N Wayne Garrett
The mid- morning skies alternated between clear blue and angry gray-black. Rotating winds in the outer bands of the oncoming hurricane bought rain squalls in and out like wooden horses on a carousel. The screech - scrunch of the windshield wipers put Bobby Bascombe’s teeth on edge.
Everybody who lived near the coast in the Big Bend of Florida headed inland. If anybody but Deputy Sheriff Billy Bascombe or Ms. Edna had sent the message, Bobby would be hightailing too. But whatever the trouble; it involved them.
Ms Edna Funderburke was the town icon and most beloved citizen. Not only a legendary English and music teacher, she was the official, un-official assistant head football coach and the Bayou Bay Bulldogs biggest fan.
At his induction to the Florida High School Football Hall of Fame, Bulldog coach Buster McMurray said Ms Edna deserved the honor as much as he did. Without her after school tutelage, he would never have been able to field the teams that won Bayou High a record 14 state championships including three in a row with the Bascombe brothers playing two way ironman football.
Her home, in the afternoon, filled to the brim with music students and studying athletes. She produced generations of scholastically eligible college football players and a host of world class musicians.
Ms Edna was the essence of Bayou Bay and the deputy sheriff was his younger brother. Bobby had no choice but to go back into the rapidly approaching storm.
A red pickup, flashers blinking, sat half way on the shoulder of the north bound lane. An old Ford one ton with hood up sat beyond. The man standing outside the pickup talking to the driver wore an oversized black garbage bag with holes cut for his head and arms as a raincoat.
Bobby stopped alongside, rolling his window half down. “Y’all got trouble, Fred?”
“Yeah, my truck slung a rod. Sid stopped to offer me a ride.”
“Get in, go with me. Billy’s got trouble and it involves Ms. Edna. I might need some help.”
“All right, Bobby. Thanks anyway, Sid.” “I got to get something out of my truck, Bobby. Pick me up down there.”
Sid pulled off heading north away from the storm. Fred jogged down to his truck, took a box from the cab, put it in the back of Bobby’s pickup and climbed in.
“Glad you came along, Bobby. Sid’s full up front. I was going to have to ride all the way to Tallahassee in the back, in the rain, with nothing but a case of warm beer for company. I didn’t want to do that but I don’t want to be here when that storm comes in either. Last I heard it is still a cat 5. Why are you going back?”
“Damned if I know. I was near ‘bout to Blountstown when everybody and his brother started calling, telling me Billy needed me right now. Said tell me to come to Ms. Edna’s. Anybody but Billy or Ms. Edna, I wouldn’t go. I don’t know what it’s about. Billy’s cell phone don’t answer and he didn’t tell nobody nothing.”
The rain slacked off. Bobby sped up and in minutes turned down the lane to the stilt house where Ms. Edna Funderburke had lived for more years than anybody could remember. Ms. Edna’s faded old Mercury Marquis sat in the yard next to a police car with Deputy Sheriff Billy Bascombe behind the wheel.
Billy bailed out and hustled Bobby up the stairs, across the porch and to the front door. “You got to get in there, Bobby – you’re the only one Ms. Edna will listen to – we got to get her out of here.”
Billy opened the door saying “Ms. Edna! Ms. Edna, Bobby’s here. Bobby’s here, Ms. Edna.”
He motioned Bobby through the door, whispering as his brother stepped in, “She’s got a shotgun, be careful.”
Bobby stood still until his eyes adjusted to the dim light. He knew the song coming from the old piano, What a Friend We Have in Jesus. The music stopped when she turned around. He took his cap off, “Howdy, Ms. Edna.”
She had been crying. Bobby made a mental note to kick Billy’s butt if he caused it.
Sitting there in an old fashioned high collar floral cotton nightie, she looked so frail but she held herself with dignity, projecting an aura of prim and proper, even with a double barrel shotgun across her lap.
“Come in, Bobby, I’m not going to shoot you. I don’t want to shoot Billy, either but I came back to be with my piano and I’m not leaving it. This house is eighty years old. My daddy built it when I was five. There’s never been a drop of water in it. Making everybody leave is plain foolishness. I’d rather stay here. They tricked me yesterday, told me that my piano would be on the next truck and I was needed to play for the children. They lied.”
Her voice began to tremble. Tears ran down her cheeks. “They lied to me, Bobby. They lied to me. I had my car keys so when they weren’t looking, I came home. I was fine until Billy came in puffing and snorting this morning. Saying he’s the deputy sheriff and I had to go with him. He was rude. I told him to go away. I should have taken a switch to him.”
Bobby laughed. “You got after him with a shotgun, Ms. Edna, that’s almost as good as a switch. He got the message.”
Ms. Edna smiled. Her voice steadied into Sunday school teacher tone, “No, he did not. He came back whining about losing his job if he can’t get me to leave. I don’t want that to happen. I guess I’ll go with you but not without my piano.”
“Sit tight, Ms. Edna, I’ll go find a trailer and be back in a little while.” Bobby put his hat back on and went outside.
“Billy, did you know all she wants is that damn piano? Why didn’t you load that thing on a trailer and haul it out?”
