This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any actual resemblance to persons or historical persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

All original characters are the property of the author.

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Copyright: 1998 Lisa Philbrick.

 

The Long Road Home

by Lisa Philbrick

 
 Temptation had found him in his hour of desperation. The Man, the County
Commissioner had made an offer of job security for a few things in return.
 I've been bought, Jim thought as he gazed at the exit sign indicating he was
heading into Atlanta. Crooked lawman. The only rules to play by now were the Boss's
rules.
 As he drove toward the city, Jim reflected for a moment about the events that led
up to this decision. Three years ago he lost his pension in a bond election and thought that
was the end. The '78 election a year from now would surely be his last and if he lost,
that would be it. Out in the streets, with no money, no job, no fruits to enjoy from hard
work. Twenty years of law enforcing down the drain.
 Jim looked at the deep blue sky and the passing road signs, realizing he had no
idea how he found his way to Atlanta. All he could remember was the decision he had
made that morning in order to keep his job as sheriff. The sun was just below the horizon 
and he knew he'd never get back to Hatchapie County in the tired state he was in. He saw the 
inviting light of a bar and pulled off the road and into the parking lot. 
 
 * * *
 
 Mingled with the smoke and the cry of a steel guitar from the jukebox were the
voices of people enjoying a loud Friday night. Rowdy laughter drifted from the billiard
area at the back of the establishment. Long neck bottles rested on tables and on the
mahogany bar itself, part of which paralleled the front of the room and then turned just
before the door and stretched back to the billiard room. The small dance floor next to the
bar was packed with couples dancing to the music. Jim found some solace in the country
music from the jukebox and strolled to an empty stool at the side of the bar facing the
front door. 
 The woman seated at one of the booths along the front wall facing the dance floor
had spotted him as soon as he came in. After about ten minutes of watching him, she
went up to talk to him because she couldn't place the county name on the patch on his
sheriff's jacket and because he was sitting at the bar by himself. 
 She was also struck by how he looked. The black uniform he wore was sharp. 
On the bar rested his black cowboy hat next to the half empty mug of beer. From a
distance his profile looked like that of those dark haired leading men of the films of the
1950's, only older. The hair was a dark gray and he had matching gray sideburns. The features 
of his jaw and nose were angular yet soft and he appeared to be in his late forties. He looked 
like a sheriff, but he certainly didn't look like Jackie Gleason's Buford T. Justice.
 She made her way across the room and came up beside him.
 "Ain't no Foulton Sheriff, are ya?"
 Jim turned to look at her. The woman was tall and slender and looked to be in
her mid thirties with shoulder length black hair. She wore a form fitting scooped neck
light blue sweater and a pair of faded jeans. She smiled.
 "No, I'm not," he said.
 "Mind if I join you?"
 "Not at all."
 She sat on the bar stool next to him as one of the bartenders came over.
 "Another beer, LeeAnn?" he asked.
 "Yeah, thanks Charlie," she said flashing another delicate white smile. She then
looked at the patch on the Sheriff's jacket again. 
 "Never heard of Hatchapie County," she said. "Don't be offended. There's a
hundred and fifty-nine counties in this state, and I'm lucky I can name six of them."
 "No offense taken," he said smiling. "It's a small county about an hour south of
here."
 She nodded noticing his deep set blue eyes. His dark eyebrows and lashes made
his eyes his most prominent feature. 
 "What brings you to Atlanta?" she asked.
 He paused a moment, looking at his beer mug. "I had a tough decision to make
and I'm not sure if it was the right one. I went out for a little drive. I ended up here."
 "Wanna talk about it?"
 "Not really."
 Actually he did. But he was too swelled with shame at the moment.
 "I understand," she said. "What's your name?"
 "Jim."
 Nodding, she put her hand out. "LeeAnn," she said. "Nice to meet you Sheriff
Jim."
 The sheriff chuckled and took her hand. "Jim is fine."
 "You know," she smiled looking at his uniform again, "for a Sheriff of a county
I've never heard of, you sure have a much better looking uniform than some I've seen."
