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The contents of this story are fictional. Any resemblance of characters to living or lived persons is strictly coincidental. Certain characters engage in sexual acts which may or may not be legal in the state or country in which a reader may reside. Any reader with objections to graphic descriptions of sexual encounters between males who may not have reached the legal age of consent, or whose local, regional, state or national jurisprudence prohibits such descriptions, should not read further.

Chapter XXIII

Saturday, July 10, 1993

Nothing happened for half an eternity, except the stabs of pain from my shoulder. It wasn't in somersault condition yet. We finally heard a little scratching noise above us. On the other side of the cleft from where Hood had stood,

"You two okay?" Boo's voice asked from somewhere above us. Her voice was low in volume and pitch, barely audible. My heart leapt. I looked up, but couldn't see her..

"Brad's hurt," I said for us. "He got hit, but the bullet didn't go into him." I couldn't think of any other way to say it.

I reached into Brad. He was okay, but . . . "sore" inside his head, and hurting pretty bad in his back. I found the pain things in his back, and smoothed them as much as I could. The hurt over his eye was easy -- it was already kind of numb. He soothed the hurt in my shoulder.

"I'm all right," he thought at me. Macho crap, and I told him so. His body was jumbling inside, almost quivering.

"Those Thermos bottles saved your ass, but just."

"Yeah. Who's Hood?"

"No idea. Never heard that voice before." I replayed the voice in our heads. It was like a radio announcer's, very precise, the Southern accent distinct but faint, like someone who had been born in the South, but moved away a long time ago.

"Can you get up here?" Boo asked in a low voice.

We needed no second invitation to safety, and scrambled up the little path to the top. Brad's back hurt a lot, and it was hard to keep the pain level low.

Boo was crouched next to the Organ Pipes, the vertical rocks at the top of the ridge that are sot of cylindrical. We crouched beside her. She was wearing the same kind of pants suit as always, fresh despite the climb from the cabin. She had a very ugly looking pistol in her hand, and the way she carried it, you knew she could use it.

"Who?" asked Brad.

"Don' know," said Boo. "Thought you did."

"He knew Dad," I said. "He's the one who . . . killed them."

"How'd you know to come after us?" Brad asked.

"Heard you call me," she said. "Followed the call."

"You've got good ears," said Brad. "We were scared you couldn't hear us that far off."

"I hear with more'n just my ears," Boo said. "I knew you was in trouble, even before you called me. Don't know how, don't care. It worked."

We stayed for a while, looking down into the cleft, down both sides of the ridge, waiting for some movement, but none came. After maybe twenty minutes we headed back towards the cabin. On the way down, I picked up my backpack, with the canister still intact, from behind Big Boulder. I took the canister out, opened it, and spread the ashes over the Ridge in one sweeping circuit of my arm. Mom and Dad would have approved.

Going back to the cabin was eerie. Boo pulled out her pistol again, and made us wait for near ten minutes at the top of the clearing, just watching the cabin, before she gave the signal to go ahead. I realized why as we got to the rear porch. The clearing was a great fire protection, but there was no way you could see if someone was on the edge of the clearing, just waiting for a target to start crossing the open space. When we got into the cabin, Boo went to call the cops. The line was dead. The power was out, too.

"We'd better take the 'Kee down to Radford and call," said Brad.

"Maybe," said Boo. "First, I want to take a look at your back."

Boo soon had Brad bent over the table in the kitchen, and bathed the raw flesh on his back with hydrogen peroxide before applying a compression bandage like the one on my shoulder. I had to concentrate to keep him from hurting. She used some tape to wrap around his chest, I guess to keep him from breathing too deep. The bullet had cracked the rib, she said, but it was slowed down enough by the metal and nylon that it didn't smash through it. Brad's forehead was only scraped, not cut deep like I feared, so his bandage up there didn't get any bigger. She changed my dressing, too, as it had drained some from the moving about.

"You boys sure keep a body busy," she mumbled as she worked on me. Her touch was a lot more tender than her words.

