Get Inspired

This letter was one of many bits of information that spurred me on to write my novel which, I admit, is fiction mixed with truth. It seems that only people who have known me quite a while can discern the difference, but many still have questions. If you haven’t already, I hope you will consider reading my novel;

Buried Truths—A Daughter’s Tale…

October 25, 1991

Dear Bea,

Your letter of the twentieth was most reassuring, and we are truly grateful that you escaped the worst of the earthquake. For the first couple of days, the phone company automatically rejected all calls to the Bay area. I got through to your son only after failing to get through to you. The media sometimes exaggerated tragedies, but one is always concerned over such an event, and it is good to know that all is well with you.

Gwen continues to have a rough time. We went away for a couple of weeks rest. She missed the last step on a flight of stairs and had another fall. The doc said no bones are broken. Her recently healed hip was not re-injured. Nevertheless, she is in pain whenever she sits or lies down or even tries to rise.  The doc says time alone will cure it, but it is a significant drain on her in the meantime. He tried to prescribe some pain medication, but she would only agree to aspirin.

The stunning basket of flowers you all sent for my birthday is still lovely—it came as a real surprise. The day before I received our birthday letter, which I appreciated ever so much, and which was a present enough by itself.

In late October, it was determined that some chest pain I had were symptoms of Angina. After an EKG, the doctors decided it could be handled by medication, so I have to swallow some six pills a day—rattle, rattle; I’m full of pills. Low and behold, they work, I feel better! Modern medicine is astonishing, and my doctor’s orders are to do anything else I want to do. This lets me indulge the lazy side of my nature whenever I want to duck work, yet leaves me free to do sensible things. Who could complain?

Gwen is having a problem with her eyes, and the implications are not favorable. We’re going up to Johns Hopkins next week to get expert advice, but it is both unnerving and worrisome.

Before I close, let me once again say how great it was to see you and to get to know your children as adults. They really are chips off the old block, and very fine people indeed. You must be very proud of them—as you certainly showed me you were! I’m sorry Gwen was having difficulties with our reunion. She can’t let go of the past and thinks I shouldn’t rekindle relationships. I’d hoped for a different outcome since she has many things in common with your son’s musical background, but alas no. I will have to contact all of you in secret because I can’t deal with Gwen’s volatile moods when she is displeased. I need to keep my world as calm as possible with my heart condition. I will telephone you soon.

Love to all—

Nathan

Adventures; Words from Wyoming

By Elsa Wolf

Driving into Cheyenne, Wyoming after a leaving northern Colorado was a bit unexpected. The place professes to hold 60,000 people, but I don’t know where they are all hiding. On this Saturday afternoon, very few people are milling around. The Airbnb place we are staying in is a private home with newly renovated lodging over their garage. If I understand correctly, they have another room for guests in a different area of the property, as well as a camper for rodeo visitors or participants in Frontier Days. The couple who are hosting us are originally from Michigan, which is quite a coincidence as I have spent many a time there since my mother is from that very state. My host’s son coincidentally worked on Mackinac Island for four summers, which brings us all into a kind of harmony. I diverge from my intended path. After comparing our origins, we discussed and resolved some confusion I had about the upcoming rodeo. I’m looking forward to the event even though it is a side benefit to our original intention of visiting the state to decide whether or not we want to leave the east coast and retire on the west.

To move along in my Cheyenne description; I should say, we decided to take a rather lengthy walk into town that began uneventfully with a stop at the State Museum to learn about military and mining history in Wyoming. The older lady at the information desk had a dark purple swath of hair mixed in with shades of brown and gray. My first thought; Cheyenne isn’t conservative, but one person’s looks can’t tell the entire tale. In the free museum, I was surprised to see a wagon from some immigrants that arrived ages ago from the Basque country of Spain to hunt for gold and fortune but became sheep farmers instead. I noted this because I love visiting Spain.

