The conclusion. The last bit of it is in dramatic play format, and I apologize for that.
| Sirens began to play out from down the street. They cut straight through to my waiting ears, yet I knew they still had at least a half a mile to go to reach me, and then who knows how long till they were helpful. But at least I had a time frame. I only had to hold out another minute or two, I figured.|
And for that, I would need to try something different. As more pellets tore into the frame of the unfortunately no longer completely blue sports car, I rolled out back into the street. The closest cover was over the raised median, so I gained my foot and a half and made a break for it. I fired off a bullet over my shoulder, with no effect, unsurprisingly, but I hoped it bought me time. Throwing a hand on the two foot high concrete barrier, I weakly powered my barely clad form over the median.
A few more shots chunked into the concrete, but neither bullets nor buck shot would pierce the wall I had found. Now, I had only mere seconds to outthink them. Or so I thought. Apparently, I outthought myself again.
As traffic exploded past me on the busy road, gunfire detonated from down the other side of the road. Stragan. I popped my head back over the wall for a second, to catch Matthews and his accompanying sheriff down. Matthews, however, happened to be down and not shot. Unfortunate. I was pretty much completely hoping that the man would be taken out much sooner than that. Oh well. It looked like it might be up to me this time. Two bullets left.
Two bullets, one man, and Lord willing, I could be done with this whole mess.
Only, quite naturally, he was not lying in the middle of the road waiting for me to shoot him. Rather, he was crouched behind a car now, a familiar bluish Mazda with a driver still cowering in utter terror behind his wheel. Matthews was pointing his long shotgun down the road towards where Stragan was holding up. It was definitely a good thing Callahan was locked up and in the back of the cruiser right now. That man had to have been about the canniest of them all.
I aimed my pistol as well as I could and squeezed off a careful shot. The muzzle flash spanked a fat bullet along its way, flying almost near Matthews’s position. It blew a large chunk out of the wheel of the car in front of the Mazda, a vehicle also full of cowering and very unhappy people. For a moment, I almost pitied them for being stuck in the middle of some random firefight on the freeway.
But then I remembered that I was not only in the firefight, but I was the target. They should feel sorry for me. Although, still, my property damage was going to be lower than theirs was. I had no car to get holes punched in—the only car I had happened to have been annihilated against a large concrete column.
So really, they had no reason to complain. Their situation was cake.
Nevertheless, on the impact of my poorly aimed and really poorly thought out shot, Matthews scuttled into deeper cover, out of my sights. The sirens were growing quite steadily louder, emitting the usual odd flailings of rotating warbles like sirens always seem to do. I heard his shotgun cock, and I ducked myself back behind my little shield wall. And just in time, too, as Matthews once more forsook shooting at me and took another plug at Stragan down the street.
The agent with the shotgun started to think. His back was to the oncoming coppers, even though he was across the road. He had very little in the way of an escape route.
However, I never got to see what he did.
Brakes burned rubber behind me, and I suddenly found myself quite cut off by a large, light blue pickup truck. Cletus was behind the wheel. Perfect. Not only was it another sheriff, but it was the one who happened to have been holding a grudge against me before I shot a bunch of his friends and betrayed him to the government. The dude would probably start with my kneecaps. That, of course, was when my brilliant idea hit me.
The young redneck punched out his window, shoving the double barrels of a hunting piece out through the shards at me. He probably would not even spare me a sarcastic final line. So I raised my gun at the same time and fired. In retrospect, being a good bit faster and being a good bit better at aiming the darn thing would have been nice, for that way he would neither have shot more nor would he have had the fact of his being alive enabling him to jump out of the car to pummel me.
I make it sound a bit more serious than it actually was.
My bullet struck him in his upper right arm, just off the shoulder, throwing off his aim. But he was wielding a shotgun, and aim is not that important at ten feet. Small pieces of shot rebounded around and through me, putting little and unfortunate holes in my left side and arm. Splendid. Now there was going to be no comfortable way to lie in a bed ever again, I was sure of it. He dropped his weapon and threw open his door, blood dripping off a fist clenched like the abdominal muscles of an Ex Lax prank victim.
It was not that fist that really was the issue, however. It was the other one, the unwounded arm, that made out with my jaw. Several times, I think, though my counting is guaranteed to be highly inaccurate. Out of ammo and quite stunned by some very vicious pummeling, I reeled backwards into the wall, on my knees and barely conscious.
He stepped back for a moment, paused to breathe.
“You stupid boy, don’t you know what you’ve destroyed! You’ve killed America! You’ve ruined everything good about her!”
It is in times of great pain (or, as is actually more likely, semi consciousness) that we make important discoveries about ourselves, our relationships, our lives. And other people.
