Chapter Two: Running from the law
I began crawling, half-crawling and squirming away from the direction of the last gun shots. I was not going to be as incautious as Craig had been. I snapped the protector on my holster to keep my pistol from falling out. I had no plans to use it, but somehow it made me feel better having it.
I crawled a bit, listened a bit. Then crawled some more. Sweat was pouring down into my eyes. A couple of sweat flies found me and attacked me relentlessly. I heard a lot of commotion when the sirens were not blaring. You could hear each vehicle approaching from miles away, growing louder and louder, until suddenly it was the only thing you could hear. Then somebody would turn the damn thing off, and you could hear yourself think. Until the next one came roaring into range seconds later. I was almost one hundred yards away from Butch’s corpse, and within ten feet of a little ravine, when I saw him.
A state trooper was creeping through the forest. Any Virginia boy can spot a state trooper by their distinctive blue/grey uniform and their hats. And we know that they can shoot. I froze, silently praying that he didn’t see me. He was closer to me than Butch’s body, but angling towards me. I guessed he was trying to put a perimeter around the area where the deputy had been shot, because he kept looking inward in that general direction. Put some blaze orange and a rifle on him and he would look just like a deer hunter. He stepped slowly, to avoid cracking fallen branches, and kept his eyes peeled in all directions.
Then our eyes met. I thought I was hidden behind small bushes and tall grass, in my camouflaged shirt and drab green army surplus shorts. Evidently not. Bap Bap Bap! Slugs hit all around me. I rolled behind a tree and hid. Bap bap bap! I felt the tree shudder. I yelled, “Stop! I am unarmed! I didn’t do anything!” Silence for a moment. I peeked one eye out around the tree. Bap bap bap!
No I wasn’t “counting his shots” in order to know when he had to reload. I was pissing my pants, afraid for my life. But I had seen enough. I crouched and ran towards the ravine, trying to keep the tree between me and him, while he was trying to kill me. Bap. I heard the slug hit the dirt and whiz off into the distance after apparently ricocheting of a rock. Bap!
I dove into the ravine, and ran what appeared to be the best way to get deeper into the woods and away from the trooper and all the other sirens. I stopped a short way away from where I had entered it and drew my weapon. I listened, hoping I would hear the trooper running away. But he was running towards the ravine. I was hidden in the ravine so that he couldn’t see me. I took my pistol in both arms and popped up from behind the bank and in my best cop voice yelled “FREEZE!” Only my head and shoulders and arm were above the banks of the ravine. The trooper was out in the open.
But he didn’t freeze. He whirled and shot. I felt the slug thunk into the ground near my face. I ducked down behind the ravine and tasted bits of the damp earth that had been thrown into my mouth by his near miss. I now feared for my life. He was trying to kill me. So I popped up and fired off a shot at him. Boom! Bap bap bap!
He had a semi-auto with probably sixteen bullets or more, I had a six shot revolver. He had superior training and a bullet proof vest. But I had a ravine that hid my entire body except for the top of my head and my hands. I had hit him in the chest. I knew it wouldn’t kill him, or even cause permanent damage, due to his Kevlar vest. But it made him flinch. He squeezed off more rounds, but they weren’t as close. I aimed for his head and fired a second time, then ducked completely beneath the ravine.
Like a deer in its last death throes, I heard his thrashing on the forest floor. I’d know that sound anywhere. Not the sound of crawling; rather, the spasmodic sounds of a mammal in great pain and near death, beyond caring about being quiet so as not to reveal its position. I shuddered, and then ran away.
I ran and ran and ran. I stayed in the ravine, safe in the knowledge that nobody could see me. But I couldn’t run far. I used to be an athlete, not a long-distance runner but in shape and able to jog. Not anymore. That day I was on the high side of forty years old with the makings of a beer belly and legs that hadn’t jogged in years. My lungs and throat burned and my heart hurt. I stopped to rest.
I heard hollering, but couldn’t make it out. Off in the distance, various voices from different directions. Then it occurred to me that I was in deep shit. I had shot a state trooper. So I took off again, not running, but moving as fast as I could.
I had no clue where I was or where I was going. I stumbled, I jogged, I broke into what passed as a run. I bent at the waist, grabbed my knees, and gasped for air. Then I stumbled off again, deeper into the woods, not knowing where I was or where I was going.
Then I heard the sounds of dogs barking. Several of them. Coming from back in the general direction from which I had come. I fled in panic.
