No Controlling Legal Authority Ch. 24byTheScribe©
Caleb Narrowly Avoids the Mann Act,
Interstate Transportation of Female Persons for Illegal or Immoral Purposes, a Federal Felony.
Acting on Moon Dog's advice, Caleb and Anne agreed to separate from the two investigators on the odd chance that someone might be watching Anne's car. Moon Dog and Hunter drove the rental cars, back tracking to Terrell's office, and dropped them there, and then, switching to Anne's car, they headed north along US 65 toward I-70 and St. Louis. Meanwhile, Caleb and Anne drove south in the general direction of the "boot heel," intending to cross the Mississippi into Illinois at Cairo.
By the time they had cleared the outskirts of Jefferson City, it was late afternoon, and the light was already beginning to fade. Low clouds were scudding in from the west, bringing with them, a cold, misting rain. Caleb turned on the windshield wipers and adjusted the heater, and pretty soon warmth and the hypnotic "schlop, schlop…schlop, schlop," of the wipers were lulling Anne into a feeling of cozy security that she hadn't felt in days.
"There's a map in the glove compartment, Anne," Caleb said, pointing toward the dash in front of her. "How about getting it out and finding me a back way down to Cape Girardeau."
"I don't need a map for that," she replied with assurance.
"No," she answered. "You're only about forty-five minutes out of Rolla right now. I went to college there and know this area pretty well. Just stay on this road till it takes you through Rolla, and then I'll show you a short-cut through the Mark Twain National Forest that'll put you out an hour west of Cape."
"Amazing," he said appreciatively. "We'll probably get home before Moon Dog and Hunter."
"Don't count on it," she cautioned. "The road through the Mark Twain is awful, narrow, winding and hilly as all get out, and it'll be pitch black dark, so the going will be slow. Best thing about it, though, is that, this time of year, it'll be deserted. I can guarantee you won't see another car once we get in there."
She looked at the darkening window beside her and watched droplets of accumulated mist streaking past, driven by the rush of wind across the glass and she felt a pang of emptiness in her heart. "Home," she thought, he spoke of "home" as a destination, like a place that really exists and not some fairytale castle in a child's fantasy, and he said it so naturally, so casually, that she wondered if he knew the meaning of the word. Could he possibly know how a young woman could lay awake at night, alone, and yearn till her heart nearly burst from the ache for the home she had lost as a child. Even the home she had known in the awful months after her mother died, while her daddy slipped away into the blackness, had been a sanctuary, where the memories of love and joy had brightened the rooms long after the sounds of the laughter had faded, and she could find tranquility in the sunlit corridors. "Home," she thought, the word has a soft but solid feel about it, a comforting presence, like a warm blanket she could pull round her shoulders on cold winter nights to ward off the chill of the outside world, or even duck her head under if the boogey man got too close. "Home," she murmured softly, closing her eyes and letting the fantasy transport her for a moment, and for the first time in as long as she could remember, she felt safe and protected.
"Did you say something?" he asked over the slap of the windshield wipers.
"Where's home?" she asked cheerfully, turning away from the tear streaked window to look at him.
"Little town in the northwest corner of the state, right up against the Mississippi River; you probably never heard of it."
"Sure, why not," he answered with a smile. "How does Posey's Bend sound to you."
"Like I never heard of it in my life," she laughed. "You're kidding me though, right?"
"Judges don't kid," he pronounced sternly. His smile suggested to her that he was only jesting, but she wondered if the reference to the title of his office hadn't been intended to remind her of his authority.
"Pretty funny sounding name for a town, if you ask me," she responded innocuously.
"It's named after the twenty mile loop the River makes around it. It's almost a complete circle, but the town's on a high rise with scarfs that the River can't cut through. Leviticus Posey was the first permanent settler in the area, so the bend was named after him. When the town came along a few years later, they just took the name that was already there."
"How long have you lived there, Caleb?" she inquired with interest. The stories of other people's lives had always held a special fascination for her, perhaps because of the uncertain turmoil of her own, and she was genuinely interested in what she could learn of this young man.
"All my life. My family's been there practically forever. My great, great grandfather moved into the area the year after Posey. He built a forge there, and we've been there ever since."
