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Thread: Second Chance:

  1. #11
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    CHAPTER 6


    Leaving the coops, he saw Mack Reynolds’ truck coming down the driveway pulling a trailer. Mack was behind the wheel and his son was in the passenger seat. Charlie motioned them over to the barn while locking up the yard and walking over towards the area. Cindy saw the truck and stopped what she was doing and went over to help.

    “Morning Mack,” said Charlie as he got closer.

    “Morning Charlie. How are things out here?” asked Mack.

    “Can’t complain,” said Charlie. “Got your stuff ready in the barn.”

    “Brought up the beef like we discussed. Already cut,” said Mack. “Toby, run that on over to Mister Gray’s house.”

    His son stepped out of the truck and grabbed a large cooler from the rear. It looked fairly heavy, but Mack’s son had grown up quite a bit since the last time Charlie had seen him. “Toby, you know where my deep freezer is?”

    “Yes sir. On your back porch right?” asked Toby.

    “That’s the one,” said Charlie as Toby went on his way to drop off the beef.

    “Wasn't as much as the last time, but hopefully it will be enough,” said Mack.

    “No big deal Mack. Stuff’s going to rot if I don’t get it used up anyway,” said Charlie. “That Toby sure has sprouted this past year.”

    “Put on an inch and a half and twenty pounds. Eats like a teenager as well,” laughed Mack.

    “He playing football again?” asked Charlie.

    “Yeah, but I’m afraid he’s getting too big for running back this year. Probably move him up to the line,” said Mack.

    “School could use some shoring up on that end. But they could use a good tight end as well,” said Charlie.

    “Yeah, talked to the coach the other day. Toby’s going to miss summer camp, but the coach said it wasn’t a big deal,” said Mack. “Who’s this?”

    Charlie turned to see Cindy standing behind him wiping her hands on her pants after taking them out of the rubber gloves. “This is my niece, Cindy.”

    “Ma’am,” nodded Mack and followed with “I didn’t know Charlie had a niece.”

    “Big family,” said Cindy taking the outstretched hand.

    “That’s my boy, Toby,” said Mack as he nodded at his son walking towards the house. “He’s a shy one and probably won’t say much.”

    “I’ll introduce myself when he comes back out,” said Cindy.

    “You from New York or something?” asked Mack.

    “Ohio,” said Cindy.

    “Charlie, hate to rush you, but we’ve got to get this stowed and head on out to the pasture. Have to set in some new fence posts and put the rails back up. Got knocked out in the storm last week,” said Mack.

    “Tree fall on it?” asked Charlie.

    “Yeah, that big elm. Got hit by lightning and split the largest branch off. Planning on cutting the whole thing down since it keeps dropping limbs on my fence,” said Mack as they walked into the barn.

    “You planning to keep the wood?” asked Charlie.

    “Yeah, use it for firewood after it seasons,” said Mack.

    “Let me come up. Might be something I can use if you don’t mind. If so, I’ll replace it from the stuff on my property,” said Charlie.

    “You’re welcome to it if you can use it,” said Mack. “This the stuff?”

    “Yeah. Oldest stuff from the back,” said Charlie.

    “Looks to be in good shape,” said Mack as he looked over the pile.

    “I’m sure your cows won’t mind it,” said Charlie.

    “Toby, go ahead and drop the gate on the trailer,” said Mack as his son had reappeared behind them. He went over and dropped the gate on the truck as Charlie and Mack put on gloves to grab the bales and toss them into the truck. Toby had already gotten on the trailer to put them in the back.

    “Can I help?” asked Cindy.

    "Long as you don't overdo it, sure," said Charlie as he grabbed the first bale. She slipped on the flight gloves and grabbed at another, the soreness starting to come back. The raking had worked her muscles loose, but her arms started to protest as she grabbed the first bale. But again, she was determined to do what she needed to do and carried it over to the truck. Toby was on the trailer and grabbed the end and pulled it out of her hands. She moved a little slower, but had two other people helping her out so the moving wouldn't be as hard. By the time she made her fifth trip, Charlie and Mack had already moved close to ten. She grabbed one more and moved it towards the truck before she was stopped by Charlie.

    "You've done enough, that's your last one," he said as he passed her and took another bale to the truck.

    "I can get one more," she said.

    "Nope, last one and take a break," he said and grabbed another off the ground. She was about to argue until her arms told her a different story. She went to the truck and hauled it up before it was snatched away by Toby. She leaned against the bumper of the trailer and watched as Mack and Charlie grabbed the remaining bales and moved them over. She did take the time to notice Toby was ignoring her, focusing entirely on the work. She wasn't sure why, but she didn't see him look at her any. She figured she would at least introduce herself and try to be sociable.

    “Hi,” she said to Toby as he came back to the edge of the truck. He just looked at her and smiled shyly before grabbing the next bale of hay brought over. Cindy wondered if it was a lost cause and decided to go back to the garden plot where she had been raking. After the remaining bales were loaded, the two men took a break as well.

    "Want a cup of coffee? I think the pot is still on," asked Charlie.

    "Might as well," said Mack as they walked towards the house.

    "That Toby's going to be as big as a barn door when he's done growing," said Charlie as he got out another cup and filled it for Mack.

    "Getting there. 'Bout to eat Jen and me out of house and home," laughed Mack as he took it and had a sip.

    "Lucky enough, Cindy doesn't eat all that much," said Charlie.

    "How long have you had her?" asked Mack.

    "Only a few days now," said Charlie.

    "How long is she going to be around?" asked Mack.

    "Don't know yet. Her folks are having troubles," said Charlie.

    "Gonna enroll her in school?" asked Mack.

    "Again, depends," said Charlie. "You talk to your brother in law lately?"

    "The other day," said Mack.

    "If you talk to him, let him know his rifle is ready. Got it finished up the other day," said Charlie. "I was going to call, but I figured you wanted to take a look at it before he bangs it up."

    "That one for his big hunting trip?" asked Mack.

    “Yeah, the .338 Magnum. Did the stock up in curly maple and got everything finished up. Kind of pretty if I say so myself,” said Charlie as they wandered into his study and got the rifle out of the weapons safe. It was a hand crafted bolt action Charlie had put together himself after the customer had supplied the parts and labor fees. It would have easily fetched $2,000 plus in a gun store since it was “hand crafted,” but Charlie enjoyed working with his hands and had only accepted a nominal fee. He did it more to prove he could rather than for money. Mack looked over the rifle and cleared it out as was his custom. He brought it up to his shoulder several times looking over the barrel each time.

    “Nice, it lines up perfectly and the pull is just right,” he observed and cycled the actions. “Very smooth on those actions.”

    “Trigger is nice as well,” said Charlie. “I’ve never tried those Montana Actions, but I’m thinking I found a new toy to play with.”

    “Controlled round feed?” asked Mack.

    “Yeah, like the old Winchesters,” said Charlie.

    “Sure is a pretty thing,” said Mack. “You know, you don’t have to call my brother in law about this. I could just sneak it out and he wouldn’t ever know.”

    “The way he abuses stocks I might just let you. I tried to get him to go synthetic, but he wouldn’t budge. Just likes the look of wood too much,” said Charlie. “And it is a nice piece of maple.”

    “Well, much as I would like to continue admiring your work, I’ve got to run,” said Mack as he handed the rifle back over.

    “When I get more hay, you want to pick it up?” asked Charlie.

    “Nah, I think this will be okay for the moment,” said Mack. “Let me get my boy and we’ll be on our way.”

    The two exited the house and found Toby leaned up against the truck with Cindy back in the garden raking out the remainder of the litter. Mack shook Charlie’s hand and thanked him again for the hay. After Toby had gotten in, they departed and headed back to his farm. Charlie wandered over to Cindy while she continued raking.

    “I’ll be over in the barn once you finish that up,” he said.

    “Okay, shouldn’t be much longer out here,” she said and continued to rake without stopping.

    Charlie wandered over to the barn and looked at the item on the large table. He observed it from several angles before picking up a piece and looking at it in detail. There was some corrosion on it, but nothing that couldn’t be fixed with a little work. He put it up against the other part it was supposed to be attached to and found it was still a good fit. Finding a wire brush, he started removing the larger areas of rust, inspected it and did it again. Eventually he found it to his liking and set it down and grabbed another piece. As he worked, Cindy came in from behind him and watched silently. Finally the silence was too much for her and she had to say something.

    “Just curious, but how much do thirty bales of hay go for these days?” she asked.

    “In this case, went for thirty pounds of beef,” said Charlie, not stopping what he was doing.

    “Like a trade?” asked Cindy.

    “Yeah, like a trade,” said Charlie.

    “Why not money?” she asked.

    “Because some folks can’t afford to pay me what it would cost. So instead I work out a trade that they can afford. Mack raises cows and slaughters them from time to time and sells off the meat. Plus he keeps some back for his family, but anyway, he traded me the beef for the hay. Works pretty well for us both,” said Charlie as he continued to scrape at the metal part.

    “I didn’t realize they were poor,” said Cindy.

    “They aren’t poor, they just don’t have a lot of money. They have a roof over their heads, food on the table and clothing on their backs. Being rich doesn’t always mean you have money,” said Charlie.

    “I never thought about it that way,” said Cindy.

    “Too often, folks don’t. They tend to think if you don’t drive a big fancy car or live in a big house with a gold plated toilet, you are ‘poor.’ But as long as you have something to eat, a place to sleep and a coat on your back, you have about everything you need,” said Charlie.

    “You’re kind of smart aren’t you? But you like to break things down into simple terms?” asked Cindy.

    “Smarter than some I suppose, but not others. Average I would think,” said Charlie as he finished up with the piece and set it down.

    “What are you doing there?” she asked.

    “Cleaning off these parts. Rust was setting in,” said Charlie. “I’ve got to go to the garden and check on the plants. Want to come along?”

    “Got nothing better to do,” she said.

    “Grab one of those baskets over there,” he said and picked up one himself. Some of the veggies were already prepared even though it was only mid summer and he never let anything go to waste in his garden. He typically ate or canned what he grew and kept the trips to the grocery store to a minimum of once every two weeks. And he also always bought in bulk when he could for the things he couldn’t raise.

    “What are we picking out today?” she asked.

    “Probably got some tomatoes and cu***bers ready to go. Maybe a couple of heads of cauliflower, peppers and onions. Just depends on how the rains have been lately,” he said.

    “You always been a farmer?” she asked.

    “No, not really. I grew up around them and found it was the best, healthiest and cheapest way of providing food for myself. No sense in getting stuff out of the grocery store when I can grow it myself,” he answered.

    “You sell what you grow?” she asked.

    “Yes, of course,” he replied and looked over the field. It was four separate plots, but it was lush and the different patches were growing nicely. One plot of two acres was dedicated to corn, another three acres was wheat, another two to canola and a half acre was for standard vegetables. A fence surrounded the smaller garden to keep the wildlife out and a natural spring flowed nearby which also provided an outlet for his watermelons, cantaloupes and other vegetables that needed a lot of water to grow. His small farm was efficient and he typically sold his excess at the farmer’s markets in the area and to the larger companies that canned food. But the benefit was the fact he always had food on hand. They went through the fence in the garden and over to the cu***ber patch and found some of the large cu***bers and the small seedless ones ready to be picked. He went through, picking at the small weeds that had started to grow in the patch. He hadn’t thought to bring out a basket for weeding to take the small plants back to the composter.

    While he had a fairly decent sized farm for the area, he tended it mainly by himself. But three days a week, he had some of the local high school students come in and assist with tending to the weeds, picking the vegetables and other maintenance issues around the farm. Most were handpicked over the summer looking for work and Charlie wanted to put locals to work as opposed to the migrant workers that came in looking for jobs. However, last week, most of his help had been away and he had done most of the work himself. Although with Cindy around now, she could help out.

    The farm was a fairly efficient grower and he had weekly trips from the food processing people to pick up what he had grown. While they took the majority to be canned or used in other applications (the canola was being used for biodiesel production), he sold some at the local farmers market in Erwin and sometimes in Johnson City. Other times, he had people coming directly to his farm to hand pick their own. It turned a tidy profit for him since the goods were handpicked and “organic” which appealed to a certain market.

    “What about these tomatoes?” she asked as she was in the next patch.

    “They look ripe?” he asked.

    “They’re red…and yellow,” she said.

    “Go ahead and grab them. Grab the vine and pull instead of trying to yank it off the plant,” he said.

    “And the cherry tomatoes?” she asked.

    “Yes, them as well. Want a treat? Try them straight off the vine, especially the yellow ones,” he said.

    She went on her way picking both the large and small tomatoes and had one of the small ones. For some reason, it did taste better than the ones she had from the grocery store before. “These are really good.”

