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by John R. Somers

Maryland State Police, Ret'd.

 

The green car was stopped dead, right in the middle of the country road, headlights blazing.

  

 At first, Trooper First Class Jim Koenigs thought the occupants might be headlighting the field, trying to spot deer, but he couldn’t see the telltale glow of deer eyes anywhere in front of it. He decided he didn’t know what they were doing, but it wasn’t a very good place to be doing it.

  

 He slowly pulled his patrol car up behind the Honda and flipped on his red and blue emergency lights. No movement from inside.

  

 He got out, draping his microphone cable across the steering wheel and out the driver’s window. He closed the door quietly and put on his tan Stetson.

  

 “V-19, Berlin.”

  

 “V-19, go ahead.”

  

 “Suspicious vehicle, Maryland HKT 119, green passenger car, west end of 627, ‘bout a… quarter mile from 363.”

  

 There was a pause, then the dispatcher replied, “Not stolen. Local owner.”

  

 Koenigs took his flashlight in his left hand and quietly moved to the left, staying out of his headlight beams as he swung wide. Two occupants, as far as he could tell, a young, blonde-headed male, and a chubby redheaded woman, were engaged in a toe-curling liplock. 

  

 As he approached the car, keeping his right hand in front of his holster, the woman pulled away, looked toward the patrol car, and said, “Ronnie!”

  

 Ronnie, the driver, looked around, startled.

 

 “Well, that explains what you are doing in the middle of the road,” the trooper said, switching his flashlight on and doing a quick check of the vehicle’s interior. “Ronnie, get out of the car. Ma’am, get yourself decent, too, and find me your driver’s license. Both of you.”

  

 There was a flurry of activity inside the car, then the driver got out, stammering. “We were just…”

  

 “For Pete’s sake, pal - I know what you were doing!” the trooper cut him off. “I don’t care about that as long as she’s agreeable. I do care about you doing it in the middle of the road.”

  

 He reached out and took the offered driver’s license. Seventeen.

  

 “Raise your arms and turn around, Ronnie.”

  

 The driver did as he was told.

  

 “Been drinking?”

  

 “No, sir. I don’t drink.”

  

 “Ok, good. Walk up there about fifty feet and stand on the shoulder, back to the car. I need to talk to your girlfriend. Don’t be looking back here.”

  

 The driver did as he was told and the trooper walked around to the passenger door. “May I have your driver’s license, please?” The word ‘please’ was superfluous; there was nothing of a request in his tone.

  

 “Please don’t tell Dad,” the girl begged.

  

 The trooper looked at the driver’s license and quickly at the girl. “Well, hello, Chrissie! I assume you’re OK with this?”

 

 She put her hand on her forehead and halfway covered her face. “It was my fault. He’s not even really my boyfriend; we just work together and he was taking me home.”

  

 “You weren’t making much progress, stopped in the road.” The trooper looked up and shouted, “Ronnie, come back here!”

 

   The boy turned and trotted back to his car.

  

 “Look, I don’t care about all this, but I do care about you getting hurt, or somebody else getting hurt, running into you. Go somewhere else, if you want. Just get off the road.”

  

 “Yes, sir.”

  

 “Chrissie, I haven’t seen you tonight, so don’t tell your Dad I did.”

  

 “Don’t worry. I haven’t seen you in years.” She laughed, nervously.

  

 “Don’t go that far – I see you in the restaurant every weekend, almost.”

  

 “How am I going to look you in the face, Mr. Jim? I’ll die if I have to wait on you. And my boyfriend’s going to shoot me.”

  

 “Honey, if everybody died that I had caught in… compromising situations, it would be a great year for the undertaker.”

 

 He paused and smiled. “I see myself like a preacher; I know all kinds of secrets on all kinds of people. Go on, get out of here. And if you don’t tell your boyfriend, I won’t.”

  

 He walked back to his vehicle and got back inside, tossing his hat onto the passenger seat.

  

“V-19, Berlin.”

  

“V-19, go ahead.”

  

 “Correct the tag number numerals to 719.”

  

 Pause. “That’s a Ford, from Marydel. Want me to save you a copy?”

  

 “Negative. I have it straightened out.”

  

 ‘That’ll take care of the people listening in on their scanners,’ the trooper thought, ‘and her boyfriend.’

  

 He looked at the sky for a few moments; pitch black, not a star showing. ‘Probably rain before long,’ he thought. ‘Nice night for a fatal accident.’

  

 He popped his trunk release, got out and retrieved his raincoat. As he was putting the plastic cover on his Stetson, the first big raindrop struck his windshield. He put his car in gear and turned off on the spur that ran through the little town of Oriole.

 

 Neat and tidy, he had often thought he might light to live there one day. ‘It wouldn’t take much adapting, I know nearly everybody here.’