 "Lot better than the putrid brown ones the Foulton Sheriff wears?"
 The woman laughed. "Much."
 Outside the bar, a man in dirty denim mechanic's garb pulled up in a rusted beat
up green Ford pick up truck. As he pulled into a parking spot, he hit the brake too hard,
jerking the truck to a stop.
 The man staggered out of the truck and went to the door of the bar.
 "LeeAnn!!" he yelled as he came in. "LeeAnn! Where is that little tramp?" He
stumbled to a stop and looked around the bar.
 "Oh no," LeeAnn said, turning towards the door.
 The man spotted her and stormed over. He grabbed her by the arm and pulled her
off the bar stool. LeeAnn cringed at the man's grip.
 "I told you to stay put," he said. "You weren't supposed to leave the house. I
won't have you running around with every man in town, not while you're my woman."
 LeeAnn pulled her arm away. "I ain't your woman, Frank. I've told you that a
million times. Why don't you leave me the hell alone."
 "'Cuz I'm the man you need, honey."
 "About as much as I need a hole in the head. I told you Frank, it's over. You don't
own me. Just get the hell away from me."
 Frank grabbed LeeAnn by the arm again. "You're not getting out of it that easy.
No way. You and I are gunna go home and make everything right again."
 "Hey, maybe you didn't hear the lady," Jim said as he stood and put a restraining
touch on Frank's arm. "She said she doesn't want to have anything to do with you."
 Frank glared at him with drunken eyes. "Why don't you just mind yer own
business." Frank then realized the taller man was wearing a badge. He squinted his eyes
to see the county name on the patch. "You ain't no Foulton Sheriff."
 "Don't have to be," Jim said. "I could take you in."
 Frank laughed. "On what charge?"
 "How about assault and battery?"
 The mechanic regarded the Sheriff for a moment. "You ain't got the authority to
do that."
 "You wanna find out?"
 The two men stood looking at each other for a moment.  
 The shorter man snorted. "Come on LeeAnn," Frank said pulling her toward the
door, "We're going home." 
 Jim grabbed Frank by the arm, stopping him.
 "I don't think she wants to go with you," Jim said. 
 "Jim, please," LeeAnn said.
 The mechanic looked at Jim. He paused a moment, letting go of LeeAnn, and
then came at Jim with a flying right cross, hitting him square in the jaw.
 Jim fell back and landed on the floor on his back.
 "Frank!" LeeAnn screamed. "He's a sheriff for God's sake!"
 "I don't care," Frank said. "Come on, Hoss!"
 Everyone in the bar was watching now. It was a familiar sight, only now with a
new twist.
 Jim sat up, rubbing his hand over his jaw. He moved it, hoping it hadn't been
knocked out of place and then looked at Frank.
 "You shouldn't have done that, boy," Jim said still seated on the floor. "Now you
got a choice. You can walk out of here right now and leave her alone, or you can try to
push this to the edge and end up with your ass in jail."
 "What's the matter?" Frank said. "Ya chicken?"
 Jim pushed himself up off the floor at this point with some help from a couple of
guys who had been sitting at the bar. Jim thanked them and then eyed Frank.
 "Chicken?" he said. He unclipped the gun holster, pulled out his .38 and held it
up for Frank to see.
  "This doesn't care who's chicken and who's not. Are you so stupid as to want to
fight a man with a very loaded .38?"
 "Don't do it, Frank," somebody said. "The last time you did this you ended up in
the slammer for almost three years."
 "I'm not the one that started this," Frank said. He pointed a motor oiled finger at
Jim. "He's the one that poked his nose where it don't belong. Why don't you put that there
gun back and we'll finish this."
 Jim tapped the barrel on the index finger of his left hand in thought. He then
placed the gun carefully back in the holster.
 "Frank," LeeAnn pleaded. "Frank, don't do this."
 "Shut up. If you had listened to me and not taken off, none of this would be
happening."
 Both men regarded each other for a moment. Frank ran his hand over his partially
bearded face. He then suddenly lunged toward the bar and tried to grab Jim's half empty
beer mug.
