You Think Id Know Better
This is pretty much a PWP for Marian who says there arent enough Nathan stories out there.
It was in unimaginable darkness that I was driving home that night. The blacktop lay before me, its white lines drawing me along. The training session in Silver Springs was mostly a refresher course for me but it was a requirement, so I had to go. The soft jazz station was playing through the speakers. I enjoyed spending time with other medical professionals, I so seldom get to do that in my line of work.
I cant help but smile when I think about the unusual group of men I work with. I wouldnt have believed that so disparate a group could work together as well as we do. I guess thats a testament to Chris Larabees leadership. He picked us for our strengths, our weaknesses didnt really enter into his way of thinking.
The last highway sign said I still have ten more miles to go. I roll my shoulders against the seat. It was a long day. You think Id know better than to take my eyes off of the road, even for a second. I think it was a deer, or maybe an elk, standing in the road when I looked up next. Either way, the next thing I knew, I was tromping on the brake and cursing up a blue streak. I couldnt avoid the collision.
A variety of aches and pains accompanied my awakening. The steering wheel was pressed tightly to my ribcage. It was still unimaginably dark, not even the soft glow of the instrument panel relieved the darkness. I tried to move, pain raced through my upper body and I groaned. Fumbling for the seatbelt release, I encounter something warm and wet and furry.
Ahh! I scream. Then I feel foolish. The damned deer or elk or whatever it was had come through the windshield and was now in the seat next to me. I push the button on the seatbelt, only to find it jammed. For an instant, only an instant, I panic. Jerking at the seatbelt, I awaken all of the new aches and pains. When I calm myself, I realize that Im holding the passenger side seatbelt release. Groping for my own seatbelt, I punch the button. The tension across my chest eases slightly. With my other hand, I grasp the door handle and open the door.
In the dark, I had no way of knowing what lay beyond the open car door. I reached under the seat and pulled the lever to move the seat back. Gaining only a couple of inches between myself and the wheel, I then fumbled for the lever to allow the seat to lean back. Swinging my legs around, I stepped out of the vehicle.
I fell. It never occurred to me that I might be in the air. Tree limbs hit me as I fell. I covered my head as best I could until I slammed into the ground. An ominous creaking had me struggling to my feet and stumbling out of the way. Apparently, my weight had kept the Jimmy balanced on the branch that stopped our fall and the absence of my weight caused it to teeter precariously before plummeting to the ground.
The first raindrops fell on the treetops and eventually found their way down to me. I made my way back to the Jimmy and searched for something to protect me from the rain. You think Id know better than to set out in the early fall without a coat. Even my emergency blanket was missing! I fumbled for my cell phone and found it on the passenger side floorboard. Unfortunately, the deer or elk had bled out and the phone was thoroughly soaked with it. Flinging the useless instrument back into the vehicle, I peered up, trying to see how far away the road was. No one would even miss me until I didnt show up for work in something like two days. Rain was off visiting her family and I had told the guys that I wouldnt be there for their Sunday get together.
The rain continued without letting up while I debated my options. Finally, I settled for climbing into the back of the Jimmy and hunkering down for the night. I managed to fold down one of the back seats, the other one was blocked by the dead animal. From the drums inside of my head, I figured that I had a slight concussion and I resisted falling asleep. Unfortunately, I was too tired to heed my own advice and soon dropped soundly into sleep.
It was gray and incredibly cold when I wakened in the morning. Every muscle in my body ached and my head felt like it was going to explode at any second. A strange sound caused me to focus on what was outside of the wrecked vehicle. My hair stood on end and my nerves tingled as I watched the pack of wolves circling. One of them leapt onto the roof and I cringed at the tapping sound his nails made. Another one jumped onto the crumpled hood and sniffed at the dead animal. Growling and snarling, the animals argued over who got the first bite.
I fleetingly thought of my gun, locked safely in the glove box. You think Id know better than to leave it in there but it was so damned uncomfortable tucked into my waistband. I guess Rain was right, I have put on a few pounds. Mustering my courage, I crawl toward the front of the vehicle. The shattered windshield is still fairly intact, meaning that I might be able to get to the glove box without getting bitten. A ravenous snarling causes my hands to tremble as I reach around the furry brown body. I managed to turn the knob and the door fell open, spilling all of the papers, ketchup packets, napkins, my insurance cards and my flashlight into the bloody pool in the floorboard. Luckily, my gun slid neatly into my hand. I groaned as I worked my way back to the rear of the Jimmy. Now that I was armed, I didnt know exactly what to do. Finally, I decided to try scaring them away. I cranked down the drivers side window just enough to stick the barrel out and pulled the trigger. The noise was incredible inside of the vehicle, so I didnt hear the startled yelps as the animals flinched from the sound. By the time the ringing stopped in my ears, they had gone. Getting out of the Jimmy was hard with all the stiff, sore muscles.
