III: THE ROAD
Jake stammered though his double vision as he tried to make sense of what had just happened. He heard muffled voices through the loud ringing in his ears. Shakily, Jake put his hand on the side of the red pick-up to steady himself. Warm liquid ran into his right eye. Suddenly, a hand landed on his back. Jake spun around to find a fuzzy figure he knew to be Creek talking to him, but the he could barely hear anything.
“You’re bleeding, man. Are you alright?” Creek asked concerned.
“I think so,” Jake could barely get the words out in a cracking voice. “What happened?”
“My aim was a little off. I tagged him in the shoulder instead of the head. He saw you coming sooner than he should have and he whacked you in the head with the butt of his rifle.”
Jake looked over. His vision was coming back and he could see the soldier laying unresponsive on the ground. “Then why is he the one unconscious on the ground?” Jake questioned with a very weak laugh.
Creek smiled and held up the staff sling, now in two separate pieces. “He never knew what hit him.”
“That makes two of us,” Jake cracked.
“Ok we gotta bail,” said Creek, pulling the truck keys from his pocket.
Jake, still slightly unbalanced, made his way to the passenger’s side of the truck and hopped in, but not before picking up the rifle that lay on the ground. Creek quickly started the truck, the engine roared to life, and they started toward the dirt road that would lead them back to the highway. Before the dust from the tires completely distorted the rear view, Jake looked back at the solder on the ground. He was now sitting up and talking into his radio.
There was a collective sigh of relief when Creek and Jake had made it past the seemingly infinite sprawl of cacti, brush, and dust and the tires shifted to the smoother feel of paved highway. Creek had barely slowed down before turning on the road. Both men knew they weren’t out of danger yet and needed to put a serious gap between themselves and whoever was after them; they still didn’t know. Jake kept his eyes locked on the passenger’s side mirror while he put pressure on his head wound with a t-shirt he dug out of his backpack that was, thankfully, still in the truck. It was a long time before Jake broke the silence, saying, “You know that military checkpoint we came through is up ahead somewhere…”
“I know,” said Creek solemnly, knowing it wasn’t a good idea to go to there.
“I know it’s risky, but maybe it we take some of the backroads and head east, we will eventually hit the coast, and then we can work our way north to the border,” Jake said with a slight cringe, knowing it wasn’t his best idea ever.
“If we hit those backroads, there’s a good chance we’ll get lost or worse. Besides, we’ll need gas. We know this road will get us close to the border. This is the only road we know in all of Mexico. That little hole-in-the wall convenience store with the empanadas we stopped at on the way in was after the checkpoint. The lady there was nice, spoke a little English, and I’m sure she will remember us. She’s my best idea right now,” said Creek.
“You’re right,” said Jake feeling a little better that there was a somewhat concrete plan in place. His relief was short-lived when he noticed that there was a tan truck behind them, coming up way too fast. “We’ve got company,” Jake said, reaching for the rifle in the floorboard. “You’ve got to be kidding me!” he shouted in utter shock and disbelief, showing Creek the empty magazine and jammed it back into the rifle with anger. Jake let the rifle down back onto the floorboard and checked his mirror again. The truck was gaining on them and he could make out more uniformed people in desert camo uniforms holding rifles. Jake looked into the bed of the truck behind him. They had borrowed the truck from a contact they had in Ensenada, and the guy was a handyman. Jake noticed a couple of rough looking little boxes and a few frayed tie-down straps.
“Keep ahead of these guys, don’t let them around us,” Jake said to Creek as he slid open the window in the truck’s back glass.
“What are you doing?” Creek asked, keeping his eyes moving between the road in front of them and the truck gaining on their tail.
“I…,” Jake paused, thinking of something intelligent and decisive to say but finished with, “…have no idea.”
Jake shimmied though the window and landed with an ungraceful thud in the truck bed. All the movement of the truck and his body didn’t make the still-bleeding wound on his head feel any better. He stayed low in the truck bed, only lifting his head to peek over the tailgate to see the truck behind them still approaching with great speed. Jake looked over at the boxes and pulled them over to him. Both boxes were filled with a mix of old, rusted nails, screws, bolts, nuts, and washers. Before he could even process his find, there was a sharp ping of metal exploding into metal and it shook the whole pick-up. Jake peeked over the tailgate to see split-second barrel flashes from rifles pointed at him before the ringing of metal on metal exploding rang out again.
Without thinking, Jake took the two boxes of sharp hardware and dumped them over the back of the tailgate, while staying low. The sharp pop of tires bursting at a high speed was almost immediate. Jake peeked over the tailgate again to see the truck that had been pursuing them come screeching to a halt behind them. Several of the people who had been shooting at him from the back of the truck were flung out onto the pavement when the truck fishtailed and rolled over onto its side.
Jake sat with his back pressed against the back glass of the truck, next to the open window leading to the cab. Creek looked back at him in a blend of awe and shock. As the truck pursuing them got smaller and smaller in the distance, and eventually started to catch fire, Jake looked at Creek through the open window and simply said, “Nailed it!”