The Wind in Our Face
It was a perfect day. One of those days that blue sky goes on forever,
because there are no
clouds to stop it. Hot but not too humid. Green grass
butterflies floating in the breeze. The smell of spring turning to
Graduation would be held on the football field, with us seniors on the
grass and our families
in the bleachers. Our group of friends had agreed to meet
beforehand in front of
the clock tower. I parked the Pinto across Stephenson Street
and walked to our
meeting place. Heather stood by herself in front of the
evergreen that months
ago she’d decorated with the spirit of Christmas.
As I walked across the street our eyes met and I couldn’t help but smile.
Even though my head
pounded from my encounter with Mr. Daniels, I didn’t care.
This was parole day, a
day to finally celebrate our freedom from the crimson brick
prison. I kept looking
down at my feet because I wasn’t use to the black gown
obscuring the length of
my legs. All us guys wore black and the ladies silver.
Heather looked gorgeous as usual, her hair done up all fancy with braids coming
out of her graduation
cap, her gown sparking in the sun light.
“Where’s Roman anyway?” I asked.
“He insisted on walking of course. I don’t even argue with him
stepped up to me and adjusted my tie. “I thought you’d be
jumping up and down
is that?” I asked.
“Because the worst day of your life ended up being the best, silly.”
the hell are you talking about, woman?”
“Hello…Sally and you. She told me about last night.”
The smile on my face faded. “What about last night?”
“You honestly don’t remember?”
I searched my memory banks—number four green at the Country Club,
the party at Scotty’s,
Jack Daniels, Sally telling me she was going to take me
home, and then…I woke up
in my own bed. “You’re shittin’ me right? I was
“Anthony Falcone! You spend your whole senior year trying to get with a
girl, and when you
finally do you forget?”
can’t be. There’s no way I’d forget.”
“Well I think you better at least act like you remember. Girls like you to
remember things like
that. We’re odd that way.”
As I stood there trying to recall last night’s events, our friends began to
arrive—Pick and Scotty
drove up together, Jack and Johnny in the Vette, Sam
Peterman. All of them
patted me on the shoulder or made a point to shake my
do when you have literally dropped the ball. I wasn’t
sure if it was all moral
support. Some of it might have been congratulations for my
apparent conquest the
A dirt bike pulled a wheelie from the railroad tracks all the way to the
clock tower. Its rider
was none other than Brunno, with his black gown flowing in
the wind like Evil
Knievel. When his front tire finally hit the ground, he threw one
of his arms up as if he
had just jumped the Grand Canyon. Jack and Johnny
clapped. I couldn’t
think of anything more fitting than for Brunno to be arriving to
his high school
graduation on a dirt bike.
“He’s never gonna be right is he?” I asked.
“His dad got him the bike as a graduation present. I guess he couldn’t
wait to test it out,”
Johnny the Killer said.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw Roman walking by the tracks down the
street. His head was
tilted up toward the sun just like that first day I watched him
walk home from school.
He walked with his cap folded neatly under his arm and
as he got closer I could
see his smile widen from ear to ear. I wondered what his
would be about. I imagined it would be very different than
the story I got in that
long ago email—about the suicidal nerd and his friend the
jock. After all it was
never about me saving him, quite the opposite in fact.
Heather walked to meet him on the sidewalk. Roman picked up the pace
at the sight of her. His
whole face was a smile and then all at once, he stopped and
just stood there. His
smile faded away, replaced by a look of utter disappointment
and loss. That image
still burns in my mind to this day. He didn’t even have to
look to know they were
there—it was one of Roman’s special abilities that I could
never fully understand.
I followed his eyes as he scanned the landscape.
black van sat on the side street that intersected Stephenson. Another
idled in the parking lot
just south of the school. The third crept up the street
behind Roman. Above a
jet-black helicopter floated over, its shadow gliding over
the asphalt. Roman gave
a brief frown to Heather, dropped his graduation cap, and
in a second he was
across the street sprinting for the gravel parking lot just across
Even geniuses make mistakes and now Roman found himself in a fenced
in parking lot, both
exits of which were blocked with NN vans. The third van idled
on Stephenson waiting to
see what its prey’s next move would be. Agent Johnson
sat in the passenger
seat of his van, looking down the row of cars at the boy who
had become his nemesis.
Roman backed up to the fence, scanning the parking lot
frantically for a way
out. His eyes landed on Brunno’s new dirt bike as two of the
vans began to converge
on him. Roman jumped on the bike, failed twice at kickstarting
it, then pushed the
pedal down one more time, slamming it hard and
throwing all his weight
into it. The roaring of the engine pulsed through the air
and Roman wasted no time
in giving it its full test run. Instead of trying to avoid
the van in front of him,
he drove straight towards it. A few feet away, he stopped.
agents in the van looked at each other, puzzled. A second later Roman hit the
throttle and spun
around, throwing the gravel of the parking lot into the van’s
windshield. He made an
aisle where there wasn’t one, slipping through the small
crevices between car
doors. I saw a mirror fly off at one point.
NN vans recalibrated their attack. Even though they were bulky and
slow in that small
parking lot, it was only a matter of time before they cornered
Roman, dirt bike or not.
Roman kept up his cat and mouse game, zigzagging in
and out of cars and
trucks, continually making his pursuers adjust to his route. I
imagine Roman thought of
it as chess—if you make your opponent move enough,
sooner or later he is
going to make a mistake.
NN turned out to be a worthy adversary. They cornered Roman on
the south side of the
lot. To his right was a wall of cars up against the fence. To
his left was another row
of cars, but at the end of them sat Johnson’s van. Even if
Roman repeated his
previous routine and passed through the line of cars, Johnson
blocked his exit. In
front and behind Roman were the other two vans, each rolling
toward him, cutting down
the free space between them. Roman let them get closer.
At a distance of ten feet both vans stopped, one in front and one behind
him. Their doors opened
ready for the agents to pour out. Roman pulled back on
the throttle, lifting
his front tire off the ground and landing it on the hood of the car
to his left. An instant
later Roman’s motorcycle was jumping from car hood to car
hood, bypassing the van
in front of him. The agents scurried back to their seats
and the doors slammed
shut. The driver of the van threw it into reverse, hitting the
gas and peeling out
backwards in an effort to beat him to the exit. It was too late.
Roman was at high RPMs,
darting up Stephenson Street. The vans and helicopter
“We’ve got to help him,” I said.
“We’ll never catch up to them,” Johnny the Killer countered.
don’t have to. I know where he’s taking them,” I said.
were fifteen-passenger vans. I couldn’t count how many agents
there were because of
the tinted windows, but they looked to be full,” Heather said.
“Forty-five of them,” I mumbled to myself. “He doesn’t stand a chance.”
are we waiting for?” Sam Peterman asked.
looked around at the guys. Roman had affected each of them for the
good in some way; still
I didn’t expect them to risk their lives. But I knew what I
had to do. I started to
jog for the Pinto.
going too,” Heather said.
“Count me in,” Sam Peterman said.
“We’re going to miss graduation to fight a pointless fight?” Pick Bryant
asked. “Even if we all
go they’ve got us outnumbered. They’re the government
for God’s sake. What are
we gonna do, fart on ‘em?”
mom will kill me if I miss graduation,” Scotty added.
your mom Scotty,” Johnny the Killer said flatly. “Do you think the
janitor would have a
second thought if it was one of our asses in the sling? Hell no
he wouldn’t. He saved
Apollo. I owe him.”
threw me a bucket of balls after every practice,” Peterman said.
gave back all the blackjack money at my dad’s bar,” Pick added.
helped me with my b-b-business math,” Brunno said.
all owe him,” I affirmed.
don’t owe him shit,” Jack Rollings whined. “The only thing he ever did
for me was dislocate my
leg. I’m not missing graduation for that piece of shit.”
