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The Hunters

Fan Fiction by Adam Smith (USA)

Chapter 14


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Chapter XIV

Trooper Darren McAllister was on pins and needles as he trailed the mysterious Explorer.  Just a few more miles, and they would hit the Maryland state line where, he had been told, the federal boys would be waiting to take over this highly unusual assignment.  Then he could go back to pulling over speeders and make his monthly quota.

He had come on shift at 11 p.m.  During roll call, Captain Markley had briefed all of them to take up posts in their sectors and watch for a black Ford Explorer bearing Virginia tags X76-450.  If the vehicle was spotted, they were were to shadow it and radio in.  Under no circumstances were they to stop the vehicle. 

They were told that the suspects--two male caucasians in their late ’40’s/early ’50’s, and a girl, age 12--were wanted for questioning in relation to the murder of a doctor in Washington.  In the event contact was necessary, the men were to be considered armed and dangerous.  Under no circumstances was the girl to be harmed.  No one explained why the Feds were so interested.

He almost hadn’t believed it when he’d spotted the Explorer approaching his position on North East Road overlooking I-95.  Naturally he had been unable to get a decent view from the comfort of his patrol car, so he’d had to stand next to the guardrail in the snow and cold, thrusting his hands into his pockets during breaks in the traffic, and stamping his feet to stay warm. At night, virtually every dark-colored SUV had looked like the vehicle they wanted, and a tedious, numbing boredom had quickly set in as he scanned with his binoculars.  The binoc’s lenses kept getting bleary from the precipitation, and every five minutes or so he had to stop and wipe them with his handkerchief. 
 
Somehow he hadn’t envisioned having to do this sort of work when he’d enrolled at the Academy three years ago.  He didn’t mind being bored, but at least he should be permitted to do it in the comfort of his Crown Vic.  Once he’d spotted the SUV, he hopped in and tooled down the entrance ramp onto 95, calling in as he did so.

Shortly after he passed the exit sign for Elkton the Ford put on its right turn signal, slowed, and pulled onto the shoulder.  Surprised by this unexpected maneuver, he braked and pulled over too.  Instinctively he put on his lightbar as he stopped his car about 35 feet behind the Explorer.

Now what?  No one had told him what to do if the truck stopped.  So once again he radioed in, and was quickly informed that backup was on its way.

The rear passenger door of the Explorer opened and the girl emerged.  His eyes widened—she wasn’t wearing a stitch of clothing.  She walked back toward his car.  He stared at her, dumbfounded.  She glanced briefly at him, her small body alternately blue and gray in the flashers on his lightbar.  While he still hesitated in his seat, she walked past the passenger side of his car and disappeared behind his trunk.

What the hell is she doing back here? 

He hung up the mic and got out.  As soon as he shut his door and headed back, he heard the Explorer’s engine rev.  He spun around to see that the SUV was in reverse, its backup lights fully lit, and was accelerating toward his patrol car—and him.  With only one place to go, he dove for the right-hand travel lane.  Fortunately, no cars were approaching.  As he lunged for safety, he glimpsed the girl do something bizarre out of the corner of his eye; it seemed as if she were jumping over his car.  Then there was a loud crunch only a few yards away from where he lay sprawled on the pavement, and he rolled over to see that the Explorer had hit the front of his sedan at an angle, knocking it clean into the ditch.  As he struggled to his feet, he heard the sound of a door opening and closing.  Then its engine roared once again and it accelerated forward, rushing past him and throwing stones and pebbles from its screaming rear tires.  It swerved out into the highway, its engine still howling at full throttle, and took off toward the Elkton exit. 

Darren cursed and sprinted toward his car.  How was he going to explain this to Captain Markley?

“Jed, you almost ran over that cop!”  Dave’s voice was high and full of alarm as they hit the cloverleaf as fast as Jed dared; he clutched the center armrest and the handle above his window tightly as the Explorer’s rears slipped alarmingly on the wet pavement.

“I had to hit his car at an angle, or it would’ve just gone straight back.  He’ll be all right.”

“That’s like . . . attempted vehicular homicide or reckless endangerment, isn’t it?”

The rear passenger door of the Explorer opened and the girl emerged.  His eyes widened—she wasn’t wearing a stitch of clothing.  She walked back toward his car.  He stared at her, dumbfounded.  She glanced briefly at him, her small body alternately blue and gray in the flashers.  While he still hesitated in his seat, she walked past the passenger side of his car and disappeared behind his trunk.

What the hell is she doing back here? 

He hung up the mic and got out.  As soon as he shut his door and headed back, he heard the Explorer’s engine rev.  He spun around to see that the SUV was in reverse, its backup lights fully lit, and was accelerating toward his patrol car—and him.  With only one place to go, he dove for the right-hand travel lane.  Fortunately, no cars were approaching.  As he lunged for safety, he glimpsed the girl do something bizarre out of the corner of his eye; it seemed as if she were jumping over his car.  Then there was a loud crunch only a few yards away from where he lay sprawled on the pavement, and he rolled over to see that the Explorer had hit the front of his sedan at an angle, knocking it clean into the ditch.  As he struggled to his feet, he heard the sound of a door opening and closing.  Then its engine roared once again and it accelerated forward, rushing past him and throwing stones and pebbles from its screaming rear tires.  It swerved out into the highway, its engine still howling at full throttle, and took off toward the Elkton exit. 

Darren cursed and sprinted toward his car.  How was he going to explain this to Captain Markley?

“Jed, you almost ran over that cop!”  Dave’s voice was high and full of alarm as they hit the cloverleaf as fast as Jed dared; he clutched the center armrest and the handle above his window tightly as the Explorer’s rears slipped alarmingly on the wet pavement.

“I had to hit his car at an angle, or it would’ve just gone straight back.  He’ll be all right.”

“That’s like . . . attempted vehicular homicide or reckless endangerment, isn’t it?”

“Maybe—but these people are playing for keeps, Dave.  If they get ahold of Eli, no one will ever see him again; you can count on it.  We gotta get him to that surgeon as soon as possible.”

“That assumes he’ll even want to do it.”

“I know, but I can only deal with one problem at a time.  Know what I mean?”

Eli sat in the back, quickly pulling on his shirt and pants.  Jed glanced back at him as they merged onto Elkton Road.  “You all right?”

