We didn't have to wait long. Those SUV's fanned out in a kind of semi-circle beside the road and people started pilin' out like a Chinese fire drill. They were all dressed in black and carryin' some kind of weapons.
The ranch pickup got to us about the same time, and as Jim, Steve and Chip got out I saw they'd had the foresight to bring some ordinance of their own. Vern and Shorty were climbin' out of the back, and Vern said
"Montana, what kinda party you invitin' us to?"
"I didn't invite you, " Slim said, "but as long as yer crashin' the party, get them guns ready and let's see what our other guests have to say."
Now, I should explain something right here. Vern and Montana Slim had what you could call a 'strained' relationship. They had known each other for a long time, and some time in the past they'd had a falling out. We all believe it was over a woman, although neither of them had ever said a word about it. One day about six years ago they ran into each other in town and just went at it like a freight train full of tornadoes. The fight was fairly legendary in town since they tore up a good deal of real estate before half the cops in the county broke it up. We all figured it was best not to ask, but every so often they'd just look at each other and things would tense up for several yards around 'em, kinda like when two bulls get in the same paddock and are facin' off for the charge.
"You got any idea who we're dealin' with?" Jim asked.
"An idea's all I got, but I ain't talkin' about it just yet." Montana said, "If everyone's gonna think I'm crazy, I want 'em to think they're crazy too."
That was a strange thing for Slim to say, but before I could think about it our 'friends' opened fire! Things got real science fictioney then. They weren't firin' bullets at us, but little holes were appearing in the truck, and I mean all the way through the truck! We all threw down with our hand guns and rifles. We were makin' a lot of noise, but didn't seem to be doin' much good. Slim unlimbered that rifle of his and hit one of them square in the chest. This guy flew backwards and bounced off an SUV, pitched forward on his face....and then got back up!
I was just tryin' to take all this in when I heard the unmistakable sound of a helicopter. I turned around and saw three choppers comin' in fast and low over the trees behind us. One of them fired off a missile at the SUV's, but before it hit, they sort of shimmered and....disappeared! The missile hit the ground, followed by two more, but they were just blowin' up dirt. The choppers hovered for a minute, then turned and took off down the road to the south.
We all walked around the truck and stared at the place where they'd been. As the dust cleared, we could see a man standin' right where the missiles had hit. When I finally got a good look at him, I saw he was smilin'.
"Boys" I said, "looks like we're goin' back to the ghost town."
The man was Shug Maxwell!
END OF CHAPTER FOURTEEN