by: BlackJack Murphy
I was hungry. I hadn’t eaten since the morning. It must’ve been quite late by now. Past dinner. How I wish I was at home now, havin’ a big plate of Lulu’s fried chicken, mashed potatoes n’ gravy, cornbread n’ greens. Rosco’d try to sneak a piece of chicken off my plate and I’d slap his hand. I smiled at the thought. Then I closed my eyes hard to the realization that I might never get to do that again.
I had to get outta here if I was gunna be any help to Boss. I looked around the dark room for anything to cut the ropes. The sharpest thing in that entire room was my wit and that wasn’t sayin’ much, especially since it wouldn’t get my hands free. I settled on scraping the ropes against a rough corner of an old wooden crate. It took me about an hour and two dozen splinters, but the ropes finally gave way.
The only window in the room was boarded up. I pulled gently on the plywood and it creaked. It wasn’t nailed on there as tight as it looked. I looked around the room for something to use to remove the barrier. I found a paint splotched plaster knife in an old bucket next to some paint supplies in the corner. The hard, cold metal of the knife handle stung my raw and bleeding palm as I slid the tool between the plywood and the window sill.
I pried the plywood out about half an inch, then pushed it back against the sill. I then used the plaster knife to remove the exposed nail. I continued in that manner as quietly as possible until the entire piece of plywood was removed. I cautiously opened the window and peered outside. It was pitch black, no moon out. I shivered as a cold breeze blew past.
I thought about how I could get to Boss. Was he in this place, too? Only one way to find out. I’d have to check the premises. That meant I’d have to create a diversion so I could look through the place unnoticed. I could go out the window and stake out the place, waiting for them to come look for me. Then when they were gone, I could check the building out. Another cold wind chilled me through the open window and I decided that idea was quickly losing my support. I could die of frostbite before they noticed I was gone.
I looked around the room. I bet I could hide in here unnoticed. There were plenty of nooks and crannies. I’d just have to hope they’d think I went out the window and didn’t bother to check the room. That had to be my best bet. So, I hunkered down in a spot behind the wooden crate and tried to stay as still as possible.
The door opened and the ominous figure from before stood in the lighted hallway.
“Carson?” I ventured a guess.
“Dinner time, Hogg,” came the reply. Rob followed him into the room with a plateful of food.
Carson walked towards me and bent down to untie my hands. Rosco’s pearl handled gun was tucked in the front of his pants. A shiver ran down my spine. “Eat fast. We’ll be back in fifteen minutes to tie you back up. And don’t try nothin’ stupid,” Carson warned.
I watched them leave and only after they had closed the door tightly behind them did I glance at the plateful of food left behind. I picked at the beans and tried a few bites of the sandwich, but somehow I just wasn’t that hungry anymore. I finished the glass of milk and then stood up, wandering over to the door. I listened intently for any sound, any clue to their plans for me, any confirmation of what they had done to my brother-in-law, any hint of where I was.
I strained to hear the muffled voices in the distance.
“You think she’ll come up with the money?”
“She’d better. Otherwise, we waste her precious hubby.”
“I thought we were going to do that anyway.”
“We are, but she don’t know that.”
“Why didn’t we just leave the sheriff out of this, Carson? We got enough heat on us as it is.”
“He was a witness, you idiot. We couldn’t leave him around to identify us.”
My heart sank as they talked about Rosco in the past tense. Was. Suddenly, my legs became weak and I tried to steady myself against the wall, but slowly slid to the floor instead. I closed my eyes and leaned my head against the cold wall.
“Go in there and tie Hogg up again,” Carson ordered. “He’s too slippery to leave untied for too long.”
I could hear Rob sigh loudly and then bang the chair against the wall as he got up. Heavy footsteps made their way to the door. The door opened and I could feel Rob’s eyes on me. I felt a strong hand grab my suit by the lapel and shake me. I hesitantly looked up.
“Get up and turn around, Hogg,” he growled.
