Chapter 8: Choices

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Jerrod was sitting in the wicker chair on the Hembersons’ front porch watching the sunset when the Hemberson’s truck turned off the road on to the dusty drive that led up to the house. Patty and her father were in the truck with him. The other two women had most likely decided to stay at the hospital, which he took that as a good sign because it meant Cole was still alive.

Trish came out of the house and Jerrod stood as the Hembersons got out of the truck and walked up to the porch. They looked weary.

Hemberson said, “Had to come home to milk the cows.”

“How is he?” Trish asked. She put her hand in Jerrod’s.

“He’s going to be all right. He was in surgery for three hours. They said it was touch and go for a while, but he pulled through. They said — ” His voice broke.

Patty continued for him. “They said your tourniquet saved his life. That and the fact that we got him to the hospital so fast.”

Her father managed a tired smile. “We had a time dancing around that one.”

They went inside. Patty said she was going to take a shower, and disappeared upstairs. Hemberson collapsed into a rocking chair.

Trish said, “I hope you don’t mind, but I raided your pantry and made some stew. Can I get you some?”

“That would be wonderful, missy. I’ll help set the table.”

“You stay put Mr. Hemberson. I’ll bring it to you.”

Jerrod sat on the couch. “I’m glad he’s going to be okay, sir.”

“Yeah. It was kinda scary there for a while.”

Trish brought him a bowl of stew on a plate. He sampled it and said, “Not bad. Maybe as good as Mary’s.” He flashed her a smile. “Don’t tell her I said that.”

He took in a few spoonfuls of stew and then said. “I’ve got a few questions.”

Jerrod grinned. “Only a few? Whew. I thought you’d have a bucket full.”

He smiled. “To begin with, I don’t even know who you are.”

Trish beat Jerrod to it. “I’m Trish, short for Patricia. He’s Jerrod. We’re from —“ She glanced at Jerrod.

He said, “It might be best if you don’t know too much about us, Mr. Hemberson”

“I know,” he said. “It’s complicated.”

Jerrod frowned. “I have to be honest with you Mr. Hemberson. There are —“

Hemberson interrupted. “Call me Paul. Please.”

“Paul. Okay. Anyway, there are people looking for us. So I guess you’d say we’re on the run.”

Paul said nothing for a few moments while he shoveled some more stew into his mouth. Then he said, “It wouldn’t have anything to do with that little hat trick you pulled getting my son to the hospital?

Jerrod nodded. “We have something they want. They’ve already killed one man, and now they’re after us.”

“You in trouble with the law?”

Jerrod hesitated. He wasn’t sure how much to tell the man. He looked at Trish, who nodded. He said, “The man who was killed? The police think we killed him.”

“Did you?”

“No sir. We found him on the side of the road. We called 911 and then high tailed it out of there.” He looked at Trish. “I guess that wasn’t the smartest thing to do.”

“Why don’t you just turn yourselves in?”

“It’s complicated.”

Paul nodded. “That would be in the States somewhere.” He noticed their surprise and said, “American accents. Midwest?”

“Montana,” Jerrod said. “But I’m originally from Kentucky.

“You’re a long way from home.”

“We left in a hurry.”

“I guess so.”

He finished the stew and took the bowl to the kitchen. Then he paid a visit to the bathroom. When he returned, he remained standing.

“So let me see if I’ve got this right,” he said. “You are fugitives running from the law, and there are dangerous people hunting for you. And it’s because you have some kind of device — yeah, I saw it in your hand — that they want. Is my family in any danger?”

Jerrod hadn’t thought about that, but he was right. Their presence here put his family in harm’s way. Especially now that he had used the device in public. That was the kind of news that would get around fast. The local police would probably show up tomorrow with questions, and it was going to be all over the local papers, radio and television.

“I think everything would have been all right,” he said, “if I hadn’t used it in public.”

“Why did you?”

“I couldn’t just let your son die. Not when I had the means to save him.”

Trish put her hand on his knee. “We should go.”

