So, the idea here is to leave you with one ending which will not “give too much away” about John & Becky’s role in the greater scheme of “Out of the Blue.” That said, the ending you’ll read here might be considered a bit of a dodge. Sorry, that’s the way it’s gotta be – for now. Haven’t proofed this version either. I’ll do that when I pull the chapters and post a unified, modified arc. Enjoy!
Cottage Cheese & Green Onions
John Wayne Dickinson had just about decided that, after two weeks on the Sawyer farm south of Athens, Texas, being a cop was, all other things being somewhat equal, about one tenth as hard as being a farmer. If you factored taking care of fifteen dairy cows into that equation, being a cop was about one one-hundredths the work. He’d never been so chronically exhausted in his life.
Becky had decided to spend two weeks working with her father that April, and he’d volunteered to get in on that action. Now he was glad he had. Kind of. In a way. Maybe.
Wake up at four, get the machinery primed and the cows set up in their stalls by five, then he and Becky milked fifteen head over the next few hours, not counting clean-up time. It took her father forty five minutes. After that he joined up with Tom walking the fenceline, making repairs while Becky cooked breakfast. Another hour down. After breakfast he worked a riding mower around the fenced dairy pasture while Tom hooked up a sprayer and fertilized the soy field; Becky laid out the rows for corn they’d plant next week, then worked in the “small” garden behind the house. “Small” being one point seven acres – that she would plant with tomatoes, squash, zucchini, cucumbers, onions, broccoli, kale and – last, but not least – a dozen pumpkins. Most of that would be “put up” in September, to be eaten over the winter, but if the weather cooperated Tom ended up giving a bunch of stuff to May – and selling what he could at the farmer’s market in Dallas on autumn weekend mornings.
Being a farmer was, Dickinson was finding out, an exercise in radical self sufficiency – and every little bit counted towards making ends meet, making it to the next planting season, then to the next harvest. On and on in an endless cycle that relentlessly depended on almost perfectly timed good weather to make things work. A late frost or an early freeze meant the difference, some years, between getting to take a vacation and very nearly starving to death, but east Texas was blessed with reasonably good weather. The downside? The soil was marginal. The sawyer spread was one of the good ones, though, with more than enough rich, black topsoil to cancel out the less productive sandy red clay along the creeks that ran through the property.
He hadn’t thought about much else for the past week – beyond his constantly aching back, anyway – and Becky helped take care of that. He’d look up from a gap in the fence he was working on and see her across one of the larger pastures, working with her father or riding one of the big tractors, and he was simply amazed by her endless resourcefulness. Some tomatoes need canning? “Yup, I can do that.” Change the fuel pump on the tractor? “I got that, Dad.” Work her ass off in the garden – for ten hours straight? “Let me finish the dishes first, okay Dad?”
He couldn’t quite see giving up the whole ‘cop thing’ – yet – but maybe, just maybe he could see doing this after 25 years with the department. There was one thing he did realize now, however: he wanted to be with Becky for the ride. He’d been sure before, but after a week down here? Well this time had only sealed the deal. There wasn’t a dishonest bone in her body, not one, and she was always walking around with a positive, if not downright plucky attitude. Nothing was going to beat her. Nothing. And he loved her for it.
He thought she had a hard time admitting it, but he was pretty sure she loved him too, yet her seeming reluctance to dance to this part of their music bothered him. She wasn’t real demonstrative with the whole ‘love’ thing, and at first he’d put it down to the whole ‘cop’ thing. Cops weren’t, he knew, the most demonstrative people out there – because, well, emotions were often seen as ‘the enemy.’ Emotions had to be contained, controlled, ignored. He’d seen too many instances where emotions were turned around and used against people, cops too, where emotion clouded judgement – with often fatal results – so yeah, he got that.
‘But why with me?’ he wondered. So, he’d asked Tom.
“Just like her mother,” Tom Sawyer said – not a little stoically. “Wouldn’t read too much into it.”
“Would it bug you too much if I asked her to marry me?”