“Uh huh.” He squeezed up into the space between the front seats.  “You sure took care of that police car--now they’ll really be mad.  Where are we going?”

“Philly, I hope.  You gotta map in this thing, Dave?”

Dave reached down into the pocket on his door and pulled out a sheaf of highway maps.  He sorted through them until he found one for Delaware, then turned on his map light.  With trembling hands he folded it until he was looking at the western edge of the state, then peered at the tiny print.  He tried to keep his voice even.  “This road’ll take us into Newark.”

Jed grunted.  “Good.  And from there to where?”

“Mmm . . . looks like we could take Route 2 into Wilmington.  Once we get through there, we’d be getting into the western suburbs of Philly.”

“That’ll have to be our game plan, then.  Try to stay on the secondary roads.  I reckon they can’t cover all of them.”  He stared at a cluster of lights on the right-hand side of the highway up ahead.  “Good—a gas station.  And it looks like they’re open.  I’m stoppin’.  It won’t take them long to figure out where we’ve gone, and we need to get some fuel in this crate.”

He pulled into the brightly lit station with its iconic yellow and blue Sunoco sign, much too fast for Dave’s liking.  It was the middle of the night, and there were no other cars at the pumps.

“What side’s the fuel cap?”

“Yours.”

Once they were stopped, Dave offered to run the cash up to the night clerk since Jed had on his brace.  Jed climbed out and got ready to pump.  After a few moments, Eli heard the metallic clunk as Jed thrust the fuel nozzle in; then Dave got back in.  They both watched Jed apprehensively as he stood outside the near the truck, examining the damage he’d inflicted on the right rear bumper.  After a few, agonizingly long minutes, he finished up and got back inside.

He turned the key and the engine came alive.  “Pretty sturdy truck.  Bumper’s not too bad.”

“I don’t care about that.”

A thought suddenly occurred to Eli, a thought he wished had come to him 5-1/2 hours earlier.  “Jed—Dave—wait.  Wouldn’t it be better if I just went to Boston alone?  I mean, you could call Dr. Mattias, couldn’t you?  Then he’d know to expect me.  That way, you guys could just stay in Philly or someplace else until things calm down.  Won’t it be very dangerous to drive all the way to Boston?”

Jed looked back at him, his hand on the shift lever.  “Eli, do you even know where Boston is?”

“No.  But I can read a map.”

Dave spoke.  “I do have a Massachusetts map.  But how would you get up there?”

“I can fly, remember?”

“Oh yeah.”

Jed chuckled humorlessly and pulled out of the station.  “That’s okay, doc.  It’s easy to forget all the things he can do.  But we can talk about this on the way.  I don’t want to wait here another minute.”

They accelerated out onto Route 2--a flat, nearly vacant expanse of highway that stretched darkly ahead of them.  They kept watching for cars to the rear, and each set of approaching headlights in the lanes across the median took on a sinister air.  The three of them stared intently as the vehicles drew near, trying to determine, at the earliest possible moment, whether they were friend or foe.  As each one passed harmlessly by, they breathed collective sighs of relief.

“Jed, they’ll probably be coming up from I-95, don’t you think?”

“Most likely, yeah.”

“Maybe we should try to skirt Newark to the north, then.”

“Tell me how to do that.”

“What’s this next left?”

Jed shook his head.  “Can’t tell.”

Eli spoke up.  “Casho Mill Road.”

Dave gave Eli a glancing smile.  “Good.  Take it.”

Jed complied.  “Helpful having him around at night, ain’t it?”

Dave laughed softly.

Following Dave’s directions, the took East Cleveland Avenue around Newark’s downtown district, then picked up Route 2 again.  They passed a city police car that had stopped a motorist in the opposite lanes, but the officer paid them no notice.  Within a few minutes, Newark was behind them.

Jed sighed.  “So far, so good.”

Dave relaxed and nodded.  “This’ll take you straight into Wilmington, if we stay on it.”

“I don’t want to go through downtown Wilmington.  We’ll lose too much time.”

“We could take 141 north.  Then, ah, let’s see . . . maybe pick up 261 east.  That’d put us about . . . ten miles away from Philadelphia.”

“That’s not an interstate, is it?”

“Nah.”

“All right.”

“So what do you think about my idea?”

Dave pulled his face out of the map.  “The problem I foresee, Eli, is that they’re not going to do anything for you up there without an adult—either Jed, me, or preferably both of us.  I mean, even if I called to lay some groundwork, I think they would require someone to be there with you.  This is major surgery we’re talking about.”

“I don’t need anyone to agree to my medical treatment.  But even if they said I’m right, they wouldn’t just do it overnight, would they?  I mean, it would take them a few days to get ready, wouldn’t it?”

Dave nodded.  “Probably. I don’t know how far in advance they have their ORs booked, but they usually leave some slots open for emergencies and urgent cases.  And you’re right--at a minimum, they would want some lab work.  And Dr. Mattias would obviously want to meet with you and explain the surgery in detail.”

“So that would give you guys time to hide for a few days, change cars, and make it the rest of the way to Boston.  Right?”

Jed spoke.  “Yes, theoretically.  But if we got caught, you’d have no way of knowing that.  Then you’d just end up hanging around Boston, waiting and waiting.  Or if our plans changed—say, we had to wait longer than we planned--we’d have no way to tell you, and you’d have no idea where we are.  When you got hungry again, there’d be no way we could help you.”

Eli paused.  “I guess I wouldn’t be able to just call you, would I?”

Jed shrugged.  “I don’t know.  I don’t know if they can intercept our phone calls or not.  But I think we have to assume that they can.  And the last thing I would want is for them to discover our plans with Dr. Mattias.  Seems to me they’d do everything they could to stop that.”

Dave nodded.  “I agree.”  He rubbed his chin, felt the five o’clock shadow, and realized he was probably starting to look like Jed.  Now we’re talking about hiding out in Philly like a couple of fugitives.  Jesus.  He shook his head; then a thought occurred to him.  “Couldn’t we stop somewhere and buy one of those throw-away cell phones with prepaid minutes?  Set it up and give Eli the number?”

Jed nodded.  “That’s a thought.  Where do you buy those?”

“The drug stores and convenient marts sell them.  You know—you pay twenty bucks for the phone, then call the service provider and set up the plan.”

