In Memory of Ed Wooton
For the Love - 12. Ambush
"I just got some very weird news. The Piedmont Cop that Eric kicked in the nuts called me, demanding to know what kind of strings I'd pulled to get the charges against Eric dropped," Mr. Williams said, his voice rising, as Steve joined us at the door.
Dropped? My mouth fell open as Mr. Williams continued, "I had to work at it to calm him down, and convince him that this was all news to me. So, he starts at the beginning, and said he just found out that his criminal complaint against Eric had been withdrawn, and nobody bothered to tell him about it. He said the charges are being dropped. All of ‘em, and Eric will be out in a few days. He thought I was behind it."
I thought for a moment. "How can they do that? The Auto Theft was of my vehicle. Don't they need my agreement?" I said, with a touch of anger.
"Nope. The D.A. has the power to file and drop charges. I've got a call in to this county's D.A., but I think I know how that will go. He already declined jurisdiction so that the Piedmont DA could handle it all, due to the more serious charges of resisting arrest and assault on a police officer happening in that jurisdiction. The theft of the Jeep would probably just be joyriding, a misdemeanor. That means if the Piedmont D.A. drops the charges, there is no other recourse."
Steve let out a low whistle, "Something stinks here. Really, really bad... Think this has anything to do with the Piedmont Sheriff going after Chris and trying to shoot him?"
Mr. Williams nodded, "Afraid so, because the officer who called me filled me in a little on what's being going on over in Piedmont. Eric was in jail when I went to see him, but it turns out that he ain't been staying there. Sheriff Johnson has been signing him out, and he's been stayin' at the Sheriff's house."
"WHAT?" Steve and I exclaimed in unison, shock evident on our faces.
"Ayup. Nobody even bothered to notify me, his father. Guys, something is up with this, something weird, and I don't know what yet. A sheriff signing someone out of jail and keeping them at his house is just unheard of." Mr. Williams shook his head, "But, Eric will be home in a few days. Then I'm gonna try, one last time, to get through to him and get him straightened out. But you two need to watch your backs around him, and don't even think about roughing him up; if he's got friends in low places over in Piedmont, they could use any damn excuse to cause trouble, even in this county. "
Steve gasped, "After all he's done, he's coming home?"
Mr. Williams nodded, his face marred in frustration, "Yeah, but he sure as hell won't be happy about it. As far as he's concerned, this house is going to be worse than a military boot camp." Mr. Williams pantomimed locking a door, and throwing away the key, "I'll make him wish he'd stayed put in jail. I'm also going to look into some military schools. Okay guys, when you are done with the notes about yesterday, bring ‘em, to the house and we can go over ‘em."
Mr. Williams stormed off, as Steve and I stared at each other in shock, "This is totally fucked up," Steve said, the anger clear in his voice.
I nodded in agreement, "Yeah, but I think some of it is starting to fit. We have a few bits of info that add up: the Sheriff was after us, and Eric is his houseguest, Eric hid the Data Stick full of stuff Dex said Eric wouldn't have the skills to create, and now, Eric is being sprung from jail and all charges dropped. I think it must be connected." I said, still shocked with the news of Eric's impending release.
Steve scratched his head, "Yeah, but why would Eric ditch the Data Stick if he would be safe in Piedmont? And why did he attack those cops? Maybe its not all the Piedmont police, just the Sheriff and one or two others. And they want the Data Stick."
"That's my guess. This means we need to tell your Dad everything, including about the Data Stick," I said.
Nodding glumly, Steve replied, "Yeah. He might not be too pleased, but we gotta. Hey, you came down the road past where Eric hid the Data Stick, right?" I nodded as Steve continued, "Did you see any signs that anyone had been up there since we were there?"
I shook my head, "Nope. I didn't look. Are you thinking that they know it's missing? That would explain why the Sheriff was after us, but how would he know that we had it?"
"Easy - Eric... I don't know how, but if Eric thought we might have it, or just needed someone to frame, he'd finger us to the Sheriff, sure as hell." Steve spat, his voice laced with venom, "Even if he didn't suspect we had it, he'd probably finger us anyway, just for the hell of it."
I gritted my teeth, "Remind me to take Eric off my Christmas card list. First the blackmail, then the car theft, then sabotaging your car, and now getting that Sheriff after us, and me nearly shot to pieces."
