If you enjoyed this story, and I hope you did, please click here to buy. Thanks for reading!
At Freedy's urgings, they drove straight north for several hours.
"How far do you want us to go out of our way?' Charlie asked at the beginning, but Freedy didn't have an answer.
Just outside of Kansas City, he suddenly felt as though they'd gone far enough. Different state, different city, and perpendicular to any reasonable eastward route.
"Far enough, you can head east now," Freedy said.
An hour later, they were in Missouri. Charlie told Jim to pull off at the Knob Noster State Park. The campground was in a heavily wooded area, with a stream meandering down the middle of it. It being late October and mid-week, there weren't a lot of other campers.
There was still a couple hours of daylight left, but Charlie told the others that they'd left in such a hurry that he needed to do an inventory of their resources, and map out the best route to their destination of Centerville, Pennsylvania. "Besides, just for once I'd like to set up camp in daylight."
"We still going to stop at Nashville, Boss?" Bob said. He had taken off the majority of his bandaging and was a frightful sight, like he'd been in a fight with a grizzly bear --which in fact is what he'd been telling curious gawkers. "You should see the bear..."
"Well, I don't know," Charlie said, dryly. "Are we still stopping at Nashville, Freedy?"
"I don't see why not," Freedy said, after a moments reflection. It was a dip back down to the southeast which wasn't logical. Which was why it recommended itself as a route.
"Good thing some of us know this territory, what with us not having Google to plan our routes anymore," Charlie said.
Freedy knew he was being needled but pretended not to realize it. Billy seemed to want to defend him. "We'll get some maps along the way, Charlie. No problem."
"Yeah," Charlie said, winking. "Just like the old days, on the road with Mom and Dad. I used to love those fights when we'd get lost."
Charlie walked away, shaking his head, followed by Billy, leaving Freedy standing there alone. He looked for a place to sit down, and finally leaned back against a tree. While Freedy no longer felt like an outsider, he also didn't quite fit in with the normal interactions among the sets of brothers. Sometimes one of them would think to include him, but more often than not he was left to his own devices.
Sandra was outside the group, too. Somewhere she'd found a mystery paperback and whenever Freedy looked her way, she had her eyes glued to the pages. Nevertheless, he felt as though she was watching him. He never caught her looking at him, but he just had the sense that she was keeping an eye on him.
The midwest was having an Indian Summer, and temperatures were in their
mid-70's -- the perfect temperature as far as Freedy was concerned. It
was a beautiful park, and there was a nice meandering path leading off
toward the creek.
After sitting around at loose ends for an hour or so, he got up and started walking toward the path. No one would miss him.
The stream was about a hundred yards down a gentle slope. There must have been a frost at some point in the fall because there were no mosquitoes and few insects of any kind. The glass along the bank was slightly damp and muddy, but Freedy found a dry log to sit on and let his consciousness be absorbed by the swirls of the running water. He felt safe. Alone. In other words, his normal state of being.
All the excitement! It had been fun for awhile, but now he just wanted to go home. Every time he saw Sheila he'd feel a soreness in his chest. They say it was better to have loved and lost than to never have loved it all. Whoever said that was an idiot.
He been half expecting it. And all of him had been hoping for it. He'd strolled past her on the way to the path, trying not to be too obvious about it, but trying also to catch her attention.
He stood and turned, and he had to look away right away. The expression in her face was too pleading, and too beautiful.
"I didn't mean to betray you, Freedy," she said. "I was just doing my job."
"So your job was to get close to me and pump me for information?"
"Information, maybe..." she said. "But getting close to you wasn't part of the plan. I just gravitated to you naturally, Freedy. I liked you from the first moment I saw you."
"Yeah...right," Freedy said, bitterly. That's what made it hard -- the knowledge that she would never have had anything to do with him if she'd met him on the street. Nice of her to try to reassure him, but he didn't believe it.
"Freedy," her voice dropped the pleading and took an a sharpness. "If you fall in with thieves, you can't be surprised if you get lumped in with them. In fact, they called you a Master Thief, so I believed them."
He finally looked at her full on. There was a bit of hardness in her face and he much preferred this to the softly pleading expression she'd had earlier. This woman -- this F.B.I. agent -- he could tell off.
"You really believe that?" he asked. "These guys aren't thieves -- they're miners who have had an injustice done to them and who are only trying to get back what is rightfully theirs. And me? A Master Thief? Do I really strike you as a Master Thief?"
"I didn't know, Freedy! How was I to know? They had warrants out for their arrest, for environmental sabotage. I follow orders." She paused, as if trying to think of how to say what she said next.
"And as far as you being a Master Thief -- well, aren't you?"
He stared at her in disbelief. She still believed that?
"I really did fall for you, Freedy. I'll stick with you no matter what happens. I wish you could forgive me."
Freedy wanted to go to her, take her in his arms. But having had his heart broken once already this week, he thought maybe he'd go a little slower this time.
"I'll think about it," he said.
"So kind of you," she responded. This time the bitterness came from her.
They stood there awkwardly for a few moments, and then Freedy started back up the path. "We should get back."
"Yeah," was all she said.
It was dusk by the time they returned. At the edge of the campground, Freedy stopped abruptly. He held Sheila back. There, sitting cross-legged on a picnic table, his bulk taking up half its surface, was Jim -- and in his hands, he had an iPad. Most of the other brothers were standing around him, or sitting at the table, cheering him on. Freedy could hear the squeals of the defending pigs from where he stood.
In the background, Freedy heard a helicopter.
"Get back," he said to Sheila. "We need to hide."
It didn't take them long to get to the creek again. Freedy ran away from the sound of the approaching helicopter, but it seemed to pursue them. Sheila didn't question him, but followed. They found a dense thicket off to the side of the trail just as the helicopter came over the horizon.
The dark helicopter hovered over the clearing that Freedy and Sheila had been standing in only minutes before. Six black ropes dropped down, followed by six men in black leather outfits, strapped with guns, and on their heads, little red lamps.
They looked like spiders descending a web.
They landed lightly on their feet and started running up the path toward the camp.
I'm Duncan McGeary, owner and/or operator for the last 33 years of Pegasus Books in Downtown Bend, Oregon. These days I'm writing books as well as selling them.
I'm the comic book guy. But even more so, I'm a book book guy. Books of all kinds. Big books and little books, children's and adult, fiction and non-fiction, hardback and paperback and trade paperback and graphic novels. Books with more words than pictures and books with more pictures than words. They are all part of the book world to me, and I love being surrounded by them every day.
I also have a second blog: Pegasus Books, where I list the product coming in over the next week.