by Steve Benson
(from a novel in progress)
Frank Millirons walked slowly across a dusty parking lot on the outskirts of Dewey Oklahoma. The sun was high in the sky and no shadow protruded from his boots as he walked. He instinctively looked from side to side without moving his head; checking to see if anyone was watching. He stepped up onto the curb, opened the glass front door and walked inside. The coolness he felt from the AC was something he was unaccustomed to and it made him wary. The air inside the restaurant was filled with the smells of frying tortillas, chiles and the faint odor of the bleach water that had just been used to mop the tile floor. There were no other customers in the restaurant and although Frank could hear a faint conversation in Spanish coming from the back, he didn’t see employees. He walked past the ‘Please Wait To Be Seated’ sign and took a seat in a booth without a window. A few minutes later a young Mexican waiter approached with a glass of water and a menu. He set them both down and walked away without speaking. Frank could tell by the look on the young mans face that he was afraid of him. He wondered when he’d become the kind of person who people feared. He guessed he’d been getting that look for about 18 months, since his diagnosis. When a man learns his expiration date he’s less likely to try to please everyone and more likely to tell them the truth they don’t want to hear. People seemed to sense his lack of concern for their egos. He didn’t really like the looks that he was getting but it did give him a sense of confidence. There was a time when someone staring at him would have made him extremely insecure but he now viewed it as a badge of honor. It’s good to be feared, better than being dead.
The waiter returned with a bowl of chips and salsa and then quickly left again. As Frank lifted a chip to his mouth he saw his reflection in a mirrored Modelo beer sign hanging on the wall across from him. Goddamn! Frank barely recognized the skinny old man staring back at him. His face was gaunt with deep lines running down each cheek. Long graying hair curled out from under his straw cowboy hat and his mustache was so overdue for a trim that he couldn’t even see his upper lip. Quite the soup strainer you’ve got there grandpa. Frank pulled off his hat and ran his fingers through his tangled hair. His hair pulled back revealing his left ear. The ear had been missing its top half for going on three months now; the result of one of those unwanted truths that Frank had told to a man with a knife. He touched his fingers to the injured ear and felt the newness of its shape, trying to get used to it. He thought that his ear was a perfect symbol for the new him. It was rough around the edges, didn’t work as well as it used to and when people saw it close up, it gave them the willies. It seemed to Frank that just yesterday he was a young man with wide shoulders and thick hair; a future. Out of habit, he began to ponder a wasted life but stopped himself. He’d been bitching to himself about that for years and was through with it. For maybe the first time in his life Frank was comfortable with who he was, and where he was going.
“Can I take your order sir?”
Frank turned his head to see the waiter standing next to his table holding a pad and a pencil, there was sweat forming on his brow despite the cool temperature inside the restaurant. Frank ordered without looking at the menu. “Si, dos enchiladas con queso y cebollas solo. Tambien….arroz y frijoles refritos. Tiene Jarritos?”
“Si, de que clase?” replied the waiter.
“Claro. Ya regreso con su bebida, Señor.” The waiter seemed a little more at ease with Frank for speaking to him in Spanish; he managed an uncomfortable smile and then walked away.
Frank sighed deeply and relaxed a little himself. He gazed out a window on the other side of the restaurant and watched the traffic go by. People living normal lives with normal problems. It was a strange foreign world to Frank framed in a dirty window below a neon “Cerveza Fria” sign. The people he saw amazed him in that their worries and goals were so different from his own. As he watched the occasional car slowly drive by the window, he tried to imagine the story playing out in each one. Each car was filled with hope, anxiety, satisfaction and disappointment. As Frank watched the happenings through the window he saw a spotless new Honda Accord drive by the restaurant. It parked at a Valero station down the street for a few seconds and then turned around and came back. As it pulled into the parking lot Frank saw the silhouette of six male heads sitting in the car. Too many guys in one car – and it looks like a rental. The car parked next to his pickup and by the time the second man had stepped out, Frank was walking toward the back of the restaurant. The waiter met him on the way smiling and holding the soda Frank had ordered.
“Sorry amigo, change of plans,” Frank said as he pulled a fifty out of his pocket and gave it to the waiter. “Is there a back door to this restaurant?” Frank hesitated a moment, unable to think of the correct translation for back door. “Una otra puerta?”
“Si, in the cocina, kitchen.” The waiter pointed to a door in the back of the restaurant next to the bathrooms.
“Muchas gracias amigo.” Frank took the soda from the waiter and walked to the kitchen. As he entered he was greeted by the sounds of frying meat and the sharp smell of spices that penetrated his nasal cavity so deeply he could almost taste them. Frank saw daylight coming from the backdoor and his eyes locked with the eyes of one of the cooks taking a smoke break just outside the door. Frank walked up to him, took a swig of his soda and then turned sideways as he made his way past him. “Con permiso,” said Frank. The waiter tipped his head and moved to the side but didn’t say a word. Frank dropped the bottle in the dumpster and quickly made his way across the back parking lot, through a drive-in burger joint and then across the street to a pharmacy. As he walked inside he looked over his shoulder and saw four of the men from the Honda were following him from across the street. I shoulda known better, should’ve kept driving.