I had never been in the military nor had any type of formal training. But I had been a hunter since I was a kid. And a voracious reader. I fell back on what little training I had. I knew that the only chance to lose the dogs was to find water and travel in it. I knew that one of Janet’s aunts (or some relation) lived next to her property that had a pond on it. A stream leads into the pond, and had formed the pond when a dam was built. The stream was too small to hide me, but I knew it would lead towards the Chickahominy River. I stumbled off in the general direction that I though it should be.
Then I heard a helicopter. I stopped, ready to give up. No way that I could run from a ‘copter. But it did not come near me. I seemed to be staying in the same location for what seemed several minutes. I didn’t wait to find out what it was doing. I kept stumbling and bumbling towards the stream, with the dogs barking in the distance. Maybe they weren’t on my track yet, I hoped.
Then the ‘copter seemed to take off, and quickly flew away until I couldn’t hear it anymore. Maybe it was Pegasus or something like that. They had a helicopter in the western part of the state called Pegasus that airlifted injured persons to the hospital. Maybe something like that had just happened. Maybe Craig was still alive. Maybe my trooper was still alive. But I kept stumbling away.
I noticed that the shadows on the trees were lengthening. The sun was low in the sky. It would be dark in only a couple of hours. The darkness would make it harder for them to find me, but easier for me to stumble upon them by accident. I kept going back and forth in my mind whether to give up the first chance I got, or to fight to the bitter end. Fighting did not sound like such a great option.
I saw a stream, climbed down into it, and stumbled downstream. It was barely worthy of being called a stream. It varied in width but seemed to average five to six feet. It was shallow in most places, with the water only up to my knees. I did not know whether dogs could follow scent over water, but I knew that any humans tracking me without dogs could not follow my path through the water.
At least the stream had eaten away at the soil and provided cover on both sides, so that when I bent over at the waist I could walk without being seen in because the banks on both sides hid me from view. The land itself was pretty level, so unless somebody was up in a tree I was hard to see. And the tinkling sound of the stream made it more difficult to hear me walking. Before getting in the stream, the sound of my feet rustling through the fallen leaves made me acutely aware of how much noise I was making through the bush. The only problem was the noise of the current made it even harder for me to hear anyone else who might be approaching me.
I slowly made my way down stream. I often stopped, stood up slightly to see what I could see in all directions. Also, walking bent over was killing my back. Then I realized that the little stream was taking me generally closer and closer to where I thought was the direction of where all the law enforcement vehicles had come to a stop. I immediately gave up my plan to continue on in that direction and headed off in a ninety degree turn to my right, over dry land.
I heard dogs barking in the distance. No question, they were tracking me. I had not gone more than a quarter-mile when I could see a road up ahead through the trees. I stopped, got down and crawled the last hundred yards or so until I got to the side of the road. It was a paved country road with no markings on it, barely wide enough for two cars. I found the most cover nearby, crawled in it and slowly, slowly began to rise up.
Then I saw some type of law enforcement officer not more than fifty yards off to my right, standing in the middle of the road with a shotgun slung over his shoulder. I ducked down before he could see me. I crawled away from him, as quietly as possible in the opposite direction along the road. When I had put another fifty yards between us, I found more cover, and slowly eased up to see if I could see him. He was still there, looking away from me. I turned to see what was in the opposite direction on the road. I saw somebody else in that direction, more than a football field away. A shotgun slung over his shoulder, too. And further down I saw a squad car with its lights flashing. I was trapped. If I crossed the road they would be on me in short order. I crawled back towards the stream, and once I had a distance from the road, I started running.
I re-entered the stream and stumbled on in the same direction I had gone before. Perhaps because of the stream I did not hear the helicopter over-head until it was almost too late. I saw something, instinctively ducked up beside the bank of the stream and made myself small. It almost flew directly over the top of me. Slowly. This was not Pegasus, this was a police helicopter. They probably brought it in from the nearest city. I couldn’t identify it; I was too busy putting my face in the mud.
In a few seconds it was gone. I started to wash the mud off my face, but then realized that I should have thought of that sooner. I reached down and wiped more on my face, and both my arms. The red “Georgia clay” (as my Yankee father had always called red clay) cooled my skin and would help make it more difficult to see me. Then I heard that the dogs were getting closer. No doubt about it—they were following me, and they were following me along the stream. I stumbled on some more.
After another fifteen minutes I could see the sky open up ahead. I slowed up as much as I dared and tried to walk as crouched down as possible. When I could see that it definitely was the pond up ahead, I got down and crawled. I didn’t know what the water would do to my gun, or whether it would fire when wet, but I had to crawl through the water to keep from being seen.
