I’d heard most of the phone conversation Carson had just had. I was relieved to hear he was talking to Rosco. He’d obviously gotten away relatively unscathed. I only wish I could warn him not to come for me, as much as I wanted to be rescued.
I guess I’ve always been a bit of a pessimist. At one time, Rosco might’ve been able to pull of a rescue of this type. Long ago, before I got my greedy hands on him. He was a good sheriff, best in the state. But now… I don’t even think the Dukes could help him get me out of this mess. After Rosco got away that night, I’d pretty much resigned myself to my fate. I knew the only reason I was still alive was because they wanted the money… and Rosco.
It was getting late and as much as I wish I could’ve put this whole thing off, I knew I had to start getting ready. I dropped by Boss’ house to pick up the money from my sister. Then I headed home to make my final preparations. I picked out a fresh uniform and laid it on the bed. I took one of my black uniform jackets off the coat rack in the corner and brushed the light layer of dust off the shoulders. If I’m gunna go out in a blaze of glory, I might as well look my best. I smiled a morbid, defeated smile and then sighed as I shined my silver star and pinned it to the jacket. I dressed, packed the money in an old briefcase, packed my weapon, and prayed they wouldn’t find the firearm… at least not until it was too late for them to do anything about it.
Just then, Flash came in to the room and sat at my feet. I reached down, picked her up, and hugged her to my chest. “Aw, Flash, honey. Daddy’s in a heap of trouble this time.” I kissed her head and stroked her wrinkled hide. “Listen, now. If daddy doesn’t come back, I’m sure the Duke family’ll take you in. They’ve got lotsa land with all sorts of critters n’ scents for you to track.” I nearly worked myself into a fit talkin’ to Flash. I needed nerves of steel for this job and if I kept talkin’ to her like that, I’d unnerve myself right out of the whole thing. And I could tell I was unnervin’ her a bit too.
I put her down and patted her head. I picked up my jacket and put it on. Then I picked up the briefcase and walked out of the house, perhaps for the last time.
The drop time came way too early for my taste. The longer we stayed put, the longer I… and Rosco… lived.
Rob entered the room without the courtesy of a knock and forcibly hauled me to my feet.
“C’mon, Hogg. It’s showtime. We’re gunna go make us some money,” he smiled wickedly.
He shoved the business end of a rifle in my back and pushed me through the door and down the hall to Carson’s makeshift headquarters.
“We’re ready, Carson,” Rob said as we entered the room.
“Cuff him and put him in the back of the car,” Carson replied as he tossed a pair of Rosco’s handcuffs to him.
“Look, Carson, I ain’t gunna be no trouble. There’s no call for usin’ those things,” I pleaded.
He just glared at me and I swore the temperature in the room grew as hot as Carson’s temper. I could feel beads of sweat break out on my forehead. I reluctantly placed my hands behind my back as Rob fastened the cold steel around them. I let out a yelp when Rob fastened them tighter than needed and Rob only replied with a satisfied grin.
When we exited the front door, I recognized the area. We were at the old Wade homestead. Now I wish I hadn’t foreclosed on the place a few months back. My thoughts were interrupted by another shove in the back by Rob’s rifle. I stumbled down the front steps and regained my balance a few feet in front of the car.
Rob opened the back door. As I started to enter, he placed his hand on my head. At first he acted as if he was going to help keep me from hitting my head, but obviously that wasn’t the case. “Ow!”
“Rob! Cut that out, you moron. I ain’t got time for your sadistic games,” Carson bellowed as he came down the steps. “Get in the car and let’s get goin’.”
“Sorry, boss,” he yelled back. He then got in the front passenger side and smiled back at me.
As Carson pulled out, a car at the side of the house followed. I glanced back and recognized the driver as the shotgun toting thug that nearly finished Rosco off.
Rob noticed me looking out the back window. “I ain’t met a sheriff yet that could go up against the odds your brother-in-law is facin’ and come out alive. Personally, I don’t think he’s even half that good. Now, if there were ten of him… maybe.” He laughed.
I thought of offering a smart remark full of false bravado in Rosco’s defense, but I knew it wouldn’t help my situation. And although it pains me to admit it, he was probably right. I laid my head against the window and closed my eyes, wishing this would all just go away.
As I pulled out of the driveway, I glanced in the rearview and caught the glint of sunshine off the hood of an orange Charger. I was simultaneously annoyed and relieved. I hoped they could stay well hidden enough as to not spook Carson into doing something rash.
I just continued to drive as if I hadn’t seen them. I breathed deeply, forcing myself to calm down, forcing myself to concentrate. As we neared the drop point, I managed another glance to the rearview mirror. The Charger was gone. Good. They were probably finding a good vantage point. I hoped they had a good plan. I wished I’d stuck around to hear it. I hoped it was better than mine… in case mine failed. Mine was risky. It assumed too much about Carson and his methods. But then again, the Coltranes were always pretty lucky. Lord knows, I’d been in my career. Please Lord, let that luck hold out.