Brad wanted to go out to the 'Kee while Boo worked on me, but Boo wouldn't hear of it. When she was finished with me, she went out with him, telling me to stay at the corner window, watch the perimeter and holler if I saw anything move. Brad and I coordinated, so we had this weird double triangle vision of the same spot if we looked at it. I thought I saw a flash of something out of the left corner of my eye, up near the barn, but when we looked, it was just a glint of sun off the door flashing.

The Jeep's battery was dead, at least that's what Brad thought at first, but Boo made him look under the hood. It was gone. They went over to the barn, and the old pickup was just as dead, the hood still open. Somebody didn't want us to leave. Brad and Boo came back inside. Boo never took her eyes off the edges of the clearing, and we didn't either.

"We're in trouble, aren't we Boo?" Brad asked. I was busy trying to stop his hurt. Every time he took in a breath, his back hurt, and I couldn't make it stop for more than a breath at a time.

"Your uncles will be back pretty quick," said Boo. It was the first time she acknowledged the relationship between Jeremy and William. "We need to make sure they don't park the car too far from the house."

"Getaway time?" Brad asked.

"Got a better idea?"

"I . .  ." Brad's voice just dropped off. There was nothing to do but to flee, get to town.

"Any guns in the house?" Boo said. Then, before either of us could say anything. "Besides the muskets?"

The old rifles over the fireplace dated from the 1890's, and probably hadn't been fired since before my Dad was born.

"Doesn't Dad still have his pistol under the night stand?" I thought at Brad.

"Yeah. A thirty-eight. And the skeet guns. Where did he put them?"

"The floorboards, under the linen chest."

"There's a .38 in Mom and . .  .in our bedroom," said Brad. "And a pair of double barrel skeet guns."

"Get 'em," Boo said. It wasn't a request. "You know how to use 'em?"

"Course," I said. I was already on my way to our bedroom, right behind Brad. My face itched, for some reason.

"You get the shotguns," Brad said.


We were back in the Big Room in less than a minute. I brought the three full boxes of shells with the guns, which Dad had wrapped in oil cloth. Brad had the thirty-eight, and the little steel case of ammo.

Boo took the pistol from Brad and flipped it open, then snapped it shut and re-engaged the safety. It still looked really odd, seeing this big, middle-aged black lady dressed like a housekeeper, handling a weapon like Dirty Harry.

"Loaded. One round fired. What did your Dad use it for?"

"Bears," Brad said. "They skit off real quick when he fires it overhead."

"Hope our visitor is half as smart," Boo said in a rumbling voice. She grabbed the two shotguns from me and broke them, looked down the barrels, then at the ammo. "Load 'em up," she said at me. "Keep 'em broke."

I got this sudden . . . rush, I guess you call it. I felt hot, and sweaty, and breathing hard, something raspy on my face, and then a sudden flash of light, green, then it was gone.



"Look!" I showed him what I saw and felt.

"What is it?"

"I don't know!"

I heard -- no, I felt -- a car coming up the road towards the entrance to Reston.

"What time is it?" I asked Boo.

"Two thirty," she said, looking at her watch.

Two thirty! Where had the time gone? How long before William and Jeremy would have got back from McCloud? Not yet, surely!

The car turned into the drive. It wasn't the Bentley, I could tell from the engine. Too loud, too new.

"There's a car coming up the drive," I almost shouted.

Boo moved so fast I almost missed it. She had her big pistol up in the air, right by the front window, looking down the drive, and told us to get the shotguns.

"Brad!" she said real soft. "Put the pistol in your shorts, under the waist. Get ready to load the shotgun for Tim if he needs to fire. Tim! Your shoulder up to the kick?"

"Yeah!" I was lying through my teeth. It was going to hurt like hell.

"I'll take care of that, you just do what she says."

"K. I love you."

The car came round the bend in the drive. It was a white Z-28 ragtop, open. There were two people in it . . . both men. I couldn't quite make out who . . .

"Its Munoz!" Brad said. His eyes are a little better than mine sometimes. "Saw!"