Basque Wagon in Wyoming State Museum

More interesting than anything thus far, and like nothing I’d seen before, were the events taking place in front of the train depot. A rock band was playing in the center of the square, a couple of dozen souped-up old cars sat around the perimeter. We walked into one side of the depot to find a self-service beer establishment parallel to the active train tracks. I suppose that doesn’t sound that odd, but on the other wing of the building were at least a dozen tattoo artists inscribing new designs on various parts of the client’s torsos and limbs. Some of the people subjecting themselves to this form of permanent ink were either grimacing or tearing up. I felt like a conservative old lady walking through the group, and I tried not to flinch. It was almost impossible to keep my eyes moving back and forth across the tables without staring at men and woman sprawled out across the ridged surfaces. Some of the clients had long hair and beards twisted in various patterns. One artist’s, in particular, had so many tattoos that none of his original skin showed through and the skin under his eyes where one might put eyeliner almost glowed red. He seemed like he was straight out of an avatar film or a Star Trek or Star Wars series. The shock value was a bit overwhelming; I tried to take a picture, but it didn’t come out well. Then I thought these people are freely expressing their personalities, which is admirable even though I don’t understand why they have decided to go the route they have chosen. The event was only for one day and likely the rest of our time in Cheyenne will be quite different than our first night.

Generally, people are kind. I sought out a shop that provides classes in both painting and pottery. Walking up to the open garage, the instructor stopped demonstrating how to paint the background of their cow portrait and came straight over to me. Smiling, she introduced herself, gave me a pamphlet, invited me to observe the class and even said I was welcome to have some bottled water at no charge. A few blocks later, another person, who’d I never seen before said he wanted to ask me something. In response, I replied that I didn’t know anything about anything in this town. I’m getting quicker at such random interactions as I age.

He countered with, “Do you think there’s a God?”

I responded in the affirmative.

He said, “that’s my girl.”

Having said all this—moving on—I ask myself; where are the cowboys the state of Wyoming is known for? Perhaps, I will find out when the rodeo commences. But for now, I’ll go to sleep on a firm mattress that’s resting in a rustic bed frame made out of bark stripped tree trunks in the newly constructed garage apartment.

My patience was rewarded when I awoke at five-thirty. Our Airbnb host offered to take us out to see some horses and cattle. We accepted without hesitation. He drove us out to Tractor Supply in a Dodge Ram pickup with a big step up on my part. I’m glad my knees are better than they have been. Our host drove us to the beginning of route where multiple horses wearing western saddles finally emerged along with a wagon or two. A short time later, emerging from the high green grasses, wranglers appeared with a heard of several hundred cows or heifers or steers. Some with horns and others without. They, of course, tried to stop and graze rather than continuing. Then they were moved along by the riders down onto the asphalt roadway that runs parallel to the highway.

Next stop, Curt Gowdy State Park for a look-see at the information center. They provided us with hiking route maps, tips on camping around the lake as well as types of birds & plants to search for. To finish things off; a stuffed mountain lion on a pedestal in the center of the building reminded us there is wildlife in the mountains. Next, to enter the park, we paid the admittance fee for non-residents; $6.  As we drove down the back roads—some paved and some graveled we sought out or destination. Number 28 was on the edge of the road beside the lake where a canoe could be rented for an hour. Before we got going onto the trail, we changed into hiking boots. Armed with bottles of water on a shoulder strap and a map we were off into the wild. The ground was dry and would not get any wetter until the afternoon rains. Up and down slopes, we trudged past the lake. Avoiding small rocks and an occasional branch across the trail, we progressed. For the most part, the evergreen trees provide cover from the heat of the day. Along the way to the hidden waterfall, we said hello to passers-by with their dogs. Everyone returned the greeting, and one woman gave me a hand up onto a boulder that crossed our path. Two miles in and two miles out. Not bad for a half a day’s hike at an elevation of 7500 feet. A far cry from our home elevation of 108 feet. Deep breathing and a couple of bottles of water helped life look rosier.

The walk brought one of my mother’s stories to mind. My mother was young once; I tell myself while disbelieving she could have ever been out on a trail with a posy of horses traveling the trails in Wyoming with two guides. The truth is, she was. The trip was with one of her sisters, her father, and a couple of other people whose names were never revealed. I think I only remember it because things didn’t go very well. It began with a day on horseback up to a cabin in northern Wyoming in June. Everything went as planned that day, but the next morning they awoke to find the cabin half-submerged in snow. They weren’t too concerned because they had enough food to get by for a few days while they waited. When it was time to leave, they mounted the horse and headed out, but one of the guides decided to walk his horse. This resulted in a twisted or perhaps broken ankle. I’m not sure how they solved everything; I never got the rest of the story out of Mom.