    “Always are out of the field,” he replied and moved on to the next patch. He showed her how to tell the onions were ready to be picked as he had staggered out the different planting times for them to keep him in onions over the winter. Some were the Vidalia types and others were the red and yellow varieties. Two heads of cauliflower were ready as well and he cut the stems near the roots and set them in the basket. Finally he was finished and they went back to the house.

    “Hungry yet?” he asked. “It’s a little early, but better to go grocery shopping on a full stomach.”

    “Yes, anything in particular we are having?” she asked.

    “Just a simple sandwich,” he said and washed up from the morning’s chores. She followed him and did the same in the kitchen sink as he got out the sandwich making materials. After she turned, she wondered what new concoction he was planning on making and had to ask.

    “I’m making a peanut butter and banana sandwich,” he said.

    “A what?” she asked.

    “Peanut butter and banana. Some people like them with mayonnaise, but I never cared for the taste. There’s other stuff if you want it,” he said.

    “I’ll try half a sandwich, is that okay?” she asked. She liked peanut butter as well as bananas, but had never tried them together.

    “Good enough for me,” he said as he sliced off the pieces of banana and put them on his sandwich. She did the same thing after he was finished and slid the pieces on her piece of bread after watching him. He said the blessing and grabbed a bag of chips from the cupboard. After taking a bite of the sandwich, she figured it wouldn’t kill her.

    “Told you so,” he said after seeing the look on her face.

    “It’s just…some strange foods around here,” she said and took another bite.

    “I’ve got a questions for you though,” he said.

    “Which is?” she asked.

    “Why are you working so hard?” he asked.

    “Dunno, just like to keep busy I guess,” she said.

    “It’s pretty hard work that you are doing,” he observed.

    “I know, but nothing wrong with working hard is there?” she asked.

    “Reckon not…just not used to seeing a teenager do hard work without being prompted to do so. I’ve got a bunch of youngins I bring up here around harvest to help out. They do what they have to, but I have to keep after a few of them,” he said. “If they weren’t getting paid, I figure they would just be sitting around looking at each other,” he said with a chuckle.

    “You mean I could be getting paid for this?” she laughed and took a drink of milk to wash down the sticky peanut butter.

    “You are getting paid for this, it’s called room and board,” he said.

    “Guess so,” she said and started preparing another half a sandwich and finishing off the banana. She grabbed the peel and went towards the garbage, but wondered if there was something special he did with them. “This goes where?”

    “Into the small can right there with the paper bag. That’s what goes into the composter,” he said.

    “Why the paper? Doesn’t that take longer to decay?” she asked.

    “Not really. Works the same as the others, but only the brown paper ones,” he said.

    “How much trash do you actually produce?” she asked.

    “Not as much as you might think. I recycle as well, the plastics, paper and cardboard go to the county center, the metals to a place in Johnson City, food scraps into the composter or to the chickens, yard waste into the composter or into one of the piles. Wood scraps for the stove in the winter. Sawdust into the chicken coops or onto one of the piles. Don’t have a lot I have to get rid of,” he said.

    “So you’ve been going green for a long time?” she asked.

    “Suppose that’s what you might call it. I’m not really an environmental type, just don’t like for anything to go to waste,” he said.

    “You’ll have to school me on what to keep and to throw out around here,” she said.

    “You’ll figure it out along the way,” he said as they finished up the brief lunch. “You go on and grab a shower. When you’re finished, we’ll head for the grocery store.”

    “Okay,” she said and put the plate in the sink and saw she needed to do the dishes again that night. Heading out to the cabin, she laid out her clothing and grabbed a quick shower. Her arms started to feel sore from doing the work, but it was a good hurt. She finished up quicker than normal and got dressed before going back to the house. She had a ton of questions about Charlie she wanted to ask, but still couldn’t think of a good way to bring them up. She found he had showered and changed already and was busy checking his e-mail.

    “You ready to go?” he asked without looking away from the computer.

    “Whenever you are,” she said.

    “This trip is mainly for you. Since you claim we eat weird things here in the South, it’s best for you to pick out some things you might be more comfortable with,” he said.

    “You don’t have to do that,” she said.

    “I know, but I’m doing it anyway,” he said as he locked the computer and headed out of the house. He locked the door behind him and jumped into the driver’s seat of his truck. Which reminded him of something. “You know how to drive?”

    “No, I haven’t learned yet,” she said.

    “Okay, I’ll teach you when the time comes,” he said.

    “How about right now?” she grinned.

    “How about we pretend like I didn’t hear that. I ain’t teaching a teenager to drive on the roads around here. Maybe later in the middle of a large parking lot with nothing to crash into,” he chuckled.

    “I bet I’m a good driver! You just wait and see,” she exclaimed.

    “Later, we’ll figure that out,” he said and put the truck into gear before departing the farm for the grocery stores in Erwin. Like many, he avoided the Wal-Mart near Unicoi and went into town to the IGA and Food Lion, feeling more comfortable with the stores that had been around a while.


    ********************


    “You said the policeman was from California?” asked the uniformed policeman.

    “That is what he said and the number is from California as well,” said Mohammed Hassan.

    “We called the California State Patrol and nobody had run your daughter on their computer system. They keep records of all individuals who they run but weren’t able to find any record of her,” said the policeman.

    “Perhaps you could continue to check where this man claims to be from?” requested the Imam, his words more of an order rather than a request.

    “Of course we will sir,” said the policeman.

    “And how long will it take?” asked Hassan.

    “I don’t know. I’ve never had to do that before and we will have to contact the State Police for assistance,” said the policeman.

    “Is it possible California made a mistake? I have a brother in Northern California,” said Hassan.

    “It’s possible, the State Police Headquarters in California said they have been known to make mistakes and will continue to check it out. Even computers make mistakes,” said the policeman.

    “Is it possible for your daughter to have gone to California?” asked the Imam.

    “Yes, I haven’t spoken to my brother in many years, but it is possible she headed that way looking for safety,” said Hassan.

    “What kind of questions did this policeman ask?” asked the policeman.

    “He asked if she was my daughter and asked for her date of birth as verification. He also said she made claims as to her home environment. He didn’t specify what claims she made, but it’s possible she told others about her arrangements here,” said Hassan.

    “Did you mention what the arrangements would be specifically?” asked the Imam.

    “Of course not. They don’t need to know,” said Hassan.

    “So the community is protected for the moment?” asked the Imam.

    “I would believe so,” said the policeman.

    “What will happen now? If this man is a policeman as he said he was what kind of inquiry could we expect?” asked the Imam.

    “We will probably be paid a visit by the Child Protective Services. They will investigate, but they will find nothing. Everyone here knows better than to talk of our arrangements with outsiders. Plus they always ask for the local police to assist as well. And you should know how we will assist,” said the policeman.

    “Do we have anything to fear?” asked the Imam.

    “I would think not. They will investigate and find nothing and she will be returned,” said the policeman.

    “Should we change her status to kidnapped?” asked Hassan.

    “No, it’s better to leave it as it for now. Putting her in as kidnapped raises too many questions. If she is in the custody of any police agency, it would be best to leave it at that,” said the policeman.

    “So what do we do now?” asked Hassan.

    “We wait for the investigation by the Child Protective Services. Again, if she is in the custody of a law enforcement agency, she will be okay and returned in due time. But for the moment, we just need to wait,” said the policeman.

    “I believe this is our best course of action,” said the Imam. “It is time for prayer. Will you join us?”

    “Of course,” said the policeman as they walked towards the mosque and took off their shoes. The policeman needed to borrow a prayer rug after washing his arms, face and symbolically washing his feet. The remainder of the community was coming in for the mid day prayer and the policeman knew his place was here.

    Additionally he knew the local Child Protective Services Agent was fairly new at his job. And being fairly new, he could easily be swayed by the testimony of both the police and the residents of this community. And if not…there were other ways of dealing with his curiosity.

  2. #12
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    CHAPTER 7


    I honestly have no idea what to do Mitch Brewer thought as he sat in his office thinking of the situation with Charlie and the runaway. The County Mayor had not really been much help with just “do what you feel is right.”

    Well, the right thing to do is to start a formal inquiry, but who knows where that will lead. And in the mean time, what happens to her? Do we keep her around here until New York makes up their mind? And what happens if what she says is true? We need some sort of confirmation on her story, but from a neutral source. We could bring in a professional to figure out if her story has merit, but I can feel she wasn’t lying about it. I have no idea why, but just a gut feeling I get from the whole deal. I’ve never really had to deal with Muslims, but from the news, this would be right up their alley. I wish I had someone I could talk to about this

    “Sheriff? We’ve got a problem out on the south end of the county again. Rock slide on I-26,” said a Deputy as he poked his head in and brought Mitch out of his thoughts.

    “Bad?” asked Mitch as he stood up and grabbed his hat.

    “Don’t know yet. Got a call from trucker on his way through and said he almost got hit. I’ve got Ken and Brian heading out that way,” said the Deputy.

    “Okay, I’ll head out there. Do me a favor and give both the Tennessee and North Carolina State Patrol a call and let them know,” said Mitch as he was heading out the door. As he walked out of the court house and towards the parking lot, he continued to think about his problems and trying to find a way out of it. A way out that was acceptable to all.

    As he headed out of town and onto the onramp of I-26, he started formulating the report in his mind and how he needed to word it carefully. He also wondered who he might get to be the child psychologist to talk to Cindy. He didn’t know of any personally and would ask the hospital staff who they might recommend. But until then, he had a job to perform and headed towards the rock slide to see how bad it was.

    But even as he drove south towards North Carolina, his mind was still clouded by the problems his friend had dropped in his lap.


    ********************


    “Get everything you wanted?” asked Charlie as they moved down one of the aisles in the grocery store.

    “I think so,” she said. “This place isn’t that big.”

    “Big enough for Erwin,” said Charlie as he nodded at several people and stopped to chat with others. It seemed like he knew just about everyone in the store and Cindy wasn’t used to what appeared to be strangers stopping to talk. She had spent her life mainly in larger urban areas where people tended not to know each other as much and was surprised at the small town atmosphere. She was introduced several times as his “niece” and everyone had the same comment…

    “I didn’t know you had a niece.”

    But Charlie was able to explain it all away by saying his family had tracked him down and he had a long lost brother in Ohio. It didn’t really explain her New York accent, but people didn’t seem to notice, or didn’t say anything. They politely introduced themselves and went on their business. After going through the grocery line, they went out to the truck and loaded everything up in the back seat and the cargo box.

    “I’ve got a question. Why do you call it Whites when the sign says IGA?” asked Cindy.

    “Force of habit. Whites was the store name before they were bought out by IGA a couple of years ago,” explained Charlie.

    “Are you resistant to change?” asked Cindy.

    “Some would say I’m set in my ways,” he chuckled. “Need anything else while we are out?”

    “How about more clothes?” she asked with a grin.

    “How about no?” he laughed.

    “Well, you asked,” she said and hopped into the passenger seat.

    “There was something else I wanted to ask you about…” he started as he pulled on his seatbelt.

    “Which is?” she asked.

    “I normally go to church on Sundays. I can understand if you are kind of turned off by the whole religion thing right now,” he said and started the truck.

    “I’m not against religion, just religion that forces me into marriage. You go to a Christian church?” she asked.

    “Yes,” he answered.

    “I can go if you want me to,” she said.

    “No, what do you want to do?” he asked as he pulled out of the parking lot and headed towards the highway.

    “I don’t know. I mean, it’s been a while since I was in a Christian church,” she said.

    “Your choice,” he said as they waited for the light to turn green and turn left onto the Interstate.

    “Would you think less of me if I asked not to at least this week?” she asked.

    “No, I wouldn’t at all,” he said.

    “Are you sure?” she asked.

    “Well, I’d like to go, but I don’t have anywhere to stash you for the two hours I’d be gone,” he said.

    “So by me not going, it means you aren’t going either?” she asked.

    “That’s about it,” he said.

    “I can go, it’s not a big deal,” she said.

    “If you aren’t comfortable yet, I can understand,” he said. “I think one week away won’t kill me.”

    “Thank you for being understanding,” she said.

    “No problem, but you have to remember, we aren’t like them,” said Charlie as they pulled into the nearby Wal-Mart.

    “We need to grab something here?” she asked.

    “Just a couple of things,” he said and parked in the lot near the store.

    “Clothes shopping?” she laughed.

    “You are killing me. Do you need another outfit?” he asked.

    “No, I was just joking,” she said.

