Hiding Underground by Rolf Luetcke
I sat in the cell knowing it had been an accident. I also knew I would be convicted of murder. I would die in prison! Not because I couldn’t defend myself inside, just the opposite in fact, but because I could never stand being locked up. Ever since ‘Nam I had hated bars. Over there I had nearly been beaten to death when I wouldn’t stay put. When I finally came home I had been snubbed and rejected by my one-time “friends”. They had protested and found ways to get around serving.
I wasn’t so lucky. My parents weren’t wealthy and I was in football and track. Just the kind of young man Uncle Sam wanted. My grades weren’t good enough to use as an excuse, so I went.
That was many years ago but I never could put all the horrors out of my mind.
“Shit!” and I smacked my cot so hard I busted one of the springs. Why couldn’t I have held my temper when I met that Senator in the courthouse restroom?
The fact that he was a total jackass wasn’t at issue but I never could accept rudeness and arrogance in anyone. Bad manners were just plain inexcusable.
All I said was that the free trade treaty between Mexico, Canada and the U.S. needed much more study before they voted on it.
Maybe it was that I was filthy from the repair work I was doing on the heater ducts in the courthouse. Maybe it was my long hair and beard. Maybe it was my earring. Maybe it was his wife or kids. And, maybe it was what he said or that he pushed me when I stood in front of him to call him a rude, inconsiderate bastard!
It was too late now. When he said he’d put me behind bars because that’s where filthy freeloaders like me belonged. I just snapped! It was just one well-placed chop with my left hand. How could I ever guess it would kill him!
There were no witnesses and that along with my record as a political activist wouldn’t sit well with the authorities.
That’s when the Sheriff walked in to use the bathroom. Boy was that ever bad timing. He only took half a second before he’d made up his mind and I was looking down the barrel of his service revolver.
They didn’t even have to take me anywhere, the jail was right here in the building.
All facts aside, I was in deep shit! I knew the system well and it had let me down many times. The words “liberty and justice for all” were a joke! It all revolved around money and who you knew. Neither of them I could depend on.
Now, my mind was made up. After that damning inquest they called questioning I was left with no choice. They had been fairer in ‘Nam!
If I could pull it off, I would make it.
I didn’t need to get home or even any place public for supplies. I had made plans long ago.
With all the nuclear armament between super powers I had stashed enough supplies for years of survival in the many mine tunnels and caves that honey combed the Mule Mountains. A hundred years of mining had left over a thousand mile of abandoned tunnels.
My love for spelunking had taken me to every accessible mile of tunnel and some that I had to make accessible.
I loved it under that mountain. I had always loved the night and under the mountain there were no people to deal with and it was always night.
A few opportunities lay ahead. The one I tried for was when I was brought up in front of the judge to be charged. If I could get free of the shackles I could get out, I knew it.
My whole mindset had gone back over twenty years. I was a prisoner of war and I would do anything to escape. Surprise was my greatest friend.
I stood before the bench, one guard by the door and one by my side. If the one by my side would just let my arm go I could make my move.
The judge rambled on but I wasn’t listening. I twitched the muscles in my arm that the officer held onto. I made minute twitches coming in waves. One minute, two, then it worked. I felt him shift his hand several times. It made him very uncomfortable and then he released my arm for just a moment. I had my head slightly bowed. I began to crumble to the floor.
The officer reached for me with both hands as the judge leaned out to see what was happening.
I came up like a coiled spring. My right shoulder hit the guard under the chin and sent him sailing over backwards.
I jumped as high as I could and with the loose amount of chain I grabbed the judge around the head and pulled him on top of me as my weight and momentum pulled us both to the floor.
I had the judge’s head between my hands as the guard by the back door pointed his gun. I was behind the judge and I knew he wouldn’t shoot.
“Pull that trigger,” I shouted “and his neck’s broken!”
I heard the other guard scrambling to get back on his feet.
“Drop that gun NOW!” I yelled.
I glanced at the other guard, who was again on the floor. The only luck, so far! He was still too hurt to be of much use, for the moment anyway.
I told the judge to make the guard drop the gun or his neck would bust in two. He obviously felt my strong grip and the tension I put on it drove the point home nicely.