To come will be an exploration of Laramie, which I think will be our landing spot for retirement. We shall see…

Short Story- Life, So It Goes by Elsa Wolf ©

Since her father’s death, Maggie was busier than she’d ever been in her life. Driving the children to soccer practice, scouting events, gymnastics and horseback riding lessons were part of her job. Her husband, Jim, brought in the money to keep the family going and got involved with as much as he could in his spare time. Now, Maggie had her mother to care for as well in a community an hour away. She was easily overwhelmed. Her only free time was on Friday mornings. In those hours, she relaxed with her draft horse while they rode through the woods. His robust and steady disposition helped settle her soul.

As they forged through narrow trails, creeks, and rivers, she thought of traveling through life’s challenges and hoped to come out on the other side of the dark places that tried to consume her heart at every turn.  She deeply breathed in the autumn air catching the scent of the peaty leaves that lay on the ground and proceeded down the trail. While being acutely aware of the rocks and roots under the horse, a toad scooted off to the left as they passed by. When they arrived at a river crossing, he refused to move forward. This wasn’t like him. Upon closer examination, she noticed a branch caught on a cluster of boulders that created a chilling image of a trapped animal. No wonder her trusted friend refused to forge the placid waters. With some encouragement, he moved forward. On the other side of the river, they moved ahead for another half hour before turning back around to the barn. The ride helped, but the relief was only temporary.

Sitting in the car after the ride, Maggie thought about the next day’s events and ratcheted the gear shift into reverse. The barn manager came to the window. The woman began talking to Maggie about an upcoming engagement at the University of Maryland. Distracted by the conversation, the car started to roll backward. Before she could respond, the thud came. The first thought, oh my God, I’ve run into a horse or person. Throwing the gear back into ‘park’ and jumping out, she realized she’d bumped into the side of the barn managers car. Thankfully, the dent was barely visible. With an overabundant number of apologies, the women decided not to file an insurance claim and went their separate ways.

The very next day, Maggie drove her mother to the heart doctor. The examination took place. The diagnosis; mitral valve prolapse. To prevent more damage, blood pressure and cholesterol medication were prescribed, but surgery was not an option for the ninety-two-year-old woman. After leaving the office in a despondent mood, they hobbled back into the car for a ride down River Road. To cheer her mother up, Maggie drove over to Austin Orlando’s barn to see her arabian. Small pleasures are so important to the elderly. Struggling out of the car and over to the smooth coated, grey horse at the fence line brought a smile across both their faces. Maggie left her mother and went into the barn to get a few treats to feed him. Her mother took one in her hand, placed it in the other one with an open palm, and offered the biscuit to the gentle creature.

The moment of pleasure floated away when the cell phone rang. Maggie pushed the button to engage the call. Jim began speaking in a rapid clip tone. The trek down the ‘new’ Route 29, in honor of the local 29th Infantry of WWII, had come to an alarming conclusion. Their old silver truck and matching steel horse trailer that they called the ‘iron lung,’ due to its bulky mass, approached a red light. He couldn’t stop the usual way because the power brake line failed as he pushed the brake to the floor. With the steering wheel turned toward the right, he engaged the emergency brake. They came to a rolling halt at the Amish Market’s parking lot in Burtonsville. The therapy pony they were trying to transport to the event at the university appeared unscathed. The children, who’d come along, were also fine but a little overexcited. Jim wanted Maggie to drop off her mother and struggle through 25 miles of rush-hour traffic to come to their rescue. The onboard navigation system indicated it would be a two-hour journey instead of the usual one hour.

 Maggie pulled at her lips and said, “I’m not driving a car that can help. Call Bob, he’s a good neighbor. It’s a fifteen-minute drive. He has a truck.” She heard Jim sigh on the other end of the line. “Jim, I’m sorry, I’ll phone the university and let them know what happened.”

Maggie knew Jim only wanted her help because she was with her mother. After all, he was doing Maggie a favor. The horses were her ‘thing,’ not his. She soothed him by saying that if anyone were injured, she’d come right away. She was quite upset and knew she wouldn’t feel any better until she got home. After all their married years, she was still very much in love with him. When they got into arguments, she felt like cracker crumbs on the floor. Logically, Maggie knew this was ridiculous, but sometimes she would lose sight of reality. To compound her angst, her mother wrongfully thought very little of Jim and acted as if he didn’t exist while demanding constant attention from Maggie. This had been going on for two decades after Jim had whisked her away with a marriage proposal. Life…so it goes.

