Chapter Eight

The shadows of the evening eventually gave way to the night, accompanied by the sound of Rosco hammering away at the boards and MaryAnne testing the hand held CB radios.

"Check, check, this is a radio check. Someone out there wanna grab a pen and check my radio?"

Static and voices responded. She was coming in loud and clear.

By ten, Rosco had all of the windows on the lower level of the house boarded up. MaryAnne left a radio in the living room, one in the kitchen and brought the other one upstairs to Brian.

"Thanks," Brian said as MaryAnne handed the radio to him. He sat it down under the window, then adjusted the rifle that was slung across his back. "Damn thing's gettin' heavy," he complained lightly. "You and Rosco got everythin' set downstairs?"

"Yeah. Rosco's got all the boards up and there's two radios down there. We should be all set."

The Syndicate alumni nodded. "They might not find us anyway," he suggested.

"Wouldn't bother me if they didn't." She grinned.

Brian snorted and smiled back. "Look, it's gettin' late. Why don't you and Rosco get some sleep. I'll wake one of ya up in a few hours to take over the watch."

The former deputy nodded. "Alright. You want me to bring up a snack to have or something, or are ya all set for awhile?"

"I'm all set."

"Okay. G'nite, Brian."

"G'nite, Deputy."

MaryAnne smiled a little at being called 'Deputy.' Bittersweet, she turned and walked out of the room.

Rosco looked over at MaryAnne as she came down the stairs. "I 'spose Brian's gunna stay up there awhile yet?"

"Yeah. He's gonna keep watch, and wake one of us up in a few hours to switch." MaryAnne sighed, quietly, and sat down on the couch, next to Flash. She petted the Basset and looked at Rosco. "I'm too wired to sleep."

Rosco sighed and took off his black cowboy hat, running a hand through his graying hair in the process. "I know it, Sweetheart. But you gotta get some rest. You've been runnin' yourself ragged, even before all this started."

"I can't stop..." she said softly. "I just...can't. Rosco, I feel like if I close my eyes, even for a second...something's gonna happen."

"Shhh, c'mon." Rosco moved over on the couch, lifting Flash out of the way. He put an arm around the shoulders of his younger cousin, whom he'd practically adopted since the death of her father. "I promised Eli that I'd take care of you, and I'm gonna keep doin' just that. Ain't nothin' gonna happen to you, sweetheart. I promise."

MaryAnne put her head down on his shoulder. Quietly, she cried for a moment and then managed to say, "We've been in trouble before...but all this... Rosco, I'm scared. I've never been so scared in my life. Our own brethen law officers have tried to kill us twice. And they're gonna try again."

"They ain't gonna succeed," Rosco said firmly, though he had fear of his own. The suspended Sheriff knew the odds were bad. The kind of killers after them had too much to lose, to ever give up. But so did he.

MaryAnne lifted her head and looked at him. "No, I suppose they won't will they?" Her eyes spoke more, with a flicker of determination mixed with her fear. "We're gonna fight like hell ain't we?"

Rosco's steel-grey eyes held a reflection of someone from long ago. Of a Sheriff that could neither be bought nor broken. When he answered MaryAnne, his voice was that of a lawman long forgotten, but never truly gone. "They're gonna regret ever settin' foot outside of Atlanta," he said firmly.

MaryAnne heard that lawman and a smile tugged at the corners of her mouth. That was her cousin, the best damn Sheriff in the state talking. She slipped her arms around him in a hug, thankful to have him and Brian here.

Rosco returned the hug, then pulled back and picked up his bassett hound. "Here now, take Flash and get yerself some sleep." He gave MaryAnne the armload of dog and stood up. "You take the couch, I'll sprawl out in a chair."

MaryAnne smiled. "Alright." She laid down, her back facing the back of the couch and Flash cuddled up beside her. She stroked the Basset's long ears and then Flash looked at Rosco and gave a bark of goodnight.

"Hush," Rosco said to the dog affectionately. Then he sank down into the easy chair, and put his hat down over his eyes. The only sound from that point was the steady, muffled boot steps coming from the ceiling, as Brian paced from one window to the other.

After a few minutes, the sound of gentle snoring drifted up from the living room. Sounds like Rosco's asleep, Brian thought to himself. From the echoing silence, he figured that MaryAnne had followed suit.  Though he hadn't heard the specifics of their conversation, Brian had heard their low voices below the stairs, one sounding strong and reassuring, the other uncertain and weary. That's the thing about Rosco, he mused. He's tougher than he looks. Brian rubbed the old wound in his shoulder as an afterthought. It amazed him, sometimes, that the three of them had gotten along as well as they had.

Brian considered the past as he checked the east window, then paced over to the one facing west. He thought of his career as a criminal, and of his cousins. There was so much about him that Rosco and MaryAnne didn't know.  Taking him in had been a risk. Yet they did it without hesitation, as if the bullets and blood that had been shed between them never happened. Brian shook his head at the memories. He regretted a great deal about his life. If I could do it all over again...he sighed and banished the thought. If he could do it all over again, the path would have been the same. The only thing that had changed him was his trip to Hazzard County, and the people he met there. From his own kin, to the Dukes, and the locals in the county, they had all made him take a hard look at who and what he was. Brian had seen himself through their eyes, their perspective...and found that he didn't like the reflection.

And now, maybe the changes had come too late. He shuddered when he thought about facing the Don and the rest of the Syndicate crime lords on the Federal witness stand. It was something that he would never have considered doing in a million years, had it not been for Rosco and MaryAnne. They were the reason he was going to do the right thing...even if the effort got them all killed.

Stop it!  Brian told himself. But the thoughts kept going, matching the restless pacing of his sentry duty. The hours soon crept away, unnoticed by him, until the moon was starting to wane. Brian looked out the north window and rubbed his eyes. He was tired. Too tired to be as alert as the situation demanded. He yawned and stretched, and started to turn from the window when he heard a distant engine. 

He almost ignored it and went downstairs. There had been the occasional late-night traveler on his road, and this was probably another. He looked out the window again and saw a pair of headlights come over the hill. The headlights came closer at a normal speed, and Brian was ready to assume that it was nothing to be concerned about.

Then the headlights went off, and the car slowed, traveling only by the light of the parking lamps.  The rifle was shifted off his back and into his hands a second later. Good Lord, it's a scout! Brian knew the behavior of this car all too well. It was the advance wheel, sent to investigate. Brian hid himself and peeked over the windowsill as the car came closer. It's engine cut when it got close to the house, and it rolled forward in neutral, silently. It stopped a few feet from the driveway and sat there.

The car was a dark-colored sedan, and when the parking lamps were turned off, it was nearly invisible in the night. Only the moon betrayed the car's position, and Brian was grateful for the benevolent light. He raised the rifle to his shoulder. If it's just one, I can pick 'em off the second he gets out of the car.