“He also relocated your leg,” I said.
“You’re going,” Johnny said, pointing at Jack.
“Bullshit,” Jack responded.
It was the only time I ever heard Jack disobey a direct order from Johnny.
insurrection did not last long. The Killer had enough with the talk apparently.
He grabbed Jack,
dragging him by the collar as we ran to our vehicles. We piled
into the cars to go help
Kawasaki KX500 glided over the black asphalt of Collingston,
running red lights,
cutting in between cars, and reaching speeds of 100 miles per
hour. In minutes the
buildings of the business district and the homes of
neighborhoods were left
behind, replaced by farmland and forest. Roman could
see the shadow of the NN
helicopter following on the road alongside him.
NN vans followed at a close distance and though they had a more
dubious time with city
traffic, they never lost sight of their fleeing prey. Agent
Johnson loaded the odd
pistol that lay in his lap with something that looked like a
watch battery. His
tinted window slid down into the door. Johnson stuck the pistol
out, aimed carefully,
and shot the short silver cylinder. The tracer hit the motor
casing on the bike and
stuck like a magnet to a refrigerator.
traffic had lessened since leaving the city limits and now it was only
three vans and a dirt
bike for as far as the eye could see. Route 1 straightened for a
good five miles at one
point, a perfect time for the NN to make its move.
Johnson’s van sped up to
pass the Janitor’s dirt bike in the left lane and then cut
back in front of him.
The second van pulled into the oncoming traffic’s lane and
mimicked the speed of
the dirt bike. The last van came up behind Roman, just a
few feet from his back
tire. The NN made a moving barricade, and now the mobile
walls started to slow
down, forcing Roman to decrease his speed.
“Should we take out one of his tires?” A voice said through Agent
“Negative,” Agent Stenworth answered. “The target is to remain intact if at
all possible. Decelerate
until we have him stopped.”
had other ideas.
cut the bike to the right—the only direction he could go—and veered
off into the cornfield
next to them. The vans stopped in the road, watching as
Roman and his motorcycle
disappeared into the forest on the other side of the field.
The chopper flew over
the tree line but came back when it could not see him
through the brush.
Johnson looked at the GPS monitor in his hand. Roman inched along the
screen as a small
blinking dot. “I put a tracer on his bike. He can run but he can’t
will be ours soon enough,” Stenworth said.
group parked a little less than a mile away from Buttworst’s house,
disrobed from our
graduation gowns, and hiked it through the woods. We stopped
at the tree line fifty
yards or so from the teacher’s long driveway and watched as
the NN unloaded from
their vans. I spread the leaves of the greenery in front of
my face to count thirty
men, all dressed in suits and ties, shoes shined to
perfection. Most of them
removed their coats after exiting, revealing the belts
around their backs and
shoulders that held their holstered guns. Besides their usual
side arms I could see a
smaller weird-looking pistol. It looked like those lighters
with the long barrels
that could spark a flame at the squeeze of a trigger. It must
have been the dart gun
that Roman had become familiar with in that Iowa
of the agents spread out, swarming over Mr. Buttworst’s house and
garage. The other half
formed a circle and stood like soldiers at attention, scanning
the environment for the
man they sought. There was never a spoken word, but still
they moved like lions
hunting—communication was replaced by years of skillful
repetition. They were a
football team that had practiced a certain play so many
times it just became
instinct. Johnson and a smaller man stood in the center of the
worker bees, watching
patiently as the area was secured enough to begin their
search. The smaller man
seemed to be Johnson’s superior. He looked more like a
college professor than a
skilled agent of the government. He had thin rimmed
glasses in the shape of
perfect circles, a large bald spot that covered more of his
head than his hair did,
a fragile-looking stature, and height that seemed to diminish
next to the towering
of the agents returned with a black gown in hand. Another followed
with Roman’s suit coat,
pants, and dress shoes. “Agent Stenworth, we found these
in the loft above the
garage,” one of the agents said.
“There’s no one inside the house or on the immediate grounds,” another
“I smell a
trap. Someone doesn’t change out of clothes unless they have
clothes to change into.
He’s thought this out,” Agent Johnson said, sounding
friend,” Agent Stenworth advised. “I don’t care how good he is,
we have him out manned
and out gunned. It is only a matter of time.”
Stenworth looked down at his GPS scanner. “Very strange. According to
this he is within three
feet of us circling at an astounding pace. I hear no
Agents looked around with their dart guns in hand. Johnson looked
around and then up. I
followed his gaze to the crow soaring overhead. Johnson
pulled his gun out and
aimed. There was a soft click of his silenced weapon and
the bird fell to the
ground. Johnson walked over to the dead bird and knelt down.
“Crows are a very curious bird. They like anything shiny,” Johnson said as
he opened the bird’s
beak and produced his silver tracer.
“Regardless, he’s out there somewhere. Find him,” Stenworth ordered as
he pointed to the woods
behind Buttworst’s house and garage.
The wall of agents
spread apart—leaving a good twenty yards between
each man—and slipped
into the forest. Johnson and Stenworth remained in the
Stenworth talked into the toothpick-size microphone in his hand.
want a report every twenty minutes.”
ya reckon R-R-Roman did with my bike?” Brunno tried to whisper.
sure it’s in a safe place, Brunno,” I said back.
“What’s the plan here?” Johnny cut in. “There are only two of them left. I
say we rush the
bastards. There’s eight of us.”
“That’s a great fucking plan until they take out their guns and shoot us,” I
point. I should have brought my gun,” the Killer said.
was useless to even argue anymore about Johnny’s gun. Something
occurred to me at that
moment—it might have been a mistake coming here.
Roman knew all along
what he would be up against, when this day finally came,
what the NN would do,
how they would try and capture him, what their procedures
would be. We might just
be in the way, maybe even be a handicap. As I looked
down the row at my
friends squatting behind the brush in their best slacks, ties, and
dress, I started to feel
guilt. Not only had I taken their graduation away from them,
but all of them except
Heather were naïve as to what we were really up against. I
suggested that we just
wait and see what Roman had in store for the NN. My
classmates complied for
the most part, except for Jack who backtracked through
the woods to take a
The forest behind Buttworst’s home sloped downhill to a small ravine with
a creek running through
it, and eventually flattened out from there. As the agents’
distance from their
starting point increased the webbing of leaves and branches
sheltering them from the light of the sun. Here and there
single rays of light
broke through the leaf barrier, turning the environment into a
patchwork quilt of light
and dark colors. Not only was it hard to see at times, but
also the forest seemed
to be twenty degrees cooler.
Marick walked slowly, twigs snapping and dead leaves rustling
under his feet; holding
his dart pistol with both hands, he constantly checked the
12, 3, 6, and 9 o’clock
positions around him. Several times he thought he saw the
young teenager he’d been
instructed to find, but it turned out to be just a shadow
on a bush or the odd
shape of a tree. Marick was a young man himself, no more
than thirty years of
age, recruited by the NN after college and then three years with
the CIA. He had no wife
or children and the NN seemed to be a perfect fit for him.
was the first time in his career that he felt out of place—wearing dress
attire and polished
shoes, walking through a forest he wasn’t familiar with, and
contact with his fellow agents a hundred yards back. He
wondered what the
“target” had done or had known to deserve the wrath of thirty
NN Agents. This was the
largest-scale mission the agency had taken on since
Marick had joined it.
