Warning: This story contains strong content and controversial topics, including racism, rape trauma, and human trafficking.
I have done my best to portray these subjects realistically and compassionately. The purpose of these stories is certainly NOT to justify or glorify any of those things. Its purpose is to do what fiction should – to open minds and hearts, encourage self-reflection, and begin debate/conversation that can lead to change.
Caleb Jefferson King Williams sat waiting under the hot lights. He had not been on this side of the table in almost two decades. Not since the new ‘mall cop’ had decided that any thirteen-year-old black male was suspicious.
He would give anything to see Etta Mae Williams with her pillbox hat and white satin gloves march through that door, straighten her spine, look the white officers in the eye, and demand to know what the evidence was against her grandson. But this time, there was evidence. For the simple reason that he had done what they accused him of.
Yes, it was a breach of his oath. Yes, it was a crime. But being a black man in America had taught Will that the law and right were not always the same thing. If he had it to do all over again, he would. Even knowing the price, he was going to pay. He was a dead man walking – one way or another.
The door opened. Will did not allow the shock he felt to register on his face. So, the man himself, James Travis Tyler, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District, thought this was important.
Will dropped his head and clenched his fists on the table, the light glistening off the cuffs. At least they were not his own. He felt the man’s gaze rest on him. But he knew this game too well. And if they wanted to play, it was going to be on his terms.
Caleb Jefferson King Williams had spent over three decades on this earth playing their game by their rules. Waiting for ‘that day,’ the promised land. Hell, his grandparents had chosen his name because Caleb had left Egypt and wandered in the desert for forty years alongside Moses.
Of all the generation that exodus Egypt, only Joshua and Caleb had been allowed by god to enter the promised land. How many times had his Grandfather Walt read him that story from the old family bible that was almost as old as this country, and just about as stained with the blood of his family?
His throat tightened, he could practically hear his grandparents now. “We might not make it. But you’ll get there, son. You will see that Promise Land.” But it had been more than forty years of wandering in this desert of prejudice and racism that they had fought against. But nothing had changed. Perhaps it had even gotten worse.
Will was past the point of caring. He lifted his eyes to meet those of the man he had only cursory dealings with before. He knew this was a game of chicken. And he was going to win, just this once. Before he lost everything, even his life.
And he did best the man. After staring for a minute or so, Tyler turned to the agent standing by the door. “Take those off him.”
The agent showed his dislike of that order by delaying it, as long as he could, and by the stare that he gave Will as the now heated metal clicked open. Will was not going to provide them with the satisfaction of rubbing his wrists the way that most people did.
“Take a seat, counselor,” he addressed the U.S. Attorney in the same tone that his Grandmother Etta would some young new preacher or politician who had come to visit the grand dame of a lost era. He even mimicked her graceful motioning towards the chair across the table.
Tyler’s brow furrowed as if trying to reconcile the angry black man across the table from him with the decorated former police officer and federal agent. His look said that he came up short.
Will smiled as the man shook his head and laid the clear plastic bag beside him on the table. Tyler opened the file and pretended to study it before he cleared his throat and began, “I don’t understand, Williams. You’re one of the most highly decorated officers in this district. Why? Why would you just let McBride drive away like that?”
Will performed his best Jack Micolson impression, “You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth.”
Tyler sat a bit straighter. Those lips, that rarely smiled anyway, turned down at the corners. “This isn’t funny. Not only is your career with the agency over, but you are likely facing prison time. How much is determined by what is said in this room today. So, I suggest that you cut the theatrics and answer my questions. Why did you let McBride escape?”
“You were one of two agents on duty today. Neither of you reported that the McBrides were missing. That was not discovered until your replacements came.” Tyler paused, “I have spoken to Chandler already. I know that McBride paid him ten thousand dollars to look the other way.”
Will started laughing. He could not help it. This was too funny. Too fucking funny. Tyler stared at him like he had lost his mind. Maybe he had. He had certainly lost his soul. That died twelve days ago in a dilapidated old wood-frame house in the Fifth Ward.
