What a mess. The water came all the way up to the front porch steps on the river side of the property. Barn was flooded but nothing was damaged except for a little wash out by the doors when the water started receding. Not one but two trees are down over the driveway. One corner of the roof on the shed got dented pretty good when a limb fell on it but no major structural damage at our place.
Unless you count the septic field which is toast. When the plumbing in the house backed up I checked the clean out and that’s when I noticed several pools of bubbling water that reeked. I knew that I’d have to do something eventually but I hadn’t really put it in the priority column of potential disasters.
In the scheme of things we got off far luckier than a lot of the neighbors. I don’t mean to be nasty but that’s what they get for building a house with the footprint the size of the Taj Mahal on land that is little more than filler left over from dredging. What part of Shell Point Road and Man-Made Canals and Florida Wetlands do they not understand?
OK, maybe I do mean to be nasty. I’ve had several people over here complaining that I need to do something “right now” about my private road being washed out and unusable. I told them they’d just have to use their real access through the gates of their gated community, that my private road was not a right of way for construction crews.
“That’s not fair.”
If I hear that one more time I will flaming shriek. Fair? Fair?!! Fair would mean them not coming over uninvited demanding that I do something that they have no authority to demand from me. Fair would mean they would have a little concern for me and not just me supposed to only think of those poor babies in their million dollar mcmansions suffering and cranky because they have no AC or electric which also means no water. Their HOA has trucked in a couple of loads of bottled water but I’ve been offered not a drop … but they expect me to repair the road so their construction crews can use it. In their freaking dreams. Even if I could I’d be tempted not to just to show them they have no power over me.
OK, that’s out of my system for a little bit. I don’t need to start fussing. It will wake Cal up and he is finally supposed to have a full shift off and I want him to spend it sleeping. The National Guard has been sent in because of the rampant looting and so many people applying the castle doctrine and shooting intruders.
Typical groups are up in arms about it naturally. I walked down to the gas station to meet Dorrie and her father who wanted to check on me … cell phone service is still sketchy … and when I heard about some demonstration led by the types of people you’d expect and I said a little louder than I had intended, “Tell ‘em to take off the suits, roll up their sleeves and shut up long enough to actually do something to help and I might give them some respect. Tell ‘em to man a soup kitchen, help folks unclog the drains to let the water to run off into the canals like it is supposed to. Put tarps on the roofs of those people they are trying to defend and tell them to tell the kids in those neighborhoods to stop standing around waiting for someone to help them and teach them to help themselves so they aren’t a burden on society. Until then they are nothing but a bunch of hot air and we’ve got enough of that already in case they haven’t looked at the thermometer.”
I heard several people around me snicker but not too many said anything outright since there was politically mixed company around and it was too hot to brawl. I was at a point I didn’t care, the septic field being the straw that was coming close to breaking my back.
Now for the rest of the story like that radio guy Daddy liked to listen to old recordings of would say.
Returning to the house I was picking up debris when I saw one of those small fire proof safes sticking out from under a large tree limb. I figured someone had lost something in the storm and I would give it to Cal and he could turn it in. As I got closer I saw sparkles in the sand and thought that maybe some jewelry had washed in too. I was going to just pick it up when I noticed that the ground was literally crawling with fire ants. The water had obviously disturbed a large, underground mound; no way was I sticking my hands in that. I looked around and saw a plastic trashcan lid and a broken rake. Like I said, the road area is littered with junk the river had picked up and then deposited.
I slid the trashcan lid over near the safe and tried to work it out only it was stuck on something.
“No good deed goes unpunished,” I muttered to no one in particular, wiping the sweat off my face.
I stuck the rake in as far as I could and pulled, solidly hooking the safe. Then I gave a big heave ho and it finally came out … at least part of the way. It was still stuck and I could finally see what it was stuck on.
I’m not normally someone to lose it and my experiences of the last two years would have dulled that instinct even if I had been. For some reason the phrase “death grip” entered my mind and I finally understood how apropos it could be.
I stepped back and took out my cell phone praying for a signal.
“Aria, I’m busy right now.”
“Ok … then could you send Josh or somebody?”
There was a micropause as something in my voice must have caught his attention and he asked, “Is everything all right?”
“Not … not really. There was this fire safe under this limb and then I saw sparkles all around it but the sparkles were covered in ants so I used a rake only … did you know that a death grip is a real phenomena. I thought it was just hyperbole or something. So if you could send someone out …”
In a very steady and calming voice he said, “Aria … I want you to take a deep breath and start again.”
I did and then realized what I was smelling was not fish washed ashore by the storm. I gagged for a moment before I said, “I told you, there was a fire safe. I was going to turn it in to lost-and-found or whatever they call it after a hurricane. Only it was stuck. I used a broken rake to tug at it because of the fire ants. Only I can’t get it loose because there is a hand on it. The hand is covered with ants too. The hand is connected to an arm but if you guys want to know what the arm is connected to you are going to have to come out here yourself. OK?”
It wasn’t long before a sheriff’s car and a National Guard vehicle was pulling up close. I didn’t recognize any of them and I had the urge to run but then a woman got out of the shotgun seat of the sheriff’s car and came around.
“Hi, I’m Mel … Cal says you found something?”
