A WARNING FROM THE CHIEF
Illustration by Carlos Uribe
By 4:30 Abby was knocking on Tuck’s door, and he opened right away. “I was just coming to get you,” he said. “This has become a bigger meeting than I thought. Chief Santiago brought Geraldine and Phoebe with him. They’re up in my office already.”
“Oh boy,” thought Abby. “Here we go. Why can’t things just calm down a little.”
Chief Santiago was already seated at the head of the conference table, with Dr. Bear and Phoebe on either side. They all rose for a warm hello with shaking of hands and hugs.
“Well, It’s nice to see you folks recovering,” said Chief Santiago. “As you know, it’s my job to clear up unanswered questions about the incident at the abandoned house. I think I’m aware of the basic sequence of events. Abby was living in that house, the mob arrives, Phoebe steps in to fight off a few people bearing burning logs or branches, Abby and Phoebe confront the mob, and then Tuck, Dr. Bear, and Jeremy arrive and the mob flees. Driving up the dirt road, I see their back as they run into the forest. Everyone agree with that?”
The chief looked around the table, and everyone nodded. He turned on a small pocket recorder. Abby wished this meeting were over already. “Now the surprising thing,” the chief continued, “is that not one of you has named or described any of that mob so far. Well, it’s time to go on the record. I’ll be recording this interview unless any of you wish to object. All right with you? Here we go then.”
He began by questioning Tuck and Geraldine, who both replied that they arrived in the dark only to see a crowd with torches on the lawn. The wind was gusting hard and the light was bad, and they could not be sure of recognizing anyone.
The chief then turned to Abby. She described peeking out the door and calling Phoebe to join her and flee through the back of the house. It was only at the last minute when she was sure that Phoebe would stand her ground that she stepped out, and the crowd was far back at that point.
“I’ve left you for last,” Tuck told Phoebe. “You had the best chance to see who was there. You followed them all the way from the church. You confronted them for, what?... At least ten minutes? Who was there?”
Abby was surprised by Phoebe’s composure. In a calm voice she explained that she had to follow the mob at a distance in complete darkness. The storm clouds had blanketed the moon and stars. She only stepped onto the porch when the house was threatened, and people backed away when she appeared ready to swing a heavy branch. Yes, she admitted, she did swing at one man carrying a burning log onto the porch, and yes, she thought she recognized voices and shapes in the shifting light. But she could not be certain, and would not swear by it. A court of law, she noted, is not the place to be guessing.
Chief Santiago was twisting the end of his grey moustache as he turned off the recorder. Wrinkles fanned out from the corners of his eyes as he squinted at the group. “Now if you don’t mind,” he said, “I’d like to give you some advice… No, more like a warning. Needless to say I don’t believe some portions of your testimony – now don’t interrupt!” He held up his palm and looked them in the eye. “I’m not asking for information, or trying to change anyone’s story. I regard you all as friends of mine, and I worry about your safety.”
He looked around the table again. They sat back in silence. “Yes, I do worry,” he continued. “And not only about you, but about all of us. The situation in this town – and in this state and country as a whole – resembles a cold war. It breaks out into violence only occasionally, but it’s heating up. And it’s a war between David and Goliath. When law enforcement and justice fail, the strong usually rule. They take advantage to the situation to get whatever they want. And the weak sufer, and lose what ever they have that the strong want. A billion dollars can buy a lot of power and privilege.”
He let this sink in. “So what’s my point?” he asked. “Just this: you’re all serious risks here. You’ve placed this battle beyond the reach of justice, and that means you’re on your own. Oh, I know you have your reasons, and they may be justified. But I hope you’ve got a plan and the ability to follow through. It’s not going to be easy.”
The chief waited for a moment in silence. “I don’t want to leave you with the impression that it’s just you. We’re all taking risks, all the time. Life is one big risk, but especially now.” He paused. “Any comments?”
No one replied.