Fiction: Howitzer Love

(Author’s note: I wrote this piece several years ago for the Silverton Mountain Journal. I retooled it for the current times. It’s all made up. Any resemblance to real people is purely coincidental.)

Randy Glaxson, avalanche forecaster, was on the bad side of an all-night sugar and coffee buzz as he drove down Greene Street, the main drag of Silverton, Colorado. The light atop his white Colorado Department of Transportation truck flashed yellow, illuminating a swarm of light, dry snowflakes, and his windshield wipers slapped back and forth for no real reason at all.

Silverton’s avalanche forecaster pulled off Greene and drove down to Blair Street, then pulled into an alley, driving slowly and looking at the way cornices hung off the decrepit old shacks like cream cheese frosting, and how even on the steep pro-panel roofs the snow hadn’t slid off yet.

An immense, slow moving storm — a Four Corners low, a real San Juaner — had moved into the southwestern corner of the state several days earlier, dumping its load without letup for 72 hours straight. The new snow piled up on a couple feet of old, weak snow that had rotted during a long, cold dry spell that had lingered since late December. It was a recipe for a big fat avalanche cycle, but to Glaxson’s surprise, just a few slides had run naturally so far. That meant that the silent, soft, thick blanket of snow was loaded with tension, just waiting for a trigger — another inch of snow, a rabbit, a skier, an explosive shell — to release it, sending billowing white monsters down ravines and gullies all over the San Juans.

“That’s how my life feels these days,” Glaxson muttered to the blasting heater. “This job, my marriage, all of it.” He silently yearned for the catalyst that would send it all crashing down.

He was in “one of his moods,” as his wife, Lorna, liked to say — some combination of anger, frustration, depression, melancholy and rage. It was March 2017, and the lack of light, the lack of color, the lack of human connection, and the lack of any sense or decency in the national political situation had gotten him down.

Or maybe it was just hunger.

He backed up and turned the truck around and drove back to Greene Street, pulled in front of the San Juan Drive-In, cranked up the truck’s heater to full-blast, then opened the door and hopped out into the cold without shutting off the truck’s ignition. He pushed open the diner’s door, setting the bells hanging there a-jingle, stomped his boots loudly on the wood floor to shed the caked snow off, and inhaled the diner’s air, warm and thick with the smell of decades of deep-frying. “Green chile cheeseburger, please,” he said, through foggy eyeglasses. It was seven in the morning.

“Cheeseburger, huh?” said Bonnie, the owner. She grinned, as always, the lines bunched up around her eyes. “Are you going to get the road open today or what? Marvin’s supposed to be bringin’ me some french fries.”

“I’m gonna try,” answered Glaxson with fogged up glasses. “Speaking of, you’d better give me an order of fries with that burger, too, if you have any left.”

“Okay, and what about your partner,” Bonnie answered, nodding her head toward the window and the truck outside, steamy exhaust billowing from its tailpipe.

“Jerry’s working down south today, he’ll have to get his own food. Go ahead and add three of those cans of Coke. And one of those Butterfingers, no, make it four.”

“That’ll cost ya,” Bonnie said, glancing back out at the truck with a perplexed look on her face.

“’sokay,” replied Glaxson. “It’s on CDOT’s tab.”

The highway department closed Red Mountain Pass after the first day of the storm, when the Blue Point ran and put a few feet on the road. It was hardly enough to stop the plows, but indicated that bigger slides would be running soon. The road crew managed to keep the artery to the south open for another eight hours or so, but before long the flakes were falling so thick and fast that the drivers could no longer see their plow blades, not to mention the edge of the road. They closed the gates, and Silverton was officially sealed off from the rest of the world.

When the most intense part of the storm moved on, the state highway crew went to work on the highway to the south — always the priority. They shot the most hazardous slides and cleared out a lane of debris, allowing the department to re-open the road to Durango, with spot closures for more avalanche control — or mitigation, as Glaxson liked to say, since you can’t control the snow. Now the shooting crew, a mix of Silverton road crew folks and Durango desk jockeys, who insisted they needed to be on hand for the fireworks, were on their way to town with the World War II era Howitzer artillery cannon. Glaxson would rendezvous with them down by the visitors center soon, then they’d methodically work their way up the highway to the north until they reached the really scary slides over in the gorge.