“We’d buy two of them—one for us, and one for Eli?”

“Sure.  It’s not hard to do.”

Jed glanced nervously over his shoulder at Eli.  “I hate the idea of not being with you.  You know that, right?”

Eli nodded.  “But if it meant the two of you would be safer, I think we should do it.”

“Where are you gonna stay up there?”

Eli shrugged.  “Doesn’t matter.  As long as it’s dark.”

“Well, it does matter.  It matters to me.  I don’t like the idea of you being up there by yourself.”

Dave spoke.  “I could ask the hospital for help with that.  They might have a Ronald McDonald house up there he could use.”

“Without an adult accompanying him?  Come on.  Dr. Mattias and the people up there are going to find the whole situation very odd.  We’re rushing in there at the drop of a hat, asking them to whisk Eli off to the OR for major surgery—a kid who’s got the world’s most bizarre anatomy.  No offense, Eli, but I mean, that’s the truth.  And if they get wind that law enforcement is involved, I highly doubt that they’ll stick their necks out to do anything.  Even if we weren’t in our present circumstances, we’re gonna be laying an awfully tall order on this surgeon.”

“Well, if that’s the way you feel, Jed, then maybe we should just forget the whole idea.”

“No, no—I’m not sayin’ that.”

“Well, what are you saying?  If you have a better suggestion, I’m willing to listen.  I’m in this thing up to my eyeballs, just like you.  I know our plans are tenuous at best, but this isn’t something that can be done in a basement somewhere with an X-acto knife.  He could die.  Easily.”  Dave put his head in his hands and rubbed his temples.  “Sorry, Eli.  I’m not trying to upset you.”

“It’s okay.”  Eli looked down, his voice soft.

Jed sighed, struggling to fight off a surge of paralyzing hopelessness.  “No, that’s not what I mean.  Listen, Dave--all I’m sayin’ is that when you call this Dr. Mattias in the morning, we try to set up a date and time to see him as a group ASAP.  We don’t tell him that we’re already headed to Boston with God knows who on our heels.  Eli does not go to see him before we are there to be with him.  Eli can go on ahead and tread water for a day or so until we can join him.  We work that out with these new cell phones, and then all of us go see the surgeon.  How does that sound?”

“Agreed.”  Dave’s voice was tired.  “Make sense, Eli?”

“Yes.  I don’t go see Dr. Mattias until you’re with me.”

Jed nodded.  “Right.  So let’s work our way into Philly.  First place we see, we stop and get them phones.”

Saturday, December 21, 2002 – 2:55 a.m.

They had stopped, unmolested, at an all-night drug store in a strip mall just before picking up Route 261 East.  Jed had parked in the darkest spot he could find, and he and Eli had remained in the idling truck while Dave sprinted in to buy some phones. While Dave was inside they studied Dave’s Pennsylvania map and its blow-up insert of Philadelphia.

After Dave returned, they struck out on 261, which was called Foulk Road; a four-lane, tree-lined road that ran northeast in a straight line.  Once again, Eli took up a position in the rear of the Explorer, this time dividing his attention between the view out the rear window and the map of Massachusetts, which lay unfolded in his lap.

Dave finished snapping the SIM card and batteries into the phones, which chirped as he turned them on.  “These don’t have much of a charge.” 

“Don’t suppose you got a power adapter for the cigarette lighter.”

“No, afraid not.”

Dave struggled to read the tiny print on the instructions with the map light.  “It says you’re supposed to use a land line, like your home phone, to make the setup call.”

“That ain’t gonna happen.  Use your cell.”

“What if they’re tapping into my cell phone?”

Jed shrugged with resignation.  “What choice do we have?  Pay phone?”

“I suppose they want it for billing purposes.”

“Probably.  I think we’re just going to have to take a chance.”

Dave exhaled heavily, pulled out his cell and his Visa card, and dialed the number. “I don’t like this, but I guess you’re right.”

Jed stared uneasily out the windows, his eyes constantly shifting from the front to the sides, and then to his mirrors.  As his attention was drawn to the potential danger of each approaching vehicle, Dave’s conversation with the cell phone company became a meaningless succession of words, spoken in a low, murmuring voice.  The sky above the trees on either side of the road was forboding and starless.  He swallowed, feeling the dry click in his throat, then noticed that the shotgun had slipped down and over when Dave had re-entered the truck.  Its barrel now pointed directly at his chest.  He reached over, grabbed its oily smoothness, and repositioned it toward the ceiling.

His eyes felt sandpapery from lack of sleep, and he closed them for a moment.  When he opened them again, the SUV had drifted slightly from the right lane into the left, and he corrected as unobtrusively as he could, hoping no one would notice.  Dave was intoning a series of numbers into his phone, holding one of the plastic packages close to his face with his free hand, his credit card balanced on one thigh.  Jed glanced in the rearview at Eli’s head and shoulders, silhouetted in the window as he kept vigil, but Eli did not turn to look at him.  Jed cracked his window, letting in a slipstream of cool air, and inhaled deeply; then he felt better.

Dave put away his phone and tucked his card back into his wallet.  “That takes care of that.”   No longer preoccupied, he glanced nervously out the window.  “Eli, come up here, will you?”

Once Eli was up front, Dave told him the phone numbers and explained how to use the cell phone.  They did some test calls to make sure the phones worked; then Eli got his backpack ready.

They drove for several more minutes, continuing east with Dave’s assistance.  They were on State Road, and had just crossed over a stream called Crum Creek, when an overpass loomed above them.

Jed spoke as he peered up at the roadway.  “What’s that?”

“I-476--the Mid County Expressway.  You’re going to turn right up here on West Springfield.  Then hang a left onto State Road again.”

“All righty.”

Within moments after Jed had complied with Dave’s directions, there was traffic behind them.  It drew within three car lengths of their rear, then drifted back again.

“It’s another truck like this one,” Eli remarked.

“Hang a right up here at the fork, Jed.”

“Yeah.  We’ll see if he follows us.”

As they had feared, the dark shape maintained its distance behind them when they bore right at the fork.  Jed glanced in the side-view.  “Hell’s bells.”

Dave stiffened uneasily in his chair.  “It could just be a coincidence.”

Eli spoke.  “There’s another car behind it.  It looks the same.”

“Can you see their tags, Eli?”

