Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Chapter XXXVI

      A short, roundish man came in and from the way his body quivered I could tell he used to be a lot more roundish than he was at that moment.  The Commander nodded but it was Mr. Billings who talked.  “Well Miss Doherty … or do you prefer Miz?” he asked with a smile he must have thought was funny cute.

      “Miss is fine sir,” I told him.

      “Well Miss Doherty, it appears everything is in order.  I had quite a time tracking all of your paperwork last night I tell you.  I haven’t had such an interesting assignment in quite some time.  It is so novel when people actually tell the truth.”  I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to say to that so I kept my mouth shut but I was beginning to get hopeful.  “Now what I need you to do is stand against that white wall over there so I can get a recent picture – the one on your passport is too out of date and you were under sixteen at the time anyway – and we’ll get you an ID.”

      “You … you mean …”  I stopped and swallowed.  “Is … is everything ok now?”

      “Why yes it is.  Did you not understand that this was all just a formality?  Now come along, I want to get this filed properly.  I cannot stand to have all the loose ends that I’ve had to tie up going through your file.”

      I moved over to the wall as directed.  “I have a file?”  At the same time I was thinking that for a formality they had sure seemed to prize scaring the bejeebers out of me and actually hadn’t stopped.

      “Why yes.  Everyone in the protected zones has a file.  One was started on you as soon as you crossed into this part of the state from Arkansas.  I then connected you into the checkpoints in Arizona, Idaho, and Colorado.  There was a gap of information between there and your entry into Tennessee but based on your statements at the state line I believe I’ve filled that gap adequately.  Your file is a little larger than most of those in this area but, like I said, I like nice and tidy ends.”

      “Why is mine … uh … larger?”

      “Well, I like to be thorough and had to really dig but I attached your medical files both from your father’s time in the military and your time in the various quarantine and medical facilities.  Old school records as well that were part of the national education system.”  Tapping on the laptop that was still on the table faster than I’ve ever seen a human type he frowned and then smiled.  “There we are, all set.”  He attached another device to the laptop and then out of the new device several cards were spit out.  “All right then, first off, this is your new ID.  You must carry it on your person at all times.  Hmmm.  You did say that all of the children were under the age of twelve did you not?”

      “Uh … I don’t … I mean … I didn’t say anything about that here.”

      “No, not here,” he said impatiently.  “When you came into the protected zone.”

      Knowing I was caught I said, “They’re all ten and under.”

      “Even better.  At thirteen they would need a picture ID of their own but these will suffice.  However, if you have other papers for them I would not get rid of them.”

      “Er … yes sir.  I mean I won’t sir.”

      “Very good.  Now sign for all of these.”  I placed my signature where he told me to but my hand was shaking so bad I was afraid my handwriting looked like a first grader’s.  “Now, I have two other cards here; one for you and one for your younger brother, Paulson Doherty.  These will allow you access once per month into a special branch of the Exchange.  You will be the primary cardholder, your brother’s is merely one that will allow him to enter since he is under age.  I’ve loaded yours with this month’s benefits as well as the benefits that would have been due to you up to this point; however, due to rationing you will only be able to use a portion of what is on the card.  Every six months you will also be put on a list that will allow you to purchase from the Bx.”

      Not quite willing to believe what I was being told I asked, “What’s the difference between the two?”

      “Good question.  The Bx is primarily clothing and footwear.  The Exchange is more like a grocery store.”

      I had to remember to shut my mouth but my eyes still felt like they were about to fall out and roll around on the floor like a dropped coin.  Mr. Billings, his business finished to his liking, packed up and left.  The Commander remained and I looked at him.

      Knowing people called commander didn’t just stand around for no reason I asked, “Am I still in some kind of trouble?”

      “No.  However, I would like for you to deliver a piece of advice to Mr. Killarney.”  At my nod he said, “While I appreciate how … unusual … the circumstances are in this situation it would be unwise were I to need to see him in my office any time in the near future.”

      I gulped and nodded.  “Yes sir.”

      “Good.  You may leave.”  I knew an order when I heard it.  I shoved the ID cards in my pocket, tossed all of my papers and such in the file box, and got out of there while the getting was good.

Chapter XXXV

      “What in Sam Hill are you doing Boy?”

      “Trying to figure out how to get me, Dovie, and that box of papers onto Grits so we can get going.”

