I killed a man last night.
I’m not going to blame it on my upbringing, education, training, or socio-economic status. I’m going to blame it on the fact that he was an asshole, and he deserved it.
Yes, you heard me right – I killed him because the world will be a better place without him. Evil does exist. I didn’t rid the world of all of it by any means, just a little bit. You know that old saying about what is necessary for the triumph of evil?
Well… I believe it.
I’m not naïve or delusional. I know you can’t expect to end someone’s life, no matter how useless it might be, and expect to get away with it.
I know better than most how well our law enforcement works. For the most part, getting caught is a certainty.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m going to try like hell not to. I just accept that particular outcome as a distinct possibility.
I have a plan. I’ll never find redemption. I don’t need redemption.
I could settle for that.
I have a plan – stay alive and don’t get caught. In my particular case, they are, in fact, two different issues. My main concern is the Monsino family – they aren’t likely to overlook the death of their youngest son, even if it was a service to humanity. Getting pinched by the cops was… Well, what it was.
I laid down tracks in the wrong direction before this all started.
The trip to Italy was actually pretty pleasant, even if getting back into the United States with a ‘borrowed’ identity was a little tense. It took some fancy computer work and some spending to keep the paper trail alive, but, to the casual observer or law enforcement official, I was overseas when the crime happened.
Reversing the process was much simpler, by the way. I guess the U.S. government isn’t nearly as concerned with an Italian National leaving the country.
It still seemed like a good idea to change my venue for a bit. I knew who to call. A friend of a friend later, I had a business in Northwestern Kansas that was willing to give me a chance as a truck driver.
With a U-haul rented under a different friend’s name and my pickup tied on behind, I set out on the next phase of the plan.
You stand out when you try to hide. It’s basic psychology – we’re curious about what seems guarded or hidden. That’s why I went to work early to drink coffee and tell stories with the guys, showed up in church, and shopped at the local grocery store on Oak Street.
I did try to avoid the first woman that approached me. That was basic psychology, too. She was perfect – tall, with curly blond hair and a hint of her abs showing through the bright t-shirt she was wearing. You could tell she took care of herself.
Her boyfriend showed up to claim her not long after she’d stopped at my table at the café after work one night. He reminded me of Monsino in every way.
I wondered if he was half as savage.
I saw a lot of the country in those first weeks. It was good work. We ran about eighty hours a week helping farmers get their crops planted. I got to know the guys pretty well, and they got to know me, too.
I’d told them I had family problems, which wasn’t exactly untrue. They seemed to respect that – I’d learned each of their stories in return.
Honestly, I thought things were going well until the Sherriff knocked on my door Saturday night.
“Are you Sam Maxwell?” He asked when I opened the door.
He was a burly old guy with a graying short-boxed beard, tan uniform and cowboy hat. He looked like he came from a movie set in Texas in the seventies. “I am. I take you to be the Sheriff.”
“I am.” He extended his hand, and I shook it. “Walter Briggs.”
I tried hard not to let my voice crack. “What can I do for you, Sheriff?”
“A couple of things, really,” he said. “First, I need to talk to you about your pickup. County law says you need to license your vehicle in the county if you’re going to live here.”
I smiled knowingly. “I can do that. I’ve just been busy with planting season. I know – county needs the money.”
Briggs grinned a little. “They gotta pay me somehow.”
“I’ll get it Monday. It’s supposed to rain anyway,” I said.
“Fair enough,” Briggs said, shifting a little. “We ran a make on you to figure out the plate. Your jacket makes for interesting reading. I’m not sure what to make of it.”
“I just needed a change, Sheriff. It was a tough life.”
“Well, it looks like you’ve had at least one of those,” Briggs said. “Most of our emergency services are volunteer. I need you too volunteer, Sam. After I read your file, you stood out.”
New York license plates stand out when you’re anywhere except for New York. The black SUV with the tinted windows might as well have had a billboard over the top of it when I pulled into the station to get fuel for my semi. Part convenience store, restaurant, truckstop, and located at the intersection of two major highways, it was the activity center for this end of Kansas.
I avoided the place like the plague when I could, but it was the only diesel pump around. Keeping an eye out for the occupants of the SUV, I went about my business. I didn’t pay any attention when I heard another diesel engine rattle up behind me. After all, it was a truckstop.
“You look like you’ve messed with the wrong guy, and now you hope he doesn’t find you, Sam. You alright?”
Stunned, I turned around to see Sheriff Briggs pumping fuel into his Dodge.
“It’s just been a long week, Sheriff.”
“Season’s about over. You’re going to have some spare time soon,” Briggs said. “You thought any more about coming to work for me?”
“You really think I want to swim in blood, walk through fire, and dodge bullets for free?” I asked.
