Chapter 12: Things that bruise
Elderton reached the top of the bleachers and got a good glimpse of the man in the suit for the first time. He looked mid-forties in age, black hair with streaks of white through the sides. He wore a pair of thick, black-rimmed glasses with eyebrows so black and thick you could see them move just above the top of the rims. One eyebrow raised when he got a good look of her up close. It was an eyebrow raise she’d grown accustomed to seeing among her male peers. It meant he viewed her as a waste of time and possibly a threat. She looked him up and down and returned the raised eyebrow for good measure.
“I’m Sheriff Elderton,” she said as she extended her hand to shake his, “and I demand to know what the hell is happening in my town.”
“Nothing that concerns you, Elderton,” Marsden chided and stood up straight, grabbing at his belt with the bullhorn buckle he always wore. “And especially not Martha. Ya’ll can just go home. Everything’s under control.”
The suit never reciprocated the handshake.
“My family’s dead at home, Mayor Marsden,” Martha shouted, but then choked, “so screw that.” She stepped back, as she remembered her children.
Elderton took Martha’s hand without looking and gripped it tight for support. She looked the suit dead in the eyes. “Look, I don’t know who you are but tonight people are becoming aggressive. Killing each other,” she paused, “eating each other.” She looked at Marsden. “And I sure don’t call that nothing or under control.”
The suit took a long sigh before speaking and when he did he sounded bored or disinterested. “I’m Agent Wilcox from Homeland Security. What your town is experiencing tonight is a simple problem with your water. Years of neglect and lack of maintenance from local agencies are likely the cause. Akin to Flint, Michigan. It’s nothing to be alarmed about, we would encourage members of the community to make sure they boil their water before using or use bottled water for drinking. It’s a simple thing to contain, now that the problem is known we can assess the problem areas in the water supply and make the necessary upgrades and changes—through local agencies, of course.”
“If it’s so simple, how come Flint still doesn’t have clean water?” Elderton asked, but Wilcox didn’t answer. “Are the Flint townsfolk eating each other?”
Wilcox took out a silver cigarette case from the inside pocket of his suit. He lit up a cigarette and placed the case back into his pocket. He took a puff and blew smoke back at Elderton and Martha. “Well, that’s the local agencies’ problem. I hope your local agencies can work together to implement a solution quicker than Flint has. It’s all about teamwork, Miss Elderton.”
He smirked with the cigarette hanging out the opposite side of his lips. “This way,” he said as he turned and walked back to the high school building. Soldiers moved in around them, forming a circle around the group as they moved inside.
As they entered the building, the soldiers that escorted them stayed outside to guard the entrance. A new group of soldiers took over as their escort. They all walked down the hallways of the school, Elderton still trying to glean a truthful response from either Marsden or Wilcox. There were so many soldiers inside the high school, some classrooms had been opened up and there were soldiers inside with weapons, caches and more.
“So, if it’s just a water contamination issue,” she started, “why the show of strength? You can shoot the water clean?”
“Elderton!” Marsden reprimanded. “Show some respect. Wilcox and the others are here to help.”
“It’s a simple answer,” Wilcox started, but waved his finger in a circle to some soldiers ahead in the hallway. They quickly moved and closed the doors to the gym before they got to it. They stood in front of it, rifles in hands. “We got wind of certain behaviors, we thought maybe there was a security issue, so we came quietly to investigate. We do this sort of thing all the time. We like to think of ourselves as the silent protectors of America’s freedom. We’re always watching out for you, even when you don’t know we are. It’s a thankless job, really.”
As they passed by the gym doors, Elderton broke from the escort and pushed one of the soldiers guarding the entrance down and only got a slight glimpse of some large and dark object in the center of the basketball court through the window pane before being tackled by the second guard. They fell to the floor, and he pinned her down on her face to the tile. He held his rifle across her back and through her arms. She dropped her shotgun and it slid across the floor. She saw a soldier step on it as it slid; he picked it up and held onto it.
“You don’t make things easy, do you Miss Elderton,” Wilcox said. He stepped over to her, leaned down and looked at her face-to-face. He shook his head. “I see what you mean, Mr. Marsden, she really isn’t a team player, is she.”
With the pain of the tile being smashed against her cheekbone and her rage building up inside, she couldn’t hold anything back any longer. People were dying, people were killing each other. They knew something and were determined to keep her in the dark. Determined to prevent her from doing her sworn duty. She spit in his face. “It’s Sheriff Elderton, damn you, and you don’t have jurisdiction over me. Tell your man to get off me now.”
Wilcox was breathing heavy with anger from the spit. He casually pulled a handkerchief from his suit pocket and wiped it away from his face. He used the handkerchief to remove her pistol from its holster. She squirmed as he did so. He stood up and handed her pistol to the soldier with her shotgun.
“I’m coming back for those,” she told the soldier. “You better hope you don’t have them in your hands when I do.” He smiled. “Smile now, I’m gonna punch that grin off your face.”
Wilcox dropped his cigarette on the ground and stamped it out on the tile. He realized it had spit on it. He pulled out a new cigarette and barked orders while he lit it. “Put them in a classroom. You, watch them. Don’t let them out for anything. Make them use a trash can, if they have to piss. Watch them if they do. Don’t take your eyes off these two for one second. Not even to scratch your balls.”
Moments later they were shoved down into classroom chairs in the middle of a classroom. They were handcuffed together at the wrist. One soldier left laughing about something he’d said to the other, who had remained silent the whole walk to the classroom. He had been part of their escort inside the building. He pulled a stool from a lab station over to the door and sat down on it. He glanced out the window on the door, to see what he could make out from the position. He looked over to Elderton and Martha, both sitting silently. Both angry as hell.
“Sorry,” he said.
“Uncuff us,” Elderton said, lifting their cuffed hands up.
“I can’t,” he said, with a look of embarrassment.
“Then your apology don’t mean crap, does it?” Elderton asked. He bit his lip and looked painfully at odds with himself. Elderton turned to Martha. “Did you see in the gym?”
“How could I?” Martha said. “What did you see?”
“Something,” Elderton said. “Something strange.” She strained herself to recall the visual in her head. “It was large, black, but it wasn’t a box—I don’t think—it was oval shaped. If only I’d had more time to look.” She rubbed her cheek, where it had been slammed and ground into the floor. It was red with irritation.
Martha took her hand. “Thank you. Your strength has meant so much to me since…” Her voice trailed off as she tried to find the words to say without a complete breakdown emotionally. Elderton shushed her and pulled her into an awkward embrace with her hand that wasn’t cuffed. Martha rested her head on her shoulder and sobbed into it. Elderton laid her sore cheek atop her head and tried to quell the pain for Martha. Her cheek was another matter, but it would have to wait.
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