And the old man had turned around and grinned. “Fell in love with her, did ya? Well, I’ll be.”
“And? If she loves you enough to marry you, that’s all I need to know, son.”
“Has she said anything…”
“Nope, ain’t goin’ there, John. That’s between the two of you. You got something to ask, I reckon you need to get around to askin’ her, not me.”
So they’d finished working the fences in time to run over to May’s, and the old gal was just pulling a batch of jalapeño cheddar cornbread from the oven when they walked in. “Got some fresh pintos goin’, y’all,” she said as she looked up from the oven. “Collard’s will be ready in a little bit, if’n you want to wait some.”
“I’ll wait,” Tom said, “but bring my pintos and cornbread – now!”
May laughed and shook her head. “You gonna plant me some okra this year?”
“How much you want, woman?”
“Four, maybe five bushels. Reckon you can do that for me?”
“Reckon you can get some of that cornbread over here – like, before I die?”
“Tom Sawyer! You be nice to me or you ain’t gettin’ nuthin’!”
Tom shook his head and grinned as May walked up with a platter of cornbread and three bowls of pintos.
“Goddamn, that smells good,” Dickinson said – and everyone went stone cold.
“Don’t use the Lord’s name in vain, young man, or I’ll take you out back and skin you alive,” May said without a hint of humor in her voice.
“Sorry, Ma’am,” John said as she walked back to her kitchen.
Tom looked at him, shook his head. “Ain’t many things around here more important than God, John. Best remember that.”
Becky was trying not to smile and yet it seemed like she was eating this scene right up, while John – the big, bad cop being chastised by May was about the best thing she’d seen all year, and this year had been a doozy. She looked at the boyish chagrin on his face right now and wasn’t sure if she wanted to laugh – or give him a hug. What she was sure of was her feelings for him.
She could see it working, the two of them, despite the age difference.
That had bothered her most of all…the idea that ten years from now he might want to move on to greener pastures. She’d be in her fifties – just – when he hit forty. Would that matter? Of course it would, but how much would it affect their relationship then? And she looked at her dad, watched the years grinding down on him, slowly wearing him out after almost sixty years on this farm. Is that really how she wanted to end her days? Working this dirt? Was it all really so important?
When she was home, in Dallas, she knew it was – but once she was out here? The proximity to such endless, back-breaking work, day in and day out, was often more than she could take. Hadn’t her parents struggled to earn enough to send her to school, just so she could escape this life? How many times had she heard her father grouse about wanting to earn a living with his head, not his back? Then he’d fall back and say something tangential, like, “Well, somebody’s got to do it. Might as well be me.”
Was that really all there was to it, all it came down to? You were born on a farm, so you were a farmer? Could it really be so simple? That, in the end, she was a farmer, and despite everything else she learned or did somehow that one bit of information had wormed it’s way into her DNA? Was she now a fish out of water? Did school and job mean nothing? Was she going against her first best destiny by turning away from the farm?
‘And I’m the end of the line,’ she sighed. She wouldn’t have kids, she knew, because she’d decided to move away from the farm. She was abnegating her future, consciously. Because sometimes it felt like, by moving away from this destiny, she had deemed herself unworthy of procreation.
‘Could I, still? Could I have a baby? Just stop taking the pill, see what happens?’
She watched John as he sliced up a jalapeño and gave some to her father, and she smiled, shook her head when he offered her some, too, but she looked at him now – differently – and though she tried to hide her thoughts she was sure they were blazing away like a new star, born in this very same room she’d shared with family and friends for four decades.
“I’d love to know what’s on your mind right now,” John said, putting down the plate, looking at her with a million questions in his eyes.
“Yup,” he said, taking a spoonful of beans.
“I was wondering. Think you’ll ever ask me to marry you?”
He tried not to cough, put his spoon down and shook his head. “Whoa? Where’d that come from?”
“I love you to pieces. I want to try and have a baby with you. What do you think?”
