The morning brought the slightly more bold bleating of the fawn seeking sustenance and the pounding of a fist on the front door. Emmett rose, sweat slicking his face, and forced himself to less than steady feet in seconds. He stumbled with haste to the front door, worried another incursion was moments away if he didn’t respond. Flinging open the door, Emmett met two faces he’d rather not see again, let alone first thing in the morning. Sheriff Kerry had a wide grin and Mister Singh another offer. Kerry let himself in, and though Singh seemed apprehensive, he followed inside.
“Looks like you have a little mess out there, Em. You might want to take care of that before someone from the city comes out. Doesn’t smell like paint,” Kerry drawled, looking over the cleaned kitchen, his teeth making an audible clack.
Singh stepped up to Emmett hastily, “I am so sorry to barge in like this, Mister Mausberg, but my boss has another offer for you, an even better one. If you’d just take a second to look over the proposal.”
“Spare me, does it make any allotment for the animal sanctuary or the nearby area, any of it.”
“Unfortunately, our company needs all the land we can get for development of the solar array and subsequent stations required for management and storage. It is a much more generous sum, I can assure you. Would you like to go over?”
The glower drawn across the sagging features of the sheriff silenced Singh, “I’d take the offer, Emmett. You’re the one reluctant light that won’t turn green, but sooner or later, they all turn.”
The conversation dropped as hungry bleating sounded, and the fawn coyly crept through the minefield of discarded mass-market paperbacks and spent journals. Emmett saw the look Singh fixed on his face, he was enthralled, while Kerry couldn’t look more annoyed. Taking his cue, Emmett went to the deer and set a gentle hand on it after she seemed to consent to the brushing. There were worlds of words he wanted to fire at the men, but Emmett knew they wouldn’t be softened in the slightest, “New rescue. She was hit in the road last night, wouldn’t have made it to the morning if I hadn’t found her. It’s a real shame. I know other towns, where they actually have wildlife, have those bridges that run over major highways to circumvent so much roadkill.”
“And now you have something a little better than a pig running ’round, you know, when it gets bigger. That’ll be some good meat if you feed it right,” Kerry’s cruel, vicious twist of the lips dropped Singh’s to a reluctant raising of the eyebrows.
Emmett pet the fawn, “If I thought of her as meat, I’d have left her for the coyotes if there are any left. Man has enough on his plate, don’t you think, sheriff.”
“Singh, why don’t you mosey on, I’ll make sure you get that contract back signed, but I need a private word with Mister Mausberg,” Kerry held off until the company man vanished, “Emmett, I’ve seen vandalism before, but this ain’t it. This is a message, and it should be loud and clear what whoever did this is trying to say. Do you understand it?”
There wasn’t anything left to be said on Emmett’s part. If the sheriff wanted to continue his campaign to so ‘kindly’ convince him into selling, it mattered very little. After a moment of silence, Kerry clicked his tongue disdainfully and left the house. There was no sound of his egress for another few moments. Emmett didn’t want to look but could soundly assure himself that the sheriff was taking a glance into both barns. Things had been left a mess, with little point in cleaning it. Yet, the fact the sheriff went to have a look gave Emmett one small reassurance. Unless the leader of the assault wanted to admire his handiwork, he might have only glanced to see the totality of the damage. It didn’t exonerate him of wrongdoing or at least knowledge of impending troubles, but to know he hadn’t ignored his duty as a lawman and directly committed the acts meant there still stood some barriers for Emmett’s opposition.
The sheriff finally left the ruined sanctuary after a few minutes. Emmett stepped out to see if any more chaos had been wrought in the night while he slumbered like a corpse. To his surprise, it seemed no further harm had come to the barns. Emmett had half expected, as he woke up, that the barns had been burnt to the ground in the night. Making as much haste as his aching muscle could, a half-upright posture had done his body no favors; he fetched some of the formulae and feed he had stored in the barn for young herbivores. There was a stockpile in the cellar, but going down into such cool, damp, dark depths felt like it would only serve to confirm the mood of the late autumnal day.
Snow would come soon, the season was giving way, and the leaves flowing free of the trees like so much refuse ignored on the roadside to and from town. Emmett was remiss in doing so, but he was confident the fawn, if he held her long, would need to stay in the house. Where his home might again suffer an attack, it would be harder for townsfolk to justify another all-out assault on the habitat of another human. With the coming cold, who could say how they might sabotage the barns and their heaters. However, for someone in town to make an inside deal with the power company might prove just as effective and quickly done for those against him.