"Gee, it could have been Montcastle's Bend, then, if your great, great grandfather had arrived a little sooner." No wonder he called it 'home,' she thought, and she could almost sense the roots spreading from the base of his family tree, branching through the soil, becoming as much a part of the earth under the town as bedrock and humus.
"It very nearly was anyway. Well, they came close to calling the town Hiram's Forge, that was my great, great grandfather's name, and there was some discussion about it at the time."
"Some discussion?" she quizzed him politely.
"Argument, then," he responded, correcting himself. "Some of the folks didn't think much of Posey and his kinfolk, 'cause they had built a little cabin down by the River on the lee side of the bend, where flatbottoms could put in out of the current, and they were selling liquor and gambling and doing God knows what all down there. For a good many years, it was a regular little Natchez under the Hill, if there's any truth to the tales about it, so most people felt like they didn't want to associate the town with that kind of activity."
"But they wound up doing it anyway?"
"Commercial interests prevailed, namely Grandpa Montcastle, and he was against calling it anything besides Posey's Bend, because that name was pretty well known all over the country on account of the 'Cotton Queen' tragedy."
"The 'Cotton Queen' tragedy?"
"A sternwheeler named "Cotton Queen" that blew up her boilers in a race from St. Louis to Memphis. The boilers blew about a mile upstream from the Bend and over 700 passengers were blown to bits, scalded to death or drown. Bodies washed up all along the Bend for a week afterwards, and there were so many of them that they had to cut a new road from town over to the River so the wagons could bring them out."
"That sounds gruesome," she observed empathetically.
"It was, but it put 'Posey's Bend' on the front page of every big newspaper in the country every day for a while, so Grandpa convinced everybody that they ought to take advantage of the notoriety and stick with 'Posey's Bend,' especially since they were trying to bring in the railroad at the time. He figured that the fame would bring new people and businesses into the area, and that the railroad would want to lay a line in there, so pretty soon Posey's Bend would become a busy little river port and a transportation center like Memphis or Natchez."
"Was he right?" she asked, though she already knew the answer, but it comforted her some to know that his ancestors hadn't been slaves to principle, whether their own or others, and they knew how to compromise when the situation required.
"You never heard of it, right?" he asked sardonically.
"I see your point," she acknowledged with a grin.
"Just a matter of bad luck. Two months after they voted on the name, the 'Sultana' blew up about thirty river miles south of Memphis and over 1500 passengers went down with her. There were more lost on the Sultana than went down with the Titanic, believe it or not, and news of the Sultana's sinking pretty much knocked 'Posey's Bend' out of the news. After that, everybody, including the railroad, just forgot all about Posey's Bend."
"Couldn't they just change the name to 'Hiram's Forge' later?"
"It would have been too much trouble and too confusing. The Articles of Incorporation had already been sent up to the capitol and approved, and the townsfolk didn't want to look like a bunch of backwoods hicks, who were going to be changing the name of the place every time a paddlewheeler blew up, so they just left it like it was. Anyway, Grandpa told them he would be happy to let Posey have the name, and the Montcastles would take everything else, and that's pretty much been the way of it ever since."
"What's 'everything else?'" she questioned. Her curiosity was growing, and he was proving to be remarkably open about him family history.
"Public offices, mostly, mayor, city council, judgeships; there's been a Montcastle on the bench in Posey's Bend for five generations now."
"Sounds to me like you all have done pretty well in Posey's Bend, Judge, but how about the Poseys?"
"Like us Montcastles, they've mostly died out now, and what few are left have become respectable enough. My father even married one of them."
"That sounds like an interesting story," she replied trying to draw him out.
"It raised a few eyebrows among the older crowd, they tell me, so it probably is interesting enough for some, but I'm not going to be the one to tell it," he declared decisively, and she couldn't dismiss the possibility that there was also a note of defensiveness in his response.
He was frowning at the windshield, almost glaring, she thought, and his fingers tightened on the wheel as he spoke, so she tactfully changed the subject. "So, how big's this Posey's Bend, now, Judge?" she asked, repeating his title a second time so he would know she had gotten the message.
"About eighty-five hundred, give or take a few; if you count the chickens and sheep," he responded.
