After Oklahoma and the long marathon of rallies, Joseph decided that we should return home. “Jude, thank you for supporting me all this time. Your help and research have been invaluable, even if I haven’t been able to make use of all of it. Once we’re back, if you need to head back to Tallahassee to handle some more affairs, you just do that.”
I agreed with Joseph that I would do that, but my car didn’t seem to feel the same way. On a humid road in northern Mississippi, the engine compartment began to rumble, and then smoke. After calling for a tow and loading up my belongings into the RV, we began again, with me sitting in the narrow kitchenette facing the man. “It’s all part of the plan,” The Pastor shouted back from the driver’s seat.
I blinked at the man while leaning at the table. “I suppose so. Hey… I don’t suppose you stay abreast of his… your father’s plans? His calendar? You might have told me that I was low on coolant.”
The long-haired holy man tilted his head at me. “I can’t say I can, Jude.”
“Well, I suppose its chocked full and hard to keep track of, his plans,” I replied.
“Are you talking to me, Jude?” Joseph shouted back.
“Nah, just thinking out loud…” I said, trying to not look into the man’s steady gaze.
“Well, keep it up,” The Pastor shot back, “that’s what I hired you for- for your ideas and plans to keep us moving.”
While taking the well-deserved rest from all the driving, I finally had a chance to notice how our followers were faring, and how many of them there were. As we headed back to the panhandle town Joseph called home, I couldn’t help notice that the other vehicles heading the same way along the country highway were all newer models, while those either going the opposite way or passing the slow-moving RV were the well-weathered sort. More so, many of them had registration-exempt plates. My suspicions were confirmed as the cars followed us right up to the front gates of the Cummings estate. There was already a collection of Suburbans and a dark van sitting outside.
“We get our own Secret Service followers even at home,” Joseph remarked as he unbuckled himself after parking in the spot.
Agent Barth was already outside to greet us but seemed to be preoccupied with the headset attached to his person. “We’ve arrived at home base, perimeter checks out fine,” he paused, taking his fingers from his ear. “Welcome back, Mr. Cummings and family.”
I watched Joseph interact with the agent as I helped Sharon and her daughter start to bring down the luggage from the cab. “Well, you move fast as well, don’t you?”
“As our duty insists, Mr. Cummings.”
“I’d usually be more than happy to open my home to you, but as far as sleeping arrangements go, my home here only has so many beds.”
“That won’t be necessary, Mr. Cummings. Only I and a few others will be remaining after today,” Barth explained. “And we will not be requiring any significant amount of your facilities.”
Sharon caught on to the conversation and joined her husband. “Well, I can’t let you stay here without offering a home-cooked meal. Of course, we’ll have to stop by the store, we’ve barely been home over this last month. I… don’t need one of you to follow me there, will I?”
“No, ma’am, that won’t be necessary.”
“Thank you dear.” Joseph nodded at his wife.
Sharon tugged on her husband’s arm to pull him in close enough for a kiss on the cheek. “We should get going then, huh? It’s already this late. Jess, you want to come with?”
I feigned that I had properly been doing work rather than eavesdropping, and continued to haul in the sloppily-packed luggage. After settling into the guest room, I decided to take a look at social media just to get a read on current events, but rather I found myself being called awake sometime later with a knock on the door and the call for dinner.
Agent Barth did, silently and uncomfortably, join us for the meal. That night it was barely seasoned baked chicken, but at that moment, it was just slightly better than the drive-through and frozen food we had been consuming over the past week. Joseph, like always, was the first to start up a conversation after the saying of grace. “Well, Jude, your car likely has a couple days in the shop, but I suppose you want to get home sooner than that, don’t you?”
I finished my bite of food before responding. “…hmm, well, I did give my mom my keys so she can get my mail and bills, but I don’t want to worry about my rent if I can avoid it. I didn’t see a Wells Fargo here in town, but… there's still a few days.”
“No fancy banks like that in these parts.” Sharon interjected.
I shrugged. “Well, I’ll just have to wait and see about my car once they have a look at it.”
“Dad-” Jess spoke up suddenly. “Can’t he borrow the bug?”
Joseph swallowed. “Well, that’s very selfless of you, Jess. I don’t know how Jude would feel in such a car, though.”
“I can’t see anything wrong with it,” Sharon said pensively. “It’s just a pistachio green bug, and quite nice to drive. Jess doesn’t need it right now, and after all, I think you deserve it, Jude, after how much we’ve put you through. Joseph, it's about payday for the boy too.”
Joseph wiped his mouth and sat back, looking to me and then his wife. “If you need it, you can take it, Jude. We’ll show you it tomorrow morning if you want to get out early.”
I nodded, not sure if I was prepared to voice my agreement. “If I absolutely need it… thank you.”
After dinner ended and the table was cleared, I stayed downstairs to catch the news on the TV while the others went about their own activities. Agent Barth appeared suddenly in the room while my attention was on the tickers and headlines. His black blazer was draped across his arm, but his ear-piece was still in. “Jude Jackson,” he said while looking to me, standing just at the edge of the screen.
“Can… I help you?” I asked warily, decreasing the volume.
“If you plan to leave, I must talk to you first.”
“Do you need to follow me all the way to Tallahassee?”
Barth looked back and forth down the hallways. “No, but you must provide us with something before you leave. That footage you recorded at the first rally. Do you still have the original?”