Bobby Rae was right, the clothes were dry, and more importantly, they felt warm as he slipped his shorts on, then his pants. As he did he turned his head, noticing that Bobby Rae was still watching his every move, with that sort of strange thoughtful look. Then his eyes saw the backpack again, and it hit him.
TJ trembled a bit, as he realized it was his. The sleeping bag rolled up, underneath, was his, making him feel uneasy, wondering why Bobby Rae would have it with him, up here. It looked fully packed as well, making him once more glance over to Bobby Rae. That look had him nervous now, as he pulled on his shirt. The shotgun was still in his hand, barrel aimed down. He knew that it wouldn't take him long to lift it up and pull, but then why the lie to Old Roy? Why the backpack, hell why did he even give him food?
Bobby Rae moved the shotgun up, then laid it across his lap, as he stared back at TJ. The way he looked made TJ nervous, as he sat down on the floor, legs crossed.
'I see that.'
'You sure ain't the sharpest tack in the box, are you TJ.'
He sucked in his breath, as Bobby Rae leaned forward in the chair, the gun aimed away, but ever present. TJ could see the way the Deputies eyes narrowed, as he looked at him.
'Your pa, he was a good man, better than most.'
'I know that.'
'Do you? I wonder at times, how you whore around, your Pa wouldn't be happy about that.'
Bobby Rae looked directly at TJ. His eyes narrowed as he stared, making TJ look away. It wasn't that he was afraid, just that maybe the guy was right, his father wouldn't be happy about some of the things he had done, certainly not all the different guys either, but he wouldn't say a word, if he had been around. He'd just look at him, give him that disappointed look, but he'd never say a word, just give him that look.
'Oh he'd understand right enough, he wouldn't approve though. Folks liked your Pa, respected him more than they did most others.'
'I know that.'
'Then why TJ? What in blazes did you do that has the Feds after your scrawny ass?'
'Yes, the Feds. Like folks around here need them snooping around? Man you have Old Roy really pissed, and the rest of us wondering why we even bother.'
TJ stared up at Bobby Rae and saw a flash of anger, but he also saw that look of disappointment. It was almost as if he was staring at his Father's face, and he lowered his head, staring down at the dirty cabin floor.
'I didn't do anything Bobby Rae, I swear, I was fishing, that was all.'
'Seems like you must of done a whole lot more than just fish the lake, the way them Boys are acting, it is like you tried to kill that fool in the White House or something.'
For some reason, he felt he needed to make Bobby Rae believe him. It didn't matter what he thought about the guy, but something inside felt the need to convince him.
'Honest, I swear Bobby Rae, all I did was do some fishing, got chased away, and hid out in a barn, then got spotted leaving, I didn't do anything else, I swear it.'
'You should have stayed put. Your Pa taught you better, sometimes boy, you sure do act like he didn't teach you squat.'
'I know that now, guess I wasn't thinking clear.'
'What am I gonna do?'
'Depends boy, you tellin' me the truth?'
'On your Pa's memory? On his grave?'
'Yes, I ain't lying to you, I was just fishing.'
Bobby Rae just looked at him, but this time TJ didn't turn away. He didn't know why, but he had to make the man believe him. For some reason, he was willing to help him, or at least it looked that way. He knew Bobby Rae's reputation, knew him to be a cold person, but he also knew him to be at least honest. Same with most in town, though they didn't take to gays much, they had, more or less, just let him alone.
'I suppose you are telling the truth, if not, well Old Roy, you know how hates it when folks lie to him. So one more time, you telling me the truth?'
'Old Roy? I you told him I wasn't here, I don't but yeah I know how he hates it, I am not lying, I swear it, I didn't do anything.'
'You are thick at times TJ, you really figure I'd lie to Old Roy? To cover for the likes of you?'
'But you told him, I heard you tell him, I mean'
'Old Roy is smart, lot smarter than those Feds think. He is the one who sent me here, think he wouldn't figure that any radio talk wouldn't be monitored? He worked out a signal, no way he is willing to hand you over without knowing your side.'
'Why? I mean, I didn't think he liked me, sure as hell didn't think you did either.'
'Isn't about you, it's about your Pa. Roy, well he owed your Pa, and I owe Roy, that good enough reason for you?'
He couldn't help but feel rather ashamed. Here he had been thinking Bobby Rae was going to kill him, and leave him to rot in some unmarked hole. Now he finds out that not only was he not the asshole he always thought, but more of a guardian angel than anything. Maybe it was that it was the iron fist of Sheriff Roy that was behind it, but still, it shook him.
TJ knew folks had liked his parents, but he never realized just how much, until now. A tear came to the corner of an eye, something that rarely ever happened to him. Bobby Rae noticed it too, but turned his head away. That too, was unusual, and it made TJ wonder about what had happened earlier, it also made him want to ask, but he still had some fear inside.
'You know the old Indian caves up by the mountains?'
'Know the stream that flows down into the river?'
'Yeah, it's colder than an iceberg, you expecting me to head up there, using it?'