“Drop the gun, Hanson!” he gargled weakly “my neck, ooow, it’s breaking. Please mister!”
“You heard him!” my eyes were like blue steel gun barrels and he knew I meant business.
I knew these small town guards weren’t well trained. The gun hit the floor.
“Kick it to me” I shouted to the guard. He kicked it and it slid across the floor and hit the judge in the knee. I twisted him around and was just able to reach it.
I pointed it at the back of the judge’s head.
“Get you butt over here!” I pointed at the other guard, who was making another attempt to get up. “Get his gun, NOW!” I put a lot of emphasis on the now and the guard made good time across the floor.
As soon as I had the second gun under my thigh, I told him to slide the keys over.
A lawyer was trying to make a dash for the door.
“Freeze” I yelled.
The guy stopped just before he reached the door.
For the first time I paid attention to the handful of others in the courtroom. They had hit the floor when all the action had started.
I ordered them all to the windows, away from the door. They obeyed.
I had the judge pick up the keys and turn around to undo the chain. I saw him hesitate a second as he saw the second gun protrude from under my leg. I stuck the service revolver up to his temple to discourage any action and I was free.
I stood and picked up the second gun.
“Take off your clothes!” I said to one of the guards. “NOW!” that sure made him move.
The door opened as a woman stepped into the court. She screamed and ran back out the door, papers settling like dry leaves.
The guard had stopped disrobing.
“Come on!” I shouted at him.
I had the judge pick up the clothes and we withdrew into his chambers. I made him help me push his desk against the door and pushed a chair under the other door.
“You can’t get out, you know?” he said weakly.
“That’s what you think!” I snapped back. “I’m not gonna rot in prison for an accident that wasn’t my fault.” I added.
“I can ask for an investigation,” he said, just as weakly.
I stared him right in the face and told him his system sucked. “Turn around!” I told him and put the guard’s handcuffs on the judge, fastening them to his wrist and the antique steam heater by the window. From the look I gave him he didn’t say any more.
I put on the guards clothes and looked up at the heating vent.
I pulled a chair to the wall and ripped the vent guard from the ceiling. I easily pulled myself into the ductwork. I turned to say something to the judge but couldn’t think of anything pithy to say.
I had hated knocking Bill out he’d been a good friend but not a good enough friend to help on his own. Too bad it hadn’t been Bainsworth, that jerk would have been a pleasure to bop.
I needed only a few minutes to work down to the section I had been working on only yesterday. Bill stood there gawking as I dropped to the ground in front of him, wearing a guard’s uniform. A jab to the temple area put him out cold before he could react. I quickly switched clothes with him, patted my face with dirt, tucked my long hair under his hard hat and picked up a big section of ducting.
I stepped out into the hall and saw several Sheriff’s deputies run from their office on this floor toward the stairs. A third ran toward me and I froze in mid stride. I had been spotted.
“Come on fella, get out of the building. We’ve got an escaped prisoner. Hurry up, he’s armed and dangerous!” he waved me toward the side entrance.
God, what luck! He thought I was Bill. Heck, they probably couldn’t recognize any of our crew. We were too lowly to associate with, so they didn’t look very close.
I was hurrying toward the door as the deputy yelled at me.
“Hey you, stop!” the officer yelled.
I was reaching under my shirt for the gun and was just preparing to dive to the floor for a shot when he called, “anybody else down there we need to clear from the building?”
I quickly pulled the shirt back over the revolver and yelled back over my shoulder, “No, just me!”
He turned and headed up the stairs.
When I was out of the building I quickly assessed my options. The truck from my contractor sat just 50 feet to the left but there was Bainsworth’s fat backside. Luckily, he was stuffing his face and didn’t turn toward me. To the right was the front entrance, certainly well watched. I walked across the roadway and straight toward the parking lot beside the Catholic Church, across from the courthouse.
Bainsworth yelled Bill’s name, twice. Another lucky break, the Sheriff’s deputy came out the side door and yelled for Bainsworth to get his truck the hell out of there. I didn’t turn to see what happened behind me. There was a lot of noise and yelling.
As soon as I got around the wall, I dropped the ducting. I ran down between the wall and parked cars. I headed for the steps to the lower parking lot and certain freedom when a priest was walking toward me and blocked the steps from below.
