Warning: This chapter contains the depiction of violence, some of which is to a young man. If this is upsetting, please don't read any farther. But remember, it's just a story.
"Will you stop lookin' up at us and get to getting' on that tire," the old man yelled at the kneeling boy, who was trying desperately to loosen the first lug nut on the flat tire. It was obviously done with a hydraulic driver.
The man with the red car had to show the boy everything: how to get to the tools from the trunk, then the new tire, how to get the jack out, put it together, then slide it under the car and lift it. The man was rather patient; after all, he didn't have the investment or hate of the boy that the other two had festering within them.
The boy was very impressed with the whole operation, seeing how it all fit together and then lifted a whole car up. He really enjoyed seeing things work like that. But he also knew that he couldn't let on that he was enjoying this part.
"The next one's gonna be a kick to your groin, boy, now get busy!" yelled the old man.
Try as he would, the boy couldn't loosen it.
"Oh, my gawd! Get out of the way, dammit," yelled the sheriff, red with the heat of anger.
A swift kick threw the boy to one side, falling into the owner of the car, who just took a step back and let the boy fall, face first, to the straw-covered ground inside the barn.
Five grunts and the five nuts were loose.
"Now git over there and take off that tire. Damn, you are as stupid as a two by four."
"So, old man, what are you going to do about our situation? Do you realize that any moment now we could be totally surrounded by my own deputies and God knows who else? We wouldn't have a prayer."
"Now don't go gettin' religion on me, boy. You're as deep into this as they come."
"Let me get this straight," said the man with the car. "You, the Sheriff of this county, expect your own men to raid this place at any second?"
"It wouldn't be unheard of; not after what's happened."
"Then maybe you two oughts to fill me in on what happened while I assist this young man with what it will take to get me out of here, pronto."
"Suit yourself. He ain't no good for nothin' no how. Just kick him out the way. Soon enough he'll be put to good use. Sport, more like it."
The man knelt down and pushed the boy away. He wasn't mean, just in a hurry. Actually, the man really had no problem with the boy. He was cute and very quiet and well mannered. It was just that, to the man, the boy was just a business commodity that he was about to collect on. When he thought about the fact that he didn't have to kill him, he shrugged his shoulders, not caring one way or the other, and went about his task of changing the flat tire.
"This idiot and the man you blew away yesterday were to go take a boy in the city and bring him back for an order we had waitin'. You know, wait 'til the time is right, no one around, stop, grab him up and hightail it back ta here. Simple, right?
"Well, idiot here not only wussed out on the job but he could well have been seen enough to be recognized. I still cain't believe it."
The boy looked up at the old man from where he lay next to the man changing his tire. As he heard it, he was in for punishment for screwing up the young boy's kidnapping and for not finishing with the tire. He didn't quite get the full meaning of the problem of his being recognized, because he knew he didn't know any of the kids he'd seen in the driveway that day.
"So, it comes down to this: we start by getting rid of any connection between the botched attempt at the boy and us," said the sheriff. "Then I, for one, am out of here. I don't care what they think of my disappearing as long as I can get away clean of all this. That also means, this operation has to cease now, and you need to disappear too, old man."
"Will you quit calling me that? And just how do you propose that I do that?"
"Wait," said the man changing the tire. "Before you get embroiled in your family squabbles, I'd like my money, so I can get out of here before the action starts." He knew they'd pretty much identified his car since the shooting the day before, but he was also very proficient at ditching the tools he used to complete a job and get new ones before the next one, and he always demanded cash payment. That erased any connection he had to the people for whom he did the deed.
"I got your money right back at the house. You finish there whilst we start to take care of eliminatin' our problems. Help me with the boy, son."
"Will you . . . Oh, what the hell?" muttered the sheriff.
The old man motioned to the boy.
"Come on over here, idiot. We got a little rope trick we're gonna show you."
'Wow! Really? A rope . . . Wait! Whatever it is, it can't be good coming from them.' The boy quickly crawled until he was cowering behind the man, who was just finishing up changing the tire.