Once inside the pharmacy Frank picked up a newspaper next to the checkout stand by the front door, smiled at the old lady running the register and then walked to the back aisles where he pulled his Diamondback 38 from his boot. He hid the pistol in the newspaper and started pacing the aisles, looking for a way out. Along the way Frank saw only a couple patrons, a boy looking through the magazine section and a woman holding a toddler on her side. The woman was looking for something in the cold and flu aisle, while her little girl eyed a display of brightly colored balls in a giant wire display cage. As Frank worked his way to the back of the store; he heard the sound of cowboy boots running through the front door of the pharmacy. The pharmacy was in an old building with wooden floors covered with cheap linoleum tile, giving each step a hollow echoing sound. Frank listened as the sound of his pursuers boots spread out in all directions like the sound of low thunder rumbling through a valley. He continued farther to the back until he found an aisle that dead-ended at a pharmacist’s window. Next to the window on the back wall of the building was a steel door. As he approached the door, the young lady in the window who was counting out pills saw him and smiled.
“Hi, how can I help you?” Her voice was cheery but as Frank walked closer he could tell that she was taking in his appearance and not liking what she was seeing.
Frank pointed to the back door. “I’m sorry to bother you, ma’am, but is this door an exit?”
“Um…no. It goes outside but it’s locked from both sides. Only the manager and the delivery guy have a key to it. There is an exit at the front of the store though, you know, where you came in?”
“No back door then?” Frank replied.
“Well there’s a loading dock on the other side of the store but you’re not allowed in there.”
Frank was contemplating backtracking to the loading dock but before he could ask the lady in the window where it was, a voice boomed over the store PA. Frank turned to listen.
“Frank Millirons? I know you can hear me. There are seex of us and only one of you. Just put down your gun and walk to the front of the farmacia, we don’t want to hurt you, or any of the other nice people here.”
Frank dropped the newspaper to the ground, revealing his gun. He turned back toward the young lady in the window just as the aluminum sliding window came down. He reached out to push it back up but heard her latch the lock before he could lay his hands on it. Frank walked back down the aisle to the steel door to make sure it was locked, it was. He backed up a few feet and knelt down with his gun pointed at the only way into the aisle.
“Please Frank…don’t make this dificile.”
Inocente you bastard, how’d you find me? Frank listened as the thud of a heavy pair of boots grew closer to the corner of the aisle; he aimed his pistol at head level hoping to at least take out the first one. After that he had no idea what to do. As he knelt there waiting, listening and sweating – a calm came over him. He’d felt it before and knew exactly what it was. It was the calm of a man facing death who had nothing to lose.
“Come now Frank, don’t prolong the seetuation.”
“Your English is getting better Ino,” shouted Frank.
Sounds like someone gave him a fucking English thesaurus for his birthday. As Frank chuckled to himself he heard the jingle of keys and watched as the back door opened and a man in his early twenties stepped in. Well, God closes a window but opens a door. The young man was wearing jeans and a t-shirt so Frank assumed he wasn’t the manager but the delivery guy that the lady hiding behind the window had mentioned. The young man looked at Frank and froze when he saw the gun.
There was a second, just a split second, that Frank started to smile at the young man. Before the ends of Frank’s mustache could rise high enough to complete his smile, a shot rang out and a bullet ripped through the back of the driver’s head, exiting through his forehead. Frank felt a wet gritty spray across his face and neck. He instinctively shut his eyes to protect them from the blood and bits of skull. An instant later Frank heard the second shot and felt an intense pain in his left side. As he opened his eyes and lifted his gun to take aim, a third bullet whizzed by his ear and would have taken it off if half of it hadn’t already been missing. Through the thick red haze that hung from his eyelashes, Frank could see the outline of a large man pointing a gun at him from thirty feet away. Frank pulled the trigger twice before he even saw who he was shooting at. Just before pulling the trigger for the third time, Frank blinked away the blood in his eyes and saw Inocente’s brother Tito smiling from behind his gun. Frank squeezed the trigger on his pistol and watched as his bullet splintered Tito’s front teeth, sending him stumbling backward into a display of adult diapers.
Frank wiped the driver’s blood from his face as he stood, it surprised him how weak his knees were. He looked down at his side and saw a two inch section of rib sticking straight out from his side. The bullet had ricocheted off of a rib leaving behind the bloody splinter. Frank placed his hand around the wound to slow the bleeding, letting the rib bone stick out between his fingers. He limped to the door with his pistol still aimed up the aisle. The door was opened toward the back alley where the delivery driver’s car was still running. Frank took one more look at the young man lying on the floor; he glanced at his left hand and saw a wedding band on his ring finger. Frank sighed, staring at the ring for a few seconds. He thought of a similar ring on a young girl’s finger and how that ring had led him to where he was now. Frank backed into the alley, shut the door making sure it was locked, sat down in the driver’s car and slowly drove away. The GPS unit mounted on the dash advised him in a cheery female voice that he was approaching North Wyandotte Avenue. Frank ignored it and continued on.
Inocente strutted down the jetway surrounded by his men. To his left was his brother, Tito. Following behind were his logistics expert, Wayne Maggard and his head of security, Rufas Duran. They were all dressed in suits with cowboy boots. As they made their way toward concourse b of the Tulsa International Airport Rufas pulled out his phone; the phone all but disappeared in his large hand. Rufas dialed and then spoke in a deep monotone.
“Donny! We’re almost there. Do you have a car?”
Inocente heard a prolonged silence from Rufas after the question was asked. Rufas eventually spoke again.
“Ino won’t like that. OK, OK. See you.”
“What is the problem?” Inocente asked without looking back.
Rufas rolled the toothpick in his mouth from the right side to the left side and spoke. “Donny and Will are waiting for us at the gate. They got a fucking Honda.”
“A Honda is fine, we need to blen in anyway,” said Inocente.