      “You do it by hitching that fool horse to the little wagon.”

      Jude shook his head.  “Clewis needs the wagon to move hay.”

      “Clewis can use the sled and like it.  Now hurry up Boy before things get in a worse fix.”

      It was still dark and so was Uncle Roe’s mood.  I stayed out of the way in the corner until Jude was finished and then watched a strange thing.  Jude bent down and picked up the file box of records that I was taking and as he walked by Uncle Roe silently reached out and stopped him, gripped his stiff shoulder and then patted it twice before saying, “Things will be all right.  No need to worry.”  He sniffed and nodded twice almost as if he was talking to himself.

      Almost like it was dance steps Jude hefted the box into the wagon and then turned and gave Uncle Roe a quick one armed hug and said, “Yes sir.  From your lips to God’s ears.  It’ll be just fine.”

      The two men looked at each other, nodded, then beckoned me over.  Not sure of my reception as Uncle Roe was not fond of being put in a position to worry I sidled over and made to go climb in the wagon without a word.  Before I could I was enveloped in a big hug and admonished to mind my p’s and q’s and follow Jude’s directions.  All I did was whisper a quiet, “Yes sir.”

      “It’ll be ok Sister.”

      “That’s what Jude keeps telling me.”

      Uncle Roe nodded and then wiped his nose on his bandana before clapping the side of the wagon which seemed to be Jude’s signal to pull out.

      We were going down the road slowly due to the fact the sun seemed to be lagging behind times.  I turned to Jude and said, “I’m sorry.”

      “What for?”

      “For … you know … Uncle Roe being … being …”

      “Sour as an ex-girlfriend’s glare?”

      The simile gave me pause but I answered, “Uh … Yeah, pretty much.”

      Jude sighed.  “That’s not your fault.  Not mine either for that matter.  Mom came back from her sister’s place in a foul mood.  It’ll take a couple of days for her to get her fidgets out.  Her sister married money and normally when she goes she’s treated real good but this time apparently they treated her more like a hired hand and expected her to do a lot of stuff their ‘staff’ used to do for them … the ones they had to let go because they couldn’t pay them.  Uncle Martin’s practice is in the toilet and he thought he was a shoe in for a position out at the hospital where they are sending home soldiers that need psychiatric help but they said he wasn’t qualified and didn’t have the training to treat battle fatigue and the like … or so Wendalene whispered to me while you were telling River and Butch about the kids.”

      “I … uh … didn’t see Clewis or Crystal this morning.”

      “Nope.  Clewis built them a little camp off on the other side of the tractor barn.”

      Surprised I said, “Crystal likes camping?  She doesn’t seem the type.”

      “What type is that?” he asked and then ignored his own question.  “Actually they were real adventurous before they settled down in Dakota for a while so Clewis could earn more money for more adventuring.  Butch got him a job on his crew and River got Crystal a job at a local private school.  They had it good for a while, were real happy according to Butch and River, now … not so much.”

      “Where’s Crystal’s family?  Is that what is pinching at her?”

      “She’s from upstate New York and as I understand it she was raised by a couple of old maid aunts that passed her first year in college.  If she has other family she ain’t ever been interested in talking about them.”

      “Weird.  Clewis hasn’t ever said anything?”

      “If he has it ain’t to me.  In case you didn’t notice we don’t exactly go outta our way to spend time with one another.”

      I shrugged.  “You both have reason to feel the way you do.”

      “Hey … you on my side or his?”

      “Neither, I’m on mine,” I said bumping into him on purpose to take the sting out of what was actually the truth.  “You both were a couple of stinkers and you know it.  You just had the misfortune of getting caught more often than Clewis did.  Butch covered for him a lot more than he should have, or so said my father.”

      He gave a surprised bark of laughter.  “I take it that was likely said during a lecture to Jack and Jay.”

      “Why however did you guess?”

      He gave another laugh and we were both companionably silent, ignoring what we were sent to face, until the sun came up and I could see that we were getting close to the area that was close to the checkpoint.  He turned to me and asked, “You brought your picture IDs?”

      “Of course I did.  Do I look stupid?”  I heard how it came out and flinched.  “Sorry,” I muttered.

      “Don’t be.  You’re just nervous.  Just take it easy, do as they tell you and everything will be all right.  I won’t let it be anything else than that.”