Short Story – It Happened

Mirabelle sat on his bare back and up the hill they went. The pony went faster and faster to avoid his pain as she began to experience her own. Mirabelle knew he had a sore on his belly but rode him anyway. Neither of them understood why they ached. Running seemed like a cure. How could these things be happening? Her father was dead. For the first time, she truly understood the fragility of life—death is inevitable. She was strong and brave when he was alive and now afraid of everything.

The pony crested the hill and began to turn sharply to the right as Mirabelle leaned the other way. She knew what would happen next and didn’t care. Her eyes closed.  She was falling and wanted the horrible ‘it’ to happen. Life had become too emotionally unbearable. In those split seconds, she didn’t think of anyone. Not her children, not her husband; not anyone. She went head over heels down onto the hard-cold hellish ground.

While she was unconscious, she dreamt of a wolf who spoke of a life worth living. When she woke minutes or more had passed, the sky looked down at her with disapproval. The pony grazed without any concern over her condition.  She had only remembered closing her eyes and falling, but not hitting the ground. Does God protect us this way before we die? Maybe we don’t feel pain as we leave this world to a parallel universe we call heaven.

Mirabelle scolded herself for being so selfish; she didn’t really want to die.  Her family needed her, and she was valued. Shame filled her heart. She lay on the ground without moving, her neck felt sore. There was no one around to pick her up, and she’d deliberately left her cell phone behind. She had to get up on her own, both in body and soul. She rolled over while supporting her head with her hand and sat upright. Walking up the hill and into the house, she found an ice pack in the freezer and applied it to the back of her neck. She thought about the wolf and wondered who he represented. Why had she fallen off her pony, her life was full yet overwhelming. She was wide awake in her pain and vowed to never try the wretched ‘it’ again. But, the wolf had frightened her and said we are all reincarnated after death. Mirabelle didn’t really believe those words. It was her mind playing tricks. The dream was nothing more than an unconscious delusion. Or was it?

Written by Elsa Wolf

Mystery – Death at the Ye Olde Pub

Inspector Lynch’s plump hand brushed the raindrops off his wool cloak. He tucked the hood tighter around his ruddy, stubbled chin. Thirty minutes had gone by since he’d received a phone call and made his way straight across town to the pub as the sun tried to peek through the clouds. Aw, my England, my England, he mused and thought of his favorite author, D.H. Lawrence. This distracted his mind before dealing with the dead. Passing by the statue of Robin Hood in Nottingham brought a wry smile to his lips. He really didn’t like the piece. It seemed to send the wrong message to the community—redistribution of wealth by any means. The idea was a bit repugnant to him. The copper cast statue had been hauled to the small park in 1952 and serenaded by a band from the Royal Lincolnshire Regiment at its dedication. Since then, thirty years had passed. Like the statue, he had become worn around the edges and had acquired a hitch in his left hip from arthritis. But he knew his opinions on local artifacts shouldn’t be his prime concern this particular day, they should be on the pub. Yet he couldn’t help thinking of other things on the way to the alleged crime scene as the latest community project was hard to miss. All over town, there were synthetic robin birds with pointed caps covering their crests mounted in plain sight.  There were thirty-odd birds, five-foot tall with multiple patchwork colors painted over every inch. He knew they would only remain in place for a mere twelve weeks then be collected and auctioned off in October, but he thought they were gaudy. The proceeds would go to Nottinghamshire Hospice; a good cause he couldn’t fault.

 A few more paces and he’d be at the pub. The name of the place, Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem Inn, never made much sense. Yet, he couldn’t argue with anyone on that subject either. After all, the establishment opened in 1189, and he did enjoy going there from time to time for a pint of ale. The various wee rooms were cozy and had a distinct air about them. The place was rather charming, embedded in the rocks beneath the Nottingham Castle.

Passing through the stone-lined courtyard, into the building, Lynch headed right to the bar to find the young woman who’d called the precinct. Liz, was sitting on a stool downing what appeared to be her second pint. He hoped she hadn’t touched anything at the scene beyond the phone and the glass. She gripped it so tightly that he worried it might explode.

“Morning, my dear, I’m the local DCI. You can call me Inspector Lynch. Tell me, what happened here?”

“Oh, hiya. I remember you. Seen you in here a few times.” Liz responded in an accent that sounded British, but a little American, too.

“Right, you are, love.”

“Sorry, what’s a DCI?’

“Detective Chief Inspector. You’re not from these parts, are you? I hear a hint of something else in your voice.”

