A womans good works are rewarded when she needs them most.
The Hunting License
“How could I be so stupid?” Pearl asked herself slamming her hand down on the kitchen table causing the cat to meow in protest and dart from the room. Looking past the kitchen curtains, Pearl saw that her mood was matched by the weather; grey clouds dripped grey rain, and would until Wednesday, two more days.
“Will the weather even matter to me by then?” Pearl muttered. Awake since 3 am, sitting alone with her thoughts, unable to sleep, Pearl realized her mistake could cost her her freedom. But she had to face the day. The girls, Janet and Sharon would be here soon for their regular Monday lunch get together. The phone rang, startling her. Holding her breath she answered, Dave spoke first, “Pearl?” She exhaled a relieved “hi Dave.”
“Are you okay Pearl?”
“Yes, I’m fine, how are you?” Stress and exhaustion tinged her voice. She knew Dave would find a way out of this, if there was one. She was happy to learn he would be home early.
“I’ve got a call in to the Governor’s office, it’s a long shot but worth a try. Don’t give up hope.” Pearl said she’d try. She was afraid to allow herself to be hopeful. The girls were due at noon for lunch, maybe they could help. But, she wondered if she should even tell them? She began asking herself the same question, over and over…“how could I be so…”
Sharon’s red convertible braked to a squishy stop in Pearl’s wet driveway. Janet and Sharon created small Tsunami’s in puddles as they ran to the front door Pearl held open for them. Their laughter followed them into the foyer where Pearl stood, stiff with worry. Both sensed something was wrong. They exchanged questioning glances, wondering if the other knew something. Pearl raised her hands to her face and began to cry, through wet fingers she said, “I can’t go back to jail”…
“I’m going to ask you one more time Miss Bentley,” the prosecutor was standing so close Pearl could smell his cigar breathe, “was Miss Craddock with you the day the City National Bank was robbed?” The floor creaked as he walked to the Jury box, leaning against the burnished oak partition, he turned to Pearl, “Let me remind you, you are under oath, and Perjury is a Felony. “Yes sir. Iris and I were together that afternoon and we didn’t go near that bank, or any others.” Pearl twisted a shredded tissue in her hand. Chatter rippled through the spectators, the jurors jotted notes. Pearl sat in the center of this controversy, and she was afraid, afraid because she had just lied. Pearl relived the story telling it to Sharon and Janet, a shredded tissue in her hand again. She looked at her friends hoping to see something in their eyes. They were dumbfounded. Pearl went on.
“An FBI agent found finger print evidence in her desk drawer that had been misplaced, the hearing was still in session. The judge granted permission to process the evidence and three finger prints taken from the teller window were Iris’s. Iris was given twenty five years for Robbery; I was given three for Perjury.” Pearl finished the story telling them about her mistake when she applied for a hunting license, and used her real Social Security number.
“Oh my God, my friend is a gangster.” Sharon’s hands went to Pearls face, holding her wet cheeks between them she continued, “What are we going to do?”
“We? There’s no we this time Sharon. This is serious; if they find me I’ll be sent back to prison.” Pearl had calmed down, telling the story seemed to help.
“They’re not going to find you.” Janet, always optimistic said. “I mean, just because you used the wrong Social Security number, I mean the right, well, you know what I mean, that Social Security number you used when you applied for the hunting permit…that’s not enough for them to find you.”
“It’s a federal hunting permit. Everything goes into the Federal Computer System. I wasn’t thinking, I used my real Social Security number, they might get a match.”
“But you’ve done so much for the community, volunteering and helping” Janet said, tears pooling in her eyes.
“You have lots of friends who will support you,” Sharon said. “Pearl, this is just crazy.”
“Sharon, it was a long time ago, I did something stupid, now I have to pay.”
“David was the County Sheriff, he must know someone who can help.” Sharon began naming attorneys, “the cute one’s first,” she said.
“Yes David was the Sheriff. That was four years ago, that won’t matter to the press. David lost to Tom and there’s bad blood between them. Tom will be happy to arrest me. It was a close election; a lot of things were said during the campaign. Tom has never forgiven Dave.”
“What happens if they find you” Sharon was pouring coffee.
“David says I’d have to serve out my sentence.”
“How long could that be, no more than a couple months, right?” Sharon was now the optimist.
“I was given three years; I escaped after two weeks. They were transporting me to the prison, I saw a chance to run and I ran. I’m sorry now.”
Through the window, they saw Dave getting out of his car.
“Maybe he has some news,” Pearl said.
Both women turned to Pearl, concern in their eyes.
“If you need anything just call.” Janet said.
“I have the get-a-way car, call when you need it.” A joke was Sharon’s way of handling problems. Squeezing past each other in the narrow foyer, Dave could tell the girls knew.
“If you or Pearl needs anything Dave, please call,” Janet said. “Me too, David,” flew over Sharon’s slender shoulder as she left the house.
“I might be doing just that girls.” Dave said, he was deep in thought. Dave and Pearl hugged a long time, too long.