I came within a few feet of where the stream met the pond and tried to ease up to look around. The pond was only a couple of acres, with lily ponds all around the edges and in some places out in the middle. I knew that the house that Janet’s aunt lived in was up ahead and off to my right, and then just a little further was the road that I had seen earlier. And I knew that the house was located at a corner where the road also ran off to my left, as that is the road that we took to get to Janet’s property. Where we had originally been shooting so much earlier in the day, we were probably not more than five or six hundred yards from that house, as the crow flies. But I had covered three or four miles since then, or so it seemed, stumbling and bumbling without a plan.
I eased up in the air enough to see a tiny corner of the house, poking out from behind trees and bushes. Enough to see squad cars and men in uniform. Several, in many directions. I ducked down immediately and tried to make a plan. I couldn’t keep going straight. Behind me were the dogs. To my right was a road with many law enforcement officials standing with shot guns. And if I went to the left, I would cross the path that the cops would have to take from where we parked to where the killings had been. That would almost guarantee somebody seeing me. And the dogs kept barking. I could hear that they were back to where I veered to my right. They caught my scent and were tracking me back to where I found the road. I figured that they would be on me in perhaps a half hour, if that. So I just lay in the stream, paralyzed with fear.
I must have laid there for fifteen minutes, not knowing what to do. But the coolness of the water, and the rest, reinvigorated me. I was not keen on getting killed. I had little doubt that giving up would get me killed, either immediately, by a hail of bullets, or later, by lethal injection. If I was the only one alive to tell our side, and two or more cops were dead, I had no faith that any jury would believe me. I almost lay there too long. The dogs were closer, so close that I could hear them above the stream. They were probably only a hundred yards—and a couple of minutes—away from running me down.
I do not know what made me think of it, but I climbed out of the stream and ran hunched over, hidden in the trees, looking for just the right place. I scuffed the ground as I walked, making my path more visible. After only fifty feet or so I saw what I was looking for: a large white oak tree with low branches that spread out in all directions, with many other trees surrounding it. I climbed up into the tree to see if it could be done. It was easy. Then I jumped back down and sprinted as fast as I could back the way that I had come, directly back into the stream. My hope was that they would pick up the side trail, and think that I had climbed up into the tree, went from it to some other tree, etc. and then gone down somewhere else and then ran off. It would not fool them forever, but it would buy me some time.
But by the time I was safely back to the stream, the dogs were almost on me. I knew that the sound of the dogs getting closer would cause the law enforcement officials that I had seen earlier to be that much more alert. It reminded me of the times in my youth I had been rabbit hunting with dogs. As the sound of the dogs got closer, I had to pay close attention or the rabbit would run right by me. I had it happen more times than I care to admit. The only proof would be that the dog would run right by me a little later, still on the rabbit’s track. Only this time I was the rabbit.
The dogs sounded almost in sight when I spied a water plant, some kind of water-lily. I broke it off and pulled off the top, and put it to my lips in order to see if I was able to breathe through it. I could, barely. I lay down and crawled towards the pond, carefully clutching it. I grabbed rocks and put them in my pockets as I went. I needed weight to keep me from bobbing up to the surface if my plan was to work. One thing I did have was experience as a scuba diver. I was certified years ago, and had my own equipment, but had not gone in years. But I knew it would take a lot of pounds of rocks to keep me under the surface. When my pockets were stuffed, I grabbed what I hoped would be a heavy enough rock and slowly eased out into the pond, me under water with only the hollow plant above the water.
The water was only about two to three feet deep near shore, and so murky I could barely see five feet. I felt claustrophobic and scared out of my mind. I did not know if the cops could see me from land or the water lilies as I pushed them aside to get past them, or the mud I stirred up from the bottom that was clouding up the water as I crawled. But I had no choice. I tried to move a little to my right, the opposite direction from the little trick that I had pulled. I hoped to put as much distance as possible from that tree, and to get nearer to the road. I probably made it thirty yards and stopped.
The plant that I was using like a snorkel was partially collapsed. Every breath caused me to suck in a little water into my mouth. I had to suck water and air into my mouth, swallow the air without swallowing the water, spit out the water and repeat. I wasn’t getting enough air and I was getting too much water. I kept struggling to breathe, and hoping that I could keep my composure. I wanted to stand up and give up. I felt almost as though I would do anything to avoid the feeling of drowning, and to have one more breath of fresh air.
