He changed to a walk from an easy jog and his breathing eased. The back road was unlit and not often traveled this late at night, which suited him just fine. In one hand he carried a quart can; jammed inside was an inexpensive sash brush, its bristles ragged and handle sticky. The can held only one quarter of an inch of paint now. Paint under his fingernails and smeared on the T-shirt he wore under an old navy blue sweatshirt gave him some unease, but he’d be home soon. It went perfectly; he got the wavy lines under “achtung!” just like in that old film; he didn’t make the skull though; instead a nice big swastika.
He almost wished he could be around tomorrow to hear the local TV news start to squawk about it, but he’d be way out of state, for keeps. He turned away from the road at the crossing and started down the old tracks, a shortcut home. When still near the road he heard a v8 engine; turning, he saw the light rack and the door emblem; Highway Patrol, pretty far from the highway too. He increased his pace while watching over his shoulder; the cruiser flashed brake lights, then back-up lights; it stopped across the tracks; he ran.
The searchlight caught and followed him. He jumped off the right of way into the long wet grass at the edge of a swamp. He filled the paint can with track ballast and carefully sunk it as he had planned to. The light probed for him awhile then snapped off, and he ran again.
But the cop hadn’t quit; the cruiser turned ‘round the other way, took a right, and climbed a hill that overlooked that stretch of track. Our fleeing malefactor noticed the police car had reached a new position just as its beam began to sweep around where he had been, then come his way. He kept running. There were some willows and weeds ahead. He thought the light might lose him there. When he reached the trees he went off the permanent way opposite the light, but the light was gone, a good sign he thought. He saw two piles of sand beside a storage shed. He mixed some sand with water and scrubbed most of the paint from his hands, and, with the aid of the risen moon and a pocketknife, he scraped the paint from under his fingernails. “Looks good enough,” he thought. He continued down the tracks to the next crossing. This is where he had to be careful. Getting by this road, it was necessary to check both directions from a place where he’d visible from a distance due to the lack of cover and then run until unseen away from the road.
After crossing, all he needed to do was walk the rest of the way home, The tracks here went through a cut in a small hill, and as he entered he froze. Ahead in the moonlight next to the track he saw a police car without lights, engine quiet, waiting for him. That state guy must have radioed the locals. He inched back out of the cutting, remaining in the shadows then climbed up the side of the cut and over the lip, ran far enough away from the edge and flopped down in the uncut hay on the face of the hill. He rolled onto his back and relaxed awhile.
He noticed the moon was up in the south and he looked to the east where Deneb, Altair, and Vega had risen; he estimated them to be between 30 and sixty degrees up from the horizon, a sign of summer approaching. He wondered how hot it would be where they were moving to; all the furniture had gone yesterday, and they were camping out in the house until early tomorrow, up at 5:30 and away in the car by 6:00 sharp, breakfast after 50 miles or so. Good thing too. Some of the kids at school had seen him reading one of those booklets he got from Rockwell and knew he was in the movement. His parents didn’t know; they didn’t read his mail; they paid no attention to the stuff he collected. They didn’t care what he read.
He thought the best thing now was to go up the hill and into the cemetery, follow the line of the fence to the gate on the other side, then cut through the woods.
He crawled through the grass for a while until he felt sure of getting to the side gate with a sprint. When inside among the headstones and ornamental trees and shrubs he felt safer but still needed to keep as far from the driveways as possible. They must know he’d gone in here by now, and he did glimpse headlights nearby, seeming to go back the way he’d come from.
Following the line of the chain link fence, pausing to listen now and then, he considered climbing the fence which would mean less distance to get home. But it was tall and topped with barbed wire, and if they got here and saw him when he was high up on this side it might get bad. Funny how they had those barb arms angle inward as if they wanted to keep people in, not out. Anyway, the gates were shut at night but never locked . . . stupid.
He reached the gap between the end of the fence and the massive stone gate and slipped through into an area of saplings and bushes and just beyond the driveway’s fence a police car was parked, engine off, no lights just as before, except he could see, by means of the street lights beyond, the polygonal silhouette of a cop’s hat. It looked like three of them in that car. He needed to move slowly if at all; he tried a few backward steps while watching intently, then very carefully sideways toward the deeper woods. Last year’s leaves were wet and slippery underneath and gave way. One of his feet slipped, so he made a quick move to recover and caused some of the drier leaves to rustle.
He saw rapid movement in the prowl car which made him decide to run for it. He got behind one of the larger trees as a searchlight beam shot out to where he’d been and began a sweep toward his new refuge and stopped. The light, bisected by his tree, didn’t move off. Did they know he was there?
His hand raised the edge of his sweatshirt and grasped the handle of the P-38 9mm he was carrying under the waistband of his jeans. Good thing he didn’t let it go ahead with the rest of his stuff. The weapon, his most prized possession, had the stamped on Adler and Heer acceptance marks and the date 1944, one of the last made. He’d only shoot if he had to.
The light moved a little and then flicked off; he heard radio static; the engine turned over; the headlights came on and started to recede; he moved away from the light then peeped around the tree to watch the taillights fade. They only almost had me he thought with an inward grin, but they gave up looking; at least for now.
Now all he had to do was walk home.
He could navigate through the swamp at night with even less moon than tonight had and climbed the neighbor’s fence as easily as usual. He walked through the small orchard on that property fast but quiet so as not to set off that old guy’s pain-in-the-ass dogs. Reaching his own backyard he was pleased to notice a gray light downstairs; his parents were still up and, most likely, sitting in the old folding chairs watching a portable TV tuned into some stupid late night variety show.
He climbed up the trellis on the back side of the kitchen ell, walked in a crouch across it’s roof to his still open bedroom window, crawled in, and let the sash down behind. Having got into his sleeping bag and gotten all of his things off and the Walther secure, he started to try to sleep. Then the doorbell rang; he heard his Dad go to answer it and say “Hello officer, what’s going on?”
The cops wanted to know if both the kids were home and if anyone had been outside during the evening, the father said “No, nobody’s been out; in fact the kids are upstairs; they went to bed around nine; we’re in the process of moving, as you can see, and we’ll all have to be up and away early.”
The policemen apologized, wished them a good night, and left. Upstairs a kid stifled a good laugh and some time later fell asleep.
Red-Browns on the March
Let’s Have a Sequel Already! Marty Phillips’ Let Them Look West
Jay Black’s Guttersnipe
The de la Poer Madness: Before and After Lovecraft’s “Rats in the Walls”
Politicians, Guns, & Money: The Profane Memoirs of a Justified Con Man
“You Owe Them Everything!” A Review of Spencer Quinn’s Charity’s Blade
Knut Hamsun’s Hunger