| The ride passed in a blur. Mostly because I was asleep for almost the entire thing.
We arrived back in solid Elvis, Missouri, some time very early in the morning. The sun was starting to rise, and there was very little activity in the town. That surprised me at first, partly because I figured all small town farmer folk got up before dawn to tend to the chicken and the cows and the crops. Then it was when I suddenly remembered that these people were not real farmers. They were the wives and children and a mother or two of country men who ran around and shot up bad guys.
I tried to sit up. I did, too. I was pretty proud of myself. However, my face chose this moment (out of the millions it had before then) to start bleeding once more. I was much more light headed than I had hoped I would be. I was, for whatever reason, hoping that I could enter the town a hero. A beaten, wounded, stunning figure of a hero. Of course, in just a few short hours, I surmised, I would be the downfall of everything these people lived and stood for.
Kind of tragic, really.
But the money, that was not tragic. Money never is. Just crap that happens because of money. As Pink Floyd says and the Bible does not, money is the root of all evil these days.
Tucker and the man who had been driving, whose face had been hidden by the back of his head the entire way down, helped me to my feet. All the towels and lining left on the seat had been quite stained by my fluids, looking almost as if they had been dropped in a large vat of Marilyn Manson’s stage makeup. I realized then just how ridiculous an amount of blood I had lost over the last three days. That alone made me incredibly woozy. I was about due for a complete lack of movement and exertion for many moons, I figured.
The sheriff on my right said, “Easy, boy, take it easy. We’ve got you.”
I was about tired of being called boy. I know it was merely an affectionate habit of theirs, but that did not remotely mean that I was a fan of such a naming at all. I did have a name, last time I checked, and it was a fairly universal one. Easy to memorize. One syllable. None of these guys should have been having a problem with it.
“Don’t worry. I’m not going to try to run or anything,” I smart mouthed right back. If he was going to call me boy, I was going to go ahead and try to flaunt my higher learning over him. If by higher learning I meant sarcasm, that is.
To a farm house. Up stairs. Next to a large bath.
“Clean yourself, boy. Ain’t nobody gonna do it for you.” The two shared a laugh with not me. They went ahead and walked out, leaving me on my lonesome, sitting next to a long tub full of likely lukewarm water, bleeding a bit on the nice, homegrown, wooden floor. A bath I could live with, certainly. It was mildly disappointed not to have a pretty female nurse sponge bathe me, but then again, I highly doubted that such a situation would not be the most awkward one in my entire life. It probably is a lot better to be able to clean yourself.
I likely should have sat there in that tub and pondered what was going to happen when the feds moved in on Elvis. I likely should have sat there and taken time to consider what my life was and where it was going—and where it should have been going. I likely should have sat there in that tepid water and concluded that I should steal a car and keep moving lest this community be shattered by my actions.
I likely should have sat there and tried something perhaps a bit more worthwhile than dozing on and off.
Minutes ticked by, though, when I was awake. I had no time keeping device anywhere near me. I just knew that each second that passed, each breath I drew, each drop of blood my kidneys filtered, each fraction of a millimeter my toenails grew, the end of this project, this town, was coming. It was coming, one way or another. But it kind of galled me now that I only agreed to three years of a policeman’s salary for this kind of potentially conscience mauling move.
Oh well. There were clean clothes and a towel, alongside a wonderful looking bed. All I really needed, save for some food. Oh, food.
I have not really heard of hunger being a side effect of a dramatic loss of blood. But, for whatever reason, that certainly was the case with me. So instead of drying off and sleeping through the arrival of justice like would probably be the most profitable method of spending the day for me, I dried off, dressed, and walked down the stairs. Callahan was sitting there, likely my self appointed best friend among the redneck assassins. Maybe he really was.
“I’m surprised to see you still up, Joe,” he said, sipping a fat mug of something steaming and likely not anything other than coffee.
“Yeah, I’m just terrifically hungry. Y’all eat breakfast around here, right?”
“Oh, yes we do. Certainly yes we do. Tell me, Joe, do you like Cheerios?”
I could have hugged him right there. Only, he turned his head and whistled. I thought this was pretty cool, this whole whistling for breakfast thing, but then I realized that he was whistling for someone to come in and bandage me up.
That would also make it very hard to get breakfast. Still, I performed an amazing feat of multitasking. I ate chewed my cereal and winced and huffed for a good twenty minutes, which I would have imagined to be impossible. It felt good to have some food down there, though.
“Drink up, Joe. You need a lot of water to help replace the blood you’ve lost.”
