You never realize the weight you are under until you get to a place that it is lightened … not because the weight itself is gone but because someone has put their shoulder under the burden to carry it with you.
It has been a difficult few days. For all of us.
I still can’t believe I shot Cal, that I could easily have killed him. The reason why the knob on the closet turned was because Cal used his key to unlock it. When I finally stopped fighting and realized it was Cal I jumped so strongly that I nearly lifted him off me. When he saw I recognized him he turned loose of my hands and my hug nearly strangled him before I scrambled away and into the closet to grab a very hysterical Feena.
I acted like an idiot dancing her around practically singing “Cal’s home! Cal’s home!” – she loves spinning like a top – and she went from shrieking in fear to shrieking in laughter. But my joy turned to horror when I saw something. I grabbed the flashlight out of Josh’s hand making him yelp and focused it on Feena’s sleeper. Then I looked at my shirt. Then I focused the flashlight on Cal and caught him in the act of trying to hide his bloody sleeve.
The sound of the ocean rushed into my ears. I don’t remember but Cal swears I whimpered. I do remember looking at Josh and realizing he was in no shape to do what I needed him to so I thrust Feena into Dorrie’s Uncle Darryl’s arms and fiercely warned him, “Don’t drop her.”
Cal actually backed up when I approached him. He said the look on my face would have made even Stonewall Jackson nervous.
I spent the next hour or so patching Cal up … patching them all up. Josh was a mess. He got caught up in a looting incident at a grocery store. The place eventually burned to the ground which gives people in that area one less option for trying to find food to feed their families. Uncle Darryl (it just plain takes too many words to call him Dorrie’s Uncle Darryl) wasn’t in great shape either as he’d been helping his family keep the wildfire blazes away from their home and outbuildings.
In addition to the “little knick” that I gave him Cal was suffering from the results of people trying to trample him as well when they realized the grocery store was on fire. He and Josh had gotten separated when everyone had gone crazy at once.
Uncle Darryl reluctantly gave Feena back to me as he and Josh left to return to Dorrie’s place. Josh had insisted in providing Cal with back up since they didn’t know what they would find when they got here and Uncle Darryl decided that they might as well make it three as two that way Josh had a partner on the return trip.
Before they left I did find out why Dorrie has been acting so strange. Seems the state is requiring her to report on people that she comes into contact with in order to keep her job. She wanted to refuse but she’s already seen several of her co-workers lose their jobs over the issue and she provides most of the little bit of cash the family has coming in. So for her it became she couldn’t report on what she didn’t know. I understood when it was explained – sounds just like Dorrie to make the sacrifice and take the chance rather than see anyone in her family hurt – but I wish the explanation would have come from her; I would have tried to help.
“Better that you don’t,” Uncle Darryl said. “Even that might get back to the wrong ears. You’d be surprised at the number of people willing to turn on their neighbor to get a few extra voucher cards.” Cal and I had agreed not to mention the ones that we received and now I’m glad that we didn’t. No telling what people might have thought of us.
After they left Cal was almost asleep at the table. Hesitantly I asked, “Do … do you want something to eat?”
A muffled, “Uh uh” issued from between his arms and the table.
“Then you should go to bed,” I told him quietly.
“Uh uh,” he said again. “Not until you tell me what’s been going on around here.”
“It can wait. Go get some sleep.”
He sat up and stretched gingerly. “I will. After.” He shook himself like he was trying to wake up. “Now, why were you in that closet?”
“It felt safer.”
Carefully he asked, “Why? Did … did something happen?”
“Cal, we can talk it about after …”
“Stop avoiding the question Aria, I’m not going to be put off.”
Pacing and agitated I told him, “For God’s sake Cal, I just shot you! And I did shooo …” I stopped and picked up Feena. “I need to put her to bed. It’s been …” I stopped again.
I was up the stairs and trying to decide whether to put Feena down on the blankets in the closet or on my bed when Cal followed me into the room. “We’ll move her crib in here tomorrow if it bothers you that much.”
“Things are just too crazy. And I’ll take care of the crib. You need to rest and you are going to be sore tomorrow anyway.”
Quietly he told me, “Put her down Aria then come talk to me. You may have learned to lie with a straight face to other people but you can’t do it worth a flip with me. I want to know what has you so out of sorts.”
I laid Feena down in her “dollhouse” and then turned and gave him an exasperated look. “Out of sorts?” I hissed. “I just shot you.”
“It’s just a knick and like Darryl said, it’s my own fault.”
“I don’t care what you think,” I shuddered hard and had to hug myself. “I could have killed you Cal. You would have been gone in a single breath just like …”
I shuddered again and tried to push passed Cal to get away but instead he put his arm around me. Instead of running downstairs to the bathroom which had been my intention we walked down the stairs and to the family room. He gently pushed me onto the sofa and sat on the ottoman in front of me. I drew my legs up and crossed my arms; it was getting cold in the house.
