I shouldn’t have relaxed. I should have shouted my feelings into their faces until they listened. I knew something wasn’t right but I had no idea how not right things were about to go. I’m not sure how much good it would have done but I should have tried. I didn’t. I’ll go to my grave wondering if things would have happened the way they did if I had followed my instincts.
It was so foggy it was impossible to see much beyond the end of your own nose. They got on the road well before first light only making it worse. I was pinging off the walls the moment they left. Jax, Aston, and Reggie. Everyone put it down to female hormones, the kind that start flying around the minute someone’s man is not right under foot where you can see them. I tried to put it down to the same thing despite knowing it wasn’t.
But then the guys missed their first check in time. Then they missed their second one. Then we found out the Houchins farm had a group go missing as well. I knew. I knew even before then but at that moment I knew with certainty.
“Johnson I need to talk to you.”
As big as Johnson was he suddenly looked like he was shrinking away from me, from what I was going to say. “Don’t Lydie.”
“And who else am I supposed to go to? Aiden? Jules? Neither one of them is up for it.”
“They’re all fine. They’ll …”
In a dead voice I said, “Shut up Johnson. And for the record … this is my home and it is going to stay my home but I’m on overload right now and I need to know that you have my back.”
He squinted at me. “What are you thinking then? You have a plan?”
“Right now I don’t have enough data to input to make a plan. Nothing is confirmed. Likely? Yes. But I need facts, not hysteria.”
“Ok. Then what …”
Johnson and I never got to finish what we were talking about because Ginger screamed … yeah screamed … for me to come upstairs, for all of us to come right away. I sprinted up to the cupola and all she could do was point to the radio.
A voice that sounded happy to read the script in front of them recited, “Today at 10:28 AM seven enemy combatants were arrested, summarily tried by a militia court, and convicted of murder, kidnapping, interfering with fair trade and commerce, price gouging, and withholding information vital to town safety. Two of the seven have also been convicted of being AWOL. All seven are scheduled to be executed at dawn tomorrow. Names of the convicts and tickets to attend this function can be obtained at the Mayor’s Office.”
There were several other announcements – the weather, work groups that people were supposed to report to and other bogus sounding things like that – and then the radio went silent. Everyone in the house that had followed me up started talking at once. This went on for five minutes and then the radio repeated the recorded messages.
I compare the noise everyone was making to cackling. Then Ginger said, “Something coming in from Bonanza.”
They wanted to know if we’d hear the transmission from town and what we thought of it. I had a difficult time not sending some superlatives in their direction. What did I think of it? What exactly did they think I thought of it? Instead of coming uncorked I asked calmly who was missing on their end and then cringed to hear that two of them were Vern and Lon. They must have been the two listed as AWOL … or maybe not but it was a likely possibility.
I sent back the following message: “Kangaroo court. Neither retired nor active duty military personnel can be convicted in a militia court, whatever that is. They haven’t even had due process. Some yahoo is trying to sound official and making a hash of it. Do not, repeat DO NOT act until we can formulate a plan. I need to think.”
Their answer was they didn’t like it but they agreed … at least temporarily. My take at the time was that they were just as worried and confused as we were and didn’t know what to do either. We were about to go downstairs to formulate said plan when a new announcement came on the radio.
“Special Announcement … please stay tuned to a special announcement.” Then after an emergency signal came on a couple of times the following was read off by a ditzy sounding woman. “It has come to the attention of the Mayor’s Office that there may be a way to commute the sentence of at least some of the convicted. There is one way and one way only to accomplish this. The convicts were accused of kidnapping and murdering one Lydia Remington. If verifiable evidence can be provided as to the health and well-being of this woman – preferably she must present herself to this office – then the Mayor himself is willing to intervene and secure a lessor sentence. However, time is of the essence and …”
All eyes were on me. The radiofax started making noise. I couldn’t say anything. I was too busy thinking.
I turned and went downstairs leaving them all jabbering once again. When some of them tried to follow me I shut my bedroom door in their faces and walked over to Kelly’s crib and looked down. Jax and I had been discussing the fact that she needed a big girl bed. We’d been putting if off thinking that it could wait until things were more settled but we had both begun to wonder if we didn’t need to go ahead and bite the bullet … make the closet a little bedroom for her and give her a real bed. We’d even started to make a list of supplies we would need to do it.
The door opened slowly and Ashley came into the room. Since there was dead silence on the other side I figured she was the one that had been elected or elected herself. I wasn’t surprised. There was Aston after all.
“You’re going aren’t you?” she asked quietly.
Instead of answering her I said, “Ash I need a promise from you. I need you to promise that you’ll look after Kelly. Jax is going to be upset but this is the only way and I’m the only one.”
“Don’t. I don’t have a lot of time left. I need you to promise and then I need to talk to Johnson.”
“I … I …”
“Ash I need the promise.”
“Okay. Okay already. I promise. But … but we’ll figure this out. Don’t make it sound like …”
“I don’t have time for this part Ash. The emotions. I can’t afford it. Just promise me one way or the other you’ll make sure that Kelly is taken care of and that this will always be her home so long as she wants it to be.”
‘God Lydie, don’t sound …”
I walked passed her and into Johnson who had been standing right outside. “You know what I need from you,” I told him.
“This is insane. We …”
“Not we … me. Look after everyone. If the guys come back then you can turn the responsibility back over to Jax … or Aston if … Just do this for me until then. Okay?”
Johnson swallowed. “Just until Jax gets back. And you. Like when we trade off when he’s out in the field.”
“Fine. Look at it however you have to just do it. I’m going to write a couple of letters. I’m going to leave them on my bed. Make sure no one reads them until … until it is obvious when they need to be read. I need to be left alone. People need to stay out of my way. I’ve got something to take care of.”
That’s when Gennie laughed. She laughed. I can still hear the sound. “See?! If you’d taken care of things ...” She never got a chance to finish. I backhanded her in the mouth hard enough she bounced off the wall.
Alexis stepped between me and Gennie and I started to see red. One of the last things I concretely remember her telling me in a calm voice was, “You do what you have to. We’ll hold the fort. Janice and I will deal with Gennie.” Then she looked me straight in the eye and said, “I promise on my mother’s memory.”
And I believed her. Just like that. And just like that I turned and went down the stairs and out to the barn and no one followed me.
My next clear memory was placing the letters that I had written on the bed and turning to find Ginger carrying Kelly who had woken from her nap.
Ginger told me quietly, “I’ll help Ashley. But you better plan on coming back. Don’t get stupid or anything like that.”
All I could do was hug her, kiss Kelly, and back away. Down the stairs. Onto the porch where I put on my vest – feeling the things I had packed in the many pockets – and grabbed the heavy pack. I don’t know how I did it but I blinked and was handing a letter to the guard at the Houchins farm.
“Give this to your grandfather.”
“Wait! He’ll want to …”