THE GAUNTLET by Robert Petyo

An icy wave slapped the back of Trooper Rosario’s neck when the Mustang shot past his patrol car. It was three in the morning and the two lane highway was devoid of traffic as he pursued. When he got close enough to the Mustang to read the plate, he turned on his overhead light and siren. Still, the Mustang continued for about half a mile before weaving to the shoulder, smothering the passenger door against the guardrail. Rosario tightened his grip on the wheel and rolled to a stop.

He clicked on the camera and tapped the radio.

“This is Nine Baker Nine with a seven-oh-one. Requesting assistance. I’m northbound on route seven, seven two miles past the Blinker Street exit. Have stopped the vehicle. Blue Mustang. License number abel baker five six five six. Matches item on dispatch list. Copy?”

“Ten four.” The tinny voice crackled through the speaker. “Will dispatch backup. Do not approach vehicle. Repeat. Do not approach vehicle.”

Right, Rosario thought as he clicked off the radio and unlocked his holster. Sit here until Marin realized he had been made and took off. Then Rosario would lose a suspect for the third time this month. His losing streak was a hot topic at the barracks. A female hitchhiker suspected of assaulting drivers with a pocket knife had slipped past him on a random DUI check, claiming to be the driver’s wife. Rosario never saw the knife she kept in the man’s side. And later a man who had snatched his kid from his estranged wife had talked Rosario out of giving him a speeding ticket, convincing him he was taking the boy to see his sick grandmother.

Not this time, Rosario thought. No one gets past me this time.

The blue Mustang had been stolen by Dave Marin, a suspect in a homicide. Police had been closing in on him at a Philadelphia restaurant when he snatched the car from a young man who had just arrived with his date. Marin escaped the police in the city traffic. That had been hours ago and miles away, and the radio chatter indicated everyone believed Marin had switched cars and was fleeing to the coast.

But here he was.

A cold blast of air hit Rosario as he eased out of his vehicle, keeping his eyes on the Mustang. Marin had shut it down so the only light came from Rosario’s vehicle. He left his gun holstered. Drawing it as he approached would only tip him off, but at the slightest sound or movement, he would draw his weapon.

Rosario had never drawn his weapon while on patrol. He had only been a trooper for two years, following in his father’s footsteps, against the wishes of his mother, and his wife.

Kathy.

The thought of his wife home now with their three-month-old baby caused him to hesitate. But he was committed now.

His ears throbbed with the pounding of his heart, and he wondered if he would even hear the Mustang if it revved up.

Another step and he was even with the rear bumper but still couldn’t see the driver through the oppressive night. His headlights brushed the back window but barely penetrated the murk.

Another step and he was even with the back tire. His hands began to tremble and he clamped down on the butt of the gun. Even with the door, he drew the weapon.

He could see Marin now, a shadow behind the wheel, rigid, facing forward. He tapped the window with his gun barrel.

No movement.

“Roll down the window.” His own voice was a canon in the night.

Still no movement.

Rosario hooked his left hand on the door handle.

That’s when he noticed that there was someone on the passenger’s side.

He yanked open the door and the driver spilled out like a doll. Rosario leapt back, struggling for balance as he looked across the front seat.

A woman was reaching toward him.

Marin was on the ground, bloodied from a knife that had been rammed into his side. Rosario stared and it all registered in seconds. The hitchhiker. Marin had picked her up figuring he would more easily elude the police who weren’t looking for a couple.

Rosario only froze for a second, but it was a second too long. The woman fired as he turned his attention to her. As a massive fist hit him in the chest he squeezed the trigger. He remembered firing a second time as he went down, heaped on Marin’s corpse. He fought the pain and kept his eyes open.

The woman moaned and was draped across the car seat as if lunging at him a final time. She had dropped Marin’s gun and now gasped for breath.

Rosario heard the sounds of sirens as the black night smothered him. No one had slipped past him this time.


Robert Petyo’s crime stories have been published in Mystery Time, Hardboiled, P.I. Magazine, 100 CROOKED LITTLE CRIME STORIES, Storyteller magazine, and on the web at Blue Murder, Alternate Realities, Plots With Guns, Mouthfull of Bullets, and Thrilling Detective Fiction.


Copyright © 2016 Robert Petyo. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of the author is prohibited.

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