Chapter Ten: “It’s a long way to Richmond”
After stopping to put on my boots, I hauled ass out of that general vicinity. I knew roughly how to get back to Route 250. I circled around, steering clear of the cabin and my ex-landlord, and made it out there just before sunset. On the way to the road, I took stock. I had lost all my gear. I had less than twenty bucks in my pocket. Fall was setting in the mountains, and I had a summer shirt and a wool blanket to keep warm. Oh, and no food and now no canteen. I said to hell with it, I was going to try to go back to Richmond.
I got on the south side of Route 250 and stuck out my thumb at the first vehicle to come along. I was just at the top of a hill, with pretty steep grades going both ways. A fuel oil truck came struggling along from the west and stopped and I hopped in.
“Where you headed?”
“Richmond.” “Richmond? What are you doing out in this neck of the woods?”
I used the old “my truck broke down” routine. Hey, it worked before.
“I’m only going as far as Staunton. I’ve been filling people’s fuel oil tanks for the long winter to come. ‘Sposed to be a real cold one. So much for “global warming,” huh? The only hot air around this winter will be from all of Al Gore’s big talk.” Then he rolled down the window and spit tobacco juice out the side. Until then I hadn’t noticed the chaw in the other side of his cheek. I had wondered why his words sounded funny.
“I don’t know about this winter, but tonight it was getting chilly. I sure am glad you stopped.”
“Hey, no problem. My boss don’t allow me to pick up hitch-hikers, but I do it anyway. Hell, in my day we used to hitch-hike all the time.”
He looked to be about mid to late fifties. His face looked like leather. Crew cut mostly grey hair, dirty blue uniform, no doubt his name stenciled over the pocket that I could not see from the passenger side. But he was quick to smile and he used “doncha know” as often as a “Valley Girl” uses “like.” And I was starved for companionship, so we talked all the way back to Staunton.
He was a “’Nam Vet.” He hated “those God Damned Democrats who caused us to pull out, and who then cut off all aid to our allies, the South Vietnamese.” He loved to smoke pot, but he rarely did anymore because his job required that he take unscheduled urine tests. He loved his job because it allowed him to travel all over and not be cooped up inside some shop or some office, except he hated not getting to hear Rush Limbaugh on the radio when he had to travel up into the mountains west of Staunton.
I felt bad giving him the old “I’m a school teacher” routine. I would have liked him. I let on that my politics leaned in the same direction as his, without encouraging any overt political discussion. He seemed relieved when I honestly told him that I wasn’t a member of that “God Damned Teachers’ Union,” as he put it. I wanted him to like me, but also I wanted him to do most of the talking and to not remember a thing about me. He obliged me on the “most of the talking” part.
When we were almost to Staunton he asked if I was hungry. Surprisingly, the beans had already worn off. All the walks in the woods and the cold canned food had taken their toll. I was.
“Truckers know all the best spots to eat,” he confided. “Are you ‘kinda’ hungry, or ‘really’ starving?”
I unconsciously grabbed my belt and admitted, “I’m starving.”
“Great. I know just the place.”
Remembering my precarious financial situation, I replied: “Not too expensive, I hope.”
“No worries, mate, it’s all on me tonight,” he said, using credible Aussie accent.
“I can’t do that.”
“Why not? I can afford to, I want to, and so what’s the problem? Yer not a fag, are you? I sure ain’t, if that’s what you are thinking.”
“No. I really appreciate the offer; it’s just that you are already being too kind.”
“Bullshit. You’d do the same for me, I can tell. It’s settled.”
I didn’t really put up much resistance after that. He took us to some place down town Staunton called the Mill Street Grill. It was somewhat fancy, and I felt out-of-place with my dirty ratty clothes, but he didn’t let it bother him and so I didn’t let it bother me. The food was great. I couldn’t stop eating. And he kept insisting. So I obliged. An hour later, after letting out my belt three notches, we finally staggered back out to the truck.