I started to relax, and all of a sudden felt the same as I felt before, hot, sweaty, itchy damned wool, flash of light, shade, heavy something in my arm, lifting . . . I saw the white Camaro. From the side! Two rich white guys, probably goddam queers . . .

"Boo! He's here!" I ran to the front door, flinging it open. Brad was in my head, saw what I saw, was right behind me. I had the shotgun in front of me, ready to fire.

"Who!" Boo shouted.

"Hood!" I shouted. "He's . . ."

The white Camaro had pulled to a stop by the 'Kee.

"Down!" Boo roared through the window.

"Down!" I hollered as loud as I could. I went down on my chest, the shotgun aimed generally towards the drive. There was no way I could fire it from where I was.

It was too late. Saw and Munoz were almost out of the car, looking up at me in the doorway, and there was a flash of light from behind the barn, and Saw and Munoz were hit. Saw flew against the 'Kee, backwards, and Munoz just crumpled to the ground. Holes in the Camaro appeared everywhere. There was a roar from my left, another, a flash . . . I felt my head snap back, and the Camaro went out of view, I was looking at the sky, and  . . . black. But it wasn't me, it was . . .

Memories. I remembered the Huey, remembered those shithead honky officers, telling me to get my ass in, we were taking off, remembered the tracers, right through the fucking chopper, the sudden blinding pain in my butt, the faces of those white bastards on the other side telling me not to close the goddamn door, get down, get down, get . . . fuck. can't move my goddam legs . . .

"Brad!" I ran out towards the Camaro, dropping the shotgun. "It's Hood!"  I caught another picture, my Dad, young, green fatigues, Davies, clean as a fucking officer, both of them staring at me, oh shit it hurts . . . my groin hurts . . . the Lieutentant leaned down towards my face, the son-of-a-bitch what got us into this, says "hang on, bud." I ain't his fucking bud, fucking shithead, son of a whore . . .

"Yeah. See it. You get Saw." I came back to me.

I headed to the left side of the Z, got to Saw. He was out. His left arm was pumping blood in spurts through his shirt, there was a hole in his neck, blood everywhere, sick, oh shit I'm gonna barf, no can't, gotta stop the blood, tourniquet, asshole, tourniquet!

I ripped his whole goddamned sleeve off, just grabbed it and pulled like hell, and it came apart. I ripped it longways and wrapped it around his upper arm twice, looked for a stick, anything to twist the damned thing tight, grabbed a pen out of his pocket, twirled it six or seven times, pressed. The spurts stopped. More shirtsleeve on the hole in his neck, oh shit, it's on the other side too, I gotta hold my fingers over both holes, oh SHIT! He's bleeding through his shirt, there's another fucking hole oh damn! Right in the heart, no can't be, he's pumping blood, oh fuck need more bandage, loosen the tourniquet! No! Not yet, wait three minutes.

Boo appeared next to me from somewhere.

"He's down for the count, got his AK," she was breathing hard. "Brad!" SHe hollered loud enough to hear in Radford.


"How he?" She was already opening Saw's shirt, just ripping the buttons off. Blood covered his chest, all through the T-shirt. She lifted it out of his pants and rolled it up, pressed it against the hole.

I saw already. Munoz had a hole in the side of his face. Brad saw the teeth, hanging out through the cheek, before he ripped Munoz' T-shirt off by the neck and soaked up the blood. He put his finger in the cop's mouth to make sure the tongue wasn't gone down his throat. It was half ripped off, poking a little out the hole in his cheek. There was a hole in his belly, right above the navel, but no blood in front.

"Hurt bad! Lots of blood. Breathing!"

"Keep the pressure on," she commanded me, and was gone. She ran around the front of the car to help Brad.

"Take the car and get help!" she said to Brad. Calm as a foggy night.

"Bertha's a nurse," Brad said at me. "Who else?" He was already turning to get into the Camaro from the passenger side.

"Doc Bryant's gone!" I thought uselessly.

"Medevac!" he leapt into the car and turned the key, blessedly still in the ignition..

