er had the run of the place, and he thought that perhaps they were moving around again, looking for grass and berries. Then he heard something different. He slowly stood from his hiding place on the side porch, raised his shotgun to the sky, and fired two shots at the moon just for the hell of it.
Cut your lights, Roger snapped, as if he’d been in this situation many times. Aggie killed the engine, switched off the lights, and the truck rolled quietly along the short dirt drive and came to a rest next to a Ford pickup owned by Mr. Bufurd M. Gates, of Route 5, Owensville, Mississippi.
The patrol car flew by them without slowing, it’s blue lights ablaze but its siren still off. The three donors sat low in the seat, and when the blue lights were long gone, they slowly raised their heads.
The house they had chosen was dark and silent. Evidently, it was not protected by dogs. Even the front porch light was off.
Nice work, Roger said softly as they began to breathe again.
We got lucky, Aggie whispered.
They watched the house and listened to the highway, and after a few minutes of wonderful silence agreed that they had indeed been very lucky.
How long we gonna sit here? Calvin finally asked.
Not long, Aggie said as he stared at the windows of the house.
I hear a car, Calvin said, and the three heads ducked again. Seconds passed, and the deputy flew by from the other direction, lights flashing but still no siren. Sumbitch is lookin’ for us, Roger mumbled.
Of course he is, Aggie said.
When the sound of the patrol car faded in the distance, the three heads slowly rose in the Dodge, then Roger said, I need to pee.
Not here, Calvin said.
Open the door, Roger insisted.
Can’t you wait?
Calvin slowly opened the passenger’s door, stepped out, then watched as Roger tiptoed to the side of Mr. Gate’s Ford truck and began urinating on the front right wheel.
Unlike her husband, Mrs. Gates was a light sleeper. She was certain she had heard something out there, and when she was fully awake, she became even more convinced of it. Bufurd had been snoring for an hour, but she finally managed to interrupt his slumber. He reached under his bed and grabbed his shotgun.
Roger was still urinating when a small light came on in the kitchen. All three saw it immediately. Run! Aggie hissed through the window, then grabbed the key and turned the ignition. Calvin jumped back into the truck while grunting, Go, go, go! as Aggie slammed the transmission in reverse and hit the gas. Roger yanked his pants up while scrambling toward the Dodge.
He flung himself over the side and landed hard in the bed, among the empty beer cans, then held on as the truck flew back down the driveway toward the road. IT was at the mailbox when the front porch light popped on. It slid to a stop on the asphalt as the front door slowly opened and an old man pushed back the screen. He’s got a gun! Calvin said.
Too bad, Aggie said as he slammed the stick into drive and peeled rubber for fifty feet as they made a clean escape. A mile down the highway, Aggie turned onto a narrow country lane and stopped the engine. All three got out and stretched their muscles and had a good laugh at the close call. They laughed nervously and worked hard to believe that they had not been frightened at all. They speculated about where the deputy might be at the moment. They cleaned out the bed of the truck and left their empty cans in a ditch. Ten minutes passed and there was no sign of the deputy.
Aggie finally addressed the obvious. We gotta get to Memphis, fellas.
Calvin, more intrigued by the Desperado than by the hospital, added, You bet. It’s gettin’ late.
Roger froze in the center of the road and said, I dropped my wallet.
I dropped my wallet.
Back there. Must have fell out when I was takin’ a leak.
There was an excellent chance that Roger’s wallet contained nothing of value—no money, driver’s license, credit cards, membership cards of any kind, nothing more useful than perhaps an old condom. And Aggie almost asked, What’s in it? But he did not, because he knew that Roger would claim that his wallet was loaded with valuables.
I gotta go get it, he said.
Are you sure? Calvin asked.
It’s got my money, license, credit cards, everything.
But the old man had a gun.
And when the sun comes up, the old man will find my wallet, call the sheriff in Ford County, and we’ll be screwed. You’re pretty stupid, you know.
At least I didn’t lose my wallet.
He’s right, Aggie said. He’s gotta go get it. It was noted by the other two that Aggie emphasized the he and said nothing about we.
You’re not scared, are you, big boy? Roger said to Calvin.
I ain’t scared, ‘cause I ain’t goin’ back.
I think you’re scared.
Knock it off, Aggie said. Here’s what we’ll do. We’ll wait until the old man has time to get back in bed, then we’ll ease down the road, get close to the house but not too close, stop the truck, then you can sneak down the driveway, find the wallet, and we’ll haul ass.
I’ll bet there’s nothin’ in the wallet, Calvin said.