“Hang on.”  Once again he climbed into the back.  “The first one doesn’t have a license plate on the front.  I can’t see the other one.”

“Dave, this road is basically a straight shot into southwest Philly, right?”

“Yeah.  It’s Route 1 through here.  I was going to suggest you pick up Route 3 and find a hotel or motel near the 69th Street Terminal.”

“Give me an alternative route on a side street.  I want to see if these guys really are after us.”

Dave studied the map.  “Turn right on Shadeland up here.  It’s right after Harper.  See the light?”

“I see it.”  His voice was grim.

When they were a third of a block away from Shadeland Avenue, the light changed from green to yellow.  Jed swore and sped up.  “Hang on.” 

The light turned red just before they reached the intersection.  Without signaling, Jed braked sharply, hung a right, and accelerated south on the new street, which was two lanes wide and lined with well-kept, single-family homes.  The Explorer shuddered as the transmission rapidly changed gears.  Their speed increased quickly as they climbed a gentle hill.  Within a few seconds, the lights were in their mirrors once again.

Dave turned in his seat to look back.  “It’s us they want, all right.  Looks like a couple of Suburbans.”

“I was afraid of that.  Where to now, Doc?”

“Hang a left on Garrett.”

They passed through another intersection, this time on a green.  Their speed approached and then exceeded 45 miles per hour.  Behind them the black SUVs kept pace, several car lengths behind.  The last block before Garrett Road passed with incredible swiftness, and then Jed made the left as fast as he dared.  Their tires howled in protest, and Eli thumped back against the right rear window.

“Hang on back there!”  Eli hunkered down and grabbed ahold, then shouted, “Maybe they’d stop chasing us if I got out!”

Jed tried to catch Eli’s eyes in the rear-view, but he couldn’t.  “Just sit tight for a moment!  We’re going too fast for that!”

“Slow down, then!”

“We need to get ‘em off our tail first, Eli!  They know that if they get us, they’ll have a better shot at gettin’ you.  They won’t quit, even if you do climb out.”

Garrett was a straight and level, two lane road that ran northeast toward downtown Philly.  Once he had straightened out from the corner, Jed floored it.  They passed through a commercial district into a residential neighborhood.  Dave hung on tightly, his eyes huge, praying that no one would pull out in front of them.  He glanced over at the speedo—it was somewhere north of 60.  The headlights behind them grew smaller.  Then the series of houses ended, replaced by more commercial buildings and a railroad track on their left.  The road expanded into four lanes.  Jed blew by a Toyota Camry, which swerved over toward the shoulder and honked at them.

A 7-11 sign appeared on their right.  Jed glanced at Dave.  “Tell me where I’m goin’, Dave.”

Dave stopped staring out the windshield to look once again at his map.  Eli began to crawl forward; he now had his backpack on.  Jed snatched another glance back at him.

“Bring that rifle up, Eli, willya?”

“You’re gonna wanna make a right onto Walnut—look out!”

Jed snapped his attention back to the road.   A battered contractor’s van was pulling sluggishly out of the 7-11 parking lot, directly into their lane of travel.  Its tailpipe farted gray smoke and a couple of aluminum ladders were tied to its roof.  Jed swerved to the left, into the oncoming lanes of travel.  With a loud bang and a spray of sparks, the right front end of the Explorer clipped the left rear corner of the van, causing it to spin to the right, perpendicular to the road.  A garbage truck was approaching them in the oncoming lanes, and its horn blared as Jed swerved sharply back into the northbound lanes to avoid a headon collision.  For a moment the right-hand tires of the Explorer left the pavement, and Dave was certain they were going to roll.  But Jed steered left, correcting the skid, and the truck straightened out.  Eli, in back, slammed into the right and then into the left side of the interior.

Behind them came the sound of a collision.  The van spun once again, and one of the black Suburbans careened onto the sidewalk and struck a sign for a 24-hour laundromat.  The other Suburban pulled around the collision and continued after them.

Jesus, Jed!  You’re gonna get us all killed!”

“Fuck these bastards!  Hang on, doc.”

Eli righted himself on the rear passenger bench, rubbed the side of his head, and then reached into the back and pulled out Jed’s Browning 30-06.  Wordlessly he passed it forward to Dave, who took it with trembling hands.

Jed glanced over.  “Clip still in it?”

Dave turned it over uncertainly; saw a black metal box jutting out from its underside.  “I think so.  Jed, tell me we aren’t going to use this.  Please.”

“Pull back the bolt and then push it forward again.”

Dave did not comply.

“Do it, Dave.”

Dave shook his head and began to put the butt-end of the rifle down into his footwell next to the shotgun.  But before he could, Eli took it away from him.  He looked back at the boy with a surprised look on his face, but did not try to take it back.  There was a thump and rumble as the truck sped with quickening speed over a rough patch of pavement. 

Eli did as Jed had said.  There was a metallic click as the bolt slid smoothly home.

Dave’s face was pale, his knuckles white.  “This is crazy, Jed.  If you start using one of these guns, we’ll all be shot and killed.”

“I don’t want to use them, but we need to be ready.  If you wanna get out, say so--I won’t hold it against you.  Just make that call to Dr. Mattias first.  In fact, you should try to call now, even if all you get is someone else or a machine.  Leave our cell phone numbers.  ’Cause I think we’re running out of time.”

“I’ll try, but at this time of night, I’ll probably just have to leave a message with the on-call surgeon.  And you’re going to have to slow down for a bit; otherwise whoever picks up will never be able to hear me over the engine.”

Jed glanced once more into his rear-view before blowing out a big lungful of air.  “Gotcha.”  Then he reluctantly eased up on the gas, and the truck slowed.  Dave began to dial the number.

From the back there came the sound of a servo, and the right rear window rolled smoothly down.   Then Eli clambered forward between the front seats and kissed Jed’s cheek.

“I’m going.  Don’t worry—I’ll be watching.   I love you.”

Dave paused in mid-dial and turned to stare, open-mouthed, at Eli.  Jed tried to grab Eli with his right hand, but wasn’t strong or fast enough to restrain him.  He looked over his shoulder to see Eli departing through the window, the hunting rifle slung over one shoulder.  The dark wind seemed to catch him and draw him out into the night.  Then he was gone.

Dave swore.  “Holy shit.  Now what?”