 Jim beat him to it. Before Frank could get a grip on the glass, he had a handful of
knuckles slamming against his face.
 As the mug went crashing to the floor, Frank went flying back, stopped by a
couple of the men who were watching. They held him up.
 "Frank, you jackass," one of them said. "Knock it off."
 Frank wasn't in the mood to listen. He steadied himself on his feet and then
charged toward Jim, grabbing the sheriff around the midsection, and they both went
crashing into a table behind the lawman. Jim rolled Frank off him, grabbed him by the
collar and picked him up off the floor. As Frank swung at him with his right, Jim
blocked it and then planted his fist in Frank's midsection. Frank buckled, but Jim held
him up from falling to the floor and walloped Frank in the face.
 The drunk man fell for the count this time. Jim was flicking his right hand.
 "Ow, damn."
 LeeAnn rushed up to Jim. "Are you alright? Aw geez, I can't believe he did that."
 "I'm fine," Jim said. He looked down at Frank and then at LeeAnn. "Have you
had problems with him before?"
 "When do I not have problems with him," she replied. "Jim, I'm sorry. This
shouldn't have happened. It's all my fault. If I had stayed home--"
 "LeeAnn, it's not your fault. Now if you want me to, I can haul him in."
 "Ain't gonna do no good. He's been brought in before. Never changes nothin'."
 Jim was still rubbing his hand.
 "Are you sure you're all right?" she asked. 
 "Yeah, I'm just too old for this. Last time I got into a fist fight I was 23." Jim
went to the bar to retrieve his hat. A couple of guys were trying to pick Frank up off the
floor.
 "Are you gonna arrest him, Sheriff? After all, there is a law against assaulting an
officer, ain't there?"
 Jim looked at LeeAnn. "It's up to you."
 LeeAnn looked at Frank and then back at Jim. She shook her head. "No offense,
but your system sucks. Like I said before, it won't change nothin'."
 "You want us to take him home then, LeeAnn?"
 "Yeah," she said. "Maybe he'll sober up."
 The two fellows that had picked Frank up off the floor carried him out of the bar.
 
 * * *
 
 Jim tried to get the bartender to accept payment for the broken table. The
bartender wouldn't hear of it, saying they'd have Frank pay for it, which wouldn't be the
first time. Jim learned that Frank causing trouble like this was a regular occurrence, but
it had been the first time he ever went so far as to punch a sheriff.
 Jim left the bar, putting his black hat on. His hand was still sore and was starting
to stiffen up. Hope I didn't break it, he thought. When he reached his patrol car, LeeAnn
came out of the bar. "Jim," she called running up to him. "Jim, you're not leaving, are
ya?"
 He turned to her. "Yeah. I figure maybe I better try to get back to Hatchapie County
before I get my neck broke."
 "Well, uh," she paused. "I was wondering if maybe you wanted to grab something
to eat before you went back. I mean, something better than what they got here."
 He smiled. "Sure. You got a car?"
 "A friend dropped me off here."
 Jim nodded. "Do you make it a habit to invite strangers for dinner?"
 LeeAnn giggled. "No. Of course, I don't make it a habit for strangers to end up in
a fist fight with Frank. I just wanna make it up to you that's all. It's one thing when he
gets in a fist fight with somebody else. It's damn embarrassing when it's a sheriff." 
 "Well, hop in then. Where would you like to go?"
 They found a steak house just beyond the city limits. Over beer and barbecued
ribs, they talked about pieces of each other's past. She told him about Frank, how he used
to be an okay guy but was crawling into the bottle too often, how she had been trying to
get away from him and start over for over a year, but he just couldn't seem let to go. She
grew tired of talking about that pretty quick and asked Jim what she had originally asked
before, why he was in Atlanta.
 "I know you said it was because of some decision you had to make. What was the
decision?"
 He paused a moment, putting together how he wanted to say it in his mind.
 "I've been sheriff almost 18 years," he began. "Three years ago the citizens of
Hatchapie County voted to cut my pension in order for the county to pay off two
municipal bonds. I'll be up for reelection next year. If I don't get reelected, I'll have to 
retire broke." He paused. "The County Commissioner, see, he's a powerful man, and he offered
me job security in exchange for--" he paused, trying to find the best way to describe it. 
