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Copyright © 2009 Ben Lacy All rights reserved
I was sitting in my patrol car out on Route 60 shortly before midnight. The football game had ended a couple of hours ago and I expected the drunks to be rolling by shortly. My wait was interrupted by the dispatcher, “Sheriff, I’m getting calls of an armed disturbance at the DQ.” I put the car in gear and hit the lights. “I’m on it, Marge. Call in Josh as well.” “Sheriff, just so you know, Johnny Four Arms is involved.” It wasn’t that unusual for a fight to break out in Charles, Texas on a Friday night after a football game, but I couldn’t see Johnny starting trouble with anyone, and the days when anyone would start trouble with him were long past. I put the siren on and pushed the cruiser up past ninety. In the middle of the Dairy Queen parking lot, a group of kids had formed a circle around something. A few of them looked over as I stepped from my car. I recognized all of them. They were members of the Prairie Dog Football team, their girlfriends, and cheerleaders. A couple of the players were waving tire irons at whatever was in the center of the circle. I dove right in, pushing kids out of my way. I figured somebody had gotten liquored up and started a fight. What I saw instead shocked me. Two massive aliens stood in the center of the circle. One had Johnny Four Arms by an arm. The other was waving a hollow, shiny metallic tube at the crowd. The crowd was trying to help Johnny, but they were smart enough to keep a respectful distance from the metal tube.
“They’re trying to kidnap Johnny,” Robbie Pierce, the team’s fullback, shouted at me. I nodded, pulled out my gun, and pointed it at the armed alien. “All right, everyone move away and behind me.” Having seen the gun, the kids scattered. “Now, you drop the tube and you let Johnny go.” At a quick glance, both aliens kind of resembled lobsters on legs. The one with the gizmo had a bright blue shell, the other a green shell. Blue shell looked at me through the mask of his respirator then he slowly began to turn his tube toward me. “I wouldn’t do that,” I yelled as I flicked off the safety. “This may not be no fancy blaster, but it’ll blow through that shell like it was a tin can.” Blue shell froze and looked at me again. I could see his baseball size eyes through the mask’s faceplate but they gave nothing away. It wasn’t until I looked away from his face that I saw that he’d lowered the tube. Green shell released Johnny a moment later. Several of the kids immediately surrounded Johnny and whisked him toward a waiting pickup. “Bring him to the station, guys,” I yelled after them. Josh arrived a moment later. The first thing we did was strip the pair of all their gadgets (except their respirators of course). We then spent a few minutes just circling them trying to figure out what to do next. I decided to read them their rights even though they’d given little indication that they spoke English. We didn’t have cuffs that would fit their shell plated arms, but they were far too powerful looking to allow any freedom of movement. One of the teenagers volunteered some rope, so we tied them up. Fortunately, they gave no resistance. Since the aliens were also too big for the squad car, we laid them down in the flatbed of Robbie Pierce’s pickup. The crowd at the station house was almost as big as the crowd at the DQ. It was now well past one, so I ordered them all home. Their parents had probably already started calling Marge. I tossed the aliens into the lockup. They still hadn’t responded to our efforts to communicate, so I figured I’d just let ’em sit the night then try to get someone up from Amarillo in the morning.
Johnny Four Arms was waiting quietly in the dispatcher’s office with Marge. I led him into my office and motioned him to sit on the couch. He sat down and began to wring his lower pair of hands. I leaned against my desk and looked down at his squat, barrel shaped form. He wasn’t much over four feet tall. He had a face that resembled a very old turtle, though it looked the same as when I’d first met him twenty-five years ago. His skin was navy blue and had a texture that resembled velvet. His lower arms were short and powerfully built, while the upper pair were long and delicate with two elbow joints each. He smiled up at me with his toothless smile. “Interesting night, huh?” The words came out of his mouth over the background whine that always sounded from Johnny’s chest when he spoke. “Yeah, why don’t you tell me what happened?” “After the game, I decided to go to the DQ with the team. I usually go with them.” Johnny had started attending the Prairie Dogs football games more than twenty years ago. Within two years, they’d replaced the guy in the prairie dog suit with Johnny as team mascot. Since then he’d become an ardent Prairie Dog fan attending everything from track to lady’s field hockey. “We were all in the parking lot, getting ready to leave, when an old Humvee pulls up. The Marchand got out and …” “Wait,” I interrupted, “those two are the Marchand? What are they?” “Lobsters with legs, they come from a planet about a thousand light years from here. They are very tough and strong. They can go just about anywhere so they get hired a lot as manual labor … and as soldiers, cops, and enforcers. Anyhow, these two got out of their humvee, grabbed me, and started to drag me off. They would have made it if all the kids hadn’t slowed them down ‘til you arrived. Thanks by the way.” He tipped the wizened turtle head at me. I couldn’t keep from smiling back at him. “Why were they after you?” “I don’t know.” Johnny’s voice never faltered and his alien face was a complete blank, but somehow, I knew Johnny was lying. I decided to let it go for the time being and sent him on his way.