Jed shook his head.  “I dunno.  I just—I don’t know.  Damn.  That crazy kid!  Well, try and get Mattias on the phone, and let’s hope Eli can keep up.”

Gentry spoke up from the front passenger seat of the Suburban.  “Did you see that?  The kid just left the SUV.”  He craned his neck and peered out the door window, straining to see where the subject had gone, but saw nothing.  The sky was uniformly black.

Blackwell, who was driving, nodded.  “I saw it—and I think he had a rifle.  Jesus H. Christ.  What do we do?”

Marfan, sitting in back behind Blackwell, slid a clip into his weapon.  “He had a gun, all right.”  He looked out his window.  “Must be somewhere above us.”

Weyerhaeuser spoke from the right rear seat.  “Stay on the Explorer.”  He dialed a number on his satellite phone.

Eli lifted himself in a radical arc that brought him up and behind the black Suburban that was following Dave and Jed.  It was cloudy and dark, but no longer snowing, and he had no difficulty following the trucks as they continued to travel northeast.  From his vantage point, some one hundred feet above the street, he could easily see that there were no other vehicles behind the Suburban.  Ahead of them, the road doglegged to the left into a complicated intersection, to the north of which was a large train station—the 69th Street Station that Dave had mentioned.  A trolley car stood at a turnaround adjacent to the street.  Even though Jed had slowed down, in a very short time they reached the intersection, the Suburban trailing a few car lengths behind.  Jed turned right onto a wide, straight road lined with businesses that ran almost due east toward a river.

His heart was filled with anxiety and uncertainty.  Other than continue to follow, he was not sure what to do.  He knew that neither Jed nor Dave wanted to hurt anyone, and that was not what he wanted, either, particularly since Dr. Goodwin had figured out a solution to his needing to feed.  Things had been bad enough with Dr. Goodwin’s terrible death, and if he wanted to get the surgery and remain with Jed, they had to avoid killing or injuring anyone at all costs.  But, on the other hand, he did not understand who was following them, or what they wanted.  For all he knew, they might try to kill Jed and Dave on the spot.

He thought about Jed’s rifle, slung over his shoulder with his backpack.  He considered whether he might be able to use it to stop the Suburban, but doubted that he could, at least from where he was.  He did not really understand how to aim and fire it, and would therefore need some time to figure it out.  He could not fly and do that at the same time.  He considered alighting onto the Suburban’s roof, but what would he do then?  He would not be able to stop it from moving, and it would be difficult to hang on if and when Jed decided to speed up again.  So, he continue to trail them, hoping that an opportunity to intervene would present itself.

The road swung gently to the right.  An elevated rail line curved down from the north and ran parallel to the road as it crossed the river, which, he realized, was not a river at all, but only a dried-out gully, covered with barren trees.  Dave’s truck continued to move at an even clip. Eli imagined Dave in the passenger seat, trying to reach Dr. Mattias on the cell phone.  Once they were past the band of trees, where the rail line entered another station, Jed swung right and headed almost due south along a tree-lined parkway, but he did not remain on it long; in less than half a minute, he turned left onto a narrow, residential street lined with cars and row houses.  He went a block and turned right; went another block, and took a left.  Then his speed noticeably increased.  At each intersection he would go straight or turn left or right, but, it seemed, more often to the right.  And so the two SUVs continued to move in a southeasterly direction.  In a matter of minutes, they crossed an east-west thoroughfare with a trolley line running down its middle. 

On the south side of this road, the condition of the neighborhood areas markedly deteriorated.  They sped past broken-down cars and curbsides lined with trash.  Aging row houses with faded and peeling paint and boarded-up windows stood behind frost-heaved slabs of crumbling sidewalk, their facades intermittently broken by vacant lots overgrown with dead weeds and littered with pieces of concrete, broken boards and old tires.  Bars and convenience stores stood on some corners, their windows often covered with iron bars or corrugated steel sprayed with graffiti.  The few commercial buildings they passed were surrounded by chain-link fences topped with concertina wire.

From his vantage point, Eli could see that if Jed continued southward, the residential area would end and he would be back to I-95, a heavy black ribbon punctuated with headlights that ran east-west across Eli’s horizon some three miles distant. If Jed attempted to head east through the downtown area, he would have to cross a river at one of four bridges.

Further south, beyond I-95, was a huge airport.  Hearing the roar from the reversal thrusters of a jet that had just landed, Eli turned his attention to the airport, but he could not make rhyme or reason of the multitudinous blue and white lights on the distant airfield.  High in the sky to the west he saw a string of twinkling lights; other aircraft descending to land.  He thought he heard the faraway thump of a helicopter’s blades.  Then he turned his attention back to Dave’s truck.  Now moving much faster than before, it pulled away from the Suburban, turned a corner, and screeched to a halt.  Dave jumped out of the passenger door and began to run.  He hoisted himself over a low fence between two houses and fell down into a pile of garbage bags on the other side, just as the black Suburban rounded the corner.

Hidden behind a large, two-story building at the corner, Jed had slammed the Explorer in reverse.  There was  a squeal of tires as it rocketed backwards up the narrow street toward the Suburban.  Eli swooped down toward them.

The sound of the collision was spectacularly loud in the cold, seemingly deserted neighborhood.  The trucks did not strike end-to-end, but at a slight offset, and pieces of plastic and metal trim flew into the air and rained down into the street.  The Explorer, its rear end heavily damaged, bounced back into the side of an old pickup truck parked along the curb.   The Suburban rolled backwards onto the sidewalk on the other side of the street and banged into the foundation of a row house, shattering a small basement window.  Its front end was totally destroyed, the hood buckled up over the windshield.

For a moment there was no activity; all was still.  Dave picked himself up from the trash bags and sprinted down the alleyway without looking back.  Then lights came on inside the houses on either side of the street.

The driver’s door of the Explorer opened and Jed swung out, the 870 pump in his hands.  Because the front end of the Explorer was buried in the passenger door of the pickup, he found himself in a narrow, V-shaped gap between the sides of the two vehicles; to escape, he would need to move toward the Suburban.  He hobbled up the street as quickly as he could, shotgun held at the ready.

The left rear passenger door of the Suburban swung open.  A dark figure moved in the gap and a barrel appeared between the door and the jamb.  Jed did not hesitate.  The blast from the shotgun echoed down the street—once, twice in quick succession as the red cartridges leaped from the ejection port.  The window exploded and the door shook with a rattle of buckshot.  There was a cry of pain and the barrel disappeared.

