Chapter Six: Finally, I catch a break
The tenseness on her face seemed to melt away. She gave a sigh, and I heard a muffled click. I had not noticed that her right hand had been in her baggy pant pocket until just then. She carefully pulled her hand out, holding a Derringer .45 caliber single shot. “Sorry, a gal can’t be too careful.” The noise had been her un-cocking it.
I couldn’t hold back a smile. I carefully pulled my revolver out, pointed it in the opposite direction that she was standing and opened it up to show her that it was empty. After my close call with the old man and the kids, I had vowed that no civilian would be hurt, even accidentally, by any of my actions. After thinking it over, I was not too sorry that the state trooper got hit instead of me. He had been trying to kill me.
I tried to break the awkward silence. “How often do you get out here?”
“When I have Chloe, we like to get out here about every other week. She’s six. Oh, I already told you that. Sorry. She lives part of the year with her father, my ex, roughly half the year in Chevy Chase, Maryland. It didn’t work out, he was a city boy and I’m a country girl. How about you?”
“I don’t even know where ‘here’ is.” Rueful grin. “I’m kinda lost.”
“As the crow flies, you are probably fifteen to twenty miles north of Lexington.” “Virginia,” she added with smile.
“I’m not that lost. Last night I was just driving around, looking to get lost. Hoping that my luck would change.”
“What’s wrong with your luck?”
“Oh, it’s a long story. I don’t know you well enough to tell you just yet.” A smile to soften the blow. “But I sure am interested in getting to know you well enough.”
“Fair enough.” We talked for fifteen minutes or so.
Finally she said, “You look like hell. What are you going to do next?”
“Want to come by my house and freshen up? You can shower, shave, whatever, and I can fix you a nice hot breakfast.”
“Sounds great, but what about that part about ‘a girl can’t be too careful’?”
“Hey, my dad’s a retired cop. I knew as soon as I met you that you are no threat. Besides, my Derringer is just one of my many guns. And it’s the smallest one.”
“Gee, thanks. I think.” To myself: Oops. He is, is he? “Umm, maybe some other time? I really should be moving on down the road. And what about Chloe?”
“She’s with her father in Maryland. I just got back home late last night from taking her to meet him half way.”
“Still, what would your father say about you picking up a stranger and inviting him into your home alone?”
She giggled. “What makes you think we’ll be alone?”
My eyes got a little wider, an involuntary reaction. Then I gave half grin, trying to put on a big act. “Forget it then. If it’s not just you and me…”
“Nonsense. He works the midnight to 8:00 a.m. shift at the Covington Paper Mill, drives home and sleeps until 3:00 p.m. or later. Nothing wakes him up. Except maybe if I have to shoot you.” She said “shoot” with a smile. A moment of silence. “I said he was ‘a retired police officer.’ He was the Sheriff of Covington for years. Now all he does is putter around, acting as though he is the head of security at the mill. But he’s not. Come on, I’m a really good cook.”
My resistance melted. We made arrangements to meet. I walked back and put my gun and holster in the trunk, moved the car to a more out of sight location twenty-five feet further into the forest, and waited for her to pick me up.
When she pulled up a few minutes later, she arched one eyebrow: “Where is your gear?”
“I kinda left town in a hurry. I wanted adventure. Where’s the fun in being totally prepared?”
She gave me a dubious look. “Not even a toothbrush?” Delivered with a yucky look. “Or change of underwear?”
I shrugged. Very little money, my gun, the clothes on my back and a stolen vehicle didn’t seem like the thing to say at the time. “Oh, well I thought they sold those things up here in this neck of the woods. I guess those rumors must be true if they don’t sell toothbrushes. No, wait, you haven’t lost all your teeth yet…have you?”
She purposely pulled back her lips in a fake smile, showing her wonderful full set of teeth. “We have our own Wal-Mart. We even just got indoor plumbing last fall.” Then she laughed at my grimace. “Just kidding.”
She did most of the talking on the way. Besides the fact that I was slightly hung-over, feeling dirty and gross, and nearly starving to death, I am not a morning person. I asked enough questions to keep her talking, while deflecting hers, or just being vague. She didn’t seem to notice as she talked my ear off.