After several minutes of thought and considering the
possibilities, he could
not come up with a satisfactory explanation for the mission.
This Roman Swivel must
hold the keys to a good number of problems that plagued
Agent Marick’s speculation would not be resolved anytime soon.
Something very hard hit
him in the head—a rock maybe—and now as he staggered
in a circle, trying to
check the surroundings for the source of the projectile, his
vision blurred and his
body moved in slow motion as if he were under water. The
occasional beams of
light breaking through the tree cover might have been
sunshine hitting the
ocean floor. As Marick finished his circle-scan of the area, his
one-time prey suddenly
stood inches in front of him—as predator.
still unable to focus well or aim, Marick pulled the trigger on his
dart gun anyway, and was
surprised when he felt something like a needle penetrate
his own chest. Roman had
turned the gun so that it was pointing at Marick. As the
dart’s sleep poison
crept into his veins and blackness started to close in around his
eyes, Agent Marick was
one step closer to understanding what all the fuss over
Roman Swivel was about.
did we even come if we’re not going to do anything? This is
bullshit,” Johnny the
voice,” I whispered back. “We came in case he needs our
help. And until he needs
it we’re going to sit here and be quiet.”
Johnny shook his head.
Jack back yet?” I asked.
The Killer looked around down the line of our squatting friends and then
toward the vegetation
behind us. “Don’t think so. I’ll go get him. He’s probably
talking on his cell
phone or something stupid.”
“Hurry up, and be careful,” I said.
don’t know if this is good or bad,” Heather whispered. “If it’s good that
their search is taking
so long, I mean.”
Before I could answer her there was a clicking sound behind us, and I
heard Johnny say two
agents stood behind us with their dart guns pointed. Jack was already
in cuffs crying like a
baby. His bathroom break had turned out to be very costly.
“Everybody up,” one of the agents ordered.
It took only a matter of minutes to herd us out into the open gravel drive,
cuff us, and force us
down in a neat little row on our knees. Johnny and Brunno
both tried to resist,
only to be beaten down in seconds. The Killer and the wrestler
with all of their brawn
and bull-headedness were no match for the NN Agents,
whose quick hands and
joint locks brought them to submission.
Agent Stenworth now called off the search, and the Agents began to return
one by one. Johnson
walked by each of us prisoners, looking us over to make sure
we were faces he
recognized from his previous spying escapade to Collingston.
Jack continued to sob
and I could tell it was wearing on Stenworth’s nerves.
could sympathize with Jack I guess. Here we were on graduation day,
hands cuffed behind our
backs and knees in the dirt like we were about to be
executed. There was a
time when I would have been shitting myself like Jack, but
nine months with the
janitor had changed my mindset in such situations. I counted
only twenty-seven agents
now—three less than before. Sure they might be out
taking a piss or just
taking their time returning, but by the look of urgency on
Stenworth’s face I’d bet that Roman had something to do with it. For some reason
I knew everything was
going to be all right. I knew Roman would save the day
once again. That was,
until Agent Stenworth spoke.
looked at Johnson. “Marick, Washington, and Jackson are not back
and are not responding
to their radios.” Stenworth looked at the eight of us as he
thought to himself.
Jack’s cry only got higher and now there was a mucousy cough with it.
brief instant Stenworth and me had something in common. “Would
somebody shut him up
agent next to Jack shot his dart into Jack’s arm. Jack’s crying slowed
stopped—like a song in a tape player in which the batteries were
dying. Jack fell face
first into the dirt in front of him.
“That’s fucking…” Johnny didn’t get out the last word. Another agent hit
The Killer in the side
of the neck with a drugged mini-arrow. He too was now
“Careful with those things,” Johnson said to his comrades. “We don’t
have an unlimited
“Don’t worry my friend, it will only take one to stop young Swivel,”
Stenworth reassured him.
“Which of his friends will get him out here the
Johnson looked at me and then Heather. “The girl.”
Stenworth hoisted Heather off the ground by her cuffs. “I know you can
hear me, Swivel. I’m
going to make life very uncomfortable for your girlfriend if
you don’t show yourself.
I don’t wish any harm to anyone, not even you, so do the
Stenworth waited a couple of seconds and when there was no response he
pulled on Heather’s hair
until she screamed. Heather tried to wriggle herself free
and then tried to back
into his grip, maybe to throw him over her back like Roman
had taught her. But
Stenworth stopped her counter-move by jamming a knee into
her back. Heather was
sent sprawling, her face hitting the dirt.
winded voice yelled.
appeared from behind Mr. Buttworst’s house, his chest pumping
hard for oxygen as he
ran—wherever he’d been in the woods, he‘d had to move
fast to get here. The
glimpses of the warrior that lived somewhere in Roman’s soul
were now fully
apparent—he wore camouflage and his face was a brown, green,
and black mosaic of
paint. The friendly janitor I had grown to love was firmly
entrenched in the art of
continued to run toward us, then regained his senses. He stopped
thirty yards away. I
could see the struggle going on his eyes—he wanted badly to
help Heather to her
feet. My worst fears were now realized. We’d followed
Roman to help him, but
in fact we had done the exact opposite. We were no more
than helpless worms
dangling on the end of a hook.
don’t suppose you’re surrendering?” Stenworth asked Roman.
“Never,” Roman responded.
it your way. Put him to sleep boys,” Stenworth ordered.
dart pistols rose and fired. Twenty-seven sharp tips hit Roman in the
chest and torso, like he
was a bull’s-eye at the firing range. A second or two
passed but Roman
remained on his feet. Instead of falling to his knees, he pulled
the darts one by one out
of his chest and stomach and threw them to the ground.
Johnson and Stenworth
looked at each other.
pounded on his chest with his knuckles. It sounded like he was
knocking on a plastic
sort of body armor,” Stenworth murmured. “I guess we’ll have to
do this the
Twenty-five of the agents—all but Stenworth and Johnson—surrounded
Roman in a matter of
seconds. They formed a circle around him. Roman put his
hands in the pockets of
his camouflaged shirt, and pulled out two dart pistols—
spoils from the three
missing Agents in the woods. With a pistol in each hand,
Roman’s fingers squeezed
the triggers on both guns, sending the poisoned darts
plucking through the air
with the sound of a blowgun in the jungle. Nine darts and
a total of three guns
later he was out of ammunition, but the weapons had served
him well. All of the
poison projectiles had found skin to penetrate, and those
agents had stumbled
around, eventually falling to the ground. Eighteen agents
were left standing.
dropped the last empty dart gun as the circle of his remaining
pursuers closed in. The
first Agent punched Roman in the chest, only to retract his
hand, shaking it from
the collision with the makeshift body army under Roman’s
fatigues. The agents
adapted, aiming their fists and feet at Roman’s head and legs.
was the same dance as before all over again—Roman ducking, blocking, and
getting his own
offensive blows in during the few split-second windows of
opportunity. As many
times as I’d seen it, it was still amazing—how two arms and
two legs could block and
duck the attack of so many. Roman could sense their
with the ones in front of him with his eyes and dealing
with ones in back of him
without ever turning to look.
Stenworth looked at
told you he was good,” Johnson said.
he is.” Stenworth reached into his suit coat and produced a taser.
He walked toward the fight in front of him.