Glaxson hoped to shoot all the big slides, get the plows out on the road, and have Red opened by nightfall. His first job was to keep the plow drivers and motorists safe. His second was to get the road opened as soon as possible so that the mail and the supplies and the smattering of tourists could get through to keep life from coming to a complete standstill in Silverton. There’s nothing that pisses the old-timers off more than a too conservative avalanche forecaster. Close the road for more than 24 hours and they start talking about the old days when everyone had a key to the gate and they’d open the road up when the slides were still comin’ down, back when men were men, women weren’t allowed underground, and cars were hefty enough to plow right through that snow.

Suddenly, the crustiest old bastards become experts in the science of snow, but ones with shitty memories: In their reverie they’d forget the dead plow drivers, the Greyhound and the Idarado buses that had been tossed asunder by snow. They’d forget how in the ‘60s the good Reverend Hudson, with his two daughters in the car, pulled over to put the chains on and was pummeled by the East Riverside slide. Rescuers dug the car, the reverend and one daughter out from thousands of tons of cement-like snow. They didn’t find the other daughter until spring thaw, way down there in the gorge where the sun never shines.

Glaxson grabbed the bag full of food and headed back out to what his partner, Jerry Redington, referred to as his welfare truck. As Glaxson left the heat of the diner his glasses fogged up again. Blinded, he slipped on the sidewalk’s ice, banged his knee on the bumper of his truck, and had to feel his way to the driver’s door. It wasn’t until he had sat down, closed the door, and thrown the truck into drive that he realized someone was sitting in the truck with him. He slammed on the brakes, pulled off his glasses and focused at the figure in the passenger seat. It was Larry Crowe, one of those obscure characters that you see occasionally walking down the street or doing some odd job but that you rarely speak to, or that you wouldn’t talk to unless you had to.

“Hey, Larry,” said Glaxson, just a tad bit impatiently, waiting for an explanation.
Crowe looked back with a giant grin on his face.

“You guys wouldn’t happen to be shootin’ down some slides up on Red Mountain with the big gun today, would ya?” Crowe asked.

“Ahh,” Glaxson was caught off guard, “yeah, yeah, we are. And that’s where I’ve gotta go to now. So…”

“Okay, then drive,” said Crowe.

“But….”

“Drive,” said Crowe, the grin still there but the voice more stern. Then he pulled the gun out of his pocket, its shiny barrel reflecting the neon hamburger in the Drive-In’s window. “I know you can’t see, Glaxson, but I figured you could hear. Now hear this: Drive.”

***

If you ever run into Larry Crowe on the street or in the Miner’s Tavern or anywhere else, don’t try to categorize him. Call him a hippy and he’ll probably punch you. Call him an old miner and he’ll stand up in the Tavern and yell through the smoke that miners are like rednecks but worse because they spend their lives in the dark. Call him a redneck and he’s likely to softly mutter a quote from the Dalai Lama, or recite one of the indecipherable haiku that he seems to pull from the ether as if he had one of those refrigerator magnet poetry things in his brain: Mao’s doppelganger/a duct-tape powder skier/cheeto-dust lips.

Fact is, no one really knows Larry Crowe. He looks to be pushing 60, but here in the High Country, which ages people in strange ways, you never can tell. For a long time women, invariably under the age of 30 and inexplicably drawn to Crowe, would show up for days or a couple weeks at a time, shacking up in Crowe’s little single-wide down by the river, in the coldest, shadiest part of town, giving him a reputation as a philanderer. And yet, after each one left he’d spend the next day or two at the Tavern moping and telling anyone who would listen about his broken heart. Then Carissa Browers, who was far closer in age to Crowe, showed up and stuck around. She was a writer, apparently, and didn’t socialize much. Every morning she could be seen out in front of Crowe’s trailer splitting wood, her body a sinewy, powerful arc, at one with the axe and the target. That was until December of that year, when she moved over to Telluride, still materializing from time to time at Crowe’s trailer.

The most intriguing of many local legends about Crowe has it that he came to Silverton when he was still a teenager in the 80s to work in the mines, but ended up signing on with the San Juan Avalanche Project as a grunt, hauling instruments into the backcountry on shitty old wooden skis and digging snowpit after snowpit for the scientists to analyze. He had learned to read the snowpack in an almost Zen like way, and even got hired on by the state highway department for a spell before his politics rubbed someone in the county courthouse wrong, and she was able to pull some strings and get him fired.