As usual, Rosco was running late. Carson was irritated, tapping his gun against his folded arms. He checked his watch for the third time. “Hogg, where’s that incompetent sheriff of yours!?”
I laughed. Might as well get my licks in while I can, since this was the end of the line for me. I smiled coolly at Carson. “Incompetent? That ‘incompetent’ sheriff escaped from you TWICE. Now, tell me who’s incompetent.”
Carson raised his gun hand to backhand me across the face. I raised my hands to block and turned my face from the impending blow, but it never came. I slowly turned back to look and saw him grinning. “Don’t make no difference what you say now, Hogg. You and the sheriff will be dead within the hour… and I’ll have the last laugh.”
As I pulled into the open, I saw Carson about to strike Boss. He let up for some reason and from the smile on his face, I wasn’t too sure I liked whatever reason that was. He said a few words to Boss and then turned to look at me in the car.
This was it. Now or never, do or die. Jit jit! Don’t say that word… I said a quick prayer that Carson would be as predictable as I’d hoped, that the Dukes would be true to their word, and that their timing would be perfect… or else none of us might get home.
I opened the door slowly and pulled the briefcase out with me. As soon as I closed the door, Carson started barking orders at me.
“Alright! Turn around and walk backwards ten steps!” He motioned to Rob to meet me where I stopped.
I mentally counted out ten steps and stood and waited.
“Now, put the briefcase down!”
When the case was on the ground, Rob patted me down, nodded to Carson, and then went back over to join him.
“Ok, now I want you to open that case and turn it around so we can see the money.”
“Wh-why don’t I just bring it over there?” I asked nervously.
Carson turned to Rob and smiled. “Toldja he had something up his sleeve. He probably has somethin’ in it… a smoke bomb, tear gas, or somethin’. He needs to get it close enough to us to create a distraction.” Rob nodded in agreement.
“Nah, there’s fine. Open it up and show us the money.”
I kneeled down and put the case on its side with the latches facing me. I opened it slowly and with a sleight of hand I hoped could fool a seasoned magician, I slid my revolver off the stack of bills and on to the ground in front of the case. I then carefully turned the case around to show Carson the money, the gun well concealed behind it.
Carson turned to Rob and gave him a puzzled look and a shrug. Carson motioned Rob towards the case. He took a few steps forward when I ordered him to stop. “Wait a second! Let Boss go first.”
Carson looked at Boss and then back to me. “Tell ya what. Rob’s gonna come get that case. Hogg’ll come with him. For every step he takes toward you, you take a step back from the case.”
“I-I don’t know about that,” I replied. “How ‘bout I bring the case to you and every step Boss takes towards me I’ll take a step towards you?”
Carson thought about my proposal for a minute and for that minute I thought I might be able to get Boss out alive. But when Carson refused my offer, I knew the stakes had just risen. “Nah, we’ll do it like I said. Rob takes a step towards the case, you take a step away.”
Rob whispered a protest, “But Carson, he’ll be closer to us… easier to take out.”
Carson responded in a whisper through gritted teeth, “I don’t trust him, Rob. Something’s not right. I don’t want him near us with that case. Besides, I can pick him off from that distance easy.”
Rob finally nodded in agreement as Carson motioned Rob towards the case and me away. I obeyed Carson’s command and stepped sideways with steps as small as I thought I could get away with. I searched nervously, hoping Carson didn’t catch my glances, for some sign of the Dukes, but I found none.
I was alone and Rob was quickly coming close enough that he’d see my last resort, the revolver, behind the case. As soon as he shut it and saw the weapon, me and Boss were both done for.
I fidgeted nervously, glancing between Boss and the case. He looked back at me, his eyes betraying his concern and fear.
One more step, this was it. Dammit, where are them Dukes when I need ‘em!?
I took a deep breath and as Rob started his next step, I charged. Carson must’ve been ready because he had a bead on me within my first few steps. Luckily he wasn’t as good a shot as he thought he was. The bullet whizzed past my head, too close for comfort, but far enough not to matter. Just as I lunged for my weapon, there was an explosion near the cars. Khee! The Dukes! The Hazzard cavalry had arrived! I just hoped it wasn’t too late.
I yelled at Boss to take cover. As I picked up the revolver and drew it around, I was greeted by the butt end of Rob’s rifle. Despite the pain in my head, I somehow managed to grab the rifle and keep it pointed away from me. I could hear Carson shooting at someone, whether it was the Dukes or Boss I couldn’t tell.