The next day, a lawyer came up from Amarillo with a federal court order to release the aliens. It smelled rotten to me but the federal court had jurisdiction over kidnapping and Johnny had declined to press assault charges. I tried to pump the lawyer for some details as to what was going on but she wouldn’t tell me anything. For the next couple of days, I wondered if the whole thing would just blow over and I would never find out the whole story, but then the Feds arrived. They walked in right after lunch, one male, one female; both were dressed in dark suits and ties, just plain ridiculous for the blazing sun of the Texas Panhandle. The man flashed his badge and said, “We have a warrant for John Smith AKA Johnny Four Arms. We’d like you to take us out to his home so we can bring him in.” I looked over the warrant carefully; no charges were mentioned. “What’s he wanted for.” “He’s being extradited to Elcaret under the terms of the Alien Alliance Treaty?” I looked at him for a long moment. “I can read,” I told him angrily, “why is he being extradited. What’s his crime?” “That’s not our concern. We just have to bring him in,” the woman said. I had to work to keep my face expressionless. We wouldn’t turn an Iranian over to their government no questions asked, but some planet a bazillion miles from here snaps their fingers and we can’t do enough for them. Finally, I just nodded my OK and led them to my patrol car. I pointed down the one long main street of Charles. “Johnny lives out thataway, about three miles outside of town.” As we drove, the two looked over our small town. They were clearly unimpressed. Admittedly, there wasn’t much to see, a large cluster of houses on the northside of the highway, a large series of grain silos on the south. Ahead of us was the chemical plant and beyond that was miles and miles of flatland as far as the eye could see. Most of it’s covered with sorghum though there are some ranchers and even a few small
oil rigs that were run when the price of crude was up. “Why does Johnny live here?” the woman asked. I could tell from the tone of her voice that what she really wanted to ask was why does Johnny live in the middle of nowhere. “I think he likes the wide open spaces and the dry, warm climate. Johnny first came here about twenty-five years ago. He’s pretty much the town’s engineer. He keeps the power receiver station and the other off-world technology going.” It’d be a real pain losing him, and not just for his technical skill. A couple of times a year, he would visit the school and talks to the kids about his life on another planet. When I was just a boy, he told me how his planet had more people per square mile than China had in a hundred. He told me how lucky I was to be able to get to know everyone and be part of a real community yet still have my own space. It was sort of ironic, because at that age I thought pretty much the same thing about this place that the lady Fed did. Johnny lived right off the main road in an old ranch house. Except for a couple of sheds, he’d torn down the other buildings. In their place were three satellite dishes and a greenhouse where he kept exotic plants. I still have the bush he gave me when I first became sheriff. I got out of the car with the Feds at my heels. Right away I knew something was wrong. Johnny kept three dogs; they should have been howling by now. I tried to wave the Feds back while I approached the house, but they ignored me and kept coming. I released the catch on my gun holster and stepped up on the porch. I could see that the door was ajar. Had they already grabbed Johnny. I quietly cursed myself for not finding a way to keep those Marchand in custody. Looking through the windows, the house appeared empty. I made my way through the door. The interior looked pretty much like anyone else’s except everything had been cut down to the height of a four foot alien. There was no sign of a struggle, but I saw some clothes dropped by the bedroom door and some paperwork had been hastily pulled from the desk in the foyer. I began to relax. I went to the garage. Johnny’s car was gone. Johnny hadn’t been kidnapped; instead, he’d skipped town.