"In exchange for having selective legal vision."
 "What the hell's that supposed to mean?"
 "Crooked," he said. "In exchange for me being a crooked cop."
 "Oh Jim."
 "Yeah, I know. Another reason the system sucks." He looked at LeeAnn. "You
must think I'm a pretty low life kind of person."
 LeeAnn shook her head. "No. Can't say I blame you." She paused. "Maybe
someday you'll get your pension back."
 "I doubt it. Nothing happens in Hatchapie County that the County Commissioner
doesn't want to happen."
 "Sounds like a real interesting character."
 "Oh yeah, he's unique all right."
 "But how can he offer you job security when your job is an elected position?"
 "Simple. He throws all his support behind me at each election. Pumps a few
bucks in, too. You'd be surprised how easily he can sway people to a particular side."
 "What kind of things does he want you to do?"
 "Stupid things."
 "Like what?"
 He paused a moment. "Well, he has a couple of guys who make moonshine, and
he takes a percent of it. To make sure they get out of the county, he wants me to run
escort. Then he has an old barn out in the boonies where he has some slot machines set
up, and he wants me to make sure that no law from outside of the county gets wind of it."
 "Jim," LeeAnn said. "How can you do that? Why don't you just bust him?"
 Jim looked at the table for a moment. "Because he's my friend. I know that
sounds ridiculous, but I've known him for years. He wasn't always like this. Just in the
last couple of years he's apparently having some financial troubles or something. I'm not
sure what, he doesn't like to talk about it. He only says that this won't last long. Of
course, he's only kidding himself. It's allready been three years and he's just getting in
deeper." 
 "So, you're worried about him."
 "Yeah, I am."
 "But he's trying to turn you crooked."
 The sheriff made a face, and then shook his head. "I don't know what to do."
 LeeAnn watched Jim pick up his beer mug. She glanced at both of his hands and
saw no wedding band.
 "What does your family think of all this?" she asked.
 Jim's blue eyes clouded over a little. He looked down at the table for a moment
and then at LeeAnn. 
 "My ex-wife would be saying 'I told you so' if she knew. She didn't trust Pete
Henderson when he was first elected County Commissioner and would wonder why this
hadn't happened before now."
 LeeAnn noticed that Jim didn't speak ill of his ex-wife and wondered why they
had divorced. Nice looking guy like this, she thought. Who'd be the fool to let this one
go? "She's a pretty good judge of people, I'm now learning," he continued. "Except
for..." he trailed off. What ever he was about to say he refused to continue. He looked at
LeeAnn. "Um, you ready to go?"
 LeeAnn nodded. She couldn't help but want to know more about this lawman, but
she could tell that the issue of his ex-wife was a touchy subject. And she knew that she
wouldn't want someone prying about things she didn't want to talk about.
 They drove around the city after that, comparing notes on what parts of the city
they knew best. LeeAnn had told Jim that she was originally from Covington, and had
moved to Atlanta about five years ago. 
 "Seemed like the exciting thing to do at the time," she said. "I'm wondering if I
should just go back to Covington."
 "What's stopping you?" Jim asked.
 LeeAnn shook her head. "I don't know. I guess I just keep thinking things are
gonna change with every new morning sun. I've been thinking that for a long time now
and..." She shook her head. "I don't know." 
 "I'm not one for giving advice, so take this for what it's worth," Jim said. "Go back
to Covington or go somewhere else. You don't need to have Frank holding you down the
way he does." 
 "Is that advice really for me or for yourself?"
 Jim paused. "Yeah, it could be for me too, but for you it's a question of safety. 
For me it's ethics."
 "What do you mean?"
 "Well, you could stay here, continue to have Frank controlling your life, and I do
mean controlling, physically and mentally, or you could leave and start over and take
your life back for your own."
 "And you?"
 "Well, I could retire broke or spend the rest of my years running moonshine out of
the back of my patrol car."
 "Being controlled by the County Commissioner."
 Jim paused with a sigh. "Yeah," he said. "Being controlled by the County
Commissioner." 
