He had broad, vengeful hands. When they were clenched they were like clubs at the end of thick, muscular arms. His right hand turned the ignition key. The seven hundred horsepower engine coughed. In the next second it exploded to life. A thunderous volley of red-orange flame shot from the chrome exhaust pipes, which stuck upward through eight small holes in the slanted hood. The black car shook violently, but to the driver it felt as smooth and soothing as a cat’s contented purr. A combat-boot-clad foot gunned the throttle pedal. The exhaust flames rose a foot in length. A long, thick finger flicked on a toggle switch mounted within the stainless steel dash. Dash lights came on and glowed an eye-easy orange radiance. The tachometer needle vibrated around the 900-RPM mark. The foot gunned the throttle again. The tack needle bounded up to 8000 RPM. A lopsided smile parted his lips. Another finger pushed in a glowing red button within the dash. An electric garage door opener responded, reeling in its cable, opening a fiberglass three-section door. The smile broadened. He reached up and pulled down the night-vision goggles. A firm hand gripped the transmission shifter. A firmly planted foot pushed down the clutch pedal. He shifted the five-speed transmission into first-gear and released the clutch. The black car bolted from the garage and streaked down the gravel driveway. There was a slight dip at the end of the driveway. It was no more than a hardly noticed bump as the car touched the blacktop roadway. The throttle pedal was jammed to the floor. Smoke from the wide rear tires mixed with the sounds of shrieks, squeals and thunderous belching of exhaust. Within seconds the car disappeared into the late night darkness. The night air was warm, in sharp contrast to the previous night. The moon shone brightly. It was as a night should be, calm, peaceful. Along the gravel shoulder of a two-lane road, two deputies sat in a parked police car. They sat in silence. They had never worked together. They had never been together. Strangers they were within the same department, brought together by the events of the previous night. One of the deputies was a seasoned veteran officer. He was the late-shift road sergeant. Charlie Johnson by name, CJ as those he worked with called him, he was a brawny, gruff individual who didn’t partake in pointless conversation. He lacked in social graces, and often stayed at home or worked overtime while his wife went visiting with her lady friends. Most knew he was anti-social. His young partner for the night was among a few who didn’t know as much. Ray O’Brien was a young reserve deputy. By day he went to Police Science School. He was in his second year and was, by grade average, the top student in his class. It was his goal to make law enforcement his life career. Countless times he rode with other deputies. Great experience he believed. In all the other cases found those deputies to be friendly, talkative, and to him, most importantly, informative. He learned, as he had said to an unknown number of friends, more by riding along with the deputies than by all that was taught in class. He was riding with a sergeant tonight. When he first learned that he’d ride with a sergeant he was pleased, thinking he’d discover a great deal about the inner workings of the department. The only thing O’Brien had learned thus far that night was how to be quiet. Johnson’s stillness was unnerving. O’Brien glanced at his watch. It was two in the morning. Bar traffic would begin soon. Thank God, he thought. Perhaps then something interesting will happen. Thus far the night had been boring, and that, in O’Brien’s opinion, was being kind to the fact. They’d been parked along the road for what seemed like an eternity. In that time, only a handful of cars, eight at best, had passed the police car. Each was clocked by the radar unit set upon the dash of the car pointed forward. O’Brien couldn’t stand the silence any longer. He spoke saying, "It won’t be long before the bar traffic begins." Johnson grunted but didn’t speak. "Things must be a lot more interesting after two." Again Johnson grunted. "At least there must be more of a chance to make contacts." "Belligerent drunks causing paperwork up the ass," Johnson blurted.
You do have a tongue, O’Brien thought. "How come you don’t talk very much?"
Johnson looked at his partner, a serious look that could make most people nervous. "Because while most people are yakking away, I’m spending my time thinking." "What do you think about?" "Are you writing a book?" "No, but I am writing a paper for my Police Science class. I was hoping that by coming out with a sergeant tonight, I’d gain a lot of information that I could use in my paper." "Sorry to disappoint you."
He sounds annoyed at my being here, O’Brien thought. "My first name is Ray. We could be on a first name basis, if you care to be."
