“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
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?”
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.