And I’ll bet it’s got more cash than your wallet, Roger shot back as he reached into the truck for another beer.
Knock it off, Aggie said again.
They stood beside the truck, sipping beer and watching the deserted highway in the distance, and after fifteen minutes that seemed like an hour they loaded up, with Roger in the back. A quarter of a mile from the house, Aggie stopped the truck on a flat section of highway. He killed the engine so they could hear any approaching vehicle.
Can’t you get closer? Roger asked as he stood by the driver’s door.
It’s just around that bend up there, Aggie said. Any closer and he might hear us.
The three stared at the dark highway. A half-moon came and went with the clouds. You got a gun? Roger asked.
I gotta gun, Aggie said, But you ain’t getting’ it. Just sneak up to the house, and sneak back. No big deal. That old man’s asleep already.
You’re not scared, are you? Calvin added helpfully.
Hell no. And with that, Roger disappeared into the darkness. Aggie restarted the truck and, with the lights off, quietly turned it around so that it was headed in the general direction of Memphis. He killed the engine again, and with both windows down they began their waiting.
He’s had eight beers, Calvin said softly. Drunk as a skunk.
But he can hold his booze.
He’s had a lot of practice. Maybe the old man’ll get him this time.
That wouldn’t really bother me, but then we’d get caught.
Why, exactly, was he invited in the first place?
Shut up. We need to listen for traffic.
Roger left the road when the mailbox was in sight. He jumped a ditch, then ducked low through a bean field next to the house. If the old man was still watching, his eyes would be on the driveway, right? Roger shrewdly decided he would sneak in from the rear. All lights were off. The little house was still and quiet. Not a creature was stirring. Through the shadows of the oak trees, Roger crept over the wet grass until he could see the Ford pickup. He paused behind a toolshed, caught his breath, and realized he needed to pee again. No, he said to himself, it had to wait. He was proud—he’d made it this far without a sound. Then he was terrified again—what the hell was he doing? He took a deep breath, then crouched low and continued on his mission. When the Ford was between him and the house, he fell to his hands and knees and began feeling his way through the pea gravel at the end of the driveway.
Roger moved slowly as the gravel crouched under him. He cursed when his hands became wet near the right front tire. When he touched his wallet, he smiled, then quickly stuck it in the right rear pocket of his jeans. He paused, breathed deeply, then began his silent retreat.
In the stillness, Mr. Bufurd Gates heard all sorts of noises, some real, some conjured up by the circumstances. The de
In the perfect calm of the late evening, the shots boomed through the air like howitzers, deadly blasts that echoed for miles. Down the highway, not too far away, the sudden squealing of tires followed the gunfire, and to Bufurd, at least, the burning of rubber sounded precisely as it had twenty minutes earlier directly in front of his house.
They’re still around here, he said to himself.
Mrs. Gates opened the side door and said, Bufurd!
I think they’re still here, he said, reloading his Browning 16-gauge.
Did you see them?
What do you mean, maybe? What are you shootin’ at?
Just get back inside, will you?
The door slammed.
Roger was under the Ford pickup, holding his breath, clutching his groin, sweating profusely as he urgently tried to decide whether he should wrap himself around the transmission just inches above him or claw his way down through the pea gravel below him. But he didn’t move. The sonic booms were still ringing in his ears. The squealing tires of his cowardly friends made him curse. He was afraid to breathe.
He heard the door open again and the woman say, Here’s a flashlight. Maybe you can see what you’re shootin’ at.
Just get back inside and call the sheriff while you’re at it.
The door slammed again as the woman was prattling on. A minute or so later she was back. I called the sheriff’s office. They said Dudley’s out here somewhere on patrol.
Fetch my truck keys, the man said. I’ll take a look on the highway.
You can’t drive at night.
Just get me the damned keys.
The door slammed again. Roger tried wiggling in reverse, but the pea gravel made too much noise. He tried wriggling forward, in the direction of their voices, but again that was too much shuffling and crunching. So he decided to wait. If the pickup started in reverse, he would wait until the last possible second, grab the front bumper as it moved above him, and get himself dragged a few feet until he could bolt and sprint through the darkness. If the old man saw him, it would take several seconds for him to stop, get his gun, get out, and give chase. By then, Roger would be lost in the woods. It was a plan, and it just might work. On the other hand, he could get crushed by the tires, dragged down the highway, or just plain shot.
Bufurd left the side porch and began searching with his flashlight. From the door, Mrs. Gates yelled, I hid your keys. You can’t drive at night.
