“God this feels good!!” E felt her muscles stretch, her wind return and the sting of the chilly April air on her face. Her body was letting her know she was pushing things a bit – her spirit relished in the freedom! It had been a long winter. She was back at the farm just after the New Year was rung in. Everyone made a fuss, they had cleaned her room – honest to God it hadn’t changed a bit, like stepping back into a time capsule – washed her old clothes and gathered up her things that had been shipped to her by the Corps. She was over her heartbreak of her medical discharge but she held out a faint hope that in a year or two she might seek to have it overturned. Until then she’d get her body back into fighting shape.
She had on her “Vikes” Cross Country sweats. She was amazed they still fit, she had racked up hundreds of miles in these togs and it appeared they were ready for more. She was running an old route – she’d run it for nearly 6 years during her years in the local Middle School and High School. It had a great mix of flats, hills and a couple sharp turns. The five miles was enough to get her kinks worked out – the longer routes could wait until the next month or so. There was no hurry – she wasn’t going anywhere.
“What the hell am I going to do here??” She spun this question round and round and round in her head. She entered the Marines right out of high school. She was trained to fight and kill at distance. There were other skills – tactics, communications, hand to hand, but in her little community of five thousand or so, their uses were limited.
Still, for now – she would work on healing. Come summer, she’d start to make some serious plans.
Her next left took her across the river just north of town. E slowed to a light jog and eventually a walk. She remained upright, evaluating her wind, the feel of her muscles. She could feel the pins – at least SHE thought she could, the tender spots where she had broken legs and arms. “Better!” she thought. Compared to how this felt at the local rec center when she began her PT – she was much improved. “Another couple of months – I’ll be rockin’!” a smile crossing her face and she jogged up the steps of the county sheriff’s office. A quick smile from Linda behind the glass and she heard the buzzer announce the door to the main offices was unlocked. “Thanks Linda, where’s my old man??” “Down the hall kid, grumbling behind his desk. Somethin’s eating at him something fierce!”
“Damnit Brad – something’s coming. Been watching the news reports out of Chicago, St. Louis, Minneapolis . . . hell any city with any real size to its population. The wheels are starting to come off and there are some mighty pissed off folks there. When they finally let go, it ain’t gonna be pretty!” Sheriff Richard Franks sat behind his massive oak desk behind no less than three monitors. Relics of the past, the monitors were as far down the tech highway as the Sheriff was willing to go. The wearable devices all his suppliers were pushing held absolutely no interest to him. “I’m glad you accepted my invitation to join the force. We need some new blood here – especially with real-world fighting experience. I truly fear we will make use of your skills much sooner than I ever expected!”
E leaned against the door jam, just out of direct sight of either the sheriff or new deputy. E could see the worry in her father’s face – it took a lot to put that wrinkled forehead in place. She couldn’t fully see this new deputy her dad was talking to. She hadn’t heard a word of any new hires and now she was curious.
“Hey Pops!” she said, walking through the door taking in her dad and this Brad fellow all in one glance.
“Hey kid – glad you’re here! How was the run?”
“Not bad, managed five miles with only a few kinks here in there. I’ll stretch those out on the way home!” Her answer was automatic, here attention was on Brad.
“Good to hear! Say, let me introduce you two. Elizabeth – this is Brad Rowley. He’s fresh out of the Corps just like you! He just agreed to be our newest deputy!”
“Brad, this is my oldest daughter – Elizabeth!”
“Geezz, thanks pops . . . your OLDEST daughter?? Really??” A smile from ear to ear crossed her face as she stepped to Brad and reached out her hand. “Great meeting you Brad! Welcome to our little community. God help ya – I have it on good authority that your boss is an asshole!!” The last little bit said while she was looking at her old man with a wicked little grin pasted on her face.
“Language daughter, language!!” but Richard couldn’t help but smile a bit in return.
“Nice to meet you Elizabeth! Always nice to get acquainted with the folks “in the know” so to speak!” His grip firm, E found she liked this new addition to their little community.
“Please – E, just plain E. Call me Elizabeth, I probably won’t even turn my head!”
“Fair enough, E it’s nice to meet you!” Brad enjoyed what he was seeing as well. She seemed in pretty good shape considering what her father had shared about her last year or so. “She must be a pretty tough cookie” he thought.
