A promenade in the rain.
In the first moments it’s impossible to distinguish between the million fine fractures in the glass and the spidery threads of branches showering defiantly upward on the other side, and the whole world seems reduced to the convex little glass in the sight of a microscope. When the vertigo and the confusion dissolve away you’re left with the fear, and the troublesome question of why your head hurts so much, while the rest of you remains so numb.
A dark silhouette against the perse rolling down out of heaven and draping across the horizon; the floor beneath the curtain where I watched for my father when I was a boy.
His stature’s dogged; he’s drenched and featureless but for the light that limns him from behind. The form hangs like a well-fed scarecrow weighted with the rain, the graffito stencil of an automatic dangling from one hand, infinite reflections stretched over droplets of water falling from the tip of the barrel, and one of the black marks in those reflections is me.
The door doesn’t open, but breaks out of its frame as the latch lets go, voicing its gratitude at being relieved from the bent and crushing cradle that once held it so comfortably. I lay my hand on the revolver in the laughing glove compartment and try to roll free, only to realize for the first time that a piece of metal, I can’t place what it was, has been driven through the dash and runs like a shard into the flesh of my thigh at a shallow angle. The denim is torn, and as I struggle against the intrusion I can see it move beneath my flesh. There’s a vague sense of nausea at the sight, but the feeling has returned to my body now as I, in agony, push myself back into the plush contours of the seat, trying to gain enough ground to slide away from my pinion, and the sickness of the sight is drowned into insignificance. There’s just not enough room, but I keep bearing the soles of my boots into the floorboard, reaching across with my left hand until the tips of my fingers are on the lever.
The back of the seat falls rearward, and the steel sliver slides loose. The pain, coupled with the sight of the long bar with my blood running down it, mixing with the rain, is enough to bring the sickness on full, and I vomit yellow froth and cheap Brunswick from a diner thirty miles ago as I roll into the grass.
I put my hands down to stop myself, and I’m on all fours in the mud, but, vomiting all the while, I hurry up on my good leg just in time to point the stumpy little barrel down a long and empty highway, black with the wet and the coming gloam.
The world reels again, I think the panic’s what brings it on, and my eyes seem to roll independent in my skull as I turn about, trying to figure out where the hell the bastard’s got off to.
The Kid, who’s still holding the wheel, was only sixteen. I remember that now, and I see myself when I was sixteen. I went hunting with my dad. That was five years before the cancer took him. And I remember the movies, Friday nights. I remember my first car, and running, running, running from the law. But, mostly I remember the girls. They don’t make ‘em like that anywhere else in the world, and you can bet your sorry ass on that.
That was the first year I ran from the law. Sixteen. There was something magical about that number, about that age; when you’re just old enough to think you’re a man, and still too young to realize you’re no better off for it. I guess this was The Kid’s first year running, too. Even then, in the moment, I wished it had gone a little better for The Kid, a little more like it had gone for me.
I’d stopped puking, but I was still bleeding, and goddammit if I didn’t start to cry a little at thinking about The Kid. I’m not ashamed to say so, either. He was a nice kid. Usually when you get a young rat following you around like that, he’s just fatalistic garbage blowing in the wind above the whirring blades of the disposal, all manner of ugly shit scrawled on him, and none of it meaning much more than the melted Styrofoam ink and the hepatitis C it was put there with. Not this one, though. The Kid was different, and if I’d’ve known how things was gonna go for ‘im, I would probably have at least learned his name.
No. No. That’s not true. If I’d have known how it was gonna go, I’d’ve been twice as happy not to know what his ma and pa called him.
I can hear sirens from a lot farther away than most people; sort of pick them out like the rhythm playing low in the back of a song. I can hear them now. Two minutes, maybe. I can’t afford to get picked up, and I can’t afford to lose this son-of-a-bitch. Or, worse, to be picked off by him.
I take one quick scan of my surroundings; the trees, the highway, the mountains a few miles to the east; and when I don’t see the man, I dare to reach under the seat, grab my case, drop the revolver inside it, pull out the Beretta, close it back up, then look around me again. Ninety seconds. I’m not going to make it, but I’m not going to be taken in either. I hate to catch a few locals in the middle of a gunfight they didn’t ask for, but it doesn’t look like I’ll have a choice.
It’s empty for miles in either direction except for the sparse, bare vegetation, and I don’t know why I keep looking when I already know where he is. Maybe it’s the blood loss.
1997 Cheyenne work truck with cabinets along the sides and in the bed, powder blue, black windows, dream catcher hanging from the rearview. It’s something I would drive if it were ten years older and didn’t have the cabinets. And if I were home. Maybe when I retire.
It’s parked almost directly across from me, pointing slightly toward me. If he’s not in the bed, then he’s behind the thing.
I mean to check my weapon, but before I get the chance two rounds scream out into the desert. The first one hits The Kid plumb in the chest with a hollow sound as if he weren’t even there and it had just blown right through the sticky layers of flame-retardant shit inside the seat. The second round hits the angle where two sides of the once-straight frame of the roof now meet, and I hear it pass within a few inches of my face on the ricochet.
It’s annoying when they almost get ya, but, then again, he did show me where he was hiding at the same time, so I can’t be too aggravated about it. I’m a little disappointed to find that he’s just on the other side of the hood. I had thought he was more of a professional than that. He should’ve been in the bed, with all the steel of those cabinets and whatever happened to be in ‘em between us.
I fire a couple rounds into the grill in quick succession and it opens up like a smile in a bar fight. The second shot bursts the hot radiator, and a cloud of steam engulfs the hood, dumping coolant onto the blacktop below, neon green and steaming as it crawls away with the rain.