Incidentally enough, this exact moment happened to be the one chosen to be interrupted by the fuzz.
Shouts came from outside. Most of them were debating over various tactical and defensive maneuvers, using subtle code words like, “SHIT!”
Callahan and I both stepped out of the farm house to figure out what exactly was going on. Knox was outside our door, sweating and scowling. A large rifle was slung in his arms.
“Radar picked up aircraft on the move towards our location. We think they followed us somehow. This is very, very not good. We may have to shed some federal blood to get out of this.”
Definitely not good.
“And the women and children?” asked Callahan.
“They’re being hidden away already. It looks like we’re going to take our stand here in Elvis. We’re all moving to the center of the town to set up some defensive perimeters. Get yourself armed. It looks like war time, boys.”
Knox moved on, making sure everyone was finding their place. Which brought me to question: where was my place? Somehow, I doubted that I would be evacuated with the women and children. I probably would have a gun shoved in my hand and be told to help form the line against the government soldiers. No big surprise was it to me, then, when I had a Magnum thrust into my waistband. I put it there, mostly only because I did not feel like holding it.
“Sorry about your vacation, Joe,” muttered the sheriff on my right almost incoherently. I could not tell if he was more sorry for me for being out of a good rest and relaxation period or himself for not being able to get drunk and kick back like he hoped he could have.
“Yeah, whatever. I don’t feel all that sleepy, anyways. That’s about all I’ve done for the past twelve hours. And besides, laying down hurts a good bit. They didn’t do much of a number on my legs, so standing isn’t so bad.”
“You’ve got a great amount of guts, boy. A great amount of guts, and some admirable amount of fire in you. You’re a good kid. Now come with me. We’ve got a town to defend.”
He strode off powerfully, and I stumbled along behind. Things were quickly going downhill from what I had hoped would end up happening. This was certainly not breakfast. And this certainly was not a nap.
This certainly sucked.
Dozens of gruff and bristly sheriff types were beginning to congregate in a tight huddle near us. Contrary to nothing I expected, Callahan led me into this compact ball of sweat and general unbathedness. There almost were more in the way of steely and flashing firearms than square inches of pants. And it was not like the presence of many multiple pounds of metal in each pants pocket for every man really helped stave off the clichéd but apparently inevitable plumber’s crack.
I stumbled up to the pack, keeping a bit of a distance, for many reasons. Primarily, I did not feeling like jamming a broken- ribbed torso amidst a bunch of ungentle muscle men. Actually, that was enough for me. I hung back and tried to listen over the more or less complete bother of my empty stomach and sleepy head. I caught snatches of commands and debates.
“We should string them out on a strategic retreat through the ravine east of here.”
“We should all stand in a line and show them we are not afraid of their helicopters and snipers.”
“We should turn ourselves in and work on regulating the prison community.”
“We could act normal and pretend that we are just standard American citizens living in a small town.”
“We should just bunker down and fight them off for long enough for the women and children to find safety, and then worry about getting out.”
“We should just shoot everything that comes near our town. They deserve it.”
And, quite unfortunately, I felt, the last one seemed to appease everybody.
I looked at Cletus, standing before me. It was pretty difficult to see him, really, as my eyes were about half closed from all the lovely dancing a few cops had done on them merely hours ago. I still could taste blood in my mouth, but that was not remotely surprising. Even if my cheeks were not still cut up, the amount of bloodthirstiness in this little Missouri town would probably give me enough savagery just from proxy to taste that salty sweet seepage for the next couple of years.
Cletus was handing me a gun.
It made me wonder, just a bit, why blood and steel tastes so similar. Was that really the reason that the ancient civilizations upgraded from bronze or stone? To match the taste of their weapons to the very fluids that their weapons will pry out of their foes? Probably.
People are pretty screwed up, and they pretty much have always been so, as far as I know.
“Don’t lose your gun this time, boy,” grunted Cletus as I grabbed the worn stock of the revolver. Not even a Magnum. Just some measly six shooter.
“Nothing better?” I asked, mildly insulted.
“Well, Joe, if you’d a hung onto your last couple shooters, then maybe. But since you lost us a good bit of firepower through your police stunt, we are kind of short. The good guns go to the guys with good aim.”
“It wasn’t my fault,” I muttered. What a cocky jerk. Strapped to his back was a fat shotgun, slung about with a few extra shells. No doubt he had at least a Magnum in one of his jeans pockets.