 It was eleven thirty when Jim asked LeeAnn if there was someplace he could drop
her off.
 "I suppose I should go home," LeeAnn said.
 "To Frank?"
 "What? Oh no, I don't live with him. He just thinks he owns my place, too."
 "Oh. So you want me to take you home?
 "Yeah."
 "Point me in the right direction."
 "You're doin' fine."
 With LeeAnn's instructions, Jim found his way easily. LeeAnn lived in a trailer
park just north of the Atlanta city limits. Her trailer was a light beige and brown trim
unit. At the base of her mailbox were small white flowers. Leaning against the trailer by
the door was a ten speed bicycle. The trailer was located at the back of the park, with
only a few other trailers near by.
 LeeAnn paused a moment. "Thanks, Jim," she said. "And I wanna say I'm sorry
again for what Frank did. I hope your hand is okay."
 "Oh I wouldn't worry about it. And there's no need to apologize for Frank. It's not
your fault."
 "Are you going back to Hatchapie County?"
 "I thought I was going to but I'm too full of tired and alcohol. I'm just gonna find a 
hotel and get some sleep."
 LeeAnn nodded. "Well," she said. "Maybe I'll see you around."
 Jim smiled. "You bet."
 She smiled and then opened the door and stepped out of the cruiser. She stood in
the glare of the headlights and waved as Jim backed out of the driveway.
 Jim drove away and had just about reached the end of the road when he heard a
shot gun blast and then a scream.
 With sheriff's instincts kicking in, Jim turned the steering hard and swung the
patrol car around, tires squealing. As he sped back down the road, he saw LeeAnn
sprawled out in the road. Another shot gun blast ripped through the air.
 Jim brought the patrol car to a sliding stop next to LeeAnn, blocking any further
shots from hitting her. He looked toward the trailer and saw Frank aiming a shotgun at
him.
 "You sonofabitch!" Frank screamed. "You can't keep to yerself, can ya?!"
 Jim scrambled to the passenger door as Frank discharged the gun. The back
window on the driver's side shattered as Jim bailed out of the car. Another wild shot hit
the front tire, making the car slump.
 While Frank fumbled to reload, Jim crawled over to LeeAnn.
 Lights on a couple of the trailers starting going out. From somewhere a man called out, 
"What's goin' on out there?"
 "Go back inside and stay down!" Jim called back. "Everybody, stay inside your houses and 
away from the windows!" More lights went out. Jim looked 
down at the woman.
 "LeeAnn?" She was lying on her side with her back to him. He gently touched her
on the arm.
 "Jim," she croaked.
 "Are ya hit?" 
 "Yeah."
 Tenderly, he turned her on her back. She looked at him. Even in the faint
moonlight, Jim could see the terror in her eyes.
 "In the leg," she said.
 Another blast slammed into the car. Both Jim and LeeAnn flinched.
 "I'll kill you, LeeAnn! You too, you fucking asshole!!"
 More bullets pierced the car.
 Jim grabbed up LeeAnn and carried her out of the road and away from the patrol
car. One wild shot to the gas tank and the explosion would make Sherman's burning of
Atlanta look like a backyard barbecue.
 Frank staggered to the car and looked in. Cussing and swearing, he smashed the
windshield with the butt of the shotgun.
 "Where are you, you goddamn bastard?! Where the fuck are you?!" He lurched to
the back of the car and whacked the back window as well, breaking the radio antenna
along with it.
 Jim was hoping somebody had called the police. With the radio antenna busted
he'd never be able to use his radio.
 Frank had stopped to reload again. Seeing the headlights of the patrol car were
still on, Jim decided to draw Frank away from LeeAnn. He withdrew his .38 as he started
to get up.
 LeeAnn clutched his arm. "No," she pleaded. "Don't go."
 Jim turned to her. "It'll be allright. I'm going to keep Frank away from this side of
the road."
 "Please, Jim."
 He placed his right arm under her head and lightly touched the back of his fingers
on his left hand to her face. "I'm not going to let anything happen to you, okay?
Everything will be alright. I've got to try to stop him."
