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The Hero Experience - Chapter 17

 
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Bud Brewster
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PostPosted: Thu Mar 26, 2015 12:36 am    Post subject: The Hero Experience - Chapter 17 Reply with quote


____________________________________________

Chapter 17

Virgil, the tall man, reached into the truck with his left hand, grabbed several shotgun shells from the dashboard, and started feeding them into the shotgun. While he did so, Elvis turned to look at us with a smile that scared me as much as the shotgun.

I grabbed Lorraine by the wrist and yelled, “Run!”

The four of us sprinted for the jeep. I saw Marty at the bar’s backdoor, his face a perfect portrait of alarm as he disappeared into the building. Just as we rounded the corner of the building and saw the rear of the Jeep a few yards away, I heard the shotgun erupt and I felt a shower of splinters against the back of my head. A section of the corner of the building had exploded just after we had gone around it.

We reached the jeep, whose doors were all open thanks to Carl, and I shoved Lorraine into the backseat while Doug got in on the other side. Stan jumped into the front seat. Nobody had to tell Carl to gun it without waiting for us to close the doors. In fact, when the Jeep took off, the doors nearly bit off our feet as they slammed shut by themselves, all three at once.

I twisted around to look out the rear window, wondering if the man with the shotgun would run around the corner and fire at the Jeep. What I saw instead was a blazing pair of headlights swing into view and race toward us.

Knowing the police would arrive at any moment, Carl resisted the urge to blast out onto Stewart Avenue and break too many laws all at once. But as we pulled away from the Dixie Spirit Bar's parking lot exit, he accelerated quickly. Behind us we could see the flashing lights of a police car as it approached the entrance to the Dixie Sprite Bar. Seconds later, the red truck appeared behind us, fishtailing out onto Stewart Avenue with considerably less style and grace than the Jeep, drawing far too much attention to itself with the driver’s wild maneuvering and total disregard for the drivers around him. On the radio we heard Unit 50 giving a description of the red truck as he watched it fleeing the scene.

Unit 50 to dispatch. A red pickup truck just pulled out of the parking lot of the Dixie Spirit Bar and it’s northbound on Stewart, driving at an unsafe speed. Over.

Dispatch to Unit 50. An employee of the Dixie Spirit just reported shots fired in the parking lot. The driver of the red truck is a suspect. He’s also involved in the 10-101.

Dispatch, were there any witnesses to the 10-101?

10-4, said the dispatcher. Apparently the Bowmen witnessed it.

There was a pause, then the officer said, Unit 50 to dispatch. 10-9, please. (A request to have the transmission repeated.)

You heard me right , the dispatcher said. The Bowmen.

Another voice joined the conversation. Unit 42 to dispatch. I see a vehicle headed toward me, moving northbound on Stewart, driving erratically at a high rate of speed.

Dispatch to Unit 42. Consider the vehicle 10-29V. Stop for questioning. Use extreme caution. Suspect is armed. Repeat: suspect is armed.

Unit 42, 10-4.

The southbound patrol car had just passed us when we heard his report about the red truck. We were going pretty fast, but Carl’s driving was steady and sure, while the drunken driver of the red truck was barely keeping the vehicle on his side of the road. Unit 42 did a U-turn on the wide avenue behind the red truck and started pursuing it.

We didn't really know if the men in the red truck had even noticed the police cars behind them. The driving of the man behind the wheel had become plum suicidal. He ducked and dodged all over the road, swinging into the oncoming lane when he couldn’t get around a slower vehicle. Unit 42 assumed the red truck was running from him.

Unit 42 to dispatch! Code 8, code 8! Suspect is on the run!

Everybody but Carl had turned around to watch the chase behind us while Carl had his eyes on the road. So, he was the only one who didn’t see Unit 42 slam into a moron in a huge green Chrysler which pulled right out in front of the police car as the Chrysler turned right onto Stewart at an intersection.

The police car glanced off the Chrysler’s left front fender, spun around twice, and came to a halt right on the yellow dividing line in the middle the wide avenue. The front of the car was a mangled mess, with steam poured out of the ruptured radiator. The Chrysler ended up sideways in the road, blocking both northbound lanes and bringing traffic to a complete halt.

Carl had slowed us down considerably, hoping that the driver of the red truck would be more concerned with the police cars behind him than the Jeep he was chasing. Unfortunately, Carl was wrong.

The red truck came roaring after us with no regard for public safety or personal sanity. Unit 50, the other police car, stopped to make a quick visual check on the condition of his fellow officer in Unit 42, then he resumed the chase — but he was a half-mile behind us by now, and the red truck was gaining on us like Sea Biscuit in a race with Mr. Ed.

