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Authors: Patrick E. Craig

The Road Home (9 page)

BOOK: The Road Home
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Jenny looked at Johnny. She knew she could help him find out about his family. It would be so easy.
Wait a minute—I don't even know who this man is
.

Suddenly she realized that she was still holding his hand. She pulled her hand back abruptly, and then she felt herself blush. She looked down so he wouldn't see her face.

“Did I upset you?” he asked seriously, but she could hear the laughter in the question. “You seem to be blushing.”

“It's just that I'm not used to holding hands with every strange man I meet on the street, especially after he's tried to kill me with his stupid truck.”

“It's not a truck, it's a van,” Johnny laughed.

Jenny felt the irritation rising up in her again. She turned on her heel and headed toward the library.

Johnny started after her. “Wait, I'm sorry. Please don't go.”

Just then a big delivery van tried to turn onto North Street and almost hit Johnny's van, which was blocking the way. The driver slammed on his brakes and honked impatiently and rolled down his window.

“Get that hippie wagon out of the way,” the driver shouted, looking at Johnny with a jaundiced eye.

Johnny hesitated, wanting to go after Jenny, but then he shrugged his shoulders, turned back, and climbed into the van.

“Hey, peace out, brother,” he shouted out the window, making the peace sign with his two upraised fingers.

“I'll peace you out, you freak. Why don't you go back to the Worst Coast where you belong? You won't find it very comfortable around here. Now move that van before I shove it the rest of the way off the street.”

“Okay, I'm moving it, I'm moving it.”

Johnny started the van up and backed off the curb. He pulled out of the way of the delivery van, and as he did he noticed a distinct vibration from the front end of his van. He watched the belligerent truck driver move past him, and then he got back out of his van to check his front right wheel. He knew something must have bent when he ran up on the curb. He got down on his hands and knees and looked behind the wheel. He couldn't see anything obvious, but he knew that something needed fixing. He decided that after he went to see the sheriff, he would find a mechanic—if the police didn't put him in custody first.

He stood and then remembered Jenny. He looked down the street where she had gone, but the strangely dressed girl was nowhere to be seen.

C
HAPTER
S
EVEN

Old Friends

B
OBBY
H
ALVERSON PULLED UP
in front of the plain brown concrete building and turned off the motor of his sheriff's cruiser. It was a crisp fall day, and last night's rain had washed the air clean. Bobby got out of the car, walked up the steps, and headed through the wide glass doors. He was a well-built, trim man of forty-eight with a thick shock of sandy hair. He couldn't be described as handsome, but his face was genial and friendly, and smile wrinkles surrounded his eyes. He walked with the upright bearing of a soldier, which made him look taller than his six feet, and except for a slight bulge around the middle, he was in good shape. His service revolver hung at his hip, and his khaki pants were pressed and neat. He wore a brown bomber jacket with a Wayne County Sheriff's Department badge sewed on the shoulder and a beige Stetson hat. As he walked down the hall toward his office, friendly faces popped out of cubicles and small offices.

“Mornin', Sheriff.”

“How's it goin', Sheriff?”

“Hi ya, Bobby! How are you today?”

Bobby answered each of the queries with a tip of his hat and a smile.
After ten years as sheriff, he still hadn't gotten used to all the fuss. He turned the corner past the reception area and walked into the spacious corner room that was the office of the sheriff of Wayne County, Ohio.

Bobby closed the door behind him and looked around. The room was large and bright with windows on all the outside walls. A big dark mahogany desk covered with books and stacks of paper faced the door. A large chair sat behind the desk, and another one sat in front of it for guests. A heavy gun safe and a filing cabinet stood against the wall by the door. Next to the safe was a tall bookshelf made of cherry wood. A picture of his mom and dad as well as photos of some of Bobby's favorite spots around Wooster and Apple Creek sat on the shelf in front of the books.

The middle shelf had a built-in case with glass doors. In the case, on a board covered in black velvet, was a red, white, and blue ribbon with a five-pointed gold star hanging from it. A small brass plaque was mounted below the star. He walked over and read the words again. “To Sergeant Robert Halverson, for distinguished gallantry in action against an enemy of the United States.”

Next to the medal was a faded black-and-white Kodak picture. It was stained and smudged, and one corner had been folded over and was almost torn off. In the picture were three tired-looking Marines in combat fatigues with a grizzle of beard on their faces. They were dirty and battle worn. One of the men was Bobby. The man in the middle was tall and dark-haired, very stern looking, with piercing eyes. His helmet tilted rakishly to one side of his head, and the strap hung loosely by his face. Next to him stood the tallest of the three men, a big, powerful-looking man with a crew cut and the triple chevrons of a master gunnery sergeant on his uniform sleeve. He was so tall he had to lean down to get into the picture. He had one hand on the shoulder of the man in the middle and a Thompson submachine gun cradled in his other arm. Bobby and the dark-haired man both held rifles with large scopes
mounted on them. The caption on the white space under the picture, written in pencil, said, “Marine Sniper Scout Platoon 4, Guadalcanal, August 1942.”

Bobby looked at the photo for a minute or two and then slowly drew to attention and saluted. He stood and held the salute silently for a moment and then turned back to his desk. He pulled off his leather jacket and hung it on the coatrack in the corner and stuck his hat on top. He smiled to himself and sat down in the comfortable chair. As he sat there he had to resist the impulse to put his feet up on the big desk.

