Monday, May 15, 2017

Fiction: Unwanted President. Chapter 5

In Drag

By Ed Rogers

Tom was trying to fight his way out of a fog. For some reason, his eyes wouldn’t open. Somewhere overhead he heard sirens, but he couldn’t seem to get the direction right. Suddenly, his eyes popped open as though he were waking from a bad dream. Pain shot through his head like a bolt of lightning. He could still hear the sirens – they were loud and close by. They seemed to be coming from somewhere up above him. He tried to move, but his feet weren’t working right. His head cleared enough for him to realize that half of his body was in the water, and he was lying on a muddy bank. Tom used the grass growing along the creek bank for a handhold. He slowly pulled himself, hand over hand, up the muddy slope, until he had made his way out of the creek and onto dry land once more.
    He felt the back of his head and neck and discovered that blood was running down his back from a cut on his head. He must have hit something, but he couldn’t remember hitting anything. He didn’t know what he was doing in the creek.
    Tom wasn’t sure how bad he was hurt. He took his coat and shirt off and laid them down. He took his undershirt off and tied it around his head, and then he put his shirt and coat back on and started climbing up the embankment.
    Suddenly remembering what he was doing down there, he stopped and fell flat on the ground. He looked over at the burned and smoldering car. From the way it was burned to the ground, he was very lucky not to have been in it. He had taken off his seatbelt to put his notebook and the piece of paper from Hofer in the glove box, and never had time to put it back on. The impact must have thrown him out of the car. Then, by the grace of God or the hand of fate, he landed in the creek.
    Where were the bastards who ran him off the road? Who were they and were they still looking for him? What were those sirens all about? Were they not coming to help him?
    The sound was moving away from him. Maybe they couldn’t find him because the fire had gone out.
    Tom was having a hard time putting facts together. He knew someone was trying to kill him and he was hurt. Nothing else made much sense. He eased his way to the top of the embankment and peered over. He looked up and down the road. There was no sign of the SUV, or anyone else. He stood up on the roadway, and looked around, wondering where all the sirens had gone. Then he saw a bright glow coming over the treetops from the direction of Processor Hofer’s house. It looked as though his new friends in the SUV had a busy night. He hoped the Professor fared better than he did.
    He wasn’t sure how far it was to town. He knew it was safer than going back to the Professor’s house. Tom turned and fixed his eyes on the white line along the roadside. With his head down, and half out of his mind, he started toward town. He walked about a mile before the ambulance stopped in front of him. The two attendants caught him by the arms just before he passed out.
    The ambulance had been on the way to Professor Hofer’s house when they came upon Tom walking down the side of the road. They pulled off the road, but Tom walked past them without even looking in their direction. They knew he was passed out on his feet, and the bloody undershirt on his head put an urgency in their movement. With Tom in the back of the ambulance, they turned around and sped back down the road toward the hospital.

