Patience is a Virtue
Lancaster County, Pennsylvania
February 13, 2006
Ezekiel didn't grant me an audience with his family at dinner, but he did provide me with some food and allowed me to sleep in the hay loft of his family's barn. My accommodations could be called Spartan at best. Still, they were a welcome respite from the cold outdoors. The hay in the loft was stiff but piled thick enough to form an acceptable bed once I laid down a blanket. It took me unusually long to fall asleep. I lay awake staring out the window at the muted stars in the dark sky, worrying about the events of the day, worrying about my car, worrying about Diana.
The dawn brought a new day and the promise of almost nothing but unknowns for what lay in my future. I awoke early, as my internal clock always demanded, my bed of hay crunching under my body. My eyes adjusted to the brightness of the morning and I almost jumped when I saw someone leaning over me. Instinctively my eyes darted around, looking for something I could use to protect myself from the invader. "Who are you?" I said, backing up against the wall.
The stranger stepped forward. Come to think of it, he looked kind of small for an attacker. I blinked a few times to focus my eyes and saw that he was just a teenage boy. "Jebediah Sadler," he said. "My father Ezekiel brought you here. Good morning."
"Umm ... hi," I said nervously. "Can I ... help you?" I gripped a rusty metal hook behind my back just in case I needed to protect myself.
He sat down in front of me. "I heard you were up here in the hay loft and decided to visit you before I milked the cows."
I put the hook down without him noticing. This kid didn't mean me any harm. "So... Jebediah – can I call you Jeb?"
"I prefer J.T.," he said, "please. My full name's Jebediah Thomas Sadler, and I hate it. It sounds so ... old-fashioned."
I looked at his crisp white collared shirt and black slacks with suspenders and couldn't help thinking that he couldn't get much more old-fashioned if he tried. J.T. looked me over in that curious way only young people can. "My father never told me your name."
"My name's Fox," I said. "Fox Tayle." I said nothing more about myself without being prompted.
"That's an interesting name," he said, smiling. "You don't look like anyone I've ever seen. Someone told me once about a creature ... I think it was called a werewolf. Half beast, half man. My father says it's nonsense. Are you a werewolf, Fox?"
I laughed. "No, no, that's something else."
"Oh." J.T. almost seemed a little disappointed at my answer, as if he had hoped I would say yes. "So you don't transform from a human on the full moon? There's supposed to be a full moon tonight and ... well, you look like one."
I shrugged. Was that supposed to be a compliment or an insult? No matter, what was more important to me was what my bladder was saying. "Jeb – I mean, J.T. – where can I find the bathroom?"
"The what?" he said, sounding puzzled.
"The bathroom... the restroom... someplace I can... uh... pee?"
"Oh, the outhouse. It's about fifty paces out the barn door and to the left, under the elm tree."
"Outhouse? Why's the bathroom outside?" I asked.
"We don't use modern conveniences," J.T. explained. "I don't understand why not, but that's the way it's done."
"You guys don't have indoor plumbing?" I said, surprised. I was used to doing my business wherever I had to, but it seemed highly unusual to me that humans would willingly go outside to do it as well.
I left J.T. to start his morning chores and went to use the outhouse. It felt like a long trudge through the snow, but eventually I reached the little wooden shed and opened the door. It didn't look like much. I, of course, had no room to complain since I had relieved myself outside many times in the past and this place was at least covered and didn't require me to freeze my -- well, you know. When I was finished I trudged back to the barn to see if I could offer my new acquaintance some help.
J.T. was milking cows in the barn when I arrived back inside and closed the door to keep the chill out. I brushed the snow out of my fur and padded over to him. He was bent over, perched on a wooden stool, working the cow's udders to squirt milk into a metal bucket on the floor. It all looked very odd to me. "Do you need help?" I asked.
He looked up from his work. "I'm all right, but you can collect the eggs from the chickens if you want."
He gave me a basket and directed me to the henhouse. After another short trudge through the snow, I reached it and went inside. Hens clucked nervously, sensing danger. I looked around. How ironic this was, a fox actually being sent into a henhouse. Oh well, there was a job to do.
I had a basic understanding of how to do the task at hand. All I had to do was get the eggs out from under the chickens and into the basket. Simple enough. I reached for a hen to retrieve her egg. The chicken freaked out, squawking loudly in my sensitive ear, and flapped crazily around. I grabbed it by the tail and shoved it rather roughly back down onto its nest. "I'll 'puk-aw' you if you try that again!"
Feeling the warm chicken in my paws reminded me of how hungry I was. I'd eaten raw meat before, and a chicken would be a very easy catch in the confined space. The birds stared at me warily with beady little red eyes as if wondering which one of their neighbors would fall victim to the predator loose in their midst. Much to my stomach's chagrin, my conscience got the better of me. These weren't my chickens to kill. If I wanted breakfast I'd have to catch my own or get some food from J.T.'s family.
Some time later, I had a basket about half-full of eggs, feeling embarrassed because the idiotic birds caused me to drop a few on the floor. My stomach grumbled, having been deprived of fresh chicken. With a sigh I trudged back to the barn. "Hey, J.T. Any chance of something to eat? I'm starving and those chickens didn't help."
J.T. looked up from his milking task. "How many eggs did you collect? Those are going to be part of breakfast, most likely."
