**** **** ****
A couple of days later, Bill was back at his apartment in Atlanta. He phoned Ralph for their weekly briefing and was glad to hear that the kid was indeed using the suit.
“Vincent did back those guys who tried to kill the governors,” Ralph explained. “Not just with the Hit Car either. He backed them financially.”
“Damn!” Bill said. “But why? Why’d he do it?”
“Well a couple of reasons, near as I can tell. One was simply a power grab. He’s dangerous, Bill. Noah Vincent wants to practically rule the world. And if he can finance assassins to wipe out any elected official he doesn’t like he can force political control wherever he needs it.”
“Well everybody wants to rule the world, Ralph. What do you mean by wipe out any elected official he doesn’t like?”
“That was the other reason, it was personal. He had a beef with one of the governors, the guy used to be some big shot in a state transportation department, dealing with trucking and all. Caused some problems for Vincent a few years ago.”
“Which governor? Which state?”
“Right where you are, Bill. Georgia.”
“Ralph! That’s fantastic! Did you get all this with the suit?”
“I got it from a series of halographs, yeah. But Bill, that’s all I’ve got is halographs. It doesn’t prove anything.”
“It’s information I can work off of, Ralph. We’ve got Vincent’s cleaning crew that he sent here to Atlanta and I think they’re going to talk. They’ll probably be happy to work a deal and testify against Vincent, not that it’ll help them much in reducing a sentence since they were trying to gun down myself and two deputy sheriffs.”
“You?” Ralph said, surprised. “You mean those guys who did that awful attack on that highway were after you too??”
“Uh…well, yeah they were. I’ve been dodging bullets all week, Ralph. I’m surprised you…you didn’t know.”
“Like last time, when the green guys woke me up in the middle of the night?”
“No, Bill. I didn’t know.”
“Oh.” Guess fate was the only thing holding that barn up… “Well, um, obviously it wasn’t a big deal. The bad guys didn’t get me, I’m talking to you now and all.”
“What happened, Bill?”
“Nothing. Nevermind that,” Bill said dismissively. “Ralph, you did real good with the suit here on finding out stuff on Vincent. Keep at it with Turco. Keep at it, kid, I know you can do it.”
Even as he continued to encourage Ralph to use the suit to help pave the way for the day when Bill could return home, the events in Hazzard remained fresh on Bill’s mind and left him with some mixed feelings. He was proud of the successful scenario, the capture of Piper and his men and the recovery of the Hit Car. Those things and the good chance the FBI had to get a good lead on proving Noah Vincent’s involvement with the Chattanooga hit made taking a little gas for it, worth it.
But other random thoughts crossed his mind as Bill sat on the edge of the tub in his little bathroom, tending to the dressing on his leg. You’re getting too old for this nonsense you know. Good thing those Hazzard folk were willing to help you out or you wouldn’t have been so fortunate. Especially MaryAnne. She’s good troops. Pretty too…
He liked her. His grandfather had said that you could tell a lot about a person by whether they were willing to go back to back with you in an alley. Not could they, but would they – even if they didn’t know how.
Well, MaryAnne certainly knew how and she demonstrated quite clearly that she was willing. She crawled into that busted up barn to save him. She kept her cool. Knew what had to be done.
And yeah, she was pretty. What MaryAnne had seen in Bill’s expression in the barn was the realization that he was starting to fall for her. Of course he tried to dismiss it afterwards when he was at the hospital and was by himself to think. It was a heavy moment, he had told himself. The adrenaline was rushing. The barn had caved in around me, figured I was seconds from going over the great divide. Until an angel came and saved me…
The feeling had remained despite his rationalization. And when she visited him, it only reinforced it.
As he finished now with the dressing on his leg, he stood up and approached the sink. He looked at himself in the mirror.
There was a time when there was more to life than just busting bad guys. How much longer would Bill endure looking like the last soldier off the beach at Dunkirk? How much more of his own self-imposed punishment would he subject himself to because of the guilt he felt over what happened when his wife died? What was it going to take to move on from the heartache that was O’Neil?
Forget it, Maxwell. She’s probably fighting off all those ploughboys in Hazzard, she’s not about to be smitten by an old geezer like you. Besides, you’re going back to LA. No sense getting too comfortable around here.
Bill looked at the man in the mirror. He still longed for home…yet the idea of becoming comfortable in Atlanta had some appeal. He liked the way things were done in Frank Mayson’s bureau and there was a lovely lady deputy in Hazzard that he wanted to get to know better. It was a path he probably shouldn’t go down, he knew, since his being in Atlanta wasn’t to be permanent.
But he couldn’t turn away now.
**** **** ****
At the top of Old Tar Road in Hazzard was a place called Kissing Cliff. It was a bluff that overlooked part of the valley and the Hazzard River. It was aptly named for being a nice quiet place to bring your sweetheart and park.
