By Michael Morgan
Copyright 2016 All Rights Reserved
— 7 —
Emma watched through the window as a fat man in a brown uniform and Smokey Bear hat stepped out from behind the door of his truck, and started walking up the driveway. “Hello Tom!” he called as he approached the house. The deputies hiding behind the open doors of the trucks relaxed. Once he was in the shade of the porch, he continued, “We’re out checking on folks. There was a riot near Selma two days ago, and when Selma PD broke it up, a lot of the rioters ran off into the countryside. We’ve had a bunch of looting, and some murders as a result, so we’re helping round them up.”
“Was that shooting I heard up near the Roger’s place?” Tom asked.
Bob pushed back his hat so he didn’t have to crane his neck back so far to talk to Tom, “Yeah. We caught a bunch of looters hold up in old lady Roger’s house. We tried to arrest ‘em and they started shooting.”
“All your boys OK?” Tom asked.
Bob grinned, “No casualties on our side. The looters didn’t make it.”
Tom nodded, “So what can I do for you?”
“Looks like you had some trouble of your own,” Bob said gesturing at the door leaning crookedly in its frame.
“I think that same bunch hit me too,” Tom said sadly. “Any chance one of ‘em was wounded before you got there?”
“Funny you should ask,” Bob said. “One had a bandage on his…” Movement at the window caught Bob’s eye. Faster than a man his size should be able to move, his pistol was out and aimed, “Come out! Now! Hands on top of your head!”
“Put that thing down Bob,” Tom said calmly. “You’re going to scare my housekeeper to death.”
Bob hesitated, and slightly lowered his weapon, “Housekeeper? When did you hire help?”
Tom turned toward the doorway, “Come on out Emma. Just move slowly.” As Emma came through the doorway, Toms said, “Bob, this is Emma Pitts, my housekeeper. I hired her three weeks ago. She’s got her two kids inside too.”
“Where are you from ma’am?” Bob holstered his pistol, but he did not snap the retaining strap, and he did not relax completely.
Emma stepped up beside Tom on the porch, “We’re from Biloxi.”
Tom leaned against a porch post, “What’s the story on the world Bob? Any news from outside?”
Bob regarded Emma for another long second before answering, “We know the power is out over a large part of the state. Montgomery and Mobile have power in scattered areas, but not much else. FEMA is a black hole. They’re always ‘assessing need’ and ‘allocating aid’, but nothing ever shows up. If I ask about the overall situation, they give me a list of bullshit honey-dos to prepare for their arrival.”
“Sounds typical,” Tom nodded.
“What I do know,” Bob said, “is a lot of the main transformer stations burned to the ground, and all about the same time. The National Guard commander is calling it terrorism.”
“Terrorists?” Tom sounded incredulous. “That doesn’t sound likely.”
Bob lowered his voice conspiratorially, “The orders out of Montgomery are to arrest and detain all refugees. Looters and saboteurs are to be shot on sight.”
Tom nodded, “That explains why you’re out running around like this.
“Speaking of, I’d best get back to it,” Bob admitted. “Keep an eye out Tom. Let me know if you see any new people around.”
“How do I do that Bob?” Tom asked. “The phones coming back on soon?”
“We’re monitoring CB channel 9,” Bob said “and we’re running patrols all over the county roads. You should see a car almost every day.”
“Saw one early this morning,” Tom admitted. “or his spotlight through my window, anyway.”
“Well I’ll see you later Tom,” Bob started to walk away and turned back. “Ms. Pitts, stay close to Tom. You’re not known around here, and you could get arrested by mistake.”
Emma half-smiled, “Thank you. I’ll be careful.”
“Hey Bob,” Tom called. “What are you doing with the folks you arrest?”
“We turn them over to FEMA in Montgomery. Y’all take care,” Bob turned and walked back to the trucks and his deputies. Watching the trucks back and turn, Tom and Emma could see people seated in the back of the trucks with their hands behind their backs. Men in the lead truck. Women and children in the other.
Emma crossed her arms and shivered despite the afternoon’s heat.
Tom nodded, “Not something I ever expected to see here.” Emma followed, still hugging herself, as he turned and walked back inside.
“Jeremiah.” Tom called. “C’mon out.”
The kids came out of the kitchen cautiously. “Who were they?” Jeremiah asked.
“Men following orders that don’t make sense,” Tom explained as he returned to his recliner, “so they can’t be blamed for thinking.”
“I don’t understand, Mr. Lewis.” Jeremiah started.
Emma cut him off, “They were policemen, and they’re looking for people like the ones who broke into Mr. Lewis’ house yesterday. They’re gone now.”
Jeremiah nodded, “We’re hungry. Can we have lunch now? Please?”
“Sure,” Emma replied. “Tom, are you hungry?”
When Tom didn’t answer Emma turned to see him lost in thought. Turning back to the kids, “Let’s see what we can find, and then the Housekeeper will need her junior housekeepers’ help to get this place livable.”
Emma shuffled carefully through the dark house. She stubbed her toe on a piece of furniture causing it to thump into the wall. She found the door frame, and groped her way into the room softly cursing country darkness under her breath. A soft slithering sound and several metallic clicks brought her up short, “It’s me Tom.”
“Mrs. Pitts?” came the voice in the dark. “Something wrong?”
Moving toward his voice, Emma found the edge of the bed, “The kids were kicking me to death. Do you mind?” She found the edge of the covers without waiting for an answer. As she settled in, she heard two metallic clicks and something heavy being set on the nightstand. “Sleep well,” she told him.