“Well,” Tom sighed, “as long as you two don’t do it right here on the table, I’m all for it,” then he stood and excused himself, walked out to the parking lot and started whistling.
“Now that’s funny,” he said.
“I was just talking to your dad a while ago – about how much I love you. And how I’m not sure if you love me or not…”
“You hold things in, Becky. I tell you I love you a dozen times a day yet, you know, most times it just bounces off some wall…
She nodded her head. “I’m afraid.”
“Yes. That I’m too old for you, that you’ll get tired of me one day and leave.”
“Oh. Okay. So? You wanna get married, have babies?”
“Well, good. So do I.”
“What’s that?” May said, carrying three heaping platters loaded with CFS, mashed potatoes and greens up to the table. “Someone say something about getting married?”
John looked at the old gal and stood up, helped her put the plates down on the table then he said, “Yup, reckon I did.” Then he kissed her on the forehead and went out to get Tom before his cheese grits got cold.
When they got back to the house, after a celebratory Lone Star or two, the phone was ringing – and Becky ran inside to get it – while Tom cast a wary glance at the sky.
“Big storms comin’ in,” he said. “We best get the cows in now, and fast.”
John turned and looked to the southwest, where Tom had been looking, and while he could see some clouds they didn’t look that threatening. Yet if he’d learned one thing down here the past week and a half it was this: when Tom spoke, only fools ignored what he said.
“What do you want me to do first?”
“You move ‘em this way, to the corral, and I’ll get ‘em in. Once that’s done you start hayin’ ‘em, and I’ll move the tractor to the shed, get that battened down…”
They both stopped short as Becky came running to the barn.
“John…the Lykes girl…she hit again.”
“What?” After the witness and her boyfriend were killed, Rebecca Lykes had, just as Becky thought, gone quiet. No new leads developed, no witnesses came forward, and the DAs office had advised they ‘cold case’ the file until something new developed. After several months, their interest, let alone the time they had available to pursue such things flagged, and John hadn’t thought about the case in weeks. “What’s happened?”
“The same motel on Harry Hines. That first one? Remember? Another middle-aged male, cruciform wound, cottage cheese and green onions left at the scene.”
“Fuck-a-doodle-doo,” Dickinson whispered.
“Did that boy just say ‘fuck-a-doodle-doo?’” Tom asked, looking slightly amused.
“Yeah dad. What’s up?” she said, looking at the expression on his face.
“Big storm. I can smell it now. Over by Corsicana. Be here in a half hour.”
“Hail, maybe a twister or two. Better go turn on the TV, see if you can get WFAA or KRLD?”
Becky took off for the house and John for the pasture behind the dairy barn, while Tom went inside the barn and opened up the stalls. He helped John get the cows settled in, then turned to him. “I think we got about fifteen minutes…”
“How can you tell?” John said, exasperated.
“You been through enough of ‘em, you can smell ’em comin’. Now, I got to get the tractor in. There’ll be a few rattlers in the hay, so be careful.”
“Rattlers?” John moaned as he picked up a pitchfork. “Oh, joy,” he sighed, then he looked to the south-southwest when a deep rumble shook the ground. Huge black clouds were boiling beyond the tree line, and the air to the south was almost misty green now. He cut open a bale and starting pitching feed into each stall, watched a foot long rattler slither off in the general direction of the door as he made his way down the barn. Why was it, he wondered, that dairy cattle looked so goddamn affectionate? One of them, Daisy-May, even liked to turn around and lick the top of his head when he was under her. Hell, after a few days here he’d just about decided to become a vegetarian. “Goddamn CFS tastes too goddamn good to do that to myself…”
Startled, he turned and looked at Becky. “Anything on the boob-tube?”
“Tornado warnings. Everywhere.”
“Damn. He’s like a human weather station, ya know? Oh, a little rattler just went over there,” he said, pointing to a spot a few feet from where she stood.
And she shrugged – a blasé little huff – like, ‘Okay, so what’s the big deal?’
He rolled his eyes, shook his head.
