by: BlackJack Murphy
“I have some unfinished business to take care of first,” I muttered. I pulled some more bullets from my belt and fumbled to reload my gun, flinching at each shot Carson fired. I chanced a quick peek around the tree to get an idea of the position of my next target. I got only a fleeting glance as Carson started firing again.
I took a deep breath then positioned myself facing the tree. I fired off a quick shot then leaned out from behind my cover and pumped two bullets into the radiator. I quickly sought cover behind the tree again and smiled weakly as I heard Carson curse. I could hear the radiator hissing loudly. Well, they won’t be following us in THAT car…
I suddenly realized that the only thing I was running on was adrenaline and I felt like I was quickly running out. I tried to push myself up, but my strength failed me. I’d be damned if I was gunna let it all end here. I gave it a second try and managed to stand, leaning heavily against the tree. “Boss?”
He answered immediately, “We’re here, Rosco.”
“Ready?” I asked.
“Yeah… on your count,” came his reply.
“On three… One…” I breathed heavily, concentrating my gaze on the car barely visible behind the grove of trees. “Two…” I was vaguely aware of Boss and the driver somewhere to my left. Stay out of their way, they’ll be putting off some heavy firepower. “Three!” The thundering blasts from the shotgun assaulted my senses, but I kept my eyes trained on the car as my battered limbs struggled to carry me there.
Carson and Rob were yelling at each other in the distance. I could hear more shouting. The female occupant of the car was yelling at her boyfriend. She had left the car and was moving towards the woods as she screamed. I wasn’t sure what to make of it. Then I heard Boss, his voice urgent and strained. He was yelling at the driver, about what I couldn’t discern.
I suddenly realized what was going on when pellets tore through the metal skin of the car in front of me. He’s tryin’ to shoot me! Damn! I hit the dirt hard and rolled behind the front of the car, taking shelter behind the engine block. I clutched my left arm at the renewed pain.
I risked a glimpse around the car. Boss was struggling with the driver for the shotgun. The driver had to be one of Carson’s lackeys that he radioed to help search for us. I must’ve been a sitting duck out there running towards the car. No doubt, Boss was the reason I didn’t get hit. And Boss’ worth in ransom was the reason he was still alive. I was expendable. I shivered at the thought. That little meadow muffin just saved my life and now I had to leave him here. I had to get help. I couldn’t help him now, not in the condition I was in, not with the odds I was facing.
Boss was losing his struggle with the driver. He yelled at me to go get help as the driver finally shoved him to the ground, poked the gun into his gut as a warning, then turned back towards me. He started walking cautiously towards the car, firing intermittently. I holstered my gun and started to open the car door. Glass rained down upon me as the window shattered from a shotgun blast. I scrambled into the seat, not bothering to brush off the glass. I started the car and slammed it into gear, pulling out of the wooded parking spot just as the back windshield was blown out.
It wasn’t the General or my patrol car, but the car covered the open field fast enough. It fishtailed as I swung it left onto the road and headed south towards help, towards the Dukes. As the miles passed, I became more and more aware of just how bad I felt, not only my arm, but my empty stomach, my sore limbs, my aching throat. Unconsciousness offered a welcome reprieve and I battled valiantly to fend it off. I cranked the air conditioning up. I shook my head sharply as slumber tugged it gently down. No, only a few more miles… then…then I could rest. But I couldn’t. I needed to help Boss.
There it was on the left, the Duke farm. I turned widely into the yard, glad to feel the familiar sound of gravel beneath the tires. I pulled up as close as I dared and shut the car down. Opening the door of the car seemed much harder than it should’ve been. I swung my feet out and summoned my last reserves to make it to the front door. I was running on empty.
I slowly stood up, but then leaned against the car door as a wave of nausea passed. I swung the door closed and stumbled my way to the front steps. My vision started to dim and I involuntarily collapsed forward as I reached the porch. I laid for a few moments with my head on my right arm, the ringing in my ears growing and the prickle of cold sweat enveloping me. I knew oblivion was closing in. I struggled to push myself forward enough so I could knock on the door.
I pounded at the bottom of the door with as much strength as I could muster. Oblivion was here and I had no choice but to obey. My eyelids closed and the sound of chirping crickets, the gentle rush of the night wind, and my own breathing became distant, a fading memory.
I don’t know how long oblivion took me. But like a gentle stream, the sound around me slowly filtered back. I couldn’t open my eyes. I couldn’t move, but I was there. I could hear muffled voices inside and movement.
“It’s nearly 2am. Who in their right minds’d be out here at this time?” a gruff, older voice said.
