Too Late to Say I'm Sorry
by Carol Pahl
Two months later
A large buckskin horse and rider approached a small, hidden cabin. "Oscar, got time for a visitor?" the middle-aged man asked, dismounting near the neat garden. "Don't know how you encourage all these plants to grow on this deserted mountainside."
"Charles, welcome. I've always got time for you! How is Lillie?" Oscar hopped over the fence and picked up his homemade crutches.
"Man, I hope you still consider me a friend. Some strangers came to the village looking for you."
Closing his eyes, the black man sighed. So, the end was near; he was tired of hiding. His gaze took in the clear blue sky decorated with fluffy cumulus clouds. Two hawks soared overhead hunting the next meal for their eyas. His skin soaked up the heat of the summer sun as his lungs absorbed the clear mountain air.
"Don't feel bad. Glad Daisy ain't here to see 'em take me. She's down in the valley, visitin' her ma's folks. Knew it was comin'."
"What do you mean, take you? Nobody followed me. These men wanted someone to bring you this package. They wanted ta make sure you received it. I made sure it weren't no trap. If'n they tried ta follow me, they'll be huntin' Possum Valley lookin' fer a way out. Here. Said you'd understand once ya got it." He handed his friend a large cardboard box sealed with packing tape.
"What did these fellows look like?" The ex-soldier never stopped worrying about discovery.
"One stayed by their truck, couldn't see much of him. Another was a big guy, always smiling; flirtin' with every thing wearing a skirt. The other weren't more than a kid, dark hair. Walked with a slight limp. He was the one insisting that this git to ya."
The two men walked to the small porch and sat in the comfortable homemade rocking chair. Oscar held the box and ran his callused finger over his name. Who outside of the People knew he lived up here? The name Denver jumped off the paper at him and an image of a bruised, pain creased face popped into his mind. Had the boy survived? "Got an idea who sent it." His friend handed him an open pocketknife to slice open the sturdy tape.
The cardboard box contents exploded with green and pink packing peanuts flying into the air. He dug his large hand into the fluffy stuffing and pulled out a small package, wrapped in bright, foil paper. A small tag hung from the ribbon. He turned the ticket over and read Daisy's name. "The girl'll be surprised ta get something."
The next item was a large manila envelope. The words PRIVATE and To Oscar were the only writing on the front.
"Good news? The way your jaw's a hangin', I..." Henry stopped talking mid-sentence, watching the silent drama evolve.
Flies buzzed around the two men and somewhere a squirrel chattered. Laughing at his nervousness, he pulled the stack of official looking papers out and began reading them. Quickly scanning through them, he stopped at a thicker card. Honorary Discharge scrolled across the top. He read through the rest of the information and smiled when he saw his name above the signatures of top Army officials. This could only mean one thing.
Oscar handed the envelope and document to Henry and shuffled through the
rest of the papers until he found the legal brief. His hands shook as he
mumbled the words aloud, "Cleared of all charges."
The bronzed skinned man watched in amazement as his one legged friend danced around the yard, laughing and singing, "I'm free! I'm free! I'm free!"
He dropped back into the chair, laughing and grinning. "I donno know how he did it but that boy I found back in March, he done got me cleared of all charges."
"That's a good thing?" Was his friend was all right or was he possessed right before his eyes?
"I figured he was too sick ta even remember our names, let alone how ta get in touch with me."
"That kid, the one that wanted me ta bring yah this stuff, he's the one that yah found and healed?"
Oscar nodded his head before looking at the sky once again, a free man for the first time in seven years. "Da Lord be praised. He sure do work in marvelous ways. Got me cleared of them murder charges. Here's my honorary discharge and what's this?" He looked at another sheet of paper. "Looks like I got money coming from the government, back pay, sitting at da bank in Whistleville." He lifted the small, red box and smiled. "He gave me my life. Wonder what a young fella like that would give ta Daisy. Kinda wish them fellas followed yah, so I could give my thanks in person."
-- M - 7 --
Smiling, the young man handed the high-powered binoculars to his friend, "Look at him!"
"Still don't understand why ya didn't want to deliver them papers yourself, JD." Vin stared at the two men near the distant cabin.
"See him dancing and carrying on? He wouldn't do that in front of a stranger. I am so glad Josiah insisted on looking into Oscar's history. It's scary how the Preacher knows somebody and how they might be needing help and he hasn't even met them."
"Fortunately, turned out OK. What if he really was a wanted for a murder charge?" Vin asked.
The younger man shook his head, "No way! I remember thinking it was Nathan tending me, then I'd wake up and he," JD pointed at the remote cabin. "He'd be there. Weren't for him, I'd have lost my arm from the infection. Hell, I'd be dead if'n he hadn't found me after the wreck."
Silently, JD rubbed the nose of his mount, remembering the risk the stranger took to help him. "Nope, this is something to celebrate with a friend. He jeopardized his own freedom to make sure I got back home, got the help I needed. I'm not sorry I'm not down there."
Dunne packed the glasses into their case and mounted his horse, "I appreciate you helping me track that other fellow, so I could make sure Oscar got the papers."
"Suppose Bucklin's got everyone on the warpath?" Vin chuckled as he pictured
their resident Casanova plying his animal magnetism in the village as a diversion
so Vin and the kid could disappear.
I'd love to know what you think. Carol