Page 4 of Ford County

"Can't you get closer?" Roger asked as he stood by the driver's door.

"It's just around that bend up there," Aggie said. "Any closer and he might hear us."

The three stared at the dark highway. A half-moon came and went with the clouds. "You got a gun?" Roger asked.

"I gotta gun," Aggie said, "But you ain't getting' it. Just sneak up to the house, and sneak back. No big deal. That old man's asleep already."

"You're not scared, are you?" Calvin added helpfully.

"Hell no." And with that, Roger disappeared into the darkness. Aggie restarted the truck and, with the lights off, quietly turned it around so that it was headed in the general direction of Memphis. He killed the engine again, and with both windows down they began their waiting.

"He's had eight beers," Calvin said softly. "Drunk as a skunk."

"But he can hold his booze."

"He's had a lot of practice. Maybe the old man'll get him this time."

"That wouldn't really bother me, but then we'd get caught."

"Why, exactly, was he invited in the first place?"

"Shut up. We need to listen for traffic."

"Roger left the road when the mailbox was in sight. He jumped a ditch, then ducked low through a bean field next to the house. If the old man was still watching, his eyes would be on the driveway, right? Roger shrewdly decided he would sneak in from the rear. All lights were off. The little house was still and quiet. Not a creature was stirring. Through the shadows of the oak trees, Roger crept over the wet grass until he could see the Ford pickup. He paused behind a toolshed, caught his breath, and realized he needed to pee again. No, he said to himself, it had to wait. He was proud - he'd made it this far without a sound. Then he was terrified again - what the hell was he doing? He took a deep breath, then crouched low and continued on his mission. When the Ford was between him and the house, he fell to his hands and knees and began feeling his way through the pea gravel at the end of the driveway.

Roger moved slowly as the gravel crouched under him. He cursed when his hands became wet near the right front tire. When he touched his wallet, he smiled, then quickly stuck it in the right rear pocket of his jeans. He paused, breathed deeply, then began his silent retreat.

In the stillness, Mr. Bufurd Gates heard all sorts of noises, some real, some conjured up by the circumstances. The deer had the run of the place, and he thought that perhaps they were moving around again, looking for grass and berries. Then he heard something different. He slowly stood from his hiding place on the side porch, raised his shotgun to the sky, and fired two shots at the moon just for the hell of it.

In the perfect calm of the late evening, the shots boomed through the air like howitzers, deadly blasts that echoed for miles. Down the highway, not too far away, the sudden squealing of tires followed the gunfire, and to Bufurd, at least, the burning of rubber sounded precisely as it had twenty minutes earlier directly in front of his house.

They're still around here, he said to himself.

Mrs. Gates opened the side door and said, "Bufurd!"

"I think they're still here," he said, reloading his Browning 16-gauge.

"Did you see them?"

"Maybe."

"What do you mean, maybe? What are you shootin' at?"

"Just get back inside, will you?"

The door slammed.

Roger was under the Ford pickup, holding his breath, clutching his groin, sweating profusely as he urgently tried to decide whether he should wrap himself around the transmission just inches above him or claw his way down through the pea gravel below him. But he didn't move. The sonic booms were still ringing in his ears. The squealing tires of his cowardly friends made him curse. He was afraid to breathe.

He heard the door open again and the woman say, "Here's a flashlight. Maybe you can see what you're shootin' at."

"Just get back inside and call the sheriff while you're at it."

The door slammed again as the woman was prattling on. A minute or so later she was back. "I called the sheriff's office. They said Dudley's out here somewhere on patrol."

"Fetch my truck keys," the man said. "I'll take a look on the highway."

"You can't drive at night."

"Just get me the damned keys."

The door slammed again. Roger tried wiggling in reverse, but the pea gravel made too much noise. He tried wriggling forward, in the direction of their voices, but again that was too much shuffling and crunching. So he decided to wait. If the pickup started in reverse, he would wait until the last possible second, grab the front bumper as it moved above him, and get himself dragged a few feet until he could bolt and sprint through the darkness. If the old man saw him, it would take several seconds for him to stop, get his gun, get out, and give chase. By then, Roger would be lost in the woods. It was a plan, and it just might work. On the other hand, he could get crushed by the tires, dragged down the highway, or just plain shot.

Bufurd left the side porch and began searching with his flashlight. From the door, Mrs. Gates yelled, "I hid your keys. You can't drive at night."

Atta girl, thought Roger.

"You'd better get me those damned keys."

"I hid them."

Bufurd was mumbling in the darkness.

The Dodge raced for several frantic miles before Aggie finally slowed somewhat, then said, "You know we have to go back."

"Why?"

"If he got hit, we have to explain what happened and take care of the details."

"I hope he got hit, and if he did, then he can't talk. If he can't talk, he can't squeal on us. Let's get to Memphis."

"No." Aggie turned around, and they drove in silence until they reached the same country lane where they had stopped before. Close to fence row, they sat on the hood and contemplated what to do next. Before long, they heard a siren, then saw the blue lights pass by quickly on the highway.

"If the ambulance is next, then we're in big trouble," Aggie said.

"So is Roger."

When Roger heard the siren, he panicked. But as it grew closer, he realized it would conceal some of the noise his escape would need. He found a rock, squirmed to the side of the truck, and flung it in the general direction of the house. It hit something, causing Mr. Gates to say, "What's that?" and to run back to the side porch. Roger slithered like a snake from under the truck, through the fresh urine he'd left earlier, through the wet grass, and all the way to an oak tree just as Dudley the deputy came roaring onto the scene. He hit his brakes and turned violently into the driveway, slinging gravel and sending dust. The commotion saved Roger. Mr. and Mrs. Gates ran out to meet Dudley while Roger eased deeper into the darkness. Within seconds he was behind a line of shrubs, then past an old barn, then lost in a bean field. Half an hour passed.

Aggie said, "I think we just go back to the house, and tell 'em ever'thang. That way we'll know he's okay."

Calvin said, "But won't they charge us with resistin' arrest, and probably drunk drivin' on top of that?"

"So what do you suggest?"

"The deputy's probably gone now. No ambulance means Roger's okay, wherever he is. I'll bet he's hidin' somewhere. I say we make one pass by the house, take a good look, then get on to Memphis."

"It's worth a try."

They found Roger beside the road, walking a limp, headed to Memphis. After a few harsh words by all three, they decided to carry on. Roger took his middle position; Calvin had the door. They drove ten minutes before anyone said another word. All eyes were straight ahead. All three were angry, fuming.

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