Liz loosened her grip on the glass, and her hand twitched. “Yes, I’m from the States, but I’ve been here long enough to work on the accent. I like to blend in. When I found my manager—Mrs. O’Connell—I didn’t waste a minute and rang the police. She’s over there in the back room by the well.” Liz pointed with a bent finger that began to tremble, then rubbed her hand on her muslin peasant blouse. The inspector knew from previous visits that everyone was provided with a blouse and either a roughshod pair of trousers or a long-skirt to adhere to a Medieval ambiance.

“Right then, I’ll go have a look.”

The old well was framed by a wrought iron rail, to prevent guests from stumbling into the opening. There lay a woman prostrate on the floor with a gash in her head, one arm stretched forward with its palm splayed wide open. A line of blood trickled away from her head on the unlevel floor.

“Tsk-tsk.” The inspector clicked his tongue. He pulled his digital camera out of the pocket in his cloak and began taking photographs. The forensic team would take more when they arrived and go over every inch of the area. There weren’t likely any useable fingerprints anyway due to the public nature of the place. Yet, there was one thing unusual sitting just beyond the manager’s reach.

“Sir,” Liz’s weak voice emerged.

He turned around, and she was standing by the nearest corner.

“Sir, what, are those roses? Is she reaching for them?”

“When I saw the bouquet of 7 roses, I knew exactly who had murdered Mrs. O’Connell.” He jumped through the cases in his mind.

“Who could do such a thing?”

“It wouldn’t be prudent to say. I can’t put you in danger. The apron strings wrapped around the roses are odd.” He scratched at his face. “Might be coincidental or could mean something important.”

“Not knowing who might have done this will make me more nervous.”

“Perhaps, but I still can’t tell ye. At least I can’t until the forensic work is carried out.” He scratched the welt on his cheek that got bigger as he fussed with it.

“You all right? Your face is getting red.”

“Yeah, yeah. Just a bug bite. A cold rag would help.” He needed her to leave him alone to think. While she hurried off, he popped an allergy tablet into his mouth. Last time he saw a dead body with roses had been eighteen months before. It hadn’t been publicized because the family of the old woman wanted to keep things quiet. The situation here wasn’t going to be kept under wraps. The press would get a hold of this case. Nottingham murders were rare.

She returned with the rag and handed it to him.

“Liz, do you have a lot of shifts here?”

“Mostly on weekends, I’m at Uni during the week.”

“Were there any regular customers on your shifts?”

“Yeah, sure.”

“And, if I describe one of them, would you know the bloke?”

“Description, maybe not, but a photo, probably. No need really, there’s a surveillance camera in the corner. You know, a CCTV? Trouble is, it’s only aimed at the bar, not the well.”

“Can you show me?”

“Yeah, no worries. My brother taught me. He works in a security firm back home.”

“Very good, let’s have a look.” He followed Liz into a back room that was more of a closet. After making a quick decision on his part, he decided he wouldn’t divulge anything. If he recognized a possible suspect, he wouldn’t point to the person for fear of putting her life in danger, too. “Liz, show me random footage from last night. About an hour before closing. Point anyone out you recognize as a regular.”

“Yeah, all right.” She clicked the computer mouse here and there as he looked on. “Nothing was stolen, either. I looked. And there are no more treasures of Grantham in the caves below us.”

Twenty minutes passed. Lynch saw the man who was most likely the culprit. She pointed to him and about six other gents. The pieces were coming together in his mind. The accidental death of an old woman, Mrs. Crump, came to mind. The case had been cited as an accident, but now he was pretty sure it couldn’t have been. Mrs. Crump’s son, Jerald, was at home the night his mother died and here he was on the CCTV screen swaying on the bar stool. It might be a coincidental connection, but he now had probable cause to revisit the ‘accidental’ death. There had been seven roses at Mrs. Crump’s house, too.

“Liz, put a sign out front on the far side of the courtyard saying; ‘Sorry, closed until tomorrow.’ We can’t have people mucking about. You can go on home when you’re done.”

“Yeah, al’ right. No Sunday Roast, the clients aren’t going to like that.” She scurried over to the bar, shuffled about for paper, pen, and string. A few minutes later she was out the door and didn’t return. Instead, the forensic team appeared. Inspector Lynch went over what he knew with them before heading out to find Jerald Crump. With any luck, the man would be home at this hour sleeping off his stupor. The inspector pulled out his mobile and searched through the directory for the address. Finding what he was looking for, he called it in and asked for back-up at the residence. A half hour later, his hand wrapped on the door while the officer stood off to the side.