Steve slumped into a chair, "Yeah, he's an asshole, and that's on a good day." Steve's head dropped forward, and his voice lowered, "When you found that letter to Billy and thought I was cheating, I'll bet you thought a lot about Eric, and wondered if I was really like him after all."
I moved to his side then crouched down and hugged him, his bare skin warn to my touch, "No, Steve. I can honestly say I never even thought of that. Not once. I don't think you are like him in any way." I told him, feeling bad that I'd hurt him. I reminded myself to reassure Steve often that he was nothing like his brother, because I could easily tell that he worried about that.
Steve looked at me and grinned, accepting my reassurances. My vision filled with his golden hair as he pulled me in for a kiss. His hands tracing across the skin of my bare back just felt right, and I kicked myself for ever having doubted him.
We gathered up the notes and padded across the backyard to the Williams house.
Mr. Williams began reviewing our notes as Steve started the conversation to come clean on everything, "Dad, there is something we haven't told you. After the Piedmont cops interviewed us, we were kinda paranoid about them. On the way home, we got to talking about how Eric had stopped in the hills for a while. We got the idea he might have been up to something."
Arching a wary eyebrow at his son, "OK, I'm with you so far, then what?" Mr. Williams asked in an even voice.
"We drove out to where we had stopped the night before, and ran up the road on foot. I looked at the tracks, saw where Eric had stopped, and followed his prints. He'd hidden a little Data Stick - a USB thumb drive for moving data from computer to computer - under a rock. We didn't tell you because I knew you would be required to hand it over to the Piedmont cops. Sorry Dad."
Mr. Williams looked grave, "Yeah, I probably would have handed it over, then and there. I'm not too happy about this, but I see why you did it. And, given recent events, it looks like y'all were right. So, what was on it?"
Steve shrugged, "No real clue, yet. We had Dex take a look; it's encrypted, really sophisticated stuff. Dex said Eric couldn't have done it. He also thinks he can crack it eventually, with some special equipment he'll have access to in a few weeks using some wiped data he can recover on the..."
Mr. Williams held up his hand, "Spare me the tech talk, because I wouldn't understand it. Dex does some work for the department from time to time, so he'd be the guy we would take it to anyway. Looks to me like Eric may have been playing courier, and whatever it is, the Piedmont Sheriff wants it. Seeing as how he's so chummy with Eric, I'm sure it ain't to prosecute Eric with. Okay, keep me posted, and tell nobody that I know about that Data thing, got it?"
Steve and I nodded as Mr. Williams added, "I'd like to know if they went looking for it. Think you guys can go back out there and have a look?"
"Any chance I can have my Jeep back? If not, we could go on foot for part of it, like we did before." I asked.
Mr. Williams shook his head, "Forensics is done, but you took five rounds. The one that busted your water can kept going and lodged in the back of your seat. Going through your tailgate and the water can slowed it just enough. Any faster and it would have come out in the middle of your back."
I shuddered, feeling the Goosebumps rising on my skin, and Steve's hand found mine under the table as Mr. Williams added, "They were .357's, and that's a revolver. So the Piedmont Sheriff had six rounds, and looks to me like he was going for you as the target, sure as hell. One round probably missed, but he had decent grouping with the rest. He emptied his gun at you." Mr. Williams shook his head, "He's required, like any cop, to report discharging his weapon in the line of duty. I checked, and he hasn't. I'm meeting with this county's D.A. in a few days. He's talking to the State's Attorney General, to see what we can do. I'll tell you this much, though: If that Son of a Bitch sets foot in Lonesome Valley, he's got a huge surprise waiting on him."
Pulling myself together, I asked, "So, can I have my Jeep back?"
"Nope. I delivered it to your friend Joe a couple of hours ago. He said you need a new oil pan, and one of the bullets creased a brake line and almost cut it. You also banged up your gas tank pretty good, and some other stuff like the bullet holes. He said he'd have it ready to go in a couple of days, but it ain't safe to drive right now. He's gonna add some steel skid plates underneath, too. The repairs are on me, and that ain't open for discussion." Mr. Williams replied, with an expression that made it crystal clear that no argument would be tolerated.
It was already early afternoon, and Steve and I had school and then the church meeting the following day, so we decided to head for the dirt road. Steve's Dad gave us a long lecture about watching out and staying out of sight if anyone came around, and he also gave us his cell phone in case anything did happen.
As we walked out into the driveway, Steve checked his tires, and then shared some good news: he had picked up a new spare from Rob and Joe while he was there to remove the spray paint.
