All That It Would Take (abridged for Forge)

By John Richmond

t started out as a whim, albeit a fairly crazy one, at eleven-thirty on a Friday night, to drive the six and a half hours from Milledgeville to Knoxville in order to be there for the rest of the weekend.  He knew he would have all of Saturday and most of Sunday before he would have to turn around and head back to Georgia.

“What the hell!” was all he said as he packed his duffle bag and headed out the door.

“I’ll go up 441, take 20 West to Atlanta and then take 75 into Knox-patch.  It’ll take a little longer but it beats going over the mountain in the middle of the night,” he “trip-tiked” to himself.

The traffic was sparse, and for almost four hours the ride had been completely uneventful.   Everything had gone just as he had expected until he drove under the Dalton exit overpass.

There, sitting on the down ramp, idling–but with its lights out–was a cruiser, a Georgia State Patrol car.  Instinctively, he glanced down and checked his speed.  It was okay, between sixty-nine and seventy miles per hour.  He was a little over, but there should be no problem.  These were the times when he was glad that he was in the right-hand lane.  There was no reason to give the cop an excuse to pull him over on some trumped-up speeding charge.

He could almost hear it.  “Son, I’m gonna have to give you a ticket ‘cause you were speeding out there in the passing lane.”

Interstate 75-North was relatively empty at four-ten in the morning, so it wasn’t hard for him to watch the trooper, to see what he was going to do. He watched the dark hulk sitting on the down ramp, and there was nothing. Putting distance between them now, he watched even longer and there was still nothing.  Then, when he was finally ready to consider himself to be free and clear, the headlights came on and the car pulled down the ramp.

The trooper gained on him until they were only an eighth of a mile apart.  Again, he checked his speedometer.  It was still at about seventy.  He wanted to drop it down closer to 65, but something told him that he would only begin to draw attention to himself.  It would almost be like some sort of admission of guilt.  He didn’t want to go that far.  Better to just cruise along and see what happens.

Now, his attention was almost equally divided between reading what his speedometer was telling him and gauging the distance between what quickly in his mind became the pursuer and the pursued.  He watched the cruiser reduce the distance between them down to two hundred yards, then to one hundred yards.

“This is it,” he said to himself.  “He’s going to pull me over.” He was just about to reduce his speed when the cruiser settled in behind him at a distance of about fifty yards.

Once again, he checked his speed.  He was still at seventy.  Then he checked the rearview mirror.  The trooper was still at a distance of fifty yards.  He decided that as long as the headlights stayed at the same distance in his rearview mirror, he would maintain his speed at seventy miles per hour.

They drove on, and again, ahead, Chattanooga loomed, drawing nearer with each passing mile.  The headlights had now become a permanent fixture in his mirror.  He took a moment and tried to figure out what was going on.  Was this some sort of pathetic game that was playing itself out, here, in rural Georgia?  Was he in violation of something?  Was he ever going to get pulled over–and for what?  A routine check?  A phony speeding ticket?  Some mickey-mouse equipment violation?  And when?  How long was this cop going to let him go?  How close to the Tennessee line was he going to be teased with before it was finally over?

Again, he checked on the headlights.  They were still there, in place, at the same distance.  Did the cop want him to speed it up, make a run for the border?  He wondered if state cops could pursue across state lines, and for what?  He knew he couldn’t outrun the cop; sure he was driving a Mustang with over 300 cubic inches, but those trooper car engines were well in the four hundreds; he knew that nobody in their right mind tries to outrun a southern cop.  Once they finally catch you–and they will catch you–they are just that more pissed at you for having the audacity, and a good part stupidity, for trying that kind of stunt.

No, he knew he would have to stay put.  The Ringgold exit was coming up. Maybe the cop would have had enough by then, get off the highway and head for the nearest Waffle House for a coffee and a doughnut.  They drove on.  There it was, the one mile to the Ringgold exit.  Now he began to wonder if he should get off.  Take the exit, find whatever was open, stop, have something to eat and wait.  If the cop wanted to bust his chops so much, let him just sit outside whatever it was– he hoped that it was a Krystal– until he came out.  But he was so close to getting out of a state and a situation that was beginning to incense him.  Should he get off or keep going?

“Get off or keep going?” he asked himself

He looked into the rearview mirror as he reached the exit sign.

“I know you’re thinking that I’m thinking about getting off here so that I can get you off my back.  Well, you’re wrong, asshole.  I’m heading for the state line, and if you want me you’re going to have to come get me.   Let’s see if I can get an idea about what you’re doing.”