Agents grabbed Roman’s arms and held him as Stenworth charged in
with his high-voltage
device. Roman struggled to free himself but failed. Blue
between the silver poles in the taser. Just before Stenworth
placed it against his
neck, Roman jumped onto the unconscious body of one of the
agents. The two agents
continued to restrain him by the arms.
Stenworth held the zapper against Roman’s neck, but he did not convulse.
Instead the two agents
holding him jerked and spasmed. Roman had grounded
himself somehow by
placing his feet on the unconscious agent so that the current
passed through him and
his arms, into the two agents restraining him.
Before Stenworth realized he shocking his own men, Roman lifted one leg
in the air and launched
a succession of quick kicks . The first kick connected with
Stenworth’s stomach, the
second with his taser, and the third with his nose. The
taser flew through the
air and landed in the grass. The current stopped and the
agents on Romans arms
fell to the ground like robots unplugged from their power
Stenworth picked his broken glasses from his face and felt his nose, which
was broken and badly
disfigured to the right side of his face. He squeezed it
between his index finger
and thumb, popping the cartilage as closely as possible
back to a straight
remaining agents descended on Roman again, only to be met with a
flurry of his feet and
fists. Agent Johnson ran to one of the vans, opened its sliding
door, and produced a
strange-looking rifle. Attached to the side of the gun were
several balls. He
flipped up the sight on top of the rifle, looking through it, and
walking towards the
battle. He stopped about twenty feet away and waited.
window of opportunity opened—the battle separated briefly,
untangling Roman from
the agents and placing him dead center in Johnson’s scope
with his arms
momentarily down. The rifle fired and through the air spun a rope
with a ball at each of
its ends. The rope hit Roman and wrapped around his torso,
binding his arms to his
sides. Johnson fired again, this time bagging Roman’s
ankles. Legs bound
tightly together, Roman fell to the ground like a toppled
monument. The fighting
was over, the grunts and punches of battle gone. All was
turned my head to look around for my fellow classmates. In the
excitement and panic
they must have taken off—cuffs and all—into the woods.
I’m not sure how far
they would get not being able to use their arms. All that
remained were Heather
and I, and the unconscious Jack and Johnny.
Four agents walked over
to Roman, picked him up by the cabled ropes that
imprisoned him, and
headed for the vans like they were carrying a large piece of
luggage. I saw no
struggle from Roman—the cables were too strong—and he lay
horizontally in the air,
carried at arms and ankles like a mummy. Two Agents
opened the double doors
on one of the vans. I got to my feet awkwardly because
of the handcuffs and as
they carted Roman by I put a stiff shoulder into one of the
men. He brushed me off
like I was a fly and I fell backwards to the ground.
“Roman!” Heather shrieked.
was a grunt from Roman, as if to acknowledge her and at the same
time show his
frustration at being captured. Heather struggled to her feet and ran
at the agents with arms
cuffed behind her.. I don’t know what she thought she was
going to do—and she
probably didn’t either. Sometimes there is no rational
thought when you want
something so badly. Sometimes there is only hope.
Heather threw herself at one of the agents holding Roman. Her slight
body didn’t budge or
even unbalance him. She twisted her shoulders back and
forth, trying to break
the handcuffs binding her. When all her efforts had failed,
she began cursing the
agents at the top of her lungs. An agent pushed her to the
ground. Heather hit but
sprung back up, as if her adrenaline had turned the hard
ground into a
trampoline. She charged again only to be met by a strong
backhanded. She hit the
ground and lay again with her face in the dirt.
Johnson walked over and scooped her up, standing her back up in a
vertical position. He
wiped the mud from her eyes. There was a deep hacking
noise in Heather’s
throat, and she returned the Agent’s gesture of kindness by
spitting in his eye. The
snot/spit stuck to Johnson for a second and then dribbled
down his cheek. He wiped
the mucous from his face.
isn’t how you treat people,” Heather said. “Making them do things
against their will.
Roman’s a good person and you want to warp him into
something he’s not.”
“We’re good people too, Ms. Hawthorne,” Johnson said. “You’re not
seeing the big picture.”
Hell with your big picture. I hope he ends up killing every last one of
Johnson didn’t respond. He only nodded to the men still holding Roman,
and they slid him into
agents started to close the van doors but were stopped short by a loud
gun-blast that echoed
from the house that in all directions. The bullet was shot
straight into the air as
a warning or an attention-getter. Or both. The bullet came
from one of two
forty-four magnums in the hands of a man also dressed in
camouflage. But his
camouflage was everyday attire: hat, boots, and all. The man
who held his silver
six-shooter in the air was none other than Carl Stumot.
“The boy is
not to be taken. They say,” Carl said.
flaps of his gentleman’s cap covered the tops of his ears. His green
army coat hung down past
his waist and the whiskers of his beard were held
together below his chin
by a band. The silver pistols glimmered in the sunlight as
they hung down at his
side. Wherever Carl had been for the last month, he seemed
to be in top form.
don’t believe it,” I mumbled to myself.
Agent Stenworth said and then laughed.
Swivel’s neighbor,” Johnson replied, “Don’t know much about
you and who is the ‘they’ you refer to?” Stenworth asked.
Stumot I am. And they…” Carl looked into the woods behind him,
Agent Johnson thought out loud. “As in Colonel
Colonel Stumot.” Carl nodded his head.
under him in Korea,” Johnson whispered to Stenworth.
you’ve found yourself in the wrong war, old man,” Stenworth
A few of
the agents laughed under their breath at Stenworth’s comment.
Their humor was cut
short by a bullet piercing the forehead of the agent standing
Stenworth. The shot killed him immediately and he fell to the
ground with the smile
still stuck to his face. The remaining agents unsheathed
their guns in unison.
the right war Carl is in,” Carl said shaking his head.
your fire,” Stenworth ordered his troops. “Our fight is not with
you, Colonel. This
doesn’t involve you.”
“Nor has it
ever been with Carl, just all around him. I am here for the
boy. They say he is to
shook his head in frustration. “Who in God’s name are they?
Who is giving you
pointed with the barrel of one of his guns toward the woods. “They.”
myself looked into the woods and its outlying areas. I
squinted to see
something—an alien maybe—but only shadows filled the gaps
between the trees of the
don’t have time for this nonsense,” Stenworth said as he fired his gun.
rest of the agents followed their commander, emptying round after
round at the crazy
colonel. Carl raised both of his pistols and returned the gesture,
making no effort to find
cover. Heather ran behind the van, and I followed. The
agent, whom Carl had
just disposed of, lay next to us at the rear wheel of the van.
Huddled over, hands
still cuffed behind her back, Heather went to the body and sat
sideways on the man’s
hell are you doing?” I demanded.
they’ve all got cuffs, they’ve all got keys. Help me out here.”
waddled over to the corpse and we sat, backs to each other, while I
helped her pat down the
body. Rummaging over a dead body is one thing, but
doing it with your hands
behind your back is hardly appealing. There was a
circular object attached
to his belt—something like a small tape measure—and a
pair of keys hung from
it. My hands groped their way blindly up his leg towards
the belt, grabbing his
dead private area before I reached the keys.
“Gross,” I whined.
“Let’s just say I’m probably the only man alive besides a mortician that
has felt up a dead guy.”
you have it or not?”
it.” I pulled on the keys, which were connected by some sort of
retractable string to
the object on the man’s belt. After several attempts at
cuffs I finally got it in the hole so to speak. Heather discarded
her cuffs and unlocked
me a lot quicker than I had her. The gunfire had stopped.
peeked around the edge of the van, almost certain I’d see Carl lying in a
pool of his own blood.
