It was a strange holdover from the past, like a lot of things they didn't or couldn't let go of from the 60's, like music and long hair. They just provided a simple service for a select clientele, limiting their dealing to grass. It was an habitual routine that provided a service for their friends up in the hills. Tony Cobb had actually been doing it on a lesser scale since the early 70's. Murphy had joined him after they got to know one another tending bar in Denver nearly three years ago. It was their own private act of revolution.....their impotent defiance of the changing times.
The tape deck was turned down low like background music, unusual for their typical ride, playing Credence Clearwater Revival. They weren't passing a joint, which also was unusual. Every other Sunday was generally their escape from conventional life. They'd often stay the night with someone in the hills, whoever would offer. It was good for them to get away. Right now, both were just laid back and coasting, enjoying the leisurely drive as the last fingers of a colorful sunset gripped the top of the Rockies. They watched the light play against the bank of clouds creeping over the Mosquito Range directly ahead of them.
There was something in the road, big enough to be a deer. Roadkill in the twilight. The mass lay on the left shoulder, just out of the approaching lane. Tony Cobb slowed a bit. As they passed, Murphy was first to call out. "Hey, that looks like a fuckin' body! Was that a pile of clothes, or what?" As Tony slowed further, they passed some clothing and then a backpack on the left shoulder. Tony brought the car to a halt. He took a deep breath.
"Shit! Some guy got run over? We gotta go see."
Murphy squirmed uneasily. "What about the shit, man? We can't just be hanging around out here at the scene of an accident with the shit in the car."
"Bullshit. We gotta find out if this guy is OK or what." Since Tony was in the driver's seat, he began to back the car slowly up the highway. There was no traffic in sight. In fact, they hadn't passed another car for nearly half an hour. The two reluctant travelers got out to assess the situation. They were stopped next to what was clearly a body. A jacket lay on the roadside about 20 yards ahead. The frame pack another 20 yards beyond that.
"He could have been hit by a truck or something. Or thrown out of a car. Look at how his things are scattered along the road." Tony trotted down the road to retrieve the pieces of baggage, leaving Murphy to approach the body which lay face down just off the blacktop.
Murphy bent down slowly, then went to his knees and hollered to Tony as he touched the man's back and neck. "Hey, this guy's alive. He's twitchin' and moanin'." Murphy had seen his share of bodies while serving with the Marines in Viet Nam. He had sworn he'd never get near another dead body......no telling what kind of horrible things he might see. He had even solemnly given up going to funerals. But this one was at least alive and in one piece. He ran his hands over the arms and legs quickly, hoping not to find any protruding bones. There were none. Nor was there any blood or torn clothing. Just some minor scrapes and bruises on the face that he could see as he rolled the man over. He was just about covered from head to toe with dirt and dried mud.
He noticed that the man, "Roadkill" as he had already named him, was clutching something in his right hand. He pried it loose, which elicited a groan and another twitch from Roadkill. He recognized it immediately. It was a VA Hospital card with a purple "V" indicating priority patient status. Service-connected disability. Murphy kept one in his top dresser drawer for those times when he had to acknowledge he was sick enough to see a doctor, which wasn't very often. He kept it there for years, after having gotten through a hellish VA-sponsored alcohol de-tox program when he came home from Viet Nam in 1969. The very sight of it made him break out in a heavy sweat.
"Hey, Buddy. You OK?" He put his hand behind Roadkill's head and lifted it. "Man, this dude's drunk or stoned or somethin'," he shouted as Tony came back up the road with the jacket and backpack.
The man on the pavement opened his eyes, looking right through Murphy without focusing and mumbled with sobs and terror in his voice, "....mmmmto get me.......nooooo...plzzzz...help.....nooooooo." He moaned.
"Hey, Tony. This dude's stoned out of his gourd."
Tony was immediately at Murphy's side. There were still no cars in sight in either direction. It was slowly getting darker and a bit chillier as the evening air settled in. "Let's get him into the car."
Murphy looked up at Tony Cobb. "And take him where? We got things to do, man. This dude's wasted. He's O.D'ed. Here, look at this. He was holding it."