"Hurry!" I said out loud. I hollered. I was crying. We all were.

He put it in gear and pulled back, then spun her around and headed back down the drive, the hell with the potholes, the tires throwing dirt and dust all over.

Saw opened his eyes. He didn't see me, though.

"Don't you die on me," I said in a quiet voice I didn't recognize.

"Keep him still," said Brad. "His neck may be shattered."

Boo was bent over Munoz, pressing T-shirt to his belly, not hard, holding the top half of the blood reddened T-shirt to the side of his face, crooning to him.

Brad almost clipped the tree at the end of the drive as he swung out onto the road and fishtailed, then hurtled towards Radford. He was doing more than sixty, leaning on the horn.

"Don't you kill yourself, Brad!" I thought at him. He wasn't paying any attention, concentrating on the road. No cars. Where was everybody? I tried to get at his hurt, but I couldn't . . . find it. But he hurt, I could feel it.

I looked over towards the barn, where Hood lay in a heap beside the door.

"He dead?" I said to Boo. She was only a couple of yards away.

"Breathing shallow. Shock. Bastard hit him three times." She was talking about Munoz. I already knew that. No.

"Three times?"

"Got him in the leg, too."

I snapped back to Saw. His eyes were still open, only half way. Three minutes? Yes. Untwist the pen a little. Blood spurted again, aw shit, what to do? Twist it tight again, can't let him lose more blood.

"Hood?" I said at Boo.

"Leg and shoulder. He'll live."

"Too bad."

"Killing don't do," she said back at me. "Keep him still, don't move his head."

Brad gets to the turning for Ed's, slams through the parking lot without looking, almost hits a pickup as it starts to pull into Murdoch's, slams on the brakes right in front of the ramp. People turning to look, the pickup driver shaking his IQ finger at Brad. Brad throws it in "Park," leaps out of the Z and hops the bar leading down the ramp, opens the "Exit" door.

Bertha is helping some tourist lady at her checkout.

"Bertha! Got three men down, gunshots, need you at Reston!" he shouts at her.

Bertha says nothing at all, just gets up from the register and jumps to the office, grabs her field kit and moves fast behind Brad, already halfway out the door.

"Randy, take over!" she hollers at the young clerk. "Terry! Call Harry! Tell him to get hold of Charley, get the medichopter up to Reston! Tell him three to evacuate! Now!" Terry is at the back of the store, but there's no way he couldn't hear her. Her voice fills the whole store. It's like slow motion, my heart is beating a million times a second.

"Move, Brad, MOVE!"

Saw is trembling, real hard. Shaking.

"Boo! He's . . . I think he's . . . " I'm afraid to say he's dying. I'm sure he is.

"Keep the pressure on. It's shock. Don't move him!"

A car is coming up the drive. Not Brad, he's only just got Bertha into the Camaro, not even in gear yet. Hurt in his back, can't get to it..

It's the Chain Jeep. Mark and Don. They see what's happened, Don jumps out with a little red cross box in his hand.

"Who's hurt?" Mark says as he jumps out, right behind Don. "Heard the shots."

"Cops!" I say. "Good guys."

Don is beside Boo, opens the box and pulls out a few compresses, hands them to Boo then comes over to me. He looks down, falls to one knee. "Broken neck?"

"Don't know. Not moving until we get help."

"Smart. Brad?"

"Gone to get Bertha," I say. I'm amazingly calm, all of a sudden. Mark is beside Bertha, applying a compress to the leg, deep red with Munoz' blood.

"Medevac?" Don says, putting his hands with compresses over my hands with the bloody shirt around Saw's neck. I pull my hands away, sticky with blood, the blood flows again, but not as much. Don puts the compresses over the hole in front. I can't see the one in back. There's blood all over the gravel..

"Yeah." I say, putting a compress on Saw's chest. It isn't bleeding much. I'm afraid to think what the other side looks like.

Brad is almost at the turning. He's telling Bertha who's hurt. They slalom into the drive, over the potholes, around the bend. Brad is angry, detached, cold inside.