“Either way, boy. Be grateful we aren’t just tossing you a shovel and saying, ‘Hit them with this.’ At least you can try to plug a few of the nasty feds.”
Handing me a box of spare shells, he moved on to his more important sorts of ventures, likely condescending whoever else he could find to look down on. I hefted the little pistol, feeling the flecks of rust on the grip and the weight of thousands of bullets having been passed through its barrel, something like the fecal lifespan of an average deer, only more ridiculously feral and damaging. The box of shells found its way into my hand, seeing as it refused to fit in a pocket or anything.
I meandered as only one can do when one has no bloody clue what to do. Everywhere, these men on missions sprinted around, looking busy. Maybe if I sprinted around and looked busy, I might not actually have to do anything. Not do anything, that is, except sprint around the small town, and that sounded a bit beyond my current pain threshold. Did these people not believe in pain relievers or anything? Probably not.
Pretty soon, and completely unfortunately, I began to hear the sound of a helicopter’s rotors fast approaching. More unfortunately, I, like the suddenly still and intent warriors around me, began to discern that we were not hearing a helicopter. We were hearing at least dozens of the stupid flying gunships. The ground, apparently feeling outclassed by the air, decided to share with us its own vibrations. Trucks or tanks, we could not tell. Either a lot of tanks or a huge amount of trucks. Hopefully not both.
I rechecked my pistol. Yep, still loaded. Yep, still worthless against trucks, tanks, and helicopters. Not that I had any idea what I would do about getting into this gun fight. I kind of had a stake in both sides—a very serious stake. My life being included in all that. My life, and a huge amount of money. As time bore down on me, my perceived chances of getting out of this alive and with money from both sides seemed almost like a ridiculous thing to ask of destiny. I would pretty much be satisfied with getting out of this alive. Or getting out of this with millions of dollars.
Hard to say which I valued more.
The sheriffs began to instantly scuttle for cover. Taking a stand against fifteen or so air- borne Gatling guns is a pretty dumb idea, even for people who fear Gatling guns like normal humans tend to fear sidewalk chalk. Houses suddenly refilled, the pub was bursting once more with boisterous individuals (though mostly not drunk this time around, despite a few notable exceptions), and the streets emptied in a way that only streets can with the prospect of imminent rained leaden death can empty. I emptied the streets of myself as well, and fled to one of the houses, thinking that the pub would be the most full and thus the most concentrated on area.
I was right.
Inside the house, it was just me, Norris, Beecham, and another one I recognized as being referred to as Daniels. And then there was Matthews, as well. He was decked out in his traditional fancy suit, only this time, instead of a beer bottle in his hand, he was tightly gripping a lovely looking rifle. The black python of a weapon was longer than I had usually seen rifles, but that fancy scope on top and that huge hole at the end of the barrel pretty much told me all I needed to know about that long range sniping instrument of unhappiness.
All four looked at me expectantly when I walked in but scowled a bit when they realized it was just the new recruit. So much for backing you guys up, my apologies. Just me, sorry.
“You ready, Joe?” asked Matthews.
I did not really have an answer for him. I did not really have an answer for me.
“Don’t sweat it. We’ll be just fine. We’ve been in this sort of position before.”
“Has it been this bad?”
“Well, kind of, but—”
“You mean no, right?”
“I suppose that’s fair enough.” Beecham laughed at this one. Just another one of these crazies who thought that a good fire fight would be just the most splendid way to spend an afternoon.
“Yeah, boy, this should be great target practice for you,” said Beecham, incredibly loudly. “Let’s see what gun they hooked you up with.”
I stuck out my little pistol. He grabbed it, spun it around a couple times, probably just because that was what John Wayne always did.
“Ah, a good one,” he said. “Little Ranch Hand, as I call him. I nice Colt shooter. Should definitely work for you. This baby has brought more justice to criminals than about any other around.”
Which meant it was also much older than most of the others around. No worries. I could keep myself alive with an antique. Might as well give me a crossbow.
“I’ll see what justice I can do with it today,” I forced out an awkward, puffy smile at the partially deaf sheriff. “The storm’s about to hit, right?”
“Oh, yes,” answered Beecham.
“Doubtless,” answered Matthews, at the same time.
“Right,” answered Daniels, coincidentally at the same time as well.
“HELL YEAH,” answered Norris, a few seconds behind, but making up for it with oozing enthusiasm and explosive volume. That kind of excitement should go with getting a new Lego set, not with getting to be shot at by the government from helicopters. Very cinematic. Not so much like Chuck Norris, but as I recalled, he was not much fond of that famous connection of his.
