Authors: J.D. Rhoades
Tags: #Romance, #Thriller, #Mystery, #north carolina, #bounty hunter, #hard boiled, #redneck noir
Not a word, DeWayne,” he yelled back,
not sure if he could be heard from inside the trunk. “Not a fucking
peep, you understand?” He reached into the glove box and pulled out
his license and registration. He rolled the window down and heard
the crunch of heavy shoes on the gravel shoulder as the cop
approached. “License and registration,” a familiar voice said.
Keller’s stomach tightened as he turned and looked at the cop. It
was Eddie Wesson.
Wesson grinned. “Out of the car, smart-ass,”
he said. “Hands behind your head.”
Keller got out slowly, his hands in the
air. He looked back at the cop car behind him. Marie Jones stood at
the left front fender, one hand on her gun. “Eddie,” she said. “Why
don’t you let me--"
Shut up,” Wesson said. He grabbed
Keller by the back of the shirt and slammed him against the car,
face first. Keller felt the bone of his nose crunch against the
roof support. Wesson yanked him off the car and slammed his knee
into the back of Keller’s leg, propelling him to the ground. Wesson
put his knee in the small of Keller’s back and leaned on him with
his full weight. Keller gritted his teeth against the
, Eddie!” he heard Marie yell. Wesson ignored
her. He yanked Keller’s wrists behind his back. Keller heard the
snap of the handcuffs as Wesson secured him. Wesson gave the cuffs
an extra squeeze to tighten them to the point of pain. Then he
heard another sound.
DeWayne Puryear was hammering his feet
against the trunk lid. “Hey!” he yelled. “Help!” Wesson stood up
and drew his pistol. He pointed it at Keller on the ground. “Give
me an excuse, asshole,” he snarled. He turned to Marie. “Get the
trunk open,” he said. Keller, his face to the ground, heard the
snap as Marie unbuttoned her holster and drew her own weapon. He
turned his head to try to talk to her. “The guy in the trunk is
DeWayne Puryear,” he said. “Bail jumper from down in--” his words
were cut off by a grunt of pain as Wesson kicked him in the ribs.
“I didn’t ask you anything, asshole,” Wesson said. Keller could see
Marie’s shoes as she walked past him to get the keys out of the
ignition. She walked back to the rear of the car and opened the
Oh, thank you, Jesus,” he heard
DeWayne say. He sounded hysterical. “He’s crazy, officer! I was
mindin’ my own business when this sumbitch grabs me off the street
and stuffs me in the trunk. I ain’t done nothin’ I swear it, I was
Okay, okay,” Marie said.“ Just calm
down, sir.” Keller looked. She had helped DeWayne clamber out of
the trunk and was guiding him back to the side of the police
Get that tape off his wrists,” Wesson
I don’t know, Eddie,” she said. “What
Just do it, Marie,” Wesson
Marie holstered her weapon and produced a
small knife from her belt. She began sawing through the duct tape
binding DeWayne’s hands behind his back. DeWayne was still babbling
Don’t do it, Marie,” Keller said. He
was rewarded with a another kick in the ribs.
Finally, Marie sawed through the last
of the duct tape and DeWayne’s hands were free. He threw his arms
around Marie in a bear hug. “Thank you, pretty lady,” he said, his
voice choked with tears of gratitude. She tried to push him off.
“Sir,” she was saying, “Sir, you need to let--"
DeWayne sprang back from her. He was holding
her pistol clutched in his hand. Keller heard Wesson’s shoes
grinding on the gravel as he tried to turn, simultaneous with the
report of the gun and the wet smacking sound of the bullet striking
EDDIE!” Marie screamed. Wesson’s limp
body thudded into the ground behind Keller. There was a brief
scuffle of gravel as Wesson’s body twitched and writhed in its
death throes. Keller kept his eyes fixed on DeWayne, willing
himself not to look back. Marie leaped towards DeWayne, but he had
already swung the pistol back to point at her face. She drew up
short, her hands in front of her. Her mouth moved soundlessly.
