Please note: This Internet publication of Risen is © 2000 by Jan S. Strnad. It is not public domain and may not be duplicated without permission!
Deputy Harold Haws sat in the consarned patrol vehicle for no good reason he could determine.
Yes, it was Friday night, but so what? Friday nights in Anderson were not that much different from Tuesday nights or Wednesday nights or any night but Sunday which was so quiet you could hear a sparrow cough.
The Rialto was open on Friday and Saturday nights but that didn't mean much. Merle Tibbert, the owner and operator, refused to show anything more rambunctious than PG so that limited his audience to a pretty docile bunch. The lights on the marquee were off already and the crowd--if fourteen people could be considered a "crowd"--was halfway home by now. They never stayed out late, the last show being at nine o'clock since Tibbert liked to be home in time to complain at the eleven o'clock news.
Haws couldn't get his mind around what Sheriff Clark had said earlier in the evening, when he sent Haws out on patrol. Clark was a good lawman but his talk about a "bad feeling" and a "tightening in his scrotum" didn't cut much mustard with the deputy. Maybe Clark did have some kind of intuition slipping him warning signs, but it could just as easy have been that John Duffy's murder had left him with a case of the heebie-jeebies.
Now here was Haws, trying to fill his growling belly with the burrito he'd packed earlier in the day and not even able to heat it up because the consarned microwave was back at the consarned office. The steering wheel got in his way as he was raising the tortilla to his mouth and he bumped his elbow and that caused him to squeeze the thing a little too hard and salsa squooshed out the bottom and dribbled on his shirt. When he tried to wipe it off with a paper napkin it only spread and made it look he'd been stomach shot.
And now here came Clyde Dunwiddey, drunk as a skunk as usual. Clyde stumbled up to the police car and leaned on it like an old friend.
"H'lo, Deputy," Clyde said. His breath was flammable.
Deputy Haws made a face and waved a portly hand in the air. "Hoo, Clyde--you on your way to the station?"
"Yep. Headed for the hoosegow. How about a lift?"
"This ain't no taxi service, Clyde. Even drunk as you are, I figure your legs know the way by habit."
That's when the young hellions roared past in their muscle cars, whooping and hollering, stereos blasting rock music loud enough to deafen everybody in town, their tailpipes popping as if not one of them had the word "muffler" in his dictionary.
Haws shoved his half-eaten burrito at Clyde, who went another shade greener at the sight.
"Out of the way, Clyde. I've got work to do."
Clyde took a step back and inertia carried him a couple more. Deputy Haws hit the flashers and siren and gave chase.
Haws didn't like these boys. The Ganger kid in particular was a bad egg, and even the best of them, Tom Culler, was a wiseass. They reminded Haws of the bullies who used to torment him in high school because he carried a few extra pounds and because his slightly upturned nose called attention to his nostrils. The kids had called him "Hawg" of course, and that's why, once he graduated, he took the job as deputy. The uniform and badge gave him status. Now, at least, they had to call him "Hawg" behind his back instead of to his face.
That face was tight with determination as he chased the boys through the middle of town. Galen and Kent led, followed by Darren and Buzzy. Tom pulled up the rear with Haws hot on his tail.
Galen saw the flashing lights in his rear view mirror and mashed the pedal to the floor. Kent dug between the cushions for the seat belt that wasn't there. Galen called him a pussy and screeched around the corner that put them on the road to the highway.
Tom cut that same corner and jumped his Honda over a drainage ditch and onto the access road. He swerved into the far lane and nearly lost it on the turn, but the bike didn't fall and there was no opposing traffic so he twisted the throttle and kicked the gear shift and slid in ahead of Darren and Buzzy.
Tom had no specific plan but he knew he had to close the distance between himself and Galen. He wanted to somehow defuse the volatile situation that was brewing. Galen and Haws were like matter and anti-matter. If they collided, there'd be hell to pay.
Now Darren had Deputy Haws on his ass and he didn't like it one bit. Surely Haws recognized his car even if he didn't get a good look at the driver, and surely Haws knew it was Galen leading the chase. Darren's mind could work fast when it had to and he made a decision. He whipped the wheel over to the right and hit the brakes, nearly catapulting Buzzy through the windshield as the Satellite screeched to a halt.
"What're you doin', man?" Buzzy yelled, bracing himself against the dash.
"Hawg doesn't want us. He wants to nail Galen."
Sure enough, the police car screamed past them and kept going. Haws had bigger fish to fry.
Darren wanted to turn around right then and go home but that would be chickenshit. Instead he waited until the flashing lights had vanished over the hill and then he crept forward. He'd watch the action from a distance, parking in the windbreak if he had to, so he could be there if anything happened. It was possible that Galen would reach the county line and escape the deputy's jurisdiction, but it was also possible that Haws would stop him first.
"Let's get the hell out of here," Buzzy suggested, but Darren shook his head and kept creeping.
Tom shot a fast look over his shoulder and saw the police car bearing down on him. It was faster than the Honda on the straightaway and its progress was relentless. By the time Tom decided to pull over the police car was so far up his tailpipe that Tom was afraid to slow down. Haws was stupid to be tailgating him so close but it was Tom who'd fly through the air and bury his head into a phone pole if they collided. That, or smear his face all over the highway.