“Go?” It was Patty, who had apparently finished her shower and changed her clothes. She was standing part way down the stairs. “Where? Dad, they should at least stay the night.”

“Patty’s right,” he said. “You’ll stay here tonight. You can decide what to do in the morning.”

Jerrod said, “You’re in danger as long as we’re here.”

“Well, that’s a chance we’ll just have to take, isn’t it? I owe you my son’s life. This is the least I can do for you. Besides, if your pursuers are coming all the way from Montana, it’ll take them a while to get here.”

Jerrod said, “I think you should know that the FBI is looking for us too. What I have, the government wants it bad. It won’t be long before they hear about that little magic show I put on for the folks at the hospital.”

“Which reminds me,” Trish said. “Where are we?”

“Clementsvale, Nova Scotia,” Patty said. “You’ll like it here. We have — “

She was interrupted by the sound of a car coming up the driveway. Paul looked out the window.

“Police,” he said. “Patty, take our guests upstairs and get them set up in the spare room. I’ll take care of this.”

At the top of the stairs, Jerrod stopped to listen to the conversation.

Paul met the policeman on the porch. “Evenin’ Garth. What brings you out this way on a fine summer day?”

A deep base voice replied. “Sorry about what happened to your boy, Paul. I hear he’s gonna pull through, though.”

“Yep. Leg’s pretty mashed up. They don’t know if he’ll be able to walk again. But at least he’s alive.”

“Mary and Chrissy at the hospital?”

“Yep. I had to come back to milk the cows. Patty came with me.”

There was a pause. Then Junior said, “I got some conflicting stories about how Colt got to the hospital. Can you shed any light on that?”

“Yes I can, Junior. A young man showed up, took Colt’s body, and next thing we know he’s at the hospital.”

Another pause filled the air. “I don’t suppose you have any idea how he did that?”

“I do not.”

“Where is this young man now?”

“Can’t say, Garth.”

“Then you wouldn’t mind if I came in and had a look around.”

“I’m afraid I would mind that.”

Another pause. Then, “Paul, don’t get yourself mixed up in a police investigation. It won’t go well for you. Or your family.”

“Did this man you’re looking for commit a crime?”

“That’s not the point, Paul, and you know it. Something mighty peculiar’s going on and I’m going to get to the bottom of it.”

Paul’s voice took on a hard edge. “Listen to me, Garth. That young man saved my boy’s life. I owe him. And unless you can give me a very good reason to help you find him, you’d best be movin’ on. I got cows to milk.”

A few moments went by and Jerrod heard the sound of a car pulling out of the driveway. Paul appeared at the bottom of the stairs and saw Jerrod, Trish and Patty at the top.

“Dad,” Patty said. “That was the coolest thing I’ve ever seen you do.”

Paul grinned. “Truth be told, it was kind fun making Garth back down like that. But I gotta tell ya, I was so scared I thought I was gonna wet my pants.”

Trish asked, “Do you think he’ll be back?”

“Hard to say. When Junior gets a hold of something, it’s hard for him to let it go. Probably depends on whether he’s got enough to get a search warrant. I guess we’ll find out tomorrow. In the meantime, why don’t you two shower and get some rest. I really do have to take care of my cows.”

He started for the door and then stopped. “Might be best if you be ready for a quick get-away. Just in case.” Then he was gone.

Patty danced around with excess teenage energy. “This is totally awesome,”

* * *

The sun had just peeked over the hills to the east when Jerrod woke. He got dressed as quietly as he could so as not to wake Trish, and walked down a gentle slope to a pond a quarter mile from the house. He squinted into the morning sun’s glare off the pond’s surface, which was glass smooth except for a slight disturbance from two ducks paddling lazily along the opposite side. The trees on that side cast shadows out over the water. On the side nearest him, lily pads mingled with tall grasses.

The smell of skunk cabbage hung in the chilly air, although he could not see the plants from where he sat on a half-decomposed log. It was not an offensive smell, just another of the many scents that combined to give this place a unique olfactory signature.