“He’s comin’ on pretty fast,” said Doug, his voice quavering a bit. “That guy is crazy enough to ram us.”

“Agreed'" said Stan in the front seat. "Or he might have his buddy stick that shotgun out the window and fire off a few rounds,”

Lorraine spoke for the first time since she’d gotten into the car. She actually smiled at me, and her soft voice showed no sign of panic. “Well, he sure ain't gonna just poke his hand out the window and shot us a bird. He’s better armed than that.”

The lady certainly had a point. Even bruised and battered, she still managed to keep her wits about her while careening along at seventy miles an hour in a vehicle filled with crazy teenagers in funny masks, while a psychopath armed with a shotgun seemed hell-bent on killing her.

This young lady was my kinda gal!

Carl was quick to agree with Lorraine's assessment of the situation. He yanked the steering wheel to the left and swung the Jeep directly into oncoming traffic. Headlights blazed in our faces, horns blared, and Carl gave us ample reason for nervous breakdowns as he dodged around several slower vehicles with saner drivers before swinging the Jeep back into the proper side of the road. I heard Doug making choking sounds like he’d swallowed his tongue, and Stan was glaring at Carl while seriously doubting his sanity.

I looked over at Lorraine. She twisted back and forth between the terrifying scene in front of us and the terrifying scene behind. The swelling of her eye and lips was noticeably worse. But she wasn’t screaming, crying, begging to be let out, or pleading with Jesus to spare her life. All in all, she was handling this really well. As a damsel in distress, she was a shoo-in for the Oscar!

The Jeep’s speedometer was saying scary things about our forward motion as we snaked our way through a maze of sensible drivers who wondered why that blue Jeep Wagoneer was driving just as recklessly as the red truck that followed it.

The headlights of the truck were drawing closer, in spite of the fact that Carl made impossible maneuvers that somehow managed not to get anybody killed. We were headed down a long, gradual hill, and the truck continued to close the gap in spite of our kamikaze efforts to live through this impromptu audition for the Atlanta 500. At the bottom of the hill, the road ahead of us sloped gently back upward. Traffic ahead was heavy in both directions, and we knew that this high-speed chase was going to come to a sudden and tragic halt if we continued our meteoric approach toward the barrier of slow-moving cars.

But suddenly Carl did something completely unexpected.

At the bottom of the hill, he locked up the Jeep’s wheels and created a cloud of white smoke which enveloped us completely. Then Carl twisted the steering wheel to the right and turned us into a side street that had two large, weed-grown vacant lots on both sides.
_____________________________________________

Once upon a time it had been called Funtown — several acres of partially wooded land that featured rides, games, and family amusements, such as a miniature golf course and mechanical batting cages. It had been a popular place for teenagers to take their dates and spend an energetic Saturday night getting all hot and sweaty.



Unfortunately the management of Funtown had proved a bit inflexible when it came to the changing attitudes of society. The management's policy of only allowing white patrons into Funtown locked horns with the Civil Rights Movement, and Funtown found itself permanently closed in 1966.

Now, the former amusement park was rapidly becoming a weed-grown relic of its former self. A high fence surrounded the whole area. One hundred feet down the road that had once led into Funtown there was a high gate that stood wide open (thank you, Lord), and Carl took us through it at a velocity that would have impressed Chuck Yeager the day he broke the sound barrier.

We shot past the squat wooden buildings that had once been ticket booths, our headlights illuminating the broken, weed-grown road. Bushes a foot high grew right up out of the asphalt. We wove our way through the leafy obstacle course, determined to outrun the lunatic in the truck or die trying. Hopefully, the former . . .

The five of us noticed the glare of headlights behind us, and we turned to see the truck sliding sideways as it left Stewart Avenue and skidded onto the Funtown entrance road.

Boy, you had to admire those guys’ determination. When they made up their minds to kill somebody, they didn’t let little things get in their way.

“What the hell is wrong with those people?” Stan exclaimed from the front seat.

Carl was busy avoiding the shrubbery which had grown up where cars used to pass unobstructed, but he still managed to say, “Sorry, guys. I was hoping he would just pass us and keep running from the police.”

It still wasn't clear whether the red truck was chasing us or fleeing from the long arm of the law. The driver may have surveyed the heavy traffic ahead and come to the same conclusion Carl had about getting off Stewart Avenue to stay ahead of the police.

