IT TAKES CARE OF ITS OWN
By Stephanie Kellerman
Clem looked up from pulling weeds in his garden towards the tall pines in the hills nearby. The quiet of the moment was disturbed by the noisy crows taking flight. He knew he would soon have company. He felt sure it was a stranger from the fuss the birds were putting up. He hoped it wasn't. The reason he came up here was to get away from all the people who made fun of him for being slow, but he hoped it was that nice scientist that said he was taking a vacation. Harry was better than that in the woods, though. The birds wouldn't be acting that way if it were just Harry.
Clem thought back to the first day he met Harry, coming up the trail. He was sure the stranger was lost and was wary of him at first. When asked if he were lost, the man just pulled out a well-worn compass and smiled. He seemed to be a nice enough fellow so Clem soon felt at ease with him. He had said he was a scientist and that his doctor ordered him to take it easy for awhile. Hmmpf! Clem thought. If what he did was vacation he sure didn't want to watch him work. He didn't know why the man got so all fired up over some plain ole plants. Something about a new kind of plant that looked like it should be growing in the ocean. O.....K....... He had heard Harry mumbling something about it shouldn't be growing in a swamp. Uh huh. He sure did please easy if digging up plants and looking at them all day long excited him.
Clem smiled to himself. Harry usually brought some good food from Timberville when he showed up. Harry had told him he was going to town to call home and let everyone know that he was doing fine. Hank was willing to bet he didn't tell them that he wasn't just relaxing, though.
Soon Clem saw Harry appear over the hill and smiled. He then noticed another person with Harry and frowned. A stranger, just as he expected. What would he want? He realized that someone had to have shown the stranger how to get here. Only someone who knew the place would know how to get here and get back out again. Harry learned very quickly just how to get where he wanted to go. Clem told Harry that he figured he must have had a lot experiences working in the woods. He remembered laughing when Harry just smiled and mumbled something about being used to the water more.
Harry smiled as he approached Clem and tossed him a heavy sack.
"Here you go. Vittles for the human animal. Flour, beans, coffee...boy I missed my coffee when we ran out. Let's see where was I....oh, uh, bacon..."
Harry paused, patted his shirt pocket and grinned at Clem. "Jamie would kill me if he found out I ate bacon." Harry then pulled a pack of cigarettes out of the pocket. "He wouldn't like these either, but I'm sure not going to tell him."
Harry then caught Clem staring at the stranger and realized he hadn't introduced the two to each other.
"Oh, Clem, this is Mr. Johnson. I met him in town. He said he needed someone to do some work for him and I figured you would be the one to ask."
Johnson gazed around the place and took in the desolate surroundings. "Do you get many people up here?"
Harry looked at Clem. "I doubt that Clem has gotten any visitors until I showed up at his doorstep."
Clem stared at the stranger. "Uh, no. I don't get many visitors up here. Don't really want them. That's why I moved here to begin with."
Johnson looked over at Harry while asking Clem, "How do you keep in contact with people? Do you have a radio?"
"Yeah, I have a radio. It quit working last night though. I was listening to it before it went off, though and some man was talking about a bank robbery. I didn't pay too much attention, though.
Harry took a drag on his cigarette.
"I heard a little at the store when I was buying supplies. A teller was shot and the robber got away with about $40,000. They haven't caught him yet. They did mention that the teller said something about a pearl handled revolver before he passed out. You don't see too many of those. Shouldn't be too hard to trace."
Harry then looked around, puzzled. Something was missing. "Where's Billy?"
Johnson looked sharply at Clem. "I thought you said you were alone up here?"
While Clem frowned at the comment, Harry laughed. "Oh no, Billy is Clem's best friend. An Irish Setter. He must be out exploring somewhere. Come on, let get this food in the cabin. I'll cook. It won't be much, but it will fill our stomachs."
Soon the three were sitting around a table eating dinner.