      “Jude …”

      “Just listen Dovie.  If … if it looks like there might be trouble, you do what you have to do to get to me at the fuel depot.  That’s right next door to the Commander’s office building.  That’s all you need to know.”

      “Jude …”

      “I mean it Dovie.  Just do as I tell you.  I’ll take care of the rest.”

      I didn’t know what kind of heroics he was planning but I wasn’t going to let him go through with it.  There wasn’t time to argue about it however as people started materializing everywhere and we had to wait in line to get through the checkpoint and then show our IDs and then got an escort because of what our business was.

      They told Jude where he could park the wagon and corral Grits but there was a woman there to escort me away before he finished.  “Wait!  I was going to take her over there,” he said surprised.

      “You’re going to be late for your community service.  For every five minutes late they’ll tack on an extra hour.”

      Getting more nervous by the second I told him, “Jude, just get over there.  It’s already my fault you have five hours, don’t let them make it more.”

      “But …”

      The woman said, “She’ll be fine Mr. Killarney.  If you finish before she does you can wait for her in the annex wing.  If she finishes she will wait there for you.”

      “Dovie, you remember what I said?”

      “Yes Jude, do as I’m told and everything will be OK.”

      The woman was growing impatient so I took the file box from Jude and turned to follow her.  My arms were shaking by the time I was escorted down a long hall and told to sit at a table; the box was heavy.

      About fifteen long minutes later a man walked in and sat down in front of me.  He looked me over but didn’t say anything.  I knew that game and kept my mouth shut.  Then another man walked in, this one looked nicer only I knew if this was the game I thought it was he was actually the nastier of the two.”

      “Welcome to the District Commander’s Office Miss Doherty,” he said beaming.

      I told him, “Thank you.”

      “Do you know why you are here?”

      “Yes sir.”

      He just looked at me and then was forced to say, “And that is?”

      “Mr. Hennisey, the man from the checkpoint where I came in at, made some threats against me and my kids and did some lying to try and scare my cousin – Jude Killarney – into forgetting what these guys that had attacked my Uncle Roe’s farm had said because it was the exact same words that Mr. Hennisey had said to me a couple of times.  Jude … he’s real protective … didn’t care for Mr. Hennisey’s threats and insinuations and would have gotten into a fight with him only some other men there in the store stopped them both from brawling.  The Commander got involved because some other people said some things that showed Mr. Hennisey had been taking advantage of his position but because of the things that got said I was asked to come in and verify that I wasn’t doing fraud or something like that.”

      The two men looked at each but didn’t say anything.  I asked, “Did I say too much?”

      The one playing the “good cop” gave me a sincere but fake smile and said, “Oh no, not at all.  We did ask you.”

      “Yes sir but Jude already got in trouble because he caused a ruckus trying to protect me and my kids.  I just don’t want to make it worse.”

      “And just what were the comments that Mr. Hennisey is alleged to have made that … er … caused your cousin concern?”

      “Well it started off with the slanty-eyed comment.”

      “Uh … slanty-eyed?”

      I shrugged.  “I’ve got a mirror.  It’s not like people haven’t said it before.  After the news people got ahold of some facts about the virus people said some prejudice stuff.  It is just a plain fact that I can’t deny that I’m a throw back.”

      I had used the throw-everything-and-nothing-at-them-when-they-ask routine with the medical staff when they started to get nasty.  They usually wound up with the same cautiously confused look the two men were starting to wear.  “A throwback?”

      “Yes sir.  My great great great grandmother was Hawaiian.”

      The “bad cop” asked roughly, “Do you really expect us to believe that?”

      I shrugged.  “I don’t see why you wouldn’t but I brought the family Bible just in case.”  I stood up and took the large, antique book out of the file box and opened it to the front where old cribbed up writing filled almost every page there.  I also took out the photo album that Jack and Jay had made for one of their Boy Scout merit badges.  “Ok, see this first page?  That’s the marriage license of my great great great grandparents.  They were married by the captain of the ship my great great great grandfather signed on to.  He was a red-headed Irishman named O’Daugherty and she was an orphan whose parents had died in the leper colony and was working as a maid for one of the hotels on the island.  They had a little boy – that would be my great great grandfather – but she got sick right after that and died.  My great great great grandfather took his son and immigrated to the US and changed his name first to O’Doherty and then his son changed it to just plain Doherty.  Here’s the pictures that go with the names.  All the Doherty men in my family since then are either red headed, auburn or strawberry blondes … I’m the first girl born into the family for two generations and somehow or other I got stuck not only with the dark Hawaiian looks but the blasted Irish freckles on top of it and it’s a bad combination that has caused me endless grief.  I used to live in Florida and I had to wear a hat and 50 spf sunblock all the time … not because I burn but because of the freckle factor.”

