by: BlackJack Murphy
The cold night air cut through me. I raised the collar on my jacket and pulled the zipper as high as it would go, but it made little difference. Boss pulled his jacket tightly around him as he followed me into the surrounding woods. We moved cautiously and deliberately, listening for any peculiar sound that might signal the whereabouts of our former captors. I tried to parallel the road as much as possible so we could find out where we were.
We came to a clearing and I stopped, studying the shadowy figures around it.
“What is it?” Boss whispered.
I glanced back at him. “We have to cross this clearing.” I paused, taking a deep breath. “We’ll be sitting ducks if either of those two catch us out there. Luckily, there’s no moon out tonight.”
Boss peered around me for a better look. “You think they’re nearby?”
“There’s only one way to tell,” I replied as I nervously surveyed the surrounding woods. I pulled my gun from its holster and held it tightly down at my side. “We can either do this slow n’ stealthy or we can run like hell.”
Our minds were made up for us when we heard the growing sound of rustling leaves and snapping branches behind us. We both turned our heads toward the source of the sound and listened intently to confirm our fears. Boss patted my arm and then pointed frantically to the clearing. “Let’s get goin’ before he gets any closer!” he whispered urgently.
I followed closely behind as Boss started his way across the clearing, keeping an eye out behind us. We made our way as swiftly and silently as possible, but whoever was behind us knew we were here. I could barely hear them trudging through the thick brush over the pounding of my heart. But the sound was there, it was persistent, and it was gaining.
We were only halfway across the clearing when the first loud crack of gunfire shattered the night. I ducked instinctively as Boss jumped. I pushed him ahead and turned and crouched. I pointed my gun straight ahead, eyes scanning the treeline. I fired at the first movement I saw.
I didn’t notice Rosco wasn’t still behind me until I had reached the other side of the clearing. I had heard the second shot, but didn’t stop to find out who was doing the shooting. I hid behind a tree, straining to see movement in the pitch black. Suddenly, there was a volley of gunfire, none of it aimed in my direction. I waited in the tense, silent moments afterwards for any signal of the outcome. It was several minutes before I heard any movement again. I silently prayed it was Rosco on his way to rejoin me, but my gut told me something wasn’t right.
I looked around for something, anything, to use as a weapon. I found a long, thick branch near my feet and gripped it tightly with both hands.
I crouched and hid behind the tree, waiting. I held my breath, straining to hear movement in the grass. The muscles in my arms tensed and my grip tightened. I raised the weapon quietly to my shoulder. He was almost upon me. I waited… waited.. then swung as hard as I could. I connected with his midsection and he fell in a heap, coughing and groaning.
Suddenly, I heard heavy footsteps behind me. Without thinking, I turned and swung hard again. The dark figure ducked and the branch hit a nearby tree with a loud “Crack!”
“Whoa! Hold on there, Boss! It’s me!”
I dropped the branch. “Good Lord, Rosco! You scared the life outta me sneakin’ up like that!”
He reached an unsteady hand to the tree to catch his balance and his breath. “Well, you nearly knocked my block off,” he hissed.
“Sorry,” I apologized. “I thought…”
“I know…” he brushed past me to get to the now motionless figure a few feet away. He kneeled down to get a closer look. He picked something up and tucked it into the back of his gunbelt with his right hand.
“You clobbered him pretty good, Boss. Musta knocked the wind outta him. He’s out cold.”
I approached to see for myself. Rosco slowly rose. He faltered and put a hand to my shoulder to steady himself.
“You ok?” I asked.
“What? Oh… yeah, I’m fine.”
He then decided instead that maybe he should sit. It was then I noticed how closely he held his left arm against his side. His collar was unbuttoned and open, his tie removed. It was now being used as a makeshift sling. Instinctively, I reached out for his injured arm to examine the extent of the damage. I stopped short when Rosco pulled it out of reach, drawing a quick breath between his teeth in anticipation of the pain.
I couldn’t stop myself from stating the obvious. “Rosco… you’re hurt.”
The look of concern in his eyes was overwhelming. So I lied for his sake. “It doesn’t hurt much. I’ll be fine.” Truth was, it hurt like hell. Fortunately, the bullet had gone through my upper arm and missed the bone.
I was lucky I escaped so easily. I didn’t realize just how close the other man had been when the shooting started. The moonless night and my dark uniform were my saving grace.