Shakily, I got to my feet. My captor slammed me hard against the wall and pulled my arms together behind my back. I winced at the uncomfortable position I was forced into. He quickly tied my hands together and then lead me over to a dusty old mattress in the far corner.
“Get some sleep. Busy day tomorrow,” he grinned. He turned and quickly left, leaving me in darkness again.
My mind was numb and my eyelids heavy. It didn’t take long for sleep to overtake me and I was grateful for the chance to leave this nightmare for a few moments.
I heard mumbling voices down the hall. I couldn’t make out much of what they were saying. Something about food. At that moment, I realized just how empty my stomach was and I cursed myself for not waiting til I was fed before I tried my plan.
I tensed as I heard footsteps near the door. The door cracked open and light streamed in. I held my breath as the dark figure entered.
“Hey, sheriff.. where are ya?” the figure asked. “Damn, it’s cold in here.”
The figure took a few more cautious steps forward. “Wish we had a light in this room,” he muttered. “Come out, come out, wherever you are,” he chuckled. He clicked his flashlight on and swung it around the room in wide arcs. It rested on the open window and I heard him curse loudly. I couldn’t help but grin widely.
“Carson! You’d better get in here!” the figure yelled.
I heard a distant curse and the sound of fast, heavy footsteps. “What the hell’s goin’ on?”
The flashlight remained fixed on the window. “He’s gone,” came Rob’s reply.
“DAMN! Well, what are you waiting for?! We gotta get him back. You track him on foot and I’ll try the car. Who knows how long he’s been gone. Dammit!” Carson banged his fist hard against the door and I shuddered.
The two made a hasty exit from the room, leaving the door wide open. I listened intently for a door to open and close or a car engine to start. Once I was satisfied that both men had left, I slowly got to my feet and peered out the door. The coast was clear.
I walked cautiously down the hall, ducking to avoid the low hanging lights and power cords that had been hastily hung along the corridor. There were several doors along the way and I tried each one in turn, afraid of what I’d find behind each one. My hand grew shakier with each turn of the knob as I began to run out of doors.
Finally, I arrived at the last door. I hesitated. What if… what if…? No. I shook my head, trying to rid myself of the thought. I swallowed hard and turned the knob.
I had awoken to the sound of the car engine outside and was unable to get back to sleep. I was too anxious, too curious as to what they were up to. I heard noises in the hall. Doors opening and closing. They had come back… and so soon. I thought for sure they’d be gone for a while after I heard the car take off. Wait a second. I didn’t hear a car come back. I thought I heard them both leave. There can’t be three of them… can there?
I watched the door intently. My heart pounded harder as I heard the knob start to turn.
The silhouette of the man in the doorway didn’t match Carson or Rob. There WERE three of them. I shuddered as whoever it was took a step forward.
“Boss?” the figure said hoarsely, the voice familiar.
Was it? Could it be? “Rosco?!”
“Boss! You’re alive! Good grief, I thought for sure…” the sheriff’s voice trailed off, refusing to speak the grisly possibility.
“Rosco! I.. I thought you were..” I refused to mention the possibility as well, “..too.”
He rushed to my side and untied my hands. He helped me to my feet and dusted me off. Then he nearly squeezed the life out of me with a huge bear hug, which I gladly returned.
“I’m glad ya ain’t…little, fat buddy. Khee!” he pinched my cheek.
I smiled and I must admit, my eyes got a little misty. “I’m glad you ain’t either, Rosco. But, how… how’d you escape?”
“I haven’t yet. Khee! They thought I did though. They’re out there lookin’ for me. I think we’d better git before they figure it out.”
I looked cautiously around. “They could be back any minute. We’d best get outta here.”
“Wait here a minute,” Rosco said as he went back into one of the other rooms to search for his pearl-handled pistol. He returned with his gunbelt in hand and quickly buckled it around his waist.
“Ok, NOW let’s git outta here,” he said. He put his hand on my shoulder and guided me towards the door. He opened it cautiously and peeked outside, looking both directions before finally setting foot outside. He motioned for me to follow him.