      I looked up and the two men were just sort of staring at me like they’d been hit in the face with a pie.  “Uh … sorry.  Did I not answer your question?”

      The “good cop” forgot which one he was supposed to be and snapped, “And just how does Killarney come into it?”

      “That’s my mother’s maiden name.  I’ve got that over here and …”

      The other guy said, “No!  No, that’s … that’s all right.  Let’s stick to this generation.  We need to see your birth certificate and any other documentation you have that can prove your identity.”

      “Let’s see … driver’s license, passport, shot records from the military …”

      “You were not in the military,” they both said.

      “Of course I wasn’t.  Dad was.  So were both my big brothers.”

      “What branch?” one of them asked, scribbling for dear life.

      “Dad was in the Air Force.  Jack and Jay were in the Army and Navy but they’re all gone now.”

      “What do you mean?”

      I sighed.  “All three were killed in the first weeks of the war.  And before you ask where and what unit they were in at the time I don’t know because when they sent their papers in when they gave us back their bodies it was all blacked out.  That’s part of the reason why Mom never got the benefits that were due her and why we left Tampa, moved around a couple of times and then wound up in Phoenix which is where she caught the virus.  Paulie … that’s my little brother … and I are both Double Negatives.”

      I pulled up my sleeve and said, “If you have one of those reader thingies I’m chipped and it should give you everything you need to know.”

      They both got up quickly at that and left.  I sat there for another thirty minutes looking at the family Bible and then two new people came in; one was a woman and the other was the Commander if the tag on his shirt front was to be believed.  I saw that the woman had a chip reader in her hand so I automatically stuck my arm out and told her, “You’ll have to press down a little because they attached it to the bone.”

      The woman gave me a prune face and said, “That is a non-standard placement.”

      I shrugged.  “Too many adults and older teens kept digging them out and crushing them and the medical staff got hacked off so they started gluing it to bone.  They glued it to the skull area behind the ear for trouble makers, the rest of us just had it done to our arms.  You still get a reading, you just need to hold it still and …”  She was still giving me prune face.  “You want me to show you?” I asked helpfully.

      I really don’t think she expected to find anything but when I put my hand on hers to show her how hard she needed to push the ding of a connect made her jump.  “You … you were in the Phoenix facility,” she stuttered when the number came up.

      “Yep.”  I was beginning to think the woman was dense.  “That’s what I’ve been saying.”

      She turned to look at the man who then introduced himself.  “I’m Commander Blankenship.”

      “How do you do,” I told him politely like my parents raised me to.  Then I turned to the woman and told her, “You can stop pressing now that you’ve got a connect.  Just push that little button there and …”

      She flared her nostrils but didn’t say anything.  At least she stopped pressing before she left an imprint.  She stuck the USB plug from the reader into a laptop and after a couple of minutes it started making more noise that a hen with hemorrhoids trying to lay an egg.  I leaned over trying to see what was on the screen but she turned it so I couldn’t.  Then she turned it so that the Commander could.

      He looked at it a moment, nodded, and said, “That will be all.  Send in Mr. Billings.”

      The woman didn’t look happy at being dismissed but the Commander didn’t give off the aura of someone that you told no to unless that was the answer he was looking for.

Chapter XXXIV

Trying to explain what I had to do to Paulie and Tiffany and the other kids was not fun.  Paulie and Tiff had an idea of what could happen.  Bobby nearly came unglued that I’d be further away than someplace he could run to.  The others only grasped that this was something out of the ordinary and that it could be bad.

      “Jude won’t let anything happen,” Paulie said forcefully.

      “Paulie … don’t put that kind of pressure on Jude.  It’s not fair.”

      “He won’t,” he still insisted.

      I let it go because the more I tried to reason with them the more upset they became.  Sometimes little kids just have to believe what they need to believe.  Friday morning Jude regretfully said, “I gotta still go work at Carlson’s.  I’m not much in the mood to listen to him but I made a contract – verbal but still a man’s gotta keep his word – and I don’t like to break my word.”