But the door never opened. After several minutes, Brian lowered the rifle. What's his game? An advance scout was supposed to scout, after all. Then he got a sick feeling in his gut, and he cursed himself as he crouched down and hurried to the south window, praying he was wrong.

He carefully moved the curtain, and peered out over the south windowsill. He had to look twice before he saw them. "Damn," he whispered to himself.  They had pulled an old trick on him, and it had worked. As he had watched the north window, the main group of cars had come from the south. And there were a lot of them.

The cars were Federal-issue sedans, the moonlight showing their grey hue. Their lights were off, the engines silent. Brian couldn't tell if anyone was in the cars or not. He knew, without looking, that the north window would show a similar view by now. He could here the rolling of tires over the gravel as a few vehicles dared to come in a little closer. Brian crawled over to the top of the staircase. He shut his eyes, willing himself not to scream in terror as he called softly to his cousins. "Rosco...MaryAnne...we got trouble...we got big trouble..."

MaryAnne opened one eye and looked up at the dark ceiling. "Brian...?"

"Wake up!" he hissed, unable to keep some of the fright from his voice. "Get Rosco!"

MaryAnne bolted upright, crawled over Flash and stepped towards Rosco. She tapped him on the arm. "Rosco, wake up. We got trouble, come on!" she whispered urgently.

"Huh--wha--?" The former Sheriff awoke with start.

"Shhh, come on." She grabbed his arm now and pulled him out of the chair. Together they quietly walked to the stairway.

Brian came halfway down the stairs, holding the rifle in his right hand. "They got us surrounded," he said in a half-whisper. "They used an old Syndicate trick, I never seen 'em until it was too late. Must be close to fifteen, maybe twenty cars out there. About five on each side of the house."

MaryAnne drew in a sharp breath. "Oh boy," she said as she let it out.

"Alright," Rosco said. "Let's take up positions and just keep an eye on 'em. MaryAnne you take the kitchen and guestroom side, I'll do the living room and dining room side."

"Okay. They start moving towards the house, I shoot," she said.

"I'll stay upstairs," Brian said. He hesitated a second longer. So far, MaryAnne and Rosco had a chance to walk away. If they entered a gunfight with the Feds, that chance would be gone. "Don't shoot too soon," is all he added to voice his thoughts. "Let's see what they want first."

MaryAnne nodded. She felt a little foolish, she had been thinking the same thing, but her fear was telling her otherwise. "I know," she said.

"Awright." Brian turned to Rosco. "If it comes down to a gunfight, I'd like you and MaryAnne to send the first round of return fire. Once they think it's just ya'll downstairs, I'll open up from above. Switch windows every so often an' keep 'em guessin'. If the gunfire gets to heavy, then both y'all will need to come upstairs. It's the best line of defense."

Rosco nodded. "Okay."

Brian turned and hustled back upstairs. The sound of car doors slamming made him jump. As he got to the north window, he saw the Feds leaving their cars, and taking up positions behind the safety of their vehicles. "They're comin' out," Brian yelled down to his cousins. "Looks like two agents per car, that's gonna make us thirty Feds to deal with!"

Rosco and MaryAnne quickly took up positions downstairs. Rosco quickly looked out the front living room window and then hustled into dining room and saw the same thing Brian did. He gripped the rifle in his hands traced his eyes over the cars.

MaryAnne watched the front side of the house, her rifle at the ready.  "That's gonna be ten a piece!" she said. "Don't waste your ammo, don't give them a target to shoot back at, if it comes to that, Rosco."

"I hear ya."

"Ten to one!" Brian called down. "If I was a bettin' man, my money'd be on the Feds!"

"HUSH!" Rosco called back. "If you was a bettin' man, your game would already be rigged!"

"I got a few tricks up my sleeve..." MaryAnne said.

Rosco turned his head slightly to the room behind him. He almost wasn't sure he heard her...but the ol' gears are turnin' in MaryAnne’s head.  Khee!

"I figured you would, sweetheart. Now don't loose yer wits about ya."

"I don't intend to."

A voice boomed through a megaphone outside. "THIS IS THE FBI! WE HAVE YOU SURROUNDED! LEAVE THE HOUSE WITH YOUR HANDS UP!"

"Cripes, can't they come up with anythin' more original than that?" Brian yelled from upstairs.

"You mean like, 'We're not the real FBI, we have you surrounded and we're gonna blow yer heads off. Come out with your hands up so you can be an easy target and we can all go home early'?" MaryAnne called back. She quickly got up and ran, ducked-down, to the living room. She peeked out the front window. "WHAT DO YOU FELLAS WANT? CAN'T YA WAIT TIL A MORE REASONABLE HOUR DO TO THIS?!?!"

Brian's khee-khee laugh sounded behind his cousin's remarks. The megaphone cut it off. "WE'RE REASONABLE ENOUGH! SEND OUT BRIAN COLTRANE AND YOU'LL GO UNHARMED!"

MaryAnne didn’t pause. "I'M SORRY. BRIAN WHO???"

"Cousin, don't rile 'em!" Brian called down. "Maybe..."

"Hush! It's a trap, Brian. The whole dang thing's been a trap, don't you understand?" MaryAnne replied. "We let you walk out, they cut all three of us down, regardless."

"LAST WARNING!" The megaphone shouted. "THIS IS YOUR LAST CHANCE TO SURRENDER!" At the unseen signal, the headlights of the Federal cars clicked on in unison, bathing the house in high beams. From his position upstairs, Brian could see the vague outlines of the agents behind the cars, but the bright glare was a disadvantage.

He knew MaryAnne was right. Even if he gave himself up, the best his cousins could hope for was a moment of diversion as the Feds cut him to pieces. Brian shuddered and gripped the rifle tighter. "Whatcha gonna tell 'em?" He yelled downstairs.


The answer from the Federals was immediate and sustained gunfire. The sound was tremendous, as pistol chambers emptied and refilled and emptied, spewing fire from the barrels as bullets ripped into the farmhouse. Windows shattered and bullets ricocheted, and when it was over, smoke hung heavy in the damp night air. "YOU ARE ACCOMPLICES TO THE MURDER OF A FEDERAL AGENT!" Came the announcement.  "YOU ARE HARBORING A FUGITIVE! SURRENDER OR BE TAKEN BY FORCE!"

During the assault, Brian had flattened himself on the floor. He moved cautiously as glass fell off the back of his jacket. "MaryAnne! Rosco!" he called out. "You okay?!"

MaryAnne was kissing the hardwood floor when the bullets flew. She looked over at Rosco now, who was imitating a rug. He waved his hand, indicating he was okay.

"Yeah, we're all right!! And they're wrong on both accounts!!"

"I'm sure they don't care," Brian called down. "Why don't ya'll explain yer side of it with a little lead, and I'll take out some of them lights!"