Then I could not stand it another second. I was reclining in the water, with my butt and legs on the bottom, and bent at the torso enough to keep my entire body immersed. I put my left arm on the bottom to lift me slowly out of the water, and used the other hand to try to lift up a water lily. I lifted the lily slowly from the surface of the water, hoping to hide my nose underneath it in the couple of inch space that I hoped to make. It would not be perfect, but it would give some cover to my face. I could not hear or see anything under the water, so I had no idea what was out there. I just tried to do it slowly so that the ripples from me breaking the surface would not be seen.
I lifted the lily at an angle, keeping it between my face and the house, but giving me zero cover if anyone was on the bank of the pond behind me. I was beyond caring. Once my nose and as little else as I could was above the surface, and I could breathe, it felt better than any breath that I could ever remember. I looked in every direction as best I could in that awkward submerged position, but saw nobody. But I did see that it was getting dark. I eased up a little more to let my ear out of the water. I did not hear any dogs barking. But I heard voices, nearby. I could not make out what they were saying, but they sounded close enough to see me if I stood up. Then I just lay there as quietly as possible.
In just a few more minutes it was almost dark. But then I started seeing what seemed to be lights from many different directions. Lights from vehicles on the road that were slowly driving by. Lights from near the house from flashlights. Occasionally one would flicker onto the pond, usually, it appeared, by accident. None seemed to be specifically searching the pond. I eased my head out of water so that just the top of my head down to my nose was above water. I still held a lily in front of my face. I peeked around it and saw that at least two officers were specifically guarding the pond, but both were on the side near the house. One was directly between me and my shortest route to the road that had been to my right; the other was roughly between me and the shortest route to the road that had been to my left.
The two roads formed two sides of a triangle and the pond was the third side. The house was roughly where the two roads intersected. Looking at it that way, I was much closer to the right side of the pond than to the left. So the guy with the light (and the gun I presumed) was much closer to me, probably less than fifty yards. He was close enough to hear me if I made too much noise, or see me if he shined his light on my face or when I was moving. I eased back towards the direction that I had come, back towards the stream that emptied roughly in the middle of the pond. I wanted distance between me and him so I could get out of the pond.
Then I heard dogs, and humans, and saw a light coming towards me from the direction of the stream. I got as low in the water as possible, and slowly tried to hide my face behind a clump of arrow-head lilies. Their light was generally directed along the shore, not out into the pond. But occasionally it would bounce around out into the pond, as if by accident. I dared not move. Then a helicopter came roaring out of nowhere. It seemed as if I only heard it coming for a couple of seconds. Suddenly its spotlight lit up the ground in front of the men near me. The light circled methodically. I realized that I no longer had my “snorkel” and that if the spotlight ever shined directly on me, I was toast. But they were obviously searching just on land.
I hoped I was not near enough to the dogs for them to catch my scent. But they were not directly on the shoreline, and I was out in the pond some, so I had about forty-five yards distance from them. The men and dogs continued around the pond, with the helicopter scanning ahead of them. They kept going around the pond from my right to my left, then between the pond and the house, and along the road to my left.
It finally occurred to me what they were doing. They were making a complete circle around the last place that they had seen me, trying to pick up my scent again. I was aware of the old tracker’s trick. Keep track of where you last lost the track, and keep making a larger and larger circle around it. Eventually, the trail of the “prey” would have to be found; otherwise, the quarry must still be in the general location. Once they made a large circle around the perimeter, they would know that I was still inside the circle. Eventually they would search the pond itself.
I knew I had to get out of there. Instead of returning to the stream, I made for the nearest shore as quickly and quietly as possible. Then I headed for the road. I was off into the brush enough to be hidden from those standing along the pond on the opposite side. I snuck towards the road, basically walking along the shore of the pond. Since they had just searched this area I hoped that anybody guarding nearby would have let their guard down.
I made it to the road. I crept out slowly, and looked each way but could see nothing in the blackness. So I slowly crept further out, intending to cross to the other side. Then I saw the glow of a cigarette as somebody took a drag, not fifty feet away. Only then could I see some of the face of whomever it was, evidently standing in the road, probably with a shotgun slung over his shoulder.
But I was committed. I knew he couldn’t see me unless he shined his light my way, but he definitely could hear me if I made a wrong noise. I crossed the road with no trouble, but then took ten minutes sneaking off into the woods. I put each foot down slowly, afraid to rustle leaves or snap twigs. After what seemed like a half hour I finally figured that I had enough distance between us that I could walk normally for a while. Then I trotted as fast as I could without getting killed by limbs or holes or unseen dangers.
Once I was approximately a half mile into this woods I turned and tried to angle back along what I hoped was parallel to the road that the house was on. That was the only road that I knew how to take to get out of there. Then I heard the dogs. They had picked up my trail again.