Page 7 of Ford County

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More gunfire, and Roger ducked low, lost his equilibrium, and was on the floorboard, where he frantically searched under the seat for a weapon of some sort. Aggie, like every other boy from Ford County, wouldn't travel anywhere without protection, and Roger knew a gun was close by. He found one under the driver's seat, a 9-millimeter Husk automatic with a twelve-shot clip. Fully loaded. He clutched it, fondled it, kissed the barrel, then quickly rolled down the passenger's window. He heard angry voices, then saw what was most certainly a gangster car easing suspiciously through the parking lot.

Roger fired twice, hit nothing, but succeeded in changing the strategy of the gang shooting. Aggie's Dodge was immediately sprayed with bullets from an assault rifle. The rear window exploded, sending glass throughout the cab and into the long hair of Roger, who hit the floor again and began scrambling to safety. He slid out of the driver's door, ducked low, and began zigzagging through the unlit rows of parked cars. Behind him were more angry voices, then another gunshot. He kept going, his thighs and calves screaming as he kept his head at tire level. He failed to complete a turn between two cars and crashed into the front fender of an old Cadillac. He sat for a moment on the asphalt, listening, breathing, sweating, cursing, but not bleeding. Slowly, he raised his head, saw no one chasing him, but decided to take no chances. He pressed on, cutting between parked cars until he came to a street. A car was approaching, so he stuck the pistol in a front pants pocket.

It was apparent, even to Roger, that this part of town was a war zone. The buildings had thick bars over the windows. The chain-link fences were crowned with razor wire. The alleys were dark and forbidding, and Roger, in a lucid moment, asked himself, What the hell am I doin' here? Only the gun kept him from total panic. He eased along the sidewalk, pondering strategy, and decided it was best to get back to the truck and wait on his friends. The shooting had stopped. Perhaps the police were on the scene and things were secure. There were voices behind him, on the sidewalk, and a quick glance revealed a group of young black men, on his side of the street and gaining. Roger picked up the pace. A rock landed nearby and bounced for twenty feet. They were hollering back there. He eased the gun out of his pocket, put his finger on the trigger, and walked even faster. There were lights ahead, and when he turned a corner, he stepped into a small parking lot outside an all'night convenience store.

There was one car parked directly in front of the store, and beside the car a white man and a white woman were yelling at each other. As Roger stepped onto the scene, the man threw a right hook and clobbered the woman in the face. The sound of her flesh getting smacked was sickening. Roger froze as the scene began to register in his muddled mind.

But the woman took the shot well and counterpunched with an unbelievable combination. She threw a right cross that busted the man's lips, then went low with a left uppercut that crushed his testicles. He squealed like a burned animal and fell in a heap just as Roger took a step closer. The woman looked at Roger, looked at his gun, then saw the gang approaching from the dark street. If there was another conscious white person within four blocks, he or she was not outdoors.

"You in trouble?" she asked.

"I think so. You?"

"I've felt safer. You got a driver's license?"

"Sure," Roger said as he almost reached again for his wallet.

"Let's go." She jumped in the car with Roger behind the wheel and his new friend riding shotgun. Roger squealed tires, and they were soon racing west on Poplar Avenue.

"Who was that guy back there?" Roger asked, his eyes dart' ing back and forth between the street and the rearview mirror.

"My dealer."

"Your dealer!"

"Yep."

"Are we gonna just leave him?"

"Why don't you put that gun down?" she said, and Roger looked at his left hand and realised he was still holding the pistol. He placed it on the seat between them. She immediately grabbed it, pointed it at him, and said, "Just shut up and drive."

The police were gone when Aggie and Calvin returned to the truck. They gawked at the damage, then cursed profusely when they realized Roger had vanished. "He took my Husk," Aggie said, as he searched under the seat.

"Stupid sonofabitch," Calvin kept saying. "I hope he's dead." They swept glass off the seat and drove away, anxious to get out of downtown Memphis. There was a quick conversation about looking for Roger, but they were fed up with him. The Mexican girl at the information desk had given them directions to Central Hospital, the most likely place to find Bailey.

The lady at the desk at Central explained that the blood unit was closed for the night, would reopen at 8:00 a.m., and had a rigid policy against accepting donations from those who were obviously intoxicated. The hospital did not currently have a patient with either the first or the last name of Bailey. As she was dismissing them, a uniformed security guard appeared from nowhere and asked them to leave. They cooperated, and he walked them out of the front door. As they were saying good night, Calvin asked him, "Say, you know where we might be able to sell a pint of blood?"

"There's a blood bank on Watkins, not too far."

"You think it's open?"

"Yes, it's open all night."

"How do you get there?" Aggie asked.

He pointed this way and that, then said, "Be careful, though. It's where all the addicts go when they need cash. Rough place."

The blood bank was the only destination Aggie found on the first attempt, and by the time they stopped on the street beside it, they were hoping it would be closed. It was not. The reception area was a grungy little room with a row of plastic chairs and magazines scattered everywhere. An addict of some variety was in one corner, on the floor, under a coffee table, curled into the fetal position, and obviously dying. A grim-faced man in surgical scrubs worked the desk, and he greeted them with a nasty "What do you want?"

Aggie cleared his throat, took another glance at the addict in the corner, and managed to spit out, "Ya'll buy blood around here?"

"We will pay for it, and we will accept it for free."

"How much?"

"Fifty bucks a pint."

To Calvin, with $6.25 in his pocket, the price meant a cover charge, three watered'down beers, and another memorable lap dance with Amber. To Aggie, with $18 in his pocket and no credit cards, the deal meant another quick visit to the strip club and enough gas to get home. Both had forgotten about poor Bailey.

Clipboards were handed over. As they filled in the blanks, the attendant asked, "What type of blood?"

The question drew two blank faces.

"What type of blood?" he repeated.

"Red," Aggie said, and Calvin laughed loudly. The attendant did not crack a smile.

"You boys been drinking?" he asked.

"We've had a few," Aggie said.

"But we won't charge you extra for the alcohol," Calvin added quickly, then both roared with laughter.

"What size needle you want?" the man asked, and all humor vanished.

They swore in writing that they had no known allergies or diseases. "Who's first?"

Neither budged. "Mr. Agnor," the man said, "follow me." Aggie followed him through a door and into a large square room with two beds on the right side and three on the left. Lying on the first bed on the right was a thick'chested white woman in gym sweats and hiking boots. A tube ran from her left arm down to a clear plastic bag that was half-filled with a dark red liquid. Aggie glanced at the tube, the bag, the arm, then realized that there was a needle stuck through the skin. He fainted headfirst and landed with a loud thud on the tiled floor.

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