It was one of those perfect fall days of low humidity, warm sunshine and occasional sun-blocking clouds that tempered the day. The trees, over-hanging the narrow two-lane highway, their branches reaching out as if to shake hands, placated the 36-year-old printing salesman, Trent Hodwin. East bound, cresting a small rise on the country road that ran along the river in rural southern Ohio, he saw the flashing lights about a quarter mile ahead. Instinctively he backed off his company car, a 1971 Chevrolet Impala. Trent was alone, save for the double barrel shotgun lying on the back seat.
Hodwin, the father of two, was in route to join a prospective customer for an afternoon of upland game hunting at a private lodge deep in the wooded ravines of this sparsely populated area. Though Quail hunting was his passion, he was only thinking of how he was going to convince the man to switch to his company’s specialty of pre-printed corrugated.
Up ahead, Sheriff’s Deputy, Josh Johnston, had just exited his 1972 Plymouth scout car after stopping to investigate an older model Ford pickup truck. He had tried to call in his location and the truck’s license number, but the hills and valleys along this stretch of river road blocked his radio signal. The vehicle he approached might be broken down, the driver taking a nap, passed out drunk or possibly poaching game. Police work always has plenty of surprises and was one reason why he liked the job. Six foot-two, muscular, dark-haired and 26 years old he had been on the force for almost three years. In that short time, he had delivered one baby and arrested a score of felons, drunks and other unhappy men and women. Most of the time, he patrolled the county roads waiting to be needed.
Josh’s off duty time, what little there was of it in the daylight hours, was almost entirely spent with is bride of two years and their 15-month old daughter, Kari. They lived in a house trailer on his father’s farm that was set back from the road almost half a mile, next to where the old highway had run. He had only known dream-girl pretty, Kaycee, his wife, for a year before they ‘had to’ get married. To Josh, they fit like a tire to a wheel or a revolver to a holster. Both talked about building a proper home on this back forty if things worked out.
Rising early this morning for the day shift, Josh made his way into the kitchen by the always on stovetop light; annoying rays that bounced off the fridge, windows and polished wood cabinets. He often dressed in the kitchen so as not to disturb Kaycee. Uniformed up, he stepped out into the morning glow, paused next to the squad car to watch a couple of wind-tossed oak leaves swirl, twirl and dance across the apron in front of the carport. He and Kaycee had swirled, twirled and danced in that very spot the day they moved in. All that changed a few days ago. He smiled, unlocked the car door, fired up the police packaged Plymouth, listened to be sure there was no radio traffic, and keyed the mic, “Four-David-Fourteen, two-six.” Ten miles away in the county seat, the dispatcher replied, “Two-six, Four-David-Fourteen.” And so the shift began.
Kaycee had been sleeping late for the past week, not because she was tired, but because she dreaded the morning sickness . . . and she knew Josh, being the cop he was, had to know. She couldn’t help it. It was the alcohol. It was Jail’s fault. It was everyone’s fault but hers. J.L., her sister’s ex, was called Jail because that’s what J.L. sounded like from the vocal cords of an Appalachian. It hadn’t been a long affair, but she needed this energetic love making that was so much better than missionary Josh, even though it always left her feeling dirty and evil. The last thing J.L. told her was he’d work something out with Josh as he wanted her to go with him to California.
Before Josh could close the door on the abandoned Ford, a second vehicle pulled up behind him, a very familiar late model Camaro, deep blue in color. The driver exited his vehicle and was walking toward the Deputy as Trent drove by. It was like seeing one single, stand-alone frame of an old 8mm film, one frame of dozens run by in seconds. In that lone frame, Trent glimpsed the Deputy being moved backward and what appeared to be a handgun in the hand of the Camaro driver.
In the tree line between the highway and the Ohio River, 42 year-old Omar T. Lickings hid and watched from only 50 yards away. Omar T. had been stalking a nice sized doe that had scampered into the woods after being almost hit by his truck a few minutes before the Sheriff’s cruiser pulled up.