The thought of farm-fresh eggs for breakfast sounded pretty good to me, especially if there was going to be some meat on the side. I counted sixteen eggs in the basket, licking my lips in anticipation. "I better take the basket into the house for you, Fox," J.T. said. "My mother doesn't know about you yet and I'm not sure if my father would allow you inside anyway."
I shrugged. "I'm used to people being that way around me."
J.T. took the bucket of milk in one hand and the egg basket in his other, and left me to wait in the barn while he carried them into the house. A good 45 minutes passed before he returned with a plate of steaming food. "This is for you," he said. "I smuggled it out of the house when they weren't looking."
"Thanks, J.T.," I said, smiling a foxy grin.
"You're welcome," he said. "Now if you don't mind, I need to leave. It's Monday and I have to go to school."
My young friend hurried back to the house and left me alone to enjoy my breakfast in the barn. Roughly an hour later, with boredom setting in as I sat in my makeshift bedding trying to keep warm, came the creaky sound of the barn door opening. I looked down from my perch up in the hay loft to see who was entering. It was a man in a black hat and coat, which didn't help much to identify anyone in an Amish community. It wasn't until he looked up at my shaggy face that I recognized him as Ezekiel. "Hello down there," I called to him, pointing out at the cold grey sky outside the window. "Nice weather we're having, eh?"
"I need to talk to you, Fox," Ezekiel said solemnly. "Please come down."
I did as requested. I didn't think it wise to upset my host and risk getting kicked out, especially with my car disabled. The circumstances which had brought me to Lancaster County in the first place didn't help either. "Is this about what happened yesterday?" I asked.
"Yes," he answered. "I was riding back from the Millers' store and saw that the local constabulary were in this area, investigating the accident scene at the old barn by the roadside. The flying machine that crashed into it yesterday burned it to the ground. They brought dogs in; one of them scared my horse. There were several automobiles and about a dozen people. There were also two sealed black sacks, each about six feet long, laying on the ground."
I let out a soft whine. "Body bags..." So they were dead after all. I'd be in deep shit if the authorities knew I was so close, and so would Ezekiel for harboring a wanted fugitive who was, as far as anyone at the FBI knew, a double murderer.
"Ezekiel," I said, "I really appreciate what you've done for me, giving me food and shelter, but I need to get out of town as soon as possible."
He frowned. "Your automobile is damaged though; surely you must stay until it is repaired?"
True that. My only hope lay in a 10-year-old Japanese sport sedan which itself lay in the callused hands of a blacksmith more knowledgeable about 100-year-old wagon and buggy technology. Would he even be able to fix it? "Ezekiel, I'd like to keep as low a profile in your town as I can. I'd be happy to provide my services to you and your family until I can leave."
Ezekiel looked at me, his eyes examining mine as if to determine whether he had made the right decision in bringing me to the village, whether I could be trusted. He had the same sort of blue eyes I had, the kind that can pierce through a facade of lies. There would be no messing around with him; his expression made that clear. "Very well, I will do what I can to keep you safe and unseen. You are welcome to any part of the barn you desire. But for my family's sake please do not enter the house. My wife and my children need not know about this."
I simply nodded in agreement, not wanting to tell him that I had already met his son J.T. that morning. Ezekiel turned to go, then stopped. "My apologies, I completely forgot. Have you eaten yet today?"
"Yes, I have," I said. "The eggs were delicious–" Shit. I shouldn't have said that.
He raised an eyebrow skeptically. "What eggs? Did you take them from the henhouse?"
"No sir," I replied, with a sigh. "Your son gave me breakfast."
Ezekiel frowned. "I knew he saw me bring you in yesterday. I didn't want him to ... bother you."
The hesitation in his voice told me that wasn't what he meant to say. "Were you afraid I'd harm your family?" I said quietly.
His bearded face softened, his eyes becoming less severe. He sighed. "I cannot lie to you. I feared I was taking too big a risk allowing you to come here. I was afraid you might be an evil being attempting to challenge my faith in the Lord."
"I'm one of the good guys," I said. "There are far worse people out there."
Ezekiel left soon after and I pretty much just stooged around in the barn until J.T. came home from school in the afternoon. When he was finished with his after-school chores, J.T. walked into the barn. "Hello, Fox," he said in greeting. "I have something interesting to show you."
What could an Amish kid possibly have to show that would interest me?
"You will probably think I'm strange for believing this is something special," he said, shrugging. Was he reading my mind? J.T. strode over to a stack of hay bales in a dark corner of the barn. They looked somewhat haphazardly arranged and I could see what appeared to be blankets sticking out underneath a few of them. "My parents say I'm in a stage called rumspringa, which means 'running and jumping around'. It's a stage we all go through here, when older children are allowed to experience the world outside our community before they reach adulthood. We're given a chance to decide whether we want to remain here, with our simple and rural lifestyle, or leave, and be like everyone else."
"So what does that have to do with what you want to show me?" I asked, sitting down on a rather hard wooden stool.
J.T. started pulling hay bales off of the stack. "My parents are very traditional. They shun modern stuff like, for example, that car you brought into town. They want me to grow up to be just like them. I'm not entirely sure it's what I want."
"That's understandable," I said. "Do you need help with those?"