Larry Crowe once punched a guy who showed up in a giant SUV and tried to push a Superfund designation on the whole upper Animas River basin, but he’s also the one (nobody knows this but him) who blew the whistle on Standard Metals back when their water purification plant did nothing but divert the water through a network of pipes before pouring it, untreated, back into Cement Creek. He just might be the guy who has been sabotaging the ATVs that buzz through town, but he also once rolled his truck and was in a body cast for a month because he swerved to miss a rattlesnake just this side of Fry Canyon and ended up lying face down in an arroyo, unconscious, in 95 degree heat, for half the day before the San Juan County sheriff happened along and pulled him out.

So there was no telling what he had in mind on this frigid February morning as he held a pistol in noticeably shaky hands.

The shooting crew — big gun in tow — was just arriving when Glaxson and his companion pulled up at the visitors center parking lot. The convoy of white trucks gathered, and a couple of men piled out of each, most older, most with mustaches and generous paunches. They left their trucks running; CDOT guys always leave their trucks running. Almost all of them were bedecked in blaze orange insulated jumpsuits. Glaxson and Crowe climbed out of the truck’s cab, too. Paul Jones, the road crew chief held a styrofoam cup in one hand and a powdery white donut in the other, and glared in Crowe’s direction.

“Hey everybody,” bellowed Crowe, “it looks like my tax dollars are really workin’ hard up here.”

They all just stood and stared.

“Hey, have you heard this one?” continued Crowe, the maniacal grin returning along with a crazed and glazed look in his eyes. “What’s bright orange and sleeps three?” A pause. “A CDOT truck.”

They all laughed a little nervously and gave Glaxson an inquiring look. After all, CDOT trucks haven’t been blaze orange for a decade or more. Crowe actually admired the plow drivers, thought of them as the foot soldiers in some futile, endless war. And as is the case with combat soldiers, their lives are 98 percent boredom, and 2 percent sheer terror. Still, these guys were in his way.

Crowe held out the gun for all to see and aimed it directly at Glaxson’s head.

“Me and Glaxson have some real work to do up here, and it doesn’t involve standing around eating donuts and drinking coffee, so you might as well go home,” said Crowe, his voice growing louder. “Here’s how it’s gonna work. Paul over there’s gonna drive the plow ahead of us up to the top of Red, and we’re gonna follow him. And the rest of you are going to just stay right here. If I see anyone following, I’ll kill Glaxson.”

The crew members backed up slowly to their trucks, each one with his hands in the air. None of them wanted to be heroes, nor did they seem too interested in saving a snow scientist from a gun-toting lunatic.

“Oh, wait, now, wait a minute guys,” Crowe said. “Umm, we’re taking the Howitzer with us.”

***

Crowe motioned to Glaxson to help him unload a backpack, skis, and a big, heavy box from the back of Glaxson’s truck. They put it into the truck with the artillery in tow, then got in. Jones was already heading up the road in the plow, breaking trail. Glaxson drove behind him, while Crowe sat in the passenger seat, keeping the gun pointed at Glaxson and his eyes on the rearview mirrors. Ensconced in the cab of the truck, the heater blasting, the pair crawled up the road. Under his breath, Glaxson recited the names of the slidepaths as they drove under them: “Zuni … Hopi …  Cement Fill …  Battleship … the Brooklyns.”

Crowe looked up at each, trying to decipher the snow. He, too, muttered: “Wind loaded slide path/a hungry tiger trigger/or woman, angry…. Let’s just hope the ol’ goddess of avalanches isn’t too trigger happy today.”

Even though Glaxson knew Crowe was just making conversation, the comment — attributing avalanche activity to gods or goddesses — rubbed him the wrong way. This isn’t astrology, it’s science, goddamnit. He drove cautiously but quickly and gradually allowed himself to relax, convinced that Crowe was just trying to prove a point or maybe he just wanted to make sure the CDOT guys actually did something when the road was closed.

“Look, I know what you’re doing,” Glaxson said nervously. “You’re gonna tell me that I’m being too timid, too safe, that back in the day they never closed the roads and all that. But I compiled the data, and I can tell you that you’re wrong.”

“Well, what did it say?”

“What did what say?”

“The data. What did it tell you.”

“Don’t you mean, What did they tell me?”

Crowe stared at Glaxson, his eyes narrowing to dark slits. “I’m the one with the gun,” he said, “so don’t mess with my grammar. Now, what did the data, plural, tell you?”

“Well, back in 1884, Silverton went without a train, and mail, and food, for 75 days because of snow and avalanches,” Glaxson said. “In 1906 there were several times that the tracks were blocked and two dozen people died in slides. One time the train was shut out for three months straight, or at least until people were slaughtering the dairy cows and finding strange substitutes for whiskey.” It taught Glaxson a valuable lesson: People are more impatient now than they used to be, and Silverton is less self-sufficient and more reliant on the outside world. It made him sad.