He reached down, turned on his radio and found a spot on the AM band where there was no station, only empty radio air.  Then he waited and listened.   There!  For just a split second he thought that he heard it.  He reached down and turned up the volume.  In the meantime, another mile and another minute passed.

Moments later, he heard it, again.  This time he was sure.  Somebody, he assumed it was the trooper, was on a two-way radio.  It was there, that little crack in all that dead radio air.  It was a signal to him that he was not alone and probably neither was the cop.  Whoever was behind those headlights was talking to somebody and they were talking back.

He had dropped down to sixty-eight miles per hour.  Every part of him wanted to inch it back up to sixty-nine or even seventy, but he didn’t want to make it seem like he was running.  The radio cracked, again, and he decided to turn it off, he had heard all the news that was pertinent to his life at the moment.

Ahead of him was a pickup truck pulling a horse trailer and cruising along, he guessed, at no more than sixty.  He knew he had to pass him.  This was going to be critical.  If the cop was looking for an excuse to boost the state revenue coffers, this was going to be an excellent opportunity.  At twenty yards, he turned on his left directional and waited a full three seconds before accelerating and carefully pulling into the passing lane.

Once there, he waited another full three seconds before turning the directional completely off.  He accelerated back up to just under seventy and checked to make sure that he had allowed more than twice the normal distance past the trailer before he turned on his right directional.  Then, with ease matching care, he pulled back into the right-hand lane. There, he drove on with only the truck’s headlights receding deeper into the depths of his rear-view mirror.  He wanted to think that he was rid of the cop, that it was over, but he wasn’t quite convinced, he knew that it was too soon.

“Just give it a little more time,” he said to himself.

Now that the horse-trailer screened him from the state patrol car, he gave the Mustang just a little more gas, moving the speedometer needle just slightly beyond seventy miles per hour.

Each beat of his tires on the concrete pavement took him further and further from the trailer and the cop behind it.  Or was he still behind it?  Maybe he pulled off or into the median crossover with his lights out, waiting to harass somebody going south.

He looked up the highway where the clouds and the ridges seemed to be creating a smaller and smaller passageway into Tennessee.

“Chattanooga, where are you?” he called out through his windshield, knowing that he probably still had another ten miles to go.

Another slower-moving car, forced him out into the passing lane.  They had Michigan plates–tired snowbirds, he figured, trying to drive to dawn so that they could make it home before dark tomorrow.  It was just as he was passing them, the moment when he took a glance at the driver, that he saw them, the headlights, behind him, in the passing lane.  At that distance and that time of night, he wasn’t sure that it was the same Georgia Patrol cruiser.  What he was sure of, based on the spread of the headlights, was that it was a big Georgia Patrol kind of car and that it looked as if it was beginning to close the distance on him.

He urgently passed the Michigan car, signaled, pulled into the right hand lane in front of it, then dropped his speed down to sixty-eight miles per hour.

“There,” he said, settling into what had now become a familiar routine.  “That will give me enough speed to stay ahead of both the snowbirds and the trooper.”

Once again, in his rearview mirror, he watched the car he had just passed slowly disappear into some back corner of the night.

This time, however, he didn’t have to wait as long for the headlights to appear as he did when he passed the truck and horse trailer.  They were there all right, just as he hoped they wouldn’t but still expected them to be, also passing the Michigan car.

“That’s it,” he said to himself.

“Okay, so you’re letting me know you’re there, on my butt, bugging me, probably right up to the Chattanooga City line.  You asshole.  So, come on, fall in behind, tail me,” he called into his rearview mirror.

This time, though, something was different.  The trooper did not drop into the right-hand lane but continued in the left-hand lane, and it seemed as if the cruiser was gaining on him.

Quickly, he checked his speedometer to see if he had unknowingly dropped his speed while he had been preoccupied.  No, he was still in the sixty-eight to sixty-nine mile per hour range.  He sensed that this was the moment, the time when the trooper would make his move to pull him over, before they got too far up toward the state line.

He straightened his rearview mirror, hoping that it would give him a better perspective, a different view, a clarity on the world behind him that was less in line with his hopes than with his fears.

It didn’t help.  The cruiser was still in the left-hand lane, and gaining on him, almost effortlessly.

“Damn,” he hissed.  “I was so close.”

