CHAPTER 24

Swagger threw the phone off into the trees somewhere.

Account closed, he thought.

He took a look around saw nothing but green. He tried to think of his next step but had some trouble concentrating. He looked at the wound in his battered hip. More blood than he’d expected. Maybe the bullet had ticked downward into the flesh instead of off into the air.

He didn’t have any first aid or clotting agent. He peeled off his jacket and wadded it against the blood flow, but it quickly absorbed its limit, went magenta and heavy-damp, and proved useless.

Better get to the goddamn road so they can find me, he thought.

But downhill with a bad wound bleeding hard was not easy, particularly as he could feel the leg numbing out on him, and in time it ceased to work in coordination with the other leg, and there came a moment when he lost it, toppled forward, put a bruise into his spine, ripped the hell out of his arms rolling through brambles, felt his shirt rip, and hit a rock solid with his head, which was already concussed from the clout he’d delivered on the 42 Commando major.

He got himself up and put his hand on the wound. It wasn’t gushing copiously, but he could feel the steady, warm liquefaction finding ways around his fingers. He got a little farther down and noticed that a sudden chill had come into the air, as well as a fog that eroded the edges of his vision.

He staggered over a hump and hit the road. He couldn’t remember which way was which and realized it didn’t matter. He’d never make it back to the house, and what was there except those two guys whose names he didn’t remember and he knew they weren’t worth a damn.

He began to shiver. Damn, so fucking cold.

He looked for a splash of sun to warm him up and saw an opening in the canopy a few yards ahead that admitted the light. He limped to it, falling once, then got to it and, of his own volition, decided to stop fighting gravity and let himself tumble into the dust.

It was warmer. In time, he saw someone approaching him. He tried to rise, but the man waved him back down as he rushed to him. Bob saw that it was his father, Earl.

“Dad!” he cried.

“Well, Bob Lee, damn, it’s good to see you, boy.”

Earl came to him and knelt down. Earl wore the uniform of the Arkansas state police, 1955, as he had on the last day of his life, and it was razor-sharp, in perfect duty condition, as it was always for Earl. He had the strong, kind, wise face of a hero, and he was everything a boy could love in a father.

“Dad, God, I’ve missed you, I missed you so much.”

“Now there’ll be plenty of time for a nice long visit, you’ll tell me all the things you’ve seen.”

“Dad, you–”

“Bob Lee, you just relax. I’m so proud of my son, you have made me so proud.”

“I tried so hard, Dad, I didn’t want to ever let you down and–”

“He’s coming back, he’s coming back.”

Swagger blinked, and it wasn’t his dad’s face but some crew-cut young man’s.

Bob coughed, realizing that the guy had just jacked a charge through him with an external defibrillator.

“Hit him again?” another medic asked.

“No, no, he’s good, the lactate is going in fine, the adrenaline is taking effect, he’s breathing again, his pulse is rising.”

Swagger breathed, feeling clean air come into his lungs.

“Jesus Christ, you scared us,” said Nick Memphis.

As Swagger’s eyes cleared and the fog thinned, he lifted his head a bit and saw an ambulance, a batch of state police cars, a lot of police activity along the road, and above him, in the hands of another young man, a bottle of intravenous fluids feeding life through a brown tube into his arm. He lay on a stretcher; his hip was strongly bandaged and bound, but some numbing agent quelled the pain.

“Okay, STAT, let’s move this man to the chopper and get him to Trauma. I’m staying on him to monitor vital signs.”

“I’m riding too,” said Nick, and he turned to Bob and said, “Baby, you were gone, you were in negative heartbeat, but we got you back, don’t ask me how.”

“I saw my dad, Nick,” said Bob.

“And you will again,” said Nick, “but I hope not for a long time.”

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