"Ten-four!!" MaryAnne and Rosco both got to their knees and poked the barrels of their rifles out through the boards. "YOU'RE WRONG ON BOTH ACCOUNTS FOLKS! GET THE HELL OFF MY PROPERTY OR BE FORCED OFF!!!---Let it rip boys!!"

Rosco and MaryAnne opened up, sending bullets out in a string, picking off fenders, windshields and a few headlights in the process.

As the agents scrambled back and prepared to return fire, Brian opened up his volley. He fired and pumped the rifle with split-second timing, doing something he'd been trained to do well in the Syndicate.  Headlights exploded and went black in a string of fire. Downstairs, he could hear his cousins firing, firing, firing, their police training coming into play as they gave the Feds more to worry about. Brian ran from the north window to the south, diving into a roll as gunfire erupted in front of him. He popped up over the windowsill and took out more lights, but the return fire was regrouping and coming in heavy. He soon had to duck down and cover his head as the remains of the window was blown apart above him.

MaryAnne changed clips, and ran down to the kitchen. She saw one car with it's lights on, and the side of the car was visible. She aimed for the back red fender light and opened up, pumping bullets as fast as the gun would allow into the back end of the car. The two feds near the car could smell gasoline. "Damn it!!" They bolted away from the sedan, and dove into the ditch as the car blew apart.

Rosco shot out a couple more headlights and slammed bullets into windshields. The window he was aiming from, exploded above him and he backed away as the floor was sprinkled with glass. He paused a moment to reload and then ducked into the living room and took up position at the front window. Just in time to hear the car blow.  "HOLY---"

"Yeah that's right!" MaryAnne called as she ran back into the living room. She slid on her knees to the other window and went right back to shooting.

Brian felt the explosion as much as heard it. He uncovered his head and crawled to east window, seeing the flicker of orange glowing brightly in the yard. "DAMN, COUSIN!" he whooped from upstairs. "GOOD SHOT!" Brian picked up the gun at the window and took advantage of the fire's light, sending agents running for cover. In his excitement, he didn't stop to consider the fact that he was more visible as well. With the scent of gunpowder in the air and the cracking of the flames, Brian's senses were attuned to battle. His only thought was to take full advantage of the confusion below.

One target in particular caught his eye. A man in an expensive suit was holding a megaphone and directing the rest of the agents. That's gotta be him! Brian reloaded and raised the rifle to his shoulder. He ignored the gunfire popping from all directions, intent only on his target.  I could take ‘em out.  Remove Commander Turner and half our problems in a single shot…

"Keep firing, Rosco!!" MaryAnne yelled. She fired off a couple more shots and then backed away from the window. She grabbed up the hand held CB radio and was about to broadcast a mayday when a richocheting bullet knocked the radio out of her hand.

"AAH!!" The radio crashed to the floor and broke apart.

Rosco looked at his cousin, her scream nearly feeling like a bullet going through him.

"I'm alright, I'm alright!" she said. She reloaded her rifle and went back to shooting. With the light of the fire, she could see agents running from one car to another, ducking behind open car doors and waving commands at each other.  She focused her aim, knocked two agents down with metal to their shoulders. Rosco shot the pistol out of another's grip.

"That's it, Rosco, that's it!" She said. "You don't have to shoot to kill, just knock 'em down."

A string of bullets ripped through the boards above MaryAnne and she rolled out of the way. It was time to change windows. She hurried down the hall to the kitchen. Rosco ducked away and went back to the dining room window.

Brian saw a couple of agents grab their shoulders and go down. He smiled to himself grimly.  MaryAnne and Rosco were putting up one hell of a fight, the two officers giving an account of themselves worthy of Butch and Sundance.  But he wanted Turner. The FBI commander was the equivalent of the Syndicate Don. Brian knew that if Turner went down, the rest of the agents would cut and run. The ex-hitman felt a cool professionalism take him over as he leveled the gun sight on Turner's chest. Thoughts of the D.A, his testimony, and any other concerns no longer seemed important.

Brian was only waiting for a clean shot. It had to be clean. Unbidden, the memory of the Boar's Nest came back to him, and with it, the sight of his cousin MaryAnne falling under his bullets. The hand holding the rifle stock trembled slightly.

Brian remembered the blood. MaryAnne's blood, forming a slow stain on her waitress uniform.  His own blood, burning out of a wound in his shoulder. And Rosco's, streaming from a wound that Dirk had given him.

The cost of his arrival in Hazzard had been high, especially to MaryAnne and Rosco. And now they all faced extermination, courtesy of the Syndicate and it's interests. Killing Commander Turner would solve nothing. It would only give the Feds the P.R. they needed to cover everything up, to justify the deaths of a trial witness and two suspended police officers. Frustrated, Brian adjusted his aim and squeezed off a shot meant to wound. But Turner had just moved. He was behind a car, directing two Federal sharpshooters with rifles. Brian saw Turner point up at him and saw the rifles come to bear.

The rifle shot was nothing more than another puff of smoke in an already heavy fog. Brian wondered why he didn't hear it as he turned away from the window. The gunfire was so loud, so steady by this time that one shot sounded like another. The one that got him didn't register right away.

Something hurt, and Brian put a hand to his chest absently. It came away with a red stain.

He dropped his rifle, and it clattered to the floor.

MaryAnne heard the sound of the rifle hitting the floor. She stopped and looked at Rosco, who had heard it too, in between the furious gunfire from the Feds.  "Go on!" Rosco said.

MaryAnne turned and ran to the stairs. Rosco returned more fire.

"Brian!" she called as she thundered up the stairs. "Brian, are you alright??" She stopped cold when she got to the doorway.

With his back to the wall, Brian stood there, staring at the blood on his hand. He looked at MaryAnne with wide-eyed surprise, his pupils large and dark with the pain. “Cousin?"

MaryAnne hurried into the room, flinching as a bullet tore through the window. She reached Brian. She put an arm around her cousin and started to lead him towards the door. "Come on, let's get ya to the hall, and outta the way from these windows..."

Brian staggered along, taking a sharp breath as the pain answered his movements. "I'm sorry," he gasped out as MaryAnne helped him to sit in the hallway. "I'm sorry I shot you that time at the Boar’s Nest…I’m sorry for this whole mess…”

"It's alright, Brian, don't worry about that. Lemme see..." She gently took his hand that was holding his wound. She was going to have to make a run for the medical stuff down in the kitchen.

"Run," he whispered to her as he felt himself fading from consciousness. "We can...make a run for it...before...they find us." Brian shut his eyes.

"No, Brian! Don't you close your eyes! Stay awake now, don't you cut out on me!!" MaryAnne grabbed his shoulders and shook him a little.

The dark eyes opened, and Brian gave her a weak smile. "You...ain't gonna arrest me...Deputy."

