Chapter 3 – On the Road
Not wasting time to speed through the trails, Josh bounces in his seat the entire ride home. He yells and screams in exhilaration over his music but slows down and lowers the volume when he exits the woods less than a quarter-mile from the house.
Pulling his SUV into the barn converted into a makeshift repair garage for his toys. Josh slides out of the truck and is caught off guard when Benton calls out.
“There he is, about time you got back, boss man. How’d she do?” He begins strolling up to the rear of the SUV.
“She purred like a kitten,” Josh admits running his hand along the edge of the hood.
“Well, that’s great too, boss, but I meant the time with the little lady.” Benton clarifies with a devious smile.
“Oh, now that’s private! I’ll say this it was some ohh-wee fun, son!” Josh confesses with his hand over his mouth as Red gets a good laugh at his expense.
“Good, this land has been good for you. It’s helped calm those demons, Boss. My people have prayed hard for your soul to maintain peace.”
He does not wish to disrespect his best friends’ beliefs. Josh bows his head out of respect and removes his hand from his mouth.
“Thank you, and it’s been wonderful for the last few months.”
“It’s been our greatest pleasure since our lands returned to us. You’re a brave and greatly troubled warrior; our pain is your pain, and the spirits that dwell here have been working to ease those burdens.” Benton explains with a calm tone.
Josh places his hand on Benton’s shoulder. “Thank you, my friend. It’s an honor to have helped your people.”
With a smirk on his face, Benton turns to head inside. Josh struts his way over to the house to head inside for his bedroom to get a shower and change before dinner is ready.
Under the warm water, Josh shuts his eyes shut, lowering his head. A light flashes, and he’s transported back to Southern Sweets and Sugar Factory.
He is startled by the sight of Damien’s devilish smile coming towards him. Josh slips and nearly falls, catching his balance at the last second. He inhales a couple of deep breaths as he clutches his hand to his chest.
“What the devil was that?” He mentions in a tone barely above a whisper.
Able to shake it off, he finishes his shower and dries off.
After dinner, Josh takes the dishes getting them washed before joining Gwen for a movie in bed. Stripping down before he slides under the covers, Josh waits for Gwen to start the movie in the V.C.R.
“C’mon Gweny…” He says, impatient.
“Sorry, love had me a glass of wine and downed two before I realized the popcorn was ready,” Gwen says and giggles as she carries over a glass nearly filled to the brim.
“It’s all gravy baby, let’s just cuddle up and watch the movie.” He reminds her as she downs the alcohol before nestling up to Josh.
“Alright, hit play on that bad boy, and let’s relax.” She slurs, putting her head on his chest.
Josh presses play, and before they’re through the previews, Gwen is out cold by the time the opening credits roll. Josh becomes aware when he listens to her snore.
“What the…” He lets slip out as he raises his free arm in the air.
“Really…I mean really!” He shakes his head, returning to his favorite movie as he enjoys it in peace and somewhat quietness.
Quicker than he can blink, it’s already the middle of the morning. Josh is up and out in the garage. He opens the door, followed by firing up the classic Mustang to pull it out into the sunshine as it warms up.
Once the idle is adjusted, Josh gets into the car, heads down the driveway to make his way from the house’s seclusion into downtown Coal City where he gets plenty of attention cruising along in the candy apple red classic Mustang fastback.
“Nice ride, man!” A teenager calls out with his hands cupped around his mouth.
After a couple of hard pushes on the accelerator, Josh heads through the center of town and back out to the house.
One thing that’s always helped to clear his head is driving. Whenever anything else falls apart, there’s always been the roar of an engine and the feel of control over the car that helps to drown whatever issues Josh may feel.
The remainder of the day, Josh spends it with Gwen and Delilah having fun. They go back into town to enjoy dinner and a movie before they separate on the trip to Akron.
Before the sun peeks over the mountains, Josh is up and kisses Gwen before walking out the door. He gently closes the door and screen door as he makes his way over to the edge of the driveway giving enough space between the car and house, so he doesn’t startle Gwen or Delilah.
“Time to roll out,” he says, cranking over the engine that brings all eight cylinders to life along with his beloved road trip CD selection.
“Let’s get this show on the road!” He shouts, putting the shifter in first gear and pulls away.
