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C. T. Turnage

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Dead Man's Hand
By C. T. Turnage
Wednesday, April 20, 2011

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Your mind gets real clear when you're playing a dead man's hand.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dead Man’s Hand

 

By C. T. Turnage

Such clarity, the thought raced through Trey’s mind, such clarity when all you’ve got is a dead man’s hand. He rubbed the old pocketknife with the broken blade in his right front pocket for good luck before he acted. Then, his legs pushed his hard-muscled body forward as the vision of a painting he saw in a friend’s house a few years back flashed across his mind. A high caliber bullet ricocheted off the metal frame where his head had just been. Even the whipping of the whirling helicopter blades overhead failed to disguise the unmistakable metal on metal clanking just as he felt the burning sting along his hairline. The eighteen year old high school senior snatched up the black pack from the ground where he dropped it when he panicked from the realization he was penned in by the police behind him and snipers hired by a syndicate as he stood atop the skyscraper.

How could so many people want to kill me in such a short time?

The flood of cops storming the floors below would find him eventually even though they would certainly be busy for hours. Yet, the hired guns from whatever organization it was he had enraged could sit over on the rooftops at the crossroads shooting at will until they finally got him. He would eventually run out of places to hide.

Trey looped his left arm through both of the pack’s straps until he could grip the closest one to him with his hand. Then, he took off at a dead run to do the only thing he could think of at four hundred eighty-three feet in the air. He jumped. His legs extended his body without hesitation thrusting it far into the open beneath the police chopper overhead. Reaching up with his right hand, Trey had time to think, At least their location will die with me if this doesn’t work. Then he yanked on the cold, steel loop. Almost instantly black silk emerged spreading like angels’ wings. Trey smiled hoping he could at least make it to the ground and have another run for safety before anyone caught up with him. On the way down he wondered if he would have even gotten involved if he knew it would be this way.

His day started innocently enough. To any objective onlooker Trey was a fun loving, eighteen year old with a slightly muscled build though he did not participate in school sports any longer. Instead, he was simply a hard working young man who reached his senior year with enough credits to get early release so he could start his job at the coffee shop at 12:30 each weekday.

Earlier this day, he showed up for work a few minutes ahead of time hoping to get a look at Tami the cute college sophomore the manager just hired. As he entered he spotted her talking to a customer at a corner table. She flicked her hair back flirtatiously causing Trey’s face to burn hoping nobody could guess what evil thoughts were churning through his mind about the auburn haired diva.

His eyes locked onto her calves oddly enough. They were smooth and tan. He thought they were perfectly muscular, nut bulbous from wearing too many high heels in order to impress people; more like will toned from running and heavy aerobic workouts. When she stood still too long, like she was with the imposter-executive she spoke to, she fidgeted rolling her ankles. As she did, each well-defined strand of muscle stood out as if screaming for its own identity. Trey caught himself staring at her perfect tan calves and definite vertical, muscled lines thinking they were talking to him in some kind of secret language he had yet to learn.

He knew the young guy in the business suit she spoke to. He advertised himself as an executive upstairs, but in reality he was just a high paid gopher. He had played this card too many times already with the girls at the shop. Usually, they dragged along chasing the bait a couple of weeks until they realized what a fraud he was before they hammered him with reality. Then, he faced their constant mockery. Trey figured he would have learned by now.

When Tami giggled and leaned back twisting the pen in her mouth, he snarled angrily rubbing the pocketknife his grandfather gave him the Christmas when he was just ten years old, as was his habit. He knew this guy’s pick up lines, every one of them, verbatim. They were tired and embarrassing to listen to. Trey started to save some time and headache for both of them and head over there to tell her the truth about the loser when his boss called his name.

"Trey, how did the tournament go?"

"Huh?" Trey was having trouble thinking at the moment.

"The Muay Thai tournament. How did you do Saturday?"

"Oh, I came in third. I would of came in first, but two other guys beat me up," he grinned playfully before glancing back for another look at Tami. He could not help trying for another peek at her calves. They were too perfect.

John, the manager, chuckled, "Makes sense."

As Trey walked by, he leaned in and whispered, "Dude, that girl is way out of your league. She’s out of everyone’s league."

Trey grumbled, "Then what’s she doing flirting with him?"

"It’s a slow day. She’s working for tips. Do the math."

It only took Trey a second to catch John’s gist. Nodding, almost pleased, he went to the back and clocked in.

Trey spent the next hour cleaning and filling dispensers, after which he went from table to table offering to refill the customers’ cups or see if they needed anything else. He noticed four men in thousand dollar business suits like he had always wanted enter the shop and head straight over to sit in the far corner booth together next to a couple that were already in a table nearby, even though there was plenty of room elsewhere. They didn’t even bother to order anything. He continued making his rounds from table to table, giving them a chance to place their orders before approaching them in an effort to avoid appearing too pushy. He made his way to the couple’s table so it would seem more natural for him to offer to take their order.