He now resigned himself to the inevitable.  He had seen it before–he had been there himself.  Once the trooper pulled to within thirty or forty yards of him, the cruiser would fall in behind him and those blue lights would be turned on.

He laughed.  The blue lights; despite his current harassment, he would reluctantly admit that if the Georgia Patrol had done anything right, it was the installation of the blue lights–and plenty of them.  They were not there just for the effect of communicating that the state arm of law enforcement was requesting an audience with the unfortunate person in their sights.  No, the lights flooded the situation to the point of creating an alternate reality where the normal full spectrum of light was suspended.  Everything is blue; the pavement, trees, your car, your skin–you have been transported into the world of “Georgia State Patrol Blue.”  You could even turn your headlights off.  It was blue daylight.

There was no mistaking this message nor was there any possibility that you might not see it.  Every now and then, while driving through Georgia at night, he had seen that otherworldly glow.  It foretold that someone was about to enter another dimension, an encounter with the Georgia Patrol.  This is what he expected and waited for as the cruiser gained on him.

Yet the world remained dark.  The cruiser continued in the left-hand lane, pursuing, closing the distance.  It made no move to stop him; it almost seemed as if it was intent on passing him and continuing up the highway.

He glanced at the highway.  It was open and empty, demanding less and less of his attention.  He was fixated now, almost totally preoccupied with what was transpiring in his rearview mirror.

The patrol car seemed to be moving effortlessly.  He watched as the distance between them shrank; forty, thirty-five, thirty, and fifteen yards now gave way to mere feet.  Thirty feet and closing, yet still no blue lights–no nothing.

The highway in front of him was reduced from being less demanding to a mere distraction as he began to divide his scrutiny between the rearview mirror and his driver’s side mirror.  The cruiser was now at twenty feet.  He checked his speedometer, determined not to allow this game to force him to either panic and speed up or cower and slow down to a speed of submission.  No, he was going to maintain himself and try to stay cool.  At least that’s what he told himself.

The distance continued to shrink.  Ten feet, five feet- now the cruiser was in his blind spot where neither mirror was useful.  He knew that if he wanted to see the cruiser, if he even wanted to see the trooper, he would physically have to turn to look at him.  He was that close.  But he didn’t.  He wasn’t sure whether it was out of fear or an attempt to maintain some sense of self-respect, but he did nothing except sit there and drive.  He was able, though, to feel the cruiser and the trooper and see the rack of blue lights and feel the power of the engine and the violence that the car held for him or anyone who would dare cross the Georgia Patrol.  And so he sat there.

Occasionally, he caught, out of the corner of his eye, the cruiser pulling up a little further and a little closer before dropping back into his blind spot.  He kept looking from one mirror to the other, waiting to see the cruiser, waiting to see what would happen next.  It almost felt as if he was alone on the highway; there was nothing that he could see in front of him and equally nothing he could see behind him, yet he knew he wasn’t alone.

Then, instantly, the cruiser fell in behind him and the darkness behind him was filled with light.  Not the blue light that he had been expecting, but white light, the headlights.  Once again, the shadowing resumed.  He was, in part, relieved that the trooper had moved off his blind spot and back to a place that was becoming quite expected, almost normal.

They were now approaching the Georgia Route 2 exit.  In and of itself this meant nothing to him other than being another reminder that they were just that much closer to crossing into Tennessee.  He had just one more mile to the exit and then a couple more miles to the border.  The game, the hunt, the sick fun had, at most, three miles to go.  For him, at over sixty miles an hour, that translated into slightly less than three minutes.

“In four minutes,” he thought, giving himself a mental cushion, “I will definitely be done with this clown.”

As they approached the Route 2 exit ramp, he indulged himself.

“Maybe the cop will get off, here,” he wished as he watched.

He passed the exit ramp and looked back.  There was no directional on, indicating an intent to exit, but, “What the hell,” he thought.  “He’s a cop on an empty road, he doesn’t have to signal.”

He was watching the cruiser in his rearview mirror as he cleared the Georgia Route 2 overpass.  It was when he realized that the cruiser was not going to exit- and at the very moment that he was returning his eyes to the highway in front of him- that he saw it.  Neither directly nor clearly, but rather as part of the panning process as he returned his view to the road before him, that he saw the second cruiser.

Maybe it was just some sort of acquired habit to happen to glance–not look, but almost unconsciously scan every down-ramp that he passed–that allowed him to see it sitting there, idling, with the lights out- just waiting.