From a house on the opposite side of the street, a dog began to bark.  A face appeared in a second-floor window.  Jed reached the demolished rear of the Explorer and began to traverse the street toward the side where Dave had gone.  He limped sideways, keeping his gun on the black truck some ten yards distant. 

A heavy thumping sound arose from the south, quickly modulating itself into the unmistakeable beat of a helicopter.

Eli landed softly behind the Suburban.  From his position by the Explorer, Jed could not see him.  Soundlessly he dropped the rifle onto the street; then he sprinted, bent over, to the rear bumper, dropped down, and peeled off his shoes.

The three undamaged doors of the Suburban—the driver’s door, and the two on the passenger side--were thrust sharply open.  Gentry aimed his Glock out in the gap between the front passenger door and the A-pillar and began to fire.  At the same time, Blackwell, who could not take aim at Jed while remaining inside the cab, stepped out onto the street behind the driver’s door, using it as a shield. 

Gentry’s first shot snapped past Jed’s left ear.  He did not get a second shot.  Jed fired and the Glock, along with the hand that held it, disintegrated in a tightly choked cone of lead.  Gentry screamed and fell to the ground where he writhed in pain, clutching the stub of his shattered, bloody forearm.  At the same time, Blackwell swung up a silenced M4 carbine.  As he took aim he was suddenly seized from behind.  Jed swung the 870 away from Gentry toward Blackwell, but hesitated when he saw that the man had dropped his firearm and was struggling behind the door, trying to tear off the thing that was clinging to his back and biting his neck in a mad fury.  He spun and twisted; then began to scream.

Weyerhaeuser, holding an M4A1 in his right hand, kicked the passenger door open wider and dropped a leg out.  He intended to shoot Inverness, but because of Blackewell’s plight, he paused.  Through the passenger compartment he saw the man spinning behind the driver’s door with the kid on his back; then they dropped from view as he staggered and fell to the ground. 

A round of buckshot suddenly struck Weyerhaeuser’s door, and burning metal fragments peppered his right ankle.  He swore and instantly pulled his leg back in, then ducked down onto the floor behind the front seats, his head resting on Marfan’s legs. 

Marfan sat on the left side of the bench seat, slumped over toward the middle.  The left side of his face—the side that had been exposed when Inverness had first unloaded—was gone, and he was either unconscious or dead.  Most likely dead, Weyerhaeuser thought, given that a good portion of his left forebrain was missing.  He had bled a lot, and his blood was all over the seat, staining the creamy leather. 

Blackwell drew in another lungful of air and continued to scream; then his screams were cut short, and Weyerhaeuser could hear a low, bestial growl.  The hair on the back of his neck stiffened.  The guy’s a goner.  He positioned his rifle so that if the kid tried to enter the truck through the driver’s door, he’d have a shot at him.  But the kid didn’t come.  He strained to listen, but what with Gentry’s whimpering, the dog barking, and the approaching helicopter, he couldn’t hear a damn thing.  He counted to ten and then hazarded a glance; saw movement to his right--Inverness and the kid, moving away from him toward a break between a couple of row houses.  The situation was totally fucked up.  Maybe, just maybe, if he took Inverness down he wouldn’t lose his job.  Ignoring the pain in his foot, he swung out and took aim.

Eli jumped over the chain-link fence that Dave had traversed a few minutes earlier and turned to help Jed, who was having difficulty because of his broken leg.  He grimaced in pain as he slung the shotgun over his shoulder, raised his good leg over, and tried to follow with the broken one.  Eli stepped to his side, got an arm around him, and helped hoist him over. 

There was a rattle of gunfire—a rapid sequence of four unimpressive pops, hard to hear over the approaching helicopter.

Eli felt a sharp pain in his right hip, lost his footing, and fell foward with a cry into the trash bags that were now lying askew following Dave’s passage.  At the same time, Jed grunted.  The wind had been knocked out of him, and he went stiff and fell next to Eli, the tip of his walking boot catching briefly on the top of the fence before he flopped down. 

Eli rolled over and saw a ragged hole in the side of his new pants; a dark, crimson stain was spreading around it.  He was unaccustomed to such an intense, piercing pain and with a whimpering cry, discovered that the bones of his hip joint were shattered when he touched it and tried to move his leg.  The leg hung uselessly below his torso, refusing to move.

Jed was twisting in pain on top of the black garbage bags, which had now torn open to release a disgusting aroma.  He clutched at a large hole in his waist, just above his beltline.  There was a lot of blood; his hands were soaked with it.  Through clenched teeth he hissed, “Shot me . . . through the kidney!  Dammit!”  He glanced back at the Suburban, but whoever was left was making no effort to advance.  “Eli—we need to get down this alley, out of their line of fire!”  He rolled onto his stomach and began to crawl, his mouth twisted in a grimace.  Eli followed suit, using his arms and one good leg, the tears streaming down his face as each crabbing movement forward jarred his wound and produced explosive bolts of pain.

They crawled fifteen to twenty feet.  To their left, behind the row house they were now moving past, was the rear of a dilapidated church.  Its gray stone walls were pitted and grimy, and all of the stained-glass windows on the side that faced the alley were missing, exposing the interior to the dark night air.  They were not far from the side entrance, where a heavy wooden door covered with graffiti stood ajar.  Both of them saw it at the same time.

The air began to pulse and swirl in the narrow alley.  Jed looked at Eli and shouted, trying to be heard over the thumping, whirring machine that was approaching.  It was close—very close.  “We need to find some cover!”  He gestured toward the door.  “In there!”

A brilliant spot of bluish-white light suddenly appeared on the side wall of the shabby row house to their left and began to move down the alley toward them.  The noise from the helicopter rose to a thunderous crescendo, and snow, dead leaves and bits of trash began to blow around them in a chaotic maelstorm.  Jed continued to crawl, but his movements were weakening; an irregular swath of blood trailed out behind him.  With a strangled cry of pain and frustration, Eli wrapped his slender arms under Jed’s and hoisted him up; then he half-flew, half-hopped on his one good leg to the protection of the church’s doorway.  His wounded hip continued to bleed, a sluggish pulsing whose stain had now saturated his pants down to his knee.  The high-pitched voice of an unseen man pierced the air, shouting for them to freeze.  Then Eli thrust out one hand and knocked the door open, and the two of them collapsed inside onto a floor covered with dirt and plaster as a fresh volley of bullets richocheted off the stone steps and doorjamb.