He shrugged. "If you want to. Can you guess what it is yet?" Where the hay bales were was a defined shape about eighteen feet long, covered by blankets. It looked suspiciously modern to me. More specifically, it looked like a pickup truck.
My suspicions were confirmed when J.T. lifted a blanket to reveal the left front corner of a weathered old truck. "It's a Ford," I said simply.
J.T. was obviously proud of his possession. "I bought this a month ago from a man who lives a mile out of town. It took me a long time to save two hundred dollars to buy it, but it's mine now. It doesn't work though, which was disappointing. I had to pull it home with one of my father's horses while he was at church."
"You paid money for this?" I said incredulously, pulling the rest of the blankets off to reveal a dull powder blue Ford longbed pickup with a fair amount of surface rust, especially on the roof and hood. "Do your parents know?"
"No..." he said, looking at me while dusting straw debris off of his pride and joy. "Like I said, I took it home while they were at church. I got the switch for skipping church but it was worth it."
I reached for the door handle and felt relieved that it didn't come off in my paw. The truck smelled musty inside, but appeared to be intact, with a faded and threadbare Navajo blanket laid over the torn upholstery as a makeshift seat cover. Inside the glove box I found the dog-eared owner's manual. "Nineteen Sixty-Eight Ford Truck Operator's Manual, Ford 100 Through Ford 350," I read. "You bought yourself a '68 Ford F-100, by the looks of it."
"Is that good?" J.T. asked, looking at me as if expecting me to say yes. "I've wanted a vehicle like I've seen other people riding in for a long time."
"That all depends on whether you can get it to start," I replied. "Otherwise you have a two-ton paperweight."
J.T. looked crestfallen. "Do you know how to fix it?"
"I have no idea, J.T. I'll have to take a look." The hood opened with a loud clunk, followed by a squeak of hinges and coil springs as I raised it up. Flecks of dirt came off and landed in my fur. I was certified to service several types of U.S. military vehicles and I knew my El Camino like the back of my paw, but never before had I worked on a vehicle this old. J.T. certainly hadn't; the kid barely knew what it was, let alone what was wrong with it. Upon closer inspection though, it became clear that something was missing in the engine bay. And no, it wasn't the engine. The truck had no battery, only an empty installation mount encrusted with dried-up battery acid. Judging by the vehicle's general appearance, I had a feeling it hadn't run in a while, probably a few years at least.
With a sigh I turned back to look at J.T., who appeared afraid that I was going to deliver some dire news. "Well, for one thing it needs a battery. Can't do much without that. Probably also needs a total fluid flush and new filters, and a tank of gas."
His eyes went wide. "Er... what's a battery?"
"You don't know what a battery is?" I said with a slightly worried-looking expression. "If you can help me find an auto parts store I'll show you."
"But how?" he asked, looking at the engine compartment as if it were labyrinth of hoses and wires with a cast-iron Rubik's Cube at the center. "I don't know the area very well, especially not the surrounding towns."
"It's easy," I said, "just Google– wait, dangit."
"Google? What is a google?" J.T. looked puzzled.
"It's a website on the internet," I replied, not expecting him to know what I was talking about. "You can search for information with it."
"Oh..." he said, nodding even though his expression told me that I'd left him totally clueless. "We use books for that."
Well yeah, of course. But the truck was no closer to running than it had been before my arrival and it was getting later in the day. The sky was already beginning to darken outside. "Tell you what," I said. "Let's wrap this beast back up for the night so your dad doesn't see it. Maybe tomorrow we can get some parts for it."
Not long after I said that, a woman's voice called out from the porch of the Sadler house. "Jebediah! Supper!"
"I have to go, Fox," J.T. said, looking at me. "Sorry. I'll see what I can do for you."
"I'll cover the truck up for you, I guess. Got nothing else to do."
J.T. left to eat dinner with his family and I was left to put the truck away. Before doing so, though, I checked the fluids. Anything that wasn't full of sludge or rotted leaves was bone dry. This heap needed the works.
Thirty minutes passed. It was rare for me to take that long to eat a meal, even with company. He better not have ditched me; the kid said he'd try to get me dinner. I waited another thirty minutes in the barn until my stomach told me it was time to do something. After all, I hadn't eaten since breakfast, and it was getting pretty cold as night fell. A hot meal was in order. I peeked out of the barn and saw lights in windows of the Sadler home. Silhouettes were moving around inside. Obviously that meant someone was home.
I trudged down the snowy path from the barn to the back porch, climbed the stairs, and padded up to the door. The house, like other buildings I'd seen in the area, was rustic in its appearance and construction. The door was a simple brown-painted wooden affair with no screen door and a brass doorknob with a key lock. I rapped my knuckles on it to get someone's attention. My ears picked up the sound of approaching footsteps on a wood floor on the other side of the door. The door opened with a click and I was greeted by the loudest scream of my life.
The woman who answered the door turned about as white as her starched apron. Not the first impression I'd hoped for. She ran back into the house shouting, "E-ZEK-I-EL!!!"
What I was not expecting next was to see Ezekiel turn the corner and come running down the hall with a Winchester shotgun in both hands. "I told you to stay away from my family!" the Amish man growled. "I gave you shelter from the cold so you could get your vehicle repaired and leave us in peace. I did not say you could come in here and frighten my wife and children!"