"You include the sheep in Posey's Bend?" She chuckled skeptically.
"Only for the census, I'm afraid. It brings in more federal money for the schools if we boost the population a little. They can't vote or hold office or anything like that; well, not usually, anyway."
"You've had sheep to hold office in Posey's Bend?"
"Naaaaaaaaaaa," he brayed with a lighthearted laugh. "Whatever gave you that idea."
"You're a pretty funny guy for a judge," she laughed, a little relieved that his humor had returned.
"I feel good," he responded without looking at her. He was watching the road in the lowering dusk and didn't turn his head.
She studied his profile in the glow of the instrument panel lights and realized that he was more attractive than she had originally thought. Maybe it's the unruly shock of hair hanging across his forehead, giving him an impish, boyish look, that's doing it, she thought reflectively, or maybe it's the kindness in his eyes when he looks at me, or the easy-going way he speaks, she couldn't be certain, but she had a feeling of growing attraction to the slightly backward knight who had ridden to her rescue.
"I feel good too, Caleb," she replied thoughtfully. "And, I thank you for that."
"Thanks aren't necessary; I'm glad to help." His hands shifted restlessly on the wheel, and the car swerved slightly.
"Why are you helping me?" she asked him with a tone that was as non-accusatorial as she could make it. It was a question that had been plaguing her mind since Terrell first mentioned the name Montcastle. Altruistic men were an unknown commodity to her, and she judged them to be about as plentiful on the planet as virgins at a Caruthers' Home picnic. In her experience, with only a single exception that she could remember, when a man offered to help he usually had a reason, and that reason had nothing to do with being nice and everything to do with being stiff. It was a truth she would just have to live with, she shrugged pragmatically, because she surely wasn't in a position of picking and choosing her benefactors, and in her predicament there was only one thing she could do and that was to take whatever help was being offered and pay whatever the asking price was for it.
"Because you were in trouble with no where to turn, and it was the right thing to do," he answered disingenuously. He really wasn't being deceitful, he rationalized; he really wanted and intended to help her, and to help her without strings or conditions, but, he told himself, if things happen to work out, and if she likes me, well… But, no blackmail and no coercion; no quid pro quo, sex for food, no siree, he just wasn't that kind of man.
"That's what judges are all about, isn't it, doing the right thing? Do you always do the right thing, Caleb?" She asked him pointedly. Skepticism crept into her mind like evening fog over a stream; men who claim to be too good to be true never ever are, and sooner or later, usually sooner, they expose their sanctimony for what it is. "Girl," the voice inside her head called in warning. "Soon as this dude tell you he's just hepin' you ouda the goodness of his heart, you better go ahead and hook yo thumbs in yo panties and shuck 'em suckers off'n you, 'cause he's gonna be tryin' to stick his pecker in you fo' you be three miles into them woods you leadin' him to."
His fingers massaged the leather covering the wheel. "I always tr…" he said, but catching himself in mid-declaration when he sensed the hubris thickening in the cabin like mustard gas, he corrected himself with a shrug, "No, no I don't."
"That makes you human, then, doesn't it," she observed with a wry tone. "Well, what do yo know," her inner voice chirped in surprise, "at least he got the sense not to bullshit you totally, girl."
"Depends on how you define the terms, 'human' and 'judge,' I think. You make the combination sound like an oxymoron," Caleb complained, tugging the shoulder harness to give his chest room to expand so he could breathe. He couldn't be sure if she was joking or needling him to puncture some perceived pomposity, and he worried that things were beginning to go badly.
"They're not mutually exclusive, not entirely; some judges are more human than others, I expect. I think you're probably a lot more human than you are judge," she assessed charitably, shrewdly ending the exploration of his motives on a high note.
"I'm beginning to feel a little like a character from The Planet of the Apes," he laughed nervously. "But don't be too quick to count me among the humans, young lady, you haven't seen me in action in the courtroom yet."
"Oooh," she said with an easy laugh that dissipated whatever tension he still felt. "Are you mean?"
"Stern," he growled playfully. "The iron fist of the law, you know."
"Tempered with mercy, of course?"
"I've never been in a courtroom; at least not that I can remember. I always thought it sounded intriguing."
"It usually is."
