Shortly after sunrise Chief Midler parked his car in the spot designated for the “Top Cop” and came through the front door of the police station for the first time in over a week. That coronavirus had knocked him for a loop but all the helpful advice and natural medicines offered by the villagers had helped him rebound. Bette Kogut’s homemade chicken soup with abundant garlic had given him a boost, and copious amounts of various vitamins and minerals had hastened his recovery from the virus that the whole world had been dealing with for quite a while. He was still a bit fatigued, but he had definitely gotten to the downhill side of this mountain called COVID.

Marla Jo had mixed feelings about his return. On the one hand, she really needed him on the job, especially since the earthquake had shaken the village like it was a baby’s toy. On the other hand, she really dreaded telling him about Jezebel leaving the jail and disappearing, without even so much as an attempt on Marla Jo’s part to apprehend her. At the time of the incident, there was just no “oomph” left in the deputy for a foot chase.

With two mugs of coffee, she eased into the Chief’s office and placed one mug in front of him, and one on the other side of the desk. She closed the office door and had a seat facing him. “Time for an update?” she asked.

After a short, quiet sigh, the Chief replied. “Sure. Bring it on.”

“Well, Chief, we were bored without you here, so we decided to have an earthquake to break up the boredom.”

The Chief chuckled. “Yes, I knew about it, of course. I started to call you, but it happened on the last day that I was still trying to crawl out from under the ‘Rona, so I knew that I couldn’t be around anyone, anyway, so I’d just trust you and the village’s force of heroes in uniform to handle it.”

“FEMA has arrived in our fair community, as have a lot of reporters. There has been a lot of chaos and hoopla, but it seems like only a few areas were hit pretty hard, among them the hospital and the village guard shack. We had a small horde of outsiders roaming around the village for a short while, but our guys quickly ushered them right back out.”

“What’s the situation at the hospital?” asked the Chief.

“Last I heard, the power was restored there, and there was no loss of life in relation to the quake. I think they are getting things back to shipshape. The power company and some heavy equipment operators have been there non-stop,” Marla Jo replied. She was aware that she had still not told him about Jezebel.

“I got an interesting phone call early this morning, while I was scouring the house looking for my car keys,” the Chief said with a feigned nonchalance and a little twinkle in his eye. “Something about a prisoner going AWOL from our fine establishment.”

Marla Jo dropped her head and sighed. “Will it make any difference that I did a really good job at pretty much everything else while you were gone?” she asked.

“I know you did, and I appreciate it,” he answered. “Just tell me why Jezebel is roaming the streets. I’m still too weak from that stinkin’ virus to be mad.”

“Actually, I may have saved us from a potential lawsuit by letting her leave the premises before the leak from the bathroom got into the cell, Chief. She did mention her civil rights, and I protected said rights. Her getting away was just an unfortunate side effect.” When Marla Jo explained it this way, it almost made sense.

“Okay. I may be experiencing brain fog from my illness, but I am willing to buy your explanation,” said the Chief. “How about we take my car and tour the village so I can see where the quake damage is?”

So, away they went, street by street, neighborhood by neighborhood, surveying the landscape of this little paradise built just for retired folks, who honestly were handling the situation like troopers.

Back at Maureen’s house, the Queen of Serene was feeling just the tiniest bit conflicted. It was she who had phoned the Chief that morning to let him know that Jezebel Jones was running free. She really felt that he needed to be informed of this development, but she still felt a little like a snitch. She could see that the young woman was an emotional wreck and that Ruston had poured the soothing balm of love on her wounded soul. Together, they elicited deep sympathy from Maureen.

However, there remained the fact that Jezebel had shot Joe, in his own house. Shot him! In his own house! This fact yelled loudly enough in Maureen’s brain to stifle some of the sympathy for Jezebel.

Filling the tea kettle once again with water, Maureen started yet another round of Chamomile with Stevia, to calm her weary nerves. “I am sleep-deprived,” she told herself. Herself replied, “Yep. Take a nap. You don’t have to be Wonder Woman all the time.”

At the Missy Masters’s residence, the lady of the house and her long-term guest, Norman, sat at the breakfast table, finishing off their cinnamon rolls glazed with orange icing. By now, they had consumed two cups of coffee each, so they were wide awake to “cuss and discuss” the problem of Norman’s missing brother.

“He has always been unreliable,” Norman said, frustrated. “If Mama had stopped having kids after me, I wouldn’t be sitting here right now worrying about this idiot, and maybe Mama wouldn’t have died so young.”

“Well, we don’t know that, do we? About your Mama dying – we don’t know when she would have died if she hadn’t had Ruston. But, I do understand that you are exasperated with him. I am, too,” Missy said all that, then stood up to take her coffee cup and plate to the sink. “Did you get enough breakfast?” she asked.

“Sure, yes, plenty. Should we go out looking for him?” Norman asked as he stood to bring his dishes to the sink.

Missy hesitated a few seconds, then responded, “No, I don’t think so. We are still not off the hook for the shenanigans that the Chief already knows about, from a while back. All it would take would be for us to have any kind of run-in with Ruston or anyone else, and we’d be behind bars. Besides, I figure that with the way our luck has been running – scrapes with the police, attacks from Jezebel, and an earthquake – not to mention that we are all trying to get out from under a “global pandemic” – about the only things left to happen are nuclear war or a giant tornado full of mutated sharks! I’d really like to avoid that!”

“I shouldn’t have made you watch that ‘Sharknado’ movie with me,” laughed Norman. “But I do see your point. Okay, we’ll stay home and wait for news to come to us.”

Four counties away, two exhausted hitchhikers were still making their way towards any place they could come across a Justice of the Peace who would be willing to marry them without an official marriage license, and with only twenty dollars to pay for the service. They seldom let go of one another’s hand now, and their conversation had already turned towards having to steal to survive, at least for now, and Ruston had just put forward the proposition that they could just have their own private wedding ceremony, without a Justice of the Peace or a preacher. No license, no marriage certificate – they would just make their vows to
each other. Ruston was trying to pull together a biblical defense for doing it that way, and Jezebel was listening to his every word.

Just ahead of where they had recently been dropped off by a farmer who had let them ride in the back of his pickup, they saw a Waffle House. “Let’s use this twenty dollars to have a really good, hot breakfast, Jezzy,” Ruston entreated her. “Then, we will freshen up in the restroom, comb our hair and wash our faces. Then, the next beautiful park or waterfall or lake we come to – anywhere scenic and peaceful – we will pledge our wedding vows to each other. Me and you, together forever! Okay?”

“Oh, Baby, yes, yes, yes!” she gushed. “Happily ever after, here we go!”


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