MaryAnne gulped. Oh God..."Hang on, Brian...Just hang on..." She ran down the hall and down the stairs to the kitchen. She grabbed the bag of med supplies.

"MaryAnne, what's goin' on?" Rosco asked.

"He's been shot! You gotta try to hold 'em back Rosco!"

"I'm tryin', I'm tryin'! But I ain't gonna be able to hold 'em for long!"

"Do what ya can!" MaryAnne ran back up the stairs and dropped to her knees beside Brian. She quickly opened the bag and then looked at him.

Brian's brown eyes were still open, but they held a distant, glassy expression. He didn't react to MaryAnne's presence as she checked his pulse.

It was slow, but it was still there. MaryAnne quickly ripped apart the gauze packs and carefully unbuttoned his black shirt. She opened it and only glanced at the wound. She placed the gauze over the wound and tore open two more packs, placing the white cloths over the first one. She then grabbed the paper tape and tore two strips, securing the gauze.  Her hands shook a little and the sound of gunfire was becoming nauseating. She looked at Brian again, smoothed his dark hair off his forehead and then gently took a hold of him to lay him down in his back on the floor of the hall.

The sensation of being moved crept through the shock that was settling into Brian's body. He focused his eyes long enough to see MaryAnne hovering over him. As he grasped the frail thread of consciousness and held onto it, the sound of gunfire seemed to be closer than before. "Cousin..." he whispered through dry lips. "How bad...."

If they didn't get him out of there soon, it was gonna be bad.  Real bad. "You got a chest wound, Brian. Me and Rosco are gonna try to get you outta here as fast as we can okay? Just hang on..."

Brian's right hand moved to grip MaryAnne's wrist. "You let me gotta...let me go again." He squeezed the wrist for emphasis. "Get Rosco...and get outta here."

MaryAnne drew in a ragged breath. She swallowed the urge to cry and suddenly heard Rosco calling from below.  "MaryAnne!! I need help down here, I can't hold 'em off any longer!!"

She grabbed Brian's hand and gave it a squeeze. "You're a Coltrane, Brian. And you're my cousin. Don't ever forget that."

A faint smile crossed Brian's expression, and he returned the grip weakly. Then he let go of consciousness, and his hand slipped from MaryAnne’s grasp.

There was nothing more MaryAnne could do. She drew in a heavy sigh and looked to the heavens for a quick prayer. She then stood up and hurried back down the stairs.

Rosco looked over as she came down. "MaryAnne, I'm runnin' outta ammo."

"Rosco, listen. You know that stash of moonshine in the basement?"


"Go git it. I'll hold 'em off. Find some rags, get some matches. Go!"

Rosco nodded and headed for the basement stairs. MaryAnne went into the kitchen and quickly loaded her rifle with more ammo. She poked the barrel out the window and began firing.

Twelve Federal agents were out of commission. The dark of the night, the confusion, the explosion of the car, the guess of work of where bullets from the house were going to come next, ended up causing 5 of them to be hit by their own friendly fire. Commander Turner barked orders with his megaphone. He then privately congratulated his sharpshooters for getting Brian.  "Now if you can get those other two, we can get the hell out of here."

"No problem," one of them replied.  The early dawn was just starting to break.  It would only get easier for them – and harder for the Coltranes.

MaryAnne took out two more agents, hitting them in arms or shoulders. Rosco came into the kitchen behind her.  "Okay. What are we doing with them?"

She turned to look. Five jugs. That should do it. "Take 'em up stairs. Hurry." She ducked away from the window and led Rosco up the stairs. They walked past Brian and Rosco looked down at his cousin, nearly feeling sick.  "MaryAnne, is he---?"

"Not quite. We gotta hurry, if we're gonna git him outta here." She led Rosco into the bedroom that had been Brian's outlook and laid out her plan.  "Make a molotov cocktail. I'm gonna shoot from this window, get their attention over here. When I've got it, you toss that sucker out that window and try to get their cars. Can you do that?"

"Can I pitch a fastball?"

"Alright, get ready."

Rosco pulled the rags from his back pocket and the book of matches from his front pocket.  MaryAnne stepped over to the other window and took her position. She started shooting, thankful now for the early light of the dawn. Three more agents went down.

Rosco stuffed a rag into the spout of the first jug and then snapped a match to flame. "Alright, MaryAnne, I'm ready to play Sherman."

"Do it!"

Rosco lit the rag and hurriedly lobbed the jug out the other window.

Commander Turner glanced up as the glass jug and flicker of flame came flying through the air.  "LOOK OUT!!" he yelled and pushed one of his sharpshooters out of the way. The jug of moonshine slammed into the windshield of the Commander's sedan and the explosion took the entire car, and the vehicles on either side.

"YEEEEHAAA!!" MaryAnne exclaimed. She saw Turner and his sharpshooters rolling away from the burning vehicles. She picked off a couple of shots, before a flurry of bullets started sprinkling around the window.  "Alright, do this one!" She kept firing, while Rosco prepared the next jug. When he was ready, she ran to the other side of the room.

The agents were already confused with the explosion of the Commander's car. A few watched as the small flame came out of the sky and crashed onto the hood of one of the sedans, an orange fireball taking out it and the two cars on either side of it.

"HA!!" MaryAnne shouted. "Did you order original recipe or extra crispy?!?! KHEE!!"

Agents were running now. Some headed towards the old field. Others were too shocked, stunned or wounded to do anything. Even Commander Turner was down, stunned from the explosions. When the Chief's down, the warriors are suddenly at a loss.

"We don't have much time! Let's get the one's on the other side of the house." Rosco grabbed up the rags and two bottles and followed MaryAnne down the hall to the old guestroom. One lone federal sedan was parked, abandoned. The two agents with it were somewhere else. MaryAnne did a quick survey of the rest of that side of the house. There wasn't an agent to be found.

"That's our escape if your car doesn't start. We're gonna grab Brian and Flash. Come on," She turned on her heel and the two cousins ran out of the room.

*****                          *****                          *****                          *****

The telephone at the Finchburg County's Sheriff station hadn't rang this much since MaryAnne announced she was leaving the department. Citizens of the county had been honestly shocked and surprised, but when they found out she was moving to Hazzard, she was forgiven.  Now it was the name Coltrane that was being spoken by the callers again. There's shootin' goin' on at the old Coltrane homestead off Route 41, they told the Sheriff. A lot of it. Somebody else called saying they had seen a line of cars drive down Jug City Road heading towards Route 41 sometime around midnight. Must've been ten, fifteen at the most. It seemed odd at that hour. 

Sheriff Theodore Jackson had the feeling something weird was going on. But nobody had been out at the old Coltrane farm for over a year. He looked at the clock on the wall and figured 5 o'clock was late enough. He dialed over to the Hazzard Sheriff's station.