“I don’t see what is funny about accepting a bribe, dereliction of duty, and half a dozen other charges, Williams.”
Will stopped laughing. He looked the other man directly in the eye. “Then I will tell you, counselor. Even when it comes to bribery, white men are still paid more than black in this great country of ours.”
Tyler looked down at the table. Will saw the man’s throat constrict. Yeah, racism always tasted funny to people like him. Rich, white men of privilege.
Especially the illustrious James Travis Tyler, son of Henry Stafford Tyler and Marianne Buford Walker, a true son of the Alamo on both side of his family tree and not just one of the Old Three Hundred but the blood of half a dozen or so of them probably ran through his blue veins.
But the Tylers weren’t the only ones with this nation’s history coursing through their veins. “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure.”
Tyler shook his head, “I don’t understand. You can’t believe that McBride was a patriot?”
“No. McBride was a tyrant.” Will stared at his hands and flexed his fingers. He was silent for a long moment.
Then he looked up and met Tyler’s gaze again. “Those were the words of my great-great-great-fuck-all-knows-how-many-greats grandfather. He wrote them to his son-in-law almost twenty years before my grandfather was born. To his black salve. The half-sister of his dead wife.”
Will enjoyed watching Tyler squirm in that chair. “That is the history of this country as much as your family’s glorious Alamo.”
He held out his arm, the palm facing upwards. Beneath his skin, you could see the lines. “You see these veins? Through them course the blood of the man who wrote the Declaration of Independence. The man who wrote ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal.’”
“He was forty-four-years-old. She was fucking sixteen. He owned her black ass. This ain’t some damned Harlequin romance. This makes #MeToo and all those white women claiming they were coerced look like jack shit.”
“My great-what-the-fuck-ever-grandfather was born while that man was President of these great United States of America. And folks today are worried about one privileged small-dicked shit?”
Tyler shifted in his seat again, “So, you’re angry that McBride paid Chandler more to sell out his oath, this country, and the Constitution that your supposed great-great-whatever grandfather helped to craft. The same Constitution that you swore to uphold and defend from all enemies, foreign and domestic. That’s what this about?”
“BeBe LaToya Mae Jefferson. That’s what this is about.”
He watched Tyler’s frown crease deeper, “I’m sorry if that is supposed to mean anything. I don’t know who that is. I’ve never heard the name before.”
Will sat back in his chair and smiled, “You would have if my cousin had been white. If it had been your little sister who had gone missing from the bus stop on the way to school, this whole fucking country would have been on some kind of Amber Alert. But they aint’ got no Shaunita or LaToya alerts.”
“Shit, your little sister probably don’t know what a fucking bus stop looks like. Let alone get her ass up before dawn to take one across town so she could get a better education. At the mostly white school. So much for fucking desegregation? Do you know it is estimated that there are sixty-four thousand missing black women and girls in this country?”
“Not that America is only one. Do you know that Scotland Yard spent almost twelve million pounds looking for one cute, blond-haired little girl whose parents left her alone in a hotel room with two younger siblings while their rich, posh white asses went out partying and drinking with friends? Do you know what would have happened if they had been poor and black? They would have gone to jail, and that would have been the end of it.”
Tyler shook his head and sighed, “Williams, I’m not arguing any of that with you. This country isn’t perfect. The world is not fair. I’m just trying to figure out why one of the best-damned agents we have threw his career away for some rich, white man that he supposedly hates?”
“I didn’t. And for the record, I did not accept his bribe, either. I pushed the envelope with five grand – half of what Chandler received – back at McBride. I told him to give it to his wife, so she could take care of her and that little girl.”
“Even if I believe that, it just raises more questions. And it comes back to the same one – why? Why did you throw away your career and life over a man like McBride?”
“I didn’t. I did the right thing for another cute little white girl. Because ‘one day right here in Piney Point, Texas little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.’”