The winding road led through the ghost park, past the weathered concession booths and rusty rides. Carl narrowly missed a fifty-gallon drum that sat squarely in the middle of the road for no apparent reason. Ten seconds later, the truck swerved madly to avoid it as well.

“Be careful of the new paint job!” Stan shouted. Nobody told Stan it was a crazy thing to say under the circumstances, but I suddenly realized we were all just as worried about the Jeep as he was. Obviously, the Bowmen were getting a bit vain.

All the shrubbery and debris in the road had forced Carl to slow down considerably, and the men in the red truck had made the same decision. We weren't going more than thirty miles per hour when Carl suddenly had to swerve to avoid a dead tree that had fallen across the road. He had no choice but to go right through a gap in a rotting wooden fence that surrounded a miniature golf course. We bounced over the low concrete perimeters of the putting lanes. Carl desperately zigged and zagged around the miniature windmills and plaster dinosaurs that populated this nightmarish obstacle course.

Behind us, the truck followed our lead precisely, letting Carl choose the best route through this crazy land of miniature castles and concrete alligators.

Lorraine let out a girlish squeal and threw her arms around my neck as she stared out the front windshield, expecting to meet her maker at any moment. Her eyes were staring wildly at a plaster T-Rex that zoomed toward us and then dodged past as Carl’s magic hands guided our "time machine" through prehistoric periods in his desperate attempt to bring us back to the twentieth century.


Lorraine and I sat cheek to cheek — and time went into slow motion. She was still hugging my neck, and I was pressed firmly against the door on my left. Lorraine’s short, flower print dress had ridden up her thighs a few inches, and I noticed that she had an excellent pair of legs. Her soft feminine presence was filled with the scents of lilac shampoo, bar room tobacco, lavender lotions, Kentucky bourbon, and Jungle Gardenia perfume. She was a crash course in feminine scents and bar room fragrances.

I realized that having such thoughts under the current circumstances was insane. Either I was a sex fiend or I was having a near-death experience.

One of the putting lanes just ahead included a two-foot-high inclined ramp, but the tall weeds obscured it, and when our right tires hit the ramp, it shot the Jeep up onto its two left wheels. We balanced precariously for twelve feet, and Lorraine was catapulted in my direction. Gravity turned sideways, and Lorraine was on top. I knew I was about to die, and I was determined to face it bravely without screaming like a girl.

Besides, Lorraine was already doing exactly that.

I saw Doug clinging fiercely to the armrest of the door on his right to keep himself from crashing down onto me and Lorraine.

Then we dropped back onto all four wheels and rolled over the remnants of the wooden fence on the far side of the golf course. We swerved onto a narrow pedestrian walkway that meandered among the rides and games. Lorraine and I untangled ourselves, and I forced myself to focus on reality.

Behind us, the truck followed closely, but he managed to avoid the ramp, and he even slowed down to allow the Jeep to turn onto the walkway. I still couldn't figure out if the truck was chasing us, running from the police, or both.

After Carl made the turn onto the walkway and headed down the narrow asphalt strip, we discovered that it was almost completely covered with kudzu vines that brushed the sides of the Jeep, clutching at it, hungry for it, wanting to smother it the same way it was rapidly smothering everything else in Funtown.

At last we broke free of the hostile vegetation and emerged into an open area. When we followed it, we realized we were in a kind of circus midway, a wide lane flanked by long rows of wooden buildings divided into booths. Along this lane had once stood the shooting gallery, the ring toss game, the balloon-dart game, and the guess-your-weight booth.





Now the empty, weathered structures faced each other across the cracked asphalt that was littered with a year of wind-blown litter. We bounced over the tree limbs and trash, but Carl managed to skillfully avoid the larger objects. We raced past a ride called the Crazy Dazy which resembled the spinning teacups in Disneyland, the ride that had made be so sick I had barfed on my mother and father when I was ten years old.

Fifty feet behind us came the insane driver of the truck. Beyond him, we saw the headlights of the determined officer in the police car, coming down the hill — good old Unit 50, like a determined hunting dog on the trail of a prize coon. Through the obstacle course of plaster zoo animals and prehistoric beasts, passed the land of bloodthirsty kudzu, Unit 50 was hot on our tail and determined to run his prey to ground!

“We’ve got to find a way to lose the truck!" Carl exclaimed. "If we don't, we’re gonna end up in the same jail cell as those guys!”

It was a fine idea, but we were neatly hemmed in, so there was nothing we could do but press on doggedly, following the asphalt as it reached the end of the midway area. We shot past a towering Ferris wheel that rose into the night sky to mingle with the stars, and then we swung around a dilapidated merry-go-round.