Trent slammed on the brakes of his Impala not sure what he saw or should do. Coming to a stop about 40 yards past the trio of cars, he climbed out, eyes fixed on the Deputy now lying on the roadway and the Camaro driver standing over his body, a gun surely in hand. The guy said nothing . . . and thn fired a shot in Trent’s direction. Trent, blinked, shook his head as if in disbelief and reached for the Fox Sterlingworth lying on the back seat. Twisting, clawing and fumbling with the box of shells sitting next to the shotgun he glanced up to see the Camaro driver advancing toward him.
Trent was no stranger to violence having served as a forward observer in ‘Nam and then finishing out his commitment as an MP at Ft. Bragg. Backing out from the car, he broke the gun open and without taking his eyes from the intruder, jammed two 20 gauge shells into the chambers as the Impala’s rear window exploded. The Camaro driver, recognizing the silhouette of a double barreled shotgun, turned and headed back toward the downed Deputy who had now drawn his service revolver.
The pick-up driver, a poacher by necessity, could easily shoot the Camaro driver with his open-sighted .30-30 Winchester. However, Omar T., akin to the foxes and weasels he poached, slunk deeper into the scrub brush, his left eye twitching as it constantly did when he was in on the kill. Omar T. always used his middle initial because his brother was Omar Sam. They, a family of nine, lived up a holler deep in the hills of Simca County, a sparsely peopled region that was mostly streams and hills and woods. Their collection of oak and poplar sided shacks was just off the clear-cut that was where the old highway had run, thirty miles east of Josh and Kaycee Johnston’s place. The stubble-bearded witness, holding a rifle of death in his hands, was on the return leg of a trip to Manchester where he had sold his stock of deer hides, eagle feathers and other ill-gotten wildlife parts. Jobs being scarce, he had learned his trade from his pappy who had done a stretch at Leavenworth for makin’ shine. Omar T. also knew there was most likely a warrant out for him for the savage beating he’d given a man for sassing him a few weeks before last Sunday when they’d all been drinkin’ pretty heavy.
Knowing the shotgun shells, filled with #8 shot, were not man-stopping beyond 40 yards, Trent fired the right barrel into the back of the Camaro driver. The man twitched as if stung by bees as Trent ran toward him to get within lethal range for his final shot.
The three armed men on the highway, almost simultaneously, and all in the line of fire of each other, exchanged gunfire.
Soon after her husband left, as Kari began talking gibberish to herself, Kaycee struggled out of bed. Kari looked just like her mother, light auburn hair to match pale brown eyes and a mouth that was always smiling even if she wasn’t.
Passing the front door, Kaycee paused to watch some leaves blowing in the wind and out beyond where the old highway had run. Paused to sort out her options with Josh, none of which she wanted to exercise.
Deputy Johnston, bleeding profusely and knowing the shot he had taken to the gut might be fatal, vowed to himself to kill his killer before he died. With dutiful grit he rolled onto his side, extracted his Model 19 Smith & Wesson Combat Magnum and, best he could, his eyesight becoming bleary, took aim.
Now, within 20 yards and closing, Trent, still running, shouldered his gun and fired the second barrel. The tight pattern of tiny BBs from the full choke left barrel struck the Camaro driver in the neck and spine staggering and buckling him. At that same instant Deputy Josh fired. The round from the magnum went over the top of the toppling Camaro driver and struck the MP/solider turned printing salesman square in the forehead, killing him instantly. The Camaro driver’s reflexive and final shot struck the Deputy in the chest.
During this entire deadly encounter, the only audible words came from the mouth of the Sheriff’s Deputy just before he was shot the first time. Only one person at the scene, and still alive, heard those shouted words: Omar T. “NO, NO, DON’T DO IT, JAIL.”
Omar T., his eye still twitching, pulled his stained and torn John Deere cap down a little lower before glancing up and down the highway. Except for a gaggle of geese off in the distance the countryside was clear and calm. Sliding out from the concealing brush and quickly approaching the carnage, he chuckled to himself; he didn’t get the deer, but he sure as hell could make some money from all those guns lying on the pavement.
NOSTALGIA DRAG WORLD - By Chuck Klein; Images courtesy of CK