      Handing him a nosebag I said, “I know you don’t.  While you’re gone what do you want me to do with all of your stuff?”  I looked a little helplessly at the produce that still littered the kitchen.

      “Ain’t mine … did it to feed the kids so do with it what you need to.  Dad wouldn’t take the feed either, the hard head, so I’ll have to find some kind of barrel to put it in for storage or we’ll have mice and squirrels all over the place.  Now I gotta go but I’ll take care of the feed tonight, just have Paulie keep an eye on it through the day, maybe cover it if it looks like it is going to rain.”

      “Ok.”  As he walked away I said, “Will you ask up at the house if someone will … will …”

      “Dovie, nothing is going to happen.”  But he sighed and said, “I’ll ask River.  I know her and Butch want kids but she’s never been around them much until she moved here with him and all she’s had are those hellions of my sisters.  Maybe if she compares those to this bunch it will give her a chance to fix her mind on it one way or the other.”

      I nodded then added, “Tell Uncle Roe …”

      He turned and started walking again while saying, “I ain’t in the mood to talk to him right now.”

      “Oh Jude.”

      He sighed again and turned around and told me, “Don’t start that again.  This ain’t the first time Dad has ripped a strip off me but it’s one of the few I didn’t deserve.  It’ll be fine, I’m just not ready to kiss and make up.”

      “We don’t always get another chance,” I told him sadly.

      He didn’t take kindly to the reminder and stomped away.

      I went back to the house and the rest of the morning felt like a funeral.  I tried not to show worry to the kids but they couldn’t help but see it.  Every step I took whether I was putting stuff in the root cellar, canning, or anything else it was like trying to wade through hungry puppies.  I couldn’t even go to the bathroom without little eyes peeping under the door asking what I was doing.

      I can’t even remember what we ate at the noonday meal.  About three o’clock Jude came back and he was driving the wagon and at first it looked like there was a patch work quilt in the back but then he got closer I realized it was full of melons and colorful winter squash … and up on the front seat with Jude was a large pumpkin. 

      “Who wants to help me with this thing?” he asked the kids in a big jovial voice.  They blinked at him for a couple of minutes and then ran for the wagon.  I just shook my head thinking of pedestals and heroes. 

      I walked over and didn’t know what to say.  He looked at me and his smile faltered a bit.  “I’m worse than a bear with a sore head when Dad and I are on the outs.”

      “Is it better now?”

      “Yeah,” he sighed.  “Dad insisted on riding to Carlson’s with me and we talked it out.  Worked a few things out too.  Mom’s back – got in this morning nearly at daybreak – escaping from her sister and brother’s place from what she said.  I don’t think her visit was good for her or Reynolds either.  Her nerves are shot and Reynolds is as wild as he has been for a while … until Rochelle made him drink what he calls his tea.  I don’t know if it is really doing something or is a what-a-ya-call-it … a placebo … but he calmed right down and then sat and played with my sisters’ kids like nothing was wrong.  Rochelle said she is going to keep Mom and Reynolds at the house tomorrow.  River is going to come up here and watch the kids and Butch is going to come up here and watch her and move some of the stuff out of their smokehouse into this one as they had to put down a hog that broke its leg so it will go into theirs.”

      “Not Crystal?”

      He cleared his throat.  “Seems she and Clewis are … uh … not seeing eye to eye on a couple of things and Dad thinks it better if they don’t carry it to the kids if they are already upset.”

      I nodded in relief.  “Ok.”

      “Uh … look, about me being sour …”

      “You explained it and I can’t blame you.”

      “Soooo … you and me, we’re not fighting?”

      I looked around.  “I don’t see any fighting.  What about you?”

      He gave a small grin in relief then turned to Paulie who had asked, “Which ones do we take inside Jude?”

      “The ones that are X’d with a red grease pencil.  All the rest I’m taking back down to the main house so they can have the wagon back.  And don’t squash my bag Monkey, I’ve got a surprise in there for Dovie.”

      “Better not be another snake,” I muttered.

      “Nope, it is green but it’s not a snake.”  At my still distrustful look he tried to look innocent and said, “Tomatoes.”

      Being as it was a completely unexpected answer I squeaked, “What?!”

