Authors: Chuck Barrett
Kaplan nodded. "Delta. âA' Squadron."
"No shit? I was âA' Squadron too. Kuwaiti Resistance. Purple Heart landed me on the civilian side."
More shots rang out. Both men ducked. "Let's see about getting out of here alive," Kaplan said. "Then we can chat."
"You know, Delta," the LEO said. "I almost shot you when you charged the table."
"Glad you didn't."
Kaplan pointed at the man's belt badge, a silver star. "Marshals Service?"
The man nodded. "WitSec."
Some people called it witness protection. Technically, they were wrong.
Unexpected, but it made perfect sense. Tropical Shirt was a witness.
And that meant the U. S. Marshals Service didn't consider Little Rock a
for the witness otherwise Tropical Shirt would be tucked away somewhere in a safe site and this guy would be delivering food to him instead of escorting him out in public.
It also meant Tropical Shirt was probably in his
waiting to testify in a federal trial.
And since the relocation area was known only within the agency, it meant the United States Marshals Service had a leak.
"WitSec, huh? What's up with wearing the star around a witness?"
The deputy looked down, "Oh crap. I forgot to take it off and put it in my pocket when we left the hotel. See, that's another reason I know you're not a drifter. Only insiders have that kind of intel. Who do you work for?"
"Nobody," said Kaplan. "Lucky guess, that's all." Kaplan ejected the magazine, checked the number of bullets remaining, and then clicked it back in place. It was a Beretta. Exactly like his. "Four rounds, three in the mag, one in the chamber."
The deputy held up his Glock, and ejected the magazine. "Seven plus one."
Kaplan surveyed the layout. Not much to hide behind. "They're reloading. We don't have much time,” he said. “Divide and conquer."
Divide et impera
. Latin for divide and conquer. In warfare, it means a tactical maneuver to efficiently deal with an opponent."
The Italians resumed firing. Bullets ripped through the tabletop. Both men dropped to their bellies.
"I know what it means, Delta." The deputy gave him a discerning look. "Plan?"
"Spread out, divide their attention. And their fire power." Kaplan pointed toward where Tropical Shirt was hiding. "I'll go that way, you stay here."
The deputy grabbed Kaplan's arm, "How accurate are you?"
Kaplan thought about his response. "Better than most."
"Swap firearms." The deputy held out his Glock. "Shrapnel in my shoulder left me with hand tremors. Barely pass my quals as it is and that's with no one shooting back."
Kaplan understood and appreciated the deputy's honesty. He swapped handguns and readied himself to make the fifteen-foot dash across the unprotected space.
When the firing slowed Kaplan said, "Go."
The deputy raised and fired two rounds at the Italians.
Both Italians ducked below the bar.
Kaplan dove headfirst, tucked and rolled until he was back behind the table with Tropical Shirt.
The deputy fired his last two rounds then ducked behind the table.
The Italians rose up from the bar and resumed shooting, mostly in the deputy's direction.
The deputy looked at Kaplan, picked up a chair, and waited for the signal. Kaplan nodded, rose, and fired. The deputy hurled the chair toward the firing Italians.
The chair cleared the bar, smashed into the mirror, and then tumbled through two shelves of bottles before crashing to the floor. Kaplan heard glass break, shuffling and whispering. The room went quiet. He waited. One Italian, the one with the greasy hair, rose up from behind the bar and looked in the direction of the deputy.
Kaplan squeezed the trigger and the bullet struck the man between his dark bushy eyebrows. Blood and brain splattered on the remnants of the broken mirror. Kaplan heard the last Italian yell then stand and run toward the door.
Not so fast.
Kaplan squeezed off two more rounds striking the last man in the chest with both. The man fell.
Kaplan looked at Tropical Shirt and the waitress, "You two stay put." They both nodded in unison.
He stood and crouch-walked toward the bar, leading each step with the barrel of his Glock, his eyes and gun moved as one. Any threat would be met with another bullet.
He heard rustling from patrons on the floor. "Everybody stay down," he yelled.
He stepped over the rail separating the two levels one leg at a time. He moved to the side for a better angle before he advanced toward the Italians. The first man was lying over the rail, dead. A shot to the head had a way of adding finality to one's life span. He rounded the open end of the bar and saw the remaining two men. The first, Greasy Hair, dead with a bullet hole in his forehead. The other was slumped against a mini-fridge behind the bar in a pool of his own blood, gun still in his hand. Shards of broken glass littered the floor.