“Yeah, sometimes it seems like folks up here forget that they live in the mountains,” said Crowe. “But that’s not what I’m here for. I like it when you close the road. The longer the better as far as I’m concerned. Keeps the beautiful people at bay.” He was silent then, seemed to ponder something out in the trees.

As they rounded the Muleshoe and passed under the Telescope and the Eagle, Glaxson sped up. He couldn’t believe that none of these slides had run yet. When they got to the top of the pass, the plow was waiting with Jones inside. Crowe opened the truck window and waved Jones away. Then Crowe instructed Glaxson to pull into the area Jones had cleared as he turned around.

“Come look at this,” said Crowe, leading Glaxson by the arm to the rear of his own truck. Crowe opened the back window and the tailgate and gingerly pulled a large, metal box toward them. He opened it and Glaxson’s tension returned in force.

“Umm, what are those?” asked Glaxson timidly, dreading the answer.

“Those, my friend,” bragged Crowe, “are real mortar shells like they use in real wars.”

“Where’d you get them?”

“I had an old friend from that ended up in the arms dealing business. He made big bucks acting as a middleman for the CIA. He sold stingers and M-16s and even some tanks to Osama bin Laden himself, all at the CIA’s order. He sent these out to terrorists and tyrants in place of a Christmas card. Sorta like one of those gift baskets with caviar and canned ham and all of that.”

“Oh,” said Glaxson, wondering why he woke up that morning then remembering he hadn’t really gone to sleep the night before. “And what are you planning on doing with those things?”

“Funny you ask, Glaxson. It’s funny you ask,” Crowe said, then turned the Howitzer so it pointed westward over the jagged, snow-covered ridge. “Telluride’s that way, ain’t it?”

***

“Telluride? You want to shell Telluride? Are you fucking crazy?”

“Well… yeah. Yes, I am crazy.”

Crowe pocketed the gun and unrolled a topo map. It was old, faded, the edges tattered. And it was covered with lines and numbers, written in pencil. In places, contour lines had been rubbed away by multiple uses of an eraser. Crowe had been planning this for a while.

“Less than five miles, man, and don’t try to tell me this thing doesn’t have that kind of range. I’m smarter than I look, okay?”

“But, why?”

“Come on man, you’re not that dumb, are you? It’s Telluride. That’s where they breed the Beautiful People, who then come in and run us out of our towns. Besides, we can’t hit Glen Canyon Dam, Aspen, the Trump Tower or the White House from here, so…”

“But…”

“Look, here’s the thing about Telluride. They’ve got their farmers market and their Mountainfilm and all their save Tibet bullshit, but you know what? Those fuckers are the ones who put Trump in office. They’re the reason we’re in this mess now.”

“Oh, come on, it was the white working class … ”

“Bullshit, man,” Crowe said. “Bullshit. Okay, sure, some of them did, but that’s because they’re desperate. Disenfranchised. Marginalized. Self-destructive. You know, when those poor old white folks went to the polls, they were just like a suicide bomber going into his own mosque. They just wanted to blow it all up, and who knows, they might just get the 70 virgins in Valhalla or whatever.”

“Umm, Valhalla’s not an Islam thing…”

“Goddamnit Glaxson, you know what I mean … Are you one of them mansplainers, or what!? … Anyway, those folks knew Trump and his shit-ass kids were gonna screw everyone who’s not a billionaire, but they voted for him anyway because they believe, man, they believe that they, too, just might win the lottery one day. I mean, there’s an outside chance, right? And if not, they got nothing to lose, or so they thought.”

“…”

“But the minute that guy detonates his suicide vest, you know what he sees? Not the virgins, but his wife, his kids, the olive groves, drinking tea and smoking the shisha on the street corner. And he thinks, Oh shit, I shouldn’t have done this.”

“And the working class guy?”

“Same thing, he drops his ballot in the box and in that moment watches it all slipping away: His health insurance, the neighbor that immigrated from Syria, the public lands where he hunts … ”

“… Clean air, clean water …”

“Democracy, goddamnit.”

“Sure, so why Telluride again?”