“Is this about Daniel?”
His question caught me off guard and before I could stop and decide to use that as an excuse to avoid his probing I said, “What? No! Why would … uh …”
I hate it when Cal knows how to lead me down a conversational path so that he can get the answers he’s looking for; half the time I wind up telling him something I had no intention of letting slip out. “Ok, I didn’t think so but I had to ask. You’ve never said anything about shooting Daniel.”
Outraged I said, “Of course I never shot Daniel, I would have told you if I had!”
“Then if it wasn’t Daniel, who was it that you shot?”
I opened my mouth and then slammed it shut. I had no intention of causing Cal any more trouble than I already had.
“Aria, you might as well tell me … was it in the past or … or more recently?”
“Stop it. Just stop it,” I told him.
“Yes, stop being such a cop … because if you don’t maybe they won’t let you be a cop anymore and you know that’s … oh, just leave me alone already.” I stood up quickly to go back to my room and shut the door but Cal stood up just as fast and was a whole lot bigger. It was like he surrounded me and I felt safe and guilty at the same time.
“Aria, I’m not going to let this go.”
I knew he wouldn’t; God help us both. “Fine,” I snapped. “Have it your way. But you’ll be sorry.”
Before he could reply I let it all spill out. When I was finished he just looked at me. Sorrowfully he reached for my hands and I kept expecting to feel the cold metal of handcuffs but then he did something that didn’t just surprise me but nearly sent me into catatonic shock. He took my hands and he kissed each of my wrists.
He moved from the ottoman and sat beside me and slowly and carefully put his arm around me and pulled me close to his side. I had no idea how to react. Part of me wanted to run but another part of me wanted to shout, “More … more … don’t stop there.”
“You sure they came from the direction of the gated community?”
“There isn’t any place else over that way they could have talked to an ‘old man.’ I also found what I assume is their duffel bags near that strip of road that goes over there.”
He nodded then had another thought. “And you’re sure they had no ID on them.”
“Positive. I turned their pockets inside out and then put them back right just to make sure in case they were found. I saw that in a detective movie and figured it made sense in case the bodies were found.”
He arched an eye brow at that though I could barely see his expression in the light of the wind up lamp. “What did you do with their guns and the duffle bags?”
“The duffle bags are in the bench chest in the old tack room of the barn underneath some old junk that was out there. I wrapped the guns and ammo I found for them in the tarp I used to drag the bodies to the canal with and then shoved them inside in that tree that split … the one that is a few trees over from where Josh put the bees.”
He nodded thoughtfully again. “Good thinking but we can go one better. We’ll disburse whatever is in the duffle bags – bury it in several different locations if we have to – and we’ll cache those guns until they aren’t hot anymore. I think I know where the guns and the men came from. Worse comes to worse I’ll find a conveniently burning building and throw them in to be found that way.”
I turned my neck and looked up at him in the dark. “What you do you mean you know where the men came from?”
“Long story,” he murmured still thinking.
“You made me tell you mine,” I complained.
He looked down at me and then snorted. “You make it very hard to protect you from things you know that?”
“I don’t need to be protected that way. It is way too late for me to play at the unknowing innocent. Life has seen to that.”
He gave me a look that said he wasn’t sure exactly how to take what I’d just said. Either way he finally explained, “There was a prison break at the Hardee Correctional Institute”
I shook my head, “But I thought that was a minimum security facility.”
“Minimum and medium but there were still some bad dudes in there. But I’m thinking that it was who did the breaking that you ran across.”
Still confused I said, “Those guys weren’t from around here. Their Spanish didn’t sound … sound right to me.”
“That’s because they were probably Venezuelan. You’ve been around many of them?”
“Uh … no. Most of the Venezuelans I knew in school were from wealthy families.”
“I’m too tired to explain it fully but that’s because they were probably from the wealthy families that escaped the Chavez regime when they first got into power. But do you remember us talking about how some terrorist organizations had gotten a toehold in South and Central America?” At my nod he said, “Venezuela is one of those countries. Seems like the current regime after ol’ Chavez kicked the bucket continued the relationship since it was a politically profitable one. Someone decided to try and use our current circumstances to their advantage and it’s succeeded. An entire prison’s population is back out on the streets and they are still counting the dead at the ruin of the prison.”
I felt weak, “Oh God.”
“Hey,” he said carefully putting his chin on the top of my head. “I’m here now.”
“It’s not that.”
Rather deflated Cal said, “Uh … oh … er … then what is it?”
I then explained about what I had seen; the men getting shot as they tried to jump from the deck. “So they weren’t LEOs.”
“Probably? What do you mean probably not?”
He sighed deeply. “Things are a mess. There aren’t many that I trust right now.”