Merged onto Interstate 77 North, Josh realizes the long haul ahead and sings along with his music. By the time he reaches Beckley, the morning mountain mist had lifted. That allows Josh to stop and stretch; cracking and popping his bones, Josh makes his way into the rest stop when his phone begins to ring.
“Hey, what’s up, Kyle?” He begins the phone call.
“Hey Pop, listen, when you get here, we need to talk. Things aren’t going well with CBI and FBI-Cyber and the FBI’s regular side, but that’s all I can say. Don’t contact James, too many issues going on. See you soon, Pop.”
The call goes dead as Josh pulls the phone from his ear.
“What the hell is going on?”
Back through his contacts, Josh dials Justin to see if he can dig a little deeper to determine what the deal is with everything.
“Hey there, stranger, I haven’t heard from you in a while,” Justin states.
“Yeah, hey, everything good in Columbus? I have a gut instinct telling me that something’s off.”
Taking a second to reply, Justin tries to play it off.
“Nah, not that I am aware of, bro, but it’s been forever since I’ve talked to James. I just get my retirement check every month and leave the rest alone.”
The hesitation and tone are off in his voice. Josh suspects there’s more there than Justin lets on.
“Alright, just nerves of maybe heading to Huntington before I make the drive to Akron.” He plays off, trying to be convincing.
“Well, it’s been a while since you’ve been this way so that I can understand. Hey, where you at anyway?”
Josh takes his time to answer Justin’s question. He smiles at his reflection before he opens the cooler door to retrieve his signature Pepsi Blue.
“I’m in Beckley. I’ll be in town in a couple of hours.” Josh says after the cooler door bounces shut.
“I can’t believe Sara is about to be married and to beat it all a boring guy from the sounds of it. I mean an accountant, that guy must be packing some major pocket heat or something.” Josh teases as Justin scoffs.
“Hey, they met at work and just hit it off. He’s an alright guy, I guess. She loves him, though, and that’s all that matters. Anyway, have you heard about James and Scarlett?” Justin asks.
That sparks an all-new interest.
“No, what about them?”
Justin quickly diverts when he hears the surprise in Josh’s tone.
“Oh, they’re going to be grandparents finally like us. Amber finally found herself a man over in Spain. Really nice guy, bro. You’d like him. He’s an Army man.”
Feeling left out over that bit of news, Josh is hurt for a moment.
“Well hell, no one told me, but hey, I’ll give ’em a call and congratulate them. That’s huge, I thought she was always going to be a big deal, and here she is, an Army career woman.”
Justin can’t help but lose control laughing on the phone.
“Oh, I needed that, bro, for real, it’ll be great to get the old Crew back together. Just a couple more days, and it’ll be like old times.” Justin admits as he continues to roll in laughter.
Josh sits there for a moment in silence, feeling as if the world has moved smoothly without his presence.
“Glad I could help, bub, but hey, I’m going to give Amber a call. I’ll see ya soon though to visit Momma C and Uncle Mike.”
“Sounds good, bro, ain’t been the same without ya near, ya know. Can’t wait to see you at home but take it easy until then.” Justin ends the call.
Josh sits there, letting his phone rest in his hand.
“Damn, I feel like I’ve been gone for years, but it literally feels like yesterday.” He says, back at his car feeling alienated.
Not wasting time when he hangs up, Justin gives a warning to James.
“Just got off the phone with Josh, and I think he is trying to snoop around. I don’t know why, but he tried some digging. I threw him off the trail when I told ’em about Amber and all that which I think worked. I could hear some loneliness in his voice.”
James’ expression says it all when his face tightens up with a scowl.
“Good, it’s will a battle when he finds out everything he’s done has been undone. Speaking of which, does he know about the other situation?”
“I don’t think so, bro, but he’s gonna be pissed when he finds out.” Justin reminds James.
“Oh well, he isn’t the big dog anymore; I am. After he’s here, I plan to send him back to that isolated large cabin in Virginia. This family doesn’t need him anymore.”
“That’s a little harsh, don’t you think, James?” Justin asks, unable to believe the amount of anger in his best friend’s voice.
“Hell nah, for years, I had to live in his shadow. Now that I am free of it. I’m not going back to him being number one.”
Justin’s blown away by the statement and begins to get a little angry.
“Really? As hard as Josh had it for all those years. That’s how you feel about our spiritual brother? What happened to always together and all the times we held parties and all the trips and stuff, bro?”
James shuts his eyes with visions of the past, trying to get the images out of his mind.