“Brad, hate to kick you out but E and I have some business to talk. Since today’s Friday, get settled, look around the town and then be at our place tonight around six – can’t have you eating fast food on your first night in town. And Cathy’s interested in meeting you as well, along with my dad – just call him Gramps, not sure he even remembers his given name, at least that’s what he’ll tell ya!”
“Yes sir, that sounds really good. It was quite a drive down today. I think I’ll like this just fine, good to get out of the cities. See you at six sharp!” And with that he nodded to E and left.
“Shut the door E.” Pushing the intercom button on his comm unit he called out “Linda – hold everything. I’ll let you know when we’re done. “ “Yes sir, done” and Linda clicked off. They were alone and there was a tension that E couldn’t quite put her finger on. Taking a deep breath to quiet herself – an old sniper habit – she took a seat and waited for her dad to get whatever was eating on him off his chest.
“You been watching the news any much since you’ve been back?” There was an intensity in his voice and face E hadn’t seen before.
“Not really. Been reading on how my old unit is holding up in Africa. Ramrod is still kicking their ass. Things seem to be sliding a bit more there, one of the carrier groups is being recalled – equipment failures are really taking their toll. They’re trying to bring up a couple mothballed ships – one the Regan – to fill the holes. It’s not going well. But, honestly that’s about it. Not really paying much attention to anything local or even within CONUS for that matter. What are you getting at? What should I be looking for?” E was curious now. She prided herself on being able to read intel fairly accurately. Of course, that was Africa and she found her attention was still there – not “here”.
“I’ll throw you at Gramps this weekend, have you two take a walk and chat. He’s the one that really opened my eyes to this whole “slide” thing as folks have taken to call it. I don’t really have the time or desire to flesh the whole thing out for you – Gramps can do it so much better. My real interest in this little sit-down is you . . . . I want to offer you a job as one of my deputies. I’m pretty darn sure I’m going to need your “talents” in the not too distant future. So, what do ya say, want to be “Deputy E”?? He tried to keep his face neutral as he waited for her answer, but it was nearly impossible. He needed her talents and skills and he wanted her to say “yes” so he could move forward with his plans for the county.
E was trying to absorb what her father had just asked – did she want to be a deputy? Honestly, she’d never even thought of law enforcement. In many ways, her experience, her training, skills fit perfectly. In many ways – they didn’t. Still, as he had said the words they had simply “clicked”. It had been so obvious; she had simply overlooked law enforcement. She felt her choice settle in her mind.
“Yes sir, I believe I would.” E saw relief, happiness, concern wash across her new boss’s face.
“Good to hear E, very good to hear. I’ve been talking to the local community college to get you credit for your military service and experience. That will get you part way. Lana – the local college rep has laid out a plan that should have you certified by the end of the year. I’ll be able to grant you a rank of “Interim Deputy” soon as the paperwork is done. Once you’ve got your certs, you’ll be “Deputy”. Sound OK to you?” Richard felt a relief that he hadn’t felt in quite some time wash through his chest.
“It does dad, it really does. I was thinking on my run what the hell I was going to do with my life. I could do a lot worse that law enforcement. I’m kinda excited about it!!” and E noticed that she was, she truly was excited about this interesting turn in her life.
“Now pops, what can you tell me about that hunky new deputy . . . Brad was it?? I kinda liked the shape of his bunns if ya know what I mean!” Her wicked little grin back, E stared her father down across his desk.
“Geezz, language daughter, language! Just leave Brad be for a bit. New town, new job and he has his own baggage to deal with as well. You and he covered some of the same ground. He came out a bit better physically than you did, but he has his ghosts as well. Easy, OK?” the tone of his voice rode between request and order.
“No problem pops – besides, I’m irresistible. I can wait him out!” E’s grin was in full bloom as she headed for the door. “Anything else boss?”
“No, smartass . . . don’t be late for supper!” And with that E left her father’s office and headed off for their farm. She was starting to tighten up a bit; a good hot shower would put her right just in time for supper and Brad.
“Doggoneit!! Don’t they know we just started eating??” Gramps grumped, reached in his pocket and pulled out a small container of strike anywhere matches. A quick swipe across the table top ignited the phosphorous/accelerant/wood of the match as he used its light to find one of four kerosene lanterns spaced down the middle of the table. Quickly lifting the tall globe he passed the flame over the wick and saw it spread across the wick’s damp edge. He quickly replaced the globe and adjusted the wick’s height to eliminate the smoke and its soot that would soon accumulate on the inside of the globe if he got the height wrong.