Two days later, Tom was trying to focus his eyes in the bright hospital room. A drum was beating in his head, and his eyes seemed to be pulsing with his heart.
    He heard a voice say, “How are you feeling, Mr. Warring?”
    Tom tried to raise himself and answer, but a pain went through his head, and he fell back onto the pillow.
    The voice said, “Don’t try to get up, Mr. Warring, you have been in a bad car wreck. You have a head injury and the doctor doesn’t want you moving around until he has a chance to see you.”
    “How long have I been here?”
    “You have been here for two days,” came the voice from the fog, as she moved into view to take his pulse and temperature.
    “Listen, I need to get out of here. Where is the doctor?”
    “I’m sorry, Mr. Warring” said the nurse, “but you will be with us for one more night, at least. The doctor has already made his rounds, and will not be back until morning.”
    “There has to be a way I can check out of here before morning. Can’t you help me here?”
    “Mr. Warring, even if the doctor was here he wouldn’t let you go. The police want to talk to you about the car wreck, and they want to know what, if anything, you know about a fire not far from the wreck that killed two people. So until they say you can go, here you will stay.” The nurse patted his arm and walked out.
    Tom was trying to think of how he could get out of the hospital. The last thing he needed was to be messed up in a murder investigation. If the police found out he went to see the Professor and was run off the road about the same time as the fire, well – even in a small a town, 2 plus 2 is still 4.
    Tom eased his legs over the side of the bed. It felt like his head was an anvil, and someone was beating on it with a hammer. He got his feet on the floor, and by using the bed, he made his way to the closet. Thank God, his clothes were here. They had even cleaned them for him. In a sealed plastic bag were his billfold and passport, along with his watch and rings
    He stepped into the bathroom and got dressed. Then he turned out all the lights and put the Do Not Disturb sign on the outside of the door. He made for the rear fire exit. Although he was still a little wobbly, he was getting better with each step. The fire exit opened into the alcove that ran from the street to the loading dock. Lucky for Tom, there was no one around to question him. He headed for the street, but as he turned the corner of the hospital, he jumped back. Right across the street from the main door was a big black SUV. The window was part way down to let the cigarette smoke out. If there was one, there must be two.
    Tom reasoned that if there was one to run him off the road, then there was another around somewhere to put the torch to the Professor’s house. Moving to the other side of the alley, Tom inched his way up to the next corner and peeped around it. There they were all right, watching the back door.
    Tom made his way back down the alley to the hospital loading dock. In the far corner were some bundles of hospital whites waiting for laundry pick-up. Tom opened three bundles before he found what he wanted. He rolled his pants up and put the nurse’s dress on, adding a little padding where it was needed. He tore off a piece of one of the white dresses and used it for a head scarf. Then picking up a bundle of clothes as if he were taking it home, Tom walked boldly out into the street.
    He had no idea if the people in the SUVs ever looked his way. He never slowed, nor did he look up – not until he was a good block from the hospital. Then he threw the bundle in some bushes and got out of the dress, undid the head scarf, and threw it all behind the bushes.
    He headed toward the main part of town, hoping to find a cab or some kind of transpiration out of Milford. As he was passing the post office, a Greyhound bus pulled to the curb. Tom waved at the driver, who reluctantly opened the door. Tom handed the driver a fifty and told him to take him as far as that would go. Tom found a seat next to the window and laid his head against the cool glass. As the bus approached I-95, Tom was having a fight within himself. Part of him wanted to go back to the New Daily and lay all of this mess on Ted’s desk and walk away.
    The reporter in Tom was saying, you don’t even know what the story is yet. How can you walk away from a story that is so big people are willing to kill to keep it quite? There had to be more to that journal than Mary knew.
    The bus made up his mind for him. It turned south on I-95. Florence, South Carolina was what the road sign said. There he would stop and get his bearings. Florence, South Carolina would be the last place anyone would think of looking for him.
    It was a long ride. A lot longer than Tom planned. He pulled the cord and got off at a drug store on the outskirts of Florence. He was getting strange looks from the clerks, but he just went about his business and loaded up with items for his cut head, along with some toiletries.
    He called a cab from the telephone outside the drugstore. He had the cab driver take him two miles up the road to a cheap motel. Tom checked in, and put the Do Not Disturb sign on the door – then fell across the bed, and slept for fourteen hours.
    Tom woke with a throbbing head. He got a glass of water and took some pain pills he had picked up at the drug store. Looking in the mirror, Tom didn’t know who it was looking back at him. He now understood why the desk clerk hesitated about giving him a room. The clerk demanded cash in advance for three nights before he remembered he had a room available.
    Tom took the bandage off his head. What he saw in the mirror didn’t look too bad. A lot of blood in his hair, but it looked like only about seven or eight stitches. Thankfully they hadn’t shaved his head in order to stitch him up.
    Turning on the shower, Tom stepped under the spray and let the warm water wash away days of blood and pain.
    His body began to shake, and sounds like a hurt puppy came out of him. He had never felt so totally helpless and alone. Who could he turn to who would understand what was happening to him?
    He had come close to death many times, but this time it seemed very personal. They wanted Tom Warring dead, not just some reporter who had shown up in their country.
    For the next three days, Tom worked at putting his new life together. He bought all new clothes and a backpack, including a money belt. He withdrew ten thousand dollars from his bank – he didn’t plan on going to Finland without money – and hid it in his belt so he wouldn’t have to declare it. Tom knew that sometimes the only thing that stood between you and death was the good old American greenback.
    He rented a car with cash and drove to Atlanta. There he would get an overseas flight to Finland. He hoped it would take his friends in the SUVs longer to find him coming out of Atlanta than New York.
    He couldn’t figure out who was trying to kill him, or why they wanted him dead. He decided until he found out more, it would be better to keep all of this to himself. No reason to have the paper involved with the police, or with Mrs. Cahill as far as that went.
    No doubt, whoever these people were, they were looking for him now; it was just a matter of time until they caught up with him. They must have something to do with Cahill killing the President, and that would mean he wasn’t just chasing his tail – there was a real story out there someplace. Tom wasn’t sure if that was good or bad; he just hoped he could keep them a few steps behind him.
[Editor’s Note: The novel from which this excerpt is taken can be ordered from Amazon, as either a paperback or a Kindle book.]

Copyright © 2017 by Ed Rogers

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