We put out an APB. Next, we went to talk to the neighbors. We found Johnny’s dogs at the Donaldsons. He had dropped them off yesterday saying he’d be gone a few days. They often did those sorts of favors for each other so the Donaldsons thought nothing of it. No one else had seen Johnny since Friday’s game. I drove us back toward town when the woman Fed asked, “What about this place?” She pointed to Ned Jones rundown spread about half a mile off the highway at the end of a dirt road. Ned’s was the last house within a mile of Johnny’s. “Nah, that’s a waste of time. Johnny wouldn’t be there.” “Let’s check it out. Just to be complete.” I sighed, this was going to be a pain, but I knew there’d be no convincing the Feds, so I turned down the road to Ned’s house. At one time, Ned’s family had been pretty big ranchers, but Ned had sort of let it go over the years. Now, the cattle Ned still kept were wandering unfettered in his front lawn. I pulled the car up next to several of them. That might keep the Fed’s from getting out of the car too quickly. As I got out of the car, Ned flung open a window from the second floor and pointed his shotgun down at us. “All right, get the hell off my property before I blow your heads off,” he screamed. With my peripheral vision, I could see the Feds starting out of the car and going for their guns. “Stay in the car and keep your guns down. I’ll deal with this,” I hissed at them. “Ned, it’s me, Tom. I just want to talk, not cause trouble.” I saw that the Feds were staying put. Maybe, I could keep things from going too far. “I got no problem with you, Tom. But I’m not having any government men on my land,” he waved his gun, motioning to my companions. “We’ll leave Ned; we just have a few questions. We’re looking for Johnny Four Arms.” “So what. If that stinkin’ alien showed his face here, I’d have already blown it off. Now unless you got a warrant Sheriff, take those two scum buckets and get the hell
out of here.” He lowered his gun and as he pulled back from the window, he muttered, “Sorry, Tom, nothing personal.” I got back in the car and we left. “Well, I guess we don’t have to worry about Four Arms being there,” the female Fed declared.” “Yeah,” the man agreed. “What’s his deal anyway? “He’s kind of an anti-government conspiracy fanatic. He thinks our country is controlled by the Alien Alliance. Can’t imagine where he got such a ridiculous idea, huh?” As we drove passed the Shop Smart, the little grocery that supplied everyone between trips to Amarillo, an idea came to me; I quickly turned into the lot. “I need to pick something up,” I told the Feds, who both rolled their eyes in annoyance. I left them in the car, with the air conditioner off, and went into the store. I quickly grabbed a soda then walked to the register. I took a long look behind the counter. “Uhm, anything else I can get you, Sheriff?” Laura asked, turning away from the soap she was watching on her portable TV. “Yeah, where’s the baby food?” “Baby food?” “Yes,” I replied patiently, “the case of baby food you get in every Monday morning for Johnny.” The only Earth foods Johnny’s digestive system could handle were heavily processed, such as baby food. “You always keep the case right here behind the counter.” “Oh, that baby food. It didn’t make today’s shipment. They said they’d bring it with Thursday’s shipment.” Laura’s blushing gave away her well-rehearsed lie. “Hmm, I was just curious. Here’s the money for the soda.” I walked out. I could have asked to see her inventory list but that just wouldn’t have been polite. I went back to the car. “Well, that’s taken care of; I’ll take you back to my office and you can organize your manhunt. I expect he could be anywhere between Albuquerque and Austin by now, huh?”
If Laura was covering for Johnny, then other people were as well. That meant he was still in town. The Feds, thankfully, decided that they would organize their manhunt out of Amarillo; they took off almost immediately. I’d be able to operate without their interference. I set Marge to contacting the Shop Smart’s database server while I went to hit up some of Johnny’s close friends. As I was leaving the diner, the two Marchand walked in (I assumed it was the same twosome). “What are you two doing here still?” I demanded. “We think that your government agents are wrong. We do not think the Elcaretan would leave his home area?” I knew that this was a bad sign, then another thought hit me. “Hey, how come you can talk now?” “You took our translators,” he pointed to the heavy belt strapped around the midsection of his shell. “Hmm, my mistake, but if you think you two are going hunting in my town, think again. Lawyer or no, I’ll have you back in a cell before you can say lobster thermidor.” The Marchand ignored the insult. “We have no intention of violating the law. We are merely going to reward those who would help us.” He pulled out a sheet of paper and handed it to me. It was a flyer offering a $100,000 reward for information leading to Johnny’s capture. They turned, posted one on the diner’s bulletin board, and walked out. I quickly followed. This wasn’t good at all. My town would be like the OK Corral before nightfall. I climbed into my patrol car and started driving to Johnny’s place. “Marge,” I called on the box, “I don’t mean to rush you, but have you got anything.” “Yes, Laura’s supplier confirmed that they shipped the baby food. I checked all of the Shop Smart’s sales for today through their database. Sara Kramer spent just a little more than what that baby food would have cost.”
Sara was the high school English teacher and the Mayor’s wife. Her house was too public. Johnny couldn’t be hiding there. “Great, find out everyone Sara’s called or emailed in the last day. She must have an accomplice?” “Already done. You’ll never guess who she’s been trading emails with lately?"