Rob pressed the rifle down against my neck, attempting to crush my windpipe. It took all the strength I had to keep him from succeeding. I knew I wouldn’t last long. I spared a glance to my right, looking for where my revolver had dropped. As Coltrane luck would have it, it was only a foot away. I shoved upwards at the rifle with all my might and then lunged for the revolver. The rifle came crashing down on my neck again, but I had the revolver. I swung it hard at Rob’s head and connected solidly. He reeled backward as I rolled over and attempted to head towards the woods.
I stumbled and fell, gasping for breath. No time to lay down on the job, Coltrane! Apparently, Carson had tired of firing at the Dukes because a few bullets hit the dirt at my feet. I scrambled through some bushes and took cover behind a tree. I closed my eyes and tried to catch my breath.
I saw Rosco slump down as bullets pinged the tree he was behind, sending dirt and bark flying everywhere. He was breathing heavily and seemed to be in some pain. I called out to him, but he didn’t respond. My heart nearly skipped a beat as a moment of panic grabbed me. The Dukes were fighting valiantly against Carson and his cohorts, but weren’t gaining any ground. They couldn’t get to Rosco. I was the only one that was even near him.
I crawled cautiously through the brush, trying to stay as camouflaged as possible which wasn’t easy with my white suit. I got as close as ten feet and called out to him again. He didn’t answer. He was conscious, but he seemed dazed.
I could see Rob in some bushes about fifty feet from my brother-in-law. He was inching his way towards Rosco and Rosco was completely oblivious to him. I had to get to his attention before Rob got in position to get a clean shot.
I did the only thing I could think to do. I picked up a nearby pine cone and chucked it at Rosco. It hit him square in the head and it seemed to break him out of his daze. “Ow. I’m hit! I’m hit!” he yelped. He brought a hand to his head and rubbed the spot where the pine cone had collided with his thick skull. He looked at his hand and seemed surprised, perhaps because there was no blood.
“Rosco! Over here!” I whispered loudly. He turned to look my way. “Boss?” he whispered.
“Rosco, git over here!” I ordered. “Rob’s headed yer way and he don’t look none too happy!”
Rosco looked in the direction I was looking. He let out a sharp “Jit jit!” and scrambled over behind me. “That way,” I pointed and we ran for the clearing, near the Dukes’ position.
Before we’d run barely ten feet, Carson popped out from behind a tree with his gun leveled at us. “Howdy, boys,” he sneered.
Suddenly, my heart sank and I knew this was it. I turned to my friend. “Dang it Rosco, you shouldn’t have come back for me!”
Rosco responded, his voice tinged with emotion, “But, I couldn’t just leave ya, li’l fat buddy… “
“Shut up, the two of ya! I woulda got both of ya eventually, but thanks to the hick sheriff here, he made it a whole lot easier,” Carson barked as he relieved Rosco of his firearm.
“Look, Carson. Let Rosco go. He’s small potatoes. I’m the one ya want. I’ll give ya anything I got. You can have my Caddy! I’ll throw in the used car lot. I got a shine operation in this county that’ll make ya a small fortune. I can make ya a rich man. Or at least… very comfortable. Please, Carson.,” I pleaded. “Let him go.”
Carson stood, shaking his head back and forth.
“Boss, throw in yer barber’s chair!” Rosco begged. “I’ll even give ya what’s in my piggy bank!”
“ENOUGH!” Carson snapped.
“Oo. Now he’s mad,” Rosco mumbled.
Carson grabbed Rosco by the neck and forced him to kneel with his back to him. My breath caught as Carson leveled the gun at Rosco’s head. “You’ll have to do a damn sight better than that, Hogg, if you want me to spare this pain in the ass.”
Rosco sat on his heels, his head bowed and his shoulders slumped. “Fergit it Boss, it ain’t gonna make no difference anyhow…Thanks for tryin’ tho’…”
He looked up at me, his jaw firmly set. His eyes glistened in the growing shadows of twilight. I could see the fear in them, the steel blue clouded by a mix of emotions. Failure, remorse, sorrow, and guilt shone through. But despite it all, there was a weak smile that he shared with me at that moment. “I ‘ve had a good life, Boss,” he whispered quietly. “I’ll miss ya… little fat buddy…”
“I’m sorry I got you into this Rosco,” I whispered back. “So help me, if there was anything I had on this earth that would save you, I’d give it up. There ain’t no money in the world that could buy me a better friend…”
“Alright. We get the point. Say goodbye to ‘im, Hogg,” Carson said as he pulled the hammer back on the gun.
I put my hand on Rosco’s shoulder and knelt down in front of him. Rosco lowered his head, his eyes glistening with the threat of tears. I too lowered my head, too grief stricken to look him in the eyes. I grasped the back of his neck with my hand and pulled him forward into an awkward hug. I nearly choked on the words, “Goodbye… Rosco.” He nodded, shutting his eyes. He held in his breath and waited for the end. I did the same, refusing to move away. Carson would finish us both right here.