For a moment he wanted to turn and double-check to be certain that he actually saw what he thought that he saw, but he thought the better of it.  He returned his gaze to the rearview mirror where he could see the cruiser’s brake lights come on. He watched it slide, headlights out, down the on-ramp and onto the highway.  He watched it until it fell back into the night behind the first cruiser and disappeared.

“Two miles and two minutes to go,” he thought. At the same time he had no doubt that something involving him was, as the saying went, about to go down.

He watched for the second trooper to turn on his lights.  He didn’t.

A mile and a half to go.  Just ninety seconds.

“Why?” he asked himself.  “Why didn’t the other trooper turn on his headlights? What was the point of driving in the dark like that?”

He had an immediate sense for the answer and it made him ill.

“Damn, I need some air,” he admitted.  He rolled down the  window about two inches.

In his gut he understood why the second cruiser pursued him in the dark–they didn’t want him to know that there was a second cruiser, to have the element of surprise.  But a surprise for what?  What had he done other than simply want to go to Knoxville in the middle of the night?

He realized that he was no longer alone in this unfolding circumstance.  There were now at least the three of them, all inextricably bound to what he sensed would be an inescapable sequence of events.

They were down to a mile.  Sixty seconds.  He knew that at any moment now the passage of time and the distance between them would come to a crashing halt in a flood of blue light.

His hands began to sweat beneath his grip on the steering wheel.  He reminded himself that he had done nothing wrong.

“Probably just a routine check,” he told himself after a deep breath.

He exhaled that breath into a blue cloud.  The first trooper had done it.  After all this time, and with no more than thirty seconds–half a mile–to the border, the moment had spun down to arrive.  The lights had come on; it was time to pull over.

There was a level section of shoulder about fifty yards ahead of him.  He turned his right directional on and aimed for it.  Reducing his speed, he drifted to the spot he had picked out.  Finally, he came to a full stop, turned out his lights, and turned off the ignition.

Looking into the rearview mirror he could see nothing except his own blue eyes.

“It has to be some sort of equipment violation,” he tried to reassure himself; he didn’t want to begin to entertain why that second cruiser had joined the pursuit.

As he thought through how he was going to handle the situation, he had conveniently forgotten about the second cruiser.  He wasn’t able to see how it had slowed and then stopped just feet behind the first car.

“Okay,” he finally said out loud, “I guess that I should try to get to the bottom of this whole thing.”

He turned on his flashers, left his keys in the ignition, unfastened his seat belt, reached back to unlock the door and then opened it, stepping out into the blue light of an unreal day.

The pursuit cruiser was stopped six, maybe seven, yards directly behind him.  He had just closed his car door when he saw the trooper exit his car and slowly begin walking toward him.

“It has to be an equipment violation,” he said to himself.  “They probably couldn’t think of what to nail me on until the very last second.”

He thought this as he walked back toward the cruiser.

“One of my taillights is probably out,” he snorted confidently as he passed the back end of his own car.

“ I guess I should look to see which one so that I can make up some sort of story,” he decided.  It was as he was turning to look at the rear end of his car that he was reminded of the second pursuit car.

There, in the gully, slightly to the rear of the first cruiser and at about a forty-five degree angle to the highway was the second trooper.  The sight of the second trooper wasn’t as intimidating as the shotgun that was pointed at him.

Over the years, going as far back as his early days in the Boy Scouts, he had handled guns.  Rifles, shotguns, pistols– but this was the first time that he had ever looked down the barrel of a gun.  He was amazed at how big it seemed.  The barrel was large, very large, almost as if the trooper was holding up a section of drainpipe.  It was also deep and far darker than the night.  For an instant his gaze was drawn down into the depths of the barrel, and as dark as the moment was he could almost imagine seeing the shell.

“Whoa,” he gently and calmly urged himself.  “You better slow down right now, lad.  This is serious business.”

He knew that he was in trouble.  His thoughts surged from the disassociated analytical number of variables involved in this situation to the philosophical question of life versus death–his death.  Here on Interstate 75, in rural Georgia, just south of the Tennessee line at 4:25 in the morning.

“Okay,” he continued to himself, now breaking his stare away from the gun barrel.  “You are in serious trouble and you are on the verge of getting shotThere are a couple of things to remember.  One, don’t make any quick motions; two, make sure the cop with the gun can see your hands at all times; three, don’t get between the cops; and four, don’t act like a jerk.” With all that set in his mind, he stood and waited for the first trooper to reach him.

