This is Part 7 of 8…that’s right…next week The Latest Frontier will end! If you haven’t had a chance to read the whole story, there’s still time to catch up. Here are the links to Part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6.
Over the course of the week, Hope’s health continued to improve, and I grew more bold with each successful theft from the Wilson estate. On Friday I bundled up a few extra apples and some small cucumbers, hiding them in the inner pocket of my backpack to take home for my own family.
All the way home, I felt sick with guilt, but when I saw my children’s eyes light up and watched them silently savor each morsel as they glanced at each other with huge delighted grins, my guilt eased a little. I even felt justified.
By the following Friday my debt was paid off, and my fridge was full. Hope and Aaron both looked stronger and healthier than I’d ever seen them. I slept the sleep of the innocent or, at least, the full and exhausted.
I should have known it wouldn’t last.
Saturday morning I woke to someone pounding on the door. As I struggled to sit up I heard, “Open up, this is the police!”
A jolt of adrenaline propelled me to my feet and my heart began to race. As I pulled on a shirt I heard Hope’s voice, small and worried.
“Daddy? Why are the police here?”
Kneeling down in front of her I gripped her shoulders and looked into her eyes.
“I’m not sure. I’m going to go talk to them and it’s going to be okay. You go wait in your room, okay. You and Aaron, stay in your room.” I gave Aaron a pointed look and he leaned down and took Hope’s hand.
“Come on, Hope, we’ll go read a story until Dad’s done.”
Hope went with him, but they both stopped and watched as I walked through the living room and turned the corner to face the apartment door.
The pounding grew more urgent.
I paused by the entrance to the kitchen and stared at the fridge.
I should hide the food, I thought.
After one step into the kitchen I heard, “You have thirty seconds to open this door before you’re charged with obstruction of police business!”
My mind reeled. What was the penalty for obstruction? Would it be worse than the penalty for unlawful possession?
Then the voice began to count down.
Cold sweat tickled my brow and the back of my neck as I stepped back into the hall and walked to the door. With a shaking finger I pressed the release, allowing the door to zip open.
Three armed officers in full gear faced me across the threshold of my home.
“Warren Shreve?” the one in front asked.
Unable to form words at the moment, I simply nodded.
“You’re suspected of unlawful possession of non-ration edibles. We have a warrant to search your apartment.”
My shoulders dropped and my heart seemed to sink into my stomach.
With a heavy sigh I stepped aside and gestured for them to come in.
“It’s in the kitchen,” I stated, my voice weary, defeated.
I didn’t bother to follow them. I already knew what they would find, and I knew what would happen next. I would go to jail. I’d be found guilty. Hope and Aaron would be put into foster care. I had failed, completely failed.
With my back against the wall I slid to the floor and rested my head on my knees.
How much did they know? Did they know about the medicine? About the payment? If I hadn’t taken more than what I owed, would they still be here?
I glanced sideways and saw Aaron kneeling beside me, tears glistened in his eyes.
“Dad, I think it’s my fault. I was telling my friend Gary what it tasted like, just Gary, I didn’t think anyone else was around, but I think some other kids heard me. I- I think it’s my fault they found out.”
After shifting to my knees, I pulled my son against my chest.
“It’s not your fault. Don’t ever think that. I took the food. Even if you had gone straight to the police, it wouldn’t be your fault. You didn’t do anything wrong, I did.”
“But Dad, you saved Hope.”
I squeezed Aaron a bit tighter, then eased my hold as the officers reappeared.
They’d all sheathed their weapons. The lead officer held a half-full bag of produce.
“How did you obtain these edibles?” the officer asked.
I’m ashamed to admit I thought about lying. I thought about telling them it had been a gift from my employers, or my payment, but I knew that was illegal. I would probably still go to jail and I would get the Wilson’s in trouble.
I forced myself to look the officer in the eye and admitted, “I stole it. I took it from my place of employment because my daughter was sick.” I left it at that. If they knew about the payments to the pharmacy, so be it. If not, there was no need to divulge more than necessary at this point.
The officer’s face softened slightly, but it didn’t take the sting out of his next statement.
“Warren Shreve, you’re under arrest for unlawful possession of non-ration edibles. Sorry, but I have to take you in.”
“Daddy?” Hope’s head appeared around the corner.
I opened my arms and she ran into them. I hugged both my children in a fierce embrace.
“It’s going to be okay. I just have to answer some questions. It’s going to be okay.” I think I was trying to reassure myself as much as them.
They knew though, their wide eyes and sad faces as they watched the officers lead me away let me know that they knew.
It might not be okay.