Saw is shaking violently now, his eyes rolled back into his head. Don holds his head and shoulders still, while the legs and arms just quiver.

"Brad! Saw needs Bertha real bad!"

"Boo, he's having almost like a seizure! I think he's in real trouble!" I shout at her. I lose my cool again. Don keeps his fingers around Saw's neck, and I keep the compress on his chest. I'm crying. So is Don, and he doesn't even know Saw. I can't see Mark or Boo, behind me.

The Camaro slides to a stop ten feet short of us, Boo yells "Go to Saw!" at Brad, but he's already told Bertha..

Then Bertha is there, in front of me, to Don's right, and she takes one look, opens her black nylon field kit, takes out a syringe and a little bottle with a metal cap. She pulls it off with her teeth and puts the needle into the rubber or cork or whatever under the metal cap and pulls out on the plunger, then jabs Saw in the center of his shoulder, on the other side of where the holes are covered by Don's compresses.

"He's gonna die?" I say through my tears. My nose is running, slobbering.

Bertha doesn't answer, just opens the tourniquet a little. The blood doesn't spurt any more, just pulses.

Brad can't do any more to help. He picks up my shotgun where I'd dropped it and goes over to where Hood lays in his heap. He's thinking about firing both barrels into Hood's face.

"Brad! No!"

"I wasn't going to. I want to, but I won't."

"God! Please help us!" I pray. Brad joins me.

Then the most glorious of sounds, a chopper, probably from the logging company, too quick to have come from Redding. Loud, louder, and then this huge dragonfly appears over the tops of the trees at the bottom of the clearing, the treetops writhing like waves crashing on the rocks at Monterey, settling on the top of the still soft earth. The doors open, and three guys jump out, in helmets and green fatigues or whatever it is that they wear, and run to Boo first, she's closest.

Boo points at us with Saw, and they head for us. One of them speaks into a mike on his helmet, and two more guys have already jumped out of the chopper, carrying long stick-like things. Stretchers. Don turns over the compresses to the first alien, and steps away, bending over, vomiting, dry.

The other alien pushes me aside and said "Bertha, you put him under?" He knows her.

"Just now poked him. Needs anther minute. Deep shock, pulse under 50."

I hadn't seen her take any pulse.


"Don't know," Bertha said. She was as calm as ice.

Things slowed down, just a little. My heart is still beating like a hummingbird's wings, but people are moving at regular speed again.

"Terry! Collar!" the first guy shouted at one of the other guys.

"No!" said the second. "Passed through!" He had a stethoscope out, right over Saw's heart.

"Back?" said the first.

"Guy's charmed! Arythmia, no holes. Probable collapsed lung. Internal. Intensive." Said the second. He pulled a spray can out of somewhere and sprayed Saw's neck, then the arm, the chest, suddenly bare..

"Three down, all bullet trauma, one critical, one super. Third . . . " The first alien looked towards Brad, poised over Hood with the shotgun pointing at him.

"Shoulder and knee," I said. "Shock. Out."

" . . . serious to crit. Gonna need OR, multiple units, get types on way. Been a fucking war here."

"They're cops," I said to the guy with the mike. "Sacramento. Homicide."

He looked at me, hard, then spoke again into his mike, but I couldn't hear what he said, because the second guy was hollering at Terry to "strap on," or something like that. Bertha was putting some kind of a bandage on Saw's arm, and I pulled back, out of the way. There was nothing more I could do. Don was standing up again, white as a piece of chalk. Mark was walking towards him, radiating love.

"He's black!" said Brad on the telephone. I stopped his hurt again, tried to get him to slow down breathing. I was afraid to merge, afraid it might screw things up. I still saw the black skin of the eyelids through Brad. I wasn't getting any . . . images, I guess . . . from whoever it was.

Bertha was there all of a sudden, and she did her thing again with the syringe. I didn't notice if it was the same one or a new one. Stupid thought. She wrapped white bandage around Hood's knee after taking a pulse. The shoulder must either be really bad, or not serious. Brad looked. It was really bad. You could see bones. Pieces. The bullets had gone through from the back, must have spun around when Boo got him in the leg.