The trooper in the gully continually moved a little further north, up the gully, to get a better angle.

The first trooper arrived with his hand resting on the butt of his gun.

“Sir,” he began, “I’m going to have to ask to see your driver’s license and automobile registration.”

He nodded in compliance while he watched the trooper’s hand on his gun.  His mind raced as he wondered how fast the trooper could draw and shoot.

“Sure,” he said.  Once his nodding was over and he saw the first trooper standing there with the anticipation of momentarily seeing his license and registration, he realized that he was about to descend deeper into the bind that was impinging on the continuation of his life.

He thought for a moment before beginning.

“Officer,” he said.  “I do have a license and the registration.  The only trouble is that they are in the upper left hand pocket of my army coat which is in the car on the front passenger seat.”

“That’s fine, the first trooper intoned.  “Now, if I could see those documents, sir?”

He hesitated for a moment while he made sure that the second trooper could see both of them, clearly.

“Well,” he continued almost apologetically.  “There is a bit of a problem.”

The first trooper stood there silently, with a blank face.

“The problem is, that, yes, it is all there but the interior light in my car doesn’t work.  So, since I don’t want your buddy over there to get trigger happy, what I am going to do is walk backwards to the car door with my hands out.  Then I’ll open the car door, put my back to the door, reach in to pick up my coat, shake it as I’m pulling it out and then toss it into the highway, away from the our cars.  You can feel free to open the pocket, take my license out and look it over.”

He paused for a moment and studied the trooper.

“That’s a good idea, sir,” the trooper finally said.

He glanced from one trooper to the other and then slowly began walking backward to the driver’s side door.  Once there, he slowly reached to open it, making sure that he did not put the door between him and the trooper with the shotgun.

“Make sure that he has a clear view of you all the time,” he told himself.

Once the door was open, he looked at the first trooper for a sign to proceed.  The trooper nodded.

He put his back against the window of the door and reached in, while keeping his other hand free and clear and out where both troopers could see it.

“I’m going to reach in across the car, pick up my coat and begin shaking it in the car as I bring it out into the open.  I will do all of this very slowly,” he informed the first trooper.  Again, the trooper nodded.

“Be sure to keep eye contact with the one with the gun,” he instructed himself.

Then, briefly, he glanced into the car to make sure that he knew exactly where to find his coat.  When he was certain of where it was, he returned his gaze to the gully.  The gun and the trooper were gone.

In that brief instant, the second trooper had changed his position from being in the gully to standing at the left rear end of his car.  Again, the shotgun was at his shoulder and aimed at him. He reached deeper into the car for his coat.  Now the barrel became even bigger and more deadly.  He sighed.

“No quick or jerky motions,” he reminded himself.  “Just reach for it easily.  Start shaking it right away.  Bring it out real slowly and make sure that both cops can see both of your hands once it is out of the car.”

He grabbed hold of the coat and began shaking it.  Slowly, he brought it closer and closer toward the door.  Once he had it out the door, he kept the coat down and low while continuing to shake it.  He made sure that his grasping hand was turned toward the trooper with the gun while he kept his other hand up and away from both the coat and his body.  Finally, when the coat had cleared the car, he shook it one last time and then easily tossed it out into the open highway.

He looked at the first trooper.  “It’s there, the license, in a rectangular blue wallet in the upper right had pocket.  There’s no problem, you can go through my coat.  It’s a Tennessee license.”

The first trooper looked from him to the coat and then back at him.

“Sir, I’m going to have to ask you to have a seat in your car while we check this out.”

“Okay,” he nodded, and swore to himself that he could actually see the cocked hammer at the end of the barrel.

He looked at the first trooper.  “Just get in?” he asked.

“That’s it,” the trooper replied.  “Just have a seat.”

He looked from one cop to the other before turning and getting into the car.

Once inside, he tried to think about what was going on but his mind refused to participate in any activity beyond a cursory perusal of the rudimentary facts.  They were few and they were simple; a long pursuit, two state patrol cars and a cop with a shotgun probably just itching to blow his head off.

“What the hell is going on?” he asked himself, shaking his head.

He sat silently; physically still and mentally blank before he realized the obvious.

“You know,” he said to himself with consummate frankness, “maybe I’ll just sit here with both hands on the dashboard.”

