Sweet Home Alabama
Chapter 20

Copyright© 2013 by Robert McKay

The bit about how ignorant cross burners are must have hit a mark, for his face twisted in disgust and he said, "All right, all right. I'll give you some names, and they'll be people who are exactly what you described. And I'm sure you and your wife will both feel much more comfortable around such poor white trash."

"About like you, I guess – after all, you know the names."

That hit a mark too, for Carter's face went red and he started to get out of his chair again. "Bad idea," I said, "unless you want a fist in your face this time."

Carter subsided, and took a large swallow of his drink. "If you have something to write with, here are the names." Cecelia had already pulled out her notebook and pen, and Carter gave her the names: "Sam Howell. Jackson Ruggles. George Smith. Carroll Jenson. And that is all you're getting out of me, no matter how many times you have your wife beat me up."

"I'm tempted to let her do it," I said, "just on general principles. Someone like you is a blot on humanity. But I'll omit that – it ain't why we're here." I turned to Cecelia. "Would you please wait in the car?"

She nodded, looked once at Carter, and then went out, back through the house toward the front.

I stepped up to Carter, leaning over him, knowing that my boots gave me extra height. I know how to look intimidating, having learned the trick when I was a cop, and I did it now. "Carter, if you ever put a hand on my wife again, if you ever so much as look at her wrong, I'll find you, and I'll take you out in a field somewhere, and I'll fix it so you can't get out of your bed for a month. Am I clear?"

He nodded. I turned and went, and my boots were loud on the floor as I stomped out of the house.

Outside Cecelia was sitting in the passenger seat of the Blazer looking as pale as I've ever seen her, probably as pale as it's possible for her to be. I climbed into the driver's seat and took off, headed south, out of town. As soon as we were on a side road where traffic was unlikely, I stopped, shut off the engine, and got out - just in time to throw up in the weeds beside the road. Cecelia got out more slowly, and didn't vomit, but leaned on the hood as though it were the only thing holding her up.

I spit a few times, trying to get the nasty taste out of my mouth, and kicked dirt over the mess I'd made. "We got any water in there?" I asked.

"Yes," Cecelia said, and the brevity of the answer and her complete immobility let me know that she wasn't in any shape to get it for me. I walked to the back and opened it up, and dug in the ice chest that rode there, snugged to the side with bungee cords around the hooks that were something else I'd had the mechanic do for me when I bought the Blazer. I pulled out a bottle of water, swished a couple of mouthfuls around and spat them out in the weeds, and finally took a long drink. The fact that I was drinking water told me how badly the encounter had upset me. I closed the back of the Blazer and walked back to the hood, where I handed Cecelia the bottle.

She looked at it – down to about half, now – and took a long drink. "I have rarely," she said, "felt so faint and ill as I did when I sat down in the Blazer."

"It affects you about the same way it does me," I said. "We neither of us are violent people, even though we've both got plenty of temper. We lash out – sometimes on purpose – and afterwards the reaction puts us out of action for a while."

"If I ever have to shoot someone – a contingency I devoutly hope never arises – I expect I shall be violently ill, and have terrible dreams for years."

"You've got bad dreams anyways, an' you ain't never shot no one."

She looked at me, but didn't comment on my English. "And you have your nightmares, even though no one has ever shot you."

"They've shot at me," I said, "an' come near hittin'."

"I am glad," she said, tangentially, "that I was only a police officer for a year. The necessity of using force – however necessary, and however mild it might have been – on a regular basis would either have destroyed my digestion, or rendered me less than human."

"It's a stressful job, an' not ever'body can do it on a permanent basis. I did it for two years, an' that was enough. You know why, until you decided to get your own license, I didn't work much."

"There are multiple reasons, you have advised me, but I know the one you speak of: your desire to retain your humanity. And at this moment, I heartily concur. Were it not for the fact that I have determined to identify, and turn over to the police, the perpetrators of that outrage, I would demand that we leave Leanna today. But I shan't relent in my determination; I am adamantine in it; I shall carry it out, most assuredly."

"That makes two of us. They done terrified you back to when you was a girl, an' I ain't a-gonna let 'em get away with that. But once we're done, we'll head out if you still want. This ain't exactly what we was lookin' for when we come here."

"No, it isn't. I had hoped for peace and restoration, and I think I'm more upset now than I was in Albuquerque." She held out her hands. "I am still trembling."

I held my hands out – they were shaking a bit too. "Just for the record, I'm glad it bothers you when you get violent. It means you're a normal human being. But I'm also glad you smacked him. He deserved it, and more besides."

"You delayed in the house; did you impress upon him your opinion of his action?"

"Not physically, no. But he knows that messin' with you'll get me riled up good."

"I thought that, when you arose from your chair, you were going to disable him."

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