Now that it was light out, I could see that it was nothing short of a miracle that I had survived. A cliff, some thirty or forty feet high stood between where I was and where I needed to be. I could also see the massive limbs that had been torn from the trees as the vehicle plummeted to the ground. After surveying the area, I decided to try to make my way back to the highway. Tucking my gun into my waistband, I started walking. Reaching the base of the cliff, I considered the best route for climbing.
Keeping in mind that my ankle was tender from my high altitude exit from the Jimmy, I started up the muddy, rocky cliff. Choosing my climbing route, I began to climb. I did pretty well until I was about ten or twelve feet from the ground. My feet slipped on the wet, sticky mud and I landed hard on my knees. Groping along the sturdy weedy plant I had in my left hand, I winced. Under different circumstances, I might have known the kind of plant but right now all I could think of was the small, needle-like spines that were embedding themselves in my palm and fingers. Digging in with my toes, I pushed up until I could grab for another plant. When I reached about twenty feet up, I grabbed hold of a rock that provided a convenient handhold. Just above my head, a small sapling cedar tree had managed to make a precarious beginning. I reached for the trunk and pulled myself up. Raising my foot up to the handhold, I hung there for a minute, resting. From my vantage point, my options were seriously limited. Stretching up with one hand, I tucked my fingers into a crevasse and raised my foot to the cedar tree.
With one foot on the sapling tree, I tried to plan out the rest of my climb. On the road above my head, I heard a car go by. I sent up a prayer that they would see where I went through the safety barrier and call for help. My shoulder ached something fierce. I let go of the crevasse and dangled my arm, letting the blood flow back down into my fingers. A stiff breeze blew down the gorge, driving the remaining raindrops from the limbs above me. Unfortunately, the water was cold and I shuddered. The smooth bottoms of my penny loafers slipped on the small tree trunk. With my arms windmilling wildly, I slipped and came down hard on the tree, a shocked cry of pain tearing from my throat as the rough bark collided with decidedly tender anatomy.
After what seemed like an eternity, I reached the barricade at the top of the cliff. Resting on my knees, I hung over the cold metal while I regained my breath. A deep rumbling was approaching and I tried to stand up but my rubbery knees refused to cooperate. The semi that came barreling along the road didnt see me. He was too busy avoiding the small car coming from the opposite direction. The tires of the trailer left the blacktop just long enough to splash through the sizeable puddle directly in front of me.
Soaking wet and sprayed with mud, I finally managed to regain my feet. Lifting one tired, aching leg over the barrier, I heard an ominous tearing sound. My pants ripped at the inside of the knee, the small, jagged bit of metal grazing a deep groove in my calf. I stumbled, finally reaching level blacktop. Just ahead, I saw where I had gone over. From where I was standing, I couldnt even see the Jimmy. Remembering that I was less than ten miles from my exit, I started walking, hoping that someone would have pity on me and stop.
I had been walking most of fifteen minutes when a car went by. I turned and waved but they didnt even slow down. Figuring that my appearance must be what scared them off, I sighed and kept walking. Another car passed and I waved but they raced on, ignoring me too. Resigned to having to walk all the way to the nearest pay phone, I tuned out the road sounds. Just ahead, the road sign said that it was now only eight miles to my exit. Sighing heavily as my ankle throbbed, I kept walking.
Another car passed me and I ignored it. Imagine my surprise when it pulled to the shoulder and stopped. It was only then that I recognized the State Patrol logo on the trunk and the flashing lights on top. Smiling broadly, I tried to hurry to meet them. Two troopers jumped out of the car and, to my complete surprise, pulled their guns on me.
Get down on the ground and put your hands on top of your head! the driver yelled.
Wait what? No I went off the road a ways back and, I protested.
Get on the ground and put your hands on top of your head or I will shoot you! the driver warned, his tone more commanding and angrier.
