Joyce McDonald Hoskins
The monkey yanked the dog’s tail. There had to be worse ways to spend a Saturday afternoon. But Chester couldn’t imagine anything worse. He changed the channel. Prison maybe. He’d never been in prison. Spent one night in jail for a DUI when he was a kid, but that was it. He looked out the window at the blizzard, frowned, looked back at the TV, and frowned again.
A woman, who sounded like her mouth was full of mush, droned on about the joys of being a Christian. “Tell your sorry face how happy you are, stupid.” Everything went black and quiet for a minute and then the power returned.
The phone rang. Happy to have contact with a real live person, he grabbed it.
“Hey, Chester. Can you get out?”
“Naw, Dan. Not going to try.”
“Hell of a storm, huh? Bought a six pack to help get me through, but it’s gone. Judy even drank one and she rarely drinks. Damn, should have bought more. Or a fifth. Thought I lost electric but it came back.”
“Yeah, mine flashed off and on, too. It’s worse than I thought it would be. Wish I could go to the hospital and bring Molly and little Ben home. Think they’ll get the roads cleared early tomorrow?”
“Soon as the storm is over, buddy. You know they always do.” Dan chuckled. “Enjoy the piece and quiet while you can. Believe me it’s the last you’ll have for some time. If it helps any, I’d rather be alone than here with a stir-crazy wife and three rowdy kids—even rather be working.”
“I know, Dan, but being alone is pretty bad. No one to talk to but the TV. I want to hold that little guy. And Molly, man, I miss her being here.”
Dan laughed. “Yeah, you’re probably right. Kids are making a tent on our king-sized bed. We’re going to pop corn, watch movies and play games. Give me a call if it gets too bad, pal. I could probably get over there and get you.”
“Thanks.” He pushed back in his recliner, flipped to the weather channel, glanced out the window, and saw a snowmobile heading toward the house. Wish I’d bought one when we had the money. Now with a new baby . . . He watched as the snowmobile sped to the back of the house. Hope nothing’s wrong. He got up and walked to the back door. Living in the country, and being in a blizzard, he hadn’t bothered to lock it after clearing the porch in the morning. When he arrived, a man was kicking the snow aside. He didn’t call-out or knock. Chester became suspicious. He started back to the living room for his shotgun. When he felt the cold wind on his back, he knew was in trouble.
“Hold it right there. Turn around.”
He felt the gun pointed at his back before he turned and saw it.
Determined to remain coolheaded, Chester took a deep breath and sized the man up. He figured they were a pretty even match if it came to a scuffle—minus the gun. Chester was not a novice when push came to shove. He’d been in quite a few barroom fights—before Molly. “What do you need? Wallet’s in the bedroom. Only about fifty in it. ATM card. I’ll give you the pin number.”
The man laughed. “Right.”
“Take the money and go.”
“Anyone else here?”
The man took a glass off the counter and smashed it against the wall. He waited to see if anyone appeared. “Expecting anyone?”
“Not in this weather. Wife’s in the hospital—had a baby yesterday.”
“Boy or girl?”
Puzzled, he wondered why the man would care. “Boy.”
“What did you name him?”
“Ben, Benjamin, but we’ll call him Ben.”
“That your name?”
“No. My name’s Chester.”
“Well, Chet, old boy, having a new baby and all, I figure you want to keep on living.”
Chester nodded. “I asked you what you needed.” He managed to keep his voice steady. Showing weakness was never good.
“How much gas do you have?”
“Few gallons in a can—nearly a full tank in the truck—full tank in the car. Keys are on the hook by the door.”
“Well, isn’t that dandy. Like I could just drive off in a blizzard.”
Chester heard the phone ringing in the living room. “Are you hungry?” He asked to divert the man’s attention from the ringing phone. He thought it would be best to not answer. Everyone knew he was home, so they’d become concerned pretty quickly.
“Let’s go check the phone.”
Chester turned and walked to the living room.
The man followed, picked up the phone and checked the caller ID. “Hospital. Must be the wife. Call her back. Keep it cool. One tricky little clue and you are a dead man.”
Always able to think on his feet, Chester’s mind raced as he tried to formulate a tip off. He took the phone and pressed the button. “Hey, hon. I was in the shower.”
“Did you find the cat?” Molly asked.