Carl went around the right side of the merry-go-round, but we discovered that the pavement ended two hundred feet beyond it. Ahead was a high fence, and beyond that was a high kudzu-covered ban — like a green tidal wave rearing up before us!

Carl was forced to keep going around the merry-go-round. By the time we were three-fourths of the way around it, the truck had already swung to the right, just as we had. He was following us around the merry-go-round, moving counter-clockwise just as we were. Up ahead, just going past the Crazy Dazy, we saw the police car headed toward us.

“We’re trapped!” I shouted.

“Maybe not,” Carl said as he kept right on going around the merry-go-round until the Jeep was again headed toward the fence at the border of the park, with the kudzu bank beyond it.

As we neared the border of the park, we saw that a fifteen-foot-wide section of the fence had been pulled aside by some bygone vandals. The Jeep shot through the gap, and for a brief moment, I visualized all the new paint on the sides being scraped away in a single pass and creating a blizzard of blue paint chips raining down in our wake. And yet, miraculously, Carl put us through the gap with inches to spare. Our headlights illuminated the kudzu-covered hill in front of us.

Carl brought us to a dust-churning halt at the base of the hill and engaged the Jeep’s four-wheel drive with frantic haste. He banged the vehicle into low gear and popped the clutch. The bumper plowed into the kudzu wall before uis — and then I felt the world stand on its backside as the front end of the Jeep tilted upward. Dust, dirt, and shredded vegetation spewed back behind us, and for a moment none of us were sure if the truck was still following.

We bumped, lurched, and swerved wildly, but the burly Jeep made progress, grabbing its desperate way up the incredible hill. The kudzu vines were almost headlight-high, and the knobby tires chewed them into salad as we climbed higher and higher. When we finally reached the top of the hill and leveled off, Carl brought us to a stop, and we looked back to see if we were still being chased.

We were.

The truck was grinding its way up the hill, all four wheels spinning, making good progress by following the trail we had blazed for it.

At the base of the hill below us, Unit 50 was making a mad dash back toward the park’s entrance after the officer realized that both the Jeep and the truck were about to make it to the summit of Mt. Kudzu, where they could plant a flag and claim it for Great Britain!

So, off we went again, fleeing from a crazy man who had an unstoppable truck, a loaded shotgun, and a temper which robbed him of all reason. Plowing through the kudzu and woodsy vegetation beyond the top of hill, the Jeep headed back toward Stewart Avenue, dodging the poor trees that were half swallowed by the pesky Asian undergrowth.

I was fairly sure, however, that the guys in the truck were not chasing us anymore. They were actually following us as they ran from the police because we were doing such a great job of showing them the best way to stay ahead of them!

When we came up behind an A&W Restaurant on Stewart, the Jeep bounced over the curb at the rear of the parking lot and picked up speed as it crossed the asphalt. Carl cut us around the building just as the truck reached the rear of the parking lot behind us. We raced alongside to the rain-protective roof that covered the line of cars parked under it while pretty waitresses on roller skates carrying trays filled with food turned to stare at us as we roared past them on our way to the restaurant's exit on Stewart Avenue.





The Jeep slide to a halt at the edge of Steward Avenue while Carl took a quick look left and right before he punched the accelerator and sent us plunging straight across the wide, four-lane boulevard through a momentary gap in the traffic from both directions. But he didn't turn in either direction, he went straight into the parking lot of the Green Pepper Lounge across the road, whose brilliantly lit sign proclaimed “Totally Nude!”





“What are you doing?” I shouted at Carl.

“I’m letting the lady out before we kill her,” Carl shouted.

He brought us to a smoking halt in the Green Pepper Lounge’s crowded parking lot, thirty feet from the front door. I turned and saw the red truck stop at the exit from the A&W's parking lot across the road, caught by waves of both northbound and southbound traffic on Stewart Avenue. The engine of the truck roared like a hungry lion as the driver raced it over and over, frustrated and angry because he was trapped at the edge of Steward Avenue while the heavy traffic rolled past.

I turned to the lovely young lady and spoke quickly. “He’s right, Lorraine. Run inside and wait for the police. This place will be swarming with cops in sixty seconds. You'll be safe.”

I opened the door and jumped out. Lorraine scrambled out behind me, then she turned towards the others guys and gave them a grateful smile which shone right through her damaged face.

“Thanks, fellas. You’re all wonderful. You really are.”

Across the road, the truck was still racing it's engine and venting it's automotive rage at the moving barrier that caged it in.