As they reached the concourse, Inocente could see the Ochoa brothers waiting for them. Both were wearing cowboy boots, jeans and dress shirts. Inocente had told them to dress nice because he wanted them all to look like business men. Will and Donny Ochoa didn’t quite look like business men but looked nicer than they did in their usual shorts and t-shirts. Will’s normally bushy hair was neatly combed to one side and Donny’s buzz cut barely covered a tattoo of the name Jesus just above his hairline. The Ochoas were route drivers for the business. They delivered Inocente’s product all over the mid-west and Inocente thought they would be a great asset for the current mission because they knew the countryside so well. Inocente was worried about their lack of experience with this kind of project but he was willing to take a chance on them.
Inocente approached Donny and hugged him tightly. Donny was both surprised and confused by the hug, but as Inocente spoke into his ear he understood.
“Did you get the guns Donny?” whispered Inocente.
“Yes, all that you asked for. And the ammo too. Everything is in the trunk of my car down the road. We didn’t want to bring them anywhere near the airport,” replied Donny.
“Bueno, good job,” said Inocente as he backed away from Donny. “Except ness time buy a fucking suit. You two look like you are going to a God damned rodeo.”
Inocente turned and walked down the busy hall. Donny and Will took their place at the back of the group. Will raised his eyebrows at his brother as if to ask what was that all about? Donny simply shrugged back and continued walking.
Within 45 minutes the group was on the road. Each of them had a side arm and the trunk contained 6 shotguns and two rifles. Rufas drove, with the Ochoa brothers next to him in the front seat. Inocente sat behind Rufas, his brother Tito was next to him, and Wayne sat next to Tito with his cell phone in his hand. The map on Wayne’s cell phone placed Frank’s truck about an hour and a half from them. Wayne leaned forward to speak to Rufas.
“Rufas, Frank is coming in from the west on highway 60 and is averaging about 50 miles an hour. If we just stay on highway 75 at the speed limit, we should catch up to him somewhere around Bartlesville. Unless he turns off somewhere.”
“I’m on it,” replied Rufas.
Wayne leaned back in his seat and concentrated on the map again. Silently though he was thinking about the logic of the trip that they were on. The entire upper echelon of Inocente’s operation were traveling in one vehicle and armed to the teeth with illegal and unregistered weapons. With two unproven delivery boys at that. Wayne was of the opinion that Ino’s drive for retaliation was blinding him to the danger of the situation they were now in. In all actuality though, Inocente could have demanded to ride nude on the hood of the car, and Wayne knew that he was the only one who would have the balls to question him about it. As he tracked Frank, Wayne was working out ways to approach Ino about the situation. Ino wasn’t known for taking constructive criticism well but Wayne thought he knew him well enough that he could do it without ending up with a bullet in his head and lying in a ditch somewhere along highway 75, or at least he hoped.
Of all the men in the car, Wayne was the one who didn’t quite match his appearance. Wayne was in his late forties and he wore glasses with thick lenses that he tried to hide with an extremely dark tint. His hair was naturally light brown but he died it jet black and wore it in a 70’s Elvis style, mutton chops and all. At first glance he appeared to be a nerdy Elvis impersonator, but a man doesn’t rise to the number three spot in an organized crime family by being timid. In his younger days Wayne had proven himself time after time. Now he was more of an organizer and adviser, but still respected by most of the younger members of his group. One who he clashed with often was Rufas Duran who was currently driving the car.
Rufas was a bit of an enigma to Wayne. He’d joined the group just two years before and in Wayne’s opinion had moved up the ranks too quickly. When Rufas joined he was already in his mid 30’s. He had organized a couple high dollar trades early on but what had really sent him to the top of Inocente’s watch list was the hit on Teddy Meraz. Teddy was a small competitor of Ino’s who was getting a little too big. Rufas had personally taken down Meraz with a shotgun blast to the back of the head. From that point on Rufas was part of the inner sanctum of Ino’s organization. Since Frank had killed Bob Tacket, Rufas was now the number four man.
The number two man in the car was Tito, Inocente’s brother. He was a poster child for the absurdity of nepotism. Had it not been for his family connections, Tito would have been lucky to have had a job cleaning up puke on a carnival ride. He rarely spoke to anyone but Inocente; Wayne was convinced that this was an order from Inocente, so people wouldn’t realize how stupid Tito was. Tito’s phone rang. He put the bag of Corn Nuts he was eating into his jacket pocket and answered the phone.
“Bueno. When? OK, I will ask him and call you later.” Tito put his phone away and pulled out his bag of Corn Nuts again.
“Well? Who the f*** was it?” snapped Inocente.
“It was Huacho. He say Bob Tacket’s wife was there looking for him. He told her he has not seen him. He wants to know what to do with the body and what we should tell his wife.” Tito popped some corn nuts into his mouth crunching them loudly.
Inocente’s already wide mouth became wider as a look of rage took over his face. “I can’t believe that Bob is gone. I hate to lose him but if someone like Frank could kill him then he deserved it. How could a scrub like Frank do so much damage?”
“And why”, replied Rufas from the front seat.
“I don’t care why,” said Inocente, “I just want to make sure it don’t happen again y Frank pays. Pays slow.”
“However it goes down Ino, we need to be careful,” Wayne interjected. “It needs to happen quick and clean and then we need to get out fast.”
“It may not happen quick y it may not happen clean but don worry Wayne, when it is over we will get out fast,” replied Inocente. Wayne relaxed a little in his seat. Ino’s answer wasn’t exactly what he wanted to hear but at least he had listened.
