High Price

Posted: July 22, 2015 in Book 1 TERROR IN TEXAS
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“They won’t stop looking for us,” Jimmy whispered. “They killed those people in the store when the old man couldn’t or wouldn’t tell them which direction we went. They said you shot someone at the barn.”

“Damn.” Steve responded as he steered the vehicle through a dry creek crossing. “I don’t suppose pleading it was an accident would help.”

Zack smirked. “They don’t look like the understanding type.”

Steve slowed the van and turned off the motor. He opened his window and leaned his head outside. After a moment, he leaned back in the seat.

“Did you hear that?” Steve asked.

Della whispered. “I think I hear a motor in the distance. I can’t say for sure.”

Steve cranked the engine and slammed the van back in gear. He accelerated too quickly and the van jerked forward slamming the riders back in their seats. By the time they righted themselves from the sideways momentum, they were racing down the road again.

Della grabbed at her seat belt with trembling hands. She snapped it into place then glanced over her shoulder to the trio in the back seats. They bounced and jerked from side to side as they grasped at whatever they could find to hold on to.

“Steve! You’re going to kill us if you go off the road driving this fast.”

“Buckle up! If they catch us, we’ll be in a lot worse shape.” He answered. “I heard a truck motor.”

The gravel road disappeared and the van traveled a path overgrown with more patches of weeds with each passing fence post. Steve reduced the speed as the path grew rougher with deep washes in the hard-packed dirt hidden by the vegetation.

When the path opened up, Steve accelerated and they were racing down the road at over forty miles an hour. Brush and overhanging limbs slapped against the sides of the van. They hurled along for nearly a quarter mile when they raced around a curve in the road and a massive barrier of green appeared. Vegetation covered the middle of the road. Steve braked, but it wasn’t quick enough.

The front of the van was air-born for a fraction of a second then hit a solid wall on the distant side of a massive wash in the road. The van landed with a shuddering crash that could be felt through the undercarriage and threw belted occupants toward the front seat.

The steering wheel jerked from Steve’s hands while the back end bounced and tossed the occupants again. The grill hit the opposite rim of the crater and came down so hard the axle collapsed with the front end settling on bent wheels and flattened tires.

Steve jerked the accelerator lever back and slammed the van in park. He turned off the motor and slammed both hands against the steering wheel. The van grew quiet and the only sound was heavy breathing and whimpers from the back seat.

“Everyone okay?” Steve asked.

Zack looked around the back of the van then answered. “We’re fine back here.” He began righting crates of food and supplies. “Is the van drivable? I heard something that didn’t sound good.”

“No. We’re walking until we get another vehicle. Get what we can carry together. Throw out the crap in that canvas bag and that backpack, put food and water in them.”

Della asked. “We’re walking?”

“No choice. The van’s toast.” Steve answered.

“Then let’s get out of here, people.” Della sighed.

Zack grabbed the duffle and began stuffing food into the bag.

Steve opened the glove box and retrieved two boxes of ammo and a spare magazine from inside. He pulled a jacket from the back of his seat and dropped the ammo in the pockets and zipped them closed. He tied the arms around his waist.

“Where are we going?” Jimmy asked as he slid the backpack on his shoulder.

Steve answered. “Back the way we came. We don’t know where this road comes out on the other end. I’m hoping they left at least one of the vehicles at the store we can take. For now, we have a long walk. With a little luck, they split up and we will only have the occupants of one vehicle to deal with at a time.”

Della waited for Steve to exit the van. She picked up two filled plastic bags and stepped to the ground. “What happens when we meet those rednecks? You know it’s going to go bad for all of us.” She whispered.

“We hide,” Steve answered. “We hear a vehicle, we hide. Until then, we move as fast as we can. I figure we traveled at least five miles from the gas station.”

Steve called Jimmy and Zack to his side. “Head down the road past the van and go into the woods about a hundred yards down the road. Drop some trash and stomp around then head back this way as quick as you can. Try to make it look like we all went that way and don’t step in bare dirt coming back. You have five minutes to catch up.”

Both young men nodded then took off.

Della and Sandy began walking back the way they had come. Steve soon passed them and set an easy pace until the boys caught up. They managed two miles in less than twenty minutes. By the third mile, all were struggling to keep up the pace Steve set.

Sandy gasped. “I can’t go on like this.”

“Five minutes rest.” Steve relented. “Drink plenty of water while you can.”

Everyone pulled plastic water bottles from bags and gulped the contents. When Jimmy went to toss his bottle in the grass Steve stopped him. “We may need the bottle later. Put them back in the bags. We don’t want to leave a trail for the rednecks to follow.”

Sandy Wandered away to pee. She found a bush and squatted behind it. She grumbled as she swatted at bugs flying around her. “Fucking mosquitoes.”

She pulled up her pants and straightened her clothes. When she headed back toward the others she paused to cock her head. She turned back toward the distant sound for a moment then raced back to the gathering.

“I hear a truck!”

Steve glanced toward the road. “Move it, people! Let’s go!”

He set a grueling pace for about two minutes then stopped at the edge of the road near a cluster of bushes under a rock outcropping. He stepped into the shadows then waved the others toward it.