“I have doughnuts, too,” Sheriff Briggs said. “Besides, it doesn’t hurt to have the Sheriff on your side once you figure out you just fucked with the wrong guy.”
The black SUV swerved into my lane and I swerved into the ditch. It happened that fast – I don’t think it was a reflex built into truck drivers as much as it was a reflex built into human beings.
We were biologically wired to avoid killing other people.
The crash actually happened pretty slowly. I even had hopes of getting the truck back on the road again, but I knew it was over once the truck started to lean. It’d just rained and it was a heavy old truck, so hopefully –
When I opened my eyes or ‘came too’ or whatever it was, I realized I was in deep shit, and not because of the damage I had done to the semi.
“Maxwell, come on out and we’ll get this over with,” a man’s voice shouted in a distinct Italian accent.
Getting the seatbelt loose was easy, but kicking the windshield out took too long. The ground outside was slippery beneath my feet – I half rolled up the side of the ditch and into the cornfield.
I’d thought the bare soil might let me run, but my legs collapsed under me when I tried to get to my feet.
“You’re just going to die tired,” a second voice shouted from behind me. “And slowly, if you piss me off!”
I tried again and my knees held. I ran as hard as I could. Distance was time – if I could stretch this out, I had a chance.
Sheriff Briggs’ Dodge was wound as tight as it would go when he popped over the hill in front of me. The highway I was running beside was a busy one – someone had called the crash in.
He slowed a little, but didn’t stop when he passed me.
He sees them.
I /didn’t know what I was going to do, but I turned around anyway. There was no way I was going to leave anyone else to deal with what I started.
Briggs flew up beside their SUV and was out of his pickup on the passenger side with unbelievable speed and what appeared to be an assault rifle.
“Drop your weapons!” He shouted. “I am the County Sheriff and I will fire! Drop your weapons!”
Just as cut off as I was, they decided their only choice was to fight.
The exchange of gunfire was both louder and longer than I would have thought.
The silence was earsplitting.
There was nothing. There wasn’t a car on the road, a cow in the pasture or a bird in the sky. The two guys that chased me were sprawled on the ground. Brigg’s pickup looked like it had been driven through Baghdad but there was no activity around it.
I ran for Briggs as hard and fast as I’d run from the two guys that were now bleeding out in the cornfield. I didn’t care about getting caught, going to jail or winding up dead. I didn’t want anyone else to pay the price for what I had done.
I’d seen plenty, but I looked away from what was left of Briggs when I got around his pickup. I’d killed him – I just didn’t pull the trigger.
So… To save one good police officer, I’d killed another.
After Little Georgie Monsino’s death had been ruled accidental, I’d actually started to move past it. I had started to believe it was over.
I was wrong. It was just starting.
I pulled out my cell phone and dialed. I told the dispatcher what I’d seen, and I didn’t run.
I would never run again.
A police officer in any jeopardy knows no jurisdictional boundaries. A state patrol officer was the first on-scene, but before it was over, the FBI and even the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms had personnel on-scene.
Their questions were repetitive and surprisingly unfocused on me. They seemed to consider the investigation of my accident to be completed by the fact that the other driver (whichever he was) had bled out in the cornfield.
My boss cast a definite what the fuck? vibe when he arrived to pick me up, but he was as cool about it as someone could have hoped.
“Well, the truck was empty, nothing has leaked, so score one for no paperwork for the EPA,” he said once we were headed home.
I nodded absently, lost in all that had happened.
“Are more guys coming after you?” He asked a few miles down the road. “I’m not upset about the truck – really, I’m not. The paperwork will be a hassle, but we’ve needed an upgrade anyways. I’m sorry we lost Briggs, but he died with his boots on. I just need to know – will there be more of this because of what you did?”
I will never run again.
“I honestly don’t know.”
I saw the woman from the Café – the one I had been trying to avoid since I got here – come to the door.
We just looked at each other through the screen for a very long time.
“Are you going to ask me in?”
“All right, then.” She turned and took a few steps from the door.
I didn’t get up right away, but she was leaning against the porch railing when I went to the door. The sweet curve of her breast and the arch of her back were visible through her thin cotton dress in the full moonlight.
I slipped off my shorts and stepped outside. Anyone still awake was about to get an eye full, but I didn’t care. I cupped her breast and connected with her as only an old lover could.
I took what I needed from her, and in so doing I gave her what she wanted. It had always been like that with her- feeling my passion first kindled her own.
I nibbled her ear. “I thought I’d never see you again.”
“I missed you so much.” Her words were forced by our lovemaking. “I didn’t want to go.”
“No more handler. No more fixers and no more running. Promise me we’ll never run again – not from anyone, or anything.”
