The first chapter of the latest and last revision of this story.
| I never thought in a million years I would be running through mesquite underbrush at a breakneck pace in the middle of the night, doing my best to catch up with my best friend since high school, Will Sharpe, Sheriff of Gertrudis County.
“Stay in the car,” I was instructed. “Stay in the car, no matter what happens.” Well, I had planned on staying in the car, until somewhere out in the darkness of night, shots were fired.
Will was after a known suspect in a murder case up in Harbor City, our county seat. The fugitive had been spotted on the outskirts of Buccaneer Bay, my hometown. Now, his whereabouts were unknown. All that Will, I, and a handful of deputies knew was the guy was ahead of us, scrambling for his freedom. He had sworn the last time he got out of jail on a public intoxication charge that he would never go to jail again. I guess he meant it, because now he had been wanted for a year for the murder of his wife after catching her down at ‘The Green Frog’, a local drinking establishment known for its shady characters, dancing with a man who was not her husband. Words were exchanged, then a knife came out, then a gun. This guy went to shoot him, but at the last second, the cheating dancer moved, and our fugitive shot his wife by accident. At least, that’s the story Will has on file down at the sheriff’s office. A lot of witnesses say that isn’t how the story goes. They say he pointed straight at the wife and laughed as he pulled the trigger.
I was getting winded. I hadn’t run this hard since Navy boot camp in San Diego. I had to stop, but stopping and keep on running meant the difference between life and death. This guy served with Patton’s Third over in Europe, and came home to tell about it. He wasn’t about to let some two-bit yokels capture him tonight.
I got down behind a mesquite tree that had a pretty sizable trunk, thinking all would be well while I caught a breather. This is what I get for getting out of shape after the war. As I sat there, panting, I heard a crashing through the brush and cactus, then a small yelp that sounded like a wild animal getting hurt. He must have run into a cactus plant. I looked up and there he was, Ben Thompson, former sergeant, former squad leader of the United States army, pointing a .38 at my head.
He put his fingers to his mouth, signaling me to not say a word. I obliged. He motioned at me with the pistol to get up. Once again, I did as I was instructed.
"Slowly get your hands into the air,” he barely whispered. Hands went up.
"Sheriff!” he hollered out into the moonless night. Right then, it was if the whole world went silent. Then I heard Will answer from about two hundred yards out.
"Sheriff, I got one of your men, and if you don’t let me get out of these woods, he’s a dead man,” shouted Ben.
Once again, silence. Then after a few seconds Will hollered back, “You don’t have any of my men, Ben. You’re bluffing. My men are right here, all accounted for.”
Ben used the pistol once more to instruct me, with my hands still up, to start walking towards Will’s voice. We walked the two hundred yards, stopping just shy of Will and five of his deputies. “Over here, sheriff.” All six men turned towards the voice, guns drawn. Will just barely made me out.
“Jim, I thought I told you to stay put in my squad car,” he scolded, assessing the situation while looking at me.
“I did, until I heard a gunshot,” I answered meekly.
“Okay, enough with the small talk,” Ben began. “Here’s how this plays out tonight. Me and, what did you say his name was?”
“Me and my new buddy, Jim, here, are leaving these woods, and we are heading back out to the highway. You follow, he gets a bullet in the back of the head. You stay put until I make it to the road, he gets to live. But you ain’t taking me in sheriff. I didn’t kill my wife on purpose, and I am going to continue living a free man, understand? Now, all of you lower your weapons, and me and old Jim here are going to back out of here real slow-like.”
Will and his men did as they were told, a couple of them even went as far as holstering their firearms. Ben led me backwards, nearly tripping over another cactus. In about twenty minutes, we reached the farm road. “You sit down, and put your head between your knees.”
Oh boy, I thought to myself. Here’s where it ends. Four years of getting shot at by Japanese in the south Pacific, and here I am about to die out on a lonely, deserted stretch of farm road.
I did as I was told, though, and quickly I heard Ben’s shoes running down the asphalt. Thank God.
That sound was very quickly interrupted by the sound of men’s voices.
“Hold it right there, Ben Jones,” they said. “You are under arrest for the murder of Stella Jones.”
“Not tonight I’m not,” I heard Ben reply. I looked up just in time to see Ben wheel around aiming his pistol at me, then heard the sound of shots cracking the night air. Fire jumped out of the officer's weapons and Ben fell in a lifeless lump, right there on the side of the road where just a second earlier, he was aiming at my head for the second time tonight. He never got a shot off before the two deputies that Will had left behind and out on the road, just in case the fugitive had circled back, unloaded a round apiece into him.
The sound of more crashing through the cactus and mesquite brush became audible as Will and the other five deputies appeared out of the vegetation like elephants in a jungle.
“Is he dead?” Will asked.
“Yup,” said the deputy standing over Ben’s lifeless body. “We got him. He was going to shoot Jim, but we beat him to the trigger.”
I got up off the road, and wandered over to the dead man. Four years of fighting an enemy that hated my guts for whatever reason, and I never saw a dead body in my life. I worked in the galley as a cook and I saw plenty of Zeroes get shot down, I saw plenty of enemy ships get sunk, but the idea of men dying in those machines never once entered my mind. Sure, somebody was in control of those machines, but when you don’t see them dying, their deaths elude you. I sank down to my knees and fell forward onto my hands and heaved my guts up for about five minutes, until there was nothing left to heave up.
“Jim, if you are going to get into this line of work, you are going to have to learn to take orders,” Will was returning to his ‘father scolding the bad boy’ persona. “Didn’t you learn to take orders in the navy? Weren’t those orders given to you so that you would be able to save your life, and the lives of your ship mates?”
“Well, of course, Will,” I replied. “Like I said back there at the car, I heard a gunshot, so I figured-“
“It doesn’t matter what you figured. Since you are a civilian, you don’t get to run to the shots. You duck and take cover. Besides, you don’t have a weapon, what was you going to do? Point your finger?”
This incited a laughter from the more experienced lawmen, and I could feel the heat on my face from it turning red from getting scolded like a little school boy.
“Okay, Will,” I stopped his scolding by holding a palm up towards him. “I get the point. Next time, it is in the car I will be a-staying.”
“You darn right it is.”
After the county coroner had been called out, and Ben picked up for transportation back to the morgue, we wrapped things up out there in the middle of nowhere. Will gave me a ride home, before he had to return to his office to do the dreaded paperwork.
“See you tomorrow, buddy?” he asked from the drivers’ seat as I leaned over into the open passenger side of his patrol car.
“Depends, “I answered. “Are we going on a marathon through the woods again?”
“Well, if another fugitive runs again, I guess we will have to,” was the reply I was not wanting to hear.
“I guess I will wear my running shoes then. Sure, let’s do it.” I patted the side of the car as Will headed back to Harbor City, the tail lights disappearing around the corner, and I turned and walked up the caliche rock driveway to my house.