Enos jumped at the overly-loud ring in the quiet of the early morning. He snatched up the phone from the booking desk. "Hazzard County Sheriff's Department, Deputy Enos Strate speakin'."

"Good mornin' Deputy Strate," Ted said. "This is Sheriff Jackson, over in Finchburg. Could I speak to Rosco or MaryAnne if either one of them's awake?" He chuckled. His department was small too, and he knew the life of a rotating patrol schedule and getting maybe four hours of sleep if you were lucky.

Enos debated how to answer. In the end, he wasn't one to lie. "I'm sorry Sheriff Jackson, but they were both suspended the other day. It's just me and Lieutenant Ferren from the State Police here now."

Ted's jaw dropped. "Suspended? You mean the State Police has taken over the department?"

"Yessir, temporarily..."

Jackson knew he didn't have time to ask for the particulars. He had read some stuff from the Atlanta paper about a case that Rosco and MaryAnne had been involved in and it seemed as though things had gotten a bit hairy as of late. Ted suddenly had the awful feeling that Rosco and MaryAnne were out at the old farm right now.

"Enos, we got a situation over here in Finchburg. I've got a lot of calls from folks who are saying they're hearing shootin' goin' on at the old Coltrane farm. Have you any idea why there'd be shootin' goin' on out there at this hour of the morning??"

"Shootin'?!!" Enos stood up so fast that his hat nearly fell off. "Sheriff Jackson you'd better get over there right away! There's some awful folks after MaryAnne and Rosco and their cousin and if they found 'em at the farm there's gonna be all kindsa trouble-"

"Well, Enos you better tell the State Police Lieutenant there that we got a situation. I'm gonna need back up.   My departments only got 3 more deputies than yours! I'm on my way out there now!"

"Roger, I'm gone!" Enos slammed down the phone and hustled to the CB dispatch unit. "Deputy Strate to Lt. Ferren! Deputy Strate to Lt. Ferren! Come in Lieutenant! Please come in!"

Enos had repeated his broadcast once when Anna answered. "Lt. Ferren here, what's the emergency?"

"There's gunfire reported over at Finchburg County at MaryAnne's old place! Sheriff Jackson says-"

Anna cut the rest off. "I'm on it, Deputy! Head for Finchburg, I'm going to radio headquarters! Use extreme caution, Ferren out!" As the broadcast ended, Enos threw down the CB mike and ran out the booking room doors. He knew that Rosco and MaryAnne never needed him more than they did right now.

Four Finchburg County cruisers flew down Jug City Road, heading towards Route 41. They would be there inside five minutes. Their lights and sirens were quiet until they were within a mile of the farmhouse. 

Like the call of Gabriel's trumpet, the sirens blared over the hills. Rosco and MaryAnne nearly shed a tear at the sound. Flash squirmed in MaryAnne's arm, nudging the fully loaded rifle in under her arm. Rosco was carrying Brian, who still had a pulse, although it was extremely weak. They were hustling out the back door to Rosco's car.  The shadows of the tree and brush back of the house provided enough cover for them to get Flash and Brian into the car. Rosco then grabbed the gun from MaryAnne and jogged around to the passenger seat, while MaryAnne assumed the piloting duties.

The Pontiac's engine whined and churned three times before finally turning over. MaryAnne slammed the accelerator and swung the car around the tree. A few agents fired at the car, pinging doors and fenders. Rosco returned fire and then the Pontiac disappeared around the side of the house. On the straight run of the driveway, the sedan threw dirt and MaryAnne hit the lights to see the rest of the way to the road.

The sound of the police sirens stirred the Federals into action. As the Lemans swung around the house and headed down the driveway, the remaining, able-bodied agents scrambled for their cars. "GET THEM!" Commander Turner shouted over the CB. "GET THEM AT ANY COST!"

"We ain't outta the woods yet, MaryAnne," Rosco said.

"I know. Damn, I wish we had brought one of those jugs of shine."

"Just keep it to the floor. If we can get on the other side of those, hopefully friendly, sirens, we'll be in the clear."  Rosco leaned out the passenger window and aimed back at the cars behind them. There were three that he could see, only one had a functioning headlight. He aimed as well as he could, with the car going over bumps and potholes. He bit his tongue at telling her to keep it steady. With the gunfire crackling behind them, it would have been a ridiculous request.

The pursuing agents were quickly organizing their chase. The single-headlight sedan that Rosco was aiming at backed off slightly, allowing another car to come up to take it's position. As the lead car gained ground, an agent leaned out the passenger window with a rifle, and took aim at the fleeing Pontiac. Commander Turner watched from his own car with anticipation. His sharpshooters never missed.

Rosco and MaryAnne flinched as the back window suddenly exploded.  "Damn!" MaryAnne said, pushing the accelerator as far as it would go. The sedan was giving everything it had. She quickly looked around the countryside and spotted an old cow path...which had always made a good escape from pursuing ATF agents.  "Hang on, Rosco." The sedan showered dirt around as it negotiated the turn and the car disappeared down the narrow path.

The Feds were forced to pursue single-file. The rustic trail was nearly swallowed by the high cornfields on either side, making passing impossible. Commander Turner radioed his sharpshooter with a snarl.  "SHOOT THE GAS TANK! BACK OFF AND SHOOT THE GAS TANK!"

The sharpshooter's car eased off the Pontiac and fired a shot. The rut-sown path caused his aim to be miscalculated, and the bullet sang a ricochet off the rear bumper. The rifle was pumped and reloaded, and another shot was fired. The lead hit the trunk, just above the license plate. The odds, however, were in the gunman's favor.  He only had to hit the right spot once.

Rosco heard the ping of the bullet off the bumper. He knew they were going for the gas tank. He turned inward in his seat and aimed through the busted back window at the grill of the Federal sedan. He fired, and the bullet crashed through the windshield of the grey car...and into the shoulder of the driver.

MaryAnne caught a glimpse in her side mirror as the sedan shot into the cornfield, mowing down a few stalks before coming to a stop.  "Damn," Rosco said, surprised. "And I was only aiming for the grill."

"Well, that's one down, two to go. Why don't you just keep aiming for the grill?" She grinned.

"DAMN!!" Turner swore as his sharpshooters veered into the corn. His own driver was forced to slow as the lead vehicle lost control, and the sirens in the background were gradually becoming louder. It gave him an idea, and he reached for the radio. "This is FBI Commander Turner calling all local law enforcement! We have agents under fire, repeat, agents under fire, immediate backup requested! Agents in jeopardy!" Turner went on to describe the fleeing Pontiac and their approximate location. An answer came back over the air.

"Sheriff Jackson of Finchburg County responding, we are en route to your position. ETA in three minutes...." his broadcast was echoed by another transmission. "This is Lt. Ferren of the State Police responding, I'm en route with backup."

