Part Three – Chapter Nine (91):
"Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced."
James Baldwin (1)
Hazzard, Georgia – April 20, 1998
The light tinkling of wind chimes woke Enos after only a few hours of restless sleep. He often woke to the sound of Dragon's head chimes that dripped from the four corners of their house in Goyang-si, and it set him thinking of her. The stimulus wouldn't have mattered. It could have been a bird flying overhead, or a pitchfork. He would have thought about Gem perched on his shoulders, tossing her first lost tooth onto the roof while singing the song of the magpie, or the small farm he and Soonie had visited the first month in Korea when they both needed a distraction. All roads led back to her, to them. He desperately wanted to take one of those, preferably the shortest and fastest.
But that was not to be today. Today he had responsibilities here, seven thousand miles of continent and ocean away. Now he wanted to hear her voice again and speak Spanish to her and…
He swallowed the hot, guilty lump at the back of his throat when he looked over at the empty bed. Aaron was already up. Or had he never actually slept?
Yesterday was a disaster, a complete and utter disaster. David Shapiro had not only let down his son, he'd put Aaron's mother in an impossible position, one in which she had to choose between her oath as a police officer and her responsibilities as a mother. At nineteen, Aaron had learned things about his mother and his father in one fell swoop that must have cut him deep. Had that been why David offered so little resistance to Enos taking charge of Aaron while Inez was recovering?
David aside, for he had evaporated from his son's life nine years ago, every good thing Aaron had thought about his mother would now be tainted.
Enos thought back on all the times he should have seen the signs. They were right there, all of them. Had he been so wrapped up in how perfect the three of them seemed to be together that he'd ignored them, or worse, decided just not the see them? Soonie, who had no reservation about telling him the truth, said he was good at that.
When he'd been lonely, they'd filled the void. When he'd been sad, they had cheered him up. When he had needed them, they were there for him. But he left. He'd not been there for Inez or for Aaron when he most needed to be. Drained of energy and preoccupied, he hadn't properly acknowledged the significance of the necklace either. He'd registered it, but he hadn't reacted as he should have, as a father should have.
Those thoughts plagued him as he sat on the edge of the bed and wondered, 'What kind of father will I be to Gem…to Esmé?'
He and Soonie had chosen a name: Esmeralda. They had a 'gem.' Now they would have an 'emerald.'
Enos emerged from the small guest room to the smell of fried country ham and redeye gravy. Aaron sat sullenly at the kitchen table across from Uncle Frank, and Aunt Judy hovered over a jet-black iron skillet cutting slices into hot cornbread.
Judy abandoned the activity when she noticed him and pointed to the chair next to Aaron. "Eggs'll be ready in two shakes."
"I'm not real hungry, Aunt Judy."
"Pshaw. Not likely you've had a good meal since you left Korea. So, you sit."
Enos appreciated the offhand compliment to his wife, even if she couldn't bring herself to refer to Korea as his 'home.' The few times he and Soonie had phoned his aunt and uncle over the past six months, he had managed to allay their fears he'd been led astray. According to Daisy, they had taken to his marriage to a 'foreigner' better than to the news he had moved to such a wildly exotic place that, in Judy's mind, might as well be Sodom or Gomorrah. He still wasn't sure what Uncle Frank's thoughts on the subject were, but if he was there long enough, there was a certainty he would find out.
So, he did as he was told, and dutifully took the chair next to Aaron. After breakfast, eaten in anticipatory silence, Enos asked Aaron to take a walk with him.
"But shouldn't we be trying to find Mom?"
There was an expression on the boy's face that made Enos realize the full extent of the shock he had received, that he was still processing. He saw anger behind those blue-green eyes, righteous, and justified anger. A shrink would likely give it some psycho-babble name about psychological distress, but what it was, what it really was...
...his own failure to be there when Aaron, who called him Dad, faced the betrayal of one parent and possible loss of the other, for the second time in his young life. Any desperation of his own to find Inez would have to be set aside. He couldn't judge her. He'd done things 'outside the law,' things Inez didn't know about when he thought it was necessary.
"There's lots of law enforcement with better resources out there doin' that. Right now, we need to talk a spell."