Johnson looked over at Harry. "What do you do?"
Clem slapped his leg and laughed. "He digs up little bitty ole plants and stares at them all day. Seems to me he could find something better to do. "
"Actually I'm supposed to be on vacation. My doctor said my blood pressure was up and I needed to get away for awhile. I don't think he figured on me running into a find of a lifetime." Harry paused then continued not wanting to get into too much detail. "I am a scientist and am always looking for something new and different."
Johnson seemed to relax a bit after that statement. Just a scientist, he thought. Something bothered him though. There was something about this man's piercing blue eyes that made him uneasy. He also felt like he had seen him somewhere before.
The next two days went by fast, with Harry collecting plants, Clem tending to his garden and Johnson, well Johnson was just there, hanging around. Clem still didn't trust the man. The feeling he got when he was around the man was the same unsettled feeling he got when he wandered too close to the pits of quick sand in the swamp.
The next day, Billy finally made an appearance. He had apparently been in the swamp as his fur was wet, muddy and tangled. He ran up to Clem then turned towards Johnson and growled. Clem petted him to calm him down.
Johnson put his hand in his pocket. "Keep him away from me. I don't like dogs."
Clem looked at Johnson. "Oh, he's okay. He's never hurt anyone before."
Billy jumped towards the stranger and Johnson pulled out his pistol, aimed and fired. The dog whimpered and lay still where he fell.
At that same time Harry was just coming out into the clearing near the cabin. He was startled when he noticed the pistol Johnson was carrying. It was pearl handled. At the same instance Johnson noticed Harry and fired at him. Harry was slow to react since he had been carrying a couple sacks of plants. He turned to flee, but was hit in the back by the next shot. He fell to the ground and passed out all the while hoping that Clem could get away and Lee would somehow know he was in trouble.
Forcing Clem to walk ahead of him, Johnson walked up to the fallen scientist and kicked him. Apparently he was satisfied with the results so he motioned Clem to turn around and they headed back towards the cabin. Clem's head drooped as he thought about Billy and how he had lost a good friend.
As they got closer to the cabin, Clem was startled when he realized that Billy was no longer in the place where he had fallen when shot. He felt bad as he knew the scientist was gone. Even if the scientist were still alive, though, he figured that men in that line of work wouldn't be able to put up much of a fight anyway, but at least he had hopes that Billy survived.
Back at the edge of the clearing, Harry regained consciousness and felt an excruciating pain in his back. He couldn't believe he was still alive. He did realize, though, that if they didn't get help soon he wouldn't be. He realized that help wouldn't be coming, as he wasn't scheduled to call the Institute until tomorrow. By then he figured it would be too late. At least he could try to drag himself somewhere out of sight just in case Johnson came back to check on him and found out he was still alive.
That night, Clem had made a decision. The next morning he was just going to get up and walk out of there. He realized that this killer wouldn't leave him alive anyway so he felt like he didn't have any choice. As the sun rose over the hills Clem got up and walked out the door with Johnson threatening him. Johnson fired a warning shot first, but Clem kept walking.
"You can't kill me. You won't be able to find your way out of here if you kill me."
"I don't care! I would rather live here for the rest of my life than let you go tell the cops where I am."
Clem started running and the killer went after him firing a couple shots at him. Clem felt a sting in his right leg, but continued to push forward.
Harry was wakened early that morning by noises. He realized that what he heard were gun shots, and worrying about Clem, he decided he just had to try to help. He slowly and painfully made his way towards the sounds. He ruefully thought that even if he survived long enough to get there, he wouldn't be worth anything, but he felt he had to try. He couldn't leave Clem at the mercy of that killer.
Harry heard quick footsteps running down the path where he lay hidden by a large rock. Soon Clem passed by with Johnson running after him. Harry knew he had no strength to fight, but knew he had to do something to help Clem. He noticed a heavy stick and picked it up. Just as Johnson approached Harry stuck the stick out and Johnson tripped, yelling as he fell. Harry then fell back and passed out once again, luckily out of sight.
