Authors: Chuck Barrett
After two minutes, at a mile and a half a minute, he detected an illumination in the distance. The trees on the right disappeared and the distant lights became visible as he saw their reflection off the river's surface. Racing toward the lights, he passed two entrances to a pedestrian/bicycle pathway on his left. The pathway paralleled the road he was on and then rose up and over the road before ultimately crossing the river.
He realized his mistake too late.
The road ahead was blocked. The lights he'd seen earlier turned out to be the streetlights on the pathway that crossed the river. But he had already passed both entrances to the pathway. The sign ahead read
The Big Dam
. And there was no road across it.
A dead end.
Tropical Shirt tapped him on the shoulder. "Now what?"
He slowed the bike to a stop and looked up at the overhead pathway that crossed above the dam. He saw people walking and jogging and bicycling. The sign called it the Arkansas River Trail. "Up there." He turned the Harley around and pointed up at the cyclists on the elevated pathway. "That's where we're going."
"Then we better hurry," the old man pointed back down Rebsamen Park Road at the oncoming car. "Because they're about to cut us off."
the throttle and accelerated straight at the oncoming car.
"Are you insane?" Tropical Shirt yelled.
"Shut up and hang on."
Kaplan gauged the rate of closure. By the time the two head-on vehicles reached each other their closure speed could easily reach 100, perhaps 120 M.P.H. No chance for him to take the closest access onto the Arkansas River Trail at this speed. To do that, he'd have to slow down to make the ninety-degree turn and by then the oncoming car would be on top of him. In order to get onto the Arkansas River Trail, he'd have to play chicken with the car's driver and swerve into the parking lot to his left at the last minute. Then, while the car was turning around, he'd have time to take a different access onto the Trail.
He was betting the driver of the car would want to play chicken too. He was also betting the driver would
be the first to flinch.
"They'll kill us."
"No kidding. I think that was their plan all along." Kaplan held steady and straight, head on with the oncoming car. "Or would you rather I stop and try to reason with them?"
As the gap between the Harley and the car closed, Kaplan felt Tropical Shirt bury his head in his back.
"Holy Mary, Mother of Jesus, save me," the old man muttered.
Kaplan counted down the dwindling space between the bike and the car. At the last possible second, he feinted the Harley to his right then turned back hard left.
The ploy worked, the driver swerved to his left allowing Kaplan's Harley to zip past on the car's right and into the parking lot.
Kaplan kept his speed through the parking lot, slowing at the last moment and only enough to navigate the ninety-degree turn to the Trail. As he left the parking lot to cross the road, he noticed the car had not turned around. Instead, it was heading backwards in reverse. No problem. Kaplan drove his Harley onto the Arkansas River Trail and accelerated along the concrete pathway.
The car, now only forty feet below and to his right on the road parallel to the trail, screeched to a stop. The man from the passenger seat pulled himself half out of his window, sitting, feet inside, head and arms outside, butt on the door. He started firing.
The first two rounds missed.
Kaplan accelerated. He crossed a wooden bridge, which turned back to the concrete pathway. The driver put the car in forward and matched the Harley's speed. Still on Kaplan's right and still down on the street below. The third round from the man's gun struck the back of the Harley. He felt the thud reverberate through the bike's chassis.
"That was close," Tropical Shirt yelled.
Kaplan looked ahead. Two black and yellow striped posts blocked the ramp to four-wheeled vehicles. The sign stated in bold letters,
No Motor Vehicles Allowed
. He was about to make an exception to that ordinance. Beyond the posts, lights lined the ramp like a miniature runway leading across the skyline. In the distance, the lights lining the bridge curved to the right and went across the Arkansas River.
The gunman's fourth round struck the chrome on the right side of the Harley's front fork. A spark. A thud. A vibration. Kaplan centered the Harley between the posts and accelerated up the ramp.
The street, and most importantly the car, disappeared beneath the Trail's overpass as the Harley climbed higher above the ground.
By Kaplan's estimation, the above ground span of the Big Dam Bridge was the better part of a mile in length, at least four thousand feet or more. It looked to be eighty to ninety feet above the river, higher on one side of the dam than the other. The water wasn't visible in the darkness, just a black void beneath the bridge with the occasional reflection from the dam's lights.
