Category Archives: Action

At Loggerheads

THE BIG RIG came lumbering slowly out of the low-lying fog. The truck announced its presence long before the Hatch family saw it. Sue and John stood silent beside their car. The Honda sat off the one lane dirt road at an odd angle, both passenger side wheels in a muddy ditch up to the rocker panels.

Sue gave a little cry of relief when she heard the flatulent diesel sound as the unseen driver eased off the accelerator. They’d been stuck for hours.  She couldn’t get warm wearing the light sweater she’d brought, but she couldn’t sit another minute in that car.

She looked at her son kicking in John’s arms. Jason needed food.  The last of the milk went an hour ago. The kid cried incessantly now. Damn John and his scenic shortcuts!

John took it on the chin first in her unhappy tirade and later in her pointed silence. It matched exactly the hush of the deep woods until Jason got started. John, for his part, bore Sue’s mood stoically.

He got them into it and he didn’t know how to get them out. Their Honda had stood them in all kinds of weather, but nothing did well in mud.

Sue’s petulant attitude didn’t help. He’d tried all the things a man will try, first with confidence and later in desperation.

The pine forest stood majestic in the coolness of the fall day. The fog that began in the lower valley after the sudden rainstorm had moved upland as the sun heated it from above. Now it covered the entire valley but not the high ground above them.

Looking up the hillside, searching for some inner peace, Sue thought the tall pines’ dark green needles should strike a pleasant contrast to the big patch of vivid blue sky that appeared after the quick storm. It could be a picture postcard, but her mood wouldn’t let her enjoy it.

Here they were, miles from civilization. They didn’t dare try to walk back to the seldom-traveled highway in mid-state Maine they’d left for this route because of bears. The woods were full of them. She wouldn’t even consider it, and no way did she want John leaving her and the baby.

“Ouuu!” she cried in utter frustration, “John, do something with Jason!

John had seen frustration in his wife in their past ten years of marriage. He’d just have to wait it out.

He said as gently as he could, “We’ll get out of here, honey. I’m doing the best I can.”

“You’ve said that five times and we’re still here!” she screamed.

John subsided. He walked with his son in his arms on the nearly dry crown of the road. Motion sometimes distracted Jason. Not this time. His clock said time to eat so he let his parents know.

John looked at the sun. Nearly noon. He pictured his watch on his dresser at home. Lot of good it did there, and the car’s electric clock had quit a couple of months ago. Meant to have it fixed…the road to hell, he thought.

This lark he’d planned didn’t turn out that way. Route 633 had to be five miles back, at least. He rued his decision after a mile but couldn’t find a turnaround. Maybe at the next curve he’d find a place, but it didn’t happen.

The sudden downpour, gone as fast as it came, turned the road into a quagmire. It came on so quickly and hard he had to stop. He literally couldn’t see the road. It worried him that they were still going up the side of this mountain. Once he started driving again, he feared they’d be in trouble, only a matter of time.

Out of the fog the big Mack logger nosed its way upward. The driver saw them and stopped. A man his late thirties got out of the cab, nimbly caught the step and jumped to the ground. He wore an insulated red and white, checkered flannel shirt with sleeves that came just above his wrists. He had plenty of muscle under the shirt. He looked them over and then at the Honda and stood silently for a moment.

“Private road, mistah,” he said in his quaint Maine accent. “Didn’t yuh see the sign back theah?”

No,” John said, “I didn’t see any sign. My map showed this road and I thought it went to a scenic overlook.” John still had Jason and he whimpered and fussed even as John bounced him in his arms.

“Yuh got a bit of the way up the hill.”

“I know. I was looking for a place to turn around, but it kept going up and up.”

“Ay-uh. No place to turn fur another mile, I guess.”

“Then we got the rain and instant mud and you can see what happened.”

“This road’ll handle a rig. That little pip-squeak car’s no good here.”

“I found that out.”

“Lemme see thet map o yourn.”

John handed the baby to Sue and she cooed at Jason and bounced him some more without much success. John went into the passenger’s side of their car and grabbed the map off the dash. The logger didn’t introduce himself. John went up to him and turned so they could both look.