As we drove out of town and down the all-too-familiar highway, I asked, "Any idea who is screwing with your car at school?"
Shrugging, "Maybe some of the guys on the track team. The principal agreed to let me park in a staff parking slot by the office, so I doubt they will try anything there, too many people would see." Steve replied.
We turned onto the dirt road, taking our time over the bumps before finally reaching the creek bed we had stopped at twice before. I glanced ahead, seeing the rocky ridge Steve and I had been on the night we had chased Eric. I turned towards Steve as he got out of the Charger and said, "I think we need to name this spot, seeing as we come out here so often. How about Make-out rock?"
Steve laughed, "Yeah it fits. One of these days we should come out here at night and finish what we started up there," he said with a smirk.
I walked around the Charger to join Steve, watching a sight I'd never tire of seeing as he put his hand behind his neck, grabbed the collar of his T-shirt, and pulled if off over his head in one fluid movement before tossing it into his car. I pulled mine off and tossed it in too. Steve locked the car, smiling at me as we started our hike.
We walked the creek bed, following the road down it for a few hundred yards, and then began to jog after the road exited the creek bed.
It was a long hot uphill run in the sun, but soon enough Steve was motioning for me to stop, saying as he stared at the road, "I can see your tire tracks, but they go over another set that turns around here. Looks like a big, heavy SUV or truck of some kind."
"I've seen this road from both sides. You would need a four wheel drive to get here, from either direction," I said, as Steve moved to the side of the road, walking slowly ahead, his eyes glued to the dust and rock of the old mining road.
Steve brought us to a halt again, "I see more tracks, looks like the same vehicle. I can't tell when but it looks to me like they were out here more than once."
Finally, we reached the spot where Eric had stopped, "Whoa, lots of tracks here. Footprints, I mean. Looks like the SUV stopped and people got out. One set of western boots with pointed toes and hard soles, one set of work boots, and one set of sneakers. The sneaks look a little smaller, my guess would be Eric."
Moving off the road towards the rock where we had found the Data Stick, Steve glanced up at me, "Looks to me like there is an older set of tracks, searching around, and then the newer set of three people, heading straight for the rock."
"Let me guess, the sneakers are in the lead?" I grumbled.
"Looks like it to me, ‘cause, sometimes there are other prints on top of them." Steve replied, as he continued towards the former hiding place of the Data Stick.
When we reached the rock, Steve rolled it over, and announced, "Nothing there, but it looks like it was moved, and there are tracks all around it."
I shook my head, "But we left something under it: that burrito wrapper the Data Stick was in. We put it back - remember? It's gone now."
Steve strode over to a large boulder a few feet away and sat down on it, patting the spot beside him, "Let's try and figure this out. It makes no sense. The Data Stick was here the day after Eric was arrested, because we found it. There were no tracks here beside his when we found it." Steve shook his head, "Why didn't they come for it right away?"
I sat down beside him, our shoulders touching, "Yeah. That makes no sense. Unless..." I hesitated, waiting for the thought to form, "Unless the Sheriff had to wait to spring Eric, maybe until one of his cronies was on duty at the jail? Or maybe he needed a Sheriff's department SUV and couldn't get it right away?"
Steve nodded, "Or maybe both. Or neither. But whatever the reason, they didn't come out here until after we did. That leaves the big question; how did they know it was us that found it? The way that Sheriff went after you, he had to know something." I felt Steve's hand on my shoulder, and turned to meet his eyes, "Hey, remember how they said Eric was accusing us? Maybe that was all part of it; the homophobe bullshit is just an excuse so the Sheriff could pretend to be sympathetic to Eric. The cop that interviewed us acted like he had been told to be suspicious, but maybe he wasn't in on anything or that would have gone a lot worse," he said.
I slapped my head, "The only people who could have seen where Eric stopped were us. And that burrito wrapper could hold fingerprints, right?"
Nodding, Steve replied, "Yeah, smooth plastic can hold fingerprints really well. But you didn't touch it, just me, and I don't think they would have my prints to compare." Steve looked up suddenly, "Wait. I think I know: I got pulled over for speeding near Phoenix not long before you moved here. I was doing more than twenty miles an hour over the speed limit, so they gave me a choice: give a set of fingerprints right there or go to jail." Steve snapped his fingers, "Those prints would go into a national database, which the Piedmont Sheriff could access."