Exactly as I thought he would, he takes this opportunity, more for fear than strategy, to pop off a couple more in my general direction. But I’m already gone, the hard smooth leather soles scuffing a little softshoe across the tarmac toward the back of the truck.
But I’m too late, and the lights and sirens come hydroplaning over the oasis-point in the highway just as I get there, and some goddam cowboy’s already leant out the window with an assault shotgun pumping double-aught in our direction, opening up a rear tire in my proximity. Necessarily, the several proceeding shots are a bit much quieter than the first one was, as I’m sure you can imagine.
How the hell did I find myself squatting in front of this truck with the man I’m supposed to be killing not three feet away, practically hiding with me.
I glance beneath the bumper in time to see the toes of his boots twist as he draws himself up and sends a couple flying toward the patrol car. Before I’m even back on my haunches the rain on my neck gets warm, and I already know that it’s blood before I start to see the rubbery bits of gray matter sail steaming to the asphalt around me.
I remember the first time I shot a man, and I know exactly what the deputy with the hot black piece is feeling right about now, and before he can get himself too beat up about it, I lean around the side of the truck and send forty armor-piercing calibers of hellfire forgiveness through the cheesy low-grade vest the county was barely willing to spring for.
His partner panics and throws the thing into reverse, but he hits it to hard and the tires just spin and spin, and by the time he figures out to let off it he’s thought better of running away from the action. He realizes suddenly that that would be AWOL, and not the self-defense it had felt like a second ago.
There follows a moment the likes of which I have never before experienced, and will never after forget.
The patrol car, now at full parade rest, just sits there. The windshield’s dark and the light’s almost gone out of the sky, so I can’t tell what the hell he’s doing on the other side of it while his partner’s hanging there gone all to pieces beside him, but the radio keeps calling out for him respond, and he ain’t, and the engine keeps idling still in drive, and he’s not doing a damn thing; at least not that I can cypher.
At last I almost have to keep from laughing when the driver’s side door opens, because it doesn’t open all the way, but just a smidge, and I see the business end of a police-issue 9mm come to rest just above the side-view mirror. What’s more, I can tell he’s still got his head down and that he’s not looking where he’s pointing, because he’s not quite pointing at me as much as kinda toward me and about fifteen feet above my head.
I can hear more sirens in the distance, and I’ve had more than enough of this.
When at last he decides to take a peek, I finally say to him through the gap left between his partner and the top of the passenger window, “Wife and kids?”
I watch as he pisses in his pants. I do not recount the fact here because I find it funny in the least. I’ve pissed my pants myself, and I’ve seen a hundred more do it to, not even accounting for the innocent bystanders. I only mention it to give you a sense of the detrimental position which this middle-aged father of two suddenly found himself trying to defend, and not having the slightest clue as to what all those high-ideals he’d been made to recite when he took the oath were actually good for. I just mean that, it always seems like a stupid thing to die for when you find that you’re about to, no matter what it happens to be.
He sobs a little, but tries to steady himself, and I respect that. He didn’t sign up for this, and he sure as hell hasn’t been trained for it either.
“W- what?” His voice catches in his throat and the word finishes with the basso posturing of prepubescent teen male.
“Wife and kids?” I ask again.
He learned his lesson, and this time he just nods, looking at me sort of sideways and all the while pointing that nine into the sky above his mirror.
“Yeah. You look like the type. Go ahead and drop it, and close your door. I’m gonna pull your buddy here out,” I pat the dark shoulder demonstratively, and the thing bends sickeningly under its own weight, “and then I’m going to get you out. Nice and fast, and no bullshit; not,” I add confidentially, “that I expect any of that from you; and I think that we can get you out of here with your dignity and everything. What do you say?” I smile. I have a rather charming smile, effective upon either gender, and he responds to it just like I thought he would.
Once he’s out of the car, and so’s his pal, I stand in front of him, trying to comfort him a little with another ivory smile, and then, with an apology, I knock him out cold with the butt of my Beretta. I’m rather pleased with myself that by the time the backup arrives he’ll be so thoroughly soaked through that nobody’ll have any idea about his little accident.
And then I’m driving off at 143 miles per hour with a police issue 9mm tucked into the waist of my pants.
I’ve still never met anyone who can, or is crazy enough, to drive the way I do on mountain roads. So I head west, I head for the mountains.
The following morning at six am, no accounting for the two hours I left behind me on the plane, I receive an envelope from a heavy-lidded bellboy, and before I can close the door behind him, the phone inside is ringing with the much anticipated call from Virginia. I practically quiver, and I tell the Colonel so after the operator takes my code and I hear his voice on the other side.
He goes all serge on me, and I listen from the bathroom while trying figure out the single-serving coffee pot and pissing into the sink. I call something back to the phone outside and drop the cigarette out of my mouth, nearly burning myself and pissing all across the counter. It runs along the cream-colored veneer and soaks into the perfect-white towels folded in the corner with a plastic-sealed paper cup on top.
“What the hell’s that? What’s going on? Soke?”
“Nothing, sir. Equipment malfunction.”
“I want you back here by this evening. You’re flight leaves in two hours.”
I return to the room nude, tossing my towel across the bathroom counter on the way, “Yes, sir,” and start gathering my things back into the briefcase. The revolver, the Beretta, and the police issue nine are all happily sitting at the bottom of a cliff many miles behind me.
The Colonel’s hung up, and I smash the phone with the heel of my boot, tuck my badge and ID into the inside breast pocket of my coat, and leave the room.
At the airport I buy a new briefcase. This old one stinks from yesterday’s rainwater, and I give a hundred bucks to a TSA guy on his smoke break to toss it in a dumpster.
And the whole mess is behind me. Except The Kid; but there are some things you keep with you in this line of work, and for me he’s one of them.