    “Okay then,” he said as they entered the store. He went back to the automotive section and grabbed a couple of items off the shelf and tossed them into the basket. Continuing on, he found a few other items and grabbed them as well. He was interrupted in his thoughts by Cindy.

    “What are the Blue Devils?” she asked.

    “Local high school team mascot,” he replied without looking.

    “Oh…what are you getting?” she asked.

    “Just some things for the car,” he said, continuing to look.

    “The engine in the barn?” she asked.

    “The rest of the car happens to be in the other larger shed,” he replied and found what he was looking for and dropped it into the basket.

    “You never told me that,” she said.

    “You never asked,” he said and peered into the sporting goods department. Nothing new caught his eye at that moment, but he did peek into the gun racks which reminded him to call John Pickens about his rifle. He wanted Mack to see it first, but needed to call the true owner of the rifle for him to come pick it up.

    “You own a lot of guns?” asked Cindy from behind.

    “Not as many as some,” said Charlie.

    “You ever answer a question directly?” she asked with half a smile.

    “Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t,” he said with a grin and not looking at her.

    “Are you making fun of me?” she asked with a grin.

    “Me? Nooooo!” he said with a laugh. “See anything that you need?”

    “Clothes?” she asked with a smile.

    “You can use Annie’s things, I don’t mind. Just sitting up there anyway,” he said.

    “I don’t know exactly how to say this, but I’m not exactly comfortable with using your wife’s clothing. I mean, I understand it’s kind of sitting up there, but you know?” she asked.

    “Especially since she is dead?” asked Charlie.

    “Well…yes,” she said after a moment to pause.

    “Okay, so let’s say if she was alive, would you mind it then?” asked Charlie.

    “Probably not,” said Cindy.

    “I could have gotten rid of it long ago, but just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I don’t know why since some of them are practically brand new items and someone could use them, but I always kept them around for…I don’t know,” he started to say.

    “To remember?” she asked.

    “Maybe, I don’t know,” said Charlie.

    “I don’t know everything about what happened, but me wearing your wife’s clothing won’t help you remember her any more than you do already,” said Cindy.

    “That’s not the reason why,” said Charlie. But is it the reason why? Her wearing Annie’s old clothing makes me remember her?

    “Okay, I’ll take a look through, but no promises though,” said Cindy.

    “I…you have to understand, it’s taking me a while to get over Annie’s death,” said Charlie.

    “I understand, but sometimes in life we have to move on,” said Cindy very bluntly.

    “Maybe I’m not ready to move on,” said Charlie defensively.

    “I didn’t mean you needed to move on. Forgive me for being blunt,” said Cindy.

    “No, it’s okay,” said Charlie as he looked away.

    “I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings. I’m sorry,” said Cindy.

    She was just speaking her mind, like others have done as well. Maybe not so bluntly, but they say the same things using other words. Is it time for me to move on? Maybe so. And it takes a fifteen year old to tell me this? Maybe I was pushing a little too hard. “Come on over here,” he said and started wandering towards the clothing aisle.

    “No, not today. You feel guilty now and I can’t accept that. Why don’t you think it over and later if this is what you want to do, then we will do it,” said Cindy.

    “I’m offering,” said Charlie.

    “I know, but not today,” said Cindy stubbornly.

    “Maybe some other day,” said Charlie.

    “Maybe so. Come on, the groceries are getting warm,” said Cindy as she tugged on the basket towards the check out aisle.

    “I’m sorry if I made you uncomfortable,” said Charlie as he walked the direction she was tugging.

    “And I’m sorry as well,” said Cindy.

    “Nah, you didn’t say anything that most people have said already. Most of them are just more subtle about it,” said Charlie.

    “I’m impudent, remember?” she laughed.

    “I reckon so,” laughed Charlie and went to the checkout counter.


    ********************


    Mitch rolled up to the rockslide and where his Deputies and State Troopers were diverting traffic around the worst of the slide. It wasn’t bad enough to shut down the entire Interstate, but would require attentive driving on the part of the drivers and careful monitoring by the police on scene. Seeing everything was going smoothly as it should, he pulled over to the side of the road and got out just to check on everyone and make sure they were doing okay. He continued thinking about his dilemma while he was walking between the posts until a voice stopped him.

    “Hey good lookin,” said a female voice from behind him.

    “Well, hey pretty thang,” he said to Trooper Sarah Brock.

    “They bring you all the way out here for a little gravel slide?” she asked.

    “Figured I’d come up and take a look. Never know how bad it will be, especially since that slide down on 40 from before,” he said.

    “And not because I’m up here?” she asked coyly.

    “Just an added benefit of the job,” he said with a smile.

    “The State has crews on the way, we shouldn’t be out here more than another hour or so,” she informed him.

    “I didn’t see you my first time around, did you pull up since then?” he asked.

    “Yeah, bringing the guys out some water. You need anything?” she asked.

    “Nothing talking to you won’t cure,” he said with a smile.

    “You’re sweet, you know that,” she laughed.

    “I know,” he said. “Want to join me as I finish up the line?”

    “Sure, let me grab the water out of the car,” she said and returned to her cruiser. She grabbed a backpack, dumped the contents into her trunk and put the bottles of water inside. After slinging it up, he offered to take it away.

    “No, I can carry it,” she said, politely refusing him.

    “I can carry it, no big deal,” he said.

    “I’ve got it. You know I do the hiking thing and this isn’t anything compared to what I carry on a weeklong trip,” she replied.

    “Well, if you get tired, let me know,” he said as they continued up the steep incline to the next post.

    “I’ve got a question though. I meant to call you about it the other day, but forgot about it,” she said.

    “Sure, what’s on your mind?” he asked.

    “Well, you forgot to clear the cue when you ran those plates on my computer,” she said. “And they weren’t plates.”

    “Yeah…” he said and his voice trailed off.

    “Want to tell me why you got a hit on a person of interest from the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI?” she asked.

    “Honestly, you don’t want to know,” he said.

    “Don’t want to know or shouldn’t know?” she asked.

    “Probably both,” he said.

    “What’s going on Mitch?” she asked. “And you could just have easily run that person from your terminal in Erwin.”

    “Sarah, I don’t know if I should be telling you. But I can say I’ve gotten myself into something kind of odd,” he said.

    “Odd as in bad?” she asked.

    “Maybe, I don’t know yet,” he replied as they reached the next Deputy on the traffic control. She handed him over a bottle of water and they continued their trek up the mountainside.

    “Mitch, if you need help, you know I will if you ask me,” she said.

    “I know, but I’m not sure whether or not to get any more people involved than I already have. It could get pretty bad,” he said.

    She stopped and turned to him. “Mitchell Brewer, what is going on?”

    “Okay, but it stays between you and me, okay?” he asked.

    “I can keep secrets,” she said.

    “Okay, it goes like this…A friend of mine picked up a runaway the other day in Erwin. Called me about it and asked for advice. She had quite the story to tell about why she was running away from home and I was doing a bit of investigating. I didn’t want the inquiry being able to be traced back to my terminal since it would give people a place to start looking. I used your terminal so I could be somewhat anonymous. I’m sorry I lied to you, but I did it for your own protection,” he explained.

    “Okay, but you still haven’t told me what her story is,” said Sarah.

    “She claims to be from a predominately Muslim community in upstate New York and claims her father is forcing her into marriage to a man thirty years older than she is,” he said. “So she ran away.”

    “And how old is she?” asked Sarah.

    “Fifteen,” said Mitch.

    “And this guy is forty-five?!” she exclaimed.

    “Yeah, so I used your terminal to figure out if they had put out an alert for her. It’s not an Amber Alert yet, which it should have been, and her father seemed fairly uncaring about the whole thing,” said Mitch.

    “You spoke to him? What did he say?” she asked.

    “Pretty much confirmed what she told us, although didn’t tell us about the marriage thing. Said she had an important appointment that would affect her life she needed to attend,” he explained.

    “And that could have been more than a few things Mitch,” said Sarah reasonably.

    “True, but I don’t get the feeling this is made up. I mean, why make up such an outlandish tale we could easily refute?” he asked.

    “Yeah, it would be pretty easy to disprove something like that. Have you initiated a request to New York to check out the home yet?” she asked.

    “No, I wasn’t sure how I was going to do that,” he admitted.

    “I can help walk you through it. It typically goes from the State level anyway,” she said.

    “Right now, they think I’m from California,” he explained.

    “Why did you tell them that?” she asked.

    “For her safety just in case this turns out to be true. I don’t want them looking anywhere within the State of Tennessee for her until we figure this mess out,” he said.

    “You are taking a big chance on this girl you know? I mean, if she is lying, you are harboring a runaway and not returning her to her family like you should do,” said Sarah.

    “I know, but it’s one of those things. I have a gut feeling this isn’t being made up Sarah,” said Mitch.

    “Well, the only way to find out is to have New York check it out,” said Sarah.

    “I know…you want to become my willing conspirator in this?” he asked with a nervous chuckle.

    “Yeah, we’re a regular Bonnie and Clyde all right. No, I think you are right, the less I get involved in this the better until we can figure some of these things out. For the moment, I would rather just help you with the request forms and get that sent to Nashville,” she said.

    “Thank you Sarah,” he said.

    “You owe me at least dinner for this,” she said.

    “Fair price to pay and I get to spend it in your company,” he said with a wink.

    “Probably a whole lot more than just dinner then,” she said with a wink of her own. “And yes, I know I should stay out of it.”

    “I was just looking out for you,” said Mitch.

    “So who’s she staying with anyway?” asked Sarah.

    “Well, she’s at my-” he started but was interrupted by her.

    “Ahhh! Nope!” she said with a raised finger stopping him. “Don’t tell a soul unless they really need to know. If this does turn out to be true, it could get ugly and only those who really need to know get to know.”

    “You’re pretty smart you know?” he said with a chuckle.

    “I know,” she laughed.

    “When do you want to take care of this?” he asked as they resumed walking.

    “Monday will be okay. I’ll come visit you for a change and help you out with the forms,” she said.

    “Dinner that evening?” he asked.

    “I think I can schedule something in just for you,” she said with a laugh.

  3. #13
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    CHAPTER 7 CONTINUED

    ********************



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    CHAPTER 8


    Cindy woke up in the morning in another strange environment before figuring out she had dozed off on the couch in the living room. Once she tried to move, she found her body was still very sore from the work she had been doing and thought it best not to move too quickly until she got the opportunity to stretch out. She heard the coffee pot sputtering from the kitchen but didn’t hear Charlie. She attempted to be quiet, but still wasn’t fully awake and involuntarily stomped her feet as she went towards the kitchen. She looked out the back window and saw him standing over near a decent sized cherry tree near what appeared to be two stones. She pulled on her sandals left in the house and walked towards him, still not fully awake and still stomping her feet on the ground.

    “Any reason you are stomping your feet?” he asked as his solitude was broken by her heavy footsteps.

    “Didn’t realize I was,” she said and peered at what he happened to be looking at. She hadn’t been paying attention and saw the two stones were actually grave markers. Seven more markers were slightly behind the tree and off behind a vine covered fence. “I’m not interrupting anything am I?”

    “No, just something I always do on Sunday morning,” he said quietly.

    “Is that…” she started to ask and didn’t know quite what to say.

    “Yes, that’s my wife and daughter,” he said and turned to face her. “Sleep okay?”

    “Don’t remember,” she said. “I can go back to the house if you want to be alone.”

    “No, it’s okay. Time I headed back in anyway,” he said and started back towards the house.

    “What time did I fall asleep?” she asked as she followed him.

    “Somewhere during the movie. Don’t recall exactly when,” he said

    “How did it end up?” she asked.

    “Good guy won in the end and got the girl,” he chuckled.

    “About how it always is,” she laughed. “You cooking this morning or am I?”

    “You want to give breakfast a go?” he asked.

    “Yeah, sure,” she said. “Eggs again?”

    “Why not? They’re free,” he said.

    “We need more?” she asked.

    “Probably do. I make it a point to check out the coops every morning,” he said. “You feeling brave enough to take on the mutant chicken horde?”

    “As long as I don’t get attacked again,” she laughed, thinking of the foolishness she showed the day prior.

    “Come on, I’ll show you how to divert their attention,” he said and grabbed his cup of coffee. They went out to the chicken coops where the flock was getting out of bed as well with the roster crowing at the early morning sun. He opened the gate and the chickens immediately looked at him as they usually did this early in the morning.

    “Okay, go grab that shovel,” he said.

    “That little one?” she asked.

    “Yeah, bring it on over here,” he said.

    The chickens had been conditioned to know the shovel meant the dirt would be overturned and the bugs and worms underneath would be exposed. They immediately followed her into the yard as she brought it back over towards him.