“You are welcome to bunk at my house tonight.”
“Oh, no, I couldn’t. What would your wife say?”
“I’m divorced. She got the kids, but they are all grown up and moved away anyway. It’s just me and ‘Sampson,’ my German Shepard.”
“I appreciate it, I really do. But I have to get back to Richmond.” I didn’t want to take advantage of his hospitality any longer, and I certainly didn’t want him to be thought guilty of “aiding and abetting” if anybody ever discovered who I was. He finally took no for an answer.
“Ok, then, I’ll take you over to the interstate and get you a ride.”
“How you gonna do that?”
“You’ll see. We truckers stick together.” He picked up the C.B. radio and started talking in what sounded like a different language. “Breaker break 1-9: Any of you ‘road jockeys’ in a big truck with enough space in your comic book to make it to Richmond tonight, come back?”
It took him a little time as he was headed out towards the interstate but he finally lined up a trucker who was “hauling some sticks” through Richmond to the mill at West Point. Once on I-81 it was just a couple of miles to where we met the other trucker, at a rest area just onto I-64 east. He had been headed north on I-81, we came from the north, and we both got on I-64 east and met at the nearest rest area, just a couple of miles onto I-64. We actually came upon the other guy just before the rest area.
Before we pulled in to stop, my new friend stuck something in my shirt pocket. “Here, you might need this, buddy.” It was several bills, at least some of which were twenties.
“Oh, no! I can’t! Really!”
But he wouldn’t take no for an answer. I could use the money, no question. So I shut up after he finally said, “It’s a loan, you can pay me back later.”
We pulled up behind the truck loaded with timber, and my friend got out and said let him go talk with the other trucker first. I gathered my few things, and carefully laid the money out on the drivers’ seat. I didn’t want to take a chance that I might never be able to repay him. I was afraid that would cause him to think that he couldn’t trust me, or somebody else like me, in the future. Right then I would rather have gone hungry than not repay somebody who had been so kind to me.
My new friend waved me over. It was settled. This guy was going all the way through Richmond tonight. My buddy slapped me on the back, and shook my hand, hard. Heck, I almost wanted to hug him. I climbed in and we took off.
It took a few minutes for me and my new trucker buddy to feel comfortable with each other. Turns out that he was a “‘Nam Vet,” too. He had coal-black skin and white short-cropped hair. He lived in Louisa, and regularly made trips hauling wood from wherever harvesting was going on back to mills throughout Virginia. He finally decided that I was all right when I asked him about his kids. His eyes lit up when he told about his sons, all of whom were great pitchers. He had been semi-pro, and was the unofficial pitching coach of the local high school baseball team. I talked baseball with him for a few miles, until my eyes started getting heavy.
He had just had “some hundred mile coffee” and he was “good to go all the way to Richmond.” No, he didn’t need me to keep him awake. Yes, it would “suit him just fine” if I fell asleep. So I did. To the sound of talk radio and the occasional cackle of the C. B. radio. The one hundred miles flew by.
The next thing I knew we were approaching Short Pump, Virginia, and he was shaking me, asking me where I wanted to be let off. It was after midnight. I had him let me off at, coincidentally, Route 250, which runs all the way from Richmond out through Staunton all the way to the cabin that I had been unceremoniously forced to leave just hours before. I was in “the Far West End” of Richmond, in my home stomping grounds. My house was not more than four miles away. I walked a mile or so to woods near the Wal-Mart and fell asleep.
Chapter Eleven: Floundering Around
Some time in the night I awoke with a start. I realized that I couldn’t go around Richmond looking like a bum. It might draw too much attention in areas that I wanted to go. And, though Richmond is not a large city, I still might get noticed due to my recent notoriety.
I left all my stuff and went into the nearby Wal-Mart while it was still dark. It took a few minutes but I finally found some new khaki pants and a long sleeve shirt on clearance and cheap enough that I had a few bucks left over for food. Nobody seemed to even notice me.