I pointed in the general direction of what I’d found and added, “I thought it was dead fish I was smelling. And the fire ants are really bad so be careful.”
I was repeating my story to Mel while the other deputy called in for the coroner when Cal showed up and came running over interrupting my story to Mel. “Are you OK?” he asked.
“Yeah but now I’ve lost my place and I’m going to have to tell the ding blasted story all over again.”
He looked at me closely then asked, “When’s the last time you’ve had any water?”
“You’re white as a sheet except for your cheeks which are red as beets and that’s saying something considering your normal skin tone. When’s the last time you had any water?”
“Oh. At the store. I was standing outside with Dorrie and her father made me drink some because I had given the last of mine to Feena.”
Next thing I know I’m sitting in Cal’s truck while he looms over me until I prove that I know how to drink from a cup which he’d filled with some washed out blue sports drink.
“Cal this is the worst tasting …”
“I don’t care if it tastes like licking the bottom of my boots after I’ve mucked the goat pen. You’ll drink it.”
“God you are so bossy.” But I drank it while Feena inhaled another bottle of water. Then his majesty ordered me to stay in the truck. I leaned my head back and closed my eyes, it was just so hot.
I must have jumped a mile when something wet touched my face. “Easy Aria. You got too hot, this will help. People are suffering from heat exhaustion left and right today.”
“The heat doesn’t bother me; I grew up without air conditioning remember?”
“This heat would bother Beelzebub. You ready to tell it one more time?”
I groaned but when I turned my head he stood in my line of sight. I asked, “That bad?”
“Yeah. You don’t need to see it. Trust me.”
“Of course.” He blinked like he had expected me to make a fuss. “But … like can you tell me after they figure out who it is?”
“Maybe, depends on what goes down and when they say information can be released to the public.”
“OK.” Then I looked around. “So who am I supposed to tell it to this time?”
“That’d be me.”
A rumpled man in dark dress slacks and a polo shirt with the sheriff’s department insignia on it came around Cal. Cal looked at him and nodded then turned to me, “Aria, this is Det. Jason McLeod.”
So I told it again. Safe, sparkles, ants, rake, tug, hand, arm and then calling Cal. “You didn’t notice it the first time you walked down the road Mrs. Lowery?”
“No,” I told him taking a sip of the awful sports drink to keep Cal from glaring. “I was more concerned with not tripping over the rest of the junk in what’s left of the road bed than what was up in the grassy area. Feena … my daughter Josefina … was wiggling and I didn’t want to lose my balance or turn my ankle in a hole.”
“And coming back you decided to look for stuff in the grass?”
“No, not purposely. I was avoiding being seen by the guy who lives right over there in that house and it just sort of happened. He keeps complaining that he wants the road fixed so he can have his construction guys come this way rather than ruin his bushes in his front yard but he won’t listen that this road isn’t certified for large equipment because they’re too heavy. He won’t shut up about it so I was trying to sneak back without him seeing me; I wasn’t up to another … er … discussion on the topic.”
“No you don’t … but you will when you go talk to him. The man is as tenacious as a bull terrier. And he’ll try and sell you insurance while he’s at it.”
Deputy Mel picked that moment to come over shaking her head. “She’s not exaggerating. He’s already been over twice, asked for everyone’s business card, and asked if we could encourage her to do something about the road.”
“Oh brother,” I groaned.
“Don’t worry about it,” Mel grinned. “He irritated the NG boys and they bolted his rear gate shut and stuck a sticker over it and told him that if he drove over the crime scene they’d be coming back by the front entrance.”
I smiled in return then remembered there was a dead body nearby and it melted. Mel asked, “You OK?”
“Yeah, just … you know … not every day you run into that,” I answered pointing in the general direction of the body.
Cal came up and asked, “You through with her? She and the baby should get back to the house.”
I rolled my eyes and went to get out of the truck. “Where are you going?” he asked.
“I’m walking back to the house.”
“Does my truck look like it has a flat tire?”
“You need some sleep.”
“What I need is the number to a good, cheap septic company.”
On the way back to the house I explained. He said he’d ask around and then said, “We need to talk about water.”
“I’m drinking, I’m drinking. Any faster and I’m gonna toss my cookies.”
“Not this water … although yeah, finish that up. I mean water water. They still don’t know how long the power is going to be out around here. I’ll switch the generator from the freezer tonight and hook it up to the well long enough to refill the barrels but the gennie doesn’t exactly sip gas and they’ve tightened fuel restrictions even more.”
“Yeah. Speaking of, do I need to bring you out a can of gas for your truck?”
“No. Since I’m being forced to use my truck on the job they’re letting me fill up using my gas ration card; I just have to keep my mileage.”
“OK, what about food? Had anything since breakfast?”
His stomach gurgled and we both smiled despite the situation back down the road. He put it in four-wheel and went around the trees, dropped me at the door and waited just long enough for me to run him out some left over rice and beans in a plastic container and a bag of dessert pears before turning around to go back to the scene.
“Call me if you need to.”
“Call me,” he insisted.
“I’m fine,” I insisted right back.
“Then I’ll call you.”
I rolled my eyes and he finally left. I didn’t really mind. I was – and still am – a tad freaked out by what happened. My imagination has been coming up with some pretty gruesome backstories for the owner of the hand.