“Hurry.” He ordered as he broke a branch from the back of a scrub and dusted at their footprints in the dirt at the edge of the road. “Break off some branches from the back and pass them up to me.”

Della hustled the trio under the outcropping, guiding them deeper into the shadows of the overhang. The roar of the heavy-duty truck engine grew louder and closer.

Zack and Jimmy snapped two thumb-sized branches with fans of leaves. They passed the foliage back to Della and she passed them to Steve. He backed into the gloom brushing at the dust and dirt. He planted the branch in the dirt at the opening and backed from the branch and squatted on one knee.

Steve pulled his handgun and pointed it toward the road and sound of the big engine. Everyone receded deeper into the shadows as the sound grew louder.

“Quiet, everyone!” Steve whispered.

The roar of the truck filled the afternoon silence. The vehicle raced toward them filling the air with the angry growl of a motor being pushed hard. The truck rolled down the road at an alarming speed. Everyone cringed at the sight.

The flat-black, heavy-duty pickup with jacked-up body and massive tires sporting wide treads sported a heavy duty brush guard and six-inch roll bar. Four mounted lights rose above the cab. Two men clung to the roll bar, holding rifles on their hips as they shouted at the man driving the truck. The roar of the engine and shouts grew more distinct. Steve melted back into the shadows as the vehicle raced by. They waited for a full minute before Steve pushed the brush aside. He stepped to the road and motioned the others to follow.

“Now! We have to get to the intersection before they come back. Hopefully, it will take them a while to figure out the trail is bogus.”

Steve took off jogging again with everyone following. No one protested the pace. Another twenty minutes they made it to the placed Zack and Jimmy had slipped down the hill to the gas station.  After a moment of hesitation, Steve raced over the side.  The rest followed. Everyone was gasping for breath and dripping wet with perspiration when they stumbled into the parking lot.

The truck and car seen earlier still sat in the lot undisturbed. Three bodies lay at the front of the truck. Zack ran to the extended cab truck.

“Door open, but keys are not here!” He called out.

Jimmy tried the door handle on the Oldsmobile eighty-eight. The door wouldn’t open. “Nothing here!”

Della went to the younger of the two men pressed her fingertips against the front right pocket of the man’s jeans. She looked up and shook her head then moved to the left pocket and again felt nothing. In frustration, she worked her fingers into each of the pockets and spilled the contents to the ground. She turned the man to his side to check his back pockets and saw the key ring clip anchored to his belt loop over his right back pocket. She unclipped the keys and raced toward the red truck.

“In everyone!” Steve yelled then turned to Della. “Can you drive it?”

Della reached for the back door as an answer.

Zack laughed. “I got this! I always wanted a big-ass truck like this.”

They threw the bags in the back and Steve got in front while Sandy and Jimmy followed Della into the back seat.

Zack settled in the driver’s seat and Della passed him the keys. He stuck the key in the ignition and turned it. He laughed nervously. “Really, I’ve always wanted one of these.”

The first shot took out the side mirror on the driver side and shattered the glass and plastic.

Screams filled the cab as Steve pulled the gas nozzle from the red truck, locked it open and raced to the cab and jumped in.  He yelled. “Drive!”

Zack thumped the truck in reverse and stomped the gas. He slammed on the breaks as another shot rang out. The back glass shattered with an explosion of glass. Jimmy, Sandy and Della were thrown to the right with bone-jarring crash.

“Stay down!” Steve ordered.

He struggled to his knees in the passenger seat and leaned out the window. He clung to the doorframe and pointed the handgun back at the huge black truck racing toward them. He fired three quick shots and the truck swerved.

Zack slammed the truck into drive and pressed his foot to the floor. The truck swerved around the fueling island and fishtailed onto the gravel and broken asphalt.

More shots pinged off the top of the cab. Steve leaned out the window with the next swerve of the truck. Della grabbed his belt as he overbalanced and nearly fell out the window.

Once righted, Steve leaned back out of the window to take another shot. Della clung to his belt while Jimmy and Sandy remained slumped across the back seat.

Zack righted the vehicle and slammed his foot down on the gas. The truck’s Hemi kicked in and the vehicle raced toward the blacktop. The pursuers came around the corner of the building and raced at them.

Steve took a final shot at the asphalt next to the fueling island just as the black truck raced by. The black truck exploded. The fire billowed out like a living creature to engulf the men in the bed of the truck. Screams from both men could be heard as they were enveloped in the flames.

The driver and passenger screamed as the flames roared surrounded the cab engulfing the passengers and into the open windows of the cab. Steve knew the fire would sear the skin from their faces and hair from their heads. The vehicle hit the second pump and the truck, pump-island and station went up in a mushroom of flames and billowing black smoke. The truck rolled from the funeral pyre with the charred remains still clinging to the structure behind the cab.

Zack clutched the steering wheel and eased off on the gas as he witnessed the devastation in the rearview mirror. He forced breath from his lungs and glanced toward Steve as he settled back into his seat. Della released Steve’s belt and tried to ease back on the seat, but Jimmy and Sandy still lay behind her.

“Okay, you two. You can sit up now.” Della ordered.

When neither one moved, Della looked down and gasped. “Oh God! Stop the truck. The kids are hurt!”

Zack slammed on the breaks. Steve opened the door and someone moaned softly.

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