As the man cranked down the jack, which lowered the car to the ground, he swept behind him with his arm and knocked the boy several feet away from him and closer to the other men.
"Ha! Maybe you ain't so dumb. You know what's comin', boy? Do you really know that this is your last day here? Grab him so's we can get this started. I suppose we needs to hurry."
'Did I hear right?' thought the boy, almost compelled to hurry to the old man for once. 'My last day here?' He thought about the wonderful time he had away from the farm and even his barn. For a split second, he didn't even think about who would tend to his animal friends. It was just too good to be true.
"Yeah, well did you think about what we do with him afterward? He has got to disappear completely, and we haven't got time for any of us to be digging a hole that won't be noticed, let alone him taking all day to do it."
"You really think I'm that stupid? I got him to dig us a deep hole back a few weeks. It's far enough away from the buildings here so's not to raise an eyebrow and I got a whole load of dung ready to dump over it. It'll be so disgusting no one will want to get within twenty yards of it. Now, ain't I brilliant?"
"Brilliant wasn't the word I was thinking of," said the sheriff as he leaned down to grab the boy by his arm and drag him to the middle of the barn.
"Perkins? Reynolds here, with Archie Fray at the farm. We don't see the red car anywhere, but do you know what the license number is of the Sheriff's private rig? I'm pretty sure it was his we saw drive up and around to the other side of the barn. In a helluva hurry too. Does he know all that has led up to this point?"
"I sure hope not, Ray. I don't know how he could. We're not even on the usual frequencies. Look, find yourself a good vantage point and sit still. Stay out of the way on both ends of the road as we'll be coming in from both ways. We've got good cover from the north because of the trees down that side, but they aren't as plentiful from the south. That's a bit more risky. Maybe one of you can go around and see if that car is on the other side of the buildings too.
"Then, when you see us coming in, I want you to go to Jeb Harding's place, warn him of what's going down and stay with him. I promised someone I'd have two men there to protect him and I would feel real bad if something happened to one of our city's finest men."
"10 - 4. Will do."
It had been almost a half hour since the big man with the six-sided star picked up the boy and dragged him to where the two ends of the rope hung in the middle of the barn, between the rafters.
"Daddy?" said a weak, frightened voice on the other end of the cell phone that Dan had to his ear.
"Denver? Denver, honey, you need to hang up and let me get to my work. I have a big job to do and then we can talk later, okay?"
"Okay but, daddy, I heard Ralph say that you was gonna go get the guys that hurt me and I got all scared that you would hurt the boy that tried to get me." It was plain to tell that he was on the verge of tears.
"Oh, honey. I don't want to hurt anyone, but they can't keep doing what they've been doing like that and not answer for it. If you do something wrong then you need to be punished, right?"
"Okay, yeah, but Daddy, he didn't want to do wrong. I mean, I heard him say sorry and he, he didn't even try to hurt me. I saw him, his eyes. I heard him. He was scared as much as I was, maybe more. He was almost cryin' even before me. Daddy, he wasn't supposed to be there, doin' that. I know. He was made to and he didn't want it to happen. He ran when he coulda slapped Mel silly and coulda took me any time he wanted. Really."
Dan had almost interrupted the boy to hang up, but something made him stop and listen. It wasn't as though Denver was psychic, but Dan recognized the innocent observations of a boy as scared as he'd ever been, and to still see and feel the other boy's innocence over what he was going through right then was a pretty powerful indication that he was not far off of his evaluation.
"So, honey, what do you think should happen? We aren't going to stop what we're doing."
"Daddy, some time, when you go get them, if you can take him first and not let him be shot or anything, it would be a good, good thing. We just talked to Jeffy over here you know and even Enrique forgave him for what he did to you. I wanna get to do that to that guy. I don't know what else to do, but I wanna say it to him. I know that's what he wants too."
"You guys, you guys talked about that day and what Jeffy did and it's all okay?"
"Yeah," giggled Denver. "Uncle Tim has him and Enrique cookin' our food on the grill. Isn't that great?"
