Jeff Tsuruoka’s Picture Choice: 1
Title: Redemption or Bust - No Quarter
I tracked Marko Reubens by sound.
Visibility in the woods was near zero. The trees were old growth and still lush with late summer foliage. The moonlight didn't stand a chance.
Reubens was wounded and breathing rough. It wasn't difficult to follow his heavy footsteps as he fought through the underbrush.
Every so often I'd catch the sound of softer footsteps. Marisa was working hard to put distance between herself and her ex-husband's brother.
I took it slow and took full advantage of the racket Marko made as he bumped into trees and stumbled over exposed roots. Still, it wasn't long before I was breathing as hard as he was. The ground sloped uphill and the footing got more treacherous as we all blundered through the darkness.
The sounds and smells of the woods assaulted my city-bred schnozz, increasing my disorientation tenfold.
I heard sirens somewhere in the distance but they sounded very far away.
A loud yelp up ahead grabbed my attention.
Marko was still moving around in the woods in front of me. He hadn't found her yet.
I picked up the pace.
As we got deeper into the woods the leaves overhead thinned out.
I caught sight of Marko five yards ahead of me. I also spotted Marisa, in a thin white nightdress, heading for a small patch of cleared ground.
Marko spotted her too and raised his arm to aim.
I moved up right behind him.
“Marisa!” I hollered. “Take off!”
She spun around and looked in my direction and then disappeared into the darkness on the far side of the clearing.
I holstered the Browning and put a hard shoulder into Marko's back before he could get turned around to face me.
He took it well for a guy nursing a bullet wound. His gun went flying into the underbrush but he got an elbow out behind him and caught me on the side of the head.
Sparks lit up my field of vision and my eyes began to water but I was already in bad enough shape that a little more punishment didn't faze me.
Sorry, Santo. I guess I can't go a day without getting my head kicked in.
I leaned away from another big elbow but got dumped on my ass anyway when he swept my legs out from under me.
Marko, bleeding from his nose and mouth, dove in for the kill.
I was quicker. I fed him a hard left that would have been harder if I hadn't thrown it from my back.
It was hard enough.
Marko's head snapped back and he hit the ground with a satisfying thump.
My body was screaming at me to stay where I was, to lie there and burrow down into the dead leaves but I forced myself to stand and tried to clear my head.
Marko was up on one knee, sucking wind.
I blinked but my vision didn't clear. I saw three Markos there in front of me.
Marisa was nowhere to be seen but I knew she was there. I heard her moving around just outside of the little circle of pale moonlight.
I also heard voices, both human and canine, cutting through the woods from several directions.
“That's it, Marko,” I rasped. “They've got the dogs after you now. It ends here.”
“Perhaps,” he replied.
He stood and grinned at me.
I got ready to renew hostilities.
His elan was gone, the veneer of civility and sophistication. What I saw in front of me was an animal, wild and at bay. The most dangerous kind.
I reached for the Browning. It was gone. My hand slapped the empty shoulder holster. Twice.
Marko began to edge around the clearing.
I moved to shadow him, to keep him in front of me. A quick scan of the ground failed to turn up either gun.
We circled each other like a couple of prize fighters at the start of the fifteenth round of a dead even match. There would be no grace, no technique, no guile. And no defense.
We rushed in swinging, heedless of personal safety.
I took a couple of shots on my way in but when I got there I dropped my shoulder and drove it into his solar plexus.
The wind jetted out of his mouth but he caught me with a wild backhanded swing as he staggered backwards and fell.
He struggled to his feet while I tried to recover.
The barking of the dogs sounded very close. All I had to do was hold out until the state troopers swarmed the area.
“Where are you, Marisa?” I called out.
I heard rustling in the woods to my left.
“I'm here, Jake.”
She stepped out of the trees. There was blood on the front of her nightdress.
“You hurt?” I asked.
“Been better,” she said. “But I'm okay.” She looked down at her front. “It's not mine.”
She was barefoot. The soft moonlight made that “Fearless” tattoo I was so fond of stand out.
It also glinted off of the barrel of my Browning. She had it in her right hand and it was pointed at Marko Reubens. The bad part for me was I stood between her and Marko.
“Step aside, Jake,” she said. “He started this. I'm going to end it.”
Marko Reubens stayed right where he was. Running never crossed the man's mind.
“I can't let you do that, Marisa.”
The words tasted like ash in my mouth.
“He shot my sister,” she said. Her voice sounded hollow, like she was talking to me from someplace far away. It didn't seem real.
The gun in her hand was plenty real though. I should know.
“Get out of the way, Jake,” she said.
“No dice. Hear those dogs out there? State troopers are all over these woods. They'll take care of Marko. You blow him away now, like this, and it'll be you they take care of.”
“Will they?” she asked. “And what are they gonna do with him? He killed Rosario and he killed Vern.”
“That's right,” I said. “He did. So let the police take him in. It's over, Marisa. It's over.”
“You're right, Jake,' she said. “It is over.”
She pulled the trigger.
The bullet tore into my right thigh, in the meaty part of it, halfway between hip and knee.
My leg buckled under me and I went down.