“This is where I think we are.” He pointed to a place on the map.

“Ay-uh. I kin see whayah yuh made yuh mistake. Yuh see this nub ovah heah?” the man pointed.

“Yes.”

“Now, yuh see this nub ovah heah?”

“I’m on the wrong mountain, aren’t I?”

“Ay-uh.”

“Can you help us out and get us turned around?”

“Well,” the man said, “yer trespassin’ and Mr. Mulgrave don’t take kindly to trespassers.”

The man didn’t sound at all friendly.

“Look, all we want is to turn around and get out of here. You can’t pass my car. It’s blocking the road.”

“That’s not a problem, mistah. I kin push you right over the edge there. Yuh see the edge there, don’t yuh?”

John looked involuntarily. He didn’t like the steep down-slope at all. Sparse growth and fifty feet further down a cliff that dropped out of sight.

Now the guy looked mean. John gauged what kind of man he could be. Thin but hard muscled, he couldn’t weigh more than one fifty. John had him by thirty pounds. Pretty obviously the man had an active physical life and worked hard at it. John had a desk job a few years of sitting away from his iron pumping days. He doubted he’d be a match for this stranger.

Sue took this moment to get into the conversation. “Look, mister, we’re in your way and you want us out of your way, right?”

For the first time the man really looked at her. Cute little thing. Her turned up nose kinda reminded him of his dead sister Maude. About the same age, too. Two years since the cancer got her. He loved his Sissy, so ‘bout that time he told God to go screw.

The gal wore a light blue dress with some kind of lacy white stuff bordering the edges, made for riding comfort in a car, but not for standing around outside in a mountain wilderness. Her light sweater wouldn’t cut a Maine wind, no how. Like he’d asked, he saw her shiver.

She had a cute kid, too; would have been cute if he wasn’t caterwauling right about now. The woman tried to push its face against her breast to muffle the noise. That just made him notice her chest.

Kid didn’t matter, but Mr. Mulgrave had strict instructions about people nosing around. He had a lot to lose if anyone saw his operation and got outsiders involved. Pretty likely they’d see it if he got them to a turnaround.

“That’s right, little lady.”

“So won’t you help us?”

The man pondered. Foxy looking thing. His eyes narrowed. “Maybe I kin. Maybe yuh kin do somethin’ for me. Maybe yuh kin help me a bit and maybe then I kin help you.”

“What do you mean?”

“Flat out, I ain’t been with a woman fer a real long time. I’m feelin’ a need.”

“You don’t mean…?”

The man stared at her.

John gaped at the two and horror came to his face.

“Wait just a minute!” he said, “What you’re suggesting you’re going to have to do over my dead body. Forget it, mister!

“You got nothin’ tuh say, buddy. I’m talkin’ tuh the lady. But since yer talkin’, you wouldn’t have a problem with returnin’ one favor fer another, would yuh?”

John saw white! He felt hot all over. Nobody could do this. Maine was part of a civilized country, wasn’t it?

The scenario had turned strange and ugly. He decided he couldn’t argue with the guy and no man would rape his wife before he lay stone cold dead trying to prevent it.

“You’re doing nothing, mister. Who the hell do you think you are?”

Sue looked confused for a moment, but now she could see a confrontation coming and she could stop it.

“John, let me talk to him.”

“No, Sue. Don’t you know what’s going on here?”

“Yes, I do. I want to talk to him.”

“No!”

“Excuse me,” she said to the man, and took John’s hand and led him away out of earshot.

The trucker watched with interest while Sue in low but intense conversation gesticulated wildly and John gestured back with finality. Finally he threw his hands up in disgust, turned and walked rapidly back to confront the man.

“Under no circumstances am I going to give my wife to you. Forget it! She has nothing more to say.”

“Whatevah.”

The logger turned, walked back to the truck and quickly got in. John divined his next move. He ran to the idling truck as the driver put the rig into low gear. With a rage he hadn’t felt since he’d pasted that bully Bobby Hunt in the face as a boy, John jumped onto the step, reached through the open window and punched the man in the side of the head.

