County Sheriff -22- Upping Sticks

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While Ma busied herself throwing out years and years of ‘stuff’ around the house, I tried to plan the logistics of the move. Every time I thought that I had got somewhere close, the weather changed and the whole area was treated to another large dump of snow.

Ma filled up two rooms with black plastic bags of things so I started moving them out to the barn. I piled them in the back of an old Ford F150 Pickup. Its’ transmission had long since given up the ghost but would make a good project for someone to spend a winter or two fixing up. Walt had bought it with that intention but it had sat there for close on a decade.

The memory of Walt and his antics still irked me. I muttered… ‘one day Walt, one day…’.

Planning the route to Kelly’s domain was not straightforward. In summer, we would travel via Denver, Cheyenne, then I-80 over the Rockies and Sierras turning right somewhere near Sacramento. The Donner Pass was making news almost every day. Trapped trucks and the danger of avalanches plus multiple accidents in the Rockies on I-70 west of Denver finally convinced me that we should go the long way and that was south of both I-80 and I-70.

The long way was not going to be popular with Ma but that was not the point. I had two horses to think of. I could only drive for a certain number of hours per day with them in a horsebox before they had to be exercised. Finding livery for two horses on our route wasn’t easy but after a day of phoning around, I was pretty sure that I had a route that was manageable even if it meant a very long day to start with.

Danny was a great help and after a day of phoning around his contacts in the transport and recovery world, he found a proper horse transport that I could rent for the trip that was located in Colorado Springs. Plus, he had arranged for me to take our two beasts to where the transport was garaged the previous day. Then with an early start, we could pick up the horses and make Flagstaff in Arizona that evening. The next night I’d found a livery not far from a junction on I-5 north of Bakersfield and a hotel about five miles away. With a bit of luck, we should be able to reach our destination on the third day.

The mention of Colorado Springs made me think of the kids that we had rescued. I tried to get an update from the FBI but no one was talking especially as to where they were located. I guessed that Homeland had been trying to muscle in on a game where they were not welcome. My friend in DC came through with the goods on the Marine. He was willing to come forward and be a parent. I found out that he’d left the service and was now a manager at a Health Spa in Dover, Delaware. The opening of that door closed one of my own. I decided to keep that bit of news from Kelly and Ma for the time being.

When I outlined my proposal to Ma and Danny, Ma just grunted. She would go along with whatever I suggested. Danny was another issue entirely or so I thought.

He sat back cradling his cup of Matte. I hated the stuff but he’d become addicted to this mixture of herbs and leaves that originates in South America.

"Ok," he said after a couple of minutes of contemplation.
“I can work with that.”

“Ok, who put in an impostor for the Danny that I know and love?”

He grinned back at me across the table. Several maps were open on the table with our route marked in black.

“No one substituted me. I am the one and only Danny SWA. I have a few things up in the air at the moment but they can be shuffled around your move.”

Danny, being Danny… could be an awkward if not downright obstinate SOB at times and he would not divulge what those things were. I had come to expect that from him over the years that we had been friends. I knew that if he needed my help then he would ask for it and I would gladly give it. That’s how we had operated for almost two decades.

The day before the move, a realtor came by and valued my home.
“The house really needs tearing down and a new build put up,” I said right from the start.
“It dates from 1951 and… well, you can see for yourself. The Barn and Stables are less than ten years old. If I was buying this place, I’d put a trailer in the barn while I built a new modern and very well insulated house on the site of the old one. The power to the property comes to the barn before here so having a hookup for the trailer, would be easy.”

My mentioning insulation was perfectly timed as another sleet squall came across the valley towards us.

The realtor made copious notes before we finished the tour in the warm kitchen.
“I think that you are right about how I should pitch the sale of the property,” he said.

“Naturally, it will affect the value.”
He wrote a figure down on a small sheet of paper and passed it to me.

The figure was less than I'd hoped, but wasn't that far out.

“That seems reasonable,” I said hoping to hide my disappointment.

We shook on the deal and the property would be listed in a few days once their photographer had been out and taken some photos for the property portfolio. They'd be out once we had left. The place was advertised as vacant possession. The photos needed to show that or we could risk losing a few buyers.

Once he’d gone, I truly felt that it was the end of an era for us as a family. Ma noticed how quiet I was as we ate our last but one meal the only home that I had ever known.

“Don’t worry darling. You and Kelly will soon find a place that you can make your own.”

I nearly said, ‘with you Ma’ but I held my tongue.

“Thanks Ma.”

Then Ma did something that was very un-Ma-like, she reached over and gripped my hand.
“I mean it. You and Kelly need to have your own place so don’t even think about including me in your plans. My time in this world is nearly up, but you two youngsters have a chance to make your own life and you don’t need me holding you back.”