  

 As he drove slowly into the town – sixteen homes and a church spread out over half a mile – the thought struck him that he was like a benevolent shark, cruising its habitat: nobody had anything to fear but the bad guys.

  

 The black sky and uniformly spaced streetlights down both sides of the road had the interesting effect of making the little town appear pristine: bright cones of light shown down on manicured shrubbery, combed lawns, and spotless homes. Outside of the circles of light, it was pitch black.

  

 He watched each house as he slowly passed them. ‘I’m probably the only person awake in the whole place,’ he thought. An enjoyable feeling of both pride and satisfaction rose in his chest.’ I’d rather be doing this than anything else in the whole world!’

  

 He rode slowly with his windows down, listening intently for the sound of glass breaking, an unwelcome car’s exhaust, or a cry for help.

  

 ‘Try it now, dirtbag. I’ll have you before you can say Jack Squat.’

  

 He would, if somebody would just call. He sighed at the memory of a woman in a nearby town who reported – the next morning – a pair of legs that had slithered in through her neighbor’s window. “I didn’t want to bother you,” she had told the investigator the ten hours later. That was the twentieth of nearly forty burglaries that went unsolved for the better part of a year. If she had only called…

  

 As he passed the last houses, he debated momentarily about turning around and

going back through, but he decided to run by the jail and have a cup of coffee with the turnkey, who was always good for a good story or two.

  

 “V-19.” Two words, three syllables, and he knew something was up.

  

 “V-19, Berlin, go ahead.”

  

 “Report of a loud crash, east end of 627, east of Oriole. ¾ mile from 363. Complainant said he lives half a mile from the road and it was loud enough to wake him.”

  

 “V-19, 10-4. Fire company enroute?”

  

 “And the ambulance squad.”

  

 “10-4.”

  

 He put his foot down on the accelerator and the powerful motor roared into life. He quit glancing at the speedometer when it passed 80 and kept climbing. A few more raindrops struck his windshield, disintegrating due to his speed. As he passed the cemetery, he saw a vehicle stop at the intersection and pull out, turning toward him. He reached down and flipped on his emergency lights and siren and began flashing his headlights, slowing to about 70. The approaching vehicle pulled to the side of the road and turned off its lights,

leaving only the parking lights on as an indication he had seen the rapidly approaching patrol car.

  

 “Somebody has some sense,” Koenigs told himself. He put his accelerator foot back down and rocked the other car as he passed, immediately switching off the blinding emergency lights. A mile further and he slowed, experience having taught him that estimates of distance were usually wrong. Sure enough, not far ahead, he saw the light from a highway flare. Evidently, somebody had stopped and placed it in an effort to warn oncoming traffic.

  

 As he appeared the flickering light in the middle of the road, he realized it wasn’t bright enough for a flare, and it looked strangely dim. He slowed even more, and as he passed it, he realized it wasn’t a flare at all – it was an entire engine block, ripped out of a vehicle, gasoline burning as it dripped out of the fuel line.

  

 At the same moment, Trooper Koenigs saw the twinkling reflection of broken glass all over the highway, mixed with clods of dirt, pieces of metal trim, and broken tree branches. His skilled eye told him that the vehicle had left the road on the right side, struck one of the huge oaks growing there, and ricocheted off, heading into the woods on the left.

 

   He flipped the switch on his spotlight and panned it through the trees. Sure enough, there among the broken saplings and uprooted greenbrier was a car, or something that had once been a car but which was now crushed and mutilated beyond recognition.

 

    The trooper stopped and turned his emergency lights on, popped the trunk, and retrieving his first aid kit, he trotted across the road and into the woods.

  

 As he approached, he realized the rear end of the green car had been completely severed from the rest of it, and was sitting bumper up, so that he could look down on the license plate: HKT 119. He wasn’t surprised – he had expected it from the moment he had received the call.

  

 The trooper fought his way through the greenbrier, oblivious to the tearing of the thorns. He threw his first aid kit up on the roof of the car and shouted, “Ronnie! Chrissie! Answer me!”

  

 As he played his flashlight across the inside, he realized they wouldn’t be answering. Ronnie was jammed under the dashboard, between the seat and steering wheel, with one arm stuck up between the wheel and shift lever. Chrissie was also in the floor, head on the transmission hump and almost totally hidden by the twisted metal and uprooted seat.

  

 Koenigs smashed the remainder of the glass out of the passenger side window with his flashlight and felt blindly for Chrissie’s carotid artery. He changed the position of his fingers repeatedly, but felt nothing but warm blood.