Lorraine turned quickly back to me and gazed into my eyes for a magical moment, then she threw her arms around my neck and planted her lips against mine for a brief but very sincere kiss.

Before I had time to think, blink, or take a deep breath, she was gone — making a mad dash for the front door of the Green Pepper Lounge, her flower print dress swirling around those lovely legs, her high heeled sandals going tick-tock-tick on the asphalt.

I just stood there, transfixed for a long moment, and then I jumped back into the Jeep and closed the door as Carl started forward, headed toward the dimly-lit rear parking lot. It seemed like the wrong direction to be headed, but nobody questioned Carl about it.

He was facing straight ahead as he spoke quietly in a low and angry voice. "Okay, Wait a minute, Jones! Lemma get this straight. I do all the driving . . . and YOU get the kiss?"

Nobody had a word to say on the subject. I looked out the right side window past Doug and saw Unit 50 in the distance, coming up the hill from the Funtown entrance, lights blazing with a vengeance, followed by four other police cars joining the party a little late.

We were rolling along the right side of the Green Pepper Lounge, looking out the back window and wondering what would happen next.

Across the road, the driver of the red truck had spotted the armada of police cars down the hill, heading south in his direction. He must have thought his best chance to lose the police cars would be to go north on Stewart Avenue and try to race right past them, forcing them to turn around amidst the heavy traffic going in both directions.

He tried to use a small gap in the traffic to shoot out onto Stewart and turn right. But he pulled out in front of a mammoth dump truck that blasted its horn and locked up its ten wheels, making a sound like Godzilla being shot by the entire Japanese Air Force. The red truck narrowly avoided the impeding collision by plunging straight on across the northbound lane to get out of the huge vehicle’s way — which put him right in front of six southbound cars in a tight group, like a salvo of well-aimed torpedoes. Horns blared and tires shrieked as several cars swerved wildly to miss the maniac in the red truck who had suddenly appeared in the middle of the smoothly flowing traffic.

Left with no other option, the red truck careened all the way across Stewart Avenue and dove right into the Green Pepper Lounge parking lot — just as we had done. A gorgeous 1965 red Chevy Impala convertible was pulling out of its parking space, which put it directly in front of the out-of-control truck. The truck collided with the Chevy, stopping the truck cold and knocking the Chevy halfway around.

Traffic came to a halt on the section of the road between the A&W Restaurant and the strip joint while several rattled drivers debated the best way to get their motionless sideways vehicles pointed back in the right direction after narrowly missing the meteoric passing of the red truck.

During all this, Carl had cautiously rolled the Jeep along the side of the building until we came to the rear of the parking lot. It was packed with cars, just like the front and side lots were. The Green Pepper Lounge was doing a booming business.

“Okay,” said Carl with surprising calm. “So, ummm . . . what now?”

Nobody had a suggestion, so Carl inched the Jeep forward along the back of the building until we could peek around the right corner and get a glimpse of all those lovely, colorful lights which were flashing on top of the police cars which had stopped on Stewart Avenue in front of the Green Pepper Lounge to block the parking lot's exit and trap the red truck. One police car had pulled into the parking lot and stopped behind the truck, boxing it in neatly between the wrecked Chevy and the police car.

We could only see a portion of the front parking lot because we were peeking from the back corner along the building’s right side. But we could see that people had started coming out of the building to find out what all the excitement was about. Some of them seemed to be headed for their cars in a hurry, just in case the police were raiding the joint.

The backdoor of the building opened and more people came out, mostly men, mostly needing shaves and hair cuts and cleaner clothing. A very seedy lot indeed.

“Oh, crap!” Carl said suddenly. “The masks! Take ‘em off, quick!”

The ripping sound of Velcro filled the Jeep as we hastily peeled off the masks before somebody spotted us. Car doors started chunking closed all around us. Engines cranked up and taillights came on as people backed out. In less than a minute the lane in front of us, which ran along the side of the building, filled with cars trying to leave the parking lot. Other cars began to line up behind us in the back of the building.

The four of us sat there sweating silently, and it certainly wasn’t because of the long-sleeved t-shirts. I had to resist a tendency to hyperventilate at the prospect of being hauled out of the Jeep by the police and handcuffed together with Grease Head and String Bean so we could all sit in the back of the police cars and discuss what we’d do differently if we could live this night over again.

Surprisingly, the line of cars starting inching forward, and we had to move along as well. It was maddening to realize that we were being forced to roll slowly toward our doom — that fateful moment when the police would see us sitting here, trapped, helpless, and caught red-handed. As we got nearer to the front corner of the building we could see more of what was happening in the parking lot ahead of us. The scene had a psychedelic look because of all those flashing blue and red lights.

