OIL IN WATER
After checking the perimeter of the house, Matheson and Traecy crossed the backyard to the barn, their flashlights sweeping the yard like spotlights. The barn door was open.
“Hhmphh,” Matheson said.
“What?” Traecy asked.
“Nobody’s here.” Matheson’s raised eyebrow said: “I told you so.”
“And your point is?” Traecy asked.
“These kids are messin’ with us.”
“You know, I think your brain’s fried like those donuts. The house is lit up like the 4 th of July, the barn door’s flapping in the breeze, and you think these kids are messin’ with you?”
“There’s no signs of a struggle, is there? I’ve been out here half a dozen times responding to that alarm. Each time it was a different excuse.”
“Yeah, well, we’d be remiss if we didn’t at least look around.” Traecy flashed his light inside the barn before walking in. Matheson followed. They scanned the empty room.
“What’s that?” Matheson said. He strained to hear something off in the distance. The partners walked outside. A noise from beyond the copse was drawing closer. Matheson and Traecy pulled their guns and crouched down, tigers at the ready.
The ATV burst threw the treeline, groaning and whining with the effort. The frame was bent and only one headlight worked, but it was running.
“Stop,” Matheson yelled. Avery’s eyes were dead-set ahead, and he would have zoomed right past had Matheson not jumped in front of the vehicle. Avery hit the brakes and stopped. The motor wheezed like an emphysema sufferer. Max yelped. Gil’s head lolled on Avery’s arm.
“Cut the engine,” Matheson yelled.
“I can’t. I have to get him to the hospital,” Avery said, his voice gravelly and full of bravado. Matheson reached over and turned off the ignition.
“No! We have to go now!” Avery roared.
Matheson grabbed Avery’s hands and held on tight. “Tell me what happened, son.”
Avery recounted the story as quickly as possible, ending with their escape from the woods on the crippled ATV. When he was finished, Matheson grabbed his shoulder and gave it a gentle squeeze. Avery began to shake.
Traecy shined his light at the trees. “He’s long gone by now.”
Matheson agreed. “Do you know what’s wrong with him?” he said, nodding at Gil.
“Concussion, maybe,” Traecy said.
“He’s got epilepsy. He might be on the verge of something.” Avery gave Gil a worried look and touched the lump on the back of his head. “He’s been holed up in the barn most of the week so I’m not sure about his meds.”
“Go get the car,” Matheson said to Traecy who took off running.
“Where’s your sister?” Matheson asked.
Matheson checked his watch. “Kinda late, don’t you think?” he asked, and shook his head. “I got daughters. Let me tell you, I’m not looking forward to these late night vigils.” He looked back at the house. “Maybe you want to leave a note or something in case she comes home. We don’t need another call to the precinct tonight.”
Avery nodded, looked at Gil and then at Matheson. Matheson took Avery’s place behind the wheel, allowing Gil’s head to rest on his shoulder.
“Thanks,” Avery said, and ran off toward the house.
Five minutes later Avery, Gil and Max were speeding to the hospital in the back of the patrol car.
It had been a slow night in the emergency room and the boys were home in less than three hours, stitched up, wrapped up, and already on the mend. They both had several cuts on their faces and arms, but nothing that required stitches. The ER Doc dressed the wounds with salve and put bandages over them with instructions to keep them dry for twenty-four hours. He even treated Max, completely against the rules, but Matheson had intervened, telling the ER Doc that, but for the noble canine, the boys might not be sitting here tonight. Matheson admonished to doctor to report any patient arriving with teeth marks in his leg. The doctor agreed and sent the boys home with packets of Tylenol with codeine for the pain.
Avery sat cocooned in a blanket on the couch. Despite the medication, he couldn’t sleep and decided to wait up for Kori. He had a spectacular view of the sunrise as it gained, then overtook the horizon, the explosion of color seeping into the dozens of smokey vapors dotting the sky, lending its luminescence to their whiteness, and adding to the overall brilliance. When you looked at a sky like this, there could be no questioning the existence of God. Although physically, Avery felt fine, it was the pain in his heart that was causing him grief, and this view, all orange and red and resplendent, was doing its damnedest to alleviate that ache.
As if drawn by the intense beauty, Gil padded down the stairs in his stocking feet, looking reasonably alert under the circumstances. He had a bandage wrapped around his head, looking like the revolutionary war boy who played the flute and marched without proper footwear. Avery stifled a laugh and turned back to the magnet that was pulling all the angst from him.
“You hungry?” he asked Gil. Gil nodded, but Avery didn’t even look. He knew what the answer would be. He began to rise, but Gil put a hand on his arm to stop him.
“Just wait until this is over,” Gil said.
Avery flopped back down and offered Gil part of his blanket.
Gil sighed at the ongoing show out the window. “Did ya’ ever notice how you stare and stare at something and it just blinds you? It’s like you can’t see it at all. But if you look away, even just off to the side a little, then, you can see it clear.”
Avery tucked the blanket up under Gil’s chin. Max jumped up and sat on both of their legs. The last vestige of color wrote its name in the sky.
“Kori should be home soon,” Avery said. Gil nodded.
The sunset faded, reminiscent of life’s impermanence, into a new, blue day while Avery and Gil, stretched out on the couch side-by-side, their heads and shoulders touching, fell fast asleep.
It was early morning when Kori came home to find her brothers sitting up and sound asleep. Max’s massive head was curled up on Gil’s lap, his body on Avery’s. Two things were strange: the T.V. wasn’t on, and Gil had a large white bandage tied around his head. She stood there, appraising the situation when Avery awoke.
“What the heck happened to you?”
“A lot. Where’ve you been?”
“Well, that’s helpful.” Avery yawned and rubbed the sleep from his eyes. Kori moved in for a closer examination of Gil’s contusions and abrasions.
“What’s going on?”
Avery drew a breath. “Somebody tried to break into the barn in the middle of the night. Gil chased him down, flipped the ATV and suffered a minor concussion. Max picked up where Gil left off and had him pinned up in a tree until he got shot. I just picked up the pieces until the cops got here and took us to the hospital.” Avery stretched his neck, sore from sleeping sitting up, and sat back matter-of-factly. “How was your night?”
Kori stared at him, silent and agape.
“I said how was your night?”
“Is this some kind of a joke?” Kori asked. Avery shook his head. Gil yawned, wide as Max ever could, and opened his eyes.
“No joke, sister,” Gil said. “This is the stuff movies are made of.”
“Oh yeah?” She studied Gil’s ashen-colored face, touched the bandages to see if they were real. Gil flinched for effect. “What would you give it?”
“Four stars,” Gil said.
“Four? You’re kidding me.”
Gil shook his head, slow and serious. “It was really scary.” He pinched himself on the arm. “And we weren’t even dreaming. We could have died, huh, Avery?” He looked at Avery and then rubbed noses with Max. “If not for Max, we could have.”
Avery shuddered involuntarily.
“Is somebody going to tell me what the hell’s going on?”
“I’ll tell you if you make us breakfast,” Gil said. “A big breakfast. I’m starving.”
to be continued. . .