“And tell Huacho to bury that worthless son of a b**** Bob at the usual place. Tell his wife that he’s on a business trip for now, we’ll figure out the details later.”
A little over an hour into the drive, Inocente was deep in thought not only about what he was going to do to Frank, but how it even happened in the first place. Frank was just a man hired to help run the ranch. For years the ranch had been a perfect cover for the business. None of the ranch hands had ever been interested in what went on at the south quarter. All they knew is that they were making almost twice the going rate to work the ranch and keep their mouths shut. Inocente assumed that Frank had done what he’d done for the money but it just didn’t seem right. Inocente personally hired all of the ranch hands and weeded out any who were too aggressive. His goal was to keep what happened with the ranch completely separate from the business and to do this he needed hands who were obedient. Frank had been the perfect worker up until the night he attacked Bob, burned down the south quarter’s storage facility, stolen a little over one million dollars of Inocente’s money and also taken Wayne’s distribution files. When they found Bob he was tied to a chair in the main office. From the condition he was in it looked as if Frank had tortured him before stabbing him in the side with a knife. After they rushed Bob to the ranch medic they were able to somewhat stabilize him. He had lived just long enough to tell them that it was Frank and what he’d taken. For Ino, losing the storage barn was nothing. Losing Bob wouldn’t be that bad either. The biggest issues were the money and even more so, the records. The distribution records tied Ino and his organization to dozens of other rings around the country. He could recover from the loss of the money, but the loss of those records would either get him arrested and sent to jail for the rest of his life or killed by the other organizations.
In retrospect Frank’s actions seemed well thought out. Frank had waited until Bob was the only one at the facility when he did it. His only mistake was using his company truck for his escape. Inocente had placed tracking devices in all of his vehicles years ago. He had never had to use them for the ranch vehicles but was glad now that he had installed them.
“Just entering Bartlesville Wayne,” said Rufas. “Where’s Frank?”
Wayne studied his phone. “He’s just leaving Bartlesville, we should catch him outside of Dewey though. We’ll get him somewhere between Dewey and Copan.”
“We’ll be in Dewey in no time”, said Donny. “Bartlesville and Dewey are so close they’re almost the same town.”
Inocente leaned over and took the cell phone from Wayne. He watched as the little green dot that represented Frank moved north on highway 75 just a couple miles ahead of them. He placed his hand inside his jacket and touched his pistol, making sure it was still there. As he watched the dot enter the city limits of Dewey, Inocente noticed it stopped moving. At first he assumed it was a traffic light, but after a full minute of no movement he spoke.
“Frank has stopped, the stupid bastard has stopped!” Inocente was smiling for the first time in 36 hours. He handed the phone back to Wayne. “Everyone start looking for the truck. A white 96 Ford f-350, Arizona placas.”
Wayne barely got the phone back in his hands when he saw Franks truck. “There it is, the restaurant parking lot!” Rufas had already driven past the restaurant but pulled into a gas station down the street and parked.
“What now boss, want to wait here or go back?” asked Rufas.
“Why the f*** do I want to wait, lets go!” Rufas pulled back onto business 75 and drove back to the restaurant. Inocente noticed that Franks truck was the only vehicle in the front parking lot but there were two cars in the back of the restaurant.
“I think he is the only customer there,” said Inocente. They pulled into the parking lot and parked next to the truck. “Donnie y Will, you search the truck. Everyone else go with me.”
Donnie and Will jumped out and began searching the truck while the others ran into the restaurant. Will noticed that they drew their guns as they entered and was extremely happy that they’d been put on truck detail. He and his brother had already decided to quit the business after this job.
When they entered the restaurant it was empty. Rufas quickly ran through the seating area on the left looking for anyone hiding under the tables while the other three walked down a hall to the right that dead-ended at the bathrooms and kitchen. A waiter was walking toward them looking at a fifty dollar bill and smiling. His smile quickly faded when he saw the guns.
“Dónde está? Dónde está el hombre que conducía el camioneta ?” demanded Inocente. The waiter stood there looking like he wanted to speak but could not.
Wayne stepped forward and spoke. “Amigo, calmate. We aren’t here to hurt you. Donde está él?” asked Wayne. The waiter pointed to the kitchen but still didn’t speak. No one was in the kitchen but they could see another employee through the back door pulling a bottle out of the dumpster. He placed it in a rack of returnable bottles at the back door of the kitchen. When he looked up and saw Inocente and his men he gave them the same frozen look that the waiter had just given them. Without saying a word, he managed to point in the direction of a drive-inn next door.
“Gracias amigo,” said Inocente as he ran past. “Guns in your jackets, only pull them out if you have to.” By the time they reached the drive-inn they could see Frank crossing the street. He disappeared into a pharmacy as they reached the street.
As Inocente walked into the front door he pointed his gun at an old lady behind the counter and spoke. “Where is the ugly skeenny man who just came in here?” The old lady pointed down aisle six. Inocente turned the ‘open’ sign around on the front door so it now read closed. He then stepped behind the counter with the old lady, still keeping the gun on her.
“All of you, go get that son of a b****. If he don’t come easy then wound him, BUT DON’T KILL HIM!” With that Tito, Wayne and Rufas spread out through the aisles to find Frank. A lady with a toddler approached the checkout lane with a bottle of NyQuil in her hand. She saw the four men with guns and stopped. The plastic bottle slipped from her hand and bounced across the floor. Inocente motioned for the woman to get down on the floor. She did so quickly, shielding her child under her. Inocente returned his attention to the old lady and spoke.
“So, how long have you work here?” he asked calmly.