    “Go ahead and dig it in. Don’t throw the dirt, just turn it over in say two or three places. They’ll go after the bugs and leave us alone. Also grab some of that corn feed and toss a handful or two out. They’ll love you for it,” he said.

    She did as instructed and turned over the dirt, the flock watching her the entire time making low clucking sounds while they looked at her. After she flipped over the first shovelful, the birds went crazy trying to be the first one to get in and find the bugs. She went over to another spot and dug up the same amount and watched as about half the flock went to the new location to find the treats she had uncovered. She laughed at the actions of the chickens and grabbed two handfuls of the feed and tossed it into the yard, averting the attention of the remaining birds that hadn’t gotten into the turned dirt.

    “Okay, that will keep their attention diverted for a few minutes. Let’s go get the eggs,” he said, but noticed one was following her around. It was the same one who had taken a keen interest in her yesterday. “Looks like you have an admirer.”

    Cindy turned and saw the chicken following her around the yard, stopping when she stopped and looking up at her and moving when she did. “Is this normal?”

    “Guess she thinks you are her mother or something,” laughed Charlie.

    “Seriously,” said Cindy.

    “I don’t know. She hasn’t done that before,” he replied.

    “Why is she so attracted to me?” asked Cindy.

    “I couldn’t tell you. They have their own mind,” said Charlie.

    “Does she have a name?” asked Cindy.

    “Nope. I don’t name them since I don’t want to get too attached,” said Charlie.

    They went into the roosting area and found several hens had laid over the previous day. A small basket was used to collect the eggs and to check on the nests. No serious maintenance was needed this morning and when they turned around, Cindy saw “her” chicken had followed them inside.

    “I think you have your very own pet chicken,” he chuckled.

    “I’ve never had a pet before,” she admitted. “Kind of an odd first pet you know?”

    “I’m sure there have been stranger,” said Charlie as they walked out and closed the door behind them. The hen followed them all the way to the fence as the others were still scratching around for the feed and bugs except the one. She followed them all the way to the fence and continued watching until they entered the house.

    “You’ve never had a pet before?” he asked as she started on breakfast.

    “No,” she said and left it at that. He didn’t want to pry any more about it considering her home background and let the matter drop. “Scrambled okay?”

    “Yes, that’s fine. Why don’t you heat up some of that ham as well,” he suggested.

    “That sounds good,” she said and pulled out the ham from the refrigerator and grabbed two large slices. The biscuits were also coming along as she got everything ready for breakfast. It was a little easier this morning since she knew exactly how much ingredients to use for the biscuits, although she made an extra one that morning. “I’ve never heard of White Lilly Flour before.”

    “Best stuff in the world for baking, but I think it’s kind of regional,” said Charlie.

    “Never saw it up north that I can recall,” she said as she rolled out the dough and cut the shapes out. Again, the leftover was rolled into a ball and put on the pan as well. Since they would take longer than the eggs, she put them in the stove and went back to the table and had a small glass of milk while she waited. Charlie had his ever present cup of coffee while looking over the Johnson City newspaper. The front page news wasn’t that exciting for a Sunday morning and the remainder of the paper really didn’t say a whole lot. He breezed over the sports section and saw the sportswriters were giving the Volunteers a better than even chance at cracking the top 25 that year since the returning players had the opportunity to season and they were returning a great deal of starters. With the off season they had the year prior, they certainly needed to do something amazing this season.

    Charlie interrupted his thoughts about football and went over to refill his cup of coffee. Cindy checked on the biscuits and decided it was time to go ahead and heat the ham and start the eggs. Things went a lot quicker after that as the smells filled the kitchen. The eggs were done quickly and the biscuits not long after and breakfast was served. After Charlie said grace, they both dug in and enjoyed the second full meal cooked by her.

    “Since you aren’t going to church this morning, what are you planning on doing?” she asked.

    “Thought I might go out and check on the property,” he said. “You’re welcome to come along.”

    “How much property do you have?” she asked between bites.

    “Two hundred acres give or take. The land deeds were done before good surveying equipment came out and the back line is kind of hazy. It borders on the National Forest so it’s not a huge deal. Makes for a pretty big backyard,” he said.

    “Two hundred acres is a lot,” she observed.

    “Been in my wife’s family for ‘bout a hundred years, actually a little more. They had the property after moving out here from Virginia…oh say 1900 or so and bought it up with their life savings. Been in her family ever since,” he said.

    “Probably worth a fortune,” she said.

    “It is on the market, but one of the things they left in their will was the property never be sold off to anyone outside the family or in pieces. I haven’t ever gotten it appraised, so I really have no idea what it’s actually worth,” he said.

    “Yes, I’d like to go along. Does this mean I need to dress up in my work clothing?” she asked.

    “The boots wouldn’t hurt and pants would be recommended since the stinging nettles will be out in force, especially near the stream,” he said.

    “Stinging nettles are kind of like poison ivy, right?” she asked.

    “Not as bad. Bad enough though. They give you a sting when you touch the plant itself with bare skin,” he said.

    “But not like a rash or anything?” she asked.

    “Sometimes, just depends on how bad you get into them,” he said. “You also have to be careful of poison oak.”

    “Sounds pretty bad,” she said.

    “No, you just need to know what to look for,” he said.

    “Could you show me?” she asked.

    “You really want to learn about that kind of stuff?” he asked.

    “Sure; keeps me safer, right?” she asked.

    “Can’t argue with that logic,” he said and continued to eat. They ended up splitting the last biscuit and finished up. She immediately set to the dishes while he grabbed the compost basket and put it in the composter he happened to be filling at that point in time. Another couple of weeks and he would have enough to stop filling it and unload the other. The piles were doing okay, but he poked holes in them to get air flow going down to the base to get the reactions done a little quicker. He knew he needed to use the tractor bucket and completely turn over the pile, but had been putting it off for some time. He found if he pushed the pile back and forth about every month, it would help speed up the time needed to decompose. And in decomposing, it would reduce the amount of funds spent on fertilizer in the spring when he planted.

    He figured for a quick trip out and about on the property he wouldn’t take the usual long gun, typically a shotgun, since it might frighten Cindy. Since that dealing with the meth heads a few years before, he took to carrying at least one long gun on him along with a pistol. However, while he didn’t plan on taking a long gun, he did plan on taking his full sized pistol along since he felt utterly useless without something that went boom on his hip or in the small of his back. And with going out on the property, something a little larger than the Kel-Tec he kept in his pocket while working. Going to the safe, he pulled out his stainless Springfield 1911 and leather holster and three magazines. He had a double mag pouch ready to go on his belt on top of the safe and put the two magazines inside of it. Charlie cleared the pistol even though he knew it was already empty, but good safety habits were hard to break. Sliding in a magazine to the pistol, he released the slide and chambered a round before engaging the safety. Sliding in the holster meant he had to remove his belt slightly, but he got it on and his pants were once again held up.

    He grabbed his standard baseball cap to wear around while walking the property, although as of late he was more and more considering a Stetson hat to go along with the image of a country cowboy. He additionally grabbed a small day pack with several items inside already and knew Cindy didn’t have a pack to wear, not one that was for hiking. So he went to the basement while she was still changing and grabbed a spare pack for her along with an old raincoat that had sat unused in a bin for several years. Another small pouch of items was tossed in and he went back upstairs to find her waiting for him.

    “We going to be gone long?” she asked after seeing the pack.

    “Nope, just like being prepared, that’s all,” he said.

    “Is that why you are carrying a gun?” she asked.

    “You have a thing against firearms? Do they scare you” he asked, point blank.

    “No, I’ve just never been around guns before. I told you. I guess I’m kind of scared since a long time ago they taught us in school guns were bad,” she said.

    “Well, have you been shot yet?” he asked.

    “No,” she laughed.

    “Then guns aren’t that bad. People like to blame the sword for the hand that wields it. In this case, the gun has now become evil and the person who uses it innocent. How’s that for a messed up society?” he asked.

    “People are responsible for their actions though,” she said.

    “But do their actions make an inanimate object evil in any way?” he asked.

    “No, not really. I mean, if a person is going to be evil, they are going to use a gun or a knife or even a toothbrush to get the job done. What tool they use…you led me right into that didn’t you?” she asked, seeing he was far smarter than she gave him credit for.

    “Helps when folks keep an open mind to the idea that people are inherently bad instead of an inanimate object,” said Charlie.

    “Well, I know better than most about that. No, I think you can keep your guns and I won’t mind,” she grinned.

    “I’m honored,” he laughed. “Ready?”

    “I wore the combat boots. Will those be okay?” she asked.

    “Yeah, should be fine. I won’t walk you to death since they haven’t been broken in to your feet yet,” he said.

    “I’ve never really been hiking before,” she said.

    “I should have picked you out a set of hiking boots. If you stick around longer, we’ll take a look at that,” he said.

    “Are they better than combat boots?” she asked.

    “Yes and no. Combat boots are designed for combat, rough treatment and somewhat comfort. Hiking and backpacking boots are designed to be comfortable for long hikes. Typically they are lighter,” he explained.

    “So you got me the heavy boots for what reason?” she asked.

    “Because I fully expect them to be destroyed before you leave. But in the mean time, there is no sense in spending a great deal of money of a pair of boots that may or may not be used that much,” he said.

    “Planning on getting rid of me soon?” Cindy asked with a grin.

    “Only when we get an outcome acceptable to you or you leave on your own accord,” he said.

    “Maybe my little vacation here will open up my father’s eyes,” she said.

    “I do hope so,” said Charlie. An uncomfortable silence followed the statement and she moved towards the door.

    “Ready?” she asked.

    “Yeah, let’s get to it,” he said as he shouldered up the small pack and locked up the door. They walked away from the house and he showed and pointed out the various buildings and what purpose they served. She knew a couple already, but the others were somewhat of a mystery to her. They came to the small mountain stream so prevalent in the Appalachian Mountains and followed it along the bed with a semi-worn trail. He explained the stream was more or less one of the boundaries of his property although it extended slightly on the other side as the stream had shifted its path over the years since the original deed had been written up. Crossing over at a shallow point, he showed her the original fence and markers for the property, large stones set into the ground delineating the property boundary.

    “Why use a rock?” asked Cindy.

    “Because back then, not a lot of folks could afford a nice fence. They used rocks to show the property boundaries since they were readily available. If you look, they form more or less a line,” he said as he pointed down. Several had gone missing over the years, moved to take advantage of the growing space in the edges of the old field, but the majority sat silently weathering away.

    “And this goes back how far?” she asked.

    “The property is kind of a trapezoidal shape more or less. The back ends come closer than the front side. So…maybe another half mile to the official property line,” he said.

    “And it goes to the National Forest?” she asked.

    “Yeah, Federal Government came in and took over a lot of land out here,” she said.

    “You ever have a problem with people stumbling across your property?” she asked.

    “Sometimes in the fall it gets interesting with hunters and all. But for the most part, I ask them politely to move on,” he said.

    “And if they don’t?” she asked.

    “You’ll find most people don’t argue with a property owner around here. For the most part, they say they are sorry and move on to someplace different,” he said.

    “But what happens if they don’t?” she asked.

    “Then I call the Sheriff,” he said.

    “They ever shoot at you?” she asked.

    “No, not at all. Big mistake if they did,” he said, slightly lying since she didn’t need to be worried about that little ruckus from a few years ago.

    “Why is that?” she asked.

    “Well, shooting at a man on his property out here in East Tennessee tends to get you in a lot of trouble,” he said.

    “What kind of trouble?” asked Cindy.

    “Besides the legal troubles? Some of the residents of this county would just as soon kill you and bury you out in the forest if you took a shot at them. They would want to avoid the long drawn out process of filing charges and settle things without having to involve the law,” said Charlie.

    “Are you one of them?” she asked.

    “If I am attacked, I would defend myself,” he said.

    “Understandable…what’s that?” she asked, pointing at a somewhat cleared area.

    “That’s an old archeological dig site. Some University folks wanted to find the traces of early settlement out here and thought they had a location on one of the original Watauga settlements, but it didn’t pan out,” explained Charlie.

    “Watauga?” she asked.

    “This part of Tennessee was the first to be settled with folks coming in from North Carolina. Actually this part of Tennessee was part of North Carolina to begin with. Anyway, the original Watauga Association was over near what is now Elizabethton, but had settlers that moved out and staked their own claim. This is kind of in between the Nolichucky and Watauga settlements and they think it might have been like an overnight place to stay when going between the two. But it didn’t pan out,” he said.

    “Lot of history around here,” she said.

    “Yes, this was the original frontier for the United States,” he said.

    “Got a book to read about it?” she asked.

    “Actually, yes. You interested in this kind of thing?” he asked.