“No. I was able to get to the out buildings this morning, but she’s nowhere to be found. Hope she hasn’t got in any trouble.”
“Me, too. I just called to say I love you. Baby Ben’s fussing. I’ll call you in the morning.” “I’ll try to get out and check on the cat later on, but it doesn’t look like it’s going to let
There was a pause and then Molly spoke again. “I do love you, honey.”
“I love you too, sweetheart. Kiss the baby for me.” He flipped the phone shut, thought about tossing it in the guy’s face, but decided against it, and placed it on the stand. “So, what’s your name?” He locked eyes with the man. Make your enemy think you’re his friend.
“Bill will do for the duration of our short relationship.”
“Well, Bill, you gonna tie me up, or what?”
“Hoping to overpower me if I put the gun down?”
“Sure.” Chester shrugged. “Be worth a try. Think I could take you. Be a good sport. Put the gun down and let’s see who the best man is.”
“Comedian, huh?” Bill laughed. “How far to your closest neighbor?”
“Couple of miles.”
“Can they get out?”
“Don’t know. Generators, snowmobiles, and survival equipment have been the hot topics around town since the blizzard warning. Supplies got scarce. Don’t know what the neighbors were able to purchase. Money’s tight for me right now, so I didn’t get much. Plenty of firewood. I’ll survive. Always do.”
“Ya think you’re a tough guy, don’t you?”
“I do okay.”
“I imagine a guy like you has a truck that’s road worthy. Bet you go out mudding in the springtime.”
“Naw. Gave up all the crazy shit when I married Molly. Not into the good old boy stuff nowadays. Truck will take you anywhere you want to go as soon as they get the road plowed.”
“Guess we’re in for a cozy wait.”
“In that case, could we maybe sit?”
“You do know, there’s no reason I shouldn’t kill you. Right?”
“Yeah, there’s that. Might get life if I get caught now. Shot a bank guard over in Clay County. I think I only wounded him.”
“You know?” Chester rubbed his chin. “I’m not sure what’s out there after death. Molly, she’s a believer in the hereafter. Me? I just don’t know about that heaven and hell stuff—but she could be right.” He looked unblinking into Bill’s eyes.
“You can sit down. Over there.” He pointed the gun at a straight-backed chair.
Chester glanced out the door window. “Wish I could shovel my way to the barn and check on the chickens and cow. See if Molly’s cat came home. She’s right fond of that cat.”
“Guess I will.” He sat down. “Sun’s going down.”
“Move your chair over by the fire so I can see you if the power goes out. And no funny stuff.”
“Okay. Warmer there anyway. Mind if I doze?”
“If you can sleep sitting up, go ahead, and if you think I’ll fall asleep, I won’t.”
“Funny, I was feeling sorry for myself when you arrived. Thinking I’d rather be in prison than stuck in a blizzard without my wife and baby.”
“Sleep or make small talk. Doesn’t matter to me.” Bill put his back to the wall and slid to the floor. “I’ll just sit here with this gun leveled at your head.”
Chester slouched down in his chair and folded his arms. “Couldn’t talk you into a pillow, could I?”
“Naw.” Bill laughed. “You’ll live. Maybe.” He laughed again.
“Dark even with the lights on, isn’t it?” Chester said.
The power went off. A bright light blinded Bill as cold air flowed into the room.
“Police! Drop it.”
Bill shielded his eyes and let his gun drop.
“Backup is coming right behind me.” Dan looked at Chester out of the corner of his eyes, keeping the flashlight and gun pointed at Bill. “Find that cat?”
“Sure did.” Chester wiped his brow. “I’m freezing and sweating. That was a close one.”
“Yeah, having a state trooper for a neighbor can come in handy. Sorry about the door. I’ll help you fix it later. You still have power. I hit the master switch.”
“That was a smart thing Molly and I did when we came up with the code.” Chester looked at Dan. “We were watching a thriller of a movie one night. She mentioned that it was a little scary living out here and we made up the cat code. If I called home and the cat wasn’t okay, I’d know something was wrong. After that, we’d often joke on the phone and ask about the cat. Molly, bless her heart, was joking when she asked, but stayed cool when she realized something was really wrong. I was praying she’d call you, Dan.” He wiped his brow again with his shirt sleeve. “Made up the code for her protection and turned out I was the one who needed it.” He glanced at Bill and grinned. “Cat got your tongue, Bill?”