The chopped hog came roaring over the hill like a black streak of motorized lightning. The grungy-looking rider struggled to cling to the ape-hangers of the big 1200, and yet even as fierce winds clawed at him, threatening to pluck him from his seat, he laughed hysterically. Long tangles of blond hair streaming over his shoulders, he swerved crazily to the left, then jerked haphazardly back to the right, cutting in and out of both lanes, hooting like a mad owl.
A short distance ahead of him in the opposite lane came a large yellow school bus. “Holy shit!” exploded from the driver’s mouth, causing all fifteen kids riding the bus that Friday afternoon to stare in terror at the golden-haired rider speeding toward them on the highway connecting Crete with Sprague there in lower Nebraska.
Thirteen-year-old Rain Nelson sprang up from his seat at the back of the bus, his shaggy black hair trailing to his slender shoulders. “Cal Roberts!” he gasped in recognition of the oncoming biker.
Beside Rain, his twelve-year-old brother attempted to stand up, as well, but Rain pushed him back into their seat, protectively. He then slid in beside him and said, “Grab onto the seat in front of us and tuck your head between your arms, Chris!”
Small and scrawny Chris looked at him with widened eyes, but followed his example, shooting terrified glances at his brother. As they lowered their heads behind the seat, Rain whispered, “We’ll be okay, Chris! Just hold on!”
And then out on the roadway, Cal Roberts swerved directly in front of the bus on his huge, black iron horse, screaming like a mad man, his tires screeching, black smoke trailing behind him.
The bus driver, Ben Long Soldier, cranked the wheel hard to the right to avoid running over the rider careening crazily toward them. At the last possible second, Cal’s eyes shot wide in alarm as he realized he was destined to have a head-on with the bright yellow school bus. “Holy Jesus!” he cried, cranking his handle bars to the right and leaning into a swift turn. His last-ditch maneuver sent him flying out of the path of the oncoming bus, and yet one of his ape-hangers clipped its side, creating a horrible screeching sound as it scraped all the way down its length.
Shooting free of the bus, Cal braked hard, then skidded into a side-ways slide down another thirty feet of highway, before crashing into the deep ditch beside the road.
Clawing spastically at the wheel of the bus, Ben Long Soldier felt the back end fishtailing as he braked hard to avoid careening down into the ditch on the left side of the road. Instead, the one ton metal bus shot forward like a rocket, left the roadway on the right, and for several long seconds was airborne. The bus then dropped through ten feet of empty air before coming to an explosive crash in the dark waters of Miller’s Pond taking up a good portion of the pasture land beyond the highway.
As Ben’s head struck the windshield, he caught a glimpse of a herd of red heifers fleeing from the pond in terror as the bus came crashing down into their drinking hole. Dark clouds gathered at the edge of his mind, and he slid out of his seat and fell heavily to the floor.
At the back of the bus, Rain did a face-plant on the seat in front of him, biting his lip and smacking his forehead. He held firm to the seat, however, and rode out the rest of the hard ride, bouncing up in the air and coming back down with an abrupt jolt that caused his teeth to rattle. For several seconds, all he saw was an explosion of silvery water shooting up on either side of the doomed bus. When his vision cleared, he saw Chris writhing beside him, his broken arm causing him a great deal of pain.
“Rain!” his younger brother cried. “My arm’s broke! I heard the bone snap!”
Rain grimaced as he stared down at the white bone sticking out of Chris’s left forearm. He reached for him to pull him out into the aisle, but a sick feeling swept up over him and he found himself falling. And despite the fact that he always assumed that he would play the hero in even the worst situations, his little brother’s broken arm took its toll on him, and he passed out.
A few moments later, when he came to, Rain found himself being carried in the strong grasp of Ben Long Soldier. Somehow the big Lakota had already managed to remove Chris and several other injured kids from the bus. He had seated them in the curve of a berm overlooking the pond. As Ben gently placed him on the ground beside Chris, Rain offered his brother a weak frown. “Sorry,” he said, quietly. “So sorry I couldn’t have been more help to you.”
Chris gritted his teeth and said, “It’s okay, Rain.”
The little blue-eyed kid then looked up at the blood flowing freely down Ben’s forehead and into the long strands of his dark hair. “Oh, my God, Ben!” he cried. “You’ve got a nasty gash on your head!”
The big Lakota wiped at his forehead, in an attempt to staunch the flow of blood. Rain hastily removed his shirt, leaving himself standing there in a black, sleeveless wife beater, the orange emblem of Harley Davison dominating the center of his chest. Rain handed his shirt up to the large Indian. “Here, Ben,” he said, staring worriedly at the deep cut on his head. “Go ahead and use my shirt to mop up some of that blood. It’s okay, it ain’t really my favorite anyway.”
“Thanks,” Ben murmured softly, placing the wadded up shirt against his wound even as he headed back to the bus to retrieve the last kid still inside the bus.
Rain glanced back into the faces of a dozen of his fellow students scattered before the berm, their faces pale and filled with distress, all of them in shock as a result of their school bus careening off the road and crashing into Miller’s Pond.
“Who was that on the bike?” Chris asked, holding his broken arm out to his side, a look agony on his tear-streaked face. “Did you see who that guy was, Rain?”
“No,” Rain lied, his biker code of never snitching on anyone kicking in. “It all happened too fast.”