“Here, let me help you,” Boss offered. He gingerly untied my makeshift sling. “You really should have made a tourniquet outta this.”
“I woulda done that, but I didn’t have the time or the extra hand.”
Boss nodded knowingly. I winced and gritted my teeth hard as he tied the tie snugly above the wound. “Ahhhgghh…”
“Sorry… There,” he admired his handiwork. He looked down at his hands and shuddered when he realized just how much blood there was. He then looked at me. “Rosco? You sure you’re ok? You’re lookin’ kinda pale.”
I quickly changed the subject and got back to more pressing matters. “Boss, Carson’s still out there somewhere. An’ if he was anywhere within a few miles of here, he’d have heard those gunshots and’ll be comin’ to investigate. We gotta get movin’ again.”
“You don’t look like you’re in any condition to be movin’.”
I leaned back against the tree and took a deep breath. “Just feelin’ a little tired, that’s all.”
“C’mon. I’ll help ya,” he said as he helped me up and offered himself to lean on.
He was more than just a little tired. He was getting weak from the loss of blood. He leaned more heavily against me with each passing minute.
We had been walking no more than ten minutes when I heard the distant hum of a motor. It was then I realized just how close we were to the road. I guided Rosco back into a thick grove of trees farther from the road. I helped him sit against a large oak tree and he looked grateful for the chance to rest.
I watched the car pass. It was Carson alright and it was only a matter of time before he found Rob where we left him.
I turned back to Rosco. His eyes were shut. A mild panic struck me. “Rosco!” I whispered.
My heart started again and I breathed a sigh of relief. “Oh, uh, that was Carson that just drove by. We don’t have much time. You ready to move again?”
“No, but I don’t suppose I have much choice, do I?” He put his right hand against the tree behind him and tried to push himself up.
I rushed to his side to assist him. He groaned when I grabbed his left elbow. “Easy,” he cautioned.
“Sorry,” I said as I steadied him. I pulled his right arm around my neck and put my arm around his waist. We stumbled through the brush until we found a small path through the woods.
My arm throbbed relentlessly as I struggled to keep pace with my little fat buddy.
“Boss,” I gasped. “Boss.. can we slow down a bit?” He stopped and I bent over, hand on my knee. My lungs burned and I coughed as I fought to breathe.
He stood next to me, his hand on my back. “Rosco, we gotta get you to a doctor.”
I grabbed his arm and pulled myself up again. “Boss, we don’t even know where we are. We could be twenty miles from town. There ain’t no way I’m gonna be able to walk all that way.” I took a deep breath. “Maybe we should take our chances on the road. Maybe someone’ll come along and we can get a ride to town.”
“Carson could come back along that road at any moment. It’s not safe,” Boss argued.
“But it’s our best chance,” I shot back. “I don’t think I have to tell you that this hurts like hell.” I wrapped my hand around my left arm just below the wound. “I’m willing to risk it.”
He stared at me for a few moments and then sighed heavily. “Ok, Rosco. We’ll try the road.”
I knew he was right. The road was our best chance. But his condition was worsening and I didn’t want him moving if I could help it.
“But we’re going to find a nice spot for you to rest and I’LL go watch the road for any cars.”
The sheriff started to protest, “But Boss, we should keep movin’ too.”
I let him know I was in no mood to debate the issue and he didn’t put up much fight.
We approached the road and found a sheltered spot that offered a view of the road, but was somewhat obscured. I lowered Rosco to the ground. He tilted his head back against the tree and closed his eyes.
“Don’t you pass out on me, now,” I warned.
“I ain’t promisin’ anything,” he countered as he pulled his hat down over his eyes.
I could hear his labored breathing as I turned to make my way towards the road.
“Wait!” I called after him.
Boss turned around. “What is it?”
I reached my right hand around to my back and pulled Rob’s gun from my waistband. “Here, take this.” I offered the gun to Boss.
He took it and studied it in his palm. “Rob’s?”
“At least one of ’em’s unarmed now,” he smiled slightly.
I smiled and pulled my hat back down over my eyes.
The sounds of his footsteps became distant, but not because he was far off. The ringing in my ears grew to deafening levels and dizziness overtook me. I could feel my heart pounding in my throat. I tried to move my hand to my wounded arm, but it never made it there. I blacked out.