READ FOR FREE IN ITS ENTIRETY! NEW CHAPTERS TO BE POSTED WEEKLY.
“They take up arms against their ruler; but in this they deceive themselves, for experience will prove that they will have actually worsened their lot.”
—Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince
A white pickup truck pulled into Jess’s driveway just before noon. Croukamp noticed it as he was sitting at the dining room table, scraping the carbon off the firing pin of his rifle and watching Brooke play with her dolls. He put the pin down on the towel and reached for his revolver.
“Jess?” he shouted. “Were you expecting someone?”
“Want me to see who it is?” he asked.
“No, I’ll go.” She came down the stairs.
“Here, take this,” Croukamp said, handing her the pistol as she passed. He returned to reassembling his rifle with urgency. Jess put the pistol in her belt and covered it with her jacket before going outside. It was sunny and cool. New grass was poking up through the mat of brown stalks flattened by the heavy winter snow. The bluebirds, so blue they seemed to glow, had returned to build their nests and pluck the cutworms from the mud. Flocks of robins hopped along the ground, scavenging for worms.
“Hello there,” came a voice from inside the truck.
“Identify yourself,” Mae demanded.
The driver opened the door and got out. “It’s me, Officer Hiserman. Don’t you remember?”
Mae sighed. “I don’t have time for this.”
“There’s no need to be rude, ma’am. I was just in the vicinity and I thought I’d check up on you. I heard there was some gunfire around here the other night.”
“I don’t know anything about that other than I heard some thieves came through and ransacked some houses. Heard they were ripping the copper wire right out of the walls.”
“Yeah…” Hiserman rubbed his neck after getting out of the truck. “Petty thieves, I’m sure. Last I checked, stealing copper doesn’t warrant shooting, though.” He studied Jess’s face as if he was a poker player searching for a tell.
“I don’t know what stealing copper and other things warrants, but if a gang of armed looters wanted to storm my house, I wouldn’t hesitate to shoot them….if I had a gun, that is.”
“What if they were down the road a bit?”
“I’m not really interested in having this discussion. I’m very busy.”
“I don’t think it would be wise to be shooting at copper thieves.”
“Who are you? Are you a sheriff’s deputy now, too?”
Hiserman let out a coy laugh. “I told you, I work for the county, we all work together, help each other.”
“Well, I live in this county, so here’s how you can help me out,” Jess explained. “You can go find out why your pals over at the sheriff’s department never show up to stop the looters. Come back and let me know what you find out.” Jess turned to head back to her house.
Hiserman laughed again. “Whoa, you’re a feisty one.”
Jess turned back, eyes flashing. “Don’t insult me. Just do your job. Then go away.”
“You know, firearms are not permitted in the county right now. That goes for handguns, too.”
“What do you call that thing on your belt?” Jess asked. “Is that some sort of meter reader?”
“I work for the government, ma’am.”
“So you don’t have to follow the rules because you work for the government?”
“I’ve been vetted, trained, and permitted.”
“So how are people supposed to defend themselves out here?”
“Call the sheriff.”
“The landlines are dead. We haven’t had electricity in over a year. Even when the cells are working, the deputies never come out.”
“That’s not my problem. They have to weigh every situation. Sometimes there are concerns for officer safety.”
“If they’re afraid to do their damn job then maybe they should get another job.”
“The deputies’ first concern is always for their personal safety.”
Jess rolled her eyes. “In the meantime, what do you suggest I do if a gang comes back?”
“I’d suggest you leave.”
“Leave my house? So they can raid it and take everything?”
Hiserman grinned and turned back to his truck. He reached inside and pulled out a paper grocery bag. “Where is that precious little girl of yours?”
“Why is she any of you concern?”
“I just wanted to give her something.”
Hiserman extended the bag to Jess but she didn’t take it. She noticed the pink fuzz of a stuffed animal poking out of the top.
“She has plenty of toys.”
“There’s some canned goods and some treats in here, too.”
Jess’s instincts told her to refuse it even though refusing food out of personal pride seemed self-indulgent in these times. Hiserman set the bag on the hood of his truck. He reached inside his cab and pulled out his clipboard and pen and began scribbling.
“What is that?” she asked. “Is that your citation book?”
“Yes, as a matter of fact, it is.”
“What in the hell are you citing me for? Refusing your charity?”
“I’m citing you for illegal well water use.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Your well is permitted for domestic use only. But you have a hose running from your spigot, there, into your garden plot.”
“Why are you singling me out? Everyone has gardens here.”
“I’m just doing my job, ma’am. The law is the law. Just because everyone else is breaking the law doesn’t mean you are exempt.”
“For Christ’s sake…”
“You should let me help you. I can make things easier for you.”
“By how? By not citing me? You can make things easier for me by just leaving me alone.”
Hiserman continued writing.
“I’m not paying any fine,” she declared.
“The court’ll get a judgement. Then they’ll put a lien on your property.”
“For running a hose?”
“I don’t make the laws, ma’am. I just enforce them.”
Jess smoldered. She thought for a moment about Ian’s revolver. She didn’t seriously consider using it, but its presence popped into her mind.
“All right,” she said. “I’ll accept your generous gift. Is that good enough for you?”
Hiserman looked up from his clipboard and smiled. He clipped the pen in and set it back on the dashboard of his white county truck. He grabbed the grocery bag off the hood and handed it to Jess.
“What do you say?” he asked as she took it.
Jess’s black stare burned with hatred as it fixed on his face.