  

 He climbed over the roof of the car and reached through the missing windshield. Taking Ronnie by the wrist, he again felt for signs of life. Nothing. He rolled over and slid off of the vehicle and tried to enter through the jagged metal where the rear end of the car had been, but it was too crushed. He stretched his long arm through the opening, grabbed the seat back, and pulled, but he could only rock it; every time he relaxed his efforts, it fell forward again. He climbed onto the hood of the car and carefully tried to untangle Ronnie’s arm. Failing that, he desperately tried to break the wheel off the steering shaft.

 

Nothing worked.

  

 He had paused for a moment to catch his breath when he heard the distant sound of the approaching ambulance. He grabbed the handle of the first aid kit, dropped back to the ground, and sat on the trunk of a fallen tree and waited.

  

 The ambulance and a fire truck arrived at almost the same moment and Koenigs distractedly watched the firefighters and medics scurrying around.

  

 Mark Mulcahy, the captain of the ambulance squad, came bounding through the briers, flashlight in hand. “Jim, whatcha got?”

  

 “Two of them in there. The boy’s seventeen and the girl’s twenty. Nineteen or twenty. Both of them dead.”

  

 Mulcahy spoke into his walkie-talkie and two medics came running with what appeared to be a large circular saw and first aid box. Close behind them, two firefighters struggled with a 2” hose. When they had gotten into position, one of them gave a shout and they held on to the nozzle as the hose charged with water.

  

 Koenigs watched the action as if he were distantly watching a rerun of an old television show for the umpteenth time. On one knee, one of the medics yanked the pull rope and the saw roared into life. Carefully, he began cutting pieces of the car away so they could reach the lifeless bodies inside.

 

 “You ok, Jim?” Mulcahy asked quietly, in spite of the noise.

  

 The trooper shook his head, “No.”

  

 “Know ‘em?”

  

 “Seen him. Knew her, a little. She waited tables at the Hotel Inn. Good girl, I always thought. I think they both were good kids.”

  

 “How much of that blood is yours?”

  

 Koenigs looked at his arms, streaked with blood from his elbows to his fingertips. “Some of it, I guess.”

  

 “Tony!”

 

 Mulcahy bellowed.

  

 A young medic came bounding toward him, repeatedly tripping over the vines.

  

 “Go get a big bucket of water, some soap, and a sponge and clean Trooper Koenigs up.”

 

 Tony took off toward the ambulance and returned quickly. He carefully poured the water over Koenigs’ arms, then proceeded to start scrubbing them with the medicinal soap.

  

 “Hey, Chigger. Bring that first aid kit over here.” Mulcahy shouted, and a second medic, equally young as the first, headed toward them, lugging a big blue satchel with one hand and a huge flashlight with the other. “Trooper Koenigs is bleeding all over the place. Take a piece of gauze and dry his arms, then put some bandages on ‘em.”

  

 Taking off his white hardhat, Mulcahy sat on the tree trunk next to the trooper. “I’m getting too old for this stuff.”

  

 “Did you see the girl? I bet I know what caused this accident,” Chigger said.

  

 “What do you mean?” Mulcahy asked. 

 

 “She was clear across the seat,” he leered. “Clear on his side.

  

 “Inertia.” Koenigs, muttered softly.

  

 “What?”

  

 “Inertia. Car stopped suddenly, she kept going.”

  

 “You expect me to believe that?”

  

 “I don’t care what you believe, Chigger.” Mulcahy growled. “You get a little more time around here and you’ll learn to listen to people who know. I’ve seen inertia rip a pair of laced-up combat boots off a guy.”

  

 Chigger didn’t answer, but sheepishly began to collect the bloody pieces of gauze from around Koenigs’ feet, putting them into a plastic bag. Then he quietly headed off, toward the ambulance.

  

 “Heck of a thing, inertia.” Mulcahy whispered to Koenigs.

  

 “I ain’t going to have the memory of those kids ruined by some guy going around, running his mouth.”

  

 “I agree with you. Particularly where they weren’t doing anything we wouldn’t have been doing ourselves years ago, if we had the chance.”

  

 They sat together on the log, watching the flashing lights and firefighters and medics running around. Despite the fact that they were all volunteers, it had the well-practiced

look of a complicated dance. A tow truck pulled up, it yellow lights blinking, and the operator began to play a cable out through the woods. Finally, the trooper stood

up.

  

 “I have to go tell a couple sets of parents their kids are dead.”

  

 “You going to be ok, Jim?” Mulcahy asked.

  

 Koenigs said nothing for half a minute or more. Finally, he responded, “Yeah.”

  

 He straightened his Stetson and was trying to brush the worst of the dirt and debris off his uniform as the storm hit. He mumbled, ‘What a job.”

 

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sergeant John R. Somers, Maryland State Patrol (retired), completed a 27 year career in law enforcement; all of which was in the field, as a field supervisor or in a command capacity.  He can be reached at jr_somers(at)msn.net

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