“Don’t Ma me. I’m well past my three score and ten years. Soon it will be four score and more than a few. These old bones are not as good as they once were. Having a dozen kids in the house made me think long and hard about the future. That’s why I suggested that you adopt that youngster.”

I smiled back at Ma. As far as I could remember she'd always had the knack of saying the right things when they needed to be said, just like she had just done.
“Ma… you don’t have to do this…?”

“But I do. It is time that the two of you made a life of your own. Now that Kelly is Chief of Police and you are going to do something very different, then it is the right time and I will not discuss this any longer. I will be watching my soaps until it is time for bed. When you leave in the morning, please try to be quiet.”

She got up and left me alone to clear away and do the washing up. As I did so, I wondered how Ma’s directness would go down in a retirement home. The thought of her bossing everyone around made me smile.

[the next morning]

With a bit of effort and the promise of a bucket of oats, I managed to get Ginger and Jake into my horsebox just before dawn. It was a chilly but windless morning. I made a mental note to watch out for black ice on the road to the Interstate.

I returned to the house to get a flask of coffee before setting off on the three-hour drive to where Ginger and Jake would be stabled overnight. I stopped to fill up at the Interstate and check on the horses. They seemed warm enough with their three layers of horse blankets on their backs. Their water hadn’t frozen so I left it alone. Before leaving, I filled a water bottle with hot water from the restroom. I planned to stop and check on the horses again once I was clear of the ever-expanding Denver Metro area.

The interstate was pretty quiet. What little traffic there was, was mostly made up of Trucks heading for Denver and beyond. A break in the bad weather and a clear highway was a clear signal to the truckers to ‘hit the road’ before it changed again.
The lack of traffic allowed me to make good time and I reached the Livery Yard just before midday. My cargo was glad to get out of the horsebox and stretch their legs. Another bucket of oats and some tepid water was enough to entice them into their stalls for the next eighteen or so hours. The whole place felt warm and accommodating. It made their old stalls seem shabby and rundown by comparison.

I spent half an hour going over the operation of the very modern horse transport that I was going to drive to California. I then took it for a short drive just to get used to it’s length and the brakes. The vehicle was $250,000 of luxury for both the humans and horses. The equine passengers would have a nice warm stable to travel in. I had visions of them refusing to get out even with a tempting bucket of horse nuts.

I headed back home for the last time feeling satisfied about the horses, but sad that this would be my last night in the only place I had ever truly called home.

When I arrived, I found that I could hardly get the door open. Ma’s ‘downsized’ belongings almost filled the kitchen. I managed a smile as I wondered how Danny would get all this into his SUV… If it didn’t fit then I knew that he had a trailer in his yard that would more than take it all.

Ma had made herself some dinner and was in her den watching her Soaps. I spent nearly an hour on the phone with Kelly who had spent the day out with her officers observing their operations and starting to get to know the area. So far, she reported that none of the temporary officers had reacted negatively to her presence on a ‘ride-along’ at least within her earshot.

She told me that she’d made it clear that there were not going to be many changes until she could hire permanent officers and that for those there on temporary secondment, were doing an important job for which she and the city were thankful. She added that she had made it clear that if any of those seconded wanted to make it permanent then she would look upon their applications very favourably.

I went to sleep that night pleased at how Kelly had hit the ground running, but I knew that she had a tough job ahead of her especially when it came to the budget. The last lot of crooked cops and city officials had milked the city dry and I was sure that she would not have a lot of cash to play with for at least the first year. We’d had a long talk about funding before she’d headed west. Her new town would be keeping a tight reign on her department for several years.

I helped Danny load up his SUV with Ma’s things the next morning. She was in full control of what went where. Danny just smiled and followed orders. I was sure that there was something that he wasn’t telling me. There was just a wry smile on his face. I’d seen it before when he bought the garage and wrecking company in town after we got out of the service. He was up to something but he would not divulge what it was. I’d find out when he was good and ready to tell me and not a moment before.

I waved them off, before taking a final look around the house. We’d decided to leave an awful lot behind. We had decided to use some of Lol’s money to set us up in California. There was more than enough for that and to buy a place before the old place sold. The subject of Lol and his money was just about the only thing that Kelly and I had ever argued over. This time, she’d accepted my proposal to use it to buy a place as Lol had settled in California just like us.

I found an old photo album in what was Ma's den. I opened it and found that all the photos that had my good-for-nothing brother Walt in them had been defaced. His face had been cut out or blacked out with a sharpie. For a moment, I thought about bringing it along, but I didn't. If Ma had left it behind then it was a conscious decision on her part to start over in CA. I threw it in the refuse bin on my way out of the house for the final time. I did keep one picture and that was of my passing out parade in the Army. The time I'd spent in the service had made me a more rounded person and for that, I would be eternally grateful.

