“You can’t prove that.”
I wasted no time in chatting, instead jumped back to the computer, jammed a jump drive in and threw the Sir Psycho Sexy folder into it. I watched the folder disappear into the drive icon just before I saw a thick rope drop down across my field of vision and cinch tight around my neck.
I was lifted up off of my feet. My throat gagged in a way I had never felt before. My body swung around like a pinata on a line. I looked down on Bill’s heavy form standing up just fine on his own two feet, his chair resting over by the door in the corner of the room. He pushed his face up to mine and stared deeply into my eyes with cold grey pupils. I shut mine as hard as I could.
I tried to scream for Ronnie, but couldn’t even get a gasp out. I was utterly helpless. I just stared at the doorway to the office hoping to see Ronnie come running into save me with one thought running in my head over and over again. Bill had been faking the wheelchair the entire time?
Lightheaded and slipping away to where I no longer cared, I started to lament almost every single thing I had done in my life. The warm, dreamy embrace of death I had heard about so many times in my life may not have been real. This was far from pleasant, but somewhere in the fog I thought I heard my salvation coming from out in the hall. Footsteps pitter pattered in our direction. I felt Bill ever so slightly loosen his grip.
I tried to scream out when Ronnie stepped into the doorway, sweat-coated and wide-eyed.
The grip let up just enough to where I could squeak out…
Ronnie didn’t even make eye contact with me. Just glared at Bill.
“We weren’t supposed to do this yet.”
Bill dropped me hard to the floor.
“We do him the same way we did Chase,” Bill snorted.
“No one can know,” Ronnie mumbled.
Bill and Ronnie tied me up with the rope Bill nearly strangled me to death with without a hint of an explanation despite my pleads before they covered my mouth with duct tape. They threw me into the canopy-covered back of a truck and we took off into the night.
My only potential salvation in my mind rested in my cell phone in my pocket. Ronnie and Bill had forgotten to take it out of my pocket when they tied me up. My arms were tied behind my back so I couldn’t take it out and dial it, but I was able to press my fists against it and press as hard as I could to try and get it to do something. I thanked my lucky (or in this case unlucky) stars that I used a piece of shit Windows phone which didn’t have an access code or lock screen. I kept at it for as long as I could hoping to “butt dial” someone for the first time in my life.
I finally started to cry when I felt the truck slow and come to a stop. I think the shock and adrenaline had finally wore off. The 10 minute or so drive allowed me to cool down and think about the situation. I started wishing Bill had just finished it back at the church.
I heard the tailgate drop. I wiggled around and saw Ronnie craw under the canopy.
“You got him,” I heard Bill announce from off in the distance.
Why are you doing this? I tried to ask from behind the thick tape on my mouth, but it came out like “wha hi ur hue ewing it?”
Ronnie must have been able to make out the question though. He drifted an eye towards me.
“I knew you always thought I was a retard. Thought I was a weirdo. You were right. I thought I could do it at first, help you, forget about it all, but then I thought about everybody knowing what happened to me. We got too deep, you knew too much. Had to do the same thing with Chase. He was going to tell everybody.”
“Stop playing grab ass with him,” Bill shot out again.
Ronnie grabbed me around the waist and pulled out of the canopy until we both dropped to the muddy ground. A summer rain misted down upon us.
I let my entire body go limp. Tried to make it hard as humanly possible to carry me.
“Come on, man,” Ronnie yelled down at me when he tried to pick me up.
I started to hear something much more hideous than Ronnie’s voice once he finished his casual plead… the sound of hoofs stomping upon hard dirt, the sound of grunts and huffs and puffs. The sounds of hogs.
I screamed as hard as I could from behind the tape. The rain picked up to a steady fall.
I let up my screaming for a second and started to hear a familiar, nostalgic sound trickle into my ear over the sound of the hogs and the rain. The purr of my dad’s old truck. It was the same sound I used to love to hear on autumn afternoons after football practice when I could hear his old 95 F-350 coming from seemingly all the away across town, knowing he would soon pick me up and I would jump in the cab where he had a fresh pack of beef jerky waiting for me.
The sound got louder until I saw tall headlights slip into the clearing where Ronnie and Bill were standing over me. The headlights stopped about 30 yards away and the rumble of the truck ceased.
“You tell anyone else to come out yet,” I heard Bill frantically ask Ronnie.
The first shot ripped through right after Bill finished and struck him directly in the neck. I heard a hideous gasp of a sound shoot out from Bill’s head but was quickly distracted by the blast of another shot.
I laid out as flat as I possibly could. Shot a look over at the direction of the headlights which were still on across the clearing. I gave a look over in the other direction and locked eyes with Ronnie’s which were open as wide as possible and frozen as if someone had glued his eyelids to the sockets. I looked down to see fresh blood pouring out of a sickening hole in his white tank top.
A brief wave of relief washed over me but it only lasted for a second. This unknown gunman could have been coming to just steal me from my captors. Maybe I had really died and my brain was creating some dreamlike delusion of my dad saving me in his truck to comfort me.
It all felt real though when I tried to catch my breath and failed to make my way to my feet in the mud. I heard the heavy stomping of boots splashing into thick mud head my way from the direction of the headlights.
I rolled onto my back like a helpless turtle and looked up into the white light of the headlights. I saw my savior walk into my field of vision above me.
It was my dad. He clutched the custom rifle he cherished which reminded him of the one he used in Vietnam with his name etched into the side with shaking hands.
He took a shaky palm off of the rifle and offered it down to help me to my feet. I obliged.
My dad reached into my pocket as soon as I got up to my feet. He pulled my cell phone out of my pocket. Showed that it was currently on a call with him.
“You’ve been calling me for the last twenty minutes.”
I almost laughed, but instead did something for the first time in as long as I could remember. I hugged my dad.
Dad’s funeral ended up being only about a few months after he saved me that night. He tried to kick the whiskey a few times, but the damage had been done and he just couldn’t do it. The two of us were also fighting off an investigation from the local cops about Ronnie and good ol Crumpled Twenty Bill, so it was almost like my dad was racing to get to that last fatal drink to avoid having to go to court and/or jail for the whole thing.
I flew back from Denver again to hold his hand as he faded away in that bed in the living room with a new-found appreciation for that Vietnam portrait which rested above the TV pumped in my heart.
We buried him next to his mom and dad in a cemetery town in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains of east Tennessee. We held the funeral on a rainy Saturday in the fall early in the morning so everyone would have the time to make it to a TV or a bar afterwards to see Tennessee take on Alabama on the football field.
I was shocked by the amount of turnout. I figured only a few scattered family members I barely knew and some old friends from his hometown would show up. I was shocked when I pulled into the little gravel parking lot of the cemetery and saw lines of Harleys and beat-up trucks with POW/MIA flags and stickers adorned to them filling up the parking lot.
I shook a lot of hands, introduced myself to a lot of veterans before the funeral started and everyone took their seats to watch me nervously MC the thing. I patted my dad’s coffin before I walked up to the podium and started the ceremonies.
“Well… my dad made it clear he didn’t want a traditional funeral. He didn’t want all the sadness and the stale words of condolence and enlightenment. He just wanted stories. He just wanted everyone who felt like it to know that they could come up here and tell a story about my dad if they like… and he wanted me to get things started.”
I stopped. The tears. The sobs. They came on in a fit. I tried to fight them, but just gave in and let it go for about 30 seconds.
“Uh, I have a story I want to tell you all. It’s long and it’s crazy and it’s dark and it shows some flaws, but in the end, my dad’s the hero he could be sometimes… so, do you want to hear it?”