Losing Your Place On Earth

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“Please, don’t say that about our son,” she had said.

“Well, I said it,” he replied and left for work.

Driving alone for 8 hours through the desert gave Jon plenty of time to regret what he had said, though. Not the feeling that he sometimes did not want an autistic son who had a habit of getting up in the night. Especially the nights when Jon was desperately in need of sleep from the last watch as a state trooper looking out for the lonely highways and byways of Arizona.

That particular feeling was genuine. But he regretted that he had said it out loud.

No. No, that wasn’t right. He also did regret the feeling itself. Little Michael needed all the love he could get if he was ever to have something remotely akin to a normal life. And Jon did love him.

Except for the times when he wished that his son wasn’t there.

Michael was still too young to understand, of course, and maybe he never would. The psychiatrists put his chances of ever learning to talk at about 50-50. Jon knew he had committed a cardinal sin, though, by saying what he felt that morning out loud, in front of his wife and oldest daughter who was just as dead-tired as he was, from being up all night.

So that was the question, Jon thought, as he made ready for his routine turn at Gila Bend back towards Yuma. At the last minute, though, he decided to go directly south on the 85. He didn’t feel like driving home just yet, although his watch was almost over.

Jon turned on the radio and listened to the pundits who hadn’t much to talk about. Obama’s win had been pretty clear.

They droned on, while Jon’s thoughts about what had happened that morning were the only noise in his head.

I regret every damn word, dammit. But …

But he didn’t feel like calling Carrie and saying he was sorry. Not yet. Even though he knew those kinds of remarks hurt her more than she let on. The problem was an insane work schedule, two kids – one of them handicapped, or so he thought of it. The only way you could sometimes carve out a niche for yourself was by being angry.

Still, it was not right. Jon decided he had to tell Carrie … something when he got home. He didn’t know what, but at least a decision had been made.

That was when he heard a loud ‘crack.’

Gunshot.

Jon hit the brakes.

The patrol car came to a stop in the middle of nowhere. There was no one but him. And no other vehicles.

But that sure as hell sounded like a gunshot …

Jon got out of the car and carefully surveyed all directions.

Nothing.

Nothing in his world now but a few cacti and the usual horde of dusty creosote bushes, and then in the distance, haze-shimmering mountains.

He was about four miles from the road fork towards Tucson, but otherwise, there were no other roads nearby. None meant for normal vehicles, anyway.

Then he heard another ‘crack.’

Instinctively, Jon ducked low at the side of the patrol car. In the next second, he had his gun ready. But there was still no one to see.

The shot, if it was that, had come to his right, he figured. It had come from somewhere from out in the sea of small, spindly desert bushes. That much he was sure of. It didn’t sound as though somebody was shooting at him in particular, but that he could definitely not be sure of.

Jon reached in through the half-open front door and pulled at the radio’s mike. “This is 477 – reporting possible firearm discharges on highway 85 at Cameron’s Tank, approximately four miles out of Ajo.”

He filled in the rest. He couldn’t see anyone. But he would stay in the area to investigate, and they would send 436 which was the nearest unit, for backup. Maybe it wasn’t needed. Maybe it was just some kids, borrowing their dad’s car, going out in the desert to have fun shooting at cans.

Jon put down the receiver and narrowed his eyes against the desert haze.

Then another ‘crack’ came. This time he was sure it was gunfire. He had heard that sound too many times.

Jon crouched quickly and crept to the tail end of the car. He had pulled it over and stepped out to the driver’s side, so he had asphalt to his back and maybe another car passing by at some point. But on the passenger side, there was just the desert.

He felt fairly sure he wasn’t the target, but he could become soon enough by accident.

It was like he had been in this situation before and the crazy thing wasn’t that he was in somebody’s line of fire. He had been that often enough.

The crazy thing was that it never seemed to stop.

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