Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Surviving the Autocalypse: Episode IV

Just as the town had seen busier times, so had the jail. The cell that I was in was clean, but showed signs of abuse in the not-too-distant past. Stains on the cheap linoleum floor ran the gamut of the lower end of the spectrum -- all the way from burnt sienna to ocher. Initials, aliases, childish pornographic art, epithets, promises, and just manic scratches lent a visceral texture to the institutionally painted cinder-block walls. The lighting was somehow both flickering and blinding.

But today, it was mine. All mine.

The other two cells in the small jail were completely empty. Each had four benches bolted to the wall and floor, with one of those strange metal toilets that you only see in jails and prisons in a corner behind a two-foot wall. The front was all bars, and faced an open area with two desks. The sheriff was sitting at one of the desks now. There were no deputies.

My bike was leaning against the other desk. I considered that a very good sign.

The jail was a block and a half from the restaurant. After putting handcuffs on me, Sheriff Gordon -- or was it Sheriff Roger? The people we had passed en route here had either called him "Sheriff Gordon" or "Sheriff Roger," so I think he was one of those fellows with two first names. Either Gordon Roger or Roger Gordon. I decided to stick with "sheriff."

I'm not one for wasting energy. Never was, even when energy was easier to come by. So, after shown my new temporary home, I'd quickly identified which bench afforded maximum comfort and minimum light, and laid down to take a nap. Around noon, I awoke when the sheriff put his book down and got up from his chair to stretch.

"What you reading?"

He tried to give me that hard look cops use on criminals to keep them in their place, but it fell apart. I think he realized that he didn't really have the moral high ground here.

"Islands in the Stream. Hemingway."

I nodded. "Good one. I wish Hemingway had written all of that one himself. Who knows how it would have turned out. But there's some good stuff in there, either way."

"Yeah, you've got to give his wife credit for finishing it so it still sounds like him."

"Sure." I chucked. "It's almost the 'true gen.'"

We both laughed at that.

"So, why are you all messing with me? Or is it Miller that you're really messing with?"

The sheriff sighed and looked away. "Look, we're no more xenophobic than most other small towns. There are lots of strangers that make trouble on their way through, but there are others just making a living. I've got nothing against you."

"Well, you get points for being a Hemingway fan, and for bringing my bike inside. You also get some for using 'xenophobic' correctly in a sentence. But setting Cletus and Jethro on me was not quite 'friendly.'"

"I needed something quick," he replied. "They wouldn't have really hurt you ... not that they seemed to have much of a chance."

I sighed myself then. "Yeah, well. Sorry about that."

"Where'd you learn to fight like that?"

"Job I had once."

He waited for more. I didn't give it.

"Well, okay. Never mind." He picked the book back up, leaned back, and put his feet up on the desk again. "If nobody's interested in giving me any answers, then we'll go back to waiting for the judge to ask the questions."

I considered giving in, then. Hell, the man could have just searched the bike trailer, found the package, and he would have known almost as much as I did. But he was playing by the rules -- more or less -- and I would do the same.

At this point, I had a few questions of my own that I really wanted answered, such as what was up with this town and John Miller? Since I didn't think that I would get an answer to that one, I tried another tack.

"So, is it Sheriff Gordon Roger or Sheriff Roger Gordon?"

He didn't look up. "Sheriff Dwight Roger Gordon."

"Thanks." Then I pushed my luck, asking the big question.

"Got any other Hemingway, Dwight? 'Farewell to Arms' would be nice."

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