The kids had been in bed for quite some time. It was well passed my own bed time but I couldn’t go to sleep. Jude still wasn’t home. I didn’t know whether to walk down to the house and ask if the others were there. If something was off surely someone would have come to tell me. And if they didn’t think anything was off, or if the other men had returned that could only mean that Jude was off on whatever his private business was and knew what he was doing. At least I kept telling myself that.
To keep myself occupied I was ironing. The only sound was the hiss of the hot, antique sad-iron (formerly a doorstop) when it hit the fabric stretched on the ironing board that I had liberally sprinkled with water for pressing. Not even the cats were making a sound; their rustling had settled long ago. Then I heard a stumbling step on the porch.
I was reaching for the Glock when there was a strong rap on my window that caused my breath to catch. Then a voice. “Dovie, need you to hurry and give me a hand right now.” It was Jude and there was a kind of urgency to his voice that I had never heard before.
I ran to the front door but stopped myself from flinging it open. I cautiously peered out then did pull the door open when I saw who stood there. Jude all but fell in, ushering four girls before him … four Mennonite girls.
“They’re just about froze through Dovie, but we gotta hide ‘em fast. I think they’re on my trail.”
I didn’t know who “they” were but it didn’t matter. Something leaked into me, that something that had kept us safe on the road. It wasn’t the bezerker in me, it was the thing that kept the bezerker in me in check. A deep calm settled on me, caressing every fiber that was me both inside and out.
“Is Clewis in on this?”
“No. And I’m only in it by accident.”
“Nothing happens by accident,” I told him in so reasonable a tone he did a double take. “Take those poor girls downstairs. You know where. Get them situated. I’ll heat some water.”
“No questions?” he asked, the surprise in his voice obvious.
“A million of them,” I admitted. “But I trust you.”
That seemed to calm whatever had been bothering him and he directed the girls down into the basement. He used the flashlight so they wouldn’t fall on the stairs but I knew the light could not be seen from outside because I had rigged black out curtains for the basement windows. Time moved so slowly but my calm didn’t allow me to worry about it. Jude came back up just in time for me to hand him a pot of warm, spiced cider and four mugs. “Are they hungry?”
“The oldest has food in the gunny sack she carried here. Their mother outfitted them for a week. The next one down has some other stuff for them like clothes. The two younger girls are carrying I don’t know what but it’s something they wouldn’t leave behind.”
“Let me take this down and I’ll explain.”
He had barely returned when there were several hard knocks on the front door. Jude’s expression told me what words hadn’t; I was not going to like who or what was on the other side on that door.
“Wait here,” he said brusquely.
“Don’t argue.” I shut up; the calm still on me. Later I might feel like being offended but right then his words and tone fell off me like water from a duck’s back. My trust for him was implicit and absolute. When it came right down to it the kids were my lambs and I was their shepherd but Jude was the sheep dog; a friendly mutt much of the time but more than willing to nip to keep the lambs in line and all ferocious protector when he felt we were in any kind of danger. His manner told me that my protector thought there were wolves at the door so I let him be about his job.
I heard him call through the stout oak panel, “Hang on. Don’t take the door off the hinges. Who is out there and what do you want?”
There was a crash as the door was kicked in. I knew what it was because I had just given the kids a lecture a few days earlier about slamming through the door just like that. The heavy duty door stop that Dad installed keeps the door knob from going through the wall but it also makes a distinctive bass banging sound when it connects and the whole door tends to vibrate.
I heard Jude grunt in surprise and then in pain and then there was a whole bunch of boots scuffing up my floor. There was shouting and a fight had broken out, then I was in the zone … not berserk as I was still in control and aware but definitely not normal myself either. I don’t actually remember grabbing them but I had my largest cast iron skillet in one hand and Mom’s fancy, marble rolling pin in the other as I waded into the fray.
These men weren’t wearing uniforms, if they had maybe I would have paused or second guessed myself but they didn’t. The hallway was too narrow and they were packed too tightly for them to have weapons drawn. I started swinging. And boy did I connect.
I got connected a few times myself and one of those sissies actually bit me. Now that hurt right there but I caught the offender with a glancing blow on the ear with the skillet and then sent him to his knees with a tap of my rolling pin to his manly parts … good thing the marble rolling pin was mainly just for decoration.
I was trying to find Jude when it seemed like the number of men in the house tripled. I had just about had it. Lord help me but I think I started channeling Granny Cherry. “Get out! Get out of my house you buncha heathen, no good, lowlifes!!”
I started slinging skillet and rolling pin and didn’t care who I hit. There were yowls and yelps and cursing. I vaguely heard encouraging yells of, “Get ‘em Dovie!” from up the stairwell. A man tried to go that direction and I flattened his nose for him and then kicked him in the backside sending him sprawling into the foyer area. He was a big man and since he was holding his nose he couldn’t balance himself at all, when he fell he took several men down with him; they all rolled and tried to get back up but I was having none of it and went at them in earnest now that they were cut down to my size.
I harried them all like a hyena. I know that doesn’t sound very nice but I read in school how hyenas are matriarchal and you better mind the momma or move ‘cause you’ll lose something vital if you don’t. And they have some of the most powerful jaws on the planet. Well I didn’t have jaws that strong but I’ve been told more than once that when I get going my tongue is sharp enough to draw blood. The skillet and rolling pin did their fair share of drawing blood as well.
I got a bead on the backside of the last fella trying to exit the building and just because he was so slow I kicked with all the power I used to use on the soccer ball at the park. Impact had instantaneous results. He hit the porch face first but I hadn’t realized that the porch was iced over. When the man hit the porch he basically just kept sliding, winding up in a heap at the bottom of the front step face first in a bunch of muddy snow.
I came out swinging and somebody ducked, “Whoa! Dang Dovie … I’d like to keep my head if you don’t mind!”
“Clewis!” I snapped, all semblance of calm dissolving and evaporating my ability to speak in anything but the local twang. “Where’s Jude and what are all these stinkin’ men doing in my house?! They’ve done busted the door in. Somebody is going to get skint right soon if I don’t get some answers. And when I find out I’m gonna wrap a mop around their head so tight, it’s gonna take a neurosurgeon to separate their brain from the mop head! You all hear me?!” I growled the skillet and rolling pin punctuating my displeasure. “You better find some scratch paper and pen you last letter home!”
A polite cough from the dark drew my attention. When I finally figured out what I was looking at I thought, “Uh oh.” About all I could do was breathe to calm myself and then squeak out, “Commander Blankenship? I’m afraid there has been a bit of a ruckus but would you care to come in out of the cold for some tea? I’ve got mint or rose hip, you’re choice.”