The old lady swallowed hard before answering. “Twenty three years sir,” she said in a shaky voice.
“Veintitres años,” replied Inocente as he nodded his head up and down. “You are a very good employee. Tell me miss employee of the month, how does thees work?” Inocente motioned to the loudspeaker mic next to the register.
“Just flip the switch there and it will be on.”
Inocente looked at the mic, turned it on and spoke. “Frank Millirons? I know you can hear me. There are seex of us and only one of you. Just put down your gun and walk to the front of the farmacia, we don’t want to hurt you, or any of the other nice people here.” Inocente waited about fifteen seconds and spoke again.
“Please Frank…don’t make thees dificile.”
Inocente turned the mic back off and spoke to the old lady again. “He is a very stubborn man my amigo Frank.” The old lady shook her head in agreement but still held a look of terror on her face. Inocente turned the mic back on.
“Come now Frank, don’t prolong the seetuation.” Inocente was about to speak to the old lady again when Frank yelled back.
“Your English is getting better Ino.”
Inocente smiled and shook his head. “I have been taking classes,” he said to the old lady. “I am a busy man but I have to find time for thees. It is important that I know the language, si?” Again the old lady shook her head in agreement. Inocente reached down and picked up a package of gum from a display on the counter. He unwrapped a piece and put it in his mouth. He then offered a piece to the old lady who finally found the nerve to shake her head no. As Inocente placed the package of gum back on the counter, a shot rang out and the old lady dropped to the floor crying. The first shot was followed by two more and then a split second later there were three more from a lower caliber gun. Inocente watched the aisles for signs of anyone returning but saw nothing. He reached for the mic again.
Wayne saw Tito’s body first. Tito’s head was resting squarely on a package of Depends while a pool of blood slowly grew in a red circle around it. Wayne had seen a lot since he’d been with Ino. He’d seen things that would make most men cry in their hands or puke in their hats but this was different. It was Tito. As worthless as he was, Wayne knew that Tito’s death would definitely make a bad situation worse.
Wayne pulled himself together long enough to get down on all fours and peek around the corner of the aisle. He looked just in time to see Frank close the back door. He noticed that Frank had been covered in blood, probably from the dead civilian on the floor in front of the door. But there was something else about Frank, the way he was moving. Wayne almost made a mental note about what it was, but his head was still spinning from Tito’s death. He looked back to Tito’s body and saw Rufas creeping down the aisle toward him with his gun drawn. What Wayne had noticed about Frank was gone for the moment.
“He’s dead, Tito’s dead,” Wayne whispered. He wasn’t whispering for fear of Frank, he knew Frank was gone. He was whispering because he didn’t want Inocente to hear him. Wayne and Rufas stood looking down at Tito’s body.
“Who’s going to tell him?” asked Wayne.
“Not me,” replied Rufas.
Inocente’s voice echoed through the PA again. “What is happening? Someone tell me.”
Wayne took a big breath. “Rufas, go check the back door, that’s where Frank went.” Wayne then turned and ran back to the front of the pharmacy. When he got there Inocente was leaning casually against the checkout counter with his gun pointed at the checkout lady who was curled up in a ball on the floor.
“Ino, its Tito. He’s been shot.”
“Is he alive?” replied Inocente calmly.
“No Ino, he’s dead.” Wayne braced himself for Inocente’s reaction. He figured if he was lucky he would get a gun butt to the side of the head. Unlucky and he’d join Tito in the ever after. Two vehicles came to a screeching halt outside the pharmacy; both Wayne and Ino instinctively pointed their guns in that direction, but saw that it was their rental car and the truck that Frank had been driving. Will and Donny jumped from the vehicles and ran into the pharmacy.
“Couldn’t find the money,” said Donny. “We figured we’d just bring the truck along with us and search it later in a safer place.”
Ino ignored Donny. He turned back to Wayne and spoke. “And Frank, where is he?”
“He got out the back door Ino, Rufas is still after him.”
Ino looked back at Donny. “You and your brother go with Wayne and put Tito’s body in the back of the truck.” Donny and Will were shocked but immediately followed Wayne to the back of the store. When they got there, Rufas had already returned and was looking down at Tito’s body.
“Did you see Frank?” asked Wayne.
“Back door is locked, couldn’t follow him.”
“OK, lets pick up Tito. We have to get out of here quick,” said Wayne.
All four of them lifted Tito’s ample frame and began to carry him to the front of the pharmacy. They left a trail of blood and the occasional corn nut as they went. Wayne noticed that Ino kept the same expressionless face as they turned the corner around the aisle and Ino saw his dead brother’s body.
“Frank?”, asked Inocente to Rufas.
“Gone boss,” replied Rufas in his deep deadpan voice.
Inocente hesitated for a moment before speaking. “Put Tito in the truck, we will drive through the area to see if we can find him.”
After they loaded Tito’s body into the bed of the truck, Ino called Rufas back into the pharmacy. Once inside, Ino whispered to Rufas.
“No witnesses. I need you to do the women. The kid is OK, she’s too young but the women have heard our names.” Rufas looked over at the women, and then back to Ino. He rolled his toothpick around in his mouth.
“I don’t think so Ino. Not a good idea.” Inocente’s face flushed red at Rufas’ reply.
“I don pay you to think! I pay you to follow my orders. Now do what I tell you!” The piece of gum that Inocente had been chewing shot out of his mouth and landed on the floor between him and Rufas.
“Your brother already killed a guy at the back door. That’s bad enough. Bad enough for the entire county to come looking for us. If I kill those women we’ll have the whole fucking state looking for us. Entiendes?”
