Almost out of control, the driver flashed his headlights when he saw Buck’s truck. In less than a moment, he realized why the old pickup was in such a hurry. A black truck doing ninety or more crested the rise behind it. The speeding vehicle slammed into the pickup's rear bumper, swerving it.
“What the hell?” Buck said.
Tapping his brakes, he slowed just enough to cross the grassy median in a sliding skid. When he hit the pavement, he floored the gas pedal in an attempt to catch the two speeding vehicles. The big V8 in his Navigator responded with a revving engine and squeal of burning rubber.
The speedometer reached a hundred as he crested a rolling hill and caught up with the two vehicles in front of him. The truck kept banging the old pickup, finally spinning it and sending it into the ditch. It flipped in the air doing a slow-motion tumble before hitting a sandstone outcrop. Buck dialed 911.
“Got a bad one about six miles south of Guthrie on I-35. Need an ambulance, and quick.”
The black truck slowed just enough to give Buck time to read its license tag. The personalized plate said BladeRunner. With other things more pressing on his mind, he watched as it disappeared over a rolling hill.
Slamming the brakes, he slid to within thirty feet as the truck caught fire and started to burn. Without bothering to shut the door, he raced to the burning vehicle.
The truck lay on its side; the hood popped and dark smoke billowing from the engine. Jumping on the running board, Buck grabbed the door handle and yanked.
An old man lay crumpled behind the wheel, his eyes closed. He felt light as a feather as Buck wrestled him from the cab. Dragging him, he tried to get as far away from the burning truck as he could. They almost made it.
When the truck exploded, the concussion knocked him off his feet. Slamming into the pavement, he skidded on knees and elbows, his face scraping asphalt. Hot air warmed his neck as it blasted over his head. The old man opened his eyes when he patted his face.
“I knew it was you when I saw your truck,” he said in a whispered voice.
“Do I know you?”
The old man’s eyes closed and he grew silent without answering the question.
Scant minutes had passed before sirens began screaming. An emergency vehicle from the Guthrie fire department skidded to a halt behind them. Two EMT’s that Buck recognized raced to help.
Clint was short, had a pug nose and a fireplug body. His partner Bones McGee was twice as tall and half as wide.
“Ain’t got much pulse,” Clint said, slipping an oxygen mask over his face. “You okay?”
“Don’t worry about me,” he said. “How’d you get here so quick?”
“Just down the road when the call came in. Lucky for you.”
The two EMT’s loaded the old man into the back of the ambulance and then returned to check on Buck.
“You look like hell,” Bones said.
“Where you taking him?” Buck asked.
“Guthrie Hospital,” Clint said. “Come with us. You got burned hands and blood all over you.”
“Meet you there,” Buck said. “Can’t leave my truck on the side of the road.”
“Okay, tough guy. Just don’t pass out on the way.”
Traffic had begun stacking up on I-35, police vehicles and rubberneckers slowing traffic. At least until a semi racing toward Wichita crested the rise. By the time he saw the congestion, it was too late. The big truck careened full throttle into Buck’s Navigator.
Both vehicles ended up in the ditch as firefighters rushed to check on the driver. Buck would have helped but the collision had knocked him smooth out. Ammonia beneath his nose opened his eyes.
“Your truck’s toast and ain’t going no place but the junkyard,” Clint said.”
Buck was in no position to argue. After assisting him to the ambulance, they raced away in a blast of sirens and screech of burning rubber. He recovered enough to touch the shoulder of the old man on the gurney as Bones adjusted the IV in his veins.
“How’s he doing?” Buck asked.
“Don’t look so good,” Bones said. “You got a hell of a knot on your head. Hang on, and I’ll clean the blood off your arms and face.”
“Just take care of the chief,” Buck said. “I’ll be fine till we get to the hospital.”
The old man’s bone structure and hooked nose pegged him as a Native American. He opened his eyes and smiled when he saw Buck.
“I knew I’d find you,” he said.
“You know me?” Buck asked.
“Esme sent me. She said to give you this.”
He fumbled with something in the pocket of his faded shirt. Buck took the object, turning it in his hand.
“What is it?” he asked.
The old man didn’t answer, his eyes closing again.
“We’re losing him,” Bones said, pumping his chest.
The faint blink of a dark Indian eye showed them he was still alive.
“Hang in there, Chief,” Buck said.
A wisp of a smile appeared on the wizened face of the old Indian as he grasped Buck’s hand and squeezed. When his hand relaxed, Buck knew, he was dead. Bones checked his pulse, and then covered his face with the sheet.
“You knew him?” he asked.
“Never saw him before,” Buck said.
“Who is Esme, and what did he give you?”
“A beautiful woman I once knew. Don’t have a clue what this thing is,” he said.
“Looks like some Indian relic to me,” Bones said. “What happened back there?”
“Driver of a black truck ran him off the road. I got his tag.”
“Let me have it, and I’ll call it in,” Bones said.
“BladeRunner. Oklahoma vanity tag.”
Buck glanced at his skinned elbows and blisters on his palms. After wiping the blood from his face with his blue bandanna, he wrapped it around his right hand. Bones didn’t let him finish, moving around the cot to check him out.
“Where does it hurt?” he asked.
“All over,” Buck said.
“Least you’re alive,” Bones said, glancing at the body of the old man covered with the sheet.