'Uncle Tim now?' thought Dan.
"Denver, I really gotta go but I will try with all my heart to protect that boy from any harm, that is, unless he comes at us with a weapon. Then, no promises. We have to defend ourselves."
"Oh, okay. But I know he'd never try to hurt anyone, Dad. I just know it down deep. Bye."
Dan looked at the cell phone, amazed at their conversation, amazed at the perception of a nine-year-old.
"Dan, it's time. Reynolds called. No sign of the car anywhere, but they think it's inside. That's where they hear voices, screaming too, by the way."
And it was at that moment that Dan realized that what Denver told him was very true. In fact, he could imagine that if they waited, he'd find another victim of the gang's purge of the youth of their county.
"Okay, men, I need to add a glitch to our plan, a very important adjustment to our raid. Listen up."
As he slowly regained consciousness the boy quickly realized where he was.
'Oh, now I remember,' he thought as he looked up to see him hanging by the two ends of the rope that was strung over the rafters of the barn. His wrists were red from the rope burns and he could just feel the straw of the floor beneath his toes, barely enough to take some of the weight off of his thin arms. His back and legs were on fire, a pain that wasn't unknown to the boy. But this time it seemed to last longer and be more intense. He heard laughing behind him, then gasped as cold water splashed against his back, momentarily taking the fiery sting away, but it was soon back.
He looked down to see if he could see his toes, and marveled at what he did see.
'Huh,' he thought. 'I didn't even know I had any pink undies to wear. The other ones were still pretty white even after three days.'
Then the pain reached his brain again and engulfed him in a misery far worse than he'd felt in a very long time.
"This rate he won't last long," said the old man. "Let me have a swipe at him too. You guys can't have all the fun."
"Tell you what," said the sheriff, walking toward the side of the barn, "You try your damndest to see if you can get that whip high enough and hard enough to do any damage and I'll find a way to end this stupidity right now."
The old man took the red whip from the man with the car and turned toward the sheriff, his son.
"You know, I've really had it with your sass and your disrespectin' me all the time. I gave you money for doin' practically nothin' but keepin' your flap shut and all you can do is put me down every chance you get. Enough!"
By then the Sheriff, old man Jenkin's son, had turned back toward the middle of the barn, a long pitchfork in his hands.
"Well, after the upbringing I got from you, you don't deserve any respect. Until I left, you treated me pretty much like you treated all the help you had on hand. Hell, you had to move to a new county all the time just because of the continued abuse of your hired hands, to say nothing of the first boy you ever took. I suppose he's under a pile of dung somewhere back home too?"
"Actually, under an old silo that was on the property. But he was a much better boy than this one. Hell, he was even better than you, you good for nothin' . . ."
With that he slowly raised the whip to bring it in back of him and just as his arm came down with lightning speed, bringing the end of the whip slashing across the sheriff's face, he felt four sharp twinges of the most severe pain he'd known since his heart attack several years before. In fact, he would have sworn he was having another one, far more powerful than the first, if he hadn't looked down to see the pitchfork sticking out of his chest. The last thing he remembered was one of the loudest, most blood-curdling screams he'd ever heard from man or beast coming from in front of him. As his eyes slowly closed for the last time, he thought to himself, 'Good. Serves him right.'
"You know, Sheriff, it's no skin off my back what happens to you all, but I'm not sticking around to see you go down. I'm outta here."
The man got into his car, started it and hit the gas hard before the sheriff could wipe the blood from his striped face.
The barn door in front of the big red car was closed, but not for long.
They gave way like so many toothpicks as the car slammed into the doors. He jerked on the wheel to avoid a wagon full of manure, waiting to be spread in the field somewhere, and sped up as he turned onto the gravel driveway leading around the house.
"STOP WHERE YOU ARE AND GET OUT OF THE CAR WITH YOUR HANDS UP!"
He slammed on the breaks, just long enough to whip the car into reverse and head for a second driveway south of the barn. He grabbed his gun from the seat and lowered his window. 'No way am I going with you assholes,' he laughed confidently.