Tony took the card from Murphy's extended hand and held it facing what little light was left coming from the west. Then he tilted it back to catch the slightly brighter glow of the headlights. "Hey, this guy's from Denver. He's a Vet, man."
"Yah, and he's a stoned, cold junkie. I mean, he's out of it. He ain't even hurt. Doesn't hardly have a scratch on him. I think he's just stoned. Like maybe he shot up to watch that sunset or something. Damn, smells like he shit his pants, man. And puked on his shirt. He's like been crawlin' in the mud, man. This guy is a fuckin' junkie." Murphy rambled on, indicating any detail he could think of why he didn't like the guy already.
"Bullshit, Murph." Tony said, as if explaining the obvious to a child. "There's something else wrong with him. He's laying out on the highway in the middle of nowhere. We gotta help him. Let's get him into the car."
Murphy sat back on this haunches, easing Roadkill's head down to the ground. He stared up at Tony Cobb. "And then do what? I say he's fucking stoned and I don't want to deal with him. Let's get the fuck away from here." He stood and brushed his hands against his thighs and arms, as if ridding himself of some attachment to Roadkill. As if something he couldn't see had gotten on him.
"Jeezus, are you crazy? How come you're acting like this? You just want to leave this guy laying here? He's a Vet, man! We gotta help him."
"Yah. He's a Vet. The worst kind. The dude's a junkie. A waste, man. Fuck him. I've seen his kind before. He don't even care if he shits and pukes on himself. Just like the others I've seen. He's a waste, man. Let him sleep it off. We'll set him up against his pack off the road and put his jacket around him."
As if in response, Roadkill moaned and mumbled,"...nooooo. gotta get away. noooo. wait. oooh........."
"Now hold on, Murphy. You're acting weird. I can't believe you're serious. We ain't gonna leave this guy out here. Come on." Tony bent down to take hold of the man's arm.
"Ah, shit, Tony," Murphy complained in a childish whine. "What are we gonna do with him? We ain't going to take him anywhere until we unload the car. And where we goin' to take him anyway? There's nothin' around here. Nothin' between here and Denver. And it ain't worth our while goin' back to the Springs. And what were we doin' out just drivin' around South Park on a Sunday night? I don't like this, man! Somethin' ain't right here."
"That's bullshit, Murphy. Open the car door." Tony had taken hold under each of the man's outstretched arms and was dragging him toward the car. "Open the damn door!"
"OK, OK. But no way he's goin' in the back seat. Put him in front with us. I want him up front where I can keep an eye on him. I don't want no fuckin' GI junkie sittin' behind me. Here, let me slide in first, and we'll put old Roadkill next to the door, just in case I need to eject him." Tony didn't even ask about the name as he and Murphy wrestled the body into the car. The backpack and jacket were thrown into the trunk atop the spare tire. It was sometime after 7 p.m.
"Hey, what are you doing now, Murphy?" Tony Cobb said as he slid into the drivers seat. He had known Gerald Murphy all of three years, and he had never seen him act so strangely, so spooked. Murphy had looked through all of the man's pockets and was now rolling up the guy's sleeves.
"I'm lookin' for tracks, man. And his stash. I think this dude is higher than a kite. I think he had his VA card out thinkin' he was goin' back to some drug abuse treatment center or somethin'. He probably lost his stash along the highway. I'm gonna keep the window down just to keep his smell off me. Fuckin' junkie."
"What are you talkin' about, man? You don't know nothin' about him! He could be sick, or hurt. You're fuckin' cold, Murphy! What's with you?"
"No. Definitely he ain't hurt. I seen guys like this in Nam. And plenty of Vets like 'um after we got home. This dude's one of those guys who got hooked on the hard shit 'cause he couldn't take it. He's a fuckin' washout, man. And he's living off the VA. And that means our tax money, dude." Murphy held Roadkill's head upright and slapped him gently on the cheek.
"Hey, dude. What's up? Hey, come on. Hey, were you in Nam, man? Viet Nam?" He was shouting into Roadkill's ear. Roadkill moaned, twitched, and tears started streaming down his cheek. He made some unintelligible noises and lurched forward. Murphy still held his hair or Roadkill would have rammed his head into the dashboard.
"Hey, Tony. This dude's out of it. Maybe we'd better check his pack for drugs, man. Listen, if we get stopped, we're up shit creek. You know that, don't you? This fucker's in LaLa Land.
