“In the Path of Totality”

Closely guarded secrets can only stay that way when a small, dedicated, some say fanatical group hold them. I was the ultimate skeptic when first approached two years ago by a trusted journalism colleague. If not for the depth of trust between us since I was a college freshman in 1972, and she a tenured professor in the Oklahoma State University School of Journalism and Broadcasting, I would have dismissed the invitation as a joke or hoax.

People my age weren’t initially considered for airborne observations but the final selections were given to thirty-four individuals willing to risk everything regardless of age. From my first assignment as an intern volunteering to take an extended spring break covering the fall of Saigon in 1975, risking it all to get the story framed the rest of my career. It also brought tough choices in relationships, which were always secondary to career assignments. Not having a spouse, children, living parents or siblings provided the final push qualifying me for select this group of explorers.

The very familiar voice of Neil deGrasse Tyson, Totality Mission Flight Director speaking from the top secret control center at Area 51 crackled into my headset. “Travellers, you’re on track and in position to intercept the eclipse over the Oregon coast. Ground and space based observatories, plus onboard sensors on your B2 Miradur are all dialed in. You know how much I want to be up there with you, squeezed into that amazing plane.”

The crew and passenger space was tight considering the modifications to accommodate us into a converted stealth bomber along with sensors and communication devices for our high risk mission. If everything predicted by the Totality Group succeeds, we aren’t likely to return to Earth. If unsuccessful, we could either perish or fail and never be able to share the experience with anyone.

Forty years ago when NASA established airborne observation of the solar eclipse, a small number of scientists briefly noticed an anomaly at points of maximum totality. Individual scientists began predicting the possibility of identifying a transdimensional portal. As NASA funding shrank, scientist advancing the theory sought and obtained private funding which aided in keeping the project moving ahead and out of the public eye.

As a journalist, I’d never heard a hint of this until my colleague contacted me. Now I’m poised on the precipice of the most important discovery in human existence. “Am I afraid to die?” is a question I answered “no” without hesitation months ago and I’m more confident in the reply now than ever. Just think, if a so called wormhole really exists near our sun and the technology we’re riding puts us through it, fear of death becomes practically meaningless.

Neil spoke again. “Wherever you end up today, you are explorers of the highest caliber. There won’t be tickertape parades or Presidential commendations for us. Only the satisfaction of fulfilled dreams which I’ll take over public accolades anytime. Peace, love, hope.”

The Marauder slipped into darkness and sounds of instruments humming and conversations between crewmembers and Mission Control filled my senses. We are flying at high speed and altitude, undetectable to ground based radar like a ghost in the sky. Suddenly I felt something between extreme euphoria and a premonition of doom swell up into my chest and head. The pleasant side of it was more enjoyable than anything I’ve ever experienced. The doom aspect was similarly extreme in the other direction but kept being balanced by the euphoric sensations.

My mind was totally distracted from assigned mission tasks. In fact, everything about the mission and craft faded completely replaced by something akin to being in a sensory deprivation tank. The tug between terror and euphoria continued, now taking on the sensation of normalcy. That sensation was accompanied by my sight returning and seeing nothing of the Marauder or fellow crewmates. Wherever I am, it’s not Earth or anything like it but it feels more normal and right than anyplace I’ve even been.

After the Marauder completed its flight, the plane returned to Area 51. Most sensors, especially those monitoring the crew went offline shortly after entering the path of totality. Other instruments monitoring scientific data only sporadically reported to mission control. The Marauder itself was undamaged on the outside and inside with one major exception.

After escorting the crew to be debriefed, Neil sat at his desk examining the bits of data reported during the flight. Looking out the window he pondered, “There were representatives in every scientific discipline from botany to physics to stellar cartography and they took the journalist. I hope he reports what he’s seen to us someday.” Continue reading

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3rd DECOPOLIS BookFest

Emily Wood will be discussing and signing, It Was Magic, from 11:30 AM to 5 PM at an inside table during the 3rd DECOPOLIS BookFest at 5th and Boston on Saturday, June 17, 2017. It Was Magic, is a love story for all ages reflecting the outcomes and consequences of choices made through constant communication between spouses as the magic of true partnership in marriage, parenthood, careers, public service, and adventure nurture relationships.

“For me, It Was Magic, is an expression of grief and gratitude. Communication was always central in our lives,” said Emily. Her late husband, Phil, was Tulsa City Auditor for 21 years.

Arriving in Tulsa when Phil was transferred here in 1974 with Cities Service, Phil and Emily’s horizons expanded as careers flourished with arts and education nourishing them, politics engaging them and global and multicultural experiences enriching their lives. “They lived the American dream to the fullest,” said editor Joe Harwell. “Equally inspiring as their story, Emily is donating profit from the book to Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation on behalf of one of her grandsons who is a Type 1 Diabetic.”

For those unable to attend the event, the link to order, It Was Magic, on Amazon is  http://amzn.to/1S4USHN

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Christmas lights in July

In July 1970, when I was 16, my family took a short trip across the state line from Oklahoma to Arkansas to visit relatives. Frequent Sunday trips to Arkansas were a regular thing since my parents moved from there to Poteau, OK when I was a year old in 1955. By 1970, most of the grandparents had passed but other extended family remained. Having obtained my driver’s license a few weeks earlier, I was the chauffeur.

Family trips to Arkansas began from our home east of Poteau on section line roads to an Oklahoma state highway which became an Arkansas state highway at the border. The trip from point to point was less than an hour. After a long day of visiting, we made our way back home as darkness fell with me at the helm of our trusty, 1963 Chevrolet Impala.

Crossing into Oklahoma, I turned onto county roads at the town of Monroe for the last leg of the trip. As we proceeded north and west on section line roads, the moonless sky was clear with lights from farmhouses visible for miles in every direction. Our ranch-style home, which dad built in the 1960s, sat on a little rise with a good view of the surrounding area. My younger sister and I always looked for our house when we returned home from these trips during daylight hours. The bright red house with a white roof was visible to our trained eyes from several miles away and we knew exactly where we could begin to see it.

Topping the small hill where we usually saw our house from the farthest distance, I noticed a string of lights which quickly disappeared as the car descended below the hilltop. I instantly knew what the string of lights was about and called out to my sister who was in the back seat with our mother. She was already leaning over the seat because she noticed the lights too.

As we got closer to home, our parents saw the lights. Dad put Christmas lights on the edge of the roof the first year the house was built. Because we lived in the country and not in town, he left the lights up year round and plugged them into exterior outlets from Thanksgiving through the new year. As usual, there was some disagreement between our parents about this, but dad’s argument of taking down and putting the lights up each year uncharastically won out.

As our parents discussed who could be responsible for plugging in the Christmas lights this time of year, my sister and I speculated which of our friends could be the culprit. As the house came into full view, the multicolor Christmas lights were like a beacon in the dark July night. By this time, both our parents were close to being mad about it while sis and I added to our list of suspects.

Pulling across the cattle guard and onto the driveway, I parked the car and jumped out, barely able to contain my laughter over someone plugging in the Christmas lights in July. As dad walked up onto the front porch to unplug the lights, he noticed a note stuck to the screen door. He read it and began smiling and finally laughed out and said, “James was here.”

His younger brother, James, from Muskogee, along with his wife Betty, and their daughter, Teri came by earlier for a surprise visit. Not finding us home, they speculated we were visiting relatives across the state line and left the note confessing to plugging in the Christmas lights. After Christmas that year, dad and I took down the lights so we wouldn’t fall victim to relatives or other pranksters who could plug them in some time other than during the holidays.

Here is a photo of my father, John (L), with his brother, James (R), taken at a family reunion in the 1970s, both smartly dressed in white, patent-leather belts and polyester pants. Both possessed a great sense of humor which is evident by the grins on their faces. Not all my childhood memories of the holidays are pleasant, but this one of Christmas lights on a dark night in July is a good one.john-l-james-r-harwell-1975

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“Human nature is not neat and predictable.

maria savva cover

“Human nature is not neat and predictable.

What makes us betray a loved one?
Can isolation lead to irrational behaviour?
Why do other people’s lives always look more appealing?

Ordinary people living ordinary lives, torn apart by regret, remorse, and deceit. We’re all stumbling through life together. This collection of stories shows you the Lost and Found among us.”

It will also be available in paperback soon.
Author links:
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Izzy Cavanal

cavanal fall pic

Going home is never easy. Genesis 28:15 “And, behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest, and will bring thee again into this land; for I will not leave thee, until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of.”

Izzy Cavanal, a historical fiction novel by Joe Harwell

© Joe Harwell Publishing 2015

No part of this material may be copied or reproduced in any way without written permission of the author. Direct all inquiries to joeharwell54@gmail.com

Back cover copy

Waking in a Santa Fe, NM hospital with a breathing tube in his throat, former international drug smuggler, turned D.E.A. informant Rory Jacobs hears doctors discussing his critical medical condition. Barely surviving another hit by the Cali cartel, he’s reluctant to let the feds protect him again and returns to his hometown of Poteau, OK to hide in plain sight with a new face and identity after recovering from extensive plastic surgery.

An unexpected meeting with his high school friend Izzy and her look-alike teenage daughter triggers feelings of regret for leaving town 27 years ago before their high school graduation without saying goodbye. He’s torn between maintaining his cover and telling Izzy the truth, knowing the $5 million dollar cartel bounty on his life puts them in danger.

Chapter 1. December 29, 1994 St. Vincent Hospital in Santa Fe, NM

“Will he live?” asked Justice Department Special Agent Ron Thompson.

“Most people wouldn’t have survived the blood loss,” replied Doctor Suarez. “He’s stable and there’s a chance if he makes it through the night. What do you know about him?”

“Nothing I can tell you.”

“I understand he’s under Justice Department protection, but he’ll need to be kept here for several days if he’s to survive.”

“That’s not gonna work. My orders are to have him ready for transport as soon as possible.”

“I won’t allow it,” Suarez insisted. “Not before I’m sure he’s ready.”

Thompson smirked and said, “Do the best you can and …”

The patient raised his right hand, grabbed the bed rail and shook it, causing Doctor Suarez and Agent Thompson to look at him. Reaching for the breathing tube in his mouth, the patient struggled to pull it out.

Suarez moved to the bed and said, “He shouldn’t be awake. I gave him enough sedative to keep him out for hours.”

Thompson moved to the other side of the bed and said, “The info I have says he is one tough S.O.B.”

Suarez removed the breathing tube from the man’s heavily bandaged face and carefully suctioned a mixture of blood and saliva from his mouth.