“Yeah, I mean, so the working class may have voted for Trump, but those assholes over the hill in their 15,000 square foot palaces are the ones who funded the whole deal, the hedge fund managers, the bankers, the CEOs. Those guys — yeah, even the ones in Telluride — sent their money to Trump because the only thing they really care about is hanging onto that house, hanging onto their jets, their cars, their money, and making more of it, even if it means ending the world as we know it. And that’s what Trump offers.”

“ … but still. You’ll kill people…”

“Nahhh… not if I hit one of those mansions. The storm made it impossible to fly in from New York or L.A. or wherever. Chances are, no one’s home. Now help me get this thing aimed right.”

“Aren’t there better ways to accomplish whatever it is you’re trying to accomplish?”

Crowe stopped what he was doing and looked at Glaxson.

“Like what? Write my illiterate congressman? Put on a pink vagina hat and march down Greene Street?”

Pussy hat. Pink pussy hat.”

“What?! What’s the fucking difference? Anyway, I’m not doing this out of hate. It’s out of love … Come on, let’s get to work.”

“….?”

Without speaking, the two sited the bore of the big gun, then carefully aimed it toward the target on the other side of the high snow-covered ridge to the west of them.

With the artillery ready to go, they paused and looked quietly up into the mountains.

“Hey,” said Crowe, “give me your phone.”

Glaxson did as he was told, even though the pistol was now nowhere in sight. With thick, calloused fingers, Crowe clumsily typed something on the screen then handed it back to Glaxson. He had a huge grin on his face, scrunching up the lines around his eyes and mouth.

“Fire away, my friend.”

***

Carissa Brower embraced the hot mug of coffee with both hands and tried to remember if it was her second or third cup before realizing that the rapid thump of her heart and the sweat beading up on her forehead and her belligerently prominent proboscis held the answer. “Whatever,” she thought. “I need the motivation.”

The bustling little establishment, the Butcher and the Baker, was her favorite, despite the clientele, with the “work they had done,” their $300 jeans, and their charitable causes — the Botoxed and the Bourgy is more like it, she thought. The coffee was good, the environment more conducive to getting something done than the tiny room she rented in an ‘80s-era condo, and the workers grudgingly allowed her to hang out all day.

As she started typing again, she saw her phone light up. It was a text, from Randy Glaxson. Weird. She swiped to read it: “step outside and look upvalley. now. hurry. xxx” Even weirder. She knew Glaxson, barely, from Silverton. Why was he texting her, and signing it with xxx? Probably a joke. Still, her curiosity prodded her to get up from her perch and see what she could see. As she walked out, coffee cup in hand, the barista gave her a stern look. She motioned back to her laptop to show that she wasn’t going to steal the coffee cup for Christ’s sake.

Out on the sidewalk she looked eastward toward Bridal Veil Falls and the steep slopes and cliffs of Ajax Peak, blanketed in white, that loomed over the upper San Miguel River Valley. By now the clouds had pretty much dissipated and the blue of the sky and the sunlight off the snow was blinding. She had left her glasses inside, and had to squint rather dramatically, emphasizing what Larry Crowe, her sometime lover and future ex-boyfriend, liked to call her “sexy smile lines.” Larry’s alright, she thought. A little too old for her, and cynical as all hell, but at least he loved her. Or did he? Did he love her? Or the mole in the hollow beside her hip that he was always babbling about?

Maybe that was enough.

Anyway, nothing was happening up valley or down valley. The street was pretty quiet, actually; everyone who didn’t have a job, and plenty who did, had headed to the slopes to get the deep freshies. It pissed her off, the privilege of the place. She’d much rather live in Silverton, or even Ophir. But the newspaper that offered her a job was here, and now so was she, and she had a deadline to meet, so she turned to head back into the coffee shop. That’s when she heard it. No, felt it, in her chest, a deep and distant voom. She looked back up valley. And there, on the upper slopes of Ajax, she saw it: The mountain was moving, no, no, the snow was moving. The tension holding that huge sheet of frozen water together had been broken, fracture lines radiated chaotically across the white, resembling the disjointed pattern in a black widow’s web. Thousands of tons of white stuff was sliding down the slope, almost painfully slow at first, gradually picking up speed and force.

Carissa Browers smiled. Then she laughed. Then she started howling like a dog in heat. She had always wanted to see those slides run, and now they were running, big time. Others had noticed, too, and were filtering out of shops into the cold and the sun to gape at the spectacle. It wasn’t until the powder cloud subsided that Carissa started to wonder about it. Usually, when they shoot the Ajax slides, it’s a big to do in Telluride. Everyone knows about it and goes out and watches. This time, though, no one had been alerted. Maybe it had run naturally, but she was certain that the boom she heard was artillery. She wondered if the condos up valley had been evacuated. Then she heard the sirens.