“I didn’t know. The sheriff told me to come get her; he didn’t tell me she didn’t want to go. She was madder a wet hen. I couldn’t get close enough to find out what the hell was wrong with her. She kept waving that shotgun around telling me to leave. Bobby, I got to get her out of here. I’m a deputy sheriff but I won’t be deputy dog catcher if I let anything happen to Ms. Edna. I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t taze her to make her come or spray her with pepper spray. Lord knows, it wouldn’t do to shoot her, so I called you.”
“Thanks a butt load. Where’re we gonna get a trailer?”
“Borrow the first one you see. Everybody in town’s got one and they’ve all left but me.”
“Yeah, borrow – I’m a deputy sheriff, Bobby. I can’t tell you to steal one. I’m going to make one more round to make sure no damn body else came back and I’ll see you back here.”
The rain stopped. A couple of inches of water covered the main street. Bobby eased along looking for a trailer.
Fred suggested the boat place - plenty of trailers there.
Bobby sped up but had to back off when the water got deeper. Ahead, he saw the flashing lights of Billy’s cruiser sitting in front of the boat dealership. Billy was looking the gate.
“Damn thing’s padlocked, Bobby. You got a pair of bolt cutters?”
“No, but you’re wearing one. Shoot the lock off like they do in the movies.”
“I can’t do that, I’m a deputy sheriff.”
“Give me the gun – I’ll do it. Watch your eyes.”
Bobby fired. The bullet went all the way thorough but the lock held. “Damn peashooter, what’s this thing – a nine?”
“Naw, it’s a forty.”
“Still a peashooter, now what are we going to do?”
Fred spoke up, “I got a 45/70 Winchester in my truck.”
The water had drained off the main highway. The trip to Fred’s truck and back was done in minutes. The rain started again by the time they got back. The rifle blew the lock into three pieces. Billy picked them up and tossed them into the back of Bobby’s truck.
“Hiding evidence, Billy?”
“Looting is against the law and I’m…”
Bobby cut him off, “Yeah, I know – deputy sheriff. Thought we were ‘borrowing’- guide me in on that little bass boat. The piano will sit easy on that thing.”
He maneuvered the truck at Billy’s direction matching hitch to ball. Billy lowered the trailer. Bobby set the check chains.
“Where in the hell is Fred?
“There he comes.”
Fred splashed across the street carrying three boxes with a pile of blue packages on top that he held down with his chin.
“I ‘borrowed’ some tarps and some cold beer from the bait shop. Want one, Billy?”
“I can’t drink on duty. I’m a deputy sheriff. You weren’t supposed to do that. That’s loo….”
“Shut up, Billy. Give me one, Fred, I ain’t no deputy sheriff. And Billy, you say one word about drinking and driving and I’ll whop you right upside the head! Look at your car. The tailpipe is six inches under water. It ain’t gonna crank. Get in; you got to ride with us”
The trip back was slow though the rising water. Bobby backed down the lane to Ms. Edna’s. He scootched the trailer back and forth until it aligned with the steps.
“We’re back with a trailer, Ms. Edna.”
“Come in, boys. I knew you would be and soaking wet, too. I made juleps. You boys need a lift.”
Bobby and Fred, each, picked up a tall frosted glass. The short straw sticking through the crushed leaves on top made them poke their noses into the fresh mint to drink. The mint smelled like heaven. Ms. Edna’s 101 proof Wild Turkey kicked like hell.
“I can’t drink, Ms. Edna. I’m on duty - I’m a deputy sheriff.”
“That’s alright Billy – I’ll drink yours,” Ms Edna replied.
The piano rolled easy across the floor. They maneuvered it out the door and over to the steps. Fred put a tarp over it to try to keep it dry. He and Billy took the downhill side with Bobby at the top. The caster wheels caught on every step. They had to lift and ease over each one.
Third step down, Fred lost his grip on the rain slick tarp. Billy couldn’t hold it. The wheels hung on the next step flipping the piano upside down. With momentum and smooth topside down, it bridged the steps and slid the rest of the way.
“You boys should have churned it upside down and slid it sooner. Would have shaved your shelves a lot of work, hic,” Ms. Edna said, standing on the porch under her umbrella, finishing Billy’s julep. Counting the one she used as a taster before the boys got back, she’d had three.
Lifting from one end, they slid the piano onto the bass boat, wrapping it with tarps, overlapping and tucking under for as much protection as possible.
“Billy, you drive Ms. Edna in her car. Follow me and Fred in case we have trouble with the trailer.”
“Fraid not boys, my car is jush about outta gash. I haven’t had time to spill it up dish morgan.”
Ms. Edna was snockered. They couldn’t imagine her being drunk ever, much less seen her so. They knew better than to say anything and dared not laugh.
“Y’all get inside,” Fred said, climbing in behind the cab, “I’ll ride back here with the beer.” He popped a cold one and opened a new tarp.
Bobby tossed his keys to Billy and joined Fred in the back of the truck.
“Billy, you drive. Gimmie a tarp, Fred, I ain’t no deputy sheriff. Me and you are gonna drink up a storm all the way to Tallahassee. Screw this hurricane. Holler if you need us.”
As they turned on to the highway heading north, Bobby heard Ms. Edna. He stuck his head out of his tarp. Ms. Edna‘s head poked out the sliding rear window,
“Gish me a cold one, Bobby, I ain’t no zepputy sheriff neither.”
I am a writer/ storyteller in Panama City, FL. You were kind enough to run a couple of my stories Mopping Up and Crabbing With Your Toes some time back. Let me know if you need anything else.