The patient took hold of the doctors hospital coat, pulled him closer and said, “I’m ready to go.”

Agent Thompson said, “That’s good enough for me. Be ready to dismiss him at seven A.M.”

Doctor Suarez leaned closer to the patient and said, “Sir, you may not survive transport to wherever they’re taking you.”

“I’ll take my chances.”

“You heard him,” said Thompson. “No matter what happens, it won’t come back on you.”

Suarez glared at Thompson and said, “My oath isn’t surpassed by your orders.”

Tightening his grip on the doctor’s coat, the patient and said, “Let me go.”

Patting the patient’s hand Suarez said, “Okay. I’ll pray for you.”

“God forgot me long ago, but pray anyway,” the patient said, releasing the doctor.

Suarez made notes on the chart, then looked at Thompson and said, “Patient X will be turned over to you at seven AM.”

Chapter 2. January 1, 1995

“Do you hear me Rory?” said agent Thompson.

“Yeah, I hear you. Where am I?”

“Kauffman Reconstructive Surgery Center in Los Angeles.”

“Why LA?”

“Your face needs to be rebuilt, so we brought you to the plastic surgery capital of the world.”

“Where’s Joel?”

“He didn’t make it. You shot two of the guys sent to knock off you and your cousin, and then you killed the other one with your bare hands. Don’t you remember?”

“It’s hard to separate the images running through my mind, but I was afraid the one of Joel with a bullet hole in his head was real. What else did the report say?”

“That you’re a badass.”

“Is that why I’m handcuffed to the bed?”

Reaching in and unlocking the handcuffs Thompson said, “It was mostly for our protection. All the way here on the plane and after we arrived you were swinging your arms, cursing, and at times calling a name in spite of the pain meds.”

“What name?”

“Izzy. Is she your girlfriend?”

Ignoring the question Rory said, “What day is it?”

“Sunday, January first. You’re screwing up my football game watching plans.”

“What game?”

The Orange Bowl. My alma mater Nebraska Cornhuskers are gonna finish the season undefeated by whipping the crap out of those Miami Hurricanes.”

“Thompson, I hate you.”

Leaning closer Thompson said, “That’s the other thing I read in your file. You’re an Oklahoma Sooner by birth. Your boys lost to us on Thanksgiving and to Brigham Young in the Copper Bowl the day I met you in Santa Fe.”

“Joel owes me a hundred dollars,” Rory mumbled. Pointing to the end of the bed he continued, “What’s going on with my legs? The right one hurts everywhere, but I don’t feel much on the left side.”

“I’ll get the doctor in to discuss your prognosis. You barely survived.”

“I survived things in Nam that woulda killed some, but mostly I was lucky. I guess my luck ran out this time.”

“A little luck beats none at all, even for an Okie. Listen, when the doctor comes in he’ll be addressing you as Keith Overton, your new protective custody identity. Middle name Patrick. You’re an art dealer from Palm Springs and you were attacked in a home invasion robbery. Date of birth is July fifth, nineteen fifty. He won’t ask much about your background, but he’s gonna be with you throughout your recovery, so don’t forget the basics. You got it or do I need to write it down for you?”

“Who makes up these lame background covers?”

“I’m just the messenger. Did you get the details or do I need to repeat it.”

“I got it. Birthday fifth of July nineteen fifty. Art dealer from Palm Springs. Any chance Keith Patrick Overton is a smoker?”

“No, I heard he quit cold turkey at Christmas.”

“Too bad. Oh well, I’ll get used to it like I did the first deep cover identity, for all the good it did.” Struggling to raise up and look at agent Thompson, Rory continued, “Seeing you’re a Nebraska Cornhusker and all, what are my chances of survival, considering our football rivalry and this is the second time the cartel sent ass holes to kill me and Joel?”

“Overlooking the fact that you’re an Oklahoma Sooner, I’ll do everything in my power to keep you alive. Rest easy. I haven’t lost anyone yet.” Patting him gently on the arm Thompson continued, “Let me see if I can abscond with a TV set from somewhere. Seeing Tom Osborne and the boys kick some Miami Hurricane ass might take your mind off that hurtin’ leg and the rest of your troubles.”

“As long as we’re not betting money on it,” said Rory.

“Deal. Hang tight and I’ll find a TV.”

“I ain’t goin’ nowhere.”

Chapter 3. July 4th, 1995

“Sorry to wake you, Mr. Overton,” said the nurse. “I have some eye drops for you.”

“I wasn’t sleeping well anyway. And it’s Keith, okay? No more of the Mr. Overton stuff.”

She held out the eye drop dispenser and said, “You’re due in physical therapy in a few minutes.”

Stretching, then sitting up straight in the recliner before leaning his head back so she could administer the drops to his left eye he said, “Bummer you have to work the holiday.”

“It’s okay. My family is taking care of all the preparations for a cookout. All I have to do is go home and enjoy the food and fireworks. What are your plans?”

Chuckling he said, “Same old same old.”

After placing the drops in his eye she said, “After I watch fireworks, I have a little baking project.”

“What are you making?”

“A birthday cake.”

“Someone in your family?”

“No, a patient.”

“That’s nice of you. Who’s the lucky winner?”

Placing her hand on his shoulder she said, “You.”

Chuckling again he said, “Oh yeah, I forgot, but you don’t have to make me a cake.”

“Come on. It’s your birthday. You have to have cake. I bet you had cake for your birthday when you were growing up.”

“I did, but it’s just another day to me now.”

“I’m sure your family made a fuss over your birthday.”

Without thinking he replied, “My great grandmother always made sure …”

When he abruptly stopped speaking she said, “Painful memory?”

He thought, “Damn it. That was my real life.”

She smiled and said, “How is your vision now?”

Blinking his eye a few times he said, “Better. Thanks for making me a cake, but it’s not necessary.”

“It’s just Betty Crocker, so it’s no trouble. Will a white cake with chocolate frosting be okay?”

“Sure. Thanks. Just no party hats or balloons.”

“I’ll leave that to Agent Thompson,” she replied.

Laughing out loud he said, “Thompson doesn’t come across as the party hat and balloon type.”

“He’s an old softie at heart.”

“Are we talking about the same guy?”

A knock on the door was followed by an orderly entering the room pushing a wheelchair and saying, “I’m here to take you physical therapy, Mr. Overton.”

Reaching for his cane, then putting on his glasses Keith said, “I can walk.”

“You’ve gotten so much stronger,” the nurse said.

“Doing the best I can.”

As the orderly followed him out of the room, an armed Justice Department officer posted outside the door followed them.

Chapter 4. Justice Department safe house in Los Angeles, July 30, 1995.

When the back door opened Keith expected to see agent Thompson come into the kitchen where he was having breakfast. Instead of Thompson, a tall, well dressed, barrel-chested man entered along with two of the agents assigned to guard the house.

The tall man sat in a chair on the opposite side of the kitchen table and said, “Good morning Rory. I’m Blake Lindman, Assistant to Attorney General Reno. We need to talk.”

“So it’s Rory again, is it? No more Keith Overton. Where’s Thompson? He screw up or something?”

One of the agents from the guard detail cleared his throat and Lindman glared at him. The man excused himself from the room and Lindman said, “No, he didn’t screw up. He died last night protecting you.”

Rory put down the fork he was holding, took the napkin from his lap and wiped his mouth, then reached for his cane and stood up. Lindman also stood.

“What the hell happened?”

“The Cali cartel has a high appetite for your destruction. So much so they bribed and coerced enough people in Colombia and here in the states since first of the year so they were able to track down the man running your protection detail. Attorney General Reno put the hammer on dozens of people overnight and asked me to personally come here on her behalf to assure you it will not happen again. The people you and Joel exposed helped us cripple the Colombian cartels, but we’re a long way from eradicating them.”

“You’ll never eradicate them. The war on drugs was lost before it began.”

“You’re entitled to your opinion, but until the American people and this administration change their mind, the war will continue.”

“I’m not gonna argue politics and policy with you, but I am sad about Thompson. I know he has a family.”

“From evidence gathered at the scene, he and a neighbor were in his garage working on a riding lawnmower and having a beer when a hit squad of at last four surprised them.”

“I bet he put up a helluva fight before giving me up.”

“He did put up a helluva fight. We’re also sure he didn’t reveal your location. Several people in the LA office are being monitored because of an ongoing corruption investigation. In Thompson’s case it was routine. In fact, he’d been cleared days ago, although the listening devices hadn’t been removed from his home yet. They weren’t being monitored last night, but were recording audio. A 911 call from the neighbors wife alerted police when she saw the hit squad cross her yard leaving Thompson’s house. She found her husband dead, apparently tortured to death to get Thompson to talk. All his fingernails on one hand were pulled out along with several teeth before they killed him. Thompson was also tortured. His wife arrived after shopping for groceries to find police all over the place and her husband and neighbor dead. Their son was spending the night with a friend. Both were lucky because the mercenary assassins would have tortured them to get Thompson to talk, then would have killed all of them.”

Rory walked into the living room, stared out the front window at two police cars parked on the street in the upscale neighborhood and said, “He should have given me up.”

“We have leads on their whereabouts and who hired them, but need to move you and change your cover again. They didn’t get any information from Thompson, but they won’t give up on finding you either.”

“His family will never know the real reason he died, will they?”

“Not unless you tell them, which will never happen.”

Rory picked up an art magazine Agent Thompson brought him a week ago and said, “How sure are you the Keith Overton cover is intact?”

“One hundred percent, but it’s protocol to change a cover in the event ….”

“In the event the Justice Department screws up.”

“Yes, and when good people die protecting drug dealers turned informant.”

Facing Lindman and stepping closer to him Rory said, “I’m not arguing my life has any value compared to Thompson’s, but we’re stuck with each other, so let’s make the best of it. You said the Attorney General asked you to come here, which means I still have some value to the government.” Shaking the art magazine he continued, “I say let’s go with fake punt and leave the Keith Overton cover in place, but disseminate info through your channels that the identity and location of informant X has been changed again.” Rolling up the magazine he said, “I have an idea about where to go next.”

“I have my orders Rory, and I’m not sure I can sell any deviation from the plan to the people I answer to.”

“Then don’t sell it. When these bandages come off, I won’t look anything like I did before and I’ll grow a mustache and beard if my facial hair comes back. You hide people like me in plain sight anyway, so I’ll go where I know the lay of the land and set up my own defenses. If the cartel gets me, they get me. No harm, no foul, no loss to you, right?”