As he stood at the couple’s table refilling their cups he pretended to listen to them talk about their day and the many interesting things they had done. In reality, he caught one of the voices from the corner booth. He had a deep voice that reminded him of his father’s voice with his accent and the way he rolled his "r" sounds. It took him back to the days before his parents died in the plane crash. When he spoke Trey could feel it in his chest. He liked the way it made him feel. He listened in, but he would have preferred to have heard him talking about something else.

The man sat there describing how the four of them were going to the school around the corner to kidnap a little girl, the daughter of a police officer responsible for the arrest of some guy’s son who was on trial. She would be on the play ground in ten minutes at recess. Two of the men would snatch her up while one "took care of the two teachers" who brought their classes out to play. The other would stay in the vehicle for a quick getaway before anyone could spot them well enough to describe them. After they had her, they would have to get over to the house on Areola Way and take her mother before anyone contacted her. After the person on trial was released, they would "deal with" the cop and his family. Trey never actually heard any names.

He politely excused himself and turned around to the booth just in time to catch a hard look at the photo of a red-haired seven year old girl with big green eyes. Even in the photo her eyes were deep and soulful like his mother’s were the last time he saw her. He remembered the way he yelled at her before she and his dad left on their trip. He felt the same guilt wash over him he felt when he heard the news of the plane crash. The last words he said to his mother were "I hate you" because she went on a business trip with his dad and left him home alone.

The little girl could have been a doll on a shelf at a toy store with her perfectly proportioned features. In the picture she had a broad, dimpled grin underneath heavily freckled cheeks and a tooth on the left missing just like it was designed to add to her cuteness. Everything about her revealed her innocence, showed the distance her father kept her from the ugly underbelly of the world he fought against. When he approached the table, the man with the deep voice flipped her photo upside down.

"What do you want?" He challenged.

"What can I get for you gentlemen?" Trey offered. "Our special of the day is . . ."

"We don’t want anything," the stranger stated harshly waving his hand as if to push Trey away.

"Sir, you have to order something if you’re going to stay here. It’s our policy," Trey responded courteously. He smiled just to taunt him.

"Fine. Here’s fifty bucks. Get us four specials and keep the change. Keep the specials. Just get away," he ordered waving his hands at Trey again.

Trey continued to smile, "Thank you." 

He walked away from the table stuffing the bill into his pocket and wondering if the men meant what he thought they meant by "taking care of" the teachers and the police officer’s family. He knew what it meant in the movies, but could they really be talking about that in real life? He made it as far as the counter when the face of the girl flashed in his mind again. This time he pictured her playing out there on the swings with her friends when the men showed up. Then, all of the kids around them became blood-soaked as two giant hands with gnarled, hairy knuckles wrapped around her waist. He envisioned her screaming as she was carried off. He figured he better call someone.

At first he tried the police, but they thought it was a crank call. Then, he called the school, but they wrote him off too and told him not to callback or they would have the police trace down the call and have him brought up on charges of making terrorist threats. Bewildered, Trey stood there at the counter watching when the four men left through the double glass doors out front. Along the way, they dropped the photograph of the little girl. He picked it up. Then, He acted without thinking. He ran out the backdoor to his car and hopped in it, racing to the school. Hopefully he could get there before the men.

Trey pulled up outside the playground flooded with second graders, feeling like a stalker as he hunted hungrily for the little red-haired girl. He thumbed nervously at his pocket as he searched. Once his eyes locked onto her, he made his move knowing his time was running out. He opened the car door to his little hybrid and stepped out trying to appear casual. Strolling toward the teachers in order to warn them to get the kids inside, his eyes caught another vehicle, a slick looking, black SUV with no license plates eking slowly along the other side. He knew he had to act.

Trey ran.

He raced to the little red-haired girl and grabbed her up. He turned to carry her off when both teachers jumped him. He kneed and elbowed at them, not wanting to hurt them, but they seemed to have no reservations the other way. Both women drove knees into regrettable places in their desperate attempt to save the girl from him. However, Trey never looked down at the women, even with screaming children scrambling and the force of their weight driving him downward. He kept focused on the men from the coffee shop in the SUV who had sped up. As he fell backward onto the ground, Trey rolled with the women so that they ended up on bottom with the girl between them.

The stun from the blow and the way it knocked the wind out of them must have loosened their grip on him and the girl. His feet were already in motion attempting to carry him toward his little red car. He thought he has about to be home free, when a thin, pale hand caught his ankle tripping him tearing a fingernail loose. He landed on his elbow trying to cover the red-haired girl’s head to cushion the bump with his hand. He scraped up his knuckles in the process, which was the least of his worries. Behind him, three of the men had emerged from the black vehicle and already had their guns drawn. Trey’s head turned back in time to see one train a weapon his direction. He rolled twice before coming up to his knee and then onto his feet running at a dead heat. Two rounds buried themselves in the dirt where he had been, kicking brown debris into the air. He escaped into his hybrid, throwing it into gear, and speeding around the corner and onto the freeway.

Only then did Trey realize he had no idea what to do next. He was only trying to warn the teachers to get the kids inside. Everything else that took place was an accident. He didn’t even know what happened with the rest of the kids or the teachers. They could have been shot up like in the Valentines Day Massacre way back when. Nevertheless, he had a crying seven year old in the back seat of his car to deal with and apparently some bad people chasing him who wanted to get their hands on her. Before long the cops would think he had kidnapped the girl unless he told them what was going on first.