He jabbed the shotgun barrel into my stomach and I lost my balance, falling backwards off the porch into the snow. "I just wanted some food!" I cried, lying on my back in a snowdrift. "Your son promised he would give me something to eat; I haven't had regular meals in a long-ass time and I'm frickin' hungry, okay? I've been chased, shot at, and mistreated in ways I bet you can't even imagine. You can live in your own little vacuum and pretend it's 1880 all you want, at least you get left in peace."
I got up and trudged back to the barn, leaving them to contemplate my words. So much for hospitality. Didn't they realize I needed to eat more than once a day? Did they think I was some kind of pet dog? I spent all that time trying to help his son with that damn truck and the kid didn't even do what he promised. Ungrateful little bastard.
I was just curling up in my makeshift bed in the hayloft when the barn door creaked open. "Who is it?" I barked, grabbing for the metal hook I had left next to my bed. Looking down from my perch I could see it was J.T. "What do you want?" I said sourly.
"I ... I want to say I'm sorry," he said sheepishly. "I forgot I was supposed to get supper for you." He set a plate of what appeared to be leftover sliced ham and an ear of corn down on a wooden stool. "This is the best I could do."
"Your dad almost blew my head off tonight," I said flatly, dropping down from the ladder.
"My father was trying to protect my mother," J.T. answered.
"All I did was knock on the door." My ears and tail drooped. "It's not like I attacked her. I'm getting tired of everyone getting so damned defensive around me."
J.T. smuggled another blanket out of the house for me while I ate my now-cold food. He wished me a good night and went back inside. I wondered if Ezekiel knew half of what his son was doing. Then I wondered if it would be possible to make a fire for warmth without burning the barn down. Neither seemed likely. With my stomach appeased, I went to bed.
Tuesday the fourteenth dawned bright and early, and very white. Valentine's Day. It had snowed during the night but the sun was out and I could see blue sky through the clouds in places. Light flurries of snow were still falling. The barn door opened and Ezekiel entered, appearing somewhat apologetic for his actions the night before. His black hat was dusted with flecks of snow. In his hand was a plate containing bacon and eggs, an indicator that I must have slept later than I had the day before. Perhaps no one wanted to disturb me in case I held a grudge. Whatever the case was, I descended from my loft and said good morning.
Ezekiel nodded in reply. "It is slightly warmer today," he said, examining the odd combination of leather jacket and dirty khaki shorts I was wearing, "but still very cold." He handed me the plate. "You frightened us last night. Was it true what you said, about being the victim of persecution by others?"
As I dug into the scrambled eggs I nodded my head affirmatively. "I'm not in the habit of lying to people, especially not someone who put a roof over my head. I don't fabricate stories to make people feel sorry for me."
Ezekiel sighed. "I hope you understand why I did what I did. When Martha screamed, I had no way of knowing that it was only you asking for food. I thought she was in trouble and needed help."
"I understand, Ezekiel. I'm sure you love your wife very much and would never want any harm to come to her. I feel the same way about ... the woman I love." My ears drooped and gave away my emotion.
Ezekiel's expression softened and he sat down on the stool. "You mean ... you have a relationship with someone?"
"Yes, I do. Her name is Diana Foxworthy. She's a human. I left her behind in my quest for freedom in the hope that she'll be safe, and that someday I'll see her again." There was no crying for effect. Call me insensitive all you want, it takes a lot to make me cry. I'm supposed to be a soldier, after all. But it sure sucks to feel alone.
I couldn't tell if Ezekiel was amused or disgusted. "She's a human? But you ... aren't..."
"Glad you noticed that," I said. "At least you aren't accusing me of being the Antichrist again."
"I did not call you the Antichrist," Ezekiel retorted, wiping the melting snow off of his hat brim. "I had thought you might be the devil. There is a difference. How was I to know? I've never seen a ... person quite like you before."
I rolled my eyes and handed the empty plate back to him. "Thanks for the breakfast, and I'm a fox. No need to mince words, I am what I am. Thank you for not treating me like the common animal I once was."
Ezekiel nodded and turned to leave. "Oh wait," I said, "One more thing. Do you by any chance have a phone book so I can look up some auto parts stores?"
"Is that some kind of joke?" he said, laughing. "I told you two days ago when we met that we don't have telephones here. You can find an English town a mile from here to the east. You do not trust that our blacksmith can adequately repair your automobile, is that it?"
"Well ... I would like to get going while cars still exist, yes. If I can get the parts I need, I may be able to fix it myself. I can't even go anywhere without people reacting fearfully; who knows what would happen if I set foot in the blacksmith's shop?" The last thing I wanted was to get killed over a stupid auto repair.
Ezekiel shrugged. "I can give Brother John notice before you visit him, though I doubt it will do much to help your situation."
"Yeah, tell me about it," I muttered. "May I ask another favor, Ezekiel?"
He nodded. "What is it?"
"Can you spare any warm clothing, please? I hate to mooch so much off of you, but I'm freezing my tail off."
Ezekiel agreed to lend me some shirts and a pair of pants. Due to the shape of my legs, I was unable to wear the long black trousers without rolling the cuffs up practically to my knees. The stiff white collared shirts weren't much more comfortable, and they were itchy. But at least it was clothing, protection from the bitter cold of a Pennsylvania winter. It made me wish I had thicker fur. Just one more thing to hate Dr. Cardiff for, not preserving my natural ability to grow a winter coat.