“Not exactly. If they find you, it will send a negative signal to every person in protective custody. Plus, we’re close to findout out which of your former competitors put up the reward.”

“I see, but the attack on Thompson has moved us way past all of that.” Rolling the magazine tighter and pointing it at him, Rory continued, “Way, way past.”

After glaring at him for a moment Lindman said, “Fill me in on what you have in mind.”

Chapter 5. The closing, Wednesday, February 7, 1996

“All right, Mr. Overton,” said Loretta Adams, closing agent at Adams Abstract in Poteau (Poe-toe), Oklahoma as she handed paperwork across the desk. “If you don’t have any questions, initial at the bottom of each page, then sign above your name on both of the last two pages.”

Quickly scanning the documents again, Keith began placing his initials as indicated while real estate agent Janelle Chronister, representing the seller looked on eagerly.

After initialing and signing he handed the paperwork back to Loretta, along with a cashier’s check for the purchase amount.

Janelle beamed a big smile, handed him a keyring with several keys on it and said, “Mr. Overton, you own a sign shop. Come by my office as soon as you get set up and I’ll order the listing signs we talked about.”

Taking the keys Keith said, “Give me a couple of weeks.”

Loretta said, “The abstract on the house you’re buying on Ridge Road will be finished next Monday. I hoped to have it today so you could complete the purchase of your home along with the business, but there’s a utility easement release missing. We’ll have everything ready on the home and sixty acres at two o’clock next Tuesday.”

Keith took his cane, stood and said, “Good. I have plenty to do organizing, remodeling and painting the shop for the next few days. I need referrals for a carpenter and an electrician, so if you know some good people, please send them my way. I’ll be getting the utilities put in my name this afternoon and I’ll be at the shop in the morning.”

Janelle dug a business card from her purse, handed it to him and said, “Chuck Smith is the one to call. He’s my brother-in-law and an electrician and knows all the good contractors.”

Keith took the card and said, “Thanks. I’ll give him a call.”

“If you don’t have plans on Sunday, our church is having our second Sunday lunch after service. This month’s theme is Valentine’s Day. We have a great singles group too.”

He smiled and said, “I appreciate the invitation, but I have plans.”

“Okay. You’re welcome anytime.”

“I appreciate it.”

Exiting the abstract company office, Keith pulled his coat against the cold and thought, “I should have gone someplace warm instead of coming back home to Poteau. Oh well, places with warm weather haven’t been all that good for me since Nam.”

On the way to her car Janelle called out, “Thank you Mr. Overton. I’ll see you here next Tuesday afternoon.”

Waving an acknowledgement, Keith made his way to the new Chevy pickup he’d recently purchased and got in. It was one of two new vehicles he purchased since arriving in town. After starting the engine and buckling his seatbelt, he looked at the LeFlore county courthouse located across the street and thought, “So, Chuckie Smith stayed here and built an electric service business. He and everyone else would crap a brick if they knew the poor kid with the loud motorcycle was back among them buying a home and business with ill gotten drug money.”

***

The following Tuesday morning Keith was in the shop just after six o’clock. A shipment of art supplies was due in today, plus a carpenter he’d hired and a retired guy with artistic skills to work part time would arrive by mid-morning. Lumber was delivered on Monday afternoon to construct shelving and remodel the office and facade of the building. With some luck, he’d be able to at least partially open by the end of the week and begin moving into the home he’ll close on this afternoon.

A knock on the front window at seven-fifteen caused him to look up from measuring some boards to see an attractive young woman standing out front holding a gift wrapped package, a newspaper, a cup carrier and bag from McDonald’s. Unlocking the front door, allowing in a small blast of cold air he said, “Good morning. Come in.”

“Thanks Mr. Overton,” she said with a smile. Once inside she handed him the bag and continued, “I’m Cherish Zalinski with the Poteau Daily News. I hope you like Egg McMuffins.”

Taking the bag he said, “I haven’t eaten one in a while, but they’re good. What’s the occasion?”

Removing one of the cups of coffee from the carrier and handing it to him along with the newspaper she said, “Just stopping by to welcome you to town, bring you a copy of our paper, some breakfast and a small gift.” Maneuvering the nicely wrapped box in his direction she said, “I’d also like to write an article about you and the business. The last people who owned this place didn’t do well and I’d like to know what you’re planning.”

Taking the box he said, “I appreciate breakfast and the gift. My plans are to do good work, provide good service and hope people respond.” Opening the bag he saw two Egg McMuffins inside and said, “One for me and one for you?”

“You can have both.”

“Oh no, please, let’s share.”

“Okay.”

After giving her a sandwich he pointed to a work table and chairs and said, “Let’s sit down.”

When they were seated she said, “What other services will you offer?”

“What’s in the box?” he asked.

“A coffee maker. It came from Wal-Mart, so you can exchange it if you don’t need it.”

“I need one. Thanks.”

Sipping coffee Cherish said, “So, what services are you going to offer?”

Unwrapping the sandwich he said, “I’m a pretty good window painter for signage and illustrations. Do businesses here decorate their windows for Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Easter and the like?”

“They do. The previous owners had trouble keeping up with it, which I’m sure hurt their business. Anything else?”

Chewing up a bite of Egg McMuffin and washing it down with a sip of coffee he said, “This can be a feast or famine business. I’ll sell magnetic signs, do truck lettering, real estate signs, just about anything.”

“What brings you to Poteau? Family? I hear you’re from California. A lot of Okies have ties to California going back to the dust bowl days.”

Pausing before answering he thought, “If she only knew.” He said, “No family. I’m here totally by chance. I saw an ad in a trade magazine about the shop being for sale and was ready for a change of pace. California is great, but the hustle and bustle and the desert kind of lost its appeal. Plus, I’m interested in the weather, especially tornadoes.”

“Tornadoes? You’re in the right state, but Poteau doesn’t get many. You prefer tornadoes to earthquakes. Interesting.” Sipping more coffee she said, “I’ve been all over California and love it, but there’s something really special about this little out of the way corner of the world.”

“I agree,” he thought. “Now, if only it’s as safe as I need it to be”

“So, what else is there to know about Mr. Keith Overton that I can include in my article? Family, veteran, race car driver?”

He smiled and said, “No race cars. Not much family either. I did a couple of tours in the Army after high school, but nothing worth mentioning.”

“I’m sure there are things worth mentioning. Besides, people like to know details, especially when someone from out of state moves here. I’m not prying, but even little things keep people reading, like your interest in tornadoes. Do you do sketches, portraits or landscapes?”

“There’s no money in it commercially, but I do all of them, and caricatures too, but just for fun. The weather thing is strictly a hobby. ”

“I see. Well, maybe I can talk you into sketching my kids sometime. I take tons of photos, but sketches capture something a photo can’t.”

“True, depending on the artist. What are their ages?”

“My daughter is seven and my son is nine.”

“Bring them by sometime and I’ll do individual sketches and one of them together.”

“Thanks. What would you charge?”

“Nothing. You brought me breakfast and a coffee pot, so it’s the least I can do.”

“Thanks so much, Mr. Overton.”

“It’s Keith.”

“Okay.”

As Cherish took a bite of her sandwich he asked, “I’ve told you about me. What can you tell me about things going on in and around Poteau? Who holds the power, who to avoid, where the bodies are buried?”

Quickly chewing up a bite and sipping coffee again she said, “I’ve been here fifteen years and there are a few secrets, but overall everyone is honest, hardworking and straightforward. There’s a drug problem, but probably no worse here than anywhere else.” Glancing at her watch she said, “I’ll write up something and drop it by on Friday morning. I won’t print anything unless it meets your approval.”

“I’m sure it will be fine. I may have the shop open, at least partially by Friday.”

“Are you planning a grand opening? The Chamber of Commerce is very affordable and they really promote local businesses and will hold a ribbon cutting.”

“I plan to join soon.”

Standing and wrapping up the remainder of her sandwich she extended her hand and said, “I need to get rolling. If you approve what I bring by on Friday morning, I’ll put it in the weekend edition of the paper.”

“Great.”

Watching Cherish walk to her car he thought, “A drug problem, really? I bet there is. She wouldn’t say who runs things either. It’s probably the same people who always ran things here.”

Sixty-seven year old Mark Smithson arrived at ten o’clock, just before the carpenter hired to help with some work pulled up and began bringing in his tools.

Keith said, “You come highly recommended, Mark. Janelle said you can do just about anything, especially paint.”

“She’s a good friend. I worked on rentals for Janelle and her husband after hours for years and do odd jobs for other people. Whirlpool was my day job, but it was never enough with slowdowns and layoffs. My wife and I began drawing Social Security at sixty-five. but I’m healthy and my wife does better if I’m out of the house some, so here I am.” He chucked a little.

Keith smiled and said, “As long as you’re available with hours flexible to match what will be the ups and down around here, we’ll do fine. How are you on welding and mechanics?”

“I have portable welding equipment on a flatbed truck and I do all my own car repair. What do you have in mind?”

“A side project. We’ll talk about it later.”

“Okay. My schedule is my own to set, except when mama and I visit grandkids in Tahlequah and Del City, and I’ll know about it in advance.”

“Sounds good. You can start today if you’re available.” Pointing to a sketch pad on the worktable he continued, “I drew up the measurements and changes for inside the shop and sketched what I have in mind for the front. If it warms up this afternoon, we’ll be able to get started outside.”

Pulling on the strap of his overalls Mark said, “I’m dressed and ready.”

The carpenter said, “If the two of you will cut the shelving boards, I’ll run over to the hardware store and get brackets for them.”

“Can do,” said Keith. Pointing to his Skill saw he continued, “Mark can use my saw if I can use yours.”

“Go ahead, just be careful.”

“Sure thing.” Pointing to a stack of boards Keith said, “I marked them earlier. We can knock this out in no time using both saws.”

“Let’s get to it,” Mark said.

Both men began cutting the boards on sawhorses. Mark was faster and after a few minutes his stack of cut lumber was larger than Keith’s. Feeling a little frustrated, Keith finished cutting a board, placed it on his finished pile and reached for another one. Without realizing what he’d done, he momentarily squeezed the on switch, causing the blade to start spinning and brush against a saw horse. The motion of the blade hitting the sawhorse caused the saw to jump toward his right leg. Before he could release the switch, the blade was against his jeans, ripping through the denim and cutting his skin. He dropped the saw, almost losing his balance and propped against the work table.

Mark quickly stepped over to him, looked at the place where the saw blade struck his leg, pulled a chair over and said, “Sit down. You’re bleeding.”

Keith sat down, groaning a little and said, “Crap.”