      He gave me a huge grin.  “I remembered how much you like fried green tomatoes when I saw Carlson’s wife just throw a bunch of plants in their gully because the trunk of the plants got broke off when their dogs got loose and started fighting in the garden.”

      “And she just threw them away?” I asked thinking the woman must be crazy or wasteful or both.

      “I know.  If Carlson had known he would have been fit to be tied, the old skinflint.  But maybe that’s why she did it.  She can be like that just to get back at him for pinching pennies.  They can be bad nasty to each other and still smile like nothing is wrong.  I got as many out as I could.  Some of ‘em are bruised but not as many as I expected.”

      I left one melon upstairs but everything else went down into the basement.  The wagon still looked full when Jude turned it to take it back down to the main house.  I was putting things away while the kids ate supper when Jude came back.

      “Come up and eat supper Dovie; I’m hungry.”

      “Then eat.”

      “I’m not playin’ Dovie.”

      I turned to look to see what he wasn’t playin’ at and realized he meant he wanted me to come upstairs and eat.  “I’m not hungry Jude.”

      “I know you’re not but you’re gonna eat anyway even if I have to feed it to you.  At the very least you’ll eat some of that melon you cut up for dessert.”

      “Jude …”

      “Don’t make me boss you Dovie.”

      I snorted.  “Isn’t that what you’re doing already?”

      “No … not really.”

      I heaved a sigh and went to eat if for no other reason than I got the feeling that Jude would be just mule-headed enough to refuse to eat unless I did. 

      I put a piece of melon on a plate and then sighed in exasperation when Jude put two more on top of it.  “That’s enough,” I told him meaning more than just what the words said.

      “Depends on whether you eat that or pick at it,” he responded right back with the same undercurrent of meaning as I had.

      Almost in the mood to be spiteful and sit there staring at him I instead decided to try and not cause yet another brangle and save my energy for what I knew would be coming tomorrow.

      Jude made me almost rethink my choice when he said, “Saints be praised, the girl is eating.”

      “Enough Jude.  I’m sitting.  I’m eating.  Now stuff you own face and be quiet,” I snapped.

      “That was the plan all along.”  After we’d been eating silently for a couple of minutes Jude asked quietly, “They been doing that all day?”

      I turned to look and see what he was talking about and five heads disappeared from around the edge of the door and then Corey got pulled backwards and then I heard feet rushing up the stairwell.  Sighing I turned back around and told him, “Yeah.  They’re upset.  We haven’t been apart in … in months and months.”

      “But it is only going to be for part of a day and you need to tell them that.”

      “I’m not going to say it and have it be a lie Jude.”

      “It’s not going to be a lie.”

      “It could be and I won’t take the risk.”

      He shook his head.  “It’s not going to be a lie Dovie.  And either way sometimes a lie is better than the truth.  Tell them it’s going to be ok at least.”

      “I’ve already told them that.”

      “But they can sense you don’t believe it.”

      Closing my eyes for a minute and trying to hold in the acid belch that threatened to rise up I finally said, “I’m trying to Jude.  There just hasn’t been a lot of … of reason to believe in good stuff for a while.”

      “You’re here aren’t you?  You got them kids you wanted haven’t you?”

      I blinked at him in surprise.  He was one of the last people I would have ever expected to be lecturing on the art of believing the glass was half full.  He snorted, “I know.  I’m one to talk right?  But this time even I can see it.  Don’t let the long, hard rough patch you went through start making you automatically think your whole life is going to stay like that.  It took me getting sober before I could see that for myself.  You ain’t a drunk or addict so you don’t have an excuse.  And what happened to all that church believing you have?  Think it only works when things are going good?”

      That made me stop and think.  I tried to let go of the bad feelings but I could still feel them pressing in from all sides.  “Jude … I’m … I’m scared.  Not for me, I kinda don’t feel anything for me right now.  But what if I can prove who I am and that I belong but then they …”  It felt like something huge and heavy was sitting on my chest.  Quietly I leaned over and whispered, “What if they take the kids away?”

      “That ain’t gonna happen Dovie.  They don’t have any place to take them to.”

      “Child and Family will …”

      “Won’t do squat.  One of the few good things to come out of martial law around here is that the jackasses in the county got their fangs pulled.  You might have to provide some type of educational plan but then again maybe not.  They still haven’t gotten the school system back up and running when it got shut down because of the virus.  They just don’t have any place to take the kids to and provide them with anything.  Even if they say something I doubt they’ll do anything.”  Some of me was relieved but I wasn’t going to take it as a fact until I knew for sure. 

