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The Paths We Take #20: Get Out Now

Jul 3, 2018







Jennifer was no stranger to bodies ripped open from hot metal, so when she opened the door to find me standing there with my sweatshirt soaked in blood, the first thing that she said was, “Couldn’t you have called first?”

She motioned me inside like she was hurrying a child to come in for supper. She spent the early part of her nursing career patching up gunshot victims from Kensington Avenue and the Fairhill neighborhood at Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia. She was tough, but she cared about people and what happened to them.

“Don’t get blood on my carpet,” she demanded as she pulled me through the living room into the kitchen and sat me down in a chair with a towel draped over the back. “Jimmy left for work already, but the kids are sleeping upstairs,” she said as she took out a pair of scissors from a drawer and started cutting my sweatshirt.

I lied; I told her that someone put a gun to my head and asked for my wallet. I explained that when I didn’t give it to him, he shot me and ran. She didn’t believe me, but she nodded her head anyway as if she did. She didn’t encourage me to call the police either. That is why I knew I could come to her. If you didn’t know her, you would think she was cold and disagreeable, but she wasn’t that way at all. She had just seen the darker parts of life, the kind of things you see in the emergency departments, on the streets, and in the eyes of those who never had anything to call their own.

“You didn’t show up for Thanksgiving. I figured we wouldn’t hear from you again. Guess I was wrong about that,” she murmured as she took out a large red container that looked like a tackle box.

“I’m sorry, but I didn’t know where else to go,” I said. I felt guilty about Thanksgiving, but I didn’t know what to say. I never knew what to say anymore. She threw my sweatshirt in a trash bag and then started cutting my t-shirt up the middle.

“Maybe you could have gone to, hmm, a hospital,” she smirked. “I don’t know if I want to hear the truth about what happened to you Luke. I don’t want to have to lie to the cops when they show up.”

She lifted my right arm into the air and blotted the wound with a white towel that was turning red by the second. “You’ve been self-destructing. It’s not healthy,” she said as I grimaced. After a few painful minutes, my right side was bandaged. She handed me an Eagles sweatshirt and a clean t-shirt.

“Jimmy can’t fit it anymore anyway,” she smiled as she glanced at the sweatshirt. “How much trouble are you in?” she asked while she threw the bloodied towels into the trash bag with the sweatshirt. “Don’t answer that… You are lucky you weren’t standing another inch to the right or we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”

I wanted to tell her everything that happened, but I didn’t need to get anyone else involved. I just said, “I really appreciate you helping me out. I don’t have anyone else right now-”

“We were family,” she interrupted. Jennifer folded her arms and started pacing back and forth on the tile floor in the kitchen. “My parents won’t talk to you after what happened, but I know they thought of you as family too. We just needed to move on, you know,” she nodded as she stopped pacing and leaned up against the refrigerator.

I had always admired Jennifer. She took care of her family, worked twelve-hour nights at the local hospital in Elk Ridge, and then managed to volunteer for the after-school program at her kids’ daycare. It was nice to know that she thought of me as family, or at least she used to.

“I know that she loved you…” Jennifer said before stopping herself, small droplets forming in her eyes. “Anyway, you better get out of here before the kids wake up. I don’t want them to have to lie to the police either,” she joked as she came over and put her hands on my shoulders. “Take care of yourself Luke. I don’t know what you got yourself involved in but get out of it. Get out now.”

I nodded and walked towards the door. The living room was full of family photos lining the walls, displayed in rows like trophies. Everyone was smiling and hugging. Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, birthdays, they were all there, together. They all looked so damn happy. I wondered if I’d ever be happy again.

The soft light of the morning greeted me when I opened the door. I felt the pain slide up my side as I inhaled the morning air and stepped out onto the front porch that wrapped around the entire front of the house. There was something about breathing in the morning mountain air. Maybe I will, I thought to myself.

It was an hour drive back to Red Pines. I called the only person that I thought could help me figure out what was happening to me, but I wasn’t even sure if that was the smart thing to do.

I was supposed to meet Detective Townsend at 12:30 PM. I pulled the address he had given me out of my pocket and plugged it into my phone. The address was about ten miles north of Red Pines. He said that I would have to hike a quarter mile to get there. Apparently, the only road to the place was washed out during the flooding the year before.

There were two boards that served as a makeshift bridge where the real bridge used to be. I looked down and saw pieces of the gnarled metal and concrete protruding from the river as I started to cross. The boards shook with every step and small patches of ice lined the edges. I tried not to look down. Giant pieces of trees and debris blocked most of what remained of the dirt road as I weaved my way further north. I saw the cabin in the distance, but there was no sign of Detective Townsend.

The place was small but in good shape, a miracle considering the surrounding area. It sat back just far enough from the river not to be disturbed by the violent flooding. I knocked on the door. No answer. I knocked again. No answer.

I was about to turn around when I felt my right wrist being forced up to the middle of my back as it twisted. I don’t know if the pain in my wrist or if the pain in my side as my body twisted was worse. I groaned as I felt the metal bite my right wrist and then my left.

The door opened, and I lost my balance as I tried to kick myself free. My face hit the wooden floor and my eyes went dark for a few seconds. I felt a pair of hands grab my arms and force me to my feet and then into a wooden chair that creaked as I plumped down.

Detective Townsend was standing in front of me. He stooped down to look me in the eyes, his face expressionless. “Did you kill Nancy?” he asked.

“No… She shot me,” I snapped as I tried to gesture towards my side with my right shoulder.

“Bullshit,” Det. Townsend barked as he put his foot on the edge of my seat and pushed. I fell backwards, my head smacking the floor, pain surging from the back of my skull and from my wrists that were being crushed between the metal cuffs and the weight of my body.

“It’s true. Why would I call you if it wasn’t?” I groaned. He lifted the chair back upright and I sighed as the shooting pain in my wrists subsided. “I went inside, she took one look at me, and then she just started shooting… Check the surveillance-”

“I was there. There is no surveillance. The whole system was ripped out,” he interrupted.

I surprised myself as I burst out laughing. “Of course. It’s gone… How convenient,” I burst out. “She is in on this man. She is in on the whole convoluted thing.”

Detective Townsend was silent. He looked out the window that faced out towards the front of the cabin. He was biting his bottom lip and nodding his head up and down, but I couldn’t tell if he was thinking about believing me or contemplating putting a bullet in my head.

“Things like this don’t happened in Red Pines,” he said before pausing. “I know something is up with this whole thing, why do you think I haven’t taken you in?” His voice was calmer. He stepped over to the sink and filled a small glass with water and gulped it down. “I don’t know where to go from here. If I take this any further, I’m risking everything, and I don’t know that I want to do that.” He kneeled and removed the handcuffs. “Sorry about that. I just don’t know who I can trust right now,” he said as he threw the handcuffs on the counter.

“I came to you because I trust you,” I told him. “You know me. I’m just trying to get my life back.”

“This isn’t going to get you your life back. You won’t ever get your life back now,” he said.


© Josiah A. Miller 2018. All Rights Reserved.