Trey took out his cell phone. "Little girl! Little girl! Please quit crying! Could you quit crying and talk to me please? I need to know your name so I can call your parents and tell them where to pick you up."

It did no good. The child was too frightened. Trey realized it was probably the right thing since he was scared to death as well and she was racing down the road in a car with a total stranger after having been shot at and taken from school. He called 9-1-1 and attempted to explain the situation to them.

"Hello, this is Trey Windham. I just took a little girl from the Parker Street Elementary School. Her dad is a cop. I need to know where to take her."

The operator responded, "Sir, you took a child from Parker Street Elementary School? Please hold on a minute. I will have to get the negotiator in here. I am not authorized to negotiate hostage situations." 

"What? No ma’am. This is not a hostage situation. I need to do something with the girl. Tell me what you want me to do with her."

"Sir, we have a negotiator on the way in here. She will be here in a minute or two. Please just hold on a minute."

"Look, there are some very bad men who want her dead. I am trying to save her life. If you can’t help me I’ll just drop her off at the Seventh Avenue Mall or something. You can pick her up there. Okay?"

"No sir, please don’t kill her."

"What?"

Trey was confused. What was this woman thinking? Why would he save her life just so he could kill her? He wondered if there was some sort of maximum IQ requirement for the job like if you made too high they disqualified you. He always heard of emergency operators being really smart, but this one was coming up short on the brains. Nothing seemed to be working out the way it should.

Trey watched his mirrors worried the black escalade might track him down at any moment. He wanted to get rid of the girl and disappear without anybody knowing he ever got involved, but things had already happened so fast and they did not seem to be improving at all. He drove along with the girl in the back crying and the operator on the phone refusing to help. The pressure got to be too much. He turned and screamed at the little girl.

"SHUT UP OR I’LL THROW YOU IN THE TRUNK!"

A voice came over the receiver, "Mr. Windham? This is Marie

Jenkins. I’m a negotiator and I am here to help resolve this situation. Let’s both agree we do not want the girl hurt."

Trey pulled his car off the highway into a residential neighborhood, hoping all the tract homes would hide his car from the killers. He pulled up at the end of a cul-de-sac, resting his head on the steering wheel and trusting the bushes to conceal his car. His right hand clinched the pocketknife through the fabric of his slacks. "Of course, I don’t want the girl hurt. I just want to get her home safely. There are men trying to kill her, because her dad is a cop and he’s testifying at some big trial soon. I want to get her home to you so she will be safe."

The woman on the other end spoke in calm monotones. "That’s good, Trey. Now tell me what you want. What will it take to get the girl home safely?"

"Just tell me where to drop her off."

"That won’t be necessary we’ll come to you."

Reading the green street sign at the end of the road Trey answered, "Fine. I’m at the end of Areola Way."

"How do we know the girl is still alive, Trey?"

"What?" The questioned confused him. Why would they ask him something so stupid when he had just saved her life and was working so hard to get her back to her family.

"Here, cry into the phone, kid," he ordered shoving the device toward the girl. 

About that time he saw a blue midsized Buick pull into a driveway two house up the street.

"Mommy!" the girl exclaimed.

Trey paused realizing what she meant. He clamped his phone shut and pulled his car forward to the front of the house. Getting out, he took the child up to the front door and knocked.A surprised woman answered the door.

"Molly!" She glared at Trey. "What are you doing with my daughter?"

Trey looked around nervously, "Can we discuss this inside, ma’am?"

"I don’t think so." The woman opened the door enough to pull Molly in, but was shoving it closed when he caught the handle.

He pushed his way in. "I am afraid I will have to insist. I don’t want anybody to see us out there."

"Run, Molly!" the woman ordered.

Molly sped up the stairs as her mother reached inside her purse, yanking out a five inch canister. She sprayed it in Trey’s face. His reaction time was good. He covered his eyes in time to keep them from being damaged, but the burning on his skin was unbearable.

"What are you doing that for?" he exclaimed.

The door behind him burst open knocking him forward blindly onto the floor. All that had happened must have made him react. He fell forward tucking his shoulder under him so he would roll onto his back. His feet came up, kicking the broad shouldered thug forcing his way into the two story tract home. The blow stopped the surprised man in his tracks blocking the doorway long enough for the woman to run upstairs. Trey’s right leg drew back and thrust forward again snapping the man’s shin cleanly. His scream drown out the thud of his body and the clump pf his gun on the ground.

Trey remembered there were three others with him. His mind was already at work, figuring only one other had tried to come in. Another was likely at the rear of the house, while the driver stayed in the vehicle. He counted on this anyway. Twisting his body, he came to his feet and charged the door, knocking the air out of the man with the bass voice. Both hands locked onto his extended arm and brought it down at the elbow onto Trey’s shoulder. The snap told him the man was through. He watched the weapon fall to the ground. He whipped his body around until his elbow collided with the big man’s larynx shutting down any thoughts of continuing his assault.

