Thursday, January 21, 2010

Chapter Twenty-Five

Chapter 25

June 2nd – Rand is going nuts being out of the loop and he’s beginning to drive me nuts. He’s wondered aloud several times who shot the Harbinger brothers and where Julia was. I do too if for no other reason than she would help clear Rand’s name, but it is pretty obvious he still has some feelings for her regardless of what he has said. After nearly five years it would be stupid to think otherwise I suppose.

Something needs to give soon though, good or bad. For some reason Rand reminds me a little of my dad. Isn’t that crazy? Daddy was the same way, he couldn’t sit still except if he was hunting or fishing or working in the air traffic control tower. Momma said that was because his mind was telling him he was still doing something useful … his mind had a focus and was using up the energy that his body normally did.

I told Rand I just couldn’t sit around another day with the blackberries getting ripe and wasting on the vines or getting eaten by the deer. I reminded him that I was counting on everything the orchard produced to keep food on my table. He wasn’t happy but he understood. Well, he did after I plied him with a not half bad mushroom and cheese omelet. I think it was the cheese that did it. Cheese … unless it is powdered or comes out of a can … isn’t to be found much anymore. The Florida weather doesn’t really support hard cheese making to begin with. I know how to make queso blanco because Mrs. Jimenez taught me to help her make it for the Fiesta Menu at the diner but that’s a soft cheese that has to be used up right away or refrigerated.

After the breakfast dishes were washed and put in the drainer I got all of my canning equipment set out and got water heating on one of the fire pits. Then we went outside and Rand followed me around like a body guard; more than once I nearly tripped over him. I started by picking the blackberries out in the orchard and got two full buckets from out of there. I brought them back to the house and put them gently in a colander and poured a little water over them to clean off any stray bugs. I dug the beans up out of the other fire pit, put them in the fire place and got a fire going and set up on the second pit and I went back and forth pretty much through the whole day canning.

By lunch I already had eight pints of blackberry juice, two pints of blackberry vinegar, four pints of blackberry syrup, and nine pints of plain canned blackberries; that was three canners full. By lunch time I also had a very cranky Rand to deal with. It wasn’t that he was being nasty, but he was stalking around like the Dean used to when he didn’t have anyone to chew on. I promised him if he walked with me to pick some wild blackberries I’d stay at the house and wouldn’t stray so he could go roam around the property. It didn’t take too much persuasion. But first came lunch.

To go with the baked beans I made fried rice cakes. Rand tried really hard not to make a funny face while I was making these but after a real gentle bite on the first one I had a hard time not laughing at how fast he put away everything I had dished onto his plate. In fact when we locked the house and headed out to go berry picking he was stuffing his face with the last rice cake.

My Momma would have been in berry picking heaven. She loved to pick blackberries because her daddy used to take her when she was a little girl. I remember going with Momma and Granddaddy when I was a little girl. I don’t remember liking it then because I was scared of snakes but now, picking berries seems somehow restful and productive at the same time. Like one of those “zen” things you would always hear about but be clueless what they meant.

In an hour we had all three of the buckets I brought full of berries. We would have had more but I think Rand might be a nervous eater because he ate just about as many as he picked. As promised after Rand walked me back to the house and made sure I kept the rifle and pistol near at hand at all times he went “walking the perimeter.” I left him to it. I was kind of relieved to have his nervous energy focused on something besides me.

Rand was back every hour until dinner time and while he was gone I was able to get eight half-pints of pickled brambleberries, one pint of blackberry shrub, 6 pints of blackberry jam, two half-pints of blackberry catsup, and two pints of spiced blackberry jelly. I should have stuck with plain berries and juice today because when I started experimenting I had to make several different batches just to get a canner full so I wouldn’t waste fuel.

For dinner I took the leftover baked beans, added beef flavored TVP that I soaked in some beef broth and then added a small can of pineapple tidbits that I found in the stuff that I got on ration day. I mixed it up and reheated it and served it with a box of crackers from the same place. I’m glad I opened and checked them because the crackers were on their last leg. They weren’t far off from their expiration date but they must not have been stored very well because you could just tell they weren’t far from going rancid. We had that happen at the diner every so often and it is usually because they sat in a hot delivery truck or warehouse too long.

After dinner there wasn’t a breath of wind and the mosquitoes got so bad Rand came back in almost as fast as he left. He clumped upstairs to “watch” and I’ve stayed down here cleaning up and writing in my journal. I feel bad though I don’t know why. He’s basically babysitting me; I don’t need it but I’m sure that is what he thinks he is doing. If he was home he’d have lots of things to do and he wouldn’t be so bored.