Then suddenly the police car squealed as Haws jerked the wheel to the left and floored the accelerator. Tom instinctively steered to the right and the bike wobbled and Tom's heart went up into his throat, but Haws pulled around him with inches to spare. Tom eased back on the throttle and let the Honda slow itself down. When he was down to the legal limit he twisted the grip again and followed. Whatever Haws did to Galen, it should be witnessed. Maybe Tom's presence would avert disaster.
Kent was sweating hard as he saw the deputy closing on them. Normally the Charger would've shut the pigmobile out but Galen had been complaining about the timing and Kent could tell from the sound of it that the engine wasn't running up to snuff. He turned around and watched the steady progression of the flashing lights as they closed the distance between them.
"He's got us," Kent said.
"It ain't over 'til it's over," Galen said. He had the hard, immovable look in his eyes that told Kent they were edge-bound.
Haws pulled alongside and tipped a finger at Galen, telling him to pull over. Galen flipped Haws the bird. Then maybe because he had to take one hand off the wheel and there was a little dip in the road right then, or maybe because he did it on purpose, Galen nudged the wheel to the left and the Charger's front fender tapped the police car's hard enough to leave a dent.
Haws cursed and the police car fell back half a length. Tom saw the incident and winced mentally. "Pull over, Galen," he said, but it was more of a prayer. Galen couldn't hear him and wouldn't have pulled over anyway. Galen was in a Blacklands of his own, a world as narrow in options as the road he raced along. Galen barreled on toward his fate, mindless of consequence, deaf to logic and blind to peril.
Deputy Haws was no less determined than Galen to see this skirmish through to the end. A smarter man, a cooler man, a man with a larger view might have given up the chase and dealt with Galen Ganger in the morning. But Deputy Haws was not smart, his temper was up, and his mind was focused like a lens. He was going to pull that sonofabitch over if he had to chase him to Timbuktu.
Haws reached down and unsnapped the leather strap over his revolver. He pulled out the gun and floored the accelerator.
Kent saw the gun raised in Deputy Hawg's oversized fist and he freaked. He ducked, covering his head, and Galen looked over and registered the revolver pointed at his face. He knew Haws was dumb enough to pull the trigger.
Galen pounded the brake pedal and the Charger's tires bit into asphalt. The car skidded and started to spin but Galen pumped the brakes and brought it to a halt nose down in the ditch by the side of the road. The engine was dead and even as Galen cranked the starter he saw Haws up ahead, slowing, turning around, coming back at him. The overheated engine didn't want to start and by the time it did it was too late. Haws' police car was blocking the road and Haws was lumbering in Galen's direction, gun drawn, screaming at him to get out of the fucking car.
Tom decided to approach slowly. He didn't want Galen to get shot but he didn't want to stop the bullet with his own body, either. He had to arrive as a witness, not as another target.
Deputy Haws pulled Galen's door open and yanked him out of the car. He spun him around and threw him to the blacktop, tripping him so he fell on the road face first. Haws whipped around to aim the gun at Kent who cowered against the passenger door, arms raised to the roof.
"You set still!" Haws commanded, and Kent stammered out a "Yes, sir."
Haws strode over to Galen and ordered him to his feet. Galen's palms were scraped and stinging from the fall. He raised himself slowly to one knee, his eyes locked on the revolver that had begun to shake in the deputy's hand. Galen stood and glared at Haws.
Haws yelled at him, his voice cracking. "You must be wantin' to do time, boy!" he said.
"We were just lettin' off some steam," Galen replied.
"You want to let off steam?" Haws asked, and he planted his fist deep into Galen's stomach, doubling him up. "I'll show you steam," he grunted.
Tom pulled up and fixed the deputy in the glare of his headlight. "Cut it out, Haws!" he yelled. The pistol swung in Tom's direction as Haws shielded his eyes from the light.
"Butt out, Culler. This ain't none of your business. And get that goddamn light out of my eyes before I shoot it out!"
Galen took advantage of Haws' momentary blindness to rush him, head down like a bull. He butted the deputy hard in the abdomen and knocked him backwards. Haws impacted against the Charger's door, slamming it shut, the door handle digging hard into his kidney. Haws cried out in pain.
Galen pummeled the deputy with his fists. He laid blow after blow on his body, his face, not planning where to hit, letting his fists find their own targets. Haws raised his arms to ward off the blows but it did no good. Galen was a flesh-pounding machine. He didn't think about the gun in the deputy's hand. He didn't think about anything. He hit and kept on hitting as Haws' knees buckled and he fell to the ground.
Galen kicked the deputy in the belly and Haws curled up into a tight ball, the revolver cupped to his stomach. Galen kicked again and there was a muffled bang that still was loud enough to sound like thunder to Tom, who went instantly white. Even Galen was shocked back to reality. He stepped away from the deputy as Haws slumped and his head fell to the ground.
"Galen, shit," Tom said. Inside the car, Kent fumbled for and found the door handle and gave it a yank, then tumbled into the ditch when the door fell open. He stumbled around to the front of the car and stared in disbelief at the body of Deputy Haws lying by the road like something out of a movie.
"Is he dead?" he asked.
Galen nudged Haws with his foot. "Fuck, yes," he said, and then he kicked the deputy again, meaning it.
Darren and Buzzy arrived, driving slowly like gawkers at a roadside accident. They got out of the car and all five boys gathered around the corpse, jaws slack, their minds trying desperately to interpret events in some way that didn't add up to deep, deep shit.