DeWayne was panting like a long-distance runner, but his hands were
Don’t do anything stupid, lady,” he
said. He motioned with his head towards Wesson lying beside Keller
on the ground. “This gets easier every time I do it. It ain’t like
I want to do it, but the way I figger it, I ain’t got nothin’ to
lose now, y’know? Now get your hands up. Behind your head.” Slowly,
like a person moving in a nightmare, Marie complied. “Now down on
the ground,” he ordered. She sank to her knees. Her face looked
blank and dead in the harsh glare of the headlights. DeWayne backed
away from her, then turned the gun towards Keller. He smiled for
the first time, but the smile was a rictus, devoid of pleasure or
humor. The blue lights of the police car still flashing behind him
gave the scene a surreal, nightmare quality. DeWayne looked like a
fun-house clown turned insane. Keller looked down the barrel of the
Burning, they were burning. He could hear the
screams as they died. Keller tried to stand, stumbled, then crawled
towards the Bradley on his hands and knees. The gravel beneath him
cut into the palms of his hands and shredded the knees of his
uniform. Twenty feet away from the burning hulk, the heat pushed
him back like a force field. He sobbed in frustration. The screams
were abruptly cut off, drowned in the hammering series of
explosions as the ammo inside the Bradley cooked off. The sky was
filled with white flashes and streaks of red and yellow. Keller
sank to the ground. Helpless. Useless.
Do it,” Keller snarled up at DeWayne.
“Get it over with.” He looked into DeWayne’s mad eyes for a long
moment. The gun held steady on Keller, then wavered. Then DeWayne
stepped back and lowered the gun.
I cain’t do it,” he said. His
shoulders sagged as if under a great weight. He looked over at
where Marie knelt on the ground. “I cain’t shoot you while you’re
just layin’ there helpless.” He shook his head. “Reckon I still got
that much good left in me. ‘Sides,” he said with a high-pitched
giggle, “don’t reckon I can kill nobody crazier’n I am.” He edged
past where Keller lay on the ground. Keller attempted to turn his
head to watch where DeWayne was going. He couldn’t see, but he
heard DeWayne’s voice. “But this is for lockin’ me in a fuckin’ car
trunk.” Keller caught a glimpse of a heavy boot headed for the side
of his head, looking absurdly large. There was a blinding flash of
white light and an explosion of pain in Keller’s skull, then
There were three of them, two majors and a
light colonel. They were sitting behind the table, looking
immaculate in their class “A” uniforms. They made him wait a long
time at attention before speaking. “Sergeant Keller,” the youngest
of the two majors began. “We have investigated your claim of
casualties caused by so-called friendly fire. The conclusion of
this board of inquiry is that your vehicle became separated from
the rest of the unit and came under attack by an Iraqi anti-tank
No sir,” Keller said
flatly. “It was a helicopter. I heard--"
Sergeant,” the major on the
other end of the table spoke up, “we’ve checked thoroughly. Except
for the Blackhawk that saw your vehicle burning and picked you up,
there were no Coalition air assets reported in the area at the time
of the attack--”
Then either someone was as
lost as I was,” Keller replied, looking the major in the eye, “Or
someone is lying. Sir.” The major looked down and shifted
uncomfortably in his chair, but the colonel in the middle
Or maybe, Sergeant,” he
said in a gravelly voice, “you fucked up, got out of your assigned
area, and led your squad into an ambush.” He stood up. “You’ve got
a good record so far, Sergeant,” he said. “Don’t throw away your
Keller stared at him. He couldn’t control the
hysterical laugh that bubbled up unbidden from his chest. “My
career?” he said, almost choking with the laughter. “My CAREER?” he
laughed harder. Then he noticed that the three officers’ faces were
changing, melting like candle wax. As Keller stared, flames erupted
from their eyes and mouths. They fell to the floor, burning. The
air was filled with the stench of burned flesh and hair. They were
screaming. Keller tried to go to them, but he couldn’t move his
feet. He looked down and saw that his feet had sunk up to the
ankles in the floor. He began screaming as well...
Honey,” a voice was saying, “Honey,
wake up.” There was a hand on Keller’s shoulder, shaking gently. He
tried to reach up and grab the hand, but his right arm wouldn’t
respond. He opened his eyes.