After collecting everything he would need for the fawn, Emmett returned inside and fed the poor girl. Despite needing food, she still managed to make a mess. Though it was no honor to do so, cleaning it was a quicker and more pleasant affair than the kitchen the day before or what little Emmett would bother with of the house’s facade. Once it was all said and done, he sunk down in the couch, the coy little deer coming to lay beside in a tight little ball of spotted wheat as a dog might. The day had hardly pressed on, and with only the one animal, Emmett had nothing but time.
He rooted around and found another of his missing novels in the depths of the couch; the fawn bothered little for his fidgeting. ‘The Child Garden’ a book he hadn’t picked up since his parents were alive. Without much else to occupy him, Emmett began reading, making it only pages in before cautiously setting a hand on the back of the deer. Quietly, as though he meant it in secret, he let out a name for the orphaned animal, Milena. As easily as he had the night prior, Emmett slipped into unconsciousness while still reading.
It took only an hour before Emmett’s sleep was interrupted. Again he thought those who had invaded his house the day prior had returned only to again dismiss it as a more friendly noise. Taking pains to step over Milena, who woke all the same, Emmett managed to reach the phone before it stopped ringing. The number was foreign to him, but this was becoming a regular thing for him now. Without pause, he answered, well aware there were several voice messages awaiting him and only a short time left on the battery.
“Is this Emmett Mausberg?”
“Good morning, Mister Mausberg. This is Debra at the high school office. Mister Chambers wanted me to confirm the terms of the contract brought to you yesterday by Mister Hitchfield.”
“Yes, Robert explained it very clearly. He said I would get to speak at an upcoming assembly and, from there, might be permitted to bring in a non-threatening animal.”
“That’s right. Are you available tomorrow between one and three? We have a drug safety assembly, and we usually try to brighten up the situation with something a little more lighthearted at the end. Or other guest canceled, you see?”
“Lighthearted?” the term sounded incorrect for what he was presenting, but Emmett recalled the contract stated certain things he could and couldn’t say, “Yes, I am available.”
The phone call had been another damper on a situation already wholly without life. Emmett regarded Milena milling about, bleating as she found paths impassable or bumping into shelves lined with just as much garbage. Somehow, Emmett assured himself he would build back and build back better than things were before. It would be foolish to give up now, so deep in it, even if it felt like it would be the only end to things. As seeing things to the end went, there were still five voicemails left to account for on a nearly dead phone.
Though Richard was among the missed callers, Emmett passed him by to confirm there were no calls for his services still that day. It wasn’t likely. The number of calls he received had dropped off completely, and even if he were asked to lend a hand, he had no way of knowing if it would be another trap. Two of the calls had been telemarketers, which was almost a welcomed notion as it meant he had little to worry from them. Another was a missed call from the school, the message left by Debra simply asking Emmett to return the call. The final message was from a local number, and where a prank call would have been nothing, a threat welcomed, even a call to sell his farm or see it burnt to the ground could have been positive, this message was not one he could stomach.
The reaper was making double time to catch Dee-Dee. She had been found by a neighbor who came over to inquire if she required help taking out her garbage that week. By the time paramedics had gotten to her, she was barely clinging to life. The message was from one of her nurses who had been asked to place the call. Though Emmett was told he couldn’t see her, at least not for the next few days, he was ready to pack up Milena and head two counties over to the clinic she had been airlifted to. Had he been awake, he might have heard the chopper in the early morning hours, but it was all for not.
Taking out a pad of paper from one of the cabinets, Emmett sat down and made a list of chores. First and foremost was a plan for Dee-Dee’s cats and Milena. The barns would need to be outfitted with the security equipment that still sat in his truck, and more would need to be ordered. A gate had to be installed and set up so he could be the only one to access his yard without a warrant. Then there was the conversation he meant to have with Robert about potential co-inhabitants of the old house. If he had the extra set of eyes, all the security would be less necessary, and a little cash flow could help him expand his operation. So long as he could hold out and pay the fees, Emmett thought he might still get licensed by the state to better legitimize the sanctuary. Finally, he made a note to call the clinic before the assembly the next day to see when he might be permitted to visit Dee-Dee. Once the sheet of tasks was written and hung on the fridge, Emmett sat down to craft his presentation for the assembly. He knew he couldn’t trust his mouth to follow the rules set down; a written speech would be the only way.