Mark reached into his pocket and removed and opened a knife, then knelt and began cutting the pants leg from the bottom toward the bleeding gap in the material. Keith kept his hand on the wound until Mark’s knife blade reached it, then moved his hand away.

When Mark saw the wound he took a handkerchief from a pocket in his overalls, placed it over the cut and said, “Hold it there. I’m calling an ambulance.”

“It’s not that bad,” Keith replied, knowing Mark was right.

“I’m not taking any chances. Where’s the phone?”

“Won’t be hooked up till tomorrow.”

Pulling over another chair Mark said, “Let’s elevate it and I’ll run across the street and call an ambulance.”

Pulling his leg onto the chair with Mark’s assistance Keith said, “That’ll work.”

Grabbing a piece of rope nearby, Mark quickly tied it tight above the cut, then wrapped some sheet plastic he found nearby around Keith and said, “The rope will slow the bleeding and the plastic will keep you warm and slow down going into shock.” Leaning closer Mark said, “Hang on. I’ll be right back.”

“I ain’t goin’ anywhere.”

After Mark rushed out the door Keith mumbled, “I’ve damn sure been here before, but not from a stupid, self-inflicted wound.”

Mark returned quickly and said, “Ambulance is on the way. How are you doing?”

Looking at the growing pool of blood on the floor Keith said, “Feeling a little sick.”

Pulling another chair over, Mark sat beside him, placed an arm around his shoulder and said, “I got you.”

They sat side by side waiting for the ambulance to arrive. After a moment Keith said, “I’m supposed to be at the abstract office at two o’clock to close on a house I’m buying.”

“Oh yeah? Where is the house?”

“South of town on Ridge road. Janelle calls it the Bryant place.”

“I know it. Nice house with acreage. Don’t worry. I’ll get in touch with Janelle and she’ll make sure you’re covered.”

“Okay.” After a moment Keith said, “I feel like I’m going to pass out.”

***

Barely maintaining consciousness during the short ambulance ride, Keith submitted to unconsciousness for a moment after arriving in the emergency room at the Leflore County Hospital. The next thing he heard before opening his eyes was unfamiliar voices. Mumbling he said, “How is it?”

The doctor turned to him and said, “The cut is long, but not too deep. Mostly soft tissue damage. A sixteenth of an inch deeper would have severed muscles and arteries, but it’s still a serious injury. We can stitch it up, but you should stay overnight for observation.”

“No way. I have things to do.”

“I’m sure you do Mr. Overton, but they will have to wait a day or two. I don’t want you standing much for the next couple of weeks.”

The nurse placed her hand on his shoulder and said, “Do what the doctor says. All we want is for you to get better.”

Squinting to see her Keith said, “Where are my glasses?”

“Right here,“ Mark said from just outside the curtained area as he stepped closer. Handing him the glasses Mark continued, “I’ll go by and let Janelle know so she can work out what needs to be done for the closing. I can lock up the shop too if I can get the keys.”

Placing the glasses on his face Keith said, “Where are my pants?”

“We finished cutting them off,” said the nurse. “They’re over there,” she continued, pointing to the corner.

Mark retrieved the pants, found two sets of keys in a pocket and said, “Which ones?”

“Take both,” Keith said. “Let the carpenter know I’ll be back tomorrow and he can get started again. My briefcase is behind the seat in my truck and there’s a cashier’s check for the house in an envelope with Adams Abstract written on it made out to the seller. Give it to Janelle. Oh, and lock up my truck too.”

“Will do.” Addressing the doctor Mark continued, “I’ll be back after while.”

“He’ll be fine,” replied the doctor.

The nurse said, “Mr. Overton, I’m going to give you some shots of local anesthetic to numb your leg so we can begin stitching you up.”

Chapter 6. Recovery begins again

After being transferred to a regular room in the hospital, a nurse came in to adjust an I.V. of antibiotics and saline. She said, “My name is Amber. I’ll have the cafeteria get you something to eat.”

“Wait on that,” Keith replied.

“I’m bring some pain medicine in a few minutes and you shouldn’t take it on an empty stomach. How about a ham sandwich?”

“That’s fine. Maybe some coffee too.”

“I’ll have someone bring it by. Is there anything else I can do?”

“No thanks,” he said, adjusting himself in the bed.

“Push the call button if you need anything. The orders say to stay off your leg, so let us know if you need to get up for any reason.”

“I guess that includes going to the bathroom.”

“Especially the bathroom. You’ll need to make do with a bedpan or bedside commode, at least for the next twenty-four hours.”

“Let’s avoid a bedpan.”

Chuckling she said, “I understand. I’ll be here until three o’clock, so let me know if you need anything.”

“Will do.”

After she left he looked at a dry erase board on the wall where Amber wrote her name, his name, and the date. Focusing on the date he thought, “The thirteenth. My luck is already running out.”

Mark returned at two o’clock carrying the briefcase, followed by Loreta from the abstract company and real estate agent Janelle. Mark said, “Since you can’t make the closing, we’re bringing it to you.”

As they positioned themselves around the bed Keith said, “I didn’t expect this.”

“It’s how we do things around here,” Mark said.

“It sure is,” said Loretta as she took paperwork from a file and laid it on the bedside table. Opening the file she said, “Look this over. If there aren’t any questions, it’s the same as last week. Initial at the bottom of each page, and then sign the last two.”

Mark opened the briefcase and handed him the envelope with Adams Abstract written on it.

“Give me a few minutes to read this over.”

“Sure thing,” said Loretta. “We’ll get some coffee. Can I bring you something?”

“No, I’m good.”

When they returned he said, “Everything looks good.” After initialing the bottom of each page and signing the back ones, he handed the paperwork and check to Loretta and said, “Thanks for doing this.”

“It’s no trouble Mr. Overton. Now, we’ll get out of here and let you rest.”

Janelle held out a set of keys and said, “I’ll leave these with you.”

Turning to Mark after taking the keys Keith said, “I need a favor, Janelle. Will you go with Mark and show him around the place and leave the keys with him?”

“Sure thing.”

Loretta extended her hand and said, “Take it easy Mr. Overton. Get back on your feet and let me know if I can do anything to help you.”

“Thanks, I will,” he said while shaking her hand.

As she left, Keith returned his attention to Janelle and said, “I need to visit with Mark for a minute. He’ll be right with you.”

“Sure.”

Mark stepped to the bed as Janelle left the room. Keith said, “We don’t know each other well, but you came highly recommended by Janelle. I trust her, but I need a favor and the biggest part of it is confidentiality. Can you handle it?”

“Sure thing.”

Keith pondered that a moment, and then said, “Familiarize yourself with the property. In addition to the house, there’s a two bay shop and a storage barn. There’s a sturdy gate at the entrance to the property, but it wasn’t closed or locked when I looked the place over. I need you to pick up some very solid locks for the gate, the shop and the barn, all keyed alike if possible. Then, either find a locksmith or change out all the door locks and deadbolts on the house and make sure they’re keyed alike, and I want three sets of keys for all the locks.”

“I can handle it. The Co-op sells solid exterior locks and I’ll pick up lock sets and deadbolts for the house at the hardware store. They come with two sets of keys and I’ll get our local locksmith to make extra ones. I’ll bring everything back to you this evening or in the morning.”

“Tomorrow will be soon enough,” Keith said. “I really appreciate it. Keep one set of all the keys and bring the rest to me. Let me give you some money.”

“I’ll cover it and bring you the receipts. I’ll get moving, unless there’s something else I can do.”

Extending his hand to Mark, Keith said, “That’s enough to ask. Thanks again.”

“It’s no trouble. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Mark left the room and Keith thought, “I gotta trust someone. It may as well be him.”

A few minutes before three o’clock Amber and another nurse came in. Amber said, “I’m going off shift.” Motioning to the other nurse she continued, “Lizzy will be taking care of you until midnight.”

Lizzy erased Amber’s name on the dry erase board, wrote her name, and then turned to him and said, “How is your pain level Mr. Overton?” He stared without speaking for several seconds at the pretty nurse. When the silence became noticeable she said, “The quiet type. Okay, just don’t suffer in silence. We’re here to help.”

Stammering a little he said, “Pain level? It’s Okay. I mean, not bad.”

“Great. I’ll be back around after I meet the rest of my patients. Let us know if you need anything.”

After they left the room he quietly mumbled, “She’s hardly aged a day since I left town twenty-seven years ago.”

***

A nurse aide brought a dinner tray in at five-thirty. She adjusted the bedside table and placed the tray on it before leaving. He ordered a chef salad with Italian dressing and a cup of fruit and was pleasantly surprised by how good it looked. After he ate, the aide came in to take the tray away, accompanied by Lizzy.

Looking at the tray Lizzy said, “How was your meal?”

“Really good.”

Checking the I.V. she said, “Most of my male patients have burgers and fries or chicken fingers with gravy. It must be the California influence on your eating habits.”

“How do you know I’m from California?”

“News travels fast in small towns Mr. Overton. I’m glad someone has taken over the sign shop.”

Chuckling he said, “How long will it take for news of this dumb, self-inflicted injury to get around?”

“Bad news travels faster than good news, but no one will hold it against you. We all have accidents. Even my family.”

“What’s going on with your family?”

Exhaling a long breath Lizzy said, “My sixteen year old daughter wrecked her car a few weeks ago with someone else in the car she isn’t supposed to be associating with. Neither of them, or the people in the other car were hurt, but it’s a mess for everyone involved. She drove right through a stop sign on Ridge Road where it crosses Highway Fifty-Nine south of town. I’m just grateful no one was seriously injured.”

“That’s close to my house.”

Stepping beside the bed she said, “I know. You’re buying the Bryant place. It’s a beautiful property.”

“I got it today. Janelle with the real estate firm and Loretta from the abstract company brought the papers here for the closing. Now all I have to do is get out of here and get some things done before moving in, although I don’t really have anything to move. Just the clothes I brought with me.”

“Did you sell everything in California?”

“I’m making a fresh start.”

“We have good furniture and appliance stores here in town. I’m sure you’ll find everything you need.”

“Great. Now all I have to do is get past this leg injury.”

“The orders are for you to stay off of it as much as possible for the next two of weeks.”

“I know, but I have too much going on to be completely immobilized.”

Touching his arm she said, “Don’t rush it. The sign shop and the house will be there when you’re ready.”

Wanting to reach for her hand, he glance at it, then back to her face and said, “You’re right. I’ve been staying at the Best Western since I arrived. I guess I’ll hang out there until I’m back on my feet, but I’d rather be working.”