"Yup, they could match it, after Eric told ‘em it might be us. Once they had a match, they would know that we have the Data Stick." I said, as things finally started making sense.
We walked back to the road, as Steve asked, "So, what the hell do we do now? The Sheriff knows that we have the Data Stick, and he wants it back bad enough to kill for it."
I shrugged, as we broke into a jog, "Just hope Dex can crack it, I guess. Not much else we can do except keep away from that Sheriff."
The sun and dry wind felt great on my body, and we made fast work of the run going downhill. We slowed to a walk as we reached the creek bed section of the road, and everything seemed normal, until we were startled by a crackle sound, like a snapped branch from the bushes beside the creek.
My heart pounded as Steve and I exchanged a look, our eyes growing wide as the noise continued. I saw something move in the underbrush, and caught a glimpse of someone moving through the brush, "Run," I whispered, and we turned to run back up the road.
After a few dozen yards, I saw a gap in the brush to the side of the road, and lead Steve into it, dodging bushes for a hundred yards, the blood pounding in my ears. Spotting a concealed spot behind a large Mesquite, I dashed for it, Steve right behind me. We crouched down behind it and listened, but heard nothing; no signs of pursuit. There was no sound, only the silence of the desert, and the drumming of our own pounding hearts.
We were well hidden now, so I thought we were safe for the moment as Steve whispered, "Whoever that was, they were up near my car. I don't know if they saw us. But if they are going through the brush to flank the road, my guess is they are waiting for us."
I nodded, "Yeah. I think we are pretty well hidden here, but they are between us and your car. I think they are trying to ambush us."
Steve pulled out his Dad's cell phone, flipped it open, pulled out the antenna, and hit the power button. We both watched the screen as it displayed ‘No Service'.
I looked over my shoulder, "I know we had a signal from up on Make-out rock. I think we can get there if we keep going this way," I whispered.
Steve nodded, and led the way, picking through the bushes, crouched over, and keeping to cover as much as we could. We tried, with limited success, to avoid making any noise on the sand and gravel of the desert floor. The sun was hot, and the dusty smell of the mesquite filled the air, as we slowly picked our way to the foot of the ridge.
The ridge from our side was steep, but I spotted a likely looking gully in the rock and led the way, feeling very exposed as we climbed the steep ravine in the open. The last few yards were the hardest, nearly vertical. I couldn't find a handhold and slipped back, but Steve grabbed me, and then locked his hands together, motioning for me to use his hands as a foothold. I did so, clawing at the crumbling rock with my hands as he lifted, and managed to reach a passable handhold.
I scrambled up, planted my feet in a crack, and waited while Steve used my legs to help him climb. We were struggling not just to climb, but also to do so without making any sound. I tried to wipe my sweating hands on my jeans, one at a time, and reached up with one hand. I was barely able to hook my fingers over the edge at the top. I heaved myself up until I could reach with the other hand as well, then, at a snail's pace I pulled up until I could peek over the crest, and saw nothing atop the rock. Scrambling up and then spinning around towards the edge I reached back to give Steve a hand.
As soon as we were both atop Make-out rock, Steve flipped open the phone, and nodded to indicate we had a signal as he began dialing.
I crept across the rock, looking towards Steve's Charger, hoping to catch a glimpse of either the Charger, or whoever was stalking us.
Just in time, I saw them, and urgently signaled to Steve to cut the call. He did so, and moved over to me, crab-like, as he whispered, "Dad hadn't picked up yet. What is it?"
I put my hand on his shoulder and silently pointed, motioning with my head for him to look. Finally, he saw them too. Mule Deer, at least three of them, a buck and two does, grazing at the edge of the creek. Their big ears were twitching, but they were content with the dry grasses upon which they were feeding.
We both struggled, in vain, to hold in the laughter. The stress and fear melted away, and I had to hold on to Steve for support, as I laughed so hard my sides began to ache. We had been running for our lives, from Deer!
We soon stopped laughing, patted each other on the back, and looked at each other. Both of us had a few minor scratches from our dash through the bushes, but nothing serious. We scrambled down and Steve led the way back to his car, which proved to be far easier in daylight with shoes on than it had been on the night we chased Eric.
I watched Steve as he unlocked his car, the sun glistening off the sheen of sweat that covered his tan torso, his blond hair disheveled, and still sexy as hell. He turned to face me and stretched, giving me a great look at his chiseled abs and chest. His blue eyes twinkled as he ran a finger down my chest, "Chris, what year is my car?" He asked.
