HOME, SWEET HEAVEN INSTALLMENT #6

Chapter Five (continued)

They continued to trudge up the highway into larger and larger tracts of undeveloped land. As they did, the homes became more elegant to complement their isolation. Some obviously belonged to gentlemen ranchers.

Standing out of the growing darkness of evening, Earl saw in the distance to the east what looked like the tail of an airplane. “Let’s head over that way,” he said to Joyce, turning off the Bandera Highway onto a much smaller road which headed in that direction. A mile and a half down the road the aircraft came into full view as it rested outside a small hangar. “A 152,” he breathed. He lay on the ground and motioned for Joyce to join him there.

“What?”

“A Cessna model 152, single-engine, two-passenger light airplane. The smallest in the line, mostly used as a training plane for private pilots. I’ve had a lot of air time in one of these.”

“That’s good to know.”

“Some good news and some bad. If there’s any airplane I’m experienced with, that’s the one. The bad news is that it’s slow and it can’t be good for more than about three hundred miles between fuel stops.”

“How slow is it?”

“Slower than a good motorcycle. Maybe we’d be able to do about a hundred tops.

“Well, it beats hitchhiking. We seem to have been led to this place. Let’s stay here for a while and see what turns up.”

“Agree. But we need to get closer to the house.” The crept together toward the near-mansion, marveling at how some people managed to live.

“I could see living here,” Joyce told him. “Some people really have it good.”

“Like us, Joyce. We’ve had our share of adventures. And each other. And maybe a decent harvest of souls. What else could we ask for?”

“Thanks for reminding me. What these people have is temporary at best. Those things you mentioned – they’re ours forever.”

“Look there,” he said, gazing through the large French window into the living room. “She must be the lady of the house. She’s dressed for some occasion. So’s he. He’s holding some keys and talking to her. She’s nodding her head, and now he’s going into another part of the house.”

A light went on in a room off to the left, and he rushed over to see what was happening there. Peering in from behind a bush, he was just in time to see the man open a drawer, put the keys inside and extract a different set. The light went back out and Earl rushed back to Joyce. They both watched as the man draped a wrap over his wife’s shoulders and exited the room. The front door opened and they walked down a pathway to the enormous garage. The man flicked a remote and a door opened to reveal a perfectly-maintained cream-colored 1941 Lincoln Continental.

Joyce looked at Earl.  “You’re drooling,” she said.

“Yes. I am. What a beautiful work of art! I wouldn’t mind taking that instead of the Cessna.”

“Stay focused, Earl. Do what needs to be done.”

The couple bypassed the antique, getting into a much newer Bentley convertible. They left in it, the garage door closing behind them.

“Having the motive, Joyce, we now have the opportunity to commit the perfect heist. I’m sure that he put the keys to the plane in the drawer.”

“Aren’t you forgetting something? Like maybe an alarm?”

A light went on in a room on the second story. Presently the front door opened to frame a teenage girl. She was holding a large black-and-white cat. She stooped down, released the pet, returned inside and closed the door behind her.

“There’s our answer,” Earl said. I’ll bet she comes back for the cat later. In the meantime, the alarm’s probably off and we can do a smash-and-grab for the keys.”

“Earl!” she said in alarm. “Just because we’re criminals you don’t have to talk like one.”

“Okay. Sorry.” But his attention was focused on the window in the master bedroom. He went up to it and worked his knife into the junction of window and frame, finding the latch. It submitted to his fiddling and he quietly opened the window and climbed in. Her attention focused on Earl, Joyce didn’t notice the cat, who had come up to her in curiosity. She planted a foot on the creature’s tail, which evoked a screeching howl. Terrified, Joyce ducked behind a tree just as the upstairs bedroom opened and the girl leaned out. “Maybelle!” she called, squinting into the night. The girl left and returned with a flashlight, which, to Joyce’s terror, she shined on the ground below. She must have seen the cat’s eyes shining back up at her, or maybe that of a nearby raccoon, for she switched off the flashlight and closed her window, completely missing the open window of the master bedroom directly below her.

After a few more minutes, during which Joyce regained her equilibrium and relieved herself next to a bush, Earl emerged from the window, softly closed it, and came up to her side. “Let’s go,” he said.

“Okay. But didn’t you hear the commotion with the cat?”

“I did, but there wasn’t much I could do about it.”

