Adventures of Cookie the Stray, Chapter 16
Connie felt the tire explode before the car began to thump along on the highway. She pulled over and stepped out to take a look. The left rear tire looked like it went through a giant paper shredder with bits and pieces of rubber peppering the road and her path off to the shoulder. Just as she popped the button to open the trunk to get the jack and spare tire, a police car pulled up and stopped about ten feet behind her.
The officer sat behind the wheel for a moment, as Connie opened the driver’s door. He continued typing information into the computer on his console. The information that filled his license plate query screen caused the seasoned officer to unsnap the holster flap covering his service revolver.
Not too far away another police car pulled off to the shoulder and came to a stop behind a man in a green jacket toting a large backpack.
“Stay right where you are,” the officer instructed the man. Rusty froze where he stood.
“Put your hands on your head and interlock your fingers,” the deputy added. Rusty turned his head to get a look at who was behind him when the officer reached for his gun and yelled another instruction.
“Don’t turn around,” he said. “Keep your eyes facing away and walk back toward my voice.” Rusty complied, taking small steps.The slipstream of an eighteen wheeler shuddered the police car as it passed by. Rusty watched the driver cast a long look back at the sight of the policeman with his weapon drawn.
Off in the distance, dark clouds formed a thunderhead as rumbling sounded behind the storm that was quickly approaching. A couple of icy cold drops splatted on the top of Rusty’s head as he moved backward.
“Do you have identification on you?” the officer asked.
“I have a photo ID in my wallet,” Rusty answered, keeping his hands on his head.
“Don’t reach for it. Just tell me where it is.”
“Right rear pocket of my jeans.” The backpack covered most of the pocket.
“Very slowly, loosen the straps and put the backpack on the ground next to you.” Rusty complied. “Now with two fingers, pull out your wallet and put it on the hood of my car." He followed the officer’s instructions to the letter.
The officer slid a pair of handcuffs out of a pouch attached to his belt. “Now, bring your right hand down behind you.” Rusty lowered his hand. “Now your left hand.” He bound Rusty’s wrists with a quick snap of the cuffs and clicked them until they were tight.
“You’re not under arrest,” the officer backed off a few steps as he explained. “You’re just being detained for my protection.” He called in Rusty’s information to dispatch. Within seconds the officer had an answer.
“He's clean,” the voice from the console said. “No warrants and no priors.” The patrolman quickly unlocked the cuffs and released his detainee.
“What’s this all about officer?”
“We’ve had a local robbery and we’re checking anyone who matches the description. Looks like your record is clean,” he told Rusty. “No arrests. No warrants.”
“Yeah, I lead a pretty quiet life.” He smiled and shrugged as he picked up the backpack and put it on his shoulders.
“Why haven’t you taken shelter?” the deputy asked.
“I’ve got somewhere I need to be.”
“You want a lift? This storm’s going to be a bad one.” Rusty glanced at the darkening horizon and they both headed to the patrol car. As the squad car pulled back onto the highway, the console squawked with an alert from another officer.
“Officer needs assistance at mile marker 341,” the speaker announced. “Female apprehended with possible connection to the robbery. Approach with caution. She’s armed.”
Queenie growled low in her throat as the officer approached the driver’s window. “Looks like you’re having some trouble here, Ma’am.”
“I’m not sure why the tire failed, officer,” she said. “I just bought four new ones.” The officer took a look at the shredded rubber hanging from the rim. Along the sidewall of the flat, one section had a long razor sharp cut with smooth edges, not tattered like the rest of the tire.
“Looks like you’re going to need a new one,” he said. “How’s the spare?”
“It should be okay. We kept the best of the old tires for the spare.”
He headed back to the trunk and lifted the lid. Shining from the velveteen bag that rested in the spare tire will was the silvery logo of Bedazzled Jewelers. With that as probable cause, he pulled out the suitcase and the make-up valise and began to search them. Seconds later he discovered the revolver wrapped in plastic when he lifted up the makeup tray.
From a payphone along the road back in Louisiana, Rusty fed quarters into the coin slot and dialed the faded number on a scrap of paper from his wallet. If he was lucky, no one had snapped up the old farmstead yet. When the sign first went up, he’d worried that his quiet, restful hideaway in Texas would soon be gone. That’s when he’d gotten serious about increasing his hidden savings account.
The swayback barn had withstood nearly a century of extreme temperatures ranging from hundred degree weather in the summer to frigid ice storms in the winter. It had stood the test of time, although the small farmhouse hadn’t fared as well. Its window glass was all but gone from kids with their first B.B. guns testing their skills as marksmen.
From his first call to the owners nearly five years earlier, he’d learned that the land had once included nearly sixty acres of what used to be prime corn fields, now grown over with weeds and neglect. Twenty acres had sold off to someone up north who had never even seen the land, speculating on a future homestead or real estate gain. That left forty good acres of pasture and fields which held the pole barn and ramshackle house. Nestled along the back ten acres was an orchard of pecan trees, stunted by the overgrowth of vines and lack of pruning. A small creek followed a path leading to a larger lake that met the rear property line. Within those woods he’d spent many a comfortable night around a warm campfire.
The phone rang nearly nine times. Rusty was ready to hang up when a frail voice answered. He introduced himself and asked if this was the owner of the property on the old farm road in the outskirts of Denton.
Why, yes, it is.” the woman said. “Who’s this?” Rusty reminded her of his interest those years ago when he’d last called.
“Oh, yes,” she told him. “I do remember you. My late husband was really taken with you. He’d always hoped you’d be the one to want the old farm. Not those stuck up people from New York,” she said, disdain clear in her tone.
“I’m still interested in the land,” he told the elderly woman. “That is, if the price is right.”
“Well, William and I have no further use for it. He had a heart attack last winter and I’ve moved into town to be closer to where he's staying. We always wanted someone who would cherish the place as we did for so many years.”
“The only trouble is I just listed the land with some fancy real estate man from the city. He’d been pestering me on and off for a long time. With William in rehab, I can’t keep up the taxes anymore.” He heard the familiar ping of an old-fashioned address file being sprung open. “Let me see,” she snapped the device closed, fumbled with the lever, and said, “it’s not under R, let me try something else.” Rusty pushed another five quarters into the coin slot while he waited.
“You now have three additional minutes,” the automated voice reminded him.
“Oh, are you on a pay phone?” the lady asked.
“Yes ma’am, I’m about a hundred miles from your location.”
“Well why don’t you stop in when you get here and we’ll have a nice cup of tea and some conversation.” She told Rusty her address and basic directions before hanging up.
Rusty hadn’t expected to have transportation for the last few miles to meet with the old lady. He’d called her again from the convenience store and told her he was nearly there. When the officer got the urgent call from his fellow officer, he’d turned off the road to the woman’s residence and headed out sirens blaring.
“Sorry, your appointment is going to have to wait.” The officer glanced at a screen that showed the patrol car as a green arrow travelling toward the interstate. “You’ll have to stay in the car when we get there. I don’t have time to drop you off.”
© 2017 Peg Cole