“As soon as this blows through we’re gonna need to head on back to town. Captain wants us on this ASAP. Official recall.”
“Swell. We have four days left, ya know.”
“It’s our case.”
He nodded, flinched when he saw a huge arc of lightning a mile or so away, then a shattering crack of thunder hit – and it felt like the air had been pulled from his lungs. The cows turned away from the sound, started mooing, stamping hoves.
“Let’s check the gates, help Dad get the shed secured,” she said, but he was already running from the shed – for the house – pointing to the sky as he ran.
They turned, saw the funnel beyond the trees – and Dickinson stood, transfixed.
She looked too, for a second, then grabbed John’s shirtsleeve and pulled him towards the house, and they ducked down into the storm shelter as winds began whipping the air around the main house. Tom set all the locks in place and sat down after he turned on an overhead light, then he looked at them and grinned. “Glad I remembered to pay my insurance bill this year,” he said, winking at Becky.
She grinned too, then looked up at the concrete ceiling as something heavy fell across the door…
Then the light went out.
His office was on the fortieth floor of the First National Bank building, recently renamed Interfirst Bank, Dallas, not that that made the slightest difference to him. Lykes Petroleum was unlike all the banks – and politicians – in Dallas. Lykes was an institution, a dominant presence on the international scene. “Bankers and politicians come and go,” he liked to say, “but oil is forever.” As the biggest ‘independent’ operating out of Texas, he had five floors in this building staffed with engineers and accountants, lobbyists and security personnel. His own net worth was unknown to most everyone in the world – speculation put the figure north of ten billion dollars – yet he lived modestly, compared to, say, the Saudi princes with whom he usually mingled. He had no mansions outside Geneva, for instance, nor did he own a mega-yacht. He had his place in Highland Park, a small house behind The Chart House in Aspen and his grandfather’s old place at Koon Kreek, south of Athens, where he felt most comfortable – most at-ease.
And beside his daughter, he had Sue. Susan Collins, his longtime secretary. They were the ‘yin and yang’ of his life: Rebecca, who kept him grounded to a past worth dying for, while Sue reminded him there were still things beyond rubies worth living for.
He was standing now by the vast wall of glass in his corner office, looking to the south southeast – watching a massive wall of cloud advance to the east – when he heard his door hiss open. He could smell her perfume and he closed his eyes, thought of their time the night before for a moment and he smiled. “There’s a big storm brewing,” he said when he felt her by his side.
“There are two police detectives waiting,” she said. “They need to speak to you.”
Those words brought him back in to the present. “Police? What about?”
“Something about Becka. Would you like me to stay in here with you?”
“Becka? Well, yes. Please,” he said.
And she could her the sudden dis-ease in his voice, the hidden concern, as she walked out to get the men.
“Oh, God. What has she done now,” he sighed. So many fears, so many banked down low for so long… He looked south, to the storm, and wondered whether he could stand up to this, again. He heard them enter and waited for them to take a seat – yet still he stood looking out the window.
“Big storm out there,” he said at last. “Any alerts out?”
Captain of Detectives Bill Sunderman looked at the man, possibly the richest in Texas, if not the country, and wondered what he knew. “Tornado warning for Henderson County, sir. Funnel on the ground south of Athens.”
He turned to his secretary. “Miss Collins, would you call Mrs Wilson at the club, see it they have the warning?” She nodded and went out to her desk, and the door closed behind her. “Now, what can I do for you gentlemen?” he said as he flipped a button on his desk and locked his door. Then he turned on his intercom – so she could hear everything and take notes.
Sunderman laid out what had happened last fall, including their suspicions, and why his daughter had fallen under their radar.
“We believe it started when she was at SMU. We’ve developed a lot of information that she got in with a group of kids taking organic chemistry that began making LSD during their lab sessions, and after hours.”
His eyes had been open after that. The number of people they’d interviewed, the number of witnesses who confirmed her involvement. Then the deaths and assaults, all on men who – in one way or another – had either worked for or had dealings with Lykes Petroleum…
“And you think my daughter has had something to do with this?”