I headed full speed out of town. Just past the refinery, I saw a beat-up brown pickup that I was very familiar with. I knew it was heading out toward Johnny’s place. I put on the siren. For a moment, I thought he might not pull over, but he did. I pulled my shotgun out of the back seat and got out of the cruiser. As I walked up to the truck, I could see Steve Kendall looking at me through his sideview mirror, a cigarette in his mouth and an insolent look on his face. His younger brother, Bobby, sat in the passenger seat. Steve was barely over 20, but I’d run him in about five times. The last time, he got a year of hard time in the state pen. Bobby was 17 and working hard to catch up. He’d just gotten back from a stint of reform school. “Hands up where I can see ‘em. You both know the drill.” Both boys put their hands up as I peered in at them through the driver side window. “So, what brings you kids to this side of town?” “Just cruising around, Chief.” Steve flicked his butt out the window, inches from my face. “Well, it’ll sure be a shame to have to send you back up for breaking your parole. What have you got left, three years?” “Hey, I ain’t done nothing.” “Is that so.” I lifted up my shotgun and slammed the butt into the truck’s sideview mirror, knocking it clean off. “Hey,” Steve screamed. For a moment, I thought he was going to get out and go for me, but he restrained himself.
I pointed to where the mirror had been, “Looks like you’re driving an unsafe vehicle. I guess now I’ve got adequate cause to search this truck. What’ja think I’ll find.” Steve just stared straight ahead, his jaw tightly clenched. Bobby looked down at his lap. I nodded, “Yeah, that’s what I thought. Well, you two are in a lot of luck. I’m in a generous mood. You turn this thing around, head straight home, and don’t show your faces again tonight, and maybe I’ll just forget all this.” I turned around and walked back to my cruiser. Sometimes, a little old fashioned law enforcement works the best.
“All right, Ned. It's me, Tom. I know you’re in there and I know you got Johnny with you.” It was getting dark and I didn’t want to make Ned think I was a prowler. It was a damn good thing I got rid of the Kendall punks. Ned appeared on the porch. “What are you talking about?” he demanded. “Sara Kramer picked up Johnny’s food. Ed Collins drove it out here.” “That’s a load of bull,” Ned shouted, waving his shotgun but not pointing it at me. “Sara confessed.” I made a mental note to tell Ned I’d just lied about Sara. I wouldn’t want any hard feelings. “I need to see Johnny. Things are getting out of hand. The aliens have put a bounty out on him.” At first, I couldn’t believe that Ned would help Johnny. The more I thought about it though, the more I realized that it made perfect sense. Ned thought the aliens had taken over our society. Naturally, he’d help anyone he thought they were persecuting, even another alien. “I don’t care. If they want him, they’ll have to go through me.” “No!” Johnny walked out of the front door. He walked past Ned, patting him lightly on the shoulder. He came down the steps and stopped about five feet in front of me, his four arms held up in the air.
“Johnny, I want to help you,” I told him, “but I have to know the truth. What have you done? Why are they after you?” “It’s not a human thing. You wouldn’t understand.” “You’re just going to have to try and explain it so that I do.” For a moment, I wondered if Johnny had committed a real crime. Then I realized how ridiculous that was, alien or not, Johnny was still Johnny. He wouldn’t do anything too bad … I hoped. Johnny sighed, “Very well. I have refused to commit Seteru.” “Set what ooh?” I asked. “Every thirty of your Earth years, we Elcaretans must return to our homes to commit Seteru. I can’t explain exactly what Seteru is but it involves the joining of myself to the oneness of the people to renew my bonds to them. I didn’t return when I should have.” “You didn’t want to go back?” Johnny shook his head, “No, I’d like to return for a visit. I just cannot commit Seteru.” “Your right, I don’t understand. What’s so bad about this Seteru?” “Nothing is so bad. See, I knew you wouldn’t …” “I get it, I understand!” Ned interrupted with a shout. We both turned and looked at him. “Johnny can’t do this Seteru stuff. He can’t pledge to them because he’s not one of them anymore. He’s one of us. He’s an American!” Johnny nodded, “Yes, yes, that’s close enough. I pledged my allegiance to America when I became a citizen.” I stood there and watched Ned and Johnny embrace as if they were long lost brothers. This was an interesting turn of events. After a second, they both turned and looked at me. “What now, Sheriff?” Johnny asked quietly. “Well, Johnny, I’m going to get you the two things every American needs when they’re in trouble - a good lawyer and guest appearance on Fox News.”
I was making breakfast in front of the television when the Attorney General’s press conference began. “No, no,” he declared, “we have no intention of fighting the district court’s injunction. Mr. Four Arms, as he prefers to be called, is completely free to do as he pleases. This whole incident was simply the result of a low level attorney’s misinterpretation of the Alien Alliance Act. We are currently investigating and apologize to Mr. Four Arms and …” I turned off the TV and went to put on my dress uniform. The town is having a parade today to celebrate Johnny’s victory, a victory for all of us actually, for our values and our way of life. All in all, it’s a good day to be in a small town, on another boiling summer’s day, in the middle of nowhere, Texas.
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