One Summer in Georgia by Cole Parker

He was on his way home, a leisurely trip driving back roads in rural Georgia.
A sudden encounter with a young teen interrupted his trip.
He’d just completed a job, and the last thing he needed was a passenger.
Especially a kid as a passenger.

Chapter 14

When I returned to the hotel and entered the room, Colt leaped up and hugged me as fiercely as he had when I’d left. I held him and whispered in his ear, “Your father is dead.”

The news didn’t faze him. He didn’t loosen his grip on me. I knew the emotion he was showing was all for my return. When he did let go, he only released the hug. He stepped back one pace and kept his hands on my arms, looked straight into my eyes, and when he spoke said only, “Good!”

“I killed him, Colt, but it was in self-defense.”

“I was afraid he’d kill you. He was mean and smart, and he’d never lost before—at anything.”

“Except he did. He lost to you—in the woods. He misjudged you. He thought he had you intimidated. Maybe he thought, because of what he’d heard, that you were gay. He had no understanding that gay men and boys are just as intrepid and capable as any men and boys. I figure he was meaning to let you shoot the dog and then have Bart or Burt, perhaps both of them, shoot you—he’d have called it a test of loyalty—and be done with all the threat you posed. But he didn’t get away with it because you outsmarted him. So he did lose before. To you.”

I let that sink in, then said, “We have one more thing to do, and then, well, I have my job. So, I need to tell you about what comes next.”

He looked sad and then resolved. He’d known separation was coming. He’d got himself ready for it. Perhaps more than I had. I’d been thinking of other things—of my meeting with the sheriff with the aim to remove him as a threat from Colt’s life. As much as possible, I’d avoided thinking about what was to come after that.

>>>>>  >>>>>

They were waiting when we arrived. I was wearing a suit and tie, and Colt was decked out in his fancy duds, too. I still found it remarkable how grown up, how striking he looked when dressed like that. He said his neck itched. I told him to live with it.

Even before we reached their front door, Jerrod was rushing out to meet us. He’d known Colt was coming, of course. He’d been told yesterday. But even knowing Colt would be stepping out of the car, he stopped, nonplused, when he saw Colt. I don’t think he was prepared for Colt, the young gentleman. He was expecting Colt, the half-dressed wild country boy.

I smiled at the reaction. I’d seen Colt dressed like he was a few times now, and I still found he presented a stunning figure. I could only imagine what it was like, knowing how he’d always looked before and then seeing how he looked now. I was not surprised to see Jerrod gawk at him.

Jerrod had stopped, looked, his eyes opened wide, and tried to get a handle on the difference between what he’d been expecting and what he was seeing. Then, he got a huge smile on his face. Colt hadn’t stopped to stare at Jerrod at all; he’d simply rushed forward and grabbed Jerrod in a huge hug.

Jerrod had known for a day that Colt was coming. Colt had known for a half hour he was going to see Jerrod. He still wasn’t sure he believed it.

While the two were hugging, I made my way to the front stoop and met Mr. and Mrs. Carter. He was a lawyer; his wife taught math at the central high school. I’d spoken on the phone to them both on two occasions. They had been worried sick when Colt had disappeared. While they had no idea what had happened, they were aware of what the sheriff was capable of. They saw the sheriff not enlisting townspeople to help find him, not making the sort of effort they expected to locate the boy. That made them suspicious, and, in turn, fearful for Colt’s safety.

It turned out that almost no one in town had misgivings about the death of the sheriff. Or the subsequent arrest of the judge. There had been talk for years about the sheriff and the judge, but no one had any proof of any malfeasance. But the two had an arrangement: the sheriff of Caverton County wasn’t an elected position; the position was filled by appointment of the circuit judge. The judge himself had a ten-year term with automatic term extensions unless his probity had been challenged in court. The sheriff had a way of investigating any complaints against the judge—and such complaints were rare. The investigations somehow resulted in the complainant in more trouble than the judge, and the issues never reaching the court. The two had made a very effective self-serving team.

All three of us watched the boys. When their hug was done, Jerrod crouched down and was toppled over by Fitz’s enthusiastic greeting. Fitz was all over him, bouncing around and licking his face from every angle, and Jerrod was laughing and laughing and laughing.