“I can tell something is wrong David.”
“Of course something’s wrong.”
“No, I mean something else, what’s happened?” Pearl looked worried.
“Okay, sit down.” Chair legs scraped the linoleum floor as David and Pearl sat next to each other, their faces colorless, hands reaching for hands. “The connection has been made. When you applied for that hunting license using your real Social Security number the computer picked it up.” Tears tracked down Pearl’s face. David holding her hand gave her comfort, the shaking stopped.
“Why hasn’t Tom come out to get me? “I thought he’d be here as soon as he heard. He must be gloating.”
“Actually it was Tom who called me. He said I could bring you down to the Sheriff’s department. I’m sure he’ll ask for a favor at some point.”
“If you’d rather not be mixed up in this, I could drive myself down.”
David’s cheeks turned red, he looked into Pearl’s liquid eyes, he held her hand tight. “You listen to me Pearl, I am already mixed up in all of this. You’re my wife and I will be standing next to you the whole way, no matter where this goes.”
“I love you David. I always have.”
“I love you too, Pearl. Now let’s face this together.”
“Do you think there is anything we can do?” Pearl asked hopefully.
“I called the Governor’s office. They said it’s an election year and the law and order crowd is watching everything.” He looked sad. “They said unless we can find support, and a lot of it, the Governor wouldn’t be able to help, “We’re going to keep working on the Governor’s office, have faith.”
“Let’s go David. I don’t want to prolong this any more.” As they drove slowly Pearl thought about everything she would miss, like her Girl Scout troop, or singing in the church choir. And of course she loved being a volunteer at the Bread Basket, a non-profit group that helps feed the homeless.
“Okay Pearl, it’s time to go. Just take your personal things. They’ll give you new toiletries at…well…you know.” Sheriff Tom looked sad. “It’s been two weeks, just like last time.”
“I’m not running anymore Tom.” Pearl smiled at Tom.
“I appreciate that, I’d have a heart attack chasing you.”
“Tom, I appreciate that you’ve treated me so well. I know you and Dave don’t see eye to eye.”
“Eye to eye?” Tom raised an eyebrow. “We didn’t agree on a lot of things, but that’s over now.” Tom reached for the bag Pearl carried.
“Anyway, thank you again. You’ve been nice during all of this”
“No reason not to be Pearl.” The Sheriff’s car was parked in the sally port. No one could see her. She appreciated the privacy.
The Sheriff spoke over his right shoulder, through the wire mesh that separated them. “Its not a long ride, you’ll be comfortable.” The car drove into the sunshine. Pearl didn’t see many people in town. She was confused when Tom turned left into a residential area, this was not the way to the Interstate. Crossing the railroad tracks, they were about a mile from the high school. Where were they going, and why? This road would not take them to the Interstate. Pearl noticed Tom looking in the mirror over and over.
“Tom, where are you taking me, what’s going on?”
“You’ll find out soon enough Pearl.” Tom’s voice was flat.
“What’s going on at the school? It’s Saturday, isn’t school closed?”
“Yeah, it’s Saturday” As they drove by the school it looked like the whole town was there. The parking lot was full. People lined the streets carrying placards too far away for Pearl to read. Pearl had never seen the school grounds so full of people. Pearl’s nose smudged the side window as she tried to read the signs and recognize people. Passing the schools entrance, Pearl read placards saying Release Pearl, and Forgiveness; it’s what we teach our children. Pearl was shocked to see people waving to her as she was driven slowly past. She could see Tom’s eyes in the rear view mirror. She could tell that he was smiling.
“There must be a thousand people out there Tom.” Pearl said in wonder. “What’s going on?”
“Oh, I’m sure there’s more than that. I reported to the Governor’s office that is was three thousand.”
“Why’d you do that Tom.”
“Had to be at least that many for him to ignore that law and order crowd. A lot of people are on your side Pearl, the whole community turned out.”
“Thank you so much Tom, thank you” Pearl said openly crying.
“Sharon and Janet helped, David too.”
“I may need to stay with you and David, my mother is part of that law and order crowd.”
“You are welcome anytime Tom, anytime.” Where are we going? What happens now?”
“Well, first I take you home where David is waiting for you.” Holding up folded papers, Tom said “then I give you these papers from the Governor. Your sentence has been commuted. The people in town really came out for you, many made calls to the Governor too.”
“Is it really over Tom?” The hope in Pearl’s voice was loud. The tears happy ones.
“It’s all over Pearl, or it will be when I get you home.” Pearl saw her house just ahead. It would never seem modest to her again. David, Sharon and Janet stood out front, waiting. The car stopped, David opened the door for Pearl then stood with his arms wide open.
“Welcome home Pearl.” A loving hug and loving words were exactly what she needed. The girls joined in the hug, it lasted a long time.
Tom smiled as he approached Dave. The men shook hands; there was no need for words.
“If there is ever something you need, just ask, I owe you Tom.”
“Well, maybe there is.”
“Anything at all Tom.”
“I’d sure like to have your vote next election.”