"Bob slams on the brakes and puts the car into a smoky skid. Fumes from burning tire rubber and asbestos brake dust permeate the air behind him."
Excerpt from chapter 1 of Branded.
Used with permission from author Jon Armour.
It’s mid-June 2001 in North Texas. The air is as hot and dry as a piece of Texas toast. Whisps of steam rise from the oily pavement along U.S. Highway 82 between Sherman and Whitesboro—a couple of quaint small towns not far from Lake Texoma, a popular recreation spot.
Along the blistery stretch of road travels Bob, but not at the speed limit and not for a fishing trip to the popular North Texas reservoir. Bob is moving along at over one hundred miles an hour, screaming down the highway in a stolen SUV. He’s checking his mirrors, sweating profusely, and talking to his car. “Come on, dammit. Get me out of here!”
Behind him are a dozen or so cop cars close on his tail, weaving back and forth from one side of the road to the other trying to get up alongside Bob’s vehicle. Ahead of him are just as many, set up to take him out if they can. It’s do-or-die for Bob. It seems there is no escaping what’s in front of him or behind. They close him in like a fuse burning on two ends of a stick of dynamite.
He pushes the SUV to its limit. The engine lights flash. The temperature gauge is pegged almost all the way to the right, still in the yellow, not quite red yet, but he’s working on it.
Bob comes to a small hill in the road. He can’t see over it, but he’s moving too fast to stop now. As he flies over the top, he sees that Department of Public Safety officers have cars set up on both sides of the highway.
Oh shit! he says to himself. They got spike strips in the road.
He yanks the wheel hard to the right and into the low-profile ditch alongside the highway. Miraculously, his momentum carries the car through the ditch and back up on the other side, onto the blacktop.
He looks in his rearview mirror. The cops are scrambling to get in their cars and come after him. Bob laughs heartily. Damn, that actually worked! He proceeds forward. Having slowed down the cops behind him just slightly, he punches the gas to the floor, trying to get out of sight.
The SUV strains under Bob’s control. He prays he can soon get off this highway. He looks farther down the road. DPS has a second line of patrol cars ahead. As he proceeds into the danger zone of cops set up across a bridge over the river, he realizes he can’t keep moving toward them. They’re half a mile thick. He’s got to make a move, or they will pepper him like Swiss cheese when he crosses the river.
Bob slams on the brakes and puts the car into a smoky skid. Fumes from burning tire rubber and asbestos brake dust permeate the air behind him. The cops following him can’t see now. They’ve driven right into Bob’s smoke screen and slowed to a mere crawl, squinting hard through the thick smoke to ascertain the situation. Bob cuts the car to the left across the grass-and-dirt median. More dust and dirt fly into the air.
He comes up on the other side and crosses right over the highway into a Pizza Hut parking lot, slamming into a large, overfull dumpster and pushing it out into the main lanes of traffic on the crossing road.
That doesn’t stop him, and the tough little SUV keeps plowing through the trashy mess to the crossroad heading south on the other side. The car is starting to take the shape of a wadded-up piece of tinfoil, smoke and steam rolling out of it. But it continues like a Sherman tank.
The cops have slowed again so they can reposition and manage the chaos caused by the dumpster. Trash spills all over the road. Several cars hit the steel hunk and push it around like a ball in a pinball machine, back and forth across the four-lane road.
Bob’s moving fast again, but the cops aren’t far behind. There’ll be more coming from the other direction soon. He realizes he has to get onto a back road and try to get out of sight. He’s in a familiar area, near a barbecue joint called Clark’s Outpost. It’s very popular with folks all over North Texas.
He can smell the sweet aroma of meats and wood smoke drifting through the air as he passes by. Tempting, sure. But he can’t stop. If he did, it would be the only barbecue in the world that could stop the target of a police chase in his tracks for a quick chopped-beef sandwich and some succulent sausage links.
He keeps going, taking in the smell with a huge smile on his face. He’s looking for a road he knows is off to the left just after the restaurant. There it is. No sign, just a dirt-and-gravel lane heading off into the country. He thinks he can throw the cops off his trail. He knows the crossroads and long driveways along the remote road where he can probably hide to wait for them to go by.
Bob has never been on this road at high speeds. It’s one consideration he didn’t account for. He’s going too fast; the gravel is slippery as ice. He punches the accelerator and takes his chances. He has to make some distance between him and the cops.
Then, in an instant—
The car hits a ditch on an S curve in the road and rolls over several times, coming to a stop in the bar ditch. He’s hanging upside down from his seat belt.
He can hear the sirens fast approaching. There are lots of them, and now a helicopter hovers overhead in the distance. Bob becomes aware of a burning pain in his chest and back. The smoke, steam, and dust in the air leave him choking for breath. He quickly pops the seat belt and falls to the roof, which is now the floor of the car. He can’t see through the thick cloudy mixture of dirt and fumes.
Bob feels around for the gun he’s stashed in the SUV. He gets his hand on the grip and dislodges it from under the bottom of the seat. Making his way through the open driver’s side window, he crawls into the ditch and then—staying low—out through a wheat field to a wooded area nearby.
He looks back. The crumpled SUV lies smoking in the ditch, spreading a fog across the pasture. The cops have just arrived and are surrounding the area, setting up a perimeter for the crash scene. He can hear one of the Rangers yelling through a bullhorn: “Bob, come on out! We have a nice cold soda for you.”
It is very hot out. Bob realizes the cops probably think he’s still in the vehicle and are hoping to flush him out with a refreshing beverage. But he is now some distance away, wondering how he’ll manage his way through the circle of patrol cars, helicopters, dogs, and officers from multiple police agencies that are starting to set up in every direction.
Paperback, 9798833663363, 607 pages
August 15, 2022
Texan Jon Armour developed his passion for writing as a young student in middle school under the encouragement of his English teacher, Ms. Susan Smallridge. Her attention and prodding to attain a witty and descriptive prose in his subject matter bled over into every area of Jon’s life. He is a jack of all trades, but aside from this vast array of interests and roles, he has come back to applying his creativity to writing, a first love that was side-tracked by life’s busy schedules and bustling activities. Jon’s once-blank pages are now overflowing with creative splatter transcending across scenes of crime, love, sex, humor, and other varied emotional conditions of the human existence. Jon lives in Magnolia (near Houston), Texas, with his wife Karen.