“From now on, my name is Walden.” He looked at Maggie. “What’s your name going to be?”
She’d been thinking a lot about this. “Fern,” she answered.
Walden smiled. “Your favorite kind of plant, right?” Maggie nodded, pleased that he’d remembered this detail. Walden turned his intense gaze to the man beside her. “How about you?” he asked. “Any ideas?”
The big man shrugged. “Why don’t we call you ‘Tracker,’” Walden suggested. “It’s accurate and it’s easy to remember.” He held up his hand, counting off the names. “Walden, Tracker, Fern. Those are our new names, and we start using them now. If we’re going to get away with this, they are the only names she can ever hear us call each other.”
“Got it,” Maggie said and glanced over at Tracker, who nodded. A breeze lifted the branches of the younger Douglas firs that surrounded them, and it seemed to Maggie that the forest itself was also nodding agreement with the plan. They’d had so many meetings in small rooms, behind locked doors; it was only fitting that at this final meeting before the Lorax’s arrival tomorrow, the trees were witnesses.
“Okay.” Walden pulled a notebook from his backpack, and leafed through several pages. Hearing Maggie’s sigh, he looked up. “We’ve got to go over it all again, Fern: every single step.” He reached over and tugged on her blond braid. “But first, I’ve got something for each of you—well, for each of us.” Walden reached into the backpack again. Maggie leaned forward, but it was Tracker who recognized what was inside—she could tell by the way his body stiffened beside her. It took her a moment longer to register that Walden had brought three guns.
“No,” said Tracker, getting to his feet. “No guns.”
“C’mon, sit down, Tracker. There’s no need to freak. They’re not even loaded.” Walden racked the slide on each, and showed them the open, empty chambers.
Maggie said, “We already talked about this, Walden. We agreed we wouldn’t use guns.”
Walden leaned against the massive tree behind him. “I know we did, but we don’t really have a choice. Look, if we don’t use these, we might as well give up this whole idea. Because without the guns, it’s just not going to work.”
Maggie thought back over the long months of preparation, the orienteering, the miles they’d hiked, the supplies bought, the caches buried. They couldn’t stop now. Walden was right. Ultimately, there had to be a threat; there had to be weapons.
Tracker said, “We can use fake guns.”
“Fake guns are good—for the movies,” answered Walden, his voice as calm as if they were discussing the weather instead of weapons. He spread his arms to indicate the forest around them. “But this ain’t Hollywood, Tracker, and we don’t have a prop department. Fake guns won’t fool anybody who knows guns, and the Lorax will be surrounded by people who know guns.” He hefted one of the weapons slowly, like a venomous snake that had relaxed under the influence of his voice. “So here’s what we do: we keep these clips empty. We don’t use bullets. That way we’ll turn these shiny 40 cal Smith & Wesson semi-auto pistols into fake guns.”
When Tracker said nothing, Walden turned to Maggie. “C’mon Fern, try holding this thing. It’s not going to bite you.” He held the grip toward her.
She glanced from Walden to Tracker, who looked as if he remained unconvinced by Walden’s arguments. But then, Tracker sometimes seemed slow to grasp basic concepts. Like when Walden had first approached him about kidnapping the Secretary of the Interior, Tracker’s response had been to wonder why they would kidnap a secretary. “Wouldn’t it be better to get her boss, the guy in charge of the parks, instead?” he’d asked.
Maggie reached out to tentatively touch the grip. Walden grinned and motioned for her to take it. She did. “It’s heavy,” she said. “It’s a lot heavier than I thought it’d be.”
Walden offered a second gun, grip-first, to Tracker. “C’mon, Tracker,” he said, “do it for Mama Earth.” Tracker hesitated a moment longer, then took the gun. He held it flat in his large hands, and carried it over to a shaft of sunlight to study it. Meanwhile, Maggie was warming up to the idea. The gun might be real, yeah, but without bullets, it was essentially a fake gun. Like a toy. She pointed it at Walden. “Bang bang,” she said. “You’re dead.”
“Not very convincing,” replied Walden. “Look, you need to hold this thing like a real weapon—like you believe it can damage somebody—if you want Lorax or anyone else to believe it.” He showed her how to hold the gun with both hands, one overlapping the other, fingertip resting on the trigger. “And stand with your right foot and shoulder forward, your body turned. Gun users know they present less of a target that way.”
She was amazed at the feeling of power the pistol gave her, even with an empty clip. She liked its solid weight in her hands. The seriousness of it made her feel like she could do anything.
* * *