“Well, then, bring on the young,” I stated, trying to sound as resolute and impressive as possible. Might as well play to their interests. Even though I was pretty sure that Strapping Young Lad was nowhere near what they listened to. Likely, the only screaming they really could appreciate were those of dying men. Not just really angry middle class white Canadian boys. Nevertheless, I kind of appreciated the poetry in the whole thing. Bring on the young.
Bring on the dumb.
They looked at me quizzically; at least, as quizzically as stoic and emotionless combaters can manage to look moments before their favorite pastime takes place.
“It’s a song…” I found myself explaining, the very second the first wave of gunfire tore into the little town. Although, calling it a wave of gunfire is a little it misleading. It was more along the lines of the first leaping man- hug of gunfire. The town shook a bit like a football dummy taking a gorilla in a linebacker’s uniform straight to the midsection. The ground itself seemed to shake.
Actually, the ground itself was shaking. But was more the fault of the massive number of trucks pouring over the ground. Trucks. Definitely a plus, seeing as how my Little Ranch Hand probably did not have much armor piercing capability. From within our thinning walled house, we could hear men crunching out orders to each other, jumping off massive columns of trucks. I peered through the little piece of a window that happened to be near my and Sheriff Norris’s head.
Black suited soldiers sprinted around into formations, especially around the heavily populated pub. Poor old Clyde was going to have a nasty bit of clean up tonight, I was sure of it. That is, if anyone was left around to care for what happened to Elvis, Missouri.
At this point, not a likely prospect.
Norris grunted and spat, leaning up far enough to stick his hefty Magnum out the window. I backed away just in time, allowing for the insane muzzle flash and recoil to have enough room not to destroy my noggin. Outside, a few shouts mere seconds behind an awkward splat let me know that not only was an enemy down, but it was also pretty obvious from where the soldier had been shot. Thanks, Chuck.
“GET FIRING, BOYS!” shouted Beecham.
Damn. No choice. I cared very little for either side, really, but still, this kind of was a not cool place to be stuck in. Might as well do some target practice. I could sort it out legally later on. Sure.
I cranked my head and shoulder out the window, pointed the Little Ranch Hand, and fired. It wheezed like a grandfatherly sort of man striking an assailant with his dentures. Nevertheless, a black clad figure outside dropped to his side. Not dead, not likely anyways. Just thumped in the bullet proof vest with a set of fake teeth.
I ducked back around the corner just in time to see half a hundred heavy bullet holes form on the wall opposite the window. Okay, that was a really dumb idea. All this testosterone and adrenaline was not helping my reasoning process at all. I backed farther into the room, allowing those who had a freaking clue how to fight off governmental soldiers from a besieged farmhouse to actually do the bullet firing. I was one for one, though. Not a bad record. I looked to see if anyone cared, and got the same reaction I had all my life.
That was when I noticed the little trapdoor on the floor. Perfect. If I could hide till it was over, I could just join up with the winning side. Simple as that. All four of my current housemates were busy throwing their lead out into the trucks and masses of prone combatants. Taking one careful breath, I tugged on the ring on the door, opening it just a crack. No one noticed. Maybe all those days of being ignored actually did have some pay off. A greater tug revealed a small passageway straight down a ladder. Should be fun.
A few more million bullets burst into and around and throughout the house, some over my head, some off to the side, and one very worrying one right between my legs. And I was squatting. I hurriedly threw myself down the hatch, closing the trapdoor on top of me as quietly as I could manage with all the panic eating away at my intelligence. Lord, let it be a wine cellar. Lord, let it be a bomb shelter. Lord, just do not let it be a room full of more sheriffs or weapons or zombies or anything particularly unpleasant.
Thankfully enough, there was no one down there.
As far as I could tell. It was not like I had been smart enough to drag a light down there with myself.
Good job, Joe.
For whatever reason, however, I had retained my gun. The Little Ranch Hand sat gaily in my little urban hand, five shots remaining in its cylinder. Oh. I had not exactly brought the box of shells down with me, either, had I? That was two points against me. This definitely was not my field, and it was not even like I particularly had a field in the first place. This one was just a definite no and not a maybe like everything else.
I had hoped for a moment that a short amount of time would give my eyes enough adaptation to see down here. It was not happening. There just was no light to play with. Nothing to use. Well, maybe MacGyver would have had no problem finding a way, but the only person who can actually do that is MacGyver, anyways. I just wished I knew how to turn my shoelaces into light bulbs. That would be terrifically helpful at this moment.