Johnson looked even more intently at O’Brien. He realized the young reserve deputy was trying to be friendly. He wasn’t accustomed to someone being friendly toward him. Most people shied away from him. He wasn’t used to working with anyone else either. He regarded the young man seated on the passenger side of the car. O’Brien had a stout frame, a short, thick, almost non-existent neck, handsome face, and a shock of ginger-brown hair cut short. He had starry blue eyes that seemed to bulge out of their sockets. Below his broad nose were the beginnings of an early mustache. O’Brien’s uniform was spotlessly clean, looking as though he just got it from a dry cleaner that specialized in pressing and creasing police uniforms. It was crisp, with sharp creases. His black leather gun belt and holster was waxed to a dazzling shine. Even his badge shined as if buffed to a high gloss finish. Johnson thought back to the time when he was a rookie, indeed, when he was himself a part-time reserve deputy. He remembered how much he had tried to impress the full-time deputies each time he’d worked with them. Trying his best to do what he’d been taught while all the time feeling nervous, excited and sheepish. If O’Brien felt any of those things the young man didn’t let it show. He looked calm, collected, and eager to learn. Even as a rookie Johnson had been a quiet individual. At one time he was reprimanded for being too quiet. It seemed the deputies liked to work with people who talked, even occasionally, especially late at night when there wasn’t much going on. The county they worked and lived in was Marathon County. It was the largest county in the state. Between the farthest boundaries the county measured over a hundred miles. During a work shift it was not uncommon for a deputy to drive three or four hundred miles. A man could get plenty bored. It was always nice to have, and always welcomed, someone riding along, if not for the company, for the added backup if needed. But it didn’t do much good when that person sat there quiet as a mouse. "So how long have you been a reserve?" Johnson questioned. The suddenness of Johnson’s question nearly startled O’Brien. "Four months," he replied happily. "How do you like it?" "I guess it’s all right, thus far. I find I learn more by going out on patrol than by reading the textbooks in class." "Hell yes," Johnson beamed. There was a new, friendlier tone to his voice. "There’s nothing like the real thing." "How long have you been a deputy?" "Twenty years," Johnson said immediately. "Twenty long years." Perhaps gone unnoticed was a tint of pride in his statement; pride that he felt in being a deputy; pride in the fact that he saved more than a few lives during those years. "I imagine you’ve seen just about everything." Johnson chuckled slightly. " More shit than I can remember, or want to remember. There’s a lot of shit that I wish I could forget. I’ve run across some strange people." "I can imagine. Have you had any close calls?" Johnson was silent for a minute as unpleasant thoughts tracked through his mind. "I was shot once, if that counts?" "Really?" Johnson nodded. "I took a bullet in the arm one night. I came across a van that was wanted in a family disturbance. Inside was a creep screwing the hell out of a girl whose dad he’d just beat up. I told the guy to get out of the van. The asshole told me he wasn’t finished just then, and I should wait. I told the son of a bitch that he just finished. He went psycho, pulled a gun and shot me right through the door of the van." "Guess you never know what to expect being a cop," O’Brien said. "Exactly. Remember, be damn careful. There are a lot of nuts out there that would think nothing of putting a bullet in you because of the badge you’re wearing. Your badge isn’t going to protect you. Cops get killed." "Like last night," O’Brien said softly. Johnson looked down at his lap. "Yeah, like last night." For the first time in almost an hour the radar unit began to beep. It was programmed to sound off if any approaching vehicles were traveling more than sixty-five miles per hour. "We have us a live one," Johnson said and straightened himself from his seemingly normal slouched position. The orange digital numbers on the radar unit were clicking by rapidly. Within seconds they jumped to over one hundred ten miles per hour. "That thing must be flying," O’Brien said. There was a tinge of excitement in his voice. Their eyes stared down the road ahead of them into a veil of empty blackness. No headlights of any oncoming vehicle could be seen. There were no hills, no depressions along the stretch of road into which a vehicle could dip out of sight. The road was straight and smooth for miles; a clear shot for a radar beam. "I don’t see anything," O’Brien said in a hushed voice. His heart was pounding as much as it always seemed to do during the deer-hunting season whenever he saw