    “I’m interested in about anything I can learn something new about,” she said.

    “It’s called ‘Overmountain Men’ written by a local man…thirty, forty years ago I think. Good historical book about the early settlements, the Battle of Kings Mountain and the State of Franklin,” explained Charlie as they walked along.

    “State of Franklin?” she asked.

    “Kind of a new State that didn’t pan out. I’ll let you read about it,” he said and suddenly stopped. She had no idea why and peered in the direction he was, but didn’t see anything.

    “What is it?” she whispered.

    Charlie pointed at a large oak tree and she saw the shape of a deer appear. It was quickly followed by another two does and two fawns. They were grazing quietly on the undergrowth near the tree and hadn’t been alerted to the presence of the humans yet. Cindy had never seen a deer in the complete wild before, but had seen them crossing the road from time to time in New York. They seemed to pay the humans no mind, but hadn’t noticed the two yet since they weren’t moving. One looked up and sniffed the air, noticing something was different. The group silently wandered off into the woods and was lost from sight.

    “They were really pretty! I’ve never seen them out in the wild before,” said Cindy.

    “They can sense it isn’t hunting season yet, that’s why we found them,” said Charlie with a chuckle.

    “You hunt out here?” asked Cindy.

    “I do from time to time,” said Charlie.

    “Why kill something so pretty?” she asked.

    “It’s not really killing. It keeps nature in balance,” said Charlie.

    “What do you mean in balance?” she asked.

    “Hmmm, how to explain? Okay, you have a hundred people living on an island right? They farm and have livestock for food and milk, but only enough for one hundred people. No excess, but enough to keep them healthy and growing. Okay so far?” he asked.

    “Okay, hundred people on an island, enough food to survive,” she said.

    “Now say another fifty people showed up all the sudden. What happens to the food supply?” he asked.

    “Well, everyone has to cut back on the food in order for the others to eat,” said Cindy.

    “But will they be as healthy as they were before?” he asked.

    “No, probably not,” said Cindy.

    “Why is that?” he asked.

    “Well, they are taking away from the food they typically eat. And you have to have a balanced diet to remain healthy and grow,” said Cindy.

    “So the addition of fifty extra people is a good or bad thing?” asked Charlie.

    “Not a good thing. I mean, if some of the residents died, it would get better, more food and everything,” said Cindy.

    “But if there were a hundred and fifty people competing for the same food?” asked Charlie.

    “Then it would be bad. I mean, you can’t have additional people live there without being able to provide for them,” said Cindy.

    “Which is exactly what hunting does. There is only so much food for the deer population around here. Once you get an overpopulation of deer, they start to get malnourished and weaker. Then you get predators coming in, wolves, coyotes and such which also target farm animals. So hunting helps keep the balance of nature by limiting the population of the deer or whatever animal happens to be in season. It keeps the herds around here healthy believe it or not,” said Charlie.

    “I never thought about it that way,” said Cindy.

    “Again, something of your liberal education. Hunting isn’t a bad thing. Sure there are some that just shoot an animal and leave it to rot. But folks I know believe in ethical hunting. I use what I kill and I mean everything. I don’t believe in killing for pleasure, but rather as helping the local populations thrive,” said Charlie.

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    CHAPTER 8 CONTINUED


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    CHAPTER 9


    “Sheriff? You have a visitor,” said the Deputy as he stuck his head around the door.

    “Show them in please,” said Mitch as he was reading over the reports from the past weekend. He was deep in his thoughts when a voice interrupted him.

    “So you can read,” said Sarah Brock with a grin and a laugh.

    “Shhh, don’t tell anyone. They think I just like to look at the pictures,” he grinned. “What are you doing here?”

    “You invited me right?” she asked.

    “Yes, of course! Please, have a seat,” he said.

    “I’ve got the forms with me. We can fill them in by hand and I can type them out later,” she said and pulled a folder out of her bag. “And I brought lunch.”

    “Lunch sounds like a good deal. Let’s eat first and then get business out of the way,” he suggested. It was a simple affair, sandwiches from a local deli in Johnson City, but done the way he liked it. She had done her research (and made a few phone calls to his office) before making sure she had something he liked. They talked over little things during lunch before moving on to business.

    “Okay…we need to put your name here as the originating agency…her name in block five…and reason…I’ll let you come up with that one,” said Sarah.

    “Can we keep this at a State level? I mean, I’d rather not be the one who answers these questions firsthand and I would like to keep them out of the county if at all possible,” said Mitch.

    “We can keep it at anonymous if you would like, but eventually it’s going to get known she is here,” said Sarah.

    “I know, but for the moment, I’d like to keep it on the down low,” said Mitch.

    “Why is that?” she asked.

    “I don’t know, just a funny feeling I get about it,” he answered. “I just don’t see this going the way I think it should go.”

    “Your conspiracy theory side poking up again?” she asked.

    “Maybe…just looking at the news and the whole New York political scene makes me worry. I just want to make sure justice is done for that little girl,” said Mitch.

    “I do as well. I mean, if it’s true she was supposed to be married to a man that old, it does violate a few laws here and there,” said Sarah.

    “I was checking up on New York laws from home and got the specific statutes it violates. The punishment doesn’t really fit the crime,” said Mitch.

    “That’s putting it mildly. I mean, besides the legalities, it’s just plain old sick. Who would want their daughter in that sort of situation?” asked Sarah.

    “A seriously perverted individual,” said Mitch.

    “Okay, we can do an anonymous tip if you want and make it come from the Attorney General’s office. I can understand why you would be reluctant to put her out there for all to see. But let’s face it, if this goes to full blown investigation, she will have to be interviewed by other parties,” said Sarah.

    “Yeah, I understand that and we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” said Mitch.

    “So, the reason?” she asked.

    “I would suppose ‘perverted sick mess’ wouldn’t be appropriate?” he laughed.

    “No, I think you need to be more diplomatic than that,” she laughed.

    They continued filling out the form and finally finished it up. She promised to type it out as soon as she got back to the Trooper Barracks and have it sent to Nashville. After reviewing everything, she called it good and put it away in the folder. Then he moved on to other matters.

    “Child psychologists, know any of them around the Tri-Cities area? Decent ones that aren’t too expensive?” he asked.

    “Actually I do. I personally think she’s a good one and her price is affordable,” said Sarah.

    “You got a name and a number?” he asked.

    “I sure do,” she said and effectively ended the answer.

    “Which is?” asked Mitch.

    “I think you will find her fees easy to handle as it typically involves dinner and a movie,” said Sarah with a grin.

    “Ummm, I’m not sure Charlie would be up for that. He isn’t really into the dating scene,” said Mitch.

    “Charlie who?” asked Sarah.

    “Charlie Gray, my friend…I just let the act out of the bag. You remember him?” asked Mitch.

    “I think so. Nice guy, owns a farm, used to be a writer or something?” she asked.

    “Yeah, that’s the one,” said Mitch.

    “He has something to do with all this?” asked Sarah.

    “Yeah, he does,” he replied and left it at that.

    “Okay…and?” she asked.

    “He’s in need of a child psychologist or counselor,” said Mitch.

    “Well, okay. Yes, I know one that is affordable and can be bribed with dinner,” said Sarah.

    “Again, I’m not sure if Charlie is into the dating scene or not. Probably would in this case though, but I’ll have to ask. If he says no, what then?” asked Mitch.

    “Well, that’s a pity. Guess you’ll have to fill in for dinner then,” said Sarah with a twinkle in her eyes.

    “Did I miss something?” he asked, knowing there was more to the conversation.

    “Yes silly, I happen to be the child psychologist. I mean, not a certified clinical one, but my minor for my Masters Degree was in psychology and I keep up with it enough to get my counseling certification. The barracks uses that talent all the time. So for the price of dinner, I can be bribed to do a few favors,” said Sarah.

    “I knew there was something about you I liked. Being so smart and all,” said Mitch. “You don’t mind mixing business and pleasure?”

    “Sometimes business is pleasure,” said Sarah.

    “I’ll try to keep it professional with this one,” he said.

    “On a serious note, this isn’t some crazy kid you are looking at putting into a home or something is it?” she asked.

    “Ummm, no,” said Mitch.

    “It’s that girl isn’t it?” asked Sarah.

    “Might be,” said Mitch.

    “I guess I could use my professional talents then since I’m involved whether or not I want to be,” said Sarah.

    “If you don’t want to be involved, I can find another one,” he said.

    “Is it important?” asked Sarah.

    “I think so,” said Mitch.

    “Then I’ll do it for the price of dinner,” she said with a wink. “When do you want to set it up?”

    “What are you doing tomorrow?” asked Mitch.

    “Gotta work. How about the next day?” asked Sarah.

    “I think that will be okay. You want me to pick you up?” he asked.

    “No, I can drive down. Do I need to be formal or anything?” asked Sarah.

    “It’s a teenage girl. I don’t know if that makes a difference,” said Mitch.

    “It does. Age of the individual is important as well as background. Where’s she from exactly?” asked Sarah.

    “Near Rochester New York,” said Mitch.

    “Okay, morning or afternoon?” she asked.

    “Let’s go with the afternoon,” said Mitch.

    “Good, as soon as we are done, you can take me out to dinner,” she said.

    “Kind of can’t get out of this one can I?” he asked with a laugh.

    “Yes, you can, but you’ll lose a really huge opportunity in your life if you try,” she said with a tone, letting him know she was fairly fed up with his evasiveness. It was fish or cut bait time for him.

    “I think dinner and watching the sunset would be acceptable. Do you?” asked Mitch sensing her mood with his playful games had taken on a serious tone.

    “You do have a romantic side don’t you?” she laughed, seeing her comments had the desired effect.

    “Don’t tell anybody! It’ll ruin my reputation,” laughed Mitch.

    “Okay, day after tomorrow then. Now if you want to call in the meantime just to chat, I would find that acceptable as well,” she said.

    “I just might,” he said.

    “Okay, I’ll head over to the office and get this filed into the system. Probably take a couple of days to clear the State level and it gives us the opportunity to interview her,” said Sarah.

    “The Captain going to have an issue with this?” he asked.

    “Nah, once I tell him it’s for you, he’ll understand,” said Sarah.

    “You want to postpone dinner tonight until Wednesday then?” he asked.

    “You dodging me?” she asked.

    “Nope, just reality. I’ve got a ton of work to get caught up on,” he said.

    “You know, someone else is going to steal me away from you if you keep messing around,” she said, very directly.

    “Suppose I’ll have to make my move here soon,” he said.

    “Dinner on Wednesday then?” she asked. “My treat?”

    “You know I’m old fashioned and all. I would never make you pay,” he said.

    “I knew there was something else I liked about you,” she said.

    “I’m not dodging you, I promise,” he said.

    “Prove it, blow my socks off day after tomorrow,” she said with a twinkle.

    “I’ll see what I can come up with,” he said and walked her towards the door. The made it to the entrance of the courthouse and said their goodbyes. Not content with a simple handshake and not caring he was in uniform, she reached up and planted a light kiss on his lips.

    “You aren’t that old fashioned are you?” he laughed, although surprised. It wasn’t the first time they had kissed, although the first time he was on duty when they did.

    “I am for most things, bye-bye Mitch,” she said. But he preempted her turn and gave her another kiss, just for good measure.

    “Bye,” he said and watched her walk away. He reentered the courthouse to a group watching him. They let out a big cheer and several catcalls were heard from the minor crowd.

    “Oh, just shut up,” he said with half a smile and walked back towards his office.

    “About time Mitch,” said the senior deputy.

    “I know,” he said as the deputy followed him. “Fill me in on the Hawkins case.”

    The deputy started going over the case with Mitch and brought him up to speed with the current investigations. While he was talking, Mitch’s mind wandered over to thinking of Sarah and his nervousness around her. And the situation he was in. And the situation with Charlie. Just a lot of things that ran through his head as of late, far more than a typical small county sheriff should have to deal with. He decided to take care of one problem.

    “Jeff? Mitch Brewer here…well, at least I called first…yeah, this afternoon…we’ll say it’s a social call…three o’clock…see you then,” said Mitch as he ended the phone call to Jeff Tilson. “I’m heading up to Jeff Tilson’s place at around three.”

    “Two trips up there in one week? And both without a warrant?” asked the dispatcher.

    “Jeff’s a model citizen, you know that,” said Mitch as he looked at the clock and walked away. He had two hours before being able to go into the home of Jeff Tilson and would go out and see Charlie before making the long drive into the south end of the county. The drive helped organize his thoughts somewhat and he kept coming back to the same feelings he had since he first heard about the situation. Something just didn’t feel right about the whole thing to him. Getting out to Charlie’s farm, he saw several of the local teens out in the corn patch checking on the stalks. And he saw Cindy walking past with the Jones’ twins in close proximity. Apparently they had taken notice there was a new girl on the farm. Cindy waved at him and started walking towards the house.