 LeeAnn tightly gripped his sleeve a few heartbeats then let go. Jim gently
removed his arm from under her head. He stood and darted to the front of the car. 
 Frank saw him. The shot came too late though.
 "Come back here, you!" Frank yelled, running after Jim. Jim disappeared in the
shadows of LeeAnn's trailer.
 Frank fired another wild shot in the dark. He stumbled back behind the patrol car,
taking time to reload.
 In the distance Jim heard the sound of sirens. 
 Finally, he thought. Thank God.
  "Give it up, Frank. They'll put you away for a long time this time."
 "Fuck you! Why don't you come out here, so I can blow you away."
 Frank started to move toward the shadows. Jim dashed to the back side of the
patrol car.
 "I'm over here, Frank." 
 Frank swung around and saw Jim in the red glow of the tail lights. 
 "Jim!" LeeAnn screamed. "Frank! NO!!!"
 As the shot split the darkness, Jim dove out of the way. The bullets tore through
the fender and ignited the full gas tank, ripping the patrol car apart in a ball of flames that 
burst high into the clear night sky.
 Jim rolled over the road to where LeeAnn was lying.
 The force of the explosion had knocked Frank to the ground. After a moment, he
stumbled to his feet and looked over the flames of the burning car. He saw LeeAnn and
Jim on the other side of the road.
 Having one more shot left, he limped across the road.
 Jim saw him coming and aimed his gun at Frank. "Hold it right there, Frank!" 
 Frank stopped. He still had the shot gun at the ready.
 "What's it gonna be?" Jim asked. "You only got one shot left in that gun. You
shoot her, I'll shoot you. Hell, you shoot me, I'll still shoot you."
 LeeAnn was weeping. The sirens screaming came closer.
 In the light of the flames, Jim could see Frank breathing heavily and sweating. 
His hold on the shot gun was shaky, but at any moment, he could pull the trigger. 
 "No," LeeAnn moaned. "No, no, no..."
 Frank eyed Jim. "Fuck you," he croaked. He pulled the trigger.
 The shot hit Jim in the shoulder. The explosion of nerves caused him to pull the
trigger of his gun. 
 LeeAnn screamed as Frank went reeling when the bullets slammed into his
stomach. Jim had already hit the ground. LeeAnn leaned over the fallen sheriff, with
tears streaming down her face.
 "Jim! Oh God, Jim," she wailed.
 Police cars finally came flying down the road, squealing to a stop just before Jim's 
burning cruiser. When an ambulance and a fire truck joined the group, the red, white and
blue lights bounced around off trailers and tree leaves.
 Jim could feel LeeAnn clutching his jacket in desperation. All feeling seemed to
stop at his shattered shoulder. He was still gripping his .38, but he couldn't feel it. Voices
filtered in and out of his head.
 "Help him," LeeAnn pleaded. "Please, you gotta help him."
 "Okay Ma'am..."
 "Sheriff...?"
 "This other guy doesn't look too good..."
 "What the hell happened here...?"
 Jim turned his head toward LeeAnn. He tried to get his brain in sync with his
mouth, but what he wanted to say wouldn't come. Everything went black before he even
closed his eyes.
 
 * * *
 
 Jim heard the buzz of the fluorescent light over the head of the bed. The
exhausted sheriff opened his eyes and realized he was in a hospital emergency room.
  And alive, he thought.
 His arm was lying across him diagonally. His right hand rested near his collar
bone on his left side. He tried to move his hand or fingers, but sensation failed to
penetrate beyond his shoulder.
 Oh God. Please dear God, don't let it be...
 He looked up at the ceiling tiles in prayer. His breathing accelerated as he began
to recall the events of several hours ago and realized that he'd probably never be the
same again. How could he continue to be sheriff if he no longer had a shooting arm?  
 He then thought of LeeAnn and wondered if she was okay. Then there was Frank.
Jim couldn't remember if the shot he fired had hit Frank. The more intense memory he
had was of the shot gun blast slamming into his shoulder.
 Jim turned his head and looked around the room. The pale yellow curtain on his
right was drawn. On his left was a light box to read X-rays. One X-ray was up.