Slowly, he placed both hands palm down on the black plastic in front of him.  Then, in that way, he waited and watched the trooper with the shotgun.  They were a complete lock now, his eyes and the shotgun’s barrel, each carefully watching and waiting for movement; suspicious and potentially dangerous on his part, violent and damning on the barrel’s part.

In this way they continued to wait.  Time was no longer the universally independent phenomenon that he’d long imagined and even understood it to be.  No, it was a variable and perhaps even a tool in the administration of whatever was happening to him.  He tried to think what was occurring, but his mind was now even more immobile.  It was completely unwilling to call to the fore much less to entertain the unsavory possibilities which populated the night and watched from the darkness, just beyond the edge of the blue woods.  There were forces at work here.  He knew that.  Forces that if left to their natural unfolding could be deadly and regretful.

He promised himself to remain calm and sit still.  It was with this resolve that he simply waited.  Occasionally he glanced at his driver’s side rear mirror hoping to see the first trooper again, but his curiosity and fear always returned to the frozen shape of the second trooper who could rule over life and death by simply twitching his index finger.

Dawn was coming but it was not here yet–or so he surmised.  It was impossible for him to tell what was going on around him.  They had been alone on this stretch of highway for the last half-hour.  No cars, trucks or buses had passed them going in either direction.  They were three people on the periphery of fear, each in his own way trying to remain composed, alert and cautious.

He wanted to look at his watch, but thought better of moving at all.  It was then that he heard a car door close.  Quickly, his eyes turned to look out his driver’s side mirror.  There, walking up toward his window, was the first trooper.  He glanced back to see the second trooper.  The rear window was empty.  Just when he was about to look back into his driver’s side mirror, the first trooper came abreast of where he was sitting.

“Sir?” the first trooper called out.

He turned his head to look.  “Yes?”

“Sir, you can come out of your car now,” the trooper said.  It was not an order or a request or a demand, nor did it suggest the possibility of an explanation.  It was nothing more than a statement.

He looked at the trooper.  “It’s okay?” he asked.

“It’s fine, sir.”

The first trooper stepped back toward the highway, allowing him to open the door and get out.

To his left, at the rear of his car, the second trooper was unloading his shotgun.

“Sir,” the first trooper began, trying to get his attention.

He turned back to the first trooper.

“Yes?”

“We checked you out with Nashville–everything’s okay,” he said, handing him back his driver’s license, wallet and coat.  “But we would like to explain why we took the precautions that we did.”

He looked at the first trooper a little more closely now.

Gone was the serious, perhaps even deadly, intent that he had seen on his face earlier.  He wasn’t exactly smiling, but there was a creeping relaxation that was becoming evident.

“No, no, you don’t have to do that,” he replied.  “That’s okay.”

The first trooper, however, was determined.  “No, seriously, sir, I think that we owe you an explanation for why we took the precautions that we did.”

He really didn’t want to hear an explanation.  All he wanted to do was to get in his car and get out of Georgia.  But the trooper was gently insistent–not apologetic–but almost needing to explain.

“Okay,” he nodded.

“Well,” the first trooper began.  “You remember when I first started following you.  And that went on for some time.  But, eventually, if you would remember, I pulled up along side of you there, for a time, before dropping back.”

“I remember.”

The first trooper continued.  “What I was doing was examining the decal that you have on your backseat, driver’s side window.”

“Decal?  What is he talking about?” he thought.

“Decal?” he asked.

“Yes, sir,” the trooper confirmed, pointing at the rear window.

He turned to the Mustang to be reminded.

“Oh, that,” he said.  “That’s been on there since I bought the car.  It’s just an old National Wildlife Federation decal.”

The trooper nodded.  “That it is, sir.  That it is.  But,” he continued, with a degree of gravity slipping back into his voice, “when I pulled up along side of you on the highway, it was dark and we were both going almost seventy miles per hour.  So, the only thing that I could read from that vantage point was the word ‘National.’”

“All right,” he offered.

The first trooper continued.  “Well, the reason we took the precautions,” he said, pointing to the second trooper who was standing, now, between the cars, shotgun on his shoulder, “was because of what happened in Jacksonville this morning.”

He looked from the first to the second trooper and then back again.

“Jacksonville?”

“Yes, sir.  There was a bank robbery in Jacksonville, today.  The robber shot a guard and a teller.”

“That’s really too bad,” he said.  “But how does that involve me?”

The first trooper adjusted his hat before continuing.  “It seems that the getaway car was a blue mustang with out-of-state plates.”

“Wow,” he said meekly.