But in front of him was more metal, representing a vast array of armored trucks and cars, all with several men poised and ready to return fire.
He got off one wild shot from his high-powered pistol before the car was turned into a virtual sieve by the answer to his argument.
'Told ya, assholes,' was his final thought.
The sheriff swore through his blood-filled mouth at the sound of a rain of gunshots.
"Shit! Why did I let that old fart . . ."? But his eye caught movement in a window off to his left. His hand went to his pistol.
"Perkins, we see the sheriff and what looks like a boy, maybe seventeen, eighteen. The boy is beaten pretty bad and is hanging by his wrists in the center of the barn. Wait, there's his gun!"
The bullet from the sheriff's gun shattered the window next to Reynolds and sent glass everywhere, including his hair and neck.
"Denver was right!'" exclaimed Dan.
"Never mind." Dan brought the megaphone up to his lips and shouted, "It's no use, Sheriff. Leave the boy and walk out so we can discuss this like civilized . . .
"I guess I got my answer."
The two shots were aimed at Reynolds and Fray from inside the barn. Sheriff Jenkins grabbed his knife and whacked at the ropes holding up the limp boy.
"I guess you'll finally come in handy to me, boy. Hope you live long enough to help me out of this."
He threw the boy over his shoulder and ran for the door leading to his truck around the back of the barn. One more shot kept the two deputies' heads down as he threw the boy into his truck and climbed in. He hit the gas and drove around the building quickly realizing that both exits were blocked by cars and trucks from both his agency and that of the city police. He swerved the truck to between both exits, which was two thick rows of tall arborvitae and slammed on the gas.
Hollywood would have been jealous of the scene as the truck hit a high patch in the lawn and sailed through the bushes, obscuring any vision the sheriff may have had. By the time he could see anything he was plowing into a high row of laurel bushes on the other side of the road. When he came to a stop, he was looking at the side of an old, almost historic looking house that needed some serious work.
Quickly he reached back and grabbed a rifle that hung behind him in the window above the back seat. He pulled out the boy and clumsily made his way to the back porch and the kitchen door, which he kicked open with his boot.
"Whose down there?" called out Jeb, setting down his binoculars long enough to turn toward the attic steps.
'Ah, good place for me,' thought the sheriff. 'The attic and another hostage. This will be over very soon now.'
The unconscious boy hung in the arm of the sheriff and was bumped and scraped all the way up to the landing of the attic stairs. There the sheriff dropped him, knowing he wasn't able to move anyway.
"What in tarnation is goin' on down there," shouted Jeb as he peered over the railing and into the muzzle of a .30-06 rifle.
"I'm going on down here. Well, if isn't Jeb Harding, a pain in my side for years. I couldn't have found a better hostage if I'd picked you out of the phone book."
"Sheriff Jenkins? What's the meaning of this intrusion? Why aren't you over there protecting me from those hooligans and thugs?"
"Because, you arrogant SOB, because I am one of those hooligans and thugs." He then gave the sickest laugh that rang in Jeb's ears and even made the boy's body twitch at the devil in that sound.
"Now back up and sit in that chair! If you so much as move, I am quite willing to leave two dead bodies here instead of taking two live hostages, so don't push me. You hear me?"
"Don't do anything crazy, Sheriff. Well, crazier, under the circumstances," said Jeb, moving back until he felt the seat of the chair against his legs. He promptly sat down.
"DAN, DAN, we're okay but he . . ." shouted Reynolds into the walkie-talkie.
"I know, I know. He's gone over to the Harding place, but we have it surrounded. I'm making the farmhouse here our command station. We need to get Jeb's phone number and get a negotiator over here."
He sent Norton to the captain of the SWAT team to ask about their sniper, knowing that he had no one that could shoot accurately from the farm property into the Harding house.
"Norton, he's not here. He's been on medical leave for a week. He can't even get out of bed yet. I've got no one that can shoot well enough to be any good at that range. He'd been a marksman in Iraq before he came . . .Norton?"