"Hey, shithead. We're taking you back to Viet Nam. How'd you like that?" Murphy continued his tormenting. Roadkill convulsed twice and slumped.
"Come on, Murph. Mellow out. We'll just take him with us until he comes out of it."
Roadkill stayed slumped in the car as Tony and Murphy slowly traveled their mountain route, stopping for a chat here and there with their human cargo shoved temporarily out of sight. Occasionally, Roadkill would moan. Several times he went into convulsions. When Murphy was sitting next to him, he would lean on Roadkill's chest with his forearm to keep him from jumping around. The majority of the times it happened, Roadkill was alone in the car. They eventually laid him down on the back seat to keep him out of their way. He was no threat to anyone.
It was nearly 4 o'clock in the morning when they got back to Denver. They had their plan worked out and it went smoothly. Murphy slid into the driver's seat, refusing to get near the VA emergency doors. He didn't want to be identified by any surveillance cameras. He pulled the car up near the emergency door of the VA Hospital with the lights out and pieces of cardboard covering the license plates and turned the car facing the street. He waited in the dark as Tony Cobb dragged Roadkill's limp body to the sliding glass doors, knowing that they were being monitored by the cameras. Tony motioned up at the camera. "Bring a stretcher. Got a real sick man here!" he shouted up at the electronic eye. Within a few minutes, three men in white coats came out the doors, pushing the four-wheeled gurney.
"Here, get him in there, quick. Here's his VA card. There's some more stuff over in the car that I've got to get. Grab that stuff there, too. I'll be right back with you to sign him in." Tony was a flurry of true concern as he motioned to the backpack and jacket leaning against the wall next to the doors. Then he hurried off into the darker corner of the parking lot as the attendants lifted the body onto the gurney and wheeled it inside. The old gray Plymouth pulled out of the parking lot and headed down the street in the early morning.
Jason was on his back, feet toward the open side door, head almost to the vinyl of the bench-type front seat. It was hot. It smelled of rank bodies and perspiration. The van held eight other men, laughing and joking in gruff voices that seemed to pulsate in Jason's aching head. One man knelt directly in the open door way, his own knees on Jason's right knee and thigh. Another leaned with full weight on Jason's chest, crushing him into the hard bed of the van. The claustrophobia was overpowering.
The elbow and forearm on his chest was clothed in a green shirt, an insignia on the left shoulder. The patch was the 101st Airborne, the "Screaming Eagles." As Jason regained consciousness, feeling the panic build inside him like a swelling balloon, his eyes focused on the eagle. The eagle. That's MY eagle! That's my fuckin' EAGLE!!!
The sound of his bellow echoed in the truck through the flurry of activity and still resonated as the scene finally settled back to absolute silence. "That's MY fuckin' eagle!" At the same instant his left palm sailed upward, smashing the base of the green-shirted paratrooper's skull, lifting it away from his spine. Simultaneously, Jason's left leg drew up and shot out, catching the side of the man who knelt on his right leg, sending him sprawling out the door onto the passing pavement.
He rolled up to his left, onto his hip, pushing the body of the paratrooper into the mass of men in the back of the van. With one smooth motion, Jason grabbed the left arm of the biker who leaned against the wall of the truck, swung himself upward and behind the stunned rider, and came to rest with his own back against the side of the truck directly behind were the biker had been leaning. The biker was now off balance, bent forward, with Jason's right hand gripping his windpipe and Jason's left arm looped over the head, fingers of his left hand planted solidly into the tops of the biker's eye sockets. The biker's immediate reaction was to grab for each of Jason's wrists, but the slight increase in pressure by Jason caused the biker to release his grip. The biker realized his vulnerability.
Jason's cheek was pressed against the side of the bikers' head, his mouth just beside the biker's ear. Now this is what I call a bargaining position.
"Back off, asshole, and you might still live through this," Jason said softly as he stared at the astonished faces in the back of the van. He felt the biker submit as his fingers once again moved against their pressure points. They both knew that the slightest movement on the part of the biker would result in Jason running his fingers into the man's brain through the eye sockets or ripping out his throat.....or both.