He was in a hospital bed. He noticed that his
vision was obscured by a mass of bandage across the bridge of his
nose. The entire front of his face was throbbing with pain.
A middle-aged black woman in a nurse’s
uniform was standing over him. As Keller’s eyes focused on her
concerned, kind face, she stopped shaking him. Her hand remained on
his shoulder. “Bad dreams?” she said. Keller nodded. She withdrew
her hand, patting him on the shoulder as she did so. “Well, you’re
all right now. You’re safe.”
Keller tried to raise his hand again, but
couldn’t. “Then why am I handcuffed to the bed?”
The nurse’s mouth drew into a disapproving
line. “Not my idea, believe me. There’s some po-lice outside that
want to talk to you as soon as you wake up. I say you’re going to
see a doctor first. You want some water?” Keller nodded again. She
poured him a cup from a plastic pitcher at the bedside and he took
it with his free hand. She patted him on the shoulder again and
went out the door. There was a brief conversation outside, ending
with the nurse’s raised voice saying “I SAID, after he’s seen a
DOCTOR”. He heard her heavy footsteps going away. No one
After a few minutes, the door opened again
and a man in a white coat came in. He was short, no more than
five-two or -three, with dark skin and jet-black hair ineptly
combed, giving him an absent-minded look that was enhanced rather
than contradicted by his round wire-rimmed glasses. A curlicue of
elaborately embroidered lettering above the pocket of his white
coat identified him as Dr. Ahmad.
Good morning,” he said in a precise,
almost British accent. “I am Doctor Ahmad. And how are we feeling
Like someone tried to kick our head
in,” Keller said.
Ha Ha,” the doctor said, pronouncing
each syllable as if he had learned to laugh from a language text.
He withdrew a small penlight from the pocket of his white coat and
leaned over. He shined the light into first one eye, then the
other. “Are you experiencing any blurred vision, slurred
I’m fine,” Keller said.
Ahmad leaned back. “Your nose was broken,” he
said. “I’ve called for a plastic surgery consult--”
I’m fine,” Keller repeated.
Ahmad looked annoyed at the interruption.
“We’ve been hesitant to give you anything for the pain until we
determined whether there was any skull fracture or closed head
injury. That danger seems to have passed. You’re quite lucky.”
Yeah,” Keller said. “Lucky.” He raised
his right hand a few inches and the handcuff chain clinked. Ahmad
looked at the cuffs and swallowed nervously. “Yes. Well,” he said.
“There are a couple of policemen outside who wish to talk to you.”
The nurse re-entered the room, holding a small cup of water in one
hand and a small paper container in the other. “Of course,” the
doctor said, “if you would like some pain medication, I can tell
them to come back later.”
No,” Keller said. “I don’t want
anything that’ll make me sleep.”
He has bad dreams,” the nurse said.
Keller felt a flash of annoyance and embarrassment, as if she had
informed the doctor that she had caught him picking his
Ah,” the doctor said, nodding as if
that explained everything. He picked up the clipboard from the foot
of Keller’s bed and made a note. “That sort of thing is not unusual
after a frightening experience like yours. It’s
Post-traumatic stress disorder,”
You’ve heard of it,” Ahmad said,
making another note.
Yeah,” Keller said. There was an
uncomfortable silence. “Okay,” Ahmad finally said. “I can still
tell the men outside that you’re not to be disturbed. If you
Keller thought for a moment, then sighed.
“No,” he said. “Let’s get it over with.” He looked at Ahmad.
Ahmad smiled for the first time. “Don’t
mention it.” He and the nurse left the room. After a few moments,
two men came in.
They were the classic Mutt and Jeff cop team.
The older one was small and wiry, with a pockmarked face and a bad
comb-over. He had a short, brushy moustache that was saved from
being Hitlerian by only a quarter-inch of extra length. His face
was set in lines of weariness as if his feet hurt. The other cop
was taller and broader, with a flushed face and short, brush cut
blonde hair. The bigger cop leaned back against the wall and folded
his arms. The older one pulled up a chair beside the bed.
Detective Barnes,” he said. He
gestured at his partner. “This is Detective Stacy.” Stacy didn’t
respond. Neither did Keller.