Days passed while I waited to get the parts I needed to fix my Subaru. My remaining cash was stashed inside of a wooden box in the hay loft for safekeeping. In the meantime, I earned my room and board. Ezekiel came to treat me not quite as a member of his family, but as a tenant. He expected me to work. His wife was still skittish around me, but apparently Ezekiel had had a talk with her and she understood that I wasn't the Big Bad Wolf. I worked alongside them in the yard and on their farm, helping the family with manual labor that required a strong set of hands – or paws.
On Friday night, the seventeenth, I snuck into the blacksmith's shop. My Subaru was in the back corner where it had been left at the beginning of the week. It appeared untouched, a layer of dust having settled on the lightly damaged body. It was the first time I'd really inspected the car since my close call with the helicopter on the turnpike. Shame, really. The Legacy had been in very good condition when I bought it. Now it had a bunch of scratches and rock chips, a cracked front bumper and an engine that wouldn't start. There was probably some suspension damage that I couldn't see, and certainly the wheels had been knocked out of alignment after plowing through that farmer's pasture.
I popped the hood and checked out the engine bay. Mud was caked all over the undercarriage from its off-road excursion. A brief search revealed a busted radiator with absolutely no coolant left in it. Other than that, there seemed to be no engine damage. Apparently the car simply shut itself off via electronic fuel cut-off after sensing the crash. While this was fortuitous, the car would still not be roadworthy until the radiator was replaced.
That Saturday, J.T. was free from school or church responsibilities. Ezekiel reported that, as I had feared, John the blacksmith was utterly clueless about how to fix a Subaru. That meant that I'd have to go to town after all. J.T. borrowed a horse and cart from his father and volunteered to take me into the nearby town of Ephrata. Seems it was the "English" town Ezekiel had talked about.
Having to lie low in the bottom of a horse-drawn cart driven by an Amish boy was very odd. Tour buses and SUVs drove around us on the road into town, their occupants fixated on the old-fashioned vehicle sharing the road with them. My body was concealed under a large blanket, so all that the gawkers saw were J.T. and his cart. In my pocket was a list of items J.T.'s Ford needed in addition to the radiator I needed for my car.
The trip into town took about twenty minutes. I pointed out a pay phone to J.T. and instructed him to look up an auto parts store. The second match happened to be the closest: AutoZone on South Reading Road. A few locals laughed when they saw an Amish cart pull up in front of the AutoZone, at least until I peeked my head out. A pleasant hello and a wave was all it took to get them scurrying back indoors. I hear that folks in this part of the country are pretty friendly. I guess that only applies if you're human.
J.T. and I strolled into the store. We were greeted by aisle after aisle of packaged auto parts, car care products, and various jugs of lubricants. The kid was mystified by the array of stuff in the store, stuff he might never fully understand. It was new to me, too. In the past, I'd always given Diana a shopping list of things I needed and sent her to the store. While J.T. stared at a display of shop manuals for early 1990s General Motors midsize cars, I padded up to the service counter.
A red-shirted sales associate behind the counter made an awkward motion when I approached, as if he were about to reach for a silent alarm button. "No need to freak out," I said, rolling my eyes. "I'm not here to rob the place and no, this isn't a joke." I slapped the shopping list down on the counter. "I'm here to buy fluids and a battery for my friend's '68 Ford truck. Oh, and I need a radiator for a 1997 Subaru Legacy 2.5GT."
"You want some chicken with that, Mr. Fox?" he responded.
"Don't be a smart-ass, Chad," I growled, glancing at his name tag as I plunked a small wad of green bills on the counter. "I'm paying cash and I need this stuff today. And 'Mr. Fox' will do."
The employee changed his tune once he saw proof that I had full intent to pay for the goods. "Certainly, sir," he said, looking at me cautiously. "I'll check in the back for that radiator. The oil and filter and fluids are over there," he said, pointing to the wall on the right side of the store.
Chad came back after about five minutes. "Sorry man, we don't have any radiators in stock for the 2.5. Closest place is Advance Auto Parts about two miles across town, or you could try the Subaru dealer thirteen miles down the highway in East Petersburg."
"Thirteen miles?" I replied, surprised. "I seriously doubt we have the horsepower for that kind of trip."
Chad laughed. "What do you drive, a horse and buggy?"
I grinned wolfishly. "Actually, yes. That's precisely right. Take a gander outside if you don't believe me."
J.T. and I invested about $150 in stuff to help get his truck running. I had Chad order a radiator from the auto parts store across town and agreed to pay for the delivery costs in addition to the $230 asking price. I also purchased two jugs of coolant, shop towels, some cleaning products and a tool kit. By the afternoon we had all the parts and fluids we needed for both vehicles and could head back to the Sadler farm. The wind picked up on the trip home, making the air feel even colder. I spent most of the travel time curled up in the back of the cart, wrapped in the wool blanket. Aside from one rather frightening pass by a tanker truck, the ride home was relatively uneventful.