There were several pedestrians and joggers on the bridge, all of whom jumped to the side as the motorcycle roared toward them. Kaplan scattered more than one group who were startled by the sound of his horn and the roar of the Harley's engine. The cyclists he had seen earlier must have seen him coming and had already pulled their bicycles to one side of the bridge. He knew from their sign language they were yelling obscenities at him. Those with cell phones had probably already called 9-1-1.
Just past the midway point, the bridge curved right, and then curved right again as it descended to ground level on the opposite riverbank. The Arkansas River Trail continued along the north side of the river too, paved, heading east with just enough curves to allow Kaplan to maintain a safe speed between thirty and forty. In a way, he was glad to slow down.
He was also glad no one was shooting at them.
For the moment.
He kept riding for several minutes on the Trail, past more annoyed joggers, walkers, and bicyclists, past another golf course until the cluster of lights in front of him became bright enough that Kaplan knew he was getting closer to the city's congestion.
From the lights across the river illuminating the night's sky, Kaplan saw a horseshoe like rock formation to his left. He slowed and looked for a road or path leading up the hill, which he found seconds later. Pavement turned to gravel and, after a series of s-turns, opened into a large space Kaplan figured must be used for parking.
Tall rocky cliffs encompassed roughly two-thirds of the area, which wrapped around them like a box canyon. With the shadows cast from the city lights across the river, the horseshoe cliffs looked like an old quarry from years past now turned into some kind of hiking or climbing area.
He pulled his Harley to one side and brought it to a stop. He killed the engine and extended the kickstand with his left boot heel.
This was as good a place as any to stop and have a heart-to-heart with Tropical Shirt.
hy are we stopping here
"Get off." Kaplan said.
"I beg your pardon."
"I said get off my bike."
"You're leaving me here?"
Kaplan shook his head. "No. I can't get off until you do."
"Oh." The old man slipped off the left side of the bike. "Yes, of course."
Kaplan pulled his keys from the ignition and unlocked his seat. He lifted it up, removed a sack from underneath, and then locked the seat back in place.
"What's that?" Tropical Shirt said as he removed his helmet and placed it on the sissy bar.
Kaplan reached into the sack and pulled out his Beretta Px4. "My guardian." It was a beefy handgun, not one for shooters with small hands or weak grips. He slipped it in a specially tailored pocket on the inside of his jacket. He grabbed two full magazines from the bag and stuffed each into pouches sewn into the jacket lining. He reached back into the leather bag and pulled out a smaller pistol, pulled up his pant leg and slipped it into another tailored pouch on his boot.
"You are a regular rolling arsenal."
"I believe in being prepared." The scene from the restaurant flashed through Kaplan's mind. "Which I wasn't back at the restaurant." He looked at the gray-haired man, "Now, what the hell happened back there?"
"I can't tell you. It's privileged information."
Kaplan stepped forward, grabbed the man's shirt, and pulled him close. With the light from the city, Kaplan could detect a trace of fear in the old man's eyes. "Privileged, my ass. I just saved your life. There are four dead men back at the restaurant, three bad guys and one good guy. There were at least three customers laying on the floor bleeding. No telling if they are dead or alive. And all of this is because of you. I know you're in the Witness Security program, which means you're more than likely a criminal who has testified or is about to testify in a federal trial. The three bad guys back at the restaurant sure looked an awful lot like mob guys to me. And it won't be long before the men in that car come looking for us on this side of the river."
Kaplan tightened his grip on the old man's shirt and lifted him to his toes. "No more jerking me around, old man. Start talking or so help me Godâ"
Kaplan relaxed his grip and let go of the old man's shirt.
"To start with, it is not
, it is Tony. Tony Napoli."
"Of course. Fully backstopped by the U. S. Marshals Service. And, yes, I am supposed to testify but the trial is not for another two months. I have spent the last month bouncing from hotel to hotel, city to city, never the same place more than three or four days at a time. Much to my dismay, Little Rock was supposed to be my permanent relocation area. I just got here today. I was supposed to go house hunting with a realtor tomorrow."
"Was the deputy your case handler?"
"Yes," Tony said. "Inspector Mike Cox. He picked me up in Memphis this morning and drove me here. We spent all afternoon locked in a crappy hotel room signing paperwork, receiving, and reviewing my new identity documentation. When we were finished he gave me some cash and, because it was so late and we never had lunch, we decided to go out and grab a bite to eat."