Momentarily stunning the man, John pressed his advantage, grabbed his coat and pulled him toward the driver’s window. The driver’s foot came off the clutch and the big truck started forward. John hung on, one arm around the man’s neck as the other reached wildly for the steering wheel.

Fifteen feet from the Honda, Sue, between the car and the oncoming truck, screamed and tried to run up the hillside, slipped on mud in the roadside gully and went down with the baby, instinctively twisting to save Jason.

Her head hit a rock. She lay suddenly quiet and still, while the baby screamed on her chest. The truck headed directly for her legs.

John hit the driver full in the face. Then he grabbed the wheel desperately, turning it hard to the right. The vehicle found the edge and went over, missing Sue’s legs by inches.

As the big truck’s rear wheels cleared the road and the rig started slowly down the steep slope, the man stirred and sat up.

John grabbed his neck and squeezed. With a violent twist to the left, the man hit John in the face and John reeled away, lost for a moment. As he fell back the crook of his arm found the outside mirror and hung him up. Recovering quickly, he savagely went back through the window and hit and gouged at the man. They were twenty-five feet down the slope and gaining speed.

The man’s foot found the air brakes. Fending John off, he stomped on the pedal. The engine stalled, but the brakes couldn’t stop the rig. On wet ground ten tons of steel riding on ten huge rubber tires slid slowly toward the precipice, making long, reddish dual skid marks.

Ten feet…five…John screamed a horrible epithet and fell away from the truck as the front end went over the cliff. John grabbed at the hardy root on a stunted tree. It tore away and he slid closer to the brink. He grabbed wildly for another. It held. He lay, feet out over space, eyes closed, terror in his heart.

He heard a cry with a sob and then the wrenching sound of the loggers rig leaving the ground on its way over. Sound followed sound, first nothing but a wail, then crashing, crashing, crashing, trees going over forever…then silence.

Sue! Jason!

He pulled himself carefully up and got ground under him. His gorge rose. He swallowed it back. Painfully, he grabbed any handhold he could find as he worked his way up the hill. His fingers began to bleed and mix with blood from his scored knuckles. He wore holes in his pants and his face felt numb.

Not as bad as the other guy, he thought with well-deserved malice.

Nearing the road he heard Jason’s healthy cry and as he gained the crest, he saw the baby on unmoving Sue’s chest, her arm across him.

With a catch in his throat, he called, “Sue?”

With halting steps he walked to his wife. Bloody ground under her head and the sharp rock next to her told the story. He bent down and felt. Pulse weak but regular. He gently moved her arm and gathered up the baby. Jason whimpered in his daddy’s arms.

Sue needed attention. Jason would have to wait. He carried the baby to the car and locked him into his car seat. Grabbing the first aid kit from the passenger’s side door well, he went to the trunk and got the picnic blanket out. He felt Sue over. Only the head wound. She moaned.

“Sue?”

Gradually she came to. He gentled her in his arms.

Sue’s eyes focused and she let out a short scream as a nightmare passed through her and reality crept in. When he could see reason in her eyes, he told her the man had gone and wouldn’t be back. She clung to him.

The road dried by mid-afternoon. John had Sue get in the drivers seat and told her how to rock the automatic up one side of the rut he’d made, stand on the brake while she shifted and then run up the other side to gradually widen the lock he’d placed on the right wheels. While she did that, he pushed; first front and then rear. In that manner they eventually got free of nature’s muddy trap.

They drove the mile the man said would have the first turnaround and found it. They also found a side valley with several acres of healthy growing marijuana plants. The authorities would be very interested in the crop. What was the owner’s name…Mulgrave…yes…Mulgrave.

The police would no doubt be interested in another story they had to tell, too.

Rock, Scissors, Paper

I FUMED ACROSS half of Kansas’s boring terrain, fields upon fields of low, nondescript greenery. The upside? I had lots of time to think. That I needed, because I’d picked a bold and possibly dangerous solution to a problem that begged a solution. I’m on my way to Susank to take my sister away from her abusive husband.