Even though he had been sheriff for ten years, he still felt a little out of place as a peace officer. After he was mustered out of the Marines, Bobby came back to Apple Creek and slipped into his old routine. He got his construction job back and tried to settle into his old patterns. But he hadn't really fit in anywhere until this job came along. He had never intended to run for any office, but he was well liked and well known throughout Wayne County, so when the sheriff retired in 1955, the local businessmen, especially around Wooster, Dalton, and Apple Creek, drafted him to run.

He had stiff competition from the man who had been the old sheriff's chief deputy, but just when the race seemed to be going to his opponent, help came from an unexpected quarter. Bobby had been a good friend to the Amish folk in Wayne County for many years, and though they didn't often vote in elections, a surprising number of the local Amish registered and voted for Bobby. It was enough to turn the tide, and Bobby Halverson was elected sheriff.

In the ensuing years, Bobby became one of the most popular sheriffs in Wayne County history and for good reason. He was a war hero who was fair and impartial in his dealings with people, yet he was not afraid to step in when force of action was needed. Bobby prided himself in the fact that he had never shot anyone. Instead, he had often been able to defuse unpleasant situations with a smile and a slap on the back.

The only trouble he ever really had was when he was first elected and some small-time gangsters came to Wooster to set up their operations. Bobby proved to be harder to handle than they had figured, and after they cooled their heels in the local jail for a few weeks, they left town. After that things stayed fairly peaceful in Wayne County.

Bobby had also been smart enough to keep his opponent in the election—a big, gruff ex-serviceman named Bull Halkovich—on his staff as chief deputy. Bull was good natured, he liked Bobby, and he took his defeat with grace. Bobby relied on Bull to show him the ropes, and the two men became a good team and, in due time, close friends.

Bobby started going through a stack of paperwork on his desk. This was the part of the job he liked the least. He was most effective when he was out in his cruiser, keeping an eye on things and dealing with people face-to-face.

He looked at the first case on the top of the stack and stifled a yawn. “Well, you pay your money and you take your choice,” he said out loud and started in. Two hours later he was halfway through the stack when the intercom on his desk buzzed.

“What's up, Jill?” he asked, glad for the diversion.

“Someone to see you, Boss,” answered his receptionist.

“Who is it?” Bobby asked.

“It's an Amish gentleman,” Jill replied coyly.

Bobby brightened, knowing it could only be one man, especially on this particular day.

“Well, send him in, Jill” Bobby said with a laugh. “Don't keep the poor man cooling his heels.”

A moment later the door opened and Reuben Springer walked in.

“How'd you get over here from Apple Creek?” without looking up from his paperwork.

“Same as always. Henry Lowenstein brought me,” Reuben answered gruffly.

“Don't you think you're old enough to get your own car?” Bobby asked as he laid down his pen and looked up.

After all the years Bobby had known him, Reuben Springer still looked the same. The guy could have been a movie star. Reuben stared intently at Bobby, and then the stern features cracked into a wide grin, and the two men started laughing.

“It's good to see you too, you old barn rat,” the man said as Bobby stood up and walked around the desk.

The two men gripped hands firmly and looked at each other. As they did, something passed between them that is shared only by men who have faced great trials together. The man pulled Bobby into a bear hug and then put his hands on Bobby's shoulders and looked him over.

“You're still taking nourishment, I see,” he said. “Maybe a bit too much. Your mom still as good a cook as ever?”

“Well, Reuben,” Bobby said, “I must admit that it's awful hard to pass on a second piece of her strawberry-rhubarb pie, if that's what you mean. It's good to see you too, especially today.”

“September thirteen, nineteen forty-two. Twenty-three years ago today. Some things aren't easy to forget,” Reuben said as he glanced at the picture in the case.

The two men walked over to the bookcase and looked at the faded picture. Finally Bobby spoke. “It seems like a lifetime ago, doesn't it?”

Reuben was silent for another moment, and then he spoke, his voice breaking. “Ed Thompkins was a real man and a real soldier. He taught me many things, and in the end he laid down his life to save us both. If he hadn't jumped on that grenade, neither one of us would be standing here.”

Bobby stepped over to the desk and opened the bottom drawer. “I never drink on the job, but I thought today it might be all right to offer a toast. Care to join me?”

“Well, it's not usually my cup of tea, but considering the day and the man, I will,” Reuben said.

Bobby pulled a small bottle of brandy and two glasses out of the drawer. Reuben smiled again. “So you think you know me well enough to bring an extra glass, do you?” he asked.

“Yep,” said Bobby.

He poured two small shots and offered one to Reuben. They stood silently in front of the case for a moment and then Bobby lifted his glass. “Here's to you, Gunnery Sergeant Edgar Thompkins, good soldier, fighting Marine, and our friend. Semper Fi!”

Reuben lifted his glass in salute, and the men drank the toast. Reuben handed his glass to Bobby and smiled. “It's a good thing nobody walked in just then,” he said. “I'm sure they would have found it very interesting to come upon the sheriff having a drink with one of the local Amish.”

Bobby smiled and motioned Reuben to the chair in front of the desk. “You can stay a bit, right? It would be good to catch up.”

Reuben nodded and sat down. Bobby sat in his chair, and the two men sat for another quiet moment.

“How's Jerusha?” Bobby asked. “And Jenny?”

BOOK: The Road Home
9.91Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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