      Jude helped me to wrangle the kids to bed with a story of him and Jack and Jay’s first hunting trip; they had been as close to a serious fuss as I’d ever had to deal with because I told them they couldn’t come to my appointment with me.  After they were actually asleep he said, “You need a story to get you to sleep?”

      I shook my head.  “I’ve got stories already.”

      “That why you’re so quiet?”

      “Just thinking.”

      “Don’t do that.  You’ll start worrying again.”

      I looked at him and admitted, “Haven’t really stopped … just stopped acting like I was.”

      “Well that ain’t helpful.”

      “It let the kids think what they wanted to so it was helpful,” I contradicted.

      “OK, so what are you thinking?”

      I looked at him to see if he really wanted to know.  I saw that he really thought he did anyway.  “About some of the things I saw on the road.”

      “What kind of things?”

      I shrugged, “The kinds of things you wished you never had.  You know I can’t even count the number of DBs – that’s what we called dead bodies – that I saw?  It was awful.”

      He looked alarmed.  “Hey … pick something else to think about.”

      “I wish I could.  I just keep seeing all of these faces … or what used to be faces after nature got through with them … staring at me.  I keep seeing and hearing the people that died in the medical facilities, how freaked out even the upper muckety muck doctors and staff were.  I remember what was left of Uncle James and how I had to … to bend him … it … to fit in the hole that I dug.  I remember the nasty look in the eyes of the woman that gave me Mom’s ashes.  I just can’t get away from it Jude.  It’s never been like this before.  It feels like I’m being attacked.  It won’t stop.”

      He got up and came to sit close beside me on the sofa and whispered, “It gets like that when I need a drink real bad Dovie.  It seems like it won’t ever stop but I’ve learned that if I fight it eventually does.  You just gotta believe that it will stop and it will.”
      I was shaking in a way I never had … not even when I had shot and killed those men which for some reason wasn’t part of the bad stuff coming at me.  That in itself bothered me making me wonder what kind of person I was.

Chapter XXXIII

“You did what?!!”

      “I said I flat out asked him if he had been the one to tell Caleb that you were back in town because he had used the exact same words when he and Jinx tried to attack you.”

      “Oh my Lord Jude!  Did you get dropped on your head as a baby or were you born this way?!”

      “Depends on who you talk to,” he smarted back at me.

      “Jude!  This isn’t anything to fool around about,” I snapped, worried now that I knew Hennisey was somehow at the root of it.

      Jude shook his head.  “I swear you sound just like Granny.  And no, I refuse to be sorry.  Especially not after ol’ Buttface started with ‘you going to have a hard time proving that’ and that as a so-called duly deputized blah-blah-blah that he was thinking about checking into certain rumors.”

      Alarmed I asked, “What rumors?!”

      “That’s what I asked him.  He said that we were rumored to be protecting possible illegals and that it would be a shame if word got to his superiors and that the hypothetical illegals got thrown into the work camp until someone had time to verify the paperwork that might accidentally get lost along the way.”

      “He … did … not!  I’ll die before I let them put my kids in some kind of camp Jude.  I’ll …”

      “Ease up Dovie.  Ease up,” he said after he realized I was border line panicking.  “I told you I wasn’t going to let him get away with what I was beginning to suspect.  He’s been looking for a way to get at Dad for a while now because Dad don’t think squat of him and sure as hell … uh, heck … ain’t afraid of him.”

      “I will not …”

      “Listen to me Dovie.  I didn’t mean to send you into a tail spin … just hear me out.”  I wasn’t all that calm but I shut up to hear the rest of the bad news.  “Ol’ Buttface messed up this time.  They might allow as how he was a big man and could shake a few folks down for some perks but some folks started understanding he was talking about something that went way beyond a shake down.  Those work camps … they are no place for a female of any age or type; especially not for children.  They might be segregated by gender at night but they ain’t separated by much and riots are almost a weekly thing and what happens during those riots from what I hear …” 

      He petered off and I said, “I’m sure I can guess.  That’s why I’ll do everything in my power to keep the kids from it … even if it means dying.  And I’m not just playing Jude”

      Jude looked at me and said quietly, “I know you’re not.”  He reached out to do something but drew his hand back thinking better of it.  “That’s when maybe I got stupid.  I saw red and after what happened with Caleb and Jinx I was still on edge and would have taken him out by his throat but a bunch of men got between us.  We still made a little bit of a mess in the store and somebody must have gone to tattle to the local commander’s office … who just happens to be Buttface’s boss.  The man himself came over because he’d just been across the street at the fuel depot.  We got escorted to his office and we had to give statements.  They took statements at the store too because of the position Buttface has … and people were allowed to give them anonymously.”