Ino released a heavy angry sigh and walked back outside, Rufas followed. Ino paced back and forth several times before speaking.
“Wayne, you drive the Honda thees time. Rufas, you drive the truck and follow us. Donny y Will, you go with Rufas.” As they all loaded up into the two vehicles faint sirens began to grow louder.
Once in the Honda Wayne spoke. “The cops are coming Jefe, still want to search for Frank?”
“No, Just find someplace quiet, y solo back roads!” replied Ino. Wayne looked in the rear view mirror as he pulled away. Tears were streaming down Ino’s face.
CHAPTER 2—I’VE ALWAYS BEEN PARTIAL TO HEARING THE BAD NEWS FIRST
Frank’s new car was parked on a dirt road that dead ended in a circle at the Verdigris River. The car was a very low to the ground silver Mitsubishi Eclipse that would have been hard for Frank to get in and out of under normal circumstances, but with a rib splinter poking out of his side it was a time consuming chore. After exiting the car, he walked down a worn path that led to the river bank, he wanted to get as cleaned up as possible before hitting the road. Frank realized that driving around with brain and blood splattered all over you tended to draw attention. Stopping at a gas station was out of he question, so when he saw the river access sign he decided to take advantage of it. By the time he made it to the river bank, his breathing was short and the pain had become so intense that tears were forming in his eyes.
The river was calm and brown, it smelled of fish and mud and honeysuckle. It was covered with a thin layer of cottonwood seeds disturbed only by the occasional rolling of a carp. Frank tossed his blood soaked cowboy hat into the river and watched it slowly sink, it was too far gone to clean. A whippoorwill called out as he removed his outer shirt and t-shirt to get a better look at the wound, it was quite a sight. Looking closer, Frank could see the other half of the split bone still in place in his side. It was white and stood out quite well inside the three inch rip in his skin created by the bullet. Well ain’t this some fucked up s***. He couldn’t tell for sure but wondered if any of the rib bone had punctured his lung. The way that the pain increased with each breath told him that this might be the case. Frank knelt by the river and spent several minutes cleaning his face and arms, luckily his jeans didn’t have too much blood on them.
After getting cleaned up Frank slowly stood and put his t-shirt back on, making sure to carefully stick the rib through the hole that the bullet had made. The t-shirt was black and hid any blood well enough but his outer shirt was as bad as his hat, he tossed it in the river too. Frank walked back up the path to the car, this time much slower then when he’d come down. Kneeling at the river had aggravated the wound and now he could only breathe in short halted breaths.
Frank sat down in the driver’s seat of the car and listened to more whippoorwills calling to each other from the river. The smells and sounds of the river had tapped Frank’s memory of easier times; fishing with his father on a small pond on the farm he grew up on, camping with an old girlfriend at the lake when he was just a teenager. For a few moments the nightmare of the last hour and the loneliness of the past few years faded away, only to be brought back when the sound of a jet passed overhead.
Frank looked around the car, on the passenger seat sat a clipboard with the receipts from deliveries that the pharmacy driver had made that morning. As Frank flipped through them he saw that most were patient addresses but two near the bottom were for doctors. The address for the first doctor was a clinic in Bartlesville. Too far away and too many people. The second doctor was located in Delaware, a town Frank had driven past before stopping at the river. The address looked like a residence which was a huge plus compared to a clinic. Frank sat his head back in the seat and thought for a moment. He figured that if he left now he could get away before the road blocks went up. On the other hand he might not make it because of the pain, so getting patched up by a doctor first might be the way to go.
Frank put the car in gear and this act alone brought so much pain that his head swam and bobbed slightly forward before he caught it, forcing himself to stay conscious. OK then, the Doctor it is. He looked back down at the receipt and read the Doctors name again. Dr. Chris Bacon. He started to enter the doctor’s address into the GPS unit on the dash. He only entered the first few numbers when the device populated the rest by itself. Ah, of course. The driver has been there before. A map popped up on the unit’s window and the same calm female voice advised him that he was 4.75 miles from his destination. Frank pressed down on the gas pedal and moved forward slowly. Within fifteen minutes he was there.
Frank’s assumption about the office was right, it was at a residence. The house was located on a country road just outside of Delaware. He pulled into the long driveway and parked under the canopy provided by overhanging oak branches. The house was a medium size stone ranch with a detached building at the end of the drive that served as the doctor’s office. Frank sat in the car for a few minutes, not only to size up the place but to catch his breath after the bumpy drive. He opened the door, eased his way out of the car again and slowly walked toward the office, his boots crunching acorns as he went. The house looked cozy and comfortable to Frank. He thought how nice it would be to live in safe place without worrying about anyone chasing you. He knew that his immediate chances for the future were either death or prison and this made him long for the security of a real home.
Frank reached the office but the door was locked. He rang the bell. He waited for several minutes, rang it again, but there was no response. Well, so much for plan A. Frank turned and limped halfway back to the car when he heard the door open. He turned to see a woman wearing scrubs and a lab coat standing in the doorway.
“Ma’am,” he said as he reached up to tip the hat that was no longer on his head.
“You’re in a lot of pain aren’t you,” said the woman.
“That I am. I think I’ve busted a rib.” The tears started to well up in Franks eyes again, he wasn’t sure if it was from the pain or from the relief of having someone standing in front of him who seemed to care. He walked back toward the woman and could see that she was looking at his wound.
“I’d say you’ve done a lot more than busted a rib. I’m surprised that you’re able to walk.”
“Well I’ve been described as a stubborn SOB, a man can do a lot with that trait.”
