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Black country road. Wet night. Unknown territory. No yellow center line. No painted guidelines at the sides. No shoulder. Black on black. Pelting rain. Sudden flash of car lights. Recipe for disaster!

Dazzled, I cut the wheel right. The car drove by so close I felt its suction jostle mine. Amazed that we didn’t hit and terrified about where I might be heading, I cut the wheel hard left, my heart in my throat. Bang! I hit something. If I hadn’t been holding the wheel in a death grip I would have been off the road and into what, I could only guess.

The wheel vibrated as I straightened out. Damn! The vibration got worse. I’m sunk, I thought, it’s a flat. They’re behind me. Two minutes, no more. Couldn’t see them yet, but I knew.

My headlights caught a straight stretch ahead and coming up fast, a side road. I stood on the brakes and the car fishtailed all over the road. I caromed into the side road and narrowly missed a tree that appeared from nowhere.

Much more slowly, I drove on. Fifty feet onto this unmarked road the pavement ended in wet, slippery dirt. Oh Christ, what now! My die was cast. I could do nothing more than try and lie low. I ground on. My right front tire tried to come off the rim.

My headlights lit up a steel gray glint from some rocks ahead. I lurched past them and saw an opening. Be big enough, I begged. The wheel turned hard now, but the power steering helped me into a space beside the rocky monolith. Then the engine died. What else?

I shut off the lights, cranked my windows down a couple of inches and sat, mentally and physically exhausted in complete darkness. The rain kept coming. Maybe a little could splash in, but the trees would keep it to drips. I needed to hear above the drumming on my roof.

I reached into my shirt pocket for a cigarette. My hand came out with the empty pack. I crumpled it nervously and tossed it into the back seat. Bad idea anyway. Think. Maybe the searchers would flash by the road I’d found and keep going. Wish I knew how far ahead the road might curve, maybe come to a four-way intersection. Maybe a highway. Whoo-ah, wouldn’t that be great!

If not… I picked up the 38 Special I’d tossed on the passenger’s seat and hefted it. The nark cop I took it from wouldn’t need it anymore. They’re pretty expensive these days. Might as well get some use out of it. What commerce was all about, right?

My thoughts on the edge of hysteria, I reviewed the past three hours. The dead man. The dead nark. I didn’t do it, but they thought I did. With my record, I’d be their slam-dunk for the week, so I ran. Way I figured, it, all I could do. Me, a hooded figure in black, too close to some drug action. Wrong part of town. The hoodie? It was frickin’ raining, what else?

I didn’t know the guy. You can’t pass through a bad neighborhood without some risk. Could be locals. Could as well be cops. Got them both tonight.

Shit.

I’m thinking, drug bust. Why me? Location, location. I saw these guys up ahead of me, not that many feet, talking in low tones. Suddenly somebody pulled a gun and all hell broke loose. I slunk into a sunken doorway to get out of the way.

It lasted a couple of seconds, that fast. One guy shot the other and the other shot the first. I couldn’t tell who they were and didn’t care, but the second shot blasted the second guy into eternity and his gun went flying, right at my feet. Both guys crumpled to the ground. Without thinking I grabbed the gun and pocketed it.

More hell broke loose. Several uniforms ran in from both sides and converged on the two on the ground. I couldn’t be there, so after the cops passed me, I lit out from my hiding place and sprinted up the alley.

Somebody shouted, “Stop!”

I ran.

I heard, “Stop or I’ll shoot!”

I ran faster and started weaving. A few shots came close and then I was around the corner. I ran for my car a block away. I figured somebody would come boiling out of the alley after me and sure enough, but I had a good lead so I hoofed it.

One thing, in that neighborhood you’d think, best I lock my car. I’d agree. Couldn’t. My wreck didn’t look like much, but it went good and with the busted door some good citizen had kicked in a couple of weeks before I couldn’t lock it anyway, so I dived in, keyed it and got a few extra seconds of lead before the cops could get close.

Heading out of town fast I got made and the chase began.

I could do without a problem, but i got two barrels on this one. Okay, Duane, think it through. You’ve got the time now.

Whining sirens and flashing lights interrupted the gravity of my position. I listened intently. Two police cruisers flashed by the road where I bailed from the chase and disappeared in an instant. I waited. Another minute went by.

Through the trees I could see flashers. No siren this time. The real searchers were in the third cruiser. The lights stopped at the road. One high intensity searchlight blazed away. The shaft of light passed by the back of my hidden car and hung there for too long.

I fingered the trigger on the 38. I couldn’t, I wouldn’t be caught. I couldn’t afford it. Holding a gun in my hand, guilty or not was a parole violation and back into the slammer I’d go. I don’t pray, but I got close enough to it, when the light snapped off. The cruiser sat for another minute and I figured one of the cops would be reporting. I breathed a sigh when the flashing light slowly moved on.

What happened then? I mulled it over. My best guess, the cops could see the paved part disappear and the muddy road ahead. The hard rain probably wiped out my tire marks. I was safe for a while. Another thought. With luck, the cops didn’t get my license plate number. I could be home free. This time.

The police would go until they decided I’d slipped away. They’d curse me and report to their precinct. If they hadn’t had time to set up roadblocks, I could be anywhere and therefore gone.

Now to my predicament. I couldn’t change a tire here at night in the rain. For all I knew, I might be three feet from a bog or drop-off. I had to wait until morning, get the lie of the land and figure it out.

I put the seat as far back as it would go and stretched out. The stress of the night worked in my favor and before I knew it, a dull gray light filtered over me and morning arrived.

I brought the seat up and looked around. The bog just in front of my front wheels told me Lady Luck had gone riding with me. I opened my door slowly and got out. The grass squished under my feet. Moving to the trunk I checked the spare. Plenty of air, but it hit me how bad off I’d be if I found it flat.

Enough room existed between the right front and the rock, but the jack disappeared into the soggy ground. I closed the jack and searched for something to put under it. I smiled for the first time in the last twelve hours when I saw it. Luck was definitely riding on my shoulders. A piece of the big rock had flaked off, probably frost, and lay a couple of feet into the bog.

Gingerly I stepped into the water. With a sucking sound it gave up and I heaved out a perfect platform for the jack. Soon the tire came off and I replaced it with the spare. Now good to go, I checked out the vicinity. Plenty of deep woods, no houses in shouting distance, leaves all turned for winter, but pretty brilliant all the same and not that many on the ground yet.

I walked back to the road and looked both ways. Empty. Road needed repaving. Not a major way, but it went somewhere.

I found an old road map in my ride’s side pocket. I figured I’d run about fifteen miles northeast of Roanoke during the chase. I could head for the ocean or I could head into the mountains. Mountains, I thought. I glanced at the gas gauge. Half tank, okay. Get me somewhere and where I want to go isn’t around cops.

The sun broke the edge of a bright November sky and flooded it with orange light. I grabbed the gun, tossed it into the bog and watched it sink out of sight. Time to beat feet.

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