The birds had not yet quieted as dawn gave way to morning. Later, when sun and heat climbed higher, the cicadas would take over where the birds left off, filling the air with their own toneless song. If he waited a while, a quiet interlude would occupy center stage between the two movements of the daily summer symphony. It wasn’t so much different from Montana.

The swish of Trish’s legs passing through knee-deep grass, still wet with dew, interrupted his reverie. She sat beside him on the log. Neither of them said anything for several minutes.

He spoke first. “I wish we could stay in this moment forever.”

“It is a beautiful place,” she said. “But the moment is just that, a moment. You can’t hold it. You have to let it go to make room for other moments.”

He looked at her, one corner of his mouth turned up. “Jeez, you’re starting to sound like Parker.”

“Hey,” she said giving him a shove that hardly moved him. “I don’t sound anything like Parker.”

“No, you don’t. And you’re a whole lot better looking than him.”

“Good boy. You have redeemed yourself.”

They looked at the water for a while. Trish said, “We can’t stay here. We’re putting these people in danger.”

Jerrod plucked a shoot of grass and chewed on the end of it. “Yeah. We also need to decide what to do with the device.”

“Mail it to the FBI?”

Jerrod chuckled at that, then got serious. “I’ve been thinking about what Neil Anderson said before he died. He said it was a weapon. I can see how it could be used as a weapon. I mean, think about it. You could pop into the White House with a nuclear device, step away and jump out, and then detonate it remotely. How do you defend against something like that? That’s why he said they can’t get it back, that they can’t be trusted with a weapon like that. He understood that nobody should have a weapon like this. Not even our own government.

“Besides, even if we did turn it over, I’m not sure they would leave us alone. This has to be the most important military secret in America’s arsenal of super-secret things. Think what would happen if other countries found out that we have this kind of technology. It would upset the world’s balance of power. Who knows what would happen then.”

Trish tossed a clod of dirt into the water, disturbing the still surface with concentric semi-circles of small waves spreading out toward the opposite side of the pond.

“So even if we give it back,” she said, “they’s still come after us. And when they found us, they would lock us up and throw away the key.”

Jerrod tossed his piece of grass into the water. It landed on a lily pad and sat their, stuck in place, just like Trish and he were stuck. A gentle breeze floated across the water and passed around them.

Jerrod said, “There’s another thing. Anderson said, ‘They’re going after the President’. The way he said it, he had to mean the President of the United States. Somebody wants to use this device to assassinate the President of the United States.”

Trish turned toward him. “You might be reading more into it than is really there.”

“But what if I’m not?”

Trish looked unhappy. “So what are we going to do? We can’t give it back. You said it’s virtually indestructible, so we probably can’t destroy it. Even if we could, the government wouldn’t believe we had destroyed it, so they’d still come after us.”

A single tear rolled down her cheek. “I don’t want to be a fugitive for the rest of my life. Always running, hiding, wondering when they’re going to find us.”

He ran his fingers through his hair. “We need help; someone we can trust.”

“We know who Neil Anderson trusted.”

“Doctor Joe,” he said. “At someplace — what was it? Some college or something.” He stood up and paced back and forth in front of the log. “College Place. Or maybe College Park. Yeah, that’s it. College Park.”

He stood at the edge of the water, watching the ducks. “Here’s the thing,” he said. “If we try to get the device to Dr. Joe, like Neil Anderson wanted, we have no idea what we might be getting ourselves into. We don’t even know who he is. We might be getting ourselves into something we can’t get out of.

“It’s a little late for that, don’t you think?”

Jerrod pushed his fingers through is hair. “I wish I had turned it over to the FBI as soon as I knew what they were looking for.”

Trish waited a few seconds and said, “Let’s see if we can find this Dr. Joe person. Maybe he’ll have a way out.”

They walked back to the house and found that Mary and Chrissy had gotten back from the hospital, leaving Paul and Patty with Colt.

“How’s he doing?” Trish asked Chrissy. Her eyes were red, but she seemed to have run out of tears. For now.

“He’s awake and complaining,” she said.

“That’s a good sign,” said Trish. They both laughed and Trish followed her out to the truck to bring in more groceries.

