The Gift that Keeps on Giving

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Tough love is a wonderful thing. It can keep people going and going when here is no sense at all in going on, and stopping is the most sensible thing in the world. My father was an early pioneer in the tough love department. When I was a teenager, I lived pretty rough. My room was a nightmare; things tossed everywhere, dirty clothes covered the carpet so that it could not even been seen, and books and papers walked up the walls to nearly cover the windows. I didn't care. I knew where everything was, and no one I knew cared. Except my father. He cared very deeply.

One evening he came into my room and made a simple pronouncement. "Clean this mess up or get out."

"Huh?" I was not very articulate as a teenager. Not that I'm much better since.

"You heard me. Now do it." He left the room, and shut the door. I went back to what I was doing.

The next day when I returned from school, the door was locked. I didn't have a key; I'd never needed one. I shook the knob, surprised. I shook the knob again, and peeked in the window beside the door. "Hello!" I had called. There was no answer.

I walked around the back of the house to go in the back door. My father was at there, watering some flowers with a hose

"Hey, dad." I waved a bit. "The front door's gotten locked."

"I know that. Do you take me for a fool?"

That had set me back a bit. "No. No."

"Is your room clean?"

I thought for just a split second, and decided to go with a half-lie, half-truth. After all, if he had looked in, he'd know.

"I started."

"You're lying, boy."

"No, really, dad, I started it."

"Liar. And a slob. I told you last night. Now get out."


"Get out."

"Dad, I," my words broke down.

"I said to get out." He turned and sprayed the hose on me. "Now."

I turned and never went back. He died two years later in an accident at work, and mom moved to Florida. Oh well. The indiscretions of a misspent youth.

As I had feared, our passage was not going unmarked. Elizabeth had found the medication in the glove box. She gulped a pill, and I took another.

"Is that all we need?"

She shrugged. "I hope so."

The black helicopter I had spotted in the rear view mirror came closer. "We need to be sure, Elizabeth, because I don't think we're going to be going much further in the car." The helicopter closed on us and I saw some large guns pointed our way.

Elizabeth reached under the seat. She pulled out a small looking handgun, but I noticed it had an unusually wide muzzle.

"What's that, dear?"

"Flame-gun." She opened the window and leaned out. A spurt of gunfire greeted her, and she jerked her head back in. "They're shooting at us!"

"Doesn't surprise me." I concentrated on the road ahead. I had the sneaking suspicion that if that rear assault did not work, they would try something from the front. "Can you take him out?"

"Maybe. But I don't think the taxpayers are going to like me shooting down their helicopter."

Another burst of gunfire shattered the rear window.

"I'm the only taxpayer here, and I heartily approve. Shoot it down!"

Elizabeth nodded and crawled half way out of the window. I could see the helicopter darting, and hear the rotors roaring. The vibration shook the little car. I had a vague, passing thought, wondering what sort of accident a nuclear powered car would cause. Not pretty, I thought. Elizabeth sized up her target. Another burst of gunfire took off the mirror beside her, and she squeezed her own trigger. The roar was deafening. I didn't see whatever projectile she fired, but the helicopter exploded in a burst of fire that pushed our car forward.

"That's acceleration," I shouted. The helicopter's remains sprayed across the roadway, and bits of it hit the car. "Wow. That was good shooting, Elizabeth." I was shouting, I was crying.

She slid herself in, a vision in black, sliding back into the seat with the same grace she slid into a seat at a fine restaurant. One would never know she had just shot down a multi-million dollar helicopter, with a crew of perhaps eight or ten. "Shame," she said, "But sometimes things have to be, and it was either them or us. Better them than us."

I saw the nail strips the instant I ran over them. I gritted my teeth to wait for the tires to pop, but nothing happened. I glanced at Elizabeth.

"Puncture proof," she said. "Come on. That's the least we can do."

"We've got to ditch this car," I said. "They saw it on the camera back there, when I came on this road. They'll send more helicopters until they get us."

She nodded. "There's a place up ahead," she said. "A rest area. We can stop there, and push the car off the road. If we can switch vehicles, it might give us time to get closer to D.C."

I nodded. "Better than this, but we have to face it. Everything on the road is a target, because there is nothing on the road. Anything moving is going to get their attention, sooner or later. And we'll need to stop for fuel if we're out of this."

Elizabeth pulled open the storage under the seat. She removed ammunition and put it in her jacket pocket. "There's no choice, Jack. Even if we have to walk."

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