Slim looked at me. I looked at Slim. The boys looked at me. I looked at the boys. We all looked at Shug. Shug smiled and disappeared.
"OK" I said, "we all saw that, right?"
Everyone nodded their heads. Shorty's eye were bugged out like tennis balls.
"So" I said, "if I'm crazy, we're all crazy, right?"
Everyone nodded their heads.
I looked at Montana Slim.
Slim looked me in the eye.
"That's the part that seems strange to you? How about weird people that won't die when you shoot 'em and then disappear right in front of you...and some guy that is dead that smiles like a Cheshire cat and then he disappears. I gotta tell you, I'm gettin' a case of the creeps that won't go away."
We were all still standin' there with our mouths open like a group from the home that got lost in the mall. Then we saw the smoke.
Back at the ranch, as they say, Toby and Pattie stood in the middle of a raging inferno. The ranch house, the bunk house, the hay barn and all the sheds were blazing quite nicely. Toby was smiling.
Pattie said "I still don't get it. Why all this dancing around? Why don't you just kill them so we can get on with the project?"
"Oh, Pattie darling, did you think I would just blow them up like some common gangster? My dear, there is nothing common about me. I intend to rattle their bones until they beg me for mercy. Then I will take everything from them...family, friends, home, all of it. And when finally they beg for death, maybe I'll consider it."
Pattie stared at him.
"You're a real piece of work, Toby. I still don't know what makes you tick, but you're a fun guy to run with. Sadistic, but fun."
"Why do you think I was banned from my home and forced to live in this primitive wilderness? They all prattled on and on about peace and understanding, tolerance and love, They couldn't understand that sometimes it takes a real mean streak to get things done, and I wanted to get things done."
Toby's eyes always took on a dangerous glow when he talked like that, so Pattie thought it best to change the subject.
"Well" she said, "we'd better leave before they get back. One bullet wound might not bother you too much, but fifty of them could be a problem."
They were miles away by the time we got back and saw what they'd done. Vernon sized things up quick.
"At least they didn't kill the horses" he said, "we better round 'em up and get 'em in the corral."
"Yeah" I said, "then I think we should go visit that ghost town again. Whatever's goin on, it seems to start there." I turned to Slim. "Slim, I think it's time we knew what you know about all this. Those choppers didn't seem to surprise you like they did us, and when they left they seemed to know where they were goin. That tells me they knew where the creeps in the SUV's went."
Slim looked at his hands for a minute. When he looked up, his eyes were intense.
"OK, boys, I'm about to tell you some secrets. But first I want a solemn promise from each of you that you won't tell a single soul. If this gets out before we get it contained, there'll be a panic that'll bring the whole world crashin down around our ears.
END OF CHAPTER FIFTEEN