Jerrod turned to Mary. “That’s sure good news.”

“Yes, I suppose it is.”

“You don’t sound so sure. Something wrong?”

“They saved his legs, but we don’t know if he’ll ever be able to walk unassisted.”

He didn’t know what to say to that. He knew vets who had come back without the use of their legs. It was a hard thing to come to terms with. Too hard for some of them, and they eventually gave up on living.

“He’ll be getting physical therapy, right?”

“Yes,” she said. “And they say there’s every reason to believe he’ll regain most if not all of the use of his legs with time.” She looked like she was close to tears.

She sat on the couch and he sat beside her. “Mary, I was a medic in the army. Two tours of duty. I saw a lot of soldiers go home with worse damage than Colt has. Many of them eventually regained full use of their limbs. And even if they didn’t, there have been some amazing advances in prosthetics.”

Tears ran down her cheeks. “I know. I’m trying to be strong. He and Chrissy are going to need me to be strong. But it’s hard. And I don’t know that we’ll have access to the best prosthetics, not without paying our of our own pockets. We’re not rich.”

He couldn’t think of anything else to say, so he didn’t say anything. His mom had once told him that sometimes saying nothing was the best thing to say; that just being there was enough.

Trish and Chrissy brought the groceries in, and Mary excused herself. When she came back a few minutes later, she looked better.

Trish said, “Mary, I wonder if you have a computer and an internet connection that we can use. We need to do some research.”

She set them up in Paul’s office in a small room off the living room, and they spent the next few hours doing searches on College Park and Dr. Joe. They narrowed College Park down to the main campus of the University of Maryland; there were other possibilities, but that was the only one that seemed like a good fit.

Figuring out who Dr. Joe was proved more difficult. Eventually they reduced the list of likely candidates to three people: Dr. Joseph McClellan, Emeritus Professor of History, Dr. F. Joseph Freelander, Professor of Biology, and Dr. Joseph Raymond, Associate Professor of Western Classical Studies.

Jerrod asked, “How do we narrow it down further?”

Trish was her usual pragmatic self. “We call them up and ask them.” She frowned. “What does Emeritus mean?”

“I think it’s an honorary title they give to retired professors. Not all, though. Just some, I think.”

She used the phone on the desk and punched in a number.

After a moment, she said, “I’d like to speak with Dr. McClellan please?”

Pause.

“When do you expect him back?”

Pause.

“No, I’ll just call back later. Thank you.”

Her next call was to F. Joseph Freelander.

“I’d like to speak with Dr. Freelander please.”

Pause.

“Dr. Freelander, my name is Patricia. I’m doing some genealogy work and your name came up in my research. I wonder: Have you ever gone by the name Dr. Joe?”

Pause.

“You haven’t. Well, that probably makes it a false lead then. Thank you so much.”

Pause.

“Bye.”

Her third call when to Joseph Raymond.

“Yes, I’d like speak with Dr. Raymond please.”

Pause.

“Oh dear. I’m so sorry. I had no idea. How long was he ill?”

Pause.

“Thank you for your time. Bye.”

She put down the phone and said, “Joseph Raymond died a month ago after a long battle with lung cancer.”

“I guess that pretty much rules him out,” Jerrod said. “What about Freelander?”

“He seems like a nice man,” she said. “But he doesn’t recall ever being called Dr. Joe. I think he was a bit put off by the very idea of it.”

“So I guess that leaves McClellan.”

“Yes. He was out but should be back in an hour.”

An hour later, she called again.

“Dr. McClellan, this is going to seem like an odd question, but do you ever go by the  name Dr. Joe?”

Pause.

“They do?” She flashed Jerrod a thumb up.

Pause.

“You wouldn’t know a man named Neil Anderson, would you?”

Pause.

“Yes, I know. I was there.”

Pause.

“Wait — “

Pause.

“I don’t — hello?”

She put the phone down. “He said don’t ever call this number again, and hung up on me.”

Jerrod grinned. “I think we found Dr. Joe.”

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