I parked my old Ford Ranger pick up truck in the North Carolina Baptist Hospital furthermost guest parking lot. From the seat I removed the cardboard coffee holder and the paper bag. I sat there parked between two work trucks to eat my animal fat on a biscuit. I also contemplated what had brought me to that place at that time. It was a chore I dreaded even though it marked the end of a twenty year wait. Nothing really concerned me about the visit except how I might react. I had some unfortunate violent reactions in my past. I just never knew what might trigger one. Once the cold food and hot coffee were consumed I considered some practical issues.
The distance from my old truck to the entrance would have been daunting for a man half my age. Fortunately the greater part of my almost fifty two years had been spent in the military, otherwise I might never have been able to make that walk. Since I am basically a ‘lazy as dirt’ individual, I can make that statement with confidence.
For proof I needed only weigh myself. I have gained five pounds during the three months of my retirement. I had spent that time eating my way across the United States. From Travis Air Force Base to West Jefferson North Carolina it had been one beer and high calorie meal after another. I recognized my short comings without offering any apology for them.
My jobs in the United States Air Force had all been mostly with force security, or the training of new airmen. Even after I had attained the rank of Master Sergeant, it required me to stay physically active. I wasn’t required to run with the recruits, but I always did. “Never ask a man to do anything you wont do yourself” was an unwritten law of the training cadre. That being said, I did my last five mile run on the day that I walked my papers through the retirement center. By the end of that one single day, I was a civilian after thirty two years of service. I was also fifty one years and a few months old.
I eventually returned home, since I had nowhere else to go. Home was a deserted homestead outside the deserted North Carolina Mountain community of Bear Creek. Bear Creek no longer had the small general store, or the FCX farm supply store of my youth. The remains of the buildings were more or less standing, but completely rundown. There still was a post office zip code for the town, but no real town left.
When I first arrived at the crossroads, I found huge weeds growing inside both of the wooden buildings. Even so I parked the truck and carefully examined the condition of the buildings. After a few minutes I left the abandoned buildings of Bear Creek. I pulled the Ford from the overgrown parking lot onto a bad county road. Then I pulled from it onto the worse gravel road, and finally I pulling onto a not at all maintained dirt drive leading to what should have been our old farmhouse.
Since my Military specialty had been force protection, I had lived in some pretty crappy places over the years. I knew that I could work something out it even though the homestead was nothing more than weeds, and a pile of burned out lumber. It had been abandoned most of the twenty one years my brother had been missing. My parents just gave up when the light of there life either ran off or died.
I had come home a few years after his disappearance to bury my dad. He had spent his last few years in an assisted living facility. I have to admit I lacked the courage to visit him there. Even then I knew the home place was worthless. It had been empty since our mother had pass several years before. At the end of that trip, I removed the front and rear doors from the old place, then just walked away. I expected that it was too far from anything for anyone to want to live there, even rent free.
The county Sheriff tracked me down after three more years passed. He left a message on my phone. It was to tell me the house had burned to the ground mysteriously. He suggested I return home and clear the lot. I completely ignored his advice.
“It’s not on any main road, so it wont attract any vagrants. I think I’ll risk the lawsuit for any personal injury,” I said out loud to myself. I never looked back except for once on my way to a Florida, for a temporary assignment. On that one trip by truck, I did return to the home place. The very first thing I did on that trip, even before I put up the no trespassing sign, was to kick the one standing wall down. That wall had once held up the corner of the building. It was also possible that the fallen roof held it up. When I left that day, it was no longer standing.
I did not return again until it was all over. It was however my plan all along to return there to live. I decided that for sure after a visit to my ex wife. The decision to move to the homestead was so that I could forget her and her new family. I just wanted to be alone for a while.
Since I had paid the two hundred bucks and change to the county tax office every year, it was mine free and clear. I never did ask for a new evaluation of the place, even though I could have. It was worth nothing at all in my opinion, but I knew the tax department didn’t want to hear that.
On the night before my visit to the hospital parking lot I had check into the West Jefferson flea bag motel. It was left over from the 1950s at least. After I checked in I drove to a very distant cousin’s house. “Hello, are you Alice Martin?” I asked of the older lady who greeted me.
“I used to be,” she replied. “and who are you?”
“I’m still Andy Martin, John and Inez’s youngest.” I replied.
Then we went through the I remember your family period of catching up. There were a few cousins still living in he area, she informed me. Then she filled me in on each of them and the locations of their house trailers.
“Did the Sheriff ever get in touch with you?” she finally asked.
“Not recently did something new happen?” I asked.
“Yes somebody found your brother Fred’s remains. The Sheriff was trying to find you to make a notification. You need to call him,” she said.
The call to the Sheriff led to a second call to the anthropology department at Wake Forest University. That call led to a visit to the North Carolina Baptist Hospital the next morning. After I made the long walk from my parking space to the front door, I found my way to the hospitals anthropology lab. There I met with Doctor Sharon Tate for the first time.
“I’m sorry about your Brother,” she said. “I was team leader for the group who disinterred his remains,” she informed me.
“And you are sure it is my brother?” I asked.
“Yes, he was a familial match with a sample in the national DNA data base. As a matter of fact it was a match with you. They tried to make a notification, but you couldn’t be found. Now I know why you were in the process of retiring and your records were in limbo no doubt. Your only forwarding address was a post office in Ashe County. Unfortunately the Sheriff there couldn’t find you either.”
“Okay, I’m sorry things are still up in the air now. I’m living in a flea bag motel till I get my family’s homestead re established. So what can you tell me about Fred’s corpse?” I asked. I forced myself to be professional about it. I had done my walk down memory lane during my drive down to Winston Salem that very morning.
“I am sure he was the victim of a homicide. I can’t know the circumstances of course, but he had significant stab mark on his sternum and two ribs. After all this time there was no other evidence at the scene,” she said.
“Do you have any idea who did the original missing persons investigation?” I asked.
“No, but the park rangers have the case under review now. A Captain Brown is doing the review before it gets closed,” she said.
“Review or investigation?” I asked.
“Aren’t they the same?” she asked me.
“Not exactly,” I replied. “One you try to figure it all out. The other you try to make sure no one can accuse you of screwing it up.”
“I wouldn’t know about that kind of thing,” she replied.
“I guess not,” I agreed.
“Would you like to review my complete file?” she asked.
“Of course,” I replied.
“Badly enough to buy me lunch?” she asked.
“Well that depends on the price of lunch, and the amount and quality of the information,” I said with good humor.
“Okay, it’s probably worth a pizza lunch,” she said.
“Fair enough, I like pizza,” I advised her.
“I never met a man who didn’t love pizza and nachos.” she said.
“Well maybe not served together,” I agreed again with what passed for a smile.
“So what did you do in the Air Force?” The not very attractive anthropologist asked.
“A little of this and a little of that. Mostly air police the first twenty five years,” I answered.
“So you guarded the gates and airplanes?” she asked.
“We call that force protection, but yes I did a lot of that,” I replied.
“Did you ever get to the middle east,” she asked. I decided she was a very blunt woman but harmless. She was however severely lacking in the social graces, I decided
“Yes, but I don’t talk much about it when I’m sober,” I replied.
“So what about the last five years?” she asked.
“This and that,” I replied.
“What is that supposed to mean?” she asked bluntly.
“I spend some time in CID, then I did a transfer into training command to pad my pension,” I explained.
“Huh?” she asked simply.
.... There is more of this story ...