“You know, Cletus,” I began with a serious sort of slurring running through my words. It is hard to talk with a mouth full of saliva and blood and a fat tongue. “You don’t really fit in with the rest of them at all. You don’t look nearly enough like a rabid gorilla.”
That merited a hefty kick to my midsection, which, I must add, was terrifically unhappy with this turn of events. A few broken ribs, a few intruders made of very warm lead, and now a mean spirited boot? Bodies are not big fans of this sort of treatment, and mine decided to show it by grabbing all the potential food in my stomach and presenting it to Cletus as a sort of wet gift of tummy goobers.
“Shut up, you idiot. You never learned what was right and what was good, and I plan to let you go down here in a blaze of pain. This,” he said, leaning in really close to my face, so that my bleary eyes could not adjust—making him a rather pixilated blur of livid and red faced country sheriff, “is not going to be pleasant. But it is going to be justice. This is all the justice you deserve and ever will get.”
“Bring it on, then, little cowboy,” I replied after I had swallowed the recent contents of my mouth. “I’m not scared of your twiggy arms and your borrowed shotgun. Enjoy your life as a lackey and as a prisoner. There is no way you can outrun the police now.”
He looked at me, dark faced. “I don’t mean to outrun the police. I just mean to have you dead. It may be justice, but it is definitely personal.”
“Oh.” How eloquent, Joe. It was not like I had really been expecting to be able to talk him out of shooting me. Or even stalling.
But as he turned to pick up his shotgun, I realized he made the same mistake that Callahan had made in the hospital. He turned away from me. He figured I was not a threat. I probably really was not a threat. But I could sure try to be such. I had survived this far clearly by luck alone, so maybe luck would once more help me out here. From my knees, I crawled forward the half a foot I needed to, and then I lashed out with my right arm.
I think it hurt me more than it hurt him, kind of like the classic lines that parents give their children before spankings. Only, this time it was not an obvious falsehood.
My chest screamed in pain, and apparently this sounded like a good idea to the rest of me, so I screamed in pain as my hand closed over his Achilles tendon. He turned back towards me, another mistake. As he lifted his left foot to stomp on my head or wherever he deemed it important to smash with his ridiculous sorts of cowboy boots, I dug my thumb into the back of his ankle and pulled back. Cletus lost his quite precious balance and toppled onto the pavement.
However, from the ground, his foot was quite easily able to connect with my face. I guess I had not thought that far ahead. I lost at least a second or two, as my nose broke once more. Heck, if it happened enough, it probably would eventually grow back straight. And to think at one point in my life (so it was a couple of days ago, shut up), I had thought it would be cool to have a crooked nose and scarred face. Oh well. The innocence of youth. What can you do?
When my eyes cleared once more, Cletus was back on the ground, this time with an officer standing above him, handcuffs at the ready. Good Lord, that was handy.
It was about that point that I realized that I was merely hallucinating.
Cletus was limping for his shotgun.
Blood was pooling around me again. That is a hard sight to get used to, to be honest. As frequently as it had happened over the past week, I still did not feel that I could ever really get accustomed to seeing my body leaking all over the ground around me. My silly little pink and purple hospital gown was soaked through and ragged, and I doubtless was not entirely covering my underwear at the moment. It is always good to notice import details before you die.
At least I was not fully naked.
Now that would have been embarrassing.
At this point, I am conveniently going to cut to a completely different scene, as that one was more or less completely ended from my vantage point.
In that usual manner, the coppers busted up the Joe murder attempt and put a few of them behind bars. Cletus found his way there, Callahan found his way there, and a few more who had been wounded but not completely offed found their way there as well. Stragan pulled through just dandily. That was good, I figured, seeing as how he was one of the few straight and smart cops hanging around this part of town. He certainly was a good bit smarter than I was.
Matthews happened to evade all sorts of capture. That was not particularly cool at all. He was the one I was really getting worried about. Callahan was fearsome and terrifyingly cunning, but Matthews actually had the ability to seem normal. To blend in. And so as I sat there, once more buried in the equipment surrounding my hospital bed, he was the one I worried about. Behind every pair of glasses or every doctor’s mask, I saw a potential killer. Which is a pretty crummy way to look at the people who are sowing your Frankenstein of a body back together.
Nevertheless, I convalesced. My mom came down and visited me. A few friends dropped by, but nobody really wanted to listen to why I was there. Maybe they figured a bit of the trauma to my head had caused a good portion of the story to become spontaneously more interesting. Who knows. They were nice to me, and stayed around to make sure I was alright. My landlord called, wanting to know why I had not picked up my clean laundry yet out of the communal driers. The usual, you know. The people who really care if you live or die.
