This posting features Chapter 58 of my ongoing action novel, The Day of the Gun.
He closed his browser and sat back in his seat, stretching his arms high above his head. He was hardly surprised, but still bitterly disappointed. His account had previously contained half the agreed amount, but now it was empty.
Empty! Holy mother of God. It had all been for nothing.
Despondent, he sat staring into space for what seemed an eternity. He wished he could call Janice. She must be beside herself with grief by now.
No doubt she had heard a litany of horrible things about her husband. He wished he had a chance to explain himself, to make her see why he had done what he had done, but he knew it was foolish to call her. Their phones would be monitored, and he need not put her through more anguish than he already had.
If it was bad on Janice, it must be infinitely worse for his daughter, Joyce.
He sighed. It was best to put them out of his mind now. What was done was done.
He had spent almost four hours in the Demopolis Public Library leafing through the news, accessing the internet. It was a brilliant move, and he knew it. How many fugitives would stay only a few miles from the crime scene tucked away inside a library leisurely sifting through newspapers and magazines and surfing the internet? Hiding in plain sight had its advantages.
When the librarian cleared her throat, he looked up to see from the wall clock that it was closing time. Apparently, this small town rolled up its sidewalk at dusk. It was just as well. His eyes were tired from the strain. His back ached. He was the only person inside the building, other than the librarian, and so he immediately got to his feet, smiled at her, and sauntered into the parking lot.
“Good night, sir,” she said. “Come again.”
“Thank you. I will.”
He spied a small neighborhood bar. Looking both ways, he carefully jogged across the street, feeling exposed for the first time since he had borrowed the lady’s automobile and procured his new clothes. His large body and ill-fitting pants made him stand out from the crowd, and that was the last thing he needed. He slipped a baseball cap from his back pocket and pulled it down over his eyes as far as he could without obstructing his view.
Harris had been right about one thing: A naked man was vulnerable. Fortunately, as he cruised through a blue-collar residential neighborhood, he spotted numerous houses with laundry drying outside on a clothes line. He had passed several ranch-style homes until he found one with jeans and an Oxford cloth shirt that more-or-less fit, although the pants were tighter than he would have preferred.
Shoes had been trickier, but he eventually shoplifted a pair from a Goodwill store. He also lifted wallets from three store patrons. It bothered him that he had exposed himself to potential scrutiny, but it could not be helped. If he stayed on the lam long enough, he would run all sorts of risks. Such was life.
Now, he sat in the bar nursing his options. The place was dark and filled with working men chatting and slinging salted nuts into their mouths. On the TV set mounted to the wall near the rest room, an NCAA game blared. Every minute or so, the patrons reacted to a well-placed shot; fans cheered, opponents groaned. In the background, country music played on the juke box, although it was mostly swallowed up by the sound of men’s voices and the television. He thought he recognized Gretchen Wilson expounding on the virtues of a good party, but he wasn’t certain.
No one noticed him, which was exactly what he wanted.
His face probably had been broadcast on all the news channels, but he was confident he would not be recognized in the dimly lit joint with a ball cap pulled over his eyes. Besides, no one in here seemed all that interested in watching the news.
“Anything else for ya, hon?” the barmaid asked as she swept his empty glass and the wet napkin from the bar. “Another beer?”
“No, thanks. Just the check.”
“All righty.” She wiped the spot directly in front of him and turned away. Her eyes never once fell on his face. His disguise was working.
“Didja see that? That’s my boy,” an old man on the next stool said to no one in particular. “That’s what I’m talking about.” He had a craggy face and thinning white hair. The flesh hung from his neck and face like overcooked meat falling from a chicken bone. He had to be at least 70 years old. He had lived a hard life, and his body showed it.
The big man turned sideways on the barstool so he was not in the old geezer’s direct line of sight. He didn’t want to strike up an inane conversation and risk exposure.
Rubbing his weary eyes, he went back over his day so far. It had been a close call. Stripped naked, disarmed, facing the barrel of a loaded Glock, he had thought the game was over. It would have been, too, if he hadn’t caught a lucky break.
In the hours since his escape, he had been fortunate. The helicopter crash dominated the headlines; already the TV stations, especially Channel 11 in Atlanta, were running stories on the people killed, focusing mainly on the attractive female reporter, Dana Dotson. Judging by the proliferating eulogies, she was on her way toward becoming the next Edward R. Murrow. It was a pity that her fame only ascended to such heights posthumously. That was the nature of the beast called “fame,” though. They only truly appreciated you when you were young, attractive, and dead. The list was long — Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, James Dean, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain, etc., etc.
A commercial came on the screen, and the sports enthusiasts broke off their hooting and hollering to visit the restroom or chat with their neighbors. The old man on the next bar stool turned and looked at him.