Norton was huffing and puffing as he ran up to Dan. Dan was looking over Norton's shoulder for the sniper he'd ordered.
"Where's . . ."
"Listen to me! They don't have one. He's laid up."
"Shit oh dear, what . . . ?"
"Listen! What about McGill? He was special operations over there. You told me about what you knew of his work. Maybe he has the training to do it."
"God, Norton, I can't ask him to risk his life . . ."
"What risk? He'll be concealed and, if we can't come up with someone that can shoot that far, then surely neither can the sheriff."
"Hm-m, good point. Well, he can always say no," said Dan as he hit the speed dial on his cell phone.
"Perkins, resid . . ."
"Ralph, son, get Tim now!"
"Dan?" I asked. "That was fast. Is everthing . . ."
"No, time, Tim. I can clue you in when you get here."
That wasn't what I wanted to hear, especially as just then I heard the crack of a high-powered rifle a long way away from Dan's phone.
"Tim, are you a good enough marksman to hit a live target say 500 yards, maybe a little more?"
"Whoa! I have done it with the right rifle, but I have nothing that I can use."
"Tim, the sheriff has Jeb and the boy that tried to take Denver as hostages somewhere in Jeb's house. He can hold us off until hell freezes over from there."
"Denver told me about his call to you. We didn't even know he'd made it. I'm on my way, but you need to rustle up something powerful. Ask for a Barrett M82 loaded with 12.7 mm shells."
"Um, okay, but I doubt it. We'll have something. Just get over here."
Of course, as I hung up I saw that Ralph hadn't left and was standing anxiously in front of me to hear how his dad was, no doubt. Little did he know what was coming.
"How is he, Tim? Is it over? I thought I heard a . . ."
"Slow down, son, slow down. Unfortunately, there's one more piece to iron out before they can come home."
"It's okay. There's very little chance of anything more happening. I can't, well, I won't tell you what's up, but I need to go up there."
"What? We can't risk losing both of you! That's just insane!" Ralph was almost out of control.
I looked outside to see the kids all playing in the back, except Enrique and Jeffy who were talking at an old swing set near the back of the property.
"Ralph, you need to calm down. I already said there is little chance of something happening to either of us. I promise. But they need a skill I have from my days in the service. I'm the only one that can do it. But I promise you, it can't possibly put me at risk."
"You don't mind if I don't believe you? Please be careful, Tim," he said as he came to me and hugged me tight.
"I will. I have plenty out there," I said, pointing to the kids at play, "to keep me on my guard, just like in Iraq. Now, I need you to do something that may not go over too well with the kids."
"You need to tell the kids I've gone to get dessert or something. Yes, say dessert. That should get me some time. Please, no matter how long we take, don't tell the kids anything. Ralph, I'm counting on you."
"Yes, sir. You can count on me," he said, wiping tears from his eyes.
"Go wash your face and then go play with the boys. Wait until they ask about me before you tell them. That way, we've got a little more time," I said, walking to the front door.
Then I heard, "Dad, where are you going?" as the door closed behind me.
Of course, I was stopped by a police officer, whose car was blocking the road to our place and the scene of the gunfight.
I explained who I was and that he should radio Dan. Within a minute he moved his car and I was allowed to pass.
There were still several vehicles on the roadway to the farm, but most were on the farm property. As I glanced over at Jeb's house the only thing, I saw out of place was a huge swath taken out of the bushes that lined the street, in front of his house.
"Tim, I can't tell you how thankful we are that you would consider doing this. We're really in a jam and I don't know how patient the sheriff will be. We can't take the chance that he'll just let the two go and he'll come out. The negotiator said about three words before he was cut off and a phone went flying through the front bedroom window. Before that, he shot at one officer to keep him back, but I think he was aiming to kill him."
"So, where are we now? Do you know where he is in the house?"
"We think so. We saw a light go on in the attic, the top window up there," he said, pointing to the highest full-sized window though there was a high dormer window above it. I'd never been up there but it looked like the attic had a ceiling that was as high as any ceiling in the house, like a full third floor.
