Authors: W.C. Hoffman
The only difference was Tomek knew he was not helpless. Tomek knew they were getting close to the river and that the rain would wash away any tracks left by his brother ahead of them. Tomek knew that in just a few minutes he would be free of the shackles the uniformed beast had placed on him. Tomek knew that Drake was waiting in the pine slider and his suspicions were confirmed as they turned the last bending corner through the hillside swale and entered the pines.
With the tops of the trees so thick and green, entering the pines was a welcome relief to both Tomek and Ravizza. The rain did not penetrate the pine floor and it was as if they were under a dome. Moving along silently, it grew darker. Not only did the trees keep out the rain but it effectively blocked out what light there was escaping from the storm clouds. In the darkness of the oncoming wet night, there it was. One-hundred yards ahead, the bump in the ground was visible only to Tomek as Ravizza followed him down the library row just to the left of it.
They continued down the path in the fading light and as they grew closer, Drake could hear every step they made. Under the blanket of earth in the pine slider he could not see them or know exactly where they were. He needed Tomek to give him some sort of a sign.
Tomek passed the pine slider, first being careful not to look directly at it and tip off his trailing nemesis. As Ravizza stood directly in front of the pine slider Tomek went to the ground on his knees.
“Get up,” Ravizza demanded.
“I can’t,” Tomek said. “I’m tired and we are almost to the river.”
“You can hear it, can’t you?” Tomek continued.
“Please don’t make me try and cross the river. Please don’t make me go into it at all.”
Tomek was now pleading.
“I can’t swim and I watched my mother drown in that river. That river has caused everything that is terrible in my life to happen to me.” Tears began to mix in with the raindrops that collected on his head.
“Get off the fucking ground or that’s exactly where you’re going,” Ravizza said.
Tomek was putting on the show of a lifetime and Drake enjoyed listening to it in some way. He knew that his twin brother was simply telling the deputy these things to keep him in front of the pine slider. Drake was just waiting for the perfect moment to strike. Although Tomek’s theatrical performance was straight out of one of the tales Uncle often told about a rabbit being thrown into a briar patch, Drake still was impressed with his brother’s technique.
Tomek turned around, now facing Ravizza. Lifting his eyes to look him directly in the face Ravizza could see the tears. He no longer saw a cold-blooded killer. In front of Ravizza was a broken-down, feral 16-year-old child who had nothing left in the world. Ravizza, a former orphan himself having bounced from foster home to foster home in his youth, now felt empathetic for the young man and the struggles he had been faced with.
“Please don’t drown me like my mother. Just shoot me here. I should be dead anyway, I am an animal. Just kill me here, but please don’t throw me into the river.”
Watching and listening to this last round of dialogue, Drake rolled his eyes thinking that his brother was laying it on too thick and having heard the briar rabbit story so many times, he just hoped that the deputy was not as familiar with it. Evidently, Ravizza did not pick up on the similarities in the stories because there in the now-dark pine needle-coated forest floor Ravizza holstered his weapon and placed his arms out welcoming Tomek into his chest for an embrace.
Tomek stepped forward, halfway closing the distance while looking at Ravizza. The deputy extended his outstretched arms even further, gesturing what he now saw as a child forward. Tomek, looking into the eyes of Ravizza for assurance, took the last step forward and buried his sobbing face against the cold, wet, bullet-resistant vest that Ravizza adorned on the outside of his uniform.
Ravizza embraced the twin and patted him on the back. Tomek felt the deputy’s right arm reach under his armpit and rest on his lower back. As Ravizza closed his eyes and rested his cheek against the top of Tomek’s head, he instantly flashed into shock as a tidal wave of pain surged up from his lower leg area.