Twelve hundred eighty seven miles from my home in Hershey; twelve hundred eighty seven angry miles. My wife said I shouldn’t make the trip. She tried to make me be reasonable.

“Too much for your heart, Jake. I know how much you love your sister, but…”

“I’m going, Maeve. Don’t stop me,” I told her. “The bastard didn’t believe me. I’m going to make a pretzel out of him.”

“Don’t talk like that. He’s bigger than you.”

“Yeah, well, I’m madder than him. Special Ops training should do the trick.”

“C’mon, Jake, that was ‘Desert Storm!’”

“You don’t forget,” I said, convincing myself in the process.

She tried a few low blows. I’m not twenty-seven any more. What if he hurts me badly? What if he kills me? What about Amy? Our daughter needs a father. What about your management job at the Hershey plant? And the lowest blow of all. What about her? She loved me, but at the moment I’d blocked everything she said with white-hot anger and no room for reason.

“My sister, Maeve, my sister!” I tried to brush her arguments aside. “I’m not going to do anything stupid.”

She got quiet about then. She didn’t believe me, except that I’d be going and she knew it.

I don’t tell her I had an equalizer and I meant to use it if my “visit” didn’t work to my satisfaction. I took my S&W 32 out of the lockbox yesterday, loaded and locked, relocked the empty box and slid the gun into my Pathfinder’s glovebox.

Angry is a kind of craziness.

I kept tight control over my features. She’d know she’d lost the argument to pigheadedness. I’d had it with the phone calls and Judy’s tears and the secret confirmation I got from my call to boyhood friend Geoff Wilucz, who still lived in that little town of thirty-four souls.

He told me Dave lost his job several months ago. He’d descended into drink to compensate and he wasn’t fun to be around. Geoff said he’d stopped being neighborly. I couldn’t tell Maeve that.

Then I wondered why Judy hadn’t shared with me. I answered my own thought. Probably knew I’d act like I’m acting. Then the disaster of my phone call to Dave. I lost it. I ended up calling him all sorts of names and I threatened him. He laughed at me and hung up. Nobody did that to me!

I gave it the test of time, twelve hundred miles of it. I left Hershey with an edge of angst, but that I directed to my wife for lying to her. It didn’t set well. We had no secrets. I grimaced at that pronouncement. If she had a secret, I wouldn’t know, right? And now I had one and she didn’t know, except we’d been married almost thirty years and if anybody knew me, she did.

My first day driving I went all out; sixteen hours seething inside kept my body at a long distance edge so I stayed plenty alert. I did most of it on the I-70 Interstate, cruise set on seventy. I found a Comfort Inn off the highway for the night in Topeka. My anger fell away and I slept the sleep of the righteous. Before climbing under the covers I thought about what Maeve might do. It gave me pause. Did she give up a little too quick?

If I were her, what would I do? I would call ahead to the Kansas State Police and have a welcoming committee waiting for me, but would she do that? I didn’t think so, but she might. She knew how upset I could get and she knew what I could do…used to do.

Hell with it! I’d cast the dice and what would be, would be. I patted the pocket with the lockbox key. She wouldn’t know about the gun and the idea wouldn’t occur to her; that I believed.

My triple bypass now two years in the past and with the blessings of the best recovery my surgeon had seen in years beating inside, I thought about my plan for maybe the thirtieth time. I’d arrive unannounced. Dave might be home, but likely he’d be over at Moe’s Bar in Beaver.

I gave some thought to the price his mortgage paid toward his drinking. The anxiety in Judy’s voice in our final conversation convinced me it would get worse for her before it got better. That’s when I made my decision to go for the showdown.

I left Topeka around ten, figuring I’d get to my sister’s place about one-thirty, give or take. I’d be ready for anything, but truly expected the confrontation in the late evening.

A niggling thought tickled my mind. What if Maeve called Judy; put her on alert? I could picture it. Put it in the mix, I told my brain. What would Judy do? I considered it as I drove the last boring stretch of the 189 off I-70, a knife straight road girdled by flat green fields. When I ran out of that road, I made a left and a right onto Susank Road with rising anticipation. It had been years since I had a knockdown, drag out. I’d stayed in shape. I could do it.