“Do you know that my grandfather and grandmother were there that day? Not in the crowd on the mall, but on those steps with that great man. My Grandmother Etta Mae Williams was there too when they told his wife that he had been shot. My Grandfather accompanied her and their children to Memphis.”
“And they both walked in that great patriot’s funeral procession. Hell, they even quoted Jefferson about the blood of patriots. Do you see a statue on the mall for that man?”
Will felt the fight drain from him for the moment as tears that he had not allowed himself to shed threatened to burst their dams. “Do you know what happened to my Grandfather? A white supremacist gunned down that African Methodist Episcopal preacher on the altar of the church where he had preached reconciliation for over fifty years.”
Tyler had the dignity to look him in the eye as he said, “I’m sorry, Will.”
He should feel some sense of victory. He knew that. In three years they worked together, it was the first time that the man had used anything other than his last name. Though everyone else called him Will, he had not thought that this man even knew that.
But he was just too numb now. “My Grandmother died twelve days ago,” his voice was so quiet he was not certain that the man had even heard.
Will’s eyes, now filled with those tears, met the other man’s. Man to man. Not white man to black man or attorney to agent. And especially not interrogator to suspect. One human being to another. And a single tear slid down his cheek.
“A heart attack. She was eighty-four. She died in my arms while waiting for an ambulance. We waited for forty-six minutes, Tyler. I held her body for almost another two hours as it got cold and stiff before they finally came.”
“Do you know why? Because they were afraid to send an ambulance to the Fifth Ward. Because of the protests.”
He heard the scoff from by the door. His dark eyes filled with anger again as the man who he had worked with for years sneered, “And whose fault is that?”
Will clenched his fists. It took everything he had inside of him to stay in that chair. He wanted nothing more than to launch himself across the room. Tyler might spend some time in the gym, but he was no match for Will. He could easily push the man aside to get to the other agent. He wanted nothing more than to wrap his hands around the man’s throat and squeeze until he was as dead as his grandmother.
As dead as the great man who had stood on those steps and decreed, “that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last, Free at last, Great God almighty, We are free at last.”
Though it had been more than half a century since those words and that man, his grandparents had drilled them into his brain from even before he was born. He had never seen his Grandpa Walt prouder than the day his fourth grade self stood in front of the school assembly for Black History Month. He had recited that whole speech, over sixteen minutes’ worth, from memory.
And now, in perhaps the most crucial moment of his life, he could almost feel them in this shitty room, standing behind him. His grandparents. Maybe even some of those great-greats too. Perhaps that frightened young black slave girl.
It was for their sakes’ that Will remained in his chair. One old, white agent like that was not worth it. He had more to say, perhaps even more to do – before they got him. “Thank you for your sentiment.”
He motioned with his head to the plastic bag on the table next to Tyler. He could see his shield, gun, cuffs, keys, wallet, some loose change, and the folded scrap of paper they had taken from his back pocket.
“Open it. Open the bag and take out the paper.”
Tyler looked confused, but he did as Will asked. He unfolded the plain piece of paper that had been folded to fit inside Will’s pants pocket that morning. Will had known that he would need it to give him the courage to do what he had decided was the right thing. No matter the cost. Tyler frowned.
“She was the only other person, outside of my grandparents’ church who offered me any compassion.”
“You asked why, Tyler. Why I threw away my career, and we both know my life, cause I am a dead man walking now. They’ll get me too. Just like they did Stephen McBride. Like they have Gerald. Yeah, I heard. Overheard, I suppose, would be more accurate. I know that they found the SUV with Gerald McBride in it in a ditch outside Sebida.”
“But his little girl and wife weren’t in that car. That’s why I did it. For Callie. Because in those innocent green eyes of hers as she handed me that card, I saw my cousin.”
“She made it herself, alone in that fancy house. Part of her homeschooling, she said. Cause that posh school of hers didn’t want her anymore. Now that her daddy got caught doing what rich white men have done throughout history. But in Callie McBride’s eyes, I saw Bebe. I saw the very last remanent of that great man’s dream.”