We all eventually went inside after both adults had had the chance to give Colt a hug. It was apparent that both adult Carters felt great affection for Colt. In the living room, the two boys sat next to each other on the couch, with Fitz at their feet on the carpet. Mr. Carter formally asked Colt if he’d like to live with them. The man already had emergency foster credentials, so living there could begin immediately. He told Colt that he should start thinking about adoption in the future if he wanted that.

Colt had shed tears. Then, taking me entirely by surprise, he jumped up and into my lap. He hugged me and looked into my eyes.

“I can’t adopt you, Colt,” I said, reading his mind. “But I can keep in touch. I have time between assignments and usually during the holidays, and if the Carters wouldn’t mind my imposing on them, I could maybe spend some of that time here. With you.”

“I’d like that,” he told me, and, turning to Mr. Carter, said, “and I’d like to be adopted. I don’t want to have the name Haddox any longer.”

We ate dinner there that evening. Then, after dinner, I met with Mr. Carter in his office. I explained to him what I’d done with the Whistleblowers Hotline, how Colt would be coming into a large amount of money, probably over a million dollars that he didn’t know anything about, and that my name and existence had to be completely absent from any inquiries.

We talked about the ruckus in the sheriff’s office that day. It was a given that I hadn’t been involved in it—no one knew who I was or that I’d been there; the deputies knew some strange effete guy had been there, but there wasn’t much they could say about him that would help identify him, and in any event, they might never be found to be questioned.

It was a probability that Colt would be questioned because of the tax thing with his name on it and that he would need a lawyer to advise him—advise him that he should answer no questions at all. He knew nothing at all about that, didn’t know anything about a Whistleblower’s Hotline, and if he did have any information at all, which he didn’t, it would all be hearsay and become inadmissible in any court proceeding.

I told Mr. Carter that the person who had killed the sheriff in self-defense was a cipher, an illusion, a nonentity, and tracing him would be impossible.

“There’s going to be a brouhaha in this town. There’s a dead body at the sheriff’s office, there’s a ton of incriminating documents there concerning all sorts of crap, all the sworn deputies that worked for the sheriff, including his sons, are missing, and there’s no trace of the sheriff’s killer. There is evidence of a shoot out; the sheriff shot at someone and in return someone shot him. There will be forensic evidence—gun shot residue—on the sheriff’s hand and clothes, a gun in his hand, trace evidence he kept the gun in his safe, and the bullet he fired will probably be located lodged in a wall or the ceiling of his office. I’d guess—it’s a pure guess—he was shot with a smaller caliber weapon than the one he had, and I would guess an investigation will end with the supposition that the sheriff was shot in self-defense. Why he shot at whoever shot him, why he’d opened his safe, why he was alone with his assailant, why the person in his office was even there—well, those are questions that may beg answers forever. But the sheriff’s guilt of many crimes will be established without question. The corruption he and his department were involved in will be laid bare. Reparations will probably have to be made to many people in this county. I would guess that you, being a lawyer, might be in the middle of a lot of that. In my opinion, what needs addressing most is making whole the people hurt by the sheriff and the judge.

“I would guess, and it’s just another guess, that finding and questioning the deputies that were in the office when the man who shot the sheriff came in won’t help in learning who that man was. In the end, it will be like he never even existed.”

I liked Mr. Carter. He was a down-to-earth, practical man, and he appeared aware that black and white were merely ideals, that gray was the color of how many things worked in the real world. I told him there would probably be an opening for a new district judge in the county, and he smiled. He asked me if I’d be interested in a law-enforcement position, perhaps in becoming a sheriff, reminding me that a circuit judge had the power to choose anyone he liked. I laughed. The opportunity to be around as Colt grew up was enticing, but I was a loner at heart, and the job I now had was important to the country’s security.

Saying goodbye to Colt was one of the hardest things I’d ever done. How does a boy work his way into your heart so deeply? We hugged, I promised him I’d be in Fredericksville for Thanksgiving, and then I drove off in the Escalade. I was returning it to Atlanta. My boss would like my frugality for returning it to the place I’d rented it.

The tickets to SFO were in my pocket.

The End

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