“We’re ridin’ out tonight to case the promised land…”
The mellow hum of the Mercedes engine had lulled the passengers in the back seat into a foggy daze. It seemed that the two women on either side of Happy were napping, leaving him to gaze out at the passing countryside alone while the Colonel drove on, bringing them ever closer to Happy’s home turf, his promised land. He never felt as peaceful as he was when he was standing among the freshly cut crops. Closing his own eyes he thought back on the hours before and tried to formulate an escape plan for himself.
After the angry scene at the Thanksgiving table, Kevin, Happy and Bear had moved silently down a dark corridor to the room that they would be staying in. The space that Alyce had provided to them was not very large. Two bunks and a single bed, two chairs and a dented wood table, with the only apparent creature comfort being a large television screen mounted on the far wall.
The three entered in close step, Kevin leading the way with Bear giving no room for alternate navigation in the rear. Happy shuffled into the room, trying to match his steps with the two ends of the sandwich he was stuck in the middle of. He was preparing himself mentally.
There were several other guests who would have watched him just as well, but he knew that the two men who were asked to take guard duty were not there just to keep him company. When the door was closed behind them, followed by the rough sound of a deadbolt, he braced himself for the worst.
By dawn of the following day, his eyelids were drooping and his mouth was parched. The three men had spent the night locked in the small room enduring quiet persuasion while Happy did most of the talking. When they emerged, both Kevin and Bear had the looks of exhausted, yet enlightened travelers. Happy, who earlier held a countenance of smug satisfaction, now appeared to be a tamed and broken bird.
The bird had sung, seemingly giving away all of his closely held secrets.
Since Bear and Kevin had not been present to hear TT Davis’s information or to see the photographs supplied by the Colonels wife, the group gathered in the library to get them up to speed. CookSam was given the task of keeping the now humbled interloper out of earshot, so they retreated to the kitchen. As CookSam removed a tray of biscuits from the oven and placed them next to a platter of chicken on the counter, the now famished Happy couldn’t help but ask for a taste.
He was given a glass of water and a wrap of saltines.
Disgruntled, Happy ripped open the waxed covering of the crackers and tried to pump his companion for information. CookSam was having none of it. If it had been left up to him, this person would have been dealt with in a completely different manner, so he was not going to engage in any small talk. In his experience, it was best to cut off a poisonous root before it had an opportunity to grow. Huffing and grumbling, he controlled the urge to squash this cockroach where it sat.
The hungry and weary Happy sat on a stool at the large kitchen counter, slurping water and crumbling his saltines. Looking around the room at the fresh food and the remnants of last nights feast was fueling his building anger. It would serve them right, he thought, if he cleared off the counters and swept it all onto the floor, including Alyce’s precious collection of penguin figurines so precisely displayed on the windowsill above the sink.
This grown woman, who in his opinion was way too full of herself, had what looked like an alter honoring the center figure which sat on a pedestal above the others. It had its fin outstretched above its head and was holding up an umbrella, as if floating down onto its perch, secured only by the colorful bag of candy placed at its feet.
Everyone likes Batman, he thought, but this showcase honoring the villainous Penguin was going a bit too far.
It had not been lost on him that he was now at the mercy of this man who was wrangling food and his arrogant cohorts. As he broke the crackers into a pile, he almost regretted his actions and his associations, but not enough to keep him from thinking about his own self interests.
In an apparent fit, he poured water over the pile of crumbs and mashed them feverishly into a gummed up paste with his fingers. The smell of the chicken and freshly baked biscuits was more than he could take and he was deeply insulted by the prison rations that were given to him. As the warm smell of actual food wafted into his nostrils, Happy completely covered his hands up to his wrists and most of the counter in front of him with the rapidly solidifying slop.
The slam of the oven door broke whatever trance he had lost himself in. Before he had a chance to push back his stool and gain his footing, CookSam was standing behind him, legs straddling the stool with his arms in a wide breach around Happy’s body. The position forced him to stay where he was, waving his hands and splattering chunks of the cracker cement around the counter and floor.
After a series of choice expletives and commands were screamed in his ear, Happy was dragged unceremoniously to the kitchen sink. Were it not for CookSams back being turned, this petulant outburst would have been stopped in its tracks. Instead, CookSam now had the task of making his unwanted companion wash up while he gathered supplies to clean up the mess. Tapping the neck of the easy touch faucet, he set the water to run over Happy’s pasted hands.
This was just what Happy had anticipated. He was left to himself to clean off the offensive slop while his fool of a watcher scrambled for towels. Scrubbing his right hand relatively clean, he swiped the package of colorful candies from the window sill and stuffed it into his front pocket.
He chuckled to himself, silently.
