My window for leaving the neighborhood was rapidly closing. Mom’s news program was showing in real time the buses and personal vehicles converging on the Westside.
Unfortunately, I had no choice but to stick around and look for my daughter.
Bidding Mama and Marie good-bye, I hopped in my truck and drove to a tiny, nearly abandoned strip-mall across from the oldest Mexican restaurant in the neighborhood. The Hall-of-Justice was a half mile due south of the Five-and-Dime and presented the least complicated route to it.
I parked the truck behind the old Five-and-Dime and locked it. It was a plain-jane truck. Stock wheels. Stock tires. Stock radio. The only thing custom about the truck was the tool-box and that was bolted through the frame-members. They would need a back-hoe to rip it out of the bed.
Pulling on a stocking cap and some mittens, I went looking for my prodigal daughter.
The demonstrations around the Hall-of-Justice were a big disappointment. It looked like an amateur-hour production compared to the demonstration of the night before. The signs were home-made and flopping in the brisk, north wind and unlike the other day there were no kiosks handing out free hotdogs, chips and hot chocolate.
The demonstrators were wilting rapidly without the energy of thousands of like-minded lunatics.
All-in-all, I had never seen a more bedraggled, more dispirited group than those demonstrators.
I made two circuits around the Hall, first clockwise then counterclockwise.
I found a good vantage point to sit and watch. I stayed there until I recognized repeat faces shuffling around the building.
Still, no Grace.
I tried calling and texting.
I called Psylla which was probably the first thing I should have done. She picked up. “What can I do for you, Uncle Tim?”
“Is Grace with you?” I asked.
“Nope. She said she was coming but we haven’t seen her” Psylla said.
“When you do, can you give me a bump on the phone so I know she is safe?” I asked.
“You bet, Uncle Tim” Psylla said.
Psylla may have despised my politics but she was still polite. I hoped she was as honest.
Well, that left Mom’s neighborhood or the possibility that Grace had not gone to Lansing after all.
I really didn’t want to have to look for Grace in Mom’s neighborhood. I might stumble across her by shear luck but those chaotic streets meant that I could not efficiently search for her. I could miss her by a matter of seconds and feet all night long.
Plus, I had a bad feeling about Mom’s neighborhood. Unlike Vince’s neighborhood, nobody had stepped up. Nobody had discussed resisting. Some of the wiser heads left. Others assumed that because things turned out fine last night, tonight would be the same.
I was trudging back to my truck when I got a text from Lizzy: Grace is fine. Was at Sarah and Hunter’s watching Avengers. Was recharging phone.
Alleluia for that. She was safe. She had not defied us after all.
That still left me in Lansing until day-break.
I could walk to Marie’s house and sack-out on the couch or I could try to push-back against the evil.
Tough call. I had said it was not my circus...but then rushed back in when I thought it might engulf my daughter.
I pulled a fanny pack out of the tool box.
I stuffed all but five of the 180 grain, blue-box bullets into a sweat sock so they wouldn't rattle and then stuck the sock into an outer pocket.
I put three water bottles and a handful of cheap, oatmeal granola bars into the main compartment. Then, realizing my phone was about out of juice, I added a power-pack that I kept in the console and finally added some hearing protection.
I carried the rifle muzzle-down and close to my body. Bad practice in the woods because you can obstruct the muzzle with snow or mud but it breaks up the distinctive outline of the rifle to carry it that way. Under the other arm I carried a small, closed cell sleeping pad from Wally-World and a fleece.
I expected to get cold tonight.
I walked three blocks north to give Mom’s neighborhood a very wide berth.
Then I turned west and walked three-quarters of a mile to the railroad tracks that ran north-south. Those tracks had been the artery that fed the beating heart of Lansing, the industry that had been an economic dynamo for eight decades.
But now they were used as a holding yard by the railroad. When the economy was slow, they used the sidings to park unneeded rail cars.
The sidings were packed. Clearly, the rioting and pandemic had completely tanked the economy. Again.
I slipped between a couple of cars and headed south, walking between two sets of rails. There was no benefit to being any more visible than necessary.
I could feel as much as see when I passed over M-43. Then another ten minutes of walking before slipping between the railcars for an up-periscope moment.
I was directly west of Harry’s Place, the tavern where I had been sitting when the first 9-1-1 alerts rattled Vince, Marie and me out of our complacency.
On a hunch, I started checking the doors of the box-cars. They are supposed to be locked but the economic realities meant that some things that were “supposed” to be done were skipped.
I hit paydirt on the third car. I slid the door open far enough to hoist myself up, out of the knifing, north wind. I could not think of a better place to pass the time if I had to be in an unheated space.
I stuffed a random piece of two-by-four into the opening so it wouldn’t lock me in, then I shut the door as far as it would go.
I plugged my smartphone into the power-pack. It had turned itself off due to a low battery and the cold.
Then, with the power-pack in my shirt pocket beneath my coat to keep it warm, I passed the time by checking various news feeds.
I was surprised to learn that the woman I had shot was a doctor. That is, she had a Ph.D. in political science. The major news networks gushed over the loss of a promising young star, much to soon.
What I found most interesting was the testimonial from Michigan’s junior U.S. Senator. Apparently she had been on his staff as some kind of fund-raiser. It was the usual, pre-canned gibberish of glowing praise, short on specifics. The Senator then went on to invite the people of Michigan to join him in a PEACEFUL vigil tribute on the streets of Lansing.
Rereading the invitation, the Senator used the word “peaceful” at least six times.
The cynical part of me read that as meaning they did not plan to start tonight's festivities with Squad Automatic Weapons.