While waiting for my receipt, I noticed a patron talking to an unarmed security guard at the front of the store. I swear the woman had been pointing at me. The security guard said something to her, and then pointed off to the back. She looked at me, then at him. He nodded his head, then sort of directed her where to go, off in the direction that he had pointed. I took my bag and walked out, trying to ignore him but keeping an eye on him out of the corner of my eye. He turned his back towards me nonchalantly and casually walked away.
Outside, I got away from the big doors and started running towards the side of the building as fast as possible. I kept looking back to see if he ever came outside, but I didn’t see him. Once around the side of the building, I stopped to catch my breath. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Few cars were parked in the lot. A couple of motor homes and some big trucks. Traffic out on Route 250, or West Broad Street as it is called in Richmond, was few and far between.
Then I saw it, a cop car running fast without his siren or overhead lights, heading from my left to my right on Broad Street. He pulled into the Wal-Mart lot and it sounded as though he floored his engine, as he headed towards the door where I had exited. I didn’t hang around to see anything else. I took off running behind the Wal-Mart.
I didn’t think that I had enough time to get back to where I had left my gun and blanket. I wanted to put distance between me and that cop. Fortunately, I knew where I was and where I could go. In less than a quarter-mile I came to I-64, which is 3-4 lanes in each direction, separated by a wooded median. When I got to I-64, I headed east for a few hundred yards, and then when it looked all clear in the east bound lanes, I ran across into the median and hid, waiting for a chance to get across.
I hoped to lose any dogs tracking me if it ever came to that. I figured the dogs might have a hard time tracking me on the interstate. Or I hoped so. I waited until it was all clear, then went out into the middle and started sprinting as fast as I could back west in the west bound lanes of travel. The traveling east had been just to try to make them think I was headed in that direction. When traffic was coming, or when I was too tired to run any more, I went into the median only as far as necessary and waited for the next time.
I made it to the exit onto I-295 eastbound towards Virginia Beach. That exit is two lanes, with wooded land off to the side. I ran that way a quarter-mile or so, and then crossed over to the west bound side, towards Charlottesville, and ran back that way, back to where it merges back with I-64 westbound. There, after catching my breath, I went straight up a slight hill towards a subdivision there. I kept careful attention to where I had come up from so that eventually I could back track and go back the way I came. To make sure, I laid down my new bag of clothes. I jogged into the neighborhood, and even went into a couple of yards, and up onto back porches, and up to back shed. I wasn’t interested in any of the houses, I was only trying to make it look like I was to any dog handlers whose dogs tracked me this far.
Then I exited the way that I came and ran back east on westbound I-295. About a half mile down the road (after many stops, and gasping for breath), I ran backwards up the Knuckles Road entrance onto I-295. I didn’t know whether running down the middle of a highway would affect a dog’s ability to track me, but I figured it sure couldn’t hurt, as thousands of cars would be using these roads in the next couple of hours. Finally, I went onto Knuckles Road and ran south a hundred yards or so, and only then did I slip into the triangle of woods that is between the entrance ramp, Knuckles Road, and north of I-295 West.
Though the area is quite populated, that little strip of land is full of trees, brush, and a little stream that is dammed up by a beaver dam. I knew, because I had driven by the place hundreds of times. Finally, exhausted, and satisfied that I had done all that I could do to throw off any potential trackers, I curled up under a large tree, far enough from all roads that I was out of sight, and tried to get some rest.
Surprisingly, despite my clothes being soaked with sweat, despite the near constant noise of early morning traffic going by in both directions, I actually got a couple of hours of sleep. Then, the cold of dawn just before daylight woke me up, shivering. I was still damp from a mixture of sweat from running and morning dew. I had no possessions except the clothes on my back, a couple of dollars and some change, and the new wardrobe that I’d just purchased from Wal-Mart. I was cold, sore, hungry, and miserable, and darkness was giving way to light.
