A Well in Emmaus – Chapter 3   Leave a comment

Chapter 3

Insecurity

A couple were arguing in sign language near the entrance. Shane kept his eyes averted so he wouldn’t eavesdrop. Most Deaf didn’t expect their conversations to be “overheard”. He was rusty, but some concepts translated really well in natural sign.

Ouch, fella! Cheating’s never a good idea!

Shane paused inside the door. He’d selected the old market because it wasn’t large and should be quiet this time of night, but it echoed with the sounds of humanity. The overhead announced a cleanup on Aisle 4.

Resigned to being uncomfortably close to people, Shane grabbed a cart and turned into the bakery section. He shopped automatically, avoiding aisles with people in them, until he got to the milk, when he recognized that the cooler seemed awfully barren. He set the quart of whole in the cart next to a loaf of bread, a box of cereal, a carton of butter. He stared down the aisle. He’d selected whole because there was no 1%. He’d gotten butter because there’s been no margarine. He didn’t particularly like corn bran, but there’d been few other options. Now the luncheon meats were few and far between. Fresh produce looked empty. It wasn’t just him. The store really wasn’t normal. He grabbed a couple of rolls of designer toilet paper (what was left on the shelf) and headed for the checkout line.

Movement out of the corner of his eye caused him to flinch and reach for the gun he wasn’t carrying. Three teenagers laughed and shouted as they played keep-away with a roll of paper towels. Maybe it was better that he wasn’t carrying. Movement at the end of the aisle drew his attention. A shadow of dark robes flitted at the corner of his vision.

“It’s the trucker’s strike,” the guy ahead of him was saying to the checker. “It’s supposed to be settled tomorrow.” He gestured at his smart phone, where he must have had the news up.

The kids were still making a racket, bringing Myrastan alive in the supermarket. The building swirled around Shane as sound flooded over him. The overhead was playing some jazzy tune from a past generation too loudly. A dark robbed figure moved closer.

“ … 57,” the checker said. Shane stared at him. He was middle-aged, a little paunchy. His hazel eyes narrowed as Shane stood frozen. “That’ll be $15.57,” he repeated. Shane glanced at the register readout and reached for his wallet. He felt naked without a gun in a back holster. He stared at the bills in his wallet. Normally, he’d have calculated the change by now, but his brain felt wrapped in cotton-wool while at the same time all his senses were on hyper alert. He handed the checker a twenty and decided to trust him to make correct change. The checker trusted the register readout.

Shane sat in the parking lot for 10 minutes, trying to will her to get out of the passenger seat. He shouldn’t have driven. He could have walked the six blocks. Talk about distracted driving! Finally, he started the car and prayed for no traffic. The working class neighborhood of post-World War 2 housing was quiet this time of night. There were some kids playing pickup as he passed the high school and a cab turned a corner a few blocks ahead. By the time he reached his small rented house, he knew it would be another sleepless night. She was a shadow on the edge of his vision, but she would take solid shape when he tried to sleep, so he wouldn’t.

Shane pulled up to the garage and looked up and down the street. A dog barked. The neighbor three houses down on the opposite side was bringing groceries in too. Someone’s flowers were perfuming the air too strongly. The street was quiet. A couple of blocks away, a car turned a corner. Somehow it was harder to sleep when the neighborhood was quiet and yet Shane knew he’d be alert to every sound for blocks. It was the legacy of war. He’d never thought about what his dad must have gone through when he’d come back from Vietnam. This? That would explain the drinking and the moving to a small town in the middle of nowhere.

He was almost relieved to find Rigby sitting at his kitchen table, though his hand twitched toward the gun he didn’t have before he recognized him.

“I guess I don’t need to ask why you turned your phone off,” Rigby said while Shane put the grocery bags on the counter. “When was the last time you slept?”

Shane shook his head. He’d lost track. The last time he’d laid down in bed, he’d tried to eat a gun when he woke up. Bedtime no longer seemed safe. He caught a few hours here and there, passed out on the couch. Drinking didn’t seem to help the process, so he’d given it up as not worth the effort.

Rigby looked like a redneck tonight – plaid shirt, jeans, baseball cap. He appeared in Shane’s life from time to time and you never knew who he might be – an accountant, a tourist, a cab driver …. Soldier, tinker, tailor, spy. He’d been Shane’s handler for a half decade now.

“Whatever you want me to do ….” Was that his voice echoing through the house? Why was the floor heaving up and down like a ship at sea? I should have taken out the garbage!

“Don’t worry about it,” Rigby assured him. “You clearly aren’t up for anything right now. I knew you’d turned down a couple of offers from BW. When you turned off your phone, I got concerned. Glad to find you still breathing.” He assessed Shane’s reaction. “That bad, huh?”

“What do you mean?”

“Ramah still haunts you.” Shane flinched, but Rigby didn’t need to be told. It hadn’t been a question. “You need to leave,” Rigby told him. “BW is not going to let a talent like Eric go easily and my asset Eric may have enemies. You should go back to being you.”

Shane mulled Rigby’s words over slowly.

“How do I do that?” he asked. He’d never given it serious thought and now even casual consideration seemed overwhelming.

Rigby had been looking in his smart phone while Shane tried to remember how to think.