Trey grabbed both men’s 9mm automatics and followed the woman upstairs. At the top, he locked onto the door at the end of the short hallway, drawing him like a tractor-beam. Without thinking, he rushed into the room. The white hatch was so weak he stumbled when hit it. As the door flung open beneath his efforts and he blew through its opening, he heard a crack and the wood beside him splinter.

"What are you doing?" he questioned. "I’m trying to save your lives."

"Then why did you kidnap my daughter?" 

"Look we’ll have time to talk about that later. Right now, there are four men downstairs that are here to kidnap both of you. They’re planning on killing you after something happens."

"Why not now?" the woman asked.

"Again, we can talk later. Right now, let’s get you two out of here."

He surveyed the room quickly. Kicking open a double door at the end that led to a short balcony with two chairs on it, he remarked, "Nice." Then, he threw the box springs onto the ground below. Next, he grabbed the mattress off the bed and told Molly to get on his back. Looking at her mother he instructed her, "Jump after me. Try to land so you can roll with your hands covering your head. You might break something, but you’ll be alive."

Trey held the mattress in front of him as he leapt from the second story balcony. The mattress bounced slightly once upon impact with the box springs. He landed on his stomach knocking the air out of his lungs, but Molly was safe. Struggling for air, he crawled out of the way shoving as best he could the mattress back atop the springs. Her mother followed. No more had they risen to their feet than a hulking figure popped his head over the balcony. Deciding to follow, he jumped almost landing on the mattress and breaking both ankles beneath his weight.

The trio had already taken off. They ran toward Trey’s car hidden at the end of the cul-de-sac. The driver of the other vehicle unaware of their flight until it was too late to respond. They loaded up and Trey did his best to jet back to the freeway. The driver went inside to check on the rest of his party.

"This isn’t going well," Trey commented. He handed his cell phone to the woman. "Call your husband and tell him what’s going on."

Just as she was about to make the call, the phone rang. It was a silly answer tone about liking big butts. Trey blushed. The woman answered. She handed it to him.

"It’s for you."

The eighteen year old with the mop of black hair responded. He spoke into the phone, "Not right now, John. I’m kind of in the middle of something."

"Mr. Windham, this is Marie Jenkins again. I am hoping we can talk now. Is the girl still alive?"

"Yes ma’am, and I’ve got her mother right here with me, too."

"Excuse me!" the voice sounded alarmed, "You mean you have the girl and her mother now?"

"Yes. I have Molly and Mrs.," he looked to the mother who told him her name, "McCormick. Her husband is testifying at a big trial today. There are men who don’t want that to happen."

The negotiator asked, "Is that what you want sir. Are you asking that Officer McCormick not testify in exchange for his wife and daughter? Are there any other demands?" 

Trey pulled the phone away a frustrated expression revealing his confusion. "What are you talking about? I haven’t made any demands."

Sharp movements in his rearview mirror caught his attention. He saw a pair of matching black Escalades charging up the freeway his direction. Trey realized they must be connected with the killers and pressed his gas peddle to the floor hoping he could get enough speed to lose the oncoming assailants. He screamed into the phone.

"Hey lady, here’s a demand for you. Get me Officer," his passenger interrupted him again to correct him, "Sergeant McCormick on the phone. That way I can tell him where to pick up his family."

"I am afraid that is against protocol, Trey. Victims’ families are not allowed to talk to them, but I can pass on a message if you can assure me they will be safe."

Trey knew he was in no position to assure anybody of anything. Besides, he was still struggling with trying to figure out why she kept calling them hostages and victims. Suddenly, a black and white helicopter appeared from behind a tall concrete building. Two police cruisers hit the top of the on-ramp at top speed as he passed by while the two Escalades were just pulling up alongside him. He realized then that they were tracing his cell phone signal.

Andi McCormick gasped and pointed with her left hand as her right covered her mouth and she shrunk down in her seat. He looked over his shoulder spotting the muzzle of an automatic pistol just outside the window of the vehicle beside him. Trey hit his brakes spinning his red hybrid a full 360 degrees. The move surprised his pursuers enough to cause them to back away just long enough for him to see an opening up ahead.

He spotted a break between the concrete barriers that was only a hundred feet or so long. The rail along that edge of the overpass was a simple metal rail held up by wooden posts. Trey figured he could make it if he timed it just right, but at that speed he would definitely have to be right. Then, he would just have to hope the little car survived the drop to the road below. Saying a quick prayer, he made his move. His assailants failed to realize it, but they helped his plan along. Just as he neared the break, one of the big SUVs rammed him from the side giving him all the push he needed to go over the edge. In a matter of just a few seconds he was sailing through the air hoping things were going to end up alright.

The trio in the red hybrid found themselves the benefactors of amazing fortune. A truck with a flatbed trailer was making a u-turn underneath at the time after having just unloaded several pallets of lumber. The drop from the overpass ended up only being about eight or ten feet and the little red car landed squarely on the trailer, so that they suffered a heavy jar. Otherwise, the three seemed okay. In fact, Molly thought it was kind of like a ride at the amusement park.