“What’s the hurry, my son?” he said smiling at me. “What’s all the commotion over at the courthouse?” he continued.
If I ran through him, he’d know something was wrong.
I reached for his arm and turned him back toward the church.
“Father, a man’s escaped and he’s armed. You’d better get back inside. They could start shooting any time now. They’re clearing the area.” We were at the back door now and I let go of him and then kept going down toward the parking lot.
“My son, aren’t you coming in, you’re welcome in God’s house.”
“No thank you!” I called back and leapt over the railing onto the parking lot. I raced along the wall toward the big ditch that carried water down from the hills above town.
I heard a car gun its engine behind me just as I reached the wall. The loudspeaker blared form the patrol car. “Freeze! Stop right there!”
I leapt the wall as his siren came on and his engine roared.
It was a ten-foot drop into a jumble of brush and rocks.
By the time the Sheriff got to the wall I was up the gully to where it went under the roadway. I felt the wind of the slug as a bullet ricocheted past my ear. I dove behind some rocks as the other five bullets took chunks out of the cement near me. Damn, that SOB is using jacketed bullets. They aren’t legal!
As soon as he’d fired his last shot I sprinted up to the roadway.
It was about five hundred yards up the open road to the tunnel under the highway and I’d never make that. I could hear the cop cars gun out of the parking lot at the courthouse already. Then I saw the kid revving his dirt bike. “Sorry kid” I said as I gave him a big push out of the way and hopped on his bike.
Another stroke of luck as I put it into gear and it took off like a shot.
I prayed the old man didn’t have his pickup parked at the entrance to the culvert. The sirens rose above the bikes un-muffled engine but there were only two hundred yards to go. No truck!
I shot through the bushes overgrowing the entrance of the culvert and was gone.
The culvert opened into sunlight and boulders. I dumped the bike and ran for the boulders as more shots rang out. Damn, those guys were faster than I thought they’d be.
The slugs weren’t anywhere near me this time. The jerk was just firing into the culvert. They weren’t allowed to do that either, bastards!
I knew the trails here better than anyone. I’d played here since I was a kid.
No more shots had been fired on my climb to the brush- covered mineshaft. The mine was half way up the nine hundred foot mountain behind town. I took a slightly longer route but it was one where I was behind brush all the way.
Fortunately Bill had been wearing his plaid shirt and jeans, both dark enough to hide me among the bushes.
And now, I sat inside the mine, enjoying a cold beer. The cops that were scouring the hills didn’t have a cold beer after they worked up a good sweat!
I pulled off Bills tennis shoes. Man, I scrunched up my nose, didn’t he ever hear of odor eaters?”
I stuck my hot feet into the cold water that ran alongside the old rail. I could only hold them in for a few seconds the water was only in the upper 30’s and made my bones ache. I rubbed my feet with gravel and dirt and rinsed them off before I floated Bills shoes down the current. I balance walked the rusty rail into the dark depth of the mountain, one hand touching the left wall for balance, the other hand carrying the rest of the six pack I always kept stashed behind a rock just inside the old mine entrance. Sitting in the cold water it was as cold as any beer.
I felt the wood on my left now and felt my way between the boards. I ran my hand over the smooth sign I couldn’t see but knew it read “Danger, Keep Out, Caving Ground.”
Still on the old rail I felt my way along two more side tunnels to the first stash of supplies. I pushed aside the old planks and felt around for the oil lamp.
I had light and quickly changed into one of my air core jump suits.
I was glad I didn’t have to use either of the guard’s guns. Let them do all the shooting, for now anyway.
I shouldered the pack, rope and special .220 Swift I had built, with the large capacity clip. The .220 had been popular for only a few years. The bullet was only the size of a .22 but the cartridge carried a much more lethal punch. I had other weapons stashed under this mountain, everything I would need.
I walked easily down familiar tunnels.
I headed for a spot I could use to get news about their hunt. I sat down by a sealed shaft that was next to the mine tour office. At least they thought it was sealed!
I sat with my back against the boards, listening to the banter on the other side and sipping another beer. The whole town was talking about the escaped convict, who’d viciously murdered a Senator.
