Ray ran. He didn't know how close the silver car followed behind him. He couldn't hear anything inside his motorcycle helmet but his heart pounding to keep up with his feet. He didn't dare look back and risk slowing or losing his footing.
A stab of pain low in his left side drove him off balance. He lost his grip on the leather bag. Momentum tumbled him into the red Arizona dust – once, twice. He came to a stop flat on his back in a shallow depression perpendicular to the dry wash. The wind knocked out of him and his side on fire, Ray squeezed his eyes shut against the glare of the late afternoon sun. He'd lost his sunglasses somewhere. Sweat leaked from every pore beneath his black leather pants and jacket. His chest rose and fell with each labored breath. The hitch in his side throbbed. He hadn't run like that since high school.
Seconds later the roar of an engine drowned out the drum of his pulse. Ray opened his eyes as the car hit the lip of the depression. He tensed, expecting to be crushed, but the car flew over him and bounced down hard on the other side, its rear wheels spitting a gravel rooster tail as it sped away.
Ray sputtered and shook dirt from his face. He didn't get a look at the driver, but it had to be the same Johnny asshole who had been on their tail since Oklahoma. Either he didn't see the human speed bump he sailed over, or he found the bag and didn't give a damn. If he found the bag, it wouldn't take him long to realize the contents came up short. Real short.
Ray sat up to a fresh stab of pain. He looked down and discovered the hole low on the left side of his leather jacket. Drawing the jacket open, he stared at the blood stain on his white t-shirt.
"Crap, I'm shot again."
He would have found the irony of it amusing, but the wound concerned him a mite. He removed his helmet, shrugged out of his jacket and worked the t-shirt off, pulling the bottom up and sliding his head out first to keep from smearing blood on his face. The motion tugged the gauze and tape on his shoulder – his first gunshot wound. He looked down at the red seeping from his side and felt queasy. Blood did that to him, especially his own. Swallowing hard, he used a clean corner of the t-shirt to dab the wound and inhaled a hiss at the contact. The blood cleared and he saw a jagged graze across his skin, but no hole.
Ray gave a wry croak that scraped the back of his parched throat. What were the odds of getting shot twice in the same week and losing only a few layers of hide each time? Downright miraculous, he thought, if a body chose to believe in miracles. A lot of unbelievable things had happened since he and Benny left Ohio. The past few days had been anything but boring.
It all started with boredom. That's what Ray told himself. He retired five months ago, on his sixty-second birthday, and became a widow three months later. His life yawned dark and sleepless ahead of him. Slouched in the worn cushions at one end of the sofa, the drapes drawn against the leaden midday August humidity, he watched Thelma and Louise clasp hands and fly off the edge of the Grand Canyon in Louise's green convertible for what felt like the hundredth time. He longed to be in the car with them. He longed to put an end to his insomnia.
His eleven-year-old son, Benny, sat cross-legged on the carpet a few feet from the screen, rapt in the movie as if seeing it for the first time. The boy's short brown hair clung in damp spikes to the back of his broad neck, his rounded shoulders hunched, a line of sweat staining the back of his Terminator t-shirt. It troubled Ray that his son spent so much time watching movies, but it was something Benny and his mama had done together. Ray hesitated to take that connection away so soon after Virginia's death.
And he hesitated to leave Benny alone. He wanted to reassure his son that Dad wouldn't die in his sleep like Mama did, that Dad would always be there, even if it meant sitting through movie after movie. Even if it was a lie. Ray had no reason to believe Benny wouldn't outlive him, in spite of doctors who warned him of the health risks associated with Down syndrome. He knew his daughter, Karen, would take care of her little brother when the time came. She doted on Benny and had been his fiercest defender from day one.
Maybe it's myself I'm protecting. Maybe I don't like being alone with my boredom.
Or I'm afraid to be.
Pulled from his thoughts, Ray focused on the soft, heavy contours of Benny's face. "What, son?"
The s stopped short of making its way around the boy's tongue. His thick speech had a pronounced lisp, but Ray understood him fine. The words, at least. "Go where?"
Benny gave the montage images of Thelma and Louise with the credits rolling over them a quick glance. The intensity in his crescent-shaped brown eyes tingled up Ray's spine, as though the boy had opened a door and looked inside his head.
"The Goddamngrandcanyon," Benny said, his answer shooting out as one long word.
Like he'd heard Louise say it in the movie again and again. Ray gave a brief smile. "Just the Grand Canyon. No swearing."
Benny's cheeks reddened. "Sorry." He glanced at the TV screen, then back at Ray. "Let's go," he repeated with a huff of impatience, as if needing an answer before the movie credits ended.
Ray hadn't been to the Grand Canyon since the time he borrowed a buddy's Harley and headed east on leave from Edwards Air Force Base forty years ago. He drove through the Mojave Desert and spent a week camping along the south ridge of the canyon. There'd been a time when he and Virginia planned to buy a Harley and tour the states, once Karen was old enough to be on her own. But then Benny came along. With a wife and two kids to support on a maintenance supervisor's salary, family vacations became few and far between.
Benny continued to stare at him, waiting for an answer. Ray thought of the nightmares the boy had been having since his mama's death – two months of ranting and slapping himself awake. He thought of his own insomnia, the fear that clawed up his back when unconsciousness closed in. Maybe getting away for awhile, putting some distance on the memories that haunted them here in this house, would do them both good.
Ray asked, "Are you sure?" and realized Louise had asked the same thing of Thelma before she tromped on the gas peddle and hurled them into the great beyond.
The movie ended and Benny hoisted himself off the floor with a theatrical grunt. Shuffling his squat legs as though he had feet of lead, he plopped onto the couch hard enough to pop Ray up from the cushions.
"Yeah, Dad. Let's go."
Now Ray oozed blood and sweat somewhere southwest of Flagstaff. He'd left the motorcycle behind him with a flat tire. The Harley Davidson Softail touring bike wasn't designed to be taken off-road, especially with a sidecar. And especially over some of God's roughest terrain. Ridges and spires of red sedimentary rock stacked like crazy layer cakes bordered the dry wash he had steered the bike onto, attempting to put distance on their trigger-happy pursuer. He hoped to figure a way out of this cat and mouse game before anybody's aim got better.
He struggled to his feet, rolled his t-shirt lengthwise and tied it around his waist to put pressure on the wound. Not pretty, but it would do for the time being. Then he shrugged back into his leather jacket and picked up his helmet. A high-pitched keek-ik-ik-ik drew his gaze skyward. He saw the white head and tail of a Bald Eagle as its massive wingspan blocked the sun.
The eagle will guide you.
The thought entered Ray's head as clear as if somebody whispered in his ear, and he felt that tingle up his spine. He squinted against the afternoon heat shimmering off the semi-arid landscape. Benny is with the bike, he assured himself. Where you should be.
Looking back along the dry wash, Ray saw a glint of chrome. He drew up straight and pressed his hand to the pain in his side. He found his sunglasses crushed in the middle of a tire track.
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish
Comment on this Bubble
Your comment and a link to this bubble will also appear in your Facebook feed.