The stranger lay on his stomach randomly screaming about “the tyranny of the state” and “the air force knows a secret.” At one point he caught my eye like he was pleading “help me, man.”
“I swear he could be your brother.”
“I know. I find it hard not to stare,” I replied.
It was improbable and impossible because Dan was dead.
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 triggered a bomb. But again, looking around at the shocked faces, I suppose lighting up the U.S. Flag in the center of town was just as bad for these folks.
“I will try to talk to him,” I told Charlie who gave me a notion he was done with the excitement.
“You go ahead. I will go take a nap.” Charlie walked off towards the hardware store, where I presumed, he planned to count cars and sleep.
They took the guy down to the medical clinic where I waited until dark clouds rolled over the west. A steady stream of thunder boomers headed north to Nebraska and Iowa to dump rain, hail, and perhaps, a tornado in a cornfield. We had missed the brunt of the storm.
In fact, all the thunderstorms this spring rolled 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 sends lightening bolts to my boots.
I lit another cigarette and strained to focus through the glass window of the clinic. They still had the flag burner locked inside for medical tests and whatever else they decided he needed. I imagined he had to focus on pictures of patriotic children saluting the flag to prove he was squeamish. Goodness, who burns a flag in one of the most backwater places in America? Not for the TV trucks because there were none. He had to be nuts for even trying it here.
Besides wondering what would happen to the guy, I also wanted a second take of him. My brother Dan died when he stepped on one of those homemade explosives in Afghanistan. He was dead. I went to the funeral. So why did this guy remind me so much of Dan? 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 Air Force truck stopped in front of the clinic. It was rusted like it needed a bath and a shine.
A baby airman climbed from the driver’s side of the truck and ran around to the other door. He soon followed a cranky officer wearing a blue field shirt with a bunch of patches above the words “US Air Force” and a patch on his right arm showing he was Special Operations. He was important enough for the baby airman to rush to yank on the door of the clinic. They passed me loitering by the door without even looking my way.
The clinic door slowed to a stop, and I slipped in behind them. The clinic waiting room was empty but I could hear shouting from the back. I creaked the door to the hallway and heard the important officer standing and shouting. He demanded to talk to the flag burner and a young nurse was stammering.
“I… I… can’t let you bother him,” she squeaked out.
“I don’t care what you can’t do,” the man barked. “I’m only interested in seeing my airman.”
An older man in a white robe entered the hallway followed by a deputy. The doctor took no time in confronting the angry man.
“You need to leave,” he declared. “We are not allowing anyone in to talk,” he paused, “or threaten him.” The doctor pushed the air force colonel with a jab of his thumb. This didn’t go over very well and the officer did not hide his irritation. The deputy placed his hand on his gun as a precaution.
The cranky officer and the doctor stated a stare down and I wondered who would blink first. The officer let out a blast of air like a punctured tire and placed his flat hand on the doctor’s shoulder. He leaned in until he was inches from the doctor’s nose. Even I flinched at his sneer. This went on for a few minutes until I decided it was a good time to interrupt.
“Um,” I paused because what I was about to say sounded impossible. “Um. I think he might be my brother.”
“That seems far-fetched,” challenged the doctor. “Why would he be your brother?”
The cranky officer and the doctor finally agreed.
I shrugged my shoulders, “I recognize him.”
The officer rushed to yell at me more. “The guy you think is your brother is a deserter, an enemy, and he needs to go with me.” He stressed with a hateful face. “This guy is just one of his anarchy friends.”
The baby airman showed me disdain to add emphasis to his boss’ words.
“Honestly, I’ve never seen him. He feels familiar,” I replied with more than a little nonchalance. Everyone waited for me to go on.
I told them about my brother Dan and how this guy resembled him. I made myself out as a neutral party and explained how it couldn’t hurt to talk to him, and besides, as soon as I cleared this up I could go find some work. I waited as the cranky officer, the baby airman, and the doctor weighed what they would say.