"Could I come to court and watch some time?"
"Sure, as soon as the Christmas recess is over, court'll be in session every day."
"Gosh," she gulped. "I completely forgot about Christmas."
"I'm not surprised to hear that, but it's just around the corner."
"So, what do judges do for Christmas?" she asked, sensing an opportunity to examine his human side.
"You mean when we're not being the Grinch and breaking up families or sentencing innocent defendants to sit a spell on 'Old Smokey?'" he laughed.
"I didn't mean it like that," she protested with a grin.
"I know, you didn't."
"What do you do for Christmas?"
"Oh, that, uh, nothing much, I guess. Watch TV, read, fix myself a grilled cheese sandwich, that sort of thing."
"That sounds really festive, Judge; I bet you don't even put up a Christmas tree."
"To tell you the truth, Anne, I can't remember the last time there was a tree in the house, and these past few years have been so busy, I haven't had much time for anything but work. The holidays give me a chance to catch up on old cases and clear off my docket."
"No family to visit?"
"No, not any more; both parents are dead now, and my sister moved to Seattle right after her mother died, and we've lost contact."
That was an odd manner of expression, she thought, but she decided to pursue the explanation for it later.
"How about the wife and kids?" She asked, gliding effortlessly into the question that was second in importance only to the issue of his purpose in rescuing her.
"Nope, can't help you there," he answered easily, in an almost off hand manner, and she congratulated herself on the smoothness of the segue.
"Divorced, then?" she probed.
"Nope, never been married."
"Girlfriends? Surely, out of eighty-five hundred people and who knows how many sheep, a good-looking, successful judge would have five or six of Posey's Bend's prettiest girls begging him to come over for Christmas dinner," she asked, cutting to the chase with a couple of compliments calculated to lower his guard by stroking his vanity and by giving the impression that she assumed him to be spoken for already.
"Well," he laughed self-consciously. "If you're talking about me, I get invited sometimes, I guess, but I don't go very often, and as to the first question, no, there's no girlfriend."
"Jeez," she moaned theatrically. "You're not gay or anything are you?"
"Hell, no," he barked nearly howling with laughter. The car swerved briefly into the on-coming lane, which fortunately was vacant. "What makes you ask that?"
"You know what us girls say about guys like you, don't you?" she responded coyly.
"I do not, but I suspect you're about to tell me."
"We figure that by the time guys reach your age, the good ones are already taken and all that's left are the creeps and the gays."
"That's probably not a bad rule of thumb," he acknowledged after a moment of reflection.
"It's not, believe me," she replied ruefully with a voice that sounded to him to be weary with experience.
"It just happens not to apply in my case, unless, of course, you think I'm a creep of some sort." He glanced hopefully in her direction as though anticipating a quick denial.
"Not a chance; you wouldn't have friends like Terrell and Clarence, if you were a creep," she answered obligingly.
"Or, gay either," he pointed out helpfully.
"I never had a question about that," she answered mysteriously, like she was gifted with second sight.
"Oh, really?" he said, laughing a little uneasily, "Why not? You had questions about everything else."
"Radar, Caleb; don't you know all girls have radar that can pick up a signal from across the room?"
"Signals? What signals?" he scoffed. He figured he had been as cool as Minnesota Fats was in his heyday, sinking the eight ball into the corner pocket, straight on, from two feet out. He hadn't been sending signals to anybody, he was certain of that, but still, he worried, somehow girls always seemed to be two or three steps ahead of him.
She watched him thoughtfully, pretending to be thinking about her response, and, while the wipers kept track of the seconds, she allowed the suspense to build in his imagination. Then, she said, "Oh, you know, like the way you shook my hand in the motel back there, and the way you looked at my legs when I was locking my suitcase."
Her voice was low, almost throaty, and smooth as satin, and her tone conjured up an image of Eve offering an apple on a silver plate to a dumbstruck Adam. He gulped and squinted his eyes nearly shut so she wouldn't see them pop open in astonishment.
"Gay guys don't look at my legs like you did," she continued in the same voice, and while speaking, she put her hands behind her head and stretched like a cat on a windowsill causing the hem of her skirt to ride a couple of inches up her thigh, and she crossed her legs at the knee.