Trey’s uncertainty about what to think except maybe God was looking out for him was clear by the expression on his face. He looked at Molly in the rearview mirror and Andi to make sure they were okay before the two SUVs and the growing collection of cruisers on the freeway caught his eyes. They all had faces looking down at him and men screaming angrily his direction. His racing mind told him it was time to make another quick move before anyone caught up with them again.

"Molly, come sit on your mother’s lap for a minute," he directed.

Andi McCormick tried to read his mind, but drew a blank. Still, she figured she had better have her daughter act for her own safety. "Quickly, Honey," she encouraged as she extended her arms to assist the seven year old. Once Molly was in place Trey went into action.

"Hold on," he said.

He pulled the emergency brake and threw the car into reverse. Releasing the clutch and driving the accelerator to the floor he revved the engine hard to build up power. Next, he took a deep, hopeful breath and pulled the lever on the emergency brake just enough to press the release mechanism. When the lever dropped, the car shot backward like a rocket dropping nearly flat to the ground once the flatbed trailer came out from beneath it. Only a few sparks lit up when they hit.

"So far, so good,’ Trey whispered.

He whipped the car around and thrust the gear shift back into second before picking up speed. Throwing everyone forward, he headed back the other direction attempting to escape his pursuers. He wondered if there was anybody he could trust to get the family to so he could be out of the situation but he could not think of a soul. For some reason he looked down at the clock on the dashboard.

It read "3:00 p.m."

 

It’s only been an hour and a half!?

 

Andi interrupted his thoughts by suggesting she call her husband. He considered it for a second and conceded. After all, things could only get better he figured. Unfortunately, the conversation was short and tearful before the call was interrupted by the negotiator informing them all communication would have to go through her. The interception told them they had somehow found a way to tap into one or both of the phones.

Trey’s frustration continued to mount as did Andi’s concern that he might just drop them off on their own somewhere to fend for themselves and be rid of the headache. However, she saw something in him that alleviated that apprehension. After all, he had not abandoned them yet. When Andi McCormick looked at Trey there was simply something about him that told her he would stick this thing out until the end. No matter what, no matter who came after them, he was going to make sure they got home safely or die trying. She hoped it would be the former.

What she failed to realize was that every time he looked back into the rearview mirror and saw Molly he thought about those last moments with his family. He thought about how he wished he could go back and change them, make up for those words he said and the selfish emotions he felt, even though he knew he could never do it. What was done was done.

"Hey," Trey said as he drove, "I remember this neighborhood. I grew up here."

"You did?"

"Yeah. We moved a couple of years ago, just before my parents died. We still have the old house a few blocks away. I haven’t been able to talk myself into selling it. Let’s go there for a little bit."

The little car pulled up into the old driveway next to a red brick three bedroom flat with an overgrown yard and a mailbox that barely hung onto the outside wall for dear life. Three numbers on the faded porch post read 395. The first three was missing.

After they got inside, the adults began to discuss their options as Trey once again clinched the pocketknife in his pocket with a vice like grip.

"What are we going to do, Trey?"

"I don’t know. I still haven’t figured out why they keep asking for my demands and asking if you’re still alive," he stated plainly as he paced the floor back and forth leaving Nike shaped footprints in the dust collected on the floor.

Mrs. McCormick stopped him. She placed her hands upon his shoulders and made him look at her face. "It’s because they think you’ve kidnapped us."

"What? That’s ridiculous. I only went to the school to warn the teachers to take the kids inside. The only reason I took her was because those goons showed up. That’s the reason you’re with me."

"I know that now, but they don’t. Think about it. When you showed up at the house, I thought you kidnapped Molly, didn‘t I?"

Trey’s eyebrows raised with the reality of the situation just as his phone rang again. He responded angrily. "I am not a criminal, you idiot. I don’t want to hurt these two. I just want to get them back home safely. Why can’t you see that? People want them dead. That’s why they are with me."

He hung the phone up. Looking at the mother and her daughter he said, "Alright, I’ve got a plan, but it’s risky and you’ll have to act fast. If you get caught you’ll be killed, but if it works you two will be out of danger. You can meet me in a couple of hours and we‘ll get you back home safely."

Trey laid his plan out to the mother in a matter of five minutes. She agreed to participate since it looked like the only hope for their safety. With her permission, he grabbed his keys and ran out the door stroking the pocketknife for good luck.

His grandfather gave him that knife the year he had cancer. The doctor’s said there was no way Trey could pull through, but his granddad assured him he would make it if he would just hold onto the knife and remember they were going to use it when they went fishing next spring. He slept with it under his pillow every night. When the pain got to be too much or he felt so weak he did not think he could take another breath, his hand would wrap around that knife and hold it with all his might thinking about the fishing trip his grandfather promised. The doctor’s called it a miracle when he pulled through and made it out of the hospital in time to make the fishing trip. Since then, he kept it with him for luck all the time even after he broke the blade.

Taking off toward the main roads, he called the negotiator back. He tried to talk casually and answer her questions without appearing too obvious hoping his call would be traced. As soon as he saw cruisers coming up the street behind him, he hung the phone up. The next thing was to make sure he had those hooligans with him as well. Leading them through the neighborhood toward the city’s main arteries, he began his search. They were just as easy to find. Not many armored SUVs drove around that area of town.