And so that, your Honor, is where we are left now.
(let it be noted that, inexplicably, the writing style has changed from a traditional sort of past tense, first person narrative to a dramatic play format. The scene is a court room, plainly adorned in the way that court rooms tend to be, yet no one takes notice of how it is decorated at all. Everyone is staring at their shoes, since merely being in a court room makes people feel terrifically guilty. Presiding is the Venerable Judge Mandy Kremer, a stout and older lady with a scowly sort of visage and a dusty robe. The witness, one Joseph Buchanan Burkoff, sits awkwardly in the stand, clearly still feeling the uncomfortable presence of gun shot wounds and mending ribs. His attire is plain, nothing very fancy, because he has never come about the means to actually buy anything nicer, especially not after his run in with a bunch of vigilante sheriffs, as detailed above in the prologue. The audience is a rather sparse one, with a few countrified sort of folk sitting in the rows, wearing their country best. They are here to support their husbands and fathers. The defendants, with the attorney Burton as their defense, are comprised of one Richard “Dick” Callahan, one Cletus Maxwell, one Robert “Bob” Jacobs, and one Steve Catley. All are dressed in orange jump suits and are in the traditional long hand cuffs seen in court. The prosecution is a standard sort, the District Attorney, Carl Mulligan, and his team. The air is a mildly warm temperature, gently growing warmer by the weak sun beams gleaming in through the tall windows. Outside, it is nice. And, it is quite notable, there probably is no one reading this portion here. No one reads the italics in plays. Therefore, it will end, and the actual dialog that is supposedly to take place will then thusly take place. Cue to dialog)
JUDGE: Is that your entire testimony then, Mr. Burkoff?
JOE: Yeah, I guess.
JUDGE (turning to Burton): All right, Defense, you may now question the witness.
BURTON: All right, Mr. Burkoff. First, I am wanting to know: you said you can individually identify members of the defense as among those who apparently tried to kill you?
JOE: Yes. Mr. Callahan and Cletus—that is, Mr. Maxwell—for sure. Officer Stragan, as you have also heard, can personally attest to the presence and definite ill intent of Mr. Callahan. The other two I was unable to clearly see or have the privilege of knowing beforehand.
BURTON: Interesting. (Pacing) But can you place any of them with any of these other supposed legal activities? This whole vigilante story? You are the only witness with any knowledge of this. Is there any way that you can connect them with anything but your kidnapping, your alleged mistreatment, and your attempted murder? Not that those charges really have much to stand on either.
JUDGE: (smacking her little hammer thing on that wooden disc deal on her desk) Sustained.
JUDGE: I said—wait, what are you doing interrupting my court of law, sir? Bailiffs!
MATTHEWS: Hold it! I have valuable input in this case. I am a federal agent, Agent Calvin Matthews, and I was in charge of hunting and taking down the organization that young Mr. Burkoff has been speaking of.
JUDGE: I don’t really care who you are, sir. You are interrupting the due process of law. If you were wanting to be an effective witness or prosecutor or supplier of evidence for this case, you needed to have performed those preliminary duties months ago, with the rest of them.
(Joe is silent, looking a bit confused, but slightly hopeful. He has been hoping for this particular federal agent to show back up once more and finally pay him like he said he would. Money is, of course, still quite big on Joe’s mind. No surprise there)
MATTHEWS: There were certain executive . . . complications involved. But I am not actually here to testify or prosecute or provide evidence. I have become aware in the past few hours that there is to be an attempt on the life of this young Joseph Burkoff. That attempt on his life is set for today, during your trial, Your Honor. Somehow, I doubt you will be terrifically upset if I prevent a witness from being murdered in your court. Am I right?
JUDGE: If there is indeed a threat on the life of this young man, why then did you come alone?
MATTHEWS: Of course I am not alone. I have men stationed around the perimeter here, working with the guards outside to prevent any intruders. No one is getting in or out of this building until we have captured this assassin.
JUDGE: And you know who this assassin might be? You would be able to identify him?
MATTHEWS: Yes. On sight.
JOE: Is it your brother again, Agent Matthews?
(Matthews stares quizzically, not understanding that the entire court is aware of his involvement in the entire affair. Clearly, the prosecution put together a particularly shoddy case, what with the being unable to find the key component of the Agent in charge of the investigation for the trial. The four defendants eye him strangely, likely wondering exactly what it is that makes this Matthews against them when the other is so for them)
MATTHEWS: Well, yes. Do they . . . ? Did you . . . ? I see. (he sees) Yes, it is my brother, also an Agent Matthews, who is responsible for organizing and participating in almost two dozen killings, as well as the attempted murder of this young man here. And, through my sources, I have learned that he plans to attempt to gun down the witness here, in the box, in the court room. Therefore, is it fair to ask for Mr. Burkoff to be allowed out of the witness stand and to a safer location in the room?