I guess I better go upstairs and check on him. If he starts growling at me I may just have to back him up some with a little growling of my own.

June 3rd – If I ever again want something to happen just to break the tension I hope somebody kicks me.

Rand was cranky last night but not as bad as I figured he was going to be. We took turns on watch again after we smelled smoke and heard some commotion coming from what Rand said wasn’t too far on the other side of the waste collection site. Basically that meant that whatever was going on was just on the other side of US90 where CR49 intersects with it. The waste collection site is where you take (or I guess you could say took) your garbage because they don’t have curbside pick-up service out in the county.

We both got enough sleep last night but just barely. Breakfast was cheese grits with sausage flavored TVP mixed in. Not a lot of talking was going on. I didn’t know what to say and Rand seemed to get more wound up as the minutes passed. I made him some fresh coffee (instant, but that’s the only kind I know how to make), put it in a thermos, and he was out the door in a flash. I know he was taking care of the animals while I picked more berries out of the orchard and from right around the hedges that enclose the house because I caught him watching me while he walked the animals around the yard. But as soon as I came back to the house he put the animals back in the barn and took off with a nod in my direction that basically said our arrangement of yesterday was still in place.

I was just wondering what to do about lunch and taking the last load of plain berries out of the canner when Fraidy came zipping around the corner of the house and flew between my legs and into the house, nearly making me drop the pan I was carrying. I didn’t have much time to wonder what was going on when I started hearing pops from up the road and horses screaming.

I grabbed my rifle and came around the house to the sound of a wagon moving a whole lot faster than it should have. My road dead ends into a barbed wire fence at the place where I used to feed the cows. I wasn’t’ sure what to do but the sight that met my eyes as I peeked around the potato vine lattice just about scared me to death.

Mick Crenshaw was pulling on the horses reins … wagon reins … whatever … he was pulling hard and was also leaning on what I guess was a wagon brake. The horses were still pulling but right before the fence Mick was able to draw them to a stop; well I mean they were stilling rearing and not behaving but at least they had stopped running. I ran out and poor Mick was white as a sheet. I asked him what was going on and the kid cried, “They shot Daddy and he fell beside the wagon and the horses took off … I’ve got to …”

I broke in and asked him where and he said in the wide section of the road where the pine trees grew on one side. I told him to take care of the horses and then took off at a run. I don’t know what I was thinking but something said I needed to get up there fast. God must have put wings on my feet because I wasn’t even winded when I got up to the gate. I slowed down and climbed over the gate without opening it into the tall grass and then crawled around to a Pindo Palm.

I probably didn’t need to creep and hide because every man there was focused on their own little drama but I was anyway and put my rifle up and tried really hard to aim it without actually letting it go off. A man I recognized as Mr. Harbinger … both from seeing him on his horse the first day I met Rand and from people’s description of him since … had his back to me and a gun aimed right at Rand. Mr. Henderson was trying to talk him into putting the gun down or at least aim someplace besides at Rand. A younger man … later found out this was Rick Harbinger, a cousin to the two rotten brothers and a rat extraordinaire on his own … aimed what looked like a shotgun at Uncle George who was still sprawled and bleeding on the ground though conscious and groggily moving around trying to get to Rand.

“He shot my boys! And that one there was trying to keep me from getting justice for them!!” Jared Harbinger snarled, spit flying from his mouth like a mad dog.

“For the last time Jared, Rand wasn’t anywhere near where your boys were shot. He was here and I’ve got people that can vouch for that,” Mr. Henderson responded sounding just this side of losing his temper. “Brett Masterson has already confessed to shooting your sons because he found out they were messing with his youngest daughter.”

“You lie! You’re trumping those charges up against my boys when they cain’t even defend themselves. You’re protecting the real murderer. I’ll get the truth out of him one way or the other. Shoot … “ Both Harbingers had sick grins … Jared Harbinger because he was in the throes of some kind of crazy and his nephew because he was enjoying what was happening too much.

I’ve been getting pretty good practicing on those cans and I wasn’t even as far away as I would normally have stood. I knew Mr. Harbinger had just told his nephew to shoot Uncle George. I knew it in my heart. I also knew I couldn’t let that happen. Rand and several other men cried out, “No!” I prayed I was doing the right thing and pulled the trigger. A spreading red spot appeared on Rick Harbinger’s right shoulder throwing him back. His shot went wide of its mark, missing Uncle George, but peppering some of the other men that had been with them that hadn’t gotten out of the way quick enough.