The woman opened the door and waved him inside. “Come in and walk your stubborn self back to the exam room.”
“Is the Dr. in?” said Frank as he walked through the door.
“Yes I am,” replied the woman as she shut the door and followed Frank.
Dr. Bacon helped her patient to lie down on the stainless steel exam table. As he sat on the pale green padding, it released a woosh of air from a small rip on its side. Laying down flat made it hard for the man to breath so Dr. Bacon raised the incline of the table and then turned around to wash her hands. As she scrubbed her nails, Dr. Bacon thought about the situation she was in. Now that she had the patient in the exam room and had done a cursory check of the wound, she was almost certain that the wound was caused by a bullet. The man seemed safe enough but someone who had been shot and then lied about it was not to be trusted.
“Sorry, didn’t mean to assume you weren’t the doctor. I saw the name Chris and thought you were a man.” Dr. Bacon did not reply to Frank. She dried her hands, put on a pair of rubber gloves and stepped to the exam table. Outwardly she was fine but inwardly her mind was racing. The man had mentioned her first name, Chris. Her first name wasn’t on the sign on the door of the office, it wasn’t on her mailbox and wasn’t even in her yellow pages ad.
“I’m going to have to lift this shirt up to get a better look OK?” she said.
“Do what you have to,” he replied.
Dr. Bacon lifted the shirt up from around the protruding bone and pushed it all the way up to the man’s armpits. She noticed an abundance of old scars on his body. She looked at his wound silently for several minutes, occasionally poking at the area around the bone. She then asked her patient to be as quiet as possible and to breath normally while she listened closely to the area around the wound with a stethoscope. After a few minutes of this she stood straight, pulled off her gloves and looked the man in the eyes.
“So, what do you want first, the good news or the bad news.”
“I’ve always been partial to hearing the bad news first.”
Even though Dr. Bacon was unsure of the man, she did like his slow drawl and the honest way he spoke. “The bad news is that the pain is going to get a lot worse before it gets better. I’ve never seen a rib bone fracture like this before. Not only is the bone protruding, but there are a lot of nasty little flakes of bone in the wound that will have to be cleaned out. Also, an open bone fracture like this is extremely prone to infection and can turn bad quick. We’ll need to get you on antibiotics as soon as possible.”
“When you say it can turn bad, what do you mean?” asked the man.
“Well I mean that you could get a bone infection. That would mean weeks if not months of antibiotics. Some bone infections can be so bad that a limb has to be removed. And, since this wound isn’t on a limb, we’d be pretty much screwed if it got that far. Not trying to scare you, I just want you to take this seriously.”
“Well you’ve definitely got my attention Doc, but please, give me that good news you were talking about.”
“Sure, the good news is that I don’t think the rib punctured the lung, at least it doesn’t sound like it. You’ll need an X-ray to be sure though.”
“Alright then,” replied Frank. “Lets get started on all this. The quicker we start the quicker its done.”
Dr. Bacon laughed lightly and shook her head. “Sorry Mr…., I’m sorry, I was in such a hurry to get you in here that I didn’t ask your name.”
“It’s Frank Millirons.”
“Nice to meet you Mr. Millirons. I thought I knew everyone in town, are you new here?”
“Don’t live here, just doing some fishing down at the river. I fell down the river bank and here I am,” Frank replied.
Dr. Bacon knew that any fall bad enough to do this to a rib bone would have left the rest of Frank’s body broken and torn too. He was obviously lying, but she did her best to hide her concern.
“I’m sorry this happened to you Mr. Millirons. But as far as your treatment goes, I can’t really do much for you here. I can clean the wound out, but everything else should really be done at a hospital. There are several hospitals in Bartlesville where this could be done. Your choices are for me to call someone to come and pick you up, or to call an ambulance. Which would you like?”
“Neither Doc. It’s got to be done here, I’m kind of pressed for time.”
Doctor Bacon began to shake her head again before Frank even finished speaking. She was torn between giving her patient all the information he needed and getting a potentially dangerous man our of her office. “Mr. Millirons, didn’t you hear me? If this wound isn’t handled properly you could die of infection. And if I’m wrong and the bone has punctured the lung then that could kill you too. Look around, this isn’t exactly the Mayo Clinic. I do diagnosis here. The flu, cuts and scrapes, or the occasional teenager with the clap are about all I’m setup to treat. If anything big comes my way like a mangled hand from a farm accident, I just stabilize the patient and call the hospital. Even if I could do more, you are going to need around the clock care. Within an hour or so you’re not going to be able to get off of that table without help, and you’ll more than likely be down for a few days minimum.”
Dr. Bacon could see Frank contemplating his options before he spoke. “Alright, how about this then? Go ahead and clean the wound as best you can. Give me a prescription for antibiotics and I’ll be on my way.”
Dr. Bacon thought about doing this just to get Frank out of the office but she knew he’d have a small chance of survival if she did. “No, absolutely not. That would basically be suicide and I’m not going to have anything to do with it.” Dr. Bacon walked around to the other side of the exam table toward a desk. “I’m going to call the ambulance and let you argue with them. This is out of my hands.”
“Please don’t do that Doc.” Doctor Bacon ignored Frank, and with her back to him, she picked up the phone. As she pressed the first number, she heard a slight grunt of pain from Frank and then the unmistakable sound of a gun’s hammer being cocked back.
“I was right,” Dr. Bacon said out loud. “It is a bullet wound isn’t it.” She slowly placed the phone back onto the charger and turned around.