Kaplan stepped toward him maintaining eye contact. The eyes were the best gauges of the man's intentions. If the last Italian thug were going to make a move, he'd see it in the man's eyes first. Kaplan kept his gun aimed at the man's head.
He stopped five feet from the Italian. "Release your weapon."
The man didn't move.
Kaplan pushed his gun forward as a threat. "Who do you work for?"
Kaplan stepped forward and pressed the toe of his boots against one of the man's chest wounds. "I asked you a question. You better answer or this will get a lot worse." He put more pressure against the gunshot wound.
The Italian grimaced, his expression full of pain. "All right." Then he muttered two words, "Four eyes."
Two words that held no meaning. "Whaâ"
Kaplan saw the skin flutter around the Italian man's eyes and then his hand moved.
"Don't do it," Kaplan yelled.
The bleeding man raised his gun.
Kaplan squeezed the trigger.
Two in the chest, one in the head works 100% of the time.
His old Delta Force mantra.
Kaplan returned to the deputy to give him the all clear. The man was lying on his back, blood oozed from his neck and chest. He must have been shot when he threw the chair. The deputy's bloody belt badge lay on the floor next to him. Somehow it was knocked loose during the gunfight. Kaplan picked it up and stood over the man. He dropped to one knee and placed the badge in the deputy's hand, and closed the deputy's fist around it. There was nothing he could do for him now; the deputy was going to bleed out.
The dying man clutched Kaplan's arm. His grip was weak. “Be honest, Delta, how bad is it?”
“Not good, soldier.” Kaplan grabbed the deputy's hand and placed it against his neck. “Hold pressure. We need to slow the bleeding.”
“Just another shitty day in paradise, huh, Delta?”
Kaplan feigned a smile. “Same shit, different country.” Kaplan looked at the hole in the deputy's chest. It couldn't have missed his heart by much and by the way it was bleeding, it must have hit a major vein. He grabbed a handful of napkins lying on the floor and pressed them against the chest wound. “What's the deal with the old man?”
"Listen, Delta," the deputy pleaded, "you have to get him out of here. It's not safe. I don't know how they found him, but they did." Blood oozed from the corner of his mouth as he spoke.
“Try not to speak. Save your strength.” Kaplan sat down next to the deputy and cradled his head. "Only one explanation, his cover was blown because WitSec has a leak. I'll call the cops," said Kaplan. "They'll keep him safe until your deputies arrive. I can't stick around and babysit the old man."
"Please, I know these copsâ¦they're good ole boys. This is out of their league. All they'll do is either get killed or get him killedâ¦or both. I watched you. You know how to handle yourself, Delta. You might be passing through, but you're certainly no drifter. You can keep him alive. You can get him to a WitSec safe site."
"Look, I don't have time for this," Kaplan insisted. "If the locals can't do it then I'll call the fibbies." Kaplan referenced the FBI. "Hell, they're going to get called here anyway."
"No." The deputy coughed. Blood splattered on the dying man's face. "Don't trust anyone except WitSec." The deputy's eyes wandered.
“Hang in there, soldier,” Kaplan said. “Suck it up. Be strong.”
"Promise me you'll take care of him, Delta. I screwed the pooch. You have to deliver him to WitSec. And only WitSecâ¦do it as a favor for a fellow Delta comrade. I don't want to be remembered as losing a witness. You have to fix this for me. Promise me, Delta. Promise." Kaplan thought it was ironic that a man who had sacrificed so much for his country might now have the memory of all that forgotten. The deputy was right about life being defined by the last chapter. It was an injustice he couldn't allow happen to a fallen Delta comrade.
"All right, all right. Where's the closest safe site?"
"Stayâ¦offâ¦theâ¦grid." The deputy's speech faded and his hand fell away from his neck.
“Come on, soldier. Stay with me.” Kaplan shook the man's shoulders.
The deputy's gaze locked on the ceiling above him. Then his head fell to one side.
Kaplan placed his fingers on the deputy's neck and checked for a pulse. Nothing.
Stay off the grid, the deputy said. Hell, that's what he had been trying to do.