The scene looked like something out of a comedy the way Trey zipped his little red car in and out of the tight alleys and back roads of the neighborhood he used to ride his bike through until he had at last gathered up the collection of cars he was looking for so he could lead the chase away. Then he spun his tires toward uptown where he could ditch the vehicle and lose himself among the crowd. He figured as long as he kept looping his way up and down the heavily trafficked roads there would be little anyone could do to stop him. Eventually, he found himself sputtering along Market St. He looked down to realize all that driving had used up his fuel. He was going to have to make a run for it.

Trey decided to make it hard for everybody. He whipped his car vertically across the road so the it blocked traffic both ways before abandoning it and racing into a glass covered skyscraper. Instead of waiting for the elevators, he burst directly through the stairwell door and began climbing. He figured it gave him two advantages; he was young and fit so he would not tire out, and anyone following him would have to hunt to find him. Standing at the elevator would tell them nothing.

At the time Trey was just trying to escape the situation and failed to consider he had trapped himself. There were only a few exits from the building and in a matter of minutes they would all be covered. Then the police could take their time combing the building searching for him. In reality, he helped them out. At the same time, the syndicate who by then had developed a nasty taste in their mouths for him had authorized a wet op on him, which meant they were going to kill him. Their sources inside the department kept them informed of the chase as well as the two crews in the fortified Escalades. Since they knew where he was penned in, they put men on the ground of buildings surrounding the one he entered, in case he somehow got past the police, and snipers on the rooftops around it in case he reached there and they could handle him before the cops arrived.

It seemed the future for this eighteen year old, all American boy was bleak and fading fast.

It took a while of running before Trey made it to one of the top floors where he attempted to hide. it was quite obvious he was out of place with everyone else dressed in some kind of business attire and those who had been watching the news feed on the big screen in the break room knew the cops were looking for him. The word had already spread throughout the building that it was locked down as well. So he walked into a madhouse of angry and frightened looks. A couple of faces showed they had thoughts of some kind of heroics, but when it came down to it, they crumbled.

Trey searched the whole thirty-fourth floor for a place to hide and wait things out, but he found nothing. Eventually, he gave up and headed back toward the stairs to go to the next floor when he saw four uniformed officers emerge from the elevators. No sooner had their feet pressed down on the country blue, short pile carpet than fingers pointed his direction. He ducked behind the padded cubicle wall, but the buzzing of voices and a wave of pointing fingers followed him wherever he ran. It took only seconds for his sharp mind to figure out he was alone.

Along the way he spotted on of the small parachutes required in such high-rise buildings since the events of 9/11 in many metropolitan cities. An idea; not very well thought out, in fact not thought out at all; jetted through his mind. He took it. A hazy plan was still trying to formulate in his mind, and he figured it might help open a few options. Scurrying along like a mouse in a maze, Trey found himself at the end of the stand of cubicles.

He heard the shuffling of running feet. Trey braced himself and lunged forward throwing a shoulder into the solar plexus of a plump officer. Since he had a protective vest on, the only thing Trey really accomplished was to knock him down. Nonetheless, he was able to run free toward the exit.

Unfortunately, the officer’s action gave one of the floor’s employees the notion he could be a hero. Building a head of steam, he ran twenty-five feet or so along the desk tops and jumped like he was tackling a football player running for a touchdown, looking like he was laser guided and trained on him. Trey caught his movement out the corner of his eye and simply dipped his shoulders, allowing the man to torpedo into the wall, knocking himself out and leaving a massive hole.

Without missing a step, Trey blasted through the metal door once again headed north. This time he maintained his speed until he reached the roof. The first time he hesitated was when he opened the hatch to see a police chopper circling overhead. Then, a glint of sunlight reflected off of two building rooftops a split-second before a pair of matching cracks sounded. Trey had already heard enough of those sounds to know what they were. He thought about turning back, but the scuttling of leather-soled feet below told him that option was gone.

His legs pushed his hard-muscled body forward as the vision of a painting he saw in a friend’s house a few years back flashed across his mind.

A high caliber bullet ricocheted off the metal frame where his head had just been. Even the whipping of the whirling helicopter blades overhead failed to disguise the unmistakable metal on metal clanking just as he felt the burning sting along his hairline. The eighteen year old high school senior snatched up the black pack from the ground where he dropped it when he panicked from the realization he was penned in by the police behind him and snipers hired by a syndicate one in front as he stood atop the skyscraper. The flood of cops storming the floors below would find him eventually even though they would certainly be busy for hours. Yet, the hired guns from whatever organization it was he ticked off could sit over on the rooftops at the crossroads shooting at will until they finally got him. He would eventually run out of places to hide.

Trey looped his left arm through both of the pack’s straps until he could grip the closest one to him with his hand. Then, he took off at a dead run to do the only thing he could think of at four hundred eighty-three feet in the air. He jumped. His legs extended his body without hesitation thrusting it far into the open beneath the police chopper overhead. Reaching up with his right hand, Trey had time to think, At least their location  will die with me if this doesn’t work. Then he yanked on the cold, steel loop. Almost instantly black silk emerged spreading like angels’ wings. Trey smiled hoping he could at least make it to the ground and have another run for safety before anyone caught up with him. On the way down he wondered if he would have even gotten involved if he knew it would be this way.