It was almost dark out, which wouldn't make my job easier. Dan let me use his binoculars and I used them to take a closer look at my area of interest. There wasn't much to see since there was a line of trees that almost blocked the entire window and a sheer curtain that was blocking my view of the inside of the attic. I could see the glow of the light, but nothing else.
"Where do you propose I set up?"
"Well, we were thinking either the farm attic or, if you want to be about 200 feet closer, you could get up that tree there. We may need to trim it some for you to get a good clear shot, but I think it will afford you decent cover too."
"I agree. I think that's best. It's big enough that I don't think it will move if I stay on the lower branches. Being on this hill puts me at a slight advantage to his view, though he'll have a little more protection. Now, where's my buddy?"
"My weapon, Dan."
"Oh, Norton, show the Sergeant what we came up with. Tim, it isn't quite what you asked for but it's the best we've got."
That didn't sound good. And seeing the result of their search didn't leave me with any warm fuzzies, either. Norton handed me an M24 rifle and a box of 7.62x51mm NATO rounds. A good rifle for hunting, called a .308 Winchester by civilians.
"You're kidding. How far is it over there, do you suppose?'
"We guessed at just over five hundred yards. Is it going to do the job?"
"Oh, sure. Experts have used it accurately to over a thousand yards. I think I'm a good shot but I'm sure no expert. But if this is the best we've got, and it will save two lives, I'm ready. I think I need to squeeze off at least one, maybe two rounds like maybe on the other side of the barn."
"No problem. You have the largest part of two agencies at your beck and call. Whatever you need, Tim, just name it."
"Thanks, Dan. I'll be right back."
I walked through the barn to get to the other side. The first thing I noticed was a puddle in the middle of the barn that had stained the straw pink. Looking above it, I noticed the ropes hanging. Even though they'd been cut there was still some blood on one of them. I immediately thought of Denver's boy, a hostage up in the attic across the way.
When the sheriff heard the first of my practice shots, used to site the weapon, he was startled that something was going to be taking place under him very soon.
"You can't keep me here like this. It isn't right and you're going to get us all killed. You know you won't survive whatever they throw at you," said Jeb.
"Will you shut up!" barked Jenkins. "Let me think." He didn't see any movement, though it was pretty much black out. He noticed that they'd covered up the street light to make it even darker outside.
"Humph! If you'd been doing some thinkin' all along, none of us would be in danger."
The sheriff turned on the man in the chair and slapped his face. Jeb's wrists were tied to the arms of the old chair, so he had little movement left which made the blow that much harder.
"One more word and I'll . . ."
"Okay, then. That one more word is about you moving in front of that window. You crazy enough to draw fire if they see you moving, especially now that it's dark out and the light's behind you?"
He wasn't at all worried about his captor's safety, but he was worried that any bullets flying through that window could hit him too. The chair was directly between the ceiling light and the window, making it easily seen should the sheer curtain come down. As it was, it was pulled too far to cover one edge of the window, leaving about five inches exposed to anyone outside the attic.
"That's real sweet of you to warn me, you old coot, but I . . . Hm-m-m." First, he turned to look at the window, then the ceiling over the window. His hand went to his chin as a new plan was formulating in his mind. "Yup, thank you a lot."
And then he began to carry out his next devious scheme. The first thing he did was pull the sheer closed, though it still left an inch or so exposed. He looked up as another shot rang out, though as far away as the other one.
"Hell, of a time to be taking target practice, huh, old man?"
"Not a word! Oops!" said the man as sarcastically as he could.
"Okay, Dan, I'm as ready as I'll ever be. I was able to site in, accurately at least four hundred yards. I wouldn't want to hit something or someone out there on the other side of the farm, so I shot into the mound out in the field."
"Let's give him a boost into that tree, guys. Then, Tim, you need to use your own discretion. If somehow you can see a target, a good target, I say have at it. We have little recourse than that."
"Will do," I said as I was pushed up until I could get a foothold on a low branch. Someone handed me the rifle and I turned and kept climbing. I was only about twenty feet up, but I had a clear view over the trees, finally.