JUDGE: Well, judging by this Agency order you just handed me (right, that did happen already. Matthews gave the Judge an order from the Agency to give him credence and discretion in this case. The actual action just did not fit in anywhere up there), I have to give you credence and discretion in this case. Do as you see fit to protect the witness. I am calling a recess.
(the Judge calls a recess by smacking that circle a few times more with her mallet weapon. People begin to continue to sit there, anticipating a short recess, no one really caring all that much what happens to the witness. Most of the room wants him offed, anyways. He did not make a lot of friends in the last few days, and since the court is in Missouri, none of his family really wanted to go visit. They had about had enough of him in the hospital anyways, what with his outlandish stories and whining about how much it hurts to be shot and how crummy of a job golf is and all that)
MATTHEWS: (to Joe) How are you holding up, bud?
JOE: I would be a lot better if you would ever get around to paying me. Do you have any idea what a hospital stay like I just underwent costs when you have no insurance? Do you know how hard it is to pay when you don’t have any money and you can’t really work, either? Yeah. I need my pay, and soon.
MATTHEWS: You’ll get it today, Joe. After this mess is done with, we’ll get down to paying you.
MATTHEWS: When this mess is done with, you both will be the mess.
READERSHIP: What is going on?
MATTHEWS and MATTHEWS: (at each other) You!
READERSHIP: Can we find another way to demarcate the individual Agent Matthewses? That would be really handy.
LAW ABIDING AGENT MATTHEWS: I figured you would get in here somehow. Unfortunately, you will not find yourself able to carry out your heinous deed.
NON LAW ABIDING AGENT MATTHEWS: Of course I could get in here. I just more or less walked in. Your guards let me in. You might want to have prepped them a bit better.
JOE: (backing up, trying to put some distance between himself and the assassin Matthews) Right. I’ll let you two hash this one out.
ASSASSIN MATTHEWS: Don’t go anywhere, Joe. My business is with you, and here.
AGENT MATTHEWS: Clearly not just with Joe, otherwise you would not have included the entire court in your plan.
ASSASSIN MATTHEWS: (noticing that everyone is watching and listening to him, and raising his voice) I am strapped to the hilt with a hefty amount of plastic explosive! Nobody move! The explosion might not kill you, the flying fragments of bone and metal might not kill you, but if nothing else, at least the collapsing building will!
AGENT MATTHEWS: Why are you doing this, Tom?
ASSASSIN MATTHEWS: Shut up, Calvin. You always thought you were the smarter one. But you’ve been wrong all along. You just can’t understand how justice is supposed to work.
AGENT MATTHEWS: Somehow, I don’t see justice as being remotely similar to blowing up a good thirty people in a court of law just to take out one kid you don’t really like all that much.
ASSASSIN MATTHEWS: That’s not the issue here, and you know it! We have to stop the insanity somewhere!
JOE: Then stop it now. Go home and sleep off your aggression.
BOTH MATTHEWSES: Shut up, Joe.
AGENT MATTHEWS: I don’t think this is the stand you want to take. Tell me, Tom, if Batman were here, what would he do?
ASSASSIN MATTHEWS: Don’t you dare pull the Batman card on me! That’s not fair!
AGENT MATTHEWS: But the question is begged, nonetheless. Would the Dark Night, the most famous and respected of all vigilantes, use plastic explosives to blow up a court? Even if the court happened to have the Joker, the Riddler, the Penguin, Catwoman, and Two Face in it all at once? Well?
ASSASSIN MATTHEWS: I suppose not.
AGENT MATTHEWS: You bet he wouldn’t. He would find a better way. And I know you can, too, Tom. Even if you have to bend the law to enforce it, you never should find yourself breaking it to do so.
ASSASSIN MATTHEWS: I remember why Mom always said you were smarter than me. I think she was right. All along, she was right. Fine, I give myself up. I can’t win this one. I never could, could I, not with my older brother hounding my every action? (looks dejectedly at the floor as he fumbles with the trigger mechanism under his suit) I’ve just got to disarm this, and then you can take me. Damn cheater and the Batman card. (to Joe) You know, kid, next time, it might be wise to avoid letting a man named Curtis die in your car. Thence—
(incidentally, all dialog ceases here. The actual reason for this was unknown until about three minutes later when the fire squad starts to hose down the rubble of the court. Thomas Matthews had always been a very poor hand with explosives, but that kind of accident is just a crappy way for a story to end. Nevertheless, life is life. They all died. Now live with it)