“Do whatever the fuck you want to me now. It won’t matter. It’s just a matter of time. Minutes. Hours. Days. But I’m good with that. Because somewhere out there, my grandparents’ dream lives on in that girl.”
“And before you ask, no, I don’t know where. I never asked. McBride only told me that it was somewhere ya’ll would never think to look.”
Will felt a bit of that anger surge back through him. He could see that for the moment he had scored one on the man. And he wanted to push that. If there was any chance, there was one last thing he wanted to do on this earth.
He wasn’t sure if he’d be allowed in his grandparents’ heaven. He had never really believed that the place existed. But he hoped like hell, that just for a moment, he would see them one more time as he died.
But before that, he had one more promise to fulfill. His grandmother’s dying wish, “Don’t forget.” He had not forgotten that man’s dream. And now he wanted to show her that he would never forget Bebe either.
And there was just one clue in the paltry three-page police file on her disappearance. Three pages were the sum total of nine-hundred-ninety-eight days of investigation. But there was one thing, an anonymous tip called into the police line. It could not be a coincidence.
“So, Tyler. Charge me.” He held out his arms, almost expecting the clink of those cuffs again. “Or let me go pending further investigation. I’ve told you every fucking thing I know.”
The other man stared at him. The thing was James Travis Tyler was not a bad person. Will knew that. He knew that the man bought all that crap — the American Dream bullshit. The guy had a reputation as a bit of a stickler, in fact. Will was beating his life, short though it would be, on that fact. Tyler was not corrupt, as so many others were.
But he was white and privileged. He could never understand the things that Will had seen. He had never been pulled over for ‘driving while black.’ This man never had to fear for his life when facing some hyped-up cop. He did not sit in his vehicle, knowing that if the ultimate went down, his whole life and death would be pulled to shreds – despite his badge. And you could damn well bet that something would be found. Hell, if they had to plant evidence. He would become dirty.
Looking at the older, white, self-righteous man by the door, Will knew that some would consider him dirty now. “Keep my shield, cuffs, and gun. I wouldn’t want them now if you gave them to me. But can I have Callie’s card, please?” He held out his hand.
The paper shook as Tyler passed it and his wallet, keys, and that loose change across the table. “Don’t go anywhere.”
Will chuckled as he pocketed the piece of paper, his key, and wallet. He noticed a nickel among that change. Will picked it up separately. He stared at that face.
He had many times before. He stared in the mirror almost every morning as he shaved, looking for hints of it there too. He turned the coin over. He thought about that building. How that black slave girl must have felt.
Choice had nothing to do with it. Sally Hemings never had any. She was born with three strikes against her. She was a woman. She was black. And she was a slave. She died a slave too. That man didn’t even have the decency to give the woman her freedom. Though she had papers ‘for time served’ given to her by Jefferson’s daughter after his death. Like she was paroled for spreading her legs for an old white man.
Sixteen. Bebe would be the same age. Assuming she was alive somewhere – which was a damned big assumption. Pain ripped through his chest. For a moment, his vision blurred, and he wondered how often thirty-four-year-old black men died of heart attacks. Was this how his grandmother felt for those forty-six minutes?
But something somewhere, maybe his grandparents had made a deal with their god, or perhaps it was just his Fate, but his vision cleared. Strength, which he had not realized had fled, returned to his limbs. And he knew just where he was going. It would assuredly be the last thing he did on this earth. But he was cool with that, too.
He flicked that nickel at the man by the door on his way out. He double-checked the ID on the man’s black suit coat. “Here, Agent Saunders. I don’t need this, either.”
He kept walking, not looking back. He hoped he made it to his bike and out the building before Tyler had time to rethink the guilt that had motivated him to release Will on his own recognizance. Yeah, he signed those papers too. Saying he would not leave town. But he had broken unjust laws already, what were a few more?