I looked over where Munoz was. He was already on a stretcher, wrapped in an olive green mylar-looking sheet. The first and second guys were getting ready to lift Saw onto the other stretcher, with the guy they called Terry sliding the stretcher under. There were some flashes of sun on metal, as Terry popped the stretcher apart. There was a mylar thing inside.

Brad backed away from Hood. He was still wearing the mask. He looked . . . small, vulnerable, skinny, like a kid.

Out of my right eye, I saw Terry and the first guy lift Saw up like he weighed nothing, and almost trot towards the helicopter, and two other guys lifted Munoz. The fifth guy was bending over Hood, looking at the shoulder, talking into his mike. Another spray can got pointed at Hood's shoulder, then white bandage went over it, but not pressed. There was a lot of blood.

Two guys came back from the chopper with another stretcher stick, and Boo was next to me, her arm around me.

"Gonna be okay. You'll see," she said softly. I looked down at her. She had tears streaming down her cheeks, her pants suit was full of blood. She was beautiful.

I wasn't crying any more, but I felt like it. All that blood! Mark was holding Don in a hug.

"Thanks, Boo," I said over the top of her head.

"Yeah, thanks," said Brad, all of a sudden on the other side of her.

Hood was wrapped up in another shiny metallic blanket, and the two men lifted him and trotted towards the helicopter, the blades already turning faster.

And they were gone. The whole lot. The chopper just lifted up and sped away, and after a minute you couldn't hear it, and it was like it had never happened, except we were covered with blood and tears were everywhere..

Bertha looked alone, so Brad pulled away from Boo and went over to her. Her head was hanging down, and he could see her mascara all over her cheeks. She was full of blood.

"I don't know if I did the right thing," she said in a husky voice. "I just put 'em out."

"You did good, Bertha," Brad said, as she turned into his arms. She didn't cry any, just leaned into him for warmth. "You did better than anyone else ever could have."

"You think?" Bertha wiped her eyes on Brad's shirt. (I know -- it was full of mascara when he pulled away from her a little later.)

"I know," Brad said. I loved him for his easy way of putting her in comfort.

"Thanks, Boo," I said again.

"You already said that," Boo said softly. "What for?"

"Brad," I said. "He coulda got killed if you hadn't got Hood."

"Who is he?"

"No idea," I said. "But he's the same age as my Dad."


"He was on a helicopter with my Dad and Davies in Vietnam," I said without thinking.

"And you don't know who he is?"

"Zip," I answered flippantly.

"You know he's black?"

"Yeah," I almost whispered. I tried to think of who it could be, but I came up blank.

Harry's Jeep turned into the drive, iren silent. I guess he'd seen the chopper lift up and speed towards Redding, knew he was too late. The Marina is all the way the other side of town, and it was Saturday.

"What about Jenkins?" Brad said at me. I didn't know he was listening through me. "I've never met Willa's husband."

"He's an Air Force Colonel, a police officer or something like that.He's gone to Washington," I replied. "Him and Willa left last week. That's why they didn't come to the funeral."

"Who, then?"

"Guess we'll know soon enough," I said back, just as Harry came to a stop in front of the steps to the cabin.

"Hear therre's been a war," he said, walking towards Bertha. "You okay, Bertie?" I never heard anybody call her that.

Bertha pulled away from Brad and stood tall. As tall as anybody five-nothing can stand, I mean.

"Of course!" She was just a little dishevelled, her face all distorted from makeup and emotion.

"What went on here?" Harry was not happy that he'd missed the entire thing.

Boo had to tell him everything, from start to finish. He listened carefully, while we all went up to the cabin and just plonked on the porch benches and chairs. Don and Mark went inside and got glasses of water for Bertha and Boo. I didn't want any. I wanted a shower. I got back into Brad and massaged his hurt.

"I love you, Loon," he sang into me. It was exactly what I needed to hear.