    “Hi Sheriff,” she said as she approached.

    “Hi Cindy. Charlie around?” he asked.

    “Yeah, over behind the barn I think,” she said.

    Mitch wandered over to the barn where Charlie was busy getting several logs ready to be cut up. Although he had natural gas for the house, he helped augment that with natural wood heat. And with the National Forest in his backyard, getting a steady supply of hardwoods wasn’t a big deal. He could have had the hired help work on the woodpile, but it was something he enjoyed doing himself.

    “Hey bud, don’t you have a bunch of strong teenagers for that?” asked Mitch as he walked up.

    “I do, but you know I don’t mind something like this,” he said.

    “I know,” he said. “Take a break for a minute and come talk to me.”

    Charlie set down the chainsaw and made sure the axe was buried in a log. The splitter was a different matter and he buried it in a piece of oak gently. ‘What’s on your mind?”

    “Found a person to interview Cindy,” said Mitch.

    “What’s it going to run me?” asked Charlie.

    “Nothing, going to run me a bit though,” said Mitch.

    “How’s that?” asked Charlie.

    “It’s Sarah. She apparently has her counselor certificates,” said Mitch.

    “Oh? And what’s it going to run you?” asked Charlie.

    “Dinner and something afterwards,” said Mitch.

    “Cheap at the price, especially when the woman is willing,” said Charlie.

    “Very true,” said Mitch.

    “You seem nervous about something,” Charlie observed.

    “It’s just this feeling I’ve been getting since day one of this whole thing. I just get this feeling it’s not going to end well,” said Mitch.

    “For which side?” asked Charlie.

    “I don’t know and that’s what bothers me,” said Mitch.

    “We have the law on our side, right?” asked Charlie.

    “Yeah, if what she says is true, we’ve got the law on our side,” said Mitch.

    “So why worry?” asked Charlie with a grin.

    “You and I might see this as easy, but you start getting political and it gets messy right quick,” said Mitch.

    “I’ll give you that. So what happens if they force us to turn her back over?” asked Charlie.

    “Depends on the situation. That’s why I want some professional help in here. Even when Sarah does her thing and even if she does confirm the story, we will still need to have someone else come in and verify. Sarah is compromised because she is in a relationship with me,” said Mitch.

    “Okay, no big deal,” said Charlie. “I already agreed to pay.”

    “I’m just worrying I suppose. Not that we can do anything right now as it is,” said Mitch.

    “No, just bide our time and wait for the outcome,” said Charlie.

    “You’ve always been the patient one,” said Mitch.

    “I know, I’m just that kinda guy. No sense in getting all riled up over something out of our control. However, if what she says is true and the State messes this up, then you will see me get a little more concerned,” said Charlie.

    “You would have made a good deputy, you know?” asked Mitch.

    “Nah, I’m content to be a farmer,” said Charlie.

    “You two conspiring about something?” asked Cindy as she walked up.

    “Just you,” said Charlie.

    “What?” she asked.

    “Nothing, just talking over your situation,” said Mitch.

    “Anything yet?” she asked.

    “No, and probably won’t be anything for a few days,” said Mitch. “But I do have a counselor for you to talk to. Be nice to her.”

    “I’m always nice,” she said.

    “It’ll help if you stow your sassy bit,” said Charlie.

    “I am trying you know?” she asked.

    “Yes, you are,” said Charlie as the Jones brothers came around the corner. “Help you two?”

    “We were…wondering if you had anything else to do?” Nick Jones asked.

    “You already finished weeding and pulling crops out of the field?” asked Charlie.

    “Yes sir! Got it all stacked up like you told us to in the barn,” said Nate Jones.

    “Let me go check on these two,” said Charlie.

    “I’m done as well. What can I do?” asked Cindy.

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    CHAPTER 9 CONTINUED


  8. #18
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    CHAPTER 10


    “Morning Charlie,” said Jimmy Kellogg as Charlie came into his office with Cindy in tow. Since they were out and about and in somewhat of a formal situation, he had her wear her new outfit that was nicer than the others.

    “Jimmy, how are you?” asked Charlie as she shook his hand.

    “Oh, can’t complain. Keeping busy as I can,” said Jimmy. “Morning miss.”

    “Hi,” said Cindy, not sure of what else to say to him.

    “I’m Jimmy Kellogg. Charlie and I go back a ways,” said Jimmy.

    “I’m Cindy,” she replied.

    “Please, have a seat,” said Jimmy as he sat down behind his desk. “Charlie, you certainly bring some interesting ones to my attention.”

    “You get an answer?” asked Charlie.

    “Lord no. Called everywhere and even had two summer interns from Vanderbilt trying to chase it down. Nobody, and I mean nobody ever heard of such a thing. Called Yale, Harvard, Stanford and Columbia. None of them ever heard of such a thing. They’re still checking, but I don’t think we’re going to find an answer,” said Jimmy.

    “So what does that mean exactly?” asked Charlie.

    “First things first, are you her legal guardian?” asked Jimmy.

    “No, I’m not,” said Charlie.

    “Charlie, I hate to say it this way, but I can’t speak to her without her parents or legal guardian being around,” said Jimmy.

    “Sir? May I say something?” asked Cindy.

    “Ma’am, you understand the attorney client privilege doesn’t count without a legal guardian around for you?” asked Jimmy.

    “I understand,” said Cindy and took in a breath. “The problem here is my legal guardians, my parents. They want to force me to get married to a man thirty years older than I am. Plus my father is forcing me to perform in a religion I don’t want to. The community where I came from will protect the man I am supposed to be marrying, I saw it once before. He is practicing…what’s the word when you take on more than one wife?”

    “Polygamy,” said Jimmy.

    “That’s it. But either way, I don’t want to get married to him. First off, I’m not of a legal age and I do not give consent. Secondly, I don’t want to be a Muslim. This violates my First Amendment Rights doesn’t it?” she asked.

    “Well, hypothetically speaking yes. You aren’t of a legal age to be married without your parents’ permission. Now having said that, typically the bride to be has to be consenting as well. As for the First Amendment Rights, I’ll have to check up on that, but I don’t recall there being an age factor with that,” said Jimmy. “Anything else?”

    “Yes, I went to the police in New York and they turned and told my father and the Imam. I was beat by them for telling someone what was happening,” said Cindy.

    “So you went to the local law enforcement in New York and made a complaint?” asked Jimmy, forgetting about the age of the girl in front of him.

    “Yes and they did nothing,” said Cindy, trying to be brave.

    “And in turn the local police told your father and the Imam?” asked Jimmy.

    “Yes, and I was beaten for going to them,” said Cindy.

    “Did you try the State Police?” asked Jimmy.

    “No sir, I was scared and ran away. I got here and Mister Gray picked me up,” she said.

    “Charlie, you reported this to the local police, right?” asked Jimmy.

    “Absolutely. Called the Sheriff that night,” said Charlie.

    “And he is aware of this?” asked Jimmy.

    “Filing out a formal request for an investigation as we speak,” said Charlie.

    “Okay, so what happens in the meantime?” asked Jimmy.

    “Well, that’s why we are here. She is going to need some sort of legal counsel and you’re the only lawyer I know worth a darn,” said Charlie.

    “Again, I’m not sure if I can take her on as a client,” said Jimmy.

    “Jimmy, you and I go way back. And you and I both know she could be in serious trouble here. If the local police are covering for this guy up there, how far do you think the local child protective services is going to get? And you and I both know she needs some sort of legal protection as well,” said Charlie.

    “I know Charlie, but I’m saying I’m not sure with her being a minor if I can take her on as a client. And the other matter is she isn’t a resident of this state,” said Jimmy.

    “Got to be some way of doing this,” said Charlie.

    “What if I wanted to divorce my parents?” asked Cindy.

    “I’ve heard of those cases, but never studied them,” said Jimmy. “Would you really want to go that route?”

    “No, not really. I love my parents and my family. I just want to do something to make him come to his senses. It’s a really bad idea, I know, but hopefully it would shock him to see what is really going on,” said Cindy.

    “So it’s not really on the table?” asked Jimmy.

    “No, just a dumb teenage idea,” admitted Cindy.

    “And the ultimate goal is?” asked Jimmy.

    “I just want this whole thing to stop. If I go back, I’m going to continue being abused. And they will marry me off to that sick pervert. And I will be raped. Nothing New York can do will stop that,” said Cindy, starting to lose control. “My mother and my sister also get abused. I can only imagine what happened when I left. My father and his choice of religions is the central part of the problem here and something needs to be done to make him see he is losing his family.”

    “Ma’am, either way the whole divorcing of the parents idea is not really my cup of tea. I’ll tell you what though. For the moment, I’ll take you on as a probationary client. I’m not saying it will work out in the long run, but at the same time, I understand you have rights no matter what age you are. And the cir***stances are unusual to say the least. I’ll do some checking, but I’ve got to say this right now, I’m probably going to recommend another lawyer for you. I’ll help out as much as I can, but this is way out of my league. I’ve got a friend in Knoxville that is one of the best in the State. Let me give him a call and see what he recommends,” said Jimmy.

    “And in the meantime?” asked Charlie.

    “What’s the arrangement with you and Miss…what was your name again?” asked Jimmy.

    “Cindy Grant, but I’m also known as Hassena Hassan,” said Cindy.

    “What do you prefer?” asked Jimmy.

    “Cindy is fine,” she answered.

    “Okay, Cindy it is. Charlie?” asked Jimmy.

    “I’m the foster home caregiver for her at the moment,” said Charlie.

    “So legally you have no control over her at the moment?” asked Jimmy.

    “Not that I am aware of,” said Charlie.

    “Ma’am? Are you comfortable with the arrangements with Mister Gray?” he asked, for the record.

    “Yes, I am comfortable being under the foster home arrangement with Mister Gray,” said Cindy, wondering where this was going.

    “Foster parents have a certain amount of control. Long story short, she can be declared a ward of the State and then the State asserts in loco parentis on that child. But we would have to make it legal as in before a court to have you declared as a ward. What the sheriff did wasn’t exactly legal, but it wasn’t illegal either. There is a gray area there, but typically the judge would take the situation into consideration. I don’t believe Unicoi County has a juvenile program, so it’s fitting she be sent to a home in the mean time.”

    “Now, what we need to do is get a statement on record. An official sworn statement affirming what has happened. We take that to a judge and have him or her sign off on the exigency of the situation. Since your sheriff, which I will need to talk to in order for our ducks to be in a row, has seen fit to file the complaint, the motion should go forward pretty quickly. But again, the State cannot take custody of a child unless there are exigent cir***stances,” said Jimmy.

    “Okay, you lost me,” said Cindy.

    “Basically what Mister Kellogg is saying is you have to be declared a ward of the State to continue staying with me. Additionally, the State has to have a reason to pull you from the home you are currently in,” said Charlie.

    “But haven’t I given them enough reason already?” asked Cindy.

    “You have, just not officially. We will have to have you make a sworn statement testifying to the fact your parents are abusing you and the other items of concern. Mister Kellogg will go before the judge, possibly with you as well, and make the case you need to be pulled from your home,” said Charlie. “Now Jimmy, how does that work over State lines?”

    “That’s the tricky part Charlie. I have no idea. Typically we would turn them over to the State in question and let them work that out,” said Jimmy.

    “Do you think that will be the case?” asked Charlie.

    “I don’t know. I’ll have to talk to my friend in Knoxville about that. He may even recommend a lawyer from New York since that’s the State we happen to be dealing with,” said Jimmy.

    “But do I have to go back to New York?” asked Cindy.

    “You probably will for the investigation portion of the case. My guess is they will pull you from the home during the investigation and see what that turns up. I honestly don’t know, but that’s pretty par for the course around here. When we suspect physical or sexual abuse is going on, we automatically pull the child from the home,” said Jimmy.

    “Cindy, you have to understand, there is a legal way of doing this that has to be followed,” said Charlie.

    “As long as we can get it to stop, I don’t care,” said Cindy.

    “Jimmy?” asked Charlie.

    “Let me make a few phone calls. How about I call you later and set up another meeting?” asked Jimmy.

    “Sounds good to me. Cindy? You’re the client here, is that okay with you?” asked Charlie.

    “Yes, I just hope everything turns out okay,” said Cindy.

    “I’ll also need to get a hold of the Sheriff and talk to him, make sure he’s doing things by the book. Typically families have to be certified by the State, but it’s typically a formality if the county signs off. He had your home declared a foster home?” asked Jimmy.