“Sebida, Texas, here I come,” he declared in the same clear voice in which he had given that speech a lifetime ago. He secured his motorcycle helmet, started the powerful engine between his thighs, and turned his Duchess north. Sebida was anything but the Promised Land.
Mercy Reynolds looked out the big bay window that was the main feature of the Sebida County Library. Miss Myrtle’s old Chevy was parked in front of the only diner in town. That meant Abby Jean was having a late lunch with Lizzy. She wished that she could take a break and join her only friends. But she had a job to do.
After all, she was Head Librarian. The job sounded a lot better than it was. Only twenty hours per week, and barely more than minimum wage. After all the money her sister Laura spent on four years of college, and she earned barely enough to keep from being a financial burden on Mama. A thirty-two-year-old virgin with nothing more than a part-time job and still living at home with her mother. In a fucking trailer, nonetheless.
Still, considering how she had begun life – the third bastard daughter of an illegal alien and the disavowed daughter of a preacher – Mercy guessed she could not complain. Librarian beat the hell out of working the night shift at the local convenience store and getting robbed every other weekend. The way her Mama had to put a roof over her girls’ heads, food on the table, and keep the power on – most of the time.
Maybe it was her damned writer’s brain? This need to just take off, see the world, and have some big adventure. She certainly did not want to believe it had anything to do with some ‘wanderer’ gene that she had inherited from Ignacio Garcia, a man she had never met.
But instead of some grand adventure, she googled far off places, distant stars, and ancient history. Then she wrote trashy romances about those things. Sci-fi aliens, Sultan’s harems, or just places she would never see like Paris and Rome. She had self-published half-a-dozen of them. And in a good month, it was enough to pay her cell phone bill.
The phone rang, pulling Mercy from the pity party that was so unlike her otherwise cheerful self. She rushed across the small room to grab the receiver. The library still had a phone with a cord. This was Sebida, after all.
“Sebida County Library. This is Mercy speaking. How may I help you?”
Mercy’s stomach dropped to her toes. Her family never called her at work. Though they all had the number programmed into their phones for emergencies. They knew that she did not answer her cell when she was at work. The thing was in the back storage and break room in her bag.
She cut straight to the chase, “What’s wrong, Mama? Is Laura okay? The baby?” Her oldest sister had just given birth to her daughter the night before.
Mercy tried not to think about the yearning that had bubbled up inside her as she held that tiny pink bundle of sweet-smelling heaven. Laura was thirty-nine and had gotten pregnant with Chloe just fine. She had time, Mercy reassured herself, even if this latest round of broody was worse than the last.
But she was not Laura. She knew that she could not handle single motherhood while her ‘husband’ went galivanting around the world on some mysterious mission for the government. And she had not been lucky like Elena to find a man who worshipped and adored her. What man would be willing to put up with her smart mouth shit?
“I need you to grab your bug out bag and meet me at the casino,” her Mama’s words brought her back to the moment.
She must have missed something, “What, Mama? I don’t understand.”
“Dammit, Mercedes Reba Reynolds, I don’t have time for your shit. I’ll explain it all, well as much as I know, when I get there. But right now, I am on my way to drop Elena off to Brad so they can get out of town. Your sister and that man are already on the road.”
“What’s this all about?” Though she had a pretty good idea. She had honestly never thought it would come to this.
Not that they were not all prepared. Her Mama was the queen of prepping. For as long as Mercy could remember, Stacey Reynolds had drilled her daughters on one emergency or another. They had a plan for fire, tornado, robbers, even the alien apocalypse. But this one was the latest.
“All I can say now is that the McBride chickens are coming home to roost, baby.”
There it was. The answer that Mercy had been dreading the most, but the one that somehow she had known would come.
“Why the casino, Mama? That ain’t part of the plan.” She kept her voice low. The walls in Sebida always had ears.
“Plans change, you know that, Mercy. And right now, all of us are safer if we aren’t together. Like I said, I’ll tell you more when I get there. I just need to drop Elena off and get back to Laura’s place.”