Bobby Rae grinned and for the first time, TJ realized he wasn't all that bad looking of a guy. Least when he smiled, he had a rather nice looking face. It was that he never really ever saw him smiling, just scowling.
It felt good to hear a compliment for a change, and he watched as the Deputy reached down into the inside of his jacket, and pulled out some paper. He laid it out on the table, and motioned for TJ to come closer. The gun had been uncocked and put down, still close enough for him to reach.
The paper had some rough marks on it, as far as TJ could see, but he knew how to read it. It was sort of a map, or at least taken from a map. He could see the stream, where it fed into the river.
'About half way up the side, there is an old cave, you'll have to look real close to find it, but Old Roy, he wants you in there, and it is maybe 10 or so steps from the stream too, and it goes deep into the mountain. You get your ass up there, and deep inside until we tell you otherwise.'
'It'll take me about 6 or so days walking, I suppose you intend I take the river to the stream, then up to that cave?'
'Yep, now we know you gotta sleep, do that in the daytime, and Old Roy he came up with a way to mask your scent on land too, you won't like it, but if you want to survive this, you'll do as your told, right?'
'Skunk. I got a live one in a burlap sack out back, you carry him on your back, and you keep him fed too, but in the sack.'
'That's the idea, but skunk, well no bloodhound likes that scent, so you keep him close to you, when you ready to move on, you drag the sack along the path you took to get out and get back to the river. You set him free at the entrance to the cave, but you keep the sack, drag it inside for a ways, then bury it if you can.'
'I can do that. What about food?'
'In your backpack, I put about 10 days worth of jerky, my Ma made it, so you know it'll be good. There is some bread too, should last till you get to the cave. Couple of bottles of water, so go easy with it. You know what stuff to pick and leave alone, just no fires, no tracks, you gotta be smart TJ, or the Feds will grab you.'
'What about when I get to the cave? The food won't last, and if I let the skunk go, I mean.'
'Old Roy has that taken care of, besides he'll be up there soon enough. For now the Feds are still pretty thick around here, but they figure you are heading south, but they got the North being watched just in case.'
'I kept to the river.'
'Yeah but not good enough, we picked up your tracks but Roy, he fixed that. Now he's laid some tracks further south, and so far, it looks like the Feds haven't tumbled to it being faked. Not very savvy them boys, but they got one or two trackers who might. So you listen close, okay?'
'You stick close to the river banks, under the branches even if its pitch black out. Second, you get out of there come first light, bury yourself under rotting leaves and shit, keep the skunk over your head, in a tree. If you gotta take a piss, or a crap, do it in the middle of the river, don't do it near the bank or on land. Got it?'
'Yeah, I got it.'
'Old Roy, he figures the Feds will move South shortly, but they'll keep tabs on him and around these parts for a bit afterwards. He will be out searching for you, as they expect him too, but he'll make it to the caves and have food for you. So you make what you got last as long as you can. Try for a few weeks, but no fires, nothing until you are deep in the cave.
Once you get there, you can make a small fire, but make sure everything is bone dry. No wet twigs, leaves, nothing. Catch yourself some fish before you get into the cave, you can cook 'em up and salt 'em so they'll last. Fill up your bottles too, and find a place deeper inside than where you bed down, to use for your bathroom. You stay inside, don't get cabin fever, now, think you can do all that?'
'I can do it. My dad, he taught me how to stay holed up.'
'Well, then you need to keep that in your mind, this is serious stuff TJ, them Feds, they mean to grab you.'
'Wish I knew why they were after me, I didn't do anything, it just makes no sense Bobby Rae.'
'Yeah, well Old Roy he's got some folks sniffing to find out, maybe he'll have some answers when he meets up with you in the cave. Now you listen TJ, you do as I told you, or not even Old Roy will be able to save your ass if them Feds catch you.'
He nodded, wondering about all that was happening. For the life of him, he didn't have a clue what it was that had the Feds after him. Least he felt a bit easier about it, knowing that Old Roy was watching his back, and front. Damn, he should have known about the skunk, and he should have figured out the rest.
Looking over at Bobby Rae he saw that look, and for a moment he felt like he was more of a big brother than some guy who always tormented him. Was it all an act, or was it simply that he wasn't going to cross Old Roy?
'Stop looking like some love sick cow.'
TJ immediately lowered his face, but glancing up he could see neither a frown or scowl on Bobby Rae's face. The lips weren't tightly closed, but the eyes, sort of twinkled as he looked right at TJ.
'I don't do that look.'
'Yeah you do, people can spot it a mile off, we always can tell when you after someone, by the look.'
For just a few seconds, he felt the anger inside, the way he seemed to always feel when being teased, or hassled. The way it was most times when he was in town. But he fought it, as he realized it wasn't going to get him anywhere. Besides, he owed the guy.
'Listen to you, you are sounding like wet behind the ears kid, but yeah you do, but that isn't the point. Look TJ, you have a lot of people putting their own backsides on the line, just for you. People you haven't really liked, or been nice to, but we all remember your Pa, we know you, so you keep all this to yourself.'