I resolved to try the next best thing: I stumbled around in the dark. Eventually, I found the one part down where I was that was not a wall, and walked that direction, hands out in front. It appeared (as much as something completely invisible can appear) to be something of a passageway. Figuring I had no better options, I strode on, confidently head butting a couple of stone walls along the way.
After the stretch of a couple of short minutes, I wearily found myself no longer walking flatly. The ground beneath me was sloping up, and, THANK THE LORD, the ceiling above me was as well. Claustrophobia was about the last thing I felt like experiencing at that moment, only slightly behind death and parental neglect. Still holding my hands in front of my face in the event that I accidentally aimed for a wall again, I promptly walked into a shelf. Right on the chin. At least the chin was one of the few zones on my face unaffected by the previous night’s bootings.
It was pretty interesting to hear a gun fight going down above me. The earth itself seemed ridiculously upset. I liked this little hole down here a lot better than the hell hole upstairs. Up there, I was torn between being the rat who got the entire group of good guys killed or Tom Cruise from The Last Samurai. I was not much of a fan of being a rat, and I certainly did NOT want to be Tom Cruise.
Being alone with your thoughts is oftentimes an unpleasantly revealing sort of ordeal, where your true priorities show up and make you look like a generic jack ass.
I backed up and felt around. There was a shelf in front of me, but it was empty. To the left of it, there was nothing. To the right of it, there was a door. And a door I could live with. I like doors. They mean you get to leave places. They mean you are not trapped in some sort of crappy family feud that dissolves into a full on gun fight. Kind of like what was happening in super- terranean Elvis, Missouri. I kind of wondered if the Matthews fellows were actually related. How ironic if they were. And how pathetically tragic. Making your career move by offing your brother struck me as pretty low down.
I gently pulled open the smelly wooden door that I had just been so elated to discover. A razor of light cut through my eyeballs and really freaking hurt. I backed away for a moment, with the door still ajar as such, willing my eyes to conform to this new light level. When at last the tears stopped streaming, I edged back up to the exit. I cautiously stuck my head in the crack, peering at what I hoped to be a safe way out.
Safe it was not, but a way out it certainly could be.
Two men were standing just to the right and left of the door, looking the other way. Two sheriffs, though I knew neither of their names. Both were standing guard, apparently watching their back door against the governmental soldiers. The pair were both huge, appropriately muscled to blend in with the rest, and, though I could not see their faces, I could about guess what they looked like by this point. Checkered flannel on one, a leather jacket on the other.
I realized I was sizing them up like enemies. Maybe I was. There was a good chance I could get out of this if I could get past them and safely to the other side. But that meant that I had to make the decision right then. No more trying to blend in with both. Either I walked away and back up to the fight in Elvis, or out this little passageway into whichever direction it had put me. I had to be only a few hundred yards outside of the actual town, so there was a chance that I could be out of the actual fire fight right now.
I just had to take down these two men in my way.
But that meant killing them. And that sounded hard and a touch irreversible should it prove unwise in the future.
Enough debating, Joe. Take too much longer, and they will see you. Just pop them once each, in the back. Maybe aim to take them down but not to kill them. That would be hard. Just move. Move and shoot. Move.
I kicked the door open, bringing my Little Ranch Hand to bear. The two men began to turn, as if in slow motion. The same sort of time slowing that I saw when I crashed my car. I only hoped this time it would turn out a bit better.
My gun exploded in a bit of denture death, catching the one on the left in the small of his back. Not perfect, but he went down without much consciousness. His checkered shirt fluttered a bit in the wind of his collapse. The second one was diving to the side, fumbling his heavy metal six shooter into his hands, likely going for me like I was going for him. I had just enough time to see his flaring eyes and really gruff looking mouth before I, too, decided that it would be good to not just be standing there when he fired.
I dove out of the door, rolling behind the body of the flannel clad man I had downed moments before. A trio of bullets cut into the door behind me. I laid flat behind the body, which was still breathing but not looking remotely awake, taking in what I could of the surroundings. I had come out of a little outhouse sort of building built on the side of a hill. There were the trucks and helicopters and general forms of death just off towards the left, and there was the man with his particularly specific form of death just off towards the right.
I pulled my pistol around, fired twice. Too high. The sheriff in the leather jacket broke from his prone cover and started to run for the trees, holding his pistol in one hand and a suddenly appearing radio out of the other. Not good. I could not let him jeopardize my life just to save his own. I aimed my Little Ranch Hand towards him and crushed that trigger half to death. Again, a miss.