There was a long pause. That worried Mercy, it was not like her Mama. “I need to deal with Sherriff Kerr first. Then I’ll join you at the casino.”
Mercy’s heart dropped into her shoes at the mention of the man’s name. Especially if it meant Mama going anywhere near their ‘good’ sheriff. And alone, what was Mama thinking? “No, Mama, I’ll meet you back at the trailer or Laura’s place. Just tell me where,” she pleaded like the little girl she felt at that moment.
“No, I told you where to go, and I meant it. I’ll deal with this shit and meet you there as soon as I can.”
“Don’t you ‘but Mama’ me. I can’t keep my focus and deal with everything if I have to, if I’m worried about you. I mean it, Mercy. The best thing you can do for your sisters and me, and those nieces, is to close that library and get your butt to the casino where you’ll be safe. I want you to promise me you’ll do what I say, babygirl.”
Mercy wanted to argue. She wanted to demand that Mama go straight to the casino. But she knew better than anyone the lengths her Mama would go to protect her girls. Besides, she was right – this was about more than her or Mama or even sisters, those little girls Rehab and Chloe needed them all to protect them. To do better by them. “I promise, Mama.”
She looked around the library. Only Miss Mable was there. She would tell the woman that she had a family emergency and had to shut down early. “Okay, Mama. I’ll get there as soon as I can.”
She raised her voice beyond the library whisper, making sure that the older woman heard. The news would be all over town before she even made the fifteen-minute drive to the casino outside of town. This was Sebida, after all. Everyone knew everyone else’s business and gossiped about it. Someone should tell these people about reality tv.
“Do you have your bugout bag with you?”
“Of course, Mama,” she smiled at Miss Mable.
“Okay, I want you to promise me that if I don’t make it there by morning, you’ll take the money and get out of town. Hell, out of Texas. Fuck, out of this country. You have that fancy passport in there, right? Go to fucking Paris or Rome like you dream about.”
Now Mercy was worried. She would almost swear she heard fear in her mother’s voice. But nothing had scared Stacey Ruth Reynolds in a very long time. She had survived the betrayal of her husband and the abandonment of her self-righteous family. She had worked two, sometimes three or more jobs to raise her girls. Hell, they all joked that Reba must have been talking about Mama when she wrote that damned song.
To hear even the faintest hint of that fear or doubt in the woman’s voice set Mercy on her red neck ass and took her back to a very dark place. “I promise, Mama. But it ain’t gonna come to that.” She took her voice back down to librarian level, “I love you, Mama. I’ll see you there soon.”
“I love you, baby girl. Just know that, no matter what happens, I loved you all. You were my life. The best thing I ever did.”
Mercy heard tears in her Mama’s voice. She gripped the desk for dear life. Mama never cried. Never once. At least not in front of her daughters. The line went dead. That horrid peep sounded in her ear, and she had to turn her back so that Miss Mable could not see her wipe the tears from her own eyes.
She inhaled, squared her shoulders, and reminded herself that the Reynolds women were strong. They had made it through Thanksgivings without a turkey and Christmases when the only presents came from the Salvation Army’s bargain bin. Hell, power had almost been a luxury growing up. They had survived all that. And they would this, too. Whatever this was.
She hummed that song under her breath as she closed her eyes. She was not Elena. She did not believe in some god somewhere who would keep them safe. Mama had taught her that the only person you could rely on was yourself and your family. But they weren’t here right now. So, she would pull her shit together. Put on her big girl panties. The Wonder Woman ones that she had bought on sale at Walmax were packed in that bag in the back.
But first, she plastered on that smile. The one that she had perfected by the time she went to kindergarten. Laura had taught her how to handle the ‘good people’ of Sebida before she set foot on that old yellow school bus. “Hold your head up, proud, and smile.” That was precisely what she did now as she turned to Miss Mable.