Frank watched as Dr. Bacon turned. Although he had cocked the gun to get her attention, he wasn’t pointing it directly at her. She was looking at him with a mixture of intense hatred and fear. This was one time in recent memory that Frank thought he could have done without that look. He slowly moved the hammer back to the un-cocked position.
“Look Doc, you have no idea how much I hate to do this but I need you to clean my wound, give me some antibiotics and then I’ll be on my way. I’m not a bad man but the men who did this to me are. If you call an ambulance, or even the police, they’ll find me and kill me.”
“Well I’ve had men tell me they weren’t bad before,” replied Dr. Bacon. “But I’ve never had one say it while holding a gun on me. You do see the irony in that don’t you Mr. Millirons?”
Frank sighed. He wanted to explain everything but didn’t have the time or the energy. “Lets just make this as quick and safe as possible,” Frank said. “First, remove the phone wire from the phone and the wall, and then hand it to me.”
Dr. Bacon glared at Frank for a moment before turning and unplugging the base unit. “I can’t reach the wall end without moving the desk. Is that OK?”
“Yes it is, as a matter of fact go ahead and move the desk over in front of the door. I don’t want it to be too easy for you to leave.” Frank could feel the venom in her look as she began scooting the desk in front of the door. She then unplugged the wire from the wall and handed it to him.
“OK, that was easy wasn’t it?” Frank rolled up the phone wire and placed it in his pants pocket. Dr. Bacon didn’t reply, she just stood and stared back at him.
“Go ahead and get whatever equipment you need to clean the wound and get started. Move slow and explain to me everything that you are doing.”
Dr. Bacon walked to a cabinet and began pulling down supplies. After stacking everything on the counter top she spoke. “This is is a sterile saline solution, I’ll use this to flush out the wound as I clean it. This is alcohol, I’ll use it for the same thing after I’ve removed all of the little pieces of bone and dirt. The rest is self explanatory, gauze, scissors and various instruments for cleaning. This is a local anesthetic. I need to inject it around the wound to kill the pain. If I start cleaning without it you’ll wish that bullet had killed you outright.”
Frank smiled and held his hand out, motioning for her to hand him the anesthetic. She handed it over and Frank tried to read the bottle but the writing was too small.
“Here,” said Dr. Bacon as she handed him a pair of glasses she’d pulled out of her lab coat. “I’m starting to get to that age too.”
Frank put the glasses on and read the anesthesia bottle. Satisfied that it was OK, he handed it back to the Doctor. “Have at it Doc.”
Dr. Bacon loaded a syringe with the anesthesia and injected small amounts at various places around the wound. After finishing, she sat the syringe down and spoke.
“We have about five or ten minutes before it takes affect so I want to talk to you about something. If I clean this wound and give you a supply of antibiotics, it will all be worthless if I let you leave here with that rib bone looking the way it does. In order to keep infection from setting in, it needs to be not only cleaned but set back into place and dressed properly. If I don’t do it, you won’t make it far.”
“I thought you said you couldn’t do that here?”
“I can’t do it the way it needs to be done, but I can give you a better chance of making it.”
“How long we talking here Doc?”
“Maybe an extra couple hours, no more than three hours total.”
Frank considered Dr. Bacon’s offer. Not only the offer itself but the Doctor’s attitude toward him. He sensed that it was softening a bit, or was that her way of trying to put the man with a gun at ease?
“Sounds good,” he replied. “Oh, also wanted to let you know that I am going to pay you for all of this. I’m a lot of things but I’m not a thief.” Dr. Bacon chuckled at this.
“What’s so funny?”
“You are basically holding me hostage at gunpoint and you’re worried that I’ll think you’re a thief. I find that very funny. Scary but also funny.”
Frank sighed and shook his head. “Like I told you Doc, this isn’t me. I don’t pull guns on people, but a lot has happened the past couple days. I’ve got things that I need to do, and getting caught by either the law or the men who did this isn’t one of them”
Dr. Bacon put another pair of gloves on and tapped at Frank’s wound. She asked him if he could feel it. When he replied no she pinched the outer skin. Frank jumped, he could feel that.
“Looks like we have a few more minutes before I can get started.” She leaned against the counter. Her sandy red hair was pulled back in a simple pony tail and her arms were folded across her chest. “Since we’ve got some time, maybe you could tell me how all this happened?” As she spoke, Dr. Bacon motioned toward the wound on Frank’s side.
“You know how it happened, I was shot.”
Dr. Bacon laid a towel on the exam table and began arranging the instruments and supplies on it. “Not just the wound, but what led up to it,” she said.
Now Frank chuckled. “It’s a long story. It’ll take more than a few minutes to tell.”
“OK, no problem,” Dr. Bacon said as she pulled the seal from a bottle of saline. “But we do have actually three hours or so. We can spend it in silence or you can tell me a little about yourself. Makes no difference to me.”
Frank smiled as Dr. Bacon started pinching the skin around his wound again. He thought about his story and knew it started long before the events of two days ago. He watched as Dr. Bacon placed a drain pan under his side and began squirting saline into the wound. He felt nothing. By the time she started to clean out the flakes of bone from the wound, he had found a starting place and began to speak.
Steve Benson has spent most of his adult life living in the Midwest, but now lives in Merida Mexico with his wife Jill and an ever growing amount of adopted street dogs. Steve has worked as a Seabee in the U.S. Navy, a printer and a computer technician. At the age of forty he returned to college and received a bachelor’s degree in history. Steve has written for the fun of it for the past twenty years, but this is the first time he has been published.
Photo by Eleanor Leonne Bennett