My last job was to supervise the loading of the U-Haul van that Danny had rented to take the few items of furniture that we were taking with us. Sue-Ellen’s brother-in-law, Chad would drive it west in a couple of days. With that well underway, I gave a thumbs-up sign to Danny and we were off… or so I thought.

I had trouble starting my truck but a pair of jump leads and Chad’s truck soon got the engine running.

I caught up with Danny and Ma just after the Colorado State line. From there to where Ginger and Jake had been stabled overnight, we travelled in convoy. They would go on alone and we would meet up at their overnight stop near Kingman.

Ma was very impressed with the horse transport that I’d be driving to CA. For a moment, I thought that she would want to travel with me but Danny stepped in and gently steered her into his SUV. I owed him another one. I was thankful yet again that his fight with the Sioux nation was probably never going to be resolved he was a born diplomat except when it came to his tribe.

After less than two hours, I wished that I had asked Danny to drive the transport. He drove large vehicles almost every day whereas… I didn’t. The steering while it had some power assist, was heavy, but I made it to Albuquerque without incident.

I stopped at the first truck stop on I-40 and gave the horses a look over. They were fine and from the sounds they were making, they didn’t appreciate me letting a load of cold air into their nice warm compartment. I took it as a sign that they were ok.

The sun had just set when I rolled into the Livery near Flagstaff where my equine friends were going to spend the night. I’d called ahead to let Ma and Danny know my ETA when I passed Holbrook, so they were expecting me. I’d just led Ginger into her stall for the night when Danny appeared in his truck. He was always pretty good when it came to timing. More often than not, it was when the heavy lifting had been done. He had a definite knack in that department.

I said goodnight to Jake and we headed into town to get something to eat. Ma had ordered room service and there was a ‘Do not Disturb’ sign on her door. I could hear the sound of a TV so I guessed that all was well. Danny reported that she’d slept for a good part of the day. I put it down to all the packing and sorting that she’d been doing since Kelly had ‘gone west’.

Danny and I had a nice meal before bedding down for the night. We had two more long days ahead of us so it was not long after 9 pm that we turned in for the night.

Danny picked me up a ‘Breakfast to Go’ bag from a nearby Diner, while I loaded the horses and filled the transport up with Diesel at a nearby Gas Station. Ma was unusually quiet but greeted the horses with her customary sugar cube. After making sure that I had the vet certificates to hand, we set off westward. Traffic was a lot heavier until we passed the turning for Vegas in Kingman. The CA inspection people went over the veterinary certificates with a fine tooth comb and even gave Jake the once-over just to make sure that he was a gelding. Strange people these West Coasters… At least they knew how to approach a horse to look at their unmentionables as Ma called them.

The rest of the day was pretty uneventful and I reached our stop just beyond Bakersfield in good time.

Ma seemed to have recovered from her packing fatigue and was a lot chattier the next morning. The horses had gotten used to the transport and I didn’t even need to use some food to get them loaded. We now headed towards the Bay Area. As we drove north, traffic became very heavy. Even when we took I-680 rather then I-5 the volume of traffic didn't drop off that much. Nevertheless, I breathed a sigh of relief when we turned onto Route 128 which would take us to the coast.

To my surprise, Kelly was waiting for us when we came into town. She looked fantastic in her brand-new 'Chiefs' uniform.

“Hello Stranger,” she said as she climbed into the cab of the transport.

I gave her a brief peck on the lips before saying,
“Which way to the corral partner?”

She laughed.
“Straight through town and past Jake’s Bar and Grill. About a mile farther along, turn right and you will be there.”

I smiled as I released the handbrake and drove the short distance to the Livery where I had arranged stabling for our horses.

We bedded them down for the night with a promise that I’d come back the next day to groom them. Danny arrived with his now empty truck. The three of us headed back into town where Nancy had laid on a veritable feast for us.

Ma was helping Nancy in the kitchen but even a casual observer could see that she was keeping out of Nancy’s way. This was most unlike Ma but I guessed that her tiredness could have something to do with it.

The evening was enjoyable if a little subdued. I was exhausted. I had one day of rest before I had to start the return journey to Colorado Springs to return the horse transport.

[four days later]
I returned to Custer County to pick up a few things that both Ma and Kelly had forgotten to pack. Thankfully, my winter sleeping bag was still there so I bedded down for one night before going into town to see Danny SWA.