    “Yeah, he did. I don’t know about the paperwork though,” said Charlie.

    “Another thing to check,” said Jimmy, writing down the additional information. “Anything else?”

    “Nothing we can think of. What’s this going to run me?” asked Charlie.

    “Shoot, I’ll go [/I]pro bono[/I] for the moment. This one was interesting enough to tickle my brain, so I should be thankful,” said Jimmy.

    “You know you are using and abusing those two interns from Nashville,” laughed Charlie.

    “Just getting my money out of them,” laughed Jimmy. “I should have an answer in a couple of days for you.”

    “Sounds like a plan,” said Charlie as they departed. “You need anything while we’re out?”

    “What does Kingsport have to offer?” she asked.

    “Not much honestly. For shopping most folks go to Johnson City,” said Charlie as they exited the office.

    “Lunch and a shopping trip?” she asked.

    “You aren’t going to let me off the hook about that shopping trip are you?” he said with a sigh.

    “You know, I have been working hard for you and not complaining one bit,” she said.

    “Which you volunteered for you know?” he asked.

    “You weren’t supposed to remember that part,” she laughed.

    “Okay, lunch and a brief, and I mean brief trip to the mall,” he said.

    “To a store of my choosing?” she asked.

    “Only one store?” he asked.

    “Maybe more than one,” she grinned.

    “And if I said no?” he asked.

    “Then I will get all pouty and stomp my feet around and run up to my room screaming ‘I hate you!’ Isn’t that what teenage girls are supposed to do?” she asked.

    “I have no idea what teenage girls do these days. And remember, you don’t have a room, just the cabin, pouty will work until you get hungry and you already stomp your feet,” he laughed.

    “You have this way of cornering me with my own words don’t you?” she laughed.

    “Tends to happen a lot,” he said and got into the truck.

    “You’re older and wiser than I am,” she said.

    “That’s a miracle if I’ve ever heard one. A teenager admitting a grownup knows more than they do?” laughed Charlie.

    “It’s true,” she said.

    “How did you get so grown up all the sudden? I mean, it’s unusual,” said Charlie.

    “I guess I had to grow up quick coming from where I did,” said Cindy.

    “Okay, I’ll give you that. Not that I’m complaining at all,” he said.

    “I guess I don’t really know how girls my age are supposed to act,” said Cindy.

    “We could try to get you into some sorta youth program while you are here,” he suggested.

    “Let me think about it,” she said as they pulled on the Interstate for the short trip to Johnson City. The drive was short even with the daytime traffic and they pulled off on exit 20 heading south on Roan Street until he took a turn and pulled into a Ryans Steakhouse.

    “What’s this place?” she asked.

    “An all you can eat buffet. Perfect place for a hungry teenager,” he laughed.

    “I’ve never heard of it,” she said.

    “I think it’s called Old Country Buffet or something like that up north,” he said.

    “I know what that is! Finally!” she exclaimed.

    They went through the line and were seated before grabbing plates for the buffet line. He was surprised at the amount she was eating and he never thought a smaller girl like she was could stuff away the plate she had brought back from the salad bar. She especially loved the seafood salad and got more when she went for her main food items. When she returned, he was just finishing up his first plate.

    “You think might leave a little for me?” he chuckled.

    “Just making sure you are getting your money’s worth out of this place. But another Southern food question,” she said as she buttered a roll.

    “Which is?” he asked.

    “What’s okra? I think I’ve heard of it before, but I’ve never seen it,” she asked.

    “It’s a vegetable. Like a flower sort of, but you eat the seed pods. I planted some in the garden, but it doesn’t do to well on the farm,” he said.

    “Why not?” she asked.

    “I don’t know. Just never has,” he said and got up to get something other than salad. When he returned, she had a serious question for him.

    “What do you think the chances are of this coming out in my favor?” she asked.

    “Pretty good I would say. People don’t care for abuse all that much and the fact you were supposed to be married to a man older than me is not good either. I think you’ll end up in the right on this one,” he said.

    “Just wondering,” she said and took another bite.

    “You know there are thousands of other things to worry about than that,” he said.

    “Name one,” she said.

    “Getting eaten by a large dinosaur walking out of here. That would be a big one,” he said with a straight face.

    “Shut up,” she laughed.

    “No, it’s a serious problem around these parts. Just saw it last week downtown. Young girl about 15 years old got eaten by a brontosaurus in front of the movie theater,” he said.

    “There isn’t a brontosaurus as you called it. It’s actually an Apatosaurus and it’s a vegetarian,” she said.

    “Okay so it was the kind that eats teenage girls,” he said with a straight face.

    “Charlie…” she started.

    “You just like to ruin all the fun don’t you?” he said with a smirk.

    “Trying to cheer me up?” she asked.

    “Is it working?” he asked.

    “Maybe a little,” she said with half a smile.

    “Good, then you don’t need to worry about getting eaten by a dinosaur,” he said.

    “You’re dumb,” she said with a half a smile.

    “How do you know so much about dinosaurs anyway?” he asked, ignoring the comment.

    “I read about them. I liked dinosaurs when I was younger,” she said.

    “Photographic memory, I forgot,” he said.

    “Ask me anything out of the first fifteen chapters of that book I was reading,” she said.

    “I’ll pass. I don’t recall all that much about it,” he said.

    “Could you take me over there? To Sycamore Shoals?” she asked.

    “I don’t see why we couldn’t make the trip,” he said.

    “Today?” she asked.

    “I don’t recall having anything major going on today. Tomorrow is off limits though,” he said.

    “Why is that?” she asked.

    “Well, in the morning we need to get caught up on the work we are missing today and tomorrow afternoon Sarah is coming over to talk to you,” said Charlie.

    “Who’s Sarah?” asked Cindy.

    “Mitch’s lady friend. She’s a certified counselor,” said Charlie.

    “Oh,” said Cindy as she looked at her empty plate. “You think they’re going to mind if I get another plate?”

    “Probably put you to washing dishes,” said Charlie.

    “Be right back,” she said and wandered over to the buffet line once again. Once she returned, he had to comment.

    “I’m feeding you enough, right?” he asked.

    “I’m a growing girl and need my energy,” she said.

    “Aren’t you worried about gaining weight?” he asked.

    “The way I’ve been working? No. Plus I’ve starting to muscle up you know? Swinging that axe is some work,” she said.

    “Shoulders sore?” he asked.

    “Not as much as I thought they would be,” she said. “But in all seriousness, I have a high metabolism anyway.”

    “I hope I’ve been feeding you enough,” said Charlie.

    “Oh, no, you have. I haven’t gone hungry yet,” she said. “Just worked too much.”

    “Again, you volunteered for it,” he replied.

    “Okay, I’ll give you that. I don’t mind getting my hands dirty and lifting heavy objects,” she said with a laugh.

    “You are a tomboy at heart,” he laughed.

    “Don’t tell my father that,” she laughed.

    “Finish up and we’ll head over to the mall,” he said, changing the subject. For some reason, he had no desire to talk about her father right then.

    “Still have time for dessert, right?” she asked.

    “If you think you can cram it in,” he said.

    “Watch me,” she said and went over to the dessert bar and grabbed a bowl of ice cream. He decided he could cheat a little and grab himself a piece of apple pie sitting out. After they finished up, he left a tip and they drove the short distance to the mall.

    “Now, this is smaller than what you are probably used to,” he advised her.

    “I’m just here to look,” she said and headed towards the JC Penny. He was fairly certain she would find something she liked and he might buy it depending on the situation. She needed another outfit for the additional lawyer trips and probably something to see the judge in if she went to court. He decided to play that one by ear and wait it out. She was browsing the women’s clothing and after about twenty minutes he became impatient.

    “If you don’t mind, I’m going to head over to the Sears,” he said.

    “When do I need to meet you?” she asked.

    “When are you going to be done?” he asked.

    “I’m just browsing for the most part,” she said. “Nice to get out shopping you know?”

    “I understand. Let’s say twenty minutes?” he asked.

    “Nah, I’m done here for the most part,” she said.

    “Do you need something?” he asked.

    “Well, I did mention I wanted to start running again,” she said.

    “Isn’t there like an athletic department for ladies?” he asked.

    “There is, but it’s cheaper at Wal-Mart,” she said. “Come on handyman, let’s check out the tool department.”

    “How did you know I was going to look at tools?” he asked.

    “Why else would you be in Sears?” she asked.

    “I was just going to browse,” he said. “We don’t have to go.”

    “You put up with my browsing over here. Might as well see what’s going on over there,” she said.

    “You sure?” he asked.

    “Why not?” she asked. “I mean, if you don’t mind stopping at the Wal-Mart on the way home. I do have a little money.”

    “How much is a little?” he asked.

    “Like twenty dollars or so,” she said.

    “Why did you have twenty dollars and not spend it on food before I found you?” he asked.

    “Waiting to see if there was anything else I needed first,” she said.

    “You’re quite the silly one,” he observed. “Let’s head to Elizabethton instead. Get into Sycamore Shoals.”

    “No, I wouldn’t dream of denying you your right to be a man and go to the Craftsman tools,” she said with a silly grin on her face.

    “I’ll just end up buying you a chainsaw or something,” he laughed.

    “Would you? Oh please, please, please! Please buy me a chainsaw Uncle Charlie! Please!” she exclaimed as she bounced up and down in front of him, earning the attention of several people in the store.

    “You’re like a monkey, you know that?” he asked as she continued to bounce.

    “I know, but I want a chainsaw, please, please, please!” she continued.

    “Would you knock it off?” he said with a roll of his eyes. “Besides, I’ll buy you a chainsaw at Lowes instead.”

    “Why Lowes?” she asked as they departed the store.

    “Better brand than Craftsman. They sell the Husqvarna models which next to my Stihl are just about as good,” he said, being a little biased in his brands.

    “Why not get me one of yours?” she asked.

    “Huskies are girl saws,” he laughed. “I can even paint it pink for you.”

    “Are they really made for women?” she asked.

    “No, just being biased. I like the Stihl brand myself. Others like Husqvarna. Those two are about the top of the line models you can get,” he replied as they got into the truck.

    “So you would or wouldn’t buy a Hus…thing?” she asked.

    “I would if I had to, but I’ve always had good experiences with Stihl. I mean, if Stihl wasn’t available and all they had was Husky, I would buy Husky. But you tend to stick with brands you are comfortable with,” he explained.

    “Like cars?” she asked.

    “Exactly. I’m just set in my ways and will probably always own a Ford truck. Just me you know,” he said.

    “But you have two trucks, one to get around town and the other you use around the farm,” she said. “One’s a Ford, the other’s a Dodge.”

    “The Dodge is an older truck that’s meant to be beaten to death. It’s actually an old vehicle I picked up and restored a long time ago,” he said.

    “You seriously don’t ever get rid of anything do you?” she asked.

    “Not as long as there is life in it. I mean, eventually this truck will wear out and I’ll probably restore it for a farm vehicle and get rid of the Dodge, but until then, I’ll drive this,” he said.

    “And your chainsaw?” she asked.

    “Thirty bucks for a part and labor or three hundred for a new saw. Which one is more economical?” he asked.

    “But you’re rich aren’t you?” she asked.

    “I have money, yes, but rich is a state of mind,” he said.

    “How’s that?” she asked.

    “Well, you ever hear the term money can’t buy happiness?” he asked.

    “Of course,” she said.

    “There you go. I know plenty of wealthy people who are miserable,” said Charlie.

    “Are you one of them?” she asked, point blank.

    “I wouldn’t say I’m miserable,” he replied with a chuckle. But then again, you aren’t exactly the happiest person in the world either are you Charlie?

    “But you are looking for something to make you happy?” she asked.

    “I wouldn’t say I’m looking. I think God has a way of sending things into our lives to make us happier when we least expect it,” he said.

    “Like me?” she chuckled.

    “More like the circus sending me things when you happened to show up,” he laughed.

    “Hey!” she objected.

    “You’ve been good company, I will admit that,” said Charlie.

    “For a second there I thought I was going to have to find another stranger to take me in,” she laughed.

    “Nah, I’ll keep you around for the moment,” said Charlie. The remainder of the drive to the historic site was spent in idle chit chat with him showing her various things around the area. After pulling in, she was able to peek through the trees and see the reconstructed fort put up on the site.

    “Way cool! They have their own fort!” she exclaimed.

    “You certainly get excited over the little things,” he said.