But I was mistaken. Carl was still standing in the exact
same spot. Mr.
Buttworst’s windows were shot out and I could see the outline of
Carl’s form on the house
in bullet holes. As the warm May breeze kicked up, both
sides of his green
jacket flowed in the wind, exposing fifty or so bullet holes. The
sunlight showed through
those little empty spheres, and for a second Carl in his
coat looked like an
angel with wings. Not one bullet appeared to have hit him.
stood there reloading his six-shooters one bullet at time. He was some
version of a cowboy,
living through high noon without a second thought of
looked at the ground to find it littered with more NN bodies. There were
now only eleven agents
still on their feet. Heather pulled on my sleeve. I followed
her as quietly as I
could behind the agents and we snuck into the van that housed
our friend. I watched
out the back of the van as we began unwrapping Roman’s
arms and ankles. The
process was slow—the cables were wound tightly around
him—and we had to
literally unroll his body one turn at a time to get them off.
“Impossible,” Stenworth said. “There’s no way we could all miss that
many times.” Stenworth
pressed the button on the handle of his gun and a small
red laser dot appeared
on Carl’s forehead right between his eyes. Stenworth held it
there for a second to
make sure he was on target and then pulled the trigger. Carl’s
hat flew off, shredded
into a million pieces by the bullet. And as Carl continued to
load his pistols,
feathers fell to the ground around him, like snow in winter.
your goddamn gun is bent,” Carl said.
Stenworth put his gun
back in its holster under his armpit. “Apprehend
him before he gets his
guns loaded,” he ordered.
happening?” Roman asked.
know,” I replied. “Carl just took out half of the agents; they shot
back at him but never
hit him once. It’s like magic. Now they’re all charging
“I have to
help him,” Roman said.
couple more turns,” Heather said.
Agents—including Johnson and Stenworth—were on Carl in
punches and kicks not to restrain him as they had with Roman,
but to kill him. Carl
blocked and maneuvered with a grace I had seen only in
Roman, landing a few
good licks of his own here and there. Stenworth pulled his
gun at point blank range
and squeezed the trigger. There was nothing. No bang.
click. No silenced pluck. Nothing. It was like the gun refused to fire.
Stenworth reached down
to his ankle, lifted his pant leg, and pulled a dagger from
was free of the cables now, and he jumped from the back of the
van like he’d been shot
out of a canon. He ran with a speed I’d never seen, even
out of him. He was at
the battle instantly.
if you can dodge this,” Stenworth said, throwing the dagger at
screamed as he flew through the air and tackled Agent
It was too
late. Carl’s luck—or magic—had run out. The knife toppled
end over end through the
air, sunlight glinting off it as it went. The blade went
dark as it slid into the
front of Carl’s throat. Carl made a gagging sound. He put
his hands up to his neck
and fell backwards to the ground. Roman ran over to him,
touching his chest and
then the knife, settling finally on just holding Carl’s hand.
Roman didn’t have the answer. He couldn’t save his friend. There was a
gurgling sound in Carl’s
throat as if he was trying to tell his young friend one last
piece of wisdom. Carl’s
smiled, winked, and then died there on the ground in front
of Buttworst’s house.
lunged for Roman, only to have his scrotum smashed by
Roman’s heel. The Agent
fell to the ground convulsing from the pain. Another
came only to have his
fingers snapped backwards to his wrist. Another’s knee was
buckled. An ear ripped
off. An eye pushed into its skull. At the end of Roman’s
fury stood Stenworth.
charged him, only to be stopped by a knee to the ribs from Agent
Johnson. Roman fell to
the ground holding his chest, the wind knocked completely
out of him. He charged
Stenworth again only to be slammed to the ground by
Agent Johnson once more.
kid. You’re only prolonging the inevitable,” Stenworth said.
people are going to have to die before you come to your senses?”
know,” Roman responded. “How many do you have?”
this one?” Stenworth said.
later I was on my back holding my side. The son of a bitch shot
me. I remember lying
there looking up at the sun, not really in pain, more pissed
off than anything. I
just couldn’t believe he shot me. What a fucking coward.
kicked the gun out of Stenworth’s hand and just stood there, the
circuits in his brain
working their formulas and strategies. The rest of the agents
that Roman had bulldozed
through were slowly getting to their feet and my friend
started to take a few
slow steps back toward the woods. “If you want me, you’re
going to have come and
get me,” he said. And with that Roman disappeared into
the tree line. The
eleven agents who were still able to followed him in.
Heather ripped off my shirt and rolled me onto my side. She pressed
around the wound
examining me like a doctor would. I think her prodding was
more painful than the
actual bullet hitting me. “It’s just a flesh wound,” she said.
the hell does that mean?”
the bullet just grazed you, ripped the skin some but didn’t
tore a strip from the bottom of her dress all the way around then
helped me to my feet.
She tore one of my sleeves off, wadded it into a ball, and
placed it against the
wound. She wrapped the torn-dress bandage around my
stomach so my compress
was secured, and then tied it.
help Roman end this once and for all.”
said than done blondie.”
jogged over to one of the dead agents and pried the gun out of his
hand. Her sundress was
unraveling at the bottom, smudged with dirt and mud, and
her hair looked as if
she had just woken up. She could have been straight out of
the trailer park, but I
knew better. No matter what the circumstances or how she
looked her beauty always
showed through. Was it beauty or courage? Maybe
sometimes they were one
and the same. In that instant I knew why Roman went to
circumstances to be with her, why he risked so much.
Heather ordered, snapping me out of my trance.
know about bringing the gun,” I said, jogging behind her into the
know either. But we’re bringing it.”
along a trail covered with dead leaves. It was a route that Mr.
Buttworst used on his
hunting expeditions and it was no wider than a foot. I’m
sure in the fall and
winter it was more visible but now plants and vegetation grew
up on both sides, making
it as narrow as a bicycle tire.
at a good clip in front of me. I wanted to think she was so far
ahead because of the
painful wound in my side, but let’s face it, Heather could run
laps around me on my
best day. You don’t keep up with people that run at 6 AM
every day unless you do
it yourself. She seemed to sense my lagging and slowed
down the pace against
her better wishes. The trail split into a Y ahead of us.
way?” she asked, not missing a breath.
I know where he’s taking them.”
marathon continued and as we got deeper into the forest, although we
couldn’t see them, we
could hear them, the dry leaves and twigs snapping under
their shoes, and the
whispers of voices into earpieces. The trail started to descend,
and I knew we were close
now. I told Heather to stop and led her off the path into
the brush. We walked to
a drop off and spread the leaves in front of us. Roman
stood at the bottom of
the hill. His path to freedom had turned into a dead end.
was a huge rock out-cropping at least a hundred feet high and just as
wide, something the
glaciers of a million years ago had placed there to stop him.
In front of him stood a
wall of NN Agents, some holding their sides, some even
doubled over from
shortness of breath. Roman seemed to be unaffected by his
sprint through the
woods. He was calm and his stance was nonchalant, like he’d
just finished strolling
through the woods to watch birds.
took two steps before I grabbed her shoulder. “He doesn’t need
us. Not yet anyway. Just
trust me.” I took the gun out of her hand in case she got
trigger-happy and placed
it between my belt and my back. I glanced down at my
side to see the crimson
spot on my shirt growing bigger than before.
One by one
the NN Agents produced their handcuffs, waiting in
anticipation for the
order from their commander. Stenworth fidgeted with his
glasses, the lenses of
which were long gone. He seemed to be preoccupied with
bending at least the
frames back to how they had been before meeting Roman’s
foot. The entire
situation was just another day of business in the work of the NN.