“Yessir, we do.”
Then, a knock on the door.
He flipped a switch and the door hissed open; in walked three members of his legal staff.
“Detectives,” Lykes said, “these are members of my staff. Please lay out your evidence to them, and now, if you’d be so good as to leave. They will let me know what’s happened, and what you need. Now, if you’ll excuse me. I have other matters to attend.”
Sunderman looked at the man, not quite believing this turn of events. “Sir…” he began, but the three lawyers stepped between them.
“Officers. If you’ll come with us…”
He listened as the detectives were escorted from the room, and as Sue came back in and locked the door. She came up to him as he stood looking at the storm, put her arms around his waist, the side of her face against his back – and she didn’t say a word. She listened to his breath until she felt the shaking subside, until his muscles eased a bit.
“She’s trying to protect you, again,” Sue whispered.
“What are you going to do?”
“Switzerland, I think. She can finish school there.”
“Where is she now?”
“I don’t know. We had an argument the night before last. She didn’t come home last night.”
“Do you want me to call Bob? They have a beacon in her car, I seem to recall.”
“Go ahead. And tell them to prepare for her departure.”
She let go, turned to leave…
She stopped, turned to face him. “Yes?”
“I love you.”
She came to him, kissed him for the longest time then returned to her desk, called the head of the family’s personal security detail.
‘What now?’ she said to herself as she listened to the phone ring. ‘What has that psychotic cunt done to him now – and will it ever stop?’
She was at her grandfather’s house, at Koon Kreek, watching the storm rage just to the north of the ‘Old Lake’ – the original lake the clubhouse overlooked – and she smiled. ‘Maybe it’ll take out that Sawyer cunt, and her dim-witted partner, too.’
She had seen there cars when she passed the house by the night before, after she’d taken care of that Dempsey guy. One more of her father’s headaches dealt with, she sighed, satisfied with the results – and with these two detectives down here, not on the case, she figured she had time to rest, to keep out of sight.
Then she saw the funnel drop from the wall cloud, felt the change in atmospheric pressure. And another change came over her then…
“What if it hits their house? They’ll be hurt, or worse!” she said, as she grabbed her car keys and ran for the Mustang…
The sound, the pressure, was incredible. Like a freight train looming in the night, the roar was subtle – at first – then in seconds it fell on the house and they ducked to the cold concrete floor as the storm hit. That the house was gone was not in doubt; only the extent of the damage to the rest of the farm remained an open question – then the storm door was literally ripped off it’s hinges and an old pecan tree came ripping down into the cellar. The old man tried to hold on to something, anything, but he felt himself being sucked out the passage and fear gripped him like nothing ever had before – then he felt Dickinson’s hand grasping for his and he caught it, held on for dear life. His feet were off the floor now, being pulled out the sundered doorway, and he looked down now, saw a shattered branch had impaled Becky – and she was bleeding…
“John!” he screamed, trying to hear his own voice over the screeching banshees. “Look-at-Becky! She’s hurt!”
Dickinson turned, saw Becky struggling with a limb that had pinned her to the concrete floor, then he saw blood running under her shirt – and somehow he pulled Tom down into the shelter, turning to her as he did. They were on her in an instant, trying to pull the limb free, or even break it loose, but the full weight of the giant tree had her pinned.
As the wind fell away, John tried to push his way up the tree, but the way out was a tangled mess of twisted limbs and wet leaves…then he saw her.
Rebecca Lykes. Staring down through the branches and leaves.
“What are you doing here?” he hissed.
“I was driving by…is anyone hurt?”
“Yes. Becky is.”
“Yes, Miss Sawyer. She bleeding, badly.”
