Time To Come In

       Brandon dragged himself painfully throughwhat was left of the sunroof of the car. The mangled gray Honda Accord lay crushed against the concrete side ofthe bridge.  He smelled gasoline, butdidn’t see any smoke.  At least there wasno danger of burning to death, although it might have been better if there had.

     Using the side of the bridge, he pulledhimself to his feet.  Warm stickymoisture ran down his face and a spreading dark red stain soaked his pantleg.  How badly was he hurt?  He didn’t know and wasn’t sure he cared.

     Clouds hid the stars.  The rain had stopped but the highway had beenslick from the previous downpour, too slick for the speed he’d been traveling. 

     He turned in the direction from which he’dcome.  Nothing yet, but it was only amatter of time.  The black SUV hadn’tbeen far behind.  He knew it wasthem.  He’d seen the government seal onthe doors.  They’d come for him.  He always knew they would materialize, likethe ghosts they were.

      Ifhe tried, he might reach the forest on the other side of the bridge.  He might be able to hide until the SUVpassed. He had no idea where he was, how many state lines he’d crossed on hisrace against time.  This highway woundthrough the mountains miles between civilizations.  What then? Where would he go?  He stood andtook a step.  Pain shot through hisinjured leg and he would have fallen had he not been leaning against thebridge. 

     He thought about the moment he’d seen theSUV as he was coming out of the convenience store.  The driver had seen him at the same time andit became a race, a deadly race through the pouring rain through the twisting,turning mountain highway.

     In the distance he heard the humming of acar.  Headlights blinked through thetrees on the curve about half mile away. If he managed to hide, there was no place for him to run even if hecould. 

     He knew what awaited him when the blackSUV reached him, but maybe it was best this way.  Living alone, always looking over hisshoulder, hiding, constantly on the move,trusting no one, wasn’t a life.  It was asentence, one that held only the death penalty at the end. He was tootired.  He couldn’t do it anymore. 

     Headlights appeared at the opposite end ofthe bridge.  The SUV slowed.  He was caught in the glare and used his handto shield his eyes.  The SUVstopped.  Doors opened and closed.  Three tall silhouettes approached.  He knew who they were, who they could onlybe.

     “It’s over, Brandon.  Time to come in.” Aaron Fremont, once afriend, stepped forward. 

     Brandon could almost see the chiseledface, dark eyes, square chin, passive, non-threatening, as was Aaron’s smoothvoice.  Brandon knew Aaron Fremont was assmooth as a cobra about to strike. 

     “You gave us quite a chase,” Fremontsaid.  “Five years.  Pretty good. Not many could have accomplished that. Too bad the road was wet.  But really, where is left for you to go?”

     Brandon felt the world tilt and he shook hishead to clear it.  He was losing too muchblood.  It didn’t matter.  “I’m no threat to you, Aaron.”

     “Not exactly true,” Fremont said.  “It’s too dangerous leaving you to run aroundfree.  Who knows what mischief you mightget into.  There are those who could usea good man like you, men who could use the knowledge you have, use the skillsyou possess, make it worth your while to work for them.  You were a good agent, too good. Too much temptation.  Better if you come with us.  We only want to help you.”

     Some deep embedded instinct screamed atBrandon. He recognized it.  He knew the kindof help they were offering, the only kind they offered.

     “Do it and get it over with, Aaron.  I’m tired and injured. I haven’t got thestrength to run.  It’ll be easy.  I’ve already provided a genuine accident tohide it with.”

     He could almost see the smile on Fremont’sface. 

     “Is that what you think we came for?  Brandon, believe me, we only want to get youinside where we can help you.  I know whatit’s like, remember?  What you were askedto do,ordered to do, the life you’ve led. I’ve been through it, too.  This is the only way.”

     Brandon sank onto the concrete barrier,unable to stand any longer. His eyesight blurred and he felt dizzy, shaky.    “And what? A little room with iron bars?”

     “You make it sound like jail,Brandon.  A nice room, a quiet place,people to help you, rest and peace in an area where no one can ever bother youagain.”

     Brandonwould have laughed had he the strength. “A cemetery.”  His voice soundedfar away to him. 

     “Brandon, come on, we don’t want to takewhat’s left of your life.” 

     Brandon saw that Fremont was movingcautiously forward, hands held out in front of him as if approaching a wilddog. 

     Brandon struggled to his feet with aneffort, steadying himself on the side of the bridge.  He swayed but managed to stay upright.  “You might as well.  I’m not going to that place, because it’sboth, jail and cemetery. You call it a retirement home for people like me,people who’ve been used up and are no longer of any value to those who used us.  Retirement; it’s a mental institution; safebehind bars where guards watch and no one is allowed to know where we are orcontact us, where our minds are wiped clean of everything, where we becomeempty shells without souls.  I’m not acriminal.  I’m not insane.  I’m not an animal to be caged.  And I won’t be made into one of your zombies.”

     “A pretty speech,” Fremont said.  “But it’s the only choice, my friend.”

     “No, there’s another.” Brandon looked overthe side of the bridge.  It was fiftyfeet to the river bank at least, a hard fall. He might survive.

     “Don’t do it.” Fremont was close, not tenfeet away.  He stopped and Brandon couldimagine his expression change from placating to wary.  “Don’t force my hand.  I don’t want to go that far.”

     Brandon pushed through the excruciatingpain that tore through his right leg. His put his right hand in his coat pocket.  His fingers curled around something cold andhard.  He’d forgotten it was there.  It didn’t make any difference.  His choice was already made.

     “Don’t, Brandon.  Don’t do it.”

     His eyes fixed on Fremont’s face; hepulled his hand from his pocket, heard the pop of gunfire and felt the threejolts in his chest.  He stumbledbackwards, his knees catching the edge of the barrier and then he wasfalling. 

     The wet sand eased the total force of hislanding on the bank.  A light swept overhim then disappeared.  With what littlestrength he had left, he pushed and felt himself roll down the slight embankmentinto the freezing water where the current swept him away from the bridge.  

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