She was gone when I woke. It took me close to a week to understand how thoroughly she had disappeared – it was beyond anything she could have managed on her own.
Witness protection was the only thing that made any sense. It was also an answer that brought more questions, like what had she seen?
It had to have happened before she disappeared the first time. My arrival back into her life explained the disappearance this time.
Johnny Carr was the only commonality. He worked for the Department of Justice. He was dirty, even though he was my friend – I’d spoken to him when my trouble happened. He had helped me. He was Stephanie’s friend too.
We had been a team – a good one – until she disappeared the first time.
I never liked to be toyed with, and Johnny Carr seemed to be doing just that. The Homeland Security operative in me killed Georgie Monsino, because I’d found out he was killing police officers.
That action had put me back on Carr’s game board and he had been stacking the deck against me ever since.
It was time for that to change.
I wasn’t running from anyone if I was hunting them.
“Reed, you’ve got to calm down, buddy!”
“You’re not the one that’s hanging off the side of a grain elevator!”
“I’m going to get you down, kid,” I said. “I’m going to get you home safe to your wife and little girl. If you keep struggling, you’re going to get hurt if you’re not already. They need you to be in one piece.”
“Just tell me you’ve done this before, Sam.”
“I fished a special ops guy off of a cliff in Afghanistan once. The window washer over Madison Avenue was pretty interesting, too, but this…” Even I stopped talking to concentrate as I snapped my harness to the line that would take Reed and me over two hundred feet to the ground. “This is my first grain elevator.”
“You were military?”
“Marines, Homeland Security, FDNY… I’ve been around, kid.”
Reed seemed to be settling. “Did you ever lose anyone?”
“Not to a high-angle rescue,” I said as I went over the side.
“I’m glad you’re here.”
Slowly, steadily, I dropped the first fifty or so feet and came up beside him. “So am I, kid. I’ve got you.”
“Reed! Come on in buddy. Can I get you a beer?”
“I better not.” His steps were a little hesitant as he moved to my couch and sat. “They put me on pain relievers when they checked me out at the hospital.”
“Are you all right?”
“They thought I’d have trouble sleeping,” he said. “It’s nothing serious, but it would have been.”
“Well, you did answer the age-old question about why you should bother with wearing a safety harness, but you were okay.”
“No one knew what to do, Sam. I’d have hung there forever if you wouldn’t have been around.”
“I was there, kid. I had you covered.”
“That’s my point, Sam. You need to hang around.”
“Listen, Reed –“
“People don’t stay here,” Reed interrupted. “They come and then they go, or they just go, but they don’t stay here. You could do some good here.”
“The truth is, I’ve got business to take care of, Reed. I’ll be back, though.”
“No one ever comes back when they leave here, Sam. Not ever.”
“Johnny Carr, what can I do for you?”
“Good seeing you again, Sam.”
My semi might have been idling behind me, but Carr’s Suburban and armed security detail were in front of me. There weren’t any crossroads out here for a couple of miles.
It wasn’t a good situation.
“How is Justice treating you these days, Johnny?”
“I’m still dishing it out,” Carr smiled. “I need your help on a project.”
I acknowledged my situation with a wave of my hand. “And this is your invitation?”
Carr nodded. “Things aren’t right around here. Monsino isn’t the only threat to this area. I want you here to straighten out what you can, and let me know about what you can’t.”
“I’m not feeling a lot of choice here.”
“Don’t mistake me, you have a choice. You can either go to prison right now, and yes, we both know I have plenty of evidence against you for killing little Georgie Monsino.”
“Or, you can get in the pickup when the deputy comes to collect you day after tomorrow. Go to the Academy, come out, get elected Sheriff, and spend the rest of your life cracking Monsino’s meth operation and rescuing guys off of grain elevators.”
“You’re sentencing me to life as the County Sheriff?”
“It may be shorter than you think. This place isn’t what it looks like.”
“Nowhere ever is,” I said. “Where’s Stephanie?”
“She’s my asset, Sam. Not unlike what you will be,” Carr said. “You can replace her with any farmer’s daughter you can catch, but you need to forget her.”
“Are there any other rules?”
“I know you want to come after me. I know you’re going to come after me. I’ll put you in a grave or the penitentiary when you do.”
“Understood,” I nodded.
“Academy is six weeks. A guy named Scott Atsky will be by to pick you up at six-thirty Saturday morning. He’ll be on your force as a new deputy after graduation. He’s smart, Sam, but he’s not you.”
“Let’s go,” Carr said to his security guys. He turned back to me. “I know this puts you at odds with yourself. You don’t like getting played, but you’re all with the needs of the many outweighing the needs of the few. There are lots of needs here, Sam.”
And with that, I was alone again.