The commotion had made me more curious than anything and I wanted to figure out this thing about my brother Dan.
“Maybe I can check?” I offered and started toward the door.
Everyone stared at me until the doctor spoke up. “Sure. Let’s see if you’re related to him,” he decided. “You gentlemen can just as soon go. I’m not letting you back there.”
I squeezed passed the officer, and he snarled as I went by.
“Oh, we’ll be back with some MPs,” barked the colonel. “And we’ll take that airman back with us. You can count on it.”
“Don’t you worry Colonel Cox,” the deputy chuckled. “He won’t spill any state secrets.” He laughed as the cranky officer huffed and stormed down the hall.
I followed the doctor and the deputy into the middle of the room, where the sheriff and another deputy towered over the flag burner. He sat on an exam bed wearing handcuffs and a restraining belt.
I could tell the stranger had been struggling to get out of his cuffs, and he was only sitting still because he had decided he couldn’t flee. It made sense because a wide deputy stood next to him like a bull terrier. The flag burner wouldn’t be going anywhere.
“What’s your name?” asked the doctor.
“I’m Jake. You stitched up my hand last week.” The doctor ignored me.
“Well, Jake, I doubt he’s your brother, but we’ll see.”
The wind kicked up and whistled through the vents sending debris into the utility pipes on the roof. Leaves and broken branches danced over the skylight. I assumed the edge of the storm had moved closer to Pretty Prairie and was taking some of our garbage with it.
I took stock of the flag burner. His eyes were brown, while Dan’s were blue. His chin appeared wider than Dan’s. Although, he had my brother’s scar from when he flew over the handlebars and landed hard on the pavement.
The stranger had Dan’s blonde hair, slender nose, and my thin lips. But it was the feeling I got inside when he glanced back that suggested familiarity, like I had eaten breakfast with this guy or hung out in our Dodge Charger drinking beer.
It was a familiarity; like we shared a secret.
“Dan?” The flag burner did not respond. I knelt down in front of the stranger and put my hand on his shoulder. “Dan?”
The stranger smiled.
“Do you remember the time we set off bottle rockets and almost took down the Pine Street bridge?” The guy just stared.
“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 followed my eyes, and I tried to see some recognition. He turned to the deputy and shuddered. He returned to my eyes and laughed.
“This is my brother Jakey.” The flag burner went from pointing and laughing to pointing and crying. “He’s my brother Jake,” he stammered.
I rose to give the man a hug, and the deputy took a step back. Something about the hug appeared off and as I brought my brother closer he spoke into my ear, “You’ve got to rush me out of here before that colonel comes back.”
I pulled back, and the guy whispered, “We’re not safe.”
A huge gust of wind ripped the roof off the clinic like it was a sardine can and it sucked the doctor, sheriff, and the deputy into a violent funnel cloud. The wind tossed Dan into a corner and me under a table where I clung to the legs as the wind tried to suck me out. Then the wind stopped and an eerie silence took over.
“Dan?” I yelled. “Dan? Are you alive?”
I rushed to the corner where Dan lay on his side bleeding from a gash in his head.
“I need your help,” he gasped. “The Air Force wants to kill me because I know all about their weather machine weapon.”
Part One – Jake Rutledge and the Guy with Bad Timing
Part Two – Jake Rutledge and the Guy with Bad Timing
Part Three – Jake Rutledge and the Guy with Bad Timing
Part Four – Jake Rutledge and the Guy with Bad Timing
Part Five – Jake Rutledge and the Guy with Bad Timing
Part Six – Jake Rutledge and the Guy with Bad Timing
Part Seven – Jake Rutledge and the Guy with Bad Timing
Part Eight – Jake Rutledge and the Guy with Bad Timing
Part Nine – Jake Rutledge and the Guy with Bad Timing
— wordsmithholler (@wordsmithholler) July 11, 2018
© 2018 – 2019, Michael Shawn Sommermeyer. All rights reserved.
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