Traffic was backed up on the northbound side of Stewart Avenue to our right, and as we moved even further forward we saw that it was also backed up on the southbound side, down the hill toward the Funtown entrance. The reason was simple: police cars were positioned sideways on both sides of the road to stop the traffic, while an officer stood at the entrance to the Green Pepper Lounge and waved the cars safely out of the parking lot. A crowd was standing around near the building’s main doors watching this free bit of entertainment, complete with a colorful light show.

Next to watching naked women dance badly, horny drunken men apparently just loved flashing lights.





“Uh, hey guys . . . " Stan said slowly. “I just had a happy thought.”

“What?” I said, leaning forward from the backseat to watch all the commotion, trying to enjoy my last night of freedom.

Stan spoke slowly and with great conviction. “Because . . . I don’t think the police actually know we’re here.”

That statement got absolute silence from three guys who knew their lives depended on what Stan said next.

"Why not?" said Doug.

Stan was surprisingly claim when he spoke. “Gentlemen, consider the facts. They didn’t see us drive into this parking lot. They were way down the hill, maybe even on the roads in Funtown."

We were all starting to get it. I was nodding my head slowly. “They probably think we headed south on Stewart and now we're long gone.”

“Right. Yeah, right,” Carl mumbled, his face filled with new hope. Then his look of optimism turned the other way. “But what if the guys in the truck tell them we’re here. Or what if . . . Lorraine tells them.”

Stan’s happy thought was turning dark and gloomy. But then I had a happy thought of my own. “Wait. Hold on. If anybody told them we were here, some of the cops would be searching the parking lot for us by now. And they wouldn’t be letting people out.”

Everybody in the Jeep started looking back and forth to see if policemen were going around searching with flashlights, trying to find a Jeep Wagoneer with four terrified teenagers and a cargo area filled with incriminating archery equipment.

By this time we had moved up with the line of cars and were smack-dab in front of the Green Pepper Lounge. We felt like cartoon criminals caught in a searchlight in front of the prison wall while the sirens wailed. A Jeep with four teenagers too young to be customers of a strip club would never make it past all those policemen, no matter what color the Jeep was!

“Get down, guys,” Carl whispered urgently. “Get down as low as you can. Curl up on the floorboard. Put your arms over your heads — anything that will make you less visible as we go past these guys.”

And so the three of us ducked for cover. We hid like scared rabbits. Stan, Doug, and I curled up into tight, fearful little balls of quivering flesh on the floorboard of the Jeep and said silent prayers, begging for deliverance from evil and sin and prosecution for crimes we weren't quite old enough to go to the electric chair for yet.

“What’s happening?” I whispered to Carl.

“We’re going past the wrecked truck and the two guys,” he whispered, trying not move his lips as he spoke. He sounded like a bad ventriloquist who had forgotten to bring his dummy. “The men are in handcuffs, and the one with black hair is mad as hell. The cops have the shotgun.”

I felt the Jeep move forward and I realized we were close to being waved out onto Stewart Avenue — close to freedom and redemption and forgiveness and a long, prosperous life. Praise the Lord!

I heard Stan whisper from his hidey-hole in the front. “Remember, Carl, you’re leaving a strip club. Try to look old. And horny.”

“Hush!” Carl hissed angrily through clinched teeth. He started casually scratching his left eyebrow, covering his profile with his hand as he did so. A few seconds later he whispered something totally unexpected. “Hey . . . there’s Lorraine.”

“What?” I had to resist the urge to raise up and look so badly that was shacking like an epileptic on the floor of the car!

“I can see Lorraine," Carl whispered. She’s standing with two policemen near the truck, pointing at the two handcuffed guys. She’s also pointing at her bruised face.“ The Jeep moved forward again, and I heard Carl chuckle. Seconds later I felt the Jeep accelerate after it turned right onto Stewart.

“What’s so funny?” I hissed through clenched teeth.

He didn’t say anything, but I felt the Jeep shifting through the gears as we picked up speed. The three of us rose cautiously from our gopher holes and looked around. The Green Pepper Lounge and all the flashing police lights dwindled into the distance behind us.

Doug, Stan, and I gazed at each other wearing the kind of big happy grins rich kids wore on Christmas morning when they discovered toy sailboats and rocket ships under the Christmas tree — right next to the real live pony they’d begged Santa for.

Carl was beaming. He looked at me in the rearview mirror and said, “You asked me what was so funny as we went past the cops.”