“Hold still, you damn red circle!” I yelled, and fired my last bullet. It caught him high in the left shoulder, spinning him to the ground, losing his weapon and the radio. Rising to a crouch, I pilfered the flannel shirted man’s firearm—thank the Lord, a pretty little Magnum this time—and scanned my surroundings. While a good idea, it was not very comforting. Apparently, there were not merely two guards on this door. Four of them came sprinting at me, guns bearing down on my crouched and unpleased form.
There was no cover for me but to retreat back behind the outhouse place. I could not see them, but they could not shoot me. They would, however, flank me. Those woods where the leather jacketed man had been sprinting suddenly looked really friendly. I had no choice, really. Being flanked and shot sounded ridiculously unappealing. Staying around less so. There was no doubt in my mind that my betrayal had been radioed in. It was high time to fly Elvis.
I took off in a dead run, not even bothering with evasive maneuvers. I had about fifty yards to go. A glance back put the redneck death squad at about the same distance behind me. This was an easy shot for them. Not good. I raised the gun and twisted in an awkward sort of run, trying to fire over my shoulder at them. A couple bullets went off in their general direction, giving them enough of a pause for me not to be shot until I happened to trip and fall flat on my other shoulder. It was then the bullets kicked around me.
I rolled to my back and fired between my knees. I had four shots. There were four of them. Really crummy odds, to be honest.
They had spread out a good bit by this point, so just generally aiming and firing at them was not going to work. I picked the man with the rifle, because that seemed like the worst one to have to run away from. The first strangle I threw on the trigger belched out a horribly inaccurate miss. He was not even phased. I, however, was mildly phased when I noticed it was Potter. Fantastic.
The second shot did not go so wide. I was pretty upset. I did not like Potter. He had punched me. I just mentally threw a damn red circle over his chest and shot it. He rolled backwards with a shout. The other three paused in their onslaught, which I hardly noticed except when they came really close. This, I figured, would have to be my time. I scrambled to my feet once more, feeling the full effect of having dove to the ground on several cracked ribs.
Two bullets left, three sheriffs, and thirty or so yards. Time to full on cut and run. As much as my buffeted body would allow, I broke into a sprint, hurling myself headlong towards those sheltering trees. The trees themselves were not holding still, however. They were more or less writhing. It took me a moment to figure out that if I were not getting so unbelievably lucky, I would be writhing instead of those trees. Go figure. Even trees do not appreciate being shot.
The last few yards until I hit the underbrush were consumed in a rib- damning dive. Landing with a crashing crunch, I sacrificed a few more of my chest protectors into the gnarled roots of whatever kind of trees made up a woods in Missouri. That put me at, what, five ribs down? And some on each side, too. That would make sleeping rather uncomfortable. I scuttled around behind the nearest fat trunk, taking a breather and a gasper. I needed a strategy. And strategy definitely was not my forte. I was much better at having people who were better than me on my side.
I needed to find the federal soldiers. I needed some serious backup. Unfortunately, they were all on the other side of the three sheriffs tailing me.
I peered around the trunk, cautious, but they were not shooting at the moment. Just reloading. Two of them I did not recognize, but one, wreathed in vicious unhappiness, just happened to be Knox. I bet his mustache was not pleased that I had plugged his partner. Oh, oops. I kind of felt like shooting him, too. I might as well, I figured. Leaning through the slightly concealing underbrush, I drew a bead on the invisible but still there damn red circle.
None of them saw me. Apparently, they figured I would have fled as far as possible. Maybe I had come across a good strategy. Out of blind luck, I supposed. But I could live with that. Two bullets. They had to count. I had to plug Sheriff Knox on the first one, otherwise I would have nothing against the remaining pair of killers. Splendid. High stakes were just what I wanted.
There it was, though. The center of his chest in the center of my sights. My arms were as steady as I could possibly manage on my current chest pain level, but I had to give it a try. I caressed the trigger this time, less full of vigor than before. The explosion of the barrel, right in front of my eye, blocked the result from my sight for a moment. When the glare cleared, though, Knox was flat on his back, and the other two were sprinting now towards the woods.
It was then that it occurred to me. I could circle around and, when they entered the woods, exit them and try to find some aid from my fellow sheriff hunters. Not a bad idea.
I began to scuttle sideways. And by this time, I could see the faces of those men dashing towards my hiding spot. They were looking a bit uncomfortable and unsure. As if something was spinning wildly out of control. And that was me.
