie you hung around with thought she could outsmart us. Now she’ll be having her skull pecked clean by the buzzards right about now.”
“Nnnnnnmmmmm!” Nakoma responded, her eyes widening in supposed horror. She couldn’t afford for Grundy to realise Cathy was actually alive and closer than he’d realised.
Grundy knelt down beside her, tugging on the ropes to ensure they remained stringent. As he did so he said, “You know, you’re quite the pretty girl, even for one of your race.”
“Wwwwttt wwwsss ttthhhttt?” Nakoma growled angrily at his statement of prejudice.
“Hush now, you don’t own these lands anymore sweetie,” Grundy remarked, as from his belt he withdrew his hunting knife and twirled it through the air menacingly in front of her face. “These lands belong to me now. And you’re meddling ranger dad is going to give us access to all areas of this wilderness in exchange for your freedom. So behave yourself, and I’ll let you go in one piece…well, mostly.”
But the instant he finished making his threat there was a loud cracking sound, and he felt a sharp pain around his left ankle. He had just enough time to see that a whip had wound itself around his leg, before this cord was yanked back, forcing him to topple over onto his front. He was winded upon impact, preventing him from crying out. As he gasped for air on the floor he heard approaching footsteps, before someone knelt on the small of his back, grabbed him by his hair, and held their own hunting knife against his throat.
“Funny, I was going to say that same exact last sentence to you,” Cathy snarled in his ear.
Grundy exhaled in frustration as he realised who had attacked him. “God dammit you’re persistent blondie,” he groaned. “How the hell did you escape?”
“I have really amazing friends,” Cathy responded as without looking she managed to untangle her whip from around his leg and prepared to use it to bind his hands behind him. “Stay down and shut up, or I swear you’ll regret it!”
“Not half as much as you will,” Grundy wheezed. “You really think you two will just walk out of here?”
“I walked in without being noticed didn’t I?”
Grundy looked up as Cathy was occupied binding his hands, and seeing moving shadows cast from the firelight against the canvas of the tent, he smiled to himself. Nakoma had seen them too, and stamping her sandals on the dusty earth to get Cathy’s attention she cried out, “Cccctthhhhhnnnn llllkkk ttttt!”
But it was too late, the tent had been surrounded. Suddenly members of Grundy’s gang burst into the tent from all sides, completing encircling the three of them. “Hands in the air, or the Indian gets a bullet in her head!”
Cathy saw the pistols trained on Nakoma and realised she had no choice but to surrender. She got to her feet and placed her hands in the air, allowing the bandits to surround her, grabbing her around the elbows and pinning her hands behind her back.
The ropes around Grundy’s hands were cut, after which he too stood up, then bore down on Cathy and yanked painfully on her blonde tresses, forcing Cathy to give an involuntary yelp of pain. “So you didn’t like being buried alive then?” he growled angrily. “Well tough luck, this time I’m burying you so deep no-one will ever find you!”
“There we go, nice and snug,” Grundy remarked as he finished fixing the last knot. He then held up the gas lantern he’d been using for illumination to have one last look at his two unfortunate captives. “How’s this for being buried alive blondie?”
“Ddddddmmmmm yyymmmm!” Cathy cried through the cloth stuffed in her mouth and her whip lasso which had been pulled between her teeth and tied behind her head. She tugged and strained against her bonds as much as she could, but all she did was cause moans of discomfort to come from Nakoma as their shared bonds tugged painfully against her.
Both young women were being held in standing positions, propped against a support pillar deep inside the Devil’s Canyon Mine. They were held face to face by the ropes wound about them, their bodies pressed tightly against each other and their faces almost touching. Nakoma’s back was pressed against the support pillar with her hands held above her head, bound to a rung fixed to the woodwork. Cathy’s hands were pulled about Nakoma’s waist and also the support pillar, bound by a long length of cord. Their upper bodies were held fast by a web of intricate ropework, and their ankles had also been tied for good measure.
Grundy ignored their muffled protestations, instead kneeling down beside a rucksack, and out of it pulling out a single stick of dynamite. “This whole mine system is pretty unstable now,” he mused even as Nakoma and Cathy squealed at him. “Wouldn’t take much of a boom to bring the roof down and trap you both down here forever.”
“Nnnnnmmmmm dddnnnnttt!” Nakoma screamed, as Cathy began furious rubbing the rope conjoining her hands up and down along the surface of the support pillar. It was rough enough perhaps to fray the rope and ultimately cut through it. She had to try, it was currently the only option she had.