At first no one answered, but then a disheveled, dark hair man opened the door.  It was Jerald Crump. He was visibly startled and backed up into a woman standing behind him. Lynch explained the scene at the pub and compared it to Jerald’s mother’s prostrate body with the bouquet of roses. Jerald was quite agitated but didn’t recall ever being at the pub the night before. He went on to lament the death of his poor mother whose dementia had turned her into an often angry and confused woman over the last seven years of her life. Not being particularly sympathetic, Lynch signaled for his officer to take the man into custody.  The woman, who had been standing quietly behind him grabbed her coat to accompany him. A handful of rose petals fell to the floor unnoticed by Lynch.

Short Story- Winter

DollHouseFromParents

Sara came up with the idea of serving a weekly neighborhood meal in the kitchen at their farmhouse. It wasn’t enough that they had a couple dozen horses to tend to; some boarders and others slated for their lesson programs. The horses ranged in size from pony to draft, and she loved each one of them individually.

Every Saturday new people appeared at the house for an early supper. Some would put a donation in the box by the stove, others would not. Either way, it was fine with Sara. She enjoyed cooking new recipes and bringing people together made her feel complete. Community was everything and running these events was, in a way, inevitable since they had an overstocked freezer, fridge, and pantry. All of it; the meat, fruit, and vegetables had come straight from their land. What they couldn’t consume, they either canned and sold or gave to the needy at the city shelters.

There were too many people in the house this winter afternoon. Outside the kitchen window, Sara observed the recent snowfall resting on the ground. The open patch of dirt surrounded by four shovels, was the only bare spot. The hired hands were taking a break from the ritual while drinking steaming liquid from the mugs off of their steel thermoses. It wouldn’t be long before they finished.

Sara hustled around in the kitchen making more food as she kept an eye on the guests, some of whom she hadn’t met before. Some that weren’t clients at her lesson barn. They’d come in with her neighbors and friends, or so she thought. There were a few of the strangers that worried her. A lady with red nails sitting by the fireplace on a bench seemed to be a bit too hungry. She sucked the apple pie filling off her fork, then her fingers and from under those red nails. It appeared to be more like withdrawing the nectar from the top of an orange with the long, loud sucking sounds. Her lips puckered and her cheeks pulled inward. Then there was the boy, he too wore red, but on his blue plaid shirt. But the boy wasn’t eating—he was helping himself to a computer war game on the big screen television in the alcove. Some of twenty or so guests roamed around the room chatting with each other. Still others, sat on chairs or the couch, talking about things Sara couldn’t hear over the roar of everyone’s voices. Someone behind her said ‘hello,’ and she turned around. It was a friend, a friend she’d known for more than twenty years—Annie. They had hardly begun to talk when a worker knocked on the door and opened it no more than six inches to report the job was done and the stone put in place. Sara thanks him and told him to wait while she sent Annie to find her husband to dole out the funds for burying Laddie. He was such a sweet little pony, and Sara vowed to always remember him. The headstone outside the kitchen window would never let her forget.

When Annie returned from her task, another man walked in the door behind her and flashed an FBI badge. Sara was taken aback and scowled rather fiercely at him. She couldn’t, or maybe she could, imagine why the agent was there. Perhaps there was someone in the group of strangers that didn’t belong. The man said he’d be discrete while he circled through the crowd. He also mentioned there were two more agents outside in case anyone, who wasn’t supposed to leave, tried to flee. Sara consented as she had no other choice. She headed over to the sink to wash a pan and looked out the window toward the pond where her husband was paying the workers.

The oven timer went off.  Before Sara could get there, Annie put on the oven mitts and pulled out another apple pie. Sara loved the extra help. While the pies were cooling, they huddled together and poured more stew into a serving dish. Not all of the guests had eaten the first portion since they’d been more interested in socializing than eating. The young man in front of the television was riveted to the screen. Sara took a bowl of food to him, and he looked up. She tried to ask who he was connected to, but instead, his eyes darted around the room and landed on one of the agents. She didn’t know why he knew since they were dressed in jeans and shirts like most of the other guests, but the young man wasn’t fooled. It wasn’t clear to Sara why he should be concerned. He consumed a few spoonfuls of stew and thanked her before excusing himself and walking out the side door. Following the young man to the door, she watched him head toward the barn only to be stopped and handcuffed by one of the agents. Within five minutes, they got in the car, were joined by the remaining agents and drove off without explanation.

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