Trey’s eyes studied the people on the ground below as most of them scurried like little ants all over the place, confused and frightened. He wondered why they were so scared when in reality none of them had faced anything like he had that day. His whole life had been turned upside down, people had been chasing him, shooting at him, and he had done so many things he had only imagined or seen in movies. Yet, the crowd below was filled with all kinds of people frightened by dangers they thought were out there, but were never real.

A few of the people stood with their hands shading the sun out of their eyes as the watched his descent. Perhaps they wondered if it was some kind of publicity stunt or a missed practice dive. Maybe they even expected it was a predecessor to some big evening news story about a plane going down and the pilot having to eject over the city. However, they would certainly be disappointed by that.

He could only worry about himself anyway and looked like he might be able to get away if he could just figure out how to get out of sight. By the time he made it to terra firma, he had a plan. 

Leaving the parachute trailing behind him, Trey hit the ground in stride running toward a nearby bank, hoping he could get a few hundred dollars out before anybody caught him. He brushed past gawking face after face until he rounded the corner and made it to the ATM four blocks away. Sirens were still reigning down upon the building he came from, though a few cruisers seemed to be working their way onto the surrounding streets as the news of his escape became clear.

Quickly he slipped into a clothing store and purchased a new set of attire. He emerged intent on finding a place to buy a couple of disposable phones so he could contact Sgt. McCormick and his wife. When he had the disposable phones, Trey called the police sergeant. It took several minutes but he was able to explain what happened earlier that day. Then, he agreed to tell him where his family was. However, he was concerned with all that had happened that sharing the information over the phone might be a bad idea. Both men agreed to meet in twenty minutes.

Trey suggested, "Let’s meet at the coffee shop where I work. I’ll tell you where your family is hiding. You can go get them and I’ll give you what evidence I have to get whoever is involved in this conspiracy, but I want out. I just want to finish school and get on with my life."

He sat outside the coffee shop observing the uniformed man stumble into the little café with his head hanging low. He headed straight back to the booth designated for their rendezvous. Carefully keeping track of every movement, every glance, and attempting to interpret them with his untrained eyes, Trey wondered if the man really was alone or if he had some undercover backup he failed to pick up. He seemed so casual about the whole thing as if the situation was not as serious as Trey thought. There were no nervous glances or shuffling of his feet under the table. In fact he scarcely fidgeted. He plopped into the both and leaned back in such a melancholy way, it appeared to Trey he might almost be bored. The young man’s mind began to wonder what was wrong.

He waited until the sergeant became restless in case there was someone else involved. That way they might make an impatient mistake, but nobody moved. Once the man started to move, he made the call.

As agreed upon Sergeant McCormick showed up twenty minutes later. He sat in the corner booth where the group of thugs sat earlier. He waited impatiently wishing he could get the whole thing over with. Just as he was about to leave fifteen minutes later, thinking he had been stood up, he heard a phone ring. He looked around for it, but found nothing. After several seconds of searching he discovered the sound coming from under the table. The phone was a disposable inside a five by eight manila envelope taped to the bottom of the table. Trey’s voice sounded from the other end.

"Are you alone?"

"Yes," the man responded.

"Are you sure?"

"Yes." 

"If you’re not, your family could be dead. So make sure before we go any further. If you have any back up at all you need to get rid of them for your own sake, because you will not see me either way. Understand?"

"Sure."

The phone clicked.

The man spoke monotone as though he had just heard the price of the pizza he had ordered. His odd response added to Trey’s insecurity, but feeling the pressure to finish the task at hand, he gave the call to Tami. He had her signal the officer and give him the package he had dropped off. He faded into the thinning crowd until he disappeared altogether. In a short while he knew this would all be finished. He found his red hybrid tucked into a tidy cubbyhole where it would be ignored until he returned. Mrs. McCormick and Molly waited patiently for him talking back and forth as families do. He thought he saw the little girl giggle when her mother reached through the opening between the bucket seats and tickle her side. She tucked her shoulders down when she smiled. The ears of the little stuffed bunny she clung so tightly to flopped across her face in the dark stealing the moment away from him all to suddenly.

Trey’s heart sank. He missed those days. Sometimes he wished he had been on that plane with his parents so he would not have to wake up in an empty house every morning oftentimes wondering where everybody was before he remembered.

At least they won’t have to know what that feels like, he thought trudging toward the door. His mind returned to the last vision of the police sergeant at the coffee shop.

Sergeant McCormick watched a pretty young coed answer the phone behind the counter almost immediately. He saw her look his way and watched her bob her auburn head a couple of times responding to the caller. Curious as to what she was hearing, the officer tried to interpret the signals as her lips moved in symphony. He found himself hopelessly handicapped. Fortunately, his frustration was limited.

She batted her eyes coolly his direction twice before planting the receiver in its place. Then she nudged her chin his direction as if to call his name silently. He complied. When he approached the counter, she began ringing up his bill.

