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2016 IPPY Gold Medalist, Southern Fiction

 

CHAPTER ONE

The high definition screen illuminated perfectly the charred remnants of a little arm swinging like a metronome from a blackened bus window. Thee pressure from the extinguishing hose rocked the crowded, formerly yellow vehicle. Firemen raced about in the background through a thinning film of smoke. In the foreground, a network reporter spoke into a trembling microphone, repeating the same two lines: “Who could do such a thing?” And, “The sky reeks of burning tires!”

State Senator Reed Jackson stood very close to the suspended television, turning his good ear slightly upward. The volume was down very low so as not to disturb his wife Jill, who slept in the hospital bed behind him.

When the breaking news flash finished, he clicked the apparatus off. For some moments he sat staring at the blob that was now his beloved wife of fifty years. Reed thought it cruel that one so emaciated could possess such little shape. But this is cancer, he reconciled. For the aged state senator, all was part of God’s plan. There was reason for everything. We are not meant to understand. He felt his cell phone vibrating from the pocket of his black suit. He stepped quietly out of the room to take the call.

“Yes Governor, what is it?”

“Reed, my God, have you been watching the news! Have you heard what has just happened down in McAllen?”

“Yes sir, I was just watching; despicable.”

“What kind of a sick son-of-a-bitch would blow up a school bus filled with elementary school children?”

“If I had to guess, I would say it was the cartels, sir. The Gulf Cartel to be exact.”

“But why?

“The federal amnesty law paved the way for legitimate trafficking. The cartels now have legal competition. This was most likely done to deter that competition, and will no doubt be persuasive. I doubt any church groups or do-gooder organizations will venture into this area; not after this.”

“What can we do?”

“Ever since the federal amnesty bill became law some months back, I’ve been thinking about just that. I suggest you call for a Select Joint Committee on Immigration Reform to address the immigration issue. We will need it to be a mixture of republican and democrat; it must be bi-partisan.”

“Do you think the Dems will play along?”

“The general election is in less than two weeks. Everyone who voiced his or her support for amnesty will be running for the exit, sir. This is Texas’ 911. To answer your question, yes, I believe the Dems will play along.”

“Speaking of the general, it looks like Harry is going to get clobbered. Did you have any idea he was involved in those things?”

“Harry has the personality of an addict. Years ago I cured him of one addiction. I suppose his great flaw is that he is in need of a vice. But no, of course I had no idea. This is unacceptable. I am disgusted.”

“Do you have anyone in mind for the committee?” the governor asked in an attempt to reroute the discussion to less personal and more productive aims.

“This terrorist attack occurred in McAllen, along the border. That’s Representative Ron Martinez’s district. I will call him shortly.”

“This can’t wait, Reed!” the governor implored.

“I understand, but I am at the hospital right now. It will have to wait, sir.”

“I’m sorry, Reed, how thoughtless of me. How is Jill?”

“She’s dying, Governor.”

“I’m terribly sorry Reed…terribly sorry.”

“It is alright sir; soon she shall be with the Lord. I will call you tomorrow when I have something.”

“God Bless you, Reed.”

“God Bless Texas, sir.”

When Reed reentered Jill’s private room, he found that all the instruments which detailed her vital sign’s had collapsed. The EKG was flat. He kissed Jill on the forehead and then pressed the remote that alerted the nurse. A single stoic tear traveled the furrows of his face. Taking a seat near the bed, he took her hand, which was still warm. Yes, he thought, now she has gone home. He wondered when he would join her. He prayed it would not be too long. Reed was now alone on this earth: His son having died years ago in a car accident and his lesbian daughter estranged and beyond contacting. In joining Jill, he prayed it would not be long.

When the nurse arrived, he informed her of his wife’s passing. Personnel came and went. Reed, having returned to the television, watched more of the unfolding devastation. He had loved God with all his heart his whole life. The Lord had repaid him with professional success, but balanced that success with personal tragedy. It had been his cross to bear. He watched as the firemen started the careful process of removing tiny bodies from the explosion; knowing he had one more cross to bear before he joined his wife in eternity.

Read more by Matt Minor!