    “Yeah, I know, but it’s cool,” she said and anxiously jumped out of the truck. It was nice to see some enthusiasm for learning in a teenager and he let her pretty much guide him on his way through the area, although having been there several times herself. She would bring up this tidbit of information and that and recall seeing some of the things in the book. They culminated the visit with a trip out to the fort where she decided it wasn’t so grand living in the small cabins inside the settlement area, but also recognized the fact it wouldn’t be so grand to have Native Americans banging on the door with blood in their eyes and knives in hand without some form of protection. She genuinely seemed happy to have seen some of the historical things the area had to offer and had a grin on her face as she had seen some of the things she had only read about for a change.

    After departing, they went to the local Wal-Mart where she picked out three sets of running shorts along with a pair of shoes. She attempted to put down her money to help pay, but he refused, calling it his “charity” again. Happy to see her in a good state of mind, they departed and headed back to the farm where she fixed dinner and had another evening where he plopped down behind the computer and she started reading once again. Night came upon them both where she retired to the cabin and continued to read while he went straight to bed, still worrying about what her future was going to be like.

  9. #19
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    CHAPTER 11


    “Sir? I’ve got that half day I was asking for today,” said Sarah Brock as she approached her supervisor at the Trooper’s Barracks.

    “Yes, you did. Personal business?” he asked.

    “Sort of a mix of personal and business,” said Sarah.

    “Okay, no problems and you are caught up. Yeah, get out of here,” he said.

    “Thanks,” she said and went to the back to change. She was heading straight for Mitch’s house from here and didn’t want to have to change out of her State Patrol uniform after she got there. But since there was dinner afterwards, she did up her makeup and made sure her hair was in order. She didn’t plan of a huge deal for dinner and didn’t get all that dressed up, but the thoughts of spending the evening with Mitch gave her a spring in her step that was recognized by all in the barracks as she gathered her things. While she was finishing up, her cell phone rang.

    “Hello?” she asked while grabbing her bag.

    “Sarah? It’s Mitch,” he said.

    “Hey you! What person forced you to call?” she laughed.

    “Nobody, just felt like doing it,” he said.

    “Uh huh,” she said.

    “Just making sure we are still on for this afternoon and dinner tonight,” he stated.

    “We sure are; are you ready though?” she asked.

    “For certain,” he said.

    “I was about to walk out of the office and head that way. Now the question is, are you ready for tonight?” she asked.

    “Ummm, sure,” he said evasively.

    “That doesn’t sound very confident Mitchell Brewer,” she laughed.

    “Just got a lot on my mind,” he said. “You coming to my place or the courthouse?”

    “Where do you want me to show up?” she asked.

    “You caused quite the stir at the courthouse. Might as well meet me here and give them something else to gossip about,” he laughed.

    “Okay, I should be there within the hour,” she said.

    “All righty then, see you in a bit,” he said and hung up the phone.

    She ended the call herself and tossed her cell phone in her purse. She was unconsciously smiling about the phone call and how she felt around Mitch. Others in the station saw the look on her face and decided she had a big date that night. But the grin on her face was the ultimate tell to her mood.

    “That your sheriff friend?” asked the Captain.

    “Yeah,” she said with a smile.

    “You know, the way you two beat around the bush, you might never get married,” said the Captain.

    “Well, I’m waiting for him to make his move,” said Sarah.

    “Might be waiting a while if you are waiting on a man to make up his mind,” laughed the Captain.

    “He’ll miss out on a golden opportunity if he waits much longer,” said Sarah.

    “Honey, I doubt that. You two are crazy ‘bout each other even if the two of you won’t admit it,” said the Captain.

    “Might want to remind him of that fact as well,” said Sarah with a semi frown.

    “Oh, give it time, he’ll figure it out,” said the Captain.


    ********************


    “Time to get cleaned up,” said Charlie as he took the last bucket of weeds and tossed them into the composter.

    “Why…oh yeah, that lady is coming over,” said Cindy.

    “Yep, go ahead and get cleaned up and we’ll do lunch,” said Charlie.

    “Do I need to be formal or anything? Dressed up nice?” she asked.

    “Nah, just be yourself,” said Charlie.

    “I’m not sure is she would appreciate that,” laughed Cindy.

    “You know what I mean,” said Charlie.

    “I know, stop being so serious,” she said with a grin.

    Cindy went to the cabin and got a shower to clean up while Charlie did the same thing in the house. Lunch was a simple affair of a sandwich and chips with Charlie seeing peanut butter and banana was quickly becoming her favorite type of sandwich as she made another one for lunch. He would have to pick up more bananas at the store later, but it was not a big deal as she was getting some healthy foods in her system instead of junk that teenagers typically ate. And for snacks, she preferred the fresh veggies they had taken from the garden as opposed to the other items he had around the house.

    They were just finishing up when they heard a honk from the outside and saw Mitch’s truck pulling up with a passenger. They got out and walked up to the porch where they were met by Charlie.

    “Hello Mitch. And nice to see you again Sarah,” said Charlie.

    “Mister Gray, always a pleasure,” said Sarah.

    “Oh, quit being so formal and call me Charlie,” he replied.

    “Hello Cindy,” said Mitch as she joined the rest of the group on the porch.

    “Hello,” she said and introduced herself to Sarah. “I’m Cindy.”

    “Hi, I’m Sarah,” she said, introducing herself to Cindy.

    “How are you ya’ll doing?” asked Sarah.

    “Can’t complain. Want a glass of tea or something?” asked Charlie.

    “Home brewed?” asked Sarah.

    “Absolutely,” said Charlie as he disappeared inside and came back with three glasses with ice along with a Diet Pepsi for Cindy.

    “Outstanding weather out here lately,” said Sarah. “Must be good for your farm.”

    “More or less, I just wish there was more rain,” said Charlie.

    “Supposed to be some moving in over the next few days,” said Sarah.

    “It’ll be welcome,” said Charlie.

    The four sat on the porch and passed the next fifteen minutes in small talk and sipped at their drinks. Cindy noticed Mitch was completely engrossed with whatever Sarah happened to be talking about and vice versa with her. It was like watching some sappy romance novel unfolding on the front porch. Sarah would ask a few questions here and there of Cindy, trying to gauge her reactions along with what her general mood seemed to be. She got a feel for what the interview would be like and would more on as soon as the socializing finished up. Charlie sensed the pleasantries were finished up and moved on.

    “You all already have something to eat?” asked Charlie.

    “Yes, sure did,” said Mitch.

    “I ate before I came over to see Mitch,” said Sarah.

    “You want to talk to Cindy here or in the house?” asked Charlie.

    “In the house if that’s okay,” said Sarah. “You knew about this already, right?”

    “Yes, we talked about it,” said Cindy nervously.

    “Sarah won’t bite, at least the first trip out,” laughed Charlie.

    “Come on inside sweetie, let’s talk,” said Sarah as she stood and motioned at Cindy with her head. Cindy followed her into the living room area and sat down on the edge of the couch, looking fairly nervous about the whole ordeal.

    “So how are you really doing?” asked Sarah.

    “I’m okay I guess. Relaxed for the first time in a while,” said Cindy with a fake grin. She was still a bit hesitant around strangers…all except Charlie.

    “Sweetie, I’m going to tell you exactly why I’m here. Mitch called me up the other day and asked me to come over. I’m a certified counselor. I minored in it from ETSU and Charlie and Mitch wanted me to talk to you,” said Sarah.

    “A shrink?” asked Cindy.

    “No, just someone to talk to if you would like; off the record if you want it to be. Poor Charlie and Mitch are in way over their heads and asked me to help. Sometimes it’s better for us girls to talk you know?” she asked.

    “True, men have a hard time understanding complicated things,” said Cindy with a laugh.

    “You’re pretty smart for your age, already have men figured out,” laughed Sarah.

    “Charlie’s a pretty smart guy, but I know what you mean. It’s hard for me to open up to him,” said Cindy.

    “Well, I’m here to talk to if you want. I understand you’ve been through some pretty rough times and sometimes it helps to talk,” said Sarah.

    “I mean, sometimes it’s hard to say what you want to say,” said Cindy.

    “True, but at the same time, you sometimes have to say what’s on your mind. It helps if you get it out,” said Sarah.

    “Can I ask a question?” asked Cindy.

    “Of course,” said Sarah.

    “You really like Mitch don’t you?” asked Cindy.

    “How did you know?” asked Sarah.

    “The way you look at him. I mean, he looks the same way at you when you aren’t looking, so it’s mutual,” said Cindy.

    “Yeah, I do like him…a lot,” said Sarah with a sigh.

    “You ever just tell him?” asked Cindy.

    “I’m made some not so subtle hints to that effect. But it’s hard for me to open up to him,” said Sarah.

    “Why don’t you just tell him?” asked Cindy.

    “I don’t know. Old fashioned I suppose. It’s kind of the man’s place to start that sort of conversation,” said Sarah.

    “Want me to pass a note after gym class?” asked Cindy with a twinkle in her eye.

    Sarah looked at her and started laughing. She knew what Cindy was getting at and appreciated her own little piece of advice right then. “So you feel up to talking?”

    “Actually, I do. Where do you want to start?” asked Cindy.

    “How about wherever you want to start,” said Sarah.

    “Am I supposed to lay down on a couch or something?” asked Cindy with a nervous laugh.

    “If it makes you feel better. And I can get a leather bound notepad and write everything down while smoking a pipe or something,” laughed Sarah.

    “How about we start three years ago when my father decided to be a Muslim,” said Cindy as she slumped over into the chair.


    ********************


    “That is a pretty piece of wood,” observed Mitch as he looked over the piece of Bastogne.

    “Yeah, nice if I say so myself. Going to make a pretty stock,” said Charlie.

    “What do you think is going to happen with Sarah and Cindy?” asked Mitch.

    “Well, you know Sarah better than I do,” said Charlie.

    “She’s good with people. Doesn’t seem to have the problems with people just talking to her and opening up,” said Mitch.

    ‘Well, Cindy does need someone she can just open up to. She mentioned physical abuse at the lawyer’s office the other day,” said Charlie.

    “She didn’t say anything about that to us,” said Mitch.

    “No, which kind of worries me. What else don’t we know?” asked Charlie. “Mind holding the other end?”

    ‘No, don’t mind at all,” said Mitch, watching Charlie get the band saw set up. “Are you asking in a good way or a bad way?”

    “Depends on how you look at it. I mean, if she held back the physical abuse, what else would she hold back on us?” asked Charlie.

    “I hope nothing important. Talked to your Kellogg friend yesterday and he gave me an earful. Which reminds me, I’ve got some paperwork for you to sign in the truck,” said Mitch.

    “Yeah, he mentioned what we were doing wasn’t exactly entirely legal,” said Charlie.

    “But not illegal. It’s nice to have a lawyer playing ball with us,” said Mitch.

    “Enough of them don’t, I suppose,” said Charlie as he flipped on the saw and started sliding the piece of walnut through the saw. Mitch was ready to catch the pieces on the other side as they came through and had put on a pair of safety glasses. The saw cut through the piece fairly effortlessly and split it into two pieces roughly the same size.

    “You know, you just might be able to get two out of this,” said Mitch.

    “I was thinking the same thing. It’s a fairly large piece,” said Charlie. “I wondered if it would cut right.”

    “He want that other piece back?” asked Mitch.

    “Well, he originally wanted a matching pair for Mack and Toby. I told him I probably wouldn’t have the time. Might, might not, but I’ll give it a go,” said Charlie.

    “Have to get Toby measured up. That kid grew like a weed this past spring and summer,” said Mitch.

    “Sure did, but for matching pairs, the same length won’t hurt. Besides, they have about the same build,” said Charlie, looking at the piece and getting ready for the second cut. Again the machine was flipped on and the ends were trimmed off both pieces. Charlie made two more cuts before looking at the ends and calling it good for the moment. There was still one more cut to be made and then the detailed craftsmanship would be started.

    “Plans after this?” asked Charlie.

    “I’ve got to take Sarah to dinner and a nice place to watch the sunset,” said Mitch.

    “Kind of romantic if I may say so myself,” chuckled Charlie.

    “Don’t you start in on me Charlie. I made a promise to her,” said Mitch.

    “The beauty spot would be nice. Kind of a long drive though after dinner,” suggested Charlie.

    “That’s an outstanding idea. I don’t know if she’s ever been up there,” said Mitch.

    “Have you ever just gone right out and told her how you feel? I know you like her, why not just say it?” asked Charlie.

    “I wouldn’t want her to give up her job. She’s making good money with the State Troopers and she might consider giving that up to be with me,” said Mitch.

    “Don’t you think that’s her decision to make?” asked Charlie.

    “Yeah, but I’d feel bad about it,” said Mitch.

    “And I suppose your fianc

  10. #20
    Pretty good so far.

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