We will be known forever by the tracks we leave.”
Headlights off, the lone driver steered the Ford pickup parallel to the narrow Red Water River, which surged westward in the stormy breeze like a monstrous, undulating snake. Lightning flickered, and a sonic boom thundered across the sky as he drove along the parched Montana grassland. Hunger had driven a horde of small grasshoppers through a coulee as they scoured the land at midnight. They popped like bubble-wrap beneath the truck’s dusty radial tires. Finally the driver halted, then waited and watched. He made sure that no one had seen his approach.
For fifteen minutes, he sat in the darkened cab while the sky flared and bellowed. A thousand feet away, a two-story, vinyl-sided building surrounded by eight-foot chain link fencing lay anchored against the elements. Vapor lamps on poles spotlighted the structure. The only real security measure had been a Bureau of Land Management station a mile south. By driving down an old utility access road, he’d avoided notice.
His anger simmered. Dumb peckers, he reflected as he observed the lay of the land from within his insulated space. Those BLM assholes and their butt-kissing goons could go to hell. Nothing but land-grabbers and rustlers. Just thinking about his hate made this job enjoyable.
When the time was right, he left the truck and stepped onto the prairie. For all the bluster, there wasn’t any rain. High-based storm lightning and boomers had pummeled the night skies for a week, and still Lacrosse County suffered the worst drought in years. Summer temps over one hundred degrees, along with no rain for six months, had sparked numerous brush fires and dried up watering holes from Oregon to South Dakota. He had his own problems.
Thoughts of the money he’d make from this job hurried him to the flatbed. He pulled down the back panel and reached for his night-vision goggles and a small toolbox. Next he positioned a plywood ramp, jumped up, and guided an industrial concrete saw down the incline. The self-propelled, twenty-horsepower chassis rolled easily on eight-inch rubber wheels.
He slipped the goggles with head straps over his eyes and grabbed the toolbox. Limping slightly with his right foot, he navigated the saw toward the river. Everything appeared in varying shades of green as the goggle lenses filtered polarized light from his surroundings into his eyes so he could see without light and greatly reduce his risk of attracting attention.
Suddenly a hideous, towering form eclipsed his field of vision. He froze, heart racing. A monster with tree-trunk legs, clawed forearms, and huge sickle-shaped teeth stared down at him. He’d been busted by a life-sized model of an ugly, pebbly- skinned dinosaur
“God dammit,” he cursed, feeling foolish.
Two months earlier he’d taken a tour of this property given by a fat, balding man. He’d listened patiently as the prissy guide told tourists about the ancient fossil prints pressed into a tidal mud flat about one hundred and sixty-five million years before he was born. The dinosaur hadn’t been here
Lightning flashed again, and he jumped as a tremendous clap of thunder exploded. Sweat coursed beneath his long-sleeved shirt and down his ribs. He looked at the sky. The heat storm moved directly over him. Static electricity crackled the air, and his short black hair stood on end
He pushed the saw toward a flat shelf of exposed sandstone which angled down to the river. As he reached the rocky ledge, he could see a row of three-toed dinosaur tracks stamped into stone. He set the toolbox down and decided which of the two-foot-long, concave prints to take. He chuckled. Like shopping for pickled pig’s feet at the grocery store.
He stood behind the machine’s handlebars and activated the ignition with the push of a button. The engine turned right over, and a low RPM whine from the twenty-inch-diameter cutter filled the air. The diamond blade could dry-cut an eight-inch deep slice through solid rock at speeds up to eighty feet per minute. He carefully lined up the guide roller for the first of four slab cuts. There would be noise but only for a short time. The storm was a blessing.
He worked the control lever, shifting the transmission into a low forward speed as he watched the depth feed indicator. The blade shaft dropped just as he heard an unnatural hissing sound coming from the five-gallon propane tank. He smelled gas. A split-second awareness filled him with dread. A pressure leak. Fumes. The blade bit rock and sparks flew for only milliseconds, but he couldn’t kill the engine fast enough with his fumbling, gloved fingers. Powdered rock spewed from beneath the chassis right before a loud popping sound echoed behind him. A green luminescence brighter than the sun filled his goggles as gas-laden air ignited into flame. A few seconds more and the propane tank combusted toward him like a vapor bomb.
The concussion deafened him in an instant while a wall of sizzling heat enveloped his body. Before his goggles melted, he watched his arms and legs ignite like dry kindling. The stench of burnt meat assailed his nostrils. Then everything went black, and he felt only the stomach-jarring sensation of being lifted and dropped. He never even screamed.
By the time the force of the explosion propelled him upward twenty feet, he was already a human fireball.