“You’re a Yankees fan, huh, buddy?”
He had been lost in thought, so the old man’s question caught him unaware. “What’s that?”
“You like the Yankees?”
The question seemed to be a non-sequitur until it dawned on him that the fellow was referring to his cap. “Yeah.”
“Who’s your main man?”
He had not followed sports in a while. “Derek Jeter used to be.”
“You and my granddaughter,” the old man cackled. “’Cept I think she likes him for another reason, if you know what I’m saying.”
“I hear ya.”
He winced at his own colloquialisms. His speech sounded unnatural, flat, fake. He wished they could discuss NASCAR. He could hold his own on that subject. Football and wrestling, too. Better yet, he wished the old man would shut up and leave him alone. He had a lot to think about — not the least of which was whether he should go after Steve Harris or drop the whole matter and disappear even though he was flat broke — and this idle chit chat was a major distraction.
“Say, buddy, where you from?”
He debated whether to answer. It always grated on his nerves when someone he didn’t know insisted on calling him “buddy.” Finally deciding he had to say something if he wanted to remain anonymous and unremarkable, he said, in a low voice, “Atlanta.”
“Sorry, man, I can’t hear you over all this noise. What’d’ya say?”
“Ah, yeah: Hotlanta. I love that town. You a native?”
He shook his head, no.
“Didn’t think so. Seems like nobody there’s a native anymore. How long have you lived there?”
He frowned as though he needed to calculate the time. “Almost 20 years.”
“That’s pretty close to being a native, I guess. My son and daughter-in-law have been there almost six years. They live out on Holcomb Bridge Road off of 400. You know where that is?”
“On the north end.”
“Of course, out that far, I guess it ain’t exactly Atlanta anymore. Norcross? Alpharetta? Roswell? Can’t remember now.”
“I know what you mean.”
“So, buddy, what brings you to these parts?”
He felt as though the man had raked his fingernails across a chalkboard, but he tried to hide his grimace. “Passing through. Just thought I’d stop and take a break.”
“Seems like we got all kind of strangers around here these days. Didja see the news?”
His alarm bells rang, but he remained stone-faced. “Uh-uh.”
The old man leaned in conspiratorially. “A whole lotta excitement. Some sorta shoot-out at the Econo Lodge. Police is all over the place. Never cared for it much myself. Econo Lodge brings in all sorts.”
“I guess so.”
“They’s looking for a big fella. Big like you.”
“Oh, yeah? What’s he done?”
“Killed a bunch of people. One the fellas is in the hospital now.”
“Oh, yeah? The local hospital?”
“Yeah. Just down the street. I saw a bunch of cop cars out there before I got here.”
“You’re right: That’s a lot of excitement.”
A moment later, the commercial ended and the game resumed. The old man paused, swinging his head. “Oh. Wait, buddy. It’s back on.”
As the old fellow turned his attention to the action on the screen, it seemed an opportune time to leave. He scanned the bar for his waitress. He wanted to pay, use the bathroom, and get out before the next commercial. He was pretty sure he could continue fooling the old geezer, but he saw no need to tempt fate.
She finally marched over and slapped the bill on the bar. “Sorry about that. I got held up.”
He peeled a twenty from a wallet formerly owned by David J. Douglas and placed it on top without even examining the bill. “No problem.” He stood to leave.
“Hey, don’t you want your change?”
It must have been a generous tip because the waitress was quite animated and overly friendly. “Okay. Thanks, hon. ‘Ppreciate it.”
That was a mistake, he thought. She’ll remember me now. They always remember the big tippers. Shit.
Still castigating himself, he stepped into the restroom and unzipped his fly. It was brighter in here, much too bright for anonymity. The television set was not so loud in here, but music from the juke box was piped in through the sound system. He saw a speaker mounted on the wall but, fortunately, no video cameras.
Toby Keith was singing about putting a boot up somebody’s ass. Listening to the familiar song, he pushed himself to finish his business and get out. He thought he might make it when, much to his dismay, he saw the old man.
“I wondered what happened to you, buddy,” he said and he pushed the door open and sidled up to the urinal next to his newfound friend. “You’re missing a good game.”
“Gotta get on the road. Got a long drive.”
The old man turned and regarded him. “You know, you really look familiar. Have we met before?”
Shaking his head, he zipped his pants and stepped to the sink to wash his hands. “No, sir. I don’t think so. Not other than tonight.”
“I swear I feel like I seen you somewhere before. Oh, well.” He shook himself and started zipping his pants. “I reckon it will come to me.”
In one swift motion, Dave Tremblor leaned across the urinal, grabbed the man by the head and twisted in a sharp, snapping motion. The guy’s neck made a loud cracking sound just before his body fell to the floor.