Listening as the quarters clinked into the phone, I pretended to be looking at the snacks on the counter.
"(Cough, cough.) Hello, Annie? Is that you? Listen, honey, check and see, (cough, cough), if I left that iron turned on, would you?" As she waited, she turned and looked at me.
"Do I know you, little boy? You look kinda familiar to me."
"Er, no ma'am, I don't think so, less'n you know Frankie Slemons. That's my father. Do you know Frankie?"
"No, I reckon not." Turning back to the phone she said, "yeah? I did? Well, okay. Thanks. (Cough, cough) Now you behave while I'm away, and don't be spending no time with that no-account boy! See you when I get back!"
I ran into the bathroom near the phones and nearly threw up; I thought, 'boy, that was a close one!'
We were going to have to be careful, that was for sure. I washed my face with some cold water, and used the bathroom. I needed to get back to Rosie, or she'd be wanting to know what had happened to me. We needed to talk. I had to warn her that we belonged to Frankie Slemons, a name I had made up, I thought.
"Hey, sis!! I need to call you by your middle name, so that old woman with a cough won't be able to make sure she knows us." I told Rosie about the near calamity, so she agreed for us to use different names than what we were normally called.
Soon we were back on the bus and it was rolling along on its way to its destination. The woman we were being careful of went to sleep and the kid running up and down the aisle had finally run out of energy, too. Two hours later, the curious woman exited the bus, and I breathed a sigh of relief.
Three and a half hours later, our stop was called, and Rosie and I were the only ones to get off. We had eaten our sandwiches soon after the curious woman had left the bus, and I knew I was going to be hungry again before long.
We looked around.. we were in Hickston, Kentucky. I thought, 'Boy, this place is aptly named, cause it looks like a hick town, sure enough." We were going to stick out like sore thumbs, and I wondered how we were going to find out about our Marie and Les this way without raising a lot of questions about ourselves.
We had to
decide where to begin. I had thought about seeing the law people, like
the town Sheriff or police chief, but wasn't sure what we could tell
him. He could be a friend of my grandparents, and would likely spill the
beans to them. We couldn't say a lot to people, because they would
recognize us as out of towners. We stood under the awning of the drug
store where the bus had stopped, and were beginning to receive some
greasy spoon diner, we crossed the street and entered. The waitress
spotted us as we sat down at a booth, and, coming over with two menus,
greeted us with, "Hey, Cutie Pie, what can I get for ya?" She was
looking at me when she said it, of course.
menus from her, we smiled and we shook our heads like we needed a few
minutes to decide. She told us she would be back in a few minutes to
take our order. We looked at them and decided to split a burger and have
water to drink. Rosie had been watching the TV show, "The Real McCoys"
and decided that the people in Hickston talked that way, so we decided
to imitate their speech.
waitress came back, Rosie placed the order, and the waitress, whose name
tag said "Millie", looked at us a little funny, then said, "y'all ain't
from around here, are ya?"
"Well, we are
here visiting our Aunt, uh, Mary. She just came a few weeks ago and is
going to pick us up down the street later." I was making it up as fast
as my mind would go. "She told us to come in here and have a sandwich or
somethin' while we waited. So, here we are." I smiled at Millie.
"Okay, kid, ya got it!"
She took the
menus and left, going over to the short order cook. A few minutes later,
the food was brought over to us and she sat down at our booth.
"Okay, kids. Spill it, and, the truth this time."
leaned in close to each other, conspiratorially. I looked around to see
if anyone was noticing us. Apparently, it was not out of the common for
Millie to join the customers in conversation when the place was not
I looked at Rosie, lifting my eyebrows; she shrugged her shoulders, and said, "Well, you see, it's like this....uh.. do you know a Martha O'Hanlon?"
"I know about everybody that lives here about. Why? What about her?"
"Well, uh, we're looking for her place. Can you tell us where she lives and how to get there?"
"Yes, but what for do you want to see that old battleaxe? She don't do nothing for nobody, especially not kids."
Ah, we knew right away that we had found an ally. So we began to feel some safety in confiding to her.
she's our grandma, our Da's mother," I explained, "and she came to see
us a few weeks ago. Then awhile later, our little sister and brother
disappeared from the playground after school. We think she might have
Millie had been leaning forward to catch every word we whispered to her and now she leaned back against the booth.
o' Goshen! You don't say! We need to talk to our County Sheriff just as
soon as you all finish eating. He's a good friend of mine and he'll
help you. Everybody knows what a harridan that old woman is! Her husband
is even worse, though, so we're gonna have to be careful. He has a lot
of influence in the county."