Then it began to rain, a slow and steady rain; the kind that seems as though it will last all day. Virginia weather in late September is usually pretty mild, and that day was no exception. But the combination of steady rain, high 60’s temperature, and summer clothes eventually took their toll upon my core temperature.
I tried taking my plastic bag from Wal-Mart, and I actually was able to fit my head and shoulders down to my waist inside. The heat from my breath and the relief from the rain helped. But it only slowed down what I was sure was going to be a bad case of hypothermia if I didn’t do something. I sat there a couple more hours; I had no choice, thousands of cars went by that area in the early morning rush hour, with people rushing off to school and to work. By the time I felt safe to leave my little sanctuary, I had started to shake and shiver uncontrollably. With great difficulty I pulled off my old and dirty clothes and put on my new ones. I figured that if I had to wear sopping wet clothes they might as well be new fall clothes.
I walked north along Knuckles road. There were a few small strip malls, a couple of gas stations, and a McDonald’s restaurant. The people in one of the gas stations might have recognized me, because I used to gas up there quite frequently. But the McDonald’s I had only used the drive-through a couple of times. I felt desperate so I went there. I mumbled something about my car breaking down and needing to warm up. The girls behind the counter gave me a look, but not because they recognized me, because I looked so terrible. I got a coffee and as much food as possible with the last of my money and sat in a booth furthest away from anyone else. I grabbed a piece of newspaper and pretended to read it for the next hour as I tried to dry off.
A couple of Henrico County’s finest came in for an early lunch. I tried to look small. They ignored me and sat down far away. Later, a man walked inside and ordered his food. I was ignoring everyone, trying to act engrossed in a crossword puzzle. He walked over to the cops and asked them: “What’s all the commotion out on 64 and 295?” That caught my attention.
“Ah, somebody thought they sighted John Danielson at the Wal-Mart last night.”
“The lawyer who killed those cops?”
“Yup. I think that they are dreaming. He’s probably in Mexico or Canada by now. Any way, they aren’t taking any chances. They are trying to identify him by using the surveillance tapes. Supposedly it looked like him, but they aren’t sure; gonna have it computer enhanced by the Fibbies to see if they can see for sure. Whoever it was, they have the dogs out tracking him. They used the scent from money that he gave the clerk. They had to stop traffic on the interstate during rush hour. It caused a huge mess…”
I slipped into the men’s room unnoticed, went into the stall and locked it. Oh, shit.
Chapter Twelve: Seek help
I waited a good fifteen minutes. Afterwards, the cops were gone. I walked over to the nearby gas station and bummed fifty cents off a guy. I called Janet, Craig’s wife, on the pay phone.
“Janet. It’s John.”
“Janet, I don’t have time to mess around. I need you to drop everything and pick me up, right now.”
“No BUTS! Now! Don’t ask questions, just come. And hurry. And don’t take 64 west, take Staples Mill Road to I-295, and then take the Knuckles Road north exit.”
I told her where I was and urged her again to hurry. Getting Janet any time to “hurry” was a losing proposition, so I didn’t hold my breath. I was about to turn to “Plan B” when she drove into the gas station. I got in and hunched over.
“Where have you been? People have been looking all over for you!”
“Long story. But what about Craig?”
“You haven’t heard? The doctors say that he is going to live. He’s a tough old bird.”
“Where is he?”
“Still at MCV in the critical care unit. He has no recollection of what happened. The police say that you and Craig and Butch ambushed those officers who died.”
“What do you think?”
“I know that’s a lie!”
“I kinda figured. If you thought it was true you wouldn’t have hurried over and saved me.” By then I was slumped over in the seat so that other cars could not even see the top of my head. “I haven’t heard anything about their search for me, or what they have charged me with. Nothing.”