Confused, tired, aching and now worried, I slowly sank to my knees and raised my hands to rest on top of my head. Another State Patrol car arrived and two more troopers leapt out with guns drawn. I turned my head to look at the new arrivals. One trooper holstered his weapon and approached me with his cuffs in hand. Grasping one wrist, he shoved me down on the blacktop and cuffed me. Before I could even protest, he jerked my weapon from my waistband. Secured and no longer a threat, I was dragged to my knees. Looking up into the face of the driver of the first car, I saw barely concealed rage.
Look, Officer, Im on your side. I work for the ATF in Denver, I explained.
Yeah, and I work for the President of the NRA. Put him in the car, the officer demanded.
I was roughly brought to my feet. My sore ankle folded and I leaned against the officer on that side. He immediately released me and I fell, skinning my forehead on the blacktop. The next time, two of them lifted me and tossed me none too gently into the back seat of the car. Aching, wet and cold, I leaned into the seat and closed my eyes for a few minutes. Outside of the car, the patrolmen were examining my weapon.
Its been fired, recently, one of them said.
Look at him. The dirty clothes, the blood, it has to have been him! another insisted.
Take him to the station and let them figure it out, one said authoritatively.
The patrolmen got into the car and back onto the roadway. I relaxed against the door as I began to warm up. I took only fifteen minutes to cover what would have taken me the rest of the day. At the police station, I was roughly removed from the car and dragged into the building. My first stop was a small interrogation room.
Can you at least take the cuffs off? My shoulders are killing me, I complained. You think Id know better than to push a man who was already pissed off at me. The patrolman walked over and shoved me, hard, against the wall.
Youll get the cuffs off when I get damned good and ready to take the cuffs off! he snarled.
After he left the room, I kicked the chair out from under the table and sat down to take the weight off of my sore ankle. A few minutes later, three men came into the room. One was dressed in a business suit, so I addressed myself to him.
Sir, my name is Nathan Jackson. I work for the Denver ATF. I hit a deer and my car went off of the road. If youll just check my ID.
Have you checked him for ID? the suit asked the patrolmen.
No sir. He was less than three miles from where the murders were committed. Walking down the side of the road with a gun in his pants, what were we supposed to do? We confronted and detained him, we brought him to the station.
If youll just check my ID, I tried again.
Coming to my feet, I presented my backside to the patrolman to remove my wallet from my back pocket. He patted both sides and came up empty.
No wallet, no ID, he said sarcastically.
Then call one of my teammates, theyll come down and identify me! I suggested.
I gave them Chriss phone numbers and they took me to a holding cell. I was detained with six gang members that had been busted for joy riding in the middle of the night. Young, cocky and arrogant, they looked me up and down like a side of beef. You think Id know better than to open my mouth in a situation like that.
Hey guys, whatre you in for? I asked in a purely conversational tone of voice.
It took several patrolmen to extricate me from the hail of punches and kicks that rained down on me. My nose and mouth were bleeding profusely when I was returned to the interrogation room. Someone I couldnt see thrust a handful of paper napkins into my hands for me to stem the blood. I panted, feeling the give in my ribcage indicating a broken rib. My shoulder was throbbing to an entirely different drummer.
The blond man strode up to the desk with five men on his heels. The desk officer stood and backed away. The six men lined up along the counter and stared at the wide-eyed rookie.
I got a call that you may have one of my men here, the blond man dressed in unrelieved black announced.
The shaken rookie radioed for the arresting officers and they escorted the blond man back to the interrogation room.
Nathan? Is that you? My God! What did they do to you? Chris asked as he knelt at my side. I lifted my battered and bloody face and tried to smile.
Am I ever glad to see you. I want to go home, I said.
How are you feeling?
Im fine. I just want to go home, I begged.
Another pair of legs stood over me and I glared up at him. I assume this is your agent? the detective said.
It took a little while for me to convince them that I hadnt killed anyone but eventually there was a radio call that the killer had tried to rob a gas station farther down the highway and had been killed by the police.
A couple of hours later, I was sitting in a wheelchair leaving the ER. The rain clouds were breaking up and there was a rainbow stretching across the sky. Josiah helped me into the front seat of the Ram and buckled my seatbelt for me. I closed my eyes and enjoyed the pain pills they had given me. When I opened them next, we were back on the highway.
Chris, I really just want to go home. Ill be fine. Rain will be home late tonight and I can take care of myself until then.
Youre going to the ranch, he said resolutely. The doctor said you shouldnt be left alone for a couple of days.
I huffed in misery. Of course I was going to the ranch. You think Id know better.