“There was an estate sale at the Bryant house not long ago. I’m guessing everything was moved out”

“It was pretty much empty when I looked at it. I need to find someone to go in and give it a good cleaning from top to bottom. I need to do some interior painting and a few other things before getting furniture and appliances.”

“I can refer you to someone for house cleaning.”

He smiled and said, “Everyone has been very helpful since I arrived. I’m glad I picked Poteau.”

“Me too. Now, let me know if there’s anything you need, especially getting out of bed. I’m here until midnight.”

“Will do.”

After she walked out he thought, “A sixteen year old daughter? I’ll bet she’s as pretty as her mother.” His thoughts flashed back to the night of their prom in nineteen sixty-nine and the colorful dress she wore.

***

Mark arrived just after lunch the next day and asked, “How’s the leg?”

“Sore and stiff, probably from not moving. The doctor came by earlier and said he’ll release me when he comes around later. How did it go with the locks?”

“Perfect. I put new locks on the gate, barn and the shop and changed out the house locks.” Handing him some keys Mark continued, “The carpenter is at the shop finishing up the shelving, but said he needs to get with you tomorrow on what else needs to be done.”

“Are you up to being my chauffeur and liaison man for the next week or so?”

“I have you covered. Mama and I aren’t going anywhere for the next few weeks.”

“Thanks. When I get out of here, I need to go to the hotel and clean up and get my clothes changed. I definitely need pants.”

Mark chuckled and said, “I’ll run by my house and bring back a pair of shorts and a clean shirt for you to wear to the hotel.” Handing him a piece of paper Mark continued, “This is my number. Give me a ring when you’re ready to go. I live five minutes away. It will be better if I transport you in my car. There’s more leg room in it than in your pickup.”

“Thanks. I really appreciate it.”

“No problem. My wife said to bring you over for dinner tonight. She’s a good cook.”

“No, it’s Valentine’s Day. I’ll have a pizza delivered to the hotel.”

“I don’t think so. Mama and I talked and she already has a plate set for you. The best way we can think to celebrate tonight is to share dinner with a new friend.”

“Thanks. I accept.”

***

A staff doctor was in the room when Lizzy came in just after three o’clock at the start of her shift. She said, “Are you springing him?”

“Yes,” said the doctor. “I’ll leave the discharge orders and prescriptions with you.”

Stepping to the side of the bed she said, “What arrangements do you need to make to get home?”

Keith said, “I have someone to pick me up. I just need to call and let him know what time to be here.”

“Make it four-thirty.”

The doctor said, “Make an appointment with a local physician next week to have the wound examined or come back here if you need to Mr. Overton.”

“Will do.”

After the doctor left Lizzy said, “I can recommend a doctor, and I have the name of someone to clean your house.”

“Good deal.”

“Can I ask if you’ll ever be in a position to bring someone on as an apprentice at the shop, Mr. Overton?”

“It’s possible, and please call me Keith. Do you have someone in mind?”

“I’ll talk to you about it some other time.”

“Tell me now. I’d like to know.”

“I mentioned my daughter yesterday. She’s always been interested in art, but has more or less dropped it lately. My husband and I believe it’s a form of rebellion. I should know. She’s too much like I was at her age. I wondered if you’ll have any work available for an unpaid apprentice to get her doing something artistic?”

“I remember being sixteen and rebellious. Bring her by the shop next week. I have an order for real estate signs coming in, plus I’m repainting the shop inside and out. All the work won’t be artistic, but I’ll need extra help, at least until I’m moving around better. If she’s good and likes it, I’ll pay her.”

“It’s less about money right now than it is about getting her to plug into something productive and creative. I understand if you don’t want to deal with a stubborn teenager.”

“We were all stubborn teenagers once, weren’t we?

“I was, and thought I was being stubborn about the right things at the time. My parents sure didn’t think so. Looking back, I didn’t change a thing.”

He smiled and said, “Don’t let your daughter know.”

“Believe me, I haven’t, but my parents aren’t shy about telling her.”

“Grandparents can be their best friend when they need them to be, but I understand how it can cause conflict. Bring her by the shop and let’s see what happens. My guess is she won’t want to come voluntarily, and I don’t want to make it like she’s an indentured servant to work off something with you and your husband, which is why I’d like to pay her. If she refuses, then it’s probably better if I don’t get involved.”

“Okay. Thanks. She’s really good at drawing people, but not with their normal look. I can’t remember what it’s called, but she highlights and exaggerates features like hair, eyes, smile, glasses and other things and makes them stand out.”

“You probably mean caricature drawings, which is a real talent and useful in several types of artwork.”

“She used to do them for her friends, teachers, and the sports teams, but one of the guys on the basketball team made a derogatory remark about the way his looked just before she was in the car accident and she quit doing them.”

“I’ll work with her.”

“You’ll have to do it so she doesn’t think you’re pushing her toward it. Like I said, she’s too much like I was at her age.”

“I’m sure we can work it out.”

***

Mark arrived at four-fifteen. When Lizzy came in the room she said, “Hello Mark. Are you Mr. Overton’s ride?”

“Yep. I’m working for him at the sign shop.”

“That’s great.” Turning to Keith she said, “He’s very talented. You chose well.”

“I know. He’s already saved my life and gone above and beyond.”

Patting Mark’s shoulder she said, “Keep him off his feet as much as possible.”

“I’ll do my best.”

Keith said, “Thanks for you help, Lizzy. I’m looking forward to meeting you daughter.”

Lizzy brought in the discharge papers and prescriptions for pain medication and an antibiotic and also gave him the name of two women to do housecleaning. She walked with them to the emergency entrance. While waiting on Mark to bring the car she said, “I’ll bring Sasha by next week.”

“The sooner the better. I’m repainting the outside of the building with a mural I hope will attract attention, plus the rest of the outside and inside.”

Lizzy chuckled and said, “My husband and I have been expecting to find Sasha painting graffiti on buildings with spray paint because of the way she’s been acting. Are you sure I’m not not asking too much of you?”

“Sounds like she’s just what I need for the mural, spray paint and all.”

“I’ll be back on first shift next week. I’m covering vacation time for other nurses this week. How about we come by Monday around four o’clock?”

“I’ll be ready. Thanks for the housecleaning referrals and everything else.”

Mark pulled up in a pristine, white, early seventies Chrysler Imperial. He got out and came around and opened the back door on the passenger side and said, “You can stretch your leg out back here with no problem.”

Mark and Lizzy helped him into the car. She gave the paperwork and prescriptions to Mark and said, “He can take more pain medication before going to bed and one more of the antibiotic, both with food.”

“I’ll swing by the drugstore and drop off the prescriptions on the way to the hotel. Sharlet is fixing dinner for us tonight and I have a set of crutches I’ll loan him.”

Looking into the back seat Lizzy said, “Take care Mr, Overton, I’ll see you next week.”

“It’s Keith, remember?”

“Take care,” she said smiling. She reached into the pocket of her jacket and pulled out two Hershey’s Kisses wrapped in red foil, handed them to him and said, “Happy Valentine’s Day.”

He took them and said, “Thanks.”

She waved as they drove away and Mark said, “Lizzy is a great gal.”

“She sure is. Do you know her daughter?”

“Sasha is a very talented, and a carbon copy of her mom in just about every way. I guess you could say Lizzy is payin’ for her raisin’ with her right now. She’s just like her mom was in high school, butting heads with just about everything Phil and Lizzy are about, although I’m more than a little worried about Phil these days.”

“What do you mean?”

“He’s an attorney, and I had him figured as was one of the good ones, but the last few years a lot of his clients are druggies. Of course, there’s a lot of it in LeFlore County now. Seems like the whole state is infested with drugs.”

“That’s too bad. Do you think he’s sold out to the drug dealers?”

“It’s hard to tell. I should keep my opinions to myself. Phil does a lot of good in the community and split with Big Tom Ryan, a guy he’d been friends with forever over something rumored to do with drugs. If the rumor mill has it right, Big Tom is raising more marijuana on his property down in the Poteau Mountains than is being grown any place in the country.”

Keith thought, “Good thinking. I escaped one drug war and landed in the middle of another one.” He asked, “How does it affect Lizzy and Sasha?”

“They were all real close to Tom, his wife Faith and their son Taylor, but whatever happened between Phil and Tom drove a wedge between the families. If it’s about drugs, I don’t think Phil would be taking on so many drug clients, but you never know.”

“Lizzy asked if I could bring Sasha on as an apprentice because she dropped her interest in art and thinks it’s a protest against them.”

Mark pulled into a parking space in front of a drug store and cut off the engine. He turned around, looked at Keith and continued, “Let me run in here and drop off your prescriptions. I’ll have them delivered to my house since you’re coming for dinner.”

“That’s great.”

“I’ll be right back,” Mark said, then exited the car.

Looking at the buildings on Dewey Avenue, Keith thought, “The old theater is gone and Central Bar too, but not much else has changed. I should have checked out the drug situation before jumping in here, but it’s probably no worse than anywhere else. If the high and might Phillip Jaynes Puckett is the local drug lawyer, Lizzy and her kids are screwed.”

Mark was back quickly and drove to the hotel where Keith bathed and changed clothes before going to Mark’s home for dinner.

***

”I’m so glad you accepted our invitation,” Mark’s wife Sharlet said as they helped Keith up two steps to the porch on crutches they loaned him.

Seeing a large wood rocking chair on the porch Keith said, “Mind if I sit here a while? I need some fresh air after being in the hospital.”

“Sure, sit down,” Sharlet said. “Let me grab you something to cover up with and prop your leg on. It’s a little chilly.”

“Thanks.”

Mark said, “We’ll be right back.”

Keith observed the peaceful neighborhood near the now closed Simpson Elementary where he attended school as a kid and met Lizzy in second grade. The home of his Latino heritage great grandmother, Althea Padget, who he called G.G. was only a block away and he remembered Mark and Sharlet from the neighborhood. He grew up here in Poteau after his nineteen year old mother, Inara Warfel was kicked out by her family in Tulsa when she became pregnant with him because she wasn’t married. The cemetery where Althea owed burial plots wasn’t far away. He wondered if his mother ever returned to Poteau after abandoning him with G.G. at age seven.

A whistle in the distance reminded him of the frequent train traffic on the K.C.S. railroad over the hill. As a kid he always wondered where the freight and passenger trains were going when he heard their whistles, especially at night. G.G. took him to Shreveport on one of the last passenger trains to run the route at Thanksgiving the year before he graduated high school in nineteen sixty-nine.