“We were kids, unruly kids at that. Hell, we got into so much back then that if we would’ve gotten caught, we’d been in prison still to this day. Did you forget about all that? Remember the organized destruction of property when we nearly destroyed our old middle school. I mean, c’mon, we had people light trashcans on fire to get out of class.”
“Well, no, but I mean to shut out our brother like that is harsh even for you. Whatever, though, he’ll be in Huntington later today; he’s halfway home now. I suggest you bury how you feel, at least for Sara’s sake.” Justin advises elevating his voice.
“Yeah, I’ll do that, but I need to get to a meeting and then head over to the rehearsal dinner, later Justin.” James ends his call then gets up from his desk to head to the Executive Board Room.
“Later, bro,” Justin says, pulling his phone from his ear and locks it as he slides it into his back pocket.
Back in the Mustang, Josh follows I-64 West the rest of the way home to Huntington. A little more than three hours later, he makes it downtown.
“Finally, guess my promise to leave Huntington in the dust didn’t come true.” He taunts himself driving along Fifth Avenue toward Guyandotte to take Route 2 to Audrey’s house, to catch her home before she takes off for Akron.
She’s packing, but she stops when the deep rumble of the Mustang pulls into the driveway.
“Oh my God, you’re finally home! Welcome home, my favorite little other brother!” She squeals as she gets her clutches around his neck.
“Oh Audrey, I can’t breathe, sis…” Josh mutters out, feeling his face about to turn blue.
“Oh, I’m sorry, but it’s been way too long. You missed the funeral, but Sara is going to be so glad you didn’t skip her big day!”
Josh takes a step back to shut his car door as Audrey walks back inside. When he enters the house, he sees pictures on the walls.
“Oh damn, talk about a blast from the past.”
“Yeah, mom had all these out at the other house. I couldn’t throw them out, and it’s nice to look back at a simpler time, you know. I mean, there’s one where you’re smiling.” Audrey mentions pointing to an old prom picture of him and Gwen.
“Wow, that was right before everything got crazy back then. That’s the night I got Gwen pregnant.”
That’s more than Audrey wants to hear as she covers her ears with her hands.
“Oh, that’s a mental image I don’t need. Josh, I mean, like really.” She squints her eyes shut, making a grossed-out face as Josh can’t help but laugh.
“Oh, that got you good! Anyway, sis, I’m about to get roses and visit Momma, Uncle Timmy, and Uncle Mike. Tag along if you want to.” Josh offers, already aware she won’t go.
“Normally, I would, except I have so much left to pack but tell you what. I’m leaving out this evening. You can stay here tonight to rest up. I know you drove a good way, I talked to Justin, and you can stay in the guest room. Tell mom I said I miss her, please.”
She walks over to hug Josh then returns to packing.
“Will do, sis. I can do that.” Josh turns around, going back out to his car, and leaves to pick up some roses.
When he arrives at the cemetery, he arrives at Uncle Mike’s section first, where he runs into Justin already there.
“Hey ya ugly mutt!” Josh calls out with a pink rose in his hand.
“Hey, figured I’d bump into you here, bro. Left a rose already; I was just telling him about, you know, our last case together with the DEA and how crazy it was chasing Damien down.”
“Now those were wild days, and he’d definitely be proud of you. You stayed in church, upheld the law, and nearly died to protect the family.” Josh explains by the headstone.
“I’d hope so, bro. He was like a second dad to me, you know.” Justin says, about ready to sob.
Josh pats Justin on the shoulder before he leans over, placing the rose on the ground.
“Hey Uncle Mike, don’t worry about this guy. I’ve always had his back. You raised us well, sir. We still have one in the Army upholding the law, with Amber being a great young woman; my son-in-law served part-time and protected the innocent. We passed on the family’s legacy.” Josh explains, kneeled beside the grave.
“I’m sure he likes hearing that, bro. Thanks for stopping to talk to him.” Justin says, reaching out to help Josh to his feet.
“Let’s go see your parents before we talk to Momma Cline,” Justin informs his self-proclaimed brother.
“Nah, I can’t, man, I hated my mother, and she didn’t want me. You know that story.” Josh pleads to avoid walking over to his parents’ graves.
Justin ignores Josh and begins to walk over that way.
“Dude, no, come on, don’t make me visit my parents!” Josh yells out, following Justin.