Johnson was not so
passive. He looked at Roman and then around at the
landscape, trying to
read his nemesis’s plans.
spoke. “This is where it all ends, Mr. Swivel. I am curious
however as to what is
going through that mind of yours right now. What does a
genius think at a time
like this, in a situation there is no way out of, in a problem
that can’t be solved?
Does he go into denial because deep down he thinks there is
no such thing as an
answered immediately. “No, he thinks that at the beginning of the
day thirty agents tried
to obtain him but only eleven are left. He thinks that no
matter who those agents
are or who they work for, in the end they’re just overrated
grunts doing somebody
else’s dirty work, taking orders from a man who has made
the cardinal sin of
warfare: never ever underestimate your opponent. He thinks
that if those agents
come at him one more time every last one of them will be
Johnson scanned the tree line again, turning in a complete circle
this time, searching for
something, anything that might indicate an ambush. He
looked up at the rock
wall behind Roman, but saw nothing his nemesis could use to
smiled. “You overestimate your abilities.”
raised his fists and spread his feet to a fighting stance. “There’s
only one way to find
out. Bring your out-of-date agents and see what the future
“So be it.”
exactly a direct order but the NN charged anyway, mostly out
of anger I suppose, at
Roman belittling them and their commander. Their angry
steps lasted only a few
seconds. The dead leaves beneath their feet gave way,
sending them to their
doom. Large wooden spikes—tree trunks and large limbs—
sharpened into spears
awaited them at the bottom of the short pit. Stenworth
teetered on the edge of
the pit only to be pulled back to safety by Agent Johnson.
The rest of
the agents fell, and fell hard. It sounded much like a butcher shop—
first the dull slice of
the blade into the animal’s carcass and then the splattering and
splashing of its guts on
the floor. It impaled the majority immediately, poking
somewhere through the
lower end of them and then exiting out the neck, sternum,
or mouth-nose area. The
spikes had such a large diameter that upon penetration
the blood poured out
like pressurized water from a fire hose. One unfortunate
agent did not die
instantly. Instead his fall landed him horizontally, his torso
somehow missing the
spikes. His four limbs however were harpooned in a
mangled mess. Agent
Stenworth silenced the agent’s agony with his gun.
commented to Roman just weeks ago that it felt like we were
digging a grave. For
once I was right. Of course I wasn’t there for the sharpening
of the trees or the
covering of the hole with the leaves and vines. I found myself
following Heather down
the hill toward Roman, at first running and then sliding.
The shrubs and branches
tore into my side something fierce on the way down. I
remember thinking how
lucky I was to have that little slit rather than a big one like
the agents in the bottom
of Roman’s pit.
walked heel to toe along the narrow walkway of ground between
the pit and the rock
wall behind him. He walked around the edge of the pit and
was now face to face
with Johnson and Stenworth.
killed some of the best soldiers in this country, men I have
served with, some for
more than a decade,” Stenworth said.
no one. I even warned them that coming after me one more time
would be suicide. You
killed them by not taking my advice.”
Stenworth said, “you never said anything about him being such
a smug little prick.”
didn’t respond. He took off his suit coat, folded it neatly, and
placed it on the ground.
charged Roman. Two rights, a left, two kicks, a roundhouse.
slight demeanor, Stenworth packed a quick and powerful punch, and
even though he was
relatively the same size as Roman he seemed to be stronger.
blocked every one of his attacks.
walked around Roman and now there was a man to deal with both
in front of and behind
him. Stenworth took a step forward only to be kicked in the
stomach. Without putting
his foot back on the ground, Roman kicked behind him
at Johnson’s knee. The
bigger agent blocked the kick.
I made our way down and stopped fifty feet from the
standoff. She grabbed
for the gun in my belt but I slapped her hand away. The
bright sunlit spots that
had poked through the top of the forest earlier were gone
and now the tops of the
trees swayed back and forth, exposing dark almost purple
storm clouds overhead.
There was a loud sound like rushing water and the wind
tore through the leaves
of the forest. The cool breath of Mother Earth seemed to
drop the temperature
twenty degrees instantly. I could hear the beginning drops of
the storm tap on the
canopy of leaves overhead. I thought about how beautiful the
beginning of that day
had been, a day so full of hope and possibilities. The
approaching storm put a
final exclamation point on a downward spiral. Thunder
cracked in the distance.
defended himself from the hands and feet of the last two agents,
slipping one of his
lightning-fast jabs in from time to time. But the experience of
his opponents began to
show. They were just toying with him—Johnson would
attack with a quick
assault only to back away and let Stenworth finish it, one agent
regaining his strength
while the other dealt with Roman.
already exhausted a great deal of his energy on the rest of the
NN. Now he was fighting
the best of that broken unit. Roman started to make
mistakes. Roman tried to
throw a punch only to have his nose smashed in by
Stenworth’s fist. A kick
from Johnson buckled his knee. Roman stopped himself
from hitting the ground
with his hand, but Stenworth swept it out from beneath
him. Roman was on his
back now and Johnson jumped, hoping to land on his
smaller opponent. Roman
rolled away and the giant landed on all fours.
wasn’t enough time in a fight like this to use your hands to get up.
Roman did a whipping
motion with his entire body—something like doing the
worm on a dance
floor—his feet hi the ground sending the rest of his body to a
Stenworth kicked him in the stomach sending Roman back a
couple of feet doubled
over in pain. There was a loud cracking sound to the kick—
the body armor over
Roman’s chest and stomach must have broken. He coughed
and a bloody mist
sprayed the air in front of him.
Unsatisfied, Stenworth continued with a series of fists to his face, beating
Roman down until he was
on his knees. Roman’s torso swayed back and forth
from delirium. Stenworth
unsnapped the handcuffs off his belt and opened them in
one fluid action.
could stop her, Heather pulled the gun from behind my back,
fiddled with safety, and
then began firing at Stenworth. I couldn’t see where the
bullets were flying, but
I knew where they weren’t. Heather was shooting up
everything in the forest
except her target.
Johnson pulled out his gun calmly and aimed at her. “Drop it.”
no doubt in my mind that Agent Johnson meant what he said
and would not miss if he
fired. There was equally no doubt in my mind that
Heather would never drop the weapon. I did the only thing I could think of. I
grabbed her hands and
pulled the weapon away. She ran towards Roman. I tucked
the gun behind my back
and followed her.
took advantage of the brief confusion and knocked the cuffs out of
Stenworth’s hand. They
flew a good twenty feet and landed in the pit. Stenworth
pulled out his gun and
stuck it against Roman’s forehead.
tried to grab Heather as she ran by him but only grasped a handful
of her dress. A section
of it tore around her stomach, but it failed to slow her
down. She jumped on
Stenworth’s back, locked her arms around his neck, and
squeezed with all her
Johnson had failed to stop Heather, he succeeded with me, catching
me on the neck with his
forearm. My head hit the forest floor and I swear it
bounced like a
basketball. I watched through blurry eyes as Stenworth grabbed
Heather by the hair and
slammed her to the ground. The collision literally knocked
the fight out of Heather
and now Stenworth held her by the back of her head and
stuck his pistol to her
better,” he said. “Now Mr. Swivel you are going to put the
handcuffs on yourself,
or I’m going to blow her brains out the side of her pretty
Johnson walked towards them and produced his handcuffs—the last pair I
was still on his knees, barely able to maintain his posture. The
green and brown
camouflage of his clothing now looked almost black from the
sweat and blood that
saturated it. His eyes were swollen almost completely shut
from the last of
Stenworth’s beatings, and blood flowed down his face in several
thin streams. The rain
came down despite the shelter of the trees and although it
was dark, I could see in
the lightning flashes, Roman holding out both of his limp
“Don’t do it, Roman.” Heather stole the words right out of my head.
was too late; Johnson clasped the cuffs around Roman’s wrists. It
sounded like a jail cell
slamming shut. Stenworth backhanded Roman across the
face sending him
backwards into the mud. Roman was finally down on his back,
and for the first time,
was not getting up.
grabbed Heather by the hair and dragged her toward the pit of
you doing?” Johnson demanded.