“Here you go,” Sharlet said, placing a colorful quilt over his shoulders.

Mark put a footstool on the porch for his legs and placed another quilt over them.

“Dinner will be ready in a few minutes,” Sharlet continued. “The pharmacy delivered your medicine. Are you comfortable?”

“Never been better. Thank you.”

“I’ll let you boys sit here and talk until it’s time to eat.”

“I’m sorry about crashing your Valentine dinner, Sharlet.”

“Don’t think a thing about. When Mark told me about your injury, I insisted he bring you if you were released from the hospital today.” She put her arm around Mark and continued, “It’s our pleasure.”

“Thanks.”

She went into the house and Mark sat on the brick ledge of the porch and said, “Good to be out of the hospital, I bet.”

“Sure is, although they took good care of me.”

“Our little hospital has struggled some, but we’re lucky to have it. Otherwise, people from all over the county would have to go to Fort Smith.”

“They treated me well. What you were saying about the drug problem earlier, how long has it been going on?”

“The Vietnam generation came back home with a different attitude toward drugs and everything else. I know you’re that age, and mean no disrespect to you, but this generation and their kids don’t see the world the way my generation does. I guess it’s the way it is and there’s no sense in me carrying on about it, but I’m concerned about the future of the country being in their hands. I meet some like you with their head on straight, but not enough like you to set me at ease about the future. Well, that’s enough of my sermon. Get me off the soapbox before my blood pressure gets up.”

“My head on straight? If he only knew.”

“Anyway Keith, we’ll get things rolling at the shop tomorrow. I can handle what needs to be done if you line me out on how you want it to go.”

“I’m usually an early riser, unless the pain medicine gets me off schedule. Pain is not too bad right now.”

“I’m up with the chickens too. You take it easy and let me and the carpenter handle as much as possible. What do you have in mind for Sasha?”

“Lizzy said she may not even want to come talk to me, so I’ll just see what happens.”

“I hope she wants to work with us. She’s a good kid caught up in these times, and who knows what else. I heard a little scuttlebutt after her car wreck, but it could be just rumors.”

“Bad news travels fast, right?”

Mark laughed and said, “That’s the dang truth. The other kid in the car with her was friend Taylor Ryan, Big Tom’s boy. Too bad for the kids that their parents differences have interfered with their friendship. It’s no fault of theirs, but I understand why Phil and Lizzy are concerned.”

“I’m seeing the big picture now. Really surprised me when she asked about the apprenticeship, but if Lizzy is at her wits end with Sasha, she’s looking for something to get her back on track. We’ll see what happens if she shows up. Not being nosy, but what did you mean about confidentiality always being part of you life?”

Mark smiled and said, “Mama and will tell you over dinner. It’s a good story we’ve kept to ourselves for decades that can finally be told.”

“Sounds interesting.”

Sharlet came out fifteen minutes later and said, “You boys ready to eat?”

“Sure am,” said Mark.

“Me too,” agreed Keith.

Helping him to stand Sharlet said, “Has Mark invited you to church yet.”

“No, but others have.”

“Come inside and we’ll tell you about our congregation.”

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Welcome to Utica, four chapter preview

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Welcome To Utica

A novel by Joe Harwell

© 2014 by Joe Harwell Publishing

9023 E. 46th St. #54213 Tulsa, OK 74155-0231
joeharwell54@gmail.com

No part of this material may be reproduced in any way without written permission of the author.

This is a work of fiction. Although names of actual persons and businesses are used with permission, all other characters are fictional and any resemblance to persons living or deceased is purely coincidental.

I owe grateful appreciation to my street team of fans, proofreaders, editors and other writers who make my writing better.

Welcome to Utica contains 32,512 words in 20 chapters.

Chapters

Chapter 1. Afghanistan 2010

Chapter 2. Not out of danger

Chapter 3. A window to the soul

Chapter 4. Utica, present day

Chapter 5. The investigation

Chapter 6. Animal or human

Chapter 7. Tell me the truth

Chapter 8. Missing pieces

Chapter 9. The clinic

Chapter 10. More trouble

Chapter 11. Who to trust

Chapter 12. Voices from the past

Chapter 13. Looking at the face of evil

Chapter 14. The worm has turned

Chapter 15. Two can play this game

Chapter 16. What next

Chapter 17. Bold moves

Chapter 18. Secrets and lies

Chapter 19. All hell breaks loose

Chapter 20. Gloria in Excelsis Deo

Chapter 1. Afghanistan 2010

“Say again Whiskey Tango Three.”

“We spotted remains.”

“From Rouge Seven?”

“There’s no sign of uniforms or equipment, just body parts, everywhere.”

“Taliban devils,” cursed Colonel Jacobs.

“It has to be them,” said Corporal Clark the twenty-four-old radio operator.

Removing his hat while rubbing his close-cropped hair, Jacobs mumbled, “Not again.”

“What do you mean, Sir?”

Ignoring Clark’s question, Jacobs said, “Pull the file on Rogue Seven. I have death notices to write.”

“Yes Sir.” As Clark retrieved the personnel records, several bursts of static, then an intermittent voice transmission came through the overhead speaker.

“One alive, but …”

Jacobs listened for ten seconds, then keyed the microphone and said, “One of ours?”

More long seconds passed and Jacobs was about to call again when the broken transmission continued. “No ID … what’s left … barely …. trying to …. language … can’t understand … ”

“Don’t wait for medevac,” said Jacobs. “Bring him in now. We’ll have a translator standing by.”

After two minutes of silence, Whiskey Tango Three replied, “Not sure a translator will help. She’s not Afghan. She’s one of ours, but I don’t understand the language.”

When the Corporal’s eyes met the Colonels, Clark said, “There were no women …”

Jacobs cut him off, keyed the mic again and said, “No more chatter until you arrive. Is that clear?”

“Yes Sir.”

Glaring at Clark, Jacobs said, “That goes for you too. Not a word to anyone. Understand?”

“Yes Sir.”

Jacobs stepped outside the communication center into the chill of a mid-winter afternoon with the sun sinking below distant mountaintops. Observing the eighteen structures surrounded by a twelve foot, three-stage security barrier comprising this forward outpost in Nimruz province, the veteran commander looked skyward for a moment, and then went back inside to call central command.

The beat of rotors pierced the silence of darkening skies twenty minutes later. Three medics, one male and two females stood by the landing pad in a corner of the base to receive the patient. When the aircraft touched down, the copilot stepped out and opened the side door. As the medics moved forward, he pushed in front of them and took the woman from the arms of the gunner. Her fair skinned arms and legs dangled limp as her dark hair was blown in all directions by the rotor wash.

As the gurney passed through the med center doors, Jacobs saw a flight jacket covered her and he took hold of the copilot’s arm.

He looked at Jacobs and said, “She tried to talk, but it was gibberish. I speak Pashto and Russian and couldn’t understand any of it.”

“We’ve got her, son. Take the crew to my quarters and don’t say a word to anyone until I get there.”

“Yes Sir,” he replied, saluting, then hustling back to the chopper.

Chief medical officer Stan Kinnerson placed his stethoscope on the woman’s chest. After a few seconds he said, “Breathing is shallow and unrestricted. Trauma one.”

Jacobs said, “Keep the staff treating her to a minimum and I need a quick assessment of her condition.”

“Yes sir, Colonel.”

The three medics accompanied Kinnerson into the trauma room as other members of the staff stared briefly before returning to their duties. Kinnerson returned in five minutes and said, “She’s stable, but still unconscious. Do you know her?”

“No. What else?”

“She has bruising all over her body, but not from fists, a gun barrel or anything I recognize. The most serious injuries are deep gashes on her upper back, but there’s virtually no bleeding. It’s almost like something was, well, I’m not going to speculate. I took the required DNA sample and we’re doing a head CT and x-rays of her body. Nothing seems broken, which is a miracle given all the bruising. Did I hear the chopper crewman say she was talking?”

“Nothing understandable.”

“I’m sure she’ll need something for pain, although I’m reluctant to give her anything until she wakes up. We’ll finish the exam, clean her up and keep a close eye on her. What’s our next move, Colonel?”

“Command is sending someone.” Looking at his watch, Jacobs continued, “I’m going to debrief the chopper crew. Send for me if she wakes up before I come back.”

“Will do, Sir.”

Chapter 2. Not out of danger

Jacobs reviewed digital photos taken by the chopper crew. The gruesome sight of guts strewn in the sand, along with severed arms, legs, hands, and heads with smashed in faces sickened him. Although shaken by what they’d seen, the crew was extremely curious about the unclothed woman.

Copilot Paul Juno from New Orleans said, “We’ve seen IED casualties and Taliban revenge killings, but this was different. We didn’t think anyone survived until her hair blowing in the rotor wash caught our attention. She started coming around when I put my jacket over her and looked at me like … like she looked right into my soul.”

Jacobs thought the others would chide him for what he said, but they all sat silent, almost stoic. Patting Juno’s arm, Jacobs said, “You boys go to your quarters and don’t breathe a word about this to anyone. Command is sending someone who will talk to you later this evening.”

“Yes Sir,” they all said, standing and saluting.

Juno hesitated as the others left, then pointed to the camera and said, “There’s some video.”

“You did a good job out there.”

“Sir, if it’s possible, could I see her if she recovers? It’s probably not allowed, but the way she looked at me, well, I can’t explain it.”

“It’s okay. You saw something that won’t be easy to shake. I can’t promise anything about seeing her again.”

“I understand, Sir.”

Jacobs headed back to the medical facility. He stopped just before entering and flipped on the camera and switched it to video. Cradled by the gunner, the woman struggled to move, then looked directly into the lens and began mumbling. Jacobs didn’t understand the language either, but understood why Juno felt she looked into his soul.

“Colonel Jacobs,” a strong male voice spoke from behind him.

Turning to see who called his name he replied, “Yes.”

“I’m Major Wingford from command,” said the tall, stout looking officer as he handed Jacobs an envelope. “This gives me operational control of the base while I’m here, which will be less than twenty-four hours. I’ll need your complete cooperation.”

Taking the envelope marked CLASSIFIED, Jacobs opened it and moved under a light. The top sheet was a one-paragraph, four-sentence note typed on Department of Defense letterhead and signed by the regional commander introducing Major Gabriel Wingford and confirming his orders. The next two sheets were also marked CLASSIFIED, which he quickly scanned before placing them back in the envelope.

Handing the camera to him, Jacobs said, “This way.”

As they entered the medical facility, voices and the sound of a struggle were coming from the area where the female patient was being treated. Doctor Kinnerson shouted, “Restrain her.”