Somehow, I had managed not only to appear as a threat—but to actually be one.
One bullet remaining.
Far more pain than I really felt like enduring.
Things looked pretty bleak, but at least now there was a chance that I could get out of this. Two more to go, and then a mad dash for the trucks a quarter mile away. I could do it.
The sun climbed into its standard sort of noon- ish position, right in the stereotypic center of the sky. I climbed sideways, doing my best not to raise my profile and yet trying to put as much distance between the sheriffs and me as possible. Brambles scraped across my burning chest, tearing little creases in both my shirt and my skin. Blood began to seep onto the ground, which was not good. Blood trails can be easily followed. I paused, peering once more.
The two sheriffs had entered the tree line at something like thirty feet apart, guns in hand, scanning the surrounding area. If I could see them, they would be able to see me. That would certainly be bad.
I crawled for better cover behind a fat tree, waiting. The nearest man was only a good fifteen feet from me, and I would not be surprised at all to hear him announce his discovery of my blood trail. I looked back out towards the army, weighing my options, but that was when I noticed my good shot: the sheriff in the leather jacket was lying mere feet from where I was. He should have at least three more bullets left in his Magnum. That would give me four, a number which would be much easier to gun down my stalkers with. The decision was made.
I cranked myself around the tree and took as fast aim as I could. As lucky as I had gotten earlier, this time it was not luck. This time it was near point blank. The seven yards or so separating us suddenly were transited by the three fifty seven hammer, catching him straight in the chest and hurling him to the ground. The remaining sheriff spun towards my location, but I had a few good yards on him.
He fired a couple of ringing shots on woods side of the tree, but I was already sprinting for the body of the leather jacketed man. A fast roll, a very pained grunt, and a fumble of the hands procured for me a half full (or half empty) new Magnum. The hunter dashed back towards the tree line, drawing a heavy bead on me.
“Damn you all and all your damn red circles,” I damned them all and all their damn red circles. Rising to one knee, I envisioned that classic and inexplicably helpful mental image of a damn red circle, and plugged away. Three bullets, two direct hits to the torso. With a fading curse, he dropped backwards to his haunches, hands quivering. He never even made it all the way to the ground. He just froze there, like that. Not quite cinematic, at least in the usual sense.
I gathered myself to my feet, checking around me. Nobody. I seemed to be in the clear for the moment. Reaching into his leather jacket, I nabbed the sheriff’s box of shells, throwing six new ones into his gun and also into the one I had borrowed from the dude in the checkered shirt. This time, I remembered to grab some spares as well. The box was dumped into my pocket, hopefully not going to explode were I to land on a fire or something. That, I imagine, would not be pleasant. Not a fan.
I could almost see the allure that this held for the sheriffs. It was almost fun, in a way. When you were winning. Somehow, I think being shot would really bite the big one, but at this point, I felt rather alive and pretty bad ass.
But I needed to clear out before more of the sheriffs came. Somehow, I was getting the impression that the twenty five or so I had seen so far were not all of them. They had to have more numbers. Which was not good, not at all. Matthews was likely thinking he was pinning down Matthews’s force, when there were still more out there. I could not let my ticket out of here get gunned down. I had committed myself to a side. It was time for me to do a bit more for my part.
And that meant going back in that door and clearing the house out from the inside.
I began to run towards the outhouse. My mind was screaming lots of things at me, namely that next time, it might be wise to avoid letting a man named Curtis die in your car, and running into a fire fight is a ridiculously moronic thing to do. Nevertheless, as usual, I ignored my common sense and used my non sense instead. The door swung wide open under the pressure of my pull. Darkness was there, but with the door open, it was entirely pointless. The darkness was gone. I knew what I had to do. Right? That is what happens when the darkness is gone?
The backlit passageway was more or less something of an escape tunnel. I had used it. I had escaped. Why, then, was I unescaping? That seemed a little counterproductive to me. But my previous logic held its place in my reasoning, and even though I could not remember all of it, I remembered it making sense to me at the time. That was all that mattered. As long as it at one point made sense to me, then chances were, if it was explained to me, it would make sense now.
A few minutes of breathless, breathy walking, and I hit that ladder once more. It was mostly pitch black by this point again, seeing as how the tunnel was pretty long, but I still could see enough. I shoved both of my firearms into my belt and began ascending. The battle still raged on right outside (or inside) this house, and it definitely made enough noise to inform me of such. I heard numerous gunshots, many of which had to have been made by Matthews, seeing as how they were definitely not pistol shots.