I shook my head as one guy said I had killed two guards, a judge and a couple of deputies in my escape. Hell, why didn’t they add the kid, the priest and Bill? Why not the whole town! I could see it now, “Man murders whole town in his escape from jail.”
I ate a couple of snickers bars before I left in disgust!
I startled out of my sleep at the sound of barking dogs. Fortunately I had planned my sleeping places for this eventuality. I was up and ready to move in less than ten seconds but by the time I was moving the first lights played across the big chamber.
Damn, caught in the open with fifty feet to safety.
I heard shouts, three hundred feet across the room. The echoes played off the walls making speech impossible to understand.
Where the boulder-strewn chamber made a fast retreat difficult it also provided cover.
A shot thundered around the chamber, just as I dove for a boulder near the tunnel I was heading for. Rock stung the left side of my neck as the bullet smashed into the boulder as I dove. I touched my neck and felt little splinters of rock. Nothing serious!
The dogs were making a hell of a racket as they tried to navigate the slick boulders. They were really excited to finally see the prey they were hunting. I was more afraid of what the dogs might do than of the men who were with them.
Fortunately they made enough light that I didn’t need mine. I pulled the .220 from my shoulder and aimed at a couple of spots above the men trying to follow the dogs across the room. The shots were in rapid succession. I saw the men dive behind rocks, thinking I was shooting at them. I kept firing until I saw the rocks start to give way.
I watched as the big pieces of loose ceiling crashed to the boulders below. The noise was horrendous and I felt the shaking under me as well. I quickly glanced up at the ceiling before I darted into the tunnel.
The rocks had fallen between the dogs and the men.
So, they knew I was down here. That changed my feeling of ease in my rocky labyrinth.
First, I had to deal with the dogs. I had stopped just inside the tunnel to listen and think. I could hear the muffled yells of the men behind me and the dogs were as loud as ever.
I couldn’t pick the dogs off from the tunnel I would be too vulnerable to bullets. There seemed to be three men and at least that many dogs. Maybe I had made the men think twice but dogs worked on a simpler plane and they were still advancing.
I had to act fast. I shouldered the rifle and got out my light. I ran down the narrow tunnel, slightly hunched over. I counted passages as I ran and knew the one I wanted was next. I could hear the dogs in the tunnel behind me. They would make better time in the uncluttered tunnels. My light must be visible to them. I hoped when I turned down the side tunnel, it would slow them down enough.
They were still gaining on me. It would be close. If I turned and faced them I would have to get them all before they reached me and I didn’t like those odds. I figured everything out in my mind as I ran and went through my plan a dozen times. If I missed the block, I was finished. I had to risk it. The dogs were only a little behind me as I saw the pipe ahead. Just a few more seconds! I grabbed for the pipe as I ran along and just barely held on. I moved it into position in my hands as I prepared to drop my light at the last second.
I would do the vault in the dark and pray I landed cleanly.
The mine tunnel I had run down was older than the giant shaft that came in from above. The miners had needed a way to transfer ore from levels above to those below. The shaft I was sailing across was bigger than the tunnel it cut through and there was no way around this bottomless ore chute. It wasn’t bottomless, of course, but when I had thrown rocks down to test its depth, I heard them bounce off the sides but I never heard them hit bottom!
My eyes were closed as I prepared for whatever landing I would have.
I had hauled an old water pipe to this vertical shaft years ago when I had to know where the tunnel went on the other side. I had inched my way across on the old pipe and found many more miles of connecting tunnels on the other side.
One brave day I had pounded in a block on either side. I found a pipe long enough and had worked up the gumption to vault over the abyss. Since I had vaulted in high school I knew how. It had been easier than I had thought. The thrill, of course, came from the knowledge that a miss meant certain death.
This was the first time I made the jump in the dark and when I finally landed on the other side, I rolled a couple of extra times to make sure I was away from the edge.
The next thing I heard made me give a high five to the darkness.
When I had planted the pole and dropped the light the dogs couldn’t see what lay ahead. They were so close I could nearly feel them. They had kept going, a fatal mistake.
I heard their barks and yips, silenced, one at a time, as they hit the rock sides of the shaft below. It was sad at the same time since I loved dogs but this had been them or me!
I was startled back to action when I saw lights of the men coming down the tunnel.