Marko stood frozen in place, caught in mid-stride towards the treeline. I guess running did cross his mind after all.
The state troopers and their dogs were right on top of us now.
Marisa didn't wait for them to show up. She took aim at Marko and pulled the trigger again.
The empty click bounced off of the trees and rattled around the whole clearing.
I got my upper body up off the ground but that was all I could do. Shock began to set in.
Marisa's eyes went wide and she dropped the gun.
Marko Reubens grinned and started towards her. He dipped down and picked up my Browning as she backed away. He flipped the gun around so the heavy butt was ready to bludgeon with.
I took a deep breath and forced myself up on one knee.
A dozen thin beams of bright light darted through the clearing.
I looked around and saw state troopers stepping out of the treeline on all sides. The dogs snarled and pulled on their leashes.
Someone shouted the word, “Gun!”
I lunged and managed to grab just enough of Marisa's legs to pull her down to the ground as the cops filled the clearing with lead.
Marko stood straight up, knocked first one way and then another by more impacts than I could count. When the firing stopped he was still standing. He teetered for a second and then crumpled and lay still.
A few seconds of pure silence followed and then the clearing exploded with activity. Troopers shouted, dogs barked, and both ran all around, doing everything and nothing at the same time.
A small cluster of cops stood around Marko Reubens' body.
I heard one of them say, “He's a goner.”
Someone shone a flashlight in my face and then I felt rough hands all over my body.
“We got one down over here!” somebody bellowed.
I fixated on the word, 'one', and felt around for Marisa.
No soap. She was gone.
“You okay, buddy?” asked a thick state cop with a serious smoker's rasp.
One of those pairs of rough hands found my bullet wound and gave it a healthy squeeze.
I swallowed the insult that begged to be let loose and used the surge of adrenaline to sit up. They didn't want me to but I wasn't concerned with what they wanted.
“Hey, hey,” piped up a familiar voice. “Take it easy, Jake.”
Detective Nate Thompson, State Police, knelt down next to me.
It was a long and painful process for him. The man looked even worse than I felt. Half of his face was covered in purple bruises and he wasn't wearing his eyeglasses.
We sat there like that, not talking, until the paramedics arrived. Wasn't a lot that needed to be said.
I was only half aware of it when they loaded me onto a stretcher. By the time we were out of the woods I wasn't aware of anything at all.
It didn't turn out to be much of a nap.
My eyelids closed of their own accord and I was on my way to someplace quiet when a series of sharp slaps in the face woke me up.
“Hey, you gotta stay with me here!”
The slapper was a stocky paramedic of indeterminate sex with a Brooklyn accent thick enough to choke a hippo.
“C'mon, buddy,” said the paramedic. “What's your name? Guys, guys, what's his name?”
“His name is Jake,” I snarled.
“Cool, Jake. I had a dog named Jake once.”
There's no way to answer that so I didn't try.
I must have drifted away again. My new best friend smacked me in the face.
If you've never been slapped awake by an androgynous Brooklynese paramedic you're not living right.
“You know what? Guys, stop. Stop. Get him off of that thing.”
We stopped and three people-- two paramedics and the closest state trooper-- lifted me off of the stretcher and got me standing. Each of the paramedics slung one of my arms over their shoulders and they drunk walked me out of the woods and right into the ambulance.
They also drunk walked me out of the ambulance and into the hospital.
After the darkness of the woods and the sudden brightness of the state trooper's flashlights the hazy yellows of the hospital's exterior lighting played havoc with my eyesight.
The light rain that began to fall didn't help.
I fixated on little details; the red glowing lights on the off-white wall of the hospital, the young woman in the green shirt carrying a child inside, the ornate glass and wrought iron sconces above the front door.
There wasn't a lot they had to do with my leg. The bullet-- my own damned bullet-- went clean through, missing bone and arteries. They took my pants, cleaned out the wound, and dressed it.
The concussion was another story.
After the doctor patched up my leg they moved me into a quiet room and stuck me in a bed.
I was on board for that. I'd have given my right arm to get a little shuteye but the hospital staff had other ideas. They'd let me doze for a few minutes here and there but every fifteen minutes someone came into the room to wake me up and check me out.
The police left me alone, which was good because I didn't want to talk to them. It was also bad because I needed to talk to them.
The last time I saw Nate was in the ambulance. We'd sat next to each other while the Brooklyn-bred paramedic administered first aid to the both of us on the way to the hospital. We didn't have a whole lot to say to each other during the ride.
I wondered where they were keeping Sheriff Jones. His wound was far more serious than mine. I wouldn't have been surprised to find out he was in surgery. Nate, I figured, was in a quiet room much like mine while the doctors determined how bad a concussion he had.
I wondered if anyone had called Evangeline over at the Sunshade. My gut told me the answer was no because she wasn't at the hospital hovering over the sheriff and me.
And I wondered if Marisa made it out of the woods.
Jeff Tsuruoka is an author in search of a writing career. He has found a home in the Flash Fiction circuit and is grateful to the blog hosts that give him the opportunity to get his work out there. You can follow him on Twitter @JTsuruoka and be sure to keep tabs on his weekly contributions to Daily Picspiration.