Grundy’s smile didn’t diminish as he placed the gaslight lantern on a nearby crate, illuminating the struggling pair, before pulling a pocket torch out of his jacket. “I’ll leave this here I think. Don’t want to leave you both in the dark. Now you can stare into each other’s eyes as the seconds tick by to your doom.”
With that he retreated back up the mine, to where it forked back towards the entrance. Before disappearing around the corner he waggled the dynamite stick at them and said, “You enjoy the next five minutes or so ladies. That’s how long it will take for me to rig the entrance to blow. And while it’s been a pleasure to make your acquaintance, please do me the privilege of dying this time, OK?”
“Llllll ggggtttt yyyyymmm, yyyymmm bbbsssttttrrrrrnnnn!” Cathy roared through her stuffed and lassoed mouth, still frantically rubbing the rope around her wrists against the support pillar. She could feel it fraying. It was working!
But as Big Benjamin Grundy disappeared from view she knew that had only moments remaining, so she kept on working as hard as possible. She ignored the chafing and tugs around her upper body as Nakoma focused instead on wriggling as much as possible. As they twisted and turned they scuffed kicked up small clouds of dust, reflecting the low illumination of the gas lantern. Their muffled cries seemed to echo off of the walls as they both did everything they could to get free in what time they had remaining.
“Cmmmmm nnnnn ddddmmm yyymmmm!” Cathy growled in frustration as she kept on rubbing the ropes against the rough wooden surface. She was glad the cord binding her was old; newer rope would probably have been too tough to wear out in time. As it was, she could feel the friction begin to wear away at her bonds. She felt the ropes slacken as one part of the cord frayed, then another. She ignored the chafing around her wrists as she kept on jiggling them up and down.
Finally she felt the rope snap and her hands jerk free. However, it was at that very second that a loud roar seemed to slam against her and Nakoma like a tidal wave, followed by the sound of falling rocks and earth and the creation of a billowing dust cloud that seemed to cover them both in complete darkness.
“Are you OK?”
“Nnnn ttnnnnkkkk sssmmmm.”
How long Cathy had stood with her arms covering both and Nakoma’s heads like a protective shield, she couldn’t say for certain. It felt like an eternity. The boom of the exploding dynamite was still ringing in her ears, and her arms stung from the impact of rocks and rubble pelting against them from the force of the blast. She looked straight into the eyes of her friend, and while Nakoma seemed shaken, she was otherwise unhurt. They’d both survived the blast.
It was only as Cathy surveyed the cavern in the dimming light of the lantern (which had toppled off of its crate in the blast) that she saw the mine shaft leading back to the entrance had completely caved in. Had they been stood ten feet to the left they’d have been buried alive.
Not that their situation was much better this way. Now they were trapped in a dangerously unstable mine with presumably a limited air supply.
First things first though, they needed to get free of these ropes. “Hang on Nakoma, I got this,” Cathy said, having removed her lasso gag but now coughing from the dust billowing around them. Soon she managed to untie herself from Nakoma, and then unravel the cords from her booted feet. Then she was free to finally remove the gag from her friend’s mouth.
Nakoma took in a couple of deep breaths before she said quietly, “Cathy I’m so sorry about what I did earlier. If I’d kept calm none of this would’ve happened.”
“No you were right Nakoma,” Cathy told her as she managed to untie her friend’s hands. “It’s my fault Grundy came after you. I should’ve been more careful.”
“Look Cathy, I just want you to know what a great friend you’ve been. I’ve really enjoyed the time we’ve spent together.”
“Don’t talk like we’re not getting out of this.”
“But we’re trapped, there’s no way out.”
As the last ropes were pulled away from Nakoma, Cathy started rubbing life back into her friend’s numbed limbs, and said determinedly, “There’s always a way out.. We just gotta find it!”
When Nakoma was capable of walking they examined the rubble to see if they could dig their way to freedom. However the rock slide was extensive and they couldn’t risk moving any rocks, in case it brought the whole shaft down on them. “Come on, let’s find another way out of here!” Cathy remarked.
“Shouldn’t we stay in one place so that the emergency services can find us?”
“By the time they’d get this deep in the mine it’d be too late. Come on, this canyon is full of old mineshafts and caves. Maybe we’ll get lucky and find another way out. Either way, I ain’t sitting around here waiting to die.”
So they huddled together and used the lantern to illuminate their way was they travelled deeper into the mine. They moved slowly, in part for Nakoma’s benefit but also so that they didn’t disturb the weakened mine shaft and cause another rockslide. The tunnel seemed to go on forever, weaving through the rock but never deviating from its set path. The air was growing increasingly musty, and the earth increasingly undisturbed. Clearly Grundy and his men hadn’t dared to venture down this far, and with good reason. The wooden support beams were increasingly rotten, and looked like they might collapse at any minute.