"And yet somehow, on your very first day in a Marshals Service assigned relocation area, your cover gets blown? Doesn't that seem odd to you? Like someone stacked the deck?" Kaplan paused for effect. "And not in your favor."
"It does lend that appearance." Tony held out his hand. "You have a name?"
"First or last?"
"Doesn't matter." He pushed Tony's hand aside and looked down the hill from the direction they came and saw two small headlights glowing in the dark. Then he heard the hum of a small engine. "We got company, stay behind me."
As the four-wheeler approached, Kaplan decided against pulling his weapon just in case it was some sort of security patrol.
The ATV stopped ten feet in front of him. The glow from the headlights revealed a camouflage paint scheme.
A strong Southern drawl shouted from behind the headlights. "Looky here, Bobby, we got ourselves some city slickers."
"Whoever they are, Glenn," a second voice said. "They ain't up to no good being here after dark."
"What da hell you boys doing out here anyway?" The voice was Glenn's.
"Minding our own business,” Kaplan replied. “Now why don't you mind yours and leave."
"Maybe you are my business, boy. Maybe it's my business to keep city slickers like you out of our park."
"Know what I think?" Kaplan said. "I think you two are a couple of Arkansas peckerheads with nothing better to do on a Friday night than hang out here with each other." He heard Tony blowing his breath in disbelief at his words. "Maybe you two were coming up here to get drunk or smoke some weed. I don't really care. But, I do think it's in your best interest to get the hell out of here before you both get hurt."
"Did he just call us peckerwoods?"
"Sure did. We'll see who gets hurt, city boy. It's time someone taught you some manners."
"And I suppose that someone is you?"
dumb. Damn straight, I'm 'bout to kick your ass."
Kaplan waited for the two men to appear in front of the headlights. And then he knew what he was up against, two knuckleheads looking for trouble.
Looks like they found it.
Glenn and Bobby looked like they stepped right out of the movie
Bobby smiled. Most of his teeth were missing. That was the only thing scary about him. He wasn't tall and was skinny as a rail. He wore a camo shirt and jeans hung too low below his waist.
Glenn, the driver, was closer to Kaplan's height of six-one. That was where the similarity ended. He had a good hundred pounds on Kaplan, most of it in his gut. He had the Confederate flag tattooed on one arm and a swastika on the other. He wore camo pants held up by orange suspenders with a dirty white wife-beater underneath. His camo ball cap held back his long stringy hair and his face was covered in a shaggy red beard. His size would intimidate most people, but Kaplan wasn't most people. He knew Glenn would be slow and easy to handle, then Bobby would be free to do what he did bestârun.
Despite the two men standing in front of him, Kaplan was more concerned with what he had just noticed in the distance.
"You don't want to do this," said Kaplan, keeping his eye on the horizon.
"Scared I'm fixin to whoop your ass?"
"You like hospital food?" said Kaplan.
"Why is that, asshole?" Glenn smacked his right fist into his left palm.
"Because that's all you're going to be eating for the next few days."
"Bobby, you keep an eye on the grandpa whilst I put a hurtin' on this wiseass."
Bobby moved first, which was the wrong thing for both of them.
As Bobby stepped toward Tony, Kaplan hooked his arm around Bobby's neck and used him as a weapon to knock Glenn back against the four-wheeler. He released his hold on Bobby, who was already in a slight daze from the headlock, spun around, and landed his elbow against Bobby's head. Consciousness left the man before he hit the gravel.
He should have run.
Now it came down to a matter of momentum. Momentum could hurdle one racecar past another on the track or turn a certain loss into a victory on the gridiron. In a fight, it could be an ally or an enemy. If you knew what you were doing, you could use it to your advantage. Glenn didn't look like he knew much about momentum.
Glenn pushed himself to his feet and charged at Kaplan head on. Kaplan sidestepped, slammed his elbow into the back of the man's neck, and followed up with a kick to the man's kidney. Glenn's momentum carried him past Kaplan and onto his hands and knees. Kaplan stepped forward and smashed a roundhouse kick to the man's jaw. The big man fell face first into the gravel. Next to him were two of his teeth.
"You two need to crawl back in the hole you came from." Kaplan muttered.
Kaplan glanced up at the sky and turned around. "Come on, Tony, we need toâ"
Tony was gone.