The south field that stretched out in front of them, undulating gently over ten acres, had been freshly plowed-in with organics, soon to be planted in corn Uncle Frank grew to feed the pigs. Enos idly remembered that, according to the moon phase, the best time to plant corn in this part of Georgia was between April 24th and April 28th. Maybe they could lend a hand, at least for the next few days. It might take Aaron's mind off what would likely take some time to sort out.
He had slipped back into Hazzard mode, as if the years had been stripped away, leaving his own nineteen-year-old self exposed. Enos picked up a clump of reddish dirt and crumbled it in his hand.
"Did you know?" Aaron said with a kind of sadness that broke Enos's heart.
"No. At least nothin' you could put a name to. I just knew somethin' more was wrong between them than…than not wantin' to be married to each other anymore."
But Aaron had known something was making his mother preoccupied, and it weighed him down with his own guilt that he'd not told Uncle E how worried he'd been.
"But she tells you everything."
"Not everything. Not this. It wasn't like that between us back then. Your Mom's a strong woman; she doesn't take help easy. Even after all these years, she never told me. I guess…as the years went by, she thought she was rid of it…that she had everything under control. She said as much in the letter."
He'd re-read the letter again before leaving the guest room, trying to make sense of it.
"She…" Aaron started, his words hoarse and constrained by fear and confusion. "It sounded like she wasn't going to see us again. Why else would she have returned the necklace?"
Enos's hand went to the breast pocket of his shirt, where he'd put it this morning. Perhaps it was like a ring being returned in a divorce. She was distancing herself from him.
"Maybe it was me she didn't plan to see again. Not you. I think she just wanted to explain before you heard about it from some official source or worse, on the news."
"She couldn't have picked up the goddamn phone?!" Aaron picked up a stone and pitched it hard enough at a nearby boulder that it shattered upon impact. "Or told me when I was there at the end of March!"
He sank to his knees in the red dirt and broke into anguished sobs. The vehemence with which Aaron hurled his words told Enos the boy's anger was not directed only at his father. He was familiar with how hard it was to say the important things over something as impersonal as a telephone. It was cold and unforgiving and distant. Although the same could be said of a letter, there was a difference. He'd written over five hundred letters, never mailed because he could put on paper all the words he might not be able to say in person. And that was on top of the letters he had burned – after Latoya, he wasn't thinking straight. He understood why Inez might have chosen the route she had to try and soften the blow before she had to face her son. At least she'd had the guts to send it. How could she have anticipated Lance would intervene before she could tell her side of the story in person.
"I wish I had the right answers for you. Looks like your Mom found herself between the devil and the deep blue sea and did the best she could to save the one person she loves most in this whole wide world. What you should never doubt is that she loves you. More than anything."
With his knees in the dirt, Aaron bent his head and went quiet for a time, his silent contemplation even harder for Enos to bear, and too much time to think about the uncertainties, his own guilt, and how long a road he'd taken to come back from the self-recrimination once before. He didn't want that for Aaron.
"You found Kate," Aaron said finally, looking up at Enos, "You can find Mom."
And there it was. He wanted 'Dad' to perform the same miracle for Inez.
"I didn't do it alone. And if Kate hadn't been where she was and part of an international sting operation, I'd probably still be lookin.'" He planted his own knees in the Georgia clay next to Aaron and said, "It doesn't mean I'll ever stop tryin.' There's always room for hope."
To his core, he believed that, until presented with hard evidence to the contrary, hope can be your salvation. He also knew, for a fact, that false hope can destroy you.
Aaron, who he'd been afraid he would fail, fell into the arms of the only father he had known for so many years, heaving sobs into his chest for another five minutes. By the time Aaron cried himself out, Uncle Frank had appeared at the clearing at the end of the footpath that led back to the house.
"You left yer newfangled phone on the kitchen table." He held up Enos's mobile phone. "That lieutenant Adams friend of yers is on the line. Wants to speak at you."
When Turk pulled up to the Strate house in the rental car, he found Enos and Aaron both waiting for him.
Standing next to the passenger door, Turk handed Enos the fax he'd received from Thompson earlier that morning. Then, gesturing with his head to Aaron, who was already in the back seat, said, "You sure this is a good idea?"