“Yes sir, but that’s not the all of it,” the trooper continued.  “It was also reported that the car had on its rear driver’s side window a National Rifle Association decal.”

The trooper paused for a moment.  During that time, they both looked at the decal on his car and then back at each other.

“So,” the trooper continued, “like I said, when I pulled up along side of you, saw the decal and could only read the word ‘National,’ well,” he gestured again toward the second trooper, “like I said, we had to take precautions.”

They both stood there in a state of ease now that the ordeal was over but at the same time uncomfortable about what to do or say next.  Time passed, again.  The second trooper shifted the shotgun from one shoulder to the other.

“Obviously, you’re free to go now,” the first trooper said with a finality that could only come from an officer of the law.

He nodded and looked at the two troopers.

“Yeah, okay.  Thanks,” he managed and then extended his hand to the first trooper.

The trooper didn’t even look at the hand.  He simply touched the brim of his hat and said, “Thank you for your cooperation.”  Then he walked back to his patrol car.

He stood there in the blue light and watched both troopers get into their cars.  The first trooper started his car and then pulled off into the highway, followed closely by the second cruiser.  The night went from blue to black as the first cruiser turned off his blue lights.  They headed north, toward the state line.

He watched their taillights receding in the distance until they both crested a small rise and then disappeared below it.  It was dark again.  He looked to the east, trying to catch a turning shade of dawn, but there was none to be seen.  The interstate was still empty in both directions.  In the distance he could hear tires on the road.  They sounded as if they were getting closer.  Then, suddenly, heading south, he saw the two cruisers.  He thought of waving but realized that it would be futile in the darkness.  They passed almost as if nothing had happened and disappeared.   Now all was quiet.

“I guess I should get going,” he said, aloud.  But he sensed that there was still something unsettled about the night.  He reached into his car and turned off his emergency flashers.  The scene was surrendered to complete darkness.

Alone, on the side of the highway, he tried to make some sense of what he had just been through.  Taking a deep breath, he walked out into the middle of the two northbound lanes.  He looked up and particularly down the road.

“Incredible,” he thought, straining to hear, to assure himself, that there were still others out there, that he was not alone.  But there was nothing.

He squatted and put his hand, palm down, onto the concrete highway, hoping to feel the pulse of life moving toward him.  There was nothing.  Standing, he sighed and wanted the meaning of all of this to begin to unfold.  But, as far as he could tell, there was still nothing.  For now, the only thing that he knew was that for the time of this encounter, the three of them might as well have been the only three people in the world.  In all of what had transpired, the only reality that had meaning in the sum total of the histories of their collective lives amounted to a finger on the trigger of a shotgun.  Again, he looked to the east, hoping for dawn.  Now it looked like there was a good chance.

Sighing again, he walked to his car, got in and locked the door.  He started the car, turned on the lights and then looked as far down the highway as his headlights would allow.  Impulsively, he turned and looked into his rearview mirror.  There was nothing; it was empty- save for the telltale red glow of his taillights.

“I guess it wasn’t an equipment violation, after all,” he said to himself as he pictured the trooper with the shotgun.

“That was close,” he finally admitted to the night.  “I could’ve been dead.  All that I would’ve had to do is to get out of the car with some sort of indignant attitude or started arguing with the trooper, or even get animated for having been harassed.  That’s all it would’ve taken–doing something stupid on my part–and they would have been justified in shooting me dead.”

He nodded in simple agreement.  Then, he looked up the highway, turned on his left directional, put the car into gear and slowly drove off into what remained of the Georgia night.

——————–

John Richmond has “wandered” parts of North America for a good portion of his life.  Along the way, he has not only seen a good number of things but he has also lived with- for varying lengths of time- an equally good number of people.  For the most part, these people were females, but one male roommate does stand out above the rest.  That was probably because the rural area in which they shared the run-down ante-bellum house was set in a violent countryside that, alas, necessitated sleeping with a loaded pistol. (Though there were no “women with guns,” there was, however, one particularly irate father who- along with his wife- after downing a couple of bottles of bourbon- we’re talking rural Georgia, here- decided to take the pistol that sat on the table between them and drive over and shoot “poor ole” John Richmond.  Fortunately for John, the mother got to the gun first and shot her husband [she liked John].) More recently- and safely to say- John Richmond has sequestered himself in his basement office where he divides his time between writing and discussing the state of the world with his doxie/coonhound mix dog- and, yes, she is a female- Roma.


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