Commander Turner felt confident again. "All units, use any necessary force. Suspects have killed one agent and wounded several others, public safety at risk. I'll take full responsibility." As the local units acknowledged his instructions, Turner smiled. He wouldn't be getting his hands dirty after all.

Sheriff Jackson was true to his word. Racks of red flashing lights streamed onto the dirt trail moments later, coming up steadily behind the Federal cars. Turner nodded to his driver. "Keep going, we'll make a show of being fired on. Then we'll 'lose control' of our car and let the local yahoos do the trigger work." A grim smile spread on the Commander's face. It was a plan that the Don himself would be proud of.

Turner glanced back down the cow path. As the trail crested over a small rise, he could see where it would eventually end on a rural highway. There, two more squads were approaching. They were a good distance away, and their racks of flashing red lights were tiny in the horizon. The speed at which they traveled would make up for it soon, he noted. Then the Coltranes would be trapped.

Rosco and MaryAnne stared at the cruisers that were far ahead.  MaryAnne licked her lips. "Um...Rosco, I suddenly don't have a good feeling about this anymore."  Rosco shook his head. "I don't either..."

"I can't turn around," she said, her voice breaking. "I can't do nothin’. Rosco, if Turner's got them trying to back him up..."

Rosco propped his elbow on the door and covered his face with his hands. He closed his eyes. It was all over now....

The sirens became louder, their eerie wails echoing off the hills. The squads on the intersecting highway were near the trail's juncture. The Feds continued to assault the fleeing Pontiac with gunfire, with the Finchburg police bringing up the rear.

It would be over in minutes. Rosco opened his eyes and saw the two squads moving to block the juncture ahead. There they waited, like swamp alligators with open jaws. The headlights of the patrol cars swung in towards the dirt road as they came to point. There was a narrow space in between the squads, and Rosco imagined that they were setting road spikes, rather than risk a game of chicken by coming head-on. He swallowed and looked over at MaryAnne. "Sweetheart...I'm sorry..."

MaryAnne was shaking. She kept the Pontiac running at it's current speed, only because there was nothing else to do. A shaky hand quickly wiped the tear from her eye.

"It's alright, Rosco," she said softly. "We did everything we could..."

Rosco put a hand on MaryAnne's shoulder. "I'm proud of you," he whispered. "I always been proud of you."

MaryAnne nodded. "I know, Rosco." She touched her left hand to his. "I love you..."

"Love ya too," he answered hoarsely. A shuddering sigh came from the suspended Sheriff, who at that moment felt very, very old. He turned and glanced into the backseat, where a wounded young man lay pale and unconscious. Rosco realized that Brian might have already passed on. If so, it may have been a mercy. The ex-Sheriff felt a wave of grief wash over him for both his young cousins. His own end didn't bother him half as much. "Wonder what he'd say," Rosco whispered as he turned forward again. "About us bein' takin' down by fellow cops." There was no time for an answer as the road came to an end.

The two patrol cars loomed there with their lights flashing and engines running, their headlights pointed in. There was still a narrow space between the two cars, a tight squeeze that was barely passable. One of the patrol cars was a white Plymouth Fury, the other a State Patrol sedan. Rosco sat up straight in the seat, afraid to hope. “MaryAnne!!"

She saw it. "HANG ON, ROSCO!!" MaryAnne shifted the battered brown Pontiac Lemans towards the side of the cow path. She let off the gas and then slammed it back down again and aimed the nose of the car at the edge, counting on physics to do it’s job.

Rosco grabbed on to the roof column as the car went up on two wheels. Flash let out a howl from the back floor and the bruised but not beaten car squeezed by the two police cars. There was no spike strip to stop them and the Pontiac cleared through the passage.

The second the Pontiac shot through the gap, the two patrol cars leapt forward and closed off the road, their front bumpers welcoming the Federal vehicles. Screaming brakes, dust and smoke rose from the trail, along with the sound of crunching metal. It was the kind of chaos that was worthy of Hazzard County, and confirmation came over the CB a moment later. "Songbird and Bear, ya'll keep that hammer down," Enos said cheerfully.

"KHEEEHAA!!" MaryAnne exclaimed. 

"I don't believe it!!" Rosco said. He was grinning widely and looked out the broken back window at the commotion they were leaving behind. "Enos, you rascal! I love it, I love it!!"

MaryAnne laughed. The rush of adrenaline and the victory of the battle gave both her and Rosco a new sense of determination. Now they had to help Brian, if they still could. Tri-County hospital, here we come....

As the worn Pontiac blazed down the highway, the eastern sky glowed with the first hue of morning. The distant call of sirens blended with the rush of air through the car windows, and the Pontiac soon streaked by more oncoming squads. One state patrol car, then two, then several more ignored the gold-colored car and headed towards the old trail. MaryAnne exchanged a smile with Rosco as the last of the squads roared by them. It was good to have allies.

Tri-County hospital was twenty miles away, but the heavy foot on the accelerator measured the distance in minutes. MaryAnne weaved through traffic as the sun peeked up in the windshield, and brought the Pontiac to a tire-searing halt in front of Tri-County emergency. A blare of the horn brought running medics, and Rosco jumped out the car as it rocked in hastily-thrown park. He opened the car door and stood aside as the hospital staff took over. Brian was wheeled away in a gurney before MaryAnne could get a look at him.

She stood absently looking at the entrance to the emergency room where the gurney had disappeared.  She the turned and stepped to the car, leaning on the edge of the fender and hood, smelling the exhaust and oil from the still hot engine. The faint vapors played with the lines of the pavement and MaryAnne now realized the extent of her exhaustion. The reality of everything that had happened was now sinking in.

Rosco came up behind her and put an arm around her shoulders. He then pulled her into a hug and she cried. She cried for herself and Rosco. And for Brian, knowing it was possible that he was already gone.  "It's alright," Rosco whispered to her as she started to sob. "Just let it go, MaryAnne...just let it go." He looked at the rising sun, ablaze in orange and red and listened to his young cousin cry. He then closed his eyes when his own tears started.

After a few moments of unreserved emotion, the ex-Sheriff sighed and pulled away. He dug for a handkerchief and offered it to MaryAnne, who was regaining her composure with effort. Rosco put an arm around her shoulder and led her inside the hospital.

The hush over the emergency room wasn't encouraging. A nurse flew by with something in her hand and disappeared down the hall. Rosco and MaryAnne stood unnoticed for some time, until an apologetic clerk approached them. She carried a folded bundle and a clipboard. "Excuse me," she said in a soft tone. "Are you relatives of the ER patient?"

MaryAnne stared at the bundle and the clipboard. Her heart jumped but she managed a nod as Rosco vocally confirmed it.  "Yes, we are..." He wanted to ask if Brian was okay, but something told him that it might have been a wasted question.