“Yeah, I did. So . . . what was it?”

“Lorraine saw the Jeep and recognized me.” He paused for dramatic effect, then he announced proudly. “She winked at me.” Suddenly Carl’s smile was the biggest one in the whole vehicle.

“She what?” Suddenly I was NOT smiling.

“She winked. Right at me. Personally.” His smile got even bigger.

I felt a totally unreasonable rush of jealously. “Oh yeah? Well, hey . . . I’m the one she kissed! And on the mouth, pal!”

Casually, Carl said, “Oh, big deal. You were the only one she could reach! And don’t forget — I was doing all the fancy driving.”

Carl’s smile in the rearview mirror was suddenly the ugliest face I’d ever seen, even beating out Quasimodo from The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

“Oh, yeah?” I spat back at him. I didn’t figure my face was too pretty at that moment, but I didn’t give a damn. “Well, you should have seen her and me here in the backseat, pal.” I folded my arms, titled my head back, and gloated shamelessly. “She was all over me! Especially on those sharp curves!”

Carl was still sporting a record-breaking smile. Calmly he said, “Yes . . . but only because I was doing all the driving.”

Stan and Doug were enjoying this ridiculous debate — but suddenly Stan’s grin vanished, and he offered a sobering touch of reality. “I wonder if she’ll give the police a description of us and the Jeep. I mean, like it’s new color.”

“Lorraine?" I said indignantly. "Hell no! They’ll get nothin’ out of that girl, no siree! She’ll probably tell ‘em the Jeep was pink and we’re all middle aged men!”

After a hearty round of chuckles by everyone except me, Doug made his contribution to the discussion, smiling and looking skeptical at the same time. “Yeah . . . Right . . . Sure.” He was nodding his head in mock agreement. “She’ll do that because sweet Lorraine is so in love with the irresistible you.”

That brought down the house, and I felt my face turn red. Stan pounced on Doug’s remark the way cats make meals out of helpless mice. He spoke in a high, girlish voice, clutching both hands under his chin like the lovely heroine in The Perils of Pauline.

“Oh Captain, my Captain! You saved me from the mean old men! How can I ever thank you?” And then, I swear to God, Stan batted his eyelashes like Scarlett O’Hara.

Struggling to contain my laughter at Stan's performance, I pretended to explode. “Jealous! You’re all jealous! I oughta beat the brains outta the bunch of ya!” I started trying to yank out my billy club just to emphasize the point, but there wasn’t enough room in the cramped backseat — and besides, my comic lack of coordination turned the effort into a slapstick routine that destroyed the last of the respect I was supposed to get from my loyal band of masked crime fighters.

And so we cruised off down the road and right into history. The Bowmen had actually saved a damsel in diss dress — a lovely summer dress with a flowered print. And she had left us with a kiss, a wink, and a crush we would all hide deep within our young hearts from now until next Christmas, at the very least.
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After the four of us read the article in the morning edition of the Journal-Constitution the next day, we were ready to start signing autographs and talking movie deals with big Hollywood producers. The article was featured on page two. The fact that we had almost reached the front page made us all drunk with success.

When I had called Matt Daniels the night before, he had been hungry for every detail I could supply about the Great Funtown Caper — and he used everything I gave him for his article. Yet oddly enough, the article didn’t sound like a glamorized version of the real thing. This time, the real thing had been glamorous without any help.

The article stated that the victim of the incident in back of the Dixie Sprint Bar was Miss Lorraine Friday, a twenty-eight-year-old secretary employed by State Farm Insurance since 1960. She described how Kevin Simms and Virgil Laramie had accosted her in the Dixie Spirit Bar, and how the pair had followed her out to the parking lot where they attempted to force her into their vehicle. When she resisted, they struck her several times.

The rest of the article read about like this:

A bartender named Marty Redfield stated that the two men were extremely intoxicated, and the management had ordered them to leave the bar. Mr. Redfield said he was concerned about Miss Friday’s safety and had gone to the rear parking lot to make sure she got to her car safely. When he arrived he discovered that the Bowmen — Atlanta’s mysterious vigilante crime fighters — had heroically rescued Miss Friday from the two men, who allegedly injured her and attempted to abduct her.

According to Miss Friday, after the Bowmen arrived and came to her rescue they fought with the two men using their special non-lethal arrows and padded billy clubs. Soon after this, Kevin Simms and Virgil Laramie went to their vehicle and took out a 12-guage pump shotgun, which they fired at her and the Bowmen as they fled the scene. Miss Friday and the Bowmen sped away in their own vehicle, but the two men pursued in their red Ford pickup truck.