He saw the change come over the girl in an instant. She pushed her way through the leaves, down into the cellar, and she knelt besides Becky, took her wrist and started assessing her condition. “We’re going to need a rescue crew here, stat. Look, the house is gone, but I saw lights on at May’s. Take my keys, get down there and call the fire department…”
Dickinson looked at her, didn’t know what to…
“Don’t think! Go!” Lykes yelled, and he nodded his head, pushed his way out the opening and into the greenish twilight. He ran for the Mustang and peeled out, drove for the café as fast as the rain-swollen dirt road allowed. He slid into the muddy parking lot and ran for the door, and May met him as he ran up.
“Twister hit us,” he panted. “Becky’s trapped in the cellar, bleeding out.”
“I’ll call the fire department,” May said, “and get some of my people headed you way. How’s the house?”
“Dear God. Okay, you git. We’ll be right behind you.”
“Bring chain saws,” he said as he left, as May turned for her phone, and he sprinted back to the farm as the last of the rain passed. Tom was already cutting limbs with a chainsaw near the entry, and he started pulled limbs and debris away. Minutes seemed like hours, but more pickup trucks slid to a stop and neighbors jumped to work clearing more debris – and parts of the house – from the area.
Tom Sawyer stepped away, turned and assayed the damage, and Dickinson turned with him.
“Barns are okay,” Tom said, and there was some relief in his eyes, but he looked and sounded completely devastated. He walked off towards the dairy barn just then – as May drove up in her old Impala – just as two fire trucks turned up the dirt road.
An ambulance followed, and paramedics jumped down into the cellar moments later, and he saw the Lykes girl crawl out a minute after that. She saw him and walked over, and she looked at the cop right in the eye the whole way over.
“I don’t think anything vital was hit, no arterial bleeding anyway. Her pulse is steady and unchanged, and she hasn’t lost consciousness.”
He looked at her, not sure what to do.
“Well? Are you going to say something? Or just stand there staring at me?”
“Why?” he asked.
“Why’d you come here?”
“Look, like I said, I was just…”
“No, you weren’t.”
She looked into the cop’s eyes, could see he was cutting through layers of deceit – like his eyes were scalpels. “No, I wasn’t. But I was afraid someone was hurt, and I had to…”
“You know what? I’m probably going to get fired for this, but you need to get out of here, fast. They’ve already called, want us back in town to start looking for you.”
She nodded her head. “Okay. Why? Why are you letting me go?”
“I’m giving you a little head start, that’s all. I owe you that.”
“Okay. You know something?”
“Your next,” she said. “At least – you were.” She leaned over and kissed him on the cheek, then smiled at him. “Got my keys?”
He tossed them to her then looked away, as if giving her his leave to run – then he watched her drive away before he ran back to the cellar.
She made it back to work six weeks later, and as she’d officially been summoned back to work just before the storm hit her injuries were classified as ‘on-duty’ – so the financial impact of the event wasn’t so overwhelming.
She claimed she did not remember being rescued, or who was involved, and her father never mentioned seeing a Ford Mustang at the farm. John Wayne Dickinson, of course, never mentioned anything of the sort. Neither did he mention his activities after he following Becky’s ambulance to Parkland Hospital that evening. Like calling Rebecca Lyke’s father at his house later that night. He did not mention driving to Love Field at two in the morning – and watching Rebecca Lykes walk up into a private Boeing 707-320c that had just landed and refueled at the Braniff facility next to Southwest Airmotive. Neither did he mention talking with people in the shadows as the jet took off and turned to the northeast.
The Lykes case was officially closed, marked solved, later that summer after all leads went cold.
John and Becky Sawyer were married in August, not long after work on Tom Sawyer’s new house was finished. No one commented that the new house was quite a bit nicer, and bigger, than the one it replaced. John was asked once, by May, and he only said that he and Tom had done a lot of the work themselves.
Tom drove them over to DFW Airport after the wedding, and he saw them off on their honeymoon. They were going to Switzerland as it turned out, but Tom didn’t see anything wrong with that.
The only thing that bothered him, in fact, was an odd statement John made on the way to the airport. “Oh, I have a few loose ends I need to take care of over there, pops.”
“Loose ends?” Tom remembered asking.
“Oh, more like an errand. Just something I have to do. For a friend.”
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