The clerk handed the clipboard to Rosco. It contained nothing more sinister than an admittance form and treatment authorization. Rosco signed it and handed it back, the question in his eyes impossible to ignore.

The clerk set the clipboard down and handed him the bundle.  It was Brian’s black jacket, neatly folded. "We're doing everything we can," she said as Rosco took the jacket and stared at it. "The doctor will speak with you when he's out of surgery."

Rosco and MaryAnne both let out the breath they had been holding. Rosco then nodded. "Thank you," he said.

A slow hour passed, then another. A state patrol car and a Hazzard County squad pulled up to the hospital, both sporting damage to the grills. Lt. Ferren and Enos strode quickly to the reception area, then abruptly changed directions when they spotted Rosco and MaryAnne waiting in the hall. Enos was relieved to see the two of them unharmed, and he half-ran to their side with the trooper in his wake. "Rosco! MaryAnne! I was hopin' we wouldn't find ya here, but if we had too, I'm glad to see you're okay," he said breathlessly.

"Yeah, we're alright, Enos," MaryAnne said and smiled at the deputy. She looked back and forth between Enos and Anna. "Didja stop them Feds?"

"Like a brick wall." Anna smiled back. "My captain is sorting that out right now. Last I heard, the Bureau of Internal Affairs was responding to a tip from Agent Mayson. The U.S. District Attorney is going to be working with the D.A. in Atlanta on this - it's blown wide open."

MaryAnne looked at Rosco who seemed almost unsure. "You mean...somebody believes us?" he asked.

Anna nodded at Rosco. "Seems that Miss Coltrane's reputation among the state police is pretty solid. All I had to do was voice my suspicions to Captain Richardson, and he authorized the rest. Agent Mayson was also able to turn up some evidence against Commander Turner, during his absence. With the expert testimony from your cousin, the D.A.'s office might be able to put this whole thing to bed."

"I don't know if it's gonna be that easy," MaryAnne said softly. "Brian was shot...."

The Lieutenant's face fell, and Enos mumbled condolences. He took off his hat. "Is he..."

"We don't know," Rosco said. "He's been in surgery for at least a couple of hours now. They haven't told us a thing since we brought him in."

"I'm sorry," Anna said sincerely. She looked away for a moment, her thoughts her own. Then she reached into a pocket and removed two objects. "I was hoping to return these under better circumstances," she began. "Captain Richardson got word from the D.A...." she opened her palm to show two silver badges.

Rosco and MaryAnne stared at the badges. MaryAnne's expression remained neutral and she made no motion to take hers. Rosco hesitantly reached for his and picked it up. He held the badge between his fingers and looked at his cousin.  "MaryAnne?"

She shook her head. She couldn't do it. She couldn't take that badge with the possibility of losing Brian. And after the treatment she and Rosco had received from the D.A. before, everything be damned if he thought that by returning their badges to them, it would make everything better. "I can't take it back, Rosco," she whispered. "I just can't...not now..."

Rosco paused and looked at his badge, turning it in his fingers. He was thinking pretty much the same thing as MaryAnne and the badge suddenly didn't seem as important anymore. Carefully, he put back in Anna's palm. "Maybe we can wait for those better circumstances," he said to the Lt.

Anna said nothing, though she nodded in understanding. With what MaryAnne and Rosco had gone through recently, their lack of enthusiasm was not surprising. She put the badges back in her pocket. "If there's nothing else I can do..." she said awkwardly, "I'll go back to Hazzard and keep things running...until you're ready to resume your duties."

MaryAnne nodded, still looking down at the floor. Rosco looked up at the Lt. to express his gratitude. There was something about this young woman, the way she held herself, the look of her uniform, the sympathy and concern in her blue eyes. It was so familiar to him it was haunting. Anna gave him a considerate smile, a somewhat apologetic one at the same time.

"Thank you, Lt.," he said. It was good to know that there were still officers like Anna out there. It made his faith in law enforcement not seem so empty.

"You're welcome." Anna basked in Rosco's appreciation for a moment longer. Then she turned away and left, her purposeful stride echoing down the hospital corridor. As the Lieutenant disappeared around the corner, Enos cleared his throat. "I'm sorry y'all," he said in hushed tones. "If I woulda told Lt. Ferren 'bout findin' that stolen patrol car like I was supposta, none of this might'a happened."

"Oh Enos," MaryAnne said softly. "If you had told the Lt. about finding that car, you probably wouldn't even be here right now."

"It don't make no difference now anyway," Rosco said.

Enos accepted their words but still looked troubled. He put his hat back on and straightened it. "When y'all hear anythin' on how he's doin', will you let me know?"

"We will," Rosco said. "And...thanks, Enos."

Enos smiled slightly and gave a nod. "Y'all take care. I'll keep the radio on," he said as he turned and walked the same route that Anna had.

MaryAnne propped her elbow on the armrest and placed her forehead between her thumb and index finger. She and Rosco sat in silence for several minutes, each lost in their own thoughts, both numb from all that had taken place, exhausted, worried, scared. They had just taken on the Syndicate and rotten FBI agents.  They had survived, outwitted, out-shot and out-drove them.

Trained killers...whipped by two country sheriffs and a former member of their own kind.

The biggest battle had been won, and though the war wasn't necessarily over.  Neither Rosco nor MaryAnne felt particularly victorious at that moment.

They had only wanted to save their kin. There weren't that many Coltranes left, could anyone blame them for trying? Whether or not they succeeded...was in the hands of the Lord now.

It was almost noon when a doctor walked towards them. He was drawn and haggard-looking, his graying temples matching the color of his eyes. He forced a smile, however, for the sake of the patient's relatives who had waited so long for news. "I'm doctor Osborn," he said in greeting. "I'm sorry I couldn't meet with you sooner."

"It's alright, Doc," Rosco said. "We understand."

"Thank you. Now let me tell you, this was high-risk surgery. The bullet entered here..." the doctor said with a point to his own chest, near the heart. "And it was close enough to a major artery to be a problem." Doc Osborn changed posture and folded his arms. "By all accounts, this young man had only the slimmest chances of survival.  But apparently, the same constitution that allows a Coltrane to survive a car wreck, allowed your cousin to survive a serious bullet wound." The doctor unfolded his arms and smiled wearily. "He's going to be alright. He regained consciousness a few minutes ago and his vitals are stable."

Rosco and MaryAnne both looked at the doctor in shock and then broke into huge grins. MaryAnne looked at Rosco and gripped his arm, nearly laughing in relief.  "Oh my Lord!" she said.

"Khee!" Rosco said. "That's good to hear, Doc!"

"Can we see him?" MaryAnne asked.

"He's been asking for you. I'll take you to the ICU area." It was moments like these that let Doc Osborn enjoy being a surgeon. Despite his weariness, his steps were quick and light as he brought Rosco and MaryAnne to Brian's room. "Not too long," he suggested as he opened the door for them.