There, a left onto unpaved Pope Street. The Pathfinder raised a cloud of dust behind me. I could see Judy’s place with its add-on’s and the miscellaneous mechanical crap Dave left to rot behind the shed. Little place – testament to Dave’s ineptness or to laziness? I believe he tried hard for some years, but never got anywhere and I sensed his resentment through my phone conversations with Judy. She made excuses for him right along.

I couldn’t understand it, but I’d read somewhere that a lot of women stuck by their husbands even after they started beating on them. We’d had conversations and Judy always took his side, until about a year ago when Dave threw the bills across the room and then slapped her when she tried to confront him about it. The abuse began and escalated over the coming months. Judy wouldn’t call the police and unless she made a complaint, they couldn’t act. The resident State trooper, a guy named Crowley told me that when I tried.

Three days ago my last conversation with Judy did it. I would do something. The law could do nothing, I’d been told. She would do nothing, she sobbed. She loved him.

I drove onto Judy and Dave’s property. I didn’t see his truck, so I figured he’d gone to Mo’s. I presumed I’d have time to talk to Judy, to convince her that my appearance could begin a new life for her, that she’d go to a shelter while she divorced the bastard, or failing that, that I would convince Dave to get some help.

How wrong I could be. I parked, got out, knocked on the front door and after a few moments the door opened a few inches.

“Surprise!” I cried and threw my arms up. Then I saw Judy as the early afternoon light settled on her features. Blood moved slowly down her cheeks and I saw welts on her once pretty face. My face got hot and my rage became a force of nature. I pushed into Judy’s house without thinking.

Jake, NO!” she yelled. Just then she was yanked violently out of sight. Dave hulked into the doorway. Damn it, Maeve did call her after all. I backed up fast.

“So, you little piss-ant,” Dave started, “you’re going to do what to me?” In his hand he held an eight-inch kitchen knife. “I think I’ll cut you up, asshole.”

With that he lunged, the knife aimed for my stomach. If my adrenaline hadn’t been working overtime from the moment I saw Judy—his mistake—he would have impaled me and game over. I jerked backwards and twisted to the side, grabbed his arm at the wrist with my left hand and pulled hard. Not expecting it, Dave’s considerable bulk came through the doorway and his foot caught on the threshold. He crashed face down on the dirt. He still had the knife.

With amazing forethought I’d worn heavy brogans for the confrontation. I stomped on his hand and he let go with a cry. I kicked the knife ten feet away. He started to rise. I had less than a couple of seconds to reach behind and pull my Smith and Wesson from my belt. I bent down, stuck it in his ear, hard, and shouted, “Move, you simpleton. All I want to do is to put a bullet in your brain!”

He deflated quickly. “You wouldn’t do that,” he said, but didn’t sound sure.

“Find out! Move, you bastard.” I called to Judy, who had appeared back in the doorway. “Are you through with this piece of trash now, Sis?” Rock.

“Yes I am. I’m calling the police, Jake.” In a few seconds Jake heard her talking to the resident Trooper. She hung up. Scissors.

“He’ll be here in five minutes, Jake.” Then she started to cry. Paper.

Epilogue

Aftermath is always anticlimax. I told the trooper I’d get Judy to the nearest medical facility and get her fixed up. Crowley led Dave away in cuffs. Judy agreed to testify against her husband.

I had to prove I had a carry permit in Pennsylvania. Trooper Crowley advised me that didn’t hold for Kansas, but considering the outcome, he wouldn’t give me grief about it.

“Lock it in your glovebox on the way home, okay?” I said okay.

After the police presence departed, and we were on the way to the Walk-in, Judy and I had a heart to heart. Judy wanted to stay in Susank. The trooper assured her Dave would not bother her again, that his next stop was the county jail and after that, someplace even more impressive.

Judy had decisions to make and plenty of time to make them. I’d better call home soon. I had a story to tell and a bit of forgiveness to ask for.