Within a few moments the remaining three lamps were lit and the supper continued.
“Every night this week!! Every night this week we’ve lost power! It’s getting worse. The damn windmills are worthless – hell over 75% of them in the state aren’t cranking out so much as a single watt. Only a handful of the coal plants are left in the state, and they can’t even get coal much of the time. The nuke plant and the couple natural gas generators are the only thing left trying to keep the whole place goin’. It’s just not enough there to handle the load. This time next year – we’ll use more kerosene than we will electricity! This damn “slide” will take us all the way back to the 1800s if we don’t get a handle on it!” Gramps was not a happy camper. Of course, all sorts of things go away when electricity isn’t present. Heat, to name one of them. Richard had patched an old Woodland stove into the fireplace. He left the table briefly and got a fire going in the firebox. A well filled wood box and a couple cord of seasoned wood outside the back door insured everyone would be warm tonight. Still, it was irritating – and getting more so day by day.
Earl and Edna Franks were both seated at the wide “head” of their family table. To Earl, it was just a strong table he’d made especially for the love of his life. To Edna, it was what remained of her very first stall for her very first horse. And no, it made no sense to turn a stall into a table – but it was a hell of a conversation piece and Edna loved to tell the stories around it.
To Gramp’s right (God help you if you ever actually call him “Earl”) were Cathy and Richard. And across from them was their middle daughter Allison. Their youngest, Linda was off on spring break doing some winter camping with her current beau in the BWCA of Minnesota. E and Brad finished out the place settings that took up only about one third of the table’s length.
Everything on the table was home grown or home made – from the fresh pork chops to the stone ground bread. Canned green beans from their kitchen pantry rounded out the meal and apple pie from homemade pie filling from last year’s bumper crop waited, warming in the now cooling oven. A lot of ground was covered in the conversation during their evening meal. Everyone became familiar with Brad’s family (son of a single mom and one brother, Franklin), a brief summary of his stint in the Marines and his reasons for leaving the cities and accepting Brads invitation to join his force. E was announced as the very latest addition to Richard’s force which was met with a “makes sense” from Gramps and a concerned frown from Gram. Brad, however, seemed all smiles at the announcement. As things wound down and the evening drew to a close Richard looked at E . . .
“Why don’t you give Brad the nickel tour of the county tomorrow? Take the department Wrangler. I’d like you to show him the perimeter roads, bridges, take a look-see at our other communities – then bring him back for supper so we can have a chat. I’ve been working on some things – like the input of some folks with military experience.” Richard watched their expressions and could see their minds working already. “You two OK with that?”
“Yes sir! Sounds like a nice way to spend a Saturday!” Brad’s smile was genuine; he was looking forward to getting to know this woman sitting next to him. “No problems pops – haven’t driven the Wrangler is awhile – still have all the self-rescue gear mounted?” Just a bit of a glint could be seen in her eyes.
“Just keep the damn Jeep on the road E – no, and I mean NO – off-roading tomorrow! Brad, you keep her on the straight and narrow tomorrow!”
“No problem sir, no problem.” Brad replied, as he scooted his chair back and made ready to take his leave. “Best be heading out, look forward to tomorrow E – 07:00??”
“Come at 06:30, we’ll eat some breakfast first.” E hated sleeping; it seemed to waste so much time.
“Yes Ma’am, 06:30 it is!! Night folks, see you in the morning.” And with that he was out the door.
“Just what are you up to pops?? E’s curiosity was in high gear. Her dad was definitely working on a plan . . . .and she wanted to know just what that plan was!
“Not tonight E, not to night. You take Brad on the tour first. Pay particular attention to major roads, bridges, rivers and work your way through the other towns. I want him to have a good understanding of the county and its layout.” Brad’s thoughts were elsewhere as he spoke, E could almost hear the gears turning.
“Then, tomorrow night after supper we’ll chat – you, Brad, Gramps and me. I’ll fill you in and get your thoughts. Fair enough?” his attention now refocused on E.
“Alright dad, no problem. I can think of worse things to do than giving Brad the grand tour!”
As the family settled into their evening routine – Richard scanning one of his new magazines and Catherine working on a new cross-stich, E realized she had missed this. The comfort of being around family and she realized it truly was good to be home.
Over the next 18 months or so she would come to realize that “home” was changing . . . . and changing very quickly!