  Probably my shoulder, he thought as he studied it. I don't think it's supposed to look 
like that. 
 Past the open door Jim saw a nurse. He then looked down at himself. In his left hand
was an IV feed. He was covered by a white sheet.
 I should have never come to Atlanta.
 He looked up in time to see the doctor come in. The man smiled.
 Yeah, smile at the crippled sheriff. 
 "How do you feel?"
 "Doc, I can't feel my arm. What do you mean how do I feel?"
 "You haven't lost it. It'll be like that for awhile. You'll have to have physical
therapy to get the use back. It's also pretty heavily loaded with anaesthetics right now. 
You're a very lucky man, especially considering it was a shotgun blast that hit you."
 "Oh," Jim sighed. "Thank you. Praise the Lord, I thought it was paralyzed."
 The doctor smiled. "Quite a relief for you, isn't it? I'll tell you, though, if that
bullet had been just a few centimeters in the wrong direction, you probably would be
paralyzed." 
 "I'm counting my blessings."
 The doctor nodded. "The young woman is all right as well. The police have talked
to her, and they're waiting to talk to you."
 Jim nodded. "What about...?"
 "He's in rough shape, but he's gonna live."
 Jim nodded.
 For several days, Jim had a lot of time to think about things. What had happened
made him realize why he had originally run for sheriff all those years ago. 
 To keep idiots like Frank off the streets and away from innocent people like
LeeAnn. 
 It wasn't the end of the world if he lost reelection a year from now. He nearly
lost his life. For 18 years he had worked to be a good sheriff and he realized that
throwing all that away for a couple of bucks and barrel of moonshine was ridiculous. 
 I can't go crooked, he thought. But I can't bust Pete either. I just can't do that.
  He decided that when he returned to Hatchapie County he would inform the County
Commissioner of the bad news.
 Jim was told a couple of days later by one of the Atlanta police officers that Frank
had been arraigned at bedside for commiting almost every crime in the book.
 "Let's see," the officer said. "Assault and battery, endangering the lives of others,
attempted murder, attempted murder of an officer of the law, and a whole hort of other
crimes. I figure if he's convicted on at least two of them, he'll be in prison for more years
than there are left in this century."
 "And probably more," Jim said.
 "Yeah. Makes you wish there was a sentence for stupidity. It'd be a hell of lot less
paperwork." 
 Several days later, Jim was finally released from the hospital. One of his deputies
drove up from Hatchapie County to pick him up.
 "Boss is having the fits about what happened to your patrol car," the deputy said.
He and Jim were standing in Jim's room while a nurse helped Jim adjust his jacket over
the bandages and sling on his shoulder.
 The sheriff cocked his head at his deputy. "I practically get my arm blown off
and he's upset because my car got torched? Sheesh."
 The nurse finished the adjustment. "There you go, Sheriff," she said.
 "Thank you." Jim looked at the hole in the shoulder of his jacket then at this deputy. 
"I bet Pete will be upset because I need a new jacket too."
  The deputy smirked. 
 "Guess you'll finally get back to Hatchapie County."
 Jim looked up at the door and saw LeeAnn standing there on one crutch. He
reached his good arm out to her. 
 LeeAnn hobbled in and stepped into his embrace. "I'm so glad you're okay," she
said.
 "I'm glad you're alright too," Jim said. He then looked at his deputy. "LeeAnn,
this is one of my deputies, David Lyford."
 David tipped his head to LeeAnn. "Is this the lady with the stupid boyfriend?"
 LeeAnn nodded. "But not anymore. I'm leaving Atlanta and Frank and all this crap
behind as soon as I can."
 "As soon as the legalities are over?" Jim asked.
 "Yeah. He could've killed me. He could've killed both of us. I don't want to live
like this anymore. I'm either going to go back to Covington or somewhere else."
 Jim smiled.
 "And what about you?" LeeAnn asked Jim. "Have you decided what you're going
to do?"
 "Yes, I have. I refuse to be bought. I may not get reelected next year but I'm not 
going out without a good, honest fight."