“I don’t know, Uncle Jesse. But me n’ Bo’ll check. You n’ Daisy get back to bed,” a younger male voice replied.
The door creaked open. There was a moment’s silence, then worried whispers.
“Luke, he’s been hurt.”
I could feel them by my side. Gentle hands examined my wounds, rolled me over, checked my pulse. They exchanged words again, their tone concerned, but I couldn’t understand. I was slipping again. Slipping towards oblivion.
The next thing I recalled was the gentle pat of a rough hand on my cheek. I struggled to open my eyes, but they felt glued shut.
“Rosco?” the gruff voice said.
“How bad is he hurt, Uncle Jesse?” a female voice questioned.
“Pretty bad. Bo, go get some towels and warm water. I’ve gotta clean this wound before it gets infected.” I felt a stab of pain as his hands peeled parts of my uniform from the wound. “It may already be infected,” he continued. He patted my face again, “Rosco? C’mon. Wake up.”
“Eww, uhh.. Uncle Jesse. From the looks of that, I’m not sure he’d wanna be awake when you clean it.”
Oh, boy. I think he’s right. And I can’t even see it! But oblivion was slowly, but surely retreating. I couldn’t help but moan at the throbbing pain in my arm as he continued to work the layers of clothing and dried blood away from the wound.
“I think he’s waking up. He’s gunna need some sort of painkiller. Daisy, go get the jug of shine I keep for emergencies. It’s in the kitchen cabinet.”
“Ok, Uncle Jesse.”
“Here are the towels and water you asked for.”
“Ok, set them down there.”
“And I brought this too.”
“Thanks. That’ll help. Luke, can you and Bo move the table out of the way. I’m gunna need some room to work.”
I felt hands propping me up and then laying me back down against something soft.
“Thanks, Daisy,” the gruff voice whispered.
Then I smelled an overpowering aroma. It wafted under my nose and I tried in vain to move away from it.
“I think that’s doing it,” one of the younger male voices said.
I started coughing, my nose and throat burning. I opened my eyes, the edges of my vision still dim and blurred. I tried to focus.
“There he is!” a chorus of voices chimed.
“Rosco? You’re at the Duke farm,” I saw the face in front of me say. It was a kindly old face, white hair and beard.
“Rosco, where the heck have you been the past two days? Everyone’s been worryin’ about you and Boss. You two just disappeared off the face of the earth,” the blonde said.
“Now, Bo,” Jesse admonished, “I’m sure Rosco’s been through a lot. Give me a chance to bandage him up and let him rest a bit before you start barraging him with questions.”
The events of the past two days came rushing back all at once. I grabbed at Jesse’s shirt and pulled myself to a sitting position. “Jesse, they’ve got Boss. We’ve gotta get him outta there.”
“Whoa, hold on a minute, Rosco. You’re not goin’ anywhere. Not for a while at least. We’ve gotta get you fixed up.”
“Jesse, they’re gunna kill him. They tried to kill me.” I tried to continue, but I was so worn and weary that I could barely think. Jesse gently pushed me back down to the couch.
“Here, take some sips of this. It’ll make you feel better,” he said, placing the jug with the overpowering aroma to my lips.
“God, Jesse. What the hell is that stuff?” I protested.
He smiled. “It’s my medicinal shine.”
“I think you left it sittin’ too long,” I retorted.
He forced it to my lips and made me drink. “Ahhgh.. ehck..pleh” I sputtered and choked on the strong liquid. “Jesse, you tryin’ to kill me too!? Augh..”
“You’ll thank me for that,” he said.
“Yeah? When?” I shot back.
“When I start pokin’ around your arm there to get the bullet out,” he replied.
I must’ve turned three shades of pale. He put his hand on mine to reassure me. “Just rest for a bit, Rosco. Let the shine do its thing. I’ll make it as painless as possible.”
“Thanks Jesse,” I replied, genuinely appreciative of his efforts.
I felt a warmth envelop me. My limbs and eyelids felt heavy and my head buzzed. I breathed deeply and the tension in my muscles faded. The pain in my arm was fading and I felt relaxed. The shine was “doing its thing” as Jesse had said. I watched the Duke cousins discussing Boss’ situation animatedly, tossing out all sorts of possibilities and solutions, but each agreeing they needed more information. That’s gunna have to wait, I thought. I felt so distant and detached from the whole thing. I closed my eyes, figuring to only rest them for a moment, but exhaustion took its toll. I drifted off into a deep sleep as Jesse started tending to my injuries.