Seeing the eyes closed and head go down, Drake had made his move. Rolling forward out of the pine slider, he swung and buried the hatchet deep into the back of the empathetic deputy’s right ankle. As Ravizza dropped to the ground from his Achilles tendon being completely severed and hanging loosely, no longer connected, Tomek swung around the deputy’s back and forced both of them to fall, slamming into the ground. In doing so, Tomek not only manipulated the deputy onto his own stomach but the torque and pressure of the cuffs wrapped around Ravizza’s arm caused his elbow to dislocate. If the popping sound at the moment of dislocation was not enough, the three of them knew his arm and gun hand was now useless as Ravizza lifted it up to see his forearm, wrist and hand hanging loosely toward the ground as if it was only attached by the outer weak layer of skin.
Freeing himself from the tangled arm Tomek stood to his feet. Still in shock from the pain of his injuries the deputy lay on the ground rolling and muttering unintelligible words. The brothers looked at one another silently, smiling, contemplating what to do next.
Before the boys had a chance to decide, Ravizza came to and began reaching across his body with his uninjured arm in an attempt to cross-draw his weapon. The moment his hand made contact with the grip of the pistol, he could no longer feel it. Lifting his arm up, the struggling deputy quickly realized why. His left hand was still on the pistol. However his hand was no longer on part of his arm. The hatchet Drake had thrown from three feet away removed it from his body in one fell swoop.
Bleeding profusely from both his ankle and his severed wrist, Ravizza attempted to scoot backwards away from the twins. Digging into the ground floor with the heel of his boots, he tried to push himself back up the gentle slope of the path. His blood sat atop the brown fallen pine needles and glistened in the fading light. Looking at the boys, the deputy began to plead for their mercy.
“Please don’t do this.”
The twins slowly followed him as his blood stained the pine needle floor.
“First my dog, now me...”
His attempts at both escaping and pleading became more labored as he continued to lose copious amounts of blood. Ravizza was not sure if he was seeing double from the pain or if somehow both twins were in front of him again.
“Think about what you are doing. Two wrongs do not make a right,” the deputy said in his last attempt to be spared.
“What makes you think we are going to stop at two?” Drake replied while walking forward, picking up the hatchet. Still attached to the blade was the left hand. The pistol still in its grip, Drake removed the gun, handing it to his brother, full well knowing Tomek would love to add another firearm to his growing collection.
Tomek immediately pointed the gun at Ravizza and cocked the hammer back. Drake looking at his brother quickly spoke up,
As disappointed as Tomek was he knew that Drake was right in this instance. Drake then calmly stepped up to the shaking deputy who was now in shock from his wounds and blood loss. Rearing back and swinging forward with all his body weight, Drake implanted the hatchet directly into the top of the skull where it remained lodged as the deputy’s body lumped to the earth. Grabbing the handcuff keys off of the deputy’s blood-soaked belt, he tossed them to his brother.
“Unlock yourself and help me drag his body into the pine slider,” Drake said to Tomek.
Now free of the restraints, Tomek assisted his brother in dragging the body back to its final hiding place. They both scavenged the body, removing any additional duty equipment that belonged to Ravizza.
“I, of course, get the gun, right?” Tomek said, expecting a denial from his twin.
“Sure, but only until we get back to where you dropped your bow,” Drake replied. Tomek felt it was a small victory and decided not to press the issue.
“Once they realize two of them are dead they will know we are hunting them. We need to be as quiet and quick as possible,” Drake continued.
“Now what?” Tomek asked in the pitch black of another Michigan night.
“One of these assholes will start a fire,” replied Drake.
With that they headed back up the hill to retrieve their weapons. Picking up his bow, Tomek lifted his nose to the air looking at Drake. Taking in a deep breath through his nostrils he chuckled and shook his head.
he fire was lit, still burning bright as the twins laid eyes on it for the first time. Following their noses, they crested the hill and both were surprised to see the glow through the trees on the opposite side of the river. Neither brother had expected any of the invaders to cross the six-foot deep river. This time of the year it meant certain hypothermia at night and that would certainly explain the need for a fire.
“Do you think they swam?” Drake asked Tomek, knowing he was the one who spent the most time in the river trapping for both muskrats and beaver during this time of the year.