“I think you’re braver than me. Now that we’re about to take off into the wild black yonder, I feel kind of scared about it. I have a queasy gut, Earl.”

 

Now wasn’t the time to tell her that he felt the same queasy apprehension.

Chapter Six

“Oh, Ellery,” she cried, sobbing into his shoulder. I’m so sorry. What are we going to do?”

“Well, honey, at least you’ll still have some semblance of freedom if General Urkmore has any honesty left in him,” he murmured, his voice muffled by her cheek. “He promised that you’d be taken care of.”

“But what about you?” she wailed. “How could things have gotten so bad that an innocent man – a good man – could be treated so badly? I’ve never heard of such a thing!”

“Yes, you have. You’ve read the Book of Acts, and Foxe’s book of martyrs. You know all about the targeting of Christians for hatred and persecution. You know of the recent and ongoing persecutions of Christians in Africa and the Mideast, and of the even more recent persecutions taking place right here in America. But it’s okay, honey. Gives us a chance to repay our God for the many blessings He’s given us in our lives. And, for sure, we have heaven to look forward to. According to Scripture, that’s our real home anyway. Look at it this way – if God wants us to stay alive and maybe even free, He’s more than capable of making it happen. In the meantime, let’s just go with the flow for now.”

At that precise instant, there was a knock on the front door. Ellery opened it to face two very large Marine MPs. “We’re here to help the missus pack,” the taller one said. She’s on a morning flight to Leavenworth.” He turned around to signal two noncoms standing beside an electric hand truck loaded with empty boxes. Grabbing hold of two of them, they came in through the door. “Can’t take too much,” he said casually to Marge. “But then,” he added, grinning, “you don’t have too much.”

It was true. The logistics of equipping and maintaining a city situated hundreds of feet underground severely restricted the amenities available to the personnel who lived there, particularly for the enlisted folk. Ellery doubted that even if the general kept his promise, there’d be anything more waiting for Marge in Leavenworth. But he also knew that Marge saw beyond material comforts. He wondered how or even if she could adjust to his permanent confinement. He did the only thing he could – put his sweet wife in the Hands of God. “Lord God,” he prayed, I’m most grateful, knowing that you’ll keep your dear daughter Marge in Your loving Hands. Thank you.”

Ellery’s concern for her welfare in the face of the cruelty that had befallen him only made Marge weep louder, causing him to comfort her with a hug.   “Think on the bright side, honey,” he murmured in her ear. At least we’ll be out of this ungodly hole in the ground and back among the living.”

“You have it exactly right,” she responded. “There’s not a single soul down here that’s not deader than a possum flattened by an eighteen-wheeler.”

“Except you.”

“And you. Oh, honey, I’ll miss you so. And thinking about what you’ll be going through in prison.”

“I’ve been through worse.” A combat veteran, he’d been wounded and spent several months returning to fitness. “And remember Who’s in charge of everything. God will be with us, no matter where we find ourselves. And He promised that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. Keep those words in your heart, because God, through Paul, includes us in that message of hope. Remember what kind of witness you have been down here for Jesus Christ.”

“As were you. Which is rather obvious, seeing as how that got you into this pickle. I’m very proud of you for that, and don’t you forget it.”

They left the bed behind for a quick morning of packing, but everything else except for a box of cereal, the remainder of a loaf of bread and a nearly-empty container of milk had been removed by nine that evening. The packers left, but the two MPs remained outside the door. Their watch was relieved and replaced by two other Marines at midnight.

Knowing that this would be their last night together for at least a very long time and probably forever, Ellery and Marge attempted to make love. It was an awkward and joyless effort that ended up being futile as well, as Marge couldn’t help but break out in tears that refused to stop. They ended up in a tight embrace with arms and legs entwined about each other, but sleep failed to overtake either of them. By five o’clock they climbed out of bed and silently dressed. Marge prepared a basic breakfast for them, but in the end they put it into the garbage uneaten.

Marge was summoned at six in the morning and hurried out of the concrete chamber that represented her home. They clung to each other so fiercely they barely had time for a quick kiss goodbye. Ellery left the room at eleven, and by late that evening he found himself on a plane to the maximum security facility for military personnel, wearing prison garb and shackled solidly to the floor. The flight was impersonal, cold and bleak. By the early hours of the next morning he had his first glimpse of his new and permanent home: the United States Disciplinary Barracks, Leavenworth, Kansas.

 

 

 

 

 

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