After we arrived at the farm, J.T. and I snuck the parts into the barn. It would be a while before his truck would start, as the engine would require a complete tear-down, cleaning and rebuild. And that was just to get it running. On the other paw, my Subaru only needed the new radiator installed and fresh coolant added. I could probably be out of that place by tomorrow if I focused my energy on getting my car fixed first. But it would be downright cruel to leave J.T. hanging with a bunch of parts and a dead truck lying around while I cruised off into the sunset and he was forced to face his father about it. Damn you, Cardiff. Damn you for giving me a conscience!
The Sadlers had church on Sunday, giving me a fair amount of time to work on the truck without disturbance. Each engine component had to be disassembled and carefully laid out on the floor. The Ford's V-8 engine was tired, but complete and seemingly undamaged. I spent much of the day cleaning gunk out of the engine block. J.T. joined me in the afternoon to help work on the truck, but he could do little more than follow my instructions and hope for the best. By suppertime the engine lay in pieces. J.T. promised to bring me food and added that he would do everything in his power to keep his father out of the barn. It made sense. J.T. probably stood to lose far more than I did if Ezekiel found out about the truck.
J.T.'s spare time was greatly reduced over the next few days, as he went to school and worked on the farm. I continued working on the Ford when I could, cursing myself for not having inquired about a repair manual for it at the store. Once all of the parts had been scrubbed clean, it was time to start reassembling the block. Eventually the engine started looking like an engine again. I had lubricated everything that looked like it needed it. The cylinder heads were ready to be installed. What was left? Oh damn. Gaskets. I had scraped the nasty old gaskets off during the disassembly and cleaning process, but I forgot to source new ones.
That was a considerable setback. All this crap ready to go together and no gaskets to help seal the connections between parts. It required another trip into town, some research, a phone call to order the gaskets I needed, and more money spent. And time kept marching on. The gasket set didn't arrive until the 25th. By this time, the Sadlers had granted me use of a small but cozy guest room in their home. My wooden cash box found a new home underneath the bed in my room, where it would hopefully be safe. I slept better inside the warm house, but something still nagged at the back of my mind. After eleven days, my Subaru still remained tucked back in the corner of John's blacksmith shop. I tried to sneak inside two nights before, only to find the doors locked. According to Ezekiel, John had found what appeared to be large animal tracks inside the shop the week prior. Wonder where those came from.
All this business of rebuilding J.T.'s truck was all well and good, but it wasn't getting me any closer to my goal. I could restore that thing from the frame up, but I still wouldn't be able to leave Lancaster County until the radiator was replaced in the Subaru. I felt drained. Working on vehicles day after day does that to a person. On Sunday, the 26th, I decided to take a walk instead of working. Nearly the entire town was vacant as most everyone was in church, so I faced little opposition. Wrapped up in a long, heavy coat both for cold protection and to hide my appearance, I headed out toward the barn where the helicopter had crashed.
Gone were the yellow caution tape and barricades I had expected to see. There were no police or government vehicles present at the scene. Carefully I made my way to the burnt ruins of the barn and looked inside. There were blackened beams and planks, roofing material and various destroyed farm equipment piled haphazardly and covered with nearly two weeks' worth of snowfall. What I didn't see was chopper wreckage. All traces of the helicopter were simply gone. To the casual observer, the demolished barn would appear to have been the victim of a simple fire. I sensed a cover-up.
The fur on my neck got prickly. Maybe I shouldn't have come here. What if Cardiff's people were watching me right now? Or the FBI? Hell, maybe they just had a sheriff's deputy hiding somewhere with a pair of binoculars and a radio in his cruiser. They probably silenced the local police after their initial investigation into the crash. With all the resources that had been deployed to catch me, why hadn't anyone found me yet? That was a question I couldn't answer, but I hoped that the answer was that I'd outfoxed them. It was frustrating having no easy way to contact the outside world, having no car, no telephone. As much as I felt indebted to the Sadlers for their hospitality, and grateful for J.T.'s friendship, I wanted to leave this place. Truth is, I wasn't cut out to live an Amish existence for the rest of my natural life. I wanted a home that was safe, where I wouldn't have to live in constant fear or hide from everyone. I wanted to be back with Diana.
It's hard not to be a selfish bastard sometimes. When your goal is in sight, and it's an easy task to get what you want and be done with it, but something stands in your way. Commitments. How easy it would be to just break into that blacksmith shop at night, roll my car out, swap out the radiator and drive on out of town without another word. Commitments. Promises. That ratty old truck of J.T.'s that had been kicking my tail all week. Part of me wanted to say, "Screw it," and let him deal with the consequences himself. Why should I be forced to spend two weeks of my life putting a truck together for a kid who can't legally drive it and never got permission from his parents to have it in the first place? Was it really the right thing to do when I could be on the road heading to Washington, D.C. instead?
Too many questions. I could drive myself crazy dwelling on all the crap I didn't know. I hustled back through the woods to the Sadlers' home and sat in front of their fireplace to warm up my cold wet paws. The heat felt so good, I actually ended up taking a little nap there. Then the Sadlers came home from church and woke me up. Oh well.