"Can we go right now? I just can't wait. I need to go to the restroom, too. Is there one in here?" inquired Rosie.
but I think maybe I'd better let you all stay here while I give the
sheriff a call and ask him to stop by for a cup of coffee." She smiled
reassuringly at the two of us.
looked into the mirror over the tiny wash basin as I washed my hands and
wondered if we were doing the right thing by bringing the law into the
picture so fast. After all, if Grandpa O'Hanlon was so influential, how
long before he heard about us being there. I felt pretty sure we were
not in a great position, but unable to really do much about it. I knew
we were just kids and it would be our word against the O'Hanlon's if we
were confronted by the two of them.
the time I left the bathroom and got back into the eating part of the
diner, a tall rangy man wearing a uniform of khaki and a badge had
placed his hat on the table of the booth and was shaking Rosie's hand.
"Pleased to meet you, Miss Rose," I heard him say, whereupon Rosie giggled.
I thought then that he knew how to charm the birds out of the trees, if
he could impress Rosie that quickly. So, I walked up behind him and
tapped him on the back. He whirled around and had my arm before I could
say "Jack Robinson".
young feller, you must be little brother. A word of advice, young man,
never walk up unannounced behind a man wearing a gun! It's not healthy."
Then he smiled, as if to soften the warning. "Let's all sit down so's
we can talk, okay? Millie, honey, how about a cup of your good coffee,
hmmm? We'll sit here and get acquainted. Now, tell me why you two little
strangers are in my town."
looked him over as I thought about what I wanted to say, but then Rosie
jumped in and said, "We're here to find out about our brother and
sister. We believe they were kidnapped by our Grandma O'Hanlon and
brought back here."
Oh, come now, Miss Rose, surely you can't mean that? Why, the
O'Hanlon's are one of our most upstanding families. In fact, Mr.
O'Hanlon is the head of our Town Council and owns this very diner we are
sitting in. I just can't believe his dear wife would do any such thing
as kidnap two innocent children. You must be mistaken!"
- oh! Rosie and I looked at one another. Bad trouble for us now. I
looked over at Millie and she looked a bit shame-faced and apologetic.
Apparently she had not had a lot of choice in the matter, and knew on
which side her bread was buttered. I still hoped for some help from her
tell me, kids. Does your mother know where you are? Surely she didn't
send you here, did she?" He looked at me with a dawning of recollection.
"Are you the one who assaulted Mrs. O'Hanlon with a skillet, young man?
Oh, yes, we heard about that. Seems like you are a violent young man
and need to be taken down a notch or two."
took each of us by the arm and out the door. "Millie, seems like we got
us a couple of run away delinquents here. Think I'll just have to take
'em in and lock 'em up overnight. Might teach 'em a lesson. Take care of
their suitcase, will you? I'll pick it up later."
We were on our way to jail and in more trouble than we had ever in our life been before.
turned out that the county jail was only a short distance away and so
within a few minutes, we were being taken inside a small sturdy brick
building that had only three cells in the back.
"Wait a minute! Don't we get one phone call?" asked Rosie.
Little lady, do you want to call your lawyer?" the Sheriff replied,
taking the keys from his desk drawer. "Now, who would a couple of
runaways call, anyhow?"
"I have someone to call," I replied, "and I know we have the right. Please, could I use the phone? I only want five minutes."
sonny, I guess it would be okay, but make it short and sweet. I have
some calls to make, as well. A certain set of grandparents need to know I
have a couple of little jailbirds sitting here in my jail."
trembling hands, I picked up the phone and gave the operator the number
of the police station back home, hoping that Sgt. Finley would be
there, and not out on a call. I was praying hard, all the while.
they came on the line, I asked for the Sgt., but he was out working a
bad accident, and they said it would be several hours before he would be
back, if at all that night. I began talking to whoever was answering
the phone as hard as I could, trying to tell them what was going on in
Hickston, Kentucky. Finally, I just said, "Please tell Sgt. Finley that
Zeb is in trouble in Kentucky and to tell his Ma. Could you do that
"Sure, kid. Yeah, yeah, I'm writing it down and I'll leave a note on his desk where he'll be sure to find it."
hung up dispiritedly, knowing it was going to be a long haul before I
got help from that quarter, and that I was in for a long night tonight
and in more trouble than I had ever been in my whole life. I've heard
since the saying, that we shouldn't borrow trouble from tomorrow,
because today holds all we can manage. Boy, was that ever true in our
case. I had no idea what we were in for.
(To be continued)