I didn’t waste time. I saw Rand throw himself over his still mostly insensible uncle while Mr. Henderson and the men with him drew guns on the men still standing with the Harbingers. But I came up behind Jared Harbinger and just kept coming even when he turned to try and face me. If he hadn’t been crazy and not real with it I wouldn’t have been able to pull it off. If I hadn’t been so far on the other side of scared I wouldn’t have had the adrenaline and will power to pull it off. What’s that old saying? God looks after fools and children? Something like that anyway. I’m sure Uncle George and Mr. Henderson are still debating which of those categories I fall into.

Mr. Harbinger was all but tripping over his own feet as I forced him to back up until he couldn’t go any further because he came up against a fence post. He’s a short man but he is still several inches taller than I am. Those inches where his downfall because I had stepped up into his space so that there wasn’t any room between us. There also wasn’t any room between the barrel of my rifle and the underside of his chin. I said as loud and as convincingly as I could thinking of all the cowboy movies I had ever watched with my dad, “Mr. Harbinger, you make me shoot you and I won’t even cry at your funeral. I don’t know what your problem is but Rand Joiner has been at my place since we took off from the riot. He’s been keeping me safe from the likes of people like your sons. Put down your dat burn gun and stop all this craziness!”

I think a skunk could have walked through and no one would have noticed. After a few seconds of struggle where I just leaned on him harder and jammed the barrel up tighter he finally let Mitch Peters take his gun. By that time though I had gotten crazy angry myself. It was losing my parents all over again because someone didn’t care about what their actions meant to other people. I was crying but didn’t realize it at that moment.

It was Mr. Henderson who came over and gently pried the gun out of my badly shaking hands and then dragged Mr. Harbinger over to some of his men. Someone made me sit down and put my head between my knees. I looked up and it was Pastor Ken. He told me to sit there for a minute and went to Uncle George and started checking him over. I found out later that Pastor Ken had had a day job as an EMT for the volunteer fire department.

Mick came running up the road crying even worse than me, trying to get to his dad. Rand grabbed him and held him and after a couple of minutes Pastor Ken let Uncle George sit up. “It’s just a graze; the fall out of the wagon is what knocked him out.”

I’d been avoiding looking at Rick Harbinger; sure I had committed murder. But when I could finally bring myself to I saw he was gritting his teeth and cussing while someone held him down with direct pressure on his wound. After Pastor Ken examined him I heard him say, “In and out. You still need to get him over to the clinic to make sure it’s cleaned out and bandaged properly.”

I noticed another wagon coming around the corner and when they stopped men started loading both Harbinger men and a couple of the other injured that had caught some of the shot gun pellets … or whatever you call that stuff inside shotgun shells. One man in particular looked like he had an armful of bloody bug bites.

The blood on the man’s arm is what finally did me in. I crawled off into the bushes trying to puke quietly so no one would notice. It didn’t work. A wet bandana was laid on the back of my neck and Rand said, “I thought Pastor Ken told you not to move.” All I could do was heave and shake my head and try and push him away so I could die of embarrassment in private.

Eventually I allowed myself to be helped out of the bushes. I could tell the men were trying to not embarrass me and it choked me up but it also gave me a chance to stiffen my spine.

Mr. Henderson was shaking Uncle George’s hand, “George, glad things turned out better than expected.”

“You and me both old friend, you and me both. God was watching out for us.”

“Hmmm. May hap he was this time.” And then with a sigh, “I’ve got to get back to my place, things still ain’t as calm as I’d like.”

“I understand. Go on, we’ll be fine.” And with that Mr. Henderson and his men left.

Rand looked pretty torn but I knew what he needed to do. “Get your uncle home. I’ll be fine.”

They all fussed, even Mick, but I couldn’t and wouldn’t leave my home to the mercies of whatever was going on. They kept at me the whole way back to the house. They kept at me even after Rand had gotten Hatchet and the mules out of the barn. He finally had to give up and made me promise to not go far from the house until Mr. Henderson or he came by to tell me things had calmed down. He promised to be back as soon as he could to check on me and I told him they’d need him at home if his uncle was going to be down for any length of time.

The finally left when it was obvious Uncle George needed to be taken home and put to bed sooner rather than later.

After they left I didn’t have the heart to do any more canning. The water had nearly boiled away in the canner and I was lucky not to have the pot crack. In fact, all I did was bring stuff in, make sure to cover the fire pits after I put the fires out with some damp sand, shut the house up and make my way up to the dormer room where I’ve been ever since.

It’s getting dark and the pops and bangs have started up again. Sounds like they are coming from all over. I hope that Rand got his uncle and Mick home safe and sound. And I hope whoever is fighting will just stop it. Enough people have died over the last year. It would be nice if those of us that are left could pull together and find some way back to whatever is suppose to approach normal these days instead of acting like a bunch of mean kids in an out of control kickball war.

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