Enos had gone back and forth with himself over whether or not to take Aaron along. On the one hand, he wanted to protect him from intrusive questions that would serve only to make the situation worse, and on the other hand, he didn't want to keep any more from him. Even though the wound might still be raw, he wasn't a child anymore.
"Boy's got a right to be involved."
"Okay. You know him better than anyone."
After reading the fax, which was short, but not so sweet, Enos sank into the front passenger seat.
Thompson had hand-scrawled a note that announced: "David Shapiro picked up for questioning by the FBI early this morning while trying to flee West Virginia. His arrest is imminent – 18 to 24 hours."
Turk put the car in drive and murmured, "And the hits just keep on comin."
Hazzard, Georgia – November 25, 2013
Rosco had inherited the Hogg house from his sister Lulu when she passed away. Using the dining room was both tribute and good-natured nose-thumbing to his little fat buddy, as was the chatter and giggling that went on within those walls and at that same table during summer visits from the California girls. For two months of every year, their Mama and Daddy got a break, and Rosco and Sarah Jane got to be grandparents.
Boss would have put up a horrendous fuss about it to anyone within earshot but secretly have enjoyed the heck out of the noisy activity. He had been, deep-down, a sentimental old softy.
Sarah Jane had banned discussion during lunch of anything other than how pleasant the weather was going to be for the afternoon baseball game and how many pigs-in-a-blanket she should make. When the conversation came around to Thanksgiving, she became introspective and concentrated on her plate.
"Oldest grandgirl's deployed to Iraq. Army medic," Rosco explained. "She won't be home with the family for Thanksgiving this year."
So, Rosco and Tyrone Lambert resumed their sit-down only after the dishes had been cleared.
"Thank you for lunch, Mrs. Coltrane, it was delicious."
"You weren't so sure at first, though, were you?"
"No…No Ma'am," he said with a sheepish sideways smile. "But I was pleasantly surprised."
"Well, I'll let you two get back to it, then."
Ty noticed that, although her smile was a little more friendly now, she still had a worried and wary expression in her eyes. That Sheriff Strate's oldest daughter was in harm's way gave him a deeper understanding of her concern.
"You don't approve, do you Mrs. Coltrane?"
"Now you ask…no. We don't cotton to havin' our lives spread all over the countryside. It's unseemly. I remember how hard it was on everybody. Didn't do anything to deserve what they all went through then. Don't deserve to be forced back through the ringer again now."
"That is not my intention. I know Sheriff Strate. Or at least I knew him once. He helped me with a series of articles back in 2000 when I was writing for the Los Angeles Times."
Rosco suddenly remembered, "You're the one went with him to Washington, for the hearing."
"Did you know about all this back then."
"Until recently, most of the actual evidence related material was in confidential police files. At the time, I only knew what I read in the Times' archives."
"Then, I have to ask, Mr. Lambert. If you already know the story, why are you here?" Sarah Jane asked, a suspicious expression repopulating the area around her eyes.
"I was just out of college in '98. Like I said, I only know it from the news at the time, which doesn't always consider compassion as part of the equation. Those articles about human trafficking in California were my first big story, and he helped me see the 'human' side of the problem. I've tried to maintain that philosophy throughout my journalistic career. I hope I have, anyway. This is my first time producing for TV. I'd like to translate those same principals to visual media."
He could read the attitude change on her face and knew he'd struck the right chord with her. The fact that he was sincere definitely helped. He got the feeling she would have eaten alive any 'yahoo' that dared to be otherwise with her. Just as he knew he should say 'Yes, Ma'am' and 'Yes, Sir,' he'd heard that when a Southern woman says, 'Oh, hell no!' one might as well kiss his ass goodbye because it's already too late.
Satisfied Mr. Tyrone Lambert wasn't a carpetbagger, Sarah Jane retreated to the kitchen and returned her attention to the washing of dishes and silverware. Still, she kept one ear on the conversation, which began anew at the dining room table.
A/N: "And the hits just keep on coming." is a quote from A Few Good Men, as well as the name of a 1972 song by Michael Nesmith (formerly of The Monkees). It is attributed to DJs who used it to transition between 'hit' songs on the radio.
(1) "Wit & Wisdom." The Week, no. 1235, Dennis Publishing Ltd., July 2019, p. 21.