"Oh, what's the sheriff wearing, surely not his uniform," I asked but they'd wandered off, probably to set up a plan to follow when and if I made contact.
I didn't want night vision. Even as far as it was, I didn't want the light of the room too bright in my eyes. As it was, the room's glow was plenty, and the window filled quite a bit of my scope, considering the distance.
With the sheer in place, I could see some shadows. There seemed to be a chair in the middle of the room with a big person sitting in it, not moving. I figured that it was Jeb. I also figured that with the blood I saw, the boy was probably lying on the floor or on some other furniture out of my view. I just hoped we could get to him in time before he lost too much blood.
Just then I saw a movement!
There it was again! Like someone was brushing up against the window, maybe to look out.
'Hm-m-m,' I thought as I raised my finger to the trigger and braced myself to be as steady as I could, 'this may be a lot easier than I thought.'
There were holes in the sheer, not big ones but big enough to see into the room a tiny bit. There was also about an inch of the window where I'd seen movement, that wasn't covered by the sheer.
I realized the holes did me no good, but that inch was like winning a raffle.
My god! I could see the butt of the rifle Jenkins was holding! He had it vertical, against his chest, ready to lower at the slightest hint of movement and start shooting. It was my job to make sure that didn't happen and I was ready to make that decision.
I sat up a bit and shrugged to loosen the tension I was feeling, then I rearranged my butt and legs, so I felt like I was positioned more securely. I bounced a couple of times to gauge how much movement there was in the limb I was on. The gun had a kick but not enough to blow me out of the tree.
I fed a shell into the chamber, ready to fire. One was all it would take. Next, I lowered the rifle until it rested on a single branch about six inches from the muzzle of the gun. I then lowered my head until it almost rested against the stock of the gun.
Then I waited for the next movement.
I had made my decision. The next movement would be his last.
And then it happened and I . . .
No! It couldn't be. But it was.
To me it loomed clear as day, though I have to admit, I almost fell for it. Then I saw the person in the chair raise his head. One arm was in the dark but as I saw his shoulder move, I noticed the man in the window move at the same time.
I aimed the rifle and slowly squeezed the trigger, my sites clearly on my target.
I was knocked back to the reality of my actions by the kick of the rifle I'd just shot. I couldn't believe what I'd just done. But I knew I was right.
"Tim?" shouted Dan as I saw the window shatter and the man in the window fall back.
"It's done, Dan," I yelled below me. "I just hope I was right," I said to myself.
"What? You hope what?"
"Yeah, I'm coming down. I want to be over there when you go in."
"Well, then get your butt down here. These guys aren't gonna wait and if he's still alive he could still take out . . ."
"No, believe me, he isn't going to do anything more, ever again."
Even though I knew there would be no shots fired from the attic window of the house we approached, the others made their way with the precision that was ingrained in them during their SWAT training.
When we got to the porch, a man with a battering ram was ready to smash open the front door.
"Wait!" I yelled as I approached the officer. "Don't do that unless you have plans for repairing anything you break."
"Just stand back and let me do my job."
"Tim, come back here and . . ."
But by then I'd walked up to the door, with the battering ram pressed to my back, and opened the door and calmly walked in.
"Is he nuts?" called out the man behind me.
"We-e-e-ell, um, I mean no! He's just very confident," answered Dan who hurried to walk up behind me, though his gun was drawn, and he was being very cautious.
"No helmet, no vest. I'm telling the kids on you. Are you sure you're not crazy?" Dan whispered to me as we approached the stairway up to the second floor.
I actually laughed. I was dead sure of my shot. I just wasn't totally positive that . . . But we'd soon see.
As we cleared the stairs and walked into the hallway, more of the SWAT team raced around us and poised themselves at what was obviously the attic stairs.
This time, though I opened the door, I let them go first, just in case, I guess.
"One critical on the landing, though it doesn't look like from the gunshot," called one man from above us.
"Area clear. One dead in a chair, bullet wound in the chest, one on the floor with glass cuts but fainted I think."