“I want him
to know what it feels like to loose people you care about. Just
like he killed our
friends,” Stenworth said as he approached the pit.
gone you mad? We have him. That was our objective. There
is nothing in our orders
about killing innocent teenagers.”
proceeded as if Johnson had not spoken, now pushing Heather
in front of him. She
tried to wiggle her way free but Stenworth was too strong. At
the edge of the pit as
he was about to push Heather in, Johnson grabbed
Stenworth’s arm. Heather
swerved away from the edge of the pit and retreated a
couple of steps.
“Do I have
to remind you that I’m in charge here?” Stenworth said.
relieving you of your duties,” Johnson said as he let him go. “You
are not thinking
clearly. We have met our objective and now its time to call the
chopper and go home.”
Stenworth could respond, Heather kneed him in the nuts. His feet
slipped in the mud
beneath him as if he were trying to balance himself on a sheet
of ice. Johnson grabbed
for him again, but this time Stenworth fell into the pit.
he landed on entered the back of his skull and stuck through where his
face used to be.
I got to my
feet. The dizziness in my eyes was replaced with annoying
raindrops. Roman was
still on his back in the mud. Johnson and Heather stared
down at the pit, neither
of them able to believe what had just happened. This
might be my only
opportunity to save Roman. I pulled the gun from behind my
back and looked at it.
been shooting before—hunting with my uncles and cousins and target
practice at old coffee
cans at the abandoned mine—but a marksman I was not.
And this wasn’t the
movies where every bullet fired seemed to find someone to
hit. I searched my
memories to recall the last time I had even held a gun besides
today. Johnson was only
thirty yards away but the pressure was definitely on me.
Heather had fired god knows how many shots earlier and there was no time to see
how many bullets I had
left. I told myself to just keep pulling the trigger until it
didn’t fire any more.
closed one eye and raised the gun. Johnson was right in the line of sight
but Heather was just
beside him. If I screamed for her to move Johnson would be
onto me and probably cut
me down where I stood. I waited. The two of them
didn’t move, like they
were at a casket paying their last respects—Johnson out of
shock for the loss of
his friend and Heather because she had just killed someone.
Finally she snapped out
of it, noticing Roman on the ground, unmoving.
She ran over to him and
lifted his head from the mud, wiping the dirt and grime
from his face. Roman
coughed up blood.
was now or never. Johnson’s chest was in line with my barrel. I pulled
the trigger as fast as I
could. Three bullets fired from the chamber and then only
clicks. The first two
did nothing but alert the giant agent. Johnson tried to jump
out of the way but the
third bullet stung him and he fell to the ground holding his
right thigh. Johnson
managed to pull his gun from its holster, aimed it at me, and
then dropped it with a
grimace of pain on his face.
Heather had Roman on his feet by the time I got to them. We grabbed him
armpits—Heather on the right and me on the left. It would’ve been
easier if Roman’s hands
hadn’t been cuffed, but we ran anyway, pulling our friend
between us, his feet
scraping the ground. The only thought in my head was to get
as far away from Johnson
as possible. At two hundred yards in the clear we
stopped out of
exhaustion. Dragging Roman’s dead weight—even though he was
relatively light—gave us
the workout of a lifetime. The blood that covered me
now from my armpit to my
waist wasn’t helping matters either.
trail we ran down now was wider than the previous bicycle path had
been. It was wide, flat,
and no foliage hung over it. The trail was all that remained
of an old railroad line
that Union Pacific had once run. The iron rail was long
gone, only the rotting
wooden ties littered the side of the trail.
regained enough strength to stand on his own and seemed to be
getting his second wind.
I was doubled over from cramps in my legs and stomach.
Heather was looking down
the long trail at Agent Johnson. He was ripping long
strips out of his shirt,
tying them around his thigh just below the crotch area.
Agent Johnson was on his
feet and hobbling at a good pace straight toward us.
“Which way should we go? Should we get off this trail and take our
chances through the
woods?” I asked.
looked through the swollen lids of his eyes, first at the giant agent
he had seen so many
times running after him, then in the other direction. “If a train
used to travel this
route, the trail has to come out somewhere. Do you still have the
keys to the cuffs?”
in my pocket and then remembered. “The keys were on a chain
on a dead agent’s belt.
I didn’t even think to take them off.”
trying to break them off somehow?” Heather suggested.
“There’s no time,” Roman responded.
Johnson was less than a hundred yards away.
We took off
down the trail again. Roman lagged a couple of yards behind
us, but at least he
could run on his own. It’s not easy to run without your arms and
Roman lost his balance
several times, tripping over a fallen branch or stepping into
a small hole. We picked
him up each time and dragged him until he got his feet
back beneath him.
Eventually there was a hole in the forest wall, the exit that Roman was
sure would be there. It
wasn’t like coming out of a cave, when the light ahead
became brighter and more
apparent. The storm had darkened things so much I
think outside the forest
was blacker than inside.
were greeted at the exit with a rush of wind that almost blew us right
back into the woods. The
rain came at us sideways, a horizontal bombardment of
cold water that stung
when it hit the face. In front of us was a broken-down
suspension bridge a
hundred yards long. The iron skeleton of the structure was
still there—a rusted
blue color—but the tracks and railroad ties were missing.
Straight down the middle
of the bridge there was literally nothing, but to both sides
there were three feet of
walkway that was probably meant for people. The bridge
stood at least a hundred
and fifty feet above the Hobè River. The thunder was close
now, and I swore a bolt
of lightning hit not three feet in front of us. It was almost
like God was telling us
to turn around.
we couldn’t turn around. Agent Johnson would be on us in a matter of
as far away from the middle as you can, and make sure to hold on
to the beams,” Roman
Heather went first, me second, and then Roman. There was plenty of
room on the walkway; the
only problem was that the wood was a couple hundred
years old and it had
probably been that long since it was maintained. I could feel
the planks stretch under
my feet. They were soft from rotting and could break at
any moment. I held onto
the iron beams and refused to look down at the violent
water below. After about
a thousand baby steps Heather and I were near the end.
dawned on me then that Roman had not said a word from behind me. I turned
stood about halfway between us and the other side, throwing off
the broken body armor as
well as he could with his cuffed hands, shifting his
weight on the floor of
the bridge as if he were testing to see which planks were
most likely to break.
“What’s he doing?” Heather asked, starting back for him.
grabbed her arm, not sure why. Roman had become part of me over the
last nine months, a
brother. After all it’s not the blood that runs through our veins
that makes us family,
but the life we share.
had his back to us. “Stay back,” he shouted. “I’ve got an idea.”
“Please Roman, just come this way, come with us,” Heather pleaded.
