The flag burner lay on his stomach randomly screaming about “the tyranny of the state” and “the army knows a secret.” At one point he looked at me and Charlie with that look in his eye only Dan could get as if to say, “help me man.”
“I swear he could be your brother,” Charlie said. “I know. I find it hard not to stare.”
The sheriff and his deputies raised the flag burner from the ground and led him to their car. I wondered why they were putting so much effort into the arrest. It’s not like he set off a bomb. But again, looking around at the shocked faces, I suppose lighting up the US Flag in the center of town was just as bad for these folks.
“I’m going to try and talk to him.”
“You go ahead. I’m going to go rest.” Charlie walked off towards the hardware store, I presumed, to count cars and sleep.
I waited outside the medical clinic until the dark clouds rolled passed sunset. A steady stream of thunder boomers headed north to Nebraska and maybe Iowa to dump rain, hail, and certainly a tornado in a corn field. The thunderstorms this spring seemed to roll away from Pretty Prairie. Even though I could use the work clearing debris, I am no fan of tornadoes. The thought Mother Nature can swat me away like a flea tends to send lightening bolts to my boots.
I lit another cigarette and looked through the glass window. They still had the flag burner locked inside for a medical evaluation. He probably had to look at pictures of patriotic children saluting the flag to see if he was squeamish. Goodness, who burns a flag in one of the most backwater places in America? Certainly, not for the TV trucks. He had to be nuts for even trying it here.
Besides wondering what was going to happen to the guy, I also wanted to get a second look at him. My brother Dan died when he stepped on one of those homemade explosives in Afghanistan. He was clearly dead. I went to the funeral. So why did this guy look so much like him? There had to be a believable explanation.
I dropped the stub of the cigarette and crushed it with my toe. As I reached for my another, a weary Army truck stopped in front of the clinic. It looked somber like it needed a shine. A baby soldier climbed from the driver’s side and ran around the truck. He soon followed a cranky soldier wearing a dusty green field shirt with a bunch of patches above the words “US Army” and a patch on his right arm indicating he was a Ranger. He seemed important enough for the baby soldier to rush to open the door. Then they went in without even looking my way.
I decided to follow them inside. I creaked open the door and heard shouting. The Ranger demanded to see the flag burner and the young girl at the reception desk was stammering.
“I…I…can’t let you go back there,” she managed to squeak out.
“I don’t care what you can’t do,” said the man. “I’m only interested in seeing my soldier.”
A older man in a white robe entered the reception area followed by a deputy. The doctor took no time in confronting the angry man.
“You need to leave,” he said. “We are not allowing anyone but family.” The deputy placed his hand on his gun as a precaution.
The cranky soldier let out a blast of air like a punctured tire and placed his flat hand on the reception desk. He leaned there staring at the doctor who stared back. He inched closer to the doctor in a threatening way and he got into his face. This went on for a few minutes until I decided to speak up.
“Um,” I paused because what I was about to say seemed impossible. “Um. I think he might be my brother.”
“That seems pretty far fetched,” said the doctor.
“There’s something about him.”
The soldier interrupted. “He’s a deserter, an enemy, and he needs to go with me. This guy is just one of his anarchy friends.” The soldier gave me a look of disdain.
“Honestly, I’ve never seen him. He just looks familiar.”
I told them about my brother Dan and how this guy looked a lot like him. It couldn’t hurt to talk to him, and besides, as soon as I cleared this up I could go to bed. The cranky soldier, the baby soldier, and the doctor waited for me to go on. Honestly, I didn’t have much more to say. But I did want to clear up this thing about my brother Dan.
“Maybe I can go and check?”
The doctor stared at me until he finally broke the silence.
“Sure. Let’s see if you’re related to him,” he said. “You gentlemen can just as soon go. I’m not letting you back there.”
I squeezed passed the Ranger and he snarled as I went by.
“Oh we’ll be back with some MPs,” said the soldier. “And we’ll take that boy back with us. You can count on it.”
“Don’t you worry Colonel Cox,” the deputy said. “He won’t spill any state secrets.” He laughed and the cranky soldier huffed as he turned around.
I followed the doctor and the deputy through the clinic until we reached a back area with a large counter. In the middle of the room, the sheriff and another deputy towered over the flag burner who sat wearing handcuffs and a restraining belt. I could tell he had been struggling and still wanted out of the chair. The deputy stood over him like a bull terrier. The flag burner wasn’t going anywhere.
“What’s your name?” asked the doctor.
“Well, Jake I doubt it, but we’ll see.”
The wind kicked up and whistled through the vents. Every now and then something would hit the utility pipes on the roof and leaves and broken branches danced over the skylight. The edge of the storm had moved closer to Pretty Prairie and was taking some of our garbage with it.
I looked at the flag burner. His eyes were brown, while Dan had blue eyes. His chin seemed a bit wider than Dan’s, but it looked pretty close. He had Dan’s blonde hair, slender nose, and my thin lips. But deep down when he looked at me I felt something familiar, like I had eaten breakfast with this guy or hung out in our Charger drinking beer. It was a closeness, like we shared a secret. I wanted to talk to him.
“Dan?” The flag burner failed to respond. I kneeled down in front of the stranger and put my hand on his shoulder. “Dan?”
The stranger looked at me. “Do you remember the time we set off bottle rockets and nearly took down the Pine Street bridge?” The guy continued to stare. “How about the time we slid down the ice sheet and ended up sliding across the road in front of those cars?” The flag burner looked into my eyes and I tried to see some recognition. He looked at the deputy and shuddered. He returned to my eyes and started to laugh.
“This is my brother Jakey.” The flag burner went from pointing and laughing to pointing and crying. “It’s my brother Jake,” he mumbled.
I rose up to give Dan a hug and the deputy took a step back. Something about the hug seemed off and as I brought my brother closer he whispered in my ear, “You’ve got to get me out of here before that colonel comes back.” I pulled back and looked the guy in the eye. “We’re not safe.”
As soon as he said it, a huge gust of wind ripped the roof off the clinic like it was a sardine can and the doctor, sheriff, and the deputy were sucked out in a violent cyclone. The wind tossed Dan into a corner and me under the table where I clung to the legs as the wind tried to pull me out. Then the wind stopped and an eerie silence took over.
“Dan?” I shouted. “Dan? Are you okay?”
I rushed to the corner where Dan lay on his side bleeding from a gash in his head.
“I need your help,” he said. “The army wants to kill me because I invented a way to control the weather.”
(to be continued)
Part One – Jake Rutledge and the Guy with Bad Timing
— wordsmithholler (@wordsmithholler) July 11, 2018
© 2018, Michael Shawn Sommermeyer. All rights reserved.
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