It was also fine cliff to push a car off of to destroy it. Daisy had lost her yellow Plymouth Roadrunner this way, no thanks to Bo and Luke. They hadn’t meant to send the car over the cliff, a stuck accelerator left them little choice but to bail out of the car and let it go sailing off the bluff. When the cousins had ventured down into the gully to see what was left of it, they found a burned up mangled wreck. Although she was glad her cousins were okay, Daisy still took after them with a frying pan for what had happened.
Thus, inspired by MaryAnne’s off hand suggestion when he left Tri-County Hospital, Bill decided to do just that. He called MaryAnne to make the arrangements and the next day, one week after Piper and his men had been caught, Bill arrived in Hazzard and everyone, MaryAnne, Enos and Rosco along with the Duke boys and Cooter, gathered at Kissing Cliff.
Cooter towed the scratched up black Dodge place. The car sat in the middle of the barren dirt slope, nose pointed downward in the direction of the edge of the cliff held in place by its emergency brake.
“It’s all set, Mr. Maxwell,” Cooter said. “Just pull the emergency brake and give her a push.”
“Good,” Bill said. To make things official, Bill handed the authorization papers to Cooter to sign off on the destruction of the car. “My only regret is I can’t take a baseball bat to it first.”
Cooter nodded. The reinforced windows and body panels would hardly give to a baseball bat.
Luke approached Bill. “Agent Maxwell, before you push that car off the cliff, me n’ Bo was wonderin’ if we could pull some of the parts off the car first? Cooter showed us the engine in that thing.”
Bill shook his head. “Sorry, boys. There’s no part of this car that deserves to be saved, let alone be put on yours.”
Luke nodded, respecting the answer. “Figured it didn’t hurt to ask.”
“I’ll tell you what you can do. You can help me push it off the cliff.”
Luke smiled. “Sure.”
Bill turned and walked to the Hit Car. The Dukes followed him, along with Enos and MaryAnne. Bill walked with a limp but his steps were purposeful. This moment was a long, long, time coming.
At the car, he paused by the open driver window. The Dukes and Enos waited at the back of the car. MaryAnne came to stand on the passenger side.
Bill looked at her across the roof of the car and smiled at her. She grinned back. “You ready to dump this beast?” she asked.
“You better believe it.” Bill leaned into the car and released the emergency brake. He straightened up again and the car began to roll slowly forward. With the Dukes and Enos pushing from behind and Bill and MaryAnne pushing from the side windows, it didn’t take long to get the car rolling good. Bill called for them to all let it go and they watched as the old Dodge picked up speed and raced to the edge of the cliff.
The moment Bill saw the car tip over the ledge and disappear was liberating, like a chain had finally been cut loose. They could all hear the sound of metal screaming and crunching as the car was torn apart by the rocks in its decent. Bill limped closer to the edge of the cliff and looked down into the gulley. The Hit Car was in flames and it hit the bottom of the gulley, reduced to nothing but a burning mangled wreck.
Bill grinned. What a beautiful sight…too bad the Disco Prince wasn’t here to see it. Little shake n’ bake…
MaryAnne came up beside him and peered down at the remains of the Hit Car. “Beats the crusher, don’t it?”
“Hell of a lot more effective, Deputy,” Bill said. He looked over at her, still grinning. “That was a terrific idea.”
Bo, Luke and Enos along with Rosco and Cooter gathered near the edge and looked down into the gulley. “Don’t have to worry about that car trying to kill anybody now,” Bo said.
“Amen,” Enos added.
“Yep,” Cooter said, “and despite bein’ impressed with that engine, there ain’t no tears bein’ shed here.”
“After I took Johnny Diamante off the streets a couple of years ago, I should have had that car crushed then and there,” Bill said. “This has been a long time coming.”
The group began to drift away from the ledge and make their way back up the slope to where their vehicles were parked.
“Ya headin’ back to Atlanta right away, Agent Maxwell?” Luke asked. “We were gonna head to the Boar’s Nest after this, if you’d like to join us for a bit?”
“Well,” Bill said, looking at his watch, “I really can’t boys, I should get back. Got a bunch of reports to catch up on and we got a briefing this afternoon and all…”
“In other words,” MaryAnne said, “duty calls.” She looked at her watch. “And I have other duty at said Boar’s Nest this afternoon. If y’all will excuse me, I’ll catch ya later.”
“See ya, MaryAnne,” Cooter said. Everyone said goodbye to her as she walked up the rest of the slope to her patrol car.
“So long, gorgeous,” Bill called after her. MaryAnne turned briefly to wave at Bill and then turned away again, blushing. Khee! He keeps calling me gorgeous! I’m startin’ to like the word…
Bill watched her for another moment and then looked at the Duke boys. “On second thought, I think I have time for a round…”