Everyone had frozen in place after seeing their friend's predicament at Jason's hands. They were all poised and ready to spring forward, but they stayed frozen in place. It had all happened too fast. The tension was ready to burst the truck apart like an exploding can of soda. The echo of Jason's cry was just fading away. Silence reigned for a moment.
"Stop the fucking truck." It wasn't a loud demand. It was a softly spoken statement. Jason was braced for any shift in momentum, but the driver, who could see Jason in his rear view mirror, braked to a gentle halt. "Now everybody out. Now!!"
Nobody moved. Jason ever so slightly increased his finger pressure and whispered, "Tell your friends to get out."
With the croaking, forced whisper, barely audible but clear enough to matter, the biker managed an "Out. Now." As the others slowly slid over to the door and out into the night, Jason glanced at the two men in the front seat. "Go on. You, too. Close the doors and move around to the street side of the truck."
He turned his attention back to his captive. "I want some answers. Now!! Who the fuck are you? Why are you fucking with me?"
As difficult as it was for him to talk, the biker forced out his answer. "We didn't think you'd ever fight back, man. You haven't fought back in over twenty years. We thought you were a pussy. I guess maybe you're not."
"Well, my friend. You and I are going to work this out right now or you're a dead man. Your friends might nail me afterward, but you won't be around to get in on the action. So let's just start from scratch. I want to know who you are, where you come from, and how the hell I get you and the rest of those assholes off my case from now until the end of time."
"I think you just figured that out for yourself, man. Just let me go. Don't kill me."
"That, you big piece of shit, is what we're going to talk about right now."
The brief scuffling out on the road, followed by the fading shouts of men running from the truck, caused both Jason and his captive to stiffen in anticipation. Someone approached the open door, slow footsteps on the blacktop sounding hollow and ominous in the night. Jason cradled the biker's head tighter, getting ready for a final confrontation. His warning had been clear enough.
Dr. Bondurant strolled casually into view through the side door of the van, swinging his left leg up to sit dangling half in, half out of the van. His appearance on the scene seemed to be as much of a surprise to Jason as it was to the biker.
"Well, Jason. It looks like you've got things well in hand," the Doctor said as he leaned back, gripping his raised knee as he leaned back against the door frame.
"Wha's he doin' 'ere?" croaked from the aching throat of the biker almost simultaneously with Jason's own exclamation.
"Dr. Bondurant! What are you doing here? What.....? Are you part of this gang? What's going on?" Confusion and disbelief were heavy in Jason's voice as he reaffirmed his grip on the biker's wind pipe, his fear and suspicion rising to a peak. His eyes studied the Doctor carefully, looking for any sign of deception in this outrageous turn of events.
"No. No, I'm not part of any of this, Jason. This is all your show. I'm just sort of keeping an eye on things for the moment, you might say." For the briefest instant, Jason thought he heard the voice of Gabby Hayes coming from Bondurant's mouth. That unnerving feeling of deja vu swelled up like a surf washing in from the back of Jason's mind.
"You gotta help me, mister. You gotta make him let me go. He's going to kill me." The biker managed to growl out the words from his bruised and vulnerable throat.
"No. That's Jason's decision. I'm afraid I can't be much help to you there." The biker began to move, then stopped abruptly as Jason increased the pressure.
"What are you going to do, Jason, now that you've finally got your hands on one of your demons? That is what you've got there, isn't it?"
Jason's mind reeled as he tried to sort things out, groping for some explanation to make sense of what was going on.
"Do you remember when you told me they were too big for you to handle? That they were something you could never confront? It looks like you've come a long way since then", the doctor mused, a mischievous smile and menacing glint in his eye.
"But now you need to think about the consequences of your next move, Jason. Will killing him be the right decision? Will it set you free or just prolong the conflict? Will it make you any better than the demons you've been fighting with for so long? Just remember, the real strength is not in the conquering and controlling, it's in the letting go, in the ability to accept and detach and move on."
"I can't let him go now, Doc. If I don't kill him, he'll try to kill me. And even if I do, I'm still going to have to deal with the others out there. And I can't take them all on."
The biker squirmed and tried to say something. Jason jerked him to silent submission.
"I don't think you'll have to, Jason. They've all run off, leaving their friend to you."