I heard Beecham roar, “Watch the left! WATCH THE LEFT! WATCH THE FLANK!”
And Norris respond, “I AM, MORON! YOU WATCH THE RIGHT!”
And Matthews intercede, “JUST SHOOT THE BASTARDS!”
Apparently, Daniels had suffered an unkind sort of fate, or he just was not that talkative.
In a fit of imbecilic adrenaline, I shoved open the trap door and burst up into the room. Light stung my eyes, and for a moment, I had difficulty seeing. Not the best way to try to shoot people, especially ones who are likely to promptly preempt your attempts to plug them with a few rounds.
“Good morning, boys,” I grinned, bringing both my revolvers to bear.
Beecham looked confused. Norris looked gruff. And confused. Matthews looked regularly pissed off and slightly outsmarted.
Still standing halfway on the ladder, the trap door leaning on my back, I started pulling the triggers. Norris took three to his midsection, doubling him over and down. Not much movement from that corner. Beecham yelled a wee bit and fired at me, but before any of his slugs caught me, a few of mine caught him and took him down as well. Matthews rolled quickly to the right, out of my line of sight.
There were two options here. Either I could climb completely into the house and shoot at him some more, or I could climb back down the ladder and try to find some better ground.
Thank the Lord I chose the latter (ladder?). Within moments of my dropped down to the ground, that hideously automatic sound tore over the door. It probably would have cut me in half, or at least some proportion of pieces, none of which would likely live all that long without the rest of me connected to mine.
I started to back up, looking for a bit of cover should Matthews come down. And that was precisely when I heard the voices behind my back. Splendid. More people were coming in to the passage. And judging by the way they were talking, there was no doubt that they were the sheriff sort. I figured I would have better luck if I could get out of this little trap, so I cautiously began to head for the rear exit. Remaining as quiet, stealthy, and fast as I could manage—nothing impressive, mind you, but I had little choice but to try—I headed back towards the little rectangle of daylight. I paused for a quick moment to check and reload my guns.
A regular old two gunner. Two fistfuls of boom stick. Give a man a gun, he thinks he is Superman. Give a man two guns, and he thinks he is God. John Woo about got it right. John Wayne, too. And Bruce Campbell as well, but that was just overkill. I had used all but one bullet in the last exchange. Definitely a good thing, then, that I had not stayed up there in the house. I guess that was just the way these sorts of things went down. I would have to be more careful if I were to try again.
Sweat dripped down my face.
Ribs were severely damaged beneath my tattering shirt.
Morale somewhat questionable.
I crawled forward on my feet, guns drawn, cocked, ready, heavy. I listened very carefully, trying to decide if there were any more than three of the sheriffs out there. Likely. If six had already been taken down, I could expect a dozen, no doubt. But they did not know that I had left the woods, necessarily. These several out of the door may be just replacement guards.
Well, they just got a really crummy job, because they just might have to be shot in the back as well.
By the time I had crept into range to see the guards, they were settled into position, facing outside, by occasionally looking in as well. Not good. I would have to probably start shooting before I got there. Which meant that if there was anyone still outside but not directly in front of the door, I would have no element of surprise at all. Well, too bad for me. Because I was going to live through this crap, and I was going to make some serious money off this crap as well. This was my time to shine, my time to roll.
My Magnums (Magni?) raised towards a couple of torsos, and my battered face went grim and, dare I say, gruff. I could almost hear my teeth gritting in anticipation.
The triggers lost all spring, and the guns were fired. The recoil still shook my elbows, but the bullets held true. Two shots, both straight to the back of each guard. Both sheriffs dropped to the ground, one grunting a bit, the other mute and kind of twitchy. Shouts of alarm came from outside. A death trap outside, I knew it. Nevertheless, I doubted Agent Matthews would make it pleasant for me to be in here, with an automatic sniper sort of contraptions aimed at the back of my skull. Go for broke, the cliché went.
I burst out into the full daylight once more, diving for the cover of one of the two fallen bodies I had just put there. It was almost a bit sad to notice that the flannel and checkered fellow had been moved already. Buried, who knew. Maybe just tossed off to the side for later. Well, boys, here are some more of your pals to have to bury. I hope you do not really mind. I never liked them much anyways.
And the hail of bullets started to come, and I knew that this was a good bit more fun for me than I knew I should be feeling.
That always is a creepy revelation to come across when you are hiding behind a few dead bodies.