The black pickup’s engine roared as it aimed and fired itself towards us. The former train track could not accommodate the width of the pickup and it squealed and shook gripping gravel and asphalt. The heavy treaded tires dug into the dirt paths on the sides of the track created by joggers who disliked running on the asphalt. I grabbed Cassidy’s hand and we ran off the track to the north.
I heard the tires screech to a stop behind us. Cassidy shook her hand out of mine and she stopped.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“I wanna see the son of a bitch who tried to-”
The first shot tore into the tree to our left. We both ducked and I took her hand again. This time there was no resistance as we ran into the woods away from civilization.
Five minutes later we stopped and looked back.
“I don’t think they’re following us,” I said, “Did you get a look at them?”
She shook her head, “Did you recognize the truck?”
I snorted a bit, “A pickup truck in south Mississippi. Yes, ma’am, I narrowed down our suspect pool to everyone.”
“Jackass,” she said with a smile, “And don’t call me ‘ma’am.’”
“Yes, ma’am. Hate to defy your Yankee sensibilities” I said.
“I might just knock you the fuck out if you keep calling me that,” she said, “Maryland isn’t ‘The North,’ you hillbilly.”
“And you gotta have hills to be a hillbilly. Besides, I was raised by a Marine and a librarian, both Southern. I call the fifteen year old at the drive thru ‘ma’am’.”
“Can we put this conversation on hold until we make sure we are not being shot at?”
I nodded. We both crouched and looked back into the woods. The sun was fully up and shining bright now. The birds were chirping and all that Disney shit, but not so bad that we could not hear if someone was stomping through the forest.
“What if they’re circling around?” I asked.
Cassidy laughed, “One of them jumped me with a knife in a parking lot and the other drove a giant pickup onto a jogging track and fired a gun. I don’t think these guys truck with subtle.”
She had a point. Patience did not seem to be a strong point.
“Yeah, but we did have one of them down. Same bastard that called the library the other day, too,” I said.
“The one talking about your friend, threatened me?” she asked.
I nodded and stood up, stretching, “We ain’t doing any good here. Loop back around, maybe come into town from Second Street?”
“You know the way from here?” she asked.
“Used to play in these woods,” I said, looking around. Sure, it had been a few dozen years or so since I had wandered around the woods that sat between the Opal River and the train tracks just north of town, but not much had changed. I scanned the trees and the land around us.
“Well,” I said, “Figuring where we ran from and that big ass rock over there, we should be about a mile from where we want to be.”
“How come town never spread this way?” Cassidy asked, “You’d think with downtown right there that there’d at least be a park or something here.”
I stomped my foot into the ground a few times and watched the hole fill with a little water.
“See that?” I said, “This whole area’s too marshy to build or farm on from the river. First groups of people that came here went towards the hills to the west and south where it only flooded once every couple of years or so.”
“Huh. You know a lot about this area, Mr. Librarian.”
I looked at her to see if she was teasing me. I never really had a bead on Cassidy. We had met during one drunken night at the bar. After taking her home and passing out on her, we had kept a flirtatious acquaintance. After Caleb made her the children’s librarian, my brain made her off limits but my body... Hell, she was gorgeous and smart and fun, but I could never really tell where I stood with her. Even after we’ve been jogging buddies the last couple weeks, I know very little about her or where I stood.
I guess we had a little hike to figure each other out.