"That’ll be $13.26," she stated at his approach with a courteous grin.

"What? I didn’t get anything?"

"Your order will be ready in just a moment sir. $13.26 please." She tilted her head slightly and winked.

The officer raised his brows at first as he reached for his wallet. She gave him his change and disappeared into the back returning with a heavy, decorative brown bag. He took the bag and walked out to his car careful not to spill whatever was inside.

Once there, the man opened it up. He found a cup of cold, designer blend coffee - his favorite, and a map. The map had a circle around a penciled in arrow in the middle of the city park with the word "here" written by it. He wondered if he was getting himself into a trap or if the meeting was legitimate. He decided to make a move and hope for the best. 

At the park he found himself sitting in the open underneath the light of a security lamp. It was bright enough to encourage a romantic walk through the park for some young couple. In fact, that was where he took Andi on their first date. Afterwards, they came there from time to time calling it their special place. In fact, he recalled as he sat there that he proposed to her on that very bench only nine years earlier. As he waited in anxiously he wondered where the time had gone.

Sitting alone he heard another phone ring. This time he got up to hunt it down right away. He found another small manila envelop tucked underneath some bushes behind an ugly little gnome with a bright red cap that bent over at the top. Any other time he might have taken time to wonder who would put such a silly thing there.

This time when he answered the phone the voice at the other end wasted no time. He simply asked for reassurance the man was alone and explained there might be cops involved with the syndicate who sought to kill his family earlier that day. He figured it was the only way they could find them so quickly after the police traced his phone call. Then, he hung up without any further word. The officer sat wondering what that meant.

Officer McCormick’s curious behavior at the coffee shop challenged Trey’s suspicious mind encouraging him to adjust his plan. As he stepped out of the vehicle to lead Molly and her mother to the parking lot where their car waited he slipped his grandfather’s old pocket knife out of his pocket and stuffed it in the tight spot between his belt buckle and the first loop of his slacks just in case he needed it, though he could not imagine what good it would do him with its broken blade. Then he stepped off in the lead. He figured he would get them in there and call the man back informing him he could go home. His family sitting in there would be a pleasant surprise for him. He could go back to his car and head home. Nobody had to remember him. This way there was no one else involve who knew what the plan was except the three of them; Andi, Molly, and him.

It should have gone perfectly, however there was a glitch. Just as he returned to his little red car, the lights went out. The next thing he knew he felt pounding in his head.

Sergeant McCormick waited where he was in the park for another half hour but nothing happened. He decided to return to the precinct and see if they had any leads. Heading to his car, he saw two silhouettes in the back seat. He ran. He got to the car to find his wife and daughter there waiting on him.

"Took you long enough," his wife responded.

They gave each other loving hugs. The officer started to drive his family back to their residence, but passed the exit from the freeway.

"Honey, you missed the exit," Andi pointed out.

"It’s okay. I’ve got to make a stop first," he smiled her direction. "Then, we can go home."

She was too tired to argue with him, too tired for another fight over something like this, especially after the day she had, and she did not want Molly to see another one of his angry outbursts where he hurt her. She had worked too hard to hide the bruises from her little girl. Besides, she figured she should just be glad they were together and alive. She smiled back.

At the outskirts of town in a gated community with large, secure estates, he pulled his Impala around to the back of a three story house. A well dressed man led the family into a well decorated room. At the far end was a set of expensive furniture wrapped around a beautiful mahogany desk. An executive, tall and thin with just a touch of gray on the temples, rose to meet them.

"How are you doing Sergeant McCormick?"

"I don’t know," he stated flatly. Motioning his head back towards his wife, his whispered, "I thought you were going to take care of her in exchange for changing my testimony."

"Oh, I am, but you’ve allowed this thing to become such a mess. Besides, there hasn’t really been a change in plans," the man informed him smiling at the woman behind the police sergeant, "has there my dear?"

Andi walked behind the desk melting comfortably into the man’s arms with a passionate kiss demonstrating a comfortable habit. Sergeant McCormick could tell she was already given over to the other man. It appeared as though they had done this before, many times. She laid her head on his shoulder and waved her hand toward Molly. The little red-haired girl obeyed.

"Go upstairs to your room, Baby. This will only take a minute." 

Sergeant McCormick stood dumbfounded while two muscled men held his arms securely in place. As soon as the doors closed behind his daughter his wife spoke, "It’s a shame about your suicide. The guilt of what you let your family go through today was just too much, but you shouldn’t have taken it out on Trey. He was only trying to help. Don’t worry about us. We’ll be okay."

Two black SUVs pulled slowly along the riverfront with their lights off stopping at a secluded spot that seemed to be a favorite of theirs. All eight doors opened. Several men emerged, the full moon’s light reflected off one’s bound wrists. A thick bodied man dragged him forward as he struggled impotently against his power. Soon a muffled pop followed by a splash ended the man’s fight.

"Where’s the kid?" the big man asked another.

"I thought you had him," came the response.

Soon all eight men were scrambling along the wooded shoreline searching for him. Only five returned.

 


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