These people insisted on leaving these packages everywhere and it was a slap in their faces that he was getting to take one. Bottom line, he was hungry and would take his first opportunity to eat the only apparent source of sugar available to him. As he wiped up the now hardening mess from the counter and floor, under his overseers direction, he again felt smug and satisfied.
Riding in the back seat of the well appointed car, eyes closed, he listened to the breathing of the women seated on either side of him. The steady rhythms assured him that both were asleep. Reaching slowly into his front pocket, his fingers ripped at the waxy paper pouch until it yielded. He could feel the round candies floating around his pocket and quickly wrapped his fingers around a few. In a slow series of movements, he slid his hand from his pocket and popped the orbs of sweetness into his mouth.
Passing the piles of freshly cut straw that lined the road, the Colonel was lost in his own thoughts. The drive through the countryside was beautiful this time of year, which caused him to slow at each new pass so he could fully appreciate the grandness of the colors and give his wife an opportunity to scout for the perfect photo subjects.
As he moved on down the winding cuts of roadway through the fields, he noted to himself how vibrant the stands of corn still looked. He was certainly no farmer, his experience with corn stalks was limited to the dried parcels he decorated his house with in the fall, but these crops looked as if they deserved a place in whatever photo book his wife was looking to produce.
Turning to say as much to his wife, he mistakenly cut the steering wheel in the same direction. Before he could correct himself, the front right tire caught the edge of the road surface and forced the front end of the Mercedes into a large stone that was occupying the space where a shoulder should have been. The hard jumbling and braking roused all of the vehicles passengers to alertness, leaving the Colonel to regain control of the vehicle through an ear piercing chorus of high pitched screams.
Finally bringing the car to a jolting stop, the Colonel cursed under his breath while his wife let out a long, agitated sigh. If it was meant to be a wordless reproach for his careless driving, he was not going to acknowledge it. Nor was he going to respond to the questions from those in the backseat who appeared to be giving in to their momentary panic. Instead, he exited the drivers seat, smoothed his tie, and made his way to the far side of the vehicles front end.
Just as he had predicted to himself, the front right tire of his beautiful vehicle was gouged and flat with the rim inexcusably crushed. As he silently pondered this new development, his passengers exited the vehicle to examine the damage and contribute their thoughts on the situation. His wife injected sighs in between each helpful suggestion given by the two women who were brainstorming the best way to solve their current problem.
As they spoke, the Colonel internally vetoed each of their ideas and thought the best solution might be to change the tire to his spare from the trunk and then find a dealership to get a new tire and rim. The interloper from the back seat could do the dirty work and might know where the closest dealership was since he was from the area and…
It was during this thought process that the Colonel realized that someone from the group was missing. Bringing this to the attention of the women, conversation about the tire was cut short.
Where was Happy?
The science teacher ran back to the open back door and peered inside the car, as if expecting to find him stretched out for a rest. Rachel checked the other side, as if she might find something new. There was no Happy man in the backseat, just a few stray candies that had been crushed into the floor mats. Realizing he was not in the vehicle, the women moved out into the road, calling his name.
There was nothing. It was as if through some divine intervention their unhappy traveling companion had been spirited away. Looking up the road in either direction, the only thing to be seen was corn and straw.
Thinking of her photos, the Colonels wife took her camera from the front seat and used the zoom function to scan the horizon. A person could not just instantly disappear without a trace. She checked her lens for bent corn stalks, unusual colors in the fields, anything that would point them in the direction of where Happy had gone.
She saw nothing unusual, but did spot a barn situated on the next side road they were to come upon had they made it farther down the road. Handing the camera to her husband, she remarked that while they may not be able to find their missing passenger here, they might be able to find some help at this barn, and perhaps something to eat. They had been on the road for some time, after all.
Thinking that this might be a likely place for Happy to run to, the Colonel agreed that they should close up the vehicle and head down the road in the hopes of finding some friendly country folk that might give them a hand. This would allow them to look around for any signs of someone leaving in a hurry. After gathering their belongings, the four remaining Mercedes occupants slowly walked down the road to the west, scanning outcroppings and shouting occasionally, as if they were looking for a run away dog.
Up the road, to the east, Happy had already put half of a mile between him and his car mates. It was far easier to escape from his handlers than he had anticipated. The Colonels poor judgement provided the perfect opportunity to slip away. He would have taken a different chance, of course, but he was pleased with himself that he had acted so quickly.
He knew this road and he knew these fields. As he climbed fences and hopped ravines, he felt invigorated. Knowing that there would be several places he could go, many people in the family who would take him in, he moved on with growing confidence. If there was one thing he knew, there was no place like home.
The bird has flown.