Leaving Roanoke Island

by Mickey Hunt

Good kids, Harold Stumbo thought.

He nodded goodbye to the female FBI agent in the Jeep Cherokee as it swung around in his white gravel driveway, and he caught a glint from his neighbor’s house across the pasture. Probably the rascal was watching through binoculars, hoping his new friends would be escorting Harold away in handcuffs.
The agents were investigating violent mob activity and found him inadvertently. Even though he had retired, they asked to see tax returns for the past five years. Well, he didn’t have any of those, did he? Check account statements? Well, he didn’t have a checking account, either. Never did. He wasn’t lying because you never lie to the FBI—that’s a crime they’ll nail you with in a heartbeat. So that he could recall what he had said to them, he had recorded the entire interview.
Harold waved toward the Jeep now passed from sight, flipped a bird in the direction of the neighbor, stepped inside the front door, and lifted a daypack stuffed with envelopes.
The agents would return later with a search warrant and probably an indictment for tax evasion. It’d be a quick search because he kept no written records whatsoever, and anyhow, he wouldn’t be here. They couldn’t give a damn about his career illegal bookmaking on horse racing and other sports. The government only wanted their tax money, plus interest and penalties, and they’d imprison him for longer than he’d live.
The boy, leading his own horse, Jasper, approached from Harold’s barn. “Okay, Mr. Stumbo, I’m ready for the envelopes.”
“You’re not riding your bicycle?”
“Pony express.”
Harold laughed too loud. He’d desperately miss the boy who had been helping him and his wife around their gentleman’s farm for the past two years, ever since the hurricane devastated the island. “I posted a letter to your dad yesterday, certified mail. It’s your gift from Norma Jean and me.”
“Thank you.”
“It entails responsibility.”
The boy wouldn’t find out until Harold and his wife were well on the way to a cabin in eastern Kentucky, in a hollow up a slate-paved creek doubling as road. They were giving him the entire Roanoke Island farm, including the house, barns, and twenty-one acres. Norma Jean had reminded Harold over breakfast this morning that, because they were childless, a year ago they deeded the property to the boy in a trust, anticipating when the government someday might attempt to seize their assets.
“You’re taking the thoroughbreds?” the boy asked, following with a quick grin, not able to conceal his excitement that the stallion, mare, and their colt might be his.
“You’ll have to wait.” Harold evaded because he didn’t want a scene. No happy dances, cheers, or blubbering. No awkward words, please. “Start with my neighbor. His letter says I’m giving him the power tools and lumber for his silly woodworking projects. It doesn’t say I hope they’ll make him feel guilty.”
“You’re giving away everything?”
“You won’t ever be back,” the boy said, his voice quivering. He dropped Jasper’s reins and marched up the steps toward Harold like he might hug him. Norma Jean pushed open the screen door, rescuing Harold by taking the hug herself and sniffing like she expected to sneeze. The boy lurched to try again to hug Harold, who thrust out the daypack for a barrier.
Harold cleared his throat, but couldn’t say anything.
The boy slipped on the pack, pounded down the steps, and leaped up into the saddle. Jasper fidgeted and they trotted off toward Neighbor Guy, who crept outside to meet them. Yep, the neighbor—what’s his face—had been watching.
“Is the Land Cruiser loaded?” Harold asked Norma Jean.
“Last night. I told you, already.”
“My Alzheimer’s?”
She bobbed her head.
“How many years have we lived here?”
“Umm… Eighteen.”
“Well, say goodbye to the place.”
He wrapped his arm around hers and they strolled to the garage. He hit the remote key button and the door rumbled open. As they drove out, his neighbor was looking down, distracted with skimming his letter, and the boy had already ridden away. Harold turned left from the driveway onto the highway access road. Norma Jean opened up her romance paperback, and Harold put some Old Time music on the radio.
“How will we survive, Jimmy?” Norma Jean asked after a few minutes. “You’ll have to work again. Can I call you Jimmy now, Mr. Gant?”
“If I can call you Marilyn.”
Her face brightened with an unexpected smile, reminding Harold of when she was young and pretty.
“It won’t be easy,” she said. “We haven’t gone by our real names since we were married. Umm… It’s simple not to lie when you don’t remember anything. If you’re working again, I need to help. I’m good with faces and math.”
“You are good with them, and directions. Put the book down and look at your map, so we don’t get lost.”
“I will. By the way, Jimmy, my real name isn’t Marilyn, either.”
Harold drummed his fingers on the steering wheel. “Please jog my memory, dear.”


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