He’d stayed on in CA for another day after I left in the horse transport. He’d said that he wanted to see the sea once more but I didn’t buy it one little bit. I found him in his yard sweeping out the office. I racked my brains but could not remember the last time he’d done that.
He grinned at me when I walked through the door.
“I wondered when you would show up. I saw the lights on in your old place last night when I came back from a recovery op.”

“I only came back to pick up a few things but…?”

He grinned.
“You wanted to see me about something?”

“Cut the crap Danny. We know each other far too well. What is going on?”

He put down the broom and faced me.
“We are blood brothers, aren’t we?”

In an instant, my mind went back to our first encounter with the Taliban. We’d both been hit by a bit of shrapnel when an IED went off about 30ft away. We applied field dressings to each other’s wounds. From then on, we were ‘blood brothers’.

“We are. Why?”

“Brothers have to look out for each other, don’t they?”

“What have you gone and done?”

“I’ve sold this place and I’m buying the garage and filling station just down the street from Kelly’s ‘Cop Shop’. I sealed the deal the day after you left to return the horse transport.”

I smiled.
“Danny… You are a cunning SOB.”

He shook his head.
“I knew nothing about this part of the country when you moved here. I came to visit and stayed. This time, it was Kelly getting that job that got me thinking. You didn’t know and she was sworn to secrecy but I was on the same flight to San Francisco as she was. I helped her buy that SUV of hers.”

A few things that I’d noticed on my visit suddenly started to click into place.

“I made an offer to the current owner that he couldn’t refuse thanks to Nancy. She gave me the heads up and more importantly, the low down, on the owner. Once he’d accepted my offer, I came back and finished clearing up from the storm.”

“But you said that you have sold this place?”

“I did but that was easy. You know the recovery company from King County?”

“Yeah. Chad Maddocks and his brother… Bart.”

“That’s them. They put in an offer for this place over a year ago. I called them up and asked if they were still interested and to cut a long story short, I told them what I’d take for the business and another sum for goodwill. They jumped at the chance to take over the contract with the County and the State Police.”

He saw the look of concern on my face.
“Don’t worry, I made a good profit on the deal. More than enough for me to buy a small place near the harbour.”

I shook my head.
“When are you moving west?”

“In a few weeks. Bart Maddocks is going over the books at the moment. I know that they are good thanks to the GI Bill. Once he is done with that, I’ll handover everything to him and be free to leave.”

I remembered that Danny had done a small business accountancy course when he left the Army. Danny had always managed to surprise me and this was no exception.

“You are a cunning SOB, but you will be a nice familiar face in town.”

“Thanks Boss. When are you leaving town?”

“As soon as I get into my truck. I plan on stopping somewhere near Rifle tonight. The forecast is for four days of clear skies before the next storm so there is no time to waste.”

“Have a safe trip and I’ll see you in a few weeks.”

We shook hands and we were good once more.

[three days later]

I began to settle into Nancy's house and we started looking for a new home for Kelly and myself. Ma seemed to have fully recovered from the trip and was a frequent visitor to the coffee shop. Living almost in the centre of town was a new experience for her and she seemed to revel in it. The worries that I'd have about the move faded into memory.

Kelly was thriving in her new job. There was a definite glow about her that even caused one or two people to wonder if she was pregnant. She wasn’t, but she made me proud. Her elevation to Chief/Sheriff was long overdue. I did wonder what her family back in NYC would say if they found out that she’d made ‘Chief of Police’. I knew that the best they had done was for one long-departed relative to briefly make Lieutenant before he punched out his Captain for making a pass at his fiancée.

All our remaining possessions that had not been thrown away, or left behind arrived in town just before lunchtime. Thanks to information from Nancy, I had been able to rent a garage from a widow who'd had to give up driving and had sold her car. I spent the afternoon and evening unloading the U-Haul truck and stacking it in the garage.
I collapsed into bed just before midnight.

The next thing I remembered was Nancy waking me up.

“Wake up Matt,” she said urgently.

Blinking my eyes to get rid of the sleep, I asked.
“What’s wrong?”

“It’s Ma. It looks like she passed in the night. Kelly is with her now.”

Suddenly, I was wide awake. Nancy left me alone to get dressed. I had not noticed Kelly getting up which showed just how tired I was from the exertions of the previous evening. Hurriedly, I got dressed and went to find my wife.

She was sitting beside Ma’s bed and holding her hand. Ma looked so peaceful. Kelly motioned for me to sit where she was. I did so without saying a word.

“I’ve called for the ME. He should be here in an hour or so,” said Kelly in hushed tones.

I managed a smile before looking at Ma.

She must have known that her time was almost up and that was why she made us move sooner rather than later. That was Ma through and through. Always thinking of others. That was what made her the best ‘Ma’ in the world, my ‘Ma’.

[to be continued]

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