In the distance Kaplan heard sirens. He walked over and grabbed the old man and pulled him to his feet. "Come on, we're getting out of here."
"I'm not going anywhere," the old man protested.
"That wasn't a request. Stay here, you die." Kaplan stuck the gun in the old man's face. "Now let's go."
On his way to the door, pulling the old man along, Kaplan stopped and took one last look at the dead deputy. A dead soldier who, like himself, had spent most of his life serving his country. Protecting his country. And those in it.
The approaching sirens grew louder. Kaplan herded the old man with a renewed urgency across the street to the parking lot where he'd parked his Harley.
Nightfall came early tonight aided by the dark clouds masking the sky, remnants of the late afternoon thunderstorms.
Kaplan's riding jacket was draped over the backpack attached to the sissy bar. He slipped it on and removed the half-helmet strapped to his backpack. "Here." He held out the helmet to Tropical Shirt. "Put this on."
"I'm not going anywhere with someone I don't know and I'm sure as hell not getting on that." He pointed at Kaplan's motorcycle. "You're probably one of those Hell's Angels, aren't you?"
"Again, stay here and die." Kaplan started his Harley, swung his leg over, sat down, and pointed his finger at the old man. "Those men trying to kill you were pros and pros tend to have backup. So you can get on and I'll keep you alive, or else you can stay here and take your chances. But with or without you, I'm leaving now."
The old man hesitated and then, with an expression of resignation, slipped the helmet over his head and climbed on the back of the Harley.
Kaplan turned the bike onto Rebsamen Park Road to make his getaway toward downtown. A block down the street, a dark colored sedan pulled into the middle of the road and accelerated toward him. An arm extended from the passenger window and in the hand was a gun.
The muzzle flashed as the car sped toward them. Kaplan leaned the bike to one side and twisted the throttle. The rear tire lost traction and spun wildly against the asphalt while Kaplan guided it through a hundred and eighty degree turn leaving a plume of black smoke. He righted the bike, regained traction, and accelerated in the opposite direction. His passenger tightened his grip around Kaplan's waist.
"I don't know who you are," Kaplan yelled, "but someone is going to a lot of trouble to see you dead."
"I know. I know." The old man's voice filled with panic. "Can this thing go any faster?"
"I thought you didn't like motorcycles."
"I like bullets even less."
"This happen often? Being shot at I mean." Kaplan asked.
"Too many times."
Kaplan gave another twist of the throttle. In his mirror, he saw the headlights initially fall behind then start to catch up. Speed for speed Kaplan figured his bike would hold its own, even with the extra weight on the back. At this speed though, if the old man shifted his weight at the wrong time, Kaplan could lose control and they would both end up eating asphalt.
He headed west on Rebsamen Park Road and within seconds was paralleling railroad tracks to his right. An apartment complex blurred by on the left as the road snaked a slight curve to the right. That was when the yellow railroad crossing sign suddenly appeared. Railroad crossings were always a crapshoot. Some were smooth and he could barely tell when he crossed them while others so rough he'd almost lost control of his bike. He gripped the handlebars and maneuvered the bike's angle so he took the crossing perpendicular to the tracks.
As soon as he cleared the tracks, an unmarked traffic circle immediately followed. Kaplan braked hard, almost locking his rear tire. He yelled to the old man, "Let me do the work, keep your body inline with mine."
As he entered the traffic circle, Kaplan applied pressure to the left grip causing the bike to lean hard left while keeping both knees snug against the tank for stability before propelling out the other side of the circle. His pursuers would have to slow even more. Their car couldn't take the traffic circle at the same speed Kaplan had and this should give him a chance to put extra distance between them.
"You can lighten up on that grip now, old man," Kaplan said to Tropical Shirt.
A grassy field opened up on the right, a void of darkness beyond. He recognized the smell of a freshly mowed golf course.
The road was basically straight with gentle curves, which allowed Kaplan to accelerate to even faster speeds. His sense of direction told him he was heading west. Or northwest. He couldn't really be sure. In the humid night air he could smell the river nearby, he just didn't know how far away it was. Or where this road might lead.
On the right he passed a sign that read
Rebsamen Park Golf Course
. Then it was back to the lonely stretch of tree-lined dark road. The glare in his side mirror made him nervous. The headlights were gaining on him. He glanced down at his speedometerâ90 M.P.H.