The next couple of days just seemed like more of the same. The Sadlers had their schedules and I worked on J.T.'s truck engine. Every day was starting to feel like I was in a different kind of prison, one with the illusion of freedom. Every day spent in Lancaster County was a day not spent working toward freedom. My Subaru still sat collecting dust. I started getting grumpy, throwing tools around, swearing more. I made a stupid mistake working on the truck engine and a wrench slipped, cutting my paw and making me bang my elbow on the steel battery mount. I hope J.T. didn't see the dent I put in his passenger door with my footpaw, another stupid act induced by anger that made the truck look even worse and hurt my foot as well.
In the early afternoon on Tuesday, a brown UPS delivery van rolled up in front of the Sadler house and a very confused-looking delivery woman got out. She checked her clipboard, probably to see if she had the right county, before unloading the box containing the Subaru radiator I'd ordered. She left it on Ezekiel's front step and drove away quickly. I promptly retrieved the box and carried it to the barn.
By the end of the day, the engine was almost ready to go back into the engine bay. I'm decently strong, but I can't lift a cast iron engine block weighing hundreds of pounds. With no engine hoist available, a block and tackle of some kind would be needed. Rope would be easy enough to find, but a sturdy hook and two pulleys would also have to be sourced. The thick wooden beam above the truck would be sufficient for hanging the system, but it would have to be built first. Did the Amish have pulleys?
When my dinner arrived, I asked Ezekiel if he knew anyone who might own some pulleys. "Now what on earth would you need that for?" he asked.
"A project," I responded. "I need to lift something heavy."
Ezekiel shook his head. "I can't imagine why you would need something like that. Surely you could use a rope or two? We raise barns here with just rope and about a dozen men."
"Well, see, this thing I need to lift weighs more than I do," I said. "And I can't ask your neighbors to help me."
He probably wondered if I was trying to lift horses or something, and that guess would be closer than one might think. I was indeed trying to lift horses – about two hundred of them. Ezekiel walked back to the house after promising to ask around about a couple of pulleys. Instead of sulking about my wasted evening, I drained and replaced the transmission fluid. Once that was accomplished and cleaned up, I went to bed.
Wednesday dawned clear and bright. It was March now. After breakfast I set to work on my makeshift engine hoist. I found a few decent lengths of rope in the barn and tossed the thickest one over the beam, then tied two more ropes around the engine to form a sort of cradle. The lifting end of the engine cradle was then tied as securely as possible to the main rope. I might not need those pulleys after all. But wait, that didn't solve the problem of who would pull the rope to raise the engine, and who would guide it into position in the engine bay. God, what I wouldn't give for a little bit of technology right about now!
After about five minutes of staring at the rope, an idea struck me. I could use a horse to pull the rope and lift the engine. Better get J.T. to help with that. It irritated me how limited my options were, having to wait until J.T. got home from school before I could hoist the engine and install it. I couldn't even fix my own car because it was still in John's shop and he wouldn't close until late afternoon.
Desperate times call for desperate measures. I went back to the house and took a nap in my room. A guy has to pick his battles, and sometimes the right choice is to do nothing at all. Might as well get as much rest as possible.
J.T. came home in the afternoon and found me crashed out on my bed. Seems he ducked his dad to avoid some chores and hoped to work with me on the truck. I shared my engine-lifting plans with him, then got up and headed out to the barn while J.T. went to borrow a horse from the stable. He brought the horse in and I tied the rope around it, checked that everything was secure between the horse and the engine, and directed J.T. to back the horse up. The overhead beam creaked in protest from the hundreds of extra pounds of weight it suddenly found itself supporting, but it held firm. Slowly the iron and steel engine crept upward, swinging back and forth above the dirt floor. "All right, J.T., this is where it gets tricky," I said. "I need you to stay with the horse. I'm going to push the truck forward and align it with the engine so we can drop the block down in there."
J.T. nodded in agreement and commanded the horse to hold still. I opened the driver door and released the brake, then pushed against the windshield frame with my left paw and steered with my right. Like a tired, grumpy animal the blue Ford rolled forward, its steering stiff and unwilling to cooperate. Eventually I managed to muscle the truck into position. J.T. and I were just lowering the block into the engine bay when I heard footsteps at the barn door. "Jebediah? Have you seen the horse? What is it doing in–" Ezekiel saw the Ford and froze. "How dare you bring such a thing into my barn?! You've corrupted my son! You and your modern ways and modern machines! I knew I should never have trusted you, you demon! Get out!"
I stood my ground. "You know what, Zeke? How dare you make such an accusation of me when you have no proof whatsoever that this truck does not, in fact belong to your son? Have you ever once considered that maybe, just maybe, he WANTS to take part in the modern world?"
Ezekiel fumed. J.T. cowered behind the horse. "Jebediah Thomas Sadler, is this true?" Ezekiel demanded. "Is this creature telling the truth?"
J.T. stood there, silent. "I am your father," Ezekiel barked, "and I asked you a question. Answer me!"
J.T. threw his hat to the floor. "Yes, Father! Yes! It's mine, all mine! I wanted to have a car like all those people you see in town. Why should I have to ride a horse or buggy or walk everywhere? I bought it with my own money, too! Fox and I have been fixing it–"
"So that's where you've been, is it?" Ezekiel countered. "Instead of helping your dear old father in the fields you hide in the barn working on this piece of junk?
J.T. turned red with anger at his dad. "Well I don't care!" he shouted, storming out of the barn. "It's my truck and I'll do what I want with it!"
Ezekiel was right on his son's heels, his face purple with rage. "You will do no such thing. Come back here!"