Puzzled, I replied, "A 69?"
Steve grinned as he slipped his fingers under the waistband of my jeans and pulled me towards the car, "Yup. Right answer," he said, while climbing into the back of his car as I slowly figured out what he meant...
I rushed in to join him, pulling the door closed behind me as he lay down on the back seat. I climbed on top of him, looking into his eyes, as Steve chuckled, "Aren't you facing the wrong way?"
Reveling in the feel of his hard muscle under soft skin against mine, I whispered, "This first," moments before our lips met and our tongues danced.
Steve's hands slid up my back and down my sides, making me tremble in spite of the oppressive heat in the back seat of his Charger. I ran my fingertips down his sides as we kissed, and felt him sigh. I teased his nipple, which I knew he liked, and then kneaded his bicep, feeling the hard muscle flex and move.
The hot desert sun coming in through the rear window was only one of several things that made my skin hot. Steve's roaming, teasing hands were definitely another. I kissed him harder, running my tongue along his teeth. I felt my feet bump up against the glass, and lifted myself with my arms, without breaking the kiss, to try and scoot forward a little.
With a quick tug, Steve undid the top button of my jeans, and I arched up and twisted to get access to his. I tugged the buttons free, and ran my hand inside his jeans, only to be startled by the irritating chirp of the cell phone in his pocket.
We broke the kiss, and I eased off Steve to give him room to retrieve the ringing cell phone. He pulled it out, flipped it open, glanced at the screen, and answered the call, "Hi, Dad."
"Uh, yeah, I did... We heard something and called, but it was a Deer... Yeah, just a Deer... Yeah, we did, and somebody has been there... Okay, be there in a few. Bye." Steve hung up, "Dad saw the caller ID when he got out of the shower. He wants us back there right away so we can talk about what we found, ‘cause, cell phones ain't private."
I ran my fingers over his hard abs, still damp with sweat, and whimpered, "Damn. But, guess what? He's done it again."
"Eric," I grumbled, "has yet again managed to do something that is stopping us from having sex."
Steve pointed out the window, toward Make-out rock, "We gave that rock the wrong name. We should call it Terra-interrupta."
I laughed, "Yeah, we sure do get interrupted a lot here, and everywhere, and now today as well..."
Steve chuckled, "Yeah, again. Maybe Eric should team up with that Fundy pastor, who seems to have the same goal: keeping us from having sex."
I was about to reply when something clicked in my mind, "Uhhh, that Fundy Bullshit started about the same time they would have found the Data Stick missing, right? And that Sheriff is the brother-in-law of that pastor. So, maybe Eric really has been working with both of ‘em."
Steve nodded, "Yeah, I never did believe in coincidences, and that's sure a big one."
We reluctantly, very reluctantly, climbed out of Steve's back seat. I looked at his defined muscles and tan torso, feeling my nuts ache, but I knew that we had no time to finish what we had started. As I got into the passenger seat and Steve fired up the Charger, I grumbled, "I wish we had some proof. All we have are theories and conjecture."
Steve shook his head as he wheeled the Charger around and headed back towards the highway, "Nope... Way more than that, because we know that Sheriff wanted to get you bad enough to break the law. They want whatever is on the Data Stick, and Dex thinks he can crack it. All we can do is wait and see."
Mr. Williams was waiting for us at the house, and we quickly filled him in on what we had found. He was far from pleased, "Goddamit, Eric led somebody there while he was supposed to be in fucking jail," he growled, "Those tracks damn near prove it. He's got his stupid self mixed up in something bad."
He paced back and forth, "I want to give him one last chance. I'll try and get through to him, but I don't think it will work. Watch your backs, both of you, everywhere. I'm hoping this crap dies down, but until it does don't be cautious, be paranoid."
I hoped he was right; I could really do without being shot at anymore, and I wasn't too thrilled that Steve and I were the personal targets of a Fundy hate campaign which preached that we should be put to death.
Please let me know what you think; good, bad, or indifferent. The feedback thread for this story is in my Forum. Please stop by and say "Hi!"
Many thanks to Conner for editing, support, encouragement, beta reading, and suggestions on this chapter.
Many thanks also to my editor EMoe for editing and for his support, encouragement, beta reading, and suggestions (and for thinking up a title!).
Thanks also to Shadowgod, for beta reading and advice, and for putting up with me.
Any remaining errors are mine alone.
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