"Closet clear. Okay, you guys can come up."
I hurried. Fainted? I hope it was only the lack of blood to the brain due to the trauma and nothing more serious.
I was right! I almost fell to my knees and wept. I made a split-second decision that could have been the biggest mistake of my life. But I was right!
The scene before me looked like this: The person in the chair was Sheriff Jenkins. He'd even placed some rope over his wrists to make it look like, through the sheer, that Jeb was tied up there. To his side, next to the shoulder I saw move, was a rope that went up through the rafters and came down just in front of the window. It was tied to Jeb, of course, who was wrapped in more rope and still had the sheriff's rifle securely tied to his chest, vertically. When the sheriff pulled the rope, Jeb would have to move, hitting the window, making me think it was the sheriff looking out.
"What the . . . He is crazy, that one," said my battering rammer, standing in front of the chair with the very dead sheriff in it and he was pointing at me.
"Tim, do you realize you shot the hostage? I mean, where I would have thought the hostage was tied up. How did you know? What gave it away?' Dan's mouth still hung open as did several of the men around him.
"Let's see," I started, a wave of nausea passing through me, then the much-needed feeling of relief. "I thought I saw his badge in his back pocket, so . . ."
"Bull shit! How?" My favorite SWAT guy wasn't laughing.
"Denim? That's it?" asked Dan.
"That's it. Have you ever seen the sheriff wear jeans of any kind, ever? Neither have I. I remember you and the other guys joking about it that time you invited AJ and me to one of your picnics. You're the one that said you didn't think he even owned any."
"Oh my God, you're so right," said Dan.
"I saw a tiny bit of blue between the sheer drape and the edge of the window. Then I saw one of Jeb's brass buttons that probably say Osh Kosh. But the clincher was when I saw the person in the chair move his arm and then the man in the window move, enough times that it all added up to what you see here."
I saw Jeb being untied and lifted to another chair while one of the men called for paramedics and the coroner. I turned to look down at the boy still lying on the landing and saw Dan kneeling beside him, checking his pulse.
"How is he?"
"Surprisingly strong. His back is a mess. He'll be sleeping on his stomach for a long time, but he'll probably be sleeping a lot deeper and much more peacefully than he has in a very long time, is my guess. Look, he has scars and old cigarette burns, even more, stripes on his legs, hell, almost everywhere. This boy lived through hell, Tim, and somehow, he survived. There must be a very strong reason for that. But we'll find out."
"Then Denver was right on, wasn't he?"
"He sure was. Oh, man, I need to call them, Ralph that is."
He walked down the steps as paramedics with two gurneys waited to come up the stairs.
I walked over to my old friend and saw that he was just coming to.
"What the . . . Where am I?"
"Jeb, it's me, Tim. Do you remember anything that happened up here?" I asked him.
It took him a moment and he finally shook his head and turned to look at me very seriously.
"Remember! I thought I was a goner when he strung me up in that window and had me practically dangling, waiting for a slug in my chest. Hey! Look at that. He got the slug? How did that shooter know? How come I'm still around? Must be a miracle. I think I'm a believin' man now."
"Jeb, I just knew. I saw your denims and knew the sheriff never wore them. Except when we see you in court, you're always wearing your overalls. So . . . Bang," I said, pointing at the sheriff's body.
"You were... .? You did this? I think I'm gonna faint again. Wake me for breakfast though."
Everyone that heard him laughed out loud. It couldn't have come at a better time. We all had our share of tension to be rid of and the wise old man was right there for us. He got a few slaps on the shoulder and 'way to go's before we all scooted out of there to let the EMT's do their work.
"Everyone is very relieved, but they asked the weirdest thing," said Dan.
He met me as I was coming down from the second floor and he was coming in from the porch where he'd made his call to the boys.
"The weirdest thing? What's that, Dan?" I asked my closest friend.
"They asked if I knew how long it would be before you returned with their dessert!"
I would like to hear/read your criticisms, good and bad. I'd love to talk about where this gets to you. Matthew Templar