An Atlanta Police unit joined the chase at this point and followed the Ford truck and the Bowmen’s vehicle in a high-speed chase down Steward Avenue. They were joined by another police unit, but it was disabled by a collision with another vehicle on Steward Avenue.

The truck driven by the two culprits continued to pursue the Bowmen and Miss Friday, even when they turned into the entrance of the old abandoned Funtown amusement park off Stewart Avenue. In a desperate attempt to escape from their murderous pursuers, the Bowmen managed to traverse the remnants of the amusement park and navigate the wooded terrain outside the park, an area which proved too rough for the pursuing police vehicle.

The Bowmen succeeded in eluding their pursuers and managed to deliver Miss Friday safely to the front door of the Green Pepper Lounge on Stewart Avenue just minutes before Simms and Laramie finally caught up with them. But the two men wrecked their truck in the parking lot, and police units arrived shortly after that to arrest the culprits. Officer Wilkerson of the Atlanta Police Department discovered a shotgun inside the Ford truck owned by one of the two suspects. Miss Friday identified the two men as the ones who had sexually assaulted her in the parking lot of the Dixie Spirit Bar and, shortly afterward, threatened the lives of her and her rescuers — the Bowmen — before their narrow escape.

Miss Friday was unable to give a description of the Bowmen to police, but she made this impassioned statement to the press.

"I was so upset and frightened. It all happened so fast. I was in a daze. They wore masks, so I don’t know what they looked like . . . but they'll always be my heroes.”

No one at the Green Pepper Lounge seems to have witnessed the moment when the Bowmen dropped Miss Friday off near the front door. She told the police that the leader of the group, who calls himself Captain, just said, “Go inside and wait for the police. They'll be here soon and you'll be safe.”

Matt Daniels’s article was a literary triumph. He had taken all the babbling statements I’d given him over the phone and combined them with the information he’d gotten from the Atlanta Police and poor sweet Lorraine to create a concise and well-worded description of the greatest adventure of the twentieth century.
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____________________________________________

If ever there was a time for the Bowmen to retire, it was now — while we were on top. At this point, all I wanted to do was marry Lorraine and retire to Oklahoma where we could raise a big crop of kids and corn and kids and barley and kids and alfalfa. We’d also have a mess of pigs and chickens and cows for the kids to play with so they wouldn’t get lonely. Life would be good.

As for Matt Daniels, it occurred to me that a nice long trial involving the Bowmen would be just as newsworthy as any further exploits — and more reliable too, since we often hadn’t called him for weeks. Maybe good old Matt Daniels was indifferent to our fate, so long as he got some good news stories out of us.

Or maybe he’d meant it when he said we should quit before we got hurt. I couldn’t decide which. I still wondered if Officer Wilkerson was sorry he’d let us go when we’d helped out at the accident. I wondered how many laws we would go on trial for breaking if they ever caught us.

I also wondered why the newspaper article or the TV reports hadn’t mentioned the fact that the Bowmen’s vehicle had miraculously changed from a battered and faded red Jeep to a smooth and glossy blue one. Or that the license number on the Jeep was actually registered to a vehicle on a used car lot on the south side of Atlanta, assuming they'd gotten the license plate number. Again.

Somebody in the police department was getting cagey. They weren’t telling everything to the press — especially not to Matt Daniels, whose previous articles had not exactly flattered the police.

The implications of this disturbing thought tended to suck the air out my inflated head. I didn’t mention any of this to the other guys, but I was willing to bet they’d thought of it themselves and were having trouble sleeping for the same reason I was.

However, when a couple of days went by without any police cars showing up in our driveways to convey us to the city jail, we all silently convinced ourselves that we had actually gotten away with it. Again.

We held secret meetings and discussed the possibility that, since it was dark, none of the policemen had noticed the Jeep’s change in color (maybe), and that they hadn’t been close enough to get our license number (probably). We also discussed the danger that somebody would suddenly remember we’d all bought bow-and-arrow sets (a real possibility), or the McClusky’s would tell the cops that we’d borrowed their son's police band radio (a dead giveaway).

The biggest danger was that somebody would realize that the four of us spent many nights cruising around in a Jeep Wagoneer that had recently changed from red to blue — which would be the DA’s closing argument in his summation at our trial!

I didn’t get a decent night’s sleep for the next two weeks.

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_________________
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Is there no man on Earth who has the wisdom and innocence of a child?
~ The Space Children (1958)
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