After walking for a few more minutes Nakoma stopped, and said to Cathy, “I think I felt a breeze.”
Cathy had felt it too, a small gust of cool, refreshing wind blowing over her dirt covered face. Her spirits lifted. There was another way out!
The two pressed on until they came to the source of the breeze, an old lift shaft, a good thirty feet in height, leading to a small patch of star filled sky partially concealed by old planks of wood. Their relief was almost overwhelming. At least they wouldn’t suffocate.
Escape however was going to prove more difficult. The metal shaft was severely rusted and didn’t look entirely stable. But they didn’t have much choice. It was an obstacle they would have to overcome.
But Nakoma seemed to be physically and mentally exhausted, her hours of being bound at Grundy’s mercy having taken their toll on her. Cathy turned to her friend and said, “Come on, we’re nearly there. It’s just a little climb, and we both know how much you like climbing.”
“I’ll just slow you down Cathy. I’ll stay down here while you go get help!” Nakoma breathed tiredly.
“You can’t, this whole mine could fall in at any point. We have to get out of here now!” Cathy exclaimed, shepherding Nakoma to the rusted frame of the old lift. “It’s nothing we haven’t tackled before. I’ll go first and find the safe climbing points, and help you up along the way, OK?”
Nakoma eventually nodded, and watched as Cathy hauled herself up the frame a few feet before following her up the same route. Neither girl were suitably dressed for a long arduous climb, especially Nakoma in her skirt and sandals. But they pressed on, using their combined years of climbing and trekking experience to ascend to the surface.
Cathy tried to stay confident to keep Nakoma’s morale up, but inwardly she was terrified. The frame was very unstable, metal groaning and wobbling underfoot as she pushed herself further upwards. The very cavern seemed to be groaning and growling at her, as if it was a wild beast determined that they wouldn’t leave their lair. It was the sound of the falling and unstable rocks elsewhere in the mines. Grundy’s dynamite had made the whole area unstable.
The air got clearer as they ascended, getting ever closer to the surface. Cathy looked up and saw the starry sky poking through the askew wooden boards covering the old shaft. The stars had never looked so inviting. She gasped for air as her aching limbs powered her to the penultimate level of the lift shaft, the final one before they reached the surface. Finding a stable place to perch herself she knelt down and helped haul the exhausted Nakoma upwards. “Come on, nearly there, just think of that beer when it’s all over.”
So with one last burst of energy Cathy jumped up and grasped the overhanging metal bar, and scrabbling her boots against the stone wall of the shaft she pulled herself closer and closer to her goal. She then stretched her hand out and pushed aside some of the loosened wooden boards covering the top of the shaft, creating enough space for her to pull herself through. She then grasped the nearest wooden beam for that last push…
…and the rotten wood fell away, sending Cathy dangerously off balance. She teetered on her perch, swinging her arms wildly, but was unable to regain her balance and toppled backwards…
…but a hand from an unseen rescuer darted through the gap in the wood, clasped her arm tightly, and before Cathy had realised what had happened she was pulled upwards, out of the shaft and into the chilly desert night.
“Damn it Cathy you scared the shit out of us!” Sherriff Hatton remarked as he and his fellow officers helped haul her onto the desert floor.
In between deep breaths Cathy exclaimed, “Nakoma…get…Nakoma.”
Deputy Ramsey was on it, carefully lowering himself down into the shaft. When he re-emerged he was half guiding/half hauling the bedraggled Native American with him. Soon Nakoma was safely resting beside Cathy, exhausted, but alive.
“How’d you find us?” Cathy asked Sherrif Hatton as a cloak was thrown over her to keep her warm.
“We arrived at Grundy’s camp just after he detonated that bomb. I remembered my grandpa tellin’ me of an old escape shaft he once used in an emergency when he worked here, so thought if we stood any chance of saving you two we’d need to find it. Good job I did huh.”
“You’re telling me,” Cathy remarked. “So you got Grundy then?”
“Nicely cuffed in the back of my jeep,” Sherrif Hatton smiled at her. “Caught him red handed. He ain’t going anywhere but a prison cell from now on. So at least you won’t need to go around making a nuisance of yourself any longer.”
“Sounds good to me, what do you think Nakoma?” Cathy asked, allowing herself a smile of relief.
“I think I’d like that beer now!” Nakoma responded. Cathy laughed at her friend’s statement, before she embraced her tightly with her arms flung around Nakoma’s neck, happy that their ordeal was over, and that the best friend she’d ever had was safe and well.