Clem heard the yell behind him and watched Johnson fall. He thought he caught the sun reflecting off some red hair, but knew he had to be mistaken. Harry was dead and could do nothing to help him. At least he had been able to gain some time.
On another ridge a couple more strangers stopped their trek.
"Lee did you hear that? Shots!"
"They came from that direction. Come on Chip. Let's go find out what's going on."
Clem came upon a small stream, waded through it and jumped the patch of sand on the other side. Soon Johnson reached the stream and jumped the stream, hitting the sand and realized, too late, that he had landed in quick sand.
As Lee and Chip raced towards the sound of the gunfire, a small dog limped towards them and whined. They stopped and after examining the dog realized it had been shot. It had been lucky. The bullet had only grazed its side. They soon had it bandaged up with the first aid kit and continued on as they again heard gunfire. They soon came upon an unexpected sight. A man with a gun was stuck in quick sand screaming at another man who just stood there and watched.
"Get me out of here! Get me out or I will shoot."
"If you shoot me, who is going to get you out of the quick sand?" Clem replied. "The woods take care of its own. I wouldn't have to do a thing."
The dog that had been treated by Lee and Chip ran over to the big man whose eyes lit up when he saw that Billy had actually survived. Clem's eyes misted as he gathered Billy up in his arms. He looked up at the strangers with gratitude.
Lee looked at the big man standing by the stream while Chip kept an eye on the man in the quick sand. "You must be Clem. The Admiral has told me all about you. What's going on here and where's Admiral Nelson."
Johnson, who had been desperately struggling to free himself from the quicksand groaned. "Admiral? Nelson?" He then muttered to himself. "Shooting a teller is one thing. Killing an Admiral, and Admiral Nelson at that, is another." He knew he was going to be spending the rest of his life in jail, IF he weren't given a death sentence.
Clem looked down at his feet kicking the dirt with his boot. "Admiral? Who's that? Oh, do you mean Harry? The scientist?"
Clem hesitated not wanting to tell them what happened. "He's dead. This man here is a bank robber. Once we found out who he was he shot Harry."
A familiar, but pained voice behind Lee spoke up. "Now don't give me up for dead just yet."
Clem jerked around at the voice and yelled. "You're alive! It was you!"
"Yeah," Harry smiled, and then grimaced. "That stick came in handy."
Startled, Lee looked around and saw Nelson sitting on the ground leaning up against a tree. He rushed over and knelt down beside him. He put his arm around Nelson's back to steady him and felt the stickiness from the blood. He wondered how the Admiral had survived.
Harry looked at Lee. "Not that I mind, but what are you doing here? How did you know?"
"I don't know. I just had a feeling that I needed to get here and get here fast. Looks like I was right."
"I'm very glad you didn't ignore those feelings. I probably wouldn't have lasted much longer."
Grimacing at the sharp pain in his back, Harry looked over at a subdued Johnson. "Well, it looks like the quicksand took care of our problem. Although, I guess we need to save him for the authorities, before the woods claim him permanently."
Chip frowned as he realized he was going to have to be the one to pull Johnson out. He walked over as Johnson looked up at him and obligingly tossed his gun towards Chip who picked it up and gave it to Clem to hold. Finally after getting himself fully covered in sand he had pulled Johnson to safety.
Lee took out his radio and soon he had a helicopter called in.
A very subdued Johnson was 'helped' aboard by a not too happy wet and sandy Chip Morton and a very weak, but relieved Admiral was carried aboard by EMTs with Lee hovering over him. Overcoming protests, Chip finally talked Clem into getting into the helicopter only when he agreed that Billy could come along. They soon arrived at the hospital.
After being treated and admitted to a room, Harry looked up at Lee from his bed and whispered weakly, but resolutely. "No more vacations!"
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