Chloe is a perfect child. She can’t stand her ex but she doesn’t let it show to Chloe. She loves her job teaching kids, and loves getting her summer vacations. She doesn’t get out much; the guys her age are either married or twice-divorced losers. Besides, she said: “Who needs men any ways?” Delivered without much conviction, I noticed.
After several miles of winding roads, and crossing over the overpass for I-64 (heads east-west from I-81 to the West Virginia line), the country started becoming more populated. Stores, gas stations, more houses, the campus of Virginia Military Institute, until suddenly we were in down town Lexington. Parts of it looked like it was straight out of the 1860s, with old brick buildings and quaint antique shops.
But I was growing a little concerned. I had not bargained on being paraded through the streets, and noticed by all the pedestrians. I slouched over as much as possible and pulled the sun visor on my cap down.
She pulled in front of a two-story brick house, old and stately. I gave a little whistle. It didn’t look like something that a public school teacher could afford.
“Daddy bought this a long time ago, before the Yankees discovered that Lexington is a fine place to retire to. We couldn’t afford to buy it today.”
As we were walking up to the porch, a next door neighbor came outside. I glanced down and saw the as yet un-read Sunday paper lying just off the walk. I nudged it as gently as I could under the nearest shrub, hopefully out of sight.
A little old lady in a dress, face made up already on this Monday morning, asked brightly, “Hello, Annabelle! Who’s your friend?” Annabelle? She had told me her name was Anne.
“Mrs. Kramer, this is a dear old friend of mine from Richmond, John, John Doe.” She had forgotten my last name. “He is up here camping so I insisted that he stop by and get cleaned up. He’s a school teacher, too.“ She was right in my face. I gave her a limp handshake. I turned away so she wouldn’t smell the wine and beer on my breath. By the thickness of her glasses she appeared to be blind, and by the loudness of her voice, deaf.
“Oh, what do you teach? I was a school teacher for twenty-seven years right here in Lexington.” She smiled proudly.
I hoped that she didn’t see my sick expression. What was I thinking when I agreed to go home with “Annabelle?” “Seventh grade English, writing, social studies, a little P.E. and I coach.” I hoped that would shut her up, but no.
“I taught seventh grade, but back in my day we taught everything. My favorite was algebra. What is your favorite?”
I can’t even spell algebra. I haven’t been inside schools except to play rec-league basketball in decades. “I enjoy English the most. Especially teaching young people how to write.” At least if she asked me about writing I could answer intelligently.
She kept at it for what seemed like forever, grilling me, but it was probably only five minutes, until “Annabelle” saved me. “Mrs. Kramer, John hasn’t eaten breakfast yet. He’s starving. Please excuse us. And tell Dr. Kramer that I said hello!” She delivered it with a sweet smile but she opened the front door and half dragged me inside and quickly closed the door. “She’s sweet, but she’ll talk your ear off. And tell everybody else she meets exactly what you just told her.”
I gulped. I was hoping that what I said sounded authentic. I’m no teacher, I’m a lawyer. At least I’m used to thinking on my feet and bull shitting people.
“What was all that bull shit that you were feeding her? You don’t even know what S.O.L.s are, do you?” One hand on her hip, eyes intently watching mine. I sensed that it was a moment of truth.
“Shit outta luck?” I tried to laugh it off but she was not budging. “Ok, I’m not a teacher. Can we eat now?”
“Not until you tell me what you really do, and not until you tell me why you lied to me.”
“I’m currently unemployed, o.k.?” (Hey, I wasn’t lying; nobody would hire me at that exact moment.) “I didn’t want to appear to be such a loser. And I’ve always wanted to be a teacher.”
“That’s so lame. If I didn’t tell you before, I’ll tell you now. I hate being lied to.”
“O.K., I’m sorry.”
Duly chastised, she showed me around, got me some old clean clothes to change into, produced a new toothbrush and a shaving kit, and left me to clean up. The hot shower almost—almost—washed away the past two days of pure hell. I almost started believing that I could get out of the mess that I was in.