“They charged you with ‘Capital Murder.’ The prosecutor already has claimed that he will seek the death penalty. They are saying that you guys were members of a right-wing militia.”
“Nobody will believe that.”
“Some people at church believe it. Some have already left the church, not wanting to be associated with those who support Craig and Butch. And you.”
I didn’t even want to guess at names of those who left. That news hit me like a body-blow from Chuck “The Ice Man” Liddell.
“Umm. Where do you want me to take you? I can’t risk taking you home. The police have searched our property twice so far. Turned everything inside out and upside down.”
“Where are we?”
“Staples Mill, almost to Dickens.”
“Get on Dickens and take it to Broad, then take I-64 east.”
“But I can get on I-64 east easier if I just go past…”
“I know. Just trust me. I’m going to have you stop and let me out on the interstate at a particular place…”
The place that I had her stop was less than a mile from her house. I had her pull off the side of the road as far as possible, while keeping an eye out for the police.
“Can you lend me some money?”
“I don’t have much. Craig’s work won’t pay him. They claim that he isn’t worthy of receiving his long-term disability. They can’t do that, can they?”
“They are doing it, aren’t they? ‘They’ can do whatever they want unless you get a lawyer and force them to pay.”
“I can’t afford a lawyer right now…”
“Janet, I don’t have time to deal with this right now. Give me as much as you can, I have no cash. I’ll try to help you with Craig’s employer later. And does Craig still leave his car keys where he always does?”
She looked sheepish at that, smiled, and nodded.
“Hmmm. Somebody might steal his car if you aren’t careful…”
Another smile. She handed over all her cash and then told me when there was a break in traffic. I got out, walked up the bank and into ‘Kitty’s woods,’ while trying not to look like I was trespassing or otherwise acting suspiciously. Kitty was Craig’s “Mumma”, and she lived just a short distance from Craig. I found a secluded spot not twenty-five yards off the interstate and hunkered down until after sunset. The first couple of hours weren’t too bad. Adrenaline and the hot food and staying inside McDonald’s, then Janet’s heat being on high, had warmed my temperature back to normal. But after a while, I was cold again. I just shivered, and waited for darkness.
Once it was dark, I headed west along the east bound side of I-64 towards Craig and Janet’s. I stayed in the trees and brush, out of sight. There was still a lot of traffic and I didn’t want to be seen. Once I was across from their property, I waited for a break in traffic and scrambled across six lanes of traffic, two “Jersey walls” and one median, up the bank of a steep but small hill, and onto Craig’s property. I sat there a few moments to catch my breath and make sure that nobody saw me, or did anything out of the ordinary. Nobody did.
I crept onto the back side of Craig’s property. It abutted the interstate. His “Mumma,” Katherine, whom everybody who knew her called Kitty and her husband had originally owned a small farm. When the interstate was built their farm was cut in two. Craig got some of the property on the north side, his parents had most of the property on the south side. The city and suburbs had spread out to them so that now almost every other house nearby was on just a city lot, but Craig owned a couple of acres.
Far at the back of his property was my old camper. I’d bought it used about ten years earlier, when it was almost on its last leg. When my family lived out in the country, I could park it on my property. I bought it to use when I took my son deer hunting up in the mountains. When things went bad, and I had to move back to the city, Craig allowed me to park it on his property. Temporarily, everybody assumed. It had been over four years since I parked it there, and it hadn’t been used since. Over the years my conscience had bothered me, and I had at least thought about selling it. But Craig was always so nice about it, “No problem, Bubba, you can leave it there as long as you want.” Nobody—nobody—else calls me “Bubba.” So it was still there. And suddenly I was very glad.
I opened the door quietly so as not to arouse Craig’s dogs and climbed in. It was stale and dank. It had had a small leak in the roof for about the last five years. But only in one spot. I avoided that end, laid down on one of the bunk beds, pulled some old musty blankets over my head, and went to sleep.