An ear-piercing scream filled the air. Wingford quickened his pace and yanked back the curtain around the patient. The male nurse lost his footing and fell backwards onto the floor. The female nurses attempted to hold the woman down as Kinnerson drew liquid from a vial with a needle.

“Stop!” Wingford boomed. The doctor and nurses momentarily looked at him, allowing the struggling female to push them away. When Wingford reached for her, she looked frightened, then fell into his arms. He motioned the doctor and nurses to leave, then turned to lay her on the bed revealing bandaging across her back.

“What do you need?” Jacobs asked.

“Close the curtain and step out for a minute.”

Jacobs complied and he and Kinnerson assisted the male nurse who’d been shoved to the floor.

Kinnerson said, “She woke up quietly, then reached for the bandages and began struggling to get up. We tried talking to her, but she pushed us away. She’s unusually strong.”

Pulling the doctor aside, Jacobs held up the envelope and said, “The Major has control of the base, including the patient. It’s all classified and he’s a Chaplin.”

“A Chaplin? What’s going on?”

Almost whispering, Jacobs replied, “I’ve seen him before.”

The doctor was about to ask another question when the Major pulled back the curtain and said, “Doctor, you and your staff may continue treating her. She won’t communicate verbally for a while, but you can ask yes or no questions and she’ll nod answers or point. Administer no sedatives or pain meds. Just treat her injuries. I’ve seen to it that you won’t receive additional patients while she’s here, and please keep your other patients away.” Turning his attention to Jacobs, the Major said, “Let’s finish this in your quarters.”

The doctor and his staff returned to find the woman calm and lying on her right side facing them. As the Colonel led him outside, Jacobs noticed two Humvees and one armored personnel carrier (APC) parked in the compound. Twenty men, some in military uniforms and others appearing to be heavily armed civilian contractors were meeting in two groups near the APC.

Once inside Jacobs quarters, Wingford said, “I looked at your service record on the way and I’m glad you’re in command here. I’m sure you’re wondering if this is the same thing we encountered in 2008.”

“I remember seeing you then. All I want is to protect the people under my command and give you what you need.”

“I appreciate it. We learned some hard lessons the last time. If all goes well we’ll be out of here early in the morning and your base will be back to normal.”

“As normal as it gets in a war zone.”

“True, but you know what I mean.”

“I didn’t expected a female,” said Jacobs.

Wingford sat in a chair by Jacobs’ desk and said, “You did the right thing calling this in to command. How’s the crew who brought her in?”

“They’re good men, but shaken by what they saw. The copilot asked to see her. I told him it was unlikely.”

“Probably better if he doesn’t.”

“What else did you bring to protect us in addition to the people outside?

Leaning back in the chair, Wingford said, “We own the sky with stealth fighters, an AWAC plane overhead and satellites and are being repositioned. Command deployed a full company with heavy armor so we won’t be caught off guard.”

“What’s the plan?”

“We’ll be on our way to Ramstein as soon as she’s stabilized.”

“Then what?”

Wingford smiled and said, “That’s above my pay grade. Besides, I’m getting out. I have thirty years in and was literally on my way out the door to retirement when I got this call. I’m going home to settle into a police force job.”

“Where?”

“My sister is the medical examiner in Utica, Oklahoma and lined up an interview when I was there over the summer. The Police Chief offered me a job when I was ready to muster out.”

“Sounds good, Chaplin. Now all we have to do is live through the night to get you there. I suggest calling in all the favors you have built up with the man upstairs.”

“I started the minute I received the call. If we’re lucky, no one knows she’s alive, much less at this base. If she’s lucky, she won’t remember what happened.”

Chapter 3. A window to the soul

After interviewing the chopper crew, Major Wingford returned to the medical facility and stayed with the female patient. No one at the base slept much as helicopters came and went during the night bringing back the remains of specials forces unit Rouge Seven. DNA samples were taken and then the remains were photographed, packed in containers with dry ice and placed in the APC.

Another Blackhawk helicopter was landing at six-thirty when Colonel Jacobs left his quarters with the Rouge Seven files, which Wingford ordered turned over to him. A soldier carrying a package exited the chopper and trotted into the medical facility ahead of him. When Jacobs entered, everything was quiet.

Doctor Kinnerson met him and said, “They began conversing in English an hour ago. I can’t adequately describe what I heard from them during the night.”

Jacobs didn’t react. He walked to the trauma area, stood in front of the curtain and cleared his throat.

Wingford pulled it open and said, “Come in, Colonel.”

The soldier from the helicopter was also there and saluted before exiting. The woman was sitting up in bed wearing a military issue housecoat and slippers with her hand on Juno’s flight jacket. She acknowledged Jacobs with a slight nod as Wingford placed dog tags around her neck, which came from the envelope he just received.

Jacobs handed him the personnel files and said, “These guys haven’t been here long. Each was a dedicated soldier and I’m proud to have served with them.”

“I’ll make sure their families know.” Wingford placed the files on a table and said, “Colonel Jacobs, meet Lieutenant Angeline Stacy.”

The woman smiled slightly, then held Juno’s jacket out toward him.

Wingford placed his hand on the jacket and said, “Later.” He motioned Jacobs to follow him and they left the room and pulled the curtain closed. A female nurse carrying a tray with two containers of vanilla yogurt and cups with water and ice stopped in front of the curtain and glanced at Wingford for approval to enter.

“Go ahead,” he said. Looking back at Jacobs he continued, “We’re leaving at zero eight-hundred. The base will be back under your command when we’re in the air.”

“You’re a man of your word, Major. How do you interpret having a quiet night?”

“Luck.”

“I’d rather be lucky than good, but we’re required to be good at what we do and not depend on luck.”

“I agree, although I’ll take a little luck any time. She wants to see Juno to return his jacket and I’m thinking of allowing it. She’s adapting, but has no memory of who she is or how she came to be here. Juno is the first thing she remembers and I believe it will help her to see him, but very briefly.”

“What about Juno? You’ve given her an ID and he’s likely to want to find her someday.”

“We’ll deal with that as it comes. My greatest concern is her transition to civilian life. Seeing him will make it easier. She’ll forget him soon enough.”

“You’re the boss. I’ll have him here when you’re ready.”

Wingford extended his hand and said, “Thanks Colonel. I know it’s hard to have your command pulled out from under you like this. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the cooperation.”

Shaking his hand, Jacobs said, “I’ll get it back from you down the road. I’m getting out when I’m sixty with plans to travel and call in some favors. You can take me fishing and buy dinner at a swanky place in Utica.”

“You’re on, Colonel. I’ll probably know the good fishing spots much better than the swanky restaurants, but we’ll find one.”

“I’ll hold you to it. I hope the rest of your trip and her transition goes as well as the last few hours.”

“It’s not over until it’s over. I’m looking forward to getting her to Germany, and then I’m out of the service. I’ll be in Utica a week from today.”

###

Captain Juno entered the Colonel’s quarters after being summoned. Saluting his commanding officer, Juno stood at attention.

“At ease, Captain. Did you get any sleep?”

“Not much, Sir.”

“Me either. You asked to see the woman your crew brought in. She’s about to be transferred out of here and the officer in charge has approved a short visit. She wants to return your jacket.”

Cracking a smile, Juno quickly pushed it off his face and said, “I’d like that, Sir.”

“I know she made an impression on you. Just don’t get your hopes up and above all behave like a gentleman. The officer in charge is a Chaplin.”

“Yes Sir. I appreciate it, although I’m kind of spoken for. I mean, there’s a girl back home, but that lady is the kind of woman who’d make a man think twice.”

“Are you a career man?”

“I’d rather fly than anything. My family and my girl want me to get out when this tour is up next year and go into commercial aviation. This is my fourth tour since 9-11, Sir.”

“Well son, do what you think is best. Just don’t read too much into this woman asking to see you.”

“I won’t, Sir.”

Jacobs patted Juno’s shoulder and said, “Let’s get going. Things are about to get busy around here.”

“Yes Sir.”

As Jacobs and Juno crossed the compound, more Black Hawk helicopters hovered overhead and one landed just inside the barrier wall. Five of the civilian contractors were inside the medical facility meeting with Wingford as they entered.

After a moment, Wingford turned his attention to Juno and said, “This will be brief, Captain. She’s been through quite an ordeal. Don’t initiate conversation or ask questions. Is that clear?”

“Yes Sir.”

Wingford led them to the trauma area and pulled the curtain open. Juno smiled broadly when he saw her sitting on the side of the bed. Remembering the cautions he’d been given, he attempted to tone down his reaction. The bruising on her arms and legs was severe, although her face was clear and her long, naturally curly hair was clean and braided into a long ponytail.

Wingford said, “Captain Juno, this is Lieutenant Angeline Stacy.”

Juno smiled. His flight jacket was lying on the bed beside her and she reached for it. After picking it up with her left hand, she pushed herself off the bed, wavering slightly as her feet touched the floor. Juno, Wingford and Jacobs all reached to steady her and she placed her right hand on Juno’s arm.

When their eyes met, she smiled and offered him the jacket. Juno looked at it, and then going against the orders he’d been given said, “Keep it. It’s cold outside and you’ll need it.”

Wingford almost growled holding in the desire to smack Juno on the side of his head. Jacobs reached for Juno’s arm to pull him from the room when the woman spoke, struggling some to get the words out.

“Thank … you.”

She held the jacket up in front of Juno and he helped her put it on. Taking both his arms, she settled back against the bed pulling him forward, causing him to take a step and stand close to her. Pulling him closer so their faces almost touched, she moved her head beside his, placed her mouth next to his ear and whispered. Juno pulled back after a few seconds and looked at her without speaking.

Jacobs grabbed his arm and said, “Time to go.”

“Yes Sir,” he replied, looking back while being hustled out of the room. Wingford closed the curtain as Jacobs led him outside.

Jacobs got in his face with a you’re dead meat kind of stare, and said, “It’s a good thing you’re planning on leaving the service, Captain. Don’t be surprised if you serve the rest of your tour cleaning latrines at the weather station in Akdak, Alaska.”

Juno didn’t reply and stood at attention. Moments later, Wingford, the civilian contractors and Angeline exited the medical facility. Angeline paused when she saw Juno and pulled on Wingford’s arm. The Major stopped, but the armed contractors continued moving her to the APC.

Wingford came over and said, “Don’t be too hard on him, Colonel. What he did actually helped. If you get out to Utica after you retire, be sure to stop in and see me.”