Bang! Bang! Bang! Startled at the sudden loud noise, I jumped and almost fell out of the shower.
“Hurry up in there! Breakfast is ready!”
Her simple loud knocking on the bathroom door had sent a rush of adrenaline coursing through my veins. Nope, the shower had not washed away all of the hell that I had been through.
She had flap jacks and real maple syrup, bottomless (strong) black coffee, biscuits and gravy, and eggs just the way I like them, over easy. I ate while she sipped coffee and talked, between keeping my plate full and my coffee hot.
They were her father’s clothes, not her ex’s, she had thrown all of his stuff away that he had left behind when he moved back to Maryland. They had met at college in Charlottesville, courted through college, and then stayed there for a while, where Chloe was born. He’d gradually spent more and more time traveling on his job, or just late nights at the office, until she no longer missed him. And until he took a mistress. Or at least until she found out about one of his mistresses. She moved back home to live with her father and he moved back to his home town in Maryland. And did she mention that he was a bastard? Oh, about ten times.
Suddenly I remembered Mrs. Kramer called her Annabelle. “Oh, Annabelle, good morning Annabelle” I said in my best Mrs. Kramer imitation. “Hello, Mrs. Kramer, why this is ‘John, John Doe’, my dear old friend.” I raised my eyebrows at her.
“That’s different. I had to say that or it would be all over town that I had brought home some stranger that I had just met. And my real name is Annabelle. Only she and my father actually call me that though.”
“O.K., Annabelle. Make that only three people call you that.”
“You might not be around long if you do.”
“Oh, you mean that there is a chance I could be hanging around even after you learned that I am unemployed?” I gave a little wink.
“Maybe. If yer lucky”
“No, if you are lucky. Didn’t sound like you had any other bright prospects when you were talking earlier.”
“And an unemployed ‘school teacher’ is a ‘bright prospect’?” Touché.
“Least I gots all mah teef” I said with a smile and my best Appalachian drawl. “And I h’ain’t been marrieeeeeed and DIEvorced two times!”
“Well then” she said, slipping out of her perfect English into her Southern Belle accent: “call up the caterer, it’s time for me to remedy that! Let me go wake Daddy and we can take him down to the Justice of the Peace right now.”
Joke was over. Waking Daddy was not a good idea. “Ummm. Maybe I better take this a little slower. Maybe next time.”
She just laughed. “Come on, get your stuff, I’ll drive you back to your car.”
Several minutes of good conversation later we were back at the LeSabre. It was around 1 o’clock or so. Still dreadfully hot. I made a decision. “I haven’t lied to you since telling you I was a school teacher. But I have to tell you something.”
She looked serious. I added: “The easiest thing would be for me to just get in that car and drive away without saying a word.”
“Yeah, what’s stopping you?” She sounded cocky. She didn’t know where this was going yet.
“I’m wanted by the law. I shot a state trooper. He died.”
She looked at me intently, waiting, hoping it was a joke. “What?”
I gave her the short version, made myself sound as good as possible, and made the trooper and the deputy sheriff out to be demons. After the news had sunk in a little, she said, “Great, so I’m an accessory after the fact, or guilty of harboring a fugitive, or something like that…“
We talked for quite a while, and she slowly came to accept that I was wanted by the law but that I was innocent. I thought she believed me. I hoped so. “Hey, aren’t you afraid I’m gonna pull out my Derringer and make a citizen’s arrest?”
“Yes. Please hand-cuff me. More, Ma’am, may I have more please?” In my best English accent.
She finally smiled a little.
“I needed a friend and you came along at just the right time. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you. Remember, I tried to say no but you wouldn’t let me?”
Long pause. “I have an idea. Why don’t you stay in this area for a while? I can get you some supplies and you can camp out in the woods. There are a few thousand acres nearby of state-owned land where camping is permitted. You can hide the car and camp in a remote location, and I’ll bring you what you need. If you aren’t driving all over the state the police can’t find you.”
“Wait. Whose side are you on? Your father is a retired cop. I shot a cop. You didn’t know before when you let me in your house. But now you do.”
A little shrug. “I trust you. And I kinda like you.” A hint of a smile.