J.T. ignored Ezekiel and stomped through the snow to the house, slamming the door so hard that icicles fell from the porch. I sighed. "Oh, now you've gone and done it, Zeke."
"Would you stop calling me that?" he snapped, sitting down heavily on a wooden milking stool. He eyed the old pickup. "What on earth does Jebediah see in that thing?"
"Well," I said, "You see a rusted hulk that, if I may say so, you know nothing about. It's foreign to you; perhaps it seems like a threat to your way of life. To your son, though, it's his pride and joy. You want to instill a strong work ethic in him; this is something he wants to work on. It's his own possession and it gives him a sense of accomplishment to know that he's working toward building something special."
Ezekiel looked up at me. "Yes, but I really need his help on the farm. He's a young man now, not a child."
"Yes," I replied, "and it's also winter right now. There's no planting or harvesting that I can see. What's wrong with him having a hobby? And a truck can be used year-round, for a variety of purposes. Now," I added, gesturing toward the dangling engine and the bored-looking horse, "since you've run my helper off, is it too much to request some assistance with this? It's kind of at a delicate stage here."
Ezekiel sighed, looking defeated. "I suppose I can. Tell me what to do."
I directed him through the rest of the process of lowering and guiding the rebuilt V-8 down into the truck's engine bay. "All right," I said, "I can take it from here." Ezekiel watched as I went to work bolting the engine to the transmission, installing the engine mounts, attaching the belts and hoses, and connecting the wiring harness and battery. I then topped off the fluids and tossed the empty bottles and jugs aside, panting tiredly as I replaced the radiator cap. It was now late evening; Martha was probably wondering why her husband hadn't come in for dinner. "I think we're done," I said, wiping my paws on a shop towel.
We cleaned up and went to the house for dinner. Ezekiel explained to his wife why he was late, but J.T. glared across the table at him. "I didn't hear you two fighting out there," J.T. said sourly. "What did you do, get rid of it?"
"Now you listen here, son," Ezekiel warned. "That kind of attitude is going to get you a whipping if you aren't careful."
"Hey!" I interrupted. "Can't we all just get along here? I don't know much about raising kids but we're talking about a pickup truck here. J.T., the truck hasn't moved. However, I believe it's now complete and ready to start up. I didn't want to start it without you."
J.T.'s frown turned to a smile and he jumped up from the table. "Wait ... what? Really? It's done? Let's go!"
"Wait just a minute, young man," his mother said. "You aren't going anywhere until you finish your supper."
It was cold and dark by the time we had all finished eating. Ezekiel, J.T. and I trudged back out to the barn with a lantern. I handed J.T. the ignition key. "Cross your fingers," I said.
He turned the key. Nothing happened. Crap. I'd forgotten the most basic of things: fuel. I had a jerry can with two gallons of gasoline, which I poured into the tank. Such a small amount wouldn't last long in an old gas-guzzler like J.T.'s Ford, but it was better than nothing. Now it was time to pray that my engine-building skills were up to par.
J.T. turned the key again, perhaps a bit too vigorously. I had to ask him to let go of it in order to keep from grinding the starter into oblivion, but the V-8 coughed to life with a puff of smoke out the tailpipe. I'd just built my first engine.
The next morning, I drove J.T. into Ephrata to fill the truck up with gas. The transmission was sticky and the steering was stiff, but the old Ford held together. I dropped him off a safe distance from his school and drove back to the barn. Ezekiel may not like it, but I thought the truck was a blessing in disguise for J.T. It was something he could work toward restoring, whether to learn how to fix it himself or to earn money to pay a shop to fix it.
That left one automotive project: mine. John hadn't touched my Subaru, but I had the parts and the tools to complete the job. Come nightfall, I was going to rescue it from his shop. One more trip into town and another call to Chad from a secluded pay phone, and I soon had all the antifreeze I needed.
The truck had a trailer hitch and I had plenty of rope. Following dinner that evening I enlisted J.T. to help me get into John's shop. We backed the truck up to the shop's main doors and left it idling. There was no lock on the door, only a large latch on the inside. I snuck in the same way I had nearly two weeks prior, through a hinged back window. The dirt floor was hard-packed, with only a little bit of dust. It wouldn't be smart to make the mistake of leaving tracks again.
I unlatched the main doors and swung them open wide enough to roll a car through. Next I opened the Subaru's driver door and released the handbrake, turned the key but didn't start it, pressed the clutch pedal and shifted the transmission into neutral. J.T. helped me push the car out through the doors into the cold night air, then we turned the car off, leaving it in neutral, and tied it to the back of the truck. I instructed him to sit in the Subaru and work the brakes while I drove the pickup so that my car wouldn't roll into the back of the truck when I stopped. Once the car was a safe distance from the shop, I closed the shop doors, brushed away our tracks and escaped out the back window again.
Things were finally looking up. I worked through the night changing the radiator and inspecting the car for hidden damage. The wheels felt wobbly on the trip over to the barn, but appeared sound. It really needed a wheel alignment badly. But with my money resources dwindling and March third dawning, I really wanted to get out of Lancaster County. I checked my work one more time, started the car and made sure there were no leaks. When I was satisfied that everything seemed to be in working order, I shut the car off and went to the house to sleep.