Atta girl, thought Roger.
You’d better get me those damned keys.
I hid them.
Bufurd was mumbling in the darkness.
The Dodge raced for several frantic miles before Aggie finally slowed somewhat, then said, You know we have to go back.
If he got hit, we have to explain what happened and take care of the details.
I hope he got hit, and if he did, then he can’t talk. If he can’t talk, he can’t squeal on us. Let’s get to Memphis.
No. Aggie turned around, and they drove in silence until they reached the same country lane where they had stopped before. Close to fence row, they sat on the hood and contemplated what to do next. Before long, they heard a siren, then saw the blue lights pass by quickly on the highway.
If the ambulance is next, then we’re in big trouble, Aggie said.
So is Roger.
When Roger heard the siren, he panicked. But as it grew closer, he realized it would conceal some of the noise his escape would need. He found a rock, squirmed to the side of the truck, and flung it in the general direction of the house. It hit something, causing Mr. Gates to say, What’s that? and to run back to the side porch. Roger slithered like a snake from under the truck, through the fresh urine he’d left earlier, through the wet grass, and all the way to an oak tree just as Dudley the deputy came roaring onto the scene. He hit his brakes and turned violently into the driveway, slinging gravel and sending dust. The commotion saved Roger. Mr. and Mrs. Gates ran out to meet Dudley while Roger eased deeper into the darkness. Within seconds he was behind a line of shrubs, then past an old barn, then lost in a bean field. Half an hour passed.
Aggie said, I think we just go back to the house, and tell ‘em ever’thang. That way we’ll know he’s okay.
Calvin said, But won’t they charge us with resistin’ arrest, and probably drunk drivin’ on top of that?
So what do you suggest?
The deputy’s probably gone now. No ambulance means Roger’s okay, wherever he is. I’ll bet he’s hidin’ somewhere. I say we make one pass by the house, take a good look, then get on to Memphis.
It’s worth a try.
They found Roger beside the road, walking a limp, headed to Memphis. After a few harsh words by all three, they decided to carry on. Roger took his middle position; Calvin had the door. They drove ten minutes before anyone said another word. All eyes were straight ahead. All three were angry, fuming.
Roger’s face was scratched and bloody. He reeked of sweat and urine, and his clothes were covered with dirt and mud. After a few miles, Calvin rolled down the window, and after a few more miles Roger said, Why don’t you roll up that window?
We need fresh air, Calvin explained.
They stopped for another six-pack to settle their nerves, and after a few drinks Calvin asked, Did he shoot at you?
I don’t know, Roger said. I never saw him.
It sounded like a cannon.
You should’ve heard it where I was.
At that, Aggie and Calvin became amused and began laughing. Roger, his nerves settled, found their laughter contagious, and soon all three were hooting at the old man with the gun and the wife who hid his truck keys and probably saved Roger’s life. And the thought of Dudley the deputy still flying up and down the highway with his blue lights on made them laugh even harder.
Aggie was sticking to the back roads, and when one of them intersected Highway 78 near Memphis, they raced onto the entrance ramp and joined the traffic on the four-lane.
There’s a truck stop just ahead, Roger said. I need to wash up.
Inside he bought a NASCAR T-shirt and a cap, then scrubbed his face and hands in the men’s room. When he returned to the truck, Aggie and Calvin were impressed with the changes. They raced off again, close to the bright lights now. It was almost 10:00 p.m.
The billboards grew larger, brighter, and closer together, and though the boys had not mentioned the Desperado in an hour, they suddenly remembered the place when they were confronted with a sizzling image of a young woman ready to burst out of what little clothing she was wearing. Her name was Tiffany, and she smirked down at the traffic from a huge billboard that advertised the Desperado, a Gentlemen’s Club, with the hottest strippers in the entire South. The Dodge slowed appreciably.
Her legs seemed a mile long, and bare, and her skimpy sheer costume was obviously designed to be shed in a moment’s notice. She had teased blond hair, thick red lips, and eyes that absolutely smoldered. The very possibility that she might be working just a few miles up the road, and that they could stop by and see her in the flesh, well, it was all overwhelming.
For a few minutes there was not a word as the Dodge regained its speed. Finally, Aggie said, I reckon we’d better get to the hospital. Bailey might be dead by now.
It was the first mention of Bailey in hours.
The hospital’s open all night, Roger said. Never closes. Whatta you think they do, shut down at night and make ever’body go home? To show his support, Calvin found this humorous and joined in with a hearty horselaugh.
a’ll want to stop by the Desperado? Aggie asked