By Michael Morgan
Copyright 2016 All Rights Reserved
— 9 —
“That’s my car,” Emma admitted.
“Tom said he hired you three weeks ago,” Bob thumbed his hat back and scratched his forehead. “Is that right?”
“Now I’m just a small town Sheriff, but I have to wonder why your car is in my impound yard. I find it even more interesting that it was picked up along Forty-one after we cleared out a bunch of squatters.” Bob looked her in the eye, “Care to explain that?”
“I was…” Emma started.
“Save it,” Bob cut her off. “I don’t know why Tom took you in,” he looked her up and down, “but I can guess. Now me, I’ve got a standing request from the Feds to round up and deliver all homeless and refugees to Montgomery. For that my department gets reimbursed at the rate of five hundred dollars a head.”
“We’re not refugees…” Emma started again.
Bob stood away from the door frame, “I’m really not interested.”
Emma started backing away, “Please. I just came to work for Mr. Lewis.”
“And she had a tough time getting here.” The voice from the kitchen spun Bob around to face the speaker. “What are you doing in my house Bob?” Tom asked.
Bob puffed himself up with officiousness, “Now look Tom. These people were in a homeless camp we broke up a few days ago, and I have proof.”
“So what?” Tom’s voice was low, “She’s my housekeeper, and that’s all that matters to you.”
“I have orders from the Feds…” Bob weaseled.
“Sheriff Bob McCandless stands up to Washington to protect your rights,” Tom mocked Bob’s old campaign slogan before turning a hard stare on the Sheriff. “You’d best go do more of that standing up to Washington Bob. I’ve had a long day, and I’m out of patience.”
Bob started for the back door before Tom stepped in front of him, “Where’s your social graces Bob? Back door is for family. Front door is for company. You’ve been hanging with your new friends so much, you forgot where you come from.”
A dark red blush started up from the Sheriff’s collar, but before he could say anything, Tom added insult to injury, “Emma please show our guest out.”
Bob turned on his heel, “I know the goddamned way out!” Emma tried to help him get the door unblocked, but Bob just bulled his way through, and slammed it behind himself. A few moments later the truck’s engine groaned to life and Bob’s tires threw a rooster tail of dirt and stones against the front of the house.
Emma watched through the drapes until the truck fishtailed its way back onto the county road. Turning, she crashed into Tom’s chest burying her tears in his shirt, “I thought…”
“I know what you thought Emma,” Tom soothed, “but he didn’t. You and the kids are safe.”
“I was so scared! I woke up and you were gone, just some note!” Emma stood back from him, and her fear became rage, “Where did you go Tom?! Why did you leave us?!”
“Now Mrs. Pitts…” Tom started.
“That’s enough with the Mrs. Pitts!” she yelled. “My name is Emajean Yolanda Pitts. That’s just plain Emma to you! I’ve never been married, so I ain’t no danged Missus!”
Tom calmly reached out and caught the hand waving a finger in his face, gently pulling her back against him, “Ok. Mrs…” He felt her tense, and chuckled, “Just kidding Emma.”
“Mama? Are you OK?” The adults looked into the hallway and saw Jeremiah standing there holding the pistol with Caroline peeking around her brother’s side.
Emma stepped away from Tom and wiped her eyes, “Yes Jeremiah. I’m fine. The Sheriff scared me is all. Mr. Lewis sent him away, so we’re all right.”
“Well I guess that explains why you didn’t shoot Bob,” Tom observed. “You keep leaving that gun lying around instead of in your pocket.”
Emma took the pistol from Jeremiah and put it in her pocket. Turning back to Tom, “You’ve convinced me. Now, where were you for two days?”
Tom reached behind his back and pulled a long barrel revolver from his belt before going over to the recliner and collapsing more than sitting down. Emma noticed the grass and mud stains on the knees of his jeans, and the burrs and plant fibers clinging all over him, “My goodness, what did you do?!”
A deep sigh of relaxation and Tom started, “I got to thinking about what Bob said the other day, and decided to go to Montgomery to see for myself.”
“Tom! That must be thirty miles!” Emma started.
“Each way,” Tom finished. “And I’m not as young as I used to be. The trip over took the rest of the night and most of the next day, I followed I-80 almost to the airport when I started seeing abandoned cars parked in the fields along the road. It was like a county fair or something.” He turned to Jeremiah, “Could you please bring me some water?”
When Jeremiah returned, Tom drank, and continued, “I snuck along the rows of cars. Every now and again a car would drive along one of the rows and be parked at the far end of a row. Soldiers were parking the cars and walking back toward the highway. That area is pretty open, so I had to crawl under the cars to stay hid.” He handed the glass beck to Jeremiah, “More please.”
“What was going on?” Emma prompted.
“I finally got to the front row of cars, and could see that the Army had the road blocked off. Thank you Jeremiah,” he took the glass and only sipped this time. “When a car would pull up the people were taken out and separated into three fenced areas with tents. Younger people, say under fifty, men and women went to the left gate. Women with children went to the center gate, and older people went to the right gate. Then a soldier would drive their car away and park it. A few times large trucks full of people would pull up, and the folks were sorted the same way. Some of these trucks had police and sheriff department markings.”
“The refugees Bob talked about,” Emma whispered.
Tom nodded, “Once a person went inside a gate, they went inside a tent, and after a while they came out the other side and got on a big bus, like a Greyhound bus. When it was full it drove them away.”
“Where were they going?” Emma wondered aloud.
Tom shrugged, “I didn’t go up and ask. I did see two interesting things.”
Emma came back to herself, and looked at him expectantly.
“They have electricity. The city is lit up like everything is normal,” Tom said. “One family that drove up didn’t take to kindly to whatever it was the Army fellas told them. The man started walking his wife and kids away from the roadblock, and three soldiers tried to stop him. He knocked a couple of them down and the third soldier shot him,” Tom shook his head. “Right in front of his kids. The woman starts screaming and trying to get to her husband, but the soldiers bundle her and the kids off through gate number two just like that,” Tom’s voice faded with the memory.
“What about the man?” Jeremiah asked.
Tom looked at him, “They just left him lying there.”