“No, way too cold, but the only other way would be by boat,” Tomek answered, and as he uttered the word “boat” they both had the same thought. They thought of the birch tree dugout canoe they had hidden on the bank just up shore from their cabin. If someone had used their boat they would have not only taken away the twins’ chance to cross the river and chase them but perhaps had also found their home.
“Do we swim after him or go check on the dugout first?” Tomek asked.
“Is there a spot we can cross where it is shallower?” Drake again referred to his brother.
“Yeah, at the beaver damn that blocks off Shippen Run,” Tomek said.
The Shippen Run was a spot where Uncle had built a small grinding stone press that used the current of the spring river to grind and mash both wheat and corn. The river’s powerful ice floes, when melted, joined with the snow runoff in the hills each year, causing the river to rise above the dams and turn the wheel. The simple gearing Uncle devised from an old truck flywheel then in turn rotated the heavy circular grinding stone. This allowed them to process cornmeal and use the wheat they grew to make their own flour.
Drake knew the water there was only knee-deep thanks to the dams in the area, but he also knew that going that far upstream would mean not crossing the river until daybreak.
“We won’t get there until light,” Drake said.
“Yeah, I was thinking that as well. We should go check on the dugout canoe,” Tomek said.
“Wait, there is one more way to cross without getting wet,” Tomek added.
“Okay?” Drake questioned with a lowered tone that mimicked the way Uncle often spoke.
“The tree legs!” Tomek proudly bolstered, referring to a set of seven-foot tall stilts they often used in the orchard to pick fruit from the tops of the apple trees.
“You are a freaking genius,” Drake said while smiling in amazement at his brother’s increasing cleverness.
Tomek was thankful of his brother’s praise, but it was not his idea. Uncle and Tomek had used the stilts to play in the river a few times in the past when Drake was off doing other activities. Uncle would stand in the summertime water and let Tomek don the stilts. This made the boy much taller than Uncle for the water-bound wrestling match that was about to be had between the two of them. Uncle would laugh wholeheartedly as Tomek failed to keep his balance while wrestling and continually splashed down into the river.
It was not something they were hiding from Drake, but it was kind of their own thing that they both enjoyed together. Needless to say, it still was not something Tomek was going to share with Drake as he was more than fine letting Drake think that it was all his own idea.
With the cabin being a 40-minute hike back upriver and the orchard on the way the plan was set. They made the hike keeping out of sight on the river edge, staying just inside the tree line allowed them to keep a constant eye on the glowing fire. Knowing that their next target’s camp was across the river up on the facing hillside they worked quickly once inside the orchard gathering up the stilts and the worn leather lashes that were used to attach them to their legs. The time spent inside the orchard would be the only time the twins would have to take their eyes off of the fire and both were relived as they again reached the river to see it still burning bright.
With only one set of stilts, Tomek was first to cross and did so with ease. Each step was made calmly and confidently. His years of experience showed as operating the stilts on the loose rock floor of the river against the moving current was not an easy task. Once across the river, he banded the stilts together with a piece of rope. The opposite end was tied to an arrow shaft which he shot over the water’s edge back to Drake waiting on the other side.
Drake pulled the rope, dragging the stilts back to the shoreline and then placed them on his legs while sitting atop of a large rock. Once standing, Drake took his first step and immediately knew that this was not going to be easy. He also felt a little embarrassed at the skill his twin had shown just minutes before, yet he knew other than swimming, this was going to be the only way.
Drake’s legs wobbled and he bobbed back and forth with each step. Tomek could not help but laugh at his brother’s struggles.
“Keep waving your arms like that and maybe you will fly over!” Tomek yelled, but he was glad to see Drake finally making some progress. At the halfway point he began to move along much more quickly and realized that staying angled into the current provided a bit of a balancing fulcrum that stabilized the stilts.
Tomek turned around to look downriver and up the hillside to check on the fire when he heard the splash. Turning back to face the river he could not help but laugh. Drake was again flailing his arms around, but this time in an attempt to swim through the ice cold flowing river.
“What happened?” Tomek asked as Drake reached the shore, pulling his body up arm over arm in an army crawl fashion as his legs still being attached to the stilts made them useless as a swimming aide.