“I’m really sorry, Miss Mable, but that was my Mama. It seems we have a bit of a family emergency. So, I need to close the library early. But I’m happy to check those books out for you first.” Mercy was proud of how calm her voice sounded. Almost like nothing had happened. Certainly not her Mama almost crying on the phone.
The old woman hobbled to the desk, “Oh dear, yes, Patsy said that sister of yours was having a bit of trouble. Whatever was she thinking about, having that a baby at home? That’s what the good lord made hospitals for.”
Mercy bit the inside of her tongue and smiled even wider. She nodded her head and played along with the woman. It did not even surprise her that half the town seemed to know more about what was happening than she did. She was used to being gossip fodder for these people.
Maybe that was why she was a thirty-two-year-old virgin who still lived at home with her mother? Too afraid to give them more to talk about, so she had never bothered to actually live? That was a good enough excuse to keep her from looking more deeper for the real cause of her fear of intimacy.
The older woman reached out her arthritic hand and took Mercy’s. She squeezed gently, “I’ll add Laura and that baby to our prayer chain. That husband of hers, too. Patsy said the man arrived just in time for the birth.”
“What was the man’s name again, dearie? I know that Laura insists on keeping the name Reynolds, though why I’ll never understand. It ain’t right if you ask me. These women today not even taking their husband’s last name when they get married.”
Mercy wanted to scream. She wanted to push the old woman out the door and tell her to mind her own fucking business. She knew that ‘prayer circle’ was just a euphemism for the blue-haired betty club that fed the gossip mill in Sebida.
But right now, she needed to get out of here. Besides, laying a false trail might be in everyone’s best interest. “Ryan. Her husband’s name is Ryan Ranger.”
The old woman nodded that blue-head, “Yes, Patsy said he was quite a handsome young man, too. He was one of our boys over there, wasn’t he, sweetie?”
And here it was. Mercy knew that this woman would keep her here for hours, pumping her for information. But she had other places to be. “I’m sorry, Miss Mable, but I really do need to get going. I’m sure you understand.” She gently removed the woman’s hand from her arm.
She saw Miss Mable lift her proud nose. She knew those words before the woman ever opened her mouth, “Well, yes, dear.”
It was the ultimate snub. But Mercy was used to it by now. She smiled as she put her hand on the woman’s back and pointed her towards the door. “Thank you for visiting the Sebida County library. Ya’ll come back now, ya hear.”
It was the words that Mercy had perfected to end these types of conversations. Most of the patrons of the library were those blue-haired betties. And most of them came into the library, not for the same couple of hundred books they had read years ago. But for the sheer privilege of pumping Mercy for the latest on her family.
Hell, this place would have probably been closed long ago if it had any other librarian. All the young people had Kindles, audible on their phones, or watched YouTube. Hell, she bet the old betties did too. When they weren’t in here, torturing her.
She closed the front door, locked it, and turned the sign to closed in the big bay window. Mercy slipped into the back breakroom and grabbed the backpack that her Mama had picked up at the Army-Navy store or thrift shop. She quickly rummaged through it, double-checking that she had what she needed.
Clothes. A few protein bars, water, and dried fruit snacks for emergencies. A big, heavy flashlight. One of those metallic blanket things. A burner phone. Her passport. More money than she made in a whole fucking year – thanks to Laura. And her Smith & Wesson .380 EZ Shield.
She went to put the gun back at the bottom of the bag, where she usually kept it. But something stopped her. “Better safe than sorry.” She slid the thing into the side pocket, where it was more accessible. Something told her not even to bother fastening that pocket. That sent a shiver down her spine.
She had just turned out the lights and was setting the alarm when the police cruiser drove up. “Just what I fucking need now,” she cussed under her breath as she plastered that special smile back on her face and turned as the man got out of his car. “Sherriff Earl Kerr, to what do I owe the pleasure?”
She fingered the side pocket on the bag as she spoke. In her mind, she hummed another tune. ‘I shot the sheriff,’ had a real nice ring to it when you grew up in Sebida, Texas.