      “Oh Jude …”

      “It’ll be all right Dovie.”  He sighed then swallowed.  “Thing is Commander Blankenship is a fair man … but more than a little hard too.  We were there a couple of hours and enough evidence came against Buttface that he’s been relieved of duty.  He’s also got about two hundred community service hours he is going to have to serve at the commander’s pleasure for abusing his power.  He may face criminal charges if some of the statements that were given are proven to be true.  He didn’t let me go scott-free either because I was going to fight Buttface while he was still carrying his badge … causing a public ruckus basically with a side of don’t-embarrass-this-office-again-boy.”

      “Oh Jude.”

      “You keep saying that like it’s going to change the way I am,” he said in a huff.

      “I don’t want you to be anyone other than yourself.  What I don’t want is for yourself to get into so much trouble over me.  It’s not fair.  It’s not right.”

      His ruff went back down.  “Wellll … if it was just me I wouldn’t feel so bad.  But they want you …”

      “Me what?” I asked in alarm all over again.

      “I have to go give the commander five hours community service at the fuel depot; I’ll probably be working on fixin’ pumps.  But you gotta come with me.”

      “What do I know about pumps?  I … I suppose I could hand you tools and stuff.”

      “Not for that.  You … uh …”  He stopped and sighed.  “Dad has done tore a strip off of me so if you are going to do it be gentle if you please ‘cause I’m tender in spots.”  My heart was beating so hard it hurt.  “You gotta bring your papers and any papers you have for the kids.  The Commander wants to see them personally and hear your story.  I’m … I’m sorry Dovie.  I didn’t mean to … to …”

      “This man have a lot of power Jude?”

      “He’s appointed by the governor’s office but also has the seal of approval from the military and DHS.  So yeah, he’s got power.  And he ain’t sloppy about wielding it either.  Like I said, I suppose he is fair for a man in his position when he doesn’t really have to be … but he’s not someone you cross either.”

      I swallowed.  “When?”


      “Well, I guess that gives me a day to get all the papers together.  Do … do you think someone would … would look after the kids?”

      “Of course … wait … you ain’t meaning permanently?”

      “I have to plan for that Jude,” I said starting to really get agitated.  “I didn’t let myself on the road, at least not much, because there wasn’t anything I could do about it.  But … but …”

      “Now you listen here, I’m not going to let …”

      I put a hand over his mouth to stop him.  He jumped like he’d been stung.  Quietly I told him, “We don’t always get what we want in life.  Things … things happen.  To … to people.  We …”

      I was crying without really meaning to.  I suppose I was scared but it was also the idea that Jude and all of them would try and protect me and if it was bad I couldn’t let them.  Jude always melted when Aunt Frankie or his sisters started up the waterworks and he did the same thing with me.  He was patting my back and saying, “Nothing bad is going to happen Dovie.  I won’t let it.  Dad won’t let it.  Butch won’t let it.  Not even Clewis would just stand by and let you disappear like that.”

      I swiped at the offending tears that didn’t seem to understand that I had vowed not to let anyone see me cry ever again.  “Don’t make promises like that Jude.  I know you’d … you’d try; all of you would.  But … but I’m sure Dad and Jack and Jay didn’t mean to die and leave Mom and us alone.  I’m sure Mom didn’t mean to … to let go the way she did.  I know she didn’t mean to die and leave us even more alone.  But they did; they all did.  And I don’t blame them for it, but it makes me understand that there are some promises or intentions you just don’t get allowed to keep no matter how much you want to.  I can’t let you all put everyone else at risk like that.  If … if it looks like it is going bad, just the only promise I want is that someone will be there for the kids and keep them all together.”

      Jude refused to even entertain the thought.  “It’s gonna be all right Dovie.  You’ll see.”