Several more shots rang out. Art jumped from side to side every few steps as he ran to make it more difficult for them to aim at him. He managed to make it into the safety of the trees.
Once he entered the shadow of the trees, he no longer had the light from the moon and stars. He couldn’t see much in the dark shadows of the forest. He didn’t want to turn on the cellphone flashlight because that would make it easy for the men to see where he was and follow him.
Art ducked into the underbrush trying to decide what to do. He couldn’t run in the forest without light to see by, and he couldn’t use the light he had. But if he stayed here, it wouldn’t be hard for the men to find him either.
He saw three flashlights moving in his direction. They spread out to cover a large area, and it wouldn’t take them long to get here. Art tried to turn on the phone to call this Tony guy, but it was locked.
“Great!” he thought. “Johnny could have at least told me what the passcode was to unlock the phone when he told me to contact this Carla woman.”
Art began to move along the edge of the woods to get away from them men. He stayed far enough under the trees to remain in the shadows, but close enough to still see light from the reflection of the moon. He moved along slowly doubled over and half crouched to make himself as small as possible. He also felt along with his hands for sticks that might be hidden in the dark and snap under his feet making noise that would attract the men’s attention.
He looked back a couple of times, but no longer saw the flashlights that the men were carrying. They must have entered the forest looking for him. He hoped that none of them were good trackers because it wouldn’t be hard to follow the sloppy trail he left behind as he shuffled through the forest in the dark. So, he just kept moving to put as much distance between the men and himself as possible.
Art stopped and stood up straight to relieve the ache in his back. He continued walking normally in an upright position. He figured there was enough distance between him and the men that they probably wouldn’t hear a small twig cracking. But he still walked slowly, feeling along for twigs and small branches under his feet. It was slow going.
He finally paused to take a rest and look back. Everything was dark and quiet. He pulled the phone out of his pocket and swiped at the screen. It required touch ID or a passcode. Art tapped at the screen a few times to see if he could get it open. But nothing worked.
Art pressed the Emergency button, and the number touchpad popped up on the phone screen. He dialed 911 and held the phone to his ear. Nothing happened, and he couldn’t hear the phone ringing.
“Hello. Hello. Is anyone there?”
He pulled the phone back from his ear and saw the numbers still glaring back at him from the screen. He realized he hadn’t pushed the call button. He sighed in frustration and half-laughed at himself at the same time. Art reached out a shaky finger to tap the green call button. It made him realize how exhausted he felt, even though he was amazed that he hadn’t suffered any serious injuries from the accident. Art waited for the call to go through and the operator to answer.
“911, what’s your emergency?”
“Yes, hello. I was in an accident, and I think my friend is dead.”
“Where did the accident take place?”
“Uh, I don’t know exactly. We’re on a road here, and there was a bad curve. A black SUV smashed into us, and the car rolled off close to some trees.”
“Are you near the vehicle now?”
“No, some men with guns were shooting at me, so I ran into the woods.”
Art heard something snap and pulled the phone away from his ear. He listened closely, but he didn’t hear anything after that. So, he put the phone back to his ear.
“Sir, are you there. Hello.”
“Yes. Yes, I am here.”
“Can you give me any more details about your location.”
“No, I’m from Brazil. I just flew here tonight, and I was with my friend. We came to the morgue and.”
Something or someone came flying through the underbrush and tackled Art in the dark. They wrapped their arms around him from behind and squeezed tightly lifting him off the ground.
“I got him. He’s over here,” a man yelled.
Art struggled and kicked against the pressure, but the man held firm. The man holding him was solidly built, and Art couldn’t break away from the grip of his thick muscular arms. He wiggled and squirmed, but it was no use. His legs moved freely, so Art pulled his foot forward and then kicked back up towards the man’s groin.
It was a solid blow. The man groaned and immediately relaxed his grip. Art was able to pull his arms out from the bear hug he was in even though the man kept his arms wrapped around his torso. Art continued to squirm and kick, but the man held firm.
Art heard the other men yelling as they came. He desperately tried to twist around and reach out to poke his finger’s in the man’s eyes. But he couldn’t reach them. Art pulled back his arm and smashed his elbow into the man’s face. He felt the man’s nose crunch and crack under his first blow.
The man let go of him and stepped back to grab his face. Art dropped to the ground and picked himself up. He didn’t turn around to look back but took off running again. This time he stepped out of the forest and back into the field. He ran along the edge of the forest using the light from the moon to move as quickly as possible. Art no longer worried about making noise. He was a decent runner. He ran five kilometers at least three times a week. And often longer on the weekends. He had even participated in a half-marathon a few weeks before in his city. So, he simply focused on running and putting as much distance between himself and the men as possible.
Art didn’t know how long he had run for, but eventually, he reached a road. He turned to the left and started walking in the opposite direction from where he thought the car accident had taken place. The last thing he wanted to do was run into those guys again.
A car approached in the distance with the headlights blazing down the road. Art stepped into the trees and waited for it to pass. The last thing he needed was to be picked up by someone these guys were using as backup.
The phone rang, and Art pulled it out of his pocket. The name Tony glowed brightly on the screen. He paused. Johnny had said not to trust him. But on the call, he seemed fairly sympathetic and unaware of the danger they were in. Even Johnny had seemed surprised to discover they weren’t being tailed by Tony’s men.
Art decided to risk it. He didn’t have anywhere else to go or know anyone else to turn to for help. He swiped the screen to the right to answer it.
“Hello, Tony. Jonny is dead.” Art said.
There was a long silent pause on the other end before Tony answered.
“I’m sorry to hear that. This is Art, I presume, or are you one of the men who killed him?”
“No, it’s me. Art,” he replied.
Tony sighed. “Stay right there. I’ll send someone to pick you up.”
Art’s heart froze. How did the man know where he was if he wasn’t in cahoots with the guys in the black SUV.