With clumsy, shaking hands, Jed unslung his shotgun.  Then he rolled onto his back so that he could watch the doorway, the 870 lying across his thigh.  Clutching his bullet wound, he swore again.  “Need to keep pressure on it—try to stop the bleeding.”  He looked around and realized that he had lost his coat.  “Need to make a pad outta something.”

Eli rolled over and janked at his shirt sleeve.  There was a tearing sound as it tore free at the shoulder.  He folded it as best he could and pressed it against Jed’s flank; held it there.  Jed put his hand on top of Eli’s and pressed.  For a moment, their eyes met.

“What a God-awful, fucked up mess this is, Eli.  I’m so sorry for starting you down this road.”

“It’s all right, Jed.  I wanted it, too.”

“Can you move?”

“A little.”  He looked down at his hip.  “It’s starting to heal, I think.  But the bullet’s lodged in there.  I can feel it.  I can’t walk on it.”

“We need to shut that door and find someplace to hole up.”  He looked around.  They were in a demolished sacristy; an open doorway behind them led into the sanctuary.

“I’ll do it.”  Eli crabbed over and pushed the door closed.  The latch was missing, apparently removed or stolen a long time ago.  “There’s no way to lock it.”

“We can’t stay here.”  Jed held pressure on the wound and began using his legs to slide backwards toward the doorway.  Eli crawled to his side and with his help, they moved into the sanctuary.  Before them were the remains of two altars—one in the front of the sanctuary, and a high altar against the back wall, separated by seven feet of open floor.  The helicopter boomed overhead, and as they looked around the room the beam of its spotlight shined in through the tall, narrow side windows, now devoid of glass, and crawled across the overturned pews, broken furniture, and mounds of broken plaster, bricks and boards.

Jed collapsed, panting and light-headed, against the front of the high altar.  A wave of nausea washed over him, and he resisted the urge to vomit.  Eli lay down next to him; touched his gray, weathered face.

“Good thing these altars weren’t made out of marble, or they wouldn’t be here.  Reckon no one wanted the wooden ones.”  He looked at Eli’s blood-smeared mouth and managed a grimaced smile.  “Your teeth’re showin’.”

Eli closed his mouth and looked down.  Then he wiped his lips and softly began to cry.  “I didn’t want to.  But they were trying to shoot you.”

Jed let go of his blood-smeared shotgun and, not having his handkerchief, wiped the tears from Eli’s cheek with his fingers.  “I know.  I know, Eli.  I’m just teasin’ you.”

Eli bit his lip and looked up.  His jaw trembled and then he began to smile in spite of himself.  He sniffed and wiped the tears off the other side of his face with the back of his hand.  “This is no time for jokes—don’t you know that?”

Jed’s hand returned to his gun, but did not grasp it.  His head relaxed onto his left arm, outstretched above him, and he closed his eyes.  “Ah, Eli, why not?  Everythin’s gotta end sooner or later.  You may not know when, but . . . may as well try ’n make the best of it.”

Eli swallowed, drew closer, and took Jed’s head into his hands.  His voice was strident.  “You’re not going to die!  You hear me?  Don’t you dare!”  He reached over and pressed the square of cloth down onto Jed’s side with renewed urgency.

Jed’s eyes fluttered open, but only half-way; the energy seemed to have left him, and his voice was thick and slow.   “You better get outta here, kid . . . head to Boston while you still can.  Dave didn’t get ahold of Dr. Mattias, but he talked his night doc or . . . whatever the guy’s called.”  His voice grew softer.  “He said he’d keep tryin for ya as long as he could.”

Eli’s voice climbed even higher.  “No!  No!  I’m not gonna leave you—ever!  I don’t want to go without you!  I don’t want to live without you!  I did that once with Oskar, and I’m not going to do it again!”

Jed’s voice lowered to a whisper.  Outside the church, the sound of the helicopter receded somewhat, and they heard the faint voices of approaching men.  “Eli, don’tcha remember what I told you about Oskar?  Same thing . . . applies to me.  If you stay here, all of this’ll be for nothing.  It’ll be . . . pointless.  Now give me a kiss ’n . . . scoot.”

The fevered anguish in Eli’s face broke, but he did not reply.  Instead, he bent down and did as Jed had asked.  Jed stopped holding pressure and touched Eli; ran a hand through his hair.  “I love you, Eli.”

“I love you, too.”  Fresh tears came.

“Now, listen.”  He paused and gathered his strength, so that he could say everything that he wanted.  An approaching darkness tried to silence him, made him want to close his eyes; if he did, he would be unable to open them.  When he spoke, his voice was a low, flat monotone.

“Take my wallet’n my keys.  I emptied my accounts.  Some of it’s in there ’n the rest’s in a coffee can in my truck.  Phone for Carson’s law firm is in m’wallet, too.”

He drew a deep breath. “I wrote out a will leaving all my stuff to you.  The cabin, the land—everythin’.  It’s inside my bible in the storage place.  Make sure you get it . . . key’s on the ring.”

Sobbing, Eli crouched over Jed, pulled him to himself, and began to rock slowly back and forth. “Jed . . . please don’t go.  Please.”

Jed coughed, closed his eyes and whispered into Eli’s ear.  “I’m proud of ya, Eli.  Proud to’ve been your dad.  Don’t . . . don’t ever give up tryin’ to be what God intended you to be.  Ya hear?”

Slowly, haltingly, his answer came.  “I won’t.”

Jed smiled.  “Good.”

Eli felt Jed’s body relax and go limp in his arms.  He continued to hold him for what seemed like an endless time, his denial repeated over and over in his mind and uttered softly to the empty church.  At last, he laid him gently down.  He wiped his eyes and did what Jed had said.  Then he picked up the shotgun.  The voices outside were growing louder; he heard footsteps approaching up the alley; they were trying to be quiet, but he could hear them all the same.  The helicopter’s drone was steadily circling the church, and its light continued to play in through the broken windows. 

He was out of time.