'I appreciate what folks do, and I don't tell on people, you know that.'
'Yeah, you have shown us that, why I suppose Old Roy was willing to take this chance on you, but we had to make sure, so what happened earlier, chalk it up to just one more test. If it hurt, sorry, and you know I don't often say that. I had to be sure, before letting Old Roy know.'
He sat upright, staring at Bobby Rae. It was all an act? A test? He felt rather surprised, but then again, maybe this was the act, the way for Bobby Rae to explain what happened? Could be, because one thing he sure as hell didn't want to have talked about, was him doing a guy. Wouldn't go with his Macho attitude in town, but which was the truth?
'I may forget things at times Bobby Rae, I may even sleep around, but I know things too. I know that just wasn't part of some stupid test, you liked it, and to be honest, so did I.'
There he said it, and he could see the facial muscles twitching in Bobby Rae's face. The way his lips pouted one second, then straightened out. How the eyes flashed their anger, then calmed down, all were captured by his own eyes. Maybe he shouldn't have spoken up, but hell, that was his nature. Maybe Bobby Rae was right, maybe he really was just some wet behind the ears kid, but damn it, he knew he had liked it.
'There isn't a guy alive that doesn't like a tight hole quivering as their dick pounds it, but don't mistake it for the guy liking who he's doing it to. Yeah, you had a nice tight ass, but if that didn't get you squealing, well then what the Feds would do to you, well, it won't get you squealing either. It really is that simple TJ, sorry if you think it means something else.'
For a brief instant, he wanted to lash out, to say something in reply, but as he looked at the impassive face before him, he realized that it didn't really matter. If Bobby Rae did like fucking him or not, he had done it and for his own taste, he had enjoyed parts of it. So screw Bobby Rae if he wanted to deny enjoying any part of it, besides, he needed friends, even if they were dumb ass red necks.
TJ felt his body relax, felt the tense muscles inside soften, and let him breath easier. His nostrils stopped flaring, and the eyes grew less narrow. He needed his wits about him, and rising to the bait, well that wasn't how you won wars. His Dad had told him that many times, and now he realized just how important those words were.
He had been stupid, in leaving the shelter of the barn, and just as stupid in not knowing how to really use the river, so no one, not even Old Roy or his Deputies could find his tracks. There was a chance, a slim one, but he knew that at least he wasn't alone, as long as he kept his wits, and his mouth shut.
'I'll keep that in mind'
'See that you do, look, there are a lot of things you don't know, things that, well, things maybe you should know, but for that, you'll have to get through this, maybe then Sheriff Roy will tell you, until then, you pay heed to what he says, whether it comes from me or someone else he sends, you pay heed as if your life depends on it, because TJ, it does.'
Despite the warm glow from the embers of the fire, he felt a chill run up and down his spine. He could see how serious Bobby Rae was too, and the unspoken things, they made his skin crawl. He knew there was a lot unsaid, stuff that he wasn't sure he wanted to know, and yet, he knew inside, that he should want to know.
With a halting voice, he asked what things, but Bobby Rae wouldn't tell him. He just shook his head, saying no, that it wasn't the time or place. He let it go, though was still surprised at how scared his voice had sounded when he asked. Bobby Rae had noticed it, but had ignored it.
'Put some wood on the fire, but no more than a few. Let it die out, and when it gets dark, you head off. I'll leave the sack by the door, and you drag it behind you to the river. Keep it on your back, don't let it out, or drown. Got it?'
'Good, now fix yourself some more hot food, use up them eggs in the cooler, and whatever else you can manage. It'll be awhile before you get any hot food, so make the best of it while you can.'
'I am full, don't know if I can eat anything more.'
'Make yourself. Keep your wits about boy, this isn't some game, and a lot of folks are risking their own hides for you, so you do your part.'
'Make sure you do, now get on with it, I will head off in about an hour.'
TJ watched him pick up the knife from beside him, and he flipped it over, so the hilt was aimed at TJ. He shoved it forward, looking right at TJ.
'It's better than the one you had, you take care of it, I'll want it back when this is all over. There is a jar of Vaseline too, before you head out, strip down and cover your legs with it, up to your waist. It'll help keep the chill out of your bones. Do that just before you head back to the water. It should last you till you get to the cave.'
Bobby Rae shook his head, and then leaned back in the chair. He just sat there, watching as TJ made himself the eggs, and some bacon. It smelled good, and the sound of sizzling bacon, along with the crackling wood in the fireplace, made him feel drowsy. It made him feel content too, despite the danger that seemed to be waiting for him. For the moment he was safe, and that was all that seemed to matter to him.
For the first time since he had spotted the cabin, he felt safe. He knew it was temporary at best, and that a lot could go wrong over the next few days, but for now he was content to just sit there, and stuff his belly with the hot food.
Looking up from his plate, he could see that Bobby Rae was dozing. If he was that comfortable with the situation, well he just might have a chance.