a deer. He suddenly grew anxious. He felt elated that something was about to happen; something that would break the weariness of the otherwise dull night. Suddenly the numbers began to decline even more rapidly than they had climbed. The monitor screen went blank; the radar unit ceased its tocsin notice. "What the hell," Johnson said. He cuffed the side of the black radar unit. "Don’t go to hell on me now!" "What happened to it?" O’Brien asked. "How should I know," Johnson huffed. He fumbled with the wires, which led from below the dash to the butt of the unit. "The damn thing must have popped a fuzz or something." In disgust he slapped the unit again with more authority. "There probably wasn’t anything out there after all," O’Brien said. "I never saw any lights down the road." "If there was anything going that fast it would have gone past us by now." "Unless it was running without headlights and stopped before it got this far," O’Brien suggested, taking a stab in the dark. Johnson tilted his head up from the radar unit that he was closely inspecting. "I think that’s pretty unlikely." His voice sounded sarcastic or perhaps annoyed. O’Brien detected the tone. You’re upset that you didn’t say it before me, he thought. I know you believe it. The driver’s door opened. The interior light of the car came on. It wasn’t supposed to come on when the door opened. Lately it seemed to have a mind of its own, coming on when it was not suppose to, going off when it was needed. Johnson began to step out of the car. "Where are you going?" O’Brien questioned. Johnson glanced at him. "I said it was unlikely, not impossible. I’m just going out and have a listen. And while I’m thinking of it, make a note for the garage to fix the interior light. They keep telling me there’s nothing wrong with it. It’s going to take someone getting shot before they fix the son of a bitching thing." Johnson walked ahead of the car and stood in the roadway with his back to the police car. He cocked his head to listen. The sounds of nocturnal life, chirping crickets, croaking frogs and birds filtered through the air. As he stood there, a sudden, heart stopping breaking of twigs sounded nearby, and the thrashing of something large running through the brush and saplings that lined the road. The sounds of movement just in front of him. The sounds of hoofs skidding against pavement. He knew instantly that it was a deer rushing across the road. In the moonlight he could barely make out the white of the deer’s tail as it vanished into the woodland cover across the road from where he stood. From a distance another pair of human eyes watched the ten-point buck cross the road; had seen it as clear as daylight through night-vision goggles. From behind the steering wheel of the black car, the driver watched Johnson stand in the roadway. The driver’s mind was calculating distance and speed. His car sat idling, the engine running at a soft, rough purr. There was a slight orange glow hardly visible at the end of the eight exhaust pipes. The driver’s body was bathed in sweat. A black T-shirt clung to his torso as if watered down by a garden hose. Every muscle in his body was tense. His breathing was deep and rapid. He could feel every pulse as his blood spurted through his veins, pushed forth from his thumping heart. He gritted his teeth and slowly shifted the transmission into first gear. In a jolt the black car bolted ahead. "Sarge, the radar is working again," O’Brien shouted from inside the car. Johnson walked casually to his side of the police car. He bent low and leaned through the open door window to look at the radar unit. The numbers had already topped eighty miles per hour and were increasing at a faster rate than before. A deep, thundering roar from a distance became audible. Johnson straightened and looked down the road. In a fleeting second his eyes saw the red-orange exhaust flames less than a hundred yards away. "Sarge, look out!" O’Brien shouted as he looked ahead and instantly saw the flames belching upward. In a blur of thought Johnson leaped onto the hood of the police car. A split second later the charging car sped over the very spot from which he had just leapt. A shower of sparks and twisted body moldings sprayed through the open window as the two cars touched for a heartbeat. O’Brien shielded his face with an arm while flinging open his door. He dove out of the car, landing upon rough gravel. Johnson rolled from the hood of the car. Landing flat on the ground, he came face to face with O’Brien. In the moonlight both of their faces had the same white hue of stunned acknowledgment. Johnson took two deep breaths and slowly rose to his feet. "Sarge, are you all right?" O’Brien questioned as he stood. Johnson brushed off his clothes. "I’m fine, but he won’t be when I get my hands on him," he said. He rushed back to his side of the car. "Come on, we have to catch him."