Eli got to his feet next to Jed’s body.  The intense, burning pain in his hip had ended, but he could still feel the lump of metal inside himself.  It was not in the joint, as he had originally thought, but deeper, buried somewhere in his groin.  He would need a doctor’s help to get it out.

He turned the shotgun and pushed the barrel against his narrow chest.  Its end dug into the gray and yellow striped cotton of his new polo shirt, indenting his sternum.  His chest hitched as he started to cry; then he cut the tears off.  He had had enough crying.  He was at rock bottom, and crying wasn’t going to take him anywhere else. 

He swallowed and hooked his right thumb over the trigger.  With his eyes closed he heard the approaching footsteps.  Then he turned his head as the side door swung open.

Weyerhaeuser had crept up to the church as quietly as he could.  The backup van had arrived with Robertson, and the second team was taking up positions. He and Robertson had agreed that they would keep the other entrances covered while he went in alone to talk with them; to try and keep them occupied while they found a way to get the windows covered and prevent the kid from escaping.  Once the dawn came, they would have their prize.

Standing to the right of the door, he pushed it open with the barrel of his rifle.  Nothing happened.  The helicopter hung in the air above his right shoulder, and when its light played across the doorway and into the room beyond he saw, in the dim interior some thirty feet away, the child with the shotgun pointed at himself, staring directly at Weyerhaeuser.  He began to raise his rifle and step through the door, but had not completed the movement when the child jumped straight up into the air—and did not come down.  The shotgun clattered harmlessly to the floor.

Shit.  He swung back out and stared up; couldn’t see anything.  He keyed Robertson for information.  It was just as he’d feared:  the cat was out of the bag.

Operative Report
MRN:  021278014
Account Number:  0423100298

NAME:                                   INVERNESS, ELI
DOB:                                      00/00/1761
DATE OF SURGERY:          01/01/03
SURGEON:                           SAMUEL H. MATTIAS, M.D.
                                                GEORGE R. BASTILE, M.D. (Neurosurgery)
ASSISTANT:                          CHRISTOPHER HUMPHREYS, M.D.

ANESTHESIA:                      DOREEN CASTLEMAN, M.D.

PREOPERATIVE DIAGNOSIS:
1.         Sarcoma of unknown origin, sinoatrial junction.

PROCEDURE PERFORMED:  Tumor removal on cardiopulmonary bypass and replacement of total circulating blood volume.

INDICATIONS:  This patient presented on 12/23/02 for the removal of a extracardiac tumor (presumed sarcoma) of unknown origin located at the sinoatrial junction.  The patient underwent an extensive medical evaluation (including cardiac MRI) at an outside institution; see Admitting H&P for details regarding the same. 

The patient understood that because of his unique anatomy, the requested surgery was experimental, and that there were no guarantees of a successful outcome.  A meeting was held with the patient at which the surgical risks were reviewed, including bleeding, infection, dysrhythmia, extracardiac organ injury (stroke, seizure, coma, hepatic, renal, pulmonary insufficiency), failure of the surgery to achieve the desired results, and death.  The patient wishes to proceed with the surgery.

DETAILS OF PROCEDURE:  The patient was sterilely prepared and draped in the supine position after the administration of general endotracheal anesthesia.  The chest was opened through a midline sternotomy incision and the sternum divided with a oscillating saw for the anterior table; the posterior table was divided with scissors.  Careful sharp and blunt dissection was used to remove underlying cardiac structures from the posterior table of the sternum. 

Because of the patient’s unusual healing attributes, Dr. Humphreys assisted to maintain the chest incision.  After the administration of Heparin, the ascending aorta and the right atrium were mobilized adequately for cannulation.  The ascending aorta and right atrium were then cannulated, and cardiopulmonary bypass was commenced.  Core body temperature was maintained at 31 deg. C.  Flows were excellent, and the heart was decompressed.

Once on bypass, the extracardiac mass was excised with sharp dissection and electrocautery.  The mass was well-organized, was grossly of neurogenic origin, and as anticipated in pre-operative studies, invaded the neural foramina bilaterally at the T-3, T-4, and T-5 levels.  Therefore, the operation was turned over to Dr. Bastile for the excision of these portions of the mass.  (Dr. Bastile has dictated a separate operative report regarding this aspect of the surgery.)  Thereafter, the mass was removed from the surface of the heart.  In accordance with the specific instructions of the patient, the mass, once removed, was taken for immediate destruction, and no samples were submitted for pathological analysis.

HEMODYNAMIC DATA: Following removal of the tumor, the total circulating blood volume of the patient was drained from the venous reservoir and after a meticulous line flush, 4.5 liters of fresh donor blood was transfused into the patient via the venous return line.  The patient was thereafter maintained on bypass and blood samples were drawn for analysis at 1 minute, 5 minutes, and 10 minutes.  The sample drawn at 1 minute was satisfactory, but the samples drawn at 5 and 10 minutes failed testing.  Therefore, the venous reservoir was again completely drained, and fresh donor blood was again transfused.  The testing process was repeated.  Once again, however, a 5-minute sample failed testing.  The venous reservoir was drained a third time, and, in accordance with pre-operative discussions with the patient, it was elected to transfuse the patient with normal saline, which was circulated for three minutes and then replaced with a third total-volume transfusion of donor blood.  Samples of blood were once again drawn for analysis, and passed testing at 1, 5, 10, 20, and 25-minute intervals. 

However, approximately 90 minutes after removal of the tumor, and while the patient was being maintained on bypass and awaiting the 30-minute blood draw, signs of tissue necrosis were observed throughout the patient’s body.  In accordance with the specific instructions of the patient, no attempt was made to halt or reverse this process by reintroducing the original circulating volume into the patient.  The donor blood was drained into the venous reservoir, and total body disintegration occurred approximately two minutes after the first signs of tissue breakdown were observed.

In accordance with the patient’s specific instructions, all blood or blood products involved in the operation were destroyed.

The hospital's Personnel Office will be requested to offer counseling to the nursing staff who participated in the surgery for this most difficult and challenging patient.

A copy of this report will be sent to David Cook, M.D.  There are no next-of-kin to be notified of the patient’s death.

 

____________________________________
SAMUEL H. MATTIAS, M.D., F.A.C.S.

D: 01/01/2003          16:53               T: 01/03/2003           05:44

 

Epilogue next week

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