Both of them nodded. "Thank you, doctor," MaryAnne said, touching the Doctor Osborn on the arm before he could walk away. "Thank you so much."

The doctor smiled and shut the door, leaving MaryAnne and Rosco in the room with Brian. It was silent except for the regular beep of a heart monitor, and the softly amplified breathing of the oxygen-fed patient. Brian lay umoving on the hospital bed, his eyes shut and his head resting back on the pillow. The top of his bare shoulders were visible from under the sheet, the cords from the monitors preventing use of a smock.  Pale from his injury, and lacking his usual black clothing, he looked younger and more vulnerable than his cousins would have imagined possible.

Slowly, Rosco and MaryAnne stepped closer to the bed. Rosco put his arm around MaryAnne's shoulders and they looked at Brian for a moment.  "Brian?" MaryAnne said softly.

The dark eyes opened gradually, and remained half-lidded with the after-effects of anesthetic. A small, weak smile crept up the corners of Brian's mouth. "Hey...Deputy," he said in a horse whisper.  "Bring any cigarettes?"

MaryAnne chuckled and shook her head. "Where have I heard that before?" she said. "How you feelin'?"

"Like hell," he said honestly. "But I…also feel lucky." Brian’s dark eyes glanced over at his cousins, expressing wordless gratitude.

Rosco smiled.  "You missed one heckuva car chase."

"Damn...." Brian whispered. "I love a good car chase."

 MaryAnne grinned. "You would have loved this one." She saw the look of affection on Brian’s face and took a hold of his hand. "You would've loved seeing Rosco here act like General Sherman too."

"Yeah…I would have. What happened?"

"There was some old moonshine in the basement. Still volatile moonshine, mind you." She grinned. "Anyway, after you passed out, I ran back down stairs and told Rosco to go get some jugs, rags and matches." She paused and looked at Rosco. "The Sheriff here took out about six federal cars with those Molotov cocktails."

"Hot damn," Brian said with a weak grin at Rosco. "Though I'm surprised he didn't blow us all to kingdom come in the process...khee."

"Rosco's gotta a pretty decent throwing arm," MaryAnne said and smiled. "It sure took them Feds by surprise that's for sure."

"Good." Brian shut his eyes briefly and licked his lips. "There's too many Feds anyway. What that damn commander?"

"He's been caught," Rosco announced proudly. "The State Police captain and Agent Mayson have got some stuff put together to nail him and his cohorts. All they need is your testimony."

“Yeah…” It was something Brian didn’t want to think about right now.  The suspension of his cousins, the dead FBI agent, and the D.A.’s usual charm had him worried.   He’d lived through more than he expected to, but it wasn’t over.  For any of them.

MaryAnne saw his exhaustion, and she gave his hand a reassuring squeeze.  “Listen, you get some rest ya hear? Rosco and I will come back later and see you, ok?"

Brian took a tired breath. "Awright." He let go of MaryAnne's hand and shut his eyes. As his cousin’s footsteps got to the doorway, he opened them again, and smiled. "Thanks, y’all...."

MaryAnne and Rosco both stopped and turned to Brian. They each gave a smile and MaryAnne said, "Yer welcome, Brian. We'll see ya later."


As the door shut behind his cousins, and the echo of their footsteps faded down the hall, Brian shuddered. He didn't want to be alone. Memories of how Deuce stalked MaryAnne in the hospital haunted him.  Though he was desperately tired, he was afraid to fall asleep.

Every time someone walked down the hall, he tensed. As a silhouette passed by his door, he cringed. He felt totally, utterly helpless and he loathed the feeling.

Maybe I should have killed Turner when I had 'em in my sights, he thought sourly. Or maybe I should have killed Mancini when I went back to Atlanta after that botched hit. The bleeps of the heart monitor came slightly faster. He knew, realistically, that he couldn’t have done either one and lived with himself anymore.  He’d changed, and the realization scared him.  So did all the possibilities of the future.  What if the jury gets bought? What if they get off the hook?

Syndicate-paranoia was an old reflex, and it was filling Brian like floodwater. What does the D.A. mean by a 'suspended sentence' anyway?

What if they come after me again? There's no tellin' how many of my old buddies are still loose, no tellin' what agents are still on the take...the fatalistic thinking was broken by the sound of footsteps coming down the hall. Brian turned his head slightly and held his breath, listening. The footfalls were heavy and long. It sounded like whoever was coming was wearing boots. That ruled out a doctor or nurse. And there was more than one person approaching. The sound of the clomping boots slowed, then softened as they approached Brian's room.

The ex-hitman shrank down into the bed. He recalled the stories he heard in the Syndicate, about mercenary hitmen that went after other professionals. Maybe the Feds had a back-up plan. Maybe Mancini never showed all his cards…

Brian swallowed as the doorknob clicked open softly. The heart monitor beeped like Morse code.

Brian shut his eyes tightly. He used to be a brave person. He used to be on the other end of the gun. The footsteps were quiet, and the door barely made a sound as it closed. Brian sensed the two men on either side of him. He could feel their eyes studying him, feel their breath in the air. It was all too eerie, and the last of Brian's courage fled. "Get it over with," he said in a thick whisper.

There was a startled breath shared by the two visitors, then quiet chuckling. "Oh, it ain't over between us," one said with amusement. Brian flinched at the voice, recognizing it, but unable to name it due to the deafening thud of his own heartbeat. He kept his eyes closed. "Who sent you?" he asked with what bravery he could muster.

One of the men leaned in closer, so that his voice was directly in Brian's ear. "I'll tell ya who sent us," the man said in a deep voice. "Rosco and MaryAnne." With the words, the two broke out in open laughter, startling Brian. His eyes flew open and he groaned at the visage before him. Two Dukes looked back at him with huge grins. "How's it feel, buddy?" The blonde one said cockily.

"Damn you," Brian grumbled, but it only made them laugh harder. He frowned and felt himself flush in embarrassment. "Awright, very funny. Very, hell." He couldn't stop his own chuckle that answered them.

The dark-haired one chortled and leaned on the bed rail. "I figure we're almost even," he said. "Whattaya think, Bo? I've never seen anybody look so scared in my life..."

Brian swore at them under his breath, but it was half-hearted. Bo leaned in closer, his dark blue eyes dancing with mirth. "Nah, we're a long way from bein' even with this polecat. I say we stick around awhile."

Brian rolled his eyes, but he was inwardly relieved to have the company. "Y'all are just plain bad news, ya know that," he said in a mild complaint. Bo and Luke took it as a cue to imitate Rosco. "Bad news, bad news!" they echoed together, and Brian put a hand over his eyes. Underneath it, however, was a huge grin.

Chapter Nine