"Yah, man. Listen to him. I swear I ain't going to hurt you. I just want to get out of here. None of us will ever bother your again." His choked voice was almost a whimper.
"Shut up, asshole. Your word isn't Jack Shit with me." Jason look questioningly at Dr. Bondurant. "What should I do now, Doc? How do I get out of this?"
"Well, that's going to have to be your decision. I'm sure it's far from over, but you seem to have come a long way toward understanding what's going on."
Jason's eyes widened. "No! I don't understand what's going on at all. In fact, I understand even less now than I did before. Where are we? Am I dead, Doc? Is that the deal? Is that what this is?"
"I think that's got to be your decision too, Jason," said Dr. Bondurant, his voice once again sounding hauntingly similar to Gabby Hayes'. "What do you want to happen? Can you see now how things have always been under your control, even when you swore they couldn't possibly be? It's got to be your call. What do you want to happen now?"
"I just want to get out of here," Jason replied, more sure of himself than he had been for a long time. "And I want these scum bags to keep the hell away from me forever and ever."
"Then this is a turning point for you, Jason. You're holding your own future in your hands. What do you want it to be?"
Jason trembled with a shock of realization. He now held an infant in his arms, cradling its warm, sleeping body to him instead of the head of the obnoxious biker.
"What's going on, Doc? What are you doing to me?" Fear and panic filled him as he spoke in a whisper. He cuddled the warm infant to his cheek, feeling the security of its innocence.
"No, no, Jason. It isn't me. I don't have anything to do with this. It's all you. It's always been you and you alone. I suggest you come on outside and get a new perspective on things. Might be good to stretch your legs." Bondurant moved away from the door into the street.
Jason moved slowly toward the door of the van, careful not to drop the precious egg he now carried in his hands. It was large and warm and pulsating, its covering more like a thick skin than a hard white shell, about the size of an Ostrich egg, though he had only seen one before in pictures. It glowed slightly with each pulsing.
"This isn't real, is it, Doc? This is another one of those weird dreams."
"It's as real as you make it, Jason, and it will go the way you want it to go. Things won't be easy, and I'm sure you realize that. But if you stick with it, I think you'll find they'll be a lot easier than they have been. You've learned some important lessons, my friend."
Jason stepped out into the road, into the early morning sunlight. What had been a gloomy night on a desolate mountain road was now a clear, beautiful day. Deep blue sky under a hot sun in the clear mountain air.
The white dove he clasped in this hands twitched and moved its head around, anxious to take to the sky, to be set free. Jason seemed to comprehend this latest transition and tossed it into the air where he watched it catch itself on invisible handles in the air to begin its flight. With each beat of its wing, it slowly transformed into the huge, powerful body of an eagle, climbing up and away, flying straight into the sun.
Jason tried to follow its movement, squinting against the powerful sunlight, trying to see the outline of the huge bird against the overpowering glare. His eyes were almost totally shut as he tried to block out the sun's intensity, as he hoped to catch a final glimpse of the silhouette of the eagle against the blinding light.
"Look at that, will you, Doc! He can really soar, eh? Wouldn't you like to just follow him up, Doc? Doc? Doc?" Jason didn't need to turn and look to know that he stood alone in the silence under the glaring light of day. Well, I sure would! That would REALLY be an adventure!!
The call rang out in the emergency room as the masked physician placed the two steam-iron looking conductors on the unconscious man's chest as he lay corpse-like on the gurney.
The machine made a deceptively innocent click as it shot 290 volts of electricity through the limp figure on the cart. The body jerked as the electrical charge jarred loose the frozen muscles.
The closed eyelids twitched and fluttered slightly under the high-intensity, overhead lights of the operating room. The light shined directly onto the upturned face of the patient, scratched and dirty.
"I think we got a response that time," said the assisting physician, busy with the settings on the attached equipment. "Let's try one more"
"Has anybody found this guy's chart yet?" asked the doctor, with more than just a little impatience edged in his voice.
"Yah, they just brought it in. PTSD Clinic. Got a couple meds here that could be a real problem. Here, take a look. How's he doing?"
"Well, I can't say just yet. He doesn't look too stable. Let's get a look at those records. This one's going to be close."