“I will,” replied Jacobs. After the APC took the passengers to the waiting helicopters, Jacobs turned to Juno and asked, “What did she say to you?”

With his eyes locked on the departing aircraft he said, “Marry Sara Grace.” Jacobs was about to ask him to repeat it when Juno continued, “She said I should marry my girl back home, Sara Grace and live a long and happy life with her. How could she know?”

“Did you have a letter from her in your jacket?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Well Captain, count yourself lucky to still have your rank.”

“I do, Sir.”

“Get back to work and remember, everything since you went on the mission yesterday is classified. I mean the kind of classified you take to the grave. Am I clear?”

“Yes Sir. Perfectly clear.”

Chapter 4. Utica, present day

“Sorry I’m late, boss,” Mark Greenfield said barely looking up while sending his wife a text message.

As Mark hurried in the door of Arnie’s Bar in Utica’s downtown Blue Dome District, the manager looked at his watch and quipped, “Right on time by your standards. You’re always ten minutes late.”

Nearly dropping the phone as he slung a backpack off his shoulder, Mark chuckled and said, “Yeah, but I bring in the ladies.”

“Your wife will have something to say about that.”

Mark laughed and was about to respond when his boss pointed to the cell phone and said, “No texting tonight. It’s ladies night and we’ll be busy after the concert at the Bank of Utica Center is over. Put it away and don’t let me see you with it again until we’re closed.”

“Sure thing,” Mark said, realizing his employer was serious.

As expected, Arnie’s was busy with the usual Irish pub crowd, ladies night, plus the rush after the concert kept them busy until last call.

###

Rebecca (Becky) Greenfield stayed a few minutes after her economics class dismissed at ten o’clock to speak with the instructor about an internship referral. When she left the main building of Utica State University (USU), all the other students were gone. Looking at her car on the far side of the parking lot, she retrieved her cell phone and keys. Knowing Mark would be busy and unable to take the call, she still wanted to hear his voice mail greeting and leave a message to let him know she was on her way home.

Halfway to the car, Becky heard the sound of a door close on the building she exited. Looking back expecting to see the instructor she saw a tall, bulky figure walking under the dimly lit awning of the building. Glancing at her car again, the parking lot light closest to it flickered and then went out. Returning her attention to the person under the awning, he emerged as Mark’s voice mail greeting began. He wore a long, black hooded jacket and very large, dark lens glasses. Worse yet, he began running in her direction.

Inhibited by her purse, a book bag and not wearing the best shoes for running, Becky dropped the cell phone into the purse and began sprinting. Nearing the car, she pointed the key fob at the vehicle, pushing the unlock button. With fear building inside, she glanced over her shoulder to see the man gaining fast and could now hear the sound of his heavy footsteps hitting the pavement.

“Think,” she mumbled, attempting to clear her head and stifle fear. Suddenly, the sound of his footsteps ceased and she looked back again. Not seeing him, she returned her attention to the car, continuing to push the unlock button on the key fob hoping to hear the comforting sound of the car alarm disarming and see the interior light come on as the doors unlocked.

With the parking lot light out, the area was incredibly dark. Reaching the car and tossing her book bag and purse on top of it and struggling to slow her breathing, she wondered why the car wasn’t unlocking. Taking her eyes off the keys for a moment, she reached her free hand into her purse searching for the cell phone and a can of pepper spray.

Finding them quickly she caught a full, deep breath, then took a step back and pointed the key fob at the car. The interior light came on, but the doors didn’t unlock. Looking up she saw the huge man standing on the opposite side of the car.

He took a step forward and began rocking the car. Then he moved to the back, still rocking it and she moved toward the front and continued pressing the key fob. The man jumped onto the trunk as the doors unlocked, and then bounded over the top toward her.

Raising the pepper spray, she began discharging its contents as he jumped onto the hood. Moving the cell phone to her other hand and switching to camera, she dodged him while snapping a photo and moved toward the driver’s side door.

Choking and falling to the ground, he pulled off the dark glasses and began scrambling to his feet. Raising the pepper spray and cell phone again, she snapped another picture and emptied the remaining spray into his face, causing him to wipe wildly at his eyes before falling to the ground.

Seeing an opportunity to get in the car, she grabbed the door handle only to feel his hand around her ankle. He tightened his grip and crawled forward. She kicked his hand with her other foot and freed herself as the sound of a vehicle leaving the parking lot at a high rate of speed caught her attention.

She turned around and saw a small pickup exiting the parking lot approaching Detroit Avenue. Crying out with all her vocal strength she yelled, “Stop, please stop.” Glancing over her shoulder she saw the attacker was still on the ground and returned her attention to the street while dialing 911 and running.

As the truck turned onto Detroit and disappeared into traffic, the operator answered. “Utica 911. Do you need police, fire or ambulance?”

“Police.”

The call connected quickly and the dispatcher said, “Utica police. How may I assist you?”

“I’m at Utica State and someone is chasing me.”

“OK ma’am. I’ll send an officer. What is your name?”

“Becky Greenfield.”

The dispatcher confirmed her number from the caller ID and said, “Describe who is chasing you.”

“A big man,” she said, breathing hard.

“Do you know him?”

“No. I pepper sprayed him to get away.”

“Okay Becky. Is there anything else you can tell me about him?”

“He’s white, really big, wearing a black hooded jacket and dark lens glasses.” She stopped talking because her mouth was dry and breathing labored. Reaching the edge of the parking lot, she sprinted up the grass-covered incline toward the street.

“Is he still chasing you?” Looking back as she topped the hill, Becky saw he now less than twenty yards away.

“He’s still there,” she said as the sound of screeching tires caught her attention. Turning in the direction of the sound, a vehicle entered her field of vision. She tried to avoid it, but she was already in the street and collided with the side of a van causing her to drop the cell phone, which hit the pavement and slid under the van.

Barely staying on her feet, Becky looked back and saw the bulky man clawing his way up the grassy incline. The startled woman driving the van put it in park, unbuckled her seat belt and turned around to check her children. Addled by the collision, Becky stumbled past the van and kept running.

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As the class of ‘72 turns 60 …..

As a member of the Poteau, OK High School graduating class of 1972, this year represents a milestone shared by my fellow classmates. We are turning sixty. Trust me when I say, the last thing on my mind forty-two years ago as I walked across the stage in the Bob Lee Kidd Civic Center in Poteau was what my life would be like at age sixty.phs 1972

I was still seventeen when I graduated, so my eighteenth birthday on June ninth was my most important goal. The other major thing on my mind as my eighteenth birthday approached (not counting girls) was Vietnam and the draft. I’d already written letters to the editor of the Poteau newspaper opposing the war. My dad was a World War Two veteran, having served in the Navy and ended up on Iwo Jima. He and I didn’t talk much about his military experiences or Vietnam, but I knew he wasn’t in favor of me going to Vietnam, probably because he knew how immature I was at the time, in spite of my interest in politics and speaking out publicly against the war.

I’m getting ahead of myself, so let’s take a step back. My goal in writing about the class of ‘72 is to compare our generation to that of our grandparents, parents and our children and grandchildren. Not to bore you with history or try and predict the future, but looking at the events which shaped all those generations is trip worth taking.

Our grandparents, born before 1900 saw a great deal of change in their lifetime. Like we greeted the year 2000, I can only imagine the excitement they felt as 1900 came into view. Their grandparents told stories of being in the Civil War. America was barely one hundred years old and still very much the frontier, which brought them west to the middle of the country. My own grandparents lived in Sebastian County Arkansas and some of them referred to the Civil War as the war of of northern aggression. A few in the current generation still do.

Our grandparents moved around on horseback as the telephone became a new way to communicate. They read news of the Wright brothers first flight, lived in houses without electricity, were veterans of World War One, the war that was supposed to end all wars and raised their kids (our parents) during the Great Depression. Change, innovation, war, times of boom and bust were as common in their lives as it has been in ours.

As children, our parents saw automobiles and telephones become common, lived through the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl and saw Europe fall into war. Called The Greatest Generation, our parents answered the call to serve in World War Two and Korea, going to Europe or the Pacific to fight there or serve here at home.

We’re called the Baby Boomers; kids of the returning veterans and we’ve had it a lot better than our parents and grandparents. We have seen at least as much innovation as they experienced and a lot more comfort. Air conditioning, dependable vehicles, subdivision housing, economic prosperity and a tenuous peace made our lives better before Vietnam divided the country. The similarities are just as numerous too. War, political and social upheaval and economic boom and bust seem to be common to all generations.

My own kids were raised differently than most in their generation because of a decision my late wife made before we married. Within a few months of meeting her, Becky told me she wasn’t going to college because her plan was to be a stay at home mom of two daughters and two sons. Since my plan was to be elected President of the United States in the year 2000, I can’t tell you how grateful I am that I met her and our lives played out as she envisioned. Both parents worked in our generation, and as the divorce rate approached fifty percent, more and more of the families my kids knew were single parent or blended households as a result of second marriages.

Born in the 70’s and 80’s, our grew up with cable and satellite TV, personal computers becoming common, the eruption of Mt. St. Helens, the Reagan years, a stock market crash, an Arkansas company becoming the world’s largest retailer and the Governor of the state being elected President, wars around the globe including two in the Middle East and the 911 attacks. As they became parents, they experienced times of great economic prosperity and the worst stock market crash and economic depression since the Great Depression experienced by their grandparents.

So, what about our grandchildren? They certainly have a lot of advantages, but just as many challenges too. The number of single parent households continues to rise, social and economic change is occurring at a fast pace, the internet provides them with more access to technology and information and more potential danger. Speaking of my own seven grandchildren, they are way ahead in math, science, reading and know more about cultural diversity than I did at their age, which is good because the world they are growing up in isn’t the same as mine or their parents.

As the class of ‘72 turns sixty, we’re becoming the generation who is running the world. We’re business leaders, community leaders, looked to for our experience like we looked to our parents and grandparents. We have to learn fast, or let our grandkids teach us about quickly changing technology in cell phones, computers and TV. Are we becoming dinosaurs? Maybe, but our generation was all about rebellion, so we won’t go quietly. If we take care of our health, our life expectancy can be longer than any previous generation, which can be a blessing and a curse due to the cost of living, health care needs and out living our resources.

I smile at the enormous possibilities available for my grandchildren. My kids have a lot of responsibility as their parents, but our generation is healthier, hopefully wiser and certainly as much or more involved with our grandchildren than our grandparents were able to be in their time. With all this going for them, our kids and grandkids have the best opportunity to bring positive change to the world as any of the generations before them.

Happy 60th birthday to the class of 1972.

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