***

“Ho ho ho holy shit that was cool!”

“Um, yeah, it’s fun, eh? Let’s just hope we aimed correctly.”

“Here, give me your phone again.”

Crowe typed frantically and then watched the screen as expectantly as a teenager. When the phone buzzed, he cheered: “Bullseye!”

About five miles away, Carissa Browers got the message: “happy valentines day baby!!!! what did we hit? yours, larry” She rolled her eyes, though no one was there to see it. She started to type: “You’re a month late and a dollar…” No. Delete. “You triggered the slide. It was fantastic. Thnx.” Send. She ran through possible scenarios that would have given Crowe access to artillery, and none of them looked good.

“This doesn’t end well,” she typed.

“no true love ever does,” he typed back.

It was crazy, she knew, but something about that line worried her. What did he mean? Was their love over? Was it ever true love anyway? Why, at her age, was she still worried about this shit? Romance. Love. Thinking about it made her drowsy more than anything. 

Back up on the pass, Glaxson and Crowe stood looking toward the ridge to their west, as though expecting a shell to be lobbed back in their direction. Instead, clouds piled up, in defiance of the forecast, which called for increasing high pressure and blue skies. Odder still, the clouds were thick and dark, more like summer thunderheads than the billowy winter clouds of frogsbelly-gray.

“How do you explain that, Mr. Science?”

Glaxson was silent.

“Come on, damnit, let’s get this thing loaded again and pick another target,” said Crowe.

Glaxson unrolled the map and scrutinized it, but Crowe just stared at the sky, motionless. 

“We probably don’t have much time,” Glaxson said. He was surprised to find himself wanting to shoot the gun again, this time toward a harder target.

Crowe ignored him. He looked down at the phone for a good minute or more, as though he were the oracle examining the entrails of a goat. The sky grew darker. The tiny screen illuminated Crowe’s face. He typed a few words, deleted them, typed something else, stared some more. Finally he handed the device back to Glaxson, who was still tinkering with the big gun.

A deep thump-thump emanated from the south. The clouds were so thick that the source of the sound was invisible, but Glaxson and Crowe knew what it was — a helicopter, a big one, probably military. They were coming for them, and there would be no mercy. Surely Crowe was officially a terrorist now, the Osama bin Laden of the San Juans, and Glaxson an accomplice.

“I’m surprised they didn’t send a drone,” said Crowe. “Guess they wanted to see the whites of my eyes before they blew me to bits!”

Crowe walked quickly over to Glaxson’s truck, opened up the back and pulled out the burly backpack and a pair of old, beaten up skis. He clicked into the bindings then shouldered the pack, his face wincing with the pain of too many years and too much living and loving, his eyes looking warily skyward toward the loudening thump-thump.

“But, hey,” said Glaxson. “What about the next target? What about … I bet we could take that chopper out with the Howitzer.”

Crowe smiled sadly at Glaxson, tears streaming from behind his old glacier glasses and into his beard. The clouds were thicker now, and Glaxson thought he glimpsed the flash of lightning in the darkness. Snow began falling, thick and fast, but softly, too, and Crowe vanished from sight into the gray.

Carissa Browers heard the helicopter now, too. But she could also see the strange swirling clouds in the sky, almost like the ones that in her Kansas childhood would prompt her family to run down into the cellar in the futile hope of escaping the wrath of a twister. And then the snow fell. She lost sight of the mountains, first. Soon she could barely see the buildings on the other side of the street. She thought she heard the chopper struggling, then turning around, the sound fading back into the direction whence it came. Her phone buzzed. She looked down at it and read Larry’s final text, muttering the last line of the haiku aloud: “… Howitzer love,” then slowly walked back into the coffee shop and sat back down.

Up on the pass, Glaxson got in the truck. The cab was ripe with the odor of green chilis and grease, and it was still CDOT hot, of course. The windshield was blanketed with snow, and he flipped the wipers on and brushed it away and put the truck into reverse. He looked into the rearview mirror and saw the reflection of the Howitzer. Next to it, the box of shells. He put the truck back into park, and shut off the engine. The silence was almost oppressive. 

“Three-Mary-Forty this is three-mary-thirteen,” he said into the radio handpiece, not waiting for a reply. “We’ve got two-inches an hour coming down up here on Red. No visibility for shooting. Keep that gate closed. I repeat, Keep that gate closed.”

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