“It’s all doable,” Rigby assured him. “Give me a month to do some laundry. Do you want to go home straight to Emmaus or do you want to spend some time resting in Jericho Springs?”

Shane struggled to keep up. He’d bought most of the abandoned town four years ago under another assumed identity, back when Jacob had convinced him he could go home again. He’d delayed for money and then she had happened. He saw movement in the bedroom door. Rigby glanced over his own shoulder.

“She’s not there,” Rigby told him. “I searched the house thoroughly when I got here.”

“What? Who?”

“You know what I’m talking about. You’re seeing phantoms because of not sleeping.” Shane shook his head in protest. What happened in the bush stayed in the bush. How could Rigby know? Somehow he did. “You see her in your dreams, too. It’s a Catch-22 – to sleep or not to sleep, either way you feel like you’re going crazy.” Shane stared at the government agent. “War definitely has side effects,” Rigby added matter-of-factedly. “Are you able to make these decisions for yourself?”

Shane remembered the taste of gun oil and slowly shook his head.

“Okay. I’m planning for you to go to Jericho Springs. I promise I won’t do anything with your assets that Shane Delaney or his family wouldn’t approve of. A month from today, you’re headed there and I don’t want to hear any arguments.”

Shane sighed. It felt as though a 10-ton weight had been lifted from his chest. The decision was made for him and he just had to go with it. He could count on one hand the number of times he’d let that happen in his life.

“Do I need to change the combination to your safe?” Rigby asked.

“No, Mike already did.”

“He’s more perceptive than he looks, apparently. Good. Your grandfather — can you call him or does a friend need to do that?” Shane stared at Rigby. Was he thinking aloud? First Mike and now …. “You’re not the first asset I’ve seen hit the wall,” Rigby assured him. “It’s especially not unexpected when coercion was used. I know you left a mess in Emmaus, but my intel says it’s died down.” Shane flinched at Rigby’s poor choice of words. Rigby misread it. “Your grandfather has stuck in even when you studiously ignored him. I know your mom keeps trying too. And your friend Alex. You aren’t alone unless you want to be.”

There’d been a time when Shane would have objected to Rigby reading his emails, but reality was that government computers read everybody’s email every day. That a human being read his wasn’t news. Getting upset wouldn’t change anything.

“They aren’t going to like who I am now.”

“No, but they’ll love you just the same, Shane. Healthy families like yours do that.”

Shane stared at the table top. He couldn’t believe Rigby and Mike. Shouting filled his ears … shouting and angry words. He shook his head, trying to stop the sounds from the past, trying to negate what Rigby had said. And then came the sound of that ridiculous ring tone.

“We are … we are … the youth of the nation.”

Rigby glanced at the cell phone where it sat on the counter being charged.

“Your private cell?”

Shane looked at the number.

“My grandfather gave it to me when I was leaving Emmaus. I guess he’s kept the account paid.”

“I’ll leave if you want to talk to your grandpa.”

“It’s not him. It’s my brother Cai.” Shane let the phone finish ringing, setting it down.

“Ah! Do you hear from him often?”

“Not by phone. Occasional emails. And, you’re right. He claims he forgave me.”

Rigby stared at Shane for a long moment, then stood up and laid a card on the table.

“Get ready to go home, Shane. If you need anything, have any questions while you wait, that’s a secure cell where you can reach me without official oversight. Okay?”

Shane nodded. The phone buzzed as it received a text. Rigby was so quiet in his retreat that Shane was surprised to notice that he’d gone. He picked up the phone and read the text.

Hey, Shane. You’re on my mind a lot lately. I know you think I hate you, but I don’t. Call sometime. Cai

Slowly, tiredly, Shane texted a reply. He’d done this before, so many times with emails, but he’d never hit SEND. His thumb hovered over the button, then moved to the DELETE button. Then, blowing out his cheeks, he hit SEND.

I’m trying to believe that. Thanks for not giving up. Shane

The moment he sent it, he regretted it. What would Cai think? How would he use what Shane had written? Too late to call it back. Calm down … calm down. Not everybody is out to get you. What is wrong with you?

Shane found the remote and turned on the television. The 11 o’clock news was on. Of course, there was no news about Myristan. The war was largely fought by mercenaries like him … the better to keep it out of the public eye and you didn’t have to report the body count on the news.

There were a lot of other stories … plenty of rumors of wars, reasons to restrict civil liberties, mounting debt, protest movements, a militia in upstate Wisconsin …. Shane listened to it as he put away the groceries. President Rafson was giving a speech somewhere in which he assured that the stimulus program started last year was having the desired effect on the economy. Shane hadn’t heard a report on the debt ceiling in years. It must be 30 trillion by now — maybe more.

Remembering Alicia’s suggestion, Shane made himself a glass of warm milk and sat down just as the local news was starting.

Gang activity in Alta Vista had resulted in a limited declaration of martial law. Shane felt his chest tighten watching National Guard trucks and police Humvees patroling the streets. He turned off the television in the middle of the anchor explaining some road project that had people waving signs.

In a month, I won’t live here any longer. It doesn’t concern me.

He polished off the milk, left the glass in the sink and went to bed … to sleep and dream and wake up screaming with the taste gun oil in his mouth.

All rights reserved. Laurel Sliney dba Lela Markham. January 2014

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