I woke with a start sometime later. Alex and Penney were barking. I immediately feared that it was the police, back to search one more time. But I got up and looked out the front side window and saw that it was just Jeffrey, their older son, returning from work. He lives at home while going to college and working full-time. And he took the dogs inside.
Then I noticed how cold I was again, I was shivering. My clothes were still sopping wet. I took them all off and hung them up to dry, and climbed into the other bed to avoid the wet spot that I had made earlier and went back to sleep. For some reason I was exhausted, and having a dry bed to sleep on knocked me out.
The next morning, I heard somebody let the dogs out, Janet leave (for work?) and Jeffrey then leave for wherever. I ran to Craig’s old truck, got in, found the key right where it always was, and drove away. I drove out-of-town until I found an out-of-the-way pay phone next to “Debbie’s Diner.” I called my law partner.
“Joseph Graff’s office, how may I help you?” (Wow. Joe moved quickly. It used to be “Law offices of Graff and Danielson.”) Rooney answered, so I disguised my voice.
“May I speak to Mr. Graff?”
“May I tell him who is calling?”
“Tell him a Mr. Jones. I’m calling about possibly handling a case for me.” I knew that would get Joe to drop everything and talk to me. Seconds later, he answered.
“This is Joseph Graff,” using his most professional deep baritone voice.
“Hey Joe. Long time no see.”
Brief pause. “John. Never thought I’d hear from you like this.”
“Why not? We are still partners, right?”
“Technically. But you are a wanted man. I can’t have anything to do with you. I’m not going to risk my law license harboring a fugitive.”
“I’m not asking you to harbor a fugitive. How about helping out a friend? I need money, I need to find a lawyer. I didn’t do it, you know?”
“Sure. What do you want from me?”
“I want you to meet me. And bring me some cash.”
“Sure. Where and when?”
I told him, and then went on ahead to wait for him. He estimated that it would take an hour to get all the cash that I requested. I had nothing better to do, so I drove to the meeting place. The good thing about Wal-Mart’s parking place is that it is so big, and there are so many people, it is easy for a dirty, unkempt guy in a beaten down old truck to park in the lot and fit right in.
I parked a long way from where I told him to meet me, but where I could see him when he showed up, and pulled one of Craig’s old caps low over my eyes and pretended to be asleep. By then it was sunny and I had to lower the windows. I dozed on and off. I lost track of time. Then I saw a Henrico County Police car pull into the lot. He parked out in the outer regions of the parking lot. No problem. Cops need to shop occasionally, too. Right? But he didn’t get out. Strange. I thought that I was just being paranoid again.
Then I noticed one in my side rear view mirror pull into the parking lot behind me. And then another one way off to the side. I’d seen enough. I started the old truck and eased out into the other traffic. Another good thing about where I had chosen was that there were many places to get in and out of the lot. I drove around behind Wal-Mart, behind a Kroger’s, and down all the way to Tom Leonard’s, and went out to Broad Street. I turned right, heading out-of-town, immediately lost in bumper to bumper traffic. When I finally got back to where I could see where the meeting place was supposed to be, I saw two more cop cars, one a Henrico Police and the other a state police. What are the odds?
I drove a mile or so to the Short Pump Mall. I felt safer, as though I could blend in, when there were thousands of other people around. I parked out in the outer areas of parked cars and pondered what had just happened. I spent a miserable several hours hunkered down in that hot dirty old truck, hiding my face, pretending to be napping, whenever people came near who might see me.
After several hours, I drove further out-of-town to a gas station and called Janet. Turns out that I had made the news. The a.m. radio station WRVA was reporting that there were credible reports that I had been seen in and around Richmond. My face was supposedly plastered on the front page of the Richmond Times Dispatch. She “noticed” that Craig’s truck was missing. I promised her that if I was ever arrested that I would deny that she had helped me in any way. And I promised to repay her if only she would buy some supplies and meet me at a predetermined spot. She did.