I didn’t have to go far to duck into a side tunnel where I leaned against the wall and listened.
I had blown it! I had stayed there too long. I had planned to leave no signs of my landing on this side of the tunnel but I had sat still too long. I wanted the men to think that the dogs and I had gone down into the hole but they could see where I’d landed.
“Here’s how he did it,” one of the men said. He’d found the block and figured it out.
“Who wants to follow?” I heard one of them say as the others answered with laughter.
“Well, at least we know he’s still down here. Where does that tunnel lead?” one asked.
“I don’t know! I didn’t bring any maps. The dogs were- - Man, Frank is gonna be pissed at our loosin’ his hounds. Those dogs were like his kids, expensive too!”
“Come on, let’s get back out. This place really gives me the creeps. Don’t you guys feel the walls closing in? I’m not gonna like goin’ back through that place where the rocks- - -“ and their voices were gone.
I was alone again.
So they had maps of the tunnels! Ah, it didn’t really matter. None of them had ever walked them. If you took a maze and let a person get totally familiar with it that was different. Then you gave him a head start and sent people after him who had never been in the maze, who would you put your money on? I was sure they couldn’t get me down here but they were giving it a damn good try. Would they use dogs again? I didn’t think so. Those dogs were too valuable.
I had seriously considered the possibility the authorities would use gas to get me and I had a mask handy at all times. I doubted they would because of logistics. The tunnels were too vast and the air eventually went back out into town. They just couldn’t risk it.
There was also the possibility of them trying to blast me out or in. I was prepared for all those possibilities. I had some explosives of my own and if they started setting off charges I would set one off that would blast rock all over town. They couldn’t risk that happening again if they decided to use explosives.
What they probably didn’t know, was that there were ways I had found to go under the whole mountain and come out ten miles by road from where I had gone in. I had gone the whole way to check my back door escape, if I needed it. I spent six hours watching from just inside that exit and saw no activity at all. Not near the old mine workings, not along the rutted track that once served this mine and not near the locked gate where it once joined the highway, two miles away. Everything looked like business as usual.
I could slip out this back route and just vanish into Mexico but I wasn’t quite ready for that yet. If I could figure out a way to die in the eyes of my pursuers it would be even better but I hadn’t figured out how yet!
I again sat by the sealed passage at the tour office and listened to the latest. For the first time I was glad man was so gossipy. Of course, most of what they said was total bullshit and twice I had nearly laughed out loud.
I had learned a lot about what the police were planning through the gossip. Even the cops posted at the tours tunnels gave away lots of information that was useful. If I ever worked for law enforcement, the first rule I’d make is to tell officers to keep their stupid mouths shut!
Three weeks and I was again at the sealed passage. Finally what I had been waiting for. The search was being called off. The whole thing was getting too expensive and almost everybody believed I had left the area. The guys who worked at the tour were totally convinced nobody could live underground for three weeks.
I am sure they had no idea that I had often been above ground and once even walked right through town to test my disguise.
The beard had to go but I had used my long hair to advantage. Dyed black and set into curls, I had walked the streets in broad daylight, as a woman. I nearly walked into the courthouse but thought better of it when I saw the judge drive by on his way to work. He looked right at me and, if I hadn’t been wearing sunglasses he might have recognized my eyes.
People no longer talked abut my escape and I had read all the available papers while having lunch at a place I had not spent time in before. I knew no one there and actually enjoyed my lunch. The only article on my case was at the back page of the local paper. Its main theme was how the county was going to spread out the cost my escape had burdened the already depleted budget with.
Now I could begin the plans I had formulated before my escape. I wanted to change the system and would use the internet to spread my feelings about how politicians were completely out of touch with the common man. That Senator had pushed me too far and I could have done a good job of defense with the right lawyer and my exemplary service record. Yes I had a temper but the blow had been a complete accident and he had pushed me first. Well, that would never happen to someone who had no money for such a lawyer. I would try and plead my case on the internet. I had no problem standing in front of a jury of my peers, ones that had served under the conditions I had endured and then been pushed too far and maybe some time down the road I would face that jury. For now I made plans to leave Bisbee behind and someday I might just be able to come back to the town that I had called my home for most of my life.
Copyright Rolf Luetcke