Chris narrowed his eyes, partly in pain, partly in suspicion. “But I heard you say something just before the guy nearly hit us. What did you say?”
“Nothing,” Rain said, abruptly, giving Chris a clear indication that the questions were over. “We need to get you an ambulance. Look at Bobby Morris. A broken leg. And Kerry Stuart. A broken arm, too.”
Chris said, “Ben radioed in. Help should be getting here soon.”
As Ben returned, a barely conscious kid in his arms, Rain watched the Lakota gently place the boy on the ground overlooking the pond. At a sudden noise from the nearby highway, Rain looked in that direction to see the drunken biker staggering up out of the ditch, blood from a cut below his left cheek, trickling into his golden beard.
Cal Robert’s eyes were bloodshot and he squinted in pain, clenching his teeth. “Damn you!” he snarled, angrily as he focused on Ben standing there in the pasture watching him. “Damn you, Chief! I’d say you owe me a new bike! You ran me off the road. And now, my Harley is mangled and dead in that ditch behind me, Tonto!”
He turned back to the ditch, shaking his head in disgust as he sur-veyed the damage to his bike. The drunken biker belched loudly, placed his hands on his knees, and retched and threw up.
Ben started toward the barbed wire fence separating the pasture from the ditch beyond, but Rain said, “Ben, don’t provoke him. He’s drunk and mad. That’s a bad combination.”
Stopping just before the fence, Ben glanced back thoughtfully at Rain. “Thanks for your concern, but I will be all right,” he said, with a serious tone in his voice.
Cal staggered across the road and stumbled down into the ditch, his glazed eyes locked on Ben standing there passively watching him approach. Ben waited until the last possible moment as Cal picked up speed lunging toward the barbed wire fence that separated them. The big Lakota then reached out, grabbed onto the top strand of fencing with both hands, gave a swift jerk backward, and let it go.
As he lurched clumsily toward the Indian, Cal was struck hard in the center of his chest by the barbed wire fencing. The blow was so sudden, that the intoxicated biker was catapulted off of his feet, and went flying backwards into the ditch beside the roadway.
Taking hold of the fence once more, Ben hurtled himself over the top strand and landed lightly in the ditch beside the downed biker. “Stay down,” he ordered Cal sprawled there, trying to catch his breath punched so suddenly from his lungs by the blow from the fence.
He turned his back on Cal and climbed up out of the ditch, his long braid of raven hair glistening in the afternoon sunlight as he crossed the road to survey the badly mangled 1200 Harley. Ben cocked his head at the sudden wail of a distant siren coming from the direction of Crete, seven miles away.
Still standing in the pasture, Rain looked off to the west, hoping it was the sheriff coming first instead of an ambulance. If Cal turned confrontational, he doubted very much whether the ambulance techs had any experience subduing an enraged biker like Cal Roberts, vice president of the Guardians out of nearby Crete.
“Ben!” burst from Rain’s mouth as Cal pulled a knife from his boot top and clambered out of the ditch, his fierce gaze locked on Ben Long Soldier’s back.
“Stupid, dumbshit, Indian!” screamed Cal as he lunged at him.
Ben sidestepped the oncoming biker, and carried forward by his own momentum, Cal careened past the Lakota and went crashing into the ditch, landing beside his mangled bike. Cursing loudly, Cal scrambled up out of the ditch and came back at Ben, slicing and stab-bing wildly with his knife.
Rain blinked in surprise as he watched Ben deflect every thrust with his raised arms and the backs of his hands. He moved gracefully, calculating where each thrust of the knife was aimed, and managed to keep Cal at bay as he defended against his mad attack.
Infuriated at failing to stab the Lakota, Cal went berserk, slashing and striking in a furious frenzy. One too impossible to defend against for long. As it was, Ben took a swipe to his left forearm and received another swallow gash to the back of his right hand.
Cal continued his attack, screaming gibberish like a madman.
And then, Boink! He was struck in the center of his forehead by a frantically thrown Coleman thermos bottle. Seeing that Ben was in serious trouble, Rain had hastily searched the ground for a rock to throw. Instead he found a line of debris left scattered behind the bus as it had sailed off the road and crashed in the pond. Snatching up the heavy thermos bottle, Rain had focused directly on Cal’s beet-red face, and let fly.
The blow caused the enraged biker to stagger back. At which point, Ben used both hands, one connecting with Cal’s wrist, the other forcing his hand forward to send the knife sailing harmlessly out of his grasp. Cal’s wild eyes then focused on Rain standing there beyond the barbed wire fence. “You’re dead, kid!” he snarled. “You’re so damned dead!”
The sirens wailed louder. Cal turned to see the red light of the state trooper’s cruiser nearly a mile down the highway. “Shit!” he snapped, his anger slowly dwindling.
Both Rain and Ben watched him curiously as he reached inside his black leather jacket and pulled out a pint-sized bottle of whisky. He raised it over his head, took careful aim, and heaved the bottle directly at the front end of the bus mired to its wheels in three foot of scummy pond water. The bottle sailed through the driver’s side open window and shattered inside the bus.
“Try explaining that to the cops,” Cal chuckled. He then leaped down into the ditch, scrambled up the other side, and with one last glance at the oncoming cruiser, he took off running across the field, vanishing from sight in the rows of a cornfield.