So that’s what I told Bob and he’s really excited and into The New Rescue Mission. That night we played shuffleboard because the motel didn’t have a pool table, marveling at how things have developed and how lucky it was we thought to come back to see Fred a second time – “Don’t you think we should go back and see Bette a second time too?”
When we show up at the Ramada the next day Fred tells us she’s made up her mind to leave Michael and come with us and has already told the Ramada staff this is her last shift. “I finish at 2,” she says to us, “then let’s just go.”
But I said, “What about your things? – especially the Christmas presents?” She says we can’t go back to the house because Michael will be there. “Well,” I said, “just call him up and tell him you ran out of gas.” (She drove a little motorcycle to work).
That won’t work she says, “We don’t have a telephone [this was back in the days before cell phones and computers], I’ll just send him a postcard.”
Bob says he has a plan: “We’ll hide Fred out at the next beach up the Coast; find a big box somewhere, Fred you make a list of the things you want – and we’ll go get them.”
“No, that won’t work,” she says, “Michael’s a big time drug dealer and keeps a loaded gun in the house.”
“Where?” I said.
“In the drawer by the living room couch,” Fred says.
“OK,” I said, “It’s good Bob’s such a big guy, I’ll keep an eye on Michael while Bob gathers things up, and jump him if he makes a move for the drawer” – I was sure with Bob’s help we could handle Michael if things got rough – “and besides, he isn’t going to call for help without a telephone and knowing it all might lead to a big drug bust for him.”
When we knock on the door, I say to Michael “Look Michael, Fred’s decided to leave you; we’re here to get her things, but she’s going to come see you once we’ve got everything loaded and explain what’s up” (a white lie). Though surprised to see us, he seems to buy the bit about Fred still coming to see him, and sizing up Bob, lets us in. I keep talking to him about what Fred’s going to be telling him — paying attention that he doesn’t get too close to that drawer. He tells me he can’t believe that Fred will leave the dog. I tell him that’s one of the things she’s going to talk to him about. Pretty quickly Bob gives me the thumbs-up sign, and I tell Michael we’re off to get Fred.
After picking up Fred, our next stop was miles away in St. Mark’s, Florida. St. Mark’s is on Florida’s panhandle where Bob has a friend from his Peace Corps days named Donnie. Donnie lives by himself in the middle of the marshy everglades in a house built on stilts. He’s a Park Ranger in charge of making sure nobody destroys the natural habitat for the few remaining Black Panthers in existence. By the time we leave Donnie’s I can tell Bob has formed a sort of uncle’ish bond with Fred, who seems in good spirits about her decision – although she does say more than once how she misses the dog. Yea! Rescue Mission Accomplished!
Or so we thought. On the way out the long roadway to Donnie’s house, I’m driving and I see a Black Panther cross the road behind us in the rear view mirror – but the panther’s too fast for Fred and Bob to turn around and see for themselves.
Tomorrow: This Story has Happy Endings!
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