“Don’t let her come this way, Tony,” Roman yelled over the rage of the
go!” she said, twisting as I grabbed for her other arm.
to finish this, Heather.”
tougher-than-nails woman began to cry. She was human after all. I
put my arms around her
and hugged her. But I think the gesture was more for me
than for her.
Johnson appeared out of the woods, almost dragging his injured
leg. He would take a
step with his good leg and then swing his other leg forward
by using his hips. He
surveyed the decaying bridge, mulling it over with
suspicious eyes and
trying to read the battered face in front of him. Johnson
stepped onto the
walkway. He probably thought the same thing Roman did. It was
something that had to be
Johnson stopped about ten feet away from Roman and glanced down. The
rain pounded both of
them and the ironwork of the bridge creaked under the
persistent high wind.
Johnson leaned toward the railing, trying to take the weight
off his wounded leg. He
produced his cell phone, pushed only one digit, and held
it up toward the sky
like an antenna.
outdone yourself, Roman. Don’t you understand how valuable
beaten, Roman. In minutes reinforcements will be here. There
are no trains coming by
for you to jump on this time. It’s just you and me on a
bridge. You’re coming
medical attention.” Roman responded.
pulled the Kimber from the holster under his arm. In the same
motion he shot Roman in
the leg, just above the knee. “I guess that makes us
even,” Johnson said.
buckled down to one knee. There were no screams from the
former janitor, not even
a look of surprise.
hear something in the distance, a low humming noise. I looked
down the length of the
river to see the NN helicopter almost skimming the water.
It was the
same one that watched over us at school and it was on us now in
seconds. At the bridge
it ascended, trying to hover above Roman and Johnson,
tossing back and forth
in the high winds.
aircraft was black, colorless, and blended into the backdrop of the
storm-filled sky. Its
contours looked more like the construction of the stealth
bomber than any
helicopter I’d ever seen. A door opened from the bottom, and
from it a cable lowered.
The cable stopped when it hit the bridge next to Johnson’s
feet. The rush of the
wind coupled with the blades of the copter made for difficult
my friend.” Johnson shouted.
struggled to his feet. Somehow he was able to stand on his bullettorn
leg. His hair blew to
the left as if someone had a hair dryer next to his head.
back. “I’ll never fight for the NN.”
grabbed the cable next to him, as if to steady himself from the
wind and his weak leg.
“My mission is to bring you in. There are others that will
deal with your
reluctance. You underestimate our scientists, young Roman.”
stared at the agent standing just feet from him. He looked at the
above, at the floor of the bridge, and then turned around to us.
wind almost knocked him over but he balanced himself just before collapse.
looked through the swollen slits that used to be his eyes. And although
I couldn’t see the brown
in them from that far away, I could read everything I
needed to know by the
expression on his face. It was a look of gratitude. A look
of love and friendship.
But most of all it was good-bye. The bullet graze on my
side was no match for
the sickness I now felt in the pit of my stomach.
knew as well. “Please, Roman,” she whispered. And then
screamed through the
roaring wind. “Please, Roman. No!”
into me, and I caught her and held her close.
In spite of
his bruised eyes, he winked, a gesture that only Roman could
make at a time like
this. Something that was supposed to comfort her. But we
both knew better.
turned back toward Johnson, closed his eyes, raised his cuffed
hands above his head,
and jumped off the bridge. The wind seemed to grab him
and Roman floated off
the bridge. He made no contorted twists with his body or
any effort to brace for
the impact with the raging river far below. Roman’s posture
was limp as he fell,
something like a long overdue sleep, and as he plunged into the
rushing water, Roman
seemed to be at peace.
Johnson hobbled to the edge of the bridge, looking for any sign of this boy
and man he had chased
for so long. And when there was none, without hesitation,
the giant agent dove off
the bridge himself.
was nothing but black water and its white peaks below. The
helicopter dropped back
down to its wave-skimming position and combed the
length of the river
several times. After no success it floated back up to bridge
level, its tinted black
windows seeming to look Heather and I over for several
seconds, as if we were
somehow hiding Roman. Finally convinced, it flew off into
the distance and was
gone as quickly as it had come.
like to tell you that that day in May ended on a happy note. That the
sun came out and Heather
and I scampered down the river bank and found Roman
lying there unscathed.
That we brushed him off, took him to graduation, and he
gave his valedictorian
speech to the patiently awaiting crowd. All of that of course
would be a lie. We never
found Roman on the side of the Hobè River or anywhere
else for that matter.
There was a
memorial service two weeks later when all search efforts had
been exhausted. More
than two thousand people came to pay their respects.
Roman knew nowhere near
that many people, but somehow his legend had touched
them. Heather refused to
go to it. She said memorials were for the dead and
Roman was no such thing.
I think it was because she physically couldn’t go
Buttworst, instead of calling the authorities about the dead men
littering his lawn
decided to haul them with his tractor down to Roman’s pit, put
them with the others and
bury them all together. There was one body out of that
group that Mr. Buttworst
did not bury, however, because the body was no longer
there. The body of Carl
Stumot was nowhere to be found. Only the dagger was
present. The crazy old
man had managed without prior knowledge to not only
show up at the battle at
Buttworst’s, but he had also disappeared after dying.
People ask me how he did
it. I tell them the truth, that I don’t know. When they
don’t buy that, I tell
them aliens were involved. That seems to satisfy them.
on Roman’s porch steps looking at Carl’s house across the street. In
the last three months
I’d become a caretaker of sorts. In between classes and
baseball practice I
found time every few days to check up on the houses. I dusted
the walls that were
Roman’s baseball cards and even kept the bees in Carl’s
basement alive. I owed
them both that much I suppose. Part of me showed up
there in hope that maybe
they’d come back. That maybe Roman didn’t meet his
end at the bottom of
that river and maybe Carl really did cheat the thin blade of
always easy to reminisce on those steps. When that hot August
breeze touched my hair,
I always thought of Roman, of how he walked home from
school with his head
tilted toward the sky with not a care in the world. It seemed
so odd at the time. But
now it made perfect sense. We should all be thankful for
the wind in our face.
Mustang pulled up in front of the house. The blond that exited it
was a friend I had
talked to very little in the last few months. I think we reminded
each other of Roman, so
in our grief we made some unspoken pact to avoid each
I stood as
she made her way up the walk and hugged her when she got to
me. I felt her slow
tears against my cheek and her tight grip around my chest. We
sat down together and
did not speak for several minutes. Heather kept my arm
around her and rested
her head on my shoulder.
and bouncing ball of energy was long gone. Heather was
pale, skinny, and looked
ten years older. I knew exactly how she felt.
every day since he’s been gone. Every time the phone or
doorbell rings I race to
see if he’s there. To hear his voice. I sleep in his flannel
hoping that his smell
never fades away. I play our conversations over in my head
for the same reason. My
mother’s worried I’m going insane. Roman said that time
dulls the pain. I was
beginning to understand what he meant. But last week in my
dorm room, that
Evanescence song “My Immortal” played on the radio. Do you
know the one I’m talking
goddamn song follows me wherever I go. Elevators, restaurants,
bars, it tortures me.
Anyway in my room I finally had enough, threw my pillow at
the radio and knocked it
off the shelf it was on. It took the shelf below with it, and
smashed two of my dolls
into a million pieces. It was the cheerleader from my
grandma and the doctor
Roman gave me for Christmas. I left the mess and went
home for the weekend. I
think I’m going crazy, Tony.”
reached into the purse behind her and pulled out two fully intact
ceramic dolls, a
cheerleader and a doctor. They dangled from her hand, both with
little string lassos around their